Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wake Me Up When September Ends

I realize I've been awfully effusive lately when it comes to gratitude, but I really feel like it's important that I say a quick thanks to everybody who's read this site over the past few weeks.

September was a huge month around these parts, both in terms of traffic (the biggest numbers Deus Ex Malcontent has pulled down since the news of my dismissal from CNN first broke) and content (the most posts I've cranked out in a single month).

It's been damn rewarding to put so much effort into this site and have it be noticed by you nice folks.

So, once again, thanks.

Greek Theater

Since starting this little experiment of mine, I've met a lot of really nice people whom I've never actually met -- readers who write to me often and to whom I write back. They're more than just virtual friends; they sometimes feel like family simply because they've read my stuff long enough to where they can tell when something's wrong and are always there to lend a kind word.

One of my favorite "blogger" friends is Nancy -- a self-proclaimed "sixtyish wife, mother, grandmother, Lutheran, thinker and quilter" who lives just outside Philly. Nancy's not only a sweetheart of the highest order, she's one of the sharpest ladies I've come across in a very long time -- a damn good writer who knows how to put what she's thinking into words in a way that's economical and to the point (as opposed to the way I write, which is verbose, meandering and occasionally just plain obnoxious).

Nancy's latest post is a pre-cursor to Thursday night's vice presidential debate and manages to hit the problem with Sarah Palin right on the head.

(Nancy, Blogging Near Philadelphia: Greek?/9.30.08)

I (Heart) John McCain

Goddamn, the only thing they left out is Ann threatening to eat him.

(Update: Yes, it's fake. But still damn funny.)

...Get a Stupid Answer

It was really only a matter of time before somebody came up with something like this:

The "Interview Sarah Palin" Answer Generator

This is the answer I got to the question, "What is the role of the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan?"

"Iraq and Afghanistan will lead to further security of our economy. It is, somebody was saying this morning, a toxic waste there on Wall Street. Well, it certainly does because our our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the oversight that has shown his foresight, his pragmatism, and his leadership abilities. And that contract that should be inherent in corporations who are extreme, and they do not have to keep. I do bring to this table, and that's the beauty of American elections, of course, that is strong and that important an issue like this also. And I asked President Karzai, 'Is that what President Bush has attempted to do this with you?'"

Part of the Problem

I continued to work in television news long after coming to the conclusion that the industry was badly broken -- I admit that. But I didn't enter into it believing that it was a colossal mess, otherwise, why would I have bothered? I eventually became frustrated with the direction TV news had taken, but I never thought the medium as a whole should be done away with.

The same can't be said for many of today's Republicans; for the life of me I'll never understand how they manage to sell the public on the idea that they have a starring role in a production they utterly despise as a matter of principle. Worse than Ivy League oligarchs like George Bush and Grover Norquist casting themselves as heroes of the common man are class-act bullshit artists like John Boehner and Roy Blunt, who play along and continue to invoke the supposedly hallowed legacy of Ronald Reagan by asserting that government in and of itself is a bad thing. These self-loathing lawmakers claim to despise our government -- not simply the way it operates but, really, its very existence -- and yet they strive to be elected and re-elected to positions within it.

A good rule of thumb: When you're trying to make a business work, you don't hire employees who hate what it is that you do and believe that the less of it there is, the better.

Is it any wonder why things are so screwed up?

Read on:

(The Huffington Post: "Does McCain Still Agree with Reagan that Government is the Problem?" by Arianna Huffington/9.29.08)


Tuesday is Recycling Day

"Things to Do in Texas When You're Dead" (Originally Published, 8.25.06)

By the time you read this, Justin Fuller will be dead.

Wednesday, 8:43am

There's a specific mathematical equation which can be used to help understand why Houston is arguably the most God-awful place on Earth. It all comes down to the numbers: the fifth-worst traffic in the country, plus the second-worst air-quality, minus the constant 72-degree temperature which makes Los Angeles livable despite such problems, multiplied by the number of Texans equals, well, Hell.

A few minutes ago I purposely ignored the flight attendant's request that I switch off all portable electronic devices, choosing instead to continue listening to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Howl album blasted at full-volume through my iPod. Anything to make descending through a layer of shit-brown haze slightly less depressing.

I'm now standing in baggage claim with my photographer. We've unloaded six pieces of luggage filled with heavy camera equipment and are currently engaged in a harried conversation with an employee of Continental Airlines. This employee's sole reason for existence over the next few hours will be to find a seventh piece of luggage which has apparently vanished into thin air somewhere between Laguardia and George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

That's my first impression of Houston this morning: lost luggage, an airport named after the man whose sperm mutated into George W. Bush, and a sign I'm leaning against which bears a likeness of the Houston Police Department seal. It reads, "Order Through Law. Justice With Mercy."

How reassuring.

I can't leave this place quickly enough.

Wednesday, 9:52am

Fortunately, the wayward bag didn't contain any vital piece of camera equipment; unfortunately it did contain a vital pair of shoes -- which is why we're now parked outside of a Wal-Mart along Route 59 North. My anchor and I sit in the Jeep Grand Cherokee which the network has been kind enough to rent for us; I'm in the driver's seat, she's next to me. We're discussing the pros, cons and innate weirdness of going to your twenty-year high school reunion. Apparently at hers, she and her husband shared a table with a couple that argued the entire evening; he was a farmer, she was a stay-at-home mom. Eventually, after several drinks, the farmer threatened violence against his timid wife and was forcibly removed from the table.

My anchor has just unknowingly convinced me to attend my own reunion next year.

At some point, the other producer travelling with us on this little adventure comes running out of the front of the monolithic Wal-Mart -- bag in hand. When she throws open the back door of the SUV, my anchor and I giddily ask to see her purchase. She shows us the shoes she just bought -- which are about as impressive as you'd expect a pair of shoes bought at a Texas Wal-Mart to be, which is to say, not at all. They aren't open-toed however, which means that they meet the stated requirement for entry into the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Polunsky Unit's Death Row area. Why anyone's choice of footware would be a sticking point, I'm not quite sure. I'm not willing to argue the point however, given that I've already had nightmares in which today's shoot turns into the last half-hour of Natural Born Killers. Best to get on the guards' good sides right off the bat.

The producer slips off the flip-flops she wore on the plane and slides on the new Wal-Mart specials.

Wednesday, 10:07am

Continuing north on Route 59, we pass another Wal-Mart; this one is a Supercenter.

Wednesday, 10:15am

My anchor says she's hungry, so we pull over to a combination Chevron Station/Subway on the side of the road. The fact that myself, the other producer, our anchor and photographer have all chosen to wear black shirts for today's shoot -- a decision made without a hint of pre-planning or irony -- doesn't go unnoticed by the locals, many of whom resemble the road crew of Monster Magnet. They look at us like we're A) lost B) gay C) from New York, or D) all of the above. I'm the last in line to order and the rest of my crew is already out the door when I look next to the cash register and notice a plexiglass box containing small bottles stacked neatly in rows. I recognize them immediately: Mini-thins -- illegal in most states because they contain ephedrine, which has been known to occasionally thin the herd of stupid high school kids by stopping their hearts. They're often found in convenience stores because they conveniently keep truckers awake during extended runs. They've been at my side through every cross-country drive I've ever made.

I'm smiling as I hand the cashier a ten, toss one of the little bottles into my Subway bag and walk out the door -- carefully sidestepping the display of Git-R-Done bumper stickers on my way -- and into the humid Texas air.

Wednesday, 10:26am

We pass another Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Wednesday, 10:35am

As Route 59 narrows into a four-lane stretch of road, we pass a small, yellow building on the right. Emblazoned on the front of it is a sign that reads, Joy Juice Liquors.

I spit Dr. Pepper all over the steering wheel.

