May 23rd, 2004

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Wash my illusions away

I've been reading some of Harvey Pekar's American Splendor comics, and they really are quite interesting, more so than I thought they would be. I mean Pekar is something of a beknighted prick, but his ability to turn mundane tales of ordinary life into interesting and funny visual anecdotes is quite impressive, even if he did have to berate the artists into doing the drawing for him.

An interesting thing about Pekar is that even though he views himself as anti-social and caustic he still has a lot of friends and writes primarily about social interactions. It's especially interesting how he managed to cultivate so many contacts among creative people of note. That's something that I really haven't done nearly enough of. Part of it is that I went to college while living off campus and part of it is just my generally antisocial nature and belief that most people aren't interested in me.

I live in New York and there should be some sort of creative community that I could slip into, but I have massive resistance to doing that. Part of it is that I consider a lot of people in those types of communities to be beneath me, or at the very least panderers. There's too much of a cheerleading support-group vibe that goes on. I hate that shit, I mean it's good to recognize people's achievements and praise them for the parts of what they do that are great, but when you focus on looking only at the good aspects of a given work you help retard it's growth.

I should still make more of an effort to get out there. I don't know if I'm ready, but I recognize that I should.

Of course Pekar was writing this stuff in an age before the internet, and I don't know if he would have gone out to the corner or the collecting shops or wherever had he had the option of logging on to his computer to talk about Jazz or whatever. The internet's changed a lot of the ways that marginalized groups socialize. Not enough research has been done on this.

The other thing that struck me about Pekar's work is the fact that he calls his filing clerk job the cornerstone of his life. Granted this stuff was written prior to his hitting it relatively big with his comics and getting all the praise, and at least some of the financial reward, that he craved, but I wouldn't want to spend 20 years of my life laboring away at a horrible job that may, barely, pay the bills but provides absolutely no intellectual stimulation (although he liked some of his coworkers)

I have a college degree now, but that's meaningless. Everyone has a college degree, and it doesn't help them find work. Maybe I'm supposed to believe that a high GPA and a fancy name on the Diploma will be a big boon, but I don't, not really. The fact is that a college degree doesn't mean what it once did. Now it's a necessary, but not sufficient, part of getting a job that pays more than 3 cents an hour. Thank you stratification of America! Thanks Republicans!

I don't know how I'd handle years of menial jobs like that. I grew up middle class and it's nice, to have a decent amount of money and not worry so much about reasonable purchases. I've often said that I don't need or even want to be filthy rich, and that's true. I don't know what I would do with more than $10 million (up to there there's stuff I'd like. A house on a nice ski slope. A personal swimming pool etc...) but likewise I'm not sure I'd know what to do on, say, under $30,000 a year. Especially without medical insurance. I don't want to be rich, but I would like to be comfortable.

There's also a prestige factor, one that I don't like to admit matters to me but that does to an extent. Going to an elite college was kind of nice, and being considered one of the smarter students there didn't hurt. Powerful people tell you that you're the future leaders of this great country and that the blue-bloods have their hopes pinned to your poorly tied necktie.

I'm not sure it'll be such the thrill to be the intellectual giant of Gordon's Copy Shoppe. Now this may not be my fate if I can get into a fancy pants filmschool. Then I might at the very least be able to do crew work on creative projects, something that allows one to leave one's positive imprint on said projects. Maybe I could get an editing job somewhere, that would be at least somewhat satisfactory and stimulating, if not prestigious. I could probably live with that if I could live on whatever they paid.

Pekar's obsessed with getting sex from women, at least in his early work. That's not exactly a rare characteristic for a youngish male, especially one with low self-esteem. It's not something that concerns me at the moment. The truth is that absent the presence of a particularly desireable potentially eligible female, my desire levels drop off a cliff and the thoughts of relationships don't enter my mind except in its analytic capacity.

Reading Pekar is interesting, but it's also intimidating. I know he eventually found the success he craved, he has dorks like me reading him these days, don't he, and he seems to live a rather happy life considering what a cranky neurotic Jew he is.

