The game, organized for kicks by Brent as a DVD menu, took on a life of its own as a performance art critique on US border policy. By which I mean it was a chance for me and Brent to knock the rock in the name of America! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! Want to find
out who wins? Watch the whole thing! It's short. And has some awesome
freaking saves. By me. Oh, and also worth seeing is my colorful dispatch at the time of the game for the LA Weekly:
most desolate and unknown beach is desolate and unknown for a reason.
It has no name, no facilities, no parking lot. There are no signs for
it inside Borderfield State Park. There are no signs for the park
either. To get there, you depart the 5 freeway 10 miles south of San Diego, follow the roads to where the gas stations give way to horse stables, get lost in the overgrowth and streams of the Tijuana River delta, and from there walk the dirt road two miles through coastal dunes to emerge at the Pacific.
This is a filthy beach, where the Tijuana River deposits human
waste, heavy metals, toxic poisons and other industrial effluvia from Mexico into the ocean. “CONTAMINATED WATER; DEEP HOLES; RIPTIDES; NO LIFEGUARD; NO SWIMMING!” the signs announce.
This is also a geopolitically divided beach, purposefully hidden, a DMZ in miniature where the men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol
would prefer no distractions as they monitor the fence of metal pylons
that draws a 20-foot-tall line in the sand all the way into the sea.
It is the perfect beach, in other words, for the world’s first game of international border volleyball.
This is the idea, at least, as I trek to the beach with no name to meet Brent Hoff
and three other collaborators who plan to stage the match. There, under
the noon sun, are a lone umbrella, some towels, lots of water and a
brand-new volleyball. Hoff is the editor of Wholphin, a new DVD
magazine published by McSweeney’s. For the DVD’s menu, Hoff wants to
film a game of beach volleyball using the border fence as the net.
Through the pylons we can see hundreds of people — families, kids,
ice-cream vendors and fishermen — all hanging out on Mexico’s side. The
fence itself has kind of a beach vibe here: It’s broken in parts, and
Mexican nationals wander back and forth, left alone by the
border-patrol units perched up on the hill unless they happen to wander
a bit too far.
“Why not use this no man’s land as a real beach,” Hoff adds, now
spinning the volleyball in preparation, “and see if we could strike up
a friendly pickup game? There’s no law against that.”
Or is there? Hoff suddenly wonders if hitting the ball back and
forth constitutes a violation of U.S. Customs law, since goods are
technically being transported across an international border. “Does a
nice volley amount to three strikes? Can we all get thrown in the
slammer?” One friend of Brent’s refused to come down because he thought
we’d all get shot.
We decide to take our chances. Here we are, under the perfect sun of
San Diego, where beach volleyball reigns, so why should that be any
different just a few miles south?
With Hoff’s three collaborators filming, he needs a second, and so I am volunteered to be the other half of Team USA.
By chance, we are both wearing white tank tops, beaded necklaces and
swim trunks — just the right uniforms for Team USA to show everybody
who’s boss. (U-S-A! U-S-A!) Hoff’s shades are yellow and mirrored for a
nice finishing touch. We approach the fence. Within seconds Team Mexico
is formed, and the match begins.
Beach volleyball is a much different game when played over two-story
metal pylons. Strategy and nuance go out the window. There are few sets
and certainly no spikes. Mostly, it’s tit-for-tat power bumps that send
the ball in 30- and 40- and even 50-foot arcs. The ball hangs in the
air so long that a lot of time is spent looking skyward, bracing for
another bump that hopefully goes in the right direction. As I wait for
one good knock to fall from the blue, it occurs to me that our entirely
new sport makes for some extreme, if inadvertent, political theater.
Despite the difficulty, the game is fun — and surprisingly
uninteresting to the border patrol, who zipped down at the drop of a
hat several times earlier but now seem content to observe us with
Spectators line up on the other side too. Beachgoers watch the game,
and a bunch of kids doing a college art project film us as well. We
learn that our opponents are two guys named Jerry and Larry. Jerry grew
up in El Monte. He’s in Mexico because he “made mistakes in his life” — I notice a big “EMF” for the El Monte Flores
gang on his arm. But now, he says, he’s on the right path. Larry is a
student with long, rocker hair; he’s wearing a black shirt and jeans.
Although we’re not really playing for points, it’s clear we’re
losing. Hoff makes heroic dives, and I’m (sort of) pulling my weight in
the volleys that develop, but Jerry and Larry have strength and
stamina, despite the fact that Jerry is older and wider than me and
Hoff combined, and Larry looks like he should be melting.
