Monday, May 25, 2009

If I Gave My Niece's Graduation Speech

My niece Jenna graduated from Framingham State last weekend (God, does that make me feel old), and as usual with me these days, I got inspired by somebody else's screw-up. A totally minor screw-up, actually--the commencement speaker, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, delivered an A-to-Z speech of things the graduates should keep in mind as they went out into The Real World; except that she forgot the letter Y. ("Forget Why"--there's a great motto for graduates, huh?) So I started making notes about what I would have Y stand for, which made me start making notes about what the other letters stood for, which made me write my own commencement speech based on my own experiences, in the same A-to-Z format.

So Jenna? Picture me at a podium, with my hair actually combed. Got it? Good. Here we go:

A is for Answers. There are three kinds of answers in life: the ones you’re told, the ones you need to find out for yourself, and the ones you’ll never know. Believe the ones you’re told only so much--you are being told them for a reason. Trust the ones you find out for yourself most of all--like religious revelations, they will mean nothing to anyone else, and can only be experienced, not explained. And in your search for those answers you will never know, do not despair because there is no destination, but always keep faith with the journey.

B is for Baby. Never have one to save a marriage, cement a relationship, make yourself feel worthwhile, or stop your mother from nagging you about it. If you are going to bring a new life into this world, do it like God in Genesis, and create an Eden in which it can grow. The walls of that garden will crumble soon enough; until they do, keep them strong and tall. And whether you do or do not have a baby, always look at the world like one, and you will never fail to catch a glimpse of Paradise in this our mundane vale of tears.

C is for Courage. Like Stolichnaya, courage comes in many flavors, and mixes so well with everything that it can become practically invisible. It pushes you to do everything from risking your life to taking a small step in a new direction. It gives you the strength to face despair and failure. It makes the muskrat guard its musk. And like all muscles, it only gets stronger the more you use it. Exercise it daily, and in no time at all, you will have the courageous equivalent of a six-pack of abs.

D is for Depression. In economic terms, when the monetary shit hits the marked-down fan. In personal terms, when a negative outcome bankrupts your emotional income. The economic version is all about money, which makes it worthless except as a chance to exercise some courage (see above). The personal version is all about you, which makes it priceless. Why priceless? Because there are two kinds of personal depression--the kind that magnifies your faults, and the kind that undermines your virtues–-which means that, once you get past all that “I am totally worthless” crap, a bout of depression is the best source of self-knowledge you will ever have. Make it your goal to come out of every depression with either a fault to work on, or a virtue to trust. Both are worth their weight in gold.

E is for Everyday and Extraordinary, the twin sisters of reality. One is common; one is unique. One is boring; one is exciting. One holds you back; one drives you on. One is the norm; one’s the exception. And when you look at the two of them side by side, you can’t tell which is which.

F is for Friends. Surround yourself with them. They are your non-blood family. Learn to recognize them by how they act when you do something really stupid. And you will. For instance: there will come a time in your life when you will start going out with a loser. This person will not be a loser to you, because you will be blinded with love. Your friends, however, will see this person clearly. Some will say nothing, either because they’re afraid of losing you as a friend if they speak up, or because they want to support you even when you screw up. But some will be totally honest with you and tell you exactly what they think. They will always be there for you, and they will expect the same kind of honesty from you. These are the best friends of all--the ones who call you on your bullshit. Treasure them, and never let them down.

G is for Grown-Up. You will be treated like one as of today, whether you are or not. Which means you are now old enough to be let in on the dirty little secret of adulthood: we are all faking it. Every single one of us. Parents? Faking it. Teachers? Faking it. Politicians? Totally faking it. Every single one of us gets the panic sweats when we hear a knock at the door because we’re afraid the Imposter Police are coming to arrest us for impersonating an adult. Welcome to our nightmare, honey.

H is for Honesty. You just spent the last four years being rewarded for correct answers. Good luck finding a place out in the real world that does the same thing. Whether you know it or not, college is the last place where total honesty is not only accepted, it’s required. Every company you work for will have its own rules about what the truth is, how much of it you can and cannot say, and how and when to say it; every social situation will have its own set of rules too. Sorry you never got taught that, but then we never taught you how to balance a check book, either. This is the other dirty little secret of adulthood: you will have to learn to be a little dishonest just to get by. Two things: never lie to yourself, and the only way you can survive in a world that sometimes values silence over honesty, is with a nine-letter word that begins with I.

