31 July 2012

chick-fil-a part 1.

Owing perhaps to their awkward bearings and their legendary stupidity, chickens are hardly likely to inspire the same anthropomorphic sentimentalism that, say, a cow, pig, duck, or even a mink would. I read somewhere that we humans tend to empathize with animals to the extent that they remind us of ourselves—which isn't to say that otters are beloved zoo denizens because they look like us (though they are nearer to us than crocodiles or centipedes, of course), but because we see in their playfulness and 'enthusiasm' something that makes us think of children: guileless, innocent, and joyful in the purest way that maybe only a child at play can be. Other animals—for instance, snakes or scorpions or spiders—might be alien and, therefore, frightening to us instinctively. Maybe this is a primitive hardwired response to be leery of certain small animals that could, in some cases, prove very dangerous for a human race that did yet not have a collective scientific understanding of these dangers to consult.

The recent Chick-fil-A anti-gay-marriage stance got me thinking about a lot of things—and one of them was chickens. One of Chick-fil-A's (only?) memorable ad campaigns involved cows wearing sandwich boards which exhorted diners to 'eat mor chikin' [sic]' in an unsophisticated bovine-like script (with an anthropomorphized spelling equal to that of the LOLcats). Although the deeper implications of the campaign were no doubt glossed over by most people who saw it, it generally worked on the assumption, I think, that cows are more endearing than chickens are. (Notice also that the sandwich boards are not thrown over the backs of cows on all-fours; the cows are standing erect, as if the concept itself weren't persuasive enough and the correlation had to be underscored.) This is a double-edged sword of course—because one of the stereotypes about chickens is that they are filthy animals who live much of their idiotic lives claw-deep in their own feces. And this stereotype must almost always be true, given the state of modern poultry farming. If the chicken doesn't have an instinctual love of filth, the poultry farming companies don't give them much of a choice anyway. This is their fate, ironically, in order that more chickens with more genetically desirable traits may be produced more efficiently for you, the consumer, to eat at restaurants like Chick-fil-A. The very things that are unappealing about chickens are reinforced by the food industry.

It's generally not advisable for food producers and restaurants to remind consumers of the animals they are eating in their advertising. There are exceptions, of course (Charlie the Tuna comes to mind), but as a rule of thumb it is probably more advantageous for the food industry to divorce its products from any recollection of its living animal origins. The food biz thrives on the maintenance of this pointed disconnect between the grisly reality of animal farming and the food that ends up on our plates. Many people who are almost entirely unsympathetic to animal rights would not want to see the slaughter and butchering of the cow that resulted in their hamburger. At the very least, it's unpleasant. Fortunately, as in the case of many facets of our everyday life, we have designated intermediaries who do the dirty work so we don't even have to acknowledge the implications, much less think about them deeply. We don't have to see the sweat shops where our clothes are made, the third world mines where our jewelry is unearthed, or the death throes of the cow that doesn't quite die after the first air gun strike to the head. 

If life is not neat, tidy, and simple, then it's neater, tidier, and simpler than it has any right to be. This isn't an out-and-out condemnation of the estrangement between our comfortable lives and that suffering that often enables it—because that would be hypocrisy. No one who lives in an advanced country like the United States can possibly live a blameless life. The system is too widespread and deeply-entrenched to allow any of us a totally clear conscience. It's a system so efficacious that we only occasionally recognize it as a system; most of the time we don't even see it. And we like it that way. This is not a judgment necessarily; it's a description of what it means to be human: We must endlessly negotiate the give-and-take between our greater ethical responsibilities and our inherent desire to be happy or personally satisfied. If I were to devote every waking minute to seeking out the far-reaching implications of every decision I make, I would be, firstly, something less than a real person and, secondly, probably very, very insane. 

This is where we find the origins of liberal guilt. Like original sin, there's always the nagging sense among those (theoretically) committed to a socially responsible life that more culpability can be easily found under more overturned rocks. Eventually, we get exhausted and just quit turning over so many rocks—but we feel the weight of those countless and nameless sins of omission which result from the realization that I cannot be everything for them and still be something for myself. It may sound like a cop-out, or a bourgeois rationalization, but it's no more controversial than realizing we just can't do everything—but we must still deal with the question of what is enough. And this question is endlessly unanswerable. 

25 July 2012


Until Tuesday, July 31st.

bad porn! 2: electric boogaloo.

The following pictures depict graphic (and sometimes disturbing) sexual situations. Proceed with caution.

diagramming bieber fans.

