Thursday, June 30, 2011


Later Steven Spielberg is more interesting than his wide-eyed golden age. Munich and Catch Me If You Can seem richer than Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., or Jaws.

Not that Spielberg's early work is bad; the problem is that these films are iconic. It's hard to see them solely as films. There's a static air around them. Once Spielberg found his formula, his characters were trapped by the same shots, drowned by the same soundtrack. His newer stuff is much freer.

Spielberg sprang to mind through Super 8, J.J. Abrams' homage to his producer and mentor. More duplication than homage. Watching Super 8 with my son, I was struck by Abrams' literal approach. There are the sweeping close-ups of faces in awe, staring at something mysterious off screen. There is the gang of suburban kids on bikes, each an archetype, all seeking adventure. There are the adults who don't understand their children's world. And of course there is the monster/alien.

Paul Thomas Anderson used Scorsese and Altman riffs for his films. Wes Anderson plumbed whatever was left of Hal Ashby. Even Spielberg tried channeling Kubrick in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (a mixed yet engaging piece of work). But Abrams simply made an early Spielberg film, revved up with CGI.

One real difference is the sound. I don't recall Close Encounters or E.T. being incredibly loud. And there are countless explosions, perhaps even more than in Saving Private Ryan. This is what a contemporary audience expects, or what is routinely offered to them. Had Abrams truly followed his inspiration, Super 8 would be a quieter, quainter effort.

After watching it (and if you do, stay through the credits for one of the best parts of the film), Henry and I talked about the similarities. He referenced E.T., which had an effect on Super 8. But to me the film owes more to Close Encounters. "I've never seen that," Henry said. Really? How did I let that happen? So I got a remastered copy and watched it with him.

I hadn't seen Close Encounters in ages. I'd forgotten how suspenseful the opening half hour is. The scene where an air traffic controller tries to keep a passenger jet from colliding with a UFO remains strong.

Today we'd see the jet and UFO with full THX sound. But Spielberg wisely kept us on the ground, staring at radar, listening to transmissions. Danger is enhanced.

The same is true with the little boy, Barry, who is awoken and lured outside by something we do not see, save for a floating light. His battery-powered toys come to life, a children's record plays, and yet we're apprehensive. Barry's facial reactions to whatever is in the house show awe and delight. He doesn't seem afraid. Should we be?

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Close Encounters. Part of it was nostalgia, as the story's "present day" is 1977. But it was the movie's low-key approach that changed my mind. This is especially impressive given the big premise, the crowd scenes, the UFOs zipping around.

Richard Dreyfuss is probably the loudest thing in Close Encounters (apart from the mother ship blasting out a window). He's Dreyfuss at his Dreyfussiest: broad gestures, quick turns of body, whines becoming shouts, swift staccato laughter. Dreyfuss fully employed this technique in The Goodbye Girl, winning an Oscar. But a lot of it is on display in Close Encounters.

The other notable feature of Close Encounters is its gentleness. Our fear of the aliens dissolves into acceptance. They are less threatening than the military they meet. As with the Vulcan influence on humans in the Star Trek narrative, one hopes that these aliens will change the humans in their story for the better. That helicopter gunships don't greet the UFOs helps. It's also reflective of a post-Vietnam mindset, when the concept of peace wasn't the joke it soon became in the 1980s, a joke that has coarsened over time.

Super 8 ultimately calls for peace or some kind of rough acceptance, but it blows up a lot of shit to get there. The alien belongs more in Men In Black than in Close Encounters; yet it too wants only a peaceful exit from Earth, a message planted in the minds of those it touches -- well, grabs.

The bad guy is an Air Force officer with a personal agenda: a rogue element, just like those at Abu Ghraib or in Afghanistan's Kill Teams. The military itself is a background character, possibly a benevolent one if only a smarter, competent commander led it (sound familiar?). In this sense, Super 8 fails as a period piece, though Abrams and company did get the clothes, hair, technology and cars right.

