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present tension

Dance with the Blog You Came in With

November 16th, 2009

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A horrible thought just struck me. Maybe there is no point in trying to modernize this lovely blog. Maybe it should never move beyond its Abu Gharib-era beginnings.

I have found two new homes for this thing. The first was at pt.nbnm.net, the next was at presenttension.net. Both were using advanced, space-age, jet-pack, hexochlorophene-fueled late-model WordPress frameworks.

But now I wonder: isn’t the primitiveness of early blogware itself a thingie to be preserved? Why not trash the whole NASA confabulation at presenttension.net, and move the low-tech beauty of this baby over there?

I’ll wait a few days to decide.

Anchors Aweigh!

September 8th, 2009

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Most of the fun stuff has been hidden away or moved to Present Tension’s new location. As there are few WordPress 1.2.2 blogs still standing, we will keep a token sampling of this award-winning journal available for your delight. At least for another few months.

Fly Me to the Moon

July 25th, 2008

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Say, I’ve got a swell idea. Let’s move to the moon. If we get enough people to sign on to the idea, I know some builders who’d just jump on it. The land is cheap, for one thing. I mean real cheap! As in FREE. That means it’s even cheaper than those buck-an-acre lots they’re selling in those gutted-out counties in Upstate New York. You hear about buying “summer homes” up there in those depopulated cow counties. Or “retirement homes,” which somehow sounds even more desperate. People keep telling you how lucky they were to get in on the ground floor, and how Jerkwater America is a fantastic place to invest, particularly if you can invest only $54.

There are minor inconveniences, sure. but they’re no more serious or consequential than those notional flaws that used to send some “factory second” Milano cookies to the Pepperidge Farm Thrift Shops. Those Thrift Shop Milanos were perfectly yummy, and the only possible flaw I could think of was that maybe some of the wafers weren’t perfectly aligned with each other–but I was just guessing.

What kind of inconveniences do they have in the sticks? First thing you always hear is, there’s no sewage system. What a stupid objection. Who comes up with comments like this, the United Sewer Workers Union? Hey look, in most of small-town and rural America nobody has a sewage system. It’s really no big deal.You just put a concrete pit in the backyard and flush your toilet into it. It’s called a septic tank. Out there everybody has one.

What other drawbacks? Okay, you’ve got to drive thirty miles just to buy a pack of cigarettes. This may be true, but look. They’ve got Indian casinos a little further up the road, Indian casinos where you can buy whole cartons for about two dollars. And that’s not all you can do.

Anyway, back to the two dollars. Think about it! Two dollars a carton is less than they went for when Red Skelton was plugging Chesterfields on the NBC Blue Network in 1945.

Now let’s talk about jobs. There are no good jobs nearby. I won’t dispute it. But you can always find something within fifty or a hundred miles, if you really look hard. And remember how modest your needs are. You don’t need a job that pays a lot, because now you’re living rent-free. Rent-free? Hell, you’re mortgage-free! You just bought fifty-four acres of prime bottom-land along the Schloogadooga and New Ilium Barge Canal. It’s true you’re living in an old horse-trailer that you picked up for ten bucks at the Devon Horse Show, but that’s just temporary and anyway you don’t owe anything on it, and pretty soon you’ll be building the house, I mean The HOME, of Your Dreams.

Transportation? Sure, there isn’t any, except for driving your own car, and gasoline’s horribly expensive, but look, everybody’s suffering. We’re in this together. Everybody’s got to have a car, right? And driving two hours each way to work each day isn’t the end of the world. Millions of people in California and Georgia do it every day. End of the day, you come home to your horse-trailer and you’ve got fifty-four acres you can call your own.

Now let’s look at the positives. Look at the social environment. Real honest-to-God hardworking salt-of-the-earth rural folk. Old ladies who bake pies. Public schoolteachers who actually teach, instead of marching in Gay Lib parades. Kind of people you want to know. And they’re all nice-looking people too. Wholesome. None of those oddball sorts or racial types who come in and ruin a society.

That of course is what the local boosters mean when they tell you Hooterville is a great place to Raise Kids. You don’t have kids? Well, the principle still holds. You may have to drive fifty miles to the nearest shopping mall, but when you get there they won’t be playing gangsta-rap music.

But moving “up there” isn’t half as good as moving to the moon. The moon isn’t depopulated, it’s UNpopulated. It’s nice and clean and white. You think Broome County is clean and white? Wait till you see the moon.

Wait, you’ve seen the moon. Tell me if that wasn’t white!

What kind of people are on the moon? Well, no one just now, but who’s been there? People with names like Neil Armstrong, that’s who. Imagine a great big Wapokoneta, Ohio in the sky. That’s what we can build if we set our minds to it.

I guarantee you the schools will be good. Yes, like California in the 1950s, only a lot better, because it’s going to take a lot more than a generation for this neighborhood to go down the tubes. Trust me on this: Max and Minnie Gefiltefisch aren’t going to move in and bring in a swarm of underpaid illegal Mexican day laborers because: 1) Jews HATE Space–don’t ask me why, but they do; and 2) Mexicans don’t go anyplace where there isn’t already a critical mass of Mexicans. It took 150 years to build a critical mass of beaners in California, for crying out loud.

