Monday, June 29, 2009

Pipe down you rowdy liberal!: A response to Transformers

I found myself offended recently. This, needless to say, shocked me. Aren't I usually the one doing the offending (or irritating, depending on who one talks to)? Look, I am all for trying not to say anything TOO offensive, but at the end of the day, my tolerance for offensive material is astronomically high. Why else would my favorite shows on television be "It's Always Sunny in Philidelphia", "Californication", "South Park", and "Real Time with Bill Maher"? As far as I am concerned, I was created by the seeds for trees that sprout jokes about retarded infants, abortion doctors, and 9/11, planted by a cantankerous old man with no teeth who is a self-proclaimed "Aristocrat" (see this movie, for Christ's SAKE, if you have not already).

But ANYWAY, I was offended recently. And, as per usual it was by a movie. And, as per usual, it was a summer blockbuster that has made a veritable Noah's Ark-full of cash. And, AS PER USUAL, it was a Michael Bay picture. Yes, I am talking about Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Now here's the kicker: I wasn't offended by how awful a film it was (and it was THAT, no contest). I didn't expect it to be great, let alone passable. Hell, I even thought it looked pretty good (Bay's films, for all of their horrible characteristics, usually do). But to get to the point, there were two transformers, members of the Autobot side of this epic robot war that wreaks havoc on Shia LeBouf's relationship with Megan Fox. These two transformers were, despite being robots, very obviously black. Or "urban" if you will (since in some limousine-liberal circles, "black" is apparently a dirty word). These two characters, one complete with a gold tooth, quite literally shucked and jived their way through the movie. Now I initially felt that this wasn't too offensive; it was typical studio marketing bullshit. In other words, they throw in a little "urban style" to the predominantly Anglo cast to tow in more minority ticket-buyers (as if minorities or ANYONE would actually pay mind to the race of the characters...unless they were Spike Lee). These were clearly dumb, black-based robot characters placed in the film for comedy relief; this was nothing new. But there was a line about mid-way through the film that burrowed its way through my titanium-strength Shell of Offensive Content Tolerance. Shia LeBouf has alien-language inscriptions running through his head because he was exposed to a special artifact that--okay it doesn't matter. He shows these two shucking and jiving robots the inscriptions and asks if they can read it and one of them says, I shit you not, "Man, we don't read! Who you think we are?!" Or something to that effect. My mouth was agape.

I let this stew for a while after the film was over. I told people about it, had some laughs, but after a little while, it really got to me. Now I am all for free speech. Write what you want in your film; that's fine. But do not expect me (or anyone else with moderate intelligence) to not notice something like this and say something. But that is not what this is about. This is about the misinterpretation of generational theory and casual nihilism of executives handling projects worth millions of dollars.

You see, my generation (that is, Generation Y, those born after 1978 or so), is widely considered to be essentially "post-racist." This is not to say that we are blind to racism (that bullshit conceit of "color-blindedness"), the mistaken idea that allowed this kind of so-called humor to still be around. We are not blind to racism. I feel that we are very much aware of the racism that swirls around us daily, but we have no interest in discussing it and writing speeches about it as if it is 1965. The key difference between my generation and my parent's generation, when it comes to this, is (I'd like to think) that my generation accepts that some things don't change (in this case, prejudices) and most likely will not change in our lifetime and antiquated conceits such as affirmative action end up doing more harm than good in maintaining the divide between the so-called "races" of humanity. I'd also like to think that the best way to deal with these prejudices is just make efforts to ignore them; to realize that at the end of the day they don't matter. The more we dismiss them as unimportant, the more likely it will be that they fade away over time. If this sounds avoidant, allow me to reiterate: one cannot avoid prejudice. It is a part of human nature, as we have a tendency to categorize essentially everything, which of course leads to generalizations at the unconscious level. It is how our brain works. It is not right nor is it wrong. It simply is. This is not to say fighting against prejudicial TREATMENT and INJUSTICE is futile; that is not. But fighting against prejudice itself is fundamentally futile. ANYWAY the question, no doubt, must now be asked is this: what the fuck does this have to do with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen?

