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Slapstick Sketch on Infinite Loop: A collection of essays amongst other things

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A c o l l e c t i o n of e s s a y s
a m o n g s t other things by Paul Fisher
UMI Number: EP61573
All rights reserved
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UMI
D is s m ts tio n P u b lis h in g
UMI EP61573
Published by ProQ uest LLC (2014). Copyright in the Dissertation held by the Author.
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Slapstick Sketch On Infinite Loop
By
Paul Fisher
This essay co llection is s u b m itte d in fu lfillm e n t o f the fin a l p ro je c t re q u ire m e n ts fo r
the U n iv e rs ity o f Southern C alifornia, M aster o f Professional W ritin g program .
A p p rove d :
±2x
Faculty A d v is o r - M.G. Lord
A p p ro v e d :______ /_____ J
v v_____________________
P rogram D ire c to r - B righde M u llin s
Date .
Date:
11- 2,2 - 2 0
Dedicated to m y Parents, Iris and Eugene, fo r th e ir enorm ous
c o n trib u tio n s to m y life both genetic and o th e rw ise (except fo r
m ale p a tte rn baldness and body hair, o f course).
The Cam pbell's Factor, Part I
1
To The V ic to r Go The Bagels: Part I
5
Im possible Requests And B lind Faith: T u rb ulence Ahead Guaranteed
13
The Cam pbell's Factor, Part II
20
F irst Date Physics
23
The Cam pbell's Factor, Part III
36
The Essence o f Self W h ile W a itin g For D in n e r
40
C haracter A rch
46
The Campbell's Factor, Part IV
60
An Old S tory
62
The Cam pbell's Factor, Part V
82
On The W ild Side: A T h in ly Veiled Exercise In M is a n th ro p y
86
H ow R om antic M ovies Ruined M y Love Life, Ages
94
1-23
The Cam pbell's Factor, Part VI
103
G rum py H olid ay Sketches
107
The Campbell's Factor, P art V II
116
Can You Get Me A Bagel? : Part II
120
The Campbell's Factor, Part V III
127
Back Cover (Made You Look)
Cover and title page a r t by Jan Dickey
1
The Campbell’s Factor, Part I
"So, is th is going to be a, u h — tra d itio n a l novel, w o u ld you say?” m y cigarchom ping, toad-faced agent, Nathan Blargens, asked me in a h ig h -pitched, g ra tin g
w h in e — the type th a t u sually o n ly resulted fro m an e x tre m e ly cold show er. He sat
behind his desk lik e a fat cat— w r in k ly and pockm arked, too.
1 was s ittin g across fro m h im in a b rid g e chair, the v in y l u p h o ls te ry o f w h ich
was held in place w ith duct-tape. I snapped back, "H m m , that's a great question.
Can I assume you w a n t an answ er to that? Hold on, le t me lo o k th ro u g h m y calendar
so I can pencil you in."
Before I entered Blargens' office b u ild in g , a Jesus fre a k was d is trib u tin g
bibles outside, and as I'm n o rm a lly squeam ish using the w o rd "no,” I had accepted a
copy.
I th u m b ed th ro u g h the pages, p re te n d in g it was m y fille d a p p o in tm e n t book.
"Let me see i f 1 can pencil in some tim e to answ er y o u — h o w ’s next m onth? I'm
available rig h t a fte r a ritu a l b u ll sacrifice on the 18th.”
"Stop w ith the b u lls h it, W heelsnap, o r I'll drop you lik e a bad h a b it,” Blargens
roared. He rem oved some earw ax fro m his rig h t ear w ith his index fin g e r and
flicked it into the corner. "Ughh, m y u lce r!" He w inced w ith pain and reached fo r
the candy dish fu ll o f TUMS and Raisinettes on his desk. His ulcers had
co n ve n ie n tly coincided w ith ideas o f m ine fro m the s ta rt o f o u r re la tio n s h ip and I
d id n 't q u ite k n o w w h a t to m ake o f them , because he alw ays acted s lig h tly crazy. He
e ith e r had a m e d ica lly irre p a ra b le ulcer, w hich acted up constantly, causing an
2
insu ffe rab le a m o un t o f pain and anguish, o r he w an ted me o u t o f his office every
tim e I spoke and he e x p e rtly w ie ld e d the insu ffe rab le w eapons o f a w rith in g ,
m iddle-aged w a lru s-m a n 's m oans and groans.
1 alw ays played along. "Okay, Okay, I'm sorry, Nate! Jesus, d o n 't ye ll at me, I
can’t handle it. A re you OK? Do you need m o u th -to -m o u th ? "
I huffed on m y
glasses, w ip e d them clean on m y sh irt, p u t them back on m y face and feigned
concern, s lig h tly d ro o p in g m y lo w e r lip in em pathy.
Before I go on, I'm re a lly sorry. I'm te rrib le at re m e m b e rin g to in tro d u c e
m yself. I'm H a rry W heelsnap and I'm a w rite r.
I fe lt bad, b u t also c o u ld n 't help laughing at him . He had such a s h o rt fuse,
and he looked like a b u rn t-o u t circus clow n w ho ran o u t o f m akeup. He
m o o n lig h te d as a used vacuum salesman, b u t I kn e w he was co u n tin g on me as his
meal tic k e t— n o t th a t I had produced m uch w o rk th ro u g h w h ic h he could have made
an honest b u ck— m ore a meal tic k e t in a fig u ra tiv e sense. Like, i f 1 were to
h y p o th e tic a lly w rite anything, I w ould be his meal ticke t. I w a sn ’t fa m ilia r w ith the
concept o f needing a tic k e t fo r meals anyway, and I was g e ttin g a little tire d o f all the
pressure he p u t on me to w rite .
A few weeks ago at his office, he had ju s t finished g rillin g me a b o u t one o f my
recent sto ry ideas. The s to ry in question was to take place at a New Jersey W h ite
Castle h a m bu rg e r restaurant. A ll o f the characters represented the d iffe re n t castes
fro m Indian society. I had hoped he w o u ld appreciate the b itin g sa tirica l
co m m en tary on social m o b ility , b u t he was all hung up on sm all details such as m y
lack o f know ledge p e rta in in g to the c u ltu re o f India and W h ite Castle's supposedly
sm all dem ographic appeal. I proposed creating an a u to b io g ra p h ic a lly based
p ro ta g o n is t to show m y ow n desired u p w a rd m o b ility , b u t he ignored me,
suggesting I change the se ttin g to som ething m ore universal, like the Sizzler.
Despite m y lack o f progress, Blargens seemed to have ve ry stro n g feelings fo r
m e— n o t the p o sitive type o f feeling w he re yo u 'd come home and kiss he llo and ask
a b ou t each other's day. It was m ore lik e the type o f love w here you cross the doorjam , and a vase strike s the m olding, shattering, as you suddenly re m em b e r you
fo rg o t y o u r a n nive rsa ry or to take the roast out o f the oven th a t you sta rte d cooking
last Tuesday. But it seemed lik e love anyway. E ith e r that, o r I was his o n ly client.
One tim e, he b le w me o ff to "m eet w ith an oth er c lie n t" whose name he could
n o t disclose to me because o f th e ir "c o n fid e n tia lity agreem ent." I was on m y w ay to
B urgerC hef to p ilfe r some p lastic w are and packets o f ketchup, w hen I saw h im in a
w in d o w at Macy's m aking sm all ta lk w ith several w ell-dressed m annequins, w h ich I
m e re ly chalked up to one o f his crazy and unexplainable acts. Later, I'd trie d to
c o n fro n t h im about w h a t I perceived to be an egregious breech o f tru s t in the clie n tre p re se n ta tive re la tio n sh ip . But all he did was ram ble on about fo rg e ttin g his
glasses at hom e before he was supposed to m eet w ith Keanu Reeves a bout the next
4
great ch ild re n's book on the P ro te sta n t R eform ation. I was beside m yself, b u t not
lite ra lly .
“You d o n 't even w ea r glasses!" I yelled.
( Continue 'Campbell's' on page 201]
5
To The V ic to r Go The Bagels: P a rt I
My firs t taste o f Los Angeles was in the sum m er o f 2008 w hen I v is ite d m y
frie n d w ho was ta k in g college classes. I had been to Seattle before, b u t to me
C alifornia was the real W est Coast, the place w h e re the sandy, p ier-side carnivals
m ixed w ith the o scilla tin g sp o tlig h ts o f the glam orous e n te rta in m e n t in d u s try . The
lon g cliched place w he re dream s came tru e w h ile one played hard and occasionally
w o rke d ; a place w he re one m ig h t ru n in to his TV id o l o r Superm an on H o llyw o o d
Boulevard. I h a d n 't taken a vacation th a t was as lib e ra tin g and p ro m is in g as th a t
one-w eek sun-coast spree, and 1 w o n 't deny th a t I had a dam n good tim e, b u t 1 was
at one p o in t b ro u g h t s tra ig h t back d o w n to Earth lik e a fo rg e tfu l skydiver. Late one
day m y hu ng e r had b ro u g h t me to a bagel e sta b lish m e nt w here I was p ro m p tly to ld
th e y w ere closing. Fine. But w hen I left, w ho should w a lk in b u t M o lly Shannon o f
SNL fam e— o r w h a te v e r you w a n t to call i t — accom panied by a yo u ng g irl th a t could
have been h er daughter, niece, o r precocious assistant. M o lly asked fo r som ething
sim ple. I d id n 't q u ite hear w h a t because I was leaving and hungry, b u t let's ju s t say
she asked fo r a cinnam on ra is in bagel w ith b u tte r and was instantaneously served
w ith a sm ile. I was show n firs t hand w h a t it re a lly m eant to be a n o n -c e le b rity in
Los Angeles.
I kn o w I'm n o t a ce lebrity. I've had m y suspicions fo r a w h ile . So I'm not
a lo o f to th is fact, n o r am I as big a n a if as to be unaw are o f H o llyw o o d nepotism .
Connections are e v e ry th in g — b u t in the bagel w o rld ? I had no idea one needed
6
m a jo r m o tio n p ictu res lik e A N ig h t A t The Roxbury o r S uperstar to get served in a
delicatessen. F u rth e rm o re , I have no beef w ith "ce le b rity ." W h e th e r you w a u l Lo
a d m it it o r not, m ost celebrities have w o rk e d hard to get w he re th e y are and to a
ce rta in exte n t th e y paid th e ir dues and are e n title d , as it w ere, to reap th e ir rew ards.
B ut th a t means g e ttin g to b u y nice things o r g e ttin g in v ite d to aw ard shows o r
having y o u r name in the pa pe r...fo r som ething good. I also have no q u a rre l if, let's
say, M o lly b o ug h t a m ansion in the hills. I cannot a ffo rd h yp o th e tica l m ansion, so I
am n o t upset. But, I c e rta in ly can a ffo rd a bagel, tw o even, and ye t she s till w on.
T h a t b others me.
It's ir r ita tin g because it's n o t as if n o ta b ility o n ly necessitates b e tte r
tre a tm e n t fo r k n o w n entities. It's alm ost as i f it's purpose enacts th is insane n o tio n
th a t it's OK to tre a t a n o n e n tity w orse. A ctually, n o w th a t I w rite it out, it's k in d o f
funny. M o vin g on.
In the in te re s t o f fu ll disclosure, I re a lly h a ven 't m et o r seen th a t m any
celebrities, even now, a year in to m y residency in H ollyw o o d . And I live a b lo ck
n o rth o f the action. Paparazzi lin e the H o llyw o o d B oulevard adjacent p o rtio n o f m y
street, tr o llin g fo r life crises to exploit. N ot all o f m y encounters have been negative,
though. A t the p re m ie re fo r Bad Lieutenant: P o rt o f Call, New Orleans th e re w ere a
few o f the fam ous persuasion. N ick Cage c o u ld n 't make i t — as fa r as I k n o w he was
in n egotiations w ith the IRS try in g to persuade them to le t him keep his Faberge
h e lic o p te r— b u t the d ire c to r, W e rn e r Herzog and a couple o f his fra t-b o y financiers
in th e ir shiny, Italian, tw o -size s-to o -sm a ll suits w e re there to give a speech. I was
7
paying him h a lf a tte n tio n (really, it's an h o n o r) w hen I fe lt an e lb o w in m y ribs. It
was m y frie n d w ho had gotten the ticke ts in the firs t place. He p o lite ly in fo rm e d me
th a t there was som ething I needed to check o u t to m y th re e o’clock. I tu rn e d m y
head and Eva Mendes was rig h t there.
I'm te llin g you here and no w th a t I do n o t
gaw k at celebrities, read TMZ, care about the latest and greatest c e le b rity couple
name smashup, o r re a lly even recognize too m any m ovie stars, b u t m y ja w dropped
to the flo o r. M y frie n d com plained th a t m y reaction was hackneyed, b u t fu ck him ,
Eva was rig h t there! I stared at h e r u n til it was no lon g e r acceptable.
A ctually, she le ft before I could stop.
B ut e a rlie r th a t night, w h ile w a itin g on lin e to get in to the p re m ie re at
Grauman's Chinese, I th o u g h t I saw B radley Cooper sa u nte r in, b u t it was ju s t some
random sh o rt guy in a nice suit. It was re a lly d is a p p o in tin g — n o t the suit, just, yeah,
w ell, you get it.
I w o u ld understand the s e n tim e n t at th is p o in t i f someone th o u g h t I was
rehashing kn o w n in fo rm a tio n . Yes, Paul, we know celebrities are treated differently.
Thanks f o r the update. B ut I re a lly feel as though m any o f us take th a t dynam ic fo r
granted and le t it p e rsist because it's the "n o rm " o r you ju s t re a lly d o n 't care. E ith e r
w ay, th in k a b ou t some o f the special tre a tm e n t. W h ile on lin e fo r the p re m ie r, I
noticed th a t th e re was a roped off, m a ke shift c o rrid o r leading to the theatre, a k in d
o f o u t-in -th e -o p e n hallw ay. So, n o t o n ly do the g litz and glam cro w d get to shuffle
in to the th e a tre and o u t o f the th e a tre before the peasants, b u t th e y get th e ir ow n
g ro un d to w a lk on. It's bad enough th a t th e y separate them selves fro m people, b u t
8
to cordon o ff a segm ent o f the FLOOR so th e y can be the o n ly ones to w a lk on th a t
h a llo w e d ground? That's ju s t nuts. They get tre a tm e n t th a t should be reserved fo r
diplom ats, ro ya lty, o r the Pope, b u t th e y are re a lly ju s t o u r am bassadors to
vo ye urism and laziness. They should have to w a lk on the same flo o r.
It's n o t lik e I spend any a m o un t o f tim e fussing over prem ieres o r b ird dogging fam ous people. I'm p re tty sure I w o re a black T -s h irt, s h itty jeans and black
Adidas sneakers w ith holes above each big toe to th is fir s t show ing. I'm sure Eva
w a sn 't im pressed, b u t w he n d id going to a m ovie tu rn in to a black tie affair?
H ig h b ro w types p ro b a b ly spied me fro m across the ro o m and com m ented on m y
bourgeois fare, sp e cifica lly in d ic a tin g to each o th e r th a t th e y recognized m y lack o f
class. M eanw hile, I sn id e ly re m arke d to m y frie n d s th a t o n ly an u p tig h t, analre te n tive snoot w o u ld v o lu n ta rily slip h im s e lf in to a m o n k e y -s u it to go to the fric k in '
movies. I mean, it was o n ly a N ick Cage film .
To counter, I am som etim es im pressed w ith the random sigh tin g o f someone
I recognize fro m a m ovie o r TV. W h ile hom e in N ew Jersey, o u t fo r a n ig h t o f
b o w ling , I was p u t in the lane next to B randon Jacobs, ru n n in g back fo r the New
Y ork Football Giants. I w atch fo o tb a ll every w ee k d u rin g the season, m u ltip le games
in fact, and even though I kn e w w ho he was, I s till fo rg o t his name w h ile asking fo r
an autograph. So instead o f a "Hey Brandon, g reat w o rk last week, w o u ld you m in d
signing th is fo r me?” A ll I got o u t a fte r shoving a b la n k square o f paper in his face
was, "sign this, please?" as i f ru d e ly handing h im a c re d it card receipt. So yeah, I get
im pressed too, b u t n o t to the exte n t th a t the gossip queens and kings do. Even m y
b u d d y w ho w o rk s in the m ovie in d u s try — a dem ographic th a t could and should be
at least s lig h tly im m un e to the w o rs h ip o f the w e ll-k n o w n — sees people lie
recognizes all over to w n . We w ere w a lk in g across the stre e t fro m an In -A nd-O ut
B urger on Sunset w hen he stopped. "Yo, do you see th a t? ”
"See what? People? Burgers? Yeah, I see people eating b u rg e rs.”
"No, th a t guy at the co rn e r table eating w ith a n oth er dude."
"Yeah, so w ha t? ”
"T h at guy was in Die H ard 2. He was the v illa in ’s assistant o r som ething.”
1 was astounded. I m ay recognize Bruce W illis if he w alke d in to w he re I was
standing and was obvious a bout it. But th is kid looked across the street, th ro u g h a
w in d o w , in to a re s ta u ra n t and picked out the m ost in s ig n ific a n t o f b it players fro m a
m ediocre m ovie. Do I even need to say a n y th in g about this? He also recognizes
extras and sm a ll-tim e actors fro m TV shows he doesn't even w atch.
The tim e I was a ro un d the m ost show -biz people was w hen I was done the
h o n o r o f being in v ite d to a Sim pson's table read. I have to be careful here, because 1
d o n 't w a n t it to sound even s lig h tly lik e I'm not th a n k fu l to have been b ro u g h t in to
w itne ss th is type o f th in g. It was genu in ely a sing u lar experience to be behind the
scenes o f one o f the m ost successful cartoons and TV shows to ever exist. And fo r
the m ost p a rt it was a d yn a m ite experience g e ttin g to hear the likes o f Hank Azaria,
Dan Castellenata, Julie Cavner, Y eardly Smith, H a rry Shearer and o th e r e xtre m e ly
talented voice actors do th e ir thing. A lo t o f the actors take on m ore than one
character and in several instances had scenes all to them selves w he re th e ir m any
10
m a n ifestations had it out w ith each other. Mr. Castellenata does H om er's, Krusty's,
Grandpa Simpson's, M ayor Q uim by's, and Harney Gumble's voices. Besides the
im m ed ia te fam ily, Mr. Azaria does m ost o f the o th e r character's voices and th e re are
m any tim es w h e re these gentlem en w ill re sp ective ly have argum ents w ith
them selves and it's re a lly an h o n o r to w atch. A t the table read 1 was in v ite d to, 1
happened to s it do w n next to th is n e rd y lo o k in g fe llo w th a t had a gaggle o f
p u b licists o rb itin g around him , a n sw e rin g cell phones, co n sta n tly ty p in g texts o r
em ails and w h is p e rin g in his ear. I was try in g to fig u re o u t w h a t show he was from ,
b u t before 1 got too fa r in to the w o rth le s s endeavor, M a tt G roening made the
announcem ent th a t they w ere p ro u d to have M a rk Zuckerberg in th e ir m idst. Yeah,
th a t's rig h t, the in v e n to r o f Facebook. I h a ve n 't seen m any m ore tw e rp -y lo o kin g
in d iv id u a ls and I sm ugly to o k confidence in the fact th a t 1 could k ic k his b illio n a ire
ass.
A fte r the read was over, as is the custom, all the invitees w ere a llo w ed to get
th e ir copy o f the s c rip t autographed by all those gracious enough to stay. A few o f
the actors bolted, Castellanata included. 1 was a little bum m ed because 1 w an ted his
signature, b u t m any o f the big names rem ained in th e ir seats lo o k in g re la tiv e ly
pleased th a t th e re w e re people o u t th e re w ho w anted th e ir autographs. They are
some o f the m ost fam ous voices in the w o rld , b u t th e y are s till o n ly voices, and w ith
th a t come the benefits o f m oney and show -biz savvy, b u t none o f the re co gn itio n
th a t comes w ith being on the screen itself. Smith, Cavner and Azaria w ere re a lly
nice about the w h o le thing, and w ith o u t q u estio n in g m y age o r m ental capacity
signed m y script. Then 1 looked over to the head o f the table. M a tt Groening, w ho 1
11
do th a n k fo r opening up his office to me, was lite ra lly s ittin g in his seat, s ta rin g at
some fixed p o in t on the w all. 1 s lo w ly approached him and calm ly and co o lly asked
i f he w o u ld be w illin g to sign m y script; th a t it w o u ld be an honor. “ 1 can't," he said
in n o t the w a rm e s t o f tones. He co n tinu e d to s it th e re fo r a n oth er few seconds. "I
ju s t can't. Give y o u r copy to one o f the w rite rs , h e 'll give it to me, I'll sign it
som etim e and w e 'll fin d a w ay to get it back to you," his sh o rt w ay o f saying no
fu ckin g way. It was im m e d ia te ly a fte r that, th a t he got up, w aved an index fin g e r at
Facebook man and th e y scu rrie d o ff to his office. Goddamn Zuckerberg gets one-onone face tim e and p ro b a b ly w in e d and dined at lunch, b u t I can't get the guy to sign a
piece o f paper w h ile he's s ittin g dow n w ith his b ra in on standby.
And to a certain extent, I realize th a t a fte r every table read he's p ro b a b ly
asked to give a little signature here o r there, and I re a lly d o n 't th in k it w o u ld k ill him
to do so, especially re g ard ing the fact th a t he looks lik e a co m p u te r engineer w h o
last exercised in 1989.
I can't understand h o w m ore celeb-types d o n 't snap. The occasional
assaulted cam eram an doesn't seem to be in keeping w ith the barrage o f a tte n tio n . I
w o u ld flip o u t i f I had to be confined to a segm ent o f flo o r especially reserved fo r m y
kind. I w o u ld feel lik e an absolute d ick i f all someone w anted fro m me was a copy o f
m y name and I came w ith the answer, "I can't." "C an't" doesn't exist. It's m ore like,
"I d o n 't w a n t to."
But it's not like I have to w o rry about achieving A -lis t status o r being faw ned
over fo r being some p ro je c tio n o f m yself. And th is is n 't a lack o f confidence o r even
a conceit th a t I ca n 't m ake it in th is to w n — m uch to the co n tra ry. I f one day I do
make it big as a TV w r ite r o r c o lu m n is t I w o n 't have m y face plastered all o ve r the
TV o r m ovie screen. You w ill n o t w a lk by w ith y o u r frie n d, pause and spy me
th ro u g h a w in d o w eating a double-double, no onions o r tom atoes, w e ll-d o n e fries
and a s tra w b e rry shake, n o r w ill you see me sp u rn in g those w h o do recognize me
fo r w h a te v e r reason, te llin g them th a t it's p h ysica lly im possible at th is m o m en t to
m ove m y hand across th e ir page w ith pen in to w . A nd I hope against hope th a t i f I
re a lly do make it one day, th a t bagel stores all over the G reater Los Angeles M etro
Area do n o t serve me a fte r tu rn in g th e ir lig h ts o u t ju s t because o f m y name. I f th e y
do, I'll p ro b a b ly ju s t w rite so m ething s h itty a bout them .
13
Im po ssib le Requests and B lind Faith:
T u rb u le n c e Ahead, G uaranteed
A ir tra v e l has alw ays been a curious, s ta rtlin g a d ven ture fo r m e— a
h a rro w in g experience. It all starts w ith m y p re p a ra tio n . As m y h o llo w suitcase
loom s large on m y bed, the fear sets in. W h a t in the w o rld could possib ly prepare
me fo r m y trip ? A re 10 pairs o f u n d e rw e a r re a lly necessary fo r a 10-day tr ip (that's
a question one is o n ly a llow ed to ask oneself)? W hat's the w e a th e r going to be like?
W h a t i f there's a m onsoon? Did I pack m y parka? W h a t SPF sunscreen should I
secure? I grab an a d eq u ate-looking p ile o f socks and th ro w them in to the g la rin g
em ptiness.
Should I spend m y tim e fo ld in g o r can I cram e v e ry th in g in to m y bag and
spend the re m a in d e r o f m y tim e q u e stio n ing w h e th e r I rem em bered everything?
One th in g is certain: M y bag b e tte r n o t be the one th e y p ic k to ra n d o m ly search,
because the contents are jam m ed in to the p o in t th a t the sheer k in e tic energy
released by u n z ip p in g the suitcase w o u ld create a typ e o f im m e d ia te c rin k le d -c o tto n
debacle; lik e one-thousand c o il-s p rin g snakes tra p p e d inside one p ra n k canister.
And this is ju s t the p re curso r; the appetizer, as it w ere, to the m ain course. I have
n o t ye t a rriv e d at the a irp o rt.
Ah, the a irp o rt. The m in d -n u m b in g lines, in co h e re n t attendees, convoluted
mazes o f hallw ays w ith an illo g ica l energy a bout th e m — so m ething always seems
amiss at the a irp o rt. Can these se cu rity guards re a lly stop a zealous te r r o r is t w ith
an im p o rta n t m ission? Is m y sham poo re a lly th a t im p o rta n t to scrutinize? Yes, m y
14
bag has been w ith me the w h o le tim e — w he re else w o u ld it have been, g e ttin g food
by itself? Does m y C liff s Bar re a lly lo o k th a t m alevolent? The lis t o f questions is
in te rm in a b le .
Done w ith the se cu rity che ckpo in t rigm a ro le , I feel ab solu te ly violated.
There I am, m y packing job rip p e d asunder. I'm h o ld in g m y shoes and b e lt in m y
hands, the contents o f m y pockets scattered, m y co m p u te r is ly in g som ew here apart
fro m its case, a p a rt fro m m y backpack, because som ehow , X -ray cannot perm eate
the rugged and im pe n e tra b le fo rtre ss created by cloth. They have ju s t raped m y
serenity. I need a fe w m om ents to p u t all m y s tu ff back together. To compose
m yse lf w ill take longer.
O nw ard n o w to th a t senseless tim e w a rp at the gate w h e re in hours are
w asted in the name o f p u n c tu a lity — th e ir w ish is th a t you show up early so th a t
y o u r tim e is in th e ir hands. They w ill waste it freely.
They cattle-call us onto the plane. People push and shove and jostle to board
in a m o m e n ta ry rush to s it and w a it. Once on the plane, and once people are done
bludgeoning each o th e r w ith th e ir carry-ons, w e 're n o w at the m ercy o f a ir tra ffic
co n tro l: The dem i-gods o f a ir travel. Again, the fate o f o u r precious tim e is in th e ir
hands. M ore often than n o t th e y squander it m iserably. "A hhhhh folks, th is is y o u r
ca p ta in n n n nn n here. W e 'll be delayed a sh o rt tw o h ours due to w h a t we believe to
be several ch ip m u n ks s c u rry in g about at o u r d e stin a tio n point. W e'll keep you
updated.”
15
Ponder the fo llo w in g : It's a given th a t the flig h t fro m N ew a rk L ib e rty A irp o rt
to Los Angeles In te rn a tio n a l w ill take 6.5 hours. It is a given Lhal the flig h t w ill leave
on tim e [never, b u t fo r the sake o f th is argum ent, let's say it) at 6 PM. B oarding
starts at 5:15 PM. W ill th e re be a lin e o f d is jo in te d h u m a n ity a p p a re n tly aching to
get on th is plane? You bet! B ut w hy?
W e 'll never know .
W h y are people in th a t a fo re m en tio n e d rush? We a b solu te ly k n o w w e a re n 't
g e ttin g anyw here u n til all pre sen t persons board the plane. G etting in lin e to board
firs t is n o t advantageous, y e t w e all hustle and sw eat and connive to get the best
p o sitio n to board. In fact, some people never even s it dow n. The answer?
We all w a n t to get the hell o u t o f the te rm in a l. N atu rally. W ho w ants to be in
an a irp o rt? W ho w ants to fly? No one! We all w a n t th is erran d to be over w ith as
soon as possible, regardless o f the illo g ica l and ineffectual n a tu re o f a tte m p tin g to
speed the process up.
O bserving b e h a vio r in the a irp o rt is to a n th ro p o lo g ic a lly stu d y the affect o f
fear and la te n t im p e n d in g doom . I in v ite you to tr y it o u t the next tim e you are stuck
in the te rm in a l, w h ich i f you ask me, is about the w o rs t possible w o rd we could have
th o u g h t up to name the place one w a its fo r planes.
You mean "te rm in a l," as in, it all ends here?
And really, can w e blam e a irlin e s fo r any o f this? We are m em bers o f a
captive audience, m ost o f w h o m prepaid fa r in advance o f the event and have no
16
hope o f ever re couping a single cent fo r any type o f inconvenience w ith s to o d . The
a irlin e s d o n 't re a lly have to im p ro v e anything. W h a t are you going to do, n o t fly?
HA!
You could be to ld to board n o w fo r a delayed flig h t and yo u 'd s till rush to be
on it. Psychologically, 1 suppose people th in k th a t the sooner “A" happens, the
sooner "B" and "C" w ill fo llo w . A irp o rts are im m un e to th is u n ive rsa l logic. Your
flig h t w ill s till take those 6.5 hours unless the p ilo t finds the hidden w arp-speed
b u tto n th a t th e y never seem to be able to locate. The o n ly real p o s s ib ility is th a t the
flig h t w ill take lon g e r than necessary because the c o n tro l to w e r at o u r d e stin a tio n
feels ove rw h e lm e d and has o u r plane taxi in circles fo r fo rty -fiv e m inu tes w h ile the
c o n tro lle r finishes his tu rk e y sandw ich.
H op e fu lly w e have a s h o rt flig h t. Being shot th ro u g h the a ir in a steel tra p
w ith w ings is never m y preference. 1 loathe the lack o f room , the stale air, the
in e vita b le spread o f com m unicable diseases. The seat in fro n t o f me w ill be reclined
backw ards in to the depths o f m y sinus cavities. Somewhere, a baby w ill scream
w h ile a fe llo w passenger's paunch dangles d e lica te ly in m y face as he rum m ages
th ro u g h the contents o f his bag placed c o n ve n ie n tly above m y head. The p ro x im ity
to m y fe llo w man is alm o st sickening, and it is im possible n o t to notice th e ir habits
o r th e ir a ctivitie s at any tim e. There are fingers in noses, an in e vita b le flatulence
fills the air, and m y personal space is u n qu e stio n a b ly and u n a p o log e tica lly
in va d e d — lik e Poland. There is no p riv a c y on a plane.
Sometimes, th is can w o rk to y o u r advantage. A recent flig h t to a Southern
Mecca o f Music, N ashville, TN, on an in s u ffe ra b ly sm all a irc ra ft— a school bus w ith
17
w in g s — I was e n te rta in e d by an inane re q ue st posed by a respectable lo o k in g
businessm an across the aisle fro m me.
