Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Love Letter to Chicago, 2/25/15

By: Ben Johnson



I’m not from Chicago. I’ve lived here almost 14 years, though, comprising my entire adult life. I don’t always love it. Most of the time I don’t even think about it. I just live here. When I do think about it, about how I actually feel about where I live, this place called “Chicago,” I usually get a nondescript feeling that’s a lot like the blue dot from those t-shirts designed by Lara Tinari and Kevin Stacy which were popular in the early 2000’s.

Do you always love where you live? Fuck you if you always love where you live. You’re either a liar or a lobotomized new age hippie or a rich, insulated, ivory tower prick, and either way you deserve to be taken down a peg or four. Life is long and difficult and you can’t enjoy all of it, and if you can and do, something is wrong somewhere. That is the Chicago talking. Chicago has rubbed off on me.

Chicago is doing a jerk off motion behind your city’s back. Oh cool, Pittsburgh was voted a top five place to live, good for you (jerk off motion). Yeah, New York really is the place to be (jerk off motion). If you are really serious about chasing your dreams, you should totally move to Los Angeles (eye roll, jerk off motion). Milwaukee is nice (lack of a jerk off motion, it actually is nice). Living in Chicago, seeing the world through Chicago eyes, is often a lot like living inside of a giant middle finger.

I love Chicago sometimes.

Earlier this month it snowed 19 inches in a 30 hour period over Super Bowl Sunday. Chicago viewed it as an inconvenience. We shoveled it. We helped each other. Or: we didn’t. Either was fine.

Some people shoveled their cars out of the snow and placed "dibs" markers to save their shoveled-out parking spots. Some people shoveled out their neighbor’s cars, or collectively shoveled out their entire blocks, and took a firmly anti-“dibs” stance. It was a subject of conversation, as it is every year. A certain portion of Chicago always manages to get themselves all emotional about the inherent rightness or wrongness of calling “dibs” on street parking spots. I don’t care. I am young and healthy enough to shovel. I am smart enough not to park where somebody has at least warned me with a lawn chair that they might pull some shady, vindictive, spiteful horseshit on my car. I am also generally lazy enough to wait until later if possible to go do something if there is 19 inches of snow on the ground. Chicago has taught me well.

Many of us went to work the Monday after this snowfall, and complained about the inconvenience represented by 19 inches of snow, and then talked about the Super Bowl, and then went home at the end of the day. Later on that Monday as I was running an errand, I found myself on a dead end side street, parked in by a delivery driver whose car had veered into an errant sludge pile. Me and another guy helped him get out. The delivery guy was cussing out Mayor Rahm Emanuel for not plowing the side streets, leading to this predicament. This is less than a full day after 19 inches of snow had finally stopped falling.

I agreed with this man's assessment of the mayor, not because I thought the side streets should have been plowed by then, in fact I found it a miracle of logistical success that we were even capable of having that conversation on that subject while Boo Hoo Hoo New York City shuts down for a week and takes over the national media to tell us all about it whenever threatened by a single snowflake; I agreed with him because I also hate the mayor, a slick little white collar hustler who is gutting our city for profit, and, maybe more importantly to Chicagoans, acting like a complete dickhead about it. Like we’re stupid. We’re not stupid. We just only care so much until our cars get stuck and there’s money waiting for us back at the pizza joint. There’s a small but profound difference between those two things.

I felt a great swell of love for Chicago in that moment with the delivery guy. Here, in Chicago, is a dude, presumably with all the hopes and aspirations and problems and peccadilloes of any adult human, cussing out the mayor because there’s snow on the ground which is making it difficult to perform the duties of a delivery driver, as if all the forces of God and man are colluding to, in the most egregious of all possible offenses, interfere with the essential and proud labor of pizza delivery. The guy was a hero, in his way. We are all heroes, in our small ways, for living here and for making it work to the extent that it does. And more importantly those of us with the temerity to call this place home hardly ever complain about it. At least not in a "I hate this place" way. What would be the point?

Two things happened in Chicago last night.

One is the citywide preliminary mayoral and aldermanic election, which occurs in late February in Chicago because of course it does. The way these elections work in Chicago is there is no longer a party primary, there’s just a grouping of candidates which all run for the same office, and if one of them wins a majority in the preliminary election, they don’t bother with having another election. This rule was put in place, presumably, to end the farce of Chicago Democratic Party machine candidates running against Republicans who had no chance in hell of ever being the mayor. I’m no expert on it. I think it has its good points and bad points, although the good points boil down to “well, it appears to have worked this time,” because last night more Chicagoans voted against Rahm Emanuel than for him, and there will be a runoff election for mayor in April. There will also be runoff elections in the city wards currently held by the nine incumbent Aldermen which received the most Pro-Rahm Super PAC donation money, according to this.

Voter turnout was low (jerk off motion).

The other thing that happened last night was the announcement that former NBA MVP Derrick Rose tore the meniscus in his knee, and will require surgery on it, and will not be playing basketball for the Chicago Bulls, yet again, for at least six weeks and maybe probably more. Again. It is sad news, because Derrick Rose is a native son who has given this city greatness, and gave us greatness at a young and promising age, and regardless of whether his body can even support that greatness again we all just want to love him for trying, where he belongs, on a basketball court. This news is especially sad in this town because we are a town of delivery drivers who cuss out mayors when something gets between us and the job we’re here to do. We understand that nobody is more saddened or frustrated by this than Derrick Rose. He wants to get to work. He burns for it.

