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The last time I participated in a cyber-discussion on TNB in the comments section, I expressed my gratitude that authors, unlike actors or singers, don’t rely on appearances, and thus don’t have the same pressures—particularly those of needing plastic surgery to further their careers, specifically boob jobs. Besides, I offered, most writers aren’t that good looking.

 

 

A commenter disagreed, suggesting that plastic surgery might possibly help sell books. An author should do everything in his or her means to promote, including looking his or her best, whether through surgical enhancement or other means. Besides, boob jobs and plastic surgery are akin to braces and tattoos and teeth whitening and hair dye. A personal choice. Not a political one.

It got me thinking: If I got a breast lift, would I sell more books? If I lost ten pounds, would I be a better writer?

 

Recently I was on a panel titled “Getting Published” at the UCLA Writers’ Faire. My fellow panelist talked quite extensively about having a “platform.” A blog, Twitter, Facebook. A presence. These, she seemed to suggest, were more important than the writing itself. At the very least, without a platform, the writing, no matter how great, would remain unpublished.

It got me thinking: Do I need a blog, Twitter, and Facebook to be a better writer?

In other words, if I became more of a narcissist, and if my vanity increased, would my writing improve?

Nah.

I’ll probably gain ten pounds, let myself go, and stay off Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

Scene:

Melbourne, Australia, Friday 13th, 11:13pm-ish.

LOCATION: STUDY, INTERIOR.

Pan in on SIMON at his computer. SIMON is 28, dark-haired, with an air – no, an aura – about him, perhaps something around the eyes, that seems to say, ’24 hours later, I’m still amazed by the fact I made a conscious choice to start drinking Swedish strawberry cider last night, and, 24 hours and kilos of bacon later, I’m still amazed by how hungover I remain. You tricked me, Sweden. Again. Fuck you.’

Also, he’s really VERY HANDSOME; like Cary Grant, Billy Zane, and someone who onlookers would describe as ‘really very handsome’ all rolled into one.

Soundtrack: This Busta Rhymes – AC/DC mashup that SIMON cannot seem to stop listening to right now.

We see the small red notification informing SIMON he has received a new message appear on the Facebook taskbar. The message is one in an ongoing conversation between SIMON and his friend DARCI in New York. Regrettably, this conversation is about FRED DURST (not present in the scene). The discussion focuses on how anything can be made funny by adding FRED DURST to the equation or rather, SIMON’s half of the discussion focuses on this.

SIMON then makes a reference to the once-famous phrase ‘DON’T FAKE THE FUNK ON A NASTY DUNK‘ and how he finds it just as hilarious as the existence of FRED DURST.

We see SIMON, suddenly inspired, update his status to read ‘SIMON… NEVER FAKES THE FUNK ON A NASTY DUNK.’

Moments later another red notification sign flares into life. This time, it is the small square with rounded edges that sits at the corner of the little blue world globe, letting SIMON know someone has commented on his status. He clicks on it.

Note: Simon remains VERY HANDSOME, but the moment is about to get ugly.

Not Simon, though.

CUT TO: Focus on the screen, where one of SIMON’s friends has commented: ‘Gay.’

SIMON: does that kind of reverse whistling/suck in air thing you do when you see someone bark their shin on a car door and draws back from the computer into the cushions of his chair.

End scene.

*

Now, it was about this time we hit trouble.

Seconds after the first notification, a second friend, from the same group, left a comment on the same status: ‘Double gay.’ A third, again from the same group, left another: ‘Triple gay.’

And I just went… Really?

And that was when I realised that maybe I was about to get caught in the middle of a nasty dunk. And if so, then no matter what else I did, the one thing I could not do was fake the funk.

*

The Nasty Dunk

See, I know these people – some of them for over twenty years. They’re among my best friends. None of them are hate criminals, if that’s a term.. They’re tertiary-educated, cosmopolitan, well-traveled types. They’re not close-minded or mean or particularly bigoted, or at least, my experience of them, which is a fairly comprehensive one, says to me they are not.

On the other hand…

It took maybe twenty seconds for my brain to itemise all the 21st rules of speech and political correctness involved. Everyone involved was and is past the point of ignorance; we’re all internet users, we’ve all been exposed to the difficulties of comment culture, we’re all past the point of being surprised by online speech. And a quick Google search revealed no one had split the gay lingual atom while I wasn’t looking; there hadn’t been some mass acceptance of the term as fair game.

And so that’s where I was: the term gay denotes a particular sexuality, and the term gay was being used as an insult, so, therefore, we’ve got textbook discrimination here, right on my Facebook page, where I am both the owner and the owned of any information that goes back and forth.

With acknowledgment of that fact came the confirmation of my suspicion that this was indeed a dunk I had on my hands, and, furthermore, a nasty one. My question to myself was what would constitute faking the funk, and how could I avoid such an outcome?

*

Faking the Funk

As I saw it, there were a number of options available to me, many of which would constitute faking the funk – the very situation I wanted to avoid.

Funk Fake #1: Over-seriousness.

I’m a firm believer in the use of humour and discussion to deflect and resolve conflict, especially on the internet, when disaster is never further than a LOLFAG! away. Not every situation calls for charging out, guns blazing – doing so can often be counter-productive, because it only makes people dig in their heels and sound off all the louder. I didn’t want to start a giant debate or flame war, because, given that I assumed these people were probably hanging out, and drinking a little, and working themselves into a mentality of poorly-thought-out teasing, rather than expressing any deep and true homophobia, bringing the hammer down wasn’t an option that would do any real good for anyone.

And because, really, when the shoe’s on the other foot… fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

Funk Fake #2: Under-seriousness.

But at the same time, if I was to just let the issue slide… that would be a tacit endorsement of speech  I don’t agree with. To engage positively with the name-calling or to say nothing would be to indirectly say ‘Hey! You can use the word gay as an insult, no matter how minor your intent or disconnected from definition, and that’s perfectly OK by me, Simon Smithson!’

It’s not as if I thought the whole world was watching with bated breath; the goings-on on my Facebook page were hardly going to carry over to influence much of anything, anywhere, ever. But still…

Would that go on my passport?

Simon Smithson: Feels OK about discriminatory insults. Facebook proves it.

I could see, in my head, a vision of trying to get back into the USA, and the staffer behind the immigration desk looking at me, looking at my passport and reading those accusing words, then looking back up at me… and slowly narrowing his eyes.

Of course, in my head, he is a member of an ethnic minority. And transgendered. And he/she’s a Scientologist. Who likes Yanni. And the film Glitter.

God.

The shame.

My shame, I mean.

Although the transgender customs official would be right to be ashamed of liking Glitter.

That fantasy aside, all I could think of was this at the 1:30 mark.

Funk Fake #3: Total and Complete Hypocrisy.

99% of humor is based on laughing at someone or something. There has to be an object, which means, no matter how you slice it, there’s potential for someone, somewhere, to be offended. And I laugh at horrible things all the time. I make inappropriate jokes, delight in the shattering of taboos, and if you show me a sacred cow, then I’ll tell you a story about how it cries during sex and also, it’s fat. And we should eat it. Because its tears make it taste sweeter.

At the same time… I pick my audience. And I’m aware of setting. Context changes everything; it’s why the line ‘that’s what she said!’ is funny; why you don’t swear in front of children. It’s why we don’t, when asked by our new girlfriend’s parents how our day was, say ‘It was retarded!’ It’s why you don’t have the same conversations with your girlfriend as you have with your grandmother.

Unless they’re both performing on stage in the same North Korean sex club at the same time.

Because we’re not idiots.

Funk Fake #4: Weird Co-Opting of a Crusader Identity.

Because, just like Ludacris, whose words I try to live by every day, especially when it comes to bitches… man, I don’t want to do that. I want to have a good time and enjoy my Jack, or, rather, my Swedish strawberry cider.

It’s midnight. On a Friday. I don’t want to set off down some moral pathway where I start to define myself as someone who voices disapproval of the possible infringement of the right of a group of people to enjoy an existence untainted by bias¹. I certainly don’t want to end up in some foggy internet netherworld of political correctness and high horses and debate over definition and intent.

Especially because it’s unpleasant and unappealing and nobody likes it.

And yet, here I am. I’ve been put here.

Goddamnit.

