Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Month Or So Of Freaky Fridays

(Lohan is all like "I'm sorry, HOW MANY HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS ON COCAINE BY THE TIME I TURN 25?")

By that headline, I do not mean to say that the reason this blog has been totally silent for over a month has anything to do with me trading bodies with Jamie Lee Curtis (I just feel like, by dint of my youth and good looks and the fact that I've destroyed my health and once-promising career with drugs and alcohol, I have more in common with Lohan than Mrs. Chris Guest). That would be a good excuse, though. I have another good excuse -- which is that I've been writing like 8,500 words of copy a week for the last month, with many of those arriving during one massive byline-pileup on Friday -- but the sorry-but-I-was-Jamie-Lee-Curtis-for-five-weeks one would obviously be better. I'll work on that.

I'm not complaining about this, necessarily. In order for me to make enough money to live doing what I'm doing, I need to be writing roughly this much or a little bit more -- that or write less and get paid more which, you know, I've considered. But the last four weeks have all featured Fridays in which I had five bylines at four different venues -- the fourth of those venues has changed week to week, which is nice at least in terms of me not having to make the same sleep-deprivation excuses to the same editors. And it's nice, too, because it means that I'm writing a lot, which is after all the idea. Here, for instance, is last Friday:

- The second of the week's two NFL neo-yaks with the esteemed Jeff Johnson, at GQ. This one involves Troy Aikman getting misty over Bob Seger and Daniel Snyder hiring and then firing Mike Shanahan's grandson. (The one from Tuesday, which is maybe funnier, involves a Tom Coughlin campaign commercial I'm rather proud of)

- A Daily Fix and a round of (erroneous, indoor-voiced, intermittently amusing) NFL picks for the Wall Street Journal.

- Another conversation-style article, because why not, with the awesome and awing Maria Bustillos, at The Awl, about fancy food and fancy people and gleeful Francophile dorkpie Adam Gopnik.

Leave out the Daily Fix, which is kind of a reflex at this point and which I've more or less been doing since Jimmy Carter was President, I'm really pretty proud and definitely pretty happy of all of the above. They also add up to something like 7,000 words of prose. I'm proud/happy about the column I wrote for Vice earlier in the week, as well, which is about Tony La Russa and what a turd he is. And I was of course delighted to get back to My Life's Work of perseverating on bad pizza and the Chamber of Commerce dingleberries who slang it in this speculative bit of Papa John-related muckraking/muckwallowing at The Awl. Which, for extra creepy We Surround Them verisimilitude, was actually banked by Papa John's ads:



Which was all very nice, and which was all something that happened in one week. (It leaves out, for instance, all the stuff I enjoyed writing the week before that, during the World Series, for Vice and with David Raposa in our baseball yak at The Awl and at Deadspin) I know that "that was nice" is usually something I type after things that are not nice, but that was all actually very nice: I liked the work, I will get paid (some) for (most of) it. The reason you haven't heard about this in this space -- a space which is designed, after all, for the production and distribution of me-spam -- is that I've been too worn out with doing it to reiterate all of it here.

I'm going to try to remedy that over the next week or so -- not with more spam so much as with something to put the last few hyperspeed months in some context. I'm aware that this is probably/inevitably going to be more interesting to the guy writing it than to any humans notionally reading the things that will (I hope) get written, but that is also true to a certain extent of most everything I write, both at this blog and elsewhere. The crush of the professional is what I signed up for; the crushing of the personal is not. At the risk of looking at the busiest and most exciting period of my career in the least flattering possible way -- at the risk of not enjoying what I think it was that I wanted 18 months ago -- I want to try to get things back into something like balance. And because I'm a doofus, I think that'll probably mean more Blogging About The Process/My Feelings. So definitely be on the look out for that? If you don't see it, it's because I'm busy or exhausted or drunk or hungover. So, maybe it's not really much of a change at all from the old status quo?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Altar Egoism



So very much writing of late, so very little of it presently live or worth sharing. I took a big step today towards wrapping up a very big assignment, which I think is at the least going to be pretty funny. And the small assignments continue to pile up -- the last week saw a pair of NFL chats with Living Legend Jeff Johnson at GQ (here and here) and another on baseball, with beautiful human David Raposa at The Awl. There was a Vice column I was kind of proud of, like there always is. A bunch of Daily Fixes and some NFL picks and some other stuff and a couple dozen hours of sleep spread over the work-week. It was an average week, and this one will look a lot like it, albeit with a good friend's wedding at the end and hopefully the last stroke on that big thing for GQ sometime before that.

And this is all good: this is where the money (theoretically) comes from, and it keeps me busy and interested and intermittently proud. But there's more than one way to Do Me, and doubtless some that allow for more sleep and less stress and all that. This sounds whiny. What I'm saying is that I wish I could be a little more like David Roth The Non-Writer, seen above. Dude's living the life. Stacking coins, rolling up sleeves -- and here I am, blogging. Pimp hard, David Roth. I need you to.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

20,000 Different Kinds of Sentimentality


So much of what I write at this time of year is about the NFL, and much of what I write about the NFL can be filed under either "exasperated/political" or "frankly hallucinatory." I have examples of both up today, although the most recent edition of my goof-therapy football-yakking with Jeff Johnson has not yet gone up at GQ as I write this. But this week's Vice column came out pretty well, I think, both in general and as an example of what I do actually think is kind of great about the NFL. As overbranded and generally, half-fascistic-ly dumb as the league is, and as multiply objectionable as it is in so many ways, it's also a great place to project some feelings and get some escapism up in yourself. And when formerly (and possibly still) crummy teams from crumbling cities random pull off upsets and generally don't look terrible... well, you'd have to be a much more serious and well-balanced human than me not to write a column about how awesome that is.

That both teams are sharing first place at this point in the season makes even non-partisan fans feel good, especially since the Bills got there by knocking off the unctuously sadistic New England Patriots on Sunday in a comeback you’d scoff at for being unrealistic if you saw it in a movie. Whether that success has any greater football significance remains to be seen, although it wouldn't be surprising if it didn’t—Detroit hasn't beaten a good team yet, and Buffalo has trailed by three scores in both of their last two games. And of course, appealing though it is to think otherwise, nothing that either team does will do much to make the cities of Detroit or Buffalo less like their bleak selves.

But there's still something worth celebrating here, even if it's illusory and despite the fact that—broadly speaking—it’s all pretty resoundingly insignificant. The NFL's militaristic pomp and goony storylines are not, after all, the only way to understand or enjoy a football game. American culture is currently screaming profanities at itself from the bottom of a canyon-sized rut; everyplace, increasingly, feels like a cross between Detroit and Buffalo. So a stunning comeback win or two from the NFL's ultimate rust-belt no-hopers offers a very in-context type of escapism, and inspires a different and sweeter sort of sentimentality.


Because of the inherent TL;DR issues at Vice, that's like half the column, but there are jokes en route to the end. This should in no way suggest that I am giving up on seeing the NFL as a giant ass-carnival of bad ideas and bad faith. It still is. But I'm certainly not boycotting a Bills team powered by friend-of-the-program Ryan Fitzpatrick, or a Lions team that wins and plays joyously. The opposite. I am, for all the usual qualifications, LOVING that shit.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Getting Serious About That Roberto Clemente Graphic Bio


For whatever reason, the choice between comic books and baseball cards was indeed and very much a choice in my hometown. There were, presumably, kids who were as obsessive about hoarding and shoplifting and maintaining their comic book collections as I was about my stacks of Phil Plantier rookie cards -- "Call that the college fund/HA HA" -- Young Jeezy on my mindset at that moment. I didn't know them, and I am actually also not sure they really were there in my hometown. And so it never remotely happened for me with comics.

I tried to read "Watchmen" after college, because everyone said I should, but it didn't take -- I thought it was creepy and overdetermined and half-fascist and not that good, but mostly that means that it was not for me. So it was that Wilfred Santiago's "21", which I got sent (twice, as it turns out) to review for the Los Angeles Review of Books, became the only comic in my house, and remains the only one that I've finished, ever, in my life. But while I probably wasn't the obvious choice to review the book, given my nonexistent comics background, my love for writing longish things and books and baseball and my admiration for the new and very cool LARB -- and, more to the point, the help of my Can't Stop the Bleeding associate Ben Schwartz -- helped make it happen anyway. I'm happy with the way the review turned out, and proud to be LARB'ed. You should read it, if you want to read it. And now here is a bit of it that will either make you want to read it or not:

Two generations after his last game as a baseball player and his disappearance into the Caribbean, Clemente endures in the alternately flattering and flattening forbidden zone of baseball mythos: as a name on Major League Baseball’s annual citizenship award, as the subject of a statue outside Pittsburgh’s PNC Bank Park, as a Spanish-speaking stand-in for Jackie Robinson, baseball’s first truly great Latin American star, and finally as something of a cipher. The only player for whom the Baseball Hall of Fame waived its traditional five-year waiting period — Clemente was voted into the Hall in a landslide in 1973, mere months after his death — the Pirates’ star found himself entombed in baseball’s pantheon when he still had plenty of life due to him. He has been locked in there ever since, his goodnesses and greatnesses sanitized and held in air-conditioned suspension in Cooperstown.

