We are so excited to show the movie in NY this week. The internet has been giving us a healthy buzz to help us promote these screenings. Thanks guys!
They were going to parties a lot,
this was in their second month
of college when there were still
new people to meet, when the
idea of going to somebody’s room
to listen to music off a laptop
and play beer pong still seemed
novel (when it stopped seeming
novel they’d keep doing it, because
what else was there to do)
and it was always a crapshoot,
what kind of party it was going to
be, who would be there, if ANYONE
would be there, what they’d have
to drink, if they’d have ANYTHING
to drink, and so they’d pregame
in Catherine’s room, so those
questions would matter a lot less.
Crystal Lite strawberry lemonade mix,
Crystal Palace vodka, in a big plastic bottle,
there was a lot of Crystal involved.
They were good nights, except when
Ashley’s boyfriend from Bard would call
and guilt-trip her and she’d spend important
drinking hours in the stairwell on the phone,
and then she’d come back and make up for lost time
and then he’d call back and she’d be back
in the stairwell and they could never leave until
she’d repeated a litany of “I have to GO I have to
GO I have to GO Steve I have to GO” and hang
up finally, do a fuck-you-Steve shot and
they were out the door,
and except when Catherine would flirt and
subsequently make out with a guy Amy
wanted but wouldn’t SAY she wanted,
and Andrea wouldn’t stop incessantly comforting her
until Amy had repeated her litany of “It’s
fine, I’m FINE, it’s FINE, I’m FINE,”
and sometimes the parties were lame
and sometimes they’d go back to the rooms
of boys they’d later wish they’d never
but they never showed up anywhere until
after midnight and there’s certainly
something to be said for that.
Oh smash! Jason Anderson, who I believe to be the best thing going in the guys-with-guitars department, has not one but TWO residencies booked in New York for March. According to his website, he'll be doing every Monday at Pete's Candy Store (like the residency he did back in November) and every Thursday at Pianos on the Lower East Side.
I don't know what New York has done to deserve such an embarrassment of awesome, but there you have it, and I think we should take full advantage.
Think of it: Jason Anderson's month of shows will begin and it will be technically March but it will still feel aggressively like winter, and by the end of the month, though granted it will still be pretty cold and cloudy and we will get teased with beautiful days only to get pulled back hard into gray-ness, it will be that much closer to being full-on Spring. Plus we will be eight beautiful experiences richer.
Experiences make us happier than possessions. I read an article the other day that said as much, and I fully believe it. And believe me when I say that a Jason Anderson show is a very cool experience that will bring you closer to your fellow man, a phrase that is an over-sentimental dose of hippie crap except that it's A) true B) really something that more experiences oughta shoot for. So if we want, we basically have eight evergreen happiness-making adventures coming our way in the mail! Pretty cool if you ask me.
This is neat: Drew McWeeny of HitFix.com posted his Sundance "Mystery Team" review. It is insanely positive, and it would have been very cool for anyone to have written it, but it has additional meaning for me because for many years, the dude wrote under the alias Moriarty on Ain't It Cool News, which if you were a internet-addicted movie geek in high school in the early two-thousands was simply the joint. The news and reviews on the site in general were wildly disparate in terms of accuracy and quality but his reviews were consistently well-written and trustworthy. It's like a tiny forgotten deity from my past came out of the woodwork to endorse something me and my friends have put the last year and a half of our lives into. Psyched! Thank you very much, Drew.
Also cool: Got this e-mail from my friend Tim today. We were in an improv group together in college, and now he teaches high school here in New York.
So I'm teaching 11th + 12th grade English, and we're starting a poetry unit, and I put a folder of over 100 random poems at each table and kids just rummaged through them for twenty minutes or so looking for poems they really liked. At the end of the period, I asked them to just write me a short note and let me know what their favorite poem was and why. 2 of the 70 or so kids who did this today wrote down a poem I'd called "Untitled," by DC Pierson (the one that starts off "When I was a child I liked to / lay in bed Saturday mornings." That's 2 kids out of 70 who chose your poem over Pablo Neruda, Nikki Giovanni, Walt Whitman, ee cummings, Langston Hughes etc! Crazy!
Anyway I thought that'd sound cool to you.
That totally sounds cool to me! I plan to put a sticker reading "1 in every 35 American high schoolers prefer the poetry of DC Pierson to that of better-known and indisputably superior poets!" on the cover of my first collection. I would also like the cover to be a photograph of me standing on Walt Whitman's grave, mean-mugging the gravestone while holding up a gaudy gold chain that's around my neck as if to say, "What up now?"
Seriously though, this made my day. It is a crazy huge honor that you included me, Tim. (Poem in full here.)
According to a forthcoming biography, ODB had schizophrenic delusions of being haunted by a gay ghost named Christoph.
I have heard a number of stories from people who've lived in New York longer than I have about seeing ODB around everywhere. Apparently he was kind of a fixture. All of the stories have one thing in common: ODB was on the street, and ODB was barefoot.
They don't make 'em like that anymore.
I thought Tuesday was gonna be a real crummy day. The thing that started Tuesday ended up being crummier than any one crummy day, but Tuesday all by itself turned out to be pretty great.
Sally Stafford had a locker two lockers down from mine. She’s real pretty and just about the smartest kid in our class, with the exception of Mildred Pierce, but Mildred Pierce is a stuck-up old biddy except she isn’t a biddy, she’s fifteen years old just like the rest of us. Sally Stafford though, she was something. And add to that her old man was Werring Stafford of Stafford Textiles, which practically employed the whole town, my pa included! Rich as Croesus, pretty as a picture, and real sweet to everybody, not stuck-up at all. The kind of girl you practically know you’ve never got a shot with, so you don’t say hardly anything to her, nothing beyond “Mornin’ Sally,” and maybe something along the lines of “Boy, isn’t this 'Red Badge Of Courage' just the pits, Sally?” but certainly never anything like “Would you like to go to the Christmas Dance with me, Sally?” or anything like that. You pretty much figure you don’t have any romantic prospects with a girl like that at all unless you drive around in a convertible that takes up two lanes, practically, and your father owns half of Greece.
Which is why I was so surprised that Tuesday when we were both at our lockers between classes and Sally sighed and turned to me and said, “Albert?”
And I was practically blushing already because everybody else calls me Al, my parents and everybody, in fact I think the only person who’s ever called me Albert is every teacher ever on the first day of school until I say “I go by Al,” but I turned and I said, “Yea, Sally?”
“I have a question for you,” Sally said.
“Shoot,” I said, and then I thought, listen to yourself! Sally Stafford the prettiest girl in school whose father runs practically the whole town has a question for you, and here you are saying “Yea” and “Shoot” like you’re pitching pennies behind the muffler shop with Beansie and The Cuz! I swore to myself that any other answers I gave her would come with an air of class and refinement.
“Well, I don’t know quite how to put this, Albert, so I’ll just come right out and say it: I think you’re just a marvelous boy, if you want to know the truth, and I’d love it if you’d take me to the movies this Friday.”
“Sheesh!” I said. Just like that! She just knocked me flat and before I could think of anything classy to say I said “Sheesh.” Then after I said “sheesh,” I said, “Hey, sure. I’d love to! Are you kiddin’?”
“No, not at all. Would you really like to?”
I didn’t mean “Are you kiddin” like I thought she was kidding, I meant it like, just a thing people say in between what they mean to say. I reminded myself to act in a more gentlemanly fashion and then I said, “But of course. Pick you up at seven?”
“Oh, wonderful! Yes, that would be just fine.”
She told me her address and I walked to my next class on a floor ten feet above the floor every other sucker was walking on.