You dicks.

Funk Fake #5: Freedom of Speech.

Which is something I believe very strongly in. Where does my subjective truth about what is acceptable or not end and objective truth begin? Can I be justified in calling people out for expressing whatever it is they’re going to express? Isn’t that, like, Communist, or something? It’s definitely Russian, I know that much.

Can I balance thoughts of consequence against thoughts of censorship and find that the scales tip one way or another? Don’t we have freedom of speech on the internet, of all places? We’ve certainly got freedom of porn. All of these questions welled up before my eyes.

But then three sweet, sweet words emerged in my head: right of reply.

*

Then I figured fuck it. I’d just delete the offending comments, the writers would, I hoped, get the message, and we’d all move on with our lives.

I deleted them, and then thought Ah… damn it. Deletion isn’t really explicitly saying hey, don’t do that, but… ah well. The problem has been dealt with.

Seconds later, more comments appeared from the same people. About censorship, me being a gay little lesbian², uberhomo, quintuple gay (you skipped quadruple, idiots)… et cetera. And I thought damn it! I’ve forgotten the law of the schoolyard! Don’t fuel the fire!

And then I thought Wait, what? I’m 28 years old. These people are 28 years old. And no matter what they say about censorship, there’s no way they’d use the term gay pejoratively in, say, a job interview; they’d self-censor at the drop of a hat and jump squeaking through any hoop that was put in front of them.  They’d contort themselves into mewling pretzels to avoid the appearance of bigotry.They just think they can get away with it in this specific instance.

My next step was to write something non-engaging and non-condoning. I searched for the perfect phrase, and, again, found three simple words.

‘Dude. Not OK.’

To me, that was the perfect pitch of disapproval without judgment or self-righteousness.

It didn’t work.

So I followed it up, explaining that on my personal Facebook page, my online representation of my day to day life, I would censor who and what I pleased, and I don’t condone the use of the word gay as an insult.

Again, this didn’t work.

And I thought You know what? Harvey Milk wouldn’t put up with this bullshit.

Also, I’m getting disrespected here. And yeah, that really kind of pales in comparison to the larger issue, but still… this whole thing is really getting out of hand.

Three times, I had expressed my disapproval. I don’t know what it is about the magic power of the number three, but, there are the three aspects of God, luck runs in threes, apparently the Condor has three days… and so I said to myself The next person who mouths off… well, we’ll just see about that.

At this point, a friend from high school, and the same group, who had been previously silent, lumbered into the discussion and dropped the g word, and subsequently became a cautionary tale of the power of the block button.

A tingling taste, like raw power, or sherbet, or a delicious, fizzy mix of the two, spread across my tongue.

Before anyone had caught on, one of the earlier perpetrators commented again. “You’re so concerned about people saying gay on your stupid facebook page. That’s gay in itself.”

Boom.

Blocked.

Awesome.

And I don’t care if you are my best friend’s girlfriend.

My phone started to ring at this point, and I ignored it. More comments appeared, this time about hurt feelings.

Not from the people I’d blocked, of course.

Because they couldn’t comment any more.

I spoke to another, unrelated friend about this today.

‘Did you give them any warning?’ she laughed. ‘Maybe they didn’t know that you were going to block them.’

‘Well,’ I said.

‘They fucking know now, don’t they?’

*

This kind of censorship and debate is a new experience for me. I haven’t found myself in a situation before where I’ve felt the need to tell someone they can’t say something, or that I disagree with a public statement they’ve made, on grounds of discrimination.

I’ve certainly been told in the past that I’ve said things that are out of line.

Which is probably fair, in practical terms, if nothing else.

But it raises the question – who’s to say what’s allowable, and what isn’t? Who is to say, objectively, what can and cannot be said, in which theatre? Who is to say what the appropriate steps to engage with such discussions are?

The answer, frankly, is clear.

I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

¹ – these are also Ludacris lyrics
² – as if I’ve never been called a lesbian before

I think marijuana should be legalized.It is not a gateway drug and it offers a variety of important medicinal benefits. It’s a total no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.People should have the right to choose. But there is another very important reason that pot should be legal, one that I’ve not seen addressed much in the media.

Author’s Note: Once you’ve read the following piece, please feel free to watch the video of it as well. You can see it right here on TNB-TV.


To The Judgmental, Rushing-to-Conclusions Cashier at My Local Supermarket:


Just because I came in at 2 a.m. last night to purchase almond milk, Astroglide and graham crackers doesn’t mean I’m some lactose-intolerant, sport-fucking insomniac with a sweet tooth. It just means that for a change I’m in love. Real love. Capital L. Capital O. Capital V. Capital E: LOVE. All in bright, blinking lights and spread across the evening sky.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, the next time you see me, stop rolling your eyes and shaking your head. Just take my money, gimme my goods and change and I’ll be on my way. Cause waiting for me at home is love. Real love. All that capital letter, bright blinking light love. My love, she’s the one whose steady breath is a calendar marking my days. She’s nothing like those cheap Merlot girls I’ve known before; the ones lacking body, heavy with acidic wit and leaving me feeling like shit the next day.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, even though you may think I’m some babbling Hollywood street freak shaman of oddities, understand that you and me, we’re not so different. You, you’re constantly being pummeled by Muzak, rude customers and fluorescent lights. And me, I’ve also had my share of crushingly catatonic days; feeling way beyond torn, loco as Dahmer, no longer on speaking terms with my soul’s personal embalmer. Instead of a happy man floating on air I was a dead man walking.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, don’t think I’m some 21st Century twist on Jack the Ripper should I come in late one night buying kitchen gloves, razor blades and heavy-duty dental floss. Really, I’m harmless. All I’m trying to do is make sense of love. Capital L. Capital O. Capital V. Capital E: LOVE. Yeah, with my love I’ve learned that muscle memory is far trustworthier than prayer. So I just keep on swinging from the trapeze of her irresistibility, knowing that should I let go she’ll be there with absolute grace, pulling me into her embrace. And the way we move—flesh against flesh, confession against confleshion—it’s like lullabies and locomotives are stitched into our skin.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, stop looking at me like you’re writing me hate mail on the backs of your eyeballs. I’m just trying to make a point here. Just baring my soul, trying to make sense of love. Real love. All that capital letter, bright blinking light love. With my love, I’d gladly bury myself alive deep within the pleasure tomb of her wanting. It don’t scare me that there are no visible exit signs written into her blood, cause there’s nowhere else I’d rather be but love. Real love. Capital L. Capital O. Capital V. Capital E: LOVE. Yeah, my love, she’s the 13th apostle in Faith’s good-luck gospel. Knows her semiotics and semi-automatics. She’s locked and loaded at the 11th hour. Wielding her salvation gun, she’s ready to shoot me not down, but up. Oh, astronomy, Deuteronomy, Nostradamus, Monopoly. While it all might sound like a game here, I’m not kidding.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, stop looking at me like you’re S.W.A.T., just biding your time, waiting for a clear shot. Hear me out when I say that love, real love, my love, all that capital letter, bright blinking light love, she’s my Hope Diamond treasure. My telepathic push-me, pull-you of pleasure. Her lips are assassins doling out bullets of uncomplicated bliss. And when we kiss: Present, past & future, I never know what tense I exist in with her anymore. Cause it all feels like Now.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, know that love, real love, my love, she’s all hips and hydrogen bomb. Blows me away every time I see her walking down the street. She’s my lowdown, sweet and dirty mystic angel, swirling Jersey pirate radio. And oh how I play that station all night long. No more sorrow songs. Those were ten moons and an ocean ago. Back when I had the words early grave tattooed on my psyche. Back when misery blew me away so badly they needed a dustpan and broom to clean me off the walls of Kingdom Come.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, stop giving me those dirty looks the next time I come in to shop. Especially if I’m buying more almond milk, Astroglide and graham crackers. Believe me, it’s all for a good cause. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you here. I’m just trying to make sense of Capital L, Capital O, Capital V, Capital E: LOVE.

Invaders! The enemy is at the gates, and he looks just like us, but with better teeth. And really, we want to be his friend. And there are no gates. I’ve filed this piece under “Rants” and with good reason: I’m about to get right off my bike about British English’s gradual erosion and the slow, insidious advance of a simplified (dumbed down) form of American English.

