Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thar He Blows: Moby Attended Our Debate Last Night

Or so says Gawker.

Here’s hoping our debate on history and futurism next month brings out David Bowie, my choice for the one guy to put in the space capsule if Earth is finally doomed (he’d get along with the alien civilization that eventually rescued him, for one thing).

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Zero-Child Policy

Alien I should say a bit more about the zero-child policy — the desire not to have kids — alluded to in my prior post, to the ongoing bafflement, apparently, of most of the human race and to a few of my past girlfriends, all of them warned at an early stage about my desire to avoid kids. (It has caused a few break-ups, perhaps meaning it’s the sort of deal-breaker that will be discussed at Lolita Bar this Wednesday in the Rev. Jen vs. Katherine Taylor clash.)

First of all, let me say that there are over six billion unique sets of human preferences on this planet, yet rare indeed, it seems, are people capable of understanding that their own preferences are not necessarily shared by those around them — which is one important reason there are so few libertarians (most people don’t even see forcing others to pay for, say, a solid-gold monument to the state’s first governor as force since everyone [meaning, in fact, the person speaking and a few others who think much like the person speaking] wants a solid-gold monument to the state’s first governor).

And even on the rare occasions when people are able to understand that preferences vary, it’s usually because they’ve been hammered by the general culture into feeling severe shame if they don’t acknowledge diversity in one specific variable — say, sexual orientation — but not because they have in any way generalized the idea of diversity to arrive at the realization that a great many sorts of preferences might vary. So, particularly in New York City, you’re quite likely to hear people who in one breath will say they cannot imagine anyone being so narrow-minded as to fail to understand gays (good, good, that’s a start, almost there) and in the next breath say they cannot imagine someone not wanting kids or liking football or, say, loving Crosby, Stills, and Nash — alas, the imagination apparently has its limits, and in most brains they really aren’t very far away.

To help you imagine how someone who doesn’t want kids might look at them, first recognize that much of what seems universally-desired seems so because of instinct and cultural habituation — but that these things can sometimes be overcome, ignored, or for whatever quirky hormonal/environmental reasons simply absent in some people. Some people can’t look at skis without feeling, as if by ancient and nigh-universal instinct, a compulsion to get on them and go hurtling into the future — while others, like my manga-selling friend Ali Kokmen, react to skis by saying, “I sort of feel like just by walking I’m going fast enough already.” Some people look at kids — and by people I mainly mean women, since I have successfully refuted feminism in an earlier blog entry and am thus allowed to speak in gendered terms, though preferences of course vary — and feel a deep, visceral need to go grab them, marvel at their cuteness, squeeze their cheeks, ask how old they are, and dream up ways to get one just like that inside their wombs as quickly as possible.

I look at kids, especially the young ones, and think, roughly: “I have an IQ of about 150. I am horrorstruck anew with almost every day that I walk through this tragic world at how stupid, vicious, ignorant, parasitic, irrational, and lacking in emotional self-discipline even the adults are. Indeed, every time I walk around New York City, I find myself wondering, metaphorically speaking, Where are the adults? since almost every overheard conversation seems like the inane, gossipy, cruel, vapid, amoral, shallow natterings of mental defectives and emotionally-stunted pseudo-children. Thank goodness I do not have to deal with people who are still worse, such as people who drool on themselves, expect me to feed them because they can’t figure out how to do so themselves, or emit ear-splitting shrieks like alarmed monkeys when they are distressed. And yet — and yet! — there are people among us who indeed do drool and shriek, who demand toys, know next to nothing of this world that might provide conversation fodder fit to relieve the general tedium, drain precious time and energy like vampires from those around them, and continually drag those around them down to something resembling their paltry and rudimentary intellectual level, so that even the geniuses in their presence, like defeated and enslaved beings, must now spend most of their waking hours talking about poop, blocks, why not everything with fur is a cat, and how if you be good and stop the ear-splitting shrieking for just a few minutes maybe we’ll go look at the horsey (or what have you). What an unmitigated disaster. What a nightmare. I would sooner be tortured to death by terrorists or some Latin American death squad, since at least then the pain would end soon enough, than endure this mentally-stunted worst-case scenario for years on end, as if having voluntarily lobotomized myself — and at great expense, while so many of the projects of far greater interest on my to-do list remain tragically unfulfilled. It’s hard enough to find adults worthy of the label, why intentionally interact with people who — admittedly through no fault of their own — are years away from embodying the qualities of mind I most admire and want to be around, such as being articulate, well-informed, rational, and self-sufficient? Children are, in short, a catastrophe.”

