More than forty years after George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead made critics question the future of a culture that could produce such a thing, that future is here – and it is full of zombies. There are zombie comics, zombie conventions, Rob Zombie Inc., and a Simpsons episode in which Bart informs Lisa that the zombies prefer to be called “living impaired.” There is even a growing movement of participatory fan-fueled performance-art “zombie walks” — BYOB (Bring Your Own Brains!) — where people don elaborately shredded clothing, powder themselves into a pall with makeup, add lots of blood, and spontaneously shamble together in public places.
The movement has been on the lurch since movies like 28 Days Later took zombies mainstream for the first time, and was followed by near-simultaneous appearance of the Dawn of the Dead remake and the homage-comedy Shaun of the Dead. That paved the way for George Romero’s first big studio release, Land of the Dead, a roaring comeback that garnered a standing ovation when his entrail-devouring cannibals finally debuted at Cannes in 2005. The next year, Mel Brooks’ son, Max, went on tour with his book, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, a “Studs Terkel approach” to zombie conflict that is headed for the cineplex. Then came the literary mash-up, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. And don’t forget the endless video games: Resident Evil’s many versions (and their movie spin offs), Dead Rising (which was reviewed with by me for the LA Weekly with such incredible insight that the text has been partly cannibalized (Get it?) for this little item), and Left 4 Dead, with its new, improved and unpredictable zombies. Topping it all off, the comedy horror flick Zombieland closed out the summer with a surprise $68m (to date), the highest box office for a Zombie movie yet, prompting more re-heated trend stories about how zombies finally, really, extra-for-certain have hit the cultural big time.
I guess they missed Will Smith’s I Am Legend, which came out in December 2007 (just in time for the holidays!), which was based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, the proto-zombie anxiety tale of a sole survivor facing an infectious pandemic while barricaded in his home in Los Angeles and made $256 million – but, really, who’s counting? (Will Smith’s version was relocated to New York for effective apocalyptic atmospherics, which was then effectively undermined by the zombies, who looked like retarded motion-filtered, clip art monsters when they finally showed up.)
But since we’re talking origins, let’s peel it way back, to the first hints of human civilization: in the irrigated marshes of the fertile crescent, the Sumerians charted the heavens, erected stepped pyramids, and pressed their styluses into clay to record the Epic of Gilgamesh, a collection of myths that includes Ishtar threatening to knock down the Gates of the Netherworld and “let the dead go up to eat the living!” Every culture since has registered the same basic fear, from medieval Europe’s revenants to Haiti’s trodotoxinated zonbi, from which the word zombie originated.
And that brings us to Mischa Berlinski’s real-life trip to the real zombie underworld.
Yes, the best Zombie-related story in recent memory is not a comic, gore game, publishing coup, or blockbuster – it is an article in Men’s Journal. I often forget that Men’s Journal, like its Wenner Media companion, Rolling Stone (where I have written), is oneof the few publishing places where the glossy cover and glossier ads support solid, long form, narrative writing. And so when I picked up a copy at a friends house and leafed passed "Boys and their Toys" (or whatever was on the cover), I was glad to discover an epic, 8,000-word expose that promised “Voodoo, Sorcerers and Lost Souls.”
The piece is a detailed look at the elaborate system of secret societies, ritual magic, and pharmacologically-induced human trafficking that is the Haitian zombie culture. It is incredible. Even if you are familiar with Wade Davis, or have read The Serpent and the Rainbow, or seen the mediocre movie, Berlinski’s story is still incredible. Unlike Davis, who was doing research in his field, Berlinski just wound up in the Haitian countryside, started hearing about zombies, and looked into it. He had no thesis, or grantors to satisfy. He just decided to get to the bottom of something that sounded impossible. His story opens:
I moved to Haiti in the spring of 2007, when my wife found a job with the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission there… She was assigned to Jérémie, a small town on Haiti’s southwest coast….About a month after I arrived in Jérémie, a rumor swept through town that a deadly zombie was on the loose. This zombie, it was said, could kill by touch alone. The story had enough authority that schools closed. The head of the local secret society responsible for the management of the zombie population was asked to investigate. Later that week, Monsieur Roswald Val, having conducted a presumably thorough inquiry, made an announcement on Radio Lambi: There was nothing to fear; all his zombies were accounted for.