Work is the one thing in this world that makes sense here, with all this frozen shit coming from the sky, and the wind chill of negative whatever-the-fuck, and bullets as thick as mosquitos in the summer, and Rahm and all his Wall Street buddies closing down schools, breaking down the city’s labor unions piece by piece, and licking their chops at charter school development money while pretending to give any basic shit about the welfare of children. We can overlook all of that if we have work to do. Even the sinecure union boys, the laggards and the connected guys bloating the payroll of every possible source of public money within fifty miles of here, even they get up every morning in Chicago, itself a feat of miraculous constitution, just to go somewhere and clock in and do nothing, which process in this town counts for something more than nothing. Regardless of how hard the job is, or even if you have a job, you get up and you go, and you do it again tomorrow, and you keep coming until you’re done, and then you sit and “dibs” out your parking spot until you die or move to Arizona, which is like a junior varsity version of dying for Chicagoans.

Last night I sat on my freezing cold back porch trying to process the Derrick Rose news. I tried to convince myself this means nothing for me, really. My brain is saying that this year’s Bulls team was doomed anyway with Joakim Noah playing hurt all year, and at least Tony Snell is finally getting some minutes. I’m reminding myself that I’m not even from here, that I am and should by all rights be a Wizards fan with a more detached view than most other Chicagoans of Derrick Rose and his struggles. I’m thinking also about how Coach Tom Thibodeau, through his demands, appears to be killing these men. But their lack of complaint about it is awe-inspiring, they’re like heartbreaking thoroughbreds trying to run on a broken leg, “I can still win, I can still win,” especially Rose, and even if this decade’s iteration of the Bulls aren’t going to win it all, ever, the struggle itself feels like it actually does mean something. To me and to Chicago, because maybe that struggle is Chicago.

I noticed that the top floor lighting of Chicago’s Hancock Tower, shining in the distance, was red. I assumed it was for Rose, although it’s just as likely, in this town, that the people deciding on things like tower color are, how shall I put this, “hockey fans.” I chose to believe it was for Rose, though, because I was the one doing the looking, and also it probably was.

Chicago is a strange place. It’s a uniquely industrious and singularly Midwestern middle finger, and living here exerts a pressure that over time grinds the sharp edges of its inhabitants into hairy round shapes which then can eventually keel over in a meat-clogged lump on some rec department field while chasing after a 16-inch softball. And it just keeps going, no matter what, every single day. It’s like a dog. It’s outwardly dumb and myopic, and it eats and drinks and shits on the rug and licks itself. As Derrick Rose should know by now, Chicago,  in its doggedness, doesn’t know any better than to love its family, constantly and excitedly, unencumbered by any concept of mortality. But also, crucially, as Rahm found out yesterday, this town will turn on you in a hurry if you try to kick it.

I love Chicago right now, and I am confident I will again later.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Internet’s Best List Not To Read

By: Ben Johnson



We’re the internet. We makes lists. That’s what’s up, and that’s what is happening, and that is the story. We know this. We go on the internet, we make lists of things, we click on other people’s lists of things, we say “I don’t like this list of things” or “check out this list of things, I think it’s pretty cool,” and then we read the lists and say “OMG #9” or “LOL, no” and then go on the fuck about our day. That’s what this is and that’s what we are doing.

I found the worst list.

It’s this list that an MST3K enthusiast on rateyourmusic made of the most common LP’s you’ll find while picking through the record crates at a thrift store or an antique mall. Do not read it. I urge you not to read it. I read it. I’ve read it several times in real life, out in the world, with my fingers, looking through some old records in a Goodwill. And then I clicked on it and read it online now too.

This list is exactly what it claims to be. Spoiler alert: there are no spoilers in this list. If you click on it and read it, and I recommend you don’t, you are going to look through it, and you are going to see exactly the amount of Johnny Mathis you would expect. You are not going to be surprised, not even once.

If you have a lot of experience digging through crates of records at a thrift store or antique mall, you might say something like “hmm, I guess I would have included the first Monkees album on this list,” and then you will look through the entire list to see if it has the first Monkees album on it, and then when it doesn’t you will realize that you’ve just been tricked into going through a 158-item list because you hoped to see a first Monkees album in it, even though seeing a Monkees first album in some list online would not cause you to alter your actions in any way. This will almost exactly replicate, mentally, the sensation of looking through a crate of records in a thrift store.

Looking just at the title of this list, “the most common albums you’ll find in thrift stores,” (do not click on it) lets you know for a fact, just like you also know for a fact in real life when you are looking through actual records in an actual thrift store, that you are not going to find an original pressing of Relatively Clean Rivers in there. And yet, compulsively, that’s the hope, right? That you can find a record in this list and be like “wrong!” And then you can get that and you can know that and you can hold that in your brain. But that is not going to happen. This list is a list of the things in the list. It’s exactly only those things.

You know about wasting time? Like how being on the internet and reading lists of things is a waste of time? Or in the real world like how it’s a waste of time to be in line at the grocery store while somebody argues for seven minutes about a coupon for 79 cents off dish soap? Or how sometimes it’s pleasant to waste time, like how Otis Redding talked about wasting time in “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” which seemed like, okay, this guy is homeless and hopeless and he lives on the dock of a bay but at least he’s pretty chill about it. He’s even whistling. That sounds like a nice, if also racially charged and deceptively complex, way to spend time unproductively. That’s at least not hurting anybody.

