Wednesday, June 30, 2010

a right and then a left

Predictably enough, shit got a little too auto-bioey for me and I made myself uncomfortable. Let's backpedal a little on that, OK? Here, read this funny comic strip:

(K. Beaton, click to enlarge)*

I actually do treat comedy as art, by which I guess I just mean I think of it that way. I mean, Andy Kaufman? Are you kidding me? But I'm talking about the more "regular" stand-up, too. Like last night I watched the first two episodes of Louie, Louis C.K.'s new show—and maybe I was a little out of it, but I thought the show was excellent.† Part of what I like about that guy is that his stand-up transcends yuks, but what's key is that it transcends them through them; does that make any sense? I mean, you can transcend something by leaving it behind, or you can use it as your spaceship and never set foot outside of it but take it somewhere amazing. I think that's true of Sarah Silverman, too: I'm a big champion of Sarah Silverman as Very Good.‡

Last night I also went to see this thing at the Silent—I don't know this sort of thing is common or not, but either way it's awesome—where they screened television pilots that hadn't been picked up. So I got to see H.U.D., a secret-agent comedy starring Steve Carrell (before he "popped") and written by David Zucker and Seinfeld and SNL's Steve Koren; North Hollywood, the Judd Apatow struggling-actor comedy starring Jason Segel, Kevin Hart, Amy Poehler, January Jones, and Judge Reinhold as himself; and Ben Stiller's legendary Heat Vision & Jack, which you need to look up immediately, a Knight Rider-ish comedy starring Jack Black as an astronaut who has become the smartest man alive as the result of "inappropriate" levels of solar radiation and is being pursued by the evil, superhuman NASA agent Ron Silver (as himself) while solving mysteries with the help of a motorcycle with the brain of his former roommate (voiced by Owen Wilson)—I mean, holy shit. Heat Vision & Jack was my favorite, North Hollywood was pretty great, and H.U.D. had some brilliant moments (like when Steve Carrell's character thinks the Swiss are the bad guys, his partner reminds him that they're neutral, and he says, "Neutral like a fox").


As for January Jones—listen, January, I'd love to go out with you for a while, but you've got to understand that in the end I'm going to marry Lizzy Caplan. You're beautiful and adorable and amazing, but we just don't have the same connection I have with Lizzy. You can't control these things, babe. I wish you all the best.

Yours always,
[Short Round]

P.S. The Internet is evil. Everybody smash your computers.



* I wish I could find a postable image of the fantastic Daniel Clowes Eightball comic about the judgmental artist—I mean, I haven't looked very hard. If I ever get a scanner again, I'll put it up (and Headfoot will become like 100 times more interesting). Here, though, at least, is a panel from Clowes' [huh?—yes, but my own rule is euphony] amazing thing about how sports are almost all homoerotic.


† A much better realization of the guy's amazing stand-up than the HBO series Lucky Louie (which I liked more than some people did—the first episode was pretty amazing).

‡ What am I, the Tao of Pooh all of a sudden?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Learn something new every day. [UPDATED]

Fun Flag Facts!

See, that explains a lot. I used to think people who favored the criminalization of flag-burning were fucking idiots (what with the flag's standing for exactly the kind of freedom that such a law seems to fly in the face of, and all), but now that I know that there's only one flag (I mean, I could have sworn I'd seen more of 'em, but I guess memory can play tricks on you)—well, that's a whole other can of constitutional worms.

(We really should make more, shouldn't we? I bet all sorts of people would like to fly 'em!)

[UPDATE: Just realized that this message might not mean that there's only one flag, but rather that there's only one country: that America is in some sense the only country in the world. Also totally uncontestable.]

lucre


A relatively new friend of mine got it into his fat head somehow* that I'm a rich kid. And I found it almost impossible to respond to this for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that I don't know whether I am.

I don't think so, but then, I mean, rich is relative. Aren't the poorest Americans fucking loaded compared to the average citizens of a lot of other countries? I have $4,385.18 to my name, and a lot of my friends are in debt—so does that make me rich? I'm losing money every month... But then it's not my bank account that my friend was talking about, I don't think: I could be "poor" and "starving" but with millionaire parents who are always there for me (see Pulp, "Common People"). What about them?

Barack Obama and John McCain each defined "rich" during the 2008 elections: Obama said $250,000/year, and McCain said $5 million/year (you gotta love that fuckin' guy!). My parents are rich by neither candidate's definition. Their very nice apartment in Manhattan is rent stabilized, and they've been there since the mid-1970s, which means that it costs them way less than average for a rental (and less than I was paying before I moved West). They do have a beach house that I think they finished paying for pretty recently; poor people can't do that. They did pay for my education; poor people can't do that. But they didn't save a penny until they were done paying for that education: if my self-employed father had been taken out of commission at any point during my 17 years of schooling (counting kindergarten), all would have changed immediately. I don't know exactly what their household income is, but I know that it's less than $200,000/year. Much less? Don't know. Maybe not. But less.

(via)

So is that rich? Compared to most people, yes: absolutely. For Manhattan, maybe not. But none of that is necessarily relevant to what my friend meant. Is it rich the way he meant rich?

Probably not. He probably pictured me in shorts with a sweater tied around my neck playing tennis at the country club and then being not mean, necessarily, but at least passively disrespectful to my Hispanic live-in nanny–housekeeper. Mom spending all her time at the spa, dad collecting antique cars, big brother murdering girlfriends and burying them in the desert...

But in the end, none of that matters, either—by which I guess what I really mean is that the reason I'm writing all this is that thinking it made me realize there's a lot on the subject that I'm uncomfortable with. However rich I may be, it makes me uneasy. However poor I may be, I wish I looked poorer. That, I think, is the biggest reason I had trouble responding to my friend's joke/accusation: a combination of desperately wanting him not to think I'm a rich kid and being aware of that desperate want—which of course makes me suspicious of myself and of my motives and makes me think, "Oh, shit, is he right?" Net result: intellectual paralysis and confusion.

