I'd love to find the most sensitive and articulate way to broach this subject, being that it's one that has the unique and inherent ability to get me called all kinds of not-very-nice names. I have a feeling though, that as with all discussions of this particular topic, there will be no avoiding a certain amount of disastrous misunderstanding and bitter rebuttal.
Oh well -- whatever.
Now that a week's worth of media genuflection is coming to a close in honor of the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (not to be confused with the week's worth of media hand-wringing in the wake of the John Mark Karr fiasco), I'm left to ponder a couple of questions. They're questions not so much about the coverage as about the people being covered; those whose lives were so hideously affected by Katrina, and those who have -- through obligation or a simple desire to do good -- taken it upon themselves to help the desperate and needy. I would never dare insult anyone willing to step forward with a helping hand in a time of need, but for some reason there is one inarguable curiosity which has made itself clear in the aftermath of this massive storm which deserves a closer examination, or at the very least a raised eyebrow or two.
Obviously, Katrina shined a very bright light on the disparity of treatment between rich and poor in this country -- moreso I believe than simply black and white. Yet the racial makeup of those affected is playing a major part in just who's helping in the rebuilding effort, how they're helping, and why.
Eariler in the week, I watched an interview with Bruce Gordon, the president of the NAACP, as he rightly bemoaned the lack of governmental support for the reconstruction effort in New Orleans's devastated Lower 9th Ward. As he walked through a neighborhood that looked frighteningly like pictures of Hiroshima in the days after the bomb was dropped, he spoke of the need for others to take up the mantle of responsibility for putting the pieces back together again. Mentioned in the first few words out of his mouth: the church.
So perhaps, putting all the verbosity aside, my question is as simple as this: why do Black Americans -- especially the underprivileged -- seem to consistently turn to the church for help in solving their problems?
You might be tempted at this point to open that thesaurus and begin looking for as many synonyms for "asshole" as you can find to pepper your comment with, but please understand that this observation doesn't come from upper-class whitey, sitting on-high, rebuking all the little people and their immature ways; it's a legitimate question which I've wondered about for quite some time.
Years ago, when I was a producer at a Miami television station, there was a local boy who became somewhat of a cause celebre. I can't remember his name for the life of me, but his actions are rather unforgettable: by the ripe old age of eleven, he had a rap sheet taller than he was -- a fact which our reporters and others in the market delighted in pointing out, then parroting ad nauseum. The boy -- who happened to be black -- was pretty much on his way to juvenile detention, then inevitably to jail for life -- until someone stepped in to take him under his wing and hopefully show him another way. That man was Jesus. Well, not Jesus himself -- but Jesus acting through a local pastor who made a special arrangement with the police and the courts to take young what's-his-name out of the system and into the arms of the church.
For weeks we followed the boy's progress. We watched the church group -- dressed in their Sunday best -- sing hymns to the Lord to thank him for delivering the soul of the young sinner and putting him on the path to righteousness. We watched that pastor, looking not entirely unlike the laughably over-zealous bible-thumping character Arsenio Hall created in Coming to America, as he proudly showed off the new and improved young what's-his-name, and touted the transformational power of Jesus Christ.
We then watched as the kid stole a car and went right back to jail.
I remember thinking at the time that if I were a young boy with a potential to get into trouble (no snickers please), it would bug the hell out of me that the leaders of my community -- its most powerful citizens -- weren't people who could give me life lessons grounded in the real world: doctors, lawyers, judges, civic leaders (that is, civic leaders who weren't also church leaders).
If I were that boy, the message you'd be sending me by surrounding me with pastors and their flock is simple: only God can help you kid.
It was a questionable enough solution for one misguided boy; it borders on incomprehensible for an entire community.
I don't doubt the church's ability -- nor do I cast derision upon its willingness -- to play a charitable role in the lives of millions in need. What I have an issue with is the black community's seeming insistence on laying a substantial part of the burden in any crisis squarely at the feet of Jesus Christ.
Once again, the message this sends is obvious: everyone else has abandoned you -- so you have to now put your ass in the hands of a being you can't see or hear, cross your fingers, say a prayer, and have faith that things will turn out okay. Praise Jesus.
A caveat of this, I hinted at before: it seems a prerequisite that to become a civic leader in the black community, one must at least be religious, and at most be an ordained pastor or minister of some kind.
It goes without saying that government was sleeping on the job and fully relenquished its post in the days leading up to, during, and following Hurricane Katrina. It let an entire city down; it let an entire city drown. In the absence of tangible, real-world help -- a reliance on myth and superstition is bound to flourish.
The message to the community though is unfortunate.
It'll take much more than faith to help the people of the Gulf.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Tonight, as the Mooninites of Aqua Teen Hunger Force say, "I'm doing this harder than I ever have before."
Because tonight, MTV's Video Music Awards descend on my city and on my television -- bringing shitloads of non-talent, far too many effeminate emo boys (can we please just fast-forward 15 years so that these clowns can ask, "what the hell we were thinking with those fucking haircuts?") and a whole hell of a lot of shameless plugs shouted by illiterate hip-hop stars, "Yo!!! My CD drops on (fill in the blank)!!!"
Not even Jack Black and the cast of Jackass can save it (although Pink accepting the award for Stupid Girls from Nicole Richie -- and not-so-subtly mocking her in the process was pretty bad-ass).
So in the spirit of figuratively pissing all over what the once-great video music channel has become, tonight's pick from yours truly is one of the flat-out coolest songs and videos of the past few years: Kasabian's Cutt Off. Watch it in its entirety for a truly inspired surprise.
Troubled British rocker Pete Doherty has constructed a time machine and transported himself back to the birth of Christ.
There he reportedly stuffed crystal meth into the Virgin Mary's mouth and urinated on the Baby Jesus, while calling the Three Wise Men, "fucking pricks."
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I had originally planned never to put moving video of any kind on this site; the idea was to make it look as clean as possible. But I'm what the Karl Rove propaganda machine would call a "flip-flopper," so beginning tonight -- schedule permitting -- I'll be posting one of my favorite music videos every weeknight.
It's my way of saying, "Thanks MTV, for pissing on your original format and depriving us of good music in favor of endless episodes of Punk'd and Laguna Beach. Oh, and fuck you."
Tonight's video: the Foo Fighters' Best of You. It's easily the best single to date from a band that I believe is actually better than the band that spawned it. Call me insane all you want; I'm not arguing the greatness of Nirvana, I'm simply saying that the Foo Fighters, by virtue of sheer career-length, have released more quality material.
The video was directed by Mark Pellington, who not only did the brilliant Jeremy video for Pearl Jam, but also directed one of the three movies I never need to see again: the gut-wrenchingly disturbing Arlington Road.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I hate to reduce the monumental human tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina down to a few trite comments, but I honestly believe that everything that can possibly be said about it has already been said. Watching today's reverent round-the-clock rehash by the networks though, there was one moment that stood out for me.
George W. Bush's interview with NBC's Brian Williams would've been strikingly offensive if we weren't so used to the Bush methodology by now. Lewis Black joked recently that Bush's oddest characteristic is that his face never seems to fit the words that are coming out of his mouth -- a reference to the near-constant smug smirk our Idiot In Charge seems to exhibit while talking about deadly serious topics. That painful paradox was on display today when Williams mentioned to Bush that University of Pennsylvania Professor Michael Eric Dyson had been on the network the night before with strong words about the administration's lack of concern for underprivileged storm victims. As the two walked along in front of a photo-op-ready set of recently built homes, Bush chuckled mid-swagger and said, "Well, I don't know who this Professor Dyson is, but we promised we were gonna help -- and we helped."
First of all, people who say that Bush's brief mea culpa a few months back signaled an end to his asinine hubris need to have their heads examined. It's to be expected that Bush would have a natural loathing for -- and possibly even some sort of post-traumatic stress relating to -- any kind of teacher; but the snide and arrogant derision he heaped on the very word "professor" spoke volumes about the way Bush perceives himself -- and those who rightly question him. He's still thoroughly deluded enough to believe that he's just an average guy, defending average folks just like him from the tyranny of those dangerously educated, elitist naysayers. He's Gary Cooper, riding in at High Noon to stand up for the simple townsfolk.
As usual, he has his head firmly up his ass.
There's no greater irony than the fact that Michael Eric Dyson was the first in his family to be able to pursue a higher education; if ever there was an American story of success-against-all-odds, he's it. Meanwhile Dubya was afforded every opportunity in life -- had everything handed to him -- and not only chose to treat his college classes as if attendance were merely a suggestion, but then had the nerve to cynically joke at one point that he was proof that a student could maintain a "C" average and still become president.
Another highlight of the interview: Incurious George telling Williams that he reads Camus.
I'd love to come up with a way to improve on that comedically, but I'm not sure I can. I'll leave it at this: I'm reminded of the scene in A Fish Called Wanda, where Wanda, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, calls terminal idiot Otto, played by Kevin Kline, an ape. He responds by saying, "Apes don't read Nietzsche," to which she says, "Yes they do, they just don't understand it."
Toward the end of the one-on-one however, Bush said something that would be laugh-out-loud funny if it weren't so soul-crushingly depressing.
