Exhibit 18.12

On Switching Parties

(I haven't done any political posts since the election. Consider this a shameful, one-time revival. I apologize).

Obviously I'm happy with Senator Specter's decision though it's important to note that in practice it won't mean nearly as much as we think as long as Franken isn't seated and some moderate Democrats like, oh, let's say Nebraska's own Ben Nelson, insist on throwing their weight around. Not to mention that fact that the senator already votes blue on a number of key issues and the one issue you might expect him to now come out in favor of--the Employee Free Choice Act--he's already said he will continue to oppose (we'll see).

Which means we might not see Senator Specter sticking around past the election in 2010. There are a whole lot of Pennsylvania Democrats, many of them union members, who will need to vote for guy they've spent decades voting against without any incentive for changing their minds. In other words, the only person happier than Harry Reid today is Ed Rendell who basically came back from lunch to find a senate seat waiting for him. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has said they won't support any primary challenges to Specter but if a popular Democrat like Rendell wants to enter the race, there's nothing they can do about it.

(Rendell's just an example. I doubt he runs now--he's a party-line guy--but there was talk of him before Specter's defection).

Honestly, unless Specter really does move to the left, it probably won't even take that great of a candidate. I don't know anything about Pennsylvania politics--here's how much I don't know: I initially misspelled Pennsylvania there--but it's a pretty safe bet that 100% of people who voted in the last Democratic primary didn't vote for Arlen Specter. Some surely came around in the general election, but against any credible opponent, Specter is going to have to cobble together a majority of voters starting near zero. One would think any well-funded yinzer who supports EFCA would be even money against an 81-year-old ex-Republican who stands on the wrong side of what will likely be the electorate's key issue.

This is more or less always the rub with switching parties which is why it so rarely works, at least for anyone who expects to get reelected (even Jim Jeffords, who would have been a hero for switching control of the senate in 2001, decided against running for re-election as an Independent or a Democrat). It highlights the sad truth of our system of government: for as much as we might like politicians to vote their conscious and do the right thing regardless of party, the intricacies of governance are such that the letter next to a name really can be more important than the name itself. And if the people of Pennsylvania want a 'D,' presumably they'd prefer a capital D to a lowercase one.

Maybe Specter will move to the left. Maybe--and hopefully--the Democrats won't be so quick to purify the party as their competition. Maybe Specter's cancer comes back and none of this matters. But for the moment it looks like this is going to hurt Republicans more than this helps the Democrats. As of 2010, the holder of that seat was either going to be Arlen Specter or some random Democrat and that's still the case today.

As for the Republicans, well, what can you say? This one has to hurt, but anyone dancing on their grave should remember the state of the Democratic party in 2004 and how quickly they bounced back. Still, the fact that a 30-year member of their caucus left because he was going to face yet another primary challenge from a right-wing operative who has no chance of winning the general election...well, it's an issue. I'm no expert, but it seems like they should be taking what they can get at this point instead of shooting everyone in the foot until only Rush Limbaugh and Pat Toomey are left.

At a time when even a state like Iowa seems fairly blase about allowing gay marriage--as if it's the most boring thing in the world when 10 years ago there would have been riots--their rush to force out moderates like Specter is inexplicable.

It comes from a play that what's left of their party would rather ban than see, but it's a lesson they need to learn: The world only spins forward.


Exhibit 18.11

On Editing a Novel #14

SHOEHORNING IN REFERENCES TO KILLER BEES SHARK ATTACKS SWINE FLU. So you've been working on your novel for a long time. Maybe not some-of-your-characters-have-polio long but there's still a shocking amount of dated material here:

* That little girl is always pointing at Halley's Comet
* A casual reference to Secretary of State George Schultz has made it through round after round of editing
* Everyone is excited to read about George Lucas in their newspapers
* Burma is given to the Queen as a gift
* The character based on your brother is still alive

The reality is, there are only two ways this novel is ever going to be published:

1) You die--wait, hear us out--you die and hope that your brother's daughter, your only living relative, gets over her grief and feels obligated to self-publish the manuscript as a work of historical fiction in 2045. Teens around the universe laser etch quotes from your novel into hovertrees.
2) You make it relevant to contemporary readers

Frankly, we think option #1 is much more likely, but we're willing to acknowledge its shortcomings. Mainly, who knows if we'll even have hovertrees in 2045. Or if we'll be around, what with the swine flu and all.

Which brings us to our next point: swine flu.

It's got everything that made Michael Crichton great only he's dead (presumably from swine flu) so there's nothing standing between you, a book deal, and a major motion picture adaptation unceremoniously released in February.

