the great happiness space

November 28, 2008

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the great happiness space is a documentary about a male host bar in osaka, japan.  host bars are special clubs where people pay an expensive hourly rate and buy overpriced drinks in order to participate in a simulacrum of a relationship with their chosen “host,” an attractive, charming, immaculately coiffed member of the opposite sex who they choose by flipping through a laminated catalog in their bar booth the way people at TGI Fridays order hot wings or jalapeno poppers.  i came across the movie pretty randomly last weekend although it appears that it was actually boing boinged a couple of months ago.  i’m not really sure what compelled me to watch it but it was probably the title, which really is one of those beautifully clumsy caresses of the english language that only ESL speakers can provide.  despite that, i didn’t expect much of the film.  i assumed, partially out of latent ethnocentrism but mostly out of the loads of OMG JAPAN kind of crap on the internet, that it would just be one more piece of boingboingy exotica, another chunk of japonisme 2.0 that would digg into the gritty underbelly of this host club and omg deal with SEX and not just SEX but REAL SEX (like those HBO documentaries fourteen year olds watch at 2 AM with the sound down) and not just REAL SEX but REAL JAPANESE SEX, DUDE, OMG, HENTAI, BUKKAKE, etc.

i mean, seriously, gag me.  (that’s what she said!)

the movie completely destroyed those expectations, though, and in the process completely destroyed me.  i really hate to give away details of the plot but i feel i need to give away a couple major bits in order to hook you enough to make you download the veoh player or rent it or whatever.  the movie starts by immediately breaking down my original expectation, which is that there’s loads of sex going on behind the scenes and that this host club is really just a front for male prostitution.  in the opening moments of the film, one of the hosts makes some joke about how, when he first started working, he was having non-stop sex.

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it quickly becomes clear, though, that the hosts aren’t having sex with their customers, at least not on anything like a regular basis.  one of them explains that they can’t do it because if they have sex with their customers, the women will either feel that they’ve gotten what they wanted and move on to another club or they’ll try to form a real relationship with the host, outside of the club.  either situation is unacceptable for the hosts (and their bosses) because then the girls will stop buying the drinks and paying the exorbitant fees that keep them the hosts in designer belts and tailored jackets and expensive hair gel.  instead, they have to perform this sort of excruciatingly slow version of “the chase,” complete with a balance of negs and insults and then micro-rewards like kisses on the cheek or late night text messages. in something like that neil strauss book all this seemed completely abhorrent but here, by virtue of the setting and the inversion of the goals (the goal is not to have sex, remember) and the way time is stretched out (one of the girls they profile has been a customer at this club for 3 YEARS), things are completely defamiliarized and too strange to be disgusting.

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the second thing i’m going to tell you is the thing that totally blew my mind.  ok, for the first third or so of the movie, we follow this group of five or six women who are the main patrons at this club, the most devoted customers.  we watch them in the club as they spend what the subtitles tell us can be as much as 10,000 dollars a night (which i don’t think is quite right, the strength of the yen notwithstanding, but it’s obvious they are spending lots and lots of money).  they spend money on the hosts themselves, on special tables, drinks, and especially on overpriced bottles of champagne which are ingested in this hideous spectacle that is less dignified sipping of crystal flutes and more undergrad girl in a tank top doing a beer bong of natty lite.  this is interspersed with talking heads of the girls espousing their devotion to the hosts, how they’re worth spending the money on, how much they love them, etc.

then, after we’ve watched them burning money for twenty minutes or so, the producers ask the ladies how they can afford to pay for these hosts. what could they do for a living to be able to spend all this money?

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so yes, these customers are either the exact female counterparts of the male hosts they patronize or else they’re strippers or else they’re hand job girls or else they’re regular, old fashioned prostitutes.  this really flips the dynamic of the film on its head.  up until this point, your view of these girls is that maybe they’re kind of sad and loney, that this seems kind of a stupid way to spend money (postmodern detachment, blah blah blah) but, you know, whatever, it’s their money and they can waste it however they want.  maybe you could even view it as a little empowering in a twisted sort of way, like these young professional women using their money to have agency over men (in korea, where i live, there’s a popular reality show a student told me about which involves middle-aged professional women taking handsome young men who are unemployed because of the recession and making them basically their slaves, maids, etc. all the women / who independent!).  but then this bombshell is dropped and everything changes and you see everything differently and you realize how completely next level and wild things really are.  these women are, in effect, selling fake love in order to buy fake love.  a few of the girls say they wouldn’t even be prostitutes or night life workers but that they got the jobs because they needed to have more money to spend on the male hosts they’re in love with.  they’re in these situations where they are seemingly naively believing that these guys are really in love with them and not just taking their money and yet at the same time they can’t be that naive because they do the same thing in their own personal jobs every day.

