Dance of the Seasons

rodney king

I have a lot to say about the events in Ferguson, Missouri, but I’m not going to say it all now. Because you’ve already heard most of it, and tempers are so inflamed right now that I’m surprised the rioting is, at the moment, contained to one area. But we need to have the conversation. If you are a black male, you could have been Michael Brown. That’s all there is to it. I’ve been stopped by cops before, and while they did seem a little worried about me in one incident, they’ve never accused me of shit. I’m lucky that way. You can tell yourself that what happened to Michael Brown was an unfortunate misunderstanding if you insist on lying to yourself, but a lie is all it ever will be, and fuck you if you say otherwise. You can deny the fact that the spirit of slavery and Jim Crow lives on in our national consciousness, but then you’re part of the problem, and as far as I’m concerned, you can fucking kill yourself if that’s how you feel. Better you than the next Michael Brown. And there will be another.

We need to have a conversation about race in this country. More importantly, we need to prevent it from being sidetracked. I’ve seen it happen where somebody will start off talking about homophobia or sexism or racism and people will divert it because we should be talking about socioeconomic status instead, and isn’t that just as big of a deal for some people. Well, no, it isn’t. Your socioeconomic status is something that you are born into; your race, gender, and sexual orientation are things that you are born with. I do not accept that the real problem here is the militarization of the police force. That’s a problem, but even that is heavily tinted by race. Spare me your rationalizations about how some white dude somewhere was harassed by a cop and therefore the hundreds or thousands of cases of black men being arrested and beaten for no goddamn reason are meaningless. Seriously, if you have a comment about that, don’t even submit it. I’ll shitcan it.

The real problem here is race. No ifs, ands, or buts. Racism is a problem in this country. Cases like the one involving Michael Brown (not even the only recent case of an unarmed black man being shot by a cop in the South) are not isolated incidents; they are symptomatic of a deep sickness that has persisted in this country for a long time. And I’ve had it up to here with this bullshit. So if you want to join the conversation, admit up front that the police officers in Ferguson are racists. Admit that it is not uncommon for police officers to detain, charge, and even assault black people for no reason other than a desire to keep darkie down. They may not admit it to themselves (how often do you hear a racist admit to being a racist?), but that’s what they’re doing. And I’m through arguing about it.

Nobody wants to have a conversation about race. If you turn to Fox News, you will see people insisting over and over that not everything is about race. Funny thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sean Hannity or any of those other assholes admit that something is about race. The only reason my fellow liberals and I keep insisting that stuff is about race is because nobody will ever acknowledge an instance of racism when it’s staring them in the face. To hear the fuckheads over at Breitbart or WND tell it, the only racism that still exists is the “reverse racism” of affirmative action and the like. But the reason that we still need affirmative action is because of all that bullshit that conservatives won’t admit is about race. It’s some deeply torturous and convoluted logic, all so that nobody has to actually do anything about anything.

It’s not a conversation if you insist upfront that nobody is allowed to get offended. I insist that we all admit that racism is a potent force because it is, and if you can’t see it, then I can’t make you, and anyway, you can see it, you just don’t want to. I don’t have the patience to be nice here. I’m not very nice to begin with. This is one thing that makes me even less so. Because periodically, something awful happens. This goes all the way back to the Rodney King trial. King may have been a criminal, but the real question is whether something like that would have happened to a white person who did what he did. To save you the trouble of puzzling that one out, let me answer it for you: No. If Rodney King were white, he would not have been beaten, even after getting pulled over for driving like a maniac while intoxicated and resisting arrest. Glad we got that cleared up.

Some of you may remember the incident in which Jonah Hill called a TMZ “reporter” a “fag”. Being from TMZ, the “reporter” immediately posted the video online as evidence of Hill’s homophobia, and Hill, being an apparently decent human being, apologized. Amazing how much impact a simple “I’m sorry” can have. I don’t think an “I’m sorry” from the police force in Ferguson would set things right, but it wouldn’t be a bad start. I’ve read countless cases of people (usually young black men) being harassed by the cops, and in almost every case, when the police realized their error, they simply let the person go without even so much as a “Whoops”. That’s shitty, and it cannot be allowed to continue. We’ve been building towards this point for a long, long time now, and it’s not all going to be solved overnight. Let us hope that the next time it comes around, we are at least a little bit more prepared.