I is for Integrity. John Wayne said it best in The Shootist: "I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I expect the same from them." That was his line in the sand. It is your task to draw a line of your own in this life. The thing is, when you draw a line in the sand? The World takes notice, and either asks you to step over that line, or starts crossing it on its own just to see what you’ll do. So what are you going to do, Jenna?

J is for Jenna. Who is Jenna? You tell me. Better yet: tell yourself. And be her.

K is for King Kong. Everything you need to know about life can be found in the original 1933 version of King Kong. The higher you climb, the farther you fall. Love means nothing if it’s not two-way. Danger breeds passion. Kings in one world are sideshow exhibits in another. Every guy on earth is a sucker for a blonde in trouble. There’s nothing in life that can’t be stopped dead in its tracks by a couple of well-thrown gas grenades. And the most important lesson of all: a giant ape on the Empire State Building with a girl in its hand is just your average day in New York.

L is for Love. You will find it; you will lose it; you will be hurt; you will get over it. Rinse and repeat. Remember that having is not as sweet as wanting, that NWA’s (Neurotic Work Attachments) are to love as counterfeit bills are to real money, and that there is no happy ending in romantic love, only “Now what?” The best example of this in fact or fiction is the end of The Graduate, when Benjamin and Elaine are sitting in the back of the bus. The best book about love is A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes. The best movies about love? For reality: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. For dating, Annie Hall. For marriage, Two For The Road. ["What kind of people can eat an entire meal together and not talk?" "Married people."] And for pure pleasure? Amelie.

M is for Money. A guy I once thought I knew defined life as a choice between The Thing and The Stuff. There’s The Thing, which is important, precious and unique; and then there’s The Stuff around it, which is disposable, cheap and mass-produced. Money is really good at buying you The Stuff, and The World is really good at telling you that Stuff is important, which is why you need money. But a diet of just Stuff is like a diet of just candy--you need something more nutritious or you’ll die of starvation. You need The Thing, and money should always be used to get you closer to finding it, achieving it, or sharing it.

N is for Nice. An over-used word and an under-used concept. When we are nice to each other, we are exhibiting the best that civilization, good manners, and humanity has to offer. If you want a role model for Nice, look no further than Jimmy Stewart in Harvey: “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ -- she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.” Just remember: the nicer and more pleasant you are? The more everybody will think you’re a little crazy. And what does that say about the World, huh?

O is for Options. The one thing you always have, and always forget you have. Those four walls around you? Every single one of them is a door. None of them will lead to a room that’s furnished like the one you’re trapped in now, but who knows, maybe one of them will have a window, or bigger closets, or Mr. Right living next door. Or another door. There is always another door. There is always a way out, even it’s the way through. There is always something you can do. There is always an option. The only crime is in not taking it.

P is for Passion. Passion will charge you up like a battery, burn you up like a fire, and drive you forward like a motorcycle. You will feel it for the oddest things, and the strangest people, and it will do its best to consume you, like you are just another log in its fireplace. Because of it, you will believe so strongly in something that there will be no middle ground, and you will get so angry about what you believe that you won’t be able to do anything but scream. Focus. Use that energy. Find the words. If you can always summon the passion to pound the table and cry, “Yes! Yes!” about something, then you will never grow old.

Q is for Questions. Always ask them, if not out loud, then to yourself. They are not a sign of stupidity. They are the sailor’s observation that the boat is sinking, the pilot’s observation that the plane is crashing, the listener’s observation that the speaker is not communicating, and the citizen’s observation that the leader is not leading. Question authority. Question complacency. Question all 26 of these pieces of advice I’m giving you. Question everything but the cops when they pull you over for speeding. And then question the answers.

