Thursday, May 20, 2010

100 Proof/Guide to Guys Mash-Up: You Jaeger, You Brought Her

I was sitting at the bar last Friday night watching my friend Rebeca pour out, in succession, one round of 20 Jameson shots and one round of 20 Jaeger shots for a table of (wait for it) 5 guys, when we got onto the subject of just exactly what oceanic amounts of alcohol reveal about the average male.

REBECA: Oh God, can those Jaeger shots smell any fouler?
ME: [two zip codes away] I can smell them over here.
REBECA: What is the male fascination with Jaeger?
ME: Probably the fact that it smells like aftershave. Although I do know girls who do Jaeger shots.
ME: But I have a motto. Girls who pound Jaeger will never pound me.
REBECA: Don’t get much these days, do ya?
ME: Much of what?
REBECA: [does a perfect spit take]

Over the next couple of minutes the two of us critically observed the effects of those Jaeger shots on the Guy Table.

REBECA: Look -- one guy just lifted up another guy.
ME: Yeah -- it’s like the all-male finale of Officer and a Gentleman.
REBECA: Does it hurt when you pound each other on the back like that?
ME: Only when the alcohol wears off.
REBECA: And all that hugging. Isn't it embarrassing?
ME: Only if someone takes a video of it.
REBECA: Okay--THAT'S embarrassing.
ME: Are they doing a Fred and Ginger number?
REBECA: I think they're just trying to stand up.
ME: It sounds like everybody's talking in tongues.
REBECA: Are they singing? What are they singing?
ME: I think it's supposed to be "Living On A Prayer."
REBECA: Jaeger and Bon Jovi. Perfect together.
ME: Wait--now they're all making ape noises, why is everybody making ape noises?
REBECA: Maggie just walked by.
ME: Oh; got it.

This is what happens when you give guys a lot of alcohol. They start saying things like “This guy! This guy!” or moshing each other like they just won the Super Bowl. Which is not what women do when you give them a lot of alcohol. When you give women a lot of alcohol, they start telling you things like, “See that guy over there? I really have a crush on him.” Or, “Last night I dreamed I killed my mother with a chainsaw. Again.” Or “I am going to tell you something I have never told anybody else in the entire world ever.”

Fat chance of getting a really drunk guy to tell you something he's never told anybody else in the entire world ever, right, ladies? Because when he's that drunk? The Verbal Automatic Pilot kicks in, and he's slurring a pre-recorded litany of Greatest Late Night Top-Tens, like, "You're so pre-e-e-e-e-etty!" and "You're the best thing that ever happened to me," any of which are the perfect excuse for you to hail a cab into which to pour his liquid ass.

Personally, I think excessive alcohol intake creates cross-gender TMI. In the male case, it's Too Much Idiocy; in the female case, Too Much Information. So after multiple shots of Jaeger, you get a bunch of guys who decide to play football in the middle of a restaurant, and after multiple chilled vodka shots, you get a bunch of women talking about things they don't even mention to their therapist. Like the night this one acquaintance of mine got so smashed that in the middle of a sentence she froze for ten seconds, stared off into space, and then turned to me and said, "You know? If I hadn't had that abortion? My kid would be starting high school in September."

REBECA: Oh my God! What did you do?
ME: What could I do? I pretended I was drunk.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Yoicks And Away!

I shot a movie in the air, it came to earth I know not where.

There’s a pre-trailer video running these days that urges you to shut off your cellphone by showing you a bunch of different movies interrupting your phone conversation – a war movie, a car chase, a zombie invasion, a Star Wars sequel. I felt the same way watching Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, which kept throwing movie after movie after me until I finally had to shut off my brain. The only thing these movies have in common is that they all take place during the 12th century, about 400 years before smiling had been invented. (But not, oddly enough, glassware, of which there is more in this movie than a wine tasting at the Four Seasons.)

And what are those movies?

