Wednesday, February 23, 2005

There’s an article in the February issue of Details that should make any aspiring writer more confident in his ability to say, with confidence, that classic aspiring-writer aphorism: ‘I can write better stuff than some of the crap that gets published.’ Sure you can. And if you’ve already mastered the rigorous English lessons of the second grade, you probably have. The stirring essay in which you detail your wacky summer vacation could be published in Details, if the editors are consistent.

Bruce Wagner is the fortunate scribe who penned the tripe, a long essay whose ostensible subject is John Stewart, our indomitable news satirist. He’s fortunate, Wagner is, because he somehow convinced the magazine to pay him for garbage. Garbage. Because that’s what it is. After the opening salvo — “I love John Stewart. I want to be John Stewart. I want to fuck John Stewart.” — Wagner decends into a bizarre, nonsensical page and a half of brainless, witless verbiage, into which he interpolates three, maybe four insights (I can only guess that he hopes these insights will protect him later on against the inevitible criticism, most of which will sound like this: “What the fuck?”)

Wagner’s little plan won’t work. It won’t work because the insights he hides in what is otherwise a masturbatory homage to his desire to either A. Fuck everything or B. put off readers with reckless disregard for his own reputation, in the hopes that such a bold maneuver can be turned around with “Oh, well I was being postmodern.” or “But you see, I made three, maybe four insights! Is it my fault you were distracted by my liberal use of the words ‘fuck, fucked and fucking’?” (and then, on cue, the last refuge of a desperate writer): “It’s not my fault. You just don’t get it.” — OK, I realize I’ve gotten very far away from where this sentence was originally going, but bear with me while I return to the thought (reread, if necessary, but please don’t flog my awful grammar) — the insights, I was saying, are jejune, at best.

Wagner has a few legitimate ideas when he starts writing. He lets the deadline creep up. He scrambles to put something together. He makes a bunch of literary and cultural allusions. He swears. He begs us to be offended. He begs us to care. He likes John Stewart (and hey, don’t we all?) but he expresses this with all of the focus of a broken lens. And John Stewart (who is quite good at satire but who, let’s face it, isn’t going to become the Great Truth Speaker of the Future, as some have posited) has already been liked. Publicly. By hundreds of writers and thousands of viewers.

So why do we care that Bruce Wagner likes him, too? Bruce must have asked himself the same question. And the only answer he could come up with is: “I want to be John Stewart’s wife’s womb.” That is, Wagner is insane with admiration for Stewart (I considered the possibility that he’s mocking the people who are insane with admiration for Stewart, but if that was his goal, he failed in making it come across). “You like him? Oh yeah? Well, I want to fuck him!”

So keep plugging away, fellow aspiring writers (or should we call ourselves writers who aspire to be published? I mean, we really do write.). There’s hope. There’s money being spent. And apparently, there’s a magazine out there called Details that will pay for just about anything.

ADDENDUM: I almost forgot to mention another of Wagner's loopholes (one that really shines a light on his own feeling about the essay — that he can't understand it any more than we can). The entire essay comprises two paragraphs. The first, the body of the beast, is rendered as one long, tedious thought. The one about fucking everything and cultural reference this and nonsense that. Wagner wants to wrap it up. It's been a long paragraph, after all. How to tie the bow? How to bring all these thoughts of wanting to fuck and wanting to be fucked to a profound conclusion?

"I wanna be me."

I wanna be me. What a fucking existential masterpiece! It's all about desire. About the human condition. About how cultural idolatry and iconography and caricature color our bleak reality. That is important stuff. Wagner's done it, by gum! (Surely, he heard these voices in his head as he typed that ultimate, one-sentence paragraph.) He's done it!

But then no, he really hasn't.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson shot himself. That’s sad. But I’m not going to lie and say that his work has had a great influence on me and that his humor and wit changed my life when I was struggling with puberty. I haven’t read any of his work, after all, save a couple of his football essays on (none of which really blew my hair back, though each had its moments, at paragraphs).

I have seen the film adaptation of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Johnny Depp’s spot-on performance as a drug-softened Thompson killed me. Especially this one time when I watched it whilst ‘shrooming. (I remember I began to fear Depp’s performance might really jump out of the screen and kill me, which wasn’t so fun. I awoke curled up in the bath tub.)

Would that I had purchased more Hunter S. Thompson memorabilia! It will be worth more now.

Friday, February 18, 2005

“Scoundrels! They even had pastries!”