No, the moon will stay pristine and clean for generations, my friends. Generations!

Now. What about the logistics and expense? Mostly these are similar to what our friends in Upstate New York go through. High fuel costs, long distances. You’ve got to drive everywhere. Only on the moon the vehicles will be lot more complicated and expensive. And that’s just for short travel.

You won’t be going home to Schenectady for Thanksgiving every year, unh-uh. It’ll be worse than Australia.

Then there’s the issue of the HVAC system. You’ve got to have a good HVAC system. Just like Houston, the moon never has really good weather. You have to go from one climate-controlled environment to another, and never really enjoy the outdoors. And just like Seattle, when you DO go outdoors, the silhouette of your usual outerwear is really going to suck.

On the other hand, you just know the beer will be very very very very good.

Those Mutant Children

July 12th, 2008

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Here I am, working again at Chelsea Piers, the only place where you can keep up with top 40 hits while eating sushi, wearing workout gear, monitoring your e-mail and generally producing the words and drawings that your career depends upon. It will be very hard for me when I have to work in an office again.

You forget about the real world here. Half the people are extraordinarily fit and good-looking, and the others are just, well, old. Or black. You forget about the epidemic of hormone- and corn-syrup-induced obesity that rages on in the outside world, beyond the piers and past the moat that surrounds Manhattan. But just yesterday I was sitting here and saw a FAT BOY. A little fat boy, about 11 or 12, the kind you see in shopping malls and friends’ houses (schoolmates, one hopes). He wore a voluminous t-shirt, shorts that came below the the knee, and a head that was nearly shaved. In other words, standard fat-kid wear. I used to think this look originated with fat black kids–gangsta rap and that–but now I realize that it didn’t; the first boys I ever saw like this were normal anglo-saxon types; no doubt little black kids took to the style because they are constitutionally more inclined to be obese. And when you’re an obese kid, an obese boy particularly, there aren’t very many kinds of clothes you can wear, let alone fit into.

I try to imagine this little porker dressed in the sartorial analog from, say, 1970, and what I get is a mental picture of very tight bluejeans worn with a leather belt and a yoked cowboy shirt. Or maybe some superhero t-shirt. If you saw someone dressed like that today, you’d assume it was a mental patient. Of course in 1970 if you saw a 200-pound 11-year-old with a shaved head…

Lil Fat BoyThe shaved head is the most mystifying part of the concoction. Is it a way of reinforcing gender identity or something? Years ago I had a coworker who was an eccentric computer programmer and mild transvestite. Nothing unusual there, but as he approached age 50 he decided to see if he could become a woman. Hatchet-faced and blue-bearded, he was a most unlikely candidate. But by jiminy he did it…sort of…though the journey required a continual tripping over the obvious, such as finding out that his wife didn’t care for the idea, told everyone he’d gone crazy, and ultimately tried to sue him for every last cent and prevent him from having access to their two preteen sons.

A bunch of us from the office made a journey out to this person’s condo one day to deliver a potted plant or something. The new woman was at home, recuperating from extensive facial surgery that enabled her to look a bit like Margaret Hamilton rather than, say, Murray Hamilton. She had her black kinky hair arranged in two plush cocker-spaniel ears that hid most of her face. She plied us with drinks and asked us to stay a while and meet her two sons, who were making a rare visit that evening. Nice looking boys, to judge from their pictures in the hall, neither fat nor thin. What turned up at six pm however were two roly-poly youngsters with shaven heads.

“They look like they’re recovering from brain cancer,” one of us said. This was some years ago, as I say.

“Oh they just did that recently,” said the programmer, meaning the hair. “It’s the new style.”

The rest of us looked at each other and mentally wondered if the New Style could possibly be related to Daddy’s New Life, but none of us was drunk enough to ask the kids directly.

Holiday Exposure

July 4th, 2008

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I’m on an IND platform, West 50s, 6:40 am on July 4th. It being a long holiday weekend, most people have left the city, apart from assorted bohemians and the colored underclass. And everything is moving just a little…slow. I have to get to Penn Station by 7 and am beginning to panic that I won’t make it.

I play little mental games: if the train doesn’t come in two minutes, I’ll run upstairs, get some cash, hail a cab. Then another two minutes, and another two.

An old gypsy female gets off a train going in the opposite direction. She has an entourage of about 15 parcels and shopping bags, each one about big enough to hold a pair of shoes or an old towel. She slowly drags them out to the platform and stands there, wandering around a little, shoving them to and fro with her thong-clad feet. She walks around to the stairwell, reaches under her sack dress, adjusts her underclothing, stands with her feet apart, and pees right there. Then she moves down the platform a little bit, away from the puddle now dribbling down into the tracks, and squats a little, still fiddling with her underwear. Then she gingerly takes off her black diaper, or panties, or whatever. Is she going to throw them into the track trench? The rubbish bin? No, she rolls them up a little and deposits them in one of her little plastic bags.