And yet I can understand and sympathize with those who think they’re interesting and cute enough to endure — more power to you, parents of America! I would not try to stop you from doing your jobs as parents — the most important jobs in the world, really, and if I wanted to do it, believe me, I’d want to do it well. There can be no greater moral responsibility in everyday life than raising a child well — which is all the more reason I choose not to do it. I mean, I don’t wake up in the morning and think, “You know, today might be a good day — but it’d be better if I were shackled to a midget who was completely dependent on me for all his needs and indeed his very life! That’d make things more pleasant and special!” Few seek out such situations (though again, if you’re one of those people, by all means, go for it!).

In fact, fewer people reproduce in large numbers as societies become more modern, so there’s a sense in which people’s preferences are subtly “coming around to my way of thinking” — as people find more things to do, women have more options (there’s something useful about feminism — I didn’t say it had no useful facets at all), and the necessity of youthful farm labor retreats into history, they tend to have fewer kids, such that the eco-doomsday warnings of a population explosion so common a mere generation ago have now turned (like ice age warnings into global warming warnings) into dour analyses of the “birth dearth” — with places like Italy and Japan already falling below replacement level (slightly fewer than two kids per two parents, statistically speaking) so that if current trends hold (though they never do), Italy and Japan will cease to exist in the not too distant future.

And while I don’t expect the human race to cease to exist, I am not morally alarmed by the idea of it shrinking considerably (that would mean fewer jerks walking around), something that is in any case still generations off, if it ever comes to pass (at which point environmentalists, if they have not simply forgotten or consciously obscured their population-shrinking intellectual lineage by that point, will have reason to celebrate). In any case, in the long run, I expect much of the population will be either immortal or replaced by robots, or both, but I’ll discuss that topic more in two weeks (as preparation for our July Debate at Lolita Bar, on history and the future).

So to sum up: you may like kids, but please understand that some of us have a long list of other things to do and just don’t see the big appeal in jettisoning lots of those things in order to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging around with needy dwarfs. As I once said, in a joke that found its way into Kyle Smith’s novel Love Monkey and that may (come to think of it) have been the inspiration for an Alien-themed baby shower I went to, we are accustomed to seeing people have kids, but if you somehow reached adulthood without hearing about it and then saw the process for the first time with unbiased eyes, you might think it was like something out of a horror movie, this creature bursting out of the woman with blood and screams, taking over the lives of those around it. No thanks. What part of “Gah, gah, bah, guggle, SHRIEEEEEK SHRIEEEEEK WAAAAAAAAHHH!! SHRIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!!! SHRIEEEEEEEEEEK!!” don’t you understand?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

That Personal Ad and the 6/20 Break-Ups Debate

With less than a week to go before our big Debate at Lolita Bar on the question “Is It More Painful to Get Dumped or to Do the Dumping?” (between Rev. Jen and Rules for Saying Goodbye author Katherine Taylor), it might be worth unveiling my girlfriend Koli’s reaction (written without any urging from me) to our differences and to my own mammoth, undiplomatic personal ad:

Hi. I’m Todd’s new girlfriend. Luckily I met him in “real life,” where he is a sweet, considerate guy who respects a thoughtful argument even if its conclusion is completely opposed to everything he believes in. If he wasn’t, I doubt we’d be together.

I am a left-leaning liberal and a feminist. I think of labor protective laws not as “unfair” burdens on business, but as legitimate ways to secure a public benefit. I believe the environment is in serious trouble — to a large degree caused by human activity. Todd is concerned that science funded by government or non-profit organizations is compromised by the scientists’ incentives to falsify or slant the research, but for some reason doesn’t suspect the same when it comes to research funded by industries that could make or lose money based on their findings [Editor's note: False, obviously -- learn more at, which I edit]. Needless to say (since I framed it in that almost inflammatory way), I disagree with him.

