Wednesday, November 28, 2007
[Editor's Note: This was my original Tucker Max post, but when I clicked "Post," the computer crashed, and I thought it was lost forever. I wrote a new one, which I posted a couple of months ago. Yesterday, I found this original stashed away in hidden folder, and I like it a lot more than what I published earlier.]
I'm relatively comfortable with people more fashionable than myself telling me what to wear. I have a long, proud history of wardrobe dependency, beginning with my mother and continuing through classmates, friends, girlfriends, drugs, and the media. In essence, I've never truly "dressed myself," although these days I do a better job of mechanically dressing myself, as in "I pick out and put on clothing without the physical assistance of others." Which isn't to imply that general dress psychology and peer pressure don't factor into my choices--it's just that, to the naked eye, I appear autonomous around my dresser.
I am not comfortable, however, with people more fashionable than myself telling me what to read. Which brings me to Tucker Max.
According to the back cover of his tome, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, Max is a University of Chicago and Duke Law School graduate who drinks and womanizes in New York. Of less consequence, apparently, is his writing, which seems to chronicle those two behaviors. My apprehension of Max's modus operandi was confirmed by a visit to his website, tuckermax.com, which is an aggrandized testament to those same base elements: fucking and boozing. His work is at least half-engaging, if not excellently written, and I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell is Max's grand volume of short shit-show vignettes, the culmination of what appears to be months and years of blogging and debasement.
But here's my problem with I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell: I read it in Urban Outfitters. I spied it to the left of the counter, squeezed on the popular book rack along with other trendy literature (including, I'm ashamed to say, Chuck Klosterman's Killing Yourself to Live). Drawn by its provocatively banal title and bored with clothing, I sped through the first chapter, a suspiciously coherent minute-by-minute account of a vomitous night of failed Breathalyzer tests and pantless sushi consumption. Max's methodology is obvious, and is also overt--he co-opt's readers' obsessions with drunken revelry and sexuality, and aims to produce two types of critics. One type bashes his insensitivity and coarseness, and the other praises his honesty. Both, however, are quoted on the back of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Max's faux-sensationalist take on contemporary sinning is, much like a pop song designed to be a radio hit, shaped for public consumption.
Unfortunately, by the time I realized all this, it was too late. I had already pick Max's book off the shelf, read a chapter, and thought about it for more than 15 seconds. As far as Max and Urban Outfitters were concerned, mission accomplished. And what's worse, I'm writing about it afterwards and linking (twice) to his webpage.
I hope they serve beer in hell.
Stay Suspicious, Tucker Max
DJ Dressing Himself
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
[Hotel Ramat Rachel, Jerusalem. Monday, November 26. Wedding Day, and my last day in Israel.]
Greed and marriage are irreconcilable, and their teleological disparity makes weddings exceptionally conflicted. The hall, caterer, florist, band, stylist, clothing store, and printing shop all epitomize insatiable capitalistic avarice, while the bride and groom (should, at least) exemplify the opposite: unity, compromise, and a remarkable willingness to have less so that another might have more. Here in Israel, these diametric combatants palpably digress—the extremes are even further removed from one another than anywhere else. Israel is a land, simultaneously, of sacrosanct Infinity and unspeakable filth, where the best and the worst spiritual forces awkwardly coexist.
Since my very religious brother is going to be married in less than two hours, the wedding hall’s acute cupidity seems, to me, even more abominable than it normally might. Despite being part of a family that paid thousands for a 5-hour affair, I am assaulted by miserliness at every turn: five shekels (about $1.50) for an outlet adapter; the same for a pack of crackers. Coffee is double. Jewish tradition maintains that a religious couple should recite Psalms throughout their wedding day, right up until the husband stomps on a glass and the union is official. In light of the hall’s financial practices, however, it might be best to recite a revised Psalm 51 not for the couple, but for Hotel Ramat Rachel:
Have mercy on Hotel Ramat Rachel, O G-D,
according to Your unfailing love;
according to Your great compassion
blot out Hotel Ramat Rachel’s transgressions.
Wash away all Hotel Ramat Rachel’s iniquity
and cleanse Hotel Ramat Rachel from Hotel Ramat Rachel’s sin.
