Wednesday, January 28, 2009

R.I.P., John Updike


From his expression and the pitch of his voice, the boy is shouting into a fierce wind blowing from his father’s direction. “Don’t die, Dad, don’t!” he cries, then sits back with that question still on his face, and his dark wet eyes shining like stars of a sort. Harry shouldn’t leave the question hanging like that, the boy depends on him.

“Well, son,” he says, “all I can tell you is, it isn’t so bad.” Rabbit thinks he should maybe say more, the kid looks wildly expectant, but enough. Maybe. Enough.

--Rabbit at Rest, John Updike

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tim Kreider, Funniest Man Alive, presents "All Yours": Bush to Obama




Artist's Statement by Timothy Kreider

(The reduced image at left hardly does Tim's work justice; and you surely should click here to see the piece in all its glory.)

If all goes according to plan like it never does, this will be my last overtly political cartoon.

I just got back from Inauguration last night. That crowd you saw on TV, filling the Mall from the Capitol to the Washington Monument? That was me! Through her unparalleled interpersonal and bartending skills my friend Melissa scored tickets to the inauguration for our whole group of friends. We left our HQ in Maclean, Virginia (thanks, Kristie and T.L., for your extravagant hospitality) at 5:15 A.M. to get the Metro into the District, and it was a good thing we did--we later ran into people who’d gotten into D.C. at 5 AM and still didn’t get into the inauguration. We spent several hours trapped in a vast, immobile crowd, waiting to get into the designated gate for purple tickets. At one point we saw Jesse Jackson and his entourage up ahead of us, trying to make their way through the crowd, on foot and just as fucked as the rest of us. I remembered then how he’d been overheard saying he was going to “cut [Obama’s] balls off” during the campaign, and I thought, Well, that’s what you get for talking shit about Obama—the same color ticket as Tim Kreider. (I read later that Jackson never got into the inauguration at all. Neither did Mariah Carey.)

Later an ambulance needed to get through the intersection, and the crowd, already packed as densely as a New York subway at rush hour, was pressed even more tightly against the barricades that hemmed us in. This was the only point at which we felt there might be even the slightest possibility of being maybe a little bit crushed to death. It was then that Melissa, who was raised to believe that there is always a way to sneak around the rules and avoid getting screwed along with the rubes, struck out away from the crowd and led us all to another approach to the gate, one where the crowd, though just as dense, was indeed shuffling slowly, intermittently forward. Despite the interminable wait, the frustrating absence of any communication or direction from anyone in charge, the agoraphobic closeness and toe-numbing cold, the people in D.C. that day were (a little halfhearted and desultory chanting aside) not ill-tempered or impatient but calm and friendly and humorous, joined together in a spirit of commiseration and fellow-feeling. I heard later that even with a crowd of almost two million people—the largest assembly in the history of Washington, D.C.—there was not one arrest. Melissa gave our extra ticket to a guy hawking Presidential T-shirts.

We did finally get into the Inaugural area, where every monument was coated and dripping with people. [Photos of the event, courtesy of Sarah Glidden, are posted on our photos page.] The trees were full of people, too, at whom the cops would periodically yell to get down. And the tree people would sullenly clamber down only to be replaced by more climbers five minutes later. I was reminded of Zacchæus, the short tax collector who climbed a sycamore to see Jesus preach. Never in my lifetime have I seen so many people strain with such intensity and passion to see a single man. (And when have you ever seen sportswear emblazoned with the name and face of a U.S. President?) It was a racially mixed, polyglot crowd, like a New York City street scene, strikingly unlike the homogenous mob of cruel-faced, desiccated coots in cowboy boots and their powdered, mink-enshrouded wives I saw at Bush’s first inaugural. Older black women were weeping openly, their faces embarrassingly beautiful to see; happy Asian couples were taking photos of themselves against the background of the crowd. All our trials were worth it to me to know that one of the millions of boos George Bush heard when his name was announced was my own. The most air-stillingly beautiful moment of the day was Aretha Franklin’s “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” When she sang the line, “Land where our fathers died” a voice behind me shouted, “Yes, they did!” in churchly call-and response. Melissa and Sarah were weeping. I kept laughing for happiness. Obama’s speech was the only one we could hear well, so clear and resonant was his voice. I uttered a feeble “h’raay” when he mentioned “non-believers” (despite the incorrect nomenclature—we prefer to be called “The Damned”). It was a gesture of inclusion as unexpected and as moving, in its way, as his speaking the word “gay” in his acceptance speech. In the pause after an especially welcome or inspiring line, because of the sheer expanse of the crowd and the slow travel time of sound, you could hear the roar of cheers and applause rolling in oceanic waves two miles down the mall, like thunder or the sea.

After the inauguration I retreated to a mobbed and raucous Irish bar catty-wampus from Union Station where Van Halen was playing real loud and I scarfed down a plate of chicken wings and drank Jack Daniels out of a plastic cup for the first time in many years. It was there that I watched George W. Bush leave Washington, D.C. in disgrace. When he ascended the stairway to his plane the whole bar erupted with jeers and hurrahs. Everyone waved Good riddance, fuckboy, and raised their beers in ferocious toast. I gave the finger to the screen.

That night my friends and I retired to my Undisclosed Location on the Chesapeake Bay, well north of D.C. I built a fire in the woodstove and we all drank wine and made baked brie and salad and mushroom risotto. Late that night I put an episode of The Shadow on the turntable and we all passed out within minutes. The next morning, after breakfast, we all went for a walk on the beach, where we saw a couple of bald eagles flapping over the frozen cove. I played the Star-Spangled Banner on my pump organ before we left the cabin and headed back up 95 to New York City and home.