And so Clemente still exists: his name is on the 304-acre sports campus he built near his hometown of Carolina, in Puerto Rico, and his name is on the pedestrian bridge that fans cross to reach PNC Bank Park on game-days. But, more broadly, the sentimental way in which he has been remembered has made him, if not forgettable, certainly a bit less human: one of the game’s household saints.

Only you know if that worked or not. But if it did, you should click here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From The Prose Orphanage: The 9/12 Project


Given that what's below checks in at a mighty healthy word count, I'll keep the introduction brief. Your eyes are too important, and any sort of backstory I give for the piece -- which I started as a blog post on a train ride, repurposed into an essay for The Awl, and then was compelled by bad timing, mostly, and by a lack of other outlets for stuff like this to turn back into a blog post -- isn't important enough. It's about September 11 and September 12, and it is actually rather bloggy in terms of the HERE IS HOW I FELT AND FEEL aspects. But I like it, and I hope you like it, too, and there is no way I am going to let this many adjectives just sit around stinking up my hard drive. And so I give you:

The 9/12 Project

It is going to be a very full train and everyone on board knows what that means, although I suppose that isn't necessarily a reason not to remind people of what it means. And I suppose, too, that the conductor who gets on the PA to remind everyone what it means, first at Boston's South Station and then three minutes later at Back Bay Station and then five or so minutes after that at Route 128, can't really do anything about the sound of his voice, which arrives to the (very full) train car through his organ-pipe sinuses and the tinny Amtrak speakers. But the words themselves make me recoil, because they are a savage and unwitting parody of the muscled-up, flubby-formal copspeak that has emerged as something like our new national language of authority.

You know what this sounds like by now, this opaque and faintly menacing combination of dim authority and flabby extraneousness. The conductor's pronouncements and re-pronouncements – not-really-alerting anyone that the café car is FOR DINING ONLY… AND DRINKING, DINING AND DRINKING ONLY and not for doing your homework or setting up your computer; that it's one seat per ticketed passenger (except at Back Bay, where it's "one ticketed passenger per seat") – are guided home by weirdly formal "in this matter"-s and "for this purpose"-s tacked onto the sentences' end. We are told, for reasons known only to the conductor, that there are a lot of families on board, although context suggests that this may in some way intensify the need to use the café car for its intended purposes (ONLY).

The conductor delivers the same bad news over and over – if you are looking to make a connection, you should expect delays (on that matter) because of heightened security concerns (at this time) on New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Railroad. He walks through the train car, which is by now teetering towards Providence, then returns with another conductor. That one has a pair of sunglasses hung backwards, Guy Fieri-style, from his ears. As the second conductor follows his authoritative co-worker out of the car, the sunglasses give his shaved dome a jarring, eyes-in-the-back-of-his-head aspect. Although, really, it was only jarring because all of this happened on September 11, which means I was maybe looking for it and also already kind of jarred. The conductor gets back on the horn to thank everyone for their "voluntary cooperation" on the no-lying-down-on-the-seats issue. Another of his breathy beats. "Please do make it voluntary," he adds.

At that time a day earlier I was firing an AR-15 at a gun range an hour outside Boston during a friend's bachelor party. This is the same gun American soldiers carry, our firearms instructor noted. "It's like 'American,'" he said with hand over the AR-15, before dramatically sweeping his hands over to the AK-47 lying next to it, "and 'Taliban.'" Back on the train, I see that the blunderingly authoritative Amtrak conductor's ID swings from a Marine Corps lanyard, which would make him the second Marine to tell me what to do in two days, if also the opposite of the voluble and capable and wildly funny Eddie, who is undoubtedly the guy you should go see if you want to shoot assault rifles in North Attleboro, Mass. So: where is all this going?

It is going back to New York, eventually. But first one more thing, please. First let me tell you how I met my wife. It was ten years ago on September 11, on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn. I spent a lot of time there that day. I rode a bus down Fifth Avenue with a roommate that morning, with all that smoke and ash glowering like a grotesque new planet over the river and above the low rooftops. We watched things on television with some other people in downtown Brooklyn, and then I walked back down Fifth Avenue to my apartment, where I got to work on getting drunk. I was nearly there when I walked down Fifth Avenue again – it might help to read this bit in the voice of Grandpa Simpson, but it was 20-odd blocks from my apartment on the fringes of Sunset Park to a decent bar back then. And it was then and there that I met my wife, who was on her way to my place with a friend of hers to watch some more harrowing television with another of my roommates. They were still there after another Fifth Avenue walk, and we watched the commissioner of the New York Fire Department dissolve into tears together. I remember the look on his face as he slid towards that collapse, how he recognized that what he told us would end with him in tears and how he moved on and into it anyway. What I can tell you about Kate, on that night, was that her beauty cut through the doom a bit, that she re-filled the Brita after drinking from it, that she cried at times and laughed at others and was in general as close to a symbol of possibility and hope as anything I would see again until I saw her next, nearly a month later. When I showed my not-then-wife and her friend out at the night's end, we saw that our garbage cans were sugared in pale ash. Scorched bits of paper had settled here and there – singed memos from Merrill Lynch, a page from what appeared to be a computer science textbook. My roommates and I gathered them up and brought them inside.

And now maybe we can go back to New York, and towards today. There was, in the days before this most recent September 11, a deep impatience palpable in the city. Which is admittedly not the most noteworthy or novel mood for New Yorkers, but which also seemed a reaction to something more than a desultory bag-check at the subway or the body-armored sentinels with their (oh hey) AR-15's who have faded back up from the background, and whose sunglass-blanked glares have thanked us for our voluntary assistance in this matter for a decade now. There were those most recent maddeningly vague press-conference ominousnesses – regarding what may have sort of been known about terrible things that were or weren't planned for the city on the anniversary – which didn't help. There was also the suffocating pomp and ponderousness of all those looming National Looks Back, and the private memories to face down, in private. But this wasn't that, I don't think. There is a greater, darker persistence, something too big and too present and too awful to Never Forget about.

If you were close enough to it, wherever you were, what happened on September 11 is on you still. We wear it as a livid scar or a phantom limb, wrestle it as a nightmare that haunts in daylight or an older ghost that breathes chaos into our dreams at night, but we wear it, we wrestle with it. But for all the shadowy constancy of what September 11, 2001 subtracted and extracted, September 11 is also gone, and all those facile Never Forget rituals only push it more and more profoundly away from us.

There are those flags the size of football fields and fighter jet flyovers, the memory-sanctifying resolutions that sail cheaply through the House of Representatives in shouted unanimity. There's Michelle Tafoya on NBC, asking New York Jets coach Rex Ryan after the team's Sunday night win how the significance of 9/11 "impacted the game," and Newt Gingrich using the word "celebrate" to describe the tenth anniversary of the 11th during a Republican debate a day later. So we haven't forgotten anything so much as we've misplaced nearly everything. And the culture – not you or me or your neighbors or mine, but the bigger thing that is our politics and our economy and the author of the line items of our myriad and massive debts – is now moved not so much by the terrible thing itself or the terrible things that came after, but moved by how moved we are. It's September 12 as I write this, and it has been September 12 for ten terrified, terrifying, mostly terrible years.

Among the Perpetual Seether segment of the populace, 9/12 has a resonance that has strangely little and strangely much to do with the day that preceded it. During his weepy, marker-smudged ascent, Glenn Beck asked his viewers and listeners to "remember who you were on September 12" and told them that those 9/12 selves were who and how they really were; he held 9/12 rallies and 9/12 groups sprouted on their own and, as usual, he made bank. And Tea Party Astroturf-farming concern FreedomWorks scheduled its watershed Taxpayer March on Washington, with ardent but opaque purpose, for September 12, 2009.

Whatever dry-drunk fantasia of righteous purpose Beck associates with September 12, the perverse echo of 1963's March on Washington offered by FreedomWorks in 2009 feels more apt today. In '63, a diverse group of Americans braved the risk-unto-certainty of public- and private-sector violence to voice their belief that America could not be what it should be without the liberation of less-than-free Americans. The group that hit town during both the chronological and constant September 12 a couple years ago did so in fatuous resistance to notional state violence – imaginary tax hikes, a dozen different fantastical and false socialisms – and more generally to argue against the very idea of a common good or shared purpose or responsibility; for all the teary Beck-ian unity talk, this was more the against-them fellowship of the sleeper cell than the gracious and great-hearted and hopeful fellowship of '63. The liberation this new Army of September 12 demanded in 2009 – and which they have already, in many ways, won – was from each other, everyone else, anyone else; they were demanding a safety that they could not have unless or until they were left very thoroughly alone, barricaded and border-fenced and home-protected against everything and everyone else out there.

