How I Spent My Summer Vacation (So Far)

hello dali

  1. Got on plane with baby
  2. Inserted baby into industrial-grade bassinet with text on it implying that child itself, not merely conveyance, had become property of American Airlines and should not be removed from cabin
  3. Slept very little, pondered wisdom of said ordinance
  4. Arrived in Madrid
  5. Carried vast array of infant-sustaining equipment, clothing, emergency supplies, stroller, etc etc etc up same street four times asking increasingly bemused Spaniards “Donde esta la calle [literally a block to the left/right/left/right]?”
  6. Continued to sleep very, very little, fantasized about paella
  7. Arrived at AirBnb obviously owned/rented by bachelor of at most 25 years, had series of pleasant conversations with him on WhatsApp, discovered WhatsApp key to communication across several industries in Spain
  8. Baby-wrangled, pondered fate of young parents in country where restaurants literally do not open for dinner until 8:30, visited five distinct comic book stores within three blocks of flat. Failed to acquire paella
  9. Carried baby on front of person facing outward for first time, received many presumably complimentary remarks in language do not speak nearly as well as thought did
  10. Bought chorizo sandwich at bar where baby was source of much fascination to regular patron with no front teeth who was availing self of slot machine in corner and who tried to give parenting advice, despite hearing explanation “Por favor, mi Español es muy malo” and his saying, “Ah, only English?” and continuing to speak Spanish despite this; bartender smilingly gave him the finger for reasons did not and now will never understand
  11. Learned to lisp, failed to acquire paella for second time
  12. Failed to protect only child from middle-aged lady janitor who said “Que linda!” and kissed him before knew what was happening, said “grathiath” instead
  13. Saw Guernica, cried
  14. Saw three Dalís have wanted to see entire life
  15. Learned to say “Mi ethpotha tiene theliaca” from nice lady at cafeteria (not the same thing) who sold whatever she had that Pam could eat, including delicious olives, potato salad, frittata and mushrooms, none of which were seasoned remotely like anything had ever eaten before. Still no paella
  16. Slept slightly more
  17. Did not stop cafe staffperson from taking flagrant advantage of language barrier to pretend she had heard self order three pastries instead of one on grounds that feigned misunderstanding left self with two additional pastries
  18. Took baby to Museo del Prado
  19. Baby extra charming, demonstrated that his two main words (“oooo,” “laaaa”), while they do not make sense in sequence in English, cause stone-faced elderly woman security guards predisposed to dislike Americans to burst into smiles, pinch fat little legs, and say “hola!” back to him
  20. Discovered source of baby’s happiness: Had shat onesie, leggings, self to extravagant, unnecessary degree
  21. Watched child take lunch in room full of achingly beautiful El Greco annunciation paintings, reflected on degree to which said child appeared to be mocking self in complex fashion with demonstration of contrast; bag of adorable, beshitted garments; saintly wife
  22. Dragged exhausted wife, noisy infant to Goya’s Black Paintings, Bosch room, cried some more
  23. Finally ate some goddamn paella at the museum restaurant
  24. Regretted above
  25. Watched in joy-horror as baby rolled back to front for first time ever two moths ahead of schedule 
  26. Plotted acquisition of wine

Fear Herself

fearless girl

Fearless Girl, the Wall Street sculpture by ad agency McCann New York on behalf of a financial services firm that currently manages some $2.4tr, takes part in several different artistic traditions, all of them vital to understanding this controversial work of public art.

Most prominently at the moment, of course, it is an act of vandalism, radically changing both the mode and the meaning of Sicily-born immigrant artist Arturo Di Modica’s statue Charging Bull so that Di Modica’s original work becomes a symbol of heedless capitalism athwart an image of a young woman staring down a charging bull many times her size, confident that her girlhood will protect her from the forthcoming trampling.

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio tweeted an edict in support of the statue, saying that “Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl” in response to Mr. Di Modica’s demand that McCann end its use of his artwork in its client’s brand-awareness campaign. In another tradition, specifically that of demanding gratitude from women for whatever gesture uses the language of feminism, no matter how craven the context, a petition sprung up around the statue, demanding it be made permanent. For Mr. De Blasio, Mr. Di Modica’s maleness is evidence of his antifeminism; a statement provided by McCann’s client, which has three women on its 11-member board, explaining the meaning of Fearless Girl – “the power and potential of having more women in leadership” – presumably demonstrates that company’s commitment to destroying patriarchal institutions.

The newer statue, sculpted by Kristen Visbal for McCann, also holds a prominent place in the decades-long tradition of advertising agencies insultingly pillaging the work of career artists without credit. The first victim is of course Mr. Di Modica himself: According to Michelle and James Nevius’s New York City history volume Inside the Apple, the artist installed the original statue on 15 Dec. 1989 under cover of darkness, placing the three-ton bronze symbol of a thriving market under the Christmas tree outside the New York Stock Exchange, a symbol of hope presented to a city dependent on the financial sector and thus devastated by two crashes, one two years before, when Mr. Di Modica decided to begin designing the statue, and one in October of that very year – Black Monday and Black Friday, respectively.

McCann also put up its statue without fanfare, but it did obtain a permit to use the space legally through 2 April. Now the agency also takes part in the rich tradition in American business of demanding that temporary public courtesies extended to corporations – tax cuts, subsidies due to sunset, the unfettered use of public land – extend indefinitely.

The creators of Fearless Girl also seem to have borrowed in abundance from another work of art, the poster published in the July 2011 issue of Adbusters of a ballerina atop the bull, which was used by the anti-advertising publication to promote anticapitalist protest movement Occupy Wall Street. Kalle Lasn, co-founder of the magazine, said he felt there was “some kind of magic about” the original image. Indeed, the Occupy protests moved thousands to demand accountability from the financial services sector that helped to crash the US housing market and badly injure the largest economy in the world, and also to commission Fearless Girl.

Finally, and most effectively, though, the McCann statue is a masterly entry in the tradition of art that performs the inverse of its stated goals, like a horror movie so poorly executed it becomes a comedy or a memoir that begs for sympathy so aggressively that it invites contempt: No small girl, fearless or not, can survive an encounter with a charging bull. She may be made of bronze, but so is he.

It now seems likely that Fearless Girl will be allowed to stay, with the mayor in its corner and the Lovecraftian vastness of its sponsor’s wealth a bulwark against any other opposition. Its popularity with tourists and with media give it a voice far louder than than Mr. Di Modica’s; the safety of its feminism protects it in turn from feminism. In this way it is in fact a magnificent symbol of everything that befalls the unsupported individual foolish enough to confront reckless capitalism: tragic, grisly, absurd, fatal.

Stray Thoughts 1/20: Year Zero

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From Watchmen, script by Alan Moore, art by Dave Gibbons

Many liberals are mourning the United States today; we have arrived at an easy moment for it.

America’s vast and beautiful national parks stand among the resources the incoming administration plans to sell off to vampires in the drilling and mining industries. The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities lie across the chopping block, as well, according to reports on Thursday. Trump may even stop measuring climate change data, the better to support the self-serving denialist posturing of his cabinet, a bottomless pit of capitalist ghouls.

The mobbed-up game show host Donald Trump, whose sole accomplishment in American politics so far is propagating a minor but curiously effective libel against his predecessor, has assumed the highest office in the nation on earth with the largest military and the most bountiful economy in human history. And he has control over methods of killing ranging from a remote-controlled flying robot called a Reaper, which can blow up a wedding party on a moment’s notice, to the B83 nuclear bomb, which can turn Manhattan into hot glass with fallout that reaches Boston and cancer clusters that extend tentacles down generations.

For the American left and the American liberal establishment, reflection beyond the endless recriminations that dog discussion of the spent political season seems necessary. Why can’t the left find a toehold in national policy? Why can’t liberals shake their characterization from both leftists and conservatives as out-of-touch elitists, and why does that characterization concern them so?

Part of it simply has to do with the hard sell of the American dream, I suspect. As successive administrations from Ronald Reagan forward eroded freedoms, many of us always assumed a guarantee that power would be used wisely, if not always in ways with which we agreed, even as the power itself rapidly accrued to a very few at the expense of the masses who willingly gave it to them. It was never anything but a laughably empty promise, if it was a promise at all, and not an easily exploited misunderstanding.

