Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Great Moments in Whatever and Such

On a happier note than that last post, let me add that I’ve now got an official New York Public Library card! And to celebrate, I took a little time off in the middle of crossword editing to do research for a possible magazine article.

My thinking was, it’s 2006. I’ve already missed the opportunity to write on the 400th anniversary of Don Quixote, the 200th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin, the 150th anniversary of Madame Bovary and Sigmund Freud, and the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake. (All the major magazines have done their bits on them already.) But there might be other centennials I might be able to write about, and what better place to look for them than in The Timetables of History, a reference book on that very subject (major world events, by year, from the Greeks to the present), which happened to be on the shelf next to the Webster’s Geographical Dictionary I was using to check puzzles with?

So I checked. Unfortunately, the best centennial articles look like they won’t come until 2008. These include such 1908 events as:

* Jack Johnson becomes the first black heavyweight boxing champ.
* General Motors founded.
* Baseball outlaws the spitball.
* Production of the first Model T.
* The Wind in the Willows.
* Anne of Green Gables.
* E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View. (Might be a good time to look at gay writers in general.)
* G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. (His only really good novel; he’s due for a reevaluation.)
* Birth of Simone de Beauvoir. (I can see the article already: “Whither Feminism?”)
* Birth of Ian Fleming. (There’ll probably be another crappy Bond film out that year.)
* The first production of ammonia and liquid hydrogen.
* The “Ashcan School” of art established.

In 2007, I have fewer good prospects, including (among topics I’m actually interested in):

300th anniversary of Henry Fielding’s birth (I’ve always needed an excuse to read Tom Jones), of Isaac Watts’s Hymns and Spiritual Songs (many of them still hugely popular despite their clunkiness), and the birth of Linnaeus, the godfather of Latin names for animals! In stranger news, it also apparently marks 300 years since the concept of “counting the pulse” entered medicine via some guy named Sir John Floyer.

It’s also the 200th anniversary of England’s ending of the slave trade, and the U.S. Evangelical Association holding its first convention. (What were “evangelicals” like back then? This would be a hundred years before modern evangelicalism emerged along with the publication of The Fundamentals)

2007 is the 150th anniversary of the first safety elevator (courtesy of E. G. Otis). And, in a potentially amusing article, it’s the 150th birthday of Dutch author Henrik von Pontoppidan, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1917. Might be fun to read one of his novels and snark about the famously bad taste of the Nobel committee in the early years.

Coolest of all, 2007 is the 100th anniversary of the first daily comic strip! (“Mr. Mutt”, by Bud Fisher, which later became “Mutt and Jeff,” running in the San Francisco Daily Chronicle.) It’s tempting to write an article that would ask, “Have daily comic strips ever not sucked?”

Which brings us to 2006, which has already been pretty well covered. The unpicked pickings are rather slim.

The most interesting to me, for its sheer absurdity, is that this year marks the 200th anniversary of the Beaufort Scale, which measures the severity of wind. What the hell gave Beaufort the idea? And why is it still so easy to imagine living without it?

Other 200ths this year: The Burr plot (whatever that is), the official end of the Holy Roman Empire (how do you end an empire “officially”? Might be fun to know). And it’s the 200th birthday of both John Stuart Mill, and the collection Rhymes for the Nursery by James and Ann Taylor. If I had to choose which to read, I think I'd go with the nursery rhymes. Same thing if I had to choose a hundred times.

Some 150ths that caught my eye: H. Rider Haggard was born (and I just spent this very evening watching the 1950's film adaptaion of Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines. It was quite entertaining—and a lot less racist than the novel version I tried to read once). Big Ben was cast. A Neanderthal skull was found in Feldhofer cave. (We can always use another evolution article, given our country’s ignorance of basic science.) But the three most interesting to me are a.) the longest bare-knuckle boxing fight in history—186 rounds, lasting six hours, fifteen minutes, in Melbourne Australia. b.) Some interesting-sounding thing called The Massacre of Potawatamie Creek in Kansas, where slavers were murdered by free-staters. (What do you do when you sympathize with the murderers?) And c.) The first extraction of pure cocaine from cocoa beans. Which is particularly fitting, since it’s also the 150th anniversary of Freud, who prescribed cocaine like it was Prozac.

2006 is also the 50th anniversary of Profiles in Courage, Peyton Place, Auntie Mame, and W.H. Whyte’s criticism of the then-developing corporate culture, The Organization Man. But does anyone care about 50ths? I'm so new at this.

But you know what? I’ve got a library card. Tomorrow I’m gonna see if I can hunt down Peyton Place. It might just be hilarious. And I’ll take any suggestions if people have them. In the meantime, enjoy reading all this trivia! It's the fastest way I know to feel superficially smarter.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Job Update (To Those Of You About to Be Dunned, I Salute You From My Groveling Position)

I’ll try to make this quick, the way you run over painfully hot sand.

The good news is I had my second interview at Dell today, and it seemed to go quite well. What’s more, it looks like I’ll make more money than I asked for, which is good, since I was trying to underbid the competition and asked for doodly. In other good news, I got a second job offer—this time off of Monster, of all places—for a three-month temp as an in-house writer at Columbia University. So what that means is that, even if Dell doesn’t hire me, I’m definitely making rent money in a job—one of the three I’ve got juggling before me—starting next week. And in the meantime, I’m finishing up my crossword editing job in a few days and that’ll be worth a grand—once I wait two months to get paid. Grrr!

The bad news is I was expecting Dell to make an actual job offer today, and to be able to start having actual income on the 3rd. Instead, they said they’d let me know by the 3rd or 4th, and I if it’s a yes, I could then start actual work the following week. Which sucks, because, by very careful husbanding of the money I’ve already borrowed from friends and relatives (Thanks!), I’ve managed to live for two and a half weeks—no going out, no unnecessary subway trips, a strict diet of homemade sandwiches, homemade burritos, and ramen. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to pass the hat again. But as I sit here in front of the computer, my liquid assets have dwindled to 6 dollars and change in the bank, and a MetroCard worth five more rides. Rent, of course, is due, but I think I can get a dispensation to miss a month if I pay a thousand a month for the next three.

By my calculations, I’ll need to live for three more weeks before I see a paycheck, and that comes to about 200 dollars. So I may be asking for loans soon (dividing among several people to minimize the damage) and I just thought I’d let everyone know. I’ve been looking on Craigslist for a few quick writing-for-cash-today deals, and I’ve found a few. (A guy who needs a poem for a wedding, a comedian who needs his jokes punched up, etc.) But I can’t do them until I finish my crossword editing, which will probably work me 16 hours a day until the third. So that’s the bind I’m in. It’s definitely a better bind than it was two or three weeks ago. But it’ll still be two months or so before I can pay people back, so bear that in mind.

God, I hate doing this. If only I’d known what this city was gonna be like . . . Everyone believed in me so much I forgot to use self-defense. Sorry, y’all.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Life, or Something Approaching It Asymptotically

I woke up this morning (cue blues riff: ba-NA-na-NUNH), and had my first experiment in turkey and cheese in a long time. I normally avoid cheese because I’m lactose intolerant. But the other day I saw a new product: LACTOSE-FREE cheddar! Gosh, I thought. That would be nice. I miss cheddar something fierce. When I discovered I was lactose-intolerant, I was most upset over the loss of cheese; more so even than ice cream. In fact, if I weren’t lactose intolerant, at this point in my life, having become a scotch snob, I think I’d also be a cheese snob, snarfing up every hard or stinky or weirdly-speckled variant on offer. But I’ve never even had something as common as Havarti, and possibly I never will.

Anyway, today I took a gamble on lactose-free “cheddar”—quotes mine. And I use the quotes because at no point does this product ever refer to itself as “cheese.” In fact, they don’t actually come down in favor of anything concrete. According to various parts of the package, these are “cheddar-flavored” “slices” “made with casein.” Fine! I want to ask. But slices of what? (The first ingredient listed is "water.")

I put two "slices" on my “toast,” which was also experimental, because it’s an organic oat bread that—perhaps you should sit for this—doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup. I bought it not for health reasons, but for reasons of sanity. Every so often I’ll have a hypochondriac panic attack where I’ll be convinced, against all the evidence, that I’ve got signs of diabetes, and I like to be able to tell my brain, “Dude, you’ve been eating sugar-free bread, for chrissakes! Go to sleep already!” Before, in Tallahassee, when I wanted to avoid high fructose corn syrup, the best I could usually do was settle for some fancy double-wrapped gourmet bread that had high fructose corn syrup as the sixth ingredient instead of the third. None at all? What would that taste like? I admit I was worried. I grew up with a mom who was so obsessed with healthy eating that she drove us all away from health food, one force-fed mulch-flavored bran muffin at a time.

So I’m happy to report that the whole combo tasted just fine. And while I was standing in the kitchen looking down at my packages, I noticed that even the turkey I was eating was fat-free. So every ingredient of my sandwich was, as it were, indirect. Bread, but without the sugar. Cheese, but without the lactose. Turkey, but without the fat. This wasn’t a turkey and cheese sandwich. It was an approximation of one.

Then I went back to my room and realized that I don’t so much have a bedroom as an approximation of one. My bed sits on the floor. Why? Because in the middle of assembling it with my handy screwdriver, the instructions showed me four legs and told me to go get a hammer. I don’t have a hammer. Worse, I don’t even have a shoe. All I wear are boots, and they’re too clumsy to use to bang anything in. (I tried.) I thought of wandering outside in search of a brick, but finally I thought, “Hell with it. I’ll sleep that much closer to the floor and nothing will ever roll under the bed.” The legs are still around somewhere, though, since I don’t like cutting off my options.

