Wednesday, September 25, 2002


This morning at coffee, in what I at first interpreted as simple friendly primate grooming behavior, the Sewer King plucked a bit of lint off my genuine muppetskin shirt and then examined it closely.

“We’d better send this in to test for bomb casing residue, since she lives in the Unabomber cabin and all,” the King said to our friend the Jeweler, who was watching the whole scene in much the same way I watch Survivor – that being a complicated blend of amusement, slapstick horror and eagerness for the advent of interactive TV that will someday allow me to severely dopeslap every single person associated with the show.

The Sewer King was very proud of this observation for a few moments, until, musing somewhat madly to himself as the Sewer King sometimes does, he remembered some newspaper column he’d clipped some time ago that stated the Unabombings could not have been committed by a writer because a writer would have other, more imaginative and colorful ways of expressing his vanity and spleen (William Gass: I write because I hate. A lot. Hard.). Hence, by his reasoning, I am unlikely to start mailing out exploding packages to high tech executives and the like anytime soon.

And he’s right, darn it. Days like today especially make me see how far I’ve gotten from my somewhat radical, foam-at-the-mouth past. Once upon a time, it was not at all unusual for me to take April 15th off from work so I could stand with Libertarian Party officials and other disreputable types en masse in front of the South Postal Annex in Boston (within sight of the Boston Tea Party Ship) holding up a sign that said in huge sans serif capitals TAXES SUCK! VOTE LIBERTARIAN.

Imagine, then, my friend Linda the Whiny Democrat County Commissioner’s unholy glee when I found myself representing Saratoga on the county-wide committee to promote the renewal of the optional fifth cent sales tax.

Here’s how she introduced me to the rest of the crew:

“This is Kate Sherrod from the Saratoga Town Council. Kate is a Libertarian, but she’s on two – no wait, it’s three, isn’t it Kate? Right? Right? – three tax committees for this year’s election, so maybe she’s starting to see the light. Three tax committees! Three! Let’s hear it for Tax and Spend Sherrod!” etc.


Making it all the better, of course, was a little dig I’d received by e-mail only the day before our first Fifth Penny committee meeting from, of course, the original Whiny Democrat, the Sewer King, telling me he was “Glad you’re off keeping our taxes high.”


Thing is, though, that for the fifth penny, at least, well, I find the damned thing necessary, at least until someone with a better policy forming brain than mine (remember; I’m just a journalist in over my head. The day I qualify as a bona fide policy wonk is the day we should all pretty much be ready to start living again off the land. In the plus column, we’d be allowed to shoot the freakin’ deer eating our sunflowers and enjoy free venison stew, but in the minus column, we’d be back to using the barter system to get ammo with which to kill ‘em) comes up with a better, more equitable way to pay for some of the benefits of civilized society that even I, who live in relative freedom and hermetic isolation in my Unabomber Cabin without a phone line or central heating, have come to be rather fond of, like fire trucks and ambulances and roads that are drivable for those of us who don’t have, e.g. hummers or land rovers. I’m still open to suggestions for other ways to provide these, and if the voters act much like they did last time around (passing the tax by only a 3% margin) said suggestions may well get a chance to be tested, but until then... what else can I do put roll up my sleeves and pitch in with the kind of high-powered marketing savvy for which I am justly famous, o yes.

My contribution so far being the pithy tag line for the newspaper ads: “Pennies are lazy unless you put them to work!” accompanied by appropriately illustrative cartoons of Lincoln napping in a penny and Lincoln flexing his muscles and bursting out of a penny, to be penned soon by Obie the Artist (not his real name).

God knows what the Sixth Penny (capital facilities) tax is going to do to me. Not that there’s much it can do to me that being on the board to build the Saratoga Schmommunity Center (you knew right after I wrote my piece about why I didn’t support it that I’d end up on this board, didn’t you, dear readers? Well, thanks for telling me. Phoo. Eey.) hasn’t already done.

So, I guess I’d best head on home after my meeting and, instead of finishing the excellent biography of Cicero that I plowed halfway through last night when I should have been sleeping, dust off my copy of The Communist Manifesto and acquaint myself with my new cherished political ideals...


Tuesday, September 24, 2002


Like so many others (mostly of my generation, commonly designated with an X) who spend way too much of their time fiddling around online instead of having “a life” (whatever that is – and when, may I ask, is at least one of the people telling me I need to get one going to tell me what one is, by the way? Just wondering, just wondering), I have been reading the vituperative outbursts of those my supposed peers who volunteered to collaborate with Cary Tennis on a multi-day piece entitled “Love in the Age of Irony” on with more than a little amusement.

