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

Saturday, September 25, 2010

At a loss for something to do, so: The Sopranos

In the pilot episode of "Sopranos"--the pilot, btw, is titled 'The Sopranos,' which seems rather uninspired--the opening shot is of Tony sitting on a couch in the lobby of a psychiatrist's office. He stares at a small green sculpture of a thin, naked woman posed with her arms folded behind her head, her breasts jutting out a bit.

The expression on Tony's face, as he stares at this sculpture, is one of confused resignation. He has the same expression on his face moments later when the shrink, Dr. Melfi, ushers him into her office and invites him to sit down.

Two chairs in Melfi's office. One green, which happens to be the color of the statue (probably a coincidence of set-dressing) and one white. Melfi is in a neutral position in her own office, and does not gesture which chair Tony should choose to sit in, so he stands for a moment considering his options, looks to her for guidance (and gets none), eventually settles himself into the green chair. And he'll be in that chair for 6 seasons.

The green chair faces away from the door to Melfi's office, btw. You'd think a mob boss would choose the chair which faces the door, just in case. Sitting with your back to the door is, after all, an act of vulnerability.

The ending of the show, btw, has Tony choosing a seat facing a door, but also with a door behind him. He sits facing the entrance to the diner, but the door to the men's room is behind him.

First episode: a choice of chairs. Last episode: a choice of doors.

First episode: a choice of vulnerability, since there's only one door. Last episode: no real choice, since there are doors everywhere.

So. Tony. Green chair. Facing away from the door, accepting vulnerability. He reluctantly talks to Melfi, and hesitates occasionally by uttering variants on this phrase: "I can't talk about my business."

The reason he can't talk about his business is that it's a family business, the oldest kind of family business.

Family businesses encourage secrecy. Tony, like me, knows this.

Tony, unlike me, has a breakdown over secrecy. Sitting in the green chair with his back to Dr. Melfi's office door, Tony says this: "Let me tell you something. Nowadays, everybody's got to go to shrinks, and councilors, or on Sally Jesse Raphael to talk about their problems. Whatever happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type. That was an American. He wasn't in touch with his feelings, he just did what he had to do. So that what they didn't know is that when they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings, they wouldn't be able to shut him up. And then it's dysfunction this, and dysfunction that, and dysfunction ma fangul!"

"Ma fangul," btw, is a meaningless, emphatic phrase. In context, it means "out of my ass".

"Gary Cooper" was an American actor. His best film is High Noon. In that film, Gary Cooper's character is motivated by emotion and duty. He speaks more than any other character in the movie, and emotes more than even his co-star, Grace Kelley. Gary Cooper is neither strong nor silent in High Noon. So much for the strong, silent American type.

Gary Cooper's character is honorable and dutiful--and probably stupid, since he risks a happy life for a town which doesn't care about his, or its own, happiness.

High Noon. Great movie. Not a movie to base your emotional life around, tho.

Anyway, back to Tony's break-down: once he's done shouting out this long, inaccurate monologue about silent Gary Cooper, he storms out of Melfi's office and slams the door behind him.

The camera watches Tony's emotional break-down. The camera is sitting behind Melfi. The camera sees the back of Melfi's chair, the back of Melfi's body, the front of Tony's now-empty green chair, and it sees Melfi's recently-slammed door, which Tony went thru after shouting about emotionless actors.

Melfi, stunned for a moment, does this: She folds her arms behind her head. Even though she's sitting, and clothed, Melfi looks like the statue in her lobby--the green statue of a naked woman, the green statue the same color as the chair Tony decides on when Melfi offers him a seat.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

No Gay Left Behind

Something nice: Dan Savage, the columnist, has started a channel on YouTube aimed at helping gay teens survive their gay teens.

The channel is called "It Gets Better," and is meant to show gay teenagers that life improves, that life isn't always high school drama and relentless teasing. The channel is meant to show that lots of gay people survive high school, survive college, go out into the world and have long, normal lives.

Meaning, the channel is intended to demonstrate that you, Gay Teen USA, can have just as much of a miserable life as your straight counterparts, but you can be proud of your wrecked life rather than ashamed of it.

Because the unwrecked life is not worth living.

Everyone I know, from age 1 to age 100, gay or straight, is a Titanic floating in a sea of icebergs. Everyone I know or have ever known is a person seconds away from crashing into an iceberg. Which is not to say Dan Savage's YouTube channel needs a new title. It's a good title. "It Gets Better." Thing is, it's an incomplete title, since "It Gets Worse" too.