Hooked! The rest of the lede turns the reel even more:
I was eager to meet a zombie for myself, and began making appropriate inquiries. Several weeks later, my wife came home from a judicial conference. Making small talk, a local judicial official mentioned the strange case of zombification that his courtroom had seen not several months before. The case was, he said, “un peu spectaculaire.”
I met Judge Isaac Etienne a week or so later at his unfinished concrete house in the village of Roseaux…The judge was a boyish-looking man of 42, slender, wearing baggy surfer shorts, flip-flops, and a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt.
The dossier was, at bottom, a murder story, the judge said — but it was a murder story with the great oddity that the victim did not die.
With so much space, Berlinski gets a chance to include a succinct primer on how one comes is (putatively) zombified in Haiti, which I’ll make more succinct like so: poison; paralysis with full consciousness; live burial; psychological trauma of such burial; retrieval by sorcerer; application of hallucinogen drugs by sorcerer to perpetuate mindless state. Add to that the cultural context: Haitians believe in zombies, and so they are psychically susceptible to the conditioning. They think they’ve died and will be rejected by the living who have seen them be buried. And then they are so rejected. And this is how, Wade Davis argues, real people become zombie slaves to “sorcerers.”
If that’s hard to swallow, then how about the sorcerers’ system of secret societies that governs much of Haiti beneath the thin veneer of governmental institutions. Berlinski details the byzantine world of zombie administration, which sounds like an episode of Trueblood, with regional hierarchies of Chief Sorcerers and Departmental Chiefs and Presidents and Emperors and Queens and their sorcerer secretaries. Not to mention the zombie passports — documents that allow one to create, hold, or move your zombie from region to region. (Yes, such things exist; there are pictures.) Berlinski follows Madame Zicot, a woman trying to track down her zombified daughter, Nadathe, by navigating her way through the secret societies. (And yes, they do accessorize with candle-topped skulls and convene at midnight.) It is gripping as an occult procedural, and heartbreaking as a story of real tragedy. Eventually, Berlinski notes that if you take away the spooky magic, the zombie world is an institutionalized form of human trafficking, which prompts him into a well-intentioned form of gonzo journalism:
I am not wealthy by American standards, but this article will probably pay me more than Madame Zicot could hope to earn in a decade. I wondered whether this money would not be sufficient to buy Nadathe’s freedom, if she were still alive. Strip the story of its exoticism — replace the word “zombified” with “poisoned, kidnapped, drugged, and enslaved” — and you have a brutal crime. To profit from her enslavement, not having done all I could to liberate her, seemed to me to cross that narrow frontier that separates curiosity from exploitation.
Berlinski, it is nifty to note, is allowed to make his case among the secret societies only because of Obama’s magic; the international goodwill created by his election makes them open to entreaties from an American. As he gets drawn deeper in himself, Berlinski pauses to wonder if the zombie culture isn’t some kind of mass delusion, a false institution that is really just another layer of politics, an intricate system that allows people to exploit one another. The societies may be that too, but Berlinski thinks they’re not fooling:
You either believe in zombies, or you don’t.
For my part, I believe that a young woman named Nadathe Joassaint was poisoned, buried alive, stolen from her grave, drugged, transported, and enslaved. I believe that she is alive to this day and in the possession of a man I know only as Monsieur 17, in a region of the Grand’ Anse I feel better not naming in print.
There’s a reason for that candid (and journalistically refreshing) statement, but to explain why would reveal the kicker. I won’t spoil that, other than to say that there is a not-so-surprising surprise ending that is well worth reading the whole article to experience.
First, it ascended to high art with Kutiman's assemblage of unrelated music clips into original jams. Now the ante has been officially upped by Darren Solomon, who combined twenty YouTube music clips into a sprawling, interactive, personalized Steve Reich-o-tron, right in your browser. As if that wasn't nifty enough, the conceptual coup-de-grace is the instruction to use the volume sliders as an equalizer for your own mix!