"I like to keep my expectations low."
Thanks to you Mr. President, we're all forced to do the same.
Monday, August 28, 2006
There's a columnist for the Miami Herald whom I read once in awhile; his name is Leonard Pitts. This simple statement is hysterical at face value -- given that he's a Pulitzer Prize winner and, well, I'm doing this crap. For a moment though, I'm going to try and pretend that he can somehow benefit from the endorsement of a guy who spends most of his spare time bitching online, and give him a shout-out. He's an exceptional writer and one whose opinions I respect greatly, even if I don't always share them.
A couple of weeks ago, he wrote a pretty terrific column that dealt with a segment of the population's apoplexy at, and MTV's subsequent apology for, a cartoon show aired on the network which depicted an animated Snoop Dogg-like character walking around with two women attached to leashes. MTV defended the cartoon by calling it satire. Pitts brought up an obvious but very well articulated point that a defense like that hardly carries weight in our society anymore for one simple reason: satire is almost impossible these days.
He's absolutely right.
Satire is defined as the use of irony or sarcasm to expose and ridicule folly. Its main goal is to hold a very bright light up to the ridiculous by emulating it. When practiced well, it's not only a riot to watch -- it is almost impossible to defend against. Go along with it and you look like a dupe; argue back and you just look foolish. It should make its target wholly uncomfortable. It should make the stupid never question its sincerity. It is the most subversive art form ever conceived.
The problem though, is that popular culture has become such a self-parody that it almost seems as if parody itself has been rendered utterly impotent and throroughly unnecessary. How do you possibly make fun of Paris Hilton? Fear Factor? Hip-hop videos? Katherine Harris? The entire city of Los Angeles? How can you make Nancy Grace funnier and more painfully absurd than she already is?
Saturday Night Live has learned the hard way that you just fucking can't. Every time the once-hilarious late-night staple has attempted to mock one of America's many latter-day mondo-celebs by doing an over-the-top impression, it's fallen flat -- mostly because it can never go over-the-top-enough.
Rachel Dratch impersonating Britney Spears?
Britney Spears chewing gum and babbling incoherently to her worthless Vanilla Icy husband on video, doing an interview with Matt Lauer dressed like Aileen Wuornos, and writing poetry about tigers?
There are still a select few who practice the ancient art of irony and satire, and do it well. Sasha Baron Cohen's Ali-G character is a loveable buffoon, and he's a somewhat biting send-up of the idiocy of the Chav/Hip-Hop Nation -- but for the real detonation of an atomic bomb directly overtop of convention and social silliness, his other alter-egos, Borat and Bruno, are sights to behold. Watching the alleged Kazakhstani reporter get an entire bar full of rednecks to happily sing along to "Throw the Jew Down the Well" is priceless; as is the homophobic beat-down Bruno almost receives when he tells five drunk, screaming, half-naked frat shitheads in Daytona Beach that the camera they've been mugging for is broadcasting to "Austrian Gay TV."
Good satire is brutal. Even when it's subtle, its intention is never to deliver a glancing blow; it's to annihilate.
There is no more perfect example of this, than Stephen Colbert's blistering speech at this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner.
I have no idea what the hell they were thinking -- what they were expecting -- but I'm pretty sure that having a brilliant comedian mercilessly ridicule the President of the United States under the guise of worshipping him probably wasn't part of the plan. Stephen Colbert decided to forgo the typical harmless shtick which always gives the Beltway folks a good guffaw, and go right for the throat. And he did it with the most powerful man in the world sitting six feet away from him. He verbally bitch-slapped Bush for his antics -- and he verbally bitch-slapped the spineless White House press corps for not having done it for him long ago.
That may be the saddest fact of all: it would seem that the more asinine things get, the more we require satire; the more we need someone or something to hold the stupidity accountable. You can only laugh along with the hyenas for so long before it's time to start beating them over the heads with sticks.
Earlier this month, the Cartoon Network's hysterical Adult Swim series debuted a new program as part of its already bizarre lineup; if you haven't seen it, it's called Metalocalypse and features the very "Metal" adventures of a death-metal band called Dethklok. The show is a scream. It sends up every cliche' about that kind of -- well, just for the sake of brevity, I'll call it "music." Like all brilliant satire, it does it with a completely straight face. There's no hint of irony -- which is ironic in and of itself. If you understand the culture, the way the band and the devotion they inspire is presented is more sincere than an emo kid on two hits of ecstasy.
Years ago, I worked at a radio station where for a short time, I hosted a metal show. The kids who bowed to bands like Cannibal Corpse, Carcass and Deicide would call in and practically open their veins as a show of loyalty to "The Scene." They would compare albums and debate the musical influences of one band on another. Let me say that again: they would debate the subtle differences between one idiot grunting over rapid-fire drums and guitar, and another idiot grunting over rapid-fire drums and guitar. There were some who admitted that the whole thing was dumb and that they just enjoyed the joke, but there were far more who truly believed that songs like "Bloody Entrails Ripped from a Virgin's Cunt" were pure, brutal genius.
Thing is, they just might be genius.
The whole death metal scene was -- somewhat like Paris and Britney -- so unbelievably over-the-top as to be self-satire. It may very well have been its own perfectly-crafted, expertly-performed, deadpan inside joke. If that's true though, then as hilarious as it is, do we even need Dethklok?
I ask the same question Leonard Pitts asked: do we even need satire?
So John Mark Karr turned out to be nothing more than a child-killer wanna-be (I'm betting I never get to use that term again in my lifetime).
That hissing sound you hear is the figurative water being poured all over Nancy Grace, causing her to melt into the floor.
Friday, August 25, 2006
By the time you read this, Justin Fuller will be dead.
There's a specific mathematical equation which can be used to help understand why Houston is arguably the most God-awful place on Earth. It all comes down to the numbers: the fifth-worst traffic in the country, plus the second-worst air-quality, minus the constant 72-degree temperature which makes Los Angeles livable despite such problems, multiplied by the number of Texans equals, well, Hell.
A few minutes ago I purposely ignored the flight attendant's request that I switch off all portable electronic devices, choosing instead to continue listening to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Howl album blasted at full-volume through my iPod. Anything to make descending through a layer of shit-brown haze slightly less depressing.
I'm now standing in baggage claim with my photographer. We've unloaded six pieces of luggage filled with heavy camera equipment and are currently engaged in a harried conversation with an employee of Continental Airlines. This employee's sole reason for existence over the next few hours will be to find a seventh piece of luggage which has apparently vanished into thin air somewhere between Laguardia and George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
That's my first impression of Houston this morning: lost luggage, an airport named after the man whose sperm mutated into George W. Bush, and a sign I'm leaning against which bears a likeness of the Houston Police Department seal. It reads, "Order Through Law. Justice With Mercy."
I can't leave this place quickly enough.
Fortunately, the wayward bag didn't contain any vital piece of camera equipment; unfortunately it did contain a vital pair of shoes -- which is why we're now parked outside of a Wal-Mart along Route 59 North. My anchor and I sit in the Jeep Grand Cherokee which the network has been kind enough to rent for us; I'm in the driver's seat, she's next to me. We're discussing the pros, cons and innate weirdness of going to your twenty-year high school reunion. Apparently at hers, she and her husband shared a table with a couple that argued the entire evening; he was a farmer, she was a stay-at-home mom. Eventually, after several drinks, the farmer threatened violence against his timid wife and was forcibly removed from the table.
My anchor has just unknowingly convinced me to attend my own reunion next year.
At some point, the other producer travelling with us on this little adventure comes running out of the front of the monolithic Wal-Mart -- bag in hand. When she throws open the back door of the SUV, my anchor and I giddily ask to see her purchase. She shows us the shoes she just bought -- which are about as impressive as you'd expect a pair of shoes bought at a Texas Wal-Mart to be, which is to say, not at all. They aren't open-toed however, which means that they meet the stated requirement for entry into the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Polunsky Unit's Death Row area. Why anyone's choice of footware would be a sticking point, I'm not quite sure. I'm not willing to argue the point however, given that I've already had nightmares in which today's shoot turns into the last half-hour of Natural Born Killers. Best to get on the guards' good sides right off the bat.
The producer slips off the flip-flops she wore on the plane and slides on the new Wal-Mart specials.
Continuing north on Route 59, we pass another Wal-Mart; this one is a Supercenter.
My anchor says she's hungry, so we pull over to a combination Chevron Station/Subway on the side of the road. The fact that myself, the other producer, our anchor and photographer have all chosen to wear black shirts for today's shoot -- a decision made without a hint of pre-planning or irony -- doesn't go unnoticed by the locals, many of whom resemble the road crew of Monster Magnet. They look at us like we're A) lost B) gay C) from New York, or D) all of the above. I'm the last in line to order and the rest of my crew is already out the door when I look next to the cash register and notice a plexiglass box containing small bottles stacked neatly in rows. I recognize them immediately: Mini-thins -- illegal in most states because they contain ephedrine, which has been known to occasionally thin the herd of stupid high school kids by stopping their hearts. They're often found in convenience stores because they conveniently keep truckers awake during extended runs. They've been at my side through every cross-country drive I've ever made.