This morning I overcame my post-election indifference to politics, which borders on an active antipathy, and forced myself to read the Times, figuring that after eight years of relentlessly ghastly and depressing affronts to human decency I owed myself a little good news. I almost couldn’t take it. Already President Obama has signed executive orders closing down Guantanamo and the CIA’s secret prisons and overturning Bush’s efforts to block access to government records. Dennis Blair, Obama’s appointee for national director of intelligence, called for oversight and transparency in intelligence and said that counterterrorism must be consistent with American law and the Geneva conventions. He actually used the phrase “speak truth to power.” It is such a profound and pathetic relief just to hear anyone in the government say anything sane or reasonable or obviously true. Can it all really be this easy? As my cartoon illustrates, I know that the Bush administration has left the country a shambles, and it’s not just a matter of repair but of rebuilding, from the ground up, and it’ll take a long time. But it means so much just to know that the people in charge are smart and responsible and in touch with reality, listening to their soldiers and their spies and their scientists instead of plugging their ears and praying, that they respect the law and believe in democracy. It feels like the Dark Tower toppling, the statue of the Emperor pulled down, the snow melting and rumors of Aslan returned.

Most amazing of all, in a way, was the simple photo of President Obama sitting at the desk in the Oval Office. I looked at it for a long time.

You can see all of Tim's many perverse and wonderful cartoons, and/or make a donation to The Pain comics by clicking here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hot Pockets!

After last nights' season premiere of LOST, I was put in mind of Jim Gaffigan's classic bit:

Hope and Change: "LOST" Season five

This week has been a dramatic and historic moment in the life of our country, with change and hope at large in the land. I refer of course to the Season 5 premiere of LOST last night.

My favorite blogger on all things TV is Alan Sepinwall of the Newark Star Ledger-- who got his big break as the go-to guy in the press for The Sopranos. Here's his review of the two hour season opener last night, and a link to his blog, which contains all sorts of smart things.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lost, "Because You Left" & "The Lie": Uh-oh, Zoot skipped a groove again! by Alan Sepinwall

Spoilers for the "Lost" season five premiere coming up just as soon as I heat up a Hot Pocket...

"Everyone I care about just blew up on your damn boat. I know what I can't change!" -Sawyer

"Look, everything's going to make sense. I promise." -Hurley
"It better!" -Hurley's mom


If, as with "The Wire," the opening scene of each season tells you all you need to know about what's to come, then the series' pentultimate season is going to be about time travel, and about what happens when a beloved old record starts skipping a few grooves.

When Daniel Faraday invokes that old-fashioned needle-skip phenomenon, he explains what's happening on the island in layman's terms, as well as providing greater symbolic weight to the way three season (including this one) opened with characters listening to their favorite vinyl selections. In this case, what Dr. Chang (aka Marvin Candle / aka Mark Wickmund / aka Edgar Halliwax) is playing Willie Nelson's "Shotgun Willie," but these episodes as a whole play a little like "Lost's Greatest Hits."

Not only does the time-travel phenomenon lead to return appearances by Ethan, Yemi's plane (and its cargo of dope-filled Virgin Mary figurines) and a younger version of Desmond still waiting for his replacement to arrive ("Are you him?"), and not only does the second episode feature a ghostly (or hallucinatory) appearance by Ana-Lucia and the return of Desmond's time-travel guru Ms. Hawking, but the two episodes are filled with all of the things that can make "Lost" so addictive -- and, depending on your tastes, maddening.

These episodes offered up cool action, like Sayid having a brawl involving pots, pans and a rogue dishwasher, as well as the harrowing sequence of Sawyer, Juliet and the remaining Lostaways trying to survive a flaming arrow attack. They offered strong character moments, like Sawyer's confession of just how much he's hurting, or Hurley finally coming clean to someone about the island. (Much more on both of those in a bit.) It offered more clues -- and, in some cases, plain answers -- about what's going on on this bizarre island, as well as tantalizing new questions like... soldiers? With flaming arrows? And British accents?

But back to that opening sequence, set in the glory days of the Dharma Initiative, before The Others took over, before Chang/Candle/Wickmund/Halliwax lost his arm, before all that unpleasantness -- what is Faraday doing there, and how did he get there? Is this another instance of the current time-skipping problem, and he just happened to wind up temporarily stuck in the island's Dharma era, or does this tie back into his own time travel experiments and the fact that Desmond is supposed to be his Constant?

Whatever he's doing there, it's clear that twitchy Dan is going to be a crucial part of this season, and that Desmond (who really only appears for a few minutes in both these episodes combined) could be almost as important, as the show finally makes explicit what's been speculated on for years: among the unique properties of the island is an ability to bend the laws of physics to send people, things, and even the island back and forth through time. If that's really happening, then not only will the Lostaways need a quantum physicist and an unstuck-in-time Scotsman to save them, but we'll need Dan just to put things in layman's terms, which he does quite nicely with the record analogy.

