Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Sigh. Orly?

So I listen to this podcast. 'On Point with Tom Ashbrook,' out of Boston.

It's typically a low-key show. Ashbrook is a level-headed, thoughtful host who spends his weekdays talking about current events with newsmakers or whatever. Pundits, celebrities, authors, journalists, scientists, experts. Today, Dave Eggers. Last month, a sit-down with Adam Davidson and David Kestenbaum. A few months back, a discussion on Afghanistan.

Reasonable host. Reasonable guests. Reasonable, relevant topics. It's public radio, so... you know. Thoughtful but not obnoxious.


So like today, I'm going to work, and I'm kind of groggy, and I do the usual going-to-work ritual where I go outside, dodge a few cars, plug ear buds into my ears to seal out the city's noise, walk to the train station, scroll through podcasts. I choose 'The Furry of the Birthers.' Hm. Furry Birthers. I walk past a construction guy beating hardened concrete out of an upside-down dumpster dangling from a crane. The Birthers are now attracting Furries. Should be interesting.

Anyway. 'The Furry of the Birthers.' It was an 'On Point with Tom Ashbrook' podcast. Calm, measured voice. The steps leading up to the train platform in view. A sunny day. A construction worker beating the shit out of a dumpster. Traffic. The whole day ahead of me, a pee-drained and napping dog behind me. A whole short day since I get off early on Fridays in the summer. And a pee-full short dog to come home to afterwards.

While listening to 'On Point,' rather than to the screams and shouts of NY, I am civilized. Calm. I'm ready to wrestle grandmothers for a seat on the train, I'm ready to shove fat Midwestern tourist-spawn out of the way on sidewalks.

"In the past week here at On Point, we've taken on health care, the fight in Afghanistan, and the Wall Street banks and the US economy."

Ashbrook's sounding a bit like he's laying out his credentials, reminding me why I listen to him.

"But there's another story out there in the wings. It's a strange one. Promoted by a fringe that call themselves the 'Birthers.'"

I'm in mid-step almost to the platform when he says the word 'Birthers.' Shit, I think. Not Furry. Fury. The title of the podcast is 'The Fury of the Birthers.' Oh Tom Ashbrook, not you too. Not this subject. You're always so reasonable.

"The Birthers say Barack Obama has no right to be in the White House because, they claim, he's not American-born. The evidence says otherwise, but the Birthers have been getting plenty of attention on cable TV."

I'm on the platform now. I'm hearing Tom Ashbrook but looking at a man shouting at his teenage daughter. I'm looking at a middle-aged woman in a slacks reading a newspaper to her companion. I'm looking at a man jabbering into a cell phone, and a younger woman dancing on the platform, her iPod in her hand and the wire to her ear buds twisting around her like a commercial. We're all waiting for the train, which will slide over the Broadway Bridge, swallow us up, and slither us downtown.

"This hour On Point, the Birther movement and what's behind the fringe obsession with the President's birth. You can join the conversation--have you heard the theory and what's deriving it? Are the Birther's just a wacky fringe or do they represent a dangerous threat, a resistance to the will of the majority of American voters? You can also comment on our website...."

The train comes, and swallows, and shoots us down to the next stop, and a series of stops, opening and closing, regurgitating and swallowing. I cling to a pole. Listening.

Tom's first guest is Ben Smith of He and Tom discuss the evidence supporting Obama's legit American birth, and both seem apologetic about having to discuss it, as if they're really talking about how Earth is round no matter what flat-earthers say. And I'm enjoying the conversation, especially since the train's crowded and some misshapen mass keeps pressing into my thigh. Podcasts: disassociation for straphangers.

At some point around 168th Street, Tom breaks away from Ben to introduce Orly Taitz. I think that's how you spell her name. Orly. And Tom says her name as if it's a decent thing to say. As if each day, we all look at a loved one and say, Orly Taitz, then hug and squeeze inappropriately, and feel loved, and move on.

Orly speaks. Reasonable? Rational? I'm not too familiar with her. Surely Tom wouldn't have a nut-case on his show? "First of all, Ben Smith," she says, "knowingly and intentionally lied and defrauded American citizens."

As the mysterious mass presses into my thigh, I listen to Orly Taitz. The woman goes on and on, laying out her case as if she were designing the Winchester house.

Obama was not born in the United States. Unless he was, in which case he's not a natural born citizen because his father was Kenyan. Unless that doesn't matter, in which case Obama was adopted by his Indonesian step-father so he's got a dual citizenship, and that makes him ineligible for the Presidency, unless it doesn't. Orly yells--there's never yelling on On Point!--and blusters on and on about how unfairly she's being treated, and then it's time for a break.

I don't get the Birthers. I mean, I get them, sort of, but I don't think they're very rational. They're like a construction guy beating a bat against a dumpster full of cement, suspended upside-down by a crane.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The virtual drive

A friend from Alabama sent me a link earlier. Apparently, Florence, AL, is now in street view on Google maps. Here's a taste.

An hour or so after sending me the link, after I'd gotten back from walking the dog and doing dishes, my friend IM'd, "You still DRIVING around Florence?" as if my failure to reply meant I was caught up with the Google street view of Florence, AL. I closed the chat box. I didn't know how to respond.

There's not much to say about Florence. As a place, Florence is just kind of there, floating indifferently in the latitude and longitude of Google maps, plodding along through time, resigned to the fact that parts of itself are "unavailable at this zoom level."

So many places are, though. Unavailable at this zoom level. Some places just have to be mapped out alone.

Maybe I should've told my friend that not all things can be mapped by Google.

Or maybe I should've said that the street view of Florence was depressingly accurate. I could only go forward or backward, left or right. I could only move at right angles. No chance to veer off into unexplored territory.

Or maybe I should've said that the street view missed a lot of places. The view of the street was unrelenting. This is where we were, and then this is where we were, and then this is where we were. No context. Just images of points on a map which happen to be of my hometown.