After an hour or so, we call it quits. Our wrists
are red and raw as we go to the fence to shake hands. A crowd gathers
for this moment of cultural exchange, which turns into a photo
opportunity. Like China’s
pandas, Hoff and I are goodwill ambassadors. See how furry and friendly
we really are? We’re not all saber rattlers up here! We take pictures
with Jerry and Larry, with the art-school kids, with some tourists from
Canada who are marveling at the whole thing.
All this activity finally brings down the hammer of the border
patrol, and a jeep shows up to separate us. The officer is friendly but
firm. He’s just come on shift and has no idea we’ve been playing
volleyball over the fence for the past hour.
He tells us that a daredevil launched himself across the border in a
cannon a while back, but that ours was, in fact, the first-ever game of
international border volleyball.
“And it worked over that tall fence?”
“Yup,” we say. “We’re up for one more round if you want to play.”
Star Trek + JJ Abrams = awesome. Star Trek + Daniel Martinico = also awesome. In honor of the commercial and artistic achievement that is the new Star Trek, let us pause to reflect on the purely artistic and deeply fascination achievement that is The Wrath of Khan!, a show a while back staged as part of Mark Allen's ever-enlightening Machine program. It is a lesson in transformation. See how to go from this:
Steven: You haven't seen this shit? Me: What? Steven: It's been going around recently. It's just like funny videos, and then at the end there's this cat starts playing an electric piano. Me: What song? Steven: Some little ditty. With like clap sounds and stuff. Me: I don't get it. Steven: It's hard to explain. I think the cat video was another viral and then people put it on other ones like a weird commentary. You'll get hooked, believe me. We haven't gotten any work done since this thing showed up. It's sweeping the internet. Me: So it's the properties of robust hybrids, but in YouTube videos? Steven: I'm not sure what you're saying, but yes! Me: I'll have to see some. Steven: I'll send you some links. Me: OK Steven: Get ready for a Grade A mind explosion.
Today, I saw a blind man with an impeccable Van Dyke. Dude must have bought some kind of special attachment for the GoateeSaver, although I don't see any add-ons on the site or in the FAQ. There is, however, a snappy logo. Guess what it looks like? By the way: I feel like I must point out that the GoateeSaver's promotional copy states that "[the goatee] reflects your personality. It declares your individuality. Your
goatee is much more than just facial hair, your goatee style helps
fashion your identity. We understand its importance to you. That's why
we created the GoateeSaver shaving template, the innovative grooming
tool designed to give you the perfect goatee every time you shave." Quite the rhetorical promise -- one that is belied by the use of the GoateeSaver, because if we are to accept that your goatee bestows individuality upon your face -- which is something I'm not willing to stipulate, but for argument's sake -- then any such individuality will be erased by this pattern-making device! Goateed men of the world should see at this machine as the enemy. They should rebel against the mechanization of their facial hair expression. They should cast their GoateeSavers from the nearest cliff. Or, better yet, maybe they should cast their goatees from the nearest cliff. Or at least from their faces.
If the television signal from this Vermont Teddy Bear ad travels at
186,000 miles per second, how long will it take before it arrives at
the solar system of Alpha Centauri, located 4.37 light years away?
If we assume that the intelligent life there is capable of space travel
at 75% the speed of light, on what day (be precise!) will the earth be
annihilated by the hordes of extremely irritated alien creatures?
Perhaps because it is more than, say, Christian Bale yelling at the stoned kid in the back seat; these are real musical Mash-Ups, like the kind you would listen to on purpose, except using YouTube clips as source material:
Or really, the YouTube clips are instruments. The method, apparently: the guy peruses god knowsh how many clips of songs, historical performances, homemade bedroom noodling, high school band recitals, and low budget YouTube instrumental instructional videos, and combines them to form his own songs. The result is seven diverse -- and good! -- songs of various genres. That first one arranges some fairly active and original funk out of dozens of different instruments and melodies, including a guy with a mullet playing a theremin.
I also like Babylon Band, an unintentional ethnoelectronic supergroup with a levantine sound formed by combining a stonerish kid on his elaborate drum kit with greek teenager jamming on what looks like (to my untrained eyes) a tambouras:
Like many people, I have an adorable cat. Thing is, mine is the most adorable. Don't believe me? How about this:
J/K -- that's a baby ground sloth! Named Lily. But still not as cute as this little mofo:
Super kitty is a Scottish Fold. He is a mutant. Like the rest of his mutant species, Super is descended from one animal, named Susie, discovered in Perthshire Scotland in 1961. In addition to the folded ears, those spawn of Susie with the dominant gene like to sit upright, like a human buddha. Super does it all the time. He walks around, thinks to himself, "I guess it's time to ponder being and the universe," and arranges himself into a Buddha pose. And by the way, here he is on Halloween:
Don't worry about that kitty frown. Secretly, the dude is thrilled to be dressing up with the rest of us to gaily celebrate the annual rise of the underworld.
