Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sixty Percent of What You Say is Crap.

David Letterman's late night tenure hits 25 years this evening. I know everyone says he's past his prime, or that he's no longer cutting edge. David Letterman is an old man. He's fully aware of this fact.

Over the years he's allowed himself to grow up on TV. He wears loafters now, no more wrestling shoes that were his trademark for his first ten years on TV. His flirting with actresses has become more restrained, more paternal, if only so it doesn't appear creepy.

Most importantly, Letterman doesn't give a shit anymore. His ascendant years past him, he does as he pleases. There's no one left to impress, or kow-tow to. He books the people he's interested in talking to. He asks sincere questions. He tells people to go to hell.

So he acts like a human being. Enjoy it while you can.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

From the Halls of Montezuma

Jarhead author Anthony Swofford spoke on the radio today about his new novel. The interviewer asked him to distinguish between the experience of writing a memoir and writing fiction. I don't remember how Swofford replied.

You might remember the bit in Jarhead about the dude who received a videotape from his wife. The video was supposed to be a Vietnam movie. So he sat down with a bunch of his buddies to watch it. They stuck the tape in the deck and let it roll. After a few minutes tape cut to some home movie porn footage that had been spliced into the movie. Lo and behold, it's the guy's wife boning his neighbor.

Yeah, well, it didn't happen. Swofford didn't even make it up. He plagiarized an existing urban legend. I guess that counts as a two-fer.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Silent Killers

Enough with the ninja gags already. It was kinda funny at the beginning. I've no idea why this phenomenon has pulsed through the zeitgeist at this moment, but let it go.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Bus Ride to Springfield

I took the bus to Springfield, Massachusetts this week. Over the last decade I've become good at traveling by bus. In this context "good" means that I deliberately project enough bad vibes that no one chooses to sit next to me, but not so much that my aura of hostility provokes an open conflict. On this trip my skills failed me.

He came lumbering down the aisle, an Ignacious Reilly type, replete with the hunter's cap and lunch crumbs on his coat. He clutched a plastic Hudson News bag full of papers, magazines and paperback books. I looked up and saw him coming, then put my head down into my book. I tried to push out as much ill will as I could. My temples throbbed with anti-social energy. There were other empty seats on the bus, both ahead of me and behind me. When he stood in the aisle alongside my seat and asked me to move my bag I did what everyone would do. I pretended not to hear him.

"Is this seat taken?"

No reply. Noise cancelling headphones pouring music into my ears.

He tapped me on the shoulder.

"Huh?" I took the headphones off.

"Seat taken?"

"Oh, no. No, it's not."

I moved my bag beneath my seat. He dropped his sack of magazines on the floor and plopped down next to me. Then he said, "Thanks man. I appreciate it. Getting on the bus is like looking for a place to sit at lunch in junior high. You know, you look around the cafeteria and none of your friends are there. So you wander with your tray and your little plastic cup of apple crisp and all you really want to do is find a place to sit so you can eat it first afterall your mom isn't there but no one really wants you to sit with them and you get kinda sad and mad at the same time until finally you just sit down. That's what riding the bus is like."

"I guess that's why most people drive their own cars these days."

"No shit huh."

I'm past the age where a little screed like the one he gave necessarily pulls at my heartstrings. It's the bum's stock and trade. The powerful oral history of empathy. Look, I'm just like you, it says, but different. This guy wasn't begging money off me. But by the smell of him, he might. I put my headphones back on and buried my nose back in my book.

He tapped me on the shoulder again. I took off the headphones.

"You from Mass?"

"Yeah, yeah I am."

"No shit. Me too."

Go figure. Two people from Massachusetts on a bus bound for Massachusetts.

"What town are you from? Springfield?"

"No, North Attleboro."

"You gotta be fuckin shittin me."

"Why, are you from that area?"

"I grew up in North Attleboro."

I studied his face for a second. North Attleboro is a relatively small town. He looked faintly familiar, but everyone reminds me of someone these days. I couldn't tell how old he was, by looking at him he could be either a 29 year-old who abused his body horribly and was cursed with bad genes or he could have been a 43 year-old merely cursed with bad genes.

Before I could say anything he asked the next question. "Did you go to the high school?"


"When did you graduate?"


"Me too."