For I know Hotel Ramat Rachel’s transgressions
and Hotel Ramat Rachel’s sin is always before me.
Freedom will be swift, literally—my brother and his fiancée, dipsomaniacs though they are not, picked a hall at which an open bar comes standard. Soon I will be imbibing those shekels I dished out right back into my system, and then some. It is my responsibility to drink my family back into the black. A scotch-and-coke costs about 50 shekels at a trendy Jerusalem bar. A glass of decent wine is 30, and a mixed cocktail is 40. If I drink ten of the first, two of the second, and two of the third, then my family will be 640 shekels further towards even. Granted, that’s only about $170, but I’m just one person. If everyone quaffs his or her share we could make my family's money back.
Besides, isn’t it our right—nay, our duty—to think (and drink) along the bottom line? If the hall, caterer, florist, band, stylist, clothing store, and printing shop can do it, then why shouldn’t we? Sure, you might deploy the “two-wrongs-don’t-make-a-right” argument, that joining in their greed is no more defensible than their greed is in the first place. You might call me a hypocrite for deploring avarice and then calling on others and myself to adopt that trait three hours later. You might say, using my earlier statements about weddings—and Israeli society at large—being battles between good and evil, that calculating how much I have to drink to screw the wedding hall might constitute a victory for the latter.
You might be right. I’m not really sure. Inside my frayed emotional universe, I feel like a valiant protector, guarding this family event from greed and vile people, and that by robbing those who are trying to rob me, I am vigilantly fighting back those forces. You might disregard that as a rationalization, and, again, you might be right. But if it’s rationality you speak of, I am currently incapable of such a pursuit. I just overpaid for crackers, my brother is getting married tonight, and the twenty-hour project that is my return to New York will begin 120 minutes after the last guest leaves. I’m equal parts jilted, jocular, and jet lagged.
When the alcohol wears off somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I’ll hastily reconstruct my reflections in a fuzzier, cuddlier way: nostalgia is the luxury of the removed. In the meantime, an ironed set of dress clothes awaits me, as do a brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law who have a happily less dire conception of tonight’s proceedings than I do.
Stay Swindling, Ramat Rachel
Thursday, November 22, 2007
[Aeropuerto De Madrid-Barajas, Madrid. Wednesday, November 21. Flying to Tel Aviv.]
I’m attracted to wine salesmen. Cosmically, that is—the last two times I’ve flown, the person directly to my right has been a wine salesman. Both were Spanish speaking—the first from Argentina and the second from Spain. And neither was some Podunk loser trying to peddle his swill on me; in actuality, both were head sales managers for their respective—and enormous—family wine companies, chatty and personable businessmen responsible for moving millions of bottles a year. Both taught me more about wine in 45 minutes than has a lifetime of alcohol consumption, and both reiterated the four golden rules of wine:
1. Wine is not something you read about in magazines and talk about at parties. Wine is something you drink—nothing less, nothing more.
2. Price doesn’t matter. A bottle that costs $6.99 is as likely to taste good as one that costs $40.
3. The label doesn’t matter, either. Taste is the lone factor that matters to wine professionals, and it should be all the consumer is worried about.
4. Because of the American dollar’s current free-fall, we Americans will be seeing more and more wines from South America and less from Europe, since the almighty Euro is discouraging American importers from doing business with the Eastern Hemisphere’s first world.
Both gave me their contact information. Gaston Chamiza, the Argentine I met at the end of last November on a flight from New York to Montreal, asked me to stay in touch with him regarding the Creamfields music festival near his hometown. I emailed him when I got back to New York, and we exchanged emails for a while, until my inability to execute an excursion to Argentina sullied the hopefulness of our contact. We stopped corresponding altogether a while back, although one day I plan to fire off something like, “Hey, I’m coming to Buenos Aires! Can I crash at your place?” to which he’ll respond, “No.” Call it the renaissance of hope.