In an exchange in w h ic h the flig h t a tte n d a n t in fo rm e d h im th a t he w o u ld
have to pay tw o d o llars fo r his requested b o ttle o f w ater, he ca lm ly and co o lly shot
back, " I'll ju s t have ta p -w a te r then." Yes, he asked fo r tap w ater. The flig h t
attendant, to h er credit, sh o w in g the u tm o s t patience and professionalism , s im p ly
responded by saying th a t she did n o t have any. But th e re w ere a n u m b e r o f
excellent and tr u ly deserving responses:
A) Sir, w e are in the m id d le o f the sky...w ou ld you care to m o d ify y o u r request?
B) Yes, rig h t away, sir. I w ill go in s ta ll filte re d ru n n in g w a te r in o u r plane
im m e d ia te ly.
C) Sorry, Sir, no tap w ater, b u t I can grab you a glass o f m ilk fresh fro m the cow.
D) Say WHAT?
B lin d fa ith is a large p a rt o f th is w h o le scene. W e're placing y o u r life and
tru s t in a large, se lf-p ro p e lle d m etal tube th a t is o p e ra tin g at such d izzyin g heights
and extrem e speeds th a t the tin ie s t im p e rfe c tio n could send the w h o le th in g dow n
in a fie ry, sh ra p n e l-sp ra yin g blaze (S orry).
We seem to have th is faith, though, even though we have all seen the
cataclysm ic afte rm a th s o f h o rrib le a ir-flig h t disasters. Perhaps th a t is the cause o f
such ra n co r in the a irp o rts . Everyone know s th e y could be fly in g to th e ir doom . N ot
a th o u g h t th a t w o u ld b rin g o u t the sh in in g side in m ost hum ans. And th is can be
18
applied to the em ployees o f the a irp o rts , as w ell. H ow w o u ld you feel i f y o u r jo b was
p o te n tia lly sending hundreds o f people to th e ir b lazing demise? So m aybe there's a
reason w h y a irp o rt em ployees com m unicate on a sub-hum an level m ore often than
n o t— maybe.
OK. So m y flig h t is over. I'm relieved. I am tire d and hungry. "Get me o ff this
p lane!" I scream w ith in the confines o f m y skull. I a tte m p t to g ather m y belongings
w h ile being re-bludgeoned w ith some recognizable carry-ons fro m the w a y in. I
fin a lly strap on th a t backpack, a w k w a rd ly w re s tle m y ca rry-o n fro m the overhead
bin, and ju s t b a re ly avoid b ra in in g the nice old w om an in fro n t o f me w h o moves
s lo w e r do w n the aisle than a to rto is e s tru n g -o u t on heroine. I’m o ff the plane! I
rush th ro u g h the gate and p ra c tic a lly s p rin t do w n to get m y bag and get the hell o u t
o f there.
Then 1 get to stand and w a it at w h a t appears to be The Carousel fro m Hell. It
seems lik e h u ndreds o f zo m b ie -like hum anoids are s lo w ly and b ra in le ssly
a pproaching a black, c irc u la r co n veyor belt, although n o th in g has come o u t and
w o n 't fo r about 20 m ore m inutes.
Finally, the firs t suitcase emerges, and suddenly it is everyone's. Everyone is
in trig u e d and in awe o f th is sight. Everyone's luggage looks the same so th e y all
approach th is h a rb in g e r o f things to come and fo n d le it. "W hoops, n o t m ine !" This
e ffe ctive ly precludes the a b ility o f the actual o w n e r to take possession and rem ove
his carcass fro m the ensuing cluster-fuck. This dem onic Carousel creates pure
19
madness. The general th o u g h t being, “ If I get re a lly close to it, m y bag w ill come
out."
If at the end o f th is h o rre n d o u s tr ip you fin d y o u rs e lf the absolute last person
at the baggage claim , and th e re are no m ore bags com ing, you have an e n tire ly new
p ro b le m to deal w ith : It is n o t so m uch g e ttin g y o u r bags back as fin d in g a
co m p eten t and a tte n tiv e em ployee th a t w ishes to deal w ith an in c re d ib ly
d is g ru n tle d cu sto m e r w h o n o w has n o th in g fo r his tr ip and w ishes to be
com pensated w ith the CEO's firs t-b o rn child o r so m e th in g o f equal o r g re a te r value
like cold, hard cash.
If you fin d y o u rs e lf in th is pickle, you w ill be dealing w ith insurance claim s
and lo st and found fo r weeks, even m onths. W hen th e y fin a lly decide th a t th e y sent
y o u r bag to Madagascar and it is c u rre n tly being w o rs h ip p e d as a god, th e y say they
w ill re im b u rse you fo r y o u r loss as long as you can ite m ize every single th in g you
w is h to be com pensated fo r to the last cent. Then th e y w ill haggle and ta lk you
d o w n to ta kin g a s ig n ific a n tly less su bstantial chunk o f change because some
m ilq u e to a st in th e ir accounting d e p a rtm e n t feels as though y o u 're try in g to p u ll
th e ir pants do w n over the price o f y o u r shaving cream and th a t ju s t gave h im a bad
im pre ssio n o f the w h o le tra n saction.
B ut m aybe y o u 'll be lu c k y a fte r all and y o u r bag w ill shoot o u t o f the suitcasecannon and p re c a rio u s ly shred its w ay d o w n to w he re you can get at it a fte r fig h tin g
o ff the te e m in g hoards. Maybe e v e ry th in g w o rk s its e lf o u t and you can c a rry on
w ith y o u r life and leave the sour taste o f the experience o f y o u r m ost recent a ir
tra ve l at the firs t b a r you e n co u n te r— u n til y o u — o r I— have to fly som ew here else.
20
The Campbell’s Factor, Part II
W hen I was a little kid, about fo u r o r five, I was fascinated by w ords, because
books w e re so fu ll o f th e m and— fo r some reason u n k n o w n to m e— separated the
pages th a t had pictures. A t age six, I b ro u g h t m y fa th e r's copy o f W ar and Peace
w ith me in to the b a th ro o m so th a t 1 could reach the to ile t. W hen I emerged, m y
fa th e r was incredulous. "You m ay n o t ever m ake me proud, b u t lo o k at th a t book
yo u 're reading! May you g ro w up to w rite lik e th a t b o rsch t-su ckin g Russian!"
1 have been e n th ra lle d by the lin g u is tic arts ever since, and one tim e, in grade
school, I b ro u g h t in a ty p e w rite r and sta rte d w r itin g a s to ry fo r m y class as m y
"show and te ll." U n fo rtu n a te ly , w ith all th a t pressure I got w rite r's block in fro n t o f
the w h o le class, and made n o t a fe w peers cry w hen I th re w the ty p e w rite r o u t the
w in d o w .
I once looked up the w o rd " w rite r" in the d ic tio n a ry and the d e fin itio n w e n t
so m ething lik e this:
a p e r s o n eng a g ed in w r i t i n g b o o k s, a rtic le s , etc., e s p e c ia lly f o r a
p r o f e s s io n o r o c c u p a tio n .
P re tty snazzy, eh? I had been w o rk in g as a paid w r ite r fo r qu ite some tim e,
and I was publishe d in ju s t about every Chinese re s ta u ra n t around tow n. It started
w ith Chan's on 4 2 nd, and a fte r th a t it was ju s t a m a tte r o f tim e before all the local
peddlers o f General Tso's w anted m y p o w e rfu l prose d e scrib ing the succulent
dishes on th e ir menus. B ut in a fit o f in s p ira tio n and lu s t I b a re ly m isnam ed one o f
21
Panda House's new dishes last A p ril, and I was fired. It could have happened to
anyone, but th e re it was on 10,000 copies o f th e ir take o u t menu:
H um an Chicken,
s p ic y b u t n o t to o h o t, l i g h t l y fr ie d w i t h a
s e le c tio n o f s te a m e d v e g e ta b le s r e m i n i s c e n t o f th e g l o r io u s H u n a n
p r o v i n c e 's a r o m a t i c a n d f l a v o r f u l c u is in e . $11. P a ir th e c h ic k e n 's
g l o r y w i t h th e g ild e d o v e r t o n e s o f o u r egg ro lls . $1 each. A d d a cup
o f w o n t o n s o u p f o r $1.50.
I heard th e y w e n t o u t o f business soon th e re a fte r, and I m e ntioned to
Blargens th a t I m u st have held some in c re d ib le influence over the Chinese Food
in d u stry. He pasted the h a ir on the sides o f his head back w ith his sw eaty hands and
sighed, "Yeah, n o t to b u rs t y o u r bubble o r anything, b u t it had n o th in g to do w ith
you. Panda House b u rn e d d o w n w hen a d is g ru n tle d em ployee stuck a Peking duck
in an e lectrical socket."
It was aro un d th a t tim e th a t Nathan p ro m ise d me a book deal. M y firs t
subm ission as his c lie n t was a tom e e x to llin g the v irtu e s o f m o d ern -d a y alchem y,
to ld th ro u g h the eyes o f a fic tio n a l re tire d m im e fro m Rhode Island. It was re a lly
a b ou t man's struggle to come to g rip s w ith his ow n m o rta lity — and th a t w ho le craze
ab o u t m a kin g gold o u t o f q u o tid ia n objects, lik e b e n t silve rw a re . Nathan w o u ld la te r
te ll me th a t he had used m y screed to clean his desk a fte r a p a rtic u la rly aggressive
lunch and th a t w e'd have to s ta rt over again, b u t I picked up on the vibe th a t he was
less than pleased w ith m y w o rk w hen he stressed th a t I w o rk on so m ething else. It
was alw ays "som e th in g else" w ith Blargens.
22
Since then, w e'd been c o lla b o ra tiv e ly b ra in s to rm in g to come up w ith the crux
o f m y firs t great A m erican novel, and 1 was certain so m ething good was on the way.
( Continue 'Campbell's' on page 36, please?)
First D ate Physics
(Mind out of the gutter, please)
W h ile v is itin g m y fa m ily d u rin g m y firs t grad school break, I planned to relax
fo r a few weeks, read a bo ok o r tw o , and re m in isce in m y ho m etow n . I liv e in Los
Angeles d u rin g the year and th is p a rtic u la r w in te r was a frig id one in the n o rth e rn
suburbs o f N ew Jersey. B ut as a n a tive n o rth ea stern e r, I q u ic k ly re m em b e re d ho w
to deal w ith the chill. I rode to m y local 24 h o u r D un kin Donuts.
A nd it was in th is east-coast coffee p u rv e y o r's d in in g area th a t I sipped a
va n illa la tte 1 and read a ch a pte r in Stephen H aw king's, "A B rie f H is to ry o f Tim e."
The specific chapter was e n title d , The U ncertainty Principle, w h ic h tells o f o u r
in a b ility to determ ne s im u lta n e o u sly the p o s itio n and v e lo c ity o f a p a rticle , m a kin g
clear th a t the b e tte r one kn o w s the ve lo city, the m ore u n lik e ly one is to fig u re o u t its
p o s itio n and vice versa.
S cientific advancem ents be dam ned, though, I was re a din g w ith m y o ve rly
sw eet beverage, s ittin g in m y orange ch a ir at m y p in k table w he n the bells attached
to the entrance (o r exit, as the case m ay be) jangled me o u t o f a sentence a b ou t h o w
E instein never accepted th a t the universe was governed by chance. A guy about m y
age2 w alke d in w ith an a ttra c tiv e blonde g irl. They w ere b o th b u nd le d up against
the sin g le -d ig it th e rm o m e te r readings. I co n tinu e d to read, b u t it w a s n 't easy to
focus, and soon m y a tte n tio n tu rn e d elsew here, snooping, so I co n tin u e d to h a lf read
h a lf spy like a se lf p ro cla im ed co v e rt o p e ra tiv e — I had m y o w n m ission w ith m y ow n
1 (A n a t y p i c a l ly s y r u p y o r d e r f o r me, as m y u s u a l o r d e r in a place such as t h a t is, s im p ly , ''c o ffe e ” )
2 25 o r so
p a ram e te rs and it w o u ld o n ly end w hen I was done searching fo r the a n sw e r to a
question I d id n 't ye t k n o w 1 had.
They b ro u g h t th e ir coffees to a table conspicuously close to m ine. C harlie did
a little dance a round the table a fte r Elise sat, n o tice a b ly unsure w h e th e r he should
sit next to o r across fro m his a p p a re n t date. M y tw o th o u g hts at th a t m om ent:
1) W h y'd th e y s it so dam n close to me?3
2) These people are ve ry o b vio u sly on th e ir fir s t date, and because o f
th a t I am fascinated and m u st observe them .
The firs t date— com edians have rip p e d it to shreds in th e ir routines. It's the
u ltim a te a w k w a rd s itu a tio n th a t keeps jo k e y types in business. Jerry Seinfeld
sum m ed it up best w hen he characterized a firs t encounter: "W h a t is a date really,
o th e r than a jo b in te rv ie w th a t lasts all night? Only diffe re nce betw een a job
in te rv ie w and a date is th a t th e re a re n 't too m any job in te rv ie w s th a t th e re ’s a
chance y o u 'll end up naked at the end o f it."4
3 I ’m n o t r e a l ly g o in g to go i n t o th is t o p i c because th e r e a re a f e w i m p l i c a t i o n s t h a t s t r i k e m e as
w e i r d , b u t m o r e i m p o r t a n t l y , t a n g e n t ia l. T h e f o r e m o s t in m y m i n d is t h a t 1 c o u ld h a ve b e en a c tin g as
a s o r t o f g u a r d ia n , as i t w e re . Y ou k n o w , g ir ls d o n ’t lik e m e e t in g n e w g u ys in p r i v a t e places; n o t even
in p u b l i c places t h a t a re n o t w e l l o c c u p ie d . So, as 1 w a s th e o n l y o t h e r p e rs o n th e re , I c a n ’t h e lp b u t
w o n d e r i f Elise p ic k e d t h a t t a b le s i m p l y b ecau se I w a s th e r e to act s h o u ld a n y t h i n g o u t o f lin e ta k e
p lace on C h a r li e ’s p a rt. A n o t h e r p o s s i b i l i t y is t h a t t h e y w e r e b o th r e a lly n e r v o u s and i t d i d n ' t o c c u r to
t h e m t h a t i t w o u l d seem p e c u l ia r to s it n e x t to a s t r a n g e r w h i l e in th e m i d s t o f a d a t e — o r she t h o u g h t
I w a s cute. W h o k n o w s ?
4 O ff " I ’m T e ll in g Y ou F o r T h e L as t T i m e , ” 1 9 9 8
They could have m et any n u m b e r o f random ways. C ouldn't it be th a t th e y
w e re b o th in lin e at the same tim e at a local bakery, o r b o th w e n t to a m eeting a b ou t
zoning laws? M aybe th e y backed in to each o th e r in a p a rk in g lo t at the local super
m a rk e t and realized th e y had the same insurance c a rrie r— o r it m ay have been one
o f those creepy o n lin e m eetings and th e y w ere both re lieved to see th a t the person
w h o m th e y w e re m eeting was, indeed, an actual person. I d o n 't k n o w h o w th e y met,
b u t w a tch in g them was in trig u in g , i f fo r no o th e r reason than th a t 1 was spying. And
in the spying game, th e re is alw ays the chance o f being caught. So I trie d to seem as
though I was fa s tid io u s ly reading m y te x t on the cosmos and o u r co n triv e d
u n ive rse -g o ve rn in g fo rm u la s th a t have since the be gin n in g o f tim e proven to us th a t
no m a tte r h o w m uch w e calculate and th e o riz e w e w ill never a ctu a lly know a n yth in g
fo r certain. M ost o f the tim e any b re a k th ro u g h begets m any m ore questions than
the ob serve r had in the fir s t place.
As th e ir m eeting w e n t on, the archetypal happenings o f all fir s t dates
com m enced in a m anner th a t all those w ho have ever been on a firs t date w o u ld
su re ly recognize.
Elise: W h ere'd you go to school?
Charlie: W illia m Patterson. Good tim es.
Elise: W h a t do you do fo r fun.
Charlie: Oh, you know . W o rk o u t. Hang o u t w ith friends. You?
Elise: I lik e to o u t w ith m y friends, have fun. I lik e to stay in too, though. Do you
have any b ro th e rs o r sisters?
Charlie: Tw o b ro th e rs.
Elise: Pets?
Charlie: A Gold fish.
Elise: Do you believe in God?
This w e n t on fo r a w h ile , and it seemed lik e th e y w ere having an am iable
conversation. C harlie's attentiveness was im pressive, although he seemed a b it too
q u ie t to h o ld Elise's a tte n tio n . Eventually, th e y lo s t some steam, w h ich le ft C harlie
g ra p p lin g fo r so m ething to say.
An ob serve r can te ll by the potency o f the questions being exchanged and
answ ered ju s t w he re the date is headed. W h a t w ere once p ro b in g and im p o rta n t
in q u irie s in to the depth o f one's character q u ic k ly digressed in to the p u rs u it o f
triv ia litie s .
Elise: W h a t typ e o f m usic do you liste n to?
Charlie: Oh, you kn ow . E verything.
Elise: Me too.
Charlie: F avorite color?
Elise: Green. You?
Charlie: I d o n 't kn o w . Do you lik e cake?
Elise: Yeah. W hat's you fa v o rite college mascot?
It was at th a t p o in t th a t I w anted to close m y book, b e tra y m y cover and tu rn
to w a rd both o f them and address the s itu a tio n : Listen guys, I've been listening to yo u
f o r quite a w hile and I know y o u 're having a g re a t tim e and y o u seem to be g e ttin g
along re a lly well. B u t i f y o u 'd like to have a second date, o r the chance o f a series o f
dates c u lm in a tin g in an eventual sexual episode, then yo u should p ro b a b ly end this line
o f questioning now before it's discovered th a t one o f yo u is offended by the other's
fa v o rite ice cream fla v o r. N ow g e t o u t o f here.
B ut I d id n 't do th a t and instead tuned o u t the ensuing conversation c itin g
fa vo rite s and the lik e and was q u ic k ly consum ed by m y ow n lin e o f inane
questioning. I tend to relate u n rela te d m a tte rs w hen happenstance juxtaposes them
fo r me. In th is case, I made an a tte m p t to m a rry the u n c e rta in ty p rin c ip le to the firs t
date. They m ust be related, I th o u g h t H ow much m ore uncertain can y o u g e t than
p a rtic ip a tin g in a f ir s t date ? The a p pa re n t answ er in fro n t o f me: N o t Much.
Now, before I delve in to m y new th e o ry o f the fir s t date, I m u st m ore
p ro p e rly explicate the u n c e rta in ty p rin c ip le , as the b rie f, abovem entioned
d e s crip tio n does n o t fu lly develop the areas th a t I'll be h ija c k in g fo r m y purposes.
A t one p o in t in the e a rly 1800s the ve s tig ia l-re lig io u s s e n tim e n t th a t the
universe was c o m p le te ly d e te rm in is tic 5 ind ica te d a s tro n g p o s s ib ility th a t th e re was
a set o f rules th a t governed all w ith in i t — e v e ry th in g fro m w h ite d w a rf stars and
quasars to yoyos and ham sandw iches6. Scientists even kn e w ho w th e y should be
5 D e t e r m in i s m : n o u n — T h e p h ilo s o p h i c a l d o c t r i n e t h a t e v e r y sta te o f a ffa irs , i n c l u d i n g e v e r y h u m a n
e v e n t, act, a n d d e c is io n is th e i n e v it a b l e c o n s e q u e n c e o f a n t e c e d e n t s ta te s o f affa irs. T h a n k y o u ,
W e b s te r .
6 W / o r w / o mayo.
able to ob ta in such a set o f rules. A ll w e needed to do was take a lo o k at o u r c u rre n t
u n ive rse 7, analyze it, and a p p ly the rules observed to a fu tu re m odel.
"In o rd e r to p re d ic t the fu tu re p o s itio n and v e lo c ity o f a p a rticle , one has to
be able to m easure its p re sen t p o s itio n and v e lo c ity accu rately."8 OK. T hat seems
com m onsensical— in o rd e r to p re d ic t the fu tu re we m ust p re cise ly k n o w the
present. But the o n ly w a y in w h ic h scientists can observe the p o s itio n (w ith a
ce rta in a m o u n t o f lig h t o r a "q u a n tu m ”] in te rfe re s w ith the p a rtic le 's v e lo c ity in a
w a y th a t cannot be p re dicte d . And in the esteemed w o rd s o f Dr. H aw kin g th is
p rin c ip le is, "a fundam ental, inescapable p ro p e rty o f the w o rld .” H ow can we
p re d ic t the fu tu re i f w e can’t even tr u ly k n o w the present?
A ll th a t w e w e re le ft w ith was th is p a in fu lly -p a ra d o x ic a l p ro b le m : Do we
observe the pre sen t and k n o w in g ly influence the fu tu re , o r do w e a llo w the present
to seam lessly flo w in to the fu tu re , n o t re a lly k n o w in g the tru e essence o f either?
Back in m y n o t-so -co m fo rta b le chair, o b serving the d e te rio ra tin g scene to the
side o f me, m y h y b rid th e o ry was com ing to form , a lb e it w ith one caveat: Just as the
u n c e rta in ty p rin c ip le o n ly w o rk s at the su batom ic level, m y firs t-d a te u n c e rta in ty
p rin c ip le breaks d o w n in efficacy a fte r the firs t date, because a fte r the in itia l
e n cou n te r one is equipped w ith at least an in k lin g in to the oth e r's character. Or,
a fte r the firs t date the u n c e rta in ty erodes exp on e n tia lly.
7 ( S o m e t h in g a k in to an e x t r e m e l y h i g h - d e t a i le d s n a p s h o t)
8 S t r a i g h t o u t o f H a w k i n g ’s c o m p u t e r ’s m o u t h .
H ow ever, before the fir s t date, the p o te n tia lly in fin ite outcom es o f one’s
p o te n tia lly in fin ite actions are o ve rw h e lm in g . As a ty p ic a l m ale gets ready fo r a fir s t
date, u n c e rta in ty exists. A n y one action could re n d e r the date a success o r fa ilu re ,
and no fo rm u la o r ru b ric exists to secure one re s u lt o r another. It is a tr u ly
u n p re d icta b le and stra n g e ly behaving o ccu rrence— alm o st lik e a b la ck h o le — w he re
p o sitive actions can have negative consequences and actions th a t should be
d e trim e n ta l re s u lt in p o sitive feedback. Or p o ssib ly ju s t lik e the p a rticle s and a n ti­
p a rticle s in vast stretches o f space th a t a lm o s t-o u t-o f-n o th in g generate and
a n n ih ila te (w h a t w e had th o u g h t to be ra d ia tio n e m itte d fro m black holes), y o u r
good in te n tio n s could backfire, cancelling o u t a sig n ific a n t a m o u n t o f e ffo rt.
The p o s tu rin g th a t takes place p r io r to the in itia l m e e ting is lik e the
p re p a ra tio n fo r n o th in g else. The m in d games begin before you ever set eyes on
each o th e r and once you s ta rt the relentless se lf-q u e stio n in g th a t w ill be y o u r
in te rn a l com panion fo r th a t evening, you w ill never escape its clutch. Men, once you
get passed h o w m uch o f a shadow to leave, n o t k n o w in g w h e th e r to p re sen t y o u r
visage as “ clean shaven g e ntlem an" o r "som e w h at s c ru ffy m an's man," w h a t should
yo u p ick to wear? You c o u ld n 't p o ssib ly w a n t to dress too fo rm a lly , o r do you?
W o u ld th a t show th a t y o u 're too serious? Jeans and a t-s h irt w ill suffice fo r the
re sta u ra n t at w h ic h y o u ’ve m ade reservations. W ait! Is th a t place nice enough,
then? W ill she th in k y o u 're poor, cheap o r practical? Oh, w h o has tim e? You're
going to be late! Grab some m in ts so y o u r b re ath doesn't sm ell lik e a h o t dum pster.
Before you get there, you should p ic k up a flo w e r. She could easily be one o f those
g irls w h o w ill ju s t m e lt o ve r the fact th a t you b ro u g h t h e r som ething, o r she could
im m e d ia te ly label you as te d d y-bearish, in s ta n tly re le g a tin g you to the "nice" group.
T ru s t me, you d o n 't w a n t to be there. "Sweet," you have a chance. "Nice," yo u 're
done for.
A lth o u g h in o u r society m en bear m ore o f the in itia l d a tin g b u rd e n — firs t
asking, then choosing a ctivitie s, and fo r the m ost part, p a yin g — w om e n do n o t
escape th is fu n d a m e n ta l and inescapable phenom enon, e ither. They m u st deal w ith
the garb issue ju s t as men do.9 I d o n 't w a n t to cover up too much, b u t I d o n 't w a n t to
look s lu tty — well, maybe a little . Is this too much m ake-up? Too little ? Ugh, who
cares? This is go in g to be m iserable anyw ay! W hat i f he's short-ish, are these heels too
ta ll? I hope he's a d o cto r o r som ething ...W hat i f he's to ta lly in love w ith his mom?
"Mom , are you ready to help me w ith m y hair? He b e tte r n o t be late p ic k in g
me up...oh shit, I'm ru n n in g late."
Oh man, there he is w a lkin g up to the f r o n t door.
"A flo w e r? W h a t is this, a m a te ur h o u r? "
Again, these are b u t a few o f the questions I w o u ld expect one to have before
even m e e ting the o th e r p arty. This does n o t even take in to account the m y ria d
issues w ith in o th e r categories th a t w ill appear once the evening has com m enced:
CATEGORIES
1) F irst en cou n te r and rid e to d in n e r
2) Topics o f discussion
9 T h e y w i l l a rg u e t h a t t h e y deal w i t h i t to a f u r t h e r e x te n t, b u t, like, w h a t e v e r .
5
31
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3) O ff L im it Topics o f d iscu ssio n 10
4) Accuracy o f discussion-based answers
5) A tte ntive n e ss vs. feigned aloofness in o rd e r to pique in te re s t
6) Food o rd e rin g /e a tin g e tiq u e tte
7) Leaving firs t a c tiv ity and the suggestion o f a n o th e r
8) H ow to end the n ig h t in o ffe n s iv e ly should one becom e d isin te re ste d
9) H ow to end the n ig h t on a high note should both be in te re ste d w ith o u t
seem ing desperate, w h o ris h , etc.
10) The next step...
M e re ly a sam pling o f the possible categories in w h ich any date-goer w o u ld have a
m u ltitu d e o f questions shows you w h a t a mess it is w ith in the m inds o f the
p a rticip a n ts. They n ever k n o w w ha t's a ro un d the c o rn e r— w h a t th e y w ill
s e re n d ip ito u s ly have in com m on o r— a llo w in g fo r all th in g s — w h a t w ill to ta lly and
irre p a ra b ly offend the other.
As I hope you can see now , the paths fro m any one action are as num erous as
the stars in the heavens.11 W h a t lin e o f th o u g ht, set o f actions can b rin g a firs t date
10 Yes, th i s is d i f f e r e n t f r o m th e se c o n d c a te g o r y . I h a v e been e x t r e m e l y s u r p r is e d b y th e a m o u n t o f
p e o p le t h a t feel it's a p p r o p r i a t e to t a l k a b o u t p r e v i o u s r e l a t i o n s h ip s w i t h a f i r s t date. S o m e h o w ,
s o m e o n e feels t h a t i t is p e r t i n e n t to th e d ate ( i t is o n l y p e r t i n e n t in as m u c h as t h e y d a te d t h e i r ex
a n d a re c u r r e n t l y on a d a te w i t h s o m e o n e so o n to be an e x -d a te s h o u ld t h e y c o n t i n u e t h e i r
c o n v e r s a t io n in t h a t d i r e c t i o n ) a n d d e c id e s t h a t sin ce th e a ir is t r u s t i n g a n d c o m f o r t a b l e t h a t i t ’s an
OK t h i n g to discuss. It's n o t. A n d d o n ’t le t a n y o n e t e ll y o u t h a t i t is. No o n e w a n t s to h e a r a d ate
tr a s h h e r ex o r t h e m s e lv e s a n d b y d i v u l g i n g such i n f o r m a t i o n t h e y a re i n v a r i a b l y d o i n g e i t h e r th e
f o r m e r o r t h e la tte r .
in to th a t o ft-p in e d fo r co nversation o f in fin ite d e n s ity — tw o blissful, te rre s tria l
bodies entranced and held in place by each o th e r's p ro fo u n d gravitas? H ow can a
firs t date avoid the d is tin c t p o s s ib ility o f im p lo sio n , h a ving the w in d sucked o u t o f it,
and then e xp lo d in g ca ta s tro p h ic a lly lik e a supernova?
Since th e re are no p re s c rip tio n s o r k n o w n paths, successful firs t dates m ay
ju st be a p e rfe ct a lig n m e n t o f actions; the a lm o st accidental re p ro d u c tio n o f a
p e rfe c tly fu n c tio n in g phenom enon, a b ig bang, i f you w ill. Let th a t c a rry no sexual
connotations, although, to paraphrase a little Seinfeld, y o u r con versa tio n o f in fin ite
d e n sity w ith o u t the collapse and ca la m ity o f black h o le -lik e p ro p o rtio n s could v e ry
w e ll lead to y o u r ow n naked s in g u la rity .12
G etting back to actual science-y things, the physics c o m m u n ity d id n o t s im p ly
give up once it realized th a t k n o w in g the p resent b e h a vio r and th e re fo re the fu tu re
p o s itio n and v e lo c ity o f electrons w h iz z in g a ro u n d nuclei w o u ld be im possible. No,
th e y created new w ays o f co n sid e rin g the b e h a vio r o f subatom ics.
Rather than v ie w these p a rticle s as "p a rtic le s ,” th e y n o w view e d them as
w aves in w h a t is k n o w n as "q u a n tu m state.” In th is context, "p a rtic le s ” d id n 't have
defined p o sitio n s and speeds (n o t th a t th e y ever d id !] b u t instead existed as such
th a t th e ir p o sitio n s and speeds w e re in h e re n tly in te rtw in e d .13 This new lin e o f
th o u g h t is w h a t we k n o w as q u an tum m echanics, w h ic h doesn't so m uch calculate a
11 L ik e th e o f f s p r i n g o f C h a rle m a g n e , w h o c o i n c id e n t a l l y w e n t on m a n y a f i r s t date.