The following are my valiant attempts to diagram the sentences Justin Bieber fans left on his Facebook fan page:

24 July 2012


The 1980s was a lousy time for a lot of things—but not even Abu Ghraib can match the cumulative tortures the decade inflicted upon otherwise innocent heads of hair. I myself remember trying to cajole my limp, lifeless bangs into a gravity-defying chaos—equal parts Robert Smith and sorority girl. I tried mousse, I tried hair spray,  and I tried gel, but all I succeeded in doing was making my hair look stringy and greasy (which could actually serve as passable 'style' in that strange, distant era known as the 80s). 

I won't say that I was prescient or ahead-of-my-time, but I'm convinced I always knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the fashion and hairstyles of the decade. Even when I was in my parachute pants and white leather Puma high-tops, there was a nagging sense of my own absurdity. Did I really just pay money for a little yellow rubbery band I could place over the face of my Swatch, ostensible to 'guard' it? Was I seriously concerned about having the tightest peg-roll on my Jordache jeans? And did I actually wear a fire-engine red Izod with a popped collar under a gray zippered vest to the Daughters of the American Revolution awards dinner? (Oh, the humanity...)

Richard Marx.

Jane Child.

John Parr.

A Flock of Seagulls lead singer.

Boy George.

Taylor Dayne.

Nancy McKeon.


Patti LaBelle.

Reba McEntire.

Eric Carmen.

Pepa, Salt, and Spinderella.

David Hasselhoff.

23 July 2012

the hautiest couture around.

There are real dreams—the things you want to do and actually might (someday)—and then there are half-assed dreams—the kind of 'wouldn't it be cool if...?' scenarios you entertain when you're on the verge of falling asleep, spacing out at work, or soaping up your here-and-theres in the shower. File this one in the half-assed bin, and understand that it's not a practical objective. It's just a theoretical fantasy. Like a concept car or an exciting Bela Tarr movie. (Is that my second or third Bela Tarr dig since I started this blog? I've lost count.)

I want to design avant garde clothing. I mean, clothing that is so avant-garde that in most cases it can never be worn—or if it can, it's so ridiculously impractical and contrary to all common sense that it's maybe unusable or dangerous.

Starter Ideas:

1. A dress made out of wood. Now I'm not talking about a wafer-thin veneer here, one that might be fairly rigid but malleable. What I'm talking about is a 'fabric' that is really a one-inch thick solid shell of oak, stained in a deep coffee color which will hopefully highlight the grain. Obviously, a wooden dress must be made-to-measure. This couldn't be something that you could find on the racks at J.C. Penney for any old lumpy woman to get into. It would certainly be easier, of course, if the dress could be assembled in pieces and then 'fastened' together around the wearer with, say, wood glue and nails, or hinges, or whatever; but one of the prerequisites must be that the dress is one piece, without hinges or other movable elements, before the wearer puts it on. Needless to say, you cannot sit in the dress, but you should be able to walk in it if the skirt portion is made into enough of a bell-shape. We shouldn't aim for anything form-fitting on the lower half—certainly not a pencil skirt. Also, another issue with the wooden dress will be its weight. It will be extraordinarily heavy, and as such, it must be worn by a sturdier kind of woman and only for a relatively short period—which is fine, I think, because part of the appeal of the dress is its elusiveness. It should only make rare appearances in public. One mustn't grow accustomed to a wooden dress. It should be a sensation—an impossible thing which astounds us by its sudden possibility. (Other considerations: splinters, pressure marks on the skin from the weight, unwieldiness, woodworms, termites, sun-damage, etc.)

2. Dog feces necklace. This one is fairly self-explanatory, but a few stipulations should be underscored to preclude an inferior product. Sure, you can find dog shit all over the place on this great planet of ours, but you shouldn't settle for the first turds that catch your eye. You must be selective in shape, color, and consistency. Especially moist dog feces may be laid out in the sun to dry, but you shouldn't get your hopes up with fecal specimens that are not solid. They will never mature into a satisfying consistency. (Trust me on this.) I find turds from smallish dogs supply the best 'beads' for your necklace because the overall effect is established through the plurality of turds, not from a few massive turds that create undesirable shapes when worn around your neck. (It doesn't take a genius to realize that a necklace made from four long turds will always form a parallelogram when worn. I don't find this appealing in a necklace. More turds will allow for a more flowing and flexible drape around your decolletage.) You may also want to use similar-looking turds for the majority of the necklace, and then select an exceptional, discolored centerpiece turd as a dominant 'jewel' setting. After the turds have been thoroughly dried (and shellacked, if you wish to go a more conservative route), a wire with a strong cord tied to the end should be threaded through the turds lengthwise. (Other considerations: staining, odor, disease, physical deterioration, etc. All of these qualities make for a wonderful but ephemeral piece of jewelry.)

