Friday, April 27, 2012

Am I A Misogynist, Or Do I Just Have Eyes?

Grace, poise, elegance
A couple days ago I saw some truly troubling news: that sentient afterschool special Lindsay Lohan will soon return from her chemically induced exile from film sets, agents' offices, and bars that don't take credit to play the role of -- and I am having a hard time getting my fingers to even type this -- Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor.

It's only a made-for-TV movie, and even less auspiciously, a Lifetime movie, but still, it's hard to imaging a more grotesque bit of miscasting. Admittedly, there are a couple of similarities between the two women: they were child actors, and they both ended up being a bottomless trough of tabloid fodder. (In the early '80s, Taylor seemed to be singlehandedly keeping the National Enquirer in business, and Lindsay -- well, you don't need reminding about Lindsay and the tabloids.) They also both got into the fragrance business: Liz introduced "White Diamonds" in 1991, while Lindsay launched "Coke Sweat" in 2007.  

But -- and I expect this post to be picked up by the Huffington Post, because I'm really breaking some news here -- the similarities end there. Ms. Taylor's career fizzled out in the 70's when she hit 40, started gaining weight, and stopped drawing at the box office, but not before she won two Academy Awards and starred in about 40 movies, at least eight of which are stone-cold classics. Miss Lohan, on the other hand, was drummed out of Hollywood not because of declining box-office power -- she never had any to begin with, and she only made one good movie (Mean Girls, which worked because of Tina Fey's script and because Lohan was surrounded by strong supporting performances by Lizzy Caplan, Amanda Seyfried, and Rachel McAdams, all of whom are now highly sought after and none of whom have been fitted for ankle monitors) -- but because she let a drug problem got completely on top of her by the age of 21.

Really though, that's not the reason she's such a terrible choice to play Liz Taylor. Movies are pretend. If Tobey Maguire can play a guy who sticks to walls and shoots webs out of his wrists and Denise Richards can play a nuclear physicist, Lindsay Lohan can play a beautiful, distinguished actress. Just not Elizabeth Taylor, because Lindsay Lohan doesn't look like Elizabeth Taylor. I don't mean Lindsay's not pretty enough -- I kind of think Elizabeth Taylor is a bit overrated in the pantheon of screen beauties (but then, so is Lohan). It's just that Elizabeth Taylor did not alter her face to look like a 45-year-old drag queen. (Not until she was 60, that is.)

Yes, at the ripe old age of 25, Lindsay Lohan appears to have given her face what contractors call a gut reno -- a complete teardown and rebuild. Even in an age when movie stars commonly botox the expression out of their faces and go out of their way to look like they just broke out of Madame Tussaud's before the final buffing, Lindsay's appearance on Saturday Night Live was jaw-dropping. Was she funny? Does she have what it takes to make a real comeback? I was so distracted by her inflated face, which for a moment I thought was the Garfield float heading past Macy's, I couldn't even tell you if she spoke English, much less gave a good performance. (After a second viewing, I can tell you that she did not.) It is a bad idea to put Lindsay Lohan in anything, because it is impossible to pay attention to her when you're searching her face for seams, or maybe an inflation valve, during all of her closeups.

"Can we just take 8 or 9 more? I'm not looking
at her right now, and I'd like to keep it that way." 
Since our son was born a little over five years ago, my wife and I have left the house together at night without him maybe a dozen times, so most of our quality evening time together these days is spent enjoying our lovely home theater setup, and one of the ways we like to keep that interesting is by playing Spot The Work. You probably play this game too: when someone comes onscreen who's had obvious plastic surgery, the first person to shout "Work!" wins -- and by "wins," I mean that person gets to stay comfortable while the other person goes to retrieve the brownies/ice cream/raw cookie dough that will accompany that evening's entertainment. Things slow down a little once you have kids is what I'm saying.

Lindsay was such an easy layup in that night's game of Spot The Work that she may have been the final nail in the game's coffin. It's just getting too easy: not only do actresses (and, let's be fair, quite a few actors) seem to think they can CHANGE THEIR FACES and no one will notice, they are getting oddly brazen about it -- indeed, it seems like the plastic-surgery community is in an arms race to see who can have the most obvious lip injection/cheekbone lift/forehead smoothing/eyelid shortening. So the thrill is kind of gone from Spot The Work. It's too easy, and it's so, so sad to see all these beautiful women willingly turning themselves into grotesques.

It's not just me, right? Something's wrong here.
That didn't stop me from nearly spitting my tea all over the screen when my job in the online video coal mine required me to watch Ashley Judd's new show "Missing" a few weeks ago. I admit without shame that I am a heterosexual male, and as such I take great pleasure in the sight of a beautiful woman. When Ashley Judd first came to my attention back in the '90s, she was one of my favorites, the very definition of a natural beauty, who had somehow slipped the genetic noose of her weird-looking sister and her weirder-looking mother. I can't think of any movies or TV shows I saw her in (maybe she's not actually such a great actress, I dunno) but she could always be counted on to pop up courtside when Kentucky made the Final Four, looking gorgeous with no makeup and a ponytail pulled through a baseball hat.