I don’t think the “free market” would solve all our problems if governments only went way. While I do believe government should be limited and mostly decentralized, I think that there should be strong public regulatory mechanisms to monitor economic activities, mechanisms based on something other than self-interest. The other historical name for self-interest is “greed.” I think unmitigated greed has not historically proven itself to yield great public good and free societies. It has always been the liberty to pursue your greed (as one aspect of broad personal freedoms) within a democratic structure (i.e., non-economic collective decision-making) that has led to free societies.

Given my beliefs, it is very fortunate that I met Todd in “real life.” Had I encountered him on his blog without knowing him, you can understand why I wouldn’t have had high hopes for our compatibility. You can, right?

Also, politics aside, I would never have answered his personal ad, except to congratulate him for being truly funny and maybe to offer some friendly advice on how to make himself sound like an actual human being with any human characteristics worth warming up to (as opposed to a self-important jackass).

I suspect he isn’t completely unaware of this, because he asked me rather earnestly not to read any of this before I got to know him a little better.

He was even more urgent in requesting that I not read his antifeminist post until I got to know him a little better. This gave me pause. The discovery that he actually has an “antifeminist post” made me think twice about agreeing to get to know him at all. But he seemed to be a good guy and a thoughtful guy, so I said to myself: what the hell?

He’s fun to talk to, remembers (and likes) R.E.M., smiles indulgently when I spontaneously burst into songs in an East Indian language he doesn’t understand, and shares my annoyance at the widespread misuse (and consequent loss of meaning) of the once useful technical phrase “to beg the question.”

Do I wish he was a feminist or at least a non-antifeminist? Sure, but, what are you gonna do? I’ll humor him and not read the rant yet. OK, I shouldn’t assume it’s a “rant” but it probably is [Editor's note: After writing this, she read the antifeminist entry and responded to it in another entry -- hey, cool, Donovan's "Season of the Witch" is playing as I type this, and owning that makes me a hippie, right?]

Interestingly, I think I plainly fail to meet a number of his criteria as outlined in his ad, and he knew about them before he decided he liked me (I’m anything but reticent about expressing my views).


I have indeed found myself saying, “Why does everything have to be rational all the time?” Todd knew this about me within an hour of knowing me. Formerly a self-proclaimed “hardcore rationalist,” I no longer think rationality is the only cognitive tool at our disposal. It is an epistemic device and a very good one for many, many things. But there is no basis for assuming it’s the only one.

I am open to the idea of a spiritual dimension to understanding ourselves and our world. That’s not the same as saying “creationism” or other elaborate religious theories of the world are just as valid as science in explaining the world or that they need to be given equal weight. All I’m saying is that to dismiss the possibility of any valid spiritual (or other non-rational) epistemology is to impoverish the whole process of knowing. It’s the kind of mindset that gives rise to dogma (and yes, even science has fallen prey to dogma throughout history).

I do think “just because something is logical doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right.” An argument can be constructed perfectly “logically” but still be untrue because it starts from the wrong premise or it fails to incorporate certain relevant variables. Of course, it can be argued that this kind of failure is a “logical” failure (making the original point “illogical”). But that isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes the disagreement about a premise or the “relevant variables” is a function of values, not “logic.” I am not saying values are somehow supra-rational (at least not invariably). I am saying that no matter how axiomatic they are to you, they may still be debatable; or worse, an entirely different value may seem axiomatic to me. In fact, see Todd’s rule #8.

I also believe that it is perfectly acceptable to defer judgment when you see the “logic” in someone’s argument but have not been persuaded at the instinctive or “gut” level because you have a “hunch” that something is missing. It’s perfectly OK to admit that and take time for reflection/research. To pretend you are persuaded when you aren’t is just as intellectually dishonest as arguing in bad faith.

I hear voices in my head, courtesy of my iPod. Some of them are truly divine.

