Simmering my hatred for Rachel Ray on low heat for 20 minutes

I never caught the show Californication until just recently, but I liked it for many reasons, most of which have to do with me wanting to be Hank Moody, a once-famous dark author struggling with writer’s block and knocking around LA in a beat-up Porsche.  I wouldn’t even need the stable of barely-legal hot women Moody beds every episode; I really just want the rat-trap Venice apartment and the southern California sun 360 days a year with no sign of a full-time job.  There are times I miss every little aspect of my brief time in LA back in 2008, and when I watch that show, it makes me want to be back so much more.

But one of the many other things that also resonated was the character Chloe Metz, who was kinda-sorta this Rachel Ray-inspired character (see here for a clip).  More specifically, the Lew Ashby character summed it up with the term “hate-fucking”, which is where you want to sleep with someone but you also want to punch them in the face, which was pretty much my initial reaction to Rachel Ray. I first saw her stupid cooking shows on cable, sitting around my Astoria apartment on Saturday afternoons, killing time between Monster Truck showdown and when the first early reruns of ER showed up.  She had a certain attractiveness to her, more of a cuteness than a sexiness.  But she also reminded me of so many of the high-rent women in New York that I ran across in my dating disasters, which mostly made me want to throw things at the TV and drink heavily.  High maintenance is fine if you’re building a supercomputer or a nuclear reactor, but doesn’t work well in dating scenarios.

I don’t care for or follow Rachel Ray anymore, but the other night, I was reminded of her insanity because I had a recipe from some magazine of hers for an eggplant and zucchini Rattatouille that claimed to be a half-hour recipe.  We have this recipe system where my wife rips out recipes from a million different magazines that we get, a lot of them things she gets for free from work, and they all go in various boxes and binders, and then we later sift through this rubble and pick out 7 random things to try out per week.  And this one looked good, from the standpoint that it’s winter and it looked like a nice “warm” dish.  (And yes, I’m a pussy because winter here is like 60 degrees, and in the city of my birth in North Dakota, it’s roughly 70 degrees colder, and in the land of my childhood back in Indiana, it’s maybe 18 with roughly two feet of snow.)  So I bought the two dozen required ingredients, and did not read the recipe until I was in front of the stove and prepping the vegetables, and then I realized the error in choosing this damn thing.

The odds of finishing this damn thing in 30 minutes were roughly the same as the odds of driving from Philadelphia to Tampa in under three hours.  For example, step 7 just said “roast the red peppers”.  Never mind that something else was already going at a different temperature in the oven which precluded the use of the broiler; you can’t roast red peppers in under about 18 minutes, plus the time it takes to peel off the charred skin.  Even if I had a second oven and hired labor that I could just tell “go roast these damn peppers, chop chop”, I’d probably need to know this in advance.  Like, step 1 would be “you’re going to need roasted red peppers for step 7, so get that shit started now.”  The zucchini was also sliced, breaded, and lightly fried, which for two large zucchini, frying on each side for one minute, is roughly a half an hour right there.  Also, this recipe involved using every damn pot and pan in my kitchen three times.

And here’s what really burns me.  A month or two ago, I made this biryani from scratch, from some British magazine.  It was a huge pain in the ass, because it had maybe three dozen different moving parts, and just the prep alone took me about an hour, plus maybe 40 minutes of active work and an hour of simmering.  And of course, every ingredient was in metric, so I’ve got the iPad sitting on the counter the whole time, googling how many ounces are in a liquid furlough or whatever.  (And if your god damned metric system is so great, why don’t you go down to the local pub and order a 473 milliliter instead of drinking a pint?)  But here’s the takeaway: this biryani was GOOD.  It tasted way better than if I just bought a paste or powder in the ethnic cuisine aisle of the Kroger, mixed it with three other things, and called it a day.  This Rachel Ray monstrosity?  Not an order of magnitude better than just throwing some vegetables and a jar of Ragu in a pot and simmering for a half-hour.

Maybe I did it all wrong though.  Maybe I need to buy her overpriced pans and her signature olive oil and her bright orange plastic tong set and her made-in-china knife set.  Maybe I need to put on a stupid grin and get all Stepford and buy a necklace with giant beads on it and say “YUM-O!” when I taste things.  Maybe if I act so annoying that the average person wants to punch me in the face while I am cooking, I will magically teleport through the time-space fabric of the universe as I am cooking, and six hours of labor will become 30 minutes.

Fuck it, next time I will just get the Safeway store brand ragu sauce and spend the extra five and a half hours playing Black Ops.

Movie Review: Little Fockers

(NOTE: This review contains spoilers!)

Little Fockers is the latest chapter of the Meet the Parents torture-porn franchise, and is by far, the most interesting, especially if you follow the BSDM-inspired pedophilia themes as much as most fans of director Paul Weitz’s earlier works.  It’s no secret that for years, Weitz has relished in injecting mainstream comedies (such as American Pie) with pro-fascist themes disguised as masturbation jokes.  (There is an uncut extra from the original film where the Jason Biggs character performs sexual acts on a freshly-baked pie for 24 minutes, carefully choreographed to mimic the scene of Rudolf Hess announcing the start of the Reich Party Congress, from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will.  The distorted-perspective shots alternate between close-ups of Biggs’ contorted face with telephoto shots of the Reichsarbeitsdienst in such a way that made the theme of supreme visualization of the Third Reich too obvious for teen flick audiences.)  When asked about this, in a 2002 press junket interview for the About a Boy film, Weitz responded by saying “I appreciated Ridley Scott’s bow to proto-fascism in Gladiator, but decided to appeal to the right-wing elements of the studio’s focus group mentality with a more concerted anti-gypsy approach, and less obvious homo-eroticism than simply having a 20-minute Russell Crowe/Joaquin Phoenix analingus scene.”  (Weitz was referring to a scene in a workprint version of the 2000 Scott film, which was shown to European audiences but eventually cut to achieve an MPAA R rating in the US.)

The film starts with Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) and his wife Pam, who now have five-year-old twins.  Gaylord has sunk into a depressive methamphetamine habit, a side effect of his years in the medical field, while Pam (reprised by Teri Polo) has resorted to stripping at a truck stop bump-and-grind club in rural Idaho in order to pay for his habit.  Early in the film, the children are abducted  by a crazed polygamist group, which is led by a former Mormon played by Bruce Dern.  Strangely enough, after this happens, a scant nine minutes into this two hour and 44 minute film, we do not see the children again, and their whereabouts are completely unexplained.  This is obviously confusing, as the trailers for the movie show numerous antics with the little twins throwing food, peeing on things, and tripping adults.  When I asked producer Jay Roach about this decision in an email, he replied “fuck all of those baby-crazy flyover state motherfuckers!  I really do not give a god damn about all of those Oprah-watching dumpy housewife pieces of living shit!  Every focus group I go to, it’s all ‘BABY BABY BABY BABY’ and I will be god damned if I bankroll a movie where we worship toddlers like they are nobel fucking prize winning scientists splitting atoms with a god damned supercollider!”