Which is why I was so crestfallen to see her on ABC, puffed up like a beach ball, with the same unnaturally plump cheeks and impossibly tight skin as so many plastic surgery victims before her. It was distracting enough that I almost didn't notice how bad "Missing" is.

A few days later, Ms. Judd wrote a very spirited defense of her face in The Daily Beast, denying that she'd had any kind of plastic surgery and explaining that she looks puffy (her word) because she got lazy and put on some weight, and then got sick and had to undergo some steroid therapy. I see no reason to disbelieve this explanation -- she is getting a little less puffy with each passing episode of "Missing" -- but I do take issue with her contention that even noticing that she looks a little off is inherently misogynist.

Does this mean I hate women? Or does it just mean I have eyes? Bad plastic surgery bums me out because it's like defacing a work of art. If I register disappointment when someone draws a mustache on the Mona Lisa with a sharpie, does that mean I hate art? I would gladly trade all my Spot The Work victories to see what Meg Ryan would have looked like if she'd allowed nature to take its course -- she'd probably be a starting forward for the Diane Lane All-Stars. In any case, I'm certain that it would be an improvement over what we have now.

Danke schoen, Dr. Levine. Danke schoen.
Ms. Judd also laments that this kind of focus suggests that women are only valued for their physical appearance and not the content of their character. I would remind Ms. Judd that she is in show business, and her physical appearance is what got her through the door. Once someone is established in show business -- once people know what they look like -- it's more than a little jarring to see that person's appearance unnaturally altered, whether they're a beautiful woman or a not-so-beautiful man. I find Kenny Rogers and Wayne Newton and Bruce Jenner just as troubling. Given the current social arrangement between me and Ashley Judd -- she appears on my TV screen saying words someone else wrote for her -- I have no basis to value her as a person or a mother or a wife. By her reputation, she's one of the best, and I have no reason to doubt it. But that's not the same as knowing her.

What I know is her work as part of a piece of art -- if you grant that "Missing" is art -- and I think it's within my rights as an audience member to notice if she looks like something traumatic has happened to her face. As it turns out, it has: she had steroid treatments. I admit to having feared that she'd succumbed to voluntarily destroying her very pretty face, that she'd arrived at the same conclusion as so many of her contemporaries -- that age equals death. (I guess it does, if your looks are all you had to offer.) But I take no pleasure in it.

People do, at times, indulge in a some schadenfreude when it comes to botched or obvious plastic surgeries, because in most cases it confirms what we already suspect: that celebrities are just as insecure and miserable as the rest of us, that money and fame in fact have not bought them happiness. Nobody's surprised that Heidi Montag is getting her nose narrowed and her cheeks lifted and her lips plumped, because that's what people like her do. The only thing at all surprising about Lindsay Lohan's facelift is that she got it so young. I don't think anyone in their right mind would have bet against her having had one before she hit 40. 

You better eat your Wheaties! And get daily injections in your face!
But when we see someone who seems like they should know better, like they have their head on straight, like an Ashley Judd, for example, the idea that they've had unneccessary work done gets a little more attention because it bums us out. It bums me out -- not (just) because you've ruined your looks, but because you bought into the same shallow crap as Lindsay friggin' Lohan. Does that make me a misogynist? More importantly, does it give me cover to play Spot The Work in peace?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Life In The Bike Lane

All photos in this post were taken on the
same ride, within 10 minutes.
I had a pretty serious bike accident about 15 years ago, the first year I lived in San Francisco: riding down Market Street in a light rain, my bike slid on the trolley-car tracks and went out from under me, and I broke my left femur in the landing. The exquisite pain and prolonged inconvenience that followed it were not leavened by mine having been such a very San Franciscoey catastrophic accident.

It is perhaps a measure of how dispiriting a daily NYC subway commute can be that about a year ago I overcame the post-traumatic stress of that event and started riding my bike to work every day. As opposed to spending $104 a month to spend 90 minutes a day crammed into an overcrowded tube full of dead-eyed drones avoiding eye contact and struggling (often unsuccessfully) to stay awake, I've found that 35 minutes on my bike (7 miles each way), in the sun and fresh air, is invigorating.

That's particularly useful for someone like me, who has some difficulty waking up in the morning (much the way a cinder block has some difficulty rolling uphill).  Rather than arriving at the cube farm with eyes half closed and a mind confusedly trying to sort out whether I fell asleep and drooled on that guy's Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual or just imagined it in my customary morning fugue state, I now arrive awake and alert, and that guy who reads D&D modules on the train every day is just an increasingly distant (if uncomfortably vivid) memory.

There are, of course, drawbacks, particularly riding a route that takes me all the way up the busiest, most chaotic thoroughfare in Brooklyn (Flatbush Avenue), over the Manhattan Bridge, and across to 7th Avenue. (On my first few rides, before I discovered the westbound Prince St. bike lane, I soon learned why Jimi Hendrix used "crosstown" -- as opposed to "downtown" or "Beltway" or "stadium" -- traffic as a metaphor for confused frustration.)

