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If you're happy and you know it, take a picture. You'll need it.

I just re-watched Todd Solondz's Happiness. It's a sad, disturbing, hilarious, terrifying, fantastic movie (but I don't recommend it to most people). The film centers around a group of middle-class citizens that just can't seem to get things right.  There's a salesman who has a secret taboo fetish, a young woman who seems hopeless, her older sister who's a narcissistic writer (she wishes she was raped as a child, just so that she could write about the experience), a therapist who daydreams of shooting up innocent people, then later goes and entertains a fetish of his own--pedophilia.  There's a loser boyfriend who kills himself after being dumped, an older man who divorces his wife after 30 years just to be alone, an overweight woman who commits a terrible crime after being raped, a Russian who isn't what he seems, and, lastly, a housewife who has "everything."  She calls her mother and sisters frequently and asks "So did you see Leno last night?"

The first time I watched in disgust.  In terror.  Some scenes are shot with such cold detachment, such ambivalence as horrifying images are shown, that you can't help but laugh, so as not to scream.  A scene of particular astonishment occurs after the therapist rapes one of his son's friends.  He tells his son straight-faced what happened, after being questioned.  I f****d him.  I loved it.  It's the unflinching delivery that shook me into a depression. I watched the credits, almost in tears.  I've never laughed harder.

Last week I watched the same movie.  Instead of disgust, I felt pity.  It's a portrait of the people who found their way out through the taboo.  In the bourgeois, nihilistic 21st century existence, everyone tricks themselves into believing something.  Defeatism isn't exactly a philosophy that many people want to follow.  For most, it's sex.  Sex rips them away from their boring lives, and they let it rule them.  Take the case of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character--a man who sits at his desk every day, answering phones, and blankly staring.  He tells his therapist (ironically, the pedophile), "I'm boring.  Don't deny it.  People look at me and say 'look how boring he is.' They zone out when I talk." At home he looks up random women in the phone book just to fantasize to their voices.  One day he calls the writer.  She calls him back and wants to meet up.  He clams up and hangs up.  His fetish goes no further than the telephone.  It lets him avoid emotion.  Emotion kills sex.  Contrast his fetish with the therapist's.  They both hate themselves for doing what they do, but they do it for the same reasons; satisfaction.  Their contentment is short, but it's more than most people get.  The therapist gets caught; the caller doesn't.  Anonymity saves him.  Anonymity saves a lot of people.  

In fact, everyone in the movie is looking for contentment in a world where contentment is impossible. The writer tries to take her boredom and turn it into awesome suffering.  By individualizing herself, she's given her life a purpose.  She throws away man after man, calling them "hollow." Her crusade gives her the satisfaction that simple joy can't.  Happiness.  To her it's a call from a publisher.  Self-recognition saves her.  

The odd-character out is the housewife.  The one who says she has everything.  Her sub-conscious optimism, so unhealthy that she can't see the fact that her husband is a pedophile (the same one), even after he says to her, crying, "I'm sick."  She shields everything around her.  She's living the American dream, three kids, a nice husband, a big house, her life is "perfect."  Interesting that the most unlikable character in the movie, the least sympathetic, is the only "normal" one.  She smiles at other's misfortunes, tells her little sister that she's "destined for failure", and doesn't have sex with her husband (fine with him).  Sex is dirty, sex is taboo, sex is open, sex is alive.  Why would she want to be woken up?

And on it goes, one tale after another, interlocking and splitting.  I'm sure that it's a great movie.  Maybe even one of the best that I've ever seen in my life.  But I don't want to watch it any time soon.  It needs years to sit with me, to change and to evolve, until I can come back to it with a different perspective.  Now, I see it as people.  People who can't fight there way out of the vastness of nothingness in one piece.  The separation is victimization.  Some get caught, others don't.  Some are doing nothing illegal.  The emptiness they feel is universal, though.  They fill and fill, but in the capitalistic ideal of America, the gap is never closed.  And if they manage to pry it shut for a moment, it's the only moment that matters.  It's that moment that people base their lives on. One character never had a moment; the young woman.  Her aimlessness is pitied by the rest of the characters. I relate with her. The tragedy in Happiness is two-fold.  For most of the characters, their holy moment forced them to flee to society's underbelly.  For the girl, the lack of a moment forced her into an eternal limbo.  Better hope you have your moment soon.  And better hope Big Brother gives it a gold star.


