Here’s your Superbowl-and-circuses, Citizens™! Please enjoy the clash of these broken, opiated gladiators we have assembled for your pleasure. You will also enjoy these messages exhorting you to buy more products and services. Because the awareness that you have no value as anything but Consumers may upset, you are encouraged to treat our crass blandishments as entertainment. More entertainment to entertain you! We have been assured that there will be no shortage of websites that will fall all over themselves to give you a chance to watch our ads online, just in case, heaven forfend, that you were unfortunate enough to miss the opportunity during the game itself. We aim to please, as long as pleasing means you’ll like us more and buy more of our useless garbage.
Oh Oracle Google! Consort to the Apple-onian godhead, second among our modern pantheon, the smoke of our ad-view offerings wafts skyward, and your powerful limbs engorge with ad revenue. It is a mere 4% of your Olympian might that does not spring from selling us Product, and we in turn swell with pride. Even Facebook, so unloved but so tightly wound around our lives like the snakes on fleet Hermes’ staff, even Facebook is an ad-revenue eyeball-offering 85%-er.
Our Dionysian rites, on screens big and small, are littered with more Products more!, sometimes so risibly over-the-top as to temper the bite of tragedy with some welcome if undeliberate corporate comedy. And music — oh terpsichorean muse — we enlist your aid in winging ever more goods into our hands. Goods, I say, because goods and products are the same, and they are Good!
OK, enough faux-classical silliness. Yes, the cranky old man has a wild hair up his butt again. But all of these things and more boggle me right upside my head.
I love books. I love to hold ‘em, I love to smell ‘em. I love taking them into the bathroom and having a long, relaxing poop. I love riffling through their pages and letting the gentle dusty breeze of received wisdom waft across my face. I grew up with three or four paperbacks splayed open on the floor beside my bed at any one time, and shelves and teetering stacks of them all around my room. As much as anything else in my life, the books I’ve read form the threads that link who I am today back to the boy I was. Reading has, for nearly 5 decades now, probably been the one unalloyed pleasure I have had, and the pleasure is undiminished today, even though there are so many more things to invade and occupy my mind. I’ve always said, half-jokingly, that I felt uncertain if I could trust someone until I drank with them, but I think my real Voight-Kampff test is whether someone is a Reader or not. I need to read.
When left Canada in my 20s, there was no public internet to speak of. Laptops weren’t — unless you count the suitcase-with-a-7-inch-CRT luggables. If you were a reader, you read printed words on paper. At any given time during my wander years, I was lugging around a few kilograms of books in my backpack, and I read whatever I could trade with other backpackers in hostels and bars. Hell, I picked up a copy of the Bible in Glencoe, Scotland, when I was there, to read through it again, even though I was (and remain) utterly uninterested in being a Christian. (Well, with one brief and odd exception, which is a tale for another day, perhaps.) Back in the day, when you were a wanderer, what you read was a matter of serendipity, and you learned to feel a deep love and gratitude for people who had left behind Actual Good Books in whatever tatty hostel common room you’d washed up in.
I’m coming up on 50 years old. Well, it’s a couple of years off still, but the corner is definitely in sight. Music remains something that makes my life better, and somehow, even though I still love to revisit a lot of the stuff I listened to during my formative rock and roll years, I still take great pleasure in finding new things to love. Music is the fuel for some chamber of my heart, some mutant ventricle that only pumps when it gets that fuel.
Rock and/or roll has lost its cultural heft and sweaty eldritch power to fire up much of the deranged, half-human youth of today, sadly (a situation ably traced in this recent, many-part opus on Grantland called the Winner’s History of Rock and Roll, which I highly recommend [Part 1: Led Zeppelin, Part 2: Kiss, Part 3: Bon Jovi, Part 4: Aerosmith, Part 5: Metallica, Part 6: Linkin Park, Part 7: The Black Keys]), but it’s far from dead, and there is still a lot of rock music coming out — little to none of which gets heard by the Greater PopCulturaltariat these days — which just fills me to the brim with feels.
One of the bands I’ve discovered in relatively recent times is The Rural Alberta Advantage. I have no idea how well-known they are, but they are Canadian (hooray!), so my guess is: maybe not so much, outside of Canada at least.
