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

Monday, September 30, 2013

Breaking the last one

First off, spoilers. Secondly: duh, spoilers. Thirdly: spoilers are not confined to only one show.

Much ink--virtual or no--has been spilled over the trend in television known as 'the anti-hero,' which is a semi-fancy way of saying most male characters on television right now are assholes. Anti-heroes have been around since the beginning of television, of course--Jack Benny was, I would argue, one of the first popular, if largely benign, TV anti-heroes--but Tony Soprano really kicked up the movement, almost single-handedly launching the trend which now dominates most TV series.

When writing about this trend, it is obligatory to tip the hat to James Gandolfini's near-flawless portrayal of Tony Soprano, and then applaud Tony's creator, David Chase, who guided the mafioso through six solid--if occasionally uneven--seasons of The Sopranos on HBO. Fine. Why buck convention, even if it means ignoring HBO's earlier series of male assholes (literally and figuratively), Oz, a show which centered around hardened criminals doing harder time.

For simplicity, I'm gonna focus on three recent shows--not only, to be honest, for simplicity; honestly, these are the three shows I'm most familiar with (I'll skip Dr. House, no doubt an asshole and a hero, but a stagnant one and therefore less interesting). There's a connection between the three shows I'm writing about that is missing, for the most part, from House. The shows: The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. The connection: a change in worldview, and a poor skill set in place for the three main male characters to cope with the changes.

Which is not to say the three men--Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White--don't try to comprehend the new worlds in which they find themselves. They do try, or at least delude themselves about the attempts.

In Mad Men, Don listens to the latest release by The Beatles and confesses not to understand why anyone would like it; in The Sopranos, almost every part of the mundane new modern world Tony encounters is perplexing, strange, sometimes threatening; Walter White, of course, has the change within himself, and cancer eats at his body just as relentlessly as the new drug world he finds himself in eats at his soul.

Perhaps the popularity of such characters has something to do with our own fear of a world that is changing quickly. Who knows. I do know that the rise of The Sopranos matched, step for step, the pace of the internet into becoming an almost inescapable aspect of life, like it or not (a good portion of us, surprisingly, do not like at all, thanks).

Breaking Bad debuted in 2008, a year which famously saw both a woman and an African-American man run viable Presidential campaigns, with the African-American going on to run a successful
campaign against a lily-white war veteran of a certain age, and an attractive, comfortably dumb younger woman. When the Black guy won, a good portion of the American population promptly lost their minds, raging like Walter that they, not some Black guy, were the ones who knock.

Naturally, if you're knocking, you're outside wanting to be in. And these angry white people, mostly men, aren't unlike Walter, forever outside trying to get in, and then, upon gaining entry, promptly trashing the place (blowing up an old folks home, setting a meth lab on fire, shooting countless hosts).

Word to the wise: If angry white people come a-knocking, perhaps turn off your lights and pretend to be out running errands.

So what of the popularity of Mad Men? If we can (superficially!) tie The Sopranos to the technological anxiety bubbling beneath the surface of pre- and post-millennial America (Sopranos debuted in 1999, after all, the year of Y2K), and if we can connect the enduring fascination with consummate son-of-a-bitch Walter White to Tea Party insecurity, how do we account for what, in my opinion, is a terrible show made good by virtue of its style?

And yes, Mad Men is a bad show. Let's just get that out of the way. I hate-watch the shit out of it. Maybe when the final season starts up, I'll also hate-write about it, but for now, it's enough for me to say: Matthew Weiner, you're writing schlock so please stop acting as if you're fucking William Shakespeare with a cool cast.

Anyway. Mad Men. What can we connect it to to make a superficial, broad statement about change and fear? Mad Men is a show about media, and advertising within media, so it stands to reason Mad
Men is about the decline of conventional media outlets (networks, newspapers, magazines, radio)  and the rise of upstarts (blogs, Netflix). As our options expand, the technological anxiety we felt in the late 1990s and early 2000s has shifted to the fractured way our society consumes information. Don, quickly becoming old-fashioned and out-dated as Mad Men marches through the 1960s, embodies the dread some of us have of becoming too fractured. No longer do we go to one of the three nightly news programs, as we all have our own general news outlet from which to choose, each of which confirms or rejects our own personal worldview. When confirmed, we feel at peace. When rejected, we grab the nearest bottle of whiskey, divorce our wife of a decade or so, marry our secretary, and have a fever dream every other day.

So. Breaking Bad. The finale, as you may know, was last night. In it, a monster regained a bit of humanity (it is claimed by some, anyway, that Walter regained his humanity--I don't think so; he held two innocent former co-workers hostage, coerced them into doing his bidding, murdered several (admittedly awful) human beings; and bravely evaded justice by suggesting his wife use the final resting place of his brother-in-law as a legal bargaining chip).

