By itself, this doesn’t make any sense: a “contemporary artist” is just an artist working now, and how could I do anything else?
Fortunately, the Book provides a few “ideas” for its readers, which give one an idea of the sort of thing it means.
A two-meter test tube filled with semen, containing billions and billions of spermatozoa. A canvas filled with nothing but the artist’s signature, over and over. “A feminist video installation featuring nuns discussing their sexual fantasies about Jesus” — although that’s been done, after a fashion. Similarly, a performance piece involving a monk who has taken a vow of chastity lying in bed with two female nymphomaniacs — which has been done, ad nauseum.
The best one, though, is a supercomputer that connects two phone numbers at random, and records the conversation: this “the best” because these things already exist, and we’ve been down this road before. It’s a fun road, so I did it again.
There was — of course! — a better conversation before this one, but it was lost. Alas! And I lied in this one, which I try to avoid doing. It has its moments, though, despite not being nearly as good as the one before, in which I turned the conversation to hedgehogs after ten minutes of nonsense.
Fucking hedgehogs — they make everything funnier.
“Find out by writing down everything you say. Highlight your wittiest phrases.”
Even my wittiest off-the-cuff moments are not that witty — and on those rare occasions when I stun my audience (myself included) with a flash of rhetorical, punning brilliance, merely writing down the one thing I said would not do the moment justice.
Context is important: no matter how funny the punchline, it’s not funny at all without the setup, and impromptu punchlines — bons mots — are the hardest to recreate, because nobody’s really paying enough attention to the setup to reconstruct it after the fact.
Most wit doesn’t keep. Some of it does, of course — none of mine, but that of wittier folks — but what wit does keep is kept in writing, and wit that is written down is embellished and refined in the writing. Something like that.
The small amount of conversational wittiness I do have is in my taciturnity — because brevity is the soul of wit — and so I’m going to spend the rest of this post recounting the parts of my conversations today when I could have said something, and didn’t:
Let me tell you what I was like as a child: I was a foul-mouthed, bad-tempered, and misanthropic crotchety old man who read too much and played with Legos. That is: exactly the same as I am now.
Done and done: time for a drink.
No, not really. Not really done, I mean — it’s always time for a drink.
One of the other things I did as a child was watch movies: I probably saw the original Star Wars trilogy several hundred times before I was ten (and I’m on the way to seeing it a hundred more times before my son is ten). The difference is that suspension of disbelief used to be par for the course for me when watching a movie. If, as a child, I ever stopped to think how absolutely ridiculous it was for a giant worm — with teeth! — to be living in an asteroid, let alone how absurd it was for there to have been enough of an atmosphere in its intestine for Han and Leia to walk around in street clothes outside the Millennium Falcon —— I say, if such things occurred to me, I ignored them and went back to enjoying the movie. I tried to return to that — that simple, unquestioning, naive engagement with a film — as today’s task.
I went to see Cars 2.
You need to understand that I love Pixar’s movies, all of them — this could be a very long digression, but I’ll just say that I can’t watch the last twenty minutes of Toy Story 3 without someone chopping up onions — also I should say that I have crush on Mrs. Incredible — and Flik’s “I know it’s a rock! I’ve spent a lot of time around rocks!” line is funnier than it should be — you know, if I only had Pixar’s filmography and the films of the Coen brothers to watch, I’d be a happy man ——— anyway, I was saying that I love all of Pixar’s movies, except Cars.
Don’t get me wrong: Cars is better than a lot of other animated films, most of which are nothing more than dog shit run through a projector, but it’s still just okay in terms of the rest of Pixar’s canon. I also cannot — absolutely can not — suspend disbelief while watching it. The reasons why are numerous, but they boil down to cars don’t have opposable thumbs, for fuck’s sake.
And since sequels are usually worse than the films that spawned them — with notable exceptions, of course — I was anticipating having trouble with this task, especially since I’d been informed that Cars 2 was running 34% at Rotten Tomatoes.