"Is that what 1979 looked like?" Henry asked.

"More or less -- except for the large, aggressive alien."

Henry smirked. "I guess aliens in your day were more like hippies."

I laughed. "Kinda like Dead Heads, only less annoying."

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Buried Path

There's a reason why I don't go out much. I could say it's because I'm focused on this book, which is true but not the main nugget. As attractive as a devotion-to-art cover is, it would be dishonest. I'm too broke and marginal to peddle lies. No, the driving force behind my non-existent social life is an undying hatred of Ann Arbor and all it represents.

I'm not proud of this. I've tried many times to outgrow it, shed it, beat it into submission and throw it in a landfill. Negative emotion, regardless of purity, drains and cheapens you. There are elements of Ann Arbor that don't make me pine for a flamethrower, but exceptions always exist. Anytime I'm near a crowd of Arborites, my skin thins to a nervous hum. My mind reads like extended passages from American Psycho. Mercifully, I don't ruminate on the deep meaning of Huey Lewis or Phil Collins. That would push me over.

For years I've flirted with various local crowds and individuals. Looked to fit in. However different each scene was, a provincial thread connected them. I've never seen a community so in love with its own importance. (Well, there's DC, but that's empire. They actually kill people there.) They speak as if Ann Arbor is a major cultural center. They act as if you couldn't possibly understand or appreciate what sets them apart. I've received plenty of smug condescension from those who deign to create whatever it is they create. People here tend to talk more than do. And most times they're talking down.

I'm no innocent victim. I have plenty of attitude as well. But when you've cleaned after Arborites, scrubbed their toilets, hauled their trash, you get a keener perspective on their pettiness and casual cruelty.

This was especially evident during Obama's '08 campaign. If you wanted a glimpse of what a white yuppie liberal cult looked like, that was the time. They not only droned on about the historic importance of electing Obama, they tolerated zero dissent. The older they were, the more rigid their demeanor. The reality of Obama has softened them a bit, but the 2012 stickers are multiplying and liberals are again getting That Look. "It begins with us," is the new official mantra. Yeah, and it ends the same old way.

To see me in public, you'd never guess that this is how I feel. I'm friendly, polite, crack jokes, spread peace. This isn't camouflage -- I'm genuinely trying to divert my demons and break their hold. I often fail but that's my weakness.

I tried again Saturday afternoon. Nan invited me to see The Tree of Life with her at the Michigan Theater. She's fonder of Terrence Malick than I am (I do love The Thin Red Line, the anti-Private Ryan), but this film features a remembered, troubled childhood. Right up my present street. Plus, I like the Michigan Theater. It reminds me of the old movie palaces in New York which no longer exist. And they sell beer. So I'm right at home.

Of course, this being an "art" film that won the Palme d'Or at Cannes guaranteed a yuppie Arborite presence. And there they were, nodding to one another, talking about film as confessional or something transcendent. Woody Allen nailed this type in Annie Hall. But it really didn't bother me. The brisk walk to the theater put me in a decent mood. The crowd was small, so Nan and I would have space. Sit down, drink a beer, relax, enjoy the film.

You'd think that Malick is to this crowd what Michael Bay is to suburban moviegoers. In theory, anyway. But once Tree of Life slowly unfolded, and it does take its time, many in the audience grew restless.

As Malick explored the origins of the universe and life on this cooling water planet, throats were cleared, bodies adjusted, sighs released. A few people walked out, shaking their heads in disbelief. A woman several rows behind me kept muttering something. I closed my eyes and focused on her voice. Apparently her sister said that Tree of Life was bad, that she should've heeded her warning. She didn't leave, though. Just muttered further disappointment.

I reveled in the surrounding discomfort. It made me smile. It also kept me from directly engaging the film. Nan was rapt, completely in Malick's grip. She saw things I didn't and shares them in a wonderful review. I wasted time laughing at the locals. My contempt, however silent, was precisely what I claim to despise in others. Hate something long enough and soon hatred's all you have.

