Thursday, January 31, 2008

In Honor of Britney...

Van Halen, doing 5150.

Unfortunately, Most Guys Have Already Seen Her Finishing Move


I really thought an offer from Playboy would be as weird, stupid and shameful as it gets.

I was wrong.

(The Huffington Post: Alycia Lane Offered Job at WWE)

And now, for absolutely no good reason -- The Rock.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

No Room at the Inn


You're not going to believe this, but I'm forgoing my usual M.O. (Ridicule. Make snide jokes. Repeat.) in favor of actually advocating unity and reconciliation.

When it comes to presidential politics, America's Evangelical Christian contingent has basically been left out in the cold this time around. It happened because the far-right fundamentalists forgot a basic rule of physics: To every action there's an equal and opposite reaction.

So how do we prevent an eventual and inevitable backlash in the other direction?

My latest column can now be found at the Huffington Post.

(The Huffington Post: "Losing Their Religion"/1.30.08)

Beat It


The story of the day, compliments of CNN.com:

"Fishermen Beat To Death Endangered River Dolphin (CNN) -- Fishermen in Bangladesh beat a rare river dolphin to death because they had not seen 'this kind of creature before,' according to local news accounts."

I guess it could be worse.

They could've begun worshipping it and appointed it their exalted ruler.

Incidentally, does this mean we now have an excuse for beating Exxon Chairman Lee Raymond to death.

Ted Kennedy Doesn't Care About Women


So, New York feminists -- who if I know anything about my adopted home probably count Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda among their upper echelon -- are accusing Edward Kennedy of betraying them by endorsing Barack Obama for president.

The New York chapter of the National Organization of Women, apparently freed up from having to cook dinner, issued an official denouncement of Teddy the Red-Nosed Senator yesterday.

"Women have just experienced the ultimate betrayal. Senator Kennedy's endorsement of Hillary Clinton's opponent in the Democratic presidential primary campaign has really hit women hard."

Yes, yes.

Because killing a woman wasn't enough of a slight.

(Please note that in the interest of good taste, I excluded a joke which referred to the National Organization of Women as "NOW -- as in 'Now shut up and go do the dishes.'" It's okay -- you don't have to thank me.)

Listening Post



It's rare that I post a homemade video, but for some reason this one really caught my eye.

There's something mesmerizing about the mood that it manages to capture with such stunningly unassuming images. When coupled with the music -- Start Over, from one of my favorite unknown bands, Abandoned Pools -- the effect is kind of hard to put into words.

It paints a perfect picture of youth, in all its simple majesty -- and makes me nostalgic as all hell.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A War Without End, Amen


There's a reason I love Arianna Huffington as much as I do, and it's proven once again in her smart, scathing rebuke of last night's State of the Union Address.

Not only does she assail George Bush for continuing his catastrophic presidency's tradition of obfuscation and outright bullshit, as well as point out the hinted-at horrors yet to come from a potential McCain White House, she also manages to reference Dr. Strangelove in the process.

Read on.

(The Huffington Post: Bush and McCain's Displaced Ardor for War/1.29.08)

Why So Serious? (Post-Script)


A follow-up to Monday's column in the Huffington Post (HuffPo: "John Gibson's Truly Tasteless Joke, and Why You Really Shouldn't Care"/1.27.08)

I've written at length before about the slippery slope involved in allowing any offended party the powers of censorship. For some time now, a trend has been developing in this country, one which dictates that all someone has to do is claim aggrieved status and shout it loud enough and to the right people and it'll almost certainly make whatever happens to be offending him or her go away.

Don Imus makes makes a crack you think is racist -- regardless of whether or not it was aimed in your direction? Pitch a fit and get him fired.

Paris Hilton says something cruel toward gays on a videotape you were never supposed to see to begin with? Start a petition.

John Gibson makes fun of the death of Heath Ledger? Off with his head.

Please understand, all three of the people I've just mentioned rank about as high on my list of likes as, say, colon cancer. The question remains though, who gets to decide what's offensive and what's acceptable art, humor, gossip, etc?

I bring this up because in my diatribe against Gibson's ineffectual idiocy, I viewed his comment not as an insult to any one group, but rather as generally insensitive. Apparently, not everyone has taken it that way. A quick look at the comments some have posted in response to my editorial would seem to indicate that some in the gay community considered it a slam against homosexuals specifically. I hope I can be forgiven for not seeing Gibson's tasteless joke in this context, simply because Ledger himself wasn't gay and to the best of my knowledge Gibson never implied as much. (For the record, there's no doubt in my mind that Gibson and his audience giggle like Beavis and Butthead at the entire premise of Brokeback Mountain, but once again, trying to bully them into evolving will accomplish absolutely nothing besides maybe eliciting a wholly insincere apology.)

Most interesting of the comments though, is one which not only rails against Gibson's "homophobic rants," but also includes a link to a petition being circulated by perpetually pissed-off gay-rights group GLAAD as well as a list of Fox News's advertisers, ostensibly ripe for boycott, provided by -- Perez Hilton.

Now if you can already see the laughably jaw-dropping irony of Perez Hilton demanding that someone have his forum revoked for being generally offensive, feel free to stop reading.

For everyone else, the balls on Hilton -- the erstwhile Mario Lavendeira -- are positively staggering.

This is a guy who makes a living, and a depressingly nice one at that, drawing semen stains on celebrities, models and anyone he damn well pleases. He literally lives under the protection of the first amendment and the imprimatur provided by a satirist's ability to claim that it's all one big, mischievous joke. No harm, no foul.

Fact is, Perez Hilton needs to shut the fuck up and sit this one out.

As for the overall belief that Gibson was specifically ridiculing the gay community in his targeting of Ledger, I'm not sure that's the case. Gibson was simply being what he always is: a juvenile asshole. In the interest of full disclosure, I could very easily be accused of having mocked the death of Kanye West's mother, Donda West, a few months ago (Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, Deader/11.12.07). I wouldn't be able to put up much of a fight if you called me an insensitive prick based on those comments. However, if you insinuated that I'm racist or sexist because I made an admittedly crass joke about the death of someone who just happened to be a black woman, I'd think you were an idiot.

Gibson wasn't making fun of gay people -- he was making fun of Heath Ledger.

And to those who think otherwise and insist on turning this into an opportunity to shout loudly about their own particular cause, I can only repeat the words that almost every girlfriend I've ever had has said at one point or another.

It's not always about you.

The Mark Has Been Made



I'm a big fan of The X Files and therefore love a good creepy, well-thought-out conspiracy theory. I love it almost as much as I love heaping scorn on the bat-shit lunacy that is Scientology.

So you can imagine how much I'm enjoying this.

Behold, "Anonymous."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sweet Dreams


I realize I'm a little late to the party on this one, but it's not as if I get some kind of Bat-signal every time one of America's TV news talking-heads makes a colossal ass out of him or herself. I'd never get anything done.

Earlier this month, CNBC's Erin Burnett -- who's been dubbed, in thoroughly professional fashion, the "Street Sweetie" -- penned a column for Men's Health magazine, supposedly detailing the eight ways in which a potential suitor might impress her and, one would imagine, melt her cold, cold heart.

Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, it reads like The Narcissistic Bitch's Guide to Gold-Digging.

I admit that Erin Burnett is positively gorgeous -- an opinion confirmed in the tawdriest of manners by Chris Matthews's inability to talk to her on-air without little hearts dancing over his head -- and if her almost impossibly over-the-top list of turn-ons is some kind of Kaufmanesque joke, she's also the coolest woman on Earth. But it's not beyond the realm of possibility that she's completely serious when she insinuates that the simple gestures she longs for all involve the use of an American Express Black Card.

Well, never one to deny the desires of a beautiful woman, I want to not only take the lovely Miss Burnett up on her challenge -- I'd like to offer my own list of the eight things she might do, in turn, to win my little-boy heart.

I've already taken the liberty of mailing my entire wallet as well as the contents of my 401k and a couple of hits of ecstasy I found buried in my medicine cabinet to Erin's Park Avenue address.

