Monday, April 30, 2007

Eating shit

One of the worst things about working in the corporate world is that sooner or later you're required to eat shit. For the most part, I've been fortunate. I've only had to do this a couple times over the course of my career in publishing, remarkable considering the anal and schoolmarmish-types the field tends to attract. Last week I had to endure the annual idiotic ritual known as "self-appraisal." Each year I have to fill out forms describing my job's responsibilities and whether or not I fulfilled those responsibilities. Not surprisingly, I gave myself good marks. Considering the various major changes going on within my department, I thought I did a fine job. Unfortunately for me, my supervisor decided a couple minor and trivial incidents (neither of which had any significant impact on the costs or schedules of my projects) was enough to slant one of my ratings toward the negative. It wasn't the criticism that I minded so much as the fact that by focusing on two minor incidents, it ignored the fact that I had no problems with the majority of the books I worked on. I was allowed to disagree with this rating in the "Employee's Comments" section of the form, but as I've learned from past experience this will most likely fall on deaf ears. So, that's it. I eat shit and smile and pretend everything is still hunky-dory. Meanwhile, I have to keep my eyes open for a position where my efforts will be appreciated.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

He was cursing at passing cars

Next to stories about fare beaters on the Light Rail and shoplifters at the Rite Aid, the most popular stories in The Jersey Journal about my fellow residents are those involving drunks making some sort of public display. Not a week goes by without the Jersey running two or three stories similar to the one I read today: "He was Cursing at Passing Cars." Except for the names, the stories are almost always the same: an intoxicated person starts shouting obscenities in public, the police ask the person to stop, the intoxicated person becomes belligerent, the police arrest the intoxicated person (usually after some form of resistance). Anyone who's ever seen the television show Cops knows the scenario. Unfortunately, these stories never mention what the drunks are actually yelling about. I'd be curious to know whether there were any common themes to these drunken tirades. Since this type of behavior occurs with such frequency, I wonder if there is some primal human need being expressed. What drives a drunken person into the streets? Is the abnormal behavior merely the result of alcohol addiction or does alcohol provide an outlet for emotions that can no longer be contained? I'm curious because my own experience with intoxication goes the other way: I go in. Instead of becoming more animated, like a cuttlefish, I assume the properties of the furniture.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Whoever came up with the idea that people would shell out millions of dollars for a couple seconds of tinny white noise played over a cell phone was some sort of genius. To me, it's the equivalent of selling people garbage. And I'm not even judging the quality of the songs themselves. Do people really derive enjoyment from those short bursts of irritating noise? I don't get it. Maybe I've been missing out all of these years. Instead of investing in quality recordings, I should have been scouring the trash heap for warped 45s and broken cassettes.

More old fogey talk, I know, but that's what I'm here for.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Great news!

Not only may cell phones be responsible for future massive food shortages, they may also cause brain tumors, kill brain cells to the extent that teenagers may go senile by the time they reach middle age, reduce sperm counts in men, and may be linked to cancer. Will this have any effect on cell phone users? Of course not! But at least now I have some scientific evidence to back my refusal to join the cell phone crowd. The urge for humans to have conversations like this is just too strong:

Cell phone user: Yeah, I'm on the train.
Cell phone user: I'll be home in a few minutes.
Cell phone user: I'll see you in a bit.

Now when people look at me like I'm a freak because I don't have a cell phone, I'll just say, "Think of the bees, man, think of the bees."

Friday, April 13, 2007

Empty gestures

I was ignoring the Imus spectacle hoping it would just go away. But when Sean Hannity (aka "Rush Limbaugh for Dummies") announced his firing yesterday with the gravitas of Walter Cronkite announcing the death of JFK, I realized we had reached a new low in public discourse in this country.

I'm not an Imus fan. I always found his barely coherent mumbling annoying and can't remember ever finding his attempts at humor funny. His comment was stupid and offensive, but was this the first time he's ever made a stupid and offensive comment? I doubt it. Does this make him above criticism? Of course not. Criticize him all you want. That's how free speech should work. What made this different than the Michael Richards and Mel Gibson dress rehearsals was that the loudest voices in the media claiming to be offended (strangely, not the victims of the insult themselves), smelt blood and would not be satisfied with the numerous apologies and public shame and humiliation inflicted on Imus. They sensed a kill and would not be content until the offending party was silenced (at least until he signs a new contract with another station). Is this what we've come to? Are we all such a bunch of thin-skinned babies that whenever we hear something we don't like we have to cry and carry on until the bad man is made to go away?