Nan concludes:

"The Tree of Life is a testament to trying, however imperfectly, to come to terms with the mysteries that can destroy us, or, if we surrender, bless us with miraculous grace."

Grace sounds great. Surrendering to mystery is another story.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Little Books Lost

As promised, here are a few more of my Oh, what might have been! books. It helps to picture me in front of a towering bookshelf, pipe in hand, tortoise shell glasses tilted down. And my hair's on fire.


An editor at New Press, who liked American Fan, suggested I go Howard Zinn on sports. I'd just finished a sports column gig at Ironminds (which folded owing me a couple grand) and thought this would be the natural next step. I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a lefty sportswriter. Had I written A People's History, that probably would've become my schtick. I wrote a heavily-detailed chapter outline, tracing American sports from Iroquois lacrosse rituals to present day multimillion dollar contracts, steroids, and media saturation. I learned more about colonial-era "sports" like rat-baiting than I ever desired.

After sending the outline to New Press, I waited. And waited. Waited some more, then phoned. My would-be editor had left, and no one there knew what to do with my book proposal. So they did nothing. I never heard from them again. Years later, New Press published A People's History by David Zirin, a well-known lefty sportswriter. Somebody had to be one, I guess. Fate had other plans for me.


Another editor, who'll remain anonymous, as will his publishing house, was intrigued with me writing a book about Christopher Hitchens. He enjoyed my 2003 piece, Obit For A Former Contrarian, and my Red State Son posts blasting Hitchens' war dance. We spoke on the phone a few times, sharing ideas, trying to envision what the book would be.

I'd write about my personal contact with Hitchens over the years, and explore the American phenomenon of lefty intellectuals becoming neocon propagandists. I told the editor that I didn't want this to be a one-dimensional attack on Hitchens. Despite everything, I still had fondness for him and wanted to be balanced. He agreed that this would make a better book.

Writing a rough chapter outline, I wondered if Mentor was such a great move. A lot of people would like it, but there would be harsh reactions from Hitchens' allies, personal attacks and God knows what else. Then there was Hitchens himself. Maybe he'd ignore it, but most likely not. Did I really want to crawl into the pit with him? Part of me did, yet the more I thought about the negative possibilities, the less enthused I became. Turned out the editor shared these second-thoughts. We decided to drop it, and he left for another house.

The proposed title was a joke. Had we done the book, I seriously doubt it would have been used. Given Christopher's current state, I'm happy I didn't write Mentor. Even if he was in the peak of health, I still wouldn't want to be tied to it. Trusting your gut sometimes works.


The agent who liked The Monkees: A Life really embraced this one. Janitorgod chronicled my family's move to Michigan and me mopping floors for a living. It was primarily set at Kerrytown Mall where I worked six days week under Richard, head of maintenance. Richard taught me a lot, not just about cleaning, but about humility, sacrifice and redemption. Every night after closing the mall, I went to the bar next door, ordered a Tanqueray martini and wrote about that day's experiences. There was so much material I didn't know how to use it all. Eventually I put the pages into manuscript form, sent it to my agent and hoped for the best.

He loved it. "This is a work of art," he kept telling me. Thoughts about a film version were tossed around. But the big houses weren't buying. Not that they disliked my work -- several editors praised my prose style; they just couldn't see the book scoring with a general audience. Other houses passed. One notable house showed interest, but only if I rewrote the book to their specifications. My agent suggested that I comply, which for a brief time I did. But my revisions didn't please them. They asked for more. Essentially they wanted a love story about me and the wife, the janitor jazz as background noise. People like love stories. Who wants to read about finding your soul in a clogged toilet?

Nan, already edgy about being a character in the book, wasn't crazy about expanding her role. Neither was I. Plus, I wasn't in the best emotional shape to write about our marriage, which had been severely tested and stretched to the breaking point. So Janitorgod just faded away. My agent seemed angry with me, and I haven't heard from him since.