Maybe a better title would be: "It Gets Acceptable, and Sometimes it Gets Mind-Blowingly Wonderful, and Then it Gets Boring, and Then it Gets Awful, and Then it Gets Bearable." Or just, "It Gets On With It."

"The wrecked life gets on with it." Maybe that should be the title of Dan Savage's new YouTube channel.

This week, btw, the US Senate held a vote about homosexual service in the military. Or, rather, a filibuster preventing a vote.

A filibuster is a way of not voting, but has the same results as a vote. A filibuster is an example of "an unwrecked life is not worth living," since the goal of a filibuster is to kill the life of a bill without really examining that bill's life.

The Senate voted about allowing, or disallowing, homosexual men and women to declare their homosexuality while putting their life on the line for a country which treats them as second-class citizens. I saw the vote via C-Span. The Senate milled about for a while as if they were at a cocktail party, mingling and mixing, shaking hands, cheek-kissing, clustering and flowing. And then they delivered a vote maintaining this: Gay and lesbian troops cannot be gay nor lesbian in the US military. They can be dead whenever they wish, but they can't be homosexual.

Honestly, I don't care who is in the military. I don't care if our military is staffed by gay men, chimpanzees, or homophobic geriatrics. What I care about is that the mental health of the men and women is looked after. It is a volunteer military, after all; no one is there because a gun is pointed at them. They're there in spite of those guns pointed at them. They are enlisted because they want to be enlisted (and are homosexual, btw, whether they want to be homosexual or not. The military: volunteer. Homo: drafted). And since they are there, serving and protecting a country, these homosexuals should be allowed the common courtesy of being who they are, even while being a killing machine.

Dan Savage is more concerned about Americans than the US Senate.

Dan Savage, a sex-columnist and editor of The Stranger, is telling teenagers: "It Gets Better."

The US Senate is telling teenagers: "It doesn't change."

"It doesn't change" is of course a lie. It always changes. Not always for the better, of course, but everything changes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Worst Best Book Ever

It took me a month to finish Rick Moody's The Four Fingers of Death, a 800ish page tome based in part on a 1960s B horror movie. While I'm admittedly a very slow, methodical reader, a month for 800 pages is a long time.

Never read Moody before. Had heard of him--The Ice Storm, for instance--but the reason I bought The Four Fingers of Death was because of a Vonnegut connection.

"In memory of Kurt Vonnegut," the book begins.

Thing is, ten pages of Moody's prose is the equivalent of a Vonnegutian paragraph.

The Four Fingers of Death is the worst best book I've ever read. Seriously. Usually when I get into a book enough to realize I hate it--around the 15 page mark--I set it aside. Too many books out there, why bother to waste time on a book I'm not getting into?

This book, tho. Ugh.

Here's a brief breakdown of the book:

Part 1: First person narrative. The author Montese Crandall, living in the near-future, discusses how his wife's illness makes him sad. He's a failed writer, and he collects baseball cards. Crandall describes the near-future of America, which is bleak and poor and full of sand and death. He gets an opportunity to write the novelization of a film. The film is a remake of the 1963 B horror movie The Crawling Hand. Except he doesn't just do a direct novelization of the screenplay--he also writes a prequel.

Part 2: The prequel to the remake of The Crawling Hand. This section is narrated by an astronaut, Jed Richards, participating in the first manned expedition to Mars in 2025, and it doesn't end well. Also, my favorite part.

Part 3: The third part of the book is the (fictional) novelization for the (fictional) remake of The Crawling Hand. Characters include a NASA lackey with a bad comb-over, a doctor researching stem-cells by hacking off bits of his deceased wife's body which he keeps in a freezer in his garage, and a love-stricken talking chimpanzee. And, of course, a disembodied (in the literal sense) hand.

Part 4: First person narrative. We return to Montese Crandall, and... if you make it to the end of the novel, you will cry. The problem is getting to the end of the novel.

I made it to the end. Friday, on the train home from work. The train stopped, I got out, and rather than walk home to finish, I leaned against the railing of the station, completed the book. And the ending of the book had a bit of Vonnegut about it.