Over the years, many fans of Super Kitty have asked: Was the cutest cat also the cutest kitten ever? To which the answer is: duh? Thing is, there are few pictures extant from that glorious time. Filling the breach, as usual, is the internet, and it's special time travel service, YouTube:
How this internet magic works, I'll never know. Shopping, wikipedia, and now a personal Muppet Babies filter for your pet! Or really for my pet. But if that could be a universal service? Now there's a commercial concept. Maybe that can replace the newspapers?
I used to have a real job in a real office. How? I'm not sure either. Mostly, I was able to stick around because my boss was too busy being obsessed with QVC to notice that no one really knew what my duties were. She was a great lady, but her Achilles Heel was that QVC. Familiar story, right ladies? Anyhow, she had a little TV in her office and she'd be ordering Quacker Factorysweaters and headbands and plastic snowflakes and oversized kitten figurines all day and they'd show up at the office -- towering stacks of weird shit in boxes. She loved that Jeanne Jeanne! Quack, quack, quack! There was another woman in our office, at the same executive level, who there also had the money to buy and the clout to receive god knows how much QVC merchandise at her office every day. And they were constantly locked in some kind of QVC arms race. They'd make excuses to go into each others' office to spy. "Do you have the latest such and such figures?" or "Looks like the stakeholders are together on that project?" would be the fake questions, providing cover while one eye quickly scanned the room, cataloging QVC merchandise or memorizing the shipping numbers on the boxes. I'm going to guess that in the time I was there, $250K was spent on QVC between them. One thing they did not buy, however, was:
First off: that's why swords should not be $44. Second: knowing the QVC audience like I do, I wonder how many ladies in puffy paint frosty the snowman sweaters do they think want to buy a cheap practice katana. Self-maiming aside, this seems like some misguided marketing. But it sure did get me thinking about how the magic of YouTube has made QVC bloopers available to us all, at our whim, and so I share with you, if you haven't already seen it, the "very safe to operate" horizontal ladder:
No, it's not Warren Beatty battling the aliens from Communion -- although that would be pretty awesome, especially if Warren Beatty had some kind of mechanical exoskeleton and the Grays could project psychokinetic powers. Can you imagine? If you can, stop, because this is a different war altogether, one that rages in england, where they don't even have exoskeletons! This is a war between squirrels. Between the ravenous, effective, ruthless, diseased American gray squirrel, and England's native, charming, funny-eared, red squirrel:
, the hearty grays are pushing out the tender reds, and the tender Brits don't like it. Their answer: eat the American squirrels!
Enter the “Save Our Squirrels” campaign begun in 2006 to rescue
Britain’s red squirrels by piquing the nation’s appetite for their
marauding North American cousins. With a rallying motto of “Save a red,
eat a gray!” the campaign created a market for culled squirrel meat.
bon vivants suddenly couldn’t get enough squirrel. Television chefs
were preparing it, cookbooks were extolling it, farmers’ markets were
selling out of it and restaurants in many places were offering it on
Listen, I know how squirrels can make you crazy. The only problem with this plan: squirrel is disgusting. As the article notes, it's more trouble than it's worth to skin the thing. And even if the British can convince everyone to devour the squirrels, it is, in the end, a pyrrhic victory. Because it will make them more American than ever:
Remember to keep your eyes empty -- because...you're...a robot!
I was digging this, even though I had a hunch it wasn't real. And then Ronni recognized one of the rad backup dancers from high school. Except that if this was made in the mid-80s, the girl would have been fifteen. I'm sorry to have to break to you...
As Steve Elliott notes, everybody likes to post funny YouTube vidoes. Oh sure, take the easy shot with the Nintendo 64 remix, or the Rock-a-Fire Explosion, but it takes balls to put up something as insanely boring as this:
I want to make tacos! I want to live in a condominium! Cheetah Lady speaks to all our desires. Note: this is Cheetah Lady's only video. I love the purity of sole YouTube contributions. Make your statement, and don't dilute it. Forget that New York Times article about YouTube gold. Stay true to your artistic intentions, especially if that means howling at the camera in head-to-toe rosettes.