(one must, of course, assume that not all the customers are “night life workers” and the producers are artificially strengthening their narrative by way of subject selection but at the same time it doesn’t seem like they’re just creating this out of thin air.)

if that premise doesn’t get you to watch then i don’t know why you would be possibly reading this blog.  it’s such a sad and profound manifestation of the issues the hills also deals with, namely the performativity of life and love and existence and and how the real relates to the fake and etc. the only other recent movie i’ve seen that deals with the paradoxes of modern identity in any significant way is mister lonely but trust me, this is a lot more fun to watch. there are also great parts that don’t even deal with the authenticity thing but that instead touch on consumer culture and commodification, like this one section about how hosts go about marking up the price of various champagne bottles which brings to mind recessions and credit crunches and solid things melting into air.  i’m not going to spoil the end of the movie but to say that it is exquisitely structured and powerful and just strange – watch it, seriously.

watch the great happiness space

rent it via netflix

official website

and there are so many great lines.  i’ll just offer one here: there are a number of times in the film when the main host being followed, issei, tells a customer that,  “this is the only place i can meet girls.” by “this,” he means the host club where he is working to take large amounts of money from all of his customers.  on the one hand, this is obviously a line to try to convince these poor girls to stay a couple more hours and buy a few more drinks, to dangle the carrot in front of their faces and say if they just spend a little more money on him then they might be the one, they might be different, they might have a chance at real love with him.  it’s so fake.  on the other hand, it feels almost undeniably true, in this classical dramatic irony way.  when issei is saying it, he means it as a pick-up kind of line, a falsehood, but we know from watching how he lives in the film that it’s really the truth, even if he doesn’t understand it.  he’s working at this club almost every night and when he gets off work he’s so destroyed from binge drinking in that you have to assume he’s passed out all day.  this is the only place he can meet girls.

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oh yeah, also, heidi and spencer got married.  i don’t watch the hills anymore but it kind of works with this and i don’t write posts that often so why not tie that in?  does anyone want to write a think piece about the marriage for their blog ?  here’s an outline:

– thread 1: introductory salvo about heidi/spencer marriage – snarky jokes, “fake,” etc.

– thread 2: IN OTHER NEWS style section about recent prop. 8 related protests, cultural detritus, etc.

– main point uniting the two threads, rhetorically foregrounded to emphasize your brilliance: something like, “while real, loving gay couples can’t get married in california, a fake couple like heidi and spencer can.”  done most likely in an outraged OMG THE WORLD IS ENDING kind of voice or maybe if you’re slightly more subtle like one of those gawker posts where they suddenly shift from being really sarcastic to that “oh but we really do care about stuff and seriously dude i am being real with you” kind of voice.

then, depending on the overall tone of your blog, either:

– extended coda musing on the strangeness of california : the white album, etc.

or

– lolcat picture making light of the issue: “i can has marriage,” etc.

of course, i personally disagree with the above characterization of heidi and spencer’s marriage as “fake.”  or, at least, i disagree with the characterization of it as only fake.  anyone who is even slightly acquainted with the phenomenon that is the hills should understand that they’re absolutely and truly the perfect couple for each other.  you know when people say things like “there’s a person out there for everyone”?  heidi and spencer are the exact proof of that saying; heidi even notes something to this effect in the us weekly OFFICIAL WEDDING INTERVIEW (“i knew at that moment he was the person God put on this planet for me”).

the first reason their union is magical and perfect is sheer chance.  consider that in los angeles there are, i don’t know, hundreds or thousands of small town transplants who look vaguely like heidi montag and have blonde hair and big boobs and aspirations toward success in the entertainment industry but at the same time have no real talent or way to capitalize on said dreams.  consider that there are also hundreds or thousands of rich trust fund boys like spencer pratt from southern california or wherever else who are living in LA on their parents’ dime and who have aspirations toward success in business but who at the same time have no real initiative or ideas.  the possibilities for mediocrity are endless!  what if heidi had stayed with her season one boyfriend, jordan eubanks? what if spencer had decided he wanted to fuck, i don’t know, laguna beach‘s kristin cavallari?  that didn’t happen, though, and it didn’t happen because heidi and spencer each met the exact right person, they each met the only one who could make their life complete.  their relationship is a child of destiny (put a ring on it!).  in her vows, heidi calls spencer her “prince charming” and while that is partially symptomatic of her barbie-girl-princess-castle naivete, it’s also true.  he is her prince charming and she is his cinderella. because they were lucky enough to find each other and because he, i don’t know, placed the magical christian louboutin on her foot, because they were a key and a lock or whatever kind of metaphor you want, their lives became magical, not in the old fairy tale way but charged instead with the postmodern magic of fame and publicity, with the glowing aura of celebrity.  that isn’t romantic to you?  that doesn’t make you positively audacious with hope?