But.

Saknussemm in Guandong

I hate to big note myself (unless I’m ill-advisedly tilting at the windmill of a luscious younger woman who I think may not see through the act quickly enough)-but, as a certified paranoiac, I do occasionally have moments where I draw some grand albeit dark and discomfiting conclusions about the impact of my psychic state, perhaps just even my physical presence, on the larger scene.

For example, I can’t help but feel some twinge of that famous sinking feeling when I think of the Chinese province of Guandong.

Things can start off innocently enough-say with a tea-buying spree in Shanghai or some casual misbehavior in Hong Kong (although I do have my friend, the San Francisco writer Leland Cheuk, to thank for bailing me out of an embarrassingly large bill once at a girlie bar in Wan Chai)-but by the time I get to Guandong, things start to openly wobble.

Each visit, some catastrophe has taken place. I lie. Multiple crises have ensued, erupted-and just plain exploded. I’m left with the nagging question-am I a DISASTER MAGNET?

Guandong is China’s most populous region and the driving wheel of their economic empire. Guangzhou (Canton) is the principal city. To say it’s possibly the world’s densest manufacturing center today is no overstatement and doesn’t really begin to capture the emotional-psychological aspect. We’re talking the intensity of a termite mound during a thunderstorm.

Guandong produces a signficant percentage of China’s entire GDP, and there’s an excellent chance that right around you now are a whole lot of things made there-from clothing to electrical goods, to things inside other things-to stuff you don’t want to know about. Anything you can think of in fact, may very well be made in Guandong.

Hong Kong and Macau were historically parts of Guandong, and Cantonese remains the main language spoken there, despite the recent flood of immigration from other parts of the country because of the employment opportunities. The bulk of the men and women who built the railroads of America and Canada originated from Guandong, and that same work ethic is very much alive today.

Which isn’t to say that all is well there. Not by a long shot. Most of the wealth produced is consolidated around the Pearl River Delta. Actual wages generally are often pitiful. Sweatshops, battery farms and bizarre factory scenes from out of the 19th century sit right alongside complexes that conjure the 22nd. Unidentified clouds of smoke hang over vast sections. I worked one summer on Neville Island in Pittsburgh, back when steel and coke were manufactured there, and it doesn’t even begin to compare.

Toledo painted by Saknussemm

I first went to Guandong because of this painting (ironically titled Toledo).

A gallery in Hong Kong had taken me on and had sold it to an advertising executive visiting from Guangzhou. The gallery owner’s tip was to pay a visit there. There was talk of the Chinese government turning an immense decommissioned military base into a magical arts colony, where artists from all over China and the world would be welcome to live for free, providing they fixed up their own studio quarters. I was on a plane to Guangzhou quick smart-and that’s when the pattern began to form.

I could be sitting peacefully at a Western style breakfast…and a fiberglass factory has burst into an inferno of flames flash-frying 400 workers in an instant. Phosphates are found to be leeching into a major waterway. 300 school children suddenly lose all their hair. The principal railway line suddenly gets closed for unstated reasons and men in strange uniforms appear. The next morning an “incident” has occurred at a sulfuric acid plant. (Incidents don’t occur with sulfuric acid-more like total havoc and mayhem.) And then there are the agricultural industry outbreaks.

Meat Pig Head

We all know that chickens go supernova when the computers malfunction and too many hormones are administered. We all freaked out about Bird Flu. But what about suckling pigs with two heads? What about several baby pigs with two heads?

Yes, we’re willing to overlook a few oddball mutations. What would the traditions of the NBA, the freak show, and a good portion of next year’s admitted class to M.I.T. be without some wiggle room on this point? But it’s not a good look to be eating some Western style bacon in Guandong-overhearing that several hundred factory workers have been cooked like bacon, and only a few miles away, pigs are being born with two heads.

Now, I concede, it’s very possible-it may even be likely-that my coincidental presence has had nothing to do with these calamities. No one wishes that more than me. But I’ll tell you the thing that worries me the most. When this weird shit has been going down-and I count a total of thirteen “incidents” over the course of my visits that would’ve made front page/top of the TV bulletin news where I live-only one made it onto the radar of the world media that I’m aware of. One. (In a particularly worrisome instance, 4,000 people were exposed to toxic chemicals and I’m certain nary a whisper reached CNN or any outside news source.)

China has become much more media transparent than it was only a short while ago. The recent spree of attacks by lunatics on school children is a case in point. That news might well not have reached us once. The Olympics in Beijing helped. The influx of western businesses has helped. But in my view, we have the Chinese students and folks under thirty to thank for opening some windows that were previously sealed-and not always for reasons of some kind of political dissent. In fact, many Chinese young people are far more conservative than you might think.

The reason these younger people are conduits for news is that they’re often dislocated across great distances from their homes to study in the major cities, and like many of the population, they’re forced to occasionally seek employment at great distance from home. A lot of news that otherwise might not get out is carried in very personal ways by this mobile section of the populace.

It helps that these younger people are computer fluent, usually have cell phones, and have some degree of multilingual skills. But theirs isn’t for the most part any active attempt to subvert the official government spin on anything. The many students I’ve met are working hard just to cope with the challenges they face, and they have a great deal of pride in their cultures. Take my young friend Su, for instance.

She comes from an isolated rural village in the far north and lives in a shoebox, attending university in Shanghai. She’s the first person of her generation to go away to university, and in recognition of her achievement, her village named their most prized asset after her-a large earthmoving machine. When the government presented it to them, they had her name stenciled on the side. It sounds like a humble honor, but as everyone knows, 20 year olds don’t tear up all that easy-and she does when she shows the photograph-meekly but with reverence.

Her goal is to get educated and to help her family. She has no political radicalism. But she gets concerned when she hears from her brother, who works in Guandong, that several of his fellow employees have suddenly fallen gravely ill or that a few hundred at a plant nearby have been incinerated.

What did the plant manufacture? That’s another very big problem. It’s not just that industrial accidents occur far too frequently (whether I have anything to do with it or not), there’s a much bigger issue.

I have a friend who’s been a senior chemical engineer for DuPont (The Miracles of Science™). Their history, like Monsanto’s and others, is pretty checkered too. I don’t pretend to understand all that he does, but here’s how he puts it. “It’s very wrong to think the problem with developing giants like China and India is a matter of quality control and safety standards. That makes it sound like there are lapses in protocol that create accidents. It’s a lot truer to say that there are practices and processes at work that aren’t safe period. You don’t need a Ph.D. and twenty years of industry experience to know certain things aren’t only dubious, but highly dangerous. You can see them from the road. There are manufacturing facilities involved in multiple kinds of production that would simply not be allowed in the U.S., Japan and in all of Western Europe.”

Chinese Money

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why this is allowed to continue. It’s not a question of there being no photographic evidence, no chemical analyses, a tell-no-one conspiracy on the part of the government and its leverage over their media. We’re all engaged in the “conspiracy” because it’s right out in the open. We’re all stepping and fetching to the beat of China’s economic drum, with India’s juggernaut not far behind.

And yet, it’s a great mistake, too, to assign national blame in this regard, when multinational corporations are involved. Large portions of America have been similarly blighted in the past because of money and expedience (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and on and on). Think of the Midlands of England. Industrial devastation is nothing new-but it takes on a new meaning with both the scale of production in Guandong and what’s being produced.

Can any region, anywhere in the world sustain super-dense manufacturing across such a huge spectrum of industries, even if the highest quality work practices are in place? What if they’re obviously not?

It’s easy to think the problem is somehow “over there.” It’s easy to ignore what you hear only vaguely about, if at all. And sadly, it’s all too easy for whole nations to turn their backs on commercial negligence and malfeasance for financial reasons.

But sooner or later, a catastrophe occurs that inevitably does make the news-and like news-can travel. Look at BP’s tragic fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico.

Thank You, Good LuckI confess that I knew only generally what the situation was like in China until I physically paid a visit. There are thousands of legitimate enterprises that are being well run there-coping with a multitude of complex logistical problems. But while we may worry at large about China’s carbon footprint, I had some serious tactical concerns for my own, when I stepped through a marshy area and later felt a distinctly warm sensation. By the time I made it back to my hotel, the soles of my new Shanghai shoes were partially dissolved. Those shoes were dramatically cheaper than anything I could buy in America or Australia. But I can’t help wondering if there’s another price tag involved.