There's a lot of stuff in Florence to map, but Google will never manage to do it. It's the same here in NY--Google might map the streets around Union Square Park, but it'll never drive into the park the day Greg kissed me on the bench beside the orange flowers. Because I'm a sucker for romance, and the flowers were exploding, and the sun was at the perfect angle, and, you know, how can you possibly map that sort of thing?

So maybe I should've said, it's nice to "drive" on Google, but it's best to be there. Wherever 'there' is.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Since Barack Obama became president--despite a bungled oath of office (not his fault, really; the only person in America who can't recite the oath from memory is, apparently, the current chief justice of the Supreme Court)--there's been a phrase tossed around like bird seed at a park: post-racial America.

I'm not certain what it means, post-racial America. I think the phrase is intended to mean the Negro's finally come up from slavery and into the Oval Office so we can all shut the fuck up about racism. Or maybe it emphasizes how a lot of white people moved beyond their own racial biases and voted for a minority. Or maybe it just means we cashed a post-dated check deposited by Lincoln on the day he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Anyway, it is a good thing, this post-racial America. Doesn't exist, and we know it, but it is a nice thing to hear about. Post-racial. Thank god. Now we can move on.

Here's an odd story: Greg was told recently that the term "redneck" is an offensive term. Really! He was at work, talking to co-workers, and he used the term "redneck" a few times in reference to, I don't know, Republicans or something. Something innocuous. Anyway, the next day, he was called into the HR office and told how awful the term is, how hurtful and derogatory. Greg protested. "I'm from Alabama," he told HR. "The only person who could possibly be offended here is me."

When Greg came home, he told me about his warning from HR. I did what you'd expect. I sang a verse of Randy Newman's "Rednecks."

A few weeks back, in Fort Worth, Texas, on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a gay bar was raided. Perfect time to raid a gay bar: on the anniversary of Stonewall. The gay community adores and appreciates a good raid, but if you go the extra mile and do the raid on the anniversary of Stonewall, well... that just makes the raid all the more special.

A guy got brained nearly to death during the Texas raid, by the way. So bonus points to the Fort Worth police force. If there'd been no injuries, no one would've known there'd been a raid, and that'd be the true tragedy.

Hey, post-racial America. The phrase might mean we're now free to hate people for any reason at all--we don't have to hate people with a different color skin. We can just outright hate people for being, ew, people.

Of course the funny thing is, not many people care anymore if they're hated. Most people are just happy to get through the day in one piece. So maybe post-racial America means a docile, compliant, comfortable America, where we're all relieved that it wasn't us in the bar that got raided by cops or arrested for walking into our own home. So long as we're not raided or arrested, we're satisfied.

Unless you're a crazy white guy. Then you're bound to be actively and loudly pissed for 4-8 years.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Waffles; or, ardor

First off, we've had the dog for a few days and so far those few days have centered on the dog's bathroom habits. I understand this is normal--new parents of humans and dogs spend most of their waking moments contemplating poop, pee, and the strange unexpected discharges coming out of mouths.

It's common, if Google isn't lying, for new parents to blog at length about these things. There is a reason for these compulsive bathroom bloggings: new parents simply cannot write sensibly about any other subject. More elevated matters are buried beneath a layer of less savory matter, right, because it's impossible to discuss, say, Miro or Congress without the knowledge that somewhere in the home there is a small helpless creature constantly digesting, constantly breaking down the solid from the liquid, constantly and forever working towards an uncontrolled evacuation.

"I adore the colors of this piece," a new parent might say about some piece of art purchased by a friend, knowing such adoration is expected. What the new parent is thinking, however, is: These colors are similar to the new crap stain on my $500 white shag rug in the living room.

"Do you really think the Senate is capable of passing that bill?" a new parent might say, thinking instead: If they could only pass that bill the way my new baby passed that swallowed dime the other day... Man, I didn't realize it'd pop out like that.

Waffles is a great dog but he does not like pooping outside. He's house-broken, yes, but he was house-broken in a quieter neighborhood, and apparently the loud traffic zooming past as Greg and I walk him around his newer, noisier neighborhood has... scared his bowels. His bowels have retreated more deeply into his ass. Plus he has the attention span of lobotomized goldfish; he might leave the house with the intention of taking a dump, but as soon as we hit the sidewalk he becomes distracted with the cars and the people and the music, and forgets about his bowels.

Greg and I don't forget about his bowels. But he does.

The second morning, for instance. I came into the living room to find Waffles in mid-squat, his hindquarters dangling like Damocles' sword centimeters away from the carpet. I jerked him up (causing him to make a too-cute grunt sound not unlike Carol Channing being hit in the stomach with a pillow), grabbed his leash, and ran down the three flights of stairs to the street. Clearly, he needed to go. He was in the process of going. He was less than a second away from going, then of having gone, then of not needing to go again until mid-afternoon.

But he forgot. I walked him around the neighborhood for over an hour, stopping at trees, prowling the park across the street, weeping, pleading, pushing his ass to the grass, offering a helpful demonstration by squatting beside him. Nothing. Except once, when he did do that doggie squat thing in full view of six 10 year old girls, all of whom immediately swarmed around him, seizing up his bowels as they petted and cooed and made chaste hot dog jokes.

To be fair to Waffles, my bowels would seize on me too if I were about to let go and was suddenly surrounded by a pack of cute-crazed 10 year old girls.

After nearly 90 minutes of leading Waffles around Inwood, I surrendered. I brought him home and kept an eye on him. No more attempts at bowel-evacuation were made until Greg arrived home from work a few hours later. Greg and I returned to the park, and Waffles, amazingly, let it all out. No shag carpeting, no tile floors. Just good, natural grass and good, natural fertilizer.

Sunday morning around 2:30 AM, Waffles woke Greg up. Whining. Sniffing. Scratching discreetly at our bedroom door.