A little earlier, also, I had noticed that there were certain facts—facts—about my life that I always want to downplay. Like what I mentioned above: my parents have a beach house. It's in Cape Cod. Part of me wants to go back and delete both references to that. Also, I get embarrassed by the fact that my parents paid for my education and that I wasn't on financial aid. Why is this? Why should this bother me? My dad didn't earn all his money through some sketchy, immoral enterprise like organized crime or investment banking: he helps people for a living, and he works hard. He started from nothing, too. Watching Jaws the other day on the big screen, I was struck by the realization that Roy Scheider's character always reminded me (somewhat) of my grandfather and Richard Dreyfuss's character always reminded me (somewhat) of my dad, and what is a class thing in the movie is a progression in my family history. Of course, Dreyfuss's character is a rich kid,† but that's sort of what's so relevant about this: from the hard-working, hardscrabble Brooklyn guy to the brilliant, wise-ass college kid. Enter money.

(via)

Speaking of college kids and family progress—and speaking of uncomfortable truths—I went to the same college my dad did. Yep. At first, when I was in high school, I didn't even want to consider going to that college because I knew that if I did, people would always be able to say, "Oh...a legacy." But it turned out I loved the place, so what was I going to do, not apply? All I can do is assert that I would have gotten in anyway;‡ people can still say, "Well, yeah, but your dad." And part of me wishes I had made the other choice, had gone to a different good school—because now I can always look back and think, "Wow, my dad got into that place from a miserably awful public school in the sticks and had to learn how to write a paper in the middle of his freshman year—got C's and D's, I think, his freshman year and still graduated magna cum laude—while meanwhile I got the best education available, with a college-guidance superhero and a legacy to help me into college, and I showed up better than well prepared and only eked out 'distinction in the major,' total cum silently like your girlfriend's parents are in the next room; going to the same school basically makes me look like the spoiled [in more than one sense] brat of a much more worthwhile father, like he crouched down and took a genetic dump." (Man I haven't thought about this insecurity in years.)

So, yeah, maybe I'm sensitive about it. And that's what makes it worth writing about (for me): whether what I am or what my family is counts as "rich" or not matters only insofar as it matters to me, only insofar as it makes me worry, makes me uncomfortable, makes me want to crawl out of my own life like a hermit crab scrambling for some new shell (almost a good analogy).

Eventually I'll be OK with who and what I am. May we all be.

Me and my family.

P.S. I'm way better than my dad in every possible way.




* This almost definitely came to him thanks to my erst' girlfriend's interesting relationship to truth and factual accuracy. [NOTE: At this point I am very aware of her faults and flaws—I see them crystal clear like I just got my prescription updated—and yet all of them strike me as totally charming and delightful. I probably need electroshock therapy.]

† There's that great line when Brody asks him how much money he has and he says something like, "Me, or the family?"

‡ I'm a fucking genius.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

toying with the diary-style blog

(via)

Saw the excellent Ain't in It for My Health last night. Earlier in the day I got caught selling heroin to some children and had to kill the kids and a cop; hate having to do that, but you've gotta break some eggs. (What omelet? I don't know what you're talking about.) There's been some movement with this script my buddy and I have been trying to sell, but everything moves so slow, and as a more experienced friend told me the other day, in this business no does not mean no and yes does not mean yes. Did I link to this cover version of "Let It Die" that I recorded a while back? I ended up being kind of happy with it. Got a haircut a week or so back and now I don't shower as often because I don't look like a deranged maniac in the mornings. Money's a little tight so I've been selling handjobs in the parking lot of the Whole Foods on Fairfax and Santa Monica. Since writing my drooling Beach Boys post, I got Love You, or The Beach Boys Love You,* which I thought would take some getting into but has proved to be pretty immediately accessible: "Roller Skating Child" in particular is plain awesome, although "Johnny Carson" and "Solar System" gave me my first uncomfortable glimpses into Brian Wilson as a Daniel Johnston–style crazy person (which of course he is, right?). Louis C.K.'s new show starts next week; he's probably my favorite comedian. Having a washer–dryer, in addition to being a dream come true, makes laundry fun. I've been pretty bad at waking up in the mornings lately but think I'm back on track as of yesterday (sort of, maybe). Have I written about The Human Centipede? Saw it, wasn't too excited about it but can't imagine how it would have played if I hadn't known what it was about beforehand. I was at a bachelor party in Montréal and this one guy tried to sew us all together; he was trying to get a full sequence going, what a card! I heard a racist joke: What's brown and rhymes with snoop? Dr. Dré. Actually that one you can't really write out properly because the snoop double-entendre has to be italicized in one version and has a capital S in the other. The thing I like about the joke is the rhymes double-entendre; I try to ignore the brown part. It is not a good joke, however you slice it.† Oh, and I learned a good seventh-grade prank that I didn't know in seventh grade (sort of like finding out that the Beach Boys have an album you didn't know existed‡): you go to somebody, "Did you know that if you pretend to shake salt onto the back of your tongue, your brain generates a salt taste?" Good fun. Another thing I'll do if I get some money is buy a record player. I may have just gotten some freelance work that will help make ends meet—or not so much meet, really, as like maybe become Facebook friends. I've just made a deal that will keep the Empire out of my hair for a long time. (I'm a real hero.) A friend of mine recently described himself as a compassionate atheist: trying his best not to judge his believer friends; I, for one, am trying not to think about the World Cup. (I'm also a grinch.) Tonight the plan is to see how quickly I can get myself arrested from a starting point of no cops present; hoping to break my record (15 seconds). Thinking of shaving my beard. I have so much interesting shit to say about sex that I just don't have the balls to write about here. Although I guess I did just share the personal detail that I don't have balls. Who needs 'em? Procreational sex is for girls.




* I mentioned this problem to my good musician friend [good modifies both musician and friend: it's a super-adjective] and gave as an additional example The Village Green Preservation Society or The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, and he said, "I just call that Village Green," so that's a wash. (Not sure what those last four words mean.)

† NOTE: It is not possible to slice a joke.

‡ Which basically has been happening to me.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) [UPDATED]


I read a story on the Internet (very possibly apocryphal, of course) about how somebody got a skeptical Thomas Pynchon* to lie down on the floor and listen to Pet Sounds, after which he was wholly converted. Me, I always loved "I Get Around," thanks to the one-two punch of The Flight of the Navigator and Good Morning, Vietnam,† but I thought of the Beach Boys as occasionally enjoyable but for the most part cheesy pop garbage.

"I'm a real cool head! I'm making real good bread!"

