August 29, 2010

You could trace the whole thing back to Jesus Christ, the ultimate secret agent

What's with All the Secrets and Lies? by Stephen Marche
Esquire, September 2010

"I suppose, if you wanted, you could trace the whole thing back to Jesus Christ, the ultimate secret agent, a poor carpenter who moonlights as the Son of God." (p. 102)

"The emergence of these types of stories is rooted in a newfound sophistication of American identity. We crave a new acceptance of doubleness, a recognition that secret lives are in a sense necessary. Part of this is a function of technology--our recreation is filled with Facebook profiles and gaming avatars--and we've come to expect that every person has, at the very least, a work self, a home self, a street self, and a digital self. Part of it, though, is also the fallout of recent history. Our ongoing wars and the Great Recession were the results of massive frauds, and after WMDs and 'Mission Accomplished' and the subprime fiasco and the Deepwater Horizon, we no longer take anyone or anything at face value. This is good news: We're less trustful but that much wiser, and our new cynicism has shaped how we think of ourselves and others. For the past fifty years, all culture, from the highest to the lowest, has been consumed with the distinction between the authentic and the inauthentic. The distinction means less every moment. There's no point in trying to find yourself anymore; you'll only find somebody else. 'Who am I?' has already been replaced with 'Who are I?' Soon it will be 'Who cares?' and we can all just get down to the business of living." (p. 104)

August 27, 2010

There is an excitement that spreads through the orchestra, felt in the control booth

"When his voice is on, as it was tonight, Sinatra is in ecstasy, the room becomes electric, there is an excitement that spreads through the orchestra and is felt in the control booth where a dozen men, Sinatra's friends, wave at him from behind the glass. One of the men is the Dodgers' pitcher, Don Drysdale ('Hey, Big D,' Sinatra calls out, 'hey, baby!'); another is the professional golfer Bo Wininger; there are also numbers of pretty women standing in the booth behind the engineers, women who smile at Sinatra and softly move their bodies to the mellow mood of his music. After he is finished, the record is played back on tape, and Nancy Sinatra, who has just walked in, joins her father near the front of the orchestra to hear the playback. They listen silently, all eyes on them, the king, the princess; and when the music ends there is applause from the control booth, Nancy smiles, and her father snaps his fingers and says, kicking a foot, 'Ooba-deeba-boobe-do!"

He also wore a remarkably convincing black hairpiece.

"In an age when the very young seem to be taking over, protesting and picketing and demanding change, Frank Sinatra survives as a national phenomenon, one of the few prewar products to withstand the test of time."

"The two blondes, who seemed to be in their middle thirties, were preened and polished, their matured bodies softly molded within tight dark suits. They sat, legs crossed, perched on the high bar stools. They listened to the music. Then one of them pulled out a Kent and Sinatra quickly placed his gold lighter under it and she held his hand, looked at his fingers: they were nubby and raw, and the pinkies protruded, being so stiff from arthritis that he could barely bend them. He was, as usual, immaculately dressed. He wore an oxford-grey suit with a vest, a suit conservatively cut on the outside but trimmed with flamboyant silk within; his shoes, British, seemed to be shined even on the bottom of the soles. He also wore, as everybody seemed to know, a remarkably convincing black hairpiece, one of sixty that he owns, most of them under the care of an inconspicuous little grey-haired lady who, holding his hair in a tiny satchel, follows him around whenever he performs. She earns $400 a week."

"They nodded, nobody mentioning the past hysteria in the Sinatra world when it seemed CBS was zeroing in on the man; they just nodded and two of them laughed Sinatra's apparently having gotten the word "bird" on the show--this being a favorite Sinatra word. He often inquires of his cronies, 'How's your bird?'; and when he nearly drowned in Hawaii, he later explained, 'Just got a little water on my bird'; and under a large photograph of him holding a whiskey bottle, a photo that hangs in the home of an actor friend named Dick Bakalyan, the inscription reads: 'Drink, Dickie! It's good for your bird.'"

