Monday, November 13, 2006

DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE ?!?!

I bumped into Axl Rose this weekend.

I was in New York. I had just been to my friend's comedy show and we were racing back to catch the train. We were standing outside Madison Square Garden having a hot dog when Pete's eyes focused behind me and he said "That's Axl Fucking Rose!"

I whirled around to see that Pete was, in fact, correct. Axl Rose was approaching with a model on his arm, a full entourage, and a face like a PSA against Botox.

What happened next I can only explain as a scene from that Cold Case show on CBS. You know how the show always ends with some nostaglic music and all the characters flip back and forth with younger versions of themselves?

I imagine how the scene must have looked from Axl's point of view as a version of the Cold Case ending. I imagine him looking at Pete and I standing there - just then, someone crosses between us and we're magically converted to our fifteen-year-old selves, shouting "Wooo! Hey Axl! Woo!" and making the devil sign with our hands.

I'm pretty sure he told us to "Fuck Off!"

It was awesome!!!
Jew Defeats Rich Guy Who Thinks He's All Big

This election season, I volunteered for the Lamont campaign in CT. One of my jobs on election day was to stand near the polling place in my town, wave a sign, and generally try to get people to vote for Lamont. This necessitated standing outside on a street corner from the time the polls opened in the morning until they closed at night. If you ever want to get a feel for a town or its people, I highly recommend standing in one spot for fourteen hours. You'll see things in a whole new light - trust me.

Here are the highlights:

Highlight #1.

Around 1pm, I witnessed what I'm sure must have been an essay from The Onion.

I saw a guy coming out of the polling place. As he walked out, his buddy across the street recognized him. My town is pretty rural, but the polling place was in a fairly active part of town. I wouldn't call it a town-square, per se, but it was a lively place to be at the time. There were lots of people around. Anyway, when the dude across the street saw his friend, he shouted:

"Hey Davy, who'd ya vote for?"

Davy yelled across the street with a full voice:

"I VOTED FOR THE JEW!!"

Davy's pal replied:

"THAT'S WHO I'M VOTIN' FOR - I CAN'T STAND THESE RICH GUYS WHO THINK THEY'RE ALL BIG!"

...

Later that night, as I listened to Ned Lamont concede the election to Joe Leiberman, I couldn't help but imagine that the next day's headline would read:

"Jew Defeats Rich Guy Who Thinks He's All Big"

Highlight #2 -

Around 11am, a woman showed up and explained that she was a write-in candidate for State Senate. She was there, you see, to wave her sign and to try to garner as many write-in votes as she could. It is important for me to emphasize that this woman was "on the campaign trail," so to speak.

She was wearing matching sweatpants and a sweatshirt. The sweatshirt was grey and the pants were yellow, but I say they were matching because the each had the same colors of paint spattered all over them. I suppose she might have been painting her house that morning - her clothes certainly support that hypothesis. And she was sweaty. Really sweaty.

As I stood there waving my Ned Lamont sign, she waved her sign which included her name of course followed by the words "Write-In Candidate for State Senate."

The thing about her sign, though, was that it was written with a sharpie on a piece of loose-leaf paper. Not any loose-leaf paper, mind you, but a piece of spiral-bound loose-leaf complete with the fuzzy edges still attached.

She had just been ejected from the polling place, where she had apparently been waving her sign and soliciting votes not only within the 75 foot perimeter, but within the actual building itself. A police officer ordered her to remove herself to the legal campaign zone where I was standing.

When she arrived, she was angry with the cop. Furious really. She complained about the right-wing consipiracy that sought to silence voices like hers. "I've got this cop's number now! I know who he's working for! He won't get away with this!"

At that point she reached into her pocket and pulled out her "Enemies List" - she had an actual Enemies List. It was a piece of loose-leaf paper - which I would have suspected probably came from the same notebook as her Campaign sign had it not been for the fact that it was long and aged.

She had been carrying this list, I assume, for quite a while. Years I'd guess. On the top of the page, the words "Enemies List" were appropriately scrawled in red ink. The list itself filled the rest of the page in tiny letters - there were dozens, if not a hundred, names.

When she scribbled the cops name on the bottom, I immediately pretended to take an important cell phone call. I did not want to end up on that list - and I felt sure that only way to stay off was to avoid talking to this woman at all. After 45 minutes of chatting on my cell phone to a number of people - some real, some feigned - the woman finally left and I was safe again.