It's easy. All you have to do is insert the following conversation once a chapter, every chapter:

"Did you guys hear about the shark attacks swine flu?" asked [protagonist].

"Yes," said [love interest].

"Guys, I don't feel so good," said [unlikeable or minority character]. He was dead from shark attacks swine flu within days.

And use this as the last sentence of your novel: In the autumn of his life, her memory would come to him whenever he walked, evermore slowly, passed the wild lilac that grew near the riverbend. That, finally, was how he found love and a cure to shark attacks swine flu.

You're welcome.


Exhibit 18.10

University Scandal Showdown

Hazing Scandal at the University of Nebraska vs. Homeless Killing at the University of Houston

Hazing vs. Shooting a Sleeping Homeless Guy

Here in Lincoln the local papers and newscasters have had to repeatedly describe the hazing as there's no euphemism for, um, what happened. There certainly should be one though. Have we used "taking in an Astros game" for anything yet?

Name Withheld vs. Joe David Tall

Diagnosed as a schizophrenic at 15, on the streets at 19, homeless for 30 years, and then shot while sleeping by some student who thinks he's Charles Bronson. Man, that's a tragic life. There are about 60 students in a fraternity house in Lincoln who think what is happening to them right now is unfair. Fellas, the world is a much darker than you realize and at the moment you are part of the problem.

Some Stripper vs. Some Student

E. says her Sigma Chi student swore it was the stripper's idea to, you know, take that pledge to the Astros game. I'm certainly no expert on these matters, but that seems about as likely as a rich, handsome john falling in love with a prostitute and taking her to business meetings and stuff.

What do you meant that's the plot of Pretty Woman? I've never seen it. No, really. Lucky guess, I suppose. [whistles as walking away]

Awkward Silence vs. Insanity

The best thing you can say after looking at both articles is that at least there aren't comments on the hazing scandal one. If there were, most of them would look like this:

HuskersCrouch7 - Can they say that in the paper?
RedNLincoln - Seriously, my grandparents read this paper.
GrandParents - Do they still make pledges "win the Atlantic Theatre"?

Well, I hope we've all learned something. Only the worst of us choose such easy victims, we need to do more to help those who fall through the cracks, and anything can sound dirty when put in quotation marks.


Exhibit 18.9

My coming in from the bullpen song

Too obvious?


Exhibit 18.8

Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously

So I have nothing to say about Chris Higgs's chapbook from Publishing Genius other than that you should order it and read it and enjoy it. I'd read through it online once or twice, but it's the sort of text you want to hold in your hands. It's the sort of text you have to strangle. Order/print your own here.

Read online, well, right here I suppose. It beats whatever I'd usually write about. Beats it good.


Exhibit 18.7

South of the Border, West of the Sun

Before I talk about the book--and I don't know if I'll have much to say--let me get this out of the way regarding yesterday's post: yes, everyone knows what nugs are except me. How I've been able to watch 90% of the Method Man/Redman vehicle How High in approximately 108 different background viewings during college yet still not glean this information is beyond me. In penance, I'll be listening to Phish all day.

Actually, no, no I won't.

But know that I care. I don't care enough to listen to Phish, but that only proves there might be a chance for me yet.

South of the Border, West of the Sun came out in 1992 but wasn't given an English translation until 2000 when it followed The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Murakami's most ambitious (and best) novel. I'd avoided South... since the plot description and the quotes on the back of my paperback make it clear the book is Murakami at his most mundane. A boy falls in love with a girl at the age of 12 and, years later when he's already married and comfortable, meets her again and has to choose between love and Love. No ethereal hotels. No sitting at the bottom of a well. No darkness coming in from the seams like in his best work. Even to a person who thinks the worst Murakami is better than just about anything, it sounded a little boring.

I finally broke down when I realized Murakami wrote South... around the same time as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It made me curious how he could have written his best and his worst novel at the same time. The answer: he didn't.

Despite its faults, South... isn't his worst novel, just his most somber. It reminded me quite a bit of "Tony Takitani," a short story of his that was actually made into an (appropriately somber) film a few years ago. As in the story, Murakami's narrator here reaches a comfortable middle age without knowing anything about himself or what he's capable of. It's a common enough conceit in Murakami's work but while it generally sends the narrator so far inside of himself that he ends up outside of reality (or something like that--I don't know), in both "Tony..." and South... what happens is tragic but banal, life altering but familiar enough you'd find a similar story on every city block.