3. Vermicelli wig. This one's labor-intensive, but I think it's well worth it for the Wow Factor. First, overcook a giant pot of vermicelli (or a smaller pot if you want a tidier, wash-and-go hairstyle). We do not want al dente pasta in this case since we are attempting to simulate hair. While you are waiting for the vermicelli, you might as well use this time to shave your head. In order for this to truly work, you really must commit to it. You don't want the bulkiness of your real hair under the vermicelli hair. That would be unsettling. I recommend using electric shears to finish the job quickly and efficiently—and so as not to give yourself enough time to change your mind. Now you must find a skull cap of some sort... You could use a yarmulke or one of those rubbery bald caps used at Halloween, or you could depilate another wig you already have. (Maybe you've already tried my idea for an earthworm wig, but you've grown tired of it.) Lastly, carefully glue the vermicelli, in tight bunches, to the skull cap. Make sure you avoid unevenness. The vermicelli should be consistently dense throughout. (Other considerations: dogs and other animals may try to eat, difficult to style, difficult to wash, easily damaged, etc.)

the psychology of liberalism.

By natural predisposition, I'm a despot. Few fantasies are more appealing to me (on an entirely primal, intellectually unmediated level) than the subjugation of others—if not by slithery persuasion, then by force. There is (I want to say) an innate sadistic delight in the jackboot and truncheon, which the enlightened mind would of course seek to deny, but when we catch a glimpse of it lurking in the cellars of our consciousness—in a stray, fleeting impulse—we sense how fragile this thing called civilization really is.

I will court controversy when I hypothesize (not without a certain measure of self-doubt, I admit) that the human being is—by intrinsic design—a willful, ruthless creature. But this is only the starting point, you understand. This is what we are given, not what we necessarily make of ourselves. Anthropologically, maybe humans are driven to social connectedness, but I think that any society which results is predicated on  the domination of others—one or several leaders assert their will, and the others, either in defeat or cunning, bow to it. 

When we are on the 'right side of opinion,' I think there is a visceral thrill in, say, a reign of terror which seeks to purge a society of error and dissent (as determined, naturally, by the counsel of the right-thinking, which is by definition the empowered). But at the same time, we aren't only made up of instinct and primal impulses, we are thinking beings—who are aware to some extent that history is capricious; those it favors one day are beheaded the next, and a new cult of right-thinking asserts itself, by force usually, and disposes of the old one.

We must be liberals then. Radicals (of any stripe) are too convinced of their positions—which is another way of saying that their positions are so intellectually weak or precarious that they can not possibly stand up to reasoned opposition. Therefore, radicals can not permit dissent because it might shine an unforgiving light on the particularity and absurdity of their positions. Theirs aren't positions that belong to objective truth, as they would like you to believe; they are only bile masquerading as mother's milk. Radical solutions belong to radical subjectivities. The Stalins and the Hitlers and the Maos were merely working out their grudges, their sadism, on a grander scale than our own petty lives usually allow.

Conservatives are sometimes even worse. They are indebted to the past. What a miserable thing to swoon over... 'the olden days'! Our pasts are where all our errors lie. I don't mean that we don't make mistakes in the present, but we are earnest now and edified by our history. The past is the museum of our errors. It's where our ignorance and arrogance are exhibited for the amusement of spectators. Despite the ugliness of the past (and the past is always essentially ugly to whatever extent), a conservative sees the advantages he enjoyed in that bygone era, usually at the expense of others, and he is nostalgic for it. (There isn't any need to wonder why so many old white men are conservatives, is there?) He dresses up his malice and jealousy in the 'beauty' of tradition and heritage and custom. He is a man of 'common sense.' He will climb the clocktower ledge to turn back the hands of time, no matter how anachronistic and foolish he seems.

We must be liberals then. We must be magnanimous—allow dissent and discussion—but we must maintain a minimum law which protects us from the will of others. I am all too well acquainted with the cruelty of my own will, so I must allow it to be tamed, even at the business-end of the whip—so that each man's will may be tamed in kind. I often peer into that dim quarter where my instinct resides, and I extrapolate it to all of mankind. I'm afraid of the chaos of wills, the lottery of oppression, that inevitably results from a primitive, undomesticated world.

This is why I am a liberal.

22 July 2012

writer's block.


In lieu of anything else, here is The American Dollar's 'Anything You Synthesize':

a portrait of the sandwich artist as a young man.