Robin and Marian. You can add to the coincidence that Crowe and Connery were the same age when they played Robin Hood (47) the coincidence that both movies start out with the silly little siege that got Richard the Lion-Hearted killed. It’s a bad comparison for this film, not just because it makes more sense for a 47-year-old to play Robin at the end of his life rather than the beginning of his legend. (And I know, back in the twelfth century, you looked 47 when you were 22, but still.) It's a bad comparison because, in this movie, (a) the siege scenes are immediately undermined by constant crosscutting to London, where Prince John is being a dick to his wife and his mother; (b) the crosscutting to London is undermined by crosscutting to Nottingham, where Matron Marian's barn is robbed by the Lost Boys and not only don't you care, you have no idea what the hell is going on; and (c) the minute Russell Crowe gets introduced as Robin Longstride, you look at him and go, “Longstride? Really? Where does he keep his stilts then?”

Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t think Ridley Scott will ever forgive the world for ignoring his Crusades movie, even though the only thing it did effectively was torpedo Orlando Bloom’s career as a leading man. So we get a miniature version of the siege of Jerusalem, a clever way to cause explosions before the invention of gunpowder, a coincidental meeting between our hero and the villain that makes perfect sense when you realize that there was only one road in 12th Century France, and an ambush that kills a crucial character so that the main character can inherit his identity. Which leads us with impeccable movie logic to

The Return of Martin Guerre. Now that Robin Longstride is Robert Loxley, we get a lot of pointless tension about whether anyone will expose him as a fake. But nobody does, not even the villain, who knows he's a fake. So off Robin/Robert goes to Nottingham with three companions who turn out to be the ur-Merry Men (since this is the 12th century, they are actually the Dour Men), where Matron Marian's father-in-law, Ming the Merciless, asks him to continue the impersonation so Marian can keep her property away from the greedy hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham and his tax collectors. Or something. The Sheriff does show up and make a blackmail pass at Marian (I'll take care of your bill if you'll bill and coo with me), which sets him up as a potential rival for Cate Blanchett's prickly Hepburnian heart, but then a producer remembered how Alan Rickman stole the last Robin Hood out from under Kevin Costner, and cut all the rest of the Sheriff's lines.

Oh, and in this section? There's another primo example of Hollywood story-telling: now that the hero is someone else, he starts to remember who he really is. Can't you just hear the excitement during the pitch meeting when the writer said this? Everyone in that room was just splashed with glee. (Insert sarcastic emoticon here.)

This Robin Hood takes the jolly out of "Jolly good."

The Sea Hawk. And throughout all this there’s a subplot stolen from The Sea Hawk which regrettably has nothing to do with Errol Flynn: it’s the one about the trusted noble betraying the throne to another country--in this case Mark Strong’s Godfrey, who is conniving with the King of France to start a civil war in England by using French troops dressed as British troops to collect taxes, kill people, and burn a map of Northern England in a second-unit montage sequence, all so that the French can invade England in wooden versions of DUKW landing craft.

This is the point where my brain short-circuited, and the movies that make up this movie started flipping like a baseball card attached to the back wheel of a bike.

The Patriot. Remember that scene where the British bad guy herds everybody into a church and burns it to the ground? Same scene here. And just as historically accurate.

The Prince of Tides. Robin remembers who he is when Ming the Merciless tells him to close his eyes for a couple of seconds. (Which makes me want to close my eyes, but I can't.) In typical Hollywood fashion, only by remembering what his father did is our hero free to embrace his destiny and make King John sign the Magna Charta. Just like his father tried to do. Or something.

Saving Private Ryan. The French do a reverse D-Day assault on Dover Beach with a ton of computer-generated ships. Which makes it

Troy. Only this time Hector wins, because the French are all surrender monkeys who run at the first sign of defeat. You also get to see Robin Hood lead a cavalry charge on a beach, which is as totally incongruous as Zorro shooting arrows at the Commandante in Griffith Park.

Elizabeth. Cate Blanchett dons armor for the final fight, but because she’s really the Lois Lane of this movie, she almost drowns in six inches of water. And finally

The trailer for this very movie. Where you finally see all the cool stuff that made you want to go to the movie in the first place, like King John crying "Out-LA-A-A-A-A-AWWW!!!" and the arrow nailing the proclamation to the tree.

That's right--this is the Duck Amuck of Robin Hood movies.