The "chair" I’m sitting in is an approximation as well, because when I was assembling it, I couldn’t figure out how to put on the back part. Nothing seemed to attach properly, and maybe there was a piece missing. So should I drive all the way back to New Jersey’s Ikea ($6 toll at the bridge, and I get lost every time) and ask about it, hoping they can help, or stay where I am and live with an almost-chair? I’ve been living with it ever since. And yes, the chair back is still lying in the closet next to the bed legs. After all, you never know; tomorrow I may find myself dating someone, and what if they turn out to be competent? In the meantime, though, I’ve been sitting on an almost-chair that’s just a whirling tripod mushroom. Whenever I’m tempted to lean back, I find it keeps me alert.

It keeps going, on down the line, anywhere I look at my life. I don’t have “dishes.” I have two microwaveable bowls. I could buy more, but I never entertain and the bowls have been fine for my needs. I have no silverware—I left it all in Tallahassee—but I did buy a spoon. It was the only spoon available at my local supermarket, and it’s kind of enormous, but it fits in my mouth and what more do you need? And of course, I don’t really have a job at the moment; just a freelance crossword editing gig that will pay off, I’m promised, two months from now. But I do my work in the library, so I get up every morning and shower and leave, just as if I had an actual conventional job.

I guess what I’m saying is, it turns out that in my current circumstances—waiting in the lobby of Destiny for an actual career to come along—I don’t actually have a conventional life. But I have a close enough approximation of one that it looks just fine if you squint.

P.S. This is off topic, but I’m so confident about getting that job with Dell (second interview Thursday!) that I actually took a chance today and opened my last set of disposable contact lenses. I have no backup. I’m counting on having an actual income where I can replace them in a month if I have to. Join me in my magical thinking!

A Few Cross Words

I spent all day editing a book of crossword puzzles, and I’ve learned that there’s a lot less you can take for granted when you’re editing than when you’re solving. For example, when faced with a clue like “Leslie Caron role of ‘53" I know from experience that Leslie Caron is always either GIGI or LILI. As a solver, I just put the I’s in and then wait for a consonant to appear from another crossing. But as an editor, you have to actually know: which one was 1953?

But it gets even worse. The house style of the publishing company is based on the American Heritage Dictionary. So what if you get a word or a spelling that isn’t in the dictionary of record? (I caught several today, most notably LAH-DI-DAH, which is apparently a variant spelling of LA-DI-DA that American Heritage doesn’t recognize.) I assume they’ll go ahead anyway, but I feel obliged to note each variant anyway, because that’s the kind of tireless obsessive I am. Besides, they’re not paying me to ignore stuff.

The worst thing is that I saw HMO clued as “Hospital care grp.” and I was about to nod and move on, when I suddenly thought, “I’d better check to make sure “grp.” is a recognized abbreviation for “group.” Turns out it’s not. Not in American Heritage, not in Webster’s New International Third, not in any dictionary the library had available! And you know what they all agree on? “gr.” I’m sure they’ll go with “grp.” anyway—it’s the New York Times style, which makes me all the more baffled that it’s not in the dictionary—but I made a note of it. Several times in several puzzles.

One more interesting thing: the guy whose puzzles I'm editing for makes some really lousy themes. One of them, whose theme was "Um . . .", had the theme entries of KETTLE DRUM, RULE OF THUMB, VENTURESOME, and . . . PALINDROME. And skeptical editor that I am, I actually had to check ("Is there a variant pronunciation where that rhymes with the others?") , but I was right. I made a note of it. In one puzzle that I won't even go into, the guy actually used the same word twice! That's a no-no! I noted it.

Anyway, in scouring dictionaries all day, I keep running across interesting new words, and so I thought I’d share a few of my new finds.

Squeateague is a term for a weakfish. Pronounced “skwee-TEEG.” It is both singular and plural. What’s a weakfish? I don’t know; today I never had occasion to look up anything in the W’s.

Spillikin is another word for the game of jackstraws, which is also sold under the name Pick-Up Sticks.

A regulus is a mythical Dravidian snake so poisonous that it can kill with its hiss. (a subnote tells you to “see also basilisk; cockatrice.”) It’s also a term for a petty king or a ruler of absurdly little significance; a kinglet. On that basis, I’m surprised it’s not also a slang term for “penis.” It’d be perfect.

And my favorite find of the day: suctorial. Adjective. “Adapted to or designed for sucking.” How about a sample sentence? “American Idol is suctorial entertainment.”

[LATER:] Speaking of suctorial entertainment, on CSI:Miami (which I turned to by accident), a character—a scientist, no less!—just squinted at a computer printout and said, with the timbre of actual discovery, “Mitch. That’s short for Mitchell!” And the screenwriter got paid thousands of dollars.

Monday, April 24, 2006

November 2006 is The Nation's Last Chance!

I've got to go to the library and edit crosswords today, but I thought I'd call your attention to this very smart post by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

It says in essence that a.) Tyler Drumheller, former head of covert operations in Europe in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, just got interviewed on 60 Minutes saying that he never believed the Niger uranium story that was used to bolster fears of Saddam's nuclear weapons capabilities, and told people so, but b.) not only has his negative assessment never been mentioned by the Bush administration (no surprise there), but he was interviewed by the House Republicans in charge of "investigating" the run-up to the war. And yet his interview never showed up in the final report. [This is a blunt summary; Mr. Marshall has the more nuanced version.] So, as you might have suspected, the "investigations" were also deeply flawed and designed merely to paper over Dear Leader's sins, not to actually make anyone accountable.

He makes a further interesting point one entry down:

is the issue. Talk of impeachment, real or play-acted, is beside the point. . .The key is subpoena power.

Little of what's happened in the last five years would have been possible were it not for the fact that there was no political institution with subpoena power in Washington not under the control of the White House. . .

The White House and the entire DC GOP for that matter is just sitting on too many secrets and bad acts. The bogus investigations of the pre-war intel is just one example, if one of the most resonant and glaring. Keeping control of the House and the Senate is less a matter of conventional ideological and partisan politics as it is a simple matter of survival.

They have too much to cover up. They could not survive sunlight.

If you aren't reading Talking Points Memo and Washington Monthly on a regular basis, you're missing out, I tell ya.

I Can Totter!

After a miserable weekend spent coughing myself hoarse and blowing my nose into so many Kleenex that they're best measured in acreage, I find myself this morning more or less normal. Not that the allergies are gone, but they've stuffed my nose and head so much that they seem to have found a miserable equilibrium, and I can actually walk around and squint at things without feeling disgustingly moist or leaky. Instead I've moved to that stage where I have a dry cough that horrifies the people around me, which at least *I* can live with. So I'm going to the library now to edit a bunch of crosswords. I expect a lot of shushing.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

What Would Jesus Do If He Had Weird Priorities?

Today I'm doing research for a prospective article about Christian utopian fiction---specifically the Charles M. Sheldon classic In His Steps (1898) (the most popular book of its time, second only to the Bible) plus its sequel by Glenn Clark, titled What Would Jesus Do? (1950), and a third stab at the idea, In His Steps Today (1976), by Marti Hefley. The general plan of the article is to track how the different authors have handled the idea, and how this, in turn, has reflected the shifting moral focus of American Christian culture. For example, in the first book, Sheldon has an entire congregation of a small town commit themselves for a year to really live like Jesus, and the results are so successful their ideas spread to churches in Chicago. In the third book, six members of a Bible study, inspired by the first book, decide to try to live like Jesus for a whole week. I wish I were kidding.

My ultimate point is that, somewhere around the '70s (and with In His Steps Today getting its ass kicked by Hal Lindsay's The Late Great Planet Earth---itself the greatest bestseller of that grim decade), the new Christian novelists don't try to write novels about social reform: the bestselling series of today, and in fact of all time, is the Tribulation Force series by Tim LaHaye, about Christian resistance during the rule of the Antichrist.

Anyway, the reason I'm mentioning this is that all three of the books share an earnest, didactic approach that doesn't seem to know what to do with art or laughter. No big surprise there. But what did surprise me are two things. First, in the earliest book, the first big blow is struck for goodness when a Christian newspaper editor, listening to his conscience, refuses to run the story about a boxing match on his sports page! (And the second big choice people make is that the community tries to shut down the local saloon! Anti-boxing, pro-Prohibition; when was the last time THAT was the agenda of the Christian right?) And then, in the middle of all this sort of charming weirdness, I also noticed that in all three books only one person actually consciously fails to live like Jesus, and he's so much like me that I thought I'd share the passage without further comment. From In His Steps, chapter 17:

Early one afternoon in August . . . Jasper Chase walked to his window in the apartment house on the avenue and looked out. On his desk lay a pile of manuscript. . . All through the heat of the summer he had been writing. His book was nearly done now. He had thrown himself into its construction with a feverish strength . . .

He had not forgotten his pledge made with the other members at the First Church. It had forced itself upon his notice all through his writing, and . . . he had asked himself a thousand times, "Would Jesus do this? Would He write this story?" It was a social novel, written in a style that had proved popular. It had no purpose except to amuse. Its moral teaching was not bad, but neither was it Christian in any positive way. Jasper Chase knew that such a story would probably sell. . . "What would Jesus do?" He felt that Jesus would never write such a book. . . Jesus would use His powers to produce something useful or helpful, or with a purpose. What was he, Jasper Chase, writing this novel for? Why, what nearly every writer wrote for---money, money and fame as a writer. . .

