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.