Robert De Niro’s character, former CIA agent Jack Byrnes, begins the film by being outed by a wikileaks-like web site (called “MyFaceLeak”, in an obvious “let’s change the name at the last second so we don’t get sued”, much like how in the 1996 action flick Eraser, the film was shot with the maker of the secret terrorist electro-magnetic pulse enema killing machine being Intel, because the director was not aware there was an actual company named Intel, requiring millions of dollars of dialogue relooping and digital logo editing to avoid litigation.)  De Niro is in a Thai forced labor camp, awaiting extradition to The Hague for war crimes; we find he was involved in a covert CIA campaign to aid the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party in the “white terror” systematic assassination campaign against members and sympathizers of the Dergue military junta.  There is a touching scene in which Panya, De Niro’s homosexual lover in the prison, asks him about his past, and De Niro goes into a weepy, 27-minute soliloquy describing the torment and sexual pleasure in killing and dismembering over 20,000 political activists in the mid-70s in the famine-stricken country.  ”We used to, we used to fuckin’, fuckin’ – we used to fuck the bodies of them commie eggplants,” he said, “and then we used to leave the corpses hung from trees in the town square and beat the families who tried to mourn those fuckin’ fuckers.  It was fuckin’ beautiful.  You lookin’ at me?”

The film drifts into serious art-school pretentiousness by the second hour, in which the chariot race from Ben Hur is parodied and filmed with the entire cast of the Little People Big World TV show being pulled by small breed dogs around a makeshift track in a 1970s Times Square, filled with heroin addicts, pornographers, and transsexual prostitutes.  At the end of the race, when Jesus would appear, Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman, again playing Gaylord’s parents, reveal that they have been taking large amounts of DMT and mescaline, and systematically kill, butcher, and then eat the corpses of all of the dogs and little people.  I’m not sure if this is some allegory for the Catholic church, or a criticism of it, but the entire fifteen-minute butchery/cannibalism scene is a musical number, with Streisand and Hoffman singing a Christmas-themed number called “It’s a dwarf-snuff, dog-eating, roman orgy winter wonderland.”  (You’ve probably heard the song in heavy rotation on FM radio and VH1 by the time this review is printed.)

By Act III, Gaylord has left on a sex tourist visit to Thailand, where he runs into the De Niro character at a brothel.  The two initially argue over the amount to tip an Asian boy for his virginity, and then a buddy-montage ensues, set to a remix of various American Negro spiritual songs as performed by T-Pain and Bristol Palin.  Shortly after this, Jack realizes the error of his ways, phones his one remaining friend in the CIA (a cameo appearance by Christopher Walken) and calls in an airstrike on the brothel’s coordinates.  The film suddenly cuts to black, and the ending credits roll over aerial footage of the jungle village being destroyed by napalm-dropping B-52 airstrikes and passes by AC-130 gunships.  Don’t forget to stay for the end of the credits, where they show the blooper reel, the highlight being 96 takes of Stiller trying to say “I didn’t start shooting meth into my balls to put up with this shit!” and bursting into laughter each time.

This film is obviously the big family hit for the holiday season, and I would heartily recommend it.  Four stars.

When I am not posting here I am conducting Real Business

This TV is Real Business

If I don’t post here for a few days, it isn’t because I am a lazy fuck that it still playing Call of Duty five hours a day.  It’s because I don’t like you.  YOU.  Not them, but YOU. It could be because you sent me a capital-C Christmas card that mentions Jesus, and the only Jesus in my life is the guy who works for Carlos and cleans my house every two weeks.  It could be because Farmville does not give me an option to come to your farm and spray it with kerosene and burn it to the ground like I’m Sherman with a hard-on, pushing for the coast.  It could be because I care about seeing the pictures of your kids as much as you care about seeing the pictures of my bowel movements I reply back with.  Or it could be because when I’m not posting here, I’m working on Real Business.  The three iPads I mounted to the dashboard of my Toyota Yaris do not pay for themselves.

I flew to Ontario earlier this week to meet with esteemed producer Uwe Boll, who I am hoping will executive-produce my next reality TV idea.  It is called Grave Robbers – three teams of people will fly to different cities and have a timed period to dig up and pilfer as many graves as possible.  There is a whole science to grave robbing, and during the start of each episode, the teams will case the place, looking for old money versus recent graves, trying to make correlations between types of names and monument sizes and complexities to determine who was buried with the most valuable jewelry.  They won’t all be looking for just pawnable gold and diamonds, either; in the pilot episode I filmed (well, videotaped on Digital8 with a handycam – I want to shoot the whole thing in 70mm color reversal, and I am reaching out to Academy Award-winning cinematographer John Toll (Braveheart, Thin Red Line, Tropic Thunder) to DP it) I had three teams of three going through the graves at Holy Cross cemetery up in Colma.  One of the genius teams, a bunch of gang-bangers from some shithole Compton housing project, started looking for antebellum-era vintage jewelry, and spent 45 minutes trying to crack open the vault of Manson murder victim Abigail Folger before being disqualified on a technicality (they used an illegal air chisel).  The real winner was this team of former Stanford archaeology students who immediately sprinted to Joe DiMaggio’s grave, cracked open the tomb in record time, and managed to eBay his skull for a low-six figure win.

I met with Boll in a Tim Horton’s, which is where all Real Business is conducted in the Great White North.  He was busy reviewing dailies from some unnamed project on an iPad, while a dweeby assistant brushed all of the powdered sugar off of a jelly donut for him.

“What are you working on?” I asked.

“We’re doing a remake of ET,” he said.

“You got the rights from Spielberg to do a remake of the movie ET?” I said, dumbfounded.

“No.  We’re doing a film adaptation of the ET video game for the Atari 2600.”

“Wasn’t that game a total piece of shit?” I said.  ”I thought it was the single cause of the entire billion-dollar crash of the US consumer video game market in 1983.  They took 100,000 copies of that game and four of the developers and sealed them in concrete in the bottom of a New Mexico landfill as a tax write-off.”

“Let me ask you this: what was the biggest film disaster of 2004?” he said, setting aside the iPad and grabbing a donut.

“I don’t know.  Was that the year Battlefield Earth came out?”

“Exactly,” he said, taking a bite and squirting strawberry jam all over his chin.

“Wait, it was, right?”

“No, it wasn’t.  And that’s my point – Americans can’t remember what happened last week, let alone what happened in 1983.  I could make a film that said Ronald Reagan killed all of those Iranian hostages and drank their blood to gain superpowers, and as long as I put some hot Angelina Jolie-looking chick’s ass in the trailer, people will still pay money to see it.  It’s the same reason my Fonzi porn just got greenlighted.”

“Fonzi porn?”

“You know, Fonzi, Arnold, ‘AAAAAY!’?  We’re making a series of Happy Days themed porno.  Jenna Jameson is going to play Joanie.  And you know that episode where the Fonzie jumps his chopper over the shark?  Well in this version, we’re going to have Fonzie FUCK a shark.”

“So it’s a pornographied vision of a 2010s idealized vision of a 70s TV show that was an idealized vision of the 50s??”

“And our first run is in Germany.  So it’s a pornographied vision of a German vision of a 2010s idealized vision of a 70s TV show that was an idealized vision of the AMERICAN 50s.  Germans in the 50s were still putting out fires and clearing rubble and dropping dead of typhus; we worshipped you fuckers with TVs and big-tittied wives baking pies all day,” he said.  ”So this version, it’s working on at least five different levels to hit every key demo we can.”

“So is it internet only?  How do you mass-market hardcore porn?”

