PIGS MEAT

Bob Dylan in Throes

Bob Dylan, my disputed namesake, is still a living human. He is an interesting little guy, to say the least. You’ll excuse me if I choose to ignore our personal feelings regarding his music (which has taken many circuitous routes toward authenticity in the past fifty years, each of which has elicited yelps of anxious emotional analytics from the relatively large group of eager people who realize that talking about him is the closest thing to canon that music writing approaches) in favor of the more fruitful path of just trying to figure out his whole deal once again in the light that his current persona -a hammy cabaret guy who shuffles briefly to twelve bar blues while intentionally garbling his thoroughly composed lines- reflects in the faces of the people who yearn to love him deeply still.

I bring this up because Harriet, a Dylan lover from back in the day, was nice enough to furnish Daniel and his crew (which included me) with tickets to his show at the Dolby Amphitheater on Saturday evening. He plays a pretty long set these days, so during the show there’s plenty of time to both space off idly at the brown fedoras conservatively nodding about beneath a jagged, tribal looking eye motif that Dylan apparently uses as his symbol- kind of a vaudevillian Australian surfer /salvia leaf influenced logo- and to ponder the meaning of the phenomena itself. Bob himself definitely seems to be encouraging this type of reaction, as his singing works to disassociate the listener from emotionally responding to the songs via the melody of his singing: he can still sing, but he chooses instead to lounge-rasp a semi-incoherent stream of pronouns and states of being. It has long been known that he absolutely loves to fuck with the people that love him most, and although his present day act has persisted relatively unchanged for about fifteen years now and has thus acquired a semblance of being the ‘real Dylan’, it’s clear that this is just another deconstruction of the icon, a half-cynical one appropriate to his age and the thoroughly fussed-over cultural weight that he now must act proud of dragging around everywhere he goes- all of which is such old hat that it can be no surprise to see him wearing one as he pretends to innocuously dote about onstage.

Yes, he wears an old hat; it is very conspicuous. He is, after all, the much-fussed-over archetype of the artist in the age of media. The inevitable struggle of immensely famous individuals against their own perception of what their audience wants from them has become as familiar and tedious as the chord progression during the ninth verse of a self-conscious ‘Dust my Broom’, but it remains the dominant paradigm of expression for individualized pop singers responding ‘honestly’ to the strange environment of celebrity. Dylan has been doomed to clumsily outmaneuver his identity for centuries. This present version, with anonymous looking men in taupe suits subserviently filling his shadow with constricted licks and heavily allusive meandering through the musical landscape of grandfather’s childhood, is as cynical as you would expect if you’ve ever characterized yourself as a fan of the man. The cultural ossification of his legacy has been in motion for a generation and by now has grown so overwhelming that I’m not surprised to see BD doing bits of bowlegged gesture dances onstage in order to help him inhabit this strange body that will only really become powerful again at the instant of his death (only to be completely stripped of that power and turned into an unexamined historical cliché seconds after). Any discussion of his actual music in this context becomes totally ridiculous and unnecessary- it is a very small thing in comparison with the problem of his continued existence in a world that has been waiting decades to bawl over the sixties again.

Dylan of course understands the meaning of his own obsolescence better than anyone, but of course he prefers to pretend everything is normal for financial and personal reasons. Critics too are aware, but they for the most part continue to give such ecstatic reviews to his new records that they come off as condescending in the context of his contemporary irrelevance in regard to his position as anything other than a receptacle for people’s sweeping, incomplete understandings of 20th century art and commerce, and as beacon for a desperate applause that begs him not to die so that the dream of the artist who may do ‘as he wishes’ will also still have some corporeality for older people who are familiar with the blues. So many of these mental constructions filled the room on Saturday that despite the abundance of overdetermined symbols of rootsy authenticity (in the form of 12 bar orthodoxy and small, shuffling Dylan himself), it was difficult to identify what the hell was actually going on. What were people loving there? Towards the end of the second set a man stood up near us and began preemptively orchestrating a standing ovation by talking to people individually, as though horrified by the thought that Dylan would perceive a hint of indifference from the second mezzanine and be hurt by it. From the audience arose a sense of pleading, a desperate and intentional urge to enjoy and to recognize; from the back of Dylan’s throat came atonal clicks whines and phlegmatic breaths suffused in an unapproachable familiarity. There was a sadistic impulse at play that is not as obvious on the records, revealed in the pure delight that appeared on the faces of his worshippers as he withheld their moment of pleasure. In fact, aside from a few harmonica breaks in which the theater scene dissolved into the exuberant musicality of yore for a few seconds, he never gave in.

Even though this act isn’t anything new or particularly exciting, it is kind of satisfying to watch the most famous old person in America do Mark E. Smith fronting Cole Porter/Robert Cray’s band. The lyrics, from what I could make out, are still good and bleak and a great distance from the wacky beat poetics of some of his 60’s dreams. But whereas he used to use innovative musicianship to give some kind of traction to his literary flights of fancy (the man has been greatly indulged), he now undermines his lyrics by couching them in overwrought nothingness. That the exhaustion of this meta-approach itself can only be accurately charted in duration based performance art by individuals with seemingly endless personal resources makes the whole expensive event seem kind of pointless. Not that I wasn’t grateful for the opportunity to throw my personal experience onto the enormous pyre of self-indulgent Dylan opinions of the past. The man is trapped in his own body by the unmeasurable pressure of the environment which has formed around him as a result of his ability in crafting an identity which, despite its slight shifts of form, remains instantly recognizable in the undifferentiated sea of egos gnashing to consume planet earth whole. I was trapped in my seat by morbid deference to the nearly unfathomable web of emotional attachments that seemed to constrict Bob’s movements to the slight shakeoffs of a silk shrouded insect finally resigning itself to its coming consumption by the beast. And also because I began to like how he seemed to be addressing it; with a friendly old fuck you to a moment already thoroughly suffused with the nostalgia of ‘the last time’.

 

Dark Wizard Brought to His Knees

Dr. Arnold Klein, “king of Botox”,”discoverer of the first human gene”, Beverly Hills collagen expert, voracious bear slayer and self-insinuating father of Prince Jackson’s bankruptcy induced estate sale took place at his residence on 6th and Windsor between November 21st -24th. The house was mobbed with deal hounds and the morbidly bemused for the duration of the sale. Klein, at the height of his powers, had been known to spend up to 20000 dollars a day on Versace pillows, mid 90′s Star Wars collectibles, signed Baldessari prints and laser-molded lucite statues depicting grizzlies and abstract patterns. In addition, many of his possessions had been imbued with a special power by their close association with Michael Jackson, who had been a frequent guest in Klein’s house. The public sifted through his material remains with great appetite.

When I first attended the sale I knew little of Klein, only that he was Michael Jackson’s plastic surgeon, and that he was having an estate sale while still living. Strolling through his mansion without knowledge of the dark narrative of which this current indignity was the interminable denouement, I allowed myself to be transfixed by the refracted aura of celebrity exploited in certain otherwise worthless items by his executors to achieve a slightly higher price. Photos of Arnie with Cher, with Bill Clinton, an airbrushed denim Elvira jacket, Tom Petty’s platinum cassette, some art by artists I had heard of: “Hmm”. Klein had been famous among the famous, without my knowledge. He had achieved his fame by injecting strange substances into well known faces, making sure to keep it looking like the faces were still regular things. He had maintained his fame apparently through displaying tremendous wealth and buying items that loudly asserted their price (now ignominiously reduced, handwritten on little dangling sticker or torn piece of masking tape). But something must have gone wrong, because here are the unknown, disdaining to buy even the cheap in the vulgar public marketplace that used to be his home.

I amused myself mildly with the items (a hologram ticket stub for “The Matrix”, a picture of Frederico Fellini signed by Bob Kane) and reveled in the diminishment of the rich (dangling cords where flatscreens had been ripped out of walls, a strange scent on the carpet of the guest house) for as long as possible before returning empty handed to the car. But there was something about Klein’s proximity to the throne of celebrity that kept me intrigued. I had noticed pieces of computer paper with “Michael Jackson’s bedroom” taped to the walls of a room in the house that contained an enormous painting of UFOS circling in a blue sky. The fifteen foot David LaChapelle photograph of Christ cradling a dead MJ that adorned the entranceway disturbed me. On a tip from my friend Daniel, I decided to research Klein further.

