The debate in the comments section about health care, while lively and interesting, haven't done much to quell suspicion that lessening suffering among sick Americans isn't a priority in this country. Every facet of the health care system is a little fiefdom patrolled by either thugs or busybodies doing their level best to keep things from changing, even if the change would ultimately benefit them.
I just wish conservatives would just start saying what they mean - it'd make things so much easier. They should all sign a petition saying "Life sucks. Tough shit. It's a crazy world, ain't it? Go fuck yourself." I would actually applaud that document, as I agree with most of it, and it has the fresh whiff of pure honesty. Then we could begin the debate in earnest, and actually get somewhere.
Zel. M asked "if you're on a plane and are struck with a life-threatening illness, where do you want the plane to land? If you choose Toronto over New York, you're lying." Well, yes, I'd be lying because I have money and I love New York... but back when I didn't have health care? Roughly 1989-2000? I'd get my ass to Toronto.
You want good health care and a large safety net in case the unspeakable happens? Here's how to do it:
1. make at least five million dollars
2. make sure nobody takes any of it away from you in taxes
3. buy a shitload of health care, and when they deny your claim, spend $750,000 getting yourself fixed up anyway.
God, it's so easy! Why haven't more people thought of this?
Anyway, I don't give a crap. Today was goddamn miserable. Even though I just flew to Colorado for a wedding (for someone I don't know), I suffered through the worst migraine of my everfucking life, complete with auras, dizziness, eye splotches and violent nausea. It was so bad that I left my wallet AND keys somewhere at LAX, or on the plane, or wherever, it's gone. Now I've lost my wedding ring, my wallet and my keys over the course of two months. If I felt better, I'd buy an expensive tennis racquet and smash the FUCK out of it against a telephone pole, I'm so pissed off. Of course, I haven't got a credit card to buy the tennis racquet.
Okay, somebody help a brotha out here. Frankly, I admit to being out of my depth on this national health care issue, and I'm having trouble fathoming why universal health care isn't considered a moral question, akin to a human rights issue in this country. 45 million people have no insurance, and 14,000 people lose it every day.
The facts, as far as I can tell are these: we have the most expensive health care system in the industrialized world, yet we are the "sickest" country in the industrialized world, with one of the shortest life expectancies. I'm not trying to be a dick, but doesn't that sound like a system that needs to be fucking gutted and reborn?
I would like to know why the Republicans and certain "blue dog" Democrats are blocking Obama's plan. Unacceptable answers include "it's too expensive", because we have no problem funding two wars and bailing out the banks, and I refuse to believe that our actual health and the untold suffering of our uninsured countrymen isn't worth the same (or more) money. We have the funds, period.
Please just someone tell me that the Republicans want Obama's plan to fail because they don't want him to succeed at anything. As cruel, barbaric and scorched-earth as that is, at least I can understand it. Or someone could tell me that conservatives are philosophically unable to care about people they don't know; that, too, would make sense.
So I ask: what is the problem? If conservatives have a good argument, I swear to god, I'll listen intently and keep an open mind. And you doctors, what would be your solution? I know health care is an inherent snoozer of an issue for most people, but I have to decide if I'm going to be furious or not.
A few pics from the summer so far...
Lucy running past the camera
first orange on the tree out front - they'll be ripe by December
the Libovola (new favorite plant)
Lucy plays scrivener on our walkway
patience for the avocado to sprout
the only pumpkin grown in Venice, CA
a yellow monarch fluttered by, and Lucy wanted a picture, so I quickly snapped the shutter and lucked out
the amazing Tessa
Tessa and Lucy contemplate the sunset in Malibu
I'm sorry to call upon you, my faithful blog audience, to do so much of the heavy lifting for me, but I'm fighting some kind of sleep deprivation and need to do a another CODE WORD question for today.
While not half as fun, you may be anonymous if you wish with this one... it has been my experience that couples don't have a hundred different disagreements, they have one basic disagreement that manifests itself a hundred ways. I'm sure you can find these sentiments echoed in the Make Your Marriage Last non-fiction self-help book of your choice, so it's not like I'm going to win the Pulitzer with this observation, but if you are in a relationship, what do you think your basic "fight" is always about?