R is for Right. Right is the one thing we all know we are, and one of several things which, in this country, we are told we are born possessing. Speech is a right; choice is a right; you have the right to an attorney; you have the right to remain silent. You even have the right to do absolutely nothing if you want to. Make sure to use the rights you have, and protect the ones that could be taken away; and when it comes to feeling right or righteous about the way you think and act, that’s probably a good point to start asking some hard questions of yourself. But I could be wrong.

S is for Success. There is only one real definition of success: fall down six times, get up seven. All the other definitions are fake–-especially The World’s definition, which equates success with fame. This is like equating food with drugs, or love with sex. Do not (repeat: not) let The World define success for you. Define it for yourself. The world’s definition is like a great pair of heels that’s one size too small–-you’ll squeeze your feet into them and smile because you want to look good, but walk in them long enough and you’ll be crippled for life. Your definition of success should always be like a great pair of comfortable shoes, the kind that help you climb mountains.

T is for Tomorrow. The myth is that tomorrow will either be better than today or no different than today. The first is the most vocal part of our national character; the second is the unspoken premise that keeps people in the same job for twenty years. One is a challenge; one is a comfort. Both do not require you to do anything except stand there and receive either a bigger piece of the pie or the same piece as always. Yeah, well, reality check time. Welcome to the fact that there is no always, okay? There is just “Now what?” A question that can either be answered today, or tomorrow. If your definition of tomorrow is turning around and saying “What did I do yesterday, anyway?” then you are living in the past. Only when your definition of tomorrow is asking yourself “Now what?” will you be living for the future.

U is for Uncles. Uncles are smarter than fathers, more understanding than mothers, richer than brothers, more fun than your crazy cousins, and the only members of your family who will always have a couch for you to crash on when you want to come down to New York for the weekend. If you have only one uncle in your life, then you will always have at least one best friend in your family. Because all Uncles have the same motto:

V is for Victory. Winning is yet another “Now what?” Like Love, it is not an end in itself, but a question that demands an acceptable answer. Two questions, actually. (1) If you don’t win, how do you deal with it? Keep trying? Cry “Sour grapes” and walk away? Pat yourself on the back for competing? Quit forever? And (2) If you do win, what do you do now? Flaunt your medal? Try to repeat it? Pick another challenge? Or use your victory to win something a lot bigger than a battle, a competition, or a point? When Caesar won, he forgave his enemies. When Alexander won, he made his enemies citizens of Greece. When Napoleon won, he made his enemies speak French and drive on the right. Just remember that being a winner is not the same thing as being respected and admired. Sometimes it means the opposite. Look at the New York Yankees.

W is for Wealth. Another word which you will have to define for yourself. (Sorry there are so many of these, but sometimes being an adult is like being an actor: once you hit the stage, you have to forget everything you were told by the director and make it live for you.) So make the word wealth live for you. If you define it in monetary terms, you will become like Scrooge before the ghosts got to him. If you define it in simpler terms, in terms of The Thing and not The Stuff, well, you may always have to worry about making ends meet, but you’ll never have to worry about laughing, or making other people laugh, or having a good time. All these things, and things like them, and these things alone, are priceless.

X is for X-Men. Every human being on earth shares the same super power: we can all see into the past with 20-20 hindsight. But inside each one of us is another power, and while it’s probably not the ability to shoot energy rays out of your eyeballs, create fire or ice, call down thunder and lightning, or open a can of Bud with your adamantium claws, it is something no one else has, and something no one else can do as well as you. Find out what that power is and use it.

Y is for Yes. The one word you should never stop saying. The difference between “Yes” and “No” is like the difference between smiling and frowning. Frowning feels more natural, yet it uses more muscles than smiling. The same goes for “No” versus “Yes,” which is why, as you grow older, you will find yourself saying “No” all the time. You’ll say it because it’s easier, because it means you don’t have to do anything, because you’re scared, and because you don’t want to be bothered. Well it’s not easier, you need to do new things to stay young, the point about being scared is to stare your fear in the face, and when the hell did you become your parents anyway? Not saying “Yes” means you might as well tattoo FML on your forehead. And yeah, Yes is harder to live up to than No, but if you don’t say "Yes" to Love, or Passion, or Tomorrow, or Friends, or yourself, then you’re not saying yes to life.