"He also said that he'd been unable to get front-row seats for everybody, and so some of the men--including Leo Durocher, who had a date, and Joey Bishop, who was accompanied by his wife--would not be able to fit in Frank Sinatra's row but would have to take seats in the third row. When Entratter walked over to tell this to Joey Bishop, Bishop's face fell. He did not seem angry; he merely looked at Entratter with an empty silence, seeming somewhat stunned.
'Joey, I'm sorry,' Entratter said when the silence persisted, 'but we couldn't get more than six together in the front row.'
Bishop still said nothing. But when they all appeared at the fight, Joey Bishop was in the front row, his wife in the third."

"Nevertheless, despite a tired voice, some deep emotion seeped into his singing during this time."

"Frank Sinatra, holding a shot glass of bourbon in his left hand, walked through the crowd. He, unlike some of his friends, was perfectly pressed, his tuxedo tie precisely pointed, his shoes unsmudged. He never seems to lose his dignity, never lets his guard completely down no matter how much he has drunk, nor how long he has been up. He never sways when he walks, like Dean Martin, nor does he ever dance in the aisles or jump on tables, like Sammy Davis."

He seemed even more distant, staring out through the smoke and semidarkness

Esquire, April 1966

"Frank Sinatra, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something. But he said nothing; he had been silent during much of the evening, except now in this private club in Beverly Hills he seemed even more distant, staring out through the smoke and semidarkness into a large room beyond the bar where dozens of young couples sat huddled around small tables or twisted in the center of the floor to the clamorous clang of folk rock music blaring from the stereo. The two blondes knew, as did Sinatra's four male friends who stood nearby, that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon him when he was in this mood of sullen silence, a mood that had hardly been uncommon during this first week of November, a month before his fiftieth birthday."

August 20, 2010

I don't have to look at how much things cost on the menu when I'm ordering food anymore.

Esquire, June/July 2010

I was wondering where this issue went, though figured it had to be in the suitcase that I took to the Dominican Republic when I went in June. I spent a lot of my time there reading it. Never bothered to really look until I started packing to go back to Syracuse.

Anyway this was a great issue too. The 'How to be a man' issue. Irrelevant to me but still entertaining to read. "The Madness of Men," by Chris Jones is a great story. And the cover story, about Tom Cruise, who I'm pretty indifferent about, was refreshingly nice.

All I seemed to mark though were excerpts from "What I've Learned: Jon Favreau"

"I've always avoided physical confrontation. It was part of growing up in Queens--riding the subway to school every day. You definitely had the caribou mentality: Stick with the herd and avoid the predators."
Just because he's from Queens! Flushing, too!

"When it's my time to go, I hope I feel the same feeling I do when we wrap a movie: It was great. It was hard work. I wouldn't trade it for the world. But I'm glad it's over."

"My grandfather always said he didn't care when he got ripped off for money. He said he was most offended when somebody took his time. I didn't understand that at first. But I do now."
The former still offends me, lol

"I don't envy people who were born into privilege. It's that struggle that makes you who you are."
Because I've accepted that I wasn't born into privilege. Mostly because I know that I have the opportunity to change that.

"You have to create the quiet to be able to listen to the very faint voice of your intuition."

"The definition of friendship changes over time. When you're little, you play next to someone. As you get older, you get to engage, connect and reveal. Later on, it becomes who you collaborate with and achieve goals with. It becomes bringing out the best in each other. Whatever the version, it's all about overcoming loneliness."

"You tend to gravitate to the things you grew up with. So I like Carvel even though it might not be a gourmet ice cream. I just had it with someone from L.A. He said, "This is what you were craving?" Yeah. Because you grew up with it and you love it."

"You don't want Citizen Kane to be your first gig. It must be a terrible burden. When fate parcels it out to you incrementally, it might seem frustrating at the time, but it's a blessing."

"The illusion is that the more you put into yourself, the happier you are. When your life becomes about something bigger than you, ironically, that's when it becomes the most fulfilling."

"I don't have to look at how much things cost on the menu when I'm ordering food anymore. That was a big deal."
Because I CANNOT WAIT to reach this part in my life.

