Two Words: Jeff Ellis
Sunday, February 29, 2004
  Well, I just watched the second film of my vacation. Once again using the wonderful technology of DVD, I watched the criminally underrated The Long Riders, a Western from 1980 that retells the familiar story of the James/Younger gang. It was directed by Walter Hill, a brilliant director who, for some reason, has never had an exactly brilliant career. Hill makes genre pictures -- mostly action -- that feature deceptively simple plots and male-dominated casts; actors who, at first, seems to be playing typical action archetypes but, as the film progresses, slowly and subtly are revealed to be a neurotic, vulnerable mess. A typical Walter Hill hero no longer looks like a hero by the end of the film which is probably why Hill has never built up the type of following that the makers and stars of less exciting films have developed. Admittedly, Hill's career has been spotty. On the whole, any Walter Hill film featuring a box office star is bound to be disappointing -- Last Man Standing, starring Bruce Willis, being a prime example. For whatever reason, a movie star simply does not make the same type of existential warrior that a character actor does. Luckily, The Long Riders is filled with character actors.

In fact, the film's cast is what most people know about the film, if they know anything. The James/Younger gang robbed banks in the years after the Civil War and their bond came not from crime but from the fact that they were family -- Jesse and Frank James and their cousins, the Youngers. In the film, all of the various brothers are played by actual brothers. Stacy and James Keach are Frank and Jesse James, David, Keith, and Robert Carradine are the Youngers, and two other gang members (Clell and Ed Miller) are played by Randy and Dennis Quaid. As gimmicky as this sounds, it actually works on film and it doesn't hurt that all of these siblings happen to be excellent actors who effortlessly create a brilliant ensemble. Indeed, one of the unexpected pleasures of the film is the chance to see Randy Quaid and Robert Carradine -- two talented and versatile actors who have recently become trapped by stereotypical comedic roles -- give full-blooded, naturalistic performances. (Quaid is surprisingly intimidating if you only know him as Cousin Eddie from the Vacation movies.)

Along with the cast, The Long Riders features what -- along with Heat -- must be one of the greatest bank robbery sequences ever to appear in celluloid. This is a recreation of the climatic (and unsuccessful) attempt to rob the Northfield National Bank in Minnesota and, as the gang desperately rides their horses in circles in a vain attempt to escape the ambush that has been waiting for them, it is impossible not to feel that same combination of fear, dread, and exhilaration that probably fueled men like Jesse James in the first place. One should be warned, this is a remarkably violent film and this is real violence -- i.e., when somebody dies, nobody has the time or the wit necessary to come up with a one-liner to commemorate the occasion. When people get hurt in this film (and other Hill films), they don't shrug it off once the scene ends. While, on occasion, Hill's habit of filming every bullet wound in slow motion may seem like a rather obvious homage (or rip-off) from Sam Peckinpah, Hill creates a sense of empathy for his quirky, not-always sympathetic protagonists that Peckinpah rarely bothered with.

In the end, all of this makes The Long Riders one of the best films to ever be forgotten. I'm glad I took the time to remember it. 
  Well, I am now officially into the second day of my vacation. Yes, that's right, it turns out that at some point in late December, I scheduled my second paid vacation (I have one left for future use) for the last week in February/first week of March of 2004. It was something I did on a whim (as the Christmas season is probably the most stressful time to be working in retail and, that night, I didn't know how to manage my store after 12 midnight but I sure as Hell knew that I needed a vacation) and it was something I ended up forgetting I had done a week later. So, apparently, did my bosses and we were all quite shocked when, on Thursday, we were doing a routine check on payroll (to see how much overtime had been clocked up the previous work week) and we discovered that I was scheduled to be on vacation during the upcoming week.

As the old mystic once said, sometimes life is good and sometimes life just kicks ass!

Even better, on Sunday morning (with only seconds left before I would clock out and begin my week of compensated slacking), Rusty called all the department leads, assistant managers, and night managers (myself and a 300 lbs. guy who we'll just refer to as Sloth) into his office for a conference call with the evil Trent, our district manager. (Perhaps Trent isn't literally evil but then again, he could very well be.) Our new store manager will be coming in on Monday. That was the entire announcement -- Trent hung up before anyone could ask any questions so we don't know this person's name, their experience, or even their sex! In short, any jerk that walks into the store on Monday could be the new store manager. Never will so many anonymous asses be kissed and fawned over than will be in Wal-Mart Store #2974 on Monday! And the great part of it is, I'm on vacation so I won't have to be there while everyone else has a nervous break down and even better, when this new manager is making his or her first examples in order to establish his or her fearful wrath or authority -- I won't be there! Everyone agrees that this new manager is going to make heads roll (if just because the evil Trent apparently told Charlie -- right after firing him -- that "I'm going to have to replace you with someone who knows how to make heads roll.") and luckily, my head will be nowhere near the guillotine for at least a week!

So, what have I done so far with my vacation? I slept through most of Saturday though I did wake up long enough to watch 28 Days Later on DVD (this was a Christmas present -- one of many presents that I hope to find time to watch this week). It was only my second time to see the film and I was somewhat shocked to find that it was just as disturbing on repeat viewings (though a lot of the film's humor -- missed in the original barrage of shocks -- was much more apparent and appreciated the second time around). I also grew more convinced that, for the first two thirds for the movie's running time, this was indeed one of the best, most intelligent horror films ever made. For me, the film falls apart once our band of survivors reach Manchester and the random, senseless hatred of the Infected is replaced by the much more conventional, almost comic book villainy of Maj. West and his soldiers. Though Chris Eccleston's performance as West was a truly brilliant one, it was also one that belonged in a totally different movie. Still, even if I didn't care that whole section of the film, it was still brilliantly shot and acted and, if it diluted from the effectiveness of the film as a whole, it still did nothing to diminish the power of the first half.

After I watched the film, I caught the infamous alternate ending that came with certain prints of the movie. This ending is a bit more bleaker than the ambiguously positive ending that completes the final film and actually, it's a bit more realistic as well and certainly it better fits into the whole theme of survival at any cost. So, from an artistic point of view, the bleaker ending was a better ending but, shit, I still prefer the "official" ending -- even if it does have a similar feel to the infamous green hills tacked onto the end of Blade Runner. Sometimes, aesthetics be damned, the boy just need to get the girl as it were! Besides, the bleak ending worked largely because it made so much logical sense, it was the "only" way the film could have ended. The ambiguously positive ending took a leap of faith to accept when compared to what had preceded it but honestly, the characters were all so appealing and well-played and their story so well told that I think most viewers would have been willing to make that leap. Indeed, bleak endings work the best when you just don't give a shit about any of the characters. (Would Seven have been as acclaimed if, say, it had been Sandra Bullock's head in that box instead of Gwynneth Paltrow's?) Bleak endings tend to reward logic while happy endings reward the emotions and, on the whole, I think logic is a bit overrated. Certainly, in a world ruled by logic, there'd be no art, no films, no books, nothing at all that could be cherished simply for existing.

Right now, I'm cherishing my vacation and the fact that it is raining and the fact that the Oscars are going to be on later tonight. I'm cherishing that yesterday, I got a package from my publisher and I opened it and looked down upon several author copies of my first book. I'm cherishing that it's being read somewhere, I'm cherishing that I have more books to write (perhaps over the course of this very week), and I'm cherishing the fact that I'm alive and I'm me.

Why would I need anything else? 
Friday, February 27, 2004
  For all the bitching I do about it, I have actually grown to enjoy my job. In fact, it's kind of strange for me to realize that less than a month ago, I was seriously planning on just walking out of the store one night and never returning. Now -- with Charlie getting fired and everyone of us "managers" currently either scheming to get our rivals fired while holding onto our own possitions or running around in a blind panic like Roberto Begnini with a Texas Drawl or somehow doing both at the same time, I honestly couldn't imagine voluntarily turning my back on all this melodrama. When I enter that store and clock in, it's like being immediately transported into the world of some overheated work of post-World War II pulp fiction. I've noticed that most of the managers even tend to talk in forced, hardboiled cliches -- as if Sam Spade suddenly found himself managing a Wal-Mart and, just as suddenly, found out that Dashiell Hammett wouldn't be providing him his dialogue any more; that now it would be up to Sam Spade to sound like Sam Spade based just on what he thought Sam Spade should sound like. To use an expression of my youth, it's a trip.