Looking through records in a thrift store can be like that kind of wasting time. Reading internet lists of Top Sixteen Camels Who Are Fresh Out Of Fucks can be that kind of wasting time. Human beings have figured out all kinds of shit to make sure that time isn’t so precious you can’t waste a little of it.

When was the last time you ran for your life, for example? Never. Maybe once ever. The rest of it is like “I want to be able to run for my life if needed” training. We invented treadmills. Machines designed to replicate the experience of running for your life. Just in case you get chased by a wolf some day while listening to Cher, or whatever they have playing at the gym. Running on a treadmill can be a pleasant form of wasting time. It gets your blood pumping and makes you appear slightly more fuckable during times when you’re not on a treadmill. But running on a treadmill when there is an approximately zero percent chance of applying the run for your life skill is, technically, a waste of time. Really, our entire species is just wasting time. Just playing out the string. If you get down to it.

So why is this list of most common albums you find in a thrift store the worst list? It certainly did not waste my time any more or less than any other list I could have read, or amount I could have run on a treadmill. It actually saved me a little time, considering how reading this list is effectively the same thing as going to a thrift store, looking through the records there, seeing only these records, not buying any of them, and then going to take a shit at Starbucks before heading back home. The virtual experience version had no actual records in it, but at least I didn’t have to go anywhere or take a shit in a Starbucks.

I think this list is the worst for the following list of reasons:

1. Its extreme accuracy does not offer any surprises or ignite any real debate, so it is not a particularly entertaining list.

2. Since it is so accurate and therefore dull, reading it replicates the experience of repetitive, unwavering disappointment inherent in the activity which this list is a representation of, but with a chance of reward which is actual zero and not “technically some infinitesimal number above zero wherein depending on extreme luck it is theoretically possible to find a decent copy of Iron Maiden Number of the Beast for less than $10, really the ideal amount for me to spend in order to be able to play ‘Run To The Hills’ on vinyl instead of an mp3 whenever I get the urge, which probably is about $10 worth of sometimes, lifetime, and not a penny more.”

3. This list is on the internet, and the entire point of looking through record bins in thrift stores is to search for something real which only exists in the analog world and is only available through ritualized pilgrimage into the communal nightmare of American poverty which finds its purest spiritual representation at the Salvation Army, a process which unites, briefly, the human animal’s dim distant hope for humanity’s survival in the grim circumstances we bring to bear on each other with the much more selfish dim distant hope a record collector has for finding a butcher cover, and even if thwarted constantly by the insane, needless former popularity of Herb Alpert and Glen Campbell, this temporary unison of selfish and unselfish hope can be edifying, whereas the internet version, represented by this list, is all thwarted hope, all disappointment, exactly as advertised, and involves no sacrifice or understanding of communal longing of any kind.

4. It doesn’t even have anything remotely encouraging on it. Not even The Cars Heartbeat City or a James Taylor Flag or a Jackson Browne Hold Out or anything like that. I mean, Jesus. This is just the absolute worst stuff. There’s not even a glimmer of hope on this list.

5. I’m gonna look at it again, just to see.

6. Yeah, that list sucks.

7. Let me just make sure one more time that there’s nothing on this list that’s secretly good.

8. Carpenters Singles is okay, I guess, but this one is trashed.

9. How about B.J. Thomas? Is that on there? No.

10. I need to take a shit now. Is there a Starbucks near here?

11. I am going to die one day.

12. We are all going to die one day.

13. One time I found a clean Love Forever Changes at an antique store for $8. That was in Montana, though. Seven years ago.


Monday, February 23, 2015

A Shareable Guide to Important '80s Movies For People Dating Fetuses

By: Kelly McClure


Sometimes you're a little bit old. Sometimes you're a little bit old and are perhaps dating or married to a person who is not quite as old. This could lead to a scenario where you're maybe watching a show like Stalker and say something such as "that little ginger stalker looks like Eric Stoltz," to the person you're dating or married to and receive a response similar to ... "Who?"

Rather than trying to explain who these people are by listing off a bunch of movies that they haven't seen, on account of being fetuses, you can now be like "hold on, let me send this thing to you," and then forward them this. 

You're welcome. Nevermind.

THE MOST IMPORTANT ONES:



WHY: Class wars, Cool vs. preppy, Molly Ringwald in her ultimate prime, Andrew McCarthy at his most hateable, James Spader giving perfect life coach vibes for up and coming assholes in loafers, Best possible soundtrack.



Who's James Spader

BEST SONG: DUH


BEST QUOTE: "You're a Bitch."




WHY: Valley people vs. punks when that was a thing, Nicholas Cage at his absolute cutest, Best hair, Best soundtrack, Best example of being brave and going after what you want, etc. 


BEST SONG: THIS

BEST QUOTE: "Well fuck you, for sure, like totally!"




WHY: Mary Stuart Masterson as a lesbian seeming straight person, Fringe gloves, Punks vs. poor art kids vs. rich kids, Getting those diamond earrings, Best soundtrack, Eric Stoltz at his most regular.


Who's Eric Stoltz

BEST SONG: THIS


BEST QUOTE: "It's Hardy Jenns (shoots bird) with TWO n's."




WHY: Dream team of Winona Ryder and Shannen Doherty, Best lines all throughout, Best outfits, Christian Slater before his "thing" got annoying, Revenge fantasies, etc. 