The last episode of Breaking Bad was not, in my opinion obviously, an exercise in the hero becoming an anti-hero becoming a hero. Certainly he took a bullet for his former cook-partner Jesse, but he did originally intend to murder the guy, only to discover Jesse had already paid for his own sins. Walter is fine for sin-paying by others. For himself, not so much. Despite the terminal--imminently terminal--nature of his lung cancer, Walt fails to do the right thing, give himself up, and once and for all get Skyler, his wife, off the hook.

And what of Skyler? The final scene between the husband and wife was an echo of an echo of an echo. How many times have we seen them discussing matters both serious and frivolous while sitting in a kitchen? This final time, of course, found them sharing a conversation in a different kitchen, a kitchen stupefyingly more depressing than the depressing White house kitchen. Skyler chain-smokes. Skyler does not smile, does not express even a hint of joy. She is clearly broken and empty. When she tells Walt not to pretend he did all of it--the meth, the money, the murder--for her or the family, she has no reaction to speak of when Walt responds, "I did it for me. I liked it." Only when Walt hands over the lottery ticket and explains to her the significance of the numbers--finally, a show that explains what the lottery numbers mean!--do we see any real emotion from her.

But no emotion from Walt. Skyler still has an ounce of herself. Walt and Heisenberg are both long dead. What is left is Mr. Lambert, an amalgamated man who is all parts but no sum.

It's hard to call Mr. Lambert even an anti-hero by the time he drives onto the Nazi compound. Certainly, anyone who kills neo-Nazi meth-dealers is, under normal circumstances, something less than a hero but something a lot more than a villain. Yet Mr. Lambert is the author of the entire endgame. Walt may have created these Nazis and handed Jesse to them, but Walt, forever powerless, left them to their own devices in order to disappear into the snowy woods of New Hampshire. When Mr. Lambert drives his car onto the compound and enters the KKK Klubhaus, it is as something more than a villain, something less than a hero. Mr. Lambert is the worst possible human being: he is a writer, taking over the treatise on impotence Walt left unfinished.

Everything works out for Mr. Lambert. The neo-Nazis search his car's interior but neglect the trunk. They take away his keys, but place them in a location easily accessible to him. They take umbrage at being called liars just as they are about to shoot him in the head, and bring in his former partner Jesse--beaten and manacled--to confirm the fact that Jesse is their slave, not their partner. And they all neatly die, just as Mr. Lambert scripted. In a final flourish, perhaps a sublimated expression of guilt, Mr. Lambert the writer even allows Jesse to exact his own revenge. Mr. Lambert spares Opie Hitler (Todd) from the hail of bullets, and lets Jesse break the guy's ginger neck.

Mr. Lambert even scripts his own demise. Ever the control freak--the one trait shared by Walter White, Heisenberg, and Mr. Lambert--one of the bullets from the Lambertmobile's murderous trunk-gun fatally wounds him. And how does it wound him? It wounds him by slamming into his body as he throws himself onto a confused Jesse. Mr. Lambert gets to feel himself a hero one last time by not only sparing Jesse's life (a life he himself ruined in a most spectacular way, mind), but by giving his own life for Jesse's.

Mr. Lambert also gives Jesse a demented happy ending, decreeing that Jesse drive off into the night, cackling like the madman he no doubt truly is after everything he's been through. Then he gives himself a happy ending: Mr. Lambert writes that he goes into the meth lab of his own design, lovingly stroke the cooking containers, and then die peacefully just before the police swarm in to bring him to justice.

Again, the one trait shared by all three characters Bryan Cranston so brilliantly played was their need to control a situation (remember, one very clear habit of the vessel known as Walter White was that he took on the traits of those he'd murdered). Walter never controlled anything, as much as he wanted to. He bluffed and blundered, but he was a helpless man in an unhelpful universe. Heisenberg, who eventually murdered Walter White, also sought to control the events and the people around him, with mixed results, sometimes even adopting the impotent cunning of the helpless Walt to find the best way to bluff, but usually relying on an uncanny ability to manipulate through a stoic, adopted ruse of coldness and reputation. Mr. Lambert got everything right. He inherited from Walter the ingenuity, and inherited from Heisenberg the psychotic ability to detach from any situation. Mr. Lambert's ending was his own choice, made possible by the two men--Walter White and Heisenberg--who had come before him.

In the end, Mr. Lambert was, sort of, the legacy of Walter White.