As I said, there was what can only be described as either a.) a misinterpretation of that aforementioned generational theory, or b.) the filmmakers and studio execs simply not giving a shit. To be honest, it is probably a little from column A and a little from column B. Generational theory is essentially an idea created by marketing departments. They look at surveys and "studies" and develop these theories to describe generations' ideals, behaviors, and beliefs in a very general form. What happened with these characters is, to at least somewhat of an extent, the people in the marketing department at Dreamworks figured that they needed to net as many people into the audience as possible so there was a push for the "urbanization" of these characters and since they most likely study generational theory at an almost microscopic resolution, they figured that they could be as cheerfully offensive as possible since my generation, the primary audience for this film, is (as they saw it) "color-blind."

Now I don't necessarily think there was that much thought put into this and there is, of course, no way I can prove (nor disprove) this theory. At the end of the day, studios do not care about such matters. And they really don't have any need to; this business is about making money, especially when it comes to films like this. A more liberal-minded critic of this film's offensive and racist qualities would of course claim that much more is "at stake" (I really hate this term; I was essentially drowned with it while minoring in Cultual Studies) because this film is a blockbuster and will receive a massive audience turnout. But think about this for a moment: more than 3/4 of the audience probably will not notice it. The aforementioned line lasted literally about 2 seconds and nothing was made of it afterward. The key demographic for this film is not post-college grads who over-analyze every piece of culture they are exposed to and write silly blogs about it in order to intellectually masturbate themselves into oblivion.

Nothing is at stake here. I'm not going to pretend that this is more important than it actually is, as nothing will come of this. Remember: this began as a self-centered observation about how I was shocked that I was actually offended by something, and that is exactly what it is. But I never said I didn't like to blow things out of proportion with overly-wordy rants before bringing them back down again to their bare elements.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The King is dead. Long live the King.

So Michael Jackson, the crowned King of Pop, is dead. And I laughed at the news. Loudly I might add. Is this wrong? Is it in poor taste? Sure, definitely. I am the last person who is going to dispute that. But nevertheless, it was an honest reaction. But it got me thinking about the mortality of the celebrity, the concept as well as the literal deaths.

[I want to note that this DOES suck for the family; I will not pretend that that does not matter generally speaking. But considering no one I know who reads this KNOWS the family, it is an irrelevant aside.]

Now why did I laugh when I heard old King MJ was found dead in his home? Well firstly because his last album was called "Invincible." (If you're easily offended, I hope irony is lost on you). But also because, as much as I hate to admit the King of Pop was this, he had degraded into nothing more than a punchline. Lewis Black said so himself and that was in a comedy special recorded four years ago. But he nailed it. "Michael Jackson. That's all you have to say." True, sir, very true. I mean, how could one NOT consider Jackson a punchline, especially at that point? I worked with a guy named Mike Jackson who seethed with an inner volcano of rage whenever somebody, merely in jest mind you, referred to him as Michael Jackson. But seriously, Jackson became SUCH a punchline that making jokes about him GOT OLD. They felt dated, for Christ's sake. So let's now jump in the Way-Back Machine and go to the year 1982 when Thriller was released (awesome album). Jackson WAS the King of Pop, through and through. His albums went Platinum (multiple times, no less). He was loved by all (and didn't look so fucked up). I think the explanation is becoming more obvious. As the years ticked by, it became more and more apparent that despite all of his successes and all of his brilliance in creating pop music that was very danceable and original, that this so called royalty of music was quite possibly the most insane creature ever to be dubbed a celebrity (minus the cannibal in Japan). As his skin got paler, as his nose got less and less existent, and as the scandals became increasingly damaging to his already plummeting career, it became quite clear that Jackson had lost "it" and entered the realm of Punch-Line Land, be it for his supposed child molestation or for his aforementioned non-existent nose.

Now look at that description (obviously a bit truncated). But the point I'm trying to make is that at the end of the day, that is one of the most tragic stories of pop culture. It is a complete and utter tragedy. If it were made into a movie (and at this point it is almost assured), there could literally be no happy ending. It is what I like to call "pure tragedy." This is Romeo and Juliet-level tragedy. So tragic that, as I am trying to explain, it is funny. Pure tragedy is the most over-the-top style of storytelling that there is and in our increasingly cynical culture, it is literally impossible for anyone keyed into the cynicism (who? ME?) NOT to hear about Michael Joseph Jackson's death and not let out a yelp or two of laughter.

Or maybe it's as simple as me wanting to shock people. Or perhaps me reacting to the discomfort I feel about death. I don't think I will ever know.

