Monthly Archives: February 2008
is that they're all written by novelists. The amount of creativity and perception it takes to write a 500-page, made-up story requires a few lifetimes' worth of isolation and social rejection, and novels are always full of vivid descriptions of the sheer horror of interactions with others.
The other book I read when I was in Amsterdam was 'Out Stealing Horses', an old-school rumination on how your shitty childhood leads to your shitty adulthood, your shitty children, and your shitty death. Sounds pretty perky, huh? It was written by a Norwegian dude named Per Patterson, and is filled with passages like the following, on grocery-store small talk:
People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are. What they do is they fill in with their own feelings and opinions and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and that lets you off the hook.
No one can touch you unless you yourself want them to. You only have to be polite and smile and keep paranoid thoughts at bay, because they will talk about you no matter how much you squirm, it is inevitable, and you would do the same thing yourself.
[...] I'm surprised at how unfilled my shopping baskets have become, how few things I need now that I am alone. I suffer a sudden onset of meaningless melancholy and feel the eyes of the check-out lady on my forehead as I search for the money to pay, the widower is what she sees, they do not understand anything, and it is just as well.
[...] 'Many thanks,' and I am on the verge of tears, for Christ's sake, and go quickly with my purchases in a bag and across to the filling station. I have been lucky. They do not understand a thing.
See how you feel all wistful and empty inside now? Stretch that across 264 pages, and you have the sensation of reading this book. It's tremendous. Seriously.
Fighting, fucking and fantasy may work better in movies, but when it comes to the existential, everyday dread and misanthropy that make up the other 97 percent of our lives, nothing beats a good Scandinavian novel.
I spent an ungodly amount of time in Amsterdam reading in coffee shops (no, not that kind), and one of the highlights was Jonathan Franzen's 'The Discomfort Zone', a book he calls a 'personal history' because, I don't know, 'memoir' would be too Oprah or something. Anyway, the book falls squarely in the genre of 'autobiographies by assholes': Page after sociopathic page of self-justification posing as introspection. You leave the book with an impression of Franzen as a talented, insightful author who you wouldn't want to spend 10 seconds in a room with, and I was mortified to find myself agreeing with the following:
I was enraged about the aftermath of Katrina, too. For a while, that September, I couldn’t go online, open a newspaper, or even take cash from an ATM without encountering entreaties to aid the hurricane’s homeless victims. The fund-raising apparatus was so far-reaching and well orchestrated it seemed quasi-official, like the “Support Our Troops” ribbons that had shown up on half the country’s cars overnight. But it seemed to me that helping Katrina’s homeless victims ought to be the government’s job, not mine. I’d always voted for candidates who wanted to raise my taxes, because I thought paying taxes was patriotic and because my idea of how to be left alone—my libertarian ideal!—was a well-funded, well-managed central government that spared me from having to make a hundred different spending decisions every week. Like, was Katrina as bad as the Pakistan earthquake? As bad as breast cancer? As bad as AIDS in Africa? Not as bad? How much less bad? I wanted my government to figure these things out.
I mean, officially Franzen's being a dick here, but … yeah. The richest government in the world shouldn't have been shaking a jar at its citizens to cover up for its own massive failure. It's touching and amazing that Americans helped out as much as they did after Katrina, but shit, part of me wishes we would have refused en masse, and instead spent our donation money on spray paint, picket signs and printing out disobedient pdfs.
- Oh wow, they're not checking liquids at the airport anymore. I wonder if Big Chapstick ever complained about being designated a liquid. "We're a gel, goddammit!"
- The forests in The Netherlands make the horizon line look like one big crewcut.
- I think cars have made us think in straight lines. Cities designed before the invention of the car don't have any right angles. The churches in Antwerp are laid out like a scattered deck of cards.
- Telling people you're going to Amsterdam for the weekend elicits knowing nods and discreet pinched-fingers-to-mouth gestures. I don't get it. Drugs and prostitutes are only marginally more available in Amsterdam than they are in Copenhagen. The fact that I don't do those things here has very little to do with their illegality.
- The only thing more offensive than what the Nazis did to Anne Frank is the fact that every nightclub in Amsterdam charges €.50 to use the bathroom.