On the other hand there are probably dozens of Harvey Pekar equivalents who never cut it. Who continued to live in their rat hole Cleveland apartments and drank themselves to death. Heck in some ways Pekar was ahead of me at my age. He was already published (albeit in niche magazines, that he insists on calling nationally distributed even after he's found success, some sort of defense mechanism for his younger self) at 19 and he had his own place, shithole or not.

Failure and poverty haunt my thoughts these days, partially because I've never really experienced them. I've had some rough knocks in my life, it hasn't been champagne and caviar on the Champs-Elysees, but it's always held that promise, and one day it might not, and that scares me. I've made my decision, really I have even if there's nothing in particular holding me back from renegging, and now I'm wearing my fingernails to the nub worrying about it.

The truth is that I'm not too concerned about being a failure in the way that Harvey Pekar was a failure until recently. He produced some damned good art, even if it gets repetitive after awhile, and did something special. I think that'd be enough for little old me.

I'm worried about having Harvey Pekar's life without his talent and production. About not finding a voice, like he did. His work is American splendor because he divests himself of the contrivances of exciting plots or glamorous characters and exposes the power of narrative voice in what's pretty close to a styllistic void (though not really...it's complicated.)

I don't know. I'm okay right now. I had a decent day reading and writing, the siren's call of TV receeds further and further into the distance the older I get, to the point where now I'm only interested if there's something good, or a Mets game, on. Even then it's a sure thing that I'll watch more than a few minutes. In some ways it's a limited medium, and I hate commercials more than I hate having an itchy anus.

I didn't go out walking today because my shins were a little twinged. The whole of this last semester my shins were in pain because of the various exercises I was doing and now I want to take care of them so that they can recover and I don't end up like Hanks' father on King of the Hill, a shinless wonder.

One other interesting thing about Harvey Pekar's work is that it's all collaboration. Sometimes I think that's what I need too, someone to collaborate with. Collaboration is helpful in many ways, for one it can light a fire under you and get you to work in order not to let the other person down (though sometimes the other person turns out to be a procrastinating son-of-a-bitch who drags you down with him). It can also help smooth out your flaws and if you find someone whose talents compliment your own the two (or more, I'm all for being poly when it comes to creative endeavours. Artistic threesomes are the stuff of life! And I'm not talking about fingerpaints and good lighting.) of you can create something special that might be beyond the range of either as an artist, or even greater than any one person is capable of on their own. It's weird how solitary types often crave collaborators when it comes to work. Weird, or obvious, depending on how you view the phenomenon.

I'll have to explore that more at a later date.
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We asked him to help but he just turned around, he's the leader of the union now

kesmun has made the claim that those of us who believe that most so-called Christians are hypocritical assholes also believe that it's impossible for a politician to be honest and a Christian. I don't think that this is any more impossible than it is for a successful politician to be honest in general. At the local level there are a good number of hardcore Christians who try their best to be moral and good people despite their offices. On the other hand, the types of naked self-promotion, back door dealings, and graft necessary to propel someone to the top in politics necessarily implies that an individual is...prone to see Grey areas in morality if not flat out dishonest. There are some politicians who seem to manage to be merely questionable. I don't like Joe Liberman but he seems to be fairly consistent in his positions, which are all understandable even if they're bass ackwards. Jimmy Carter was not a very good president, but I wouldn't necessarily consider him a bad person, although I've seen accusations of his having done some pretty horrible stuff. Anyway, the point is that almost all politicians at a high level are crooked, and not in little ways, in big sweeping ways. Even those who propose good legislation often do so for bad or nakedly self-interested reasons. That's fine, it's kind of how our political system is supposed to work. A balance of power between the three branches leads all of them squabbling for their own power and benefits, and the result should be limited corruption for anyone one branch. If we sat around waiting for genuinely good men to lead us we'd be in pretty bad shape about 95% of the time. Washingtons, Lincolns, and Roosevelts don't come around but once every few generations. Plus being a good person doesn't always translate into being a good governor. You need a certain level of stubbornness and worldliness to deal with all the scumbags who try to manipulate government and society to their advantage (by deal with I mean in a regulatory sense, not a business sense like our current corrupt Moron in chief believes they should be dealt with. Limit their power, don't shovel money out to them from the public coffers.)