When icons die, we react as a culture. Understandable, no? But what is so fascinating to me is that no one can honestly say they don't care when a celebrity dies (unless they literally did not know who that person was). But the news today was quite enormous: it was two 1970s icons died today actually, Farrah Fawcett being the other. But as I was saying, when a celebrity dies that we know even somewhat of, let alone love and appreciate or hate viciously, we react in one of two categories. Category A, as I will call it, is populated by people who express genuine grief (e.g. sobbing uncontrollably, reminiscing nostalgically for the first time they were exposed to whatever it was that celebrity did that made them an icon [I cannot wait for Paris Hilton to kick the bucket]). And Category B, as I will call it, is populated by people who express scorn, ridicule, and laughter (e.g. making off-color jokes in the 72 hours following said death, explaining why the celebrity was a piece of shit for whatever reason, or writing some blog related to it). It is important to note that it is always people from Category B that tend to be the kind of folks that explain (at length) why they don't care that said celebrity is dead. People have reactions to things and need to man up to them is one of my theses in life. But I don't want this rant to be too general here, so let's move on.

To finish this up on a less offensive note, I will just say this: in defense of Category B people like myself, I need to say that none of us really knew him. So there is no use getting incredibly upset over his death. As I said, it is indeed tragic. But what did people love so much about him anyway? His personality? His friendliness with children (read either way)? Of course not. People loved the music. It is not as if he was making anymore music, so not much was lost in that respect. And last time I checked, the great music he made will always be there to listen to and love (if he is your cup of tea). That is really what matters in the end and when it comes to celebrity death, I think we really lose sight of what actually matters and why it actually impacts us at all. Wouldn't expect it to be any other way though, considering where we live.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why oh why: A response to Twilight (and return to ranting)

"Why do I do this to myself?" I find myself asking repeatedly. Be it due to an association with a member of the fairer sex, use of a dangerous yet fun recreational drug, or a trip to White Castle, I tend to ask this every so often. But never has the need to make this query to myself been so apparent as it was last night at 2 AM, as it seemed many of you who may read this already noticed. About 30 minutes before posting my agonized status update, I had concluded watching quite possibly one of the worst films I've seen since Pearl Harbor or Little Miss Shit-stain (and if you know me, you know that that is quite a statement), also known as Twilight, the first in a series of most likely oh-so-horrible films based off a series of oh-so-horrible books.

Never mind the fact that it is a disturbing metaphor for the "benefits" of abstinence written by some crazy Mormon (I could not make this up). It's horrifying. It is absolutely horrifying how bad this movie is. From its insufferable and neverending moments where the unrepentantly smoking Kristen Stewart stares into the eyes of the admittedly very handsome Robert Pattinson with a seriousness and longing, to the sparkles that appear when the vampires stand in direct sunlight (dear GOD), to the incredibly awkward ending that is supposed to pass off as "sexy", I could feel portions of my brain temporarily fuse together and atrophy. Thankfully it was over in less than two hours. But those two hours I will never have back. With this in mind and the film's quality sinking in, I departed the auspices of my friend Grant's house and returned home. Upon my return I began asking the eternal aforementioned question: why did I do that to myself?

Now I did not think it was going to be a good movie. I didn't even think it was going to warrant that ever-present "guilty pleasure" label (though I've been finding myself recently distancing myself from that term since I see it as basically dishonest to what your tastes are). But I guess I thought I was going to be entertained somewhat. I'm not sure. As I said before, the principle stars are very good looking and while many would not like to admit it, at the end of the day, we watch a lot of movies simply because the people in them look good. But that still was not enough, since a part of me knew I was probably going to regret the forthcoming two hours. Upon reflection I realize that I wanted to simply understand the hype and buzz.

As many people know, the Twilight Saga, as it is known, is huge. It is, for lack of a better comparison, the next Harry Potter. It has always disturbed me due to its very archaic metaphorical message, but I wasn't (and still am not) going to go on some tirade against it for that alone, especially without exposing myself to it. I picked up the Twilight book on my last visit to the Barnes and Noble at the Mall of America and read the first paragraph. I promptly dropped the book on the floor and walked away. The movie was released in November of last year (why this was released then and the The Road was pushed back a year is beyond my comprehension) and made a killing at the box office ($35.7 million opening day here in the US). South Park semi-recently did a spoof episode on it (which was one of the funnier episodes of last season). Half the people I worked with saw it. Since the reading material ideal for my former job was gossip magazines like Us Weekly and People, I would see references to the movie and its stars for many months following its release. There were sprinklings of references throughout pop culture for the last few months and in the last few weeks, a trailer for the follow-up coming this fall was released, and it basically all came to a head in the form of my masochistic curiosity last night when I had the opportunity to view it for free. I wanted to understand what the big deal was.