“It’s German TV.  We can show double penetration gang rape during the dinner hour on broadcast TV if we want to.  None of this prudish American bullshit over there.”

“So I came to talk to you about this Grave Robber show.”

“Can’t do it,” he said.  ”51 Minds already has GraveBusta! with Busta Rhymes in production for VH1 for an early 2011 run.  I can’t get into a lawsuit with Endemol over some copycat production.  John de Mol has that Deal or No Deal money behind him – he could have every person in your hometown executed and buried in secret graves ten times over without even having to go to an ATM for cash first.  We can’t fuck with them.”

“Son of a bitch!  What about my competitive bowel movement TV show I told you about on the phone?”

So You Think You Can Shit? I like the idea, but there’s at least three similar shows on German TV already.  Maybe we could do an end-run on the whole thing, buy American rights of one of those shows, repackage it for the US market.  We can get Delta Burke or someone famous from the 80s to host.”

“I’m more into the creative side of things.  Production work like that sounds like… work.”

“Fair enough.  Keep sending me ideas on the twitters, we’ll get to work together some time.  And let me know when you finish a sequel to Rumored to Exist so we can do a movie version.  I’m still pissed you let Gus Van Sant take the movie rights for that.”

“He still hasn’t done shit.  Maybe in 2013 when they end, you can scoop them up.”

“Maybe.  I’ve got to dash.  I’m flying to California today to meet with Howard Warshaw,” he said.  ”If this ET thing works out, there’s talk we will be able to do a Yar’s Revenge movie.”

Anyway, I am back in town, and watching two crazy Russian dudes install a set of Armorstruxx composite armor blast doors over the front of my office.  But that story’s gotta wait for another time, because I must finish eating this Taco Supreme, then I must return to Real Business.

So two Jews, a cripple, a lesbian, and a mongoloid walk into a bar

I wish I was a stand-up comedian.

I have trouble saying that, because I feel like the many or most people would reply with “you’re not funny”. And I’ve probably spent a lifetime trying to make other people laugh, and maybe I have, but the only thing that sticks in my mind are the too-serious people who reply with “you’re not funny”. And that’s probably why I couldn’t become a comic – it takes a certain amount of confidence to get up on the stage and talk to people like that. But lately, there has been something compelling to me about the whole comedy world.

Last night, I saw this documentary I am Comic on netflix.  It’s sort of about comedian Ritch Shydner, who had a ton of old Carson appearances, and then graduated into bit acting roles and staff writing jobs.  In the movie, he decides to make a comeback to stand-up after 14 years, and it documents his appearances at open mics and small gigs, both the horror of bombing in these small places where people are more interested in the pool tables and TV sets than the comedians, offset by the total high you get from running a show like that.

But the movie is more of a primer on stand-up, the process, the lifestyle, and the good and the bad, told through interview clips with at least 40 top-rate comics.  The wide swath of appearances is awe-inspiring, from household names that we forget got their start in stand-up (Roseanne Barr, Tim Allen, Jeff Foxworthy, Tom Arnold) to the current a-list (Sarah Silverman, Dave Attell, Lewis Black, Margaret Cho), and lots of other great appearances.  It talks about middling, and comedy club condos, and life on the road, and jokes versus bits versus chunks versus sets, and worst shows ever.  It’s a great movie if you’re a huge comedy nerd, and I am.

There’s a huge comedy boom going on right now.  I can’t quantify it and show you a Gartner report with pie charts or anything, but all the indicators are there:  there’s a whole world of podcasts and twitter feeds and web sites dedicated to stand-up; there are all of these shows like Last Comic Standing; there are tons of venues and shows; there are a bunch of stand-ups crossing over into movies and TV shows; there are something like 79 late-night talk shows now, every one employing a dozen staff writers and spotlighting a hundred comics a year.  It’s huge right now, which in my pessimistic mind means that there are orders of magnitude more people trying to break into the business, and I’m sure there are thousands and thousands of unemployed actors and directors and agents who are thinking “I need to start doing sets at open mics so I can segue that into a line producer job at Two and a Half Men.”  It also makes me think that if I decided today to become a stand-up and started writing jokes full-time, I’d just start to get momentum around the time 90% of the comedy clubs in the US shuttered and all of the trend-hop fans who are into Patton Oswalt today will move on to becoming professional salsa dancing fans, or whatever the hell the next trend will be.

I look at the huge growth of the comedy world as I look at the ever-dying world of publishing and wonder why the hell I got into a craft that’s so hugely unrewarding and impossible to crack.  As I try to study how to make it as a literary fiction writer, all I hear are horror stories about how there are now more MFA candidates trying to sell stories than there are readers of literary fiction, and there’s no money in publishing.  And yes, I could write genre fiction and make money writing hack murder mystery crap and publishing it myself, but you can’t choose your voice, it chooses you, and I can’t even read stuff like that, let along write it.  I write what I write, and I try to convince myself that someday the trend will change and people will trade in their vampire and zombie books for Kerouac and Wolfe.

But comedy has such an appealing ecosystem.  For one, you get up on stage at an open mic and go – there’s no trying to finagle blog followers and spamming your stuff to these lit e-journals in hopes that someone will pick it up.  You get on the mic and go, and there is immediate feedback.  I write a book, and maybe a year later, someone will read it and maybe I will hear back from them.  But comedy is immediately absorbed; you tell a joke, a person hears it, they laugh or they don’t.  And people seem to seek out comedy, go to clubs and pay money and see comics, and seek out these podcasts and XM Radio shows and live CDs.  I think in any art, there are two different cycles: either you follow the potential fans, or the fans follow you, and I feel like writing is very much the former right now, and comedy is the latter.  And maybe that’s not entirely true, and I’m sure a lot of comedians bust their asses trying to find Facebook friends and grow their mailing lists and post one-liners to twitter constantly.  But there’s not a huge audience of literary fiction fans out there eager to snap up anything you produce.

I recently took a comedy writing class, to see if I could do it.  And I found that I could and I couldn’t.  I mean, one of the assignments was to write something like 30 monologue-type jokes, which was hard only because I had to actually read the news, and I hate reading the news.  And after carving away at 30 jokes over the course of a week, I found that writers at Kimmel or Letterman have to write at least 40 or 50 jokes a day.  And their pay ranges somewhere between dick and shit.  I think I could hack away at being a comedy writer, or punching up scripts, but it’s probably as unrewarding as hacking away at user manuals all day.  And I don’t mean to knock the tech writing career, which pays more than all but the top tier of fiction writers on amazon, and gives me health insurance and paid vacation and pays me every day, whether or not I scare up sales.  But I remember that feeling when I hit ‘send’ and launched the final, final manuscript of Summer Rain to the publisher, after five years and a quarter-million words of pain and torture, knowing that it would be a 650-page chunk of my life and other peoples’ hands, and it was not the same feeling I get when checking in the final PDF of a developer’s guide for a software product that will literally sell a million times what my book does.

I wish there was a writing community more like the comedy community.  I mean, I look at stuff like the people taking UCB classes who are working with each other and building their careers and doing awesome things, and then I look at any number of literary sites where people are talking about their head shots or whether or not they should change their names to market to the Young Adult romance genre.  I’m slowly finding more authors that subvert this paradigm, but I need an order of magnitude of readers that do the same.  And lately, it’s hard to get people to pay attention to 140-character updates, let alone 140-page novellas.  But I think that will eventually change.

