Friday, October 31, 2008

Beijing Report: 08-11-08

Team handball is the Olympic equivalent of inadvertently brushing up against your great-aunt Mildred's breasts as you lurch across the Thanksgiving Day dinner table for your fifth refill of Safeway brand Merlot. Awkward glances are exchanged and then averted, and everyone feels a little uglier as a result. This has happened to me more times than I care to mention, but may explain the hefty birthday cards I received throughout my young adulthood. Nothing, on the other hand, can explain the existence of a sport like team handball.

The Olympic Sports Center Gymnasium is located in the heart of Beijing and it is where I got my first look at this awful and confusing spectacle. I am not one for alcohol fueled jingoism, but even I could see that this was a direct affront to anything that a genuine American might hold dear. The gym was a cacophony of low level meth dealers, Euro-trash go-go boys (the nylon sheen of their sky blue Addidas sweat suits a persistent reminder of the failure of Old Europe), and the bleary-eyed and bewildered families of those doomed to participate in this godforsaken mess.

I was fortunate enough to be seated, by formal invitation, next to Jacques Rogge, the current IOC President and an ardent team handball enthusiast. During an earlier interview we had nearly come to blows over what I perceived to be the sport's long term and catastrophically deforming effects upon western civilization, but his deep appreciation of my red Volvo functioned as a touchstone between us, and the residual tension was no match for his fine gifts of opium infused Tsingtao and two, startlingly well read, Thai hookers.

"You must know yourself to know this game," he said, caressing my shoulder in that effervescently gay manner that orthopedic surgeons from Belgium tend to have. "It is philosophy in motion."

Professional decorum combined with the Tsingtao, which by this time had cost me the use of my legs, to create a situation in which I had no choice but to sit through the Championship match between Slovenia and Portugal. Chan had warned me on several occasions about Rogge's tactics and their dire consequences but, as Hunter used to say: Buy the ticket, take the ride. And so here I was.

Team handball is an unfortunate combination of all of the worst aspects of basketball, lacrosse, modern dance, Canadian sketch comedy, and public drunkenness. Fourteen hideously unitarded players pirouette up and down a 20 by 40 meter court, in a jagged flash of tip-toeing and jazz hands, only to break into a gruff post-up style game that resembles nothing more than a prison strip search. Movement away from the ball is practically non-existent until an elfin figure appears, seemingly out of nowhere, and sashays toward the goal, whipping the ball behind his neck, past the startled goal keeper, and into the back of the net. This was followed by another fifty-nine minutes of precisely the same behavior; behavior that even Nathan Lane would deem superfluous. I sank deeply into my seat, massaged my lifeless legs, and pondered the implications of this unlikely sport.

Hanflugen, as it was originally called, arose in 1510 in the tiny hamlet of Laxcombe near modern Irkutsk. Initially conceived of as an initiation rite for Quaxtic monks, just prior to their entry into manhood through the Festival of Cats, it was adopted by the explorer Juan de Grijalava and brought to Mexico, where it thrived for many centuries. Today's "modern" team handball is clearly an offshoot of this rich Mexican heritage combined with the fluorescent subterranean homoeroticism of pre-war Europe. From there it was a straight shot to the farmlands of the Eastern Bloc and the impossible glory of the Olympics.

When the match was over, Rogge leaned over and angrily insisted that this sport means more to more people than penicillin. Maybe he is right. The next day at the hotel I came across a wildly optimistic report in which the website had this to say:

Whether you’ve been a Team Handball fan your entire life, or just discovered the sport flipping through channels yesterday, you’re soon going to have to come to grips with the stark reality that the Olympics are over and along with that fact, so is your opportunity to watch the sport on TV in the U.S-- at least in the immediate future.

I have to say that I am intrigued by the idea of countless people forced to deal with the stark reality of a team handball free fall schedule on Fox or the WB this season; of the many silent dinners endured by families trying to reconnect after the senseless devastation of Ireland's upset win over Lithuania; of the ennui that settles like a fog over the barren landscape of the true fan's immediate future. It is a sad and beautiful world.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Beijing Report: 08-10-08

It is hot. Hot. God it's hot. She lilts to the left and offers me a red blanket. Waterless beaches fill with angry children. Miniature suns streak across the horizon and pelt the sand into fine sizzling dust. Habanero clouds hang like humid night-orange fruit. Wait. Jesse James said that. I am not allowed. "Why isn't she?" I ask, as another door silently closes. My fingers grow embarrassed into her and around her neck choking the yellow from her eyes. She whispers a math equation. Three plus infinity equals.... No, it is a chemical problem. Heat and stupidity create an unstable, volatile mixture. Yes, yes. The water returns. And... with that... I am...


Or almost. Opium is a hell of a drug. I am awash in a thick sheet of sweat. The room seems to be entirely two-dimensional and my eyes are filled with cotton. Chan suddenly appears before me. He has a severely burned hotel towel wrapped around his waist. Using a barking noise combined with a type of epileptic semaphore he is trying to communicate with me.

-you were sleeping
-I was dreaming
-you didn't look too good
-it was something about a lizard
-we have to get out of here

We grab the tickets for the Equestrian Dressage and head for the Volvo.

The road to Sha Tin Stadium in Hong Kong is empty except for the free Tibet protestors, uniformed with Richard Gere masks and empty gerbil leashes, who pop up like mile markers along the 1000 mile corridor. Chan and I re-acclimate ourselves narcotically and spend the bulk of the trip in a smooth gurgling warmth. The Volvo, resistant at first, more than lives up to its reputation and we find ourselves at the city limits in record time.

Equestrian Dressage is commonly regarded as the most civilized event at the Olympics, using terms like "Airs above the ground" and "Baroque", and it hits a strong 8.7 on the Fitzfield-Klein Gay Meter. From the videos I researched it appears to be a sport predicated on the idea of getting your horse to behave well at a tea party. This takes years of training and involves many esoteric techniques. Controversy has surrounded this event ever since the Foundational Uniform Codifying Knights of Equestrian Dressage, the sport's governing body, instituted the practice of 'cosseting', or the sewing shut of a horse's anus in an effort to prevent virulent discharge, in 1989. PETA was involved and the sport's Olympic status was in peril but Ingrid Newkirk was plied with bourbon and coupons for Black Angus and here we are.

Chan and I made our way to participant's table, where the brightest lights of this proud event were gathered, and sat down. Isabell Werth, of the troubled German squad (steroids, white slavery), mistook Chan for a Japanese dignitary and presented him with a gold plated marmot. The table was laid out with expensive champagnes and inedible cheeses. Debbie McDonald, Dressage's elder stateswoman and a notorious drunk, was doing her best to live up to her legendary reputation, but the rest of the table was in fine spirits.

