Monthly Archives: January 2013

why a raven is like a writing-desk

1/31/13

Oh the seething hate! Oh the raspy guttersnipe squorking in the wabe! Release the snarkhounds, because Chris O’Shea of Mediabistro has taken on a Vogue article about a family who turned their Brooklyn brownstone into a pastoral paradise. Entitled How Many Times Does this Vogue Piece Make You Want to Vomit?, it goes scorched-earth on the first and third sentences, and never lets up from there.

I think one’s experience of the Vogue article really depends on which you read first: the original, or the invective. Perusing the Vogue piece, you find yourself envious, and then wondering why there’s a fucking pony in the daughter’s playroom – but if you read Mediabistro first, you might come away saying “yes, but you have to admit, the horse-chestnut wallpaper really is sort of fabulous.”

It’s a funny highwire act, extrapolating to the world at large: on one hand you’ve got a well-off designer family with impeccable taste being publically flogged by a caffeine-fueled hatescriber using the easiest of all tropes: incandescent snark.

On the other, well, the perfection of this Vogue family is just so easy to despise, especially given the layout of the slideshow, impeccably curated to make the 99% feel like hopeless, luckless schlubs. It plays into the idea that a few impossibly-blessed Americans have inherited their way into eternal largesse, while everyone else watches rats eat rodenticide beneath the tracks of the F train.

It doesn’t help that the article was written by Chloe Malle, the daughter of Candice Bergen and the late filmmaker Louis Malle, only adding to the whiff of entitlement. So yes, hate hate hate, roll your eyes at the twee, and think of other asinine shit white people can’t help loving.

But when do we get to sneak away and just enjoy something for the sheer bubblegum of it? Maybe VOGUE is fair game for nihilism, but where can we go to look at bedrooms we would have loved, and gardens designed for your Lewis Carroll subconscious? God knows I can spew acid with the best of them, and have allergies to preciousness, but I wonder if our generation’s Puritanical bullshit isn’t robbing us of our last great anti-depressant: the guilty pleasure.

And fuck if I don’t love the master bathroom:

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muscle beach

1/30/13

A few months ago, I asked y’all about your next-door neighbors (and got some great responses), but in that time, our own next-door fortunes have changed. What used to be a beautiful English family with playmates for Lucy has now turned into a dark, tattooed repository for twentysomething anger and Venice Beach’s storied underbelly.

Once the English family moved out, a revolving cast of characters showed up, most of them very lovely in quiet daytime moments (they even have their own chickens!) but once the night demon approacheth, there are a lot of guttural, muffled “FUCK”s and broken glass to explain to our daughter, who sleeps about four feet away.

Today, I heard a heated row between two occupants, obviously a boyfriend-girlfriend argument gassed up to a bubbling broil. He showed an encyclopedic mastery of truly hair-raising profanity, and on cue, she stormed out the back of the house screaming into her cell phone.

I happened to be working outside, and while the fences kept me from seeing anything, I heard her as she paced up and down the back alley: “He has no right… I haven’t lived with my Dad since I was 16, but now maybe… [name of boyfriend] is not in control of who I see… when he starts going at me, and touching me, it’s like, I’m THROUGH… I have bruises… whenever I get into it with him, I get it back five times worse…”

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So I took it upon myself to be a responsible, caring adult, and went out the back gate to see if I could help. When I saw her on the phone, I realized that she was an entirely NEW resident that I’d never seen. Before I could finish asking “Are you okay?” she held her hand up to me with a punishing glare that said “FUCK OFF, CREEP.”

Still, I managed to say, “If you need help, just come over here, okay?” She shot me one last glance – while still on the phone – that was so dismissive and disdainful that honestly, I was shocked. I’d been ready to call the cops, but her reaction was so immediate and awful that I just shut the gate and stared at the dog.

Because I could see what I was to her. I have finally become “that guy”, some meddlesome twat who is too old to understand her pain, to out-of-it to get it. After all my years of living in group houses, of talking people down from suicide, of starting and stopping fights that could have ended careers, of walking the perimeter of the Pink House with a baseball bat to ward off a certain stalker… now, to this girl, I have the demeanor of “instant know-it-all prissy douchebag who’s impossibly older than me.”

I should have called the cops – hell, if any of our neighbors had heard her phone call, there would have been three squad cars there in five minutes – but instead, there was something not quite right about it. As though her phone call could be a lie, as if alerting the police would have gotten us further entangled in their bullshit.