One hundred and ninety-one other kids graduated with me in 1990. Don't ask me why I remember the exact number, but I do. That's not a lot of people. I know people who have this many "friends" listed on their myspace pages. I can't say that I could list everyone in my graduating class, but I think I'd recognize them all if they sat next to me on the bus. I didn't believe him. But what could I say? I don't believe you? Nu-uh. Even "I don't remember you" might be offensive to him. If he did go to North, had I been one of the kids who shunned him in the cafeteria? The bus hadn't even reached the Lincoln tunnel yet. I didn't want to spend the entire ride worried that I pissed the dude off. And maybe he did go to North High. So I feigned enthusiasm. "No way!" I said.

"Yeah. Yeah. Class of 1990."

"What's your name?"

"Brian." Great. Not a lot of traction there. Half the boys in school were named Brian.

"Brian what?"

"Rousseau." Awesome. Half the kids in school were French Canadian too.

"Are you related to Sarah Rousseau?" I said.

"My cousin." He said it flatly. He took an asthma inhaler from his shirt pocket and drew a hit off it.

"That's cool. What's she doing these days?"

He let the asthma medicine out slow, through clenched teeth, like he would if he had been trying to hold in a hit of weed. "I dunno. I been living in Jersey for the last few years."

He hadn't asked my name yet. I didn't offer it. He reached down into the Hudson News bag and came up with a copy of U.S. News and World Reports. He opened the magazine, gestured with it as if to say, "chat time is over now" and began reading. I started reading my book again.

We didn't talk for the rest of the ride. I wondered why he didn't ask anything about me, but I didn't want to talk myself, so I didn't volunteer any information.

As we pulled into the Springfield bus terminal he gathered up his magazines and stuffed them bag into the plastic bag. He stood up to leave the bus and I followed him. As we walked down the aisle, he turned to me and said, "Well it was nice meeting you. But I gotta tell you, you don't look familiar at all. Are you sure you went to North Attleboro High?"

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Satan Gave Me The Blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant

When Tom Cruise first started really ranting about Scientology a few years ago my friend Jean said that he had been promoted in Scientology to the position of Pope. This explained his newfound outspokenness. I thought she was onto something.

Now it turns out that he is not the Pope of Scientology. He is the savior.

I know it's fashionable to bash Scientologists. Any religion founded by a man who looks like the Skipper should be ridiculed. (Who was his Paul? Bob Denver? Is the Professor Pontius Pilot? No, that would be Mr. Howell, wouldn't it?) But I'm not terribly religious to begin with, so it's snotty of me to stand on the spiritual sidelines and mock people's strange faiths. Plus I was raised a Catholic. I'm in no position to criticize.

So Scientologists believe space aliens sired the human race, big deal. Funny, but harmless. It also doesn't really bother me if Tom Cruise is its savior. It's freaking ridiculous, but I don't care. And frankly, I could give two shits as to whether or not the religion fosters a misapprehension of psycholgical problems and drug-addiction recovery. Or that they steal people's money, or prey upon psychologically frail individuals. All churches do that. Scientology isn't so special.

No, what bugs me about Scientology is that it seems to have ruined Beck. Go back and listen to Mellow Gold from start to finish. It'll probably be the first time you've done it since 1995. Then listen to One Foot in the Grave. Then play his most recent album. Weep a bit. Return to your computer. Print out this image of L. Ron Hubbard. Burn it. Feel better.

Click Your Heels Three Times

News from my hometown paper: Angela Buckborough Platt, a bookkeeper for a construction materials company, embezzeled nearly $7 million from her employer. She really needed the money.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Missing the Point

Today AOL news featured this story about an "Internet" love triangle that ended with one man's murder. The tale boils down to this. A 47 year-old married factory worker in Buffalo starts making a play for a woman online. He believes she is 18. So he tells her that he is 18. The woman is not 18. She is about the same age as the factory worker. The relationship progresses. The woman sends the factory worker some trinkets, including lingere and pictures of her own 18 year-old daughter, claiming that she is the young woman depicted in the pictures. This is where things begin to fall apart. The women sends the gifts to the factory worker's home address, where his wife intercepts them. She puts the kibosh on the relationship.

So left without anyone to talk to, or maybe just out of a desire to stir the pot, the lady gets in touch with a co-worker of the factory guy. At 22, the co-worker is actually almost age-appropriate to an 18 year old girl. Once the first factory worker discovers what's going on, he shoots the kid with a deer rifle.

But the kicker comes at the end of the story. The AP reporter contacted an "Internet crime expert" named J.A. Hitchcock, who said,"the case illustrates the dangers that lurk on the web."

Huh? The web? The victim and the accused punched the same time clock. This would have happened if they were squabbling over a waitress at the local Dunkin Donuts.