Who's Winona Ryder

Who's Shannen Doherty


BEST SONG: DUH 

BEST QUOTE: "Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?"




WHY: Attractive vampires, Corey Haim before he lost his mind, Beach vampires as a thing that can happen, Corey Feldman before he lost his mind.

Who's Corey Haim?

Who's Corey Feldman

BEST SONG: THIS

BEST QUOTE: "They're only noodles, Michael." 


THE BARELY LESS IMPORTANT ONES:




WHY: John Cusack letting everyone know how doofy guys can get girls who look like Ione Skye, Kickboxing as a thing people do, Lili Taylor singing, Boom Box under your window, Cassette tapes. 

Who's John Cusack?

Who's Ione Skye?

Who's Lili Taylor?

BEST SONG: THIS

BEST QUOTE: "I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen."



WHY: Keanu Reeves in a dramatic role, Crispin Glover as a person, Murder, So many leather jackets, etc.

Who's Keanu Reeves?


BEST SONG: THIS

BEST QUOTE:  "Get your nunchuks and your dad's car."



WHY: Chicago problems, Suburban concerns, Elisabeth Shue being more comforting than Ibuprofen, etc.

Who's Elisabeth Shue

BEST SONG: Couldn't find a soundtrack listing for this but I remember there being various blues songs. 

BEST QUOTE: "Don't fuck with the babysitter."



WHY: Robert Downey Jr. and his gap, "Computers," Various monsters and such, Poop jokes, The mall, Showering with people.


BEST SONG: THIS


BEST QUOTE: "You spit in this?"




WHY: Gothy Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara as a person, Song and dance numbers, etc.

Who's Winona Ryder


BEST SONG: THIS

BEST QUOTE: "This is my art, and it is dangerous." 


QUIZ SECTION

What is this from?
What is this from?
What is this from?
What is this from?
What is this from? 



Monday, February 16, 2015

Genius of Love

By: Bonnie Scott


This is Valentines Day. I am thirty‐three years old.

I got a haircut today. It was the first I’ve ever paid for. I have been shaving a good portion of my head for a few years now, and people just assume things about me based on that.

This week at my job I spent four days staining, sanding, and polishing the same eight pieces of wood over and over, and when my boss was happy with them I asked for a raise. Now I’ve paid for an expensive haircut.

It’s a hair place where they give you beer while you wait. I was uncertain if the stylist was able to interpret my somewhat‐opposing pleas of “I’ve been fucking this up myself since I was 14 please do anything to help me. I just saw a photo of the back of my head on social media and I was mortified,” and “I want to look less gay." I kept my eyes on my beer throughout the process because I’m one of those people who has problems looking in mirrors. Did you know that these people exist? They do. Some people can loose an entire day to crying because they caught themselves looking shitty in a mirror while digging for clean clothes in their closet or whatever. I think Xanax would be a good idea for this type of situation but my therapist doesn’t.

The stylist cut off too much, but my hair was pretty lousy so I don’t blame her, and she only charged me 45 bucks, and I gave her the tip I pre‐calculated based on the $77 I had expected to spend. I didn’t look any less gay when I left.

Afterward I stopped at a Duane Reade to refill my prescription for Wellbutrin. I paced the aisles of the Duane Reade, waiting to be given a new bottle of antidepressants on Valentine's Day. "What else would I possibly be doing?" I texted someone. 

On the overhead stereo, they played the band Air. They played the Air song "Sexy Boy" and I shoplifted some lip balm and accepted my free Medicaid subsidized brain pills and went out the door.

It’s snowing. On my bike ride home I passed the fashionable ice cream place where I once freaked out, trying to order ice cream while high on mushrooms. This was two summers ago. I stood still in there, silent at the counter, staring at an overly verbose menu for a full five minutes, unable to process anything or respond to the waitstaff while my then‐girlfriend calmly asked for samples. At some point I snapped out of it enough to stage whisper “WE NEED TO LEAVE," and she and I ran outside through a rainstorm and into her building down the street. Inside, I grabbed her shoulders and said “WE CAN NOT EVER GO IN THERE. THERE’S TOO MUCH SHIT AND TOO MANY PEOPLE. I CAN’T STAND IT." And I apologized for being a misanthropic freak who dislikes whatever normal people like. She said it was fine, that she didn’t like it either, and that she understood me. I said “THIS IS WHY I LIKE YOU SO MUCH. THIS IS WHY I LOVE YOU." And we went upstairs to lie on her living room floor, holding each other.


I’ve been casually sleeping with a guy from work for a month and a half. I’m not a casual person. I think every one on earth can tell I’m not a casual person based on the way I walk or the way I hold my face or something, so no matter how much I think to myself that I’m going to stay casual and not freak people out with my realistic intensity, something on my body betrays me and people run screaming. What I mean by that is: it’s not easy. I like this guy from work a lot and I don’t know if he knows that or cares. According to his posts on social media, his mother died three years ago on this day, this day of the year that is Valentine's Day. He is only 26 and seems to have really loved his mom so this, I imagine, was a serious trauma for him. So what are you supposed to say on Valentine's Day to a guy you really like who you don’t really talk to unless you are in bed with him, who is spending the day primarily celebrating how great his dead mother was? I don’t have an answer for this. I’m going to send him an amusing photograph and hope for the best. If he responds at all I’ll ask him to tell me about his mom because I am genuinely interested.

