In my e-mail today, an electronic press release:
****For Immediate Relase****
Break an iPhone and make a nerd cry. There's nothing wrong with conspicuous consumption, but the hype surrounding iPhone is completely insane.
BREAK AN IPHONE TODAY.
This is a simple civil action you can get involved with. On June 29th, 2007, beginning at 6pm Eastern, when you see some overly-thrilled moron prancing out of an AT&T Wireless or Apple store location with his new iPhone box in hand, trip him. This will hopefully cause the iPhone to break and the nerd to cry for hours and hours on end. It will be totally worth it.
Videotape the event and YouTube it if possible. These people need to be stopped once and for all. IT IS A FUCKING CELL PHONE. Thank you, that is all.
On a related and somewhat ironic note, my beloved and sadly emasculated Motorola Razr died today -- no doubt of a broken heart and a general loss of the will to live -- and has been replaced by a new Motorola Krzr. I consider the choice a show of defiance against Steve Jobs and his techo-witchcraft.
It doesn't have a touch screen or a built-in iPod or the ability to watch various nut-shots or police beatings on YouTube or easy access e-mail or a goddamned day planner.
In fact, it's pretty much all style and almost no substance.
Just like its owner.
Friday, June 29, 2007
A lot of you may not be aware, but today is a national holiday of sorts to those who take their gruesome, insatiable hedonism seriously.
That's because today -- June 29th -- is the birthday of Robert Evans.
The Hollywood legend is turning 77, a fact which fills me with hope simply because if he's managed to somehow survive this long despite a life spent pursuing the kind of sex-and-drug-fueled excesses that should've killed him ten times over, maybe there's hope for me after all.
Anyway, in honor of this occasion, here's a quick animated tribute to the one and only Kid Notorious -- compliments of Patton Oswalt and ESPN.
Happy Birthday Bob. Thanks for being born.
Police have found a car containing some kind of explosive parked near London's Piccadilly Circus.
You really have to give it to the cable news channels; they're never above ridiculous, confusing speculation and gross hyperbole during a breaking situation like this.
One has been using a graphic that reads: LONDON "BOMB" -- as if the city were being attacked by Doctor Evil (and also proving that the network has no idea what the hell is actually going on).
Another has labeled what was found a "POTENTIALLY VIABLE EXPLOSIVE DEVICE."
I'm not downplaying the threat that Londoners may have been facing, but you know what else is a potentially viable explosive device?
Let's stay with the murder theme, shall we? (Come to think of it, you could even argue the Coulter theme as well.)
Put on your black hoodie and your White Sox cap or knit hat, and set the Way-Back Machine for 1991.
From one of my favorite records of the 90s and damn sure one of the best hip-hop debuts ever: Cypress Hill's How I Could Just Kill a Man.
(By the way, it was a sign of how daring and dangerous hip-hop was at the time -- and how willing it was to stoke that image and recognize its roots in all different kinds of underground music that Cypress Hill gave a shout-out in this song to one of L.A. punk's most legendary bands. Props to anyone who can tell me to which band -- and specifically which song -- I'm referring.)
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
I'll make this quick.
Apparently, for reasons which remain an absolute mystery to me, the American news media refuses to simply ignore lunatic bitch Ann Coulter; quite the contrary in fact -- they continue to enable her daffy antics by granting her run of the airwaves everytime she spouts another one of her ridiculously contrived, "incendiary" remarks. ("Bill Clinton ass-rapes children;" "Downs syndrome is part of the liberal-Jew conspiracy;" "Midgets should be used as food," etc.)
This, despite the fact that it's usually right around the fifth grade when most people realize that the schoolyard bully's batteries are recharged only by healthy doses of attention, and that if you deprive him of any kind of consideration whatsoever -- or better yet, laugh at him outright -- you neuter him in short order, making life better for everyone.
But the silly Coulter Vaudeville act is allowed to continue -- sans hook -- and we all suffer accordingly.
I won't bother going into detail about Angry Annie's most recent display of entirely unimaginative invective; you've probably heard by now that Elizabeth Edwards called into MSNBC's Hardball to make an ill-advised appeal to Coulter's "humanity." Edwards basically pleaded with her antagonist to stop the verbal attacks on her and her family -- to which Ann responded exactly as one would expect a bully to respond when a wussified attempt is made to beg for mercy in the name of all that is civil and decent: She scoffed, "No fucking way," and proceeded to berate the living hell out of Edwards on live television.
The entire thing wasn't just attended but was facilitated by Hardball's self-important buffoon of a host -- Chris "Tweety Bird" Matthews.
So, since no one seems to be willing to ostracize this vapid dingbat, I'm forced to suggest another course of action:
No, I'm serious.
She's suggested the assassination of political leaders with whom she doesn't see eye-to-eye, so really, what's wrong with someone else advocating her murder?
I mean, look, I may as well admit right now to something that many might consider an obscene character flaw: I don't believe that all life is precious. Quite the opposite in fact -- there are just some people without whom the world would be an infinitely better place.
You can't tell me that Ann Coulter isn't one of them.
Now, don't get me wrong -- I'm not "taking out a hit" on Annie per se; I have nothing to offer financially or otherwise as payment for "assisting" her in shuffling off her immoral coil to go hang out with Jerry Falwell in oblivion.
I'm just saying that we'd all be better off without her -- and the simpler means of making her go away seems to elude the hell out of everyone.
So, kill her.
Put a bullet in the back of her head.
Run a ten inch blade into her throat and watch her bleed out on the floor.
Beat her to death with an aluminum baseball bat.
You know, whatever.
Or, someone could wise up and decide to simply stop paying attention to her, which I guarantee to Ann Coulter would be a fate far worse than death.
The New York Post generally isn't good for much other than maybe providing an excellent makeshift mat on which to housebreak that new beagle.
Every once in awhile though, the editors over there at Murdoch's Machine have a moment of seriously inspired genius.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Canadian pro wrestler Chris Benoit has been found dead inside his home in suburban Atlanta, along with his wife and son. Police are investigating the deaths as a possible double-murder suicide.
I guess Benoit has a pretty unbeatable new finishing move.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Germany has barred the makers of a movie about a plot to kill Adolf Hitler from filming at German military sites because its star is Tom Cruise, who -- it may surprise you to learn -- is a Scientologist.
The German government doesn't recognize Scientology as an actual religion, saying that it merely masquerades as one to make money.
Cruise has been cast as Nazi Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg in "Valkyrie" -- and also serves as the movie's executive producer. Von Stauffenberg was the ringleader of an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler in July of 1944 with a bomb hidden in a briefcase.
Now really, what's funnier -- Berlin telling Tom Cruise that his "religion" is full of shit, or these words: "Tom Cruise IS Nazi Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg?"
"If the word that most often precedes your title is 'disgraced' or 'indicted,' it's time for an audience with the King. Larry knows you are a decent person. He'll give you the chance to make up your side of the story. And it's easy to cry on the show because Larry smells like onions."
-- America (The Book), by Jon Stewart and the staff of The Daily Show
Score one for the overworked, underpaid and round-the-clock suicide-watched bookers for Larry King -- as for the rest of us, score zero.
America's erstwhile Most Trusted Name in News will now be the first stop on the Paris Hilton Redemption Tour. She'll be interviewed by pop culture's only certified centegenarian Larry King -- which, if you're keeping track, will make King the oldest man Paris has ever been within 50 feet of -- let alone willingly laid herself prostrate before.
For what it's worth, this interview has suddenly become must-see TV, if only for the slim chance that Larry will be unable to resist the siren's song of young, invigorating blood and will reveal his true self by ripping into the hapless Paris's throat with his fangs, before turning into a bat and flying away.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
According to TMZ.com, production sources inside NBC are confirming that the network's planned interview with Paris Hilton is off. It was TMZ that originally confirmed the New York Post report about NBC agreeing to pay Hilton a million dollars for a post-jail interview. Although TMZ is little more than a celebrity gossip website -- albeit one owned by Time Warner -- its founder and executive producer is Harvey Levin, a guy with whom I used to work very closely back in the mid 90s at KCBS in Los Angeles; for a time, in fact, I was his personal producer (If You Want Blood, You've Got It/11.16.06). Suffice to say, I trust him far more than NBC's PR department. I have no doubt that NBC had in fact secured the Hilton invterview, and then promptly and awkwardly backed out when it blew up in their faces.