It's no secret to anyone who's ever been on a New York (or any city, really, but I'm writing from recent experience) that people are awful drivers and pedestrians barely pay attention to what they're doing, but being on a bike, unprotected by 2,000 pounds of metal and glass, you really get a clear view of just how out of it people are. People step off the sidewalk into a one-way street, in the middle of the block, without looking back at an alarming rate of 27 per block per minute (figures approximate). On average I would estimate that I personally witness no fewer than 11 car-on-car near-collisions per 7-mile commute, and that's each way so like, 35 a day? (I'm no good at math.)
These dudes gave me the stinkeye when
I said "excuse me"

To be fair, the City Of New York has, in an official government capacity, done a lot for bike riders,
designating protected bike lanes all over the city -- and by protected, I mean they lie between the curb and the parallel-parked cars on the block, providing the illusion that one can ride more safely.

These protected bike lanes would seem to be a biker's dream, and to the extent that one is safer from cars, one is certainly safer in one of these "protected" lanes. They are not safer from pedestrians, however, who seem to think that it is the "protected walk around while admiring the tops of the tall buildings on this block" lane. If their growing numbers are any indication, people seem to prefer walking in the protected bike lanes to walking on the sidewalk right next to it. 

Par for the course
The unprotected, paint-only bike lanes, for that matter, are also little more than an annex to the sidewalk. People who walk the street with shopping carts -- not that I want to profile -- overwhelmingly prefer the bike lanes. So do delivery guys pushing big dollys around. Cab drivers love to pull into the bike lanes on a dime to pick up and drop off fares, which would be fine if they bothered to use their mirrors before doing so. You might say, I bet that's illegal! You should report them to the cops! That's a good idea, and I don't have to go far to find one: I'll just tell one of the 17 I pass parked -- guess where? -- in the bike lanes. I will have to hope they don't give me a ticket for riding out of the bike lane to get around them.

I haven't had any accidents in the bike lanes, just a lot of near misses. I had three incidents the same day last week. First, I got clipped by a Dollar Van on Flatbush: its passenger-side mirror hit the back of my left elbow as I rode along the curb on the right. It was more scary than anything, but it was pretty scary. (The Dollar Van, for its part, did not slow down or give any indication of concern that it had just hit someone. In a photo finish worth of Secretariat, Dollar Vans have edged out car-service Town Cars for the garland Worst Vehicular Menace in Brooklyn. Third place is the Chinese food delivery guys that ride scooters on the sidewalk.)

About five minutes later I paused at the big intersection at Jay St. and Tillary St., headed for the bridge; as I stood in the crosswalk at the corner waiting for the light to change, a car-service Town Car came around the corner and a guy leaned out the passenger window and screamed "GET OUT OF THE ROAD!" three times. I shouted back a two-word imperative that stars with F and ends with U, and reached for my bike lock in case he came back, but he didn't. Chicken. Last but not least, on my return trip going home, I rolled through a big puddle of puke, which mercifully mostly splashed on my bare legs and socks and not so much on my shorts or shoes.

That was a pretty bad day, bikingwise, but not as bad as when I broke my leg. Or when my tire blew two miles from home. Or when that guy tried to kill me on the bridge.

I was going home after work, on the uphill slope of the Manhattan Bridge bike lane, southbound to Brooklyn. There were a lot of bikes on the narrow, fenced-in roadway, just as there are every day. I gradually caught up to a very tall man in one of those short-brim biking caps, with a messenger bag, riding sitting up with his arms at his sides, and I settled in about two bike lengths behind him. The bike lane is narrow, there were a lot of bikes coming the other way, and I was getting passed on the left by more serious bikers than myself. I put my head down and kept pace about two lengths back, and the gentleman in front of me turned and glared angrily in my direction. Is he looking for someone back there? I wondered.

A few seconds later he did it again, even more angrily. This time I looked back to see who he was looking at, and in doing so noted a couple more riders speeding up to pass on our left. I turned back around and he was still glaring, and I suddenly realized he was glaring at me.

"WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM!?" he screamed -- not shouted, not yelled, SCREAMED -- in a Jamaican accent. I looked behind me again. "Me?" I said, a little baffled.

I was not following him any more closely than I follow anyone else, or anyone else follows me. We weren't going very fast -- remember, we're on the upslope of the bridge and he's riding with no hands. The bike behind me was at about the same distance. In any case, I decided he must be trying to tell me I'm too close. I start to slow down but remember there's another bike right behind me; I look back and see that bike passing me on the left as another takes its place behind me.

I look to my front again, and as the passing bike moves back into the right lane in front of the angry guy in front of me, three bikes coming the opposite direction go by on the left. Once the left lane is clear of oncoming traffic I turn my head one last time to make sure I have an opening to pass Mr. Congeniality.
Bike lane on Manhattan Bridge.
(Screaming psycho Jamaican not pictured.)

I look back again, and at the moment I see that the coast is clear, I'm disoriented by a collision; the bike in front of me has stopped cold and I have hit it dead on while looking behind me. My bike falls over to the left and I take a second (probably literally one second) to put together what just happened. Clearly I've run into the guy in front of me, but he seems to be fine.

