Some of my fondest memories of growing up in Miami rest in a now-defunct magazine called Tropic. It was the Miami Herald's Sunday supplement, and it featured some of South Florida's best writers and most creative minds. From Carl Hiaasen, to Gene Weingarten, to T.M. Shine, to Joel Achenbach, to -- of course -- the legendary Dave Barry.
Dave stood out not only for being one of the most genuinely funny people on the planet, but for being one of the nicest guys around. His weekly columns were the stuff to which all humor writers aspire. I looked forward his brilliance each week with eager anticipation, but there was one particular column of his that I awaited like a kid waits for Christmas: his "Year in Review."
Tropic, sadly, is long gone -- but Dave still writes his year-ender for the last Sunday of every year, and I still look forward to it.
This year's is no exception.
Dave Barry's 2006 Year in Review
Sunday, December 31, 2006
There are apparently new bridges to cross, even at the wizened age of thirty-seven. I know this only because a few hours ago, I awoke from a premiere event in my long and adventurous life: A 24-hour straight sleep. My wife and I went out on Friday night with the understanding that we had nothing important to do the following day, came home without turning on the TV, went through a bottle of pinot noir, crawled into bed -- and when we fully awoke, it was 9pm on Saturday night. As she works on Sundays, we figured there was no sense in trying to go anywhere, so we said the hell with it and rolled over and went back to sleep.
The next thing I knew, it was 6am this morning; Saturday had completely vanished into a black abyss of slumber.
I have to admit -- it ruled.
This extended tour in dreamland was made possible by the fact that, while our living room has large windows which look out onto the backstreets of the Upper East Side and the buildings surrounding ours, our bedroom is completely windowless. It features one exposed brick wall, and a signed Picasso lithograph adorning the opposite wall -- which we've painted a light bluish color called "Morning Mist" or something which sounds equally grandiose -- but if the door separating the bedroom and bathroom from the rest of our apartment is closed, it's almost impossible to judge the time outside. Our bedroom basically becomes its own little time capsule.
The reason I bring this up is not so much to taunt those who feel as if they never get enough sleep, or to prove that my wife and I are essentially lifeless -- it's to illustrate the fact that I slept through the execution of Saddam Hussein.
I awoke this morning to find that -- not surprisingly -- Saddam had been taken to the gallows late Friday night, and that his body had already been transported to its place of burial in his hometown of Tikrit. My wife and I were curled up on the couch in our own little world as Saddam was hanged, we were happily in bed with the covers pulled up to our necks while the news networks assuredly went batshit with wall-to-wall coverage of the event and while the hawks and doves battled it out for airtime commentary supremacy. I have no doubt that Fox News brought in Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly to bukkake each other with unabashed self-satisfaction, or that its sister publication, the New York Post, came up with some clever headline in 80" font, gleefully proclaiming that a tyrant had justly gone to his grave and that, as usual, America kicked ass.
I missed all of that.
Instead, I woke up just in time to see the actual video of the execution -- as photographed by a cell phone camera.
There's something to be said for cutting out all of the superfluous nonsense -- the opinion, the chatter, the bloviation, the self-righteousness -- and seeing this event for what it really is: a frenzied lynching. As I mentioned a few days ago, no one in their right mind will mourn the loss of Saddam Hussein, and yet as I watch his execution, what strikes me is that he's the only dignified presence in the room. The dictator -- the Butcher of Baghdad -- goes to his death with a quiet defiance. It certainly isn't the unhinged madman we've seen in recent court appearances. On the contrary, it's difficult not to feel a certain amount of sympathy for Saddam as he's taunted by a chaotic cadre of masked men, then strung up and unceremoniously dropped to his death. A civilized proceeding it absolutely is not.
That's the first problem.
Once again, as I mentioned a few days ago, we've witnessed the barbaric bloodlust indigenous to that region many times before -- we've even been the target of it on more than one occasion. Yet for some reason, many in this country -- from our idiot president on down -- are willing to look the other way this time, simply because it's directed at someone we don't particularly care for. I'm inclined to think that if we're really trying to bring a level of civility to Iraq not seen under Saddam Hussein, a kangaroo court verdict followed by a hanging at the hands of an angry mob more interested in revenge than justice isn't a step in the right direction.
Then there's problem number two.
If the brutality of frenzied, masked executioners isn't enough to strike fear into the hearts of Americans, what these executioners shout at Saddam as they put the rope around his neck should be. They're shouting allegiance to Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraq's new religious and political demagogue -- leader of the formerly-oppressed Shia Muslim sect in Iraq and a man once considered public enemy number one by our troops on the ground. Essentially, the only concession to the propriety of the modern world being made by these men is the fact that they're forced to hang Saddam as opposed to sawing his head off with a machete. If you believe that the latter isn't their preferred method of execution, you need to have your own head checked.
For all of his faults, and they were many, Saddam Hussein was a secular leader -- a man who, despite paying lip-service when he felt it could benefit him, rarely invoked the name of Almighty Allah in his decision-making. The weed which has sprouted up in Saddam's absence and will certainly continue to grow -- as evidenced by the loyalties of his executioners -- is a true believer; he's a man who wants nothing more than to see Iraq re-created as a fundamentalist Islamic nation. That eventuality should terrify this country far more than the actions of a dictator who at the very least followed the trusted paradigm of most dictators -- namely that his main goal at all times was to remain in power.
Maybe you celebrate the death of Saddam Hussein; maybe you find it sickening. It barely matters, because the videotape of his execution proves that what's taken Saddam's place in Iraq is infinitely worse than the dictator himself.
Somebody wake me when it's over.
Friday, December 29, 2006
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Upon learning of the death of Gerald Ford, my first thought was to recall the immortal words of Dorothy Parker when she heard that Calvin Coolidge had died: "How could they tell?" The reason for this of course -- as much as I'm loathe to admit it -- is that like so many in this country, I've willingly allowed myself to fall victim to what's become the accepted political paradigm these days, namely that our elected officials must, first and foremost, possess the kind of instantly identifiable charisma that would convince myself and millions of others to walk across hot coals should they deem it necessary. If there are any lingering doubts as to the truth of this statement, it would take nothing more than a quick scan of the cable news networks or a brief flip through any magazine from People to U.S. News and World Report -- both enablers of the somewhat manufactured phenomenon known as "Obamamania" -- to put them soundly to rest. Like most of my generation, I was vaguely aware of Ford acting as the final punctuation -- certainly a period more than an exclamation point -- to a tumultuous time I barely remember; aside from that he represented little more to me than the man who unwittingly kick-started the tragic and unnecessary career of Chevy Chase, and who ruined my childhood one hour at a time by consistently scheduling his tedious news conferences during Space:1999.
Even two attempts on Ford's life seemed to fall strangely under the radar when juxtaposed against both the chaotic and bitterly divisive era which preceded his short presidency, and the economic tempest and overwhelming crisis of American morale which followed it.
Gerald Ford, as far as many of my generation were concerned, amounted to little more than a footnote in the history books.
And yet I've never been more heartbroken at the death of a former president.
There's an undeniably wretched irony to the fact that a man of such quiet dignity, a man for whom politics was more about the unassuming valor of public service than it was about the swaggering bluster of personal ascendancy, has left us during this particular time in our nation's history. To lose Gerald Ford now seems less like the death of one man than it does the sad and unfortunate end of an era in American politics -- a time when not all leaders felt as if they also had to be celebrities. Ford never asked for the presidency, but he accepted it and made a series of difficult decisions which he knew at the time would more than likely cost him a full term in office. His goal was to heal a nation divided by war, political corruption, and overwhelming distrust of those in power.
Yesterday, from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, President Bush touted Ford's "honorable conduct" and integrity, as well as his role in restoring confidence in the presidency, saying, "For a nation that needed healing and an office that needed a calm and steady hand, (he) came along when we needed him most."
Once again, there is enough irony in that simple statement -- particularly in the fact that it's being issued by a man like George W. Bush -- to sink a fleet of battleships. You don't have to be politically astute to understand that in a perfect world, Bush would be applying that same description to his own successor. America's next president will be saddled with the gargantuan task of healing the wounds, bridging the divisions, and cleaning up the messes created by this administration -- one, which may be about to get infinitely worse with the death of another president.