Juan Costa, the Spaniard from this late November, was flying to his hometown to vet two wineries. An émigré who fortuitously found his way to Connecticut, Juan is a family man with serious dirt on the wine industry: vintners paying off magazines to give their wines rave reviews, bottling plants diluting their brands with cheaper, foreign varieties and labeling them incorrectly, etc. When I told him that I’d be available to meet him in Manhattan for the purposes of conducting an interview and getting drunk, he jotted down every conceivable way I might reach him (landline, cell, email, social security number, blood type, gym membership, favorite restaurant) and told me to be in touch. Call it the renaissance of intoxication. Or, an opportunity for me to write a good story and drink for free (for life, maybe, if I do good by a man who sells four million bottles of wine every 365 days), and for him to clean house in an industry revered for its traditions, history, and pride.
I don’t know how to construe these similarities. Late November. Flying to a foreign country. Spanish-speaking. Head sales manager at booming family-owned wine outfits, with identical philosophies and convictions about their business. As far as I remember, both have two kids, are in their late thirties, and lament how hard it is to succeed in wine selling. They were like two apparitions cut from the same ghost, and I was the spooked protagonist who wanted to sew them back together.
Call it the re-birth of reunification.
Stay Similar, Gaston and Juan
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
[JFK Aiport, New York. Tuesday, November 20. Flying to Madrid.]
“It’s gonna be a byoozy weekend, eh?”
I’m waiting to have my backpack, shoes, laptop, and everything bagel with scallion cream cheese x-rayed at JFK airport. Two flights and seventeen hours away is my brother, whose wedding next week brings me to Israel. The x-ray line is most interminable, with bumper-to-bumper foot traffic preceding a metal detector that always finds something stowed away deep inside a pocket. The middle-aged British couple behind me, with leather-bound “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” passports, inquire as to where I am flying.
“You going to England?” the gentleman asks me, clutching an oblong handbag.
“No. Spain, then Israel.”
“You flying for the holiday?”
“No, my brother’s getting married. He moved out to Israel a while ago.”
He hardly pauses to think.
“It’s gonna be byoo-zy weekend, eh?”
I don’t know if he means that my weekend will be boozy or busy, but I figure both are reasonable assumptions. I say “yeah,” start laughing, and the gentleman and his wife, as if on cue, start laughing that quirky British laugh that I thought only existed in movies and English variety television. I love the British.
The airport is a collection bin for weirdos: polite, crass, cheerful, suspicious, odd, boring, nervous, and helpful, but all weirdos. The Brits on the x-ray line were a fortunate combination of polite, odd, cheerful, and helpful. The man who will later sit across from me at Gate Six is suspicious and nervous, and easily goaded. As I type this, he clutches his portable MP3 player with both hands, darting his worried eyes across everyone in our vicinity, but especially at me. Every time I look down at the screen, I can feel his shifty gaze upon me, like a crack addict who thinks I have money.
I'm so on to him. Each time I finish a sentence, I look directly in his eyes for 2 seconds. If he doesn’t see me, then so be it. But if he does—and the majority of the time, those 2 seconds are spent in locked ocular warfare with him—I look right back down at my computer, telling him in no uncertain terms that: a) I’m on to him; b) I have better things to do than stare at his gaunt face; and c) it’s very possible that what I’m doing on my computer has something to do with him. I can feel him growing increasingly concerned with each stare-down, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he sics an airport security guard on me. With my luck, this man will be seated next to me on the plane, and I’ll have to evaluate whether falling asleep is worth risking all the groping, stealing, and other subversive behavior I assume he performs. With his luck, he’ll be seated next to a man with a big beard and a turban and he’ll have to shit his pants until he lands.
I’m technically "spending the weekend in Israel," but Travel Tuesday has me off to a rousing start. By Friday, the man staring at me might be my business partner, and on Monday night I may be the lone drunk soul at my brother’s nuptials. Complicating matters further is that my return flight departs about six hours after the wedding ends, so I might be violently hung over the entire way. I have one Ambien for 35 hours of travel and a dangerously weak grasp of when and if public drunkenness laws apply on airplanes.
It’s going to be a byoozy weekend.
Stay Suspicious, Starer
Monday, November 19, 2007
I’ve watched a ton of sports in my life. Too much, really. I could have been walking in parks, sampling museums, or earning money (of which I currently have none), but I chose to vegetate in front of a television and experience vicarious glory and excruciation. I know sports. I have a feel for them. I intuit the expected and elucidate the odd.