Oh yeah, I did standup once.  It was 1988 and I was in the Catskills and I did a talent show/open mic in some bar in East Windham, in front of maybe 20 people.  I don’t remember a single joke I did, but I vividly remember between the time I put down my name and the time I took the “stage” (really just the same floor as the bar), I went on this long walk in the upstate New York summer night, and listened to the bugs and talked to myself and tried to write a set on the spot.  I remember the smell of the August night, and the cool feeling when it was like a hundred all day and all you could really do is sit in the pool or hide in the AC of the motel, and the temp would drop to like 75 at night, and it would feel almost cold.  And I’m walking by myself, muttering “okay, no, start with that, then go into this, and then, no, then say this, and then mention I’m not from here, and go into that, and, and, and….”  And the set completely bombed; I think one joke got laughs.  But I did it.

Anyway, here’s one of my assignments from this class.  All of the jokes are months out of date, which in this news cycle is like centuries, and I’m not going to re-edit this, and in the real world, of this thirty, I would expect maybe two or three to be good, but you get the idea.

  1. After a security crackdown in the United Arab Emirates, Research In Motion assured BlackBerry customers that their data was secure. They did warn, however, that data is not secure when you’re yelling at the top of your lungs into your BlackBerry while in an airport.
  2. Fox TV executives have said there were no signed agreements yet for any new judges to appear on “American Idol” next season. They did announce they would disclose their final choices for new judges, but only after showing a week of clips from previous episodes mixed with fifteen-minute commercial breaks.
  3. Comedian Drew Carey has lost over 80 pounds since January on a new strict diet and exercise regime.  In related news, stock at Jack-In-The-Box has dropped over twenty points since last January.
  4. A federal jury found two Guyanese men guilty on Monday of conspiring to blow up Kennedy International Airport. They get past the planning stage, because they couldn’t find an airline that wouldn’t charge them $25 to check in their bags of explosives.
  5. Nationwide Children’s Hospital released a study showing the number of kids age 5 and younger treated in household cleaning product-related injuries fell 46 percent since 1990, due to child-proof packages.  The study failed to count the number of stress-based heart attacks in adults attempting to open child-proof containers, however.
  6. A recently-found natural gas reserve in the Medeterranean threatens to spark conflict between Israel and Lebanon. As a precautionary measure, both countries have agreed to temporarily close their Taco Bell franchise locations.
  7. An Alaskan comic book collector has listed for auction an extremely rare issue of Batman #1, which is expected to sell for over $40,000.  The collector has said he will use the proceeds to completely redecorate his mom’s basement where he currently lives.
  8. The White House Correspondents Association is moving Fox News up to the front row in the briefing room, according to sources familiar with the process. They have also announced they will be giving premium seats to writers from Mad Men, Law and Order, American Family, and several other entertainment programs based on complete fiction.
  9. A vicar was found guilty on Thursday of conducting hundreds of fake marriages in Britain.  The British records division was overloaded with phone calls and visits from men trying to determine if vicar might also be illegal.
  10. In a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for CBS, the network has secured subscriber fees for its local stations from Comcast for the next 10 years. Both Comcast and CBS affirmed that the deal was in no way negotiated to shore up Charlie Sheen’s legal defense fund.
  11. On Monday, comedian Bill Cosby posted on Twitter that he was not dead. Twenty minutes later, Carlos Mencia also posted the same exact thing to his Twitter page.
  12. Jersey Shore star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi is being scheduled a court date for her disorderly conduct arrest last week. The Seaside Heights courthouse is hoping to arrange a jury of her peers, hopefully during an upcoming class-action lawsuit for Valtrex.
  13. Lucasfilm Ltd is backing away from a previous lawsuit against a laser they say infringes on the trademark of their infamous lightsaber. The filmmaker has agreed to drop charges, provided the laser company provides a warning label and disclaimer stating the laser should not be used to cut open large animals for the purpose of hiding inside their carcass during a winter storm.
  14. On this day in 1981, Music Television went on for the first time.  Roughly twenty hours later, the first person proclaimed, “do you remember when MTV used to only show videos?”
  15. China Daily said layers of garbage, up to three tons a day, floating down the Yangtze river threaten to completely block the Three Gorges Hydroelectric dam.  The Chinese government is anticipating they will be able to begin cleaning the debris when China wins another Olympic bid in 2048.
  16. Dozens of North Korean mines swept ashore in the heavy rains this weekend near Yeoncheon, killing a man and seriously injuring another. The South Korean government said “it’s very tragic that the heightened violence between our countries has caused this, but at least BP hasn’t started drilling for oil in North Korea yet.”
  17. Police in California have seized over $1.7 billion dollars of marijuana plants in the Sierra Nevada mountains. In other news, the Sierra Nevada Sheriff’s department has met and exceeded their annual recruitment goal by 42,000%.
  18. On this day in 1923, President Warren G. Harding died of congestive heart failure. He died shortly after becoming the first US President to visit Alaska, where he went to shoot reindeer from a helicopter with a sniper rifle.
  19. Over 1500 people have died in massive flooding in northwestern Pakistan, causing shortages of food, freshwater, shelter, and aid. The Pakistani government has commented, “It’s very bad, but please don’t send Kanye West here to do a benefit concert.”
  20. Republican Meg Whitman has now spent over $100 million dollars on her campaign for state governor. She has also disclosed that the governor’s seat “has NO RESERVE” and is in “A+++ GREAT SHAPE!”
  21. The Princeton Review announced Monday that the University of Georgia at Athens was ranked the #1 party school in 2010. The administration at both Duke and Rutgers have announced plans to slash law enforcement and alcohol education budgets in an effort to become competitive again before the 2011 school year.
  22. Celebrity Courtney Love has started a new web site, WhatCourtneyWoreToday.com, which is a daily blog showing what outfits the wannabe fashionista wore that day. Also announced was a rival site, AbsolutelyAnythingButNewsOnCourtneyLove.com.
  23. Microphysicist Andrew Heymsfield and colleagues have found that aircraft aircraft can cause weather changes by creating supercooled cloud tunnels. In response, American Airlines has announced they will be adding a $25 weather surcharge to their ticket prices.
  24. Morrie Yohai, who helped to create the Cheez Doodle, died of cancer on July 27th at the age of 90. Instead of a traditional funeral, his body will be injected with BHA, BHT, and orange #2 coloring to preserve it for the next hundred years.
  25. Robert Murdoch’s Fox Sports Networks ended speculation Tuesday by stating that it will not bid for the Texas Rangers at the team’s bankruptcy auction scheduled for Wednesday. This ended speculation that the network would buy the team and rename it after former President George Bush, like pretty much every other thing in Texas.
  26. LeBron James has taken out a full-page ad in the Akron Beacon-Journal, thanking the city of Akron for their support through the years. Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic refused to comment, claiming he was too busy having sex with James’s mother.
  27. A New Jersey man was jailed for up to three months on Friday for making himself vomit on a fellow spectator at a baseball game, the Philadelphia district attorney’s office said. The man plans to counter-sue for $877, the cost at Citizens Bank Park of the two hot dogs and three beers he vomited on the other individual.
  28. A controversial mosque, planned for construction two blocks from ground zero in lower Manhattan, has been given the green light for construction from the NYC Landmarks Commission. This has enraged local planning activists, who demand that the space be used to add yet another Subway sandwich shop or bank branch at the space.
  29. Author Joseph Yannai was indicted today on charges under federal human-trafficking laws for allegedly hiring European women as his assistants and then assailing them. His lawyers have claimed his innocence, stating that given the current state of the book publishing world, it’s absolutely impossible any published author could actually afford to hire an assistant.
  30. A study appearing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology claims the color red makes a man more attractive, more powerful and more sexually desirable to women. The study did reveal, however, that this does not work if the red clothing is a Target uniform.