As for my requests -- they are, needless to say, made in spirit of Erin's own list.

Ladies first:

(Men's Health: Erin Burnett's "8 Ways to Impress Me")

Now, mine:

1. Life's a Beach I'm a big fan of long walks on the beach, my feet sinking into the sand as cool waves swirl around my heels. If Erin would buy me Hawaii, that'd be awesome.

2. Pleased to Meet Them Music is one of my passions. I'd truly appreciated it if Erin would get the Replacements back together, including bringing Bob Stinson back from the dead, and pay them to play in my living room -- nightly.

3. The Better to See You With I can't imagine a more wonderful evening than one that involves Erin and myself curled up on the couch, her rubbing my feet and my tired XBOX hand, watching her on television. This is why Erin should buy me a 70" plasma-screen HDTV.

4. Forever in Her Debt Since I plan to shower Erin with gifts of all shapes and sizes, buying her anything her heart desires, I can only ask that she pay off all my credit card bills and give me her own cards to use -- you know, just in case of emergency.

5. Please My Palate Too Like my scrumptious CNBC goddess, I'm a big fan of great food. It's for this reason that I'd like Erin to kill Rachael Ray and bring me her heart. Then go out and buy me something -- anything at all.

6. Family Ties I agree with Erin that there's nothing more important than family. If she really wants to impress me -- and I know she does -- she'll tattoo a giant image of my beloved Grand-dad on her stomach so that her pubic hair becomes his beard. If by some chance she's fully waxed, that's okay -- Grand-dad needed a shave anyway. I expect her to have the work done at High Voltage Tattoo in Los Angeles, pay for it, then buy me the studio and engage in a threesome with myself and Kat Von D.

7. Like a Prayer I consider myself a very spiritual person. I wake each morning with a smile on my face and a song of praise in my heart, grateful for the new day that God has given me and the bounty of treasures -- material and rarefied -- that he's bestowed upon me. I put my life in the caring hands of Jesus Christ and accept that there is no obstacle too daunting for the one true God. He will reward those who believe in him and punish those who defile his divine name. Unfortunately, he tends to take his time with the whole punishment thing, so I'd like Erin to buy me the Roman Catholic church, execute Benedict XVI and have me elected Pope under penalty of death.

8. Put Her There Nothing, and I mean nothing compares to life's simplest pleasures, to wit, a nice cup of tea just before bed. This is why there's no better way for Erin to prove her undying love -- than to let me teabag her.

Erin, if you're out there reading this, I'll be awaiting your response -- or your lawyer's anyway.

Nun of Your Business


As always, I love it when I don't even have to try.

Case in point, this little Monday morning gem from the Associated Press:

"The Benedictine nuns of Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery in Phoenix are renting out rooms during Super Bowl week for $250 a night, plus $50 extra for each additional person.

"It's a different twist for us in the sense that we've never opened the monastery for an event like the Super Bowl," said Sister Linda of the Benedictine Sisters of Phoenix. "It's just a different clientele than we're accustomed to."

Though the sisters won't impose a curfew, lodgers at the monastery will have to abide by a few rules: no smoking, no rowdy behavior and most importantly, no alcohol.

"I would think that God's got to be excited about the Super Bowl as well," Sister Linda said. "He wants people to enjoy life."


That, incidentally, is the same rationale I use to justify my affinity for barely-legal Asian porn.

Listening Post



LOVE. THIS. BAND.

(Plus I just have the biggest crush on their ex-guitarist, Charlotte Hatherley.)

This is Ash -- Burn Baby Burn.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Why So Serious?


By now you've probably heard that Fox News's single most concentrated dose of human pussy neutralizer, John Gibson, is under fire for making a couple of rude on-air cracks about the death of Heath Ledger.

Some are even calling for him to be fired (which of course isn't going to happen).

The question is -- why bother?

I'm skewering Gibson, by suggesting that everyone just ignore his ridiculous ass altogether, right now at the Huffington Post.

Feel free to take a look.

(The Huffington Post: John Gibson's Truly Tasteless Joke... and Why You Really Shouldn't Care/1.27.08)

Strike That, Reverse It (Part 2)


(Strike That, Reverse It: Part 1/1.19.08)

"I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we've got something here."

-- Tim Robbins as Griffin Mill, The Player


In the almost three months since the Writers Guild of America went on strike, leaving Hollywood in limbo, I've tried to remember a dispute in which both sides of the argument had, at one point or another, been so thoroughly full of shit. I haven't come up with a thing so far.

Since my early days in Los Angeles, beyond the strike threat that once held my entire workplace hostage, I've grown up considerably, my views on unions evolving right along with me. At 25, I was too self-absorbed in general and certainly too overwhelmed by the difficulties of my daily struggle at work to appreciate the necessity of an entity put in place to guard against abuses by the kinds of managers that existed at KCBS. I would eventually come to realize that something, anything, had to function as a thorn in the side of a management team whose otherwise unchecked impudence was slowly killing us all. Although I had no desire to join the WGA myself -- despite its constant protests -- I began to regard it as an unfortunate but necessary evil.

And when placed against the absolute evil of KCBS's mindless and heartless "leadership," it was almost always the lesser of the two.

To this day though, I can't help but look upon any union with a slightly suspicious eye, fully believing that organized labor has itself been allowed to grow dangerously unchecked; anyone who doubts that it's by and large become the very thing it ostensibly stands in defiance of -- corrupt and unfettered bureaucracy that doesn't really give a crap about anything but the perpetuation of its own authority -- needs to start paying more attention.

For the most part, the demands made by the WGA against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have been reasonable, particularly when it comes to residuals from new-media; the Guild got screwed back in the 90s when DVDs became the dominant format for home video and the writers wound up stuck with an antiquated and rather unfair deal that had been meant to apply only to VHS. The Guild doesn't want to make the mistake of being short-sighted this time around; it knows full-well that internet on-demand viewing is the future and if it doesn't stand up for a cut now, the producers -- who haven't exactly proven themselves to be extraordinarily benevolent in the past and who are now spewing bullshit by the metric ton about the supposedly hypothetical nature of the internet goldmine -- will shut them out completely in favor of raking in the dough for the Hollywood studios and the corporations which run them. Admittedly, writers for television and film don't make a fortune, relative to the producers and the upper-levels of the Hollywood hierarchy -- which is not to say that they're paid badly in general; they aren't, and don't let them fool you into believing they are. When the money to be made from their hard work is taken into account, the people in the Guild indeed deserve more, but there are still a hell of a lot of guys working at Jiffy-Lube who'd kill to take home what your average sitcom writer pulls in every few weeks.

That said, only an idiot would trust a corporation -- or any other entity that generates money hand-over-fist -- to be completely equitable to the creative types in the basement of the production line; corporations are about making money, and the best way to do that is to avoid spending it wherever and whenever possible. As far as the producers and studios are concerned, artists are little more than a burden; if they could figure out a way to get a TV show on the air or a movie in the theaters without using writers, directors and actors, they'd do it in a fucking heartbeat.

Which, unfortunately, still doesn't make a strike of this magnitude a great idea -- for anyone concerned.


By now, any union should know -- and it's only the arrogance of organized labor in general that prevents this -- that it will eventually reap the scorn of the innocents it affects. Put simply, the ones who walk off the job will be the ones who lose the sympathy of the public the longer a strike drags on. Your average American, particularly the Barco-lounging neo-lummox the television industry considers its bread-and-butter, operates under two pertinent assumptions: that he busts his ass every day at a job he doesn't much like and therefore only has so much empathy with those who aren't willing to do the same, and that at the end of his rotten day, all he wants is to crack open a beer, sit the hell down and be entertained by the magic box in the living room. While 99% of this country can feel a modicum of solidarity with anyone who's being screwed by corporate greed, the well of good-natured compassion dries up awfully fast when that person begins stepping all over America's collective toes by spoiling Leno and cancelling awards season.

