Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Royal Wave

In honor of the 21st anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, I popped a tape of the network coverage of her funeral into the VHS deck last night and wallowed in excessive grief. Some highlights of the live pre-dawn coverage below:

PETER JENNINGS: We'd like to welcome those people who have no lives to our endless coverage of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. And we should say, at the start, to fend off any possible criticism, that the only reason our network is acting like a tabloid TV show is because we are bending to the will of the people, like true journalists. And with me here, to wallow in the overwrought excess of the next six hours, is George Will, who always has something pedantic to contribute, as always. George?

GEORGE WILL: Peter, the levelling impulse, which is at the heart of democracy, always elevates the lowest common denominator to the throne. This is why people think pundits like me are actually intelligent. And to prove it, my poorly-paid research assistants have supplied me with several quotes from Edith Wharton, Henry James, Daniel Boorstin, and Mark Twain.

PETER JENNINGS: And I'm sure you'll share them with the world, George, because you certainly love the sound of your own voice.

As the poet W H Auden said, Narcissus "does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his."

PETER JENNINGS: And to help us assess the synthetic significance of Diana's life, which of course we are contributing to with our network coverage, Barbara Walters.

BARBARA WALTERS: I never thought I would say this publicly. I never have until tonight. But I considered her a friend. Especially now that she's no longer here to deny it. She was warm, huggable, and I grieve.

PETER JENNINGS: As do the little people in the streets, Barbara. Let's call on Aaron Brown to tell us the mood in those streets. Aaron?

AARON BROWN: Peter, one is struck by the near-total silence. If I didn't know any better, I'd say it's almost like somebody died.

PETER JENNINGS: Aaron Brown, insightful as always. Well, our team is collected, our cameras are primed to take pictures of teary-eyed Brits, and meanwhile, I will be earning my multi-million-dollar salary by stumbling over my words, failing to speak grammatically, and proving once and for all that network anchors look like idiots when they don't have anything to read on a teleprompter.


PETER JENNINGS: Here we see the, uh, Welsh guards, which are of course there because Diana is, or was, the Princess of, uh, Wales. Perhaps one of our British experts could help us out on this. Anthony, whom we call Tony?

ANTHONY (TONY) : Sod off, Peter.


GEORGE WILL: --words of Bernard Shaw, we are separated by a common language, which indeed--


PETER JENNINGS: And once again, surrounding the casket, the distinctive uniforms of the Welsh guards--

BARBARA WALTERS: --horrible--


BARBARA WALTERS: --tragedy--


GEORGE WILL: --in the words of Rudyard Kipling--

PETER JENNINGS: --Welsh Guards, which are there because Diana--


PETER JENNINGS: And for those of you out there who actually read, this week's New Yorker magazine has several Diana-related articles, among them "This Is What Comes Of Fucking An Arab," by Simon Schama -- "I Was So Fucking Close To Her, My Nipples Got Hard," By Tina Brown -- "She Fucked Me Over," by Clive James -- and "Fuck Her Anyway," by Salman Rushdie.

Some comments from the world at large:

BARBARA WALTERS: I grieve, Peter. I grieve more than her ex-husband. And I definitely grieve more than Katie Couric.

TOM BROKAW: You want to talk grieving? I had to sit next to Katie Couric and listen to her talk for five hours.

WENDY WASSERSTEIN: Even though she was shallow and glib, Diana had this reputation as a deeply committed woman. That's why she reminds me of me.


ANDREW MORTON: In her death something inside us has died. People are grieving for lost hopes, lost dreams, lost ambitions. The waste of this life on the brink of so much opportunity. On the zenith of her achievement. One of the most awful tragedies of the late 20th century, if not the greatest.

PETER JENNINGS: Andrew Morton, putting it all in perspective.

GEORGE WILL: Speaking of perspective, Peter, at times like this, it can clearly be seen how the levelling wind of democracy really blows. We are all united in this shared moment of grief. Or, in the words of John Lennon, "I am you, and you are me, and he is she, and we are all together."

PETER JENNINGS: Final thoughts. Barbara?

BARBARA WALTERS: On Prime Time Live, I will be holding back the tears while I interview Elton John in an ugly wig about his great friend Princess Diana. Then I'll be interviewing Michael Jackson, and trying not to look at his face, while he talks about how his life has been totally ruined by freelance photographers.

PETER JENNINGS: A great day for journalism, Barbara. George?

GEORGE WILL: I think we can ultimately say, in the words of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, that Diana, the people's princess, "is not merely dead--she's really and sincerely dead."

ANNOUNCER'S VOICE: This has been a presentation of ABC News. If you would like a printed transcript of this broadcast, please check your medication.

* * * *
Coming up in ten days: The Mother Theresa Anniversary! Talk about splashed with excitement!

Friday, August 29, 2008

go for the gold

The opening of Stagecoach

Shakespeare: 1877

In the course of his long and storied life, there were only three times when JB Hatfield broke Hickock’s Law and sat with his back to the room, instead of to a wall, while playing cards.

The first time nearly got him killed. That was in 1877, a year after Hickock was murdered. Hatfield had taken the stage into Shakespeare, New Mexico, and after renting a room at the Globe Hotel, he repaired to the Mermaid Tavern, where he joined a three-handed game of stud poker. The only available seat put his back to the bar. He didn’t think twice about sitting in it. There was no one at the bar, and the only other patrons were sitting against the wall, where he could see them.

What Hatfield didn’t notice was the door at the end of the bar which led to the privy in the alley outside. Two minutes after he sat down, Long John Long walked through that door, looked at the table of card players, said, “Well if isn’t my old friend JB,” pulled out a Colt, and snapped a shot at the back of Hatfield’s head.

As Hatfield put it in his memoirs, “Shakespeare is a ghost town now, and if my old friend Long John had taken a second to aim his Colt instead of shooting wildly, I would have been a ghost as well. So I made sure he did not get a chance to fire a second shot.”