I’ve had times that could be characterized as “really confusing emotionally.” In fact, I suspect anyone who hasn’t experienced (or even felt overwhelmed by) emotional confusion has probably lacked emotional richness in his/her life. Life is messy — stripping away the mess eviscerates it, in my opinion.

Yet, Todd seems to like me despite all of this. That’s pretty cool. And he’s a really, really great guy. Have I said that already?

Oh, and I want kids. I love them. So, this thing with Todd (as wonderful as he is) will probably not last. Sad. But true.

Well, there you have it. Is it any wonder I love her? As for the tragic tendency of women to want kids, despite their ignorance and ear-splitting shrieks — I will address that problem in another entry in the next few days and explain my hope that the robots will eventually overcome it. And remember, we can also discuss all this relationship stuff at Lolita Bar at 8pm on June 20.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pigs, Politicians, Punks


You’ll be relieved to hear that I finally saw Babe: Pig in the City, which — as Daniel Radosh and some of his friends promised me years ago — may be the darkest kids’ movie I’ve ever seen (as one might expect from the director who brought us not just Babe but Mad Max, the Road Warrior). As The Empire Strikes Back did for the original Star Wars movie, this gives us a grimmer turn to our heroes’ story — a turn so grim that my friend Laura Braunstein, a Dartmouth librarian, says she’s seen an academic paper likening Babe: Pig in the City to Dante’s Inferno. By the time you reach the moment where the grim, Gandalf-like narrator is explaining that Babe’s “brief life” is flashing before his eyes as he faces (in slow motion) the apparent “moment of his annihilation” at the jaws of a pit bull, you’ll be laughing out loud at how perverse the whole thing is, and if you have children, they’ll be in tears.

Indeed, one of Radosh’s pals said he actually called Universal, in his capacity as a teacher, to ask what they were thinking in releasing such a dark children’s film, to which someone at the studio, he claims, confessed that since the whole movie was shot in New Zealand and Australia, it was pretty much a done deal before the execs back in the U.S. had much of a chance to reconsider releasing it or ask for substantial rewrites.

(I suppose the dark humor about a good-hearted rural character in the frightening big city also bears some resemblance to the sorts of Holly Golightly-type narratives I mentioned last week when I reviewed Rules for Saying Goodbye, so you might consider watching the movie as a supplement to your attendance at the June 20 Debate at Lolita Bar featuring that book’s author — and speaking of that, I have one more thing to say about the culture of the Upper East Side: this area’s sometimes considered the Republican-friendly part of Manhattan, yet here, last Tuesday, the Republican candidate in a special election for the state legislature — a fortysomething former prosecutor who was pro-choice, pro-gay, anti-gun, pseudo-environmentalist enough to oppose a garbage facility in the neighborhood, and endorsed by the left-leaning New York Times — still lost, to the Democratic candidate, an openly bisexual twenty-eight year-old with cerebral palsy who vows to be an advocate for the disabled — and who got 64% of the vote. Yeah, it’s like rural Alabama here on the Upper East Side. Watch out! We kill hippies!)

And speaking of an unexpected darkness from New Zealand, rumor reportedly has it that Elijah “Frodo Baggins” Wood’s next role will be…Iggy Pop, in a biographical film about that wild, shirtless, drug-abusing, self-mutilating proto-punk (who says he once decided to check himself into rehab after waking up amid garbage bags on the Bowery, having allowed himself to be beaten by his former bandmates from the Stooges, dressed as Nazis, as part of a drug-addled piece of performance art he did at CBGB’s that literally ended with him being thrown out with the trash — on the bright side, you can sink pretty low, then, without sinking as low as Iggy Pop, and he’s still considered a success). The only similarity I can think of between mild Frodo and wild Iggy is height, since Iggy is, as he sings, “Five Foot One.”

(On another punk note, I recently stumbled across a piece of visually-weak but aurally-OK footage of what has to be one of the gothiest moments in history: Peter Murphy, formerly of Bauhaus [best known for the song "Bela Lugosi's Dead" from the opening scene of the vampire movie The Hunger], singing guest vocals for Nine Inch Nails as they cover the Joy Division song “Dead Souls,” which NIN previously covered on the soundtrack of The Crow — any gothier and this clip would be dead. On a more beautiful note, though, here’s Peter Murphy solo — and looking pretty vampiric himself — doing his best song, and arguably the best song of the 1980s, “Cuts You Up.”)