It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant…
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…
And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply PREVAIL. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave…
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark — that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back.
Hunter S Thompson, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
[Crossposted from Full Glass Empty Clip] It’s 1977. I’m 12 years old. It’s a gorgeous Northern BC summer day, one of those glorious fleeting perfect days that are all the sweeter in the frozen north, because the memories of mud and slush barely fade before the leaves have already begun to turn again. Utterly pure blue sky, sun warm on the skin, grass a deep impatient green, a light breeze off the lake that is so invigoratingly packed with oxygen and piney perfume it might as well be aerosolized cocaine. I’m playing third base, it’s what we’d call little league if we called it that in Canada back then, I’m just beginning to feel the awkwardness of adolescence, but the sheer pleasure of being alive and standing on that dirt under that gigantic bowl of sky on that day is more than enough to let me ignore my self-consciousness. I’m a big, strong kid, and even if I’m more bookworm than jock, I enjoy sports.
One of the kids on the other team strikes out, and our gang begins to jog back to the chickenwire fence behind home plate for our time at bat, where there are a few parents hanging out, maybe drinking a beer or three in the sun. I get about three or four loping steps along the baseline before my left leg folds up, with no warning whatsoever, and I go down into the dirt. I try like hell to get up, but my leg just doesn’t seem to want to bend correctly. I don’t remember it hurting as much as I remember being confused, trying to figure out why my leg suddenly didn’t do what I told it to do any more, and then horrified and embarrassed, when my stepdad came out onto the diamond, picked me up, and carried me off.
Turns out that I had Osgood-Schlatter syndrome. I was just growing too damned fast, apparently, and bits and pieces of me couldn’t keep up. The dumbass semicompetent smalltown doctor told us that I’d have to have the left leg put in an ankle to hip cast for six months, and then the other leg — once again, ankle to hip — for another six months after that.
That was pretty much the end of sports for me, at least team sports. That was the beginning — after that long, itchy year, when my first my left and then my right leg emerged, atrophied, pale, and, to my horror, looking like a limb grafted on from a much smaller, sicklier young man — of my lifelong habit of riding bikes with my headphones on down empty highways. And that summer, when the doorway to baseball and swimming and many other things I loved closed, at least temporarily, that the door into computers and the games you can play on them opened. When I learned that it was possible to go places without actually going anywhere. That was the summer my parents bought me my first computer, a TRS-80 Model III.
One of my few brushes-with-famous-people was with David Bowie.
It was the second week of September, 1983, and he was playing at the Coliseum in Vancouver. I’d just started at UBC, and was drinking rather a lot, as was my wont. One night there was a mixer at Place Vanier with free booze, and me and a friend of mine who I’d graduated with and who was also a freshman at UBC took great advantage of the freebies (white wine, for some bizarre reason, as I recall, something I’d never really gotten inebriated on before).
It was pouring rain that evening, as usual, and when the mixer shut down, I was, in young wonderchicken style, just getting geared up. But being underage, finding more booze was going to be a challenge, so we decided to make the trek across campus to Gage Towers to find her older brother, the theory being that he could hook us up with some more grog.
As we passed in front of the computer science buildings, I got it into my head to do the Gene Kelly routine from Singing in the Rain, and sing and splash and swoop around the light poles a bit. Predictably, my blood-alcohol content rendered my swooping a little less graceful than it should have been, and I ended up breaking my ankle.
Next morning, I woke up in my dorm room in my clothes with a monumental wine hangover and a somewhat hazy recollection of the night before. Reeking, disoriented, with a throbbing right ankle that felt about the size of my head. My mother, who was visiting Vancouver to see I’d settled in, and her sister, who’d come to visit with my mom, were knocking on the door. I can’t say they were all that surprised. At least Mitzi — yes, my friend’s name was Mitzi — wasn’t there in the bed with me, too.
We went to the campus hospital, I got strapped up and given a pair of crutches, and we went to the Bayshore Hotel, where they were staying, for breakfast. I was feeling about as physically bad as an 18-year-old can.