After she was gone, her words continued to haunt me. She had stood there for almost an hour wearing a dirty, mismatched, paint-spattered sweatsuit, waving a ragged-edged campaign sign and when I asked her why she was running, she replied:

"I'm here to restore some professionalism to the motherfucking Senate!"

I really wished I had voted for her.
It's Nice to be Recognized.

Last week, I was mistaken for a celebrity. I was at a store in Manchester buying curtains and curtain rods - I mention what I was buying because it is important to the story, as you'll see. At the register, the woman ringing me up gave me a surprised look before politely saying:

"You remind me of someone on tv!"

"Really?" I said, "who?"

"I'm not sure... it's on the tip of my tongue."

"Well, I hope it's someone good," I told her.

She resumed ringing up my purchases.

Thirty seconds or so later, she had it.

"Oh! I know," she said. "That show where TIDE fixes up peoples houses!"

I was confused for a second. Finally, I asked: "Do you mean Ty Pennington?"

"No! Not TIDE! But that's the show I mean.... You look like one of the gay ones...."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Total Eclipse of the Heart

There is nothing finer in the world than this video.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Is there a line between idiosyncrasy and compulsion?

I've been wondering if some of my less-than-noble character traits are merely idiosyncratic quirks in my personality or if they're actually compulsive behaviors. My understanding of the difference between the two is that idiosyncrasies are the things you tend to do - compulsions are the things you have to do. When a behavior starts to take over your life - or when you find yourself in situations in which you feel (inexplicably) that you have no choice but to indulge the behavior--well then, brother, you've probably got a compulsion on your hands.

There are people--my family mostly--who will tell you that I correct people's grammar way too much. They'll tell you that I'm "anal" about they way people speak and that I simply can't stand when people use improper grammar. They might even tell you that I am compulsive about good usage. While that might seem true - I doubt very much that grammar is a compulsion for me. Sure, I might correct people every now and then, but that's probably just because I'm an asshole. I don't think I have a grammar compulsion. Frankly, it doesn't control me or my life. In other words, it’s not that I compulsively hate bad grammar usage, it’s more likely that I just like correcting people and feeling superior.

However...

There is one thing that leads me to worry about my compulsive behavior and leads me to write this blog-entry. While grammar mistakes don't really bother me, the geographical mistakes people make drive me up the fucking wall! When I hear someone misuse words like "down" or "up" when describing the relationship between two places, I simply shut down. I can't cope.

Today, for example, I listened to a woman tell what I think must have been a very moving story about how she went up to New Paltz, New York and met some Jewish women who were protesting Israeli aggression in Lebanon. I think she might have been saying something about how she admired the courage and commitment of these anti-war activists, and might have been praising the way they spoke of faith, peace, and the inherent goodness of humanity. I'm not sure exactly what she was saying, however, because I was too busy obsessing over the fact that New Paltz is south of here!!

I'll give you another example. Last week I had a conversation with one of my students. I asked her what she did over the weekend and she told me about a trip to the beach. "I just love the ocean," she said.

Here's why I think I might be compulsive: there was about a 10 second gap between her statement "I just love the ocean" and my response. During those ten seconds, my mind went into a sort of crisis-mode in which I considered--I mean carefully considered--the situation. She was a 17-year-old-girl in the summer before her freshman year of college, and who was casually chatting about a fun time she had the day before. I am almost 33 years old, well-educated, reasonably well-traveled, supposedly mature, and to one degree or another in a position of authority. Shouldn't I take the high road?

Well, I didn't! I found I just could not stop myself--I mean I could not prevent myself from saying: "You mean the Sound.... Connecticut is on the Long Island Sound, not the ocean."

Ok, I'm lying actually. That's what I wished I had said. In truth, I am far more passive-aggressive than that. What I actually said was probably something like "Really? You went to the ocean? It must have taken you hours and hours to get there."

I am a very small, petty man.

My point is that in that situation, I really did weigh the situation and genuinely felt that pointing out this poor girl's mistaken sense of geography was what I had to do. And here's the really important part: I felt I needed to point this out to her not because I felt she needed to know the truth, but that I needed to say it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a hoot."

I recieved a telephone call today from a representative of the "Dove Foundation." Thats a group dedicated to improving the moral quality of what appears in movies and on television. They're also the people who are (rightfully) under fire for producing and distributing "edited" versions of Hollywood movies that meet their moral criteria.
Not surpringly, the telephone survey was completely corrupt. I was told that the survey would take "about 10 minutes." After only the third question, however, the voice told me "your responses indicate that you are not a part of our target demographic. Thank you for your time. Good bye."