P.S. To get back to cute-animal movies, though, I just want to note that regardless of what the people from the pound say (and they never know for sure with the mutts in their possession), I still say my parents’ late, great dog, Uber, seems to have had some Tibetan terrier in her, and by way of further evidence, here’s footage of two Tibetan terriers frolicking, and I think anyone out there who met Uber will see the resemblance (mainly the grayish one):

P.P.S. Word reaches me that relativist philosopher Richard Rorty is dead. I guess whether that’s a good or a bad thing is a matter of linguistic convention, though. (UPDATE: My friend Jacob Levy, more capable than I of summoning enthusiasm for a philosophical foe’s sheer academic and performance skills, has written a somewhat more detailed farewell to Rorty — scroll way down past the postmodernly blank white space.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: "Is It More Painful to Get Dumped or to Do the Dumping?"

Rev Jen VS. Katherine Taylor TONY
NOT this Wednesday (as would normally be the case) but rather on Wednesday, June 20 (8pm):

Downtown performance artist, art star, and nerd “Rev. Jen” Miller throws down with (formerly) Upper East Side author, sometime bartender, and libertarian Katherine Taylor (whose new novel is Rules for Saying Goodbye) on the gut-wrenching topic of romantic break-ups.

At: Lolita Bar, 266 Broome St., at the corner of Allen St. on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, one block south and three west of the Delancey St. F, J, M, Z subway stop. Free admission, cash bar, and an air conditioner.

Luckily for me, Rev. Jen, who likes Budweiser, was drinking not too long after being dumped when I asked her to participate in this debate, while her opponent, Katherine, has just released a memoir/novel that climaxes with her then-fiance wracked by nightmares, sweat, and rashes at the growing realization he can’t go through with the ceremony.

If this debate doesn’t end in tears, I’m not doing my job as host right, or Michel Evanchik is moderating improperly. Come watch the trainwreck, man — this is going to be epic (and since it’s later in the month than usual, this once I’ll promise to give you a brief reminder).

P.S. Speaking of “tainted love,” these three versions of the song by that name leave me unable to decide which decade has been the most depraved…

…the 80s (as represented by Soft Cell)?

…the 90s, though this was actually released in ’01 (care of Republican rocker Marilyn Manson)?

…or the 00s (in the form of…Pussycat Dolls)?

In this, as with so many other questions, I think I’m gonna have to say: the 80s, with things trending toward wholesomeness since then, at least by this admittedly unscientific measure. But what else would you expect from the decade that gave us “Hot for Teacher”?

P.P.S. The 80s in turn reminds me of Reagan and the fumbling search for an inspiring president. Let me just say, if you aren’t rooting for Ron Paul in the presidential race, you’re part of the problem. What do you mean, which problem? All of them.

Book Selection of the Month: "Rules for Saying Goodbye" by Katherine Taylor (Plus: New-Zipcode Bombshell)

Katherine Taylor Book Selection of the Month (June 2007):

Rules for Saying Goodbye by Katherine Taylor

I will help future literary historians (not to mention present-day reviewers facing imminent deadlines) by revealing one of the most important things about the just-released novel Rules for Saying Goodbye: Every word of it is true.

Well, OK, not every single word — in real life, the analogue of the protagonist’s best friend Clarissa may merely have had a psychosomatic illness, for example (now she’s more interested in the welfare of her child, and blogging quite wittily about it) — but the book’s at least as close to autobiography as, say, Purple Rain was.

Indeed, I can’t help wondering how the author, a friend of mine for years, decided to use her real name and her mother’s (for the protagonist and the protagonist’s mother), while changing her brothers’ names, but that’s a trivial detail — and something you can ask her yourself if you attend the June 20 session of the Debates at Lolita Bar I host, since Katherine will be one of the two debaters, the other being downtown performance-humorist-nerd “Rev. Jen” Miller, on the question “Is It More Painful to Get Dumped or to Do the Dumping?”