This is soon confirmed when he starts screaming -- not yelling, not speaking loudly, SCREAMING -- "NOW YOU UNDERSTAND!! NOW YOU FUCKIN' UNDERSTAND!" Now it all comes together: he did it on purpose, to teach me a lesson about riding behind him, or something. Along with this revelation comes the realization that this person isn't just a dick but mentally unstable and probably violent. He is still screaming, and a line of drool is rappelling from his lip to his chest. Yeah, maybe let's stay out of any further physical confrontation with the livid 6'5" Jamaican who just made a bike hit him on purpose on a narrow bike path on a bridge, 200 feet above the East River. "NOW YOU FUCKIN' UNDERSTAND!?" he screams for the fifth time.

"Yeah, I understand," I say as I pick up my bike and get back on it. I hope that my tone is getting across that what I understand is that he's a crazy asshole, but I decide not to actually say those words. Instead I proceed on the bridge, now ahead of the person for whom Jah's sacrament clearly has less-than-calming effects, gaming out my strategy for the confrontation that will probably happen when he catches up to me at the traffic light under the bridge, where the path terminates. I confirm that I have easy access to my bike lock and fantasize about the damage it will do.

But he doesn't catch up to me. Apparently, blinding rage makes people ride really slow.

Anyway, people: try to be aware of the bike lanes. Don't walk in them, and if you do, try to be remember that some bikes may come along. Look both ways before you cross the street, because I've been watching you and almost nobody looks -- your kindergarten teacher would be appalled. And if you see somebody splayed out across Market Street with a broken femur in the rain, screaming bloody murder, call an ambulance. That guy is really in a lot of pain.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Axl Rose Inducted To Douchebag Hall Of Fame

Axl Rose made headlines the other day with a weird, rambling open letter to the LA Times in which he not only strangled the hopes of Guns N' Roses fans that the band's original lineup might reunite for its first-ballot Rock N' Roll Hall Of Fame (hereafter abbreviated "RNRHOF") induction over the weekend, but refused even to be inducted in his absence.

Put another way: not only did Axl not show up for the ceremony, much less sing "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Welcome to the Jungle" with the guys he wrote them with, he did not consent to being inducted at all.

As it turned out, Axl was missed, I guess, but the band's founding rhythm guitar player Izzy Stradlin also did not show up, and it went nearly unremarked upon because Izzy had the good taste not to say anything to anyone about it. (His replacement for the "Use Your Illusion" tour, Gilby Clarke, stepped in and played his parts despite not being inducted.)

Anyway, Axl's letter got a lot of attention (as I'm sure it was specifically designed to), and it is striking not so much for what it says but how it says it. And by that I mean that it says it so poorly, I'm not sure what it says. Is English Axl's first language?

To: The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Guns N' Roses Fans and Whom It May Concern,
When the nominations for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame were first announced I had mixed emotions but, in an effort to be positive, wanting to make the most of things for the fans and with their enthusiasm, I was honored, excited and hoped that somehow this would be a good thing. Of course I realized as things stood, if Guns N' Roses were to be inducted it'd be somewhat of a complicated or awkward situation.
It's only complicated because it's awkward, and it's only awkward because you can't drop whatever 15-year-old grudge (and I mean that in both senses of "15-year-old grudge") you have against your former bandmates long enough to sing a couple songs. They have all indicated that they have no ill will. Your individual grudges with all four of the other guys have one thing in common, and that's you, buddy.
Since then we've listened to fans, talked with members of the board of the Hall Of Fame, communicated with and read various public comments and jabs from former members of Guns N' Roses, had discussions with the president of the Hall Of Fame, read various press (some legit, some contrived) and read other artists' comments weighing in publicly on Guns and the Hall with their thoughts.
Odd how Axl switches here from "I" statements to "we" statements ("we've listened to fans," "we've been polite"). Does he mean we, like me and the seven employees I call "Guns N' Roses?"
Under the circumstances I feel we've been polite, courteous, and open to an amicable solution in our efforts to work something out.
What is there to 'work out'? Either you show up, smile (or don't), have your photo taken, sing a couple of tunes -- that would be "amicable" -- or stay home and keep your mouth shut -- that would also be amicable. Not showing up and talking a lot of shit about the four guys who helped you get obscenely rich and famous? That's not amicable.
Taking into consideration the history of Guns N' Roses, those who plan to attend along with those the Hall for reasons of their own, have chosen to include in "our" induction (that for the record are decisions I don't agree with, support or feel the Hall has any right to make), and how (albeit no easy task) those involved with the Hall have handled things... no offense meant to anyone but the Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony doesn't appear to be somewhere I'm actually wanted or respected.
Let's read that part again:
Taking into consideration the history of Guns N' Roses, those who plan to attend along with those the Hall for reasons of their own, have chosen to include in "our" induction (that for the record are decisions I don't agree with, support or feel the Hall has any right to make), and how (albeit no easy task) those involved with the Hall have handled things... no offense meant to anyone but the Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony doesn't appear to be somewhere I'm actually wanted or respected.
I have read this sentence eleven times and I have no idea what it says. Axl seems to suggest that the RNRHOF has no right to decide who to induct into the RNRHOF, and that in any case he does not agree with the choices it did make. So does that mean he thinks Bumblefoot and DJ Ashba should be in the RNRHOF along with Slash and Duff and Izzy? That would be insane. Is he saying he doesn't think Steven Adler should get in at all? That would also be insane. Maybe he thinks the current lineup is the only lineup and Slash and Izzy can go jump in a lake? Once again: insane! And concluding that he's not wanted at the ceremony? Insane doesn't seem strong enough a word.
For the record, I would not begrudge anyone from Guns their accomplishments or recognition for such. Neither I or anyone in my camp has made any requests or demands of the Hall Of Fame. It's their show not mine.
This paragraph seems to be contradicted directly by the one before it, and the next two after it:
That said, I won't be attending The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction 2012 Ceremony and I respectfully decline my induction as a member of Guns N' Roses to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
I strongly request that I not be inducted in absentia and please know that no one is authorized nor may anyone be permitted to accept any induction for me or speak on my behalf. Neither former members, label representatives nor the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame should imply whether directly, indirectly or by omission that I am included in any purported induction of "Guns N' Roses".

