Archive for September, 2004

A Day in the Life

September 30, 2004

Today it was a flick (Shaun of the Dead) which I already can’t remember whether I watched on a 13” TV or an IMAX movie screen; a new answering machine (mostly to silence the carps of friends who claim to always be calling me); a surprisingly engrossing presidential debate about which everyone agrees a) Kerry kicked some major booty, and b) it ain’t going to change a damn thing come November 2; and both the Giants and Astros in the thick of a wild-card race, unfortunately against each other. I still didn’t clean the house, though – damn. That’s got to happen soon or an EPA team is going to show up in haz-mat suits and start stringing up yellow tape around this place.

Other current grievances in my life:

1)      The liquor store owner who every! single! motherfucking! time! I run in for smokes or a Coke asks me if I’m going to give my dinner to him, laughs endlessly to himself about this Wildean display of wit, and then makes my change in slow-motion. Honestly, I’d get out of the store faster if a rhododendron was waiting on me.

2)      The guy who plays accordion on the corner for small change. I don’t hate him because he can’t play a note, or because whenever he misses a note he squnches up his face as if it were a highly unusual mistake for him, or because he has a nasty habit of lunging in my path just when I’m trying to beat my way past him so I can go watch cobwebs grow on the Korean store owner. Nah, I hate him because he’s a living reminder that I should finish off that goddam piece about Pennies from Heaven, the Dennis Potter miniseries that contains a homeless and flagrantly untalented accordion-player who makes life miserable for the protagonist. Thanks, God! Be sure to throw plenty of other spectral reminders of my procrastination at me!

3)      The end of the project. It was an exercise in tedium by the end, all hollow exchanges with the local merchants and showing up late to face my coworkers’ skeptical glances and quietly sarcastic remarks, then sitting in my office surfing the Net and wishing I could just close the damn door, smoke a cigarette, and take a long peaceful nap. At least the whole thing gave me a steady income, a reason to shave every other day, and the chance to hang out with about half a dozen smart and funny people. When I dropped in for the last time on Tuesday to pick up the new computer I received as a bonus (this very one I’m typing on, in fact – thanks, Judy!), the place was distressingly empty of people and activity. Even the work stations had been broken down, leaving a large expanse of carpet dotted with little islands of debris, one of which was topped by the picture of David Brent I’d hung on my door about a week into the project. Agh, what the hell, everything has to end. But now it’s back to finding a job and the even larger question of finding a direction in life, a task that I’ve already proven myself incapable of over the years. And here I have to fail at it again?

4)      My shitty-ass pool game. Coming off last season, when my team made the semifinals for the first time, we were on our best roll for a couple of years. Then came Monday night, when the match came down to a tie-breaking 15th game, played by me and a guy named Bob who himself resembled a human cue-ball. I played just fine until I got to the eight-ball, lining myself up for a practically straight in if somewhat long shot into the corner pocket. It’s a shot I make 95 out of 100 tries, but of course when I leaned over the table this time the table seemed to elongate into a boundless green ocean – it was like that shot in Vertigo when Jimmy Stewart looks down into the alley and Hitchcock does that weird zoom-in/dolly-back thing – and instead of pulling back up and walking around the table I foolishly relied on sense-memory and clanked the ball against the end rail about two inches from the pocket. Somewhere I lost my fire for the game, and I probably ought to quit the team at least for a while until I see if it’s coming back again, but I can imagine the scene when I do. My team thrives on drama as it is, and the idea of undergoing a combined encounter-group and Eugene O’Neill play all staged as a riotous drinking bout is a bit more than I can handle right now.

So welcome to my world, people. It’s yours for a song.

Rollo Tomassi for President

September 26, 2004

In normal times you can read Heart of Darkness or watch Chinatown and still drift off to sleep that night, but it’s harder to take things in stride when events suggest that Conrad and Polanski were more right than they knew, and that God really is an aloof, disinterested beast who’s busy clipping his toenails as the most decent and beautiful aspects of humanity get run into the ground. It’s galling enough that an Antichrist like Dick Cheney could lead the life he has up to now without ever seeing the inside of a prison cell, or that an unreconstructed simian like George Bush could smirk and shrug his way into the White House on the strength of some witless bromides, but I could accept even that if they’d just stop now – if they’d retire to some comfortable, soulless hell of their choosing and just leave the rest of us to pick up the pieces of everything they’ve broken.