Judging by the book, it’s a question to which Katherine has already given a great deal of thought, since each of the book’s four sections focuses on a break-up of one sort or another: moving away from home to boarding school, breaking up with British boyfriend #1, breaking up with the Italian boyfriend, and breaking up with British boyfriend #2. In between (and during) those incidents, a lot of alcohol is consumed, much of it just a few blocks south of me on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The fact that Katherine will be arguing on June 20 that it’s more painful to do the dumping is impressive, considering that, as she recounts in the book, she was once so distraught about being dumped herself that she immediately vomited, right there on the spot.

Saying Things Just to Hear What They Sound Like

I don’t know if such vignettes form what someone as stodgy as Aristotle or Tolkien would call a plot, but as with Prince, the important thing here is poetic language more than either verisimilitude or narrative drive. And Katherine probably uses language more effectively than anyone else I know: gently assembling delicate, empirical bits of information in the form of carefully-placed, efficient little phrases, sort of like a more girly, tentative, and ironic version of Hemingway. Comparing one’s own prose to Katherine’s is bound to make one feel like a slob, even if one is ostensibly a professional writer (all those people who don’t know that quotes within quotes take single quote marks [perhaps thinking that single quote marks are simply for any short phrases], who use a single open quote at the beginning of ’07 when they should use an apostrophe [some of them, alas, in charge of writing auto-correction software for Microsoft], who think “begs the question” means “forces us to ask the question” instead of “assumes what is ostensibly to be proven,” who leave commas out of song titles so that they look like “Back Off Man,” or who continue using Buffy-inspired “Slayer slang” such as the phrase “um, not so much” long after it has outlived any imaginable comedic purpose, should probably not even be allowed to read Katherine’s work). Here’s just one paragraph, from the chapter that lists for us the actual Rules for Saying Goodbye (that is, rules for managing a breakup with a boyfriend), explaining to women Rule #5:

Flirt with his mother. If his mother is not available, his sister or aunt will do. Flirt mercilessly until she adores you. If you do not smoke, take it up in order to share furtive cigarettes with her in the guest bathroom. Always carry very nice cigarettes, but not overly nice — Nat Sherman, for example, but not Cartier gold-tipped. If you have not already done it by the time you decide to leave, knit a scarf that matches her eyes. When she admires it, take it off your neck and give it to her. It will be easier for her to wear later if she doesn’t think you knitted it specifically for her, and throughout the winter and next fall, the scarf itself will remind him how gracious you were.

That’s funny and quite sad at the same time — though I am obliged to tell you, in keeping with my day job, that you should not in fact take up smoking. Katherine, a libertarian who worked as a bartender in Manhattan, was none too happy about the initial crimp in business caused by the smoking ban here — a development referred to in the novel — and was somewhat displeased that I wasn’t as outraged by the new regulation as I am by all the other regulations, though I was still against it — I’m an anarchist, after all. She has also never been too pleased with my philosophical opposition to some of the views of her friend Dr. Jeffrey Schaler and his mentor, Dr. Thomas Szasz, who more or less contend that there is no such thing as mental illness. As the novel makes clear, though, Katherine has enough eccentric or neurotic acquaintances — and is conscious enough of her own neuroses — to have a legitimate fear that a lot of people in her social circle would be at risk of involuntary confinement if standards of sanity were to get too high.

Pretending They’re All Dead

Many of those acquaintances show up, thinly disguised, for amusing cameos, most of them being dissipated idle-rich sorts but one, “Albert,” being the combative communist writer-publisher through whom, oddly enough, I first met the founders of the Debates at Lolita Bar (and who has complained in an interview about libertarians not being revolutionaries so much as thinly disguised Upper East Side Republicans). And I must say, even though I of all people should be philosophically inclined to root for the protagonist and her rich-kid pals and against Albert, and even though I know how these vignettes actually end, seeing all the self-indulgent behavior of this vampiric overclass is almost enough to make me root at times for Albert to strangle them all or at least threaten to put them all up against the wall when the revolution comes. Rules for Saying Goodbye is not, in short, good propaganda for convincing people that New York is a city full of responsible, hard-working, dynamic young adults building a brighter future. More like a city full of cocaine, sex in bathrooms, very unwise career decisions, complete assholes who know celebrities, assholes who actually are celebrities (David Byrne’s bad tipping at bars is noted even while his musical genius is acknowledged), and lots of expensive restaurants.

