9/25/2005

I am looking for a roommate. I don't think I've ever been in this situation before. I have always had a place to live, and if I had roommates (and for many years I didn't), they were always people I knew. It always seemed to come together somehow. But this time I will be forced to interview prospective roomies. I envisioned it being something like The Apprentice or Martha Stewart's new show. But it's turning out to be infinitely less fun (and you know how much fun Trump and Stewart can be).

My first instinct was to go to craigslist.com, of course. I got four or five responses over the course of a weekend. The first was from a Mexican woman currently studying in the UK, she said, who was very pushy. The subject line of her email was something like “reply asap”. I flushed it, of course. The next was a pothead who spent three paragraphs explaining how he would rig up an air filtration system in his room if I minded him smoking. The third was a gay guy who contacts me Friday and tells me he wants to move in next day. I did say “available immediately” in the ad, but that was a little too immediate for my taste. Finally, I got one from an 18 year old kid: “My name is X and i am an 18 year old gay student in desperate need of a room and a fun roomate. I am 6 feet blond blue eyes and a chill guy if the room is still open please respond to this e-mail thank you.” Jesus. Can you imagine? What do I care what color your fucking eyes are? That's when I knew this was gonna be a regular ordeal.

But that was really just the beginning. By far most of the responses have been bogus. I’ve gotten a shitload like these two (spelling and grammar as I found them):

"am janet morgan.I came accross the posted rent advert.i'll like to know if its still available and price you intend to rent it out and its deposit as well.I am in london as at now where i just finished my degree programme so i decided i need to relocate.kindly get back to me asap.await your response."

And:

"Good Day. I came accross the posted rent advert & ll like to know if its still available.I am in london as at now where i just finished my degree programme and relocating.i awaits the details soon.kindly email me again with the below details so we can proceed and have some things done concerning theRent.Kindly email me with

1} RENT FEE\MO ?
2} MOVE-IN DEPOSIT ?
3} ADDRESS OF THE PLACE FOR RENT ?
4) WILL YOU TAKE A CASHIERS CHEQUE FOR MOVE-IN DEPOSIT ?
5} HOW LONG RENT LEASE DO YOU REQUIRE ( 6/12 MONTHS )
6 DO YOU HAVE PICTURES ? SEND THEM

"I will be expecting to read answers to the above questions asap."

I mean, I have received at least a dozen with variations on this theme. Always claiming to be from the UK, and always with the same idiosyncratic grammar. Is this an evil algorithm? Or is there some sweatshop operation in the UK where rude students who failed the TOEFL exam are forced to write bogus emails to craigslisters?

I assume it's a scam--something to do with the cashier's checks, or whatever. But I have received so many of these, I have to wonder who would be stupid enough to even respond to them?

Another variation on theme is the displaced supermodel:

"Dear Landlord,

"I am Model Williams Cevia, Age 24, located in Queens in Ny. I have been modeling for four years and have, I have worked with a number of excellent photographers, models and make-up artists.

"I took eight years of dancing lessons and then went on to cheerlead for five years. i have worked with the following photographer's Ron Copobianco, Giacomo, etc. i am! curectly in west africa, Nigeria to be precise, and am there for modeling whows for Dave marks photographer. it's just a month. i won't like to go back to my former house when geting back to the states. cause of this i will like to have my own room. decided to search for a roommate. as i was going through the web, i saw you advertising your room which is available. i will like to know if the room can be given to me cus i will love to come there directly to stay when coming back to the states.

"About the payment that is not a problem i will inform my boss who i modeled for when i was in the states who his owing and has not payed me all my money yet to send you a cashier's check of payment which he is owing me so that the room can be kept for me. I will be glad if you can also pls send me some of the pix of the room to my email box (cevia_cutie212 @yahoo.com). I will be so glad to rent you room and ,am sure you will be so glad to have someone like me cus i am a very kool and easy going person,am looking forward for your reply.

"Cevia Willaims"

(Note how she misspells her own name there.)

And:

"Hello,My name is pallery.i am a native of the US but now i am in west africa on a comtract as a model.

"As i was going through the web it was then that i saw your advert that you want to rent out your apartment so that is why i am contacting you to yell you that i am really interested in occupying the room.

"The money of the room will be paid to you on cheque because it was issued to me by my boss so i will send the cheque to you so that you can get it cashed,deduct the money of your room from it and send the balance to the agent that will get my flight ticket booked o that i can come back to the state.All i need you to do is to send to me the details of sending the cheque to you so that it can be sent to you.

"I will be waiting to hear from you soon.
"Thank you.
"Tina Mikel."

(Hey, I thought your name was "pallery".)

Gosh, I just didn't realize there were so many homeless, hot supermodels out there. Does Kofi Annan know about this? Has Bono been notified? They should have a fund for them or something. I mean, is the Red Cross aware of the situation?

