Shine On You Crazy Diamond: short fiction

October 27th, 2010

I went to a party held by a rich old man which featured numerous female icons, including Barbra Streisand. We spoke briefly in a kind of giant bird cage. It went well, considering. Considering it was Barbra.

Martin and I had a terrible fight in the car on the way over. We passed a pretty girl all done up, lying in the street with her bare ass showing. I worried that she had been attacked, although she was surrounded by other girls. Martin snarled that this was the state of England today.

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Ins & Outs of November 2010

October 24th, 2010
OUT IN
Dubai Qatar
public transportation cab fantasies on the subway
Kate Middleton Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway
overlooking Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” Oliver Stone
the upper middle class the middle class
tabloids online gossip
Harry Potter reading grown-up books
Stephanie Meyer Harry Potter
Donald Trump Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz
credit cards zero balance: the new status symbol
Champagne sparkling water
partying like it’s 2007 sanity and sobriety
the grocery store the grocery store
Paraguay Uruguay
Monaco without a Casiraghi heir Liechtenstein
arriving ignorant anywhere remembering to say “the polo”
drama queen medical shows Nurse Jackie: so realistic that they just don’t care
ultra high heels dignity
dreadlocks Hungarian Pulis
Bryan Ferry making dance music that jackass Kanye West
oppressive good taste Jackass 3D
Anna Wintour Carine Roitfeld
Arizona Hawaii
reproducing population control
the term “partner” gf/bf: childish, but doesn’t sound like your fellow cop
the Ritter subplot in “The Event” Sophia the alien on “The Event”
Rescue Me’s latest season “Luther” from BBC
the midterm elections thinking of anything positive to say about them
SNL Bronx Beat and Weekend Update on SNL
Versace Bvlgari
American Vogue The Approval Matrix in New York mag
smoking longing to smoke again with every fiber of your being
127 Hours and other sadism marathons Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Shia LaBeouf Josh Brolin
BP forever remembering last season’s apocalyptic disaster
the music of Janelle Monae the idea of Janelle Monae
Pyxis machines pharmacists
even the words “tea party” garden parties at Buck House
Obama fatigue fatigue fatigue

Serving the Community: short fiction

October 23rd, 2010

Murray says “christ” and “what the” with confused admiration as the spider shrinks into a dot and then sucks in its gut. It hugs the join of the wall and the floor and then it suddenly flexes and recovers into a spider-shape after each of Murray’s assaults with rounded-toe boots or calico lady’s chunky fireplace poker.

Suddenly, the spider reminds me of a wiry shoplifter running full-tilt out of a bodega. In that moment, the kid, and maybe even this spider, could sail past any seven-foot Kenyan to the finish line of the city marathon no sweat.

Murray flashes me an “oops” smirk and is already moving out of the room—fuck the lady and her spider—having done his usual half-assed best.

The spider, doubtless wearing one of those awful pubescent mustaches made of individual black hairs strung out like Christmas lights, totally 2-D now, has run behind a thousand pound mahogany china cabinet that runs from floor to ceiling, solid. So that’s the end of these fun and games.

Calico lady drops her glasses on a lanyard and the Betty Boop routine. “Now what?,” she demands. I can see this ending with our badge numbers. “Call an exterminator,” Murray says unhelpfully. Calico lady doesn’t want to spend the money. She’d rather keep it in some kind of wealth management set-up than blow it on a spider. Her face is ugly now, all jowls. She’s not going to let us out the door without a fight. This kind of bitch is into service and spends her life re-decorating and sending back restaurant food. Our best defense is the illusion of flat-eyed stupidity, not a trace of empathy. I make myself as smooth as a wall, no human part for her to latch onto. No apologies, no suggestions, no conversation. Just make for the door, even as she rushes after us with a string of grabby complaints and rhetorical questions.

Back in the car, Murray enjoys a full-throated laugh, glad not to be of service. The spider is pissed and on his own time-table now. This is the part of Murray I can stand for a few minutes now and then. It doesn’t matter that he is a moron. He’s my moron for now.