Rerun. From February 12, 2008:

After months of unemployment, during which time my job search consisted of applying at one independent book store and waiting nine weeks for a call-back, I finally decided I'd been jilted and applied at Subway. I was nineteen years old--well past the age, in my own estimation at least, when anyone not a prostitute or a hopeless retard should be delivering the question, "Six-inch or footlong?" to perfect stangers.

Sure, preparing approximately healthful sandwiches might be a career calling for some, like maybe intravenous drug users, cult members, and the elderly, but I was a vital young man. I couldn't subject myself to the existential suspense of locating the precise twenty-three second interval wherein a phallic loaf of bread was neither too under nor overdone. It was a precarious balancing act, to say the least.

The sad thing is that I only got this job because the manager knew my aunt, a prissy, neurotic woman who probably instilled in this gruff man a ridiculous faith that I would tend to a lettuce bin with tender, maternal care. Conveying his reluctance to hire a skulking, uncommunicative goth with a plaintive sigh, he begrudgingly enlisted my services and wasted no time showing me how to mop a tile floor and to mix a basketball-sized glob of mayo and tuna in a giant metal bowl using only my bare hands. 

I worked nights at first with an emaciated woman in her thirties named Stacie. You know the type, even if you don't: skin like naugahyde, stringy hair, British-style teeth, probably born with a cigarette dangling from her mouth. She had heroin-addict written all over her. More to the point, she was obviously on the fast track to career advancement within the Subway hierarchy because she dispensed with each and every ribbon of lettuce as if it cost her, personally, a dollar of her hard-earned wages. On the back of the prep counter, you see, there was a diagram of sorts describing the quantity (often in weight) of each topping permissible on a sandwich with no additional fees, surcharges, or tariffs. Stacie, despite her ignorance of who the vice president at the time was, knew instinctively how a given number of ounces of any sandwich topping felt in her ungloved hand, and she was far from reluctant to get in a full-on huff with customers who accused her of excessive frugality. She would point to the proscribed weights and the accompanying graphics as if they had descended from Sinai and would, promptly and without remorse, upcharge any neanderthal who dared to ask for an additional black olive.

On my second night with Stacie, a morbidly obese woman and her somewhat less obese daughter approached the counter. The mother was nearly snorting and revving her hooves like a bull spoiling for a fight. Her oatmeal raisin cookie, she claimed, and not without much indignance, was overdone, dry, and crumbly. Being for the most part averse to confrontation and not really giving a damn about my job one way or the other anyway, I attempted to be conciliatory by offering the woman either a refund or an exchange for a moister, more acceptable cookie. But Stacie, fuming in the back veggie prep area and always on the verge of a bar fight no matter where she was, overheard this and would have none of my liberal sentimentality. She had baked that particular batch of oatmeal raisin cookies, with a pride of craftmanship unimaginable even to the most propagandistic of old-world communist agitators, and she flatly told the woman,"There is nothing wrong with this cookie." Then, for dramatic effect, she broke the cookie in two and took a bite of it herself. I was, meanwhile, looking in one of the laminated cupboards for Kafka. The confrontation ended in a trailer-window-to-trailer-window style shouting match. The coup de grace came when the customer swatted the cookie evidence out of Stacie's bony hand and bid a smoldering retreat. Stacie's final words were not "Have A Nice Day"--as encouraged by the training materials--but "Get the hell out of here before I call the cops!" I was hiding in the back pretending to rotate stock. Stacie joined me and acted as though nothing had happened. Business as usual.

Another thirtysomething woman named Cathy worked the day shift. She wore pink blush as though she were auditioning for a Human League video every day of the week, but she was exceptionally friendly--too much so. When she discovered that I was working on my English major, just as she was, she looked like a lioness eyeing a gazelle over the Serengeti. She started saying I should come over to her apartment and we could study together some time, but her use of "study" struck me as vaguely euphemistic. On occasion I noticed her watching me with disturbing intensity while I agitated the seafood and crab. A few times, she also touched my shoulder and back, which you generally have to know me for at least two years (and submit a criminal history report) to be able to do. Now I knew how Anita Hill felt.

After I'd been on the Subway team for a while and proven I could assemble a Cold Cut Combo with the best of 'em, I got to work alone, which I preferred most generally. Ours was a small, master-closet-sized franchise and didn't afford much breathing room for my psyche when I was paired with a giggly high schooler or a woman who saw cookie defamation as a call to arms. Plus, when I worked alone, I could steal food and money, which I did like a madman.