The truth is that we have rotted from the bottom up, and that our fear and sorrow over what we will lose obscures the mourning we shamefully neglected over what he have already lost. Overhanging this dreadful hour are truths about the American public that ought to have upset and disturbed us during times of greater peace: Huge swaths of the country are held captive to opioid addiction. Huger swaths still are in thrall to corporations more powerful than most governments, forced to compete with other workers for subsistence, to work until they die without hope of respite, to go without healthcare or in many cases bathroom breaks. Many of these people are in the country without documentation; against them, fears of deportation and sundered family bonds are wielded like clubs.

Our workforce is immiserated; our labor force participation drops even as our officials tout economic improvement. The people in this mass are carefully kept from adequate representation: through the refusal of Puerto Rican congressional seats; through identification laws in crucial swing states designed to suppress the votes of black people, who are disproportionately represented in our underclass; through the electoral college, founded in slavery for slavery’s preservation.

WEB DuBois put it best in a header to a section on the white worker in his essay on the reconstruction: “[F]locking here from all the world the white workers competed with black slaves, with new floods of foreigners, and with growing exploitation, until they fought slavery to save democracy and then lost democracy in a new and vaster slavery,” DuBois writes. It is that vaster slavery that now, finally, may threaten without fear of answer the symbols of the great lie of the American Dream kept carefully intact so as to prevent us from fearing the tightening of our chains.

We are a nation that rallies around signs and wonders as naturally as breathing; that is our strength. But it is not the symbols that give us strength – it is the rally. Divided, set against one another, eager to believe any whispered lie about the foreigner who forms the bedrock of this nation of persecuted expatriates, we are united only in name, and perhaps by the dream of a prosperity that ends at our doorstep, available to and achievable by us, and only us, to be extended to our neighbor at our sole discretion.

And yet the well of sadness is still bottomless; and yet the wealth of culture and invention, of happiness and opportunity still seem such sudden and immediate losses. It is evidence, I think, of a failing on the part of so many, including myself, to see our neighbor’s misery and respond to it with compassion and bold action, rather than with bromides about America’s greatness, past or present. If Trump’s supporters glory in that sadness, perhaps they are right to do so, however wrong they are to believe in some utopian past and however disappointed, angry, and unwilling to accept the blame they deserve they are destined to be in the destruction inevitable in our future.

Still!

Goodbye, America!

At your heart, you were lies, but I loved you so much!

Stray Thoughts 1/19

 

  1. Actually, never mind. I wrote a submission packet for The Onion a couple years ago and never sent it off because I got my current (excellent) job but it’s much more pleasant than anything I was going to write. I just wrote headlines and never got around to writing the actual articles, but some of them are pretty funny, so here you go. Enjoy.
  2. Here they are:
    Terrifying Gang Initiation Ritual Huge Hit as Drinking Game

    Businessman Willing to Sacrifice Anything, Especially Goat, to Succeed

    Billionaire Scofflaw in Bondage Gear Brutalizes Dozens of Lower-Class Citizens of Gotham City

    Church Now a T-Mobile Store

    Beloved Guinea Pig Arthur, 2, Found Dead of Heroin Overdose

    Day Seized, Towed to Impound

    Listless Double Entendre Enthusiastically Penetrated

    Stunningly Beautiful 20 Year-Old Millionaire Offers Televised Words of Encouragement

    Opinion: Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You About the Mole People

    Time Warner Telemarketers Now Offering 10 Minutes of Complimentary Phone Sex

    Never Send to Know for Whom the Bell Tolls, Peter

    Balkan Vacationer Relying Heavily on Fuzzy Memory of Tintin Comic

    Beard Criticized

    Opinion: Today, the Faculty Break Room. Tomorrow, the World!

    Tense Five-Hour Closed-Door Negotiations Lead to Pineapple and Black Olives on Pizza

    PTA Objects to Renaming Remedial Math “Development Hell”

    Pun on Name Reestablished

    Quotidian Existence Sanctified by Almighty Zoltar for Reasonable Fee

    Death Sick of Negative Press for Doing His Fucking Job

    ***

    Prof. Wilbert Figwhistle’s Contrabulous Probl-O-Matic to Generate Dozens of Thinkpieces Per Hour

    Master of Ceremonies Overthrown

    Ad Engagement Up 3% Among Terminally Ill

    Flattering Stereotype Tolerated

    Death Toll Catastrophic in the Wake of Tropical Storm Pippi

    Pregnancy in Turnaround Due to Lack of Funding

    Cat Nonplussed

    Opinion: Your Mom

    Obscure Collectible Exhausted From Overproducing Jealous Glee

    Sandwich Freshness Reaches Record Nine-Day Low

    God Totally Apathetic About Child’s Lost Cat

    Character-Building First Job Sweaty

    Opinion: Bugs Bugs Bugs Bugs Bugs Bugs Bugs

    Marriage Saved by Inertia

    Homicidal Toddler Adorable

    Wish-Granting Pink Unicorn Leads Desperate, Unfulfilling Life

    Supervisor Saves Hundreds of Grateful Visors

    Scapegoat Makes It Through Fourth Round of Layoffs

    Virtue Its Own Reward, Apparently

    Automated Reassurances of Call’s Importance to Loan Company Grow Less Convincing With Every Repetition

    Veteran Thanked, Ignored

    Clown Cobbler’s Children Have No Clown Shoes

    Alcoholism Treasured

    Opinion: Who, Truly, Is the Madman, “Doctor” Fire Hydrant?

    Witchcraft Practiced, But Not Nearly Often Enough for Recital

    Twitter War Leads to Real War

    Opinion: Contrary to Appearances, I Haven’t Got All Day

    Public Statement From Rejected Blind Date Hints Darkly at Litigation

    Some Days It Feels Like the Lottery Is Never Going to Pay Off

    Hottest Girl From High School Works at CVS Now, Still Won’t Put Out

    Miserable Past Longed For

    Trip to DMV Cited in Decision to Build Piranha Tank, Weather Machine, Lair on Moon

    Astronaut Still Going On and Fucking On About It

    Democratic Party Has Lame Music, Cash Bar

    Free Spirit Doesn’t Have Car Insurance, No

    Co-Worker Mistakenly Befriended

    Lymphoma, Credit Rating in Remission

    Market-Price Fish Suggestive of Illegal Monopoly

    Best Possible Assumptions Made About Ruggedly Handsome Man

    Opinion: I Like Art That Takes Very Specific Risks

    Apple Debuts Tracking App for Homicidal Good Humor Truck Drivers, iScream

    Christian Afraid to Die for Some Reason

    Weekend With Father-in-Law Really Hard on the Ol’ Cuticles

    Ex-Girlfriend’s Career Suddenly Going From Strength to Strength

    Tropical Paradise Evacuated

    Report: Robot Journalists 80% Better at Literally Everything

    President Explodes

    Ridiculous Bullshit Motivational Picture of Cat Cried Over

    Opinion: Seriously, Carl

    Red Wine Found to Be Excellent Source of Alcohol

    Missionary Actually Enjoys a Variety of Sexual Positions, But Thanks for Telling That One Again

    Underprivileged Handicapped Queer Minority Woman Honestly Sort of Unpleasant

    Flower Thrilled That It’s Finally Cooling Off for the First Time, Like, Ever

    Squirrel Absolutely Positive He Left That Nut Right Here

    Yes, Restaurant Delivery Guy Judging You

    Horizontal Stripes Overworked

    Neon Flowers on Sanitary Pad Honestly Just Making The Whole Thing Worse

    LDS Group Studies LSD, Discovers Handsome Blond Heterosexual Dragons

    Fruit Eaten Begrudgingly

    Man With No Social Skills Pretty Sure He Nailed That Job Interview

    Disaster Eagerly Anticipated

    Christmas Renamed “Season Finale”

    Godzilla, Mothra, Sign Historic Fort Braaaaaaaaauuufggghhk Accords

    Relaxation Transitions Seamlessly Into Malaise

    Opinion: Does This Penis Look Erect to You?

