Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More Monkey News

With all due respect to Karl Pilkington.

I'm not fond of monkeys. I have several good reasons for this.

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Just weeks after the Indian capital's deputy mayor toppled to his death fighting off a pack of monkeys, the animals are back on the attack, sparking fresh concerns about the simian menace.

One woman was seriously hurt and two dozen other people were given first aid after monkeys rampaged through a neighbourhood in east Delhi over the weekend.

"There were about three or four monkeys involved," deputy police commissioner Jaspal Singh told AFP.

Monday, November 12, 2007

It Always Seems Like a Good Idea at the Time

There's no way this will end well.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dylan Sings Louie Louie


Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Some Christians tell teenagers that premarital sex is like watching a broken TV. Loving marital sex is like watching a really good TV, with a sharp clear picture.

Kids, do you really need an old atheist to tell you that no, premarital sex is absolutely nothing like watching a TV? Because it's not. Just in case you're wondering.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Intelligence Services Co-opt Hanna Barbara

For most of its history the folks at the National Security Agency worked under a heavy cloak of secrecy. They liked it that way. They even had their own little joke during the Cold War. It went like this:

Q: What does NSA stand for?
A: No Such Agency!

Har har har.

Well, the Cold War is long over and an atmosphere of Glasnost prevails. In an effort to reach out to the youth of America the cryptographers at the NSA have come up with CryptoKids.

See, the NSA gets it. All kids are CryptoKids! LOL! They've even got their own words, like MILF! Who would ever guess what that means? Not Osama, that's for sure. Democracy is safe in the hands of the CryptoKids!

The Cryptokids are undeniably great. But it would be wrong to neglect the child-outreach of the other intelligence agencies. I've only put the Cryptokids artwork at the top because it made me guffaw when I saw it. The CIA is doing its bit too. Its all-purpose mascot is a cunning trannie Carmen Sandiego, with a subtle nod to Maxwell Smart -- a reference no kid would ever understand. But stiletto phones are kinda hot and edgy, so it's cool.

And of course those glorified flatfeet at the FBI have taken time from passing information on to mobsters to come up with their own kids' pages. Good effort Feds! At least none of the thousands and thousands of kids who visit your site know that J. Edgar Hoover was a pervert.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rebranding the CIA

What would you call this image? For any American over the age of 30 the red circle with a slash through it evokes the Ghostbusters logo. But what is that figure in the middle? Ominous and dark, it lacks any identifying characteristics other than what looks like the silhouette of an AK-47 clutched in its hand.

Oh, I know. It's a terrorist! Of course. It must be, because this is the CIA's Terrorist Buster Logo.

I want to meet the CIA agents who wear jumpsuits emblazoned with this logo. Do they tear around the dusty streets of Karachi in a 1957 ambulance and confront wacky terrorists as portrayed by Rick Moranis? I bet they're really funny dudes. And no doubt they're well equipped to countermand any ecto-plasm dirty bombs.

Note from John: A few people have inferred from a timestamp on the CIA's website that this logo is relatively new. It is not. I came across it for the first time in 2003 or 2004.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My Goals are Stupid and Small

Alexander Roy lives life like Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Liar of the Month

This article in the Times tells the story of Tania Head. She's made 9/11 her life over the past six years. She makes speeches and advocates for 9/11 type stuff, based on her harrowing tale of survival on that day in September. Too bad it's all bullshit! Yay Tania Head. You're crazy and good at it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The First thing We Do

Lawyering is the only career my father asked me not to enter. He said that he'd prefer I became a ditch digger. Now I'm very close to living up to his high hopes and a recent story about a "legal letter"* Bill Clinton's attorney sent to a restaurant has crystalized why The Old Man felt this way.

Osso Buco is a swankyish Italian restaurant in the Village. Like a lot of joints in NYC it features a rogues gallery of low and high grade celebrity diners who have posed for photos with the owner. According to a couple of news sources a photograph of Chelsea Clinton has hung in Osso Buco for five years. The other day Clinton's lawyer sent a grouchy letter to the restaurant asking that it be removed. He said Chelsea didn't consent to this use of her photo. The lawyer implies that he's going to sue the pants off Osso Buco if the picture is not removed from display, saying, "We reserve the right to exercise any and all legal options available to us if you refuse to comply." Oh really? What legal options are available to you Perry Mason?

Osso Buco's management should tell Clinton's lawyer to take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut on a gravel driveway.

Chelsea Clinton gave her implicit approval for the display of the photograph when she posed for it. On these grounds any self-respecting judge would throw a "rights of publicity" or other nonsensical lawsuit straight out of court. Chelsea Clinton is not a dumb woman. The pictures of celebrities and politicians on the walls of Osso Buco should have tipped her off that the photo would be mounted on the wall. And she posed, said cheese and waited for the flash. That's consent.

The lawyer is probably acting without the input or consent of the President or his wife or their daughter. This is what must be stopped. Lawyers all over the world walk around inventing laws and legal threats on behalf of clients who don't really want the lawyer to do what they're doing. Do you think Bill Clinton, famous lover of food, really cares that his daughter's picture hangs in an Italian restaurant? No. No, he doesn't. If he knew that picture was up there, he'd probably hop in his limo and roll down there for a free meal. Then he'd have his own picture snapped. Avuncular old Bill doesn't want press about mean lawyers writing nasty letters to restauranteurs. He wants some good food to eat. This lawyer is doing what almost all lawyers do best: he's making work for himself. At the end of each week he sits down and tallies all the bullshit letters he's mailed off and pats himself on the back for doing such good work.

This case probably stikes a lot of lay folks as just another funny news story about the ridiculous excesses of celebrities, politicians and lawyers. It is all that. But it's a signifier of how certain lawyers have gotten completely out of hand. Like I said above, if Osso Buco goes to the mat the case will be tossed, when it gets to court. The shit of it is that in the meanwhile, Osso Buco will have to hire another lawyer to prepare the case. At $400 per billable hour, minimum, fighting the stupid request will add up to real dough, very fast.

With that in mind Osso Buco will take the picture down. Kudos to them for generating some PR for themselves. But in the meanwhile, this shitheel lawyer has shown the world that bullying letters get things done, and that we need all the lawyers we can get. Yay rule of law!

* The term "legal letter" drives me nuts. You're supposed to shudder when you get a "legal letter"--like, from a real lawyer--in your mail box. Don't. Lawyers are just like accountants, except instead of playing with numbers they play with words. They have no more power when they write letter than you or I do. They should chill the fuck out. I don't care how much money they spent on school.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dylan TV

YouTube has moved beyond peep fighting and sparkler bombs. Now it's got practically a whole Bob Dylan network of videos up there. Sadly, Dylan's proxy has disabled the embedding function for most of them. But it's worthwhile to follow this link to the video for the remixed Most Likely You'll Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine. It is awesome.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Kingdom = Team America Part II?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Frey Rides Again

So James Frey got another book deal. This one for two million bucks. Boy, some people are upset.

I am not. But I've been confused by the outrage. Tons of books contain lies passed off as truth. The Bible for example, recounts this one story about a guy who walked on water, rose from the dead and supposedly reached the age of 33 without ever having sex or jerking off. It's also got a bit in there about an old man who built a boat big enough to carry all the animals in the world. If you can believe it, this all passes for non-fiction in some circles. More recently, Agusten Burroughs wrote a book about the people who were nice enough to take him in when his parents could not care for him. He recounted incidents both kooky and criminal involving these people. According to the folks who took Burroughs into their home, many of these incidents never happened. They went court. Evidently they had enough going for them that Burroughs settled. No one is calling for Burroughs' head on a platter. Why not?

When the Frey story first broke I thought it was a sophistication issue. A Million Little Pieces sold five million copies or something. Given that the vast majority of Americans never read anything at all, not even a cereal box or a street sign, I guessed that many of these angry folks hadn't read many other books. These people didn't know that writers don't always let the truth get in the way of a good story.

But I also noticed a gender-based trend. Women, it seemed to me, were really ticked-off at James Frey. Many of these women are incredibly sophisticated when it comes to books. How come they didn't understand that these are just stories?

If the men I spoke to cared at all, they considered Frey a panty-waist because he cowered before Oprah Winfrey. Some writers, male and female, were pissed because they felt Frey gave every writer a black eye. I say Frey slandered no one other than himself. That's not a category of libel recognized by US law, so what's the big deal. I mean aside from the fact that he pissed himself on Oprah.

I finally sorted out the obvious this morning. I have not read the entirety of A Million Little Pieces, so whatever impressions I've got may be totally off base, but whatever. Here goes. Frey's book was not funny. It was not charming. It was serious. Had it been whimsical or quirky, like David Sedaris's Naked, or Burroughs's Running with Scissors, I wouldn't be writing this dopey blog entry parsing the meaning and emotional impact of this particular mendacity. Some reporter busted Sedaris for fibbing earlier this year and the whole world yawned. If your lies come off as a goof, no one cares.

But AMLP was way serious. Serious like the boy with the dark hair and the soulful eyes who sits in the back of class and doesn't say much. He doesn't always do his homework. You know he's got some real shit going on at home. But he is so deep. And he gets into fights with other boys, but that's cool because you just know he would, like, protect you from those awful jerks that snapped your bra strap in sixth grade. Frey's book was like James Dean on the page.