Hook, line and sinker. My old pal Manohla thought it was a "well played con" that delivered a fake, nostalgic "shrink-wrapped America." Well, consider me happily conned as I tore open the cellophane! Perhaps I just wanted the cinematic equivalent of a Drake's Cake at the moment. But I saw it again recently and felt the same. Maybe I just love that Ryan Gosling; I also went apeshit for Half Nelson. Maybe apeshit isn't the word. But I sense a trend line among the data points, the latest of which is this, which I'm also buying:
Now here's something you don't see every day: a thoughtful, historical essay several thousand words long on the Huffington Post. The piece is a concise history of terrorism, or rather, of the modern chapter of terrorism, beginning in the nineteenth century, when political dissidence was first expressed as violence not just against the state but also citizens. The culprits then were anarchists, the pince-nez and mustachioed kind whose bombs really were big round iron balls with fuses, just like in the cartoons. Along the way, the article draws a convincingly qualified parallel between the extremists and reactionaries of yesteryear and today, and between the morale of both stories: blunt repression always makes it worse.
At first I thought: well, if the Huff Po can produce writing like that, maybe this unpaid blogger free-for-all isn't so bad after all. Then I realized that reason the piece is so good is that the writer, Johann Hari, is a wunderkind political columnist in England. And the fact that he chose (or had no choice other than) to contribute a moderate-length essay to the Huff Po rather than a magazine that can pay him (and where such writing might stand out as something worth reading) only sends me right back to my suspicious concerns about Huff Po. Nevertheless, I guess it's nice that such thoughtful work can find it's place alongside Tara Reid's plastic surgery scars.
Tim Kreider's post on the NY Times' Happy Days blog about what he calls The Referendum -- the point when people start comparing their lives to those of their friends, and the ambivalent feelings such comparisons yield -- went around a couple weeks ago, but I just happened across it again, and achieving so much in just a thousand or so words, both on its own points and by providing a fine example of why blogging may not be the end of the world for well-crafted prose and actual ideas. Cheers! It's so good, it can't really be quoted, so here it is in full, with my favorite parts bolded:
Recently an editor asked me for an essay about arrested adolescence, joking: “Of course, I thought of you.”
It is worth mentioning that this editor is an old college friend; we’ve driven across the country, been pantsless in several nonsexual contexts, and accidentally hospitalized each other in good fun. He is now a respectable homeowner and family man; I am not. So I couldn’t help but wonder: is there something condescending about this assignment? Does he consider me some sort of amusing and feckless manchild instead of a respected cartoonist whose work is beloved by hundreds and has made me a thousandaire, who’s been in a committed relationship for 15 years with the same cat?
My weird touchiness on this issue — taking offense at someone offering to pay me money for my work — is symptomatic of a more widespread syndrome I call “The Referendum.”
To my friends with children, the obscene wealth of free time at my command must seem unimaginably exotic, since their next thousand Saturdays are already booked.
The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’ differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt. The Referendum can subtly poison formerly close and uncomplicated relationships, creating tensions between the married and the single, the childless and parents, careerists and the stay-at-home. It’s exacerbated by the far greater diversity of options available to us now than a few decades ago, when everyone had to follow the same drill. We’re all anxiously sizing up how everyone else’s decisions have worked out to reassure ourselves that our own are vindicated — that we are, in some sense, winning.
It’s especially conspicuous among friends from youth. Young adulthood is an anomalous time in people’s lives; they’re as unlike themselves as they’re ever going to be, experimenting with substances and sex, ideology and religion, trying on different identities before their personalities immutably set. Some people flirt briefly with being freethinking bohemians before becoming their parents. Friends who seemed pretty much indistinguishable from you in your 20s make different choices about family or career, and after a decade or two these initial differences yield such radically divergent trajectories that when you get together again you can only regard each other’s lives with bemused incomprehension.
I may be exceptionally conscious of the Referendum because my life is so different from most of my cohort’s; at 42 I’ve never been married and don’t want kids. I recently had dinner with some old friends, a couple with two small children, and when I told them about my typical Saturday in New York City — doing the Times crossword, stopping off at a local flea market, maybe biking across the Brooklyn Bridge — they looked at me like I was describing my battles with the fierce and elusive Squid-Men among the moons of Neptune. The obscene wealth of free time at my command must’ve seemed unimaginably exotic to them, since their next thousand Saturdays are already booked.
What they also can’t imagine is having too much time on your hands, being unable to fill the hours, having to just sit and stare at the emptiness at the center of your life. But I’m sure that to them this problem seems as pitiable as morbid obesity would to the victims of famine.