Half-a-world away from Rancho Mirage, California -- where Gerald Ford took his last breath -- deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein awaits execution, which could quite literally come at any moment. Less than twenty-four hours before President Bush expressed condolences at the death of Gerald Ford, he expressed smug satisfaction at word that Saddam Hussein would be going to the gallows. The reaction was somewhat expected when you consider the seemingly bottomless reservoir of will that Bush possessed to put people to death during his tenure as Texas governor; it is thoroughly expected when you consider the depth of self-delusion he possesses when it comes to his understanding of cause and effect on the streets of Iraq. The fact that the trial of Saddam Hussein was looked upon by Iraq's constantly-evolving insurgency as nothing more than the underhanded work of an American proxy is unfortunate; the fact that his execution will almost certainly fuel further violence against U.S. servicemen and women -- turning them into moving targets wherever they stand, sit or sleep -- is deplorable. If one soldier dies as a direct result of Saddam's execution, simply as a matter of numbers, it will not have been worth it.
Make no mistake, few sane people would mourn the death of Saddam Hussein; I count myself among them. There are almost none more deserving of being dragged kicking and screaming to the gallows, then having their bodies dumped in the street. However, in a region where a shockingly primitive level of barabarism is not only accepted but encouraged -- one that has at times left the civilized world awe-struck by its staggering brutality (think Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg) -- is it really wise for our president to not only voice his approval for such bloodlust, but to do it at the potential cost of American lives?
As it turns out, Gerald Ford would've said no. That's because as it turns out, Gerald Ford was against Bush's folly in Iraq from the very beginning. The man who once made it his responsibility to heal the nation, understood that the simplest way to do that was to never break it apart in the first place.
Very soon, former President Ford will be laid to rest, and America will mourn and remember him with great ceremony and fanfare.
Very soon, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will be laid to rest, and how Iraq will mourn and remember him is anyone's guess -- but with American kids in the line of fire, that's exactly the problem.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
The following is a continuation of the story which deals with the brain surgery I underwent back in April of this year. Part one is here.
The Next Morning
"Well they encourage your complete cooperation. Send you roses when they think you need to smile. I can't control myself because I don't know how, and they love me for it, honestly, I'll be here for awhile."
I'm counting the holes in the ceiling tiles.
I'm listening to the quiet pulse of the heart monitor.
I'm desperately in need of sleep.
About an hour ago, the heavy bed that's held my racked body since the faster-than-light jump that swept me from the terror of the operating table to the Neurosurgical-ICU was wheeled up to what they call the "secondary" intensive care unit. My picturesque view -- the glowing bridge and highway -- is gone, replaced by an immeasurably less picturesque view of a man named Miguel. My bed has been planted -- monitors and all -- directly across from his so that we now face each other. It should be easy to stare him down should it come to that, being that whatever happened deep in the recesses of Miguel's brain has left him unable to open his right eye. It remains folded shut in an eerie, perpetual wink.
I realize that I've lost count of the holes.
I feel my eyes close and try one more time to drift off to sleep, knowing full-well that it's impossible right now. If the half-dozen tubes restricting my movement weren't enough to prevent me from getting comfortable enough to truly rest, then the hydraulic wraps around my calves which inflate every sixty seconds to push blood through my legs would do the trick nicely. The pressure from the leggings prevents my blood from clotting and me from consequently going into cardiac arrest and dying in this bed -- with Miguel giving me one final devilish wink to send me on my way to oblivion.
I silently wish to be back in the quiet ICU room with the astonishing view. I'm going to be in pain either way; better I be in pain in near-silence.
I don't know at what point it dawned on me exactly what it was that was spread out so beautifully outside of my window -- at what point I regained even a sliver of true lucidity. I now know though that from that room I watched as the darkness enveloped the 59th Street bridge. I watched the headlights of the cars speeding under it along the FDR -- watched them thin as time passed and New York City fell deeper into the night. I counted the minutes until dawn, hoping that at some point sleep would come -- but it never did. Instead I stayed awake throughout the entire night, terrified and alone -- the steely taste of my own blood dripping down from my punctured brain, through the cotton compresses plugged deep into my sinuses, and into my parched mouth.
Every half-hour or so, the young nurse -- Piper -- would enter my room from a door I couldn't see, take my vitals and ask me if I needed anything. I asked for water. I asked for morphine, despite the frightening reaction my body seemed to have to it. At one point she placed a warm blanket over me and I realized that it did nothing to stop my uncontrollable shaking; my entire being seemed to be spasming, and wouldn't stop. I asked her for another blanket -- and another. I was cold. I was shaking and shaking and shaking and nothing would stop it. Nothing. I was scared. I was terrified. I wanted someone to hold my hand. I wanted someone to tell me that everything was going to be alright. I wanted to close my eyes, get up, and slip through that giant window like a ghost and float away into the night -- over the city, to someplace far away. I wanted to fly. I wanted to disappear.
But then there would be the rhythm of the monitor -- the whisper of the leggings inflating. There would be the sudden awareness of the painful needle shanks in my veins and arteries and the taste of the blood and the feel of it on my cracked lips and the fear would return, and I would return to the bed that held me trapped. I'd ask for more water, and more blankets and more morphine. I'd ask Piper to talk to me -- to reassure me. I'd once again be able to make out just the slightest hint of her smile in all that endless darkness -- with just the electric light from outside to bathe the room in a hint of color -- and she'd tell me that I was doing fine.
She'd tell me that the operation was a complete success.
The tumor that had been eating away at my brain was gone.
"How are you feeling?"
A nurse's voice brings me back to this moment. I'm in the secondary ICU. I can't sleep.
"Peachy," I manage -- barely. "I'm tired."
She whisks around my bed and begins checking the readouts on the various machines to which I'm hooked.
"Do you know where you are?" she says as she adjusts my IV.
"Nowhere I want to be," I say, then thinking the better of it -- "Hospital. Cornell Medical Center." Despite the languid ebb and flow of my awareness, I'm congnizant of the fact that this woman deals with enough shit -- figurative and literal -- that antagonizing her is neither fair nor wise. Thankfully, when she comes back into my field of view again, I notice she's smiling slightly.
"Do you know what day it is?" she asks.
I glance slightly to the left of her as she picks up the chart attached to the foot of the bed.
"It's April 28th, 2006."
"Yes it is," she says without looking up from the clipboard.
"I know that because it's written on the rotation board to your right."
She smiles -- checks off points on the chart.
"Very good," she says. "Can you tell me who's president?"
"Fucking idiot," I say, actually managing a hint of a smirk.
"I'll count that as a yes," she responds, placing the clipboard back on the hook at the foot of the bed and -- in the time it takes me to slowly close my eyes and reopen them -- appearing at my bedside.
She shines a bright pen-light into my eyes; it feels like it's burning a hole through to my sore and damaged brain. She clicks it off and I can still see the purple and black sun seared into my retinas. Somewhere behind it she holds up her index finger.
"Follow my finger without moving your head. Eyes only."
I do as I'm told: side to side, up and down.
"You seem to be doing well," she says. "Are you in any pain?"
"My head's pounding." I whisper now. "Needles hurt."
She pushes past another nurse who's come to fill a tiny styrofoam cup on my sliding table with water. Before I can even react, she's pulling the surgical tape from the heavy IV line which was inserted into the tender skin of my left wrist just before the surgery -- before everything went white. I feel the soft hairs being ripped away. All I can manage is a pained whimper.
"Okay, hold on tight," she says. "We're going to pull your A-line. This runs directly into your artery. You shouldn't need it anymore."
I have nothing to hold on to, but I close my eyes tightly and try to will myself away from here. In one sudden motion, I feel the shank deep in my vein slide out and the excruciating pressure from her thumb as it flattens a cotton ball into the open wound. Flashes of color dance behind my eyelids. I exhale stale air through clenched teeth. She wraps new surgical tape around my wrist.