But as Conrad says, “The heavens do not fall for such a trifle.” Far from being punished in any way (and here I’ll let the reader indulge his own revenge fantasies; my own involve Cheney wearing an orange jumpsuit and sitting on the floor in front of five armed, masked men, one of whom is reading a statement in Arabic), the country is actually poised to reward these bastards for their efforts. And though it’s hard to believe this election could have a more important issue than Iraq, the perverted alarmist logic that’s driven every national Republican campaign since ’64 has taken another step downward and turned our political discourse into a flat-out anti-gravity house. Today the documented draft-dodger is considered more patriotic than the man who volunteered for hazardous duty, and when called on his blatant use of the basest scare tactics Cheney merely rearranges his words without taking them back, and does so with impunity. If these guys can win after this administration and after this campaign – and they are going to win – then there’s no safety-net left, no line in the sand a candidate dare not cross. Everything’s open – preemptive wars and stonewalling and all the sort of official lies that used to get corrupt pols tarred and feathered in this country.

I haven’t been keeping this blog very long and someone just chancing across it must wonder if this guy’s always so bitter and down. The answer: “Nah.” When Bush was elected I thought that checks and balances and the fundamental decency of the American voter – I’m at least trying to say that phrase with a straight face – would keep him in line. In the days after 9/11 I was encouraged by the amount of lip-service he paid to discouraging reactionary bigotry against Muslims, figuring he must care something about the issue if he was paying that much attention to it. When he talked about the “Axis of Evil” I went around telling everyone that it was soundbite stuff, that there was simply no way he’d ever invade Iraq. And even when he did invade Iraq, I still figured the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein than with him. As the election unfolds I hope to continue my fine tradition of being wrong about every damn thing in the world, but something tells me this time that I – along with Conrad and Polanski – have got it just right.


September 22, 2004

I must’ve read that Joseph Welch quote about decency a dozen times in the last couple weeks, but if there was ever a time for it to be bandied about, it’s definitely right now. Remember how right after 9/11 the U.S. was going to undergo a “new sobriety” and stop being so frivolous about everything? Back then that meant that Collateral‘s release would be held up for six months, but that was then, and everything’s normal again now, so Abu Ghraib cited by name can provide the fodder for some fucking cop-show that was on tonight. In terms of pure nausea the last few weeks what with the beheadings and Bush’s speech to the U.N. and the rampant cluelessness is making last April seem like a kinder, gentler time. It’s unbelievable.

Turn Turn Turn, Indeed

September 20, 2004

It’s starting to feel like a season of changes. This project’s winding down, the election (and all its ramifications whichever way it goes) is right around the corner, it’s nearing the end of the baseball season (always cause for a certain grayness of the mind), and the weather’s starting to turn. There’s also an obscure object of desire mixed into this, one just solid enough to make me feel younger than I am and fill these days with the smell of burning leaves.

Oh yeah – I’m turning 50 next month. Hey, you don’t think that has anything to do with it, do you?

Hose Job

September 18, 2004

One of the most tedious aspects of the whole post-9/11 environment has got to be the fetishization of our firefighters. I thought it would die down once people stood back a little and actually listened to what bagpipe music sounds like, but no. Even more than our gallant fighting forces, firefighters – even the ones who weren’t within two thousand miles of the towers when they fell – are now universally hailed as “heroes” in the sense that breathless little boys use the word. The title “hero” is meaningless now anyway, applying as it does to everyone from Olympic hockey players to old coots who don’t know enough to get out of the way of a Category 4 hurricane to famous young millionairesses who go public with their eating disorders. The fact that firefighters are already idolized by children, well compensated in a field of their choosing, protected by strong unions, and members of important voting blocs in most cities apparently isn’t enough in the way of reward. Since 9/11 we also have to envelop them in this sticky, lachrymose air of virility and martyrdom, and we can’t even talk about them showing up to snuff out a pile of smoldering rags without getting a catch in our throat because – sniff – those murdering Muslim bastards took out Hook and Ladder 19 that day!