I now return you to your regularly scheduled program, which for me is Mansquito on Sci-Fi.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Nelson Chaney: All I know, is that this violates every canon of respectable broadcasting.
Frank Hackett: We're not a respectable network. We're a whorehouse network and we have to take what we can get.
-- Network (1976)
Regular visitors to this site can probably assume by now that I don't hold NBC News in very high regard these days. Over the past few months, I've raged furiously against not one but two separate decisions by NBC that I wholeheartedly believe have brought the entire institution of network news to a shocking new low -- and this was an institution that was happily wallowing in the gutter to begin with.
As it turns out though, unforgivable managerial stupidity comes in groups of threes: apparently firing irrelevant dinosaur Don Imus over an imbecilic comment -- claiming that he didn't deserve a place on the air -- then turning around and giving the run of the network to a murderous son-of-a-bitch who killed 32 kids on a college campus was just the lead up to the network's true goal of digging up the corpse of Edward R. Murrow and pissing all over it.
Apparently, NBC News -- in the final violation of all that is holy in honest journalism -- has agreed to pay Paris Hilton a million dollars for an exclusive interview once she's released from jail.
As if a month behind bars is going to give this preening idiot a sudden IQ boost and a reason why we should listen to anything that comes out of her mouth (as opposed to the usual attenion paid by the media to anything that goes into her mouth).
That obviously isn't the point though.
NBC News, its ethically challenged president Steve Capus -- the man who put on his "serious face" and played moral Twister on live television in an effort to justify his actions regarding Imus and the V-Tech killer videotape -- and its CEO Jeff Zucker are already distancing themselves from the accusation that the venerable Peacock Network is, in fact, paying for its stories.
Unfortunately, given NBC's recent track record, I don't believe them for a second; I have no problem swallowing the idea of the network's once-hallowed news department opening its vast corporate coffers and -- surreptitiously or straightforwardly -- dropping a huge sum of cash into Paris's red, itchy lap.
Likely, as with Matt Lauer's recent interview with Princes William and Harry -- for which it paid 2.5 million dollars -- the network will simply disguise the compensation by filing it under a more legitimate column in its ledger, calling it a payment for pictures, videos, delousing etc. This kind of creative accounting is becoming more and more common as the battle for ratings reaches heretofore unknown levels of bloodlust. The rules that have governed network news for decades -- those intended to keep it from becoming a daily showcase for Mark McGrath's suggestively unbuttoned shiny shirts -- are being circumvented in favor of doing, literally, whatever it takes to get the big story.
In the case of Paris Hilton, this kind of thing is especially despicable because, quite frankly, it's Paris Hilton.
It's not as if we're talking about NBC was ponying up to get an exclusive with Hugo Chavez.
This is a woman who, up until now, has been persona non grata among respectable news organizations -- an unofficial and somewhat ominous Rubicon dividing those still in possession of a modicum of belief in the nobility of the Fouth Estate from a barren journalistic no-man's-land.
This is also a woman who 99% of the public would rather not hear about (or from) ever again, and at least 70% of the public wouldn't mind seeing accidentally gored to death by wild boars.
This is why it's entirely likely that whoever finally checks his or her dignity at the door, digs out that perfect, practiced tone that's equal parts concerned and mildly scolding and sits down for the promotional bonanza that is "Paris Hilton: The Interview" will find that in the end, no one really cares. NBC will have spent all that money and sacrificed what little was left of its ethics for absolutely nothing -- except possibly a heap of ridicule.
Back in the early 90s, several years before I eventually took a job at NBC, I was courted by one of the network's high-powered news executives. At the time, NBC News was the gold-standard; the network of Huntley/Brinkley, Chancellor and Brokaw; the news operation to which many others aspired. Years later, I would be proud to work there. This executive, a man who became my mentor of sorts, told me at the time that in me he saw a young Jeff Zucker.
I remember that, at the time at least, I considered it the highest possible compliment.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Last month, I wrote a column focusing on a group of gun owners in Virginia who held a raucous gathering and gun giveaway as a way of thumbing its nose at gun control advocates, specifically New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg (Automatics for the People/5.18.07). The Virginia Citzens Defense League believes that Bloomberg has infringed on its Second Amendment rights by filing a series of lawsuits against gun dealers in Virginia; these lawsuits have been based on information obtained by undercover private investigators from New York, all of whom Bloomberg authorized to conduct investigations far outside his own city. Bloomberg's rationale is that certain weapons dealers in Virginia are illegally selling guns which eventually end up being used in violent crimes in New York City; these undercover stings apparently prove as much.
On the night of May 17th, the VCDL invited its members to strap on their dual-sidearms -- which they proudly did -- and head on down to a tiny government building in Annandale, Virginia for the "Bloomberg Gun Giveaway." The group raffled off a Para-ordnance handgun and a "Varmint Stalker" rifle (and no, I'm not making that up) and showed off a cake adorned with an unflattering picture of Bloomberg. They laughed and whooped it up. They ridiculed their alleged oppressors. They had a hell of a time.
Meanwhile, outside, a small group gathered to quietly protest all this he-man gun lust; among them were the parents of some of the kids shot down in the Virginia Tech massacre -- which had occurred almost a month to the day previously.
Responding to the protest, Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave took the road most traveled by gun advocates, saying that although he sympathized with the families of those lost, he firmly believed that more guns on campus would've prevented such a tragedy.
At the time, I said that to call the entire gruesome curiosity obscene would be an insult to obscenity. Also, in keeping with the mission statement printed in bold letters directly beneath the headline at the top of this page ("Making a Mockery of Mockery"), I took a few admittedly juvenile shots at the apparent preponderance of overweight rednecks in a group bearing such a muscular name -- my point being that these clowns didn't look like they could "defend" a Twinkie from themselves.
Well, as it turns out, Philip Van Cleave read what I wrote -- and decided to write me back:
Your description of VCDL and its members bears no resemblance to the group. We have lots of professionals, police officers, firemen, attorneys, military, etc. We have members of all races, too. So assuming that we are racist or stupid is really your own prejudice against gun owners showing through. If you go to our web site (www.vcdl.org), you can see video of us in action. It clearly won't be what you expect to see.
Philip Van Cleave
Short and sweet.
In fact, my immediate reaction upon reading it was to say, "That's all?"
The fact that Mr. Van Cleave chose to zero in on one offhand comment instead of confronting every other argument I made in that original column proves one of two things -- either I'm not making myself clear enough, or he doesn't have a leg to stand on. (There is a third possibility, which is that he's been forced to defend this ridiculous spectacle so many times over the past month that he's sick of bothering.)
As far as I can tell, I did make myself pretty damn clear:
"Anyone whose judgment is so lousy that he would throw a party and gleefully thumb his nose in the face of families recently devastated by gun violence can't be trusted with a deadly weapon. If the mere feelings of another human being are of no consequence to these dolts, I find it impossible to believe that the human life they have the potential to take will be of much more value.
These aren't gun enthusiasts -- these are gun worshippers. That's the problem, because as my father taught me so long ago -- there should be no such thing.
It's one thing to recognize a weapon as a necessity, a means to and end, even an instrument of sport -- of enjoyment; it's another thing entirely to believe it to be a large part of your identity -- your very manhood.
Anyone who thinks this way shouldn't be allowed to own a gun."
As for what gives me the credentials to make such an assertion, it goes back to the man mentioned in the above excerpt -- my father. I wrote at the time about his exploits as both a Navy SEAL commander and a cop -- and the man who taught me how to use and respect a weapon. If you'll pardon the pun, this shoots an awful lot of holes in Mr. Van Cleave's claim that I have a prejudice against gun owners. Far from it.
What I have a problem with is irresponsible gun owners -- and as far as I'm concerned, there's little that's more irresponsible than throwing a heavily armed frat-party. It shows zero respect for the awesome power you wield in exercising your Second Amendment rights -- and that makes you dangerous, and unfit to carry a gun. Period.