[Then, while looking out the window, he sees a woman he loves walking down the street with another man.]

Jasper watched the two figures until they disappeared in the crowd on the walk. Then he turned to his desk and began to write. When he had finished the last page of the last chapter of his book it was nearly dark. "What Would Jesus Do?" He had finally answered the question by denying his Lord .

Wow! Must be some book!


Okay, one more thing. If churning out artless product "in a style that has proved popular" is enough to send you to hell, then Tim LaHaye and his whole Tribulation Forcecompany are definitely in danger. It's a nice thought.


Friday, April 21, 2006

Physical Infirmity . . . What's Up With That?

Woke up sniffly, with a stuffy nose, sinus pressure, eyes all squinty, a head that feels like a bowling ball, and a throat as sore as Wal-Mart's Sam Walton's after a slave auction. And I'm all, "You're kidding me. This can't be allergies. I moved to New York precisely because there ARE no trees within miles!" So either I'm sick---no muscle aches yet, but it's still early---or I'm allergic to something even in New York. What could it be? Rats? Garbage? Bilingualism?

In related news, I just heard the worst new non sequitur I've ever heard in a commercial. (Perhaps I should call it the least plausible train of thought.) But first, the old winner. It opens with a shot of a woman running through Central Park. She stops, and the voiceover says, "I feel distracted. [pause for segue.] Could I be pregnant?" Cue the pregnancy ad. Now THAT's what I call hypochondria! What you didn't hear was the ad agency rep looking at the dailies and saying, "So why exactly did we go to the expense of an outdoor shoot again?"

Anyway, the new ad has a young woman in various short clips celebrating life's joyous moments with her friends. While these pass, the voice-over's saying, "I hope I'm known for my laugh . . . my smile . . . my personality. [pause.] Not for my bladder control problems." Well, I hope so too, you brave gypsy. But if you're actually KNOWN for your bladder control problems ("Oh god, here comes Pissy McWetter again. Don't give her any Dasani."), you should already be looking into major surgery. I think I can save the ad, though. Just open it with a group of friends, including Our Sufferer, sitting at a table in a fancy restaurant.

FIRST FRIEND: Say, everybody! Let's go check out that new public fountain downtown!
OTHERS, IN CHORUS: Yeah, Great idea!, etc.
OUR SUFFERER: Gee, I'd rather not. Look . . . look at the time . . . (she runs off, crying.)
FIRST FRIEND: Gosh, what's wrong with Sally?
SECOND FRIEND: She was like that last week at the waterfall, too.
THIRD FRIEND: And she totally missed last month's log flume!
FIRST FRIEND (rubbing chin thoughtfully): Hmm . . . I wonder . . . .
(Shot of miserable Sufferer, alone on the subway, looking wistfully over her shoulder. Cue the original voiceover.)

See, pharmaceutical company? I just saved your credibility AND salvaged a multimillion dollar commercial campaign! And all I ask is that you cover the cost of my rent this month! I take deutschmarks and krona.


Okay, I've just spent three hours lying in bed and breathing because my body couldn't handle anything more complicated. But a tablet of Loratadine, while not exactly a miracle drug, has brought a mild twitch to my central nervous system, and I feel like standing up and, I don't know, walking around or something. So I think I'll go to the 42nd Street New York Public Library and edit puzzles for a few hours. And if I see a clue that reads, "What's a ten-letter word for the generic form of Allegra?" I'll be all over it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Good Things!

I had my interview at Dell today, and I think it went really well. I'll know by tomorrow or Monday, but it seems my experience with puzzles is a real asset, and my interviewer's chief concern seemed to be that I might find the work too boring. I think I convincingly made the opposite case, but we'll see.

Then, while I was in the interview, I actually got my first-ever call from a temp agency! I called them back and they offered me a job reading student essays for the SAT Corporation for $16/hour. (Total take: $1920 over three weeks.) That starts on May 1st, if I haven't been hired by Dell by then.

Then I got home and found my freelance crossword-editing job waiting for me. That puts me a mere fifty hours of work (and sixty days of waiting) away from $1000!

So the good news is, my odds of employment suddenly look probable. The bad news is, none of them will pay me $750 in rent money before the rent money is actually due. But I think I can hold off paying for a little while if I've got actual provable income.

Whew! The moment I get actual consistent money, and pay back everyone I owe money to, I become an honest-to-god New Yorker. I guess the next step is to find a favorite deli.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

How to Commit to a Joke

I still don't quite believe I did this, but here's a picture from today:
The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

And I decided to create a website, too:

Tell all your easily amused friends!

(Yes, of course there's a whole story behind this, but right now my feet hurt and I want to lie down. More later.)

An Idea---and Possibly a Whole Busker--Is Born

Last night, after a fairly dispiriting day of job-hunting online---during which I learned that most local universities a. don't announce their faculty needs on their job sites, and b. when you call, they either don't have anything, or they don't know, and the person who does is out today---I went to my local bar, Jesse's, to literally drink away the tension. That's what it's come to. And I realize this is a bad thing to do on a regular basis, but honesty compels me to mention that it worked. I had great drinks (thanks, Dulci!), many laughs, and a potentially life-changing conversation with a local social worker named Norman.

After listening politely as I detailed my woes for some time, he noticed that I'd written cartoons on a napkin and, putting it together with my story of working at Hallmark, he said, "Why don't you just sell your poems on the subway?"

"I need a license,"I said. "I don't want to go to jail."

He pish-toshed with a wave. "You'll get a summons. And then you'll be able to pay for the license in a single day of work, and then you're good." He started leaning into his lecture, in an encouraging social worker's manner. "I'm serious. I work with these guys. A lot of them are addicts, and a musician can make about two hundred dollars a day. It's actually a really profitable gig."

I've been thinking about it ever since. Dress up like the eye-catching cowboy I am, write a few pages of subway-related light verse (four pages, say), make them pretty, photocopy them, and and BAM! I'm the subway Shel Silverstein, reading from my entire oeuvre (Songs from the Cubicle, Songs from the Dictionary, and maybe a Hallmark verse or two, any one of which is technically still the property of Hallmark but I'd like to see them stop me) and meanwhile hawking photocopied poems (each suitable for framing with a Shel Silverstein-style cartoon illustration) for a dollar a page, or three dollars for four pages. I may not pull in as much as a musician (who, after all, doesn't need anyone's full attention), but even seventy-five a day would make my rent in ten days.

It would be fun, it would play to my strengths (humor, charm, fearless talking to strangers), and it sure would be a more interesting way to spend the day than hunkered over a keyboad blinking back tears of frustration. I'm really, really, tempted. The only thing that has stopped me has been fear of prison. With that allayed by a professional, my last obstacle is knocked away. So today, while I take care of another secret mission (about which more later), I'll also be writing subway poems.

I mentioned this idea this morning to one of my roommates---the woman from Georgia (the country), with the most limited English---and she listened, smiled and said, optimistically, "That is not so crazy." Those words have been ringing confidently in my head ever since. "That is not so crazy." Amen, sister; amen!

Monday, April 17, 2006

More Scienciness!

Netscape, with its typical gushy-twelve-year-old-girl credulity, has just reprinted an item from at least a year back, which I think I've commented on before, but it's an idiocy that my righteous dander won't let it sit down unpummeled. So here's the article again, in full.

Math Proves Christ's Resurrection?

It is faith, not proof, that makes Christians believe in Jesus Christ's resurrection, the central tenet of the religion. Until now.

Oxford University professor Richard Swinburne, a leading philosopher of religion, has seemingly done the impossible. Using logic and mathematics, he has created a formula that he says shows a 97 percent certainty that Jesus Christ was resurrected by God the Father, report The Age and Catholic News.

This stunning conclusion was made based on a series of complex calculations grounded in the following logic:

1. The probably of God's existence is one in two. That is, God either exists or doesn't.
2. The probability that God became incarnate, that is embodied in human form, is also one in two.
3. The evidence for God's existence is an argument for the resurrection.
4. The chance of Christ's resurrection not being reported by the gospels has a probability of one in 10.
5. Considering all these factors together, there is a one in 1,000 chance that the resurrection is not true.

"New Testament scholars say the only evidences are witnesses in the four gospels. That's only five percent of the evidence," Swinburne said in a lecture he gave at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. "We can't judge the question of the resurrection unless we ask first whether there's reason to suppose there is a God. Secondly, if we have reason to suppose he would become incarnate, and thirdly, if he did, whether he would live the sort of life Jesus did." He says that even Jesus' life is not enough proof. However, the resurrection is "God's signature," which shows "his approval of Jesus' teaching."

The calculations that Swinburne says prove the resurrection are detailed in his book, "The Resurrection of God Incarnate."

Clearly, math this stupid is an insult to everyone who cares about the question he raises. And since every single one of the first four premises is hilariously wrong, it almost doesn't matter that the fifth one is probably weakly derived as well. But since I was talking about the difference between science and pseudoscience a few posts back, I thought it was worth reposting this so everyone could see an obvious example up close and stinky.

Rather than waste time rebutting this ass, I figured I'd point out two Monday morning thoughts related to this article. First, this guy has a book out, but I still don't even have an agent. Second, this may be the best argument against tenure I've ever seen.