It’s to be expected that your average local news anchor would do her best to propagate such lame-ass mythology because there’s really not much else to think about when you’re getting your hair done, but why do the goddam firefighters have to buy into it, too? Even if they were never embarrassed by all the moist-eyed attention, you’d think by now they’d be sick of getting pointed at and whispered about like Special Olympics contestants wherever they go. Apparently not, though. The other night one of the news shows ran a piece about the bagpiper unit that plays at New York City firefighters’ funerals, and how after 9/11 they decided to play at every funeral for all their comrades who died that day – something like 450 funerals in all, and all within a span of days. The reporter was interviewing one of the pipers in the hushed, sepulchral tones that broadcasters use during match-point at Wimbledon, as if talking in a normal tone of voice might in itself affront the ghosts of 9/11 and rain shame upon us all. “Is there a lesson for us here?” the reporter whispered. “What do you think we can learn from your tenacity…your commitment…your courage?” “Duhh,” the firefighter began by way of reply. “Commitment, I guess,” he went on, fearlessly parroting the word he’d just that second been offered, and it was around this time that I began beating my forehead on the coffee-table. Get some modesty, man!

Anyway, how appropriate was it to have bagpipes at all the funerals? Weren’t any of the fallen named Goldschmidt or Chen? Hell, why not have a mariachi band show up and play “Blue Bayou” for everyone? Well, whatever – it’s their choice. But if anyone shows up at my funeral trying to play “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, I hope my friends beat them to death with empty bottles of J&B.

Rear Projections

September 13, 2004

Recent adventures in the video store:


About two weeks ago I was wandering round the local viddy emporium when I overheard a couple on the next row trying to figure out what to watch that night. “I’ve heard he’s supposed to be good,” the guy was saying in a lost-at-sea tone of voice, as if he were talking about a long-forgotten actor or obscure foreign director. But when I looked over the rack at them I saw two kids – a guy and a girl – who couldn’t have been more than 19, that the actor in question was Jack Nicholson, and that the movie under consideration was that signature Nicholson opus Anger Management. I butted in – who wouldn’t given the circumstances? – and told them if they were going to rent a Nicholson, it should be…it should be…But damn if I could think of an unqualifiedly good Nicholson picture to recommend. I wanted to name something that both contained a good Nicholson performance and was actually worthwhile from beginning to end – you know, a good movie – but Chinatown, a certifiable Big Deal, slipped my mind while nearly all the films he built his reputation on either haven’t aged very well or were wrong from the start. Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens, Carnal Knowledge, The Last Detail, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Postman Always Rings Twice…That’s quite a lineup and Nicholson was sensational in several of them (as Eugene O’Neill his acidic, melancholy leering at Diane Keaton makes even Reds worth sitting through), but who’d watch a one of them today given the chance to watch something better? Some that were among the most famous movies of their era are flat-out embarrassments today: Jules Feiffer’s pseudo-sophisticated take on misogyny founders on the same unbridgeable chasm between drama and dark satire that his Little Murders plunged into, while Five Easy Pieces is relentlessly unlikable in the way it posits Nicholson’s tortured piano player as more truthful and heroic than such challenging foils as a big-haired girlfriend, oil-field hardhats, a harassed coffee shop waitress, and a pack of curdled intellectuals. In the cold light of day it’s plain to me that I shouldn’t have worried so much: 19-year olds probably have to lap up Cuckoo’s Nest before finding their way to Chinatown, an idea given credence by the fact that when I pointed out that Easy Rider was the movie that made him famous, the girl immediately jumped on it – “I’ve always wanted to see that!” – and they ran off looking for it.


And then last night I was in the video store again and overheard, not from an aisle away but from way the hell across the store, a man’s agonized voice crying out in an almost Jose Jimenez Spanish accent “Da-veed LEENCH! Da-veed LEENCH! Where are you Da-veed LEENCH!?” A couple minutes later I heard the same voice crying “Da-veed LEENCH! Da-veed LEENCH! Where are you?,” only this time much closer to me. It turned out to be not a Latino at all but a pasty white gringo in his mid-20s done up as cholo, right down to the wrap-around shades and flannel shirt with only the top button buttoned. His girlfriend was mostly babbling about Mulholland Drive but the guy was absolutely infatuated with Lost Highway, all in the same pitifully bad accent. It turned out they hadn’t seen Blue Velvet, though, and when I said, “If you liked Mulholland Drive, this thing’ll make your hair fall out,” the guy knew what he wanted. “All right,” he said, “we’re going to get that motherfucker!” I can’t help but think maybe what this guy doesn’t need is a little more David Lynch in his life…

%d bloggers like this: