Follow my continued adventures at

Wednesday, February 18, 2009



I was really, really, REALLY looking forward to seeing The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke's comeback film about a pro wrestler making a comeback. If you know me at all well then you know that I used to have rather an enticing gap between my top front teeth. (For another shortie on gap-tooth pride, see the Notes page on Liz Tamny's Facebook account.)

And then I became a mud wrestler. I know what you're thinking... but I was not an 'exotic' mud wrestler. NO! We were serious artists: this was WWF-style grapplin' that just happened to have an extra fun element of slippery mud, plus the traditional accoutrements: costumes, plots, threats, boasts, double back-flips, secret identities --I was the Incognito Mosquito, dressed like a giant bug -- heads beaten with folding chairs, and some serious, adrenaline-pumping PAIN.

Once in a while there was too much pain. The time, for example, when I fell too hard on my face and knocked out my beautiful misaligned fangs. I still don't know what made me sadder: the fact that the bemused dentist didn't even know how to restore gapped teeth on purpose, or the fact that I was asked to hang up my mask and wings. I didn't even have anyone to be angry with. We parted amicably, the Mud Wrestling Organization and I; it was simply decided that I suffered an incurable inability to respect my own physical limitations, and was therefore an insurance liability. I still root for the MWO -- they're still around, by the way, and have a web site; look 'em up, they may have some shows this spring -- but it was rather a stab to the heart.

So ten years later, they say there's gonna be a Mickey Rourke flick with a pro wrestler making a comeback? Oh, boy, I say, painting on some extra thick eyeliner. This is going to be worth walking to the mall! (The only movie theaters in this town are in the no-peds-land of the mall district, reachable only by walking along the highway or, if you're not blind, prone to panic attacks, or particularly concerned about the future, driving your SUV.) And it was worth it, just to see Rourke's performance, certes, as well as to reminisce over the joys of spandex, endorphins, and bleeding all over the place like AIDS never happened.

But two things marred my joy. One of them was my own goddamn problem, or at the limit, the problem of the U.S. Air Force. What Rourke's character, Randy the Ram (better than my moniker, I have to admit) is coming back from is a heart attack, and anything related to heart problems has got to be my number-one neurosis. If I see somebody else clutch at their chest I immediately get chest pains. Whenever I have a stomachache (which is almost always), part of my brain is constantly pulling on the panic cord labeled "BIZARRE SENSATION IN CHEST AREA! DYING DYING DYING!" I still can barely choke down eggs, even though they've figured out that there's something unsticky about their brand of cholesterol. Thanks for ruining a perfectly good foodstuff for me, Air Force.

The reason I blame this on the U.S. Air Force rather than on my parents, who should have NEVER told me that I had a heart murmur as a baby (I was premature, so it was par for the course, and it fixed itself, so there was no reason I had to know), is because the AF lied about my grandfather, whom they drafted when he was very young, and who went on to remain in their employ until he died of his fifth heart attack, at the age of 52. This did not occur because heart disease runs in my family. It was because of a strange heart defect particular to Grampa. (God, my palms are sweating just typing the word 'heart' so many times.) The Air Force doctors knew this; however, if they had told anyone about it they would have had to release him from their service, and he was a very good, uncomplaining, hardworking piece of cannon fodder. So they let everyone in my family walk around thinking our hearts were time bombs. Is it any wonder I didn't give a damn if you broke a window over my head? They didn't release this piece of information till well after my gap was gone, the fuckers. (I suppose we should have figured something was amiss when neither my dad nor any of his eight siblings suffered a heart attack for the next thirty years, but neurosis can eat up a lot of brain space.)

They also waited till my chest-fear was lodged far too firmly in place to ever get anything but temporary relief, from heavy applications of flesh-wounding and/or alcohol. So imagine my willies when I had to sit there watching a method actor do chest pains for two hours. I have never been so fruck out that I had to leave a good movie prior to this, but at some point during the SPOILER ALERT, SORT OF final scene of The Wrestler, closing my eyes didn't work anymore, and I had to stand outside the door and wait till it sounded like things had either turned out all right for the Ram Man, or not.