12 T h e p u n w o r k s . L o o k i t up !
13 Y ou can t h i n k o f i t in t e r m s o f a l i q u i d w a v e o r a s o u n d w a v e , b u t n o t a h a n d w a v e .
single, d e fin ite re s u lt as m uch as it p re dicts a n u m b e r o f possible outcom es and tells
h o w lik e ly each o f them is. So w h ile w e do n o t deal w ith absolutes at the subatom ic
level, w e can n o w be fa irly ce rta in w h a t the results w ill be, even i f d ire c t o b servation
w o n 't alw ays show th e m to be true. W e u n fo rtu n a te ly cannot do th is w ith life, as
th e o re tica l outcom es and th e ir co rre sp o n d in g p ro b a b ilitie s o n ly in te re s t those w ith
m u ltip le o p p o rtu n itie s to p a rtic ip a te in a s in g u la r occurrence, w h ic h w e sadly k n o w
does n o t happen.
Philosophy has som ething to say ab o u t a ll this ; as well...Surprised?
The early 19th ce n tu ry poet, John Keats, espoused a p h ilo so p h ica l idea he
called “ negative c a p a b ility," w h ic h m ay have in d ire c tly o r som e w h a t d ire c tly laid the
g ro u n d w o rk th a t made the m in d s e t re q u ire d fo r q u a n tu m physics possible. Sim ply,
th is th e o ry p u rp o rte d th a t am ong great men (especially poets, nudge, nudge, w in k ,
w in k ) existed an a b ility to liv e w ith in an unresolved w o rld and flo u ris h , to deal w ith
u n ce rta in tie s in a creative and d e te rm in e d m anner.
This p h ilo s o p h y calls fo r th in k e rs and doers to re m ain u n bu rd e ne d by
seem ingly obvious lim ita tio n s , to s triv e fo rw a rd in the face o f paradoxes. This
p u rp o se fu l acceptance, th is open-m indedness, th is fa c ility fo r dealing w ith in fin itie s
can be seen as a re m a rk a b ly capacious a p titu d e fo r reason o r by d e tra cto rs as naive
and d o w n rig h t ign o ra n t. Regardless o f w h a t it re a lly is, i t set im p o rta n t precedents
fo r open th in k in g and p ra gm a tic p h ilo sop h ica l and scie n tific reasoning. Oh, yes, and
dating.
W eren 't there people we w ere ta lk in g ab o u t a t some p o in t?
C harlie and Elise w e re p ro b a b ly m ore than aw are th a t I w a s n 't w h o lly
preoccupied w ith m y book, as riv e tin g as it was. And by the tim e th e y w e re done
fid g e tin g w ith th e ir e m p ty cups and w in d in g do w n th e ir conversation, 1 could te ll
th a t w h a t had tra n s p ire d was a successful a tte m p t at a fir s t date. He'd d riv e h er
hom e and possib ly m ake plans to see her again, o r give h er an a w k w a rd b u t
appreciated kiss. Or w he n he asked her to go o u t a second tim e she'd say no, th a t
she w a s n 't interested. I was as unsure as th e y w e re w h ile Charlie opened the d o or
fo r both o f them as the attached bells jingled. In to the cold th e y w e n t and drove
aw ay fro m me, s till s ittin g in the corner, n o w on a ch a pte r e n title d , B lack Holes— I
hoped th a t n o t p o rte n to u s o f the re st o f m y night, o r m y d a tin g life, fo r th a t m a tte r.
I sat and th o u g h t a b ou t C harlie and Elise fo r a m om ent. H ow th e y m ost lik e ly
d id n o t confer w ith H aw king, Einstein, H eisenberg o r Keats before leaving th e ir
respective houses th is evening. H ow th ro u g h th e ir ow n personal u n c e rta in tie s and
endless in te rn a l-q u e s tio n in g s th e y had come to some agreeable end. H ow th ro u g h
the p o te n tia lly in fin ite outcom es o f th e ir p o te n tia lly in fin ite actions th e y had, in the
end, w h a t I perceived to be a good tim e, w ith o u t k n o w in g ly re ly in g on th e ir
p a rtic u la r ne ga tive -ca pa b ilitie s o r q u an tum -physics m indsets.
And then it h it me lik e an ion in a p a rtic le accelerator. The w h o le p o in t o f
the a d ap tatio n o f q u an tum m echanics in the physics w o rld was an e ffo rt to embrace
the u n ce rta in ty, to liv e w ith it acceptingly.
"So th a t's the secret," I laughed, to the chagrin o f the soft-spoken a tte n d a n t
w hose head tu rn e d q u ic k ly aw ay fro m his d o n u t-o rie n te d a ctivitie s.
I closed m y book, th re w o u t m y foam y cup and left. As I drove hom e it was
p e rfe c tly clear to me th a t w e w e re n o t supposed to fear o r acquiesce to the chaos
and u n c e rta in ty in o u r w o rld . We w e re supposed to adapt, to em brace it, to fig u re
o u t w ays to live w ith it, and laugh at it, p o ssib ly ending up naked at the end o f the
night. Perhaps Charlie and Elise a lre a d y kn e w that.
36
The Campbell’s Factor, Part III
Blargens was p o p p in g Turns lik e th e y w e re M &M s w hen he dro pp e d the
p ro v e rb ia l bom bshell on me. "H a rry, y o u 're going to have to produce so m e th in g I
can ca rry a round soon o r th is — o u r business re la tio n s h ip — can't last."
"Jesus, you sound lik e m y ex-w ife! I d o n 't deal w e ll w ith pressure. I do b e tte r
w ith coddling. A ny experience w ith that?” I trie d to m ake m y b ig green eyes lo o k
w et, lik e those o f a Disney anim al.
"OK, OK," he re le n te d w h ile ru b b in g his forehead as i f he w e re try in g to
co n ju re a genie. "I d id have an idea fo r you. W h a t i f you w e re to bre ak in to the
game w ith a self-help book? A n y to p ic you w ant, b u t th a t's a b o o m in g genre these
days. I th in k I could get some bites."
I c o u ld n 't te ll i f he was re fe rrin g to g a rn e rin g in te re s t fro m p u b lis h in g
houses o r going o u t and g e ttin g so m e th in g to eat.
I c o u ld n 't believe it, though. He had ju s t tapped in to a realm I could n o t
fathom . "Self help? Really? You d o n 't th in k th a t’s fo r tw e rp s w h o can't hack it?
Guys w ho can't get..."
He cu t me o ff w ith a sharp g la re — the type Superm an u su ally uses w hen he's
m e ltin g steel o r h e atin g up a cup o f Ramen Noodles.
"The self-help genre is in h e re n tly flaw ed, anyw ay," I reasoned,
fo re sh a d o w in g the thesis th a t was a bout to sally fo rth . " It has a tra g ic hole in its
logic."
"Oh?" m y astute a d viso r in to n e d as he w alke d in to the b a th ro o m attached to
his office and le ft the d o o r s lig h tly ajar. "Go on. I have IBS, b u t I'm s till lis te n in g .”
37
1 could hear h im w h is tlin g the them e song fro m The M ary Tyler M oore Show,
b u t 1 w e n t on, in te n t on vo ic in g m y g rip e w ith w h a t 1 considered to be a h e in o u sly
p re su m p tu o u s genre. "H o w could anyone say th e y are h e lp in g them selves i f th e y go
to a bo ok som eone else w ro te fo r help? Do you see w h a t I'm saying? It's n o t selfhelp! It's ju s t help! Self-help is— let's say y o u 're d ir ty and you w ish w e re clean, so
you bathe yo u rself. That's self-help."
"H m m , o ie w rn v v w w g o jio f," is all 1 heard th ro u g h the b a th ro o m door.
I w e n t on. " If y o u 're sick w ith the coughing and the sneezing and the fever,
you go to a doctor. No one calls th a t self-help. Y our to ile t o v e rflo w s in to y o u r
kitch e n so you call a p lu m b e r— th a t's n o t self-help. So w hy, w he n you go read a
b o o k w ritte n by some schmoe on h o w to boost y o u r self-esteem th ro u g h intense
dialogue w ith vegetables, is th a t considered h e lp in g yourself?"
He then em erged fro m the in n e r sanctum o f his w a te r closet and spread his
hands in a h a lf shrug. "Y ou’re an id io t.”
T h a t n ig h t I b ra in s to rm e d , h o p in g to come up w ith at least one good idea.
Ever since I had been le t go fro m m y m enu gig, I fe lt m y creative energies abating. 1
got a b o w l and w a rm e d up some m ilk and Cheerios on a h o t plate and got to w o rk . I
was o f the m in d th a t fre e -w ritin g w o u ld d ra w some great, la te n t idea o u t o f m y
psyche and onto the page, b u t w he n 1 aw oke all th a t was on the paper was a d rie d
stream o f m ilk -d ro o l and several o f m y m ushy, uneaten "0's." 1 was sud de n ly s tru c k
w ith an idea.
38
I e n te rta in e d th oughts o f a fic tio n a l w o rld w h e re in people re ly on th e ir
b re akfast cereal fo r d iv in a tio n , like a n cie n t Romans used the e n tra ils o f var ious
m am m als and b irds. Auspices— I th o u g h t I recalled h e arin g th a t w o rd so m e w h e re —
only, in m y story, th e y w ere m ore d e liciou s and re q u ire d a lo t less e ffo rt. Instead o f
d e vou t Augurs, ch ild re n w ere the in te rp re te rs , and instead o f ru m m a g in g th ro u g h
va rio u s anim als' live rs, the alphabet-based cereal w o u ld s till be in shape to eat a fte r
the d iv in a tio n had taken place. Cheerios w e re o u t o f the q u estion im m e d ia te ly,
though. In m y m ind, no fic tio n a l w o rld could e xist w h e re everyone's fu tu re was
based on a c ry p tic oooooooooooooooo.
I was in te rru p te d fro m d a yd re a m in g w he n m y phone rang. A lad y fro m
C am pbell’s Soup was on the p h on e — it was the call I had been w a itin g fo r weeks to
receive, since it had been th a t long since I sent o u t m y s te lla r resume. I th o u g h t I
could p o ssib ly get a steady gig, instead o f w a itin g on Blargens to sell m y soul to the
highest b id d in g p u b lish e r. A w rite r's got to w o rk , right?
"S ta rt on M onday, you say? You got i t ! ” I re m e m b e r having m ixed feelings
a b ou t the call and accepting the job. W h a t an o p p o rtu n ity it w a s— b u t firs t I had to
b re a k the news to Nathan, and I was e x tre m e ly w o rrie d a b ou t h o w he'd take it.
A fte r the call, I shook so ba dly th a t w he n I w e n t to brush m y teeth, I got Colgate in
m y cornea.
39
I spent the re m a in d e r o f m y m o rn in g w o n d e rin g i f th e re w ere any cereals
made p re d o m in a n tly out o f consonants, and w h a t type o f sta te m e n t th a t w o u ld
make in reference to m a le /fe m a le re la tio n sh ip s.
( Continue 'Campbell's' on page 60, i f y o u dare]
40
The E ssen ce o f S e lf W hile W aiting F or D inner
Perhaps m y h u n g e r led to intense in tro s p e c tio n .
I was on m y H o lly w o o d b a lcony one evening, lo o k in g up at w h a t I could see
o f the n ig h t sky and I c o u ld n 't help b u t feel in s ig n ific a n t. I w o n d e re d : W hat's o u t
there in space, and is i t in fin ite ? W h a t am 1 here fo r? W hat's the m eaning o f life? Does
Dominoes s till h onor th a t 3 0 -m in u te g uarantee they had, because it's been, like, 35
m inutes already?
I t ’s n o t metaphysics; it's a goddam ned cheese pizza.
A lm o s t lik e m y view , m y th in k in g th a t n ig h t was m o s tly o b structed, save fo r
the n o rth e a ste rn exposure th a t b e g ru d g in g ly le n t me a shard o f sky. LA was
sh rouded in p u rp le and the n ig h t was shaping up to be a to ta l fa ilu re , so I w on d e re d
w h a t I d id kn o w . I sta rte d at the beginning: w ith me.
Paul Evan Fisher, 25 ye a rs old. I live in Los Angeles b u t am fro m New Jersey.
White, and 5 ’11,” (so I squeezed in an inch, get over it) w eight: 192 lbs. I'm a Jew. A
Red Sox fan. A single b u t hopelessly hopeless rom antic. A son, a grandson, a brother, a
cousin, a nephew, a frie n d . S lig h tly ra m bunctious and often cynical. Hungry. I w e n t
on w ith some v ita ls and then digressed in to a la u n d ry lis t o f th in gs I like d , a c tiv itie s
th a t piq u e d m y inte rest, va rio u s foods th a t made me d ro o l lik e bacon and
je llyb e a n s— separately o f course— sexual conquests (OK, so I'm n o t some stud), and
o th e r a ttrib u te s and a ffin itie s th a t helped to c o n s tru c t m y character, b u t d id n 't q u ite
define w h o 1 was.
41
Fleetingly, I th o u g h t a b ou t lo o k in g up the phone n u m b e r fo r the Chinese
b is tro a couple blocks over on H ighland.
A lo t o f people define them selves by th e ir occupation. This d id n 't q u ite w o rk
fo r me, as 1 was unem ployed. Im m e d ia te ly th is avenue seemed a b it depressing, b u t
in the in te re s t o f m y quest I pursued it anyw ay. I w o rk e d in PR rig h t o u t o f college,
so I could define m yself, in p art, as a lia r — p ro m o tin g bad businesses over good ones
ju s t because th e y p o nie d -up the m oney fo r o u r re ta in e r fee. B ut even tho u g h I have
lied in the past and w o u ld n 't bet against fu tu re occurrences, 1 w a s n 't satisfied w ith
this. It's n o t th a t I was bad at m y jo b — in fact, I was p re tty good at the lin g u is tic
m aneuverings one m u st e m p lo y in PR. B ut lu c k ily o r not, d e pending on the w ay you
lo o k at it, I was laid o ff a fte r a ye a r and several m o n th s o f fa ith fu l, y e t heartless
service. I fe lt as i f I had been d e live re d fro m bondage.
I d e live red and insta lle d b illia rd tables in high school and in college fo r pay,
b u t I d o n 't th in k anyone w o u ld classify me as a h a rd -la b o r lo v in g fe llo w . It was a
g re at job w ith a g re at boss and a fun p ro d u ct. And I learned a lo t a b ou t using m y
hands and fix in g things, g e ttin g p a rtic u la rly fa m ilia r w ith B ru n sw ick's h a rd w a re and
D eW alt p o w e r tools. The p ro b le m was th a t I was re lu c ta n tly handy, at best—
som ew here in betw een Bob Vila and Bob "Cat” G o ld th w a it.
W o rk is n o t o n ly w h a t one is paid for, though, so I then trie d to define m y s e lf
as a w rite r, since th a t is w h a t I enjoy and w h a t I spend the m a jo rity o f m y tim e
doing. The fru s tra tio n , u n c e rta in ty , and cynicism th a t com prises m y w r itin g makes
d e fin in g m y life th ro u g h it seem ra th e r in a ccu ra te — I'm a d iffe re n t person w hen I
42
w rite ! I s lo w ly backed aw ay fro m th is id e n tity frig h te n e d it m ig h t stick. Suddenly, I
fe lt b a d ly fo r anyone th a t detined them selves s tric tly by w h a t th e y d id fo r a livin g ,
because th e y had no separation fro m the ca rica ture th e y have made o f them selves
(I bet th is pizza d e liv e ry guy d id n 't define h im s e lf by his job, or, based on his
p e rfo rm a n ce th a t evening, I th o u g ht, som ehow , his life w o u ld be lacking.).
Some characterized them selves based upon w h o m th e y lo v e d — w e all k n o w
at least one person lik e th is — w h o lose them selves to ta lly in the p u rs u it o f fin d in g o r
ke eping a s ig n ific a n t o ther. I th o u g h t about h o w I could have defined m y s e lf
th ro u g h w om en fro m m y life and h o w im po ssib le th a t w o u ld be because I was
alw ays so a w fu l at a ttra c tin g and staying inte re ste d in them . Since I was one o f
those people w ith capricious affections, the th o u g h t o f m a kin g m y s e lf synonym ous
w ith the people I've had stro n g feelings fo r w o u ld m ake me the largest e n try in the
th e sa u ru s— I did n o t even co n sid e r the one serious, a lb e it a b solu te ly toxic,
re la tio n s h ip I've had. We loved the idea o f being to g e th e r m ore than we a ctu a lly
loved being together. To be defined th ro u g h th a t re la tio n s h ip w o u ld ensure th a t I
p u t a fe w th e ra p is ts ' kids th ro u g h grad school. M ost re la tio n s h ip s prove to be
tra n s ie n t anyw ay, and re p re s e n tin g o n ese lf th ro u g h a bunch o f in d iv id u a l lovers
w o u ld create a p o o rly edited tape o f y o u r life, cut o n ly to show shared scenes, never
fa ith fu lly fe a tu rin g the tru e sta r o f the p ro d u c tio n .
I have a lre a d y p o rtra y e d m y s e lf as a m e m ber o f a sm all, b u t close fam ily.
W h ile I love m y fa m ily, 1 was h e s ita n t to w h o lly id e n tify w ith them . As I in s tin c tiv e ly
43
rem oved the bag o f rice cakes in m y cupboard, I was re m in d e d o f the w h ite
nothingness o f Lim bo. There I was, o u t fro m u n d e r the auspices o f m y parents,
h a vin g n o t y e t reached the p o in t w h e re I was c le a rly on m y own, stu ck som ew here
in a c h a ra c te r-d e fin in g m idd le . I fe lt the fig u ra tiv e distance was necessary i f I was
ever going to be tr u ly in d e p e n d e n t and p u t the rice cakes back w ith o u t incid e nt.
The th o u g h t o f Lim b o re m in d e d me o f re lig io n . 1 was raised a Jew and s till
considered m y s e lf one, so d id n 't th a t co u nt fo r som ething? I kn e w m any people
fo u n d th e ir tru e selves in re lig io n , b u t I also k n e w 1 w a sn ’t one o f them . I enjoyed
m y heritage and c u ltu re and even some o f th e m ore litu rg ic a lly -in flu e n c e d aspects o f
m y re lig io n , b u t I c o u ld n ’t q u ite tr u s t it enough to help me fin d m yself. 1 wanted,
fro m an e a rly age, to believe all o f the fa n ta stica l stories in the Old Testam ent, b u t
never could separate m y s e lf fro m a t least an in k lin g o f skepticism . I f we w ere a ll
created in God's image, then how could one explain bad h a ir days
G etting back to th a t o rig in a l list, 1 trie d to th in k o f m y s e lf in te rm s o f the
a c tiv itie s I p e rfo rm e d and the th in gs th a t I like d . A nd w h ile th is was n o rm a lly a fun
exercise, I th o u g h t it im p o rta n t to recognize th a t no one should define h im s e lf as a
re la xa tio n e n th u sia st o r a d o u g h n u t love r. These th ings w ere silly, and even
som eone as serious as a n u m is m a tis t o r one w h o plays sh u ffle b o a rd should never
since re ly co n sid e r th is th e ir p rim a ry p ro je c tio n o f character.
As I co n tin u e d to starve, I was c le a rly com ing up w ith p le n ty o f w ays to n o t
define m yself, b u t I w a s n 't re a lly g e ttin g anyw h e re closer to m y goal. M aybe 1 was
try in g too h a rd o r th in k in g in too a b stra ct a m anner, b u t the question rem ained,
44
regardless o f h o w b road and vague it m ay have been. I m oved to m y couch and
rested face d o w n so I w o u ld n 't have to see m y kitch e n. Could I w ill the h unger away?
E ith e r grand th in k in g o r s ta rv a tio n -in d u c e d delusions b ro u g h t me to m y next
conclusion. I realized th a t all o f these d iffe re n t w ays to lo o k a t m y s e lf w e re kin d o f
h ittin g the m ark. There was, in fact, a b it o f me th a t could be defined as a lia r
(a lth ou g h the p a rt o f me th a t lik e d the bacon could ne ver be looked upon in th a t
lig h t], and th e re was a p a rt o f me th a t se cre tly enjoyed the rig o rs o f physical labor. I
could a d m it to fe e lin g good a fte r spending th re e h o urs p u ttin g to g e th e r a 1,000 lb
b illia rd table, especially w he n I was tip p e d handsom ely. On Sundays, I was su re ly a
re la xa tio n e n th u s ia s t— m y fo o tb a ll kn o w le dg e could a tte st to th a t— and I w a s n 't
ashamed to be a d o u g h n u t lo v e r eve ry day o f m y life (s tra w b e rry je lly , fo r fu tu re
re fe re nce ]. I could have ru n th ro u g h thousands o f o th e r snippets to piece to g e th e r
m y person as i f I w e re one o f those 10,000 piece jig sa w puzzles th a t w is h fo r yo u to
re c o n s tru c t a seascape, b a c k lit b y an azure s k y — 10,000 vaguely blue pieces th a t
have no discernable, p ro p e r place b u t o b v io u s ly all belong somewhere.
B ut I was q u ite h a pp y th a t none o f m y a ttrib u te s o r loved a c tiv itie s o r jobs
cle a rly defined me. I was n o t all lia r. I was n o t all re la xa tio n enthusiast. I was n o t all
w r ite r and I was happy a b ou t that. T h a t way, w he n so m e th in g I scribed was judged
as a piece o f dog excrem ent (th is happened], I w o u ld n 't have to feel so b a d ly a b ou t
m yse lf (I s till d id ].
45
Then I had a change o f heart, m id -in n e r-s tru g g le . I came to the conclusion
th a t the o n ly th in g th a t could tr u ly define its e lf was a d ic tio n a ry . E ve ryth in g else is a
w o rk in progress. Like try in g to tra p lig h t in a jar, you m ay capture a s liv e r o f its
essence, b u t th e re is alw ays m o re — uncatchable and m yste riou s. A nd it was at th is
tim e th a t m y cell phone rang w ith an u n fa m ilia r '3 1 0 ' n u m ber. The d e live rym a n
was d o w n s ta irs and he needed me to come and pay him . Finally, I had m y pizza, i f
n o t m y a ll-te llin g se lf-re a liza tio n .
I w a n te d to te ll h im th a t I had w a ite d a lm o st an h o u r and th a t I was h u ng ry;
th a t he was late. B ut 1 k n e w th a t he was o n ly late in te rm s o f the tim e I expected
h im and th a t I s h o u ld n 't define h im in such a w ay. Perhaps he was ju s t as generous
in n o t d e fin in g me as "cheap" w he n I k e p t his tip .
46
C haracter Arch
Grand Junction, CO, fle w past o u r w in d o w on 1-70 and a lth ou g h the to w n
names w e re changing, the scenery w asn't. Soon, c ru m b lin g hdls and b ru s h -s tre w n
sands stretched in e ve ry d ire c tio n . Sum m er's baked-oranges and b u rn t-re d s ,
e v e ry w h e re — the re tic e n t tones o f th e b a tte re d and the daily-scorched.
A t th a t m om ent, some m ay have even called it b e a u tifu l. N ot me, though.
A n isolated road greeted us once m y best frie n d B ria n and I crossed in to
Utah, O m inously, a w ra th -o f-G o d th u n d e rs to rm m a te ria liz e d o u t o f the open skies
and sm ote the sun. There was no rain, ju s t sa w -to o th e d lig h tn in g and cru stru m b lin g w hip -cra cks. 1 had issues w ith o u r plans in Utah, anyw ay, and the
p o rte n to u s clouds w e re n 't changing m y stance.
"Looks lik e Utah's r o llin ' o u t the w elcom e m a t fo r us, m an," I said to the dust
and luggage in the car.
B rian w a s n 't paying
a tte n tio n . He was
s u rfin g the w eb on his
iPhone fo r n a tio n a l
p a rk info, b u t I looked
o ve r at him ,
nevertheless. 'W h y
are you alw ays on th a t thing?"
J
J
”
.
. ,
T h ere s a s to rm a b re w m
47
It was o u r eighth day in the car on a tr ip sta rte d in W ayne, N ew Jersey and I
h a rb o re d an increasing need to reach Los Angeles. W hen w e stopped in busy cities,
lik e W a shington D.C., N ashville, Chicago, o r Denver, I was a d equately distra cte d. But
w he n in desolate sandscapes, w ith M o th e r N ature o u r o n ly chaperone, I fe lt w e
w e re w a stin g tim e c lim b in g aro un d lik e m o u n ta in men w he n we should've been
s tro llin g H o lly w o o d B oulevard, h o o fin g it over the names o f ce lebrities. B ut I w e n t
along w ith th is p a rt o f the plan, a n y w a y — he's m y best frie n d , a fte r all.
I was also upset because w e ju s t le ft D en ve r— the m o st eclectic A m e rica n c ity
I've ever visited , its hip, u rban chic sw addled in a hom ey, co w b o y-ish m y th o s — and
w e w e re n o w in the m id d le o f now here. I said so m e th in g to B rian like, “ This to w n
m u st have one hell o f a p o litic a l discourse w ith all these ideologues sto m p in g
around,'' w h ile eating m y G orgonzola bison b u rg e r on the o u td o o r p a tio o f the
P a ram ount Cafe. "One g ro u p sm okes d e c rim in a liz e d m a riju a n a o u t o f peace pipes
w h ile discussing strategies fo r the leg a liza tio n o f gay m a rria g e w h ile the o th e r
com pares th e ir NRA cards, w e a rin g 10-gallon hats, s p ittin ' chew, and ta lk in g a bout
h o w to rid the place o ffo r-n e r types." To w h ic h B rian re p lie d , w ith the Rockies o ff in
the distance, "Yeah...look at those m ountains.''
W e decided to b a il on 1-70 once w e realized w e could d r ift g e n tly so u th w a rd
on ro u te 128, a tra il th a t fo rm e d the hypotenuse to o u r d e s tin a tio n as opposed to
the rig h t angle ro u te w e planned to take. A to ta l sea change: From four-lane,
in te rs ta te h ig h w a y to tw o -la n e , u n kem p t, b ig -c o u n try road. Tum blew eeds ro lle d
past abandoned, w ooden w a te r pum ps, and in to the gulch once spanned by a
48
d ila p id a te d b rid g e n o w re se m b lin g the a d jo in in g land: bleached, jagged, in e rt, w ith
an old soul.
A good h o u r w e n t by betw een w o rd s. B rian was s till d id d lin g a ro u n d on his
phone and I was in a d riv in g rh y th m , try in g n o t to th in k o f all o f the o u td o o rs y crap
planned fo r the b o th o f us in th a t unassum ing head o f his. He loo ke d up w ith a
carefree g rin . “There are o n ly w e e k-lo n g passes to the n a tion a l p a rk w e 're going
firs t, Arches. We w o n ’t be here fo r a w eek, so w e ’ll pay the d a ily ra te .’’
“ Great.”
W hite, beehive-shaped m a rke rs stood along 128 lin e d w ith the w ord s,
"scenic byw ay." T h a t casual te rm in o lo g y d id n o t p repare us fo r the treacherous
te rra in w e had to cover, though. The s u rro u n d in g land was arid, w ith tough grass
p o k in g th ro u g h the o th e rw is e b a rre n surface. In tim id a tin g sandstone p ro tru s io n s —
like Fisher's T o w e r— fla n ked us a good p o rtio n o f the way, ju ttin g s tra ig h t in to the
sky u n til th e y came to scre e chin g -h a lt plateaus, as i f someone w ith too m uch tim e
on his o r h e r hands leveled them off.
A m azing view s often d is tra c t d riv e rs , b u t zo n in g -o u t here w o u ld have m eant
a d isastrous end. The tw is ts and tu rn s w e re n 't m ere suggestions th a t if ign o re d
w o u ld lead to an unpaved s h o u ld e r o r loosely packed pebbles. If w e w ere to ve e r o ff
course w e w o u ld have m ost lik e ly ended up in the m u rk y C olorado R ive r th a t
w rith e d alongside, o r i f lucky, in to a h u lk in g bo uld e r. I f d riv e rs pass each o th e r on
th is road, th e y do it s lo w ly w ith the names o f th e ir m akers on the tip s o f th e ir
tongues.
49
We also drove past m u lti-to n chunks o f sandstone th a t ostensibly, w ith o u t
w a rn in g , tu m b le d fro m the u p p e r-m o s t reaches o f the roadside m ountains, la n d in g
inches fro m the asphalt, and in some cases on the roadw ay. I bro ke the peace
a ro u n d a p a rtic u la rly dangerous, p a rtia lly o b s tru c te d curve. “ This SUCKS. W h a t if
we d riv e s tra ig h t th ro u g h and stay a n ig h t o r tw o in Vegas?”
"I th o u g h t you said y o u ’re lo w on m oney, plus I've heard Arches is am azing.
We should d e fin ite ly see it w h ile w e 're h e re.” He came up w ith an excuse th a t
im p lic a te d me. N icely played, I th o u g h t. He m e n tio n e d so m e th in g a b o u t his m om
and dad re co m m e n d in g it. I to ld h im h o w excited th a t made me.
“ You sound lik e a goddam n com m ercial. I d o n 't w a n t to be in Utah, OK?
There's n o th in g h e re !” W ith m y dism issal o f an e n tire state o f w h ic h 1 kn e w no th in g ,
we w e re back to silence, o n ly w ith an added tension.
The b y w a y b ro u g h t us to a p e rp e n d ic u la r crossing— M ain Street, M oab—
w h e re w e had tw o choices: T u rn rig h t and b o lt s tra ig h t in to Arches a fte r d riv in g all
day fro m Denver, o r tu rn le ft and see w h a t th is b ib lica lly-n a m e d , a p o c a ly p tic a lly e m p ty to w n had to offer. Som ehow, it was decided th a t w e'd ru n a reconnaissance
m ission; v ie w in g a fe w o f the car-accessible ro c k fo rm a tio n s and th e n fin d in g
in fo rm a tio n on hikes we could take the fo llo w in g day. I lam ented th is as a w aste o f
tim e.
"T h is is supposed to be one o f the m ost g e ologically s ig n ific a n t places you
can v is it in the U.S.”
1 had no idea w h a t to say to this, b u t m y resistance to being in the state found
w ays o f m a n ife stin g its e lf p e jo ra tiv e ly , scathing e v e ry th in g in m y path. "It's a bunch
50
o f fu ckin g ro cks!” B ria n ’s face flu sh ed and his lip s m ashed to g e th e r. I suppose he
fo u n d no use in a rg u in g w ith som eone w hose m in d w as c le a rly made up. We dro ve
up the elevated path a fte r p a ying 10 bucks and stopped at the fir s t "e x h ib it.” I f
yo u've seen a R o a d ru n n e r cartoon, you've seen th is n a tu ra l statue. B alancing Rock,
as they call it, is an isolated, ta p e re d base-to-crest, c ro w n e d -w ith a-bulbous-crag
fo rm a tio n . Due to odd p a tte rn s o f erosion, i t gives the im p re s s io n a gust o f w in d o r
even the m ere suggestion i t could fall w o u ld cause it to do so. And some day it w ill.