Several years later the Ann Arbor Observer published a version of Janitorgod. I was told that reader reaction went through the roof. Apparently many people liked the story as it was originally intended. Despite weeks of positive feedback, nothing more came of it.

As of now, parts of Janitorgod will appear in the third volume of my book. Whenever I get there.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lost Words

Genuine thanks again to those who've contributed. Your generosity and support helps considerably (jeez, I sound like a PBS pledge drive). Contributions are still welcome, for this summer will be tight. Knowing people appreciate my work makes writing less of a chore.

Ah, writing. There are moments when I wonder why I quit baseball for the arts. I was a pretty good shortstop with a decent batting average. Made a couple of all-star teams. I loved the game, but theater's lure was too strong. Then acting gave way to stand up which surrendered to writing. I've banged keyboards ever since.

The new book makes me think of earlier efforts, as I've recently noted. But I've never really talked about the failed books, some fully written, others mere proposals and chapter outlines. So here's a review, in chronological order.


This was my Get Out Of FAIR project, an attempt to leave media criticism for racy lit parlors. The title stems from my psilocybin period, though the prose was hardly psychedelic. Early Updike and Evelyn Waugh clouded my young mind. I fell into the autodidact trap of trying to impress Ivy League betters. This is not to say that the writing was bad. Gravy had a nice clipped rhythm, short paragraphs, spare sentences, adjectives rare. The idea, stolen from Kurt Vonnegut, was to present conceptual satire through simple words. But I lacked the mechanics, patience and experience to pull it together.

Gravy attacked corporate propaganda, advertising especially. I read extensively about the history of American advertising, wedding it to my knowledge of late-80s media. I had three protagonists who didn't meet until late in the book, so essentially I was writing three separate stories. Then there were the media parodies, fake TV shows, tasteless ads, cynicism run riot. A few of these are still funny, but oh so dated. I did anticipate the coming Reality craze and war as a Brand. But overall it was a rookie mess.

An associate editor at Random House tried to help, marking up my manuscript with notes and flirty asides. She was sweet, yet I'd lost interest in Gravy. I also passed up sure sex. What a dope.


I've mentioned this comic-nightmare novel a few times over the years. Lies reflected my emotional crack up in the early-90s, a period of heavy gin drinking, random coke use, busted relationships. Lies came to me quickly. Out poured nasty, misanthropic, hateful imagery. Depictions of emotional and physical violence. Blood splattering the pages. I fed off the vibe, writing twisted prose for hours on end. The sicker the image, the longer I wrote.

Lies is narrated by Kevin, a video store clerk addicted to pornography. He's sexually attracted to Cousin, his adopted sister, but never acts on it. Kevin's too consumed with fantasy to have a real relationship, however wrong or ill-advised. As his mind begins to snap, Kevin tries to hold together his dysfunctional family, yet that too is breaking apart. Hallucinations increase.

All appears bleak until Cousin dies from a botched abortion. Her fetus survives to become Kevin's Jiminy Cricket, guiding him to a saner life through song, dance, and threats of violence. The fetus finds fame by hosting a series of popular infomercials, urging consumers to love their Inner-Fetus. Kevin's porn habit is replaced by aerobic workout tapes. He masturbates to the tapes, but unlike porn stars, the aerobic instructors offer wholesome release. Kevin finally finds peace.

Friends who read Lies had very strong reactions. Some hated it, thought it was shit. Others said it blew them away. One in particular confessed that Lies literally made him puke. I took that as a compliment. Michael O'Donoghue saw promise in Lies. He shared his thoughts and criticisms on cassette tape, 40 minutes of direct Mr. Mike. I still have the tape. A few months later, Michael died. I don't think my book was responsible.

