Archive: January 2005

(5 entries)

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Civilization and its diss

Welcome to Trouble Sells, 2005 edition. I recognize that mid-January is not a very ambitious point from which to start the new year. However, when we last left our story, my bar was closing on New Year’s Eve. I really can’t face that all over again. The wounds are too recent. I will get back to it in due time. I will chronicle the heartbreak, the angry girls I used to sleep with, the complacent girls I used to sleep with, the fear of running out of liquor, and the deep bathos of our situation. That it happened on the turn of the year is all the more chilling. Imagine if it was this way for all Americans. “Well, the ball has dropped, honey. Help the kids pack up their things before the wrecking crew destroys our home.”

I know that in Trouble Sells, 2004 edition, I rarely talked about my actual life, concentrating mostly on high-minded analyses of our doomed race. Now that George Plimpton, always our champion, is dead, I resolve to get back to more drunk girls etc. But before I can do that, an important foundational step is to explain the origin of civilization itself. I am also going to straight-up diss it.

We humans lived before civilization, let’s not forget that. Were things acceptable then? They were to the people who were around. Perhaps they would not be so to us. Are things acceptable now? Absolutely — to the complacent, things are always acceptable. QED.

If life was okay in prehistoric times, why did we begin our inexorable march toward civilization, and beyond? I think this can be explained the same way we can explain more recent history, from Alexander’s conquest of the known world to the American, French, and Russian revolutions to the election of 2004. It is an important concept in my discussion so it will get its own paragraph:

Private agendas masquerading as popular good.

In prehistoric days, as we all know, people sat around the campfire and told lies. During the day, men would wander around the woods, supposedly looking for dinner, while women would stay back at the camp foraging for berries, beating skins with rocks, stripping bark off twigs, banging rocks into smaller rocks, wrapping skins around twigs, preventing the children from being eaten by lions, and generally keeping house as it was then known. Can you see where I’m going with this?

Already we had a bifurcation in the human experience. While men roamed around without supervision, women had to do a lot of hard work. I’m not sure how that happened. The anthropologists say that women, having borne children, were most likely to stick around in one place to take care of them. But it could have easily gone the other way, where after the arduous process of birth it was the man’s turn for a while. It’s sort of like the person whose parents smoked therefore they also smoke, versus the person whose parents smoked so they are disgusted by smoking. It could have gone either way, but there it is. Perhaps it was the women’s idea; they didn’t want to go out where they’d have to fight predators, etc. They figured, let him do it, and I’ll wrestle with these twigs.

But as the toils of homelife grew, with the addition of new technology such as clothing, washing, etc., women began to realize that men were still doing the same shit but they were juggling more and more rocks and skins in more complex combinations.

So they invented civilization! All it took was planting a few seeds in the ground, and they were off. Civilization has been the relentless, though perhaps glacially slow, equalization in the expectations of what men and women can and should do. Along the way, women somehow got technology to advance enough so that, one by one and by degrees, all the drudgeries of the home disappeared: no more going down to the river to wash clothes, no more standing around the fire all day to cook food. But while men’s technology changed, men still had to go out all day to use it, no longer in the woods but in the fields, at the factory, at the office. Women eventually had to follow them out, since they couldn’t just laze about when machines or servants were already running the home.

(That’s the one thing I don’t understand about their plan: why did women paint themselves into the corner of having to work for a living in order to keep up their civilization habit? I suppose just because the grass is always greener: they wanted to run around in the Serengeti too, even if they hadn’t lived there for five million years and the closest they could hope for was the veldt of Omaha.)

All of this benefited women more than it did men. Men were still working, same as ever. Women alone had transformed their lives through the introduction of all the civilized concepts. I think that’s pretty unfair. Now, I would not recommend a return to the old ways. Five million years is a long time, and we all bear the marks of the changes, unfair or not. What I think is that we need to acknowledge the injustice and make certain allowances. For example:

  1. Women want equality in the workplace. From now on, let them have supreme authority there. After millions of years, it is time for men to retire from work altogether. They have earned their gold watch.

  2. Women want equality in politics. From now on, let them have supreme authority there. Let them try to sort it all out. Men were only half-hearted about it anyway, and good riddance to the settlers in the West Bank.