A lot of my married friends take a vicarious interest in my personal life. It’s usually just nosy, prurient fun, but sometimes smacks of the sort of moralism that H.G. Wells called “jealousy with a halo.” Sometimes it seems sort of starved, like audiences in the Great Depression watching musicals about the glitterati. It’s true that my romantic life has produced some humorous anecdotes, but good stories seldom come from happy experiences. Some of my married friends may envy my freedom in an abstract, daydreamy way, misremembering single life as some sort of pornographic smorgasbord, but I doubt many of them would actually choose to trade places with me. Although they may miss the thrill of sexual novelty, absolutely nobody misses dating
I regard their more conventional domestic lives with the same sort of ambivalence. Like everyone, I’ve seen some marriages in which I would discreetly hang myself within 12 hours, but others have given me cause to envy their intimacy, loyalty, and irreplaceable decades of invested history. [Note to all my married friends: your marriage is one of the latter.] Though one of those friends cautioned me against idealizing: “It’s not as if being married means you’re any less alone.”
Most of my married friends now have children, the rewards of which appear to be exclusively intangible and, like the mysteries of some gnostic sect, incommunicable to outsiders. In fact it seems from the outside as if these people have joined a dubious cult: they claim to be much happier and more fulfilled than ever before, even though they live in conditions of appalling filth and degradation, deprived of the most basic freedoms and dignity, and owe unquestioning obedience to a capricious and demented master.
I have never even idly thought for a single passing second that it might make my life nicer to have a small, rude, incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life. [Note to friends with children: I am referring to other people’s children, not to yours.] But there are also moments when some part of me wonders whether I am not only missing the biological boat but something I cannot even begin to imagine — an entire dimension of human experience undetectable to my senses, like a flatlander scoffing at the theoretical concept of sky.
But I can only imagine the paralytic terror that must seize my friends with families as they lie awake calculating mortgage payments and college funds and realize that they are locked into their present lives for farther into the future than the mind’s eye can see. Judging from the unanimity with which parents preface any gripe about children with the disclaimer, “Although I would never wish I hadn’t had them and I can’t imagine life without them,” I can’t help but wonder whether they don’t have to repress precisely these thoughts on a daily basis.
Yes: the Referendum gets unattractively self-righteous and judgmental. Quite a lot of what passes itself off as a dialogue about our society consists of people trying to justify their own choices as the only right or natural ones by denouncing others’ as selfish or pathological or wrong. So it’s easy to overlook that hidden beneath all this smug certainty is a poignant insecurity, and the naked 3 A.M. terror of regret.
The problem is, we only get one chance at this, with no do-overs. Life is, in effect, a non-repeatable experiment with no control. In his novel about marriage, “Light Years,” James Salter writes: “For whatever we do, even whatever we do not do prevents us from doing its opposite. Acts demolish their alternatives, that is the paradox.” Watching our peers’ lives is the closest we can come to a glimpse of the parallel universes in which we didn’t ruin that relationship years ago, or got that job we applied for, or got on that plane after all. It’s tempting to read other people’s lives as cautionary fables or repudiations of our own.
A colleague of mine once hosted a visiting cartoonist from Scandinavia who was on a promotional tour. My colleague, who has a university job, a wife and children, was clearly a little wistful about the tour, imagining Brussels, Paris, and London, meeting new fans and colleagues and being taken out for beers every night. The cartoonist, meanwhile, looked forlornly around at his host’s pleasant row house and sighed, almost to himself: “I would like to have such a house.”
One of the hardest things to look at in this life is the lives we didn’t lead, the path not taken, potential left unfulfilled. In stories, those who look back — Lot’s wife, Orpheus and Eurydice — are lost. Looking to the side instead, to gauge how our companions are faring, is a way of glancing at a safer reflection of what we cannot directly bear, like Perseus seeing the Gorgon safely mirrored in his shield.