The Bus Stop (comment lindsey.) it's a rough draft

        Every weekday I ride the bus to work.  Today is Tuesday, so here I am, waiting at the cracked grey plastic bench a block from my home.  In the suburban area where I live, no one rides the bus.  So the bench is always empty.  Today was no exception.  Not in that regard and not in any other.  I sip on my coffee- black and lukewarm- and try to exaggerate for a second the solace that some get when they feel the cool spring breeze come out from the trees.  To no avail, though.  For a couple a years, the birds’ chirps and songs were relaxing and humanizing.  Now they remind me of the sound a van makes when the brakes haven’t been serviced in ages, and you slap your ears in disgust of the squeal. Now they disrupt the only time of day I get some silence. 
            My stay at the bus stop usually begins with a thought process that changes very little each day.  It’s hot/cold/nice outside.  This coffee is sweet/bitter today.  The bus is running late/early today.  A passing jogger or a sprinkle of rain feels like a vacation when the closest thing I have to look forward to is public transportation.  Today it is warm.  One of the first spring days, when a hint of sprinklers and laziness can be picked up from the smell of the thin air.  It’s pleasant.  So is getting through a light right after it turns yellow. 
            The bus is four minutes late.  It is 7:49.  That’s 2 minutes before its average arrival time, but still technically late.  I keep a spread sheet in my briefcase to keep track of the exact moment the bus gets to this spot each morning, so that I can have a basic idea of the time I need to be here in case I’m running late.  I’ve never run late.  Other contents of my briefcase include a pen, some basic papers, and a canister of mace.  I could easily carry these without a bag, but appearances are everything.  The mace?  A Christmas present from my mother.  It’s neither fun nor practical.  She probably got scared watching the news again.
 When it gets to 7:58, I start to worry.  One time the bus showed at 8:00 and I gave the driver, Art, a terrible look.  I know Art’s name is Art not because of my own inquisition, but from a sign showing him as the certified driver at the front of the bus.  He and I, we have a prepackaged greeting each day. “Hello,” I’ll say.  “Well hey there!” he’ll reply.  His tone of voice is of unnatural excitement, like he’s the ‘conductor’ of one of those trains you ride at the zoo who sounds as if he’s going to take you on a great adventure.  The magical tour to the world of computer processing.  I can hardly contain myself.  He’s never asked my name.  You’d think he would after I’ve been his sole passenger for nearly three years, but I like it this way.  He keeps to himself.
            The time is now 7:52, and someone is walking towards the bus stop where I am sitting.  I’m both excited and disgusted.  I cup my eyes to see him underneath the rising sun.  Not too subtle, but I don’t care.  He walks prestigiously, wiping fictitious dirt from his shoulder and reaching in his pocket for a lighter to ignite the cigarette hanging in his mouth.  He has an intellectual strut, as if he’s observing every inch of the landscape and taking mental notes.  He’s also grinning like he just gave one of his old nemeses the what-for.  The way he presents himself annoys me.  Who wears suspenders nowadays? 
            He smiles at me and says “Mind if I sit?”  I just nod my head and he sits a little too close, but the bus should almost be here so I let him.  He takes a drag from his cigarette.  “So,” he says, “Tell me, why do you ride the bus?”  Why do I ride the bus?  A little personal, don’t you think?  I sit here every day.  I have for nearly 3 years.  Can’t he just let me be?  What am I, an anomaly?  I don’t think I am.  I think I’m normal.  “Because my destination is only a few minutes away and my wife uses the car for work.”  I say.  He nods his head. His arm is resting on the back of the bench like he has an imaginary girlfriend in between him and me.  “Oh, well I see!” He starts again, “I’m just visiting, and going around this fine town to ask some of the locals some questions for my next project.”  So I’m a social experiment.  I don’t like being a test rat.  He seems important.  He must be famous.  “Haven’t I seen you before?” I lie.  I’ve never seen him.  “You may have read me!  Ever heard of The Sorry Postman or Today’s Working Man?”  I hadn’t.  “I feel like I have,” I say.  “You’re a writer then? Didn’t you win an award recently?”  I have no idea if he has; I just want to see how big of a deal this guy is.  “Actually, I have!  Down at the college, that’s why I’m here.”  He keeps talking for about 30 seconds more but I zone out.  7:58.  Where in God’s name is that bus?
            This guy, he’s the real thing.  I ponder our positions in the present time.  Him, a worldly achiever who has the courage, the downright nerve, to come down here and talk to me and ask me questions.  And me, the lowly business man with his briefcase, stuck in this sorry bourgeois life.  What I’d give for our social identities to switch.
            Who says they're set in stone? Who says I can't be him? What's he got that I don't? I've become content with being dissatisfied.  The bus acts as a teleporter into a normal existence.  I strive for normalcy but at the same time despise it.  I want something new.  I have to force myself out of this picture and into a new one.  I have to kill him.  I have to kill him and take his place.  Oh, how they'd cry!  What's happened to our beloved writer?  What has happened to him?  I would be standing in his place with a grin.  He'd be me.  I'd be him.  I'd be the anti-writer raining on everyone's parade.  In exchange, I'd be the one they'd associate with him.  That'd be me.  I'd be something.  Or why can't he just come to work with me? All of my co-workers would be so impressed that i had a writer as a friend.  Then they'd love me.
            “You know.”  I stuttered.  “I work at… this office building.  And I was wondering if you’d…”  I stop in mid sentence and reassess.  This was a stupid idea.  “If I’d what, sport?”  Sport?  Did he just ‘sport’ me?  8:00.  I’m going to be late.  I cannot be late.
 Another figure materializes in the distance.  Two in one day?  You have to be kidding me.  I cup my eyes again.  His outline looks like that of Quasimodo.  There’s a protrusion sticking out from his back.  As he gets closer I realize that he’s got a bulky video camera that is completely out of proportion with his body.  He’s small and pudgy. His face is feline, with fat cheeks and wide eyes.  He looks like a rat- the perfect poster child for paparazzi.  “Mr. Stenson!  Mr. Stenson!  What will you’re next book be about?  How’s the girlfriend?  How’s the kid?”  I reach in my briefcase.  I find myself fingering the can of mace.  Hardly enjoyable, hardly practical, but it’d make one nice tabloid cover.  Then they’d recognize me.  Then I’d be a Mr. Stenson. 
I clutch the grip and unwind the cap.  He starts socializing with the cameraman.  He’s basking in his popularity.  It’s probably new.  It seems to me that any existence, with enough time, reverts itself back to being plain.  Mine is.  His will be.  I take genuine satisfaction in that.  I try taking a deep breath, but my anger grows again.  I want to get him!  Right in his eye!  I want him to remember me forever.  My face starts to get red and sweaty and the paparazzo asks me if I’m all right.  I get embarrassed. The bus pulls up with a welcomed squeal.  17 minutes late.  I pocket the canister and say hello to Art.  He doesn’t ask my name.  I wave good-bye to Mr. Stenson as the bus drives away.  
I replay the scenario over and over and over again on the way to work.  Alive or dead, I should have taken him with me.  Alive.  Or dead.  Alive. Or dead.  Dead.  Then they'd know me.  I fantasize about different ways the scenario could have played out.  Each time it gets more disturbing, more gruesome.  I decide to bury it deep within me and try to forget about Mr. Stenson, but one day I know it'll come out.  I'm one step closer to rudely forcing my existence to change.  Every weekday I ride the bus to work.  Tomorrow is Wednesday, so there I'll be.