And I'm going to be very, very honest and open myself to a lot of potential humiliation here by admitting that there's another reason why I love those first few hours right after I first clock in. Ever since I broke up with my fiancee back in 2001, I've been cynical about the whole idea of romance and attraction and flirtation and love, sex, and all the rest. While I have never believed that love doesn't exist and that there are lots of happy and lucky couples out there, I also came to the conclusion that I was probably destined to never know that type of commitment. After all, I was truly in love with my fiancee, I was sincere when I asked her to marry me, and a few months later, I broke up with her because -- love and happiness be damned -- the idea of seeing the same person's face every morning for the rest of my life just seemed so damn monotonous. In short, I figured that I was too much of a narcissist, that I treasured my own indpendence and free will too much, that I was too much of an artist (Right now, somebody reading this blog is muttering, "Maybe you're just too much of an asshole.") to ever maintain a real relationship. So, I gave up on the idea of real relationships and, if I ever did find myself in a relationship with a female, I made sure it was dominated by the physical aspects, that I never one made the mistake of saying something the real me would have actually said, and -- most importantly -- I made sure these relationships never lasted more than a night, a week at most. A superficial experience but I'd decided that's what I was destined for.

And what a crock of shit all of that is turning out to be. There's a new cashier at work, about two years older than me. She's a single mother who has got one of the most beautifully sincere smiles I've ever seen. She's a brunette, 5'5, slim but still remarkably athletic for someone heading towards her mid-thirties whose already had two children. Anyway, can you tell that -- for all my attempts to be tough and self-loathing and cynical and tragic (yes, always tragic. Bullshit artists always want to be Hamlet and Romeo rolled up into one super tragic hero), I have basically somehow developed what can only be called a crush (and I mean that with all of its unrealistic, downright immature connontations) on this cashier, to the point that I've started to resemble Michael Caine, earnestly yet paheticly lusting after Barbara Heshey in Hannah and Her Sisters. Honestly, when I'm flirting with this cashier (or Hell, even just saying hi to her when I first get to work), I feel like I'm back in junior high, sitting the school cafeteria and feeling my heart beating in my chest at just the thought that my favortie girl might walk by, look at me, and say something that would make me feel like someone other than myself.

And strangely enough, it's a damn good feeling regardless of the outcome. 
Thursday, February 26, 2004
  Okay, now seems as good a time as any to waste a few words on this whole constitutional definition of marriage thing. This is something I'd been avoiding going into but I don't have any choice now as 1) the Republicans, apparently looking to prove that Howard Dean ain't the only self-destructive guy in American politics, seem to be intent on making an issue out of this and 2) I noticed that several other blogs have tossed in their two cents and my competitive side demands I respond by tossing in a quarter.

First off, you should understand that the only thing I oppose more than homosexual marriage is heterosexual marriage. And no, I'm not just being glib here. I do not like the idea of any human relationship being "legally" defined by any sort of regualatory body. I do not like the idea that the complexities of individual relationships can be haphazardly straight-jacketed into terms like "alimony," "divorce," or "community property." To me, marriage is like any other relationship between consenting adults -- whether it be a friendship, an affair, or a mutual dislike, the rules and boundaries of that relationship are determined by the individuals involved and when that relationship is over, it's over. Marriage, like anything else, is the result of individual human efforts and individual human desires and bringing a lot of legality into it only serves to deny the fact that human instinct cannot be regulated.

(Just in case anyone was doubting whether or not I was actually a Libertarian...)

Anyway, from the above, you can probably guess that I am not a supporter of this current constitutional admenment defining just what exactly a marriage is. As self-appointed pundits never tire of repeating, the U.S. Constitution has been the governing document of this nation for over 200 years and, in that time, it has required very few changes or additions. The genius of the Constitution is that it is, essentially, an outline. It gives the principles that are meant to govern a democracy like the U.S.A. and sets up the necessary guidelines necessary to keep an ever-changing government from jumping the tracks and reeling out of control. That said, it's also a broad-enough document that it allows room for the people of this country to pass whatever laws that their current situation may warrant -- the only requirement being, of course, that those laws stay within the confines of the outline. It's no coincidence that the majority of admenments added to the constitution have dealt with broadening the rights of the people governed under it to make their voice heard in the democratic process.

In fact, the only consitutional admenment that has proved to be a complete and total failure was one, that like the current possibility before us, designed to not increase the power of the individual but instead to increase the power of the government. That, of course, was prohibition and it was designed to force citizens to accept a certain morality, a certain way of living regardless of what that citizen's own opinions may have been. Prohibition was, of course, a disaster and it was repealed after a decade of, essentially, helping to tear this country apart and essentially, that's the same thing the Defense of Marriage Admenment appears destined to do. It is not the place of the Constitution to declare what is right or wrong. Instead, the Constitution serves to preserve a nation where, whatever jerk might currently be in charge, the individual has the right to decide for himself what is right or wrong and act accordingly and Hell, maybe even change his mind a few days later.

So, in short, I think this current proposed admenment is a terrible idea that not only stands against everything the U.S. Constitution is supposed to signify but I also have to say that I think basing a campaign platform on it will lead only to at least four years of first lady Theresa Heinz Kerry correcting White House visitors on the proper pronunciation of her name.

It's a terrible idea and hopefully, somebody in the White House will be smart enough to discreetly stuff it back into whatever foolish suggestion box it first fell out of. 
  Jesus Christ, my friends, you would not believe the night I just survived at work! All of the managers -- both the salaried ones and the hourly henchmen types (of which I am one, I guess) -- are kinda paranoid right now because two weeks ago, our store manager -- Charlie -- got fired. Charlie got fired because our store is currently making the least amount of profit of any Wal-Mart store on the entire planet. Yes, this means that the Wal-Mart sitting in the middle of the Siberian Tundra in the former Soviet Union is currently showing more of a profit than Wal-Mart store #2974 in Richardson, Texas. So, anyway, Charlie got fired and right now, Rusty -- the personnel manager who always manages to fuck up everyone's schedule regardless of how much effort he puts into not fucking in -- is our Temporary Manager until the new manager transfers over. Now, we don't know who this new manager will be and there's been a lot of rumors and a lot of supposed candidates but the one thing we all know is that this new manager is probably going to be a hardass whose going to come into this store looking to make a few examples out of the most expendable managers and to put the fear of God (or Sam Walton) into whoever he or she might deem worthy to live.

So, basically, all of us managers know that once our new boss shows up, there's a 50-50 chance that we're going to end up getting fired and everyone's pretty scared and worried. Everyone except for me because, quite frankly, I'm beyond the point of taking anything that happens at that store seriously anymore. The fact of the matter is that nobody -- and I mean NOBODY -- at the least profitable store in the company is going to have any realistic chance of ever moving up into higher management. In short, we're all pretty much stuck where we are because no matter what type of job we may do, we're always going to be tainted with a scarlett 2974. For me, the only point to even going after my current position was to use it as a springboard to move up to something that paid more money for less work. If I can't move up, than my job really is kind of pointless and, therefore, I refuse to view anything going on in this current melodrama as little more than an excuse to light up another joint, toss back a few shots of Jack, and laugh at how stupid it all really is.

Or at least, that's what I keep telling myself but I must admit that I did let all the pressure get to me this morning. Basically, Rusty and Mercedes (my immediate superior) walked into the store at 7 a.m. and both of them had a near conniption over the fact that the back storeroom was a bit of a mess. When they confronted me about this, I replied that the storeroom was in no worse a state than the state they left it in when I came to work 12 hours earlier. Strangely enough, they didn't really seem to appreciate my ingenious strategy of blaming the problem on them and they basically told me they didn't want me to go home until the backroom was organized and, to quote Mercedes, "pristine."