Still, in the interest of fairness, I took Mr. Van Cleave's advice and checked out the VCDL's website. I highly suggest taking a look for yourself; that's the only way to truly appreciate the surreal lunacy of it all.
The home page features an initial description of the group, touting in big, bold letters its belief that "the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental human right." For those keeping track -- you're entitled to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and a crap-load of heavy weaponry (which, one imagines, would fall under the "pursuit of happiness" clause for most in the VCDL anyway).
As you further peruse the group's page, you find pictures of the massive success that was the Bloomberg Gun Giveaway Extravaganza, including a few photos of Philip Van Cleave himself (nice utility belt, Batman).
Also included in the slideshow by the way is a picture of one of the protesters of this little gathering. Suffice to say, the staff of caption writers for the VCDL, although not quite as unnecessarily florid as myself and some others, are damn sure as caustic when it comes to ridiculing those they don't particularly like.
All of this is just the amuse bouche for the truly tasty treat to be found in the links section however.
A glance to the right side of the homepage reveals two links, one called "Gun Friendly Lawyers" -- because apparently you never know when you're going to need one of those -- and the second, and infinitely more humorous, called "Gun Owner Unfriendly."
Yes, it's an enemies list.
Click it, and a world of jaw-dropping insanity comes alive.
Among the businesses the VCDL -- a group which promotes the notion that every citizen should be allowed to carry a concealed weapon -- has pegged as "unfriendly" to those carrying guns:
First Union Bank.
King's Dominion Theme Park.
Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Shops (damn hippies).
They call these businesses and many others like them "Criminal Safe Zones."
I couldn't, in my wildest Edgar Allen Poe-like delerium, conceive of a group of people sitting around angrily pondering why a fucking bank doesn't want concealed weapons getting through its front doors.
Yet there it is -- the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
I'd like to thank Mr. Van Cleave for writing, and for allowing me to see that he, in fact, was correct: His group isn't what I expected -- it's a whole hell of a lot worse. It's a group that's not only too irresponsible to be allowed to carry weapons -- it's too goddamned stupid.
Los Angeles, CA (AP) -- Wes Craven is suing his neighbor Pauly Shore, alleging that water from the comedian's home seeped down a slope and damaged the director's property. Craven claimed that a landslide occurred on his property in December after Shore upgraded his home with a pool, spa and landscaping, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
In other news, Pauly Shore has money to not only live above Wes Craven, but to upgrade his home with a pool, spa and landscaping.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Monday, June 18, 2007
I'm exhausted and heavily medicated today -- more fallout from last year's brain surgery -- so the column I had planned to write will have to wait until tomorrow.
Instead, I give you six minutes and forty-seven seconds of relentless, almost zen-like insanity.
Just sit back and let it wash over you like a warm bath of crazy.
I don't envy Lou Dobbs.
I honestly can't imagine what it's like knowing that you and you alone are privy to the threat posed by a secret and nefarious cabal -- one which even at this moment is shredding the very fabric of the country you hold so dear.
The restless nights. The pacing back and forth. The constant paranoia. All that righteous indignation. I'm sure it's something that a couple of Tums don't even come close to putting a dent in.
Like some journalistic equivalent of Rowdy Roddy Piper, every weeknight at 6pm on CNN, Lou puts on his special sunglasses, takes his place behind the bully pulpit, and belts out in a boisterous baritone his warning to a sleeping America that they are among us.
It's Vaudeville disguised as news, and it's the funniest thing on television.
Thankfully, an old friend -- Gene Weingarten, former editor of the Miami Herald's Tropic magazine and current writer for the Washington Post -- is a fan of the Lou Dobbs Angry White Guy Tin Foil Hat Hour as well.
He managed to capture the entire "essence de Lou" in his column yesterday. Do yourself a favor and take a look.
Below the Beltway, by Gene Weingarten -- 6.17.07
Friday, June 15, 2007
Thursday, June 14, 2007
(Part 1: Heaven's Cates/5.4.07)
(Part 2: Screen Savors/5.9.07)
Part 3: Rock & Roll Queens
It should be obvious by now that I never outgrew my adolescent passion for music; quite the opposite, the importance of having that perfect soundtrack to everyday existence has increased exponentially with age. It goes without saying then that I've always had a weakness for female musicians. There's nothing hotter, cooler or sexier than a woman behind a mic, a guitar, a piano etc. (For the record, my wife sings -- and sings very well -- which melts me every time.)
The thoroughly self-indulgent list of the women I love continues with the ones who literally rock my world.
She gorgeous, she's an exhibitionist, she's Scottish, she fronts Garbage -- a band that still stands as one of my favorites, and she's just raw sex. Did I mention that she's also an exhibitionist?
Garbage -- Why Do You Love Me?
My God does this woman have soul. If her monumental talent doesn't sway you, check out how stunning she looks in Smokin' Aces.
Alicia Keyes -- If I Ain't Got You
The hypnotic thumping heartbeat of her music is the sound of seduction. If you can't get laid to a Goldfrapp song, give it up.
Goldfrapp -- Twist
The thinking man's musical goddess, she took a lifetime of pain and trauma and turned it into one of the most underrated albums of the last decade -- Haunted. Strength, vulnerability and a little insanity all wrapped up in one mesmerizing package.
Poe -- Amazed (still-frame)
Yup, got a serious thing for her. She's just damn hot.
Sheryl Crow -- If It Makes You Happy
I've had a crush on the keyboard player for the Dandy Warhols for as long as I can remember. Anyone who usually plays topless earns an immediate place in my heart.
The Dandy Warhols -- Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth
Sometimes it's all about that indescribable feeling you get when a woman plays a song that you know came right from her heart -- and sings it in a way that makes you believe it's coming from somewhere slightly south of that.
Neko Case -- Maybe Sparrow
Yes, I like Kelly Clarkson. Go fuck yourself.
I don't care how hard VH1 promotes it or how many idiots first heard it on Grey's Anatomy, her current hit The Story could very well be the best single of the past five years -- by anyone, in any genre. When her voice cracks during the final chorus -- sounding every bit as if it's going to give out completely -- you feel every heartbreak she's ever had, every mistake she's ever made, the weight of a lifetime of tragedy and the power of her desperate cry for help. She's pure and simple passion, and I stand in awe of her.
Brandi Carlile -- The Story
No one who grew up in the 80s and had semi-decent taste in music wasn't in love with Siouxsie. My undying devotion was cemented the night she wrapped a feather boa around my neck, pulled my face to within inches of hers and sang Slowdive -- a song about giving head -- to me at a concert in Miami. It took two weeks to get rid of my erection.
Siouxsie and the Banshees -- Christine
There aren't words to describe how much I love this woman. Liz, if you ever read this -- please for God's sake have sex with me. My wife says it's okay. I swear, if I ever get leukemia or something, that's gonna be my request to the Make-a-Wish foundation.
Liz Phair -- Extraordinary
The real fucking deal. More punk than most punks. I want her to fuck me, then kill me and drink my blood.
P!nk -- U + Ur Hand
Next: The Funny Girls
It's not often you find a track that has it all.
In this case that means a Beatles song, covered by Fiona Apple, recorded for the Pleasantville soundtrack, with a video directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the man behind Boogie Nights and Magnolia.
Here's Across the Universe.
So, yesterday the parliament of Iran -- the country where "Deep Throat" refers to the best place to stick a machete -- voted in favor of a bill that could lead to the death penalty for anyone convicted of working in the production of pornographic movies.
With a 148-5 vote in favor, Iranian lawmakers approved that "producers of pornographic works and main elements in their production are considered corrupters of the world and could be sentenced to punishment as corrupters of the world."
The term, "corrupters of the world" by the way, is lifted directly from the Koran (of course).
The bill covers all electronic visual material, such as videos, DVDs and CDs. Other materials, such as porn magazines and books, are already banned under Iranian law.
You know something, let the naysayers claim that this is more proof that Iran is basically run by a bunch of batshit, primitive thugs; I'm more of a glass-half-full kind of guy.