All you need to know about Arnie can be pieced together by a rudimentary Google search and a thorough reading of Mark Seal’s “The Doctor Will Sue You Now” (originally published in Vanity Fair). His story is dark. A fraud doctor in the grand tradition of Fagon (who bled the dauphin to death and would not admit Louis XIV was ill when he was visibly dying), Klein gradually refined his cosmetic surgery business into an instrument of personal prestige, forming a symbiotic bond with the ‘King of Pop’. Klein, it seems, provided MJ with an endless flow of narcotics and flattering surgeries in exchange for tremendous influence in the King’s personal affairs and a great deal of money. In 2013 he has become a raving bankrupt maniac loudly asserting that his famous lineage remains meaningful and that he himself is a good man wronged.

Cultivating power by mastering a superfluous medicine is no longer as safe as it once was, and Rasputin was poisoned and shot a century ago. When MJ slipped into narcotic death and the stars’ faces began wrinkle weird, Klein draped himself in innuendo and held forth arrogantly. His insinuations that he was Prince Jackson’s genetic father pleased no one – the documented fact that he was more obviously daddy’s dealer for two and a half decades he left either unacknowledged or lazily justified by appeal to his own personal authority in the matter. He was publicly rebuked by Elizabeth Taylor, forced to recant the (quite possibly true, do an image search) fatherhood claim and fell completely out of favor with the elite. Squandering the last of his immense fortune, he now creates blogposts where he rants about having his medication tampered with in the crucial moment where he signed his bankruptcy papers and being the victim of embezzlement by the same underlings who used to tirelessly procure him anonymous sex.

Klein’s blog was a revelation in terms of situating myself within the psychic landscape of the estate sale. In many such sales nostalgia is encroached upon by the faintly macabre, and it is slightly sad when no one wants the corpse’s things. Here, with an angry Klein still brooding about the hidden values of his repossessed ephemera somewhere, the nostalgia (itself a kind of artificial nostalgia for the things depicted in the background of the homes of the rich in 80′s and 90′s sitcoms) was tempered by a slight elation at the fact that we were unwanted guests in a wealthy man’s home. By ambling in a consumerist stupor through the house and dickering for his old clothes we were irrefutable witnesses to his decline. While Klein alternated between furious online denunciations of the auction company running the sale (“where are my life masks of Prince, Paris and Blanket? Where is my solid gold pen?”) and accusing them of selling his precious artifacts for too cheap, we refused his tacky pendants even at the reduced price.

I give Klein credit for a thorough understanding of humiliation. What after all, is the big deal about a garage sale? What’s so humiliating about going broke even? Achieving great wealth at an early age, Klein remained ambitious. The sealed prestige-edition laserdiscs stacked in the garage were as worthless to him the day they were bought as they now are to the public. Wealth without fame is provincial, but Klein could shape the lips that would speak to world. The purely transactional nature of the doctor/client relationship was insufficient; Klein wanted more, and this is what endeared him to Michael. MJ’s insatiability was spoken of in hushed tones during his lifetime, but it is by now very easy to see the contours of the excess which shaped his life. He was as close to a God as capitalism has yet produced, but in order to don this mantle he had to ritually validate appetite beyond desire, rote expenditure free of aesthetic guidelines, and elitism to the point of isolation and psychic devastation.  This (mostly) private process withstood the eager trespasses of exaggeratedly aghast TV bureaucrats and insufficiently remunerated witnesses and led to his noble/pathetic destruction. A lifetime of excess will certainly blur the edges between reality and fantasy, and Klein apparently shared his houseguest’s theory on the relationship between extravagant spending and personal validation. But while Jackson’s legend has only grown since the curtain has been pulled off of his stoned faith in childlike positivity and nostalgia as an appropriate response to the self-hatred engendered by decades of morbid speculation in global pop currencies by an ultimately cynical public, Klein can hope for no such permanence. His trade, especially since it shifted from the ambitious exploitation of an emerging market for permanent youth by an elite no longer suspicious of the obviously fake into a merely a means of sustaining a faltering prestige by making lavish personal expenditures, will not grant him immortality. And now that the purple velveteen curtain has been drawn back and his shriveling property has been exposed to the same desperately clutching public Jackson strove for so long to avoid, Klein has no other choice but complete disavowal. Klein views the presence of the public on his (former) property not as a testament to his own inability to ‘handle his shit’, but as a mistake arising from an unjust and illegal act. To him the estate sale was a nightmare fiction- a lie perpetuated by his persecutors. To combat this, Klein employs the dream logic Freud noted in regard to his nightmare of Irma’s injection (in which Freud’s personal guilt regarding the excessive use of cocaine is concealed by a fellow professional who offers his opinion that Freud could not possibly be at fault for his patient Irma’s poor health, offering up logically incompatible reassurances). “I’m not bankrupt” says Klein “and in any case I’m bankrupt by mistake and injustice, and furthermore the prices at my bankruptcy sale are too cheap”.

So from Klein’s perspective all attendees at the sale were attesting to the reality of a situation which is untenable within his worldview, and the intense reaction which continues to this day (“My Four Million Dollar Rug”- the title of the most recent entry to his poorly named blog “The death of Michael Jackson: Putting it all together from the father of minimally invasive aesthetics who experienced a bank embezzlement which was attempted to be concealed by Federal Officialdom Corruption” ) is his only possible response as long as he clings to the conception he has of himself as a member of the creative elite. His buffoonish defensiveness is informed by the same belief in cultural hierarchies safe from the influence of an indifferent and unpredictable market economy that made the European aristocracy appear completely ridiculous by the end of the 18th century. Arnie Klein has spent a lifetime altering surface appearances; it is understandable that he now steadfastly asserts the primacy of carefully constructed images over contingent reality.  Flexible prices and uninvited guests- we were witnessing not only Klein’s defeat but the defeat of Hollywood’s ‘images are immortal’ trope as well.

I thought of this as I pondered a strange ziploc bag of moss that sat unpriced and unlabeled on a table in the garage. What was this thing? Some weird artifact imbued with a meaning now lost to time, or just some moss in a bag? How would Klein react specifically to the moss? Would he be enraged? Saddened? Would he put it in his car or throw it away? Slowly, too slowly, I began to realize that Klein’s relationship with the moss bag was by now completely irrelevant. Here I was pondering a rich guy’s trash- the only way to redeem myself was to assign my own meaning to it. So I did: the bag of moss represents Klein’s doomed battle with satiety, it is his comforting talisman in his quest for power beyond time and circumstance, it is a symbol of his dark friendship with the Flamboyant King of Hidden Excess. Stripped of his talisman, Klein is nothing but a ranting psycho too weak to prevent even me, a humble serf, from revealing him. But even the meanings which i assigned his treasured moss meant little to me, so I flipped it back onto the table and went out by the pool to note how shabby the dying foliage looked.

Kook Mountain

Arnold Harris and I had another adventure this past autumn. We met in Trinity County, he from up north in a purple Ranger and me with all my shit in my minivan driving slowly over bumps and spending last dollars on reintroduced Chicken Littles and Reeses Mini bags. One arm that had been holding the Thule in place had broken, and on the freeway the Thule flapped in the wind, catching gusts of wind and slamming back hard onto the top of the van, causing me anxiety. I pulled into Brad’s and Arnold was already there. ‘The ganja was gone’. The feds had been building a case against Brian since last year. He was cocky, he had invited his dad over to look at the trimmers one day, and while we bitterly estimated their combined net worth he bragged about taking acid at some sort of important real estate meeting. Drug fed and rich, he had apparently worshipped his own balls back then. Rural cops and feds alike don’t like balls displays, and Brian’s acid abetted notion of his own innate freedom has only resulted in a prison term for his father. Meanwhile he’s on the run, probably phoning his representation at inconvenient hours, and when his dad doesn’t mention him it’s out of pride. No, he was not a discerning boss, and his lack of acumen left me very inconvenienced. No one had told me not to come. Arnold and I hit the honey oil proffered by a former authority figure and passed dazedly into unconsciousness on the couch. In the morning Brad led us out to look at at the hacked marijuana stalks, picking up crushed buds here and there and reminiscing about the size of the plants. The crystals shimmered brightly in his memory.

