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.