And then it wasn't. It was all made up.

So now it clicks. Frey is a masher. He toyed with the feelings of his readers. They crushed-out on this poor fuck-up they read about and then they discovered he'd been lying to them. And the worst thing is that he did it for money.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Jim Surowiecki Does it Again!

Two weeks ago the New Yorker's Jim Surowiecki took on a question for the ages: why do airlines suck?

I'll give you the short answer. For the same reason dogs lick their balls: because they can. How else are you gonna get from New York to Chicago? On the train?

But all the same, I enjoyed each of the 958 words Jim took to say the same thing.

Time To Shine!

Jim Knipfel is among my favorite living authors. Primarily a memoirist, his first novel The Buzzing was the most underrated and unappreciated novel published in decades. I walked around in a daze for a week after I read it. A book hasn't affected me like that since I was twenty. So I'm excited for his follow-up Noogie's Time to Shine. At a time when everyone else seems to be quirky, or cutesy, when they depict losers or failures in print or on film, Knipfel's accounts are always bleakly funny. Heartbreaking, but never cute. Noogie's Time to Shine tells the story of an ATM stocker who siphons off $5 million dollars a few bills a time, and then goes on the lam. Based on a true story. I cannot wait for its publication date.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cheating is Against the Rules?

I don't understand the fuss about the Patriots trying to record their opponents' play signals. Why is this illegal? Would it be against the rules if the team used a notebook instead of a video camera? What a bunch of crybabies. Cheating is part of the game goddamn it.


I quit smoking almost exactly three weeks ago. This morning Darlene called from the New York State Quit Line. She wanted see how I'm doing. We chatted a bit. She told me, in very gentle but clear terms, that I am no better than a crack addict or a junkie--she did use those words. I agreed with her. We laughed. It was nice. I wanted a cigarette.

My friend Mike has given me the only truly useful advice in quitting. It went like this.

Mike: You know that feeling you get when you want a cigarette?

Me: Yeah.

Mike: You know, when you really want a cigarette more than anything else in the world.

Me: Yeah.

Mike: You know what you do when you get that feeling?

Me: Tell me.

Mike: Don't have a cigarette.

Me: Thanks, asshole.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Demon Tylenol: A Public Service Announcement

For whatever reason people rarely believe me when I make statements of fact. For sometime I've been trying to warn people about the dangers of taking acetaminophen as a hangover cure or preventative. People usually tease me, call me a nut-job conspiracy theorist or paranoiac. This may be true, but I'm still right. Don't take Tylenol or any non-aspirin pain reliever when you've been drinking or if you plan to. Tylenol is not asprin, which is totally safe to take for a hangover. If you regularly mix acetaminophen with alcohol you can suffere serious side effects, like liver failure and death. It's true. Look it up yourself if you don't believe me.

Random Endorsements

I don't have anything remotely interesting to say at the moment. This is different from all those other moments when I'm fascinating. I gave up smoking two weeks ago, and even though I'm on the patch I've got the attention span of a two-year old crammed full of Snickers bars and cotton candy. Being fascinating, as is my usual custom, requires a modicum of focus. Still I want to put something up here to keep the two or three people who stop by regularly interested. (Hello whoever you are at the Carlyle Group! It's nice to know I have readers that make more money in a day than I will in the next several years. Welcome!) This is the bloggiest post I've put up so far. Forgive me.

So, these are things I've been enjoying lately.

The Mess Around. This is my band. We are awesome, so long as we take the stage before midnight. At that moment, when the fabric of darkness is thickest and when we've all consumed one or two drinks too many--those of us in the band who drink anyway--we become merely incredibly entertaining, rather than staggeringly good. People ask me to describe our music and this is what I tell them: It is like old fifties R&B, shot through the venturi of punk rock, post punk, seventies pop and played by four white boys, really really loud. Check us out on Sept 21 at Lit Lounge.

Pash. This band played with us a little while ago. They are even better than we are. Also, all the band members are attractive.

Red meat. I have been eating a lot of red meat lately. A few years back I read Michael Pollan's account of the disgusting things that cows are fed and injected with over the course of their short lives. I ate no meat at all for several months after that. Mostly it was the preponderance of estrogen and anti-biotics that skeeved me. I don't care about the killing and all that. But that was a few years ago. Now I find that my mood is a little off if I don't taste cow blood on the end of my fork at least once a week. Thank god for cardiac bypass surgery, angioplasty and stents.

The Habitrol Nicotine Patch. The State of New York has been good enough to provide me with a bundle of these generic nicotine patches. Elliot Spitzer hates that I smoked for so long. And to thank him for his help, I'll point out here that the patch actually works. I don't nic fit all the time. If I'm busy the patch is in many ways better than smokes as a nicotine delivery system, since I don't have to stop what I'm doing in order to get my fix. Also, if you wear it when you go to sleep at night you will have dreams that would send Coleridge running for his pen and pad.

The Amateur Magician's Handbook. I checked this book out of the library when I was nine years old and paid its replacement cost rather than return it. I still have it on my bookshelf. I'd put it among the top-twenty most important books I've read in my life, not because I went on to become an illusionist--I can't even palm a quarter anymore--but because it taught me the concept of misdirection. Now I have grown into a cynic who's forever trying to look at anything other than what he's told to look at in the hope of ruining the trick. Try it with politics.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

How I met [Redacted] Part VI

So you recall earlier in the summer I was telling you about how I met [Redacted]. Through a confluence of physical ineptitude, bad luck mixed with good luck and muleishness I had come into posession of a multi-level marketing painting franchise. Probably I should refrain from calling it a scam or using its proper business name. Over the course of the summer I've noticed that a number of youngsters and their parents have wound up at my website after googling "college pro painting scam." Maybe they take what they read here as gospel and it sways them from buying into a painting franchise. Maybe they look at the header on the page and then work themselves into a philosophical knot as they try to parse what's true and what's not. Oh well. Now they know how I face the day when I wake up in the morning.

So here is an indisputable fact that I feel at liberty to write. [Redacted] rides a pink bicycle. It was that pink bicycle that he stood astride on the day we met. And after mocking my inability to keep paint off my fresh fiberglass cast he said something so remarkably old world it will remain in my mind until the day I die.

He said, "Ya hirin'?"

Keep in mind that this was in the early 1990s, not the middle of the great depression. The practice of wandering onto building and painting sites looking for work had long gone by the wayside. Or so I thought. I said, "Who the fuck are you? Tom Joad?"

"Naw man. I'm [Redacted]. Good to meet yah!" He extended his hand and I shook it. Then he went on, "You look like you could use some help. I'm pretty good at painting you know."

I did not know that he was good at painting, but it was after noon and he didn't stink of malt liquor. I asked him what he expected to be paid. He said, "Twelve bucks an hour to start'll be fine." And we shook hands again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Book Titles and Reading

There's an article making the rounds today that reports twenty-five percent of Americans surveyed never read a book, ever. I think that figure is low. My guess is that most of the people who said they read several books a year lied. Nobody reads. As a steady reader myself I don't blame my fellow Americans. It's not that they're stupid and lazy. It's the book industry that's stupid and lazy. Perhaps it's stupid and lazy because there's no money in it, but still you can't blame people for eschewing reading when most books actually suck. Here are examples of the sorts of books that currently occupy prime placement in Barnes & Noble.

People Who Are Not Like You are Stupid and Unattractive
This book is a humorous and incendiary commentary on those whose ideological values seem to oppose yours. If you are a Republican you will enjoy the book about whack-job commie liberals. If you are a Democrat you will enjoy the book about radical right-wing Republican war mongers.

One Word Title for Mundane Object, Material or Activity that Changed the World
Salt, alcohol, some species of fish that no one ever really liked, cocaine, soccer, are all placed in a global context in which their impact on the world and the universe is raised to the level of import previously held by the wheel, fire and the washing machine. If you like watching the History Channel Tony Soprano-style, you will probably find the paperback version of one of these books in your stocking at x-mas.

Embittered Memoir of My Employment
You know what I want to read? Two-hundred pages of noxious bitching written by a young upper-middle class person. I can cozy right up to that on a drizzly Saturday afternoon.

How the science of economics impacts on every element of your life, from the hotness of your wife to the likelihood that your daughter will one day be a bachelor party stripper.

A two-paragraph self-evident realization that was blown out to a 20,000 word magazine piece is further bulked-up into a 200 page book. Meanwhile, the author's hair grows stranger and stranger. Mysteries abound.

Mr. Tinkles and Me
What my pet rat taught me about life, love and punk rock while we hung around the Harvard Square Pit in 1989.

How to Do Those Things that Humans Have Been Doing Since the Dawn of Time
Can't figure out how to eat well? Get laid? Keep a girlfriend? Husband? Raise a kid? Buy a book that tells you everything you already know. Then you'll be a fantastic (father, girlfriend, boyfriend, mother, sibling or cook) you idiot.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

More Reality Show Ideas

Would someone from the WB get in touch with me? I promised the ratings on these shows will soar.