We live at the beach; you can break into any house with a butter knife and a bad attitude. We rely on a certain détente with the craziness that surrounds us. You can take it upon yourself to be your brother’s (or sister’s) keeper, but you also better know what exactly they’re keeping.

Feeling guilty – or at least unsure – about the situation, I told Tessa about it a few hours later. She thought I’d done the right thing; we can’t know that couple’s relationship to the house, and either way, I’d granted her safe harbor. I’m still perturbed, partly because of my innate protector instinct, but also because she reacted to kindness with such disgust.

In an era of overprotective ninniness and smothering parenthood, Lucy still knows that her mommy and I sleep with baseball bats leaning against either side of the bed. And that they’re not for baseball.

As for you, confusing and profane next-door neighbors, you cackling and shirtless kids who are just as likely to erupt laughing as throw a punch, you can write me off, but my words are still true: you just gotta get through this time any way you can. Just survive, and the ensuing years will thank you for your perseverance.

 

twelve cubed

1/29/13

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I’m going to give my immeasurably talented wife Tessa another day here on the blog because – well, despite working very hard in the business, many of you so rarely get to see what people actually do. And these tidbits, while completely out of context, are a good place to start.

These were also for the One Day on Earth Project for 12/12/12, but they’re much more dreamy and non-linear, edited loosely so that the organizers can use the footage they want. The first is the boardwalk in several time-lapses, and the next is a little bit of ice skating, with Tessa herself doing some spins to Satie. Sound, songs and edits are still rough, but oddly beautiful. Enjoy!

 

four thousand holes in blackburn lancashire

1/28/13

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Tessa was asked to contribute to the One Day On Earth project, where various filmmakers put together a worldwide collage of everything that happened on a specific day. It was done on 10/10/10, again on 11/11/11, and last month she shot footage on the last of the triptych, for 12/12/12.

As with anything, you have to be good, and you have to be lucky, and my wife is both. On 12/12/12 here in Venice, there was a bizarre rainstorm (caught on time-lapse… FINALLY my camera put to good use!), my mom turned 81, and then my sister WENT INTO LABOR and gave birth in the wee hours!

This is only a tiny fraction of the footage – Tessa put together 5-6 minutes to give a good example. The sound hasn’t been entirely fixed yet, and I’m mid-flu and look like assballs, however, Tessa’s rough edit makes it all worthwhile. Turn up the sound and see the day through a 7-year-old’s eyes!

 

boy mercury shooting through every decree

1/27/13

Our Year in Descending Order of Degrees Fahrenheit:

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96º – after humid deluge on hottest day of July

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93º – Tessa in vegetable garden

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89º – Lucy walks into ocean on Kauai, late September

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88º – Mom and I swelter in the security cam at the Home Depot in Queens

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83º – planting pumpkins on hill, fried by hot weather later

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84 – with 94% humidity, preparing smores

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80º – in the Dean Dome, Harrison Barnes sinks floater against Dook, February

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79.7º – soil temp, tomato seedlings

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75º – perfect summer day outside barn steps

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73º – air-conditioned kitchen, web revelation with Laura, Uncle Chip and Ant Anny

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70º – Lucy on stage at 1st grade graduation ceremony, a little embarrassed by nice things said about her

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64º – at an outside party in Santa Monica, where it’s always a little cold for that sort of thing

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60º – sunset at Venice Beach

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54º – camping in Malibu, only my daughter can get this close to a deer

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52º – Tessa after awesome skate recital

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47º – Lucy and Barnaby on a dramatic Santa Cruz beach, Christmas Day

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38º – Steve prepares dinner while we camp in the Westy

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24º – Lucy and I on sled at the farm, Seth giving us the boost from behind

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18º – however, 102º inside, with Tammy

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-2º – do not forget our spa rules, even when frozen solid

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-5º – with the thermometer to prove it, last day at the farm until spring

 

through a mirror lightly

1/24/13

My family – brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, making up about 15 of us – have a very healthy email listserv that runs the gamut from “whose shirt is this? see attached” to Things You Did in 1979 That Scarred Me Forever. This week we were discussing the behavior of one of our extended relatives living far away, and I was again hit with that old sparring partner, SHAME.