Wednesday, 10:43am

Up ahead of us on the side of the road is a large white tent. As the SUV approaches it and pulls parallel, we each stare silently; it's a massive display of swords, daggers and medieval-looking axes. There must be hundreds of them. Stretched across the top of the tent is a banner; it's succinct in its pronouncement: Swords!

As we glide past, I turn to my anchor. "Hey, you never know," I say blankly.

Wednesday, 11:06am

From the outside, the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas looks about as you'd expect. It's a complex of ugly, two-story buildings surrounded by high fences topped with razor-wire that gleams in the oppressive, unobstructed sunlight. It sits in the middle of a barren field which is constantly patrolled by corrections officers in trucks, on ATVs and on horseback. At each corner of the complex is a tower; walking the landing of each tower is a guard armed with a Remington 11-87 combat shotgun and wearing the obligatory mirrored aviator sunglasses.

As we approach the guard gate -- which isn't a gate at all so much as a checkpoint -- a corrections officer tears himself away from a cooler of water that sits on top of a picnic table next to the road. He walks slowly around the front of our Jeep Cherokee. Before we even roll down the window, we go ahead and get it out of the way.

"What we got here is -- failure to communicate," comes a disembodied voice from the backseat; it's my photographer.

"No one can eat fifty eggs," I respond.

We're allowed in without incident and I park in the visitor's lot, next to a dusty red Chevy Geo with the words "Just Married" scrawled across the back window.

Wednesday, 11:17am

The first thing I notice when I enter the lobby -- which acts as a sort of purgatory between the outside world and the interior of the prison -- is the large sign bolted to the steel door on the other side of the metal detectors. It reads in bold letters, HOSTAGES WILL NOT EXIT THROUGH THIS DOOR, which makes me wonder if it's ever their decision which door they'll exit through.

We're met by a female corrections officer who bears a striking resemblance to Food Network host Paula Deen, right down to the comforting Southern drawl. Translation: she in no way looks like she belongs within ten miles of a place where some of the most dangerous men in the United States are at that very moment forcing the new guy to perform oral sex on them. She leads us through the metal detector and runs down the checklist: no cell phones or Blackberries, no paper money, no pens or pencils, no cigarettes (as they can be traded for contraband), no sunglasses (as they can be traded for good contraband), no gloves (as they can be used to climb the fence), and of course -- no weapons (which suddenly makes me glad we didn't stop at Earl's Fabulous House of Swords).

Once we're given our visitors' passes, we're introduced to a young woman whose intention is to sell us Avon, or maybe recruit us for Junior League, or perhaps take us to a sorority mixer.

This is my first impression upon meeting her anyway.

The media liason for the Polunsky Unit's Death Row is the kind of girl that folks around these parts no doubt describe as "Cute as a Button." She's an attractive brunette in her mid-20s with a perfect complexion and -- for some reason I can't possibly fathom -- a smile that you likely couldn't remove from her face with a crowbar. Quite simply -- like Guard Paula Deen -- she's the last person anyone would expect to willingly spend her days surrounded by guys who are about to be executed. She seems more like a cruise director than someone who works for the Department of Criminal Justice.

After a few minutes of small-talk, which only adds to the palpable surreality, we're escorted into the prison yard via the large steel door -- the one hostages will not be exiting through.

On our way across the yard, Julie Your Cruise Director points to a nearly-windowless building that looks as if it's been flattened with a giant steam iron.

"That's Death Row. It's actually kind of a nice building," she exclaims.

I don't even know how to respond.

Wednesday, 11:36am

A few minutes ago, I and my crew were led into the visitors' wing which is attached to Death Row. Now that I'm looking around, the entire area reminds me of my elementary school -- right down to the bizarrely encouraging affirmations painted on the walls. "Remember, Safety is Priority One!" proclaims one. "Welcome to the Polunsky Unit!" screams another. There are picnic tables outside. There are vending machines against the far wall. I find myself looking around for a shuffle-board court.

In the room the inmates come and go, talking of life on Death Row.

As my photographer finishes setting up for our shoot, I walk slowly toward the partitioned glass booths in the center of the room. The front of the booths face outward, but the back is attached to a long hallway which leads directly to and from the Death Row cell block. The prisoners are never brought into the part of the room I'm standing in; they're simply shuffled into the hallway then dumped into one of these booths. It's like a macabre peep-show -- complete with a telephone. It's only when I look up that I notice that the subject of our interview -- the person we came all this way to see -- is already in his assigned booth; he's directly in front of me.

When our eyes meet, we exchange a cordial smile.

This is Justin Fuller.

In 1997, Justin Chaz Fuller -- at that time an 18-year-old recent high school graduate -- participated in the kidnapping and murder of an acquaintance. 21-year-old Donald Whittington was taken from his apartment in Tyler, Texas, driven to an ATM where he was forced to take out $300, then to an area near Lake Tyler where he was shot in the head. Witnesses say in the days following the murder, Fuller led them to the body and bragged about shooting Whittington. Three other people participated in the crime and during the trial Fuller insisted that although he took part in the kidnapping, he wasn't the triggerman. He expressed sorrow to the victim's family for his role in their loved one's death, but he's always insisted that he can't apologize for something he didn't do -- and he says he did not shoot Whittington.

Fuller has a baby face. In keeping with the confusing, dichotomic nature of everything in this place, he doesn't look like he belongs here. He's soft-spoken and has an easy, almost infectious smile. At one point, he makes eye-contact with one of the guards and both of them begin to laugh, as if sharing an inside joke. I'm not quite sure how he has the ability to be so insouciant, given that he'll be dead in less than thirty-six hours.

Wednesday, 11:55am

Houston, we have a problem.

My photographer has just informed me that his camera isn't working.

As he was hauling it out of the airport in Houston, he accidentally slammed it against the automatic doors. We assumed it was fine. We apparently assumed wrong.

Suddenly I'm no longer waxing philosophical in my mind about the justice system and Justin Fuller's place in it; I'm trying to figure out how to salvage an important and expensive interview -- one which needless to say can't be "rescheduled." In a flash I'm back out into the hot sun and walking quickly across the protected area of the prison yard, out through purgatory and finally out into the parking lot. I'm cursing under my breath and sweating like Oprah on a Stairmaster.

When I get back to the SUV I begin making desperate phone calls to our National Desk. A few minutes later, I'm informed that a freelance photographer is being dispatched to our location and should arrive within the hour. Crisis averted. The power of network news emerges triumphant.

Wednesday, 12:23pm

After another pass through the metal detector accompanied by another kindly smile from Office Paula Deen, I'm once again back in the Death Row visitors' area where I'm met by the other producer. She quickly gives me the thumbs up and informs me that in my absence the camera mysteriously began working properly. The interview is happening right now.

Since I have the phone number of the freelancer in my pocket, I ask Julie Your Cruise Director to borrow her cell phone and place a call to let him know to stand down.

Then I quietly walk over behind the camera, pull up a chair, grab an earpiece and listen.

Wednesday, 12:31pm

Justin Fuller speaks softly and articulately; the effect is hypnotically disarming.

He talks first about his family: his father who coached his youth soccer team; his mother who believed for so long that she had raised him right. He expresses sadness over the fact that tomorrow these ostensibly good people -- these innocent people -- will sit by helplessly and watch their son die. He pauses for a moment as he says this -- exhales softly.

When asked about his crime, he stands by his assertion that he wasn't the one who fired the bullet that killed Donald Whittington. "I was 18. I was stupid," he says when pressed about why he became involved in the crime in the first place. "I was a follower, you know? I should've known better." Still, he believes that his own death won't bring peace to Whittington's family -- that it's simply a case of two terrible wrongs attempting to make an elusive right.

"You can't teach people not to kill by killing people," he says.