Outside our window, a pack of wild thugs were taunting and talking shit at one another. I assumed it was a gang initiation--it sounded violent and, if not deadly, then at least a recipe for possible humiliation (the kids in our neighborhood love to humiliate anyone over 25). But without pausing, Greg popped out of bed, threw on the basics of clothing, slid into shoes, and carried Waffles outside. I stayed behind to field phone calls and contact the authorities should Greg not return. Knowing Greg, I assumed that if the kids didn't use his dead body to earn their bones, he'd accidentally stab himself trying to act tough.

Greg returned a half-hour later, grumpy and groggy. Waffles was jaunty and inappropriately playful. "Little bastard just wanted to go for a walk," Greg said. "Didn't even sniff at a goddamn tree."

It's amazing. If there's a poop from this dog, I know about it. If there's pee, I sense it. There is nothing that goes into or out of this animal I fail to notice. Greg's the same way. We've lived together for nearly a decade, and know less about each other's private habits than we do about this dog's, which has only been with us for a few days. At work, I swear I can sense when Waffles, home, secure in an enormous metal crate the size of a Rottweiler, is sniffing in the corners and digging into his blanket. When reading, his head resting on my thigh, I feel his guts churning. It's nonstop. And it's not like he'll ever run into the bathroom and flip the toilet up--it's a perpetual thing, this dependent shitting and pissing. He'll never outgrow it, never bang on the bathroom door and say, "Dad, c'mon, it's my turn!"

But I do love him more than the rug, at least.

Now if we can just keep him from staring at us when we make out. That's creepy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

In which we get a new dog

First thing’s first: yes, I’ve cleaned up Waffles’ shit. Just now, actually. While going into the bathroom to pee.

Thirty minutes out, wandering a park and upper Broadway, and the dog didn’t do anything except trot along the sidewalk. In the apartment for ten minutes just after the walk, and he takes a dump that by rights should require the aid of Egyptian slaves.

And I stepped in it.

Crushed his mighty pile into the tile of our bathroom. Just now. I left the kitchen, and went into the bathroom, and felt something squish under my foot, and thought I'd stepped on a mouse again (yes, again).

I don't know what the previous owner was feeding this dog but he shat like a moth: a woolen, organic, clumpy sort of shit that felt like stepping onto a moist shag rug.

So I stood in the bathroom, my right leg raised, dog poop dangling from my right foot, hanging there by a (literal) fine thread, and I thought to myself, "Greg said he'd make sure this dog wouldn't shit in the house."

I wasn't angry. I was just being a cat person. We cat people never deal with shit, unless it's to scoop it out of a tray and into the garbage.

Greg's definitely a dog person. He's thrilled with the new dog, and can't wait to get off work and take him out to the park.

And I admit I'm enjoying the dog too. At least when he shits in the floor, it's as easy to clean up as if I'm picking up a sweater.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why do you have a different view?

Apparently, MSNBC just keeps Pat Buchanan on the payroll to ridicule Fox News.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Thoughts on a dog

Greg's made it clear that he wants to adopt someday. Adopt a kid. A human child, capable of psychological damage and late-night hunger. He's mentioned it many times, while cradling his hypothetical ovaries and whining about his biological dad-clock.

"But we're behind on our life plan," I tell him when he does this. Which makes him laugh because he knows damn well that only one of us is capable of planning more than 10 seconds in advance, and that person isn't me. "It would be gross negligence for us to buy a kid anytime soon."

"Adopt. You don't buy a kid."

"Right." And when he does his dad-clock thing, I always--always--say this: "Look. First, we get a dog. If we can keep a dog alive for a year or so, then we'll think about getting a kid."

So we're getting a dog. Apparently we're at a point in our lives where this dog thing is feasible. We can feed ourselves on a regular basis now, so we can also take on the added responsibility of pet-feeding. I'd feel better with a hamster or goldfish, something to work up from, but, no. It's gonna be a dog, right off. No starter-set.

And not only is it a dog--it's a wiener dog. A Dachshund. A type of dog I've never liked because they look like lubed-up lamb skin condoms with legs and a reservoir tip. But Greg, and his ovaries, grew up with a Dachshund, and often grows misty-eyed when asked about little Boots, and suddenly a friend has a Dachshund she needs to give away, and I would be an evil asshole if I said no to our adoption. Of the dog.

But then there's the implied adoption of a kid. See? It's all part of Greg's life-plan. If I say no to the dog, I'm saying no to future children, and that's a rabbit hole I'm not prepared to fall into, even though I'd much prefer a rabbit to a dog or a kid.

So tomorrow, Greg is going downtown to meet with the young woman who needs to give up her dog, and he's gonna meet the Dachshund too, and if everyone likes everyone else--if the young woman feels that Greg and the Dachshund get along--he'll be bringing back that dog, and we'll be responsible for everything about that dog's life. We'll have to feed it, and walk it, and play with it, and love it, and protect it, shelter it, possibly clothe it since Greg strikes me as that type of dog owner who needs to put cute tiny dog-sized sweaters on his animals, and possibly tiny dog-sized shoes.

If we adopt this dog, and the dog lives through the winter, then there'll be a kid in our future. A kid we'll also have to protect and love and feed and dress and minimize psychological damage and, unlike the dog, raise to the point of independence.

I've had two plants since I moved in with Greg. One is still alive. So I give both the dog and the potential kid a 50/50 chance of survival.

I mean, there aren't many benefits to being a gay couple, but one benefit is the lack of unplanned pregnancy. No surprise children. You can plan ahead, when you're gay, and that's a pretty good benefit. Perhaps it's why so many people hate us--they went the straight way, and get surprised all the time by kids popping out all over the place, and they're suddenly 40 years old, with 15 kids, a mortgage, college to pay for, orthodontist bills, grocery bills... hell, I'd hate gays too. Our unexpected miracle children truly are unexpected miracles, because who the hell ever expects a pregnant man?