The White House
A group of caucasians are selected to move into a beautiful brownstone in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn. As they try to integrate themselves into the neighborhood--attending block parties and community meetings--hilarity ensues. In subsequent seasons new home sites will be selected in Gary, Indiana, St. Louis, and Roxbury, Ma. Host: Dave Chappelle

Wheel Men
Each season will follow the antics of real car salesmen at dealerships around the country. Hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi

We The People
Regular folks will compete to be the next top lobbyist. Each week the contestants will be charged with gaining an audience with a Senator, Representative or the President to bend his ear about a new fictional client selected by the show's producers. Typical clients will be Chinese arms dealers, chemical waste disposal companies and terrorist organizations. Neither the contestants nor the government officials will know that the clients are fictional. Host: Ana Marie Cox

Run for the Border
Teams of five American will race from Ecuador, through Mexico and into the United States. The first team that reaches Peoria, Il wins. Contestants will not be able to use their US passports or state identification, or any of the financial resources they have acquired in their lives. Host: Erik Estrada

If I Can Make it There
Contestants arrive at the Port Authority Bus terminal with $240 in their pocket. Over the course of the show they must rise through the ranks of New York society. They cannot tap their existing friend network or their own funds. The contestant who most prospers wins. Host: Chuck D

Friday, August 10, 2007

And Now a Word from the Tiny Little Andy Rooney that Lives in My Sinuses

This is an ad that ran on Salon.com today. It's a back-to-school ad that touts unheard of bargains on iPods. I like my iPod. I don't have children, but I like them too. But in what freaking world does an iPod have anything to do with education? I'm not against them, or against kids having them, but why use school as a reason to discount them? If you're going to have back-to-school sales on iPods, why stop there? Why not run back-to-school sales on meat? Or drywall. How about a nice back-to-school sale on Geritol?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Plans that You Know Won't Work

296 Mt Hope Street, my childhood home, the nest of all my pre-adolescent happiness and my now-embarrasing adolescent rage has been purchased by a developer. This developer plans to move the structure on the property so that he can build a second house on the property. I call bullshit. The house is impossibly old, haunted (it's true) and like many New England houses it was built in sections over the course of centuries. It is not a modular home that can be jacked off its foundation, loaded onto a truck and carted off to another less valuable locale. The plaster inside is brittle horsehair over lathe. The joists don't all connect with one another. Legions of inept plumbers and electricians have laid hands on the pipes and wires over the years. It's a creaky, sensitive old house and it needs to be left alone.

The developer made this promise because the town fathers like to keep old houses around. In New York and New Jersey it's a common practice to level a 1,500 sq foot house and replace it with a 10,000 sq foot abomination, replete with a frigging Great Room. (I will eat baby's feet before I buy, build or rent a home with a Great Room.) In Massachusetts it's practically a capital offense to flatten an old farm house. So now the developer will try oh so very hard to move it, and when my rickety old homestead collapses in a heap of kindling, at least he can say he tried. Call it the architectural preservation version of due dilligence.

So this makes me a little sad. By the time my parents were preparing to move from the home I was grateful they were leaving. I was sick of the place. Over the preceeding years I had entertained the notion of burning the building to the ground. Its walls were so steeped in bitterness and interfamilial fighting, just crossing the threshold was enough to put my teeth on edge. But I'm an old man now. And as an old man I'm obliged to get a little nostalgic for the back stair case-- which due to the structural ammendments built over the years was basically a stairway to nowhere--and there was an odd little door beneath the front staircase that covered a hollow spot in the core of the house--was it a dumbwaiter? But then where did the shaft go? We never found its terminating point in the basement. It was a pointless mystery and I liked it.

By the end of September it'll all be gone. The building that replaces it will be new and straight. It won't sag and shutter during a blizzard. Squirrels won't live in the attic. There will be 2.5 bathrooms instead of just the one. And some dull little kids will grow up there. Oh well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

An Interview with [Redacted]

The other day a friend asked me why [Redacted] is so hung up on concealing his identity. I had no ready, pat answer. I could only reply that he is a strange and interesting man. Thinking about it later I decided to put the question directly to [Redacted.] I called him at his North Atlantic retreat. Below is a transcription of the phone call—yes, I am that much of a geek that I recorded the interview.

Ring. Ring. Ring.

[Redacted]: Hello.

Me: Hey, [Redacted] it’s me.

[Redacted]: What’s going on John. Are you guys coming up?

Me: I dunno. We’re going away with Katie’s parents this weekend and my band is playing the week after that, so it looks like my free time is getting eaten up pretty quick this summer.

[Redacted]: That’s funny. I heard that you don’t do shit all day.

Me: Well, yeah, I mean notwithstanding that fact—listen, before I go any further, I have to let you know that I’ve hooked my minidisk player up to the phone and.


[Redacted]: Oh jeese. You’re recording this?

Me: Yeah.

[Redacted]: (Laughing) What the hell is wrong with you? Really man. What are you trying to do here?

Me: (chuckles) I don’t know [Redacted]. I’m just trying to find meaning and order in an otherwise orderless life.

[Redacted] Odorless? You lead an odorless life?

Me: Orderless. I said, “Orderless.”

[Redacted]: Is that a word? I mean wouldn’t you say “disorderly?”

Me: That’s what I meant.

[Redacted]: Well fuck. You’re supposed to be the writer. I’m just a [redacted]. Did you finish your book?

Me: I submitted the manuscript at the beginning of July. I’m sure the editor will have changes for me.

[Redacted]: Well no kidding, especially if you’re writing shit like “orderless.”

Me: . . .

[Redacted]: Are you really recording this?

Me: Yes.

[Redacted]: Such a jackass.

Me: Some things don’t change.

[Redacted]: No, I guess they don’t.

Me: So I wanted to ask you why you’re so against revealing your identity on the Internet.

[Redacted]: Well, I already told you that.

Me: Yeah, but I wanted to get it in your words.

[Redacted]: Did you ever hear the story that Nick Tosches tells about cheeseburgers?

Me: Yes, but you tell it.

[Redacted]: (sighs heavily) Alright, well Nick Tosches has never eaten a cheeseburger, and he’s like seventy. At a certain point in his life, he realized that he’d reached middle age without eating a cheeseburger and it became part of his identity. If he, I don’t know, ate a cheeseburger it would change him. He wouldn’t be Nick Tosches any more if he ate a cheeseburger.

Me: Has he ever eaten a hamburger?

[Redacted]: How am I supposed to know?

Me: I don’t know. It’s hard for me to believe that someone could go through life in the 20th century and avoid cheeseburgers the whole time unless he ruled out burgers as a class.

[Redacted]: I think it’s just cheeseburgers. He always says “cheeseburger” when he tells the story.

Me: What if he ate cheese and then a hamburger? Even separate bites. Does he apply Kosher meat and dairy rules? I don’t know about that story.

[Redacted]: What, you think Nick Tosches is lying?

Me: Over a lifetime of hamburger eating, it seems to me that somewhere along the line someone would have accidentally served him a cheeseburger. Tosches drinks at least socially, right? I don’t know about you, but I’ve put some things in my mouth while drinking that are otherwise not a regular part of my diet.

[Redacted]: Yeah, I guess we’ve all been there.


Me: So is that the only reason? You don’t want to start participating in the Web culture because you haven’t participated up to this point.

[Redacted]: Well that’s a big part of it.

Me: What’s the other part of it?

[Redacted]: Oh jeese. I don’t know John. It’s just silly, you know. I don’t get it. I don’t like looking at computers. I can’t type. No one’s ever shown me anything on a computer that’s better or more interesting than something I’ve seen in real life. So I just don’t want any part of it.

Me: How do you feel about the changes I’ve made to the posts about you?

[Redacted]: Well, I haven't looked at it lately. What did you do?

Me: I erased all references to any identifying characteristics. I use the term "Redacted" in place of your name. I put it in brackets.

[Redacted]: This is how you spend your time? Don't you have a motorcycle? And a girlfriend?

Me: Some people have said they enjoy reading it.

[Redacted]: (Laughing) They need to get a life. And so do you. Come up and stay for a little while in August.

Me: I’ll try. Okay, so I guess this is the end of the interview.

[Redacted]: Yeah, I gotta get back to work.

Me: Alright. If I have any more questions, can I call you again?

[Redacted]: Sure.

Me: Can I record the calls?

[Redacted]: Are you really recording this?

Me: Yes.

[Redacted]: Such a goddamned nut. Alright. Yeah, fine. Just don’t bug my house.

Me: No problem [Redacted]. I’ll talk to you soon.

[Redacted]: Bye now.

Me: Bye.

Performance Enhancement

So a second team was expelled from the Tour de France today because one of its riders tested positive for artificial testosterone.

Earlier this week Alexander Vinokourov, one of the strongest contenders on the tour, got bounced when he tested positive for foreign blood in his system. This is an indication that he was engaging in blood packing, a practice where an athlete tops off his normal blood levels with a little extra, you know for the added oomph only surplus hemoglobin can provide.

A third rider, Michael Rasmussen, is under suspicion because he dodged some drug tests earlier this year.

The scandal in France is unfolding at the same time that Barry Bonds creeps inexorably towards breaking the home run record.