Nancy Grace Shit-fits and why you should start learning how to make soap and ammunition

So I spent a long time in an airport last week, listening to CNN’s drone loop about how the world is going to hell in the next fifteen minutes: “GANG RAPE!  TOXIC FOOD!  UNTREATABLE STAPH INFECTIONS!  CHILDREN ABDUCTED FOR FARMVILLE-RELATED SATANIC DEATH RITUALS!  REPEAT!”  How do people working at airports stand this?  They probably deliberately delay flights just so people will lose their shit and give them something to listen to other than Nancy Grace’s annoying nasal tone. I would have crammed in the earbuds and listened to something loud and less annoying (I have a playlist mostly made up of old Flipper and Captain Beefheart that works), but I had to listen attentively to the gate announcers because they were changing my departure time every five minutes as the rain started and stopped a few thousand miles away.

After spending a few hours listening to this Abu Ghraib torture soundtrack, I wandered to a more quiet area of the concourse and called my friend Doug, who works in Atlanta as a video archivist for one of the big three-letter cable channels. He used to be my lab partner in the physics 201 class I took many lifetimes ago, when I wanted to be a computer science major and he wanted to be a meteorologist.  Now he splices together neck-down footage of obese people in public places to drop into news reports on diabetes epidemics.  I’d give him much more shit about the job, but he scares up the occasional baseball tickets, and got me a digitally remastered version of the Zapruder film on blu-ray one Christmas.

“Hey J, how’s the bay area treating you?” he said.  ”I was just scrubbing through some clips of the Oakland riots earlier today and thought about you.”

“I’m actually in Phoenix today, waiting on a plane,” I said. “What the shit is going on with CNN’s nonstop dead baby countdown?”

“Yeah, child abduction is awesome,” he said. “I mean, it’s awesome if you run a 24-hour news channel. Any time you drift into a slow news cycle, you can spin a story about a divorced dad that kept a kid too long on his weekend to make it sound like a group of angel dust-shooting skinheads shoplifted the kid out of a McDonalds and will be feeding him into a rusted leaf mulcher as some form of satanic offering to our dark lord lucifer.  Probably once a month, some helmet-hairdo anchorwoman droid comes in here looking for some stock footage of Marilyn Manson drenched in blood and sucking off a microphone stand in front of twenty thousand screaming Hot Top consumers, so her producer can smash-cut it with pictures of a playground wrapped in yellow police tape.”

“Blame Julia Roberts,” I said.

“Exactly,” he said.  ”And if you say anything that might disagree with the mommy-blogging child worship addicts, you are Hitler.  I mean, stop eating meat, cut off a ball, and start marching to Poland.”

I explained the Julia Roberts thing before in a comment I left elsewhere, and of course nobody acknowledged it because they were busy throwing dung at either one side or another, so I will explain it again. You can blame the entire political climate in this country on Julia Roberts.  Pretty Woman was one of the first, and the best example of a movie that was synthesized by and for focus groups.  Before that, movies had to hit the widest swath of viewers possible, because most places didn’t have the 300-plex theaters; there were two screens.  And when people went out to the duplex for a movie on a Friday night, Hollywood didn’t have products targeted at specific demographics; If you didn’t like Brewster’s Millions, you watched Rocky 4; if you didn’t like either one, you went bowling.

But then someone had this wise idea that instead of guessing what people liked, they would get some locals at a mall in Nebraska or Kansas, or grab a bunch of tourists just off the bus in Hollywood, and put them in a screening room with a workprint of a movie. With some multiple-choice surveys and carefully formed questions, they could learn exactly what buttons got pushed by different parts of the film. Then executives with no film knowledge could tune a movie so it would light up a certain audience.  Based on that knowledge, Hollywood started writing movies or green-lighting scripts that would hit these exact pressure points.  If you were an aspiring writer or director, you strived to produce a product that tested well; if you were a Suit, you put the hammer down on any artistic folks and told them to get their shit together and “give the people what they want”.  By the end of the century, guys like Francis Ford Coppola couldn’t find work anymore, and the Bring it On franchise tested well enough to release five films.

And since this worked so well with films, all corporate-generated entertainment and news became quantitatively engineered to score higher with larger demographics, which has resulted in news that is specifically designed to push buttons and TV that is aimed at the lowest common denominator.  Slow-pitching to focus groups is responsible for New Coke, Windows Vista, the McDLT, and the entire film career of Kate Hudson.  It’s why people who are dirt poor can get behind a corporate tax loophole, and the reason why anyone cares about a half-wit, half-term former Alaska governor.  It’s going to turn society into the equivalent of those stupid automatically generated search pages that contain your search spelled 50 ways that say “you may have been looking for this” but provide absolutely no content.

It’s the same MO as the sugar and salt issue with food.  Long ago, someone found that if you took a bland legume that was traditionally boiled and instead roasted it and drenched it in salt, people would eat peanuts incessantly.  Then the food industrialists frankensteined things even more: add some saturated fats to shelf-stabilize the things; mix some sweet flavors with the salty to make them more irresistible to the palate; use a high-fructose corn syrup instead of a sugar to make them even more sweet for a lower price.  Pretty soon, every American is eating 20,000 calories a week of peanut-based candies, snacks, butters, additives, and junk, and what was once a direct one-two attack to the taste buds of sodium and artificial sweetener is now the norm.

The only way to break that cycle is to declare food bankruptcy, quit eating everything that’s processed or refined, and spend the next week shitting your guts out and shaking from food preservative withdrawal.  I remember when I would eat at McDonald’s three times a day, and traded those sweet, sweet Quarter-Pounders for a life where I wrote down every carrot stick and subway sandwich minus the bread I ate during the day, trying my damndest to stay under 26 weight watchers points per 24 hours.  A few months after reaching my goal weight, I stepped in a gas station McDonald’s for the first time, on a long night trip from SF to LA, and bought a McNugget meal, since the next-healthiest item for dinner on that I-5 exit would have been a dinner of beef jerky and reeses’ pieces.  And those six pieces of engineered chicken tasted like eating a handful of rock salt that you’d use to de-ice a sidewalk in December.

So how do you do escape the 24-hour news cycle in today’s plugged in world?  You’re in luck, because the unabomber’s ranch just went on sale. For $69,500 you can move to rural Montana, grow a cool beard, and learn how to hunt, fish, and come to possibly incorrect conclusions over various Joseph Conrad novels.  The shack isn’t there anymore, so you’ll need to bring a tent or prepare to build a nice little lean-to.  But after suffering through a cold winter with nothing but a single-speed bike (the unabomber was a hipster – he rode a fixie!), the memories of Nancy Grace’s shrieking about a martial law amber alert wet dream will be long gone, and you’ll finally have peace.  I mean, until you start sending pipe bombs to computer manufacturers.