Meanwhile, farther down the platform, a very large negro, or some other nonwhite, is taking his shirt off, and washing his face and hands with water gushing out of some spigot. Or maybe he’s pouring water on himself from a bottle. I can’t tell; he’s an eighth of a mile away from me. At some point he sees me standing there, watching for the train. He pulls down his pants and waves his lunchmeat at me. I can’t see anything clearly; he’s far away and in shadow. Obviously, though, Big Nig is hoping for a reaction. He keeps this up for a good five minutes.

A few more people enter the subway station. At long last the train arrives.

Chelsea Piers: Cafe Scene. Afternoon.

June 24th, 2008

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Something seen in the cafe at the Chelsea Piers gym: A guy with scraggly blond hair has his MacBook open, is looking at the IMDB site, where we see a picture of a scraggly-haired personage named Martin Ewen. I can’t resist the temptation to creep around and see if this the same guy. Hmm–could be!

Martin looks very troubled. Some information is misstated or missing in the IMDB listing. He’s now looking at his e-mail. A half-dozen messages from IMDB support. They haven’t updated his listing yet.

Isn’t it bad luck to keep looking yourself up on IMDB? I know it is for Google.

Mister Cokehead, Media Recruiter

June 3rd, 2008

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I made a new friend via e-mail a couple of weeks back. He runs a tiny advertising-temp agency and has a most pleasing electro-epistolary manner. So much so that when he shot me a note last week proposing I come in and meet him, I wrote back, “Dude!…”

I’d already Googled Dude’s unusual, double-barrelled name and discovered he was an occasional road-race athlete, with 10k times resembling my own. Except he was male, a bit younger, and not taking his racing seriously.

Hey! We would get along like thieves afire. Thick as houses!

So I get to his Murray Hill warren at 2 pm today. He’s not as handsome and dashing as I’d imagined, but he immediately greets me by name and I greet him back.

Then everything falls apart. He thinks he sent me “paperwork” for me to fill out. I don’t know what he’s talking about. He has his colored girl print out a new set and then he mixes it up with somebody else’s references.

He asks me if I have a portfolio. Well I do have a Prat case that I bought in 1988 and toted around to Art Directors for a few months when I thought I was going to be an editorial illustrator…but I certainly do not tote it around now. Not in this century. I do have a pile of junk–ads, cartoons, layouts, logos, corporate identity, Flash banners–displayed in a website, but it’s not something I spend a lot of time on.

[I know all about Portfolios. I got wise to them back in the 1980s. They were (and are) a strange obsession of commercial-art colleges. An example of anal-retentive typography on this page, a highly derivative ad treatment on that page (four-word hed in Futura Bold, powerful b/w image)…a little bit of everything…and that fourteen-dollar-an-hour job (1989 dollars) is right around the corner. Or so the career counselor at The Art Center/School of Visual Arts/Parsons was advising the kids. I loved graphic design and the occasional classes I took at the School of Visual Arts in the 1980s, so it took me a long time to accept the hard fact that graphic designers are a very dim breed. I started to figure this out at The San Diego Reader, where we had a designer who couldn’t read more than ten words of an article without moving his lips, and that took too much effort, so generally he gave up around word eleven, and picked whatever graphic or illustration suited his grasshopper whim, however inappropriate it was to the article he was laying out. He’d have an article on some grand-opera production going on in San Diego, and because he very much liked the old photograph of Dame Nellie Melba in 1920, he’d use that as the main design element for the layout, which turned out to be a cover story. Only trouble is, all the references to Melba’s visit to San Diego in 1920 got axed early in the edit process, so the design motifs made so sense whatsoever. Later on when I was at Salomon Smith Barney we had a very talented and charming designer who was very good at putting a green square next to a pink triangle but quite out of his element with anything involving the real world. Once he came to me with an outline map of Oceania and asked me which island (New Guinea or Australia) was the one that had Sydney. But I digress…]

Bad to worse. I’m at the temp agency, showing my poor excuse of an online portfolio. Now, I am pretty good at Flash. Timeline, code, you name it. I show Mister Double-Barrelled some Flash pieces on my portfolio. One of them is a complicated device that displays Flash banners as though they were on a TV. The whole point is that I created the coding behind this device, but he is focused completely on the low-resolution content I use as examples. He thinks the content shown on the device is what I’m showing off, not the device itself. He talks a mile a minute, bobbing his head up and down, looking from side to side.

I try to explain, as I point to the display on his big-screen iMac. He asks me to repeat. He doesn’t understand me. My diction isn’t bad, he just wants me to face him as I explain. The guy is either drugged out or half-deaf and needs to read my lips.

He natters on, like somebody smoking a midnight eight-ball. Slurs his words. Starts a sentence, then kills it for whatever happens to be the latest and newest idea in his drug-fueled grasshopper brain…says something completely unrelated, keeps interrupting me, then asks me to repeat and clarify myself and talks over me.

Fucking madman.

He asks another question, I try to answer in detail. Then he hurries me along. Finishes my sentences, finishes them wrong. Not a clue, no idea what I’m saying, doesn’t know or care. He listens for buzzwords coming out of my mouth, hoping that one of them will connect with something he thinks he knows about.

Scary. How soon do I get to leave?