And at this point I go out on a limb and say something largely unprovable. Every major athlete who has played, run, swam, ridden or thrown in the last decade probably has used some kind of banned performance enhancement. To pretend otherwise is childish.

And who do you blame for this? Blame yourselves. Blame yourselves and the business men who make money off sports. You want to see baseball players smash balls to atoms every night. You want to watch football players crush each other into bloody pulps. You buy the tickets and the t-shirts and the cable TV packages that let you watch every home and away game. You're getting what you pay for. It's your fault.

The ballplayers and the riders are nearly as innocent as the bread-thief in a Victor Hugo novel. Each of them faces a choice: use performance enhancing drugs and earn millions and millions of dollars a year or don't use the drugs and go work at a Home Depot stacking two-by-fours. What would you do?

So far as I know, George Steinbrenner loses no money if one of his players tests postive for banned substances. Vodofone and the Discovery Channel do not face a fine if the riders on their Tour de France team piss dirty or fail a blood test. But if a Yankees player fails to perform at the league standard, he gets fired in a hot second. The same goes for riders on the tour.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Will The Real Baghdad Diarist Please Stand Up

The New Republic has been publishing articles purported to be written by a soldier serving in Iraq under the pen name Scott Thomas. A number of people now argue that the unsavory depictions he's drawn of what goes on in Baghdad are fictional. He describes in one column a soldier who likes to run over stray dogs in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. He also describes soldiers cruelly mocking a disfigured woman in the dining hall.

The New Republic has had its share of problems with fabulism. So you would have to assume that they've taken some extra care in vetting this Thomas character's writing and background. But maybe not.

None of Thomas's stories sound especially far-fetched to me. When you get right down to it, they're pretty mild. They don't depict major Mai Lai style crimes perpetrated by American soldiers. Generally they are stories of soldiers as monumental jerks who veer in the direction of psychopathology, but haven't quite reached that point just yet. I've known plenty of civilian jerks. And while I don't know a lot of soldiers, I've met a few vets who fall squarely into the category of asshole. At the moment it seems as though some people would argue that no soldiers are assholes to say otherwise would be unsupportive of the troops. Right.

But the real issue at play here is that any argument about veracity of these stories distracts from the larger problem: The War in Iraq is a complete clusterfuck. Let's all keep that in mind as we go forward.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

How I Met [Redacted] Part V

Paint gets under your fingernails. You can try to scrub it out. You can dump mineral spirits over your fingertips to dissolve it. At first that’s a nice feeling, cool on your skin in an unearthly way that feels a bit like quiet, happy death must, but then the turpentine leeches all the natural oils from your skin. After a few applications cracks split your flesh and your cuticles turn red. So you give up and resign yourself to spending the summer with a white rime around the edges of your nails and deep in the nicks and whorls of your fingerprints. You could wear gloves, but the best days to paint are the hottest days, which makes them uncomfortable. Plus, believe it or not, painting a wall requires a modicum of sensitivity. You dab the brush in your paint bucket and then draw it over the wood at just the right speed, with just the right pressure. Too much force and you get runs. Too little pressure and you need to go over one spot again and again. The paint mottles and looks like shit. So no gloves.

I was sitting under a maple tree picking white flecks off my hand after lunch. I was alone on the job, wondering how I got myself into this mess. When Donovan suggested that I take the painting franchise as in-kind payment for my injuries, at first I thought he was joking. Now that I’d let the deal go through, I wished that he was. My arm was still in a short cast, and my ribs felt like they’d be sore for the rest of my life. And I had no crew. The frat boys Blackstone hired were not chattel after all, and even if they had been, I still would have gotten rid of them when I took over.

So what did I get as a settlement? A bunch of paint, brushes, three extension ladders, two heat guns and one scaffolding rig. I also got all the painting contracts Blackstone had secured up until the moment of my accident. There were four of them, and they had a net value of $56,214.23. Which, on its face was a pretty big number. But when you considered that I had to paint these houses and I had to find other people to help me, train them and pay them, it was more like a millstone than a windfall.

I had placed ads looking for painters in the local paper, that set me back a few bucks that I didn’t have. It yielded odd-hours phone calls from drunks and foreigners. The phone interviews themselves were difficult enough to deal with. Usually I ruled an applicant out as soon as he said hello. If they couldn’t communicate clearly either because they were plastered or completely unlettered in English, I didn’t want to deal with them at all, let alone pay them. So for four days I had been laboring alone, grinding vicodin between my molars when the pain got to be too much, and hoping for a savoir, or at least a native English speaker who could hold a paint brush.

I got both in the form of [Redacted]. He rode up on a pink bicycle—later he would insist that it was salmon colored. I looked up from my hands and saw him standing there. He was about six feet tall, balding and on the verge of laughing at me. “Who’s gonna sign your cast if it’s just getting covered with paint?” he said.

Friday, July 13, 2007

R.I.P. Mr. Butch and Boston

Mr. Butch was a lanky black man who hung around Kenmore Square in Boston back when Kenmore Square was a real place. He was universally well-liked, funny and completely indigent. He died yesterday. The Boston Globe published an obituary that should win an award.

They might still make men like Butch, but there are precious few places that will tolerate their presence. And that is the real tragedy.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Happy Fourth of July

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The entire document is available here.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Colleague

You call me over to your desk, and say "Dude, you gotta see this."
My mind nested deep in a spread-sheet
it lives with formulas links
throbs with numbers
calculating calculations of calculations
A lurid abstraction of intergers, gorgeous beyond the products
whose revenues and costs
it weighs and measures
I pop from my absorption and come to you
Your screen displays a man
getting hit
in the nuts
with a cricket bat
Indians, you say. They love cricket

Saturday, June 23, 2007

How I Met [Redacted] Part IV

If I’m to continue telling you about [Redacted], I should say that immediately after the accident, I went on a trip to California. That set in motion the events that immediately followed the events that I am currently telling you about, and have subsequently drained of any dramatic purpose in their retelling, since you already know how it’s going to work out. Obviously, I am not running a house painting franchise at the moment. You know that because I told you. Implicitly, I am not even the sort of guy who is capable of running a painting business for more than fifteen minutes. You know this because you—however few of you there are—are reading what I’m writing at this very moment. You’ve met house painters in your life before and you’ve drawn your conclusions about them. Among them, I’m sure, isn’t the impression that house painters as a class are given to composing oddball life stories and then spewing them out for everyone else in the world to judge, cherish or reject. No, more often they’re sitting at the corner of the bar at the Fall’s Athletic Club, drinking beer and polishing some old grudge like it’s a bowling trophy. So wrapped up am I in my own chattering, misanthropic ego, I can’t even look away from my own belly-button long enough to nurse a grudge at a bar.

So anyway, I went to California to visit some friends in San Diego—they’re not important to the story, flushed down the rathole of meth addiction and real estate licenses, I haven’t spoken to them in years. On the flight back home I sat next to a woman about my age. I’m just like you, and I have harbored erotic or at least romantic fantasies about getting on a plane and meeting a lovely woman, or at least an unlovely woman with a sparkling intellect, and then arranging either a rushed or a leisurely intimacy with the girl. And just like you, I have never made it happen. It’s not because I don’t have the guts, it’s because everyone gets about twenty-five percent uglier the moment they cross the threshold of an airport. This includes me, and it includes all the women that I would normally be attracted to in any other circumstance. Still, I always wanted to give it the college try and here, it seemed, was an opportunity. This girl was not unlovely and she had her nose buried in what looked like an academic journal. Both are always good signs off an aircraft.

I sat down next to her. She said hello and I said hi. She had black hair, mottled skin and John Lennon glasses. Once we got the greetings over with she went right back to her book. Following suit, I pulled out my copy of Moby Dick and started reading.

The flight went as they usually for the first half. We both respected one another’s space and shifted around our weight occasionally, apologizing to each other for the closeness that the airlines compel. We didn’t speak until after the drink service. I spoke up first, going for the stand-by.

“What are you reading,” I said.

She held it up for a moment. Then she said, “It’s the Journal of Biology. One of my professors has a paper in this issue and I helped him do the research for the paper.”

“So you’re reading it, but you must’ve already read it? Right.”

“Yeah, yeah. I guess it’s vain or silly or something, but it’s still nice to read it in the bound format.”

“What kind of research do you do?”

“I do research with silencer genes in yeast.”

“I don’t know what silencer genes are.”

She gestured with her hands. Okay, what we’re just learning now is that for every gene on a sequence, there’s another gene that turns it on or turns it off. Like ever trait that a gene creates there’s another gene that allows it to express or not express. These are the silencer genes.” As she said, “express” she held one hand over her closed fist. When she said, “not express” she closed her right hand over her left fist. “If we can control the silencer genes, we can control the way an entire genome expresses itself.”

“So you can do this with any trait? Eye color, height?”

“Umm. Not yet. We don’t work with mammals. I mean, right now we’re working yeast because it’s a really simple organism. So it’s easy to see the way these things work out when you manipulate them. But sooner or later I guess what we’re doing will be applied to people. Especially the research I’m doing.”