Occasionally I can think of a summer, or a vacation, and replay the events in my mind, and almost always I come away from the experience thinking “why the FUCK didn’t somebody slug me and teach me how to be PROPERLY SOCIALIZED?”

You think just because you have self-awareness now, that you’ve always had it. You assume because you’re infinitely aware of every last uptick in speech, every angle you can be seen, that you have always had such clairvoyance. In fact, your ability to sense when others loathe what you’re doing is hard-won and gradual.

But we all get socialized at a different pace, and I feel like mine took goddamn forever. Using broad generalizations, I suppose it can be broken down like this:

Normal person: begins life not knowing anything, gradually picks up social cues on how to behave, generally has a good idea what he/she seems like to everyone else by age 26.

Person with Asperger’s syndrome: begins life not knowing anything (like everyone else), doesn’t pick up on social cues the way everyone else does, has sensory integration issues, has to learn what other people are feeling, but it always remains something of a foreign language.

Me: began life pretty sure I knew what was going on, spent each year gradually realizing I didn’t, had sensory integration issues, finally picked up on social cues in my early 20s but continued to make unfathomable mistakes until my early 30s.

Perhaps I just wish someone had taken me at 18, or 20, or 24, pinned me to the wall and said, “Don’t you fucking know what you look like when you do the things you do?!?” Or perhaps they did do that, but I was in angry denial. Or perhaps I’m overreacting; usually whenever I apologize to someone for a past transgression, they have a completely different memory.

And here we are raising a child, at that peculiar age before she is really ready to meet the world on her terms, and I wonder: is there a way to teach self-awareness without it becoming crippling? Can anyone teach anyone not to be a dick? Or is it just instinct, genetics and luck?

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barely figuring it out, with Kendall and Tracy, April 1989

 

through being cool

1/23/13

I’m going to tell you right now, there’s no way you’re going to get through this whole video. I relaxed my brain into neutral and still couldn’t do the entire thing. But if you want to dip into your own consciousness and pluck certain sensitive cilia deep in your cultural memory, I don’t think there’s anything quite like Smash TV’s video “Memorex”.

It plays like the random loops that used to be projected as background at raves, but it’s more than that: it’s falling into a vat of VHS and Betamax tapes from the 1980s, with images like this cropping up:

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I was immediately arrested by that visual, wondering how on earth I’d remembered it – and after several Google reverse-image searches, I realized it was from one of most absurd, repellent, and addictive videos from early MTV, the Devo classic “Peek-A-Boo”:

“Memorex” is filled with moments like that. From about 14:30 to 17:30 you have the reptilian hindbrain of every girl us guys ingested from middle school to graduation. From 39:30 to about 43:00, it’s a cavalcade of ’80s stars wandering around their commercials. Set aside a few minutes and drink in your past, which as Faulkner says, isn’t even past:

Memorex from Smash TV on Vimeo.

 

ain’t it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind

1/21/13

Carolina, what the hell has happened to you?

I have defended you for decades, because I thought I knew what you were all about. I’ve sung the praises of public college education because it was you that rescued me, saved me from my neurasthenic, mopy, self-involved private school exceptionalism and thrust me in a dorm room with two guys from Goldsboro who saved all their tobacco spittle and got STRAIGHT A’S ALL FOUR YEARS.

Whenever someone would mention Jesse Helms and North Carolina’s ignoble past, I would tell them, sure, but you haven’t been to Chapel Hill. It’s all different there. Tired of hearing schools like Carleton being called “The Harvard of the Midwest”, I started calling Harvard the “Carolina of New England”.

And then there was Dean Smith. I’ve made lists of his basketball rules that I transfer to real life, and I know my loyalty to friends (as well as the mounting of the yearly Jartacular) owes as much to the “family” section of the “Carolina Way” as much as my crazy jack-Mormon desire to gather everybody in one place and put on road shows.

When Dean retired, he had a press conference, and kept it together until he said, “oh, the players I’ve had-” and then had to start crying. I feel the same way about the friends I have, and still have, from Carolina. It is not some random circumstance that brought them to the middle of the Appalachian Piedmont, it was the University of North Carolina – or at least, the fertile ground for amazing young people that the University attracted, like iron filings dancing around a magnet.

YET – even when I was there, it had the trappings of old-boy institutional decay. My “advisor” didn’t know who I was, the Administration was careless and didn’t care less, even the Student Health infirmary was populated by creepy doctors who should have been stripped of their licenses.