The first step in my own Pynchonesque conversion to the cult of Wilson was hearing some bizarre music played loud on a friend's nice stereo speakers in college in 1997 (in retrospect, the song must have been the bizarre "She's Going Bald") and being stunned to hear that what we were listening to was Smiley Smile. At this point I still hadn't gotten wind of the rumor that Pet Sounds possibly even rivals Sgt. Pepper in the timeless-musical-genius category (not to mention helped inspire McCartney to make it), and I was still enslaved to the narrative of crappy pop musicians accidentally transforming into musical geniuses—the idea that the Beatles used to be bad and then somehow got good—so my response was, "Wow, the later '60s transformed all sorts of cheeseball bands into fascinating weirdos!"

Weird.

The second step came soon after my ex-wife revealed to me the fairly well-kept secret that the early Beatles stuff is incredibly good: that, along with the discovery (as I began to explore classic punk rock) that the Ramones both covered and imitated the Beach Boys on Rocket to Russia, made me reinvestigate the Beach Boys, from the classic-rock'n'roll (not to be confused with "classic rock") angle. I think the first song I got really excited about at this point (c.2002?) was "Dance, Dance, Dance."

[NOTE: It was brought to my attention that anyone not clicking the above link would, quite reasonably, believe me to be a divorcé. (Is that a word? Divorcée means a divorced woman. Do we not have a word for a divorced man?!) Briefly the idea of spreading misinformation about myself on the Internet tickled me, but I'm not advanced enough yet for that. Short Round: never married.]

Rock'n'roll.

Not sure what happened next‡—either Pet Sounds or the recognition that "Don't Worry Baby" and "You're So Good to Me" are two of the best songs ever written or recorded (I know it took me a while to get into Pet Sounds, and I think Frank Black's cover version of "Hang on to Your Ego" made a big difference there because I was really into the Pixies)—but really it's the last step (full sequence) that I wanted to write about anyway, so let's jump to that.

Come on, Brian: smile.

What I can't stop listening to now—and this is a new development—is shit like Wild Honey and particularly Friends. I also recently recorded a version of "I Can Hear Music"—probably my favorite non–Brian Wilson Beach Boys track—and suicidewatch reminded me of the existence of "Girl Don't Tell Me," which is basically a Help!-era Beatles song but/and is incredibly brilliant and excellent (and soon to be covered by Headfoot, I'm thinking).

Girl, don't tell me you'll write!

Here are a couple of Beach Boys songs I love that you might not know and should listen to immediately and repeatedly, preferably singing along at the top of your lungs:


In "Darlin'," the way the melody goes up... I don't know how to talk about music: I don't have the right terminology. It goes higher when you wouldn't expect it to—"To let you know what you meant to me," "You pick me up when I'm feeling sad"—and I just can't fucking get enough. Also, the way it goes back into the verse after the chorus.

"They've got some funny little love songs on there."

But my favorite Beach Boys album at the moment is probably Friends. I almost feel guilty for listening to it so much. Not so thrilled about "Anna Lee, the Healer" or "Transcendental Meditation,"§ but otherwise the thing is almost unbearably wonderful. If you don't know it, get it, and if you listen to it and don't like it, keep listening to it until you do.

What a hot, sticky day.

In conclusion, the Beach Boys make my life better. We've been friends now for so many years. We've been together through the good times and the tears, turned each other on to the good things that life has to give. Days I was down, the Beach Boys would help me get out of my hole. The Beach Boys told me when my girl was untrue. I loaned them money when the funds weren't too cool. I talked their folks out of making them cut off their hair!

Ahhh, ahhh, ahhh, ah-ah-ah-ahhhhhhhhhh!




* Who, although very much a '60s guy, was born just early enough that his allegiance to popular rock'n'roll was bound to be shaky.

† Or, more relevantly, the Good Morning, Vietnam soundtrack.

‡ See "Getting the story straight, pathological preoccupation with" here.

§ When the Beatles got religion, they write stuff like, "to see you're really only very small, and life flows within you and without you"; when the Beach Boys get religion, they write, "Transcendental meditation can emancipate the man and get you feeling grand: it's good!"

a June 22

(or, The Ghost of Jun. 22 Past)

What high-school romance looks like.* (via)

[Likewise got me excited to dig in my old journals for a certain kind of experience, or at least for a certain vintage of experience. On Jun. 22, 1996, I had graduated from high school and was about to go away for the summer, to stop back in New York only very briefly (if at all—I forget) before heading to college, and I had little on my mind but my high-school girlfriend, whom I was to be leaving behind.]