While it would be fair to blame the producers as much, if not more than, the striking writers in this case, the former finds itself in an infinitely better position -- at least from a PR standpoint. All the AMPTP has to do is -- well, nothing. The producers need only sit back quietly and watch the WGA picket and protest and chant and enlist the help of pompous clowns like Rage Against the Machine and stage unforgivable "Bring Your Child to the Picket Line" rallies and eventually hang itself in the eyes of the public. The producers and studios know that the Guild will do their work for them, not only by shutting down popular shows but by choosing to picket their ostensibly innocent peers and friends who -- as in my own case years ago -- have no choice but to keep working to survive. (A perfect example: It's one thing to walk off the set of The Daily Show and The Tonight Show; it's another thing completely to picket those non-union employees who continue to work and, more importantly, the people like Jon Stewart and Jay Leno who've not only been good to you but who care enough about all their workers to keep them employed by staying on the air. Remember, in theory anyway, those on strike will eventually have to return to work and try to live in the very place they've spent months carpet-bombing.)

At some point, a strike becomes a form of terrorism: The innocent are held hostage and made to suffer for the sake of making a political point.

This is in no way meant to imply that a workforce should simply allow management to walk all over it; anyone can find him or herself in a position where a stand has to be taken, particularly in this era of unrestrained who-gives-a-shit-about-the-little-guy greed. Unfortunately, the necessity of a strike in no way negates the reality of what happens once that strike begins -- and then drags on for months.

Both sides have already lost on this one -- but when it's all over, the writers will likely have lost more.


(Update/1.28.08: This turned up in this morning's New York Times -- in its coverage of Sunday night's SAG Awards -- and it highlights perfectly what I'm talking about: "Christina Applegate, star of the ABC series 'Samantha Who?,' said in an interview on the red carpet that she was hoping that the actors union would not begin its own strike when its contract is up at the end of June. Noting that the strike has caused collateral damage to thousands of people in Los Angeles — seamstresses, caterers, dry cleaners and the like — she said, 'I don’t think we can hurt them anymore.'")

Listening Post: Memoir Edition


Over the course of this little experiment of mine, I've posted several excerpts from the manuscript which I've been shopping to publishers. One in particular featured at its center a song from PJ Harvey called We Float. This morning, I'm republishing that excerpt, but this time with the inclusion of the actual song. The following took place about two months after 9/11. I had been living in a hotel in New York City since the attack, covering the story for NBC. Immediately prior to the attack, I had been in rehab for a very serious heroin addiction -- one which forced me to leave my home in Los Angeles and go back to my family in Miami to seek help. My wife at the time, estranged and in the process of leaving me completely, remained in L.A. I was trying to patch things up with her, but the 3000 mile distance wasn't the only thing separating us.

I push my face up from under the water, inhaling deeply as I feel myself break free into the open air. My eyes open and the room comes into focus. I sit up and drape my arm over the big stark-white tub in my hotel bathroom, taking in the quiet serenity which is in such sharp contrast to the whirlwind of chaos in the outside world right now.

It's on.

We're at war.

You now have two minutes to reach minimum safe distance.

It was pretty much the grandaddy of foregone conclusions. Somebody had to pay for the attacks of September 11th, and as retribution goes, the military response seems to at least be pointed in the right direction -- for the moment anyway. The ability to wield this kind of might is an iffy thing though. The rational part of me -- the part not wanting to satisfy some kind of primal bloodlust by seeking swift revenge on anyone who had even the most incidental role in the attacks -- knows that it wouldn't take much to push our military machine off the tracks and right into some paranoid fascist oblivion; the old saying about conjuring up the devil then expecting him to behave comes to mind. Still, unless you're Susan Sontag or some other over-educated, Northeastern intellectual who's contemplative to the point of sheer fucking paralysis, it seems practically impossible to be in this city right now -- to experience both its heartbreak and its strength on a daily basis -- and not want to strike back with everything you've got. Call it the inevitable result of some of America's more inequitable and obscene foreign policy decisions; there's still simply no justification for what happened here. The furious need to make the guilty pay with their miserable lives may not make sense on every level, but sometimes you just don't care. Cue the Pantera; somebody's getting a goddamn beatdown. I may live to regret this opinion in hindsight -- when there's a lot more distance between myself and the heat of this moment -- but for now the fires of rage burn too brightly.

I pull myself out of the tub, towel off and wander out into the space of my hotel room, which has evolved quite a bit since my arrival last month. First of all, with no end in sight to my status as a mere freelancer, I upgraded to a suite. What the hell; it was as simple as a walk downstairs to the front desk -- in my robe and slippers no less. At this point, I'm a regular fixture around here; the guy standing still while the crowd moves at hyper-speed around him. Guests come and go, but I remain; just one of the family.

"Hey Arben," I whispered, looking around as if I were arranging a contract killing.

The guy behind the counter, an Albanian kid I'd bought a couple of rounds of drinks for at the hotel bar a few nights before, leaned forward, smirked knowingly and extended his hand. I gave it a quick shake.

"What can I do for you today sir?"

"How about some goddamned hookers."

He leaned back smiling. If you ever needed any proof as to the vast cultural dominance of hip-hop, all you'd have to do is watch Arben for about two minutes. His accent may be Eastern-European, but his lingo and gestures are pure South Central. Sjoop Dogg.

"Aw bro -- this is Jersey. You don't want hookers here. For that you gotta go into Mahnattan," he smiled, looking like he might break into a freestyle rhyme at any moment.

"Too fucking expensive; out here they give you a discount."

"You want discount hookers?"

I paused for a moment.

"I have a coupon," I said blankly.

Arben laughed, which made me feel surprisingly good. It's easy to take for granted something as simple as the ability to make another human being laugh. Of course stripping away every ounce of your personality for an extended period of time has a way of changing that.

"Anything besides hookers I can get for you?"

"Yeah actually." Now I really lean in conspiratorially. "Do you have to call the network for authorization to upgrade my room?"

"They're picking up the tab, right?"

"Yeah."

"I'm probably supposed to."

I just waited for a moment to see if that was the end of the sentence; it wasn't. Arben's smile returned to a subversive smirk.

"-- But because you bought drinks --"

"God bless you and the good people of your country," I said through a shit-eating grin. "I won't even tell anyone about the fat girl who blew you in your car the other night."

He shot me a why'd-you-have-to-go-there look. "We've got a suite open on five -- that okay?"

"Perfect."

That was last week. What should've been a simple move up one floor turned out to be a pretty serious undertaking, namely because I've spent the month since my arrival making quite the home away from home for myself. When I made the questionable decision to embark on this little adventure, I packed only enough clothes for about a week, figuring that if I actually did find any work at the end of the rainbow, it probably wouldn't be an extended tour of duty. Now that it's been extended indefinitely, I needed something to wear; so I took a break between shifts a couple of weeks ago and did what little our president asked of me as an average American citizen -- strong, proud and prone to completely ineffectual gestures which require no real sacrifice -- I went shopping.

I had to stock up on clothes for more reasons than one. As it turns out, my new body wasn't having most of what I brought with me. Everything now fit me like a tent, and I have to admit that getting a new and certainly sleeker wardrobe was preferable to the cheaper option: forcing myself to stuff my face with Twinkies and put the weight back on. I've even taken to hitting the hotel's gym lately to keep and perhaps even enhance my girlish figure.

I've also taken the opportunity to throw a little money in another direction -- one that's brought me a kind of joy I'd almost forgotten about. The CD section at the local Best Buy has become like a temple for me, as I revel in the healing power of music. It started almost immediately after I got out of rehab, and seems to get stronger with each passing day. I even shelled out a few hundred dollars for a mini-stereo system with a CD to CD recorder. It now sits on top of the desk in my room, adding to the image of this place as more of an apartment than a hotel suite. Hell, a place like this would easily cost me a small fortune in Manhattan -- and here I have a maid, 24-hour room service and a restaurant and bar right downstairs. As long as the bean-counters at the network continue their unbridled generosity, I could probably go on living like this forever.

