Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Go Undone

The old man and his dog stood on the curb, looking for daylight. Traffic was heavy. Fast. Endless. He kept pushing the crosswalk button. Yellow lights flashed, yet no driver honored the signal.

"You gotta be in the crosswalk. Make them stop."

He nodded to his dog. "I don't want her hurt."

"It's the law. They have to stop. Here, I'll show you."

I stepped into the street. Two cars zipped right past me. A third swiftly approached from the Pacific Coast Highway. I walked in front of it, held up my hands. The guy slammed on his brakes. The car tailgating him plowed into the rear. Big crash. Flying glass. Front end crushed.

The first guy's car flew through the crosswalk. I managed to dodge him. The old man bolted in the opposite direction, dragging along his dog. A big guy got out of the crushed car and stared at me.

For a moment I thought there would be trouble. But he simply pulled out his cell and made a call. The first guy stayed in his car, hands on the wheel. I quickly took off, walked past my hotel and then doubled back, in case either guy followed me.

Of all the auto action I saw that week in LA, the above crash was the most dramatic. Not that there weren't potential freeway thrills. Angelenos take pretty big risks at high speeds. But overcrowding reduces everyone to slower lanes. Traffic jams are a bore. In LA this doubtlessly saves lives. For what that's worth.

With the potential for additional work there, I'm getting acclimated to LA. Horrid tales about writers in Hollywood are largely fact-based, yet it doesn't faze me. At least so far. I'm sure I'll see the killing floor soon enough. For now, inspiration. Excitement. Sense of purpose. It's been a long time coming.

Life as a janitor feels like a fever dream. The scars and lingering physical effects remind me that it was real. Too fucking real at times. But it did instill perspective, which is vital for whatever's ahead.

People ask about The Project. Does it still exist? Did it ever? Of course it did and does. It's well past open mics in NYC. Stand up was never the goal -- just a starting point, a pump primer. I still perform, but in booked shows. Writing is the main nerve. There is work in the offing, about which more later. It's just nice to be back in the mix.

Shots from earlier paths emerge now and then. A reader forwarded a televised debate about Syria featuring Anne-Marie Slaughter and Jeremy Scahill.

When it comes to cable chat, it's amazing how disconnected I've become. I avoid the cable nets, save for celebrity funerals and severe weather updates. When I watch even a minute of political talk online, my stomach burns, my eyes water. The level of conformity and idiocy is too toxic for my tender senses.

I'm familiar with Scahill, an excellent reporter on national security issues for The Nation. Slaughter less so, and after watching her rail about Syria and the need for US intervention (which she tried to disguise as non-intervention), that's a positive thing.

Jesus, these people get worse with time. There were plenty of blowhards when I debated issues, but if Slaughter is the current liberal norm, who the fuck needs Fox News?

Scahill, fresh from Yemen, engaged Slaughter respectfully and factually, which spun Slaughter's head around. His easily-documented points about US behavior in the region, arming repressive states while denouncing official enemy conduct, maddened Slaughter. No surprise. As a State Department consultant and believer in humanitarian violence, Slaughter naturally defends Uncle Sam's good name. But it was her mania that really struck me.

I once subscribed to Noam Chomsky's notion that most imperial functionaries are professionally detached, doing their jobs without sudden mood swings. These people were far more frightening than the occasional ideologue who confused the bullshit with the actual task.

I still agree with that, more or less. Years later, Jon Schwarz intrigued me with his argument that these people, whether policymakers, technocrats or mouthpieces, were crazier than advertised. His debunking of the Iraq/WMD skull fuck brought him close to many of them. He'd laugh about it on the phone, but Jon sounded truly unnerved.

Based on my mercifully brief exposure to her, Anne-Marie Slaughter seems to fit Jon's model. She appeared unhinged. It wasn't that she denied objective reality, but rather how she denied it. She insisted that Scahill honor her self-image, a form of narcissism I haven't seen in many debates. Scahill did, for what I hope were tactical reasons. How he kept his composure is beyond me.

I'd shake my head, smile, and reply, "Well, Ms. Slaughter, you seem to have it figured out. Good luck on spreading freedom throughout the Middle East. Impressive job so far." Then I'd remove my lapel mic and leave the studio. Or I might just lean forward and blurt, "Do you know that you're insane? I mean in a deeply disturbed way?" Then look into the camera and twirl my index finger next to my head.

Either way, my return to the debate tables would be finished. Good thing, too. There's a better life to live. I'll fill you in as I go.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yiggity Yak

Doug Lain phoned recently and recorded our call. Doug said that I sounded surprisingly upbeat. Yeah?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Platform Shoe

Though billed as a comedy show, last week's Tomorrow!, hosted by Ron Lynch and Frank Conniff, offered me a chance to test the political waters. The audience reacted favorably, which warmed me, until I reread my presidential promises. Take the blue pill, America. It's your only hope.


I will accept all types of contributions, payoffs, bribes, soft money, absorbent dollars, flying bundles of cash, and anything the Chinese throw in, just as our Founders intended.

