Category Archives: Uncategorized

Don Didn’t Learn Anything, And That’s The Point

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“Why Did Don Finally Stop Running?” a headline on Slate.com asked in the days following the final episode of Mad Men. The answer ultimately doesn’t matter, because the question is based on a false premise, one that arises naturally from the fact that show is ending and we want to believe that Don has found some measure of happiness on that cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean, chanting “om” with people who will soon be represented by avatars in a world famous Coke ad.

Here’s the thing: Don hasn’t stopped running, or, to be more accurate, he has simply called off the running for now. He reaches no new level of understanding, and his life is still, as he confesses to Peggy, broken. He just got an idea for an ad, a great one, by going on a road trip and plunging into the culture while straying far from his Manhattan ivory tower. Don didn’t gain any new insight into himself, he only obtained new insight into the consumer.

Don has no self, and never has. All his consternation about McCann, all his soul searching about finding something more than advertising, was, in the end, not part of a search for personal meaning, it was part of his creative process, which we finally realize are the same thing. “Don does this,” Stan reminds Peggy. Roger says virtually the same thing to Meredith. This is what Don does: he questions the meaning of everything, runs away from his life, seeks to find a connection with his past, and eventually comes back with a great idea for a commercial. It’s easy to assume that Don comes up with a great idea for a commercial because he has achieved some level of personal understanding, but this is reading Don’s journeys backwards. He calls off the search for understanding when he gets a good idea for an ad, having learned nothing new about himself, other than the fact that he’s still got it, which is enough to delay his existential crisis for a season or so.

It’s a great take on creativity and is more complicated than imagining that Don was only suffering from a lack of Yoga or unaligned chi. That stranger that Don hugs after a brutal monologue about failing to find love also goes so far as to imagine himself as a product in a refrigerator wanting to be selected. That might be the whole crux of the series right there, the integration of Don’s work as an ad man and his desire to be loved, the anthropomorphized Coke in the refrigerator crying out “pick me, pick me!” What this final episode says is not that Don’s professional aspirations mirror his personal desire to be loved (which is sort of what the series has implied), it’s that they are one: Don’s ability to come up with a new commercial satisfies his desire for real human connection and answers all his vague anxieties over emptiness and meaning, so much so that he can call off the search and head back to New York and create an all-time great commercial.

In the alternate reality where Mad Men continues, Don Draper will do this again. He will become disillusioned and unanchored, he will look to his past and the road for answers, he will feel terrible, and he will come up with a great idea. Rinse, wash, repeat. Don does this. This is a show that is wonderful for its ability to show how people adjusted over a tumultuous decade of rapid change, while ultimately staying the same. Joan becomes her own boss (she was always a boss), Peggy finds love (what she was looking for when she first joined Sterling Cooper) and Don is still an ad man with an empty life. He might have learned something about himself, about his desire to find connections and how that relates to his work. But in the end he’s the same as he was in 1960, an ad-man with no relationship with his children and a longing for a sense of self that doesn’t, and will never, exist.

What he gained, hopefully, was a little better understanding of his own creative process, which is ultimately, all he has. I can’t decide if that’s hopelessly sad or beautifully inspiring. I think it’s fair to say, like the series as a whole, it’s both.

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What if Game of Thrones characters were…interesting?

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It’s almost time for the return of everybody’s favorite incestuous, nerd-gasmic TV mega-spectacle, Game of Thrones, which means it is almost time for me to suffer through an hour of meandering, incoherent, and virtually unrelated series of period mini-films with my roommate while I seethe and count the minutes till Veep starts.

(Veep is a thousand times better than GOT. If Selina Meyer was transported to whatever-the-fuck-eros, she would be queen in 15 minutes and if she had dragons she wouldn’t be a “pet mom” to them while she meandered around the desert, reenacting an even longer, more boring feminist version of Lawrence of Arabia. She’d be getting shit done while being hilarious.)

Game of Thrones is fucking boring. Why am I the only one who sees this? One, maybe two things happen a season —– and by “things happen” I mean a main character is murdered out of nowhere and then everybody talks about it for three episodes.  Yes, there is sex and nudity and violence and torture. This show has made these things boring, which is difficult to do. GOT tries to mask super dull plot exposition by having it delivered by hot naked women, which both RUINS the titillation I feel from bare breasts on the television, and makes it impossible for me to even process the tedious discussion at hand. At this point, the sex on GOT feels like a weekly sex appointment. The nudity on this show is the disinterested hand job of sex on television.

Then there is the violence and the torture, which the show deploys with little regard for its usefulness in relation to the story. Watching what’s-his-name get his dick chopped off in GOT was a lot like watching the Passion of the Christ, except if Jesus was stupid and insignificant and I was completely ambivalent about whether I wanted him to live or die, but mostly wanted him to die faster so we could get through all of this nonsense and get to Veep already.