Now, are the Lostaways moving through time (and possibly space) or is the island? That may be an issue of semantics, or it may be the key to all of this. To get my full comic book geek on, I think of Guardian from Alpha Flight, who had the ability to make himself immune to the Earth's rotation. The planet would keep moving, and Guardian would stay in the same place, but to the observer (who was, in fact, moving right along with Earth), it looked like he had flown away at an astonishing speed. We know that it looked, from the Oceanic Six's perspective, like the island blinked out of existence, and maybe it did. Maybe it goes from place to place, time period to time period, and that's how Yemi's small plane made it all the way from Africa to the South Pacific (and seems remarkably well-preserved years later), how the Black Rock wound up at the center of the island (and how the ship's first mate's journal wound up in Madagascar, how the polar bears wound up in Tunisia, etc. Maybe, in fact, none of these things would have wound up on (or off) the island if Ben hadn't moved the frozen donkey wheel and made the record start skipping. Maybe Locke didn't travel back in time to witness the moment when Yemi's plane crashed, but rather was there at the moment (in relative island time) when it originally happened.

And now as I re-read that paragraph, I wonder if I'm just writing in circles, which is always the danger of time travel stories: even when they make sense to the quantum physicists like Faraday, or the comic book nerds like me, they can still make your head hurt. And to someone without a PhD or a bookshelf full of sci-fi paperbacks, it can be a complete turn-off.

But what made all the time-bending of "The Constant" work so brilliantly, and what makes these two episodes work almost as well (they're trying to move forward a lot more plot than "The Constant" had to deal with, so the focus is by nature not as tight) is that they never lose sight of the human element. Yes, insane things are happening, some of which make sense if you stop to explain them, many of which don't make any sense at all, but there are recognizable characters at the center of them, reacting in a way that seems right to them, and that's moving in some way.

Sawyer's stuck on the island as it skips from era to era (or as he skips from era to era, or however you want to parse it), but he's also trying to process what he thinks is the death of Kate and Hurley and his other friends -- and maybe, though it's never said outright, the guilt that if he hadn't jumped out of the helicopter ("for her"), it might have gone in the ocean (where they could have swam away) instead of landing on the soon-to-explode freighter. Sawyer was pretty marginalized last season, but as Sawyer tries to deal with all the time jumps and his own grief, Josh Holloway does an outstanding job of reminding us why he was such a vital character from the start, and of making Sawyer's anguish clear well before he comes right out and says it to Dan.

Hurley, meanwhile, is on the run from the cops, and Ben, and whomever's been following him and Sayid, and maybe from ghosts (or else just more examples of his own mental problems). As the alliances in the real world ebb and flow and threaten to become as cryptic as the time mess on the island -- What did Ben do to make Sayid break away from him? Does Sun really only blame Ben for Jin's death, or is she plotting some righteous vengeance on Kate and Jack as well? -- Hurley, as he so often, blessedly does, brings it all back down to earth.

Despite his mental problems, Hurley has always been one of the most rational characters "Lost" has. (Ditto Sawyer, which makes them appropriate centerpieces for these first two episodes.) Hurley's the only one who sees from the start that the Oceanic Six lie is going to be more trouble than it's worth, and as we saw when he charged through a mine field to ask Rousseau about the numbers, it matters an awful lot when he can find people who believe him when he speaks the truth. So the scene where he finally comes clean to his mom and gives her a summary about what happened on the island -- sounding totally insane even to those of us who watched all this stuff go down -- and she believes him because he's her son and he wouldn't lie to her... well, that provided more than enough emotional ballast to the rest of it. It can never be said enough how wonderful Jorge Garcia is at showing Hurley's vulnerability, and how valuable Hurley's perspective on things is to keeping this whole bizarre enterprise from flying off the rails.

With these episodes -- really, going back to last year's three-hour finale -- the show has changed up its narrative format once again. Rather than the simple structure of intercutting events on the island with one character's flashback, or flashforward, we now have two parallel narratives -- one on the island at the end of 2004 (or did the new year begin before the freighter blew up?), the other in the real world in 2007 -- that are both constantly moving forward. This late in the series, this kind of global plotting is necessary, as it allows all of the stories to advance each week, rather than waiting for, say, Kate's spotlight episode to fill us in on what's happening with her and Aaron and these shady lawyers (working for Claire's mom, maybe?) who want a blood test to prove maternity. Yet despite having much more forward momentum than all but a handful of episodes from previous seasons, both "Because You Left" and "The Lie" still manage to find an emotional anchor (first Sawyer, then Hurley) so that they can feel like original-recipe "Lost" while dabbling in time travel, espionage, mergers and acquisitions, and all these other new elements.

Needless to say, I am very, very happy with where we're at with the new season. And next week's episode, which I got to see on a big screen back at press tour, may actually be the best of the three so far.

Some other thoughts and questions to ponder:

• In case you missed it yesterday, I did a long interview with Damon Lindelof when I was in California last week. In it, we discuss not only the new time travel theme, but key elements from season four and from the series as a whole. If you don't have time for the whole thing, I'd suggest scrolling down to the parts about "Stranger in a Strange Land" inadvertently saving the series, and about how the master plan relates to Michael Emerson being promoted from day player to central character.

• Another link you might have missed: Isaac Spaceman's recap of the previous four seasons. It's a bit longer than Hurley's, and doesn't have the pathos, but it's wicked, wicked funny.

• Interesting that, in the end, Hurley takes Sayid's advice (no matter what, do the opposite of whatever Ben suggests) over Ana-Lucia's (no matter what, don't let the cops catch you). Given what we know about Ben, Sayid's was probably the wiser piece of advice, and it's rare to see Ben as thoroughly foiled as he is in that moment -- which only made my Hurley love grow more.

• What exactly is going on with the pendulum in Ms. Hawking's office? And why does she have a computer that looks to be the same vintage as the one from the hatch?

• In addition to the Willie Nelson song, the most notable tune playing over these two episodes was Cheap Trick's "Dream Police," which was the Muzak playing as Hurley bought a t-shirt at the gas station.