The questions that I did get to answer were a long the lines of "are you fed up with Hollywood's blatant anti-family bias?" It was my "no" response to that question, I suppose, that indicated that I was not a member of a useful demographic.

After I was abruptly disconnected, I called them back (to their genuine credit, they are one of the few such groups that does not block caller ID). When I pointed out their methodological flaws, I was told that the person I spoke to was not conducting the survey according to proper procedure and that mine was a very unusual complaint, and finally that the Dove Foundation was "very concerned with the accuracy and integrity of their polling." Nice try, but the survey I took was administered by a machine.

So I went to their website where I found, among other things, an FAQ that described exactly the situation that I encountered and provided an answer that was almost exactly like the one I recieved when I called them back. So much for a very unusual complaint, eh?

But what I did not find was much more significant (though far from surprising!). This is an organization dedicated to lobbying Hollywood to produce more "family-friendly" films and television shows, and fewer "anti-family" ones. But nowhere on their website (www.dove.org) are either of those two terms defined! Nowhere do they describe what is "family friendly" or what counts as "anti-family."

I was annoyed on a number of levels. First and most obviously is the political level. I don't doubt that "family-friendly" is a just a polite way to say "not-gay" without all that messy explicit hatred. Ordinarily, I don't think that I would feel compelled to react to this kind of crap, but I was finally moved to comment by the second level on which I was offended: a level that might be called the discursive or the methodological. I can just barely ignore stupid political ideologies when necessary, but when those stupid ideologies are combined with really bad argumentative skills (as they usually are) and I tend to speak up.

That said, below is the letter that I posted on the comment section of the Dove Foundation's website. I doubt that I'll hear a response, but if I do, I'll be sure to post it here.

Here's my letter:

Dear Dove Foundation,

I have a couple of comments that I would like to see addressed.

First, I was called by a person named "Cammy." Evidently, she was not satisfied with my responses to her survey questions and decided that since I did not seem to agree with Dove's general mission, I was "not a part of the target demographic." What this means (as I am sure you are aware) is that the results of your "survey" will be meaningless: by screening out all responses that do not agree with your political agenda, your results will appear overwhelmingly favorable yet completely inaccurate. I know you are smart people who understand this, so I can only assume you are intentionally skewing the results of your survey out of sheer political bias. I have no doubt that the results you report will include language like "an overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that something needs to be done..." But your survey methodology is profoundly suspect. Please respect your respondents (and your issue!) more than you have shown thus far.

The second point I want to see addressed is this: nowhere on your website (nor in the "pre-recorded responses" on the telephone) is there any indication of how you define your basic terms and criteria. Specifically, I want to know what you mean by "family-friendly" and (more importantly) "anti-family." Too often right-wing extremists use these terms very narrowly--most obviously excluding "non-traditional" families like those that include homosexual relationships or single-parents. You need to recognize that families come in many varieties - and that representations of families that do not fit a narrow criteria are not "anti-family." I am especially concerned with your lack of description on this point. It could very well be that a telephone respondent who is dissatisfied with, say, violence on television could be inadvertently endorsing a very narrow conception of "family' because you may or may not be lumping non-traditional families in with other potentially objectionable criteria. Now, please don't misunderstand me. If you're intention is to endorse what I would consider a very narrow conception of "family" (i.e. one that is based on a right-wing agenda), you have every right to do so. But you need to be clear and open by providing a definition of what you mean by "family."

As to the question of what is "anti-family," my guess is that you probably include in that category a lot of things that you simply do not like. My guess is that you are using the prefix "anti" improperly or for rhetorical appeal. A film that does not address the issues you want to see addressed is not necessarily against those issues. If I see a film that does not feature, say, airplanes, am I to understand the film to be "anti-airplanes"? No, of course not and I doubt that you would suggest as much. But that is the basic case that your making here. If a film isn't "about" families in your conception, you describe it as "anti-family." Is it not possible to produce a film about single persons? Or about a group of characters that are not necessarily related by families ties? Consider a recent film that I doubt you would find very objectionable: The Endurance is a documentary about Sir Ernest Shacketon's failed voyage to the South Pole. No one presented in the film is related to one another--it is not concerned the idea of the "family." Is this film "anti-family"? I suspect you would agree that it is not. So why do you hold other types of movies (R-rated romantic comedies, action movies, historical epics, literary productions, etc. that make no claim to moral edification) to a different standard?