But Greg wants to willingly wander into this land of responsibility, where we do normal things with normal progeny. No plan, really, just do, just get the dog, take care of it, find a kid, raise it. Meanwhile, I can barely remember to tie my shoes--and don't, really, since from March til early January I'm usually in flip-flops, so what's to tie? But from now on, I'll have to remember to take the dog out in the mornings, rain or snow or meteor strike. And later, I'll have to remember to keep little Greg or Marc junior/ette away from the stove.

I'll keep watering the plant, and watering the dog, and see how it goes.

Monday, July 13, 2009

From the vaults: That was the meal that was

When we first moved to New York, Greg worked for a while as a concierge for a company of dubious reputation. The one perk of this job was that Greg occasionally got free meals--restaurants liked it when Greg sent tourists to them, so those restaurants would sometimes pay Greg back for the business. Which was cool. I was working at a job that scored us free tickets to Broadway, and Greg was working at a job that scored us free meals, so even though we could barely afford toilet paper, we were still able to have a pretty spiffy night out on the town.

Then there was this thing, from October 14, 2005:

After the Johnnie Walker tasting thing Tuesday, I assumed our freebie points were used up for the month. However, Wednesday evening, just as I was preparing to forage for food and cook up a meal, Greg called to tell me that we had reservations at Uncle Jack's Steakhouse in midtown. I'm not a steak fan, but I could tell from Greg's tone that it was, if not a Great Steakhouse, then, well, it was an Expensive Steakhouse. "It's business casual," Greg added, after informing me that we were getting a free meal from his company. "So. You know. Don't wear the Converse and the jeans with holes in them."

Since I was starving, though, and the reservations were for much later in the evening, I decided to microwave some frozen taquitos. And eat them.

Anyway, so, stuffed with taquitos, I met Greg. I was dressed in my version of "business casual," which was Converse and jeans without holes, and we walked over to the restaurant.

As instructed, Greg told our "captain" that he is with whatever company it is Greg is with, and asked for a special menu. Because, apparently, meals paid for by the company are from 'limited' menus. The captain checked with a manager. The manager came to our table, all smiles and ass-kissy sweetness, handed Greg his card, and informed Greg that, indeed, the company does provide a 100 dollar gift certificate, and that we were welcome to enjoy the full menu.

A 100 dollar gift certificate. A coupon, essentially. Not a free meal, but a few bucks off.

Greg blinked, swallowed, and said "Okay." Exchanged cards with the manager, smiled at the captain. And, when the manager left and the captain orally recited the menu (no printed menus for THIS place), Greg damn near muppetted himself into panic mode.

I pointed out that we were already there, and might as well put on a good show.

Yes, Greg, I know we can't afford this place.

Yes, Greg, I know you feel you're in over your head.

No, Greg, it's not a good idea to bolt for the door.

Yes, Greg, we will survive. Chill out and do your job.

Our captain returned to our table after a while, offering his suggestions. We settled on an appetizer (and because I was queasy from the taquitos, I let Greg pick the line-up): beef tar tare something-something, with wasabi caviar. We skipped the salad despite our captain's obvious horror (But it will clense the palatte, he kept insisting, as if Greg and I didn't have dry mouths already). Greg and I launched fearlessly into the main course: porterhouse steak for two, with garlic mashed potatoes and creamed spinach.

"And to drink?" our captain, a footbally looking Bronx guy who managed to come off as both down to earth and intimidating as hell, asked. We'd already seen the wine list, which was as thick as a novel, and, after the night before, I at least was not in the mood for more alcohol, so I said, offhand, "Well, the Pellegrino is fine for me."

"You don't want wine?" Greg asked.

"Eh." I said, then realized one does not merely drink water in a place with such an attentive, sprawling wait staff. "If you want wine, I might have a glass."

Greg nodded to the captain, who informed us that the sommelier would be over to recommend a 'perfect wine compliment to our meal.' Greg broke into a sweat, and I tried to finish off as much Pellegrino as I could before forcing down whatever wine we were about to end up with.

"I'm in over my head," Greg said. "I wasn't expecting this."

"You're doing fine. Schmooze. It's part of your job."

"No, I mean. Do you have any idea how much this is gonna cost? 100 dollar gift certificate my ass."

"Yes. But it's part of your job to deal with these people." I kept insisting it was part of Greg's job to spend us into homelessness.

Greg drew a few deep breaths, and the appetizer arrived. Neither Greg nor I had the first clue how to eat the thing--raw beef, essentially, molded into a thick circular shape, with a tortilla thing on top, some weird green stems, and a lime-slice-shaped dab of wasabi. I shrugged, Greg panicked. I grabbed a cracker and slathered the uncooked cow across it.

It wasn't bad. I managed to finish off one bite, with a healthy helping of wasabi on top, and greg finished the rest. About a half-pound of dead cow. Mmmm-mmm.

(Later, we found out the appetizer was 50 bucks.)

So the sommelier, dressed in a white tux, approached our table and went into heavy negotiations about the proper wine for our meal. We settled on a Cabernet. Both G and I expected a glass. Really, after the previous night staggering around with Johnnie Walker, we could only manage a glass. The captain of course brought us a goddamn bottle, presented it to Greg for inspection (Greg pretended to read the label with interest), and then uncorked the bottle. The captain poured out a taste of the wine into a glass slipped onto the table by some anonymous attendant, and waited for Greg to approve of it.

Greg, who'd never approved of anything being served to him, held the glass up, swished it around a bit, smelled the aroma, and took a sip.

"Perfect," he announced. The captain feigned pleasure that we approved, and glasses were filled. With flourish. And the bottle was left on the table, with ominous foreboding.

(Later we found out the bottle of wine was 120 bucks.)

So we sipped on our wine, and I confessed to Greg that I felt awful, and was worried about throwing up frozen taquitos. Greg confessed that he felt sick as well, and was concerned about throwing up gold bullion.