Fashion, Gender and Politics

Hillary Clinton announced her intention to be the next U.S. President on Saturday. She released a web video of herself sitting on a sofa telling us her plans. Predictably, a number of commentators have nit-picked the style choices she made in the video. Just as predictably, a number of commentators have moaned and groaned that if she were a man, no one would dare criticize her garments, her hair or the set dressing of the video. So far as I know, no one has pointed out the odd, hypnotic camera work employed in the video.

Anyway, we hear both ends of this fashion versus substance argument every time a woman rises to prominence, whether she’s a politician or a business leader. The second observation, that women alone are scrutinized for what they wear or how they cut their hair usually goes unchallenged. That’s too bad, because it’s completely false. Powerful men get picked on and praised for their dress and comportment just as often as women do.

Think of it the next time you see a picture of George Bush clearing brush in Crawford, Texas. Think of it the next time you go through the Reagan archives and find a picture of that president doing the same thing. Sleeves rolled up, cowboy hat propped on their heads, how does this differ from a Calvin Klein fashion shoot? Are they actually doing work? Does George Bush really need to clear his own brush? Did Reagan? What’s more, did they need to do it while a scrum of photographers followed them around?

On a more strictly sartorial bent, one of my first political memories is of Mike Dukakis addressing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts after the blizzard of 1978. He appeared on TV wearing a sweater rather than a suit. It was a canny political move, one that allied him with voters buried in snow. No one wore a suit during that week of February 1978. The gesture of the sweater was acknowledged by commentators at the time, and remembered for years later. What’s most surprising is that such a savvy dresser was largely undone as a presidential candidate when he was photographed sticking his helmeted egghead out of a tank.

When William Weld ran for Senate against John Kerry in the 1990s, his advisors had all the exterior pockets on his suit jackets sewn shut. Bill Weld jams his fists into his jacket pockets when he speaks. It looks childish, so his advisors removed the option. I do not know whether his advisors also carried his cell phone for him.

Bill Clinton was roundly ridiculed for his $200 haircuts.

People often wondered openly if Reagan dyed his brill-creamed hair.

Barak Obama is often praised for his overt sexiness. Part of this sex appeal lay in the timber of his voice. The richness of Senator Obama's voice may be caused by his nasty smoking habit. Slate recently parsed the Senator's quandary at length. Regardless of its cause, what does a man’s vocal quality have to do with his ability to govern? How does it differ from a woman’s hotness or the length of her skirt?

John Kerry was lampooned continually for allowing himself to be photographed in bicycle shorts. Of course there was also this unfortunate picture, courtesy of NASA.

And then there’s the shirt that Lamar Alexander wore every day during his campaign for president, and Jerry Brown’s turtleneck.

This sort of superficial discussion isn’t limited to politicians. Douglas MacArthur fashioned his own uniform. David Boies, the power attorney who represented Al Gore during the Florida recount always wears Lands End suits. This is remarked upon in every article published about him.

Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese, serious serious authors, are more famous now for their pimp garb than for their prose. Neither man complains.

Of course any discussion of a lady's style goes hand in hand with nasty remarks about her figure. This too must be a cross born by prominent women and not men, right? Wrong. Al Gore’s fluctuating weight is remarked upon as much as Kirstie Alley’s, even when he's talking about global warming. So is Bill Clinton’s. George Bush, despite his vigorous reputation, gets a little sensitive about his girth from time to time.

Do I really need to go on? Can we now drop the whole, “they wouldn’t say that if she was a man” routine?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Drop-Out Fantasy

Admit it. Sometimes you look around your neighborhood, and you really want to live in a place more like this.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Rights of Idiots

New Jersey is now my favorite state, but it may not be for long. I just learned that their constitution explicitly limits the suffrage of "idiots." Of course some idiot wants to change this language now.

Monday, January 08, 2007

More Moustache

Yes, the moustache is gone in real life, but it lives forever on the web.


Fearlessness is idiocy, and so it is one of the personality traits that I'm most conflicted about. I have some reckless friends. They get people pregnant, they get pregnant, they drive horribly, drink too much, too often, wage hot wars against office colleagues and occassionally punch people. I envy them because I do none of these things. I wage simmering cold wars at work, never fuck without birth control. I drink moderately and am an impeccable driver with a staggeringly clean record. I have not struck another man in at least five years. I have never hit a woman. My innate caution and cowardice bores and comforts me.

Anyway, this is all a preamble for thinking about Norman Mailer, who is really bat-shit crazy, and highly entertaining.