skot AT izzlepfaff DOT com
Wednesday, 27 September
If you don't watch the Bravo show Project Runway, you can stop reading now. On the other hand, if you have Bravo, and have ever watched it for more than ten minutes, then it is highly likely that you have seen Project Runway!
(Incidentally, I will be revealing some stuff about the latest episode, so if you're all wiggy about that, you should probably go away.)
We had a couple friends over tonight to watch the latest episode of this show, another "reality" show that features young, talented fashion designers who compete to be top designers while weekly enduring torrents of scorn and abuse and invective from a panel of fashion mavens like Heidi Klum and Michael Kors. Having nothing but scorn for most of the ridiculous fashion industry in the first place, this turns out to be kind of fun, as is mouthing off about these poor designers, like I do to my wife, when I manifestly 1. already admitted that I hold this shit in low esteem in the first place, and 2. what the fuck do I know about fashion anyway? It was the wife who turned me on to this show in the first place, as she really likes her some fashion. It's all sort of tiring, really, so I don't think about it too much, and content myself at hooting things at the screen like, when the wife jokingly said, "So when is Tim Gunn going to come out of the closet?" Replied me: "I think the closet just sort of collapsed all around him. He just stood there blinking one day with the remains of a closet lying at his feet."
Project Runway is an oddity of sorts in the reality TV world in that it is highly subjective. Not like The Amazing Race, where it's pretty cut-and-dried: who came in last? OUT! Or even the dreary Survivor: got the most votes? OUT! No, each week of Project Runway has the celebrity panel simply bouncing whoever fucked it most that week, or sort of, or not really at all, quite frequently, since the panelists routinely contradict themselves, sometimes within seconds. Like, say: "Uli, we've seen this same dress from you before. We'd like to see you stretch." Moments later: "Jeffrey, this design is really you. It's what you're good at. We loved it." And then you get to see poor Uli wilting while Jeffrey flares the gill flaps on his neck.
The other thing one has to remember about Project Runway is the heavy (and largely unapologetic) mediation from the producers. This show really makes no bones about the fact that they keep people around purely because they're entertaining, or beloved, or deranged. Hence the ridiculously cruel longevity of hopeless contestants, such as Vincent, a harmlessly unhinged B-talent with a penchant for erupting into sustained gouts of baffling nonsense; and the heartbreakingly sweet and heartbreakingly doomed Kayne, who spent every single runway session nodding his head ruefully, grimly acknowledging the panelists' heaping invective upon his heartbreakingly clownish designs. These guys hung on late into the game while the incomparably adorable Alison was sent packing earlier on, prompting the kind of outraged screams from fans of the show that TV producers probably record on their TiVo and fall asleep to at night.
In other words, the whole affair is a tremendous pile of complete horseshit, which probably explains why I enjoy it so.
The big deal tonight was that they were to winnow the final four designers down to the final three who would then all go compete for the big fuckin' prize. The challenge was: design a garment that most essentially defines "who you are." As an added third-grade touch, the designers were to come up with three words that described their point of view. MESSAGE: "We think you are so hilariously shallow that you can be summed up in three words." SECONDARY MESSAGE: "It's going to be so hypocritically awesome when we crucify you for your designs in which we claim that you don't know you better than we do." TERTIARY MESSAGE: "We've never given a shit about anything you think or claim to think; in all honesty, we ran out of ideas, so this is what we pulled out of our asses."
Honestly, this was really stupid. What designer (or artist) ever thinks, "Hmmm. I'm going to approach this project as someone else, using their point of view." Wouldn't every single design they attempt be representative of the individual's point of view? This is ignoring the show's long-loved convention of making ridiculous demands on the designers, like "Here's a bunch of recycled garbage! Make a dress out of this." (Really.) Anything would have been better than this weird challenge to the axiomatic. "We're going to judge how well you do, uh, doing you." How about:
"Your challenge this week is to create undergarments for your models as you imagine her in dog form."
"What we're looking for this time can be summed up in one word: bukkake."
"We want to see how you would design a cocktail dress for an actual cock. Your next challenge is to design a bouncy outfit for Tim Gunn's gray penis."
But no, we got this lame shit, this "You do you!" crap that is perfect for the judges to cross themselves up riotously with self-contradiction. Michael got creamed for his (in my opinion lovely) evening gown, with Kors declaring "He's a sports clothing designer." Note that Michael is black. Hmmmm! Laura's insipid gown was rightly derided for being more of the same, with me shouting, "Yeah, boobless!" Laura routinely features plunging necklines on these models who have absolutely no real estate. Jeffrey, he of the neck literature, featured a strange mess that was all right up top but whose bottom looked like someone who had rolled around on a tablecloth. Ultimately the "winner" of the challenge was the much-maligned Uli, who spent all season being ragged on for serving up one flowy print dress after another, and this time came up with . . . a print dress that wasn't flowy for a change. Great. This is sort of like Disneyland announcing a bold new direction by declaring that they're closing down Space Mountain for a while. It's the same dress as ever! I just cut the bottom off of it.
Anyway, here's the big moment! Who is going home? OUR TWiST ANSWER? Nobody. Michael and Jeffrey are the two in peril, but there's no peril, because, as Ms. Klum says, "We have faith in you. You're all going." There's no final three! It's a final four!
And this, really, sums up reality programming. It sure as shit is programmed, from this show's cynical production-team heavy hand to its fairly standard requisite amounts of product placement. But what it really knocks out of the park is the reality. The TV part is practically secondary, except for the potency of the method of dissemination.
