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
in the nuts
with a cricket bat
Indians, you say. They love cricket
Thursday, June 28, 2007
You call me over to your desk, and say "Dude, you gotta see this."
Saturday, June 23, 2007
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
Friday, June 15, 2007
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.
Posted by John McCloskey at 6:33 AM
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
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.
PUNCH YOUR BOSS IN THE NOSE
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.
DO YOU KNOW WHERE THAT’S BEEN?
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
YOU’VE BEEN SERVED!
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.
PLAY PEN CAGE MATCH
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.
PIMP MY LIBRARY
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.
THE VINDICTIVE COURT: JUDGE AYHOLE
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.
THE SKINNY ENVELOPE
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
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 décor 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
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.