Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

My opinion of John Kerry has gone way up recently, but I suspect that’s because I have not seen, heard, or read anything by or about him in weeks. Honestly, he ought to just change his campaign slogan to “John Kerry: The Less You See Him, The More You Like Him!” I guess his big plan is keep a low profile while the Bush Administration’s chickens come a’roostin’ at the White House.

And it looks like this strategy is working, since Bush’s “favorable” ratings are now slightly lower than those of Saruman the White. You might think this is because Bush got up in front of Congress and named Donald Rumsfeld “World’s Greatest Grandpa” moments before Seymour “Encyclopedia Brown” Hersh’s revelation that, well, okay, the Secretary of Defense might have authorized a little sexual humiliation. (But, honestly, who amongst us hasn’t?). If you ask me, though, I think Bush’s low standing is mostly due to the fact that Kerry is largely out of the picture. To get a accurate idea of how Bush will fare in this election, I think the pollsters need to interject some context into their questions.

Pollster: On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate Bush’s performance as President?

Some Guy: Oh, I dunno. Three? Four?

Pollster: [Holds up photo of Kerry] How about now?

Some Guy: Seven.

At some point Kerry will re-emerge and again get hammered for flip-floppery. I think the Republican’s portrayal of Kerry as a serial equivocator is largely overblown, there’s no getting around the fact that the man has taken every conceivable position on Iraq, often in the same sentence. If the war were peanut butter, Kerry would have already come out in favor of creamy, crunchy, extra chunky, and the gross kind where you manually stir in the oil.

That’s why I think the Kerry campaign should do more than just lay low — they should actively encourage the American public to forget about their man until the last possible minute. They could run ads like this.

First woman: Hey, have you heard about John Kerry?

Second woman: Nuh-uh, who’s he?

First woman: Beats me. Probably nobody.

And maybe they could muddy the waters a bit for good measure.

First woman: I was asking because I just saw a Bush ad that said John Kerry was “wrong of defense.”

Second woman: That’s weird. Maybe they mean Jim Carey?

First woman: You think Bush is badmouthing America’s favorite funnyman?

Second woman: Must be.

If done correctly, the press would completely forget about Kerry until the DNC “leaks” his name as the nominated candidate on October 23rd, whereupon he is heralded as the “hot new thing” and wins in a landside. This could actually work, given that the media has the attention span of a caffinated Irish Setter. It seems like they are always forgetting terribly relevant stuff and then breathlessly reporting it a again months later.

February 23, page D6: Red Cross Reports Widespread Abuses In Iraqi Prison

March – April, all sections: Friends retrospectives


The only downside to this plan is the Democratic Convention, scheduled for the end of July — that might make it hard hard to keep Kerry’s candidacy under wraps. But I have a solution for this as well. I think the convention center should be decorated with a tiki motif and all the delegates should vote Survivor-style, writing their nominations onto big pieces of paper and stuffing them into a box while giving a short speeches into the camera. (“You stabbed me in the back one to many times, Bob Graham!”) The outcome would remain secret until the big Reunion Show in late October, when all — what was it, 30? — Democratic Candidates get together in front of a live studio audience and feign surprise when the winner is announced. Kerry would then receive the grand prize of $75 million in general election federal funds, Clay Aikin as a running mate, a guaranteed spot on the following morning’s Today Show, and, no doubt, the Presidency. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win an election in this country.

Drove The Chevy To The Levee

After my graduation from college, I spent 15 months working for the Washington Conservation Corps. I needed the money, and it seemed like a good way to put my Environmental Science degree to work. Plus, I had applied to Peace Corps, and I thought this would look good on my application. After all, everyone knows that the first thing an employer looks in a candidate is experience working for a similar-named organization (which is why the United Nations often does recruiting drives at their local International House Of Pancakes).