Last night while watching a tribute to Kurt Vonnegut on the News Hour, there was a clip of him lamenting the fact that we no longer live in a country where you can say anything you want, no matter how stupid or offensive. After this sad spectacle, I suspect he's right.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Kurt Vonnegut was one of my literary heroes as a youth. He was probably my first favorite writer (not counting Matt Christopher); my earliest independent reading consisting mainly of paperbacks of books associated with movies (Jaws, Deliverance, The Exorcist, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 etc.) that I picked up at the local drugstore. I'm pretty sure the first book of his I read was the short story collection, Welcome to the Monkey House (I think the freaky artwork on the cover convinced me into giving him a try). "Harrison Bergeron" was the story that hooked me (I can still remember pressing it on my brother, "You've got to read this!"). From that moment on, I set about reading all of his books (Player Piano being the only one I never got around to; I think I read that Vonnegut himself didn't think it was that good). I read everything else up to Breakfast of Champions, his latest book at the time (Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Sirens of Titan, and Breakfast of Champions being my favorites). I was disappointed by his next two books, Slapstick and Jailbird (I was such a big fan at that point that I actually bought the hardcover versions!). They suffered from a creeping cutesiness, I thought. When I went to college and discovered other writers, my infatuation pretty much came to an end. And if I didn't read any of his later books, I always considered him an old friend and would read reviews or interviews just to find out what he was up to lately (I recently spent a lunch hour at B & N reading and being entertained by a couple of essays in A Man Without a Country). Last night, saddened by the news of his death (of course, in the world of television, he only rated a few seconds at the end of Nightline), I picked up Hocus Pocus to read before bed (it was one of his later books that I had heard good things about, but never got around to reading). I ended up reading three chapters and staying up much later than usual. The Vonnegut voice was unmistakable: cranky, funny, sad and amused by the randomness and cruelty of human affairs. I think I may have some catching up to do with my old friend.

Friday, April 06, 2007

What's so good about Good Friday?

This was one of the all-time mysteries of my Catholic childhood. It wasn't good for Jesus and it sure as hell wasn't good for us suffering through the longest, most boring mass of the year. Not even the bit in the reading of the Passion when we were encouraged to personify the blood-thirsty mob by shouting (mumbling, really) "Crucify him! Crucify him!" could rouse us from our doldrums. What made matters worse, at the height of my parents' efforts to make my siblings and I good Catholics, Good Friday was only the second of four consecutive masses we had to endure (Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday being the others along with Easter Sunday--one involved kissing a cross and another washing someones feet, but I no longer remember which). I do remember that on Good Friday the immense, very realistic, crucified Christ that hung above the altar at St. Veronica's was placed in a giant purple velvet bag, later to be unveiled, still nailed to the cross, on Easter Sunday (hardly the effect they were going for, I would think, but I may be wrong). Wait, I am wrong. As that crazed sadomasochist Mel Gibson recently demonstrated, violence still sells, and Christ nailed to the cross is an image that's still pretty hard to beat. Would Jesus be who He is today if He died for our sins with a massive heart attack or a brain aneurysm?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

God's Lonely Men, Part 2

There's this guy I see most mornings while waiting for the bus. Late 40s, early 50s, unshaven, disheveled-looking, beat-up car. He arrives across the street to await the opening of the uptown storefront branch of the public library. He doesn't have any books with him, so I assume he's there to use one of the computers. His regular routine also suggests he doesn't have a steady job. Or does he? I mean, he is there just about every morning, so in a sense whatever he's up to has become his job. But what is he up to? He's often there before the librarian, waiting on her when she's late. I don't get a sense the two are very friendly. I think she probably thinks he's a bit of a pest. Some weirdo loser too cheap to buy his own computer. One morning, he started to park on the side of the street where I wait for the bus. He didn't see the parking police rolling up behind him to clear for street cleaning, so I warned him to move or else he would get a ticket (he was climbing out of the passenger side door because the driver's side must have been damaged). He made some sort of joke as he got back into his car to move. His jovial manner suggested that he recognized me as a fellow traveler and I can't say he was wrong. For some reason, the idea of me a few years down the line, lurking in a library with a just-rolled-out-bed-and-I-don't-give-a-fuck look doesn't seem that far-fetched. Is this guy giving me a glimpse of my future?