Z is for Zero. Zero is where you always start. Zero is what you have to lose by trying. Zero is what you get when you do nothing. Zero is what you have when you lose everything. Zero is what you’re guaranteed at the end of the day. Zero is nothing. Zero is always where you start. So start . . . . . . . . now.

Your uncle Matthew

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Four Years for Ten Seconds

Congratulations, Jenna!

The Long View: Where Was I?

Just to hit refresh on the argument of the last two posts in this series (one and two):

1. Access to the Internet is treated as if it’s magic.
2. We’re all doomed.

Get it? (Got it.) Good.

Now then. The fact that I haven’t been able to continue posting in this series during the last three weeks (thank you, Ava) brings up an aspect of the Internet which seems to be yet another unrecognized given. And that is, the more time you spend relating your experiences on the ‘Net, the less time you have to live them.

Seems obvious, right? But think about it. It takes me on a good day one to two hours of cumulative time to come up with a few hundred words on a particular subject. And because I have no blog access through my job, I have to wait till I get home to post it. Which means I’ll probably tweak it from my apartment before I upload it. Say that’s three hours. Three hours for me is 12 pages of a novel I didn’t write that day. And that’s just one post. Say I do three a week. That’s ten hours. That’s forty pages. That’s the first act of a play. What’s ten hours to you? Five movies? Ten trips to the gym? Three dinners with friends? And that's not counting Facebook updates, e-mail exchanges, and Twits Tweets.

See where I’m going with this? The question I ask myself as I consider this is, “How did we get to the point where relating what we’ve done takes more time than actually doing something?” And doesn’t this mean that everything from your Facebook update to this very post is part of an offshoot of reality, and not reality itself? Aren’t we already jacked in to virtual reality on a primitive, let's-you-and-me-play-Zork level?

West of House
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.

It's enough to make me feel 28 again. It's also enough to make me feel that we are currently living part of our lives in a sub-basement version of Neal Stephenson’s Metaverse.

I’ll leave you with a quote and an observation. The quote is from Andrei Codrescu’s The Posthuman Dada Guide:Tzara and Lenin Play Chess. (Highly recommended)

“Today, the ‘world’ is a pseudonym that stands, maybe, for the world. ‘Reality’ is doubtlessly a pseudonym for reality. All words are in fact pseudonyms of themselves, and if they are sufficiently pseudonymous, they become symbols.”

Observation: reality has become not just a pseudonym, but an identity thief.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Guide to Guys: It Comes With the Y Chromosome

Contrary to popular belief, the male population of the world is not made up of mindless slaves to the Penile Hivemind. It is made up of thinking slaves, each with his pluses and minuses, his powers and inabilities, his drawbacks and assets. And if it sometimes seems as if the bad outweighs the good, you can chalk it up to the fact that one of the chief functions of the Y chromosome is to bring those drawbacks to light. That’s what the Y chromosome does. It throws a banana peel beneath the wingtips of Mr. Wonderful. It makes Prince Charming take a chest-first pratfall. It puts the ass in asset.

This is why even the best men in the world will sometimes open their mouths and utter something so ridiculous that it will make an atheist look to heaven and mutter “Jesus Christ!” under his breath. For instance: no matter how much he hates sports, and no matter how soulfully he’s looking into your eyes as you describe the agony you went through trying to decide whether to pay your rent or buy those gorgeous Tootsi Plohounds, there will always come a point where your perfect non-jock mate will turn to the nearest TV set and yell: “How the fuck did the Celtics get to be one point up? They were losing by ten five minutes ago!”

This is not just about what happens when you put guys and TV sets in the same room with you. This is about what happens when there’s a guy around, period. You can have his absolute total attention and never realize he’s been staring at your best friend’s ass all night until he says, “Listen, can I borrow a quarter? I want to see if I can bounce it off Mandy’s butt and hit the ceiling fan.” Every guy in the world will say that at some point. Just like every guy in the world will say: “I’m easy!” or “I’m not that complicated!” or “You know, if you were single . . .”