I was watching the Antique Road Show today and a woman brought a few small Chinese carvings.  She just smiled while the appraiser priced them at between 610 thousand and 1 million dollars. 1 million dollars. For some dandy handiwork. And someone would actually buy it.  They looked like shit.  Pasty and dirty, like something you'd find at a garage sale, but the under-the-magnifying-glass view was so impressive, with all of the concise cuts and what not, the collection was "the best thing they had ever seen".  The next guy had a picture.  It was an unbelievable, black and white depiction of a civil war battle.  The detail of the men's faces were spectacular, the back drop fascinating.  I literally want a copy in my room.  The appraiser priced it at 200 dollars.  It was a copy, not the original, this was apparent by the corners and the lack of some copper lining or something.  This beautiful piece of art is worth 200 dollars, and four ugly sculptures are worth 1 million.  It's the same principle of the way I live.  The ugliness if praised, while the beauty is thrown under the rug.  I don't understand collecting.  Give me whatever looks good, I don't give a shit how it was made.

(This was written November 23. I didn't post it at the time because I hated it but I'll just throw it out there because I re-read it and found it somewhat interesting.)

I'm not exactly sure why, but rainy late night Sunday drives are usually the intellectual braingasms of an isolated day. Hydroplaning through the damp materialistic wasteland of Chenal french court neighborhood signs and piles of construction bricks and dirt, the scary thoughts that sleep underneath the soil of routine crack through and show themselves. Across the city of Little Rock is the misty lights of downtown. It's absolutely beautiful. Dim twinkling flickers on the far off horizons. I just stared at them for a minute, slowing down my car for a while, enough to where the person behind me nearly rear ended me. I started blurting out the ways I would describe them.  I screamed the adjectives and the noises that I might capture the mood I was feeling of the lights. And I realized that that's both the bane and purpose of my existence, to articulate the far away beauty that you can never get close enough to. The closer the light comes, the more apparent is the actual object; office buildings. No wonder. Cheap fluorescent death.

It seems to be the story of my adolescence.  There's an ideal and there's reality.  It's longing with no resolution; begging with no reward; running with no finish; reaching for the person popping out of the movie screen with your 3-D glasses on, and grabbing the air.  What did you expect? Did you think there was really a 10-foot-tall person floating above your seat? No, but it's a second of make believe hope.  It's a makeshift way to deal with the makeshift problem.  I'm ridiculously lucky to be able to question my own existence.  Most people don't get passed the worriment of how to exist in the first place.  I don't care what I do when I get older, I have to be able to change it on the instant.  I have to look at that far off light and be able to chase it, even if I know that I'll be lead to that dullness.  If I ever am the person eagerly anticipating Monday Night Football, please kill me.


Starting off slow

I'm undergoing a creative depression. My blog entries have been disproportionately sparse lately, and I'm not exactly sure why.  The sentences aren't stringing together as easily as they have in the past.  The words don't flow out as fluidly.  I guess it's because I've become an active participator in my life, rather than a passive observer.  I literally told myself about six months ago that I wanted to give up on living, and take a backseat to just watch.  Surrender myself over to the mercy of humanity and try to understand it.  I was content with listening and watching.  It caused me to go temporarily insane.  I stopped trying to open my eyes and started trying to sew them shut with every needle and thread that existence would throw at me.  I've found my place, now.  I've found my 16-year-old self, and I don't hate what I see.  That's a Godsend.  The side effect is that I don't have an urge to crank out my inner workings onto paper (or web log) so it's less interesting for you.  I think I'll start taking a more extroverted approach to whatever I write.  

When you hit a cold spot in basketball, a quick fix is to start close to the basket and shoot a few lay-ups until you get the hang of it.  I'm going to restart with a writer's lay-up --- lists.  I love lists.  They're quick, easy, and to the point.  No excess, just the way it should be.  Being that it is the end of the decade, I'm going to make some lists of my favorite things from the 00's.  It's more of a warm up for me.  Oh well.  For now, my top 10 favorite movies of the last 10 years, in alphabetical order

Almost Famous
Before Sunset
Inglourious Basterds
Into the Wild
Lost in Translation
There Will Be Blood
Waking Life

Honorable Mention:
The Aviator
The Departed
Mulholland Dr.
Paranoid Park
Synecdoche, NY


Book Review/Rant : Invisible Monsters

Chuck Palahniuk churns pseudo-intellectual and badly thought out stories all the time, but, after reading his Invisible Monsters, I can attest that it's his worst.  It's supposedly a quick-witted satire on America's obsession with looks and their short attention span, but I had to stretch mine farther that I did when watching Transformers 2 just to finish this piece of pretentious garbage.

It's offensive just to be offensive, shocking just to be shocking.  Maybe Palahniuk is under the false impression that when he doesn't have a clue what he's talking about he can just throw in an explicit and usually disgusting sex reference just to wake the reader up.

Even his picture on the back cover is pretentious.  He stands in a deep brood, pondering about the darkness of the world that he's been forced into.  Please.  He cashed in on the Fight Club movie deal years ago, so now he writes like he's some modern visionary.  Even the adaption of that book, somehow named one of the top 10 movies of the 90's by some, is horribly overrated.  It's over two hours of sadistic beatings shown almost pornographically followed by a a broad social statement that barely makes sense.  Wait, what did I just watch? An allegory to society's obsession with violence and man's need for primal activity to break out of the Establishment's cage? Oh, I was under the impression that I was watching Brad Pitt and Edward Norton kick people in the face for 120 minutes and then attempt to justify it with a half thought out philosophy.  Maybe that's just me, though.