Tessa and I get along wonderfully famously, and have done a lot of the work necessary not to find ourselves in many pickles, but back when we were young'uns, our basic argument was this: she tended to overfunction, and I underfunctioned as a result. While it still happens from time to time these days, that sort of thing continues to inch its way towards balance.
And what would you say? Distilled to its basic form, what are your arguments basically about?
Unlike most code-word questions I ask, I must admit that yesterday's category came saddled with motives that were, frankly, ulterior. You see, I have lost my wedding ring - it is gone, gone, gone, and although it's been about two months, I can't think about it without plunging into a micro-depression.
It was the perfect ring for me. I'd always liked Lindsay's wedding ring, something he found in Italy - a big, fat restored wedding band from the actual Roman Empire - and wanted something like it. Tessa conjured perfection with a ring that looked like three fused together: the outer bands were gold, the middle platinum, while still remaining masculine and un-showy.
When I took a writing sabbatical for a few days in May, I remember having the ring as I entered the motel room, and then never seeing it again. As astronomical luck would have it, that particular motel room was scheduled for renovation the next day (after not having been touched for 30+ years), so when I went back, the entire place had been gutted, and workers were putting up new drywall.
Even before that, I knew... I knew the second I hadn't seen it, that it was definitively gone. Not "oh I'll find it eventually like I always do" gone, but GONE. It has an inscription inside with private meaning to my wife and me, and I don't know how it could ever be replicated.
I feel naked without it. The Buddhists teach that all material goods are unimportant, and I try not to get hung up on imbuing too much meaning into a thing, and accepting the impermanence of the world, but FUCK. I still have a bunch of Mad Magazines from 1979. Can I trade them in for my wedding ring?
holding Lucy during her first rainstorm on the terrace in Brooklyn, May 2005
Exhausted from a pitch session at one of nation's finest networks, and I've got the Lulubeans in the morning, so here's our CODE WORD question for the day: what object have you lost - either recently or in the past - that still makes you sad every time you think of having lost it?
Unacceptable answers include "virginity", "sense of purpose" and the 2004 election, even though I do commiserate, y'all.
Every once in a while an art form comes along that makes me think, "shit, if I had all the right equipment and mountains of extra time, I'd actually be pretty good at that." This does not apply to ping-pong, pottery or suspension bridge engineering, but I think I'd actually be kick-ass at the art of the mashup. Stored in my head, in the place where the location of my car keys ought to be, is the tempo, key and rhythm of pretty much every pop song from 1964 to about 2000... with a good helping of stuff since.
Before the mashup, this kind of encyclopedic knowledge was useless, and could only function to annoy others on a long road trip, or to sap the energy of those standing near enough to me while I rant about the motherfucking Pussycat Dolls rewriting "I Will Survive" without even knowing that's what they were doing. These days, if I were a famous DJ in the Mission District with a large, disturbed following and a hijacked copy of Cubase, I'd be revered as a god - but god knows timing is everything.
As it is, we can all sit back and enjoy the other Aspergian savants who cull these tracks together for our enjoyment. If you haven't seen it yet, the Rickrolled version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is genius:
...as is another old mashup favorite, "Toxic Love Shack":
I'll always have a soft spot for anything involving the Beatles:
Of course, the day will come when my particular 40-year chunk of meticulously-annotated pop music will be shared by less and less people (assuming it hasn't already) and there will be mashups of six different tunes, none of which I'll know. Shit, if you look at the songs above... like "Love Shack" (1989), or the Nirvana (1991)... you're already going back before any current college freshman was born. This is how it should be, but sometimes I feel like Tessa's 91-year-old father, talking into a cassette recorder, listing the chords to Broadway tunes that were never to be.
We used to joke about our generations' insatiable collection of cultural detritus, how we would remember thousands of song lyrics, board games and TV shows of our youth, all of it deemed - even by us - as useless. That wasn't entirely true; it was always useful as an in-joke or a cultural touchstone, and there are still a few memories left that were never regurgitated and exploited by the nostalgia machine.