To get meta for a minute? Everything about this film screams the words “Nobody does anything original anymore.” Hell, it’s even part of the plot. The main character doesn’t get incensed by a situation and then act in defiance of it, because character is not action anymore. Character is destiny. He gets incensed at a situation because he finds out his father did, so he’s not doing anything original at all, he’s following in his father’s footsteps. Just like Ridley Scott is following in the footsteps of a dozen other movies, some of them his own. And it’s a mess. It’s like a Monty Python parody without the laughs.

So if I were you, I would rent the Flynn movie in a heartbeat, or dig out that Looney Tunes collection with Robin Hood Daffy on it. As for this movie? It leaves you thinking two things. It leaves you thinking, "Wow--what a great cast! I'd love to see these people in a movie about Robin Hood." And it leaves you thinking this:

"Run away! Run away!"

Monday, May 17, 2010

I need to coin a word for this kind of experience

There's a bookstore I go to in my dreams, a used bookstore that literally shows up now and then in my sleep like Danny The Street -- a place so vividly detailed that I can't believe it's not real; I can't believe that I've never actually been inside this store or a store like this in what I like to think of while I'm awake as real life. I can feel the wood in this store. I can smell the used-bookstore air. I can close my eyes and see it (well, yeah; I mean, of course). But there is no store like it, not on this waking earth.

It isn't built like a store, it's built like a reading room in a library, or one of those college cafeterias at Yale, all old wood and high ceilings. You walk in the front door and sometimes there’s a checkout counter but more often it’s just a room, a wide room with wooden floors and no rugs, light wood, no dark wood, and directly in front of you at the far end, facing you as you enter, is a wall of bookshelves about eight to ten feet high, packed with used paper¬backs and used hardcovers. It's about ten to twelve steps from the door to this wall of books. There is another wall on your right, one without anything on it, no shelves, no paintings, just a bare wall; and a hallway on your left. The bookshelves continue along the wall to the left, and down the right hand side of a long, thin hallway, the left side of which has nothing but bay windows overlooking, what, I don't know what they overlook, I've never looked through them, I've only looked at the books (shows you where my head's at). And as you walk down the hallway, it opens up on your right into a huge reading room, like a library except uncluttered by tables or chairs--just a large high room with bookshelves on three walls, and several standing bookcases, also of light wood, which somehow do not make the room feel crowded or packed. This is the treasure room, this is the room with all the finds in it. And this room is empty of people; nobody knows about this place except me and my friends (my dream friends, I mean, like Bonnie and Trick and Brandui -- we’ll get into my dream friends later).

The store itself always has a different address, and a different street door, and is always part of a different building. Sometimes it’s right outside of Harvard Square, on a side street that does not exist in real-world Cambridge; sometimes it’s just a hidden door in an otherwise nondescript building. But I know it the minute I look at it. I know what it is, and whenever I see it, I always walk out of the dream I’ve been having, like someone walking out of a bad movie, and open that door to see what’s in my bookstore this time. The feeling I get when I walk into this bookstore is a combination of finding something that was lost and coming home just in time for Christmas; a feeling of being blessed, being lucky, being home.

I call this place the Great Bookstore--whenever it shows up, either I say or somebody else says, "Oh, this is the Great Bookstore!" And of course, whenever I visit the Great Bookstore, I'm always finding books that do not exist in the real world-- books that I used to have as a child and have totally forgotten about; books that I say to myself as I look at them, "Now this is exciting--this is a book that I should write when I wake up!" And a lot of the time? Books by authors I collect that I've never been able to find, or that they've never even written -- books like Sylvia Scarlet by Robert Louis Stevenson, or The Kites of Kai Lung by Ernest Bramah -- plays like Affectation by Sheridan and The Maid’s Holiday by Christopher Marlowe. And every now and then there’s a lost Shakespeare play, too, like Love’s Labour’s Wonne, or Cardenio, or The Tragedy of Gowrie, which he wrote with Ben Jonson.

So please try to picture the total mental disconnect I experienced when I walked into Barnes and Noble in Union Square on Saturday and saw this in the Shakespeare section:

Ex-squeeze me?!?

And please also, if you can, imagine the incredibly Twilight Zone sensation I had when I started to reach out to pick up the book and wondered for a moment if my hand would go right through it, ghost-like, because either it was not real or (even scarier) I was not real. But no, it was solid. And it weighed about 50 pounds because it had an introduction almost as long as the text itself, an apology that read like a term paper on Thomas Aquinas. I probably will pick it up eventually; but for now, if you want to read the reaction of someone who knows what he's talking about, go to this article by Ron Rosenbaum on Slate.

