Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

One hundred years of boring shit

I was reading a conversation about poetry in translation in which the critic Adam Kirsch makes the following assertion:

“It sometimes felt to me that twentieth-century poetry gravitates toward two poles, which might be called, in honor of those poets, the Romance and the Slavic. The Romance poet tends to be romantic (appropriately enough), expansive, egoistic, at times bombastic; the Slavic poet tends to be ironic, understated, compassionate, at times prosaic. This is a broad brush, of course, and there are lots of exceptions—Montale would be Slavic in my scheme, and Mayakovsky Romance. But still, think of Apollinaire, Breton, Lorca, Vallejo, versus Akhmatova, Zbigniew Herbert, Vasko Popa, Adam Zagajewski. Now that I make the list, an overlapping distinction occurs to me: the former tended to be Communists, the latter anti-Communists.”

I think there is something in the Communist/anti-Communist distinction, but I don’t buy the implication that the great Russian writers of the 20th century didn’t write in the florid, puerile romantic style of Neruda or García Marquez just because their culture lacked the passion of Latin America. There were plenty of bombastic writers in the Soviet Union who wrote abject paeons to Communist dictators: they were the Socialist Realists bought and paid for by the State, like Maxim Gorky and Mikhail Sholokhov. Many of them had real talent and they are not exactly forgotten today, but they are not viewed as the the great writers of their times, probably because the experience of actually living under the dictatorship that those writers sold themselves to helped readers in their native land see through their infantile dogmatism and hypocritical opportunism. Had the Spanish reading public had a similar experience my guess is that the literary canon of Latin America would look somewhat different, let’s put it that way. It’s not just a question of political views, because those are a symptom, not the cause: the preening superficiality that leads one to become an ideological hack for the Communist Party is also what makes reading One Hundred Years of Solitude or anything by Eduardo Galeano so freaking tedious. Of course by the same token, that is what probably ensures they will always be more popular in 10th grade English classes than Francisco de Quevedo or Juan Ramón Jiménez.

the half-light of poetic inexactitude

Last week I performed stand-up for the first time. Afterward, one of my friends asked me how I felt. I said, “Well, it burns when I pee. I don’t know if that has anything to do with the comedy, but it might have something to do with being in the bar.” Thank God I’ve never seen anyone expose themselves there, because I’m sure I would have had pinkeye the next day. It’s a little scary getting out to that outpost on East Colfax too. I’m aware that Denver doesn’t have any really bad neighborhoods, but the basic aesthetic of its downtown and surrounding neighborhoods is a wedding cake floating in a pile of crap, and it makes me slightly nervous to think that a lot of the people I pass on the approach either by car or foot are aborted abortions.

I don’t know why I joke about abortion so much, since apparently I’m the only person in America that doesn’t really care about this issue, except as an example of how the political parties exploit peripheral issues in order to pretend like there are real differences between them. For example, On TV yesterday one of the Republican candidates for senate in Colorado claimed she would be able to balance the federal budget by, among other things, defunding Planned Parenthood. Crossing off Planned Parenthood should definitely be good for several hundred billion dollars, especially since as everyone knows unwanted illegitimate children are in no way a drain on society.

Obviously this whole abortion debate nonsense isn’t going to go away, even when masquerading as a budget issue, nor desist from annoying and distracting the whole country, so I propose a new compromise: hunting season for fetuses. Limit abortion doctors to three months of the year when they could bait their hooks and go fishing up their patients’ rivers to their heart’s content. Since spring is supposed to be the time of year when the heart swells, that would probably be the time to have it, especially since it would be set in artful counterpoint to the other hunting season in the fall. The Division of Fish and Wildlife could even post the dates for both together. Something like: “Game-hunting season: Sept. 1-Nov. 9. Fetus-hunting season: from the day when daffodils first begin to bloom to the day when the cherry blossoms fall.”

Not that I am one of the hysterics that thinks America is about to be overrun by religious fundamentalists, whether Christian or Muslim, but I know who is hoping that Islamists prevail: the manufacturers of tents. Because then they will finally be able to get into the lucrative business of women’s fashion. I picture Coleman unveiling the fall collection of kerosene lamps and evening wear. And if there are any girls out there hesitant about throwing a sheet with eye-holes punched in it over their heads and wearing that for the rest of their lives, the marketing people can always try to persuade them by telling them that every day will be like Halloween.

devils are too enthusiastic for socialism to be hell

I have a lot of friends who are Russian. Every Russian seems to have seven nicknames but, as one of my friends pointed out, childhood photos from Soviet times all look the same. Those pictures, at least the ones I’ve seen, all seem to be of grumpy-looking children standing in the snow. I can see why: it’s the look of putting up with -20 degree temperatures while eating boiled cabbage every day and having to start learning algebra at age four. Then, when the scene shifts to America, the caterpillar suddenly becomes a butterfly: it’s all just pictures of rollerblading and running into things in the sunshine. All the happiness on display also seems easily explained by the fact that the child now has brightly-colored plastic junk all over the place to play with and won’t even have to learn English until they’re 15.