At which point I smirked and said, "Y'know you're full of shit, don't you?"

To be honest, I didn't even realize I had said it until I saw the look of pure rage on her face. Even then, I wasn't quite sure. Usually, I'm alert enough to prevent myself from saying outloud the insults I'm thinking whenever I talk to my bosses. But this morning, I was sick and I was also dealing with the effects of having been awake for something like 55-hours straight. In short, my defenses were down and I just said the first thing that popped into my mind.

Which led to me being given a twenty minute lecture about my "attitude" in the manager's office by both Mercedes and Rusty. Mercedes told me that I was one of the strongest middle manager/henchmen types that they had at the weakest store in the Wal-Mart chain but that I was never going to move up from working nights unless I learned "to cut the crap, stop acting like a spoiled child, and be a team player."

And, genius that I am, I again had to open my mouth and say, "I don't think I'd call myself spoiled."

Oh Christ -- Mercedes possessed one truly terrifying power and that is the ability to glare at you for an hour straight, without saying a word, while all the time narrowing her eyes until she literally looks like a serpent about to strike and poision another foolish victim.

For a very long time in that office this morning, I was that other foolish victim. Anyway, long story short, I ended up getting written up for my "bad attitude." No big deal as this happens to me about every three months or so though this time, I refused to help Rusty spell out any of the big words he may have been unsure of, regardless of how many times he asked for my help. Nor did I bother to correct him when he spelled my full name with one F and three llls. Anyway, it took nearly an hour for them to just fill in the one-page form used in write-ups and, by that point, I was fairly pissed off over the amount of my time that had been wasted with this shit and I let them know this by refusing to sign the form and telling them that if it was put into my file, I was going to call and complain to Trent, our district manager (and the same guy who fired Charlie).

So, right now, at least two of my bosses, aren't too happy with me and I'm sure they'll find some way to make me suffer for my "attitude" over the next few days. But fuck it -- in the end, I'll survive and, most importantly, I'll end up laughing. Because, Hell, when all is said and done --


And not even a profitable one at that. 
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
  Well, it finally stopped raining for an hour or so and I stopped wheezing long enough to run down to the Barnes and Noble that, mercifully, sits a block or so away from my house.

While there, I looked through the latest copy of Film Comment and I was very happy to discover that it contained the last interview given by Tim Carey, one of the classic B-movie character actors. Carey was one of those New York-trained method actors who first started appearing in films in the 1950s -- back when Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and James Dean were helping to make New York-trained character actors the "In" thing. Unfortunately, Carey suffered from the same handicap as a lot of idealistic method actors -- he could project the same explosive neurotic energy as Brando, Clift, and Dean but he didn't look anywhere near as good as they did while doing it. So, Carey spent most of his career playing giggling, backwoods sociopaths and -- even by the tame standards of the '50s -- managing to bring a rather disturbing intensity to those roles. Carey is probably best known for two Stanley Kubrick films -- The Killing (in which he shoots a horse with palpable joy) and Paths of Glory in which he plays an unfairly condemned soldier in World War I and whose final breakdown on the way to his execution carries so much power precisely because you're aware that this is Tim Carey, cinema's favorite heartless psychopath, having such a raw, emotionally vulnerable, realistically human reaction to the crimes being committed (for once) against him. However, Carey managed to pop up in hundreds of films up until his death in 1994 and, for the most part, came across as some sort of Deliverance version of Lee Marvin.

Anyway, it was always exciting to see Carey pop up because you never quite knew what little bit of crazed degregation he was going to bring to the screen with him. As such, B-movie fans, like myself, always kind of assumed that Carey was in on the joke, that in real life he was probably a post-ironic sorta guy who knew that his films were flawed and hence, gave winkingly extreme performances as both his way of commenting on those flaws and as a way of giving the filmgoers who forgave those flaws something interesting as a reward for their understanding. In short, we all somewhat niavely assumed that Tim Carey was exactly the way we liked to believe we would be if we were Tim Carey.

Sad to say, the interview proves that we were wrong and for the most part, Tim Carey was just as much of a spaced-out nut as he came across in most of his films. Why this should matter is difficult to explain, mostly because it shouldn't. Carey's performances are still unique and entertaining, regardless of whether he was doing some sort of subversive performance art or rather he was just playing himself. I guess it really gets down to what is at the heart of so many self-appointed, self-taught "film" historians as myself. In the countless hours we spent hiding away in the fantasy worlds that all of the world's movies provided us with, we eventually convinced ourselves that we weren't hiding from the world but instead, we were simply enjoying a private joke that the rest of the world couldn't understand. Hence, it became important to believe that all of the otherwise obscure, otherwise unsuccesful filmmakers whose work we continually escaped into -- the Sam Fullers, the Ed Woods, the Lee Marvins, the Victor Matures, and the Tim Careys -- were also in on the joke. It made us feel a little less alone and, even though I like to think that I've outgrown the self-exile stage of existence, it's still somewhat disheartening to discover that, in at least one case, I was the only one laughing.

That said, the interview did have one interesting tidbit and that was Tim Carey's offhand comment that he was nearly cast in The Godfather as Luca Brasi, the feared Mafia henchman who -- in the film's first truly graphic murder (excluding the whole bit with the horse's head) -- gets garrotted from behind while his eyes literally pop out of his head. At first, this possibility struck me as bizarre -- afterall, The Godfather is one of the greatest movies ever made and, his work with Kubrick aside, Tim Carey simply did not make great films. Add to that, just about every actor who was working in 1971 has claimed, at least once, to have been cast in a supporting role in the Godfather before being forced to withdraw by 1) scheduling conflicts, 2) studio conflicts, 3) integrity conflicts, or 4) conflicts with Marlon Brando (that was Burt Reynolds' excuse for why he didn't end up playing Sonny Corleone).

Still, I'm inclined to believe Carey's story if just on the basis of the fact that, back when he directed The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola was just another film geek who had spent way too much time watching the type of B-movies that always featured Tim Carey in roles like that of Luca Brasi. As well, even if Carey didn't end up with the role (he goes for the 2nd excuse -- studio conflicts), Coppola did fill the film's supporting cast with character actors from the B-movies of the '50s and '60s (Richard Conte as Barzini, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Rudy Bond, and others). I have to admit that one of my more useless hobbies is Godfather trivia, especially where the casting is concerned. I had never before heard about Carey being considered for the Brasi role but, just imagining it, I can honestly say that Carey probably would have done a better job with the role than Lenny Montana, the prowrestler who eventually got the job. Montana is certainly physically menacing but he never quite projects the cunning one would expect from a mafia Don's main enforcer. Carey might have lacked Montana's bulk but still, from the moment he would have appeared on screen, you'd have no doubt that this guy was not only a professional killer but he was also one of the best guys at his job. And, as such, his rather easy elimination by the Don's enemies would have carried even more impact, it would have been much more of a oh-shit-the-Family's-in-real-trouble feeling that the actual scene eventually ended up with.

For the most part, the Godfather is probably one of the best cast films of all time. When you look over the hundreds of names suggested for various roles, you come across a lot of intriguing possibilities (Dean Stockwell as Michael, Martin Sheen as Tom, De Niro as Sonny, Orson Welles as the Don, amongst others) but very rarely do you ever feel that any of these possibilities -- regardless of their own individual talents -- could have done a better job or created a better film than the actors eventually cast.

Tim Carey proves to be the exception to that rule and I know it will be impossible for me, the next time I watch the Godfather, to not find myself wishing I was watching Tim Carey awkwardly giving the Don a gift on the "day of your daughter's wedding" and wishing that Connie's firstborn "be a masculine one." 
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
  Goddamn, I hate being sick! For the past three days, I've been stuck in bed with a terrible cold, spitting up disgusting stuff from my lungs, and having assorted fever dreams -- all of which seem to revolve around work.