1996
It's 3:15 on Saturday the 22nd, or about 122 hours top-time.† As it happened, I ended up seeing [GIRLFRIEND] every single day, Monday to Friday, in spite of our mutual understanding that we wouldn't see each other at all until this coming Wednesday. She did go away as planned on Tuesday, but I saw her that morning, and then she came back Wednesday and I saw her that night...
But enough about [GIRLFRIEND]. [raucous laughter]
This is what life is like:
I'm almost halfway through Gravity's Rainbow. I've been reading it approximately forever and am only on page 314, but considering that around 3:00 Thursday, on the M66 to my optometrist's office, where I was to sit and read, waiting, surrounded by the framed frames of various recent Republican presidents and their corresponding amiably impersonal letters about how grateful they were for something my optometrist did for them, something apparently wonderful enough to inspire them to send him their glasses, I was on page 271, and considering that between now and then were an eye-doctor appointment that rendered my eyes taut and blurry for about an hour, making me temporarily illiterate, a sneak preview of Independence Day after hanging out with friends and their friend, who happens to have a Name (one of the relatively rare People With Names who actually deserve their Names), a mad rush to meet G— and P—, out with whom I hung for about five hours straight, which landed me pretty late in the evening, a morning and early afternoon with [GIRLFRIEND], various errands, and a Crosby, Stills, and Nash concert that, including transportation and backstage time, went from about five pm to somewhere in the vicinity of (this is a guess, now—I don't really remember) two am, it becomes clear that the rate at which I have been reading has been fluctuating, and some might argue that a lot of that fluctuation must be related, directly or indirectly, to the presence or absence of one [FULL NAME OF GIRLFRIEND].
My couch has gone through several phases, in its day.§ There was a time when its primary function was storage and that sitting on it was a laughable notion. This year, I cleaned it up. You could sit on it. You could lie on it. You could fool around on it. Ever since this beaut of a laptop computer showed up, however, my couch's temporary spaciousness has collapsed into chaos. For a few weeks, Gateway boxes were strewn all over the couch, and that set off a metamorphosis in the piece of furniture, which is now once more not at all welcoming to your butt. This relates to what life is like like so: I was looking at it, thinking I'd better clean it (which is true) and then realized that I'm leaving here in less than a week, and that after that I'm going to [college]. Maybe "realized" is a misleading word. I thought to myself, "Why bother?" Now, there are several answers to that question, but the point is that I'm beginning to look at my room not as an eternal abode, not as the home base for my existence, but maybe more as a sort of...room. Actually, that's not entirely true, but articulating the truth is difficult, in this circumstance, because I'm not one hundred percent sure what the truth is. Saying what you're trying to say is hard when you don't know what you're trying to say.
I have been writing [GIRLFRIEND] letters in Costa Rica, where she isn't, because it takes them fourteen days to get there. There are some interesting communication issues in letters, because the I and the you are separated by time and by the one-sided nature of a letter, which is, in essence, a written monologue. This whole thing is incredibly exaggerated by the fact that when [GIRLFRIEND] reads the two letters I've written to her in Costa Rica, our relationship will already be over. It's somewhat like that poem I wrote to her,** in that it feels like time travel. I am writing a letter and sending it into the future.
Yesterday, when [GIRLFRIEND] and I were walking around in our neighborhood, doing various things, she stopped in to pick up a roll of film she was having developed. She'd found it in her camera, or something, and all she knew about it was that it was from last summer. We were looking at the pictures on the sidewalk, next to one of those outdoor fruit sections of some Broadway supermarkets—Fairway, perhaps?—and of course there were pictures of Clint, some of them on the day that he and she first kissed, and she informed me, and then there were the inevitable and yet not consciously expected pictures taken by someone else, pictures that surprised [GIRLFRIEND], of her and Clint in various we're-fooling-around positions. Luckily, there was no kissing or groping or anything going on, but that's what the pictures were, nevertheless: her sitting over him on his back and them looking at each other with we're-fooling-around expressions. This was exceedingly unpleasant to see, but it was okay. I could handle it. It was a year ago.
I'm always running into various [MY OLD SCHOOL] students who aren't graduating yet, and I talk to them, and I realize that I might not see them again. Usually when you run into someone on the street, it's understood that you'll meet again. Well, maybe not usually. Usually in my life so far. And I always say I'll visit school, which I will, but when you drop by high school when you're on vacation, you are not going to see every single person in the school, and even if you did, it would be very brief and relatively meaningless, so...
And yet, meaning comes from within, so what I just said means nothing. And yet, meaning comes from within, so...
I wrote the first song I've written for quite a while. Sure, I wrote Shaggy's Soliloquy for graduation, but that was specifically for graduation, and it was an instrumental, and it was almost just an idea. This is a one-man guitar-vocal thing that stands alone. I wrote it over a two-day period. It's called "Medulla Oblogata." I don't think that would be a good name for a band after all. Bad Hat, on the other hand, would be a good idea for a band. That was G—'s idea.
I have to balance living life and appreciating it with the knowledge that this is no longer a constant, never was, that my existence is soon to take a rather large turn, that one day the thoughts I now think will seem antiquated to me, that the present is just a future past, that my physical and psychological presence in what I would call the Universe will very soon be annihilated, melted down to a mere memory which may or may not be preserved in my mind, that all that will be left of "what life is like" may very well be these words, stored on a computer or in the ink of the printed word.
Wacky.

Self-portrait, looking back.


* When the boy has been replaced by a beta unit.

† As a kid I'd been given one of those magnetic spinning tops that simulate perpetual motion by spinning a ridiculously long time; I set it spinning after saying goodbye to my girlfriend, a gesture of melodrama and romance.

‡ That's in the actual journal, the italicized bracketed thing.

§ A late phase of the same couch is visible in a few pictures here. I last saw it on Mulberry Street in February—on the curb, in the snow, alone.

** You're mine after all, [GIRLFRIEND], / and you can tell your current boyfriend that he can go fuck himself thank you very much. / I'm right here if he wants me, if he can find some way to jump back through time and get his hornball punk ass kicked by the Second, the writer, forever eighteen, / ...back from the dead, who in the eternal instant loves you forever."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

on not reading

B. Belle

I'm in New York for two minutes for a funeral, and my parents were offended or mock-offended (mock-mock?) when someone asked if I missed New York and I said no. But there are at least two things I don't like about Los Angeles in comparison to New York: (1) I don't like having to think about how much I'm drinking—I don't drink particularly much, but I drink enough sometimes that I'd be uncomfortable driving, and it's great that in New York you can drink however much you want and always can just stumble home, and (2) I don't read anymore.

This is true. Since moving out to L.A. my book-reading rate has dropped enormously. And I'm someone who reads a lot, like more than most literate people I know. Does that sound obnoxious, like bragging or something? What can you say? I read. I've always loved to read. It's a fact about me.*

Or I guess it was a fact.

I was thinking about it, and I think I figured out the two things that threw on the reading brakes. The first has nothing to do with L.A.: bedbugs. I used to read in bed every night before going to sleep; having my bed turned into "ground zero" last year made reading in bed temporarily almost impossible, for a while afterwards extremely undesirable, and so far permanently† a lost art. I don't remember the last time I sat in bed reading. Maybe it's time to bring that shit back. As the man said, "Fuck you, clown!"

The second factor is the subway. I think I always did most of my reading in bed and on the subway. As I said before, I like driving, and it's cool that my car charger has made a drained cell-phone battery a thing of the past, but reading in the car? Not so easy.‡

So I've been reading The Big Sleep for I don't even know how long. Not a heavy book. Not a tough read. I did just tear through Potential and Likewise by Ariel Schrag, but that felt like the exception to a rule, not a new beginning.

Reading's a big deal for me. I've been reading since I was a kid and never stopped. I did "pleasure reading" even while I was in school (and love reading so much that "pleasure reading" as an expression always rubbed me the wrong way). A few years ago I decided that I'd be happy as long as I spent most of my time doing my three favorite things: reading, writing, and fucking (the three R's). That I'm not reading so much anymore feels very weird, and wrong.

You know what? Turn it around, Shorty! Let's get this reading boat back in the water.

S. Grey


* Here's what should be a list of all the books I've read since the beginning of my freshman year of college—not counting books I read for school or for work (or times I read them for school or for work—because you'll see I marked how many times I read things, too, if I read them more than once) and not counting whatever might have gotten lost or corrupted over the years, as for example in the switch from Word doc to Google doc. (Some may remember I put up a partial version of this list a while ago.) This is all crazy, by the way, I realize that, and I think I might stop (which is in fact the real reason I "published" the Google doc: I think I'm done with it).