Ins & Outs for October 2010

October 20th, 2010
OUT IN
Vegas Abu Dhabi
Jonathan Franzen Philip Roth
Queen Noor of Jordan Sheikha Mohzah Bint Nasser Al Missned of Qatar
psychiatry exorcism
Pharmaceuticals for medicine Pharmaceuticals for fun
The Office Outsourced
Paul Theroux Sir V.S. Naipaul
The human race Extraterrestrials
Brazil India
India China
Vladimir Putin Saddam Hussein
All arts education that is not self-education Math, math, math
Prince William the Bald Prince Harry the Hairy
Robin Hood and historical film Mysticism in film
exploding Iceland exploding Ireland
Facebook Dropping fake Facebook friends
Fake Facebook friends Fake real friends
Admiring 200 Facebook friends Pitying 200 Facebook friends
Going out Staying in
Movie theatres Movie piracy
Manet, Monet, and cliché Banksy
Al Qaeda Red Army Faction
Bad useless thing to study: art history Good useless thing to study: history
Records, not even as fetish iPod only
iPad Laptop
Sushi Thai food
Designer Breeds Rescue Animals
Alluding to your money Keeping your trap shut
CNN CNN
Reading only the Classics Adding Kitty Kelley, royals books + mags
Details GQ
GQ Esquire
Vogue US Details
Not reading Vanity Fair Reading Vanity Fair
Fur, with no exceptions ever, ever, ever Ski suits, hi-tech fibres
The music industry Lady Gaga
The year 2010 for entertainment product 2011?
Madonna Always forgiving Madonna
Obama Hillary Clinton

Elizabeth Who? by Erin O’Brien

September 6th, 2010

The Queen
Directed by Stephen Frears
Starring Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell
2006

Her Majesty Helen Mirren aboard The Queen's Flight

Helen Mirren aboard The Queen’s Flight to London

The writer Martin Amis, whose father, the great comic novelist Kingsley Amis, was awarded a knighthood for services to literature, found the movie The Queen most unrealistic. “I’ve met the Queen, for about ten seconds, and she’s completely unreflecting. She’s a heifer. Don’t you think?” He said this in 2007 to the sitting Prime Minister and fictional co-star of the movie, Tony Blair. Blair, naturally, did not concede this point, but he did not argue with it strenuously either.* In recent days, as his memoirs appear, Blair has post-modernly taken up the plot-line of The Queen to talk about his duty to “save the monarchy from itself”.

The Queen is regularly depicted as a woman with very few interests and little intellectual curiosity. In fact, she puts in hours of every day reading and analyzing opaque government documents. Then the real fun begins with the investitures, the opening of government buildings and, depending on her location, the walkabouts. It is regularly said of senior members of the Royal Family that they are parasites who do nothing, which is the most bankrupt of all criticism of them.

If you renamed the Queen “Ambassador Plenipotentiary from the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations”, she would be hailed immediately as a workaholic with spookily flawless judgment, who puts the diplomatic world to shame as she labours well into her 80s (with her victimized husband and family). I recently saw Elizabeth parade around in the scorching heat in Toronto as I wilted just waiting for her, while the Prime Minister and Governor General of Canada, only a short distance away, might as well have been a pair of dog-catchers for all their competing charisma. (I repeatedly forgot the Canadian figures while I was actually looking at them, such was the Queen’s rock star reception.)** This, during an era in which successive middle-aged Presidents of the United States cannot be lured into the Oval Office to do their jobs within two years of taking office.

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Angie Transcendent

August 30th, 2010

Salt

Directed by Philip Noyce
Starring Angelina Jolie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Liev Schreiber
2010

Salt film poster (2010)

It is regrettable that some people call Angelina Jolie “Angie”. I find this overly-familiar, even from her father (who is only occasionally permitted contact) and her partner, Brad Pitt, who appears to see an all-American normalcy in her that the rest of the world does not. Angie is about as much an Angie as I am a Cressida or Sheherazade. Angelina is “Angelina”, but she is really only “Angelina Jolie”, since “Angelina” is incomplete and also over-familiar, though less intrusive. “Jolie” is too weak, too accessible and too kind to describe this unusual woman. “Angelina” may have to do here though, since her full name is so exhaustingly long. Prolific, even. It is embarrassing, however. I feel like an unhinged gossip columnist.

Is Angelina Jolie the most beautiful woman on earth? She may well be. She is certainly among them. Anyone who sees, for example, the runway sequence in Gia (1998) in which she weaves her way druggedly along in a Botticelli-inspired bridal gown, sees something very much like an angel. The vulgarity of her over-determined features and titanic lips simply makes her beauty universal, over-written enough that it can be perceived by the entire world: Angelina’s beauty plays in Europe, Latin America and India, for example, for different reasons. There is something for everyone in her magnificent face. She looks like one of the great beauties of the 1950s on steroids, like a next-generation take on the human race.