The stewardess came by with the drink cart again. I got a coke for myself, my seatmate asked for an orange juice. While the stewardess passed our drinks down to us, I tried to figure out how I was going to turn this conversation about yeast DNA into something sexual, or at least something that could lead to a sexual conversation. Again, my creativity failed me. I poured the coke into my little plastic tumbler and took a sip. She sipped her orange juice and gave me one of those raised-eybrow looks that mean, “so is this conversation going to continue, or can I go back to my reading?”

“What do you mean? Especially the research you’re doing?”

“Specifically we work with aging. There’s an aging gene in yeast. If you turn it off, then the yeast cells don’t age.”

“They don’t age?”


“Then they don’t die?”

“Not unless you kill them deliberately.”



I tried to imagine an immortal yeast culture, fermenting eternally somewhere in Kendall Square.

“How do you know that they don’t die? That they don’t age?” I realized it was a stupid question as soon as it left my mouth.

“We look at the cells. They don’t change, they don’t degrade the way normal cells do.”

“Well what happens if? I mean? Forever? They’ll live forever?”

“That’s pretty much what it looks like.”

“So, you guys are going to do this to people?”

“No. I mean. Not now. The research probably won’t get to that point in my lifetime. It’s taking a long time to map the human genome, and then once it’s mapped we still have to explore it, you know. It’s not such a simple operation. The human genome is a lot more complex than a yeast genome.”

I knew what would happen in the meanwhile. These people would try their experiment on higher and higher classes of organisms, until they achieved a monkey that would live forever. Once the monkey doubled the age at which most monkeys die, they’d administer their serum of their gene therapy treatment to some ambitious grad student, who would then be saddled with an endless life. By the 200th year he’d go mad, but by that time the drug companies would have already begun mass marketing their therapy to anyone willing to pay the price. What they wouldn’t realize when they started the therapy is that just as they were putting the option of eternal life into their hands, they were basically mandating that they commit suicide at some point. Afterall, who among us could stand the prospect of visiting the Registry of Motor Vehicles every four years, for the rest of eternity? And then there’s the relativity factor. Everyone knows that as you age each year, each day each moment seems to pass more quickly than the last because each measure of time represents a diminishing fraction of the life that you have lived in the accumulated moments that preceded it.

I said none of this. Instead I murmured, “That’s some heavy shit.”

“I guess it is.” She was bored with me now, and went back to reading her own research.

The captain announced the start of our descent into Logan. I tried to read more of Moby Dick, but I was distracted. When the plane landed, I gathered my stuff and helped get my seatmate’s belonging’s down from the overhead bins. We walked up the jetway together. Her boyfriend came to pick her up, and I gave her a nonchalant wave good-bye when she gestured at him with her chin and he came forward to welcome her home with a hug.

I took the subway home thinking about the death killer on the plane.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Joey Porsche

Everyone needs to go to Joey Porsche's myspace page, and then think about it for a really long time. ETA on a Joey Porsche film is about 9 months by my calculations.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Holy Shit

JT Leroy: Hoax

About a decade ago ago a woman named Laura Albert began writing stories and articles under the name "Terminator." This byline appeared regularly in the New York Press and other alternative papers. Under that name, this person told first-person stories of being a teen-age boy and truck-stop gay hooker, of having a crazy mother who was also a prostitute. The whole tale bore a gothic tinge that could only be made-up. Anyone who's ever been around truly damaged people for more than a few minutes knows that there's only so much abuse a human mind can take before it's rendered completely inarticulate. Terminator was nothing if not articulate.

So Terminator evolved into JT Leroy as the personality behind the name grew up. JT Leroy published novels, befriended fancy Hollywood people, and appeared, rarely, in public wearing an odd wig and sunglasses. Many of us suspected that JT Leroy was a hoax.

Apparently some movie producers didn't get the memo. They optioned the rights to Laura Albert's novel Sarah, which she wrote under the name JT Leroy. Keep in mind that it was a novel. Now they are suing her for misrepresenting her back story. Poor poor movie producers.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

TV Shows

I was just about to watch TV. For some reason I first checked the listings online. That pretty much stopped me from turning the box on. ABC is currently broadcasting "Who's Going to Be the Next Great Celebrity Impersonator?" Hmm. I wonder. Anyway, below are my suggested additions to the reality TV genre.


A camera crew will accompany you as you punch your boss in the nose. The production company will cover limited liability for medical expenses that result. Suggested host: Meredith Vieira.

A producer from DYKWTB will surreptitiously enter a low-grade celebrity's home and stick one personal item up his butt for two minutes, then replace it. Celebrities who figure out which item of theirs has been up the producer’s butt before using it will win a five minute shopping spree at Big Lots. Suggested host: Frankie Muniz

A camera crew will accompany a sheriff—or applicable officer of the court—as he delivers divorce papers to your spouse. Suggested host: William Shatner.

Contestants are sent to a corporate restroom with the following supplies: a copy of the Daily News, one cup of stale deli coffee and a Marlboro Light. They have half an hour total to take a crap. When completed, they are then judged based on the following criteria: speed, quality and size. Suggested judges: Rosie O’Donnell, Donald Trump and Phil Spector.

Two babies are placed in a play pen. Whichever baby survives wins a scholarship to his nearest state college satellite campus. Suggested host: Wynona Ryder.

C and D list celebrities face-off at a chess table in a New York City park. Prior to each shoot, one of the contestants is misled to believe that he will be playing checkers. Suggested host: Method Man.

Every week two hot women, each with an MS in Library Science from Simmon’s College, will trick-out the book collection of a regular illiterate American. Suggested Host: Emily Gould.

Litigants bring their civil claims to Judge Ayhole. Rather than adjudicate the cases financially, he sets humiliating punishments for the losing litigant. Suggested judge: Antonin Scalia.

Each week’s episode will profile an ambitious-but-stupid high school senior in the days before he or she is rejected from an Ivy League or Ivy League equivalent college. Suggested host: Claire Danes.


By the end of that week I knew why I should care. My co-workers, frat boys all, whose sole exposure to tools came from watching Sears commercials during football games, were completely useless. The Blackstone home stood rotting before us. It needed to be burned to the ground, not painted. Every known species of wood munching pest infested its clapboards and trim, ants, termites, wasps, birds and probably a beaver or two from the look of things. One morning I stood at the top of a ladder, caulk gun in my right hand, reaching under the eaves in a ridiculous attempt to fill a hole the size of a three pound coffee can lid. As I squeezed a strand of caulk into place—I knew this wasn’t the way to fix the hole, but I had orders—an angry swarm of wasps poured from the eaves. I considered the irony for a moment, that furious wasps were attacking me as I worked on the run-down home of WASPs, and then I realized that dumb puns are even dumber at moments like this. They began to sting.

Falling is a state of being, not an action. You fall, and you realize that you are falling and you realize that there is nothing you can do to change this transitional state. You will fall until something stops you from falling. In the meanwhile you have a surprising amount of time to consider all the choices that led to this eternal moment. In an instant like this one, you can evaluate the discrete pain of each wasp stinger plunging into your flesh again and again. You watch the crazed swirl of wasps following you earthward. Are they tracking your scent? Can they see you? Do they know what you are? Are people identifiable to these creatures, or are we simply larger animals that disturb their way of life from time to time? Have I just laid the foundation for future conflict between this wasp tribe and human beings? On a fifteen-foot extension ladder, accelerating at thirty-two feet per second, how fast are you going? Oh, another sting. Ouch. Will I need an anti-histamine shot? Oh, here comes the ground. Then it’s over.

The wasps clamored over my body. The wind slammed out of my lungs. I swatted lamely at the wasps. Their stings continued. I coughed and gagged. Finally my diaphram found its function again and I hollered, “Oh for Chrissakes!”

Blackstone came trotting around the corner of the house. As he came around the corner he looked at me. He said, “Oh.” Really, that’s what he said. “Oh.” As insipid an observation it may have been, it was enough for the wasps. A few dozen turned their attention to him. He squealed and swatted. I felt a sharp burning sensation in the core of my forearm.

Blackstone’s mother drove us both to the hospital. At the wheel of her battered Volvo she said, “So, John. How, uh, how did this happen. I mean are you okay?” My face had swollen up so that I looked like I’d been beaten with a sack of field stones. My arm was clearly broken, and I suspected that my collar bone and several ribs also snapped on impact with the ground. I glared at Blackstone. He gagged on his swollen tongue and looked away.

The hospital bill came to $5,285.62. And the Blackstones didn’t want to pay it. The young Blackstone stood in the treatment room, both of our inflammations calmed down a bit now, and tried to suggest that I was responsible for the cost of my treatment. “I don’t think it’s going to go down that way,” I said. He left the room.

I took a cab back to the Blackstone’s house so I could get my car. As I stood in the driveway fishing around for my keys, Mrs. Blackstone walked up to me.

“You know, Mr. McCloskey,” she said. “You might think that you can shake us down, but you can’t. Just because we live here in Hingham doesn’t mean that we’re made of money.”

“Lady,” I said. “I was working on your house. I’m on your son’s payroll. I think the law is pretty clear about who’s responsible for my injuries.”

“Oh sure, you come over to my house and you run around on a ladder, probably stoned or something, and I’m supposed to pay for the consequences. Sure. Great.”

