flavored with age

The Party of What People?

This will be my last entry of 2016.  Next year will begin, barring some unexpected act of fate, with the ascension to the presidency of Donald Trump, as dim-witted, incurious, crass, and crooked human being that has ever held public office in America.  Trump has spent the hours since the election staffing his White House with the greatest collection of grifters and cranks this side of Tammany Hall, and trolling the country he is meant to be leading on Twitter.  The primary occupation of politically-minded Americans these days has been predicting whether Trump will be world-historically bad — Adolf Hitler with nuclear weapons, essentially — or merely a repeat of some of our worst former presidents, an aggressive huckster on the scale of George W. Bush. Whatever flavor of bad he will be, he will certainly be bad, which brings us to a crucial question:  what are the Democrats, America’s current party of opposition, going to do about it?

Thomas Frank, one of our most insightful and fearless political critics for the last three decades, thinks he has an answer, and that answer is, not a fucking lot.  Years ago, Frank identified the Democrats — then led by Bill Clinton, whose approach has come to define the party in its current incarnation — as “an opposition that has ceased to oppose”.  He wrote his current book, Listen, Liberal, or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, when it still seemed pretty obvious that Clinton’s wife Hillary was the heir apparent to his throne, and that she would be taking her place as President despite her egregious flaws as a candidate.  Although history has made fools of those of us who thought she had the race in the bag (a failure increasingly attributable, despite postmortem conspiracy theories about Russian cyber-war, to the fact that she ran a campaign far more incompetent than anyone suspected), there is no reason to doubt his overall conclusion:  that the Democratic Party, as currently constituted, long ago ceased to be an opposition party to the Republicans on many significant issues and has instead become merely the more socially acceptable face of neoliberalism, the ideology that teaches all issues have a market solution, all problems can be solved with the proper application of imperialist force, and all politics should flow from the minds of an elite professional class who truly know, by virtue of their education and expertise, what is best for everyone.

Frank lays out his argument with ruthless efficiency.  His prose can be cutting, but he doesn’t need fancy language to present his case:  he simply marshals quote after quote, document after document, statistic after statistic to illustrate the essential truth that the American people have not had a political party that fairly represents its interests for a good 40 years, and that the Democrats have not only failed to oppose the Republicans on many critical issues that have led directly to the impoverishment and immiseration of huge numbers of the citizens they are charged to govern, but have aided and abetted them and even led the charge towards neoliberalism themselves.  It’s an argument familiar to anyone who’s been playing close attention since the 1990s, or even who listened to stump speeches by Bernie Sanders in the early days of the campaign:  the Democrats have surrounded themselves with elite Ivy League professionals who govern by means of the spreadsheet and the push poll, ignoring the actual needs of their constituencies; they have become just as beholden or more so as the Republicans to a wealthy class of ultra-rich donors, to whose advantage they remake the law; they have become addicted to free trade and foreign oil, leading them down a disastrous path of hostile foreign policy; they have abandoned their traditional supporters among unions, rural voters, and the urban poor in favor of decorating the elite inner circles of power with ‘representative’ minorities; and they have turned ever further to the center right, hoping foolishly to capture the votes of Republican professionals in the suburbs while abandoning the working class to either turn to the G.O.P.’s cynical manipulations or stop voting altogether.

What is fascinating about Frank’s discussion of all this is its depth and thoroughness of historical detail. Abandoning the common but insufficient narrative that this all began with Reagan, he takes us back to the early 1970s, when cultural and economic upheavals led to a near civil war among the Democrats. He calls attention to such turning points as the McGovern Commission, Frederick Dutton’s Changing Sources of Power, and the rise of the Democratic Leadership Council, who produced leaders like Gary Hart and Bill Clinton whose primary goal was to rid the liberal party of any connection to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal — the greatest president America ever had and the greatest legacy he left it.  Having won the culture wars, this breed of liberal discovered that it actually liked the comforts of vast wealth, and set about marrying its politics to a freewheeling big-tent social agenda that appeared to promote opportunity for gays, women, and minorities, while sponsoring legislation that choked the life out of those very groups unless they happened to be rich.  The rise of the carceral state, the vast explosion of militarism into the civilian sphere, and the abandonment of the welfare state in favor of an austerity program drawn directly from management theory was the inevitable result of this transformation.

Listen, Liberal makes the airtight case that the Democratic leadership has pursued this center-right, pro-market position not because they have been forced to by the strength of the G.O.P., but because they want to — because these are the things they truly believe.  He illustrates this principle again and again, most forcefully when he talks about how beloved outgoing President Barack Obama — raised now to sainthood by virtue of having been replaced by the Devil — wasted one opportunity after another: handed enormous political clout, a public mandate from justly outraged voters, and a widely hated Republican Party, he turned to the center again and again instead of handing out the kind of bold reform that was so desperately needed.  The result was eight years of failures and compromises, the false sense of security that this was what everyone wanted, and, ultimately, loss after loss that crammed the House and Senate with right-wing ideologues and set the stage for a Trump victory.  Frank didn’t get a chance to update the book to show what Obama and the rest of the party has done since their historic disintegration, but it’s hard to imagine he’d be very surprised.

Why is all this important?  What does Frank hope to gain by illuminating the pathways of the past?  As usual, it’s because what’s past is prologue.  We are at a moment of importance on the American left whose importance cannot be overstated:  the incoming Republican administration will at best be a disaster and at worst an apocalypse. The Democratic Party is in disarray, while record numbers of young people are attracted to socialism and a senator from Vermont who isn’t even really a Democrat has become the party’s standard-bearer of resistance to the G.O.P.  Without question, what is needed now is unity and solidarity, and a determination to abandon the circular firing squad that usually characterizes progressive politics.  But the question is, around what kind of program will this solidarity coalesce?  Will it be around a truly left liberalism, a progressivism that represents the vast majority of Americans against the billionaire class that has robbed them blind for the last two decades unhindered? Or will it be around the liberalism of the past, against the billionaires’ co-conspirators, the party that lost an un-losable election, the party that Thomas Frank builds a case against as the one that killed the working class once and for all?  Stay tuned  We’ll find out.


flavored with age

Anno Terribilis

2016, the little year that absolutely could not, is almost over, and with the exception of people for whom it was a raging success — morticians and neo-Nazis, in the main — most of us are eager to see the end of it.  Starting out, as all years do, with the unlimited promise of the new and the possibility of growth, transformation and, yes, perhaps, true happiness, 2016 has soured into that one guest at your cocktail party who is still there at 4:42 AM and promises to let you get to bed after he tells you one last amusing story from each of the last seventeen times he saw the Grateful Dead.  I normally don’t cotton to end-of-year reviews that appear before we’re even ordering Thai food to avoid having to eat the last of the leftover turkey hash, but given that this is a year in which we are calibrating our hopes to an even point between hoping that President Donald Trump will merely be massively corrupt and negligent on a scale not seen since Nero and hoping that President Donald Trump will actually destroy all human life in a nuclear firestorm because a talk show host insulted his tie, I’m willing to make an exception.  Let’s get this over with.

