taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Well, the holidays are over, and I'm over them too. No more wine hangover, no more trips to Target, no more friends from out of town. No more endless meals consisting mostly of meat.

I went to my Dad's grave yesterday. It's not actually a grave, it's this vault in this big building in the middle of a giant cemetery. It's not even a vault, really, it's a slab of marble behind which his ashes rest. Well, some of them anyway--the rest we scattered in the Atlantic, from the side of a big fishing boat. Anyway, imagine a giant building with many halls, with lots of slabs of marble stretching to the ceiling on either side, all with names in them in a terrifically serious serifed font, and dates. BAGBY, his says, JOEL MARSHALL, 1934-1999. I thought at first it was awful, to be put in a wall, but really is it any worse than anything else?

But the part that made me sadder were the double-slabs. They're twice as wide, double-wide you might say, and they have the last name at the top, and on one side is the husband and on the other the wife. Except on a lot of these, only one person is interred, waiting for the other spouse to die. So on one side it will say, you know, "JOSEPH MICHAEL, 1908-1988" and on the other, "EDITH JANE, 1910-" and just a blank for the death date. Now, how must it feel to know your grave awaits you? I mean, more so than we all already know this. Having your name up there in brass represents passivity, this acceptance that your life is like a book and you're reading the final pages. I could never do this, not yet anyway. I can't even buy a life insurance policy. I mean, I don't want to be prepared for death--that's halfway to saying it's okay. It's not okay. As old DT said, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Monday, December 23, 2002

It’s the night before Christmas Eve, what is that? Christmas Eve Eve? It feels like that, anyway. When I was little, the house would’ve been filled with baking smells—but I can’t bake, my best domestic effort is cleaning, so my house smells like bleach. I kept worrying I’d be poisoned, as I scrubbed the walls and doorjambs and baseboards. I kept wishing I knew how to mix flour and butter into something meaningful. I ordered pizza instead, and then stomped the box into a little square for the garbage men.

I’ve got forty-five presents to wrap and eight dozen hors d’oeuvres and seven bottles of wine. I’ve got wrapping paper and Scotch tape and ornaments and a Christmas tree and four strings of lights. I’ve got my vow—that I won’t go to Catholic mass this year, what with the way they handled the abuse thing. And I’ve got a Christmas dress and even stockings and heels. I’ve got some Christmas checks, and I’ve got a week off work, and a cold beer.

I am merry.

My friend Todd just wrote me a very well-considered response to my very ill-considered review of Lord of the Rings. He writes:

In essence, we have a cultural differnce issue. Goings-on in Middle-Earth are convoluted with a cast of thousands; you have to make a committment to keep everything straight, it's very difficult. (It also helps if you have ever willingly gone in costume to a Ren-faire.)

OK, there's the problem, clearly. However, as far as I could tell, the theater was packed. And everyone was really HAPPY to sit through 3 hours of this movie. And there were lines to get tickets. Now, please, not that many people are geeks, right? Or maybe we all are, just about different stuff.

I think Peter Jackson made the epic for the fanboys and, yeah, made enough of a spectacle to draw-in the revenues to pay for it.

Well, that I can understand. I mean, who doesn't like lots of eye-candy shots of New Zealand, and computer-generated monsters by the trillion? For like 20 minutes. But it seems like this phenomenon (like Star Wars) is one that everyone in my generation but me understands. When I say I never read the books--and believe me, I'm a huge reader, so my not reading them was a conscious choice--everyone's shocked!

Oh, and I just want to make note of an important correction Todd sent me:

.The Flaming Vagina(TM) is the eye of Sauron, spirit of the original nasty overlord of Middle-Earth

Listen, if I were gonna design the eye of a hideous overlord, I would definitely make it look like a flaming vagina. Course, what can you expect when the novels are all about towers?

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Here's my review of the latest "Lord of the Rings" movie:

Some hobbits walk, walk, walk, then they fall down. Then there's a flaming vagina which looms above the land in a VERY sinister way. Then there's a battle: flight, flight, fight. More walking--walk, walk, walk, fall down. Oh yeah, and a little troll. Walk with the little troll. More fighting. Way more fighting. (By this time your butt will hurt from sitting in a movie chair for two hours.) The flaming vagina seems angry. More walking, more fighting, more falling down. Liv Tyler. More fighting. The end.

The only thing I got out of this movie was that George W. Bush is a lot like Sarimon (sp?) And also that George Lucas is a ripoff artist.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

There's fog, but only over the street where I live, which makes me think it's part of that cloud flollowing me everywhere. Or it could be that it's Christmastime.