By now, the original manager who hired me had been shipped off to this ghetto Subway on the other side of town--the kind that's always being robbed (like once or twice a day) and has to hire an off-duty police office who won't even help slice the onions. (Maybe it was his punishment for hiring me.) The new manager was a humorless middle-aged man who usually scheduled himself during the day so he didn't have to work with me. More than once, he told me that, at evening clean-up, I failed to clean the bins to his satisfaction. Thereafter, I tried to muster a passion for bin-cleaning because it was only fair since I was stealing so much money. I figured that since I had to drive so far, from my maggot-infested apartment downtown (with a hole in the kitchen wall) all the way out to this suburban shit hole, then Subway could at least spring for my gas money. (Oh, and pay my heating and electric bills, too.) What I'd do is, since I pretty much had the costs of everything (tax inclusive) memorized, I'd just charge the customers for the sandwiches without ever ringing them up. The communists would have called it expropriation, so I will too.

Also, at the end of every night, I'd take bagfuls of assorted sandwiches, chips, and cookies home to my girlfriend. It seems that the two of us were on the Subway diet when Jarrod was still the fat fucking slob of folklore. We should, to this day, probably be getting royalties for this ad campaign since we subsisted on a diet of veggie subs, chocolate chip cookies, and Boone's Farm Sangria for months (the last of which, although not necessarily a part of the Subway diet, was compliments of the evening take).

One night I really fucked up a batch of bread. I took it out of the oven too early because I wanted to pop in back for a quick ciggie. The resulting bread was malleable like Play-Doh and was thus unusable. Even Stacie, with her diminished quality control standards, would never have served these gummy spheroids, which were more suited to a potter's wheel than a sandwich. The next day when I reported to work, Mr. Big Shot Manager threw one of the preemie loaves at my feet, and it bent parabolically like a flaccid penis. He was, needless to say, unamused by my negligient baking. I myself did not know exactly how to react. No one, manager or otherwise, had ever thrown bread at me before, and there is as yet no Dummies guide that tells one what to do. I diagnosed his acting-out as displacement, imagining he suspected that I was skimming from the top but didn't have the hard-and-fast evidence yet. So I was kind of looking forward to unemployment again in a way, although life without gratis sandwiches would place new obstacles in my way. Visualing prosecution and prison rape, however, I made a very conscious effort to avoid the accusatory glare of the hidden camera when I nightly pocketed the loot, and I would at least, from now on, hit NO-SALE while I was conducting a mock transaction to give the action a little dramatic intensity.

Imagine my surprise a few weeks later when a teenager on the afternoon shift cheerily told me that the police came and took away Mr. Manager in handcuffs that very day during the lunch rush. Apparently, the owners of a dozen or so Subway franchises discovered he was embezzling money, so he probably just threw bread at me because I was infringing on his territory, which I can understand in retrospect. I'd probably throw bread at me, too.

My tenure at Subway therefore ended under the reign of yet a third manager, a noodly type, who seemed frightened of me, as if I might have a secret yet powerful alliance with Lucifer. He would ask my high school co-workers, in my absence, if I was "a punk rocker" or what the story was. They would just shrug their shoulders. I had won them over long ago by teaching them how to stir up mayo, mustard, tomato sauce, bits of meatball, oil, and cookie fragments in a Subway cup and then dump the concoction outside the front door on the sidewalk so that it looked like freshly discharged vomit. This tactic would deflect a few of the more squeamish of our prospective customers and make for a stellar reaction shot as cars pulled up to the front door. 

My final days at Subway were whiled away under the threat of imminent bloodshed and Texas-style vigilante justice. The owners of the franchise, a paunchy, middle-aged couple, met with all the employees to warn us that Manager #2 (the embezzler, in case you lost track) was currently out on bail and that, if we should see his car pull up, we were immediately to lock the front door, hide in back, and call the police. I was beginning to feel that much of this was above and beyond the call of duty for a Sandwich Artist.

Naturally, all the embezzlement hoopla had whittled away my courage for stealing money, and I was able, in the subsequent McCarthyist witchhunt that I dreamt up in my head, to boost only an occasional sandwich or two. It goes without saying that the sandwiches never tasted as sweet, so to speak, with the threat of disconnected utilities and, more important, a depressing lack of Boone's Farm Sangria on the horizon. I subsequently left my celebrated career at Subway for a stint as an inept barista at a coffee shop owned by militant Christians, who made their belief that I was in league with Satan quite explicit. Although I wasn't acquainted with Satan personally, I was touched that people thought I could hang with him. But that, as they say, is a whole 'nother story...