Friday song: Lee Remick

It’s never a good idea to impose one’s musical tastes on an audience, but I’m heedlessly going to try out a new blog feature anyway called the Friday Song. Each week, I’ll upload some track or other– the only criteria is that I will try to pick stuff that I think flies under the radar at least a tiny bit, and  mix it up a lot genre-wise.

This week’s pick is Lee Remick by The Go-Betweens

Before they were a group of noted pop sophisticates with clever lyrics (‘Her mother works in exports / But that’s of no importance’), the Go-Betweens debuted in 1978 with this slice of exuberant goofiness. It’s the only song I can think of that immediately starts off with a factual error: “She comes from Ireland, she’s very beautiful,” sings Robert Forster, while Lee Remick was really born in Quincy, Massachusetts.

The Siberian Basketball Diaries, Part Eight

[ed note: the following is an excerpt from the travel journal of my old high school friend Andrej Mucic. In 2005, Andrej bicycled over 7,000 miles through Siberia to raise money for the American Anti-Slavery Group. Previous installments start here.

Back in Magadan, Andrej nears the end of his visit and prepares to head back to Moscow shortly]

—–

Subject: A Rough Ride to the Balls
6/11/05

The Onyx Bar is very small. There are two seats at the bar and three tables in a small room with a TV hanging from the ceiling. There, I know, I can always find the two Maxes; Handsome Max and Big Max. They are both big, but Big Max is extra large. And Handsome Max is handsome, if you ignore all the scars. The Onyx Bar is on the edge of Gorky Park, where I recently mowed down a band of aggressive little malcheks (punk kids.) It was quite a rumble, two against twelve. Good thing I was armed.

So one cold night (which is day, here), I’m sitting in Gorky Park, with eyes in the back of my head, enjoying a refreshing two liter bottle of Far East malt liquor. The girls are wearing mini skirts and stillettos despite the weather. But they fear me; on account of my beat up Soviet-era bomber jacket, shaved head and goggles.

Then I remember the Onyx, and I head over.

Handsome Max is at the bar pawing Xhenia, the lovely bar maid. He greets me and congratulates me on my victory in the park two days ago; somehow he heard about it? He asks me what happened. I tell him that a malenka sukka (little bitch) malchek (boy) clocked my friend Pavel, so I laid into him, and all his friends, like Mormon at a pizza party. Max told me the special word for coming to the aid of a friend, but I have forgotten it.

He orders vodka and milk. Yeah…just like in the movie.

I must admit that this is an unexpectedly refreshing combination.

Then the KGB arrives. Now they are called the FSB. Two guys: Andrei and Serge, off duty, and drunk, and they’re full of cash and looking for a good time, and they’re full of that certain feeling that comes with knowing that you’re untouchable. Andrei is a real charmer ace. He has a ghoulish scar running down that middle of his jug-head forehead, and his upper front teeth are black stalactites.

After a couple o’drinks, it’s midnight, and the sun is just beginning to dip behind the mountains. The four of us go next door to the little convenience store and buy vodka, tomato juice, pickled gherkins, sausage, and bread. This could mean only one thing…ROADTRIP!!!!  The dreaded KGB-style road trip. I feel as though anything could happen.

We jump into Andrei’s YAZ, pronounced ooo-Az. This is a Russian made jeep, with very interesting triangular doors. It retails for about 7000$, new. And off we go, out of town heading east, and into the mountains. I ask Max, who sitting next to me, and offering me a Baltika tallboy, “where the fuck are we going?” And Max says “To the Balls” and points his index finger into the air.

Magadan is surrounded by mountains on three sides. Directly south is the radioactive beach and the mouth of the harbor. On the ridge of the eastern mountain chain, there are three white balls, some kind of radar installations or observatories. Whom ever I ask tells me something different.

We come to the edge of the city, and get on a trassa (gravel road). Andrei is driving very fast. Then the trassa ends and Andrei warns me that things are about to get “extreme.” Now we’re in a dried up river bed, full of boulders the size of love seats, and Andrei is still driving as though this was a company car. It is impossible to describe the shaking I experienced that night. I was sure that the YAZ was going to shit the bed. I was willing to bet my return ticket on it. After the third time my head smashed against the headliner, I realized that holding on to the little handle above the back door, with white knuckles, was not enough. So with the hand that wasn’t holding the frothy Baltika, I reach down under the seat a feel around for something to hang-on to. Thank God I found a bar down there and clutched it for dear life. It was like riding a mechanical bull, while drinking.