I allow my eyes to relax without opening them, and the strange shapes projected against the inside of my eyelids seem to diffuse, then vanish. I finally fade away.
"So give them blood. Blood. Gallons of the stuff. Give them all that they can drink and it will never be enough. So give them blood. Blood. Blood. Grab a glass because there's going to be a flood."
I feel something gently stroke the inside of my palm -- a light touch. I slowly open my eyes to see a face. It's glowing bright white. As it comes into a wet focus, I realize that it's my wife. The light is coming through the window next to my bed and illuminating her soft features. She smiles.
"Hi baby," she says. "How are you feeling?"
What begins as a groan evolves into actual words: "Better now." I smile as best I can.
I can see tears beginning to pool in her eyes. I reach up and touch her face; her skin is soft -- even softer than I remember. I look over her shoulder and realize that my mother and father are standing behind her; they're both wearing reassuring smiles. Before I can even find another word, my eyes drift downward. The room blurs. Sound tunnels away. Everything goes black.
The next thing I hear is a voice. It comes from somewhere in a dream.
"Chez," it says. "Chez. You have to wake up."
A slightly darker room than the one I remember emerges from the pitch blackness. To my immediate left, the sun is setting over the East River. My wife is still at my side, but it's the nurse's voice that's dragging me -- kicking and screaming -- back to the waking world.
"I have some bad news," she says. "The doctor wants us to begin taking blood from you every four hours. We need your arm."
Before I'm even awake enough to know what's happening, I feel the latex strap (they asked me if I'm allergic to latex, didn't they?) tighten around my arm; the cold swab of alcohol is rubbed into the crux of my left arm; the needle slips in. I wince -- curse -- awaken fully.
"I have all these tubes in me; there isn't one you can just plug into?" I seethe.
"Well, that's the bad news. We removed your A-line, so that means that we have to find a new vein each time. The rest of your lines are for putting fluids in, not for taking them out."
I turn over slightly, attempting to bury my face in my pillow but unwittingly pulling my IVs taut -- putting me in even more pain.
"You're fucking kidding me," I moan into the pillow.
"I wish I was."
The nurse folds my arm, squeezing a fresh cotton ball into place. "Motherfucker," I whisper. I glance over to see my wife's face; her expression is a concerned pout.
By this time tomorrow, they will have practically run out of places to insert a needle into me. I'll overhear the nurse saying that several of my veins are in danger of collapsing.
"A celebrated man amongst the gurneys. They can fix me proper with a bit of luck. The doctors and the nurses they adore me so, but it's really quite alarming 'cause I'm such an awful fuck."
I've devised a plan; I'm going to get out of here.
My arms are bruised black and blue from needle punctures. Last night at around 3am, I was awakened by a large black man with a picnic basket full of test-tubes and needles and the bedside manor of Ed Gein. He attempted to physically roll me over and put a syringe into my arm, but I managed to knock it out of his hand. "I can get security in here if I have to," he said. "You better hope they're armed," I returned with a furious sneer. This exchange was promptly followed by a blackout, which was promptly followed by my coming to just in time to see a nurse inserting something into my IV.
"What is that?"
Before she could even answer, I felt my arm catch on fire -- felt it spread throughout my body. I was being burned alive from the inside out. I opened my mouth in a grisly, tormented silent scream. There was molten lava flowing through my veins -- boiling my blood as it consumed me whole.
"Magnesium," I heard her say over the sound of every molecule of my being, exploding, one after the other.
Now it's morning again and I'm being allowed to shower for the first time in four days. I'm unhooked from the monitors -- wondering for a moment if the nurse's station will suddenly light up like a pinball machine at word that one of the patients' hearts has apparently stopped cold -- and am marched off to the bathroom, along with my IV stands and catheter. If there's a more pathetic or embarassing situation short of shitting yourself, I'm unaware of it.
I somehow figure out a way to shower and shave, ridding myself of both the smell of stagnation and the ratty castaway-chic beard I've been cultivating for the past several days, then return to my bed to find one of my nurses -- unfortunately, a young, attractive one -- waiting for me with a forced smile on her face.
"What'd my payment not go through?" I say as I lie back down.
"Nope. Time to take your catheter out."
One of the few true blessings in all of this is the fact that I was knocked out when they inserted both a lumbar puncture into my spine, and a catheter into my penis. For this, I will always be thankful.
"You know, I haven't looked at it once."
"Nope. God knows if there's one image I don't want lingering in my brain, it's my shriveled wee-wee with a tube sticking out of it," I say. "Couldn't they have at least sent one of the seventy-year-old nurses to take this thing out? Spare me the embarrassment?"
"Sorry -- I'll have to do," she says with that synthetically sweet smile. She reaches down along the side of my bed as I close my eyes and begin thinking about kittens and butterflies and long, white beaches and star-filled skies and Liverpool's 2005 victory over AC Milan in the Champions League finals and the new Shelby GT and Maria Bello in leather pants in Coyote Ugly and Pearl Jam's cover of the Who's Baba O'Reilly and my wife stepping out of the shower in the morning and any other goddamned thing I can call to mind to distract myself from the twelve inch tube and deflated balloon that's about to be pulled through the end of my dick.
I hear her say the words, "Hang on," then feel razor wire shred my urethra.
My pelvis jolts forward and I muffle a scream which degenerates into a cruel laugh.
"Oh you're fucking evil," I hiss.
"Had to be done," she returns with a look that borders on satisfaction. "Now comes the fun part. If you don't urinate within the next few hours, we have to put the catheter back in." As I furiously try to rub the pain out of my wounded penis, she looks right into my eyes -- no doubt to lend the necessary gravity to her next statement. "That's going to hurt -- a lot."
I reach over and grab a plastic bottle which is now hooked to my bedside, put it under the covers and begin pissing like I've just downed a gallon of iced-tea. It burns like hell.
"I guess that settles that," I say, looking directly at her.
"I gave you blood. Blood. Gallons of the stuff. I gave you all that you could drink and it has never been enough. I gave you blood. Blood. Blood. I'm the kind of human wreckage that you love."
With my shower and shave behind me, I now look presentable for the various doctors who see me intermittently throughout the day and night -- the doctors I'm now trying to actively convince to allow me to leave the hospital so that I might be able to go home and get some real sleep. I've memorized their rounds and make sure that I'm always chipper and alert when they show up at my bedside -- typically in small packs -- to stare in fascination at their prize monkey. In the moments before they make an appearance, I sit up straight, open my laptop and slip in an episode of Firefly on DVD. I smile wide when I see them. I tell them the truth: I feel surprisingly good -- especially for somebody who had brain surgery four days ago.
Across from me, I see the typical lethargic movements of Dead-eye Miguel -- his right eye now held open by a piece of surgical tape which secures his eyelid to his brow. Across the top of his head -- running from ear-to-ear -- is an unbroken line of dull metal staples. Next to him is a newcomer to our little melting pot of brain stew. His name is Mr. Yu. He's a diminutive Asian man who smiles constantly and doesn't speak a word of English. His family tends to visit in groups of seventeen at a time, which means that at least twice a day, the secondary neurosurgical-ICU at Cornell Medical Center is transformed into an episode of MXC, complete with the requisite high-pitched squealing and howls of surreal laughter. All that's missing is a monitor lizard and young girls in bikinis with raw meat taped to their legs.
"You're going home in the morning," Nurse Cockripper says as she suddenly appears at my bedside. "Doctor Schwartz just cleared you. We're moving you to a private room for the night."
"But I'll miss happy fun sexy recovery party!" I say with a deliriously exaggerated smile.
She reponds to my obvious sarcasm with a wan smirk and begins unhooking my monitors, eventually leaving only the saline drip which is plugged into my right arm.
"Can I ask you a kind of personal question?" I say as she begins to walk away. She turns around and faces me, putting a hand on her hip like a greasy-spoon waitress who wants to rid herself of a last, loitering customer.