I'm smiling as I hand the cashier a ten, toss one of the little bottles into my Subway bag and walk out the door -- carefully sidestepping the display of Git-R-Done bumper stickers on my way -- and into the humid Texas air.
We pass another Wal-Mart Supercenter.
As Route 59 narrows into a four-lane stretch of road, we pass a small, yellow building on the right. Emblazoned on the front of it is a sign that reads, Joy Juice Liquors.
I spit Dr. Pepper all over the steering wheel.
Up ahead of us on the side of the road is a large white tent. As the SUV approaches it and pulls parallel, we each stare silently; it's a massive display of swords, daggers and medieval-looking axes. There must be hundreds of them. Stretched across the top of the tent is a banner; it's succinct in its pronouncement: Swords!
As we glide past, I turn to my anchor. "Hey, you never know," I say blankly.
From the outside, the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas looks about as you'd expect. It's a complex of ugly, two-story buildings surrounded by high fences topped with razor-wire that gleams in the oppressive, unobstructed sunlight. It sits in the middle of a barren field which is constantly patrolled by corrections officers in trucks, on ATVs and on horseback. At each corner of the complex is a tower; walking the landing of each tower is a guard armed with a Remington 11-87 combat shotgun and wearing the obligatory mirrored aviator sunglasses.
As we approach the guard gate -- which isn't a gate at all so much as a checkpoint -- a corrections officer tears himself away from a cooler of water that sits on top of a picnic table next to the road. He walks slowly around the front of our Jeep Cherokee. Before we even roll down the window, we go ahead and get it out of the way.
"What we got here is -- failure to communicate," comes a disembodied voice from the backseat; it's my photographer.
"No one can eat fifty eggs," I respond.
We're allowed in without incident and I park in the visitor's lot, next to a dusty red Chevy Geo with the words "Just Married" scrawled across the back window.
The first thing I notice when I enter the lobby -- which acts as a sort of purgatory between the outside world and the interior of the prison -- is the large sign bolted to the steel door on the other side of the metal detectors. It reads in bold letters, HOSTAGES WILL NOT EXIT THROUGH THIS DOOR, which makes me wonder if it's ever their decision which door they'll exit through.
We're met by a female corrections officer who bears a striking resemblance to Food Network host Paula Deen, right down to the comforting Southern drawl. Translation: she in no way looks like she belongs within ten miles of a place where some of the most dangerous men in the United States are at that very moment forcing the new guy to perform oral sex on them. She leads us through the metal detector and runs down the checklist: no cell phones or Blackberries, no paper money, no pens or pencils, no cigarettes (as they can be traded for contraband), no sunglasses (as they can be traded for good contraband), no gloves (as they can be used to climb the fence), and of course -- no weapons (which suddenly makes me glad we didn't stop at Earl's Fabulous House of Swords).
Once we're given our visitors' passes, we're introduced to a young woman whose intention is to sell us Avon, or maybe recruit us for Junior League, or perhaps take us to a sorority mixer.
This is my first impression upon meeting her anyway.
The media liason for the Polunsky Unit's Death Row is the kind of girl that folks around these parts no doubt describe as "Cute as a Button." She's an attractive brunette in her mid-20s with a perfect complexion and -- for some reason I can't possibly fathom -- a smile that you likely couldn't remove from her face with a crowbar. Quite simply -- like Guard Paula Deen -- she's the last person anyone would expect to willingly spend her days surrounded by guys who are about to be executed. She seems more like a cruise director than someone who works for the Department of Criminal Justice.
After a few minutes of small-talk, which only adds to the palpable surreality, we're escorted into the prison yard via the large steel door -- the one hostages will not be exiting through.
On our way across the yard, Julie Your Cruise Director points to a nearly-windowless building that looks as if it's been flattened with a giant steam iron.
"That's Death Row. It's actually kind of a nice building," she exclaims.
I don't even know how to respond.
A few minutes ago, I and my crew were led into the visitors' wing which is attached to Death Row. Now that I'm looking around, the entire area reminds me of my elementary school -- right down to the bizarrely encouraging affirmations painted on the walls. "Remember, Safety is Priority One!" proclaims one. "Welcome to the Polunsky Unit!" screams another. There are picnic tables outside. There are vending machines against the far wall. I find myself looking around for a shuffle-board court.
In the room the inmates come and go, talking of life on Death Row.
As my photographer finishes setting up for our shoot, I walk slowly toward the partitioned glass booths in the center of the room. The front of the booths face outward, but the back is attached to a long hallway which leads directly to and from the Death Row cell block. The prisoners are never brought into the part of the room I'm standing in; they're simply shuffled into the hallway then dumped into one of these booths. It's like a macabre peep-show -- complete with a telephone. It's only when I look up that I notice that the subject of our interview -- the person we came all this way to see -- is already in his assigned booth; he's directly in front of me.
When our eyes meet, we exchange a cordial smile.
This is Justin Fuller.
In 1997, Justin Chaz Fuller -- at that time an 18-year-old recent high school graduate -- participated in the kidnapping and murder of an acquaintance. 21-year-old Donald Whittington was taken from his apartment in Tyler, Texas, driven to an ATM where he was forced to take out $300, then to an area near Lake Tyler where he was shot in the head. Witnesses say in the days following the murder, Fuller led them to the body and bragged about shooting Whittington. Three other people participated in the crime and during the trial Fuller insisted that although he took part in the kidnapping, he wasn't the triggerman. He expressed sorrow to the victim's family for his role in their loved one's death, but he's always insisted that he can't apologize for something he didn't do -- and he says he did not shoot Whittington.
Fuller has a baby face. In keeping with the confusing, dichotomic nature of everything in this place, he doesn't look like he belongs here. He's soft-spoken and has an easy, almost infectious smile. At one point, he makes eye-contact with one of the guards and both of them begin to laugh, as if sharing an inside joke. I'm not quite sure how he has the ability to be so insouciant, given that he'll be dead in less than thirty-six hours.
Houston, we have a problem.
My photographer has just informed me that his camera isn't working.
As he was hauling it out of the airport in Houston, he accidentally slammed it against the automatic doors. We assumed it was fine. We apparently assumed wrong.
Suddenly I'm no longer waxing philosophical in my mind about the justice system and Justin Fuller's place in it; I'm trying to figure out how to salvage an important and expensive interview -- one which needless to say can't be "rescheduled." In a flash I'm back out into the hot sun and walking quickly across the protected area of the prison yard, out through purgatory and finally out into the parking lot. I'm cursing under my breath and sweating like Oprah on a Stairmaster.
When I get back to the SUV I begin making desperate phone calls to our National Desk. A few minutes later, I'm informed that a freelance photographer is being dispatched to our location and should arrive within the hour. Crisis averted. The power of network news emerges triumphant.
After another pass through the metal detector accompanied by another kindly smile from Office Paula Deen, I'm once again back in the Death Row visitors' area where I'm met by the other producer. She quickly gives me the thumbs up and informs me that in my absence the camera mysteriously began working properly. The interview is happening right now.
Since I have the phone number of the freelancer in my pocket, I ask Julie Your Cruise Director to borrow her cell phone and place a call to let him know to stand down.
Then I quietly walk over behind the camera, pull up a chair, grab an earpiece and listen.
Justin Fuller speaks softly and articulately; the effect is hypnotically disarming.
He talks first about his family: his father who coached his youth soccer team; his mother who believed for so long that she had raised him right. He expresses sadness over the fact that tomorrow these ostensibly good people -- these innocent people -- will sit by helplessly and watch their son die. He pauses for a moment as he says this -- exhales softly.
When asked about his crime, he stands by his assertion that he wasn't the one who fired the bullet that killed Donald Whittington. "I was 18. I was stupid," he says when pressed about why he became involved in the crime in the first place. "I was a follower, you know? I should've known better." Still, he believes that his own death won't bring peace to Whittington's family -- that it's simply a case of two terrible wrongs attempting to make an elusive right.
"You can't teach people not to kill by killing people," he says.
As I listen, I find myself wondering about the thought processes behind Fuller's statements. He appears -- for all intents and purposes -- to be a very bright young man, but I can't help wondering how much of his rhetoric is the result of his own personal reflection and how much is simply a series of talking points naturally absorbed into his character after almost ten years of steady repetition by defense lawyers. I pay attention to key words and phrases, unusual terms that seem to stand out in a sea of common language. I pay attention to how often he repeats these terms during the conversation.
He's asked if he understands what's going to happen to him tomorrow -- if he knows the details of the lethal injection process. His response is eerie in its matter-of-factness.
"Yes, Sodium Thiopental will put me to sleep. Pancuronium Bromide will paralyze my muscles -- and then Potassium Chloride will stop my heart and kill me."
That's it. It's that simple. He describes the process that will end his life as if he and the woman sitting across from him were at a table at an intimate restaurant -- and he was placing an order for the two of them.
It's at this point that I begin to wish that the subject of our interview bore more of a resemblance to Hannibal Lecter; that he was someone more cunning and unapologetic -- that he was someone easily dismissable. It's at this point that I begin to wish that Justin Fuller were more of a caricature, and less human.
