remember the weight of the world; it’s the sound that we used to buy

My parents also flew in to visit this weekend. Brief highlights:


  • They stayed at a Name Brand hotel in downtown Boston. “I have a niece who works at a Name Brand,” my father told the woman behind the desk.

    “Really? Which one?”

    “Jessica.”

  • Waiting in Filene’s Basement on Newbury St for my mother to buy a scarf, the Carmen McRae cover of “Take Five” came on the PA. “That’s what this song was always missing,” I told my dad. “Words. Every song becomes better if you add words to it.”

  • My parents were in town not just to see me, but also to drive to an Oddfellows meeting in Worcester. My dad asked if he could borrow my car for the weekend, rather than get a rental. Since I get around Boston by train five days out of the week, I agreed.

    I handed him the keys outside their hotel. “Now I want you back by midnight,” I said. “If you leave this place where you’re going, you call me and let me know. And if I don’t know who you’re going with, I want to talk to their parents first.”

  • Long story short, my mother now has the key to the City of Worcester.

  • After seeing Hot Tub Time Machine on Sunday afternoon*, we went to the Beantowne Pub to watch the Baylor/Duke game. We had to sit at a table instead of the bar, however. A couple sat at the bar between us and the nearest TV, making out with the unconscious shame of the fourth cocktail. They would talk forehead to forehead for a while, then whisper in each other’s ears, then stroke each other’s forearms, then kiss sloppily.

    This was a constant source of disgust / amusement for my parents. Didn’t bother me; maybe I go to more bars than they do.

  • Saturday night, after returning from the fancy dinner function in central MA, my parents had a nightcap at the Name Brand hotel. They were served by a beaming Turkish barman, who presented their order (Maker’s Mark for the old man; sambuca for my mother) with a flourish. “Tell me, sir,” he asked of my dad. “You’re in a beautiful suit, you’re with a beautiful woman, you’re drinking expensive bourbon. Does it get any better than this?”

  • You know, it probably doesn’t. The last four years have made me more progressive, to the extent that I can recognize that I am incredibly privileged, but I’m not at the point where I feel guilty for it. My grandfather was born in a region of the Carpathians that changed hands between Ukraine and Slovakia several times in the 20th century. My father was born in a steelworking family in Pittsburgh. I was born to white-collar professionals in a suburb of Baltimore. Should I one day spite the world with children, they’ll be born in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in America.

I just do things I really enjoy. I enjoy acting. When I’m driving to the studio, I sing in the car. I love my work and my wife and my kids and my friends. And I think, “You’re a lucky man, Gregory Peck, a damn lucky man.”

– Gregory Peck

* Goofy silly. See it with a bunch of straight guys. No need to see it in the theaters.

I can’t go any further than this

As I round the corner to the Prudential Center food court I can hear them. It’s the nervous laughs first: either tentative stutters or loud caws at inside jokes. The lines for burgers, chicken teriyaki and pizza are twenty deep like the VIP room. Every body type we’re told to avoid can be found in here: fat, scrawny, acne-pitted, pony-tailed, neck-bearded and Coke-bottom-lensed. Many of them have T-shirts with dense paragraphs of text. Some of them are in costume. And they’ve all got that red plastic on a swinging lanyard.

It’s day one of PAX East, Penny Arcade’s first gaming convention held on the Atlantic coast. I’m not the best dressed person in here by a long shot but I’m more conservatively dressed than 80% of the crowd. And it is a crowd. Lines to see webcomic panelists or hear video game music snake down the halls of the Hynes Convention Center an hour before start time. Convention goers knot up like plaque around Magic: The Gathering displays, autograph tables and previews for next season’s console games (Red Dead Revolver is a big one). When they get tired, they sprawl without affect on beanbags strewn against the windows. There’s always something.

Tolerance is the virtue I struggle with the most. A mature person – and a mature society – transcends the primal alpha-male need to put down harmless people just because they Look Different. The mouth-breather with the gut spilling over his jeans and the “There are 10 kinds of people in this world …” T-shirt isn’t hurting me just by existing. I should be cool with that. And yet I can’t be. It’s the reason I always hesitate to identify myself as a gamer (tabletop or console): because he’s the stereotype. I can put the gamer hat on for a weekend and take it off for the working-day world. He can’t, or won’t; that guy could be at a funeral and you’d know he had a prot-specced pally waiting on a WoW server. He lacks the social awareness to see how little he blends in, and he doesn’t care. Which means there’s either something wrong with him or wrong with me. Whichever it is, gaming cons remind me of it from the time I walk in to the moment I leave.

I got to play Gears of War 2 and Left 4 Dead, though, which was awesome.

it’s the answer to the neverending story

God damn it. God damn it. I almost made it the entire week without saying anything about the health care reboot bill. And then:

Obama signs order on abortion in health care bill (AP):

With little fanfare, President Barack Obama signed an executive order Wednesday designed to ensure that no federal money can be used for elective abortions under the nation’s new health care legislation.

The order had been demanded by a key bloc of anti-abortion Ruling Party members as the price for their support for the health overhaul legislation that narrowly passed the House Sunday night.