I think I’m done with love. It’s recently been pointed out to me by someone I’ve stopped talking to that my use of the term is pretty empty. I’ve always thought that I love a lot of people, all my friends and associates, whoever I’d be willing to do something unnecessary for. That to me is love. I’m probably wrong and am also apparently hurting people, because it goes away. I don’t always have that feeling for everyone forever who I start having that feeling for. The girlfriend, from the floor; This person I stopped talking to.

This person I stopped talking to was someone I had loved, because she was unique and vulnerable and gave a shit about the same things I do. She offered me comfort when I needed it and let me experience her darkest moments with her. I asked her to be my partner physically and she refused, while still texting me all day every day, taking me to events with her and then to bed at night, where we would hold each other and not have sex. We met on a dating website.

After some time I taught myself to accept this for what it was: a useful, fun platonic partnership in which I’d found someone to fulfill all my needs except one. “Just find someone else to fuck,” she told me. She’d already done so herself; a man she would not agree to be seen with in public whom she turned to only for sex. I guess maybe they talked sometimes because she seemed to know something about his political leanings. She criticized the way I spoke, the way I drove, my narrow views on gender politics, my inability to be perfectly clear about things. She also helped me move several times, listened to every complaint I had about my life and bolstered my self esteem, praising each little effort I made in the world. Sometimes she would visit me at work and everyone assumed we were a couple. Everyone wasn’t wrong. We spent Christmas together. Ate, drank, exchanged gifts, sarcastically went to church, took a nap and what happened in the weeks that followed is I don’t love her anymore. I think that’s what it is. I’m not sure. It’s not like she’s a different person, or that I am. I just realized that I don’t want to do unnecessary things for her anymore. Or anything for her, anymore.

I loved her, for a while, in spite of her being pushy and demanding, and somehow simultaneously co‐dependent and aloof. The more she trusted me, the more she wanted to see me, but always on her terms, frequently in the shape of me sitting next to her on the couch in her apartment watching her apply for jobs, us sitting away from each other watching a terrible movie after fighting about diet books, or fighting about how I’d tried to change some plans we’d agreed on, or her inviting herself along to things I’d planned to do with other people or letting me drive her around for no good reason. 

The more I did for her the more I realized she didn’t know how to say please, or thank you, for any of it, and began to feel nothing but anxiety when I saw a text from her on my phone.

All this alongside her constant critique of me‐‐the kind of criticism I would almost definitely, readily accept from someone I was actually fucking. And something in that sentence is a clue to why I am spending Valentine's night eating bacon and kale with my fingers in front of the computer alone, and wondering if I’ll hear from the guy I’ve been sleeping with and wondering when I should go to bed.

I stopped loving her because she pushed into me too hard and wanted me too much, and I stopped talking to her because I can’t even explain this without it turning into some back and forth tennis match of retorts. I let everything happen because I wanted the experiment to work. I wanted this new kind of partnership to succeed and make us both happy, and somewhere down the line someone would refer to us as “longtime companions” in an article about my artwork in my fantasy future where there is still art and journalism and maybe we’re not living in a post‐ apocalyptic “The Road” situation.

So, goodbye to all that, and forget it. I don’t know what love is and I don’t know if it’s real. I’m going to stop saying "I love you" and say "gee, your hair smells terrific," or something instead. "Gee, your voice is beautiful." "Gee, that was a nice kick flip." "Gee, you sure have a way with that manual transmission." 

There are people I want to do unnecessary things for, and there are a lot of them, and I don’t even have a reason why for each. They are charming, or they have helped me out, or talked to me either like I have half a brain, or I don’t, and some I’ve just met and some have stuck around for years listening to my bullshit. I want to say I love them, but perhaps from now on I’ll limit my sentiment to "Hey, if I saw you out there in a post-apocalyptic The Road situation, I would gladly share a can of beans I found in a bomb shelter with you, no foolin''

I’m done pretending like I know some shit about anything at all.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Human Drama. Death of a Weird Girl.

By: Kelly McClure


Spending my teen years in Southern California was a turbulent and confusing time. It was consistently 70 degrees and sunny, but I was a goth with dyed black hair (when it wasn't blonde, because apparently I was blonde at one point? Maybe naturally? I'm unsure) and an ambitious uniform of velour blouses from the thrift store, capes made out of whatever, and a leather jacket that I tried to draw on with White-Out, even though I can't draw and whatever I tried to draw with it just flaked off like a scab. I looked terrible, but felt great. I have a vivid memory of standing in front of the bathroom mirror at home, getting ready to hop in my Mitsubishi Mirage for a show, and my Mom walking by the open door, pausing just long enough to whisper "You look like shit," me not caring a bit because I was young, had money to burn since I basically started working the minute I could reach a doorknob, and had already slept with more women than my Dad. 

I listened to a lot of Human Drama during this time. Have you heard of this band? They sound like this:


I learned about them from a fellow goth girl named Shannon who I met in Downtown Riverside during one of the street fairs they held there every Wednesday. These street fairs were a dreamy scene because Downtown Riverside looks like a haunted Spanish mission surrounded by orange trees and Christmas lights. My weird friends and I would convene there every Wednesday evening after school and spend hours walking up and down this one street, sitting in the grass smoking, not buying anything, and thinking about morbid things. I would run into this Shannon girl there every week and I had a major crush on her, even though she had a violent/rude seeming GF named Melissa who would yell at me every time she caught me staring at them. I boldly gave Shannon my phone number one night and she called me once. I took her call in my parent's room and sat on their bed, twirling their phone cord, while she talked to me about hating God and wanting to burn her school down. At the end of our convo my Dad knocked on the door and asked "what the hell are you talking about in there?" and I screamed "GET AWAY FROM THE DOOR!" We never talked on the phone again, but I'll never be able to forget her because  she taught me about Human Drama, a band that I feverishly obsessed over, until one day I didn't.