I pop in a CD and crank the volume knob, watching the digital blue bars on the stereo's readout magically increase. Seconds later, the room is filled with the crushing guitar of Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American. That's another thing I love about this room: thick walls. I barely hear it when my cellphone rings.

"Hello."

"Hey."

Great.

"Hi," I answer back, genuinely surprised. "What's up?"

Kara doesn't call just to say hello anymore, so there's a pretty good chance that this conversation will end with me wanting to crawl right back into that bathtub -- this time accompanied by a hair dryer. I turn down the stereo to a reasonable volume and take a seat on the couch, mentally preparing myself. I'm also instinctively ready to ball up and make myself as small of a physical target as possible if necessary.

"Well, I want to know what you're going to do about the money you owe me."

And there it is.

Having already given her two checks totaling around a thousand dollars, my first thought is to answer obviously, "What money?" but I already know what this will get me. My response however is probably only slightly less combative.

"Hey Kara, I'm doing pretty well all things considered; thanks for asking. But enough about me, how are you?"

"Funny."

"It wasn't meant to be."

"My parents helped pay to move me out; I have to give it back to them."

"Well wasn't that a kind gesture on their part," I deadpan. "And my parents helped pay to move me out after your parents helped pay to move you out. They also saved my worthless life. In other words, on the payback priority list, the people who were actually there for me come first."

I recognize the spiteful huff on the other end of the line -- the one that takes the place of spitting out the word "typical," yet serves the same purpose. There it is again: bitter scorn. Yep, this conversation is almost certainly not going to end well. These days, my general disposition when it comes to my wife is overwhelming, paralyzing sorrow and sadness; for some unknown reason however, this morning I'm feeling feisty. She's being especially hostile, and I'm in especially no fucking mood to take it.

"Ah yes, the condescending sneer -- I know it well. You should patent that -- maybe get your own infomercial."

"I knew I was wasting my time," she says.

"You mean by calling or by marrying me in general?"

"Good one."

"Thanks, I practice in front of the mirror."

There's no denying that we each have a strange respect for the other's verbal sparring ability; it's part of what first attracted us to one another. Kara and I always knew and accepted that if the day ever came that we turned the heavy weaponry we normally point at the rest of the world on each other, the result would be mutually assured destruction. Now the doomsday scenario is here, and it sounds like Hepburn and Tracy in the middle of a meth binge. If sarcasm truly is the humor of the lazy, she and I are practically comatose.

"No, marrying you was a good learning experience," she shoots. "I mean, if I can put up with an irresponsible junkie, I can handle anything right?"

"Don't flatter yourself Kara -- you obviously couldn't put up with one for very long," I shoot back.

"Long enough to watch half the shit in my house disappear. Did you get it all back from the pawn shop before you left L.A. by the way?"

Ouch.

"No, some of it's still there. Swing on by and help yourself to it. Tell the boys there that I send my regards."

"No thanks, I made one trip there; that was enough," she says with utter contempt -- reminding me with absolute moral authority of the incident that broke the back of our relationship once and for all and prompted her to move out less than forty-eight hours later.

Well, you walked right into that one stupid.

I wince -- exhale softly.

That's the coup de grace and she knows it; the champ hits the canvas with a satisfyingly resonant thud.

As if to punctuate the deafening silence in the aftermath of her knock-out blow, the song on the stereo ends. I hear the mechanical click of the CDs shuffling, a pause, then the hypnotic rhythm and piano opening of P.J. Harvey's We Float.

I shake my head at the fates piling on like buzzards on a carcass. "Fucking perfect," I say.

"Look Chez, I didn't live with it because I didn't have to," she continues.

"So I guess you zoned out during that whole part about 'In sickness and in health?'" I say, barely above a whisper.

"I couldn't take it anymore."

In the background I hear Polly Jean Harvey's world-weary voice over the music:
"We wanted to find love.
We wanted success.
Until nothing was enough.
Until my middle name was excess."


"What do you mean anymore? It's not like you ever stood by me, offering all kinds of love and support -- or at least a fucking hand to hold. You spent months screaming at me that I was a loser, then you took off when I went to get help -- when I needed you the most incidentally."

"You have no idea; that was the hardest thing I've ever done."

"I can imagine Kara," I say, more defeated than anything else. "I'll give the Nobel people a call and make sure they short list you."

"Do you know what I did for two weeks straight while you were gone?"

I can hear her moving around her new apartment -- the telephone shifting. I imagine her getting ready to go to work. I say nothing.

"I cried," she says.

"I remember. I'm sorry."

"I know you are, but that doesn't change anything."

"Kara, I don't think I'm selfish because I wanted and needed my wife during a time that I was desperate and alone."

"No, you're selfish for a whole shitload of other reasons."

I can't argue with that.

Polly Jean sings:
"You shoplifted as a child.
I had a model's smile.
You carried all my hope.
Til something broke inside."


"I never stopped loving you. I was a slave to something that dug its claws into me and wouldn't let go -- for that I have absolutely no excuse. But I needed help and I got it. All I've ever asked for is a chance to try and make things right," I say.

"Yeah, but you did it to yourself. Nobody made you do heroin."

"You think I don't know that? Holy shit. I take full responsibility. My God, that's what practically made me a pariah in rehab, I wasn't willing to give myself a pass. Yes -- I get it -- addiction is like a disease in that it's degenerative and after awhile you have no choice but to succumb -- but nobody put a pipe in my mouth and a gun to my head to begin with. I did that all by myself."

"Yeah, but you don't take responsibility because you're not willing to accept the consequences," she says, making what I have to admit is a point worth pondering.

"That's a lovely zero-sum argument. The only way to effectively learn my lesson is to lose the person I care about most? I'm not sure the punishment fits the crime. I shouldn't have to pay for nine months of sheer stupidity for the rest of my life."

"You're so fucking thick-headed that you think everything should just go back to normal."

"Are you kidding me? There is no normal right now. We're three thousand miles apart and the world's in total goddamn meltdown," I say, standing and walking to the window to look out onto the devastated Manhattan skyline.

Polly Jean:
"This is kind of about you.
This is kind of about me.
We just kind of lost our way.
We were looking to be free."


"Look, you've got a lot on your plate right now -- you really can't be dwelling on this. Just do your job, stay healthy," she pauses, then adds with bizarre emphasis, "work the steps."

Hearing her mechanically parrot this phrase makes me chuckle as I continue to stare out at the city -- my adopted home. The words roll off her tongue as if the next thing out of her mouth should be, "whatever the hell that means."

"That almost sounded sincere," I say.

I hear her sigh loudly; she's had enough.

"I've put together an itemized list of what you owe. I'll e-mail it to you."

That's Kara -- all business.

"You wanted this, not me. You left -- and you took my heart with you. I think we're pretty much even."

"Just look it over and get back to me. I've gotta go."

She hangs up before I can say anything else -- specifically for that reason. I slap my phone shut.

Polly Jean's voice turns hopeful and dreamy:
"But someday, we'll float...
Take like as it comes."




(By the way, I've received a couple of e-mails inquiring as to the status of the possible book deal I mentioned a few months back. That's still in the works, although nothing is concrete at the moment. We'll see what happens; I should know more soon, but I'm not likely to talk publicly about any details until it's a sure thing.)

Sunday Sacrilege

Friday, January 25, 2008

Life Imitates XBOX


Damn.

I'm sitting here playing Rainbow Six Vegas on 360 -- fighting off a massive terrorist attack on a bunch of Las Vegas casinos -- when I click over to the news and what do I see?

The top of the Monte Carlo is on fire.

Uh -- sorry.

Good thing I wasn't playing Call of Duty 4; we might be under nuclear attack right now.

Wonder Twin Powers


My slow-but-steady rise toward inevitable world domination continues.

Yesterday's debatably clever piece on the Olsen Twins Emergency Hotline is in the feature slot today over at 23/6 -- the all-humor joint venture between the Huffington Post and IAC.

If nothing else, the post features a different bio picture of me -- for those who've bitched incessantly about the one seen on HuffPo.

(236.com: Who Ya Gonna Call?)