The Conservation Corps is one of the forerunners to AmeriCorps, a volunteer this program where a bunch of hooligans go around and engage in manly activities like planting trees and driving trucks and building fences and whatnot. My coworkers were high school dropouts and ex-convicts, and my boss was a grizzled old ex-logger who once had every bone in his body broken when a log rolled over him. And then there was me, a guy with 8 credits of philosophy under his belt and callus-free hands. You know how in the old WWII comic books, like Stg. Rock or whatever, there’s always some pacifist scholar in the company with a nickname like “Abacus?” I was essentially that guy, minus the glasses.

But what I lacked in manliness I made up for with an aggressive campaign to fake it. I’d nod knowingly as the other guys debated the relative merits of Fords and Chevys, carry around tools I’d never seen before in my life as if I’d been born clutching them, and endure hours of country music without complaint. After hours I would slink home, put on a Cure CD and sip effete microbrew, sure, but on the clock I was All Man, or, at the very least, my best imitation thereof.

Sometimes I was able to pull of this charade fairly convincingly. Other times …

One day, for example, we were constructing a fence around a river. For corner posts we used railroad ties: massive, square-ish hunks of wood that require two men to carry (and, if one of those men weights 135 lbs., makes him feel like his spine is going to snap from the strain). I was paired with J., a 19-year-old guy who probably weighed half again as much as me and proudly boasted about his status as a redneck. He was racist, homophobic, prone to fits of violence, and he whooped for joy when he heard that Kurt Cobain has killed himself. He was also a pretty good guy and we enjoyed working together, even though we never would have socialized off the clock.

J. and I just put in post a few feet away from the edge of the water — a real chore, since this desolate stretch of bank was very muddy and the posthole had continually filled in with water. We had to put another post in nearby, and the railroad ties were sitting in the back of our pickup truck a little ways away. We had carried the last one out to its destination, but how we both feeling tired and lazy, so J. suggested we just go get the truck and just drive it back to our current location.

So we walked back to the truck and, as luck would have it, I approached the vehicle on the driver’s side. J., without a second thought, tossed the keys to me. Rather than admit that I had almost zero experience driving anything larger than a Toyota Corolla, I hoped in and fired up the engine while J. clambered in the passenger’s side.

We chatted idly during the brief drive, but, as we approached the riverbank, J. suddenly looked concerned. “Hey, aren’t you going a little fast?” he asked. Actually, I’d thought we’d been going unnecessarily slow, but I obligingly tapped the brake petal for J.’s benefit. As soon as I did, though, I knew we were doomed. Now on the mud flat, the truck lost not one iota of momentum as I hit the brakes; instead, it slowly began to turn sidewise while still moving inexorably towards the water.

This, I quickly calculated, was Really Bad. The river was deep and fairly fast-flowing, so much so that it had cut into the landscape. There was a two or three foot drop from the bank to the water, and the river was probably five feet deep at the edges. As we were now approaching the river sideway, it seemed entirely possible that the two left wheels of the truck would drop off the bank and then, as the right wheels continued, the entire vehicle would flip over, dumping us into the river upside-down.

Best of all, all this was unfolding at approximately one mile an hour, giving J. and I plenty of time to recognize and discuss our fate. “Dude,” J. said, as I frantically pumped the brake “Dude, we’re going to go right into the river.” I was too busy pumping, sweating and hyperventilating to reply. Looking out my side window — my half of the truck was going to go over the edge first — I could see the river approaching at rapid-yet-leisurely pace. “Maybe we should jump out?” J. proposed.

Suddenly, there was a thud and back half of the truck stopped moving. The front continued, swinging the vehicle around so that it was again perpendicular to the water. The truck slowed and, a few feet from the drop-off, stopped altogether.

Dazed, J. and I slowly climbed out. J. walked around to my side to see what had happened. As it turned out, the very back of the truck had hit, yes, the railroad tie that J. and I had just put it five minutes earlier. The post had been pushed to a 45 degree angle but had remained standing, siphoning off enough of the truck’s velocity to prevent it from toppling into the river. It was the only thing on the entire deforested and denuded stretch of riverbank, and I had somehow managed to hit it.