All the days between Tuesday and Friday, the night I was supposed to take Sally out, were divided up by everybody who wanted to make me feel crummy about the whole thing. And boy, did they ever try! Beansie told me how far 12 Harvard Court, the address she’d given me, was from our side of town, and that I’d have to take the bus. The Cuz told me that if I showed up on the bus I’d look like a real palooka, and I’d look like an even bigger palooka if I got us to the movies by taking the bus. My ma told me folks like us didn’t mix with folks like them, and she got a real worried look on her face and tapped her stirring spoon on the side of the sink in a real distracted way. My old man came out from behind his newspaper to tell me that so help him God, if I embarrassed the family, he’d be through at the factory, and we’d all be out on our keisters in the snow! He blew his stack before I even had a chance to do anything wrong! About the only person who didn’t try to make me feel crummy was my big brother Sandy, and that’s because he wasn’t around, because he’s overseas helping with the reconstruction of Europe. Actually, he helped me out a little, if you want to know the truth, by donating one of his nice white dress shirts for me to wear, without his actual knowledge, of course.
So on Friday, the big night, instead of being real nervous like you’d think I’d be, I couldn’t wait to get over to Sally’s, just to get away from all the people trying to make me feel exactly two feet tall.
“Slow down on that corned beef,” Pop said, “You’ll yak it up all over the Stafford’s front parlor and we’ll all be out on our keisters!”
“Where’s your napkin?” Ma said, “You’re going to get cabbage all over that…is that your brother’s shirt?”
I barely said anything, I got through supper as fast as possible and tried to let the screen door speak for me, and what it said was, “SLAM!” I was on my way to the bus stop, on my way to my date with Sally Stafford, the prettiest girl in the whole ninth grade, and practically the whole town, if you want to know the truth.
The bus dropped me off in Ivy Hills, the real ritzy part of town where Sally and a couple of stuffed shirts from school live. Beansie says if our town were just a little bit bigger, they could probably all have a school of their own, like a private school, but there’s not so many of them so they just have to suffer through it among us low-class types. All the streets had names of fancy colleges, like Princeton and Yale, and some I didn’t recognize, like Dartmouth. It made me think of some rummy at some bar catching a dart in his mouth.
The thought of that made me laugh for a while, until I got to 12 Harvard Court, and then I stopped laughing and started gasping, gasping at just how much of a front yard a house could have, and still have plenty of room for a house the size of my whole block, maybe. I started making my way up towards Sally’s house, thinking I should’ve packed a sandwich for this leg of the trip alone.
“Ms. Stafford will be right down. Please, make yourself at home,” said Sally’s butler. A butler! The rich sure can be rich sometimes. They don’t have a whole lot of problems with being exactly how you’d think they’d be. He gestured for me to have a seat in a big chair, like the kind you might see an old guy sitting in front of at the beginning of a horror picture, as he told you that no refunds would be given and seven people had died of heart attacks watching this picture already. The chair was even next to a big fireplace! And there was a fire going in the fireplace! Nobody sitting there and a fire just roaring away. I could hardly believe it.
The butler disappeared practically into thin air and I just sat there like a rube, wondering which staircase Sally would come down, getting all hot under my brother’s white shirt.
“Ho there!” said a man’s voice. I turned, and from some hallway I hadn’t noticed before came an older fellow in a velvet dressing gown. He looked older, but not all beat-up and worn-down like the old people I’m used to. He looked, I dunno, what’s the word? Distinguished.
“You must be…” he said as he walked up on fancy slippers. I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to interrupt, but after a second it was real clear he didn’t really know my name, he was just saying “You must be…” and I was supposed to follow up with my name, that way it wouldn’t be strange for anybody, except I hadn’t followed up with my name, and now it was strange, and oh boy, was I ever making a hash of this.
“Albert, sir,” I said, standing. “Albert Runfle.”
“Werring Stafford, at your service,” he said, sticking his hand out for me to shake. I did, not too hard or too soft, I hoped. “Sit, Albert, sit.”
I did, and he did the same, in another big chair across from me and next to the fire.
“Albert, what did you say your last name was?” He had a voice like someone who ought to be on the radio, but on the radio telling you adventure stories, rather than gossip or bad news.
“Runfle…Runfle. Would that be R-U-N-F-L-E?”
“Why, yes, sir, it would!”
“I haven’t heard that name in…Albert, you wouldn’t perchance be related to Snuffy Runfle, would you? Well, now, he wouldn’t be known to you as ‘Snuffy,’ of course, silly me. Stewart Runfle?”
“Golly, sir, that’s my Uncle Stew!”
“You don’t say? Why, Stewart was a classmate of mine at Harvard. Class of ’19.”
“Well how do you like that?” I said, barely trying to contain my low-class demeanor. This was all so quick and strange I was having a hard time trying to hold it all together.
“I like it just fine, Albert, why…Why, I haven’t seen old Snuffy in years! Tell you what, Albert, for me, next time you see your Uncle Stew, you tell him old Red-Bird says ‘Whizzo!’ Will you do that for me? Tell him old Red-Bird says ‘Whizzo!’ He’ll know what you mean.”
“Old Red-Bird says ‘Whizzo!’” I said, just to be sure I had it right.
“That’s it, Albert, that’s it. Funny old world, isn’t it?”
It sure was. My Uncle Stew was basically considered to be the scum of the Earth by my whole family, even though he lived with us, in our creepy old attic. The way my Pop put it, Stew had though he was real hot stuff, going away to a big fancy school like Harvard, but it had all gotten to be too much for him and he’d gone out of his skull shortly after graduating. He’d been living with us ever since I could remember, though he didn’t take his meals with us and was hardly ever seen outside the attic, and was never ever seen outside of his one dirty pair of pajamas and his trusty aviator goggles. I didn’t say any of that to Mr. Stafford, though. He probably figured my uncle was a big stuffy captain of industry like him and I didn’t want to contradict him.
“I see you’ve met my father,” said Sally. I turned, and she was standing at the bottom of the staircase I’d rated second-most-likely for her to come down. She normally looked as pretty as a picture, but that night, at the bottom of that staircase, I tell you, she looked prettier than any picture you ever saw.
We didn’t end up taking the bus to the movies, but the alternative didn’t leave me feeling like the most chivalrous knight on the block, either. Going with the whole rich people not minding to seem rich thing, Sally insisted that we let her father’s driver drive us downtown to The Odeon. I agreed, and that’s how I ended up in the back of a limousine heading downtown with Sally Stafford. I probably should’ve felt like cruising by Beansie’s house and bragging on my fancy car and date, but instead I was already feeling pretty low. Instead of the Sally I knew from school, always sweet to everybody, she seemed kind of different. And I couldn’t think of much of anything we had in common to talk about, either.
“Listen to much radio?” I said.
“No,” Sally said.
“Ah,” I said. “Me neither.”
It was real quiet and the driver seemed about a thousand feet away.
Sally turned to me, but unlike at our lockers on Tuesday, it wasn’t the real fun sort of turning to me.
“I suppose you’ll want to neck,” she said. She said it like I’d hit her up for about a thousand dollars and she was going to give it to me but she wanted me to know she wasn’t happy about it.
“What?” I said. “No! I mean…no, Sally, c’mon, that wasn’t…Jeez.” I didn’t know what to say after that and my heart felt like it was two tons of concrete.
The Sally at the movies wasn’t like the Sally from the car, exactly, but she wasn’t the Sally I knew from school, either. She pulled the fur lining of her coat up around her neck and looked at me as we stepped out of the limousine and said, “I hope you know I’m sorry. I’m just so terribly sorry. I’ve been beastly.”
You could see her breath right up against the dark of the night and underneath the blinking lights of the marquee and I tell you, I don’t have much in the way of words for it, and a couple of jerks hollered and whistled at the fancy way we’d pulled up to the curb but I barely heard them, and I said, “Aw Sally, I could never be mad at you! Now let’s go see these cowboys!” It was a cowboy movie, after all. I paid for the tickets and she paid for the popcorn even though I tried to get her not to and we went inside.