Now I think I somewhat get it, at least what the appeal of the characters are. They're a lot like comic book superheroes (aside from the super-powers) in the sense that they embody what the creators would want out of themselves if they could overcome their shortcomings (example: the author Stephanie Meyer looks like Jabba the Hutt, so she made her protagonist beautiful...okay that was just a lame jab, but seriously...). Who wishes they could go back to high school and date the hottest, most untouchable guy or girl and be the most envied individual around? I can guarantee you that that is why many people who still ARE in high school love this story: because they want to be part of this fantasy.

Now this isn't to say WHY it's bad. I just didn't like it. Wait, scratch that. I just HATED it. And to be honest, there ARE people who like, nay, love this movie and, well, they're wrong. Their taste is bad. I know that is arrogant (who, me? arrogant? no...), but it really is that horrid. But anyway, I should admit here that I lied. I thought about all of this, about why people loved it and how I wanted to understand why, and I ultimately realized that while that was one reason to watch it (to understand the buzz), I think that I just wanted to be able to say that I hated this movie. I knew full well what I was getting myself into, at least at a subconscious level. I wanted to have license to bitch, in other words. And I wanted to be part of the buzz. Who likes feeling left out of the loop? I sure as hell don't and I think that might be the ultimate answer to my self-directed question. I don't really understand masochism, but I'm thinking that at some level, maybe a cultural one, I am a masochist. Why else would I want to be in on something that I know is going to make me devote a good twenty minutes to writing a blog about it?

Another tale about a little shadow

Out of Focus

Somewhere in the 4 AM fog that hung over the city, a young man stumbled out of the loft space where he had been partying with friends for the last six and a half hours. The bass of electronic music pulsated behind him, pounding into the back of his head like dull strikes from a mallet. The drugs and alcohol had long since worn off and he realized how long he’d been awake. He wasn’t sure why he felt the need to stay awake and partying over the course of most days after he graduated from college, but he told his friends and acquaintances that he was celebrating and he smiled when he said it but his eyes expressed an unnamable feeling burrowed in deep. As he walked down the street that early morning, inhaling on a Parliament, he felt as if he was deflating, slowly but inexorably. Thoughts from over the course of the last six years of his life floated in and out of his mind until he reached the underpass of a westbound highway where he stopped, staring at a dead bird that lay directly in front him in the middle of the sidewalk. He stared at it for several beats before he realized he was crying.

The minute I arrive at the party across campus after getting dropped off by my roommate, I am greeted by an acquaintance from the political science class I took three years ago (that I attended two lectures of throughout the course of the semester) screaming with surprise at my presence, holy shit, man! How’s it going? I respond in kind, shaking his hand, patting his arm, smiling, telling him it was great to see him; the usual pleasantries. We converse for a few minutes before he runs off to go to the bathroom or something and it hits me that I don’t even remember his name, though I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
The party is packed by this time with about eighty people, and the music is thumping and booming out of large, waist-height speakers in the main living area, some guy I vaguely know DJing behind them, a sea of people, mostly drunk and coked up/rolling on ecstasy, dancing amongst themselves. I join them for a while when I see a couple of my friends up near the front, but I’m just not really feeling it right now and I’m not sure why, so I go outside to smoke. I end up conversing with some guys a bit younger than me who are friends with my cousins. I marvel at the coincidence before returning indoors and rejoin the party, taking the first PBR offered to me from one of the guys who lives there. This night isn’t ending anytime soon, I think to myself, now smiling as I take a couple gulps.

I pass out at about 3 AM after getting a ride home from one of my friends that I saw and hung out with at the party, who was probably too drunk to drive, but I get home safe anyway, and I dream about the world ending. I’m standing on the edge of a river on a beach of white sand on the western side and I’m standing with a group of my friends and my father, staring at the water which seems to be rising. The sky is dark and overcast, the clouds blotting out the faint traces of the sun and eventually the clouds turn black, the wind picks up, and all of my friends are shouting at me, running away. I turn and look at my father who isn’t saying anything, just looking out over the water as it rises rapidly toward us. I shout at him, using his first name for some reason, and he doesn’t respond right away, but he eventually turns and looks at me, giving a faint smile before I automatically turn and begin to sprint up the hill back to the parkway above us, the dark churning waters of the river biting at my heels, and I’m not letting myself look back.