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Morpheus

There’s a line in Mad Men where a woman whom Don Draper has just spurned tells him that he “only likes the beginnings of things”. I said once that the hardest part of anything is getting started, but the flipside of that is that it’s also the most intoxicating. Everything is new, which gives it a heady rush that the follow-up can never quite match. I try not to be one of those people who is always seeking the next big high, but that also means that I take a long, long time to get warm. I’ve recently started watching The Fall, a psychological police drama that stars Gillian Anderson as a criminal psychologist. I like Gillian Anderson. Part of what I like about the show is that it is not afraid to let her look her age. She looks great for a woman in her forties, but the show doesn’t shy away from the fact that her character is a woman of a certain age with no husband or kids (that we’ve heard about so far, anyway). This is not a role for a young starlet, and that’s to everyone’s benefit.

I’m coming up on one year since I moved back in with my parents. My first week back, I did almost nothing, and I don’t regret that. Some mornings, I didn’t get out of bed until rather late, and for much of it, I just watched YouTube videos and whatnot. It was fun, but of course, you can’t do that forever. I hear that unplugging appliances when you’re not using them saves electricity, but I don’t know how much. If you leave your laptop unplugged, then plug it back in when it’s down to about 10%, you get the thrill of watching it charge back up. But you can’t do that forever, and some people probably prefer to just leave their laptop plugged in all the time. It’s easier, and clears some space for you to think of other things.

I’m finally starting to understand the expression that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. It’s good to save something up for when you’re ready, but you can’t hold off forever, as I keep saying. I have books that I got for Christmas years ago that I still haven’t read. In that case, it creates a weird sort of anxiety, as if I’m somehow disrespecting my friends and family by not reading the book they got me. But you can’t read a book just to have read it. That’s idiotic. A great Zen master used the example of a cat watching a mouse hole to illustrate mindfulness. It’s not that you aren’t aware of what else is going on, just that you have your eyes on the prize. I have a vague idea of what the prize is, but I have no fucking idea what else is going on around here. Does this mean I’m doing alright?

Also, Richard Attenborough just died, which is why I feel like kind of an asshole for posting this.

I find myself looking forward to eating breakfast and eating dessert more than eating anything in between, which is odd. Why are the bookends the only parts that fascinate me? In order to explain this, I am liable to get a little bit scattershot.

One of the most important names in the world of environmentalist literature is Aldo Leopold. His book, A Sand County Almanac, is a must-read for anyone with any curiosity about the natural world. I’ve been working my way through it lately and hope to finish it by the end of the month. I don’t read as often as I used to, but that’s the problem with me these days: my attention span is so short. I start watching a movie, then pause it ten minutes in to check my email. Then I watch five more minutes, and decide to break for lunch. Except that by the time I’ve made lunch, I might have remembered a YouTube video I wanted to watch. Or something. This is not unusual. I know plenty of people who have crashed their computers by opening so many windows that they can’t focus on one. I just wish that I knew how to sit down and watch a fucking movie like I used to. I still have that ability buried somewhere within me, because when I go to the movies, I don’t have any trouble paying attention. But of the stuff I’ve streamed on Netflix or Hulu, anything longer than half an hour usually has to be watched in chunks, sometimes days or even weeks apart. My mind is disorganized, but I’m stuck living in it.

I’ve noticed that my blog traffic seems directly tied to how much I have going on elsewhere. That’s encouraging, but the problem is that whenever I’m in a slump, it feels like I can’t catch a break elsewhere. This slump is taking me a long, long time to pull out of. There’s just nothing to grab onto, and seriously, I’ve never had an apartment search drag on for this long before. Maybe it’s because I’m pickier now and don’t want to move in with a total psycho? Maybe that’s progress, but it’s hard to see it when you’re in the thick of it.

Ayn Rand said that people act in their own self-interest most of the time, and that even when people act altruistically, they’re really just doing it to feel good about themselves. That’s not exactly true. It’s not altruism to do something for somebody else, and it’s not selfishness to do something for yourself. You should do what’s best for you and others. Because there are greater forces at work here.

I’m a day late here, but happy 60th, Mr. Costello. I first discovered his work when I was not too far out of high school. Since then, “Veronica” and “Oliver’s Army” have become two of my all-time favorite songs. He’s a charming fellow.

costello

Ziggurat

Ziggurat at Ur in Iraq

I hate it when people tell me that I don’t appreciate something because I’m bitter. If I don’t like someone, it’s because I’m jealous of their happiness. If I think the way a couple holds hands and canoodles in public is annoying, it means I’m mad that I can’t have an awesome relationship like theirs. If I rant about a movie I hated, people will say, “Oh yeah, like YOU could do better.” Actually, I probably could, but I’m not going to make a movie just so you can critique it. Because even if the hypothetical movie that I make is better than Transformers 7: The Titsplosion (which it almost certainly would be, because fuck Michael Bay), you would probably still find reasons to criticize it. Because that’s what criticism is, from the standpoint of people who aren’t critics. They think it’s all about telling other people that you could do better than they could. But as Pauline Kael once said, criticism is an art form all by itself. There are right ways and wrong ways to do it, and like anything else in art, it’s highly subjective.