The music was Sinatra. There was a faux-Sargent painting hanging on one wall. We made small talk, discussing the decor, how attentive the staff seemed to be (we never touched the bottle of wine, for example, nor did we touch the bottle of Pellegrino--a server appeared out of the depths of conspicuous-consumption hell to fill our glasses, like one of those ball chasers at Wimbledon). Meanwhile, beads of sweat were appearing on Greg's forehead. "Enjoy this," I kept telling him. "If we're about to get raped up the ass, at least lean into it."

The main course arrived: a porterhouse cooked to Greg's perfection, on a dish. The server carefully placed appealing portions onto our empty plates, and set the dish--still stuffed with more steak--onto our table. Our portions of garlic mashed potatoes and creamed spinach were likewise spooned out for us onto a plate, and our wine glasses were refilled (I'd already assumed that if we were getting a full bottle of wine, then we'd by god better finish it off, so was on a second glass by the time the meal arrived. Greg, too, was on a second glass, and was tipsy). I stared at the chunks of beef before me, fought back a need to puke, and took a bite for the team.

As I said, not a fan of steak. But it wasn't bad. Greg, a true fan, slid a chunk of meat into his mouth and had some kind of bone-deep orgasm.

(Later we found out the porterhouse steak, cooked medium-well, cost 85 bucks.)

So we set about trying to finish our meal, and I constantly reassured Greg that it was his duty to not seem as if he were about to bolt for the door before the bill came. Servers swooped in, wine was poured, more steak was lovingly spooned onto our plates, and then the captain arrived again to ask about dessert.

Since I was already about to throw up, I let Greg make the call. He ordered the Mississippi Mud Pie (only he was drunk and slurring his words, so it came out Missa Mu Pi).

(Later, and happily, we learned the M.M.P. only cost 8 bucks.)

During our meal, the manager of the restaurant made it a point to visit us, check in, and, I think, try to make Greg feel either important or poor. Each time he approached the table, Greg cleared his throat, assured the man that we were enjoying our meal, then, as the manager left, inhale as much wine as he could possibly stomach. And, as we waited for dessert, the manager again approached, asked how we were loving our meal, and Greg, drunk, slurred out a string of compliments that would make a monarch blush, if that monarch were fluent in drunkese.

The manager beamed.

I stifled another need to throw up.

So our Missa Mu Pi arrived, in a single dish (fresh dessert plates had already been installed before us), and a large tray floated down to us, crowded with samples of all the wonderful desserts Uncle Jack had to offer: pecan pie, tiramisu, whatever. There were a few strawberries on the tray, so that's what I went for. Greg devoured everything else, and confessed to the manager that the pecan pie put his grandmother's pecan pie to shame.

The manager leaned in conspiratorially, leaving some slime on the booth, and said, "Don't say that too loud. You might get hit by lightning. Heh-heh."

And so, filled with food, supplied with a plastic container of 85 dollar steak left-overs, Greg and I had nothing left to do but await the bill, which arrived, with an escort, like a death sentence. I forced Greg to shotgun the rest of the wine before he looked at the bill, which was probably wise because, all told and with the 100 dollar discount, the meal came to 237 dollars.

We consumed over 300 dollars worth of food. And wine. Always the damn bottle of wine--the one item we could not take home.

What's (not) to love?

Perhaps 'twee' is the wrong word to use in describing the work of Augusten Burroughs, but it's the word that keeps popping into my head while reading his latest, You Better Not Cry. And I really can't describe his work since this is the only book of his I've read. For whatever reason, I've actively avoided picking up any of his previous books, instinctively knowing that I would loath each and every precocious thought, each and every half-clever-by-half phrase. And so it isn't fair of me to be so irrationally hostile towards him or his writing, but I am.

I feel the same way about David Sedaris sometimes, too, I might add. Not all the time--I sometimes quite like Sedaris' stuff, but only taken in small doses. Like weed. Plus I have a natural tolerance to Sedaris since I've been listening to This American Life for over a decade.

When a friend offered me an advance copy of You Better Not Cry, I agreed, cautiously, figuring now was as good a time as any to resume freelance book reviewing, something I stink at because if I like a book, I rave without criticism and if I hate a book I rant to the rafters. I'm never indifferent. Like or hate, rave or rant.

This book tho is just causing mild irritation. It wants to be a good book. I can see a reasonably good book inside of it, and it's almost as if Burroughs intended to leave the thing unfinished, like one of those late-period Michelangelo sculptures where he just stopped and declared it a masterpiece.

And perhaps--no, not perhaps, I am certain--I'm at a disadvantage for not reading his previous stuff. Burroughs is, I think, an autobiographical writer of half-truths. Maybe. I don't know. I know that during the James Frey fiasco a few years back, several people mentioned Burroughs' Running with Scissors in the same breath as A Million Little Pieces.

So, since he is again writing about himself and his aggressively neurotic parents, I'd perhaps benefit from a bit of background. Are we to take these tales as truth, or bent truth, or hoax? I dunno. The book begins with a perfunctory disclaimer stating that some of the identifying characteristics of certain characters were changed--but what about the identifying events?

But jesus christ, this book is so painful. Without getting specific (because for all I know I'd open myself up to a lawsuit giving away too much of the plot, since I'm not technically even supposed to have this book), I'll just say that it is a collection of short stories (essays? Who knows!) about Christmas. Seven stories. I've read three and a half. So far, each story is about little, precocious, eccentric Augusten Burroughs and his medicated mother and (allegedly) alcoholic father (I say allegedly because so far the father is the only damn character who hasn't taken a drink).