This is the most unexpected and offputting encounter I have ever had with an employment recruiter. It’s not just his abrasiveness and herky-jerky manner, which might simply reflect a brain with to much Red Bull or coke. And I am too much of a libertarian to find fault with those indulgences.

No, his presentation suggests a much deeper problem: a lack of professional experience in any field other than temporary job-placement. For years he’s taken phone calls from secretaries and HR halfwits who relay their temp needs, he shouts back to them what he thinks they want–"you want a photo retoucher who knows type fonts? Photoshop? Someone expert with masks and channels? You don’t know? Does it matter? How high can you go? Minimum billing I can do is $45 an hour"–and either there’s a sale or there isn’t; then he does this again and again, all day, year-in-year-out. He doesn’t know what he’s selling and neither does the halfwit at the other end, but they both know a little lingo about graphic software. A meeting of the minds.

If it sounds like a hellish way to earn a living, consider that once you’ve been doing job-placement for a little while, you can’t do anything else. You’ve been selling canned goods over the telephone, basically, and you don’t have the skills for anything else, at least not anything that pays well. Moreover you’ve acquired a gimlet-eyed contempt for your merchandise and clients, and the idea of somehow joining them in the trenches is unthinkable.


It all reminds me of a similar shoestring operation I hooked up with soon after getting out of college. I wanted some paying work right away, so I went to a temp agency that advertised with big classified ads in the New York Times. I kept noticing this place that said it had plenty of jobs with a Major Television Network. The firm had a grandiose title, something like “Madison Avenue Agency for Advertising Communications.” There was a cardboard sign on the door and no indication of prosperity within–a bare office with a spindly pockmarked fellow named Clifford Scott and his colored receptionist. Clifford was nice when you first met him. Terribly friendly, terribly eager to meet the new talent. His slipshod charm made you overlook his frayed collar and dirty nails.

I asked him about the jobs in TV, and after some hesitation he told the Major Television Network was TelePrompter. TelePrompter, in addition to making cueing devices, once owned a few cable tv stations, though no one mistook it for a Major Television Network. This was a while ago. How far back? Let’s say 1979.

Anyway I did not get a job in television. But Clifford placed me immediately, that very afternoon. I was sent up to 53rd Street to answer telephones on the third floor of the Museum of Modern Art. I was very pleased with my good luck. I observed the lady who was VP of Public Development (whatever that might be) and with what bonhomie she greeted her coworkers as she sashayed about in her nubby raw-silk multicolored jacket, and thought to myself: “Hah, in a year or so, I’ll be giving orders to some functionary like that, and wearing an even finer raw-silk jacket.”

They didn’t need me to answer the phones at MOMA the next day, so a day or two later Clifford sent me to Foote Cone and Belding, an ad agency on Floor 42 of the Pan Am building. FCB had a very strange work schedule, at least for their temps. Nine to five, but you were required to subtract exactly 75 minutes for your lunch break (which had to be between 12:15 and 2:00), so that your daily billable hours would equal exactly 6.75 hours. You see, they wanted you to have a full lunch hour and have enough time to get up and down the elevators, but they didn’t want to pay you for all that travel time.

I typed one or two memos and otherwise spent the day reading the Sunday NYTimes Magazine and doing the crossword.

I was one of two temp typists. The other was a fat sulky Jewish girl named Robyn Fineman, who spent the day ostentatiously reading the Hunter College course catalog. I tried to joke with her once or twice. I got nowhere. She was fat, she was Jewish, she had issues. She was crushed with shame to be working in such a menial position. Actually she was borderline mentally ill and lucky to have a job at all, but let’s not get stuck on Robyn… Bad moods prevailed in the whole department. One of the account executives I worked for was a fat and thoroughly nasty shrew by the name of Helene Lo Grasso. When she gave me a scrawled page to type, she tossed it on my Selectric (as hard as you can toss a sheet of paper). One sentence was totally undeciperable, so I went into her office where she was bullshitting with a coworker. “Oh what is it NOW?” she yelled in her working-class Staten Island honk, following it up with assorted expletives and insults. In lofty tones I informed her that I couldn’t understand her writing and she had no grasp of punctuation.

Did I mention this was a one-day assignment? Initially I understood it to be longer, but something didn’t quite work out. Clifford never gave me direct feedback. Neither did he send me back to FCB, or anywhere else.

I decided that Helene Lo Grasso was to blame. But I knew how to find her. Before leaving, I had slipped the Foote Cone & Belding directory into my Whitney Museum of Modern Art tote bag. And for years afterwards I would send Helene Lo Grasso padded envelopes containing dogshit and roadkill (after first ascertaining that she still worked in the place).

Trite and childish, I know…but why be more inventive? This fat pig didn’t warrant imagination.

I kept following up on Clifford Scott, too, checking the classifieds to see if his enterprise was still in business. It finally folded around 1984. A year or two before that I dropped in to say hello. The agency seemed even smaller and rattier than before. So did Clifford. I told him I had a very good job but hated it, and wanted to go back to temping, preferably in advertising. He pretended to remember me, but obviously couldn’t, though he seemed to be thinking back very hard, and I imagined that the confused expression on his face suggested a faint memory of a bad smell.