I was pleasantly surprised. No, scratch that: I loved it. It’s visually stunning, which we expect — the fly-over shots of London were breathtakingly realistic, though — and Michael Caine was phenomenal, but what sold me was the fact that it’s a spoof of spy movies (just like Burn After Reading, another movie that I love but nobody else does). I’m sure it won’t hold up to repeated viewings, but it might surprise me, and it’ll definitely always be better than the first one — but I had fun, at a movie, which hasn’t happened since…
…well, since last November — since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I.
No, wait, I saw Super 8 last week, and it was fantastic. Fun, even, despite the fact that I wasn’t trying not to think about it.
I’m not sure where that leaves us. I guess movies are just more fun the first time, on a giant screen, and so loud we should all be wearing earplugs?
Probably so, yes. I guess I should go to the movies more often.
“I know you are snooping in my Book, you have had guilt written all over your stupid face for the last few weeks, this is what I think of you if you really must know…”
So, let’s get this over with. You’re all awesome, except those of you who aren’t. Your hair looked good today, some of you, but there are a few of you who shouldn’t leave the house without a hat on. Also, why are you wearing those shoes? They make your feet look uglier than they already are. A few of you ate a healthy lunch – good job you – but most of you are getting a look of disapproval. Conversely, it hurts my feelings when you disapprove of the fact that I put bourbon in my morning coffee; don’t judge me. Lastly: that thing you were thinking about getting for that person for that occasion? Bad idea. Wait, no: worst idea. Beyond tactless.
That’s all I’ve got, in that I have nothing left to say to any of you. Come back tomorrow, when I’ll be a stuffed bear missing its ears.
Shit, this is going to be easy.
I have two parents, a mother and a father. My parents have siblings; these are my aunts and uncles. Some of them have children; these are my first cousins. There are other degrees of cousin, but I don’t understand how they work.
My parents also each have parents of their own; these are my grandparents. There are four of them. My grandparents all had parents as well; these are my great-grandparents. There are eight of them. They had parents as well – my great-great-grandparents, of which there are sixteen – the pattern is fairly regular.
Some of these grandparents and great-grandparents and whatnots had other children; I’m not sure what to call those. The same goes for any siblings any of these people might have had. Somehow I’m related to them, I guess, but it all gets tangled and messy very quickly, and I never see any of these people anyway, so I’m not going to bother figuring it out.
The tree is not a good metaphor for thinking about family relationships: it only works, really, if you ruthlessly ignore everyone who isn’t parent or child. No siblings, anywhere, because then the tree gets really out of hand – it ceases to be a tree, and becomes a great big tangled web of how-the-fuck-are-we-supposed-to-read-this-thing?, and nobody wants that.
Even focusing on direct descent, things get out of hand pretty quickly: two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, 16 great-greats, 32 3-greats, 64 4-greats, 128 5-greats, 256 6-greats – and pretty soon you’re related to everyone.
For my part, I can count Oliver Goldsmith, Francis Bacon (the really dead one, not the recently-dead one), Queen Elizabeth I, Voltaire, and King Æthelred the Unready among my ancestors. Also the dude who posed as Jesus in this painting – and the dude who painted it. And Jesus.
Seriously, the famous dead people? I’m related to all of them. All the good ones, anyway – if somebody did something questionable, I’m not related to that person. You can figure out on your own which are which.
The results of this experiment were, as I think we all expected, wildly inconclusive.
Yesterday was a more-or-less neutral day, luck-wise. Sure, there were some minor inconveniences early on — I was lying about the hat, though, by the way — but not nearly enough to count as bad luck. It was a day: a long day, a day in which I got some work done, but not all the work, a day in which I drank more coffee than is probably good for me, and didn’t sleep enough – and so on.