This is actually a bold step forward for Iran.
It's finally willing to acknowledge that videos, DVDs and CDs -- all technology created post-third century -- do, in fact, exist.
In other news, Iran has a porn industry.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
So, I had German food last night.
Yeah -- little place over on 2nd called Heidelberg or Hindenberg or Hindenbrau or Unibrau or some shit like that. Needless to say, it's still sitting at the bottom of my stomach like a Volkswagen-sized tumor.
Seriously, Germany, what the fuck is up with you people?
Last week I was reading an article in Time magazine that profiled what families in different countries spend on food in a week. Needless to say, the Germans spent the most: an average of about 500 bucks. The magazine showed a picture of one German family standing proudly -- or is it angrily; who the hell can ever tell? -- behind a table that looked like it was about to collapse under the weight of all the shit these four people eat in one seven-day period.
This was a family that obviously learned nothing from the sacrifice of its legendary porcine countryman Augustus Gloop.
(Just to add a nice little ironic exclamation point by the way -- the very next page of the Time article featured a picture of a family from Chad that spends $1.23 a week on Red Cross grain.)
But it's not so much the amount of food these fuckers eat as it is the kind of food.
Look, I like hot dogs and beer as much as the next guy who has no problem with the idea of dying of a heart-attack at sixteen, but I'm not kidding -- everything on the menu at this place last night was some slight variation on the same three or four artery-clogging ingredients. It was like eating at Taco Bell -- only the guys serving you were wearing Leiderhosen and an apoplectic Lou Dobbs wasn't standing right outside muttering something about "infestation."
There was bratwurst and knockwurst and liverwurst -- a good rule of thumb by the way: never eat anything that actually has the word "worst" in the fucking name; there was schnitzel of every shape and size; there was beer being sold in giant glass boots; there were huge people wolfing down appetizers of cheese-coated cheese in zesty cheese sauce; there was an aggregate cholesterol number larger than the GNP of Germany itself.
And although it's certainly the kind of experience that can be tolerated in small doses, something dawned on me while I was sitting there in that restaurant, trying to inconspicuously scan the walls for the portable defibrilator: there's no such fucking thing as "gourmet" German food. Germans don't have "cuisine" -- they just fucking eat. No sublety to be found here folks.
You're never gonna see an Iron Chef Germany. ("Yess, und diis I made mit de zaurkraut unt de wurst to breeng out de flavor off de zeecret ingreedient -- sea urchin. FUCK YOU BOBBY FLAY!! SCHVEIN UNT DIE SCHLAUS LIEBRING VEISEL!!!! ZEEG HEIL!!! ZEEG HEIL!!!")
Like some bizarre Nazi genetic experiment fusing Julia Child and Dr. Strangelove.
Which reminds me: how the hell did Hitler eat this crap every night and keep a straight face when he claimed that Germans were the master race?
Maybe that's why he invaded France -- to get better food.
Course that still doesn't explain Poland.
(As always, the views and opinions of Garth do not necessarily reflect those of Chez, who has no beef with the German people and who, during his lifetime, has owned both a BMW and an Audi and can say without fear of contradiction that not only do Germans know how to forcibly annex other countries -- they build damn good cars.)
You hear the story of a kid in a wheelchair who got stuck while trying to cross in front of a truck at a stop light, and wound up being pushed several miles down a busy street -- and you laugh.
You think to yourself, "Damn, that just couldn't get any funnier."
And then you look at that kid's t-shirt.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Can Hollywood please declare a moratorium on dance movies?
Between Dirty Dancing and the Forbidden Dance and Saving the Last Dance and Stomping the Goddamned Yard and Breakin' and Taking the Lead and being on Center Stage and Your Getting Served -- there's nothing more ridiculous than an entire movie focusing on bunch of dreamers who adhere to the moronic assumption that music is only worthwhile if you can shake your ass to it.
Seriously -- go listen to Black Flag and set something on fire, okay?
In a collect call placed from the L.A. County lockup, America's Sweetheart, Paris Hilton, apparently told Barbara Walters that being incarcerated has changed her in all the predictably clichéd ways.
"I've become much more spiritual. God has given me this new chance," she said.
No further comedic improvement necessary.
Except to say that it really shouldn't surprise anyone that she's taken Jesus inside her; it's pretty much force-of-habit by this point. I hope for his sake that he at least had the good sense to wear a condom.
Monday, June 11, 2007
And behold I saw the Seventh Seal broken.
And the streets became as swarth -- and the skies became as blunt smoke.
Everywhere, there were girls with huge asses in absurdly tight jeans, foul mouths full of gold teeth, multiple children from different fathers, and no hope of ever getting that GED.
There were men with cigarettes tucked behind their ears, oversized fake-gold chains around their necks, outstanding bench warrants numbering in the double-digits, and a minimal chance of not being incarcerated by this time next year.
All around, there were low-riders, colorful flags of all shapes and sizes, a hilariously ill-advised sense of pride and the faulty assumption that those who live along 5th Avenue were happy to play host to such a festive event.
And Daddy Yankee's Gasolina blared from every speaker.
Yet, through all of this chaos -- God did in fact prove himself powerful, loving, kind and merciful.
Because, as it turns out, I was out of town yesterday -- and therefore didn't have to deal with the fucking Puerto Rican Day Parade.*
(*Yeah I know, I suck. But trust me, you have to live through one of these things to understand. Oh, and Manny -- tu sabes yo te quiero.)
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Friday, June 08, 2007
Once again the weekend is here and I'm eager to start getting my drink on, so I'll make this quick as I can.
Last weekend, I planted myself on the couch for a couple of hours and watched a movie that caused a bit of a stir when it was originally released. It's called Death of a President and is essentially a mockumentary which details the fictional events leading up to and immediately following the assassination of George W. Bush.
The movie, although admirable for its quality of execution (if you'll pardon the pun) as well as its sheer audacity, is ultimately pointless. As its conclusions are pretty much by the numbers and therefore hold no real revelatory value, in the end it serves only to incite.
Still, by virtue of its very existence, such a production stands as a startlingly surreal testament to just how bad things have gotten for America and the way it's viewed around the world.
Over the past week or so, several things have happened to push the current state of dangerous global chaos even closer to a point of seemingly critical mass: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced a plan to visit Tehran at the direct request of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- a move which will work to further align the enemies of this country to both our east and south. Along the same lines, Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, is calling for a strenghtening of ties -- economic and military -- between Latin American countries, allowing the burgeoning Socialist movement across Central and South America to better confront the increasingly weakened United States. Vladimir Putin, also smelling blood in the water, bitterly defied the Bush administration by threatening to reinstitute the Cold War-era nuclear arms race, should the White House go ahead with plans to place a missile defense system directly along Russia's western border. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, one of the primary spokesmen for the U.S. Army in Iraq, stated publicly that more than three-quarters of Baghdad remains unsecured, essentially admitting that the president's lauded "troop surge" isn't working -- this, as the death toll among U.S. troops in Iraq so far this month climbs higher and higher. Finally, it was disclosed that Dick Cheney personally pushed for the broadening of the domestic wiretap program, even after justice department officials had found it to be illegal.
All of this, though inarguably frightening, has become practically par for the course these days -- all-but-expected behavior from the current administration and all-but-certain reaction to its arrogant and delusional foreign and domestic policies.
Add to it the pathetic forfeiture of control by the Democrats in congress -- those elected to rein in a White House which considers itself above the law and above regulation -- and you've got a situation that simply can't seem to get much worse.
America is, quite frankly, at its lowest point in decades.
So, with that in mind, what are the 2008 presidential contenders, both Democrat and Republican, discussing -- at the gleeful encouragement of our nation's craven news organizations?
During the past week, at least three network news shows have highlighted the supposedly paramount topic of "Faith & Politics."
The question being posed to those who may be charged with the awesome responsibility of leading us out of this dark time in our history is not "What will you do to assure some measure of success in Iraq?" or "How will you repair the damage done to our nation's reputation worldwide?" or even "What will you do to protect us from all the enemies we've made over the past six years?"