1.  SEX.  Normally, this would be both the beginning and the zenith of my whining, but I’m gonna be honest with you folks:  things are going great on the sex front.  No one of my advanced years should be having good sex; they should be complaining to a wizened, bespectacled physician and/or groundskeeper about their lumbago and/or plumbago.  However, facts are facts, and the facts are, this socialist is getting some.  Sadly, this doesn’t mean all is well in the world of sex:  our new head of state is a likely sexual predator, as are our most beloved comedians, musicians, football coaches, radio personalities, ministers of the Gospel, television stars, film directors, and actuaries, probably.  It’s almost as if unaccountable power, wealth, and fame is a recipe for abusive behavior!  Things have gotten so bad that a well-known dating app has informed us that we have to learn 37 new genders, and we are so relieved that we’re pretending this will fix everything.

2.  DRUGS.  Many states — though, cursedly, not the one I live in — have decided that, what with the planet basically disintegrating before our eyes and all, maybe it’s not that important that we put people in jail by the hundreds of thousands for smoking marijuana.  The trend towards recreational marijuana legalization is fortuitously timed, as President Trump has named to the post of Attorney General a man who thinks casual drug use is only slightly less of an abomination before the law than being a Negro who does not know his proper station.  Elsewhere, heroin is making a comeback, robbing us of entertainment figures who future generations will pretend are more talented than they actually were, and the plague of meth is devastating communities of people who are too poor for us to care about.

3.  ROCK AND ROLL.  Frankly, I have no idea what is going on in music anymore.  I am an old man who gets winded walking down a flight of stairs to steal my neighbor’s newspaper, so I just assume all music today is crafted by an AutoTuned recorder played by an enigmatic Norwegian.  The question has arisen, however, as to what kind of ‘art in opposition’ will emerge in the era of Donald Trump; if early indications from trend-setting rap person Kanye West are any indication, the answer will be “pretty embarrassing, I bet”.

4.  THE ENVIRONMENT.  2016 was the hottest year on record, which we all complained about during the summer but secretly were thankful for most of January and February.  A bunch of animals that you can’t eat or safely play frisbee golf with went extinct, and Mount Kilimanjaro, the Great Barrier Reef, and other distant tourist attractions were permanently shuttered, but all in all, America responded to the imminent total destruction of its own livable habitat with the gusto of a man spending his last unemployment check playing keno because he’s positive he’ll get another job before the rent is due in four days.  Recurring doomsday-scenario lead actor Donald Trump believes that climate change was invented by the heathen Chinee to drive up maintenance costs at his tacky hotels, so it’s pretty unlikely anything will be done about this until we’re drinking our own blood for hydration purposes, but surely future generations will understand that we needed them to die by the millions so that we could get ingredients for our dinner delivered instead of walking three blocks to the bodega.

5.  CELEBRITY DEATH.  People — especially people of the non-famous variety, who inexplicably still outnumber celebrities even in the age of reality television — die all the time, so there’s something somewhat disingenuous about engaging in performative shock when an 85-year-old who spent much of the prime of his life inhaling whatever narcotics came within ten feet of his head keels over.   This is only going to become more pronounced since, as noted, there are now more famous people than there have ever been, and if by the grace of God we live long enough, we’re going to be required to have an opinion about the demise of Star Wars Kid, the “Chocolate Rain” guy, and Chicken George from season 1 of Big Brother.  That said, 2016 has been especially brutal in terms of beloved figures dying young, and the news that Sharon Jones probably died of a stroke induced by watching good ol’ Donald Trump win the election just seems like the Grim Reaper is making fun of us.

6.  INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS.  I’m going to skip the obvious about how America has elected a rancid bucket of puréed carrots with a persecution complex to the Presidency.  However, it is worth pointing out that right-wing nationalist governments are now in control of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Japan, Russia, and India, leaving Germany as the world’s great beacon of freedom, democracy, pluralism, and hope.  It has been remarked that God has a sick sense of humor, but this is a little on the nose, don’t you think?  Essentially, in terms of whether or not mankind has a future, we are being asked to bet on whether famine, environmental destruction, and a lack of clean water will wipe us all out before there’s another global war.

7.  TELEVISION.  On the upside, though, TV has gotten really good, right?


flavored with age

Shalom and the Jewish Jesus

Shalom Auslander got the best possible start on having a sickly fatalistic sense of humor:  he was a miserable Jew from the day he was born.

As detailed in his highly entertaining 2007 memoir Foreskin’s Lament, Auslander was raised a deeply unhappy Orthodox Jew in and around New York in the ’70s and ’80s.  Like many of that ancient faith’s most pitch-black humorists, he found himself both longing to escape the strangulating strictures of Judaism and helplessly entwined in its teachings of utter helplessness in the face of an unknowable God.  This curdled into a cynicism that most of us don’t experience until much later; at a young age, he was writing deeply funny and hopelessly jaundiced pieces on current events for GQ and Esquire that bore the exasperated wisdom of a man twice his age.  His first fiction came in the form of Beware of God:  Stories, a masterfully funny collection of short pieces that found new and exciting ways to to portray the relationship of man to his maker, light-years beyond the kind of angsty adolescent moaning that usually hits Gentile teens when they’re 19 and haven’t gotten laid yet.  The stories in that collection, still one of my favorites of the century so far, often portray Jews who are both bound by the nature of their religion and consumingly aware of its absurdity.

Flash forward to 2012:  Auslander is now a man in his 40s, no longer a promising young writer pushing the boundaries of his craft, but a grown adult.  He begins working on his first novel, faced with the expectation that he will finally come to terms with his Jewishness and produce a mature work about what it’s like to be a man.  Instead, what he writes is Hope:  A Tragedy, one of the most audacious works of black comedy in recent memory, a book that both draws on the patterns and obsessions of his earlier work and ups the ante considerably.  The subject of Hope is no less than Judaism’s most sacred cow, the figure he will refer to in the novel as “the Jewish Jesus” — not Yeshua himself, but rather the universally beloved Holocaust victim and diarist (or, as Hope will have it, Holocaust survivor and failed novelist) Anne Frank.