    Clumsy Astrophysicist Not Exactly a Rocket Scientist

    Dr. Ghastwell’s Enchanted Cabinet of the Forbidden Found to Contain Ties

    Onion Rings Referred to as “Palliative Care”

    Greatest Living Interpreter of Brahms So Drunk, You Guys

    Fabulously Attractive Couple’s Mutual Suspicion Reaches New Heights

    Self-Deprecation Egged On

    Daylight-Saving Slasher Claims 13th Victim, Making an Even Dozen

    Author’s Preferred Text of Literary Graphic Novel Features Much Tighter Costumes on Complex Female Characters

    Fearsome Public Deity Angrily Rejects Initial Public Offering

    Vengeance Belongs to Chester Philips, 87, of Fayetteville, N.C.

    Negative Yelp Review of Hospice P0sted

    Pigeon Walking Around Like He Owns the Place

    Late Author of The Velveteen Rabbit Found to Have Subsisted Entirely on Children’s Tears

    Intimate and Thorough Knowledge of Intersectional Politics Demonstrated by Huge Douchebag

Stray Thoughts 1/11: “This Isn’t Even the Appetizer”

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  1. I’m in a state of some despair over the future, as are I think many people. Part of this is religious disillusionment and part of it is just the horrible circumstance of realizing that A. we haven’t lived in a democracy for some time and B. the civic institutions that have somehow survived the quiet destruction of that democracy aren’t long for this world.
  2. The president-elect stocked his press address with people to laugh and clap for him on Wednesday. It is of course barely even our first horror but it is certainly a new and especially dictatorial one, and from a lizard-brained fiend obsessed with television and ratings. I expressed my horror to a colleague on our way out to lunch and his response, which is apt, was “This isn’t even the appetizer. This isn’t even the fucking amusée.”
  3. People objected to Trump calling BuzzFeed “a failing pile of garbage” and then to his shutting down a CNN question as “rude.” The former is fine. BuzzFeed should put it on its masthead. Fear the latter. Civility is the enemy of democracy and freedom. It is the stronghold of the powerful and the stick with which they may publicly beat people who have nothing but a voice. It is the conflation of deference and good manners and it is invoked exclusively when the object of deference deserves none. Good manners are much better; they require you to stand up for a pregnant lady who doesn’t have a seat on the subway and to invite people who don’t look like you into your home. Civility blows goats. Shit on its pretend intransitivity. Its exclusive utility to the powerful can eat my asshole. Fuck civility, fuck calls for civility, fuck shame, and fuck you, Donald Trump.
  4. Replacing and rebuilding our institutions will be a matter of significant political will, which we just don’t seem to have in the US right now, and honestly, it’s becoming hard to blame our citizenry. A horribly perfect synecdoche for the 2016 presidential election according to Mike Allen’s emailed list of Clinton cabinet picks: the real choice voters were offered for labor secretary was between the CEO of Starbucks and the CEO of Carl’s Jr.
  5. That seems to sum up the differences between the two candidates nicely; Starbucks gives its employees health insurance and has cloth-eared wokeness in its corporate politics, while at Carl’s Jr, harassment is epidemic, benefits are nil and corporate politics are about Kate Upton eating cheeseburgers nearly naked. They’re still both a pair of fucking, fucking, fucking fast food restaurants in an especially wage-theft-prone sector of our horrible soul-eating service economy where nobody has a fucking union and whether your toddler dies of strep fucking throat or not is down to the depth of moral imagination and subsequent goddamned shitassed thirdhand largesse of the individual devil-worshipping employer like we live in fucking feudal fucking Europe, FUCK.
  6. The power structure of the evangelical Christian church is pretty bad, isn’t it? Here are Enron’s stated values on its annual report:
    -Communication – We have an obligation to communicate.
    -Respect – We treat others as we would like to be treated.
    -Integrity – We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely.
    Enron of course valued none of those things and instead bilked Californian taxpayers out of billions of dollars in a complicated scheme to trade energy resources as though they were shares on the open market and many of the people involved went to prison. Ever thus to evangelicalism: it puts one person in charge of a whole bunch of people with little oversight, despite telling everyone in the congregation about total depravity and encouraging public confession of sin. Show me a pastor who regularly confesses his personal sins before his congregation.
  7. Democracy doesn’t really happen in the US. The Republicans have made sure that a select number of people turn out for them in reliable numbers every time there’s an election, and though they do not win every election, even in the off years they quietly shore up that apparatus and pick away at everything else that might allow people who won’t vote for them to vote. They pass voter ID laws, they continue to block representation in the House and the Senate for Puerto Rico and Washington DC, they purge “duplicate” voters from the rolls, and they keep poll hours short, during the week, across the country. It’s a remarkably effective way to retain power, especially when the Democrats just fucking roll over for them and let them do it.
  8. To wit: if your senator votes to confirm a single one of Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, primary that motherfucker as hard as you can.
  9. Call your senators’ and congressmen’s offices every day and tell them you will do this.

Comics Ephemera

I am trying hard not to think about politics. So here are some of the weirder entries in my comic book collection.

1. The ring that stores the Flash’s costume with the power of Science

2. An extremely obscure Japanese edition of a wordless Frank story

3. The legendary LP that was supposed to come packaged with the original printings of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, but did not

4. A Miracleman coin distributed by publisher Eclipse Comics to celebrate the beginning of a new storyline called The Golden Age

5. A Hellboy action figure with working rosary designed by series artist Mike Mignola

5. An issue of Simpsons Comics with a blank cover remarqued by Matt Groening and sold by Groening’s publisher Bongo at Comic Con


6. A short story by Charles Burns written to go with a song by Will “Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy” Oldham

7. The biodegradable egg-crate material convention-exclusive box for a Mattel Swamp Thing action figure

8. A Death holodisc and a Sandman hologram from the Vertigo Comics and Sandman trading card sets, respectively

9. “City of Terror” trading cards by Mark Beyer, from (and still contained in) an issue of Raw

10. A Watchmen module for Mayfair’s DC Heroes role playing game. Believe it or not, Alan Moore signed off on these

11. DESTROY! by Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics. It’s just two guys punching each other and completely destroying a city in the process. Surprisingly fun. Green Lantern ring for scale

(the naughty word is “asshole”)

12. A giant promotional WildCATS pog

13. A Matt Trakker GI Joe (if this means nothing to you, move along)


14. A completely clear plastic Superman hologram chase card, which is pretty cool in direct sunlight but very easy to misplace

15. A Mola Ram action figure complete with flaming heart

16. The Homer

17. Art Spiegelman’s Maus as it was oringally presented: glued into the back of irregular issues of RAW as an insert

18. Some film and TV promo stuff: A GCPD “badge” money clip

19. A Gotham National Bank bank bag

20. A Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law gavel:

21. A Rick and Morty flask inside The Big Book of Boring Science Stuff:

22. A medal from Star Wars: The Clone Wars

23. The pop-up Arkham Asylum that shipped folded in the polybag with Shadow of the Bat #1

24. Promotional material for Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli’s Sweeney Todd, serialized for a single installment in an issue of the incredibly influential and badly underread antholog Taboo

25. A promotional tabloid newspaper printed to promote Ben Katchor’s book Cheap Novelties. At first they printed it as a broadsheet and he got upset

26. The do-it-yourself cover to The Man of Steel #30, complete with static-cling stickers of Superman and Lobo

27. Back when DC and Marvel got along, they both agreed to let Mad Magazine’s Sergio Aragones roast them in one-off gag comics. Neither issue has been reprinted. There’s a Star Wars one, too, which has – in the excellent Wild Worlds catch-all anthology along with stories by Jim Woodring and Alan Moore

28. An issue of Smoke Signal, the broadsheet newspaper comics anthology published by the wealthy eccentric who runs Desert Island Comics, the greatest comics shop in all the land. Cover by Mad artist Will Elder

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29. A Christmas card my old editor David Rooney gave me when he left Variety, from the year Fine Line put out the American Splendor movie, words by Harvey Pekar, art by Gary Dumm

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30. A very odd promo from Fox’s Dollhouse: an Active “action figure” that is simply an artist’s mannequin. Weirdly poignant especially given the subject matter of the show

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31. A For Your Consideration ad in the form of a Ratatouille recipe card from an old issue of Variety

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32. A “Genuine Nerd” button again promoting the American Splendor movie

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33. A Superman: The Animated Series miniature acetate repro of a production cel

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34. A “token” necklace from the premier of The King of Kong: A  Fistful of Quarters, a documentary about hardcore Donkey Kong players

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35. A Walking Dead stress brain

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36. The Banshees of Inisheer, an unproduced, unpublished play by Martin McDonagh, redacted to obscure details related to my acquisition of it

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Stray Thoughts 12/29: Is it the opium or can you see that as well?