I find that I am not very good at estimating how long stuff will take. In the past few months, I’ve missed both a job interview and a play that a friend was in because I didn’t realize just how bad rush hour traffic can get. In one case, I left my house at just after four for a drive that, in good traffic, would take less than half an hour. It took more than twice that. In another case, I left my house for a drive that, in good traffic, could take a little under one hour, and spent 40 minutes just getting on the freeway. As I sat in my car looking at all the other commuters and wondering just how they managed to deal with this shit day in and day out, I resolved never to become like that. Please don’t give me this bullshit about how everybody sells out and goes to work for the man sooner or later. It isn’t true, and if you believe it, it’s probably because you’re a sellout. I try not to succumb to road rage, but man, when you drive down the freeway for half an hour without your speed ever going above 50, you start to get pretty fucking annoyed. Things shouldn’t be like this. They just shouldn’t.

When I was in high school, one of my teachers asked us to draw a pyramid with various layers representing what we wanted in life. I think I put some boring domestic scene on one of the lower layers, with a drawing of myself writing at a desk at the top representing the highest layer of self-actualization. I’m not sure if I still believe that, if only because the entire concept of representing what a person wants in a pyramid seems a little faulty. Then again, maybe not, and all I have to do is figure out what goes on the lower layers. Because once you have food, water, and shelter, the rest is pretty much up to you. Writing is still the most effective tool I have at shutting up the screaming voices in my head. But I have a feeling that it might not always be that way, that I might someday run up against a problem that I can’t simply whine about on my blog. I’ve had no shortage of real-life drama result from something I’ve written here, but I keep doing it because if something I write here offends you, maybe you just shouldn’t read it. As long as I’m not giving away your personal info here, I can say basically whatever I want about anyone. Yes, anyone. Because it is just a blog.

It’s been my experience that it’s more important to have what you have unconditionally than to have it at all. Let me explain: When my mother moved back in, she brought another car with her. I thought that now that we had two cars, I would be able to do shit like run errands whenever I wanted and drive to work on mornings when I didn’t feel like getting up super early, then walking over a mile to catch the train/bus. But of course, my parents have a desire to keep an eye on me. I thought it was unconscious, but now I’m starting to think it might not be. When I took the car to go to my interview, I almost prevented my mother from making her yoga class. My father reprimanded me, then my mother knocked on my door later to do so as well. Could they possibly have communicated with each other so that I didn’t hear the same thing twice? (Three times, actually, if you count the voicemail she left me.) I feel like the dude in Office Space who keeps hearing about how he’s using the wrong cover sheets on his TPS reports. If you had to decide between having to clear it with two people every time you feel like driving and just walking everywhere, which would you choose?

I know I keep talking about the same topics: apartment hunting, issues with my parents, etc. Unfortunately, that’s just where we’re at right now. I want to move out, but nobody will give me a place. I’ve responded to dozens of Craigslist ads and looked at more than a handful of places, but they always give it to the other guy, perhaps because they can sense my desperation. (Then again, maybe they’re just assholes.) I’m the other guy to another guy, so why can’t I catch a break? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

Someday, I’m going to write everything down in a journal, then burn it. Because these days, I’m just not concerned with posterity.