Finally we reached the summit. And the view can only be described as science fiction.

Ok here we go: I’m standing on a mountain peak, the sky is clear, I’m facing west and the sun is day glow orange three degrees above the horizon. On my left is the mouth of the harbor and the Pacific. Below me is Magadan. But the tuman clouds have completely swallowed the city. These are weird terrestrial clouds that roll in from the ocean. But in the middle of the city, the tuman clouds form a huge vortex around the city arial TV antenna.  The low sun paints the vortex yellow and orange. Wow! Behind me is the other harbor, known  officially as Nuclear Beach, and off in the distance is the Horses peninsula. Oh, yeah… and I’m standing next to a three huge white domes.

The domes are abandoned. It looks as though they were never used. Inside the largest one, I entertained the others with my famous Chevy Chase Caddy Shack impersonation. The echo in the dome made it all the more amusing. I think Andrei wet his pants, just a little.

There is always something to do in Magadan.

—–

Next: Atom Tan

[photo: fishing for salmon in the Sea of Okhotsk near Magadan. Totally unrelated to above story– sorry]

Summer Babe

For all the bitching and kvetching that I do about Prague during the late winter, man it’s hard to beat this place in the spring and summer months. Above is the view this morning on the way to teach class at 8am. This week is part of the fortnightly stretch where god turns the color knob on the apple blossom trees to ‘fluffy pink’.

Speaking of improved weather, I was happy to discover yesterday that ‘summer’ produces the following unexpectedly solid playlist in my iTunes (as always, click for larger image):

The Siberian Basketball Diaries, Part Seven

[ed note: the following is an excerpt from the travel journal of my old high school friend Andrej Mucic. In 2005, Andrej bicycled over 7,000 miles through Siberia to raise money for the American Anti-Slavery Group. Previous installments start here.

In the last installment, Andrej has been set up with a girl by the enigmatic Chechens Mohamed and Vaslan in the city of Susuman. In this- maybe my favorite- entry, he meets the girl Marina.]

—–

Subject: In the Den of the Chechens, Part Two: Marina’s Dream
6/22/05

The handsome Chechen, Vaslan, calls a girl named Marina and arranges a date. I speak to her on the phone and she demands that I speak English as proof that I am indeed an American. She giggles a lot. Vaslan describes her as a real beauty, and he makes the universal hour-glass motion with his hands.

I say goodbye to the Chechens and leave their den. I go back to my little dorm room and stare at the wall paper for 90 minutes and listen to my loud intestines doing their thing. (They are beginning to sound like the plumbing in an under-funded inter-city school in February.) Then I hop in a cab and tell the man “Coldtown” (Holod-nee).

This Coldtown can only be described as post-Apocolyptic. Imagine Mad Max meets Beruit circe 1987. There, in front of a building that looks like twice baked roadkill, there is a girl waiting. She is wearing a black satin dress; it’s basically lingerie. In the back it laces up, like a corset. Her shoes are black ankle boots with 4 inch steel heels. Her hair is dark brown with highlights. (It gets better:) In her right hand she is holding a large yellow daisy, and in the middle of her chest is a day-glow pink button, on which is written, in Russian “I wouldn’t recommend it!” She is beautiful beyond words. And she walks like a sea snake.

In the cab, she asks me how I know Vaslan. I tell her that I met him through Mohamed the Chechen. She looks puzzled. I ask her where she would like to go. She says “to Charm.” The cabbie knows the way.

When we arrive at the Cafe Charm, Mohamed the Chechen is waiting outside. They say hello and I shake hands with him. And I tell Marina that this is the guy I met on the plane from Moscow. But for some reason she calls him Adam. Apparently Mohamed-Adam fancies himself an Arctic James Bond, and enjoys using aliases.

Then Mohamed-Adam jumps in a very expensive Infiniti and drives off.

In the Cafe, Marina and I sit down to chat over beers. She tells me that her dream is to live in Morocco.

At that moment, the beer that had been in my mouth, quickly blasted out through my nose and onto the table between us. Morocco?!??!?!?!?!?!?!!?! Who the fuck wants to live in MORACCO?? * After I clean up the mess she goes on to tell me that she likes Moslem men because they are polite and don’t drink.