One story is about how little Augusten is convinced Santa and Jesus are the same person--Jesus goes around naked 364 days a year, li'l Augusten explains to his incredulous grandmother, but on Christmas, he puts on his best red suit. This story pissed me off. I don't know why it pissed me off, but it did. And I don't know why I was surprised to be pissed off, since the first thing I saw when I opened the book was the acknowledgments page. Note the plurality. It's a large page with the word, 'Acknowledgments' at the top, and then, beneath, the initials 'TK' in parenthesis. That's it. A singular acknowledgment that was unnecessary since the same TK was on the dedication page. And why, Mr. Burroughs, is the 'TK' a parenthetical acknowledgment?

But then there's that first story, where Burroughs spends five or so pages explaining why he thought, as a child, that Jesus and Santa were one and the same. As if no other kid has made this assumption. As if this assumption were as rare as a plural singular acknowledgment.

I have a profound hatred of this book, yet I plug on, turning page after page as the train rumbles along on the track (I can't bring myself to read it anywhere other than on the train; somehow, being a captive in an enclosed space with smelly strangers seems like the perfect place to read it). And I feel bad for having this profound hatred, because the book itself is harmless. It's just there, doing nothing, self-satisfied and content to go on and on in a perpetual state of omphaloskepsis.

And yes, I recognize the hypocritical irony of bitching about all this navel-gazing on a blog, or specifically my blog, which is itself a virtual fucking monument to self-satisfied navel-gazing. But I wanted to get it off my chest and, er, out of my navel.

That's what this book is: belly-button lint.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The fickle finger of fame

I met Greg after he got off work today. It was a pre-planned meeting, right, but we still "accidentally" met on the street, which is always nice. He was walking towards Columbus Circle, where I was supposed to be, and I was walking along 59th toward 5th Ave because I'd gotten bored sitting in the same place, and felt like a walk, and assumed I'd either bump into him or miss him entirely.

Nice weather, btw. Too nice to sit in the middle of a round-about when you can walk through a park alongside horses. Which I did--my pace matched the pace of a bored-looking horse dragging a carriage behind itself through the park. I was listening to some Michael Jackson on my iPod, and the mottled white horse beside me was listening to the sounds of the park, and we were both nodding our heads a bit to our own private sounds, and there was a brilliant blue sky above, and green trees, and asphalt beneath both of us, and I did something one should never do: I reached out and patted the horse's neck. Couldn't help it. The horse was right there, and Michael Jackson was singing about human nature, and I always have to touch something, bounce against something, when he asks 'Why? Why?' It's like the end of the theme song of the X-Files--something has to be touched. So I did. With each 'why,' I put my hand out and lightly petted the horse's neck.

The horse didn't mind. It may have snorted a bit. Felt smooth, warm. But the horse's driver got pissed and yelled at me, as if I were about to, oh I don't know, whip the horse and then nail shoes into its feet. The midwestern tourists in the carriage looked at me as if I'd just declared twinkies to be a product of the devil.

Whatever. Nice day. Nice walk. Both the horse and I emerged onto 59th St without incident, and split--the horse went back to Columbus Circle, and I continued on toward 5th Avenue.

For a minute there, the horse and I were sharing some serious connections. Then the horse was gone, and I was gone.

Then I ran into Greg, who was wearing a red bandanna on his head because why not, and we both got excited because it's always nice to simply "run into" someone on the street, but to run into the one person you want to run into is even better.

"I thought you were gonna wait for me at Barnes and Noble," Greg said, plucking his earbuds out of his ears.

"I got bored," I said. "And I wanted to assault a horse."

We'd bought tickets for "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg," a documentary about some woman who was famous from the '30s to the '60s. Obviously she's not famous now. If I said the name "Gertrude Berg" to you, you'd think of Hamlet and, I don't know, the Titanic, maybe, but back in the day? Gertrude Berg was a star. Won the first Emmy for best actress in a television show. Won a Tony. Created the situational comedy.

Greg and I walked over to Lincoln Plaza to see this doc, and were standing in line for it, and realized we were the only people under 50. It's not an exaggeration: the median age for "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" was probably 65, and I would not have been surprised if someone had lined up in an urn.

We were also the only gentiles. Well, not the only gentiles, but I'd say there was a pretty heavy elderly Jewish presence on line at the Lincoln Plaza screening. Pat Buchanan might've had a shot being elected president with this line.

Here's what the documentary was about: fame, and how easily it goes away.

Gertrude Berg was once the second most admired woman in America, behind Eleanor Roosevelt. She wrote 12,000 scripts. She did radio, television, film, and stage. She gave Steve McQueen and Anne Bancroft their big breaks. She inspired Norman Lear, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Susan Stamberg, and most of the nation. She created the sit-com. And you have no clue who she is.

Chances are, you won't remember who she is even after watching this documentary. The Times gave it a rave, but I thought it was boring and insubstantial. The doc went a long way in setting up the history of Gertrude Berg, but made no effort explaining her obliteration.

There were hints, of course, and the film goes on at length to describe HUAC and Berg's perennial co-star's suicide (the actor who played her husband was accused of being a dirty Commie, was blacklisted, and eventually committed suicide. If you've seen 'The Front,' then here's a bit of trivia: Zero Mostel's role in 'The Front' was based on him).

About half way through this documentary about a woman who was "the Oprah of her day," I realized I'd left my iPod on. I'd tossed it into my bag earlier, when I'd bumped into Greg on the street, and hadn't turned it off. During the quiet moments of the movie, tinny, distant Michael Jackson hee-hee and sha-mony sounds were audible. I assumed the sound was from someone else, but no, the sounds were coming from (gasp!) within my own bag.

I reached out and ("Why? Why?") tapped Greg twice on the neck, then stooped down to dig through my bag and shut MJ off. And on the screen, Gertrude Berg was talking to Ed Murrow, a clip from one of his "Person to Person" interviews.

Here's to you, Mrs. Goldberg. And to Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are. Sha-mony.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Another Michael Jackson post

You know what's sad? This: watching a young girl tell millions of strangers just how much her dead father means to her. While her aunt urges her to "speak up" and her grandmother adjusts the mic. As if the expression on her face isn't loud enough.