J. looked at the post, looked at me, shook his head and said, “You are one lucky motherfucker.”

The Race-ists Club

Some of of my of friends banded together to form The Race-ists Club. Every Sunday two of them run a 200 m. foot race to see who will win, and, afterwards, everyone heads to a local pub to celebrate the outcome. Although members aren’t technically required to be out-of-shape when they join, they are prohibited from training for their race in any way.

This was the exciting photo finish to last Sunday’s match, in which Matt (or, as he’s commonly known in Seattle, Drunk Of The Week) squeaked out a victory over Race-ists Club founder Reuben.

Odds and Ends

  • Over the weekend I saw a woman driving while talking on her cell phone. She cut off another car in traffic, and the man in the second vehicle clearly wanted to honk his horn or make an obscene gesture in anger, but was unable to because he, too, was talking on a cell phone.
  • Yesterday I ate asparagus for dinner. Today, in the men’s restroom at work, I considered turning to the guy at the urinal next to mine and apologizing, but concluded that this would probably be a breach of etiquette.
  • Spam Subjectline: ” Is GOLD ready to EXPLODE?” Man I hope not, or some of the people I ride the bus with are going to need some major dental work afterwards.
  • Coasting On Good Looks And Charm

    The Squirrelly is boring, but I mean that in the best possible way. We seem to have been blessed with Ye Olde Miracle Child, who only fusses with reason, sleeps seven hours a night, and spends his waking hours smiling at everything that comes within four feet of him. If we could get get him to ixnay the excretory functions, he’d be a dream.

    He’s also hit a lull in his development. Well, technically that’s not true — I guess all sorts of magical things are happening inside that vaguely-too-big head of his, but when friends come over to see the Dancing Monkey Show we have to confess that he hasn’t learned a new trick since figuring out how to hold his head up. For the first few weeks it seems like he was doing something new every day, but, according to the development chart, those days are over for a spell. The next big milestones are things like “Remains sitting up (with assistance),” where “with assistance” basically means the parent holds the kid up and pretends like he’s reached a milestone. By that standard I should be able to put “Can perform neurosurgery (with assistance)” on my resume.

    In fact, all the development stages from 2-7 months are things like “Color vision improves.” And while I understand that cognitive development is fairly important step and everything, we’re not exactly calling the grandmas and saying, “Guess what the baby did today! He saw magenta!”

    Currently, The Squirrelly’s main marketable skill is the ability to look as cute as all get-out. Not that I’m complaining — judging from the development chart, this is the calm before the storm. Starting at seven months it goes from “Crawling” to “Walking” to “Arguing” to “Knows Where To Purchase Ecstasy” with frightening rapidity. I think I’ll continue to enjoy the kid while I can still tuck him under one arm.

    Speaking of The Squirrelly, I just called up The Queen at home and we had this conversation:

    M: How’s your day going?

    Q: Pretty good.

    M: Did you go for a walk yet?

    Q: No, but I’m going to go right after I eat the baby.

    M: After you what?!

    Q: Feed the baby! I mean feed him!

    Oh, man, I can see the conversation now. “No officer, she never gave me any indication she would do such a thing …”

    The Bad Review Revue

    New York Minute: “As agonizing as a sucking chest wound.” — Marrit Ingman, AUSTIN CHRONICLE

    Godsend: “Has the sensitivity of a cactus, the ingenuity of a square wheel, and the integrity of a CEO.” — Wesley Morris, BOSTON GLOBE

    Laws of Attraction: “This shabby enterprise gets so many things so wrong that it freezes your face into a cringe.” — Joe Morgenstern, WALL STREET JOURNAL

    Van Helsing: “Not so much spine-tingling as butt-numbing.” — Michael Sragow, BALTIMORE SUN

    Envy: “Black plays an inventor who instills murderous envy in his best friend by making millions off a spray called Vapoorizer. You spray the stuff on dog poo, and the poo just vapoorizes. Later, environmentalists are up in arms. ‘Where did the shit go?’ they want to know. The answer is painfully obvious: into the screenplay.” — Peter Travers, ROLLING STONE

    Bully For You

    I saw a bumper sticker today that said “I Love My Wife!” It’s a noble sentiment, I guess, but it got me wondering about the circumstances under which this guy would buy such a thing. Apparently legally binding himself to another person till death-do-they-part in front of his friends and family wasn’t enough, he had to notify public transportation commuters of his commitment as well.