From a paper in Neurology: "Lightning-induced robotic speech" (1994 May;44(5):991-2.):
The force of a lightning strike threw a 20-year-old roofer to the ground from the truck in which he was standing. Panicked, he immediately began to run. A numbness and weakness of his arms and back cleared after several days, but the more striking abnormality was a profound alteration of his speech, which he described as having become robotic. Each syllable was clearly enunciated with a slight pause between syllables, so that while the flow of his speech was slowed, he was able to communicate well. His speech was actually easier to comprehend than that of some normal persons. His brother had indeed complained that the patient's premorbid speech had been too rapid and word-jumbled; that speech was transformed to robotic speech, with fine diction and super-clear enunciation. Each morning, his speech was "normal" until shortly after he began to talk, when it reverted to the robotic pattern for the remainder of the day. The neurologic examination was normal except for right upper extremity hypalgesia. Brain MRI was normal.
Via Mind Hacks.
(And yes, that is a still from the scene in Superman III where that lady gets sucked into the machine and turned into a robot, which made a deep impression on me as a wee one.)
Check it out: a writing award! From the Society of American Travel Writers. A welcome surprise, especially since I've written very few travel pieces. But if there was a story that deserved an award, I suppose, it would be this one, about a journey to make sense of the multi-dimensional sensory overload that is Japan. The piece appeared in the sadly defunct Culture + Travel, a magazine with oversized pages, fancy production, good intentions, and really bad timing. Entering the market as print's fortunes started failing, Culture + Travel sought to publish lengthy narrative writing of the kind scarcely seen in the mega glossies anymore. For example, they gave me 5,000 words to wander through Japan, and although it could have been even longer (as all writers must say), no one else could have run that piece. Kate Sekules, the magazine's brave editor, knew that full well, which only made her back it more. And her instincts were rewarded. And mine too, I guess! Here's what the committee had to say about "Stuffu Happens":
... a wonderfully written account of the exotic spirit and art of Japan. The lead states it perfectly: “There are two Japans in the minds of most visitors: the ultra-modern technotopia of Tokyo and the ancient, ritualistic island of peculiar traditions that tourists believe must be hidden somewhere beneath all that neon.” For anyone thinking about visiting the Land of the Rising Sun to see its wealth of art, “Stuffu” is a must and joyful read.
That really made my day. Since the piece is nowhere to be found online, here it is as a PDF for any interested parties.
A few weeks back, Doug McGray was kind enough to invite me to take the stage for Pop Up Magazine, his nifty new occasional (and hopefully more frequent) live event that puts a couple dozen people together in a sort of live, one-night-only periodical. Shockingly, all 400 seats at the theater were sold out for this thing -- no mean feat, as I can attest from the days of The World, Explained. Owing to deadlines, I drove up that day and hadn't really been able to prepare, but the beer was free and yeasty and I had two tall cups full and wrote out some notes in the dark and it turns out that people REALLY like a good caper story, no matter how drunkenly delivered.
Anyhow, entertainment and learning were had by all and the whole think got me thinking about how much fun actual magazines ought to be. It also got me thinking how many great magazine writers there are out there whom I've never heard of. Such as Evan Ratliff, a freelancer and Wired regular who showed slides of himself in the many disguises he took on as part of a recent story for Wired in which he tried to go on the lam. I then checked out his other works, including a recent piece in the New Yorker about Jerry Baber, an engineer and self-taught munitions designer who has designed, among other weapons, a stainless steel automatic shotgun that shoots five shells per second and can be wielded with one hand. If you want to see a great lede, then read this story, which begins like so:
At the age of seventy-four, Jerry Baber has winnowed his primary interests in life to four subjects: shotguns, robots, women, and cars. When Baber is holding forth—his default mode of communication being the filibuster—his conversation tends to fall somewhere among these categories. Often his passions intersect, as in the question of whether or not a Corvette is an ideal car for picking up women. (It is.) Similarly, Baber might be discussing his love of robots and shotguns, and whether, by combining the two, he is helping to shape the future of warfare from his garage. (He is.)
Closing out the opening section we find out why the story's subhed is "an Appalachian gunsmith’s robot army":
Not long ago, Baber decided that his gun was so reliable and accurate that it could be mounted with confidence on unmanned vehicles. Armed robots, he believes, could offer crucial assistance in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; they could be employed on a street monitored by snipers or sent into a building harboring insurgents. Last year, Baber met with engineers at Robotex—a start-up in California that makes ground-based robots—and at Neural Robotics, a company outside Nashville that manufactures unmanned helicopters. Together, they created prototypes of small, remote-controlled armed machines. Baber keeps several in his workshop, and talks about them as if they were pets.