Hatfield’s memoirs are famous for arriving at the destination without actually describing the journey, and this episode is no exception. As Mark Twain put it, “He will start a sentence with six bullets in his gun and end it with an empty pistol, but damned if he ever tells you where those bullets went.”

In this case, there were four bullets in all, two from each man. The first, fired by Long John, hit the wall opposite the bar. When Hatfield heard the gunshot, he ducked his head, turned in his chair, went down to the floor on his right knee and fired up at the man with the gun who was standing by the bar. The man’s face came into focus just as Hatfield’s bullet bit into his hip.

“Oh John you are a lucky son of a bitch,” Long John said, and grabbed the bar with his free hand as he began to topple. Steadying himself, Long John aimed his gun at Hatfield’s head.

Hatfield considered shooting Long John in the belly, which was a target that would have been impossible to miss, but Long John was Hatfield’s friend, and you do not shoot a friend in the belly unless you are drunk enough so that you might miss it entirely. So instead, Hatfield fired at Long John’s hand, which was clutching the bar. He didn’t try to hit the fingers. He just wanted to get close enough for normal human reflexes to take over. He calculated that if he got close enough, even someone as slow on the uptake as Long John Long would yank his hand out of the way without thinking about it.

The bullet splintered wood about three inches from Long John’s thumb, and Long John confirmed his basic humanity by yelping and yanking his hand back, and then falling over just as he fired at Hatfield. The bullet went into the ceiling, and Long John hit the floor on his wounded hip. He produced a scream of pain which was embarrassing to hear, and then went silent after Hatfield hit him over the head with a chair.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Financial Equivalent of Making "Ain't" Accepted Usage

I used to work in financial research, way back when before the internets, and I can tell you first hand that getting financial details on foreign companies was difficult, when it wasn't impossible, because international accounting rules are a lot looser than the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) that US companies have to follow. International accounting principles (called the IFRS) allow you to reclassify losses, bury tons of stuff under research and development, and generally paint a rosy financial picture of something that doesn't have a financial leg to stand on. If Enron had been filing under IFRS? It would still be a going concern today, which is frightening on several levels.

The whole point of GAAP is to get a clear picture of what corporations are doing with their money. This is called transparency. It's one of the big buzzwords in Corporate America right now. It's what GAAP rules are supposed to create for American corporations. It's what IFRS rules fog up, because they promote a much less rigorous standard of accounting. And there's a lot a foreign company can hide with a looser, less rigorous accounting standard and reporting requirement.

And in 6 years? American companies will have the same opportunity, because the SEC has decided to do the financial equivalent of declaring that bad grammar is now grammatical. The Wall Street Journal says it best. And, using the journalistic version of IFRS, it also spells out the differences as broadly as possible:

The U.S. accounting system, which is ingrained in textbooks, business schools and company treasuries, is based on detailed rules, while the international system expects companies to follow broad principles.

And in the name of what principles is this change being effected?

Competitiveness. And, oh yeah -- transparency.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Today's Cranky Rant

Speaking of repressive dictatorships. Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, who has never met a concentrated state power he doesn't like as long as he can duck into a McDonald's, tells us we all have to be more like China. Which would mean industrialization at the expense of the environment, mass curtailing of protests, only happy stories in the news, and the Potemkin Village of a 24/7/52 Olympics. Y'know -- sort of like watching Fox News in Disneyland all day.

Speaking of the Olympics.

Number of new world swimming records set in 2004: 8
Number of new world swimming records set in 2008: 25
Number of new Olympic swimming records set in 2008: 65

Ignoring, like the IOC, the possibility of doping, isn't the addition of the new preferred swimming outfit, Speedo’s LZR Racer, like saying "Everybody used to have to drive with their windows locked open; now you can drive with them closed, if you want to?" And isn't the addition of two empty lanes on either side of the pool the equivalent of saying "Hey--you can return the ball from the doubles court, not the singles court now?" So how is that anything like an equal playing field?

Speaking of equal playing fields. Tuesday morning's top Democratic convention story: will Hillary rise to the challenge? Today's top Democratic convention story: will Obama rise to the challenge? Why do I think that none -- repeat: none -- of the top stories of the Republican convention will ever contain the word "challenge?" Because the mainstream media is always harder on the liberal. "God forbid I get accused of liberal bias!" they cry, like closeted Senators who vote against Gay Rights bills. They'll give McCain a free pass; wait and see.

Speaking of the election. If the middle of the country believes that we're on a war footing, the Republican will win. If the middle of the country believes that we're heading for a Depression, the Democrat will win. And all undecided voters will make their decisions, pro or con, based on either race or military experience.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Weekend Update

Stupid Rhetorical Question. Will the Olympics’ success lead China to domestic reforms or convince leaders that their current model is working? This is like asking "Will the subservient kowtowing of the mainstream media lead the White House to tell the truth or continue lying?"

All the movies I didn't see in a theatre this weekend. Tropic Thunder, Pierrot Le Fou & Mississippi Mermaid, Le Doulos & Classe Tous Risques, Man On A Wire, Girl Cut in Two.

All the movies I watched on DVD this weekend. Three Musketeers, Four Musketeers, The Searchers, Stage Door, Howl's Moving Castle, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Joy House, 1/3 of Forbidden Planet.