"I couldn't help but overhear you yesterday, talking to the other nurse about some problem you were having with a guy you were dating -- how he didn't understand your job." If there's one thing I have plenty of time to do, it's listen to what's going in the world beyond the partially-drawn curtain that separates my bed from the others. I'm not sure how to specifically ask what I want to ask, so I make a quick decision that I should probably just spit it out. "How can you even look at someone in a sexual way?" I say.
Her face softens. Her posture seems to relax.
"What do you mean?"
"Well," I say, sitting up slightly, "you deal with every type of gruesome bodily function there is. You witness every horrid thing the human body can do -- and you're usually the one called on to clean it up. You stand waist deep in death and decay every day. So, how can you possibly leave this place at the end of each shift, go out on a date, watch somebody take off their clothes and put all of this out of your mind? How can you think of the body as something beautiful -- something you actually desire?"
Her eyes widen slightly. I'm fully aware that the line is at least a good ten to twelve steps behind me. It feels as if all the ambient sound has been sucked out of the room -- the single act of such impertinence creating its own vacuum. She tilts her head slightly -- her hand reaching up to reassuringly touch the ends of the long blonde hair which rests gently on her chest. She hesitates, then speaks.
"It's capable of all that awfulness -- it can break down completely -- and then it can heal itself. It's the most incredible machine there is. You don't think that's beautiful?"
Sufficiently put in my place, I smile.
As if on cue, there's the squealing sound of sneakers on tile -- the chaotic tromp of young feet across the hospital floor. I look past the nurse to see two children -- a boy and girl -- plow into the ward with unruly abandon. "Papa! Papa!" they shout as they make a bee-line for Miguel's bed, jumping onto it and wrapping their arms around their father from either side. It's now that I notice that Miguel is wearing a dark, pirate-style patch over his uncooperative right eye and an oversized Yankees hat on his head to cover the grisly row of staples. He moves slowly and carefully -- his reaction to the presence of his children delayed by several seconds. It seems to take an eternity for him to fully comprehend that he's at the center of an epic group bear-hug.
Finally, a weak and sluggish smile spreads across his face. He says something in Spanish. His words are a slurred jumble.
A woman about Miguel's age comes into view and takes her place at his bedside, pulling up a small chair. After a moment, he turns to her -- acknowledging the loving touch she gives his hand.
"What happened to him?" I ask without taking my gaze away from the strange and heartbreaking sight directly across from my bed.
"He had a brain tumor," I hear the nurse say. "The same kind you had."
I immediately turn my head and face the young nurse, looking at her with an intensity I wasn't sure I was capable of right now.
She says nothing.
I say nothing.
A few feet away, Miguel's little children laugh for reasons all their own.
The next morning, I'm released from the hospital. I walk through the revolving door and out into a brisk morning in Mahnattan. I look up to see the sunlight being split apart by the fresh spring blossoms as they begin to adorn the trees along the street.
I close my eyes and take long deep breaths.
(Despite never losing sight of how fortunate I am to have survived such an ordeal, the surgery has had severe and lasting effects on me -- both physically and mentally. For an admittedly somber look at that aspect of my recovery, feel free to go here: The Dreams in Which I'm Dying -- 12.19.06.
Monday, December 25, 2006
Five years ago on this night, I put my feet up, leaned back in a chair in the hotel room which the network was housing me in following the September 11th attacks, and talked on the phone to my family in South Florida. The phone was passed around and over the course of fifteen minutes or so, I gave the people I loved -- one-by-one -- my best wishes for the holiday.
Then I hung up, smiled, took a sip of scotch from a glass tumbler -- enjoying the sound of the ice against the glass -- and stared out through the cold air at the electric skyline of Manhattan.
It stands as one of my favorite Christmas memories, despite the fact that I was completely alone in an alien city.
Tonight, my wife and I celebrate the holiday in a spacious room at the stunningly beautiful hotel which she helps to manage. We've turned the lights down and are enjoying a bottle of champagne and some fresh fruit. She has to work tomorrow morning. So do I. Right now though, everything is quiet and perfect, and the view of Manhattan -- lit up in shimmering reds and greens -- is beyond compare.
If we can't be with extended family on this holiday -- this is certainly the next best thing.
Merry Christmas everyone.
Truly, peace on Earth.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
In the name of Almighty Allah, and all praise is due to Allah, and may peace and prayers be on the Messenger of Allah, and on his family, companions and allies. Muslim brothers everywhere, peace be upon you and may you know the mercy of Almighty Allah and his blessings.
The rest of you can burn in hell.
Hah, hah -- No -- I kid, I kid.
It's me again, Ayman al-Zawahiri. You might recognize me as the co-star of the hit TV series Death to America, which airs monthly on al-Jazeera. I also had a big part on Extreme Makeover: New York and DC Edition a few years back, and -- well -- between you and me, I even tried my hand at doing a couple of music videos. Yeah, I edited a bunch of scenes together that really highlight the relationship between Meredith and Dr. McDreamy and set it to some of my favorite Goo Goo Dolls songs. They're on al-Qaeda's MySpace site now. Feel free to take a look -- I'm very proud.
But hey, enough about me, right? It's the holiday season for most of the non-Muslim world, or as we in al-Qaeda like to call it -- the Muslim world. So just to show you that we're not all streets-running-red-with-the-blood-of-the-infidels, we wanted to personally offer you all a special holiday message.
Why would we do something like this you ask?
Well look, it's been a pretty good year for us overall. Thanks to your dimwitted Imperious Leader, we've been able to swarm all over Iraq like teen pregnancy on a Birmingham trailer park. We now have more recruits to our cause than we know what to do with -- so many in fact that we're thinking about starting a new chapter of al-Qaeda. We're still trying to come up with a name for it, but so far al-Qaeda 2: The New Class seems to be pretty popular around the camel. We figure we might even be able to get Screech to do a commercial for us, seeing as how that guy will do anything for money these days.
Then of course we'd have to kill him because he's a Jew, praise be to Allah.
Getting back to what I was saying, it really doesn't matter to us that you good folks finally came to your senses and realized that the drunken idiot you sent to the White House twice is completely out of control. It's certainly a step in the right direction for you, but hey -- what's done is done over here. You can't put the genie back in the bottle -- ya know?
Sorry -- just a little Persian humor for you. Hussein the Hilarious, circa 1438. You should always respect the classics.
Anyway, lately we understand that the whole Iraq thing has taken a backseat to something truly Earth-shattering that's happened in America. Something which has dominated your headlines and held the attention of your entire nation, paralyzing every man, woman and child with anticipation and an unquenchable desire to have one question answered -- quite simply the most important question America has ever faced:
What will Donald Trump do with Miss USA, Tara Conner?
Look, forgive me if I laugh a little about this, but is this the freedom you people are supposedly "protecting" abroad -- the one your sons and daughters are dying for in Iraq?
The right to continue to worry about stupid, trivial shit like this?
That's what this is all about?
I live in a cave for Allah's sake, and even I could've told you what an asshole like Trump was gonna do. He was gonna do whatever he had to do to make sure that the 20-year-old beauty queen from Kentucky never told anybody that he'd been boning her for the past six months. Still, come on. Rehab? Isn't that place getting a little crowded over there? How'd you manage to slip her in between Mark Foley and Ted Haggard?
No, seriously -- how'd you manage to slip her in between Mark Foley and Ted Haggard?
Holy shit, that Lindsay Lohan girl is never sober, never wears underwear and never lacks for a place to put down a rail of cocaine the size of the USS Abraham Lincoln -- and yet you people put her on the front cover of Vogue. This kid does what any kid would do if you swept her up from a debutante ball outside Lexington and dropped her simple ass on top of Chamillionaire in the TRL studios in New York and you decide that she needs rehab?
Wow, are you people hypocrites. And you wonder why we keep our women under sheets and hit them with rocks until they're dead when they misbehave, Allah be praised.
I've got a much better idea for you. Why not just have Trump build Skynet and send the Terminator back through time to kill this girl. Wait, that was Sarah Connor? Shit. What do you want from me? I live in a cave. Satellite reception's awful and our movie package only includes Starz! and Encore. You try making pop culture jokes when the most recent movie you've seen is Grumpier Old Men, or as we like to call it -- Two Old Jews Now Put Asunder by Almighty Allah, His Name Be Praised.