Really, the entire book as promised has a bit of Vonnegut about it. Humanism, free-thinking, sardonic, cynical, hopeful, bleak Vonnegut. What The Four Fingers of Death lacks is economy. Moody takes too much space to tell his rather paltry story, distances his unique ideas with miles and miles of sentences.

Some time back, I transcribed one of the more moving passages from the book (here's the link). Well, imagine that passage, which is a digression, over and over again, so that what happens is you get plot plot digression plot digression digression digression ACTION plot digression plot etc. That's The Four Fingers of Death.

It's a wonderful book. Also, terrible.

Want to know how it ends?

Here's the last paragraph:

"Of the time after that, I don't have much to say. I won the chess game, and I began writing these pages."

And here's the first sentence:

"People often ask me where I get my ideas."

Between the beginning and end, you have a mission to Mars, the installation of a colony (and of sculptures!) on the red planet, a visit with the president at Camp David, a few experiments on animals, a taser-gun fight between Mexican wrestlers and a chimp, a menacing amputated arm, teenage sex, and NAFTA.

What you don't have between those sentences is something as profound as 'poo-tee-weet?'.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What I wrote on 9/12/ 2001

I wouldn't write this now. It's kinda terrible. But here it is:


A few weeks before September 11, I was in New York City. Specifically, I was at the World Trade Center subway stop—my intention had been to be uptown at the Guggenheim Museum but being a tourist and a male, I was too proud to ask for directions. I had gotten on the wrong train.

I’d like to say that I remember the Center, that I had some preternatural instinct which not only led me to lower Manhattan instead of uptown, but that I also decided to take in the mammoth towers, committing each interior to memory. But I didn’t. At the time I was too pissed at being 10 miles away from where I wanted to be.

I’ve been to the city twice and each time I’ve been struck by how unsightly the exterior of the tallest buildings on the island were—two identical aluminum tubes, all right angles and unadorned practicality. Unlike some skyscrapers in New York, the Towers had never been romanticized in films or artwork—and for good reason. They were bleak compared to the lattice and spikes of the Empire State Building or the art deco beauty of the Chrysler Building. The Towers dwarfed the rest of the New York cityscape, looming above the financial district like the hollow legs of Ozymandias, but if they were aesthetically limited, they nonetheless commanded attention and respect when seen from the window of a bus approaching the Holland Tunnel, from the deck of a ferry, from the sidewalks of the city. And, indeed, from a plane sweeping into La Guardia.

I walked through the financial district the day I took the wrong train. There were swarms of people—professionals, tourists, shoppers, children, street vendors. Each inch of the sidewalks surrounding the World Trade Center was glutted with the crisp, swaying choreography of daily life in the city, moving in time to the mechanical metronome of busses and taxis in the street. I am having a difficult time grasping the reality that that choreography has been disrupted, that perhaps people I saw that day are now gone, and that the two unsightly Towers are not only wounded but obliterated.

Three thousand lives.

As the nation sifts through the debris of September 11, 2001, I can’t help but feel lost. The dead will be mourned, will be remembered. In the coming days and weeks, the world will be forced to come to grips with this tragedy—and people will be forced to stand accountable.

The landscape of New York City is changed forever, but in a deeper sense the landscape of the nation, too, is forever altered. We can hope that justice will win out over fanaticism and that reason will triumph over reactionary retaliation. But before we do anything else, we should stop, take a look around, and appreciate our surroundings—even if we’re miles away from where we wish to be.

Happy 9th, September 11th!


September 11th didn't exist as a date til the year 2001.

Before 2001, the calendar went from September 10 directly to September 12. There was no September 11.

Also, there were no wars nor religions. Before September 11, 2001, people were just people, and days were just days. And we moved in our singular ways thru these days, lacking knowledge or understanding of evil, and then September 11, 2001, happened. September 11 crashed into our calendars and blew September 10 and September 12 apart--blew a hole so wide in our calendars that we can't erase it. It's all we talk about, this September 11 hole. It's what now defines us as a nation, and it's a hole in our calendar we keep trying to fill, an empty day we keep plugging bodies and wreckage and sentiment and money into, hoping it'll one day be filled solid. Hoping it'll one day be a real day and not some empty hole in the calendar between 9/10 and 9/12.