Oh, what the hell. I've got forty minutes till I need to catch my bus, so let me just play his game.

Math Proves That Werewolves Should Probably Carry Bulletproof Umbrellas

1. There is always a fifty percent chance of rain. That is, it is either raining or it isn't.

2. Either the rain will come in the form of tiny metal bullets, or it won't. Again, 1 in 2.

3. There is also a fifty-fifty chance that werewolves exist.

4. If it's raining bullets, these bullets will have to have a color, and there is a 1 in 11 chance that they will be silver. (Assuming a choice within the spectrum---red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet---as well as black, white, gold, and silver. )

5. Silver bullets kill werewolves. Therefore, there is a 1 in 88 chance that, this very second, a rain of silver bullets is falling on one or more werewolves and killing them. Since there are 8,644 seconds in a twenty-four-hour day, there is a 99% chance that the werewolves are dead or dying already.

6. Of course, regular bullets kill everyone, so there's also a 25% chance you're in deadly peril right now.

7. Therefore, everyone should stay indoors if they want to live. Even werewolves.

Bear in mind that this is only a tentative recommendation, since I haven't calculated the precise odds that these pullets might be armor-piercing, heat-seeking smart bullets that come in through windows and kill you in your sleep. (My guess? 1 in 2.) But look on the bright side. The chance that you'll be reincarnated is a solid fifty percent.

P.S. Just as I was writing those words, I got a call from Dell Magazines, and they've had to postpone my interview until Thursday. Damn. What were the odds?


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Elvis on Easter

Tonight’s prime-time lineup on Turner Classic Movies includes Easter Parade, King of Kings, and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. In fact, it’s pretty much piety all the livelong day, with selections including Boys Town, Cabin in the Sky, Angels in the Outfield, The Bishop’s Wife, and Heaven Can Wait.

And yet, some brilliant TCM programmer, deciding perhaps that they also needed to appeal to the pagan tradition of springtime fertility myths, has decided to give us a short break with Girl Happy—an Elvis film from 1965 starring Shelley Fabares, Mary Ann Mobley, and a breathtaking series of hard-working bikinis. In its own libidinous way, it’s a perfect match. Because Elvis really is a modern Christ figure in the sense that certain people with religious devotion to him believe he’s still alive afer death, and also because you get through an Elvis movie the same way you get through a particularly intense church service: you have to shut your brain down entirely or you’ll get migraines. (Example: as I write this, Elvis is singing “Do the Clam,” complete with hand motions. Ouch! It hurts us!)

In the film, Elvis and the boys are tasked to protect a mob boss’s daughter while she’s in Fort Lauderdale during Spring Break. So far the line that best sums up the film is when Shelley Fabares (the daughter) walks by in a bathing suit and one of Elvis’s friends says, “How are we supposed to keep the boys away from that? It’s like hiding Disneyland!” Although personally I don’t know why Shelley Fabares is considered gorgeous, because she’s wearing a flip so extreme that her head looks like a big brown top hat. (Also, a dubious distinction: in two movies close together—‘56's Rock, Pretty Baby and ‘58's Summer Love—she played characters named “Twinkie.”)

The real looker in the film is Mary Ann Mobley, Miss America 1959, who seems to be another great beauty from Biloxi (see my earlier post, The Best Thing About Biloxi), and one of only four Miss Americas who actually had a post-tiara career. She’s no Ann-Margret, but at 35-22-36 I guess she’ll do. In Girl Happy, she’s allegedly playing a ditz, so I feel obliged to point out that, according to the Internet Movie Database, her daughter is currently the senior vice president of MGM Television. Also, she was the first woman inducted into the University of Mississippi Hall of Fame, which puts her alongside William Faulkner, who was sort of a walking Spring Break himself. And I can’t resist quoting this last trivium:

During the 1959 'Miss America' contest, Mary Ann sang, for the talent portion, a highly formal, operatic rendition of Puccini's "Un Bel Di" that segued into a belt version of "There'll Be Some Changes Made" as she stripped down into something skimpier. She won the crown.

Some guy onscreen just said of his girlfried, “She doesn’t have much upstairs . . . but what a staircase!” And in the Elvis tradition of psychological realism, she giggled and kissed him for saying it. Owie! Ouchie! Make it stop!


Christianity in the News, Part Two: The Empty Tomb Story

The other reason the Netscape headline from my last post—“Did Jesus Walk on Ice?”—is false is because Jesus never walked on water at all. There are a few pious liberal-Christian explanations for this. A favorite that can be found, among other places, in Hans Kung’s On Being A Christian, is that the whole story may have arisen from a textual error—Jesus was walking “beside” the sea became “on” by accident, and then this later got expanded into the story we know now, which is why not all four gospels have it.

But that’s silly, and in the spirit of Easter, I thought I’d explain, relatively briefly for people who don’t know, why many scholars believe that Jesus never actually existed. (Or more accurately, why Jesus as we know him from the Bible never actually existed; one common position is that he may have been a real person, but the mythologizing has taken over so much that it’s impossible to know anything about who he really was. Which, for all practical purposes, is exactly the same thing.)

1. Outside the Bible, there are no trustworthy references to Jesus at all. There are references to “Christians.” But the only major reference is a big glaring mention of Jesus in certain copies of Josephus, which is an obvious redaction. (If you take the Jesus section out, the original sentence makes way more sense.) And this is doubly strange, because we have a number of references to other itinerant preachers from the same era, none of whom had nearly as large a following.

2. The earliest works of the New Testament are the letters of Paul. If you take only the letters of Paul and scour them for references to Jesus, you get nothing about his birth, nothing about his life, not a single word of his teachings. But you do get a lot of very vague “Jesus died and rose and this is what it means.” For Paul—and the early Christians he was addressing—Jesus’s actual life seems to have been of no real importance.

2.a. Don’t believe me? Try it at home! The most reliably Pauline letters are Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. While you’re at it, throw in 1 Timothy—although it suggests a much later development in the church, most scholars are comfortable suggesting it probably came from Paul’s direct followers, so it’s part of the same tradition. The whole thing comes to about 25 pages. Read those pages, trying to learn everything you can about Jesus, and you may be surprised at how lean are your gleanings.

3. Most of the magical ideas associated with Jesus are found in other similar myth figures, many of whom have detailed stories of their own. For example, William Tell never existed, but his story was so popular that many people assumed it was true—to the point where he was supplied with a birthplace, a birthdate, a lineal history (he shot the arrow off his son’s head on November 18, 1307), and became the national hero of Switzerland. This was true in antiquity as well. The cult of Heracles, which predates Christianity by six centuries, had a birthplace for him and birthday celebration, just like Jesus, and a few other features as well—such as a virgin birth, a childhood where he’s hidden from someone who wants him dead, and his rising after death. According to one source I’ve read, he apparently even walks on water! If, as the linguists say, a language is a dialect with an army, then a religion is a myth with an affiliated university.

3.a. Note, by the way, that I owe many of these observations in section 3 to Richard Price’s fascinating book, Deconstructing Jesus. The earlier observations in sections 1 and 2 come from many scholars, though my favorite—because he’s a clear, precise writer—is G. A. Wells. Wells started out believing that Jesus didn’t exist, and has recently become convinced that there may have at least been an original non-mythical Jesus who is the source of the major quotes from Matthew and Luke. (This is the same theory that the Jesus Seminar follows as well.) Price, however, has found elements of Jesus’ teachings in other contemporary Stoic philosophers, and doesn’t feel the need to posit even a single preacher Jesus.

Of course all of this is academic to me, because I’m an atheist, so even if Jesus existed, it wouldn’t mean God exists, any more than the existence of Moses, if proven (and it’s also widely doubted) would mean I’d feel compelled to become a Jew. I’m an atheist, for what boils down to a very simple reason: it’s the most reasonable explanation for everything we see and experience—including the fact that most people are religious (we’re pattern-seeking animals, after all). It explains why the universe is so staggeringly vast and incalculably old (a huge inefficient waste if God’s a creator; an absolute necessity if life is extremely rare and accidental). It explains why so many religions sound like made-up stories, and why so many sound like each other. And of course, at its core, it explains why, if God is all-good and all-powerful, there’s so much suffering in the world. The best explanation religious people can offer is that it’s a mystery, which is their way of saying, “I don’t understand that part, but I do believe there’s good in the world.”

So do I. (The difference is that I think evolution explains why there’s a difference between the meaningful patterns we seek and the randomness the universe actually displays.) But like the religious person—albeit without the props involved—I, too, wish more good for everyone. In that entirely secular sense, I wish everyone a happy Easter.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Christianity in the News, Part One: Jesus on the Rocks

I’ve got Easter-slash-Passover on the brain right now, because about a quarter of the businesses in my area have been shut down. I assume this is because I live in Upper Washington Heights, a few blocks from Yeshiva University, and between Inwood and Lower Washington Heights, two of the largest Dominican neighborhoods in Manhattan. So the delis have shut down because they don’t have anyone to sell to, and the still-religious Christian immigrants are staying home and—I don’t know—maybe nailing themselves to boards like they do in The Phillippines. I can’t seem to fight it, so I’m knuckling under, and as of this writing I’m about to watch The Ten Commandments, even though it’s on ABC, with commercials, and they aren’t even showing it in letterbox. And no computer effects, either! Today, I’m kicking it old school.