- The lamest reason to do anything, whether you're on vacation or not, is 'so I can say I did it.' The worth of an activity should be judged on the activity itself, not some hypothetical recounting. This is the long way of saying, no, I did not have a waffle when I was in Belgium.
- The best and worst thing about traveling by yourself is that you never have to justify yourself to anyone. Feel like having a beer at 9 am? No one's watching. Cigar at noon? Dinner in a crappy Chinese restaurant? Another croissant? You never have to explain yourself, or deal with a friend's scornful 'Dude, are you serious?' when you do this shit on vacation. As nice as it is to exist in this consequence-free Babylon for a few days, it doesn't result in the most constructive behavior.
- As far as I'm concerned, the best argument for drug legalization is that it might separate marijuana, which is a perfectly benign and enjoyable drug, from stoner culture, which is the tackiest and most immature thing ever. Alcohol culture manifests itself differently in every country, from cocktail bars to wine tasting to keggers. Stoner culture, on the other hand, is exactly the same everywhere, and still canonizes things like Bob Marley, glass-blowing and libertarianism.
- Forget the Olympics. The real world competition is between America, Britain and Germany over who can produce the most embarrassing tourists. Amsterdam receives a daily Perfect Storm from all three nations, and after about 10 minutes in the Red Light district, I'm calling it for Britain.
Just like newspapers write obituaries in advance, so they’re ready for quick propping in the event of a celebritragedy, most editors have a stable of headlines ready for certain events. I used to work with an editor in Seattle who was rooting for an earthquake on the Horn of Africa, just so he could finally put ‘Shake Djibouti’ on the front page.
From 'Baracktail' to 'Probama,' this campaign season has already been a rhyming, vowely gift to headline writers around the world. I have a feeling the fun’s just starting, though, and I’ll bet dollars to dipthongs we’ll see at least a few of the following if Obama wins:
- If Obama is pictured in winter: ‘The Obamanable Snowman’ (or, if more revelations about Obama’s youthful drug use surface, ‘The Obamanable Blowman.’)
- If foreign leaders are initimidated by the new president: ‘Baracknophobia’
- If Obama is pictured riding a donkey: ‘Barack That Ass Up’
- If Obama actually does turn out to be a Muslim: ‘Say it Hussein't So’
- If you need a one-word headline, possibly with exclamation point: Any word that ends with an 'oh' sound (watch: Throwbama, Doughbama, Crowbama, 'Mobama, Kosovobama, Alamobama, etc. The options are Obamabundant.)
- If Obama goes to the Middle East: ‘Barack The Kasbah’
- If Obama sucks up to the Israel lobby: ‘Schlomobama’
- Or, if Obama supports a Palestinian state: ‘PLObama’ (Shall we take bets on which Fox Newser will use that one first? It's a good thing 'NAMBLAbama' doesn't have the same ring to it)
- If the First Lady steps into a policy dispute: ‘Michelle to the No’
- If voters find themselves developing crushes on their president: ‘Hussein in The Membrane’
You know that scene in ‘Traffic’, where Benicio del Toro is selling out to the Americans, and they tell him ‘You should be proud of what you’re doing for your country’ and he says ‘I feel like a traitor’? That’s exactly how I feel every time I have to wear a suit.
My work rocks, and I usually just wear whatever I can yank, kicking and stinking, from the ass-end of my clothes-mountain. Activities such as showering, shaving and grooming are strictly optional, a privilege that fits rather perfectly into my ‘No Hygiene Til 30’ policy.
Until last week. On Friday we had some important meeting with some important executive dude, and a collar, belt and slacks were mandatory textiles. I spent an afternoon erranding in central Copenhagen, and this is the best I could come up with.
I spent most of the meeting feeling like I was part of some kind of live, boardroom Dungeons & Dragons, and the minute we were done, I bounced home, changed into some Essex-caliber track pants and resumed my spilling, drooling, K-Marting existence for the rest of the weekend.
How do people dress up like this every day?
Is anyone else getting hella sick of Banksy?
In case you missed the 'Marmaduke'-deep subtext here, this is a painting of people lining up to buy a shirt that says 'Destroy Capitalism' on it. Get it? They're buying a shirt with an anti-capitalist message on it! This is as motherfucking ironic as 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife.