I'm a biased reader, but somehow it works, I think. It doesn't ever reach any great heights, but South... does just enough to make upper-class ennui seem a compelling, at times vital, subject. The redeeming quality seems to be that Murakami's love triangle is sharper than most and, in the end, not really a triangle at all. The narrator loves his childhood friend more than his wife, that's without question, and so the choice shifts from the all too familiar "Should I throw my career, family, comfort away for another woman?" to something about survival. Only after the other woman disappears does he realize what she's known all along: their love isn't about having a life together, it's about dying together.

So for all of the simplicity of the book's plot description, there is something new here, a glimpse of love frozen during those early moments where it seems like the best thing in the world would be to die in each other's arms.

I don't know what's with me and the Youtube videos recently, but this one seems relevant.

Stay tuned as I continue to reinvent literary criticism with my Morrissey-based revelations.


Exhibit 18.6

This morning there was some graffiti in my office's parking garage stairwell. It said something like "Smoking Nugs/Shooting Pigs," and there was a woman from a different office reading it when I came down the stairs.

Woman: That's just horrible.
Me: (stops to read) What's a nug?
Woman: I know what a pig is and that's sick.
Me: Do you think it means smoking like cigarettes or smoking like killing?
Woman: My niece's husband Larry is a cop.
Me: I'd think drugs, right, but since the next line is about killing cops maybe smoking here means smoking like killing. Like, could it have the same meaning if it said 'smoking nugs and cops'?
Me: But it's pretty specific about the shooting, too. You know, I think it must mean smoking like cigarettes. But now we're back to nugs.
Woman: Poor Larry.
Me: Hey, I bet Larry would know what 'nugs' are! Let's ask him.
Woman: We should ride up on separate elevators.

Clearly I should have just talked to L. Kent.

Anyway, thank god I didn't catch the kids while they were doing this.

Me: Hey, what are nugs?
Kids: Back off before we smoke you.
Me: Now when you say smoke...
Me: Let's ask Larry!
Kids: This imaginary conversation is not chronologically consistent with your previous imaginary conversation.

Damn kids.

Exhibit 18.5

A Canonical Poem Adapted into a Control Scheme
for an Atari 2600 Game

Emily Dickinson
"After great pain, a formal feeling comes"

Up: The letting go
Down: Recollect the snow
Left: The feet, mechanical, go round
Right: The stiff heart questions
Fire: This is the hour of lead


Exhibit 18.4

by Mathias Svalina
Now Available‏

1 tape-bound volume
Book Design by Todd Seabrook
Covers by Randy Bright
$15/year subscription, $5/individual

The Cupboard is pleased to present Play by Mathias Svalina, a collection of children’s games perfect for the child you don’t know.

Children need preoccupations. Children need supervision and bran in their diets and children need instruction. For you, for your children: Play, a collection of twenty-nine games to issue gentle correctives and urge honing of the child's wayward sense of wonder. For sixteen or more players. For two. For five. For one child left alone to fend for herself.

Read excerpts here.

Mathias Svalina is a co-editor of Octopus Magazine and Books. He is the author & collaborator of numerous chapbooks & his first full-length book, Destruction Myths, is forthcoming from Cleveland State University Press. He lives deep in Brooklyn, NY.

A year’s subscription to The Cupboard runs $15. You’re getting 4 volumes of approximately 7k words each. So on a per word basis it’s practically nothing. And those are some good words, too. Like entropy and turtle shell. Subscribe here.

You may also order volumes individually for $5.

Parables & Lies has sold out, but the excellent A New Map of America is still available.

We are also pleased to announce that our next volume will be Caia Hagel’s Acts of Kindness and Excellence in Times Tables. It’s a good one.

Thank you again for everything,




Exhibit 18.3

So Mathias clearly won blogging this week with his series of Google posts. Just go check them out now. There's nothing I can do to top that. I quit.

Here are some posts started and abandoned.

Reconstructed live blog of watching baseball with Anders on Tuesday

7:00p.m. - Yes, I will have a beer. Only one, probably.
10:00p.m. - Wait, the game is over? Who won?
2:00a.m. - Um, I should go home now.

That sums it up. By the way, I've never posted it before but I will now that my jealousy has subsided. This is Anders in the greatest Royals-related photo of the past decade:
God I love that picture. Somehow he managed to both catch a fly ball and see an awkward John McCain and Sarah Palin at a restaurant after a game. Needless to say, I hate him.