They certainly did. And then they clamoured for more than their share as the weak and the young stood by, unable to elbow through toward the front. There are at least fifty people here, in a town square in rural Italy. Pasquale is the man in the white hat. He has a loaf of bread against his chest, but still pushes his way forward for more. Angelina can just see his hat bobbing and drowning in the roiling sea of poor. She sits cross-legged at the edge of a fountain in the middle of the square.

Pasquale does the best he can. He comes out of the crush with a loaf of bread and a small bag of grain. His hat is askew. His forehead glistens with sweat. Angelina comes toward him, wipes his brow with a handkerchief, takes the bread and grain.

“You have to get going.”

“Let me sit down for a minute.”

Pasquale is young but weak. When he was a child he fell ill and almost died. As a teenager he tried to join the army but was declined. The doctors told his parents he was mildly retarded. The doctors told them to find him a simple occupation. So it was that he began working at a cigar factory rolling cigars. There he met Angelina. They sat next to each other for the next seven years, rolling thousands of cigars but saying nothing to each other. After work, Angelina would meet her girlfriends in a café near the square.

Pasquale began to walk by the café every day on his way home.

Her girlfriends called him “The man with the tight shoes.”

Thursday, February 17, 2005

“People who have a history of heart problems should not use Lipitor.”

The game is up. My cathode days are over. This Sunday I shall forsake television forever.

The device’s vacuous face sucks the life and the desire right out of me. It’s has become my most trusted advisor. My glowing therapist. I dream we are skipping cliffward through the rye and there isn’t a catcher in sight. It frightens me to the core that I am now more spellbound by the shows I detest than those I enjoy. I spend entire evenings, entire Saturday afternoons, spotting product placement on MTV or getting to the bottom of a cold case or pasting myself into a unique television situation. Los Angeles is Aquafina country and the husband did it and I would not scarf down a heaping plate of pickled ox lips, 50 grand or no. These are boring facts and they mean nothing to me.

“Ruthie, we love you,” [sob, sniffle, hug, preen] “but you’re going home.”

I’m not steering anything anymore. I’d better recognize.

So Saturday, after one last grasp of my trusty remote and one more night with brow illuminated by flickering scenes of horrific snowboarding accidents and “Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good journalist. But the folks at home deserve to know this guy’s a liberal ideologue his own agenda.” [look into camera, think: honesty stern honesty] “I’ll let the viewers decide.” I'm out.

Soon I’m not a real guy anymore wearing real socks with real holes in them. I’m a faceless regurgitator. A low-carb consumer. “Drivers wanted.” A neo-lobotomy. “The mainstream media didn’t pick up on this ...” Shrug. Bristle. “Sir, that’s just a lie.” [A pickup speeds around a corner on a rainy mountain road. Orange cones. Rock slide. Thank heavens for load-sensing brake systems.] This entire thing is a drawn out close call. “Get it done.”

Playful, like breeze-blown bamboo wind chimes. White paint chips in strips across a window sash. Porch swing creaks. Missing slats along the boards. Grass ripples, trees, branches, leaves you can hear. Pins of sunlight through and the smell of something good. More like it, that's.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

As you get older, you start to think more about cutting out the bad habits — coffee, television, cigarettes, alcohol. I don’t actually cut any of them out, because that would be overreacting, but I certainly give each one the careful thought and meticulous deliberation it deserves.

Coffee, for example, has become an important part of my life. I almost consider it a real friend with actual thoughts and feelings. When I don’t drink a cup first thing in the morning, I begin to feel neglectful. My coffee cup sits empty on my desk as the siren smell of a fresh pot wafts through the office and molests my nasal passages. Molests them good and rough. Then come the voices. The shivers and fantods. Next thing you know, I’m pushing a plug of fresh grounds into my bottom lip and curling into the fetal position.

I wonder sometimes how much espresso the French drink. Do they really sit at cafés all afternoon drinking from those tiny cups? I wouldn’t know; I’m not an international studies expert. What I do know is that I should not be allowed near espresso. And it is exactly for this reason that I chose not to go to France. I fear I would end up humping someone’s poodle in the middle of the Champs Elysees. For cash. To buy more espresso.

Friday, February 11, 2005

I am drinking a protein shake of my own making. I am toasting to my health on this, my first non-weekend day off since the Bronze Age. I am posting because last night, before I fell asleep and dreamt of impossible lizards, I vowed that I would do so. I would keep things simple, but not even think about using the word "pablum," which has been rattling around in my head for no particular reason for days. I've been too embarrassed to tell anyone about it until now. Let's acknowledge it and move on.