This, dear reader is the reason I am here. This type of girl is the kind that is ripe for the white slavery system. It takes me two beers to mentally prepare her diagnosis:

Her father is a drunk who doesn’t love her. He brought the family here from sunny Ukraine and then lost his job as the gold sands dried up, and then drank even more. Now she is attracted to men that don’t drink, but that still don’t love her; classic pattern. She was obviously in love with Vaslan, and he clearly didn’t feel the same way. He probably didn’t have the heart to dump her so he hoped that me and her would get together and he would have a good pretext for ending their little tryst.

I told her not to accept any job offers to go and work overseas. I told her about the things I had seen in my travels. I told her that the only way she was ever going to see Morocco was as part of an academic conference. I told her that she has no marketable skill that any other economy could possibly need, except shaking that ass.

[* ed note: I love the fact that ‘Morocco’ is spelled two different ways here– it seems like a product of the narrator’s astonishment.]

—-

Next: A Rough Ride to the Balls

Anthem

This week in Boston has been full of patriotism.  April 19 is Patriots Day, a state holiday, in which hundreds, if not thousands, of adults reenact the battles between colonists and redcoats at Lexington and Concord.

Yesterday, I found myself downtown in the Cradle of Liberty– as Faneuil, Hall is called– where the likes of Sam Adams stirred up the rabble to revolt.  An event put on there by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had little connection with the fight for liberty; even so, given the location and the patriotic season, three national songs were rendered at the event by the comely, compact, yet cuddly Colleen: The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and My Country ’tis of Thee.  She has a good voice, strong but not brassy; and sometimes during her song her smile gave off what looked like real happiness and warmth.

So, even though she threw in some dipthongs (the rawwwket s re-yeyd  gullll–luh-hair), I was moved to clap my hand over my heart and join in. However, I had only gotten to “Oh say can you see” when a woman sitting nearby  disapprovingly shook her head at me:  she wanted to hear the lovely, lyrical, lass, not my graceless (though on-pitch) voice.

If I wanted to belt out the National Anthem, and was willing to cough up an exorbitant price of admission, I could go to Fenway park. No one sings there either, but they don’t care if someone else does.

It’s tempting to end this with a rant on the passivity of the American public, who consumes the National Anthem instead of signing it themselves, just as they consume everything else.  But that wouldn’t jibe with the rest that happened at Faneuil hall. The EPA was recognizing outstanding environmental activists. One of these was the mountain manger of a ski slope in New Hampshire. He turned the Cranmore Mountain resort into a green ski slope, of all things–biodiesel fuel for the grooming equipment, snowmakers using 60 less water, biodegradable, hydraulic fluids. Or the truck driver in New Bedford who had grown up on top of a toxic waste dump and tried to keep schools from being  built on contaminated sites.

So I guess the point of the story just concerns our national songs, which aren’t that great and– like all such music– sound best when you’re playing it yourself.  So I’d rather sing along than just listen.

Eliminate Morning Hangovers

Friends in the U.S. often ask me if I follow Czech politics. My usual answer is that there’s not a lot to follow.

Lack of drama can be a good thing. After 45 years of communism, Czechs have basically decided they’ve had enough of run-amok ideology. As a result, there seems to be an implicit handshake agreement in place between every person in the country to keep hot-button cultural issues out of the political conversation. You’re not even allowed fly a Czech flag out of your window–– I’m telling you, the Czechs have had it with nationalism, fascism, socialism, whatever ‘-ism’ you like. I can’t even imagine a political debate in this country about, say, something like abortion rights– it’s simply impossible to picture.

Of course, lack of drama can also be a bad thing. It can indicate ‘everything sucks here politically and we’re so disillusioned that we can’t even drum up the necessary passion to get involved in a big heated political debate.’ Unfortunately, this is just as much the case as the pragmatism described above. I’ve literally never heard a single Czech person say a single positive thing about any active Czech politician. A bunch of assholes come together to make money– as my friend put it– seems to be the common consensus. In the U.S., we engage in a pet pessimism that our politicians are the all same, but deep down we know this not to be the case: you can say that George W. Bush and Al Gore are both assholes, but they’re clearly assholes in very different ways and have different belief systems and represent opposite ends of the Baby Boomer asshole axis. Maybe the ways in which they’re different don’t really matter as much as we’d like, but one can at least clearly differentiate between the two on a surface level. In the Czech case, the politicians really are all the same, and they’re not even assholes in a dynamic sense. For lack of a better analogy, they’re the guy driving the expensive car who nearly runs you over on a crosswalk and then angrily gestures at you to get out of his way. Assholes in a completely unoriginal, commonplace, banal sense. Assholes without affect.