I hold an imaginary conversation with this girl

Me: You have really fantastic penmanship.
Girl: Thanks.
Me: But why don't your exclamation points have dots underneath?
Girl: I can't afford them with all of these taxes.
Me: Jesus, it's always that with you isn't it, little girl?

I post a random Dwight Yoakam performance from the 1980s

I answer one of the questions posed in those Google searches

Q: Is Gordon Ramsey having an affair?
A: Who? I'll still say maybe.


Exhibit 18.2

Black Swan Green

I finally picked this up after I mentioned Cloud Atlas the other day and remembered that one of my favorite writers has a book out that I hadn't read. Like Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell's two previous novels--Ghostwritten and number9dream--aren't bound to the conventional yet are highly readable, mostly because for all of the oddity in narration and plot, they're intensely structured and beautifully written. Now there's Black Swan Green which seems to be a conscious attempt to do the opposite. In that sense, sadly, it's a success.

Part of the attraction of Mitchell's books has always been how easily he moves not only between narrator but worlds. It's difficult to imagine two books that travel quite as far as Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten do in their 300 or so pages, but Black Swan Green only twice leaves its titular English village and even then it's only for a brief vacation to the coast. While Mitchell still shows some willingness to play around with the narrative, it's clear that the anything fanciful here is strictly in the imagination of the 13-year-old narrator. It's brave in a way to do such a conventional coming-of-age story for a writer like Mitchell, but that's all external to the book itself which, despite a lot of good qualities, is fairly dull.

(I don't know for certain about these things, but based on the quotes on my paperback, this seems to be Mitchell's most acclaimed book. That's disappointing but understandable. It's well-written and readily accessible, offering Chuck Taylor's full of nostalgia to anyone who came of age in the early 1980s which I imagine includes a fair number of book critics).

We've all read this story before. Only the music references and current events change. A boy lives an upper-middle-class life somewhere away from the city. His parents might or might not be happy but he doesn't really understand their relationship (hint: they aren't happy), he thinks his older sister hates him (she doesn't, of course), girls don't like him and he might not like them (somewhat surprisingly, he does like them), he's obsessed with his own social status at school (the rising and falling of his popularity passes for tension here), and he has one flaw which he believes to be fatal (a fairly mild stutter). Even if this isn't your life, it's the life of hundreds of sensitive male narrators throughout time. There's even an entire genre of music aimed at this particular demographic (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, you can come over and we'll listen to my copy of Pinkerton).

Mitchell handles it which loads more style and a touch more magic than most, but it doesn't make the stakes any higher. As in most bildingsroman--or I suppose this is really a künstlerroman, whatever--we know that for all the tortures of youth, the protagonist will emerge on the other side as an adult with different and presumably more important problems. The thing that itches most about books like this is seeing our moody narrator bemoaning his own small problems (he broke his grandfather's watch!) while interacting with a host of actually interesting characters who are supposed to be our antagonists. I'd much rather see what the hated bully is up to with his abusive father than wait for our narrator to discover his father's very obvious affair. Here's the difference: the narrator's problems can be definitively answered by saying, "You'll be fine." But I haven't kissed a girl! "You'll be fine." But I worry about nuclear war! "You'll be fine." The bully, on the other hand, doesn't have easy answers. He'll probably come to a bad end, he'll probably do nothing of note, but what he won't do is look back at when he was 13 and think about all the great music he used to listen to around the time his dad nearly killed his mom.

(Contemporary books of this sort really do have soundtracks as if they were movies. Especially now that Cameron Crowe and Wes Anderson have almost created a language out of pop songs, it's really the easiest [laziest? whitest?] way to define a time period, mood, and character all in one reference).

That we get the middlebrow story isn't unusual--it's really the point--but Mitchell's never been one to settle for the expected before. At times even he seems bored as he peppers in dreams, imagined ghosts, and, most tellingly, references and characters from Cloud Atlas, as if names alone can add a layer to the very simple reality he's limited himself to. But the most daring thing he does is free himself from structure just as he limits his scope. At the beginning we meet the narrator's speech therapist and she's set up to be a major character but we never see her again and only get one late reference to her near the end. Until then, it's unclear if he's even still in therapy or if he's quit. There are a lot of loose ends like this and together they're my favorite part of the Black Swan Green. It makes the book broad and untidy but it's also the most realistic part of a novel that sometimes seems forced into unrealistic realism (I'm not giving anything away if I tell you the climax is an overdue divorce).

To be honest, I think I'd decided to feel this way about the book before I read it so you shouldn't let my bitterness over not getting to read another Cloud Atlas stop you from picking it up. Mitchell's writing is as good as ever, even in the service of a precocious 13-year-old who might hit a little too close to home.