    Maybe the driver bought this in lieu of a second honeymoon: “I wanted to take you to Hawaii for our thirtieth anniversary but finances are kinda tight, so how about I put this on our SUV instead?” Or maybe it’s the opposite: the guy is having an affair and is trying to craftily throw his wife off the scent. “I know I’ve gotten home late from work three times this week, Hon, but if you go out in the driveway and look at the back of the Trailblazer, I think you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise!”

    Movies: Kill Bill Vol. 2

    Note: Minor spoilers for Kill Bill Vol. 1 herein. Also, the comments to this post are not spoiler-free, so, like, caveat emptor, and whatever.

    Kill Bill is a fantastic movie. I’m not speaking here of Volume 1 or Volume 2, or even the two films watched back-to-back. No, I speak here of the mythical, single-movie Kill Bill that director Quentin Tarantino first set out to make, before it was decided to rive the film into two. I am certain that that movie, despite the fact that it does not and may never exist, is wonderful, with a sum much greater than it’s parts.

    Not that the parts are bad. Indeed, I loved Kill Bill Vol. 1 in spite of myself. And I’m please to report that Kill Bill Vol. 2 is also quite good. But my enjoyment of the second half was somewhat diminished by my wish that the whole kit and caboodle had been one three-and-a-half hour motion picture.

    The problem, to my mind, is one of packaging. In splitting the movie into two they had to make each a self-contained unit, and he did so by putting almost all of the exposition into one movie and almost all of the action into another. Of course, as we all learned in ninth-grade English class, exposition goes at the start of a story, which exactly where Tarantino puts it; But then, having never been a slave to linear chronology, he goes on to put the beginning of the story in the second movie. Here we learn the history of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, the background to the wedding-turned-massacre, and where The Bride learned to kick so much ass. In other words, we learn everything that puts the events of the first film in context.

    But, see, here’s the thing — I liked Kill Bill Vol 1. plenty despite the lack of context — because of it, even. For a revenge fantasy to succeed, all you really need is a wronged hero(ine) and a roster of baddies for the protagonist to work over. And this goes double for a film as action-packed as Volume 1. While I left the theater curious about the backstory, I honestly didn’t expect Tarantino to devote two-thirds of the sequel to explication — especially insofar as The Bride only tacked two of her adversaries in the first film and had three left on her list, leaving me to believe that the second would have even more mayhem than first.

    So maybe I’m (again) a victim of false expectations, but I couldn’t help but feel that Kill Bill Vol. 2, while a fine film in it’s own right, was something of a letdown in comparison to it’s predecessor. I entered the theater wondering “how on Earth is Tarantino going to top the epic fight between The Bride and O-Ren?” and only realized 90 minutes in that he wasn’t going to try. It’s a bit of a bummer of have the climax of a two-film series come before the middle mark.

    Curiously, even though much of Vol 2 is spent providing answers, I came away from this film with even more questions than I did after the first one. While O-Ren’s biography was exhaustively sketched out, we really don’t learn anything about the background of Budd or Elle Driver in this one For every loose end this installment ties up, it merrily unravels two others. By meticulously detailing some aspects of the backstory, the film inadvertently calls attention to those that go completely unexplained. I rather preferred the first film’s “comic book mentality,” where Uma could wield a samurai sword and will her paralyzed feet to move simply because she could, end of story.

    I have no way of knowing for sure, of course, but it seems to me that if the two movies had been merged, the chapters shuffled around a bit, and an hour excised from the whole shebang, Kill Bill would have been a masterpiece. Instead, we got two pretty good movies. Some might argue that two is better than one no matter who you slice it, but, personally, I’ll take the former over the latter any day.