The elevator stopped on our way up to my mom and aunt’s room. I could smell myself, and it wasn’t pretty. I was staring at the carpet, swaying, sweating, and trying desperately not to throw up, but noticed more or less in my peripheral vision two very large black-suited men and one much smaller blond man get on.
We got off on my mom’s floor, and as we did, I realized that the little fellow was David Bowie. The realization took long enough to percolate through my hungover brain that all I had time for was a double-take, wobbling on my crutches, enough to turn and meet his eyes and smile, and get a smile back.
I believe that he was a nice fellow because of that smile, ’cause man, if I’d had to stand in an elevator with my sodden, reeking self that morning, I’d have been rejoicing the moment I got off.
This first, memorable experience of my university career turned out to be emblematic of the next 5 years. UBC was a lot of fun.
I was tightly wound when I was a teenager. I’d been a fat kid in early days, which kind of ruined my self-confidence back in the days when that wasn’t as common as it is these days, and I had a step-dad who had his own problems and wasn’t really a subscriber to the self-image boosting regimen. And I had acne that literally scared people, I think, at least until years later, when the docs put me on accutane and damn near killed me with the stuff.
But I was big and strong and well-put-together, smart and funny and creative, sociable and athletic and geeky all at once. I really should have gotten laid a lot more than I did, looking back on it.
I say this as a once-proud Canadian: fuck you, Canada. Stephen Harper and his brigade of destroyers, again? A fucking majority? What could you possibly have been thinking, Canada? What the hell is wrong with you?
I know you’re not completely stupid, Canada. In the half of my 45 years that I lived there, I met lots of people who weren’t stupid. My mom, who’s mayor of my hometown: she’s one smart lady. But I’m not going to ask her if she voted Conservative. I fear her response would break my heart.
I don’t want you to apologize to me, Canada. That would be silly. But it will be heartbreaking when you come to me weeping, with fresh bruises across your face, because you believed him when he said he wouldn’t hit you any more, and you went back. Again. For the sake of the kids.
I don’t want to feel a tingle of schadenfreude when I see the smoking, cratered economic wasteland after the Great Real Estate Disaster that is coming, Canada, your people shambling and blistered, draped in scorched rags, clutching the tattered paperwork for your 40 year mortgages, or for you to learn a lesson about greed from that.
I don’t want you to be the nation I so loved when I was a boy, the country I was so proud of.
I don’t want you to wake up and realize that by emulating the worst, you become the worst. America’s so exciting, so vibrant, they have the best drugs and the shapeliest fake tits, the shiniest teeth and the porn, have you seen some of that crazy porn they make down there? And the great big servings of curly fries? Holy shit! Everybody loves America, except that Bin Laden creep, and hell, they finally took him down Rambostyle, right? So all aboard the USA train!
Those boring frigid Scandinavian countries, where they have the highest standard of living, the best education and health care, the lowest infant mortality rate, even — who needs all that? Who wants to be like them, all dour and shivering and strong and secure and beloved, when America! is just next door and has that flashy car and gold tooth?
I don’t want you to look in the mirror and realize you’ve become a disappointment, an also-ran, a minor-key sidekick to a lumbering misguided giant, a mockery of the great men and women who built you. I don’t need you to understand that the toxic Network News American Political Buzzword Culture that has colonized your media and infected your discourse has distracted your people and corrupted your leaders and is destroying you. I don’t want you to embrace the principles that made you great. I don’t want you to take a step back and think about what kind of nation you want to be, and then live up to those principles.
No, wait, what the hell am I saying?
I want all of those things.
But it looks less likely with every turn of the screw that I’ll ever be seeing them.
No, it’s not the booze. Been 5 months since I had a drink. Not the ponies, or the ladies, or the intoxicating, forbidden allure of naked living room dancing, though I have been known to indulge in the latter from time to time.
No, I am addicted to making ever-more-elaborate websites: the twisted desire that is killing the youth of today.
Actually, no, that’s not true. The youth of today are telling the world what they just dug out of their nose on Twitter, or Farmvilling their way to true friendship on Facebook. But more power to ‘em, I guess. I was drinking rye and falling off the tops of fences at their age — not notably nobler pursuits.