But I have to admit, I like the realistic touches: "bout the payment that is not a problem i will inform my boss who i modeled for when i was in the states who his owing and has not payed me all my money yet to send you a cashier's check of payment which he is owing me so that the room can be kept for me." That sounds totally legit. Let's do it!

The thing is, I really do need to find a decent, low-maintenance roommate, and really don't have the time to deal with this tom-foolery. At least come up with a clever ruse. I mean, the helpless, homeless supermodel thing has been done so many times before, people. I know Kate Moss is looking, but I need a supermodel who can pay the rent, and isn't gonna snort up all of MY cocaine, or smoke all my crack when my head's turned.

9/21/2005

I watched the premier of the NBC sitcom My Name is Earl last night. Cute (especially Jason Lee, who looks like a flashback to the seventies here, but yummy enough to eat). It’s smart, aside from all the boob jokes, and walks a fine line between irony and earnestness. That is to say, it’s safely irreverent. The show is all about Earl trying to repair his karma. The first episode was about Earl trying to make up for bullying a kid all through grade school. He finds the guy, and discovers he’s gay. In order to repair his karma Earl decides he has to find his old playground victim a man, but the guy is still so traumatized by his bullying that he’s afraid to go to a gay bar alone. So Earl accompanies him, marking him off his to-do list. Like I said, there’s a very subtle line, and there are moments when the comedy turns trashy. If not for Jason Lee’s earnest and winning Earl, the show could easily become totally tasteless. It pokes fun at white trash (Earl’s ex-wife, Joy, played by Jaime Pressly, is an absolute riot), but seems to know its subject, so it’s OK. It is, in its weird way, a product of the culture war, and a way forward from it, a seamless blend of red and blue. I liked it, I'll admit. Even the boob jokes, truth be told.

I've just noticed that the New York Times has added “funny pages” to its Sunday magazine. I remember when—not too long ago, in fact—they went to color photos on the front page. This was actually about the same time Tina Brown tarted up the New Yorker, and my highbrow friends were having conniptions left and right. It seemed like the end of the world. But now we understand that middlebrow is not only about dumbing down, it can also smarten things up. Unfortunately, the Times is trying too hard. Its funnies are more clever than funny, and clever in a strained way. Earl had its strained moments, too. The fact is, we are living in more strained and clever than funny times.

As for the Times' funnies: following the Earl formula, Elizabeth Gilbert (author of the forthcoming "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia”—yikes) offers her “true-life tales”. This week’s: “Yoga, Y’all: When yoga meets Tennessee.” You see the blue meets red trend here? Problem is, Elizabeth Gilbert comes at it from the above and to the left. And it’s not funny. A morsel:

"I was living in eastern Tennessee because I'd accepted a temporary teaching post at a university there. I had never lived in the South before, nor had I ever taught, yet there I was. Having just returned from more than a year spent traveling the world alone, with nowhere to go next and all of America feeling equally foreign to me, I'd figured, Hey, why not? So I moved into a decaying old residency hotel, which was great except that it offered little variety in the way of recreation (drinking yourself to death while wearing a soiled pink negligee sounds like more fun than it actually is), and that's why I so often found myself wandering the streets in search of healthier diversions. And that's how I discovered the yoga class.

"My new yoga teacher reminded me profoundly of Julie McCoy from 'The Love Boat.' She wore a pink leotard and I'm pretty certain was also the grand mistress of Cardio-Burn Stepping. She bounded up to me, placed her nose an inch from mine and demanded, "What's y'all's name?" with such friendly enthusiasm it made me wish I had more names. Class began only after Julie had set her Kenny Chesney CD to the proper volume.

"'Take yer PLAY-sez!' she hollered.

"Julie, I soon learned, had an accent that favored four-syllable commands with the emphasis on the third syllable.

"'Stretch yer HAM-strings!'

"'Grab yer ANK-ulls!'

"'Push it HARD-er!'

"Over the next hour, Julie proceeded to do everything - I'm not sure how to say this politely - dead wrong. When she wasn't coercing stiff middle-aged beginners into weak-necked unsupported headstands ('You can DO it!'), she was encouraging us to compete against one another - the ultimate yoga sin. ('Stretch like BETH does!') I wanted to beg the other students to please not imitate Beth (who clearly had the flexibility of a cheerleader) as I winced and waited to hear the banjo-string-snapping sounds of Dixie tendons popping all around me."