Editors treated Lies as toxic waste. Those who bothered with rejection letters wondered about my sanity. Only Nan Talese at Doubleday liked Lies. In fact, she nearly published it. My sole competition was House Rules by Heather Lewis, which Nan eventually chose. She sent a long, upbeat rejection letter that was more apologetic than curt. Nan said she'd read anything I wrote, that next time I might well be published. But I moved away from graphic fiction. Got married. Became a dad. Scored Mr. Mike and American Fan in rapid succession. I never got back to Nan.


A proposed biography of Phil Hartman. Mr. Mike helped immensely here. By treating O'Donoghue's generation seriously, I won the trust of later SNL talent. I had several informative discussions with Christine Zander, who wrote for SNL when Hartman was there and knew Phil and wife Brynn very well. Through Christine, I'd have access to Hartman's inner-circle, including Jon Lovitz who wasn't happy with media coverage of his best friend's death. The Phil Show would follow Hartman through different comedy institutions. The Groundlings. Pee-wee Herman. SNL. The Simpsons. News Radio showed that he could help carry a hit sitcom. His growing film work displayed Hartman as a reliable character actor.

Given how Hartman's life ended, I would have to explore some depressing areas, already chewed over by the tabloid press. Christine was in touch with Phil and Brynn nearly to the end, and she told me some sad stories. I faced a real balancing act: depicting the violent final hours without falling into cheap voyeurism. I was confident I could do this. With one biography under my belt, The Phil Show would be more refined. Sharper. Better.

Problem was, no one in publishing wanted the book. No one. My agent was mystified, certain that the media circus Hartman's death inspired would sell the book. But Mr. Mike's weak sales sunk me. I may have won the respect and friendship of many comic icons, but the general reading public wasn't interested in humor as history. Although Mr. Mike has its share of sex, drugs, tantrums and feuds, it clearly wasn't enough. How could I be trusted with murder/suicide?

In the end, it was for the best. As Barry Crimmins told me, if I write Phil Hartman's bio, I become Dead Comedy Guy. Worse, Dead SNL Guy. Before long I would write Charles Rocket's story, which is an interesting one, but don't quote me on that.


Unlike The Phil Show, there was interest in a book about The Monkees. My new agent at the time, who had worked with Chuck Palahniuk, was very upbeat about the possibilities. I had in mind a story about fabricated reality sold as candy during a time of revolt. The Monkees were the first pre-fab band, worked with top musical talent, made a significant cultural dent before becoming self-aware and imploding. They were also part of New Hollywood, their creators, Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, producing Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and The Last Picture Show. I couldn't wait to dig in.

I told my agent that based on experience, Mike Nesmith would be the toughest ex-Monkee to interview. Many years earlier I was to write the liner notes for The Criterion Collection's release of The Monkees' film Head. Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones were on board for commentary tracks, but Nesmith, according to reports, was in and out. While he periodically appeared with the other three, Nesmith kept his Monkee distance.

Then I was bumped from the Criterion gig by someone who wrote the liner notes for The Monkees remastered CDs. If he wasn't allowed to write about Head, he'd advise The Monkees to not participate in the project. Then the whole thing fell apart. Criterion eventually released Head as part of a DVD set, but neither Monkee man nor I appear in it.

My agent and I tried to contact Nesmith. He never responded. I sent him a copy of Mr. Mike with a note about my serious intentions for this story. Still nothing. My agent wanted to keep plugging, but to me no Nesmith meant no book. To achieve what I desired, I needed extensive face time with every Monkee, not just the reliable three. I returned to janitorial work, not realizing that a better story was in development.

(Photo by Cara Barer)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Blown To Peaces

Some readers say I resemble Chris Hedges, former New York Times reporter-turned-lefty moralist. There's much of Hedges' writing that I like and respect, but am I really so sanctimonious? I hope not. My screeds are release valves for my brain, not prescriptions for better living. I write about what I perceive. I've long conceded that I may be nuts or simply hallucinating. I don't insist that you wash your hands and sit up straight before reading my stuff.