  3. Women want equality in sex. From now on, let them have supreme authority there. They can try to figure out how lesbianism is meant to work while all men can become heroin addicts, which is way better and cheaper besides.

Some time ago Leonard Cohen suggested that women should rule the world, since that’s what women wanted to do, and men should stick to being artists, since that’s what Leonard Cohen wanted to do. Count me in.

In 2005, I am going to let the bitches do all the work. I wish you and yours a complacent, civilized new year.

by Jack, 5:12 PM | Link | Comments (3) | More from Foundational Issues | More from The Damned Human Race | More from Women

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I'm Your Recent Future Positions

As you know, I operate in a kind of time lag. I can’t comment on things as they happen. Sometimes it takes me a few days, sometimes a few years, but I guarantee that everything I report is a genuine thought from my head. This is called “reflection” and “analysis” and it is what I do to drive the girls wild. Today, like Entertainment Weekly, I’d like to uncork a few once-timely thoughts on music.

In fall 2001, the hubbub in the music world was over the new records of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, or at least it should have been. Now that Mr. Cohen has come out with an even newer recording, something about a girl named Jennifer or Michelle, it’s time to discuss the once-new Cohen album, entitled “Who I’ve Been Sleeping With Lately” (bowdlerized for the American market as “Ten New Songs”), which in due course I’ll compare unfavorably with Dylan’s “Love and Theft”.

The feeling on Cohen’s silver disc is that Gordon Lightfoot collaborated with Barry White, or that Sade decided life was for shit. This album definitively shows the difference between Mr. Cohen, who in 1968 wanted to be the Canadian Bob Dylan, and Mr. Dylan, who was prevented from being Canadian by the grace of only a few miles.

Of course, the difference is really between Dylan and everybody else. While many artists from the sixties reinvented themselves many times over, people like Cohen and Joni Mitchell (whom I consider to be up there too, if we can have two Canadians on the list), pretty much settled into the same schtick at a certain point. Maybe it took Cohen longer than some of them. Maybe his schtick is better. But it’s still schtick. Dylan’s offering is just more weird shit, and he can’t help it (and Greil Marcus backs me up here).

While the Dylan album makes compelling arguments for what contemporary pop music might sound like in twelve alternate universes, Cohen’s merely posits what pop music might sound like if Leonard Cohen got involved in it. That’s what kind of bugs me about the album: if you read the lyrics, they are wryly insightful poetry, but it’s easy to just sit there and listen to this plodding Adult Contemporary sound and never realize that. That seems a shame. What is he aiming for with this? Why is he trying to trick people into liking his record? Does he think it can stir something deep beneath the Lacoste crocodiles?

Also, I haven’t tested this exhaustively, but note that you can more or less sing the lyrics to all of these “new songs” to any tune from the last couple of decades’ worth of his records.

It’s nice to get a shot of Leonard (a man whose philosophy might be found in his insisting to rhyme “lover” and “hunger”) in these end times. His continuing obsession with all the women who have broken his heart without his giving a shit about it seems positively quaint on a planet where this has nothing to do with the rest of us. They locked up a man who wanted to make a Leonard Cohen album; they locked up the wrong man.

Don’t get me wrong: I like the album, but it feels too much like the application of Cohenesque values to a Sony product, and not enough like an album anyone was driven to create.

In one final parallel: as you may know, Dylan produced his recent disc himself. The low-rent cover art led one wag to suggest that he had taken on graphic design duties as well. The cover of the Cohen album is a photo by the artist himself which he must have goofed around with in Photoshop, because I recognize the Dry Brush filter. So Cohen’s low-rent self-designed cover is the icing on the cake, because the album strikes me as being something of a caprice…ten years in the making.

Other titles considered for the above item:

“Ten Immediately Old Songs”
“Cry A While for Po’ Boy Lenny (Too Much To Ask)”
“I’m still making love in my secret wife”
“I took my Leonard Cohen album to the pawn shop, but that don’t make it junk”
“Say goodbye to Alexandra Levy”

by Jack, 6:18 PM | Link | Comments (1) | More from Drinking & Women

Thursday, January 20, 2005

White people are at it again

Today, as has been noted elsewhere, George Bush spent tens of millions of dollars celebrating himself. By contrast, I went to do my laundry. I always do my laundry myself, even though everyone I know sends out their laundry to be done by others. That seems absurd to me, when it is so easy to do your own laundry. In fact, there are machines that are designed to do laundry for you (as I have recently explained) and I use them without hesitation. In fact, these are the same machines used by the people who you hire to do your laundry. While the machines work, I read a book, which is a nice thing to do. What’s the big deal? The whole thing cost me just $5.75 on a cold afternoon.