Since then it’s been criticized by anti-abortion groups who say it has no actual impact other than restating restrictions on abortion funding already in the law. Rep. Bart Stupak, leader of the anti-abortion Ruling Party caucus, insists that’s not the case, but lawmakers supporting abortion rights did not object to the order because they said it made no difference.

Pro-choicers made quite a few complaints about the explicit denial of federal funds for abortions in this new health coverage bill. The Ruling Party acknowledged these issues but said hey, it’s cool, let’s just pass this shoddy bill full of pro-insurance-company graft first, and then we’ll fix it. And while this makes sense – Roe v. Wade became settled case law nearly forty years ago, and a woman’s legal ownership of her own body has only become stronger since then – it still sounds just a little dismissive when you put it that way.*

I know, I know. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Women just need to wait their turn. After all, the important thing is that the Ruling Party passed a healthcare reboot that helps pay for itself by taxing high-income earners. Right?

Meanwhile, debate was under way in the Senate on a companion bill to the landmark law, with Opposition senators forcing the Ruling Party to run a gantlet of politically dicey votes on a long list of amendments. Major components of the “fix-it” legislation include scaling back a tax on high-cost insurance plans opposed by labor unions, eliminating a special Medicaid deal for Nebraska, closing the coverage gap in the Medicare prescription benefit, and imposing higher taxes on upper-income earners.

[…]

The Ruling Party is vowing to bat down the amendments one-by-one, and also hope Opposition won’t succeed with any procedural objections, because any change to the fix-it bill would send it back to the House, a complication Ruling Party leaders want to avoid.

Oh, wait: so the higher taxes aren’t settled law yet? Senate still needs to pass that? Well, it’s not like the Ruling Party has a history of caving, so I’m sure that’s set.

(Check the text of the House Resolution, HR 3590, if you like. There’s a new excise tax on “Cadillac” insurance plans, taking effect in 2018. How many people do you think will be demanding those kind of plans eight years from now?)

And what sort of principled objections will the Opposition Party mount in this last-ditch defense?

Sen. Tom Coburn wants a vote on his amendment to prohibit coverage of Viagra for sex offenders. Sen. Judd Gregg wants savings from Medicare cuts plowed back into the health care program for seniors, instead of being used to expand coverage to the uninsured.

Viagra for sex offenders? That’s the most crucial issue facing America today – making sure sex offenders can’t get Viagra. I can’t even come up with a joke for that.

But what’s really laughable are the pundits on the Opposition Party side who call this America’s first steps toward socialism. Guys! You were awake in history class, right? Because creating a massive body of bulletproof legislation that funnels money from the working poor to a small oligopoly of insurance providers isn’t “socialism.” The reason nobody takes your Party seriously anymore is because you don’t know what words mean.

I really need to stop reading the news. I have enough stressors in my life that I can change without spending my free hours worrying about things I can’t.** But there’s a word for people who form their opinions of the world before age 30 and then stop thinking. And while it’s not the worst thing you could call me, I’m not sure I feel like donning the ratty jacket and settling into the rocking chair just yet.

Still: you got me talking about politics again. Damn it, damn it, damn it. God damn.

____________
* In case it’s not clear just how insidious this is: it’s the poor and working poor who have typically had the hardest time getting pregnancies safely terminated. And it’s the poor and working poor who’ll be most likely to need federal subsidies to acquire their (soon-to-be-mandatory) health insurance. It’s not like they’ll have the option of not buying any. And just in case anyone thought this was a wily ruse that he later planned to abandon, President Obama signed a (largely redundant) executive order yesterday stating, “No, really, we weren’t kidding, no federal funds can be used on abortions.”

** “But Professor, blah blah voting.” Did voting for Man-Palin stop the healthcare reboot from passing? Did voting for Obama make single-payer an option?

and I ain’t never scared; I’m everywhere, you ain’t never there

Thanks to Mike Shapiro and his lady Eleanor for teaching me the following technique to unkink your back:

  1. Take a book of about “Harry Potter width” (2 inches). If you don’t own any Harry Potter books, then your copy of Murray Rothbard’s Man, Economy and State should suffice.
  2. Lie down on the floor, face up, with the book under your head.
  3. Bend your knees so that the soles of your feet are flat on the floor and comfortable.
  4. Lie there for fifteen minutes.
This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s had a profound effect every time I’ve done it. When I get up, my lower back burns in that way that only a good stretch can do. It’s easy to do right before going to bed, to help shut my mind off and sleep. And it’s probably helping my posture.

For decades, I’ve treated posture like a series of nervous bleats. “Stand up straight! Shoulders back! Chin up!”, etc. Bad posture’s especially visible on the tall and skinny; it’s easier to spot the bend in a reed than in an oak tree. Only recently did I realize that posture isn’t about tensing your body into rigid perfection. It’s about relaxing. I look hunched forward because I’m walking with my shoulders near my ears. If I relax, my shoulders fall into line and my spine adopts a more natural curve. People stop shying away as my footsteps thunder down the sidewalk.