I remove the earpiece and step over to Julie Your Cruise Director, who's seated several feet away from the camera.
"How do you do this kind of thing?" I ask -- not accusingly, but out of a legitimate desire to understand something which seems incomprehensible.
She looks at me and, with a smile that adds a jarring irony to her words, says offhandedly, "I drink -- a lot."
Every Wednesday, she's here helping men make their final statements to the world.
Every Thursday, she watches those same men die. She attends every execution held here.
We thank Justin Fuller for his time, which at this point is something I'd imagine is quite precious to him. He remains in the caged booth -- behind the thick glass -- as we begin tearing down our equipment.
I'm staring out of the window onto the prison yard, trying to push myriad thoughts out of my head: the strangeness of a place where death is literally doled out on an assembly line; the questionable equity of a justice system which seems to arbitrarily condemn one murderer to die while allowing others to live; the possibility that lethal injection isn't so much a humane method of execution for the benefit of the condemned as it is a means to make us feel better about the process -- to help us sleep at night, as well as a means to make us feel superior to the condemned, who may have killed without such supposed humanity.
This reverie is suddenly broken by the three words no producer ever wants to hear.
"It didn't record," my photographer says.
I fight the urge to spin around in a panic, choosing instead to simply close my eyes and sigh.
"I figured I got the camera rolling. It looked like everything was alright," he continues.
I motion to Julie Your Cruise Director -- letting her know that I need her phone again.
"You guys gave me a thumbs-up. If I had known that there might still be a problem, I would've gotten the freelancer out here as a back-up."
I don't wait for my photographer to respond. I'm redialing the number for the freelance photographer; after five rings, I hear him pick up.
"How fast can you get here?" I ask him.
Not fast enough.
It's been a long time since I've driven. Aside from a recent car rental, I haven't been behind the wheel of a vehicle since I begrudgingly sold my Audi A4 and moved to the land of subways and taxis. Thankfully I've forgotten none of the technique I learned while growing up in Miami and tearing through the streets in an attempt to replicate the driving style of Miami Vice. I'm weaving through traffic at near warp-speed in the hope of quickly reaching a local affiliate station which has graciously agreed to allow us to play back the tape of our interview. My anchor made the arrangement by phone just a few minutes ago. The prayer is that the problem we're having is with the camera's playback setting -- and not with the tape itself. None of us is very hopeful.
The other potential crisis at the moment is that our flight leaves in about two and a half hours, and I'm now about to drive into the center of Houston right at the start of rush hour -- in the rain.
I've got to get out of this business.
I pull the SUV up and slam it to the curb right outside the affiliate. My crew throws open the doors and runs up the covered steps and into the building. I close my eyes and try to remain calm.
As they exit the building, I can tell by the looks on their faces that things are not good.
"It's worthless," my anchor says as she climbs into the passenger's seat.
We came all this way for nothing.
Our flight leaves in an hour and a half.
I have visions of the unparalleled benefits of profiling; it would have to work better than the system the TSA has in place right now at our nation's airports. I wonder how anyone can claim that confiscating water bottles and gel products prior to boarding is in any way keeping Americans safe in the skies. The question I want to ask one of these idiots is simple: "If you knew that liquid explosives were a potential threat -- then why the hell were we ever allowed to bring water on a fucking plane?" As usual, terrorists are thinking ahead, while the people paid to outsmart them have set up a safety net as secure and impenetrable as the space between Bill Buckner's legs.
I'm fidgeting. I'm angry. I'm about to miss my flight.
Our plane rises through the gruesome haze of pollution spread low across Houston. A moment ago, I stood up slightly and looked around the cabin -- making sure my anchor, my photographer and our other producer made it. They did.
The man seated next to me is reading Bernie Goldberg's 100 People who are Screwing Up America, now expanded to 110 people. I can only assume that Hillary Clinton had ten new children since the publication of the last edition, or maybe Bernie just had ten more mini-strokes which translated into ten more Quixotic rants against liberals, feminists and any other Godless cretins his elderly mind deems offensive.
I lean back and close my eyes.
My iPod is plugged into my head.
The quiet beauty of Mazzy Star's Rhymes of an Hour washes over me.
I want to get Justin Fuller's comfortable smile out of my head.
I want to go home and hold my wife.
The first of three chemicals is pumped into Justin Fuller's body. He's looking at the faces of his mother and father as he drifts off.
Justin Fuller is pronounced dead.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
So my wife and I are sitting on the couch watching Iron Chef America.
One of tonight's judges is Art Smith, whose supposed claim to fame is that he's "Oprah's Personal Chef," which is a little like being a truck stop hooker: sure you're always busy -- but you're catering to a clientele that would probably be just as satisfied fucking the 16-year-old boy behind the Subway counter.
Who's his sous chef -- Ronald McDonald?
I fucking hate Oprah.
Just saw a screening of Beerfest.
You already know how I feel about the guys from Broken Lizard, so I freely admit to having gone in with somewhat of a bias. That said, it's a damn funny movie; purposely stupid as shit -- but damn funny.
It's been years since I was of the age where drinking was something so wondrous and novel that I actually engaged in games dedicated to it, wore t-shirts honoring it, and felt pride in how well I could do it. These days, I'm like most adults; I drink not really because I want to but because I damn well have to.
Still, the movie made me want to find the nearest bar and -- armed with a quarter in one hand and a beer-pong paddle in the other -- start pounding.
As such, look for Beerfest to become the next big must-see college movie. Every fraternity in America will make it required viewing and will no doubt create vicious hazing rituals in which pledges are forced to learn to recite the entire movie from memory. TKE idiots everywhere will own not one but two DVD copies -- just in case one is destroyed in a freak bong-smoking accident.
As funny as the movie is, I confess that I was hoping for a different ending; I sincerely believe that the Broken Lizard guys really would've knocked it out of the park if they'd had their characters pour beer on, then beat the living fucking shit out of the cast of Entourage.
Oh well -- maybe in the sequel.
For Christ's sake, this weekend do the world a favor and forego watching Wedding Crashers for the 193rd time, boycott Will Ferrell for cynically rehashing the same stupid shtick over and over again -- and see Beerfest.
Your liver will thank you for it.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Everyone deserves some time away from it all, including questionably-talented idiots like me. As such, I'll be taking a few days "off" and heading back home to South Florida -- specifically to the Keys, which for the unfamiliar, comprise the most wonderfully relaxing place on this planet.
I qualify the word off because I'll be taking my laptop with me, so you can expect occasional little tidbits to be posted here and there, but don't look for the usual long and rambling diatribes to return until next Tuesday.
(As it turns out by the way, this mini-break couldn't have come at a better time; I need to lay low for a few days while my carefully-planted patsy takes the rap for the Jon Benet murder. What can I say -- she had that "little girl smell.")
I'll have a fruity drink with an umbrella in it for you.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
I usually do my best to ignore the wellspring of celebrity rumor and conjecture that passes for legitimate news these days; I figure I have more important things to concern myself with than whether or not Nick Lachey has a small penis, and how many minutes of manual strangulation it would take to put Jessica Simpson into a permanent coma for publicly suggesting one way or the other.
But despite the claims of several ex-girlfriends, I'm human -- and every once in awhile something gets my attention.
The fact that the marriage between Kate Hudson and The Black Crowes' Chris Robinson is coming to an end isn't much of a surprise. I won't be one of those people who makes the case that their attempt at inter-species mating was doomed from the start, but I'm willing to bet that a near-constant barrage of this sentiment from everybody else on the goddamned planet constituted enough pressure to break even a marriage made out of titanium.
Now though, the New York Daily News (motto: "The Second-Best Newspaper to Train Your Puppy on in the Tri-State Area") is reporting that Owen Wilson may have had something to do with Kate's ultimate decision to leave her husband.
Understand something: to me, Kate Hudson will always be Penny Lane. She turned in one of the best performances, creating one of the best characters in possibly the best rock n'roll movie ever made -- Cameron Crowe's almost perfect Almost Famous. Thanks to that movie -- and her role in it -- I'll always love Kate in much the same way that I'll always love Zeppelin; she just had the ability to speak to my soul without saying so much as a word.
She could make Raising Helen IV: Annihilation, and I'd still sigh like a smitten schoolboy at the thought of her.
Owen Wilson on the other hand constitutes one of the most baffling cinematic curiosities since, well, the canonization of M. Night Syhamalan (sorry, I don't think that's ever getting old). He's made an entire career out of playing the guy who lived down the hall from me, and everyone else, in college -- the borderline autistic whom you wouldn't bother with if it weren't for the fact that he's a near-bottomless reservoir of pot; and even then you're wary simply because to gain access to his drugs you have to endure hours of ridiculously fucking giddy observations about why refrigerator magnets work or how Emily Bronte is the thinking man's Charlotte Bronte or a vast array of other crap that employs stoner-logic.
There's only one Wilson in the history of film that's turned in a duller, more lifeless performance -- and he starred opposite Tom Hanks in Castaway.
Now I have to live with the possibility that a guy who couldn't get me into a theater for any of the movies that he's made, somehow got himself into Kate Hudson's heart and nether-regions.