Appetite for Self-Destruction


Earlier this month, I posted a damn scathing little diatribe against former Philly news anchor and gossip page darling Alycia Lane. (Low Is Lane/1.08.08)

The latest issue of Philadelphia magazine features a pretty decent article profiling Lane's history and detailing what went on behind the scenes at KYW in the lead-up to her being fired for, among other things, allegedly punching a New York City cop.

One point brought up in the article, however, is worth elaborating on. During Lane's short-lived tenure at WTVJ in Miami, she was apparently taken under the wing of the station's former general manager, Don Browne. The author of the piece spoke with Browne about Lane and found that he generally has little to say about her that isn't complimentary: He calls her smart, a professional, a believer in the "old school" model of journalism.

While this seems to cast Lane in a much more positive light than she's been in lately -- the kind assessment wholly antithetical to what the public's been led to believe about a woman who sent bikini-clad pictures of herself to a married man and called a New York cop a "fucking dyke" -- there are a couple of facts about Browne's own personality which should probably be taken into account.

Don Browne hired me at WTVJ just a little over ten years ago; he had been pursuing me as a hire for a few years leading up to that. Not only do I respect and admire him -- he's been a die-hard Kool-aid drinking and dispensing prophet of the NBC canon for as long as anyone can remember -- I actually like him quite a bit; he's extraordinarily personable, if not more than a little intimidating. The bottom line is, he's by no means a stupid man or a bad manager.

Unfortunately, one of the issues that skeptics and cynics within the WTVJ newsroom felt obligated to point out during my time there was the "starfucking" environment Don Browne happily fostered. Arguably a solipsistic endeavor, he enjoyed surrounding himself with young, attractive on-air people whom he could slap with some "future of television news" tag and subsequently mentor, while they would in turn stand awestruck in the presence of the great and powerful Don until the whole thing turned into one big daily circle jerk of adoration and encomia.

Don hired a lot of outstanding on-air talent; he considered it his forté. But no one during my years at WTVJ -- the most rewarding and satisfying work experience of my career by the way -- questioned the fact that a pretty face and a couple of carefully placed buzzwords could win him over in a flash.

In other words, Don was never above being charmed.

And as you'll read, if there's one thing Alycia Lane has done well, it's draw from a very deep reservoir of charm when necessary.

Just something to keep in mind.

(Phildelphia: The Very Public Self-Destruction of Alycia Lane)

Smells Like Teen Spirit


I do my best to stay away from furthering too much conjecture around here, but sometimes a rumor is just far too good not to pass along.

The FBI has arrested a 16-year-old boy for allegedly plotting to hijack a Southwest Airlines jet. Agents say despite the fact that the kid was traveling alone and that he was caught carrying handcuffs, rope and duct tape, his chances of success were pretty slim.

Not a bad story so far, right?

And now, the punchline.

Early reports said that the kid had planned to divert the jet -- which was bound from L.A. to Nashville -- to Lafayette, Louisiana, where he was going to crash it into a Hannah Montana concert.

In a related item, I'll be out for a couple of days. I need to A) talk to Doc Brown about how my teenage self managed to turn up in the year 2008, and/or B) start a legal defense fund for this kid, because as it turns out, al Qaeda was right -- there really is a difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter.

(Houston Chronicle: Alleged Would-Be Hijacker Targets Hannah Montana Show)

Listening Post: Under the Radar Edition

Two bands that came and went far too quickly and quietly.


Failure

Ken Andrews is apparently rock's most ADD-afflicted eccentric. After the demise of Failure -- a band that was his brainchild -- he went on to form Year of the Rabbit, who released one of the best albums of 2004 then once again vanished. All the while he was producing records for Pete Yorn, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and A Perfect Circle. (He incidentally also used to play in an all-cover band which featured members of Tool.) Last year, he released a solo album, the excellent Secrets of the Lost Satellite, and even recorded a track for the Surf's Up soundtrack. This song though is the closest he's come so far to having his own mainstream hit.

This is Stuck on You.




Gay Dad

Yes my friends, the best band name ever. Regardless of that though, Gay Dad should've been massive. Their debut album made a decent-sized impact in Britain, but barely caused a ripple here in the states. Their second album was even better than the first; Transmission is now available on iTunes, finally, and I can't recommend checking it out enough (particularly the gorgeous and criminally overlooked All My Life, a song I once dedicated to my wife).

From their debut, here's Oh Jim.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Who Ya Gonna Call?


***TWO MIN SPOT/"OLSEN TWINS EMERGENCY HOTLINE"***
DISTRIBUTION: National
EMBARGO: None
RUN TIME: :55
MIXED AND READY FOR AIR 01/24/08
KILL DATE: Indef.

***TRANSCRIPT***


(Fade up from black to slow dissolves of various pix of Heath Ledger, opening strains of Coldplay's "Fix You" can be heard. Dissolve to shot of makeshift memorial outside Ledger's SoHo apartment. Mary-Kate Olsen walks into the frame.)

Hi, I'm Mary-Kate Olsen. You may remember me from New York Minute, Full House, those late-night masturbation sessions you tell yourself never happened, or maybe a couple of Anorexics Anonymous meetings in that grubby little church at the corner of Fairfax and Fountain, if that was, you know, your thing.

My point is, you probably wouldn't think of me and my sister Ashley as the kind of girls you'd turn to in a crisis.

But boy would you be wrong!

By now you've probably heard that I got the first phone call from Heath Ledger's massage therapist when she found him dead the other day. That's right -- she didn't call 911, she called me, Mary-Kate Olsen. You're probably asking yourself why, right? Well, it's because she knew something most of America didn't -- and hasn't until now. It's a secret that the most important people in the world have always known, and it can finally be revealed.

I'm talking about the Olsen Twins Emergency Hotline.

Just one call and the full power of the Olsen Twins swings into action, ready to help you get through even the toughest, most publicly embarrassing personal crisis. Ever asked yourself how Paris Hilton, Halle Berry or Brandy can crash a car and leave a person near-death, but still vanish from the accident scene like nothing happened? How Nicole Richie can pop Vicodin and drive the wrong way down the freeway and yet not lose that valuable photo shoot in People? What the hell R. Kelly's doing walking around free instead of doing 10 to 20?

That's right -- the Olsen Twins Emergency Hotline.

Me and my sister Ashley are here to help you when you need it most, and we're proud to continue a tradition that's been passed down for centuries -- dating all the way back to the time of Christ. It was Salomé who founded the first service of this kind, using what would have otherwise been a pretty useless talent for pole dancing to get the head of John the Baptist -- the first contract murder by the way -- and actually change the course of history!

Cool, huh?

Since those early days, strong, sexy women from Mata Hari to Mamie Van Doren have carried the torch and undertaken the awesome responsibility of solving the world's problems when no one else could.

Oh yeah, you didn't think it was just Tom Hanks calling us at four in the morning from the Hollywood Hills after he'd just killed and eaten a hooker, did you? The Olsen Twins Emergency Hotline has been the secret weapon of world leaders for more than a decade.

Why do you think Bill Clinton wasn't actually thrown out of office? Uh, us. O.J. acquitted of murder? Are you kidding? We're guilty as charged on that one. The entire presidency of George W. Bush, from the 2000 election to 9/11 to now? You're welcome. The Pats undefeated season? You betcha.

FEMA's response to Katrina?

Guess that'll teach Mike Brown for not calling the professionals.

I mean come on, you really didn't believe me and my sister got so rich off a crappy little sitcom, did you?

The bottom line here is that the emergency service that's been available to the world's elite is now being made available to you. Given that the cat's out of the bag after the whole Ledger thing, Ashley and I figure we may as well pad out the account in the Caymans, so if you've got a problem and no one else can help, maybe you can hire the O-team.

Just call 1-800-THE-WOLF.

That's 1-800-THE-WOLF.

The Olsen Twins Emergency Hotline -- because knowing where all the bodies are buried means you know where there's room to bury more.

(Phone rings. Mary-Kate picks it up.)

Hello?

Oh, hi Britney -- yes, we've been waiting for your call.