I'd wager, also, that we're done for a while with the anti-hero trend in television. Not completely, of course, but Mr. Lambert, aka Heisenberg, aka Walter White, aka Mr. White, scripted the eventual demise of that trend. Quite apart from cutting to black just as the bullet hits the brain (as in The Sopranos), or ending with a no-doubt lonely, heart-diseased man dwindling away as the comfort of the Eisenhower era melts far into the past, leaving only Women's Liberation, Stonewall, and even more Beatles albums (I'm guessing--Mad Men hasn't yet began it's final act), Mr. Lambert addressed the issue head-on: change is inevitable, and one must use what one has to resist it. There may be no redemption, but if one desires it enough, there's a way to plan ahead and force the world to be as you wish even beyond the grave. Which is exactly what Mr. Lambert did.

Junior will get his money, laundered through the successful, despised couple who stole your research (even though they didn't). Skyler will use your benevolent (cough) gift of a lottery ticket to find something better than money: she'll find closure in the decayed bodies of Hank and Gomez; even better, she might find a way out of the legal predicament you put her in to begin with. Nazis will die--very bad men who had it coming. Your partner will escape both his pain and his own justice. And you get to die in the temple you created for yourself, smiling.

Not even the great Tony Soprano pulled off that hat trick.

Addendum: It does interest me--in relation to Breaking Bad's popularity being tied to the Tea Party and angry white men facing a changing world--that Walt's initial foes were Latino--brown Chileans and Mexicans--but when faced with true racism, Walt/Heisenberg/Mr. Lambert realized just how disastrous his choices were. By accepting the help of the neo-Nazis--angry white guys with no real direction until HeisenWhite gave them direction--it became all to clear to Walt that he himself was now beyond hope. The same trend has happened with the Republican party (bet you didn't think I could make this political).

Sunday, September 29, 2013

We all break bad from time to time

One of the best shows ever to hit television comes to an end tonight. Maybe you've heard? I mean, it's been mentioned a few times, both by myself and by about 200,000 other people. Breaking Bad. It's a show. Look it up. Maybe Netflix it or something.

First time I heard of the show, I was going through this, which I've written about numerous times so won't dwell on it. Let's just say it seemed awkward for me to watch a show where the plot centered on the dad from Malcolm in the Middle apparently opening fire during a family vacation to the Grand Canyon. Each website I visited had a banner ad for Breaking Bad. Each magazine I read featured a glowing but qualified review of the pilot episode.

Two previous television shows I loved had recently ended: The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. Both Sopranos and Six Feet represented two sides of the same coin for me--a coin of family business--and when they ended, I realized I'd started watching both while in Alabama, working for the family, and that I'd moved on to a town far away, not working for the family.

And when I saw the first ads for Breaking Bad, I realized I was now out of the family business. My responsibility was to someone I'd chosen rather than the people who had raised me.

Which is to say, when I decided to watch the first episode of Breaking Bad, I brought a lot of baggage to the episode, and didn't want to send up any red flags, as my husband Greg had been very hurt by my meth interlude. A lot of people had been hurt by it, really, but only one person lived with me. Greg. And I didn't want Greg to think I was fetishizing meth.

But Breaking Bad does not offer up meth as a fetish. Meth is clearly a destructive element. Even in the first episode, it is made clear that Walt's choice to cook meth might as well be Walt's choice to do meth. There's little moral wiggle-room right from the beginning of the show. Meth is bad, mmkay? Cooking it or doing it, the choice is the same. No bathtub will wash you clean.

I watched the first season in blissful silence, not telling anyone I was watching, processing my own private demons. Greg--always worried about me and suspicious, rightfully, of anything I did--had no clue this show was helping me put things into perspective. Just as Sopranos and Six Feet helped me understand family, Breaking Bad helped me understand marriage and myself.

Over five seasons, Breaking Bad has helped me understand I am, for instance, not the one who knocks. I am not a bitch. I am just a guy who is fine with a spouse, a dog, and a struggle from week to week to make ends meet.

I am not someone who will try to cook meth, do meth, or watch someone choke on their own vomit.

In short: I am not a bad person.

I will never sit beside my own pool and watch either ducks or pink teddy bears float in it. I will never endure a montage of myself cooking meth or everyone I know dying while Sia sings.

When I finally showed Greg an episode of Breaking Bad, I prefaced the showing with, "Look, I am sorry." It was embarrassing for me to tell him I'd been watching such a brilliant piece of television since I'd already scared him by living the opposite of what the show was about--I'd already admitted to being a consumer of Walter White's product.

Four years after that, there is a last episode. And nothing to replace it, really.