The whole avalanche of bilious bad faith that has followed is, finally, a bleak affirmation of Beck's piteous/cynical soft-sci-fi worldview. That army of the terrified converged on the nation's capital, demanding a permanent September 12, and they have it. We have taken up residence in that long shadow, lived in and with the frantic inertia, the intermittent intimations of something terrible, the inward-turning fear at all those vague but implacable loomings. A new political class of howling, shit-scared know-nothing bullies that believes the only tough-minded response to anything is an unyielding "no;" a popular culture curled babyish around an atomizing and anomic materialism it detests and knows well it cannot afford; a thousand inexpressible and unexpressed fears and mistrusts – how we live now is a disheartening extension who we were then.

And for all the frazzled purpose of the first September 12 – the various enrollment and enlistment booms, the desperate searches for a place that would take our blood or somehow let us help – the dominant feeling in the bright, still-burning city in which I awakened that day was finally one of terrible aloneness. Some of the trains were running, and some of the offices were open. I took one to my job around Union Square, and I sent emails to everyone I could, or who I thought might care – to my friends in Washington D.C. asking if they were all right, to my friends elsewhere telling them that I was. And then I let myself out and walked downtown, past one checkpoint at 14th Street and into an emptied-out Greenwich Village. I walked down the middle of the street. I remember being aware of the absent pulse of the subway under Broadway. I remember the streets being harrowingly and absolutely ghostly, and being thankful for the periodic appearance of random people just doing whatever they were out there doing – walking to or from, dazedly riding a skateboard along the double lines in the middle of Eighth Street, signing a piece of paper spread on the sidewalk outside an Army/Navy store. ("Dear Anthony," someone wrote, ten years ago today. "Good luck in the war. I love you, always and 4ever") I remember quiet, and sirens, and the terrible sadness and anger at the lives lost. I remember, too, thinking that it would be nice to see the woman from the night before again, that she seemed kind. I remember how precious that kindness seemed.

But mostly I remember, in this most life-full of cities, a profound bottomlessness and emptiness that left me feeling terribly alone on those so-silent streets. You may have been on the streets of your city late at night or early in the morning or after some blanking blizzard, and enjoyed the solitary feeling; I have. This was different than that; this was an aloneness that had a sense about it of the irretrievable and irrevocable. The strange and unfathomable smell and heavy air that pushed uptown and the police officers that finally stopped my ramble southward reminded me of what all this really was, and why it felt so sad. It was the feeling of a drained city, its citizens either fled or locked in or otherwise elsewhere. It was quiet, but it was not peaceful, and it was not home.

If we must Never Forget anything from that not-quite-passed present, let it be the actual truth of September 12 and the days after – the way we receded from one another and ourselves, all those great and frightened distances we made, how unrecognizable everything was without everyone else there, and how awful all of that was. The terrified, traumatized non-choices we made then and have made since are not necessarily ones we'd commemorate or honor or (Newt, Newt) celebrate, of course. But memory has a higher purpose than commemoration, doesn't it? Doesn't it have to?


Update: Don't worry, everything's cool now. Or... wait, that's not the update at all. What I meant was that the good folks at GoodMenProject.com republished this at their site, here. Click the link, enjoy their other tasty prose morsels.

Exercises in Belatedness


If this is the one place you come for your David Roth news -- and I'd ordinarily recommend making it such, because most of the fansites have a lot of inaccuracies -- I have been letting you down. Of course, there is no one anywhere who pursues "David Roth news," here or anywhere, so I'll assume you've been fine. Things have been happening -- a new series of ridiculousness-powered NFL chats with Jeff Johnson at GQ.com (those so-inclined can catch up here and here), as well as another piece for New York Magazine, a few Vice columns I'm proud of (I like this one and this one, and the most recent one is at least on the new Vice.com site).

I also gave a powerpoint presentation in front of a couple dozen people in a Brooklyn bar during a rainstorm. I helped my wife move back to Connecticut and got sad. The Kickstarter fundraising for The Classical, which was the last thing I did a post about -- ahem -- continued and continues and is doing well. All good. I had some good experiences cooking with kale. All, except for the kale, maybe worth reporting as more than a series of serial hyperlinks, given that this blog exists to catalog the things I do (and, to a lesser degree, how I feel about pizza). I'll do better. Also I'm going to post a 2200-word thing later today which is going to more than get me to my quarterly prose-quota. What a relief, right?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

And Furthermore


This is still happening, and now features ill wallpaper art from Jacob Weinstein of Free Darko fame. More art, more writing, more other things will follow from this. The Classical will not change the world, most likely, but we may annoy Gregg Doyel, at the very least. If you will it, it is no dream, dude.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Talking About Things

Here's a very long discussion/dialogue/co-essay I wrote with personal heroine Maria Bustillos at Nieman Lab about whether or not David Foster Wallace is the reason why the internet sounds the way it does. I am very proud of it, and not just because it's a way for me to prove to everyone that I know Maria Bustillos. This is something that's much on my mind, and Maud Newton's fine/flawed essay on the topic was something I've thought a lot about. It was bracing and great fun and a bunch of other good things to get to talk about it with someone I love so well, at a venue I respect so much. Here is some of what it looks like:

Bustillos: (snort.) What this kind of writing comes from, really, is a deep frustration with the establishment. You have this person who can’t be contained in establishment methods or institutions, a status quo that is not speaking to him. Hang the blessed DJ. Nothing more complicated than that.

Wallace tailored his language very exactly to his meaning. The language may have been sprawling, but for a reason; it was an exact representation of both his thought and his desire for delivering that thought to you, the reader. This is a deliberate strategy. What I think Newton missed is that grabbing all these words and voices and ways of expressing what you want to say from legalese, from advertising, from television, there is a laser-keen purpose to that, which is to make yourself understood outside of the conventional parameters. Not liked, but understood.

Roth: Right: it’s a fireworks show, but it’s also mimetic insofar as he’s turning all these something-from-everything thoughts he’s trying to express into sentences that are more or less as complicated, and comprised of the same weird parts. The thing with the Newton essay that falls short for me — and there’s a kind of funny internal self-critique in this — is the argument itself. Or the idea that there’s an argument like in the sense of a thing-to-dispute. I’m not an editor at the Times, of course, but just identifying the source of The Way The Internet Writes — and I am, and you are, and plenty of other people are borrowing from that voice — is cool to me. I’d want to read about that and I really dug the parts where she wrote about that.

But the idea that somehow everyone is so awash in their own qualifiers and voice-iness that they can’t make an argument anymore…I don’t know that that’s somehow more true for someone in that voice than anyone writing any other way. And I don’t get the sense even that she was feeling that particular angle as hard. I guess that’s the editorial influence, maybe, the find-a-problem-and-then-solve-it bit. But it’s not inherently a problem that people are trying to get their thoughts out in something more or less approximating those thoughts’ own syntax, and I don’t know that appending all those qualifiers is in some way a weakness. Unless it’s done weakly, but obviously on that.


It's long enough, for sure, but it covers a lot of ground and I really hope you'll read it. Also there are some pictures, don't worry.

"Your blog needs to be more visual." -- You. It's cool, you're totally right. Be patient. God.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

When It Rains A Lot...


I always reach for surprisingly muscular guitar jams from surpassingly fey British dudes with drug problems. I have listened to this song many times today.

You May Have Heard About Weather

This is obviously preemptive, but fuck this.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Department of Verbose Explanations

Things are still happening. Day turns into night. The Mets look thwarted and nervous. Various deadlines stack up on the other side of the weekend, anxious to get up into my personal space when the bell rings Monday morning (Sunday night, really). Young white dudes tool around the Upper East Side in fancy sedans, reggae on blast inna Middlebury College stylee. And the Great Classical Money Grub of 2011 -- you remember -- steams along apace. As I write this, we just crossed $20,000 after six or so days on Kickstarter, and it's great in that we're doing well and still weird insofar as it is always weird asking the internet for money.

And it is strange, too, talking about it and thinking about it and also having to do other things. I'm going to need to get used to all that internal multitasking, of course -- if this works out, I'm going to have a barely-compensated full-time gig working on The Classical and will also need to be doing all those other deadlined things currently straining at the velvet rope. That's a lot, but it's what I want, and I hope I get it. But explaining all of it, to myself and my wife and anyone else who asks what we're trying to do and why, is not easy. I wouldn't say that I exactly make it look easy in this interview I did with Spencer Lund of SportsGrid about The Classical, but it does at least answer some questions about the (notional) website and what we aspire to do with it. Whether it explains me wheedling you for money is really up to you. But if you were curious:

SG: What was the impetus behind The Classical website? Did someone come up with the idea and pitch it around to everyone else? Were you all just drinking at a bar complaining about executives getting in the way of what you wanted to write about?