Like I said, she wasn’t the Sally from the car. This Sally was sad instead of mean. She’d wince at every gunshot and every arrow every Indian shot from every bow. At one point, not during a romantic part or anything, she just looked over at me and sighed. Sighed! And not in a real longing way, either, but just like somebody just told her something so sad she could hardly stand it.
“Sally,” I said, “what’s bugging you?”
She just shook her head and turned back to the cowboys.
Back in the limousine after the movie was over, Sally looked at me and said, “Oh Albert, I’m sorry, I’m just so so sorry.” Then she started bawling. I mean, really bawling.
“Hey Sally! Hey, forget it! It’s alright, there’s no need to…Hey, c’mon now, won’t ya? Everybody gets down every now and again, I don’t mind, I think it’s real nice you asked me to the…”
“Oh, it’s not that, it’s…” but she never said what it was. When we got to 12 Harvard Court, Sally insisted that I let the driver give me a ride home, and she ran inside before I could argue or before anybody could so much as think about a goodnight kiss.
Man, did I ever feel crummy when I got home. I mean crummier than crummy. I let the screen door slam when I came in, not giving a hoot who I woke up. I felt so crummy I was convinced that the only thing that could make me feel crummier was trudging up those creaky attic stairs to give my stupid Uncle Stew Mr. Stafford’s stupid message. I decided to do it anyway, just to perfect the whole crummy evening.
I knocked on Uncle Stew’s door, pretty convinced he’d be asleep. Instead, the door swung open almost as soon as I knocked. Uncle Stew stood there, in the same dirty pajamas, in the same aviator goggles, with the same dumb look in his eyes as always.
“Yes?” he said.
“Hey, Uncle Stew.” I yawned. I couldn’t help it, getting knocked around by a gal and then trudging up a whole lot of stairs really takes it out of a guy. “Old Red-Bird says ‘Whizzo!’”
“…What?” said Stew.
“Old Red-Bird says ‘Whizzo,” I said.
Then Stew looked like I’d never seen him look in all his years in the attic. He stopped hunching over and his eyes got this thing in them like he was actually seeing what he looked at.
“Whizzo…” said Stew, in pretty much a whisper. “So it begins.” He turned and ran back into his room, leaving the attic door swinging. I caught it and followed the crazy nut into his lair, which I have to say was one heck of a scary place. There were all kinds of weird diagrams and things pinned to the rafters, and newspapers ankle-deep on the floor. If my Ma knew what was going on in her very own attic, I thought, she’d never get after me to clean my room again!
“Say, Stew,” I said, “Clue a guy in. What’s this all about?”
“Whizzo…” Stew just kept mumbling. “Whizzo.” He sat down in one of those roll-y chairs like librarians sit in and swiveled his desk lamp around. Then he launched himself and the chair away from his desk with his feet, sliding across the attic floor and putting him just in front of the attic window, which he threw open, letting all kinds of cold air in and blowing his crazy papers around everywhere. He grabbed a mirror off a shelf where it sat with a bunch of other scientific kind of stuff, and started waving the mirror towards the window, so it caught the light from the desk lamp and sent it out over the town.
“Hey Stew, c’mon now!” I said. “First you make a big racket right above my Ma and Pop’s bedroom, and now you’re shining that crazy light all over creation!”
“Whizzo,” Stew said.
By this time I was right over Stew’s shoulder and I was realizing that from this window in our house I’d never looked out of, you could see pretty much our whole town. And right after that, I realized that all the way across town over by where Sally’s family lived, windows were opening, and lights and mirrors were flashing back.
Everybody pretty much knows what happened after that. Heck, even my brother in Europe knows, or at least I hope he does, so that him and his buddies can come over and rescue us. You know the story as well as I do, even though I didn’t know some of the words in the story until it happened, and even now I can only really guess at what some of them mean: Werring Stafford was the head of a “cell” of a “secret Ivy League cabal” that was waiting for some kind of “ideal circumstances” and for my Uncle Stew to be finished “developing subliminal radio-based mind control technology” so they could take power and make everybody who never went to one of their cruddy colleges practically a slave! And me, a patsy in the whole thing, a bag-man like some no-good know-nothing thug in a gangster movie! It smarts, I can tell you that much. As much as you hate it, being one of the enslaved suckers “disassembling the current infrastructure so that it may be reconstituted in a format better befitting rule by an Intellectual Elite,” I can guarantee you I hate it about four times as much, knowing I was half-way responsible. Like The Cuz would say about his old man getting drunk and wailing on him, it “sucks.” It really does!
And let me tell you the capper on the whole shebang: about six months after everything happened, our Regional Disbursement Commandant was removed from his post for “Inadequate Fealty To His Intellectual Betters,” or so they say, and you’ll never guess who was assigned to replace him: Sally Stafford! Everybody in our section was taking apart Fellson’s Bowling Alley and placing all the metal in trucks to be taken away and smelted down when one of their hot-shot Ivy League airships landed right in the middle of what used to be Main Street, and out climbed Little Miss Use Albert Runfle As A Tool In Her Old Man’s Evil Plot herself.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t care much whether I live or die these days, so you better believe I put down whatever slab of insulation I was moving and marched right up to her.
“Hey, Sally! Hey, it’s me! Albert!”
“Back in line, maggot!” said one of those big-in-the-britches Loyalty Guards.
“No…it’s fine,” Sally said. “Let him approach.”
The big dumb goon let me through and I stormed right up to Sally.
“What’s the big idea, Sally? Huh?”
“Albert, I’m sorry. I am just so terribly sorry that things have worked out this way. I mean, it’s for the general good, you know, but it really is unfortunate how there must be some residual unpleasantness in the meantime, and how it must be distributed so randomly at times—“
“Aw, I’ve had it up to here with your five dollar words!” I said. Boy, I was really spitting mad. “You used me and that’s all. Plain and simple! No fancy degree from any college is going to change the fact that you did me dirt, Sally Stafford, and I don’t care who knows it.”
“Oh, Albert! But of course, you’re right. I told you that night I was sorry and I still am. I will make it up to you. I promise.”
“Yea, well you can stick that promise in your eye—”
“I understand why you feel this way. Please don’t hate me, Albert.”
I spat on the ground. Hock-tooey and the whole business. It wasn’t very gentlemanly, but I wasn’t feeling much like a gentleman there in my dirty blue jumpsuit in what used to be my town but is now Habitation Zone 7, or some horse-hockey like that. I went back to my task without the Loyalty Guards having to truncheon me back in line or anything, telling myself I’d be happy if I never saw Sally Stafford again.
That night in my bunk, somebody threw a black bag over my head. I was sure I was done for, for everything I’d said to old Sally, and to tell you the truth, I was glad to be done with the whole rigged game called living. But instead, I soon found myself in the back of a limousine with none other than Werring Stafford himself, in his velvet dressing gown.
“Mr. Runfle,” said Werring Stafford. I didn’t give him the satisfaction of a reply.
“My daughter reminded me of the sizable contribution you made to our cause. Pity you had to make it without knowing it yourself at the time, but we are in your debt nonetheless. Gentlemen of the academic lineage shared by myself and your uncle were, in the old order, accused of engaging in secret society skulduggery as a means of enforcing an artificial prestige. This was never the aim. We were, as everyone now knows, consolidating our power in secret, awaiting the perfect time to wrest power from those of middling intellect and poor breeding.” Boy, I tell you, if Sally was throwing around five-dollar words, her father was minting a new hundred dollar bill with his mouth every second!