As I listen, I find myself wondering about the thought processes behind Fuller's statements. He appears -- for all intents and purposes -- to be a very bright young man, but I can't help wondering how much of his rhetoric is the result of his own personal reflection and how much is simply a series of talking points naturally absorbed into his character after almost ten years of steady repetition by defense lawyers. I pay attention to key words and phrases, unusual terms that seem to stand out in a sea of common language. I pay attention to how often he repeats these terms during the conversation.

He's asked if he understands what's going to happen to him tomorrow -- if he knows the details of the lethal injection process. His response is eerie in its matter-of-factness.

"Yes, Sodium Thiopental will put me to sleep. Pancuronium Bromide will paralyze my muscles -- and then Potassium Chloride will stop my heart and kill me."

That's it. It's that simple. He describes the process that will end his life as if he and the woman sitting across from him were at a table at an intimate restaurant -- and he was placing an order for the two of them.

It's at this point that I begin to wish that the subject of our interview bore more of a resemblance to Hannibal Lecter; that he was someone more cunning and unapologetic -- that he was someone easily dismissable. It's at this point that I begin to wish that Justin Fuller were more of a caricature, and less human.

I remove the earpiece and step over to Julie Your Cruise Director, who's seated several feet away from the camera.

"How do you do this kind of thing?" I ask -- not accusingly, but out of a legitimate desire to understand something which seems incomprehensible.

She looks at me and, with a smile that adds a jarring irony to her words, says offhandedly, "I drink -- a lot."

Every Wednesday, she's here helping men make their final statements to the world.

Every Thursday, she watches those same men die. She attends every execution held here.

Wednesday, 1:16pm

We thank Justin Fuller for his time, which at this point is something I'd imagine is quite precious to him. He remains in the caged booth -- behind the thick glass -- as we begin tearing down our equipment.

I'm staring out of the window onto the prison yard, trying to push myriad thoughts out of my head: the strangeness of a place where death is literally doled out on an assembly line; the questionable equity of a justice system which seems to arbitrarily condemn one murderer to die while allowing others to live; the possibility that lethal injection isn't so much a humane method of execution for the benefit of the condemned as it is a means to make us feel better about the process -- to help us sleep at night, as well as a means to make us feel superior to the condemned, who may have killed without such supposed humanity.

This reverie is suddenly broken by the three words no producer ever wants to hear.

"It didn't record," my photographer says.

I fight the urge to spin around in a panic, choosing instead to simply close my eyes and sigh.

"I figured I got the camera rolling. It looked like everything was alright," he continues.

I motion to Julie Your Cruise Director -- letting her know that I need her phone again.

"You guys gave me a thumbs-up. If I had known that there might still be a problem, I would've gotten the freelancer out here as a back-up."

I don't wait for my photographer to respond. I'm redialing the number for the freelance photographer; after five rings, I hear him pick up.

"How fast can you get here?" I ask him.

Not fast enough.

We're screwed.

Wednesday, 2:03pm

It's been a long time since I've driven. Aside from a recent car rental, I haven't been behind the wheel of a vehicle since I begrudgingly sold my Audi A4 and moved to the land of subways and taxis. Thankfully I've forgotten none of the technique I learned while growing up in Miami and tearing through the streets in an attempt to replicate the driving style of Miami Vice. I'm weaving through traffic at near warp-speed in the hope of quickly reaching a local affiliate station which has graciously agreed to allow us to play back the tape of our interview. My anchor made the arrangement by phone just a few minutes ago. The prayer is that the problem we're having is with the camera's playback setting -- and not with the tape itself. None of us is very hopeful.

The other potential crisis at the moment is that our flight leaves in about two and a half hours, and I'm now about to drive into the center of Houston right at the start of rush hour -- in the rain.

I've got to get out of this business.

Wednesday, 3:07pm

I pull the SUV up and slam it to the curb right outside the affiliate. My crew throws open the doors and runs up the covered steps and into the building. I close my eyes and try to remain calm.

Wednesday, 3:13pm

As they exit the building, I can tell by the looks on their faces that things are not good.

"It's worthless," my anchor says as she climbs into the passenger's seat.

We came all this way for nothing.

Our flight leaves in an hour and a half.

Wednesday, 4:30pm

I have visions of the unparalleled benefits of profiling; it would have to work better than the system the TSA has in place right now at our nation's airports. I wonder how anyone can claim that confiscating water bottles and gel products prior to boarding is in any way keeping Americans safe in the skies. The question I want to ask one of these idiots is simple: "If you knew that liquid explosives were a potential threat -- then why the hell were we ever allowed to bring water on a fucking plane?" As usual, terrorists are thinking ahead, while the people paid to outsmart them have set up a safety net as secure and impenetrable as the space between Bill Buckner's legs.

I'm fidgeting. I'm angry. I'm about to miss my flight.

Wednesday, 4:56pm

Our plane rises through the gruesome haze of pollution spread low across Houston. A moment ago, I stood up slightly and looked around the cabin -- making sure my anchor, my photographer and our other producer made it. They did.

The man seated next to me is reading Bernie Goldberg's 100 People who are Screwing Up America, now expanded to 110 people. I can only assume that Hillary Clinton had ten new children since the publication of the last edition, or maybe Bernie just had ten more mini-strokes which translated into ten more Quixotic rants against liberals, feminists and any other Godless cretins his elderly mind deems offensive.

I lean back and close my eyes.

My iPod is plugged into my head.

The quiet beauty of Mazzy Star's Rhymes of an Hour washes over me.

I want to get Justin Fuller's comfortable smile out of my head.

I want to go home and hold my wife.

Thursday, 6:07pm

The first of three chemicals is pumped into Justin Fuller's body. He's looking at the faces of his mother and father as he drifts off.

Thursday, 6:18pm

Justin Fuller is pronounced dead.

Listening Post

When I was in college, there were two types of people: those who loved Fishbone and those you didn't want to be friends with.

Here they are doing an absolutely mindblowing live version of Sunless Saturday.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Quote of the Week (Early Contender)

"Will someone please put Sarah Palin out of her agony? Is it too much to ask that she come to realize that she wants, in that wonderful phrase in American politics, 'to spend more time with her family'?"

-- Professional Smart Person Fareed Zarakia, who, in deference to Sarah Palin, is from India (a country that can't be seen from either Alaska or Russia)

The Mayor of Simpleton

Well folks, I've finally found it.

I've been looking for years, but here it is: the single fucking dumbest thing ever.

From the Huffington Post:

"Fort Mill, South Carolina Mayor Danny Funderburk said he forwarded a chain email suggesting Barack Obama is the antichrist because he was 'just curious' if it was true.

'I was just curious if there was any validity to it,' Funderburk said in a telephone interview. 'I was trying to get documentation if there was any scripture to back it up.'

I guess leaning over the backyard fence and asking Cletus and Myrna if they'd been told anything about this by Baby Jesus didn't provide the confirmation Mayor "Danny" was looking for.

Just remember, this idiot was probably a pair of tits away from being John McCain's running mate at one point.

In the Red

Last week I reposted a silly little piece I wrote a while back poking fun at CNBC's Erin Burnett (Money Makes the Girls Go Round/9.25.08). Well, the new issue of Vanity Fair features an article which asks "Who Is Wall Street's Queen B?" and which contends that the rivalry between Maria Bartiromo and Erin Burnett is mostly "a male fantasy thing."

Yup, pretty much the most dead-on assertion VF has printed in years (and the above picture from the magazine goes a long way in proving it).

Erin my dear, I'm still waiting to hear from you.

Oh Say Can You See...

On the plus side, if no one actually shows it to her, it's safe to say Sarah Palin will never see this.