A few things we've thrown into the September 11 calendar-hole: personal freedom, freedom of the press, two wars, troop lives, political confidence, an economy, dignity, reason, civility. The hole remains, of course, because it is insatiable, which is exactly why it had to exist in the first place: September 11, 2001, willed itself into existence, like the universe itself. September 11, 2001, wasn't a freak of human error, or nature, or a lucky shot. When you have a country inclined (reclined?) to Jim Belushi sitcoms and double-wide hamburgers, there's a void to be filled. Something is missing, and needs to exist. The void manifest itself as September 11.

So we have this day, which insinuated itself into our calender 9 years ago and refuses to leave, and on this day we do several things: we lash out at religions, without lashing out at religion in general; we mourn; we celebrate public service without truly understanding it; we eulogize two hideous buildings (the two late, lamented fangs of the New York skyline); we miss the people who were living up until September 11 willed itself into existence; and we hate. We feel justified in our hate because September 11 extended our miserable year by one day--before September 11, our year certainly seemed shorter.

Story: I know a guy who was there when 9/11 blew 9/10 and 9/12 apart. The guy was in the wreckage and carnage. He was there in the dust. And here's what he told me once, over dinner, after a few drinks. He leaned in close, so that the dinky candle's flame on our dinner-ruined table made his face glow in the same way a well-placed flashlight makes a face glow during a camp horror story. He said, "It felt like the world was falling down. All I could see were shards of glass and paper and dust. But, logically, I knew the only thing falling were the buildings. Still tho. Man. It seemed as if the entire world had collapsed, and so that's what I took away from it. That's what everyone took away from it."

What he meant was that since 9/11 horned its way between 9/10 and 9/12, a lot of people have been convinced the world was falling down. All people see are dust and broken glass and paper. This is an illusion of perspective. This isn't true.

The world's still around, not flattened.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

That other championship season

Three things before you read this entry:

1) I'm breaking my own blog code by writing about family in a less-than-amusing way.

2) I love my brother, and am very happy to have him in my life.

3) People who prefer writing over talking are terrible people. It's very passive-aggressive to write instead of confront. Shame on me.

Now, the entry:

My senior year of high school. Parents still married. Two car garage. I'd go out with friends at night, and return home, and park outside the (closed) two-car garage, open the side door, and expect to see one car or another gone forever. Except Mom got pregnant, which was unexpected. Two car garage and a pregnant Mom--both full for a while.

And then there was this: convincing everyone I was happy to have a sibling. I didn't know how to say my anxiety stemmed more from the recurring astonishment of both cars parked in the garage than it did from the fact that I was destined, fingers crossed no complications, to be a brother. During the pregnancy, I hoped the kid would keep my parents together, and sweated it out, and was constantly accused of not wanting the new kid when all I really wanted was.... but anyway.

The day Alex was born, Mom and Dad rushed off to the hospital. I stayed home for a while, knowing labor would be lengthy, and listened to the White album. Excited. My plan was to arrive at the hospital, film the birth, and prove I was thrilled with being a brother, except what actually happened was this: I arrived, video camera on my shoulder, at the hospital. Marched down the hall to the room where my mom was in labor. Heard her screams. Heard Dad begging her to push. Heard doctors and nurses scrambling about. I stared at the door, and thought, "Jesus, they're pulling one of the cars out of the garage, and I don't want to see it."

Some kids force their parents to get together, and some kids force their parents to stay together. Usually both kids fail. I forced my parents to get together, and Alex forced them to stay together, for a time. We both failed.

Kids come at the beginning of a marriage or they come at the end of a marriage, and in the end all you are left with is a marriage, with kids. The kids remain. The marriage is beside the point.

Keeping it simple.

I love Alex. The day he was born was one of the best days of my life, and the day he came home from the hospital? Wonderful. I still remember him in his crib, pushed into the sunlight leaking thru a window, his tiny hands cradling his tiny feet, stuffed animals surrounding him like an attending court, some animals slumped against the rails, some rigidly upright. I was grateful I had, finally, someone to share in the experience of family, someone bound to me in a unique way. A tiny child, yellow in the sun, holding his feet, to share my parents and my parentage.

But the two-car garage surprise continued. Alex was two when my parents finally gave it up, and the two-car garage had an empty space for my Mazda 626.

18 years is a long time between Child Number 1 and Child Number 2, and a lot of marriage from one kid to the next, and things change, people change, and when you have your first kid in the early 1970s and the second in the early 1990s, there's no way you can expect the two kids to have a similar upbringing.