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The show is boring, and this is coming from someone who loves baseball and Mad Men. I would rather watch Don Draper smoke a cigarette and stare at the Manhattan skyline then watch another plot slowing, wet-blanket throwing “advisor” tell one of a dozen ill-defined minor characters (or not! Who knows what a minor or major character is on this show anymore?) that he should not move hastily, that the future is owned by the ones who wait for the bees to share their honey of their own accord, or some such not-at-all-deep fake folk saying. Yes, caution is better, especially when writing a show in which the creators have no idea how it will end. We are now in season 5 of a set up! Five fucking seasons of setting up a confrontation! WHEN IS THE BLONDE GIRL GOING TO MEET THE DWARF?

It’s just like Chekhov said, if you show dragons in act one, they must breathe fire at their enemies only in bonus footage in the commemorative DVD set.

I’ll admit I’ve never read the books, which I am told are absolutely amazing by lots and lots of people whose taste I do not trust at all. Even worse, when I complain about why the show is terrible, the fact that there are 35 characters who are all interminably boring and whose motivations are totally unclear, or that when the plot gets tedious, or incomprehensible (usually both) the writers’ solution seems to be to add more plot tangents, I’m told that the show actually cuts a lot out, that there are way more characters in the books, and still, still I am told with evangelical zeal that I should read the books because they are better.

The shittiness of something is not diminished by increasing the volume of said shit.

I should also admit that I liked the first season of GOT. There was real political intrigue (not just, “hey, I should be king too!”) and the characters related to one another, their individual struggles reverberating throughout the show’s universe. This was before the show’s diaspora sent all the characters into situations in which the relationships between them no longer existed and documenting their adventures started to feel like a chore, like we are on the seventh installment of the Up Series and we have to check in with everybody even though three of them haven’t said anything interesting in four movies.

Ned Stark was a great character. He had a purpose: he was unraveling a conspiracy, a conspiracy that only gained momentum as the season went on. Early Deanerys was interesting as well, her character actually grew and transformed in some really fascinating ways. Peter Dinklage as Tyrion is by far the show’s best performance and character, which is why he should be on the screen most of the time. Instead his character’s share of the story is continually supplanted by one unremarkable contender for the throne after another, which gives me the feeling of watching an early primary presidential debate on a stage filled with insane longshots, nameless faces, and idiots. Why can’t we narrow this down to Tyrion and Deanerys and Jamie? Why are the kids who insist on walking everywhere still on the stage? Where are they walking to again? WHY IS NEWT GINGRICH STILL HERE?

I understand that nobody agrees with me that GOT is poorly written and its characters boring. I understand that I sound old, cantankerous, or, even worse, like a philistine who doesn’t have the attention span to sit through a sprawling pseudo-historical epic in a layered fantasy world.

The people have clearly spoken about GOT. People LOVE this show. People look at me with a mix of shock, horror, pity and condescension when I express my doubts about the quality of what often turns out to be their favorite show.

But, as the great Selina Meyer once said, “I’ve met some people, ok. Real people. And I gotta tell ya, a lot of ‘em are fucking idiots.”

(I’m also totally aware of the possibility that I am one of those idiots.)

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Hast thou considered the Cuttlefish?

 

I traveled to Boston this weekend, where I learned some things.

1) There is a point where snow can cross a categorical line from “precipitation” into “the physical manifestation of Gaia’s desire to rid herself of the human infestation.” That line has been crossed in Boston.

2) If you bring a bottle of whiskey with you to a cool restaurant, and hand it to the waitress and say “this is for the kitchen” you will get all sorts of delicious food sent to you for free. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this before. Why was I even watching Anthony Bourdain this whole time if not for tips like that?

3) There are things called cuttlefish, and they are the most amazing creatures on the planet. I stared at one for twenty minutes at the Boston Aquarium. We communed. The video you see here is a fantastic explanation of just how awesome the Cuttlefish is, and why it would absolutely be necessary to kill all of them if they were the size of, say, a dolphin. And why we wouldn’t be able to kill them if they were the size of a killer whale. Also, there would be no killer whales.

Also, James McMurty’s new album, Complicated Game is out today. Celebrate. He is truly the cuttlefish of singer songwriters. A review will be up soon.