NYC Declares War on Smoking Mulattoes

May 15th, 2008

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No doubt about it, cigarette smoking is a disgusting habit—right up there with sex, nose-picking, and eating at McDonalds. But people persist, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is determined to give some of them a good whack upside the head.

renaldoThe Department’s main target is the mass of mulattoes and mestizoes from the Caribbean region. Last year they made a celebrity of one Ronaldo Martinez, a Puerto Rican who claims to have lost his voice box to cancer, supposedly brought on by cigarette smoking. His tale is doubtful, short on specifics. He claims to have lost his larynx at 39, but he looks about fifteen years older, while throat and laryngeal cancers seldom occur before age 45.

stumpyhandsThis season’s poster child is a mulatta who calls herself Marie and according to the NY Times is in her late 50s. All over town, on posters and subway car cards, she holds out her stumpy hands to you, claiming (in Spanish and English) that cigarette smoking caused her to have many amputations.

The image is shocking and grotesque, but really no worse than back issues of National Geographic and Holiday, wherein old crones of the New Guinea highlands were said to have their fingers amputated as “funeral gifts.” That’s just the way savages are. They have their little customs, and we should not be quick to judge them. Nor should we buy the nonsense that smoking cigarettes will make your fingers fall off. According to the Times, “Marie” has Buergger’s Disease, a rare circulatory ailment.

americankidsThe big mystery here is why the Department of Health (etc.) has singled out Spanish-speaking mulattoes and mestizoes for this extra-special treatment. Surely they don’t smoke any more than the rest of the population. Why are there no campaigns depicting domestic non-ethnic cigarette smokers? Wholesome, corn-fed, all-American Anglo-Saxon types, those 20- and 30-somethings who huddle in tavern doorways from 6pm to 2am every night. Are the bureaucrats scared of these fuming masses of hipsters, gays, and investment-banking analysts? That’s a possibility, though it’s more likely that they can’t imagine how to show off healthy young American smokers and and not have it look like a cigarette ad.

How Many Chillun You Got?

April 22nd, 2007

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That’s the important thing. That’s what all primitive people really want to know about you.

savage with one chillunThey get to the point where they’ve figured out that you’re either male or female (even though they they can’t see either a penis gourd or pendulous dugs), and they know your approximate age (somewhere between adolescence and total decrepitude). Now they’re happily puffing away on your Philip Morris Commanders (king-size, unfiltered, good for jungle bugs) and they’re ready to move into the small-talk stage of your acquaintanceship.

And here it is. “Hey you! You got chillun? How many chillun?”

Go ahead and tell them. Anything you like. One kid, six kids, sixteen kids. It’s not like the little savages are going to write down your children’s birthdays so they can send them something nice (just imagine!). No, they’re just being innocently nosy. It’s something they ask of all strangers, and no one’s ever smacked them down for this rudeness so they keep on asking.

Sometimes the questions get detailed—"You have a boy? How old? Is he warrior? You have girl—how much you sell her for?” It is always best to be prepared for this. Along with the Philip Morris Commanders in the left side pocket of your photo-vest, bring a fact sheet about your kids. Maybe even some fuzzy snapshots.

My own prepared script goes basically like this. “Oh yes I have four children. Two girls, two boys. Between five and fifteen. Evenly spaced. Their names are Mary, Joan, John, and Robert. They live with their other parent, as I am usually away on business. The boys play baseball [a game formerly very popular in America] and the girls do ballet [this is a kind of theater-dance some people do in my country]. Who is oldest? Oh, that would be John. Then Mary. Then…”

Even a savage has limited attention for this sort of thing, and by this point my new friend is probably waving and nodding and inviting me into his hut to look at the shrunken heads.

Postwar Propaganda

May 4th, 2006

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Monday night I was flying to JFK from Heathrow and exhausted my reading material before we passed Newfoundland. I found Caddyshack listed on the in-flight movie menu, but everytime I looked for it on the assigned channel I got a mid-80s Molly Ringwald turkey instead. And I’d already seen the Narnia movie and the documentary about the German submarine. So I idly scrolled through the channels and came to rest at I Love Lucy.
It was an old episode. No, I mean really old, one of the early ones from the first (1951-52) season…Lucy and Ricky (and Fred and Ethel) as the broadest of broad comic characters, before they got backstory and nuance and visited Hollywood and Europe.
In fact, it was THE classic episode, the first one that pops into your mind, the one where the men and women “switch jobs.” They don’t literally switch jobs (Ricky was the only character who had real employment anyway), rather they switch breadwinner-homemaker roles. Ricky and Fred cook in the kitchen while Lucy and Ethel get assembly-line jobs in a candy factory. I’d seen this a million times–well, a dozen–but this time was utterly fascinated by all the details and subtexts and social propaganda.
1. The appliances in the Ricardos’ kitchen are bright and obtrusive. They aren’t just mute background furniture (like the succession of Macintosh computers you see in Jerry Seinfeld’s place). There’s a matched washer-dryer pair, and neither looks ever to have been used. There’s the distinct air of a TV commercial for Maytag or RCA Whirlpool. Message: “If your kitchen doesn’t look like this, well for heaven’s sake make it so. You can buy them now, you know. War production’s been over for six or seven years.”
2. Elsewhere there’s a real postwar look to the whole thing. Everybody’s fifteen or twenty pounds overweight, and they’re all over-upholstered. Wide lapels, big shoulders and skirts. Showing off one’s bounty, you know. Now that the war’s over we can do that.
3. The effects of war on social roles are much in evidence. A man wears a suit and brings home the bacon, a woman wears frilly clothes and hangs out at home. Anything else is eccentric and laughable.
candy episode4. Women getting jobs means putting on waitress uniforms (like Mildred Pierce) and working on an assembly line (like Rosie the Riveter). Roz Russell career girls? Never heard of ‘em. If Ethel and Lucy got decent jobs, that would undercut the premise of the humor, which is that women in the workplace are pitiable fish out of water.

