The house always wins

Published on Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Hey man, what it is.

This morning we saw the documentary Amercian Casino, the fifth selection of this round of the Brattle Theatre’s Sunday Eye-Opener. (I’ve really enjoyed heading out each Sunday morning to watch a film I know nothing about. The pastries, often homemade, are also a treat.) It attempts to illustrate the causes and effects of the current subprime mortgage crisis, both from the Wall Street perspective and through the stories of people struggling to keep their homes, mostly in Baltimore. It shed light on just how specifically many subprime lenders targeted African American communities, and it illustrated the ripple effects of foreclosures on neighborhoods in more affluent Stockton, California, where pools left untended swarm with mosquito larvae, debris in yards becomes ideal nesting ground for rodents, and vacant homes are turned into meth labs and grow houses.

As I watched the film, I couldn’t help comparing (unfavorably) it to the joint NPR-This American Life episode “The Giant Pool of Money.” That show did an strikingly better job of explaining how and why the financial crisis happened, and it connected the dots between the Wall Street banks and the people who’ve lost their homes — via the chain of mortgage brokers and bankers and the mistaken assumption that real estate value only ever went up. The radio story just held together in a way that the film’s couldn’t, which might have been due to better editing or a stronger point of view — but also because it didn’t (seemingly intentionally) obfuscate the story with a lot of scrolling screens of financial data and disparate talking heads.

It felt like January

Published on Sunday, September 13th, 2009

A year ago this weekend, I woke up late and shuffled into my office with a mug of the fragrant and wonderful coffee Doug had made and checked my email, flipped through my RSS feed. It was a cool mid-September weekend morning, and I was feeling pretty good about things in the main. I was listening to NPR, and heard that David Foster Wallace had hung himself. And everything got strange there for a few moments: my forehead shrunk into a confused frown as the room around me receded, and my stomach hurt and there wasn’t enough air, where was the air? Then some tears, and I told Doug, and felt stupidly over-emotional plus kind of morbid, and then some cinders worked their way into my circulatory system and the hurt made itself at home.

My memory of that morning was that it was so bitter-cold. Wasn’t it in winter?

Hearing that David Foster Wallace had left meant learning to accept that he’d never, ever write anything else. And that all the things that he’d really tried so hard, over and over, to combat the Big Bad weren’t enough. Being scarily brilliant and gifted and talented was no help, and — maybe, could it be possible — it had made it worse.

And suddenly someone whose writing had connected me to being alive and staying that way during extended seasons of bleak was suddenly just gone. I felt awful for days and days, down deeper than I’d been for quite some time. And I felt stupid for grieving so much for the loss of someone I’d never even met. But I think he was about as honest as any writer I’ve encountered. And the smart but broken kid inside me felt like she’d found a distant cousin who’d battled through the worst of it and knew a way out. But then he left.

In general, I don’t feel hysterical when famous people, people I don’t know, die. As shitty as Kurt Cobain’s suicide was, I mostly felt furious at him for abandoning his daughter like that. And I do think that Elliott Smith should have stuck around a lot longer. But I didn’t feel anything about the news of Michael Jackson’s death except, “OK, hm, too bad, but man the brouhaha is going to be worse than all that nonsense surrounding Princess Diana.” And Walter Cronkite’s passing seemed like the dignified end to a long, productive, meaningful life.

It’s only in the past couple of weeks that I could even entertain the thought of picking up one of David Foster Wallace’s books. Spurred by Jen’s description of Oblivion, I decided I could at least try. Last week on the train, I read that shattering section of “Good Old Neon” where the narrator’s describing his suicide plan:

I had decided to take a whole lot of Benadryl and then just as I got really sleepy and relaxed I’d get the car up to top speed on a rural road way out in the extreme west suburbs and drive it head-on into a concrete bridge abutment.

And then, I got off the train and turned my iPod back on to Fred and Ginger Hussalonia, and heard the lyric, “But I’m at the neon now, and I’m driving straight through it.” So I think I need to reread Infinite Jest and just appreciate the hell out of what’s right here.


Published on Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Miss Cookie PyritzRest well, Miss Cookie. You were an amazing dog who brought my mother comfort and companionship during some difficult years. I will miss you so much, and I hope you have already forgotten what pain feels like.

Be all that you can be

Published on Friday, February 27th, 2009

girl 1: would u take us for a ride on your BMW?
BMW-driver: even to the end of the world!
soldier: hey, i’d like to drown some vodka, girls!
girl 1: just a second!
girl 2: where do you live?
soldier: right here- daytime at work, and at night in the clubs!
girl 1: which work???
soldier: contract of course!
blonde girl: contract?? marriage contract or what?
girl 3: army contract, stupid!
BMW driver: hey, don’t you wanna ride in my car?
girls: forget it, take yourself for a ride!
narrator: it’s about time for new heroes! with contract based service in ukrainian armed forces!

Opening bands suck, part million

Published on Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Saturday evening, d. and I went to P.A.’s Lounge to see Travels. They were great, despite Mona Elliott’s admission that she had food poisoning. Not as dramatic as her previous band, Victory at Sea, but the songs were beautiful and she and her boy had chemistry in spades. In fact, their harmonies rivaled — maybe even surpassed — those of John and Exene.

But first, we had to sit through a nearly hour-long set by the execrable duo (plus occasional drummer) Arms and Sleepers.

If they play your town, avoid them at all costs — unless you’re partial to soporific Stereolab wannabes (minus interesting melodies, rhythmic complexity, and artful arrangements). They’re the electronic instantiation of Spinal Tap’s Jazz Odyssey.

I hated their use of fey, superfluous novelty instruments (little xylophone, little accordion, melodica with creepy length of tubing, thumb piano). I hated the keyboardist’s stupid muttonchops and beard and his “oh I am so into this that I just can’t control it” headbanging. I hated the bassist’s near-constant pelvic thrusting. I hated the screen-saver film loops and handheld footage of power lines and trees. I hated their constant twiddling and fiddling with laptops and gadgets. I hate how they only list their own records under “Influences” on their MySpace page and they peddle their merch under “Sounds Like.” And oh, how I hate the band bio d. dug up:

Arms and Sleepers started one night in the back of an ambulances destined for Hampton Road in Boston’s South Side. In an alleyway a man was bleeding with a cassette player in hand, the play button still on. What sounded like recordings of a gospel choir blared from the tin speaker while down the street, a jazz band could be heard. The man was dying. He dropped the cassette player on the cement and closed his eyes, the sound carrying through the air into his ears for one last time. Though this moment in time died with him, his cassette lived on, and Arms and Sleepers was born.

They must be stopped.