As for me, I read a few paragraphs of the intro, scanned a few lines from the play, looked at the price ($22), and with no regret whatsoever replaced the book on the shelf without buying it. If I'm going to spend that kind of money? I'll blow it on The Child Out Of Fire by James Branch Cabell.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Unbearable Heaviness of Armor

--or, random thoughts from my inner geek on Iron Man 2. (I know, I know--it's really my outer geek and my inner adult, but this is my inner child speaking, so bear with the little tyke.)

Dark, ain't it?

Dying is easy; sequels are hard. Origin stories are always more thrilling than continuity. This is why Spider-Man is being rebooted, X-Men is being re-booted, Bond was rebooted, and Batman was rebooted. The story of How I Became is also the story of Who I Am and Why It Matters, three things which sequels never have to deal with, because sequels are all about Who Wants Some. This is particularly true of Iron Man, most of whose comic book history can be summed up by the question, "Who are we going to put into a suit of armor to fight our boy this month?" Notable exceptions to that: the Michelinie/Slayton Demon In a Bottle run, which established Tony Stark as an alcoholic. Wisely, Jon Favreau and company have taken this run as a jumping-off point, and Iron Man 2 is not unlike their take on it. They even supply Stark with a valid reason to be drinking so much and partying like a rock star (ten points, guys), but they kind of forgot that the only way this doesn't make the audience go "Hey--what happened to that likable guy from the first movie?" is if you don't make drunk partying Tony Stark look like a total dickhead.

Tony Stark, total dickhead. For the first ten minutes of this movie, Tony Stark is an insufferable prick, and the problem is, Robert Downey Jr. is too good an actor to play a likable prick hero. (Sam Rockwell can do it in his sleep, but he's busy playing the likable prick villain in this movie.) Downey is going to write the book on prickitude, and he does, which is why the movie starts off with a sour tone that undercuts everything--the humor, the story, the concept--everything except the character. Which, if you're a comic book fan, makes this movie in some ways better than the first, because it dares to make you not like your hero. If you're a movie-goer? You're going to be off-balance from the beginning, and nobody is going to even attempt to get you back on your feet again, so you are going to have to bring something to this film that you don't normally associate with comic book movies: those DiCaprio glasses you wear when you're watching Leonardo DiCaprio play yet another unlikeable leading role. At times (especially the beginning) you get the sense that Downey just wandered in from a Scorsese movie, and he's torn between yanking the picture into the emotional pits and ad-libbing his clever little ass off. Which, if you were expecting a repeat of the first movie's thrill ride, is going to leave you more than a little disappointed, like almost every movie critic I've read so far. Mind you, these are the same critics who bemoan the cookie-cutter format of comic-book movies, which makes them just like your uncle who bitches that holiday dinners are always the same and then goes "What the hell is this supposed to be?" whenever you serve him something different.

Two for the price of one. Unless you watched it in IMAX.

The morning after. The first Iron Man was ultimately about the struggle for the ownership of a legacy corporation, with peripheral international subplots and action sequences. This one is about ownership of technology, which means the government gets involved (check), the Army gets involved (check), and foreign spies try to steal the tech for their government (sorry, that doesn't happen in this movie; but we do have a Russian villain--does that count?). In other words, we're still pretty much in the real world here, and real world rules operate. Bubbles get burst, euphoria becomes kakaphoria, people get up and go to work the morning after the party-to-end-all-parties, and actions have consequences. Especially actions that try to avoid consequences. In other words, welcome to the Obama Administration. Seriously. The high of hearing Tony Stark say "I am Iron Man" is exactly analogous to the high of watching the Obamas walking through the streets of Washington during the inauguration. In the real world, it does not get any better than that. In the real world, complications come a-knocking on your door the minute the last party-goer takes a cab home. In the real world, every benefit has a price. And the price in this movie is like a reversal of Nietzsche: what makes me stronger, kills me.

You slay me.