It's "How does your faith guide you?"
Faith is defined as an unshakable belief that is not based on proof.
One thing it is not, is a plan.
At this fragile point in our country's history, the fact that our presidential candidates feel that they have the luxury, even for a moment, of being able to mouth metaphysical politics-as-usual platitudes is simply terrifying.
Discussing something as abstract and ineffectual as faith at this moment is akin to extolling one's own favorite lottery numbers. Neither offers a concrete method of action.
Faith won't defend this country from our growing list of enemies. God won't save us from the mess we're currently in.
We need something more than wishful thinking, and we don't have the time to talk about anything less.
We've all seen where it's gotten us lately.
Dozens of reporters on the ground.
Choppers in the air.
Live real-time analysis from Harvey Levin of TMZ.com (with whom I actually used to work very closely at one time).
Freeze frame pictures of Paris Hilton in handcuffs -- tears streaming down her face.
It just makes you proud to know that our young men and women in uniform are overseas fighting and dying to preserve "our way of life."
Screw you if you don't like My Chemical Romance -- I do.
Who the hell doesn't love nice surprises, especially on a Friday morning?
Imagine my childlike giddiness when I did a quick scan of iTunes and found that the new album from one of my absolute favorite undiscovered bands, The Start, had been released this past Tuesday.
It's called Ciao, Baby and as it turns out marks a return to the more dance-oriented sound of the band's 2001 debut, Shakedown!
Since, as I said, The Start falls into the "generally undiscovered" category, there's no video yet from the new release. So instead, take a listen to the first single from their debut -- the one that hooked me within seconds: Gorgeous.
As for Ciao, Baby, do yourself a favor and grab it.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Because of the response to the material I published a few days ago dealing with my time in rehab (Welcome to the Monkey House/6.4.07), I had originally decided to post one or two more quick excerpts from the original version of the manuscript I wrote focusing on that rather tumultuous period in my life.
Then something, well, interesting happened.
Suffice it to say that I'll get into it further in the very near future (to paraphrase Ash from Alien, I need to "collate" for a couple of days), but for now I'm going to go ahead and post the portion I had initially intended. It details an incident that took place between myself and my ex-wife during our engagement -- one which devastated my sense of safety and probably should've spoken volumes about what was to eventually come in our marriage.
That said, I make no excuses for my own sickening and monstrous reaction in the heat of the moment.
Her name has been changed.
August 1999: There's Out, and There's Out
By the time this happened, Kara and I had already moved in together—into the tiny apartment from which she had once run crying. She'd quickly made it her mission to convert the place into something more to her liking, which meant new curtains, better artwork for the walls and a couple of coats of colorful paint. I was willing to admit that the Martha Stewartization of the place certainly made for a dramatic improvement. What I kept to myself though was the strange feeling that the transformation of my living space was somehow symbolic of a larger change that had taken root in my life. I was more serious. More responsible. More dedicated to making a relationship work. More of an adult—and less the fucking asshole child I’d been ecstatically unleashing wholesale on an unsuspecting public for almost three decades. Kara made it clear that she would tolerate nothing less, and for the first time in my life—rather than declaring mutiny against the perceived tyranny of high expectations—I was happy to rise to such exacting standards.
In spite of the change for the better and the sense of pride that came with it however, my demons were still my demons. One insecurity that I just couldn’t shake was the fear that I somehow didn’t measure up to my fiancée’s ex-boyfriends and lovers—and there were many. Kara’s stories of men with money and status bending over backward for her—and her in turn simply bending over for them—were enough to give just about anyone an inferiority complex, particularly someone whose credit rating looked like one side of a soccer score. One man took her to Borneo. One took her to Rome. One was an investment banker. One was a guy her father had recently fired—whom she bedded simply as a form of late rebellion. The bottom line was that it all added to the fear that I was somehow inadequate and eventually she was going to realize it. It was a fear I attempted to counteract by telling myself that it was completely illogical. The past was the past after all.
That is, until the past became the present.
It was a Wednesday evening when Kara told me that an ex-boyfriend—a big-time lawyer from out west—had called her at work and told her that he was in town for a day or two. He wanted to get together with her for a drink after work. She agreed, seemingly without so much as a second thought.
“You don’t see anything that might make me a little nervous about this?”
“No,” she responded as she busied herself about the kitchen. “Why should it?”
“He’s an ex. Isn’t there some kind of relationship rule about having a drink with an ex when you’re engaged? I seem to remember that from watching sitcoms.”
“It’s only a problem if you make it one.”
I was surprised at how calm and rational I was being, in spite of the fact that there was a part of me that wanted to just tell her to go hide in the closet and not come out until the threat had passed and lawyer-boy was safely back in California.
“And if I told you it makes me uncomfortable?”
“I’d tell you it shouldn’t.”
“That’s not exactly the reassurance I was hoping for.”
She stopped looking through the cupboard and turned to face me.
“What do you want me to say? Honey don’t worry? Honey I love you? Honey he was a completely meaningless fling?”
“Everything but that last part sounds like a decent start.”
“Well I’m not going to say that. I’m going to say that you need to trust me.”
She turned her back to me, and her attention back to whatever was eluding her in the cupboard.
“And I do. That’s not the issue.”
“Well what is?” She said—exasperated—into the open cabinet.
“I don’t know this guy. I don’t know in how high a regard he holds the whole sanctity-of-marriage thing.”
“He’s a friend Chez.”
“He’s an ex-boyfriend Kara. Friends haven’t slept with you.”
“Exactly. He’s already slept with me. He won’t need to again.”
That actually got a chuckle out of me. She finally grabbed a can of tuna from one of the shelves and popped it in the electric can opener.
“You really don’t know how guys think do you?” I said, over the whir of the opener.
“Of course I do, but it doesn’t matter. He’s an old friend and I’d really like to see him.”
I walked around the counter separating the dining room from the kitchen and approached her from behind, putting my hands on her waist. I turned her around to face me.
“Look—it makes me uncomfortable.”
“That’s just irrational.”
“It’s not just irrational, it’s completely fucking irrational,” I said. “But you know what, if you asked me to do something for no other reason than because it made you feel better, I’d do it—even if I thought you were being completely fucking irrational,” I said, giving her a genuinely warm smile. “That’s what a commitment like this is about sometimes: doing something the person you love wants, just because he or she wants it.”
“I just don’t see why this is such a big deal.”
“It’s not. But it bugs me, and I think that should be enough. I’m not gonna tell you not to go, but you should know that irrational or not, it’s probably gonna hurt me if you do.”
I smiled, kissed her gently and backed away. “That’s it, okay? I’ve said my peace.”
I went to sleep a couple of hours later thinking that I made my little case as best I could and that—since she had a heart and said she loved me—she’d probably figure this wasn’t by any means a battle worth fighting.
I found out how wrong I was when I walked into the bathroom the next morning as she was getting ready for work. I stood in the doorway for a few seconds taking in the sight of her. She was leaning into the mirror applying a coat of deep red lipstick—the kind I had always told her could stop traffic. Her makeup was perfect. Her hair was perfect. She had on a tight black low-cut top that immediately drew your eyes to the space between her breasts. Her skirt meanwhile, was cut high enough so that as she leaned across the bathroom vanity, I could practically see the color of her thong underwear. She looked more like a girl heading out to a South Beach club on a Saturday night, than a woman heading off to work on a Thursday morning.
The conversation lasted all of one sentence.
“I guess this means you’re going.”
She turned around, looked at me and gave me an expression that I could never imitate, but neither could I ever forget. The main ingredient for the most part, seemed to be pity. It was a little shrug coupled with a kind of sad smile that said everything she wasn’t bothering to put into words. It said, “Sorry, but yeah. I’m going.”