I plan my trips to the laundromat on weekday afternoons when it is likely to be abandoned. The only difficulty in doing laundry is the mixture of political jockeying and blind luck necessary to find an available dryer at the precise moment your clothes are done in the washer. This is never possible in a laundromat that is even one-third full because there are always (by what algorithm?) far fewer dryers than washers, and more of them are broken. I work my own hours, so once every few months I take off an afternoon and do my laundry on my own terms.

I entered the laundromat this afternoon and immediately a woman said to me, “Don’t do your laundry here. They ripped off my clothes.” I liked the silliness of her poorly-constructed double entendre. She was standing at the little counter with a lot of makeup on, attempting to terrorize the unflappable staff. I said to her, “It’s all right, I’m doing my laundry myself,” because apparently I feel that is something everyone needs to know about me. I went on to do my laundry. During this time she ranted at the staff for a while longer, saying, for example, “You people don’t even speak English!” in her heavy foreign accent. Compassion was not happening at the laundromat. Anyway, I did my laundry and no one ripped it off me. I even got dryers that were able to produce hot air, which is a bonus.

Tonight a local college radio station was celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Bob Dylan’s album Blood on the Tracks in a most mysterious way: by inviting a lot of mediocre contemporary artists to play all of its tracks in order using generally the original arrangements. I thought that was really boring. I really like the record Blood on the Tracks, which is why I own a copy of it. If I wanted to hear these people, I’d buy their records, but I didn’t, did I?

And if I wanted to hire a bunch of people to make a mockery of something great, I wouldn’t call it a celebration. Whether we’re talking about Blood on the Tracks or the office of the Presidency. Oh, my people, my people!

However, I am pretty happy that so far this month, each of my posts has mentioned Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, or both. And every one of those words rang true, and glowed like burning coal.

by Jack, 11:59 PM | Link | Comments (0) | More from The Damned Human Race

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The brains I got will stuff your bust out

(Apologies to Mr. Robert Johnson.)

The question, as always, is what are other people for? Or, just as perplexingly, what good am I to them?

The answer, as always, is that we are each other’s fictions. We admire each other only as long as we can make it all up. The onset of reality into any relationship is its death knell.

I have kept the news from you, dear diary, but for the past six weeks I have been in a “dating relationship”, which I had not done since before I knew better. This is my first post-knowing-better dating relationship. I am “dating”.

I am dating Erica.

Perhaps you will picture me sweating bullets when I tell you that Erica is a wonderful person. I am not adequately prepared for dating a wonderful person. Hanging over me is the knowledge that I will one day do something awful to her. However, she has so far proven so resilient that I know whatever I will eventually do will be the worst thing I have ever done to anyone. Her destruction will probably also be my own, or that of the world. It is a burden on our happiness.

But Erica continues on, saying she “love[s] [me]”. She is unshakable in this. Sometimes I try to talk her out of it, and she laughs, kisses me, and says, “You’re silly.” This enrages me.

In aid of her own dark motives, she is willfully ignorant about what an awful person I am. It makes me nervous. When is the judgment coming? Enough cat-and-mouse.

What does Erica see in me? As I long ago noted, nobody else likes her. I only ran into her a few times in the past year, but each time she seemed more and more pleased to see me. It soon became apparent that, if she had had a cap, it would have been set for me. Generally, I can tell when women like me, but only if I don’t like them. Desperate, distasteful women are easy to read. Whereas the sleek, surly Sphinxes I often admire are professionally incapable of a facial expression. Their self-satisfied sang-froid is a turn-on for me, but it’s an indication that they don’t really get turned on by anything. Which makes the relationships somewhat doomed.

Erica, on another hand, is probably the most acceptable woman ever to live whom I actually could figure out. It remains a mystery to me why she was on the loose. I don’t think our time together will end with my discovering her horrific secret, either. She is just too good for this world. Which makes it all the more maddening that she should pick me, the Gimlet Hamlet, as her swain. I worry about it. I really can’t enjoy the experience as I should.