The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and 1998 New York Yankees were the only teams that escaped my comprehension, who respectively compiled 72 and 114 wins in ways that deviated from the natural flow of things. Their talent was so overwhelming, their coaching so sound, and their execution so impeccable that those two teams didn’t just win; they devastated and demoralized.
They made you wonder if their opponents would ever recover. In some cases, they didn’t—after losing to the Bulls in the ’96 finals, Seattle SuperSonics forward Shawn Kemp embarked upon years of weight gain and general apathy, earning an early exit out of the NBA. The Yankees, meanwhile, shattered Padres pitcher Kevin Brown in the World Series, and although Brown went on to sign a mega-deal with the Dodgers and played a while longer in the bigs (including a couple of seasons with the Yankees), he was never again his old, dominating self.
My sports acumen told me that I’d never see a team like that again, and certainly not in the National Football League. The NFL is, after all, the land of salary caps and parity, the one major market sport in which 80% of its teams begin the season with a legitimate shot at the playoffs. Some teams are usually good, other typically terrible, but the NFL is characterized by competitiveness. Everyone has a chance against everyone. Only the 1972 Dolphins completed an undefeated 12-0 season, and no one has turned the same trick since the NFL expanded to a 16-game schedule. The odds are stacked immensely against a 16-0 season: injuries, off days, hostile road games, sheer luck, and a thousand other forces collude in preventing perfection. Week in and week out, anyone could win and anyone could lose.
Consider, then, the following numbers:
31/39 373 5-0 146.1
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady amassed those numbers today's 56-10 dehumanizing of the Buffalo Bills. He completed 31 of his 39 pass attempts (a sterling 79.5%) for 373 yards, with five—five—touchdowns and zero interceptions. His quarterback rating, out of a possible 158.3, was 146.1. Many quarterbacks go their entire careers without a single game like that, but Brady has posted about seven just this season. Within the larger picture, Brady’s mastery is representative of the Patriots’ team-level success. At 10-0 and with six games to go, they look like they just might run the table. As was the case with the Bulls and Yankees, it’s not just that they’re winning—it’s how they’re winning.
Consider these numbers:
Those were the scores from the Patriots’ first 10 games, and the lone close one, the 24-20 squeaker over the Indianapolis Colts, might have been their most impressive win. The Colts, defending Super Bowl champions, the team that beat the Patriots in last year’s playoffs, and the only other undefeated team at the time, had a 10-point lead with about 10 minutes to play. The Patriots’ offense, silent all game, calmly and methodically scored two touchdowns in seven minutes for the win. As emphatic as 52-7 is, the statement they made against the Colts—in the Colts’ home stadium—was much more severe.
After today’s Bills game, NBC’s sideline reporter interviewed Brady, who delivered all the requisite platitudes: It’s a team effort. Coach has us playing hard. We’re taking it one game at a time. Everyone is contributing. The quotes remained unremarkable until he paused, smirked, and said, “The [Philadelphia] Eagles are our next test on Sunday night,” as if he realized, along with everyone else, that the Eagles will wake up on Monday morning with the same katzenjammer as the Bills. For all the professionalism and ho-humness that cloak these Patriots, they know exactly how good they are. How great they are.
The Patriots have two “test” games remaining: one against the Pittsburgh Steelers (whom the lowly Jets beat today) and another versus the New York Giants (who habitually fail to win big games). If the Patriots pull off a perfect season and win the Super Bowl, they will undoubtedly go down as the best team of all-time. They’ll probably be remembered the same way even if they lose one or two but still take the championship.
But on the off chance that they’re eliminated from the playoffs and another team lifts the championship trophy, at least I'll say this: in a sport full of ass kicking, I never saw anyone kick more ass than the Patriots.
Stay Stupefying, Patriots Road Wins
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
This is a time of extreme manliness. With a sleek, silver, 500 GB hard drive designed by Porsche standing up next to a cool, black, slightly taller and slimmer 300 GB model, the latter with flashing spot-blue bulbs and a red, racing heart, I am at peak technological force. I am optimally wired and connected. I am exchanging information between two incomprehensibly vast apparatuses, using my badass, ultra-slim, white laptop as the interface along which the information traverses. A cold beer is the Macy's cosmetics stand compared to my current endeavor.