It’s just as well, because as a tireless religion watcher, I’ve needed an excuse to write about the news lately. I guess today’s the day. Let’s get started.

Surely it’s no accident that the past few weeks during Lent have seen not one, but two widely-promulgated news stories bearing on the New Testament. The first, and weirdest, is the study that’s summarized on a thousand websites as “Scientist Says Jesus Walked On Ice.” The second is the much-ballyhooed publication of The Gospel of Judas—most of said ballyhooing being conducted by The National Geographic Channel, which has a nicely timed special on the topic. And of course, the Netscape/AOL-hyped version of the story tends to bear headlines like “Newly Discovered Gospel Tells Judas’s Side of the Story.”

Let’s take the silliest one first, because it’s more interesting than even its own promulgators realize. Doron Nof, a scientist in oceanography at Florida State (Hey! I know that place!) has done computer modeling and has theorized that in the Gospel story, conditions could have been such that the Sea of Galilee was partially frozen, and that the miracle of Jesus walking on the water has a perfectly sound scientific explanation. The Netscape link to the article was “Did Jesus Walk on Ice?”

Well, no. Of course not. This is the kind of well-meaning idiocy that has seen a thousand deaths and rebirths since the Enlightenment—a scientist, treading on a topic he knows little about, proffers a bridge between science and religion that pleases neither side. Religious people are going to believe in the miracle, because if you take away the miracle you’ve removed everything that’s actually interesting about the story. And skeptics, presented with this dumbass theory, are going to have to ask themselves, “What’s more likely—that the book of Matthew is scrupulously historical and yet ignorant of the concept of ice, or that the whole story’s made up and doesn’t require a scientific explanation in the first place?” Meanwhile, actual practicing scientists everywhere must be slapping their foreheads and going, “I can’t believe that jerkoff used hard-earned grant money on something so pointless!” At the next Oceanography Convention, I predict he’s gonna get his ass kicked in the parking lot.

The reason I even dignify this with attention is because it raises two interesting side issues.

The first is that Christianity—at least as it was practiced in the evangelical churches I grew up in—has actually absorbed more scandalous scientific thinking than they recognize. When The Fundamentals was being published at the turn of the century, the conservative literalist scholars behind it were seeking to uphold the integrity of the Bible’s “plain meaning,” in the face of Darwin, and they pronounced anathema on all the liberal theologians who were trying to scientifically explain away the Bible’s miracles. And yet in many cases, this “explaining away” has become part of the mainstream story, even for fundamentalists. I haven’t found a single Old Testament commentary from a conservative publisher that doesn’t suggest—or at least give polite lip service to the idea—that the “manna from heaven” in Genesis might have been tamarisk resin or a kind of lichen, both of which reportedly have the evanescent qualities described in the Bible. Every commentary on the plagues of Egypt (which, by the way, are only an hour away on my TV! Go, Charlton!) mentions that the Nile river didn’t actually turn to blood, but probably experienced a “red tide” caused by certain algae or lichen. (Again with the lichen!) And pretty much every commentator who writes about the story of Elijah suggests that the “fire from heaven” that God sent to consume a huge pile of oxen was actually lightning.

But that’s liberal talk! The fundies in 1905 would have been scandalized by the way modern evangelicals carry on. They would have said (and did say), “God can turn the Nile to actual blood if he wants to, and fie on you for questioning this miracle!” You don’t need to “explain” manna—you just believe it! Why should Christians make excuses for the Bible? Why are modern evangelicals such sellouts?

The answer, of course, is twofold: First, science won. Even for evangelicals, it’s the first step in any explanation when they’re presented with something puzzling. Even the most absurd beliefs in Christendom—such as the idea that the sun stood frozen for a whole day—tend to be propped up in Christian circles by urban-mythical stories of scientist so-and-so who tried to disprove x but found y instead and now we can all feel better believing the Bible. Thank god for scientists who convert! Even for evangelicals, the Bible is often the logical problem, and science is the first resort for a solution. Blind faith comes second.

This leads to the second reason modern conservative Christians are sellouts: they’re trying to convert others. They need more members if they’re ever going to save the world. And, as New Agers, UFOlogists, and other paranormalists from Mary Baker Eddy down to L. Ron Hubbard have long known, if you want to sell an idea, blind faith can’t hold a candle to a single plausible-sounding pseudoscientific justification. After all, there are so many religions being offered today, any one of them could be right if your only criterion were “just believe it.” What separates Mormonism from Christianity is that Christianity is not the quality of its faith, but that it’s marginally less unhistorical—or, perhaps more accurately, requires more than casual knowledge to disprove, and therefore requires a little less blind faith to swallow.

That’s why every decently educated evangelical carries with them a logical dissonance between what the Bible says and what they wish they were actually allowed to believe. Liberal Christians can simply say, “The sun standing still is a myth.” But Bible-worshiping evangelicals, committed to the Bible’s literal truth on one hand, and desperately wishing for cultural relevance on the other, have to constantly invent new ways to rationalize their discomfort away. The three choices are a.) side with the Bible, but don’t tell anyone who’ll think you’re crazy, b.) doubt the Bible, but don’t tell anyone in your church, or c.) just don’t think about it at all, and focus your attention on parts of the Bible that work for you. The third option is by far the most common.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Few Good Things

Although I’ve been spending every day jobhunting and getting nowhere certain, I’m happy to report that I just got my first interview! On Monday, according to an e-mail I received this afternoon, I’ll be auditioning for an entry-level production editor job at Dell Crosswords. After weeks of nothing it’s quite a thrill to feel a tug on the line.

On Tuesday, I tried a brand-new tactic that I recommend to everyone who desperately needs to make contacts from square zero. On a whim, I went to Random House, because they had listed a number of openings on mediabistro, and after applying for them all, I thought I’d better visit in person to put myself over the other people who might look better on paper. But once I was there, I had no idea who to talk to or who to call. So I sat in the lobby and fretted for about thirty minutes. But then I noticed that people kept streaming out to stand on the sidewalk and smoke. So I simply loitered outside, and when someone pulled out a cigarette, I was there to proffer my lighter (thank goodness I thought of buying it!), and that led to the natural question, “So what department do you work in?” After only twenty or so minutes of doing this, I met a man who worked as an art editor at Fodor’s.
“Fodor’s!” I said. “I’d love to work there! I just finished writing a travel book in the hope of getting a job with a travel magazine. Do you have any openings?”
“Actually,” said the very nice man, “a friend of mine who’s an editor here just resigned today. Here’s her e-mail . . .” And bingo! I had a contact! I e-mailed her the next day and haven’t heard back yet, but this was another happy thing I thought I’d report.

To celebrate this brace of good newses, I’ve been relaxing just long enough to permit a viewing of TCM’s It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), part of their Stanley Donen birthday tribute. And I have to say, it must be one of the most underrated musicals I’ve yet enjoyed. It doesn’t seem to make anyone’s top ten list, but it’s got a smart script, it has actual depth of characterization and strong emotional stakes (it’s about GI’s who were friends ten years ago and how they become estranged, then learn to be friends again), it’s not nearly as corny or broad as Singin’ in the Rain, and it features Cyd Charisse having more fun than I’ve seen her have in any musical, including Silk Stockings. (I always knew she had it in her!) On top of all this, the songs are quite pleasant, and it features what has just become one of my favorite dance sequences: Gene Kelley on roller skates, performing on a huge stage, with a rolling camera following his every surprising move, with nary a single cut. It must have taken weeks to choreograph, and my jaw is still on the floor.
Happy birthday, Mr. Donen! That warmth you’re feeling is coming from my heart’s gleeful cockles. And thumbs up to TCM, too, who gave this little gem pride of programming over the too-obvious choice (Singin’ in the Rain, which I still absolutely love, by the way), airing it at 2pm, when folks at home might actually be watching instead of preparing for work. (Singin’ was at 10.)

By the way, I ate Chinese food last night, and it came with a fortune cookie: There are plenty of promises and hope floating around you.

The Grand Ridge Factor

I promised a story in my last post, and here it is. Shortly before I left Tallahassee, I was feeling kind of antsy, wanted to listen to a book, and decided to travel an hour or two west along I-10. When I got to Grand Ridge, FL—a speck on the map if ever there was one—I stopped in at The Golden Lariat, which is the largest and best-priced western-wear store in the area. I got some boots and a shirt there, but that’s not the point. The interesting thing for me was that the parking lot of the Golden Lariat is shared by a restaurant and a gas station, and when I went into the gas station to buy some fuel, I wandered through it a little in order to get a snack as well.

The Golden Lariat is right off the Interstate, and just outside of big-city civilization. That’s when your customer base changes from families to truckers. The usual sign that you’ve hit such an area is that, when you go to use the bathroom, there’s a condom dispenser on the wall. But the Golden Lariat’s gas station threw a new one at me: their magazine rack, while mostly empty, contained at least six gay porn titles. (I wish I could remember all the titles, but the only one I can still recall was Young Twinks. Which I think is redundant.)

My curiosity piqued. Gay porn? In the rural South outside a western-wear shop? Didn’t that violate red-state zoning? I asked the lady behind the counter, and she said, “We keep it because it sells. Of course, it hasn’t sold much lately, which is why we’ve got gay porn still here and the rest of the rack is empty. But it’ll pick up in a few weeks. It always does.”