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  1. It’s funny, for broad values of “funny:” twice in the last two days I’ve seen messages on social media from friends gainfully employed as artists lamenting the inherent uselessness of art in the face of diminished labor protections, increased nuclear capacity, destroyed women’s rights, empowered white supremacy, etc etc etc.Certainly, those are valid feelings and the prospects for the future are bleak: In the 1980’s, in response to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiatives, a restive and stultified American public elected Ronald Reagan, a hilariously underqualified musical comedy actor, to slenderize and flay Johnson’s various programs until they were inexpensive parodies of themselves. The formula was so successful that Republicans played the same tape loop for the subsequent thirty years and now find themselves re-empowered to eliminate government programs through privatization and simple destruction, because they are a hateful and immoral people who think of poverty, blackness, womanhood, frailty and foreign citizenship as character flaws deserving of punishment.

    But I still like art. I like it even more now than I did three months ago.

  2. I’ve been watching the NBC show My Name Is Earl, Greg Garcia’s astonishing sitcom about a mean-spirited lowlife who wins the lottery and gets hit by a bus in the same day, filling him with the deep belief that a larger force than himself is punishing him for being a lousy person and prompting him to list every bad thing he’s ever done and make good on it. The premise (not to mention the title) recalls AA’s Twelve Steps, obviously, but the execution is shockingly courageous: Earl actually goes to prison in the third season and the show finds humor in a lot of the things that journalists write with such obvious and well-justified disgust and anger about – the shitty food, the horrible cruelty of solitary confinement, the basic unfairness of the whole enterprise – and the supporting characters are strippers, hookers, grifters and plenty of other folks on the loserdom continuum with moderate respectability at one end and criminality at the other. I’ve never seen anything like it; Earl’s belief in karma is absurd, and the show acknowledges it as such from the jump, but it drives him to do good things. His brother is an adorable, sweet-natured doofus who will do all kinds of horrible things if he thinks it will make people like him, and Jaime Pressley, who plays Earl’s shrewish ex-wife, delivers one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. It’s up – nah, it’s down there with the other truly great sitcoms about America: The Simpsons, Community, Parks & Recreation and South Park.
  3. I’ve always loved Alan Moore but until recently I began to worry that his old work threatened to age out of relevance; now his preoccupation with the dangers and cruelties of the 20th century seems more prescient than anything else. He has a highly disturbing and crankily well-crafted miniseries about the zombie apocalypse from last year, called Crossed +100, which I highly recommend for the current predicament; there’s also Watchmen, his ongoing project with Jacen Burrows, Providence, and the joyful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which I contend is his best work. They’ve all been knocked for their doominess in the past but I’m feeling doom; reading them helps.
  4. Speaking of zombies someone at the Times demonstrated in this fascinating Upshot feature that people who fear immigration overindex on viewership of The Walking Dead; it’s worth noting that The Walking Dead is one of the most popular TV shows in America, of course, but perhaps also that zombies reflect our fear of the masses and that the correlation, while not 1:1, is close enough to merit some interesting observations. The socialist writer China Mieville observed in 2012 that zombie movies often seem influenced by TV news depictions of Palestinians; one movie he cites before its release, World War Z, is in fact fairly shameless Israeli propaganda. (The Moore book has a very interesting attitude toward this.) This is not to say that zombie movies are always anti-immigrant, more that they are about our fear of each other, in whatever scariest form we happen to take.In light of all that I recommend this excellent, Pulitzer-worthy LA Times piece from May, which I would have given at least one finger or three toes to have written, about a major contributing cause of the opioid epidemic in the rural US, namely Purdue Pharmaceuticals’ intricate disinformation campaign around its morphine derivative Oxycontin, and then this trailer for the upcoming film Patient Zero:
  5. Music for the moment: David Bowie’s Blackstar, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, George Michael’s Patience, Fountains of Wayne‘s self-titled record. It can’t be all bad. If it’s all going to end before Star Trek, let us at least enjoy some of it.

Stray Thoughts 12/27: Try One Without Your Shirt

Scroll down if you just want the top 10, read through for my list of things I thought about movies in 2016.

  1. Carrie Fisher died today. Perhaps it’s this numbing year of obituary after obituary but I find myself mostly grateful for her work and sorry she predeceased her poor mother, Debbie Reynolds. I know how tacky it is to mourn someone you never met and with whom you had nothing in common, but surely there’s more to say than “Poor me, Carrie Fisher is dead.”
    Fisher was, of course, a wonderful actress in everything from Hannah and Her Sisters to The Man With One Red Shoe to Soapdish, and her métier was comedy despite her association with the role that will feel her absence most keenly because it will continue to grow even without her, Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars movies. Maybe it’s because she was funny that we like her so much those films: Yes, the sight of her in that chainmail two-piece ruined a generation of young men, but there are lots of pretty women in the movies. Fisher managed to sell herself as the most important character in a scene with a huge talking slug puppet, and Leia made sure the monster never messed with her again, and saved Han Solo in the process. It’s a quirk of contemporary intellectual property law that the Huttish Walt Disney Company keeps its chains around Princess Leia as though she was extricable from Fisher’s watershed performance. Comics and cartoons and video games featuring her likeness will be made for years to come – some of them likely worth taking in, though I pray she’s not further zombified onscreen (Rogue One bodes ill on that score). The persistence of intellectual property obscures a more important problem: The baby boomers are hitting their golden years, and we saw the early deaths in 2016 – Fisher was 60. It’s a moment that will last for a while and one we’ll all have to get used to, and in far more personal ways, I suspect.
    So by all means, let’s mourn Fisher for Return of the Jedi and your favorite pinup spread in a cheap magazine and every dumb sex joke she ever delivered. Those are things real people do; whether or not they’re mistakes at least they’re not strings of code designed to tickle some rotting half-remembered emotional response. Carrie Fisher lived. Pour out some blue milk for her.
  2. I didn’t see Knight of Cups, Nocturnal Animals, Manchester by the Sea, or Everybody Wants Some!!. I missed Moonlight through sheer sloth and heard such wildly mixed reviews of La La Land that I haven’t bothered yet. I will see Fences. The one I’m sorriest to have missed is The Witch. These are all grave omissions, I know, I know. I will rectify some of them. I will see either Moana or Silence this weekend.
  3. Zack Snyder’s sneering objectivist Batman was the only good thing about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was I think one of the worst films I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through. At least I did it for work. Aesthetics and politics aren’t indivisible but they do inform each other: I suspect Snyder would direct an okay adaption of Randian nut* Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which is clearly the movie he wished he was making while dumb old company-mandated equal time for Superman spoiled his fun. The sections of the movie where Snyder is adapting the work of someone who agrees with him politically, as opposed to his adaptation of Watchmen by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore, the latter of whom disagrees with Snyder on the color of the sky, are completely okay. He even manages to pull panels and pages out of the Miller book, and this works much better with Miller’s artwork than it did with Gibbons’s. My theory here is that Miller’s stuff is really heavily stylized and exaggerated and flat; Gibbons works dimensionally and in carefully correct proportions and clearly understands every corner of every room he draws before he puts pencil to paper, so reproducing him on film is redundant. With Miller, Snyder has to make choices and because they’re so simpatico – like it or not, Snyder’s 300 is a solid adaptation of Miller’s graphic novel – he makes very effective ones. They last for about 1/5 of a movie that seems longer than Cleopatra and is roughly as funny.