But there will come a time when there will be so few of us around, far too distracted with joint pain and resentment to muster a memory about things like Dynamite Magazine and spokey dokes. And then, at long last, it will be true: that heaping, neon mound of trivia will finally be completely useless. I will be in my rocker overlooking the sunset, hear some stupid dialogue on the overhead television and say "Jesus, that is so 'Barney Miller'. Am I right? Am I right? Can I get a frickin' AMEN around here?" And the nurse with the Jell-o will say to her supervisor, "Human Unit 793b12 is talking to himself again."
Until then, however, WE STILL ROOL THE SKOOL. WE'RE SENIORS! And NO, we will NOT BUY YOU LIQUOR, MOTHERFUCKERS!
Wow, thanks for all the comments and emails, guys! Lucy and I will spend the weekend looking through them for our first installment. I also have to make sure I catch her in the right mood, because you know how cheeky little tykes are. The fabulous, frustrating thing about really young children is their constant dreamscape, which can be frustrating when you're trying to get them into the car, but I will truly miss her completely absurd tangents when she decides it's time to make sense. I hope it's a long time until then.
It being Friday, and nobody is on the internet anyway, I'll try and put down what's been swirling in my head of late. Those easily bored can find respite over at Cute Overload, where a dove is raising some baby bunnies.
1. Meditation - Who the fuck knew thinking about nothing would be so hard? My teacher is great, though, and you can't beat the science behind it. It's the Vedic method, using a mantra, and it is forgiving, lax, and chill. Although I did have the first panic attack of my life in the middle of the night last night... apparently a common side-effect of the first-time meditator. More on that as I learn, if anyone's interested.
2. Mark and Christine renewed their vows... this time in front of friends and family, and even though I was asked to officiate last year, I was honored to make a repeat appearance. The only problem with surprise weddings is who doesn't get to come, so this was a wonderful bit of equilibrium - especially for their little boy Jack. Can you say you were at your parents' wedding?
3. Brüno... man, you have to give it to Sacha Baron Cohen - nobody has contempt for racists and homophobes like he does. That wrestling match scene? Jesus, did any group of people deserve to see that more than that auditorium full of galoots? That's performance art, ladies and gents!
4. Boogie-boarding... We've been living feet from the ocean for three years, but haven't acted like it until now. Lucy takes this boogie-board class just down the beach, and it looked so fun that Tessa and I bought wetsuits (or more accurately, "springsuits") for ourselves. I shall not be posting pictures of myself in the springsuit due to the distracting codpiece, but I assure you, fellow countrymen, this pastime is non-stop delightful.
Let's shake up the summer doldrums, people! Get your asses in gear! I know it's hot, you're feeling blasé, college hoops is still four months away, but life's meant for livin', dontchya see?
Lucy and I have been talking about an idea called "Ask a 4-Year-Old" where you, the blog audience, asks questions... and we answer them for you on video. You can post the questions in the comment section, or you can email me. Any topic is fine, as long as there are no swear words (I know, the hypocrisy is mind-bending) and I assume all of you will keep it *ahem* APPROPRIATE. So what's on your mind?
Not that anyone needs to care (and in fact, that's the point) but I'm starting a meditation class today. It's a Vedic seminar that will go a little bit each day until Friday, so if any of you have experience in that field, by all means, TRY AND KILL MY BUZZ.
The current cultural buzzword - in case you haven't been paying attention to the internets - is NARCISSIST. Specifically, Narcissist Personality Disorder... who has it, whether or not it's ruining your love life, whether it is viral, and of course, the hand-wringing about today's kids being the most self-obsessed twits since the Roman Senate.
You've got articles like this one from CNN, and this one from the Daily Beast, both featuring stock photos of a twentysomething chick looking at themselves in the mirror, and both getting some pretty basic things wrong about what narcissism really is.
Both blame "the Oprah school of thought", which states "you must love yourself before anyone else will," but in my book, true narcissists actually fucking hate themselves. This self-loathing may be deeply buried far too close to the core of their spinal column to ever visit, but this constant need for affirmation, the vampiric energy suck, and the inability to show empathy all come from a person with a humongous vacuum in their heart where their self-regard usually lies. People who truly love themselves, in an uncomplicated, calm way, would be at peace - the direct opposite of a narcissist, who destroys relationships, family reunions and other people's cars like Led Zeppelin destroyed hotel rooms.