 
The next morning Arnold and I were very confused about what to do. I tailed him to Weaverville, stalled awhile at the only store, then drove back up 3 looking for a campground. Rush Creek was the second place we stopped. We were there for a week, too timid to even light a fire the first few nights for fear of being discovered by people who didn’t actually exist in the vast wooded expanse of Trinity County. Gradually we settled in. I drained the Quest’s batteries listening to the Orioles defeat the Rangers in half-static, and after that we would just put the Droid in a bowl and listen to male voices tell tales. Frugality quickly became a matter of pride. When the illusion of choice is eliminated, pride often takes its place, and every treat from this point on was more delicious because it had to be mentally earned through a practice of abstinence in which we usually only rarely indulged. After the third night we gained enough confidence to start small fires and quickly phased out the waterlogged salami, replacing it with bunless hot dogs or potatoes in foil. People would often pull into the campground at strange hours to fill jugs of water for their gardens, but one night several ‘visitors’ came at once and, only barely accustomed to strange night time rustlings of the unmotivated kind, we were both terrified by the sudden presence of human intentions in the dark. I was naked in a sleeping bag; truck lights flooded the tent. Who knows what they were doing? I was very weak in that tent. In the early morning hours of the following morning I woke up bathed in sweat and stumbled out into the eerie moonlight. I ran to an area of the forest where the ground was littered with the tissue paper of past campers and shat diarrhea in the nude. Horribly, pitifully. On the whole it was peaceful; I washed my face in the river. After a week we still hadn’t found certain jobs, but we decided to leave Rush Creek to be nearer the rumor of jobs.

 
After a few days of mildly celebrating our return to civilization with midday beers and conference series matchups, we fell under the employ of some dusted Mississippian playboys, 21st century ganja hicks who no one actually knew. We wound up a series of dusty roads segmented from each other with numeric keylocks, threatening signs and roving dogs. Our destination farm had formerly been the premises of an AIDS hospice service in the 80′s; it was beautiful, with unfamiliar trees bent low against the cliffs and expansive views across the valley where campfires burned suspiciously in the distance. The usual strange cast of trimmers assembled, but these seemed stranger than that still. Perrell, a half-Jamaican nerd, got drunk on the first night and noticed that April was ignoring him. Sitting in my lap, he acted familiar, warning me away from her. “I’ve been here for three days”. He was already in love, a territorial romantic, very uncomfortable. This was the first instance of his obliviousness. More would follow; he eventually had to be called out when he followed April back to her tent strumming a jazzy line on a borrowed guitar and freestyling an awkward paean to his misunderstood lust. Later, the drunk bosses paid him a hundred dollars to swim in a filthy goat pond, very shallow- the next day he was gloating. Perrell was sensitive to growing discomfort, but it seemed as though he was unable to stop its spread. He was the sower who couldn’t discover the cycle. “Out on the street, some call it murrrrr duuuurrrrrr!” he would sing the lines in a throaty baritone during moments of relative silence in the trim room, birthing titters that grew into rebellious allegiances that gradually aligned against their father. He was aggressive, we all agreed- not physically but in his verbal presence.

 
The second day we were put to work, and it dragged on for seriously long weeks. Marijuana brought to light the nearly unfathomable depths of ridiculousness within each individual aspect of every situation. It was very difficult to turn off, to enter into a ‘normal’ state. Drinking was employed in this regard, encouraging dramatic outcomes. The small dramas of subtle rebuffs and slowly shifting social allegiances became my chief source of entertainment. Arnold and I would mutter sentence fragments and bits of accent and laugh hysterically, then rush out for Solo cups of chili or a plate of chicken-on-the-bone. Meat eaters were forced to eat meat for nearly every meal; access to the healthier looking cooked vegetables and grain mush was denied by reason of our hosts extremely meager food budget. All the action was in repetition. I became obsessed with the way that personalities slowly reinforced themselves through actions that became predictable in their form but always surprising in their detail. Jon became Jon, realer by the day. It was hilarious.

 
Of the actual work little of meaning can be said. Take a stem of nugs from a box and place them onto a cardboard tray, snip the nugs off the stem and throw the dry twigs into an overstuffed bag or onto the floor, twist the nug in the left hand while snipping constantly with sticky bonsai scissors with the right, removing the tiny leaves from the tiny pipebowl nug and placing it into a bag when completely bald. Many discussions about technique took place, but the only real advantage came from violent mental conditioning and irrational focus. We worked in a series of small dusty barns lit by fluorescent lights. Kif flakes and farm dust filled the air and people developed wretched hacks and, occasionally, rashes. Flies would land on the back of the arm, be shaken awkwardly off with a little jiggle, and then land on the back of the neck one second later. Hours passed, during which inane fantasies of moderate and temporary wealth would proceed by rote through our famished brains. Bodies, rebelling against our general sensory deprivation and its subordination to material aspects of our present circumstance, would develop creaks at the wrists and tension spots at the base of the neck. These were ignored by the strong, but weaker members of the group would often indulge themselves by standing, milling aimlessly or sleeping late and showering. Activities that would indicate and promote health in regular circumstances here become symptoms of general confusion or weakness. Every time someone returned to their filthy chair after a cleansing stroll or drink of water I could not help but calculate the opportunity cost of their mental health in terms of real world dollars. A group of goats wandered the property. One of them was a three legged goat, it’s fourth leg a fragment of exposed bone jutting unpleasantly out of goatskin. Because it could not keep up with the other goats it had acquired a blood curdling shriek that sounded though a human child were being dipped in liquid fire. We appreciated this sympathetic shriek. Earnesta adopted a very accurate version of it for herself. When the work became too tedious and the environment too oppressive, she would give the humanistic goat’s shriek. It was a great description of the task always at hand and an example of a relief that could be permitted, as it allowed the hands to twist and clutch thoughtlessly on while it occurred.

Power. Who had it, what did it consist of? One morning three bosses came into the trim room in turn, upset by some absurd rumor of petty theft they had self-indulgently believed. “I will PISTOL-WHIP-” yelled Jay, with the squalid authority of a man disciplining a dog who has been shut in all day and unhappily resorted to the rug. The thought of corporal punishment ‘pistol whipped’ him into a frenzy, and the subordinate boss’s (as well as those workers who shamed themselves by displaying that they were in sympathy) quick adoption of this vengeance scenario demonstrated what depths their collective boredom out on the mountain reached. Shauna began sleeping in Billy Wayne’s bed- the only bed available, and presumably, only available to her. This action provoked us strangely, and our jealousy of the physical bed was identical to our disgust at its crudely imagined terms. At other farms the bosses would attempt to disguise the power structure with vague references to the medicinal qualities of the herb they produced, or by laying a thick hippy fog over the proceedings by means of heavily seasoned lentils and invitations to hit exclusive pipes. Here it was more naked. Billy Wayne would come in routinely in the afternoon after Budweisers and threaten the trimmers with termination for not turning the hose off, or wildly boast that he could buy Ipods for every worker before going outside and taking potshots at the escaped pig that I once witnessed trying to break into Arnold’s truck (and later spied tumbling down the mountain with a symbolic beer can in its mouth). Then he would return to the barn and crouch near Shauna, saying quiet sentences punctuated by loud ‘Huh?’s. Our young country king for a month, he exploited the position he held at the locus of nervous activity in our minds to the point that we could no longer sustain the illusion that we were at his mercy. He seemed ridiculous- the timbre of his voice approached a neutered whine. The pistol was bullshit, its significance buried beneath the pile of indiscriminate allusions to it.