† I kind of like "so far permanently."

‡ Don't bring up audiobooks. Just...don't.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Well, that's...odd.

Here's something in the same vein as the "Jew" thing, but worse:


Apparently in the world of electronic Boggle, queer is verboten: offensive and therefore not a word.

Now, first of all, the word queer—way more than gay—has a pretty valid claim to having lots of use outside of the context of homophobia. As a verb, I don't think it even has any association with anti-gay bigotry—does it? So ruling it out on account of its being a nasty term...well, there's an awful lot of verbal collateral damage, there, innit?

But even as a slur... Seriously, I can't think of another slur that has so successfully been appropriated and repurposed by the relevant oppressed minority. We call that empowerment, right? Do there even exist empowerment stories so victorious?

I mean, in the colleges you don't have "Nigger Studies" or "Cunt Studies": you've got African-American Studies, Women's Studies, and Queer Studies. Queer Studies! Is this because Queer Studies is run by sneering homophobes?

That was a rhetorical question, and the non-rhetorical answer is: no, it's because the word queer has been so thoroughly taken over by the "queers" that Homer Simpson had to whine about it to John Waters's (gay) character on The Simpsons: "That's our word for making fun of you. We need it!"* And that was in 1997!

Homer and a ho... (yes?) ...mo... (yes?)

Electronic Arts, you are a pack of preposterous dingbats. Here's hoping you're a little embarrassed with yourself for this shit—because if not, you are seriously fucking stupid.



* Quoting from memory, may be slightly off.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Junes 16

(or, The Ghost of June 16 Past)

(via)


1998
Things feel better with [GIRLFRIEND]. Good to get that sort of shit out of your system. Because, hey, who wants shit in his system?
...I am currently writing "Halley's Chimney," a bundle of nonsense that makes me wonder what writing is all about. I decided this time around just to have fun and not try too hard to do something I don't do... I can't tell whether it has anything going for it, whether it's even worth going back when I'm done and editing. But... and but... But Barthelme. Barthelme, a genius, presumably wrote with a similar... attitude. No. I don't know what I'm trying to say, because I'm paying more attention to the last minute of "The Nancy & Mary Music" (not because I'm easily distracted, but because I want to be distracted).
Tell me you love me. Tell me you love me.
Not that I'm aiming for Barthelme. No. Actually, "Halley's Chimney" is more an experiment than a story: what I'm doing is seeing what happens when I just write for fun, something I don't do quite so much anymore. Because you can't imitate people successfully. (Or is that wrong? You can't imitate successfully if imitation is the goal, but what if Bloom's creative misprision is the goal? But then, no, I'm stupid. You can't try to fail.)

2000 [12:44 a.m.]
Krzysztof Kieslowski's Dekalog 1 & 2 (1988) at Lincoln Plaza.*
I am increasingly overtired and weighed down all the further by the knowledge that, if I ever came upon four free hours, I'd have to devote them to the coverages and script-notes I've not managed to do over the past week. But I discard every part of my current mood on account of fatigue and fatigue alone. Y— introduced me to a new subway route, and [ANOTHER GIRLFRIEND]'s sweet on me.
I'm out.

2003
Radiohead's Hail to the Thief is playing from my iPod through [A THIRD GIRLFRIEND]'s Vaio speakers here in our studio apartment in West Hollywood. [She's] off at the [SHORT-LIVED FILM COMPANY] offices, and I pick her up in an hour and 40 minutes. We've been living together for about two days now. Sometimes I forget how much better things are when we're together, or I don't forget but rather push it away from myself, convince myself it can't really be true. But it's true.
Hail to the Thief was the first mail I got in this apartment, that and Gram Parsons' GP/Grievous Angel, which B— said was a must-have. So far I'm really enjoying Thief, GP not as much. I'm still settling in here. C— said a few times that L.A. has a way of sucking people in, that he had to warn me that people come for the summer and then don't leave at the end of the summer. But I have plane tickets from Austin to La Guardia in August, and I've leased an Upper West Side studio through July 2004, and I agreed to be the faculty adviser to the [SCHOOL] yearbook, and I told [FAMOUS PERSON] that I'd definitely be back in the fall to tutor his son [REDACTED]. So, see, some things aren't so up for grabs. But [ANOTHER PERSON†] has a novel that somebody's publishing...and what if I published a novel? I'd quit any job, wouldn't I? Maybe I"d hang in there till summer 2004 either way.
I'm settling. I'm settling into myself here. My job— What I do— I write. This summer, finally, I'm a writer. [SCHOOL] in New York City is going to pay me in July and August just as if I were still working for the school, but I am not doing anything for the school. I am self-employed. For the first time in seven years, all I need to do is write. It's my job. Self-employed unpaid. Occupation: writer. This will be true even next year when [SCHOOL] will pay for twelve thousand dollars of my rent and [FAMOUS PERSON] will pay me an irregular eighteen hundred a month if everything goes as planned; even though I'll be making as much as I made in the fall, I'll be working 30-something hours less every week. Occupation: what? Tutor? For 4½ hours a week? That's not a career. Yearbook adviser? Come on. No, occupation: writer.
Radiohead says, "Just because you feel it doesn't mean it's there." That isn't exactly right. Just because you feel it doesn't mean you know what it is.
Definitely I'll write about solipsism. Oh, definitely. Is there a novel called Girls? Let's find out. Use the old Comcast cable modem to get on Amazon.com... Books... Search... Amazon should let you look for exact matches. It's giving me The Dirty Girls Social Club, Morality for Beautiful Girls, Girl Culture, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls... The Good Girl's Guide to Bad Girl Sex... Bad Girls of the Bible and What We Can Learn from Them! And, right, this is 1–10 of 7967. Terrible. Maybe the library can help us out. I meant to check anyway to see about this L.A. public library—except does such a thing exist? What everybody calls Los Angeles is Los Angeles County. West Hollywood is its own goddamned city, as are Manhattan Beach and the rest of 'em. Maybe a West Hollywood public library? (Isn't this fascinating?) No, there's a Los Angeles Public Library: lapl.org. Let's see.
Edna Ferber wrote a book called Girls in 1921. Nicola Thorne wrote The Girls in 1967, as did Helen Yglesias in 1999 and Amy Goldman Koss in 2000. And Elaine Kagan in 1994. Ah, fuck: Frederick Busch wrote Girls: a novel in 1997. That fucking asshole. It can't be any good. "Grief Fiction. / Children Crimes against Fiction." Children Crimes against Fiction. Jesus. "Rape Fiction." Girls and Sex by Wardell Bax Pomeroy. The Girls Against the Boys. B—'s band in college was called Blacks Against Jews. For a while in 79th Street downtown 1/9 station, there was a sign that read, "We fight for brain damaged children," except that someone had scribbled out the for, so it said, "We fight for brain-damaged children." Ha ha.
I can write a novel called Girls. I'm not writing in the genre of Children Crimes against Fiction, so I think it'll be all right.
OK, so I've got two LAPL branches near me: the Will & Ariel Durant Branch at 1403 N. Gardner Street and the Fairfax Branch at 161 S. Gardner Street. Maybe I'll drive up and down Gardner and see which looks sexier.
Today was the first day of my new job. Orientation. The first thing I have to do is to figure out what story I want to write. Then I'm fucking golden.