Number of letters I started writing. 3

Number of letters I finished writing. 0

Number of hours spent puttering around doing nothing. 48

Friday, August 22, 2008

full moon over brant rock

Me and the Muse

MEROË: Hey! Why haven’t you written anything in the last week?
MATTHEW: I was doing the family thing.
MEROË: Oh right—that Gatsby e-mail. Jesus, talk about convoluted.
MATTHEW: Convoluted is my confirmation name.
MEROË: No chit Cherlock. So how did it go?
MATTHEW: Nobody died. And there wasn’t a scene, though it was touch and go twice.
MEROË: Thanks to you?
MATTHEW: Thanks to me.
MEROË: Moron.
MATTHEW: I keep forgetting that you can’t tease people who have no sense of humor about themselves.
MEROË: Honestly forgetting or deliberately forgetting?
MATTHEW: That was the Cleveland brother.
MEROË: And the other brother?
MATTHEW: Cock of the walk.
MEROË: I note the first noun. So what was all that Gatsby crap?
MATTHEW: Well, to extend the analogy, --
MEROË: Spare me, Jeebus.
MATTHEW: -- when Daisy walked in, everybody politely ignored the fact that she was the one who was driving when Myrtle Wilson was run over.
MEROË: Still making no sense.
MATTHEW: I have the analogy all written down and explained, let me check my notes.
MEROË: You know you -- wait a minute –- you DID do some writing over the weekend?
MATTHEW: Just a few notes to explain --
MEROË: You mean you worked out a stupid analogy to The Great Gatsby for five days?
MATTHEW: Well not for the whole five, but –-
MEROË: This is the first I’m hearing of it.
MEROË: And you know what that means.
MATTHEW: Yes, I know what that means.
MEROË: It means whatever you've written is crap. Total crap.
MATTHEW: [sullen silence]
MEROË: So when are you going to start working on the rewrite again?
MATTHEW: Tonight.
MEROË: Damn right you are.


MEROË: So which one of your brothers is Daisy again?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sibs on parade

"It never takes longer than a few minutes, whenever they get together, for everyone to revert to the state of nature, like a party marooned by a shipwreck. That's what a family is."

-- Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, p. 309

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Busiest Subway Line in Manhattan

Dream diary, 8/18/08. I get a call from my drummer friend Michael who says that a member of his troupe dropped out of a gig today in Manhattan, and can I fill in? I haven't played guitar since I left Boston, but I say yes, and dig out the old weathered black case that holds my nylon string Brazilian rosewood baby. I also grab the leather zipper case that has the song charts and lyric sheets Shep Miller made out for me before he gave me the guitar when we were rooming together on the Cape.

In the back room of the rehearsal hall in Queens is one of those climbing walls that people exercise on, only this wall is made up of rocks representing old Tom Waits albums. They're differently-colored and textured, and Waits himself is sitting in front of them explaining that this is a promotional stunt for the re-releases of the newly-remastered complete Waits collection which Rhino is going to be issuing "just in time to suck up all your Christmas money," as Waits says. The rocks are placed at a sharp angle to the floor; you can actually walk to the ceiling by putting one foot on the climbing part and one foot on the flat wall opposite, which I do, because I want to see what Frank's Wild Years looks like. As I climb, I listen to Waits giving advice to a young kid who wants to be a poet. "A poet is the hardest thing there is," Waits says. "You have to be prepared to send your work out into the world and never get a reply. You'll be stranded on a desert island and each poem will be a message in a bottle that will never get you rescued."

Out of the rehearsal hall and onto the street, where there's a fair and a mob of people. I look around for street signs; I'm at the corner of 22nd and 2nd; there's a stop at 23rd and 3rd, which is the busiest subway station in Manhattan. It's also the last place that takes tokens, which means it's the only station in the city where the token clerks actually do something besides sit in their booths and tell you to use the machines. "That'll be five ten sixty," the clerk says when I get to the window. He drops a bunch of small bronze tokens the size of dimes in my hand, and I fork over a five dollar bill, two quarters and a dime. I'm still looking for the extra ten when he waves me aside, and I find myself on the other side of the turnstyle, but without my guitar or zipper case of music and lyrics. I lean backwards and with my right hand I grab the strap of my guitar case, and then snag the zipper case from where it's sitting in front of the booth window. Then I head up to the outdoor waiting area.

There are three lines at 23rd and 3rd -- uptown, downtown, and the shuttle. The shuttle is a kiddie-sized Magic Kingdom train that looks like a cake ornament made out of gingerbread and vanilla icing. As it pulls into the station, a woman behind me says "What train is that?" "It's the shuttle," I say, and she pushes by me to get onto it as the doors slide open with the scraping sound of wood on wood.

I take the uptown train to the performance hall, and when I get there, I see three well-dressed drunks staggering outside the main door. They all wear suits and ties and none of them can stand vertically without weaving around and around like a pendulum. I go inside and see a huge whitewashed hall with chairs and tables, and a small raised platform with three microphones and a drum set at one end. There's another drunk guy inside who explains that normally this is a beer hall. I nod and notice a ten-dollar gold piece on the floor in front of the stage. As I pick it up, the drunk guy laughs and says "And if we all weren't so drunk, we would have noticed that hours ago!" I look around; there are coins all over the floor, but they're all foreign--small Dominican dimes, big British pennies, and a couple of huge Mexican pesos that are as flat as paper and as big as my open hand. I put those on stage next to the mike I'll be using and try to think of a way to work them into my pre-song patter.

There's still a couple of hours before the show, plenty of time for me to hit a bookstore. If I remember right, there's a Shakespeare and Company on 23rd, but I can't remember the cross street. This means a train ride back, but I decide to walk, strumming my guitar as I go. It's been so long since I've played. The zippered case of music is gone, the guitar case is gone, it's just me and the guitar, but I'm having problems tuning it. I stop walking and stand by a hill and try to do a C Major, but it doesn't sound right. I can get the root and the major third, but the perfect fifth is escaping me.

Then I hear it coming from the hill, and I turn and see Ester, of all people, lying against the hillside like she's just about to sing "And I will marry the miller's son," with her long blonde hair braided into a tight little violin string that she holds between her elbow and her shoulder, and on which she is slowly bowing a G that fits in perfectly with the other two-thirds of the chord that I'm playing on my guitar. For a moment every atom of air in the world comes alive with the note we're playing together.

Then Ester smiles and says "I'm thinking of moving to Staten Island," and the disconnect is so jarring (Ester on Stinky Island?) that the observer part of my mind starts ringing the Dream Alarm ("Ding ding ding ding! You're dreaming!") and I wake up so hard I can hear my neck snap.

And that farm boy in Kansas was named Kent . . .

(A novel you can read between sips of morning coffee, courtesy of the Peanuts Collector Club FAQ.)

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night
by Snoopy

Part I

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out!
A door slammed. The maid screamed.

Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon!

While millions of people were starving, the king lived in
luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was
growing up.

Part II

A light snow was falling, and the little girl with the
tattered shawl had not sold a violet all day.

At that very moment, a young intern at City Hospital
was making an important discovery. The mysterious patient
in Room 213 had finally awakened. She moaned softly.

Could it be that she was the sister of the boy in Kansas
who loved the girl with the tattered shawl who was the
daughter of the maid who had escaped from the pirates?
The intern frowned.

"Stampede!" the foreman shouted, and forty thousand
head of cattle thundered down on the tiny camp. The two
men rolled on the ground grappling beneath the murderous
hooves. A left and a right. A left. Another left and right.
An uppercut to the jaw. The fight was over. And so the
ranch was saved.

The young intern sat by himself in one corner of the
coffee shop. He had learned about medicine, but more
importantly, he had learned something about life.


"Oh-oh, New England!"

Bonus points for the musical reference.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Weekend Update

You know you're reading a good book when . . .

. . . your niece is less than ten feet away and while she's standing directly over you on the sea wall shouting "Uncle! Uncle Matthew!" you're so engrossed you can't hear a thing. Consider this the highest recommendation you can get from me.

"And the green light at the end of the dock symbolizes hope." I think it was first semester senior year in high school when everyone in my English class decided to end every paper we had to write on anything, from Herzog to Paradise Lost, with the words "And the green light at the end of the dock symbolizes hope." And if we didn't, we should have. It was the one parrotable truth about The Great Gatsby which turned that modern tragedy about the secret sin at the heart of America (class) into the cheapest of meaningless allegories. In this country, we see the green light, not the future that year by year recedes before us, nor the dark current that bears us ceaselessly back into the past . . .

And speaking of Jay Gatz. Nobody ended up in the swimming pool, though there was a moment Saturday night when the Gatz who got ten stitches in his head that Christmas years ago made a brief guest appearance, thanks to a case of Budweiser. The SparkNotes version sould be up later . . .

Friday, August 15, 2008

Vicky Cristina Bazongas

So is it just me, or does anybody else think that Woody Allen decided five years ago that the only way he could win over the old straight male film critics who trashed him when he took up with Soon-Yi Previn was by putting someone those guys could all perv over in three out of his next four movies?

WOODY: I'm tired of being called a dirty old man by guys who would kill to fuck a twenty-year-old. From now on, I'm casting someone they want to fuck in my movies. They'll tell the world my career is rejuvenated while they're drooling in their popcorn, and I'll be laughing at them behind their backs.


that girl

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Excerpts from The Right Wing Dictionary: Part 3 of 3

NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS, evil noun. 1. Satan's soldier in the culture wars. 2. The chief purveyor of evil in America, forcing federally subsidized pornography under the guise of art. 3. A government agency that gives money to AIDS carriers, homosexuals, lesbians, and actors so they can entertain each other before they have sex.

NORMAL AMERICANS. Those people the Democrats do not represent, listen to, or speak for.

OPPORTUNITY SOCIETY, meaningless concept. An America in which success comes to those with the opportunity to make the right connections, go to the right schools, and be born of the right parents.

PATHETIC, adj. Impotent. See DEMOCRAT.

PATRIOTISM, whitened sepulchre. The veneration of the flag over the ideals it stands for; worshipping the symbol and ignoring the message. See JESUS, VENERATION OF.

PERMISSIVE, all-purpose adjective. Against the death penalty and in favor of pre-teen sex, abortion as birth control, and furloughs for rapists and murderers. See DEMOCRAT.

PERVERTED, adj. Advocating mandatory sex with animals. See DEMOCRAT.

POOR PEOPLE, race. 1. Blacks. 2. Sinners. Strictly speaking there is no such thing as poor people in America, merely people who have yet to take advantage of the many opportunities for success which this country, under the Republicans, has to offer. See RICH PEOPLE, OPPORTUNITY SOCIETY, and PERMANENT UNDERCLASS.

RELIGION, RIGHT-WING, pleonasm. The majority political party in the United States, crossing all sectarian lines, whose primary goal is to replace the Bill of Rights with the Ten Commandments. Members can be easily recognized by how they react to criticism; whenever their political positions are challenged, they invariably accuse their opponents of bigotry. This is not unlike an umpire grabbing the football and then ejecting anybody who tackles him by crying: "Personal foul! Roughing an official!"

RICH PEOPLE, honorary caucasians. 1. The successful. 2. The faithful; the elect. In the economic Calvinism which is the true religion of corporate America, success and failure in this life (and the next) are predetermined by the size of your bank account. Strictly speaking there is no such thing as rich people in America, merely people who have taken full advantage of the glorious opportunities for success which this country, under the Republicans, has to offer. See POOR PEOPLE, OPPORTUNITY SOCIETY, and ROYALTY.

TRADITIONAL VALUES. The perfect ideals of a nonexistent past. These values are most often found in old television shows, modern translations of the Pentateuch, and Normal Rockwell paintings. The current battle cry of their defenders is: "Archie and Jughead, not Beavis and Butthead!" Which tells you how behind the times these people are.

TRAITOR, slur. 1. One who betrays the principle of exclusion that is the foundation of America's middle-class values. 2. Democrat.

UNBORN, THE, biological impossibility. Embryonic conservatives; an endangered species. The word "unborn" (which is technically an un-noun) is not to be confused with the word "undead." The unborn are future Republican voters; the undead are Republicans who keep looking for the next Ronald Reagan.

UNWED MOTHERS, collective noun. Black females.

WELFARE, scam. Money stolen from your pocket in order to pay black women to sit around and do nothing but breed the next generation of muggers and rapists.

WELFARE QUEEN, cherished myth. A woman who uses her monthly food stamps to buy a Mercedes.

WELFARE STATE, dystopia. America under the Democrats. The new Communism.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Excerpts from The Right Wing Dictionary: Part 2 of 3

ELITE, slur. A word used to describe people who think they know better than normal Americans by people who make more money in a month than normal Americans will ever see in a lifetime.