The George W. Bush You Never Knew

July 20th, 2005

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young WToday the Associated Press posted this photograph, without explanatory comment, on its website. If it truly is a photo of President Bush as he looked (say) thirty years ago, then his years of drink and drugs took much more of a toll than anyone has hitherto suspected.

The City That Couldn’t Sleep

March 27th, 2005

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beds on SixthLast Labor Day weekend I was up at five in the morning and noticed that some oddballs—advertising boffins, I supposed—were blocking off the street outside and setting up a series of double beds in the middle of Sixth Avenue and photographing them from a high rolling platform. Just now I follow a link to The Daily Telegraph’s site and find an animated GIF ad for British Airways that shows the image I’ve long been awaiting. I notice they’ve taken their six or so beds and Photoshopped them into a longer parade.

(Correction, please. It was not merely Photoshop. They painstakingly moved all six of the beds down the avenue and reshot them in position. Why the hell would you do that, when the cityscape light was changing every few minutes anyway, so that none of the shadows would exactly match and you’d have to retouch each tier of beds anyway? The photo retoucher has his reasons. See here for his description.)

‘Tis the Sausage Lady

March 26th, 2005

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A vile and mean-streaky harridan whom we used to call the Sausage Lady has published a “memoir” (quotations here suggesting a high degree of self-aggrandizing fictionalization) that tells how she was abused and victimized when she was a fat ugly little whelp. She keeps popping up in my occasional political cartoons, including this throwaway from 2003. Oh, yes—she’s the one with the bag of mail.

Postscript, May 2008. Not long after writing the above, I learned that the Sausage Lady was dead. Yes, even as her Fat Girl made her a bestselling author in her 60s, she was wasting away with many different forms of cancer (including pineapple cancer, which Harold liked best). Well lots of us get cancer from time to time, so there’s no gloating here. However, there was a time when I called upon the mischevious sprites of the world to fill her with tumors, and this was the first thing I thought of when I heard she was dead. This was about 15 years ago. Sausage Lady and some friends of hers were waging a campaign of horrific pranks at my expense. Everything from harassing phone calls to anonymous smears to physical threats. I hadn’t done anything against them, other than occasionally complain or fight back (feebly), though at long last I did engage an attorney to send threatening folderol to Sausage Lady’s employer. More decisive action was called for, I felt. So I built a Devil Doll of the Sausage Lady, shaped it out of Sculpey and froze it upside down in the fridge. Then I tied a miniature noose about its neck and hung it from the arched entrance to my kitchen. Finally I took it out into the alley and smashed it on the cobblestones. I put pieces into an envelope and addressed it to Sausage Lady, along with an anonymous note saying how sorry we all were to hear she was dying of colonic cancer.

Welcome to Randall’s Island

March 26th, 2005

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First, the travelogue.

For most of the last three hundred years Randall’s Island has served as an outbuilding to Manhattan, providing the distasteful municipal functions we associate with islands in the East River and Hellgate: potter’s fields, poorhouses and workhouses, insane asylums, disease quarantines, reform schools, prisons.

Currently the island is a city park, host to summer concerts, Cirque du Soleil marquees, and negro schoolchildren from Harlem who come to taste the wild swampwater. It’s recently been provided with a rubberized running track and a steel-and-concrete viewing stand that proclaims itself Icahn Stadium. I presume Icahn is none other than Carl Icahn, the leveraged-buyout sleazeball who liquidated TWA some years back.

Today I made my first visit, via borrowed schoolbus, for an 8am NYRR race. The running course, which circled the island and ended on the running track, was “flat and fast,” according to the NYRR webpage.

Fair enough. There were a couple of small hills, but nothing like the 8% grade we had in Prospect Park during last Saturday’s half-marathon. I finished in under 24 minutes, net, with an astounding pace of 7:42.

This is about one minute faster than my pace in the half-marathon, and tempts me to make a stab at extrapolating my average pace in the upcoming Paris Marathon. I drop one full avg-pace-minute per ten miles, therefore my average pace for 26.2 miles will be about ten minutes per mile, meaning a net marathon time of 4 hours 22 minutes. I shall endeavoure to improve.

Diarrhea; or, The Runs

March 19th, 2005

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Saturday, March 19th: Feast of St. Joseph, the swallows come back to Capistrano and I run the Brooklyn Half-Marathon.