In the coming New Year -- 2007 on your calendar, 1373 on ours, again -- we in al-Qaeda expect to continue our campaign of terror against you for your continued insult and humiliation of our Muslim faith, the one true God, Allah, and his prophet Muhammed. I just figured I'd go ahead and be up-front about that. But that being said, we concede that there is one line in the Koran about being tolerant of "People of the Book," and as far as we can tell -- that means you Christians. So, with it being your Christmas season and all, we wanted to at least pay a little lip-service to the conciliatory spirit by wishing you all a healthy and safe holiday -- seeing as how, if we get our way, it will probably be your last.
And for our Jewish friends, Happy Hanu -- Channuk -- Chahn -- oh fuck it, just drive yourselves into the sea already.
I've gotta run now. I'm trying to figure out how to put my dick in a box as a gift for Osama.
Yes you infidels, we have YouTube, Allah be praised.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
During most of the trip, we listened to BBC Radio One, which as good fortune would have it is one of the 653,287 channels available on Sirius satellite radio -- a special feature my friend Chris was sure to request when he rented the car we would be using to cruise around Las Vegas. The music on Radio One is generally very good (a lot of material not heard here in the states). The DJ's are, well, to co-opt an appropriate phrase, bloody brilliant (Scott Mills spent one afternoon buying Christmas presents for those on his list by calling QVC and ordering whatever happened to be on-screen at that particular moment, despite not being able to see exactly what kind of God-awful crap he was purchasing). The news being reported by Radio One at the time however, was ominous (a prolific serial killer was working his way through Ipswich's prostitutes, evoking memories of another legendary British murderer with a taste for women of the night). These snippets of carnage from eight time-zones away provided a strange contrast to the neon-lit, sugar-coated, overglossed surroundings in which we had chosen to immerse ourselves for five days. Vegas after all, in spite of an undeniably malevolent underbelly, is still America's playground -- a place where people come from miles around to indulge in gambling, $5.99 prime rib and the comedic stylings of Carrot Top, who as it turned out was annoying nightly in our very hotel.
There were moments though that I couldn't help but wonder if the fictional forensic detectives of the Vegas CSI wouldn't somehow be able to assist the overwhelmed DCIs in Ipswich with their hooker killer -- or at the very least turn down the lights in their squad room to make it look less like a police station and more like a lounge with a $20 cover charge.
Needless to say, I tried to put the serial killer out of my mind and go on about my way enjoying the massive hotel suite my wife had secured for the two of us -- with its whirlpool bath and unrivaled view of the strip; the days driving out to Red Rock Canyon and beyond; and of course the nights eating venison at Bobby Flay's and caviar at Red Square, losing money at the Hard Rock casino, drinking beer by the gallon and dancing on the tables at the Hofbrauhaus, and the highlight of the trip -- hosting an impromptu party in our room which involved several bottles of Makers Mark, a deck of cards, Cuban cigars, and watching Jackass Number Two on Spectravision.
Good times and good friends, making good memories. It's tough to ask for much more.
Despite an excellent turn of events which deposited our tired asses on a flight back to New York that was practically empty -- allowing us the comfort of stretching out and relaxing -- mine and Jayne's return to reality was marked by the kind of general malaise we've come to expect whenever one of our mini-vacations comes to its inevitably abrupt end. Neither of us was ready to return to the day-to-day drudgery of our lives here in the Manhattan meat-grinder -- she with her very long hours, me with my very bad hours -- both of us slaves to an unpredictable subway schedule and a pathetic wage. For me personally, it was a situation made worse when I in fact returned to work to find that the "big story" holding the rapt attention of my superiors centered around three missing mountain climbers who'd gotten themselves lost somewhere on Mount Hood in Oregon. It seemed nothing less than an attempt to create and perpetuate a national obsession with an ongoing incident that in my mind merited no more than a passing glance or two before each weather segment -- one which had been blown so far out of proportion as to become an infuriating waste of time and resources, both for the overworked rescue crews forced to put their own lives in jeopardy to help find these three idiots who were selfish and stupid enough to take the risk of going up the mountain in the first place, and for the network news crews covering the search. My first day back however did yield at least one hilariously Darwinist moment which helped to put the possible mindset of the missing climbers into quick perspective: with cameras from around the country trained on her, the mother of one of the hikers made an impassioned plea to Mother Nature herself, saying, "I want the mountain to release our sons. The mountain has no right to keep our sons." It was at this moment that I realized that the cost of the search -- whatever that may have been -- was money and effort well-spent.
Later, during that first day back at work, it was announced that an arrest had been made in the case of the Ipswich serial murders.
I read over the incoming wire reports carefully, then purposely ratcheted my focus away from them -- well aware that my co-workers might consider my fascination with the case to be unduly morbid and probably a little disturbing.
I chose instead to concentrate on the surprising fact that I, yes I, had been chosen to receive the honor of being named Time magazine's "Person of the Year."
And I hadn't even prepared a speech.
As the magazine described in tones both glowing and effusive, I had apparently changed the world over the past year by taking control of what I and those around me saw, heard and felt. I had changed the political landscape through blogging. I had taken record executives out behind the figurative tool shed with a figurative rifle by downloading whatever kind of music I wanted to hear -- callously and insousciantly tossing aside their notions of what should and shouldn't be popular. I had become my own network executive by ordering television shows quite literally "on demand." I had made myself seen and heard through sites like MySpace and YouTube and through that, had become the single most powerful person in the world -- master of my own little info-tainment universe. I was the king of all I surveyed.
My immediate reaction to this, the official coronation of the new "Me" generation, was to feel a smile curl at the sides of my mouth. Certainly the editors of Time had made a choice which was not only assuredly clever, but one with which no one reading the magazine would dare argue. It was the ultimate crowd-pleaser, slyly cast in the form of a desire to appeal to no crowd whatsoever.
My second reaction was to agree that indeed, in some ways I was worthy of such an honor. Over the past year, I had, after all, started my own website which I continued to use to air my views, hone my skills, promote myself as a writer and develop a surprisingly extensive fan-base. I had staked out a virtual apartment on MySpace which I used to promote my other site and further increase my visibility; I had also made a few new "friends" in the process -- one even being BBC Radio One DJ Scott Mills, from whom I fully expect to receive a set of QVC's Fenton Art Glass Legacy Bell figurines at any moment. I had contributed to the financial ruin of one of my old haunts, Tower Records, by downloading my music on-line and, in a somewhat ironic twist given my chosen profession, had even thumbed my nose at the television ratings system and the advertisers it kept in business by opting to watch Battlestar Galactica on its new Chez-approved, on-demand time of 10am Sunday mornings.
These quiet musings led me to wonder whether I'd be a just king or an iron-fisted demagogue -- whether I'd rule my domain with justice and mercy, or oppressive brutality. I had been single-handedly responsible for killing off the old world and shrugging off its bonds, I deserved to wallow in the spoils, didn't I?
But then came another reaction -- one I've grown far too accustomed to lately -- and it brought my dreams of avarice crashing down around me.
I felt tears begin to pool in my eyes, and I was forced to get up from my desk and surreptitiously make my way to the bathroom where I found an empty stall in which to sit and quietly cry.
This is the way it's been for some time now.
This is because I suffer from severe depression.
There's a difference between being melancholy and being truly, clinically depressed. I've always reveled in a certain amount of melancholy, and mined that territory to fuel my artistic endeavors throughout the years. It's a well-worn stereotype that writers have an inherently sad streak -- being that the very act of writing is one done in isolation, far outside the scrutinous realm of polite society. This, however -- the way I feel these days -- is different. Despite my wish to believe otherwise, I'm forced to acknowledge that the brain surgery I underwent back in April of this year changed me monumentally -- both physically and mentally. I've mentioned before that the face I see in the mirror no longer resembles the face I've been staring at for years into decades, and I've come to realize that this is not simply a natural product of the aging process. The pinball-sized tumor which lived in my head for God-knows-how-long warped my brain chemistry and destroyed a good portion of the gland which regulates my hormones. The result is that my skin -- once a supple and oily indicator of my Italian heritage -- is now dry, cracked and papery-thin due to a lack of testosterone. The lack of that same hormone has also decreased my sex-drive to practically nil, and although I admit that it's somewhat refreshing to be mercifully free from the tyranny of my own penis for the first time in my life, it's put a strain on the desire of my wife and I to start a family.