Ben and Kyle and I used to play basketball just about every day at the Oak Park YMCA on Randolph. This because we had a fool-proof way to get in without a membership. We called it "the service door." It was in the back and it was hardly ever locked. On the rare occasion that we walked all the way to the YMCA (a mile or so, as the crow flies) and the service door wasn't open, we came up with a backup system whereby one of us would get a day pass at the front desk and then distract the man at the window who operated the buzz door, while the other two would crouch down below the view of the doorman and wait for the day pass holder to get buzzed in and then sneak in with him. The entire maneuver took perfect coordination. It was a 50/50 shot getting in using the backup system.

Kyle was just as weak and disinterested in body building as most 14-year-olds were. We would play basketball for a few hours and race around the track a few times. We'd try to lift weights every now and again, but never anything serious. We'd go home and that would be it. But Kyle's cousin moved to town at some point and he actually got his mother to buy him a membership and so he and Kyle began going to the YMCA together and Ben and I were left to play basketball by ourselves. We didn't see Kyle at the Y much after that. Every once in a while he'd be downstairs playing basketball and he'd tell us that he and his cousin were upstairs working out. Kyle got big fast. Within five months he was a different body with the same face.

Kyle and his cousin learned how to work out properly. There were salty dogs in the YMCA weight room. Huge black men whose glottal grumblings would shake the building. Two of the men had taken Kyle and his cousin under their wings and taught them the ropes. These two men were known only as Clutch and Clamp. Each weighed at least 300 pounds. Each was a tightly packed tangle of muscle wrapped in mahogany.

Somewhere down the line, someone found out about the service door entrance. Ben had just gotten his driver's license and so we started playing basketball across town at Rosary College because, we found out, no one ever gave us a hard time about sneaking in to use the court. It went on that way from there on out. We didn't see Kyle again until maybe a year later.

We ran into him and his cousin at the mall. By this time, they were both huge. They told us that one night Clutch and Clamp had invited them to dinner and, after a couple bottles of wine, had tried to make passes at them. Things got ugly, Kyle said, and he and his cousin had to fight the men off. Kyle hit Clamp with a glass jug and knocked him out. The he and his cousin beat the tar out of Clutch. Kyle told us that as they ran out of the apartment, Clutch sat on the floor holding Clamp's head in his lap and said "Goodbye, boys."

Kyle was visibly shaken just telling the story. His cousin didn't seem to care.

The story of Clutch and Clamp was one of the first I thought was worth telling.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

This link will make up for a conspicuous lack of posting.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

I could say a few things about the President’s State of the Union Address and about the Democratic Rebuttal and about camera angles and commentary and the sickening machinery of American politics, but to do so would compromise my footloose-and-fancy-freedom. I will stop now, never speak up. Never will.

(The comedian says he’s against picketing but doesn’t know how to show it. A certain writer — who will remain anonymous and whose haircut is the stuff of urban legend — tells me in his most private moments that social activism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This after he lost three fingers to a traffic cop’s wayward nightstick after cuffing his wrist to a portable crowd gate at a bad angle. We called him Six Finger McClain. He was born with only nine digits. His fingers are running out. But they are not literally running.

Most television personalities subscribe to a simple credo. Prove they don’t.

Given a choice, I prefer to do things unceremoniously, if for no other reason than to be able to tell my friends that — and this is just an example — over the weekend I unceremoniously drank an entire two-liter of Brand Name Soda in one sitting. That and the fact that doing things ceremoniously always evokes for me visions of disembowled livestock, candelabra, rodent bones, goblets and crushed velvet.

As if!)

My throat is scratchy from cigarette after cigarette and then some. This despite my best efforts to cut back. Successful efforts, yes. I’m sucking down six, seven squares a day tops. But the mercurial weather patterns and air pollution and national debt are conspiring to lungfuck my life at a bad angle. And I have a fixed number of fingers left.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


I try to avoid crowded places, like say malls or your mom’s bedroom. But things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes I end up in the middle of the action. Wearing a pinwheel hat. And no pants. I try to avoid these situations, but they seem to crop up without warning. And anyone who knows me can tell you that I don’t know shit about crops.

One thing I do know something about is baseball. But I have it on good authority that talking about baseball is a sure way to lose your audience. And not only lose your audience, but have them hatch plots to destroy you. Think about that the next time you’re impelled to deconstruct Jody Davis’ rookie-year power numbers at a cocktail party.