“As you were instrumental in making this transition a successful one, I am only too happy to ask you to join the new ruling class. To welcome you to the fold, I thought I might invite you to partake in the revelry that is our privilege.”
Just then, the limousine stopped. I looked out the window, and we were right out front of old 12 Harvard Court. So my family had to take our house apart for scrap, and the Staffords got to keep their crummy old mansion! Some ruling class. Some breeding.
Then I got to thinking, as we made our way up the drive, that it might be best to go along with the whole thing. Maybe, like Enlo, Pirate Of The Airwaves (a kiddie radio show I used to listen to every Saturday night), I could infiltrate the enemy, and then bring the whole cruddy thing down from the inside! Of course, it would mean I’d have to put up with a whole lot of stuffy conversation and sitting in chairs like the ones in the Stafford’s front parlor, and probably boring operas, and boring parties like the ones I was sure we were about to go to, but it would be worth it if I could get my Ma and Pop free from the clutches of Regional Disbursement Commandant Sally Stafford through cunning and trickery. That’d sure show her.
Inside, Werring Stafford went off down yet another hallway I’d never noticed before, and then opened a door. A stone staircase led down, down, down, and Werring took a torch off the wall like we were in some kind of Medieval castle. I was really starting to like the whole infiltration idea: I mean, torches? Stone staircases? This could really be an adventure!
Then we reached the bottom of the staircase, and Werring Stafford undid his dressing gown and dropped it to the floor. He stood there all naked and gross and said, I’m not kidding, he said, “Welcome to the new world order!” and then he knocked past a musty old curtain and we were in a dungeon full of I barely want to tell you what. There were old ladies in masks and men kissing other men and people rubbing each other down with goat’s blood. Things were happening that I’d only ever seen on a deck of playing cards Beansie’s old man had brought back from his time in the Service, and a lot of things they’d never let you put on playing cards in any grimy country. Somebody was playing an opera record on a record player way too loud, so the thing I said about the opera was at least right, but everything else was just about as wrong as could be. I could hardly take it all in, not that I wanted to. I started to feel sick almost right away. An old geezer touched my face and said something about the Greeks and I turned and almost knocked over a big old candelabra as I ran back up the stone staircase.
I came out into the hallway, completely out of breath. I found my way back to the front parlor and couldn’t make it another step, I just fell down on all fours and yakked right there. I really did! Just like my Pop said I would back when the world made at least half a lick of sense. And my Pop had said they’d throw us all out on our keisters, and brother, that's just fine with me. I’d rather be outside on my keister than standing on my own two feet in a world ruled by snobs.
This story is heavily inspired by a Jean Shepard story from the collection "Wanda Hickey's Night Of Golden Memories," except for the bat-shit insane parts.
I watched a Joe Strummer documentary and then I got extremely bummed out because I will never meet Joe Strummer. But even though the documentary wasn't amazing, Strummer was such a uniquely awesome guy that his personality and wisdom leaped the banks of the merely-good doc and left me with the following quotations, which I will now share with you. They range from throughout his career, from when he was in The Clash and even though he said it in the prototypical snotty-UK-punk-being-interviewed-by-someone-daft way what he was really saying was "Be decent, and we're trying to push things forward," to near the end of his life when he was in The Mescaleros and he was saying completely forthrightly and in earnest something along the lines of "Be decent, we're trying to push things forward, and I think that techno music is awesome, hell, ALL music is awesome, because I subscribe to the open-minded ethic that punk stood for rather than the it-has-to-have-this-many-guitars-and-only-these-chords doctrine it has come to stand for," probably while hugging a Japanese fan. Here goes:
"We're not particularly talented, we try hard...we give it all we've got, that's all, it's so simple. Everybody's used to paying eight dollars and like getting half-measures and going home satisfied...You've got to give it all you got or forget it."
"I was hoping that maturity would arrive. I'm still waiting at the station for it."
"When you get a great idea for a lyric just push people out of the way, throw yourself down on the floor and write it down because it only makes sense in the moment."
"When in doubt always formulate the strategy from a position of absolute confidence IE go for it." (This one he didn't actually say, it was written in one of his notebooks, hence the bad punctuation.)
"Punk rock means exemplary manners to your fellow human being."
"I don't have any message except, don't forget you're alive! Sometimes when you walk around the city or when you yourself are in a bad mood, you can think, 'Hey wait a minute! We're alive, y'know, we don't know what the next second will bring!'"
"It's time to take the humanity back in the center of the ring and follow that for a while...Without people, you're nothing."
"I think it says in the Bible, there's a time to dance to techno, and a time not to."
I really wish he weren't dead. But hey, here's maybe my favorite song ever:
A dude's sixth big year at Skidmore was a fun success. Festival organizer Jane did a really awesome job of having everything be well-oiled and well-run and we were put up in a creepy inn directly across from campus, and its creepiness was amplified by the fact that the rooms were extraordinarily hot so you had to open the windows so as not to sleep in a small ocean of your own sweat, which meant that as you tried to sleep the white drapes would blow around and be generally moon-lit and terrifying. The way to sleep in situations like this is by being just stupid drunk. Needless to say we slept fine.
We didn't get to see the first night of performances, but the second night belonged to Bleak!, a sketch group from SVA in Manhattan that I am honored to say I directed when they put up a show at UCB. They committed the fuck out of everything, and just generally owned. An awesome show was also had by Recess, from GWU, who form this weird East Coast college-sketch syndicate with the kids in Bleak!, because I think a bunch of them grew up together, so they all know each other and are generally a turbulent mob of awesome. Cheers to the East Coast Bleak/Recess Co-Prosperity Sphere! You guys sure do like hip-hop.
I also have to mention something I think is the coolest thing of all time, and that's a group at Skidmore called College Is Hard. We taught workshops on Saturday to the college comedy groups and every time I'd go out into the hallway to greet the next group I'd ask them if they did sketch or improv (so as to best tailor the workshop content). When I went to fetch College Is Hard, they were five dudes and their answer to my question "Do you guys do sketch or improv," their answer was, "Sitcom." Turns out that for the past year they've been making a scripted half-hour sitcom all by their lonesome in upstate New York. So far they've made four twenty-two minute episodes. As a bunch of kids who spent most of their college careers making stuff because they liked doing it, without any specific endgame in mind, we were geeked the fuck out by this.
They've been actively trying to learn and get better with every episode, sort of building the plane as they fly. You can watch the whole deal online at CollegeIsHard.tv. College sophomores are making whole episodic sitcoms just for the fuck of it, and for the love of the game. No one has any excuse anymore.
We got back on Sunday and I had Monday to go "Holy crap, do I ever have a cold" before Dominic and I got in a car on Tuesday to drive up to Ithaca and do a stand-up show at Ithaca College. I was generally nose-runny, unprepared, and uncertain on the way up, but MAN was it ever fun. My voice is now completely shredded. It would be consolation if, when my voice was like this, I sounded, y'know, sultry or mysterious, but I more just sound like if you taught a frog on Valium to do an impression of me. And the frog was pretty good at impressions, but he was still a sedated frog.
Two satellites collided on Tuesday above Siberia. A Russian one, which was out of service, and an American one, which was part of a communications network called Iridium, owned by Motorola and launched in 1997. In middle school, I knew a kid named Cassius whose parents worked for Motorola, and he often wore a black Iridium shirt, which featured a satellite floating over a futuristic-looking laser-grid, the whole thing outlined in neon green.
Growing up in Phoenix it seemed like almost everyone's parents worked for Intel or Motorola. I'm guessing eighty percent of the kids' answer to the question "What do your parents do?" would have been, "Something with computers." (My parents didn't work for Intel or Motorola, but they both fell into the "something with computers" category.)