In an uncommonly refined move, the participants had decided to forgo the actual events and to determine the winners by means of a brisk and heart felt conversation. Steffen Peters opened with a comment on the beauty of the sylvan landscape, but was shrewdly cut off by Courtney King-Dye's observation that the Chinese were no longer using infant girls as currency. The Austrians mounted an attack but accidentally broke into song and were disqualified.

It seemed all but settled when, out of nowhere, Canada's Eric Lamaze blurted out something about Nietzche's use of irony in his critique of Kant's idealism. It was a tremendously risky maneuver; a less gifted rider had tried a similar approach in 1996 and subsequently lost three fingers on his left hand. But after twenty minutes of back and forth it was decided. Canada would win its first equestrian gold.

I am not one for emotional outbursts, but I am not ashamed to admit that I misted over as the strains of Oh Canada reached their resounding conclusion. Chan and I thanked them for the marmot and for their courageous performances and made our way back to the Volvo.

Tomorrow would be another day, and another event (team handball), but today belonged to those champions who put their lives on the line to make horses behave more like people. And to them I dedicate these immortal lines from The Horses Prayer:

Examine my teeth when I do not eat; I may have an ulcerated tooth, and that, you know, is very painful.

Very painful, indeed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Beijing Report: 08-09-08

The first thing you notice when you enter Beijing is the startling number of large, clean, empty streets. It's as though your grandmother bought several hundred miles of beautiful sofa, and then proceeded to cover it in plastic and glare at you when you had any ideas about sitting down. The second thing you notice is the smog that hangs over these streets like an unfortunate brown-green comforter that she knitted herself, even though her hands are in terrific pain and her grandson never seems to call, and that she's just waiting for you to fail to adore. And so I won't. I have loftier ambitions. I'm here for the 2008 Olympic Games; and fuck her sofa anyway.

I am staying at the Hotel Kunlun on the Tian' Anmen; a seven hundred room tower of glass, angles, and discipline, that should give me easy access to all of the most important events. After checking in I am assigned a militant dwarf named Chan who will, apparently, guide me through the labyrinth that is modern urban China. Chan has what I can only describe as a French accent when he speaks English, all throat and phlegm and anger, and an insatiable hunger for opium that might prove useful should things go badly.

He also has a bright red Volvo 240 wagon that we pile into as we head off for the Beijing University of Technology Gymnasium and the cruel world of Olympic Badminton. The gigantic steel gym is awash in indirect light and smells faintly of sweat and mango. Malaysia's best hope for its first ever Olympic gold medal, world No.2 badminton player Lee Chong Wei, is eyeballing me from the moment I enter the gym. Her orange and brown sweat suit is severe and uncompromising. Unwashed children massage her thighs and ply her with Chicklets gum. Her racket rests softly beside her chair.

The Chinese have long abandoned the practice of public cat burning, but you wouldn't know it from the ugly demeanor of the audience in the gym tonight. Uniformed men with megaphones march trough the aisles shouting the most horrible, I'm assured by Chan, sexual epithets at any passerby who doesn't visibly appreciate the rigors of the game. The lights grow dim and, amidst the angry shouting, two androgynous multi-colored badmintoners are wheeled out onto the pit. An elderly woman of indeterminate race shatters a crystal pumpkin and the game begins.

What appears to be series of feline shrieks is followed by the tossing of the shuttlecock and an audible groan from the audience. Chinese rock music careens throughout the gym and Chan is noticeably shaken. After seventy-two minutes of flashing lights and epileptic frenzy, the girl/boy in orange is carted from the arena and a national anthem of some kind is blasted through the PA system. Muscular Korean women weep uncontrollably.

Chan grabs me by the arm and hurries me into his, still idling, Volvo. "There are so many events," he implores me. And from the manic look in his eyes, I see that he is speaking from his heart. Well, I'll be here two weeks. The key, as it almost always is, is adequate pacing. On the way back to the hotel, I compose myself and prepare for tomorrow and the giddy heights of equestrian dressage.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Influence, Plagiarism, and the All-Too-Human

For P.K. & J.K.

A great book like the DIVINA COMMEDIA is not the isolated or random caprice of an individual; many men and many generations built toward it.

Borges is talking about Dante. Dante, for God's sake! One of the undisputed heavyweight champions of the Western Canon. And he is basically repeating what artists have known for quite some time: Artistic creation does not take place in a vacuum, free from influence or contingency. Everybody's dirty little fingerprints are all over everybody else's mirror. And if you read, and understand, Harold Bloom, this isn't a chronological one way street; modern authors influence how we apprehend past authors just as profoundly as the past authors influence the modern. This makes it incredibly difficult to determine the primacy and authority of a given piece, to find the methods for locating and defining originality.

The factors that go into creating a work of art are invariably as mysterious to the creator as they are the viewer. I've read plenty of books about the writing process by plenty of authors who seem to have one common theme; bewilderment at the vital point of explanation. The smarter ones seem to revel in their influences while the less secure seem more likely to get drunk and stab their wives. And, amazingly, the author's knowledge of these things, or lack thereof, has very little to do with the quality of their actual work; the two are simply unrelated.

At the same time we don't let everything pass as original. Kaavya Viswanathan of Harvard wrote a book (I'll omit the details since her name already took me fifteen minutes to type) that was publicly derided as an instance of overt plagiarism. The evidence was strong and the fallout predictable. Many examples from her book were paralleled, in the press, with near duplicate passages from another; Ms. V could not be reached for comment; e-mails went unread; movies deals fell through; the faculty room at Harvard was heavily re-stocked with Johnny Walker Blue.

An after school special is surely in the works.

Mother: Kathy, did you write this book?
Kathy: I did Mom. I swear.
Mother: You know I'll love you even if you didn't.
Kathy: Why do lies hurt so much?

And stoned teenagers everywhere will once again get a big laugh on an otherwise dull Tuesday afternoon.

There are many other examples of outright aesthetic theft. Vanilla Ice lifting the signature bass line from David Bowie's Pressure and then attempting to stutter his way through a denial (I never heard of that song), an explanation (I listen to the radio a lot, maybe it just got in my head), a lie (my part doesn't really sound like his, it's more def), and a non sequitur (word to your mother), before finally admitting that he was full of shit and scampering back to the mean streets of suburban Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Hell, John Fogerty has actually been sued for plagiarizing himself; no small feat, even in a litigation addled and stupefied America. The case was not laughed out of court as one might hope but went on for years before the artist was finally acquitted. Fogerty had to go through his creative process in great, and humiliating, detail before a legal proceeding that was not comprised of our greatest aestheticians and who consequently could have no way of determining the legitimacy of Fogerty's description. Zappa wept.

In all fairness, it may be impossible to tell, in many cases, whether someone is stealing, referencing, adoring, satirizing, or unconsciously adopting the work of another. There is good reason for this. The human brain has evolved into a remarkable pattern interpreter; remarkable, but not perfect. We see patterns everywhere, even where there are none. This can be helpful, as when we notice that the beautiful furry animal by the river has a predilection for human flesh. But it can also contribute to our ongoing and idiotic fascination with things like astrology, numerology, and God.