 
The last night on his property we experienced his hubris. Blacked out on Zanax and Bud he pulled his gun on Jeffy for revealing him as a real world lame- Phish is not good, we’ve listened to an excessive amount of it, you’re silly, Billy Wayne. “Take your fuckin earbuds out! We’re listening to three thirty minute jams you fucking scrubs!” he yelled at everyone, most of whom had no idea what was going on, as they had been wearing earbuds. “What are you doing, south boy?” Earnesta chided him “where is you mother? I will spank your ass South boy. You are no gentleman”. Her experience with lovers in the Russian mafia back in Lithuania had left her impatient with feeble male aggression, with empty theatrical potency displays and with the abuse of trust. Billy Wayne pathetically flashed his gun at her, threatened to fight us one on one- “I’ve got a pistol who wants to go”- and stumbled off to the bed which Shauna would no longer share with him. Lesser bosses tried to apologize by rolling us each an individual joint- ostensibly because we were to finish the work on this property tonight- and it was at this moment I became most conscious of our degradation. Surrounded by marijuana, why would I want the boss’s joint? The illusion of a community of strange characters engaged in mutual enterprise was gone, and each individual left alone in sad awareness of the degree to which they had postponed actively engaging in a real world to participate in this sad puppet show on the fringes of humanity, to grub a measly dollar. The bosses made us stop working to light our joints in unison. One coerced toke to demonstrate our fake celebration, the rest of the joint discarded.

 
The next day we were moved to a new location, this one deeper in an alpine forest where horizontal perspective was greatly diminished. A huge barn, some white tarps, folding chairs, a fire pit, tents in the rain. Billy Wayne was replaced by Justin, who had a little more sense of how not to appear foolish through the myopic display of his limited power. Instead of threats when he was blackout drunk, he would occasionally leap into the air and land in the splits position, or express his insincere (or at least very temporary ) love for all his ‘mountain children’. More of a gentleman, ‘Mountain daddy’ allowed ‘people’ to use the shower in the camper- though by this I sensed he meant ‘women’ and I could not be convinced to go near the camper. At this point I refused everything besides the American Goulash (chilimac, peas and corn in a solo cup) which my hunger- understood as a socially acceptable reason to stop working for a moment rather than as an admission of physical existence on earth- left me no choice but to accept. I walked the 30 feet from my tent to the barn, the 20 feet to the campfire to stare at it for an hour after the barn closed, and back to the tent, where I often had some cheezits hid. In some circumstances it is healthier to take no interest in your feelings, thoughts or the world around you- each moment you spend situating yourself according to any logic counts against you, and you will have to spend double the time finding a reason to continue to hack away at 2cent nugs. Watching others grapple with this reality left no time for earbuds with the tired tunes about human desire and invitations to move the body. People’s success in accepting their degradation was measured accurately in the size of their trimmed bud bag at the end of the day. Workers are paid per pound, and since there is only a slight variance in the physical skill required to trim a bud, the size of our paychecks directly reflected the degree to which we were able to force our bodies to make the money that our minds insisted we needed, or how well our minds could predict its own inefficiencies and compensate for them in advance by means of a complicated system of bargaining and rewards- ‘three more nugs and then I will stretch my knee’ etc. Beyond the general absurdity of the Mississippi folk, the marijuana and the psychosexual power brokerage, the most entertaining stories from Kook Mountain are in the individual ways in which each worker coped with their own unruly thoughts and struggled to make themselves money. For my own part I relied on near complete disassociation. I didn’t shit for three days. I rarely spoke in other forms than puns, jokes and impressions. Even still, I couldn’t resist taking breaks, delaying the beginning of the next box or lying in the sleeping bag awake in the morning before beginning work. I ranked in the top third in terms of productivity, a ranking which didn’t surprise me considering my greater than average ability for bodily disassociation coupled with my general mental frailty; I am accustomed to degradation but short on will. A recipe for relative success at the weed farm, though not necessarily cause for celebration.

 
The spectrum of mental mastery ranged from Jon on one end to Matt on the other. Jon had taken Ayahuasca 32 times. He had sold his bike taxi business in Martha’s vineyard, moved to Peru and probed the depths of his own being, experienced his own death as a result of his weaknesses, communed with the plant spirit and had committed to growth. He had been cradled by the incredibly wrinkled gray alien who had assured him that he is loved. As a result he was able to trim pounds and pounds more weed than everyone else, while simultaneously appearing interested in other people’s stories and engaged in life. He would listen to Tool on his headphones and chop away. I was pretty astounded and a little annoyed at his humbleness and self mastery. His success came from his ability to prioritize moving a scissor quickly above all other facets of his being, a skill which I envied. There was talk about the shagginess of his buds, but there are no criteria that matter for bud shagginess other than the boss’s. And the boss found him satisfactory, rendering the obsessive attention to detail which often slowed Arnold and I ridiculous. Jon took long walks to the barn, looked for work on his forced days off. It was too much, and ultimately we had to ignore him as comparisons between ourselves left us feeling bad. Sometimes, but rarely, he alluded to being horny. This I found funny.

 

On the other end was Matt, burned out from too many years involved in different aspects of the weed business. He’d sit for twenty minutes, scream “FUCK!” and retreat somewhere to take monster swigs of Ten High whiskey and chow Kit Kat. Coming back to the table, he’d work again for an hour, stopping as frequently as possible to yell another comedians jokes, berate someone with his overbearing sexuality, animate something he was saying with his hands or fiddle impatiently with an ipod. On days I would make 200 dollars, he would make about thirty. He worked on these types of farms and in affiliated sectors year round, so his ability to distinguish himself between the automatism required during trimming and the celebratory excesses of the day off was greatly diminished. His ineffectuality was a form of rebellion, and I respected it, as annoying as it was. He would come to the barn dressed in a too-small onesie, be drunk by ten AM and throw stale McDonald’s cheeseburgers across the room, then pass out and finish the day with a net income of about 10 dollars. All of this was for the sake of his own legend. It was a means to create the illusion that life existed and things happened beyond the simple truth of our dehumanization. It was valiant in its way. Of course, behaviors like this are known to get people fired, so another large portion of his time was spent ingratiating himself to the bosses by playing the fool. He and Richard, the sad Iraq war vet who worked the kitchen and lazed angrily about in a t shirt reading “You’re All Whores” in block letters would remain around the fire after most workers had returned to their seats after lunch and talk about who they wanted to fuck, or shoot stuffed animals with a glock in a brotherly fashion. I appreciated the way Matt would absorb people’s attentions, keeping it away from me. The bosses pitied him for his inability to make himself money, and occasionally they would make a show of holding up Matt’s tiny sack and admiring the perfection of his trimming. But any fool knew that quality in the trimming field had diminishing returns. We were not getting paid extra for immaculate nugs.

 
In the middle of these two extremes another we found Uncle Bill. A small time weed dealer in his mid forties from rural Pennsylvania, Bill was being paid in trade, and for every 1600 dollar pound he brought back east he would reap double, maybe triple that. A totally incompetent worker, he was allowed his repeated nights of being too baked/ drunk by reason would almost assuredly come off the mountain with more money due to the increased risks of his position. Uncle Bill was the camp mascot, and he was having a better time than anyone. He would put his glasses on and determinedly snip away for a couple hours, then drive into town in his minivan and pick up beer and wine, do laundry, eat burgers and return and just laugh. He hated the work, it’s true, but the ease with which he could shrug off our conditions and transform our experience into the type of vacation which he genuinely experienced it as was remarkable and appreciated. He seemed to understand only half of what was occurring at all times, but the joy with which he would seize on strange phrases and then bellow them across the room as an exuberant non sequitor was truly hilarious. “I’m willin out!” he would scream, and the meaning of his phrases were usually overwhelmed with his own human presence. This presence, his insistent Bill-ness, everyone began to understand as a precious glyph that redeemed its baffling context. Here was an individual who was able, by special circumstance, to fully enjoy what was not enjoyable, and did not allow negativity to inhibit our vicarious experience of this joy. He would take three full strength Oxycut diet pills, sweat profusely and yell that he was having a heart attack. He would fly into an impotent rage after being punched in the balls or goaded by a bored Jeffy, but his fear and anger always only made us laugh harder. He would find any excuse to stop working, because for him it didn’t matter. Whether he was here getting drunk or at the house he shared with his parents getting drunk it didn’t matter- he always had access to himself.