I climbed into the car and drove away. When I got home I called my father. He called his lawyer. I ate four vicodin and went to bed.

After twelve hours of dreamless sleep I woke up to the sound of my telephone. I answered. It was my father’s lawyer. “Hey John, how’s your arm?”

“It’s great, under the circumstances. Do you have any news?”

“Well, I do. What do you know about these people? Do you think they’ve got any money.”

“Who can tell? They drive a ten year old Volvo. Their house is falling down around them. Why, they telling you that they can’t pay.”

“Of course they are. No one can ever pay. If you fell off Bill Gate’s ladder, he would turn up in court waiving a sheaf of food stamps and crying poor. No one can ever pay. But I’ll tell you boy-oh, you make ‘em pay one way or another. You make them pay.” I could hear his teeth clenching.

“Oh.” The vicodin haze crept back. “So, you’re gonna make them pay?”

“I sure will.”

“So what are we talking about here?”

“Well first I gotta ask what you want. Do you want to ding them for pain and suffering or negligence? I mean we could be talking serious money here.”

“I don’t really want to do that. I mean, lets get them to cover the hospital bills and a few bucks for the annoyance and lost pay and call it a day.”

“You’re a better man than I am John.” He sounded dissapointed. He sighed audibily, then said, “Ok. How would you like to own a painting franchise?”

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

How I Met [REDACTED] Part II

Blackstone had the convex face of the true WASP, the ruddy hatchet profile of an Updike or any 19th Century governor of the commonwealth. He stood about 6’5’’ and was mostly thin through his arms and legs, but his stomach supported a paunch that suggested either an incipient tumor or a miracle-of-nature male pregnancy. His face had no hair on it and you could observe that the expanse of his forehead grew wider nightly. When I went to his mother’s house in Hingham to interview for the job, I shook his hand and found it doughy and cold.

He sat me down in his mother’s living room for the job interview. The d├ęcor mashed together nautical themed knickknacks and wall hangings (a porthole mirror was mounted above the sofa) with linen doilies and tiny birds crafted from Pyrex glass. He asked me if I had ever painted anything before. I told him that I had and that sufficed for him. He asked no more questions about my technical abilities with paint and brush or rollers. Instead, he began to drill me on character issues.

The first question, “Do you drink?” came with it’s own implicit correct answer. Even in college I knew that if anyone other than your own personal doctor asks you if you drink, you reply “Socially.” If someone interviewing you for a job asks you if you drink, you say “No” no with a flat, undefensive tone, otherwise you come off as protesting too much. Blackstone then asked if I did drugs, had ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, committed perjury, been fired from a job, missed an appointment, neglected to return a library book on time or broken the speed limit. I answered “No” to all inquiries. With the exception of the fealony conviction and the perjury, these were all lies.

Without any explicit offer, he then steered the conversation to my responsibilities as an employee of College Pro Painters. I could not smoke on the job, nor could I ever bare my chest, even on the hottest days. I could not curse, burp or fart. If I chewed with my mouth open, my pay would be docked. I would arrive on time, work until I was told I could leave, provide my own transporation and pay for my own paint brushes. I then realized that College Pro Painters was all about marketing itself as “Not Drunks Painting.” Even though I wanted none of that, I accepted the job. The following day I was to return to his mother’s house.

For our first job of the summer we would paint the sagging Blackstone manse.

This, I figured, was another perk of buying a College Pro franchise. It probably went a long way towards convincing Mrs Blackstone to put up the ten or fifteen grand it cost to get the business off the ground. As I drove down the South East expressway the following morning, this struck me as good and just. I would get paid, what did I care that his mom was getting a freebie?

Monday, June 04, 2007

How I Met [REDACTED] Part I

I received a stern warning from a different third party after my last [REDACTED] update. Beyond the clear threat to myself and my computer equipment, I was told that posting the message was simply rude. It was rude, but [REDACTED] is a mysterious person, and he’s figured deeply in my psychology over the last fifteen years. I can't help myself. Always at the fringes of my life, he lingered as a specter of sagacity and veiled threat. Through this recent conflict with him, I’ve come to realize that I haven’t given all that much thought to how we met. It's a long story.

By the age of 21 I had achieved the first of many failures that would follow. The slow cycle of my life, minor successes trailed by less minor calamity, had just begun. I had yet to recognize the cycle for what it was and the lazy downward spiral path it led me on. During that year, still buoyed by youth and ignorance, I could shrug off my personal and professional collapses and easily move forward to seek out new personal and professional collapses. That is what I did when my house painting business came crashing down around me in an absurd tangle of both civil and criminal legal proceedings. That my ownership in the business ended in litigation should not have surprised me. It began in litigation. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Along the way I met [REDACTED].

While in college I took a job working for a franchise operation called College Pro painters. It was founded on a woefully misguided notion: That your run-of-the-mill college kid is better at slapping paint on a house than those who are truly meant for the work, Irish drunks. In a ven diagram of both college kids and Irish drunks, I was among those who sit squarely in the ellipses where the two circles overlap. So I was both a superior house painter to my more upwardly mobile peers, as well as aware of the scam at play.

The scam was this: dumb college kids bought painting supplies from the franchise company, ladders, scaffolding, brushes, scrapers, drop cloths and paint. All these materials were billed at a rate above the retail cost of such materials at Home Depot. The franchise company hoodwinked kids into buying in on the premise that it would cover all the surreptitious costs that leach onto any business, insurance and marketing. The marketing materials amounted to signs one could stake into the lawn of homes: “Another Bang-Up Job Completed by College Pro Painters.” I have doubts that the insurance coverage ever existed at all.

My boss on this job was an M.I.T. fraternity boy. Cruelly stupid for an M.I.T. kid and a protestant to boot, his family was among the growing legions of white trash WASPs that populate the Massachusetts coast line. Landed, but losing financial ground every day. Probably his Mom pinned her hopes for the family on his M.I.T. education, but his willingness to be suckered into the low-grade flim flam of College Pro painters didn’t bode well for his future. What’s more, he had no salesmanship skills, no gift for gab, his hands were ill suited to manual labor and he was a total tool. His name was something like William Roofer Plumber Paver Walker Stoner Blackstone IV.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Luxury Condos

From the Associated Press

BOSTON - Economics researchers at Harvard University have determined that by the year 2013 luxury condominiums will occupy two-thirds of the continental United States and one hundred percent of all land that lay within 24 miles of any large body of water.

"Sixty-six percent of Americans will literally live in luxury," said James Dunnfield, head of the Harvard Immobile Assets Research Group. "The remaining thirty-three percent of Americans will dwell in homes that are somewhere between run-down and squalid. Many of them will be in southern Indiana and eastern Arkansas."

Friday, May 25, 2007


From: [redacted]@yahoo.com
To: j.a.mccloskey@gmail.com


I am writing to you from [redacted]’s email account because I am a grown man who lives in the actual world, not some grey-faced cock-puller who’s pissing away the prime of his life by staring vacantly into a computer screen. Hence, I have no email address. We differ in this regard.

As I told [redacted] I don’t like that you explicitly mention my name or even allude to my existence when you post to your dumb blog. It saps my vital essence each time you type my name. Stop it. Now. Do you remember Lawrence of Arabia? Auda, the most fearsome Arab warrior ever played by a Mexican-Irish Octaroon smashed the American reporter’s Speed Graphic because it contained his image. That’s me. Picture me as Auda, albeit with sunspots where my hair would otherwise be and no loyal 11 year-old son prepped for murder at my command. If you don’t stop mentioning me on your website right now I will come to your house with an aluminum softball bat and smash all of your electronic devices to atoms. That is a promise.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, will I be seeing you and your better half this summer? I plan on staying on [redacted] through the month of September. We can ride bikes together.

Warm Regards,

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What do You Want to Hear

The traffic on this site has drifted downward to a paltry 1 or two hits per month. Half of those can be ascribed to my compulsive checking of my own site. I want to see whether some oversexed religious fundamentalist cop or stray smartass has stopped by and left a pithy or obnoxious remark. Generally speaking, no luck.

Of course I could drive more traffic to the site. That would be a simple matter of stringing together some popular key words. Like “Lindsay Lohan Dirty Sanchez” or “Paris Hilton Rusty Trombone” so that whoever searched on those terms would see my site. I would never do that though. I mean do I really want page hits coming from people who’ve searched google for “Watersports and the NFL?” I don’t think so. I no more want the eyeballs of those perverts than I want clicks from someone looking for “Tom Cruise is Gay” or “Brittney’s mmf orgy with George Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Eminem, lil Wayne, Ann Coulter, Katie Holmes, Jessica Alba and America’s Top Model with American Idol Winner Kelly Clarkson in a new home with a low mortgage rate while they read information about car loans, Canadian drugs like OxyContin and sorted out game cheats for PS2, PS3 and the Wii. Lebron James and Rudy Guiliani failed to show.”