The 20- and 30-somethings who wrote to answer Tennis’ opening question about what it’s like to be young now and what his generation (dum dum DUUUUMMM – the Baby Boomers) look like to “us” are a pretty diverse group (for Salon readers) but they all seem united in focusing all of their angst and incomprehension and ire on the people who were our age in the 60s and early 70s, which I can’t help but find humorous mostly because, well, they seem to think it’s something different.

As Tennis responded in one of his best audio rants to date, the flower power and the drugs and the hippie clothes and the no-strings, AIDS-free sex maybe look like fun on film and maybe sound fun when filtered through the increasingly addled recollections of BB-ers (who do seem disproportionately to have been represented in my experience and that of most of my friends by really annoying, self-righteous droners like the “ex-activist” soccer moms who infested the offices of a private charity for whom I worked during my early years in Boston, women who constantly berated their secretaries – who were all my age or younger – for not being out there being the kind of rampaging pains in the ass that they were when they were our age. Oh did it ever get old! So old that my friends and I all deeply treasured a cartoon drawing a flute factory worker pal of mine drew of what our Woodstock would look like, should we have one – obviously this was before MTV dreamed up Woodstock Jr. for the anniversary of that mud-soaked music mess – complete with a mushroom cloud, black helicopters and angry mohawked punks with boots bigger than their bodies stomping hippies into the ground), yeah, that all seemed fun, but the people doing it weren’t necessarily having so much fun. They’d grown up diving under their school desks to rehearse for missile attacks and, as Tennis put it, their teenage years were full of “fear of martial law, nuclear annihilation, and a madman in the White House” which... sounds kind of familiar to me, I who grew up with the Iran hostage crisis being the first big news story I was old enough to understand (I still remember where I was when I heard about it; I was at my friend Keri’s house making noises on my brand new trombone that were almost as obscene as the bleats coming out of her saxophone when her mother called out “Oh my god, those poor people!”) and debated nuclear disarmament in high school and knew as my first president I was old enough to follow a soon-to-be-Alzheimer’s-riddled maniac who was letting his lackeys sell guns to the same people who kidnapped those hostages.

The difference between the two age groups looks significant at first glance – the BBs in their nihilism got hedonistic, because tomorrow wasn’t going to come so what’s the point of denying yourself corporeal pleasure, recreational insanity, etc., while we in our nihilism wallowed in our nihilism because the Dionysian excess thing was *SO* over and it was *SO* much more clever to sing “We all gotta duck/When the shit hits the fan” than something so dated as “Everybody get together/Try to love one another.” But both schticks were about the same thing: young people growing up in a world that we’d somehow convinced ourselves or had been convinced by others was going to make sense to us someday, it made sense to our elders, didn’t it, but we were impatient for that time when everything would fall into place and nobody would be freaking out and that day would already be here, dammit, if everybody else would just see that we were right and stop acting like jackasses, dammit!

OK, I’ve firmly dated myself as a Gen Xer there, because I’m pretty sure the BBs would never call those who disagreed with them jackasses (well, some of *my* Boomer friends – I’ve there marked myself as some kind of culture freak among my kind because I have Boomer friends – would, but they’re from Wyoming and we’re always about 20 years behind current trends). Well, maybe Abbie Hoffman woulda, but the soccer moms who made my life hell in that office in Boston wouldn’t; they’d have called them misguided warmongers or something – I can’t be more precise because after about a month of knowing them I had firmly and unshakably installed the Charlie Brown filter on each and every one of them.

But that’s not the point; the point is that we’ve all of us, Boomer and X-er alike, grown up in a scary world in which the prospect of all of us dying off in one great burst of radiation has, yes, been a feature of science fiction but has also been a geopolitical fact, and still is even with the demise of the Soviet bloc, only the potential bad guy has changed; he’s got a turban now instead of a fur hat, claims belief in Allah instead of Lenin, etc. etc.

So what’s really going on here isn’t so much a real as a perceived generation gap, one that can only further poison life for my people who are facing the following real, hard, fact, as elucidated by professional demographer William H. Frey in his latest brilliant analysis of 2000 census data (no, LIANT readers, I’m not going to rant again about the Census Bureau, though they do still occupy a special place on my shit list): one in four Americans is a Baby Boomer.

A lot of my demographic peers are blaming everything they see as “wrong” in the world on 25% of America’s population.

That’s shit.

But what is really going on?