2004
As I believe I wrote earlier in the year, I was bound to say, "I knew it," no matter how things turned out with Goodman. At least I wasn't proved wrong: [REDACTED], head of development at [REDACTED] Films, "really liked" my script and "is prepared to start finding a director," and when [AGENT FRIEND] told me this on the phone this evening at just about 7, right before I headed out to meet C— for dinner, my internal reaction was indeed a kind of elated "I knew it!" At the same time, though, I can hardly believe it.‡ Nothing's settled yet: [REDACTED] and ICM's [REDACTED] are going to be working together to come up with a list of possible directors. Possible directors!§ As I said to [SAME GIRLFRIEND AS IN 2003], people at two film companies—a production company and an agency—are devoting some thought to a script that I wrote. It is not impossible that a film could come out of it, that I may actually be starting a career not just as a writer (which lately I've felt I've actually become), but as a professional writer.

2010
Hey, universe: how about giving me some good news today about my goddamned screenplay! See how that would fit with the whole June 16 theme? Help me out. Be a pal. (I'm talking to the universe, here.)
Listening to Chaos and Creation in the Backyard by Sir Paul McCartney: pretty good stuff—thanks, [REDACTED]!
Maybe going east for a memorial service this weekend. Don't know yet. Will let you know. (False.)

(via)


* I used to write down every movie I watched. Yeah, I know, double-you tee eff.
† I'm having to take out something sort of awesome about sex, but it's not sex I had, so it's not my place.
‡ Smart kid. –ed.
§ Honestly I had forgotten that it ever got this far. Fuckin' Hollywood.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

on Anne

1937

One of my grandmothers died today. It wasn't a surprise, and even before she was dying she'd been gone awhile. As early as mid-2009 she had already pretty well lost track of where she was and who people were—not because she had Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, even, just because she was well into her nineties. And it was one of those weird things where, particularly in the early stages, her losing it actually made her a much nicer person, softening a lot of the hard edges and letting nastiness and arrogance kind of just blur into wittiness and good humor. It's strange to know that the reason a person is being much more pleasant to be around is that she's losing her mind, and yet it's also the case that all that was in there; I'm not sure what that says about how she could have lived her life differently or about what motivated her or defined her, and in fact I don't have any interest right now in that kind of analysis. Facts is facts: a symptom or side effect of her decline was a chance to get to know her better and to like her better.

By the end she was so far gone that she became, once again, something of a terror to deal with. But maybe that, too, is for the best. As I've said before, I'm not one of those ignorance-is-bliss people: the truth, I feel, is always better than a lie. She was a force of nature, for better and for worse, and I'm grateful for the time I spent with her, good and bad. Looking back, everything about her that was difficult and unpleasant just makes me sad—for her. That's easy for me to say, never having had to live with her, but I think it's valid.

I think what I'll remember most of all about her—and this is a choice as much as it is a prediction—is her sense of humor, the spark that was still there, surfacing occasionally even in the later days when most of her, or most of her humanity, was lost.* There was a way that she could take delight in things...and sometimes I gather it was cruel, but joy is joy, and maybe she came at things sideways or twisted and got things wrong, but that's the part of her, the germ of her, that I'm proud of, and that I love.

2009


* Of course I'll also always remember when she told me that she had been the head of "every organization." Really, Grandma? Every organization? So, the NAACP, FIFA, the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan club, the World Wide Wrestling Federation...

Monday, June 14, 2010

potential

Read Ariel Schrag's excellent high-school graphic memoir Potential yesterday...coupla semi-related thoughts:

I would love to be way more auto-biograph-y than I've ever been on here. I'm being serious. I know I go on about it. Fact is, it scares me. And trouble is, I think the fear is rational. I mean, if I "make it" as a writer, all bets are off: I can talk about whatever-the-fuck and, sure, I guess in theory I could alienate enough people that it fucked up my career, but at a certain point you've got to have faith in what you're talking about, right? Whereas now, when I'm losing money every month and only hoping to have a career I can fuck up, what happens if I post something incriminating or embarrassing that would register as interesting if it were written by a writer but would register as awkward and inappropriate if it were written by, say, someone applying for a normal-person job? (Like if I ever wanted to go back into teaching? Yeesh.) Of course, Ariel Schrag had the guts to dig deep and share some of her most intense personal and sexual thoughts and experiences with the goddamned world, and that was before she was an established writer or cartoonist, wasn't it? I'd like to dismiss that as, "Yeah, but she was in high school, high-schoolers don't know what the hell they're doing, their fuckin' brains aren't developed yet," but come on. Really what even that boils down to is that I'm more cowardly than a 17-year-old.