That's my current favorite. And I say that with authority, having comprehensively surveyed the squirrel YouTube landscape just now. That's right: I do the slogging, so you don't have to. Gone are the days of being disappointed by all those mis-titled "beer drinking squirrels" or "kung fu squirrels" perpetrated by the YouTube on us eager believers. Allow me to be fooled for you. It is a quite a service, I know. Such is my generous character. And by the way -- how many "crazy barking squirrels" can there be in the world? A lot, according to YouTube. Except that none of them are actually barking. You want to know what selflessness is? Repeatedly clicking on "crazy barking squirrels" knowing full well there no real bark shall ever be found. The closest I got was this:
The Zombie Zeitgeist A full scale movement is on the lurch. But why the best zombie movie ever made a video game?
Believer interview with Mark Allen Digital artist and awesome gallerist Mark Allen talks about Tekken Torture Tournament and other projects where people were wired to machines and did strange things in public.
Believer interview with Marjane Satrapi Enlightening Q & A with the Persian cartoonist, memoirist, quick conversationalist in which she declares: “THE WORLD IS NOT ABOUT BATMAN AND ROBIN FIGHTING THE JOKER; THINGS ARE MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT.”
Yeti Researcher Yet another 100-page issue of the world's top academic journal devoted scholarship about the Yeti, Bigfoot, Sasqatch, and other mystery primates worldwide. For researchers and lay audiences alike, the latest YR features a history of Sasquatch sightings in southern California, an update on the wily orang pendek of Sumatra, and a new look into Teddy Roosevelt's obsession with bagging a Bigfoot. As Editor-in-Chief, I promise you won't be disappointed.
Panda PowerPoint! I guess I don't mind being "the entertainment" when it's at Mark Allen's second annual Holiday Fry-B-Que. Presented: preliminary findings from my ongoing research into the most charismatic megafauna of all: Giant Pandas.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Dec 9, 2006 For those who missed it, there will be more. World, Explained is going strong! Money was raised, laughs were had, and for those paying attention, small amounts of useful information about things like the aurora borealis were transmitted. Plus: Michael Cera = lovably funny. And Nick Diamonds' renditions of Dumb Dog and Hanging Tough are still in my head. As is that horribly catchy Fresh Step jam.
Jest Fest at Skylight Books Somehow I wound up hosting the 10th anniversary jubilee for Infinite Jest at Skylight Books. Because who doesn't love a jubilee, right? Despite being delirious with Hepatitis A (that's the mild, non-lethal kind; I'm not at risk for Hep B since I always go the needle share and choose clean-looking prostitutes), I managed to not mis-pronounce anyone's name and make an erudite joke and poke gentle fun at Michael Silverblatt.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | June 10, 2006 Number Three! Last one was sold out so we moved to a slightly larger theater. Andy Richter hosted, and his opening exegesis of CSI: Miami warmed the people up right. Evany Thomas presented her very scientific findings on the Secret Language of Sleep; Starlee Kine bared her neuroses to the world (or at least the 300 people in the audience); Josh Davis showed video of his 135-lb self sumo wrestling a 550-lb opera singer from San Bernardino; and Davy Rothbart closed it out with some Found Magazine magic. Grant Lee Phillips, Sam Shelton and Zooey Deschanel provided the music punctuation! I can still hear their rendition of We Are the Champions.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Feb 11, 2006 The second in our series of precision comedy and fact-based entertainment extravaganzas benefiting 826LA. Patton Oswalt was kind enough to host, and Jon Brion joined in on the piano and guitar as thematic accompaniment. Presenters included: David Rees, Michael Colton, John Hodgman (along with his hirsuit troubadour, Jonathan Coulton), and me. Plus: a fashion show of exciting multi-user garmentry.
Little Gray Book Lecture at Galapagos How to Observe President's Day. Jonathan Coulton's technical wizardry has made this entire show available online. The summary from PRX: Sarah Vowell, John Hodgman and Joshuah Bearman on Presidents' Day, along with a fifteen-piece marching band and a new song about all forty-three presidents. My contribution? Yes, from Yeti Researcher. Again. Actually that was the first one. So I have only five stories!
July 25: TJ to LA -- A Night McSweeney's Readings I was honored to be part of a strange triptych along with Salvador Plascencia and Josh Kun. Sponsored, somehow, by La Ciudad magazine, we all packed into Beyond Baroque with no air conditions. 150 people showed at 7 o'clock on a Friday evening, which we took as a good sign of something. Sal held up and anxiously discussed drawings from his novel, Josh delivered an essay on the Dr. Moreau of Tijuana, and my shtick (again) was Pac Man and metaphysics, this time with fun slides.
October 8th: Skylight Books w/Stephen Elliott Fun times were had by all. Someone in the audience actually mistook me for an expert on the psychology human character. We ate shrimp cocktail and drank cheap wine and laughed at Bush and celebrated the certainty of right besting wrong in American democracy. A lot of good that did.