I finished 376th of 1374 women (1462nd of 3325 overall, 11 for my age and sex), but those statistics lie. I saw thousands pass me by in the last five miles.

By then my attention was mainly focused on keeping continent. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or maybe just indigestion from bad eating (see below) has struck again. Imagine me running three miles on the Coney Island Boardwalk, then six miles up Ocean Parkway (a thoroughfare I’d never seen before, but which was exactly as I’d imagined), finally up Park Circle and into Prospect Park, all the while looking for a porta-potty (or Royal Flush, to use the concession’s actual name).

Funny how few people are noticeably ill at these events. Though I did see a girl with the dry heaves, just before the Park Circle turnoff.

In 1999, on a relay race in New Hampshire, I ate Olestra-laced potato chips and got a severe case of trots. There I was, running through the center of Laconia, NH at 2 in the morning, hoping desperately to reach the finish before I soiled myself. Today’s race was nearly that bad. Not coicidentally, I ate potato chips yesterday, too, though they did not have Olestra. Also ate assorted sushi and some cheese. And a big chocolate-chip cookie and bowl of hot chocolate with cube-shaped marshmallow at the City Bakery on 18th Street. That’s my diverse diet, folks. I shall be more careful in the two or three days leading up to the Paris Marathon, and subsist entirely on yoghurt, fruit, and modest amounts of soup and pasta.

George Kennan Dead. A Grand Guy.

March 18th, 2005

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Good ol' GeorgeSo farewell then, George Kennan. Seems to me I’ve been hearing your obituary in my dreams for about ten days. How delightful to read in the Times that you were a gloomy, complicated and morose person, who despaired of conveying fine nuance in a world of political hackery. Whenever I thought of a foreign-service career for myself, you were always there in my mind as one of the Big Names. Somebody who’d hung around for decades—from the first delegation to the Soviet Hell in the early thirties, to an active career as an elder sage that ended only with his death at 101. I suppose now I shall have to think seriously about that graduate education in global whatsit and foreign relations. The baton passes.

Gimme a Nail

March 13th, 2005

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Can I switch from being a pack-a-week smoker to being a (temporary) nonsmoker? This would be just to help my wind a little over the next few weeks. Devil’s Advocate arguments arise: I didn’t smoke at all 15 years ago–well, hardly ever–and I didn’t run any better. In fact I ran rather worse, consistently. And there is no conclusive proof of long-term damage from light cigarette smoking.

Furthermore there is the moral argument. By keeping my Smoker’s Union Card active, I am helping to fight the good fight against the neo-Stalinist gang who endeavor to persuade us that pedophilia, miscegenation, and frottage parties on the town green are all perfectly fine; but people who enjoy traditional and moderate pleasures must be hounded like criminals.

So while I may shelve the minor pleasures for a little while–a useful discipline, in these last days of Lent–I don’t really see the point of doing it forever. I don’t propose to look down the long corridor of eternity and see nothing but No Smoking signs.

Slowing Down

March 13th, 2005

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Yesterday I decided to run a leisurely 8-mile fartlek, mostly around the reservoir. This did not come off as planned. The reservoir track was soggy with slush and mud. So I took a series of alternate routes, on the paved road and horse trails, pausing after ninety minutes to pick up my number from NYRRC on 89th Street. Then back to the park and another leisurely two miles, then back home. Felt great. I calculated I’d run somewhere between 12 and 13 miles in the course of two hours. But alas! It was too wearing on me, and when I ran the Pfizer 4-mile race today I clocked a shabby 8:05 pace. Which I would have thought quite wonderful a few weeks ago, but now I realize I was made for better things. In spite of running gently and stretching afterwards, I was just too stiff to make a full-out effort. And I was stiff in places I’d never been stiff before—upper thighs and glutes. What is this all about?

Harry in Chicago

March 6th, 2005

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Shortly before I go to swim and shower at the gym, Harry phones up from Chicago. He’s on his Sprint mobile phone. He barks through a tincan in a windtunnel for three minutes, then disappears, phones back. I tell him to phone me on the landline. He says he can’t because he’s outside, and he doesn’t have long-distance on his regular phone and it’s cheaper for him to call on the cell. I don’t quite follow. The connection fogs out again. Finally, third time around, I explain that I meant he should phone me on my landline.

Harry is one of those people who like to talk on the phone, and like most of that ilk, he likes to say the same thing over and over, which makes it doubly difficult for me because I don’t like to talk on the phone and I have a low boredom threshold. He keeps telling me how wonderful Chicago is and how glad he is he’s there, because he could find an affordable place to live, which he never could in New York. (Subtext: New York will not dote on me and I don’t have the money or connections to live there, so pooh on New York.)
Harry is now in his early 50s, but he got frozen into the mindset of a 20-something actor/waiter of the Nixon/Ford/Carter era. I could give you a laundry list of examples of this attitude, but then I’d be halfway into a novel. Suffice it to say that he sneers and carps at young people—I guess that would be anyone under 40—especially young gay men, who are far less cool and brilliant than Harry’s young peers were thirty years ago.