A sign of how bad things are: Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, is probably the world’s foremost global warming denier (now that Bush and that Australian jerk are no longer in office). Most Czechs I know despise his politics. And yet, they respect him to a degree compared to other Czech politicians simply because he comes across as reasonably ‘statesmanlike’– he’s intelligent, he knows how to handle himself and doesn’t overtly embarrass himself or the country. Compare these qualities to the rank amateurism of Mirek Topolanek, recently-ousted Prime Minister, who once flipped a rival politician the bird during a parliamentary debate and locked a respected journalist in an airport bathroom. Topolanek was the aspiring nobody who got up on stage and referred to Obama’s economic policy as ‘the road to hell’ in last year’s big summit and earned round rebuke from a rainbow coalition of world leaders. The ranks of decent politicians are so thin here that it’s a plus if you can simply carry yourself with a modicum of competence, never mind how bad your ideas might be.

Absent any inspiring ideological battles, and with all of its practitioners thoroughly dislikable (and corrupt, although that’s a subject for another post), politics in this country mostly revolves around allocation of social benefits and deciding how to pay for them. In the upcoming June election, one of the big issues is a medical co-pay scheme implemented by the ruling center-right party that requires you to pay 30 Czech crowns out-of-pocket to see a doctor. 30 crowns equals about $1.50. This is the raging fire of policy debate that is supposed to drive people to the polls: whether or not you should have to pay a buck fifty in addition to the (from a U.S. perspective) shockingly reasonable monthly fee that everyone pays to receive full health care. Hardly Lincoln vs. McClellan 1864. In fairness, there are larger and more systemic issues, to be sure (the aforementioned corruption, and a big deficit), but none of these seem to rile people like the 30 crown co-pay.

The pettiness that punctuates Czech politics is particularly evident in the massive billboard campaigns that you can’t escape for more than a minute if you’re driving on the highway here right now. The one at the top of this post is an attack ad aimed at Jiri Paroubek, leader of the left center Social Democrats (who, incidentally, is even more despised than other politicians among Czechs I know, in spite of the fact that most of these friends have left-leaning tendencies). The ad is meant to satirize Paroubek’s alleged practice of promising all things to all people without articulating a clear sense of how he’s going to pay for it (think ‘tax-and-spend liberal’). So, he’s shown in front of a row of empty bottles with the line ‘I will eliminate morning hangovers’. Here’s a detail from another baffling one that says (roughly), ‘I fight against clams, slugs and mollusks’:

I guess the idea is to paint him as power-mad, vowing to defeat each and every commonplace thing that stands in his way. To me, it seems very much like a campaign that might have been composed by a media team of canny 12 year-olds. Politics in this part of the world have come a long way from iron curtain days…. but there’s still a long way to go, baby.

This Movie Happened

The other day somebody sent me a link to a trailer for what appeared to be a 2003 movie starring Matthew McConaughey, Kate Beckinsale, and Gary Oldman. Those actors were all pretty big-time in 2003, so I was a little surprised that I didn’t recognize it — it was called Tiptoes. But then I grasped its premise, and I immediately concluded that this was some Funny or Die sketch. In Tiptoes (purportedly), Kate Beckinsale is pregnant with her fiance McConaughey’s child, and he reveals to her that he is from a family of dwarfs and has been hiding this fact from her — and it is very likely that her child will be a dwarf. And the kicker, which proved to me beyond any doubt that this was all a big send-up, was that Oldman, in “the role of a lifetime” as the trailer promises, played McConaughey’s wise-cracking dwarf older brother.

The tagline, “It’s the Little Things in Life that Matter” and the improbable “2004 Sundance Film Festival Selection” also seemed to be examples of the perpetrators getting a little carried away with the joke.

It literally didn’t cross my mind that any studio could have actually made this film, let alone that these three actors might have voluntarily agreed to be in it. Even my movie producer friend agreed that it was just not possible. So I did some googling to learn more…and I found more and more evidence that it was real. An IMDB page. A Rotten Tomatoes page. Random internet discussions of it. I soon concluded that this was one of the most elaborate hoaxes ever perpetrated. Only when my friend actually managed to download a full copy of the movie and, he claims, watch all 90 minutes, did I accept that it was real (although I am still pondering whether the gag might have extended to filming an entire feature-length movie).

I’m hoping this can become a regular feature on the blog. Dan, I challenge you to find a movie less likely to be real, but still real.