Exhibit 18.1

Houston Notes

* The Menil Collection and the Rothko Chapel next door are fantastic. The Menil is mostly modern & surrealist art with some antiquities and smatterings of medieval art thrown in for fun. And it is fun. Just a good, lively museum. The Rothko Chapel and its Broken Obelisk go without saying. You can pick up the primary text of just about any religion and read it in a very self-conscious art/meditation space. Somehow it works. I was this close to becoming a Hare Krishna. Instead I decided that I'll try to follow professional soccer.

* Conversation with Rental Car Guy

Rental Car Guy: Wow. This car has cruise control. Lucky you.
Me: Um, great.
Rental Car Guy: Where are you headed?
Me: Downtown.
Rental Car Guy: Oh, nevermind. You won't need it. Sorry. Didn't mean to get you excited.
Me: It's okay. [sighs/collects confetti from asphalt]

* He was right. I did not use the cruise control. I don't know if there's a way to set the cruise control for intermittent periods of 80 miles per hour followed by 15 minutes of not moving at all. Driving in Houston was actually sort of fun. It allowed me to break out my Michael-Rooker-in-Days-of-Thunder face as I swerved around SUVs in my Nissan Versa. Good times.

* Okay, I didn't decide to follow professional soccer. My apologies to everyone at Borussia Dortmund FC. Didn't mean to get you excited.

* The first song that came on my iPod as I waited for my plane out was Tom Waits's "Fannin Street." I had a moment where I got to wonder if it was about the street I was driving on yesterday before the first line, There's a crooked street in Houston town. That pretty much settled it.

* That is weird though, right? Maybe I should believe in Tom Waits. Previously, I've been a bit of an agnostic about his existence. Fossil records do suggest that Rod Stewart wrote "Downtown Train."

* So I liked Houston as a city except for this one thing: the light rail. It almost hit me twice, once when driving, once when wandering around downtown. I'm willing to concede both times were my fault--in that I was walking/driving in a place near the light rail--but there seems to be an awful lot of chaos created by this one train that runs in a seven mile straight line. I can't even imagine the set of circumstances that would lead me to actually get on it.

* I read the new piece up at Bear Parade in my hotel room on Friday. You should read it too. You'll like it. Unless you're Lydia Davis. Then you'll probably have very complicated feelings about it.

* Many thanks to Ryan and Laura and Gene and anyone else who humored me as I told them things they already knew about the light rail. Had a great time.


Exhibit 17.27

Where I would buy my light bulbs in Houston


Exhibit 17.26

Houston Tree


Exhibit 17.25

Characters Played by John Wayne (1934-1926)

Chris Morrell
John Tobin
Rod Drew
U.S. Marshal John Travers
Randy Bowers
John Weston
John Carruthers
Ted Hayden, posing as Gat Ganns
Jerry Mason
John Brant (using alias John Smith)
Student greeting Phil
Singin' Sandy Saunders
Captain John Holmes
Jimmy McCoy Jr.
Dick Wallace
Smith John Bishop
Co-pilot in Wreck
Lt. Tom Wayne
John Trent
John Mason
Deputy Sheriff John Steele
Football Player
John Drury
Larry Baker
Buzz Kinney
Steve Pickett
Craig McCoy
Dusty Rhodes
Clint Turner
Richard Thorpe as a corpse
Lt. Bob Denton
Gordon Wales
Peter Brooks
Breck Coleman
Bit Part
Radioman on surface
Bill (midshipman)
Pete Donahue
Flood Extra
Horse Race Spectator/Condemned Man in Flashback
Football Player/Extra in Stands Extra
Yale Football Player


Exhibit 17.24

A hotel's selling points:

Located in beautiful downtown Houston one block from the Houston Toyota Center, Houston Rockets headquarters, and two blocks from the Houston Convention Center, Houston's biggest convention center. Astros fans, we are just 0.5 miles from Minute Maid Park and the Astros. We're also within a mile of Exxon-Mobile, Chevron, Shell, Meridian, Lyondell, Planned Parenthood, as well as restaurants and the Houston Theater District. In a hurry? Stop by our complimentary hot breakfast bar and pick up a warm cinnamon roll...

Clerk: Welcome. What brings you to our hotel?
Man: We're going to "take in an Astros game."
Clerk: In a hurry?
Man: Well...
Clerk: We're near many Houston landmarks!
Man: Like, maybe, um, a flower store?