EVERY WOMAN IN THE WORLD: [Looking to heaven] Jesus Christ!
ME: Sorry; did I hit a nerve?
EVERY WOMAN IN THE WORLD: I hate it when guys say that! It’s like we have no choice at all.
EVERY GUY IN THE WORLD: [Hello?] You don’t. You’re either taken or untaken.
EVERY WOMAN IN THE WORLD: And if we’re untaken, what makes you think we’ll look twice at anybody who says, “You know, if you were untaken, you’d be sitting on my lap in a heartbeat.”
EVERY GUY IN THE WORLD: [Mildly insulted] Not in a heartbeat. After like dinner and drinks.
EVERY WOMAN IN THE WORLD: Sorry, cowboy. This is one heifer you’re not going to lasso without a fight.
EVERY GUY IN THE WORLD: [Totally insulted] We don’t want to rope you like a heifer. We want to ride you like a bronco.
EVERY WOMAN IN THE WORLD: [looking to the sky] Jesus Christ!

This kind of guy is called The Wishful Thinker, and if you’re searching for evidence of the Penile Hivemind in action, look no further, because there is a piece of this guy in every male on Planet Earth. As a public service, here are a few of his most common remarks, followed by the perfect comebacks which you always kick yourself for thinking of two days later while you’re on the phone with Mandy telling her about that quarter remark:

HIM: I’m easy.
YOU: Ch-huh. Like differential calculus.

HIM: I’m not that complicated.
YOU: And I’m not that dumb.

HIM: You don’t need an owner’s manual when it comes to me.
YOU: No –- you need a warranty.

HIM: You know, if I wasn’t married, . . .
YOU: I still wouldn’t look twice at you.

HIM: You know, if I was even ten years younger, . . .
YOU: I would still be twenty years older than you emotionally.

HIM: You know, if I ever turned on the juice, you would light up like a Christmas tree.
YOU: The only juice you’ve got in you is prune.

HIM: You know, if you were single, . . .
YOU: I wouldn’t be sitting here listening to you -- I’d be out playing the field.
HIM: No –- seriously –- I’d be all over you.
YOU: Like a comforter or a net?
HIM: I’m telling you –- it wouldn’t take much.
YOU: And yet there’s so little of it in you.
HIM: You know you’d fall for me in a heartbeat.
YOU: The only way you’d get my heart is if I had a cardiectomy.
HIM: [looking to the sky] Jesus Christ!

So be nice to that poor guy who thinks that just because he drinks a Stella, that makes him Marlon Brando in Streetcar. Every now and then his inner idiot will pop out of the Carlsbad Cavern he calls home, like Punxsatawney Phil in search of his shadow. When he does, just give him a verbal whack to the head, and he’ll duck back into his cave like the good little Neanderthal he is, leaving you to enjoy the company of the tender, civilized, thoughtful male he leaves behind. Just remember the words of Jimmy Stewart in Philadelphia Story: “With the rich and the mighty, always a little patience.” Or in your case: “With a boy over 14, always a little patience.”

And never forget -– when it comes to chromosomes? Y is not just the question -– it’s also the answer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

And speaking of R Crumb . . .

. . . I hate to be all Flakey Foont about this, but it just seems like selling out to me:

(Story here.)

Help me, Mr Natural! What should I think about this?


Monday, May 11, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009


X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Not to be too hard on the film, but the verdict is still out on the question, "Can you make an interesting movie about a hero who can't get hurt, a couple of villains you can't kill, and a bad guy who can't die 'cuz he's in the sequel?" Really. Just shoot me in the head so I can forget the whole thing too, okay? Oh wait--you don't have to--it's been a week and I don't remember a fucking thing. (So if my mutant power is the ability to forget bad comic book movies, does that mean my X-Men field name is Lethe?)

Sidebar discussion: on the plus side, given how many times Logan shrugs off pain and comes back from the dead, Wolverine is now officially the Marvel version of Superman. On the minus side, Wolverine is now officially the Marvel version of Superman. With a cigar. That he never lights up.

Snarky coda:

Suck on this, bub!