I'm not sure if Axl means that he is forbidding the use of his likeness or anything with his name, face or voice on it, or if he just means he doesn't want anyone talking about him at the ceremony. Either way: what a dick!
This decision is personal. This letter is to help clarify things from my and my camp's perspective. Neither is meant to offend, attack or condemn. Though unfortunately I'm sure there will be those who take offense (God knows how long I'll have to contend with the fallout), I certainly don't intend to disappoint anyone, especially the fans, with this decision. Since the announcement of the nomination we've actively sought out a solution to what, with all things considered, appears to be a no win, at least for me, "damned if I do, damned if I don't" scenario all the way around.
Here, Axl has a point: Standing before the brightest lights of your profession and accepting their praise and gratitude for one night is definitely a lose-lose situation.

In regard to a reunion of any kind of either the Appetite or Illusion lineups, I've publicly made myself more than clear. Nothing's changed.
The only reason, at this point, under the circumstances, in my opinion whether under the guise of "for the fans" or whatever justification of the moment, for anyone to continue to ask, suggest or demand a reunion are misguided attempts to distract from our efforts with our current lineup of myself, Dizzy Reed, Tommy Stinson, Frank Ferrer, Richard Fortus, Chris Pitman, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and DJ Ashba.
Nobody's trying to distract from the efforts of the current lineup because nobody knows what those efforts are, other than playing note-perfect, tribute-band faithful recreations of the records the original lineup made, right down the the note bends in the guitar solos, while Axl struggles for air.

Nonetheless, Axl's insistence that the new band is not just his flunkies but a real band runs through this whole letter. I can think of a really easy way for Axl to prove that they are more than just hired hands: open up the books and show us how the rest of "Guns N' Roses" is being compensated for their efforts. Are you splitting everything eight ways?
Izzy came out with us a few times back in '06 and I invited him to join us at our LA Forum show last year. Steven was at our show at the Hard Rock, later in '06 in Las Vegas, where I invited him to our after-party and was rewarded with his subsequent interviews filled with reunion lies. Lesson learned. Duff joined us in 2010 and again in '11 along with his band, Loaded, opening in Seattle and Vancouver. For me, with the exception of Izzy or Duff joining us on stage if they were so inclined somewhere in the future for a song or two, that's enough.
Look, if you don't want to play with the old band, that's your business. But don't pretend that a handful of one-off guest shots by two of the other guys, plus inviting Celebrity Rehab mascot Steven Adler to one afterparty, should count as having reunited Guns N' Roses.
There's a seemingly endless amount of revisionism and fantasies out there for the sake of self-promotion and business opportunities masking the actual realities. Until every single one of those generating from or originating with the earlier lineups has been brought out in the light, there isn't room to consider a conversation let alone a reunion.
I have studied this paragraph for the last forty minutes and I think he's saying that unless his former bandmates recant each and every one of their malicious lies about him, Axl will countenance no contact with them of any kind. I would point out that even if his bandmates had never written books or given interviews or said anything at all about him on film or in print, the case that Axl is a crazy asshole is pretty much open-and-shut.