Roth: I’ve actually never met any of the people on the masthead in person. But I think all of us, in different bars at different times, have come up with this idea. And by “all of us” I don’t just mean the people on The Classical’s Kickstarter page — I mean everyone who tries to write in an intelligent, slightly off-kilter way about sports. The NBA Playoff blog we did at GQ was kind of a dry-run for this in a sense — Tom Scharpling wrote for it, and so did Lang Whitaker and Eric’s Nusbaum and Freeman; Nathaniel and I were more regular contributors. It was fun and it worked and that experience made the prospect of doing it bigger and for real something that was a lot less barroom bullshit and more something that could actually happen. But before that, the actual impetus for The Classical, I think, was Shoals (and almost everyone else) getting laid-off at FanHouse. He started calling different people, talking to people who understand business and people like me, who habitually overuse adjectives. We all did the same, and are still doing it — that’s kind of the most fun (or at least the least-harrowing) part for the time being, is thinking about writers we want to write for us, and asking them to do it.

Speaking for myself, with very rare exceptions I’ve never been all that frustrated with higher-ups, but I’ve been lucky to write for some really great editors at the mainstream-y places I’ve worked for, and also to write for webbier venues like The Awl and Can’t Stop The Bleeding, which gave me a lot of room and trust to do what I wanted. But yeah, there’s some “Let’s just do it ourselves” behind what we want to do; that’s a big part of why we’re using Kickstarter, too. The sports conversation is kind of narrowly proscribed, even with all the opening-up that the internet has offered, and I think I speak for the rest of the team in saying I’d love to help change that. We aren’t going to be turning away pitches because they’re too abstruse or obscure or hard-to-sell-ads-against, I promise.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I've Felt Better In My Life, or "Donations Please"

There are a lot of reasons why I wouldn't want to be in the House of Representatives. Sharing a bathroom with Paul Broun or Louie Gohmert ranks pretty high on that list -- because you know those guys don't know how to/choose-not-to-remember-how-to use a bathroom. Being expected to care about what Politico thinks would definitely be on that list. But having to call people all the time in order to solicit campaign donations -- for shameful television commercials that everyone hates, for dishonest mailers, for politician-grade hairstyling -- is the thing I'd dread the most. No one likes asking other people for money, I guess, but it has always, always been one of my least favorite things. Shaking down editors over small freelance checks is basically as bleak and demeaning a thing as I've had to do for work (well, almost), and I do it all the freaking time. It's the worst. So: why would I be asking you, or anyone else, for $25 as part of a (freaking) Kickstarter campaign?

Good question. The short answer is that it's because I'm going to be starting a literary-ish sports website with a bunch of really talented people, and because the business folk we talked to suggested that we'd need to have some serious-ish money to get through the first year, before things get self-sustaining. A little over two days into the fundraising process, we've raised more than 25 percent of what we need -- which is a lot of money, both in terms of what's raised and what's left to raise -- and the experience has been... well, awe-ing in terms of the amount of goodwill and generosity and graciousness. But also harrowing in that we're basically asking the internet for money in exchange for trinkets and digressive prose TK. It's weirder than anything I've done in this game, and I wrote like five articles for a trade magazine called Dermatology Business Management.

The great Tim Marchman, who is working on the project, sums up the thinking and anxiety behind this task very well at his own blog, and most of the other questions surrounding the endeavor are answered pretty well inna posse-cut stylee in this Q&A on the project at The Village Voice. And that is what I am working on, at least in part. Or what I'm working on in addition to all the other things I'm working on, which are the usual things. The good news is that if we can get this done, and get the site up and popping, it will be great. The bad news is that I'll probably be sort of a wreck over this for a little while. But yeah, then: if you have donated, thanks very much. If you haven't, you could always choose to do so. And if you were curious why I seemed on-edge and weird and clammier than usual: here you go.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Arise, Ye Punt Returners

There's not necessarily too much to say about this one. My piece in this week's issue of New York Magazine isn't the first time I've written about NFL semioto-economic weirdness or its plutocratic creepery -- not by a longshot, actually, or even the first time in the last seven days. But this is the first time I've written about it for New York Magazine, and it's the first time I've tied it into the NBA lockout and written about it at an economic length and honestly this whole "it needs to be the first time" thing of yours is weird. I like the piece. Just go with it for once, okay? Thanks. Jeez. Like pulling teeth with you sometimes.

Reader's Guide

Oh hi. If you were thinking of reading my most recent Vice column -- and why wouldn't you do this, it's pretty okay! -- why not do yourself a favor and read this paragraph first. It fell off the draft, but it really helps with understanding what I was trying to do:

To get to where it is always happy hour, you first have to go where it's always 4:51 AM and you're transitioning into that brutal, my-body-is-inside-out half-sober hangover, aka the bus ride to Atlantic City. And even before that there’s Gate One at Port Authority—fluorescent lights buzzing eight or so inches overhead, buses coming and going on only the faintest approximations of their schedule (“Load and go, baby, load and go” the bus line guy says when asked why the 10 AM bus left 20 minutes early), a clucking and confused line of flat-affect South Asians and pleasant, chatty retirees and Russians, so many Russians. The line is full of poker faces, even if most are going down there to sit dead-eyed in front of the slots until hopping a late bus back, but even if they are poker players, they are assuredly not doing is going to Atlantic City to play a sport.


Okay, good, now go here and keep reading. Keep reading until you get to the anonymous commenters making rape jokes or whatever. Then you're done.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ideation Session


From: Jeff Johnson
To: David Roth


Is it horribly naive to suggest to Papa John he actually have a chain of sit-down restaurants?

Aren't his margins HUGE elsewhere?

Is it not easier for store managers to have sexual encounters with their subordinates in "spaces" without a lot of customer foot fall?

Is it not enticing though, to think of a pizza/pigskin BONANZA, shepherded over by Papa John himself? 34 HD screens? College girl waitresses. Miller lite flowing.

Special appearances by Jeff George?


To: Jeff Johnson
From: David Roth


I like the idea of this happening along the lines of those commercials where he randomly shows up at peoples' houses with a bunch of pizzas and then throws a tight spiral in the street. Like Papa John gets to your house really early in the morning with a breakfast pizza -- like the Papa Benedict, with six eggs, "real bacon," spinach, etc. -- and then moves in a bunch of TVs, an industrial fryer, etc. And your home becomes Papa John's Conference USA Football Ground Zero for a day, more or less with your consent but not entirely with your consent. Strong yes on the Jeff George thing, obviously.


From: Jeff Johnson
To: David Roth


When he leaves it is beyond trashed. But the people feel blessed.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Anthropology Project: What Is High-Bro


I'm not an accredited anthropologist. As longtime readers know, I was in fact trained as a dentist, and so am barely qualified even to be doing this. I had to lie to the people at Blogspot just to get this blog. I told them I was Asher Roth. But what I'm saying here is that I am not an anthropologist. And yet I am embarking on an anthropology project. On Tumblr, where all the best work in that field is currently being done.

And I'm honestly even less qualified to use Tumblr than I am to attempt thumbnail anthropology projects. But I've been fascinated -- in large part due to the stumbly launch of the weird, ranking-happy TV club/bro-backrub-society at Grantland, but also because it's everywhere in our culture -- by the rise of High-Bro culture, which I define at Excursions in High-Bro, where I'll be parsing this further, as a sort of older, self-important elder-analog to bro-bro culture -- the difference between Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow, for shorthand purposes. I go into greater depth at the Tumblr (it's like I can't stop typing it!), and hopefully in a future article/charticle/whatever on this. And I will continue to do so. If you have any thoughts on it, or if you don't, get on over there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Rich Are Always With Us, Sad Aussies, And So Sadly On


So, here are two paragraphs on the Murdoch Fam/hacking-corruption-general-suczzy-malfeasance story. Try to find some overlap, and good luck. The first, from the New York Times' Monday rundown on the story:

Evidence indicating that The News of the World paid the police for information was not handed over to the authorities for four years. Its parent company paid hefty sums to those who threatened legal action, on condition of silence. The tabloid continued to pay reporters and editors whose knowledge could prove embarrassing even after they were fired or arrested for hacking. A key editor’s computer equipment was destroyed, and e-mail evidence was lost. Internal advice to accept responsibility was ignored, former executives said.