• One more thing to ponder about what's moving and why on the island: The Others -- at least, the native Others (as opposed to an immigrant like Juliet) -- don't seem to be traveling when the Lostaways do. One minute, Locke's in the jungle with his flock, and the next he's in the pouring rain by himself.

• And speaking of The Others, one of the benefits of the deal to end the series after next season was it gave Cuse and Lindelof the ability to sign people like Nestor Carbonell to firmer deals. We don't need to worry anymore about Richard disappearing again from the narrative because Carbonell (who apparently is not wearing eyeliner) got cast in another series.

• The compass Richard gives to Locke -- to give back to him at their next meeting in Locke's future and Richard's past -- would seem to answer the question of which item the young Locke was supposed to recognize that he already owned during the '60s flashbacks from "Cabin Fever," right?

• While Dan has jumped to the center of the narrative, the other surviving freighter folk are still around to varying degrees. I'm not sure if we'll be seeing Frank again past the flashback to the origin of the Oceanic Six lie (which was hatched while he was still hanging with them and Desmond and Penny), but Miles gets to prove that Locke isn't the only guy on the island who can catch boar (though, admittedly, John had the tougher task of doing it with living ones, where Miles just uses his psychic powers to find already dead ones), and Charlotte appears to be more profoundly affected by the time travel than the rest of the gang, judging by her nosebleeds, memory loss and Dan's obvious concern for her.

• Carlton Cuse has brought in a bunch of supporting players from his "Nash Bridges" over the years, whether it's Cheech as Hurley's dad, Daniel Roebuck as the amazing exploding Arzt, and now Mary Mara as Jill, Ben's contact at the Others-run butcher shop. (Those Others, always diversifying: they run a butcher shop, and a biotech firm, and a time-traveling island, and...)

• Like father, like son: Cheech also enjoys the occasional episode of "Expose."

• Between Keamy's assault force, the explosion of the freighter and now the fire arrow attack, Cuse and Lindelof have now gotten rid of most of the anonymous remaining passengers (or, as the producers call them, The Socks) of Oceanic 815. As Lindelof put it, half tongue-in-cheek, at a press conference last week:
The last character that anyone ever asked us about was Frogurt, and you saw how we dealt with his reintroduction. The show is now moving into a phase where the presence of The Socks was no longer directly necessary. So we killed them with arrows. And that’s just what you do.
• Getting back to the rules about time travel, how do you feel about Dan's assertion that Desmond is "special," and therefore immune to all the rules? Interesting idea that makes one of the show's most popular characters even more important, or a magical get-out-of-jail-free card for whenever the writers paint themselves into a corner over these last two seasons?

What did everybody else think?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Why We Will Miss the Idiot, George Bush


Today is the last day of the Bush Administration. Two cheers! Still, as our man sets about the business of screwing up whatever he has possibly still left unscrewed in these last twenty-four hours, I can't help but suspect that we will come to miss the man, this poor, hapless imbecile.

For the last twenty-eight years-- virtually all of my adult life--the country has been ruled by a conservative ideology. Reagan said it himself: "Government is not the answer to our problems; government is the problem." Bill Clinton, beset by a Republican revolution in the Congress, had to go along: "The era of big government is over."

And so for twenty-eight years, the Republicans, sometimes aided by Democrats, have set about dismantling the government, replacing experts with hacks, scientists with creationists, administrators with political cronies. Wasn't it the famous "Brownie" of the New Orleans disaster, whose previous qualification was directing the "Wild Thoroughbred Horse Association."? Oh, and being a Republican fundraiser.

The Republicans were lucky in having a genial, television-friendly Ronald Reagan for eight years to make it seem like they weren't slowly wrecking the government. Still, the record deficits (records then, anyhow) ought to have given people a clue. But the luck ran out with George Bush, who managed, in his twinkling time as President, to make a disaster out of virtually everything.

There is not a single thing one can think of that is not worse than it was in 2000. And not just like, a little bit worse, but, say, oh, a hundred times worse. This is not some crazy accident, a bit of bad luck for George W. Bush. It is the direct result of a quarter century of giving the Republicans everything they could ever have possibly asked for.

A better spinmeister-- Reagan, say-- might have somehow managed to make Americans blindly find someone other than the Republicans to blame. Not so with George Bush. The man had the Midas Touch in reverse: everything he touched turned to crap. And finally, at last, even people who'd gone along with the whole Republican tidal wave of lies began to notice that the entire country is broken.

Nothing made a case for the Democrats like George W. Bush. Every time he opened his imbecilic, simian mouth, he drove home the point once again that the nation was being run by an orangutan. It was all summed up by a fine bumper sticker: SOMEWHERE IN TEXAS, A VILLAGE IS MISSING ITS IDIOT.

Now that he's gone--is he really gone?-- the business of repairing the country will go on, and on, probably for years. We will have to face serious choices and sacrifices, and some of these problems will probably not be solved in my lifetime; a quarter century of wrecking the government and handing everything over to Jesus will probably take more than a quarter century to fix.

My guess is that we will miss having George Bush to kick around, that soon enough people will look at the disaster we are in and begin to blame Barack Obama for it. Without George Bush we will lose a daily reminder of what happens when the country we love attacks other nations without just cause; when we trample upon the Constitution; when we turn to torture; when we make whipping boys and girls out of gay, lesbian, and transgender citizens; when we spend and spend without ever raising taxes to pay for it all.

In short; we will miss having a leader quite so stupid.

Oh well. There's always Sarah Palin.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"I Want to Wake Up."