There is nothing generous in Gilbert’s humor. It lacks the self-deprecating style or even the self-awareness that characterizes good comedy. Whereas Earl and his band of white-trash misfits have affection for one another that’s infectious, Gilbert sees herself as more of an anthropologist on Mars, an outsider, a critic of the so-called culture of a primitive people. She spends two paragraphs preening, relating her résumé, and telling us where she’s been and what she knows, and then several more making fun, before finally having her all-important epiphany:

"I stole a glance around the gym, checking out the other students. To my surprise, they did seem relaxed. Everyone else was in their all's own quiet place. And that's when I got it. While I had had my privileged moment of transcendence in India, this is where they found theirs - on a one-hour lunch break with Julie McCoy. Transcendence, Tennessee-style. So now my options became clear. I could resist and remain a critical outsider forever. Or I could do what Julie's students do - search like heck for the bright lights in my soul, surrender to the cacophonous moment and even try to absorb a little benefit from the stretching and straining. I'm still not sure if I can achieve all that, but I'll tell you what - I'm workin' my boobs off trying."

This is a pretty typical “noble savage” narrative.

Chris Ware’s strip, “Building Stories: the thoughts of a building” is mildly diverting, if only for the clean graphics. The Times has also recruited Elmore Leonard for a gritty, graphic novel-style serial, “Comfort to the Enemy,” which is really about as far from funny as you can get. It’s a little tedious. The whole enterprise is an exercise in overgroping.

But you knew the Times could not have funny pages that were actually funny. They have to be meta. The pieces here are never laugh out-loud. They offer only a certain smug self-satisfaction. I can imagine someone reading them and thinking, “yes, she gets it,” and “mmm, he’s in on the joke.” This is what red America justly hates about blue America.

9/15/2005

So the headlines yesterday were all about how, nearly three weeks after the fact Bush has "taken responsibility" for his Katrina cock-up. And we're supposed to cheer him on account of it. Again, he wants to be congratulated for stating the obvious as if it were a revelation. The fact is, the administration was backed into a corner, that's the only reason the buck finally stopped somewhere. It's not reassuring that it took a natural disaster that wiped out several cities, and an appalling humanitarian crisis to get the commander-in-chief of these United States to say "the buck stops here." That should be the guiding philosophy of any administration, an assumption, not an exception. It shouldn't be a last resort, at any rate.

But even in adversity, the administration's cup is half-full. No one -- well, a modest 18% of those polled are following the Roberts hearings. Everyone is watching the fiasco on the Gulf Coast unfold. But there is another, more fatalistic reason why even those who might be more engaged have turned their attention elsewhere: they know Roberts is going to be confirmed, and they are saving up for whoever is next on the list of Stepford Supreme Court judges. After all, we're likely to have back-to-back confirmation hearings, and Democrats risk being seen as obstructionists if they oppose both nominees with equal ardor. That's why they wanted to know who the other guy would be before the Roberts hearings -- so they could know who to put their energy into opposing. Bush has hinted, coyly, that Gonzales, of torture memo fame, his current Attorney General, could be the one, although many radicals on the right say he's too liberal for them.

Katrina will have a far-reaching impact on American politics and culture, somehow, but a court packed with these punks will have an arguably further reaching one.

The coverage of Rehnquist's demise verged on nauseating, especially immediate, next-day coverage. The simpering reporters and anchors on the networks put on their sad masks and solemn tones, and there was even angelic harp music before the commercial break (on NBC, I think it was). For this puke of an evil ideologue who only other ideologues of his ilk will miss. There were no warm fuzzies for Rehnquist, because he was a thoroughly unsympathetic person. I've said it before: we have a name for those who fight for the rich: mercenaries. And when a mercenary dies, no one mourns. We don't mourn the greedy, who worked tirelessly for their own interests. Even their cohorts don't mourn them -- they're too busy looking out for number one themselves. We mourn the selfless, who strive to better the conditions of the underdog, of society as a whole.

Now, I'm not saying we need to fawn over the poor, because they're no more charming on the whole than any other class of people. And I'm not saying there's not self-interest in social safety nets. On the contrary, we have an interest as a society in extending opportunities to the poor, in helping all individuals gain the skills to better themselves, and thus better society as a whole. It's a kind of reciprocal altruism: we help ourselves by helping them. We abandon them, or worse, rob them of opportunity, we only do ourselves a disservice. There's a reason we have a public school system and public libraries in democratic societies -- the idea is that everyone gets a shot, but we have to be earnest in our desire to better society in this way. And we have to be willing to sacrifice something for it.

I didn't mention much about the feedback I got (and continue to get) on that piece I wrote about the Gospel according to Pat Robertson. Yesterday, a colleague of mine, an Italian (I mean, from Italy) who had heard about it, and actually searched it out and read it several weeks after the fact, came up to me in the corridor and said that although he understood my point wasn't it interesting that it was not considered offensive to rag on Christians or Catholics, but no one dares to be critical of Judaism and Islam. I'm afraid I sort of proved his point by telling him I didn't even want to go there. I have not written anything for Metro about the situation in Gaza, and don't intend to write anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict any time in the future, but it's for sort of the same reason I don't intend to write anything for publication about abortion. I mean, you have to choose your battles.