(Coldplay music swells. Fade to black)

***END***

Project Office Mayhem


Your assignment, as usual: Quietly put the following link up on every computer in your office, then crank all the speakers to full volume.

Mischief points: 3,000

(I'm Terrified of Pie)

Listening Post



Before there was Pearl Jam, there was Mother Love Bone.

And it was good.

Here's Stardog Champion.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Putting the "Fun" in Funeral


Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church's lunatic traveling roadshow is about to take on something a hell of a lot more dangerous than the families of fallen U.S. soldiers.

Hollywood.

My admittedly inconsequential thoughts on the subject also happen to be my first official column for the Huffington Post.

Feel free to take a look.

(The Huffington Post: The Westboro Baptist Church Condemns Heath Ledger/1.23.08)

Cross to Bear


So this morning, thousands of people poured across the border between Gaza and Egypt -- most of them through hastily dismantled barbed-wire fences or holes that had been torn in the wall separating the two countries.

What led to the this mass influx of Palestinian refugees from Gaza was the ongoing blockade of food, fuel and medicine being imposed against the area by Israel -- which is trying to teach the Hamas government a harsh lesson after rockets rained down on Southern Israel a couple of weeks ago.

I'm not going to delve too far into the traditionally lunatic Middle-Eastern politics of all this. I'll just say one thing, because there's really nothing funnier than governmental hypocrisy -- the White House has been pressuring Israel to find another way to punish Hamas, one it says won't involve making innocent people suffer.

Which is laughable when you consider two words: Cuban embargo.

Somebody call Lou Dobbs.

He'll get that border secure again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Jesus, No Really Man, WHY SO SERIOUS?


Wow.

It's rare that I'm the proverbial shocked or saddened by a celebrity death, but the possible suicide -- or at the very least, accidental OD -- of Heath Ledger really is heartbreaking.

He was a phenomenal actor and seemed like a decent, if I suppose not entirely well-adjusted, guy.

That's really all I've got.

Fucking shame.

Engaging the Safety


Just an update on how things are going for my BFF, the Virginia Citizens' Defense League and its ridiculous ilk.

Yesterday, victims of last year's Virginia Tech shooting -- the ones who, you know, survived -- and their supporters held a rally at the state's Capitol to push for a gun control bill being proposed by the governor. The bill is almost comical in its obvious good sense: It would essentially prevent criminals and the mentally ill from buying weapons at gun shows.

Needless to say, the thought of any restriction at all sends the schoolyard bullies in the "gun enthusiast" crowd into apoplectic fits; they showed up to stage a counter-demonstration, making the tired and completely ass-backward argument that more guns, not fewer, is the answer to the violence.

The confrontation provided a few predictably unfortunate moments.

According to the Associate Press:

"At one point, Jeff Knox, director of operations of the Manassas-based Firearms Coalition, approached survivor Colin Goddard and said students could have stopped student Seung-Hui Cho's rampage if they had been allowed to carry guns on campus.

'I would have stopped him,' Knox said. 'Because when I went to school, I carried a gun. It was legal; I did it.'

Goddard, a Virginia Tech senior who was shot four times in the April 16 massacre, was taken aback, then said: 'I feel sorry for you -- the fact that you feel you need to protect yourself in every situation.'"


Goddard's reaction was far more restrained than mine would've been if I were nursing four bullet wounds and now faced some paranoid asshole trying to drill it into me that I could've prevented my own suffering and the deaths of my friends had I just been willing to shoot back. Of course he's also missing the point slightly. This particular brand of gun-worshipper doesn't feel the need to protect himself -- because he knows the likelihood of ever coming face-to-face with a legitimate reason to draw and fire his weapon in self-defense is practically nil. The truth is, he wants to shoot; he dreams of that moment when he happens to be someplace where he can plug a crazed shitbag like Seung-Hui Cho (and make no mistake -- in the testosterone-fueled fantasy of the guy I'm talking about, the rampaging criminal he's forced to get all Wyatt Earp on is always either an immigrant or some other form of interloping vermin, if you get my drift).

Which leads me to say it one more time: Anyone who thinks like that is the last fucking person you want walking around armed.

(Deus Ex Malcontent: Blow Back/6.21.07)

(Deus Ex Malcontent: Automatics for the People/5.18.07)

(Deus Ex Malcontent: And All That Could Have Been/4.19.07)

Listening Post



Rilo Kiley -- Silver Lining

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Post Dispatch


A couple of times over the course of this website's checkered history, I've professed my respect, love, lust, what-have-you for Arianna Huffington.

I'll do her the favor of not calling her the Greek goddess of political commentary or anything like that, but there's no doubt that she's one of the strongest minds wrapped inside one of the nicest faces you're likely to find anywhere these days.

I've never passed up an opportunity to praise her or her excellent online journal, the Huffington Post.

Well, I'll assume that it couldn't have been my fanboy attempts at flattery, but for whatever reason I've now been asked to be a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.

They say it's an honor to have me onboard -- which just shocks the ever-loving shit out of me, seeing as how I'm basically an overgrown adolescent miscreant who only recently stopped drinking too much and who'll probably die with his hands wrapped around his XBOX controller.

Translation: The honor is all mine.

I'll post updates here whenever I write something for HuffPo.

One more thing -- seeing as how I said I loved Arianna Huffington and it landed me a gig writing for her, let me take this opportunity to say how I'd do just about anything to "write for" Liz Phair.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Strike That, Reverse It


For reasons which should be obvious, it's never a good idea to ask yourself how a situation could possibly get any worse -- and yet that's exactly what I found myself doing during my drive to work each morning.

I was a Senior Producer at KCBS, a job I had initially sought for no other reason than that it would afford me the opportunity to live in Los Angeles. I had grown up listening to the haunting harmonies of The Mamas & The Papas' California Dreamin' and the siren's song of Jim Morrison's proclamation that "The West is the best." I had been seduced by the ironic nihilism of Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero. I even held close to my heart the New-York-centric Ramones' version of California Sun and the promise of West Coast punk, South Central hip-hop and Sunset Strip sleaze. I put my faith in Mr. Mojo Risin': All I had to do was get there -- they'd do the rest.

For the most part, L.A. turned out to be every adolescent fantasy I'd ever conjured come to life: I was a 25-year-old living in the Hollywood Hills. I drove a BMW and was dating a gorgeous production assistant whose very name, Nicole Doll, seemed to herald my arrival into the Promised La-La Land (despite the porn-ready moniker having been hers since birth and maybe because it gave no hint of the Mensa-level IQ lurking beneath all that blond hair). I had already had a torrid fling with a reporter who would go on to become a CNN anchor. I had a large group of guy friends and together we were well-liked regulars at the Dresden, the Viper Room, Three of Clubs and Bar Marmont. I had accepted an Emmy wearing black nail polish. I played poker with Shepard Smith once a week.

I was living the life.

I was so fucking money.

And for this world of endless possibility to open its arms and legs, all I ever had to do was leave the office -- because as grand as everything was outside the front doors of the Columbia Square building on Sunset Boulevard, it was equally abysmal inside.

Put simply, working at KCBS in the mid 90s was an experience so life-draining, so soul-crushing, so positively brutal on the human psyche that the few who managed to get out with their sanity intact, to say nothing of their careers, would go on to regard each other with the kind of reverent solidarity usually reserved for those who survived the same POW camp -- or maybe the holocaust.