—–

Dan replies: If I wanted to be a jerk about it, I would nominate Abbas Kiarostami’s Close Up. Synopsis: In real life, a man named Hossain Sabzian insinuated himself into the lives of the movie-going Ahankhah family by pretending to be the noted Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Makhmalbaf’s colleague Kiarostami filmed the resulting criminal trial and then got Sabzian and the Ahankhah family to impersonate themselves and reenact the entire drama. Now that’s unlikely. It’s a jerk comparison, though, because Kiarostami’s movie is ‘unlikely’ in a deliberate artistic manner, whereas Tiptoes is just weird. What’s more, its a jerk move because Krafty introduced me to the film in the first place.

The Siberian Basketball Diaries, Part Six

[ed note: the following is an excerpt from the travel journal of my old high school friend Andrej Mucic. In 2005, Andrej bicycled over 7,000 miles through Siberia to raise money for the American Anti-Slavery Group. Previous installments start here.

Andrej has survived his hitchhiking experience in the dynamite truck and is now in the town of Susuman (map).]

—–

Subject: In the Den of the Chechens, Part One
6/22/05

Susuman is a very little town, with a population of, I would say, 5,000 souls. The main street is called Sovietskaya, and that’s about it. The Kolyma Highway runs along its northern border the mountains border it to the south.

I managed to find lodging here through the influence of the Na-Chelnik Roos-Lan Nickolaievich. The real hotel was full. If you could see this place, you’d have to wonder how the hotel could possibly be full. But it was. So my buddy Roos-Lan gets me a room at the local goldminer’s dormatorium. The walllpaper of my room was Mondrian-esque Soviet print, and the silence of the first night nearly drove me mad. All I had to listen to was the oddly regular movement of my bowels. I would sit in bed and look at my watch and time the various sounds that my guts made. It was all too regular for comfort. Maybe it was all the fish scales and bones I had been eating, against the advice of the locals…but they’re so salty and tasty!

Sleeping is tough here because it’s so quite, and because there is no darkness, and the curtains aren’t thick enough to block out the night’s light.

In the morning I decided to walk around this wee town until I could find the leggy snow maiden Julia.

I’m currently in the middle of a one-man boycott of the Russian telephone system. If any of you ever come here, learn to speak the phrase “I’m an outlander and I am unable to use the telephone, could you please dial this number for me, thank you.” I had Julia’s number but I couldn’t reach her.

I knew that if I walked around long enough I would find her. She’s hard to miss.

In the meantime I decide to go to the park and interrogate the locals about the road conditions for my journey further east. So I buy a 6-pack of Klinsko lager tallboys and head for the park. It was a sunny day, rife with mosquitos, and I knew that there would be many people there that could tell me about the road that passes the town of Khan-ditch-Khan.

On the way to the park I see Mohamed.

STOP. REWIND.

On the plane from Moscow to Magadan, I met a very sketchy Chechen named Mohamed. He was wearing a dark brown pin-striped suit, elf-toed dress shoes, has eerie lime green eyes and all gold  teeth.

The first thing he does is hand me a 10,000 Turkmenistani note, and then he asks me for a gift. I had nothing I could give him, except a syringe and a hypodermic needle. He refused this gift, saying that he was not a heroin addict. He showed me on my map his home, a region known as the Terek. He told me he was a gold miner in Susuman. And he asked me if he could share my hotel with me in Magadan. I politely told him I was staying with friends. He was very gregarious and impressed by my undertaking.

FASTFORWARD BACK TO SUSUMAN.

So there I bump into Mohamed on the street, on the way to the park. “Hey why haven’t you called me” says Mohamed.
I tell him about my boycott of the telephone system.

He insists I accompany him somewhere. Along the way he asks every pretty girl if she speaks English. We get to a building around the corner and he makes the universal welcome gesture. As he does this I notice a huge hunting knife wedged into his pants, above the left hip. He leads me up three flights of stairs into an apartment.

I know what you’re thinking: Andrej you fool! How could you follow a complete stranger, knife-toting stanger, and a Chechen, into a building without back up?

If there’s one thing I know, it’s Moslems. Not only have I read both volumes of Hodgeson, but I also grew up in Libya. I know that to be a guest in a Moslem’s home is to be as safe as a bug in a rug. Besides, I had Wolfsnoutchopper on me, mounted upsidedown along my spine and under my flight jacket, but I knew I wouldn’t need it.

On the way up the stairs, Mohamed turns to me and says. “Tell them you are an Arab.”

