Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Feels like a two-fer of sadness today what with the death of Coretta Scott King and the speedy swearing-in of Judge Alito. It's not enough to hustle him into robes so that he can be confirmed in the afternoon, attend the State of the Union in the evening but Trent Lott has to shoot his mouth off about how the only reason anyone could oppose Alito is partisanship.

John Powers talks about this entertainingly in his book Sore Winners, that it's not enough to simply emerge victorious; it's important to smush your opponents' noses in their defeat. Indeed. In writing about the 2000 Election, Powers says that he wasn't expecting Bush to have won and then notes that, in retrospect, since Gladiator won best picture that year, he should have read the zeitgeist a little more closely.

So then what are we to glean from this year's nominees for Best Picture? Brokeback Mountain, Munich, Good Night and Good Luck, Crash and Capote? Other than the fact that the liberal, homosexual agenda is obviously thriving (go zeitgeist! woo hoo!)

Enough of that. I had to order a book from Amazon for school and I am a total sucker for the little message that says, "Wait! Add just $8.91 to your order and it qualifies for free shipping!" The book I ordered to push my $ over the threshold was 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style by Matt Madden.

Here's the story, as transcribed by Bookslut:

A young man sits at his desk, hard at work on his laptop.

He stands up and folds the laptop down.

As he walks out of the room, he stops for a second.

“What time is it?” asks a voice.

“It’s 1:15,” he says.

The voice says “Thanks!”

He opens the fridge.

The young man then stares at the open fridge.

He thinks to himself: What the hell was I looking for, anyway?!

I should point out that these are cartoons. Madden experiments with not only cartooning styles (underground comix, political cartoon, superhero) and narrative styles (point of view, language, etc.) but with everything. 99 is a lot of variations and setting the bar so high forces innovative approaches (tell the story as an advertisement, as a tapestry, as a map.)

What if it happened in a different location? What if everything was the opposite (and what does "opposite" mean when applied to "everything")? What if it had different text? Different images?

It's tough to describe how charming this book is; the website offers a sliver that suggests the joy.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Chicago is getting a smoking ban this week for "public places." What's a public place? Well, it's not a restaurant or a tavern; they have until July 1, 2008. Furthermore, establishments that can demonstrate that they have a kickass air filtration system can continue to allow smoking. I'm assuming that "demonstrate" is code for "pay off the inspector" but whatever.

Also this week, the Marshall McGearty Tobacco Artisans Lounge is opening in Wicker Park. As far as I can tell, it's going to be like a brewpub for tobacco...they handroll swanky cigarettes and put them in a fancy box. According to the Sun Times, the place is like a coffee shop with WiFi, board games, sofas, a full bar, desserts and snacks. And deep pockets, the whole venture is underwritten by RJ Reynolds, whose research indicates that 20% of smokers have "a superpremium mindset" whatever the hell that is.

This seems like a fantastic idea, this swanky cigarette place. As someone who enjoys the occasional cigarette, yet would enjoy dancing or eating an omlette a lot more if there wasn't anyone smoking nearby, I think that people should be permitted to vice up SOMEPLACE without huddling near the parking meters. By flagging it as a Tobacco Artisans Lounge, it's a clear signal that there is going to be smoking and lots of it indoors (they claim to have one of those kickass air filtration systems) and if that grosses you out, there are certainly plenty of other places for you to go in the neighborhood.

If tobacco lounges blew up the way coffee shops did, little neighborhood places to sit on old, velvet furniture and smoke, well that sounds awesome.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I bought a sandwich for lunch today and I paid using a gift card for that chain of restaurants. I think the woman at the cash register was high. I say that partly because I used to operate the cash register while high at a restaurant where I once worked. And I say that partly because she stapled my receipt to the gift card, right through the magnetic stripe.

When I asked, "Just out of curiosity--why did you staple my receipt to my card?" she looked at me and said, "so you'll know the remaining balance on the card."