I'm constantly exhausted. I rarely have the drive to do anything other than sleep. I have painfully vivid dreams from which I typically wake up sobbing. I feel desperate and alone, even when I'm surrounded by people I love and who love me. I'm a walking pharmacy of pills and hormone replacements.
I sat in the bathtub in Vegas, crying to myself, when no one was looking.
I have no doubt that there are outside factors contributing to my current state-of-mind: turning 37 and being forced to take stock of a life which bears little resemblance to the one I had hoped for for myself and my loved ones; the continuing pressure of a career which I lost a hunger for years ago; the long, cold nights and short days of winter; as I recently stated in no uncertain terms, the overwhelming feeling and punishing belief that I'm damaged beyond repair; and then, most recently, the last-minute collapse of what would have been a stellar and potentially lucrative book deal. It's all been a lot to swallow whole.
At the core of it though, is the tumor, and its lasting effect on who I am -- on my sense-of-self. It's a disconcerting feeling beyond description to simply not feel like the person you've been for so long. It's also a feeling that can't be put into words in any meaningful way. How do I feel? I can't explain it; I just don't feel like me.
The most portentous by-product of this feeling -- the very recent weight of it -- is the effect that it's had on my writing. I promised long ago that this little experiment of mine would never become so self-indulgent as to be an ongoing description of what was happening to me right now, at this moment. To put it succinctly, this blog would never be a "blog," in the traditional sense. I wanted to write about universal themes and voice my admittedly worthless opinion on a host of issues and, aside from a few rare occasions when I've felt the absolute need to wear my heart on my virtual sleeve, I hope I've done just that. Anything else wouldn't make for any sort of good reading by anyone -- not even myself. That's the problem I now find myself faced with though: I've used this site not so much to help me cathartically work through my own personal tragedies as I have to spin some of that pain and discomfort into gold in the hope of landing an audience, and in turn, a career as a writer. This is a different situation if only because it's caused me -- for the first time since starting this site seven months ago -- to be an unfocused mess who can't seem to string together a series of clear thoughts, much less perform at my usual level of semi-hilarious pithiness.
So where do I go from here?
To a counselor of course and -- despite advice to the contrary from internationally-renowned neurologist Dr. Tom Cruise -- to a psychiatrist.
The one promise that I'm willing to make is that I will do my absolute damndest to make sure that my output on these pages doesn't suffer. Over the past seven months, this has been one of my few true joys -- one my wife has recognized and encouraged -- and I refuse to allow it to suffer, even if I do occasionally. The show must go on, and it damn well will.
On my second day back at work, after spending an evening pondering whether or not I was worthy to be crowned "Person of the Year" by the gentle mental giants over at Time, I learned more about the suspect in custody in Ipswich.
I learned that he was 37-years-old.
I learned that he had a site on MySpace.
I learned that he too, had been named Time magazine's Person of the Year.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Sitting around doing nothing in a fluffy white robe and slippers is vastly underrated.
Thanks to my wife's substantial influence in the hotel and hospitality industry, what was supposed to be a rather unassuming room at the Luxor was upgraded to a mammoth suite upon our arrival.
The whirlpool bath alone is larger than our entire apartment in New York.
All I need now is an autistic brother who can count a six-deck shoe and I'm set.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
"Are You Ready for That? Checking Into a Las Vegas Hotel Room Under a Phony Name with Intent to Commit Fraud on a Head Full of Acid? I Sure Hope So."
So, by this time tomorrow I'll probably be lying face-up in the middle of a casino somewhere in Vegas wondering what happened to the floor (I knew it was there a minute ago).
I'll be taking my laptop with me.
This should be interesting to say the least.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Just an note: the column I wrote a couple of weeks ago detailing my various musical tastes is now updated. Since first posting it, the list has quietly morphed into an even more impressive and unwieldly leviathan of my loves and hates.
Feel free to go back and take a look, as you'll no doubt find new reasons to either validate what you believe to be my stellar musical acumen, or deem that I should be sentenced to listen to the new Gwen Stefani album over and over until making the decision that suicide is the sensible alternative (for the record, it should take about a minute-and-a-half, two minutes tops).
Shut Up. Listen. Learn/11.19.06
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Alumni Visitation/Career Day, Pace High School, Miami, FL
December 11th, 2006
Uh, hey kids.
How's it going?
My name's Chez, and for some reason I'll probably never figure out, your teachers have asked me to come back here to my alma mater -- or at least the place where I spent a good portion of my teenage years sleeping -- and talk to you guys about your futures. Understand that asking me for advice on how to achieve success in life is like asking Ken Lay the best way to avoid prison time, but I suppose that if I can help one child avoid making the mistakes that I've made -- well, then -- there will be, uh, one fewer child who'll make the mistakes that I've made.
Don't do drugs.
Okay, so -- where to begin?
As it turns out, you've caught me on a hell of a day. Today is my 37th birthday. I can start by telling you that nobody "celebrates" his or her 37th birthday. Jesus, I had a brain tumor removed earlier this year, and I'm still not really "celebrating" this birthday. Don't get me wrong, I'm lucky to be alive and glad that the operation was a success, despite the fact that it rendered me a hormonal wreck who barely even recognizes his own face anymore when he sees it in the mirror. If I were a better person -- or at the very least more generically optimistic -- I'd be bukakkeing everyone I meet with gratitude and a general "Up With People" vibe 24/7; unfortunately, that's just not who I am, so maybe lesson one for you today is obvious...
People Don't Change
Kids, in spite of what Hollywood endings have led you to believe, people generally are who they are. Events can temporarily bend them and certainly alter their ways of thinking slightly -- sometimes even adjusting their core beliefs. They can learn from their mistakes and become wiser. They can adapt to their surroundings. For the most part however, the person you become after your formative years is the person you're probably always going to be. Being an adult isn't about changing everything about yourself that you believe to be wrong; it's about changing the things you can and learning to live with the things you can't. Someday, you or the kid next to you will go through rehab and all of that will be pounded into your head until you want to scrawl it on the wall in your own blood. It'll be the one thing you'll learn in rehab however that'll be right -- no matter who you are.
Speaking of which...
Drugstm: Making Bad People Feel Good (and Good People Feel Bad) Since 1427
A wise man named Marilyn Manson once said, "I Don't Like the Drugs, but the Drugs Like Me." Truer words were never spoken. If you ever wanted to know what drugs make you feel like, I can answer that for you: they make you feel like doing more drugs.
Chances are you're inundated daily with anti-drug messages warning you of the dangers of even thinking about lighting up that bong hit. Not surprisingly, this is nonsense. I won't broach the difficult question of why anyone should be allowed to have a say in what you do or don't do to make yourself feel good in the comfort of your own home, but I will say this: drugs are like anything else -- they become very bad for you the moment you let them consume your life. I happen to believe that there's a very big difference between using drugs and abusing them. I've done both at various points throughout my life. Admittedly, you need to be aware that doing drugs indeed can be like playing Russian roulette. They're enticing as hell, and you can wake up one morning to find that -- without even knowing it -- you've crossed a very dark little Rubicon. You need to keep this in mind at all times should you decide to even experiment. Anything can kill you in this world -- drugs can do it very quickly.
They can also do something far worse: they can make you wish you were dead.
While we're on the subject of death...