M y dad m e n tio n e d to me th a t, w h e n he v is ite d Arches in the 60s on his cross­
co n tin e n ta l tr ip w ith his b ro th e r, th e re had been twTo o f these Balancing R ock-type
things. A nd som etim e soon, ju s t lik e the one he saw a fe w decades ago, the one I
beheld w ill collapse in to bits. Then, w^e w ill o n ly have Looney Toons.
B alan cin g Rock in a ll its splen d o r
51
We hung aro un d Balancing Rock fo r a h a lf-h o u r. 1 w as sn apping photos fro m
va rio u s angles, m essing w ith co lo r filte rs and b a sically ju s t try in g to k ill tim e u n til
B rian had s a tis fa c to rily taken in all th a t he p o ssib ly could. And ju s t w he n m y
cam era ran o u t o f batteries, a yo u ng gentlem an, about 23, s trip p e d d o w n to ju s t
sh o rts and a t- s h ir t and sta rte d c lim b in g Balancing Rock's sheer, w e s te rn ro ck face.
His father, film in g w ith a video camera, n o t o n ly encouraged his son to co n tinu e
ris k in g his life, b u t also recorded the proceedings as i f n o th in g bad could p o ssib ly
happen. D u rin g the tw o o r th re e m in u te s th a t I chose to w atch th is fool, I m u st have
p ic tu re d h im fa llin g 100 tim es. Each tim e fla ilin g w ild ly as his c ra n iu m smashes on
im pact, leaving enough sp a tte r and bone fragm ents to keep the local scavengers
busy fo r weeks. We m oved on before o u r day could p o te n tia lly be su llie d by the
in d e lib le im age and sound o f s k u ll im p a c tin g stone.
We had tim e fo r one m o re stop b e fo re sunset, so w e scoped o u t Delicate Arch
fro m the g ro un d u n d e r the a ssu m ptio n w e 'd h ike up to it the fo llo w in g day. From
o u r vantage p o in t, it looked d in ky, inconsequential.
My cam era was dead, and I was tire d fro m d riv in g 400 m iles th a t day, so we
checked in to o u r m otel. Then w e le ft to fin d so m e th in g to eat, b u t Moab was locked
d o w n lik e a federal priso n . A ro u n d 9:30, the o n ly th in g open on a 5 -m ile stre tch o f
ro a d — hell, the o n ly th in g w ith lig h ts o n — was a W endy's, w h ic h w e caught as it was
closing. I've heard o f co n serva tive to w n s before, b u t even fascists eat, righ t?
52
W ith o u t the in tim a te d e tails o f o u r fin e d in n e r and o u r co n tin u a l fo llie s o f
th a t e ve n in g 1, w e w oke e a rly th e n e x t m o rn in g to a busy d a y — tw o p la n n e d hikes
and a n o th e r 4 0 0 -m ile d rive .
A t 8:45 AM th e th e rm o m e te r was a lre a d y re a d in g m id -n in e tie s and
s cra m b lin g to 106. C om bine th a t w ith the s o m e w h a t fo rm id a b le grade w e had to
scale, and I was set to crab, jeer and ju s t in general m ake B rian's day m iserable.
A fte r all, w a s n 't th a t w h a t he was do in g to me by m a kin g me be here?
The clim b w as o n ly a m ile and a half, b u t it w as co n sid e ra b ly steep, k e p t
in te re s tin g by tin y , y e llo w /g re e n liz a rd s d a rtin g back and fo rth on h o t rocks lik e
th e ir feet w e re on fire . Piles o f ru b b le , o r
cairns, s tra te g ic a lly stacked and placed,
gave us o u r bearings as w e lab o re d (and 1
do m ean labored) to the Delicate A rch 's la ir.
The h ig h e r elevations o ffe re d us cool
One o f o u r fle e t-fo o te d frie n d s
u p d ra fts as solace. A fte r w in d in g a ro u n d a
path bound on th e insid e by th e h ill and on the o u tsid e b y air, all i t to o k was a
rig h tw a rd glance and th e re it was, b e he m o th y e t docile, august y e t u n p re te n tio u s .
O nly w h e n I stood u n d e rn e a th th is u n re le n tin g g ia n t d id I feel any re m orse to r h o w
i.e r e t u r n in g fr o m d in n e r t o s h o w e r o n ly to fin d n o to w e ls ; s to m p in g d o w n th e s ta irs t o th e lo b b y to
fin d a n e m p lo y e e to h a n d o v e r s a id to w e ls . "T h e to w e l g u y is v e r y h a rd to fin d ," s a id th e fr o n t- d e s k
c le r k w h o c o u ld h a v e e a s ily p e r fo r m e d th e t o w e l- g e tt in g a c t iv it y he w a s c le a r ly p a w n in g o f f o n
s o m e o n e else, p e rh a p s s o m e o n e fic titio u s ; g o in g d o w n to th e p o o l o n ly to b e t o ld i t w a s c lo s e d b y th e
sa m e s e m i-u n d e rs ta n d a b le c le r k w h o s e o n ly jo b , s e e m in g ly , w a s t e llin g m e I c o u ld n ’t h a v e o r d o
a n y th in g ; a n d , m o s t im p o r t a n tly , c o m in g b a c k to th e r o o m to r e t ir e to fin d th e in te r n e t s t ill d o w n
sin c e c h e c k -in a n d th a t m y b lo g p o s t o n th a t d a y w o u ld h a v e to w a it. T h e y th e n , u p o n c h e c k o u t, h a d
th e a u d a c ity to a s k i f w e ’d re c o m m e n d th e e s ta b lis h m e n t to a n y o n e w e k n o w c o m in g to th e a re a . I
g la re d a t th e p o o r saps a n d le ft.
53
I'd been acting. I fe lt em asculated, lik e n a tu re co u ld and should take me to task. 1
looked up, s h u t up, and fe lt I was in th e presence o f pow er, such d o rm a n t c a p a b ility
fo r d e s tru c tio n and benevolence.
W hen w e descended and geared up fo r o u r n e x t hike, it w a s n 't because w e
had seen a ll w e w a n te d to see o f D elicate A rch. F o r so m e th in g so "d e lica te " i t
seemed o m n ip o te n t, at least la te n tly . T h a t g ia n t lo o p o f ro ck has th e p o w e r to
amaze and destroy. W hen its h is to ry is w ritte n , it w ill have accom plished both.
B elieve it o r not, I'm in this p ic tu re a lo n g w ith a hunch o f fo lk s I d o n 't know .
O ur n e xt excursion was a beach-y ro m p to Landscape Arch, a th in , lon g span
o f sandstone te n u o u s ly hanging o ve r the in c lin e o f a m in o r m o u n ta in .2 The g ro u n d
was level, h u t it w as th e m id d le o f th e day and the sun was b a king th e d ivo ts and
2 T r iv ia ; L a n d s c a p e A rc h is th e lo n g e s t A rc h in A rc h e s N a tio n a l P a rk , m e a s u rin g 3 0 6 fe e t f r o m b ase to
base. In 1 9 9 1 , a m a s s iv e s la b o f r o c k fe ll fr o m its u n d e rs id e , r e s u ltin g in a n e v e n t h in n e r r ib b o n o f
ro c k .
54
crevices betw een the h ills. Several paths s p lit to d iv e rs io n s lik e Pine A rch and
T u n n e l Arch, w h ic h w e re closer to being sm all holes in g ia n t rocks th a n th e Park
w o u ld p ro b a b ly care to a d m it. W h ile s trik in g , Landscape A rch was n o t n e arly as
im pre ssive o r c a p tiv a tin g as D elicate A rc h .— the w a y i t so b o ld ly stands there, n o t
o n ly d e fyin g g ra v ity , b u t o p e n ly ch a lle ng in g it.
T here are o ve r 2,000 arches in the p a rk, and it w o u ld take a t least 100
a m b itio u s trip s to see th e m all.
We h a rd ly had tim e to see the
five o r six w e did. b u t, fo r a fe w
hours, w e fe lt lik e w e had le ft
the p la n e t fo r som e m uch m o re
m o u n ta in o u s and ru d d y te rra ,
^
lik e Mars. Yet w e w e re s till on
v ir g in
T
if f W
W
W
To me, Landscape A rch lo o ked m o re D e lic a te .
Earth, and a b id in g by the
s p in n in g o f h e r axis, w e had to leave fo r e ven-m ore re m o te S pringdale, UT, b y Zion
N atio n a l Park. I k n e w th a t I had a p pre cia te d the experience m o re th a n I w o u ld ever
a d m it, b u t was s till co m p le te ly h e s ita n t to c o n tin u e ru m m a g in g th ro u g h U tah's
m ountains. I w a n te d to hang m y p ic tu re s in m y n e w b e droom , b u y some couches. I
w o u ld have to e n du re the elem ents, despite m y m om ents o f c la rity , a n o th e r day or
so.
55
I d e spe ra te ly fe lt the need to rush. En ro u te I m ade it clear I fe lt I had done
m y part, fa rin g n a tu re and p a rtic ip a tin g in B rian's w a cky o u td o o r plans. I explained
it was to o hot, too m uch e ffo rt, too b oring, too e v e ry th in g fo r me to co n tin u e on in
th is vein. A fte r checking in to one ho te l and then im m e d ia te ly lea vin g because the
in te rn e t was o u t (I w o u ld n o t to le ra te th is tw o n ights in a ro w , and b y 'n o t to le ra te ' I
mean I w e n t a p e-sh it on the w o m e n w h o checked us in u n til th e y fo u n d us a room
som ew here else w ith fu ll-fu n c tio n in g am enities), w e stayed at the second m otel we
checked-in to and rested on o u r respective beds. I co n te m pla te d the next 36 hours.
“W h a t are w e going to do in th is p a rk th a t w e c o u ld n 't in th e other?''
“Tons o f s tu ff.”
“ Like w h a t? ”
B rian d id n 't answ er, b u t he p u lle d o u t his iPhone and researched his
p u rp o rte d endless p o ssib ilitie s. “ H ow 'b o u t a riv e r hike?"
“A riv e r w h a t? ”
“ The N a rro w s o f Z io n — the V irg in River. We can h ike it. W a n t to?"
W ith o u t co n sid e ra tio n , I re p lie d , “W ill w e have to do o th e r sh it? ”
"N o.”
"Fine. Done. Sold." It was o fficia l.
B rian w a s n 't stu p id, though, and a fte r re n tin g gear fro m a store across fro m
o u r m otel, w e m ade o u r w a y to the N arrow s, via several o th e r "e x h ib its ” B rian
needed to see, lik e W eeping Rock, a sandstone filte r th a t co n s ta n tly d rip s 1200 year-
56
o ld w a te r.3 A fte r a fe w o f these “ c o in c id e n ta l" stops, it was o ff to the T e m p le o f
Sinawava, o u r launch p o in t.
O ur p h y s ic a lly rig o ro u s w a te r h ik e w as th ro u g h a s lo t canyon, and, d u rin g
the sum m er, w a te r levels can get as h ig h as a six fo o t m an's neck, unless th e re 's a
flash flood. Then all bets are off.
W e p u lled seven m ile s th ro u g h th e riv e r. The 60-degree w a te r te m p e ra tu re
w as ca th a rtic in the flesh-searing, 105-degree d ry h e a t The N a rro w s h ik e is w id e ly
regarded as one o f the m o s t b re a th ta k in g a d ventures m A m erica because one
experiences va rio u s settings on th e tre k , fro m w id e -o pe n , sunny, exposed w aters, to
d ark, cavernous enclosures. W e passed w a te rfa lls and ra p id s; w aded in w a te r d o w n
to o u r ankles and sw am in
w a te r up to o u r necks. Too
be honest, since th a t's w h a t
M
w e 're b e in g here: I t kicked
ass.
■
i\
A fte r th a t exhausting
tria l, I a d m itte d i t w^as fu n ,
b u t o n ly to m yself. The
B ria n a n d m e a t th e end o f th e "N a rro w s
silence somehow' ju s tifie d m y
e a rlie r snarls.
3 B ria n h a d a p p a r e n tly re a d a ll a b o u t th is th in g , n o tin g th a t th e w a te r th a t d r ip p e d th r o u g h i t w a s
c le a n ly filte r e d o v e r th o u s a n d s o f y e a rs a n d w a s n o t as I h a d s a id e a r lie r a " s tu p id le a k y ro c k ." M v
ta k e w h e n I s a w i t in p e rs o n : T h e le a s t c o n v in c in g w a te r f a ll e v e r.
57
B rian and I had alw ays d iffe re d on o u r p re fe rre d a ctivitie s. He was the typ e
o f kid, w ho, at su m m e r camp, w o u ld go m issing o n ly to be found h o v e rin g by the
n a tu re shack, p la yin g w ith caged anim als. W hereas, 1 was the typ e o f kid, w ho, a fte r
p la yin g k ic k b a ll o r g e ttin g in a fig h t w ith some o th e r kid, w o u ld then go lo o k fo r
B rian, fin d h im at the n a tu re shack, and drag his ass back to w a rd the bunk, confused
w h y anyone w o u ld w a n t to spend extra tim e w ith "n a tu re .”
A ro u n d 9:00 PM w e headed back to the p a rk fo r a le ctu re on co n ste lla tio n s
th a t was m ore a p p ro p ria te fo r those in g ra m m a r school— e x p la in in g stars are re a lly
spheres o f com bustion, n o t p ro p e r lig h ts lik e y o u 'd fin d in y o u r house, and
so m etim e in th e past, these b u rn in g balls o f gas w e re ju m b le d to g e th e r to m ake
p ictu re s in the m inds o f some fo re ig n people.
I stopped paying a tte n tio n and began to reflect. The darkness s h ro u d in g
e v e ry th in g and everyone a llo w e d me to space-out, as it w ere, and th in k . W h y was I
so re sista n t to o u r re ce nt a ctivitie s, m ost o f w h ic h I ended up likin g ? W h y am I
b ic k e rin g w ith m y best frie n d and in general being a dick? W hy am I here, lis te n in g
to th is in fla te d p a rk ra n g e r b la th e r a b ou t ru d im e n ta ry stargazing? It all ju s t d id n 't
m ake sense. The plans I had been m ost re s is ta n t to had been the ones I enjoyed the
m ost, and those m om ents o f a d ve n tu re e lic ite d the ra p p o rt w ith w h ic h w e had been
so fa m ilia r fo r o u r e n tire lives.
I could blam e it on the exasperation and ennui everyone encounters on long
car rides, b u t I kn e w 1 should have been b e tte r than that. T h a t is, I s h o u ld n 't have
been able to v e rb a lly m angle m y best frie n d so e a sily— it should have taken m ore
58
than th e suggestion o f g e ttin g m y shoes d ir ty o r p h y s ic a lly e x e rtin g m y s e lf to get me
rile d up. Maybe it was ju s t nerves fro m m oving. Maybe I ju s t had a lo t o f nerve.
The fin a l rid e to o k on a novel silence. N ot one o f c o n te m p t o r unease, b u t o f
m u tu a l u n d e rs ta n d in g and n o t a sm all a m o u n t o f exhaustion fro m w h a t w o u ld tu rn
o u t to be a 4 0 0 0 -m ile trip . Som ew here in Nevada, ju s t before d riv in g th ro u g h the
s trip , I apologized fo r m y less-th an -d e sira b le b e havior. I fe lt te rrib le , lik e I had
n e a rly ru in e d his t r ip — even then, th in k in g th a t I h a d n ’t w o u ld have been
p re sum p tu o u s. He accepted in his ty p ic a l fa s h io n — as i f n o th in g happened th a t was
o u t o f lin e o r d is ru p tiv e . “Yeah, it's fine." A nd th a t’s all i t to o k as w e b o w le d over
the s trip and back in to the vast d e sert w ith the Sierra Nevada M o u ntain s peaking in
the re fra c tin g n o rth w e s te rn h o rizo n .
I keep com ing back to the stupendous a m o u n t o f force acting on Delicate
A rc h — th a t p u ll w o u ld like n o th in g m ore than to b rin g de no u e m en t to the se m i­
e llip tic a l stru c tu re , lik e m y m is a p p ro p ria te d re s e n tm e n t sought to im p lo d e B rian's
w ill. B ut he acted w ith an o p posite and m ore p o w e rfu l m ig h t— le v ity . A nd ju s t as
the Delicate A rch's c o n s titu tio n a llo w s it to stand up to the oppressive n a tu re o f
vengeful g ra v ity , B rian w ith s to o d m y p o w e rfu l negative energy and in re tu rn
o ffe re d a re cip ro ca l push m anifested in a strong, s ile n t resilience, w h ic h begged
questions close to the h e a rt o f the m a tte r: Of w h a t im p o rt is re se n tm e n t o r
59
being s lig h tly u n c o m fo rta b le w he n perched beneath 1 0 0 0 4 tons o f E ntrada
Sandstone? W ill I te ll m y kid s one day th a t I got to see the last o f the Balancing
Rocks and D elicate Arches before th e y m et th e ir re so lu tio n ? W ill I m e n tion , th a t
despite the g re at beauty, I spied these grand, a n cie n t m o n o lith s w ith scorn and
apathy? I've lea rn e d fro m an u n c o n v e n tio n a lly w ise and m aybe a little too q u ie t carm ate th a t it's b e tte r to face the w o rld s to ic a lly than to le t the little th in gs ru in the
fun. N ow I k n o w th a t w h e n it comes to m agnificence, it is b e tte r to behold than be
to ld .
4 A ca ll p u t in to " in t e r p r e t iv e ra n g e r," M r. Lee F e rg u s o n o f th e N a tio n a l P a rk S ervice s, U ta h D iv is io n ,
g a rn e re d th a t E n tra d a S a n d s to n e has a d e n s ity o f 141 l b s / f t 3 T h e h e ig h t o f th e a rc h is p u r p o r te d ly
52 ft, w it h a d ia m e te r ( w h a te v e r th a t m e a n s ] o f 4 0 ft. I a m n o m a th e m a tic ia n , b u t m y fa th e r k n o w s a
th in g o r tw o , so h e re ’s w h a t he h a d to say: "H e e e e e re 's th e d e a l. I'm a s s u m in g th a t th e 4 0 f t d ia m e te r
m e a n s fr o m th e o u te r e dge o f o n e base to th e o u te r edge o f th e o th e r base. I f th a t's n o t w h a t i t m e a n s,
th is a n a ly s is is fu * * e d . Just e y e b a llin g th e p ic tu re , I e s tim a te th a t th e la rg e r base is 15 ft w id e , th e
s m a lle r base is 10 f t w id e , a n d th e o p e n in g in th e m id d le is 1 5 f t w id e ( a d d in g to 4 0 ft.). T o e s tim a te
th e v o lu m e o f th e a rc h , I a m a s s u m in g 2 c y lin d e rs , o ne w it h a d ia m e te r o f 15 ft. a n d o n e w it h a
d ia m e te r o f 10 ft. a n d b o th w it h a h e ig h t o f 52 ft. T h e fo r m u la fo r th e v o lu m e o f a c y lin d e r is p i tim e s
th e s q u a re o f th e ra d iu s tim e s th e h e ig h t. So th e v o lu m e w o r k s o u t to be: p i* 5 2 * ( 5 s q u a re d + 7.5
s q u a re d ) = 1 3 ,2 7 3 c u b ic ft. T o g e t th e w e ig h t w e m u lt ip ly b y th e 141 lb s p e r c u b ic fo o t, o r 1 ,8 7 1 ,5 2 5
lbs. R o u n d th is o f f to 2 m illio n lb s a n d c a ll i t 1 0 0 0 to n s . T h is , y o u can im a g in e , is v e r y a p p ro x im a te ."
T h a n k s , Dad.
60
The Campbell’s Factor, Part IV
Later th a t day, I a rriv e d at the coffee house p ro m p tly at 1 PM fo r a scheduled
m e e ting w ith Blargens. I sat on one o f those w ire m etal chairs th a t o u td o o r cafes
love to im pose on th e ir cu sto m e rs— lik e th e y b o u g h t th e ir p a tio fu rn itu re at an
A lca tra z garage sale. A w a itre s s w h o looked lik e she could have been in 8th grade
approached me.
“W h a t can I do fo r you, sir?" She asked
I ig n o re d the p ro v o c a tiv e q u estio n and s im p ly answ ered w ith m y coffee
preference. “ I'll have a cappuccino w ith no m ilk please. I'm lactose a m b iv a le n t.”
“T hat's ju s t espresso, sir, is th a t w h a t you w a n t? ”
"No, I'd lik e a cappuccino w ith no m ilk ."
"Sir, th a t's espresso." The ita lics w e re hers.
"They come in v e ry o b v io u s ly d iffe re n t cups.”
W ith a sigh she said she'd b rin g me m y cappuccino sans all d a iry p ro d u cts in
a large cup, and I sat w a itin g fo r m y ta rd y agent. M y fir s t in c lin a tio n was th a t he
was b lo w in g me o ff fo r some h o ts h o t p o te n tia l client, b u t then I became entranced
by the a m b ie n t m usic p la y in g — I believe the CD th e y w e re p e d d lin g th a t day was
e n title d , "W hales A t N ig h t In The R ainforest." It was m esm erizing.
He show ed up in ty p ic a lly late fashion even th o u g h w e'd engaged in m any
co n versations a b ou t being fa sh io n a b ly late, and h o w th a t aura w ears o ff i f it's by
m ore than tw o hours. He sat d o w n and ba rked his o rd e r at o u r yo u ng w aitress.
“ Coffee. Black. Then add some cream .” W ith o u t a q u estion she w e n t to fetch.
"You k n o w coffee w ith a n y th in g o th e r than coffee in it is n 't 'black', rig h t? ”
61
"Yeah. I kn o w . I ju s t lik e to say it lik e t h a t.' Coffee. B lack.' It makes me feel
p o w e rfu l..."
I then to ld h im a b ou t m y w o n d ro u s e a rly m o rn in g visio n . He m u s t have
d isa p p ro ved because he s p it his coffee in m y face.
" I f you keep th is s h it up, y o u 're going to be w r itin g m enus fo re ve r..."
T hat's w h e re I cut h im off, k n o w in g fu ll w e ll w h e re I w o u ld b rin g the
conversation. "Shows w h a t you kn o w ! I've been b la ckb a lle d fro m th a t in d u s try
fo re ve r. Thai re sta u ra n ts w o n 't even h ire me."
He loo ke d in cre d u lo u s. "So w h a t are you going to do? You k n o w I'm n o t
going to p u t up w ith th is fo re ve r. Y ou're sing le ha n d e dly c re a tin g a hole in m y
stom ach b ig enough to d riv e m y w ife th ro u g h ."
I show ed a p p re c ia tio n fo r his s w iftly crafted w ife bashing. "Z iiin g ! Nice one!"
W e h ig h -five d . I regained m y com posure. "I have to leave you, Nate. I d id n 't w a n t
to do this, b u t you d o n 't lik e any o f m y ideas— and I got a job offer."
He looked lik e a k id on C hristm as. "Oh yeah? W h a t's that?"
"W e ll," I beam ed p ro u d ly "y o u 're lo o k in g at the ne w C am pbell's soup
in g re d ie n ts w rite r. My w o rk w ill be seen on m illio n s o f cans all o ve r the w o rld ." I
got up and th re w a te n -s p o t on the table. "Check ya later, schm endrick."
(C ontinue 'Cam pbell's' on page 82, o r d o n ’t...no big deal)
62
AN OLD STORY
David
Dashing, N oir-ish, 35
Alexandra A ttra c tiv e , W ily, and w e ll dressed, 30
Bartender
The o w n e r o f the bar, 60
Old Man A frica n -A m e rica n , w ears a cap, 75, sits in a corner, re a d in g and n u rs in g a
scotch
(The c u rta in rises on a w a rm , w ooden, q u ie t b a r in
N ew Y o rk City. The audience is situ a te d o p po site the
B a rte n d er. There is a b a r in fro n t o f him , and at it,
sits an a ttra c tiv e w om an, A lexandra. She sits alone
w ith a m a rtin i. A t a ta b le in back o f her, to th e left,
sits an Old Man, n u rs in g a Scotch. The b a rte n d e r is
w ip in g d o w n the b a r at th e fa r rig h t w h e n a p a tro n ,
David, opens the door, shaking the ra in o ff his
u m b re lla .]
DAVID
Damn w ea the r...b e e n ra in in g fo r days...
(He hum s and nods to w a rd the Old Man, places his
h a t on a ra ck and w a lks o ve r to the seat n e xt to
A le xa n d ra and stands. The b a rte n d e r fin ish e s w ip in g
and w a lks over, as w e ll.)
This taken?
ALEXANDRA
It is now ...
(She tu rn s back to h e r d rin k . B a rte n d e r fusses w ith
some glasses, causing a d is tra c tin g d in .)
DAVID
W ell, thanks. I a p pre cia te it. The nam e's David.
(He extends his hand fo r a shake and it is n 't m et.)
63
ALEXANDRA
W hat? D id n 't h e ar you...
(The d in stops ju s t a fte r he sta rts y e llin g .)
DAVID
M y name is David...ha, sorry.
(B a rte n d e r finishes, looks up, and sees D avid)
DAVID
H ow yo u d o in ', yo u old sonofabitch?
BARTENDER
W ell, hello, sir. W h a t'll it be?
(A le xa n d ra fidgets.)
DAVID
Oh, come on, w h e re ya goin'? (B eat) I d o n 't b ite ...e sp e cia lly w hen I get a little
sauce in me. (To B a rte n d e r:) I'll have an o ld fa sh ion e d -an d use the good b itte rs
th is tim e -la s t tim e it w as lik e a fr u it salad in m y d rin k . (Back to A le xa n d ra :) 1 d o n 't
b ite ...b u t 1 w ill bark.
(He lets o u t a p la y fu l dog bark. The Old Man shoots
h im a lo o k and goes back to his reading.)
ALEXANDRA
I've alw ays fo u n d th a t im ita tin g a n im als is a g reat w a y to m ake a fir s t im pre ssio n.
(Picks up a d ish ra g th a t B a rte n d e r was using and
p la y fu lly
w aves it.)
I f 1 th r o w th is o u t the door, w ill you go get it?
DAVID
T ry in g to get rid o f me, a lre a d y -o r do you ju s t lik e a n im a lis tic men?
BARTENDER
Geez.
64
ALEXANDRA
A n im a lis tic men? Is n 't th a t re d un d a nt? T ry in g to te ll me th a t th e re 's any
d iffe re n ce at all?
BARTENDER
Now , now , guys. I f you ca n 't p la y niceDAVID
Oh, you k n o w me. I alw ays p la y nice. (To A le xa n d ra .} A nd you h a v e n 't even to ld
me y o u r name. Do I have to guess? You lo o k lik e a...C harlotte.
ALEXANDRA
W ell, close.
(She slips some olives in to h e r m o u th fro m the
to o th p ic k in h e r d r in k in a classy y e t seductive
m a nner.}
You g o t the fem ale nam e p a rt o f it rig h t. I'm A lexandra.
DAVID
W ell, it's re a lly nice to m eet you, A lexandra. Can I get you a n o th e r m a rtin i? (To the
B a rte n d e r:} A n o th e rALEXANDRA
No, no. T h a t's re a lly OK. I'll get it m yselfDAVID
No, it's re a lly no tro u b le , at all. (To the B a rte n d e r:} A n o th e r m a rtin i, boss.
BARTENDER
You g o t it.
( He m akes the d rin k .}
ALEXANDRA
W ell, I a p pre cia te it. T hat's v e ry nice o f you.
DAVID
W e ll, I'm a v e ry nice guy...
ALEXANDRA
Oh, I bet yo u are. A re g u la r p h ila n th ro p is t. Do you go a ro u n d to w n b u y in g
everyone d rin k s , o r ju s t w om e n yo u fin d a ttra ctive ?
65
DAVID
P resum ptuous, a re n 't we? A nd to a n sw e r y o u r q u estio n : Yes. A ctu a lly, the o th e r
n ig h t I ju s t b ro u g h t a crate o f so u r mash w h is k e y o ve r to th e YMCA a ro u n d the
c o rn e r and g o t a b s o lu te ly to a ste d w ith th e k n ittin g group. Let me te ll you, Edna can
c ro ch e t d ru n k w ith the best o f th e m ...A n d you w o u ld n 't b e lie ve th e sto rie s th a t
come o u t o f A n n ie 's m o u th --y o u 'd th in k she w as a s a ilo r on fu rlo u g h .
ALEXANDRA
Mm hm.
(B a rte n d e r b rin g s th e d r in k over, skew ers a fe w
olives, grabs a n a pkin, sets i t d o w n .)
T h a n k you.
(B a rte n d e r gives D avid a nod and w a lks back to the
r ig h t o f the b a r and resum es cleaning. D avid raises
his glass and so fo llo w s A lexandra. T h e ir glasses
clin k. She takes a sip.)
DAVID
Cheers. I'm sure in m y tim e I've b o u g h t lo ts o f people d rin k s . Old men, yo u ng
w om an, old w om a n , yo u n g men, grandm as, grandpas, uncles, babies; w ho m e ve r.
W a s n 't a ttra c te d to all o f 'em, I sh o uld say.
OLD MAN
Ha!
(O ld M an hiccups, and m u m ble s so m e th in g
u n in te llig ib le u n d e r his b re a th and takes a g u lp o f
scotch. B a rte n d e r lifts his head, and A le xa n d ra and
D avid b o th take a q u ic k tu rn to lo o k at the old man,
then tu rn back to each o th e r, as th e y w ere.)
ALEXANDRA
W ell, I should hope not! T h a t sounds lik e q u ite a list.
DAVID
M y p o in t is-th e re 's n o t an u lte r io r m o tiv e attached to e very d rin k 1 buy, Alex. Can 1
call you Alex?
(D avid takes a sip o f his d r in k and exhales lo u d ly . He
puts it back d o w n .)
ALEXANDRA
I f you m ust.
66
DAVID
I m ust. A nyw ay, ca n 't I ju s t b u y som eone a d rin k w ith o u t all sorts o f co n n o ta tio n s
assigned to it?
ALEXANDRA
Someone, maybe.
[S w irls h e r d rin k a ro u n d on the base o f he r glass.]
A p re tty little th in g lik e me, though? Seems a little suspicious.
DAVID
W ell, you ca n 't say you have lo w self-esteem . A t least y o u 'll ne ver be lon e ly... So,
Ms. Cynical, are you saying th a t a p e rfe c tly good guy ca n 't come in to his fa v o rite
bar, see a p re tty g irl, and b u y h e r a d rin k w ith o u t be in g some typ e o f fra u d o r
p re d a to r?
[D a v id p icks up his d r in k b u t pauses . A le xan d ra
p o nd e rs th is fo r a m om ent, as the B a rte n d e r makes
his w a y to w a rd th e ir side o f the b a r.]