First let me say that this is not a criticism of music writers or music writing as a genre. Far from it. To all of you music writers, I say, Rock on. Tons of people read your stuff, and will talk to you about it till the cows come home. But I won’t be one of them.

Not because I’m some sort of snob, or only read “literature.” (Please: I read celebrity gossip every day. Blind items revealed? Squee!) No. It’s because I don’t know shit about music. Like sports, most music is simply beyond my knowledge, so when you write about the best this or the worst that, or the top ten whatever, I’ll enjoy the writing, metaphors, and anecdotes, but I’ll have no idea who or what you’re talking about.

Case in point: a conversation I had with potential roommates many moons ago in Boston:

    Roommate Seeker: We don’t want someone who will be blasting Molly Hatchet into the wee hours.

    Me: I won’t do that.  I don’t even know who she is!

These are the top 10 most played songs on my iPod:

  • Hombre, MIA
  • My Love, Justin Timberlake
  • SexyBack, Justin Timberlake
  • All Nite (Don’t Stop), Janet Jackson
  • No Hay Igual, Nelly Furtado
  • Lose Control, Missy Elliot
  • Hollerback Girl, Gwen Stefani
  • Clocks, Coldplay
  • I’m a Slave 4 You, Britney Spears
  • Yummy, Gwen Stefani

In addition to being several years old, my most played playlist runs the gamut from dance music, to dance music, to whatever Coldplay is. I could make the excuse that I switched computers and haven’t had a chance to update my library, that I usually use my iPod for working out, that, I swear to God, I also have the Black Keys, Elbow, Corinne Bailey Rae, and tons more Amel Larrieux, but what it comes down to is: 1) does it have a good beat and 2) can I dance to it?

Like picnics, flip flops, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, music is something I know I should be into, but I’m just not. When I say “into” I mean really love. Can’t live without. I like music, and am appreciative to my iPod for drowning out inane/crazy conversations on the train and bus, but I’m not into it. I don’t worship bands. I don’t go out of my way to see anyone perform.

I could say I like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but really it’s just that one song. Ditto the White Stripes. I couldn’t tell you if Meg White is a good drummer or not, and I don’t care. I can’t tell you anything about the chick from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, except that she’s part Korean. Like a blind baby bird, I consume what MTV and the airwaves feed me.

I’m lazy.

I played piano for eleven years. This doesn’t mean I know about music. I can read notes; I can tell major from minor.

My boyfriend has four guitars, a bass, and a bass six. Oh excuse me, I mean a bass VI. He has two ukeleles and several harmonicas. He’s the one who bought us the keyboard. He went to music school after losing his job in the financial meltdown. He loves music. He remembers lyrics and tunes decades later. For instance:

    Well I guess it would be nice

    If I could touch your body

    I know not everybody

    Has got a body like you

Not exactly some-lyricist-who-writes-interesting-lyrics, but I sure as hell can’t remember lyrics like that, at least not for a song I haven’t listened to since I was 14 and wore my belt on the outside of my shirt.

He says, “Listen to this, I’m getting so much better,” and plays some notes. I nod and smile, and say, “Yes, you’re so much better,” but really, I can’t tell the difference.

“Listen to this amp,” he says. “Listen to that one. Which sounds better?”

I have no idea.

“These guys are bad ass!” he says of some band I’ve, yet again, never heard of, and I say, “Yes, they sure are,” but I can’t tell the difference.

We go to Amoeba Records – The World’s Largest Independent Record Store! – and he walks away with five to seven to ten CDs every time, and I’ve never bought a single one. I wander the aisles, looking for artists I know. Look, the Eurythmics! Ace of Base! Kelly Clarkson!

“Maybe there’s something in classical you’ll like,” the boyfriend says, since I am after all, “classically trained” (ha!) and I shrug and smile, and wander down those less crowded aisles, and while I recognize the composers, I can’t remember the names of their songs. I don’t cream my jeans because so-and-so is the solo flautist for some performance though apparently she’s a famous enough flautist to warrant a glowy glamour shot for the CD cover. I don’t get all emotional over a particular performance, like a guy I once dated who played me Glen Gould’s “Goldberg Variations,” and kept murmuring, “Listen to that, isn’t that amazing? Well isn’t it?” and I’d feel at once inferior and annoyed because although I could tell, yes, that’s pretty, and maybe, that’s some phrasing! I didn’t feel moved enough to say, “Yes! That is amazing!” because worse than feeling like I should be into music is being told that I should be into music, which is the same as being told how to feel about anything, like when the same guy thought I should be upset when he “confessed” that his ex-girlfriend was half-Chinese, and I’m Chinese, so surely I should think he’s only dating me because I remind him of his ex, which I didn’t till he mentioned it.

Anyway.

As far as I can tell, music writing seems to be about not just music but the experience of it. My life changed the night I was at this bar and heard this band! When I read a sentence like that, my brain goes to sleep, because not only is reading about music boring, seeing it live is boring too.

Live music is boring.

There! I said it! I am officially uncool!

Unless I have my keister parked in a comfy seat, the show starts on time, and lasts no more than an hour (two’s okay with an intermission), I’ll be annoyed and bored. There’s nothing worse than standing around forever in some bar, waiting for a show that starts late, and then it’s really really loud, and it’s some band I never heard of, and you can’t talk because it’s so fucking loud. And I can’t even drink that much because I’m allergic to alcohol, which means I get really red, really hot, and have to pee all the time, and God knows, I don’t want to stand in line with a bunch of barely dressed girls who’re young enough to be my daughters (kill me now), and then pee in some pitch black bathroom that may or may not have something disgusting on the seat.

Someday if my boyfriend is ever in a band, I won’t be one of those cool groupie girlfriends, hanging on the edges, black lipstick, black nails, grooving coolly to the jams (is that even a thing?). So cool I’ll know about all the bands he knows, I’ll know the rehearsal schedule and their set (I’m pretty sure that’s a thing). So hip I’ll be able to argue who’s better, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. No, I won’t be doing any of that because I’ll be too busy yawning my brains out, not because the conversation is boring but because it’ll probably be late at night, way later than I’m used to staying up. And I won’t even hear the conversation because I’ll be wearing ear plugs. I’ll be in my Gap T-shirt, Gap jeans, no makeup, picking the sleepy crud out of my eyes and wishing I was home in bed reading Gone with the Wind.

Don’t judge me.

It’s not that I hate music. It’s not that I don’t have an emotional connection. I do. Certain songs still prompt a visceral reaction in me: “The Tide is High,” putting on lipgloss with my third grade best friend Jennifer Harris; “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” riding home from school with my beautiful ninth grade friends, feeling very non-beautiful; “Wonderwall,” driving with my ex to aquarium stores all over wintry New England; “Shine,” walking alone up and down Park Avenue those first several months after my divorce.

With every song, give me a story. Better yet, give me dancing. Give me, yes, here it comes, a musical.

    I have a love, and it’s all that I need,

    Right or wrong, and he needs me, too.

    I love him, we’re one;

    There’s nothing to be done,

    Not a thing I can do

    But hold him, hold him forever –

Huh? What was I saying? Ah yes. Musicals.

Chicago!

Rent!

West Side Story!

Wicked!

Les Mis!

Showboat!

The Color Purple!

Oklahoma!

I’ll take a musical over a rock concert any day. I get tingles. I bawl my eyes out. I’ve seen Chicago five times (once with Bebe Neuwirth, Ann Reinking, and James Naughton!), and I’d see it again.

Those of you who don’t know anything about musicals have no idea what I’m talking. Bebe Neuwirth? Wasn’t she from Cheers? Who’s Ann Reinking? James Naughton? Who cares if I saw them in Chicago, live on stage?

Because they’re the original cast, mofos! Ann Reinking coreographed that shit. That’s like seeing some band that used to have these members but now have those members play again with the original “these members.”

Whatever band that might be.

Give me a movie soundtrack to a movie I’ve seen. Movie soundtracks make my music library seem cool.  Pulp Fiction. City of Angels. The Wackness. The Secret of Roan Inish. Jerry Maguire. Into the Wild. The Piano. Juno.