    *This is not a knock on Randian nuts. Many Randian nuts make amazing visual art. Steve Ditko, Dave Sim, Miller himself – if you’re a self-involved neurotic who’s afraid to go outside you may find Rand’s philosophy attractive and you may also have the personal discipline and unusual perspective necessary to make things like Sin City and Spider-Man.

  4. As nearly everybody has noted, this was a great year for people to get performatively reactionary about movies they hadn’t seen yet, which gets on my very last nerve every single time irrespective of political alignment, although the stuff from the right happened right up in my face (which suggests that it was a lot more omnipresent and fully realized than the bitching on the internet I read from the left) and was *super horrible* and got far less attention than thirsty performers and wannabe-journalists trying to get interviews to talk about their personal virtue in lieu of actual work. My read on this is that liberal woke take merchants are A. more visible because they’re not reflexively ashamed of themselves the way people caught spraypainting ethnic slurs usually are, and B. deeply odious in their naked self-promotion, which makes for a perfect hate-read. Thus they pull focus from actual swastika-graffiti racism, about which more in a moment.
    Whether people were theatrically missing what was actually objectionable about Matt Damon participating in Zhang Yimou’s One China propaganda flick Great Wall (riddle me this: how is it “whitewashing” if the director, all the producers, and the government overseeing production are Chinese) or getting angry with Marvel about its new Spider-Man movie for [TK] reasons, liberals were super embarrassing about problems that were either in their imaginations or that well-meaning people were already trying to fix. They cried wolf so often that people were already halfway through a preemptive eye-roll when really outrageous nonsense did take place, like Scarlett Johanssen getting the role of Motoko in Ghost in the Shell* or a hilariously non-Egyptian cast of Egyptian gods Gods of Egypt. The takeaway from most of this was that liberal nerds are prone to the same gross entitlement and reflexive reductionism as are conservative nerds, and if there’s one thing that unites people across lines of gender, color and politics, it’s the impulse to shittily demand that artists make the movie or comic or TV show that is in your head rather than the one they want to make. Weirdly, I find that encouraging. At least when people get death threats from strangers in 2016, sometimes it’s over the lack of roles for people of color and not the fact that poor Kurt Busiek wrote a scene where Thor beats up Superman. I am always tempted to engage with this stuff on Twitter and I usually opt out because the smart people doing it are unpleasant social climbers about 80% – not all – of the time and the dumb people doing it are frustrating, but that’s why I’m writing about it at length here; it’s at least a discussion of moment.
    That was the tame stuff, though: Conservatives accused Rogue One writer Chris Weitz of encouraging “white genocide,” which, white genocide, yay, and threatened to boycott the movie, which lollllllll. Then a little more locally and much much much worse in my uneasily integrating neighborhood filled with very nice Muslims and wild-eyed white dudes selling each other heroin, assholes scrawled swastikas on a poster for Ride Along 2 (it has black people in it, which triggers them and makes them need a safe space) and wrote TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP on a poster for Ava DuVernay’s documentary about slavery, 13th.
    Bad show, species!

    *Rinko Kikuchi? Maggie Q, at the very least? My suspicion is this is ageism toward Asian-American stars who would be a natural fit for the part, like Michelle Yeoh or Lucy Liu – yes I know they’re both Chinese-American and Maggie Q is Hawaiian and while that’s its own can of worms, performing is about appearance and no one can tell me that Scarlett Johanssen, great-looking as she is, appears to be in any way of Asian descent – rather than uncomplicated racism. TL;DR: Who wants a sexy robot over 40? Anyway for a taut and philosophically complex and quasi-feminist movie about the unconventional desires of sexy robots, albeit one made exclusively by white people, I recommend Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.

  5. I went to see Lady Ghostbusters and it was like being in a parallel universe that contained only my seat; I thought all the jokes were played out before they were even delivered and that I’d seen better work from literally everyone in the principal cast within the past year, but all three folks I went with enjoyed it so incredibly much, loved the callouts to the original movie, loved Kate McKinnon’s annoying schtick, and so on. So it was hard for me to hate it given that I had a good time by proxy. Stripped of the hype and with a little perspective, it feels to me like one of those misbegotten late-90’s SNL-sketch-turned-movie movies we used to get I assume because Lorne Michaels had nude pictures of Jeff Zucker. Those exercises are pretty pleasant memories in retrospect. I mean, I have fond recollections of A Night at the Roxbury whether or not it’s a good movie, which it isn’t. Drenching that formula in nostalgized corporate branding is maybe Not My Favorite, though perhaps that’s a little disingenuous: Whether it’s a cynical exercise in sleeper-cell manipulation of people who’ve been programmed since childhood to say, “Aw! Slimer!”, everybody loves being reminded of their childhood toys. I just played with Marvel Comics action figures, I guess.
  6. Speaking of whom, I enjoyed Captain America: Civil War, so that should tell you something about how far you can trust me to resist corporate entertainment, although it felt a little like a trailer for the next ten Marvel Comics movies. Which I’m disappointingly fine with. I really like watching trailers. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was perfectly fun; quite a bit better than the last few Harry Potter flicks, I thought, mostly because it didn’t have the weight of a bunch of books before it and a bunch more after it that the entire audience has read several times to weigh it down. I was the only one of my friends to like Deadpool, which made me laugh out loud several times. I find Ryan Reynolds charming and love Morena Baccarin though I realize the former is not for all tastes. If you don’t like Morena Baccarin that’s your problem, not mine.
  7. I must be some sort of monster because I only sort-of liked Finding Dory, a movie that has some nice things to say about raising a child with a disability at the very, very end and basically nothing to say right up until that point. The Disney and Disney-adjacent movies are getting simpler and less interested in moral complexities and differences, and that’s not actually what I want from a kids’ movie. I love kids’ movies; two of them are on my top 10 at the bottom of the page, but this one… I dunno. Meh. The longer I think about Inside Out the more I actually hate it and think it’s manipulative trash, and Finding Dory feels like it remembers it has a soul only at the last possible juncture. That’s not to say that the screenwriters don’t go for broke in a really terrific way at that amazing moment, just that it’s the only real moment in the movie.
  8. I opted out of a bunch of high-budget blockbuster-wannabe superhero movies this year, which was unusual for me. Among them were Suicide Squad and X-Men: Apocalypse, both of which looked worse than cancer and took people hitting each other in designer swimwear very seriously for a combined nearly five hours of putative entertainment. I am, with apologies to the director of this year’s second-best movie, too old for that shit. I missed Star Trek Beyond and Jason Bourne, both of which I will probably catch on a lazy Saturday or an airplane somewhere, and I heard nothing but raves about Sausage Party, which just came out at a personally busy time. It’s on the list. I’m thrilled the Ben-Hur remake failed. I’ll watch Yoga Hosers some day and deny it. I’m amazed Ed Zwick, of Glory and The Last Samurai fame, directed a Jack Reacher movie; he must be a Scientologist. I wish Hacksaw Ridge had received more attention, because whether or not he’s a bigot, Mel Gibson is a killer director and should be cut at least as much slack as Roman Polanski. Arrival looked like it would depress the hell out of me, so I didn’t see it.
  9. On to the truly grave prestige-picture disappointments: Snowden was just dreadful, with hints of the stealth adaptation of 1984 it could have been if Oliver Stone had any fucks left to give after snorting them all away. The only Western Antoine Fuqua appears to have ever seen, ever, is the one he made, an appallingly misbegotten remake of The Magnificent Seven with Denzel Washington in the lead and no one on the crew or the production team with the historical or narrative skills to grapple with what that actually might *mean* to the enterprise of the film. I blame Nic Pizzolatto, our very own Tom Clancy, which is to say the best-loved bad writer of his day.
  10. My favorite movies this year:
    1. Hail, Caesar! – Leave it to the Coen Brothers to thread a superdense Christian allegory aligning Jesus with exiled socialists through a shaggy-dog yarn about a blacklist-era Hollywood production of a hamfisted Jesus movie in the vein of The Robe. It’s just a total delight to anybody who loves old movies, or socialism, or Jesus, and a particular gift to those of us who like all three.
    2. The Nice Guys – I hope Shane Black makes a third wiseassy buddy cop movie, with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, so the box set is tidy. They should teach this movie in screenwriting classes. The structure is perfect and so is the dialogue.
    3. Kubo and the Two Strings – The movie that will probably destroy Laika with its terribly low gross is also the stop-motion studio’s best, better even than its transcendent Paranorman or its most popular film, Coraline. I blurbed this for our end-of-year roundup and will link when it goes up. It’s a fantasy story set in an idealized Edo-period Japan and I was just astonished by its amazing beauty.
    4. Shin Godzilla – Written and co-directed by Hideaki Anno, creator of anime masterpiece Neon Genesis Evangelion, this live-action Godzilla movie A. scared the hell out of me and B. kept up an amazing pace for the whole of its running time. The monster looks amazingly like he’s stepping on large parts of Japan, largely because Anno and Shinji Higuchi film these incredible, highly disturbing establishing shots that look like every documentary of Japan you’ve ever seen except with a terrifying monster crawling – yes, crawling – through them. I have no idea how they did it. They look for all the world like composite shots but they can’t possibly be because of the expense.
    5. Zootopia –  I really liked this Big Sleep-style detective movie about conspiracies and racism and talking animals. Your mileage may vary on whether or not the central conceit works but I spend a long time trying to predict the plot and failing.
    6. Rogue One – Despite its ghoulish CGI resurrections, Rogue One thrills just as often as the best of its predecessors, benefiting tremendously from what appears to be a lot of uncredited work by ace director (and one of the film’s credited screenwriters) Tony Gilroy, who reportedly shot a ton of pickup after the movie had wrapped principal photography. Gilroy’s films Michael Clayton and Duplicity are two of my favorite movies of the aughts; I was not prepared for the way he handled the compromised nature of this movie’s heroes, or for the scenery-chewing turn from Forrest Whitaker. Gilroy always finds interesting uses for big-ticket movie stars – in other films, he’s had Julia Roberts as a honeypotting industrial spy and George Clooney as an amoral fixer who grows a conscience; Whitaker gets to deliver one of those fills-up-the-screen performances you’d be likelier to see from Gary Oldman or the late Alan Rickman. I both admired this movie and want action figures from it.
    7. Doctor Strange – I think I’m the only one of my friends who truly loved Doctor Strange but love it I did. I loved the eye-melting psychedelic sequence, I loved Wimbledon Tennismatch, I loved the revelation that the heroic Ancient One’s fantastical powers are by definition tainted, I loved both the death scene and the deaths scene, and the beautiful time-running-backwards finale.
    8. The BFG – I bring you good news as apparently the only person in America to have watched Steven Spielberg adapt Roald Dahl, why on earth weren’t there lines around the block for this, but I guess that’s how things go these days. Anyway there is no better actor working than Mark Rylance and this is a remarkably un-condescending kids’ movie from Spielberg, whose visual vocabulary exceeds everyone else’s in the form.
    9. 10 Cloverfield Lane – About ten years ago when I first started off at Variety, TV networks would take out “For Your Consideration” ads for their stars before every single awards show, as a matter of course, just to show they cared, and I remember very distinctly a TV awards ad for an elderly soap opera star whose name escapes me. The blurb they’d picked from her reviews was a helpless critic observing, “Good acting is where you find it.” It’s not the best compliment in the world of acting but it might be the truest: this movie had some really boss acting, especially from John Goodman, who turns in an Anthony Perkins-level performance here. Go see it.
    10. My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea – A goofy animated movie from the delightful indie cartoonist Dash Shaw, MEHSSItS is basically a feature-length episode of Doug. It’s a cute film, and the aesthetic is somewhere between Heavy Metal and Nicktoons. It’s quite short and a little unsure of its own ambition but I liked it a lot and thought it was visually gorgeous. I talked to Shaw about it.