Why do I identify so much with the experiences of a teenage lesbian? Two obvious answers are: (1) it's just a version of the universal human experience, and (2) Ariel Schrag's a good writer and good writers can make you identify with just about anything. But I think there's another factor.
What makes the experience of a gay kid different from the experience of a straight kid when love and sex are involved—and here of course I'm speaking out of near-total ignorance, but let's go for it—has got to have a lot to do with the basic confusion and excitement and emotional turmoil's being supplemented by an additional layer of all-of-the-above. For example, you don't only have to worry about whether your girlfriend likes you as much as you like her, but you also have to worry about (e.g.) whether she might actually be essentially straight and not like girls as much as you do. And the mere fact that fumbling teenaged heterosexuality has at least some degree of monolithic societal encouragement behind it has got to make an enormous difference: trying to figure out who you are sexually when there's all this bigotry on the one hand and ignorance/indifference on the other, a societal sense that maybe you're doing something fundamentally wrong or at least incomprehensible...especially if you were growing up in the 20th century, but even today...
But so why do I identify? I think it's because I'm so freakishly introspective and analytical that I make the uncomplicated complicated; I'm pathologically skeptical of received wisdom and common sense, which is in many ways a positive trait but also is in so many ways self-defeating (at best). What I'm getting at is that I think the way my brain works, I see a straightforward statement and read it like a sphinx's riddle; I take relatively unchallenging situations and experience them like an unprecedented intellectual adventure. E.g., it came to pass at a certain point, a while back, that I realized I had been sexually active for a decade and had slept with several women and yet in some fundamental and very real sense did not believe that any woman would sleep with me. Do you follow that? There's intellectual knowledge and what you believe with your heart; for a while there, the fact that I had had girlfriends did nothing to convince me that I could ever have one. I was like the redhead vampire in True Blood whose hymen closes back up after every time she has sex: I just couldn't get rid of my virginity no matter what I did. A basic and unconfusing love life came across to me as a mystifying puzzle.
I'm over that now, but my point is that I think the reason why I identified so much with a teenage lesbian's early romantic experiences is that I unnecessarily complicated a relatively simple situation and lived my straight-boy's life almost as if I were a gay girl. That's probably bullshit, by the way, but not 100% bullshit. My new way of getting at the truth is like sketching: innumerable wrong-looking lines that get at the shape you want to reveal. Am I just saying that the teenage lesbian experience is like the teenage straight experience but amplified? And that I amplify everything? I think that's what I'm saying.
Honestly it's probably just that Potential's really good.

P.S. Homosexuality is a sin against God.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

PTSD

This happened to me the other day:

(Click to enlarge the horror.)

And another one on my left shoulder. Bug bites. No big deal, right?

Wrong. Wrong because I had fucking BEDBUGS* last summer. And I dealt with it—I hired a bedbug-expert exterminator to come in and exterminate the fuckers, and he did it, and they were gone, and that was all over and done with last year—and yet finding a bug bite literally almost made me have a panic attack. I could feel my blood pressure dropping like in a vasovagal response.†

Someday maybe I'll write all about that horrible fucking nightmare, but for now let me just note that some friends who had dealt with the problem about one year earlier than I did told me that, yes, for like 3–4 months after the problem was done I would still be paranoid and terrified that the problem secretly wasn't done (because bedbugs' superpower is that they're really, really good at hiding and waiting), and then for like a year after that I would fucking freak out every time I got a mosquito bite. Them's the breaks, said my friends.

When I found the mosquito in my bedroom after finding these two bites—man, I had never been so happy in my entire life to see a mosquito. I wanted to give it a hug. But even still, I spent the next few days terrified that I would wake up one morning with more bites—that the mosquito was what in a story you would call a red herring (or false hope)—and I kept waking up in the middle of the night with an itch, panicked...

The bedbugs were dead and gone by the end of Oct. 2009, and by the end of the year the problem was not only over but clearly, conclusively, officially over: if you don't get bitten in a month and a half, that's an "all clear." But here I am in Jun. 2010, more than six months after my last bite, in a new apartment in a new city, actually way past thinking about this shit anymore—and all it takes is a mosquito bite to send me spiralling back into nightmareville.

So understand that I am not joking or even really exaggerating when I say that I am traumatized and accordingly crazy. The god that allowed bedbugs to exist—and to return to our civilization after being very nearly wiped out like smallpox—is a frightening, hostile, and dangerous god. (I say that because I don't want to offend anyone by saying that God is a fucking asshole.)

UNRELATED: The fingernail on my right pinky finger is fucked up. The white part starts growing past the end of my fingertip, so it always looks like I have a coke habit. I do not. I don't even drink capital-C Coke.‡

(via)


* A new New York plague, in case you haven't heard.
† One theory of why we've got this programmed into us, by the way, is that it's what's supposed to happen if we're being eaten by a lion while we're still alive: basically nature being merciful and shutting down our brains when all else fails.
‡ I like that that logic almost sounds sound.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Another online spelling issue.

(via)

Another addition to this list (or to a superlist comprising several related lists):

looooooovvvvvvvvvveeeeeeeee
as in, "OMG, I looooooovvvvvvvvvveeeeeeeee that show!!!!! :P"

I see this indignity being visited upon any number of words: love is just the first example that came to mind. The problem is that while multiplying letters in a word is a perfectly valid stylistic device (depending on the formality of the context, of course), some discrimination has to go into which letters are going to overflow all over the page. The O and the V are OK in this context, but the E? What we've got written down here is not a long one-syllable word, but a long two-syllable word. Extending the silent E makes it not silent anymore. The word above would rhyme with movie.*

RIGHT: Whaaaaaaaaaat?!
WRONG: Surpriiiiisseeeeeeeeee!!!!

That is unless someone really did shout, "Surprise-eeeeeee," which would be legitimately surprising [slash, terrifying].



* Actually, love in fact is either a great or a terrible example because the sound we want to extend is represented by the O, but writing multiple O's results (as any I-Can-Reader could tell you) in an oo sound, as in moo—such that even loooooooooove would be wrong: you'd have to pronounce it not like a long love but like a long loove (U with a line over it).

Friday, June 11, 2010

on waiting

(via)

Woody Allen (or possibly Marshall Brickman) said it about relationships in Annie Hall, but it's true of life in general: you've got to keep moving forward or you die. That's why my doctor told me once that he'll never retire. The American fantasy seems to be the cessation of all work and responsibility, and while no longer having to do a job you hate is surely a plus, no longer having to do anything is death—indeed that's practically a tautology.

This is at least part of the reason why waiting is just about the worst thing a human being can do. I don't mean being patient, and I don't mean merely "having to wait" for something that just plain isn't going to happen yet. I also don't mean caring about things in the future. I mean waiting, actively waiting, waiting as a thing you're doing or as a state of being.

I think I first started to realize this while I was in the long-distance relationship that inspired this short story: pining for someone or, more accurately, pining for a time when I would get to be with that someone, revealed itself as just about the shittiest possible occupation—just existentially miserable, what the Internet kids today seem to like calling a major "fail." If the present is something you just have to get through...well, that's awful at best, and I'm going to go ahead and say that in some important sense it's essentially ethically problematic.