What I am doing, in reality, is re-backing-up my iTunes. Most people, especially writers, are gravely concerned with backing up their documents—which I am doing, as an ancillary exercise—but I’m hardly phased by the prospect of losing my essays and rants. If something happened to my iTunes, though, the balls of anyone within scalding distance would never be the same. Long ago, owing to space considerations, I moved my music library to the 300 GB model, and then acquired the 500 GB model for an extra layer of security. Once a month, I copy everything from the 300 to the 500, and all the whirring noises, flashing lights, and cool icons make my cajones feel abnormally large.
39.21 gigabytes of music just passed hands. That’s 23 days, 3 hours, 6 minutes, and 41 seconds of playback. 7,083 songs. The time, money, and energy those songs represent are innumerable. Some people call themselves “well read;” I claim to be “well listened.” Either that or “capable of listening well.” That’s the secondary implication, I believe, of “well read”—that not only has one sampled a wide selection of books, but one has acquired and honed the ability to read in an insightful, critical way. Simile. Metaphor. Allegory. Synecdoche. Parallels and contrasts. The things that high schoolers claim only exist in the essays and minds of their teachers.
Those same traits are reasonable to expect in someone who’s listened to a large quantity of music. Even if one is not a musician, one begins to pick up on quasi-musician concepts: song structure, dynamics, melody, and basic rhythm. One stops hearing the songs and starts listening to them. Like my music 101 professor told us on my first day of college, “All of you listen to music with your heart. I want you to listen with your mind, also.” Knowledge of any medium breeds a deeper appreciation; this is not just true of the arts. From computer geeks to architects, bobsledders to restaurant owners, cause and effect become cyclical: you like something, so you start learning more about it. The more you learn about it, the more you like it.
And the more I learn about external hard drives, the more I like them. Looking at both of mine now, I lustily await next month’s turn to back up my backup. The silver one lies dormant, its metallic husk cool to the touch. Its tall black companion, the original standby, breathes and hums, throwing heat from every crevice. They make for a formidable pair. My music is safe.
I feel like a man.
Stay Secure, iTunes Collection
DJ Disc Space
Monday, November 12, 2007
I read an essay positing that miracles happen. A friend posted this thesis on Facebook yesterday, concluding that his ability to procure two chicken sandwiches six minutes past a restaurant’s closing time—at half cost, no less—evinces, in finality, that the miraculous is real. I happen to concur with this take on the arguably inexplicable, and I could elucidate hundreds of stories akin to his—stories which posit our universe’s preternatural tendency to cater to us, to indulge our indulgences. These stories are not just about chicken sandwiches at 360 seconds past zero hour, nor do they merely celebrate paying half price. These stories are the ontology of dumb luck: serendipity is real.
Such serendipity is how I came upon the most important cup of soda in the history of mass transit. At 3:00 am on Saturday night/Sunday morning, Sideburns and I (remember: Sideburns is a girl. Sideburns does not have sideburns) are taking the F train back to Queens from Manhattan. We initially navigate to the 63rd and Lexington stop, since it is the closest one to Queens. However, due to construction, the Queens-bound train isn’t running, so we take the F two stops downtown to Rockefeller Center, where we will be able to cross over to its Queens-bound iteration.
Upon our arrival, the Rockefeller Center platform has all the trappings of a late-night subway station: quiet, a little sad, hung over in the way that an underground, rat-infested nucleus full of transients is bound to be. In the scant hours that separate the nighttime frenzy from the morning order, the platform feels like the shell-shocked end of a once-raging house party. It is not the place for discourse, and it is certainly not the place for conflict; unlike the bellicosity that streaks the subway during daylight, the wee hours are usually softly humane.
In addition to the chance train stoppage that necessitated our being at Rockefeller Center, Sideburns and I are uncharacteristically tired. Resolute city walkers most nights, we opt for the benches—the second bit of dumb luck that facilitates our encounter with the esteemed soda.