(In a related story, Keith Richards wrote last year in his book Life that Mick Jagger has a "tiny todger" and they are currently planning their 50th anniversary tour where they will add another $580 billion dollars to the colossal pile of cash they have made since they stopped speaking in 1981. Just pointing out another way to do things, that's all.)
Maybe if it were you it'd be different. Maybe you'd do it for this reason or that. Peace, whatever. I love our band now. We're there for each other when the going get's rough. We love our fans and work to give them every ounce of energy and heart we can.
You're there for each other when the going gets rough? By that do you mean that the seven musicians on your payroll listen patiently to your lament when the record that you surely denied them any artistic or emotional stake in tanked, they happily continued collecting their salaries? Or that when you arrive to a venue packed with 300,000 screaming fans four hours late, they keep their mouths shut and collect overtime? When exactly did the going get rough for 2012 Guns N' Roses?
So let sleeping dogs lie or lying dogs sleep or whatever. Time to move on. People get divorced. Life doesn't owe you your own personal happy ending especially at another's, or in this case several others', expense.
Here Axl has a point, but it could very easily be reversed: Life doesn't owe you, Axl, your own personal happy ending, especially at your former bandmates' expense.
But hey if ya gotta then maybe we can get the "no show, grandstanding, publicity stunt, disrespectful, he doesn't care about the fans" crap out of the way as quickly as we can and let's move on. No one's taking the ball and going home. Don't get it twisted. For more than a decade and a half we've endured the double standards, the greed of this industry and the ever present seemingly limitless supply of wannabes and unscrupulous, irresponsible media types. Not to imply anything in this particular circumstance, but from my perspective in regard to both the Hall and a reunion, the ball's never been in our court.
A couple of metaphors stand out among this blizzard of tortured syntax and targetless attacks: "No one's taking the ball and going home"? Once again, if he doesn't want to reunite that's his business. But "taking the ball and going home" is exactly (exactly) what Axl is doing here. But there's a classy way to not reunite -- just don't show up or make any statement of any kind to anyone and let 'em wonder -- and there's an assholey way to not reunite. And, "the ball's never been in our court"? How could it be more in your court? It's your decision whether to show up, whether to play when you get there, and what to say about it.
In closing, regardless of this decision and as hard to believe or as ironic as it may seem, I'd like to sincerely thank the board for their nomination and their votes for Guns' induction. More importantly I'd like to thank the fans for being there over the years, making any success we've had possible and for enjoying and supporting Guns N' Roses music.I wish the Hall a great show, congratulations to all the other artists being inducted and to our fans we look forward to seeing you on tour!!
Sincerely,Axl RoseP.S. RIP Armand, Long Live ABC III

Gotta love the plug for "Guns N' Roses" on tour. He slipped it in there so subtly, I almost didn't notice it. And the cryptic "P.S." is just the right apertif for this banquet of paranoid rants, imagined slights, and warped sense of justice. What are Axl's motives? What are his grievances? 1,000 words later, all we know for sure is that Axl ain't coming. Instead, he will spend that night like he spends every Saturday night: telling a roomful of assholes all about that time Slash irreparably hurt his feelings by walking out on a monologue about what a loser Slash is.

Before I wrap this up I want to be clear about one thing: As big a fan as I was of the original band, I'm not at all upset that Axl didn't show up to play. I suppose it would have been cooler if he did, but I'm not losing sleep over it. This letter, and this situation, is interesting to me solely because it's such a clear reminder of what a colossal a-hole Axl Rose is. (I have an unhealthy fascination with the narcissistic, antisocial behavior or pampered rock stars.) The RNRHOF is lame and always has been, and the performances that happen there have never been anything but forgettable. Did you even know that the Talking Heads reunited the night they were inducted? So did the Police. Have you been jamming out to the bootlegs from that?

Anyway, Axl's didn't show, but the RNRHOF has a tried and true approach to truancy: when Paul McCartney didn't show for the Beatles' induction and the Van Halens and David Lee Roth skipped Van Halen's induction and countless other fallen-out rock legends let past legal/personal/financial/chemical issues derail their enshrinement, they're treated like the Mormons treat the dead: they're getting baptized whether they want it or not.

In Axl's (and Izzy's) absence, the rest of G N' R did what the Doors did when they were inducted: they got another singer and played the gig. (Eddie Vedder sang in Jim Morrison's place, giving birth to my theory that dudes liked Pearl Jam and the Doors for the same reason: that any dude who can sing at all can sing any one of their songs and sound just like the record.) As it stood, they got the singer from Slash's current solo project and he did fine, but if you ask me they should have added a little insult to injury and gotten someone totally ridiculous, like Bobcat Goldthwait or Pee-wee Herman or Fergie. They'd probably still sound pretty good and make the case that they sounded so good IN SPITE of Axl, not because of him -- much like the Axl Rose Presents the Guns N' Roses Revue Featuring Axl Rose.

When I watch this, I don't miss Axl at all, oddly enough. I mainly feel two things: one, where is Izzy? Why didn't he show up, and why didn't anybody make a big deal about that? Izzy was the primary author of most of Appetite For Destruction and G N' R Lies. I'm sure he had his reasons, but everyone screeching about Axl not showing up didn't even seem to notice Izzy wasn't there. And two, I feel happy for Steven Adler, whose unleavened joy at being reunited with the band 20 years after they kicked him out is visible even in a cell-phone video shot at long range with no zoom lens. Adler's enthusiasm almost all by itself made me feel that given the choice of seeing Axl Rose Presents the Guns N' Roses Revue Featuring Axl Rose or Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan, Steven Adler, and a Singer To Be Named Later, I would go with the latter every time. So suck it, Axl.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Flu Cured My Kid

My wife and I just enjoyed the most pleasant evening at home we can remember. A quiet night with no raised voices, no power struggles, no furtive dips into the cooking sherry. Just good old-fashioned family harmony. For the last six months or so, our once-peaceful home has suffered through the brutal reign of the worst tyrant either of us has ever lived with: our five-year old son Henry.