maybe not, maybe you’re a hater.  ok, let ‘s look at it from a different angle and through another pop cultural lens, maybe one you’ll find less objectionable.  think about the office, the british one, think about that incredible moment in the last episode when dawn is in the car on the way home from the party and she unwraps the art set from tim and then goes back to the party and kisses him and they love each other and everything is wonderful and everybody cries.  you cried, right? it was beautiful.  the US version of the office has just had its own art set moment, last week, in the house jim bought for pam.  when you see the easel that he’s set up in that shabby garage, the american analog for the art set, you cry but in a different way.  you cry because even though it’s romantic, it’s sad.  there is this horrible pause between the reveal of the easel and pam’s reaction and in it you can feel her suppressing something inside herself in order to make jim happy because she thinks doing that will make her happy, too.  it’s her trying to fill the round hole of her creative desire with the square peg of love, which for a real artist seems like a tall order no matter how true that love is.  in a recent post on marriage, emily gould writes,

“And maybe that’s the most offensive lie of wedding culture, the idea that chanting some spell is going to bind someone to you in a way that makes you permanently not-alone. We come into this world alone and we leave it the same way, and that’s a reality that no vow or dress or $5 million ring can change.”

in kind of the same vein, just because you’re in love with someone doesn’t mean you stop being you. just because you have someone to love doesn’t mean you stop caring about yourself or forget your ambitions, at least not once the honeymoon is over (or maybe i’m just a completely fucked up person, but i have to not believe that to go on).  because, really, the art set that tim gives dawn in the british office doesn’t just say, “i love you,” it says, “i love you so much that i want you to be who you want to be.”  it’s a gesture of love, definitely, but it’s not a gesture of connection.  it’s not about creating a shared identity, it’s not about being a couple, it’s not about becoming jam or speidi or brangelina, it’s about allowing the other person to be her own truest self, to fully realize her individual identity.

in other words, it’s the ballad of john and yoko.  like, i’m sure john and yoko loved each other in a romantic way but on some level, the reason they were perfect for each other is that yoko enabled john to create his own individual artistic identity (and vice versa, of course).  she gave him the excuse he needed to be himself.  in the early beatles, the boys all wear the same suits, they all look the same; they’re indistinguishable, save for some fan club generalities (“paul likes bangers and mash while john likes beans on toast”).  as time went on, john went to greater lengths to differentiate himself from the others but no matter what he did, he couldn’t break out, he was still only one of four, a part and not a whole.  yoko, though, she gave him the opportunity to really be himself, in all his primal screaming glory.  that’s why they were perfect for each other and that’s why heidi and spencer are perfect for each other, too.  being together has enabled them to be the people that before they could only dream of being.  marriage is a partnership and heidi and spencer are not only partners in love but in business as well.  for people as obsessed with money and fame as they are, that’s nothing to sneeze at.  while some only have each other to hold, heidi and spencer are also able to have and hold their holdings, their assets and their acquisitions.

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finally, maybe the truest, realest, most authentic reason i know that heidi and spencer’s marriage isn’t fake is that, well, their marriage isn’t real.  after the initial burst of publicity about the wedding, the AP reported yesterday that heidi and spencer didn’t actually get a marriage license or have a civil ceremony or go through any of the, you know, legal stuff you have to go through to get, you know, legally married.

this is perfect.

because, really, who needs a marriage license when you have an us weekly spread?  who needs some measly piece of paper signed and notarized and read once by a couple of court clerks and then locked away in some filing cabinet forever when you have a glossy run of images in a national magazine?  who needs a marriage license when you have a post wedding interview and full records of the minutiae of your marriage chronicled in the pages of a tabloid, when the state of your union is archived in google caches and thousands of automated robo-blog posts, when the ceremony itself, intimate as it may have been, was filmed by a camera crew and will be watched by millions of people and packed into a commemorative DVD box set?  why, if you have all those things, does it matter if your marriage is legal?*

there’s so much documentation, there’s everything you could need.  the minutiae in that usweekly spread is both rich with personal details that reveal things about heidi and spencer and are also quotidiana redolent of our age.  usweekly shut down the ONTD scans of the wedding issue but you can still get them via google cache. not only are the full vows presented in the original (crumpled hotel stationary), but there are also snapshots of heidi and spencer in the process of writing said vows and more pictures of every other step of the wedding process (most of them presumably recreations).  do you want to know what they had for their wedding dinner?  ok, “blue shrimp enchiladas, tuna tartare, chips and guacamole.”  seriously!  truly some life changing mexican food.

heidi, describing how spencer dressed for the occasion, notes that he put on “his collared shirt.” as if he only had one – how casual and joe the plumber!  heidi herself didn’t wear a wedding gown but instead wore her sundress from the beach (however, she is careful to note that it was a balenciaga sundress).  her shoes?  “my christian loboutins were the only fancy shoes i brought here, so it’s a good thing they were white!”  the coup de grace of the fashion facts is that during the ceremony, the two of them exchanged what heidi says were “leather rings” and which spencer quickly corrects as being “pleather,” i.e. fake leather.  heidi: “i think with the economy being how it is, no one wants to be buying expensive rings.”  well, let them eat cake! (heidi notes later in the interview that the money saved on the cheap ceremony will actually be going into a big ass rock for her).  i am reading the antonia fraser book about marie antoinette right now and the parallels with the diamond necklace affair are startling!  ok, not really, but as a response to the state of the french economy, m.a. did switch from fancy gowns to simple white muslin dresses, just like heidi and the balenciaga sundress.  recessionistas!