This was all of particular interest to me, as I have been mildly obsessed with the coming robot army ever since I wrote in The Believer about the fantastic vision of the future Air Force as dreamed up by military planners in their master document, Air Force 2025, a blueprint of theoretical systems needed to help the US maintain "Global Battlespace Dominance" in the 21st century. Among the myriad theoretical science fiction combat systems in those thousands of pages are things like: Concept No. 900522: Space-Based, AI-Driven Intelligence Master Mind System; Weather as a Force Multiplier; and, my favorite, Concept No. 900481: Destructo Swarmbots. According to Ratliff, military planners may soon no longer need to dream. Upstarts in Palo Alto and may be teaming up with Baber to take us one step closer to Skynet. Baber seems like a responsible guy for a man who built the deadliest short range weapon ever created, and I hope that "the man in the loop problem" stays theoretical. Sure, we can say we want to stay in the loop. But what if, one day, the machines don't want us there?
Now, for your enjoyment, the AA-12 in action:
I guess Malibu can't always be like this. Those glassy blue-green coves conceal the movements of Great Whites. I guess we always knew it was so, but then came this:
That right there is a good-sized shark breaching, in shallow waters, right off PCH, just a few miles away from where I've been swimming for weeks. A local surf shop owner caught a bunch of quick shots. Watch the sequence here.
At the Northern Territory News, which got this incredible scoop:
I think it's fitting that it all went down (get it? get it?) in a place called Humpty Doo.
No oral sex, says crash waitress
Allyson White said the standout burn mark left by her seatbelt across her chest was proof the claims of "amorous activities" with the driver were not true.
"I was not sucking his d*** -- and it's pretty obvious that wasn't the case ... you only have to look at the mark on my chest," she said.
"Clearly I had my seatbelt on, so it's impossible that I'd be leaning over sucking his d*** unless he is hung like a donkey or I've got a f****** rubber neck.
"If it was true I'd just cop it sweet and think 'how embarrassing, I got caught sucking someone's d***' -- but it is not true and that's what is p****** me off.
"It didn't happen like that at all -- he was just going too fast."
Police told in Thursday's Northern Territory News how they believe a driver crashed his car while involved in "amorous activities" with his female passenger.
They said the 33-year-old man was distracted by the woman and veered off the road, smashing his single cab Hilux ute into a concrete drain on Pioneer Rd in Humpty Doo.
But Ms White said it was a lie and she wanted to set the record straight.
Even the unnamed driver's statement to police had no hints of any fellatio taking place.
"I don't understand where that story has come from," she said.
"It may have looked bad when police first arrived as my girls were hanging out all over the place. I also had a $5 note wedged between my boobs so they probably just assumed I was a sex worker or something and he'd already paid me.
"But $5 is a bit cheap for a head job."
Ms White, 34, said she had been at the Howard Springs Tavern celebrating a friend's birthday when they decided to go back to a friend's place in Humpty Doo.
First days of fall -- it's raining out, which is making Malibu cozy. No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face. As John Donne said, of course. Poetic words though they may be, I still miss summer a bit, and so let's have one last look:
Readers and listeners agree: the tale of the weightlifting snowman story is tops. Like the majestic phoenix arising from the ashes, this story was first written for the NY Times magazine (for John Hodgman, back when he edited the now-defunct True Life Tales page), where it was cruelly rejected and then re-born as a segment for This American Life. Originally thought by me to be just a trifle -- a funny little ditty from the front lines of modern life as a long term renter with an eccentric superintendent -- this story has grown legs, and has even achieved a certain cult status, inspiring the winning design in last year's This American Life t-shirt contest. Along the way, the weightlifting snowman also found it's way onto a series of Post-it Notes, thanks to Arthur Jones and Starlee Kine, creators of the Post-it Note reading series, a live show wherein stories are read alongside the genius and complimentary illustrations by Arthur. Recently Arthur started compiling the stories from the various readings over the years, and the our number came up! Please enjoy.