It also gives critics (everyone interacting with a work of art is a critic, consciously or otherwise) impetus to find signs of plagiarism in the works of artists that they are ambivalent about. This can be problematic, especially in situations where the accuser has some institutional leverage over over the accused. That is when common human motives (envy, narrowness, dislike, or the simple desire to save one's ass) can have disastrous results.

It is a murky business. Vonnegut openly claimed to have stolen from everybody he read. Likewise Twain. Harold Bloom has made himself into a cottage industry with books like The Anxiety of Influence and A Map of Misreading. And these are Big Minds eating at the grown up table; how can a typical high school teacher, with a head full of platitudes and thwarted ambition, be expected to navigate such treacherous waters? Well, he can't.

Christopher Hitchens points this very tendency out in his essay In Defense of Plagiarism. He gives many obvious examples of literary theft ( G. Harrison/Chiffons; A.L. Webber/Puccini, etc) and even a less well known, but devastating, charge against Eliot and the Wasteland. But his main theme is captured in a quote by de Quincy and Hitchen's response to it.

"It is undeniable, that thousands of feeble writers are constantly at work, who subsist by plagiarism, more or less covert. It is equally undeniable ... that thousands of feeble critics subsist by detecting plagiarisms as imitations, real or supposed."

Just as writers should beware of joining the first category, so readers should not be too eager to enlist in the second.

Ecclesiastes says that there is nothing new under the sun. Still, part of what is good about human beings is that we pretend that there is. We thrill to an original voice, or at least the potential for one. And if artists politely deferred to their intractable connection with everything that came before, then we would be left with nothing.

The remainder of the Borges quote from above seems a good place to end.

To investigate its precursors is not to subject oneself to the miserable drudgery of legal or detective work; it is to examine the movements, probings, adventures, glimmers, and premonitions of the human spirit.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sex, Death, and Faberge Eggs

Not to laugh, not to lament, not to curse, but to understand.

Imagine a genuinely omniscient God who came into existence just long enough to create a top-ten list entitled "Things Human Beings Have Irreparably Botched." There are many, many candidates for top honors, but this God (being omniscient and all) would surely place at the top of this list the twin disasters of sex and death; especially if He turned out to be a She. And She would be right.


Have a seat, let me explain.

Thus finishing his grand Survey,
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous Fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!

First, and it (shockingly) bears repeating: People Are Animals; not corporeal angels floating in the ether along the circumference of the animal kingdom, but full-fledged participants in the near chaos of sustenance and survival that delineates the existence of any creature in possession of a mouth, stomach, and anus. We are crawling, inside and out, with millions of microscopic organisms that tend to react to us symbiotically until they don't, and then it's nothing but fever, vomiting, sloughing off of skin, liquification of organs, and tooth decay. We are even in trouble at the cellular level. Lewis Thomas points out that the mitochondria that power our cells are in a very real sense not even our own. I could go on. No, really.

Suffice it to say that we are firmly planted in the animal kingdom and that we have a terrible time accepting this fact. Why? Because animals die. All of them. You can sing in praise of the rich tapestry of life all you like, but every one of them, from Snowball II to that tiger that ate those kids, is dead; and all the rest are just waiting their turn. And if we are like them, if we ARE them, well, then we will die too.

Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.

So, what are we going to do about it? I know. What if there really was a God. Not the imaginary God from the beginning of this piece, but a real God. One who created us and is with us all the time. One who looks out for us in times of trouble (we will, for now, overlook the fact that He was there when the trouble started and didn't do anything to stop it) and who guides us when we are weak with temptation. You know the guy. And he didn't JUST create us, he created us in HIS image, and so, ipso facto, we can't be mere animals. We must somehow be different. We must be like Him; never to know the cold touch of death.

The fact that it was We who created Him is by now irrelevant. Not only that, but it seems to work. There are studies that indicate longer life spans for people who have this type of belief. So it should come as no surprise that people are reluctant to do away with their godly associations; even in the face of overwhelming logic; even though these beliefs are a type of social disease; even though the people, on some level, must know that they can't be true.

Those Jesus Freaks
Well, they're friendly but
The shit they believe
Has got their minds all shut
An' they don't even care
When the church takes a cut
Ain't it bleak when you got so much nothin'

Well, good, that takes care of that. No more death. But since we are largely unconscious animals it won't be easy. Nothing is free, we must pay; and the currency of this payment will be in the form of sin, which can only be redeemed at the one true bank. So we set about attaching this sin to even the most basic human functions; those most likely to represent our animal nature.

From the sin of Eve to the curse of Ham. From the Ten Commandments to the lunatic ravings in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. From Matthew's prohibition against impure thought to Paul's keen advice on marriage. It is all laid out before us as a virtual graph of our inevitable failure; and I am only using a single, two-thousand year old, book. Add the moral advice of such great texts as the Koran, the Talmud, the Book of Mormon, Dianetics, the various gitas and hymns, the Left Behind series, the Analects of Confucius, and Dear Abby, and we should be knee deep in self-loathing for ten thousand generations. Praise be to Allah! Or, at least, one of his friends.

Human beings are not animals, and I do not want to see sex and sexual differences treated as casually and amorally as dogs and other beasts treat them.

The most confusing, weird, wonderful, ambivalence generating, messy, creative and procreative act a human being participates in is sex and it gets tons of extra attention from the sin fetishists. There are rules for every aspect of sex, from the words we can use to describe it to the manner in which we can have it, and almost every one of them is negative. We have marinated in these rules for thousands of years and the effect has been frankly deforming. What should be obvious has been obfuscated beyond recognition.

Well, maybe that is overstating it. I mean, there are six and a half billion of us, covering this fuzzy blue planet like a virulent mold, so somebody somewhere must be doing some fucking; but, boy do they feel bad about it. I think this says a lot about the power of sex. In spite of our best efforts, here we are. I guess that hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary biology can't be swayed by two and a half thousand years of glib, fashionable, facile morality.

I asked a Burmese why women, after centuries of following their men, now walk ahead. He said there were many unexploded land mines since the war.
-Robert Mueller

Women, of course and as always, get the worst of it. This can happen in the most obvious ways (genital mutilation, arranged marriage, the Lifetime network) but it is the subtle psychological distortion of their bodies, pressuring them from all angles, that interests me here. And that leads me to the Faberge Eggs.

They are everywhere. In movies: The earnest, well intentioned father telling his bright, confused daughter, in a gray-lit room on a rainy day, that her body is a precious gift only to be given to the right person at the right time. "Thanks Dad," she says, through tears of relief. In music: The ubiquitous new generation of anatomical Barbies extolling the virtues of abstinence while, ironically I guess, thrusting their crotches towards anything remotely phallic. In the news: Fathers, daughters, mothers and sons, proudly displaying their purity rings to arenas full of grinning idiots in a kind of symbolic ritual of mock incest that the participants are, presumably, completely unaware of. In their role models: Behold the new Nancy Grace, now 98% vagina-free.