I was angry. I was hurt. I spent most of my day at work stewing, wondering how the hell the woman who said she loved me and was going to marry me couldn’t make the most miniscule of compromises for me. The only mitigating factor that stopped my growing outrage from boiling over into unadulterated fury was the knowledge that none of this was about the man she would be having a drink with later that evening. He was simply the catalyst—some guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time. The person this was truly all about was Kara. No one had ever asked her where she was going or why she was going there. No one had ever interrupted her daily flow. No one had ever stood in her way. Her “date” that evening wasn’t happening because she wanted to see someone else; it was happening because she wanted to prove that she still could if the mood struck her. It was her personal defiance against the oppression of a real relationship. This was the woman, after all, who had once told me, in reference to dating for longer than a few weeks: “I don’t keep milk in the house, because it’s a living thing and I’ll kill it.” As far as she was concerned, she was simply asserting herself.
Or so I wanted to believe anyway.
My hope that this might just be her way of thumbing her nose at “The Man” flooded out of me, along with most of the color in my face, when I walked through the door of our apartment after work, well past midnight. She wasn’t home. I immediately added up the time in my head. She was supposed to meet her ex at 6:30 on the beach, it was now almost six hours later and she still wasn’t home. I dialed her cell phone twice and got only her voicemail. I went to the fridge and opened a beer, then sat down on the couch and waited like a helpless father waiting for his teenager to stroll through the door after curfew.
While I sat there in utter silence, I thought to myself—
Why in the hell am I putting up with this?
Is this worth it?
Is she really so goddamned special?
Does she even want to marry me?
Does she want to marry anyone?
Why do I love her so much?
Why can’t I break free?
This last question was the one that wound up haunting me for far too long.
The key hit the door, the knob turned, and in she stumbled—just a little after one in the morning. I stood up and breathed in as deeply as I could, appealing to my brain and body for calm.
“Man—you are a piece of work.”
She just gave me a languid smile and walked past me toward the bedroom. The smell of alcohol seemed to be seeping from every pore in her body. I turned and followed her—talking to her back.
“I tell you openly and honestly that I’m uncomfortable with you going out with an ex-boyfriend, and not only do you go—looking about as good as I’ve ever seen you look by the way—but you go, and come home trashed at one in the morning.”
“Sorry,” she shrugged, slurring the word to the point of turning it into one long syllable.
“That’s it? That’s the best you can do? That’s all I’m fucking worth?”
“Can we talk about this in the morning? I just wanna go to bed.”
She plopped down hard on the edge of the bed, unzipped and pulled off her black leather boots. The part of my brain that wasn’t being absorbed by a steadily growing rage knew she was right—that it should wait until morning when she was sober and I wasn’t ready to put my fist through a wall. That rational side though, didn’t stand a chance of being heard at the moment. The blood thrumming through my ears was drowning it out completely.
“Answer me please. Tell me something. Give me an excuse—anything.”
“There’s nothing to tell. We had a few drinks. We were having a good time. We stayed late.”
“Did it ever occur to you to either just give me a call and let me know you’d be late, or God-fucking-forbid, to actually come home because you knew it’d make the man you love feel better?”
She stood up, swaying briefly before steadying herself, pulled the little black top over her head and unhooked her bra. Then in one motion she slid down and stepped out of her skirt and underwear, and she was naked. As usual, I was momentarily stunned into silence. Her makeup was perfect—a little too perfect I suddenly thought. Her hair was perfect—also too perfect. Her body was gorgeous. I immediately felt the usual desire for her welling up inside of me—flooding every part of me. This time though, the feeling was something else—something frightening. Malevolence mixed with passion mixed with fury mixed with lust mixed with violence mixed with sex.
I wanted to fuck her.
I wanted to brutalize her.
I wanted to defile her.
I despised her.
I swallowed hard. I breathed in as deeply as I could. I clenched my fists. I fought back the pain and the rage and the horrible thoughts that were threatening to take control of me. I took a step toward her and put my hand on her wrist, despite the unwavering knowledge that this simple act could open the flood gates that would unleash—something. Something that I would be unable to stop once it started.
“I want an answer. I deserve an answer,” I seethed.
She looked at me with sleepy, empty eyes.
“I don’t want to marry you,” she spat defiantly.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Quite awhile back, I posed a strange little question to you folks out there in the ether-'verse: I wanted to know if anyone had ever heard of a dog dying of natural causes.
Not hit by a car. Not put to sleep. Not taken out behind the shed like Old Yeller. Just dying.
Not surprisingly, I received very few answers in the affirmative.
Well, after many long months, it's time for another bizarre inquiry.
It's not uncommon during certain TV commercials and even a few creatively bankrupt movies to hear music -- loud or otherwise -- brought to a sudden stop by the sound of a phonograph needle being violently scraped across a record. It's a familiar sound, not to mention a pretty lame contrivance, to millions of people around the world.
But here's the thing -- for the most part, vinyl has gone the way of the Dodo; it hasn't been the preferred musical format for almost two decades and has now all but vanished.
So my question is this: Is there already a whole generation of kids out there who have no idea what the hell that sound is when they hear it?
Monday, June 04, 2007
With the recent focus on yet another celebrity -- this time Lindsay Lohan -- checking herself into rehab, and the controversy over whether such places have become little more than the equivalent of spa getaways, I thought I'd delve into my own rehab experience. Unlike the luxurious Promises Center in Malibu, the place where I spent a month detoxing and beginning my recovery from a massive heroin addiction was a publicly-funded facility in Broward County, Florida -- one which represented the furthest possible experience from what you've seen in the movies and on TV. It was harsh and the frills were nowhere to be found; it was also the best possible place for someone like myself to learn the error of his ways. At the time, I wasn't married to my current wife but instead to a woman whom I've described on these pages only briefly before (Bulletproof Hearts/3.25.07). Although, in retrospect, our break-up was one of the best things that ever happened to me -- if for no other reason than the fact that it allowed me to meet Jayne -- at the time, it added another layer of heartache and suffering to what was already a very desperate situation.
The following takes place about four days into my month-long stay. I've spent the days since my arrival heavily sedated in an effort to keep me comfortable during what would otherwise be an excruciatingly painful detox.
I'm only now beginning to feel again.
August 2001: We Interrupt this Program
“Jesus I’m fat. I thought heroin addicts were supposed to be skinny,” I say. It’s barely a mumble, so I'm not sure if the nurse heard me.
“That’s a common misconception,” she says. I guess she did hear me. “If you’re a functioning addict—that is you try and hold down a job and have a life like anybody else—you keep doing drugs so that nothing else suffers. That includes eating.”
I raise my eyebrows slightly as if she just shared some surprisingly interesting bit of trivia, like telling me that if you cut a leg off a starfish, that limb will grow an entirely new starfish. The truth is I’m well aware of the life of a functioning addict; it’s the ultimate exercise in paradoxical futility. You fuck yourself up to keep your life as consistently normal as possible.
I step down from the scale and immediately get my feet off the cold floor of the examination room and into my cheap slippers. My brain is still clouded with a Depakote-induced haze, but my sense of self is at least present enough to have attempted a little levity a moment ago—namely removing the slippers before stepping onto the scale in an effort to lessen my weight by a few ounces. I gave the nurse my shittiest smile possible as I did this. She already doesn’t like me much anyway, so what the hell’s the difference?
It’s been three days and the churning nightmare that lives under the blanket of sedatives is finally beginning to calm. The heroin I’ve lived on for so long is leaving my system at long last. Although, it’s apparently decided to knock over a few lamps, punch holes in the walls and smash the TV set before checking out.
“How are you coming on your book?” The nurse asks without looking up from the clipboard she’s using to jot down my vital information—like the fact that I’m overweight. I know she’s referring to the AA Blue Book. It’s the addict’s Bible, Koran and Torah all rolled into one, with a little Gibran thrown in for good measure. It was given to me on my first day here.
“It’s a page turner. I can’t put it down,” I deadpan.
The shitty smile I forced a minute ago took everything I’ve got in the facial muscle department. I’m basically expressionless now. Nothing left to see here folks.
“Look—I could care less if you get better or not,” she says.
Apparently her deadpan’s even better than mine. The matter-of-factness catches me off guard.
“Aren’t you supposed to be compassionate or something?” I return.
“I’m not paid enough to be compassionate.” She’s looking right at me now. “You wanna survive this and get off drugs for good—I’ll help. If you wanna be a smart-ass, there’s the door. No one’s keeping you here.”