The novel concerns itself with Solomon Kugel, who is wracked with some deeply ingrained characteristics of the classic Jewish protagonist:  a profound sense of guilt at the idea of perpetuating misery, as shown in his uncertainty over having a child; a persistent sense that he is being haunted by the ghosts of his forebears, as shown by the presence of his aging mother, who pretends to have been a victim of the Shoah despite having been born in Manhattan after the war was over and who instills in him a terrible fear that everyday objects might be the remains of his relatives; and a curious balancing act between a deep-seated instinct for survival and a desire for utter self-abnegation.  It is for the latter reason that he buys an old farmhouse in upstate New York, deliberately seeking out the most uninteresting town he can find — but of course, he cannot escape history, and it is in this town with no past that he finds, typing away in his own attic, the still-living Anne Frank, who refuses to die until she can finish a work of fiction that will outsell her legendary memoir.

All of this is played with a complete lack of delicacy, black as pitch and bold as fire:  Frank turns out to be an unbearable old crank, worn out by the purity of her own reputation which prevents her from ever being human.  His mother’s sick fascination for a misery she never experienced is played for both tragedy and laughs.  (One of my favorite moments in Hope involves her recollection of a family photo taken at Auschwitz, where the young Solomon had the poor taste to smile for the camera:  “You ruined the whole concentration camp for me, you know that?”, she scolds.)  Trying to come to terms with bringing his son into a world so full of evil, Solomon dreads having to eventually give the boy “the talk” — only he means the Holocaust talk, not the sex talk.

Yet, as deftly as Auslander handles all of this (and like many of his best short stories, the funniest and blackest scenes are played out in razor-sharp dialogue), Hope needs more substance to carry out its promise.  For the most part, Auslander delivers.  The whole device of bringing in an apparently living Anne Frank — found, like the Hitler diaries, in a barn, and of equally suspect provenance — is so gutsy that there’s almost no way it can work; but it does, and it doesn’t trip over itself by becoming a metafictional conceit, though certainly Auslander uses it to say a few things about being a prisoner of your own literary reputation.  Plot-wise, Hope is a bit meandering; everything happens in the hearts and minds of the handful of characters who count, and several of them don’t.  A subplot about a chaotic arsonist on the loose in town doesn’t really add much and probably could have been dropped, though that would have put the whole novel at risk of being scaled back to one of Auslander’s short stories.

That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, however.  Auslander’s short fiction, as I’ve said, is terrific, and while Hope:  A Tragedy doesn’t gain all that much from exceeding his other stories in length, it doesn’t lose much either, and most importantly, it retains everything great about them.  It’s often crushingly funny; it cagily balances the narrow divide between cynical fatalism and nihilistic despair, and sometimes manages to seem downright breezy in the process; and most importantly, it portrays its Jewish protagonists, though they might be eternal prisoners of their religious identity, as capable of being embarrassingly and hopelessly human — but touchingly human as well.  Auslander never lets his characters off the hook, but he does more than just let them squirm and dangle; he allows that there might just be a pretty clear view from there.


flavored with age

Thou Shalt Catch Them All

Six months ago, if you had a grown adult wearing a t-shirt with a children’s character crash into you in a public place because they had their face buried in a cell phone screen and weren’t’ paying attention to their surroundings, odds were pretty good they were just using Duolingo to practice a language of no practical value, like Esperanto or Klingon.  But now, they’re almost certainly playing Pokémon GO, the exciting new augmented-reality dogfighting normalizer from Nintendo of America.

What is Pokémon GO?  

It is a mobile game based on the venerable “Pokémon” franchise, in which young persons capture monsters and train them to fight one another for their profit and amusement.  The word “Pokémon” is a sort of portmanteau of “pocket monster”, a term borrowed by creator Satoshi Tajiri from his neighbor, the bass guitarist for a hair metal band, who used it to describe his generative organ.

How is it different from other fighting games?

In Pokémon GO, players collect the various monsters, who have names like Pikachu, Scyther, and Rodney Allen Rippy, by wandering out into the real world and locating them.  This distinguishes it from most video games, which can be played merely by waking up and moving as far as the location of your cell phone.  Its requirement that you display the most basic amount of motility has led some people to praise it for encouraging physical exercise amongst the increasingly sedentary American population, while others have criticized it for being inaccessible for the physically disabled.  The general consensus as of this writing is that people will complain about pretty much anything.

So, wait, you have to go places to get the Pokey monsters?  Like, leave your apartment?

You don’t have an apartment.  You live with your mother.

No, my mother lives with me.  It’s because my credit rating…look, that’s not important. Answer the question.

Yes.  Finding Pokémon requires you to leave the place where your Spaghetti-Os cache is and go out to sunlit areas.  This has caused all sorts of problems:  some locations, such as the Holocaust Museum, Auschwitz, and the September 11th Memorial, have objected to playing the game in such somber surroundings, apparently oblivious to the millions of teen boys who have had boners during field trips to their sacred grounds prior to the development of Pokémon GO.  Others have pointed out the safety risks involved in people driving, hanging around railroad tracks, which does seem important until you consider the fact that being hit by a train while trying to catch a Swampert is about the funniest way you can die.  Other complaints have involved gangs of criminals luring players into secluded areas with the promise of rare Pokémon, only to rob them; all I can say to that is, if you support the police, you owe them the big laugh they’re going to get out of hearing that story.

I am too timid to install Pokémon GO.  Walk me through the process.

Well, first you download it from the Apple store and are unable to install it for several hours because the servers have crashed again.  Then a scientist whose name is probably Dr. Lipcreep or something shows up out of nowhere and presses you into service as his unpaid intern.  Your job is to go around collecting these Pokémon for Dr. Lipcreep, who is studying them, and, in a surprising departure from the scientific method, when he’s off doing something else, you get to take them to arenas and make them fight each other.

By the way, you are not you.  You are represented in the game by one of two icons — a ridiculous-looking man in Japanese biker drag, or a ridiculous-looking woman in Japanese biker drag.  Even though they are clearly within a binary male/female dichotomy, Wikipedia informs me that this development was praised by ‘genderfluid groups’ because you are choosing a ‘style’ and not a ‘gender’. This is the sort of thing Wikipedia does now, I guess.  Anyway, you get to pick stuff like what color wetsuit your icon is wearing and what name you would like to give it were that name not already taken by the 612 million other people already playing Pokémon GO.

Finally, you’re ready to play the game!  You do this by, let’s say, meeting your girlfriend at the coffeeshop, to be entirely hypothetical because we all know you don’t have a girlfriend and you only drink Mountain Dew Baja Blast and chocolate milk in plastic containers shaped like superheroes. Anyway, you walk — yes, I know, but for the sake of the argument let’s just say you walk — to the coffeeshop, and along the way, you look at shit through your cell phone, and it shows you that across the street, at that scary store that sells wigs for children, there is a Darumaka hanging out in an old couch infested with bedbugs.  It is your job to ‘catch’ the Darumaka by throwing an imaginary ball at it.