And this is one of the interesting things about contemporary information culture. It’s somehow so open that it’s closed off. You go to the same two or three websites every day and you’re frustrated that there’s nothing interesting there. Sometimes you go to google with the intention of finding something edifying. When you get there you realize that faced with all the theoretical information in the world, your meager curiosity fails you. Confronted with this infinite mass of information, the average person is a bit like the casual hiker who wants to climb Mt. Greylock and finds himself at the foot of Denali. You either turn away daunted and go watch TV on the web, or you type the words “girl on girl” into the search engine and feel faintly ashamed of yourself.

I don’t intend this observation as a call to action, or even as an especially deep observation. But it does touch on something about mass psychology and it drives the information that we consume.

The same mentality of keywords and images rules magazine covers, television news coverage and just about any mass media you can think of. Several years ago I was writing an article for a consumer business magazine. The story centered on the actions of a bunch of old white guys. While weighing the piece’s cover potential the editor in chief asked me, “Are there any women in this story?” He knew damn well that a magazine with a bunch of old flabby men on the cover will not move from the news stands. A magazine with a comely woman on the cover will sell. All magazine editors know this. It is the reason why most magazines, for both men and women, feature a pretty woman on the cover. That’s fine. The problem with it, in this case, is that he gave me an editorial mandate to try to find a woman that could be put into the story. Rather than investigate the story for what it was, I was told to shape the story through my reporting so that they could run a sexy girl on the cover. I failed in this mission, but I can’t honestly say that I didn’t try.

I am all in favor of giving people what they want. This is America after all. But the tyranny of this kind of market research is becoming more and more noxious with each passing year. When was the last time you looked at a major magazine cover and said, “Ah, there’s something I haven’t read before?” You haven’t. You turn on your $120 a month cable system and you see endless reruns of spin-offs from Surreal Life, which is itself a spin-off from the Real World. You flip the channel and land on some variation of Pimp My [ride, house, truck, prosthesis] and then move on to a show featuring either two good-looking idiots going on a date arranged by a television producer or nominal humorists commenting on the actions and attire of celebrities. When was the last time you walked into a Barnes and Noble and saw a stack of books by the checkout line that weren’t pink and didn’t refer to rutting of young white women who live in major metropolitan areas?

Those are the shows that sell. Those are the books that sell. But are they? Whenever I look at any kind of reporting on the state of the media I read about dwindling audiences. Hollywood box office receipts are off. Music sales are down. Book sales are down. Television viewership is way off. Most magazines are on the verge of bankruptcy. No one in his right mind listens to terrestrial radio any more.

It’s as if people are actually sick of the same shit being spoon-fed to us all the time. Who would have expected that?

Liar of the Year

I've deviated a bit from the stated mission of this site. So let's bring it all back home.

Outside of certain government officials, William E. Clark aka "Zeke," is now the greatest liar in America. A chimney sweep and all-around nutcase, he deftly created a back-story for himself that included covert assassinations in hot spots all over the world. He then parlayed this murderous resume padding into a job as head of security for a nuclear power plant in Michigan.

Bill "Zeke" Clark, my hat's off to you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


[REDACTED], whom you all surely recall, has contacted me through a proxy. I was pulled aside at a social event by the proxy. The proxy said, "[REDACTED] isn't happy. You didn't do what you said you would do."

I protested that I did. I removed all identifying characteristics of [REDACTED], save [REDACTED]'S surname.

"That's not good enough," the proxy told me. "He's a very private person."

I stammered a bit over the lip of my canned beer.

"Do the right thing," the proxy said.

I nodded and lied that I would delete the entry.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Don't Play Dumb: Follow-up

Last fall a Tacoma, Washington man was busted for pretending to be retarded, for the money. His mother started the scheme when he was eight years old. Now he's been sentenced to hard time. I want to know what kind of punishment the courts dished out to the social security employees who couldn't tell between a real developmentally disabled man and a fake?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Open Letter to British Airways: Customer Service

Dear British Airways,

My friend Jeremy flew into New York yesterday. Your airline misplaced his luggage. No big deal, he's staying at my house in Brooklyn. He knew you would retrieve his wayward baggage and deliver it to him there.

Much to my shock and suprise, you delivered the bags to my house at FIVE-TWENTY IN THE GODDAMN MORNING. In that wee small hour, I--and everyone else in my three-family building--was awakened by your courier calling my cell phone and ringing every buzzer in the building's foyer. I ran down the stairs, shirtless, not knowing who was at the door. This being Brooklyn, I was prepared to exchange blows with the midnight buzzer. I opened the door to find a man who spoke nothing like a discernible brand of English. Nevertheless, he was able to communicate to me that he had my friend's bags. He demanded that I sign for them. I did and he went on his way.

Meanwhile, my landlady and all the other tenants had been roused. Do you know what its like to turn around at 5:30 in the morning and feel the scornful eye of a 90-year-old Brooklyn lady--the widow of a sandhog--on your bare flesh? Under normal circumstances my landlady and I enjoy a gently confrontational relationship, like an aunt and a nephew. In this moment, for the first time in years, I felt the full force of her rage on me. Thank you for that British Airways.

As I'm sure you're aware, five thirty in the morning is the middle of the night in New York. We are not farming folk here. Nevertheless, had your courier arrived at the slightly more godly hour of say, seven AM, I would not be writing this email to you.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Just So You Know

Someone in Mississippi searched for the word "caprophilia" in Google. Unfortunately for him, I too do not know how to properly spell the word that is defined as a sexualized desire to eat and play with shit. So he arrived at my site. He must have been very very sad when he got here, because he lingered for less than ten seconds. Blogger has yeilded all the information I need to tell this story.

I bring this up because it's funny--shit eating is always funny--and also because you should know that the Internet is the least private place in human history.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pointless Lies

The Tillman family and Jessica Lynch appeared before a congressional committee today. You recall that Pat Tillman was a a pro football player who passed on a million-dollar NFL contract in order to join the Army. He died in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan that the Army initially portrayed as a heroic death on the battlefield at the hands of the enemy. Jessica Lynch was captured in Iraq after the truck she was riding in came under attack. The Army portrayed her as a fierce female warrior who went down shooting. The truth is, she did not go down shooting.

Lynch wondered before the committee why she was depicted as a lady-Rambo. Tillman's brother, a vet himself, claimed that the military tried to cash in on his brother's good name. I'm sure he's right. As far as Lynch the Lynch story goes, presenting her as a hero in the press just makes for a better tale, so the Army told it. They saw no apparent harm in crediting her with courage and grit that she wouldn't claim for herself.

The Tillman family rage seems aimed at a perceived cynicysm of the government. It's not misplaced. More importantly, the government's enthusiasm for heroic exaggerations indicates desperation for anything like good news to tell. Or at least news that inspires people rather than depresses them. Everyone loves courage. When we hear of courage and sacrifice we ask ourselves if we have courage, if we would sacrifice. We tell ourselves that we would. When we hear of useless friendly fire accidents on a barren Afghan mountain-side, we just want to curl up and weep.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

So it Goes.

Kurt Vonnegut despised television. I can't imagine that he liked computers much either. I think he might like this kid.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Sainthood for the Devil

Pope John Paul is now on the fast-track for sainthood. Apparently a French nun claims that her prayers to him cured her Parkinson's Disease. For those non-Catholics out there, sainthood is traditionally conferred on people who are clearly conduits for the Holy Spirit and have performed miracles in that capacity. The process of canonization is a long one, fraught with many obstacles. While the process offically evaluates miracles, it's really a political campaign. It seems that John Paul is a shoe-in.

And that's really too bad, because Pope John Paul is the Devil. I am as certain that he is sizzling in Hell as I am that shit smells.

In case you missed it, there was a big scandal in the American Catholic Church within the last ten years. The Boston Globe did a comendable job reporting the story It centered on allegations of child molestation and subsequent cover-ups. The most disgusting, and recurring, instances of child molestation occurred in the Archdiocese of Boston. The nut of the story is this: priests molested kids, when they got caught the church shuffled them into other parishes where they molested more kids. Bernard Law, the Archbishop--and later Cardinal--oversaw all shuffling and cover-ups. He even threatened the Boston Globe with divine retribution at one point.

Bernard Law was also very tight with Pope John Paul. This was a big deal really, that our Archbishop was best buds with the Pope. When I was in second grade, Pope John Paul came to Boston to visit his pal Bernie and the people of Massachusetts. Everyone was so psyched for the papal visit that they cancelled public school that day. Presumably, the government of the commonwealth figued all us little massholes would weep tears of blood if we had to sit through phonics class and were barred from going to see the Pope. I spent the day hanging out with my friend Phil Slaney. We thanked God for the day off from school, and we thanked God even more that our mothers didn't drag us off to some ridiculous church service in honor of the papal visit.

Anyway, the molestation allegations started arriving in court during the late 1990s. With few exceptions, the cases withstood the scrutiny of the courts. Priests were convicted and the conspiracy of the church came out in stark, undeniable relief. People started grumbling for Bernie Law's head on a platter. The attorney general of Massachusetts made moves like he was gonna do it, put the Cardinal up on trial.

Then what happened?

Poof. Bernie is whisked away to the Vatican, traveling on a Vatican passport, guarded from American laws by the godly arms of Pope John Paul II. He remains there to this day, hiding out in the Papal city state, like a spiritual gangster in a witness protection program. I don't think he'll be seen in Brighton or East Boston any time soon.