Of course, that was the gas station attendant. It was almost too easy, and I was itching for some righteous dander. Surely the existence of gay porn can’t have been a popular with everyone in this small rural community. (Hell, I grew up in big-sized Tucson, and there were a few years there where convenience stores, bowing to community pressure, wouldn’t even carry Playboy.) What did their neighbors over at the western wear shop think?

So I went over there and talked to the thin gray-haired man behind the register. Carefully wording myself to be noncommittal, I said, “Wow. I was just at the gas station and I was surprised. You’ve got a lot of gay porn over there.”

The man smiled and shrugged. “It sells. I try not to have an opinion on it one way or the other. We just try to keep our customers happy, and that’s what a lot of our customers want.” He looked at my face a little searchingly, and I guess he saw something he felt safe with. “Besides,” he added. “If we were all the same, this would be a pretty dull world.”

This has been coming to mind recently because when I left the Bible Belt, I was excited at least in part because I thought, “I’ll be in Manhattan! At last, I’ll be in a town where most people hate Bush, gay rights and women’s equality are taken for granted, and where there are no Bible thumpers anywhere!” But just as was the case with Tallahassee—where I could predict that, every semester, half of my female students would write essays about cheerleading, but where there was also an occasional Grand Ridge to surprise you—Manhattan is actually loaded with literalist religious people and conservatives. Every time I ride the subway, at least two people are studying the Bible (or the Torah), and last night I even saw someone reading a Jack Chick tract—the nadir of religious intolerance. And whenever I’ve attended an open mike comedy night, someone is always priding themselves on their political incorrectness and saying racist and homophobic bullshit. The difference in Manhattan is that there’s so much obvious diversity on every corner that the religious extremists don’t try to run everything; they know in advance they don’t have a majority, and they have to learn to compromise. Ditto for the homophobes, who are only one set of voices in a city with a huge gay population. They keep their opinions to themselves and, I imagine, avoid shopping in Chelsea. But they’d never dream of trying to outlaw gay adoption or prevent homosexuals from teaching in elementary schools or—god forbid—turning into South Dakota and banning abortion altogether. They simply don’t have abortions themselves and teach their children to do the same. That seems more in keeping with actual, messy, unidealized democratic praxis.

This is something that Barack Obama mentioned in his speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004: “There’s no such thing as red states and blue states. Not really. We love our kids in the blue states and we appreciate diversity in the red states . . .” Et cetera. I’d nodded at the time and figured it was just standard political everyone-to-everyman-ism. So it’s nice to see that it’s really literally true: people will always surprise you, and you can’t accurately lump everybody by their region. (Although you can certainly generalize, as any black male who’s driven through Simi Valley will tell you.) And now I think it may be the salvation of our country: diversify! If everyone lived like they do in New York (or Miami or Chicago or other big cities), with not only different opinions but actual whole entire different cultures at every neighboring restaurant table, we’d really appreciate our country all the more. And maybe we could finally get rid of “In God We Trust” from our money and return our national motto to what it was from 1778-1954: E Pluribus Unum, baby!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

One More Time

I guess that was neither brief nor a particularly good apology. I think my best move right now is to shut up. My next post will be more positive, by the way. All this talk about the south reminded me of a surprisingly nice thing that happened to me just an hour outside Tallahassee at a cowboy store called The Golden Lariat. More later.

A Brief Apology to all Southerners

I seem to have riled people unneccessarily with my last post, including two commenters I love very dearly, so let me add a few caveats.

1.) The chief virtues of the South include a relaxed mode of life and really really balmy weather. When I first moved to Tallahassee from Kansas City I was thrilled every day I walked around campus. "How ingenious!" I thought. "Someone actually went and invented a room-temperature city!" There were certain particularly sweet days where the grass looked so inviting it took all my strength not to simply pitch forward and fall asleep. (I didn't, though; everyone warned me about chiggers.) Southern charm is more voluble than the sun-blasted taciturnity of the Southwest. Every student I ever had from Florida outside Tallahassee---it didn't seem to matter if they were from Miami or little ol' Denton---commented on how friendly everyone was in Tallahassee, and Atlanta's the only city I've ever been in where, trapped as an out-of-town moron in the wrong lane during the height of backed-up rush-hour traffic, three lanes of cars, seeing my distress, quietly paused to let me pass through without anyone so much as honking for my idiocy. These things deserve to be mentioned, and I'll add them accordingly.

2.) Having said that, it's also true that one of the things that I'm trying to mock---and I guess it's currently befogged by all my anti-Confederate irritation---is that I'm terrible at relaxing. It's not the South; it's me. I simply don't do the outdoors. I hate boats and fishing because I don't like killing things and boats are usually kind of wet, and once you're out on them it's often too windy and/or grimy to read a book. I went to a swimming hole once, and though I could sort of understand why my friends liked it---though it was very murky and we left when someone saw a cottonmouth---I kept thinking, "Now what do we do?" If I swim, I get wet and dirty and I smell funny until I get to a shower. If I don't swim, I sit in the sun, which no one from the desert is wholly comfortable doing. Do we just loll? How do we know when we're done? Are there any books around? It's the same reason I've never enjoyed being high.

In fact, I guess what I'm saying is I never experienced the South unless I was accompanied by people who, unlike me, were also comfortable being stoned. Perhaps I should have chosen antsier companions.

3.) Also, please bear in mind that the context of the book, I'm explaining why I'm not "capturing the South" in a situation where I'm literally spending one day in every major city along I-10. You don't soak in culture subtly in such a situation; you snatch what you can. And that means that, while driving through the South, I couldn't possibly have stopped at a swimming hole or gone out on a canoe, even if that was the kind of thing I was inclined to do. My options in terms of describing Southern culture tended to be limited to "that hellfire church sign I just passed" and "more gas-station Confederate shit I'd rather not buy."

4.) Having said that, as a person coming from outside, I tend to gauge places based on their human rights situation, and there's no question that I can neither ignore nor forgive the fact that the South is more racist than the rest of the country, and it's not only less educated (in Chapter One, I discovered online that by driving along I-10 I was driving through eight of the bottom ten least-educated states in the nation, not counting California and---to my pleasant surprise--- Texas), but it's a willful ignorance, which is why it's called "The Bible Belt." And as a teacher, willful ignorance is the thing I can least forgive. Threaten to take away evolution, women's choice, and gay rights, and you've lost my sympathy, no matter how much you may ply me with sweet potato pie. (And you simply irritate me further if, when I search for entertainment, you offer me Larry the Cable Guy.)

But I don't want you to think I drove through half the country gritting my teeth and hating everything. My approach was simply to avoid talking about The South as a whole, because I really can't do it without getting a touch of acid stomach. For example, in the book, it becomes quite clear that I love St. Augustine, and I love New Orleans, and I'm somewhat fond of Pensacola, and I'm flat-out crazy for Mobile. (And Lafayette was so not my thing that it didn't even make the cut.) But I never attributed any of the things I love about those cities to any overarching "Southern" style. (Nor did I blame "Southernism" for Jacksonville or Biloxi, which I didn't care for, and which again I judged on their individual quickly-assimilated merits.)

I guess what I'm saying is that I love individual Southerners, I love certain Southern cities, and I admire certain aspects of the South; but the South as a whole entity is so problematic for me that, for the purposes of the book, I simply wished it away with prejudice. But I'm glad y'all Southerners spoke up, because the paragraphs I wrote really were more snide and unjust than I like to be. I promise I'll fix it up. Sorry.

A Brief Digression on Southernism (Book Excerpt)

When my committee was reviewing my travel book, one of the readers pointed out, "You don't really capture the South in the Southern part of your trip, and I couldn't tell if this was intentional or not." I replied, "That's because I hate the south and have no interest in capturing it." He sugggested I address this question directly, and so I added the following paragraphs. Since none of you could have seen it the first time around, here it is. May it divert you entertainingly.

A Brief Digression on Southernism
At the store where I avoided the swastika hip flask, I also passed up the opportunity to buy a flask or a lighter with an emblem of the Confederate flag. Since I faced the same non-temptation when I was buying cowboy-style belt buckles, this seems as good a time as any to address the question of local charm. There exists a certain class of travel writers who try to find, wherever they go, expressions of the neighborhood culture—talking to locals, reading road signs that are oh-so-typical-of-Eastern-Pawtucket, etc. The resulting description creates a diorama you could frequently sell in the local Cracker Barrel, along with Precious Moments figurines and old DVDs of Disney’s Song of the South. You have to be a great writer—William Least-Heat Moon, for example—to avoid making it sentimental, and to turn a blind eye to the South’s worst qualities.

Frankly, I’ve got no interest in any of it. I’ve lived in Tallahassee for six years—arguably the most Southern of Florida’s major cities—and I’ve never learned to enjoy its distinctives. I’ve never liked the unsanitary nature of “fishin’” or “swimmin’ holes,” boiled peanuts literally make me sick, and the popularity of funnel cake is precisely why you want to avoid going to Southern beaches: everyone’s overweight and toothless. What so many people call “Southern culture” looks suspiciously like rural poverty and ignorance in a tourist-friendly display case. I grew up poor and don’t find anything charming about it. And that, more than anything else, may be why I decided to focus my travel on big cities. The modern highway system is such that you can, in theory, travel the entire length of the country and never eat anything but Subway sandwiches. And the only sign you’d have that you’re in the South is that the gas stations start to sell Confederate flag merchandise.