The Daily Beast quotes a therapist saying "Everything from feminism to 12-step recovery to religion has become about 'I was weak, now I'm strong, go screw yourself'"... which has to be the most ill-conjured piece of buckshot conjecture I've ever heard on the subject. 12-step recovery, to take one example, is a diagnostic list of steps AWAY from narcissism and towards humility; as they say, "be a worker among workers."
And all of these articles (I've read them in Slate, Salon, the NYT, etc.) claim Twitter and Facebook as the gateway drug for Gen Y and Z's rampant self-involvement, as if millions of kids actually think their tweets are "Important". Didn't these Gen X writers learn anything from their bizarre peers? Twitter is actually the younger generations' foray into parallelism, the state of paradox where one can spend all day crafting little missives, putting intense man-hours into something meant to be constantly dismissed.
I've read many of your Twitter posts and Facebook updates, my friends, and I take them in the spirit they were written: not as narcissistic proclamations to the heavens, but as quixotic, casual, first drafts of a thought to be hammered out later - or not. I just don't buy Twitter, texting and online lugubriousness to be a portal for narcissism - I can't imagine any narcissist getting his money's worth.
True narcissism, like true sex or love addiction, is actually pretty disastrous - and thankfully, pretty rare. We've all read the descriptions of Narcissist Personality Disorder and thought "wow, that NAILS me!" but nobody with real narcissism has the ability to step outside themselves long enough to make that comment. Therapists have long said that there are two kinds of people in this world: those that tend towards being neurotic, and those that tend towards narcissism, and narcissists are fucking impossible to treat. In fact, they make the therapists themselves want to stop being therapists.
Narcissism is caused primarily by one's parents, typically by denying some basic sense of well-being to the child, forcing the kid to compensate in more and more destructive ways. Later in life, they are natural divorcers, pathological liars, and could be pitied if they didn't piss you off every goddamn day.
Look, I'd wager these articles are really trying to decipher these things: why younger people are waiting so long to get married, what's causing the overwhelming emphasis on beauty, and why most guys in America drift through their 20s and 30s in a state of retarded adolescence, constitutionally incapable of maintaining interest in relationships and living lives of bizarre self-satisfaction.
All of these things have explanations, but they aren't narcissism. We already misuse "nonplussed", "penultimate" and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle - it'd be a pity to waste such a great word like "narcissism" on things so utterly pedestrian.
Okay, enough screwing around. Let's get to why we're really all here: to discuss the current state of "So You Think You Can Dance".
Ade's jump on Thursday night... jesus h. unbelievable
If you haven't been watching it, which includes me for the first four seasons, you're doing yourself an immense disservice. This is no "American Idol", "Big Brother" or "The Amazing Race". This is a self-contained dance competition that will leave even a culture-less rube gasping for air after a brilliant move - if you don't cry at some point during each episode, you're made of clay. And this is coming from a guy with acidic sarcasm running through his veins, having avoided every "reality" show since they were invented.
"So You Think You Can Dance" may not effectuate the kind of cultural seismic activity "American Idol" does, but that's because people relate more primally to "Idol". It is possible to be an accidentally fantastic singer (see Boyle, Susan) and viewers can privately fulfill their own dreams to be discovered, no matter their age, weight or circumstance. SYTYCD offers no such dream: these contestants have physical skills you will never have, and they've labored harder in their artistic pursuit than you can possible fathom. If anything, it's closer to the Olympics than any other show.
That said, every dancer has their flaws, their distinct personality, and the judging can be infuriatingly subjective. Let's look at some of the issues, shall we?
permanent judges Mary and Nigel at right
The Judges - Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy are actually fantastic, whether or not you can deal with their personalities. Nigel's an old-school Brit with decades of dance to back up his critique, and Mary is 50% batshit catchphrases, 50% stunningly incisive commentary. Those two are the soul of the show, but unfortunately, there's always a revolving third judge who is generally full of shit.
Tyce was so mean to contestants in the first week that Nigel actually had to tell him to cool it - and even now, while more subdued, he doesn't bring anything to the table beyond repeating "we need to see more" and "you really gotta BRING it" (which is one of my least favorite phrases in modern culture). He seems to grade contestants as rivals, not as dancers, and it's very middle school.