We are exhausted, in an exhausted place, already steered out of our way, and battling malignant 3 am bitterness (I am, at least. Sideburns is suspiciously kind-tempered). There are two available seats at the end of the bench, upon one of which is perched a white paper soda cup, a straw jutting from the top. The soda, presumably, belongs to the young man sitting in the next seat, who looks to be about 23, helmeted by a red baseball cap and earphones. As I swoop in to sit, the young man glowers at me, but I don't think he is taking issue with my sitting. Every rule of decorum and courtesy demands that he move his drink so that I can sit. Which I do. He doesn’t move his drink, which is sitting against my left leg, lukewarm condensation rubbing off on my jeans. He murmurs something.
“What?” I ask.
“I TOLD you I didn’t fucking want you to sit there.”
[3 incredulous seconds elapse]
“I TOLD you I didn’t fucking want you to SIT THERE.”
This man is possibly homicidal, but there’s no way I’m surrendering my seat to a soda. Exacerbating the standoff is that I’m too perplexed to respond, so, for better or worse, I look like a badass, apathetically shrugging off his vitriol.
“That’s fine,” Sideburns chirps, and cheerily moves us to two seats on the other side of insane soda guy. I sit, again, in the slot next to him, this time on the side not housing a soda. He scoffs at me, collects his drink, and moves down to the very end of the bench. He is enraged, and perhaps mentally handicapped.
A first-year St. John’s Law School student is seated next to Sideburns. “That was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” he says, and we assent. The F train pulls up, and Sideburns, the law student, and I sit on one end of the car, while crazy soda guy sits on the other, glaring at the three of us.
“He hasn’t taken one drink from the soda,” I say. “Nobody buys soda in a paper cup to bring home. You buy a bottle if you bring it home. Why hasn’t he taken a drink?”
“That’s right, you don’t take a cup home,” says the law student. “He hasn’t touched his soda.”
We all realize that he's not drinking his soda now, and he's not going to drink it later. And he was irate that I came near the cup. We are stumped.
“Maybe there was gold in the cup,” I offer. “Or maybe a million dollars' worth of heroin."
“That’s right,” law student says. “How dare you, sir, sit in the same seat as his cup of gold? The terrorists have won.”
Indeed, the terrorists are winning. I encroached upon the autonomy of a cup of soda, I displaced its owner to the end of the bench, and my offense engendered a segregated ride home. To confirm my cadre’s insidiousness, oppressed crazy soda guy delivers an extended, deranged stare before bounding up the stairs at the Roosevelt Avenue station, out of sight forever.
“Will you ever sit in the same seat as a soda again?” asks the law student.
“No way,” I answer. “No way.”
“That’s right,” he says. “Or you, sir, are a terrorist.”
Stay Serendipitous, Subway Closures
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Thomas’ English Muffins now come in sandwich size. This 40% bigger variation is new to me, if not new to the world. I bought two packs last night, thinking that the hamburger-sized loaves would revolutionize the way I eat. Well, they haven’t. I’m still making English Muffin pizzas with two slices of cheese, ketchup, basil, pepper, and Mrs. Dash. I’m still reluctant to microwave an English Muffin, reserving that desultoriness for extreme emergencies. Nay, the sandwich size English Muffin hasn’t done anything besides for deliver slightly more bread per serving, a boon, perhaps, to prison inmates and terror camp attendants, but not to someone like me, who could have bought a loaf of regular bread for the same price.
The pantheon of non-pizza pizzas, therefore, remains intact: first is the pizza bagel, followed by pizza on a pita, followed by matzo pizza (those who have never observed Passover might not concur), and then the English Muffin pizza. Pizza on toast, whole wheat bread, and hero sandwich round out the lineup. I was desperately hoping to unseat matzo pizza with sandwich size EM’s, but alas—the rankings are made of stronger stuff.
The apocryphal supermarket lore is that these places, which we take for benign providers of nourishment and non-perishable goods, are designed like casinos, in that their layout intentionally disorients the consumer. The purpose in a casino is obvious—the bewildered gambler is the screwed gambler. A supermarket, too, derives financial benefit from confused shoppers. Lost and dizzied by the intertwining aisles, one might purchase far too much food, or splurge for luxury items one did not intend to buy.