But of course that expression isn't loud enough--honey, you're standing in a 30thousand seat arena. Sing out, Louise! Put some lip into it. Push from the diaphragm. Sure, you've never spoken to more than 10 people at a time in all your life, but now's your time to shine!

It's not a shallow grave for Michael Jackson. It's a miles-deep grave, decades old. Since we've been digging the grave for a while now, it's only proper we spend some time gaping into it before we shovel in the dirt. See what we accomplished. Call down into it for an echo. Then fill it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

In which Greg announces, quite publicly, that we're moving to Denmark

Well, why not. Here's a letter Greg wrote, that John Aravosis published on his great (sometimes nutty) blog,

Started off a lively confab in the comments.

Dear John and company,

I've been an avid follower of Americablog for several years now. I've trusted the opinion of you and your fellow reporters on many wide ranging topics. I may not always agree with you folks, but I do listen and think about the information you provide.

Recently my partner and I have been growing more and more despondent over the current state of the nation and the direction it is going. We both feel that our votes for Barak Obama, votes we were proud to cast for the very first American of African decent to run for president, were in vain. We have watched over the last eight years as the US has become the antithesis of what we feel our fathers and grandfathers fought for. Then, with the new hope of Obama and a Democratic majority, we thought the clouds had broken and reason had finally returned to Washington. We thought that this nation was finally going to see direct, strong and decisive progressive action that would catch us up with the rest of the industrialized world. But more and more we see that this administration is following the terrible examples set by its predecessor and that the Democratic Party has moved so far to the right that we cannot, in good faith, support it any longer. It is almost like what we fought for was not a new progressive century but a return to politics from the 80s and 90s. Gay rights, corporate welfare, lobbyists, universal health care, smart drug law, support for the middle class and their jobs and all the other progressive issues seem to not even be on the table anymore or have been so castrated that they no longer resemble the change we were promised. This is not what my time, effort and money were supposed to do.

I'm sitting here looking at information I just received from the Danish Consulate stating that I, as well as my partner, qualify for working in and possibly gaining citizenship in Denmark. Please John, Chris, Joe and the others, convince us to stay. Convince us to fight. Convince us that this nation is worth living in now that all of our hopes have been shattered. We love America, we feel great pride for our nation sometimes, but not enough to justify staying here when there are other nations that have gotten the issues so right while we get them so wrong.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Last Sarah Palin post

Believe me, Greg already told me this wasn't funny. I'm still posting it--'Smooth Criminal' has been stuck in my head since last week, so I might as well do something with it. Besides, Sarah Palin acts as if the 'drive-by media' are assaulting her.

As he came up to Alaska
It was a sound of “You Betcha”
He came to ask her questions
He left the ink stains on the obsession
She ran though she was unable
He could see she was unstable
So she ran all the more hard
And then hoist on her petard.

Sarah are you ok?
So Sarah are you ok
Are you ok Sarah
Sarah are you ok?
So Sarah are you ok
Are you ok Sarah
Sarah are you ok
So Sarah are you ok?
Are you ok Sarah?
Sarah are you ok?
So Sarah are you ok, are you ok Sarah?

(Sarah are you ok?)
(Will you tell us that you’re ok?)
(The line in your speech where)
(You say you were--”You Betcha" Sarah)
(He left ink-stains on the obsession)
(Then you ran hard)
(Hoist on your petard)

Sarah are you ok?
So Sarah are you ok?
Are you ok Sarah?
Sarah Are you ok?
So Annie are you ok?
Are you ok Sarah?
Sarah are you ok?
So Sarah are you ok?
Are you ok Sarah?
You’ve been struck by
You’ve been hit by the blog media

So they came in the back way
It’s the World Wide--not the moose-hide
Electronical inter-Net
How thin-skinned can you fucking get?

Sarah are you ok?
So Sarah are you ok?
Are you ok Sarah?
Sarah are you ok?
So Sarah are you ok?
Are you ok Sarah?
Sarah are you ok?
So Sarah are you ok?
Are you ok Sarah?
You’ve been struck by
You’ve been hit by the blog media

What Sarah Palin should've said

On Friday, Sarah Palin took her ball and went home, or passed the ball, or shot the ball at an invisible hoop. She went home, I know that much, and by "home" I assume she meant a physical dwelling place and not a plate on a baseball diamond, but who the hell knows?

One thing is for sure: Sarah Palin should refrain from sports metaphor usage. Which is a shame, because as she noted in her resignation stream-of-conscious speech, that basketball thing was her idea of a "comfortable analogy" and she certainly needs comfort.

Most politicians, when resigning office, state their reasons clearly and concisely. Not Sarah Palin--no, it'd be politics as usual were she to maintain an acceptable level of coherency. She's not up for politics as usual, she's not "wired that way," even tho she is clearly wired some way. Judging from her speech patterns and peculiar gasps at the end of each tortured clause, I wonder if she's not wired on Snowbilly Heroin or Wasilla Ice.

Ok. Most politicians would've delivered a coherent speech, certainly, but Sarah Palin's not most politicians. She is a breed apart. She has no problem comparing herself to a dog, and she has no problem giving a television interview while standing in front of a turkey chamber of horrors. It's no big deal for her to justify her anti-abortion stance by discussing the agonizing choice she faced after finding out that little Trig wasn't quite right, without understanding the luxury of choice.

Sarah's not like other politicians. She doesn't see a need to reconcile her platform with reality. Abstinence-only education works, Sarah tells us often and with a straight face, with her unmarried high-school aged daughter standing behind her, baby on hip. Big government is awful, she says between phone calls firing random officials for random reasons.

So maybe it's not her platform, but how she uses words--I mean, really, her use of language is, like her political career, wholly unique. Maybe she should take the plunge and go all-in with her speeches. Become not only a new politician but a new kind of public speaker. She could do for politics what Andy Kaufman did for comedy.