Career Suicide is Painless
I fell into a very good job at 22, which is a pretty impressive achievement for somebody who dropped out of college to join a band and basically figured he'd be doomed to work at Taco Bell until retirement age if his plan for musical world-domination failed (which it did). By 24 I had a gorgeous apartment in Miami Lakes, a BMW, and the title of Executive Somethingorother. It was all pretty kick-ass, until about six or seven years later -- when I realized that I hated what I was doing. Now, don't get me wrong. I fully understand and appreciate the fact that you're not necessarily supposed to love your job; you're just supposed to shut up and do it, get the check, and use it to pay your bills and buy things you want. I've known a lot of people throughout my lifetime who are fine with this way of thinking -- they're damn happy realizing that the end justifies the means. You may wind up being one of those people for all I know. Unfortunately, I'm not. Maybe it's the addict in me always wanting MORE, but I'm dangerous if I'm not being challenged -- and when I say that I don't mean, "Hey, let's see if I can put together an hour-long television show in twenty minutes;" I mean that I've always felt as if I were meant to do something other than bring you extended coverage of John Mark Karr's plane ride, the Lindsay Lohan OD-watch, or answer the important sweeps-induced question of whether or not your sock drawer can kill you (details at 11!). This could be the reason why I've managed to burn at least a few bridges at a good percentage of the places that have been unlucky enough to be saddled with me for any length of time. I've sarcastically referred to my idiotic managers as "The Brain Trust;" I've threatened to quit as a show of solidarity with people who were being fired; I abused authority when I had it and despised authority when I didn't; I've been labeled "brilliant and creative, but impossible;" In short -- I've been a fuck-up.
The reason for this -- now, finally, at 37 -- I realize, is that I simply moved up the food chain of a career which initially awed me with the size of its paycheck, but has never actually fed my soul in any way.
The lesson: forgive the stupid cliche' but, life is short -- follow your dreams. You won't be truly happy or fulfilled otherwise.
R-E-G-R-E-T (Just a Little Bit)
Ignore what I just said. Life usually isn't short. On the contrary, as someone once put it so well -- life is very long, particularly when you've made mistakes. I've screwed up so many times in my life that if I started listing them today, you'd be out of here just after Christmas at the earliest. Whoever says that you should live your life never having any regrets is more deserving of being pounded into paste than the guy who invented Reggaeton. Misguided, idealistic crap like that is only proffered by early 20-somethings who are still using Dad's money to buy pot from their RA and whose biggest "mistake" up to that point involved a night in jail for drunk-and-disorderly or flashing a Girls Gone Wild camera at Mardi Gras. As you get older, the consequences of the mistakes you make grow exponentially. The pain lasts longer. More people are hurt. You yourself run the risk of never fully recovering.
Make no mistake: the unshakable belief that you are damaged beyond repair is the worst kind of life sentence.
For God's sake -- think.
Case in point...
Marriage is Between a Man and a Woman... and a Man and a Woman, and a Man and a Woman
Isn't love great?
You meet somebody and suddenly the world starts to look and feel like the first few minutes of that good mushroom peak, with everything turning all colorful and warm and fuzzy, and you just want to lie down in it and let it pour over you and drown you in its infinite, wonderful bliss.
Unfortunately, there's no way to convince you during this heady experience that it is, in fact, a hallucination -- and that it won't be long before you're coming down and trying to pick individual pieces of lint out of the carpet with your bare hands because, well, "everything just looks so fucking dirty." I have two ex-wives, both of whom can be thankful only for the fact that my name is so unusual that there's a good chance they'll never have to hear it uttered again as long as they live. One of them used to refer to this rapturous early-relationship phenomenon as the "Chemical Bath." We all take it. We all sit in it for as long as we can, because it feels so safe and warm -- but it doesn't last. The true test of love then becomes how well you and the person you've sworn to care about can deal with the banality of day-to-day existence.
Going back to what I was saying about regret, occasionally your mistakes will lead you someplace wonderful; they'll lead you right where you were supposed to be all along. There's no greater proof of this in my life than the fact that I'm now happily married to a woman whom I can truly refer to as my soul-mate. We've been through incredibly difficult times -- and incredibly wonderful times -- and we've never fully lost sight of each other. As much as I love her however -- and I do with all my heart -- I never forget that I got very, very lucky.
Unless of course you believe in fate.
And maybe that's the final lesson...
Yeah I know, I'm a cynical prick. I've been one since I was a kid -- one who insulted a teacher in front of his class then taunted him while he paddled me; one who was a nightmarish combination of smart and subversive. But Bill Hicks used to have a name for people like me I think; he called us "Idealistic Misanthropes." I've got plenty of issues with the stupidity that I see around me every day, but that's only because I believe that things can be better. I believe in silly concepts like a love that never dies (now with a tiny drop of realism!) and a comforting inner-peace and a kind of redemption that doesn't have to come from a 2,000-year-old book or its supposedly divine author.
I believe that there are things in this world worth believing in.
And that's what makes life worth living.
Well kids, that's it for me. I'm gonna go now and let the guy from the class of 1994 get up here and tell you all about the joys of delivering water for Zephyrhills every day. Just duck if you see him reach into his pocket for any reason.
Oh yeah, and regrets or not -- the one thing I can say for sure about never growing up?
You don't have to worry about that mid-life crisis.
This one's easy.
I don't even need to make the effort of photoshopping profane images having unnatural sex with sacred ones, or creating fake Catholic church signs that read "Sunday Evening Pot-Luck and Pee-Pee Touch," or writing at length about how you can't call any part of the world "civilized" if you can still be murdered in the streets there for drawing a cartoon, or even having ads for gay escorts mailed to Ted Haggard's home in Colorado.
No, this morning, someone else is doing all the defiling of the Lord's good name for me.
That person is Louisiana Representative William Jefferson, who last night won re-election by a wide margin by beating his fellow Democratic opponent in a run-off vote. For the uninformed, Representative Jefferson is currently under investigation by the FBI for possible bribery, after $90,000 in cash (cold, hard?) was found in his freezer.
During his victory speech, Jefferson proclaimed in regards to his win, "I'd like to thank almighty God for making it possible."
If you're claiming that God is willing to take time out of his busy schedule running the universe to back your corrupt, rotten, narcissistic, race-baiting ass -- well, that's pretty much "taking his name in vain" far better than I ever could.
First Katrina, now another Jefferson term. Louisiana had better hang on; if Biblical history holds true, there are another eight plagues still to come -- seven if you count the Saints.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Prologue: Vanishing Point
"We're, like, gods," he says through a stupid smile. "You understand that, right?"
At this point all I can manage is a slow nod; I'm in no condition to argue this assessment one way or another.
He continues, his words a distorted muffle -- which is preferrable to the staccato jackhammer cadence that would be assaulting my ears were it not for the fact that he has a pacifier jammed tightly between his clenched teeth. I try to forget that he's twenty-four years old; he's a twenty-four year old man with a baby's pacifier sticking out of his mouth.
"This is great isn't it?" he says.
I wish he'd stop asking questions, particularly ones with such obvious answers.
"Man, I just had no idea that life could be so good. Everything is so perfect." He seems to drift off for a moment, then return. "So beautiful." His eyes close in slow-motion -- open again. "I can't thank you enough man, you know?" An apparent question again. I know. "You brought me into all of this. You got me the job. You taught me how to do it. If it weren't for you I'd still be a bank teller right now. What kind of fucking career is that?" he chuckles quietly.
I try not to look directly at his face -- into his eyes -- for far too many reasons to consider at length, the most pertinent at the moment being that the swipe of dark color that I assume is his head keeps morphing into shapes at once comforting then severe. I'm well aware that this parlor trick is a combination of the drugs currently coursing through my bloodstream and the dim glow from the dying candles which provide the only light in this room.
Somewhere there's music playing; its serenely ambient pulse seems to soothe its way through my ear canals and wrap gently around my brain.
I shift on the couch slightly -- feel the soft cushions give under my weight.
"Do you realize how fucking cool we are?" Another question. "We control what people see and hear. We're the arbiters of imagination. We are the news. Two years ago you were delivering packages; I was working at a bank. We were going nowhere; we had nothing. Now we're --"
I cut him off.
I can't see the expression on his face, but for a brief moment the dark shape in front of me, perched on the edge of my coffee table -- the one vaguely recognizable as the best friend I've known since high school -- has stopped shifting.