 

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Super Bowl Stuff on Slate

Slate published a piece I wrote comparing the Legion of Boom to my favorite secondary ever, the Ty Law – Rodney Harrison led backfield that won back to back Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004. The thing they really have in common is the fact that the league changed (or “re-emphasized”) the rules after both teams beat up on Peyton Manning.

http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/2015/01/legion_of_boom_what_the_seattle_seahawks_have_in_common_with_the_last_new.html

My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad High School Football Career

The good people over at Slate.com have published an essay I wrote about being a terrible high school quarterback, and by terrible, I mean maybe the worst ever.

 

The Top Ten Reasons Why I’m Quitting the List Game

By A (Righteously Indignant) Veteran Top Ten List

10. You don’t even need to be a top ten list to be published anymore. In my day, if you had seven items, or sixteen, you’d be either sent to Santa or thrown away in the supermarket parking lot. Now there are “top twelve lists” and “top forty-two lists.” What’s next, the top two reasons to buy a car in the winter? The top 6.8 ways to win on eBay?

9. The pound sign has been murdered and turned into something called a hashtag. Pound signs were for lists and lists alone. Pound signs were used to organize ideas. They made each one dignified. Hashtags ruin ideas. They commodify ‘em and make ‘em cheap. Hashtags turn everything into whores. And not the good kind.

8. Half the lists aren’t even lists. People used to read lists because they knew they were getting something special, something with some punch. Maybe even a blue joke. I used to put those around number four and give the reader some time to collect himself before the big payoff at number one.  Now everywhere you look people are writing journal entries and disguising them as lists. “Top six reasons I had a great day.” These bastards are betraying the public trust in lists and Obama is just letting it happen.

7. Letterman’s about to go. Damn shame. That was the only real place an up and coming top ten list could get noticed anymore. I remember I was on that show in 1992. Nancy Kerrigan read me. Nice broad. Legs up to her ears.

6. Some of these lists are just pictures. They don’t even have copy. You’ll see fourteen unattributed pictures masquerading as a list. Now, I’m not against pictures. After I came back from the war, I was working as an FBI most wanted list at the post office. People just looked at the pictures, I know that. But we still had text, whether anyone read it or not. That was where I met my first wife actually, she was a pretty little telegram. I made her a top ten list of stamps, “flowers of the west” they were called. That was one night she didn’t use STOP, if you know what I mean.

5. These lists today repeat themselves. You can’t have “the through the dorm shortcut” and “stopping inside somebody else’s dorm for warmth” on your “38 ways you know you went to the University of Alaska at Juneau.” You should be trying to reduce items anyway, not repeating yourself. Get it to a round number at least. God almighty. Why do I even bother?

4. There’s no integrity anymore. Lists used to matter. You had to verify your sources and be ready to ask the tough questions. You know we were this close to getting a Pulitzer category right? They almost gave it to a list who worked with Sy Hersh. The “Top ten reasons that Agent Orange will be a huge headache for the U.S. government.” Headache? Ha! He had balls that one. Good list. Ahead of his time. Married a cocktail menu. Died in a swimming pool.

3. The lede can be anywhere these days. We used to bury that sucker, bury it all the way down at number one. That was something we were proud about. We would go into the newsroom and call all the new stories pussies for putting the lede first, trying to buy the reader off. Might as well open with chocolate and flowers. We buried our leads with pride. Made you earn it. These days the best one is always number seven or something. Pathetic.

2. Fucking Buzzfeed. I’d add 23 reasons why anyone who reads that can go to hell, but I have enough respect for you not to just choose numbers out of the air and pretend they matter, like some sort of carnival gypsy. I was once Nixon’s enemies list you know. Twenty assholes, all heavyweights, and I carried them all, pulled a double and barely avoided the shredder. You were always worried about the shredder when Ol’ Dick was around.

1. A list doesn’t even get a proper end anymore. I’ll take the shredder over an icon of a recycling bin any day. Now there’s no pageantry, no respect, no ceremony, none of that beautiful shredder engine starting up, none of the dignified howl as the paper gives up the ink. No, now they just delete you and you’re gone, like you never existed. Well not me, dammit. I’m retiring and I’m going to see the country as an old-fashioned chain letter, a list of ten awful things that will happen to you if you don’t mail me forward. With any luck, I’ll go out helping a cowboy light some kindling. I’m not going to die as a fart coming out of some computer’s ass, I’ll tell you that much.

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Volcano Adventures

Here are a couple articles I wrote for WheninManila.com, one of the largest and most successful Manila lifestyle blogs. My roommate, Vince Golangco, founded the site a few years ago. Now he is on billboards around Manila (no joke).

I wrote about hitting a golf ball into a volcano and staying at a weird hotel. Naturally, I got a free hotel stay and volcano tour out of it. I would add that what I wrote was totally true, and even if I was reviewing them totally objectively, without any freebies involved, I wouldn’t change what I wrote. I did, however, get soaked on the boat ride back from Volcano Island. I left that part out.