But I did get some good news earlier today -- somebody actually bought a copy of my book and I earned my first royalty! Yep, that's right. Other writers may have more readers but I've got $5.48! Take that, Stephen King.

I woke up in time to catch the news episode of 24 which, after being subpar for most of this season, has finally started to get good again. I figured out what the show's tagline should be -- "Jack Bauer: He Kills More People In One Day Than You Will In Your Entire Life." Seriously, has anyone ever bothered to total up just how many people Jack has personally killed over just the three days that have actually been televised? Jesus Christ, if the guy wasn't working for the government, he'd probably be locked up with Manson, Ridgway, and that whole crowd.

And I guess that really is the show's main appeal -- just waiting for the second when Keifer Sutherland will finally reach the point of total exhaustion, drop the whole "just-a-blue-collar-guy-doing-his-job" routine and go totally and completely psycho. 
Sunday, February 22, 2004
  Ralph Nader's running for President, again.


Sorry but it's hard to find much else to say about somebody who has basically spent their entire life telling other people what they should or should not drive, eat, buy, or believe. He'll be running as an Independent this year as opposed to hijacking the Green Party. His main platform seems to be that the Republicans and the Democrats are too much alike. I imagine he'll get a few Deaniacs and probably quite a bit of the Kucinich constituency (assuming ol' Dennis isn't nominated by the Natural Law Party). Otherwise, his campaign will probably go the way of all America's other righteous political crusades, from James B. Weaver and the Populists to George Wallace to John Anderson to H. Ross Perot and the Reform Party. In other words, straight from history in February to being a punchline in November. 
Friday, February 20, 2004
  It's strange the things you see (and hear) when you work nights.

Such as, this morning, around 4:45 am, I was helping my crew zone up aisle #4 when an older gentleman that we call Jimmy Olson walked up to me. Jimmy is in his mid-fifties and he and his wife make some extra money in their retirement by delivering copies of the Dallas Morning News to area stores. He's a genuinely nice guy and I'm always glad when he shows up with his invoice for me to sign because genuinely nice guys are a rare thing when you're on the night shift.

Anyway, Jimmy asks me if I know about the fire across the street.

"Uh, no..." I say.

"Yeah," he says, "I think the Exxon station across the street is on fire. Come look at the parking lot."

So, Jimmy and I stepped outside and immediately, I was hit by the acrid odor of something burning. The second thing I noticed was that the parking lot was filled with smoke. At first, I was worried that my store was on fire but it quickly became apparent that all this smoke was drifting over from the gas station directly across the street from us.

"Have you seen any fire trucks, yet?" I asked.

"Nope. It must have just started because there wasn't any smoke when I pulled up," Jimmy replied.

With that, I went back inside the store. I glanced down at my watch. 4:50 pm. Ten more minutes before the final break of the night. As I walked back to the aisle, I was silently cursing because I was sure that I'd probably end up having to call the fire department and my break would be sacrificed to this latest little melodrama.

I went back to zoning, careful not to mention anything about the fire to my crew as I didn't want to give them an excuse to stop working. Well, five minutes or so later, we suddenly heard a BOOM! coming from across the street. The cans of soup on the shelf in front of me literally vibrated with the sound.

Kenneth, a crew veteran, asked, "Did you hear something?"

"No," I said, standing up and resigned to having to call 911, "Didn't hear a thing."

Suddenly, Jimmy runs back on the aisle. "Jeff!" he says, sounding like a 13 year-old whose just discovered a dirty magazine hidden out behind the schoolhouse, "Come look at it now!"

So, Jimmy and I ran back out to the parking lot. The smoke was even thicker but it couldn't obscure the fact that there was now a literal inferno raging right across the street from the store. We stood there, speechless, for a few seconds, just watching as the deep red flames raged into the sky.

"Shit," I muttered.

"Well, howdy," Jimmy commented and so entrancing was the fire that the oddness of Jimmy's remark didn't even dawn on me until just now when I typed it.

Just as those words left Jimmy's mouth, I heard the wail of sirens heading down the street. I breathed a sigh of relief. Somebody else had called 911.

I went back inside and called break at which point, my entire crew ran outside and watched as dozens of firetrucks, ambulances, and police cars skidded up to the sight. We spent our final 15 minutes standing outside in the parking lot, choking on smoke, and being hypnotized by the odd beauty of that fire. As I smoked my last few cigarettes, I listened to my crew speculate on what had started the fire. Insurance scam seemed to be the consensus choice though one lonely night stocker held out for terrorist attack.

When we got back from break, the fire was still raging and soon, along with the sirens, we could hear multiple helicopters circling over the scene. As each one flew over our store, the shelves rattled and the merchandise we were working so hard to make look good and buyable did an awkward little jig for us.

Around six a.m., my cell phone rang. I answered it. It was my mother, frantic because she had just woken up, turned on the TV, and seen a news report about a fire raging out of control on the corner of Buckingham and Plano.

"You're not in the fire, are you?" she asked me.

"Yeah, mom," I replied as a hazy layer of smoke seeped into the store from the parking lot, "I'm burning up right now."

Sad to say, she didn't find my reply as amusing as I did.

Anyway, by the time I clocked out and left the store (this was around 7:45 a.m.), the fire was out but the street was still a jungle of fire trucks and police cars. (The ambulances were gone and I sincerely hope this meant there was no need for them and not that they were currently rushing horribly burned gas station attendants to the nearest hospital.) And the Exxon that has sat across the street from my store since the day the store opened, the Exxon that was actually a year or two older than me, was just a smoldering ruin. Staring at those remains, I realized the true tragedy of the situation as that was the gas station where I used to buy cigarettes before heading on to work.

Somehow, though, we will survive. 
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
  As goes Wes Clark, so goes Howard Dean.

Actually, it's incorrect to say that Howard Dean has ended his campaign. Technically, he suspended it. His name will remain on upcoming primary ballots and, even as he was conceding, he asked his supporters to vote for him in the upcoming primaries in order to assure that that convention would be filled with "progressive delegates." Of course, should Kerry falter, these "progressive delegates" might be willing to cast their ballots for Howard Dean (or help to make Dean a power broker should the convention end up deadlocked) but that's really neither here nor there, right, Doc? All for the people, right? Yeah, whatever, Howard. How much of your obviously sincere supporter's money did you blow just so you could make a complete fool out of both yourself and them when you lost in Iowa?

Anyway, as far as quasi-concession speeches go, Dr. Dean's speech wasn't extremely memorable but, at the same time, he didn't descend into the depths of poor-wonderful-misunderstood-underappreciated-me pathos that has come to dominate so much of Democratic oratory since the Clinton years. He rehashed all the typical buzzwords used by flakes of the Leftist persuasion -- "grassroots," "extreme right-wing agenda," "progressive," and of course "Vermont," but those of us expecting him to turn into some sort of a liberal version of 1988's version of Bob Dole were disappointed except for one bizarre comment he made about New Hampshire -- the content of which was so bizarre that I can't even quote it here (though the gist of it seemed to be that Vermont rules and New Hampshire sucks) -- which Dean quickly followed up with a somewhat sarcastic-sounding, "Wait a minute. We did pretty good in New Hampshire..." For just a few brief seconds, you could hear the undercurrent of a self-righteous threat in his voice and you were reminded of the Howard Dean who practically promised to nuke Iowa off the face of the Earth following the caucuses.

So, now Dean's gone and everyone can really play the "What-the-FUCK-happened!?" game in earnest. The answer, I think, was in Dean's concession speech. Dean said that a large part of his campaign was based on the idea that the rest of America should be more like Vermont. What Dr. Dean didn't seem to realize is that just as everybody above Oklahoma despises Texas, everybody below Maryland loathes Vermont.