Friday, September 13, 2013

McCain Pravdas on Putin's Gray Lady

So fortunate to have Senator John McCain to guest on my blog just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin. Today, it was announced that Senator John McCain would write an op-ed for Pravda in response to President Vladimir Putin's New York Times column.

My fellow Russians, I could have once--at one time--been your president. So I'll call you 'my fellow Russians' even if I am not a fellow Russian. Truth be told, it's not clear if I'm a fellow American either, much like the current American President who beat me in 2008. I was, you see, born in Panama.

Columnist John McCain
Truly, because of my Panamarican birth, I like to think I'm a citizen of all nations, and that I failed to be president in every one of them. So, when in Turkey, I am amongst my fellow Turkensians. When in Germany, I am a fellow Germanian. When in Greece, I'm a fellow Greecan. I am of the world, and the world is of me.

Last week, your true president--who defeated me in an election I didn't really run because I didn't register the proper papers--wrote an op-ed for the American "newspaper of record," the New York Times. The Gray Lady. "All the news that's fit to print." An important American paper in an important American city. Your president published this op-ed on 9/11/2013.

September 11, as I'm sure you Ruskies are aware, is a very important day in the American calendar. There are, no doubt, important days for you as well, but here in America, September 11 is so important that foreign countries would do well to keep silent. If I were president of Russia, I would know that, I assure you.

But as I said, I lost that election because of improper paper filing. Another election I lost was the one I ran in 2008, against Barack Obama. Also I lost one against former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. And one against Queen Elizabeth II, but as my advisers assure me, that wasn't really a loss as no election took place. I still campaigned for the Queenidentcy, but polling numbers were not in my favor. It's a shame.

I would have made a great Queen of England and her territories.

Sometimes I wonder if perhaps Panama would elect me.

Anyway. Russians. I am writing to you in this open letter because, as the person who elevated Sarah Palin to such a lofty position by nominating her as my running mate--and thereby sparing you all of the discomfort she must have caused by constantly staring at you from her kitchen window--I feel you owe me a favor.

Elect me. Please. Issue a recall on your current president. Allow me to rule your country in a fine and respectful way, in a way that does not insult the office of the Russian president by stooping to Maureen O'Dowd levels column-writing. As your president, I swear never to appear in the New York Times' op-ed pages. I will write for Pravda.

It is disgusting that your primary representative--that one--should debase himself by running to the Times to give voice to the international community. Trust me. I know. The Times endorsed my opponent in my previous election (I forget which election. I think the one against Angela Merkle. Or maybe against Xi Jinping).

When I ran against Barack Obama, I ran not for myself, but for the presidency of Iran. And I selected as my running mate a woman who could not hold her own water, but instead held the water for everyone else--seriously, it was rather amazing how selfless she was; give her a bottle of water and tell her, "This is you water," and she would drop it immediately, but give her a bottle of water and tell her, "This water is for Jesus, and all who know Him," and she would cling to it for days.

I stand by my choice of Sarah Palin. And I stand by my determination to be president of a country--any country--before I die.

Like the old song says, "Panama. Pana-ma-ha. Panama."

Thank you for your attention, Russians.

Oh, a final thing. Your president said Americans are not exceptional. I disagree. Americans managed to commit a massive genocide that would leave Hitler woozy at the knees, and managed to steal and sell the people of another continent, without consequence. That's pretty exceptional. No UN intervention, no foreign powers calling in drone strikes.

Also, if any Native American reservations or countries in Africa--except Egypt--are ready for a new leader, let me know. I'm senator of Arizona--I'm happy to preside over anywhere.



Thursday, September 12, 2013

Vlad the Implier

Sochi: Land of Milk and Money
Putin did a guest post for me. I'm honored.

Recent events surrounding the Winter Olympics here in my country have inspired me to write a bit about what I plan for the homosexuals of the world. And for the heterosexuals.

It is true. I do not like homosexuals. But I am only one man. I am just like you, and have no real power over the individual loves of each and every human on earth. Try as I may, I cannot physically insert myself into each person's life. I can only make laws, and those laws state that homosexual propaganda is a bad thing.

These laws are limited to the borders of my country. Russia. They are not international laws, and should cause no concern to any other nation. We have this in common: I too wish Johnny Weir would keep silent.

You know, when I was a teenager, I knew a homosexual. For the convenience of my American audience, I will say his name was Todd, because watching Americans try to pronounce Russian names is a painful process, and I do not like to endure pain. I do not endure pain. The only time I allow myself to feel pain is when Americans are pronouncing Russian names.