    If I was a flower growing wild and free

    All I’d want is you to be my sweet honey bee.

    And if I was a tree growing tall and green

    All I’d want is you to shade me and be my leaves!

Cue harmonica.

So while you cool kids are listening to live music, or reading about it, or debating it, I’ll be over here watching The Sound of Music for the billionth time, sitting on the edge of my seat as dancers “dance for their lives” on So You Think You Can Dance, and telling my boyfriend I can tell the difference between his bass and his bass six. I mean, VI.

Tonight I took the public bus to the public library to return, browse, and borrow some books.  I was car sick (or bus sick) on the ride down Fifth Avenue.  I still harbored resentment for the driver of the previous bus I had just missed, who closed up and advanced the bus twenty feet to wait out the red light at the crosswalk instead of the bus stop where more riders could have boarded. I decided my present driver was okay but not good enough to prevent my bus nausea.

My favorite bus driver is one who seems as eager as I am to reach a destination rather than just making his/her rounds, and he takes pride in his confident, skillful maneuvers that let us just make the light and continue on for a few more blocks saving, literally, minutes.

Sometimes I think of getting the driver’s name and calling the MTA with praise but then I wonder if the qualities I like most in this driver are the same qualities that would be considered by the MTA to be related to the breaking of certain guidelines.

My nausea persisted so I got off the bus two stops early and schlepped a tote bag of hardcover books to the Mid-Manhattan branch library at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue which is open until 11pm on weekdays.

More than usual, perhaps because of the heat, the scent of urine and shit wafted through the bookshelves, but was not as nauseating as the bus ride.  And, perhaps because of the time and day, 9pm, Tuesday, there was an unusually large ratio of weird old men shuffling around to not weird old men not shuffling around.

I dumped some books in the book drop (two days early!) and headed toward the elevators where there stands the only obvious recent improvement in the cleanliness of the library, an automatic Purell dispenser.  I took some Purell and took the elevator to the third floor.  Yeah, I already knew which floor the Art books are on because I am someone who takes buses and goes to libraries.  I even take buses to libraries.

More old men shuffling around, not seeming to know each other but similarly styled in academic wear and would be presentable but for their unshaven faces and yellowy-white unwashed hair, and a third “je ne sais quoi” quality.

I visited my favorite shelves and amassed a pile of books too heavy to carry home.  I picked a chair at one of the communal tables and began skimming, editing out the least useful.  At a parallel table, a few seats to my right and facing my direction, one of the old men who seemed particularly skittish in the way he was turning the pages of a book that he was reading at a diagonal, said to the girl across from him in a muffled, gravelly voice, “Are you a model?”

I saw from behind as she lifted her head in surprise, paused, and then sternly answered “No.”

The man went on about her having an interesting face and something else about models.  She said, “No, and I’m not interested in that, sorry.” and went back to reading.

The situation felt familiar.  I am sure that is the kind of thing I used to sometimes get asked by weird old men, or naive (or scheming?) country bumpkins and I felt a little surprised, a little jealous, and a little relieved that I was not the one being asked.  I wondered if I would have had an answer as effective as hers at shorting the conversation. Her answer implied to me her experience of having been asked those sorts of questions before.

Now it was time to see if that old library copy card still had any juice on it.  Around six years ago, upon returning from Nepal, I took out six books on learning to speak Urdu, (because I had bought a CD in Kathmandu by a Pakistani band called Strings who sing in Urdu) from this very branch, got as far as kind of learning the Arabic alphabet but without any meanings, and returned the books late enough to rack up a $46 fine.  This copy card was at least that old and I had miraculously remembered where I saw it last and to bring it.

I picked one of the heavier books to copy parts of so I could save my back the weight.  I shifted the rest of the books into a neat stack in front of my chair and placed my large, three quarters full Poland Spring water bottle on top to indicate that these books were not abandoned and should not be reshelved.

I found a nearby copy machine.  My card had 35 cents left on it, enough to make two copies at 15 cents each, and it worked.  I then refilled my card with a dollar bill at the nearby card vending machine and copied more pages.  I was impressed with the system and myself for having seamlessly blended back into it. The color copies were still $1 each which seems old-fashioned considering how these days everyone prints photos from home like it’s nothing.

I put my copies in my tote bag, walked back to the tables and scanned for a tall clear bottle to locate my seat.  I saw that same man who was interested in models rummaging through and spreading around my pile of books. I came up next to him and said somewhat hostilely, “Excuse me, those are my books.”

He said, “I’m sorry, I thought they were abandoned.”

Right then I noticed my manhandled water bottle.  It was rumply with many dents and still standing but with a slight lean.  I replied, “I put my water bottle on top of the pile to show I would be back.”

I quickly gathered the books I wanted to take, and my water bottle from which I made a note not to drink and to throw out as soon as possible.

I signed out some books with my tiny library keychain card which I keep on a ring with similar cardlets from Duane Reade, The Food Emporium, Staples and CVS.  To be honest, I can’t find the Staples one and I bought a roll of double-sided tape today (the one labeled “permanent” though I worry I may in fact find that I need the “removable” kind and have to pay for a whole new roll of tape) and was too lazy to look up my card using a phone number (which phone number?) so when the cashier asked me if I had a Staples Rewards Card I said no, which in a way is true since I did not have it on me.

This time I caught the first bus I saw, an M4 going up Madison Avenue.  This bus’s breaks were way too loud but at least the vehicle itself moved a little more smoothly.  The metrocard reader was not working so the bus driver waved riders in, motioning for them to keep moving and not worry about the fare.  That seems to happen quite often and it always feels like a happily fortuitous occasion.  The bus driver does not have to wait for riders to find their metrocard and then figure out which way to insert it and the riders do not have to pay.  I have an unlimited Metrocard but I still appreciate losing the hassle.

Service on several bus lines was reduced last week due to MTA budget shortages.  On the bus, with my fellow passengers, I thought, “That’s a shame.”  I imagined getting into an argument with some Libertarians or Republicans I know, who in this particular scenario I had just made up, were against having public buses.

A small Indian woman was pestering the bus driver for directions.  She mentioned Columbia Presbyterian Hospital which I sometimes took the bus to and from during the three months I participated in a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) study there.  But I heard that is one of the routes that has been changed so I didn’t chime in.

Whenever I saw a man in a suit on the subway, I used to look at his shoes to try to judge what type of man in a suit he was. Whether he was a really rich guy on Wall Street riding home after work to avoid traffic or some poor schmo with beat up semi-formal work shoes who has to take the subway because that is his only option.

I stopped being as interested in the shoes of suited subway riders when I learned that really, really rich people don’t ride the subway at all.  Sure, Mayor Bloomberg rides the subway to work but he has to be driven to a stop other than his own and have a large security escort.  But non-mayoral really, really rich people don’t ride the subway.  They have drivers.  And so, they do not really know the subway lines.  They do not have an appreciation for the colors and letters and the joy of a perfect connection between two trains that do not come very often and the special knowledge one gains of which trains run infrequently at night and how to get up from those folding seats without creating a loud bang.

But some fairly rich people do ride the bus.  Most people who have been in New York for a long time or who have grown up here ride the bus.  But the crazies usually ride the subway.  Although, once, a crazy guy on the bus, who, by the way, did not smell, called me an “anorexic salad-ass ho.”  At first I thought he was just an asshole, but when he ended his rant with something about God, I was relieved to feel that he was actually just insane.

I can be made to feel bad very easily and I do not like feeling bad.  I like to read on the subway.  In fact, it is the only place I can really read and make progress in a book.  So when a performer comes into my subway car and does some break dancing, there are really only a few routines that have been used for years, I often become annoyed.  I want them to know, “I’ve seen your act before, I’ve had a long day and am just trying to get home and I was hoping to sneak a little reading in, and if I wanted to be entertained I would go to a performance and maybe pay some professional performers of my choosing.  I just want to read, I don’t want to see your act so why would I pay you?”

But once when I was making a particularly serious face and staring at my book, trying to transition from staring into reading, a breakdancer in the troupe gave us, the mostly reluctant audience, a lecture.

He was pissed off.  Not because almost no one gave him money.  It was because of our attitude and I fear that my unamused expression was a large contributing factor to his indignity.