I think part of the reason we can rag on evangelicals is because they are, for the most part, Christians in name only. What I'm getting at when I point it out has very little to do with Christianity, much more to do with brazen hypocrisy. My colleague is Catholic, of course, and it is true enough that Catholicism is considered a fair target of criticism in our culture. That has been the case since the very beginning, hasn't it? But it's like anything else. I mean, Jews can be critical of Jews, but it's different when a gentile jumps into the fray. Same with blacks or gays or women, or anyone, really. Would I go around calling my black friends "niggaz"? No, certainly not. I feel I can criticize so-called Christians because that's the culture I grew up in, that I know about. There are claims and counter-claims about the meaning of the tradition to which I belong, and which belongs to me. There are plenty of Jews who are critical of the claims and counter-claims of their fellow Jews.

What I would say to my Catholic colleague is people like Robertson put themselves out there with their claims on the tradition, and they should be rebuffed -- they attack the culture and then when people react, as they must, as they should, the Robertsons of the world play the victims. It's a tiresome, childish game. Sometimes Jews and Palestinians do the same. Blacks, women, gays, and straight people, Republican and Democrats do it, too. And they all deserve a swift kick in the ass when they do.

9/03/2005

Running some errands and just dropped into Boomerang, a thrift store on Centre Street here in JP, and picked up some little treasures. I picked up a copy of Monet by Monet, one in the Artists by Themselves series edited by Rachel Barnes. You've got a painting on one page and on the facing page something the artist himself wrote—in a letter or his diary—referring to it. The books are a little bigger than pocket-size, but the reproductions are decent enough. And they’re not just the popular paintings, either, which is nice. I’m really interested in Degas—the Boston MFA has a sketch book of his that rocks my world every time I see it. The problem with Degas is the same as Monet: he’s been too oft-reproduced and too prettified. But both produced incredible works you don’t see everyday. Degas’s sketch pads are a hoot—full of masterful caricatures of patrons of the underground.

Anyway, when I got home I went online to amazon.com to see if I could get Degas by Degas. There were several copies available. I put it on my wish-list, to remind me later to order it. You know how when you do that, amazon shows you what customers who bought the book also shopped for, and it was, frankly, frightening. Suffice it to say, the list included Guilty Pleasures by Barbra Streisand. Yikes.

As for the news, what can I say? I've been watching TV and scribbling notes, but it’s all too much. It took the Bush team a full week to come up with a slogan you could tell they were pretty proud of: “we'll once again show the world that the worst adversities bring out the best in America.” They really racked their brains to come up with that one. Comments from the previous day were almost as inspiring, but didn't reach the rhetorical heights we've come to expect from this president. After his little visit to the disaster area, for instance, the president assured us: “I understand the devastation requires more than one day’s attention.” Oh, well, um, that’s good. Very reassuring. He’s happy it will take at least until Wednesday, so he has a good excuse to cancel his meeting with China’s President Hu Jintao. That was gonna be a big-ass yawn, and there’s still all that brush to clear back at Crawford, and now that that whiny Cindy Sheehan has finally buggered off, he can truly enjoy it.

But good for Kanye West, eh? Good for him for speaking truth to power live on TV. His observations included the following: ‘George Bush doesn't care about black people,’ and ‘[America is set up] to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible.’ The network went into a tizzy and issued a statement condemning his remarks. He went off-script, they grumbled. Well, good for him. More of us should more often. I don’t thinkGeorge Bush has anything against black people, personally. It would not surprise me if Cheney was a raging bigot, but Bush is not a hater, really. He’s a spoiled rich kid. He is not a fully-formed, fully-aware person. His personal journey has not been one of self-discovery. It’s been one of privilege—which is why he grows bored and petulant easily and often, like spoiled rich kids do. But for all his rhetoric about compassion, there is no compassion without genuine curiosity, and he is the quintessence of incuriosity. I once called him “the Paris Hilton of American politics," but I was wrong. Paris Hilton is a bored, spoiled little rich bitch, sure, but she’s ambitious, too. Bush isn't, never has been. Has no personal vision, no personal style, not much of a personality at all to speak of, really. He’s happier by far playing golf and clearing that brush than sitting around with stuffed shirts back in the beltway. He’s the perfect foil for Cheney & Co. He's the President Who Wasn't There.on, there is no compassion without genuine curiosity, and he is the quintessence of incuriosity. I once called him “the Paris Hilton of American politics," but I was wrong. Paris Hilton is a bored, spoiled little rich bitch, sure, but she’s ambitious, too. Bush isn't, never has been. Has no personal vision, no personal style, not much of a personality at all to speak of, really. He’s happier by far playing golf and clearing that brush than sitting around with stuffed shirts back in the beltway. He’s the perfect foil for Cheney & Co. He's the President Who Wasn't There.