But all in all, the movie would have been top-notch fucking cool, if it hadn't been for the execrable performance of the lump who played the Ram's estranged daughter. Evan Rachel Wood, as young as she is, already wears the chronically bitchy, moron-being-sarcastic facial expression of a mad divorced suburbanite. So how is she supposed to amp it up to look situationally pissed off at an absentee, mane-bleaching father? I don't know how this rat-faced no-talent got this job, but she completely ruined the scene where she's supposed to be bitching the Ram out for the last time and telling him to go away forever. She doesn't look hurt in it -- she just looks mean. She probably puts sand in her boyfriends' underwear. She looks like her real-life father has been spit-polishing her ass for her with a soft cloth from the word go.

So the day after I see the movie, after a night of forcing everyone in shouting range to listen to me talk about it, I venture back to the Mall Zone to hit the grocery store. And on a tabloid cover in the check-out line I find a dangerous piece of evidence favoring the disfavored science-ish of physiognomy: Hey, Evan Rachel Wood really is kind of mean! Apparently she went to a movie-star party with Mickey Rourke, where he got drunk and pawed her (why he was doing that when he could have been drinking more for free is beyond me, but that's outside the scope of this essay), and people started to speculate that maybe she was seeing him. Her response: "I'm not attracted to him, he's too old for me." Does she have the faintest idea how unprofessional this makes her sound? She is, apparently, not at all turned on by a master of her own supposed craft. And she flaunts it!

OK, fine, so his fingernails in that film looked a little less than pretty. But for all I know he did something to them on purpose to make them look fucked-up because he figured that's the way the Ram's hands would look. That's the point! He's an actor! He's like the Ram -- he will do anything he has to to make the art exactly right! Bitch, you can't even fake-cry without making me laugh, and you think the world is going to give a damn whether you think the master is too old to be sexy? Christ! I'll concede that, if you aren't attracted to somebody, you can't do anything about it. But you're supposed to be an actor! You could have sucked on his ear, gone in the bathroom, gargled some Listerine, pretended you were still hung up on your ex Marilyn Manson (aim your own smart-ass comment at that barrel of fish), purred 'Tempting, but no!' and we would have been none the wiser. Dumbass.

(P.S. Marisa Tomei was pretty terrific in that film, too, but since she didn't say anything stupid nobody seems to be talking about her. Sorry, Marisa.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Feel free to mock the Sanskrit periods that showed up in my NPR post now: An ex-proofreader vs. Rick Moody

So I already knew Rick Moody was kind of a cunt; not only did he declare that he didn’t like any of the music-hall stuff on the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, but I was young and dumb enough once to take a college creative writing course, where I was force-fed part of his first novel. This made me feel a little bit less like a cunt myself when I joined the ULA and Karl Wenclas mandated Pavlovian training to make us vomit every time Moody’s name got mentioned; at least I knew what I was vomiting about. But I never had worked up the nerve to read The Ice Storm... until this weekend, when I force-fed it to myself.

See, in my second novel (out late this year on Nine-Banded Books), there also chances to be an ice storm; as a backdrop to my fictional action I was following, with reasonable faithfulness, local and global public events of the winter of 2006-2007, and the damn thing went and occurred. Two of them, actually. It would have been awkward to write around them, so I didn’t. And at some point I gave in to the nagging reality that Moody’s book is, unfortunately, known to enough people that I would have to at least try to turn my ice storm into a bit of a Moody joke, or at least get familiar enough with his text to stop the joke from being on me. So, grumbling, I trudged to the library, because I’ll be damned if I’m giving any money to a so-called Mag Fields fan who can actually suspend his depression long enough to sucker-punch showtunes, for Christ’s sake.

To my relief, not only did Moody not wring all metaphorical possibilities from the subject, he also didn't waste my time completely. Frankly, I expected The Ice Storm to be a lot more boring than it was. Sure, I could have spent that time better. Yes, I had to do some drinking to get all the way through it. But it was nowhere near the torment that followed when I was dumb enough to volunteer to review the second Dave Eggers novel for the Chicago Reader. ( I thought I was going to have to cave my frontal lobes in with a Sanskrit dictionary to get through that one.)

Moody’s second novel was actually entertaining in parts. I laughed out loud once. It even had a reasonably workmanlike structure, despite the occasional mechanical peek through the fourth wall on the part of the pompous narrator (was his pompousness supposed to be funny? Was the tacked-on feeling of these peeks meant as a spoof on the overuse of metafiction? I doubt it); despite the overwritten bits, despite the underwritten ones; despite the pointless concealment of the narrator’s identity as the family’s eldest son and this fact's tiresome revelation at the end (no shit, Holden!)...