I paid no heed to this supposition before today, when I opened my freezer, seized the burgeoned muffins, stared at their freezer-streaked façade for a moment, and let out a string of profanity. I was duped. I was had. The supermarket tricked me into believing that these English Muffins were different, weaseled me into dropping an extra half-dollar per pack in the hopes of something better. I thought I was buying happiness, or at least the opportunity to eat in a way I never had, but all I got was a raw deal. Were the English Muffin pizzas still delicious this morning? Yup. Were they a little bit bigger than usual? No doubt. But they were sullied by the taint of capitalism.
In retrospect, I should have known this all along. I get weak and tired the moment I enter a supermarket, and I grow increasingly lethargic with each item I place in my cart. By the time I suffer through check-out, load the bags into the car, and unload them at home, I have to sit for a few minutes and recuperate. It takes 10 hours of blackjack to do what grocery shopping can do in 30 minutes. It takes a week of work and school to exact the punishment I endure during a trip through the produce section. Shopping leaves me debilitated, light-headed, and powerless, like a car battery that’s been on a cross-country road trip.
Once I get home, I muster what remains into a last-second English Muffin pizza Hail Mary. As I found this morning, my prayers usually aren’t answered.
Stay Stupefying, Supermarkets
Monday, November 5, 2007
Did you know that last year 1,944 New Yorkers saw something and said something? You probably did if you ride the New York City subway. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is intent on telling everybody how fiercely their riders combat terror—it’s a post-9/11 beacon of pride on the scale of electrified rail cars. There are signs in every subway car boasting, in imposing bold letters, “Last year 1,944 New Yorkers saw something and said something.” What “something” means is anybody’s guess—a man vomiting on the F train at three in the morning, or exposing himself and eating crab legs during rush hour? A torn, inseminated pair of leggings on the Columbus Circle platform? We don’t know what people saw last year—the MTA merely advertises that a few less than 2,000 people vigilantly reported having seen something they thought to be suspicious.
Maybe the proclamation is supposed to be farcical, since even the MTA bureaucracy isn't so myopic as to laud the fact that not even 2,000 people reported something. According to the MTA's website, 8,272,117 people, on average, use New York's public transportation every weekday. The weekend averages are a bit lower—the website doesn’t specify, so let’s assume that, on the average day, 7 million people use subways and buses. Extrapolated over 365 days, that’s 2,555,000,000 people—TWO BILLION, FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-FIVE MILLION PEOPLE—using MTA transportation every year. And just 1,944 people saw something and said something? That’s .0000761% of riders.
The SUBWAYblogger interprets the statistics in terms of day-to-day occurrences. If 1,944 people saw something and said something, that’s about 5.3 people per day. “There’s easily that many people passed out in the middle of a hallway every day,” the SUBWAYblogger astutely notes. “That alone can account for all the reports in a year.”
5.3 people per day. Out of eight million, two hundred and seventy-two thousand, one hundred and seventeen. That’s unreal. That’s earth-shatteringly, bone-jarringly, soul-numbingly infinitesimal. That’s buying-drinks-for-underage-girls-at-a-Nickelback-concert low. That’s so low, in fact, that one must assume the MTA didn't crunch the numbers before they signed off on the ad campaign. I’d bet four Nickelback tickets that there isn’t a single precedent in the history of civilization for celebrating failure on so grand a scale. The only thing that comes to mind is when, in 1967, then-Egyptian-president Nasser told his country that they'd triumphed in the war against Israel, while, in reality, Israel had decimated the Egyptian military in a matter of hours. But that wasn’t so much celebrating failure as much as it was covering it up with a lie—the MTA, in fact, might have been better served by lying. That they didn’t is what’s shocking.
So, translated into terrorist, “Last year 1,944 New Yorkers saw something and said something” means, “Do whatever the hell you want.” The ad might as well read, “7.61 x 10^-4 percent. Last year we asked two and a half billion people to watch for suspicious activity. We can only represent the percentage that did in negative scientific notation. We’re fucked.” Ironically, any infidel-hating fundamentalist with a calculator could deduce from the MTA's own advertisement that the subway is a soft target.
Besides, can you really blame the riding public for its silence? As a frequenter of New York City’s subways and buses, I can assure you of three things:
1) Something that could possibly be a mass terror attack occurs once every five minutes. Any veteran rider is irreversibly desensitized to any and all weird, suspicious, and flagrant behavior.