City that never sleeps (because of those stupid reverse-gear backup warning beepers)

Good to be back.  I spent all day Friday in airports and on airplanes, immersed in the world of roller suitcases and $9 bottles of water in newsstands filled with every single tabloid featuring pictures of a recently-adultified Miley Cyrus and rumors of tattoos and nipple slips and not a single piece of readable material outside of maybe a moldy Baseball Insider hot stove report with 48 pages of circle-jerking over Jeter’s next big payday, and maybe a 4-point type mention of Tulo’s big $160-million dollar deal somewhere under the mandatory required notice of circulation numbers and where to contact the publisher on page 96.

Actually, Friday was a marathon day, mostly because I could not sleep at all in New York, even with the help of all of the various pharmacological cures my Doctor Feelgoods give me.  (One advantage to a full-bore PPO plan in the hot potato days of plausible deniability-seeking doctors who pass you off to every specialist known to the medical profession any time you have a complaint even slightly off from their knowledge core is that opportunities abound for you to drug-seek elsewhere.  Not that I doctor-surf for Oxy like a right-wing hillbilly talk show host with an itch to scratch, but every time I go to see a new specialist, he or she will immediately rattle off a script to some new wonder-drug that may or may not help my ails but will surely get them another step closer to that Aruba junket with their pharmacy sales rep.)  I forgot that sleep in New York is a careful balancing act of drugs, white noise generators, and the learned ability to tune out the sounds of a garbage truck’s BEEP BEEP BEEP backup alarm at three in the morning, punctuated with the occasional siren bouncing off the buildings.  A decade of guidos, gunshots, and garbage trucks outside my first-floor window always made sleeping an annoyance, but when I’d leave and end up in the middle of nowhere, in a hotel where there wasn’t a shouting match ten feet from my head every hour, I found myself tossing and turning like it was the day before some big event (audit, wedding, presentation, sale on some Apple product I didn’t need, etc.)

My hotel suite cost roughly what I paid for a car back in college, per night, and had the two-bed setup, each bed just big enough for me to roll over once before I fell on the floor.  I remember decades of having a twin bed like this, even on occasion sharing it with someone for various acts of fun, and I never had issues.  Now, even a queen bed is a tight fit for the mountain of pillows and blankets I encase myself in every night.  Was this trip damned to be one of those “the more that things change” reminders?  I don’t know, but I did enjoy the iPod/iPhone dock built into the clock radio.  I had some fears because most of our team was on the same floor, and I didn’t want everyone to hear me at three in the morning, singing along to some Venom song about Satanic sacrifice at top volume while playing Angry Birds in a fit of insomnia and checking my facebook hourly on my $34.95 per day WiFi connection.  The room was barely bigger than the two beds, and when I got there, I thought it didn’t even have a bathroom like one of those cold-water shooting pads you’d rent out in Spanish Harlem in the 70s when you needed to kill a prostitute, but then I saw it hidden around a corner, a low-flow den of sample-sized soaps and a toilet that took around 45 minutes to flush each time.  At least the place had a standard bible AND a Mormon bible, which made it that much easier to smash pills into snortable chunks of powder.  (I took the copy of the Mormon bible, with some vague idea to either read it and write a parody, or use it in some sort of art project, although I’m sure I will forget all about this and in two years, when I’m digging around for books to dump on Amazon (probably every “get over writer’s block in 56 seconds or less” book I bought in a tirade in the last year) and wonder why the fuck I had a copy of the LDS book in my collection.)

So yes, New York.  I didn’t do as much walking around as I wanted, mostly because it was December, which meant the time of year I usually spent every waking moment trying to find a heated astronaut suit on some Russian eBay ripoff so I could make the ten-block walk to the subway every day without further aggravating my constant upper respiratory infection with that wind that whipped through every seam and zipper of every coat I ever owned.  I wondered if the city grew or my memory of the city shrunk, but then I realized as I wandered up and down Lexington in the middle of the night, I realized that I never looked UP when I lived in the big smear.

That sounds stupid, but it’s true – when it’s your daily penance to hustle up and down the sidewalk from subway to work to lunch to work to subway, you keep your head down and barrel forward at top speed, cursing every mouth-breather and inbred from a flyover state that stops on the sidewalk to look at a massive foldout map and see how far they are from the statue of liberty or ground zero or whatever the hell tourist spot they are ambling toward.  Even zen pacifists that never step on ants will, within fifteen minutes on a New York sidewalk with shit to do and places to be, turn into a bloodthirsty offensive tackle of NFL caliber and look to plow down every single person not sprinting at top speed in front of them.  This aptitude came back to me quickly, as I knocked over nuns and old ladies on the way to the subway, but I noticed this look up/look down thing when I pulled out my camera for a quick picture to prove I actually was in the city and not on some Vegas strip club junket (you need as much evidence as possible with these new expense report systems – receipts are never enough; I’ve been bringing a pro HDV broadcast camera and taking video of waiters and hotel desk clerks holding up a copy of that day’s newspaper just to make sure I don’t get burned on reimbursement checks.)

And when I looked up, I saw this massive city, buildings climbing in every direction, and not a hint of economic downturn.  I mean, you look in almost every other American city, and it’s nothing but boarded up stores, closed restaurants, vacant lots for sale that will always remain barren.  The last time I went to Elkhart, I started playing this game while driving around where I would take a shot of tequila every time I passed some retail location of my youth that was either shuttered or turned into a Mexican grocery, and within fifteen minutes, I was blackout drunk.  But in New York, there’s stores opening inside stores, every corner of office building lobbies and subway tunnel filled with people selling wares.  The only thing I saw closed were the subway token booths, which were apparently shut down so they could afford to raise prices again.  (Wait, what?)

I went back to my old office for a half-day; most of my work stuff involved training-type meetings in the hotel convention center, but on Thursday, I had a morning of open time, so I got on the 6 and headed down to NoHo to work at the old digs.  First, taking the subway brought back so many strange memories.  Just the feel of that yellow plastic card going through the stainless steel slider on the turnstile (and of course, 1 in 2 times saying “please swipe your card again at this turnstile” at the exact point you push your entire body weight against the still-locked metal bar preventing you from advancing in the rat race) – that reminded me so much of my daily trip in the germ tube to the office.  I did remember to grab onto something when the car started so I didn’t get launched across the car, but I did keep forgetting which side the doors opened on and how you needed to get the fuck out of people’s way when they needed to exit at their stop.  When I got to 632 Broadway, I was too early and locked out of the elevator, so I got to hang out in the lobby and talk to the doorman about how many tens of millions Jeter would need to get.  I also went to the deli across the street for a Diet Coke and balance bar, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the mass of office workers getting their caffeine and bagel fix.  I always forget how personal space is a premium in the low-10000 ZIP codes.  In most other cities, you’d end up in a domestic partnership if you stood this close to other people for this long.  Here, it was standard operating procedure.