Shouting Around The Rocks Desire Under The Elms. Great set. Great opening. Great Mother Courage echo at the end. In fact, everything that was silent in this production was great. But once people opened their mouths? I don't know about you, but if a volcano erupts when somebody says "Hello" to it, and then erupts again when somebody says "How are you?" and "Look at that sunset," I've stopped listening by the time it erupts over "I killed our baby."

Make it so-so.

Sidebar discussion: there's this thing that happens with out-of-town shows that transfer to Broadway. They get great reviews for the intimacy and detail of their original production, and somewhere between (for instance) Chicago and the St. James Theatre, they mutate from Mozart to Mount Saint Helens -- from a chamber piece to bad grand opera with all of the melodrama and none of the music. This happens all the time when the Brits bring a production over here; it's like they feel they have to yell at American audiences in order to get their point across. Although what point Brian Dennehy was trying to make by roaring out vowels without consonants for 90 minutes is beyond me.

Snarky coda: If you're pissed because Carla Gugino didn't get a Tony nomination, then you haven't actually seen the play.

SPOCK: Logically, this movie should suck.
KIRK: Shut up and kiss me.

Star Trek. Remember how you felt when you saw Iron Man last summer? Remember that gleeful high you got when you realized that it was not only fun, but smart, and well-written, and emotionally engaging? Multiply that by ten and you have the Star Trek reboot. As Bart would say, "Set your faces to stun." By the time you read this, I will have seen it again.

Sidebar discussion: e-mail me and we'll have one at a bar. So little time, so much to geek about.

Snarky coda: It's so totally a bromance now. But wasn't it always?

Almost as much fun as the movie? Seeing this commercial in Imax five minutes before the previews start:

Go, Ally!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Guide to Guys: Failure Is Always An Option

On the infinitely long page of “There are two types of guys,” the one you meet most often is about a third of the way down: “There are guys who want to do the work, and guys who quit the job the minute the word ‘work’ gets mentioned.” Or in other words, guys who try to succeed and run the risk of failure, and guys who try to fail, period. The second group is composed of males who are all divinely damaged. And are attractive to the kind of woman says “I can fix this!” when she walks into a moldy rat-infested shithole on Avenue A.

Sorry, honey –- it’s gonna take a lot more than spackle and Dutch Boy to turn this male crackhouse into a family den room. This is the guy who always loses because losing is the only thing he knows how to do. But he loses in a very special way: by making you think it’s your fault –- by making you feel guilty for not doing enough –- when any sane observer can see that there was no way in hell you could have done enough to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.

Dating this guy is a Mission Impossible episode where everyone dies, because the guy will fight you every inch of the way. In the 60’s this kind of guy was called the Guerrilla Boyfriend, or Victor Charles, because trying to live with him was like trying to occupy a country where all the smiling locals were actually your mortal enemies. And they were pretty dumb back then. But because dumb guys always evolve into smarter dumb guys (they have to just to get over, right?), they’ve found new and improved ways to fail, and make it look like the failure was all your fault. They’ve discovered Psychiatry! Which is why this type of guy is currently referred to as Therapy Guy.

Therapy Guy is the walking definition of someone who is just smart enough to be dangerous. He knows just enough about Freud to use it as an excuse for everything he does, consciously or unconsciously.

HIM: The reason I keep screwing up is because my parents hated each other, so I never had a good couple model.

YOU: Oh you poor thing.

HIM: The reason I keep driving you away is because I saw how my father treated my mother and I’m afraid I’m going to treat you that way.

YOU: So don’t.

HIM: It’s not that easy. [Tortured look.]

YOU: [Falling for the tortured look like a grand piano through an oil slick:] Oh honey.

[Hugs and kisses. Make-up sex. Pre-production work on the next screw-up. Rinse and repeat.]

This is the guy who says sadly “It’s not you, it’s me!” when he’s insecure and says calmly and logically “It’s not me, it’s you!” when he’s arrogant. It doesn’t matter if he’s always in the wrong or always in the right, because what he’s playing for is the point where you walk out on him, and he can either say “I told you so!” or “I told you so!” My advice? Never walk. Run. Run like the wind.