Here we have a show that purports to be meritocratic, even-handed and thematically coherent; it is none of these. This is also how we like to imagine (or how we cope with) life itself. Here is a show which is cynical and hypocritical and capricious and cruel. This is a program that portrays itself--its panelists and its contestants--as civilization itself, a dynamic between the you that puts yourself into the world of others by saying this and the they that either welcome you or crushes you with the inevitable that. What it never talks about is how arbitrary the whole process is. This is a show that almost exactly mirrors real life: one person is elevated to the pinnacles of success; many others are relegated to shit jobs, shit lives, shoveling shit. And the arbiters are the people we revere and also the people we hate, and they never, ever have to even make sense.
And when these unfortunates get shown the gate, bounced, sent off, they all say the same thing: "Thank you." This after weeks of routine humiliation and nonsensical punishment. ("We're bitterly disappointed in you for failing to live up to the theme of 'The History of Aluminum' after we generously gave you twelve hours to complete the garment using nothing but lichen. Get lost." "Thank you.")
Maybe this is the realest show out there.
Monday, 25 September
Video Killed The Nearly Everything
On Saturday afternoon, I found myself staring at the TV with nothing, nothing on. Nothing at all. I mean, yes, I know, TV is a vast wasteland, blah blah blah, but this was serious.
There were like nine college football games on. I fucking hate college football. (Why? I don't know. Well, I did go to college, and I did meet football players, and they were all fucking assholes. But then that begs the question as to why I like the NFL, since it stands to reason that those guys are even bigger assholes, and then I start to get kind of queasy with the self-examination, and then I do something silly like read a book, and we don't want that.) I mean, there wasn't shit on at all.
That's when I hit--up in the early 200s of my digital cable package--VH1 Classic. It already sounded gruesomely fantastic. VH1? Horrible! VH1 Classic? THRILLINGLY HORRIBLE! It was like stumbling across the Urethra Scraping Channel. What would they serve up?
Classic '80s videos. Yay! Cannibalizing 20-year-old pop culture artifacts as some form of manufactured nostalgia for demographic has-beens just like me! Since I'm past 35 now, it's easy to understand why my targeted programming showed up in the 200s on the channel listings.
What still isn't easy to understand is . . . well, the 80s. Music videos were of course still in nascent form--it says something about a quasi-artistic genre when early iconoclasts of the medium include such dubious entries as Duran Duran and A-Ha. About as respectable as it ever got was with Peter Gabriel, a guy who used to dress up as a flower or a pyramid onstage.
I list here a few of the spectacles I witnessed in that happy hour of reliving Night Flight.
Party All the Time
Widely acknowledged as one of the worst singles ever produced in this troubling decade, this shriekingly horrible joke of a song barely rises above ad jingle musicianship, and is, also universally agreed, simply another ugly wing to the gaudy mansion that is Eddie Murphy's phenomenal ego. How fitting, then, that the video is simply a laughably false "document" of his recording this auditory debacle, showing Eddie entering the studio to record the song, along with a couple dozen of his very closest sycophants, toadies and ostensible fluffers.
Oh, when Eddie sings! The camera cuts to his crew head-bobbing unconvincingly, his boob girls gyrating unenthusiastically, his in-studio session musicians flashing frozen smiles as Eddie wails about yet another bitch who treats him poorly, opting instead to party all the time. That nasty cunt! She parties all the time! But it's producer and collaborator Rick James--himself a noted paragon of How To Treat Women--who cannot help himself, and towards the end of the video, he manufactures a truly cringe-inducing double-fisted orgasmic shudder over the incredibly funky groove that Murphy is exuding and races into the studio to join him, and wastes no time agreeing with Murphy: "She parties AAAALLLL THE TIIIIIME!" Thanks, Rick! Until you joined in, I had missed this song's message.
Walk of Life
After the unintentionally hilarious horror of the Eddie Murphy video, I was suddenly presented with this drab offering from Dire Straits, a band which, if there was ever a band who should not show its members on video, was surely it. Taking the laziest possible route, Dire Straits simply did a "Hey, film us at sound check" pile of crap occasionally intercut with some deeply lame footage of a busker in some pedestrian tunnel while various KOOKY actors walked by doing various versions of their own "walks of life." Some of them awkwardly did that "turn into the camera to the side and lip-synch" thing that, twenty years later, is a lot like watching terrible porn. "When you're coming on her back, turn over to camera right and say, 'Now that's accessorizing!' "
But it was still better than watching Mark Knopfler grump around onstage, hunched over like an uglier Little Steven, while they pretended to fumble through the song at what was clearly like four in the afternoon. There's a reason that rock shows and Vegas must only be experienced at night: in the light of day, they both look ugly, cheap and embarrassing.
Total Eclipse of the Heart
NOW WE'RE TALKING! Bonnie Tyler was never known for her restraint; a previous minor hit, It's A Heartache, sounded like she was drinking whiskey while hitting herself in the skull with a stained ashtray when it came out, but Eclipse sounded like a transmission from the New Gods. It's the kind of song that makes Meat Loaf think, "Hmmmm. I could take some lessons from that crazy broad."
Eclipse seems to take place in some windswept English boarding school as decorated by art fags who all now work for Target. It is, to be kind, utterly baffling. Tyler wanders the darkened halls like a Gothic banshee, tapestries blowing in the wind machines, and is so impatient to take her raspy whisper to a full-throated scream that she actually startles all of reality around her with the force of her bombast: this must be why, for no explicable reason, ballet-dancing football players appear around her, right after the troupe of ninjas. Meanwhile, every now and then, a terrifying young boy with glowing eyes appears and stares unnervingly at her. I kept waiting for Stevie Nicks to ambush her and conk her on the head with a pot of herbal tea.