ALEXANDRA
T h a t is a g re at w a y to p u t it!
[D a vid puts his d rin k d o w n w ith o u t ta k in g a sip.]
DAVID
No m o re good guys o u t there, eh?
BARTENDER
Nope. [F a d in g :] ha ha ha.
[A le x a n d ra laughs.]
DAVID
[T o B a rte n d e r:] N ot helping. [B ack to A le x a n d ra :] Men are no good, is th a t it? You
sound like essential b ib le -sch o o l reading. T ry in ' to m ake me feel lik e I need to be
redeem ed?
[N o w he takes a d rin k ]
ALEXANDRA
Maybe th a t's s o m e th in g you should c o n s id e r...b u t no, th a t's n o t w h a t I'm saying. I
was ju s t saying th a t it's h a rd to tru s t people. D o n 't m ake it all a b o u t you. It's n o t
some guy th in g . It's a people th in g ...b u t m o s tly a guy th in g.
67
DAVID
Oh. I feel b e tte r already. So, all y o u r p ro b le m is, is th a t you ju s t d o n 't tr u s t anyone.
I kn o w , I'm s illy fo r assum ing I could p e rp e tra te such a suggestive gesture as
pu rch a sin g you an a lco h o lic beverage w ith o u t s tirrin g suspicion.
ALEXANDRA
I'm sure you could get aw ay w ith it w ith m ost g irls...
[She takes a g irly sip o f h e r stro n g m a rtin i.)
DAVID
ju s t n o t w ith such an astute o b s e rv e r and s tu d e n t o f hum an n a tu re as yo u rse lf.
You cle a rly have a grasp on the hum an c o n d itio n ; I'll give you th a t...I a c tu a lly th in k
I'm fa llin g fo r y o u r w e 're -a ll-ju s t-a -b u n c h -o f-s o u lle s s -a n im a ls life p h ilo s o p h y —it's
so ...lig h t and...airy.
[D a vid cuddles w ith h im se lf, as i f he's w a rm in g up to
the 'p h ilo s o p h y '. A le xan d ra fin ish e s h e r second
d rin k .)
ALEXANDRA
W h a t can I say? Call me jaded...
[D a vid holds his hand up as i f to q u ie t h e r p o lite ly .)
DAVID
Let me get a d rin k firs t.
[B a rte n d e r tu rn s a ro u n d fro m his chore and looks at
David. D avid m akes a "o n e ” gesture w ith his rig h t
hand and waves it at A le xa n d ra 's and his glass.
B a rte n d e r makes the tw o d rin k s d u rin g a
p ro n o u n ce d pause, d u rin g w h ic h th e re is a
p u rp o se fu l, a w k w a rd self-aw areness. He b rin g s the
d rin k s o ve r and puts th e m d o w n .)
DAVID
T h a n k you.
ALEXANDRA
T ha n k you.
[D a vid lifts his glass q u ic k ly and d o e s n 't even w a it fo r
a re a ction .)
68
DAVID
Cheers.
(He takes a h e a lth y sip o f his, and p u ts it do w n .)
OK.
People ju s t a re n 't good.
w a n t to die a fte rw a rd s?
new s d u rin g a o n e -h o u r
a m o u n t o f cookie sales?
ALEXANDRA
You see it all the tim e . You ever w a tc h th e new s and ju s t
Last n ig h t it was te rrib le ! H ow can it be th a t th e o n ly good
show was th a t a local G irl Scout tro o p b ro k e the re co rd
I mean, good fo r those cute, cute little g irls, b u t th a t's it?
(O ld Man tu rn s his a tte n tio n o u t o f his b o o k and
to w a rd them .)
OLD MAN
The tagalongs are m y fa v o rite ... p e a n u t b u tte r 'n...
ALEXANDRA
The re st o f it had rape, m u rd e r, k id n a p p in g , e x to rtio n , p o nzi schemes, em ail-scam s,
assault...
(D avid m oves close r to her.)
DAVID
Really?
ALEXANDRA
Yeah. A nd th a t w as o n ly the second sto ry. You sh o u ld 've heard the s to ry th e y led
w ith . You'd n e ve r eat m eat, fish, d a iry, o r vegetables. Ever again.
DAVID
T h a t d o e sn 't re a lly leave m uch.
BARTENDER
G irl scout cookies...
DAVID
Thanks. (To A le xan d ra .) T h a t's ju s t one local news show, one n ig h t o f the week,
though. I see y o u r p o in t-ye a h , th e new s is depressing. B ut th e y have to condense
a w h o le w o rld 's w o rth o f in fo rm a tio n in to a o n e -h o u r p ro d u c tio n , m inu s
com m ercials. They go w ith h e ad lin e g ra b b in g stuff. Stories to shock you. There's
good s tu ff go in g on at the same tim e . C'm on. T hey ju s t w a n t to scare you in to
w a tc h in g
69
ALEXANDRA
M m hm.
DAVID
Hence y o u r a p p a re n t p h ob ia o f any and all foods.
(A lexa n d ra takes the to o th p ic k w ith olives o u t h e r o f
h e r second glass and swishes th e m a ro u n d in h e r
c u rre n t d rin k , lifts the to o th p ic k back o u t and eats
the olives, less se d u ctive ly th is tim e .)
ALEXANDRA
Olives are OK. 'Long as you soak 'em in a little v e rm o u th . HA!
(T here is a s lig h t pause as th e y b o th lo o k at th e ir
d rin k s .)
Have you read the n e w sp a p er lately? T hat's n o t as condensed as TV n e w s-th e y get
lik e fo u r sto rie s on the a ir and e v e ry th in g else is up to y o u r im a g in a tio n . The
n e w sp a p e r has a lo t o f stories in it everyday. M o s tly bad. 1 h a v e n 't fe lt good a fte r
re a d in g th e p a p e r since I was a little g irl and o n ly read F a m ily C ircle and Peanuts.
It's ju s t m o re o f th e same. E veryone hates everyone else. D em ocrats and
R epublicans act lik e th e y 're on a Dean M a rtin Roast- o n ly w ith o u t the h u m or.
E th n ic gro up s in A fric a are d o in g th e ir s p rin g cleansing. H ow do
you expect me to tr u s t people? You could be a c a rrie r o f the T u rk e y Flu.
(The Old Man looks up.)
OLD MAN
I th in k you m ean 'ch icken flu .'
(B a rte n d e r tu rn s a ro un d .)
BARTENDER
(To th e Old M an:) Nah. You mean the A via n Flu-and th a t was a fe w years ago.
(B a rte n d e r tu rn s back a ro un d , tid ie s s o m e th in g up,
th e n m oves to the le ft end to a s in k and starts
cleaning some glasses. David ignores b o th o f them .)
DAVID
I th in k you m e a nt sw ine flu ...a t least th a t's w h a t everyone is w o rry in g a b o u t these
days. (Beat.) I've n ever been sure o f th e a n im a l association w ith these flu strains.
Do th e y come fro m the anim al?
70
Was a p ig sick one day, co ughing and sneezing, and get his fa rm e r sick, w h ich , in
tu rn , so m e ho w spread th ro u g h th e p o p u la tio n ? (S uggestively:) Was th e re some
ne farious a c tiv ity involved?ALEXANDRA
I d o n 't kn o w .
DAVID
Or m aybe th e y get th e ir nam e by w h a t th e s tra in looks like. One day a s c ie n tis t
looked at
the s tra in u n d e r a p o w e rfu l m icrosco p e and n o tice d th a t it had a sn o ut and a c u rly
ta il. V oila! Sw ine flu. (Beat) I heard the A vian flu,
(He angles his head and nods it at the Old Man.)
- o r as some people lik e to call it, 'the chicken flu,'
(Old Man clears his th ro a t.)
- got its name a fte r it crapped on som eone's car.
BARTENDER
Ha ha ha. That's great. M ind i f I use th a t one? I'm going to use th a t one.
ALEXANDRA
Funny. B ut yo u d id n 't a n sw e r a n yth in g .
DAVID
W h a t do you w a n t me to te ll you? People do h o rrib le things, b u t th e re 's so m uch
good. You s h o u ld n 't o v e rlo o k it because th e m edia does. Papers are the same
th in g as TV. Sure th e y cover m ore... But, uh (He cuts h im s e lf o ff to fin is h his d rin k in a scary
gulp.)
ALEXANDRA
B u t w hat?
DAVID
H old on. I was g e ttin g there.
(He w ip e s his m o u th w ith a n a pkin , cru m ble s it up
and th ro w s i t in his glass.)
...They cover m ore, yeah, b u t it's the same game: H ow do w e shock readers? H ow
do w e im pre ss th e m -it's n o t w ith flu ff and 'feel good': it's w ith g r it and grizzle. It's
w ith g e ttin g the d irt, u n c o v e rin g some m assive scandal. You kn o w , tu rn o v e r a ro ck
and le t’s see w h a t's c ra w lin g around.
71
It's a gam e-you s h o u ld n 't le t it d icta te h o w you lo o k at th e w o rld . It's the same w a y
you lis te n to some b u t n o t a ll o f y o u r frie n ds.
ALEXANDRA
Yeah, m o re lik e I lis te n to some b u t n o t all o v e rly p o s itiv e strangers.
(D avid p la y fu lly fakes as i f he's been h it in the chest
b y a b u lle t fro m h e r in s u lt.)
DAVID
Oh. I s till say people are m o s tly good, despite y o u r deep ske p ticism .
ALEXANDRA
W ell, yo u h a v e n 't co n vin ce d me. You c a n 't read a n y th in g these days w ith o u t
b e co m in g depressed a b o u t the state o f h u m a n ity .
(She looks o ve r a t th e Old M an w h o is reading. D avid
tu rn s, too.)
Hey!
(The Old Man loo ks up at her, a lm o st expressionless.)
W h a t'ch a re a d in ’?
OLD MAN
The w o rk o f Sophocles. (E n jo y in g be in g engaged:) Have y o u h eard o f him ?
ALEXANDRA
Yeah...but a lo n g tim e ago
(A lexa n d ra keeps lo o k in g at h im so he goes on. He
shakes his glass a ro u n d and sm ells the arom as
w a ftin g o ff th e to p o f the glass w ith an a lm o st
p e rv e rte d sm ile.)
OLD MAN
Hes was a g re at p la y w rig h t fro m a n cie n t Greece. You could say, he helped in v e n t it.
ALEXANDRA
It?
OLD MAN
Dram a. Theatre.
72
ALEXANDRA
Oh, OK. W h ich p la y are you re a d in g now?
OLD MAN
Antigone.
(He takes sip o f scotch and lic k s his lips.)
ALEXANDRA
OK. A nd w h a t's it about, again?
OLD MAN
In th e sim p le s t term s, a K ing refuses to b u ry one o f tw o b ro th e rs w h o died fig h tin g
each o ther, and leaves th e corpse to be disgraced b y r o ttin g on th e b a ttle field, andALEXANDRA
It's k in d o f com ing back to m e...(To D avid:) See! You ca n 't read a n y th in g -e v e n
so m e th in g o ld --w ith o u t s o m e th in g h o rrib le happening.
(The Old Man loo ks d e sp o n d e n t th a t he w as cu t off.
D avid p o in ts to h im .)
DAVID
You d id n 't even le t h im fin ish .
(The Old Man takes a b re a th to s ta rt up his
e x p la n a tio n again, b u t D avid ju m p s rig h t back in.)
If you had le t h im fin is h , he w o u ld have to ld you th a t the tw o b ro th e rs ' sister,
A ntigone, loses h e r o w n life in the p u rs u it o f p ro p e rly b u ry in g h e r b ro th e r. See?
T h a t's good! R ight th e re !
ALEXANDRA
W ow , nice tw is t! So you read it, too?
DAVID
A little .
(He looks at A le xan d ra 's glass, w h ic h is s till m o s tly fu ll
fro m th e last re fill.)
W h at's-a m a tte r? N ot th ir s ty anym ore?
ALEXANDRA
A ctu a lly, I have to go freshen up fo r a m o m e n t-
73
(She stands up and gathers h e r pu rse fro m th e to p o f
the bar. D avid reaches o u t and grabs h e r arm ,
to u c h in g h e r fo r the fir s t tim e .)
DAVID
Oh, come on. I'm g e ttin g a n o th e r one; d o n 't m ake me get it b y m yself.
(A le xa n d ra looks up and m eets his glare. She grabs
h e r glass fro m u n d e r the fla re b y th e stem and gulps
h e r m a rtin i d o w n in th re e sw allo w s. Puts the glass
d o w n elegantly. Grabs h e r purse again and w a lk s o ff
tr iu m p h a n tly d o w n th e to the left, OFFSTAGE. We
hear th e c lic k o th e r heels as she w a lk s d o w n the hall
and opens a door.)
OLD MAN
W h a t a fox!
DAVID
You g o t th a t rig h t. A k n o cko u t. Talks a lo t o f trash, though. Y ou'd n e ver th in k
som eone lik e th a t could be so ca n ta n kero u sBARTENDER
I d o n 't k n o w a b o u t all that. Seems lik e y o u 're p re tty in te re s te d to me.
DAVID
Yeah. W ell, can yo u blam e me?
(R h e to rica l silence hangs in the air. A d o o r opens and
w e h ear heels again. A le xan d ra comes back
ONSTAGE. She enters the ro o m and stands th e re fo r
a m om ent. W alks a ro u n d a little b it.)
ALEXANDRA
M u st have som e p re tty th in w a lls in here.
(B a rte n d e r shrugs his sh o u ld e rs and co n tin u e s
d ry in g glasses.)
DAVID
Nah. This place is p re tty solid. (To B a rte n d e r:) B u ilt in the th irtie s , righ t?
BARTENDER
Yep.
74
(A le xa n d ra shakes h e r head and ro lls h e r eyes. The
Old Man looks on.)
ALEXANDRA
(To D avid :) A kn o cko u t, eh?
DAVID
Oh. Ha. Ha.
(S u d de n ly th e 'th in w a lls ' c o m m e n t makes sense to
h im .)
Oh. T h in w alls. W hoops.
ALEXANDRA
(To Old M an:) A nd 'fox?'
(The Old Man m e e kly sm iles, picks up his scotch and
puts it to his m o u th , and puts his face b e h in d his
book. D avid and B a rte n d e r lo o k at each o th e r and
laugh. B a rte n d e r goes back to general d ry in g and
m aintenance. A le xan d ra is s till standing. A lo o k o f
sa tisfa ctio n ro lls o ve r her.)
ALEXANDRA
I to ld you.
DAVID
T o ld me w hat?
ALEXANDRA
T o ld yo u th a t you w e re n 't ju s t b u y in g me d rin k s o u t o f th e kindness and goodness
o f y o u r heart. I to ld you.
DAVID
A ll I d id w as co m m e n t on y o u r elegant b e a u ty w h ile you w e re o u t o f the room . I
d o n 't see a n y th in g w ro n g w ith that.
ALEXANDRA
I believe the te rm was, 'kn o cko u t? '
OLD MAN
Yeah, I th in k y o u 're rig h t.
(He th e n realizes it was sarcastic and goes back to his
book.)
75
DAVID
W ell, fine. You caught me. It's n o t possible th a t I b o u g h t you a d rin k w ith no
u lte r io r m o tive , and then decided, th ro u g h the course o f o u r co n versa tio n , th a t I
w a n te d to get to k n o w you m ore. A nd w ith that, decided y o u 're a kn o ckou t.
ALEXANDRA
Im p la u sib le , b u t possible. The process was p ro b a b ly so m e th in g lik e th a t, o n ly in
reverse.
(They all p o n d e r th a t s ta te m e n t fo r a second, try in g
to see i f th e y can m ake sense o f it.]
You k n o w w h a t I mean.
DAVID
Maybe. I ca n 't seem lik e th a t bad a guy.
ALEXANDRA
No, you d o n 't. B ut you d id p ro ve me rig h t. A d m it it!
DAVID
A d m it to p ro v in g you r ig h t a b o u t me? Yep. I'm g u ilty . 1 th o u g h t you w e re p re tty
so I b o u g h t you a d rin k , and i f you w e re a le p e r o r 10 years o lder, I m ay n o t have.
B u t th a t d o e s n 't p ro ve w h a t you say a b o u t a ll p e o p le -th a t th e y b a sica lly ca n 't be
tru s te d . You g o tta lo o k fo r the good w ith in the bad. It's alw ays there.
(He sits and sips the re m n a n ts o f his d rin k fo r a
m o m e n t.]
ALEXANDRA
OK. Fine. 9 /1 1 ?
DAVID
W h a t a b o u t it?
ALEXANDRA
The h ija cke rs on 9 /1 1 . Find me so m e th in g p o s itiv e to associate w ith them .
DAVID
Oh. OK. W e ll then...I see y o u r h ija cke rs and raise you the fin e fire m e n and
rescuers th a t ran in to b u rn in g b u ild in g s as th e y w e re to p p lin g to save people.
ALEXANDRA
(S lig h tly d ru n k e n ly w o n d e rin g :] H m m ....got it! The p re s id e n tia l a d m in is tra tio n
d u rin g K a trin a.
76
DAVID
[R e lie ve d :] W o w , th a t's easy. H ow a b o u t a ll o u r N a tio n a l Guard and v o lu n te e rs
fly in g in fro m all a ro u n d the c o u n try to help? H ow a b o u t all the m oney raised fo r
the area? H ow a b o u t th a t aw esom e m o m e n t on liv e TV w ith th a t rapper?
[B a rte n d e r looks up fro m his w o r k w h ile c o n tin u in g
it]
BARTENDER
W h ich one? The m usic aw ards sh o w w h e re he stole th a t m ic ro p h o n e fro m th a t
p o o r g irl?
DAVID
No. The o th e r one, w h e re he said, rig h t a fte r th a t h u rric a n e , he said...
(He looks to Old Man u n ea sily.]
T h a t the p re s id e n t d o e sn 't lik e --o r, n o --H a te s b la ck people.
[T h e re is silence. Old Man has a q u izzical lo o k on his
face.]
OLD MAN
Someone said th a t a b o u t th a t p re sid e n t? Hahahahahahaha.
[T h e y ig n o re his la u g h te r a fte r a m o m e n t and re tu rn
to each o th e r's a tte n tio n .]
DAVID
For e ve ry h o rrib le th in g you th r o w at me, I'm ju s t going to th r o w a saving grace
rig h t back at you.
[A le xa n d ra sits d o w n on h e r sto o l.]
ALEXANDRA
W ell, w h a t a b o u t fo r eve ry tim e a w o m a n iz e r je rk buys a g irl a d rin k at a bar?
DAVID
W ell, fo r eve ry one o f those th e re 's one genuine je rk w hose o v e rtu re s are
m is in te rp re te d as im m a tu re and insincere.
OLD MAN
I'll d rin k to that.
[He raises his glass high, lo w e rs it and takes a sip.]
77
BARTENDER
N icely played.
ALEXANDRA
Yeah, yeah. I ju s t d o n 't see it all th ro u g h ro s y glasses. I co u ld n e ve r hear 'it's a
s to ry a b o u t a m an w h o w o n 't b u ry a n o th e r' and get s o m e th in g p o s itiv e o u t o f it
lik e you did.
DAVID
Y o u 're ju s t n o t lo o kin g . There's a lo t o f good in th a t s to ry -I th in k m o st o f it's good.
ALEXANDRA
You w o u ld .
DAVID
I do. It's n o t naivete, lik e you m ay th in k . It ju s t takes a p a rtic u la r w a y o f seeing-to
lo o k a t re g u la r o r u g ly th in g s and see th e good.
ALEXANDRA
Hm m . It k in d a sounds lik e naivete.
DAVID
...A lm ost e ve ry ch a ra cte r in th a t s to ry was against th e K ing - Creon, i f yo u c a re d -fo r
th a t decision. In fact, his son, his w ife , th e oracle, the Theban elders w e re all
against him . They all fo u n d the idea o f lea vin g a s o ld ie r u n b u rie d egregious-even a
s o ld ie r o f the enem y, w h ic h th e dead guy was.
ALEXANDRA
W h a t was the dead guy's name?
OLD MAN
[U n so licite d ; p ro n o u n ce th e second and th ir d syllables as "nice-ees” :) Polyneices,
m y dear.
[O ld Man b rin g s his glass up to his lip s and takes a
sip, lea vin g ju s t a little b it, as D avid sta rts to speak.)
DAVID
W h ich ju s t happens to e ty m o lo g ic a lly pan o u t to "p o ly ” m e a nin g 'm any,' and [See
above fo r p ro n u n c ia tio n :) "neices” m e a nin g 'nice th in g s '...'M a n y nice th ings.'
ALEXANDRA
Right.
78
DAVID
Sure a lm o st all o f th e m k ille d them selves at the end, b u t those Greeks had a fla ir
fo r th e d ra m a tic.
ALEXANDRA
They all died in th e end! W h a t typ e o f good fe e lin g sh ould I be g e ttin g fro m that?
DAVID
W ell, th e y d id n ’t all die. M ost o f th e elders stu ck a ro u n d ...a t least fo r a little w h ile .
ALEXANDRA
Yeah. They w e re elders.
DAVID
Yeah...
OLD MAN
Creon d id n o t die. In fact, the elders to ld h im th a t a lth o u g h the gods had a
p a rtic u la r p ro c liv ity fo r p u n is h in g th e p ro u d , th a t his tria ls w o u ld o n ly b rin g fo rth ALEXANDRA
So one o f the o n ly guys th a t d o e s n 't die in the end is th e one w h o w o u ld n ’t b u ry
th e s o ld ie r
in th e fir s t place? W ho cares? T h a t's n o t a good message! W ow . Y o u 're bad at
this.
DAVID
So, yo u ju s t w a n t to ig n o re the selfless sacrifice th a t A n tig o n e was w illin g to
u n d e rg o to m ake sure h e r b ro th e r was b u rie d ? Skip r ig h t to the bad stuff?
BARTENDER
It's a pickle.
(A le xa n d ra and D avid tu rn to him . He bends d o w n to
the g round, picks so m e th in g up, and shows
A le xa n d ra and D avid a large p ickle.)
DAVID
Oh.
(B a rte n d e r th ro w s the p ic k le away.)
ALEXANDRA
(A n s w e rin g his p re v io u s q u e s tio n :) No.
79
(She loo ks a ro un d . Old Man is on the edge o f his
seat.)
OLD MAN
I th in k a re a lly im p o rta n t th in g you tw o (He is in te rru p te d again. He ca n 't believe it.)
DAVID
(To A le xa n d ra :) So you can a d m it th e re 's some good here?
ALEXANDRA
W ell...m a yb e ...I d o n 't k n o w a b o u t here. M aybe some in the sto ry. B ut th a t d o esn 't
m ean a n y th in g fo r you.
(D avid loses his sm ile and looks d o w n at his d rin k .
He picks it up and takes a last sip.)
OLD MAN
You tw o sound lik e a couple o f kids.
(B a rte n d e r loo ks up at th is re m a rk, sm iles, and raises
his e ye b ro w s as he tu rn s to the tw o fo r th e ir re b u tta l.
A le xa n d ra let's D avid do the ta lk in g . D avid tu rn s
to w a rd th e Old Man.)
DAVID
Pardon?
OLD MAN
T a lk in ' b o u t m an and good and e vil lik e it's one o r the o th e r. Black o r w h ite .
Sounds naive i f you ask m e-on b o th y o u r accounts.
DAVID
Oh. ButOLD MAN
'ts m y tu rn now . D o n 't e ith e r o f yo u th in k th a t in e ve ry m an th e re 's a lil b it o f
both? Seems to me lik e th e re 's good and bad in e v e ry th in g -a n d all you can do is
ju s t tr y y o u r best.
ALEXANDRA
W h a t do you mean, 'tr y y o u r best?'
80
OLD MAN
1 mean, ju s t do y o u r best to be a good person. T h e re 's no bad people tr y in ' to be
good; th e re 's no good people th a t d o n 't w o r k h a rd to be th a t way. Like 1 said, ju s t
tr y y o u r best.
[D a v id tu rn s to A le xan d ra .}
DAVID
[T o h im s e lf b u t o u t lo u d :} W e ll...B e st try , huh? [T o A le xa n d ra :} W h a 'd ya say?
ALEXANDRA
What?...You?....Me?
DAVID
I'll give it m y best shot. [Pause.} M ay I e sco rt you, Ms. A lexandra...
ALEXANDRA
Benevento.
DAVID
Ms. A le xan d ra Benevento. B e a utifu l. W e ll...m a y I?
[W ith th a t th e y b o th get up. D avid th ro w s some
m o n ey on th e bar.}
DAVID
[T o B a rte n d e r:} Thanks fo r e v e ry th in g , chief.
BARTENDER
M y pleasure. Take care now .
[A le xa n d ra locks h e r arm w ith in D avid's and th e y
s tro ll to w a rd the door. D avid gets his ja c k e t and hat
fro m th e rack, tip s his cap at the Old Man w h o looks
on.}
OLD MAN
You k n o w yo u tw o w o u ld a been o u tta here m uch, m uch sooner i f you ju s t listen e d
to me!
DAVID
1 kn o w , I know .... F lip p a n t you th ...T h a nks, sir.
81
(Old Man w in k s . D avid and A le xan d ra open the door,
D avid opens his u m b re lla above b o th o f them , and
th e y leave. The d o o r closes. Old Man looks o ve r
to w a rd the B a rte n d e r.)
BARTENDER
T h a t was some sage advice there.
(He tu rn s a ro u n d to p u t some s tu ff away, b u t tu rn s
a ro u n d again.)
H ey...how 's one m o re...o n the house?
OLD MAN
You d o n 't have to tw is t m y arm ...sage advice... Yeah, sure. Someone to ld me the
same th in g w h e n 1 was th e ir age.
BARTENDER
Oh yeah. H o w 'd th a t w o r k out?
OLD MAN
Same w a y it w o rk s o u t w h e n e v e r old people t r y to te ll yo u n g people h o w it is.
D id n 't listen . T o o k me 'til n o w to k n o w it was even tru e .
(A fte r B a rte n d e r m akes th e d rin k , he b rin g s it fro m
in back o f th e b a r and p u ts it in fr o n t o f Old Man.)
BARTENDER
Yeah, w e ll, yo u k n o w ...th e y 'v e got tim e.
CURTAIN DOWN
THE END
82
The Campbell’s Factor, Part V
M y new jo b was p ro v in g its e lf to be an e x tre m e ly p ra c tic a l nuisance. Of
course, the steady stream o f m oney flo w in g in to m y pockets fro m the C am pbell's
coffers was the p innacle o f excellence, and m ore than helped me finance some
p a rtic u la r h a bits o f m in e — lik e eating, and dre ssin g m y s e lf in clo th in g . I could
fin a lly a ffo rd to eat at those re s ta u ra n ts I used to w rite fo r — the ones th a t re m ained
standing, th a t is— and fo rg o m y n ig h tly b o w l o f w a rm ch e e rio s— perhaps. B ut a
d a y-jo b can s lo w ly chip aw ay at one's soul; gn aw on one's resolve lik e a p e rs is te n t
and d e te rm in e d ro d e n t o r m o th e r-in -la w .
Before 1 to o k the job at C am pbell's, 1 suppose 1 should have made m y s e lf
p riv y to the ins and outs o f the jo b — should have ta lke d to som eone at the com pany
a b o u t the p o s itio n b efore o u t r ig h tly accepting it, because th e re w e re ce rta in aspects
o f the jo b th a t w o u ld have been h e lp fu l facts to o b ta in before m a k in g m y life changing decision to leave Blargens alone at the coffee shop. Even tho u g h he was
sh o u tin g "H a lle lu ja h ,” as 1 s tro lle d away, 1 kn e w I had offended him , and th a t sat
un ea sily w ith me.
W h a t 1 th o u g h t was a fu ll tim e gig th a t w o u ld launch me in to the next
stra to sp h e re o f w r itin g sta rd o m was re ally, at its essence, one o f those anonym ous
and in g lo rio u s g h o s tw ritin g gigs. 1 did n o t receive m y due c re d it on the cans—
s o m e th in g I c e rta in ly w o u ld have argued fo r w ith HR had I k n o w n th e ir tru e
in te n tio n s to subjugate m y career in a quest fo r the b e tte rm e n t o f th e ir alre a d y
P re e m in e n t Soupiness. A ll o f this, and I also had to com m ute to Camden, New
Jersey. Things w e re n o t lo o k in g good.
83
A nd n o t to beat a dead horse, w h ic h w o u ld ju s t be cruel, m o rb id and
p ro b a b ly sm elly, b u t th is p o s itio n w as a com plete a ffro n t to m y o rig in a lity . There I
was, H a rry W heelsnap, In g re die n ts W rite r— I th o u g h t I had it made. B u t w h e n I
re p o rte d fo r w o rk , I was given a sheet o f loo se -lea f w ith the in g re d ie n ts to Chicken
W ith Rice condensed soup a lre a d y w r itte n on it. I was to ld to tra n s c rib e the lis t in to
th is c o m p u te r p ro g ra m th a t was sp e cia lly m ade fo r C am pbell's labels called, Soup's
On (the la b e l)! I to o k a lo o k at the lis t and im m e d ia te ly called m y se m i-d e a f boss
in to the room . He was a genial, gentle, w h ite -h a ire d man, b u t I had to stand m y
gro un d , c re a tiv e ly speaking.
I ye lle d o u t fro m m y cubicle to m ake sure he could h ear me. "M r. Ross, can
you come here fo r a m in u te ? ” I w a ite d tw o m inutes. "MR. ROSS CAN YOU COME
HERE, PLEASE?" I w e n t o u t and dragged h im in to m y cubicle.
"W h a t can I do fo r you, H a rry ? ”
"W ell, te ll me w h y w e 're choosing to open w ith chicken stock, cooked rice,
and cooked chicken m eat on th is in g re d ie n ts list. C ertainly, you kn o w , ju s t as I do,
th a t w e need to m ake it m o re in te re s tin g fro m the get go. Chicken stock? T hat's so
a n tic lim a c tic — you need to open w ith a sh o c k e r— so m e th in g th a t w ill d ra w th e m in,
lik e soy le c ith in — w e 're e n din g w ith o u r s tro n g e s t draw . I can even see a sciencefic tio n -y d ra w i f w e open w ith p ro te in isolate o r m a lto d e x trin .” I co n tin u e d in m y
stro n g e st re p ro d u c tio n o f a ro b o t voice to illu s tra te m y p o in t, "YOU MUST GIVE ME
YOUR MOST PREFERENTIAL PROTEIN ISOLATE AND OR A PORTION OF STRONG
M A L-TO -D EX-TR IN N N N N N N N N N ,"
84
His face was b la n k as he a d justed one o f his tw o h e a rin g aids. “Yeah, so rry,
H a rry, I d o n 't recognize th a t tune, sounds lik e a good one, th o u g h! Ha ha ha,” he said.