There are others like us, I've noticed, moving about our routines in the neighborhood, always alone, some barely keeping it together. A guy I noticed from the laundromat (did Hopper ever do a painting of a laundromat? He should have) almost lost it one day while waiting for a bus that was late. When I had seen him previously with his pork pie hat, vest, and beard, I thought he looked like some avant-garde jazz musician. When I saw him pitching a fit in the street while waiting for the bus, cursing and carrying on and making a general spectacle of himself, I realized he was probably nuts. When he finally boarded the bus, it appeared he had other health issues as well. One ankle and foot was very swollen (gout?) causing him to limp badly. It was so swollen he was forced to wear a slipper on that foot. The guy was a mess, an angry mess, which is the worst kind.

Another guy I see regularly shares my enthusiasm for nearby Chinese and Italian restaurants, but I've also seen him in the laundromat. This guy is a complete mess, too. Tall, gaunt, with Coke bottle Buddy Holly glasses perched on a hawk-like nose, he's the dorkiest kid you knew from school super-sized. I don't think he's on the ball mentally either. Unlike me, he doesn't mind taking his meals alone, sitting at a table in front of the restaurant, looking out on the street. Christ, it would break your heart to see him. And yet, I strongly identify with this guy. I probably have more in common with this guy than I do with a lot of my friends.

Why do I notice all these loners? Am I trying to reassure myself by comparing my situation to theirs? Why do I do this? Also, where are the women in similar situations? Are they holed up in their apartments with the TV and their cats or are they just more practical in avoiding the solitary life?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Time out for the movies

I thought I'd take a little time out for a couple reviews of movies I've seen recently:

Zodiac: Having hated "Se7en" (dumbest title/spelling ever?) and "Fight Club," I didn't have high hopes for this, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's very good. All the performances are good and the movie never drags (even at its close to 3 hours length). Highly recommended.

This weekend I saw the opportunity to theater jump at the local movieplex creating my own Sad Clown/Happy Clown double feature (Reign Over Me and Blades of Glory).

Reign Over Me: Yeah, I saw all the bad reviews, too, but I also saw some surprisingly good ones (Anthony Lane in particular). And, yeah, I hated "The Mind of the Married Man" as much as the next guy, so to say I went into this with low expectations would be an understatement. It's not that good. You don't see grief as a subject in too many movies, but this one botches it pretty bad. Adam Sandler's character doesn't seem to be grieving so much as he's become mentally ill. As a succesful dentist before his family is killed on 9/11, you would think he would have more of a support system in place than a video game and copies of The River and Quadrophenia. It just seems odd. Even odder is the dumb subplot Don Cheadle's character has to contend with (one of his patients wants to go down on him). The ending is even more ridiculous. Not recommended.

Blades of Glory: Xmastime hates Will Ferrell for some reason. I don't. I'll watch him in just about anything (although I did draw the line with that soccer movie--that just looked too damn cute for me). I missed the first 10 or 15 minutes of Blades of Glory (my calculation was slightly off in jumping from Reign Over Me--plus, I hadn't counted on the theater employee who had just seen me in one theater, standing in front of the door to the theater where Blades of Glory was playing: "Middle-Aged Man Arrested for Sneaking into Ice Skating Comedy"). Although it didn't provide as many solid laughs as Old School, there were some mildly amusing bits throughout. Strangely, the biggest laugh for me involved a decapitation. Recommended for when it comes out on DVD.

Children of Men: This was kind of disappointing. The premise was interesting, but I never felt like I had enough information to know what the hell was going on. Maybe some people like being plunged into a sea of confusion (maybe that was even the director's intent), but I don't. Recommended if you're in a gloomy mood and don't mind being confused.

Free Blog Counter

Blog Counter