I had to fight for every drop-add, somehow I kept owing money for things I didn’t understand, and I was occasionally dismissed from offices with the kind of Orwellian “good day sir” that would have been better suited for the movie Brazil.

We all wrote Carolina’s asinine quality off as part of the charm, the still-analog holdovers from a different era. But as some point, the officiousness and the snarl – combined with decades of laurel-resting on reputation and demoralizing budget cuts foisted on North Carolina by a state government that didn’t give a damn about kids – became Carolina’s character.

Then came the scandals. The football and AFAM department revelations were fairly contained, but still disgusting. But last week’s news, about a female dean forced to underreport sexual harassment claims, as well as 64 other students filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights…

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Do you honestly think I would contemplate sending my Carolina-obsessed 7-year-old daughter to a school where that could happen? A girl who has a picture of Tyler Hansborough dunking on her wall, and made me a baking-clay UNC logo for my desk when she was 5?

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It’s also the anecdotal disappointments: my nephew Sam went to Carolina, but transferred after two years because he just couldn’t find the same level of friendship and humor that so many of us had. Sure, part of that is luck and circumstance, but I feel like if he’d gone in my era, we would have found him.

Tessa is – or was – on the “suggestion committee” for the Morehead Scholarship. She was sent portfolios of various high school candidates for the honor, and she spent years recommending the kind of people who made her Morehead/Carolina experience life-changing. To date, not a single recommendation of hers has been offered the scholarship, instead (and these are my words) opting for the students who appeared more religious and more likely to work for Goldman-Sachs. Finally, she stopped participating.

Which is what we’re all going to do if this has become UNC’s culture. You see this diploma on our wall?

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It’s Tessa’s, because I’m still fighting with the administration about getting mine. That piece of paper up there does not sit in static permanence; it changes value as the school continues its history. Carolina’s behavior over the last few years is actually devaluing that piece of paper as we speak.

We need a woman chancellor. We need the old-boy network of rape guffaws to stop. We need to bring true weird diversity back to the school that gave us Rasheed Wallace, Billy Crudup, Adam Reed, and Chip. You administrators of The University of North Carolina, you need to understand that YOU aren’t UNC, you are merely custodians of a higher concept conceived by men greater than yourselves, men who thrust a poplar twig in the ground atop a beautiful hill, and manifested the revolutionary thought that everyone, even the least protected among us, deserved a shot at brilliance.

 

acquiescence of sorts

1/17/13

Boy, this is just not working out, is it? It has always been my fatal flaw to stay long after the party has ended, so let’s not act surprised that I’m finally speaking the truth. We were never married – can you imagine? – but it sure felt like it, and the promises I made to you have been repaid nine times over. And you’re not even real, you’ve only ever had the power I gave you.

They always say “people came between us”, and while that’ll always induce a groan, the only thing worse than a cliché is a cliché that is true.

You can never say when you stop caring. Or can you? I think of it as a maple tree that turns color – it’s gradual, but one day it’s obviously autumn. It happens slowly all at once. There is a holiday called Epiphany, which is tomorrow in the Eastern Churches, but when something can no longer be denied, you must celebrate it today.

I am not one to sit around and bemoan the things that could have been; that’s a habit I lost in my twenties. But I can reserve a few sour grapes of wrath for the person who ruined it for us. They did it cheaper and faster, and what was once a phase has now become a trait.

We could have had meals, but now all you want to do is snack. Give yourself enough distractions and perhaps you can put off finding who you really are indefinitely. The person who cares least always wins, which guarantees I’ll lose those battles every time.

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so much depends upon

1/16/13

Break out the prognostication meds, because I have a few questions for you. Let’s make a little time capsule of our current thinking, so that five years from now, we can look back and see if we had a good feel for how long things last.

(Wait, do you think five years is too long to wait for something, and it’ll all be different by then, even on this blog? Hell, take a look at your comments five years ago here. That didn’t seem like forever, did it?)

And so here are your five technology/internet questions to answer as best you can:

1. What year will Facebook start its inexorable slide into irrelevance, a la MySpace?

2. How many more years will the iPad be the dominant tablet?

3. The average MPG for cars sold in 2012 was 23.2. What will it be in five years?

4. Which will be cured first, Alzheimer’s or baldness?

5. Will texting be replaced as the dominant communication form by something else, or will it exist in its present form for the next 5 years?

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