Runway Scene in Gia (1998)

Though one or two tats more and she will be unfilmable. Anyone see the absurdity of a film called Original Sin (2001) set in a 19th century Cuban plantation in which she was tatted up like a gang-banger? The bathtub scene washed away the foundation covering her tattoos, which made her a rather unusual historical damsel who resembled a death-row inmate.

One thing to know about Angelina is that she only occasionally uses stuntmen. For “Salt”, she learned Krav Maga (a crunchy Israeli martial art involving the breaking of a bunch of bones) and Muay Thai. (Krav Maga naturally won out in the achy-breaky fight sequences.) She takes lots of lessons for each film in things like knife-throwing and ball-kicking. Recreationally, she learned how to fly a plane, and her reasons for doing so are fascinating. Little Maddox, her first child, she discovered, enjoyed watching planes take off and land at an airstrip. It wasn’t enough to bring the child and sit next to him in the grass, watching. Angelina had to be the pilot the child observed.  Brad Pitt has since taken lessons as well, which I’m sure brings his family no end of pleasure to contemplate. It would not really surprise me if Angelina eventually dispensed with the plane, and simply just took flight. Angelina is always coming into Being.

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Naturalist Gordon Grice and Zodiac the tarantula

August 25th, 2010

Naturalist Gordon Grice and Zodiac the tarantula
Photo by Parker Grice

Naturalist Gordon Grice and his pet tarantula

As a committed arachnophobe, I had to return to this photograph of author Gordon Grice and his pet Chilean Rose tarantula no less than twenty times before I could work out what I was seeing and feeling. This photograph began as a picture of my worst nightmare, literally. I read that this species is an ambush hunter: that doesn’t sound good.

Several years ago, in pursuit of medication for a sick fish, I went to an aquarium hobbyist store in Chinatown, here in Toronto. It sold fish, many different species—all alive—and the surprisingly limitless paraphernalia that can come to accompany an aquarium. Little terracotta follies. Nets, oxygen tanks, etc. Out of the all the objects in the store (and the owner, if you want to include him, with all his fishy information), there were only four objects that didn’t fit the set. Two terrariums containing a tarantula each. Why the fish store owner chose to deviate from his remit in this way is unknown. I was fascinated and sickened by my reaction. The tarantulas were inert, maybe the most boring specimens on earth. They did not appear to move between visits. They did not appear to make burrows. They might well have been dead. They just sat there, like separate bumps on separate logs.

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Signs and Wonders

August 16th, 2010

No Country for Old Men
Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem
2007

I defy you to keep easy track of the kills made by Anton Chigurh. His first, with perfect symbolism for a novel and film about law and order and crime and chaos, is of a silly young deputy in a jail where Chigurh is handcuffed. He gets the cuffs around the young man’s neck, and then it is just the work of holding on as the deputy thrashes and thrashes. Chigurh’s eyes are bulging, and the deputy’s death rattle provokes an obscene swoon from the killer. This may be the film’s only vulgarity.

It put me in mind of a documentary I saw about tarantulas. One couple, known honest to god as Tucson Blondes, rolled around and kicked with all sixteen legs at each other and the ground when a gentleman came calling and the lady wasn’t in the mood. The male didn’t make it; the female was largely uninjured. I bet the wild action painting the Coen Brothers organized with black shoe polish and legs trying to get a purchase on the ground matched the markings scratched into the dirt by those frantic spiders.

Action painting, No Country-style

The West Texas land gives of itself almost nothing, but things are perched on it like rocks and soil hostile to life: dirt more like it. It does a good impression of the middle of nowhere. There is a kind of beauty for those passing through. Staying means death. In his introduction, hunter Llewellyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin) takes aim at an antelope and misses. And there we have it. A hunter: but will he prove good enough? G.W. had the iconography of the cowboy more or less right, as did Reagan, but you see immediately that the real thing is as hard, spare and grim as Cormac McCarthy’s writing. The men’s faces are masculine, hard, with unnecessarily thick moustaches. Their bodies are sinewy, thinned, realistic, without decorative musculature or even decorative asses. They are masters at tracking. Every man in the film can read the ground, and does routinely like we read a clock. It is all nature, no culture, in the sense that the nature/culture divide intends.