Harry’s been an offstage presence in my life since I was a kid. I first heard of him 32 years ago from a crazy girl from Chicago, daughter of a Sun-Times editor, who’d been in the nuthouse with him in Evanston, circa 1971. Harry’s story, in brief, was that he was very messed up. He and his younger sister went through a series of foster homes when small children, finally becoming adopted by a well-to-do childless couple in their forties. Harry worked as a child model and commercial actor, playing teenagers till he was about 25. Then he found he could earn oodles of money as a waiter and maitre d’, and that discovery shaped the next fifteen years of his life. Some people become accountants and lawyers, some turn to crime, others work in restaurants.

In the 80s Harry was a part-owner of a restaurant near South Street Seaport. Somehow his investment came to grief, so he parted ways with his partners and used his remaining capital to start a gay bookstore in Ft. Lauderdale. This failed and he went bankrupt. He then went to Vietnam and Bangkok to promote himself as a restaurant consultant. He was right in time for the economic downturn of ‘98-99. He wound up teaching English in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.

He’d come armed with a presentation binder filled with encomia from restaurant associates, as well as headshots of himself as a young man when he appeared in ads for Strawbridge & Clothier and Seven-Up. The headshots greatly impressed the boys in old Sai-Gon, who made the intended inference that Harry was a bigtime American movie actor. Thus Harry, who likes oriental boys, had a grand old time in the Far East. But then there were visa and legal problems, and he washed up again on American shores, where he begged his semi-wealthy parents for a small stipend that would enable him to reestablish himself as an expert in the wine and food trade.

It was around this time, the year 2000, that I finally encountered Harry in the flesh. He’d taken a share in a nasty hi-rise apartment in Flushing, living with a half-Jewish woman many years his senior. The flatmate tried to seduce him sexually, then turned on him, finally calling the cops and accusing him of having beaten her up. Harry got hauled off to the pokey and spent the next six months in a horrendous legal maze, dividing his time between attending court-ordered Anger Management classes and asking his parents for enough money to pay for two hair-weave pieces. (His signature blond thatch had started going thin after 35.)

That whole year, 2000, was a hellacious time for poor Harry. Fortune kept tossing him nuggets that turned into fools’ gold. Dorothy Sarnoff, the public-speaking guru, flattered him and encouraged him to write a book and set up a successor business to her own. But then it turned out Dorothy was senile and apparently was under the impression that Harry was her nephew. Suddenly she wouldn’t see him anymore, because (he said) either her mind briefly cleared and she realized the mistaken identity, or maybe she’d found out he’d been arrested for beating up an old woman. Other promising jobs and prospects would pop up, then suddenly be withdrawn. Still an undischarged bankrupt from his Florida days, Harry now decided he was unemployable because his arrest and bankruptcy kept showing up on his records. Toward the end of the year, when he was still attending Anger Management sessions, he got a few months’ work demonstrating recipes at an upscale grocery chain in Manhattan. He lived in a room in the Greenpoint YMCA.

Finally, in early 2001, he cadged enough money from his parents to move back to Vietnam.

Last time I saw him he was back in Manhattan for a few days, preparing for a move to Ecuador, again as a teacher of English. Oh boy, I thought.

Now he’s back in America because he never finished his BA, and he needs a minimal degree to continue in his TOEFL career.

He’s the only person who’s had a career as chequered and scary as mine. But my life has not been as bleak. I’d like to keep it that way.

Another 5K

March 6th, 2005

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And today, Sunday morn, I showed up for the preposterously named Coogan’s Salsa Blues & Shamrocks 5K in Washington Heights, the 553rd finisher out of 2160. Pace time was 7:55, which is unremarkable in the great scheme of things, but a Personal Best for me. This pace will be impossible to approach in the Brooklyn Half-Marathon on the 19th, where my goal is simply to keep it under nine minutes, or about 1 hr 50 minutes. I really must quit smoking in the next few days. The Paris Marathon is one month away.

As usual, the first mile seemed to go on for fifteen minutes. Bagpipers, steel drums, and mulatto girls in cheerleader outfits appeared at odd intervals, serenading us and cheering us on. The course was mostly a straightaway with two or three long hills: up Fort Washington Avenue, then into Fort Tryon Park for a half mile and the turnaround. I sped up when passing the 3-mile sign, determined to stay under an 8-minute pace this time.
My tummy is acting up. I have just eaten chunks of chorizo after returning from the gym where I Jacuzzi’d and swam a few laps.

Moki clips out Thomas Friedman’s column and gives it to me. It is better than usual, this time framing the Bush administration’s opposition to the EU’s sale of arms to Red China. The problem is not arms sale per se, Friedman explains, but rather that the EU countries aren’t selling arms to each other. And they don’t sell arms to each other because they are protected by America’s defense umbrella, which used to protect them from the Soviet Union and now defends them from dangerous countries in the Middle East. Furthermore, the main reason they’re selling military hardware to Red China is that they really hope to sell more Airbuses, which the Chinese will be more inclined to buy if war materiel is part of the package.

What a bunch of greedy no-goods! Don’t they realize the Western World is being besieged by Moslem terrorists? Why can’t they be more like us and take all their foreign policy and defense directives from Tel Aviv, the way we do?