OK, so it wasn’t what I would call good. But I had to admit it was better than reading nothing at all. I definitely would not have preferred staring at the wall. And the above are complaints that could be lodged against any number of overrated writers; the experience reminded me that ‘overrated’ is not a shorter way to say ‘devoid of merit.’

And yet, by the time I was finished, I was pissed off and actually kind of shocked. Sure, I laughed once – but that’s nowhere near as often as I choked on a typo. Has nobody else noticed all the errors in this novel? For fuck’s sake, did he publish it himself? My first novel has a couple of typos – but I’m the only one who read it before it went up as a POD, and by the time the sample copy came in the mail I was so goddamn sick of it I didn’t open it for a month. But people presumably got paid to keep Moody from looking stupid. Even my cost-free typos make me feel a bit ill. Did he gasp with horror when he saw the finished work? Did he show up at the publishing house a week after it came out, grab some underpaid copy monkey by the collar, and shake it till its ears rang? (Did the Carbondale university library, which always finds funds for physical refurbishments but not for books, get its copy from the ‘not-quite-perfect’ bin? Always a possibility...)

Actually, part of me hopes he did go in and raise hell. When I was a copy monkey, I would have never gotten away with letting a supposedly major author go to print saying things like “These last eight pages were enough to life Paul Hood from the murky bog of self-recrimination” (p. 193) and “The worse such storm in thirty years, according to Mike Powers, spokesman for Connecticut Light and Power.” Come ON, copy monkey! And come on, Rick! OK, so the first example was almost certainly somebody else’s typo; it’s the kind of thing that happens, however unfortunately. And I suppose ‘worse’ could be meant as a direct quotation from Mr. Powers. But it ain’t in quotes, buddy! Fuck! At least try to look like you know what you’re doing! I know how to use the superlative in eight different languages, you can’t do it in one, and I’m sitting down HERE while you’re sitting up THERE?! Don’t even bother to ponder the mystery of whether there’s a god, Rick. ‘NO’ has left its fingerprints everywhere.

Of course, these are petty errors. Whadya want, I'm an old monkey. I can't stop feeling nebulous Catholic guilt either. I suppose a fan might even consider infractions like 'worse' to be charmingly human (why is ‘human’ so often used as a compliment?). But these are but a representative fraction of the typo-age, and I’ve saved the real fuck-up for last.

Dorothy Halford, the hostess of a suburban key party (which is as tiresome as it sounds) is described, on page 107, in a fashionably incomplete sentence, as: “No makeup.” OK. So she’s a minor character, and you’re trying to say something about her personality with one efficient, tangible detail. And we all slip in the odd incomplete sentence once in a while, especially when we’re trying to remind reviewers of how streamlined and energetic and muscular we are as we move four-gram plastic keys up and down. Fair enough. But we shouldn’t employ techniques like this quite so mechanically, so easily, so... so... so ‘just-how-drunk-were-you, Rick?’-ily that we forget ourselves and, a mere eight pages later, toss off another admirably efficient snapshot of the same character by claiming that “For a moment she was frozen, with her carefully lipsticked mouth open wide...”

I guess we’re to take the fact that she carefully lipsticks her mouth as a slam on her character, since worthy people -- literary geniuses for instance -- are never so clench-pussied as to be careful about anything. I know, I know... my old job as a proofreader doesn’t exist anymore. The general public doesn’t need, want, or care about people who read every line to make sure it’s pretty. I see their point; if an emoticon is worth a thousand love poems, does a missing comma keep anybody who isn’t being deliberately obtuse from catching anyone else’s drift?

But think about it, Dicky. What non-nerd reads novels anymore anyway, now that Hollywood can put Beowulf in an ass-kicking (I say this without a hint of sarcasm) CGI epic? That’s right: a rising proportion of the book audience will now be made of nit-picking shits like me. People to whom typos are as painful as a Bic spattered on a Renoir (even if it’s not actually a Renoir, but Dogs Playing Poker). Think about it. You’ve made your pile, I suppose, and we can’t take that away from you, unless we become exotic dancers. But I’m going to go proofread my new book again now, before carefully attributing an example of ignorant-sounding use of the language to a radio announcer during my own ice storm. Most writers, darling, frozen or not, can’t afford to be floppy.