Book Report

In ten days I'll be headed to Los Angeles to pimp my book to a couple of interested parties, as well as make a promotional appearance or two. What will come of this, who knows -- but in the lead-up to my trip, I'm going to do something I haven't really done here before: make a full-on dedicated sales push. Thanks to readers of this site, the chance I took with online publication has been an unqualified success. There's no advertising for Dead Star Twilight -- no official outside promotion of any kind -- and yet through nothing more than your own support, viral internet buzz and some decent word-of-mouth, I've sold more copies of this thing than I ever could've imagined.

I can't thank you enough for everything so many of you have done to promote my book. The positive reaction has just floored me.

But now, for the first time, I'm going to come right out and ask for a little extra help. I'm looking for a sales spike over the next seven days, simply because the more online backing I can take with me to the West Coast, the better.

So if you've been thinking about picking up a copy of Dead Star Twilight and haven't gotten around to it yet, now's the time. Just click the link to the right to download it. If you've already read the book and liked it, then please -- tell your friends. Hell, buy one for them; say Oprah recommends it.

To prime the pump a tiny bit, I'm releasing one last excerpt from the book -- a lengthy and rather brutal one -- which you'll find directly below this post.

More excerpts, plus the unofficial "soundtrack," can be found here:

(Ship of Fools/2.22.08)

(Welcome to the Monkey House/6.4.07)

(The Ex Files/6.7.07)

(Imperfect Strangers/8.30.07)

(With Love and Resentment, Your Past/9.5.07)

(Listening Post: Memoir Edition/1.27.08)

(DST Soundtrack/4.7.08)

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

No Place Like Home

What follows is an extended excerpt from my memoir, Dead Star Twilight. The events described take place just before Christmas of 2000. By this time, I was well into a very serious heroin addiction and had hoped that a two-week vacation with my wife (now ex-wife) would provide a kind of forced detox -- the first step in kicking my dangerously escalating habit. If this sounds like a really stupid plan -- it was.

It’s almost 2pm on a Friday afternoon, and Kara and I are sitting at LAX waiting to board a flight which will take us to Miami, the first stop on an almost two-week-long holiday season tour. The plan is to hit both our parents’ homes, dividing our time equally between her family and mine. There will be extended relatives. There will be Christmas parties. There will be Kara’s first time meeting her newborn niece. There will be the requisite holiday cheer. And there, in the middle of it all, will be me—withdrawing from heroin.



Wait a minute.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

My eyes widen and my hands start to shake as the sheer impact of this ill-conceived little plan of mine finally hits me in the chest like a wrecking ball. It happens as I’m being herded down the jetway and into oblivion—the slow push forward suddenly taking on the finality of the Bataan Death March.

Oh shit.

Oh shit.

Oh motherfucking shit.

I try to conceal my expanding panic by logically sorting out what the next few hours and days will probably have in store for me. Truth be told, I have no idea what detox feels like. The reason for this, of course, is that since my addiction graduated to full-blown, Hendrixian status, I haven’t actually allowed myself to go without drugs long enough to feel the true pain of withdrawal.

What’s to come? I have some idea:

Visions of Trainspotting dance in my head—dead babies crawling across the ceiling.

I hear the voice of Pinhead from the Hellraiser movies telling me that he has such sights to show me.

“You alright?” Kara asks, no doubt noticing that I’ve gone shock-white.
I force a smile. “I’m fine.”

What’s one more lie at this point?

My math has suddenly gotten much better.

A twenty-dollar heroin ball, times three, plus the difference between noon and 10pm, at thirty-five thousand feet equals—one fucked junkie. It’s been ten hours since my last fix—I managed to sneak out and indulge just a couple of hours before boarding the plane—and I’m starting to feel the unmistakable first waves of withdrawal. They’re coming slow and steady—the promise of the suffering ahead hidden with little subtlety just below the surface. I can already feel parts of me being stripped away in layers—my usually pithy attitude, the first of many extraneous luxuries to go. This is brutally serious, and I’m terrified beyond words.

As the minutes pass—as slowly as hours—I can feel my humanity draining, little by little. It’s as if I’m devolving into the animal I would’ve been had I existed millions of years ago. At least that’s how it feels.

My ears are ringing.

My nose is running, rancid mucus sliding down the back of my throat.

I’m beginning to cough loudly—a wet, hacking and guttural sound that probably has the passengers and flight attendants around me wondering if they’re going to leave this flight infected with Ebola. I’m almost sure I saw the guy sitting across the aisle checking me out, looking for monkey bites.

My insides feel like they’re beginning to boil, the hot bubbles now roiling to the surface of my skin and bursting open, releasing scalding hot steam under my sweater.
I can feel the hot sweat turn to ice, just like Sid said.

What’s worse, I know that this is only the beginning.

I close my eyes and for the first time in years—I pray.

By the time we land, it’s just after midnight on the East Coast. I know this because I can still focus my eyes as I look down at my watch—but just barely. My head is listing forward as if someone hit me in the back of the neck with an axe, leaving nothing more than a few ragged pieces of flesh holding my head on. My body runs hot and cold at rapidly alternating intervals, never allowing me to get anywhere near comfortable. My stomach is cramping something awful and it hurts to move. If I were in a condition to analyze anything beyond the primal thought of my own survival, I’d fucking hate myself for letting this happen to me—for letting my addiction come to this. Hopefully, there’ll be time for that later.

As far as I can tell, Kara simply believes I’m getting sick—the way I usually do when I fly. I’m happy to allow her to continue down this seemingly logical path for no other reason than that it requires absolutely no effort from me. Right now I can barely speak through my chattering teeth. I couldn’t argue with her if I tried. At the moment though, she seems less concerned for my well-being than she does about the fact that I’m in no condition to meet either my parents now, or hers should this unfortunate situation last more than a week. Ergo, I’m going to ruin Christmas.

Still, if I don’t think things can get much worse—like I have been about so much lately—I’m completely wrong.

As I drag my dead feet up the incline of the jetway and into the open terminal of Miami International Airport, I spot them: My parents. Only they’re not my parents, at least not the parents I remember from four months ago, which was the last time I saw them before leaving for Los Angeles.

My God, is that all it’s been? Is that all the time it’s taken to bring my life down to this?

The world has changed so dramatically as to render everything completely unrecognizable, and my own sunken face in the mirror these days is not the only evidence of this. The man and woman now standing just a few feet in front of me appear spectral. I only vaguely recognize them as the people who raised me, although in my current condition this may be somewhat of a compliment, given that the parents of my youth seem to have failed miserably at teaching me right from wrong. But there’s something else about them—these two people. There’s something that even in this condition I sense but can’t put my finger on.

“Hi!” my mother exclaims, musically allowing the word to roll off her tongue until it’s split into two syllables—her eyebrows arcing to add emphasis.

She throws her arms around Kara first as a matter of circumstance—she happens to be closest. As she does this I force myself to extend a shaky and cold hand to my father who—in his unflappable way—pulls his own hand slowly from his pocket and returns the greeting. I lean in and attempt to put my other arm around his back in a half-hug, which turns into a near-collapse on my part. I end up grasping him for support, my head resting momentarily on his shoulder.

“Are you alright, son?” he says, practically holding me up.

I feel like I’m literally coming apart, but I’m astonished that in spite of my original fears, I’m managing to mask the pain better than I’d expected. I can’t cover up the cough, the fever, the watery eyes or the bubbling mucus in my nostrils—but at least I’m not howling about how badly I need drugs. That, I’m somehow keeping inside.

“He’s sick. He’s been like that for hours,” Kara says, her tone implying the kind of carefully rehearsed combination of concern and pity that can only come from being raised in the South. This is done strictly for my parents’ benefit.

My mother instantly assumes the obligatory-yet-sincere posture which conveys maternal worry—she also being from the South—and steps over to the sad little dance between her husband and son, the idiot. I feel the back of her hand come to rest on my forehead, and try to ignore the fact that, at the moment, this simple and sweet gesture feels like she’s just taken a hot iron and pressed it into my face.