To observe Americans spelling Russian names is worse. More painful to me. The Cyrillic alphabet is not so very difficult to decipher, Americans. Must you act as if it is an illiterate, limbless child attempting Morse code? It is a beautiful script, our Russian alphabet. Elegant. You do not have the monopoly on readable fonts.

We do not have Comic Sans in Russia. We do not need it.

Todd--not his real name, as I said, but it is the name you will call him by--liked men. He liked men so much he wanted to join with other men, to become something more than himself, which is an abomination. I did not hate Todd. When I killed him, I felt his sickness leave him, and he was at peace. It is because I loved him--as a human, "no homo," as you Americans say--that I did this. Todd's last words were, "My sickness is leaving me. Thank you, Vladimir. Thank you. You have cured me." The remarkable thing about his last words was that I did not hear them, as I had crushed his windpipe with my bare hands. But I felt them in my mind.

"Thank you, Vladimir. Thank you for murdering me."

This was Todd
It was a beautiful moment for both of us. As was Todd's funeral. A beautiful moment that made me who I am today. And made Todd who he is today. Which is to say, without that moment, I would not be President of Russia, and he would not be relieved of his homosexuality in a grave just outside of Leningrad. I mean, Saint Petersburg. Saint Petersburg.

So now we are having three things in Russia that involve Americans. We are having the Olympics. We are having Snowden. And we are having homosexual corrections, which do not really involve Americans from our Russian point of view but do seem to invite American homosexual attention. Your gays stopped buying Russian vodka as a form of protest. I am pleased with this. The less drunk Western homosexuals, the better. They will be less likely to breed if they are sober.

About the Olympics: We will not tolerate homosexual athletes. Any show of homosexual solidarity breaks our current laws--we do not send our athletes to your country and tell them to rob banks or microwave kittens, so please do not send your athletes here and tell them to protest our homosexual reformation laws. It is rude. Respect our laws just as, in Atlanta and the Salt Lake, we respected your laws. We did not let our pole-vaulting team kill a single one of your fruity diving team members. Quid pro quo, America.

About Syria: I have already announced my intention to solve the Syrian issue. Lay off. If you prevent my friend Assad from gassing--or not gassing!--his own people, I will call an audible, and replay Colin Powell's UN argument for invading Iraq on a loop. This audible will be broadcast from one of our many Russian satellites, and will interfere with the series finale of Breaking Bad, as well as the season premiere of How I Met Your Mother. I predict there will be riots in the street. I will also--because America has a proud and active intelligentsia--replace each copy of Thomas Pynchon's wonderful new novel with the autobiography of George W. Bush, just because I cannot both call for an end to chemical warfare in Syria and simultaneously poison you all with what I have come to call Litvineko Solution.

Finally: About Snowden. I do not know of any Snowden, so please do not ask about him. Just do me and my country the honor of not being homosexual, and of doing as I say when I say it.

In conclusion, I must add that you Americans are not exceptional. If you were exceptional, you would be proud of having a non-White President no matter your opinion of his performance, and you would be happy to defend homosexuals both at home and abroad. You would be horrified at the fact that another leader is gassing his own people. Exceptionalism is not about nationalism, and all you Americans seem to have is a nationalistic streak without the need to rise above and make yourself truly exceptional.

I must go now. I am told one of my closest advisers is considering having sex with his long-term secretary. Both are men. I must save them. I am, as you Americans say, a superhero.

Love and kisses,

Vlad



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Post-Race America and Me

Some years back, I lost any real, sustained interest in politics. I lost it after the long Democratic primary of 2008. I blame a horse.

Honestly. I blame a horse on my sudden lack of real political interest. Eight Belles, the first filly (apparently) to run in the Kentucky Derby in nine years, was the proclaimed pick of then-Prez-candidate Hillary Clinton--a woman who earlier in the year was favored by those 'in the know' to win the Democratic nomination, but, by May of 2008, had slipped to the dark horse category because of Barack Obama's strong performance.

Obama showed no amount of irony when he picked his own horse for that year's Derby, and chose Big Brown.

Big Brown won the race. Eight Belles knew for whom the eight bells tolled, and broke two ankles. She was euthanized on the spot, and suddenly the Run for the Roses was a media metaphor for the Race to the White House.

Politics became quite literally a horse race.

Certainly, politics, especially the politics of Presidential ponderings, has always been a horse race of sorts, but seldom have political pundits made it so nakedly about racehorses. Big Brown and Eight Belles became Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton's supporters were defacto beating a dead horse as they continued to flog their candidate toward the finish line long after she'd expired.

True: I didn't want Clinton to win. I was entranced by the new face in the crowd--Obama--and thought there'd been enough Bushes and Clintons wandering around the White House since Reagan.