Needless to say, this is where I'm staying. It'll be like "Hills Like White Elephants" only with Roy Oswalt jerseys.

(See, doesn't that wildly inappropriate conversation make up for yesterday's Royals preview? I certainly hope so because now I feel bad).


Exhibit 17.23

Royals Season Preview

(I know, I know. You don't care. I'll make it up to you. For the moment, just indulge me).

So this was supposed to go up yesterday, but the game in Chicago got preemptively rained/snowed/winded out so I thought I'd hold it back a day. Anyway, I know who to blame.

That's right, Chicago's own Tom Berenger:

At night, children in Chicago can still hear him singing.

By the way, if you took the under on the number of Tom Berenger references in the month of April, I'm thinking you lost. Sorry. I'll now go back to my previous policy of never mentioning anyone from the cast of Major League.

And we're back to baseball.

So last year my Royals season preview took them seriously enough to say they'd win 78 games (they won 75) but not so seriously that I didn't spend the entire preview classifying the players based on The Sound and the Fury.

(By the way, Jose Guillen is much more of a Jason than I could have ever imagined. I swear he's stealing Tony Pena Jr.'s paychecks and Tony is too scared to say anything about it. In Guillen's defense, it's not like Tony's earning those checks either...)

This year, I feel like the team has earned something a little bit better. I don't know if you noticed, but they finished in 4th place last season. If you don't follow baseball, you should know that A) that's out of five and B) it's a very big deal for a team like the Royals. How big of deal? Well, let's take a look at the box score of a game I went to in 2002. It was my first baseball game in a long, long time and something about how awful the Royals were that day made me want to start rooting for them again like I did when I was a kid. I mean, look at this kicked puppy of a lineup:

D. Sadler
N. Perez
C. Beltran
M. Sweeney
M. Tucker
R. Ibanez
L. Alicea
B. Mayne
C. Febles

Their leadoff hitter was Donnie Sadler--does anyone know what Donnie Sadler's career on-base percentage is? It's .262. In case you don't know, even a less than ideal leadoff hitter should get on base at a .350 clip (at least). Not only is a .262 on-base percentage nearly unheard of for any regular position player, it's suicide for a leadoff hitter. Oh, and his career OPS+, a measure of offensive ability, was a stellar 39 (100 is average). Maybe this will help to put it into perspective. That's an article analyzing the worst leadoff hitters since 1957. Let me summarize it for you: Donnie Sadler, if he led off enough to qualify, would have been the worst and it wouldn't have been particularly close (Sorry, Ivan DeJesus). Now I know what you're thinking. Surely he's fast, right? Nope. 25 career stolen bases over 8 years of irregular major league playing time. Okay, so he must be a defensive wizard at SS, right? Oh...this is the best part:

He was the left fielder!

That's right, the Royals, in the 14th game of the season, led off the game with a guy who only got on base a quarter of the time. They also started a left fielder--traditionally a place to put one of your best hitters--who would finish his career with a 39 OPS+. And that was the same person! I may have been lying before. This may actually be the best part. The starting pitcher of the opposing team was:

Pedro Martinez!

The same Pedro Martinez who already owned 3 Cy Young awards and would finish 2nd in the voting that year. It goes without saying, the Royals got mowed down. Pedro pitched 8 innings, threw 92 pitches, gave up one hit (not, of course, to the valiant Mr. Sadler), no walks, no runs, and generally acted like he was bored. The Royals got another hit off of a token relief pitcher in the 9th, but it didn't matter. For my first baseball game in about a decade, I watched my once beloved team throw out 5'6" Donnie Sadler to lead off against the best pitcher of his generation. I watched them hit two singles. I watched them get shutout in about as lopsided a game as can be played.

I loved it.

It surely says something (not good) about me that if the Royals had trotted out a lineup of stars, destroyed some lesser team, and gone on to win the pennant that year, I probably wouldn't have cared. But they were awful. I mean just unthinkably terrible, the sort of terrible that there are rules against in other sports. So naturally I started following along through the subsequent 100 loss seasons, the mirage of 2003, and the delayed promise of the Alex Gordon/Billy Butler era. It's been a tough ride. I don't need to rehash it all here, but let me just give you this example: for awhile in that stretch, their best pitcher missed a season for psychological reasons and this wasn't even nearly the worst thing that happened.

Now for the first time since 2002, the Royals are actually poised to take a leap. They won't win the division, but it's not inconceivable this year. Gordon and Butler seem ready to make good on at least some of their promise, Greinke and Soria are locked up and ready to cement themselves as two of the best in the American League, and even Mark Teahen seems like he's going to make this 2nd base thing work. Hell, even Kevin Seitzer is back as the hitting coach.

