I have an aggregator I turn to while the coffee drips. Look, it suggests, at this recent act of human tastelessness. Not violence this time, or government-sponsored disgrace. Now it’s the Halloween costumes, the blackfaces and recent victims of race-based killing. Now it’s the pair of English women who went as World Trades North and South. Blame, obviously, the women. Stupid women. Blame the costume contest and the club who threw it. Onward. Did you read about the huge athlete racist who made the grave mistake of letting someone record his racism? It’s because the NFL is full of disgusting aberrations like … look here, they tag this stuff so we don’t miss it during our morning laps. Let’s pull up another take on that appalling photo of those evil bitches from the UK. Here’s an aspiring young writer who really nails what’s so wrong about people like this. This guy gets it. He had that other sharp post about how the baseball teams are boring because they’re white. Very charged headlines. Heavy circulation. Wait, I am sorry, are those people falling from the Sharpied windows of South’s costume? And here they are out of costume, the sluts. Over here’s a bit more about the fat cornfed NFL fuck who embodies racial hatred. And what about these teammates standing up for him—how idiotic can you get? How bamboozled? I am wholesomer already and haven’t even breakfasted. Yes, this culture of invidious masculinity has indeed got to change! Now I can face the day. Now I can move nobly through the outside world, with its colorful people I do not even remotely hate while walking safely around them, and its women I can empathy onto and consider official equals while appreciating their lovely curves, yes, purely aesthetic, tights-as-pants, what a world, so flat, so equalized. There is no pesky topography for content—all clicks are equal, the currency’s value is set. Question: Is trafficking terror with warnings and explications a moral approach to trafficking terror? Answer: we still fear brown people and want to destroy women. Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: this is an argument for men who wonder why she won’t smile back. This is an argument for reading more novels.
God created NFL football to save America from Sunday afternoons. He must have. Even the most fundamental believers will accept this athletic exception to the otherwise day of rest. They have to: it’s essential to Sunday Night Sanity, to play prevent defense on the weekend’s fizzling malaise. The faith has its own commandments on football Sundays: Thou shall gorge on food; thou shall leave no beer unfinished; Thou shall be entertained; Thou shall rest—the week is not here yet. And why, my child, did you think Monday Night Football exists?
It’s embarrassing but undeniable: he had intended to be cool. Could he really claim that he wore those glasses by chance? Was that habitus an accident? Was that tone of voice not an achievement of sorts? But now the last drop of intention dissolved like ice in a glass. He had reached the apotheosis of cool: he was cool without trying. He didn’t even need to make a Point.
Inspired by the iPod feature of listening to audiobooks at double-speed, I started watching movies that way. It has completely renewed my appreciation of all films that don’t involve terror, violence and suspense. Most romantic comedies, foreign films, documentaries, and all those brooding masterpieces like Eyes Wide Shut or Knife in the Water (including the whole corpus of Tarkovsky), take on new significance when they are constrained to a mere thirty-eight minutes. And then there is what Brecht called the Verfremdungseffekt (alienation-effect) of double- or triple-time watching. I no longer weep at the tribulations of Barbara Streisand or Tom Hanks: I judge them. It has also made me rethink porn.
There has always been a leering disrespect between the arts and sciences, a belief that the two camps are made of radically different people who cannot and should not care about one another. But when considered carefully, it becomes clear that the two serve a vital, symbiotic role in civilization. Science attempts to answer the question “What the fuck is going on?”, while Art explores the vital follow-up, “Well how the fuck are we supposed to feel about that?” If we add that politics, when functional, considers the subsequent “Ok, but what the fuck are we going to do about it?”, it seems natural that all areas of achievement may one day get along without all the sneering or—as presently seems to be the problem—attempting to answer each others’ questions. Politicians do not know what the fuck is going on, scientists do not know how the fuck we’re supposed to feel about it, and artists haven’t got a fucking clue what to do. That much, at least, is clear.
A philosophy graduate student with a vocabulary problem once told me I had an “epicene handshake.” How I retaliated at the time is not important; as you will see, he was just a bad handshaker, and now I can mock him indirectly in print. All handshakers—although I really mean men here, please forgive me—can be categorized with the use of two binaries: there are partial-handers and full-handers; and there are quick-grabbers and smooth-envelopers. I am a smooth-enveloping full-hander. This is the right way to be. A man should always offer another man all of his hand; that much is certain, I think, and so I won’t bother with partial-handers. But when a man offers himself he should also do it slowly and smoothly, feeling out his partner, confident in his dialogical and full extension, easing into the inevitable squeeze. The quick-grabbing full-hander, on the other hand—yes, I just did that—is panicky about his masculinity, and therefore exaggerates it. The worst part about the quick-grabbing full-hander, however, is that in his rush to squeeze he will often cut off a smooth-enveloping full-hander before full-handedness has been consummated; and as a result he will probably think that the smooth-enveloping full-hander is … a mere partial-hander. Or, in other words: epicene. This is unjust, and also might be a metaphor for something or other. It should probably suffice for me to mention that the philosophy graduate student is now a police officer.