Transgendered Author

“I Want to Wake Up”
A Speech to the National Press Club
By Jennifer Finney Boylan

The upcoming combination of MLK Day and Obama's inauguration made me think about this speech, originally given at the National Press Club in May 2007. Hope you'll forgive the re-tweet (sic) but these words mean a lot to me. The text is © 2007 Jennifer Finney Boylan.

Thank you. Look at you all. It’s very cool to see all of you
gathered in one spot, all these trans people and their allies.

There are a lot of things I don’t know, but I know this:
Tomorrow is going to be a great day.

One night recently, my children and my partner and I
were talking about the usual stuff at dinner—about whether
bloodhounds drool too much, about who would win, The
Incredible Hulk, or Abraham Lincoln? At one point we even
fell into the classic discussion of what makes the best
superpower? While I argued for super-speed, my children
tried to make the case for Time-Travel, and Flying, and
something they called Super-stickiness, which might be the
thing that enables Spiderman to climb walls, or which might
be something else entirely.

My son Sean was doing a book report on Martin Luther
King at the time. And in the midst of our conversation,
Sean suddenly looked up at Grace and me and said, “Why
did Martin Luther King say he wanted to dream?”

And we said, well, it’s good to dream.

My son said he understood that. But why, he asked, didn’t
Martin Luther King want to wake up? And step out into a
world where those dreams are at last coming true?

As I think about all of us—transgendered Americans in this
room and across the country, I can’t help but think that my
son is right. While our dreams give us courage and hope, it
is also surely time that we all wake up, and enjoy our rights
as American citizens, in a country that respects our diversity,
our courage, and our strength.

And so I say to you:

I want to wake up in a country where transgendered people
are seen as human, where our curiously gendered lives are
seen as one more variation in the rich tapestry of experience,
as something not to be shocked by, but as something to be
celebrated, and honored, and understood.

I want to wake up in a country where Americans
understand that transgender people come in all shapes and
sizes and embodiments, where to be a cross dresser or a
transsexual or a drag queen or trans man or genderqueer is
seen as simply another way of being human, a person
endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights, and
that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness.

I want to wake up tomorrow.

I want to wake up in a country where coming out as
transgender is not seen as the end of the world, but as a
beginning, where the lives of people such as ourselves are
celebrated, where we are seen as precious, vital parts of a
democracy, where we have the right to earn a living without
fear of being fired for what we are, where we have the right
to get married to the people we love, where the President of
the United States will reach out and shake our hands and
say that he is proud of everything we bring to the American
experience. I want to wake up.

I want to wake up in a country where qualified,
hardworking Americans will never be denied job
opportunities because of the sexual orientation or their
gender identity or expression, a country where every
individual will have a fundamental right under Federal Law,
to be protected from discrimination. I want to wake up in a
country in which the thirty-three states at present where a
person can be fired because of her sexuality have to change
their laws. I want to wake up in a country in which the forty-
two states in which a person can be fired because of her
gender identity have to change their laws. I want to wake
up in a country in which men and women are judged not by
what they are wearing, or whom they love, but by the
content of their characters. I want to wake up.

I want to wake up to a county in which crimes against
transgender people will never be excused by anybody, ever,
for any reason.

Tomorrow morning, when you open your eyes, you will
wake up into a country which is changing, one human face

at a time. And in so doing, you will also answer for my
family another one of those questions we ask around the
dinner table, namely, who is the best superhero?
Wolverine? Spiderman?? Thomas Jefferson? And what
exactly does it mean, in the end, to be a hero?

If you ask me, the best superheroes are the transgender
people in this room and all across America. In your grace,
your courage, in your unquenchable desire to make this a
better country, you are all heroes.

It is an honor to be here with you all, fighting this fight.
With all our super powers tomorrow—super love, super
compassion, and yes, even a little bit of super-stickiness--I
know that in the morning, we are all going to wake up to a
better country, and to a better future.

Tomorrow is going to be a great day.

Thank you.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Protest the Paritioning of Mordor!



MINAS TIRITH (A.P.) – August 28. United States Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice today announced a plan for the partition of Mordor.

The U.S. led invasion, which led to the toppling of the Dark Lord, Sauron, has been bogged down since the liberation of the Land of Shadow, as insurgent orcs, Balrogs, and Fighting Uruk-Hai continue to battle American forces, and drink each others’ blood out of soup tureens.

Sauron, the one-time supreme leader of Mordor, has been awaiting trial since his capture by U.S. forces last year. At the time of his capture, the Dark Lord was found crouching in a hidey-hole eating beef jerky, apparently unaware that he was no longer supreme ruler of the Land of Shadow. “Hey,” said Sauron. “I’ve got Joe-mentum!”

The plan which the Secretary of State announced today calls for dividing Mordor into three “realms.” The northernmost land, stretching from the Dead Marshes to the far-off Sea of Nurn, would be renamed “Freedomville,” and administered by the majority orc population, and backed by troops from the European Union. The southern realm, renamed “Libertytown,” would be run mostly by cave-trolls, wicked Southron men, and a special “all drunken” brigade of the Russian Army.

The middle realm, “Happy-stan,” which includes the former site of the Dark Tower, Barad-dur, as well as fiery Mount Doom, would be turned into one giant Wal-mart, run by surly teenagers who have to “change the tape” whenever you approach the register.

At the time of the initial cease-fire in Mordor, it was hoped that the freed hobgoblins and giant spiders would “welcome U.S. troops as liberators.” Several years into the conflict, however, hope seems to be dimming for the transformation in Mordor that neoconservatives had hoped for, particularly along the firey plains of Gorgoroth, where the roads still have potholes filled with molten lava and these really creepy dudes with tentacles.