So it's a good time to be a Royals fan, they're just good and young enough to make you think they might finally do something but not so good that anyone can really know. That's why I'm excited for this season. They could win 70 games. They could win 90 games. I really have no idea. I'll hedge my bets and say 80, a 3rd place finish with Greinke and Soria going to the All-Star Game, Gordon leading the team in HR, and Jose Guillen punching at least one fan.

Here's my best prediction: Donnie Sadler will not be in the lineup.

That should count as one win right there.

(In case it seems like I'm picking on Donald, let me say two things: 1. it's not his fault the Royals used him in this way and 2. he really battled against Pedro, taking more pitches than any other Royal).


Exhibit 17.22

I Debate the Date of Easter with My Mom

Me: So I'll see you Sunday.
Mom: Yep, I'll see you on Easter.
Mom: Easter is Sunday.
Me: No, I think we already had Easter.
Me: This Sunday? Really?
Mom: Yes.
Me: Is that why everyone is coming down?
Mom: Everyone is coming down for a baseball game. It's just a coincidence.
Me: But you're still going to have some Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs, right?
Mom: Yes.
Me: Awesome.

This conversation more or less happens every holiday. Only the seasonal Reese's shape changes.


Exhibit 17.21

So it's not out yet--hopefully next week--but here's the cover of the next volume of The Cupboard:

Nice, right? I'm telling you, this is our best Cupboard yet. All thanks to incredible poet and noted Leo Johnson-resembler Mathias Svalina.

Okay, so nobody has probably ever noted that before. All I know is that I've got to get casting now if I'm going to get a Twin Peaks group costume ready for Halloween.

Apparently that's something I'm doing now. I'm as surprised as you.

So who wants to be Dr. Jacoby?


Exhibit 17.20

The Searchers

Someone requested my thoughts on The Searchers and since I didn't see anything interesting while driving to work today, I figured why not. I'm here to please.

Despite what you may be thinking based on some recent posts, this is actually the first John Wayne movie I've ever seen. I had to look up some of his characters' names for a project, posted the character names, was told to watch The Searchers, watched The Searchers, was told to write about The Searchers, and now I'm writing about The Searchers. This has all taken place within a week or so. Like I said, I'm here to please.

Here's the trailer if you'd like to watch it, but I should tell you it gives away maybe the best scene of the movie and, if you know what to look for, the ending.

Lusty slice of history? Sign me up.

So it's not in any way lusty, but it is a great movie, sort of an earlier, American Southwest Lawrence of Arabia in visual style and something much more modern in its dark, somewhat meta conflict which rests entirely on antagonizing the audience's expectation of John Wayne-the-guy-who-plays-heroes with John-Wayne-the-guy-playing-a-racist-jerk. I know nothing about film, so I'm sure this kind of against-type casting existed before, but I can't think of an earlier example. I certainly can't think of a time it's worked this well since (it usually ends up lifeless [see Hanks, Tom, The Road to Perdition] or silly [see Carrey, Jim, The Number 23. Actually, don't. I certainly didn't]).

What's so great about it here is that Wayne seems completely unaware his character is a bad guy. Obviously he did know, but it's clear that Wayne sympathizes with him to such a degree that it would be uncomfortable if Wayne weren't so damn likable. As I said before, I've never seen a John Wayne movie, hate the guy's politics and his behavior during the Red Scare, and don't have a lot of interest in his vision of America or masculinity--I'm, you know, a wimp--but there's undeniably something big about the man and it's something that seems to exist outside of what he says or does. And believe me, I hate buying into this guy. I'd love to be contrarian here, but it's true. John Wayne had me at his first, "That'll be the day."

It's his presence outside the character that greys the movie, and it's almost impossible to imagine a movie with the same mechanics today. It's maybe as simple as the fact that the studio system doesn't create stars in the same way--although god knows they try every so often:

Movie Executive #1: Shia LaBeouf?
Movie Executive #2: Shia LaBeouf!

Or maybe it's something Marlon Brando did. Certainly The Searchers is riding the anti-hero wave:

On the Waterfront - 1954
Rebel Without a Cause - 1955
The Searchers - 1956

Thankfully, we just haven't been living in an era that wants Superman for a long, long time and in The Searchers John Wayne is Superman turned bitter after choosing the wrong team (in this case, the South in the Civil War). And so it's not just that Wayne is playing against type, it's that he's playing the death of his type. A once great man reacting to the end of his era with violence and hate.