So can I just say I find the popularity of Confederate flags completely baffling? Particularly when I see the level of self-deception involved. In one gas station, I saw a bumper sticker that showed such a flag along with the caption, “It’s Heritage—Not Hate!” And I wanted to write next to it, “Can’t it be both?” Because surely the Confederate flag is about a heritage of hate. And this is why its presence everywhere makes me cringe for the Southerners involved.

Let me see if I understand this: the Civil War was a war of deliberate treason in the name of slavery. Its proponents were the same guys who killed Lincoln. And they lost badly. And then went on to commit the worst series of lynchings in our country’s history while—as an almost literal sideshow—being the first hosts to the war on teaching evolution. And then, a hundred years later, the flag went up over every Southern state that wanted to resist dismantling Jim Crow. Could someone explain to me what part of this is worth celebrating? I could understand “Southern shame.” Or, taking a cue from modern Germany, “Southern embarrassed silence about the late 1800s.” Or bumper stickers bearing the Confederate Flag reading “Never again!” But Southern pride? I’m sorry, but I don’t sport bumper stickers that say, “My forefathers massacred dozens of Indians! Yee-haw!” And I expect the same level of self-awareness from people with their own history of atrocities. Until they come up with a Confederate Flag bumper sticker that says, “We Can Do Better!”, I’m avoiding the allegedly real South, even if it means eating at Subways all the way to New Mexico.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Venus of Laplace

I’m waiting for the bathroom to empty of roommates so I can shower and a.) give some humor samples to a guy at Comedy Central who requested them (thanks, Julianna!) and b.) start knocking on publishing house doors looking for contacts. Not subtle, but that’s what it’s come to.

At any rate, since I have a few moments, I felt I ought to share yet another strange moment from my journey across the country last summer.

I was driving through Louisiana and had stopped at a very small town to get gas. The town, though tiny, was actually kind of busy, because it was right off the interstate and I pulled in at noon, so there were actually cars backed up in about four different directions, not including the turn-off at the gas station, which was poorly placed. (I had to take a left at the light, and then cross in front of the perpendicular traffic because as soon as I turned I saw that a standard left didn’t lead to the gas station I needed. So my turn was not a 90 degree angle, but a little more scrunched and probably illegal.)

Anyway, while I was paying for my gas inside, I heard a squeal and a crunching bang, and when I came out to look, there was a car accident right in the gas station parking lot. A big shiny new SUV (boo! hiss!) had turned too fast or too impatiently or something—it was a crappy intersection—and had smashed into a tiny old Gremlin containing two fat Hispanic-looking women. The older woman, who looked about seventy, was the driver, and she sat in the front seat with a large piece of glass in her neck and blood pouring down the front of her dress. She was alive, and clearly breathing, but she obviously needed to get to a hospital. The other woman—her daughter, around fifty—was outside the car, running around, clearly frantic. The SUV, I’m sorry to say, was being driven by a late-twenties/early-thirties young man in the carefully-pressed plaid-and-visor of a yuppie on vacation. But that’s not the point—although it’s funny how these cliches mount up when you don’t expect them to. The point is that in a few minutes the LaPlace Volunteer Fire Department showed up to help. That’s how small this town was—the nearest big Fire Department was a volunteer unit in LaPlace (pop. 26,000), one county over. (Though I must say that, for a volunteer department, they seemed to know what they were doing and had great equipment.)

You know that moment in any movie where some crisis happens in some rural area, the police car speeds to the scene, stops . . . and out steps Charlize Theron! And you think, “What the hell is Charlize Theron doing here? No one that good looking lives in a town this small. Suddenly this movie seems implausible.” Well, as soon as the ambulance drove up, out walked this leggy redhead of such stunning competence and togetherness that I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t take any pictures of the accident—that would have felt ghoulish—but I snapped a few surreptitious photos of Improbably Sexy Redheaded Nurse, and this is the best one.

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I realize she may not seem all that stunning after my build-up, but trust me: after driving through small towns, seeing one morbidly obese, ragged, toothless gal after another, this woman was like a walking miracle. And of course, I’m a big fan of smart, competent redheads with determined-looking chins. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

You Got Your Morton's Fork in My Buridan's Ass

While updating my iPod and watching its usual complaint, I just figured out why my Internet is so slow: I'm connected using old, slower USB ports! (At least I know it's not a virus.) So the problem is at least understood, even though it's not immediately solveable.

By the way, the title of this post is a hat-tip to my friend Ryan, who corrected my earlier post and pointed out that the starving indecisive donkey I was looking for was Buridan's ass. A link to Wikipedia and a few click-throughs later and I found myself reading up on paradoxes in general, which introduced me to the term "Morton's Fork." Morton's Fork is any choice between two unpleasant alternatives (devil vs. deep blue sea, frying pan vs. fire, pay now vs. pay later with interest). And that's my immediate problem: I've got a choice between sucky Internet and no internet (or, factoring in UPS, sucky free Internet and operational expensive Internet). And of course, I can't fix it (and hence, make my job-hunting any easier) until I have a job. Cf. Catch-22.

Speaking of Bad Late-Night Ideas . . .

Two posts ago I mentioned that I'd had a great idea at night that turned out to suck when I re-read it the following morning. By chance, I ran across this quote in the frontispiece to Bill Bryson's Neither Here Nor There:

William James describes a man who got the experience from laughing-gas; whenever he was under its influence, he knew the secret of the universe, but when he came to, he had forgotten it. At last, with immense effort, he wrote down the secret before the vision had faded. When completely recovered, he rushed to see what he had written. It was "A smell of petroleum prevails throughout."

For this quote, Bryson cites Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy. Which means that, by quoting this, I'm quoting Bill Bryson's quote of Bertrand Russell's quote of William James's quote of some anonymous nitrous addict. This Russian-doll moment has been brought to you by the Kevin Bacon game.

By the way, it took me fourteen minutes to write this thing because the goddamn computer seized up nine times---once for tw(dammit, that's ten!)o whole minutes.

Can We PLEASE Call Him The Worst President Ever Now?

Seymour Hersh: Bush Planning Massive Bombing Campaign Against Iran, Including Nukes

Seymour Hersh has been consistently accurate about everything this administration's done, so pardon me if I wet my pants in utter unbelief. Here's a good summary:

Which Pile of Shit Should I be Eating, Exactly?

I haven’t updated the site in a few days because, in the bluntest terms, writing for the site is a lot of fun, and I don’t see any reason I should be having fun right now when I still don’t have a job. However, the entire process of jobhunting, such as it is, has given me a few insights I thought it might be useful to share.

The chief thing I’ve learned is that up till now I’ve lived a pampered life. Not Paris Hilton pampered, of course. (And—side note—could there be any worse example of unearned power and prestige than Paris Hilton? She first became famous for being fabulously wealthy, ignorant of reality, and blithely uncaring about it because people think she’s fun to party with. Every move she’s made since has confirmed that her willful ignorance will never hurt her, because she’s surrounded by media people who manage a form of “reality” for her that gets spun off into every show or appearance she does. We get the celebrities we deserve, and I can’t imagine a celebrity more fitting for the Bush era. It’s so depressing, I think I need a new paragraph.)

(Pause while my dander ebbs.)

Okay. What I’m saying is, I’ve been lucky. Up until now, every job I’ve ever held was given to me. I lived at home till I was about 20, and didn’t need a job before then. I got my first job with the PREVENT program because my parents sold the house, I needed a job desperately, and I was dating the boss’s daughter. Got my job at Hallmark because they came through Tucson, saw my work, and hired me. (They even paid for my move.) Went to Florida State because the second I applied I was offered a scholarship and a teaching assistantship. Those are the only jobs I’ve ever had. My other creative work—puzzles, short stories, etc.—have never even paid the utilities. I’ve been in the Atlantic, World’s Best Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Mirth of a Nation, but after some quick math it seems the sum total of my freelance earnings comes to about $9500 since 1990.

Maybe this is how most people do it, and I’m not as pampered as I think. But I do know that starting from zero and attempting to get the attention of an entire city is completely new to me, and developing the skill to pound on doors and get a job is like learning a new language: it’s absolutely exhausting, and I can only get about half as much done every day as I expect. I’ve been sleeping a lot, and I don’t think it’s depression—it feels very much like a protection against nerve-shredding stress. Even when I’m looking at job postings, it’s very easy to psych myself out. I’ll have the skills required, but they’ll add a line like “Some knowledge of Spanish would be helpful,” and I’ll think, “Well, damn. My skills meet the minimum, but what are the odds there’s someone else in this city who meets or exceeds that minimum and also speaks Spanish?” Or I’ll see an “entry-level” position, and I’ll think, “I bet that means they’re expecting a college graduate fifteen years younger than me.” And then I can actually agonize for up to twenty minutes wondering whether it’s worth going to the trouble of applying. Multiply this by fifty, and then I only send out about five queries, none of which I'm particularly optimistic about. Then add the irony that I'm agonizing, strategizing, and using all my fighting dander to think about a series of jobs that I really don't even want.

This slowness of mine isn’t quite as stupid as it sounds, because I have some form of attention deficit disorder that makes this particular kind of work—the proper filling out of many many forms—much more stressful than it is for a normal person, like writing with my left hand. In fact, when my friend Jen recently suggested that I might get a performer’s license, I brightened, because busking sounds a little more in keeping with my tendencies. (No forms! Oh wait--except for the license.) But then there’s the additional problem: what do I actually do? I don’t play any instruments. I’m not a particularly skilled singer. I can’t break dance. I’m a friendly comedian type. If you sat and talked with me for ten minutes, you might find me charming enough to toss money my way. But comedy takes more time to present than people have when they’re moving from the A to the E train at 42nd Street. And I suddenly can’t tell: is this realistic thinking or am I psyching myself out again? I have no idea because I have nothing to compare it with.