“Oh honey, you’re burning up.”

No shit.

She turns to Kara. “He always gets sick when he travels,” she says matter-of-factly. I allow myself a moment to wonder why she thinks that the woman I married wouldn’t know such a basic, albeit unfortunate fact about me.

I pull my head up off of my father’s shoulder, noticing the film of sweat and oil left behind on his jacket.

“Sorry,” I manage to mutter. “I’m pretty gross right now.”

Once again, no shit.

“Not a problem. Let’s get you home.”

That’s my dad: All business.

The wife’s suspiciously ear-to-ear smile is blinding, so I turn away from it as we begin the painful trudge through the terminal to baggage claim. I find myself instead scanning the floor in every direction, deliriously on the lookout for wandering goats and chickens, sleeping illegal immigrants, giant bags of cocaine, local politicians being arrested by federal agents or any of the other unusual sights that characterize Miami International as America’s only Third World airport.

“You guys hungry?” my mother asks, with far too much enthusiasm.

Dear Christ, I’m in hell.

All I can manage is a sigh.

Throughout the ride home, the conversation between my wife and my parents is a mish-mash of triviality. How’s work? How’s her family? Are they excited to see us for Christmas? And how have things been back here in Miami? I’m thankfully catching only snippets as I weave in and out of consciousness. I’m fighting the overwhelming urge to moan as loudly as I can. In spite of the dreamlike fugue state that seems to have wrapped itself around my brain and is now squeezing like an anaconda, I’m well aware that it’s taking all of my energy to not move. The flu-like symptoms have given way to something much more frightening: My muscles are now spasming horribly. It’s a searing pain that I’m trying in desperation to relieve by stretching my legs as far as I can in the backseat of my parents’ car—pushing down hard against the floor until it feels like it might split open and I’ll suddenly become a grotesque parody of Fred Flintstone. I’m flexing every muscle in my body, in the hope that the tension and release will somehow wear them out to the point of relaxation. None of this is working. I’m nearly in shock and trying to stop myself from shaking all over.
This is the nightmare scenario that I was afraid of: Withdrawing hard—right in front of my wife and parents. As this thought enters my head like a spike, with my skin steaming and freezing at the same time, lava running through my veins and my muscles and organs liquefying within me, I can’t hold back. I’m only vaguely aware of the sound I’m suddenly making.

“Son, are you alright? Do you need to go to the hospital?”

I look up and see my father’s face staring back at me in the rearview mirror. The sweeps of pink light from the passing street lamps make it appear evil and menacing.

“What?” I try not to look like I want him to kill me.

“You’re moaning—are you alright?”

That’s when I realize that every exhalation of hot, stale breath that escapes my body is accompanied by a small but audible whimper. I gather every ounce of energy and practically spit back through clenched teeth, “No, I’ll be okay. I just really feel awful. I need to get home and get to bed.”

“Well, we’re almost there, honey,” my mother reassures.

I look over at my wife and try to appear remorseful for this unfortunate but wholly accidental turn of events. She just looks pissed.

I close my eyes and wish myself away. Attempt to forget how sorry I am that I didn’t bring just one ball of heroin with me. Or that I wasn’t born somebody else.

What I see when I open my eyes doesn’t in any way bring me back to reality—not that reality’s a place I want to be right now anyway. The effect, in fact, is exactly the opposite. What I’m looking at through the rear passenger window of my parents’ car doesn’t look at all familiar. I’ve never seen it before in my life. It certainly doesn’t register as home.

“We’re here,” my mother says, turning around and looking into the backseat with a little smile.

“We are?” I manage.

That’s when it hits me—the feeling I had at the airport.

With all the inconsequential platitudes being tossed back and forth in the car, the subject of my parents’ “situation” never came up. Despite the fact that I keep in regular contact with them by phone and know the details of what happened to them, it had understandably been pushed out of my mind tonight—until right now.

“This is it, eh?” I ask, barely opening my mouth. I instantly regret sounding so disappointed.

“This is temporary. You should see the place in Sebring,” my mother says.

My eye sockets fill with acid when the dome light in the car comes on. I squeeze my eyelids shut as tightly as I can against the pain. The car jostles as everyone gets out, sending crushing tremors through my racked body. I somehow open the door and pull myself out into the humid night air.

Even in December it’s hot as hell. I don’t miss this.

We heft our bags out of the trunk and head across a small parking lot. Bright orange sodium-vapor street lamps throw eerie shifting shadows across the ground as the four of us walk toward my parents’ “temporary” home. Calling it a home of any kind is an insult to the word.

What it is, is an ugly two story apartment building—apparently one of several identical structures arranged along a series of interconnected parking areas, making it feel as if the unsightly late-model Toyota Corollas, Nissan Sentras and Chevy pick-ups—so ubiquitous in this middle-class part of Broward County—were the first priority, with living accommodations for actual humans being a minor afterthought.
The building itself is typical South Florida—as indigenous to the area as mosquitoes and mullets, assholes and Amber Alerts. I can practically describe it with my eyes closed, which to be honest would be better for my constitution right now.

It’s a beige stucco job, trimmed in unattractive, dark-brown wood. Doors to the individual apartments line the upper and lower floors, with a long landing and brown metal railing bisecting the building horizontally. There’s patchy grass in between each structure that I imagine loops around back, no doubt sloping into a canal, man-made watering hole, or some other alligator and/or child-enticing deathtrap which serves no purpose other than to allow the real estate company to make the hyperbolic claim that the apartments are “waterfront.” Here and there across the bottom of each building are patches of discoloration where months if not years of hard water from the sprinklers have left rainbow-shaded arcs on the paint.

For obvious reasons, I didn’t notice the name of the subdivision on the way in, but I figure that—in the stifling lexicon of suburban banality—it’s some catchy little mix-and-match combo, arranged from a predetermined set of maybe nine or ten specific words which the development company found tested well with focus groups.

Forest Trace.

Trace Wind.

Wind Glen.

Glen Close.

Anything that calls to mind the simple serenity of nature while hopefully distracting you from the fact that in reality, you live a block away from three strip malls and probably right next door to a meth lab.

“The guest room is right down that hall,” my mother says, motioning to her left as she walks in the door ahead of us.

Kara turns and disappears into the room—our room during our stay here. I use what little strength I have left to fight the punishing urge to simply climb into bed, pull the covers up and let the full nightmare wash over me.

At least three more days of this—maybe longer.

Instead, I take a moment to look around the tiny two-bedroom apartment and face my mother and father’s new reality head-on. The inside is nothing more than an uninterrupted continuation of the exterior: A world of beige. I recognize the furniture from the old house—the huge four-bedroom home with the big pool and the bigger backyard that my parents were forced to sell because my father lost his job—only here the effect isn’t comforting, but confusing. Relics of my family’s life—my life—have been haphazardly wedged into this tiny space. The feel is nothing less than oppressive—as if this shitty apartment has somehow captured my family and its memories and is now holding them hostage. My eyes finally come to rest on a dark figure which, despite its small size, takes up an uncomfortable amount of space in the corner of the room. As if on cue, my mother gets down on her hands and knees and reaches behind it. After a brief struggle with the plug, the little tree lights up, bathing the room in the colors of Christmas. My mother stands up and forces her best holiday-season smile as if to say, “See, it’s not so bad.” I can’t help but think of A Charlie Brown Christmas. This is the tree Charlie Brown would’ve brought back to those unappreciative little bastards if he’d gone the artificial route and did his shopping at Rite-Aid.

Gone is the majestic Christmas tree of my childhood.

Gone is my sense that my parents are larger than life.

Gone is the future my mother and father had dreamed of for themselves.

Gone is home.

That mysterious and unrelenting feeling I couldn’t put my finger on back at the airport: Sadness. Overwhelming sadness.