I managed to get out of bed on my left foot this morning, because I stayed last night at Lorna’s cousin Jared’s house – Jared very graciously lets me drink his alcohol and eat his food and sleep in his guest room the nights I have class until later than people should have class – and the bed is positioned in the room in such a way that one has to get out left-foot-first.
Today has been not that different from yesterday. It’s had good moments – like having fried egg and avocado sandwiches for (late) dinner with my wife – and it’s had the tedium of commuting and traffic, and there has been working and not getting everything done and there will be not-getting-enough-sleep again tonight. It’s raining, and it was overcast and cool today, which has been nice.
Nothing’s happened, though, that I would consider lucky or unlucky. I didn’t find money. I didn’t break my fingers in a freak stapling accident. A bottle of bourbon did not spontaneously appear in my office. My car was where I left it, with all its windows intact. I made it home safely. Et cetera.
I didn’t expect anything lucky to happen, of course, because I get out of bed on one foot or the other every fucking day, and lucky or unlucky things don’t happen every day. If they did, they would cease to be lucky, wouldn’t they?
Except Lucky Charms, I guess. They’re always lucky. And now I want a bowl of them, dammit. I’m going to crave them for weeks until I finally break down and buy a box, and the first few bites are going to be awesome, but by the end of the first bowl I’m going to regret buying them, but I’m going to have to finish the box, because I can’t let them go to waste – and it’ll take four or five years for me to forget that they’re not worth it, and then I’ll buy another box, and do it all over again.
I don’t often find myself in the sorts of places from which one can harvest sugar packets – fast-food joints, diners, Starbuckses, sugar factories.
I used to work for Starbucks — nearly eight years of green aprons and unnecessarily complicated beverage orders. In eight years of employment anywhere you’re going to encounter some strange shit — sometimes literally, like when I found a turd on a piece of newspaper on the floor of the bathroom, right next to the toilet.
Yeah, that really happened.
At one of the stores I worked at in San Antonio, we had a semi-regular customer who did exactly what the Book instructs me to do today: he harvested the sugar we so foolishly left out and unguarded.
It was funny the first few times, because the dude was loaded – gold Rolex, Jaguar, ridiculous Magnum, PI haircut, one of those black AmEx cards – he was a plastic surgeon or something like that. All that, and he stole sugar – just shoved handfuls of it into his pockets as he was dumping packets of splenda into his nonfat, sugar-free whatever-the-fuck-it-was.
Eventually, though, it stopped being funny – he carried off a case’s-worth of sugar packets in the space of a month, and our manager decided it was time to say something. Which meant, of course, that it was time for me to say something, because, apparently, I was the asshole who was mean to customers even on my good days. (I once made a woman cry because she wanted pound cake at 9:30 in the morning – true story.)
So, one morning, dude walks in, orders his drink, pays for his drink, waits for his drink, picks up his drink, carries his drink to the condiment bar – and yes, I know how boring that sentence was to read; try going through that hundreds of times a day with people who all end up looking the same, for years on end, and that’s foodservice! – and I walk up to him as he’s making his drink undrinkable with packet after packet of artificial sweeteners.
“Look,” I says to him, “you’re going to have to stop walking out of here each morning with handfuls of sugar packets in your pockets. You made off with an entire case last month.”
Dude doesn’t say anything, just looks at me with this inscrutable, steely stare. Then – never breaking eye contact with me – he sticks his right hand into his pants, rubs it all over his junk, pulls it out, and then starts grabbing shit off the condiment bar – sugar, napkins, straws, stir sticks, napkins – and throwing it on the floor, all with his penis-hand. Everyone in the store has stopped in the middle of whatever they were doing and is staring at this bizarre tantrum.
Finally, he grabs a handful of sugar packets and stuffs them into his pants – not into his pockets, but in with his junk – picks up his drink, and leaves. Weirdest, most uncomfortable morning I ever had at work, but the dude never came back. I heard he started frequenting a store in a different part of town, but never bothered to verify it.
Honestly, I was afraid he’d try to rub his penis-hands on me if he saw me again.