But whether you’re seeing that with your own eyes or reading about it in this novel, the perverse, seductive thing is, it’s hard to decide whether it’s altogether bad. And ambivalence is a lot like depression, a point made — deliberately or not — over and over again in Rules for Saying Goodbye, and a point that ought to seem familiar to a lot of New Yorkers. If you’re miserable, hard-working, and poor now but have a 15% chance of fantastic wealth in four years, are you in some sense leading the good life? What if you have no mate but have been to sixteen parties full of the most beautiful people on the planet in just the past month? Are you happy? Wretched? If you pick “wretched,” are you a whiner amidst plenty, in the grand historical scheme of things? If you don’t pick wretched, are you a shallow jerk?

There’s a bit of the girl-from-mundane-origins thrust headlong-into-excess-urban-glamour motif in the novel, a dash of Holly Golightly that reminds me of the all too typical first new friend (or seeming-friend) I made when I moved to this city right after college and miraculously — despite four years at Brown — still possessed fairly simple, smalltown assumptions about how people behaved, which was basically: nicely if you’re nice to them, meanly if you’re mean to them, unless they’re criminals, Soviet agents, or axe-murderers. This first new New York acquaintance wasn’t quite that straightforward. She’d been author-to-be Katie Roiphe’s friend at Harvard, and whereas Roiphe kept a portrait of herself from her years as a teenage anorexic at her bedside to remind herself not to become emaciated again, my initially fat and rural-Kentucky-spawned quasi-friend had deliberately slimmed down, smoked, and drunk as much as possible, in a deliberate campaign, as she explained it in Manhattan a few years after she graduated, to become socially intimidating so that she could lie and manipulate the people around her — and when she said this was still her ambition as an adult, I mistakenly assumed she was joking or had some sort of Oscar Wilde-influenced cynical philosophy I wasn’t quite understanding. I mean, people just don’t get that bad, unless they’re Soviet agents or axe-murderers, right? Who wants to be bad, I thought?

This non-friend cut off contact with me once it became clear I wasn’t able to add sufficiently to the amoral glamour of her nightlife (really, she told me so quite frankly), but I did leave her one message years later encouraging her to see a revival of the Golightly-esque play As Bees in Honey Drown, about a rural woman turned big-city sophisticate who enjoys sadistically manipulating a nice-guy writer she meets, in part to prove she’s become more powerful than she was as a bumpkin. Stories like that happen here a lot, I think.

I, by contrast, arrived here such a good-hearted naif that I recall in late 1991 still considering “schmoozing” an immoral activity — and being horrified when I realized that one of my co-workers at St. Martin’s Press was inviting an editor to a party not because he was a friend — or even likable — but because he was “important.” Doing that doesn’t sound like a big deal now, after a decade and a half of occasionally glimpsing wheeler-dealers, but I was aghast at the time, and surely I’ve lost a little something in the interim.

The Best of Places, the Worst of Places: 10021 No More

For the protagonist of Rules for Saying Goodbye — who remains a decent person throughout, making only the rarest and most half-hearted attempts to misbehave — much of the allure of the big city and its decadent inhabitants comes from a specific desire to escape Fresno, CA, culturally and psychologically. Whether or not she ends up in a better place psychologically is debatable, but we get to follow her on a tour of some pretty glamorous geography in the process, including Brussels, Rome, London, and Manhattan’s richest zip code, 10021, where Katherine lived for ten years and where I have now lived for ten years but no longer will — not because I’m moving, mind you, but because they’re breaking it up into three separate zipcodes, with the richest chunk (where Katherine lived) remaining 10021 (average income $85,000 according to the New York Times; home to conservative icons William F. Buckley and Bill Cosby), the second-richest chunk becoming 10065 (average income $82,000; home to David Rockefeller and Spike Lee), and bums like me relegated as of the end of the month (NOTE IT IN YOUR ADDRESS BOOKS) to 10075 (average income, which I am below, $74,000; home to the governor, the mayor, and one of my biggest influences — not that it necessarily shows — Tom Wolfe).