“Where’s the rest of the furniture?” I ask, aware that in my current state these words sound a whole lot like the verses of The Who’s My Generation.

“Sebring,” my father answers economically, stretching out in his recliner and switching on the television.

“Maybe we can take a ride up there while you’re here,” my mother adds, busying herself around what passes for a living room. “You’d like the house. It’s much smaller than the old place, but once we get it finished it’s really going to be nice.”

She turns to look at me now, her face and tone suddenly shifting from the doting mom, to the serious and strong woman I’ve grown up with my entire life.

“I’ll tell you something. I think it’s the best house we’ve ever owned.”

I just nod. Simple acknowledgement is about the best I can do right now. I’m fully aware that there’s no chance in hell that I’m going to see the new house while I’m down here—the one they paid cash for in Sebring with the money from the old place. I’ll be lucky if I make it out of bed at any point over the next few days. The center of the state is out of the question. I already know how unfortunate that is, because I want nothing more than to get as far away from this depressing place as possible. I want to see a light at the end of the tunnel for them, because if I don’t, this is the only image I’ll be left with: The people I love, stuck here.

My hyper-aware skin senses a shift in the air behind me, and suddenly there’s a hand on my forehead. I hear Kara’s voice.

“Time to get you to bed. You’re on fire,” she says.

She seems truly concerned, but since sweet-and-nurturing isn’t usually in her repertoire, I can’t help but wonder if the spousal compassion isn’t just more of an act put on for my parents. Either way I lean forward into her hand, feeling like my head is melting around it.

“You sure you don’t want me to call Dr. Graubert?” my mother asks.

I stop a second to wonder how long it would take for our family physician to figure out what’s really wrong with me. Best to keep him out of it. I feel like a criminal who’s been shot but refuses to go to the hospital.

“Nope,” I say, forcing a pained smile. “Just want to go to bed.”

My mother disappears and quickly returns with two Tylenol PMs and a glass of water. I happily swallow the pills, hopeful that they’ll somehow help me sleep through part of this.

“It’s good to have you back,” she says, cupping my hot face in her hands and kissing me on the cheek goodnight. “Try and get some sleep. Maybe you’ll feel better in the morning.”

Not a chance.

Years ago, it took the events of one night to pretty much stop me from doing ecstasy altogether. Up until that experience, I had spent weekend after weekend indulging in a drug and a lifestyle that I really couldn’t say anything bad about. This, despite the fact that it was a shamefully cavalier attitude toward substance abuse that probably contributed to the car accident that killed my best friend. Never one to learn his goddamned lesson, I went on partying long after Jorge’s mysterious plunge into that canal. I’m convinced that it nearly cost me my own life one night at a rave in the desert outside San Diego. That’s where I bought and downed two pills of unknown origin, already a violation of a rule that I’d at least been smart enough to live by for years: You don’t buy from someone you don’t know, particularly at a rave. The result was a ride through hell I’ll likely never forget. Whatever it was that I ingested, it sure as hell wasn’t ecstasy. It left me hallucinating and terrified for my life to the point where—for the first time in a long and illustrious career of doing drugs—I seriously considered pulling the rip-cord. As I laid on the cold ground feeling the thumping heartbeat of the music, my vision beginning to funnel into pinpoints, I gathered what little was left of my wits and made the decision that I was going to approach one of the many cops roaming the desert fairgrounds, tell him what was happening to me and beg him to get me to an ambulance. For someone who had never been arrested for drugs—whose use was unknown to all but his closest friends—I knew what crossing that Rubicon would mean, and I didn’t care. I didn’t want to die.

In the end, I wound up doing neither.

At some point—I barely remember when—I was rescued. I felt soft hands wrap around the back of my heavy head and cradle it gently. A woman’s face leaning down—her hair brushing my skin. My head coming to rest in her lap. She began to sing to me in a voice that sounded like nothing less than that of an angel, while stroking my cheek with her fingertips. I let my eyes flutter and close, and drifted away from the horror.

“You’re going to be alright,” I heard her whisper.

I never fully thanked her.

This is the memory that’s occupying what little of my mind isn’t on fire right now. An hour after kissing my mother goodnight, I’m in the double bed which takes up most of the small guest bedroom. The lights are off and the room itself is all endless darkness. I can hear my wife’s steady breathing next to me. Its rhythm is usually enough to help lull me to sleep, but that’s nothing more than a fantasy right now. There will be no sleep. None. My entire body is being shredded—as if I every molecule inside me is moving at a speed so fast that the friction is creating unbearable, unstoppable heat. It’s taking every ounce of self-control I have left to restrict my painful writhing to the point where my wife might not notice. I know my mouth is open in a grisly, tormented silent scream. Teeth bared. Breath hot and thick. I want to rip my stomach open and pull my white-hot guts out to let them breathe in the open air. Like all those years ago, I want to pull the rip-cord. I want to confess the truth to my parents. To my wife. To the world. I want to beg someone for heroin. I want to get to a hospital. I’m fully aware that there will be no compassionate angel to save me this time. For a moment I allow myself to wonder where she is right now. How I would give anything to see her again. Feel her soft touch. Hear her whisper in my ear: “You’re going to be alright.”

My lips tighten at the thought of this and my eyes squeeze shut until all I see is a rolling collage of violent red and orange behind my eyelids. There it is: Hell. I can feel the tears beginning to run down the sides of my face. I swear I can feel them boiling as gravity pulls them across my scorched skin—sizzling and dancing into dark streaks like the heroin that caused them.

I’m calling out to God in my head.

I’m so sorry! Please help me!

I’m screaming inside.

No one’s listening.

No one can help me.

Not this time.

This time there’s only the destruction I’ve earned.

There’s a sudden flash of white. It’s a searing pain that feels like knives being plunged through my eyes, my brain, and into the back of my skull. It could be moments or hours later. My arms are wrapped tightly around my body because now that I’m out of bed, the air out in the open feels like ice water against my skin. As my eyes adjust to the sudden sickly light, my surroundings come into a difficult focus.

Pale yellowish wallpaper.

A brown faux-wood Formica vanity.

A light blue vinyl shower curtain, which I quickly pull aside—snapping it from several of the cheap plastic hooks which attach it to the rod.

Cold linoleum tile against my scalding-hot feet.

I’m in the hall bathroom.

Another homogenous room in another homogenous apartment in another homogenous building in this homogenous development.

Sandal Bay.

Bay Ridge.

Ridge Run.

Run for your life.

I begin to choke on my own mucus, causing me to cough loudly until I begin to vomit into the toilet. I feel my stomach spasm—it’s lining being ripped away. I try to stand, then double over, catching myself in time to stop my body from falling completely into the mustard-colored fiberglass bathtub. I crank the faucet and the water begins to rush powerfully into the tub. I flip the stopper into place and start to swirl the water with my hand, willing the bathtub to fill faster. With one fluid motion I slide out of my t-shirt and boxer shorts, both of which are soaked with cold sweat, letting them drop to the floor with a sopping splat. I pour my naked body into the rising hot water. As it envelops me completely I want to scream, but all I can manage is a pained and pathetic whimper.

I close my eyes and exhale loudly—pushing as much air from my burning insides as possible—then breathe in just as deeply. The new air fills me with at least a measure of calm. The water soothes my skin and seems to regulate my body temperature. I’m no longer a freakish combination of scalding and freezing. My muscles ease. The fire subsides slightly.

It’s not an angel, but for now it will have to do.

All God's Children

This morning, the Today show continued its bizarre love affair with the traveling Evangelical baby factory known as the Duggar clan -- which allows me to "resurrect" (pardon the pun) what I wrote the last time these people appeared on the show, four months ago. For the record, I kept waiting for the Duggar mom to announce this morning that she was pregnant again while she was still carrying her latest child.