Do You Hear What I Hear

2.     As Lewis turns, he sees a tall man hurrying down the steps toward the water where the huge ships are passing slowly under the crumbling bridge, their decks piled with containers bound for Bermuda or Saigon or the Panama Canal. The Verrazzano still burns eight weeks after the last salvo, occasionally dripping red-hot chunks of tarmac in slow motion onto the ships below. Last month, one freighter arriving from Shenzhen after weeks held at port in Panama caught a huge piece of molten pavement on its way under the bridge toward the terminal. It went down before it reached Bayonne, a viking funeral for 1.1 million video games, 5,600 large orange stuffed dogs, and 31 men ranging in age from 19 to 64. A passenger, a Middle Eastern man in his fifties, survived, and was detained, though there is no suggestion that he had been involved in the fire that consumed the ship, which had an obvious cause, or any other manner of harm. He is said to be badly burned. Lewis is worried about the man; one of his grad students advocated causing a public fuss at the college over it.
The steps lead down from a walkway that goes over the highway running along the water; between the road and the water itself is a sidewalk, where people used to jog and walk their dogs. Now nobody comes out here any more, except Lewis, and then only to fish. With his rod propped against the railings, Lewis watches with clinical interest as the man and a companion, short and fat, who follows him at a slower pace, clamber over it, a few yards further down the sidewalk. Beyond the railing there is a drop of eight or nine feet; there is nothing but rocks below the wall, Lewis thinks. Then, out of old habit, he looks for what he is not used to seeing, and notices a dinghy, perched on the rocks below the railing. It is hastily painted matt black except for several scrapes where yellow rubber can be seen through it. A man stands on the rocks by the grounded dinghy, nervously fingering the cord around a very old motor he has hauled into the boat. Lewis leans over the railing himself to watch as the two try to lower themselves onto the rocks, the tall one helping his companion over the rails, the fat one trying to move quickly and comically pedaling the air, seeking purchase on the rocks a few feet below. Lewis does not particularly like or trust strangers, especially not at the moment, but no fish are biting. He reels in the drowned bug impaled on his little fishing hook and shoulders the rod; he picks up the five-gallon paint bucket he has optimistically filled with clean water for his catch, and he walks down toward the pair trying to get into the boat to see if he can help. The thinner one, he sees as he gets closer, has brown skin and curly black hair. The companion’s face turns away quickly; something shifts under a too-large coat.

Lewis hears shouting from further up the walkway; one man in uniform is berating another man in uniform for something. Lewis has almost reached the pair trying to board the boat. The shouting intensifies. Lewis worries that he has left his driver’s license up the hill in his apartment and that this will complicate any interaction with the police, although these men do not appear to be NYPD.
He comes up close enough that he will not need to shout over the traffic to be heard. “Need a hand?” he asks in conversational tones. The man looks up at him, and then at the bridge, where the uniformed figure being dressed down sees him, suddenly, and points over his superior’s shoulder.