It's an easy metaphor to make, so I'll go ahead and make it: I think it's an interesting example a thing that was being put into place by our parents when we were growing up (in a time, the late 90's, that felt basically post-historical) and we assumed would be solid and safe and useful forever, and is now crashing into derelict space trash and raining down on all of us.
We're all gonna make it through this recession deal. I'm sure of it. It will be really fucked-up and hard, but we will endure. But I think the people who are going to have the hardest time of it, mentally, are people my age, who were raised in this atmosphere of easy and seemingly limitless optimism. We really did get the impression that history was finished, the hard parts, anyway. That grown-ups were in the process of eradicating the World's Great Problems. As soon as all the grown-ups who were racist died and we took over and everybody started recycling, we'd be set. We'd pretty much have this Earth thing figured out and we could blast full-bore into space and get that future we were promised. We were making macaroni-on-construction-paper pictures of everybody in the world holding hands. As soon as we made enough of them, we could show them to world leaders and they would go, "OH, okay, we get it now."
It's tough to accept that history continues, that there won't always be enough, that struggle isn't solely the provenance of characters in stirring Oscar-bait movies about grim past events. That sometimes real people have to struggle. People with cell phones.
Maybe it's self-centered to say it's just people my age, maybe every generation goes through this and it's just a growing-up thing. Realizing our parents weren't working out the last kinks in order to leave us a pristine and effortless world, that they were actually just doing their best and trying to provide for us while themselves thinking "We thought this was going to get easier, but it isn't, it's just getting harder in different ways." But in this case it seems particularly amplified by how swingin' things seemed at the end of the 90's, compared to how decidedly un-swingin' they seem at the moment, and I don't think that's just my childhood memory, I think pretty much everybody agrees that the problems of that time seem pretty laughable compared to the ones we have now.
I wrote down a line from a book I read a couple months ago ("Prep" by Curtis Sittenfeld, which I liked a whole lot) and it applies here: “...I know the world always changes; it just seems like for us it changed kind of fast.”
I'm also not saying we deserve ANY pity. We did things like make "Butterfly" by Crazy Town a hit single. It will be hard and fucked-up for everybody, it's just for us it'll take some extra time to get our heads around it.
I don't remember a whole lot from my childhood but what I do remember is what shirts people wore repeatedly.
A dude is in the "Date These New Yorkers" section of the Valentine's Day edition of this week's Time Out New York. My profile is here. Let's hope New York is ready for A NICE DUDE WHO LISTENS.
Speaking of nice dudes who listen, my good friend Frank is featured as well. Between him and me we are pretty much ready to satisfy New York's demand for single twenty-something males who are really into early 90's shoegaze music. Frank's profile is here
Coincidentally, I have the Cameron Crowe movie "Singles" arriving from Netflix tomorrow. Now all I need is to buy some rare Motown 45's and listen to them while eating an entire package of Kraft Singles, and the theme of the week will be complete.
Also: I am teaching my first-ever sketch class at UCB! I am tremendously excited and have already heard from some people who've signed up. If you have your Saturdays 12-3 free starting March 14th and you are eager to hear me pontificate at length about the necessity of loving the thing you're parodying, and things like that, sign up! The website says there's only one slot left. (update: class is sold out! Let's do this!)
Today was an impossibly beautiful day. Good, warm weather makes food taste better, makes music sound better, and makes you be like "fuck it, I'm gonna walk around." So I did! My jacket stayed in my backpack the entire day. It was righteous.
Holy shows! This weekend DERRICK is headed to the National College Comedy Festival at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. It'll be our third year in attendance as DERRICK and my seventh year attending overall. It is always the best weekend of the year and I'm super-psyched. We will be teaching workshops on Saturday afternoon and then our show is Saturday night. Remind me to burn CDs for the rental car.
Then, next Tuesday, I will be doing a stand-up gig at Ithaca College. Opening will be DERRICK's very own Dominic Dierkes. My friend Margot went to Ithaca and had her wedding up there a couple months ago. It turns out Dom and I are booked into the very same hotel where Margot's wedding took place. It's a very nice establishment. My first reaction upon hearing that that's where we're staying were the words "baller status," but then I settled upon a much more accurate set of words, which are: "Me and Dom, eternal romance."
If you are an Ithaca student, the show's at 8 PM on February 17th at IC Square, and it's free.
The agency did exclusively threesome-related print advertisements.
Meaning advertisements that would run on billboards, in subways, in magazines, and elsewhere, which showed young, attractive people in situations that looked likely to devolve, sooner rather than later, into a threesome.
For instance, a whiskey ad depicting a rakish white man in a mostly-unbuttoned shirt, face covered in fashionable stubble, being led by his necktie by a green-eyed African-American woman towards her friend, a brunette lounging on a divan, wearing a fedora cocked at a jaunty angle. This all takes place in a negative space, though we can assume from the wash of colored lights behind them that they are in a fancy nightclub.
At one point they were a much less specialized print advertising agency. Their purview was still largely pictures of young attractive people, but they would often just be pictures of young people being sexy, rather than young people about to engage in sex. In 2004, they poached a young, up-and-coming creative executive, Allan Ridgefield, from Remington-Banster of London. Ridgefield was told that at Smith/Islip, there was limitless potential for advancement, if he could bring some of the freshness and youth contained in his portfolio to S/I’s accounts. His portfolio was brimming with pictures of attractive young people about to engage in sex near or because of the products being advertised. He assumed “freshness and youth” was code for “attractive young people about to engage in sex near or because of the products being advertised.”
His first campaigns featured mostly two women about to engage in group sex with one man. These campaigns, for a line of designer womens’ shoes, a cologne being launched by a famous rap star, and an mp3 player named after a Native American tribe, were all wildly successful. Emboldened, some of Ridgefield’s next campaigns featured two men about to engage in group sex with one woman. These campaigns, for a line of headscarves designed by a famous pop singer who had recently split from her even more famous pop group, a line of horoscope-themed protective cellphone cases, and a body-spray fragrance being launched by a company more commonly known for its jet-skis, were even more successful than their predecessors.
Aware that Ridgefield was already being courted by some of their competitors, Smith and Islip had no choice but to follow through on their promise of rapid advancement and offered to make Ridgefield a partner in the spring of 2006. Ridgefield said he would take the position, under one condition: the agency embrace the brand for which it had become known in the advertising world, and among advertisers seeking to be seen as young, hip, and sexy, and go threesomes-only. He reasoned that, shackled by these self-imposed creative limitations, the agency would actually experience a renaissance of creativity, and take the threesome-related print advertisement to unimagined heights of youth, hipness, and sexuality. Islip, the younger of the two original partners, was on board immediately. Smith, the older and more conservative, was very hesitant to commit to a policy of all threesomes, all accounts. He eventually succumbed to the combined persuasive forces of his old, trusted partner’s reasoned prodding and the newer Brit’s boyish charm, and agreed.
Ridgefield now had a lot to prove, and he knew it. What followed were his boldest campaigns to date, and also his most unequivocally well-received. He was playing with the form of the threesome-related print advertisement in new and unexpected ways. An Asian woman making out with a blonde Caucasian woman in a dirty telephone booth, the Asian woman’s finger through a nearby man wearing a mesh shirt’s belt loop the only indication that the man would eventually be pulled into the unfolding sexual situation. A grainy image of two European-looking men with mullets of varying lengths, lying in one enormous hammock with a shirtless American pop star known up until this point for her very public chastity, her breasts covered only by an unclean towel, covered presumably in sweat from a soccer match.
Advertised threesomes consumed Ridgefield, and, by extension, the ad firm of which he had just been made partner. If he strolled through the agency’s second-floor casting office and there was an even ratio of men and women waiting to be seen, the casting associate might find herself the subject of a tirade laced with quirky British profanity. An ad which was going to feature two men and one woman should have an office full of two thirds male models and one third female models. Anything else would be denying the purity of the agency’s mission statement.