The days churn on with me waking at 11 AM or later, never feeling truly relaxed. The weather, for some reason, remains gray, wet, and cloudy without ever actually raining. Usually, I wake up and eat a bowl of Grape Nuts before I trudge into the living room and plunk down on the semi-broken sofa and play video games. My roommates are scarce most of the time, one of them usually hanging out with her boyfriend, my other one busy with summer school and work. I get a phone call from any number of friends by early evening, notifying me of a party or a bar-going experience which I readily give the affirmative to. This seems to be my life and I never question its value.

Mid-way through June on an eventless Thursday morning, I wake up quite early, despite having been out at a bar where some DJ I knew was performing and a following after-party downtown until 5 AM. I’m resting the back of my right hand on my forehead, blinking the sleep out of my eyes, staring into my white ceiling and crack right above my head for about a minute after waking when I get a phone call from my father. The last time I’d heard from him, he had set up a job interview for me the week after graduation and notified me via a hastily worded email ending with the words, you’re welcome. I didn’t bother going. But besides that, I hadn’t seen him or heard from him in quite a while, so I ask:
How long has it been? It feels like at least a year.
No, no I think it’s been since your winter break. Christmas?
Yeah, I think it was Christmas. Christmas Eve. We had dinner.
Oh yeah.
Well. That’s why I called actually.
Yeah, I thought we should get dinner again. Since you’ve graduated.
Yeah I did.
Did you go to commencement?
Yeah it wasn’t very great. Took too long.
Ah. Well we can catch up later. I have to get back to work.
Back to sitting on your ass attempting to be inspired to write your next New York Times Bestseller? I wish to myself that I say this.
Okay, I tell him. Dinner, then.
Yes, yes how about next Saturday night?
Perfect. You remember where I live?
Ha-ha. Of course.
I figure that I should email him my address anyway but I decide to meet him at the restaurant and I tell him this and we hang up.

Since it’s still relatively early I walk a couple blocks west to a nearby coffee shop the Overexposure. I rarely went there during my tenure at school but as per usual it was full of summer session students furiously trying to cram for their tests. With a book in hand I go up the counter and order a large coffee a sit down at the only empty table there and begin to read slowly. I’m not really enjoying this book and I keep getting distracted by nothing in particular.
I love that book, a feminine voice says at me. I look up and to my left and slightly in front of me a pretty girl with long dark brown hair and grey-blue eyes is looking at me and the book, smiling.
Really? I ask.
Yeah he does a really good job and emphasizing nothingness.
I laugh. Yeah? I ask. You majoring in Cultural Studies? She laughs.
I did. I finished this year.
Me too.
In what?
Oh a double major in Creative Writing and Journalism.
Yeah I figured that I’d make good use of it by reading books in coffee shops. She laughs.
I would say the same for me but I’m a little too addicted to playing my DS.
She holds it up to show me and says, I’m way too into the new Zelda game for my own good, honestly.
I smile at this, not sure of what to say.
You seem out of place, she says suddenly, appearing to be studying me.
You mean here? I ask, feeling challenged, looking around Overexposure.
No, no, she says. Like you’re lost or something. Like you’re just kind of waiting for life to show up, you know?
You sure you didn’t major in psych? I ask her, kind of smiling. She laughs.
No I mean I don’t wanna sound narcissistic or anything but usually guys always try to talk to me more than you do.
I shrug and say, I dunno. I’m having an off day I guess. She smiles at me again and puts down her DS.
You don’t believe in higher powers, do you?
I shrug again and I laugh and she does too.

I go to a party that another DJ I know is having in his loft downtown that night and I bring the girl from Overexposure with me. She doesn’t know any of my friends or anyone else there and this just seems all the more amazing to me. We go over to the keg and both take generous gulps from our blue plastic cups that we fill with expensive Belgian ale and I introduce her to my friends and it’s all very exciting and there are a number of flashes of photos being taken by a friend who’s going through a compulsive photography phase. He comes over to us and shows us a picture that he took of me and the girl standing by the keg. It looks like she’s laughing about something but for some reason, despite it being a very high-quality digital image, I’m completely out of focus. The guy who took the photo laughs, commenting on how weird this is, and for some reason, as I look at the photo, I feel kind of sad. When the DJ starts his set at 12 AM and the lights go down except for the colored lasers he has shooting outward from behind him and the girl and I dance together and eventually we kiss until one of the lasers peeks through the space between our eyes and we’re both temporarily blinded, causing us to laugh.