(p. 130)

I still don't even really know who he is, aside from the fact that he directed Iron Man 2. But I appreciated a lot of what he said, so.

August 14, 2010

He would have liked Iraq to become the fifty-first state

It's Impossible to Leave Iraq by Dimiter Kenarov
Esquire, August 2010

"In his forties, with silvery hair and a black mustache accentuated by a clean-shaven cleft chin, Sa'don resembles a man who could be either a war hero or a war criminal, depending. Although his rank is commissioner, he wears a U.S. Army sergeant major patch, and everybody addresses him as "Sergeant Major." He's short and fit, with the build of an anvil, a sharp contrast with other Iraqi cops, who are either too chubby or too gaunt for the job. He's obsessed with muay Thai boxing and all sorts of martial arts that involve breaking large stacks of bricks in front of large audiences. He can draw his gun in less than a second and hit a soda can sixty feet away, then clear the shell from the chamber and catch it midair. Before the American invasion, he worked as security detail for government VIPs.
'Do it again,' a voice yells from the sidelines. People are standing in a circle now, forming a small arena, like spectators at a street fight. The Americans have all taken out their fancy video cameras; the Iraqis shoot with their cell phones.
Beat up but still obedient, Anmar picks up the toy gun again and points it at Sa'don. In the next second he's lying down on the ground, his face contorted. Satisfied with his performance, Sa'don takes out a pack of Gitanes from the side pocket of his fatigues and lights up a cigarette.
Sa'don is good, a cop to the bone. What very few people know is that a few years ago U.S. troops shot dead his nine-year-old son while he was playing with a toy gun out in the street. Afterward they wanted to compensate him, but Sa'don refused. So many Iraqis had died in this war that he wasn't sure who to blame anymore. Plus, he really liked the Americans, despite the tragedy he had suffered. He thought of them as efficient and professional, not unlike himself. If he could choose, he would have liked Iraq to become the fifty-first state. 'Americans really know their stuff,' he says. 'If they were left alone, they could really build up this place.'" (p. 119-20)

"They come from all around Baghdad. Former cabdrivers. Former car mechanics. Former high school teachers. Former bakers. A few ex-soldiers. Every morning sixty of them show up at the main gate of Camp Liberty, ready for another day of training at the Criminal Justice Center, an American-run police academy tucked away in a shady grove of date palms and eucalpyti, stone paths and artificial canals. They are all Baghdad shurtas, hailing from the various police services: Patrol Police, local police, highway police. Some of them wear their blue police uniforms, but most come to training dressed casually--they don't want anybody out in the city to know they are cops. The sectarian militias disappeared a few years ago, but everyone knows they simply joined the Ministry of the Interior." (p. 120-1)

"He explains that in the Iraqi model, the police are seen by Iraqi politicians as a lever of power rather than a tool of public safety. It's a culture that breeds corruption from the top down. The Americans could train a hundred thousand more cops, a million before they leave for good, yet numbers would remain meaningless if national and local leaders continue to use the police as their personal armies to protect and consolidate power. The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense are near enemies, defending different political interests and fighting over control of Iraq's internal security. The new prime minister--the way he shapes the government once the U.S. withdraws--will determine whether the police forces Currier leaves behind will succeed or fail." (p. 132)

2 months later

"Currier remains stoic. 'The capability of the police has not changed,' he says. 'They continue to improve, but it has been difficult for them operationally, because the longer the government goes without having been seated, the more difficult it is for them to respond to the proper political authorities.' His voice is less assertive than it was a few months before. He's talking with greater deliberation than usual. 'It's a slow road when you're trying to put a country together,' he continues. 'I think we have a lot to be encouraged about. But we're not overly optimistic. The Iraqis could fail...'
He pauses, as if visualizing the words, then snaps back. 'We set them up for success. We gave them the tools they need to succeed, and they're going in the right direction, but it's really time for us to leave. I hope and I believe that the Iraqis are going to make it.'
Another pause.
'But they might not,' he says. 'There's always that chance. But we'll always know that we did what we could for them.'" (p. 133)