An S/I/R advertisement, Ridgefield told a meeting of the agency’s creative department, depicted a world where there were no fluid narratives, no cause and effect. It was a universe of threesome-related entropy: no matter how they started, things naturally decayed into a state of threesomes. At the beginning of an evening, any given party was merely a collection of threesomes who had not yet paired (or trio’d) off. Two might be company, but three was a crowd, a crowd of sweaty, androgynous-haircut-and-necktie-as-belt-wearing young people who sold their lifestyle and by extension, the product.
That night, Allan Ridgefield had a dream. He dreamed that the world of an S/I/R threesome print advertisement was the world real men and women occupied. He dreamed of a world where threesomes were the norm, and not any threesomes (he had once seen a BBC documentary on swinging couples and by and large the swingers had been pudgy and undesirable) but hot threesomes, all of them. Everyone was a nineteen year old of mixed race whose perfect, toned body was always bursting provocatively from not-very-much designer clothing, and glistening with the kind of sweat that can really only be applied by a makeup artist in a studio, and they were always pleasantly drunk and being pulled into darkrooms or coat closets or the one of the guard towers at Buckingham Palace by two other hot, pleasantly drunk acquaintances, who wanted nothing more than to kiss and fuck without emotion but not without joy and take pictures of each other with high-end digital cameras. In this world, Allan Ridgefield was adrift. Obsolete. He was selling people depictions of what they already had. He was printing mirrors rather than portals. In the dream, he realized what he was, rather rudely pushed the beautiful Nordic models away from his penis, and beat on the window of the limousine while the Tokyo nightscape sped by outside.
He awoke, breathing heavily. He looked over at his still-sleeping wife, relieved that there was only one of her and that she was pushing forty. He looked over at the clock. It was three hours until he would be in the S/I/R offices, pitching the agency’s first all-female threesome-related print advertisement to the client, makers of a line of designer snap bracelets spun off from a series of popular young adult novels about sexy witches. He thanked God for that, and for his certainty that when his agency ran the first all-male threesome-related print advertisement in a major news magazine three years from now, it would still be controversial.
Holy hell! Thanks to the good people at Verve Hosting, my comments are working again. This is after three whole years of being shuttered thanks to a whole lot of penis-enlargement spam. So you can now comment to your little heart's content, at least until the site is once again brimming with Somali online-poker premature ejaculation schemes.
I think we should reclaim awkwardness, everybody.
(Warning: I'm about to speak in a whole bunch of "we" generalities. Mostly when I'm saying "We do this" or "We feel this way," I'm almost exclusively saying that because I do this, and I feel this way. Maybe you guys are a bunch of suave men-about-town with firm handshakes and there's no room in your peaceful, powerful brain for the faintest whiff of self-doubt. But I'm a mouth-breathing goon who feels completely satisfied with less than one percent of the social interactions he has, no matter how perfectly fine they may be in reality, and maybe you are too. I think a lot of people feel the way I'm about to describe, even ostensibly attractive and successful people. If you don't, awesome. I'm jealous.)
We are very quick to dismiss this or that social situation as having been "awkward." We avoid people we only sort of know if we see them at a party because we're worried about having an awkward conversation. These aren't even people we actively dislike for any reason, these are just people who are merely acquaintances, who we're fairly certain are gonna say that way, and we want to avoid any interaction with them because we're sure it's going to stay in that awkward, small-talky, we-don't-need-or-want-anything-from-one-another kind of place. We avoid people we legitimately think are okay just because we haven't seen them in a while and we think our catch-up conversation will be filled with one too many pauses and won't be fun for anyone.
We're also afraid of people we actively admire, whose approval we want, or just people we think are cool and would like to be better friends with, and we're obviously deathly afraid of people we'd like to kiss on the mouth. We know there's no way to close the disparity of desired and desiring without interacting with that person (and I don't even mean "desired" in the sex sense in most cases, although obviously I mean it in that sense about people we wanna kiss) but we are certain that that person, in their infinite coolness, will smell the desperation about us, in our even talking to them, and then, even worse than not knowing that we exist, they will now know that we exist and think we are retarded.
I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we are so media'd the fuck up that we don't know how to have a honest-to-goodness look-each-other-in-the-face conversation anymore, but I also think that's kind of a big fat lazy excuse for the number of times we flee to our circle of known friends and sigh, "Well THAT was awkward." And I don't think that all this awkwardness, and sort of predetermining that things are going to be awkward before we even engage in them, or avoiding them altogether because we're convinced of that, is going to go away just by deciding it ought to. We are the weird, craven, neurotic wretches we are. We're gonna feel awkward a lot. We just are.
So what I'm proposing is, rather than punishing ourselves later in our thoughts for engaging in interactions that felt awkward, rather than walking away going "You idiot! Why did you say that/why didn't you say that/why did you say anything?" I think we should go, "Yay!" We should throw ourselves a little party in our heads.
Here's why: Awkwardness means we're trying. And I don't mean "trying" like half-heartedly trying, I mean like, we're really trying. We're putting something on the line. And even though in a better-socialized, classier world, what we're putting on the line probably wouldn't be all that impressive (we're not, y'know, charging across a beach that's being raked by Nazi machine-gun fire, we're mostly just putting one to two minutes of our time out there to try and talk to somebody), we're still venturing something. And once we get used to the feeling of venturing little inconsequential bits of ourselves, we can start venturing larger and larger bits until we're all big bold people who are great at living their own lives without apology.
Maybe we end up saying "hi" to a lot more people we probably wouldn't have talked to otherwise, and maybe we end up with a whole lot more friends and more-than-friends than we would've otherwise. Maybe we don't. But either way, we are definitely going to keep ending up in situations where, for one reason or another, we feel uncomfortable. So we might as well start patting ourselves on the back for showing the (admittedly very tiny) courage to end up in those situations in the first place.
I am sitting here proposing this, and I'm like, you know what? I probably don't have the balls to talk to a lot of people I am, for a multitude of reasons, scared to talk to. In all likelihood I'll just continue with my current ratio of nine people whom I think I should talk to, don't, and then regret not talking to, to every one person I think I should talk to, end up psyching myself up enough to talk to, and then regret talking to because it was awkward. So I need to clarify that I'm not saying we should actively push ourselves to do things completely outside our normal range of behavior. That would be the socialization equivalent of a crash diet: you might do it for a week through sheer force of will but then retreat into your normal patterns out of the exhaustion of forcing yourself to be out on the ledge that long, and then hate yourself for being a quitter. What I'm saying is, just keep feeling awkward. I'm saying, recognize how awkward you feel, and go: "Good. This means I'm trying."
And maybe we train ourselves to like it. Maybe we start recognizing it as a sign that we're on the right track. Maybe not. Maybe it's just awkward. But it would be an honorable thing to try and train ourselves to feel, because right now I think, by and large, we're trained by the world to think "God, I'm being such a nerd," when really what we're being is enthusiastic and human.
So do you guys feel like taking back awkwardness? Do you feel like we ought to wear it as a badge of low-stakes everyday courage? Because I think it sounds like fun.
Our college cafeteria doesn’t have Gatorade or even Powerade. In the soda machines in the Dining Hall next to Pepsi and Sierra Mist where at a normal, not-retarded school you’d see Gatorade, or maybe Powerade, we have this drink called Nerve-Ade. Not a joke. Nerve-Ade. Like it was created in a time when they didn’t really understand medicine but they placed a lot of emphasis on the health of your nerves and having the word “nerve” in the name of your product was a selling point. Not like today, where it’s old-fashioned at best and gross at worst.