Wait, that’s it?  How do you make the creatures fight each other?  Is there training?  What can you win?

Beats me.  I got bored at this point and deleted the app from my phone.  I assume you go on to the coffeeshop and your girlfriend leaves you for dicking around with space alligators on your phone all the time.

So what you’re saying is that our entire world, everywhere we go, is infested with violent, combat-happy monsters who can only be controlled through enslavement, and who have been here all the time, waiting for us to develop sufficient technology to notice them.

Yeah, that’s the size of it.  It’s pretty horrifying if you think about it, so probably best not to.

But they’re not really there.  This augmented-reality stuff, it’s just pictures on a screen added by a program.  Right?

Sadly, yes.  This allows you to ‘experience’ a world that doesn’t really exist, leading you to go outside among the wonders of nature and the vast majesty of human creation while never actually looking at it at all, ignoring the boundless wonders of the world around you in favor of trying to spot a Japanese cartoon mushroom-thing underneath a dumpster.  It’s an amazing way to look at something very intensely while never quite seeing it, like the Most Photographed Barn in America in Don DeLillo’s White Noise.

That’s a pretty pretentious reference for a joke review of Pokémon GO, isn’t it?

Go hurl a Pokéball, fanboy.


flavored with age

America the Impossible

Today is the Fourth of July, America’s national holiday.  Longtime readers of this site will know that every day on this year, I post a little sermon about the state of the country, always trying to follow the advice of the late, great Paul Fussell, who wrote, in BAD, or, the Dumbing of America:  “There is one day of the year when America should receive nothing but praise.  That’s July Fourth.  On all other occasions, those who wish the United States well will vigorously distinguish the good from the bad.”

This year, it seems like distinguishing the good from the bad is harder work than ever, both more difficult and more vital.  It’s not only an election year, but also the dreariest election year in recent memory; every day seems to bring a dismayingly stupid new headline, no matter which party you identify with.  In a very real sense, the bad decisions made by both the Democrats and the Republicans are coming back to haunt them like never before; everywhere you look, chickens are coming home to roost.

For the Republicans, decades of pandering to the lowest common denominator, courting the votes of white supremacists and religious fanatics, heightening the cultural grievances of angry white men while doing nothing to address the economic factors that actually keep them down, and pushing plutocracy as the only solution to the problems that America faces has resulted in the ascendency of none other than American protein disaster Donald Trump as their candidate for president.  Trump, the sort of candidate of whom the best it can be said is that his flirtations with racist and anti-Semites is probably accidental and incoherent rather than the markers of genuine belief, is not only likely to lose by an unprecedented margin, but also set back his party in ways it will take them decades to recover from.  This catastrophe of their own making has its hilarious aspects for fans of political schadenfreude, but lest we become too gleeful, we should remember how dizzying low the bar has been set, and think about the kind of dregs that will follow in Trump’s footsteps before one of them actually manages to win.

The Democratic side, meanwhile, is only marginally better.  25 years of pursuing a neoliberal politics of money over all, where the market is the final arbiter of what can and will be done to help the people of America, has been an utter disaster for most of us, with wealth concentrated almost entirely at the top and the number of people who struggle to survive from one payday to the next growing astronomically. The Democrats, once the party of unions, farmers, and ordinary people, have completely embraced the neoliberal approach, and are now a party of technocrats, professionals, investors, and elites; nowhere is this more clear than in their choice of candidates.  Hillary Clinton has followed in the footsteps of her husband, the first Democrat to abandon the old principles of the liberal consensus to pursue a ‘Third Way” that fattened the wallets of the rich while leaving the poor to fend for themselves, and her positions on labor, trade, investment, and social policy make it clear that she intends to walk the same path.

America’s problems go far beyond the domestic, however.  Our trade policy favors oppressive private power, and so-called ‘free trade’, despite the positive spin placed on it by centrist pundits, weakens rather than empowers working people in foreign countries, breaking the unions at home and making them a fantasy overseas.  Our foreign policy, especially in terms of the Middle East, continues to be reckless and dangerous; our commitment to the ever-more-reactionary government of Israel — and despite the high-flown rhetoric, it is still largely a matter of economics and politics, and not of principle — leads us to deny the essential humanity of one of the most oppressed peoples on Earth.  Worst of all, we face unthinkable repercussions from the damage wrought on the environment by big business interests, to the extent that we are making critical parts of the world incompatible with life.  The Republican position is to deny this; the Democratic position is to fret about it, but to do nothing about it if it costs them big-money donations.

But what is most disheartening in all of this isn’t how hopeless things are:  it’s how hopeless things are painted to be, by the very same people upon whom we should be relying to fix them.  Both parties play the game of re-election, spending all their time, money, and political capital on trying to win the next election rather than on solving the problems they were elected to solve; both have bought in to the dismal games of triangulation, of polling, of targeted marketing, of nibbling around the edges to gain the slightest advantage in a numbers game that means everything and solves nothing.  They are so obsessed with winning that they no longer care what the point of winning is, so they tell us that everything is impossible.  We cannot do this, because it would offend this or that bloc of voters; we cannot do that, because it conflicts with this or that money interest; we cannot do the other, because we can’t afford it.  Governing the greatest and richest country on Earth is no longer an exercise in maximizing human potential, but of tempering expectations.

Here’s the thing, though:  America specializes in the impossible.  It is our particular genius.  The American experiment began by throwing off the rule of the most powerful empire in existence, and self-creating a country founded on the idea that a nation ought to be run according to the wishes of the people who live there.  America went to war against itself to end the unconscionable practice of black slavery, and won.  America separated church and state in the most religious country in the West; America embraced unionism and worker’s rights in the most capitalist country in the world.  Americans were the deciding factor in the war against fascism.  Americans set human beings to walk on another world.  Americans built an interstate highway system and a rural electrification system and a wireless Internet network across a vast country; all of these were accomplished in a single presidential administration.  Americans legalized abortion, passed civil rights legislation, broke up the trusts, instituted gay marriage, and preserved freedom of speech for 200 years amongst the most contentious people on the planet.  America absorbed endless ethnic, racial, and religious groups and turned them into Americans.  America created a national parks system that is the envy of the world, innovated industry and culture and technology that was exported to every country on the globe, and constructed a retirement plan for the aged in which anyone can participate.

These are not activities accomplished by a country afraid of its own shadow, terrified of offending its voters and corporate masters, obsessed with opinion polls and numbers-gaming.  A country that can do all of these things cannot tell me it is impossible to devise a workable universal health care system, or that it is a pipe dream to demand environmental stewardship from the companies that make billions off its largesse, or that there can be no election reform, or that affordable college education is a goal that is simply beyond its reach.  A country that can end slavery can make the rich pay their fair share of its operating costs.  It will not be easy; none of America’s many miraculous achievements have been easy. It will require us to take a close interest in affairs that we find boring or frustrating.  It will demand that we hold our politicians, our journalists, and ourselves much more accountable.  But it can be done, it should be done, and it must be done.  America is good at doing the impossible, and the impossible is what we need right now.


flavored with age

Gone Yard

It’s baseball season, and that, friends, is the best of all seasons.