I w as flu s te re d and unsure o f h o w I should proceed. "D id you hear w h a t I
ju s t sa id — can you h e ar w h a t I'm saying?”
"W heelsnap! I alre a d y to ld you h o w m uch w e 're p a yin g you. N ow get to
w o rk . No tro u b le , OK?
There w as an ob vio u s c o m m u n ic a tio n b a rrie r so I decided n o t to pu rsue it
any longer. "OK, s o rry a b ou t that, M r. Ross.”
Again, I g o t the b la n k stare. So I w aved h im goodbye and tu rn e d m y ch a ir
a ro u n d and p ro p p e d up the piece o f loo se -lea f so I could s ta rt m y m undane
tra n s c rip tio n .
The in itia l m eet and g re et w ith M r. Ross had been ju s t as a w k w a rd .
W ith a big sm ile he extended his g e ria tric p aw and said in s lo w ly begotten
speech pa tte rn s, "Hi, I'm Jeffrey Ross, and y o u 're w o rk in g fo r me in In g re d ie n t
T ra n s c rip tio n , a re n 't you?”
I trie d to im m e d ia te ly c o rre c t w h a t I th o u g h t w as a harm less m istake. "Yes,
sir, I'm y o u r In g re d ie n ts W rite r. H ow are you?”
"W ho am I? I ju s t to ld you. I'm Jeffrey Ross, y o u r boss."
I decided to rid e it o u t and n o t c o rre c t him , in je c tin g w h a t little h u m o r the
s itu a tio n could w ith s ta n d . "Haha, th a t rh ym e s!"
He checked his w atch. "It's 9:02. Get to w o rk .”
85
I decided to take m a tte rs in to m y ow n hands. I w ro te the labels the w ay I fe lt
th e y needed to be w ritte n , consequences be dam ned. I was the pro fe ssio n a l w rite r,
a fte r all. As fa r as I was concerned, soy le c ith in w o u ld have its day in the sun.
( Continue 'Cam pbell's' on page 103 i f y o u th in k y o u can handle it)
86
On The Wild Side:
A Thinly Veiled E xercise in M isanthropy
There was th is g re a t jo k e in a bo ok w hose title and a u th o r have since w in g e d
o u t o f m y m in d lik e a b a t on the p ro w l: W hat's the difference between the zoo and a
delicatessen? A t th e zoo th e re ’s a m a n -e a tin g tig e r, and a t the deli, th e re 's a man
eating h e rrin g .
The w o rd pla y in th is joke has alw ays been great, b u t re ce ntly, I've come to
id e n tify m o re w ith the zoo occupant th a n the d e li p a tro n.
Som etim es, I w is h I w e re a w ild anim al. I th in k o f the th in g s in life th a t annoy
me o r m ake me sad, th a t eat aw ay at m y resolve. A h ip p o p o ta m u s w o u ld ne ver w a it
in lin e at the DM V o r s it in tra ffic on the fre e w a y — and I have ne ver heard o f one
going h u n g ry fo r v e ry lo n g w ith o u t exacting severe consequences. I b e ar w itn e ss to
the copious a m ounts o f food G arfield eats, and th e h o p p in g jo llit y e xh ib ite d by
kangaroos. It makes me th in k tw ic e a b o u t m y c u rre n t s itu a tio n .
Joking aside (fo r a m o m en t), the e m o tio n a l to ll o f m y o w n hum an existence is
h efty. T here are people w h o dem and m y co n sid e ra tio n , w hose feelings need to be
p ro te cte d , w h o re ly on be in g su p po rte d . W o u ld n 't i t be b e tte r to lu m b e r a ro un d and
la z ily scratch m y back against trees u n d e r v e rd a n t canopies o r s p rin t at e a rthsco rch in g speeds th ro u g h A fric a n savannahs?
In the m a il the o th e r day came a N on re n e w a l N otice fro m P rogressive saying:
Please know th a t y o u r p o licy w ill expire as o f 12:01 A M on December 26, 2009.
U nfortunately, y o u w ill n o t receive an o ffe r to renew [becauseyou have moved to
87
C a lifo rn ia ].1 S w inging th ro u g h the trees lik e m aniacs, m onkeys ra re ly w o r r y a bout
b e in g d ro p p e d fro m th e ir car insurance ca rrie rs. They w o r r y a b o u t bananas and
g ro om each o th e r fo r bugs. T h e ir ve rs io n o f n it p ic k in g is m uch m ore a ltru is tic than
ours, and P rogressive could stand to learn fro m th e ir exam ple.
People w h o v ig o ro u s ly e n jo y social g a therings are called p a rty anim als, and
th is phrase indicates th a t once a person lets loose and enjoys h im s e lf fre e ly, he is
m ore lik e an a n im a l th a n a reserved, com m onplace, blase hum an. B u t even at these
apexes o f re v e lry it w o u ld s till be b e tte r to be an anim al. A goat w o u ld be able to
tu n e o u t an in s u ffe ra b le d ro n e ra m b lin g a b o u t the w e a th e r and th e ir personal
p o litic a l forecasts. No c lo s e -ta lk e r w o u ld dare have a b re a th s h o w d o w n w ith Mr.
Ed, and i f th e y did, th e y w o u ld lose every tim e . Horses have little patience fo r a
p a rty fu ll o f jackasses.
Surely, no one w o u ld tr y to m ove in on the g irl be in g h it on by so m e th in g
fierce like a pum a o r a tig e r — and th e y w o u ld n 't c u t ahead in lin e fo r the punch,
eith er. A m ule w o u ld n o t be the passive typ e to a llo w everyone else to get his o r h e r
coats o u t o f the ro o m firs t. He's got places to be, too.
There are m any o th e r th in g s an anim al can get aw ay w ith . For instance, it
w o u ld n o t be o u t o f the o rd in a ry fo r one to be naked at a in p u blic. The same goes
fo r r o llin g a ro u n d in the d ir t and d e s tro y in g m o th e r's flo w e r garden. As a hum an,
I've been lam basted fo r both.
1 T h e l e t t e r c o n t i n u e d , Please g o f u c k y o u r s e l f
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Sleep and sex are b o th a c tiv itie s th a t w e hum ans could le a rn a th in g o r tw o
ab o u t fro m o u r fe llo w fauna. A sizeable p o rtio n o f the an im a l k in g d o m sleeps all day
and o n ly stirs once the h o t sun fades; liv in g m ore e ffic ie n tly than, b u t n o t u n lik e
m a n y o f the ty p ic a lly d iu rn a l, y e t p e rp e tu a lly lazy hum ans I k n o w .2 I la m e n t the
fishes' lot, though. T hey s w im th ro u g h life w ith h a lf o f th e ir b ra in on at a tim e — in
co n sta n t m o tio n to stay alive, y e t n e ve r re a lly fu lly fu n c tio n in g .3
The m ale lio n sleeps fo r 15 h o u rs a day, and d u rin g m a tin g pe rio d s, copulates
w ith his com p an io n 20-40 tim e s a day, o fte n n eglecting sustenance. Res Ipsa
L o q u itu r.4
I have w atch ed a fa ir a m o u n t o f A n im a l Planet, and i f th e re is one c e rta in ty
a b ou t th a t channel, it is th a t it is its quest to show the m a tin g h a bits and ritu a ls o f all
types o f a nim al species. W h a t s trik e s me as m ost odd, a fte r w a tc h in g any o f these
p ro gra m s, is the n o tio n th a t no m a tte r h o w b iz a rre a show the peacock puts on w ith
his ta il, o r h o w e v e r v io le n t tw o ram s b u ttin g heads seems to be, the c o n fro n ta tio n s
alw ays consist o f less o s te n ta tio n th a n the hum an m a tin g ritu a ls I have come to
k n o w and hate. Hum ans, I believe especially the males, have to dress to im press,
p ro ve w ith o u t o v e rtly s ta tin g th a t th e y are capable o f su sta in in g a lon g and
2 T h e r e a r e c o n s e q u e n c e s f o r h u m a n s t h a t a ct lik e th is , t h o u g h . I.E. p i l i n g b ills , le t h a r g y , s lo th ,
fla b b in e s s , a n g r y p a r e n t s , d i s a p p o i n t e d fr ie n d s , ex s i g n i f i c a n t o t h e r s c o n f i r m i n g t h e i r s u s p ic io n s , no
jo b , n o place, n o car, n o s tu ff, n o m a te , n o sex, n o N O T H IN G !
3 Feel fr e e to m a k e y o u r o w n h u m a n p a r a l le l s h ere.
4 Y o u c o u l d p o t e n t i a l l y i n v o k e G e o rg e O r w e l l' s P o litic s a n d th e E ng lis h L a n g u a g e a n d s ta te t h a t I
w o u l d be b e t t e r s e rv e d to r e n d e r th i s s e n te n c e , " T h e t h i n g s p e a k s f o r i ts e l f,” b u t f o r s o m e re a so n , i t
j u s t s o u n d s so m u c h b e t t e r in L a t i n t h a t y o u ' r e g o i n g to h a v e to liv e w i t h it.
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p ro sp e ro u s life, are o n ly a llo w e d to have h a ir in e x tre m e ly specific places5, have to
feign a s lig h t d is in te re s t in o rd e r to keep the fem ale's a tte n tio n th e n a t som e p o in t
be ob lig ed to express an o v e rw h e lm in g in te re s t, m u s t w in e and dine, and th e n i f any
o f th a t manages to w o rk , the m ale is th e n a llo w e d to beg, cajole, and scheme fo r sex.
A n im a ls h a rd ly ask, and w e have th e m to th a n k fo r so m any o f o u r o w n
adapted m a tin g p o sitio n s. Just flip th ro u g h the Kam a S utra and y o u 'll fin d p o sitio n s
nam ed the dog, the b u tte rfly , the to rto is e , the m onkey, the ass6, the cat, the elephant,
th e sw an, the boar, and the b u ll. A nd th a t's ju s t the p re fa ce !7
C onclusion: A g ira ffe can fin d a m ate and have unabashed p u b lic sex even i f
he d o e sn 't have a steady incom e o r s tu rd y fu tu re goals.
To be hum an is to accept tra g e d y; to liv e in an im p e rfe c t w o rld and have to
th in k a b o u t it and reason w ith it. W h ile I'm n o t n e gating the p o s s ib ility th a t anim als
possess base em otions, I am ra th e r c e rta in th a t th e ir in a b ility to reason and to
p o n d e r leaves th e m w ith an a ir o f ig n o ra n t b lis s — a state w e hum ans can o n ly s triv e
to achieve a rtific ia lly , and it is n e ve r re a lly a fu lly ig n o ra n t haze one finds; ra th e r, it
is th e illu s io n o f ignorance, w h ic h can create an even m o re p ro fo u n d unhappiness.8
Like all, I have experienced the pain o f lo s in g fa m ily and frie n ds, and th is was
s o m e th in g fro m w h ic h it w as n o t easy to m ove on fro m , and fo r some people, it is
im po ssib le . B u t packs o f w o lve s and herds o f zebras deal w ith loss all the tim e , and
5 T h e t o p o f th e h e a d
6 T h e a n i m a l, t h a t is. Clean u p y o u r act!
7 I je s t. T h e s e p o s i t i o n s a re s p r e a d t h r o u g h o u t th e fin e pages o f t h e K a m a S u tra
8 D UIs, d i r t y n e e d le s , d e a th , u n r e l i a b l e d e a le rs , s h a d y c h a ra c t e r s , i n e b r i a t e d slobs, disease, t o x i c
i m p u r i t i e s , d e p r e s s io n , p e o p le w h o s m o k e a ll y o u r w e e d a n d / o r d r i n k all y o u r b e e r, e t al.
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th e y are sto ic in th e ir re s o lv e 9 and m ove on as n a tu re necessitates— p o ssib ly
la m e n tin g the loss o f a fe llo w , b u t are m o re lik e ly th in k in g at any given m om ent, "is
th a t food? Is t/? a tfo o d ? Is THAT food?"
F o rg e ttin g o r ne ver re m e m b e rin g tra g e die s in the past is a n a tu ra l
m echanism anim als use to su rvive . We, i f w e 're lucky, are m e re ly able to cope w ith
tra g ic pasts— b u t w e m o s tly re ly on tim e to fade o u r m em ories, in an e ffo rt to en jo y
o u r present. I e m pathize w ith elephants because i t is said th a t th e y ne ver forget,
w h ic h m u st m ake fo r a solem n 5 0-70 years
Being hum an is taxing. We are cursed to o ve r th in k and o ve r reason o u r
existence and circum stances. W e are th ru s t in to u n w a n te d social endeavors and
c o n d itio n e d to e m p lo y hum an logic and m ores and subjugate o u r basest in s tin c ts .10
W e have been softened by e v o lu tio n a ry e ra d ic a tio n s (you kn o w , lik e ta ils and o th e r
v e stig ia l organs. Oh, and all th a t b o d y h a ir — th a t's gone, fo r the m o st p a rt) and
detached fro m n a tu re by o u r in s titu tio n a liz e d d o m e s tic ity .
B ut the A n im a l Planet channel th a t I love so d e a rly is co n spicu o usly close to
the D isco ve ry Channel th a t feels the need to have a m u ltitu d e o f show s based on the
food in d u s try . You can easily fin d show s th a t fo llo w chickens, pigs, cows, calves, and
9 I re a liz e t h a t b y r e l a t i n g h o w a n i m a ls a c t in t e r m s o f h u m a n e m o t i o n s n o t o n l y u n r i g h t f u l l y
a n t h r o p o m o r p h i z e s t h e m , b u t also r e n d e r s m y p o i n t a b o u t a n i m a ls n o t p o s s e s s in g sa id h u m a n
fe e lin g s a n d e m o t i o n s s e e m i n g ly n u l l a n d v o id . H o w e v e r , ple a se ta k e c o m f o r t in k n o w i n g t h a t I o n l y
d o th i s so y o u can u n d e r s t a n d w h a t I ’m t r y i n g to s ay t h e a n i m a ls a re g o i n g t h r o u g h , a n d a t n o p o i n t
a m I a c t u a l l y c a l li n g z e b ra s s to ic o r w o l v e s c a p a b le o f l a m e n t a t i o n — a l t h o u g h t h e y p r o b a b l y w o u l d be
s o m e w h a t m i f f e d i f t h e y m is s e d a t a s t y carcass.
10 A l t h o u g h o u r l i m b i c s y s te m is said to h a v e e v o l v e d in o u r r e p t i l i a n a n c e s to r s a n d has s in ce c o m e
t o m a n a g e o u r " f i g h t o r f l i g h t ” fu n c t io n s , i t m a y a lso e x p l a in o v e r w h e l m i n g d e s ire s to cle an e y e b a lls
w i t h t o n g u e s a n d save p e o p le m o n e y on t h e i r c a r i n s u r a n c e .
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even sheep on th e ir w a y to and th ro u g h the s u rp ris e slau g h terhouses.11 The
o u td o o r n e tw o rk is close by on the dial, as w e ll. It is th e re th a t you can fo llo w
p ro fe ssio n a l b ig game h u n te rs and w atch th e m take hom e a p riz e buck, bear, moose,
o r any o th e r gargantuan land m am m al n o t p ro te c te d by the n a tio n a l g o v e rn m e n t o f
w h a te v e r c o u n try th e y are p illa gin g .
B ut all th a t fre e d om versus all o u r c o n triv e d m ethods and "c iv iliz e d ”
b u re a u cra cy—
O f course, be in g on to p o f the food chain is n 't re a lly all th a t b a d — alth ou g h
I'll ju s t have to re m e m b e r to keep m y clothes on in p u b lic places, w h ic h is n 't
co m p le te ly o u t o f the o rd in a ry fo r some anim als these days, since I have seen
several dogs w a lk e d d o w n the s tre e t in s w e a te r vests (these are o ste n sib ly the pets
o f cost accountants and o th e r bad dressers e v e ry w h e re ).12 A lth o u g h clothes are
said to m ake the man, clothes do n o t a dog m ake.13
F u rth e rm o re , w h a t w o u ld a koala m ake o f the ta b le settings in a classy
re sta u ran t? I can n e ve r com bine the p ro p e r fo rk w ith the p ro p e r course. A re m y
w a te r and w in e glasses on m y rig h t o r le ft— o r b o th — o r neither? H ow m any o f
these plates are m ine? The n a p k in is folded so n ice ly th a t it w o u ld be a c rim e to use
11 I o f t e n w o n d e r w h a t a n i m a ls a re t h i n k i n g . T h e y , m o s t l ik e l y , s u s p e c t n o t h i n g m a l e v o le n t , a n d
c o u ld , p e rh a p s , be c o n t e m p l a t i n g t h e a m a z i n g n e w p a s tu r e s to w h i c h t h e y a re h e a d in g . B u t i t w o u l d
p r o b a b l y be m o r e a c c u r a t e to a s s u m e t h a t t h e y a re t h i n k i n g "is t h a t fo o d ? Is t h a t fo o d ? Is T H A T
fo o d ? ” — y o u g e t th e d r i f t .
12 It is m y d i s t i n c t b e l i e f t h a t t h e e n t i r e l y s u p e r f l u o u s i n d u s t r y o f p e t c l o t h i n g w a s c re a t e d w h e n
s o m e o v e r l y s e n t i m e n t a l sap c o u l d n ’t p a r t w i t h t h e i r c h i l d ’s b a b y c l o th i n g , a n d s a d i s t i c a ll y m a d e
t h e i r p e t w e a r i t in s te a d , t o th e d e lig h t, a w e a n d t o t a l a m a z e m e n t o f th e p e t o w n e r c o m m u n i t y .
13 T h a t is, c lo th e s d o n o t m a k e th e dog, n o t d o gs c a n n o t m a k e c l o t h i n g — a l t h o u g h t h e y c a n ’t, so I
s u p p o s e i t w o r k s b o t h w a y s . E ve n b e tt e r .
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it fo r its in te n d e d p u rp o se .14 I am n o t even a llo w e d to have m y e lbow s on the table,
ye t 1 w a n t to fo rg o the pretense o f using s ilv e rw a re and heedlessly lap up m y food
lik e a hye na — w ith the re q u is ite laughing, o f course.
W hen o rd e rin g pizza w ith frie n ds, it is in e v ita b le th a t th e re w ill be a g rip e
o ve r the d is p a rity in n u m b e r o f slices le ft and the n u m b e r o f people w h o w a n t to eat
th e m .15 E ve ntually, the k in d e r soul w ill give w a y to those v u ltu re s th a t h o ld o u t in
hunger. A jackal w o u ld never be so kin d , and w o u ld get to e n jo y his fu ll p o rtio n .
Sharing is n o t a concept o f the a n im a l w o r ld — p a rtic u la rly w h e n it comes to
p e pp e ro ni.
U n like m o st anim als, I've alw ays been a fussy eater. 1 can re ca ll an instance
in m y e a rly c h ild h o o d w h e re I m u s t have ru n fro m the k itc h e n in m y g randm a Sara's
house and h id u n d e r h e r d in in g ro o m table fro m a p o t ro a st I d id n ’t w a n t to eat. It
was o n ly a fte r she convinced me th a t I was a lio n — and th a t as a lio n , I should eat
the m eat on m y p la te w ith g u s to — th a t I to o k the re st o f m y d in n e r u n d e r the table
and de vou re d it. Som ehow, it tasted b e tte r to m y k in g -o f-th e -ju n g le se n sib ilitie s.
B ut in general, the hum an palate is severely lim ite d — n o t ju s t m ine. And
w he n I ru n o u t o f food and stare d e s p o n d e n tly in to m y re frig e ra to r h o p in g
so m e th in g w ill m a te ria lize , I desire the u n h in d e re d a p p e tite o f a w ild creature. W ith
14 Y o u ’ll n o t i c e t h a t r e s t a u r a n t s t h a t ta k e t h e t i m e to fo ld n a p k i n s i n t o i n t r i c a t e s ha p e s a n d d e sig n s,
r a r e ly , i f e ve r, fo ld t h e m i n t o th e sh a p e o f a h u m a n . C o n v e rs e ly , n a p k i n s a re fo ld e d i n t o v a r i o u s
a n i m a l sh a p es q u i t e o ft e n lik e s w a n s and, w e ll , t h a t ’s all I h a v e f o r n o w .
15 U nle ss y o u r p a r t i c u l a r case is a s ta t is t ic a l a n o m a l y , th e n o r m a l p iz z a r u le s a p p ly : a n y r e g u l a r
e i g h t- s lic e p iz z a is o n l y e v e n l y d i v i s i b l e b y a g r o u p o f t w o , fo u r , o r e ig h t. T h e r e f o r e , a n y g r o u p w i t h
an o d d n u m b e r o f p e o p le o r d e r i n g a s t a n d a r d p iz z a w i l l e x p e r i e n c e t h i s t e n s io n . T h e ru le s , o f co u rs e ,
do n o t ta k e i n t o c o n s i d e r a t i o n : t o p p i n g p re fe re n c e s , m u l t i p l e pizzas, S ic ilia n pizzas, n o n - s t a n d a r d
c u t t i n g te c h n iq u e s , e x t r e m e l y g r e e d y o r e x t r e m e l y g e n e r o u s eaters, o r a n y t h i n g else t h a t w o u l d
th r o w m y o rig in a l s ta te m e n t o u t o f w h a c k .
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no p ro p e r d in n e r a raccoon h a p p ily rifle s th ro u g h th e garbage, and seagulls p a tro l
tra sh barges fo r rip e pickings.
G ranted, it is a staple o f th e ir diet, b u t cows su bsist on grass and th e re are
some fre s h ly p la n te d blades rig h t o u tsid e m y b u ild in g . The g a s tro n o m ic fle x ib ility
w o u ld be invaluable. A n d it w o u ld enable me to w a n d e r freely, n o t re ly in g on any
specialized sources fo r com estibles. W h a t a m a rv e lo u s ly w o rld -o p e n in g
phenom enon. W ith that, I'd be able to ro a m th e Earth, w ith no special deference o f
any k in d ; no pre con ce ived social norm s, a w k w a rd situ a tio n s, o r g u ilt; no sexual
ru b ric s ; no fe e lin g o b lig a te d to help, s u p p o rt, o r s u ffe r fo r others; w o n d e rin g
in te n tly o n ly to m yself, is th a t fo o d ? Is th a t fo o d ? Is TH A T food?
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H o w R o m a n tic M o vies R u in e d M y Love Life, Ages 1 -2 3
M any th in g s one could experience in life could be co nsidered ru in o u s. Bank
d e b t co m pounded by tim e could lead to hom elessness. A plane crash could ru in an
e n tire L abor Day w eekend. Y o u r fa v o rite re s ta u ra n t could be o u t o f pickles. It has
also been said th a t excessive p rid e can lead to one's d o w n fa ll, p a rtic u la rly b e fo re a
steep flig h t o f stairs.
B u t I w a n t to te ll you w h a t ru in e d m y life, o r m o re sp e cifically, w h a t ru in e d
m y love life fro m ages one to 23. N ow you m ay be asking w h a t ty p e o f love life I had
a t age one, fo r instance. I was p re tty m uch a on e-w o m an man, then; th re e w o m e n i f
you co u n t m y tw o grandm as, and fo u r i f you c o u n t the cleaning lady. So n o w y o u 're
asking, ‘w h a t could have ru in e d his life?' W ell, i f y o u 'd stop asking questio n s and
ju s t le t me te ll it, I th in k th is 'd go a lo t sm oother.
I m ig h t as w e ll ju s t come o u t and say th a t it was R om antic Com edies th a t
ru in e d m y love life fo r 24 years. The m ale b e ha vio rs th e y advocate to w a rd w om e n
are all lies p e rp e tra te d as d o c trin a l tru th s . T hey encourage the o v e rt and rid ic u lo u s
to the su b tle and m a n ip u la tiv e ; th e y encourage honesty. HONESTY! In d a ting ! I
kn o w !
S ta rtin g a ro u n d age one, I was in tro d u c e d to Disney, one o f the m o st heinous
conveyers o f false ro m a n tic tru th s . You k n o w , the Princess w hose Sultan fa th e r
a llo w s m a rria g e to a peasant because he's 'a nice dude?' Or h o w a b o u t the m e rm a id
th a t tu rn e d in to a hum an to be w ith h e r man because he asked nicely? N ot th a t th is
has a n y th in g to do w ith w h a t I'm ta lk in g about, b u t a ch ild 's fir s t experience w ith
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h a llu cin o g e n ic m a te ria l g e n e ra lly comes a ro u n d 'S orcerer's A p p re n tic e ' tim e in
Fantasia. I could go on a b o u t the general u n fe a s ib ility o f these h u m a n o id cartoons,
b u t m y phone ju s t ra n g and I to ta lly lo s t m y tra in o f th o u g ht.
It's n o t th a t the cartoons are u n be lie va b le; it's h o w the m ales behave th a t is
m isleading. F irs t o f all, th e re is no D isney p rin c e — w ith the e xception o f a m an
m o o n lig h tin g as an a m p h ib ia n — th a t is n o t d a sh in g ly handsom e. C om bine w ith th a t
b e au ty the h u m ility and shyness o f an e ig h th -g ra d e dance and you have y o u r ty p ic a l
D isney schm endrick— a guy all the ladies w a n t to be w ith , w h o ca n 't fig u re o u t w h y
he's good enough. The arc o f all these m ovies is alw ays the handsom e guy g e ttin g
the h o t princess. N ever does the stu n n in g , la n d -lu b b in g Eric d e fa u lt on his m ortgage
paym ents and m ove in to the w a te r w ith A rie l and h e r fa m ily, n o r does Prince
C harm ing, once he's placed the glass s lip p e r on Snow W h ite 's foot, have to th e n bu y
h e r th e m a tch in g handbag. There is also the general claim th a t all a m ale has to do is
'be nice' and the Belle o f the b a ll w ill fa ll head o v e r y e llo w heels fo r you. One could
lite ra lly be a beast w ith s u p e r-h irs u te q u a litie s and all one w o u ld re a lly have to do is
try . Have you ever trie d b e ing the nice guy? F u rth e rm o re , have you ever trie d being
re a lly ha iry? I've trie d b o th and n e ith e r o f th e m has p ro ved c o n v in c in g ly sexy. The
o n ly th in g you can take aw ay fro m th a t is the g ro w l, b u t i f le ft u n pe rfe cted could end
up a ttra c tin g a fem ale o f the lu p in e va rie ty .
The o v e rw h e lm in g message to boys and guys th a t w a n te d h o t princesses was
to be servile, and feel w o rth le s s . O nly th e n can you a ttra c t the h e ire ss-a p p a re n t to a
king d o m , be it w a te r o r the jungle, m aybe even a nice chateau w ith auto m ate d
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appliances. A nd o n ly in the last tw o m in u te s o f y o u r re la tio n s h ip w ill you ever get
to m ake out.
B ut as I g o t o ld e r I sta rte d to p ic k o u t som e o f the d e tails th a t seemed ske tch y
to me and m oved on to liv e action Rom-Coms. W e 're all fa m ilia r w ith the one and
o n ly p lo t o f these m ovies. Boy m eets g irl, boy w a n ts g irl, g irl w an ts n o th in g to do
w ith boy, bo y som e ho w convinces g irl th a t she sh ould w a n t him , and th e n th e y
m ake out. A nd I th in k th is in fin ite ly re p e a tin g p lo t w o u ld be acceptable i f it w e re n 't
fo r the fact th a t the b o y is n o t ju s t try in g to convince the g irl th ro u g h sheer d e b a tin g
tactics, ra th e r th ro u g h his c o n triv e d and irra tio n a l behaviors. I believe w e all k n o w
the in te rru p te d w e d d in g scene in ju s t a b o u t any ro m a n tic com edy w h e re people get
m a rrie d . The g irl o f som eone else's dream s is g e ttin g m a rrie d to some u n lo va b le
douche bag, w h ile o u r m ain m an b ra v e ly in te rru p ts the proceedings, perhaps to te ll
the w o m a n his tru e feelings o r even m ore b e lie vab ly, presents an a ffro n t d ire c tly to
the groom , w h o does n o th in g b u t stand there. W om en, do yo u re a lly m a rry guys
yo u d o n 't lik e ju s t because some o th e r guy has ta ke n too long? I f so, stop. It's k in d
o f stu p id o f you to sate y o u r m a rria g e needs on the m an w h o takes the least a m o u n t
o f tim e to ask a b o u t it. A nd w h a t w o u ld you do i f a guy you k n e w and p o s s ib ly at
one tim e sle p t w ith came in to y o u r w e d d in g w ith all o f y o u r fa m ily a ro u n d and
in te rru p te d the e n tire process to ask you i f y o u 'd lik e to get a b ite to eat instead of,
you kn o w , w h a t y o u 're c u rre n tly doing? You'd p ro b a b ly e xplain to h im th a t th e re 's
no w a y th e y can re tu rn 50 pounds o f w h ite fis h and fu rth e rm o re , the d e p o s it has
alre a d y cleared w ith the band, so am scray, o r so m e th in g lik e that.
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I'm n o t going to n a rra te th ro u g h all th e despicable tim e s I was subjected o r
tric k e d in to w a tc h in g such propaganda, because you all k n o w w h a t I ’m ta lk in g
about. Even in TV one can fin d egregious fallacies steeped in p ra c tic a l fantasy. In
a lm o st every fa m ily sitcom th e re comes an episode w h e re th e w ife o r g irlfrie n d runs
across a to ta l h u n k and is in s ta n tly a lb e it s u p e rfic ia lly a ttra c te d to said hunk. Her
dopey m ale c o u n te rp a rt, w h o m she loves despite his P ills b u ry silh o u e tte , is
a e sth e tica lly fo ile d by rip p lin g -m a s s -o f-m u s c le h unk, y e t so m e ho w s u p e rio r ju s t
because. A t the end, despite h e r b u rn in g desire to see w h a t a m an's m an is like ,
she'll re m a in loya l to h e r m an because, w e ll, he's h e r man, and he's w a tc h in g and it
w o u ld be a w k w a rd . This is so fa r fetched fro m m any o f th e real possible outcom es
o f th is s itu a tio n and d o e sn 't even take in to account the m o s t p ro ba b le: T h a t she
does ju m p m uscle-boy's bones w h ile c o n tin u in g to spend doughboy's m oney. Life
can be m o re co m p lica te d than TV, m aybe.