In which a murder victim's daughter tracks down the Mafia hitman-turned-Central-American-minister who killed her father. Eventually, she confronted the guy while wearing a hidden camera. But to get there, she spent twenty-seven years putting together what turned out to be an enormously complicated affair that investigators called The Octopus:
When Begley began looking into the Octopus case, she was overwhelmed. The stories went in every direction. There were connections with Saudi arms dealers, Nicaraguan Contras, the manufacturing of weapons on Indian land, renegade private security companies and a journalist who apparently committed suicide while investigating it. "A lot of it was lies, but a lot of it was true. I was able to confirm it," she said. "I was finally able to persuade the police to assign a detective to it. I just kept badgering them until they finally listened."
The guy was arrested last week. But there's more to this story! Why such a short-ish item with tantalizing allusions to details that are not provided? Come on! Murder, mystery, justice -- I want the whole scoop. I hope the LA Times -- or someone -- follows up.
Is what this video offers:
Watching it again, I hereby declare this to be the most succinct and effective commentary on the modern American workplace. Not to mention: a testament to the lasting power of The Backstreet Boys. I love the pacing, the escalation, the Busby Berkeley in office chairs effects. And while we're at it, I'd say this video is inadvertently a genius spec ad for Mac. One take + five computers + iMovie = office ennui sublimated into five minutes of verve, abandon and fun times!
So: I am mildly obsessed with the Tsim Fuckiis phenomenon, having been sent one of the videos on the cusp of discovery one night by my pal, John. Tsim Fuckiis (or, depending, Fuckis, and also Fuckus), aka Chick3n Little, is a Progeria-afflicted Juggalo who had put up more than a dozen videos of himself on YouTube wherein he ranted some deranged shout-outs, lip-synced Offspring (preface: "This is an original!"), flexed at the camera, revealing what appears to be a penis on his stomach, sang a bizarre homophobic sing-song ditty, and fell over while trying demonstrate his kung fu powers on a stool. The whole thing was sordid but deeply fascinating. But not for everyone: I showed them to Ronni and she got mad at me. Then the videos disappeared overnight. Maybe his parents found out what was going on. Thankfully (one supposes), various enterprising YouTubers managed to preserve them for posterity. I know it's wrong, but I just can't stop looking. What really got me was the fact that genetics had dealt this poor fellow a cruel hand, dramatically limiting his time on earth, and what did he do with those few previous years? This. What also struck me about Tsim Fuckiis' juggalo act was that, at times, it seemed half-hearted. I mean, he's stomping around talking about his crew and ICP and all that, while on the dresser in the background is a Strawberry Shortcake lamp. Even when TF announces "What I Am Going To Do To The Haters" by demonstrating some wrestling moves on a pillow, it feels like he's only going through the motions.
Nevertheless, I give TF props for going conceptual: a title, no words, and a warning to all.
Having described Tsim Fuckiis' oeuvre to Paul F and Janie H in detail, I sent them the videos. To which Janie replied:
I have so many emotions right now, happening at the same time. I don't know where to begin. I started with the first one -- and stopped as it was hard to watch, you know.
Then, I skipped to the last one..."this is for all you haters one"...and it actually was full of joy. I call it the Yankees pillow dance -- it made me happy instead of sad, so I am leaving it at that.
"Full of joy" is not something I ever would have thought could be applied to Tsim Fuckiis, and all I can say is that Janie has a very generous spirit. I am going to come to her for life coaching next time I'm feeling down...
Which may be the most pleasant way to waste your life. Direct information overdose, straight to the vein. "But does it have Pugachev's Cobra?" you ask. Sadly, no. Which is why I'm stepping in to fill the breach. Your welcome!
As for one Eli Horowitz, who, upon learning (from me, via email) about Pugachev's Cobra, said, "This seems totally useless. But also difficult. And cobra-related," I answer: yes to the last two points; and as for useless, it is clear that Eli has never been piloting an F-22 Hornet with a six o-clock bogey.
So says one commenter on this:
Me -- I think the parasol is a nice touch. Not to mention the music, which I think we can all stipulate is what makes this not just another bipedal pug, but a transcendent experience that made another commenter say: "I have watched this 30 times and it always brings tears of joy in my eyes."
But my favorite comment got practical, simply wanting to know, "What modifications did you do to the stroller so she can push it?"
There's some usual suspects, like Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye. And a few surprises, like the objection to Black Hawk Down in Raceland, Louisiana, where you might imagine that Mark Bowden's politically nuetral military potboiler would go down well. Among my favorite ironies: Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep was pulled from a Prep school right here in SoCal.