My personal adventure at CBS's flagship station in Los Angeles had, since day-one, been a hallucinatory, Dali-esque landscape of seemingly inescapable absurdity. My initial meet and greet, which took place in the posh surroundings of the Ivy in Beverly Hills, left me feeling like I'd just walked into a board meeting with a "Kick Me" sign on my back -- as if everyone at the table were in on some practical joke, the butt of which was apparently me. My first official day on the job, Bill Applegate -- the general manager of the station with whom I had interviewed -- shook my hand to welcome me onboard, then was promptly shown the door by security as he had just been fired. My news director was a villainous, rodent-like son-of-a-bitch named Larry Perret who seemed to delight in toying with his subordinates and peers in an effort to make them believe they were going insane. His second-in-command, Steve Blue, was essentially aboard the sinking ship merely as a favor to his old friend Larry, as he was married to Entertainment Tonight Executive Producer Linda Bell-Blue and could easily have been the most pampered, doughy househusband in Brentwood. The station's managing editor, a gruesomely vindictive prick named Pat Casey, lorded over the newsdesk with such Nixonian paranoia that one frustrated reporter would eventually threaten to take him out into the parking lot and beat him to death. Our two executive producers were a lethal combination of stupid, mean and inept -- one, a troglodytic ex-jock whom I had watched demand that part one of an interview with a Titanic survivor be adjusted so as not to "give away the ending" of the two-part Titanic miniseries the story was being tied into; the other, so comically hapless that when she at one point asked a busy news anchor what she could do to help him, he answered, "Cease to exist."

Add to this noxious mixture, KCBS's bottom-of-the-barrel ratings -- the kind that made you wonder why you put up with any bullshit at all from your sociopathic superiors, given that their judgment obviously wasn't worth a damn -- as well as the arrogant sense of entitlement which can only come from being able to say that you work for the network of Murrow and Sevareid, and in the end you get something bordering on water-torture.

It was oppressive and punishing -- a daily gangbang of bald-faced incompetence so absolute, it made you long for a life-threatening illness that would keep you safely away from the office for six months or so.

Yet even taking into account the litany of individual offenses, there had always existed one singularly ominous specter which hung over KCBS like a black cloud; it never failed to make an already hostile environment nearly intolerable -- if only because it functioned as an exasperating obstacle in the daily struggle to get things done while also, on occasion, providing asylum to the most ineffectual of the rank and file.

I'm talking about the unions.

The National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

And of course, the WGA -- the Writers Guild of America.

Having come from WSVN in Miami -- a shop that wasn't simply non-union, it was vehemently anti-union -- walking into a world where a Byzantine structure of omnipresent rules and regulations had to be navigated to get from any point-A to point-B was like falling through ice into a frigid lake. I had spent the infancy of my TV news career in a place where anything was possible and there were no rules. If you wanted something done, you just did it. If you could dream it, you could make it happen on the air. Everyone understood that; everyone was onboard. If you weren't, there were other places you could work. The pay wasn't great and, yes, the downside was that you could be worked nearly to death -- the general sentiment being that you had no job description; if you were in the office, you belonged to the station and could very well be assigned to clean toilets. What it created however was an almost ego-free environment. The station was a pirate ship and everyone behaved as such. Your victories were sweet and required celebratory drinking; your defeats were painful, and required even more anesthetic drinking. Either way, you were all in it together -- one big dysfunctional family.

But the union shop was different, and impossible for me to get my head around at first.

Here was a place where an invisible, intransigent line had long ago been drawn in the sand, one which ostensibly divided the good, hard-working folks just trying to get by from the soulless corporate taskmasters surveying their domain from the castle keep. It was a place where the accepted standard of suspicion and distrust between the two factions felt like a poison gas, choking you as soon as you walked through the door. Worst of all, the strict, Gordian knot of codes imposed by the unions seemed to me to be entirely antithetical to the job at hand: The 24/7 responsibility of covering the news required everyone to do whatever they could whenever they could. Anything that stood in the way or slowed the process down could mean the difference between being number one in the market and number four. Basically, there were rules for everything -- and I hated rules.

Rules were the archenemy of creativity.

To make matters infinitely more complicated, my specific position within the newsroom planted me directly atop the line between the two sides. In what felt like some kind of drunkenly concocted Duke-and-Duke-style social experiment, management anointed me a "Senior Producer;" it was a muscular sounding title which belied the fact that the manipulative bastards in the KCBS brain trust had basically just pulled it out of their asses. They likely considered the idea a stroke of inspired genius, probably reacting to it the way cavemen did the first time they created fire: By adding that one word, "senior," to my title, it allowed them to technically call me a manager and get around the regulation requiring all producers to join the WGA. As one would expect, the Guild saw through this bit of juvenile misdirection and filed grievance upon grievance against the station while simultaneously trying to pressure me to join up and pay them the required union dues. These efforts fell on deaf ears all the way around.

As they had no doubt intended, this clever parlor trick worked out well for the managers. For me on the other hand, it was like being locked in a permanent purgatory.

At best, I was a peculiar anomaly within the system; at worst, I was untouchable, neither a manager nor a grunt. I was exploited by both sides and trusted by neither. Since the first day I walked through the door of my new job, I had been an honest-to-god man without a country.

Under normal circumstances, this would've been exactly the kind of situation in which I'd thrive -- but unfortunately, I had to play by both teams' rules, and that left me walking an exhausting daily tightrope.

So I wondered how my situation, at work at least, could get any worse.

And then one day I heard the word that penetrated my skull like a shotgun slug.

Strike.

Apparently, the Writers Guild's contract negotiations with CBS had broken down and it was about to authorize its employees to walk off the job -- that meant emptying a good portion of the newsroom and essentially grinding our already limping production to a halt. Except of course that it couldn't be allowed to do that. The show had to go on, so those who weren't union -- and this is where management could conveniently pull me off the fence and into their tent, claiming me as a proud brother in arms -- were told that, should the strike happen, our daily duties would multiply exponentially.

Things were indeed about to get much, much worse.

Upon learning of the impending strike, I began to go through something akin to the Kubler-Ross stages of grief -- although in my own interpretation, there was really only that one first stage: anger. I was furious. I was beyond furious. I was pure seething rage that a group of people I didn't know, who had never set foot in my toxic workplace and had no idea what the handful of non-union employees like myself endured on a daily basis could make a decision that would turn our lives upside down. I walked into the men's room and almost put my fist through the mirror as I counted in my head the number of times that a 62-year-old union writer who could barely see his computer screen in front of his face had dodged accountability after screwing up a script and thus screwing up my show. I thought about the arrogant swagger of some of my unionized co-workers, going about their days safe in the knowledge that no matter how incompetent or disinterested they might be, they were protected -- while I could be fired at any moment just for the hell of it. I considered how I had left a station in Miami that hired most of its writers right out of college and worked their asses off, but how those kids thought of it as a rite of passage; I also considered how I would've gladly taken just two or three of them over an entire roomful of the very highly-paid "professionals" who now surrounded me. The ones who were about to walk off the job without so much as a look back at the devastation they'd be leaving behind.

I wasn't a manager. I had always allied myself with the office infantry simply because it felt like a good fit for me and it was always a more hands-on experience. And yet there I was, saying out loud to absolutely no one, "I hate the assholes who run this place too, but I have to suffer through it -- now shut the fuck up and get back to work."

As the impending strike neared -- the storm cloud that already existed over KCBS beginning to distend and funnel into a grim downward point -- the die-hard union people increased the psychological warfare within the newsroom. They'd discuss where and when to protest and what to bring, painting the picket line as a non-stop party -- the equivalent of a Caribbean vacation when placed against the savagery that those on the other side of the fence would have to endure in their absence. They made sure to raise their voices so that their message could be heard loud and clear: Give us what we want and no one gets hurt. As far as I was concerned, I was being held hostage.

Then came the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle threats.

"I wouldn't cross the picket line if I were you," one writer, a woman with whom I was actually friends, said to me.

"If I don't show up, I don't get paid. I can't stand this place either -- but I can't afford to lose my paycheck."

"I'd never do anything to you, but sometimes things happen during a strike."

"What are you getting at, Hoffa?"

"Well," she said, demurely feigning ignorance, "I mean, sometimes people get phone calls late at night. Sometimes people leave work and find their cars keyed in the parking lot. I just want you to know about that."

And with that, suppressing an overwhelming desire to throw her through a window as an example to the others, I raised my voice to ensure that my message could be heard loud and clear.