I hope one day I have the courage to write this kind of story. A part of me really really wants to, the other part, the much bigger part, is terrified. Esquire notes that, 'Dimiter Kenarov traveled to Iraq on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a nonprofit organization that supports international journalism on underreported topics.' It's unbelievable to me that the war in Iraq, arguably the biggest problem our nation has faced in the past 7 (?) years is an underreported topic. Kenarov did an OUTSTANDING job with this story and I'm really glad that some media source thought it important to inform the public on what the hell is going on there as our troops prepare to head out. The last excerpt I posted makes me so angry. We are setting them up to fail. I understand that we want our troops to come home--and I'm sure that the fact that I don't have a loved one overseas makes it much easier for me to say, that, at the same time, if we're not even sure that they're going to succeed, then, what the fuck? If we're going to leave we should be damn sure that they're ready for us to. We just wasted 7 years, billions of dollars and thousands of lives. But we all knew that from the beginning, didn't we? We knew this would fail. When is war ever a good idea? I just think that no good will come of us leaving now. It was too late and now too soon. My generation will have to deal with the repercussions for years to come.

I just found this post written by Kenarov for's Politics blog: "Five Things Obama Won't Tell You About the End in Iraq."

In California, they've displaced the horned toad

Invasion by Tom Junod
Esquire, August 2010

"Wilson wrote The Superorganism under the spell of the leaf-cutter ant, which began growing and harvesting mushrooms twelve million years before humans did and so can make the claim to being among the first of the planet's civilizations to practice agriculture. The Argentine ant grows nothing but more Argentine ants and practices nothing but ubiquity. It is not a mound ant; it nests in topsoil or mulch or pine straw and moves around the country with potted plants and seedlings. It is a transient species--what entomologists call a tramp species--that takes advantage of human transience." (p. 111)

"They are both more hawkish on the subject than E.O. Wilson could ever be, and both do what he would never do, sharing their knowledge with private exterminators. "It'll take a lot more than boric acid," Rust says. "It won't control them, believe me. They're a fairly major pest problem. They displace other ants, other inspect species. In California, they've displaced the horned toad." (p. 112)

"My first thought was that I had been poisoned. Also that I had swallowed a live wire and had been electrocuted. Also that I might go into some kind of allergic shock and die. They hurt, you see. They were barbed things, and they were in my throat, and they felt like iron filings and they tasted like aspirin. Though some of them were already down the hatch, I ran to the bathroom and started spitting them out, while at the same time trying to determine how many I had swallowed. I spat into the sink, and the spittle was not just flecked brown, it was marbled red. I had ants in my mouth, and my tongue was bleeding." (p. 135)

Entertaining (and really informative) story about Tom Junod's experience living with 50 million Argentine ants.

August 10, 2010

This is new space.

Esquire, August 2010

This month, Esquire's theme is The Impossible. The issue features a series of articles that investigate and prove that what may have previously been considered impossible, is actually very possible--and happening. Some examples include leaving Iraq, living with 50 million ants and skydiving from space. I haven't yet read the articles about the first two, but the one about skydiving from space was really fascinating. I've always always loved the concept of space. When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronomer and spend my life studying the universe. And I've always dreamed of going, though never actually wanted to become the astronaut for the privilege. Now, among many other really cool things, "The Man Who Would Fall to Earth," informs that some organizations are now designing the necessary machinery and experimenting with the necessary science to create programs that will eventually take TOURISTS to space. In my lifetime!!

"The first thing they did, right there at Ellington Airport was separate Iain from Clark. A CACO drove away with Iain, and Clark learned later that they had gone on an outing to the Kemah Boardwalk. Another CACO took Clark home and helped guide him through the first steps of the grieving process. The CACO got him drunk. Very, very drunk. He stayed drunk for a solid day and a half." (p. 88)

"That same slogan is embroidered onto a predistressed baseball cap available for sale on Felix's Web site, but Felix himself is not wearing any sort of hat today. A hat might have messed up his hair, which early on this Thursday morning, in this hot drop zone, was spiked to perfection with gel. The gel was a problem. The gel could kill him. In the pure-oxygen environment that exists in a pressure suit, a petroleum-based product like hair gel becomes as volatile as napalm. Even the tiniest spark--the merest crackle of static electricity, say--could ignite it, setting his handsome head ablaze." (p. 91)