But while their childhoods might appear undifferentiated, taking away the ability to pursue money seems to have squelched the life drive of Soviet people into all kinds of improbable combinations like that of the father of one of my friends, who was a mathematician and “semi-professional” bodybuilder, though I don’t know what that really means, since everyone in the Soviet Union was semi-professional. I doubt the materials on hand to build your body with were very sophisticated, but on the other hand there were probably lots of abandoned heavy objects that didn’t work lying around that you could lift: broken-down cars, planks of wood, the old women at the internal passport office, derelict Soviet spacecraft. Well, every generation upon this earth through its stupidity performs a great service for its descendants by giving them something to look down on, and in this regard communism has been one of humanity’s greatest benefactors.

Canada flocks north

When I was little and read Batman comics, a silhouette of black pointy ears meant crime was about to be thwarted. Since I’ve had a cat, it’s come to mean no ankles can swagger around safely any more. A girl once told me the most embarrassing thing that could happen to you if you took Viagra would be to then run into a wall and break your nose. Whatever, I took Viagra and broke my nose and I was proud of it, but I guess that’s because there was no wall around. I would think the porn industry would be the harshest scourge of aging, but I realized it does have a social safety net of sorts: early in their careers porn actresses can do cougar films, and when they get too old for those they will be old enough to star in “barely legal” franchises. I’ve always thought that whatever one happens to say before fighting a duel should be considered an endangered language.


At a certain age I think most people stop wanting to apotheosize their birthdays and want instead to obliterate all memory of them. Fortunately for me and most of my friends, both impulses find identical expression. Maybe something about that simplicity made me able, while we were staggering around downtown last night on my friend’s birthday, to perceive the inner logic of the systems that surround me constantly.

For instance, I could never see why the Boulder authorities seem to want provoke the most drunkenness in its residents every weekend with the fewest transportation options possible. But I had failed to look at the situation in Leninist terms: covert radicals that they are, the people that run this town must be trying to “heighten the contradictions” until they boil over into open insurrection. But they have forgotten another participant in the dance of intoxicants: in a place with as much pot smoke drifting through the air as Boulder, it’s practically inconceivable that things could ever really come to a head. The most they will probably ever amount to is outraged sentiments expressed in a sleepy voice, like an angry reggae song, which always sound like a speech given by a revolutionary immediately after having his wisdom teeth removed.

I suddenly also realized, for good measure, that the popularity of Mormonism maybe doesn’t demand as much explanation as I used to think, since probably it’s not even supposed to be a belief system with a structure to put any weight on, but rather, much like the plot of a porno, just the minimum number of wheels in motion necessary to connect a man to 15 wives.

premeditated Nostradamus

Have you ever noticed that in Monet paintings smog seems to be the actor playing all the main roles? Today smog probably would need to disguise itself as the side of a cliff or an ornamental Japanese bridge in order to hide from the banditry of environmentalist brigands. Though actually smog might be coming back into style, now that the alternative to air pollution is getting run over by a horde of out-of-control Priuses. Priuses are now like the pull-out method of the automotive world: they seem like a great idea until it’s time to actually come to a halt.

chasing the dragon

I always enjoy how marketing expands our consciousness towards new and stupider horizons. Last week I saw a motion-activated soap dispenser commercial that tried to frighten the simple people of America with the news that soap pumps have “hundreds” of germs on them, which would make them cleaner than your skin by several billion organisms. But leaving that aside, my first thought was, “This is indeed troubling information. It is so fortunate, then, that the very next thing you touch after touching a dirty soap pump is soap.” Later, I was reading a review of the history of the condom which was supposed to impress with the rigorous safety testing procedures condoms undergo, such as being attached to balloon pumps and inflated as large as they can be before bursting. Thing is though, unless somebody’s dick has a tumor of superhuman proportions attached to it, I really don’t see what good that does, or what it proves. They should be tested to see if they can stand up to being rubbed like someone’s trying to start a fire. I think it’s much more pertinent to what people are doing with them to know if high amounts of friction would cause them to rip or, well, catch fire. It would be fascinating if, upon further review of testing results, condom packages started coming out with warning labels like: “Only safe to be used from the front. Anal presents fire hazard. Use at own risk.”