I hang out with the girl again the next day and evening and I take her to a local sushi bar where a few of my friends who were at the party the night before and a few she hasn’t met yet so I smile and introduce them and we all drink expensive beer and eat good food and listen to the cool electronica playing on the speakers surrounding us. I can tell that the she wants to go do something else, but I don’t want to ditch out on my friends so we stay for another hour or so before leaving. As we drive back to her place I tell her stories about crazy parties I’ve been to with those friends and the sort of trouble we may or may not have got into. She says very little but whenever I look over at her she smiles at me. When get back to her place we have sex for the first time and it seems pretty good even though neither of us say much afterward.
During the course of the next week the girl and I hang out together frequently. We go get food together a couple times while she’s on her lunch break at work and she tells me about how much she hates her boss at the bank she works at and how wishes she had just said screw it and found a job she actually liked. I frequently remind her that she’s lucky she got a job after college since it’s been so hard to find a job and when at one point she asks me if I’ve been looking I just laugh and tell her I have money saved from my student job. She seems to have an opinion on the matter but she keeps it to herself.
That Friday we hang out again and even though she doesn’t seem as enthused as last weekend, I take her to another party that was at the same place I was at a couple weeks back near the beginning of the summer. They have a good set of DJs playing and we dance with some of my friends who came there from the sushi bar and then I converse with a couple of people I haven’t seen in a while. The music pumping out of the speakers makes it slightly difficult but I don’t think it matters since most of the people there are on some type of drug. The girl seems to be bored but at this point I’m having too much fun to care. I make eye contact with her at one point and smile and she gives me this weak smile back, and shrugs. I go over to her and she tells me that she’s not really in a party mood and she wants to go home. I’m annoyed but I try not to let it show and I drive her home and even though we chat occasionally, it’s mostly silent. When I drop her off, she doesn’t show much interest in inviting me in, so I say goodbye to her and tell her that I’d like to see her again tomorrow, but she sounds uncertain and just tells me she’ll call me. She gives me this funny look before heads up the steps of her place that I can’t read but it looks like she’s sorry or something.
There’s not much else for me to do except go back to the party. When I get there, I find my buddy that usually has drugs on him and I buy a pill of E off him for the hell of it and after I take it I’m bobbing my head if I’m not dancing for the next four hours and when I see the faint traces of light peeking through the blinds on the left side of the room, I feel a strange need to leave and I depart quickly without saying bye to anyone, driving home across campus trying to beat the sunrise.

I wake up the next day at 5 PM and the day seems to be rainy and overcast again but I don’t really care so I listen to some music and read more of my book, but I keep getting distracted. I’m not really in the mood and when 7 PM rolls around and I get a call from my father saying he’ll be at the restaurant in an hour I curse myself after hanging up for forgetting our plans and I get dressed and drive over to the restaurant across town to meet him.