She pushes her long black hair back behind her ear as she goes back to writing on her clipboard. Give her credit—I’m at a loss for words. She’s happy to fill the silence.
“Let me know if you’re leaving. We need the bed space,” she says after a pause.
“Look—I’m sorry,” I say, surprised at my own sincerity.
“Not good enough. Don’t be sorry—get healthy. If you don’t feel like doing it there are a lot of other people out there who do.”
I’m reminded that I’m not in denial. I know how bad it is and what needs to be done. The choice is simple: I give up drugs or I die. I’ve already hurt everyone I love. I’ve already lost just about everything I care about, including the person I once was. Now when I think about it—although heroin is still the most tempting distraction imaginable—I always seem to come down on the side of actually wanting to live to see my next birthday. Whether I deserve to or not is still up for debate.
“Physically you’re doing alright,” the nurse says.
“You sound disappointed.” I can barely get my mouth open to say the words.
She returns the same shitty smile I gave her a few minutes ago.
“Furio wants to see you after dinner,” she says.
“Summoned to the principal’s office again. Story of my life.”
I flashback to an image of a young boy facing the angry discipline of a Catholic school teacher. I probably shouldn’t have written the words “None of your goddamned business” under the tag that said, “Hello My Name Is…” on orientation day, or handed out cough drops to the younger kids on Halloween. Nuns—no fucking sense of humor. You’d think anybody who dresses like that.
The menu at the Florida Addiction Recovery Center leaves a lot to be desired. When my high school lunch lady died, I get the impression they ground her up and now use her as seasoning in the food here. Still, at this point I’m not about to complain. I’m just thankful that I’ve only been hungry enough to down a few bites of the stuff since my arrival. I’m sitting in the quietest corner of the mess hall I could find. The hall itself is basically a large rectangular room with the open serving line at one end, and fake wood paneling about halfway up the walls everywhere else. I think the effect is supposed to be homey, as compared to the rest of the center which is decidedly not. Unfortunately time and changing tastes have taken their toll on the paneling, making it seem instead as if the whole place was decorated by someone who spends his spare time patiently awaiting the triumphant return of the variety show to prime time television. The smell isn’t much better. Despite the medical facilities that surround it, the mess hall has the unmistakable sickly smell of a peep show—like the floor has been mopped with straight Pine-sol, using an ashtray as a bucket. Although there’s no smoking allowed within the confines of the center these days, there must’ve been at one time. The proof is everywhere. In the decayed black pock-marks of cigarette burns in the tables and floors. In the unmistakable scent of the carcinogenic smoke now locked in the walls forever, adding an oppressive weight to the whole room. It’s the weight of every addict who ever passed through here, desperately savoring the one drug he was still allowed to have.
My head is hung low as I practically slump over the table in front of me. I’m pushing the food around my plate with my plastic fork. I do this slowly and cautiously. I think this might be so that my strength is saved and I’m ready to strike at it should the meatloaf try to jump off the plate and attack the person sitting next to me.
“Do you like to suck cock?”
I swing my head up slowly to my left to realize that it is, in fact, the person sitting next to me who’s just uttered these strange words. He’s a wiry middle-aged black man wearing a plaid shirt. My face registers appropriate confusion.
“I said, do you like to suck cock?”
That’s what I thought he said. I’m suddenly sorry I was ready to defend him against my meatloaf.
“Do you love Jesus?”
I can’t even imagine how he’s going to link these two seemingly disparate thoughts, and I’m not sure I want to know. I don’t think I have the strength to be combative however.
I shrug in submission. “Sure. Why not.”
“Good.” He says. That could very well be the period to the conversation. End of story. All he needed to know. He’s nodding his head in approval.
I’m about to go back to staring at my food when I catch myself turning my glance back fully to him. My confused look is still there.
“Good that I don’t suck cock, or good that I love Jesus?” I have no fucking idea why I’m furthering this conversation.
“Both,” he says, pointing a forkful of food at me before shoveling it into his mouth. He’s chewing loudly with his mouth open.
For a moment something happens. I may have been wrong about the whole combative thing. I feel my hand squeeze around my fork. My other hand tightens into a fist under the table. My biceps are shaking as I do this. I’m going to hit him. Hit him and if I think it’s necessary, jam my fucking plastic fork into his face. Over and over again until his blood is everywhere—all over me—and there’s nothing left of his face but raw red meat. I’ll grab him by the hair and slam his head into the hard cement floor. The floor that has the same ugly tile pattern I remember from the grocery store my grandmother used to drag me to when I was a kid. The one with all the wilted and sickened produce. The kind of floor that never looks clean no matter how hard you scrub it. I’m going to slam his head into it until I hear his skull crack and see the blood spread out across the tile into a giant crimson bloom. Flecks of gray brain matter will be scattered onto the faces of the people around us. I will not stop until he’s dead.
I will fucking kill you, you fucking piece of shit.
“Jesus is the only way you’re gonna get out of this mess. Believe me,” he says with a full mouth, breaking the reverie of my violent fantasy.
I want this conversation over, but once again I find my mouth opening and speaking the words before my brain even understands what’s happening. “What does sucking cock have to do with it?”
His face registers appreciation, as if to say, “Sonny-boy, I’m glad you asked!”
“Jesus don’t much like queers,” he says.
“And you’ve discussed this with him?”
My mind is still reeling with potential ways to put this guy out of my misery.
“That’s what the Bible says,” he says, then adds, almost as an afterthought, “I really don’t have a problem with them myself. Live and let live and all—but the word’s the word.”
“Yeah—I imagine it’s pretty specific about that kind of thing,” I say—expressionless. I’m trying not to look at him anymore.
He twists in his seat and faces me, thankfully wiping his hands and mouth with his napkin as he does this. He extends his left hand, and for a moment I remember something I once heard about the correlation between being left-handed and having a high IQ. Oh well—there are anomalies in every study. A few stragglers are bound to get left behind.
“Carl,” he states with authority.
I’m too sedated to argue.
“Chez.” I offer my right hand back. We exchange the awkward shake of opposite hands. I have a feeling Carl’s read the same study I have, and has set out to make sure everyone knows that they’re dealing with an advanced life form right from the outset. Jesus has blessed him with a concrete physical manifestation of his brilliance—why do the New York Times crossword puzzle in ten minutes or explain the theory of cold fusion when you can just hold out your left hand? The right people will understand.
Carl turns back to his plate and continues cramming food down his throat. I’m still trying not to look. That’s when a thought materializes through the fog behind my eyes and places itself front and center. I immediately wish it hadn’t.
Right now my wife is back home, living her life as best she can. Whatever she’s doing, she’s not in a stale room lined with wood paneling, pushing something that looks like Alpo around a plate and sitting next to a guy who smells like he hasn’t showered in a month and wants to know if she sucks cock and loves Jesus.
The next thought is obvious—the obvious counterpoint.
She doesn’t have a heroin habit. She didn’t do this to herself.
The ugly institutional-green walls of Furio’s office are particularly punishing tonight. There’s a loud scraping sound as I drag the heavy steel chair across the concrete floor, stopping directly in front of his desk and dumping myself in it with such force that I almost tumble over backward.
“And what can I do for you on this fine evening?” I say.
There’s a pause as he looks me over with what I guess passes for a smirk. He’s sizing me up, and either my general condition or my sarcasm is amusing to him. I want to reach across the desk and smack that fucking look off his face.
“How are you feeling?” He says.
It’s a simple enough question.
“Me? Oh I’m great.”
“Absolutely.” I’m forcing a pronounced grin that would certainly piss me off if I were on the other side of this desk. “Never been better.”
“Oh really?” He leans back in his chair and folds his arms over his chest—the amused smirk growing.
Enough time has passed that the sedatives are beginning to wear off, and the furious detoxification beneath them is finally subsiding. I’m getting a small amount of fight back. All logic tells me that Furio isn’t my enemy, and yet I’m so angry right now—at the situation, at myself, at everything—that if Mother Teresa was sitting behind Furio’s desk I’d probably want to fucking kick her in the throat too.
