Saturday, December 24, 2005
AND WE'RE GONNA GET BORN NOW. I am a Christmas crank from way back. As recently as last year I was collecting negative Xmas carols. Old-time edroso.com fans may even remember my 2000 Charlie Brown Christmas parody, now lost to the internet, in which Linus and Good Ol' Roy Edroso predicted with malign glee an oncoming war and the opportunity for satire it would present (Join the old Jim Baker chorus/"Fuck the Jews! They don't vote for us!"/Pundits shake their tiny fists/What a time for satirists!/Hark the hare-brained George Bush reign/Government without a brain!).
The Christmas scam plays to my strong suit, namely intolerance of nonsense. Let's face it, no one knows when Jesus was born, and anyway it would seem, from the way modern Christians observe the holiday, that it has far less to do with Jesus than with Santa and (as with all big events in this country) with money.
So, when the War of Christmas was declared unilaterally by crackpots, I with grim pleasure volunteered myself to the Santa sniper squads. Christmas has become an obvious racket meant to goose Western economies, shove unhappy families together, and force into the general consciousness the image of Jesus, who in our depraved era is no longer the revolutionary bringer of the New Law of Love, but an avatar of reactionary politics. And, by that reading, what a perfect guise in which to bring him to view -- in his infancy, before he could manage any inflammatory talk of exalting the humble!
But while in public I have always blown the raspberry, in truth I have always been a closet Christmas fan. Privately, every season, I have watched It's a Wonderful Life crying like a child, and the Alastair Sim A Christmas Carol blubbering like an infant. ("Forgive me, Fan! Forgive me!") I even take a moment each December 24th to contemplate the meaning of that invented nativity scene: the despised and outcast family that nonetheless brought forth a child who became a Prince of Peace and the Light of the World. Though the wonder Christmas brought me as a child has long since been burnt to cinders, I have yet guarded a tiny flame preserved from its holocaust. But I would not expose it to public view, lest the fart-winds of our discourse blow it out.
This year, I can't say why, when the Christmas season came upon us (was that Thanksgiving? Or Halloween?), I found myself less grouchy about it. The inflatable snowmen and snowflake arches that graced Greenpoint were less noxious to me than they had been. To even the aggressive, obnoxious commercials ("Happy Honda Days!") I had no objection. It may be that, in the course of maintaining this site, I have witnessed so much stupidity, venality, and crassness that the Christmas variant seems too innocuous to guard against. Or it may be a kind of fatigue. Or it may have been something else. Human hearts, even one's own, are a mystery. In any event, I hunched my shoulders less against the pine-scented incursion.
I started shopping early for presents, which allowed me to space out some of my spending on them, and also allowed me to put more thought into my purchases. This is really new; I usually follow my traditional barroom romantic behavior, and get busy at last call to sort through leavings. But now I threw myself into the fray, and got more enjoyment than anxiety from it. I experienced some wonderful commercial-Christmas moments, too, like the skinny back guy in a Santa suit outside Island Cellular in downtown Brooklyn, singing into a karaoke machine to a Caribbean steel-drum soundtrack, "We wish you a Merry Christmas/We wish you a Merry Christmas/We wish you a Merry Christmas/Come get your free phone!" Or the Macy's saleslady who, upon hearing that I didn't know it was a coupon day (I don't really know how to shop), took a coupon she had lying by the register, swiped me a discount, and flashed me a beautiful smile.
Though I hated, as always, the force-feeding of carols via public address speakers, I let myself remember the pleasure those songs gave me as a boy. I even allowed a tiny, metal tree to grace my bedside bureau, hung with little red globes. And do you know? This Christmas is not such a bad thing.
Everything that is inane about it remains so, of course. But unto you I say, that the ridiculous public hijacking of this old holiday by the lowest scum need not keep one from keeping Christmas, or whichever of the cleverly-disguised solstice festivals you prefer. As has been known since long before there was a Christ, the deepest part of winter is a natural time at which to consider the coming invigoration of spring. Even so, as our own government sinks to new depths of rapaciousness, cruelty, and stupidity, it is worthwhile to remember that seasons change, days lengthen, the exalted may yet be humbled, and the humble exalted.
I'll be playing my favorite Christmas carol -- on vinyl, if you please -- when I get up tomorrow morning. Alex Chilton for y'all. Peace out.