Now, the New York Times does not like Rupert Murdoch -- which is fine, many people don't: he's a gnarled, ultra-cynical raisin of a human being who has smeared the vilest, greedheaded anti-human poop on the discourse of several nations for generations. But they also wouldn't have run that paragraph if they couldn't hang with a lawsuit on some component of it, because that lawsuit would come if any of it was weak. Ditto for The Guardian, which has been on the general scuzzy malfeasance at Murdoch's British newspapers -- and their creepy-crawly, creepily familiar spooning with Britain's power elite -- for years. That there's quite a bit to these allegations is, at this point, seemingly not under dispute. We're quite nearly past the "what did X know and when did s/he know it" phase as well, it seems. We're nearly to the the how-did-this-happen/how-can-it-be-prevented/how-to-punish-the-malefactors stages. Which is great. It won't undo the decade-plus of creepery on News International's part, but if it prevents it from happening again, that would be great. And, honestly, if it makes Rupert Murdoch sad... well, the easy way around that was not to create a breathtakingly ugly and patently lawless corporate culture. But that last bit -- how it makes Rupert feel, and how that makes us feel -- is the sort of thing you'd have to be a blinkered, misprioritized creep of world-historic proportions even to care about. Meta-backlashery inna Murdoch Agonistes stylee can wait a few generations, or it can wait forever, but it's also maybe something to save for a while, given all the actual and astonishing wrongdoing being discussed, right? Okay, here's the second selection, from the New York Observer's unsigned editorial "Murdoch and His Enemies."

While it’s clear that many things were amiss at the News of the World, and while many questions remain to be asked of the relationship between British reporters (including those who don’t work for Mr. Murdoch) and Scotland Yard, it is simply wrong to assail Mr. Murdoch simply because of his politics. Yes, he was a part of London’s tainted tabloid culture, but that does not make him a symbol of that culture.

Rupert Murdoch has apologized, profusely and with genuine humility, to the family of Milly Dowler, the young murder victim whose phone was hacked into by reporters from News of the World. The family’s attorney said that Mr. Murdoch put his head in his hands as he expressed his grief. What more could he have done? How many publishers have apologized to families whose suffering has been exacerbated by media coverage? How many publishers would have closed a valuable property like News of the World? Mr. Murdoch did that, and more—he dropped his bid to purchase B Sky B, which was extremely important to him.


So, there's also that. It is simply wrong to condemn this guy for his politics or nauseous anti-ethics, but it is (apparently? it's barely addressed) complicatedly wrong to weasel into the voicemail of a teenaged murder victim or suborn payoffs to police officers. As Choire points out at The Awl, the Observer has a long, proud history of astonishingly poor rich-people-thing editorials. He pointed this out after I sort of freaked out about this editorial (see above, or see here), which probably wouldn't have affected said freakout much. But while I'm as offended by the fatuity of the Observer's full- and weird-throated defense of The Embattled Mogul, the real reason it got to me -- beyond my own misplaced priorities -- is... well, it's the same reason I got all het up about the similarly fatuous post-partisan rich person's political party No Labels last year, and why I tend to read too much into sports lockouts (and other sports lockouts). And that all comes back to the discursive problem that extreme wealth presents, and how poorly our discourse has navigated it.

To take a well-thumbed page from the President's book, this would probably be the place where I mention something about Not Having A Problem With Rich People and hoping that everyone gets rich and so on. And I suppose that's true, and I suppose I do. But between the uniquely American problem of reverse engineering great merit into great wealth -- which is a bummer, of course -- and the fact that our discourse often seems run by and for rich people who have come to believe all that happy noise about themselves, it would seem that we're all in a pretty tight spot. Or, if you prefer a more metaphorical metaphor, we are all in a gold-plated echo chamber, going deaf while billionaires innocent of self-consciousness and self-restraint (and occasionally guilty of quite a few things) blast compliments to each other through platinum megaphones and periodically discuss whatever's on their minds, from the deficit to running McKinseyan sensitivities on a public school system they don't use. Oh, and outside the echo chamber everything is on fire. It would seem that way, sometimes, if you look at it too long.

Or, option three, without any metaphor: great and greatly terrible decisions are being made by greatly fatuous people too rich to feel their consequences; those consequences are being absorbed by people too far from power to influence the aforementioned decisions. And it really, really isn't working.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Meme'd


Isn't it weird when one of these the-entire-internet-barf/laughs-at-the-same-time things actually winds up being good?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I Got That Work


(If/when I write a book that requires a cover, I sure hope that Pen and Pixel is still in business)

There's freelance-related anxiety that concerns having too much work, and there's freelance-related anxiety concerning not having enough work, and there is the rare and beautiful anti-nirvana state that is achieved when those two nervousnesses occupy the same consciousness. Obviously there are hundreds of thousands of worse things than feeling jittery and overworked, but as explanations for falling behind on my own self-spammery goes, it's a pretty good explanation. So I'm taking a brief break from attempting to take a longer break to get caught up on my catching up. Then I'm going to make this chimichurri for a party I'm supposed to make chimichurri for, and maybe spend 45 minutes staring at a Word document containing an assignment that I have avoided working on because of how much I hate it and hate working on it. But right: a break. So here's what I've been doing instead of blogging or feeling comfortable.

The good news is that there are some things, besides the usual Daily Fixery and daily day-jobbery. Foremost among these, probably, is the fact that I'm writing a sports column called The Mercy Rule for Vice Magazine. Which is a cool but also an intimidating thing, both because -- with the exception of my Awl NFL columns, which was not so much easy, either, but also just sort of felt different -- I've never written this sort of thing before and because, you know, it's Vice. That obviously means something different than it did back when it was Do's and Don't's and mid-aught cocaine libertarianism/libertinism -- it's a different and more serious and more complicated thing now, and my editors are both quite serious and good at editing. Also the commenters are kind of hilariously negative, so the fact that I've only gotten one "TL;DR" and been called an "asshole" once in three columns is actually kind of good, I guess? But yeah: overall the response has been good, and I'm enjoying doing it. The three columns I wrote, about Frank McCourt, the NBA lockout and Not Saving The All-Star Game<, are here and here and here. Feel free to hit the comments and call me a retard or whatever.

I'm also still doing the Yakkin' thing at The Awl, usually with the very great David Raposa. That David R, though, also has work, and this week was covering a Lil Wayne concert when he would ordinarily have been on gchat with me making fun of Ron Gardenhire. Which is a pretty good deal for him, and which gave me an excuse to write something stupid about baseball and food, which is the sort of thing I don't actually need an excuse for. But I liked doing it, and was especially delighted that one of the more ridiculous bits of the piece -- a totally made-up bit involving paunchy journeyman reliever Mike Fetters running a renegade concession stand at Miller Park -- actually seemed to have convinced Larry Granillo, the man behind the great Wezen-Ball baseball blog, that Mike Fetters was indeed hauling a cheese-vat around a big league ballpark. See if it convinces you:

While Fetters says that he "does fine" on his mobile concession, it's clearly a labor of love—only love, after all, could compel a 40-something man to pull a bubbling cauldron of Colby cheese and that cast-iron skillet around the ballpark while evading Miller Park security. Fetters charges fans just $2 to dunk any of the other concessions available at the ballpark into the "cheese tank," and will put a fried egg—that’s where the skillet and hot-plate come in—atop any concession for just a dollar. And I do mean anything: during my visit, I saw Fetters put a fried egg atop a pile of nachos, a double-patty burger ($11) from Gorman Thomas Prime, and directly into a New Era fitted cap. "Security guys are going to bust balls, because that's what they do," Fetters says. "Food inspector guys, same thing. But the way I figure, these fans gave me a lot when I pitched here. A lot of love, a lot of support. I want to give them something back, too."


Incidentally, the idea of a ballpark steakhouse called Gorman Thomas Prime is actually my favorite joke in the piece, and this is a piece that has a few hundred words of totally made up Guy Fieri BS. You can read the whole thing here. Or you could not, that'd be fine, too. I know how it feels not to have time to do things. I know because I need to make chimichurri.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Trendgame


Am I allowed to be proud of this? Because, and not to toot any horns here, but what I started to kill time while my wife watched an episode of "Criminal Minds" (with Cybill Shepherd AND Lolita Davidovich in it!) wound up lasting NEARLY 20 MINUTES LONGER THAN EXPECTED.

Twitter makes new universes of idiocy not just possible, but probable-unto-inevitable. I guess I should just accept liking it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Minor League

"I'm in [for a Major League sequel]. F---, yeah. Why not? I think enough time has gone by. Let me tell you a story. We had this party at my place a few months ago to watch Major League. It was awesome. The beard was there—Brian Wilson, from the Giants. We had Eddie Murray and Kenny Lofton. And I got David Ward to introduce the film. Colin Farrell showed up. And when my big strikeout at the end comes on, the place goes nuts like we've never even seen the movie before. I'm in between my two girlfriends, and I look over and there's Colin Farrell giving me a thumbs-up. I reach behind me for a fist bump from Brian Wilson, who goes, "Winning!" I'm telling you, David Ward created a baseball classic, and baseball is all that matters in the world." -- You Can Probably Guess Which Member of the Major League Cast. #Wincing!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Department of Documentation, Pop-Up Blog/NBA Draft Edition

I'm more of a word-user than a data-understander. I don't know that Gladwell has taxonomized those particular Types of Modern Information Worker, but what I mean is that I don't totally understand how to read internet data. I know that 'uniques' are a thing you want, and I understand numbers well enough to know that a large number of page-views is more than a smaller number of same. So I'm pretty much qualified to serve as a cyber-security consultant to most members of the House of Representatives, but also essentially a ignoramus on the fine points. But I suspect, from looking at the data for this pop-up NBA Draft blog I did with a few other people, that it was kind of a success.