Relaxation is attractive. The shoulders are down, the arms are loose, the legs are comfortably settled. There’s a reason Sports Illustrated shoots its swimsuit models laughing and skipping on the beach, not raising drywall while balancing on rolling chairs. There’s a reason all the euphemisms for being cool – that most desired mental state in the Western world – eschew tension. Relax, chill out, mellow, hang loose. Take it easy. The world doesn’t have much use for people who are relaxed all the time, but there’s something to be said for being able to relax when you should.

vegas 2010, part 5

Dave and I had dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Bar and Grill in the MGM. I had a prosciutto and goat cheese pizza on flatbread. We were getting on well with our waitress so I asked her for a recommendation. “This may shock you, but we’re tourists,” I began. I asked her which bars or clubs she’d recommend on the Strip, as a local. As a local, she replied, she wouldn’t go to any of the clubs on the Strip. But the two bars in New York New York – the Bar in Times Square (which we’d visited) and Nine Fine Irishmen – were fun places to get a pint. We thanked her for the advice.

For a Vegas bar pretending to be an Irish pub in New York City, Nine Fine Irishmen does all right. The man next to me ordered a Guinness; I checked with him on its quality. “It’s all right,” he said with a sage nod. I ordered one myself and validated his judgment: I’d say about a seven out of ten. Better than most bars can manage, but not as good as the best you can find in Boston. We stuck around long enough to watch a Celtic rock band play a few numbers and chat up some of the tourists.

nine-fine-irishmen

I had talked Dave and I onto the guest list at Tabu, a privilege which would expire around midnight. So we left New York New York at 11:30 and sidled to the front of the line, brushing past the texting tourists. “This is the Vegas experience I was looking for,” Dave observed. Once inside, Tabu proved to be a typical nightclub scene – dim lights, deafening music, suspicious guy/girl ratio – albeit with the added liberty that Vegas induces. I kept the floor warm until I could coax Dave into partying, whereupon we found a cluster of girls to dance with until 3:00 AM Pacific time. We let them go then (they had to catch a flight in three hours) and retired soon thereafter.

vegas 2010, part 4

Given the rain Boston was suffering on Saturday, I never would have forgiven myself if I didn’t at least try the pool. It was borderline swimming weather: 65 and sunny, but with a stiff breeze that had threatened my hat on several occasions. I trucked through the hotel lobby, the casino, the restaurants, the shopping mall and down an escalator to get to MGM’s massive swimming pool complex.

The first pool I found was closed. The second pool I came across, an artificial river winding around a fake rock formation, was filled with tubing dads with tribal sleeve tattoos and dirty palm fronds. The third pool, Wet Republic, was a fenced-off imitation of MTV’s Spring Break ’98: margaritas in yard glasses, DJ spinning house music, no one really swimming. If I wanted to change, I could use one of the men’s rooms (which smelled like men’s rooms at public pools invariably smell) or rent a cabana.

Finally I flagged a pool attendant down. “Do you have any regular pools around here?” I asked. “Where a guy could do laps?”

“We’ve got … no, that one’s closed,” he said. “There’s the river pool.”

“I’m just looking for a pool,” I said. “A concrete hole in the ground filled with water.”

He pointed me toward a pool near the center of the complex that was no deeper than five feet. I swam around for a bit, climbed out shivering and then tried the river pool. It was actually fun, aside from the bobbing Busch cans: an artificial current pulled you along if you kicked your feet up. Worth exploring if you stay at the MGM.

vegas 2010, part 3

The same friend who’d recommended the Burger Bar also suggested the buffet at Paris for breakfast. Dave and I walked north on the strip, bracing ourselves against wind gusts and weaving through crowds of potbellied tourists. When I visited four years ago, the view across the street from the Aladdin had been lone and level sands stretching all the way to the mountains a few miles off. That view had been replaced by the skyscrapers of City Center; also, the Aladdin was now a Planet Hollywood resort. If there’s one city you hoped would never sell out, it’d be Vegas.

city-center

After the Paris buffet (really good), I showed Dave around the casinos near the center of the Strip: the Wynn former Wynn properties (Mirage, Bellagio) and the classic Caesars Palace. Dave remarked on how much more comfortable he felt in Caesars than in any of the other casinos: less stimulated, less assaulted by noise and light. I thought about it for a moment. “The ceilings are lower,” I observed. “The sound doesn’t carry and your sightlines are nearer to the ground. You’re confronted with fewer simultaneous explosions.”

Walking home, we crossed one of several new skyways across the Strip, passing a vagabond in dirty leather and ripped jeans yelling at a living statue. “Go away!”, he screamed. I was about to correct the vagrant (he can’t go away; he’s a statue) but let it pass when the vagrant crossed the skyway to slump down next to a panhandler. The panhandler had a cardboard sign asking for a couple of dollars. The living statue had quite a few dollar bills in a hat in front of him. “Go away!”, the man in dirty leather screamed, on the skyway between City Center and the hotel that used to be Aladdin.

Update: Thanks to Alex A. for the note above; MGM now owns the Mirage and the Bellagio. Terry Benedict makes a lot more sense now.