"I REALLY NEED YOU TONIGHT!" she howls to the galaxy at the song's climax (though this is kind of bullshit--the song is nothing but climax, starting at around the thirty second mark), which I am convinced produces the same reaction in every single straight male that it arouses in me: the recall of that incredibly damaged ex-girlfriend that we all once dated who would call up and scream frightening things like this. (Girls have their stories about creepy, awful boyfriends. Boys have theirs about terrible, nightmarish girlfriends. The bottom line seems to be: We will fuck just about anyone.)
This might be the most upsetting music video ever committed to film.
In Cyndi Lauper's brainspace, I assume it made perfect sense to set her perfectly catchy paean to female masturbation song's video in a futuristic dystopian burger joint. After all, Captain Lou Albano was in it (again)! What doesn't move your average teenage girl towards self-love if not Orwellian fast food and has-been professional wrestlers?
This video exemplefies the whole 80s tendency towards this emerging phenomenon, the music video, as "I stole my parents' video camera! This is going to be hilarious!" Lauper, who is not without her limited croaking charms, comes off as basically an idiot (though an enthusiastically pro-jilling-off idiot, so there you go); and the video tells a baffling story of the young burger lass bucking the system in some unspecified way and winds up in front of a judge, but by the end of the thing, she's in some Busby Berkeley thing as done by arthritic dance extras, and, oh, it's all just so painful, you end up thinking, "God, I hope she's going upstairs to masturbate."
This sort of thing should really be left to Prince. Or even Duran Duran.
Just don't let anyone see Mark Knopfler. Nobody will ever masturbate again.
Wednesday, 20 September
In The Mouth Of Madness
Yesterday was yet another dental visit. I go three times a year because . . . apparently, because that's how many times my insane insurance company will pay for me to go without charging me anything. Naturally, Jessica, my hygienist, immediately stuck a car jack in my mouth and started energetically cranking away.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!" I screamed as my jawbone snapped like a dry branch. It would have hung loosely, bouncing off my throat but for the incredible tension still being exerted by the car jack. "You're such a wuss," said Jessica, and she punched me playfully in the testicles. Tears streamed down my face as Jessica produced a jar of angry, writhing black larvae. "Uvula leeches," she murmured. "Just what Daddy needs." I sat helplessly, pinioned to the chair in a complicated arrangement of electrified cables as she rechecked the car jack, and judiciously ratcheted it another notch. I saw my reflection in her small glasses as she leaned over me; I looked like Munch's The Scream, and I desperately looked around for art thieves who might, however briefly, steal me away from this horrible tableau, but alas. Fuck you, Interpol.
Jessica, unfazed by my weak thrashings, set about hammering cedar planks into my gums, further incapacitating me. "The leeches like the smell of cedar," she explained, and dumped the jar of invertebrates into my maw. They promptly attached themselves to my palate and the back of my throat and began a frenzy of blood-feeding; this anemone-like feeling activated my gag reflex, and I vomited explosively all over my lap, earning me a stern look from Jessica. "That's not cricket," she said disapprovingly, and promptly stuck crickets in my ears. Where the fuck does she find this stuff? Jessica has a way with symbolic gestures.
Jessica finally had a look inside my mouth, prodding here and there with rusty hooks that she retrieved as needed from a nearby toilet. "Did you burn your mouth recently?" she asked. "YAAHH!" I screamed. "YEEE-YAAA!" I was trying to say, "Yes, pizza!" but the car jack and the blood loss from the feasting parasites mangled my diction. It was as if Jessica hadn't heard me anyway. "I see flaps of flesh. Here and here and here." Each "here" was punctuated by a rough jab to the hard palate with an unbent coat hanger.
I gave myself over to misery with a throat full of bilious bloodworms and fragments of iron. As if reading my thoughts, Jessica calmly remarked, "Amazon is having a sale," and then, startlingly, she pulled up her skirt and defecated into my mouth.
"We're in the home stretch now!" she trilled, and clouted me over the head with a length of re-bar; I fell limply to the floor. "We're almost done." She pulled out a silver coach's whistle and put it in her mouth and produced a shrill, quavering tone. I heard a sound like distant thunder, and then, still lying on the floor, trying to clear my befouled mouth, six hundred Kenyan runners stampeded over my head, trampling my skull with their Nike sneakers.
"IT'S THE NEWEST THING!" I heard Jessica call to me over the din and head trauma. "KENYAN MARATHON RUNNERS HAVE COMPLETELY REVOLUTIONIZED THE DENTAL INDUSTRY!" The Kenyans were very polite, and many of them muttered apologies to me as they stepped on my face. N'Degemendo in particular was kind and threw a mint at my head. It bounced off my brow and landed before my right eye; it smelled like Christmas and freedom. Jessica swiftly picked it up and threw it into the garbage. "That's bad for your teeth," she explained.
Finally, I was all done. Jessica undid the complicated arrangement of now-depowered cables that had been binding me, and then ushered me out of the office. "See you in January!" she sang.
"All right, " I replied glumly. It's a good thing none of this is out of my pocket, I thought blackly. As long as insurance is paying.
"Do you need parking validation?" asked the receptionist politely as I made for the door. "Naw," I said. "I walked."
"All righty, then!" she replied mildly. "Don't forget to get fucked, stupid!"
"Thanks," I said. "See you in a few months."
Monday, 18 September
My Eyes Have Seen
I have before confessed my love for police procedurals on TV. I have very, very low standards when it comes to these shows, be it the skeletal and venerable Law & Order (in any iteration save the appalling "Criminal Intent"), or the needlessly solemn Without A Trace, or the solemnly needless Criminal Minds. I'll watch that bullshit until the sun goes out.