That eye contact, that's a giveaway too. "I'm acting like I have nothing to hide! I'm transparent! If I was stoned, would I be making eye contact with you?!?" was always a big part of getting high before clocking in.

I'm living my life differently now, one day at a time as they emphasize, and it's good every once in a while to be reminded of what it was like to try and seem sober.

Which brings me to the James Frey book scandal.

I was annoyed by James Frey when the book first came out because the interviews all mentioned that he has FTBSITTTD tattooed on his arm (the letters stand for "Fuck The Bull Shit It's Time To Throw Down" which is this weird sort of mullet-pretension.) Alex read the book and liked it very much. I haven't read it except for the parts I could see over strangers' shoulders on the El so I can't really speak to the book itself.

I remember Alex trying to explain to me that the message of the book is "Hang on." That's not his interpretation of the message, that's the message. Hang on. Which maybe seems incredibly moving in the context of the book, it didn't do anything for me when I heard it.

Seth Mnookin, who has written about his own experiences in getting off drugs, writes in today's Slate about the scandal over A Million Little Pieces and why the scandal is about more than whether or not someone did a little embellishing in his memoir.

Mnookin describes a passage from the book, one that has NOT been contested by any fact checkers. As a child, Frey had horrible ear infections which were never properly diagnosed. He literally spent the first two years of his life screaming in pain. As an adult, a counselor tells Frey, "If those screams went unheeded, whether consciously or unconsciously, they might have ignited a fairly profound sense of rage within you."

Frey goes on to declare:

I'm a victim of nothing but myself, just as I believe that most people with this so-called disease aren't victims of anything other than themselves. … I call it being responsible. I call it the acceptance of my own problems and my own weaknesses with honor and dignity. I call it getting better.

Mnookin says that this fear of seeming like a victim necessitated the fabrications in the story.

Based on all the evidence, it seems Frey's weird, macho fear of seeing himself as a "victim" led him to fabricate a life that was painful and extreme enough so as to explain the sadness and despair he felt. Instead of a crack-binging street fighter, ostracized by both his peers and society, the investigation indicates Frey was more likely a lonely, confused boy who may or may not have needed ear surgery as a child and felt distant from his parents and alienated from his peers. He drank too much, did some drugs, got nailed for a couple of DUIs and ended up, at age 23, in one of the country's most prestigious drug-and-alcohol treatment centers.

When Frey writes that, after one of his fictitious arrests, he hated himself, saw no future, and wanted to die, I believe him. I grew up in a well-off suburban household with loving parents and no clear traumas in my past. I was popular enough in high school, I joined the newspaper and acted in plays, and I got into a good college. I was also miserably, sometimes almost suicidally, depressed, and, from the age of 15, I was taking drugs and drinking almost every day.

Frey must have felt that his real, very scary, and very lonely feelings would have seemed weak if it was only preceded by standard-issue suburban teenage angst.

Okay, so Frey may have deluded himself into thinking that he was Courtney Love and he turned it into an entertaining book. So what? As Oprah said on Larry King, he's bringing a good message forward to people who need it, right? Mnookin again:

For nonaddicts, "Pieces" reinforces the still dangerously prevalent notion that it's easy to spot a drug addict or an alcoholic—they're the ones bleeding from holes in their cheeks or getting beaten down by the police or doing hard time with killers and rapists. For those struggling with their own substance-abuse issues, Pieces sends the message that unless you've reached the depths Frey describes, you don't have anything to worry about—you're a Fraud.

In building up a false bogeyman—the American recovery movement's supposed reliance on the notion of "victimhood"—Frey has set himself up as the one, truth-telling savior.

And if you do have a problem, you don't need to necessarily get treatment or look to others for support; all you need to do is "hold on."

FTBS indeed

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I don't drink anymore so the game I've come up with for the Judge Alito confirmations is this:
Everytime someone says "Stare Decisis" you have to strip-search a minor.