Well, there is a reason that most boys, by the age of seventeen, have had more orgasms than most women, by the age of forty, will even consider having; and it isn't entirely physiological. It is largely due to the fact that women are trained to see their bodies, especially down there, as delicate, esoteric, semi-precious display items that, once despoiled, can never regain their value and purity. They end up viewing their sexual organs as museum pieces, pristine and vulnerable, suitable for viewing by only an elite audience, under special circumstances, in the right light, and not without the aid of a docent carrying a handful of pamphlets. And like most museum pieces, they end up dustily appreciated rather than enthusiastically enjoyed.

If we, as a society, had any sense, we would have government issued vibrators mailed to every girl over the age of twelve. Then she could figure it out. On her own. Well, at least at first. Then, once the cat's out of the bag, so to speak, it'd be each woman for herself. And we would be, ever so slightly, less neurotic.

But we are far from doing anything like this. And so, reasonably intelligent fathers foam at the mouth as they tell you what they'd like to do to the long haired little freaks who may be thinking about sticking it to their daughters. Nervous mothers, half remembering what they had to go through, furtively pull at their collars and hope for the best. Sons continue to jack off relentlessly while daughters rue the day that they have to look at themselves in one of those little hand held mirrors. You can almost hear Zappa singing in the background: She's just twenty-four/ And she can't get off/ A sad but typical case.

I know. I am intentionally overstating things. This doesn't apply so much today. If I had written this thirty years ago it might have been more relevant. But I was ten at the time and didn't know what a hoo-hoo was, and plus, my writing style back then was wildly affected.

Think about it, though. Don't fool yourself. This stuff is still with us, still in us; and deformities rarely just snap back into place. So take it from my friends, the Bonobo chimps: Go. Fuck. Be happy. Life is short and you've already spent half of it fretting.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Path Most Travelled

If I am not master of my life, not sultan of my own being, then no man's logic and no man's ecstatic fits may force me to find less silly my impossibly silly position: that of God's slave; no, not his slave even, but just a match which is aimlessly struck and then blown out by some inquisitive child, the terror of his toys. There are, however, no grounds for anxiety: God does not exist, as neither does our hereafter, that second bogey being as easily disposed of as the first. Indeed, imagine yourself just dead- and suddenly wide awake in Paradise where, wreathed in smiles, your dear dead welcome you.

Now tell me, please, what guarantee do you possess that those beloved ghosts are genuine; that it is really your dear dead mother and not some petty demon mystifying you, masked as your mother and impersonating her with consummate art and naturalness? There is the rub, there is the horror; the more so as the acting will go on and on, endlessly; never, never, never, never, never will your soul in that other world be quite sure that the sweet gentle spirits crowding about it are not fiends in disguise, and forever, and forever, and forever shall your soul remain in doubt, expecting every moment some awful change, some diabolical sneer to disfigure the dear face bending over you.

-Nabokov, Despair

The terror of his toys! That was a very long, and difficult, excerpt to type, but fucking hell, if that doesn't genuinely capture my feelings on the subject then nothing does. Still, it is a heady, multi-faceted, problem, so let's give it its do.

Our Brains

We are born from nothing into something. This is what we know. We find ourselves here, and time gives our lives a narrative continuity, and we embellish a bit, and this is our lives. But we have a tool, our brains, and I believe in this tool. When I see movement in the brush I damn well take into consideration the idea that it might be something intent upon eating me. But the brain is imperfect. So I consider the fact that it, that thing in the bush (if, indeed, there was some thing in the bush,) might not. One of the problems with this approach rests in the fact that we do not have unlimited time. In one scenario we end up being the waste that some thing drops along its path as it ambles towards the watering hole (or whatever the modern equivalent is) and in another we look weak and foolish and betray that character to the rest of our tribe. So many factors come into play. How can we manage them all?

Our Conscious Minds

We have these remarkable semantic engines and they have one obvious purpose; they generate meaning. In fact, they cannot help but imbue almost every existential gesture with meaning. My mother's Social Security numbers become the square root of the winning lottery numbers that my horoscope, when interpreted using the numerological techniques of the Jewish cabalists, using the time honored practices of gematria, have cleverly enticed from the fabric of being. Such numbers! Maybe I will buy a refrigerator. We see patterns everywhere, even where they are not. But what I may not be getting across is that this is the best, in some respects the very best, that we have. We obviously have an itch. What will we use if not our conscious thought processes? A deck of cards. The position, or perceived position, of the stars. The intestines of an immaculately disemboweled fowl. Because meaning is everywhere. Isn't it?

Our Unconscious Minds

The unconscious mind does not know death. It does not apprehend existence on those terms; it can't. But there it is and it damn well determines a huge amount of us. And why not? We really wouldn't want to be in control of our every heartbeat, much less the manner in which our cells divide, or the tactics used by our mitochondria as they fuel our basic structure. But that is merely the physical component of unconsciousness. What we actually do, what we actually are.... Well, there is not much to suggest that we have a lot to say about that either. I mean, really, right now, as you read this, you must feel some sense of control. You went to Starbucks because you like the feel and taste of coffee; you rented that DVD because the reviews were promising; you bought Advil, instead of Tylenol, because... because the label is blue, not red; and the thread count on those sheets was 250; and that lasagna was organic, or at least thought to be organic; and... and your mom used to use Tide. And you yelled at her because you were right, because she would not, could not, listen. And all of those thoughts about all of those people. And sex... well, fuck that.

Our Brains, Again

Everything we do, everything we feel, everything we are, is funneled through the physical structure of our brains. There are no detours. Lose an arm and you are still Ted. Lose a brain and you are nothing. Soul? We'll get to that. Regardless, can you actually see the brain as a perfectly functioning unit? The frontal lobes are a little too small and the adrenal glands are a little too big (to quote Hitchens, yet again) and sometimes I think that we are lucky to ever make it from our homes to the grocery store without bloodshed, flames, and tears. And how could it be different? Three pounds of grey porridge housed in an obsolescent casing; is this what we are banking on? Well, what are the alternatives? At the risk of sounding facetious, let me tell you. It is something else, something grander. Something other than human.

The Oceanic Feeling

Even Freud admitted to experiencing something like an oceanic feeling in the presence of the wonders of existence. Not much of one, but still. I get it. I have been on beaches that have drawn that out of me. I am listening to Phillip Glass as I type this and his music makes me feel something like that once in a while. Your newborn baby's gurgle. The way the puppy looks at you, just on the verge of understanding. Sublime drunkenness. The way she straightens the sheets after you came in her mouth near the end of that marathon fuck session. The way you feel after having that dream about the impossible waves and the empty houses. I know this feeling. It is my soul. It is our souls. It has to mean something. If it doesn't, then what does? Right, what does?