9:10 PM by roy
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT... I'm a grimly purposeful type, but now that I'm on a mini-vacation I am going to do some meaningless things and, as one of my pre-New Year's resolutions is to be less charitable toward other people (a profoundly moral decision, you'll agree), I am going to inflict at least one of them on you good people. That would be this blog thing which caught my fancy and to which no one invited me.
Four jobs you've had in your life: Messenger dispatcher, busboy, Subway sandwich "attendant," freelance writer.
Four movies you could watch over and over: Bad Lieutenant, Strangers on a Train, Taxi Driver, Strange Brew.
Four places you've lived: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Bridgeport, CT.
Four TV shows you love to watch: "Two and a Half Men," "Seinfeld," "The Simpsons," "Like It Is." (If only someone would show reruns of "Don Kirschner's Midnight Special.")
Four places you've been on vacation: Chapel Hill, New Orleans, Berkeley, London.
Four websites you visit daily: Instapundit, The Corner, Lileks, OpinionJournal. (The fury of the hour/Anger can be power/You know that you can use it.)
Four of your favorite foods: Pizza, beer, steak, wine.
Four places you'd rather be: Heaven, Valhalla, Nirvana, wherever they gots the 47 virgins.
I hate myself! Next, I'll be writing about movies I haven't seen.
UPDATE. There's some discussion in comments about "Two and a Half Men." I do like Charlie Sheen and the jokes are okay, but I now that I think about it, there's something else about the show that's appealing.
The Sheen and Cryer characters are stuck between two amoral poles -- their awful mother and Alan's surprisingly awful son. (Credit to the creators for making a pre-pub kid so unappealing on a prime-time show.) They're also stuck with each other.
Alan is very aware that he's stuck, and complains about it all the time. Now, if he were the only lead, this show might be as bad at "The War at Home" -- all kvetching. But Charlie's main goal in life is to rise above -- or, to use Mel Brooks' phrase, rise below -- his problems. He's very comfortable ignoring and even exploiting those problems -- like using a gig as Alan's receptionist as an opportunity to turn his brother's chiropractic business (boring!) into a massage parlor. And he usually gets away with it.
What's most appealing about Charlie is that he obviously cares about his family but, also obviously, he determined long ago not to let them bring him down. Thus, the episodes rarely culminate in maudlin lesson-learning resolutions; while Alan works his way into a frenzy, Charlie works his way back to his own lazy horn-dog stasis.
Such moral purity is rare on network television. I can't think of another sitcom character that works quite the same way. It's as if Maynard G. Krebs became fully self-actualized and took over "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis."
10:25 PM by roy
WELL, THAT SUCKED. I walked today from Greenpoint over the Williamsburg Bridge, up to 40th Street on the West Side, and back. That's a shade less than what my route to work would be if I weren't off today -- 14 miles all told. And I was just shopping and observing; I didn't have to do any work in between the two treks. My legs ain't exactly feeling youthful.
The sales clerk I dealt with at CompUSA walked in from near Prospect Park. He told me that the Manhattan Bridge wasn't crowded coming in -- "and there are tons of cabs," he added, "Chinatown's wide open." The Williamsburg wasn't bad, either. I note with interest that the citizens steadfastly ignored the bike/walk lane assignments.
I came in late -- a day off is a day off, and I refused to get up early -- but returned around midtown rush hour, which from the looks of things started earlier than usual today, about 4:15 pm. Car traffic was heavy but moving; the sidewalks were clogged, and the usual bear-right patterns transmuted into a more blended arrangement of vortex flows. New Yorkers are awfully good at threading.
Bike traffic appeared slightly up, much of the overage coming from middle-aged gentlemen trying to make those gym sessions pay off. And yes, there were skateboards and scooters. Cab travel was about negotiated settlements, as the drivers were taking multiple fares, so there was a lot of urgent conversation over slightly-opened passenger side windows.
The atmosphere, as it always is here during all but the most dire public exigencies, was one of grim festivity. The ancient struggle between pedestrians and oncoming cars was kicked up a notch. I heard a few people discussing the details of the strike, but most of the related chatter was about how the fuck to get from here to there, and what about dinner.
Of course this crisis has more easily identifiable culprits than does, say, a blackout, and on TV you see a lot of anger toward the union. Tonight's CBS national report featured a commuter who wished Reagan was back to fire everybody, and the Manhattan Institute's Nicole Gelinas, a noted proponent of the "work or starve" theory of labor relations. (I thought they were all supposed to be commies at CBS.) My favorite of these moments came yesterday, when a little guy came up behind a local reporter and brandished a very visible FUCK THE TWU sign.