Like all little boys (right?), Henry has gone through several phases in his development. The much-feared Terrible Twos turned out to be a breeze, but were followed by the Terrible Threes, which were so much more terrible than the Terrible Twos I don't understand why "Terrible Twos" is even a thing.

What made the Threes so Terrible? Honestly, I think I have blocked a lot of it out, much like my wife has blacked out the pain of his childbirth and veterans block out the horrors of combat, so it's all a bit of a fog. Suffice to say there comes a point, according to the many parenting books that I have read the first half-chapter of, where the child decides it's tired of not being in control of any part of his world and begins to assert himself in the form of resisting any and every idea that does not come from him. This takes several forms:

a) unprompted high-pitched screaming
b) "the boneless chicken," in which the child goes totally limp
c) "the cornered raccoon," in which the child becomes a blur of kicking and flailing
d) NO! NO! NO!
e) all of the above. 

Henry pursued option e) with gusto, and Age Three was a tense year of raised voices, suppressed rage, and asking around for mood stabilizers. But then seemingly right around his fourth birthday he mellowed out completely, and decided to be a super-cool, creative, cooperative little man who was a joy to be with. My wife and I breathed a sigh of relief: The Terrible Threes were awful!, we said to each other. Thank god we're out of the woods! In retrospect I realize that what sounded at the time like the upstairs neighbor jumping rope on the hardwood floors was actually the muffled voice of the sadistic Puppet Master, LAUGHING IN OUR FACES.

Because after about seven or eight months with Angel Henry, the boy who started saying "I Love You, Mommy and Daddy" totally unprompted and submitting to having his shoes put on without kicking me in the balls and eating his dinner rather than turning it into modern art and/or testing its aerodynamic properties, he completely reverted into full despot mode. He added punching us -- and I mean taking a moment to weigh the options, then getting a running start with arm cocked and then punching us -- and telling us "I hate you" with alarming matter-of-factness to his already crowded repertoire of antisocial tendencies. Every day's a gift!

Which brings us back to the last couple days, which have been heaven on Earth. Is it because the new batch of parenting books I told my wife I read are working? Is it because he's had some kind of awakening and will once again go back to being Angel Henry, the boy who acknowledges me when I come home from work and can brush his teeth without spitting toothpaste all over the mirror and then cackling as I fill with impotent rage and wonder when corporal punishment will come back into fashion?

No. It's because he's sick. He woke up in the middle of the night to tell us he didn't feel well, and then he threw up on the floor. I should have known right then we were about to enter a golden age, because not only did he not puke on us or the bed we were sleeping in, he didn't even puke on himself, making for a blissfully easy cleanup. (For my wife, I should add. I barely woke up through any of this.)

The next morning, he slept until an unheard-of 8:30 a.m. (Reveille is normally 0600), tried to puke again and shit his pants in the process, and then spent the next ten hours asleep on the sofa, while I went to work and his mom dusted and vacuumed the entire house, cleaned the bathroom, reorganized his bedroom, sketched, contracted, and oversaw a total renovation of our house, refinanced our mortgage, sent out eleven resumes, folded our laundry, pledged to NPR, read every article on the Huffington Post, painted the bathroom, cooked dinner, baked and frosted a dozen cookies, hand-cleaned the oven, had a long phone conversation with her mother, and got the back yard ready for spring. (She can't usually get a lot done when he's around is what I'm saying.)

He woke up about the time I got home from work, and when I got there he was still on the couch, listening to his mom read him a book. He waited for pauses and then asked thoughtful questions (as opposed to interrupting every three seconds to ask questions he'd just had answered two seconds ago). He lay there quietly as we cooked and ate dinner and talked about boring things like refinancing and renovation (this has never, ever happened). He had lost his appetite, so there was no need for our nightly 90-minute argument about whether broken fish sticks taste the same as unbroken fish sticks. He hardly asked for anything, and when he did it was with a soft, "Mommy, can I please have a..." instead of his customary barked "I want  _____!" followed by a punch to the groin if we say no.  He was sweet, docile, eager to please and easy to get along with -- he made Angel Henry look like Idi Amin.

In short, the 24 hours since he started puking all over the place has been a high point in our relationship with him, and I'm chilled by the thought that it is only a matter of time before he starts to feel better and resumes his reign of terror.

Why are we trying so hard as parents to keep our kids from getting sick? I see people Purelling each other and their kids and insisting that preschoolers stay out of school after an illness until cleared by a doctor in abject terror of the idea that little Carson might catch a sniffle -- as though that would be something other than a welcome respite from their relentless, exhausting zest for life, which is annoying even on the rare occasions that it manifests in positive, non-destructive/emotionally benign ways.

Instead of children's ibuprofen or whatever it is we give the kids to make them better, I want something that will keep him sick for another day. I'm not saying I want to make his symptoms worse, or risk any long-term damage, but isn't there a way to keep status quo for an extra day or two? Even better, I'd love to be able to buy a 24-hour norovirus in a little Optimus Prime applicator or something and give it to him right before our biannual 13-hour drive to see his grandparents. (This would also be nice for long flights, but I realize there are some ethical implications there.) I can live with the puking and the soiled underpants if it means I don't have to watch his head split down the middle, revealing a demonic skull with fire for eyeballs, every time we tell him he can't have a third bowl of Cocoa Krispies.