Truth is subjectivity. Kierkegaard, who was a Christian, wrote this. God forbid. Still, he was right. There is nothing that is not free from to the smudging fingerprints of interpretation. Even the idea is impossible. We can narrow our constraints but... is Einstein really the best, or most relevant, or least pernicious, physicist? Jerry Rice the best football player, ever? What does that even mean? How is he better than Anthony Munoz? At catching? Sure. But at blocking? Where does Ulysses stand in relation to the Divine Comedy? Is penicillin better than The Rite of Spring, or is Vermeer's green more important than gunpowder? I know that some things are easier to manage than that, but the process remains the same. We have limited tools with which to apprehend an expansive and unwieldy set of variables and it should be no great surprise that some well-intentioned idiots start grasping for magical sources.


Probabilities are a funny thing. Intuition, which I value highly, has been shown to be not only inconsistent, but to be so far from accurate that it begs the question why we would rely upon it at all. And yet it is there. I use it. You use it. It feels right. But we are wrong. I'm not talking about the type of thing where that guy at the bar is giving you a creepy vibe. I mean something else. Let me give you an example. Fighter pilots, top gun types, have instructors who work them through the difficulties of their wildly complex jobs. When a recruit makes a terrible mistake his instructor yells at him, hoping that this will help the recruit to perform better. It makes sense. But it doesn't, mathematically. When a recruit does exceptionally poorly he is merely behaving at the lower end of his ability spectrum. It happens to us all. Some days you just don't function well. That is why batters who hit the ball correctly one third of the time go to the Hall of Fame. Or, is it actually more random than that? Probably, but, none the less, the math suggests that after such a poor performance, regardless of the external stimuli, you WILL perform better. Obviously, taking into consideration your overall performance, the yelling appears to make sense. It doesn't. You would have improved regardless. But the instructors, when confronted with this line of thinking, could not accept it. How could the yelling not make a difference? What, then, finally does make a difference?


God. The guy who knows everything. The guy who can do anything. You want a sunrise that brings tears to your eyes? He's the guy. You want your daughter to make the cheer-leading squad? He's the guy. You want evidence of meaning in your life? He's the guy. It can't be you, because that would be cruel. It can't be nothing, because that would be a joke. We didn't come from monkeys. We are not sacks of protoplasm. We aren't that vulnerable. Thank God for helping me to understand my addiction. Thank God for curing my lupus. Thank God for helping my sister with her thing. Thank God for helping those poor Haitians. And, thank God for the food on this table...

...and the food that is not on another table. And thank God for the mutant cells that are killing my daughter. And thank God for my team losing the Davis Cup. And thank God for Pastor Redburn fondling my penis when I was an altar boy. And thank God for algebra, and giraffes, and incest, and emeralds, and marshmallows, and Rachel Weisz, and the flat tax, and.... Well, really, just thank you God. You've been a great help and I couldn't be happier that we created you.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hell is Other People

While there is a lower class I am in it; while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
-Eugene Debs

On my best, most enlightened, days I figure people are doing as well as they can in difficult situations with limited resources; on my worst, I want to chew their eyes out of their fucking heads. Most days I am somewhere in between.

I tend to find relief from this manic fluctuation in movies, books, and drink. They are consistent and provocative. They help me to think and to understand what I am thinking and, more importantly, to contextualize my thinking. They can also highlight human absurdity and provide strategies for dealing with it. They are why I don't have pieces of eye in my teeth.

A fine example of human absurdity is the American prison system. Right now there are well over two million Americans in jail or prison. A little less than half are in for non-violent crimes. The United States has the highest documented per capita rate of incarceration of any country in the world. If we weren't so busy watching mentally disabled people run through obstacle courses on television, we might get the idea that something has gone horribly wrong.

You don't have to be Michel Foucault to understand the problem. There are people at every level of the incarceration process and people are normally bad at thinking. Our frontal lobes are too small and our adrenal glands are too big, to quote Hitchens, and we are lucky to have made it this far. We are only barely removed from our hunter/gatherer status and, if the Berkeley study is to be believed, a full 98% of our thought is unconscious.

Take Chad, the twenty-seven year old, unemployed bartender who has been up for two weeks, feverishly reorganizing his sock drawer and who may have been spanked once as a child. He gets into his Chevy Cavalier and heads out to Longs at three in the morning because he can't feel his eyes. On the way he notices that people are looking at him funny. He pulls over and grabs a screwdriver from his glove compartment. He strolls over to Jenny, who has no business being out at three in the morning anyway, and plunges the screwdriver into her neck.

Brian, the police officer whose lust for guns and loud noises has put him in good stead with the rest of the guys and whose GED certificate hangs proudly on a wall in his mom's trailer, springs from his patrol vehicle and gleefully tasers Chad while beating him about the face and neck with his baton.

The arrest report hits Virginia's desk and she thinks back to college, where a guy named Chad (or was it Chaz?) may or may not have date raped her. Her psychiatrist had tried, on several occasions, to explain to her that the sex was consensual and that she was really mad at her step-father, Chet, but she had stopped going to therapy and, anyway, what do psychiatrists know? She is a new Public Defender and she has so many cases. And her dog, Ribbons, has seemed lethargic lately.

When she has her first meeting with Ron, she can't help but notice that he looks a little like Chuck Woolery. He can't help but notice that she won't be much of a challenge. Ron is 6'3", has all of his teeth, and sings baritone for the First Presbyterian Church of Fresno. His golf swing has a natural left to right. His friend, Travis, thinks he heard him say the word 'shit' once. He will be a congressman in seven years.

The courtroom is quiet except for the persistent humming of the air conditioner. The Honorable Judge Judith Flester is sweating like a Kings of Leon roadie at Bonnaroo. She has never masturbated and often wonders if there isn't something wrong with her "down there." Every workday, a full slate of TiVo'd daytime television is waiting for her when she gets home. She calls it her 'routine' when she talks to her scrapbooking friends.

Chad is sitting next to Wayne on the bus to Corcoran. Wayne remembers reading somewhere that Corcoran is the most troubled of California's 32 state prisons. He ran over a Japanese woman named Miyako in the Rite-Aid parking lot in Bakersfield. He blew a .32 on the breathalyzer and was dutifully flogged. Chad is wondering whether Wayne is gay or not and if those rumors about prison rape are exaggerated. The bus smells a little like Wayne's gym.

Capt. Wiggins has patrolled Level IV housing for eighteen years. He relentlessly jacks-off to a Nickelodeon web-site he stumbled across, while googling Mike Nichols, and secretly hopes his wife will catch him. He has roughed up countless inmates over his eighteen years but becomes queasy at the sight of blood. He thinks this is ironic. He isn't exactly sure what ironic means.