Also true: It seemed rather disgusting to watch the media seize upon the death of a horse, in a sport I already found distasteful and cruel to animals, as a way of articulating a Presidential campaign, and as a way of titillating an American audience suffering from ADD and an itchy remote-finger.

For a while, I relied on Jon Stewart on The Daily Show to help me navigate the muddied track of American politics, but it didn't take long for his inspired commentary to reinforce my beliefs: if politics is about the Art of the possible, covering politics is about the Art of the inevitable. No one, it seems, watches a news show to see what is possibly there. They watch it, instead, to reinforce what they already believe to be true.

Rather than see the random acts that caused poor Eight Belles to break her ankles and be put down, most consumers of American news appeared to buy the notion that an unrelated horse race meant something to a Presidential race. Hell, it's old hat to really, truly call the election cycle a "horse race," as if we're not electing, but betting on, a candidate.

Tonight is the night of the New York mayoral primary. I know which candidate I hope wins. I am not, however, obsessively refreshing the results, nor am I watching all NY channels at once. I haven't placed my bets, I'm not in the stands with an elaborate hat, and I have no taste for a mint julep (which, to be honest, tastes like a combo of Crest toothpaste and Scope mixed with Kayo syrup).

Also tonight, the winner of the 2008 Kentucky Derby, President Barack Obama, gave a rather unfocused speech about the events in Syria. I do not have a horse in that race either, which is all the Syrian conflict seems to be about if you spend a lot of time reading Facebook feeds and online blogs (which I do) and watching news networks (which I don't).

For me, Syria should be about chemical weapons. For others, it's about winning small
victories with 'like' posts and recommendations, and ratings galore.

So there's Eight Belles, running a race she doesn't really understand, being the subject of a Presidential metaphor beyond her interest, with broken ankles on a muddy track. And there's CNN, FOX, MSNBC (ah--now I get why angry commenters always TYPE IN ALL CAPS: all the channels they watch are aggressively capitalized), and tomorrow the ratings for each channel will be released. We all saw the same speech, no matter which station we picked, but somehow the ratings will matter.

Tweets will be reported as if quotations from Cicero, and a winner will be declared.

We'll hear Boehner's response to the speech, we'll hear Bloomberg's response to the primary, we'll hear Limbaugh's response to palaver, and serious journalists will cover all these things just to keep up their pageviews.

Life, of course, is not a race. But a lot of people seem to think it is, and are hoping opponents break their own ankles.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Pets

Let's kill some time.

As some of you might've noticed, I have a dog named Waffles, and I like taking pictures of him. For example:
Waffles considering his options


Lots of pictures of Waffles. I am unapologetic about this habit of mine. Waf's a very photogenic dog.

I grew up with dogs, more or less. My dad liked the idea of having dogs, but he didn't seem to appreciate the joy of a dog, so before I was 11 years old we had Boo, a collie; Peppy, a mutt; Butkus, a boxer; Churchill, a Shar Pei; and assorted other dogs along the way, all of which were given to good homes we could not provide.

There were some fish as well. The first aquarium my parents purchased was when I was a toddler--I flushed the fish down the toilet while screaming "BE FREE!"--and then, once I reached the age of reason, they bought another aquarium.

I flushed nothing.

Somewhere in there, we had a rabbit. The rabbit lasted about as long as a dog--about a month.

True story: when I was about four or five, my parents got me a kitten for Christmas. They kept it in the garage overnight, and intended to surprise me with it on Christmas morning. Except my dad coated it in flea powder, which is toxic to kittens, so on Christmas Day I was presented with a dead kitten.

Note: Never put flea powder on kittens.

Pets rely on us for their own survival. Certainly, some pets make a go of it in the wild--if they're let loose, they can become feral, foraging through garbage or whatever. They can sometimes fend for themselves--the parakeets of Telegraph Hill come to mind (and we had a bird too)--but I don't think those fish I flushed down the toilet (BE FREE!) survived. Hell, my first kitten had a rough go of it, and died in the garage on Christmas Day.

Merry Chris....oh christ.

So, before Waffles (here's another picture)
Me, Greg, Waf, my step-dad

So, before Waffles (wait--here's another another picture)
Waf is doing this right now

So. Before Waf, there was Allie. I wish I had a picture of her. She was a very beautiful cat, with grey and light grey stripes, and... well, a cat. She was a cat.

Allie was a cat I found when I was 10 or so. 5th grade. Whatever age that is. We had several dogs and fish during my time with Allie, which is to say that Allie was a constant during my formative years. Transitions happen. Allie kept me grounded.