Stepping into the old office felt so — weird.  I mean, I spent every weekday of 2001 to 2007 in this place, hunched in a cube in the back corner, typing away at user manuals consuming mass amounts of Coke while downing heavy doses of DayQuil during the cold season.  (This was, thankfully, before the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 stifled everyone’s creative juices and prevented us true artists from buying Sudafed by the case.)  My old cube was still open, so I crashed there with my laptop and entered this strange time travel vortex, my muscle memory relaxing straight into the position I assumed for so many years.  And then I opened the filing cabinet under the desk, and found damn near every printout I made in those six years, carefully filed in my haphazard organizational system (files like “MIR space junk”, “fake celebrity porn”, “government conspiracies”, “failed Microsoft projects attempting to topple Java”, “standards documents I will never use”, etc.)  Talk about a mindfuck – it was like that insane recurring dream where you’re back in high school, except there’s no chance of dream-banging a 16-year-old cheerleader on videotape.

But yeah, that lack of sleep really killed me.  Thursday night, after a trip up to the Bronx to visit a guy who used to machine lower receivers for M-16s at his cousin’s bowling alley (he’s making a lot more cash now turning out bootleg $60 iPad stands), I think I went to bed around 2:00 and woke up at 4:30, unable to sleep but unable to stay awake, doing nothing but cruising various photo sites on the iPad, looking for some good Kim Jong Il snaps for an art project in the event that the shit does indeed go down in Han-Bando.  I went outside early, hoping to scare up a danish cart or cold bagel, and ran into a contingent of EMEA sales and service guys, who informed me that there were no good diners in all of the UK, so we went to one of these gastro-hipster places that probably used to be a Thai-French fusion restaurant three years ago but was now a diner with some of the appeal but none of the grime of its 80s counterparts you used to find littered all over the city.  We bitched about old documentation and ordered rich food that promised diabetic comas in short order; I got 5000 calories of corned beef hash that must have contained an entire pound of butter (i.e. perfect) and got all nice and lethargic for a morning of training.

And yeah, a day of airports and airplanes.  I didn’t get the TSA Operation Grab-Ass everyone’s been talking about, but then again, I didn’t get Ebola when every 24-hour news alarmist said all five billion of us were going to get it back in the 90s, either.  I did enjoy the new (newly redone) terminal at JFK, and spent an hour perusing the used DVDs at some electronics store and almost considered dropping $60 on some super ultra 3-disc Apocalypse Now box set before I realized that the only machine I had with me with a DVD drive was my work Windows laptop, and I wasn’t even sure if Windows 7 plays DVDs out of the box without 200 hours of studying every aspect of DVD authoring and toggling a million registry settings and downloading several $100 versions of all of the crippled “lite” drivers and programs bundled with the computer.  Instead, I stuck to the kindle and got cover-to-cover on another fine book during my trip west.  I then bailed out the Toyota from its short stay at the long-term parking lot, and bumbled home the ten miles on the 880, driving like you’d expect someone to drive after being awake for 24 hours with only the good parts of a CPK Cobb salad (i.e. the meat, bacon and cheese and not the lettuce) from the Phoenix airport and two rolls of Certs to eat in the last ten hours.  I then gave the missus a $25 box of chocolates from the airport gift shop, said my hellos to the four-legged terrors, and slept a solid eight in the confines of my queen-sized cocoon.  Good to be back.

Back in the big smear

I’m in a hotel at 49th and Lex in the Big Smear, the island I could not escape for eight years but finally did. And now I’m back, for the first time since I bolted Westward to Denver and points beyond in 2007, holed up in a way-too-much-to mention-per-night suite with all the amenities except square footage. And in the city that never sleeps, I arrived an hour after everything shut down, and went to a nearby bodega to buy some days-old sushi shrink-wrapped by Chinese forced labor in a work camp in some shitbag Queens neighborhood that has smelled like rotting fish since 1927. Mahalo!

Today was quite the travel day, starting with the double-strike of the usual klaxons sounding at five AM, plus two feline monsters desperate for their morning carnage delivered in their bowls chop chop. Shave, shit, shower, pack, and into the Yaris for the quick zip to the Oakland airport, where the fun started. I got to the OAK with time to spare, fired up the iPad, and found the free wifi functioning without a hitch. You never can trust these free networks, not because of the hacker script kiddies stealing your packets and transcribing your Bank of America PIN numbers, but the more insidious corporate entities that hype of “free” wireless either as a bait-and-switch for some $29 a minute access plan that only works in 7 of the 9000 worldwide airports, and is fully incompatible with the other hucksters offering the same deal. Either that, or they have some horrid web portal that pumps ads at you at a rate causing seizure in most epileptics, in pop-ups and pop-overs and pop-unders and roll-overs and frames and banners and trays, all of them only working if you’re running Windows ME and a copy of Internet Explorer 6, otherwise it fails with some horrible Engrish error message and forever damages two dozen registry keys on your system, requiring three successive clean installs and the purchase of two new Windows full licenses. But it all magically worked on the iPad, and it even skipped the stupid Flash commercial you are required to watch, probably for some nameless corporate monster that offers business-to-business integration solutions in this modern world – you know, the kind of stuff nobody can buy or name or explain, but it’s damn important for the company to shell out six or seven figures’ worth of ad imprints so we can identify their logo in a lineup.

So I get on the plane and get headed to Phoenix, fully aware of the fact that Amelia Earhart took off from this same airfield however many years before, never to be seen again. And of course there’s some deaf-mute aging fucker spilling over halfway into my seat. He’s covered in liver spots and technically died five years ago, but he’s still alive because he’s gotta eat twelve thousand-calorie meals a day or he won’t be able to roll into High-Fructose Heaven. He’s downing homemade lard and white bread sandwiches the whole flight, Just Like Mom Used To Make, and I’m trying to read, or trying to scribble into notebooks my various ideas on how I can build my serial killer themed putt-putt course on my fortified compound in Colorado.

Here’s where the fun begins, in Phoenix. Unbeknownst to me, there was a slight drizzle off of Long Island, but it’s enough that all of the flights are stacked up and pushed out, and air traffic control is giving vague and irrational estimates to the droids at the front counter. They come online every fifteen minutes to tell everyone the flight to Newark is five minutes late, or pushed back four hours, or wait – no, an hour, and so on. It’s in that indecipherable, scratchy, and somewhat demeaning tone, the kind of announcements they play at Abu Ghraib to sleep-deprived prisoners to break their will. Only those prisoners didn’t pay $1047 for a one-way non-refundable ticket that they’ll have to eat if the plane doesn’t show, because that common perception that “oh, the airlines will put you in a hotel and feed you and give you free tickets and get you on another flight, because they HAVE TO – it’s A LAW” is of course just as big of an urban legend as the various rodentia that Richard Gere and/or John Wayne had impacted in their colons. The only legally binding clause in the ticket agreement these days is that they can charge you for any damn thing they want with nothing in return, and Never Forget 9/11, or the terrorists win. Read the fine print, although you now have to print it out yourself on your own dime with your inkjet at home, or they charge you an extra $75 documentation fee, so be careful.