ELITE MEDIA. All networks except Fox News.

EMPOWERMENT, euphemism. 1. Voluntary segregation. 2. Lowered expectations. As in, "We must replace affirmative action with empowerment."

EQUALITY. White supremacy.

FAMILY VALUES. Do as I say, not as I do. Clean your plate. Kiss all your relatives. Thou shalt not offend against the notions of thy neighbors.

FEMINIST, profanity. 1. Lesbian female. 2. Pussy-whipped male.

FLAG, sacred noun. The cloth equivalent of Baby Jesus.

GOD, political concept. The true author of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, who speaks to and through Republican Presidents, Republican strategists, and televangelists who have their own cable channels.

GOOD CITIZEN, euphemism. 1. Salaried employee. 2. One who rejoices when his problems are blamed on a scapegoat and his discontent is satisfied with a leisure product.

GOOD PUBLIC POLICY, euphemism. Whatever supports the values of the Republican Party. See SELF-PROMOTION.

HONEST DIALOGUE, contradiction in terms. A two-part process in which you listen and I talk, and then I get to talk while you listen.

LIBERAL, adj. Atheist. See DEMOCRAT.

LIFESTYLE, abomination. Any and all social activity or personal behavior prohibited either directly or in translation by the Bible.

MALAISE. 1. Self-doubt. 2. Impotence. The word conjures up the Dark Ages of the American civilization, when a small coterie of Allah-worshipping thugs held this country hostage, and we just sat there and let them do it. See CARTER, JIMMY.

MEDIA, archaism. See ELITE MEDIA.

MIDDLE-CLASS VALUES, agenda. Women in the kitchen, men in at least one dead-end job, girls behind the counter, and boys in the Armed Services. The use of the term implies support for a male-dominated social structure, reduced rights for women and ethnic groups, all-white cities and suburbs, blaming the Japanese for making us drop the A-Bomb, and replacing the Constitution with the Old Testament. See RELIGION, RIGHT-WING.

MONEY, verb. 1. God. 2. Power. 3. That which allows its owner to take advantage of the Bill of Rights, the justice system, tax loopholes, and single women on first dates.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Excerpts from The Right Wing Dictionary: Part 1 of 3

ACTIVIST, noun. Anti-corporate rabble-rouser. The only known cure for activism is a seat on a Fortune 500 board.

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, plot. 1. A scheme sponsored by the Democrats to give your job to a black gay woman on crack. 2. The giving of what you have earned through work and merit to someone who lives on welfare and entitlements. It is an article of Republican faith that this happens at least 100% of the time. 3. The constant righting of a nonexistent wrong. It is an article of Republican faith that affirmative action became unnecessary with the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.

AMERICAN PEOPLE, collective noun. 1. The imaginary common man who is the embodiment of a nation of individuals who have nothing in common. An all-powerful beast who is always enraged. 2. A collection of ignorant and meddlesome outsiders in the business of running the country. The bewildered herd. Like sports fans, they think they know the game better than the managers, and constantly complain that money has corrupted everything connected with the playing field. And, like sports fans, they will do nothing about it. 3. Special interests. When used by Republican Senators, the term "American people" always means those corporations who have given them money. When used by Republican Congressmen, the term means those to whom they owe favors. When used by the elite media, the term means other reporters.

ANTI-FAMILY, slur. Closet homosexual.

ANTI-FLAG, slur. Closet Arab terrorist.

BALANCED BUDGET, wet dream. Any budget in which the money allotted to the Pentagon is exactly equal to the combined total of money allotted to everything else.

BIPARTISANSHIP, variable noun. 1. In a Democratic administration, whatever diminishes my stature as Senate minority leader and a potential President. 2. In a Republican administration, Democratic support for legislation that promotes good public policy 3. Mutual self-preservation. When two parties close ranks to defeat a common enemy, or preserve a privilege, or maintain a monopoly. The Wolf of self-devotion in the Sheep's Clothing of cooperation.

BITCH, pejorative noun. Feminist.

BIZARRE, adj. Dressing up in women's clothes. See DEMOCRAT.

CAPITAL GAINS TAX, sin. Soaking the rich. Taxing the successful for their success.

CAPITAL GAINS INCREASE, unthinkable. In corporate mythology, the four most depressing words in the English language. In reality, the four most depressing words in the English language are: "CATS--Now And Forever."

CARTER, JIMMY. The Great Scapegoat. The epitome of the pussy-whipped, appeasing, confused, Liberal wimp. Bill Clinton's spiritual father.

CHOICE, obsolete noun. A woman's right to do whatever her husband or her employer says. In the Republican party, the word "choice" has nothing at all to do with the elite media's usage of the word (to mean a woman's control over her own body), since in Republican dogma a woman's body is automatically the property of anyone rich enough to afford to feed it, clothe it, and make it pregnant. Occasionally, the word "choice" may appear to be used by Republican men, and even Republican women, in its elite media usage; but this is to be regarded as politically motivated, and therefore non-binding, rather like the verbal equivalent of a handshake from Adolf Hitler.

CIVILITY, virtue. Docility. Usually employed to mean a return to a time when people denied a voice in this country willingly kept their mouths shut about things they didn't like.

CIVILIZATION, code word. The American Way of life. The embodiment of American civilization is the Puritan vision of the City On The Hill, where the government's existence is divinely inspired, the military's belligerence is richly deserved, and the corporation's actions are morally justified. See MIDDLE-CLASS VALUES.

CLASS, non-permitted concept. The lust that dare not speak its name. The dirty secret in the dark bedroom of the American soul. The reason class is not recognized as a valid subject when discussing American society is twofold. First, thanks to the tireless efforts of the upper-class, most Americans buy into the myth that their country is a classless society. And second, because of the ease with which true class can be obtained. See MONEY.

CLINTON, slur. Satan. The male of the species is a fornicating liar; the female alternately a spineless prevaricator or a ball-busting bull-dyke. Both members of the species think that they are God's gift to the universe, and share the same belief about national elections that the New York Yankees have about the World Series, namely, if they're not in it, then it didn't happen.