The other day, as we were nestled on her sofa in her apartment that is much nicer than mine, especially because I never slept with anybody else in it, I was worrying about this. It was late after a day of doing couple things, the way couples in the street do them to your dismay. It had involved a museum and a café. She had my head in her lap and was stroking my hair absently as she one-handedly graded papers from the class she is T.A.-ing. (She is upwardly mobile.) I would not normally place my head gently in a woman’s lap any more than I would put it in the lion’s den. Erica is, by nature, soothing. I just lay there staring up at her breasts, which were soothing. I closed my eyes and tried to think about how to pose the question. It is the question humanity has always asked: why am I here?

I angled my head to try to catch her eye, somewhere behind her breasts, but without suggesting, by moving, that I wanted her to stop the soothing touching of me. I was counting on her soothing touching of me to cure me of my ills, if continued for the next forty centuries. “Erica,” I said tentatively.

“Mmmm, yes, dear,” she said, making quick marks on her page with a chewed pen. Dear.

“I don’t want to interrupt,” I hedged. She smiled down at me over her glasses and her breasts, and tousled my hair again. She put her sheaf to one side and bent down to soothe and smother. We kissed, during which I thought more about how to phrase it. I said, “I wanted to ask you something.” I thought it was wrong to ask this sort of thing perpendicular to the person you were asking it of; I didn’t want this couch to be Freudian, so I sat up. I put my arm around her in order to keep the reassuring contact and she interpreted that as an invitation to sink down to put her head in my lap. I couldn’t very well ask her in that position either. I patted her head and face for a while and then thought of a gambit that would involve rearranging ourselves: “Shall I make us a nightcap?”

“Oh, Jack, I think I’ve had enough. I have to get up early.”

I kept touching her head while she smiled at me sleepily. Her inability to be constantly doomed was always a strategic difficulty. I was used to girls who flipped out at the least sign of dissent, such as if you didn’t think Milan Kundera was the era’s most insightful sage. It was second nature to me to push their buttons. Every time you pressed Erica’s buttons a little sign would light up saying, “I Love You”. I said, “I wanted to ask you something.”

“So you said. What is it?”

“Can you sit up a minute?”

She sat up. “What’s wrong?” She took my hand. “Are you all right?”

She was squeezing my hand and I was beginning to feel unwell based only on the unnecessary drama I had built into this scene. I stuttered and looked around the room. When I looked back, I saw there were tears moving down her face.

“Why are you crying?”

“I don’t know,” she sobbed, and bowed her head in shame. “I don’t know; you won’t tell me!”

I quickly took her into my arms. “There’s no reason to cry, it’s nothing like that.”

“I’m sorry if I’ve done something wrong,” she said over my shoulder.

“You haven’t done anything wrong,” I said.

“Oh God,” she said. It hadn’t made her feel better.

But I was teaching her to be doomed. It was not even on purpose.

I said, “You know I love you,” and I kept holding her. “I just wanted to ask you something. Not about you, or about ‘us’; just about me.”

She wiped her nose on her sleeve, while she held onto me. “What do you mean.”

“I just wanted to know why you liked me,” I said. I traced some patterns on the back of her sweater, bumping back and forth across the bulge of the bra clasp.

She leaned against me in silence for a moment, then she giggled. She pulled back to look at me. Her tear-stained face was grinning. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she laughed.

“I just wonder why you like me. An answer doesn’t come immediately to mind. I know the answer to why most girls like me — they don’t.”

“Awww,” she said, and put her hand on my shoulder. “Because you’re the perfect boy,” she said. “Or you would be, if you knew it.”

“That’s corny,” I said.

“It’s true,” she said. I wasn’t sure if anything corny could be true. I was brought up to believe more in dissipated, jaded, Tallulah Bankhead sorts of truth. “Be more specific,” I suggested.

“Because you are smart,” she said, “and funny, and kind.”

“You’re putting me on. Taking the last accusation first: kind? Kind of what?

Erica swung around to sit in my lap. “You don’t have to be afraid of being a normal person,” she said. “It’s possible to just be a normal person and be happy.”

“I dunno,” I said suspiciously.

“I’m proud of you, Jack,” she said. “I’m proud to be with you.”