"Writers, I need your attention for a moment," I said, trying to look each person in the eye one at a time. "Please understand something -- you are my co-workers and most of you are my friends. I respect you all a great deal. Make no mistake though -- anyone, and I mean anyone who calls me late at night, fucks with my car, my home, anything of mine for that matter; anyone who harasses me, I swear to God I will retaliate in ways you can't even fucking fathom. You'll wonder what kind of sick, sadistic bastard could dream up something so vicious and cruel. You'll be in therapy for years just to get it out of your head." I turned and headed back to my desk. "That is all," I said, with my back to the stunned staff.

It would come down to the proverbial 11th hour before the Writers Guild of America and the management of CBS had finally worked out a deal and averted the strike.

But within the newsroom, the damage was done. KCBS, already a dystopic hell-hole, had been allowed to simmer inside a pressure-cooker until it was on the verge of exploding. Relationships were strained. People were angry. The suspicion and distrust reached unthinkable levels.

It all left me wondering: If this is what happens when a strike is avoided, how does any business survive the real thing -- a long, brutal and contentious work-stoppage, the kind that rips a workplace family apart?

How does any office survive a civil war?

Next, Part 2: The New Strike

Friday, January 18, 2008

Report Card: Cloverfield


Score:

Giant, Rampaging Sea-Monster: 1

Annoyingly Self-Absorbed New York City Hipsters: 0

Line of Dialogue that Pretty Much Sums Up the Movie:

"You? You're a douchebag, Rob."

Words of Wisdom that, had Someone Said It, Could've Saved the Lives of Five of the Six Main Characters and Ended the Movie in About 20 Minutes:

"Dude, there's plenty of pussy in Japan."

I'm Tom Cruise, and I'm Going to Crush Your Fucking Skull While Laughing Maniacally


I realize that the "Tom Cruise hearts Scientology" video has been just about everywhere over the past couple of days. Still, it's one of those rare cultural curiosities that, for whatever reason, I can't seem to get enough of.

It's just mesmerizing in its unbridled surreality -- like being bukkaked with crazy.

There's really very little that I can add in reference to the unhinged lunacy of Cruise these days; most of it's already been contemplated at length by sources far more notable than myself.

I guess all that I can muster -- besides a somewhat horrified "What the fuck?" -- is that if Cruise weren't a movie star, Congress would already have passed a law bearing his name aimed at keeping him 100 yards away from the innocent.

He doesn't simply look insane in the leaked promotional video, he looks dangerously insane. Demonically possessed. As in, he really should've been a shoe-in to play the new Joker.

On the one hand, it's a trainwreck that bests even Britney or maybe the 1996 remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau for sheer hypnotic power. When you think about where Tom Cruise once was -- his place in the Hollywood hierarchy and in America's hearts -- compared to what he's become in the collective consciousness, it's almost unfathomable. Even Janeane Garofalo's decision to forgo a promising film career in favor of becoming a humorless lesbian doesn't come close.

It's truly rare that you see a person who's spent a majority of his life carefully under the control and, it would seem, sedation of highly-trained publicists go completely off the fucking rails.

In some ways, it's almost admirable to watch him commit career suicide with such bombastic finality.

Behold the power of Scientology, I suppose.

Which does, I admit, bring up an interesting question: Do ridiculous little men like Scientology's current chief David Miscavige really think that Cruise is doing their silly "religion" a favor? There's just no way that anyone with the kind of mind Scientology purports to be able to create can honestly buy Cruise's antics as good for the religion -- that a guy who's pissed away a huge career and turned himself into a laughing stock is somehow going to be the most effective advocate for the product that led to his exile from the grown-ups' table.

"I'm Tom Cruise, and just look at what Scientology did for me!"

I don't know -- that doesn't seem very, well, smart.



Hmm...

You know something, now that I watch this video again -- I feel like I've seen it somewhere before...

Kids Incorporated


So apparently it's a big deal that the iTunes store is finally carrying the Jonas Brothers or something (as if nailing down a licensing agreement for these guys was such a herculean task, being that they're a wholly owned product of the fucking Walt Disney Company).

Anyway, the name of their latest album is Brothers, Musicians and More.

Well -- that's, uh -- descriptive, I guess.

A good rule of thumb: Never buy an album whose title sounds like a Gene Shalit blurb.

Incidentally, am I the only one who wonders what the "more" in the title refers to? Maybe the Stepford Mormons in Hansen won't go down as history's most inadvertently creepy little boy band after all.

(No, seriously, how much do you just wanna beat the hell out of these little shits and take their lunch money?)

Listening Post



I'm a big fan of Filter, and this dark twist on Three Dog Night's throwaway 60s hit One is part of the reason why.

By the way, a message to Clear Channel's inescapable phalanx of generic "rock" radio stations: Do the country a favor and play anything from these guys besides Hey Man Nice Shot.

Don't you ever get tired of hearing the same goddamned song?

They've released three albums.

That's a lot to choose from.

To borrow a line from Dean Wormer -- corporate, boring and lazy is no way to go through life.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Down with the Sickness


I really had every intention of publishing something worthwhile today, but as it turns out, nature had other plans for me.

I'm talking about the 102 fever, constant vomiting, no sleep at all last night kinds of plans.

I'm not at work today and I probably won't be there tomorrow either, and if anyone got the license number of the truck that ran over me and keeps backing up to finish the job, it'd be greatly appreciated.

Sorry folks -- I'll return when I return.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

R & R


I'm going to relax and take the rest of the day off, seeing as how A) I just got back from the periodontist and my gums feel like somebody drove a riding lawnmower across them, B) the apartment is a mess and could use at least a minor going-over, and C) I'm deeply immersed in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare on XBOX and can't seem to go longer than a few minutes without shouting stuff like "Where the hell's my goddamned air support?" at the TV.

If you're in desperate need of my usual good cheer, first call your shrink -- then click on over to Pajiba.com, as I'm one of several wise-ass contributors to its second annual "(Sh)it List."

I'll be back tomorrow with another Project Office Mayhem and an extended piece on the seemingly never-ending Hollywood writers' strike.

(Pajiba.com: Pajiba's Second Annual (Sh)it List)

Listening Post



Understand something -- Flo Rida's Low is bested only by that fucking ridiculous Soulja Boy song in the tight race for "Worst Piece-of-Shit Currently Infecting the Airwaves."

That's why it seriously says something about the awesome might of Travis Barker that he can actually make it cool.

This remix is just unreal.

It reminds me of the last truly impressive rock remix of a popular hip-hop song...



(By the way, Barker may be a bad-ass, but even he couldn't make Soulja Boy worth a crap; his remix does nothing to save that god-awful Crank That song.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Accidental Terrorists


Growing up in South Florida, I was inundated with daily tales -- many apocryphal -- of the "heroic" exploits of a group of local anti-Castro freedom fighters who operated under the menacingly militaristic name "Alpha 66."

If you believed the stories frequently tossed around domino games in Jose Marti Park, the group was an elite unit of former Cuban soldiers who had dedicated themselves to waging war against the bearded devil to the south by any means necessary; in the eyes of Alpha 66, this moral imperative gave sanction to everything from fully-armed "training missions" in the Everglades to commando raids inside Cuba, to the extortion of "donations" from businesses in Little Havana -- businesses which quickly came to understand that failure to show vociferous public support for the group's antics would lead to a bomb mysteriously turning up on their doorsteps, sort of a "If You're Not with the Terrorists, You're with Castro" scenario.

And that's what these clowns really were: Terrorists. They were -- and still are despite their age -- a bunch of reckless, heavily-armed halfwits with dreams of former and future glory motivated by an insanely irrational hatred of Fidel Castro.

The thing is, comically inept though they may be, they're operating on U.S. soil -- right now.

And the government -- our White House which sees terrorists like ghosts under every bed and around every dark corner -- isn't doing a damn thing about it.

Guess one man's terrorist really is another's freedom fighter, particularly when the latter man is part of a powerful voting bloc.

(Salon.com: The Coddled "Terrorists" of South Florida)

For more on Miami's delusional anti-Castro hysteria:

(Deus Ex Malcontent: High In-Fidel-ity/8.3.06)