The CSI franchise is a peculiar strain of this old TV stalwart. The original still soldiers on capably enough--it is, of course, laughable and bad, but it is the original mold from which the others would sort of follow--with its noirish labs and stony emphasis on Science and Evidence and Clear-Eyed Rationalism and whatever. It also set the template for the detached, monklike male lead in Gil Grissom, whose asceticism is tempered by his fanatic devotion to his job and, of course, The Truth. It's not William Petersen's fault that the standard-bearers to follow interpreted his character as an excuse to give up acting entirely. In Gary Sinise, this is really sort of galling. In David Caruso . . . well, it's become really awesome.
Okay, look, when CSI: Miami debuted, I was as embarrassed as anybody to admit to watching it. It was (and certainly remains) a cynical excuse by CBS to dump another Boobs & Crime show on us, and the program has never been shy about its ridiculous trapped-in-amber cinematography or the number of women falling out of their shirts in every episode. (The original CSI, set in Vegas, naturally has a rich history of loving stripper and hooker shots.) CSI: Miami originally featured Kim Delaney when it first aired, setting her opposite her old NYPD: Blue costar David Caruso, was almost instantly written out of the show when it turned out that she and Mr. Caruso had about as much chemistry as Waylon Flowers and Madam. The show was, to sum up, a nightmarish dud, and I never told anyone that I watched it.
Not any more! HEAR ME NOW! You need to watch this amazing show.
You see, it has morphed from a disastrous, insulting failure--not to mention a criminal waste of talents like Emily Procter and Khandi Alexander--into possibly the most overwrought, over-the-top, hilariously ridiculous spectacle since . . . I don't know. The Piltdown Man? Any Cirque Du Soleil show? This show is so awesomely misguided and bizarre and campy that it could only top itself by having everyone perform in drag. And I feel bad saying that, because I have friends who are drag queens, and I don't want them to feel insulted.
Tonight was the season opener for this mind-eating show; I was giddy with anticipation. Last season had wrapped up with Caruso's character, a certain "Horatio Caine," marrying a subordinate's leukemia-afflicted sister, whose need for chemo-relieving pot made problems for said associate, but who then was shot to death (the sister) by a drug cartel member, who floridly promised Caine/Caruso, "I weel keel everywon you loave!" It's important to note that this threat was delivered alongside GREAT BIG DRAMATIC TEXT that appeared next to the actor giving the line. Why? Nobody knows.
Meanwhile! The lab has some sort of government mole inside, but more importantly, the drug cartel guy, who has murdered Caine's wife, and subordinate's sister, has been released back to Brazil, where . . . Caine's former unrequited flame lives with her husband--who is Caine's brother, who is a former ex-undercover vice cop--and his nephew! Caine still carries a visible torch for her! Despite, uh, the fact that he married improbably gorgeous Leukemia Girl Who Got Shot, So I Guess Chemo Is Out. Anyway, last season's closer ended with a tight shot on Caine saying, "You know what this means, Eric?" (Pause.) "We're going to Brazil."
Tonight's episode was . . . well, it was brilliant. What can you say about a show that starts out with Caine--somehow magically locating the cartel guy right when he's exiting the courthouse--and says, without a hint of acting at all, as if his young wife hadn't been shot before his eyes, "I know exactly how this will end," and then does a famous "I'm disappearing behind a passing bus" thing, while the cartel guy is blown away by this truly inspired bit of Copperfield magic. Then, two seconds later, you see Caruso at the feet of the Corcovado, kneeling in an attitude of . . . I don't know. Nothing about this show makes sense at all. Why did he go to the Corcovado? How the fuck did he get there? Why does he look like he's doing some sort of mangled deep plie, which has to be wreaking havoc on that poor old Irish groin? I suppose it's all supposed to be symbolic, like, "In this shot, we'd like to grotesquely imply that this terrible actor is doing Christ's work on behalf of the Dead Leukemia Chick Who Always Looked Positively Healthy To Us, But Whatever, Can We Go To The Beach Shots Now?"
It's sort of impossible to get into this with any level of comprehensibility. Later, Caine finds his brother, savagely beaten and strung up like a ham by the cartel guy. Caine cuts him down, and of course he dies right in front of Caine's eyes. (Just so we're up to speed, that makes his wife and brother killed by this guy, not to mention that Cancer Wife was also subordinate's sister.) Caruso removes his sunglasses long enough to say, pointlessly, "I love you," to the dead brother, and despite my desperate mental pleading, the corpse refused to fulfill my every wish to spring back to life to gasp "I LOVE YOU TOO, MAN!" before clomping back down on the floor. I was kind of surprise that they resisted.
Later, after ABSOLUTELY NO EXPLANATION AT ALL, brother of Leukemia Lass finds himself on a gorgeously scenic helipad (!) with cartel guy, and is facing him down barehanded as his nemesis unpockets two switchblades. HUH? This scene is dropped down out of the sky without any explanation whatsoever. How did he find the guy? How did he get there? Why doesn't he have his gun? You know, the one that CSIs regularly are not issued? Why were crime scene investigators sent down here in the first place? Oh, never mind.
Grief-stricken brother does heroic knife battle with cartel guy, and of course, he is awesome. He disarms him of one weapon, and things look relatively evenly-matched until . . . Hey, what the fuck, here's Caine, also on the helipad! It's way the fuck up on a mountain, and there wasn't any explanation for anything else, so maybe he borrowed a Zeta Beam from Adam Strange or something, but anyway, then Caine gets involved in the knife fight, and it's some really sort of bizarre Mexican Standoff, but with knives, and with nonacting, and it's such a big surprise that Caine is also an awesome knife-fighter, and so he guts the cartel guy and then they just leave the guy's corpse to rot on the helipad.