Again, if I might offer a guess, I would hazard to say that you may be edging closer and closer to an understanding of entertainment that holds that anything that is not expressly "for children" is "anti-family." Your telephone caller suggested that you were "not endorsing censorship," but what would you call a mission that seeks cultural change based on these narrow criteria and definitions??

Listen, literature (and I use the term here to include popular cultural products like television and movies) is not (always) supposed to edify moral values. You aren't supposed to agree with what you see all the time. We watch stories to learn about each other, and sometimes what we learn is not pleasant or comfortable. No one (I hope) reads or watches Hamlet to reinforce some conception of justice or ethics or (worse) family-values. But Hamlet is still worth paying attention to!

Do I think that action movies have as much to teach us as Shakespeare? Of course not. But we've got to get out of the mindset that insists that what we expose ourselves and our children to must always be a positive message. Sometime you can learn a lot by watching someone misbehave. Sometimes you can be legitimately (and “safely”!) entertained by watching someone who misbehaves.

Maybe you disagree and that's fine. But you must in good conscience start representing your group fairly and openly. Start by defining what exactly it is that you are for or against. "Family," is a politically and rhetorically charged term that evokes a lot of emotion, but it does not mean the same thing to all people (or to all of your respondents)! Define your terms by explaining what you mean by "family-friendly" and "anti-family." Second, you must accept the fact that not every one is going to agree with you and that, if you expect to have any credibility, you must conduct your polls fairly and accurately. Screening out undesirable responses proves absolutely nothing. I can just as easily give you a survey that "proves" that 100% of the public hates ice cream, if I only include those responses that support that position.

No matter what your political objectives are, you ought to be doing everything you can to protect your credibility! Or is winning by hook or by crook a family-value??

I would appreciate a legitimate reply to this message. If all you can do is provide a pre-written stock answer instead of a thoughtful reply written by a real-live person who actually read what I've written, please don't bother. A generic stock response would only confirm my assumptions about your organization.

Thank you.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Literary study between the S-Word and the H-Word.

"To some people...the success that [narratology] has achieved is distressing. What irritates them is its 'soulless' and sometimes mindless technicalness and its pretension to the role of 'pilot science' in literary studies.... If (I say if) every form of knowledge can be situated between the two poles symbolized by rigorous mechanics and that blend of empiricism and speculation represented by philately, we can no doubt observe that literary studies today oscillate between the philately of interpretive criticism and the mechanics of narratology..."
Gérard Genette, Narrative Discourse Revisted

On the other hand...

"When studying physics we are not asked to investigate the biographies of all the discicples of Newton who showed interest in science, but who failed to make any discovery. Neither are their unrewarded gropings, passions, laundry bills, or erotic experiences thrust onto the hurried students or consider germane to the subject."
Ezra Pound, How to Read

Pound was writing in 1931, Genette more than 50 years later in 1983. But it's interesting to see that by 2006, we're still oscillating between historicizing and scientificizing our literatures.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Want to know what I really love?

A Tomato Sandwich...

Which is why I'd like to announce my hearty support for artist Kelly Cameron who painted "Tomato Sandwich" (2002; acrylic on canvesette, 9x12).

Here's the website:
http://www.ebsqart.com/Artists/cmd_1429_profile_portfolio__3_1_G.htm
The Most Important Meal of the Day

I was feeling a little down yesterday, so I treated myself to breakfast at a local diner. The important detail is this: I went to breakfast to cheer myself up. When I got there I had to sit next to the only other people in the whole place — a pair of older women having a not-so-quiet conversation that flowed exactly as follows:

1. Roger's son's recent suicide.
2. Other people they knew who'd committed suicide (in the following order):
.......a. teens
.......b. adults
.......c. Hemingways
.......d. those who tried suicide but failed/backed off.
3. Linda's daughter is living with a real piece of work
.......a. he's an alcoholic
.......b. he beats her
.......c. he's generally good for nothing
.......d. they're too young anyway
.......e. Linda doesn't know what to do
4. Paul is nearing the end
.......a. they don't expect him to see the 4th of July
.......b. hopefully it will come quick and peaceful-like
5. This toast is burnt.
6. What a lovely day!