2) There’s nobody to whom one might "say something." If Osama bin Laden was sitting in my subway car and lighting a stick of dynamite, I wonder who I’d tell first—the passed out crack addict with his head in my lap or the crocheting grandmother sitting under the “Last year 1,944 New Yorkers saw something and said something” sign?
3) If I did manage to find somebody in any position to thwart a mass murder, he/she wouldn’t care. The men and women who work for the MTA are some of the hardest, most terrifying people I’ve ever met. They’re a million times scarier than any terrorist. In order to save the day, one would have to, in a matter of seconds, see a terrorist attack in progress, find somebody to tell, take a few moments to relate what I'd witnessed, and cajole that individual to do something about it (as if an unarmed subway operator could overpower an armed terrorist. But that's another issue). I'd say one's chances are about .0000761%.
This is why I keep my mouth shut on the train. Which is typical: according to the MTA, last year 2,555,499,056 New Yorkers saw something and did not say something.
Stay Silent, New York
Thursday, November 1, 2007
HBO is running a high-definition “Da Ali G Show” marathon, and I’m brushing up on all the sketches that I already knew. Over the last year and a half, I’ve memorized every line, incitation, gesture, facial expression, and outraged, unwitting guest presented by Ali G, Borat Sagdiyev, and Bruno. There are some segments—the religion roundtable, Pastor Quinn, dinner etiquette, Pat Buchanan (WMD/BLT), the campaign trail, clubbing in Miami—that I can’t watch anymore, because by the time they’re thirty seconds through I’ve completed the rest in my head.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s genius is mostly comic, especially in his exploitation of the awkward moment. No one, not even the estimable Vince Vaughn, is more adroit at creating, maintaining, exacerbating, and being comfortable with awkwardness. His brilliance also lies in his normalcy, since, unlike Woody Allen or Andy Kaufman, Cohen is completely sane. He’s intelligent (he graduated from Cambridge), reasonable, and, on the surface, pretty unremarkable. Comedy, for him, is a calculated, quasi-mathematical process, a system of actions and responses that he meticulously plans, yet—and this is where his brilliance is most apparent—he is also a master of extemporaneous comedy. When “gay converter” Pastor Quinn quoted from the Book of Romans, Bruno immediately chimed in, “Great, I love Romans,” and when a high-society woman asked Borat why his sister was a prostitute, he said, “Because she like to make money, high five!”
The social import of Da Ali G Show, however, has nothing to do with comedy. Never has a show so acutely and blatantly revealed prejudice and bias, nor has a single program ever exposed those prejudices in such a variety of cultures, from outback Arizona cowboys to anti-nuclear activists, to priests, rabbis, and atheists. Most of all, he illustrates that religion can be a two-headed monster, one that preaches sound morals (as in the religion roundtable) while simultaneously perpetuating prejudice and irrationality (like the homophobic Pastor Quinn).
We can all identify with how Cohen, a somewhat observant Jew, feels about faith—there’s something incongruous and confusing about the way we tend to think about our spiritual lives. Religion, to me, is moving to a tiny swath of land smaller than New Jersey, that has been a nexus of murder, hate, and mortal danger for thousands of years, under the faith/hope/knowledge/conviction that, one day, a man will reveal himself to be the savior, the dead will be brought back to life, and the enemies that lie three countries deep on her borders will be magically vanquished—and then, once you get there, complaining that that it’s hard to get a good steak.
It’s funny, really: keeping up a singularly religious worldview is extremely difficult, so that a lot the decisions we make with clarity eventually get muddled by late buses, bad weather, rough toilet paper, and weird street signs. In other, non-religious arenas, you’d eventually reach a compromise, some balance of quixotic idealism and pressing realism. But religion doesn’t work like that, and adherents to all faiths find themselves bouncing back and forth between two opposing extremes. Above and beyond pure comedic timing, Cohen capitalizes on peoples’ tendency to get extremely defensive about their beliefs.
Which begs just one question: what’s up with so many nuns working part-time as strippers?
Stay Subpar, Israeli Meat
DJ Da Ali G Show