I found Allie in a vacant house, as a kitten. The house was under construction, as was she, as was I. We'd recently moved to the new neighborhood, and it felt to me that everything was in flux, so I understood why this tiny kitten was upset being stuck in an incomplete house. As I rode my bike around the still-forming neighborhood, I'd hear her screaming--mewling--from the still-under-construction house, and eventually dragged my mom to the house, demanding answers. Of course what I was asking was, "Why do we feel so incomplete even though we're in a finished home?" but what I actually asked was, "Can we keep her?"

Mom said yes. I named the tiny kitten Allie not, as most assumed, because it was a nice pun on 'Alley Cat,' but because I was a very gay kid, and I really loved Jane Curtain's character on Kate and Allie.

For the kids, here's what Kate and Allie was to me: Golden Girls and Woody Allen movies.

Allie was my favorite pet (until Waffles). There were many dogs and fish along the way, but Allie really was my only steady relationship. It's very important to stress this: most of my life was a transient life. Dogs came and went; houses came and went. Allie, however, was the most consistent thing I had.

My parents eventually got a divorce, when I was an adult and with a little brother 18 years younger. And he, too, has already endured a number of dogs. But never a cat. Never a cat like Allie.

Allie's end came just after I returned, btw, from a trip with friends. When I got back my dad told me he'd given Allie away because I didn't seem to care for her anymore. One of my mom's friends assured me Allie was happier where she was in the proverbial 'farm upstate.'

Ah well.

Here's another picture of Waf.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Taking the OD out of 'Method'

The eight year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was last week, and it reminded me of something. Wasn't really sure what, exactly, but when I heard about the anniversary, I thought of Mother Bush saying that the impoverished African Americans of Nawlins were actually very lucky, and I thought about heaps of donated food and clothing rising up from the square at Lincoln Center that Ann Coulter dismissed as signs of liberal guilt, and I thought about Shep Smith having a conscience breakdown on FOX News.

But there was something else.

Then, tonight, I saw this article on Salon.com, and remembered: the way I found out about Katrina was when the guy handing me a glass pipe, who knew I was from Alabama, asked, "So, do you think your family is okay?"

I shrugged, and inhaled the smoke coming from the pipe. Exhaled. "Why wouldn't they be?"

The guy--not sure I knew his name then and certainly don't recall it now--was much older than I. Fit. Bald, but hot, I suppose, not that I cared.

Before I continue with this, I want to stress that I no longer do meth, and in fact only spent a month or two seeking it out. It was not a very pleasant part of my past. There was nothing dignified or cool about it. This post is about how I realized just how destructive drugs can be.

That said, I'd also like to add I wouldn't change what I did. The experience remains an experience I'm glad I had, because it helps me understand others.

So. Hot older guy. Glass pipe. Katrina moving into the Gulf of Mexico. Me naked on a bed in Chelsea, Manhattan.

Dude had a nice apartment. It wasn't squalid--most guys I smoked meth with did not seem like meth addicts at all. They all had nice apartments, were clean and well-satorial'd, with pianos in the den or expensive art on the walls. More than the meth, I think that was what appealed to me--at the time both G and I were having financial difficulties, and he was working long hours so I spent a lot of time alone in our hovel. Couldn't afford to go to shows or join friends for dinner. The first guy I met online who, upon hooking up, offered me meth, was a guy who regularly appeared on FOX News. An entertainment lawyer. His apartment was stellar, in midtown with a great view and a balcony, and after he got me fucked up he took me to his bar, where the cast of SNL was having an after-show party. I made an ass of myself--I was fucked up, so of course I made an ass of myself--but I loved being in the company of famous people.

Of course, because I made the ass of myself, I was quietly escorted out of the bar and left disoriented on 8th Avenue. I walked around the block a few times before grabbing a cab home, unaware that there was snot pouring out of my nose. The cab driver said nothing, but kept the window down because I had b.o. as well. I remember being in love with the wind coming in through the open window, and pulling up my shirt to feel the wind on my chest.

Another guy I met up with--again online--had a partner who was directing a show on Broadway. The partner was out for the night, so this guy had me over. Beautiful apartment, stuffed with Broadway memorabilia and autographed posters of the revival of Cabaret and Chicago. A mask from Phantom. A photograph of Guy and his partner with Angela Lansbury. I imagined myself standing with Angela, and took the glass pipe when offered. "Your apartment," I said between hits, "is amazing."

"You should take off your pants," Guy responded.

So the summer of 2005 went. The guys weren't important, and while I can't swear I was always careful, I was at least responsible. Tests, months and years later, came back negative.