Hell, even if you have two kids 9 months apart, the upbringing will be different. Genes, like marriages, change over time.

Alex was a brash, loud kid. I was quiet. He liked action figures. I liked paper dolls. He liked sports. I liked reading. He grew up with step-parents. I grew up with parents. I sealed the marriage. He was supposed to save it.

Confession: Every day in high school, the principal would announce, via the PA, in a crackly voice, the football team's stats: high scorers, winning touchdowns. He'd announce who won this or that 4H contest, this or that science contest, this or that spelling bee, this or that cheerleading contest. My junior year of high school, when I won an award for writing from Columbia University--the top award for high school fiction writing in the nation against some stiff competition--I didn't get an announcement. Sure, the principal had been in NYC with me when the award was announced. Sure, the principal had been the first to point out that I'd won. And sure, it was the first award I'd ever actually won, since up til then I'd been considered a half-wit or something. But I'd won it, and won it the following year as well, and not once, mixed in with the announcements of athletes winning this or that, or science geeks winning this or that, or band or drama geeks winning this or that, did the principal mention, via the crackly PA system, that I'd won my own award. And yes, I'd sit at my desk each day, listening to the morning crackly PA, and expect to hear, "And Marc Mitchell was awarded first prize in experimental fiction...."

And then my brother: articles written about him in the local paper. High school, he's throwing a football, and I'm getting emails from people I haven't spoken to in decades: "You're brother is amazing! He moves on the field like... Fucking amazing!" Dad sent me videos of Alex the Football Player. Mom sent me emails. I--who never gave a shit about football--go to actual games, high school games, and watch my little brother work his magic, sew his way thru Tetris-like walls of other high school kids, come out the other side, throw the touchdown pass.

Another confession: I wept uncontrollably the day I moved from AL to NY. I remember hugging Alex--then 11--and trying to say good-bye to him while standing next to a U-Haul containing everything Greg and I owned, and crying so hard that I thought I'd break him while holding him, and trying not to cry because, jesus, who wants to be weak at a time like that, at a time when you're saying goodbye to your younger brother? Just the day before, he'd written me a note telling me he'd always love me, and hoped to hear from me, and that he'd never forget me, and next to the U-Haul I'd already fell apart in front of him. I hated leaving him behind. I hated making him scared about the future, and hated making him wonder if he'd ever see me again.

A few weeks ago, Alex admitted to Dad, then later to Mom, he'd gotten a girl pregnant. The girl is still in high school; Alex is in college.

Weirdly, the girl recently went off to get herself fitted for a prom dress--as if she'll fit in it when prom comes around next spring. She still hasn't told her parents, and Alex is spending more time with her parents "to get them to like" him. As if they'll like him, once they find out what's happened.

He's no longer playing football--even tho he got a scholarship for it. Football, for most of his life, has been a Very Big Deal, and now, he's done with it, tho Dad claims that sometimes, when he comes home from work, he finds DVDs of Alex's old games around the DVD player, and Alex asleep on the couch, remote in hand, an old game playing out on the TV.

Alex has a weed habit. No shame in that! I have no problem with the consumption of weed--I don't do it because it makes me super-paranoid and psychotic, but recognize that others deal with the weed-effect just fine. Except Alex... doesn't deal with it well. He's irresponsible. He borrowed Dad's car, and left weed in it. Dad does not need to be pulled over while there's weed in the car.

Also, Alex borrowed This Young Woman's Vagina, and left seed in it. The baby. That's an issue.

Here's what I know about The Baby: Mama had several home pregnancy tests and all of them have come back positive. Mama's afraid--because, jesus, she's still in high school so of course she's afraid--to go to a doctor. Mama hasn't told her parents. Alex spends his time weeping and pretending everything is normal, spends his time trying to alienate our parents while wooing Mama's parents. The young woman is spotting (spotting her panties, not spotting weights). No doctor has been consulted. No doctor has checked in on the baby. No doctor has verified there is a baby. No doctor has told this young woman how to care for the hypothetical/probable baby Mama is carrying.

No parent has decided to step in and say, "For fuck sake, that's my grandchild so I must protect it."

No future uncle--me--has pitched a goddamn fit and demanded Alex man up and take the young woman to a physician for a check-up for the love of god because spotting can't be good. No future uncle has pointed out that, jesus christ, if you aren't going to abort it then take care of it dammit.