3.     Lewis’s death comes as a shock to Peter. Peter still is not recovered as he sits with the emitter turned on, staring straight ahead, talking to Lewis, who is not there. The emitter makes no sound, gives off only a very faint blue light. It merely troubles the atmosphere in front of it, in a wave of visible distortion like heat, though the area is very cold in front of the dome-shaped enclosure where Lewis’s pet particles may or may not move. The apparatus looks like a flashbulb from an old movie; Peter has plugged it into a wall outlet and will catch hell from the chair of the department when the electric bill comes due, he knows. Lewis is in enough trouble for insisting that the retransmitter stay on permanently. But Lewis is dead.
No other lights in the laboratory are on. He ought not to be here. He has brought with him a large pipe wrench he used to fix his radiator three years ago; he keeps it in case he needs to storm the barricades, he tells his fellow TA, Ana, who visits his apartment sometimes, like a zoologist examining the habitat of a promising primate.
Peter Gorman, doctoral candidate in physics, drinks a bit more of the bottle of bourbon he took from Lewis’s office, using the keys he got from the cop yesterday. He has been here more or less since he got up, eating nothing, drinking to excess, slurring his imprecations at the  absent older man, lecturing about the inhumanity of the less-24s decree and the fate of the Rahebs. He refers Lewis’s ghost back to the front page of the New York Times the week previous, the now-famous photo of a woman in jeans and a t-shirt named Rachel something kneeling, pleading before a man in SWAT armor who holds her off with one hand, a heavy white cloth bag in the other, a little foot clearly pushing down on the interior of the bag. He lists Lewis’s failings mechanically, his lecture a tour de force assembled around the gaping hole of Lewis’s death. No one is there. Peter is drunk.
His mentor was cautious and as apolitical as you could be and still look at yourself in the mirror, or so Peter has always felt. Peter would bellow to Lewis about the procedural stupidity of the EL Party in their eternal war with the AR Party himself wearing one of many t-shirts with a huge, stylized L on it, Lewis sitting patiently in his office and looking closely at him as though worried that Peter might actually jump out of his skin in an especially vigorous fit of rage.
Physics were not politics, Lewis would say, again and again, a bromide that only further caffeinated Peter, who told him that of course everything was political especially the hard empirical truth, that facts necessitated action, that the action must be taken, and he would soon write strong words telling everyone so. A man who proved out theoretical particles should understand that, he would tell Lewis in scolding tones, in an effort to at least squeeze a little anger out of his moral lodestar, a tactic that had never worked before and would not work now.
And write Peter did, reams upon reams. The police came to visit him twice; Peter loved that and as soon as they’d first left his apartment, *which they’d entered without a warrant*, wrote about it in florid detail. He had hoped for criminal charges from the state against himself, ideally of sedition, and a trial, but none came, only silence. He grew angier and wrote more, interviews with union leaders and heartbreaking profiles of prisoners’ mothers, for newspapers and for magazines and on his blog, but nothing helped. No one cared. Why read when you’ve won? he asked himself bitterly. Why learn anything new?
The cop who came at the end of Christmas break to visit Peter the second time, on behalf of Lewis, was a local man; Peter had seen him around the neighborhood in bars and getting coffee. They’d bonded over the awful thing at the  Rahebs’ Middle Eastern deli just a few days earlier, Peter remembered. He had reached unsuccessfully for some requisite anger at authority and greeted the man, whose name he couldn’t remember. The cop was tall and Hispanic with a manicured moustache and a dimpled chin, his hair cut close, skinnier than most of the gym rat guys who patrolled and lived in the area around the bridge, where they loved to blast up 4th Avenue in the dead of night in crouching blue or black American sports cars, their windows tinted, mufflers packed with glass to make a sound like a lawnmower constantly about to start.
“I got bad news,” the cop had said with practiced sincerity: “Your friend Lewis Rathburn is dead. I’m real sorry. I brought his effects because I thought you might not wanna come down to the station, so you just have to sign this.” He held up a form. “You’re his emergency contact at work and I knew your name when the lady at the college told me.” Peter signed and stared, stricken. “Teresa felt bad after that thing you wrote about her getting on your case,” the cop continued. “I don’t blame you, but you know. She doesn’t ask for those jobs, nobody does. If we didn’t have to clear the fuckin’ ticket pad we wouldn’t do that shit either.”
“How did he die?” asked Peter.
“Ohh,” the cop said, and sighed. “Some feds shot him a couple weeks ago. It’s really confusing. I’m sorry it took so long to get in touch with you. He wasn’t carrying ID. It wasn’t one of us. We hate those dudes. Write about it if you want, just don’t put my name in it.”
“I won’t,” said Peter. “Thank you.”
“You want a drink or something?”
They went down to the bar across the street, in an old fire station, where there were theatrical moans from the crowd of Giants fans every time the game was interrupted by the news: there were more fires, some of them in places Peter had visited, some man-made, some caused by unseasonable drought. Radiation abatement programs on Staten Island desperately needed volunteers over the long holiday weekend and for New Year’s Eve. The images Peter imagined and the images he saw between downs and forward passes ran together; he ordered them each a double scotch but the cop insisted on paying.
It was good to talk to the cop. The demise of the deli had been unnerving and he’d spoken of it to no one, not even Lewis. Samir and Samia Raheb, the two Sams, had simply been gone one day last week, as had their staff; no one was sure exactly when. The store had stood open, unlocked and unmanned until Peter noticed it was open on Sunday. Samir, the gold crucifix always around his neck, would never have opened the store on Sunday, not at gunpoint. Peter saw the cop standing outside in his NYPD Scuba Team t-shirt. He looked at Peter.
“Stinks in there,” he said. “All the food’s spoiled.” Peter stood and watched while the cop called it in; the dispatcher said a report had already been made.
“When?” the cop asked. Two weeks ago, the radio said.
“Fine,” said the cop. He and Peter carried the trays of spoiled crab cakes and spoiled bhaba ghanouj and spoiled pork chops and spoiled walnut paste and a huge vat of cold tomato soup that smelled like death. He emptied them all into reinforced black trash bags they found under a sink with dirty dishes still in it in the back of the store.
“Isn’t this evidence?” Peter asked. “Shouldn’t you put up crime scene tape?”
The cop looked at him steadily and Peter had the impression, not for the first time, that a person he had just met was trying to decide whether he was an idiot or a troublemaker. “I don’t think so,” the cop said. “If there’s an investigation, you can give a statement and say I told you to do all this.”
“*If* there’s an investigation?” Peter insisted. “Why would you not investigate an obvious missing persons case?”
“That’s a good question,” the cop replied, and emptied an awful-smelling tray of stuffed previously green squashes into one of the trash bags. Peter was stricken. He had loved the squashes, now he would never eat one again.
He didn’t say anything else; they finished throwing away the food in silence. When he was done, the cop had hugged him with such suddenness that Peter at first resisted, then hugged back.
“They had a nephew,” the cop told Peter. “Yusuf. Sweet kid. Worked at the CVS, gigantic chip on his shoulder. They haven’t heard from him in a bit and they’re worried with all the shit. Do you political guys ever hear from people in trouble?” Peter shook his head. Us political guys usually just talk to each other, he said. “Okay, well, here’s his phone number,” the cop said, and scrawled it on the back of a business card, with his name on it, which he thrust at Peter. Peter took the card.
“I can’t call him,” the cop had said. “Somebody else has to call him.”
Peter remembers it as a strange moment.

4.     In the bar, Peter thanked the cop for the drink and asked him how he’d been. They talked and bullshitted and complained about what an awful season the Giants were having, look at them, the fucking Atlanta Falcons are murdering them, they’re like if the Washington Generals were a football team and everybody else was the Globetrotters.
“What do you do?” the cop asked. “I thought you were a poli-sci guy but Rathburn was physics.”
Rathburn was the smartest person alive, Peter told him, smarter than anyone in the world, maybe smarter than Einstein. What happened to him? You have to tell me.
“It’s the thing with the Rahebs,” the cop says. “The Sams. There was all this bullshit about them having an less-24 hidden, God only knows how anyone got that idea. And most of the guys in the 68th won’t take people’s less-24s. They know that’s not right. I mean a few guys will. The ones you’d expect. I guess, it gets really easy to get a promotion if you do it, even, like, once, so that’s why. I guess they hope all the higher-ups will eventually be those guys, who’ve done it at least once and know what it’s like. But so now they have Feds come down here and chase people around, make a big fuss, tell everyone they don’t just get to obey the laws they like, your less-24s are the next generation’s domestic threats, that’s how we got into this mess and blah blah blah.
“I mean it’s literally word for word the same lecture from each of these interchangeable assholes. It’s not always the same guy but it might as well be. They go home after a few days and we get to clean it up and of course everybody fucking hates us because of them.” The cop empties his tumbler. “I had a domestic homicide last month, I couldn’t even get the *neighbors* to talk to me. They just ‘weren’t home.’ I mean what am I, gonna bang on people’s door shouting ‘I know you’re in there’ like somebody’s crazy drunk boyfriend? That one’s still open. Probably will be until the guy does something else. I mean, I know who did it. The whole family knows. But I have no evidence. Because nobody trusts anybody now.
“So yeah the Rahebs are gone somewhere. I don’t know where, but at least whoever’s there’s got good food.” The cop grins and looks at Peter for affirmation and doesn’t quite get it. “It’s fucked up, though,” he concedes. “We all know it.”