What I heard him say to me, in essence, was, “you don’t have to be a bitch, we’re trying our best and you’re sitting there pretending not to see us.  At least smile when we’re finished, clap, you don’t have to pay us, just give a little respect.”

At the time I was so taken off guard that in my head I became very defensive and imagined all sorts of things to yell back.  But the next day his point began to sink in and I am actually grateful for the talking-to because I feel that I now am able to respond appropriately in an honest and friendly manner, by boldly smiling and not paying, when someone unexpectedly performs at me.

Back to the bus ride home.  I got off the bus at 86th Street and walked home with an armload of books. The library no longer gives plastic bags but you can buy one for $1, or not.  I hoped I would run into one of my ritzier neighbors on the way in and they would notice the library stamps and call numbers on the books I was carrying and they would realize that I go to the public library and this realization would also be a proud, in their face assertion of my Jewish, liberal upbringing and my Jewish, liberal family and our continued presence in this ever-WASPier building.


So here’s the thing. I’m pretty sure Cynthia Hawkins is a nice person. In Cynthia’s piece “The Movie Formerly Known as Avatar,” I can really appreciate her reporting from the Avatar: The Last Airbender hysteria in her living room. I mean, as it happens, I have a nine-year-old who just now put her grandmother on hold so that she could watch the last ten minutes of Book Three. But — and no disrespect here — I could practically hear Cynthia’s big-eyed blinks of innocence as I read the rest of her review.

For instance, I heard them right around the time that she made this point: “If [Shyamalan] pulls it off, he’s set for the next installment and perhaps a clean cinematic slate at last.” I’m just wondering if, when Cynthia typed this sentence, the tumbleweeds had yet to blow in and skim across her shoes in the big, vast aloneness in which she was about to find herself. I mean, it’s kind of cute the way she thinks that there’s an “if.” And I feel a little bit sorry to be the one to point this out, but everyone else — and I mean everyone (even Drunk Hulk)  — clambered, frothy-mouthed, to lob something sharp at M. Night Shyamalan’s head on the occasion of The Last Airbender’s release.

At least Cynthia is aware of the fact that most critics and a big segment of the movie-going public had written Shyamalan off somewhere around Signs, and that Shyamalan was setting himself up for further scrutiny in taking on the beloved Nickelodeon series. But wow. Cynthia seems to be completely ignorant of the extent to which this man is reviled. Look, plenty of films deserve a pitchfork gathering of the masses, but even they don’t garner the kind of collective rage that awaited M. Night Shyamalan for The Last Airbender. We’re talking a ginormous, horizon-blinding, boat scuttling wave of sheer vitriol.

Rotten TomatoesThe Last Airbender page is like a Shyamalan roast without the funny. Only eight percent of the reviews gave a positive rating. Roger Ebert wrote: “The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.” Random fans weighed in: “Shyamaladingong, you suck! You ruin everything you touch! Fuck you!” Drunk Hulk tweeted: “DRUNK HULK FIGURE OUT WHAT TWIST IS! M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN CAREER WAS DEAD WHOLE TIME!” To read such reviews, as well as the blogs and the tweets and so forth, you’d think Shyamalan had filmed himself taking a dump on the feet of Christ or something. But that’s the way it is, and how Cynthia failed to understand this beforehand is a mystery.

A wave of vitriol, and there’s Cynthia, tossing out a few positives, saying things that amount to, “You can do it M. Night Shyamalan! I know you can!” Like the last kid on the block who still believes in Santa when everyone else is trying to tell her that Santa is really Uncle Leo on a bender with a bag of lead-laden cheap shit he’d pocketed in the Dollar General. Who am I to decide whether or not Cynthia should align her opinions with the masses? What I am saying, however, is that Cynthia may want to consult Drunk Hulk more frequently before she purports to know what the masses think about anything.



My all-time favorite quote comes from Steve Martin’s character in the film Grand Canyon: “You know what your problem is. It’s that you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” It’s my favorite because, for better or worse, I’m convinced it’s true. When word spread that James Cameron was assembling a team to solve the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, most laughed at what they thought was a pompous disconnect between real life and the CGI bombast of Avatar. I, however, turned my television up and thought, “Why, of course!”

Something about watching live feed of the oil billowing into the gulf reminds me of watching that first black scrawl of smoke unwinding in the clear Manhattan sky on the morning of September eleventh. My ribs ache with that same bracing-for-a-punch kind of dread that the repercussions of this moment will be life-long and life-altering, that as bad as it looks it’s about to get worse. I remember in the weeks after 9/11 one official said that we’d simply suffered from “a lack of imagination” and therefore could not anticipate something like this. At the same time others were saying 9/11 was like the most terrifying Hollywood films come true. Maybe our real problem is that we have the imagination, but we just don’t take it seriously.

So if James Cameron says his work on The Abyss and The Titanic has given him ideas and introduced him to innovative deep-sea engineers and technologies and that he loves our planet as much as Pandora, why not let him give plugging the damn hole a try? At this point, until those relief wells are completed, it looks as if it’s either Cameron or that chintzy saw that snapped during the “cut and cap” procedure. I didn’t hear anyone laughing, by the way, when that relief-well plan was aped directly from this scene in There Will Be Bloodclick here.

In fact, lets just make James Cameron a little to-do list. First up, oil spill. And when he’s done with that, he can get busy thwarting any and all development towards the creation of a Skynet, beginning with that monkey that’s learned to control a robotic arm with his mind: here. I know where that leads. I’ve seen enough movies.

I really really meant to write something about how sweet it is to be in Spain writing stories and reading all the things I’ve been meaning to, but I went for a coffee, opened the paper and BOOM!

Yesterday’s article in El Pais, Spain’s biggest national paper, had a rundown of the immigration debate in Arizona. Oddly, the article seemed most outraged about Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s strange demand that the prisoners in his system wear pink underwear. That quirky bit of homophobia has never really struck me as central to the debate, though it is troubling, and if not cruel, certainly unusual.

Of course, they also showed photos of the march and rally in support of the law. Signs reading ‘go home illegals’, and ‘for English press 1, for deportation press 2’ and somewhat out of place ‘an armed society is a civilized society’ and even more confusingly ‘Karl Marx was not a founding father.’

These are not things I overheard, but signs waved high for all to see.

The article made the clever choice to introduce Arpaio as ‘of Italian origin’.

The rally was in a football stadium where a majority of the workers were of Latino (which determination, ironically enough is also Italian in a sense) origin. They were the only visible attendants, according to the article, that were not white.

“Can you hear me Mexico? Can you hear me from here? You should be clear that this land is our land, not your land. We paid for it. We worked for it,” said Larry Wachs, a journalist from Atlanta.

Who are we? I don’t mean that in any national existential angst sort of way, but seriously, who is this mythic ‘we’ that ‘paid for’ and ‘worked for’ this land? The bold and industrious English, who sailed over here and set up shop in a way that is not unambiguously heroic? The Germans or Italians or Irish or Norwegians or Danes or Czechs or Poles who came for myriad reasons at different historical moments? The Africans who were dragged here, only to suffer three centuries of slavery before being released into a battle for equality that’s still underway? The Indigenous who wandered here God knows when and have suffered indignity after indignity since the establishment of the colonies? The Chinese who labored in the construction of our nation’s infrastructure and later sat in prisons for the crime of being Japanese? Who are we? And why did only the white ‘we’ show up to this battle (covered/sponsored by Fox News)?

Conservative, I mean here the word itself not the ideology or the people who ascribe to it, refers to the preservation of something, no? It means to limit change. It is tied to an ideal and static moment, an edenic past, an originary place that depends on mythology to make it more pure than the present. To conserve something is to save it as it is, which in a world subject to physical laws and the perpetual movement of time, is impossible. So, I guess my question is, what exactly is it that people are trying to conserve? Was it represented by the homogeneity of that rally’s attendants? At what moment exactly do you locate the United States that is escaping into some threatening new entity, the United States that is and can remain ‘our land’.