The first time I saw Human Drama perform live was at the Showcase Theater in Corona, California. The Showcase opened in 1993, and closed down in 2008, which I just learned while searching for the above picture. I'm sad to hear that this place shut down because the majority of the shows I saw while living in California during the ages of 7 and 20-ish took place here. Memories I have of seeing Human Drama at The Showcase (because I obviously saw them there more than once, I'm guessing the number would land around five times) include:

- Taking my second GF ever there and telling her "You're probably gonna see me get really emotional here."

- Sitting on the floor with my friend Yolanda and having this guy I was trying to not be gay with throw us down cigarette after cigarette from up on the balcony. Later this same evening Yolanda and I both kissed him and he accidentally burned my nose hairs with his lighter.

- Having someone tell me that they heard Johnny (lead singer from the band) beat his wife and me feeling scared about it. 

- Having a crush on this tall goth guy named Aaron and turning to actual stone every time he came over to talk to me. He probably to this day thinks I'm actually mentally handicapped. 

Human Drama formed in 1985 and broke up in 2005. In 2012 they performed a reunion show in Mexico City and it looked like this:


The woman you hear in the background of these videos screaming like a dying goat would have been me if I had been at this show. 

I try to listen to Human Drama every so often and actually just put on a CD of theirs the other day while working at my desk. I had to take it off because it's just not the same. I'm not that weird girl anymore I guess. I'm this weird woman. Maybe a new weird girl will read this post and learn about them though. Don't try to call me on the phone about it. I don't do that anymore.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

This Year’s Grammy For Best Guy Eating A Taco

By: Ben Johnson



I did not watch the Grammys. I also did not watch NCIS: New Orleans, or Hair Disasters: Miami Beach, or Dog Wars: San Diego, or a rerun of Frasier.

I heard some vague outlines of what happened at the Grammys. Some sort of sad staged thing with Kanye West and Beck happened, I think. Kanye West is 37 years old and Beck is 44 years old. Neither of them is the president of a country. Nobody on earth should care what either of them did or said to each other. I am 35 years old and I am not the president of a country. I can confirm this.

The Grammys are not for humans. If you watch them, you will be bored. Some portion of the people there were probably also bored, like “wow, this is much more boring than I expected.” Maybe that’s just me projecting. I would be bored at the Grammys. I’d be like “can’t we just sell the tickets and then go for a hike in one of those Los Angeles hiking places?” I’m not the only person like me. I’d guess there were some people in attendance at the Grammys who yawned during the Grammys at least once. I did see a meme that made it look like Prince was bored. Also: Prince is a weird space alien.

I’d like to apologize, by the way, for writing about the Grammys. I did not expect this. The Grammys are nothing, really. The Grammys are not even the Grammys. That seems important to keep in mind when thinking about the Grammys. They’re not even the Grammys.

I know that the Grammys are not even the Grammys because I saw this today. I guess a guy snuck some photos of himself into the Grammy Museum, which appears to exist and be a thing, and nobody noticed because they looked enough like pictures that would be in the Grammy Museum, and nobody actually cares what pictures of who are in the Grammy Museum. There are not, like, Grammy Museum “fans” who love it in there. It’s in downtown Los Angeles, near the Staples Center, and it is presumably air conditioned, and you can take your brat children there and pay $12 to go stand around and look at some music person things, and then later you get to go back to the hotel, and then even later than that you get to finally die. I have never been to the Grammy Museum, but I have a very strong feeling that it, like the Grammys themselves, is not for humans. In that way it is a successful museumification of the institution it represents. Good job, Grammy Museum.

The pictures of the guy, mostly just of a not famous guy eating tacos and talking about how tacos are good to eat, stayed in the Grammy Museum for a month, apparently. I mean, it’s all in that link I posted. Somebody asked a museum guard about who this unfamous dude was, and the museum guard said he thought it was a dude from One Direction, and that ended the inquiry, and this shows just how little the Grammy Museum is for humans. They have guards in there. In case people want to pay $12 to be in there and then do bad things. A human being was paid probably relatively not much, but also probably some five figure amount of money over the course of a year, to stand guard over some pictures of a random person eating tacos. That is the Grammiest thing I can imagine.

I don’t even care if any of this is bullshit. It’s so plausible. Its rank plausibility kills me.

I’m in grad school right now, okay? So I’ve been reading the most dense, erudite, pointlessly theoretical possible version of all the things I care most about recently. I’ve been reading about rock and roll and music by the people who talk about those things with enough authority and presence and depth to be offered jobs at academic institutions where they get to talk about those things for a living. They are convincing. To the point where, at these institutions, which are academy-type versions of the Grammys, everybody who listens to these people talk about those things and regurgitates their own version of those things with enough of their own panache gets to be certified “smart” when they’re done.