To quote Joe Queenan, "Fuck Vermont. I've always wanted to say that."  
  Every four years or so, both the official, sanctioned political junkies who make up the mass media and the unofficial, self-apointed political junkies that include people like myself collaborate in an attempt to commit a massive fraud by convincing the rest of America that there is actually some sort of suspense involved in the race for the Republican and Democratic Presidential nominations. Whether it's raving about John McCain, overestimating the electoral appeal of H. Ross Perot, or wringing our hands nervously over the implications of Pat Buchanan, in the end, it's all an attempt to fool ourselves into believing that the unexpected could actually happen and that we haven't just wasted the last few years of our lives endlessly speculating over something that is essentially decided the minute the people of New Hampshire cast their first ballots.

This is why, every four years, we start to talk about how none of the various Democratic (and, occasionally, Republican) nominees will possibly be able to win enough delegates to win the nomination outright. Obviously, we say with a good deal of smugness, this year will see a political convention that features not a coronation but a contest -- a multi-ballot struggle between candidates blessed with both strengths and weaknesses, a true battle for the heart and soul of their party. Why it will probably be such chaos, and we're only warning the faint-hearted here so they'll be properly prepared, that the nomination will probably go to so compromise candidates who didn't even run in the primaries, so respected elder statesman who will step in to save the party and, of course, the nation. Yep, believe it or not, when November comes around, loyal Democrats might find themselves casting their ballot not for any of the current strawmen running but instead for someone like Sam Nunn or Joe Biden or Gary Hart or...

Yeah, this scenario gets trotted out and sold as an unavoidable future every four years. We do this despite the fact that it's been over fifty years since more than one ballot was needed to nominate a Presidential candidate at either of the two major party's conventions. We do this despite the fact that the whole primary system has been obsessively tooled and retooled to make this result an impossibility. Party leaders aren't stupid and they know that, as much fun as a brokered convention would be too watch, it would probably also be disasterous for the party in question. By that same token, they also know that the compromise candidate wouldn't be some mythical guy on a white horse but instead some party hack who was a good enough deal maker to make friends without being intelligent enough to make any enemies. Even if the Democrats did find themselves hopelessly deadlocked between Kerry, Edwards, and presumably Dean, the end result would much more likely be not Sam Nunn but Jay Rockefeller.

But, still, we insist on promoting this myth as a real possibility because, quite frankly, without all of these myths and the outrageous hypotheticals, the nomination season would end up standing naked and exposed as the coronation it is and all the political junkies (like you and me) would end up looking pretty stupid for giving a damn in the first place.

With all that in mind, what to make of the results of the Wisconsin Primary? Well, Kerry won. He was supposed to win, right? He's won just about everything so far. However, and this is where the imagination starts to go wild, he didn't win in a landslide. Instead, he achieved only a narrow victory over John Edwards. What does this mean? Well, it probably means that -- with Clark, Lieberman, and Gephardt out of the race and Dean continuing to act like a lunatic and Kucinich and Sharpton descending further into parody -- the Democrats who don't care much for Kerry are running out of other candidates to vote for. It probably means that, whereas in the past he's had to split his votes with two or three other candidates, Edwards is now the only serious anti-Kerry candidate left.

It doesn't mean -- regardless of what they're saying on any of the cable news networks right now -- that Edwards is poised to overtake Kerry, that Kerry's front runner status is about to tumble, or that the Democratic Presidential nominee will be anyone other than John Kerry.

Still, it's always fun to pretend, isn't it? 
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
  5:47 a.m., Tuesday morning and as usual, I am physically wide awake and mentally dead. It's called insomnia and after a little while, it doesn't matter whether you're awake or you're asleep -- everything's a dream regardless. This is a condition I've lived with, admitedly off-and-on, my entire life and I've learned to make the best of it.

Such as, right now I'm using it as an excuse to watch A Place in the Sun on AMC. The 1951 film is a take on Theodore Drieser's epic, if too rigidly Marxist, novel An American Tragedy and it's probably best known for being one of the first films to fully take advantage of a young Liz Taylor's sex appeal. It also features Montgomery Clift doing his mumbly, on-the-verge-of-getting-graphically-ill method thing and Shelley Winters playing one of the most sympathetic, yet downright annoying, murder victims in the history of cinema. There's also a pre-Perry Mason Raymond Burr playing an amazingly smug D.A. There's a tendency to dismiss A Place in the Sun as overbaked melodrama, a bastardization of a superior book but it actually is an excellent film, one that works brilliantly as dark entertainment no matter how diluted the politics of the source material may have become in the translation.

Speaking of underappreciated movies, earlier -- Monday morning -- I caught Blue Thunder on A&E. For those with short memories, this was an '83 film about a superhelicopter and it's probably about as good as any film about a superhelicopter possibly could be. As I implied, it's not a film that people find much reason to mention nowadays but I can still remember when it came out and, for about two months or so, all the various pundits (actual and self-appointed) could talk about nothing other than whether or not the superhelicopters seen in Blue Thunder would actually be coming to a fascist state near you in the future. Anyway, regardless, it's still a fairly entertaining film in a silly sort of '80s way. Certainly, it's soundtrack is superior to Top Gun. Blue Thunder is the type of high concept entertainment film that Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckhiemer always wanted to believe they were making. At the very least, it deserves a place of honor in the surprisingly large pantheon of films in which Daniel Stern plays a goofy sidekick who dies horribly halfway through the movie. (If I learned anything from watching that film, it's that Daniel Stern was the Kevin Pollack of the '80s.) 
Friday, February 13, 2004
  Oh Lord, I hope nobody on the Bush campaign team is actually planning on trying to make an issue out of all these recent stories dealing with John F. Kerry's rumored (but probably true) maritial infidelities. If it couldn't derail Clinton, I really can't see any reason why it would prove to be Kerry's achilles' heel (unless somebody happens to come across a few strands of Chandra Levy's DNA in the trunk of the man's car and even then...).

Sorry, folks, but the truth of the matter is that politicians screw around and they're usually not princes about it. The whole concept of pussy without responsibility is what attracted most of our elected officials to politics in the first place.

Just try watching C-Span sometime. Would any of those guys seriously have a chance of getting laid if it wasn't for the three letter abreviations in front of their names? There's not a lot to be taken from the quotes of Bill Clinton but he was unusually correct when, as a newly elected Governor of a backwards Southern state, he said that before his election, he was just the guy in "the fat boy jeans."

Kerry's a horndog -- shit, for once, let's just not go there. 
Thursday, February 12, 2004
  So, earlier this morning -- at about 2:30 a.m. -- I was taking my lunch hour at work. I'm a night manager for a Wal-Mart neighborhood market and the main reason I stick with the job is that our store comes with two breakrooms -- one for nonsmokers and one for smokers. Say what you will about ignorant bosses, overwork, obnoxious customers, and the constant risk of getting killed in a midnight robbery, Wal-Mart is the only store I've ever worked for that actually goes to the trouble to give it's employees a room to smoke themselves to death in. I used to refer to the Smoking Room as the Suicide Lounge until I realized most of my coworkers were missing the humor and assuming I was planning on killing myself during my next break.

Anyway, I tend to spend my entire lunch hour (though usually it seems to be more of a lunch fifteen minutes) in that smoking room, chainsmoking Camel Filters, trying to write (though this seems to make everyone I work with paranoid -- "You're not writing stuff about me, are you?"), and usually wondering why, oh why, I couldn't have had a vision of this future back when I was nineteen years old and blowing off my freshman year at college. For the most part, my coworkers know better than to bug me whenever I'm in the Suicide Lounge. And in case they forget, I always make sure to keep the room as smokey and hazy and second-hand cancer-producing as humanly possible.

However, this morning , as I smoked and read the Dallas Morning News, I came across an item that slapped me so hard across the face that I was actually compelled to leave my sanctuary and spend ten minutes or so with my fellow night workers.