So what should Sarah Palin say? Instead of bringing up bizarre basketball analogies and citing bad press, what should Sarah, the New Leader for a New Age, say to explain her quitter's attitude?

Here, in Faulknerian prose, is a better speech for Sarah (and btw, I forget who, but someone once compared her to Benjy from The Sound and the Fury. This person was prescient.):

Hello I am standing before you all and we are all standing beside this great river. Listen to the river fowls screeching. They're screeching and I am wink screeching and all I can think is that this great land, beautiful isn't it, this great land would be better off without me. I am unworthy of all the attention paid to me, attention which I seek out, true, like a morningglory seeing the morning sun, I turn my face to cameras and open up just like that.

But I am not worthy of the
suns attention, and it is unfair to you because when I turn to the cameras and the klieg lights calling to me like the wink sun, I turn my back to you, the people of this land.

I am a fame whore.

Not a week ago, I was battling a real fight with a man in new york who has buck teeth not unlike the beavers in our streams. It was an unnecessary battle. He had no weapons of mass destruction but he made a joke about me and we fought in the media and then some fake negro went and died as dead as William H Seward wink, and the cameras were gone from me, and the
kliegs, and I had nothing to turn to in the morning. And I was left looking at you, my people in Alaska

--Piper stand still

Alaska, my place of rule which seems so big on a map but so small when I take a hard look around and realize how much I hate natural resources like wilderness and mountains and snow and anything that doesnt have to do with the oil wink wink and the bridges which make this great state a true State.
Listen to the water fowl behind me.

So now I'm turning my face to this camera to reclaim my rightful place in the sun, a
way from the light skinned plastic negro in L.A. and the dark skinned magic negro in Washington. I'm standing smile wink here you betcha to use this Friday before a Federal Holiday to announce that I am no longer your governor. I don't like being governor. Because it's hard hard hard work being governor and wink much easier smile to just say random shit and make complicated sports analogies only understandable if youre not interested in making real actual sense of the world. Everything that comes out of my mouth is only useful to those of you who dont care if the world makes sense.

In conclusion my mother is a
refrigerator magnet. And she says, Don't bother to explain anything because your supporters dont care and your enemies wont believe.

Or something.

Friday, July 3, 2009

You won't have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore, you betcha

The title of this post is misleading, a cheap joke. Of course we'll have Sarah Palin to kick around for many years to come. So don't panic. Someone has to fill the Bush-comedy void.

If you haven't seen her resignation speech, here it is [note how she uses the royal 'we']:

So there you have it. She's resigning the governorship of Alaska in order to pursue a career in the WNBA.

The line from this speech that stood out for me was, "The world needs more Trigs, not fewer."


Look, I'm not hating on the mentally challenged--that's a group of people with their own problems and unique challenges to overcome. But, as a gay man, or the mother of a gay man (ahem,) I'd never stand before a crowd of people and say, "The world needs more Perez Hiltons, not fewer."

And anyway, out of all the labyrinthine sentences in Palin's resignation speech, it was the only sentence that seemed to express genuine emotion. "The world needs more Trigs, not fewer."
Sure, the sentence implied most parents of "normal" children should trade their issue in for a Trig clone, but it was an honest, motherly thing to say. Good for Sarah.

Piper right now may be huffing paint in order to make herself more like Trig. Track, in Iraq, is probably jumping in front of a bullet right now, hoping it hits him in the head and rips out half his brain. Soon, Sarah Palin will be the Angelina Jolie of special needs children.

What kills me about Sarah Palin is that she's so impossibly cruel to her children. She's like Joe Jackson, in a way; she clearly loves her children, but she's more in love with the advantages those children bring her.

During the glorious campaign of last year, she mentioned her children in almost every speech, and often brought those children up onto stage with her. Sure, Obama did the same thing. Most politicians do. But few politicians make their children as indistinguishable from their politics as Sarah Palin. Obama might've promised his kids a puppy, but Sarah Palin? To her, Track, Bristol, Willow (the forgotten Palin!), Piper and little Trig aren't children; they're her credentials as a politician. They're planks in a right-wing political platform proving her dedication to anti-choice, pro-abstinence, religious-based upbringing.

I don't recall Reagan evoking his children when justifying most of his political experience. Reagan kinda wanted his kids to go away.

But today, no doubt pissed off because yet another beloved black man has been stealing her media attention, Sarah Palin announced she was resigning. It's almost like she hoped to upstage even Independence Day. She stood at the edge of a lake, a plane behind her (hence my Nixon reference), and delivered an incoherent speech full of bad basketball analogies, references to her kids, and poorly-chosen phrases. Again and again she said this: "It's not politics as usual," which of course it isn't. It's "politics unusual."

Nate Silver, a few hours before Sarah announced she was "not retreating, but advancing in another direction," posted a speculative piece about why liberals dislike Sarah Palin. He said the reason liberals dislike her is because "she embodies a sort of comfort with ignorance that they [liberals] think characterizes most/all conservatives." Nate was quoting from someone else there, but he goes on to say this:

If liberals are right that Palin really is ignorant, and moreover, completely comfortable with that ignorance, and moreover still, thought she ought to be Vice President of the United States, they have perhaps ample reason to dislike her. On the other hand, if they dismiss Palin because she looks pretty or talks funny or doesn't read the same newspapers they do, that goes to their being snobs.

Fine. But I also think Nate's leaving out the best part: even most conservatives hate her, because she talks funny and says dumb things. No offense to Trig, but with medical science and stem-cell research, there might be a lot fewer voters for Sarah in the futute.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Y'know, Normy, they call it a press release because....

From Gawker:
Apparently some LA-based flack named Charmaine Blake, "the most famous publicist," is on a date right now with Cliff Clavin from Cheers and couldn't resist blasting out a poorly written press release under the table on her Blackberry.

And here's the release.

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