Katherine, who may in some ways be a victim of the view (parodied so ably by Kyle Smith in a December Book Selection) that fashion and glamour actually matter (but then, how else can the existence of some of the people in this book be justified?) skewers pretensions and social-climbing obsessions wittily, though without making it clear whether she’s really capable of leaving all those petty concerns behind once and for all, crucial though that would seem (from reading the book) to her future happiness and stability.

In the meantime, though, she’s got the glamorous thing down pat, (1) being praised by Time Out New York (kudos to her brother Russel on his photos of her, by the way, which certainly don’t hurt the cause), (2) having her amusing literary feud with Bejamin Kunkel (founder of the New-York-yuppie-leftist lit journal n+1) egged on by (he suggested her work shouldn’t be taken seriously, as retaliation for her brief description of one of his novels as “simple” when New York Observer interviewed her), and perhaps best of all (3) having include her on their list of memoirists they consider sexier than Ayaan Hirsi-Ali (much as I hate to see even Katherine upstage a heroic opponent of Islamic fundamentalism who was driven out of Europe).

Two final thoughts:

(1) Thanks to brother Russel’s photographic skills (and nature), the Observer spent a surprising chunk of their profile marveling at Katherine’s chest — a reminder that the buttocks of one of our previous Lolita Bar debaters, Dawn Eden, were also praised in the pages of that paper, perhaps part of a pattern.

(2) Contra Kunkel, I wouldn’t call Katherine’s style unserious so much as witty-but-fragile — but, hey, I’ve forgotten most of what I learned as an English major (while retaining a lot of what I learned as a philosophy major), so what do I know?

P.S. I am also, thanks in part to the influence not only of my parents but people like my farmer grandfather and his recently-deceased brother, Milt Geer, something of a simple rural guy at heart myself, and perhaps saner and less wracked by status-anxiety because of it than some of the unhappy souls chronicled in Rules for Saying Goodbye. On the other hand, much as I love trees and animals, next month’s Book Selections will be all about cyborgs and the like, so please keep reading — and in the interim, join Katherine, Rev. Jen, moderator Michel Evanchik, and me at Lolita Bar on June 20 (8pm), and read Rules for Saying Goodbye so you can see the highlife and the horror for yourself.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Banana Splits vs. Bob Marley

Banana Splits Koli and I are going to a wedding in Jamaica next month (Maria Gray and Allan Cohen’s), but a conversation we had yesterday reveals that one of us may not be easily assimilated into the island’s culture (and suggests a great idea for a mash-up, for someone more musically and technically competent than myself — are you reading this, DJ Lunchboy?):

TODD: Were you just humming the Banana Splits themesong?

KOLI: Banana Splits?!

TODD: Weren’t you just going “la la-la, la la-la la, la la la-la”?

KOLI: Yeah, that’s “Buffalo Soldier” by Bob Marley: “Woy yoy-yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy, woy yoy yoy yoy, yoy yoy-yoy yoy!”

In related news, a band I mentioned in the previous blog entry, My Favorite, startled me yesterday by having, I noticed, a track called “Le Monster vs. Chuck Blake.” “I don’t even remember My Favorite meeting Chuck, much less seeing him battle a monster,” I thought, “though I could see Chuck doing that” — but the title refers (via the recently-fashionable use of the “vs.” conjunction to denote a guest singer or in this case producer) to the music producer who remixed that version of their “Le Monster,” not to the man by the same name who I’ve known since high school and who criticized climate-change theories at our February debate.

Music can be confusing — like the time I met the lead singer of the Arrows, who sang the original “I Love Rock n’ Roll” and let slip the fact that I thought Slade had done the original (the source of my confusion: Slade did the original “Cum on Feel the Noize,” which isn’t quite the same thing). But I can tell the difference between the Fixx and Frozen Ghost, which is the important thing.