Gunther is carving the symbol of the Aryan Brotherhood into Wayne's ass. It is Gunther's second ass carving of the day and he is starving. He is the son of a dentist and, like Ron, has incredible teeth. When he was eight, he saw his sister touching the neighbor's dog's penis and he couldn't stop laughing, even at dinner, and he got in trouble and was sent to his room to think about it. In prison, the fork is commonly considered the best tool with which to make a weapon. Gunther prefers the tightly rolled newspaper and as a result is known around the yard as "The Editor." He has no idea why.

There are some unfortunate tattoos on Chad's upper body. One is supposed to represent a mermaid going down on Uncle Sam, but looks more like an aerial map of Finland. Gunther mistakes it for an Asian gang symbol of some kind and shoves his weapon of choice through Chad's left eye. As Chad is convulsing, he wonders if his life will flash before his eyes and dies. Gunther is sent to the hole, for one month, where he will not think of anything.

Wayne can tell you, quite convincingly, that those rumors about prison rape are not exaggerated.

And this may be as good as it gets. It's a truism that ours is the worst legal system in the world, except for all the others. Still, common sense dictates that prison can't possibly work, much less rehabilitate, as long as we do stupid things like locking up violent offenders with the non-violent; as long as we continue to adhere to mandatory sentencing or participate in wars against drugs and vice; as long as one shining asshole with a head full of atavistic nonsense still believes in the death penalty; we are doomed. Whether they are well-intentioned or sublimely idiotic, people will fuck up complicated problems as long as there are people left to fuck them up. Sartre was right.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Casual Lesbianism as a Narrative Device in Film and Television

We have all seen it before. The new nurse on that show that you watch once in awhile is having trouble fitting in. She seems competent, has a way with the patients, and she was the one who suggested a percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography which got the doctors thinking about Wilson's disease, and saved young Michaela's life. But there is something about her and the other nurses can't quite place it.

Three episodes later, the nurses will be at a booth in their local pub, laughing and drinking tankards of gin, and one will glance toward the bar. A look of astonishment will come over her face. She will reach out to get the other nurses attention and the music will take a peculiar, almost playful, turn. Of course, there, in the corner, will be the new nurse. She will delicately brush the hair from the forehead of a small blond thing as she leans in to kiss her flush on the lips. Back in their booth the nurses will share confident, knowing smiles. Cut! Break to the Prilosec commercial.

When you see this in movies or on tv, it is easy to get the impression that something has been explained. That it isn't merely a concession to the idea that more lesbians (dwarves, Hungarians, hermaphrodites, albinos, lepers, business women, etc.) need to be represented in the media. That there is a meaningful subtext. But what could that possibly be?

The obvious answer is that television executives have a keen understanding of my desire to contemplate the idea of attractive young women going down on each other. The less obvious answer is that the writer's were trying to create a sense of "otherness" in the character. Our new nurse will win the respect of the hospital's staff, and may even befriend another nurse or two (Platonically, and not without a scene or two of Sapphic awkwardness) but she will never fully be one of them. The other nurses, doctors, and by extension the viewers, will always see her through the prism of short haircuts, studded leather, ersatz penises, and the awful specter of fisting.

By "otherness" I don't mean the solipsistic, can one consciousness ever truly know another, type of thing. I mean the guy in the black hat, he's the bad guy, type of thing. I'd like to lay this all at the feet of Basic Instinct because it is such a wretched film, but the history is richer and the trend is more deliberate. And it is meant to be obvious; you immediately know it when you see it.

The "guess who doesn't belong" time line in Hollywood films goes like this:

1930's: Dark clothing, visible scars, eye-patch, limp.
1940's: European ancestry, monocle, unusual way of smoking cigarettes.
1950's: Black, poor, leather jacket, sunglasses.
1960's: Colorful clothing, sexually active, tinted sunglasses, high.
1970's: Make-up wearing male, androgyny, a single false eyelash.
1980's: Men holding hands, blotched skin, lisp.
1990's: Women holding hands, unwashed hair, lack of affect, ice-pick.
2000's: Brown, poor, not American, out.

This is not to say that some things haven't changed. If anything, there has been a kind of corrective backlash. The lesbian nurse will turn out to not only be the best on the staff but will be a constant source of wisdom for the young doctors she works with. The hemophiliac midget will win several bronze medals in Beijing. The one armed girl will marry the dyslexic Iranian jockey and they will run a successful bed and breakfast in Fresno. Hell, the writers may as well wear t-shirts that say: See, we're not prejudiced. We're enlightened.

It is as old as Christ and nearly as effective. If you want to make a character genuinely stand out, then describe them as having sex in a way that most people don't. And for the male audience, this is especially true of female sexuality, which is mysterious and messy and consequently more terrifying. So, the next time you see a bright young paralegal smiling at your favorite female lawyer on that other show you watch once in awhile, you can be sure that she is there for a purpose.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Voyuerism as Therapy: The 30 Minute Hour

Why are you watching that shit? You seem like a pleasant, intelligent enough person. And I am not so much of a snob that I don't appreciate the allure of other people's grief. Even Aristotle defined luck as the arrow going into the guy next to you. But Christ, how many bewildered, celebrity-craving, human disasters (their eyes made small and hard through genetic bankruptcy) have to endure a public breakdown before you are satiated? It's as though television has become the genuinely ugly girl that the moderately ugly girl hangs around with, in the hope that she will appear less ugly by comparison. And you are that moderately ugly girl.

Or, I guess, WE are that moderately ugly girl. I watch a lot of this stuff on that show "The Soup." It's a funny, low budget, video anthology of deformity and mayhem, and it goes well with a Sierra Nevada and a shot of Maker's Mark. The thirty minutes fly by. And, like sex or whippets, afterwards I briefly feel pretty good. Actually, in contrast with the show's unfortunate participants, I tend to feel like a cross between Baruch de Spinoza and Michael Jordan.

But, the feeling passes. And I begin to sense an itch deep within my reptilian brain. The logic is precise; it felt good once, this exercise in palliative schadenfreude, and it should feel good again. And why not? Other people spend thousands of therapeutic dollars just so they can tell perfect strangers about that dream they had where they set their boss on fire and then skull-fucked her smoldering remains. Watching an alcoholic transvestite regurgitate a plate of silkworms on tv seems positively benign by comparison. And less expensive.

The danger in this form of therapy is that it is so easy to build up an implacable tolerance. Suddenly, it is no longer enough that some tweeked out Nebraskan caught Chlamydia from her autistic brother. Ever greater feats of weirdness and depravity must be sought out. The Random Public Execution Hour with Jim Lehrer might fill the gap; or is it simply too late? I'm sure TV execs are doing their best to help, but even those gifted minds must be approaching the end of their collective tether.