The problem was well summarized by a Mordor insurgent named Ugluk: “We don’t want democracy. What we really want is to drink blood from a giant soup tureen.”

The Bush foreign policy team seems caught off guard somewhat by the reluctance of the population of Mordor to embrace democracy.

“We figured once Sauron had been overthrown, the orcs and trolls would pretty much be ready for the American way of life,” said the U.S. Secretary of Defense. “Instead all they want to do is hit each other over the head with clubs and ride around on giant elephants. Quite frankly we’re a little baffled. We’re like: hello? Don’t you want to eat at an Arby’s instead? Become a contestant on ‘Mordorian Idol?’”

Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., President Bush announced today that the “war on Mordor was going really, really well.”

“These giant spiders and cave troll guys, they hate our freedom,” said the President. “They hate our country music and pork chops. Go figure.”

Elf Queen Galadriel dismissed this thought angrily. “It’s not about pork chops. It’s about dudes with tentacles.”

The U.S. led alliance, “Operation Mordor Happiness” has been precarious since the start.

In Gondor, King Elessar, Aragorn son of Arathorn was reported to have thrown up his hands at the whole mess. “Mordor, Mordor, Mordor,” said the King. “That’s all I ever hear about. What about my new health care plan? ”

King Eomer, over in Rohan, was said to be reconsidering his commitment of two thousand armed men on horseback to the fighting in Mordor, in response to criticism of the alliance with Gondor. “What,” said Eomer. “The Riders of Rohan are supposed to just keep riding around in a circle until a bunch of cave-trolls embrace democracy? Does that sound like a good idea?”

In Lothlorien, Elf-Queen Galadriel denounced both Sauron as well as the Bush policy. “Nobody hates the Dark Lord more than we do,” said the Queen. “But those who seek to control a place like Mordor will, in time, be turned to evil themselves. “ The Elf-Queen sighed. “Like Johnny Damon.”

Meanwhile, in the Land of Shadow, the war drags on.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

America's New-boyfriend Troubles....

I was excited last week when I got an invitation to a party over at America’s house. For one thing, I was looking forward to seeing what the new place looked like. She has lived in a LOT of houses, over the years, and some of them you wouldn’t wish on Antarctica.

Not like Antarctica was invited, of course. Everyone knows if you ask Antarctica anywhere she just starts up with the business. Oh, my ice sheet is melting, oh I keep shedding chunks of my shelf, blah blah blah. Whenever I see Antarctica, I just want to say, girlfriend: you’re a wreck.

When I first met America, she was living in a teepee. Seriously. You should have seen the clothes. Beads and fringe and feathers. She was like, I’m going over to the Pilgrims’ house! And we were like, You’re wearing that?

Then she moved in with England for a while, but surprise, surprise: they had this BIG blowup. After that, she moved out west. This was a very difficult period, and when I say difficult I mean: chaps and leather. Ten gallon hats. It was rough.

This was when I lost touch with America for a while, which I feel bad about, but then you know the old saying: History is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

So imagine how delighted I was when I heard she’d been to Europe—not once but twice! Apparently there was this big crisis over at Germany’s house and she organized an intervention. Germany went on this twelve-step plan and came back all buff. First time I saw him, in fact, I was, like, whoa, who is that? Holland’s little brother?

We were close, America and me, when I was growing up. To be quite honest, I looked up to her. She’d been through a lot of changes, but you had to respect her. At long last she seemed to have found herself.

Which was why we were all so surprised when she took up with Iraq. Not that I have anything against Iraq, but he’s so immature! Still, she saw something in him. She’d gone out with him before, back in 91, but this time it seemed serious.

And for the first few months, it seemed like it was all going to work out for her. She lost weight. You’d see her jogging in the morning with her torch and that crown with the little spikey things on it, which I know seems so totally 1770s, but what can I tell you: somehow she made it work.

Then we started hearing rumors about her war, how Iraq was secretly seeing some theocracy behind her back.

And so, as we sat around her new house, me and all her old friends, we had to ask. Are you happy? Is this what you wanted?

America started crying. I don’t know! She said. It was nice at first, but now it’s just—a quagmire!

She looked at us in desparation. I feel so alone! She said.

And all her old friends were like, of course you’re not alone. Why do you shut us out? Why do you always have to do everything on your own?

We all had a big cry, and then we all hugged, and then we opened up the presents. Kenya brought some coffee. Belgium brought waffles. Ireland brought some whiskey, same as always. “Hey,” said Ireland. “Is it okay if we open this now?”

I don’t know what’s going to happen with Iraq, but I’m hoping America will realize we love her. There’s nothing she could do that would change that. But I don’t know. Sometimes she troubles me.

We were all about to leave, when who comes bursting through the door but Antarctica, drenched and frosty, and in two seconds she starts up with the business. “I’m melting!” she wailed, dropping an ice shelf in the foyer. “I’m coming to pieces!”

Well Jeez, Antarctica, I thought. You’re not the only one.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Twelve Sounds of Maine Winter

One is the woomph of a frozen pond. The water moves beneath the ice and the whole lake goes werrrp, a deep, warping groan, like something from outer space. The dogs stand at the edge of the ice, snow on their black ears, and growl at it.