I don't totally know what a pop-up blog even is -- it just seems like the right term for the thing, which was a sort of spur-of-the-moment collabo between Bethlehem Shoals, Brian Phillips, Tim Marchman, Joey Straight Bangin Litman and Jason Johnson and Michael Katz, the iced-out fashionistos at Clyde Frazier Approves. (And also me) Overall, I think it worked pretty well as an exercise -- we all enjoyed ourselves and typed some things about the draft in real-ish time and stayed off the howling heath that is Twitter for awhile. As a prototype for the Future of Internets it's probably not much: there wasn't quite as much talking-to-each-other as there could have been. But much of the writing, not surprisingly -- given the people involved -- was VERY DOPE. I even wrote something that I like about Jeremy Tyler, and I barely even know anything about Jeremy Tyler. It was supernatural. Gods and monsters and Bismack Biyombo's freaky arms. The whole thing.

So I know, because I've read it over, that it was pretty good. Words, there, which helped. But I looked at the stats on the site yesterday, and was surprised/delighted/confused to see that the site got something like 5,100 pageviews over the course of its first 24 hours of existence. About a fifth of those came through Twitter, another couple hundred through a mention at Deadspin, a 150 or so through Tumblr (all Shoals, there) and the rest... are magic? I don't know, if that's in the stats, I can't make sense of it. (There have been another couple hundred since, which is weird given that nothing has gone up -- or will go up -- since I said goodnight following the selection of that Hungarian guy)

Now, 5000-plus pageviews seems like quite a lot to me, although I'm not really sure/really not the guy to ask if that's actually true in either absolute or relative terms. But, but: it was a lot of fun, and I'd do the hell out of it again, whatever those numbers mean. And, and here's the silly thing about even looking at things like blog-stats, I'd do it again just as much if half or twice as many people read it. Of all the good things to have happened in my writing life over the past year, the opportunity to not just get the time of day but to actually build with the dudes linked above (and others I respect as much) might be the coolest. I can't quantify that, either, but I know it and I'm grateful for it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Twin Illing

Oh right. Because I wasn't blogging for like three months, I kind of forgot about a GQ outtake that I wanted to get up here. Thanks to Zach Harper, then, for this tweet, which -- besides making a great and hilariously trivial and totally subjective and maybe wrong point -- reminded me that I had an unpublished thought. Just languishing there, unpublished. What is this, 2002? FUCK THAT SHIT.

So yeah, the story would be that, as part of my very enjoyable stint co-blogging with The Big Homey Bethlehem Shoals at GQ's NBA Playoffs blog, my editor let me write some goofy, glossy-mag style ledes for fake profiles of NBA benchwarmers. It's an idea near and dear to my heart, since I invariably find glossy-mag profiles hilarious and bloated and kind of stunning in their instantly-dated, strangely evergreen hoariness. I was happy with the two pieces I wrote -- and the one that the terrific Sean Conboy wrote for Brian Cardinal -- even if the one I wrote for Royal Ivey somehow resulted in everyone from Oklahoma City getting really mad at me on Twitter and (as OKC'ers will do) becoming defensive and prickly in a way that resulted in contradicto-bile of the "UR an ignorant faggot" variety. Some troll-y dude with a face like a char siu pork took my joke about OKC's restaurant scene personally -- I should mention that it was a joke again, I guess? In case anyone thought I was seriously suggesting that Golden Corral is the best restaurant in a city, anywhere? -- and it got kind of out of hand. The one I wrote for Troy Murphy, which I think is maybe funnier, got no such response, naturally, because Morris County, NJ, stand up.

Anyway, I wrote a third one of these for Jason Collins (right, above, grimacing), which never ran because there was never room for it in the flow before the Hawks were eliminated. Which means that the first two paragraphs from "A Man Called Twin" have never been seen... until now. YOU ARE LIVING IN A MIRACLE, INTERNET.

I am so sorry about these capital letters. Here it is:

From "A Man Called Twin"

There is Jason Collins, and then there is Jason Collins. This is beyond all those terrible, terrible seeing-double jokes, the ones the big man has heard since he was a big kid – jokes he has heard because Jason Collins has an identical twin brother named Jarron, and because the two of them spent a lot of time on the basketball court together, being taller and more alike-looking than anyone else out there. So there is Jason Collins, and there is his actual twin – big fella, wearing street clothes on the Los Angeles Clippers' bench, looks suspiciously like Jason – whose existence probably has something to do with why Jason's teammates call him "Twin." But while the nickname makes sense, there's more to it – and more to why it makes so much sense as a description of one of the NBA's gentlest giants – than the simple, dry and factual. Which works, because there is more than one Jason Collins.

There is the one who sets the screens, plays the defense, does those big-L big-T Little Things. Which is the Jason Collins you know about, and the one you hear about. But while those are the things that have earned Jason Collins his millions, and which pay for the acres of cashmere sweaters hanging in his walk-in closet, they are… wait, the sweaters are hanging? "I'm a neat guy, I guess," Collins says. "And if you have the right type of hanger you don't get those little bumps in the shoulder-area that you can get sometimes if you leave something on a hanger too long." And now we're getting close to the other Jason Collins: the tough guy and the one who lovingly maintains those soft, two-ply sweaters. The guy who sets the bone-rattling picks and the one who will proudly tell you that he picked out all the furniture in his Buckhead home because "home is important." Twin's twin, let's call him. The other Jason Collins.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Schnatter'ed


Tonight I celebrate the one-week anniversary of my first and last Papa John's Pizza, which I dis-enjoyed in an EconoLodge in Bangor, Maine, near one of America's worst-lit airports. This week, I plan on writing something about it, either here or for The Awl. It won't just be about that. But also this pizza thing is maybe being taken a bit far and ALSO I do not take back a single thing about Papa J and his fantastical gluten-delivery discs. Because really now, this was just about exactly what I expected. Domino's without the soul. Or at least without the sauce and weird cornmeal crusties and sense that someone gave a shit. So keep your eyes peeled for that, provided I actually get around to writing it.

Here's the face it made me make. Not so much like the shrieking lipid-beasts you see high-fiving Sir Schnattz in his commercials, but then again I was in a (fucking) EconoLodge in (fucking) Bangor, and saved the receipt because I thought the experience might become tax-deductible. So different strokes for different folks. By which I mean that people who eat this pizza a lot will get strokes.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chosen Ones And Others

Last summer, in the frantic and screechy days leading up to LeBron James's peculiar, image-shredding, goofily grandiose "Decision" broadcast, I got pretty busy. There were some (Ryan Genovese-assisted) suggestions of ways to spice up the broadcast, inspired by the ultra-perplexing Dean Martin Variety Show and a puzzling over the week's wince-y phenomenology here and at Can't Stop The Bleeding (twice, actually). When James finally signed with the Heat, it was a let-down in a bunch of different ways and at a bunch of different levels, but it was also something of a relief. Not just because I'd no longer need to wade through inherently un-verifiable pseudo-scoops as part of my Daily Fix duties, although there was certainly that. Instead, something seemed settled about LeBron, who is pretty clearly the best and among the most interesting players of his generation.

It wasn't that he was a villain, although that was the narrative that (justifiably) emerged in the wake of his decision to break up with his home state in what amounted to a televised infomercial for himself. Scooby Doo cartoons and sports columns are the only place in which people "are revealed" as villains, and anyway the hero/villain thing is never not-bullshit, at least in a sports-y context. The real revelation, not so much on the evening of The Decision but during a season marked by some petty bully-boy bullshit, some pettier mean-girl bullshit, and finally by a certain hollowness -- was that LeBron was less the fun-loving if somewhat thwarted figure that he had appeared to be during his early years in Cleveland and was instead seemingly dedicated to chasing a Jordan-inf(l)ected vision of Greatness. Not greatness qua being great, although that's obviously part of it, but greatness as in vastness -- championships and memorable photos of himself after winning championships, a brand that expands and engulfs forever and ever amen, and so on. "Global icon" was a term he used for it earlier in his career, and in all its bleak, un-human and multiple capitalistic crassnesses it was apparently what he meant. It's one thing to pull against a player whose style of basketball or on-court affect or locality of employment are unappealing to you. It's another, easier, thing to wish defeat upon a player who aspires with all his being to global brand-hood, to someday being raptured directly into the NYSE. That was the disappointment, for me, with LeBron -- that a player with so beautiful a talent (and with what seemed a healthy sense of humor) aspired to become a post-human, living/breathing/sweating/pooping corporation.