“One good thing about your brother,” my father said, “is that he will never be seriously depressed.” This was a remark on the deadpan practicality of his nature, utilitarian almost to a fault (“Why don’t you get a girlfriend?” I asked him. Answer: “I’m afraid she’ll be emotional”). We were born together, but he was the first to be discharged, the first to stand, to walk, to build—I was the hesitant one, unsteady on my feet. Nowadays, on nights when I’m too anxious to sleep, I walk across all the hallways of the house to my brother’s room, empty since he’s gone to college, and tuck myself in under his old comforter. His bedroom, the smallest in the house by far, must have been meant for a servant; it has a window with an uninspiring view of the corner of the driveway and is tucked off unobtrusively into the floor plan, so far away from the center of the house it doesn’t receive wifi. On the other hand, my room is impressive: a shadowy dungeon with four doors and heavy curtains, a canopied bed, menacing mirrors and too many books. But his is more comfortable. As a spartan boy, or perhaps just a miserly one, my brother’s room is welcomingly free of clutter. His bed is smaller than mine, the sheets are older, and the furniture is from when he was in middle school, but he doesn’t mind. Instead of books, his shelves have rows of small robotic models —his enduring childhood hobby. When I enter his space in those very early hours, sometimes striking 4 a.m., those toys are the last things I see before I close my eyes. I don’t dream. And in the morning, when the tranquil California sun comes through that wide plain window, waking up is simple.
The idea of the midlife crisis is boring, and misleading. Here is a better idea: the 35-40 percent-life significance. I will need a new name, but the idea is powerful. It explains, for one, why Jane Austen’s young heroines are so mature. These days, when Westerners live to about 80, it’s not until about 28 to 32 years old that something actually matters to them—before then life is only childhood. Nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Bennett, however, is really on top of things. Maybe because she’ll only live into her fifties? Matters get a little more complicated when we turn to high school movies, however. Why do we take such pleasure in seeing children behave as if their problems will actually make a difference in their lives? I think we’re rebelling against my idea. Every high school movie is the fulfillment of a wish: the wish that meaning might be created by something more than just the passing of the years—because meaning dwells in Molly Ringwald’s every gesture, doesn’t it?
Like any thinking Patriot, I’m overjoyed by our 18th government shutdown. Now, a lot of reputable people seem to be concerned about this “farce” qua “disaster.” E.g., a bunch of totally unexceptional European “powers” are all upset they won’t be able to visit our National Wonders and give us their expensive money; rich tree-huggers can’t drive their Teslas without the car’s battery exploding; a bunch of nerds can’t look at your food. People around the world are claiming that our government has stopped working, that our system is broken, and that both parties are “suicidal” and willing to play politics with billions and billions and billions—trillions?—of dollars and a million public workers’ jobs. But this government shutdown tells us just the opposite; it tells us that our demi-divinely framed republican system, our representational democracy, is alive, well, and functioning as intended. There’s a lot of hand-wringing over the idea that the Interests have taken our government from us. One side says we’re in the monogrammed pockets of corporations, under the greased palm of the Oil/Pharma/Farm Lobby, and, of course, trapped in the vaunted military industrial complex. But a shutdown is the last thing any of the Interests want. In FY 2012, the US government awarded $515 billion in contracts to private firms, the majority of which fit squarely within the “industrial” part of the military industrial complex—the Department of Defense accounts for 80 percent of government contracts, and the top three individual contractors are Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon (and don’t worry, Big Oil and Wall Street are up there too!). During the last shutdown, one fifth of all contracts in the Capital region—by far the largest aggregate recipient of federal contracts—were suspended, requiring the private firms to furlough employees due to their sudden and massive loss in revenues. Many furloughed employees never received back pay; many of the contracting firms didn’t either. And then there’s all those damn straight-D public sector workers—this 800,000 strong illuminati—who can’t stand being unproductive without being able to spend your money. So who does pull the strings? It’s not the Interests. It’s not the unions. By golly it’s us: the People! The beautiful mechanism of popular and pure democratic pressure on our elected officials is working. Enough voters hate the government enough that shutting it down is not as bad as actually letting it run. In America, we damn well don’t trust the government. We know that none of it is “essential”; and if we know the “essential” parts aren’t essential, then why should we care if the “non-essential” functions stop functioning? In crypto-communist countries like France, Germany, and Japan, a patriotic government shutdown is not even within the realm of possibility. Thankfully, enough American legislators feel enough pressure from enough ordinary American voters to see that an American shutdown is desirable; indeed, moving to end one could also mean moving to end one’s career in the House. And so we have ourselves a shutdown! It’s called the Will of the People.
I understand the pro-tennis ritual of being handed two tennis balls, then getting thrown another one, inspecting all three in a triangle formation, and rejecting the third ball. But what I don’t understand is being handed three balls, immediately rejecting one of them, then getting thrown a fourth ball, inspecting those three in a triangle formation, and then rejecting the fourth ball. That’s superfluous. Insanity. It’s like stopping to wash your hands while washing your hands.