One time in the Dining Hall I was sitting with Max and Terry who both worked at the paper at the time (Terry doesn’t work at the paper anymore, after our sponsor Dr. Erlenmacher told him a cartoon depicting the school’s nine central buildings as leaves on a pot plant could in no way be rationalized as “promoting a sensible drug policy” and he put an iMac through a window). Max said something funny and Terry and I both laughed and I looked up and saw a girl sitting alone at a table very far away, and she laughed, too. She was looking at us and laughing along with us. There’s no way she could’ve heard what we were talking about, and even if she had, it was a private joke about our TA Freshman year, and she wasn’t in our hall Freshman year and the TA graduated after that, so there was no way she could’ve gotten the joke. She was not unattractive but it was really weird, weird enough to make her not attractive.
The nice thing about working for the paper is you can say “I work for the paper.” It’s not like another extracurricular where you’d have to say, you know, “I’m in the journalism club,” or anything like that.
It might honestly be kind of cool if the Nerve-Ade logo was really old-fashioned, like all curly-cued like the label on a strange old patent medicine, but it’s not. It’s like they realized their product was named something very uncool so they did a logo redesign, but they did the logo redesign during a very uncool time for commercial graphic design overall, like the late seventies or something, so what they ended up getting is this blocky shitty thing. It’s like something you’d see on a poster promoting physical activity on the wall in your elementary school nurses’ office, the kind of thing you can’t imagine was ever new, but always sun-faded and yellowed, soaking up every bit of nicotine for as long as it was okay for people to smoke indoors.
There are things that are raw nerves for me that don’t seem to bother other people, and I don’t understand how they’re not bothered. Graphic design is one of those things. If you’re anything like me and you saw the front page layout of our paper (The Sumner Sentinel) on an average day, your eyes would explode and you would ask me how I could stand to have my work published underneath a banner like that, and I’d say that the only thing that keeps me going is the thought that someday I might be editor-in-chief and I could institute a total look-and-feel overhaul. Because right now our paper looks like something the paperclip from Microsoft Word generates automatically while the computer is off. It’s disgusting, and you can blame Andrew Barstow, last year’s editor-in-chief, for coming up with it, and this year’s editor-in-chief, Jennifer Trang, for keeping it alive, and you can blame the entire student population for not screaming with rage every time they take one of them out of the orange wire racks that are in front of most of the school's buildings, and then storming the paper’s office with the papers rolled up and lit like torches, chanting “WE DESERVE BETTER!”
Honestly, they probably don’t deserve better. They clearly don’t even care. No one realizes how lazy everything around them is, how ever poster advertising every poorly-attended activity with a cliché factory-issued font and a godawful drop-shadow is an insult.
If I could talk to the design team at Nerve-Ade, I would tell them that’s not cool to be modern in a time where what’s modern is shit.
A couple weeks after that girl did that weird thing in the dining hall, my scholarship got all fucked up and I had to go down to the Bursars’ Office and straighten it out. It’s sort of embarrassing but at the end of high school I won a scholarship called the Iowa Poetry Prize (don’t ask me why it’s called that, it’s given out by an organization in Syracuse and I go to school in Michigan. But it is for poetry, which I guess is the embarrassing part) and they had been forgetting to send funds to my school and now I had to go to the Bursar with a bunch of copies of letters or I was going to get kicked out of school next quarter.
There was no one waiting ahead of me in the office, but they still had all these stanchions you had to go through, like there was usually a line thirty kids strong that needed organizing, and each Bursar’s Office employee had their own window through which they interacted with students, like tellers at a bank in a Western. I went through the empty roped-off maze and up to the window and a fat woman named Elise helped my college experience not end halfway through Sophomore year. I was pretty surprised how easy the whole thing was considering how much I’d been dreading it and putting it off.
As I was leaving, entering the revolving glass door and going back out into the cold, somebody entered the revolving door from the other side, coming into the Bursar’s Office, and it was the girl from the dining hall. She had a purple knit hat pulled down really low and she was about a head shorter than me. She pushed her way in and I pushed my way out and the door made that whooshing noise, along with some scraping from sidewalk salt being dragged in on people’s boots and getting caught in the cracks of the door. She noticed me and smiled.
Later in the office I told Terry and Max about it and we all agreed she was stalking me. Terry said “Is Tamra home?” and we all laughed. It was a reference to The Strangers, a movie we’d all seen on DVD a couple weeks before that and liked, where a whole string of really grisly murders starts with a creepy girl showing up at this house in the woods and asking if Tamra is home. Max had given it three and a half stars in the paper, while Amber, the girl who Jennifer assigned to do movie reviews opposite Max’s to give a more “balanced viewpoint,” gave it only two.
“So, you know how they have Nerve-Ade in the Dining Hall soda machines instead of, like, Gatorade?”
My pitch for a story about the no-doubt strange, hilarious, or at the very least depressing reasons our school is the only place in the world you can get Nerve-Ade is five seconds old and already doomed. Everyone at the paper is sitting a big square table in the middle of the office for the weekly pitch meeting. Jennifer and all the page editors are seated around the table itself and everyone else is sitting on the swiveling wheelie chairs that are in front of all the computers that ring the room. All of us have our chairs swiveled in towards the table. Mark LoSaro the sports editor’s head is blocking my eye contact with Jennifer so I have to lean slightly to the left so I can see her while she tries to makes me look stupid.
“I’ve lived off campus since Sophomore year,” Jennifer says. “I haven’t been the Dining Hall since, probably…I don’t know…”
“Well, anyway. They do, right, and like, why?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, that’s what the story would be about.”
“Okay, I mean, it seems kind of esoteric. I don’t know if it warrants a story per se.”
“That’s what I would go find out.”
“I don’t know if we can designate any space for it this week, just based on that. But if you feel like you want to do some research on your own, and you want to submit a column…”
This is exactly what I was afraid of, and exactly why I knew I should’ve done all my research beforehand, so I could come in here with an actual story to pitch, rather than just trusting that Jennifer and I notice the same things and think the same things are weird. And I was going to do it, too. This morning, the cafeteria worker replenishing the plates at the salad bar, I asked him who I would talk to about who provides the Dining Hall’s beverages, and he gestured half-heartedly to a box where you can drop comment cards, which people mostly fill with drawings of dicks and comment cards that are folded and stuck together with peanut butter, and I said, “No, what if I actually wanted to ASK somebody,” and he told me I could see his boss Alan Treadwell, and I asked where I could find him, and he said his office was "through there," and gestured to the kitchen. And right then somebody came out of the kitchen, and the door swung and there was a strong gust of dishwater-and-hot-dog smell, and I had to get to class soon anyway, so I told myself I’d come back later.
And I had googled Nerve-Ade the night before and it doesn’t have a website but it was listed as an offering of a couple of Midwestern beverage distributors, which I actually didn’t like. I was hoping it would either have an old busted website that only amplified the mystery, or no web presence at all.
So I came into the meeting with nothing and now that I say it out loud I can feel how it’s a long way between me seeing something and it immediately raising a million questions (like did the founder of the college engage in a pact with a classmate of his from Harvard who was doing all these quasi-legal experiments trying to perfect humanity, and the founder authorized him to use the student population as a four-thousand-kid subject group, although when the school was founded it probably wasn’t four thousand kids, and Nerve-Ade is the last remnant of that secret twisted pact, and every time we want to drink Gatorade or its closest equivalent to wash down our dry, plastic-y pizza slices and taco salad bar, we’re being flooded with chemicals that were thought to be healthy back when they thought mercury, in moderation, was good for you?), and me describing it to other people, and not having answers to any of those questions. I can see so clearly how this could lead somewhere cool and all anybody else hears is “I want to take away column inches for all of your articles so I can write one about urine-colored liquid none of us have thought about since Freshman year, if we ever thought about it at all.”