 

Aside from these most fully inhabited caricatures, everyone was a character of some kind, and there was a danger that the outrageous affects of desperate personalities reacting violently to an environment that encouraged their extermination would in their turn become people and demand to be taken seriously. But there were grounding forces as well. I came to appreciate Mandy for her sly looks of disbelief in the midst of her performative engagement with people too ridiculous to be true, and Jenna for her upbeat repetitious phrases that indicated that, though she was willing to go along with the interactions that people might devise out of boredom, she was not willing to put thought into her responses. ‘The girls’, a group of attractive women used to making much more money off of binging tourists in the US Virgin islands that had been somehow tricked into working this season, had to put up with far more unsolicited attention than I or anyone else. Male minds would turn to sex, and soon they would be drunk on the belief that it was a possibility. This led to all sorts of outrageous behavior, from ‘Mountain Daddy’ sitting at the table and coyly asking for mixed drinks to strange acts of verbal self titillation in which people would begin describing vaginas and yell about jerking off. Occasionally it would culminate in things like Jacob – who called everyone ‘brethren’ and possessed an unironic enthusiasm for menial tasks (“I guess sorting larf will be my meditation today”) that the bosses exploited while trying to keep their distance- singing “Redemption Song” two inches from April’s face, believing that he was looking into her eyes while she was more conscious of the flecks of spittle landing on her cheek. ‘The girls’ bore it with fortitude and humor, wearing makeup even. It was by their example that I could determine that what surrounded me was not actually depressing, but funny because it would end.

 

Eventually it did end. In the face of widespread burnout on the part of the trimmers – who were on the verge of just crumpling nugs in their fist for the sake of a private fuck you – the bosses had begun to become very vague. ‘Eight to ten days’ they would quietly mutter when we began asking them for approximate end dates. The workers, discouraged by this, would trim slower, spend more time by the fire drunk and our release date would extend further into the future proportionately. ‘Eight to ten days’ became a bitter joke, a response to everything. When the end finally came I was surprised by the degree of bonding which had occurred between us. Everyone took pains to record everyone else’s phone number, though it was difficult to imagine a pretense for further contact once we had been released back into our separate lives. A real sense of solidarity had arisen on its own, and had bound us to each other, possibly even against our wishes. Some refused to acknowledge this, and I found this resistance disgusting, a stubborn individuality that was in the present context nothing other than a ‘boss mentality’. I was sad at leaving, and decided to spend one more night with the group at the Oroville Casino. Once there I showered luxuriously several times and shaved, revealing a face that had been hidden for the duration of my time at the farm. Everyone dressed in their best, or at least cleanest, clothes. I perceived this as an effort to show at least part of our ‘real lives’ to those from whom we had been forced to hide them. It was a gesture of mutual respect.

Arnold went our separate ways down 1-5 shortly after. What you earn after an experience like this is a brief one week window in which you feel entitled to party and consume whatever you wish while the memory of deprivation is still fresh. I had anticipated my release eagerly during my time on the farm. Unfortunately, the real world I returned to is not exactly the welcoming home I had imagined to remember it to be while on the mountain. The money I had earned allowed me the freedom to choose what to do with my time, but there are clocks out here and I can’t help looking at them. When I find myself exaggerating my prep cook experience on my resume or scrolling craigslist for entry level jobs, one can assume I’ll look fondly back at an experience in which the degradation was shared equally amongst many people who lacked the privacy necessary to keep it superficially away. On my own it’s a little less funny.

Dad’s Medicine

Interesting article about ‘stoned parenting’ in the NYT today by art dealer Mark Wolfe (see links section). Wolfe adopts a sarcastic tone at times and employs old pot humor tropes in proper acknowledgment of pot’s proud history in the media, but the essence of his article is a straightforward advocation of taking medicine before attending to your children. Marijuana is the class clown political discourse, and, regardless of the scientific and political language that the discussion is often initiated in, the end result is frequently a mental image of someone hitting a bong. Even within marijuana advocacy groups, there seems to be some who wish to dethrone the curls-of-smoke-exhaling disabled man mascot that has used his pathetic entitlement to kindle mainstream sympathies thus far. Wolfe’s article serves to encourage the idea that the drug is beneficial non medical ways. The article becomes awkward when he persists in referring to the drug as medicine. In essence, he seems to be encouraging able-bodied middle class people to medicate themselves before engaging in routine rearing of their children.

The awkward position Lowe finds himself in (“When I’m rolling around the floor with my giggling daughters, clicking into an easy dynamic of goofy happiness and love, I feel it’s just what the doctor ordered”) is a result of the awkwardness of ganja’s suppressed giggle on the pages of the NYT itself. Lacking a term to indicate a pleasant and inoffensive high (such as alcohol’s “buzzed”) in which general capability remains intact, marijuana falls back on ‘stoned’ ‘baked’ ‘blazed’ ‘medicated’ to describe the experience, and the reader pictures the speaker as someone moving sluggishly, intoxicated or perplexed in some manner by an aspect of life. Lowe acknowledges this (“I’m not suggesting that all stressed-out fathers should just get baked”) but does nothing to provide the reader with a term with which to describe the experience he is advocating. “Safe Stoned Parenting” it shall be.

Lowe received his medical card because he was stressed and had some back problems. Prior to his diagnosis, he was “groggy and irritable” due to “work deadlines”. He was inattentive to his children, verbally describing to them how to draw a Q while staring down at his I Pad instead of showing them. After the doctor prescribes a “brownie-based form of the drug to avoid the lung irritation associated with other modes of administration” (resolving the slightly violent pipe-smoking aspect of the embarrassing handicapped mascot/media archetype problem), Lowe finds an increase in his ability to focus on his children (“I’ll hold your hand while you hold the pen and we’ll make one together. There! We made a Q! Isn’t it Fantastic”). This new blazed dad is nevertheless somewhat disturbing. When his middle child asks to watch a video, father suggests that they act out a video instead, and that father will go get the finger puppets. Doesn’t he consider that maybe the middle child knows he’s stoned because he never used to go get the finger puppets before and that the child, even just knowing he’s stoned for one instant becomes suspicious of the ensuing play and distrustful of the father who has emerged out of the back room suddenly enthusiastic for play? Certainly that would have a chance of running through my mind were I stoned as father now is, and who knows what unanticipated modifications of behavior (a laugh that goes on too long, a stilted and unnatural jiggle of a finger puppet) would result? Wolfe does not address the ‘I-know-you-know-I-know’ aspect of the marijuana high, though he does acknowledge it (“deeply embedded voices of authority in my head still do caution me”).

“I swear I am a more loving, attentive and patient father when I take my medication as prescribed.” For the typical busy parent (internalizing the stress generated by the attempt to capitalize ideas as an art dealer perhaps), the benefits of nug outweigh the negative effects. He specifically cites being stoned as “enormously salutary to the parent-toddler relationship”- one in which the linguistics problems that can be complicated by being baked haven’t yet asserted themselves. But he cannot completely endorse stoned parenting without a measure of the personal responsibility that anoints the ideal icon of any interest rebranded within the last however many years. The stoned parent takes their medicine “always in private, never in front of them, never too much” in order to avoid becoming the drug addict parent. Self restrained usage will result in the parent experiencing time spent with their children as ‘qualitatively different’. If used completely optimally, the parent will have the benefit of “Parental Attention Surplus Syndrome”, which to many children past a certain age is not a benefit and an appropriate acronym. That pot helps dads not get so stressed about their jobs that they can hang with their kid I do not argue, it’s a reasonable assertion, likely to be supported by people who have positive experiences with marijuana and disagreed with by others who fear the drug. What’s interesting is the fight to get the drug classified correctly in the legal system. The linguistic transition from drug to medicine spins on the notion of dignity, and in every discussion of marijuana in the mainstream media, dignity is what’s at stake. I’m afraid Wolfe’s article, despite his best attempts to reshape his medicine with the dignity of an educated middle class family of an art dealer and the unspoiled dignity of the child who is concerned more with authentic human interaction than with right and wrong, ends up further muddling the debate. It adheres too closely to the confused, compromised and ultimately doomed discourse (which implies the alteration of consciousness but which never speaks of it directly) that keeps the nug in an awkward sub-legal status that is itself a manifestation of the hazy intentionality with which many users tentatively approach it. A recreational medicine? A soothing parental balm? A taxed and registered work relief brownie? What are we talking about here?