That being said, there are two specific problems we have with Christian politicians. Those are: wearing their faith on their sleeves, and what I am dubbing "Muffy told me" syndrome.

I am automatically suspicious of anyone rich or powerful who wears their faith on their sleeve, and even more so when the person is Christian. Judaism has always praised business and hard work, so it is possible for a Jew to become rich and still remain true to his faith. Christianity was a religion targeted at the poor, the meek, and the humble. It's harder to believe that someone could stick to the tenets of that religion and become wealthy or powerful. Of course that's far from impossible, and there are plenty of successful business people, entertainers, and sports stars who are legitimate believers with a lot of wealth.

What there aren't are a lot, or even any, people who got rich or powerful THROUGH Christianity without being double-talking thieves and liars. All of the rich and famous reverends are morally corrupt. Jesse Jackson had an illegitimate daughter who he paid to keep quiet. Al Sharpton...well...I mean if you can't see through his Geri-curled self-righteousness then hair gel must be to you what lead is to superman. Jerry Falwell is a hate-mongering bigot, as are a good number of the televangelists. Billy Graham is an anti-Semite. Let's not get started on Benny Hinn.

So we've got a whole bunch of Christian hypocrites in the private sphere, and the picture is just as grim in the public sphere. George Bush broadcasts his faith from every pulpit he can find and then advocates regressive tax policies and pre-emptive war. I must have missed the part of the Bible where Jesus said "And lo, you shall make sure to tax income instead of wealth, so that the poor might go hungry while the rich man can store away warehouses of bread and afford a higher class of whore." I also missed the part where he said "Shoot first and ask questions later" but maybe I just have a bad translation of the bible. Incidentally, the bible seems pretty tax-friendly to me. "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" must have been excised from the Cliff Notes version that these guys read. Or maybe it was a slip of the tongue when Grover Norquist (a strong ally of the religious right) compared taxes to the holocaust. That must have been in one of the commandments that Moses dropped.

It isn't necessary to show the flaws and moral failings of every politician who wears his Christianity on his sleeve, and like I said I'm sure you could find honest and trustworthy Christian politicians in roughly the same proportion as you could find trustworthy politicians in general. What are really annoying are all the people who refuse to vote for a non-Christian politician or take claims of religiosity as an electoral issue. Any reasonable person who glances at a newspaper from time to time should know that claims of Christianity or endorsement by Christian media is absolutely no guarantee of honesty or competence. It should be a non-issue because there are so many charlatans that you simply can't judge a person by their claims in this arena. If you want to vote on an actual policy issue, like abortion, well that's your choice. Whether a politician supports that or not isn't necessarily a function of religion though, and shouldn't be presented as such.

Despite all this it is almost impossible for a politician to get elected to national office, or any office in hick states, without claiming Judeo-Christian faith. That's incredibly enraging because it corrupts the debate and helps inspire deceit among decent people who are atheists or agnostics but can't admit it publicly because myopic and usually hypocritical Christians can't see past a fucking label to vote as informed citizens should. The politicians who press the Christian issue are responsible for this corruption of the process. They could respect separation of Church and State, look around at the hypocrisy of other so-called Christian candidates, and focus on offering moral and rational policies rather than pulpit pounding. They could then go off and worship in their spare time. I understand that Christianity is an evangelical religion that has the (obnoxious) practice of trying to convert sinners into saved by yammering at them about hellfire and paradise and all that stuff. On the other hand we get back to "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" and we see, I believe, support for separation of Church and State in the bible itself. Some may claim that Paul was just trying to avoid the wrath of the Romans, but if we start talking about the political rationale behind the bible then the whole Jesus myth is apt to unravel.

That's enough of that aspect of why evangelical politicians rub us the wrong way, now let's talk about Muffy. Muffy is a pretty pink unicorn who comes into my house while I'm asleep and whispers to me what I should do the next day. Muffy told me to write this, and Muffy is all knowing because Unicorns are magical.