And I am not writing this as a column for Editorials. Besides the kids who have their designated weekly columns, (Yujin’s sex-advice column, Paul and Mina’s thing where they review a restaurant in town, which shouldn’t still be running because they had officially reviewed every restaurant in town a semester ago) anyone in school has an equal shot at getting a column published, whether or not they actually work for the paper, and Jennifer almost always gives it to an anti-homophobia broadside written by her roommate, or an anti-famine broadside written by her roommate.
“…I’ll definitely take a look at it, okay?”
“Okay,” I say. If Terry would here he’d be sketching a cartoon of Jennifer as a SS commandant, and even though he’s honestly not a great artist and he’d have to tell me it was supposed to be Jennifer when he showed it to me after the meeting, although the Nazi costume would be extremely and almost creepily accurate for how bad of an artist he is, it would probably make me feel a little better. But the window in Dr. Erlenmacher’s office just got replaced today, and Terry has been off of the paper for two weeks now.
At the end of the meeting Jennifer teams me up with Aaron Beanman to work on a story about diminishing alumni donations. I stay in the office until late, working on a flier for a gig by Max’s band, Various Karates, on Friday in the Student Union, that I told him I would have done two days ago. When I finish, it’s dark outside.
I’m walking across the grass that was, in the cartoon that got Terry kicked off the paper, the dead center of the pot leaf, when I see the girl from the Dining Hall and the Bursar's Office. I’m not sure she sees me. She passes right in front of me in a direction I’m not heading. It’s really cold outside and I think about not doing it but then I remember the hot-dog-and-dishwater smell and how I let it put me off of my goal. I turn down the concrete path and kind of run after her.
“Hey! Excuse me.”
She turns, looking a little scared, which puts me more in my head than I already am. Then she sees it's me and she smiles.
“Hey, uhm, hi.”
“Hi, I’m Amy.”
I reach out to shake her hand. She shakes my hand. She’s wearing fingerless gloves. I’m not wearing any gloves.
“Would you, uhm…would you mind answering some questions really quickly? For an article in the Sentinel?
“Uhm, yea! Totally.”
I pull my reporter’s notebook out of my back right pocket for the second time in my college career.
“Cool. Cool. Uhm, are you aware that alumni donations, donation from alumni are diminishing?”
“No. Should I be?”
“Ha! No. I wasn’t until I got assigned this article. So, after you graduate, do you imagine yourself donating to the school?”
“Uh…honestly? I guess…it depends on if I’m making money or not? It might not be for a while.”
MIGHT…NOT…BE…FOR…A…WHILE. My pen is one of those stupid white Bic ones and it’s not wanting to work in the cold and I hope she can’t see that I’m only getting half of what she says down in actual ink. The rest is just indentations in the lined paper.
“Cool…and your name, so I can attribute the quotes?”
“Sure. Amy…the normal way. And then Fullerton. F-U-L-L-E-R-T-O-N.”
“And you’re a…what year are you?”
“Sophomore. Cool. Got it. Thanks!”
“No problem! It was nice to meet you.” She starts to turn around.
“Oh, also—” She stops turning around. I say: “I’ve actually, seen you around, a couple times? And I was wondering…they’re showing ‘Evil Dead 2’ in town this weekend. It’s, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, it’s pretty funny. Anyway, I was wondering if maybe you would want to go?”
“Oh,” she says. “Like a date?”
It is shocking to hear the word said out loud here in the cold but I’m honestly glad she brought it up because I’ve been burned in that date-not-a-date place a bunch of times. Most of them in high school. For whatever reason, I haven’t been on many dates in college, or things I would even have a chance to be under the mistaken impression were dates.
“Oh. Jesse! That’s actually really sweet of you. But I sort of have a boyfriend?” She says “boyfriend” like the sentence was a question. But it was a statement.
“Oh. Oh, cool, so. No worries.”
“But thanks! Seriously. That sounds like fun. So…”
“Thanks! No, no problem. See you around.”
“Yes! I’ll be looking for that article!”
She turns and goes the way she was going and I turn back and go the way I was going originally. I reach the circular parking lot at the center of campus. I am breathing hard even though I’ve only been walking. I would take out my headphones and put them on, if only to cover my ears which are probably getting all red from the wind, but I left them in my dorm room plugged into my laptop this morning.
Then, right on the main road that cuts through the middle of campus, Sumner Drive, the Nerve-Ade truck drives by. An actual big-rig, the truck itself kind of older and faded orange, but the trailer all white with that perfect, awful late-seventies NERVE-ADE logo on the side.
I think about running after the truck. This is my chance. It’s either going to the Dining Hall to unload, in which case I’ll have plenty of time to interrogate the driver, or back to the Nerve-Ade factory, which, though I might have to hail a cab and say “follow that truck!,” is almost a bigger coup. I’ll prove Jennifer and everyone wrong with an article that will demand to be published. Paul and Mina’s faux-review of the only pizza place in town that's actually a thinly veiled ranking of the hottest people on the lacrosse team, Jennifer’s roommate’s takedown of prejudice against gay famine-stricken populations, my own expose on diminishing alumni donations featuring a money quote from Sophomore Amy Fullerton, it will all have to wait for next week.
Where does she get off having a boyfriend? If she has a boyfriend, what is she doing alone all the time? That’s supposed to be our signal to each other, the aloneness. And how come she’s still eating in the Dining Hall? She’s a Sophomore. Jennifer Trang was off campus eating at home with her roommates by Sophomore year.
I think about running after the truck, but I don’t. It’s cold outside, and everyone is dumb.
A gentle reminder: everything on this page in italics is fiction, including the above. Thanks for reading.
We were doing some post-production on Mystery Team, going into this office downtown where they kind of pore over every pixel and try to make your movie look as good as it can, and the guy who greeted us in the lobby picked up a trade magazine on the coffee table and pointed to the image on the cover, some barracudas in a black ocean taken from a recent special-effects-heavy movie, and he said, "We do a lot of work with these guys, and this is what they're known for. Watercode. Our guys write their own water."
If you feel like you were supposed to be a warlock, but you were born in the wrong time period, and the wrong world, basically, as far as magic-actually-existing goes, don't worry. There are still jobs out there for you. Our guys write their own water.
A bad ad to pay a lot of money for is an ad which compares old things to new things as if to say "these things are the same." That is to say, it holds classic things up to current, popular things, and equates them. That is to say, equates Bob Dylan to Will.I.Am, and numerous other spurious classic-to-modern-and-popular comparisons. Because the presumed message of your commercial is: weren't those old things cool, aren't these new things cool, and hopefully some of that residual coolness will get splashed onto your product. But really, all it will make people do is say, Jack Black is not John Belushi, and wow does modernity suck. And your product sucks for being an extension of these sucky modern times.
And the truth of it is, modernity doesn't suck. I'm sure all time periods, viewed from within, seemed tacky and lazy and bloated and inferior to what came before. I want to believe we have just as much bad and just as much good as any previous era. But it will take some time for us to really figure out who was the Bob Dylan of our day, or the John Belushi of our day, or any of that. You cannot accurately say so-and-so is the whatever of his day, if the day you're talking about is the same one that's on the calendar. That day needs to be years in the past.
I think we can all agree that Pepsi is not a great arbiter of historical analogies, and that the Bob Dylan, John Belushi, Frank Lloyd Wright, Christopher Columbus, Patti Smith, Pope John Paul II, and Mickey Mouse of our day is Lil Wayne.
(And I hope that the future goes so completely upside-down that in twenty years, they run a commercial like the one I'm describing, and Jack Black is compared to the first man to walk on Mars, as if to say, "The first man to walk on Mars is our generation's Jack Black." Because I would love to live through the series of completely gob-fucked events that would have to take place to make that equation a remotely logical thing.)