one thing that heidi and marie antoinette don’t have in common is their relationship with the paparazzi.  for heidi, it’s almost like her wedding had a sponsor the way sports events and parades do, like “heidi’s wedding – BROUGHT TO YOU BY US WEEKLY.” her relationship with us weekly has certainly been mutually beneficial – it’s kept heidi in the pop culture zeitgeist way longer than she would have been otherwise and the spectacle of heidi and lauren has helped us to push a lot more copies than they would have otherwise.  marie antoinette, on the other hand, was tortured by the rise of libellistes, the perez hiltons of her day, who in their pamphlets made horrible and completely untrue accusations about her morals, her spending habits, and her sex life, the latter accompanied by pornographic drawings that make the imaginary lauren conrad sex tape seem quite tame.  marie antoinette was in a sense killed by gossip, by bad press.** if she had been able to cultivate a relationship with the us weekly of eighteenth century paris, might she have been able to keep her beautiful head?

ok, probably not.  and by the same token, no matter how good heidi’s relationship is with us weekly or perez hilton, it won’t stop mostly everybody who knows who she is from hating her.  that makes me sad.  i know i shouldn’t care about it but i still find myself depressed by this reflexive hatred that the cyber petit bourgeoisie has for heidi, their constant complaints that she and spencer are wastes of space and subhuman and worthy of execution and the end of the world and FAKE FAKE, FAKE and blah, blah, blah.  i guess it’s kind of because i see that attitude and the fact that it’s so widespread as a failure of humanity and empathy.  the problem with all these commenters, the reason they can hate so freely and easily, is that they’ve stopped seeing heidi and spencer as people and respond only to them as images.  that’s scary to me because when people are able to see other living, breathing human beings solely as images, as caricatures, that’s when no good very bad things happen like racism and bans on gay marriage and etc.

in some sense, i suppose i can understand the shitty attitude of the commenters.  the reason so many people can hate the image of heidi montag is because they feel that it’s been shoved down their throats over and over and, to be fair, it has, and to be even more fair, heidi montag has been the one doing a lot of the shoving.  still, i find the hatred disturbing.  the problem with hating the image of heidi montag is that the image is the reality and reality is the image; you can’t separate the two so easily.  heidi and spencer’s fake lives are intertwined with their real lives, the two are inextricably fused.  early on in this blog, i said something like it didn’t matter if the show was scripted because even if it was scripted, as the cast played out the script, as they lived it, it became real, it became their lives, it became history.  the incredibly alchemy of reality performance is that outside of the well worn boundaries of the standard dramatic film or television show, performance is reality.  for the reality performer, it doesn’t matter what your intentions were when you did something, whether they were genuine or not, because when you did it, it became the record, it’s what happened.  i’ve compared heidi to cindy sherman, but really she’s more of an andy kaufman; she’s working without the the safety net of “art” and instead living on the knife edge of identity fabrication.  if you fake it in real life, you make it real.  if you document your fabrication, you further cement its reality.  who needs a marriage license?

and heidi and spencer are right to feel that their fake love is real because fake love is real love.  in the opening chapter of sex, drugs, and cocoa puffs, chuck klosterman sets up this binary between “fake love” and “real love.”  he very clearly defines his concept of “fake love”: the song “yellow” by coldplay, john cusack as lloyd dobler, etc.  however, even though he’s very explicit about his definition of fake love, he doesn’t at all touch on what “real love” is supposed to be (unless we’re supposed to view the image of him silently eating cereal as real love, but golly i sure hope not).  maybe it’s because he’s never had it himself (he gestures toward this a little) or maybe it’s because he has but he’s too solipsistic and analytical to know about it.  maybe it has nothing to do with him, maybe it’s because real love is such a basic, essential thing we’re supposed to just instinctively know what it is without explanation, the way babies know how to breathe.  or maybe it’s because you just can’t say what real love is, that there are no definitions besides platitudes and anecdotes and trite lines in pop songs.  maybe it’s because that there is no clear line of demarcation between real love and fake love, because that border is seriously porous at best.  maybe it’s because fake love is real love or at the very least it is the font from which real love springs, it is the scotch tape that glues pieces of real love together, it is the refrigerator that preserves real love and the microwave that reheats it when it’s gone cold.