One on one. As in the first movie, the best scenes are the ones between characters who hide behind the armor of words, instead of the CGI stuff. And that includes everybody except Mickey Rourke, who only speaks when he has to. I would have liked to see more of him with Downey, frankly--their one non-armor scene is a brief but wonderful example of how one actor skates over the depths to reveal them and the other hunkers down in the pits and drags the depths up with him whenever he comes up for air. Most of Rourke's scenes are with Sam Rockwell, who doesn't skate over the depths so much as weave back and forth between all the holes in the ice without ever once falling in, like some lost Buster Keaton bit. What else? Giving Happy more to do is a plus, as is having Don Cheadle as Rhodie. But Paltrow's Pepper seems lost when she's not fencing with Downey, and the set-up of competition between her and Scarlett Johansson seems to have wound up on the cutting room floor (it goes from "Can't wait for this cat-fight!" to "Whatever happened to that cat-fight?"in the space of like three scenes). And the scenes with Samuel L. Jackson? Well, they point up something else about this movie that's a little off-putting if you're not a comic-book fan.

Look! It's Hit Girl! And she's all grown up!

Let's Do A Sequel Build The Shared Universe. A bunch of stuff that was set up in the first movie (like the Ten Rings group) doesn’t even show up in this one (unless you look really close at the guy who hands Mickey Rourke his ticket to Monaco). This is weird for a normal sequel, but not for this kind of sequel, which is not only about What Happens Next, but also What World We’re In. The upshot of all this universe-building? Tony Stark isn’t even the top dog in his own movie. Nick Fury is. This means valuable screen time which could have been used to, oh, flesh out the Pepper/Tony relationship, the Pepper/Natasha conflict, or the Pepper-as-CEO subplot, is used to set up the hierarchy of the Marvel Movie Universe. To most people this short-changing of Gwyneth Paltrow will feel like something that should only be included in the Deleted Scenes of the DVD, but because Marvel is, in a sense, making its current slate of movies into a mini-series, it’s necessary to set it up here, before the Thor movie and the Captain America movie and the Avengers movie. So the scenes between Stark and Fury are more than just a nod to the geeks in the audience, but they stick out like they were filmed after the movie was in the can, when the Powers That Be said, “Wait--we need more universe building!” Especially the last scene they have together. Check out the TV feed playing in Fury's office, and think back to that other Marvel movie that came out in the summer of '08.

One of several scenes in the trailer that ain't in the movie.

Why read a review when you know you're going to see it? And you should see it. Really. Is it fun? Hell, yes. Is it as much fun as the first one? No. But then how could it be? Is it more fun than Sherlock Holmes? Good question. Sherlock Holmes had Jude Law (ten points) but it also had Rachel McAdams (minus ten). This movie has more for its female characters to do (ten points) and Mickey Rourke as a badass (plus ten) and Sam Rockwell, who can do no wrong and never does as an actor (plus fifteen). So even if you subtract the universe building (minus ten), it still charts as more fun than Holmes.

Just remember to stay through the credits. You'll thank me come next summer.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dream Diary: 5/9/10

(Sunday morning between 7:15 and 8:45.)

I’m at work, on the day I’m supposed to leave for vacation at noon to catch a 2 PM flight to Los Angeles. I walk into the office to find out that every DVD copy of the webcasts I’ve done for the last five years have been taken off the spindles I had them on, put into individual plastic cases, and stacked over Nikki’s desk. And none of them are labeled. I now have to go through every single one of them every single time I get a request to find something, and I am TOTALLY pissed off about it. Who the fuck did this? I know without asking--it’s Mark Flavin. It’s always Mark Flavin. He’s sitting next to Nikki reading The Onion online when I walk into his office, and when I see him I just roar like a bull for ten seconds, which makes Nikki jump up out of her chair like I’ve stuck a needle into her ear drum. Flavin? Flavin ignores me. “Can I please ask you people not to rearrange things that I already have arranged, please?” I say in my best imitation of my father’s passive-aggressive angry voice. “Why, what are you looking for?” says Flavin without looking up. I pull a meeting name out of my hat. “The CNBC interview right after Bear Stearns folded.” Flavin gets up, goes over to Nikki’s desk, stares at the piles and piles of DVD’s, then reaches up and pulls one out of the middle. “Here you go,” he says, and hands it to me as he walks back to his desk. Oh great. Now he knows the system and I don’t. Fucking Flavin.