It was a tiny little story but the headline said it all:


Well, how couldn't that catch my attention? Turned out that a Wal-Mart truck was stopped speeding down interstate 40 in Arkansas. The police decided to open up the trailer and do a quick little search. Well, it turns out the trailer was filled with the usual thousand or so cases of merchandise AND the not-so-usual 600-pounds of cocaine hidden in the very back.

As I stepped out of the Suicide Lounge and I read this item to my coworkers (who laughed about it the whole night and proceeded to tell every single member of the day crew as they arrived three hours later), I couldn't help but notice the sign posted on the breakroom wall.


And now we know why.

Anyway, long story short, the implications of this kept all of us amused for the rest of the night and, as I mentioned, we made sure every single member of the day crew knew all the details. So popular was this story that it eventually made it all the way to Charlie, the store manager and my boss who didn't find it quite as amusing as the rest of us.

As I was heading towards the breakroom to clock out and go home this morning, Charlie paged me to his office. As I closed his door behind me, I couldn't help but notice that 1) Charlie's glare was a little harsher than usual (which, if you've seen Charlie's everyday glare, you wouldn't think possible) and 2) he was holding the exact same copy of the Morning News I'd been reading earlier in his hands.

"Jeffrey," he started and this is always a bad sign, when he calls me Jeffrey (actually, when he speaks to me period is a bad sign, calling me Jeffrey is an apocalyptic emergency), "I do not want the night crew reading the newspaper during their lunch anymore."

"Uh," I said, "sure thing, Charlie. I'll keep them isolated from world events from now on--"

"And," he interrupted me before I could be a smartass, "I don't want you reading to them anymore, either."

"Right," I nodded, "no more reading at all. We will run an illiterate shift."

"That is," and I swear this was actually said, "what we are paying you for, Jeffrey."

So, apparently, at my store Big Brother is watching you. And unfortunately, that big brother is me. 
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
  I can't believe it's taken me this long to mention that Gen. Wesley Clark ended his run for the Democratic Presidential nomination yesterday. For all the drama that surrounded Clark just a few months ago, he turned out to be a rather minor factor indeed. For all the talk about how Clark was the only possible Democratic nominee who could campaign credibly on foreign policy, his campaign only served to prove that a high-ranking military veteran can be just as much of a boorish flake as the everyday civillian. Considering just how truly liberal his campaign ultimately turned out to be (and, for all this centrist talk, the man basically ran to the left of Dennis Kucinich), it's amazing that in both his entry and his departure, he resembled two Republican Presidential contenders, one recent, one not, one succesful, and one most assuredly not. Wesley Clark began his campaign as Dwight Eisenhower and he ended it as Phil Gramm.

What does the future hold for Gen. Clark? Well, the initial reports are that he'd be more than happy to run on a ticket with John F. Kerry and if John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Mary Landrieu, Mark Warner, and every other Democrat on the face of the Earth should happen to fall off of it, that could very well happen. However, realistically, Clark will probably end up back at the very place that spawned him.

CNN, anyone? 
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
  Have I mentioned that I take Dexedrine for ADD? If I haven't, I should have since this has become a major part of my life. This is largely because Dexedrine (being speed) is a controlled substance and, as such, getting my monthly perscription filled has become a bit of a melodrama with each doctor's visit being yet another interrogation to make sure that I am not abusing my medicine, selling my medicine on the street, and actually getting some sort of positive result from using this potentially dangerous drug.

Over the course of the past year or so, I've had three different doctors. The first, Dr. Elliott, was located, conveniently enough, about two blocks down from my house. Unfortunately, it also turned out that he was giving this drug out like candy to anybody who happened to wander in off the street. Long story short, Dr. Elliott lost his liscense, disappeared off the face of the Earth (leaving only a warrant for his arrest and a rather rambling greeting message on his answering machine that assured his patients that "God will protect us all), and I had to find a new doctor. This was a search that took a while (and when you have ADD, a while is a LONG WHILE) and eventually led to me finding Dr. Kuchmack, a nice enough guy who stood only five feet tall and had a habit of laughing at the strangest moments. (He was a bit of a white Dr. Hibbert...) Anyway, Kuchmack always treated me somewhat wearily and every visit seemed to end with him telling me that he wasn't "going to end up like your last doctor!" Interesting fellow, Dr. Kuchmack.

Unfortunately, Dr. Kuchmack ended up dropping dead (for reasons nobody seems to be quite clear on) about five months ago. His replacement was my current doctor, Dr. Bernstien who tends to speak in a monotone and often spends our appointments telling me long, drawn out stories that always seem to end without any conclusion, often in mid-sentence as he glances out the waiting room window and notices something else that catches his attention. (Such as today: "...and so I told her, 'Queen of England or not, hemmroids are a serious problem in Bosnia and...say, is that girl driving a green car? Well, I'll be a damned circus freak! Anyway, you're good to go...")

I've been left to wonder -- do all ADD doctors suffer from ADD?

Luckily, Bernstein's office is located directly behind a Loew's Movie theater so after today's appointment, I was able to catch a movie. (This is one of my all-too few days off from work. I spend these days trying to maintain some sort of nonretail related life.) So, while my perscription was getting filled, I saw Mystic River, which has been rereleased in the wake of its recent Oscar nominations.

I'd forgotten what a truly good film Mytic River was (and is). Certainly, it's probably one of the best films that Clint Eastwood has ever directed. While I've always felt that Eastwood, as a director, had a marvelous sense of place and the ability to establish a feeling of community that perhaps is matched only by Robert Altman, I've also felt that his films have a tendency to ramble, to wander without a really firm center to hold all the individual pieces together. (Even his previous masterpiece, Unforgiven, suffers from that feeling of disorganization -- consider the excessive amount of time devoted to allowing Richard Harris to chew up and spit out every piece of scenery he could find.)

But Mystic River is that rare Eastwood film that works as both a statement of personal art and as a work of popular entertainment. It's the type of film that is so good that its quality sneaks up on you. The full impact doesn't really hit you until after the end credits have rolled and you've stepped outside the theater and realized that, in your mind and in your soul, you're still in the world that Eastwood projected up on that screen. Though Return of the King remains my favorite film of 2004 and, from a personal point of view, Lost in Translation will always haunt me, Mystic River is a worthy runner up and I'm glad I had a chance to be reminded of that.

And again, I must point out what far too many people seem to be missing in their praise of this film -- as good a job as folks like Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Marcia Gay Harden, and Laura Linney did in this film, the whole thing would simply be a collection of acting exercises if it wasn't for the calm and steady resolve that Kevin Bacon brings to the film. His character doesn't have any big, show-off "moments" but Bacon is the center that holds this film together (much as Eastwood's iconic presence held together Unforgiven). Sean Penn and Tim Robbins might end up with the Oscars on their mantlepieces but, the more you see this film, the more obvious it becomes that this film stands as the ultimate tribute to actors like Kevin Bacon -- craftsmen who might not get the hype but who make sure that the center holds, actors who make sure that things don't fall apart. 
Friday, February 06, 2004
  Just a quick, little note about a very big event that has come about at the very opposite of quick --

Yesterday, I finally mailed off final approval to Xlibris Books to release my first book -- It's Impossible to Start A Fire If You Have No Desire To Burn -- for sale to the general public. It should be available on their web site in about a week or so. I'll include a link to it at that time.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004
  Uh, excuse me, Delaware? Would you mind stepping into my office, please?

No, no, it's okay. I mean, this is a free country and I guess you Democratic folks had every right to overwhelmingly cast your primary ballots today for John Kerry as opposed to Joe Lieberman. This, despite the fact that Kerry was already assured a victory in just about every other state that voted today. And, of course, just because Joe very politely asked you to vote for him, just because he took the time to explain that if he didn't win Delaware than his Presidential campaign would be a bust -- well, I guess you have your reasons for not indulging the man. He asked you what you thought about him as President, basically left his whole future up to you, and you let him know all right. But, hey, that's okay. Don't let the copious tears being shed, right at this moment!, by all five of Joe's enthusiastic supporters keep you awake at night.