In case you were lucky enough to miss it, the Duggar family took time out from its hectic overpopulation schedule to grace the Today show this morning, where they were treated to heaps of warm encomia on-camera (and were mercilessly joked about off-camera). For those who don't have a subscription to Procreation Weekly, the Duggars -- Jim Bob and Michelle -- are the lucky parents of 17 children. Michelle, who essentially has an assembly line that ends at her cervix, cranks out about a kid a year, and has since 1988.

It goes completely without saying that the Duggars are full-on fundamentalist Christians who live in Arkansas, don't believe in contraception, home-school their entire brood, and somehow find a way to joyfully drop the name of the Lord every fifteen seconds or so like there's a Skinner Box treat in it for them.

Think of the Flanders -- times nine.

Or maybe that polygamist cult in Texas, as dressed by the Gap.

All morning, Today hyped the appearance by America's favorite freakshow, teasing viewers with hints of a "big announcement" that mom Michelle was going to make live on the air.

If you couldn't see this one coming, you were probably home-schooled: That's right, they're having another baby -- number 18!

At least the show's producers had the cynical forethought not to tease that it was a "big surprise announcement."

I really don't have a joke here; this whole thing kind of makes its own gravy. I just needed somebody to laugh at and poke with a stick this morning and you know something, the Duggars are right -- the Lord does provide.

(Incidentally, yes, that's them in the picture)

Picture of the Week (And It's Only Monday)

From Gawker, a photo snapped in the 28th Avenue subway stop here in New York City.

Fail? Oh no, my friends -- win.

Listening Post

It's one of those seemingly impossible feats in popular music.

In 2001, after 21 years together (25 if you count Joy Division), New Order somehow recorded the most vital album of their career. By all accounts, Get Ready could've and probably should've been an afterthought -- an effort that barely registered on the cultural radar from a group whose best days were surely behind it.

Instead, the damn thing barreled along with astonishing ferocity -- beginning with this opening track.

Here's Crystal.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Raptor Ready

From the L.A. Times:

"Soon after Sarah Palin was elected mayor of the foothill town of Wasilla, Alaska, she startled a local music teacher by insisting in casual conversation that men and dinosaurs coexisted on an Earth created 6,000 years ago -- about 65 million years after scientists say most dinosaurs became extinct -- the teacher said.

After conducting a college band and watching Palin deliver a commencement address to a small group of home-schooled students in June 1997, Wasilla resident Philip Munger said, he asked the young mayor about her beliefs. Palin told him that 'dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time,' Munger said. When he asked her about prehistoric fossils and tracks dating back millions of years, Palin said 'she had seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks.'"

For the record, it's not that Palin's claims have anything to do with religion -- she just didn't pay attention in science class and really doesn't know how old the earth is.

Sunday Sacrilege

Saturday Might

My God, I love Tina Fey.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Quote of the Week (Runner-Up)

"How the fuck are you gonna make decisions about the future when you ain't even gonna be here?"

-- Chris Rock, talking about John McCain


It just amazes me how many items related to this election have been so hysterical/terrifying that I just couldn't have made them up or improved upon them if I tried.

And this one may be the best/worst of all of them. There's nothing about it that isn't so flawlessly, nightmarishly surreal as to qualify as art.

Go here at your own risk.

"I'm John McCain, and I Approved This Horseshit"

Did McCain really mutter "horseshit" under his breath twice during last night's debate?

I wish I could say that it's utterly preposterous, but this is John McCain we're talking about.

Decide for yourself.

Saturday Morning Cartoons

See what happens when rednecks screw with intellectuals?

From 1955, here's Foghorn Leghorn in Feather Dusted.

He Grinned Like a Baby but Bit Like a Gator

The Sting is one of my all-time favorite movies. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Cool Hand Luke aren't far behind.

Which is why it hurts like hell to hear that Paul Newman -- one of Hollywood's truly great leading men, a movie star's movie star -- has died at the age of 83.

Newman was immensely talented, great-looking, an adventurer, compassionate and caring toward his fellow man, and most of all -- just plain cool.

They really don't make them like him anymore.

And maybe that's what makes the loss that much tougher to take.

Talking Points

Let's be honest -- Barack Obama didn't really win last night's debate.

He didn't lose it, but he certainly didn't knock it out of the park.

Just how well he fared depends on how you measure victory. The glass-half-full viewpoint is that he more than held his own against a career politician who's spent most of this campaign casting him as dangerously untested; if the goal was simply to appear steadfast and, indeed, presidential, then yes, Obama can put one in the win column. But the glass-half-empty viewpoint -- and have you figured out by now where I fall? -- is that it was Obama who faced a doddering, erratic, panicked opponent who's not only completely out of touch with the problems of modern America but who spent the past two weeks making questionable judgment call after questionable judgment call, and yet he didn't completely mop the floor with him.

Barack Obama had ample opportunity last night to leave John McCain in the dust, and yet for whatever reason he didn't do it. He's smarter than McCain, more eloquent than McCain, and infinitely more personable than McCain; in my mind this should've been a blowout. But then maybe I'm being too harsh -- expecting too much from what's traditionally a very staid affair.

My biggest complaint -- and I can't help but feel that this is a pretty subjective view -- is that Obama allowed McCain to get away with far too much: He let McCain claim that he was naive and "didn't understand" over and over without hitting back hard; he never bothered to bring up the elephant in the room -- McCain's bizarre political stunt that may have contributed to the collapse of the bailout negotiations in Washington and almost killed the debate itself; and, worst of all, he kept agreeing with McCain, saying "Well, John's right about..." Even if you believe it, for God's sake don't begin every other answer by verifying it. You issue a statement like that maybe once just to show that you're magnanimous; you don't say it several times and leave yourself open to a cleverly edited ad that the other guy can throw on the air by morning. ("Even Barack Obama knows that John McCain is right!")

He didn't need to get angry; he just needed to put McCain in his place with a Ronald Reagan "There You Go Again" moment.

Make no mistake though: Obama did manage an inarguable draw, and maybe that's enough. There will be two more of these debates to come -- to say nothing of the Stephanie McMahon vs. The Rock steel cage match scheduled for October 2nd, provided McCain's people can't somehow make it go away before then -- and Obama will no doubt take what he learned from this first one and hit harder and smarter the next time around.

It's just that it would be a shame if McCain's relatively adequate performance -- albeit one tinged with plenty of Bush-like smugness and condescension -- brought his narrative back from the precipice and allowed America to forget the batshit lunacy of the past couple of weeks.

Listening Post

Ah, the 80s kick continues.

Here's the rarely seen video for INXS's To Look At You.

Friday, September 26, 2008

That's What She Said

Watch this pretty startling clip from CNN's The Situation Room this afternoon. Jack Cafferty pulls no punches and says what most of us are thinking when it comes to Sarah Palin, and refuses to allow Wolf Blitzer to defend her.

Watch it, then go read what Jacki Schechner has to say about it. She's equally unwilling to let the media off the hook.

(Where Was I?: Truth Be Told/9.26.08)

Reality Bites

Kathleen Parker of the National Review -- that would be the very conservative National Review -- has recently had a bucket of ice cold water dumped on her.

It came in the form of Sarah Palin's performance during the few interviews the McCain camp has allowed her to take part in.

From Parker's column today:

"It was fun while it lasted.

Palin’s recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity, and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League. No one hates saying that more than I do. Like so many women, I’ve been pulling for Palin, wishing her the best, hoping she will perform brilliantly. I’ve also noticed that I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does. My cringe reflex is exhausted.

If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself."

So what does Parker suggest Sarah Palin do to help salvage the McCain campaign?

Drop out.

(The National Review Online: "The Palin Problem" by Kathleen Parker/9.26.08)

Listening Post (Friday Bonus Edition)

I'm obviously feeling very retro today.

This is one of the best covers ever done -- seriously.