Two is the plow guy, doing the driveway in the middle of the night. The heavy blade scrapes against the asphalt, the tires spinning around as our man revs his engine high enough to push the snow. I think about our plow guy, Jared, when the snow is deep, how he spends hour after hour in that truck, driving around from house to house when everyone’s asleep. I feel bad when there are two storms right in a row, and Jared has to get right back out on the road and do the job all over again. There are some winters when I think he never sleeps at all.

Three is the sound of a frozen stream, the merry sound of cold water rushing against ice, like some strange music, full of motion and hope. A strange contrast to the ice-bound world.

Four is the shush of skis against new snow as the cross country skiers glide through woods, across fields, down hills. Their heaving breath comes out in clouds.

Five is a car stuck in a snowbank, the tires spinning around and around. Car doors open, and close. There’s cursing.

Six is the sound of Storm Center on television, early in the morning, from a room downstairs. There’s a sudden cheer, followed by the patter of young feet on the stairs. The kids run into the bedroom and announce, “No School!” Then the parents sit up in bed and groan as they imagine every last thing they had planned for that day instantly disappearing.

Seven is a maul chunking against the top of the log as the wood splits into two nice even pieces. I usually split wood in the basement, so sometimes the tip of the maul ticks against the cement floor in the follow through. Then I split the two pieces I just made into four, and sometimes the four into eight. The smaller the piece of wood is, the higher the pitch as it falls to the floor. Clunk.

Eight is the birds, the few of them that remain. I hear them in the morning as I go down the dark driveway to get the newspaper: black-capped chickadees, northern cardinals, ruby crowned kinglets, Bohemian waxwings. They sound cold.

Nine is a car left car outside. Return to the car to find a crust of ice on the windshield. So out comes the scraper. Sometimes—on a good day-- the crud slides right off. Other times you have to get serious, prying off that ice like you’re scraping burnt chocolate off a frying pan with a spatula. How big does the hole you chop have to be in order for you to drive the car? Sometimes I see drivers peeking through tiny portholes, like they’re driving a tank.

Ten is a snowmobile, heading across Great Pond, here in Belgrade Lakes. Sometimes there’s a whole group of them, making a sound like a swarm of angry bees. Other times it’s just one guy. Late in the day I see them all parked outside the Sunset Grill in Belgrade, a basketball game on the TV, glasses of Irish coffee lined up on the bar.

Eleven is an icicle falling off the rain gutter and shattering on the driveway in a thousand pieces. Once, one fell on my head, and I looked upwards, angrily, and cursed the sky.

Twelve: In the middle of the night the power goes out and I’m suddenly woken by the shocking sound of nothing at all. I’m warm beneath the covers, though, and the family is safe beneath our roof, the two grownups, the two boys, even the wicked oscars swimming in the fish tank. While we were sleeping, the dogs have jumped up in the bed again. All warm and soft, the younger dog barks at some imaginary cat, in some dog dream.

I lie there for a while in my dark house, in a sleepy kind of wonder, and listen.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tell Me What I Say...

I got "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles on the box here, early morning Maine. Bright sunshine, house empty but for me, D. at work, boys to school. Today Thing One (who gets to choose the music on the way TO school) introduced me to "Scars on Broadway," which would be the solo album of two refugees from "System of a Down," and if this means nothing to you, then you too might be fifty years old like herself. IT is brain-rattling, scream-o "death metal," which does wake one up. I can tell you that a) yes, the music does fill me with horror, and b) the musicians seem smart and somewhere behind the noise is a dedication to, as Zach put it, "Saving the earth and smashing stereotypes."

This music made me smile, partly from the sheer go-to-hell-noise of it, and part of it because its heart is sincere, and I thought about what my mom must have thought of Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead, back in 1974, when I was the one who got to choose the music "on the way to school." On the way home, of course, it was mom's call-- WFLN, Philadelphia's then-classical station. Of course, WFLN went belly up, as a classical station, anyhow, a few years ago, and now THEY play death-metal too.

And yes, I do recall one time at my friend Kenny's house, when we were listening to Zappa's composition, "Weasels Ripped My Flesh," his mother came into the room unexpectedly. She said, "Oh, I'm sorry. From the sound of it, I thought someone left the vacuum cleaner on in here."

Tell your mama, tell your pa
I'm gonna send you back to Arkansas
Oh yes, ma'm, you don't do right, don't do right

Tell me what I say!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

MAN OF THE HOUR for January 4, 2009: BUSTER KEATON

Jenny Boylan's MAN OF THE HOUR for January 4, 2009 is Buster Keaton, American actor and director, a.k.a. "The Great Stone Face."

Born October 4, 1895, his career lasted into the early 1960s, with a cameo in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

But his greatest films are the early silents of the 1920s, including The General and Sherlock, Jr.

At the grimmest turns of my life, I have found Keaton's films an irrepressible source of joy. There's a lot to love about Keaton, but for me the greatest gem is that prune face of his, calm on the surface, but with the tenderest emotions flickering just beneath. He does more with a single gesture than most actors do with a page and a half of dialouge.

Here's the opening of Sherlock, Jr., which includes an amazing scene involving a dollar bill found in the trash.


There's lots of Keaton stuff on the web, the coolest of which might be Juha Takkinen's list of Keatonia.

BUSTER KEATON, Old Stone Face, is the MAN OF THE HOUR!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Years Day: There's No Business Like Show Business


Jenny near the summit, 1/1/09. Of particular note is the nine layers of coats, fleece, long underwear &etc that gives the author that perfect whole-honey-baked-ham shape.

I woke up on this the first day of the year, went downstairs and made pancakes for me, Deedie/Grace, my boys, their friends (who'd stayed the night). Then I put on eighty-five layers of clothes and, per our annual tradition, we climbed up a mountain here in Maine in the snow with a crew of other friends who do this each year. Outside temperature was ten degrees, with the wind chill, negative 16.