There are two versions of events these people have been able to figure out. One is that the music industry destroys and distorts some inherently “authentic” quality in music, and that some music has this quality and some music does not. Another is that there is no “authentic” quality in music, and that all things are relatively equal, and all of music and all of culture responds to market forces to take the shape it takes, and some music uses a “this is authentic” myth to prop up its standing in its own market. I think they’re both true. One is subjective, the other is more objective, or at least more transactional. Not that it matters.

Basically the truth is that there is a music industry whose job it is to convert the feeling you get from listening to music you like into an experience which you can pay for, and sometimes this is convenient and sometimes it is alienating. The Grammys are essentially a celebration of this conversion. “Best Conversion of sound to monetized version of sound” is pretty much every Grammy category. “Great conversion,” the artists are telling each other back stage, and “thank you, I’ve enjoyed your conversions for years.” The Grammys are not “about” music, because nothing can be “about” music. Music is just music. The Grammys are only music to the extent that everything is, which is to say some basic amount.

I mention all this because if music and culture unfold as a continuous response to market forces, and all things along the varied spectrum of success within this possess the intrinsic potential for relatively equal merit, then that random taco guy who faked his way into the Grammy Museum is exactly as important as Pharrell Williams and whatever hat he is wearing, or any of the professors of talking about music things, or any of the rest of us or anything we ever do. I can live with that. I support that, even. It’s perfect.

The narrative of the Grammys are that, look, the conversion process of sound into money is a thing itself. But it is not a thing. The entities involves in it are not, collectively, a thing. These are just random taco guys, eating tacos, in a museum we constructed arbitrarily. The Grammys are not for humans. They are for being and becoming an air conditioned place that costs $12 to be dragged to by your family which has a 13 year old in it who you can’t relate to and to be honest, can barely tolerate, and so spending $12 just to be in a room together that you both don’t actively hate is worth it. You go there, you look at the taco guys, you notice how many of the depicted taco guys are wearing scarves indoors, you become curious enough to ask a guard about why an unfamous person is eating a taco next to Rihanna, but not curious enough to actually find out, and you go on with your life with $12 less money and two hours less time.

So no, I did not watch the Grammys. But I also watched the Grammys. We all watch the Grammys. Every day. It’s almost all we ever do. We watch the Grammys and we go to bed, and wake up and watch the Grammys. If we’re lucky.



Monday, February 9, 2015

The Problem With Being A Writer

By: Ben Johnson



The problem with being a writer, a problem with being a writer, is…

Actually, using the phrase “the problem with being a writer” is a problem with being a writer. That’s such a douche phrase. Could you imagine if you said that out loud? Like to another person, in a conversation, and the other person in the conversation did not start that conversation by asking you “hey, Ben, what is a problem with being a writer?” I would die of embarrassment the instant I became aware that I used those words.

You know in old cartoons where Bugs Bunny tricks Elmer Fudd, and Elmer Fudd is walking, and he realizes he’s been tricked, so he turns and looks at the camera and turns into a lollipop that says “SUCKER” on it? Well realizing that you’ve just used the phrase “the problem with being a writer” is like that, except instead of a lollipop you turn into Ira Glass. It still says “SUCKER” on your Ira Glass face, though.

Nobody has asked me, and probably nobody ever will ask me, to articulate a problem with being a writer. It’s very likely that nobody will ever care what I think is an example of a problem with being a writer. It’s supremely, extraordinarily likely that if you are reading this right now, you’ve read the last two sentences and taken them as permission not to care, and if you still have any interest whatsoever in reading the rest of this, you’re at the point now where you consider it a slog. Because I haven’t gotten to the point. I’ve only been overly self-aware so far in a transparently neurotic bid to get you to like me. That’s a problem with being a writer too.

The problem I’m experiencing most right now is that I’ve spent so much time writing things that this is now how my brain works. I process information like I am writing that information. I summarize and reorder, and try to find the most precise description of my feelings, and I distill everything I experience and think and feel that passes a basic threshold of importance of “this is a thing I am experiencing and thinking and feeling” into these whimsical little bon mots to publish and disseminate and then either move on from or be able to look at later if and when needed, and I have done this often enough for it to become the only process I can use to get through anything. THAT is a problem with being a writer.

I’m in the middle of something massive and confusing right now, with massive and confusing and conflicting feelings, and my goddamn writer brain is going to work on everything, like stomach bacteria, breaking every damn thought or feeling that pops into my head into little Ira Glass “SUCKER” metaphorical turns of phrase for me to listen to while I walk around like I’m a goddamn podcast of myself. “Stomach bacteria” for example. It’s not like fucking stomach bacteria at all. It’s the passage of time and the normal, massive, confusing changes that life brings to a person. It has nothing whatsoever to do with stomach bacteria. Stomach bacteria are for digestion, this is the emotional equivalent alternate meaning of the word “digest,” so, fuck, actually that is a pretty good metaphor.

ACT 2: The Things We Say to One Another When We Know Things Aren’t Quite Right…

Ira Glass. Oh man. What a chump. He understands exactly how to be Ira Glass and how to do exact Ira Glass things in the perfect Ira Glass way where you can hate Ira Glass all you want but you are still interested most of the time when Ira Glass is doing a thing. Ira Glass is exactly so much Ira Glass, and for so long, that he sometimes sounds like he’s going to explode on the air, like the whole of his being is an overripe pimple and one day it’ll just pop and there will be no more Ira Glass, and we’ll all just go, “oh, yeah, got it. Whew, that was a good one.”