fake love is real love when a teenage boy with shaky hands slips his oversized headphones onto a girl’s ears so she can hear a song that he tells her “will change her life.”  sure, laugh at the (incredibly) easy irony of that, at the (complete) cliché, but can you imagine how many times that little one act performance of garden state has gone on in real life, completely unironically and completely beautifully, can you imagine how many times it has led to love, real love (whatever that is)?  can you imagine how many first kisses are built on episodes of friends or the oc or scenes from, i don’t know, fucking harry potter?  just because something is a massive cliché doesn’t make it unbeautiful or insignificant or lacking in the holiness of human essence.  everyone plugged into contemporary society builds their lives on a lattice of lies and a foundation of fiction; we are each and every one nursed on narratives.  it doesn’t matter whether those narratives are in the bible or on gossip girl or in a copy of twilight, they’re all stories, they’re lies that not only tell the truth but tell us how to tell our own truth by lying.  there’s that stupid facebook profile/yearbook quote that goes, like, “i am the sum of every person i have ever met.”  and yeah, you are that, sure, but you’re so much more deeply a sum of the narratives you’re consumed, a collage of half remembered scenes and paraphrased lines. people hated on james frey because he fictionalized his memoir, but even before he wrote it all down, his life was formed on fictions, on kerouac and bukowski and all the outre shit that sixteen year old (and perenially sixteen year old) boys think are manuals instead of novels.  the structure of those stories influenced the structure of his life, the things that those fake characters did influenced the things that he did (or at least wanted/pretended to do), the way that those writers saw the world shaped and molded his perceptions.  that doesn’t make him fake, it doesn’t make him a fraud, it makes him a normal person like all the rest of us and like heidi and spencer, too.

and that’s why i wish people could be as happy for the newlyweds as i am, if everyone could see them not just as an image and not just as real people but as both, as this beautiful, blurred blending of the two, a celebrity palimpsest.  because that’s what they are, both, image makers like hollywood stars of old and image consumers like all of us watching TV and reading shit on the internet. if you see them as only one or the other, it’s like looking at a 3d image without those stupid red and blue glasses; it’s like listening to a pink floyd song with only the left earbud or watching imax on an iphone.

if i could be so presumptuous (and ridiculous) (and completely desperate to bring this overlong post to a conclusion), i’d like to suggest a wedding song for heidi and spencer, something to commemorate the occasion.  there aren’t many songs about fake love but there are a hell of a lot of songs about “real love” by a hell of a lot of people: mary j. blige, the beatles, john lennon, al green, dolly parton, katharine mcphee, smashing pumpkins, swans, steve winwood, master p, kenny rogers, michael mcdonald, george michael, cher, bob seger, and ne-yo, just to name a few (i would link to all of them, but fuck it, you know how google works).  one of my favorite billie holiday songs is “until the real thing comes along,” in which she coos, “i’d lie for you / i’d sigh for you,” in the hope of showing her beau that her love is real.  however, the best song, the song that should have been heidi and spencer’s wedding dance in that little mexican restaurant, is “ain’t nothing like the real thing.”

most songs about “real love” deal with authenticity: how this new love, your love, our love, etc., differs from other loves in the past, loves that weren’t true or real or authentic, that couldn’t compare, that were, you know, fake.  however, “ain’t nothing like the real thing” isn’t about authenticity at all.  instead, it’s about representation and, more specifically, about the limits of representation.  the first two verses deal primarily with the inadequacy of images and text when compared to their real life counterparts.  in the first verse, the singer has her love’s “picture hanging on the wall” but is (oddly) disappointed to find that it can’t see her or “come when [she] calls his name.”  she then realizes (oh shit!) “it’s just a picture, in a frame,” and is therefore not real.  in the second verse, the male singer responds that he reads his love’s letters when she’s not near, but they don’t “move” or “groove” him like her sweet voice whispering in his ear.  this is all like the motown version of “on exactitude in science.”

coming after the chorus, the third verse seems as if it were written by heidi montag herself.  the female vocalist sings that “she plays the game, a fantasy,” she “pretends” but she’s “not in reality.” however, in the grips of this pretending, this fakeness, the woman yearns for corporeality, for the body, for the shelter of her love’s arms to comfort her.  this is, in essence, why heidi wanted spencer to put a ring on it – because even though they fakely love each other, they really love each other, too, in some way.  in that youtube clip of “the office” above, there’s this talking head of tim in which he says, “life isn’t about endings, is it?  it’s a series of moments…if you turn the camera off, that’s not an ending, is it?  i’m still here, my life’s not over.” when you turn the camera off, heidi and spencer don’t stop being together.  on their wedding night after the camera crew and the us weekly interviewer are gone, they’re in the hotel room together and she’s in the bathroom taking tums because she has a stomach ache and he’s on the bed and probably wants to watch some TV, maybe 24, maybe sportscenter, and they’re in the hotel room together, that night and the next day and every day after, their bodies coexisting in space.  call me naive but you don’t get (fake) married unless you really (fake) love each other.  i mean, i could be wrong about this and maybe it’s all a big con perpetrated by heidi and spencer and liz gateley and janice min.  i guess i just really hope it’s not.