For some reason, John Ford sought to soften the blow of this portrayal with laughter. There's a lot of comedy in The Searchers and it's all very broad--a cartoony simpleton, pratfalls, misunderstandings with (hilarious) consequences. There's absolutely no reason for any of this to be in the movie, but it's there nonetheless. The only thing odder than its existence is the fact that it's actually funny more often than not. Still, it's completely disposable and unwanted, scenes that most people probably forget when remembering the movie.

(The Searchers is apparently the AFI's greatest Western of all-time. Fair enough. It is quite awesome and I don't know anything about Westerns. But I do know it would be hilarious to take some of these comedy scenes and insert them into, say, Unforgiven. Watching Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman have a surprisingly girly fight played for laughs? Yes. Yes indeed).

Last thought: And maybe it's just because of how inherently unassailable Wayne is, but I think there's an argument could be that the character Ford objects to most is Ward Bond's Reverend Captain, who is both the local priest and the local marshall. While he's as complex as the rest of the characters here, even Wayne seems to hate the power and hypocrisy at work when these two roles combine in one man. Considering the movie was made at the end of the McCarthy-era, it's easy to see Bond's character, and not Wayne's, as the real anti-hero. Wayne is going to die and take his character flaws with him, leaving behind nothing but a son-figure who represents the opposite of what Wayne believes in. But men like Bond and their "good-intentioned" facism aren't going anywhere.


Exhibit 17.19

I don't conduct an interview with the woman who stands in front of a shady looking tax place on 'O' Street dressed as the Statue of Liberty and waving at cars

This woman fascinates me. As far as I can tell, she stands on a busy street for 12 hours a day wearing a garbage bag, a foam lantern, and a showercap on her head--all teal. This is the costume which is supposed to make cars passing at 45 MPH violently swerve across traffic in order to get their taxes done at a place that employs such a poorly outfitted mascot. Or maybe the woman does the taxes herself. I really have no idea, but I hope that's the situation.

I thought about taking a picture but then I realized that probably wouldn’t be nice. Also, I apparently can only use the macro function on my camera so here’s what it would have looked like:

That's the showercap of the woman as she sits down to calculate the percentage of my apartment I use for office space.


I have many questions for this woman, so I decided not to ask her.

Me: I'm not sure on the exact date, but you've been out here every day for months, possibly since January 1st. It was really cold those early weeks. All of us felt bad for you. I assume you're done after April 15th. What's the experience been like for you?
Woman: Taxes! Get your taxes here! Taxes!

Me: There really aren't a lot of businesses left on the street. I think there's a Vietnamese grocery, a place that sells rims--or "dubs"--and a check cashing place or two. Last summer, one of the check cashing places had an inflatable mascot. I believe it was a rooster. Would you prefer there be other businesses? Other mascots? If there were, would you fall in love with one and get married on the street while wearing your costumes? Wait, I want to be clear I'm not suggesting you marry an inflatable chicken. In fact, forget this question. Never mind.
Woman: [waves foam lantern enthusiastically at a Taurus]

Me: Based on what you see here at this dilapidated tax store, what are your thoughts on the state of the economy and the prospects for a quick rebound using government stimulus, renegotiated mortgages for struggling homeowners, and extensive intervention into keystone industries?
Woman: You can count on our accounting!

Me: My impression is that you always wave at my car specifically. How crazy is this to think?
Woman: Taxes! Whoop! Whoop! [raises roof]

Me: I walked by you once a few weeks ago. I was very curious to see what this encounter would be like. After all, you're there to attract customers, and here was a person walking right down a street no one walks down. I had a flat tire. It's not important. So, I'm walking down the street, right, and I'm waiting for you to say something...but you say nothing. As I recall, you stared forlornly at the street until the light changed and more cars came.
Woman: It's tax time, baby, tax time!

Me: It just seems like any foot traffic would have a much higher hit rate than the cars...You know what, your job is much tougher than mine. I'm not going to tell you how to do it. That said, would you tell me how to do my job?
Woman: Don't be late! We do taxes great!

Me: So what's next for you?
Woman: Taaaaaaaxxxxxxxxxxxeeeeeessssssssssss! Taxes. Taxes.

Me: I think there's a cell phone store with a guy who dresses up as Uncle Sam. If I introduced you, could I be invited to the all-mascot wedding?
Woman: [Stares forlornly at the street until the light changes and more cars come]

I'd like to thank the woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty for not taking the time.