Permanent Vacation

The time/money equation is not very clear. Time is of less value when experienced without the buffer that money provides; experienced ‘head on’, time is crushing in its vastness and apparent lack of meaning. Money acquires much of its utility in its ability to reroute time through directed activity (let’s take an uncreative example here- buying a lambchop, and then a candle to make it look nice on the plate). The ‘pursuit of happiness’ in the contemporary sense often is nothing other than tinkering with the scales of balance between time and money- finding enough time to spend your money, or acquiring enough money to spend so that time doesn’t make it’s oppressive presence felt. Being of the mind that time (specifically experience) is more valuable than money (potential), I have structured my life so as to more often be endowed with a surplus of time than of money. This has worked out ok so far, as I have been surrounded by like-minded individuals with whom to share this overabundance of experience (and I’m being very generous here by making time a synonym for experience- it is more than likely that it is only the presence of others that have allowed this rationalization and conflation of terms). But, removing these individuals and replacing them with their avatars on the internet in the past few weeks has left me, once again, a little confused as to how and why I have structured my life like this.

Because I am able to provide for myself on a very basic level (I am able to eat (though I did balk and frown at the brown maggots in my rice this morning before grimly picking them out and consuming the rice with a resultant pride), sleep in a house (in which I walk softly in order to make it appear I am not there), bathe (using others shampoo) etc.), my experience is more akin to being on a very prolonged and cheap vacation than struggling for a meager subsistence. When threatened with absolute privation, I am able to summon elements of my various privileges to keep me from slipping in class (whether this involves sleeping on a fellow artist’s floor or being able to land a crappy service industry job that would not be available to the illiterate maimed). But with my ability to survive unthreatened a chief motivator of the urge to ascend in class has been removed. Joining the elite seems impossible due to the various safeguards that have been put in place to keep the lazy and rebellious from stumbling on in to their comfy echelons, and as a result I instead must rely on either hedonism or the ethic of ‘improvement’ as motivators for the actions I must take to lessen the mental impact of the time void yawning in front of me. Both of these motivators require a bit of narcissism, and as a result I have developed an anxiety that stems directly from my refusal to acknowledge narcissism as a sufficiently ethical motivator while still modeling my lifestyle around its unpleasant requests. The chief way in which this anxiety manifests is to complicate the manner in which I experience my ‘free’ time. And although this article isn’t funny at all, it is pretty funny how I end up trying to maneuver around this blockage in my life- this article (as well as others) being a primary manifestation of the problem as well as an attempt to solve it. So in an extremely dry, general sense, this article is as funny as any other endeavor with premises that preclude the content (the profound tweet, the master’s degree in art administration, the shrug etc.). Not laugh out loud funny, that’s for sure.

Having recently moved to a new city, I am constantly asked the question “what do you want to do?” As you can see, it’s complicated. I suppose what I ultimately want to do is rewrite this article from the vantage point of a person who is ‘experiencing the world’  rather than from the point of view of someone who is ‘experiencing themselves (in the world)’ (experiencing alienation). This is the difference between someone who is on vacation and someone who is at work. Uneasy in the workplace, in which I am unable to discern which circuitous path will lead me towards any goal other than that of earning an increased wage in an atmosphere of diminishing physical and mental discomfort (but always retaining the fundamental discomfort of ‘working for…’ i.e. of sublimation), I am unable to make the sacrifices that actual advancement requires. Equally uneasy in vacationland, in which I am unable to extract enough pleasure from time to justify its passing (without the experiential structure provided by expensive drugs or travel), I am unable to relinquish the idea that every moment not spent in hedonistic bliss is a moment of squandered productive capacity. The ‘art’ that results is nothing more than an anxious response to this unresolvable problem. Keeping this in mind, it is increasingly difficult to see anything other than this anxious response in every artifact engendered by my experience of unstructured time- they are all just little impositions of structure; direct contradictions of the premise that freedom is the absence of imposed structures (limitations) on human potential. It ends up appearing as though my freedom consists of my decisions of when and how to articulate the anxieties that arise from compromise, which is not the best for a life goal. What do I want to do? Transform my vacation into work and then take a real vacation from it.

I am tempted here to get into a ‘discussion’ about addiction and repetitive behavior in general as the most common solution to this quandary but I’m sure everyone knows my point already so I won’t belabor it (‘addiction is addictive because of its ability to structure time, congratulations Dyl you figured it out’). What’s more interesting I think is to provide an example so y’all can laugh at the manner in which I flail in the vortex. Last night, disgruntled by my own inability to fully enjoy the hedonistic way in which I spent the day (eating food, listening to baseball in the van, swimming in a swimming pool, drinking beer, reading frivolous articles on the internet and watching a nature documentary in untranslated dutch which I couldn’t understand- all activities which have been divested of some of their charm due to my own routinization of them), I resolved that the next day, this Monday, I would reorient myself towards production and achieve satisfaction from ‘work’ (which, without compensation, loses much of its clarity and is experienced more as rerouted leisure). What a gas. I got up after lying in bed ‘only’ ten minutes after I woke up, then read news websites, made coffee, rice and fish, ate it slowly, refrigerated some water for later, drank more coffee, read some financial articles that I told myself reflected the way in which the world is administered and were thus beneficial to read, put my t shirts in one pile and long sleeve shirts in another pile (plus some t shirts I didn’t like in a bag), uploaded a video that anyone who cares has already seen to youtube and sat down to write this article. Now would you call this day any more productive than yesterday? LOL.

Ultimately what’s missing here is interaction. Without a community both creative work and hedonistic activities fall back upon the weak little individual to justify, something he cannot hope to manage on his own. The online community of quips and congratulations doesn’t have enough presence when I get up and move around the room. Being unable to afford to do things that aren’t almost completely free (excluding the gas it takes to drive somewhere near), I am separated from a large swath of people (moving around in the world requires money). It’s an interesting place to be, on permanent vacation out here in fantasy land. It leads to time usurpation practices like the one I’ve hopefully just tricked you into participating in with me. Thanks sucker.

Bit Part in Bad Movie

I was finally offered the opportunity to directly inscribe my existence into the world yesterday. I was recruited by Central Casting to play a slightly drunk rocker in the background of a popular TV show featuring a horny Fox Mulder, which is a situation I feel as though I enact unintentionally day to day. A more honest depiction of my existence I could not imagine, and I made sixty five dollars to boot. The shoot itself was not particularly interesting, and an objective account of the event could only be interesting as evidence in a lawsuit contending that I had breached some sort of non disclosure agreement. But the subjective experience of “being yourself” in an expensive fake dream was too psychedelic to allow to disappear into the haze of a slightly irrelevant anecdote blurted out in the midst of a discussion on DVDs of HBO shows that people watch when they are depressed, so here we go.

As I prepared for the shoot I began to grow excited thinking about how perfect the role was. They had asked me to arrive the following morning looking ‘grungy’ and like a rocker (“don’t be afraid of the pompadour”). No problem, I thought. But when it came to assemble my ensemble, I became agitated. What if I was not ‘rocker’ enough? I suppose I had been gradually reneging on some of my rocker looks steadily for the past six years or so. What if they were not convinced that I was not any sort of rocker at all? The fear of not being able to adequately portray what I ‘really am’ wracked my mind. The stipulation that I had also to wear all or mostly all black further limited my wardrobe options. The only pants I had that were black were my ‘job interview pants’- baggy black slacks that were the opposite of of the torn and dirty jeans I imagined they desired. I put on these pants and despaired. I felt like a fraud. Not only this, but I had no black band t shirts, not a single one. How had I let this happen? Maybe I’m not a rocker after all? No, I had to reassure myself, I am still a rocker even if I could not convincingly portray one. I ended up with a very plain solid black outfit, with skinhead boots and an old punk belt I found. I couldn’t bring my self to buy grease and make a pompadour because I thought I would just look ‘classy’ if I did that, so I merely hand stoked my greasy hair into a garbled home pompadour that was admittedly awkward. It was the fact that I was going to be paid money that made me worry that I was a charlatan- I’ve felt the same anxiety before when assessing the relative visibility of various wine and mustard stains when dressing for an office job. I gave myself a tenuous grimace in the mirror for reassurance and headed out the door. 