“ain’t nothing like the real thing” is arranged as a duet.  duets are a kind of strange subset of vocal performance.  in a duet, the two singers often form some sort of fake relationship within the context of the song.  a large part of the success of a duet rests upon whether the two singers create, sometimes out of thin air, the impression of a real human connection between them.  it’s not about notes or phrasing but about something intangible, about whether their performance makes their love true, if only for the length of the song.  great duets, whether they’re from johnny and june or ella and louis or gram and emmylou, have this kind of magic, the performance that stuns you with its reality.

the marvin gaye and tammi terrell version of “ain’t nothing like the real thing,” the essential version, the one everyone knows, has this kind of power.  the grain of his voice rubbing up against hers on the track is beautiful and magical and what love songs are supposed to be like.  it is, thus, kind of poignant how fake the magic all turns out to be.  when you listen to the song, you imagine them in the studio together, cutting the vocals almost cheek to cheek, working out the unison parts and the vocal interplay and flirting and drinking and being all sexified and lovey dovey.  as it turns out, they weren’t together at all; tammi recorded her part alone with the band and, several weeks later, marvin laid his vocals down on top of the whole thing.  thanks to the new magic of multitracking, this is how the large majority of their classic duets, including “ain’t no mountain high enough,” were recorded.  in other words, in order to record this song, which is all about how representations can’t equal reality, about how real love involves physically being in the same space with the other person, marvin gaye sat alone in an empty vocal booth, listening to an echo of tammi terrell’s disembodied voice spooling off of quarter inch tape into his headphones and he sang along and his ghost voice was frozen in time with hers.  it’s so fake.

yet it feels so real.

* of course in really really real life it does matter if your marriage is legal for reasons of hospital visitation and taxes and basic civil rights and etc. and i of course support gay marriage and blah blah blah.

** i realize this is an incredible simplification of history, whatever, did you think this was the NYRB or something?

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zac efron in the airport

it’s so strange to see these pictures of you, these pictures people have on paper, he thought, stopping and smiling, the routine, the way it always was. everywhere, all the time, these pictures, these people, the thems with their hims – he’s walking down the street to meet a friend, he’s buying a latte, trying on a jacket, making a connection, eating chicken, whatever, and all of a sudden here’s someone sticking a piece of paper in front of him and it’s him, on the paper, him staring back at him, him smiling at him, always with the smiles. there are so many different hims, hims from every month of the year, hims in plaid and stripes and solids, in suits and hoodies and board shorts, all of the hims all smiling back at him. the one he was looking at right then was a picture of him cut out of some magazine, him with his shirt half on, half off, smiling back at him. looking good, of course. it was in a cardboard frame, homemade, taped on, and there was a sweaty hand giving him a magic marker, the fingertips touching his palm and then shooting back off. he didn’t even see the girl the hand was connected too, he just felt her there – he’d gotten good at recognizing and saying hello to someone without actually seeing them, blanking them out of the scene like green screen special effects. she was saying something about how she loved him and he was nodding at her and starting to sign his name. the routine, how it always goes, the smiles and etc.

as he was signing, though, the cardboard and the marker and the tape made him think of deconstruction and meta and all that stuff, the meta deconstruction stuff, the stuff he had learned on the movie. he had learned so much on this movie, so many things, so many words, ideas, etc. he had learned stuff on HSM, sure, even some on HSM II and HSM III though not as much then, but that was practical stuff, stuff like how to sing to synch (you didn’t really sing! meta…) and conditioning and routines and stuff, stuff about your body and what to do with it and how it worked. on the HSMs he hadn’t learned any school-type stuff like he had on this movie – man, he had learned so many things. even just the words he had learned, a whole big bound book of words: meta, deconstruction, artifice, avantguard, paradox, biopic! being on set with richard and everybody was like being in school, like when you had to take vocabulary tests and you didn’t only have to know the definition of the words, you had to be able to use them in sentences, to prove that you really understood them. zac always got perfect scores on those, he was great at them.

deconstruction. richard used the word deconstruction a lot, especially when he was talking serious and art-like about what the movie was about and what it meant and stuff, what it “signified.” “this movie deconstructs orson welles,” he had said one night at the mexican restaurant, swinging his beer bottle like a conductor’s wand, “it deconstructs the standard hollywood biopic.  hell,” he had said, laughing, “it deconstructs our friend zac efron here, it turns him completely upside down, am i right? it’s gonna fuck with everybody’s head when they see him in this shit, you know, how good he is.” and he had punched zac in the arm when he said “good” and zac had smiled and everybody had laughed. zac hadn’t been sure what deconstructed meant then, but he liked the sound of it and especially liked that the same thing that was happening to orson was happening to him. he felt like the word and its use made them closer, him and orson welles, it drew them together, they were alike because they were in the same sentence and the same word was being used to describe them. he could be like orson if he wanted to, he could make something more than himself, bigger, different, filled with words and ideas and silvery light.