Most running mates are seen but offer little. My running mate will be invisible and will chase me around the Oval Office with an ax. Just to keep me honest.

I will not invade Iran. But I will tease it to the point of insanity, then bomb it in self-defense.

I will turn the Federal Reserve into a water slide park and launder our money in urine-clouded pools of chlorine.

I will imprison three judges on the Supreme Court, but won't say which ones, just to fuck with their heads.

I will support the death penalty in cases too complicated to figure out, so juries won't miss The Big Bang Theory.

Torture will be used only when I'm drunk, which is at least six hours a day.

I will not only support gay marriage, but make it mandatory for all domestic pets.

Health care will be a right, not a privilege. Except for those who are sick.

Evolution will be taught in religious schools, creationism in public schools, while I sit back with a cold one, laughing at the results.

As for immigration, citizenship will be decided through competitive eating contests, the winners of which get to stay and clean up the mess.

Like my opponents I will expand domestic surveillance. But unlike them, I'll leave a chocolate mint on every pillow.

Under my administration, I will end hunger with a new program called Ass To Mouth.

I will boost employment by letting companies harvest employee organs, so long as there's a profit sharing plan.

As always, religion will be used to keep poor people under control. And if that doesn't work, there's always SWAT.

Drugs will be decriminalized until I make a healthy return on my investments, then will be illegal again.

Birth control will be encouraged, especially among the grotesque.

I believe today's youth are America's future, which is why I will govern from Cabo.

I will defeat terrorism overseas and keep it where it belongs -- in the United States.

And each month, I will rip the still-beating heart from the chest of a Wall Street broker and offer it to our Sun God Huitzilopochtli, from whom this great nation derives its strength.

I'm not liberal. Nor conservative. Nor monarchist, Phalangist, Scientologist, Botanist, Borg or Klingon.

I am Dennis "BOO YEAH!" Perrin. America's next savior. Bow before me, or at least buy me a beer.

God bless you all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Brand Oh

I once wrote a book about a man who made comedy dangerous. Last night I saw someone who embodies that and more.

Russell Brand's danger differs from O'Donoghue's. It's more playful, seemingly uncontrolled. An anarchic dancing id that O'Donoghue's forensic mind might not abide. Yet for all of Brand's play, there's a physical menace that if pushed, would kick your ass.

It's there the second Brand steps on stage. Laura and I were in the fifth row, center. Largo's theater is old and intimate, so Brand was practically on top of us. The crowd went crazy as Brand strode left to right, long legs extended, hands slicing the air. Total rock star. I felt envious but also taken away. Before Brand said a word, he established his turf, his magnetism palpable.

Until recently, I didn't pay Brand much attention. He lived on the tabloid periphery, marrying Katy Perry, this generation's Marie Osmond. But Laura is a huge fan. She insisted that I watch Get Him To The Greek, which I wasn't keen to do, but did.

I loved it. I'm tempted to call Greek a guilty pleasure, but it's a solid comedy with great chemistry. Jonah Hill and Sean Combs shine. Brand drives it through the screen. I've seen Greek numerous times and it hasn't lost its punch.

As Brand straddled the mike stand, surveying the house with blazing eyes, a nerdy looking guy stage right stared into a laptop, next to a large flat screen on a stand. I assumed he was tech support, which later proved true.

Brand introduced him as Matt Stoller, the liberal policy advisor and writer. An odd combo, I thought, until Brand revealed that Stoller's brother Nicholas wrote for and directed him in Greek. While Stoller's role was ostensibly technical (he loaded images on the screen for Brand to remark on), his main purpose was to be Brand's straight man and punching bag.

It was a loose, informal show. A work in progress for an upcoming FX program. The main theme was media distraction, how people are made to care about meaningless stories and personalities. Brand also assailed social prejudice and assumptions, reading from several news stories, stopping every few words to deconstruct what he'd just shared. Yet this wasn't an academic exercise. Brand riffed wildly, assumed different personalities and voices, his long body kicking, punching and swirling about.

Brand's stage presence amazed me. I didn't laugh so much as marvel. I laughed maybe four or five times over 90 minutes. Instead, I studied him. Brand was like a child playing in his room. Nothing was too crazy to say or do. It seemed that whatever crossed his mind, we heard it. I'm sure much of it was scripted, or at least mapped out. But a lot of it felt improvised. If it wasn't, then Brand is an even better actor than advertised.

The show was more town hall meeting than concert. The house lights were kept on. Brand encouraged the audience to talk back to him. Plenty did. Mostly women. No surprise -- the majority of the audience was female, many of whom were dressed for action. Laura said that the talk in the ladies room was decidedly sexual. Some openly hoped to hook up with Brand after the show. I can't think of another comedian who attracts such an amorous audience.

Though Brand delivered countless sex jokes, complete with wriggling movements and orgasm sounds, he also proposed a spiritually socialist society. Celebrated our inter-connectedness. Advised us to reject fear and ignorance in favor of love and revolution.