Worse yet is Mia Michaels, who has no problem taking her personal issues out on contestants. She tried to get fan favorite Brandon booted off the show in the early going (leading Mary Murphy to start crying) and when he kicked ass and proved her wrong over the ensuing weeks, she came out with the old "I'm always toughest on the ones who show the most talent" canard - a disingenuous lie if there ever was one.
Kayla vs. Karla - Karla was a Filipino contemporary-dance whiz; Kayla is a platinum blonde, sheet-white jazz specialist. When the call-in vote left them near the bottom and they had to dance solos to avoid elimination, it became clear that the judge's fix was in.
Kayla's solo was horrific, the kind of trying-too-hard spasmodic routine that should have been embarrassing. Karla stayed elegant... but was eliminated. The judges have made it clear they have this thing for the blonde Kayla, and it makes one wonder why they even bother with the solos if their minds are already made up. Is it just to kill time?
Melissa the Ballet Dancer - I don't mean this in a rude way, but there's no way Melissa is 29 years old. I think it's a deliberate obfuscation on the part of the producers or Melissa herself to make sure people still vote for her. I don't have any proof of this, and I'd be happy to be shown otherwise... but if she's older than 29, I think it would actually be inspiring to many folks not stuck in the Hollywood tradition of constantly eating ones own children.
The Mormon Problem - If you watched the show last night, you may have been stunned by Evan and Randi beating Phillip and Jeanine in the voting. If you have ever been to Randi's home state of Utah, you wouldn't be.
Phillip is liquid pleasure, a lightning-fast contortionist who manages to look like both Roland Orzabal from Tears For Fears and my brother Sean. And Jeanine is my favorite dancer in years and years. She came into the competition with no fanfare, and proceeded to kick ass in EVERY STYLE, despite the fact that she has an actual ass, actual thighs, actual boobs and studied the decisively un-showy discipline of lyrical dance and ballet. She is a motherfucking STAR.
Phillip and Jeanine tackle the Broadway category
Then you've got Evan and Randi - both tiny, very affable, but somewhat limited. Evan is fantastic in musical theater and Broadway mode, and I will gladly line up to see him in a Gershwin revue. Randi gives it her all and is immensely talented, but... they just aren't the stars, and the producers - as well as the judges - know it.
Much is made of Evan's popularity, but nobody seems to be stating the obvious: Randi is from Orem, Utah. Anyone not knowing the power of my cousins and the other 2.7 million residents of the Beehive State need only look at California's disastrous Prop 8 outcome to see how Mormons can mobilize when needed.
Now that the judges have abdicated, and the contestants are picked solely by call-in vote, the producers have a problem. I can promise you that every single man, woman and child of telephone-dialing ability in Utah has (and will) vote for Randi until America does something about it. You guys should consider this a dry-run for 2012, when it'll be the Mitt Romney Problem.
Can anything stop Janette and Brandon? I can't really say anything about these two, and I don't want to try. Their tango on Thursday night may well be the most surgical and flawless two minutes you'll ever see on network television. Watch the video if it's still up. I'm pretty convinced these two will win this whole thing.
I hope these YouTube clips aren't taken down by the lawyers - it's also here
And yet... This show rises above the others because something always happens that blindsides you out of complacency. I'm not a fan of Mia Michaels as a judge, so I wasn't looking forward to her choreography. And I believed Kayla to be barely hanging on. And then, on Thursday night, Kayla and her much-maligned partner Kupono did a dance about "addiction" that, I don't know, I can't even write about it without tearing up.
I could barely look at Tessa afterward, knowing what she has been through, what so many of her friends had been through, and what mine are going through right now. And the dancing... Kupono as the addiction, with his never-wavering smile of malevolence, Kayla in red shards of a dress, unable to escape, as he palpates her arms and holds her by the neck... After one embrace, he discards her into the air, where she spins and lands six feet away, collapsing into near death, then shooting back up, drawn back to him for more.
It was transcendent, plain and simple. And it was on Fox Television, in the middle of the summer. Our culture may be desiccated and cynical, but any moment like that, seen by nine million people, means we've got to be doing something right.
if the video here doesn't work, try here
Okay, so today's CODE WORD question, should you choose to engage it, is this: how much caffeine do you ingest per day?
We are getting to the part of the summer where you will see a small-yet-notable dip in quality of pretty much everything you enjoy. The sandwiches at the deli are made with mayo that is about five minutes from expiring in the heat, and that word you're looking for is no longer on the tip of your tongue; it melted away a few hours ago. Local news anchors are wearing their "who gives a fuck" suits, and the kids scooping ice cream are daydreaming, thus skimping on the Oreo bits.
The writing is not quite as sharp on your favorite television shows, even on fantastic programs like "The Daily Show", which will temporarily dip into being merely "very funny". At the ballet, the grandes jetés aren't as high, and the oboe player is unconvinced his reed will work. Every job will either take 33% longer, or seem 33% longer, and usually both.
This is not because of any ennui or depression, it's just the way people must pace themselves. Nobody wants to unfurl their best work in front of an audience that isn't paying full attention. These are the days of Good Enough, of Nobody Will Notice, of spackle, duct tape and Half-assedry.
With that in mind, here is my blog entry: is this movie poster supposed to subliminally remind of us of the urban legend that John Dillinger had a 3-foot cock?
Since it's just been the 4th of July, I'd like to go ahead and say it: I'm an elitist. I'm an arrogant, disdainful, sarcastic dilettante who believes that intellect beats "gut feeling" nine times out of ten (and the tenth time is a fluke). I say things like "God, that is so 'The Ice Storm'" and "he's in a C#-minor mood".
I went to prep school. Then I went to a large Public Ivy and some of us made fun of the in-staters, at least the ones that kept their spittle collected in 2-liter bottles on a shelf in Hinton James dorm. I listened in the classes I liked, and then used that information later to make money.
I'm such a smartypants blowhard that I'm actually ashamed of my country more times than I'm proud of it. I find Sarah Palin to be utterly ghastly; a profoundly shallow, delusional twit with a criminal lack of curiosity about the world. I want to play Boggle and embarrass the holy fuck out of her. I want to play Scrabble just so I can make fun of the way she spells "poise" with a "z".
I installed solar panels on our roof and drive a Prius, not so much for environmental reasons, but because it makes me feel smugly justified to extend my middle finger to Dick Cheney. My particular environmentalism is an act of revenge. Do you know what I listen to in my Prius? NPR. I attend with rapt attention to their "driveway moments" and have shed the occasional tear over "This American Life".
I am white. I like the stuff white people like, especially those in my class and educational bracket. These include Macintosh computers, espresso pods with Irish Crème syrup, the Amazon Kindle, sweaters, and triple-paned glass windows with argon gas (to keep out the noise of a world gone mad). My tomatoes are organic; my oatmeal lumpy.
I think the second amendment is a crock of shit. I think people that spend their time crafting the Defense of Marriage Act are laboring in such Freudian denial that they absolutely have to be gay. I think all country music sounds the same, and leather cowboy hats make me instantly exhausted, the kind of fatigue that sets in after a Xanax (which I obtained legally).
I believe that Kentucky's political choices are a blight to free thinkers everywhere. I also know that I used synecdoche in that last sentence and I'm also glad to teach you the difference between it and metonymy. In fact, my unchecked bloviating allows me to offer you pop quizzes in a multitude of categories at a millisecond's notice.
I am a huge advocate of excellence in all things. I know the difference between someone who had a few lessons and someone who has spent hours honing their craft. I pity those who wasted their 20s and 30s being pretty and precious, as they pretty much have precious little left to offer. I also recognize the previous sentence doesn't quite scan, but wish to keep the play-on-words for effect.
My opening advice is usually "you better fucking catch up, the rest of us are on page 37." My wife made a joke about the 17th-century painter Peter Paul Rubens in the car last week, and I wanted to have sex with her in traffic. I quote Morrissey with abandon, yet love boobs.
And it is for this, the ability to be such a foofter, to be such a sanctimonious agnostic, to have such disgust for so many, and a short, odd list of heroes, that I love America. As others fight to keep my kind marginalized to the liberal fringes, I, in turn, fight to make sure that I'm always smarter than they are. They come after us with bibles and guns, but we pancake them with logic and stem cells.
May we all live together near the 37th parallel. You may shame me for my tastes, but only in the USA are we allowed such delicious complexity.