and meta, how had he lived without meta? he had told richard he had gotten a new dog and named it “puppy.” richard, just call him rick, had laughed and said in his texasy accent, “damn, that’s pretty meta, zac.” zac, because he didn’t know the word then, had thought he had said, “metal,” like “heavy metal.” he was really confused because it didn’t seem very extreme or hot topic or anything to name a dog “puppy” and, anyway, he hadn’t had any real idea behind doing it, not at all, he had just named the dog puppy because that’s what it was, it was only two weeks old.

now that he understood, though, now that he knew the words “meta” and “deconstruction,” it seemed like everything was meta and everything could be deconstructed, you could see everything in this different way, like x-ray vision. like, even his name, “zac,” his name was really meta, so meta, apparently, it was totally deconstruction and everything. he couldn’t imagine how he had lived without knowing these great cinematical hollywood words, what the world had been like then, how dumb and simple. it was like the difference between having the small package of crayons and the big package, with all the colors – fuschia, aquamarine, chestnut. it was the difference between movies and films – one of the producers had a british accent, a real one, like shakespeare or something, and she had said to him that he might have been in some movies in the past but this was “a film” and things were “a little different” on “films, darling.” she was being mean to him but he didn’t care, he loved the way she pronounced “film” because it sounded expensive and artistic. he was meta, his name was meta, it was meta because it didn’t have an “h.”

autograph. auto…graph. it’s weird, zac deconstructed, that autograph means “write your name.” an autograph should really be some kind of graph made automatically, like a pie chart or a line graph or a dot plot.  he remembered them all, economics, tenth grade, A+. or maybe it shouldn’t be like that, maybe instead it should be a graph about autos, like automobiles, like cars, etc. the thought began to bounce around in his head, the creation, the deconstruction, the energy. like orson. the auto-graph would be a funny joke if he was on a talk show, he thought. he had to do talk shows soon, to promote the movie, ellen and leno and letterman, regis and kelly, some others. it was a small movie and he was the biggest star and he had to sell it, he had responsibilities. so, since the movie had wrapped, he had been practicing for the appearances in his head, doing the interviews over and over, the whole thing, the entrance and the talking and the smiling and the laughing and the clapping and the exit. he imagineered it, he innovated it, he deconstructed it in his mind, every angle, every second, every beat. he was excited to go on most of the shows but not about letterman, he only had bad stomach feelings about letterman. he had been on letterman once before, for HSM, and it had been hard, letterman had been mean, a mean old man. because of this, he imagineered letterman the most. in his mind, he could see letterman making some mean comment about how famous he was and asking for his autograph, which would really just be a trick to make him look stupid, a fake-out, a mean old man trick. but now, because of his deconstruction, he had an idea, a creation, a weapon. like orson. deconstruction was like a superpower for artists, it was, it was like thought magic. in his imagining, zac would fake letterman out, would deconstruct his fake-out and turn it around on him, fake him out. instead of signing the headshot letterman gave him for the autograph, zach would reach behind his chair, out of camera range, and then pull out a big piece of posterboard and on the posterboard there would be a picture of his audi overlaid with some kind of graph of its fuel efficiency or how green it was or something. the crowd would murmur and whisper and letterman would act confused and say something like, “now…what is, what is this you have here?” and do that old-man chuckle of his to the audience. and zac would say, confident, “well, it’s just my auto-graph, dave, isn’t that what you wanted?” and he would smile right to the camera and audience and everybody and they would all laugh, everybody, with him, not at him, with not at. maybe even the next day people would write posts on websites about how clever he was and other people would comment and agree with this.

he continued writing his name, automatic, his hand moving without his brain having to move it. automatic. no, that wouldn’t work, he couldn’t deconstruct that, he didn’t know what a matic was. that was a disappointment, the brain failure took him out of his imagining space and back into the real world, into the airport. he felt gross in his hoodie because of the air – the dirty plane air was still in there. he wanted to take off the hood of the hoodie but he couldn’t, he knew, it would mess up his hair and then they would take pictures of him with the bad hair.  they woudl take these pictures and they would make copies of him that had bad hair, more hims, on paper and on screens, and that was not an acceptable thing because if you had bad hair people could accuse you of being drunk or on drugs or just plain getting uglier than you used to be, they could say any old thing about you they wanted, they could ruin you. he left his hoodie on and began signing his last name.