That last paragraph has about as much meaning to me as "God/Jesus told me so" I give a little more credit to "In accordance with Christian principals." It has the same weight as "According to Hindu principals" or "According to Aristotelian principals." Okay maybe a little less than the last one. I think Aristotle was smarter than Jesus.

Our president, and he's not the only one, claims to be on a mission sanctioned by God. So, the fuck, what? To those of us who don't believe in Jesus as the son of God, and we are a majority in the world, this is no more convincing than the claim that a Unicorn, or a Shinto spirit, or a Ghost, or anything else that DOESN'T EXIST, told you to do something. It shouldn't enter into any argument at all.

If you want to believe in God and Jesus, fine, that's your business. It's a relatively harmless foible, on par in believing in Ghosts or Unicorns or whatever. Personally I believe that anyone who chooses to try and view the world rationally, relying on his or her own perceptions and cognitions, will come to the conclusion that there is no god. There are many more plausible explanations for the existence of the world and the Christian religion then that some magical omnipotent force created them. You can analyze Christian texts, including the gospels, and figure out why the writers made the choices they did about as easily as you can analyze any good writing. I'm not singling out Christians here, Jewish texts, Hindu texts, Muslim texts, they're all pretty much the same (actually Muslim texts are a bit harder because Mohammed seems like he might have been doped up while writing that crap down and a lot of it is contradictory and just plain odd, but that could just be a cultural difference.) The fact that there are so many different religions is a clue that they're all probably wrong, and they were all created for similar purposes. Christianity is one of the better ones in terms of what it tells its followers to do, which is generally to act like socially responsible and decent people, but it has been manipulated for evil purposes at least as often and easily as other religions.

So when a politician claims that GOD told him that a certain choice was the right one, I think he's either lying or deranged. With Bush it's pretty clear he's a liar, since he knows about as much about the bible as he does about ethics, but it's still very disturbing to hear that claim made. People who say that the founding fathers of this country were Christian and relied on Christianity to make their decisions are vastly over-exagerating. Most of our major founders were not very religious at all, though they did believe in God, or at least claimed to publicly. They also kept God out of the policy sphere. Sure they said that the nation was blessed by God and that all men are CREATED equal (although Darwin hadn't made his voyage yet so it's not clear what else they could have said) but when it came to policy they relied on reason to make it and reason to justify it. This is how it should be today as well. God has no place in making American policy. When people claim that excluding God leads to immoral policy they make the utterly false claim that it is impossible to be moral without being religious. I won't even justify that with a response.

So when atheists and agnostics (I'm not going to use the term 'Brights' because it's fruitier than Riverdance, and I'm talking about unbelievers, not ass-pirates) are uneasy about Christian politicians it's not because we are bigoted against Christians. It's for logical reasons that have to do with how religion interacts with the public sphere. I wouldn't avoid voting for a politician if I found out he went to church any more than I'd avoid voting for a politician who believed in Unicorns or Ghosts. There are many worst foibles a person can have. But when someone drags religion out to the forefront of a campaign I start getting uneasy. What's he trying to hide? Why does he feel the need to broadcast this? And most importantly, what horrible policies is he going to try to rationalize with an argument that equates to "Muffy told me so."
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And there goes the perfect game

I've been pretty grim in my journal recently so I wanted to write something somewhat humorous before I go back to school. I gave it the old college try and this is what got crapped out. Oh well, if you read my journal on a regular basis you're already used to bad writing, and if you don't then you might as well read it and be made to feel better about your own wordsmithing!

Caution: May offend you if you are human.

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A lot of people have been talking recently about how the gays are co-opting the institution of marriage. How their getting hitched over in MA will lead to an invalidation of marriage in the broader culture and the eventual neutering of the institution. I remain unconvinced, however I think there's another institution that is threatened much more directly by gay people. This threat has not garnered nearly the publicity or backlash that the threat to marriage has, but it exists all the same. A venerable institution is on the brink of destruction, and it's all thanks to those sneaky gays. That institution, is male bonding.