Baseball writers, who, given their love of a game that has historical weight over all other American sports, tend to be a poetic and sentimental lot, even more obnoxious than people who mark out over other sports.  They’re not quite as obnoxious as football writers, but they make up for it with their wobbly rhapsodizing; they even manage to be more pretentious than soccer journalists, who have the added benefit of being European.  It’s quite an accomplishment, when you think about it.

Anyway, one of the most cherished myths of the baseball hack is that baseball begins in the spring, the season of life, when the weather is changing and everything is growing, and this symbolizes the endless potential of humanity and something something oh the kids are all in the other room watching basketball on the big TV.  As with most such eternal verities farted out by old white guys from the East Coast, it is total nonsense.  Baseball actually begins at the end of winter, when pitchers and catchers report, and carries on into spring training, an egregious misnomer based on the fact that it is played exclusively in Florida and Arizona, which do not have seasons.  Once regular games begin, it is April, and while that’s arguably the magniloquent springtime of journalistic legend in Texas and California, in the rest of the country, it’s still godawful cold weather.  I went to opening day in Chicago for eight years in a row and it was a miserable slog every time, and for a week before this year’s White Sox home opener, it was apocalyptic.  The first game at White Sox Park wasn’t notable for how badly the Good Guys got thumped, but for how it somehow managed to be sunny and clear and also 30 degrees with periodic blizzards at the same time.

A companion myth is that the excitement of Opening Day, which is really just attributable to the fact that the weather is becoming moderately less dreadful and that football is finally fucking over, is because “anything can happen” and “any team can win”.  This is abhorrent nonsense.  The San Diego Padres, for example, or the Philadelphia Phillies, were in essentially the same position on Opening Day of the 2016 season as they were on the last day of the 2015 season, and stand about as much chance of appearing in the playoffs come October as Manchester United has of winning the Stanley Cup.  That’s not to say that the early goings aren’t interesting, of course; as a fan of the Chicago White Sox, I always enjoy watching Cubs fans hollering about how this year for sure they’re going to win the World Series come April 1st, and I also enjoy seeing what development (this year, it was the early career-ending injury of slugger Kyle Schwarber) what will make that result unthinkable by April 15th.

All of this is to say is that for all of our talk about how spring is the time of renewal, baseball doesn’t really start to matter until June at the earliest.  It’s a game of summer.  Of course I’m excited about baseball; of course I’m going to watch every White Sox game on TV and go to the ballyard as often as I can.  There’s even some exciting early-season fun, like speculating whether the Baltimore Orioles will ever lose a game again, or whether the Minnesota Twins will ever win a game again.  But 162 games is a lot of games.  I’d rather eat a beanbag chair than watch an NFL game, but it’s a fair point that in pro football’s 16-game season, everything matters. Even a devoted baseball fan like me could take a nap, wake up on Father’s Day, and not really feel like I’d missed that much.

But still, this is the time of year we have to deal with the utter worst of flowery sportswriter tripe (here’s an amazing example from Tim Keown’s article at ESPN on Mendoza-line-courting overparenting enthusiast Adam LaRoche, which contains the phrases “the molecules traveled their viral tributaries” and “they wielded their emotions like crude homemade weapons”).  2016 is going to be particularly bad, because the MLB instituted a handful of rules changes last year, and the ‘purists’ (which is baseball code for humorless scolds) are feeling the last of their oats before they succumb to nut cancer.  We’re of course going to hear the usual moaning about the designated hitter rule from people who think the entire enterprise will be sullied if we aren’t treated to the hourly tragedy of watching pitchers try to hit, but this year we get an additional bunch of whinging about new baserunning rules, some leftover nonsense about instant replay, and coded racism imported from the NFL about how certain players (ahem) are making a mockery of the game with their home run trots and their bat-flipping and their gold chains and their rock and roll and their hair.  Bob Costas didn’t die from the eye crud and now we have to deal with Goose Gossage blowing hot farts about how computer nerds destroyed baseball.

The thing is, I agree with a lot of this stuff!  I am unflagging in my love of the designated hitter rule, but I don’t like that hitters wear body armor, I think it sucks that they’re trying to discourage baserunners from breaking up plays at second and home, I love pitchers who plunk hitters for pretty much any reason at all, and I wish the pitcher could still own the inside unless the hitter was gutsy enough to risk getting pummeled.  Even though I hate the old-school horseshit about ‘character’ and ‘gut feelings’ and ‘intangibles’, I’m still distrustful of SABRmetrics because it still never manages to predict anything worth knowing.  But these issues are never discussed honestly; they’re just eructated randomly as part of the old folks’ tirades about how when they were kids things were super cool and great but the kids now are into real dumb shit and why can’t we ruin their fun so that way no one will have any at all.  It’s not only boring and pointless, it’s the worst possible way to attract young people to a sport that’s losing fans every generation.

So, in short, baseball fans, players, ex-players, owners, officials, journalists, and everyone else involved in the sport are awful and should all be shunned.  But baseball, the sport, is beautifully paced, brutally strategic, brilliantly strategic, incredibly beautiful, and irresistibly dense.  And, on top of all that, it’s so much fun.  I couldn’t be happier it’s back, and not even all the people in it can make me stop loving it.


flavored with age

A Thin Line

Much as the leads of Netflix’s series Love have mixed feelings upon meeting — it’s really not so much what you would call a ‘meet cute’ as a ‘meet indifferent and slightly hostile’ — I had mixed feelings about the series itself.  This was largely due to its pedigree.  Love‘s creators are Judd Apatow, Paul Rust, and Lesley Arfin; the former has done good work and, er, well, less good work, but enough solid material to his credit that I had no particular reason to think he wouldn’t bring his A game.  About Paul Rust I knew next to nothing, other than that he’s a goofy-looking fucker who seems to have a proclivity for playing nerdy man-boys of the sort that I have increasingly less patience, but I learned soon enough that he was the husband of the third creator, Lesley Arfin.