The shift in the national consciousness from "Good for you, buddy, get what you can" to "If I can't have it, neither should you" occurred long ago, and I doubt there is much public sympathy for motormen who have struck to retire at age 50. But more important than what we peons think, of course, is what the City and the MTA and the TWU management think. I don't know whether a jail term will make Roger Toussaint more agreeable toward binding arbitration, or whether the proposed individual fines of $25,000 a day will convince workers to throw up the struggle. I expect, times being what they are, that the government will try to wear down and possibly break the union; that would take time, but management stands to gain from it, and Bloomberg, a management type, appears down for an siege.
UPDATE. Commenter Chuckling calls New York "the biggest fucking drama queen on the planet." That's very funny because it's very true, and where I think the grim festivity I mentioned comes from. New Yorkers like to brag on their inconveniences. If you can make it here, etc.
Some idiots think we should respond to our crises by moving to the sticks and becoming right-wing. Nothing against other jurisdictions (despite my reflexive use of perjorative terms -- I'm learning!), but folks are still flocking to New York despite our relative inhospitability. Some people apparently think there are higher values than comfort.
6:40 PM by roy
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
STRIKE DAY ONE. I'm off work this week, so I am not feeling the strike much, though I expect to try hoofing into Manhattan tomorrow.
The 1980 strike was easy on me: I walked from East 11th to East 59th Street every working day. That's right, back then low-life bums like me could easily afford Manhattan apartments.
But those days are gone. The City reports that "To find affordable, high-quality housing, workers are moving further from their jobs. As a result, commute times in the New York region are the longest in the nation. The average commute time into Manhattan is 48 minutes." Another commutation study finds "that people appear to be commuting longer distances [in 27 counties near New York City]. Between 1980 and 2000, the proportion of jobs filled by residents of the same county declined in every county except Manhattan (Figure 2)."
So more of us are coming into Manhattan from farther away. The last strike was in April -- a very warm April as I recall.
Well, my share of the suckage is reduced by fortune, but we'll see what we see tomorrow.
6:53 PM by roy
Monday, December 19, 2005
DUMBSHOW. The strange thing about the Leader's speech last night was that it contained nothing to elate, inspire, or terrify ordinary people. Bush is at his best when he is looking the proles straight in the eye and telling them, for example, that "it would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known" -- or, on the brighter side, yay everybody, we get tax cuts and lots of domestic spending all at the same time!
But last night's speech sounded as if it were pitched to "opinion leaders." You've heard that term before -- it's what small-circulation political magazines boast of instead of subscription figures, on the grounds that their small audience counts for more with advertisers than a larger, less exclusive one might.
What did he give ordinary Americans last night? Yet another version of his case for war; yet another declaration that he is, if nothing else, more right than his critics. It was slightly more Jesuitical than prior versions, true. But this isn't Debate Club -- this is Sunday night TV, with viewers thinking about going back to work and Christmas. Who turned to his or her spouse afterwards and said, "Well, he certainly re-framed his arguments effectively"?
He even slid through his 9/11 reference. If I were in his place, I'd be running footage on the wall behind me of people falling out of the World Trade Center, with the words HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN? strobing over them. But Bush didn't even slow down or choke up.
I don't think he was talking to the People (as in American People) at all, but to the people with pads and pens who are either predisposed to worship his every fart, or who, striving mightily not to look biased, respond to the change in PR strategy as if it were a substantive policy shift -- e.g., the Washington Post headline, "Bush Brings More Realistic View of War to Forefront."
The more reliable GOP propaganda disseminators, of course, hail the speech as a breakthrough, indeed a case-closer ("Checkmate, Mr. Murtha," declares John Podhoretz). They would of course do that if Bush threw up on his shirt ("visceral approach favored by voters 18-35"). But the logic, or lack thereof, of their arguments doesn't count for nearly as much as their volume, frequency, and reach.
Increasingly our traditional forms of public politics -- speeches, debates, rallies, etc. -- seem like set-ups for the real stars of the show, Spin and Hype. Maybe one day a President will just come on our PDAs or brain-implanted chips and go "Blah blah blah, Hugh Hewitt has the story," and sign off. And maybe we'll be grateful to have had less of our time wasted. 'Cause I have a feeling we'll all be working really hard.
9:44 AM by roy