Back in the good old days, when gays were repressed and harassed, they served virtually no impediment to male bonding. You could count on gays to either be swishier than a broom in a centrifuge, or so deeply closeted that you couldn't even see the light peeking out from under the door. Sure, there was still the transsexual issue. If you went to certain seedier bars or clubs there was a chance that the very pretty lady wearing too much makeup in the corner had a very ugly secret underneath that dress. If, while out with a few buddies, you picked up a transsexual and they found out about it, well you pretty much had to move. To another continent And change your name. Still, this potential issue could be dealt with by simply repeating a mantra even more important than "bros before hoes." "Check for the Adam's apple, check for the Adam's apple."

Unfortunately, those carefree days when gays risked professional ruin and physical violence if they were outed are gone, at least in certain parts of the country. The fairies are out in force, and this isn't a midsummer night's dream, this is real life.

The worst part is, you can't always tell who they are.

I think we all agree it was pretty bad when black people were integrated into our most cherished institutions. It's not that I have anything against black people, quite the contrary, but let's face it, as a privileged white male (I've got the whole Jew thing going on but nobody counts that anymore) they crimp my style. Have to watch what you say around them. Can't point out that they're such superior athletes 'cause of all the running from lions and tigers they did over in Africa. No wearing white hoods after Labor Day, that sort of thing. Fortunately the blacks have the good manners to be easily identifiable, so that one can get around the problem of their presence by talking behind their backs, not promoting them so they don't disrupt board-meetings and other important social enclaves, or applying to exclusive country clubs where there just 'happen' to be no African American members. Tee-hee.

(Yes I know there are light-skinned blacks, but they're the exception that proves the generally applicable rule.)

The gays are not so cooperative. Sure, some of them slink around in outlandish clothing and affected accents, looking like Liberace after an assault by a graffiti gang. They are not the problem, though. You know where you stand with the limp-wristed show-tunes crowd. No, the real threat comes from those gays who are 'passing.' They put on business suits to go to work. They drink normal beer without counting carbs or calories. They even watch Football for the athletic competition, not just the spandex clad butts. In short, they are just like us, but fruitier than a vegan dessert plate.

These suit-clad sports talking fellows may be a little light in the loafers, but so what? It's the 21st century and those of us who no longer live in caves or communicate through a series of Tim Allen-esque grunts have come to accept that Homosexuals are among us, not that there's anything wrong with that. After all, you don't need to fantasize about Carmen Electra's nether regions 14 times a day in order to be an effective manager, and it's easy enough to pop back into the closet if you need to close a deal at a gentlemen's club.

No, my friends, the problem with this new brand of manly gay is outside the workplace. I should take a moment here to talk about the metrosexual. These are heterosexual men cough cough who enjoy the sort of spa and personal product pampering usually reserved for womenfolk and sissies. This means that sexuality is now a sort of Venn diagram, with the gays reaching pretty far into the macho spectrum and some of the straights knowing way too much about cuticle care.

So far this is not a problem except for the homophobes though, right? I mean perhaps it means that the average guy might be a little more hesitant about stripping down in the locker room or slapping another man's ass at a sporting event, but those were never the kind of activities that were cherished by your normal, red blooded, straight guy. If you're pining for the ass slap, that's a good sign you might be playing for the other team.

The place where things really get hairy is when trying to deal with other males on a social basis. It used to be that when you told a guy "let's go get a beer" you both knew what you were saying. You were suggesting that the two of you head to a nearby tavern or pub to enjoy a frosty barley pop and convince each other that you could totally score with the 25 year old bartender who has that butterfly tattoo right on the small of her back if you weren't worried about messing things up with the current girl you were seeing. (That's seeing, literally. As in through a darkened window at night. Through binoculars. Despite the restraining order.) It was an innocent and rather pure affair that might end with the sort of intimacy that comes with maxing out your credit cards together at a strip joint or holding your chum's coat while he pukes in the alleyway, or even emptying your pockets together to try and come up with bail, but definitely no lip-on-lip contact, or even a hug.