Having betrayed everything they usually profess to believe in, the dedicated CSIs then head back to the states and complete the episode's secondary who-gives-a-fuck storyline, and we're reliably back in the series' usual state of shambling irrelevance, and it's sort of shocking, mainly because we're back again to a lousy storyline relegated to some unlucky actors who can, well, act. One expects Caruso to gut them all unconvincingly with a switchblade.
You should all be watching this show. It's the most amazing thing you'll ever see, unless, I don't know, you film guys blowing loads on crocodiles or something.
Shit. I hope I didn't just telegraph next week's episode.
Postscript: Look, am I going crazy? Is Apple really trying to sell computers based on the idea that tripping over their power cords is A-OK and probably won't kill you? As opposed to those death-dealing, data-destroying PCs, with their CORDS OF DOOM? That's swell. I can't wait for Apple's next Mac pitch, where they explain that most homosexuals own PCs, and you don't want that, right? This is such a shitty ad campaign.
Thursday, 14 September
Some of my tens of readers who might also happen to be drinkers--I'm going to just go ahead and assume that translates to "all of you"--will appreciate the concept of the favorite dive. Most of us have one.
There's a few bars close to me, and we visit them regularly: the regular-Joe bar, with pool table and daily chalkboard specials advertising things like "$4 Jack and Pabst"; the upscaled new place with the high-toned liquor selections and freshly-squeezed fruity drinks; and occasionally, the delightfully atmosphere-free place that does nothing but serve Belgian beers. All great places, to be sure. But none of them are "our place."
No, "our place," somehow, is a recently-added bar adjunct to a laughably average Chinese food joint. A couple of years ago, the ailing restaurant insanely rented out the abandoned next-door space, knocked out a door in the intervening wall, and set up a bar space, whose layout also happens to be comically inept. It is wholly charmless and utterly without character, except for the large latch-hook thing that hangs on the wall and features a startlingly enormous panda, whose looming presence and penetrating latch-hook gaze stifles rational thought and murders casual conversation. This is the place that, for no earthly reason I can even think of, that we have adopted as our own.
I'm sure it's a lot of intangible things. There are, of course, the regulars, some of whom were rendered barless when the legendary Ileen's (formerly Ernie Steele's) went under: there's R., the ancient would-be raconteur, who nurses beers while telling halting, incomprehensible stories that feature sentences like, "I was, I was . . . (his mouth works stabbingly while making wet noises) . . . there was the boat! This was an admiral, you see? So I'm with this admiral, and he's got this bottle of scotch! And his wife is . . . (wet mouth noises) . . . she's scratching the hell out of his hardwood floors. With her heels! He just gets so pissed off, but he's the admiral! So I don't know." Then he roars with laughter.
Or there's G., a lovely woman who looks to be in her late forties or maybe early fifties. She's delightful and lucid, and tends to nurse what I think are vodka tonics and is just pretty great, and boy were we stunned when we found out that she is actually 73 years old. I hope I look that good when I'm 73, but that's all going to depend on whether or not I draw a quality embalmer.
There are the sisters, both in their sixties somewhere, who always sit next to each other and laugh their whiskey-smoked laughs and look like they're training for the 2008 Olympic Hip-Shattering team. In fact, just last weekend, one of the sisters fainted right in the bar and knocked her noggin a really good one; the noise was shocking and horrible. EMTs were summoned, and while we waited for them, clucking over her prone form, she moaned, "I don't want to see those guys! Oh, I don't want any ambulance!" The EMTs did their best when they got there--her blood pressure was low, and they really wanted to take her to the hospital--but she waved them off magnificently. "I'm fine! You boys are lovely, but I'm fine." They reluctantly left (I think they made her sign a form), and soon she was esconced in a booth (the stool she usually occupies was out for obvious reasons), smiling beatifically as she nipped at her water. I assume it was water. She grinned as she held up gauze on her nasty forehead wound. "I'm not as good looking as those firemen, but if you wanted attention, all you had to do was say so," I said. "AH HA HA HA," she cackled at me, and slapped my wrist.
There's some other weird cats, of course, like the guy whose name I do not know who solemnly grips my shoulder as he passes to go outside to smoke; the signal means, "We're going to smoke." It feels oddly conspiratorial, like "Join us outside for information about the rebels," but not creepy, like, "It's time for your alley blowjob." There's also the blown-out disaster drunk, who is there every single afternoon until six or so, and then slants his way over to the corner store where he buys more beer and his nightly provision of corn dogs or Hot Pockets.
And of course--of course--there is the tall blonde woman who is also seemingly always there, the one who could drink Rasputin under the table. She invariably wears things like alarmingly unflattering halter tops and denim skirts; her voice sounds like tectonic disagreement. She frankly terrifies me. I suspect that at some point in her life, she fucked some guy named Manny to death, and then chopped off his hands and head and threw them into Puget Sound.
It sounds seedy, and it kind of is, but in a harmless way (Ileen's was the definition of seedy). I mean, the place is clean, but it's also not-clean. It's sort of like how Pixar would depict a seedy bar, but with more profanity. And there is this feeling of . . . I don't know. Comeraderie? Last Christmastime, we would be in the place, and all of a sudden, here's our waiter, placing upside-down shot glasses next to each of our drinks. "G. over there just bought you guys a round. Merry Christmas." Things like that. R. is frequently fond of clipping out filthy cartoons from . . . well, I don't like to think of where . . . and gleefully sharing them with us. The last thing he showed me was some awful thing involving a guy getting his ass eaten out by a whore. I don't even remember what the hell the joke was; he watched me searchingly, waiting for my reaction. I stared for a while, and then manufactured a laugh. He clapped me on the back happily and said, "I knew you'd love that!" "That's awesome!" I yelped, and handed it back without showing the thing to the wife. And somehow, to me, this is charming? Lord.