Why ethically? I don't [only] mean that in the Nabokovian sense whereby ethics, aesthetics, and metaphysics are inextricable. I'm talking about joy as distinct from happiness, about the decision as moral/religious per se, about Spinoza according to Kerr (as follows):

spinoza: "to be able to exist is power."

for Spinoza, "good" and "bad" are not moral categories. joy (good) is what increases our power of acting. sadness (evil) is what lessens our power of acting. e.g. "joy is [wo]man's passage from a less to a greater perfection.

(via)

This doesn't just apply (obviously) to long-distance romance. It applies to waiting to hear back about possible life-changing career developments. Like imagine if you had been given reason to believe you'd hear back from film producers about something on Monday (no, really, Monday!) and then it was Friday already and you were still waiting. And you were running out of money but, if things went the way they might, money either wouldn't be too much of a problem or wouldn't be a problem at all. I'm not sure there's necessarily a right way to handle that situation, but there's definitely a wrong way: waiting.

Any time you wish you could go into hibernation or hop in a time machine and skip ahead (this is related, I think, to the "OK, let's just get this over with" problem), something's not right. And if that something that's not right isn't something entirely out of your control—like you're enduring tremendous physical discomfort—then odds are you could be handling it better. This is important stuff, too: this is nothing less than how you live your life.

All I'm really saying (mainly to myself, frankly) is: remember Annie Hall's dead shark and swim, you fuckers! Swim like the sperm that fertilized your eggs (like in Barth's "Night-Sea Journey"), swim like your life depends on it, because it does; just SWIM...




* Somebody loves you—don't you know it?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

everyday value price


I love this shit. I assume it's essentially the same phenomenon as the .10¢ wings delight: in this case, presumably someone just didn't understand that the decimal point actually serves a function?—that it isn't mere decoration?—that indeed $99 and $0.99 are rather different everyday value prices?

The "and up" really makes it, though. Ninety-nine dollars...and up!

One time, driving on the highway, I passed a McDonald's that had a sign reading, "$100 COFFEE." Hilarious. Keep up the good work, humans!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Let me tell you about my ex-wife.

Flickr, via Google Image

There's of course a nasty—arguably misogynistic, but at least provocative—element to this T-shirt, which I've seen before, but the question,* "Define girlfriend," appeals on a more dispassionate, chipless-shoulder, what-war-of-the-sexes intellectual level. Because, really, what is a girlfriend?

Certainly I'm not alone in noting that my generation has a tendency to get involved in these play-marriages—or, no need to be snide about it, maybe mini-marriages? De facto marriages, even? I have one erst-girlfriend that I dated for 6½ years(!), and we lived together (you used to would have said† "in sin," but that concept is totally out the window, at least in my neck of the culture) for four. As she herself has noted, isn't she basically my ex-wife? I mean, in a different time, we definitely would have been married. (In fact, who knows: we might have been married still. After all, the big difference between these mock-marriages and the real thing, as far as I can tell—both just in my own head and in discussion with friends who've made the leap—is a sense of, you know, increased commitment, stability, security..."in sickness and in health," that sort of thing: a decision to stick it out even if it starts to suck. If you've got a girlfriend, even if you've been living together from years and are basically married, there's a point at which if things aren't going well you maybe think, "Why the fuck...?" And if you're married there's maybe more of an answer to that half-rhetorical question.)

[I've put this up (and been here) before.]

But so what is a girlfriend? Actually, what really got me thinking and writing this baloney is the question, what is an ex-girlfriend? The broad‡ I dated for 6½ years obviously counts: anyone you might half-jokingly call your ex-wife certainly makes the cut. And I'd say the dame I went out with on-and-off for more than a year—call it nine months nonconsecutive?—she's certainly an ex-girlfriend. But what about the one I fell in love with but spent probably no more than a week with, cumulatively? What about the one I dated for like 2–3 months but it never got at all serious?

One "ex" candidate said she applied the label ex (but not ex-boyfriend, I think: interesting) to anyone she'd slept with more than a few times. That's reasonable enough, but I'm not sure I'm in. People born before 1960 seem to be obsessed with the concept of "fuck buddies" or "friends with benefits"—I think because they've got this sexual-romantic fantasy about it that doesn't really conform with relatively boring reality—but surely it's true that you can be fucking somebody for months and months without her ever being your girlfriend. Am I wrong? And you could date someone for two weeks in some super-intense way in which really she kind of was your girlfriend. But maybe what I mean by that is that if you declare yourselves boyfriend and girlfriend... Well, are you, then? Is it a speech act? Can you say you are and not be? Can you not say you are and be? The latter, surely yes. (No?) The former...?

Huh.

(via)

Then of course there's the semantic distinction brought in by the word serious. People, at least in my generation, have serious girlfriends. There's serious, there's casual; with sex there's meaningful and meaningless...§ Over the past few years it's seemed to me that treating any of these things as all-or-nothing is absurd and destructive: there are so many levels of "seriousness" in romantic and sexual relationships—and not only that, but they're not even all on the same single vertical continuum.

Somewhat in line with my early discussion of what to call sex—or, more specifically, with my early discussion of the term making love—I think I may in fact becoming old fashioned in my attitude toward dating and inclined to agree with the grandmothers out there (and the boxes we're all asked to check) that there are two main categories: single and married. What's in between you call dating, and I'm not saying I'm against premarital monogamy (on the contrary: I've done the "open relationship" thing and found it to be pretty much intolerable), but I do think that however you label what happens in that in-between area is maybe pretty much just completely up to you.

This has happened before: I love it when I end a blog post by saying, "So do whatever you want." Like you need my permission. I mean, you do: you need my permission. But you've got it! Have fun out there, you crazy kids!

Let me tell you about my future wife.


* So it's not exactly a question. "Define girlfriend" is to questions as a rhetorical question is to statements. (Nailed it.)
† "Used to would have" is a disaster. Isn't it right, though? Maybe that sort of thing only works if you write it in quasi-dialect, like useta-woulda.
‡ I absolutely do not talk like this.
§ Although I contest that whole distinction (I don't think any interaction, no matter how "casual," can truly be meaningless) and also throw in my not-joking cards with the joke line in Love and Death: sex without love may be an empty experience, "but as empty experiences go, it's one of the best."