Anyway, without further old-mannery, here’s the latest Fun Internet Thing from Wonderchicken Industries™: Gamefilter.net. Share and enjoy.
I just read Patton Oswalt’s Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die, which I enjoyed, and I’ve got something to say. Several somethings, in fact. As I set out, I’m not entirely certain what those somethings are, but I’m sure we’ll have some fun finding out.
I’m a little uncomfortable with it as a semi-serious piece of word stuff, and with the inevitable ensuing Metafilter thread. Underlying everything is an assumption that goes for the most part unquestioned: that nerds, or geeks (or otaku, but to hell with that, William Gibsonisms notwithstanding
The otaku, the passionate obsessive, the information age’s embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects, seems a natural crossover figure in today’s interface of British and Japanese cultures. I see it in the eyes of the Portobello dealers, and in the eyes of the Japanese collectors: a perfectly calm train-spotter frenzy, murderous and sublime. Understanding otaku-hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the web. There is something profoundly post-national about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not.
because I’m weary so weary of the appropriation and repurposing of poorly-understood Japanese words) are to be defined by the cultural products they (possibly obsessively) consume. It’s the common usage, sure — we talk about star wars nerds and comics nerds, about gaming geeks and movie geeks. We’ve wired into our brains a default mode where a nerd is someone who nerds out over some New Bauble, and a geek geeks out about their Precious Thing. We’re a little too accustomed to defining ourselves by what we consume, which is just what The Business of Entertainment wanted. Except for that whole part where we can get almost anything made of information these days without really trying. Or paying.
It was back in September, and the Korean doctor was running the ultrasound wand back and forth across my lubed-up abdomen, shaking his head and looking stern. “Patty Ribber” he repeated, three or four times, pointing at the monitor, on which I saw nothing but the usual indecipherable patterns of amorphous grey blobs. I nodded like I knew what he was saying, which is my usual strategy. After nearly 15 years since I came to Korea, I’m still not that great at parsing things out when I’m in an unfamiliar situation.
The doc sat back down behind his desk while his disconcertingly attractive nurse wiped the lube off my stomach, and started talking at my wife, in the arrogant tones that Korean doctors favour. I was catching one word in three, as usual, but when she grabbed a piece of paper from a stack on the shelf beside her and handed it to me at his behest, and I saw the picture, “patty ribber” suddenly resolved in my brain to “fatty liver” and my blood ran cold.
*tap* *tap tap tap* Anybody out there? Anybody left standing with an attention span intact? Any Wonderchicken Irregulars out there, hiding in the bullet-splintered woods, huddled in the snow and blood, waiting for what’s seemed like forever for the smoke and fog to clear, for this long international nightmare to end?
Well, I’m not here to make any promises, to blow smoke up any butts and extract sunshine. I’ve made promises before and broken them. I feel bad about that.
It’s not that I haven’t been busy, friends! I’ve been building websites at a rate of knots, including reworks of outsideinkorea and Wonderchicken Industries™ in the last few weeks, my busy gaming community is busier than ever, with well over 1200 members at last count. Just a few days ago, we made a $4100 group donation to ChildsPlay Charity, and I’m immensely proud of that.
But just the last little while, even though all of my creative juices have been directed to virtual barn-building (and repainting), I’ve been feeling the urge to make with the word-writing again. The old design of the venerable ‘bottle was kind of hurting my eyes, though.
So, this. Welcome to Emptybottle.org version Who The Hell Knows. Maybe I’ll even do some writing, once I’m done sweeping up the sawdust. But no promises.
Just a quick note for those few, those brave, those patient who haven’t completely migrated to Facef*ck or ThighSpace or Twatter or whatever social disease network is the flavour of the moment, and still stop by or RSSize the ‘bottle to get an occasional taste of Grandpa Wonderchicken’s Old-Style Longform Bullshit.