It would be difficult to convince them that I am an Arab, on account of the fact that I don’t speak Arabic and I am carrying four tall beers in one hand and one open one in the other.

In the apartment are four young Chechen toughs, all dressed in black. The walls of the apartment are covered in Persian rugs, so the place has the feel of a Bedouin tent. They’ re watching TV and their white skull caps are on top of the TV.

So there I am, dear readers, sitting in the middle of five Chechens, drinking a cold one.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Chechen nation, allow me to briefly fill you in: They are a small Moslem nation, living in the Caucasian mountains, that have been  engaged in an on-again off-again war with the Russians for 300 years or so. They consider drinking alcohol harem (forbidden taboo), but the laws of hospitality supercede religious law.

They were very cool.

Mohamed insisted that I pay $40 for me and him to have sex with two prostitutes. I told him that paying for sex was against my religion. He kept on insisting. Then the young boxer, Vaslan, stepped in and told Mohamed to shut his falafel hole. Vaslan wanted to give me a gift. He tells me that he knows a beautiful girl he will hook me up with, obviously a girl he had been going with, and/or, just having sex with. He tells me that this is his gift to me. To refuse a gift is a grave insult, among Moslems, so your humble narrator agrees…..

—–

Next: The Chechens, Part Two: Marina’s Dream

[Photo: entering Susuman]

Supply-Your-Own-Caption Contest

From a Mexican TV slapstick comedy that I caught a few minutes of in the Radioshack on Mission St. I was literally just standing in front of a TV taking shots of the screen with my phone while my friend bought batteries for his camera, hence the grainy ‘field footage’ quality of the images.

Unfortunately, I missed the comic denouement where– of course– the doctor finds a pretext to ‘examine’ the nurse and starts pawing at her bosom with his stethoscope to peals of laughter and applause. So, you’re on your own as far as visualizing a conclusion to this Chekovian little drama.

Them

Spending time in San Francisco always reminds me of the fact that there are people who sit to the left of me on the political spectrum. This might seem like an obvious point (I mean, there has to be someone to the left of you, no matter who you are), but it really only began to dawn on me about halfway through the 10 years I lived in SF. In high school, it always just seemed to me that anyone worth knowing had wildly left-wing opinions about everything (after all, this is the time to be unrelentingly idealistic, given that you never have to apply your ideas to anything remotely realistic). The social scene in my college, meanwhile, was just an unfettered left-facing stampede: if you could make a case that you were either oppressed or felt great sympathy for the oppressed, you were on the way to enjoying popularity and easy sex, no matter how vague and platitudinous your case was. Growing up in these environments, I never really felt any motivation to temper my instinctual leftism– even when I felt the occasional flicker of doubt, I basically just went along with the program.

Shortly after I moved to SF in ’96, I can remember meeting a sensitive, bearded soul who expressed a belief that OJ Simpson was innocent of the crimes charged against him and had been systematically framed by the LAPD. To this day, he remains the only white person I’ve ever heard voice this opinion. At that time, although I disagreed with his belief system, I struggled to find an explanation as to how we could see things so differently. In other words, I basically took his statements as a legitimate, authentic viewpoint, albeit one that diverged sharply from mine. Nowadays, I would simply write him off as a dogmatist, someone whose opinions– endearing as I may find them– are reverse-engineered to fit certain predetermined norms and conclusions. And while the fact that he was wearing Guatemalan hippie pants would seem to support my current perspective, the fact that I can’t muster my former open-mindedness is obviously something of a loss.

The real watershed, however, occured sometime in 2002, when a friend-of-a-friend became a transsexual and requested that we all start referring to him/her as them. As in, good news: they’re coming over for dinner. This was a fascinating test case, in that it basically pitted the very left-leaning people who made up this scene against the very, very left-leaning people. The normal lefties, while generally sympathetic, drew the line at subverting the basic structure of language to this point (and at giving in to a request that reeked so suspiciously of narcissism). Although we felt sympathetic to this person’s (these peoples’?) choices, we weren’t about to subject ourselves to this kind of mind-bending syntactic confusion. The über-lefties, meanwhile– who were surprisingly numerous, by the way– fell right into line, expressing a general attitude of Wherever your heads at, man. Their feeling was that the whole thing is totally elastic and subjective, and a basic token of friendship is the willingness to refer to your friend(s) by whatever pronoun he/she/they feel(s) best fit(s) he/she/them.

[Image: from the famous Great Ideas series, sponsored by Container Corporation of America. Designer might be Herbert Bayer– I’m not really sure.]