It has been an orgy of revilement for LeBron since his Heat lost to the Mavericks in the NBA Finals, and while Bethlehem Shoals and I have discussed what that match-up meant to us in our GQ chats, and while everyone in the whole fucking world has discussed What LeBron's Problem Is, I apparently still had a little bit left in me on this. So I wrote something I'm pretty happy with about LeBron and His Sad Aspirations for The Awl. In it, I compare him to a Richard Serra sculpture, which is maybe not the high point of my metaphor-making career -- I'd imagine that would involve ham and either a politician or a quarterback, somehow -- but which did provide an excuse not to run a picture of LeBron with this post. So you're welcome for that, I guess?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Director's Cuts: The Last (Unpublished) Word on the Mets-iest Week Ever

What is this blog? Is it the place where I share my feelings about the state of Our Contemporary Pizza Situation with an audience of dozens? Yes, it is (and that topic should not be confused with The State of Our National Pizza Conversation). Where I type thousands of words attempting to connect two admittedly disparate jerkweeds, whose only real commonality is that I don't like them very much? That, too. But what is that? A blog, I guess -- a bloggy ol' blog, and one done by a writer who types quickly and realizes rather more slowly the distinctly bloggy folly of just banging away on random stuff. So it fits. But does it serve a purpose?

Not, like, ontologically or in some world-historical sense. Blogs don't work that way. But I've sort of wondered what exactly this blog is supposed to do for me. It's not a clean-and-easy-to-read real-time portfolio, or whatever I envisioned a year or so ago when I started it -- there is far too much Papa John Schnatter on here for that. And I haven't really followed through on the puppy vids thing as well as I should have -- that had real promise, and it pains me to know that those who read this blog have never seen Cleo with short hair. (She looks like a spazzy lamb!) But!

But, as a place where I put things that get bumped from publication at various venues and then don't really fit anywhere else, I suppose David Roth, The Writer could have some utility. I did this a couple weeks ago with a piece I wrote for New York Magazine about the death of Osama Bin Laden and a certain idea of Barack Obama, and it worked -- there wasn't anyplace else for it, and I liked the piece, and there it was. Internet in action! And I'm doing it again today, with another piece that got bumped from New York. This one's about a topic nearer-and-dearer, being as it's about the New York Mets and the ridiculous -- and ridiculously Mets-y -- week that they just had. I would've put it up on Can't Stop The Bleeding, but Gerard has covered the story really awesomely well all week, to the point where this would just be redundant. That's the problem, or a problem, with print-mag timetables. This sort of looking-back-at-the-week-that-was thing works okay when you only get a magazine once a week, in your mailbox. But in internet time, I might as well have written this whole thing on a cave wall. At any rate, same story as a few weeks ago holds here -- I'm happy to have gotten a shot at writing it, and I'm happy to be able to have a place for it to... be here, on this particular cave's wall, for study thousands of years hence? Yeah, that'll do for now. So, then, as part of this blog's new identity as a Prose Graveyard/Kill-Fee Redemption Center, I give you:

Our Uncle Fred

You've got your tragic-sense-of-life cypto-fatalists, and you've also got your grumpy masochists. But neither those groups nor the many others that combine those two ur-approaches to being a Mets fan, could actually have been all that surprised by what qualified as one of the strangest weeks in team history. At the conclusion of a week that began with Mets owner Fred Wilpon dumping on his team's best-paid players in The New Yorker and ended with hedge fund manager David Einhorn buying a minority share of the team , Mets fans find themselves back where they started, if perhaps a bit blearier and grumblier for the trip. The fatalists and masochists both have strong cases, of course. But in the end, last week's Mets-iest of weeks amounted to little more than a high-word-count analogue to the waves that periodically roll through the stands at CitiField – some unmotivated and not-unstupid noise and motion, some mild annoyance in response, and then, once the inevitable and inexplicable recedes, just another night at the ballpark.

Sure, it was startling when Wilpon admitted to Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci that his team was "bleeding cash" and cruising towards a $70 million loss on the season , or when he offered the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin an ultra-frank on-the-record assessment of stars Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran that displayed the sort of nuance and sophistication generally associated with WFAN callers who have to be asked by Mike Francesa to turn their radios down. But while Wilpon's underminer-y employee evaluations – call it his Fred from Rosyln moment – drew plenty of attention, they comprised just a few hundred words of a 10,000-plus word feature in which Toobin confirms just about everything Mets fans have ever suspected about their team's owner.

That Wilpon is a nice man who was probably too tuned-out to question the return-on-investment he received from former friend Bernie Madoff, or that he is the sort of billionaire who delights in telling you how many siblings he had to share his childhood bedroom with, is ultimately no more surprising than the fact that he regards his Flushing employees with the jaundiced peevishness of a hyperactive fantasy baseball GM. In the same way that Donald Trump's brief, bellowing presidential campaign re-revealed the short-fingered vulgarian so many keep forgetting that he is, Wilpon's WFAN-grade baseball-guy patter served as a reminder that not every great real estate fortune is the result of wide-ranging perspicacity. Some people are just luckier than others, and some people choose to be Mets fans.

And for us, the ones in the stands or listening to Keith Hernandez sigh his way through SNY broadcasts? Well, we're free to ponder whether the 43-year-old Einhorn – whose minority ownership deal likely includes right of first refusal should Wilpon ever sell the Mets – could be a finance-dude-turned-owner like Tampa's Stuart Sternberg or Boston's John Henry , a pair of comparatively hands-off types who built winning teams by hiring and trusting forward-thinking young executives. We're free to subject Wilpon to the same sort of scorn we always have, nail him for his muddled and meddlesome macro-managing or roast him for reliably displaying both thriftiness and spendthriftiness in all the wrong instances. And of course we're also free to get up and leave, or change the channel, or even see if our souls and stomachs could take being a Yankees fan. But if we haven't done that yet, it's tough to imagine one more goofy week – or one more thunderously meh, intermittently charming Mets team – changing our minds.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Order Up

Long before this humble website became the internet's formeost venue for long-form politically oriented pizza criticism, it was intended to be something of a professional (snirk) site for me. I'd link to things I wrote and talk about them and maybe if I ever got business cards printed up I would even put it on those business cards. "Here," I'd say, "go to my website and check out my work." And were someone to actually do that they would find My Work as opposed to My 1600-word Pseud-Opus on Donald Trump and Papa John Schnatter or a heartfelt essay on stuffed crust pizza and The Culture. Those things are "my work" as well, and I'm proud of them beyond reason, but they're also not necessarily the sort of thing that leads to more work. Unless and until The Journal of Rambling and Impressionistic Food Studies launches a For Kids version, they're just things on a writer's website. Which I'm cool with, honestly. But I feel the need to counterbalance them with things that are a bit more professional-ish than that. So, then: here is some of that.

I had a very busy week last week, which was satisfying and unsatisfying in the usual ways. I published a great many words, was paid a small amount for a few of them and no money at all for the rest, and spent the week oscillating between cruising my twitter and refreshing my email for the This Makes It All Worth It props and wondering why I am still writing so often for free. The answer, it turns out, was the same as it has been since I wrote this a longish time ago: I'm happiest writing the stuff I care about most, and I write that stuff best, and few of the places that run things that open-ended are willing to pay for it. (That I'm not getting paid by GQ is a different and more complicated story, but boils down to a similar thing) (And also the GQ situation relates to the other part of writing for free, which is that it allows me to get read by people who might want to pay me later on) Anyway, here's a selection of what I wrote last week. I'm not going to mention what paid and what didn't -- it was, as usual, all a lot of fun. And also I live very frugally so whatever on the money thing for the time being, I guess.

- Twitter Is The Instrument: Meet Baseball's First Tweeting, Crowdsourcing Organist, from Wired's Playbook blog. I really enjoyed this one: it's a great story, and while the piece itself isn't incandescently brilliant in its prose or content or whatever else, writing stories like this is always, always fun for me. And I like Wired, so this felt cooler for that reason.

- Yakkin' About Baseball Part IV, with David Raposa. Nothing much to add to these. They happen every two weeks and make me very happy.