I hear him laugh, and I swear I can see the soundwaves eminate from his shaking form and spread across the room like rings of liquid.
"Yes," he says. "Yes we are."
I turn my head away from him slowly and stare into empty space. I try to ignore the young guy sitting on the floor of my austere living room massaging the topless girl's shoulders (my co-workers). I try to ignore the other young girl silently curled up in the corner of the room, rocking gently back and forth (my girlfriend). I try to ignore the distant hissing of the shower and the knowledge that two, maybe three people are having sex in my bathroom (complete strangers?). I try to ignore the fact that I took my last hit of ecstasy a half-hour ago and still haven't heard back from Eric (my dealer). I try hard to ignore the lithe and stunning shape of the girl standing directly in front of the stereo, swaying her hips in time with the subdued beat of the music flowing from its speakers -- the girl whose eyes are unavoidable and whose body is irresistable (my inevitable downfall).
I try to ignore the distinct possibility that at the rate we're going, none of us will live past the age of twenty-five.
Then again, we're gods -- and gods are immortal, aren't they?
My wife tells me that most of what I've written lately has been on the heavier side, and as usual she's right. Unfortunately, being that it's a soul-chilling three degrees outside and my instinct to hibernate has kicked in, I'm going to take the easy way out and just post somebody else's excellent work.
First up, the only way to truly enjoy what is an otherwise worthless videogame...
And, well, this one's for the troops...
*Should you ever, at any point in your life, decide to try your hand at internet dating and come across a person -- male or female -- who lists this dubious personality trait as one of his or her most attractive qualities, please understand that from that point forward it's your sole responsibility to humanity to kill that person and dump his or her body in a river somewhere.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
I'm still trying to happily swim in a vast sea of self-imposed silence, but I feel obliged to stick my head up and comment briefly on something which has come to my attention over the past few days; it's something that can't be ignored, simply because it speaks volumes about the state of television news in general (God-awful) and local news in particular (unbelievably God-awful).
It quite simply demands that somebody say something.
A little background first.
I've worked in a number of newsrooms throughout my sometimes illustrious, more often notorious career; some were populated with bright people whom I liked, some were populated with idiots whom I loathed -- most were a workable combination of the two extremes. One however stood out and still does to this day for the simple reason that during the time that I was there, it was filled top-to-bottom with the finest, kindest, most professional and most dedicated staff I've ever had the honor of showing up to work with every day.
During the late 90s, the management and rank-and-file of WTVJ -- NBC's owned and operated station in South Florida -- seemed less to me like co-workers and more like family. The quality of the work we did was unsurpassed, and the bonds we forged while doing that work remain to this day. I've never been more proud to be able to count myself among those whose journalistic standards were so exactingly high, and I've missed working with that particular group during that particular time-period every day since making the decision to leave in 2000.
Occasionally though, even during those ascendant years, a decision would come down from on high which would be stunning in its apparent lack of foresight. A change would be made; someone would be hired or fired; a news story would be over-hyped or overlooked -- it was simply the nature of the business that, well, "dumb happens" from time to time. It was also the nature of the business that more often than not you picked your battles, kept quiet, and went on about your work.
Not this time.
As I haven't been an employee of WTVJ for some time, I'm under no obligation to keep my big mouth shut about a decision which has recently been made there that's so patently and unforgiveably stupid as to seem almost incomprehensible. I have to admit, it's empowering to realize that for the first time, I have both the means (a website which I happen to know is read by at least a small portion of the television news community) and the will (I couldn't be more furious about this) to voice my opinion about an injustice which hits me so close to home -- that home being the memories I carry with me about a Camelot-like vision of how good television news can truly be when it's practiced by someone like my friend and former co-worker Michael Williams.
Michael isn't simply a talented broadcaster, he is -- in the words of one of our mutual friends and colleagues -- "an MVP; a world-class journalist." He's the kind of thoughtful, tenacious, devoted, compassionate, singular mind that is sadly hard to come by in this age of painfully moronic media saturation. When he hasn't been traveling the world as a network correspondent, pursuing stories with a ruthless vigor and an unparalleled attention to detail and to his craft, he's been a staple of South Florida local news for years into decades -- first as a reporter, then on the anchor desk at WTVJ, his beloved home away from home and the place where I was fortunate enough to work in the shadow of his brilliance on a daily basis for three very good years.
Michael also happens to be one of the all-around nicest guys I know -- a humble family man with a great sense of humor and an easy manner which makes him a joy to allow into your home every night.
Put simply, Mike is one of the good ones.
So, needless to say -- he had to go.
If anyone ever dares question why I've come to despise what this industry has become -- it can be summed up in a simple, unfathomable fact: someone of Michael Williams's caliber can be unceremoniously shown the door.
Earlier this week, WTVJ's news director Yvette Miley -- an old friend and knowledgable newsperson -- made the announcement that Mike's contract would not be renewed, and that essentially he was being fired. Thankfully, he wasn't walked to the door and watched by security as he pulled out of the parking lot -- a brand of "standard operating procedure" in many newsrooms which has always seemed grotesquely undignified, and would have been particuarly so when dealing with someone with the class and grace of Michael Williams.
Word is that Yvette was crying when she broke the news of Mike's sacking to the staff.
The edict supposedly came from the top, from WTVJ's General Manager Ardy Diercks -- a woman I've never met face-to-face and who should probably hope that I don't at any point in the foreseeable future. Her masterplan apparently is to remove Michael Williams from his coveted seat on the anchor desk and hand the reins over solely to his co-anchor, Jackie Nespral -- a woman who, despite being generally harmless and mildly easy on the eyes, isn't journalistically sound enough on her best day to spit-shine Mike's wing-tips; and that's a kind assessment in the most liberal definition of the word. It's a decision that, although audacious in some regards, is a recipe for disaster -- one certain to plunge the once-mighty WTVJ further down the spiral into respectability and ratings oblivion.
When it comes to news judgment, it's difficult to make the stupidest decision imaginable in a town like Miami -- given that the competition for the title of "Most Inane Local News Product" is so fierce -- but WTVJ may have just done it.
May the station, and those so insouciantly willing to break up the final remnants of my old family, suffer accordingly.
Good luck Mike.
I have no doubt that you'll move on to bigger and better things.
Friday, December 01, 2006
I'm going to be taking a few days off, so don't look for any new material until at least next Tuesday or Wednesday at the very earliest. My wife's grandmother died yesterday morning and this weekend will be consumed by no small measure of genuine deference to her memory.
The funeral will be held on Monday and I of course will be there -- proud to honor the life of this truly amazing woman.
On a more practical note, I spend almost every waking moment writing -- whether it's at work, on these "pages," or on a re-edit of the manuscript which I'm foisting upon the New York literary community. The bottom line is, I'm burned out at the moment. I could use a little time away from the hypnotic glow of a computer screen, so I'm going to force myself to go dark for a bit.
Keep in mind, I make this small sacrifice for my sanity even as the new Daughtry album is released and begins climbing the charts, which needless to say cries out to be mercilessly ridiculed. Would someone please give this kid back his old job at the Chevron station in Corpus Christi so that we can once again sleep safe in the knowledge that even mediocrity has its standards?
I wouldn't have learned a thing from my sixteen years doing television news if I didn't give you some sort of "tease" as to what you can expect once I return from my break. So, in the month of December on this little experiment of mine, you'll be treated to the very first truly filthy story of sex and nihilism to be posted here by me; I'll also be taking the computer with me to Vegas, as I take a much-needed vacation which will involve drinking, gambling, a dead hooker, $5.99 prime rib, Wayne Newton, peyote, and my attempt at initiating a three-way between myself, my wife, and Jenny from IDon'tLikeYouInThatWay.com (I kid Jenny, I kid -- but not really), I'll finally publish the second part of Where is My Mind? The story of my recent brain surgery; And of course you'll get a chance to read my last post ever as I commit suicide on my 37th birthday.
It's all ahead, right here.
We'll be back, right after these messages...