I’m trying to think of something politely insulting to say to him when I get a call from Liz upstairs. “It’s almost noon. You wanted me to call you and remind you to get out of here,” she says. I look at the clock. Ten to twelve. “All right,” I say. “One drink and I’m gone.” I take my luggage upstairs, check it in by the train station, and sit down next to Liz at the bar. “So who are you seeing in LA?” she asks. “This woman I haven’t seen since college,” I tell her. “She found me on Facebook.” “Which one is this?” “Amy.” “THAT Amy?” “That Amy.” “You’re gonna need another drink,” she says, and pours me a vodka shot.

Two more drinks later and I am on the train to the plane. I’m cutting it close. I’m reading a thriller called 1903 about a guy who discovers that Henry Ford was a secret member of the Nazi party and even got a membership card signed by Hitler, a card whose number (1903) is the year of the first Model-T. It’s damn good--so good that I totally forget for a while what stop I’m supposed to be getting off, and when the train comes to a halt and I hear the conductor announce, “Langley; Langley Station,” a little bell goes off in my head (“This is your stop! Get off now!”) and I close the book, grab my suitcase, and dash off. Ten seconds later, as the train pulls away, I realize that, not only is this NOT my stop, but because it’s nowhere near the airport, I am going to have to walk to the bus stop ten country blocks away in order to hopefully catch the bus that will take me to the airport in time to catch my flight. Which is in ten minutes. “You are such an idiot,” I say to myself as I head off down the street. “You are never gonna make your flight. You need to get to a phone and cancel the ticket, so you can get a partial refund. What was it, $745? Go back to the station and get on the phone and cancel the ticket.”

I turn around. The station’s gone. It’s just trees and lawns and houses here. And the sun is so bright that everything is almost colorless. As I watch, the trees and houses get whiter and whiter, and the wind rises up, and there’s a rushing sound like every leaf on every tree in the world is getting hit by a fifty-mile-an-hour wind, and that’s when I wake up.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Weekend Update: Only a matter of time

Friday night: I stopped counting at 10. I know, I know--I'm such a bad Irishman. A good Irishman would have lost count around #7. But it was a long week, and there were regulars at the bar, and I was writing like a possessed fiend until my right hand gave out and I had to soak it in a couple of tequila shots, after which it wrote everything in Spanish. Upshot of all this: I showed up at 8, filled six notebook pages with actually legible scribbling, drank maybe a dozen pints of Guinness, didn't make a fool of myself that I know of, got home at 3:45--and got up four hours later because Saturday was:

Saturday: Don't talk to him, he's reading an actual book. So: up at 7:30, showered and out the door by 8, coffee shop breakfast between 8 and 9, and a train to Midtown Comics on 40th Street where I was the 23rd person guy on line at 9:20 for an 11 AM store opening. I was standing behind two guys, one around my age, one a little younger, who were discussing the continuity ramifications of Blackest Night. Like all good comic book lovers, they invited me into their conversation as an equal. And I gotta tell ya--there is nothing--nothing--quite like the camaraderie of a bunch of guys discussing stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with the universe as we know it; it is so much more fulfilling than discussing sports statistics because sports players, unlike superheroes, have the drawback of being actual human beings. Not so with Green Lantern. I mean, crap--with Green Lantern these days, you have to be specific about which one you're talking about, something you don't have to do when you're talking about A-Rod. ("Which A-Rod do you mean? John Stewart A-Rod? Guy Gardner A-Rod? Kyle Rayner A-Rod?") But there is also nothing--nothing--quite like the cold shoulder you get from a comic book lover when you pull out an advance copy of Greil Marcus' new book on Van Morrison, When That Rough God Goes Riding, and read it cover to cover instead of bitching about how much Marvel's Siege sucks.

Saturday & Sunday: Hot as a bad Josh Hartnett movie.

Wait--is there a good Josh Hartnett movie?