That type of thinking, the type that leads people to concrete imaginings of some certain, codified establishment of borders between nations and people, of the investing of nationality with a substantive reality beyond the coincidence of location and time, is to me, well, totally foreign…

And so, I want to establish a nation for people who fear those who believe fervently in nations, and to draw up a long, meandering and in places nonexistent border that can be respected or ignored by the UN and all its constituent nations at their whim. The border will probably loosely trail the equator. Which side of the equator is ‘ours’ will remain undetermined until some future congress, which shall meet at an undetermined time and which shall consist of undetermined members, convenes…

We will have passports drawn in crayon and stamped with lipstick-y kisses. Our origin myth will be that one day from the chaotic ashes of beaurocracy and hate rose a Phoenix who flew drunkenly around the planet with a crayon in its beak dividing the world roughly in two, but not indicating which side was inside of the border and which side was out. We will wander back and forth until we are certain, which may be forever. Also, in honor of the bird (Is a Phoenix a bird? or does it enter into dragon territory?), their shall be regular festivities which will include hefty amounts of drink and failed efforts to draw straight lines. We will seek that bird until we die. One day, we hope, we can all be just as free as that bird. Oh, I’ll leave you to guess as to our national anthem, ahem…

Oh, yeah, and at the suggestion of that duder from the rally’s sign, Karl Marx will be our founding father, or at least one of them, possibly the other Marx Brothers will be asked to sign our Declaration of Complete and Utter Dependence… on What We Are Not Sure.


Dear Greyhound, 

Hello. How are you? I’m fine if you were wondering. But last week I wasn’t so fine. In fact, I was pissed off. See, last week I took one of your buses from Victorville to Las Vegas and it was a horrible experience. And I wasn’t in the greatest of moods to begin with. My truck was down (the reason for me taking the bus) and I was going to Vegas not for martinis and kitschy entertainment, but to see my ex-wife and our attorney who was going to deliver bad news to us legally. Ex-wives and attorneys? Not a good time to say the least. That being said, the ride to Vegas wasn’t all that bad. Well, there were some screaming children and it smelled like hot coleslaw and ass, but for the most part is was all right. Sitting next to a friendly good-looking woman did make the ride more negotiable. But I’m not one of those high-maintenance types. In fact, I pride myself in not being a pain in the ass in private or in public. I’m not that whiny cousin or that needy jerk-off who gives the waiter a hard time.  

But the ride home was the worst. Apparently, you guys sold some tickets to some folk who possessed extremely foul mouths and were void of common decency. But let me back up. For starters, the bus was almost two hours late. Two hours is a long time when all you want is to get back home, have a nice homemade meal, and hit the sack. And two hours is a real long time when you’re from out of town, lost all your cash, reek of cheap booze, and need to get back home not for a hot meal and some rest, but to save your sorry ass from further lame destruction. Trust me, Greyhound, I know. I lived in Las Vegas for many years and have seen these bastards come into town all hopped up from Who Gives A Rat’s Ass, USA, and leave the desert crestfallen and looking and smelling like A-1 dog shit. 

As soon as we hit the freeway around six dudes started cussing. Now, this wasn’t a bullshit or a goddamn here and there. It was motherfucker this and motherfucker that. It was fuck you, fuck your whore of a girlfriend, fuck your ugly stinkin’ mama and your limp-dick daddy, kind of stuff. This wasn’t a burst of inspiration that lasted ten minutes either. No. This went on for two hours. People were cringing. It was unbelievable. And to add the proverbial icing on the cake, the same dude that was standing behind me in the terminal watching porn on his laptop was sitting next to me. I was three pages into Paul Auster’s Timbuktu when the reels started spinning again. Girl on girl action with the volume turned up. So, along with the motherfucker and fuck you maxims these geniuses were dishing out there was the scripted moans of two idiots lapping each other’s parts. It was nothing short of disgusting. 

At one point it was so ridiculous, so absurd, I started busting up. Mr. Dueling Vaginas looked at me like if I was crazy. I was crazy. Not even my therapist with her framed degrees in faulty-wired brains hinted at crazy. Fucked up, sure, but never crazy. 

Now, hear me out, Greyhound. I’m no prude. I have a foul mouth, too (you probably have figured this out by now). Sometimes referring to some unreasonable person as “difficult” just doesn’t cut the mustard. Such a person would be better labeled an asshole. So, I get it. I understand the need to execute such language. Context is all, right? Sure. You bet. But what was the context here? What warranted such observations? A father with a butter-soft pecker? Someone’s gruesome-looking mother? A girlfriend who happens to be a whore?  

Jesus Christ.  

Really?  

And as for the porn? Again, I’ve been around the block. Good blocks. Bad blocks. For-the-time-being blocks. I’ve seen it all. Still, you don’t get your rocks off on a public bus or in a restaurant or waiting in line at Piggly Wiggly. You just don’t. Go home and beat up your dick. If you want to cuss like a jackass then wait until you get to your buddy’s pad. Or your own pad for Christ’s sakes.  

And what was your driver doing while all this went down? Nothing. He just kept looking back at those people in his rearview mirror like if his stupid bus driver eyes would pipe them down by his stare alone. That’s it. No warnings, no counseling, no reprimands, nothing. He didn’t calm them down so they carried on like if it was nobody’s business. At one point you couldn’t blame them. They were like: well, if this dude doesn’t want to police us then, hell, it’s on.  

Fuck you, bitch! And your fat ass sister!  

Suck my big swingin’ motherfuckin’ dick, homie!  

See what I’m saying? This happened. For hours. 

Well, Greyhound, I’ve had enough with this damn letter. Allow me to counsel you with some plain old common sense advice: train your drivers to take control of the village. Sit these people down and pass out thick packets of the dos and don’ts of driver duties. Draw up a fancy PowerPoint with tons of flashing colors and graphs and go through the steps one by one on how to manage people and then test their asses until they get it right. Passing grade: 100 %. Anything less is exactly that. Seek excellence. Don’t settle. Remember that people are forking over cash for your services. So get your act together. Be professional. Be considerate. Do the right thing for the love of god! Okay. That’s it. Thank you very much for your time and have a blessed day.

 

Sincerely,

Reno J. Romero 

Yesterday, Diff’rent Strokes star Gary Coleman, 42, died after suffering a brain hemorrhage on Wednesday, May 26. On Thursday, he slipped into unconsciousness and was put on life support. Yesterday, Friday, his family took him off life support and stood by his side while he died.

As soon as I read about his death, I posted a link to the story on my Facebook page with a simple note that said, “Crap. I feel sad about this.”

Immediately, people started making jokes. My friend David suggested that all flags should be flown at 4’2″ for at least a week. My friend TJ asked, “With this tragic loss, how can you not feel a bit shorted?”

So, here’s the thing.

I want the very best for the people I care about.

I do. I really and truly do.

And when I say the very best, I’m not fooling around. I want us all to be riding our jet-powered jaguar-shaped hoverboard through the streets on our way to a) have energetic sex with a hot Spanish secret service agent of the gender of our personal choice, b) pick up the keys to our new carbon-neutral Batmobile, c) enjoy a relaxing afternoon of conversation, massage and fine cheeses at Richard Gere’s house, or d) all of the above.

Yes, I recognise and understand the nature of a supply-and-demand economy, and I know that if these options were available to everyone it would decrease their rarity value, and the bottom¹ would drop out of the lucrative energetic-sex-with-a-hot-gender-non-specific-Spanish-intelligence-agent market, but, if you were given the choice between a), b), c), d) or e) going to work tomorrow, which would you pick?

Anyway.

I’ve come to realise that not all of the people I love currently have the wonderful lives I want for them. Perhaps even more heartbreaking, neither do I. And yes, some of the reason is because life just doesn’t work like that, and Richard Gere gets very busy sometimes, but there’s also another factor at play. And that factor is this:

Assholes.

I’ve heard – and lived – enough stories of terrible boyfriends, cheating girlfriends, dangerous drivers, abusive parents, muggers, murderers, thieves, and people who answer the phone in movie theatres that I’ve been forced to stop and wonder: Goddamnit. Where are all these assholes coming from? Is there some portal to another dimension  – an asshole dimension – that someone forgot to shut? Is that where they’re all coming from? Because I’m not that asshole. My friends aren’t those assholes. Who are these assholes?

Well… the truth is that no, actually, we probably are the assholes. All of us². It’s human nature. Everyone, at some point in time or another, has acted like an asshole³. Some more than others, but that’s the way it goes.