Sometimes New Years is hard for me; I think it's a time I feel emotionally raw. Some years I climb that mountain, lagging behind everyone else, singing a song of woe-is-a-me-bop.

This year I felt okay though. Strangely warm, for how cold it was. Still, got to the top last of the group, then looked around at the cold, frozen world. A friend gave me a tangerine and I ate it and tasted the fresh, bright citrusy taste which smoked open my head in the cold white wind.

Ten years now we've climbed this mountain on new years day. Since our children were toddlers, since one of them at least had to be carried.

Following tradition, I gathered some loose snow in my hand and stood at the edge of the precipice and made a wish. Then I threw the snow into the air and watched it twinkle in the sunlight as it sparkled and fell.

I thought of a few other stories from the last couple weeks, as I stood there.

Like: my boy Zach and I went down to New York City by train before Xmas, and saw the doomed "Young Frankenstein" on Broadway. Which is pretty much the best show in the world if you're fourteen. Went back to the hotel and watched the Wizard of Oz on TV. IN the morning: room service breakfast! Then we walked out into midtown, and nipped into Sam Ash music on 48th street, where the kid tried out electric violins. Then we got on the train and rode down to Philly and on to mom's good old haunted house.



the kid on broadway

That night, as grandmama and Zach and I ate dinner, zap, the lights went out. So we lit a buncha candles and built a fire in her "library" and the room flickered and glowed. And Zach got out some old carolling books from the piano bench and we sang carols in the dark, for an hour and a half. My old mom has a lovely voice, doesn't she. When we finsihed the books, we ad libbed-- and as Zach sang, "May your days be merry and bright," the lights came back on. We stood in a circle, the three of us, by the fire, and hugged. And finished the song.

Deedie and Sean joined us a couple days later, in time for us to have our traditional Xmas eve feast of Maine lobsters. Xmas morning I made a big heart attack breakfast: bacon and eggs and scrapple and sausage bread and salmon.


Zach and my mom (H.S. Boylan), who has a chicken tea cosy on her head.

We saw A Chorus Line in Philly one day, which made me think for days. I'd never seen it before, believe it or not, and I was curious about this alleged greatest of all musicals. I was deeply moved by it. But I also felt like it was a period piece, a very interesting piece of 1970s life. IN particular, the lives and stories of the gay characters felt like a whole other generation ago.

And took in Marley and Me one day, with Mom-- interesting that we got her out of the house-- that was the cool thing. I didn't have high hopes for this, but was very pleasantly surprised-- it felt like the real life of a family not unlike our own, and the dog is simply present. It was NOT the kind of mid-60s Disney film about the Funny Antix of the Bad Dawg. When the couple is fighting and in the turmoil of having very young children, that really hit home, felt real. And yes, when Marley kicks the bucket, we all wept and wept and wept. It was like Hamlet in there. A splendid time was guarantted for all.

Being in that old haunted house is weird for me,, after all these years. The two nights before D. joined me, I tossed and turned in my high school bedroom, had scary dreams all night long, listened to the steam raditators hiss. After D. arrived, I slept like a baby.

We drove the ten hours north back to Maine on Tuesday, D. at the wheel as always. And as we drove I signed up for Facebook via my iPhone and I was pleasantly surprised how much fun it is-- and how I immediately found about 25 dear friends, some of whom I thought I'd lost forever. MOre on that elsewhere.

New Years Eve D. cooked indian food all day, filling the house with the smells of cardamom and curry and turmeric and black eyed peas (for luck!) Dinner with friends at our house and the kids stayed up. But D. and I hit they hay early, and the last thing that happened was, I hit the TV on and there was "Annie Get Your Gun" and everybody singing:

There's no people like show people! They smile when they are low!
Even when you're in a turkey that you know will close,
And leave you standing out in the cold,
Still you wouldn't trade it for a heart of gold!
Let's go on with the show!
Let's go on with the show!


And it was to this that my thoughts returned at last, today, as I stood by that wintery precipice. And I turned back and hugged my family and friends and we began to descend the mountain, and I raised my voice in song:

There's no business like show business! Like no business I know!

On the way back down, again I was last in line, and watched the people I love move on ahead and away from me. I paused for a moment, and looked back over my shoulder, at the bright sun, and the frozen, glittering world, and the places I have been.

What is this world? What is this life?



Jenny and Deedie (Grace), New Years Day 2009, French's Mountain, Belgrade Lakes, Maine


PS: A big shout out to Richard Russo, Chloe Prince and Donna Rose, who reached out to me this holiday season and checked to make sure I wasn't falling into my traditional Yuletide flump. Their love and friendship lifted me up, up, up, way high in the air.

A Very Boylan Somethingmas.

video Here we are with a short Boylan family holiday greeting; you can almost see Deedie in the background there making dinner. This is part of this ongoing test to see whether we feel like setting up camp here at Blogger and moving ourselves away from WordPress. So this is mostly a test to see what video uploading is like here.

Speak No Evil.


In this lovely image, Jennifer Finney Boylan contemplates the wisdom of keeping one's mouth shut, and wonders whether it would be better if she began to sing at the top of her lungs.

This is also a good occasion to remember the story of Bob Dole, who allegedly saw Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford all walk into a room, and he said, "Look, it's See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Evil."
This is a first, experimental posting to see if we feel like moving some part of Jenniferboylan.net/blog/ over here. So let's check this out and see what we think.