Saturday: It's not the same when it's not Norwood Ave. Some people get depressed on their birthday. Some people get all reminiscent and shit on New Year's Eve. Me, I get misty-eyed on Derby Day. Back during the last century, my friend Tom used to host an annual Derby Day party in his apartment in Newton, MA, during which he would make mint juleps from scratch, and we would all try to remember who won last year's race while we picked horses for this year's race, and met Bob Hassey's latest girlfriend, and just talked (and talked) (and talked), usually while watching pre-pubescent girls do floor gymnastics with giant red balls and streamers on the TV. (This was back before the Derby pre-show became a day-long event, and the network used to broadcast counter-programming before the race started, which shows you how long ago those good old days were.) Derby Day is also special to me because (if I remember correctly) on that day in May in 1982, which would have been about six weeks before I moved to New York, Tom ran out of Bourbon and needed someone to make a run to the packy and get a new bottle. I volunteered, and what made the trip memorable was that my soon-to-be-30-year-old ass got carded when it was my turn to pay. Which is such a great treat when you're about to be ancient, which is what 30 is when you're 29. Bonus points because you're also five or six years older than the chick at the cash register. I can still remember her double take when she read my birthdate. And me going back to Norwood Ave and crowing for the rest of the weekend about how I got carded. So yeah: to this day, I cannot see a field of three-year-olds churning up a track without looking around to see where Tom is or wondering who Sue is rooting for or raising my mint julep to clink it with Hassey's mint julep and say, "Good times."

Good times indeed.

Saturday & Sunday: Mayday! Mayday! New York City's first post-9/11 car bomb was discovered on Saturday thanks to a sidewalk vendor who noticed a smoking SUV on 45th Street, which is kind of ironic, because street vendors are those quality-of-life nuisances whom our social-engineering Mayor is determined to clean off the streets before he finishes his tenth term as King of New York. (Not that I have anything against Bloomberg Rex, mind you. Although I do have to wonder what he's going to ban next in his quest to make Manhattan more and more like Disneyland. Public cursing? Public midriff-baring? Tattoos?)

Thanks to pure dumb luck, the bomb did not go boom. This time. Not to get too fatalistic, but it is indeed only a matter of time before one does go boom, with horrific consequences. And joking aside, if it goes off on a weekend in Times Square, it's going to take out more tourists than locals, because nobody who lives in this city goes anywhere near Times Square on the weekends unless they absolutely have to. Weekdays is another story. We're all here on weekdays. So we're all potential victims.

To be honest, I don't know how I feel about that. Mostly because it's beyond my comprehension. I have just as much belief in my own personal immortality as any normal human being--it's that little voice inside me that says: "I'm the exception; I'm gonna live forever"--but there is no comparable voice in me that says either "I'm maybe possibly not going to be here some day" or "There's an outside chance that a Ford full of fertilizer will blow me to smithereens some morning." Both of which are much more likely than me outliving Bernard Shaw. So does that mean I'm out of touch with reality? Because frankly, my version of reality includes the demise of everyone else on earth but me. It's like Michael Herr says in Dispatches: the one dead body I know I won't be able to stomach is the one I'll never get to see.

Incredibly selfish, right? But I think--in my selfish way--that it's a necessary selfishness. This is, after all, a city in which I could get taken out by exploding manhole covers, falling cornices, and flustered old ladies who hit the gas instead of the brake. I don't think about those, either. I think about what I'm going to write tonight when I get home, or do tomorrow when I see a friend. I think about what I'm going to get Liz for her birthday, and whether I'm going to be able to swing a trip to Virginia for Amanda's graduation party. I think about when I'm going to give Bill that Greil Marcus book to read, and I think about the Carole Lombard movies I watched last night, and how it's a damn shame she wasn't given the time to make any more. And I think about the time I've wasted, and the time I have ahead of me that I hope I will not waste, and wonder if I will be given enough of it to do all the things I want to do. (And I won't. None of us are. We all get kicked out of this party with a half-finished drink in our hands.)

So where does that leave me? It leaves me thinking about what exactly the words "wasting time" mean in this particular context. And to me, today, it means worrying about things over which I have no control--like exploding manhole covers, and falling cornices, and car bombs. Because if you want to know the truth, it's those fucking old ladies who hit the gas instead of the brake who scare me to death. There's a goddamn army of them out there, all of them ready to "hit the brakes" when they see me crossing the street. Them I worry about.