And then there's the owners, D. and his wife S. The wife and I frequently have a friend join us at the place--in fact, he eats a lot of meals there, prompting D., a Chinese immigrant, to declare him, at shattering volume, "THE CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD!" D. has a horrible limp and spectacular arthritis, so watching him walk is sort of like watching some horrible, endless Noh theater performance. And S., whose English would verge on racist parody were it not of course completely genuine, is a tiny, energetic spitfire, given to shrieking things like, "YOUWANNABILLOKAYIGOGETFORYOU!" S. also does things like, if she's tending bar and wants to go home, will, at 11:00, simply dim the lights down to black hole levels and sit placidly, waiting for the remaining customers time to realize that they can't even find their drinks any more, and hey, I guess it's time to leave.
I used to play the horribly addictive MegaTouch games at this place, but then they were suddenly removed. I asked D., the owner, "Hey, are you getting new ones?" D. waved his arms as much as he could in obvious disgust. "Those things," he sneered. "Assholes, they sit around forever. They drink coffee!" He was spitting mad. "I tell them to fuck you," he continued, and then added a pricelessly spot-on Moe Szyslak moment, "People sit there and they don't drink so much."
D. would also invite us in for special events. "You here on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving? You come up here for free food! We're going to have our friends here! You bring any friends you want! It's a big feed!" And sure enough, D. would prepare massive quantities of fried rice, barbecued pork, etc. Very Thanksgivingy! A couple years ago, when I invited a bunch of friends, one couple unfortunately showed up before we had gotten there, and D. attacked them like a Doberman. "Private party! I'm sorry! You must leave!" My friends stammered, "But--but Skot said to come over . . ." D. instantly transformed. "You friends of Skot? Sorry, sorry!" Then he shooed some people out of an occupied booth for them while my friends skittishly wondered what the hell I had gotten them into, and were occasionally terrorized by D., exhorting them to "EAT! EAT! WE HAVE SO MUCH FOOD!"
D. died of a massive stroke last weekend. I doubt if he was in his sixties, and his arthritis was so advanced, so crippling . . . it was awful to watch him try and move. My wife saw him last when she was shopping at an Asian food store; she said his knuckles had swollen to the size of overripe grapes. He must have been in agony. His wife is still tending bar; his daughter quietly invited us to the funeral. Some people are going; some, like proud G., the ageless grandmother, are not: "I'm not going. That's for family. I'll be right here." Dive bar as church. We worship in the ways we know how.
I didn't say what I thought at the time when she said that, which was, "But that is being family."
So long, D. I don't know if I'll go to the ceremony or not. I might just join G. at the bar and sit and talk to her for a while, and then maybe pay for poor D.'s too-late last drink, an upside-down shot glass in front of the empty stool next to me to represent. And I'll leave it there until I go home, and maybe it can stay there until S. dims down the lights, saying without words that it's time for everyone to go home.
Monday, 11 September
The Evening Boringness In The West
(I'm proud to announce that, in a desperate attempt to make my utterly boring weekend interesting, I convinced noted author Cormac McCarthy to write this Monday's blog post! Thanks, Corm!)
Behold the husband. Born on a black Thursday middawn some 37 years slid into the past, straight back straight as an alder trunk, fetal now as then in the belly, curled into a leather womb. He watched the baseball game with his face cold and flat as a spade. He might have been watching for hours or years or times beyond reckoning and still he sat and endured, as if hewn from the unnameable basalt underpinning this shatterable world. Red Sox games are like that, he said and his wife said I think so too. She sat with her Gordian yarn unweaving the skein and reweaving it into that which only her fingers knew.
We oughta get dinner, in a pocket of silence after Coco Crisp had been caught stealing.
I reckon, he said, and spat.
Dont you spit on that carpet, she said.
I wont no more. He spat on the carpet and said Lets go get some dinner then.
Going into the restaurant they then sat down and they ordered from the waiter and the waiter said Okay let me get that for ye and he presently brought them the flesh and they ate it as man has been eating flesh since the sky wore a younger dress and our grandfathers danced in the skirts. The husband and his steadfast wife chewed and chewed the meat, hewing it with heavy knives, wielded with no uncertain skill and when they finished the meat he spat on the carpet.
Dont you spit on that damn carpet, she said again and he said Damn it, I wont as he spat on the carpet. You are one hellcat, I say, he said and she said Dont you swear, and he said All right I wont damn it, and he spat on the carpet.
The waiter returned with the tab and said Ill be ye cashier when youre of a mind to it. All right, he said. The bill was too high and the husband got took of a mind for a gutting. A quick swipe of the blade through the mans fascia and he would wear his guts for garters or play them standupbasslike with a rhythm on the downbeat and in the end he did not do that and he undertipped the waiter a good five percent and he walked out of the restaurant with a feeling in his chest like blind fish swam there in its dark waters and humors.
Presently they returned home, husband and wife, each silent as apothecaries in dust and they sat down back again in their places that they had chosen years ago and which were beyond change or reckoning.
Well we could watch Poseidon, I suppose, she said.
I reckon we could, he said. It has that Kurt Russell.
I know it.