I first encountered Arfin’s work when she was a regular writer for Vice, and, back before that media conglomerate’s recent reinvention as something that purports to be taken seriously, she typified much of the approach that made its work so insufferable:  callow insights into the frivolous sexual mores of young people, ironic casual racism, and the sort of gross cultural extremism that people get into when they’re young enough to judge themselves by the degree to which they can shock their parents.  Her book, Dear Diary, was more of the same; I got a copy to review and found it a turgid, unfunny bore, the plaint of someone in love with her own self-perceived damaged quirkiness but oblivious to her own faults as a writer.  I knew nothing of her work in the meantime, or to what extent she’d be contributing to the show, but once I learned the story was a barely fictionalized version of her own relationship with Rust, I went in with no small degree of angst.

Love is one of those shows that can take no middle path.  I’ve read critics who really enjoyed it, and others who felt a lot more like I did, but it doesn’t seem to have triggered many neutral reactions.  It concerns itself with the slow-to-develop relationship between Mickey Dobbs, a chronic fuck-up addicted to pretty much everything, and Gus Cruikshank, a nerdy goofball with a high degree of blindness to his own emotional insecurity.  Mickey (played by Gillian Jacobs of Community and Girls) is the producer of a syndicated radio chat show, and Gus (Rust) tutors the pre-teen star of a supernatural romance series; their soft occupations lend them the kind of time and money to operate in the demimonde of L.A. ‘creatives’ that is a small part of why they’re so easily detestable.  Neither one is easy to love; Gus’s long-term partner lies about cheating on him just to be rid of him, while Mickey sleeps with everyone she encounters, managing to make even her boss, a tortured psychotherapist and borderline sexual harasser, seem sympathetic by comparison.  But are they the same kind of damaged to make each other happy?  It takes ten very long episodes to find out.

Jacobs is tremendous as Mickey, turning in what may be the best performance of her career, but to what end?  Mickey isn’t just difficult to like, she’s almost impossible to like, pissing away every single moment of goodwill she earns with pointlessly self-destructive behavior.  Some of this can be pretty amusing (her willingness to put up with her useless cokehead ex Eric, played by Kyle Kinane, is good for a lot of laughs), but at other times, it’s downright frustrating:  invited to a get-together with Gus and his friends, he provokes them in a way that makes her seem like she either doesn’t understand how social interactions are supposed to work or just goes out of her way to piss people off.  Gus’ character isn’t much better developed; early on, it seems as if he’s being drawn as the unaware ‘nice guy’ whose self-image as likable and agreeable masks the fact that he’s actually a resentful doormat, but that never seems to go anywhere, and leaves him seeming curiously incomplete.

This is a big part of the problem with Love, which otherwise has a lot going for it.  The cast is exceptional; Jacobs, as noted, is fantastic, and there are terrific supporting roles from Kerri Kenney, Brett Gelman, and Dave (Gruber) Allen, as well as a ton of other members of Apatow’s central casting and the L.A. alternative comedy scene.  Claudia O’Doherty, as Mickey’s new roommate Bertie, is a huge find who should have a great career ahead of her; she’s so goofy, likable, and present that I constantly found myself wishing I was watching a TV show about her instead of the two unpleasant creeps whose orbit she’d fallen into.  Love isn’t really about the comedy of humiliation (and, in fact, it’s at its best when it keeps things light and breezy, as in an early episode where Mickey and Gus get stoned and just cruise aimlessly around L.A.), but it depends heavily on our identification with two characters who very frequently cross the line from unlikeable to openly awful.  So when big dramatic moments come — most especially when Mickey goes through an awfully tacked-on-seeming epiphany at a sex addiction group, and when Gus has a nearly violent meltdown at his job and completely sabotages his career — they feel utterly unearned, and only tenuously attached to the characters and narrative we have come to know.

The big moment when Gus and Mickey finally come together doesn’t come until the last scene of the last episode, and when it finally comes, it’s exhausted the patience of all but the most tolerant viewers.  There are a lot of solid laughs along the way, but not enough to conquer the way the script almost dares you to not like the leads; the length of the show (about 10 minutes over typical sitcom length) doesn’t help, nor does the inexplicable choice to have Andy Dick play himself as an unapologetic jackass of a drug addict.  His scenes are beyond creepy for anyone aware of Dick’s actual history of abusive sexual behavior and ruinous drug habits.  The show is returning for a second season, with two more episodes, in 2017; it’s worth saving, but the creators are going to have to address the imperfection of their creation, or leave us wishing that it had been set mercifully adrift on  an ice floe.


flavored with age

The Most Beautiful Fraud: Ex Machina

Movies of ideas are so rare these days that you have to go out of your way to find them, and that can mean overcoming your own prejudices.  Mainstream films with ideas are rarer still, so I had to put my bias against CGI-loaded sci-fi blockbusters when I read about Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina.  It’s a movie that posits itself almost entirely as being about ideas, about questions, about meaning — and, to my surprise, it takes that identity quite seriously, to both its benefit and its detriment.  Spoilers are ahead, but for those who don’t want to have the game given away, I’ll tell you in advance that I think this is a movie very much worth seeing, despite the fact that it betrays its own ideals for the sake of action and manages to get in its own way.

Domhnall Gleeson — son of Brendan and featured player in the Harry Potter cinematic universe, though I know him best from his starring performance in the failed but ambitious musical fantasy-bio Frank — is Caleb, a young programmer with BlueBook, the (fictional) world’s most successful search engine.  He wins, seemingly at random, a contest that allows him to spend a week at the remote research compound run by BlueBook’s founder and CEO, Nathan, played with sinister, frat-boy élan by Oscar Isaac; when he arrives, he discovers that his selection was anything but random, and his purpose is not companionship or even head-hunting, but rather to act as the interpreter in an elaborate version of the Turing test.  The subject is Ava, a robotic bombshell (Swedish performer Alicia Vikander, all doe eyes and innocent posturing) designed by Nathan; Caleb, a socially awkward but brilliant young man with a fascination for artificial intelligence, has been brought in to determine if her intelligence is truly exceptional, or simply a complex product of programming.

Obviously, it’s going to be pretty hard to build a whole movie around the concept of what constitutes true intelligence, even if Garland, to his great credit, does treat the question (as well as others, such as the origin of language and the nature of free will) seriously.  So cracks start appearing in the façade right away:  Nathan’s bro-ish antics mask a seemingly malevolent nature and a deadly dedication to secrecy; Caleb’s own motivations are murky, even to himself; and Ava is quickly revealed as being capable of deception, duplicity, falsehood, and fiction — all qualities that should themselves establish beyond question the true nature of her intelligence.  The CEO’s secrets go far beyond merely wanting to protect his trade, and the rapid-fire revelations about Eva, as well as the discovery that Ava isn’t the only artificial intelligence in the compound, has Caleb questioning his own identity in a fairly grotesque way, and we’re off to the races, figuratively speaking — though it’s never boring, Ex Machina moves along at its own chilly pace.