For those of you who don't know, Banksy is the latest artist to capture the incredibly limited imaginations of auction-bidders, gallery-rats and museum curaterati the world over. He appears to have done this solely through the repetitive overboiling of the one concept he understands: Irony.
Oh my fucking God that dove symbolizes peace but that bulletproof vest du'int!
In case there is anyone in the sighted world who doesn't understand the profound juxtaposition here, Banksy has added a helpful sniper-sight to the dove, to really achieve the work's full tell-don't-show splendor.
None of this would bother me if Sucksy wasn't so fucking famous. Everything he does (like vandalizing a Paris Hilton album cover – way to really slaughter those sacred cows, Banks) is greeted by RSS-clogging news alerts detailing the new facets of his shimmering genius. It's like being notified every time your 14 year old cousin writes in her diary.
Has anyone not looked at those kids wearing the Che Guevara T-shirts and thought 'you're a consumer, too, pal'? Heaven forbid an artist comment on this in a meaningful way, rather than just shallowly pointing out the first thing that pops into everyone's mind when they see goths at the supermarket. Banksy is like the amateur anarchist at your high school, pissed off at everything from government corruption to soggy cafeteria-fries, but incapable of doing anything more interesting than spray-painting his name on some street signs.
Oh, and the price of the last Banksy painting that sold at auction? $205,000. Now that's ironic.
Who was the first ex you stalked on a social networking Website? What Zip code were you in when you gave or received your most regrettable handjob? What song was playing when you got your first slow-dance boner? Which religion do you think is the stupidest? Describe, in detail, the moment you realized that your first relationship had curdled into co-dependency. Which pre-1900 novel do you continue to claim that you've read? Which political figure would you celebrate the assassination of? What is the biggest lie on your resume? Which dysfunctional personality trait do you most blame on your mother? If you had to compare your genitalia to a character from a Pixar film, who would it be?
Who was the first ex you stalked on a social networking Website?
What Zip code were you in when you gave or received your most regrettable handjob?
What song was playing when you got your first slow-dance boner?
Which religion do you think is the stupidest?
Describe, in detail, the moment you realized that your first relationship had curdled into co-dependency.
Which pre-1900 novel do you continue to claim that you've read?
Which political figure would you celebrate the assassination of?
What is the biggest lie on your resume?
Which dysfunctional personality trait do you most blame on your mother?
If you had to compare your genitalia to a character from a Pixar film, who would it be?
It appears that the world's longest round of 'Are You Smarter Than a Suburban Danish Policeman?' is finally over. I got a buzz and a knock this morning, accompanied by a grocery bag heavy with my laptop and a Medusa of router, modem and power cords.
'We hope you're telling the truth,' the Grande cop said.
'You really should secure your wireless connection,' said Venti.
I wholeheartedly agree, and plan to spend the afternoon reconnecting the various bands, broad and otherwise, to my Criminal Command Center. I'm making sure my network is teenager-proof from now on, and I'll set my password to something like 'Electric Light Orchestra' to make sure they can never crack it.
Secure Your Wireless: Naming your network 'Oi! Unhand my shit!' is apparently not enough.
Push The Cops to Do Your Bidding: On Monday, a friend told me, 'In Scandinavia, the police won't do anything unless you make them do it.' Since then, I've called the Hvidovre Police every morning, serving up a jumbalaya of pleas, righteous half-truths ('I work from home!)' and requests for managers in an attempt to kick-start their IT department. I was always nice during these calls, but the whole world knows that there is nothing more obnoxious than a 1.5-lingual American calling you all the time. Even invoking the spectre of our customer-servicely wrath tends to get things moving.
It's Not All Bad: Yes, the Danish police de-Internetted me for 10 days. But they also found my stolen wallet last week, sans cash, and sent it back to me. And once helped me up when I drunkenly Howard Hughes'd into a wall on my bike. And let me off the hook sometimes. This whole incident was the universe correcting my cop-karma.
Seriously, Secure Your Frapping Wireless: For Hell, I'm not gonna forget this one anytime soon.