I just spent the afternoon at my office Christmas party which, since times aren't what they used to be, was held in the office. I managed quite well nonetheless, mostly by talking to my friend Julie, who always manages quite well, and by ignoring anyone who was wearing a sweater with a Christmas scene stitched into it. (OK, please explain the sweaters with the Christmas scenes. I love Christmas, and I would never wear such a thing.) Someone actually asked me, "How much do you weigh now?" which is not, under any circumstances, a polite question.

A man in a bunny suit sat in an office chair. They had a video with a fireplace scene playing in an endless loop. There was an enormous quantity of beer, and everyone was much older and less hip than I'd ever imagined an ad agency could be. We sat there and we drank and later, a bunch of us went to Brewer's Art where we drank some more, without joy.

Someone asked me what kind of account I'd never work on, and when I thought about it I realized there was no account I couldn't justify working on, and that's when I realized that this business was as corrupting as alcohol or cigarettes, or maybe as corrupting as myself, and I should just go to grad school and forget that I used to have this dream about making money. And I made money. And all it was, it was a guy in a bunny suit and an endless tape loop of a fireplace, and women in diorama sweaters, and I couldn't breathe, kind of like a dream.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

School is so relentlessly humiliating, so patehtically focused on following directions and sublimating oneself to professors you neither like nor respect, that I've decided that the whole of education is a sad fucking joke. They're big old sadists; you have to follow their rules to get through, so they make them as byzantine and inexplicable as possible, knowing that the worst torture for any human being is not knowing why. It's driving me to drink. Ahh, beer.

I have to go back to work tomorrow, but work is like a dream I wake up from in the late evening. My office is this low-ceilinged, dim space around which Baltimore sits squat and gray, changing slightly every day but not so's you'd notice. I sit and write things on the computer. I have these long telephone conversations that go nowhere. I think about the importance of market share and I look out the window and notice that, from above, the bus station is not so ugly after all. From a distance, and through the haze, you can't see the men with the suitcases going nowhere, or the discolored buildings. You can actually make up any story you want.

Monday, December 16, 2002

My friend Mattie lives in LA, which seems like this oceanic dreamworld of non-jobs, of idle occupation. They all work at night or work temp out there, whatever. It makes me feel kind of pedestrian and ordinary, with my three-bedroom house and my dog and my fussing, my pleasure in having a nicer house than the neighbors', or my dismay at the ladies in carpool line who cut ahead with their minivans. As though these ladies, butting in line, matter at all when there are oceans to be faced.

Of course, I have many other irritations too: the fact that, when I log onto my email at Yahoo, they feed me nothing but weight-loss ads, from one ill-considered visit I made to e-Diets, months ago. I weigh 125 pounds. The weight loss ads make me ill. They make me feel in bad health, anorexic, starving. Their before-and-after javascripts flash across the top of my email like a taunt: no one but no one can tell you're thin, no one is thin, everyone is fat, you must be fat too. Why did I ever visit eDiets to begin with? What was I hoping to accomplish?

Luckily Mattie is thin too, which is evidently only to be expected in LA. It's fortunate that she's thin, because many other things are difficult for her: her brother and sister, who are distant and resentful; her work, which is transitory and involves mostly food-and-drink; and her lack of parents, which is to say that she's an orphan. If she were fat, on top of all that, who knows what might become of her?

Sunday, December 15, 2002

I work Downtown now, near the bus station, so all the people I see when I go outside to smoke are either crazy or they work in an office. If they work in an office, they may still be crazy but they hide it underneath black skirts, glasses, ties.

Downtown Baltimore is a concentrated version of Baltimore everywhere else, but only between 9 and 6. After 6 it lays down and dies. I have heard that the City Fathers are trying to change all that but I have heard that since 1983 and I just don’t believe it. They have these Development Plans which always involve knocking buildings down (even though they lament buildings which were knocked down “Before The Current Administration”).

Really, it doesn’t matter anyway. The Visigoths sacked the Roman Forum and you can still walk some pathetic remnant of its roads, 1,800 years later. You can still understand that they lived differently, even if you’re not sure exactly how. If Rome wasn’t abandoned to cows for five hundred years, they’d have just built over it. Let the citizens flee, for god’s sake. It’s good for archaeology. Let them knock it all down, columns and pilasters, let the rubble rot in place.

We should encourage the flight, revel in the abandonment. Ruins are good, much better than the
living buildings that stand now. Memory always trumps experience for sheer nostalgic value, particularly if it’s not even your memories but those of a hundred years ago, a thousand, nine thousand.