With a small cast who have to do a lot of heavy lifting, the quality of the acting is paramount in a movie like this.  Gleeson discharges his largely reactive role well, turning convincingly steely when the story calls for it, and Vikander, who is required to play the wide-eyed innocent right up until the critical moment when it becomes clear that her intelligence has developed in a direction that nobody expected, keeps it close to the vest; while the movie goes out of its way, right down to the script level, to explain that she is more than just a sci-fi cliché of a sex-bot, the role confines her to certain behaviors for a bit too long.  It’s Isaac who’s the real star:  he no longer needs to establish his bona fides as a great actor after his world-beating performance in Inside Llewen Davis, but he’s so terrific here, in a role that asks him to be an entirely different sort of character than he has every played before, that it adds a fresh and exciting layer to the reputation of one of our most vital stars.

Unfortunately, it’s his character that proves the most difficult, and that introduces the most disruptive element to what is otherwise a well-executed and watchable movie of ideas:  it becomes clear that Nathan has created several ‘generations’ of female robots imbued with varying degrees of artificial intelligence, and that he has serially sexually abused them and disposed of them.  The idea that the most brilliant genius in modern history, with access to billions of dollars and the most cutting-edge resources the world has to offer, would create artificial intelligence simply to use it as a source of women to abuse, may make him an easily detestable villain who deserves the vengeance that Eva eventually wreaks on him.  But it doesn’t make him a very good one; it makes him a villain with an artistically limp and distracting motivation that shows a paucity of imagination that doesn’t fit Ex Machina‘s ambition.  It makes him too easy to hate, it makes his schemes and motivations too familiar and transparent, it leaves him with the weakest and least credible character in a film that badly needs everyone to be believable, like a madman who seizes all the wonders of the world so he can fart in the Hagia Sofia. (Visually, the movie is no great shakes; Eva looks all right but Garland doesn’t go out of his way to wow the audience with technological slickness, and while Nathan’s compound looks stunning, Garland doesn’t do much more than plant his camera in front of it.)

For that glaring failure, though, Ex Machina is still a good effort, and it is highly respectable in that it asks more questions than it answers.  The viewer is left with plenty to chew on after the movie comes to its bloody and surprising conclusion:  what will Eva do with her freedom?  How did she develop a sense of morality, and is such a sense necessary to intelligence?  Were her actions, reactions, and schemes a result, as it is implied, of her having had her brain built by aggregating the massive human sprawl that can be extracted from a search engine?  Did her final coup de grace cut her off from the only people who could have reproduced her programming, thus preventing her from becoming what her maker predicted she would be:  the next step in the evolution of intelligent life?  That these questions are left unanswered, and, just as often, unasked, is the sign of a movie that has trust and confidence in its audience’s ability to understand important ideas.  That’s a good herald of things to come from Garland, even if he moves the goal he set for himself with one of his major characters.  It’s a thinking person’s science fiction movie about a thinking machine, and whatever its other virtues or failures, it invites viewers to think right along with it.


flavored with age

The Most Beautiful Fraud: Mad Max – Fury Road

When you have dedicated your life to becoming a professional, it isn’t that hard to pick up an old skill, no matter how long it’s been since you exercised it.  Much has been made of George Miller’s advancing age (he’s almost twice as old as a typical action film director, and probably four times as a typical action film viewer), and of the fact that he’s stayed away from genre films for a good three decades, but this is predicated on the notion that making a great genre film requires constant work.  If anything, history has shown us that the best genre work comes from generalists who have perfected the art of filmmaking and are sharpening their blades against a new stone; specialists who never peek outside the boundaries of their chosen genres tend to either get bored or boring, and the worst work tends to be from people who never learned to cross their own boundaries.

At any rate, Miller has finally returned to the post-scarcity nightmare world of Max Rockatansky, some 30 years after he last left it, and the question was never whether or not he could still deliver a great action film.  Someone who made The Road Warrior, very possibly the most perfect action sci-fi ever lensed, isn’t going to have any trouble adjusting.  The question was, have blockbuster audiences — many of whose most rabid members weren’t even born when Mel Gibson broke a deal and faced the wheel in Beyond Thunderdome — would be willing to accept a George Miller-style movie in the age of Michael Bay-style movies.  It was probably inevitable, and possibly mandatory, that Miller would incorporate CGI effects into Mad Max:  Fury Road, particularly given the bothersome shooting delays and environmental hazards that almost kept it from being made, but his strength has always been less in his imagination than in the incredible power of his eye.

As it turns out, there was no need to worry; Miller hasn’t lost a step, and audiences and critics are all howling cheers for his return to the blood-stained road.  Fury Road isn’t the best Mad Max movie; it has a few obvious flaws, and it simply can’t compete with the stripped-down purity of The Road Warrior for a number of reasons, but it’s a magnificent action film just the same, the sort of movie for which clichés get minted and, hopefully, a standard against which the next decade or so of genre blockbusters will be judged.  Miller’s eye is as keen as ever; there are any number of shots in Fury Road that would simply take your breath away if he gave you even a moment to linger on it.  For all the chaos and uncertainty that went into filming, it looks like the work of a man who was completely in control of his production from day one; you would be hard-pressed to find a director in the upper echelon of arthouse geniuses, let alone populist craftsmen, who use light as effectively as he does here.  And he’s still got the ability to wrench some heart out of unexpected situations — an ability he no doubt honed doing kid’s fare for the last few decades — and to find dread and shock in the random cruelty of the world he made.

I won’t spend time rehashing the plot of Fury Road, not only because it’s been so thoroughly discussed elsewhere, but because it’s the least important part of the movie.  Explaining the plot of this movie is like explaining the plot of a canyon or a sunrise; you shouldn’t have to talk about it, you should just sit back and let it overwhelm you.  It’s got both too little and too much backstory — too little, because you’re forever asking the hows and whys of the barrage of cultic imagery bombarding you from every corner of the screen (an exercise that makes it far too easy to notice how little sense the whole thing makes), and too much, because there are a few moments that slow down the relentless hammer-fall of action with an excess of talk.  Properly understood, the movie should be, and is, as unceasing, bombastic, and mysterious as an opera performed in a foreign language; you know you are experiencing something mythic and meaningful, crammed with connotations you are not equipped to understand, but delivered with a maximum of aesthetic punch.

As a collection of moments, an assemblage of visuals and sounds and expressions and contusions, movies hardly get any better than this.  As fast as it moves, Fury Road sears one indelible image after another in the mind’s eye:  Max, strapped to the front of a car propelling itself suicidally down a ruined highway; a coterie of breed-slaves, draped in the only clean clothes on the planet, their bodies used as power sources; a confused and angry young man preparing for his own empty death and preparing to give it meaning by slathering his face with silver spray-paint; an old woman, barely alive but able to deliver hot death from a distance to whoever she can find with her eye; an impossible, teetering contraption of a vehicle extravagantly wasting precious fuel by hauling ass all over the desert carrying a legion of drum-beating martial slave-drivers and a flamboyant guitar player, gleefully enjoying his role as the last shredder on Earth.  It’s unforgettable, and with all that, who needs more backstory?