With corporate rule tightening and Democrats lunging further rightward, I understand Hedges' rage. The lack of progressive, much less radical, resistance to Obama's expanding war/surveillance state is very disheartening. There's a general feeling of marginalized drift, and few offer real alternatives. Thus we're left with scorned prophets like Hedges, waving his tablets at Mammon's feet.

I'm not interested in prophecy. Like so much else, it's a fixed fight. I'd rather be John and Yoko, who said they were Laurel and Hardy. A fool in pajamas giving baked rants to the bemused. Hopefully, my material is better than Hair Peace/Bed Peace. And I'd try to treat Al Capp with a lighter touch.

Still, Hedges' anger hints at possible responses. What that actually means is up to those committed to serious change. Moderation is no option. Moderation in the face of present realities is worse than surrender. At least with surrender, illusion is dead. You know you've lost, are underfoot, and ideally find fresh ways to assert yourself. Moderation feeds the fantasy of reform in an age where reform is nearly impossible. Too many forces against it, which is why reform is touted as the "mature" route. Moderation is a voluntary leash.

Does this leave extremism? Yes, but not violent or hateful versions. There's enough violence and political hatred already. Reactionaries are defined by their hatred; liberals even more so. In fact, hatred is about all that liberals have left to offer. Hatred and fear. Rejecting these negative, destructive mindsets is, by current standards, decidedly extremist. Developing peaceful alternatives deepens the extreme.

Nicholson Baker suggests a time-honored path: pacifism. Not We Shall Overcome, daisies in rifles displays, but a thorough, ongoing philosophical engagement. Baker's recent defense of pacifism in Harper's dealt mainly with opposition to World War II (as did his book Human Smoke), that reigning symbol of righteous mass murder. Thanks to that war, all subsequent wars are justified, all enemies Hitler. The pacifists of the 1930s-40s had no chance to stop the slaughter. That war was inevitable. Are today's wars equally so? Perhaps. But there's more to peaceful resistance than just opposing drone attacks.

American culture is suffused with military worship and the glory of battle. It's given that Americans accept this arrangement, which a good many do. But support for endless violence seems shaky. It helps explain the increasingly desperate arguments for imperial war.

Our owners forever fret that a large chunk of us will awake and take action. Billions are spent trying to alter our thinking and sway our opinions (and if that fails, there's Homeland Security and SWAT). I don't believe they have much to worry about, but then I have less to lose. I'm hardly alone in this, which gives us the freedom to project different modes of living to those who embrace the war state. No lectures. No chants. Simply breathing alternatives sharing the same space.

Will it work? Who the fuck knows. I've helped temper a few war lovers (while pushing several more into bloodier waters), so I've seen results. Humor helps, something Chris Hedges might consider. It's tough finding decent punch lines with grim set-ups, but such is creative struggle. Dick jokes for peace may be our saving grace.

AGAIN: I'm still looking for donations, if you are willing and financially able. See the PayPal button above my blogroll. Every bit helps tremendously. Thanks to those readers who've contributed so far, and I'll soon contact those desiring signed books. Love you all.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

King Blame

LeBron James has my genuine sympathy. Not that he cares or notices. I'm one of the little people with problems he dismissed after the Heat's loss to Dallas in the NBA Finals. But facing the sports media's wrath is no doubt nauseating, regardless of bank balance. A chorus of assholes shitting contempt and envy on your every movement.

There are few things worse than watching middle-aged white men scold a Black athlete. With LeBron it's open season. His wealth and fame justify any attack, regardless of accuracy or importance. Comes with the turf we're told.

Indeed it does. No high school grad-turned-global media icon receives a free pass. And the twisted thing is, acclaim damages more than critique. When sports hosts refer to LeBron's former popularity, they speak of it as a golden age, something to cherish. But the media's hype helped forge what is now being trashed. The mind fuck as loving caress.

Yes, LeBron bought into it and to a degree brought this on himself. But what American kid with his talent wouldn't? During New York's 1977 blackout, James Baldwin explained to baffled pundits that looters were simply following the American Dream: grab what you can while you can. A lifetime of consumerist fantasies fed poor people's desire for material goods. Morality had nothing to do with it. If the rich can rob for profit, what's wrong with stealing a TV?