Pardon me while I quote at length from a letter novelist Michael Ventura wrote to dear, dear James Hillman (published in the duo’s 1992 book-length excursus We’ve Had 100 Years of Psychotherapy and the World is Getting Worse:

”...Let’s go back to the 1940s. Fundamental changes occurred in science and the arts at the same time. In science, IBM and Howard Aiken built the first major computer, the Mark I, in Massachusetts in 1939. Then in Pennsylvania in 1946, John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert made the ENIAC, a computer one thousand times faster than its predecessors. The new pattern and sheer speed of calculation would change and intensify patterns of thought, influencing what we researched, how we researched, and the form (and therefore the data) of the result.

“During this same period, 1939 to 1946, musician-composers were coming up with comparable structural changes in music. Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianists Thelonius Monk and Bud Powell, and drummers Kenny Clarke and Max Roach worked with sounds, patterns and speeds of music that had never been attempted before... Here was music paralleling in its form what was going on in he new field of electronics. The different mediums were hit at the same time with previously unheard-of forms of speed and complexity.

“Also at the same time, and in the same area, painters achieved something very similar. Abstract Expressionism and Thelonius monk go hand in hand, or ear in hand. Space is to painting what motion is to other mediums, and the painting of this era created impressions of vast inner spaces while playing as freely with shape as Bebop did with melody...

“...See all this in the light of another art, the art of behavior: acting. While scientists changed the speed and pattern of certain kinds of thought, and jazz musicians and painters did the same to sound and vision, theater people clustering around Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan transformed how human behavior would be interpreted on stage and screen. The new Actors Studio method expressed moods and realms of the psyche that had been off-limits to the more traditional acting of England and Hollywood, but those moods and realms were right at home with what was being expressed in the new painting and jazz.

“Again, the quality of speed was key, but the Actors Studio method of people like Marlon Brando slowed down reactions, doing with pace what many Abstract Expressionists were doing with space... There’s an air of being knocked off center, of having to regain your balance in every new moment, in the Actors Studio style... as though portraying the motivation of any character had to take into account that character’s being a bit dazed at the speed and intensity of the changes surrounding him. when you think of artists like Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Gena Rowlands, a kind of suspicious bewilderment is taken for granted in their style.”

(Ellipses mine; the letter is far longer and raps in greater depth on the idea of spontaneous, seemingly unrelated but simultaneous changes in these very diverse fields of inquiry, but I think I’ve included enough here to make the point)

In other words, the world became a wildly different place during the period immediately before most of the BBs were even born (the childhood of my own parents, who watched the BBs with all of the annoyed amusement with which my friends and I watch the N’SYNC-listening, thong-underwear-and-baggy-pants-wearing, Spongebob Squarepants-watching youth of today, actually). The world, then, was already unfamiliar and fucked-up-seeming and bewildering and dangerous before the BB-ers were even shitting their (still) cloth diapers.

So does that mean it’s all the fault of the “Greatest” World War II generation with which my own peers seem so much happier to identify, share time, get together and bitch about the BB-ers with?

If that’s the conclusion you’ve drawn, then I’ve utterly failed at getting my point across in this essay. If that’s the conclusion you’ve drawn, then you’re still casting about for someone to blame.

People, it’s no one generation or ethnic group or leader’s fault, that the world is a weird and wacky place where it’s not safe to grow up or have sex or invest on Wall Street. The world has always been a weird and wacky and dangerous place.

The pace of change has sped up, yes, even as our lifespans have grown longer along with our bones and our periods of economic dependence on our parents (mine is still somewhat in force even though I have three, sometimes four jobs at a time) and our recorded history, but it’s just a new angle on an old, old curve that began with mankind waking and sleeping solely according to the sun and only in the last 100 years or so has brought our “waking” lives into the night with the invention of electric light. Do we blame Edison, then, for a generation’s downward mobility (delayed for many of us by the internet boom that catapulted into the home-owning, German car-buying yuppie stratosphere those of us who would otherwise have been categorized as victims of our own creativity – you know whom among us I mean, those of us who can’t bring ourselves to enter a cubicle farm even on a visit, let alone to work there, who eke out livings as temps or drug dealers or freelance writers because to accept a real 9-5 job-type job would be to sell out, and yes of course I include myself in this number, have done my time as a clerical whore for The Skill Bureau [“Do you do Windows? Sitting down? Top money for top computer skills” the yellow pages ad said when I arrived in Boston in 1993. How else could I have landed an $18 an hour job within 24 hours of coming off the Interstate?])?


More important than any of that is the need to simply recognize that none of us really knows what we’re doing, whether we were born in 1929, 1949 or 1969, that all of us are a little bewildered by what has happened, what is happening, what will happen, and that the only real differences between the generations are the physical ones, remember those? There are maybe unbridgeable gaps between those who have to take blood pressure or arthritis or osteoporosis medicines on a daily basis and those who maybe have to pop a tylenol after too hard a racquetball game and those who still think drugs are something you take at parties for fun, but those differences are not a result of the malice or thoughtlessness or poor planning or selfishness of any particular group of people, unless maybe you just blame it on the gods who made aging our ultimate reality.