And don’t forget to watch out for the New Age cousin of Therapy Guy: Astrology Boy. This is the guy who uses planetary conjunctions and accidents of birth like Freud uses dreams about cigars and trains entering tunnels, leading to remarks like this:

ASTROLOGY BOY: You’re an Aquarius; I’m a Leo. We’re doomed.

ASTROLOGY BOY: Sorry, I can’t see you any more -- Mercury is in retrograde.

ASTROLOGY BOY: You’re just saying that because your moon is in Scorpio.

(To which the only sane response is: “You’re just saying that because your head is up your ass.”)

Or (on a lighter note) e-mail conversations like this:

GEMINI FRIEND: . . . yes, I’m moving out of the city, but it’s not like I'm moving tomorrow.

MATTHEW: Selfishly glad you're not moving tomorrow. :-)


MATTHEW: That's me -- I'm just sitting here watching all the women in my pride go out and hunt me down a dinner . . .


Bottom line? Whatever name he goes by -- Therapy Guy, Astrology Boy, Bad Excuse Eddie, Big Blame Bob -- his last name should be Trump because whenever he does something wrong, that’s the card he keeps playing. And in just the same way you have to add “in bed” to fortune cookie fortunes so they make sense, you have to keep adding “and it’s your tough luck” to the end of every one of his excuses.

Just what the immortal Jane needs to appeal to male readers

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Garden Was Alive Tonight

"Now remember, children -- sing pretty 'cause it's Pete Seeger's birthday," says Kate McGarrigle, and Rufus and Martha Wainwright reply "Yes, Mother," before they join Bruce Cockburn, Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet (and is that Eddie Vedder doing piano in the back? I can't tell) in singing "Dink's Song/Fare Thee Well" to the Madison Square Garden audience during Pete Seeger's Birthday concert. Rufus gets a huge cheer when he takes a verse. The group is billed as the McGarrigle Family, and I bet half the audience doesn't know that Kate is Rufus' mom. (Probably the older half, the half that's between my age and Pete Seeger's age.) But everybody reacts to his voice. It soars out like it's on the wings of Noah's dove.

The whole 4 plus hour concert has moments like this, from Taj Mahal and Tom Morello singing "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy", which I remember Pete Seeger singing on the Smother Brothers Show, to Kris Kristofferson and AniDiFranco doing "Hole In The Bucket," to Joan Baez floating her voice over the words of "Jacob's Ladder" to the three high points at the end, Roger McGuinn's "Turn, Turn, Turn," Dave Matthews' "Rye Whiskey," and Bruce Springsteen's "Ghost of Tom Joad." Ever been in a concert hall with 18,000 other people where you could hear a pin drop? This was one of those moments:

I kept thinking four things throughout the evening. The first was "Oh my God, the people backstage who are getting everybody on and off deserve a gold medal." It was really seamless, and aside from those moments when Rambling Jack Elliott lived up to his nickname, everything went off without a hitch. The second thing I kept thinking was, Jeez, this is like High Mass for hippies. There are gospel songs, protest songs, anti-war songs, anti-garbage songs (Oscar the Grouch singing "Garbage" with Tom Chapin! I have died and gone to heaven!), and damn if everybody in the audience doesn't know the words. Even the young'ns know the words.

And that relates to the the third thing I was thinking. It's rare that I walk into a concert hall and skew the average age down instead of up. Sunday was one of those nights. But it wasn't just the age thing that was on my mind, it was the generation thing. There were a lot of people at the Garden in their 60's, 70's, 80's ("Just remember to be patient, there will be a lot of old people in front of us," as DJ said when we got there), and I kept trying to imagine what this concert meant to them, having grown up as the children of one Depression, to see the country go from bust to boom to bust again and from rural horse-and-carriage to international Humvee, to see social upheaval to rival the San Francisco Earthquake, and wake up last November with a black man in the White House -- to literally be living in a world they couldn't have imagined when they were children. And I wished I could have gotten all their addresses (because they don't have e-mail, and if they do, their grandchildren probably sift through it for them) so I could write them one by one and ask them, "What's your story?"

There were a lot of stories at the Garden Sunday night. All of them unfinished; many of them unsung; none of them unworthy. Every one American. And that's the fourth thing I said to myself.