"He has sat down with Felix and patiently explained some of the things that could go wrong during this sort of jump, many of which he experienced himself. On that day in 1960, for example, the glove of his pressure suit experienced a small leak, and although a wrist seal prevented any other part of his body from taking a hit, his hand underwent partial ebullism, swelling quickly to at least double its size, the limits of the glove the only thing that prevented his hand from ballooning even further." (p. 91)

"To understand what happens next, it helps to first understand that we humans, in our normal earthbound lives, live at the bottom of an extremely deep ocean of air. The air at the bottom of this ocean, at sea level, sags under the weight of the seventy-five miles of air above it, and the oxygen molecules at lower altitudes are consequently squashed together much more densely than those at higher altitudes. This is why a person accustomed to breathing the rich, thickly oxygenated soup that exists at sea level will very quickly become hypoxic, or oxygen deficient, if he tries to subsist for long on the thin gruel doled out at twenty-five thousand feet." (p. 136)

"There's still a long way to go for Stratos. The plan is to make two preliminary jumps, one at 60,000 feet and one at 90,000, before making the final one at 120,000. That jump is currently slated for August, but who knows. Delays are inevitable with these sorts of things. Regardless, Clark is already looking beyond that third jump, above 120,000 feet, faster than Mach 1. There's another company he's involved with, something called Excalibur Almaz, and in the next decade it plans to send tourists up past the stratosphere, into true space, into orbit." (p. 136) !!

"This is new space. This is passion and capitalism stoking the same grand ambitions that fear and nationalism once did. This is corporations picking up the reins of manned spaceflight at the moment when the government's will is at its lowest ebb. This is realizing that before spaceflight can ever become routine, before the ultimate human diaspora can truly begin, spaceflight will first have to be safer, right from the start. This is taking a simple statement about what is possible--the vehicle broke up at an altitude that was not survivable--and working as hard as you can so that someday, next time, it won't be true." (p. 137)

August 01, 2010

I still have a very clear picture of the inside of that hut and of the bearded man with the bright fiery eyes who kept talking to me in riddles.

While Roald Dahl was in Palestine...

"I still have a very clear picture of the inside of that hut and of the bearded man with the bright fiery eyes who kept talking to me in riddles. 'We need a homeland,' the man was saying. ' We need a country of our own. Even the Zulus have Zululand. But we have nothing.'
'You mean the Jews have no country?'
'That's exactly what I mean,' he said. 'It's time we had one.'
'But how in the world are you going to get yourselves a country?' I asked him. 'They are all occupied. Norway belongs to the Norwegians and Nicaragua belongs to the Nicaraguans. It's the same all over.'
'We shall see,' the man said, sipping his coffee. The dark-haired woman was washing up some plates in a basin of water on another small table and she had her back to us.
'You could have Germany,' I said brightly. 'When we have beaten Hitler then perhaps England would give you Germany.'
'We don't want Germany,' the man said.
'Then which country did you have in mind?' I asked him, displaying more ignorance than ever." (p. 198)

Soon after, Roald Dahl finally made it home, being sent home due to blackouts probably the effects of his previous crash. It's unbelievable to me that he had such an unbelievable life pre children's books. A part of me really wishes that I could adventure in the same way that he did but back then he was more free to do so in a world that was still vastly unexplored. There were many dangers, of course, but he was so unaware of them that it led him to live freely in a way that I could never do today. I'm a little envious. Everything is planned (if even loosely), safety measures and precautions always in the back of my mind. I could never have that uninhibited careless adventure because there are too many risks and it's better to be safe than sorry. But look at him, he lived by instinct--some quick impromptu decisions literally saving his life--and in the end he died an old man with great memories and stories to tell (both fiction and nonfiction).

His memoirs are entertaining, nostalgic and insightful. I recommend Boy and Going Solo to everyone.