Stupid gods.

See, that didn’t do much good either, did it?

Monday, September 23, 2002


After ten years of east coast urban hipster indoctrination, I still have to pause a beat and think about which sport is actually under discussion when a companion of mine brings up “football” – my mental filing system is quite different from that of most people, as I proved in kindergarten when I recited all the Greek letters in order when my teacher demanded I prove I knew my alphabet already; had she wanted the English letters she would have asked for my ABCs, wouldn’t she? So after I shake thoughts of thick-legged foreigners with interesting hairdos and exotic surnames out of my head, I find myself oddly soothed and able to take on whatever lies before me.

Football, the kind my coffee buddies fret over and my hot pool and middle school buddies sweat over, is one of the most comforting things our culture has to offer.

I don’t suppose a lot of people find football comforting – serious fans crouched in poses of unbearable tension waiting for, e.g., a field goal attempt, a bowl of chips poised to fling across the room when the tension of the moment is finally, explosively released look anything but relaxed as they wait – but while the actual play and spectation of the game itself is exhilarating, frustrating, hilarious or painful (depending, this season, on whether one is watching the Denver Broncos, Saratoga High School, Saratoga Middle School or the Wyoming Cowboys), the fact that football season is here and has resumed brings a satisfying closure to what is always a tense and busy summer here in my valley.

See, most of my friends make most of their money for the year during the three or four months of “tourist season” so life during these months is a real, earnest and serious proposition. We may incidentally have fun on, say, a stolen afternoon drunkenly floating the river (though we have to share it with an ever increasing load of tourists) or a mid-week camping trip (if we can afford to close down our businesses or have reliable employees to whom to hand the baton for a Tuesday through Thursday - no weekends, of course, because again, the camping spots are full of, yes, tourists), but we don’t really relax through those because there’s always that background anxiety – ought one to have left the office/store/guide shop today? What business has been lost or turned away (Or in my case, what potential visitors have not found our website satisfactory and have decided not to leave their name and mailing address on our answering machine so that we can send them visitors packets or relocation packets or lists of local landowners who allow antelope hunting on their property and so have decided to spend their money in Albany County or Colorado or even somewhere in Nebraska, depending on what they were planning to do on their vacation/hunting trip/fact-finding tour for a high-circulation travel magazine oh god even thinking about this brings back the ghost of migraines past)?

Then comes football season, which gives us something new to talk about besides the lack of water in the river, the lack of butts in motel beds, or the way the Forest Service has mismanaged the latest timber sale in a wrongheaded and economically damaging way that will ultimately mean that our grandchildren will have to use hemp for toilet paper or something. The preseason starts, and we ignore it but keep an eye on the advance reports of Mike Shanahan’s latest stable of unknown but ultimately outrageously capable running backs and Vic Koennig’s latest pinheaded remarks about how this season the Cowboys are going to suck much less than they did last year and my own senseless babbling about how there’s a sixth grader who already weighs 150 and doesn’t cry when someone knocks him down.

Then the games begin... middle school games are glorious, giddy fun (in what other sport can a bystander on the sidelines – bystanders are allowed on the sidelines, if they have brought cameras – hear a brand new player, staggering off the field after his first ever down, cry out within hearing range of his mortified mother “Coach! That guy was humping my leg!”), the last refuge of the Statue of Liberty and other plays, the true bastion of the two-point conversion, the home of the double fumble, the run for a loss, and the 95-yard kickoff return.

High school games are, for me, mostly sort of a wistful, nostalgic experience, not so much because I remember when my own classmates played (the Saratoga Smurfs, we were called back then, because the average player height was a towering 5’4” and you don’t even want to know the average weight [bantam? We wished!]) – though it’s entertaining indeed at every single game to hear the same announcer who called our games quote a remark I made in that same booth when I was SHS’s statistician in 1986 and informed said announcer that I wasn’t sure to whom to credit a tackle because it seemed the accomplishment of “a plethora of Panthers” (he’s always most assiduous about attributing the remark to me) – as because I’m now watching kids playing high school ball that I used to hang out with on the sidelines at middle school games, kids I used to have to admonish between plays to try to forget that I was there and taking pictures and please stop posing with the ball in the middle of a down. They’re all grown up now – WAY up – and are no longer asking my advice on how to tackle or if that pass looked good or if maybe they should have schlumblededummed instead of frobishing the grindlewart (I have yet to master the intricacies of football terminology, if you can’t tell), preferring now (perhaps correctly) to leave such calls to the coach instead of the newslady...