Being subjected to lie a fte r lie a b o u t h o w a m an should act to w a rd s a w o m e n
he w an ts led me q u ite a stra y in high school and college. T h ro u g h repeated
co n d itio n in g , I learned th a t i f you lik e a g irl, you s h o u ld n 't hem and h a w o r play
games o r be su b tle y e t flirta tio u s . You ju s t say it. W hen you decide you d o n 't w a n t
to keep th a t k n o w le d g e all to y o u rs e lf any longer, yo u ju s t w a lk up to th a t 15-23
ye a r o ld g irl and say w ith unabashed frankness, "hey, I lik e you. And you?"
Needless to say unless a g irl is a to ta l w h o re o r yo u 've happened to w a lk up to y o u r
one tru e soul-m ate, th e g irl w ill be in tim id a te d if n o t to ta lly tu rn e d o ff by y o u r
w illin g n e s s to a d m it such a th in g . B ut m ovies w ith R om antic them es lik e 'There's
Som ething A b o u t M a ry ' o r 'Fools Rush In ' ta u g h t me th a t I m u st be relentless, and
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th a t i f m y d ire c t approach d id n 't w o r k the fir s t tim e , th e n perhaps th e y w o u ld w o r k
i f I ju s t trie d the same exact th in g w ith no va riance a b o u t a h u n d re d m ore tim es. I
a cq uire d the a b ility to lik e lo ts o f g irls back then.
There is also a ce rta in a m o u n t o f m a n ip u la tiv e tr ic k e r y em p lo ye d in ro m a n tic
m ovies: B e h a vio r th a t w o u ld seem s ta lk e r-lik e i f n o t d o w n rig h t creepy to n o rm a l,
n o t-to ta lly -s m itte n people. I'm ta lk in g a b o u t th e guy w h o sends a g irl he's n o t
s ittin g w ith a d r in k fro m across the bar. I'm ta lk in g a b o u t the secret a d m ire r
bouquets. I'm ta lk in g a b o u t fu rtiv e g ifts given in the nam e o f a crush. These
b e h a vio rs in m ovies and on TV are o fte n tim e s re w a rd e d at the end o f the a llo tte d
tim e b y the g irl u n c o v e rin g th e id e n tity o f h e r a n onym ous d o n o r and d ra p in g her
arm s a ro u n d his neck fo r the fin a l scene kiss. In real life, I em p lo ye d th is ta c tic to a
g irl I had a huge crush on in college. I sent h e r a b o u q u e t o f flo w e rs w ith a note
attached th a t read so m e th in g lik e this:
D ear w h a te v e r-y o u r-n a m e -w a s [I used h e r actual nam e in the
real le tte r, so th a t w a s n 't the issue),
You d o n 't k n o w me, b u t I've seen yo u a ro u n d cam pus m any
tim e s and I th in k y o u 're re a lly p re tty . M y nam e is Paul and
m aybe y o u 'd lik e to go o u t som etim e. Here's m y n u m b e r [th is
is w h e re I le ft m y n u m b e r.)
M aybe I'll h e ar fro m you soon,
M y nam e
I was a vague acquaintance o f one o f h e r frie n d s, so I was p riv y to w h e re she
live d , and le ft the b o u q u e t on h e r doorstep, h o p in g m y m o vie and TV e d ucation had
served me w e ll. If th e y d id n 't k n o w a b o u t w om en, w h o did? Several ho urs la te r m y
phone rang.
Paul: H oly shit, m y phone is rin g in g !
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Shane: A n s w e r it.
Oh, yeah. M y frie n d Shane was there. I a n sw ered the phone.
G irl:
Paul:
G irl:
Paul:
Hey, Paul?
Yeah. Hey? (H er nam e)?
Yeah. I'm c a llin g a b o u t the flo w e rs.
Oh, you got them ?
I've alw ays had a s te e ly -s tro n g g rip on the obvious.
G irl: Yes. T h a n k you so m uch. I g o tta run. Thanks again!
Click.
M y frie n d Shane looked o ve r at me.
Shane: Let's get d ru n k .
W here had I gone w ro n g ? I had a lo n g in g fo r a g irl I could n o t have, ju s t lik e
any m ovie I'd ever seen. She was d ista n t, p re tty . So f a r it's a ll g o in g according to
plan. I had a scheme, a c o w a rd ly y e t se e m in g ly noble one, th a t w o u ld
s im u lta n e o u s ly p ro ve m y in te re s t and w o rth in e s s as a c h iv a lro u s gentlem an, AND I
had given h e r m y n u m ber. W h a t else could I have done?
I had no idea. And fa ilu re a fte r sp ectacular fa ilu re it was s lo w ly s ta rtin g to
s in k in th a t m aybe m ovies and TV w e re w r itte n by w h ite , m o s tly Jewish m en w h o
had a b o u t as m any good ideas a b o u t w h a t w o m e n th in k , w a n t and lik e as I did,
w ith o u t the b e n e fit o f a c tu a lly be in g near any on a d a ily basis.
The genre 'R o m a n tic-C om e d y' its e lf seems a m ishm ash o f tw o a n tith e tic a l ye t
c o m p lim e n ta ry forces. Romance is u n iv e rs a l - fo r the m ost p a rt, everyone w a n ts to
fa ll in love o r be loved, and rom ance is o u r little o p tim is tic w a y o f c h ro n ic a lly h o p in g
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fo r th a t m o m en t. Or, fo r those a lre a d y w ith a s ig n ific a n t o th e r in to w , it's a w a y o f
re m e m b e rin g w h a t it was lik e b e fo re se cre tly w is h in g the o th e r w o u ld fin d Ih e ii
w a y in to a w o o d -c h ip p e r. Comedy, on the o th e r hand, is spliced in th e re ; w edged in
the crevices le ft by an o th e rw is e s ta rk love p lo t, ke e pin g us s m ilin g th ro u g h the
te r r ib ly uneasy b its w e m ay all be to o fa m ilia r w ith .
We need h u m o r to s u rv iv e those m o m en ts w h e n the m ale lead is in itia lly
sh o t d o w n and near tears. W e need h u m o r to deal w ith the o v e rw h e lm in g ly sappy
re la tio n s h ip once it starts, lik e a d d in g necessary zest in to some a lre a d y to o -s w e e t
lem onade. I need h u m o r to lim it the a m o u n t o f tim e s I ro ll m y eyes w h ile sigh in g
'God' try in g to read m y w a tch in th e dark. It's n o t lik e the rom ance genre has
co m b in e d w ith too m any o th e r w e ll-k n o w n categories. In fact the o n ly one I can
th in k o f aside fro m the a fo re m e n tio n e d RomCom is ro m a n tic -a c tio n aka
p o rn o g ra p h y. I have a b so lu te ly no p ro b le m w ith th is genre and I th in k i f w e are
b e ra tin g the ro m a n tic -c o m e d y genus fo r its ch a m p io n in g o f false b e ha vio rs th a n w e
can laud R om a n tic-a ctio n fo r it's re a lis tic p o rtra y a l o f h o w people have sex th a t hate
each o th e r. Of course, being in the a ction genre, th e re are stunts th a t I w o u ld n o t
re co m m e n d p e rfo rm in g , at least in fro n t o f anyone else, and should c le a rly and
o b v io u s ly be le ft to the p ro fe ssio n a ls w h o have chosen to do th is fo r a liv in g . God
bless 'em.
I suppose a fa ir c ritic is m at th is p o in t w o u ld be 'Hey, y o u 're a guy, you
s h o u ld n 't lik e R om antic-C om edies. In fact, w e 'd be offended i f you did.' The fact
re m ain s th a t R om antic-C om edies are n o t so le ly m a rke te d to w om en. W hen you
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co n sid e r re ce n t film s lik e 'The 40 Year Old V ir g in / 'K nocked U p / 'She's O ut o f M y
League', etc, you can see th a t th e re 's a fa ir a m o u n t o f them aim ed at guys perhaps
o n ly so th a t th e y 'll take th e ir g irl, b u t m a rke te d at males, nonetheless. A nd even in
these 'g ro ss-o u t' m ovies w ith th e ir sex-based h u m o r and s la p stick com edy, the
m ores th e y in s is t a ttra c t w o m e n are w h o lly s im ila r to all o u t ch ick flicks. The th re e
p ro ta g o n ists in the m ovies I ju s t m e n tio n e d all th o u g h t th e y w e re m o re o r less
w o rth le s s com pared to the w o m a n th e y w e re c o u rtin g , and I believe in real life a
m an should feel th is a b o u t the w o m a n o f his dream s. B u t th a t's a gra du a l feeling,
one w hose co n clu sion one should come to a fte r a lo n g tim e o f fin d in g o u t w h a t she's
all about, it sh ould n o t be in s ta n t lik e love at firs t sight. Stated m ore clearly: The
man sh ould n o t in s ta n tly feel lik e a sack o f dog shit.
These are ju s t m y feelings a b o u t ro m an tic-co m e die s, though, and do n o t
re fle c t the w a y e ve ry m an feels a b o u t them . In fact, I've ta lke d to m a n y guys, single
and not, a b ou t ro m a n tic -m o v ie b e havior. One guy asked, 'w h a t's ro m a n tic com edy?'
A n o th e r, 'You take g irls to the m ovies instead o f ju s t banging th e m ? ’ Yet another,
'yo u 've seen 'The N otebook?' Y o u 're gay.' These noted scholars and o th e rs have all
helped me fo rm m y co n clu sion th a t R om antic-C om edies ju s t p e rp e tu a te false ideals,
m islead ladies in to th in k in g th a t m en w ill p a n d e r to th e ir e ve ry w h im fro m the getgo, and also th a t no m a tte r h o w goofy the guy, all he has to do is have a good h e a rt
and he's golden. W h ich is to ta lly n o t tru e . Ever tr y to date in high school? Right.
So w ith lots o f m is d ire c tio n and h o rrib le co n du ct m odels, R om antic m ovies
ru in e d m y life u n til I was 23, and th e n m y ex g irlfrie n d to o k over, ru in in g m y life
th a t is, u n til I was 24. T w o years late r, I s till d o n 't a c tu a lly k n o w w h a t to do in the
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presence o f a w o m a n I'm in te re s te d in. I ju s t have to hope she fin d s me n a tu ra lly
charm ing, fin d s m y nervousness cute, and m y in a b ility to be sm ooth adorable, all the
w h ile fin d in g m y s e lf s u ffic ie n tly w o rth le s s . It'll happen any day now .
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The Campbell’s Factor, Part VI
A b o u t tw o w eeks late r, I was in m y personal cube, w o rk in g on the lis t fo r o u r
C hunky N ew England Clam C how der. I was re a rra n g in g the 'set lis t' I had been given
in to so m e th in g th a t flo w e d m o re o rg a n ic a lly than the jangle o f in g re d ie n ts th a t was
liste d on m y n e w e st loose-leaf. I sta rte d th e lis t w ith succinic acid ju s t to b o ost the
in te re s t level o f firs t-tim e readers, and th e n I th o u g h t a b o u t g e ttin g in to the h e avie r
stuff, lik e potatoes and clams, w he n the phone rang. I p icke d it up.
“ Hello, th is is H a rry W heelsnap, In g re d ie n ts W rite r, h o w can I help you?"
“ Hey, H a rry, th is is Solom on B u rk here, N o rth A m e rica n D ire c to r o f Q u a lity
Assurance and Label Preparedness," a smug, b u sin e ssm a n -like voice boom ed in to
m y le ft Eustachian tube, "h o w are you today?
Before I could a n sw e r he seam lessly co n tinu e d . "I'm c u rio u s to k n o w — and I
was h o p in g you m ay be able to shed some lig h t on the m a tte r— ju s t w h y o u r labels'
in g re d ie n ts are su d d e n ly n o t in the FDA m andated o rd er. You are aw are th a t the
FDA stip u la te s th a t any lis t o f in g re d ie n ts fo llo w s a descending o rd e r in re gard to
the a m o u n t a p a rtic u la r in g re d ie n t is used, righ t?
I did n o t k n o w this.
He w e n t on. "You also re alize th a t in the past tw o w eeks w e've p rin te d
a p p ro x im a te ly 1,000,000 labels w ith y o u r ne w lis ts on them , and th a t now , w e
e ith e r have to th r o w th e m all away, recall them , o r p u t a p ro d u c t on the s h e lf th a t
show s as o u r n u m b e r one in g re d ie n t, soy le cith in ? Do you th in k people w a n t to eat
soy FUCKING le c ith in , H arry?
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" It does sound k in d a h e alth y, th o u g h ..." I eked out, as he th ra s h e d rig h t
th ro u g h m y re to r t w ith the fe ro c ity o f a liq u o re d -u p w o lv e rin e .
"Save it fo r to m o rro w , W heelsnap. I w a n t you in m y office, to m o rro w ! You
h ear me? T o m o rro w ."
I a tte m p te d to a m e lio ra te th e s itu a tio n . "Can I b rin g so m ething, w in e o r--,”
b u t he slam m ed th e phone d o w n on his re c e iv e r so h a rd th a t m y knees b u c k le d —
and I w as s ittin g dow n.
W ith th a t, I ra s h ly decided to d e p a rt fo r the day. Leaving th e office, I h o lle re d
a fa re w e ll. "M r. Ross, G oodbye!”
"Oh? W h a t k in d o f pie?”
I le ft m y office, b u t I d id n 't k n o w w h a t to do w ith m yself. N o t even a m o n th
on the job, and I was a lre a d y in b o ilin g be ef-sto ck w ith the h ig h e r-up s. I c o u ld n 't
help b u t w o n d e r i f anyone a p p re cia te d o rig in a lity anym ore. Was in g e n u ity dead?
Could the N o rth A m e rica n D ire c to r o f Q u a lity Assurance and Label P reparedness
re a lly n o t see the m e rits in m y im p ro v is a tio n s — I bore m y soul on those cans.
I c o u ld n 't eat th a t n ig h t— I was o u t o f Cheerios.
I w as aw ake in bed fo r q u ite some tim e . Solom on B u rk 's h e fty voice was
ric o c h e tin g a ro u n d m y c ra n iu m lik e a ra c q u e tb a ll shot o u t o f a h o w itz e r. I ju s t k e p t
h e a rin g the w o rd "T o m o rro w ,” lik e the b e g in n in g o f a M acbeth s o lilo q u y on endless
repeat. I w as scared to lose m y job, and I k n e w th e re was o n ly one m an in the w o rld
w h o could help me and his nam e was N athan Blargens. N a tu ra lly , I w o u ld have to
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re p a ir the unspeakable damage 1 m u st have caused his ego. Of course, 3:30 AM
w a s n 't the best tim e to do this, b u t lo o k in g on the b rig h t side, I at least k n e w his lin e
w o u ld n 't be busy. I tu rn e d on the lig h t and sat up in bed, eyeing m y phone th a t lay
beside a h e a p in g p ile o f la u n d ry . I had no choice. I re m ove d a y e llo w sock fro m
a ro u n d th e phone and com m enced tir e d ly d ia lin g his n u m ber.
"m p h f, yeah?,'' a la cklu ste r, p h le g m y voice garbled th ro u g h m y speaker.
I im m e d ia te ly trie d to appeal to his hu m an side. I to ld h im h o w I th o u g h t I
w as b e in g ta rg e te d at m y n ew job because o f m y c re a tiv ity and m y m ethods; th a t I
needed h im , o r his advice, o r m aybe even a vacuum cleaner to p re se n t to Solom on
B urk. A n y th in g !
"A t w h a t p o in t d id yo u th in k it w as the rig h t th in g to do to w ake me and m y
w ife up at a lm o s t fo u r in the m o rn in g ? " he asked. He then w h is p e re d ," n o w I have to
lis te n to h e r b itc h the re st o f the n ig h t and all day to m o rro w a b o u t h o w she d id n 't
get enough sleep. Do yo u k n o w w h a t she's lik e w he n she d o e sn 't get enough sleep?
You ever seen a rh in o c e ro s unleashed on a— "
I heard an ir r ita te d fem ale voice cu t h im o ff in the b a ckgro u n d o f the call and
som e typ e o f do m estic a rg u m e n t ensued. I a tte m p te d to regain his a tte n tio n .
"Blargens? BLARGENS, are yo u there? Hello?
"Yeah, w ha t?"
"I've a lre a d y to ld you 'w h a t', Nathan. I need y o u r help to m o rro w . W h a t do I
do? I ca n 't lose th is job, o r i f I'm g o in g to, I need som eone in m y corner. W h a 'd 'ya
say? W a n t to be on m y team ag ain — The B largens-W heelsnap team? W ill yo u help
me?”
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I co u ld te ll th a t I had persuaded h im . “ I hate you, W heelsnap, fo r so m a n y
good reasons r ig h t now . M eet to m o rro w , o u tsid e y o u r b u ild in g . I'll p re te n d to be
y o u r la w y e r— w e 'll scare th e e v e r-lo v in g s h it o u t o f them . N ow le t me go to sleep
yo u g o ddam ned w a lk in g tra v e s ty ."
I c o u ld n 't h e lp b u t a d m ire his lo y a lty , and I w e n t to sleep s till a b it n e rvou s
a b o u t m y m eeting.
( Continue 'C am pbell's' on page 116, come o n ,y o u 're a lm o st done)
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G ru m p y H o lid a y Sketches
A H o llo w , H a llo w e d Eve
by Paul Fisher
Back east, w h e n the b ro w n s , ye llo w s, oranges, and grays o f a u tu m n resolve
the fre e w h e e lin g e m o tio n s o f s u m m e r in to the m uted calm ness o f fa ll; w h e n the
leaves w a ftin g d o w n fro m the trees fo rm a b la n k e t o f cru n ch on the side w a lks; w he n
the exhaust fro m n e ig h b o rs ' chim neys m ake p u b lic the p riv a te fire s b u rn in g w ith in
the cra cklin g s a n c tity o f th e ir fa m ily -ro o m s , I k n o w the m o st o ve rh yp e d day o f the
ye a r is n 't so fa r off. T h a t Day-O f-The-Dead debacle th a t scares th e s h it o u t o f the
little ones, irrita te s th e e ld e rly , p ro m o te s excessive w ho rish n e ss, s im u lta n e o u s ly
ke e pin g the d e nta l in d u s try a flo a t fo r a n o th e r ye a r is r ig h t a ro u n d the fu c k in g
c o rn e r and I have n o t y e t been to ld so, b u t I have a sneaking suspicion th a t I'll be
stu ck a n sw e rin g th e door. G etting up and s ittin g back d o w n on m y fa m ily ro o m sofa
lik e some ru d im e n ta ry sla p stick sketch on in fin ite loop. "So le t me get th is s tra ig h t,”
I g ro w le d at m y m om . "Y ou 're m a k in g the m o st a n n o yin g n ig h t on e a rth m ore
a n n o yin g fo r me?”
I guess I should e xp la in m y s e lf b e fo re I lose all o f yo u to the g re a te r nostalgia
o f y o u r fo rm a tiv e , c o s tu m e -w e a rin g years. I used to have fun as a little kid, too. I
dressed up as a G ho stb u ste r - P eter Venkm an, s p e cifica lly - then a generic co w b o y
re p le te w ith frin g e d , le a th e r vest and cap guns, a ka ra te person, a g ia n t liza rd , a
n in ja (yes th is is v e ry d iffe re n t fro m the ka ra te person, ju s t ask anyone), and I
vaguely recall being M ichelangelo o f Teenage M u ta n t N inja T u rtle s fame because 1
favored his 'to ta lly tu b u la r' lingo. B u t once you advance past the age w he n it's cool,
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even p re fe rre d , to do the candy c irc u it w ith y o u r parents, yo u s ta rt to see the seedy
u n d e rb e lly o f'H a llo w e e n ,' i f th a t's even its real name.
Being the old e st son, m y p a re n ts re q ue ste d th a t I give candy to o th e r kids, an
u tte r ly c o u n te r in s tin c tu a l act. M y frie n d s s till w a n te d to go out, b u t n o t to get
candy, th a t's f o r NERDS. No, m y frie n d s w a n te d to go egg houses and th r o w to ile t
p a p e r all o ve r cars. I alw ays used to w o n d e r a b o u t the households o f the
rin g le a d e rs, and w h a t th e ir p a ren ts d id fo r b re a k fa s t o r to w ip e th e ir asses th e n e xt
m o rn in g .
B u t th is was m y fir s t in s ig h t in to h o w people to o k advantage o f so m e th in g
th a t was supposed to be nice and fo r everyone, and to ta lly d e stro yed it to have th e ir
o w n selfish fun. It was m y fir s t v e n tu re in to m is a n th ro p y , and I can e a rn e s tly say
th e ta ctic has ne ver steered me w ro n g .
I f w e 're being honest, despite the p leadings o f the A m e rica n D ia b e tic
A ssociation, I w o u ld have se ttle d fo r a m o d e ra te bag o f candy on H allo w e e n s-pa st
instead o f g o ing out, even th ro u g h college. H allow een is big on college campuses
because g irls are aw ay fro m hom e fo r the fir s t tim e in th e ir lives and fin a lly get to
don those costum es th a t w o u ld cause th e ir m o th e rs to rend th e ir clothes w h ile
w a ilin g to God, and th e ir fa th e rs to in s ta n ta n e o u s ly go to ja il fo r m u rd e rin g oglers.
A nd guys lik e it because fo r the fir s t tim e in fo u r years g irls fin a lly get to don those
costum es th a t w o u ld cause th e ir m o th e rs to re n d th e ir... yeah, w e ll, yo u get it.
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A nd i f w e 're c o n tin u in g to be h o ne st - I'm n o t sure i f w e stopped y e t o r n o t M y fir s t H allo w e e n in Los Angeles was n o t th a t pleasant e ith e r. I had p icked my
costum e o u t the n ig h t before - lik e any p re v io u s H allo w e e n w h e re I was dre ssin g
m y s e lf - based on the a rticle s o f c lo th in g in m y possession I fo u n d unique. Since
none o f those existed, I fig u re d 1 could co m b in e m y b ro w n le a th e r ja c k e t w ith some
accessories fo u n d on H o lly w o o d B o u le va rd and fa shion m y s e lf in to In d ian a Jones.
M y costum e was co m plete w ith a tte n d a n t ch a ra cte r s c ru ff fro m h a vin g decided
m u ltip le days p r io r to n o t shave. I h ig h ly advocate the v irtu e s o f p ra g m a tis m via
laziness. The n ig h t seemed to be going in the rig h t d ire c tio n w he n a nice L ittle Bo
Peep asked me w h o 1 was supposed to be and w h a t in te n tio n s I had fo r m y b u llw h ip ,
b u t she ended up on the to p flo o r in a clo se d -d o o r session w ith a ja ilh o u s e fu g itiv e .
Even w h e n 1 dressed up lik e Indy, 1 s till lo s t o u t to the bad-boy.
The real d e pressing p a rt o f th is w h o le n ig h t w as w he n I had to d riv e th ro u g h
W e st H o lly w o o d to get hom e a fte r the p a rty . Far be it fro m me to condem n the
p re d o m in a n t d e m o g ra p h ic th a t in h a b its fa ir W eHo, I have n o th in g s p e c ific a lly
against them . H ow ever, th e ir fla ir fo r the th e a tric a l and th e ir fierce d e v o tio n to
fa sh ion re n d e rs the to w n d o w n to pure, b u b b lin g chaos on th is su pposedly h a llo w e d
eve, and re n d e re d fo r the e vening a ra g in g b ig o t, as fa r as c o n c e n tra tin g all o f m y
anger on one d e m o g ra p h ic is concerned. As the a n d ro g yn ou s c ro w d buzzed by,
m o s tly in e b ria te d and m o s tly ja y w a lk in g , m y rid e hom e to re g u la r old, ce n tra l
H o lly w o o d was u n ne ce ssa rily elongated, ju s t lik e excited passersby on M elrose Ave.
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Som etim es I s it and th in k a b o u t w h a t it w o u ld be lik e i f I w e re n e ve r given
th a t ca n d y-d o lin g re s p o n s ib ility on th a t n o t-so -e a rly, b u t n o t-s o -re c e n t H allow een.
W o u ld I re se n t the h o lid a y as m uch as 1 do now ? W o u ld 1 have enjoyed the fo u r
occasions in college and n o t se cre tly cursed the fem ales fo r being too sexy to e n jo y
m yself? W o u ld I have had m o re cavities? I re a lly d o n 't kn o w , and as th is next
H allow een approaches, I can o n ly te ll you one th in g fo r ce rta in : A n In d ian a jones
costum e is o u t o f the question.
T h e H o lid a y s O n ly H a ve A S p ir it Because Som e O ne Long Ago
K ille d T h e m
I'm th e ty p e o f im p a tie n t k n o w -it-a ll w hose ideal re ta il experience revolves
a ro u n d e n te rin g a sto re and m a kin g a b e eline fo r the large tic k e t ite m I have
th o ro u g h ly researched, o r se arching a im le ssly fo r the sm all tic k e t item s I k n o w
n o th in g about. E ith e r w ay, it n e ve r invo lve s a sales clerk. I fin d w h a t I'm lo o k in g fo r
w ith o u t tro u b le , leave w ith o u t paying, and re p e a t to taste. This is, o f course, IDEAL,
n o t re a lity . In re a lity I alw ays p a y— except fo r th a t one w in te r, w h e n I was five, in
w h ic h I sto re d a m agnet in m y coat p o cke t th a t I was go in g to s p rin g on m om w h ile
she was paying, in m y m in d assu rin g she could n o t refuse me. I fo rg o t a b ou t it and
in a d v e rte n tly stole.
A nd so sta rte d m y in h e re n t s e lf-lo a th in g and d is c o n te n t w h e n e v e r forced
in to the ce n te r o f o u r m o d ern -d a y, b u s tlin g agoras, w h ic h m ay v e ry w e ll be the
Ill
e xp la n a tio n b e h in d m y deep-seated d isd a in fo r C hristm as tim e s h o p p in g and the
a tte n d a n t H o lid a y Sales.
I w o u ld n o t even go to m a ll sales b e tw ee n the m o n th s o f N ove m b e r and
F e b ru a ry unless a citiz e n o f th e fem ale p e rsuasion in d ica te d the w as m a n d a to ry . It’s
n o t th a t I hate saving m oney, it's ju s t th a t I hate people, e sp ecially w h e n 1 have to
fig h t one to the death to ensure m y s e lf a p a rk in g spot at m y local b e he m o th
com m erce com plex. T ru s t me, I've pa rked fa r away, b u t the tim e it takes to e n te r
o u r fir s t a n ch o r sto re is s till n o t enough to steel m y s e lf m e n ta lly against the H o lid a y
c h e e r/ w ho le sale ch a o s/p e rso n a l space in va sio n th a t w ill com m ence upon e n te rin g .
I pause b e fo re th e door, w ith a "fu c k m e" sigh, th e n p o lite ly open it, a llo w in g the
re q u is ite a m o u n t o f rushed people in and out, th e n force m y w a y in to the flo w o f
hum an cattle, w a d d lin g b e tw ix t tw o h e ife rs w h o have to stop a t e ve ry handbag and
e m it a q u o tid ia n , "A w , cute." O ff th e in v o lu n ta ry conga line, I fin d w h o m I o rig in a lly
came w ith . "Can w e leave?"
"S hut up."
T h a t was m y lo v e ly e x -g irlfrie n d in 2008 w h ile C hanukah s h o p p in g fo r o u r
fa m ilie s. I desired to b u y g ifts th a t w o u ld s lig h tly re la te to w h a t m y fa m ily m em bers
w a n te d in the stores m a in ta in in g the s h o rte s t and q u icke st lines. This p a rtic u la r ex,
fo r all the n o t nice th in g s I can (and w ill i f you w a n t me to ) say a b o u t her, c e rta in ly
kn e w h o w to deal w ith m y m anic im pa tie n ce ; she could soothe and coo: " W ill you
stop ta lk in g a b o u t th e w a it? Just deal w ith it. Y o u 're pissin g me o ff!"
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So n o w I'm s ta n d in g in an in te rm in a b le lin e at Sur La Table w ith a set o f cow
th e m e d b o w ls — the la rg e s t o f w h ic h w as su p p o rte d on the b o tto m b y fo u r p in k
u d d e r n ip p le s — fo r m y m om , n o t o n ly m e ltin g u n d e r stresses o f th e excessive line,
b u t also g e ttin g re p rim a n d e d b y m y g irlfrie n d . W ives are a llo w e d to ye ll, g irlfrie n d s
are n o t and I to ld h e r so. Then, I was b y m yself. D octors w ill alw ays te ll yo u to
reduce th e a m o u n t o f stressors in y o u r life. In th is case, one o f m y stressors was
reduced to the second flo o r, w a itin g on lin e in FYE fo r some g ift cards.
I passin g ly th o u g h t a b o u t a p o lo g iz in g b u t re a lize d th a t w o u ld be useless,
because i f w e stayed in the m a ll 1 w as ju s t g o in g to c o n tin u e a ctin g the same w ay. I
ju s t ca n 't handle the p u s h in g and sh o vin g en ro u te to p u rch a sin g presents. A n y
n o tio n o f a ltru is m in the g ift-g iv in g is im m e d ia te ly undone b y the people one fucks
o ve r to b u y said gifts. Does anyone get that? Do these people see h o w th e y are
a c tiv e ly o ffe n d in g hum ans th e y d o n 't k n o w so th a t th e y can give som e s h itty piece o f
p la stic to ones th e y do?
I d o n 't le t it da w n on h e r th a t I've a lre a d y ta ken g re a t pains in p re p a rin g her
presents, yes, p lu ra l. I le t h e r get steam ing, u n h e a lth ily m ad at me a irin g m y
grievances o u t lo u d and a c tin g lik e I c o u ld n 't care less a b o u t w h a t I've purchased fo r
m y fa m ily . I le t h e r se ttle in to a secure rage. A nd then I unleash th a t M ichael Kors
w a tch th a t she had w a n te d all year, th a t I to o k a lin e o f c re d it o u t w ith
B loom ingdales ju s t to b u y — m y one purchase ever in th a t store. I re m e m b e r h e r
going nuts o ve r it. And I ca n 't re m e m b e r i f I was p ro p e rly taken care o f th a t
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evening, b u t I'll say 1 was, i f you k n o w w h a t I mean. It's the o n ly w a y 1 can ju s tify
th a t ye a r's h o lid a y shopping.
-'I A m H u n g ry '
-'G ood, God W a n ts Y ou T o Be'
E ve ry ye a r as A u gust leads us o u t o f s u m m e r and in to the m e te o ro lo g ic a l
vagueness th a t is "Fall Sem ester,'' I becom e a b it cynical, because I k n o w it 'll o n ly be
a fe w w eeks u n til Yom K ip p u r— the Jewish Day o f A to n e m e n t— ro lls in to to w n . As i f
one is n 't g u ilty enough, b e in g Jewish, b y de fa u lt.