Yes, Joe Lieberman failed to win Delaware. Actually, to say he failed to win is probably an understatement. If anything, Joe succeeded in getting absolutely and totally crushed. He went to the nation, he offered to lead it through difficult times, and the nation (well, to be honest -- Delaware) replied, "Fuck off, you tired, respected national statesman you!" Indeed, watching this widely admired figure fail so completely to achieve to reach the office he once seemed so destined to win -- well, actually, I think we're all pretty much used to it by now, aren't we? Luckily, millions of brain-fried reporters will be spared from having to think up an original angle with which to cover Joe's departure from the primary campaign. Instead, they'll simply pull all the Bob Graham stories out of the archives and simply switch around the names.

Seriously, why did Joe Lieberman fail so utterly as a Presidential candidate? There's probably many answers but I suspect a great deal of it had to do with the fact that most of his admirers were Republicans and that can be a problem when you're running as a Democrat. Indeed, I believe most of his media and nonpolitical endorsements were issued by people who would never have actually voted for him in November.

Anyway, Kerry's apparently won every state that voted today except for South Carolina (which went for John Edwards) and Oklahoma (which went for Wesley Clark). Kerry's loss in those two states isn't really a huge surprise considering that Kerry basically announced, as soon as New Hampshire was tallied up, "Let's go win everything except South Carolina and Oklahoma!" So, hats off to you JFK, you master of strategy.

Meanwhile, Howard Dean posted a strong second in New Mexico and few pundit-types were crowing that this was apparently a good comeback for the good Doctor. No comment from Dean who was busy up in Washington state, giving an amazingly monotonous speech about how Diogenes could die a happy man once he met Dr. Dean. Or something like that -- to be honest, I was distracted by the rows of supporters standing on stage behind Dean as if he had reincarnated himself as some sort of mid-80s moral majority televangelist.

(And perhaps he has as his politics tend to be as self-righteous, judgmental, and impractical as any of the major religions...)

Quite a few things struck me about these supporters. First off, these were the typical folks that you always see hanging out at Dean rallies. You had the aging male Baby Boomers who wear sandals everywhere as a symbol of their free spirit without considering whether anyone else wants to be confronted with the sight of their decaying nails set upon knobby toes along the painfully unhappy-looking, fiftyish women with the butch haircuts and the bitter memories of the ERA's defeat. The younger generation was there as well -- the male college students who worked for Nader in 2000 and who usually think they're far more irreverent than they actually are and their slightly frumpy girlfriends with the granny glasses who were probably wishing they were fucking a Kucinich supporter rather than having to listen to Dean sermonize. Yes, the usual suspects were there but none of them seemed to have any enthusiasm left. There was no excitement to be found in this crowd. Instead, they looked like they were wondering what they'd gotten themselves roped into. It was a look I know all too well -- the look of a former idealist whose just figured out that their supposed messiah is a freaking nut. (I speak from experience, having voted for Pat Buchanan in the 1992 Texas Republican Presidential Primary. That's the problem with being young and stupid -- eventually, you're old and mortified.)

If anything, they looked as if they'd just found themselves trapped in a remote jungle hideaway in Guyana and now the Rev. Howard Dean was passing out cups of kool-aid.

The other thing I noticed about them is that all of these supporters were pretty much interchangeable. By interchangeable, I don't mean that they didn't have their own personalities or skills or names or whatever. I mean, that, disregarding the occasional differences in age, they could all have been identical twins. The women were all somewhat frumpy in that way that suggests that the frumpiness was a matter of choice than simple genetic misfortune. This is the look of insecurity, the look that says, "I'm so convinced I could never be loved that I'm going to go out of my way to be as unloveable as possible so that I don't even have to worry about the possibility ever coming up." The women, I actually felt sorry for if just for the reason that they had obviously spent too much time in a culture that drilled into them that if you couldn't look like a film star, if you're body wasn't absolutely flawless and you're hair absolutely blonde and such than you might as well give up any pretenses of happiness and just start being bitter now. The men, though, I could find no sympathy for. They were all bulimically, organic-diet thin with unnaturally permed hair and the same Salt-and-Pepper beard favored by program directors of public television stations across the country. (The college boys, admittedly, were clean shaven but you could just see the envy in their eyes whenever they looked at their elders' beards.) They all looked like they were trying out for Michael Gross's role on Family Ties. (Or even worse, competing in a Robert Foxworth look alike contest...) Just looking at them, one could imagine them sitting around, talking about the time they got arrested up in New Jersey on the way to some anti-war rally and they had to spend two nights in jail before their parents bailed them out but it was all worth it because they got a chance to rap with some of the prisoners about what was going down on the streets. You could just imagine them gathering back at the Motel 6 after the Dean rally and holding sincere conference calls with each other where they strategized about how to get Howard back into this thing and repeatedly said, "We've got to think outside the box on this thing..."

And so, there was Howard talking about how he was going to give power back to the individuals and standing behind him as he preached were a bunch of individuals who had been turned into one big mass of frustrated self-importance.

Perhaps they were all cheered up by their strong second place finish in New Mexico though it's had to see how anyone could see that as a triumph for a man who -- just a few months ago -- everyone expected to have sewn up the nomination, the Presidency, and canonization by this point.

What do tonight's results tell us? Well, according to media, it's telling us that John Kerry isn't a lock. The main reason they're telling us this is because Kerry is a lock and if too many people figure that out and stop paying attention to the primaries, then covering them's not going to be all the much fun. Kerry lost two states that he had already said he was planning on losing and he still did pretty well in both of them regardless. Dean's second place showing in New Mexico pretty much solidified the fact that Dean is destined to be in second place for the rest of the campaign.

Tonight's results taught us only one thing that we'd be well advised to remember in the future and that is this --

Delaware is indeed a harsh mistress. 
  Its 2:32, Tuesday morning and I'm sitting here in front of my computer, feeling rather depressed and sorry for myself. Yep, just me and a couple of thousand porn fiends spread out across the country, all on the internet, all feeling depressed and sorry for ourselves. Despite all the hype about giving a voice to the common people and revolutionaries the way information is distributed, I really can't see the whole current blog frenzy or really the internet as whole as a truly positive thing. If anything, sitting here, carefully writing out my thoughts (well, maybe not carefully) only leads me to wonder who, if anyone, is actually going to bother to read what I have to say and, should this person exist, who am I to presume to explain pop culture, politics, and all the rest to him or her?

There's a real arrogance to the whole blog thing, a true Revenge of the Nerds and I think, in the end, the nerds are going to end up coming out of it just as badly as the jocks who used to torment them. At one point, people just accepted what they could not change and focused their attention on what they could control, what they could change or preserve -- themselves. Now, with the internet, we're all revolutionaries. Now, we're all buying into the fantasy that somehow, just by bitching out into cyberspace, we can force the world to exist according to our whims. In the past, the nerds who had the potential to turn into mini-megalomaniac were hampered by the fact that megalomania is only effective when partnered with a lot of charisma. And that charisma was not available to people who were shy in social situations, to people who always managed to say the wrong thing when making small talk, to people with nasal voices or with faces that nobody would pay ten bucks to see plastered up on a movie screen.

And this wasn't always a bad thing because, in all honesty, nothing breeds evil quicker than self-righteousness (because if you know you're doing the right thing -- the only right thing, than anything can be justified in the pursuit of the greater good) and nothing breeds self-righteousness quicker than oppression (because it's always easier for the victims of evil to rationalize their experiences by seeing themselves as being "special" rather than to simply admit that they just happened, by random fate, to be in the wrong place at the wrong time). But with the internet, you no longer have that barrier of charisma keeping our worst instincts in check. Now, all you need to do to be an important guy is make sure you can type a complete sentence without too many laughable spelling mistakes. Now, all you have to do is produce the right links and occasionally paraphrase someone else's snarky comments. The internet has eliminated the need for human interaction, for actual individual personalities. Now, we're just all faceless personas being seen in the web surfer's head to probably much better effect than we would if we met our readers face-to-face. Yep, now we can change the world even as we continue to withdraw more and more away from it.