“Hmmm,” I said. “All right, well, thank you. Let’s go to bed now.”

So there you have it: the only woman on Earth who doesn’t understand Jack Task is now dating him. The very thought of him is enough to make her chest swell with pride — not that it needs it.

by Jack, 2:24 PM | Link | Comments (4) | More from Erica | More from Women

Monday, January 31, 2005

She hate me, she hate me not

Stepping backwards in the narrative for a moment, after Kerry and I parted ways on Thanksgiving in the Wilds of Park Avenue, I anticipated the beginning of a radio silence between us, the length of which would be unknown. I had abandoned writing it all up for Paper magazine before the end of the cab ride home. I knew Kerry’s cab would be going in the same direction until it angled over some bridge or other. It made me feel like a low-down heel. I am bad at hitting on the girls I actually like. My only consolation is that there are so few of them.

The next morning/afternoon, I attended a one-off product shoot with the agency I’ve been freelancing for. I was shooting chromes but I wasn’t hungover, and I thought they’d be all right. With chromes the lighting has to be just so, and the last thing I want when I’m hungover is to add light to the room I’m in. That was one benefit of the previous evening ending early. Lately, there are only three possibilities: something goes wrong with the girl, and you leave early; you spend all night drinking with some girl until you can’t even get it up; you spend all night drinking with some girl but more or less can still get it up when it is finally required. Two out of three of those involve drinking yourself into a stupor, for those keeping score. They are bad for shooting chromes. Your only hope of escape is for the girl not to like you, which happens only if you’ve chosen her with extreme care.

After my usual three-hour day, I swung by the liquor store and then home. Since I had skipped a day of drunkenness, I thought I’d celebrate. As the magnum of Stoli was chilling in the freezer, I checked my answering machine and found that, against the expectations of the handicappers, Kerry had in fact already called. She said this:

“Jack, hi, it’s Kerry, it’s just about four o’clock. Look, sorry about last night. I just wanted to say I’m glad you invited me — made me go, really, but it was fun to see you and I’m sorry about losing my temper at the end. I know you weren’t actually offering me money for sex. Or I think I know. Anyway, let’s get together soon, this week, okay? Call me. Bye.”

I poured myself an unchilled vodka and thought about the ramifications of this call, and my receiving of it. It was perhaps the most monumental communication I had ever heard. It was not eloquently worded, well-delivered, or recorded at an especially high fidelity (Neil Young, for example, refuses to leave answering machine messages until 24-bit recording reaches the home), but it shook the foundations of most of what I understood about modern society. To wit:

I also was sensitive to the subtextual reading that Kerry’s objection to my suggestion of money for sex was the money part, which is not the usual problem, and something I felt I could work with. Will you be surprised to know that I picked up the phone and dialed this woman’s number? Let me add another shocking bullet point to the litany:

With admirable casualness, we made a date for Saturday night, the day of the week historically reserved for the heaviest of dates*. I put my glass in the freezer with the rest of my supply and lay down on the couch to think about what I could have possibly done right. I had been pursuing Kerry in a haphazard way for the better part of my New York gigolo life. Many had tried to determine the source of my mindless attraction to her, though the smart money seemed to be on “dark hair, big tits, knee boots, not particularly friendly”. No one was mystified as to the source of hers to me: there was none. But now I was suddenly seeming to get through to her. In the intervening years, she must have dated every other man in New York. Now it was me or nothing. I had to make sure she chose me.

Kerry. I thought about her. I decided I needed her. Stay tuned.

* Thursday is for dating strangers, because there’s no pressure, since everyone has to get up early. Friday is for dating friends, because you can stay out all night but can’t spend all day preparing for it. Saturday is for when you want to get it on, and then wander around in a love daze all Sunday afternoon to the scorn of everyone else on the island.**

** I feel I have taught you too much in this post. Shooting chromes, the possible ends of an evening, the nature of modern society, which days of the week mean what. I hope you appreciate it, but in the end it’s not fair to all the blogs that only talk about what DVDs somebody bought. In the future I will be less educational, though it will mean the loss of my grant from the Corporation for Public Blogcasting and viewers like yo mama.

by Jack, 9:16 PM | Link | Comments (2) | More from Drinking & Women | More from Kerry

« December 2004 | Home | February 2005 »