A while back, one morning, when I heard that Kevin Rose (of Digg and the late, not terribly lamented Pownce) had a new Twitter-parasite site called WeFollow, I lost my shit (“You might follow, you tiny-dreamed weasel farts!” said I to myself, or something of the sort.) and bought a domain, threw up a WordPress site, wrote a screed and did a couple of photoshops, all before lunch. If I was that productive all the time, I’d be… well, I wouldn’t have the time for insane vanity mini-projects like that, I guess.
Still: here it is, the lastest addition to the burgeoning Wonderchicken Industries™ Network. Share and enjoy.
So I was hanging around at the Metafilter, as I do, and I was posting the occasional comment, as I do, and drinking beer, as I do, because it was a Friday night, and that’s what I tend to do on a Friday night.
Another guy, this Canadian guy, this guy who’d lived in Japan for a few years and eventually gone back to Canada, someone I’d identified with even though I don’t rightly know if I ever will actually go back to Canada, had said
At least it’s not hockey. What a stupid sport.
(Although these are my true feelings, to say this publicly in Canada is close to something like sacrilege, and I’m not exaggerating.)
So I got my shit all up in a righteous internet uproar and said (and reproduce here because I’d like to remember I said it, self-indulgent and shouty as it is):
I spent a decade or two of my post-pubescent life, times when I was actually in Canada at least part-time and it seemed to matter, telling people how much I fucking didn’t care about hockey, because, you know, that’s what a certain kind of guy does. But I’d sit and watch the goddamn game and drink a hell of a lot of booze and take whatever drugs were to hand and make inappropriate and often successful sexual advances at the desperately bored women who were hanging around unwilling having their own fun while the idiot rinktard puckheads got their stick on.
But I’ll tell you this: I fucking love hockey now, in retrospect, but only in the abstract because I love the idea of stupid toothless meatpuppets beating the living shit out of each other on the ice for the amusement of the Home Audience. I used to poo-poo all the Sport, oh dear, Maynard my Special Friend it’s so commmmon and tedious, I in latter days used to and still do wave a dismissive hand-back at the reality TV and the unreality TV and the fake pretending to be real pretending to be fake winking at the real, I did, I do, but you know what? these days I love it all. I love it all in equal measure to how much I despise it because I am absolutely sure that things, where ‘things’ is meant to be Our Collective Cultural Heritage A-squander, where ‘things’ is meant to be the inexorable ramscoop of the idiocracy screaming V2ey nose-down into the fake peatbog made of plastic turf and celebrity poop, it’s OK that it’s all turning to Entertainment and Distraction at a rate of (k)nots, and I get a Roma-rsonist frisson from tossing my cigarette butts and lighting support blazes out on the periphery hoping ring-a-rosy all burn down without me having to make a stand.
So, yeah. Hockey is stupid, duh, but you know what: the problem with hockey is that it’s not nearly as goddamn stupid as it used to be or should be, when the gladiators dropped glove and knocked pearly white teeths out onto the ice in a spray of blood. It’s gotten smarter since then, instrumentally more reasonable, disappointingly less savage, and that’s a cheat and a con and it’s more modern and marketed and less satisfying.
Fucking weedy reedy thinskinned worthless goddamn civilization we’ve built.
The men who planned and carried out the bombings in Bali in 2002, the ones that killed one of my oldest and dearest friends (but only after he suffered with burns over most of his body for nearly two weeks) along with 201 other people, were executed last month.
You’d think I’d be happy about that.
Let me tell you a little story that may not seem to have much to do with this, but does, somehow, in a way that’s not entirely clear to me. Maybe in the telling, I can work it out a bit.
It was the mid-70s, I think, another glorious short clean summer in Northern BC, one of the ones that stay with me in my memory, and my aunt, uncle and two cousins were visiting us.
We had taken our river boat ten or fifteen kilometers up the lake, up to one of the rocky beaches under the ridge of Mount Pope, inshore from Battleship Island. We set up our outpost on a long expanse of thumb-size pebbles rattling under a broad unclouded vault of sky, stands of jackpine and spruce at our backs clustered beardlike around yellow stone cliff outcroppings. Clear deep dark green water, hot dogs cooked on whittled birch sticks over a fire pit. It was the kind of day that makes you feel glad to be alive, especially when you’re 8 or 10 years old and all is right with the world.
