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.