I walk over to CPK and order a pizza for roughly twice the cost of a ballpark mini-pizza (I hope I can expense this crap) and wait for #32 to get magically called. A bright blonde woman who first looked twenty and then looked forty smiled at me, while juggling a small mulatto child. I noticed a lot of this phenomenon – these women who were 19 going on 37, or maybe the other way around. It could be all of the various strains of high-test melanoma from the two-barreled punch of higher altitude and unrelenting sunshine. Maybe all of the people under eighty in Arizona who weren’t trucked in by the burros to mow lawns and build crappy tract houses by the dozen are this same sort of creature, the down-and-out woman who either has their looks to go on, or knows how to brew up a mean batch of speed in her bathtub, because there’s no other way to make money out in these parts unless you’ve got fifty years of 401K and pension sending you annuity checks out of your fixed income every month. Arizona’s a place you end up, not a place you aspire to, and aside from the obviously out-of-place strangers transferring from one plane to another, you could tell on the faces of these people what the deal was. It was like looking into the eyes of a South Vietnamese mother who is trying cling to the skids of your Huey helicopter as you leave the Saigon embassy rooftop in 1975. There is no noble escape from this hellhole.

And on that day, my escape was not guaranteed, regardless of the prepaid papers e-given to me by the corporate travel agency. As I sat in the concourse, tapping away at this iPad, the flight to JFK right in front of mine boarded, got ready to push out, and then the flight crew railroaded everyone back off the flight, like the eleventh hijacker was in the back row waving a pair of mini-Uzis with extended clips and praising Allah. After everyone poured back out of the AirBus, they cancelled the flight, and I got to listen to a full load of human intolerance bitch out the ticket agents, each one blue in the face screaming about what they were going to do, every one doubting the legitimacy of any pretense that said agent’s parents were legally married at the time of their conception.

And here’s the deal: everyone’s heard an endless tirade on how the TSA is groping and prodding and touching and juggling and scanning and detaining this holiday season. But the only hostility I saw were the passengers, taking down the airline employees like a late-eighties Mike Tyson in some tune-up fight against a no-name amateur that owed their booking agent too many favors. I cleared the security area in record time, probably faster than I’d get in and out of the average Taco Bell during a light lunch hour. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t trying to carry on a fully decorated christmas tree, a 14-piece ginsu knife set, and a completely stocked 500-gallon saltwater aquarium without taking off my shoes first. People need to own up to the fact that they may be the broken gear in this machine that fails them.

But yes, I panicked a bit, wondering if my flight would likewise get shafted. And the worst of it was not the vague attempts at clarifying the situation, or the inaccuracy of the weather channel’s maps, which are generally good with a +/- 50 degree tolerance. It was the CNN loop playing above my head. I could not pop in the earbuds and launch some Slayer at max volume to drown out the propaganda channel, so I got something like this every five minutes:

“THEIR HOMES DESTROYED BY A TORNADO! A VISIBLY SHAKEN ELIZABETH SMART LEFT THE COURTROOM AFTER HER ACCUSED TORTURER AND RAPIST HAS A SEIZURE! WE’VE GOT SOME VIDEO OF A TEENAGER THAT RAN INTO A BURGER KING LAST YEAR BEGGING FOR HELP, A BICYCLE LOCK AROUND ONE ANKLE AND HIS ABDUCTOR CHASING AFTER HIM WITH A KISS THE CHEF APRON AND A FOURTEEN-INCH LONG STRAP-ON MARITAL AID! ONE IN FOUR CHILDREN ARE ABDUCTED BY AGE SEVEN! WE’VE GOT SOME SWIMSUIT PHOTOS OF THE OCTO-MOM! BACK TO YOU CHUCK!”

[Tip: if you pair a bluetooth keyboard to your iPad, either unpair it or shut off the bluetooth before you pack it all back in your bag. I locked the machine and stuffed everything in my messenger bag, and ten seconds later, the buttons on the keyboard depressed and launched the iPad. Of course the first track in my iTunes listing is an Anal Cunt song that's about eight minutes of feedback and verbal destruction, and of course it started playing at maximum volume. Good stuff, unless the idea of being marched off by TSA air marshals and thrown into some kind of military tribunal as a terror suspect isn't your idea of good, in which it's not good stuff. End of tip.]

The flight times vacillated endlessly, and finally two hours after our original departure, they told everyone to cut the shit and line up and act like human beings so they could get all passengers on the damn plane and get in the air before ATC changed their minds again, which was 100% likely. I was, of course, in group 5, the last group to board. And all of my gear was in a carry-on, which meant that right before I boarded, the flight attendants announced all overhead bins were filled and “anyone with track boards would have to check them at the gate”. At that point, me and the 47 people behind me all said “what the fuck is a track board?”, except it was a completely asynchronous event, with one person asking, no clear answer, the same thing repeated, another person asking, etc. Then a woman with a roller bag (track board, whatever) zipped past me, at which point I said “there’s no more room overhead”, at which point she snapped and said “THIS IS GOING UNDER MY SEAT” with the same level of contempt a Rockefellar heir would give a Pakistani street urchin attempting to shoot homemade crank into his unwashed scrotum.

I checked my bag, fought my way to 15C, and of course there was an empty space in the overhead above my seat. Not only that, but my winter coat, my various medications I use to sleep or not sleep at any given point of the day, four Armani suits, and a small deep-sea diving harpoon pistol were in the roller bag/track board (unloaded, of course – I read their stupid web site before leaving) and I almost knew I would never see it again, or this would doom us all into being loaded and then unloaded, to be forced to sleep in the airport for days until we got routed to Ann Arbor, Michigan on propellor planes like the ones used to kill Buddy Holly and so on. This seat was next to a somewhat less morbidly obese woman and husband, both flipping through the Sky Sausage catalog of extruded meat products and gifts, not a single one containing less than fifty grams of fat per serving. After taking off, they ordered two reubens and two cheese plates each, which were the last edible items on the “you now have to pay for your damn meal, and we’re talking Yankee Stadium prices” food cart. I managed to pay $16 for two packs of saltines and a small can of what appeared to be a cranberry/tuna flavored cat food.

Not much to report on this five hour jump, except that I have been obsessed with this Catan game on the iPad, and I finally figured out why I’ve been having the piss beaten out of me by the robot players on a regular basis. I had no understanding how harbors worked, and building a good harbor is like being an arms salesman who happens to also have been in a college fraternity with the State Department employees responsible for handing out no-bid contracts. I crushed the robot players twice, and finished my paperback book with time to spare. I did get some shit for spending too long in the head, trying to put in some new eyedrops my opthomologist gave me. (She promised me they were way better than the stepped-on codeine pills I bought in the Bahamas, from a recreational point of view. I’m sure my insurance won’t pay for a script, but what the hell.) Another tip for today: never try to put in eyedrops while on a plane that’s plummeting through high-turbulence wind updrafts on a choppy December day.

I got to JFK in record time (plus three hours), my bag was the first one off the conveyor, and I got a cabbie that realized that a flat-rate fare to Manhattan is essentially a license to speed and dodge through traffic like you’re on one of those stupid level-up missions in Grand Theft Auto and you need to get the AK and kill the Hatians in 60 seconds or it’s game over. He dropped me off at the hotel, I checked in, then I promptly ran into an old coworker I hadn’t seen in years, who was drunk off his ass and adamant to explain to some newer members of the team that I was the REAL Konrath and not that other Konrath on Amazon, and that all the real tech writing at our gig ceased when I left for the Rockies back in 07. So as much as I hate the “energy” (read: noise pollution) of the big city, in many ways, it’s good to be back.