Hey, I just thought of something: I could lead tours! I’m personable, entertaining, love to teach . . . And as soon as I thought of this, I thought, “And I’d be competing for those jobs with every goddamn actor in town.” And my next thought was, how many jobs like that are there? What’s the competition like? Am I good enough to make the effort worthwhile, or should I save my energy for something that’s less of a pipe dream? And would it pay enough to make rent? And then—you didn’t see this—I started pacing the room, thinking about it, wondering how to even get the answers to these questions. It could be half a day of research before I even figure out that it’s not worth the trouble. This paragraph has taken me fifteen minutes to write. On the plus side, it feels like I'm doing something instead of waiting around for no one to call me.

(You know what job I’d be good at? Bestselling humor author. I don’t seem cut out for much else. So where’s my agent? Aargh! )

Anyway, I just thought I’d share a little bit of what the process has been like. Those of you who read this blog and have been through it might be able to tell me what parts of my thinking are wise and which I need to learn to ignore. (P.S. Jen—your letter came yesterday. Thanks!)

While I’m at it, I have to add something else: my computer connection sucks beyond the legends of sucking. It was my roommates’ bright idea to give us a wi-fi network rather than running a splicer and sending acres of cords into every bedroom, and I guess I can see the value in that. But in practice, it has meant that my signal is so intermittent that I can literally print only five words at a time before the system pauses to think—and it pulls the same wait-twenty-seconds crap EVERY TIME I fill out a single entry in a single form. So yesterday I went on and jobs@nytimes, and although I spent all day going through their resume process, I only actually managed to apply for five jobs, and spent at least ninety minutes of that time just waiting for the damned computer to unfreeze. The rest of the time was spent clicking through to various sites, reading every job in depth, clicking to another site, etc. . . .and with my shitty connection, the whole process took about four times as long as it needed to. Very frustrating. Would it be worth it for me to go down the street to UPS and use their $3-for-ten-minutes connection instead? Again, I don’t know. Pile another quandary on the heap and watch as I circle the whole thing in helpless madness like Hobbes’ ass, unable to choose among twenty identical-seeming options. (And that’s how bad it is—I think the “Hobbes’ ass” reference is an error [I was thinking of some famous ass that died because it was given two exactly equal bowls of food and couldn’t decide which one to eat; death by abulia] but I can’t even justify spending time to double-check the reference when there’s jobs to be hunted down. How un-Davelike!)

All of you who know me know that I’m basically a sunny cheerful person, and I hate to be depressed. And I’m trying like all hell to be conscientious, send out my resumes to all and sundry, and spend hours every day hunting opportunities down. I’ve sent my applications to ten employment agencies, and in over a week none of them have even asked me to come in for a skills test. (Is that normal, or is that I sign I should stop trying that area?) And weekends are the worst, because I’ll think of someone I might want to contact and then think, “Oh, wait; they’re probably closed till Monday.” (Or do publishing houses, for example, stay open all weekend? Heap . . .) It’s not even a question of swallowing my pride. I’ve been a t.a. and a comedian; I haven’t had pride in years. The question is what to swallow it with, in a town with a million restaurants. Sigh.

P.S. I’ve checked. They don’t have any greeting card writer jobs in New York City. At least, not on the web.

Friday, April 07, 2006

What a Difference Consciousness Makes

A brief note: Last night, while rolling into slumber, I thought of a line so funny I actually sat up and wrote it down. Here it is:

"I'm not a ne'er-do-well. But I am a ne'er-dowel. You will never see me use tiny round sticks of wood."

The moral of this story is, either do your joke-writing early in the day, or contrive to have your audience be very very tired.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Three Cheers!

Three things are cheering me up right now.

1. ) I sold the car! It's funny. I couldn't get any love when it was at $800, but the moment I dropped it to $650, the phone wouldn't stop vibrating. And I don't know what this means exactly, but the people who responded were named Miguel, Luis, Pablo, Jorge, Carlos, Miguel again, and Luis again. If these guys are anything like the Miguels and Pablos I want to junior high with, my car has already been pimped beyond the dreams of gaucherie.

2.) I got a freelance gig! My friend Ellen put me in touch with a guy who needs a book of crosswords edited. It's 50 hours of work for $1000, which means I've got another month of rent potentially covered. The only downside is that it takes them sixty days to turn around payment. But still--it's my first job in New York, and I feel a whole lot happier now.

3.) Right now I'm watching 1958's St. Louis Blues, a biopic of W. C. Handy that not only stars (and features plentiful singing by) Nat King Cole, but co-stars Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson, and most especially Eartha Kitt, who is every bit as sultry and wonderful and dominant onscreen as Lauren Bacall. But what's even cooler is that the theme of this evening is "movies where someone goes temporarily blind." Next up is something called The Invisible Ray.

I guess what I'm saying is, life is temporarily good. Now all they need is an Eartha Kitt festival.

Weather Report

It's snowing outside my window now. And I mean thickly---this is Christmas-music-video snow. Has someone contacted Punxsutawney Phil? Because when your job is to predict six more weeks of winter and you wind up giving us more than nine, if it's not senility it may be criminal derangement. Time to give the job to a new groundhog who respects the rule of law.

Another Day, Another Damn Crisis

In the interest of being actually hired by a temp agency, I just altered my resume to suggest that I know, and I quote, "a little Excel." (It appears to be the ne plus ultra, and my lack of such knowledge is why I haven't been getting any calls.) I don't think I've ever so much as seen the damn program. Does anyone out there have a copy of Microsoft Office or the like, and who can therefore send me a free copy? I clearly don't have enough money to buy it myself at the moment.

. . . But I Know What I Like To Laugh At

I've been thinking over my favorite artists and I'm starting to worry that I don't actually like art at all. Because although I've studied art and decided on favorites, just like any humanities major would do, it turns out that my favorite artists are all the funny ones: Paul Klee, Rene Magritte, Claes Oldenberg, Marc Chagall, Roy Liechtenstein. Do I like their use of color? Damned if I know; I'm colorblind. Is their composition brilliant? Couldn't tell ya. It doesn't seem to matter to me what their genre is, just as long as they traffic in whimsy.

I could, of course, attempt to defend this with high-sounding philosophy. I could tell you that art is an attempt to express the ineffable, and that the gesture that most reaffirms life is not the accurate expression of reality qua reality, but the joyous surprise, the playful dream rendered plausible and concrete. To an extent I even believe this, since it overlaps neatly with my concept of jokes-as-my-personal-religion. But when it comes right down to it, I think I just love cartoons. And I love the artists I do because they make cartoons more socially acceptable. Take, for example, Klee's "Twittering Machine," which, if rendered in black and white, could be a one-panel straight out of the New Yorker:

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I was reminded of this the other night when I was taking the A train to the Village. All the stations on the A line have more or less the same structure---same turnstiles, same white tile on the walls, same beleaguered-looking attendants in scruffy glass booths, etc. But a few of the stations have distinctive character. The station at Columbus Circle, for example, is festooned with art relating to Christopher Columbus. The station at 81st and 8th Avenue, which leads directly into the Museum of Natural History, has pictures of fossils and insects everywhere.

But my favorite station is the one at 14th Street and 8th Avenue, which is the home of an installation called Life Underground, by Dean Otterness. And Dean's work is exactly the kind of thing I love. It's not exactly one artwork---rather, the entire station is sort of haunted by tiny bronze cartoon characters acting out subversive little ironic tableaux, often involving policemen, money, and/or getting eaten. I took a few camera-phone pictures a few weeks ago and finally figured out how to mail them to myself, and with any luck, they'll appear here where I paste them:

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And here's my favorite, which actually invades public space:

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There are at least eight more tucked in various crannies, and I keep finding new ones. Anyway, it's precisely this surprising little touch of warmth and humor that makes 14th Street my favorite stop, and Dean Otterness my new favorite public artist. In fact, when you consider how much I love subway trains (an issue I'll deal with in a future post), and the fact that it therefore mixes humor, art, myth, and surprising humanity, I'm tempted to say that the 14th Street station is the closest thing I have these days to an honest-to-god chapel.

Best. Segue. Ever.

I was watching 1935's Manhattan Melodrama a few moments ago, and I just saw something so cool I must share. The movie's a standard story about two kids who grow up together and then wind up on opposite sides of the law. (Played in adult form by Clark Gable and William Powell.) After the standard opening scene there comes the inevitable time-passes scene with the dates flashing past: 1907 . . . 1908 . . . 1909 . . . on up to 1920. Then, once "1920" stops to let you know that's the present year of the action we cut to . . . The 19 and 20 on a roulette wheel in Gable's gambling establishment! I'll be happy for a week on that.

And just a trivia reminder: Manhattan Melodrama was the movie that John Dillinger was leaving when he got gunned down on the street. It's only appropriate---apparently the gangster dies at the end of the movie as well.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Pelican Elvis

I think I solved the photo problem I had earlier through my usual roundabout-and-jerry-rigged method of poking and pasting in ever more complicated concatenations. At any rate, on the assumption that you can all see the photos now, here's one of the hallmarks of Pensacola: the downtown area is filled with public art depicting variations on the pelican. This one was my favorite.

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