In the immortal words of Weezer: Say it Ain't So.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
If you ever get the chance, do yourself a favor and take a look at the descriptive copy written on the back cover of the DVD of Danny Boyle's kinetic 1996 masterpiece Trainspotting. What you'll find there is one of the most unintentionally hilarious misrepresentations of any product since snake-oil was peddled as a cure for, well, everything.
In fact, the supposed summarization of the movie couldn't be more full of shit if they claimed that Eddie Murphy co-starred as the voice of a wise-cracking donkey.
It reads as such:
"Trainspotting delivers a wild mix of rebellious action and wicked humor! It's the story of four friends as they try to make it in the world on their own terms... and who end up planning the ultimate scam!"
If you've seen the movie, you know that technically this description is accurate; it would hold up in court. But if you've seen the movie, you also know that it manages to omit one or two -- oh, I don't know -- important details. Nowhere in the copy are the words drugs, heroin, or addicts ever mentioned. What you get instead is a characterization of Trainspotting that's akin to calling Psycho, "The powerful story of one man's unending devotion to his mother."
Thankfully, despite Hollywood's unwillingness to confront some of the darker themes of the movie head-on, Trainspotting did find its target audience in the states and Danny Boyle was permitted to continue making movies -- of which all not starring Leonardo DiCaprio were very good.
In 2002, if you'll pardon the pun, Boyle breathed new life into the zombie-horror genre with 28 Days Later, a relentlessly visceral nightmare set in London and shot on grainy, digital video. It was the kind of movie that not only would a big Hollywood studio have been unwilling to make -- it wouldn't even have known how.
It was also a huge hit.
So, you can imagine the pit that formed in my stomach when I learned that Boyle would be relinquishing the director's chair for the sequel, 28 Weeks Later, and that the plot would involve American military forces attempting to re-take London, with disastrous consequences. A premise such as this has worked only once in the history of filmmaking, and somehow I doubted another Aliens was in the cards. More likely, I figured, was that audiences would be assured a "bigger," "badder," "faster," and of course infinitely fucking "dumber" version of the original. Maybe they'd bring Brett Ratner onboard and cast Will Smith. Quite frankly, I assumed that Hollywood would grab a cash cow by the teats and attempt to milk it for all it was worth.
Then I heard what Danny Boyle -- who's apparently staying on as Executive Producer -- has in mind, and I realized that he just might be about to make one of the most politically subversive movies of the last decade.
The key here is context.
At any other time in recent memory, the notion of the United States riding in like the cavalry to save the day wouldn't simply be acceptable, it would be generally perceived as at least something of a blessing. Hollywood has typically reflected that sentiment on the big screen. Given the events of the past few years however, America's ability to project an image of strength to the outside world -- as well as the benevolent use of that strength -- has been damaged to the point of almost becoming a punchline. It's not much of a stretch to imagine that a maverick British filmmaker would be willing to turn a conventional plot device on its ass and use it to make the point that what was once American confidence is now American arrogance -- that the U.S. belief that it can come in and solve another country's disaster through military intervention is worthy of subtle and not-so-subtle mockery.
If the writer of 28 Days Later -- Alex Garland -- were to also be at the pen this time around, I would've thought the scenario I just described to be entirely possible. As it turns out, the person actually writing 28 Weeks Later might make it all but certain.
His name is Rowan Joffe, and his last screenplay was for a 2001 movie imaginatively titled Gas Attack. The plot centered around Middle-Easterners seeking asylum in London and the racism they encounter from right-wing authorities. In other words: if you think he's going to write a script where the country that's behind Extreme Makeover: Middle-East Edition is the good guy, I've got the location of some weapons of mass destruction for you.
What's especially ironic about this is that art doesn't need to imitate life right now, particularly not insofar as the British are concerned. British filmmakers don't need to make America look foolish because British intelligence services do it for them. Last week's bust of an alleged terror cell in London bent on taking down airliners over the Atlantic was a public relations bonanza for the Brits -- and one that U.S. officials apparently wanted in on so badly that they convinced their counterparts in the U.K. to allow them to have a say in the timing of the arrests. Not surprising given that Alberto Gonzales and company's last big public victory lap in the war on terror involved the arrest of seven Haitians in Miami who had apparently once used the word al-Qaeda in mixed company.
The most unfortunate caveat to the possibility that 28 Weeks Later will be an allegory for the impotence of U.S. military might is the forethought involved; the movie won't be released until next summer. That means that someone believes that its perfectly safe to assume that neither our fortunes in Iraq, nor our image around the globe, will improve much over the next year.
You know something, I take back what I originally said; I can think of something that was misrepresented far worse than a simple DVD movie.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Just about five years.
That's the answer to a question that's been taking up space in the back of my mind for some time now. It involves a difficult and painful subject -- which as it turns out, is precisely the reason why this particular answer is what it is. Easy topics make for easy discussion -- the stuff of cocktail parties and backyard Bar-BQs; but no one wants to be the one who brings up a dead relative on prom night -- or in this case, 3,000 dead relatives.
The question: how much time has to go by before Americans are willing to debate the official story of 9/11?
Now before you snort dirisively and turn away, assuming that I keep a lovely collection of tin-foil hats in my closet -- you should probably know where I'm going with this somewhat sensitive topic. I refuse to rehash the supposed facts which certain groups claim as proof of a conspiracy (as there are many); I also refuse to rehash the supposed facts which so many others claim as proof that conspiracy theorists are goddamned nuts (as there are just as many). The truth is, I'm not half as interested in the anatomy of an alleged conspiracy as I am in the anatomy of the theory itself.
I suppose however that in the interest of full disclosure, I should probably mention that I think Oswald got off a few very lucky shots. I also think that it probably really was a weather balloon that went down in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. I'm certainly not blind to the possibility that conspiracies exist and that our own government can be involved, but I suppose that I've always been willing to give those in power the benefit of the doubt -- a fact which admittedly doesn't gel very well with my misanthropic nature; in fact, it's far more likely that I simply have bills to pay and a life to lead and don't have the time to concern myself with every little fucking thing.
And yet it's these very facts which have led to a nagging feeling that I can't seem to shake, no matter how much I'd like to.
I realize that there will always be those who will ask questions and doubt the reality of any given situation -- schizophrenics, argumentative assholes, philosophy students etc. -- but for the most part, the population of America is made up of people who trust their eyes and their gut; they'll believe something when it hits them in the face -- or flies into the side of a building. But what happens when events unfold in the aftermath that actually force you to go back and look at that initial moment in an entirely different way? I hate to once again bring up my best friend in the whole wide world, M. Night Shyamalan, but how many people rewatched the first hour-and-a-half of The Sixth Sense once the ending was revealed, simply to observe how deftly that eventual outcome was engineered?
America is now engaged in a war, the aim of which would seem to be to remake the Middle-East. It's a war prosecuted under the guise of protecting America from terrorism -- and by that very definition would be a war without any forseeable or even possible end. It's a war we are unfortunately not winning. It's a war that began on September 11th, 2001, as our president seems practically orgasmic in his desire to remind us. In fact, I'm pretty sure that George W. Bush believes that every time he mentions this in front of a television camera, an angel gets its wings.
The root question at the core of any conspiracy is always the same: who has something to gain?
Believe it or not, when it came time for me to decide whether or not to doubt the government's version of 9/11, this thought barely entered my mind.
Instead, I asked myself another question -- the simple logic of which became inescapable: after everything you've seen, would you believe anything these guys said or did?
Once again, I'm not a conspiracy theorist -- but there's just no denying that this administration has made it astoundingly easy to become one. In the past four years, I've seen more lies, more cover-ups, more dirty tricks, more purposeful fear-mongering, more outright arrogant disregard for the rule of law and basic reason that if Dick Cheney told me what time it was, I'd get a second opinion.
Quite frankly, they've lost the benefit of the doubt that I was formerly so willing to hand over.
There goes the first hurdle to ostensibly questioning my government's story.
The second, as I mentioned, was my desire to simply keep busy living my own life. Awhile back I wrote about the belief that if your entire existence is a lie, then that lie actually becomes the truth. An offshot of that assertion is this: the smaller the lie, the easier it is to see through -- the better it stands out among all those truths. Let me put it another way: I'm actually more inclined to believe that an alleged conspiracy would be behind the deaths of 3,000 people than behind say, 30. The logic is flawless. The larger the act, the less likely it would be questioned -- and the more likely that those who did question it would automatically become pariahs.
To those who insist that there's simply no way that a college kid with a video camera -- or any other average American -- could expose a cover-up so vast (and not be killed by the same shadowy forces behind that cover-up), you're not understanding the beauty of something so perfectly engineered (if in fact it was). The fact that you're unwilling to even consider such a possibility renders the threat from him completely impotent. It's simply beyond the realm of rational thought that our own government could have a role in something so hideous, which is why a conspiracy of this magnitude would create its own impenetrable shield of protection for those involved.
This is all academic though; the fact is that I don't know what I really believe about what happened that day. I know what I saw, and that first impression remains a logical one.
I do know however that it's never a good idea to stop asking questions -- certainly not these days.
(I guess I should take this opportunity to say hello to the nice folks at the NSA. To everyone else, as Bill Hicks used to say -- don't worry, the dick jokes return tomorrow.)
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Irrelevant comedian Dennis Miller will join Fox News Channel in September, becoming a commentator on Hannity and Pencil-Necked, Non-Threatening Liberal Stereotype (Colmes).
Ya know Dennis, this is a perfect gig for you babe; jokes that involve Rube Goldbergian references are gonna go over about as well with the NASCAR crowd as, well, jokes that involve the actual words Rube Goldbergian.
In the words of every press-release attack issued from the Department of Agitprop over at Fox, "We wish you well."
I'm a good liar -- which is why I spend most of my spare time writing; writers are, by nature, incredibly gifted liars.
I realize that I promised awhile back to post an excerpt from my book, "Blow Up the Outside World," every weekend, but it's a much more difficult endeavor than I originally figured it would be. Therefore, naturally, I wound up breaking that promise.
Hey, at least in the heirarchy of promises that I've broken in my lifetime -- "Yes, I'll be faithful," "No, I won't do drugs again," "Absolutely, that haltar-top looks great on you, even though you're 5'1" and weigh 145 pounds" -- I think it's safe to say that this one ranks close to the bottom.
This weekend though, the Weekly Reader feature returns.
To summarize again, the story I've written is a memoir and deals with an eighteen month period whose centerpiece is 9/11. In the months leading up to September of 2001, my life was a frightening downward spiral of drug addiction and estrangement from the woman I was married to at the time. I checked myself into rehab in August of 2001, and less than two weeks after getting out and re-entering a world which at that moment looked terrifyingly alien to me -- something happened to change the world for everyone.
I took a leap of faith and drove to New York -- basically pissing on the advice of my counselors, all of whom told me to take it easy and not take on too much responsibility for awhile. When I arrived at the scene of the worst terrorist attack in history, I somehow landed a freelance job working for NBC news. They put me up in a hotel for four months. They worked me almost non-stop. I learned to recover and live again with everyone else in New York; and I learned from those who were hurting far worse than I could ever claim to be.
The new excerpt I've posted deals with a phone call I received from my estranged wife at the time; she was still living in Los Angeles -- albeit in a new apartment, as she had moved out of ours during my time in rehab.
Feel free to take a look.
Hope you like it.
October, 2001: Business with Pleasure
Friday, August 11, 2006
NEW "I LOVE NEW YORK" AD CAMPAIGN, INITIAL TAKE:
**CUE SWEEPING, UPBEAT MUSIC**
Hello little people, I'm Nan Kempner -- and I'd like to talk to you on behalf of the great city of New York.
I could beat around the bush, but why bother; I have a spa pedicure appointment to get to, and you no doubt have a monster truck-pull to attend. The fact is this: here in New York, we're better than you.
I realize that may be a difficult thing to hear, but it's true -- and I know so because, well, I'm a New Yorker and therefore smarter than you. It simply goes without saying that as a sadly inferior life-form, you wouldn't even be able to recognize your own inaedquacy.
That's why we want you to visit our city! It's vastly more interesting than Tampa or Des Moines, or wherever you and your fourteen children are unlucky enough to call home.
We have Broadway and big buildings and culturally-elite intellectuals; We have apartments that are the size of shoeboxes and cost six times what you're paying for your ugly, four-bedroom Spanish villa-style home on that pathetically quiet tree-lined street that's sadly devoid of piled garbage or muttering vagrants; We ride trains -- well, I don't, but some do -- and those trains are packed to capacity with sweaty, frazzled and generally bitter people, all of whom are either well on their way to developing ulcers or nursing the ones they already have -- but believe you me, each one of them knows full well that he or she is infinitely smarter and better than you simply because they've chosen to live here... oh, did I mention that they're not riding the subway if there happens to be a transit strike? Then they're walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in three-degree weather, singing to themselves the entire time about how thrilled they are to be tougher and more clever than all of you.
And of course, we have socialites -- like myself -- who believe that they're the Aristoi and that there's simply no excuse for being ugly, poor or -- well -- you.
If you're nervous about being in such an overwhelming city -- which would be understandable given the shallowness of your own feeble existence -- have no fear: we have an Olive Garden here to make you feel at home.
None of us goes there of course, as we know what you don't -- that Olive Garden is awful. You only think it's good -- but you need to trust us, because we know better.
We on the other hand understand that a meal isn't truly worthwhile unless you're paying an obscene amount of money for it and it's being served to you by a celebrity chef while you sit three seats away from Sarah Jessica Parker.
Still, to give you at least a small taste of the true New York -- the most your paltry brain could handle I'm sure -- we've inflated the prices at the Olive Garden; this way you can go home and tell the hideous little friends you invite to your next Bar-B-Q that just for a moment, you felt important.
So come on America -- visit the place that urinates on your beliefs, your politics, your concept of family and everything else you hold dear.
New York: come for the rats the size of Volkswagens, stay for the potential terrorist attacks.
DISSOLVE TO GRAPHIC: In Memory of Nan Kempner, who died of emphysema, July 3rd, 2005
Trademark: Brought to you by the New York City Board of Tourism and Office of Everyone-Else-Can-Suck-Our-Cocks
Forgive the effusion, but the first details of the next season of 24 have now been made public.
Apparently, season six will pick-up not far from where season five left off -- just a few months later in fact.
Jack will be broken and beaten after two months of torture at the hands of the Chinese government, and the United States will be in the middle of a terrorist attack of some magnitude. Once again, the attack will already be underway as the season begins.
Executive Producer Jon Cassar tells audiences to be prepared, because he claims that season five -- which was extraordinary, and garnered the show twelve Emmy nominations -- will be outdone in every conceivable way.
I'm going to go change my underwear now.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
I figure since I actually hold sway over such a vast number of minds these days -- allow me my delusion please -- I may as well use this awesome power for good as opposed to evil.
Hence it's time once again to recommend a band or artist you may not have heard of, but who certainly deserves your attention as well as the money you'd normally spend on that new Rhianna CD (and if you're buying that, then the money you're obviously also spending on Thorazine).
Today's lesson: The Start.
They're a band from Southern California that were doing the whole 80s new-wave/punk revival about five years before it became trendy.* Their debut CD Shakedown is tough to find, but some of the bigger record stores may still have it -- or you can always order it online. It's worth the trouble of tracking it down just for the song Gorgeous, but as it turns out, everything else on the album is equally terrific.
iTunes has their follow-up EP, Death Via Satellite, which is certainly decent -- and an interesting hint of what was to come as the band began to darken its sound. With the most recent release, Initiation, that transition is complete; the entire album features heavy, swirling guitar melodies in which lead singer Aimee Echo's voice seems to literally drown. It's just beautiful to behold and cool as all hell.
There's a band from the late 80s called Caterwaul whom they remind me of, but I doubt you've heard of those guys either.
Either way, give The Start a listen.
(*Too fucking trendy actually. To The Bravery, Interpol, Editors etc. -- yeah, I liked Joy Division too; which is why I still listen to their albums instead of buying yours. And to Franz Fucking Ferdinand -- Gang of Four should sue your asses. I want to form a band called Gavrilo Princip and shoot you worthless idiots.)
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Team Ram-Rod: Me and the guys from Broken Lizard after many beers at the Gin Mill on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
License and registration... CHICKEN FUCKER!: Jayne with Kevin (Farva) Heffernan, at Jake's Dilemma on the Upper West Side.
I rarely do this kind of stupid name-dropping shit, but it's Broken Lizard -- they rule for Christ's sake.
Once again, Beerfest opens on August 25th; be there -- or be deloused with powdered sugar.
I'm frankly too tired to waste my breath complaining about Joe Lieberman -- although it's kind of cool that by merely mentioning his name in a negative way, I can probably be lumped in with the bloggers who are being given so much credit for the downturn in his political fortunes.
I'll leave the flowery argument against his idiotic idea to run as an independent to someone far more qualified than myself: the vastly talented and downright sexy-as-hell Arianna Huffington. (That's her on the left; you didn't really think I was gonna post a picture of Lieberman's ugly face, did you?)
Not only can Arianna articulate my feelings about Lapdog Joe even better than I can -- but in shifting the mantle of intelligent debate to someone else, I free myself up to be as obscene and juvenile as I want.
That's why I can tell you that Lieberman is a fucking idiot, and fully deserved to get his ass stomped by a guy with no political experience whatsoever.
A word of advice Joey: you cozy up to the lying fuckers behind this ridiculous war -- particularly the corrupt monkey at the top of the totem pole of horseshit -- and nobody in your party's gonna have much sympathy for you.
So long, asshole.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Imagine if you will, a day at the track.
You go up to the counter and place your bet on a major longshot -- let's say a horse that carries 50 to 1 odds. You get your ticket and take your seat and wait for the race to begin; maybe you order yourself a mint julip or whatever the hell else it is that people do at horse tracks (for all I know they're not even called "horse tracks;" for all I know they could be called "racing parks," or "gardens of earthly delight" or whatever. I've never been to one in my life).
So you lean forward -- ticket in hand -- and ready yourself for the sound of the bell. You know full well that if by some miracle of God your horse crosses that finish line first, you're in the money.
Finally, the horses are in the gate and then -- suddenly -- they're off. At first your horse performs as expected -- lagging far behind the pack. The favorite is out in front, and seems to remain there for an eternity.
Then without warning, old Fleabiscuit gets an astounding shot of adrenaline and begins surging forward as the horses push through the back stretch; he begins overtaking horse after horse -- moving switfly and assuredly toward the front of the pack. Meanwhile, you begin jumping with a joy you haven't known since childhood -- your big payday in sight.
But that's when you realize something: as your horse moves closer and closer toward the lead horse and a possible victory, the odds posted on the board for him begin dropping. The closer he gets to finishing first, the more the oddsmakers adjust his chances of winning. By the time he crosses the finish line -- well ahead of the rest of the pack -- his odds are even, and you're screwed.
Does this seem a little unfair to you? Like the oddsmakers should have no right to change the game in midplay to cover their asses?
Well, that's exactly what they did today -- only instead of horses, substitute hurricanes.
Today, the National Hurricane Center altered its predictions for the 2006 hurricane season; it now says that there will likely be fewer hurricanes this year than originally predicted. It's a pretty easy statement to make now that we're almost three full months into the season and for the most part the tropics have been quieter than Carson Kressley at a Hell's Angels bar.*
It's kind of a no-brainer, which is especially bothersome because it comes from a group of people with such big brains.
As it turns out though, the Hurricane Center is only following the same protocol it does every year at this time -- which means that it's following the lead of a team of forecasters at Colorado State University (certainly the first place I think of when I think of folks with a vested interest in the tropics). This team is led by a man most Americans have never heard of, yet he's arguably the most powerful and influential meteorological researcher in the Western Hemisphere.
His name is Dr. William Gray.
Dr. Gray, is the Mr. Blackwell of hurricane forecasting; those who disseminate information about tropical storms hang on his every word as if it were gospel. They treat his predictions with reverent awe and welcome his weather wisdom with the kind of fanfare given to that ridiculous groundhog by the strange little people of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. When Dr. Gray speaks, everyone along the Southeast Coast is expected to listen.
Here's the thing though: the guy cheats.
In the same way that changing the odds in the middle of a horse race would give bookmakers a somewhat unfair advantage, Dr. Gray makes regular adjustments to his "Hurricane Season Forecast" during the season itself; he does it several times in fact. His initial prediction at the beginning of the season typically designates an arbitrary number of named storms, as well as their chances of making landfall; then as the months progress, that number almost certainly rises or falls as circumstances and weather patterns change -- as the storms form or don't form.
Needless to say, Dr. Gray's forecast record is excellent. No wonder everyone listens to him; technically, he's never wrong.
Now I'm not a meteorologist. I certainly wouldn't want to in any way disparage those whose job it is to keep millions of people safe from monstrous and deadly storms; in fact, it's worth mentioning that once one of these things forms out in open water, it's astonishing how accurately the National Hurricane Center can predict its likely path. But as for divining the actual number of hurricanes and their potential targets months in advance? Call me Ian Malcolm, but it would just seem like common sense that there are far too many variables to make any kind of accurate assessment.
And that's what it comes down to; if Dr. Gray wants to continue issuing his forecasts -- adjusted for context or otherwise -- then there's certainly nothing wrong with that. They should however be taken as more of a novelty than the rock on which to build your hurricane preparedness plan. You know, like those commercials that say, "For entertainment purposes only."
Like I said, I'm no meteorologist, but hell, even I could pick a random number and still be right by the end of hurricane season -- as long as you let me change my mind a few times while the race is still on.
(*Having grown up in South Florida, I'm well aware that a lack of any major storm is actually par for the course at this stage of hurricane season. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew didn't hit the United States until August 24th; obviously, that was the first named storm of that season. Last year's busiest season on record was an anomaly, and one that even Dr. Gray couldn't have predicted in his wildest meth-fueled fantasies; but don't think for a second that it didn't affect his initial forecast for this year. The guy almost certainly hedged his bet and aimed high -- hence why pulling back now seems especially fraudulent.)
Monday, August 07, 2006
Rebecca: This is so bad, it's almost good.
Enid: This is so bad, it's gone past good and back to bad again.
-- Ghost World
I'm not now, nor have I ever been a member of the "Kiss Army."
In fact, I'm pretty sure I can safely say that if there were ever an opposing force facing the Kiss Army in battle, I'd probably join up willingly -- no draft required. I'd do this for no other reason than the fact that I and my Band of Brothers would almost certainly emerge victorious against an army of acne-addled kids who had to stop fighting every few minutes to masturbate, or roll a set of ten-sided dice to determine their next move.
In deference to those for whom I haven't made myself clear enough: Kiss fucking blows; they always have. They're probably the single most overrated and undeserving phenomenon in rock history -- and this is coming from someone who'd pay good money to watch every Grateful Dead/Phish fan mauled by bears. That, my friends, is saying something about the depths of my loathing for the geniuses who brought you that masterpiece of musical affirmation, I Wanna Rock & Roll All Night (and Party Every Day).
That said, you can imagine my reaction when I learned that A&E's latest foray into the creatively-exhausted reality series genre would be a show called, Gene Simmons Family Jewels.
For weeks now, the advertising for this monstrosity has been unavoidable in New York City; everywhere you go, it's impossible not to find yourself staring into the aging mug of Gene Simmons as he self-parodically flashes the "devil sign" with his fingers. It's enough to make you realize that the only reason you probably didn't find that so ridiculously funny back in the 70s is because -- well -- you were really fucking high.
If the unfortunate return of Gene Simmons were an isolated incident it would be easy to overlook, or at least blow off as the purely nostalgic lark of a former General in the Kiss Army (Ret.) who astonishingly went on to find employment that didn't require wearing a blue apron and a button that reads "How Can I Help You?" -- such as A&E Network Executive. As it turns out though, Mean Gene is just the latest in a string of people you probably never cared about in the first place, who've seen their careers miraculously resurrected by the cultural affliction known as reality TV.
Thanks mostly to cable channels like VH1 (the worst offender), Bravo and A&E, the nagging questions that've been haunting you day and night -- "How's Peter Brady's love life?" "What's Danny Bonaduce doing to make himself even less commercially palatable?" "How can Flavor Flav single-handedly destroy the legacy of Public Enemy?" -- can be answered as only an unscrupulous camera crew and a has-been in need of a paycheck can.
The problem though is the way it's being sold to you.
People who once had some small amount of cultural relevance -- deserved or not -- are now promoted as comforting kitsch; their images from long ago are given an ironic twist and repackaged for a new kind of audience which has supposedly understood from the start that these celebrities were always worthy of a certain amount of good-natured mockery -- even if the folks in the spotlight never understood it themselves. Their second-wind has turned them into my generation's version of lava lamps and lawn flamingos -- so uncool that they're cool.
Right now, no one's riding this wave higher than "The Hoff."
In case you're unfamiliar with The Hoff's humble beginnings, he used to be known as "David Hasselhoff," pathetically-awful actor, Messiah to the German people and a fucking laughing-stock to everyone else. He unknowingly worked damn hard to earn that kind of derision; he was a near-lethal combination of arrogant and untalented. The thing is, he still is. The only difference between the Hasselhoff that everyone teased mercilessly throughout the past two decades and the Hasselhoff of today -- besides the several million he's made off the rights to Baywatch -- is his willingness to cynically capitalize on his own absurd image. Make no mistake, there's a difference between learning not to take yourself too seriously (Shatnerization?), and callously milking the public's kitschy fascination with you. There isn't a chance in hell that The Hoff ever thought he was half the asshole the rest of us did for all those years.
I had honestly hoped that my generation -- the so-called too-cool-for-their-own-good slackers of Generation-X -- wouldn't follow the example set by the Boomers, who arrogantly believed that their childhood was so fucking special that everyone would willingly open wide for the nostalgia they constantly forced down our throats. Technically we're not -- what we're doing is worse. At least the Boomers sought to relive the good old days through the people and places that were beloved by them; in classic dickhead Gen-X fashion, we're digging up the corpse of our youth and kicking its skull off by inflicting idiots like Hasselhoff on television audiences, of which we're a part.
Larry Miller once did a really great bit during his stand-up routine where he said that getting re-married is like putting sour milk back in the refrigerator in the hope that it'll somehow be better later.
If The Hoff, Mean Gene and so many other second-wind celebrities were pretty much sour to begin with, why the hell do we expect them to go down any better now?
(Incidentally, Gene Simmons's real name is Chaim Witz; am I the only one who thinks that Chaim Witz's Family Jewels -- in addition to probably being a very real shop in New York City's diamond district -- would've been an infinitely funnier and more clever title?)
Sunday, August 06, 2006
A disclaimer: if you're looking for brilliantly articulate prose tonight, you're goddamn well looking in the wrong place; I've been drinking all day.
Thankfully, it's this very fact that merits mention.
After my little experience with M. Night Shyamalan, I pretty much figured that the mere thought of being in the same room as a paid actor or director would illicit the kind of reaction from me that Vietnam vets have when they hear the sound of helicopters -- or maybe the way Inspector Dreyfus reacts when he hears Clouseau's name in the Pink Panther movies.
Then I met the guys from Broken Lizard.
This afternoon, I was lucky enough to spend several hours hanging out, drinking, and of course laughing with the comedy troupe who brought you the hysterically funny Super Troopers, and who are now pushing their new movie, Beerfest.
Suffice to say that -- thank God -- everything you'd expect is true; they're fucking great guys, and if you don't run out to the theater to see this movie the minute it comes out I'll hunt you down and kill you.
I have my ways.
Favorite "I rule" moment of the day: after spending several minutes standing at the bar watching the Warner Brothers promotion folks try over and over again to put a quarter into a glass of beer, I grabbed my own beer off the bartop and while strolling casually past the quarters table -- without so much as slowing down or looking in that direction -- picked up the quarter and sunk it in one shot.
Me and a kid named Alex Acosta were the undisputed quarters champs of my high school's graduating class; my record is 168 in a row.
Hey, ya gotta be proud of something in life.
Thanks to Jay, Paul, Steve, Kevin and Erik for a hell of a good time.
The rest of you, Beerfest opens on August 25th; be there.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
As I've mentioned from time to time, I come from what is arguably the dumbest place on Earth.
For years, I tried in vain to alert the world outside Miami to the kind of unbridled insanity going on inside Miami. I'm pretty sure that I can say without fear of contradiction that the handful of decent minds who call the city home often feel like the spouse of a seemingly-loving, but secretly abusive husband -- in a perpetual cycle of vicious beatings followed by quiet dinners with the neighbors who would never in a million years believe the truth. "Oh, but he's just so nice. He can't really be a complete sociopath," they'd say to each other later -- after they had left the house, gone home, and unknowingly enabled the next beat-down.
No one would believe that Miami regularly behaved as if it were the only Third World country on American soil -- that is until Thanksgiving of 1999, and the arrival of a kid named Elian Gonzalez.
What followed -- although painful in its complete lack of logic or reason -- was what I had waited for my entire life up to that point. The crowds of crazies gathered; the circus started; the world watched. For the first time in my lifetime, television cameras and satellite trucks gave Miami a window to the world, and allowed everyone else to see what I'd known for years: the place is fucking bat-shit nuts.
At the core of this lunacy, is one man; he's a man who you -- like most people -- have probably gone your whole life without ever giving a second thought.
So let me ask you a question: do you care about Fidel Castro?
I didn't think so.
Unfortunately, Miami cares about little else. In Miami, Castro is a constant, all-consuming presence. He's a demonic force which can never be exorcised. He's a boogeyman who -- despite his old age and inability to keep the electricity on in most of his own country -- is credited with everything from placing "spies" in top positions of local government, to knocking certain TV and radio stations off the air, to backing-up your toilet. He's a bearded devil who's been elevated to near-mythic status by a vocal group of idiots who still call themselves "exiles," despite the fact that their forced migration happened to land them in the wealthiest country on the planet -- one that's never demanded a thing from them and in which they've consistently thrived. I cannot stress in strong enough words the impact that Fidel Castro has on almost every facet of life in Miami.
During Elian, the derangement reached such outlandish levels that it caused some to practice what they called "civil disobedience" -- lying down in front of cars on causeways and backing-up traffic to make their point. City and county leaders also thought it a good idea to create their own foreign policy -- refusing to cooperate with federal agents or anyone else who dared think about forcibly removing Elian from the hourly Little Havana dog-and-pony show, sponsored in-part by the City of Miami Chamber of Commerce and Gus Machado Ford.
When bands from Cuba have had the complete lack of common sense to stop in Miami, they've been met with death threats and violent protests from crowds of people who are too fucking dense to realize that by censoring the arts, they're performing a near-perfect impression of the man they hate to the point of madness.
At one point, the simplest way to win a local election in Miami was to go on WQBA -- the cleverly-monickered voice of intolerant conjecture for all of Dade County -- and tell its audience of highly-suggestible zombies that your opponent was, in fact, a communist. Let me say that again so that it can sink in: in an American city, not only would you not be laughed out of town -- but you could win a city councilman's seat, by calling someone a communist. Why Joe McCarthy never retired to Miami is beyond me.
And of course, anytime anyone has dared to suggest an end to the worthless embargo against Castro's Cuba, it's been advisable that he or she be wearing something akin to Kevlar. Nevermind the fact that the rationale behind the sanctions was disproven decades ago. Put it another way: if your home were on fire with your family trapped inside, would you pull at a locked door for an hour, or at some point would you attempt to find another way in? Now imagine pulling at that door for 48 fucking years.
I could go on; believe me when I tell you that there are enough examples of this kind of absurdity to fill the Orange Bowl.
Based on all of this, it's no surprise that the news of Fidel's unprecedented ceding of power to his brother turned the streets of Miami into one big block-party. There was screaming and honking of horns. There was Cuban flag-waving. There were people dancing in the streets -- a combination of old folks who romanticize a pre-Castro Cuba, and kids who've simply spent their entire lives having the religion of Castro-as-Lucifer drilled into their heads. I challenge you to name a bigger party for an impending death that didn't also involve the public execution and dragging-through-the-streets of royalty. In Miami, the possibility of Castro's demise reverberates inside the echo-chamber like the trumpets of the gods.
Outside of Miami though?
Once again, do you care?
With all that's going on in the world -- all of the threats from people who don't play by the normal rules; who don't safely follow the paradigm of an aging tyrant who wants nothing more than to keep himself in power; who are true believers and whose only wish is to be rewarded in the next life -- isn't Castro sort of, well, so 1980s?
As the Fidel deathwatch continues in Miami, and local and national politicians scramble to appease the city's powerful voting bloc by spouting silly, antiquated hardline rhetoric, the rest of the nation goes about its business -- ambivalent to the circus in the south -- completely unaffected by its craziness.
Couldn't be happier to be a part of that nation.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
I'm going to create a MySpace profile under the name Mel Gibson, then post a comment on the site of every Jew I can find asking him or her for help in solving my drinking problem.
If this sounds laughable, trust me when I tell you that it's no more ridiculous than the real Mel's real solution to his very real public relations disaster.
It's a given in Hollywood that once you've screwed yourself beyond all hope of redemption, your only option is a seemingly heartfelt mea culpa from the fax-machine of Burson-Marsteller; but today's little olive branch to the Jews of the world from Team Gibson takes the cake -- or the matzo as it were. Mel's facing some potentially career-decimating fallout in the wake of his recent Malibu adventure; in fact, it's a safe bet that Harvey Weinstein has already the made the secret phone call that'll bring the Hebrew Hammer down on him during his stint in rehab. The question everyone seems to be asking however -- besides, "Holy shit, who dresses that man?" -- is, "Can he come back from this?"
It's a very simple question that actually hints at a much deeper issue.
Is it possible to say the things that Mel Gibson said and not be a bigot?
I have no doubt that many will argue with this, but I happen to think that when a person becomes enraged beyond all comprehension, he or she has the ability to say just about anything. I also think that when a person becomes enraged beyond all comprehension at someone in particular, he or she is likely to say the most hurtful thing possible -- focusing on whatever words might inflict the most damage; that includes slights against that person's race, religion, sexual orientation -- whatever will hurt the most. It's the verbal equivalent of grabbing a baseball bat during a brawl and swinging it at your target as hard as you can. Add alcohol and you've got yourself a recipe for regret.
This is why, in the heat of the moment, not all racist comments automatically prove their speaker to be a racist.
Unfortunately for Mel, he's got some personal history working against him in this department -- and this may be what inevitably sinks him. It's one thing to say you were drunk and pissed-off, but that argument holds absolutely no Manischewitz when it's been common knowledge for some time that you may have a personal beef with God's chosen.
Get ready though, because the truly comical part of this whole saga is still to come; it'll be the aforementioned Mel Gibson Hebrew Enlightenment and Redemption World Tour -- whereby Mel walks his own personal Stations of the Cross through the spots where Judaism endured its darkest hours. Rabbi Marvin Heir of the Simon Wiesenthal Center has already suggested that Mel follow-up his apology with an introspective pilgrimage to Auschwitz (which incidentally was just rechristened -- in surreally Prince-like fashion -- "The Former Nazi German Concentration Camp of Auschwitz.") This is the same logic that demands the obligatory empty-gesture of sensitivity training for every idiotic professional athlete who makes an off-the-cuff comment that happens to offend someone. It'll be completely worthless for anything more than a photo-op of Gibson peering solemnly into an oven, and a flowery prepared speech entitled "I Learned Something Today." It'll also be a mission which Mel Gibson will undertake willingly -- if you define willingly as "done only because you screwed yourself squarely in the ass and now have to make amends or you'll be doing Left Behind sequels with Kirk Cameron for the rest of your life."
My suggestion -- simply because it would be more fun to watch: make Mel join the Israeli Defense Forces and station him right on the front lines near Lebanon.
It's the only proper punishment I can think of for What Women Want.