I do not want to process information that way. I want my life to be a big stinky mess, and I want to sit in it, a mess myself, and I want to be able to write in a way that is also a mess, that reflects how messy everything always is, giant limpid pools of cess-riddled mess, piled pet hair, permanently itched nostrils, dead time with people in it, some arguing crows too lazy to even fly, suffering from Time Disease, and here I am, walking distance to two dildo stores now. There are bricks in the sink and I wash them. My life is a new job. My hands are made of hand meat and hand skin. They are not for anything. I’m bruggled, and torp a chough to shand with. I’ve possened. I’m a me machine. Kept her motor clean.

I’m being cryptic. My mother is reading this and she is worried. She cannot stop herself from worrying about me because she is my mother, and then I give her a reason to be worried, like a paragraph that doesn’t make sense, every word I say to be pored over like a suicide note because I don’t talk because I can’t talk because she worries whether I talk or don’t talk, and I am worried too and just want to not be worried, want to sit at the bottom of the ocean for a while even if the pressure is so great it squishes my head like a rotten pumpkin, long enough that when I come up I am not defending myself to my mother or myself or God or anybody else.

I am fine. Everything is fine. I just have a lot to deal with right now. I promise I will reach out if… I reach out. I will do that if I do that. I will do everything I do if I do it, from now on, and I do not want or need anything to make sense anymore, and I damn sure don’t want to be an Ira Glass stomach bacteria about it, converting my whole life into LOLs to be shit out and favorited and liked and shared and retweeted and understood by anybody, especially me.

I do not want to do that. But I can’t stop it from happening inside of me. It sucks. I’m my own least favorite subject. I’m as bored as you probably are, and I’m sorry. I should have kids by now. I should have already turned to dust and been sucked up to the moon. I don’t have an excuse or a gramble to fust. I’m Borgnine.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Bobbi Kristina is About to Die. Don't Wait For It to Happen to Care.

By: Kelly McClure



I'm doing this. I'm not planning for this. I'm doing this. I just went from "I'm eating cold pizza for breakfast and feeling kind of hung over because I did a social thing two nights in a row," to "I'm gonna write about Bobbi Kristina. And I'm gonna do it right now." 

There is no eloquent way to write about the frailty of life, let alone the frailty of a life that isn't yours. I don't know the majority of the people that I think about and talk about every day. They are faces on an album, book cover, or TV screen. They are faces who drive lives that are probably completely different from the ones I've crafted in my head for them. I will never know them. They will never know me. But I care about them just as much as I care about anything else, so that's real. That's a real thing. 

I feel like not enough people are talking about Bobbi Kristina. I feel like I've been waiting, over the past week or so, to see the string of media professionals who I follow on social outlets to have some sort of emotional response to the fact that the young daughter of Whitney Houston is laying in a hospital bed, about to lose her life. I don't think enough people are talking about this, and I know why. They are waiting for her to die first. They are waiting for the machine that is keeping her alive to be unplugged. And then, they will have something to say about it. For about a week. And then they won't. This time next month Bobbi Kristina will be another tragically dead celebrity who we Googled for a day, clicked out a few RIPs for on Twitter, and then discarded. And that makes me sick.



When I learned of the death of Whitney Houston, a musical marvel who I have literally adored my whole life, I was sitting in a dark movie theater watching a porno. I had "ironically" accepted an assignment to write about a porn film fest, and Whitney died the first night of it. I learned about it on Twitter, which I had been reading on my phone to distract myself from the awkwardness of sitting in front of a huge screen showing people's naked fumblings, and I Tweeted something stupid like "I blame Bobby B!" I then went on to write the only article I ever secretly very much regret writing. I have thought about Whitney Houston, and that she died, and how she died, almost every day since it happened, and that's the truth. In this weird way, I can't believe that anyone would ever stop talking about it.

Whitney Houston was sad. She was overwhelmed, over shared, over worked. She was sweaty, and "losing it." She was failing, and flailing, in a public eye that couldn't wait to make jokes about it. Whitney Houston did drugs and then let her life slip away in a bathtub in the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Whitney Houston floated, dead in the water, almost directly above a pre-Grammy party that STILL HAPPENED even after news trickled down to the party goers that Whitney had died. This chain of events is so disturbing and disgusting that sometimes I think about it to torture myself in the same way that I can't help but obsess over the dead baby scene in Trainspotting, even after all these years. 

Bobbi Kristina was sad. She lost her Mom in an embarrassing, tragic, and very public way. Bobbi Kristina's life was hard. Bobbi Kristina took drugs and passed out in a bathtub, cutting off oxygen to her brain, which has since gone dead. Bobbi Kristina is all but dead, and it's the saddest thing I can think of. I'm sad she lost her Mom. I'm sad she, eerily so, followed the same path. I'm sad for their whole family. More so though I'm sad, and dread with every irrational fiber of my being, waking up one morning to the beginning of a one week news cycle of "Bobbi Kristina, only daughter to Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, has died." 

I wanted to say something. I didn't want to add to a string of "she's dead" posts. I want to write something now, while she's holding on to the last moments of her young life. She'll never read this, she'll never have the chance to, but if I can hooty hoo a message out to the world in her honor it would be "I'm thinking of you Bobbi Kristina, and your LIFE. I'm not waiting for you to die. I'm not waiting for you to die. I'm not waiting for you to die. I'm not waiting for you to die."