College games I tend to ignore on television, but they’re fun to go to live, because, as a good friend of mine likes to observe whether we’re in the stadium or at the American Legion cursing at the TV, “Win or lose, we still booze.” This year we mostly booze. It’s not a high water mark the Cowboys are setting this year. I think the middle school team could beat them. I think the Cowboys would fall for the Statue of Liberty. More than once.

My sympathies go out to those who, like my parents, chose to get season tickets for this year. Hey, at least there’s beer. Lots and lots of beer. And you get to go to Wal Mart with relative impunity (i.e. at least you’re not making a special trip to do so, thus assuring the ire of yours truly the Shop At Home Nazi and her crack stormtroop of Saratoga merchants; you’re merely risking it if a fellow valley resident catches you in the aisles with items you could have bought at home in your cart). And maybe next year they’ll play better and make it all the way to the Holiday Bowl where they’ll get beat up by a PAC-10 or Big 8 team or something... Oh wait, that’s what they do now in the regular season... very tactless of me... so sorry.

Bronco games are all about circling around the modern day hestia of the American home, the TV set at my parents’ house. Two p.m. is Bronco time. I head up to the house with a load or two of laundry to do (Kate’s Landing not being equipped with facilities for same – hey, I’m lucky I have a stove that doesn’t require me to stockpile firewood) (as it is I’m going to be shopping for some space heaters real soon) (not at Wal-Mart), grab a beer and kick back, bewildered at the overwhelming spectacle football on that level has become, gawking at some 70,000 people crammed into a brand new stadium that cost more than our water plant, sewer lagoon, police station, town hall and paving projects combined and feeling a seductive pull to someday be in that number, not to see the game “live” since I’m pretty sure even the occupants of first tier seats need opera glasses to distinguish our Broncos from the very similarly clad Bills, but to be part of such a large and featureless crowd, to stop for once being the individual human being that I am, with my personal obsessions and problems and challenges and lack of fashion sense, and to disappear into a collective, to be subsumed in a greater purpose, to speak in a multitudinous roar and otherwise be silent, to think the thoughts of thousands of others as tiny, antlike Brian Griese prepares to hand off a flyspeck of a ball to tiny, antlike Mike Anderson so he can advance a centimeter or two and elicit again that many-headed roar.

I know that’s just a fantasy, though. Bronco games can’t be any different from Wyoming games (seven or eight times as many people, but it’s like the way Richard Adams has rabbits counting in Watership Down: one, two, three, four, hrair [many]); I have been part of record sellout crowds and still and all, though we yell as one and focus our attention on making that pigskin sail between instead of around the posts, there is no time when I am not still me in my own head and my own life, subject to the scrutiny of other individuals seated all around me and stuck listening to their gossip and their small talk and their often comical invectives hurled at poor Coach Roach/Erickson/Koennig/whoever comes next, poor slob.

But even trapped as I am in my own life, it’s still fun to yell at the referees whether it’s in the stadium or in the living room, to marvel at the Thucydidean wisdom of the announcers who, in split seconds, analyze a play and its flaws and its progress with razory focus (how many times have I been dazzled by, e.g. the swarming quality of the Denver defense and how they’ve utterly mastered matters on a down, only to realize that the guy that mattered, the one with the ball, got away?) and, let’s face it, comically inept metaphors. It’s great to think about something that, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t matter a damned bit for a few hours and (best of all) not to be considered frivolous for it. I may think about things that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t matter a damned bit all the time, but while few of my townsfolk share my enthusiasm for Greek etymology or for figuring out which Beethoven fragment I’ve been humming the last five days or what species of moth my friend thinks he saw up in the mountains last weekend, none of them ever mock me for having spent two or three hours I’ll never get back again watching 22 people chase a dead hunk of pigskin up and down the field.

Mr. David Vaughan of Tokyo, Japan (yes, Tokyo, Japan) came closest in guessing which bit o'Beethoven has been making its way round and round and round (and round and round and round) my brain lo these five days, that being the second (Allegretto) movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony in A, Op. 92. He guessed the third, but that's close enough for me, especially since none of the rest of you even tried!

Many thanks to my own dear personal mom, who didn't even question me Thursday evening (she being, as you might suspect, quite accustomed to this) as I made a psychotic beeline for the music room in her house to spend some quality time with her LP collection and turntable until I verified my suspicion, and to the Sewer King who humored me by singing along with me during coffee on Friday... Dum, duh duh DA, DA... Dum, duh duh DAAH...