Don't ask, just play.


Well, l guess that stunt's over.

Now tell me, who looks steady, focused and assured -- and who looks like an erratic, confused, crazy old man?

(The New York Times: McCain Will Participate in Debate/9.26.08)

Oh yeah, and not only is he going to be there tonight, if you believe an internet ad his team is circulating -- he's already won.

Like I said a couple of days ago -- we're in seriously uncharted territory now. This is either a dangerously unhinged man or just a shockingly incompetent campaign.

It's Christmas Morning

Ladies and gentlemen, the next Vice President of the United States...

(Update: The video's been pulled. Not sure by whom.)

Where's Johnny? (Part II)

I spoke too soon when I said that drama queen McCain's little plan to use the bailout negotiations to get out of tonight's debate had backfired in spectacular fashion.

It actually backfired in unbelievably spectacular fashion.

(ABC News: You Break It.../9.26.08)

(On that note, a great quote from Bob Cesca's piece that ran a couple of days ago at HuffPost: "So what will a McCain administration economic policy look like? From the lack of foresight and leadership we've witnessed so far, we can assume that McCain might choose a new economic policy totally at random, depending on how saucy he feels from minute to minute. 'I'll have a muffin with my Egg Beaters, and replace Bernanke with that hooplehead who weedwacks the knoll.' Two minutes later... 'Hey Phil, we don't need the Nasdaq anymore. Kill it.' Two minutes later... 'My God! What have I done! Quickly -- nationalize the paintball industry! Go!' One thing is for sure. Expecting a workable solution to this economic meltdown from a man as knee-jerk, dishonest and incomprehensible as John McCain would be an exercise in national self-destruction. He doesn't have anything real to say, and what he does say, he can't sell. He simply can't do the gig. A vote for McCain-Palin is absolutely a vote for the end of America as we know it.)

The Court v. Public Opinion

I'll make this quick, which is probably a good thing since what I'm about to say likely won't be very popular.

Georges Clemenceau once famously said that war is too important to be left to the generals. Well, I'm starting to believe that from what we've seen lately -- the trickery, lies and dangerous gambits of the McCain campaign and the fact that its only competition isn't blowing it fully and comfortably out of the water in the nationwide polls -- the future of this country may be too important to be left to the people.

Or, more specifically, to the half of this country that values ignorance, provincial charm, impressive deception, unwavering party allegiance and mindless ideology above not simply a government based on thoughtful analysis but above the very lives of the people who live under it.

If you've seen enough courtroom dramas, you know that often when a lawyer makes a questionable argument or takes a dubious stand on behalf of his client, the judge will sometimes decide that it goes too far in the direction of subverting the very concept our legal system stands for: justice. He or she will essentially say that the argument is so prejudicial -- so out-of-bounds -- that the jury shouldn't even be allowed to hear it. And so it's thrown out.

It happens in court all the time.

Why can't it be allowed to happen on a national scale -- in the current presidential election?

Here's my point: Sarah Palin isn't simply unqualified to be vice president -- or God forbid, president -- she's thoroughly unqualified. If installed in office, the McCain ticket will have put this country in imminent danger. What's worse, the reason Palin was selected for the campaign actually has nothing to do with her qualifications or lack thereof to begin with; it was a purely political choice -- a shifty little trick designed to nab the narrative and nail down the conservative base which, quite frankly, doesn't typically employ any semblance of logic or reason in voting for a candidate anyway. On the contrary, there are those who support Palin specifically because they believe she will be a harbinger of the End Times and help hasten the rapture. McCain counted on this when he chose her; he didn't bother to vet her properly and didn't care one bit that she might not be prepared to take on the responsibilities of being a vice president. (If you need proof, look at the way he cynically attempts to hide her from anyone who might put her in a position where she'd make it clear that she has no idea what she's talking about and has no place being where she is right now.)

So why can't someone step in and declare that this candidacy isn't fit to be handed to the voters?

I realize that, as usual, this will get me slapped with the ubiquitous "elitist" tag, but by now the reality of Sarah Palin is beyond speculation or opinion; it's pretty much proven fact to anyone with a brain.

McCain is currently and consistently lying to win this election and if he succeeds, the nation as a whole will pay the price because his vice president doesn't meet even the paltriest of standards for assuming the office.

Who can step in and halt this farce?

I'm not quite sure, but I'd be inclined to offer this suggestion -- which I admit doesn't come from a lawyer, so take it for what it's worth: the Supreme Court made a decision regarding the 2000 election that changed all of our lives irrevocably; maybe it's time someone availed him or herself of our hallowed legal system and truly did try to have this put to a judge.

Who'll be the first to file an emergency injunction against the McCain campaign?


Forgetting Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin's most singularly offensive quality is the one she shares with George Bush: a near-lethal combination of arrogance and ignorance -- as if incurious provincialism is something to revel in and be smug about, rather than be embarrassed by. Case in point, this laughable exchange from yesterday's interview with Katie Couric:

Couric: You met yesterday with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who is for direct diplomacy with both Iran and Syria. Do you believe the U.S. should negotiate with leaders like President Assad and Ahmadinejad?

Palin: I think, with Ahmadinejad, personally, he is not one to negotiate with. You can't just sit down with him with no preconditions being met. Barack Obama is so off-base in his proclamation that he would meet with some of these leaders around our world who would seek to destroy America and that, and without preconditions being met. That's beyond naïve. And it's beyond bad judgment.

Couric: Are you saying Henry Kissinger ... is naïve for supporting that?

So let's recap: Henry Kissinger, who was secretly waging wars in countries Sarah Palin's never evern heard of while she was giving her first blow jobs to boys to get them to like her, is naïve and Palin has the credentials to say so.

Seriously, when can we put this fucking idiot behind us and let her get back to waiting for the rapture?

Listening Post

A total blast from the past -- this is one of my favorite songs from the 80s. In fact, a band I played in as a teenager did a pretty rip-roaring cover of this -- but how can you not?

Here's Jason and the Scorchers' White Lies.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Guess He Won't Have Time to Hit the Early Bird Special

"To get in the debating mood, John McCain will take a short nap. His rival, Barack Obama, will work out or shoot hoops."

-- From The Wall Street Journal, 9.22.08

Miss Informed 2008

From part two of Katie Couric's interview with Sarah Palin: Specifically watch 1:51-2:55 of this -- Palin's incomprehensible answer to a question about the bailout, complete with several glances at her notes -- then once again watch the video below.

(Update: And then there's this: Palin once again trying to justify at length her belief that Alaska's proximity to Russia makes her well versed in foreign policy. I swear this will make your fucking brain implode it's so unbelievably stupid. As my friend Jacki Schechner implies, this idiot makes the girls on The Hills look like Rhodes Scholars. Americablog: Blithering Idiot/9.25.08)

(Update II: Love this quote: "Three weeks after the 2008 Republican convention, on the cusp (maybe) of the first presidential debate, it is time to confront an awkward but profound question: whether in picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain has committed -- by his own professed standards of duty and honor -- a singularly unpatriotic act. 'I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war,' he has said throughout this campaign. Yet, in choosing Palin, he has demonstrated -- whatever his words -- it may be permissible to imperil the country, conceivably even to 'lose' it, in order to win the presidency. That would seem the deeper meaning of his choice of Palin. Indeed, no presidential nominee of either party in the last century has seemed so willing to endanger the country's security as McCain in his reckless choice of a running mate." -- Carl Bernstein)

You Won't Fool the Children of the Revolution

You know something?

At the risk of sounding overly bellicose -- if this were a different time and a different place, the White House would have been overrun by an angry mob by now and George W. Bush likely would've been dragged kicking and screaming to the guillotine.

(The Atlanta Journal Constitution: Wall Street Bailout: 10 Reasons to Just Say No/9.25.08)