I arrive at the restaurant and my father is already seated near the pianist playing some number by Chopin. When he sees me, he gestures, his mouth full of breadstick and I sit down across from him, buttoning my shirt up one more notch. We say hey and exchange the usual pleasantries and I order a glass of wine from the waiter who comes by.
You sure you want that? my father asks me, smirking.
I glance at him with a brief look of incredulity that I hope he catches before I say, I’m going to have spaghetti. He chuckles and looks at the menu and orders two plates of spaghetti from the waiter. He takes a sip from his gin and tonic and says after a beat of looking at me, So how are you? How’s life since getting the diploma?
I shrug, taking a tentative bite out of a breadstick. I mutter, I should be collecting unemployment. My father lets out an audible, HA and says, shaking his head.
Well you should be getting my monthly checks.
I nod and say, I do.
Well have you been looking? he asks me.
No one’s hiring.
Well that’s the way things are going these days I guess.
There’s a silence that passes as the waiter puts down my glass of wine and we both chew thoughtfully on our breadsticks. My father sighs.
Look I know you didn’t show up for that interview I set up for you.
I didn’t see the point.
Another silence passes before my father shakes his head, saying, I don’t think you even realize how that made me look. How you seem to like to make me look, on what feels like a regular basis.
Maybe I didn’t want some random job you hooked me up with. I mean, I guess I didn’t realize this was about you.
No, it’s about you. And you reflect on me, like it or not. Now I’d actually like to enjoy what’s left of this dinner, so let’s talk about this later.
We get our food and the pianist finishes the Chopin number and my father claps, a little too loudly and my spaghetti seems a little less appetizing. As my father digs in he makes small talk about his last trip to Europe and I nod asking occasional questions until it gets quiet again and I’m not completely sure why I thought getting dinner was a good idea, especially when there’s probably a party or some type of event I can go to. I remember hearing about something about a party from one of my friends and I make a mental note to get the details after I leave here. To break the silence I ask my father, How’s the book coming?
Ah the eternal question, my father replies, his mouth full and he laughs at his own statement. He shrugs, swallowing his bite, and makes a more-or-less motion with his right hand, saying, Well it’s coming. It’s going. It’s a bit all over the place, but I expect it’ll hit shelves by the beginning of next year.
I nod, twirling my spaghetti not really caring. The next number the pianist is plunking away at begins to crescendo through the brief silence.
Well you don’t have to ask if you don’t really want to know, my father says, tearing into a chunk of sausage in his marinara sauce. I look up at him for a beat, lasering holes into his forehead before looking down at my food again and taking a small bite. After another silence my father asks me, Any girls these days?
I shrug and say, Kind of. She’s pretty cool.
That’s good.
Yeah, it is. She’s nice.
That’s good too.
More silence. My father sips at his gin and tonic and I stare at my wine, which is now not looking very appetizing either.
Any more solid plans for the summer? my father asks.
I shake my head and say, Nothing definite. Maybe a road trip or something.
Where to?
I dunno, just sort of an idea.
Do you have the money?
Probably not.
There’s another silence that passes between us before he finally says, I’m going to talk to my agent and try to get him to set up an interview for you at his agency or some other agency or just somewhere, and since you’re going to need the money…
He stops and laughs, more to himself, and continues, Since you’re definitely going to need the money, I think it’s something worth actually taking seriously.
I don’t say anything, and I realize that my spaghetti has gotten cold and looks rather dead.
That sound good? my father asks, the expectation of me saying yes floating behind his words.
Fuck you dad, I reply.

When I get back to my car, I call the girl I’ve been seeing but she doesn’t pick up. I sit in the car silently with my iPod turned off for five minutes before calling her again, muttering her name to myself, hoping she’ll pick up but she doesn’t, so I drive home.

I end up going to the party I heard about downtown near the westbound interstate about an hour later. When I get there, before I go in, I call her again and this time she answers and sounds like she’s pretty distracted. I tell her about the dinner with my father and she sort of expresses sympathy and when I ask her if she wants to join me at this party she says she doesn’t think she can make it and doesn’t really give a reason and says that she’ll call me later so I agree and hang up. I look back down the stairway to the street level and stare at the doorway and its glowing red exit sign for several beats, the muffled music from the party vibrating against me, before I go in.

In the faded blue light of a mid-May morning a young man walked home from a party he was just at with one of his roommates and a couple of friends and they were all laughing amongst themselves. The young man, with the help of his roommate, recounted a story from a party he was at a couple years earlier that ended with an amusing climax. More amusing anecdotes were shared and when they get to the nearby all-night Perkins where they were the only customers, they all squeezed into one of the empty booths and ordered some coffee and when they received it, they all cheered to the beginning of the summer and to their graduation commencement which they had later that day. “Thank god it’s over finally,” the young man said and they all laughed. He looked out the window at the passing cars of the early commuters and then back at his friends, smiling, and said “Got a lot to look forward to.”

I have another dream. This time the world has already ended and I’m wandering through a foggy city between rows of skyscrapers that tower above me and I can’t see anything except the empty shells of cars on either side of the road and the occasional road sign that tells me where I am. I try to open the doors of some of the buildings but they’re all locked and I can’t see anything inside them. I think I see a small boy running away into the fog and I shout after him but he doesn’t stop running. I run after the boy as fast as I can but I can’t keep up and he finally disappears completely, his footsteps making tiny plodding sounds into the distance. The only sound after that is me shouting for him to come back but I don’t think he can hear me.