As You Will

I just saw Guardians of the Galaxy and liked it. This summer is definitely shaping up to be a better one for movies than the last one, the high points of which were Pacific Rim and, uh, wait, I’ll get back to you. (Somebody is bound to say Iron Man 3, but you know what? That wasn’t that great. It was overstuffed and the Mandarin twist, while clever, really took the wind out of the movie’s sails. I was really looking forward to watching those two square off. Instead, I got to see Ben Kingsley in an admittedly funny performance and Guy Pearce take over as a far less interesting lead villain. I’m sorry, but that’s just not how you do the Mandarin.) As far as the big blockbusters go, we are definitely on a roll so far, and I think Guardians is a slam-dunk for anybody just looking for something that’s fun, colorful, fast-paced, and not too challenging. It has the Robot King Seal of Approval.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about Marvel movies. My favorite is still Winter Soldier, largely because it does such a good job of feeling like its own thing rather than a pastiche or homage. Guardians borrows from Star Wars in ways that are not even remotely subtle, and that’s not a problem, although it’s becoming fairly obvious that the Marvel Universe has become so lucrative that they’ll give any old character their own movie these days. (Is Hawkeye ever going to get his own movie? Probably not, which is a pity, because those Matt Fraction comics—which have him hanging out in Queens and fighting off people like the Russian mob—are really funny and could be done on a relatively low budget. Ah, but nobody gives a shit about Hawkeye, that’s the problem. I think shooting a bow is inherently cool, so I kinda like him.) The Marvel movies all operate within their different respective genres—Thor 2 is a fantasy epic, Iron Man is a war movie/political drama, Winter Soldier is a 70s paranoia thriller—that I think we have to evaluate them based on how well they work within that pre-established formula. If I were ranking them, I’d make The Avengers a close second.

I’ve always been biased in favor of anything with a political edge. So if you can add a subtext to your story without making it too blatant, that’s always a plus. Winter Soldier is a comic book movie, but it’s also a commentary on privacy and government surveillance, concerns which are very much of the moment. Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t really bother with this. My biggest beef with the film (other than its occasional lapses into sentimentalism) is that its villain is one-dimensional, just like Malekith from Thor 2 (a film I actually enjoyed, more or less). He’s evil and wants to destroy the universe. That’s it, really. And who better to stop him than a ragtag team of loveable outcasts? If I sound like I’m coming down hard on the film, I’m not. I’m just saying that there’s a formula, right down to the scene where the hero gives a big speech and everybody says “I’m in” followed by the “lock and load” montage where everybody gets suited up for battle and marches out side by side in slow motion.

I’m in kind of a bad mood right now. See, I’ve run out of things to say about Marvel, so now I’m turning my attention to job and apartment-hunting, two areas where I have had basically zero luck lately. A couple weeks ago, I was rejected by one landlord despite really wanting the place and getting along great with my prospective roommate (probably because he wanted somebody with a higher-paying job, when shouldn’t the fact that I can pay rent be enough?) and this week, I was rejected by a prospective employer a month after giving a dynamite interview at a store where I shop anyway (at another branch). This has made me rather upset, because it causes me to wonder just what the fuck I am doing wrong. We had performance evaluations at the coffee shop recently, and my boss told me that the feedback he gets about me from customers is…inconsistent. This is actually an improvement upon several months ago, when they hated everything I did, but still. Why do more people not recognize my amazingness?

I just got rejected by a gay couple looking for a tenant because they wanted somebody in their 30s. That seems like an odd reason to reject someone. It would be one thing to say that you prefer somebody who is a little bit older because you find that they are quieter and more responsible, but it’s quite another to refuse to even consider somebody just because they’re a little younger. Seriously, WTF? I’m quiet, responsible, and pay my rent on time. Why the fuck does it matter that I’m not yet 30? It’s not like I’m running for the Senate. Also, some stupid bitch made me remake her cappuccino because I put a little bit too much milk in it. Um, cappuccinos are supposed to have a little bit of milk in them, you fucking cunt. If you want it dry, order it dry (or “bone dry”, if you want it all foam). But don’t make me remake the fucking drink just because you fucking forgot to ask for it the way you fucking want it, then go on and on about how you never have to ask them to do this at other stores. Do I sound angry? Yeah, I kinda am.

I’ve always said that the only bad customers are the ones who don’t know what they want, but blame you for not getting it. As I remade that awful harpy’s drink, another employee (who just left for college, which is good, because he sucks at his job) apologized to her and said he hopes this never happens again. It was all I could do not to pour hot coffee over her head.

I guess that nice gay couple just wanted somebody who makes them feel comfortable as opposed to someone who is actually easy to live with. Reminds me of another gay guy I lived with a couple years ago. I have no idea if their sexuality has anything to do with it, I’m just mentioning it because both parties asked me if I was gay-friendly. In conclusion: fucking people, man.

Anticlimax

tree of lifeI find that myself thinking less about loan debt the more time goes by. Because it’s not really on me, you see. The costs of education have ballooned to the point where you would have to be either Mitt Romney or a redheaded lesbian Olympic skater in order to get the inheritance or scholarships necessary to get out of college debt-free, so I’m trying not to worry overmuch about the fact that my debt is almost $2,000 larger than it was when I graduated simply due to interest. Seriously, who the fuck has this kind of money? More importantly, who the fuck has this kind of money in their mid-20s? In order to have it all paid off by now, I would have had to spend the last year or so working at least 120 hours a week. And wouldn’t you know it, but good jobs are kind of thin on the ground these days. I have a part-time job that could be a lot worse, but even then, I think my loan providers are going to have to be content with the tiny, tiny amount that I send them each month. At this rate, I’ll have to live to be 200 to pay it all off, so it’s in everyone’s interest to keep me alive that long, right?