B efore I te ll yo u w hy, I m u s t m ake clear th a t I e n jo y and am p ro u d o f m y
c u ltu re and h eritage, am a b e lie v e r in and s u p p o rte r o f Israel, and even lo o k d o w n
upon those Jews w h o w o u ld , fo r the sake o f in te g ra tio n , have them selves a
C hristm as tree, o r its adopted m o n ik e r, a Chanukah bush, on d isp la y d u rin g the
holidays. B u t th e re are some aspects I ca n n o t get behind. For instance, the
p ro s c rip tio n o f p o rk p ro d u c ts m akes life re a lly d iffic u lt fo r those Jews, lik e me, w h o
love bacon. A nd the th o u g h t o f n e ve r m a rry in g a slice o f ch e dd a r to an all b e e f p a tty
m akes me d e spo n d e nt to th e p o in t w h e re I need to go o u t and get one ju s t to m ake
sure th e y s till exist.
F o rg e ttin g d ie ta ry re s tric tio n s , th e re are also custom s th a t I k n o w to be
a n a c h ro n is tic b u t can deal w ith . I e n jo y th e language o f o u r litu rg y : H ebrew . W ith
all its arcane and e so te ric secrets, w h a t w ith th e s p a w n in g o f n u m e ro lo g y and the
n e bulous and vast w o rld o f ro o t consonants and th e ir in fin ite c o m b in a tio n s makes
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b e in g Jewish a b it lik e b e in g b o rn in to a fa m ily o f a rc h a e o lo g ists— perhaps
e xtre m e ly lazy and ig n o ra n t ones, b u t archaeologists nonetheless. The b o tto m lin e
is th a t w e OWN o u r past, and th a t is w h y o u r h o lid a y based on a to n in g d o esn 't s u it
me. B u t yo u ca n 't te ll anyone at m y synagogue o r I'll be e xcom m unicated, w h ic h
means m y o rd e rs w ill no lo n g e r be ta ke n at C anter's o r Carnegie Deli.
M y biggest c o m p la in t— and I assume th is is the biggest c o m p la in t am ongst
C onservative and R eform Jews— is th a t d u rin g the w h o le day th a t I am supposed to
be a skin g fo r forgiveness, I am sta rvin g . Now, I u n d e rs ta n d th a t w e fast so th a t we
can give o u r u n d iv id e d a tte n tio n and neglect ourselves, b u t in th a t neglect I fin d I
can th in k o f n o th in g o th e r th a n food. S om ew here in the synagogue, a m an m ay be
begging fo r the a b s o lu tio n o f a m o rta l sin w h ile I'm p u ttin g to g e th e r in m y head the
w o rld 's larg e st cream cheese and lo x bagel.
F u rth e rm o re , th e re are o th e r little personal g ro o m in g ha bits th a t one is
supposed to fo rg o on th is day. One is n o t supposed to w e a r le a th e r o r fancy linen.
A lth o u g h I do n o t oppose th is d is p la y o f h u m ility , I th in k w e a rin g a p a ir o f Chucks
w ith a business s u it looks G oddam ned rid ic u lo u s and refuse to do it. R eally
re lig io u s people do n o t bathe, shave, com b th e ir h a ir o r b ru sh th e ir teeth, and less
re lig io u s, b u t p a rtic u la rly lazy Jews also skip th e ir m o rn in g ro u tin e s, usin g the day
as a nice excuse to skip the b a th ro o m in the m o rn in g , m a k in g lo b b y-sid e
co n versa tio n s th a t m uch m ore enjoyable.
B ut fo r me, the real issue is th is: W h a t i f y o u 're n o t sorry? W h a t i f you enjoy
the p re m a rita l sex yo u 've had o v e r the past year? W h a t i f th a t guy you punched in
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the face had it com ing and th a t o th e r dude yo u called a " d ic k ” in fr o n t o f his
g ra n d m o th e r re a lly needed the e lu c id a tio n th e n and there? A nd cursing? Please.
I'm glad I curse. I'm n o t a p o lo g iz in g fo r that.
I th in k w e g o t it w ro n g w h e n w e decided th a t th e re was o n ly go in g to be one
o ffic ia l tim e p e r y e a r th a t w e could apologize to God fo r o u r tra n sg ressio n s. See, the
Catholics, as soon as th e y do s o m e th in g bad, can ru n and te ll th e ir p rie s t and be
fo rg ive n , and n o t ru n the ris k o f fo rg e ttin g a b o u t o r o v e r-th in k in g and ro m a n tic iz in g
th e trip le m u rd e r th e y ju s t co m m itte d .
See, I w a n t to be a good person, b u t it seems th a t in the e ffo rt o f p u ttin g on an
a ir o f h u m ility , one is re a lly ju s t a ffe ctin g a la rg e r a m o u n t o f o s te n ta tio n . I u su ally
apologize fo r th in gs I feel I've done w ro n g im m e d ia te ly , o r at least w ith in th re e to
five business days. To save th e m all ye a r fo r one day is lik e lug g in g a fifty -p o u n d bag
o f coins to the b a n k a fte r a y e a r w h e n you could have easily ju s t gone in each w ee k
w ith an easier task. Yom K ip p u r is lik e the Costco o f holidays, w h e re w e w holesale
o u r sins to God in b u lk, b u t at least at Costco, th e y give o u t food.
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The Campbell’s Factor, Part VII
As I approached m y office b u ild in g , 1 could see Blargens leaning w ith his back
against th e b u ild in g to the side o f the ro ta tin g d o o rw a y. U pon closer insp e ctio n , he
was sleeping w ith a lit cigar in his m o u th , ashes s p illin g o n to v a rio u s p a rts o f his
ensem ble. His b la ck s u it lo o ke d lik e he had p u lle d i t o u t o f an a cco rd io n and his
b ro w n tie was m id r iff level. A t least he ve lcro 'd his sneakers, I th o u g h t. I w a lk e d up
to h im and sm acked his gut, sending h im re e lin g in to an u p rig h t and p u t-o n
awareness.
"I w a s n 't sleeping,” he m u m b le d unasked.
"Good m o rn in g , Nate. I ca n 't te ll you h o w a p p re c ia tiv e I am o f you h e lp in g
me out. I re a lly needed it a n d — ”
"Yeah, w h a te ve r, W heelsnap. Tell me a b o u t th is fru itc a k e boss o f yours.
W h a t's his m a in g rip e w ith y o u — w h a t do w e have to w o rk w ith here?” He b lin d ly
th re w his cigar in back o f h im in to a c lu s te r o f s tre e t bum s.
"W e ll, I suppose his m a in c o m p la in t is th a t I s h irk e d o u r supposed FDAm andated re s p o n s ib ilitie s , b u t— th e re 's re a lly n o th in g I d id th a t w a s n 't fo r the good
o f the com pany, you know ?
He loo ke d pensive fo r a m o m en t, "h m m m .”
A nd w ith that, w e entered th e b u ild in g , w a lke d in to an e le v a to r and set o u r
course fo r the 2 3 rd flo o r. The E xecutive flo o r.
The e le v a to r dinged w h e n w e reached o u r d e s tin a tio n and w e stepped o u t
in to w h a t I can o n ly describe as a lavish h o te l-lik e lo b b y area w ith expansive red
carpet, gilded-accents, high-class a rtw o rk , and a sm all, d ise m b o d ie d desk w ith a
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su m p tu o u s re c e p tio n is t b e h in d it. We approached, b u t b e fo re I could speak,
Blargens chim ed in.
"H ey toots, B largens-W heelsnap, p a rty o f tw o fo r B u rk."
M o rtifie d , I tu rn e d to h im and w h is p e re d th ro u g h m y teeth, "D id you ju s t call
h e r toots? A nd p a rty o f tw o ? W h a t do you th in k th is is, a re s ta u ra n t? W h a t are you
doing?"
S till in fr o n t o f the re c e p tio n is t, he w h is p e re d back, "Just fo llo w m y lead. You
g otta be to u g h w ith these jagaloons.”
The re c e p tio n is t sh o t us a fake s m ile and said, "M r. B u rk has been exp ectin g
you, M r. W heelsnap. Please head r ig h t in. M r. Blargens, I suppose you can fo llo w
h im in, as w e ll."
Blargens had to get in th e la st w o rd . "Yeah, T hat's w h a t I th o u g h t”
The tw o o f us sa u nte re d in to M r. B u rk's office, and b e fo re I could say "good
m o rn in g , s ir" o r "h o w are you today, sir", Blargens in tro d u c e d h im s e lf as m y h ig h p o w e re d a tto rn e y .
"H a rry, th is is n o t a legal p roceeding," B u rk said, c le a rly s h o w in g his
confusion. The plan im m e d ia te ly seemed to be w o rk in g .
Blargens c h irp e d , "E v e ry th in g is a legal p roceeding." He tu rn e d to lo o k at me.
"Is th is guy fo r real?"
M r. B u rk ig n o re d Blargens' crass re m a rk and proceeded w ith th e item s on his
agenda. "H a rry , you k n o w — as I stated y e s te rd a y — th a t y o u ’ve le ft me w ith some
h o rrib le o p tio n s to consider. E ith e r flo u t the FDA and face sanctions and fines o r
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recall lite r a lly m illio n s o f cans. There's also no w a y I can a llo w so m e th in g lik e th is to
happen to th is co m p an y again. Do you see w h e re I'm going?"
I was tr y in g to com e up w ith s o m e th in g re m o rs e fu l b u t in te llig e n t to say, b u t
Blargens piped up. "L e t the re c o rd sh o w th a t m y c lie n t d id a b s o lu te ly n o th in g
c rim in a l. He's in n o ce n t...a n d all th a t.”
M r. B u rk to ld me to h o ld on fo r ju s t a second and s h ifte d his p o s itio n and
a tte n tio n to w a rd m y fa ith fu l accom plice. "M r.," he paused fo r a second, try in g to
co n ju re up Nate's name, "B largens is it?"
"Yes."
"Ok, then. M r. Blargens, th e re is no record. A re you even a law ye r? This is
n o t a legal proceeding, lik e I said. I v e ry m uch d o u b t th a t o u r in g re d ie n ts
tra n s c rib e r is p a yin g the re ta in e r fee fo r a h ig h -p o w e re d a tto rn e y fo r a m e e tin g
w hose pu rpo se he d id n o t c le a rly k n o w u n til five m in u te s ago. I — a ls o — v e ry m uch
d o u b t th a t y o u 're an a tto rn e y at all, le t alone a c o m p e te n t one. You lo o k te r r ib le —
lik e a bad joke. Get the fu ck o u t o f m y office. W a it— get th e fu ck o u t o f m y b u ild in g ,
M r. Blargens. N o w please. "
I'd n e ve r seen Blargens so dejected, and as he w a lk e d o u t o f the office, I could
feel m y b lo o d s ta rtin g b o ilin g . B ut I played i t cool and le t M r. B u rk continue.
"H a rry, w h o e v e r th a t guy was, he w as rig h t in a w ay. You d id n o th in g
c rim in a l, so you w o n 't go to ja il. You did, h o w e ve r, m anage to b re a k some p re tty
im p o rta n t co m p an y rules and fo r th a t I have to le t you go. I w a s n 't n ecessarily going
to dism iss you, b u t y o u r little a tto rn e y s tu n t helped w ith th a t decision. O f course, as
119
sta n d a rd o p e ra tin g p ro c e d u re dictates, w ith all "le t-g o " em ployees, w e have a v e ry
generous severance pa— "
I stood up in in d ig n a tio n . "You w ill sever n o th in g ! You th in k you can ju s t h ire
me and fire m e lik e I'm some co m m on e r? " I w o n d e re d h o w he co u ld tre a t B largens
th a t w ay.
"I q u it! H o w do yo u lik e th a t, B u rk, yo u filth y sw ine?"
He laughed a je rk 's laugh. "A ctu a lly, I lik e i t v e ry m uch. You q u ittin g negates
th e need fo r me to o ffe r yo u o u r severance package. Have a nice day." He buzzed
th e re c e p tio n is t, "Please s h o w M r. W heelsnap th e w a y out."
(C ontinue 'C am pbell's' on page 127, the la s t one!)
120
Can You Get M e A Bagel? P a rt II
In an e a rlie r essay, “ To The V ic to r Go The Bagels,” I re fle cte d on the n a tu re o f
H o lly w o o d n e p o tism and sta r-stru cke d ne ss, p a rtic u la rly p la y in g up the fact th a t I
have liv e d th e re fo r a ye a r and have ra re ly seen anyone o f g re a t e n te rta in m e n t
im p o rt. F u rth e rm o re , I decried th e p ra c tic a lity o f those w h o roam these s to rie d
stre e ts w ith the sole in te n tio n o f sp yin g some g re at man: D o n 't y o u have, like, a jo b
o r som ething? But, in th e in te re s t o f fu ll disclosure, I m u s t confess th a t a b s o lu te ly
none o f th is is tru e a n ym o re and ra th e r th a n take one o f m y essays, fo ld it in to a
p a p e r a irp la n e and chuck it o u t m y w in d o w , g iv in g w h o m e v e r picks it up a head
s ta rt on a b o o k o f th e ir ow n, I've decided to ju s t w r ite the c o u n te rp o in t; a 'th e n -a n d no w ,' typ e th in g .
W h a t p re c ip ita te d th is change was m y fo rtu ito u s e m p lo y m e n t w ith a c e rta in
w o rld -fa m o u s , redheaded, la te -n ig h t ta lk sh o w host. M y in te rv ie w gave me an
in k lin g o f w h a t w as to com e on the th ir d q u estion. M y in te rv ie w e r q u erie d , "Do you
get sta r s tru c k ? ” A fte r re p ly in g w ith the o b vio u s and necessary "no,” I sta rte d to
th in k a b o u t w h y she w o u ld ask me th a t q u estion. O f course I had assum ed th a t the
h o st w o u ld re g u la rly be in the office, p o ssib ly his w e ll-k n o w n sidekick, as w e ll, b u t
w h o else? W ho else w o u ld be ro a m in g these halls th a t it w o u ld be necessary to
k n o w w h e th e r I'd s ta rt fo a m in g at the m o u th o r fa ll d o w n k ic k in g and scream ing
in to the fetal p o s itio n up on th e ir entrance?
W e ll, it d id n 't take lon g fo r me to fig u re o u t th a t w e 'd be d e aling w ith a fa ir
a m o u n t o f people i'd recognize fro m TV and the m ovies, the exact same
d e m o g ra p h ic I had p re v io u s ly lam e n te d n e ve r ru n n in g into . B ut seeing som eone
121
w a lk in to a n a il salon o r e a ting at a re s ta u ra n t is n o t the same as go in g to his o r h e r
house, n o w is it?
I'd lik e to p o in t o u t th a t th e re 's a se rious a m o u n t o f tr u s t in the
e n te rta in m e n t in d u s try . A nd w h ile y o u 're p ro b a b ly im m e d ia te ly d is c o u n tin g th a t
last statem ent, le t me pose it to you a d iffe re n t w ay. I in te rv ie w e d fo r a jo b on a
F rid a y and on the fo llo w in g Tuesday I w as e n tru s te d w ith the d ire c tio n s to and
addresses o f v a rio u s c e le b ritie s ' houses to m ake a fe w d e live rie s. In tw o business
days th e y had n o t o n ly d e te rm in e d me to be capable o f b e in g an in te rn , b u t
tru s tw o rth y enough to give s ta lk e r-le v e l in fo rm a tio n and send me on m y w ay.
L u ckily, I am a reasonable pe rson and n o t one w h o w o u ld s it o u tsid e acto rs' houses
a t n ig h t a rm ed w ith a dozen eggs and a fo g h o rn . B u t I have to im agine th a t at least
several tim e s in H o lly w o o d h is to ry , a punk-ass yo u n g in te rn was given h ig h ly
se n sitive in fo rm a tio n th a t he th e n proceeded to e x p lo it by b rin g in g a gaggle o f his
frie n d s to some h o t-s h o t's fr o n t y a rd fo r an a u to g ra p h p a rty o r a rm ed ro b b e ry .
L ite ra lly , one o f m y fir s t assignm ents o th e r th a n g ra b b in g a b o u t 15 coffees
fro m the o n -lo t S tarbucks w as to b rin g a b o x o f g o u rm e t cookies and m ilk to a
ce rta in E m m y-a w a rd w in n in g actress on Glee in response to h e r re ce n t a w a rd . To
m y d ism a y she w a s n 't th e re the fir s t tim e I trie d to d ro p th e m off, so I had to w a lk
back in to the office, box o f cookies and g la ss-b o ttle o f m ilk in to w (yes, the m ilk
came in a glass b o ttle — i t was th a t g o u rm e t). I d o n 't re m e m b e r a n y th in g fro m the
re s t o f th a t day, w h ic h I'm sure w as fille d w ith fo rg e ttin g people's nam es and asking
a b o u t e ig h te e n -b illio n questio n s to m y im m e d ia te s u p e rviso r, b u t I do re m e m b e r
122
b e in g to ld to t r y to m ake the d ro p again, because E m m y -a w a rd w in n in g actress and
I liv e in a d jo in in g to w n s. U n fo rtu n a te ly , she w a s n ’t in then, e ith e r, so I had to leave
the cookies w ith o u t g e ttin g to m eet her. The o n ly p o s itiv e fo r me was th a t I w as to ld
th a t i f she w a s n 't there, th a t I c o u ld n 't leave the m ilk s ittin g o u t and I'd have to take
i t hom e. A lth o u g h I’ve ne ver w atch ed a m icro se co n d o f th a t show , godd a m n th a t
Glee m ilk w as good.
O f course, one ca n 't u n d e re s tim a te w h a t i t w as lik e fo r me to “ m e e t” m y n ew
boss, e ith e r. The h o st o f the sh o w is a w o rld w id e c e le b rity , w h o m the w o rld h a s n 't
re a lly seen in a b o u t a ye a r due to c e rta in c o n tra c t d isputes w ith a fo rm e r e m p lo ye r.
Before w o rk in g th e re , I w as a life lo n g fan, and g e ttin g th e in te rn s h ip w as a d ream
com e tru e . I believe it w as m y second day th a t I w as ta k in g o rd e rs fro m m y
s u p e rviso r, w hose desk ju s t happens to be situ a te d in fr o n t o f a glass p a rtitio n ,
b e h in d w h ic h is th e host's and executive p ro d u c e r's suite. I h a d n 't loo ke d in there,
b u t o u r h o st w as s ittin g c o m fo rta b ly on a sofa in the m id d le o f the su ite go in g o v e r
some m in u tia e w ith th e EP. W h ile g a in in g m y in s tru c tio n s , I happened to glance up.
A t the same tim e , perhaps b o re d by the ta lk he w as having, the h o st loo ke d to w a rd
the h a llw a y. O ur eyes m e t fo r a b rie f, h o ly -s h it m o m en t, and th e n im m e d ia te ly shot
back to o u r respective, o rig in a l focal p o in ts. He p ro b a b ly fo rg o t a b o u t it in s ta n tly ,
m aybe a fte r w o n d e rin g w h o th a t cre e py b a ld k id was, b u t m y h e a rt was b e a tin g
faster, m y b ra in w o n d e rin g i f I had a c tu a lly ju s t made eye co n ta ct w ith th a t guy.
W o w , w h a t a m om ent. Then I w e n t to clean up a s p ille d h o t chocolate. V enti.
T h a t was n o t m y o n ly e n c o u n te r w ith h im , though, and at th is m id w a y p o in t
in m y in te rn s h ip , I'm sure the lit tle anecdote I'm a b o u t to share w o n 't be m y last:
123
It's reasonable to assume th a t a goal o f any la te -n ig h t in te rn is to m eet the h o s t fo r
w h o m he o r she is d o in g so m uch h a rd w o rk fo r no pay. I fu lly a d m it to th a t being
one o f m y m ain goals as w e ll. So yo u can im ag in e m y e x c ite m e n t w h e n I w as asked
to ru n a fe w th in g s o v e r to a s tu d io in W e st H o lly w o o d w h e re th e y w e re s h o o tin g
p ro m o s fo r o u r u p c o m in g show. 1 had all these rid ic u lo u s n o tio n s in m y head: T h a t
I w o u ld sh o w up and he w o u ld b e n e fic e n tly decide th a t he needed an in te rn in his
n e xt p ro m o and since I ju s t happened to be there, 1 w o u ld c e rta in ly do. Or th a t I
w o u ld come in and save the day w ith w h a te v e r w as in the bag and th a t he’d
im m e d ia te ly need to k n o w m y nam e and w h a t I w a n te d to be so th a t he could m ake
it happen. Or perhaps he w o u ld a p pre cia te me ru n n in g o v e r th e re so m uch th a t he'd
feel in c lin e d to chat w ith me fo r a fe w m o m en ts b e fo re 1 w e n t on m y w a y back to the
W a rn e r lot. M y m issio n w as to fin d w a rd ro b e , leave the bag, and to tre a t m y ow n
presence as i f I w e re ru n n in g reconnaissance, n o t to be seen o r heard. As 1 snaked
m y w a y th ro u g h a series o f com plex c o rrid o rs to avo id m essing up any o f the shoots
th a t w e re ta k in g place, I fin a lly fo u n d o u r stage. Then I n o tice d the w a rd ro b e door,
th ro u g h w h ic h I could see s te re o ty p ic a l m irro rs w ith a b o rd e r o f lig h t bulbs, u n d e r
w h ic h lay endless cakes o f blush, pencils, p o w d e rs, and bags fu ll o f vials. I m ade m y
w a y to w a rd it and w he n 1 w as a b o u t 15 feet away, w h o should lo o m in th e d o o rw a y,
p re tty m uch ta k in g up all o f it, b u t the h o st h im se lf. He m u st have seen me hesitate.
B u t I c o u ld n 't ju s t tu rn a ro u n d ; 1 had a jo b to do. So I b ra v e ly and c o n fid e n tly
approached the host, w h o is n o w lo o k in g at me w o n d e rin g a) i f he's seen me before
(he has) and b) w h a t the h e ll I could p o ssib ly w a n t. The o n ly th in g 1 could th in k to
124
do w as p re te n d he w a s n 't som eone im p o rta n t and ju s t ask fo r th e w a rd ro b e guy,
saying, "Hey, _____ . Is Jake here?”
"Yeah, he's rig h t h e re.” A nd he m oved o u t o f m y w ay. I gave Jake th e bag, and
w ith o u t lo o k in g back, le ft the stu d io, s im p ly n o t fa th o m in g th a t I had ju s t
approached a w o rld -re n o w n e d c e le b rity and e sse n tia lly asked i f he co u ld get the
h e ll o u t o f m y w a y because I was th e re fo r som eone else. Good job.
But w o rk in g on th e W a rn e r lo t has c e rta in ly increased m y c e le b rity sightings.
Just the o th e r day I saw the back o f W illia m S hatner's a n cie n t body, w h ile he was
b e in g to te d a ro u n d in a g o lf cart. I can o n ly assume he w as on his w a y to lun ch
ju d g in g by th e d ire c tio n in w h ic h he was headed, w h ic h was aw ay fro m th e s tu d io
th a t th e y are n o w shooting, S H IT M Y DAD SAYS. I see Zachary Levi, fro m CHUCK
a lm o st eve ry day, flir tin g w ith extras and s m o k in g cigarettes d u rin g breaks. He is
fre a k is h ly ta ll and one tim e w h ile in the Starbucks, he stood in back o f me and once I
w as done paying, was in m y w ay, so I said, "Excuse me." It w as awesom e.
A m o n g others I've seen w h ile tr o llin g the lo t was a c u rly h a ire d b it a c to r th a t
has been on m any shows y e t I d o n 't k n o w his nam e; th e ta n ta liz in g cast o f P re tty
L ittle Liars, the fem ales, th a t is; M ike O 'M alley, w h o m I saw w a n d e rin g a ro u n d o u r
o ffice com plex,; o u r show 's s u p e rb ly nice and fu n n y sidekick; H e n ry K issinger's son,
and a b e vy o f b o th fam ous and b it actors w h o m I can't seem to place, y e t recognized
in s ta n tly . Extras roam a ro u n d th e lo t as w e ll, and as the tre n d to w a rd h irin g
b e a u tifu l w o m a n has n o t y e t abated, the lo t is a v e rita b le tre a su re tro v e o f a ttra c tiv e
ladies lo o k in g th e ir best fo r th e ir five m in u te s o f fame, and I th a n k th e m fo r it.
125
Logically, being a ro u n d th is m uch success and in d u s try makes one p o n d e r
h iso w n fu tu re and w h a t it holds. As fo r me, a h o p e fu l w r ite r , I ca n 't h e lp b u t s tro ll
th ro u g h th e w r ite r s ' office suite w ith a c o c k ta il o f th re e p a rts awe, one p a rt envy,
m ixed w ith a generous h e lp in g o f m o tiv a tio n . 1 s im u lta n e o u s ly w a n t to be in th e ir
p o s itio n and re m a in excited to m ake it on m y ow n. I ca n 't help b u t th in k h o w th e y
w e re a ll in m y shoes at one p o in t, b u t so w e re so m any o th e r people, w h o n e ve r got
th e ir o w n offices in w h ic h to w r ite jokes. It's easy to get discouraged and m o tiv a te d
one a fte r the o ther. A nd the w r ite r s n e ve r reach the a m o u n t o f fam e and a tte n tio n
as the guys on the second flo o r, w hose faces get sh ow n on TV, b u t th e y keep the
w h o le show g o in g — they m ake the sh o w fu n n y and give it its p e rs o n a lity .
W ell, th e y a lm o st do. In o u r case, w h ic h I've heard is n o t the case m o st o f the
tim e , o u r host is a v e ry hands-on, n o n-p e rso na based TV p e rs o n a lity . He is in real
life lik e he is on TV and w a lks a ro u n d the o ffice m a k in g jokes and ta lk in g to his staff.
It's a c tu a lly q u ite d is tra c tin g to w o r k in the o ffice at tim es, e sp ecially i f th e y are
sh o o tin g a video. The m o st n a tu ra l response is to stand and stare at w h a t's going
on, and m o re th a n once I've been caught d o in g so. B ut as u n d e rlin g s , w e have to
p re te n d n o th in g cool is tra n s p irin g and c o n tin u e to b u ild IKEA fu rn itu re w h ile a
legend is d o in g take a fte r take o f im p ro v , cra c k in g e ve ryone up. W h a t is especially
n o ta b le a b ou t o u r h o s t is his ta n g ib le in te llig e n c e and o n -th e -fly jo k e tw e a k in g
a b ility . He can sp o t the m echanics o f a joke and change it e ve r so s lig h tly to get the
b ig g e r laugh, and you can te ll d u rin g a sh o ot th a t he's in charge.
So, no, I d o n 't w a lk a ro u n d the lo t and recognize the w r ite r s fro m Lopez
T o n ig h t o r Two A n d A H a lf Men, b u t I k n o w th e y 're there, c re a tin g th e ir re sp ective
sh o w s' successes even th o u g h I w o u ld recognize th e ir hosts o r stars. B u t th a t's the
w a y it is fo r w r ite r s and I k n o w it's a lo n g w a y to get there. So fo r n o w I w ill
c o n tin u e to ru n errands, and c o m p le te m y tasks on a p e r re q u e st basis. I w ill get
y o u y o u r lunch, and I'll m ake copies o f th a t, sure. By th e w ay, h o w do yo u take y o u r
coffee? And, can I get y o u a bagel?
127
The Campbell’s Factor, Part VIII
I em erged fro m the C am pbell's b u ild in g an u n e m p lo ye d and h u m b le d man.
Blargens was s ittin g on the s id e w a lk against the b u ild in g w h e re he had been sleeps ta n d in g e a rlie r. He loo ke d up at me and ap olo g ize d fo r n o t being able to help.
“ It's OK. It's the th o u g h t th a t counts, o r at least th a t's w h a t m y e x -w ife used
to say w h e n I b o u g h t h e r te rra cotta m odels o f th ir d -w o r ld d ic ta to rs e very y e a r fo r
h e r b irth d a y .''
He sto o d up and loo ke d at m e w ith those w ild , b lo o d s h o t eyes and said, “ I
k n o w i t d id n 't w o r k o u t so w e ll th e fir s t tim e , o r the second, o r even the th ir d and
fo u rth tim es, b u t do yo u th in k y o u 'd w a n t to w o r k to g e th e r again? W e've la id the
g ro u n d w o rk ..."
I th o u g h t a b o u t it fo r a second, and as w e s ta rte d w a lk in g d o w n to w n I to ld
h im th e re 's n o th in g else in the w o rld I'd ra th e r do th a n w r ite w ith h im as m y agent.
"Y o u 're m y n ew agent again," I screeched e xcite d ly, ig n o rin g m y syn ta ctica l
co n fusion. "Just do me a fa v o r and get som e n e w clothes. You lo o k lik e a schlum p.”
(C ontinue 'C am pbell's' on page 1)
A c k n o w le d g e m e n ts
I sh ould p ro b a b ly th a n k the fo llo w in g people:
M y p arents, uncle and g ra n d p a re n ts fo r th e ir u n w a v e rin g love, s u p p o rt and
encouragem ent. M y b ro th e r fo r his o w n b ra n d o f s u p p o rt— and c a llin g me gay all
the tim e . A ll th e teachers th ro u g h o u t m y life w h o so u g h t to hone m y w ritin g ,
e sp ecially those in college and grad school: D aniel Callahan, B e rn a rd Kaplan, M ary
R ichards, D inah Lenney, Gina Nahai, and M.G. Lord. A special th a n ks to M.G., as she
was a d v is o r and e d ito r to 'S la pstick Sketch On In fin ite Loop,' and m ay k n o w the
pieces even b e tte r th a n I do. Also th a n ks to all m y frie n d s fo r th e ir help and love
o ve r the years. M o st sp e cifica lly, th a n ks to A n d re w S chw arz fo r re a d in g every
single piece as soon as I w ro te i t and h o w e v e r re lu c ta n tly g iv in g his co m m en tary.
Thanks to B ria n C ooper fo r some o f the p h o to g ra p h y in 'C h ara cte r A rc h ' and fo r
b u ild in g a PDF m e rg in g p ro g ra m so th a t I could a c tu a lly PRINT th is dam n book. It
s h o u ld n 't be o v e rlo o k e d th a t he also played a large r o ll in 'C h ara cte r A rc h ' a lth o u g h
he had no idea, and is, c o in c id e n ta lly , a life -lo n g frie n d . A nd a large th a n ks and
'aw esom e jo b !' to Jan D ickey, w hose m a s te rfu l a r tw o rk is fe a tu re d on the co ve r and
title pages. A nd th a n k y o u fo r reading. A nd to those o f yo u w h o skip p e d r ig h t to the
a ckn ow led g e m e nts and d id n o t in fact read the b o o k — w e ll— th a n ks fo r o p e n in g it.
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