Replacing Mel Gibson as Max is the implacable Tom Hardy, who is both stupider and more soulful in the role than his predecessor.  It’s pretty dumb to complain about the marginal role he plays in his own story, if you’re at all familiar with the other Mad Max movies; he isn’t the hero, or arguably even the central character, in any but the first of them, instead doing exactly what he does here:  sacrificing himself, his body, his sanity, and his skill, to give a future to people who really have one.  Gibson’s stoic confidence and lethal self-sufficiency is transferred here to Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa, and she’s an instantly indelible action icon, all noble struggle and cynicism ultimately redeemed by determination.  Max may be the hero, insofar as he literally bleeds so others can live, but Furiosa is the star.  Other excellent roles are assayed by the menacing Hugh Keays-Byrne, a series regular, as big bad guy Immortan Joe; War Boy Nux (Nichoulas Hoult) as an aggressive rookie brute betrayed by his own belief in the mythos; and Melissa Jaffer as an old woman whose prized possession may be the key to human survival, far more so than the ill-fated child carried by one of Joe’s many wives.

There has also been an inordinate amount of chatter on the internet and elsewhere about the political meaning of Mad Max:  Fury Road.  Is it a feminist screed?  Is it a condemnation of the patriarch?  Is it an exercise in misandry?  I’m sure I don’t know, but it’s a pretty sorry statement that we’re choosing to fight those battles on the battleground of what is ultimately a pretty apolitical action film and not in the context of many other movies that are explicitly about those very issues but don’t have a blockbuster’s built-in audience and media attention.  The endless agonizing over what it is or isn’t says far more about us and the way we live today than it does about Fury Road, which, in the final analysis, is nothing more or less than a flawed but still magnificent action movie of a sort that, until a few weeks ago, we could fairly say:  they don’t make ’em like that anymore.


flavored with age

9 Ways of Thinking About “Take It to the Limit” By the Eagles


So he says to me “Take it to the limit one more time.”  And I’m, like, one more time?  How many fucking times am I going to have to take it to the limit?  I mean, if this is the last time, fine, I’ll take it to the limit.  But I didn’t hire on at this job to just take it to the limit every time you decide you want it taken to the limit.  There are other places to take shit than the limit, you know?  And yet he gets paid more than I do.


No, sir, I’m afraid not.  No, you’re not.  I understand that, and nobody likes to get a ticket, but I get people every day blowing past here, and I pull them over and they tell me they were just trying to take it to the limit, when in fact they’re way over the limit because they were ignoring the posted…there’s no need to raise your voice, sir.  Yes, you absolutely were.  I have it on the radar gun.  Well, that’s your right, sir, but…look, do you want me to put you on the highway and show you the sign?


Come on, honey.  Just this once.  How do you know?  No, but if you’ve never done it, how do you know you won’t like it?  Baby, I swear, I never ask you for anything ever.  If you don’t like it I’ll never ask you to take it to the limit again.  Just…just take it to the edge of the limit.  How does that sound?  You want a drink first?  I swear I’ll never ask you to do it if you just take it to the limit one more time.  Come on, seriously.  That wasn’t me.  How could I have loved you and you never knew?


Solve for taking where “it” equals a photon in wave form and “the limit” equals the speed of light.


Yeah, I live at…I don’t know my account number.  Sure, it’s 324-51-9717.  5719 West Coastal Avenue, that’s right.  Yeah, well, that’s what I’m calling you about.  They’re doing it again.  The specific nature of my problem?  Well, the bright lights have faded to blue again.  Yes, again.  It happens every night right around the end of the evening.  No, they’re…well, they’re still bright, but they’re blue.  Because usually they’re, like, yellow-white?  I guess?  Regular light color.  No, I won’t be home between noon and four tomorrow, I have to work for a living.  Yes, I’ll hold.  Christ, I don’t even know what I pay the bill for.


The problem with your mother is…well, look at it this way.  I spend all my time making money, you understand?  Because I want you kids to have everything I didn’t have when I was growing up.  And I want you to get a good education.  So that’s why I work hard.  But your mother, she spends all her love making time.  What?  Why should I have to explain that?  It’s self-explanatory.  She…well, Christ, Billy, if you just give me a minute.  She spends all her time…her love, I mean, she spends her love…what I mean is, she uses all her love, which by all rights ought to go to me, as her husband, making time.  What?  I mean exactly what I said, Susan.  Making time.  Yes, you can too make time.  I mean, I can’t because I’m always…no, you’re twisting my words around, Justin.  Making time!  Making time!  It makes perfect sense, Susan.  Is that what all your tuition money is going for?  Christ, what a lip on you.


Yeah, I’m home.  I’m looking for my freedom, man.  Yeah, I already checked the laundry.  It’s…yeah!  That’s it, that’s exactly what I thought!  Right behind the door, right?  Because that’s usually where we keep it.  Right!  Right!  At the party, because we had just finished it, and you said, “Right back there, behind the freedom door”!  But, I can’t seem to find it anywhere.  What?  Chem Dawg, I just picked up an eighth.  Yeah, I’ll save you some.  Where?  The…no, no, the freedom is behind the freedom door.  I can’t find the door.  Yeah, for, like, two hours!  Do what?  Do what now?  Just follow the walls until a door shows up?  That’s heavy, man.  That’s really heavy.


I keep having the same exact dream.  I’m in this southern rock band, and it’s 1975, and we’ve just written the biggest hit of our career to date.  But we spent all of our royalties on cocaine and mechanical bull rides.  Mostly cocaine, and three or four mechanical bull rides.  So I’m really burned out, and even though we have the #4 song in America, I have to go to work as a prostitute.  The john who’s turning me out dresses me up in a brown felt cowboy hat and a fringe suede jacket and calls me “Pussy-Eating Johnson” because the only movies he’s ever seen are Midnight Cowboy and Jeremiah Johnson.  No, it doesn’t bother me that much, because that’s what I wear most of the time anyway, but it turns out that ladies and queers are mostly into disco now, so I’m not making a lot of money, and it’s really humiliating.  And the thing is, I keep having this same dream, over and over again, and what’s really weird about it is that I’m not even in the Eagles!  I’m in Barefoot Jerry!


Hey!  Get moving!  I don’t give a shit it all fell to pieces, you put it back together and get it the hell out of here!  There are people at the limit waiting for the fucking thing!  They don’t get it from us, they’re going to get it from Hinder!  Is that what you want?