COMPASSION, noun. Contempt. As in, "I have nothing but compassion for the poor."

COUNTERCULTURE, slur. Originally used to describe a group of under-thirty activists who once tried to raise the Pentagon through the power of prayer. Currently used to describe anyone in public service who is in favor of razing the Pentagon and replacing it with a star-shaped forest of marijuana.

CRIMINALS, collective noun. Black males.

DEMOCRACY, oligarchy. In the 18th century, rule by property owners. In the 20th century, corporate rule through the election of its off-the-books employees.

DEMOCRACY, FRUITS OF. Corporate profits.

DEMOCRATS. The Jews and Roman Catholics of American politics. When they aren't feeling guilty about who they are, they feel guilty about what they've done.

DEVIANT, adj. Child-molester. See DEMOCRAT.

DISENFRANCHISED, adjective. What a white man feels when his boss is a woman, his co-workers are black, and his bartender is gay.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Weekend Update

The Long Goodbye. The 6:30 screening at BAM on Saturday, the one where Elliot Gould was going to show up for Q&A, was sold out in five minutes, so I passed on seeing the 3:30, and kicked myself at 4 PM when I saw that BAM had added a Q&A to that screening as well. As penance, I pulled out the DVD and watched it from 6 to 8. I hated this movie when it came out--hated the hell out of it. Now I love it and I think it's timeless. And the last 90 seconds are still a kick in the teeth.

What a bunch of retards. A group of people protesting the use of the word "retard" in the movie Tropic Thunder are calling for a nationwide boycott of the movie. In related news, the International Society of Johnsons are planning to burn copies of Blazing Saddles, claiming that all the Johnson jokes are hate speech. I used to think I would never live long enough to see Intelligence-Challenged Rights Groups ban the words "idiot" and "stupid." Now I think it'll probably happen by the end of this year.

And speaking of stupidity. Can we just say that so-called journalists are all idiots? From "investigating" the Edwards affair story by taking his initial denials at face value to swallowing China's assurances that, oh yes, we will not restrict speech or internet access at all during the Olympics, "reporters" have once again parroted lies and left it at that.

Comics and music, perfect together.

It weighs in at about 50 pounds, but it's gorgeous. If you like Tori Amos and/or state of the art graphic art, you really need to find a place where this hasn't sold out yet.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Badlands Story

“No -- one more, one more!” cries Donna, and Tom says, “Yeah, we got time for one more, your train doesn’t leave till ten, right? We’ll get you there by ten. One more song.” And he puts on Badlands, and the three of us spend the next four minutes and one second dancing with each other and screaming the words to the chorus like sinners crying for redemption at a camp meeting.

It’s October 1981 and I am heading down to Washington DC to see (and be part of) an evening of one-act plays I’ve written entitled A Night To Dismember. I’ve checked my luggage at South Station, booked a berth on the sleeper train, and have spent the night partying with my friend Tom Muscarella and his roommate Donna Paradise in their Norwood Ave apartment in Newton. Did we drink like fishes? Oh yeah. Did we go out to dinner? Can’t remember. Did we listen to anything else but Springsteen? Tom might remember but I can’t. All I remember is looking at my watch at about 9:45 and saying, “I think we should get going,” and Donna saying “No –- one more! One more!” And you don’t argue with Donna when she gets into Party Girl Mode. (I’m trying to remember what party it was where I made a dance tape and Donna kept saying after each song ended “Don’t let us down, Matty -- don’t let us down now.” And I was like, oh crap, please don’t let me disappoint this woman and play something she doesn’t want to dance to. Was it your 40th, Tom?)

So now it’s 9:49:01, and Tom says “Okay, let’s go,” and we run downstairs and pile into the Green Shark. Donna calls shotgun and I sit in the back, and I am immediately thrown from one side of the seat to the other as Tom roars around the corner and motors towards the Mass Pike entrance, and it’s 9:51 now and I’m getting a little nervous because Newton is about 15 minutes from South Station via the Mass Pike even when there’s no traffic at all, but Tom is on the case, Tom is gonna get me there on time, Tom is about to defy the laws of physics by breaking every traffic law on the books in eight minutes and thirty seconds.

The radio is cranked to 10 and Donna is singing along to whatever is playing on WBCN and Tom is checking off a mental list of road rules to break. Speed limit? Fuck that –- he drives like he’s doing a time trial for the Indy 500. Traffic signals? It is to laugh –- when the light’s yellow, he speeds up to cross the intersection; when it’s red, he looks both ways before stepping on the gas. I am laughing that wonderful, life-affirming “We’re all gonna die!” laugh that you only get to experience maybe once or twice in your life and live as Tom weaves in and out of traffic on the Pike and zooms towards Boston. Does he even slow down as he hits the toll booths? Hell no –- he just drives right through them, and he’s going so fast that the “Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!” sound you hear when you don’t throw a quarter into the toll takes five seconds to catch up with us, which means that our ground speed is only about ten miles per hour away from breaking the sound barrier.

There’s a stoplight at the end of the Pike where it spills into the lower end of the Combat Zone; Tom runs right through it like it’s tissue paper. I don’t think his foot has touched the brake pedal once in the last eight minutes. Does he head down a one-way street in the opposite direction? If he doesn’t, it’s not for lack of trying. But what he does do is drive the car right up onto the curb in front of the entrance to South Station, and when I say “up on the curb,” I mean he was so close to the door that, if it opened out instead of in, I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze through. “Thanks!” I cry as I dive out of the car and sprint for the door. “Have a great time!” he and Donna yell as I run into the station. I check the board as I head for the luggage check area. My train has NOW BOARDING next to its name and number. I give my ticket to the guy at the check station, grab my suitcase from him, and run to the door of the last car, the sleeper car. Literally five seconds after I put my foot on the top step, the train pulls out and starts heading south.