So, at the risk of oversimplifying, turn the damned thing off. Eat an apple. Pick a daisy and duct tape it to a pony. You may feel a little better; and, hell, we are not designed to feel all that great anyway. This is why I limit myself to that half hour of The Soup. It frees up the rest of my day and allows me to deal with the complicated nonsense that I managed to make of my own life.

Your 30 minutes are up.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

By Request: We Happy Few

For A.G.

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here
-Henry V

Not since the Mamelukes seized control of Egypt in the early 870's has there been such a public outcry as the one I am now experiencing. It involves two British women who drunkenly tried to down a plane full of people after they were denied additional alcohol and after they created your typical "I can't handle my booze" scene; a scene replete with the waving of vodka bottles, extensive groping and harassing of flight attendants, and the slapping of someone's Mum. Suffice it to say that this behavior, formerly de rigueur on any legitimate college campus, is no longer tolerated on our once proud airlines.

This terrible, terrible news. What am I to make of it? Do I just go about my daily business as though nothing has changed? Will I forever be averting my gaze at cocktail parties in a vain attempt to manufacture appropriate topics of conversation, fully aware of the ghastly trouble that plagues every guest's beleaguered mind? How am I to answer all of the difficult questions that the students at Blackford Elementary School will surely have for me when studies resume in September?

Well, it only gets worse. One British newspaper (the Telegraph) distressingly assures us that the ladies in question "were thought to be from Merseyside." Armed with this astonishing piece of information, I feel even less prepared to make sense of this horrible nonsense. I mean, Merseyside? For God's sake, not Merseyside. Will they ever be able to live down the shame? Perhaps they can take solace in the fact that the girls were only THOUGHT to be from Merseyside. Perhaps there is hope yet.

As you undoubtedly know, Merseyside was designated as a "Special Review" area in the Local Government Act of 1958. Of course I have never been there, or even heard of it, but I am confident that this quiet, sylvan hamlet is comprised of well read, smiling children who attend to the needs of the elderly and who are free from the horrors of methamphetamine addiction. And it is those helpless waifs who will suffer the most.

Suffer at the hands of countless drunken bimbos. Suffer at the hands of airline personnel that are apparently unaware of the delicate persuasiveness of the taser-gun. Suffer at the hands of a permissive society grown fat on socialism and non-procreative sex. And suffer at the hands of you, the reader. Because, while you were reading this blog, someone, somewhere, did something stupid. And you did nothing to stop it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hope is a Thing

The sky in San Jose this morning is a canopy of poisonous browns and yellows. Smoke pours in over the mountains from any number of recalcitrant wildfires that portend the end of days. Elderly Asian women ambling through the streets in masks, once a happy source of derision, are being openly worshipped by those with enough leg strength to keep up. Cormac McCarthy described such things and they never turned out well.

Still, amidst the ash and living debris that makes up my back yard, a small cache of tomato plants are finally coming into their own. This year has been hard on them. They are surrounded on all sides by impossibly shaped purple-green weeds; weeds grown bold and nihilistic after generations of heavy metal leeching, acid rain, and American Godlessness. The insects that dare to feed on these weeds become the size of kittens and develop a slathering hunger that can only be subdued by tomatoes and occasional human flesh. The shadows are long, the days are short, and Angels have abandoned weeping.


Like Dickinson's feathered thing. Right there in my garden. Little green orbs of... what? Hope!? No, probably not. Just little green orbs growing on weary vines in a kind of reflexive animal shudder. But they are something that pushes against entropy, if just for a second; and I'll take it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Editorial: Logic and Bureaucracy

October 21, 1921. All is imaginary– family , office, friends, the street, all imaginary, far away or close at hand, the woman; the truth that lies closest, however, is only this, that you are beating your head against the wall of a windowless and doorless cell.

It was such a good idea. In the middle of the 19th century, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis was worrying about the infant mortality rate in his hospital. Long story short, he linked the problem to medical students coming from their autopsy lessons straight to the maternity ward. He suggested that they wash their hands before delivering the babies. He was ridiculed, endured arduous personal grief, was finally vindicated, the world is a better place as a result, etc. It would make a fine TV movie starring Adrian Zmed and Emmys would be duly awarded.

It really WAS a good idea, and I can confidently state that the difference between the washed and unwashed hands was significant. Later, as stronger disinfectant, better gloves, and universal precautions became the norm, even the most skeptical hypochondriac could rest easy. The logic is sound; in this instance.

Of course people still die of infection during childbirth; it's just that there are fewer of them. But, using the same logic of refinement as before, couldn't we do better? Maybe doctors should wear full body clean suits during deliveries. Or, better yet, they could wear them at all times while in the hospital. Perhaps some of the more dedicated doctors should wear them at all times, period. They could become an elite class of viral priests, consulted only for the most heinous threats. We would store them in pristine glass cathedrals, and feed them vaporized nutrients through long silk tubes that have never felt the degrading touch of human skin. And, still, people would die of infection during childbirth. Fewer of them, to be sure, but not by many.

It is this type of thinking that leads well intentioned idiots to put a stop sign on every street corner where some unfortunate child was run over by a Jeep. If only we had a stop sign HERE. If only there was a law against THAT. If only every contingency had been taken into consideration, then Chad would still have the use of his left arm; Dakota would be able to see the candles on her birthday cake as her nurse blows them out.

"Somebody is to blame," exclaims the deranged talk show host as she wrings her hands pleadingly before the camera. "Somebody must pay." And the helplessly uninformed nod their heads in solemn resignation. Because, if even one bad thing happens to even one person, anywhere for any reason, then we must do something about it. Right?

No. It simply isn't the case. Having doctors wash their hands prior to surgery makes sense and works. Still, the logic can obviously be taken too far. We cannot take every variable into consideration, nor should we. That type of thinking has an inevitable deforming effect. It is the reason we have ten million abstruse, self-contradictory laws. It is the reason you need eleven kinds of identification just for the privilege of filling out eleven thousand forms in order to get anything done in any government building. It is the reason that decent people are duckwalked through crowded airports, strip searched and probed on the off chance that they packed three lighters rather than two.

Face it. Crazy shit happens. All the time. And it is due to the fact that existence is almost perfectly indifferent to human desire. Even that randy old philistine, Ben Franklin, was in the know: The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either. Sure, he could have used a couple of commas, but Goddamn, buy that man a drink. And go ahead, wash your hands before delivering a baby, just don't cut them off. You'll probably need them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Celebrity Profile: Darren Woodson

Against the dark blue blur you can barely make out the number 28 as it frantically grows larger and larger until, with a blast of sweat and malice, you are staring up at the hole God looks through and wondering why your teeth feel swollen. Darren Woodson disappears back into the defensive huddle and you get no high-fives. Your children will probably see you on ESPN tonight.