Because we’re only human. We get angry and we say things we don’t really mean, or we somehow glide right by the idea of consequences for the split second it takes to think that greenlighting Jersey Shore is an awesome idea, or we wake up in the morning and say ‘You know what California needs? An eighth proposition!’

And I’m not trying to judge, or blame, or make anyone feel bad, with the possible exception of The Situation… it’s just that I don’t think this approach is helping anybody. So maybe we could all tell the demons on our shoulders⁴ to just kinda… take the day off.

June 2 is Saint Erasmus’s Day. He’s the patron saint of intestinal diseases and colics. And that’s about as close as you can get to a patron saint of assholes – so it makes June 2 a fitting time for Hey. Don’t Be An Asshole Today Day. And the wonderful thing about this is that you can do it anywhere you are, and if you bust someone acting like an asshole, you can say ‘Hey. Don’t be an asshole today.’

Not today.’

(Saint Erasmus? He’s that asshole on the left).


I’m not talking about making a play for sainthood. I’m merely suggesting that, for one day – one day! –  we could all take a breath and try to restrain our baser instincts. In terms of logistics, these were the first ideas that came to mind.

1. Hey. Don’t Drive Like an Asshole Today.

Yes, sometimes you want to beat the light. And sometimes the perfect gap looks ready to open up if you just drop the pedal a little harder and cut around that guy in front and bam! Made it! Now to drop right back down to the speed limit and coast… all the way to Subway.

Hey, remember every single time in your life when you’ve suddenly hit the brakes because some asshole swerved in front of you with no warning and you spent the next five minutes in an impotent rage because there was nothing you could do about it except hit the horn, which, really, does nothing, and if the horn is whiny enough, actually makes you more angry? And then on the date you went on that night, which was the third date, and we all know what that means⁵, your date says ‘How did your day go today?’ and you snapped and shouted ‘Some asshole cut me off!’ and slammed your fists into the cheesecake, and your date got weirded out and left?⁶

That asshole?

Yeah, that’s you right now.

2. Hey. Don’t Invade Anyone Today.

Just for one day, K? I know, I know, Estonia’s been looking at you funny, and Malta is just begging for it, and no one will notice if you annex Lesotho because no one’s ever heard of it, but still. Just for one day.

One day.

3. Hey. Don’t Kidnap Three People and Turn Them into a Human Centipede Today.

Because why would you even do that? Seriously, why? There is nothing that a human centipede can do better than three people who aren’t a human centipede. Literally, not one goddamn thing⁸.

You’re a weird guy, Tom Six.

4. Hey. Don’t Commit Adultery Today.

It’s a big ask. But perhaps, just for today, if you want to have sex with someone’s promiscuous wife or philandering husband, you could just… oh, I don’t know. Not commit adultery?

It’s easy to forget and slip up in the heat of the moment, but if you find yourself engaging in sexual intercourse with someone else’s partner, maybe try stopping, or at least slowing down, and saying, in a non-confrontational, non-judgmental manner ‘Hey! We’re committing adultery!’

Like assholes!’

You could then maybe watch some TV instead, or play a little blackjack, or even take a walk if the weather is nice.

I’m not going to lie. It’s probably going to be awkward.

5. Hey. Don’t Call Anyone any Names Today.

24 hours without a single nigger, cracker, fag, dyke, breeder, queer, chink, spic, etc., etc…  And I don’t even mean just the big ones – any kind of name that might be hurtful, or offensive, or mess with someone else’s head… really, what are you going to lose by not saying them for 24 hours?

Nothing, that’s what.

Absolutely nothing.

Still use ‘asshole’ though.

6. Hey. Don’t Collapse and Release an Oil Spill into the Gulf of Mexico Today.

There is nothing funny about this.

7. Hey. Don’t Steal a Bunch of Money and Fuck Every Single Person in the Whole World Today.

Or this, really.

Wait. This line of reasoning insinuates there’s something funny about #1 – #5. There isn’t. There really isn’t. These arguments aren’t mutually exclusive, is the point I’m trying to make.

The point I’m trying to make is: Bernard Madoff, you are such an asshole. I lost so goddamn much. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back.

8. Hey. Don’t be an Asshole Because You Think a Book told you to Today.

No, seriously. If a book – and I’m not going to name names – is the reason why you think that some people can get married and others can’t, or why it’s OK to kill doctors, or kill people in general, or blow shit up, or really, just be mean to anyone and try to take away the rights, the life, or the happiness that you would want for yourself and the people you love, then just stop. Stop for one second and ask yourself: ‘If someone did this to me, would I think they’re an asshole?’

And then ask yourself: ‘And would my own personal God want me to be an asshole right now?’

It’s really simple. He, she, they, or it, totally doesn’t.

Gods hate assholes.

See you June 2.

¹ but not the culo
² especially you
³ but not me, actually, now that I think about it
⁴ the asshole demons
⁵ it means you can start talking about your political opinions now. All right!
⁶ you won’t be having any sexy discussions about Reaganomics tonight.⁷
⁷ or fucking
⁸ except ‘be a human centipede’, and that totally doesn’t count

I was sitting outside of a coffee shop in Phoenix which sold what was advertised as ‘Fair Trade Coffee.’ That seemed like a reasonably decent product to me. Certainly nothing that could inspire ire in anyone. And the price was good. Not skyrocketing like the radio said about the prices of so many other things touched by liberal fingers. These prices were ground low and seemingly wingless.

“God damned liberals have gotten everything around here… Fuck’n coffee too?” said a woman in a green felt sun-visor walking hand in hand with a man in a beard.

The bearded man shook his head as if he could hear the breath leaving the last of his father’s generation.

People were gathering for the Reverend Sharpton’s speech opposing SB 1070. I imagined this couple wasn’t present for that.

Before I moved here, my image of Arizona was filled with cute adobe archways, artists colonies producing annoyingly pastel-only creations that spoke to the soft palate of local souls and a unique intermingling of Southwestern cultures that would surely include, if not a generally open-hearted community, at least some interesting foodlets.

I was wrong. Except about the annoyingly pastel-only creations. Those, thanks be God, are everywhere, alongside a general bigotry, a willful closed-mindedness and some of the shittiest food a major metropolitan area has ever boasted. Come on people. You’re bigger than Philly now. It’s time to come up with a sandwich… or might I suggest… a taco?

A quick list of the complete insanity that has recently ravaged my adopted home thanks largely to the known fascism of sheriff Joe Arpaio and that lesser known fascism of the unelected governor Jan Brewer (she took office when Janet Napolitano went to the White House to head up Homeland Security): There is the famous SB 1070 which requires police to demand papers of anyone they deem ‘reasonably suspicious’ of illegal immigrant status, and simultaneously makes it legal for citizens to sue their government if they think local authorities are not upholding immigration laws stringently enough; then we have the lovely right to carry a concealed weapon without a permit; and the new law BANNING ETHNIC STUDIES in public schools

But, lady and her bearded cohort, I concede, the “God damned liberals have gotten everything around here… Fuck’n coffee too.”

A quick retort: You are mad at what? At the fact that South American farmers are getting a fair price for delivering you a superior product? Retort abandoned. It seems unnecessary.

I have quite sincerely tried to see both sides of most issues for some time, and despite liberal tendencies, I’ve always been careful to attempt to understand conservative ideologies and respect differences of opinion.

But conservatives, you gotta work with me on this. You are looking way too stupid to try to understand.

Stupid things overheard in Phoenix this week:

“I’m just glad we don’t have no unions turning us into D-troit.”

Phoenix… you wish you were Detroit.

“I don’t know why we gotta spend taxes to build public transit just to move illegals around the city.”

Not worthy of response.

“If people can’t carry guns, you’re just gonna have more violence.”

Seriously?

“What don’t people understand about the word ‘illegal'”

This is exactly the question I would like to ask Joe Arpaio and Jan Brewer in regards to what strike this legally uneducated citizen as totally outside the confines of legal.

By the way, thank you Al Sharpton for coming out here and assembling such an awesome resistance to what is undoubtedly one of the least American laws imaginable.

And thank you everyone involved in turning what could have been nothing but a shameful moment for all Americans into one of the best organized campaigns against rampant idiocy we’ve seen since W. left office.

And seriously, Phoenix, if you’re going to keep calling yourself a city, embrace the taco.