Things are more complicated now. And it's not because the gays are trying to stealth date us, no. I've never heard of a case where a homosexual asked a straight guy out to the Nets game and then demanded sex from him afterwards, a sort of stealthy way to get a debtfuck. Gays are men too. They just aren't that clever. No, the real trouble comes for straight guys doing the asking. No longer can you just go up to a guy and say, "want to get some drinks?" What if he's a gay? When a woman hears that line she knows, or should, that the proper translation is "I would like to violate you and I think alcohol may help me in that pursuit." Do gay guys think that too? What if they think it means that you WANT to be violated? When you bend over to paint the sidewalk with a Technicolor rainbow and your buddy pulls down your pants, that's got to be an awkward situation for both of you.

Of course gays are rational creatures (I already mentioned that they were men) and are unlikely to assume that drinks or a meal include the implication of desert when the guy making the offer is of indeterminate orientation. There's another threat out there though. What happens if the guy you're asking out is as straight as the Autobahn and assumes that YOU are singing in the special choir? If he's a progressive guy you can both laugh about it and then go somewhere with exposed female breasts. But he might not be progressive. Maybe he's regressive, and maybe he starts to hate you. Call this homophobiaphobia. So you're stuck suggesting things that these guys are unlikely to think that Judy Garland fans enjoy. That's how you find yourself deer hunting on a Sunday afternoon when you'd rather be roller-skating or catching a matinee.

As we can see, male bonding has taken a serious hit from the integration of gays into everyday life. Nude locker rooms have gone from carefree zones of towel-snapping repressed sexuality into somber affairs of open sexual tension, where eyes and penises must never, EVER, meet. The high-five has quickly become the symbol of athletic solidarity, and the guys' night out has become a minefield of potential sexual innuendo or advance.

Look what they've done.

You might claim that gay male bondage, I mean bonding, has been a staple of Western society since before there was a western society. After all, the main way that the ancient Greeks bonded was nude wrestling and man on boy anal sex. That may be true, but I don't think that those were necessarily gay activities. It was more of an innocent time back then. A time when one could run ones hands over another man's naked body, or bend a young boy over and give him a 'special' proctology examination, without it meaning anything. These men still had wives. They still procreated, grudgingly. It was man on boy sex, sure, but it was innocent man on boy sex and totally classy.

Plus, they didn't have a hell of a lot to do back then. It's not like they could have gone to a bar and had beer. It was pretty much philosophy, wrestling, anal sex, and war. Those were the options. If you were tired, stupid, and didn't want to die, you really didn't have a choice. I think it's unfair to stereotype a race of people just because they enjoyed a little rear door entry.

Of course it doesn't stop there. The gays even have our boys questioning their own sexuality. There's plenty of them who say "Oh I didn't know I was gay until I was 25" or some such nonsense (though an equal number admit that they knew what they were in their teenage years.) Now our young men are questioning themselves at every turn. If you can't get it up even though she's hot, why you might be gay. If you get a random erection in conjunction with brushing against another man's ass or seeing some cut abdominals, your best friend might be Dorothy. If you spend 3 to 4 hours a day jerking off to "Boys in Paradise 6" oh, look at you, you're a fairy.

That's bullshit! We shouldn't have to be concerned about any of these innocent past-times. It's time for us heterosexuals to take back our lives and our culture. That's why I'm proposing a constitutional amendment requiring every gay man to have some sort of identifying mark. Like a bouffant hairdo, or maybe one of them rainbow ribbons I seen around. Perhaps a Carmen Miranda headgear? I'm open to suggestions.They need to be as easy to identify as blacks are. Only then will our culture be safe. Lesbians already have a dress code. Flannel. As for the so called lipstick lesbians, well if they're not wearing comfortable shoes then they're just repressed straight women who need a good deep-dicking to sort them out. No problem there. Anyway, gays can be here, they can be queer, but we aren't gonna worry about them when buying our buds a beer.

Oh, and they should all be REQUIRED to get married. Nothing's more of a dead gay giveaway than "My husband should be here any minute."

P.S. Yeah I know Glavine lost the no-no. That's the way it goes for the Mets. *sigh* I probably jinxed him.
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