As I approached the set my fears were relieved. There’s a lot of variation in people’s interpretation of the notion of a rocker, apparently. All the men looked like either guidos or leather daddies, and leather vests, mesh shirts and sunglasses abounded. Upon arriving, we immediately had to report to wardrobe where a sunfried middle aged Japanese man in tigerprint pants quickly assessed the authenticity of the extras’ attires. Very few people escaped wardrobe with their outfits intact, and while some people were completely overhauled (a saw one man fitted with some baggy leather bondagewear and others were required to wear leather chaps over their pants) all they did to me was take away the spiky punk belt that I had thought the one accessory essential to my identification as a rocker and replace it with a cheap belt made of linked tin iron crosses. They also gave me a choker made of jingle bells that did not jingle and a tight beeny that said “bones” all over it. I wandered away from the tent looking like a complete rod. Does this mean the entertainment industry truly views rockers as complete rods? Or perhaps that in order to adequately convey what your subcultural identification (and therefore your essence) is you must relinquish your independence and let someone with greater authority than you clothe you in a goofy hat.

The women had it much worse, however. They had been instructed over the phone to “be prepared to show a lot of skin” and came to the set with their own interpretations of what that meant- a lot of cutoffs and cleavage. The wardrobe people were rather merciless though, and the young attractive women emerged from the tent in all sorts of extreme attire. The tight leather corset was a favorite, as were tall stilettos that no one could walk gracefully in. Traditional cleavage, while stimulating, is in 2012 old hat, so many of the women came out with ‘ass cleavage’- skirts so high that the round jiggling bottom curves of their ass loaves were revealed if they stood or walked. While the woman had been selected on the basis of the “lingerie model” appearance, the compromising nature of their wardrobe caused them to stumble and gasp in the sun and took quite a bit of the magic out of the playboy fantasy. Nevertheless, I became a little overstimulated and very self conscious of my been, which I eventually removed and stuffed in my pocket just in hopes of seeming slightly less creepy when I was caught furtively gawking as I could not help but do during the five plus hours of down time. This beenie-burying was a no-no, but I could rely on the fact that there seemed to be twenty different bosses with indistinguishably varying amounts of authority wandering around (or in some cases, laughing charmingly at a scantily clad underling’s polite jest in a feeble bid for pussy) to keep me from being reprimanded. As we sat around, people struck up conversations about other TV shows and smoking weed.

So this was my work, sitting there in ridiculous clothes while trying not to further burden the women by becoming part of the world eyeball that was paying them to rest it’s flabby weight upon them. After two hours of sitting in a cafeteria type room we were moved to a warehouse type room for another hour of just sitting there. The move was not explained, and as we walked across the studio lot a bunch of men wearing short sleeve plaid prints and brown cargo shorts stopped slowly pushing various carts to unashamedly gawk as we passed. Whether they had time to note that I and my fellow men looked like complete rods in the midst of this forced ass cleavage march to “alternate holding area” could not be assessed, but I resented them for their better-placed friends that helped them land well paid jobs as box pushers in a self conscious industry so drunk on its own cherry pink prestige that it sloshes it around everywhere, giving people who might not have even stained their own shirts a smugness that is discernible over vast distances. During this second period of holding I overheard one of the two older extras complaining to the other about how he had been forced to eat garbage while playing a backgrounded homeless guy during a gig the previous week. After more rustling around in chairs and euphemistic cell phone prodding we were ushered back to the set. 

My specific duty was to pretend to see a hot girl, point at her, walk drunkenly to a specific spot near a pool table, continue to ogle and gawk, pretend to whisper things about how attractive I found this imaginary woman to be to my buddy, and repeat. Each extra was provided with a prop drink- mine was a Red Stripe half full of water.  Occasionally this water would touch my lips as I pretended to swig the beer- this repulsed me because I couldn’t help think that this water masquerading as beer was of a lower quality than regular water because it had been thoroughly imbued with the aura of inauthenticity. I noted the aforementioned ‘eat garbage’ extra actually drinking his prop beer. I pretty much had no idea what was going on. My scene buddy, a very fit young man with no shirt and a leather vest, was friendly and we established a mild rapport before he noticed that there were actually topless women around here and became increasingly agitated by his own horniness. A guy whose job it was to turn on a fog machine and blow it with a fan was repeatedly reprimanded by his boss for not blowing it in the right direction, or for blowing it at the wrong time. After doing this several times we clocked out for an hour of lunch.

Lunch was some decadent affair. A mob scene of prawns, crab legs, steaks, aioli, baked potatoes, several pies and chocolate chunk cookies, pestos, ice creams and largely neglected fruit baskets- served on paper plates with compostable silverware, munched ignominiously in the second holding area with our plates on our laps. The chief source of drama for me during lunch was whether to treat it as a ‘value adding’ event- meaning should I eat way more than I want because the food was expensive and they weren’t paying me much? Or should I act as though I respected myself and my environment and eat a large but dignified portion? Being in the background all morning had made me a little paranoid- it seemed as though a second plate might draw the attention ‘head food grip’ or something and cause me to be scolded or ejected. I compromised and decided to gorge only on cookies. After the scarfing we still had another half hour of unpaid milling around, but without taking off my jingle bell choker I felt some role confusion and couldn’t really relax back into my authentic self.

After lunch I was moved to a different area of the fake bar and encouraged to to pretend to talk to a ‘sexy babe’ who had the easy role of being disinterested in me. I pulled this off with aplomb. Again I had very little idea of what was going on around me. I began having some fun with the role and hamming it up, but I was very cautious not to draw attention to myself with extreme hamming. The number one directive of the extra is to not draw attention to oneself. Any attention paid to the extra is always negative- I was supposed to be a seamless part of a drunken and lecherous background wobbling in and out of the vision of a drunken and lecherous protagonist through which the ideas of several executives regarding the relative profitability of drunken and lecherous themes are put into effect. My explicit role was to ‘fill out the world’- meaning that I had to make it appear as though these exaggerated themes were consistent with an actually existing reality which humans lived in (living in this instance being illustrated moving a few steps and appearing drunk, appearing to talk and stare). I kept my face submissively on my fellow extras’ breasts and earned the silence which indicated approval and a job well done. 

Following the shoot, I noticed that Mulder was serving birthday cake to a bunch of the people in shorts. It was clear that the extras should not line up and receive cake from the star, though no explicit prohibition was spoken. The gift of celebrity interaction was a bonus for those who had pointed things and shifted things around for weeks and we had simply not earned it. Instead we were ushered to the sidewalk to hand in our guido-wear and return home. As I left I wondered if I had actually ‘inscribed myself into the world’ as I had thought I would do. During the course of the day I found that being paid, even if you are only being paid to ‘do what you do’ creates a low level anxiety that make you feel strange and that you are ‘not who you are’ (at least, not convincingly). Of course, the expansion of the marketplace into every aspect of existence can cause this feeling to persist even while you are not getting paid. This is why receiving a wage to be a fake rocker in the background is in some ways more authentic than being an unpaid real one onstage- it’s just a little clearer what’s going on. And that’s also why I feel that the experience had a metaphorical truth-substance that outweighed the ‘reality’ of who I am in ‘in my own time’, fraught as it is with fantasy, presumption and methods of psychological resistance to an encroachment of the marketplace which has already occurred. No matter how ‘normal’ I look in my own eyes, I appear foolish to others because I am inept at accruing wealth. Yesterday I flipped the script, and looked ‘normal’ in the background of some fantasy (my presence justified by my wage) while to myself I thought ‘I look and am acting like a complete rod”. In both cases I had (and have) very little idea of what is actually going on around me. What’s the fucking difference?