LeBron's had these fantasies pushed in his face since 7th grade. Difference was, his size and physical gifts guaranteed eventual realization. I'm amazed he handled it as well as he did.

That he succumbed to full branding spectacle by moving to Miami was a delayed inevitability. Seeking a bigger stage and a stronger team was seen as a character flaw. Humble LeBron in Cleveland was body snatched by South Beach vampires. He was now one of Them. Glitz and arrogance corrupted the kid. And after all the American sports media did for him.

Revulsion with PR overkill might make sense in a more equitable society. But in 21st century America, it's standard hypocrisy. Since when does the media, sports or otherwise, blanch at mega-wealth and propaganda? Shameless displays of personal gain? Boastful conduct? Such is the media's lifeblood. Appeals to humility are tinsel in the wind. No one of consequence takes it seriously. That's aimed at the rubes who believe that corporate sports offer a guide to life.

Of those bashing LeBron, easily nine of ten are white men. It's hard not to detect racist elements in white complaints, though no one will admit it. I've been around enough white male sports fans to pick up the signs, which usually begin with whines about "attitude" (tattoos a close second).

Gifted Black athletes should be grateful for their success -- success that most white fans would presumably kill for. Their job is to feed white fantasies about physical glory in non-threatening ways. Of course, if the average white fan achieved LeBron-level fame, he'd be a model of public decorum. You need only visit an NFL tailgate party to appreciate that.

LeBron's real crime is to break that covenant. The weaknesses in his game pale in comparison to his responsibility to white fan self-esteem. Based on his post-series press conference, LeBron has no intention of coddling his critics. Considering who many of them are, I can't blame him.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hit Me

Things are tight my friends. Divorce isn't cheap, especially when writing a new book. The Project is now in composition mode. I plan to give readings from the new manuscript sometime in the fall, but just a taste, mixed in with stand up, or whatever it is I do onstage. So some extra dough would make all this a bit easier.

I have a few spare copies of Mr. Mike, American Fan, and Savage Mules I can offer as premiums. The higher donors will receive personally signed copies, but any contribution is most appreciated and keeps me working. If that appeals to you, please scroll down and hit the PayPal button on the right. I'll post more frequently, touching on various topics, not just our fixed political system and those who seem to like it that way. Maybe even some humor. Yeah, it's come to that.

Much love in advance, and thanks.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Give This Joke A Shove

The plane lands at Reagan National. The steward says to stay in our seats, it's safe to use cells and so on. His voice rises a few octaves. "And to those military personnel aboard, we thank you for your sacrifice and patriotism." Passengers erupt in applause and cheers.

Other than an in-flight drink, I rarely fly altered. The Homeland drones are bad enough; fast food employees with badges. Surly overfed passengers push it to another level. Granted, my aversion to the public has gotten worse. I increasingly view fellow Americans through Grosz/Steadman eyes. My problem, my madness. I admit it. Still, the notion of psychoactive engagement is too horrifying to consider. Empty chatter, expanding waistlines, addiction to flashing toys would be an intolerable visual swirl. Overpriced cocktails provide a safer filter.

Applauding the military while taxiing to the gate is a new spectacle. Beefy hands slapping camouflaged backs. Expressions of gratitude and support. Whether or not these guys have seen or will see action is beside the point. Their uniforms alone merit adulation. If we were under siege from invading armies laying waste to cities and suburbs, I could see it. Military/civilian distinctions would evaporate. We'd all be part of the resistance.

But the opposite is reality. We're the invaders decimating occupied people. In deluded moments we pose as selfless liberators. When honesty emerges we boast of our destructive power -- the Fuck Yeah! approach. Those passengers weren't cheering necessary sacrifice. They were celebrating charred Afghan civilians. Deformed Iraqi children. Extrajudicial assassination. They probably give more thought to the TruGreen on their lawns than to depleted uranium in Fallujah's soil and water.