- Profiles in Obscurity, for GQ's Balls Out blog. This is the NBA Playoffs blog I'm doing with Bethlehem Shoals and an increasingly astonishing list of guest-writers -- we've had Tom Scharpling and Carles from Hipster Runoff, and Lang Whitaker and a bunch of others are in the pipeline. The original role I was to have there, I think, was sort of as a chat-specific Joke Monkey, and while I've enjoyed doing that, the editor has also given me room to do some other fun stuff. Most recently, that meant the opportunity to spoof over-the-top glossy magazine profiles by writing two-graf leads for profiles of NBA end-of-benchers. I did one for Troy Murphy and one for Royal Ivey, and there are others coming this week and they were a total blast. They also proved strangely controversial -- after a great response on the day they went up (Royal Ivey even retweeted his, which is amazing), some troll-y blogger dude from Oklahoma City with 5,000-odd followers and a big red face that made him look like a smug char shiu pork roast encouraged his followers to bomb me on Twitter as an offensive anti-Oklahoma bigot because of a joke I made in the Ivey piece about Oklahoma City's restaurant scene. That is, for a joke in a joke piece that was clearly labeled as such. So for a day I had a bunch of Okies calling me a moron and a faggot and so forth on Twitter. Being from New Jersey, I know how it feels to have someone make fun of your home state with no actual knowledge of the place. (Alternately, people who have only seen the Turnpike shred New Jersey for its ugliness, which is kind of like making fun of someone's face based upon a glimpse of that person's colonoscopy) That said, whatever sympathy I felt for these dudes dissipated fairly quickly and I wound up just retweeting the most offensive slag tweets and thanking my lucky stars that there was no such thing as a Twitter when I was young. Because, man, neither 16-year-olds nor (apparently) your more thin-skinned Oklahoma adults are ready for that sort of connectivity.

- And one last one, from this week, is this piece for the very great baseball blog Pitchers and Poets, in which I ruminate on Rico Brogna's Mets tenure -- and, more to the point, on my parents' cluttered home and my own dusty memory attic -- as part of their terrific '90s First Baseman Week. (Paul Sorrento had already been taken, sadly)

And that's that for now. Look how professional of me! I'll see you sometime later this week with 1300 words on McDonald's' "Mr. Snuggles" Sweet Tea/Diabetes Cooler commercial, I'm sure.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Unpublished Thought, Bin Laden Edition

I realize that I'm in a different position from most people as regards writing things. Where many writers struggle to come up with perfect or even serviceable sentences, I routinely drop jewelz even on Twitter (feel 'em), and am often moved nearly to tears by the spare elegance with which I do things like order tacos. Where others agonize over whether or not to write about thunderously unimportant things that sort of irk them, I write about those things and then I write about those things again. Is it a blessing? Is it a curse? It's a blessing. But I am aware that it sets me apart from most people. So if you were going to write me an email or something about that, it's cool, I know. But thanks, I really appreciate your concern.

So you can imagine my surprise when writing-related things don't go my way. And I'm going to drop the grandiosity, here, and get briefly and hopefully not too unbearably into emo-serious mode. But I'm not actually even a little bit surprised when writing-related things don't go my way. I've had a good last half-year, in terms of getting work and developing some self-esteem ("Barf, dude" -- You) and, over the last couple months, actually making more money than I need to spend on things like water and shelter and tinned meat/fish, but I've had way more full years of freelance jitteriness and anxiety and disappointment and what was at best the most tenuous of solvency. Which is not that cool, but which is also the career I chose and furthermore was never going to leave me out on the street. It makes it that much sweeter that venues I respect are giving me space in which to BS about basketball with semi-idols of mine (or about football, or about baseball, with people I admire like crazy) and write at length about things I care about in ways I never would have dreamed were allowable, let alone available to me. I'm not getting paid for those things, but they've made other good, paying stuff possible and they have brightened my life and it's good. But for all the confidence I have in my ability to write sentences -- the first graf was a joke, but I can find myself Feeling Myself just as easily as anyone who does this -- I don't really have any idea how this business works, or how to work in it all that effectively. What I know about that is what I've managed to teach myself, and I can imagine many better teachers.

So when I meet composed and well-dressed adult-seeming people who blog professionally, or even when I so much as ponder what it would be like to make a good living writing for a living, my internal compass sort of spins. It's not just that it doesn't compute, although honestly it does not compute. It's that it's easier for me to remember not getting emails back on pitches or just generally getting the high-hat in a dozen different ways from editors than it is for me to indulge in even the humblest fantasy of mundane, baseline success and solvency from this stuff. I don't know how many more good things will need to happen before I stop thinking this way, but my guess would be a few dozen hundred.

And so there's a sort of bleak satisfaction -- worst suspicions confirmed and all that -- in getting a story spiked. But at the risk of patting myself on the ass for doing what I am supposed to do as a grown-up, I think I might be getting better at dealing with this. That's good, because there isn't really an alternative to that, but it's also good because I'm angry and sad less often and less intensely and less self-destructively; skipping directly to get-drunk mode has never worked for me, and I've tried it a lot. The story below, on Osama Bin Laden's killing and Barack Obama's presidency, was assigned to me by my editor at New York Magazine on Wednesday, written Wednesday night and Thursday morning and, on Friday, bumped from the upcoming issue. Which sucks, because this was something I'd been wanting to write about here or somewhere else -- I still may write more on it if I can get my brain together on it -- and which I was excited to get to write about for a magazine I respect so much. But which is also very much a thing that happens to stories, and which my editor apologized for and was very forthright and cool about, and which I'm going to get a kill-fee for. And I can run it here without anyone getting mad.

All of which is good, and all of which pales for me next to the fact that, while I was obviously disappointed, I actually feel kind of okay about it. I know it's a thing that happens, but I've always known that. I think the difference, and the part that makes me happiest, is that I've gotten better at realizing that it doesn't happen only to me, and that it's not the only thing that could happen to me. And anyway, I still think the story is pretty good, which helps with the dealing-with-it. And those are the feelings that I have today! I hope you have enjoyed them! Here's the story:

Big Things

Barack Obama is, when it comes down to it, a good and competent man with an impossible job, whose noble intentions have been hamstrung by a broken Congress. Or, if you prefer, Barack Obama is a fearless and cynical revolutionary intent on using the considerable powers of his office to do whatever he wants, regardless of popular support or, indeed, any basis in law. There's plenty of room between the narratives favored by the president's supporters and detractors – and everyone on both sides at least agrees that congress is currently a gilded playpen full of nightmare babies – and the truth of Obama's not-as-transformative-as-advertised presidency probably lies in that in-between space. But with the assassination – "the capture and death," in the President's opaque and queasily parse-able phrasing – of Osama Bin Laden, Obama managed to confirm and confound both narratives at once. That's a strange and impressive feat, and one that might also be the most representative moment of Obama's strange, fraught presidency.

To be clear, that ambivalence has nothing to do with the mission – essentially everyone agrees that the world is a manifestly better place without Osama Bin Laden in it. And the deeper ambiguities of the assassination have barely entered the mainstream discourse, which has thus far consisted of "U-S-A" chants, politicians on both sides using the success to justify previous policy positions , and a series of Drudge-ready headlines for miniature stories – "Palin Says Pics Or GTFO ," "Bush Wants More Credit ," "Majority in U.S. Say Bin Laden In Hell. " Well, that and a persnickety squeakiness from the right that Salon's Alex Pareene summarized as: "Actions are not enough! We need words ." The broader significance of killing Bin Laden isn't simple, but the thing itself can be understood as simply as you please.

One of the prime differences between Obama and his predecessor in the White House, though, is that we assume that this President does not see things simply. Whether you see him as the left's good-hearted nuance-jockey or the right's cunning collectivist conspirator, Obama routinely gets credit (and blame) for his ability to see both sides and work towards an outcome somewhere in the middle. This pragmatic approach long ago tempered the "we do big things" optimism of his 2011 State of the Union address into "we generally do the best things possible," and it hasn't always delivered inspiring outcomes – major legislation on health care and financial reform came off as vexingly over-compromised to the president's supporters, and terrifying strides towards socialism to his detractors. In killing Bin Laden, though, the President has done one of those "big things" with an undeniable decisiveness – there's nothing half-a-loaf about ordering a very public political assassination in another sovereign nation, and there's no negotiating with a Navy SEAL.

But while the successful mission to kill Bin Laden revealed Obama as both as competent and as ruthless as his supporters and detractors respectively imagined, it also raises a bleaker truth about the current state of 2008's hope-and-change optimism. It shouldn't be surprising that the greatest catharsis Obama has given the nation since his inaugural came through violence instead of by, say, reforming college loans. But there's something jarring about the relative ease with which Obama has dropped bombs in Libya and dispatched commandos to Pakistan after punting on numerous campaign promises and passing heavily compromised versions of others. "Tonight," Obama said in announcing Bin Laden's death, "we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to ." The confounding part, for Obama and for us, is how both true and untrue that statement is – how much simpler it seemed to order a secret kill-mission on the territory of a putative ally than it was to secure a few extra weeks of unemployment insurance in the middle of a prolonged economic downturn. Amid the relief at Bin Laden's demise, it's hard to shake the sense that this isn't the sort of change anyone, on either side, expected from this President.