All right then, damn it, then put it in I suppose, he said. Dont you start up with that swearing again, she said. I wont, he said, and spat on the carpet. They put in the movie and watched it and the narcotic force of its being crept into their souls like understanding stole into Barabbas on the cross.
She said, This is a terrible movie. It nearly makes me want to die, I think. It very nearly.
And he said, I know it. I do. They sat for a time under the bowl of heavenblack as it spun around them in a gyre older than the emptiest tomb that surely awaits Charo just as surely as the apple awaits the shining teeth of Eve to pierce its crimson skin, just as surely as the blind man wonders if this is the day that he will comb his hair right.
This is terrible, she said again and he said, I purely do agree. I purely do.
There aint no more to be said, I guess.
I guess not.
He didnt know what more to say. There wasnt more to say, maybe.
He spat onto the carpet.
Thursday, 07 September
I Like To Watch
It is a blessed time for me, and a cursed time for the wife. For you see, tonight marked the beginning of the NFL season (hated Steelers versus "let's try this!" Dolphins), which also intersects with the late playoff run to the MLB postseason.
She's a peach, of course, and it makes me happy, but it also makes me a little sad, because really? I'm the world's crappiest sports fan. Because I don't know any fucking thing at all.
Take baseball, for instance. It's not really surprising that I'm an embarrassing dunce: I never cared even a tiny bit about baseball until 1995, when I was living alone and cableless, and found myself inexplicably sucked into the astonishingly awesome Mariners September blaze of glory, and the tiebreaker with the Angels, and the shit-yer-pants Martinez double that won them the ALDS over the fucking Yankees, etc., etc. So I missed out on a lot of baseball lore, and am still catching up. I only last year learned what a "Baltimore Chop" was--a delicious steak enjoyed by fat players, such as Ron Cey and John Kruk, with a fried egg on top.
But the NFL is a little different. I spent much of my Sunday and Monday youth watching NFL games with my dad; his team was the LA Rams, and mine was the Raiders. I don't know why. I remember the Iron Curtain (Lynn Swann was my favorite player, and still is); Kenny Stabler, the Snake; the soul-crushing Dallas years; San Francisco when they were terrifying instead of remedial clown college; the upsetting teeth of John Elway. I've been watching NFL football all my life.
What a suprise, then, when I think about it, to realize that I don't know the first thing about the game.
I mean, I know some things. Dumb things. I know what a screen pass looks like, and a draw play, or a bootleg. Anyone can probably figure out what a "quarterback sneak" is. (Oh, all right: for the totally uninitiated, it's when a quarterback is tackled, and he takes the opportunity to fondle Brian Urlacher's nuts.)
But there's an awful lot that I have no idea about. For example, a commonly bandied-about term is "West Coast Offense." I've been hearing this phrase for years. I've been watching football for years. And it kind of hit me like a bolt from the blue: What the fuck is the West Coast Offense? I realized I had no idea, because you know what? I don't give a shit. NFL football might be the most mystifying sport of all time, because its intricacies and game theory-like strategies are the most fucking impenetrable set of cryptic say-what? since the Kabbalah; and plus, I just like watching these blood-mad brutes smash the fuck out of each other.
Let's get back to the West Coast Offense. It's a simple name! So it must be explicable, right? Let's check our good friend Wikipedia.
The actual term "West Coast Offense" is derived from a 1993 Bernie Kosar quote, which was publicized by Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman, aka "Dr. Z". It meant the offense popularized by two west coast teams (the Chargers and Raiders), not the 1980s-era 49ers attack. A reporter mistakenly grouped these and the name stuck in association with the offense of Bill Walsh. Walsh formulated what has become most widely known as the West Coast Offense during his tenure as assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1968-75 while working primarily with All-Pro quarterback Ken Anderson and under the tutelage of mentor Paul Brown. From there, Walsh took it to the San Francisco 49ers, where it was implemented with great effectiveness by Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana. The majority of casual football fans perceive this version to be the "West Coast Offense".
Clear? Let's continue.
The popular term "West Coast Offense" as a general concept is more of a philosophy and an approach to the game than it is a set of plays or formations. "Traditional" offensive thinking argues that a team must establish their running game first, which will draw the defense in and open up vertical passing lanes downfield (passing lanes that run perpendicular to the line of scrimmage). Walsh's "West Coast Offense", on the contrary, stipulates that a defense must first be stretched with a short, horizontal passing attack that features sharp, precisely-run pass patterns by the receivers and quick, 3-step and 5-step drops by the quarterback.
Now we're getting somewhere! The term was misapplied to a coach whose approach to the game precisely unmirrored what was attributed to him as a philosophical strategy. Let's wrap this all up, for you (and me!), the crappy fan:
Throughout the years, coaches have added to, adjusted, modified, simplified, and enhanced Bill Walsh's original adaptation of the Paul Brown offense. Formations and plays vary greatly, as does play calling.
Is there any other way to interpret this paragraph other than, "The West Coast Offense is a meaningless jumble of stuff that has been fucked with for years, assuming it ever meant anything at all in the first place"? You might as well call it the "Huh?" offense, or the "Sentient Banana Offense." Or, really, whatever you like.
Who knows? I may have this all wrong. To reiterate: I don't really know, and to be honest, I don't much care. I suppose it's very male to see these gigantic cavemen crush each other all the time, and then see cutovers to delirious cheerleaders freezing in their spandex. I can't be bothered to learn. I don't know what a "cover two" is, other than, "I assume there are at least two people covering . . . well, I guess two other people." Let Gregg Easterbrook handle that deathless crap, in between his rhapsodizing over his son's unearthly football picks and his bizarre rants about teams that blitz too much. I don't fucking care.