So, if that's how I really feel, why the Hell do I have a blog?

I've discovered, over my 30 years, that there is only one thing I truly fear and that is waking up one day to discover that I am anonymous. And in the world today, being anonymous is when you type your name into google and out of the thousand or so results that come up, not a single one of them deals with you. That's the ultimate horror right there, isn't it? To know that there are 1,000 people out there with your identity and every single one of them is apparently doing more with it than you are.

Hmmm...okay, I really don't enjoy being myself when I get into one of these moods. So, unless I find some other mundane little aspect of life to blow up into a moral issue, I'm going to go to bed. 
Monday, February 02, 2004
  Sunday was my first night off from work and, as usual, I slept through far too much of the day. I do know that Trent, who is our District Manager (a.k.a., the man whose ass must be kissed), is scheduled to be visiting the store today and is probably there right now, as I type this. Hopefully, the store currently looks like shit and Trent will simply fire everyone on the spot (and on my day off, as luck would have it). What's funny is that for a figure who inspires so much fear, Trent really is kind of a loser. Imagine a guy standing about 6'3, weighing -- at most -- a little over 110 pounds, with a face that's only prominent feature is an extensive roadmap of acne scars. Add in a weak, high-pitched voice that still cracks like a horny teenager's and a pushy, blonde wife with fake boobs who spends her time wandering into various Wal-Marts and screeching, "Do you know who I am!?" and that's Trent in a nutshell. He's like a lot of people in various power positions -- a loser with a good title.

I'll have to wait until I get back to work two days from now to find out how Trent's little visit went. If it's anything like his previous visits, he probably showed up in a snippy mood, threatened to fire the store manager, told everyone to improve their attitudes, and then left. At which point, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and then went back to fucking things up as usual. I could find out by dropping by the store either later today or tomorrow but I refuse to even go near that place on my offdays.

So, how has my mini-vacation been so far? Well, I woke up in time yesterday to catch almost the entire first quarter of the SuperBowl. I'm not really a huge football fan (to be honest, all I know about the game I learned from playing Madden 2004 on my laptop) but I followed the game enough to spend this year's superbowl (when I was actually awake) rooting for the Carolina Panthers. As I previously hinted, I ended up getting so bored during the 1st quarter of play that I ended up sleeping through what, I have since heard far too many times, ended up being one of the most exciting sporting events in the long history of exciting sporting events that I have somehow managed to sleep through. I did wake up at various moments through the game -- though never did I open my eyes at any point that would have indicated there was anything worth watching going on down in Houston.

Finally, I woke up with four seconds left in the final quarter of play, just to discover that somehow, both of these teams had ended up tied at 29 and that the entire game came down to the Patriots making one successful field goal which they proceeded to do right before my drowsy, myopic right eye. (My drowsy, myopic left eye -- being a lazy eye -- was focused on the DVD player sitting next to the TV -- hence, I only got to see half of the winning field goal...) So, there you have it. Not only do I manage to sleep through the greatest athletic spectacle since the early Greek Olympics featured Sophocles kicking Euripides' ass in the shot put, my team still ended up losing!

That said, I also managed to wake up enough to catch various SuperBowl-related events that didn't necessarily involve the throwing around of a football and the oddly repressed ass-grabbing that seemed to go along with every possible play, good or bad. Such as, I woke up just long enough to catch Kid Rock performing Cowboy at the half-time show (which was good as I seem to be one of the few people left who will openly admit to being a fan of Kid Rock's bizarre musical parody of American white trash) but I managed to fall asleep before Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson's breast (which was also good as Miss Jackson's breast appeared to be strangely blurry and rather pixelated from all the replays of the incident that I've since seen on television...).

I was also occasionally awake enough to catch the multi-billion dollar commercials that supposedly everyone avidly watched the Super Bowl in the hopes of catching. Most of them came across as -- well, multi-billion dollar commercials. Nothing special or inspiring but Hey, you could tell they cost a few billion and I guess the idea was that no intelligent company would possibly waste that much money on a commercial unless its product was really, really special. Luckily, none of the commercials were as disturbing or, quite frankly, as stupid as that infamous commercial from 2000 that featured the image of Christopher Reeve's permanently grinning face plastered onto a computer generated, walking body. (I believe the idea was that whatever company produced this ghastly spectacle was also going to produce, at some point in the future, technology that would allow Reeve to walk again if not to wipe that disturbing grin off his face. I guess the message (or implied threat) was, "Buy our products or else Superman will never walk again!")

So, that was the SuperBowl, for me. Strangely enough, while I was asleep, I dreamed about the SuperBowl though in my dreams, the competition was between the Baltimore Ravens and the fictional team I created for Madden -- the Austin Irish. Yes, yes -- I know that Austin is not a city renowned for its deep Irish cultural heritage and I know that the same pretty much goes for the state of Texas. But, Hell -- I'm Irish, I'm from Texas, and it's my freaking game! Anyway, my dream game was actually far more inspiring than the actual game even if the Irish did end up losing 0-17.

(Hey, I never said my fantasy football team was actually a good team...) 
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Reva Renee Renz -- Renz would have won my vote in 2003's California recall election, if not for the fact that I'm not a resident of California. Anyway, Renz was one of the more likeable candidates in that free-for-all, one of the few who took it seriously without giving into meglomania. Her blog gives the details of her run and her life after. Renz is the owner of Deva's Bar in Tustin, California and I have to admit that the only reason I currently desire to visit California is to have a beer at that bar. Renz stands as proof that Republicans are a lot more fun than most people care to admit.

Yankee From Mississippi -- Shannon Black's blog, featuring writing that often puts me to shame. Plus, isn't that just an amazingly cool title for a blog or anything else for that matter?


The Charley Project -- A huge site, detailings hundreds of cold cases dealing with missing persons. This site is actually far superior and better written than the similar and better known Doe Network.

Crime News 2000 -- Despite the 2000, this is a daily updated listing of all the latest developments in all the morbid and disturbing stories that tend to capture the national psyche nowadays.

Doe Network -- One of those web sites that justifies the existence of the internet in the first place, the Doe Network is a huge database of missing persons and unifidentified remains from around the world.

Is this girl Tara Leigh Calico? -- This web site details the disappearance of a 19 year-old girl in New Mexico back in the late '80s. The details of Tara Calico's disappearance have haunted me for years now and served as the genesis for my current interest about missing person cases in general.


Charles Jay -- Personal Choice Party Candidate For President In 2004 -- I wrote in Jay's name for President in 2004. I think about 228 other people -- mostly in Utah -- agreed with me.

D.C.'s Political Report -- With Politics1 on indefinite hiatus, this is now the best place on the web to find continually updated listings of who is running for what and where.

Homepage of the Libertarian Party -- I am a member of the Libertarian Party, even if the party itself can't ever quite seem to get it's act together.

National Review -- The magazine for both true conservatives and Libertarians who think Ayn Rand was a hack

Politics 1 -- The site is officially on hiatus but there's still the occasional update. The archival information on the various candidates in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential races always makes for interesting reading.

Pop Culture




Amazon.com -- I've posted quite a few reviews of books, film, and music on this site and I've gotten a good deal of very gratifying and very positive feedback from them. (I've also managed to piss off just about everyone who cried when they saw Titanic for the 10th times but that's another story...) Those reviews can be found by searching the site for Jeffrey Ellis from Richardson, Texas.

The Homepage of Gregory Alan Norton -- Homepage of one of my favorite liberals, fellow writer Greg Norton who I published in the premier issue of Jack the Daw way back in 1995. His site quotes my review of his excellent first novel, There Ain't No Justice, Just Us and includes information on how to order the book.

Xlibris -- Homepage for Xlibris, the publishers of It's Impossible To Start A Fire If You Have No Desire To Burn

Blogarama - The Blog Directory