Too harsh? Sorry. After a decade of death, lies, torture, and corruption, what the fuck is there to celebrate? Are Americans that clueless or simply callous? Now that we've entered the next round of managerial ratification (i.e. presidential election season), the race is on to see who can best finesse our endless violence.

Obama owns the inside track, backed by liberals who love the wars they pretended to hate under Bush. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum flatter Christian reactionaries who believe their war lust is celestially ordained. The economy continues to tank. Education is an underfunded joke. Corporations receive additional tax breaks. Mass media offer explosions, homilies, and gluttony. America's madhouse is sliding down a bubble. How long before the whole thing bursts is anyone's guess.

Saturday night I walked through Georgetown. I spent a lot of time there in the late-80s/early-90s when I spoke and debated at local colleges and think tanks. I loved the neighborhood's architecture. Little has changed. It's still beautiful, classic, if elitist. Georgetown retains its open nationalism. American flags everywhere. Makes sense, given the government-corporate connected who live there. I passed a small pub where the Stanley Cup Finals played on large screens. I entered and ordered an Absolut, softly rooting for the Vancouver Canucks over the Boston Bruins.

A younger guy next to me asked, "You Canadian?"


"Then why are you rooting against America?"

This reminded me of a drunk fireman in a Park Slope bar who chastised me for backing the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series. He was so belligerent that the bartender had him thrown out. This kid was more confused than hostile.

"I'm not a Boston fan, though they were the first US NHL team. I just like the way the Canucks play."

He shook his head. "You should root for your own country. Especially these days."


"Because we're Americans. We gotta stick together."

I sipped my drink. "You a Bruins fan?"

"Hell no! I hate the fucking Bruins. I'm a Caps fan."

I laughed. "But their best player's Russian!"

"Yeah. They know how to play hockey over there."

I finished my drink and left. I later learned that Vancouver won in overtime. Good thing the Toronto Raptors aren't in the NBA Finals. The anxiety might be a killer.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Whitey's On Vulcan

The Bible frightened me as a kid. Part of this came courtesy of the Catholic Church, but the Bible's stories and language conveyed much of the terror. To my young mind, God was insane, forcing his subjects to perform hideous tasks to prove their "love." The New Testament eased some tension, but by then I was a skeptic. Save for an incident several years ago, which I still wrestle with, my skepticism remains, the fear mostly gone.

Only once did the Bible provide comfort: Apollo 8's crew reading from Genesis as they orbited the moon in 1968.

I was nine watching this on TV. It looked unreal. To me, astronauts were like gods, so reading about the first days of creation while in lunar orbit fit. I felt tied to a wider consciousness. Humans rocketing through outer space mesmerized me. It seemed like the beginning of a grand adventure, one I wished to join. My dreadful math grades and undisciplined school behavior made this dream ridiculous. I wasn't even class clown. How could I lead a mission to Mars?

Locked inside late-60s suburbia, I didn't see the political implications of space travel. Had I been older, I might have agreed with Gil Scott-Heron about Whitey on the moon. I'd probably view NASA as a celebration of US power, then hammering Southeast Asia. Reality would dampen awe. Being a kid deepened the mystery of space. Whenever I watch footage from that time, I'm on my grandparents' living room floor, staring at the future.

Now that NASA is ending Shuttle flights, there are plans for returning to the moon, exploring asteroids, and ultimately Mars expeditions. It might be wise to reorder our political/economic system before committing to long-term space exploration. What's the point of stretching human reach if we can't or won't improve this existence?

I know the answer to that in present time. Must the future be privatized as well? However it eventually shakes down, let's at least ensure Zefram Cochrane's initial warp drive test in 2063 so the Vulcans will make first contact. If ever a planet needed logical alien guidance, it's ours. Too bad many of us won't live long enough to prosper from it.