It’s funny. I’m not a very happy person, yet I seem happier than my parents these days. They’re mad at me, but they can’t even articulate why. I’ve been looking for an apartment for almost two months now. I’ve been looking for a job since January, although I was filling out about one application every two months in the beginning. So no, I do not get up every morning and respond to every single Craigslist post that even remotely applies to me, but neither do I sit around all day patting myself on the back for taking advantage of my parents’ endless generosity. They seem to think simultaneously that I don’t want to leave and that I’m prickly and unpleasant to live with. Sort of like how Barack Obama is a weak, ineffectual leader and an imperialist tyrant all at the same time. If the only criticism you have for someone is that they could be working harder, you’re wasting time. And I really don’t owe them all that much anyway.

Because I’ve already spent God knows how much time talking about my finances and problems with my family, I’ll switch gears here and talk about movies. Basically everyone is telling me to see Boyhood. Some reviewers are even calling it the greatest American film of the past few years. That’s saying a lot when The Tree of Life is only three years old. (Yeah, I like Malick. Suck it, haters. And in case anyone is wondering what he did in the 20 years between Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, read this. Turns out he didn’t disappear or anything; he just had projects in mind that he couldn’t get off the ground. While I’m in parentheses, I think we need to distinguish between being media-shy and a recluse. Thomas Pynchon once quipped that to the media, “recluse” just means “someone who doesn’t like to talk to reporters”. Bill Watterson, from what little I can gather, is basically just a quiet dude who likes oil painting and riding his bike. He’s not a hermit; he just doesn’t care for the spotlight. I respect that.)

Before Sunrise is not actually that great of a movie. Yeah, I said it. I liked Dazed and Confused an awful lot and thought School of Rock was fun, but I think Richard Linklater’s problem is that he tries to make movies where nothing happens like it does in the movies. Alfred Hitchcock once said that movies are life with the boring parts taken out. Our lives are rarely as dramatic as the movies, but the keyword is “rarely”. For example, less than two years ago, I was borderline homeless and got help only when I jokingly threatened to go on a shooting spree and some people took that threat seriously. Less than a year ago, my roommate burst into my room at nine or ten and night and screamed that if I didn’t do what he wanted right now, he would “fucking kill” me. Sound like something you’d see in a movie? I’m still reeling from at least one of those. But Before Sunrise is, to use a decidedly uncritical word, boring. I just don’t give a fuck about these two assholes, which is interesting, since I’m roughly the same age. It’s a will-they-or-won’t-they where it’s obvious from the first five minutes that they will. I like to get that out of the way early on, then see how well we click otherwise.

I’ll probably like Boyhood when I eventually see it; I’m just saying that I don’t really feel the pull. It’s been almost a year since I moved back to California, and the last twelve months have been pretty quiet. I’m really not sure how else to describe them. It’s the longest I’ve ever been out of school, which means that for once, I’m not living according to any predetermined structure. The hard part is finding a way to work within that structure so that the micro is interesting even if the macro is predictable.

If you've seen the movie, you'll get why this is in here.

If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll get why this is in here.

Because I felt like it, I watched Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem recently. That man…has a vision. If you don’t like horror movies or have a low tolerance for nasty, vile, sadistic shit, avoid this movie at all costs. I once made the mistake of watching Re-Animator with my mother in the next room. That film has a scene in which a severed head goes down on a woman who is tied to a table. My mother told me not to watch “that crap” around her again. If I had watched The Lords of Salem with her in the house, she would probably have disowned me. It’s a moody, atmospheric film that looks great given its budget and is about as good as a film can be while still failing on a storytelling level. It really isn’t bad—on the contrary, it has a sort of campy, intentionally cheesy charm that offsets the balls-out nihilism that marks the last 20 minutes or so. It’s the sort of thing that is so twisted and provocative that it almost crosses back over into just being fun.

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s what’s on my mind these days. There is a lot of worthwhile media out there, and it occurs to me that even if I were working more hours or had a boyfriend or more than two friends, I would probably still spend most of my time doing shit like this. I plan on traveling and learning archery and shit, but I’ll have to make space in my head first. Daniel Radcliffe is amazingly cute.