And the punch line? After breaking every driving rule in the book to get me to my train, Tom obeys every single one of those rules as he drives back to Newton. He slows for yellow lights, he makes sure he’s 5 MPH under the speed limit at all times, he comes to a full stop at STOP signs. And he is one block from his apartment –- one block! –- when a cop pulls him over and gives him a ticket for driving with his headlights off.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Random thoughts on consciousness

He ain't heavy, he's my day job. Time has weight. Boredom makes it heavier. Inattention makes it heavier. Withdrawal or the blahs make it heavier, until we’re locked onto a moving sidewalk that snails along while the rest of the world skips past us with a spring in their step and a smile on their face. The world never moves so slowly as it does when we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders; and the more we resent the weight of it, the heavier it gets, the slower we move, and the more arid the world looks.

I think I think; therefore I think I am. We are all at least two people -- the one who does and the one who watches the one who does. It's only when the two of them are integrated that we experience joy, ecstasy, excitement. It's always when one is disconnected that we feel drained, distant, and disaffected. Think of your body as a robot and your mind as the operator. We can put the robot on automatic pilot; when we do, the pilot isn’t even aware of what the body is doing, because when the autopilot is engaged, we aren’t. And when we try to take control, the robot resists, because we’re not following the program. The trick is to make sure the autopilot doesn't become the sole way we navigate through the world. It's like a three-legged race. Both the robot and the operator have to adjust a little so that they can run together.

Monkey Mind Trumps Brain. The lowest rung on my ladder of selves is the Monkey Mind, that part of my personality which is happy with junk food, eye candy, and instant gratification of everything from lust to weariness. This is the self who sits in front of the TV watching old movies, lies in bed taking a pass-out nap, or devours a pint of Hagen-Dasz in a single sitting. And because he’s the lowest rung, I can’t go anywhere else on the ladder without stepping on him first, or trying to leap over him, both of which give him an opportunity to grab my ankles and say “You want to write something? Sorry; I want to see what’s on HBO.” Or “You want to go to a movie? I want to nap.” Or “You want to go to the gym? Blow it off till tomorrow, you can always do it tomorrow.” Throwing him something to play with, just to make him happy? He'll want more. And yet, if you can get to that step above him, he's completely powerless. He only has power when my foot touches his rung on my personality ladder. Like exercising, the more you bypass him, the easier it gets. But like a bad habit, he's always waiting there with a smile and saying "Just this once."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Weekend Update: Springsteen Special

8/2/08, 3:15 AM. After seeing Tandy’s sets at the Rodeo Bar, I pick up my luggage and get on the Night Owl in Penn Station. I get about 4 hours total of train sleep in three separate batches: 90 minutes till New Haven, 90 minutes till the guy snoring in the seat ahead of me wakes up everyone in the car, and 60 minutes between Providence and Boston.

12 noon. After training to Greenbush where my sister Monica picks me up, I’m on the beach watching the tide come up to the sea wall. This year the beach has totally disappeared; high tide lasts for something like six hours.

2:30. After a pass-out nap, Mon and I head to my cousin Joe’s place in Marlboro. Joe and his wife Holly are coming to show with us; the four of us are sitting on the floor in section B2.

4PM. Tailgating at Gillette Stadium with Joe, Holly, their neighbor Ken, and three of Ken’s friends whose names I have caddishly forgotten. We spend half the time eating and the other half propping up the crippled tent we’ve erected in the parking lot. The center supporting struts are all broken, and the ribs are all bent or cracked. It sits there on the tarmac like a dog with three broken legs, and about once every ten minutes, one of the struts pops loose and swings down like a pendulum, narrowly missing a different person each time.

5:30. Three cops on bicycles roll up to the four kids getting ready to grill hot dogs and drink Buds three cars away from us and ask to see ID’s. The guy who owns the car hands his over; evidently he’s 21, but the two girls are 15/16 and the other guy looks like he’s 12, so the cops take all the beer away. And I mean all of it, which means the kid may not be as old as his ID says he is, because when you’re 21 you know enough to (a) always hide a six somewhere just in case and (b) have a couple of empty Pepsi cans for the underagers, who can fill them up in the back seat when no one’s looking.

6:30. Because I’m a neurotic old fart who hates to be late, I make everyone start packing up so we can be in the stadium for the ticketed 7:30 start time.

6:50. While walking out of the parking lot, we pass the tent where the police are tailgating with their wives and girlfriends (yes, all the police are all male). I notice the three cops who took the Buds from the kids near us, and wonder if those beers are what everybody is drinking right now. Silly question; of course they are. This is Massachusetts, after all –- the place where the juvenile delinquent who used to kick your ass in high school grows up to be the State Trooper who gives you a speeding ticket on Route 3.

7:10. When I talk to my friend Bill on Sunday about the concert, he asks what the ticket situation was like. “We saw no one looking for tickets,” I reply. Unlike New York, where you can take a bus to the Meadowlands and hang around to see if anyone has a ticket to sell, Foxboro is one long-ass car drive from civilization as we know it. A bitch to get to, and a bitch with attitude to get out of, Foxboro is the venue equivalent of a dentist’s office – you never go there unless you have to, and you sure as hell don’t go there and hang out in the waiting room hoping for an appointment to open up.

7:15. Having said that? The stadium owners are turning the place into a little city, with a cinema, boutiques, restaurants, and a projected hotel. They know it’s at the ass end of nowhere, so they’re going to make sure that ass is wearing nothing but the finest Victoria’s Secret panties.

7:20. I get patted down at the front gate. There’s a “No Camera” provision printed on the ticket; the guy searching me taps my binoculars and my wallet and asks what they are, but when he taps my camera case he says nothing. Score! (Little I do know; see below.)

7:30. At the souvenir stands, the event T-shirt is only available in XX size, which is big enough to be a nightgown for Shaquille O’Neal.

7:45. The stadium is empty. Where is everyone? Traffic jam? (Quite possible.) Threat of rain keeping everyone away? (Also possible.) General e-mail to everyone but us that the show is really starting at 8:30? (Better than even bet.) But looking at the sky? Oh yeah--people are totally afraid it's going to rain.