My words come out quickly. Staccato.
“Yeah. I just had a really great conversation over dinner—dinner I didn’t eat because, well, I don’t eat anymore. Anyway, back to the conversation. Uh—it was with this really nice guy who wanted to know if I sucked cock and loved Jesus.”
I notice the volume of my voice steadily increasing as I speak. It’s the first time it’s risen above a whispered mumble in days.
Furio pauses, smiling at me from behind his cheap desk. His next question is so obvious that I almost want to give him credit for not taking the bait and getting into the fight I’m obviously trying to pick with him.
“And what was your answer?” he says.
I just stare at him for a moment—disarmed.
“What was your answer?” He says, deliberately slower, as if he’s talking to a child.
I pause for a moment, still stunned, before finally answering.
“No on cock, yes on Jesus.”
He nods approval. “Good.”
Now that that’s out of the way he can apparently get back to the issue at hand. He leans forward and shuffles through a file on his desk—my file. He speaks without looking up at me.
“Did Carl threaten you?”
“Carl—the guy who I assume asked you this question—did he threaten you?”
“No,” I say, then add, “I take it he’s done this before.”
Furio smiles. “Yeah. This isn’t his first time around in here. I’m pretty sure he’s harmless, but you can never tell. Let me know if he starts acting dangerous.”
He pulls a sheet of paper out of the file.
“We’ve started to cut back on your meds. How are you feeling?”
Actually I’m fucking miserable and I know it, but being that my sorrow is nothing medication or a county employee like Furio can fix, I see no reason to share it right now.
He looks directly into my eyes and apparently reads my mind.
“Look—just for the record, you can talk as little or as much as you’d like. No one’s going to force you to share your problems. It might help though.”
“It won’t right now.”
“How do you know?”
There’s an anger building inside me again. Tackling the drug use itself is one thing, but right now the thought of anyone here trying to help tackle the problems caused by the drug use is both laughable and offensive to me. Furio doesn’t know my wife. Neither do the nurses. Neither does Carl. And as far as I’m concerned neither does fucking Jesus. The old boy may not be in short supply in a place as overwhelmingly depressing as this, but I’m almost positive he gave up and moved out of sunny, self-obsessed L.A. years ago.
The woman I married is half a world away. I’m here. End of story. The ultimate irony is that right now I know she’s furious—believing that by coming here, I abandoned her. I know one day soon I’ll have to actually argue the decision I made to get clean. It’s an argument that will almost certainly end at the beginning—with her insisting that if I hadn’t done drugs in the first place, none of this would have happened. That’s the kind of circular logic you just can’t defend against.
I stand up now. The chair screams as it slides back across the floor. I’m not sure what else to do, but standing seems to be the most obvious show of defiance.
“Look Furio—I’m taking my meds. I’m going to the meetings. I’m playing nice. Your job is to fix my drug addiction. Let me worry about the shit that the rest my life has turned into please.”
“Sit down,” he says calmly.
“You can’t help Mark.” The obstinacy in my voice is turning to pathetic desperation right before my eyes.
“Sit down,” he repeats.
I acquiesce, pulling the chair back under me and plopping down with force—resigned.
“Thank you,” he says. There’s a long pause. “I’m only going to say this once, so I want you to listen to me carefully. What I’m about to say is gospel.”
I’m looking for a sarcastic response in my head, but even if I found one I’m not sure I’d use it.
“Forget your wife. Forget your job. Forget your former life. Forget trying to put the pieces back together right now. You have to concentrate on only one thing over the next few weeks: you. You have to get healthy and get clean or nothing else will matter. If you get back on heroin you’ll die.” He pauses, then—“You know—it’s funny—not only is addiction a selfish act, but to some extent, so is recovery. But make no mistake—that recovery is the most important thing in your life right now. It’s all that matters, and it’s hard enough without having to worry about the things you can’t control.”
“Please resist the urge to recite the Serenity Prayer.”
It’s the final punctuation of every meeting I’ve been to so far here. Addicts and alcoholics standing in a circle—hands clasped, holding on for dear life—chanting a tragic resignation that their lives are shit and at this point only a new reliance on the almighty can save them. Trading one addiction for another.
Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Oh yeah, and while you’re at it big guy—how about granting my fucking wife a thimble-full of empathy and human compassion.
“There’s a reason for it—and a lesson in it. There are some things you can’t change. When you leave here there will be some things you can’t fix. I’m sorry,” Furio says.
The words of the prophet written on the rehab wall. It’s obvious this is coming from someone who’s watched this kind of thing happen before—a thousand times—and is already well aware of the almost inevitable outcome. I close my eyes and picture my wife’s face. Right now it’s all I have.
“If I don’t make things right with her, it’s gonna make it almost impossible to get better. The two are not mutually exclusive,” I say.
“Not true. You’ll go on—no matter what happens. It’s better to mourn the dead than to be one of them.”
“She’s not dead.”
“No, but the marriage may be. Regardless—worry about that later. Right now worry about your recovery.”
I’m sinking into the seat, I can feel its steel frame pulling the back of my t-shirt up as I slide lower into the chair. I rub the leftover fog out of my eyes.
“Do you really buy into all this religious crap Furio?” I say, trying to change the subject.
It dawns on me that this man has probably not only heard this question before—but also just about any other question I could think to ask. He’s my one counselor. I’m one of his ten-thousand addicts. I don’t doubt that he’s seen and heard it all.
He leans back again, locking his fingers behind his head. As he does this his shirt pulls tight across the slight bulge in his belly. It’s tucked into his jeans but it’s straining to break free. I’m hoping it doesn’t.
He smiles. His answer isn’t really an answer at all. It feels like he’s skipping over about five minutes worth of back and forth to just get right to the point he would eventually make anyway.
“You don’t need to believe in God for the program to work.”
“Then why push him so hard?”
“We don’t say ‘Ask God for help.’ We say, ‘Call on your higher power.’”
“Not necessarily. Your higher power can be anything. Anything greater than yourself. Anything you can rely on.”
“There’s not much I can rely on right now. That’s why I’m here.”
“Then maybe your higher power is the program.”
“Not quite—not yet anyway.”
I reach up and scratch my head, pleased that I’m no longer so numb that I can’t even itch.
“Because,” I say through a yawn, “Most of it seems like bullshit.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I don’t believe that everyone needs to be torn down and convinced that the only way back up is through Jesus and AA—that you have no fucking control over your life and you may as well just surrender yourself. That’s not a program, that’s a cult.
“Do you ever stop thinking?”
“No—and I don’t like people who ask me to.”
“I’m not asking you to. All I’m saying is you’ve stumbled onto something you can’t think or talk your way out of. I don’t care whether you like being told that you’ve lost control, because you have lost control.”
“Can’t argue with you there. But replacing a dependence on drugs with a dependence on something else doesn’t make much sense.”
“Not everything has to make sense.”
“I’m just thinking about what you said when I first walked in here—about how my attitude makes you think that I’m not gonna stay clean.”
“Those weren’t my exact words—but what’s your point?”
I lean forward now, I’m lucidly arguing for the first time in weeks if not months, and it feels good.
“Well since now I’m really questioning all of this—you must really be sure I’m gonna fail. It’s not fair to say ‘If you question the program it proves you’re not getting better.’ Religion works the same way Furio.” I pause. “Which brings me back to my initial question—do you buy into all this crap?”
“You trying to shake my faith?”
“Nope. Just asking a question.”
He smiles disarmingly now.
“Look, I’ve seen the program work too many times to argue with it. For a lot of people it’s the best shot they have. If you don’t believe in a god that’s your business—but you’d better find something to believe in.”
“How about myself, or maybe my marriage?”
“That didn’t work the first time around.”
He’s absolutely right, and the truth of his words stings like hell. My concern for my wife wasn’t enough to keep me off drugs. I already know this is the foundation of every argument she’s ever had with me about it, or ever will have.
“Maybe I’m here for a second chance.”
“You’d better be right, because there won’t be a third chance. With a habit like yours—you fuck up again, you’re gonna be dead.”
Once again, the truth hurts.