I now know that there’s at least one gun store in Boulder. I have laid eyes upon it. It’s not even that far from the Naropa Institute. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, even in a place like Boulder, since society generally tolerates two kinds of people: those it wants to tolerate, and those that are armed. In any case, it’s good to know that there’s at least one good rally point in case of zombie attack, especially since if we hid out there liberal yuppie Boulder zombies probably wouldn’t even know where to look for us, whereas if we went to the tea house or the pottery store they’d find us in five minutes. There are lots of taxidermic deer and elk heads in the gun store, I assume because that’s what most people that buy guns around here are shooting at, unless they’re target shooting, and clay pigeons or plastic bottles don’t make very triumphant-looking trophies. But I wonder what they would have hanging in, say, a Russian gun shop–journalists?

I learned a lot about Boulder social mores the day I went to the gun store with friends to buy ammo. Leaving town afterward to head into the mountains, I discovered that it’s not considered littering to throw orange peels out your car window, since they’re biodegradable. I need to ask to see if that also applies to babies. When we finally got to our mountaintop shooting range, it was full of people blasting away. I wasn’t annoyed at all: I think it’s important for as many people as possible to be trained to shoot a gun. After all, there are a lot of shoplifters out there. And in that connection, I think it’s unfair that when shooting a plastic bottle you get less points for accuracy for a low shot that makes it wobble around and then fall over. I think you should get more.

Other popular targets at the range that day included an Obama/Biden campaign sign and a picture of Osama bin Laden. When the wind knocked the bin Laden sign over and the owners couldn’t find it for a couple of minutes, I think I came to see how bin Laden disappears so quickly into the rocks and hills. Later, coming down the mountain we got stuck behind an SUV with a Obama/Biden sticker moving about 15 mph. I wished that was the Obama sign that was bullet-ridden. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that a car being driven so timidly should encase an Obama supporter, but even health care reform wasn’t that slow. I didn’t let it irritate me overly though, consoled by the thought that guns and mountaintops don’t necessarily have an exclusive relationship.

Error 404

Who says math can’t be entertaining? Even the simplest equations can, like cat + shower. Of course, only one of my cats can actually clamber up the stairs to the shower and poke her face into the deluge. The other one has too much joint pain to even lick herself clean. Consequently her fur is all matted, which I used to find gross, but now I can sort of appreciate. It’s like having a pet mountain range. I would wager she spends a lot of her time lying awake, having to go to the bathroom but not wanting to get up until she can’t stand not to. She follows the course of the sun around the room she sleeps in all day, starting by the east wall in the morning, moving to a chair on the north side in the afternoon and finally to the couch by the fireplace in the southwest corner in the evening. And like the sun, she never reverses direction. All of her limbs are more or less vestigial at this point. It’s a bit sad, but on the other hand, now that she’s outsourced both the transporting of herself to her food bowl every day her insulin production to humankind, I think she has thrown her hat in all the way with civilization, and she acts like it.

Deep in the crimson

I find it interesting that half the country seems to be under the impression that Harvard, like all the other famous universities in the country, is run by a bunch of communists, since it’s definitely the most capitalistic organization I’ve ever been a part of. And since they had an endowment of something like $33 billion when I entered, I naturally assumed that they were good at making money. But in the last year they’ve lost around $10 billion, and in response started making cutbacks.

They’ve always made a specialty of moves like collecting bills at the beginning of the month but not issuing salaries until the end. But now they’re adopting even more popular measures like cutting free coffee in the break rooms and lowering the thermostats in buildings four degrees during the winter. Within days of their first announcement of losses after the investment banks started collapsing last year I noticed that the motion-sensing lights in the graduate dorm laundry rooms were changed to turn off within 10 seconds without motion. The light would turn off during the time that it took for me to load my clothes into the machine. And then I’d have to walk to the other end of the room, stand under the sensor and wave my arms for a good five seconds before they would turn back on. Never have I found it so hard to convince man or machine that I exist.

Now I think I’m starting to see how they lost all that money. They have no idea where it came from or went to. They lose $10 billion through bad real estate investment and over-exposure in the stock market and they’re looking for it in the coffee carafes. Don’t be deceived by the physical resemblance of the faces on the money that you give to coked-up investment bankers and the money you give to the energy company. They’re really not related. Harvard is like an old woman who leaves her purse in a restaurant and, when she notices, starts poking the first teenager she sees with her umbrella, convinced he stole it.