Now I know Pope John Paul gave hope to millions living under the yoke of communism and all that. Good for him. But harboring an arch-child molester? Does that get overlooked when we evaluate someone's saintliness? Does it matter? The Devil has done his accounting, and I'm sure he's collecting right now.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The [REDACTED] Theorem of Film and TV

Thousands of very smart people in New York and Los Angeles work hard at making television shows and movies that you and I will watch. Unfortunately, most of their efforts go for naught, in some part because they are unaware of the [REDACTED] Theorem. But you needn't suffer in the same ignorance. Here is the [REDACTED] Theorem in a nutshell:

The quality of a television show or film tends to be inversely proportionate to the objective attractiveness of the cast. Which is to say, if almost every member of a cast is model-beautiful, the show or film will most likely suck.

The [REDACTED] Theorem was first articulated by [REDACTED] [REDACTED], a [REDACTED] who divides his time between [redacted], [redacted] and [redacted]. Aside from being a sensible fellow, his primary qualification that allows him to issue theorems is that he co-managed a [redacted]for several years*.

This is on my mind right now because The Sopranos will soon end its broadcast run, and few shows demonstrate the[REDACTED] Theorem as clearly it does. Who among the regular cast members is objectively attractive? I understand that many women feel a lustful little tug in their hips whenever James Gandolfini smacks somebody around. He's a real presence, but he's not an objectively attractive presence. Whatever draw he has for the ladies comes from his comportment and acting ability, not from his veal parm-toned physique or his rugged jaw line. The rest of the cast, with the exceptions of Meadow, Adriana, Dr. Melfi and the Badda Bing girls, is rounded out mostly by performers who are old, fat, ugly or all three.

When the show first took off as a hit, television excutives at competing networks gnashed their teeth wondering how they could grab onto some of the same success. Some figured that gangsters and crime were the magic ingredient. We got shows like Boomtown and Kingpin. Both featured prettified casts. Both failed.

Some said that these shows, on broadcast TV as opposed to cable, were hamstrung by the decency standards of the medium. No explicit sex, no dirty words, no gory violence, so they flopped. Of course that's a cop out. They also sufferred from mediocre writing and lovely casts.

More recently, NBC has gone back to the same well and come up with a bucket full of criminal pulchritude called The Black Donnellys. This time the hoods are Irish, and they all look like they just stepped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue. So far the show has not gained a life-sustaining audience.

I understand why television and film executives put pretty people in their casts. Depending on our individual proclivities, we all like to look at a pretty girl or boy when she or he walks by. It would seem to follow that when we plop down on the sofa for the night, we will want to look at pretty girls and boys on TV. Now I'm not saying that the [REDACTED] Theorem holds that people only want to watch ugly folks on TV. Rather, the [REDACTED] Theorem suggests that an overly beautiful cast is a marker of core dramatic or comedic weakness in the scripts. Faced with a shoddy dramatic foundation, the producers grab a handful of lovelies and trowel over the show's crumbling underpinnings. It almost never works.

Now, if you don't believe the [REDACTED] Theorum, consider the casts on the following list of shows that lasted ten to eleven years. Sure, there are lookers here, but not a lot of them

The Lucy Show
My Three Sons
Hawaii Five-O
All in the Family
The Jeffersons
Different Strokes
The Facts of Life
Hill Street Blues
Married With Children
Beverly Hills 90210
Murphy Brown
Murder She Wrote
Law and Order

Friends, Beverly Hills 90201 and ER are the three shows that stand out as having good-looking casts. These are the exceptions that prove the rule. Friends and ER were lauded for the quality of their writing, 90210 garned most of its fans based on its camp appeal.

Many of the other shows on the list seem to practically celebrate unattractiveness. Who would ever sleep with Mr. Drummond, or Miss Garrett? How many teenage girls ever mounted posters of Andy Sipowicz above their beds? David Caruso, the handsome NYPD Blue cast member, left the show early on, perhaps believing that his red-hair and doll face would translate into lasting and lucrative fame elsewhere. We didn't see him again until he was a whole lot less handsome on the cast of CSI: Miami. Meanwhile, Dennis Franz kept on collecting awards and cashing fat paychecks.

More recently shows like My Name is Earl and The Office have earned devoted audiences, while shows like Coupling and Kitchen Confidential failed almost immediately. Of course the cast of Lost is almost pornographically attractive, but up until the second season, the writing was some of the best on TV.

To bring it to the film world, consider Pulp Fiction and all the cheap knock-offs that followed. John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson did not look good in that movie. They might have looked cool, but they did not look good. Even Uma Thurman wasn't at her most attractive. In many scenes she looked like a gangster's coke-addled wife. Juxtapose that movie with Two Days in the Valley. Much more attractive cast, completely forgettable motion picture.

*Since the original posting of this essay [REDACTED] has contacted me. He called me early this morning, from a number I didn't recognise. Figuring it might be someone I did not wish to speak with, I let the call go to voice mail--as we all do in these situations. When I checked the voicemail, I heard [REDACTED]'s familiar voice expressing discomfort that I had posted his name and identifying characteristics to my blog. So far as I know, [REDACTED] is not engaged in any criminal, anti-social or anti-government activity. Nevertheless, he guards his anonymity aggressively. I called him back. He insisted that I remove his name from the site. He suggested that I take full credit for the [REDACTED] Theorem. "It's actually kinda dumb," he said. "Call it the McCloskey Theorem." I politely declined the offer and told him that it is not dumb, it is an often over-looked elemental truth. He continued to insist that his name be removed from the site. He also suggested that the mere fact that I have a blog demonstrates that I have too much time on my hands. After a protracted and at times heated discussion we reached the compromise seen above. I removed all descriptors of his person other than his surname. I also agreed that if anyone contacts me and asks to be put in touch with [REDACTED], I will deny this request and explain to whoever asks that they have the wrong [REDACTED]**.

**Since the initial redaction of [REDACTED]'s Christian name, it has been made emphatically clear to me that any further public use of his surname will not be tolerated. Most recently [REDACTED] called me from a highway rest area, telling me that he was on his way to my house from [REDACTED]. On his arrival he would crush my thumbs with a vice-grip. The full redaction you see above, and in all other posts is the result.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The New New Journalism, ie Freaking Nonsense

I just tried to look at the New Yorker's new website. As magazine websites go, it's nicely done. Blah design blah interface blah. Once I started reading I remembered that the New Yorker provokes my rage issues.

But still, I wind up looking at the thing. In an attempt to avoid becoming what the NYPD calls an Emotionally Distressed Person, I'll bleed off some bile here. The New Yorker's regular features are as bad as any blog in terms of intellectual content and honesty. That they come with the imprimatur of the New Yorker stamped on them makes it worse. Take this article about the looming consolidation of satellite radio by James Surowiecki as an example. His shtick goes like this:

1. Introduce a topic of the day. This is often a financial concern peripheral to something people actually care about. No one gives a rat's ass about satellite radio regardless of whether or not Sirius and XM merge. This is why Sirius and XM want to merge, so they can fuse the vanishingly small market share that they currently split. People do care about market consolidation and squeezing out the little guy though. This, the conventional wisdom, is Surowiecki's boogeyman.

2. State the conventional wisdom. Here is where we get into the facile meat of any New Yorker essay that's not straight-up reportage. Surowiecki will define conventional wisdom here so that (in step three) he can knock it down. This is fine rhetorical work, except Surowiecki cherry picks whatever data he uses to build the definition of "conventional wisdom." The point of this, ultimately, is to present "conventional wisdom" that looks faintly stupid in the august pages of the New Yorker even before Surowiecki knocks it down. In this essay he reaches back to the bad old days of government activism in anti-trust law. According to Surowiecki telling, during the years after WWII the government was power-drunk on anti-trust law, squashing sensible mergers of shoe companies and supermarket chains that in no way threatened the free market or the economy at large. He goes on to point out that in this case, satellite radio networks compete with terrestrial radio networks. See, it's actually an all out melee in the airwaves. Every broadcaster for himself. AM, FM and hi-definition radio trading blows with satellite on a daily basis. I mean obviously. When Surowiecki reaches the point at which he knocks down this conventional wisdom, New Yorker Readers from Amsterdam avenue to Telegraph Hill will break their own arms patting themselves on the back because they are just as smart as the great James Surowiecki.

Of course there is no perceptible competition among terrestrial broadcasters. But, uh, let's not talk about it. Right now we're slaying the dragon of conventional wisdom.

3. Suroweicki now says that the conventional wisdom is wrong. Why? Because he said so.

4. Now, having upended conventional wisdom, Surowiecki paints a fairy-tale vision of what will happen when we all smack our foreheads and realize how dumb we've been. In this case, Bob Edwards and Bob Dylan will join hands with the starting defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers and descend from the heavens into your one, single, satellite radio receiver. Howard Stern leads the way, astride a humming Sybian. They'll do it for cheap and your auditory cultural options will swell like fibroid tumors.

What fucking nonsense. And every article by Surowiecki, that guy with the afro, and the other one who blabs incessantly about his annoyingly precocious kid goes the same way.