Apartments. All beautiful, all full of things, and all those things were things I wanted to own. Later, when I tried to explain all this to Greg, I couldn't pin down why I had done what I did. I couldn't explain the attraction to the men. All I could say was, "But you didn't see the piano!"

So. Dude who asked me about my family's safety.

We met online, as usual, and he mentioned Olympia Snowe, which indicated to me that he was smart. Or at least well-informed. Turned out he may have worked for Snowe in some capacity--but he was definitely a Republican.

Most of the guys I met during those few weeks were Republican, by the way. I guess the only way one can deal with being a conservative homosexual is to cut it with drugs.

Greg was working, so I was free to do as I wanted. So I did. I went downtown, and to Dude's apartment, which was as fabulous as I'd hoped. He had kids, and there were pictures of his family all over the place; there were prints of Thomas Kincade, which clashed with the giant Salvadore Dali prints. Ornate Indian rug. Simple couch. Tasteful chair. Glass coffee table. A piano near the giant glass windows overlooking the Hudson.

I was dressed in camouflage cargo shorts, flip-flops and white t-shirt. Dude commented on the shorts. "Did you get those in Alabama?" he asked.

I shrugged. Nervous. Didn't want to really say anything until the first hit on the glass pipe.

After the first hit, I was fine. I pretended the apartment was my own, and took off my clothes, as did he. "You're not into me," he said at one point.

"Of course I am," I lied.

"No, I'm not your type. It's okay."

"Whatever." I went for the pipe again.

A bit later, he asked what papers I liked to read. Because my mind wasn't working anymore, it was beyond me to explain that I didn't read newspapers anymore--I read blogs. Still do, for good or ill. "Papers?" I replied. "I do the Times. My local paper back home."

"No, what do you read?" He was asking this while pushing my head down to his crotch.

"Words," I answered. Quoting Hamlet because I didn't get his point. "Words. Words."

Still don't know what answer he wanted from me, but a bit later he launched into an Olympia Snowe discussion. Then fielded a phone call from his ex wife--their daughter had broken her glasses, and she needed him to send money to buy new ones.

"That's terrible," I muttered.

"Glasses? Yes. So you have empathy for people who break their glasses. Interesting."

That was when I realized something was off. Something was wrong. I was using people in a very obvious way--not for the drugs, which is expected, but for the life. Dude's response to my casual concern about his daughter's glasses broke through the muddled meth mind I had going on, and made me see myself from the outside: a guy who came over for sex and drugs, and wanted neither. Or really just wanted the drugs, and the attention, but not the sex.

Then Dude, who was still on his smartphone but no longer talking to his ex, said, "So, do you think your family is okay?" And I responded, "Why wouldn't they be?"

It was then that I heard about Katrina. (Spoiler: My family was no where near the hurricane). Dude explained, while standing naked in the doorway, that a hurricane was tearing through the South, and that Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi were getting slammed.

And I didn't care.

True. I didn't care. I was so fucked up that I just asked for more pipe. And Dude gave it to me. And when I left his apartment for my own several hours later, I still didn't care.

Then I did care. In our apartment after Greg got home, I told him everything. He threw a coffee cup at the floor--not at me--and then called my parents. Coming down, I realized just how terrible I'd been over the past few months, and over the next few days I watched the Katrina drama play out, the awful devastation and the meth-like reaction our government had to the devastation.

So. Yeah. Eight years. I'd like a little credit here: After I confessed to G what I'd done, we went together to a Narc-Anon meeting for meth addicts. Greg probably should've kicked me out but he stuck with me, and insisted we go to this meeting, and it was a terrible experience. So many lives ruined--absolutely destroyed beyond repair, yet all of them trying to repair anyway, proving that no life is done until it is done.

After the meeting, G and I walked to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. I wasn't sure if G and I were still together. Didn't know if he loved me. I was still flashing on the Dude who asked me if my family was okay, and unsure if I even was worthy of love anymore because if I couldn't answer that simple question, perhaps I wasn't worthy of love. "So, do you think your family is okay?" "Why the fuck are you asking me that?"

"Do you think your boyfriend is doing okay?"

"I don't know--how's my ass?"

But we walked from the meeting, and I had the balls to tell Greg this: "I will not go to one of those again. I will just stop the drugs."

Ballsy, right? After what I'd done, I'm still asking my partner to trust me.

And Greg said: "Okay."

Then we had a nice dinner, where Greg glowered at me and I understood why he would. And I made him laugh, and loved to hear him laugh. More than anything, I wanted to hear that.

So. Yes. Meth is terrible. Even eight years later, for a summer, it haunts you. And if you survive doing it, I suppose, it teaches you how to care for others, but only if you put the pipe down.

Edited to add: David Carr is awesome.

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