Here's all I think about: Alex in the sun, holding his tiny feet, and me not being jealous of him. Even tho Princeton desperately pursued him last year because of his talent, and my own talent didn't even get me an announcement over a PA in Alabama 20 years ago.

I love my brother. I want the best life for him. But christ, I assume I'll also like the nephew/niece.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Blogger

Greg yells this at me quite a lot: "But you're a progressive!"

What he means when he yells this is that I should stop bitching about progressives' bitching. Usually, when he yells this at me, it means I've gone off on a tangent about how progressives are whiny, tantrum-prone dumbasses refusing to see beyond their immediate needs. Which means we've gotten into another political-based discussion about how bloggers and pundits for "our side" consistently blame Obama for not making the Earth spin backwards, reversing time and altering political history.

As I've said--and have said for nearly a decade--the main goal of voting is not to keep one's party in power for legislative reasons; the main reason of voting is to control the Supreme Court. Any liberal law passed by a liberal majority can be undone with appeals to the Supreme Court.

This wasn't always how it worked, of course.

Warren Burger, for instance, was a conservative. When LBJ managed to pass the liberal-inclined civil rights act... well, let's just say that if the act was passed today, current Chief Justice Roberts would find a way to overturn it. Until a few years ago, being a justice meant putting aside political ideology. Now, at least for the right-leaning justices, it's an absolute must to toss precedent out the window in favor of ideology.

Progressives want everything changed immediately ("But you're a progressive!" Greg yells at me). Which is not how change happens--change comes by way of a focus on a singular goal, not by a broad sweep of the hand and a declaration that change has occurred. It's not pleasant, but that's how it is. Change: slow. Ideology: quick, but passing. Change: Civil rights. Ideology: McCarthyism.

The Democrats face a slaughter in November. Why? Certainly not because they've failed to do the things they promised to do--they passed health care, they passed extensions for unemployment, they ostensibly extricated us from the quagmire of Iraq, they keep pushing major legislation down the pike and into law, while starting talks between Israel and Palestine, while moving forward on gay marriage and gay soldiers, while, you know, progressing. Half-assed, certainly--no public option, for instance, and too cautious on gay rights--but it's movement forward.

The slaughter in November is more about the progressive base whining than it is about the Democrats' ability to get shit done. John Aravosis, for instance, is absolutely apoplectic on a regular basis about how DADT and DOMA haven't been repealed, and this apoplexy taints his opinion of Barack Obama's administration. Each day, I check out americablog.org, and each day I wish I hadn't.

It'd be nice if Obama and Democrats had forced thru a public option for health care, and repealed DADT and DOMA. Really. I wanted them to do those things. But the fact is, any movement on any of those very noble and grand concepts would be undone by the Supreme Court--not because of reason but because of ideology. All it'd take is one health care worker or one soldier to file a lawsuit, and whatever legislative action done to advance the idea of decent health care or decency towards homosexuals would be undone by Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and... that other guy. Alito. Then progressives would be stuck not only with a legislative failure but a legal hurdle, stuffed and mounted by the Roberts court, to undo with many more briefs and motions.

Democrats are facing a slaughter in November. Really. Not because Republicans have ideas or direction--they're pretty much done as a party--but because there's no enthusiasm among democratic voters. And the reason there's no enthusiasm is because progressives are spoiled, angry, reactionary people who think two years of Obama should've undone 8 years of Bush/Cheney, and petulantly refuse to participate in the political process.

Bush/Cheney. Please consider that duo. Please consider the things we lost during their reign: personal freedom became a luxury, gay rights became a joke, corporate interests took precedence over individual rights, religious tolerance became more vital than secular development (unless it involved Muslims, in which case religious tolerance took a back-seat to Christian fear).

Remember George H.W. Bush crying--actually crying!--because of his son's dishonorable management of the Oval Office?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Car Bombs

From time to time, usually in Midtown but not always, a piece of Manhattan is cleared out--bright yellow tape is strung up, cops are dispatched, and one block or another, or several, is closed to traffic. Buildings are evacuated. Sidewalks are vacated. Streets are washed clean.

All the animals come out at night.

This usually happens during business hours, while people are toiling away at workplace workstations doing whatever it is people do while earning a living. At night, the animals come out, too busy going about their business to cause a multi-block forbidden-zone fuss.

A man takes a job, you know? And that job - I mean, like that - That becomes what he is.