Back to Invisible Monsters.  It centers around a model whose jaw is brutally shotgunned off, and her transsexual friend who's about to become a "fully woman."  At least I think that's what it's about.  Palahniuk makes sure to gimmick it up, like always.  Here, the book will be "just like a fashion magazine."  In other words, instead of attempting to (God forbid) write a coherent novel, he's going to jump around and tell you whatever he wants, whenever he wants.  It's quite a cop-out, and does absolutely nothing to help the story.   I'm actually a big fan of non-linear story telling when it's done correctly (Pulp Fiction and Magnolia are two of my favorite movies), but here there's no emotional arc, either.  It's just go here, watch this, go there, watch that.  It has no meaning besides a pathetic speech on materialism that Palahniuk has to tack on the last page so that the Nietzsche college kids will call it another post-modern masterpiece.  Stick with brooding, Palahniuk.  You're better at mysteriously staring off into the distance than writing anything worthwhile.


Look at me, I'm brooding

Synesthesia-  a neurologically-based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.

The smell of the air changes when the trees go bare and the grass turns tan. It has a synesthesiac effect on me. It's cold and energetic, and it sets off this chain reaction of memories that I would never think of in the summer when the air is thick. It flashes red and blue. It has a prickly smell. Christmases and winters from the past pop into my head. The earliest ones are the happiest. The cul-de-sac I used to live in would be completely covered in snow, and I would wake up as early as possible so that I could see the pureness of it before all of the footprints smashed in their steep depressions. I covered up and put my boots on and stepped one foot into the street and listened to the crunch of wetness and backed up so that I could see my single mark in the whiteness. The older the memory, the purer it is. I distinctly remember doing that. Nothing else was there. Only the snow and I and the houses. 

Christmas has lost so much of it's wonder. I can't actually think about it without thinking of the marketing ploy that it so obviously is. That's so depressing. The word Christmas is flashes of money, cash registers, the sound of  a completed transaction. Three foot long receipts and rolled up lights. I cling on to Christmas because it's the only day of the year that never changes. It's a ritual of innocence. Every year a little of it is chipped away by some new experience.

The smell of cigarette smoke reminds me of Christmas morning at my grandparents' house. It flashes white and gold. A Marlboro carton. Their house is musty and warm and everything seems to be coated with dog slobber. Cigarette smoke never held a negative connotation to me because I've been around it my whole life. It's actually calming to me. The oldest smells are still the purest.

The smell of church incense reminds me of Hell. Or at least the descriptions of it. In the seventh grade, when I was twelve years old, I distinctly remember a day at my Catholic school. We went to an early morning mass, and the homily was on the pains of Hell. When we got back to the classroom, our religion teacher decided to make a lesson out of the sermon. He smiled and in his usual energetic voice said "Hell is a scary place to be! The writer Dante once wrote about the several layers of hell. The physical torment of it is unimaginable to a human being! In one layer, people are lined up along a rotating platform. Every few feet lies a demon that cuts off tiny parts of your body until you're nothing, and then you are regenerated so that the process can go on for eternity! Another layer of Hell forces the sinner to wear a golden cloak, unbearably heavy, while they try futilely to push a rock to the top of a mountain. Repent for your sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation so that you can spend a lifetime in paradise rather than eternal damnation."

The class was petrified. Most twelve year olds let lessons such as these imprint deep into their psyche, just like they let early Christmas mornings creep into their consciousness. That lesson has never left me. Even when I grow further away from religion as a whole, there's something deep, deep down in me that reaches back to the church. It isn't love. It isn't hate. It's cowardice. Fearful, pathetic cowardice that was instilled in me from the earliest Religion class. The only reason I would resort back to the Catholic Church is because of Pascal's wager, that believing in God is safer than not believing in him, because if he does exist, I can get to heaven. How pathetic. This obsessions for an eternal paradise also breeds an egocentricity. That's what the Church is based on. I am special. God created me in his image. If I'm a good boy here on earth, I can go on vacation for eternity. Christmas mornings and Mass. I stopped believing in Santa Claus because I realized it was a ridiculous tradition. Would I be so quick to disregard old Kris Kringle if I was threatened with being shot? Take me back to before religion. When the whiteness of the cul-de-sac was all that was the only thing on my mind. The purest memories I have have nothing to do with being "pure."