5.     Ana finds Peter before anyone else does. He is hungover, or rather, has been drunk all night, and is too stupid with it to fight her taking away the bottle, which, blessedly, still holds enough liquid to suggest that Peter will live. She gives him the bag of McDonalds she really, really wanted to eat herself, because who needs to take your ungrateful not-a-boyfriend to the ER for alcohol poisoning first thing on Tuesday. He can chew, at least, she observes. She considers telling him he has a class today and thinks better of it; instead she guides him up to Lewis Rathburn’s office, which is empty, and arranges him on the pine-and-vinyl love seat opposite the window, under a framed photo of Richard Feynman at the chalkboard. She goes to the bathroom, dumps out the ridiculous spheroid bottle of Blanton’s into the sink and fills it with water, then puts it next to the love seat on the floor. He says something she likes to believe is “thank you.”
She goes back downstairs to survey the mess; Peter appears to have smashed poor old Lewis’s pride and joy, which he swore up and down proved the existence of theoretical particles by emitting them, which Ana’s own mentor, the amazing Harriet King, often said was putting the cart before the horse, with a chortle that makes Ana hate her a little. Harriet is a truly gifted scientist, someone for whom the answers to brain-destroyingly complex logarithmic equations are as self-evident as the color of a flower. Ana has the fingerprint of this quality on her own brain, too, she knows; it is not a trait much admired in women, who do not get to be irascible geniuses, only bitches. The sorority of arithmetic savants is a small one and she is happy for her membership in it, though she does not agree with Harriet that Lewis’s penchant for gadget construction makes his intellect less pure. She wonders if this dumb thing really did give off Cherenkov radiation. She resolves to leave it for whoever comes down to the lab next. Perhaps it will be the soulless asshole cops who refuse to protect the locals from the less-24s policy the way they swore they would. Perhaps it will fuck up their investigation. Perhaps they will unjustly imprison Peter, who would love that.
Ana sighs and picks up the broken pieces of the machine and puts them in the HAZARDOUS bin, wincing each time she touches something and leaves a fingerprint. There is a janitor’s cart outside, so Ana props the pipe wrench up next to the broom and leaves. She is late for class; her good deed for the day is done.

6.    In the dream, in a white room, Maria sees a box made of plywood and pine two-by-four frames, a blue paint bucket filled with water on a stool next to it. A hose from the bucket leads into the box, and two wires, one black and one red, lead into the top of the box from a disassembled electrical outlet in the wall. The box is shorter than she is. She realizes Josh is with her, standing knee-high next to her. He does not exactly walk yet so much as hurtle, every journey as likely as not to end with him on all fours laughing and saying “Whoops!” His vocabulary is limited, and that word is his favorite.
Maria looks at the box for a long time. Josh watches, too. It is a strange sight and he has a fistful of sweatpant for consolation and stability. Then, without warning, the box’s sides slide away smoothly, screws sheared off with little pinging sounds, each moving softly in a different direction. Inside the box, curled into the fetal position, is her husband Yusuf’s uncle Ara, who has been exepected by his sister Samia for months now. Samia is one of Yusuf’s aunts; Yusuf has a huge family but no parents – everyone is an uncle or an aunt or a cousin.
Maria has never met Ara but she knows this is him; she can tell by his wings of blue flame. Five large, shiny spiders are walking on him, on his hip and his flank and the side of his neck, questing worriedly, unsure of where they are and why. Ara lifts his head and looks over at Maria and smiles happily. He brushes the spiders off his body and tries to stand up, though he staggers as he does. He seems not to have stood for a long time.
She feels the telltale release in her pantleg as Josh starts the voyage toward Uncle Ara and his spiders. An odd thing about her little boy is that he must help anyone who seems unhappy, immediately, whether it is another child with a skinned knee or Yusuf staring glumly at the television. Usually he helps by patting the appendage closest to him, which, she admits, is comforting. She tries to tell him no, but her mouth has something wadded up inside it. Ara is on one knee, breathing heavily; Josh topples in his direction, falling twice and pushing himself back up until he reaches his second cousin and pats his calf with a chubby hand. Maria loves him so much. She spits out the object in her mouth – it is a little scroll of what feels like leather. She opens it, looks at it, and then up at Josh and Ara. One by one, the spiders pick their way fussily up the electrical cords and make their way into the wall. Ara is sitting more easily and Josh is trying to climb up his knee. Ara streches his wings luxuriously; the blue light from them intensifies, and from it Maria can hear a voice.
“…couple who run the falafel place, the one on 95th and 5th,” the voice is saying. “I had to empty the place out, Jesus. Jesus. It was so awful, Lewis. Somebody thought there were hidden babies there. I don’t know, as a nation, what we’re…”
There is more but Maria cannot make it out. Ara is motioning with one hand for her to sit next to him, the other hand steadying Josh, who is standing on Ara’s lap with a loook of concentration on his face as he tries to balance.
Maria sits down before Ara, who smiles. He bends to pick up Josh and Maria can see horrible burns on his back, where his wings meet his shoulders.
The voice intensifies but it is harder to hear; Josh jumps from Ara’s hands to Maria’s lap, where she almost doesn’t catch him. He chuckles and she and Ara share a smile. Then Yusuf is shaking her awake.
“We have to go,” Yusuf says. He has been watching TV, he tells her. One of the channels has some kind of new program on it, just a guy slightly offscreen talking about them, about how the police know they’re there. It must be a way to freak us out, Yusuf says. The whole thing was tinted blue, for some reason. It was on a really high channel that usually just gets static. “Whoever was talking clearly thinks my aunt and uncle are dead,” he says.
“Baby, you were dreaming,” Maria tells him. “I had a dream, too. It was a good day, remember? They let Ara out. Maybe it’s not going to be that bad.
“That’s a good idea,” Yusuf says, and pulls out his phone. He has a conversation in Syriac, which Maria hates; she knows more than he thinks she knows, though. She can tell that it is Ara on the other end. She goes and picks up the baby, who seems just fine with bunking in the basement under a deli with only a space heater and some stuffed animals Maria hopes to throw out very, very soon. Lately Yusuf has become obsessed with “go bags” and emergency first aid; Maria has insisted they make a special go bag for the baby. It is powder blue and has elephants on it and Yusuf pretends to be annoyed by it, but he also stocks it with applesauce. Josh is not sleeping, but not crying, either. He is so good.
“Let’s go. Ara will meet us. He can get a boat tonight.”
“Go where?” Maria asks.
“Down the coast,” Yusuf answers. “Ara knows a place.”
There is noise above them; up the ladder, Maria can see blue and red lights through the crack in the hatch that opens on to the sidewalk.

7.    ABSTRACT: A tachyon is a theoretical particle that can travel faster than light, necessitating a receiver-retransmitter of a tachyon or tachyon impression, here assumed to be Cherenkov radiation, that must receive-retransmit those impressions before their emission. It is therefore assumed to collapse a number of necessary superpositions, invalidating probability-based branches of contemporary physical scienctific inquiry including the Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model and regressing the entirety of particle physics as far back as the Newtonian era. In this paper I will argue for the continued existence of superpositions even with tachyon interference. In this paper I propose that the act of turning on the receiver-retransmitter now running in our physics department, where it broadcasts on a number of known and demonstrably safe EM spectra, in fact heralds a new epoch in physical science. Its transmissions are for now garbled by their backward journey but, I will here demonstrate, inarguably of human origin. These transmissions cannot affect a past in which there is no receiver to witness them and so cannot correct mistakes or alter our lives. Nevertheless as the loop of communication with our children and our children’s children widens, our knowledge might increase infinitely, as we are able to separate generations of communication doubtless being sent back to us, to this one, most vital point in our history. It is a difficult task but I hope I will have the help of my colleagues in it. These moments of understanding are rare in the sciences, and often received with fear and anger by the men and women who have worked so diligently to understand the model I will show has failed. The new model, I believe with the full weight of my understanding, is good news for all people.

1. Having been warned in a dream, Yusuf goes first across the walkway, quickly. Maria follows, with Josh concealed in a carrier under a big black poncho. They descend the stairs to the sidewalk that borders the water. When he was a boy Yusuf would have loved the thought of leaping across it, a knife in his teeth, onto the rocks to board the stealthy boat with his valiant cousin Ara. Now he cannot get enough air into his lungs and feels guilt with every step he takes away from his beloved and their child. Ara sees him; he lies low in the boat. There is an old white man fishing a few yards away.
He can hear sirens behind him.