At 6-1, 219, this five time pro-bowler lead a talented Dallas defense that controlled the National Football League in the early nineties and deprived Steve Young of more jewelry than any self-respecting Mormon could ever justify wearing in the first place. He was one of the new, archetypal, hybrid players; good in coverage and strong against the run. Easily placed anywhere on the field by savvy, experience laden coaches, he was a sniper's scope, honed in upon the subtle gaps found in any offense's Kevlar vest. But, this is understatement. Or, maybe, it isn't. I really liked this guy though.

In an interview that never took place in the wondrous Cowboy's facilities at Valley Ranch, I asked Darren some questions about those Halcyon days and what effect they had on his love of painting.

PP: How would you describe your early years in Dallas? Did they exceed your expectations?

DW: I had a lot of very good, talented, driven people surrounding me. Haley (Charles) was a mentor to me and the coaches really helped me grow. Who are you with again?

PP: Sports (inaudible).

DW: Huh?

PP: Yes, and three Super Bowls in four years; that must have given you a sense of super-human invincibility, as though you were a God placed upon this earth to help shine light on the lives of quiet desperation that most men lead.

DW: I wouldn't go that far. Who are you with again?

PP: Right, and how did this commitment to football excellence effect you as a painter?

DW: Oh, I don't paint. I can't even draw a cat.

PP: I see.

DW: Troy (Aikmen) could draw caricatures though. He could draw you in a dune buggy. You like dune buggies, don't you?

And who doesn't? Yes, these were heady times for the Cowboys and for human society in general. What man cannot look back at the toe-headed waif he was in 1992 and not shed a tear of joy at that simpler, happier era?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

An Open Letter: To Natalie Portman

Dear Natalie,
I had a dream about you the other night.
Yours, Pirate

An Open Letter: To Nicole Kidman

Dear Nicole,
I had a dream about Natalie Portman the other night.
Yours, Pirate

Saturday, July 19, 2008

First Thing: Dental Hygiene is More Important Than Love

Good dental hygiene is quite a bit more important than love. Not merely from the practical perspective, but also from the moral, spiritual, and aesthetic perspectives. Kurt Vonnegut wrote, in his great novel Galapagos, that although the human animal will still exist in 1,000,000 years, his teeth will continue to be the same shabby constructions that they are today. Heed this warning; for the love of God.

Practically speaking: You are on your bed, dangling your head over the edge and rotating it counter-clockwise in ever decreasing concentric circles as you jut your right leg up and out at a 28 degree angle ( always a 28 degree angle) and then back down, alternating legs in amateur balletic fashion. Vaguely squirrel-like noises punctuate a simultaneous humming and grunting as thick, hot tears stream down your freakishly swollen face. Stray fragments of hair and blood cling to your numb fingers; testament to the necessary hours of preparatory pulling and scratching. And why? Why are you doing this? Because your teeth are in such terrific pain that you've come to embrace the idea of an immediate and all encompassing apocalyptic cataclysm; and THIS is all that seems to help. You have no thoughts of love.

Morally speaking: It is a well known and established fact that deviant behavior is directly related to poor dental hygiene ( cf "Bad Teeth, Bad People" - New England Journal of Medicine, June 1994.) Anecdotal evidence abounds, and to those in the know it should go without saying that there is an unwritten, unspoken code in the prison systems of the world that allows for the segregation of prisoners based on their various oral contingencies. There is also archaeological evidence in some deleted sections from Sir James George Frazer's magnificent work "The Golden Bough" ( graciously shown to your humble author, by the Frazer estate, on condition that they not be quoted at length.) The sections were deleted as a result of the controversial nature of their subject matter; all things oral being very much taboo at the time of its printing. Suffice it to say that through his study of primitive tribes ( the Yacutl, Wargamo, and the hideous and malingering Pygmy Nation) Sir James documents no less than 43 instances of ritual orthodontic deification; not to mention the unfortunate practice of gingimuertification. Dental Hygiene has always been a useful tool for weeding out undesirables, while love is simply an inferior gauge for such delicate work.

Spiritually speaking: God has lovely teeth. Jesus, Aquinas, Augustine, Luther, could all chew through barbed wire. Saul had awful teeth before he became Paul, and now they are a vision. Spinoza's shone like the sun. Pol Pot's teeth exploded into fragments upon eating oatmeal. Hitler had an abscess. Mussolini could only chew on one side of his mouth. It is even said that Stalin had no teeth at all, but rather a series of official dentures made from the teeth of better men. Res ipsa loquitur.

Aesthetically speaking: Chicks dig nice teeth. So, perhaps, love does have something to do with it. Still, I can't help but feel that my dentist is thinking of the inscription above the gates to hell when she opens my mouth for yet another six hour ordeal: Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Well, That Happened: An Unnecessary Rant

Honestly. I love pornography. Right now, after a night of heavy drinking, heavy gigging, and several hours of poker, I am watching Meet The Press on my TV and also have a Girls Gone Wild video playing on my computer. I could just as easily be in my car eating an apple and contemplating Naomi Watt's unnatural attraction to me. Or anything. I guess this makes me a bad person. If I were more Dostoevskyien I would tell you that I am a sick man, a terrible man; but I am not. I just enjoy watching people have sex. Or even the idea of watching people have sex. This is, of course, far too intimate. Maybe it is the gin. Maybe I am simply tired of pretending; God, I am tired. Still, I would like to think that it is the latter. Maybe this is a weakness of mine. Then again, why would one ever need a reason for enjoying such a thing? I hear it all the time. X had sex with Y and mayhem ensued. Sex. Really? I won't pretend that it is merely friction and release, but for God's sake, it is not what we pretend it is. In fact, it is fun. All of it. Well, really, most of it. No kids, no rape, but other than that, it is all open. Two girls and a cup? Hey, knock yourself out. Personally, that makes me think of sadness and decay. But what do I know? I, me, I mean me, will be dead soon, and I don't want to have spent a significant amount of my adult life acting as though I wasn't, in the slightest bit, interested in that young cheerleader's somewhat unwilling but overwhelmingly productive introduction into Sapphic bliss. She is curious. She wants to know. If I hadn't deformed myself so thoroughly, what surprises would I have found in store for me? I don't know. It still feels a little icky; or, at least, as though it is something of an imposition. Why would I do that? Or even want to? And what gives me the right? Nothing. God it is compelling though. I tend to catch a lot of flack for my ideas regarding 'open relationships' but am I genuinely expected to behave as though my love for a person extinguishes my attraction to some, any, other person? Biology begs to differ. I know that we are not merely biology, but we, damn well, are biological creatures. We don't need, or benefit from, the extra weight. Would it matter if I said that I didn't want to grind on every person I ever met? It isn't exactly true, but, hey, it isn't exactly untrue either. No, no, no. It is not my liver or my serotonin level that is talking to you now. I feel the need for a disclaimer, but I will give none. Honestly. Honestly. Fuck. Take a chance. Fuck. Fuck.