Kathleen Caronna, in 1997, was an investment analyst enjoying the terminally unenjoyable Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade when The Cat in the Hat float humped a light pole and knocked it over onto Caronna. Caronna spent a month in a coma (I know, I know. It was serious). Nine years later, Caronna was minutes away from her home when a Cirrus SR20 plane piloted by Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle slammed into her bedroom.

If she'd been home at the time--she nearly was!--her last thoughts as the engine slammed thru the ceiling and pushed her across the room into the wall might've been, Jesus, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade almost did me in; now this Yankee is trying to kill me. I've got to get out of New York before the Intrepid starts firing on me.

You know, like - You do a thing and that's what you are. Like I've been a cabbie for thirteen years. Ten years at night. I still don't own my own cab. You know why? Because I don't want to. That must be what I want. To be on the night shift drivin' somebody else's cab. You understand?

A few weeks ago, a Muslim cabbie was attacked by a drunk white guy. It's true! The cabbie pulled to the curb, allowed this drunk white guy to get into his car, pulled away from the curb, and suddenly found himself dodging knife-slashes.

Here's what happened:

Drunk white guy to cabbie: Are you a Muslim?

Cabbie to drunk white guy: Yes.

Drunk white guy to cabbie: Consider this a check-point! [stab slash slash stab]

(While not as good as some of Schwarzenegger's pre-kill phrases, 'Consider this a check-point' was the drunk white guy's attempt at a witty coup de grĂ¢ce.)

I mean, you become - You get a job, you become the job. One guy lives in Brooklyn. One guy lives in Sutton Place. You got a lawyer. Another guy's a doctor. Another guy dies. Another guy gets well. People are born, y'know?

Not too long ago, a "successful psychologist specializing in couples therapy" attacked her own husband with two fists full of kitchen knives. The couple lived on the Upper West Side, in a nice apartment. Here's what the successful psychologist specializing in couples therapy screamed before going at her husband like a drunken white guy with a disgust of Muslims: "Get out! Get Out!" Less clever than "Consider this a check-point," but certainly better than "Let's kick some ice."

Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.


This one night, I'm riding in the back of an ambulance, rushing down the West Side Highway. I'm sitting on a bench. The only windows are the windows to my left, in the double doors of the ambulance, and all I can see out of them is the car tail-gaiting us. The car's skin is dark, and goes from blue to red to white as the ambulance's lights run their cycle.

There's rain. To my right, I can hear the ambulance's windshield smashing thru the rain, wipers smacking to and fro, the rain sliding along the side of the ambulance. Below, the wheels cutting thru the rain collecting on the asphalt. And I know, tho I can't see it, behind me is the rain falling on the Hudson, dotting its surface like a volley of bullets against the brick of a fortress.

Greg is on the bed at my knees. He's both sick and not sick, well and not well, sitting up, collapsing, lulled by the rain smashing into the roof of the ambulance, and awakened by it.

There's a paramedic with us. The paramedic is sitting on a bench opposite me, taking Greg's vitals.

"He seems okay," Paramedic tells me.

"I am," Greg responds, forhead beaded with sweat.

When we pull into Roosevelt Hospital, Paramedic tells me to wait. Paramedic is joined by another, and they pull G out, stretcher and all, and roll him away. I hop out of the ambulance, and while it is raining pretty hard, I am dry because I'm sheltered by a suggestion of roof. The rain, tho, is collecting in a pool at my feet. A small stream. My shoes are covered in a slimy dark skin of water, rushing past me to get to a gutter, or a river, or a drain, or anything that will let it reunite with more water and not be stuck, as rain in cities usually is, in a stream of filth: a stream of disgusting detritus rushing away in search of a drain to a river and to cleansing freedom.

Anyway, shit happens. In NY, we have car bombs and planes crashing into our apartments and giant cartoon cats trying to kill us. We have couples therapists stabbing husbands, white guys giving out random checkpoints, and rain water looking for a place to get clean.

And police tape marking off blocks and blocks.

And here's the thing: You won't be safe. Ever. You can live here, in this paranoid, schizo city, and you won't be safe, no matter what. Suspicious vehicles come and go, explosions are thwarted or not, but in the end we're all Kathleen Carrona. If the Cat in the Hat isn't trying to kill us, a pitcher for the Yankees is. String up all the police tape you want.



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