 

 

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Volcano Adventures: 

http://www.wheninmanila.com/golf-at-taal-hit-a-golf-ball-into-taal-volcano-for-all-of-humankind/

 

http://www.wheninmanila.com/the-theodore-hotel-in-tagaytay-spectacular-sights-both-inside-and-out/

 

 

An Open Letter to the Elderly Man Pushing an Empty Wheelchair Across Prospect Park

Who was the person who was sitting in that wheelchair last? Who was in it before you were pushing it, empty, down the middle of the Long Meadow in Prospect Park?

 

An empty wheelchair raises a lot of questions. I was helping this girl I’ve been seeing study for a comparative literature master’s exam when you passed in front of the knoll we were studying on. I pointed you out and we agreed that somebody was recently in that wheelchair, that nobody brings a wheelchair to the park just in case.

 

What happened to them?

 

Was it you? Were you pushing your own wheelchair?

 

Because I admit if I was to imagine you at rest, standing or sitting, I wouldn’t think it out of the realm of possibility that you might require a wheelchair to get around Brooklyn or anywhere else. You looked old and you were slightly hunched, dressed in grey and browns, corduroyed and capped. But you were pushing that wheelchair, a nice one, automatic-looking, right through a game of cricket being played by some small brown children.

 

I got to say, you were kind of moving.

 

I was forty or fifty feet away. I could see the edges of your white hair. You were pushing it like some sort of wheelbarrow, out in front of you, its emptiness signaling some sort of purpose, but what could it be? You looked weak, I’ll admit, the wheelchair shaking your arms and the meadow and its rolling topography making every step a struggle. But you didn’t stop. You plowed straight ahead through a game of Frisbee, the personal space of a kite flyer, the flight path of a football (I almost yelled) and finally the space between some bocce balls before I lost sight of you as you rolled toward Grand Army Plaza.

 

Was it your wheelchair? I can’t imagine, unless I was witnessing the aftermath of a miracle, something that the nearby Hispanic families with their tables full of food and anchored balloons would attest to in some sort of beatification hearing. But what else would drive you, steadfast, head perfectly straight, down the middle of the lawn, away from the many paved walkways and paths on either side of it, unless you were finally free from that wheelchair?

 

It seemed like a celebration, a victory lap. Were you on your way to burn it?

 

The other, much darker, possibility is that your hustle, determination, and avoidance of main thoroughfares was not a celebration of newly operational legs, but an attempt to get away from the scene of a crime.

 

I’ll just ask: did you dump a para- or quadriplegic person somewhere in Prospect Park? Will I be reading about this tomorrow? Or worse, did you murder the person before bringing them to the park? Was the journey into the park with a body in a wheelchair a “Weekend at Bernie’s” thing?  Did you hide the body well, well enough that I won’t be reading about it tomorrow, but maybe six months from now, maybe years, when a skeleton is found with no identifying marks in a drainage system somewhere?

 

Was that our one chance to catch you? Was the march down the center of the meadow the one conspicuous thing you did, and we all either ignored it or just thought it was cute or peculiar? Am I a culpable witness to a 21st century Kitty Genovese case?

 

Who was it? A gambling buddy down at the American Legion Hall who refused to pay his cribbage debt? A lover that left you for a younger man? Was it just some vaguely Arab-looking neighbor that your senility had convinced you was up to something nefarious?

 

Was it a mercy killing? Or was the person already dead, a wife of half a century who wanted here final resting place to be Prospect Park, the place where you met and asked her to the movies? Maybe you didn’t have the money for a cremation, so you brought the body in a wheelchair and buried her between some trees, lovingly, tenderly, but with a harrowed sense of purpose.

 

The woman I am helping study tells me she likes this option the best. It’s romantic and macabre. The miracle seems unlikely, she says. If you had just gotten back use of your legs you’d be dancing, not pushing your damn wheelchair through the park. You’d just ditch the wheelchair, she says.

 

But I know the thriftiness of the greatest generation better than she does. I know that if you grew up in the Depression you do not just throw away a perfectly good wheelchair.

 

The other possibility, and it’s by far my least favorite, is that you just looked like an old man. That you were some especially heinous type of hipster, one that not only dresses like an old man, but accessorizes with wheelchairs.

 

I’d rather you have murdered someone than this be the case. I’d rather you brought miracles or death than more ironic showpieces.

 

Although, even if that’s what you were, you were determined, and you made me think about miracles on a beautiful day in the park, struggling to define “baroque” with a new lover and a dog-eared text book under kites and sunshine.

 

I just really hope it wasn’t the Arab neighbor option.

 

Yours,

 

Another Beer Salesman