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The Disarming Tony Blair by Erin O’Brien

August 6th, 2010

The Ghost Writer

Directed by Roman Polanski

Starring Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams

2010

The Ghost Writer

British Prime Minister Adam Lang

Modern political memoirs are a genre of hackwork unto themselves: they are meant to be seen and not heard.  They are doorstops, the literary equivalent of first editions with uncut pages, something to leave prominently located yet unread.  Issued for “historical” interest in immense quantities, they invariably end up remaindered, as a group of publishers discuss in an early, excellent scene in Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer”.  In fact, the statesman’s contentless, lying memoirs and the standard multimillion dollar advance fee are an accepted way of enriching a politician in his after-life.  They are actually retirement plans and corporate thank-yous.  That anyone would undertake to print a written document by George W. Bush (“Decision Points” is soon upon us) or Sarah Palin (“Going Rogue”), two figures so deeply hostile to language, is the proof in the pudding.  I myself have read a swath of books on Bill and Hillary Clinton, but wouldn’t dream of reading their memoirs, as there is surely nothing more there than a combination of elision and falsity.  Perhaps a political memoir should be approached as something no more than a long-winded alibi.

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The Fashionable Lady Gaga

February 2nd, 2010

Before she had an audience, it was just Gaga and her mirror.  And for a while, it got weird.  Four years ago, she was living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, after leaving school and her parents’ financial support.  In her shitty little apartment, she would order a bag of cocaine from a delivery service, get high, and work on her hair and makeup for hours.  She’d get it perfect, and then come down from the coke and do it all over again.

—-Rolling Stone[1]

”The biggest misconception about me is that I’m a character or a persona.  That when the lights and cameras turn off, I turn into a pumpkin.  It’s simply not true.  I make music and art and design all day long.  Yes, I wash my face and go to sleep but when I wake up, I am always Lady Gaga.”

—-Sydney Morning Herald[2]

 

“Lady Gaga has been sent to Earth to infiltrate human culture one sequin at a time.”

—-“Transmission: Gagavision” from the weblog at LadyGaga.com

Lady Gaga arriving at London's Radio One, 2009.

Lady Gaga arriving at London’s Radio One, 2009.

Over the last two years, a small young woman has appeared in popular culture, asserting her riddling persona in ways that have nearly every critic engaged. I have scrutinized hundreds of photographs of her, and I am still not sure precisely what she looks like off-duty, as it were, such is the extremity of her disguises. Her plainness (she lives on the border of beauty and not) gives her viewers the satisfaction of serious feeling (since her appeal is not universal) and gives her an immediate passkey to the world of High Art (her appeal is exclusive). Her extraordinary costumes, so nutty and witheringly chic, so embarrassing and fascist, so meticulous and creative, transform a quick dash from the limo to the television studio into performance art. You never see her photographed in jeans and a tee-shirt, or bouncing through Central Park in a track suit. Only recently has she hired a permanent stylist. Instead, she has an obscure group of helpers and designers called the Haus of Gaga, a place where I imagine that Sacha Baron Cohen’s Brüno mans the phones.

Lady Gaga in London, April 2009.

Lady Gaga in London, April 2009.

Lady Gaga is better than traditionally beautiful: she is genuinely riveting to look at. (As Karl Lagerfeld remarked about Anna Piaggi, elderly resident of the avant-garde and a revered editor at Vogue Italia: “She’s not pretty, she’s worse.”) It is a rare thing to get an unobstructed view of her face, which is covered in distracting makeup and decals, a collection of sunglasses of considerable antiquity or extraordinary construction, and scene-stealing hats and hairstyles (including hats made of hair). Appropriately, one of Gaga’s great heroes is the ultra-reclusive, ultra-fashionable Belgian designer Martin Margiela, a former assistant to Jean-Paul Gaultier, another Gaga icon. Maison Martin Margiela goes so far in its effacement of the perfect faces of its models that it often sends them down the runway veiled. Lately, the Maison has created the Islamic Revolution-esque censor bar sunglasses (“L’Incognito”), which cancel the eyes in a vaguely Star-Trekky way as much as they shield them. In the improbable setting of the 2009 Malta Music Week, Gaga met the press in a studded black dress, her face covered by a black S&M mask, which she called a “contemporary art piece”. Likewise, at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Gaga sported a red Alexander McQueen crown with lace face mask.

Lady Gaga in bondage mask at MTV Malta in Floriana, Malta (July 2009).

Lady Gaga in Alexander McQueen Archive, MTV VMA show in 2009.

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