8:20. As I’m one person away from getting a T-shirt, and bemoaning the fact that I’m not 11 feet tall, and therefore cannot wear the XX event T, I hear what sounds like fireworks. Is the show starting with a video? Now that would be unique in the annals of E Street. But it’s not fireworks. It’s thunder, and lightning, and in less than a minute, the skies that have been threatening since 5 PM open up over Gillette Stadium and dump an ocean of golfball-sized raindrops on our heads, like God just defrosted His refrigerator and decided to dump the melted ice onto Foxboro. Ninety seconds later I’m in my poncho; ninety-five seconds later every exposed piece of clothing on my body has become leisure wear for Aquaman. Including my running shoes, which will still smell like ass on Monday morning before I go to work. I tell Joseph “They are so opening up with Who’ll Stop The Rain tonight,” and the words are barely out of my mouth before the floor Nazis are shooing us off the metal flooring on the field and into the stands so that, when lightning strikes, we all won’t fry like an extra in The Green Room. Ten minutes later we’re allowed back to our seats. Fifteen minutes later, it’s like someone dumped a plastic bag of people into the stands—the place is jam-packed.

8:45. Roadies come out and take the tarp off Max’s drum set. Everybody cheers and leaps to their feet. We do the same thing when they take the tarp off the keyboards and then the piano.

9:00. The HDTV screen turns on. It won’t be long now. Sure enough, two minutes later, the lights go down and carnival music starts playing. Then the band hits the stage and jumps right into Summertime Blues, followed by 10th Avenue Freezeout. It’s a great opening, and my inner party-boy is kvelling, but my inner photographer is pissed and cranky. Because we’re on the floor, every time there’s a light change to illuminate the crowd, it shines right in my face and screws up my camera settings. It takes me about three songs to kick my inner Weegee to the curb and enjoy myself.

9:45. First part: Summertime Blues, 10th Ave Freezeout, Radio Nowhere, Lonesome Day, Promised Land, Spirit in the Night, Tunnel of Love. (The Springsteen website says he did Light of Day after this, but don’t believe them; he didn’t.) After Tunnel of Love, Bruce walks up to the lip of the stage and takes request signs from the fans in the mosh pit. “Here’s one that’ll stump the band,” he said, holding up a sign that reads “Little Latin Lupe Lu.” Then he turns it over. “It’d stump me too except for this,” he says, and there on the back of the sign are the complete lyrics to the song and KEY OF F in big letters at the top. He does this, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street, and Hungry Heart. After which he does Who’ll Stop The Rain. “You called it,” says my cousin.

11:00. Next section: Youngstown, Murder Incorporated, She’s The One, Living In The Future, Mary’s Place, The Rising, Last To Die, Long Walk Home, and Badlands. Little Steven takes a verse and chorus at the end of Long Walk Home and hearing his voice is like bumping into a long-lost friend. Oh man, I sure hope he gets a band together and tours on his own now that Sopranos is over. And as for Badlands, I can never hear that song without thinking of the Norwood Ave night when Tom and Donna and I danced and screamed to it before T&D drove me to South Station literally thirty seconds before my sleeper train left for DC. (A story for later.)

11:15. Bruce takes the next batch of requests for the encore: “the seldom-requested and even more seldom-performed” I’m Going Down and Jungleland. Then the stadium lights come up full and I get the only decent pix of the night when the band does Born To Run, Glory Days, Dancing In The Dark, American Land, and the final “I’m going to leave you with a New Jersey fairy tale,” Rosalita. After which Bruce yells out “Good night Boston -- or wherever the fuck we are!” He’s like me –- no matter where I am in Massachusetts, it’s always Boston.

12:20 AM. We head back to the parking lot, and instead of getting into a non-moving line of cars trying to get onto the highway while their engines idle for 90 minutes, we go green with the whole thing and fire up the grille for steak tips, hot dogs, and marinated turkey. But it’s cold (relatively speaking) – it’s 65 and I am totally not dressed for anything under 80. So I’m shivering. Plus I’m having those hallucinogenic fadeaway moments you get when you’re overtired. I guess four hours of train sleep is no longer enough to keep me awake for more than 18 hours. Thankfully, the chilly air plays Omar Sharif to my Lawrence of Arabia ass, whacking me awake every couple of minutes with the cautionary words “You were drifting.”

(Not me, but it sure could have been.)

1:30 AM. Parking lot traffic finally begins to move. We pack up and head back to Joe and Holly’s, where Monica and I bid them good night and drive back to the beach. More drifting from Matthew, during which I have a number of visions, fever dreams, and brilliant insights into the nature of the universe, none of which I can remember when I jerk back to wakefulness. We get back to the cottage around 3:15. Less than two minutes later I’m fast sleep.

POSTSCRIPT: SUNDAY. I wake up five hours later (as I usually do whenever I drink), and hit the beach about 9:15. It’s cloudy and overcast; there’s a couple with a golden retriever near where I usually sit, but nobody else for miles. Every time I get up to go into the water, the dog follows me there and back the way Security follows a suspected shoplifter. I read a couple of chapters of Colin Wilson’s Mysteries, ponder the nature of my various selves (participant, observer, photographer, writer, self-sabotager, resentful child, out-of-sight out-of-mind asshole, brilliant but unrecognized genius, eternal 19-year-old) and doze a little. The sun comes out about fifteen minutes before I leave to get lunch and check train times for the return to New York. Which is when God laughs and says “What train times, boy?” They’re all sold out, except for a first-class seat on the 3:10 Acela ($250) and a coach seat on the Night Owl ($89) which gets me into NYC at 2 AM. Or I can take the bus. The pluses: the bus leaves every half hour and it’s cheap. The minuses: it’s the fucking bus, which means cramped seats, a shitty movie, and people talking on their cellphones the entire ride. I book a ticket on the Night Owl, and wonder if it’s the gas crisis or the Springsteen concert that has everybody in the world heading back to New York today. Because I have always believed that art trumps real life, I vote for Springsteen.


Details to follow . . .