I remember at one point my cousins and I were ranging up the shingly beach, just exploring, when we came across the biggest snake I’d ever seen. It was glistening and black and in the water, and it took off like a shot as soon as it saw us, undulating frantically as it headed along the rocky verge, trying to escape.
We were curious, or at least I was, and we started throwing driftwood and rocks in its path, trying to get it to turn around, or slow down, so we could get a better look. I’m not sure, of course, what my cousins were thinking, but I don’t think they had any more malicious intent than I did. We were curious. The missiles we hurled at the poor beast got progressively larger and we got more excited, and the inevitable happened. One of the rocks or sticks landed square on the snake, and killed it. It uncoiled and floated, light belly up.
As we’d been hollering and chasing the snake, my uncle, presumable alerted by our excitement, had come up behind us just as the fatal stone did its work. All he saw was hooting boys killing an innocent creature.
He wasn’t furious, he was disgusted, disappointed. I still remember, as clearly as if it were yesterday, the look on his face. I don’t think anyone had ever looked at me like that before.
Several people have sent me links to news items about the execution of the Bali bombers in the past few weeks, and each time, I’ve had to tell them that I just didn’t know what to feel about it, much less what to think.
I find as I grow older that every year I am certain about less and less.
I’ve said to some folks who asked that although I do not believe that more killing is a good response to killing, if I were handed the gun, or set down in front of the switch behind the one-way glass, or just put into a room with the bastards, I wouldn’t hesitate to exact vengeance for the death of my friend. Pull the trigger, press the button, beat them with my fists. I’ve said to my friends that I am an ape masquerading as a man.
I don’t know if that’s true or not, I really don’t. It sounds good, I suppose, and I’ve always been about the dramatic pronouncement over the measured interpretation.
Is the world a poorer place without my friend Rick Gleason living in it? Yes, it is, and the same is no doubt true for the friends and family members of each and every of the other 201 people killed in the bombings. Is the world a better place without their killers living in it? I think it probably is.
We tell ourselves a lot of stories about ‘the sanctity of human life’. We seem to mean the lives of those we know and love when we talk about it, and that’s not surprising or wrong. We find it hard to care about strangers, and harder to care about strangers whose tribe is different, and even harder to care about those strangers who would do us harm if they could, or leave us to die without compunction. People get all misty about their Jesus and his injunctions to love one’s enemies and turn cheeks.
But we don’t really believe that human life, in the abstract, is sacred, even if we’re willing to go the extra mile and define what we mean by sacred, do we? Not really. We make war, we ignore the roots of violent crime and turn away, we spend millions on blood-fiesta movies and video games and tell ourselves that it’s about catharsis. The best we can reasonably claim to believe is that some human life is sacred.
We’re not bad people, of course, most of us. Actual, personal violence we find shocking, unacceptable, abhorrent. We are traumatized by the headless corpse behind the steering wheel sitting in the puddle of blood and piss in the twisted plastic and metal of the Friday night wreck. We’re dutifully frightened by the TV news items about violent crime that are intended to keep us dutifully frightened and at home watching the sponsor’s messages. But we do love our serial killers and the movies about them, we love our torture porn, we love our Schwarzeneggerian one-liners before the shotgun skullpop, even while we guard our vulnerable citizens against violence domestic and corporal and sexual and even emotional. We righteously and rightfully do our best to end the social conditions that allow such things to happen. And we support our troops. You know, if we have any. We compartmentalize.
I don’t think most of us are all that clear on these things, and I suppose I’m no better than anyone else. See, if we admit that by executing those bastards, and we accept that violence has its place in our attempts to make the world better, we have accepted that violence has its place. This has consequences.
And if we’re not trying to make the world better, then we’re just acting out another episode of the woeful old Jehovahriffic vengeance.
I’m not against vengeance, though I’d rather be a man than an ape. I have to admit that there are times when I want to bare my yellowed fangs and rip out a throat and feel the hot pulse of blood wash across my cheek.
Thirty years later, having returned to the memory many times over the years, I don’t think I wanted to kill that snake. But I’m not certain that that was actually the truth at the time.