He was fluid and incredibly articulate. Brand played class war with Stoller, mocking his Harvard education, blaming him for the financial crisis. Stoller simply smiled and shook his head. He occasionally spoke, dry as bone, sending Brand into further abusive wordplay. It was an interesting dynamic, which added texture to the overall mix.

Something deeper was at work. Brand was clearly working through emotional and psychological issues. And while you can say that about most if not all comedians, Brand's confessions were different.

Perhaps his celebrity made this more pronounced, but you really sensed desperation in his act. Strange, given Brand's seemingly charmed existence. He didn't just want us to love him: he craved acceptance, using every seductive move he possessed.

He needn't have bothered. The audience ate him up and wanted more. The 90 minutes flew by; and with Eddie Izzard performing a late show, Brand brought it in on time. He announced that he would meet with and talk to anybody who stayed after.

Laura asked if I wanted to. At first I said no. What would I say to the guy? She mentioned the media criticism parts of the show as a starting point. I could certainly discuss those issues, but did Russell Brand really want to? Especially with so many sexily-dressed young women around?

Roughly 40 people milled near the stage door. We decided to stay and see what happened. Fifteen minutes later, Brand emerged alone. No entourage. No bodyguards. He asked random people what they thought of the show. Did they understand the premise? Was it clear what he was trying to achieve?

A few nodded yes, but most simply wanted their pictures taken with him. Brand generously complied. He even talked to a guy's girlfriend on his cell, unlike Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy.

Up close, Brand emits serious heat. His sex appeal and charisma are undeniable. At one point I stood right next to him as he talked to a female fan. I've met, known and been around numerous celebrities in my life, but I can't recall feeling weak in the knees. It was a primal reaction. I actually felt intimidated. When he asked what people thought of Stoller, I replied:

"Matt works well as a philosophical straight man."

Brand turned to me, dark eyes widened.

"He's a brilliant philosophical straight man, isn't he? I'm very happy with him!"

Laura nudged me to ask for a picture. But I couldn't do it. I lacked the nerve, which is very rare for me. Plus, Brand wasn't posing with many men, certainly none my age. I was content to watch him work the crowd.

As he hugged a young woman, Brand stared over her shoulder, directly into my eyes. We locked for a long instant. They weren't happy-looking eyes. Then again, he'd just finished a high energy performance. Still, that neediness was there.

I don't think he wanted anything from me; I just happened to be in his field of vision. I smiled back. He turned and made his way to the stage door. I stood there feeling hollowed out. For all of Brand's intensity and genius, something seems to be missing. But then, maybe that's the point. We all nurse phantom wounds.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Drone On

"The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so."

Gore Vidal's quip offers little balm to me. I've received a steady stream of emails over the past weeks lauding my supposed-insight about Obama's wars and the liberals who support them. While nice, it makes no difference in my life. No added money in my bank account. No offers to write for larger outlets. Nothing. Nada. Nil.

I'm fine with it, though. The headaches that come with unpopular opinions nauseate me. It's a younger person's game. I loved mixing it up with those who thought me crazy, reckless, mad. This conceit carried well into my forties, a lingering influence from the days when I devoured Cockburn, Hitchens, Chomsky, Vidal.

But the older one gets, the crankier one's perspective. Which is why I restrict most of my political musings to Twitter. Release some steam without overheating the engine.

Glenn Greenwald, on the other hand, dives daily into the imperial muck. Glenn has been ferocious of late about liberal hypocrisy, this piece his most damning yet. To those who insist I should be writing this kind of polemic, let me say: 1) I already have, for years on end, culminating in Savage Mules; and 2) Glenn enjoys a much larger audience than I could ever attract.

No envy on my end. I'm genuinely happy about Glenn's reach and his dogged refusal to let so-called progressives off the hook. With Obama's re-coronation in full swing, Glenn's efforts and energy are extremely vital.

I do smile at how far we've come. Recall back in '08, when liberal Obama love burned Dalai Lama bright, Glenn interviewed me about Savage Mules. He took issue with many of my arguments, trying to get me to concede that in the long run, Dems were preferable to Repubs. I noted some tactical differences between the two, but confessed that I didn't care who won that election.

To me, Obama and McCain weren't all that dissimilar, a heretical stance that has proven more accurate than not. With Glenn now blasting Obama for not only continuing Bush/Cheney policies, but mainstreaming them, it's clear that he agrees with what I then said.

But I won't say I told you so. Glenn tells you on a regular basis. He's already writing the sequel to Savage Mules.

If you missed our original discussion, go here, scroll down, read/listen. Was I ever that young?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Live From My Mind

Here's an impressionistic primer on, yes, you guessed it, Fridays. Hoping to school some of Splitsider's youth about the show's brief impact. Even better is the love I've received from several Fridays veterans, including producer John Moffitt. Making them happy makes me ecstatic. Sometimes writing can be a good thing.