Orange County

ORANGE COUNTY

 

Orange county had recently taken on some significance in my thoughts because I had been ‘intensely pondering’ (happily traipsing through vague thoughts about) Financial Crisis aka Great Recession (two awkward names for the rapid dissolution of the global math fantasy in 2007-2008). The opportunity for me to spend a few nights across from Newport Beach, in New Century and other defaulted mortgage originator’s fatherland appealed to me, because (I fantasized) I would gain ‘first hand knowledge’ of the way of life of people whom the notion of compound growth had completely consumed. Indifferent to the exclusionary aspects of the wealthy lifestyle, I supposed that there would be something specific about my position ‘on the outside’ of the gates that would be uniquely enlightening. I certainly would have acquired and internship at Keller Williams Realty or another such entity had I any drive to determine what that entailed (or skills, or tenacity), but, lacking this drive and being motivated more by indolent speculation coupled with internal experiential truisms that permitted no correspondence with any type of productive reality, I instead confined my activities to walking around the block looking at luxury cars (even permitting myself a few mock-awed outrages at presumed wastefulness that were only circuitous routes to self congratulatory nods at my own dirty pants) and watching TV. Luckily, I happened to be staying in the house of a mortgage originator and his extended family, so I had little to do to indulge myself in my anthropological urges than to sprawl across the couch and occasionally observe the family dynamic.

Unhappily, nothing particularly noteworthy occurred. Despite my eagerness to philosophize wildly and mentally taunt outwardly normal people for being so, I could not rely on observed reality to provide me with any actual events which could be removed from their context and still retain their ability to illustrate anything about the world from which they came. I quickly found, however, that when I coupled my observations with the notion that I was at ‘ground zero’ for the financialization of space in America (a specious notion arising from the fact that source of the abundant wealth all around me sprang from the computation of price differentials and not from any particular productive capacity other than the provision of homes which could only be purchased on credit), the banal anecdote became ‘telling’. Telling of what? Of the truth of course!

Actually, no. In the end it becomes far too much work to endow the time I watched a mother and child intently watch a parked stretch SUV, or a man letting a purebred bull terrier out of a carseat (closing the door with a luxurious crunch behind it), with any type of significance. These people are rich, or they are concerned with appearing to be. This we all know already. That their wealth is a fantasy (and I mean this in the most mathematical sense- their asset values frequently increase only when they are not correctly appraised- see collateralized debt obligation- and houses and cars are possible only with extended credit lines) we at least have some sense of as well. But even being not actually that wealthy, they are still powerful. This power exists, as far as I could tell, completely in its capacity to insulate them from a specific ‘shabbiness’ (which I would portray as an aggressively panhandling bum whose ‘God Bless’ sounds slightly too sarcastic, or as 1980′s appliance store which still relies on the personal charisma of the wacky owner and in which the fixtures have not been replaced in some time- this as opposed to the more sophisticated shabbiness of a squashed chicken nugget on the side of the road or an overstuffed black plastic garbage bag smelling of diapers, both of which are allowed). Another way of saying this is that everything seems new, and the things that aren’t new are at least self consciously old. It’s the power that interested me, and I spent each morning poring over the classified section of the flimsy local paper (which I noticed in many a driveway, sad in its sack and unread) for traces of it. There, it was visible at the margins- in the notices of auction of second liens of foreclosed homes (“the purchaser of this lien is not entitled to any part of the property, and the payment of lien shall only occur after the first lien has been paid off in its entirety”) and statements of land use intention. Debate raged in the letters column about real and anticipated traffic. Abstract power’s brusque sexiness (“I’m going to bend you son, and force fuck you earth”) manifested quite blandly in the OG suburban glow.

So I turned instead to the Olympic opening ceremonies, which is power theater and much easier for me to get a handle on. The TV is well known as a great panacea to the mild anxiety one experiences whenever one causes another mild anxiety by requiring a response to one’s remark or sound effect, and the Olympics themselves, in their status as ‘world television event’, allowed the TV to remain happily on without the potential conflict that might arise if it was only on because some individual had grotesquely displayed their personal interests on flatscreen by pressing buttons on the remote. Frankly, everyone was relieved. They wanted to be entertained. Unfortunately, with one billion people watching, a ceremony will tend to gain a little bit of unwieldy self importance. This, coupled with a desperate eagerness to please, made those watching feel slightly embarrassed for their world, or at least for the British.  It was not purely entertaining. I became bored rather quickly and the viewers with less of an ulterior motive began to eat handfuls of chips and mill around. Here is a breakdown of what happened:

A James Bond is with the Queen in what looks like a commercial

A fake queen skydives into the stadium

David Beckham drives a speedboat somewhere delivering the torch

Agrarian society people dance around

The industrial revolution happens

Kenneth Branagh dressed as Abe Lincoln quotes Shakespeare

There’s a Mary Poppins bit/Harry Potter bit/and some other ones

Mr. Bean is in the orchestra playing chariots of fire

There is an iphone neon dance party

Muhammed Ali is humiliated again

Big dancing puppets

People riding bikes with bird wings

Immense firework display

The countries walk up a hill

A flute player in Ireland

Some forgettable routines

As bullet points this sounds fantastic, and parts of it really were entertaining. It was a tremendous display of burning money. Because advertising research has revealed that humor is the one most effective way to get a viewer engaged in an ad, we must endure Bean and his 1920′s vaudeville/mime routine- I remember him damn it, it’s my fault too. In fact, almost all of the solemnity and sentimentality of the ceremony was replaced by dancing hams and guffaws. The United Kingdom seemed very concerned with preserving its culture with a view towards marketing it- who else can claim always-in Shakespeare as part of their private heritage? The concept of the nation grew muddled and confused as the night wore on. With governments mandated to ensure the health of their countries economic tributaries and identity determined more in terms of subcultural affinities than taxable bodies within jurisdictions, what differentiates the countries besides varying access to specific forms of capital? The difference between the US and Britain is embodied in the Queen, but this super celebrity is just as capable of being humiliated by marketing as any of the others who are presumably paid to these kind of dirty jobs. The Queen’s bit was mild and relied on you knowing who James Bond is (a toadying pimp), and I was not sufficiently entertained. If you are going to make a fake Queen jump out of an a copter, why not make her slide down a rainbow. If David Beckham is going to drive a boat, why not have someone chasing him on a dolphin?

My ‘sophisticated critique’ aside, the parade of nations was much more vital. Every country had representation, which meant that were a lot of startled faces from strange locales in close up. Smartphone technology was encouraged during the march, so much of the Olympians walked by staring into their phones as they snapped blurry pics of lights and security forces. Some countries had classier costumes than others, while the Americans wore blue berets and looked like dorks. Small black children holding large dishes mysteriously accompanied the sandwich board wearing women and the flag bearers- this was perhaps some fifties relic that no one addressed. The commercial breaks in the coverage were politically motivated: after a break the announcers would quickly summarize the less important countries that had walked with no one at home watching (frequently island nations featuring a Tae Kwon Do competitor), and each break was preceded by the march of a country conceived to be more interesting to the viewing public: France, Israel, China etc. North Koreans looked confused. Afghanis appeared sad. When the torch was finally carried up the hill, they walked it past a confused Muhammed Ali who, gripped by Parkinson’s, struggled to do something. I assume his appearance was intended to be triumphant (“he’s doing it while dying!”) but instead it was depressing, like his other Olympic appearances since he developed the disease. There followed a hyperbolic speech on the greatness of “sport”. Fireworks then incinerated the stadium and the games were temporarily postponed.

For some reason watching people become bored watching the 2012 Olympic opening ceremonies seemed very interesting to me, so much so that I resolved to report on this experience to my computer at my earliest convenience. Attempting to discern the source of this interest, and perhaps some hidden locus of satisfaction which I could possibly bilk dry, proved more difficult than I had anticipated. I am used to squeezing and prodding mundane events and putting my tongue into slight perforations in their skin in order to ravenously absorb an amusing sentence or two, but in this case I relied on the ridiculousness of the entire world as implied by the absurd division of wealth and the increased squandering of resources by the very rich in pursuit of inept advertising in various guises, and this subject proved more than capable of subverting my cheap and puny will into a trite discussion of an overarticulated event on social media (itself an inept form of advertising). My resolution to not be duped has proved the very source of my own duping! Again! Goodbye Orange County for now.

 

 

 

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