This is sort of what I love about sports. I don't really have to know. If only that were applicable to life in general, but maybe that's why I love these fucking weird games. I don't really have to know.
Why does the wife like David Ortiz? Why do I just hate the Steelers and wish them ill this season, just because they knocked us out of last year's Super Bowl? What is the West Coast Offense, really?
I don't really have to know.
Tuesday, 05 September
About A Boy
Some old friends of ours who now live in Baltimore are about to have their second kid, and they have asked their friends to give advice on naming the thing, their second boy. We are all glad to help, we think. We also tend to think that there is ample evidence of their creeping insanity. For one thing, they live in Baltimore; for another thing, they're having their second kid. But most damning of all, they're asking us for help naming the future li'l gummer.
(I won't reveal the first kid's name, but I will offer that the parents abbreviate it to the term for a pack dog.)
Not all of the names they've come up with are completely deranged:
Well, whatever. I can get behind some of these, though "Griffin" invariably reminds me of Griffin Dunne, most notably of After Hours fame, but then I cannot help but remember that he did another movie called Me & Him, about a guy whose penis talks to him. And "Vincents" have a troubling way of morphing into "Vinces," which if they're extremely lucky end up dating Jennifer Aniston, but more often than not are found shivved to death amidst their hubcap collections. "Sebastian" has that unfortunate playground-bait "ASS" syllable right in the middle of it, but no name is incorruptiible, so it might be all right. "Arthur's" main peril is that the child will someday grow into an "Art," or worse, "Artie." The former tend to become irrelevant political satirists; the latter tend to become people who really enjoy reading irrelevant political satirists.
Other name choices they offer are far more troubling (parentheses suggest the shortened versions of the proper names that the parents would presumably opt for):
"JAZZ! FINISH YOUR GREEN BEANS!" "Jazz still isn't sleeping through the night." These are a couple of sentences that the world doesn't need to ever hear, you know? And--this is horrible--I just now came up with another one. "Jazz is failing to thrive." Please no. The rest mostly are unspeakable for themselves: Viggo? Fuck that, why not Aragorn? Similarly, Axel. Why not Foley? Or Triple Lutz? Or Jumper Cabel?
Anyone who lived through the seventies should not be countenancing "Leif." Anyone who lived through "Seinfeld" should not be countenancing "Cosmo." M*A*S*H should put the kibosh on "Reidar," and The Incredibles should do the same for D*A*S*H, to say nothing of potentially damaging premature ejaculation issues later in life. "Honey, want to fuck?" "Oh, sure, let's dash one off."
Look, my name is Skot (yes, it's really spelled Scott, but it just looks weird to me any more--long, boring story), and my middle name is Allen. WOO WOO! That's about as thrilling as lettuce. But combine those with my last initial--K--and you get the unlovely three-letter monogram "SAK." So I know a little something about parents who kind of fucked the dog when it came to considering the ramifications of, say, entering SAK onto video game high scores. So I'm going to offer some alternatives.
My leading candidate is Antoine Lavoisier. Yes, it's a bit of a mouthful, but nothing is going to shut up a schoolyard bully when that kid is picking up his teeth and shrieking through a bloody mouth like the phrase, "My namesake disproved the concept of the phlogiston, you fucking beef experiment!" This will leave bullies reeling, especially when the tyke uncorks the devastating followup, "I WAS BEHEADED!"
But if that seems too daring, they can always go for the more succinct and more contemporary Mike Post, an homage to the Emmy- and Grammy-winning composer of TV theme songs. Little Mike can regale his fellow kindergarteners with jauntily whistled renditions of things like the themes to "The Rockford FIles," "Hardcastle & McCormick," "Baa Baa Black Sheep," and, most awesomely, "Law & Order." He'll be the most popular kid in school, particularly when he secretly whispers to his first girlfriend, while clumsily fingering her under the bleachers, "Unlike the first Mike Post, may his Casio live forever, I was not originally named Leland Michael Postil." Hot!
Now my friends obviously have some Baroque tastes, judging by some of their initial picks. I'm not unsympathetic. So how about Gossamer the Beltless? It kind of rolls off the tongue, is memorable, and can be shortened to "Goss" if they really want to. Also, think of how much they'll save on belts! (This may be offset by the attendant increased therapy bills.) But really, I'm totally charmed by the idea of a teacher taking attendance and shouting, "Gossamer? Gossamer? The Beltless?"
Maybe too far. For pure pop culture, you can't do worse than Joe Camel. Beloved by children and adults alike--well, the smokers, anyway, and the ones without cancer, and there's a lot of us! Mostly children--the only downside I can think of is, again, the cruelty of kids who willfully mishear Joe Camel as "Joseph Campbell," which could lead to traumatizing taunts, e.g., "You totally don't have a thousand faces! You have one stupid face!" or, perhaps in the lavatory, "Follow your piss!" accompanied by painful tugging on the child's penis as the screaming unfortunate is led around the bathroom, urinating in frantic spurts from his tortured member.
A minimalist option is to go for the flashy and memorable. The TV series "Batman" taught us the power of all-caps exclamatories, so my friends might want to go with something short and punchy, like "ZAP!" or "POW!" or "GIRL!" or "PUD!" These sorts of names also might spur the child's development and knowledge aquisition, thanks to his state of constant readiness and gasping fear.
And finally, there is always the name that I cannot figure out why nobody has ever picked before. It cuts across all kinds of cultural and ethnic lines. I am speaking of course of the world's most perfect name: MC Batman Carl Yastrzemski Pussyhammer. Find me a young man in this country who wouldn't be proud to carry that moniker.
I know whereof I speak. I only hope I've been of some help.
Signing off for now,