Although, I can see how it might backfire: his body could adapt to the increased exposure to viruses by becoming even stronger than it already is, making his malevolence even more pronounced and resilient than it is now. I don't even want to think about what a worse version of what he is now would be, so maybe I shouldn't mess with success. But I sure wouldn't mind it if he pukes and shits his pants again when I get home tonight.

A ha ha, we all had a good laugh wishing my kid ill, didn't we? Well the joke was on me, because a few hours after I wrote up to this point, I came down with the same virus. Had to leave my bar shift early and then puked out the window of the taxicab on my way home (never thought I'd do that again) and spent the next three days on the couch or in my bed. My wife got it too, although she seemed to get off a little easier than I did (by which I mean she recovered faster).

But with both of his parents totally incapacitated and indifferent to whether he ate cereal for every meal or how many consecutive hours of "The Electric Company" he watched (I believe he got into the low triple digits), our total family harmony extended for several more days.

So I am going to write my own parenting book: "The Flu Cure." When things are tough between you and your kids, just break open the little vial (included free with the book!), inhale deeply, and enjoy up to seven glorious conflict-free days, as the kids lose their will to live and then you lose your will to parent. Only $29.95!

Does anybody know how to get in touch with Dr. Phil?  

Monday, April 2, 2012

You're Using Your Cell Phone Wrong

If necessity is the mother of invention, mild aggravation is probably its drunk uncle. In that spirit, I think I've finally found my ticket to the big time, because my mild aggravation at seeing people misuse a very common device has motivated me to invent something, and it is my hope that it will carry me to the kind of life where I pour champagne on underwear models on the hood of my Stutz Bearcat. (My hopes that this blog will get me there are quickly fading.)

It drives me nuts and I see it all the time. This does not seem to be very complex technology, but it seems to have stumped almost everyone who uses it. I refer of course to hands-free earpieces for cell phones -- the wired kind, not the Bluetooth kind, which no mirror-owning adult has any excuse for using.

This invention is simple, elegant, and effective: an earphone on a long wire connected to your phone. About six inches down the wire, a microphone dangles just below your chin. I bought one of these for my first cell phone about ten years ago, and (Bluetooth notwithstanding) the design has not evolved much since then. But that doesn't mean people have figured out how to use them, as can commonly be seen with the white earbuds that come with iPhones.

Other than being white, and having two earpieces rather than just one, these things are pretty much the same as the one I bought in 2000, and they work even better. Here's how: 

Fig. 1 -- Correct hands-free usage.

As you see here, the microphone hangs just below the chin, more than close enough for the wearer's speech to be heard. This allows the wearer to put the phone in his or her pocket and use both hands for whatever two-handed activity they might imagine -- shuffling a deck of Tarot cards, or solving a Rubik's Cube, or defusing a rogue nuclear device -- without so much as a pause in their breathless recap of what Kevin said to Courtney in front of the bar.

When I use mine (and at the risk of immodesty, I submit that I do use mine correctly) no one ever says they can't hear me, or can't understand me, and I hear them just fine as well. Which is why I can't understand why so many people use their hands-free devices like this:
Fig. 2 -- Incorrect hands-free usage.

Here the wearer not only holds the phone in their hand, thus negating the "hands free" part of the hands-free device, but he also holds the little microphone up to his mouth, so he is actually using BOTH HANDS. I'm not very good at math, but that seems like backward progress.

Troubling also because drivers using cell phones are now bound by law to use hands-free devices while they drive, and if as many of them are doing it wrong (fig. 2) as the people walking around, I am never getting on the road again.

I assume (but can't be certain) that the reason people hold the microphone up to their mouth is that they don't trust that they will be heard if the microphone is more than a quarter inch from their lower lip. And I assume that the reason people hold the phone in their other hand is simply that we have come to a point in our society when our phones are our most prized possessions. We cannot bear not to hold them. They are little fetish objects. I remember when I first got my iPhone 4: I literally could not put it down. Even if I wasn't using it, I turned it over and over in my hands, feeling the pleasingly cool, smooth glass casing.

Fortunately, I have figured out a way to use a cell phone that allows the user to both talk directly into the microphone, and to keep the phone in their hands, which can be seen in figure 3:
Fig. 3 -- My solution.

As you can see, while one hand holds the phone up to the user's face, the other hand is left free to do whatever one-handed activities they might imagine -- meditating with Baoding balls, petting stray wolves, spray-painting lawn furniture -- without any pause in their breathless recap of Courtney's witty retort to Kevin in front of the bar. Admittedly, not quite hands-free, but certainly a big step forward from where we are now! You might reasonably ask how my innovation of removing the hands-free device from the phone is going to make me enough money to buy lunch, much less pour champagne on underwear models, but rest assured I've retained the services of a patent attorney and he insists that I'm only a few blocks away from Easy Street. Further research is needed, though, so watch this space for where you can send your capital (most likely Kickstarter) and get in on the ground floor of the Next Big Thing in telecommunications!