would orson welles wear hoodies? what would orson do? that was a game they had made, a deconstruction game, a really meta kind of imagineering. it had started out as a joke. christian had been sitting on set, in his orson costume, the hair and the make-up and everything, waiting for a light to be set.  while he was waiting, he had been playing a game on somebody’s PSP. richard had come up to him and said, “now christian, do you really think orson welles would play PSP while he was waiting to do a take?” and christian had not really been paying attention and without looking up had mumbled, “i don’t know.” so richard had asked zac, who was standing right beside him, watching, “ok, zac, what do you think, would orson play PSP?” and zac, he didn’t know where this had come from, it had come from deep inside his brain, some electric thought magic, zac had said, “no, i think he would play a nintendo DS. the DS is fresh and creative, right? with the two screens and the little pen and everything, and I think orson, because he was an artist, would play that instead.” and richard had looked at him and christian had looked up from the game and looked at him and even though it lasted less than a second, it seemed like they were looking at him for a really long time. they looked at him in two ways, first like he was crazy and then like he was smart. zac liked those two looks, both of them, together, the one and the other. he imagined that those were the looks people looked at orson with way back when, the ways they would see him, crazy and smart and mad and genius and wild and brilliant. he liked those looks and the way they made him feel and how they made him feel different than the usual looks he got, the looks about his looks (meta!), the looks about his smile and his abs and his bangs and the way he could make a picture of himself with his shirt half on, half off seem completely natural. finally they had laughed and richard agreed that he was absolutely right, orson would play DS, definitely.

after that it had been this game they played all the time, everybody, every day, what would orson do? would orson have an extra serving of the hot entree or would orson just snack throughout the day? would orson drive an SUV or a hybrid? would orson read variety or nikki finke? would orson like 50 cent or kanye? would orson dip in hummus or salsa? the great thing about the game was that everyone could have an opinion and give reasons for it but because of that thing he had said about the DS, everyone said zach was the expert, he was the genius of the game, he was the man. no one had ever treated him like that before, like he knew more things than other people. so now, even though the movie was over and the game was over, he kept playing it in his head because it still made him feel that feeling inside, that good feeling of being smart and creative, like orson.

orson welles would wear hoodies, he decided, both orsons, the young orson and the old orson. there were two orsons and sometimes you would make that distinction, he had decided, that was sometimes part of the game, it was a rule he had made which he had the power to do being the expert on orson.  he had done a lot of research on the internet about orson besides seeing all his movies.  films, they weren’t movies, they were films.  zac decided that the young orson would wear hoodies like the way pete wentz wears hoodies, he would wear them in this stylish, fashionable young avantguard way, that’s how he would wear his hoodies. but then the old orson would also wear hoodies. he would wear them to cover up how fat and drunk he was, he would use them to hide, like in that movie when he wore a black magician’s cape and a top hat and did magic. the old orson would use the hoodie to show that it didn’t matter how he looked, it mattered what he did and said, what he thought and created. zac liked a lot of things about orson but what he liked most of all was how orson had deconstructed himself, had changed, had gone from young orson to old orson and become a completely new person. zac was tired of being who he was, he wanted to change, it was time. even though he was proud of the movie, it wasn’t the role he wanted, it wasn’t who he wanted to be. the name of the movie was “me and orson welles” but what killed him was that no one would ever pick him to play orson welles, he would only ever get picked to be “me.”  he would never get to play an artist or a villain or a renegade cop, he would only get to be a more handsome version of normal, a more attractive average. and yes, he was attractive, yes, he was handsome, yes, his smile was incredible, yes, it was beautiful, yes yes yes, so what. he was more than eyes and lips and teeth, he had done this movie, this indie movie, this avantguard biopic, he had done it to show that he was more, to change himself, to deconstruct. he didn’t know it then, before, but now with all the words and ideas he had learned on this movie, he knew, he could express it. he had depth, he had range, he was meta, he could deconstruct. that was the thing, he could construct and deconstruct, he could do it, he had the ability somewhere deep inside to do it, like a red button in a control room inside his brain and all he had to do was press it and he would explode. he wanted to deconstruct himself so bad, like orson. he wanted to take himself and make himself into something else.

but he couldn’t, that’s what he was finding, he couldn’t, it was impossible.  it was impossible because of all the hims. because there were all these hims, hims on paper and screens and bedroom walls, in plaid and stripes and solids, and they decided who he was, not the him inside but the hims outside, all of them, they were him, not he. all the hims, smiling. he couldn’t change them all, he couldn’t get rid of them, there were too many, he couldn’t. so there, in the airport, in his hoodie, in the bad air, he finished signing his name and, when he was done signing it, he did what he always did – he drew a little star after the “n” in “efron,” five points, a star to show who he was.

zac efron in the airport

they had kissed on a train, they had kissed in the rain, they had kissed in spain. that was kind of like a poem. lindsay had thought of it as they walked up from the platform, it had just popped into her head out of nothing, like a light bulb turning on in the dark. she tugged on sam’s arm and whispered it into her ear, “we kissed on a train, we kissed in the rain, we kissed in spain,” and sam laughed, oh the way she laughed, and smiled and kissed her again, high on the cheek. ‘we kissed again,’ she thought, that would fit into the poem, that would work, if you pronounced “again” in the british way, like, “a-gain.”

although really they hadn’t actually kissed in spain, not yet, but they were going to ibiza together in december so sam could play some concerts, gigs, she called them, adorable, and then they would kiss in spain, too, on a spanish beach or at a spanish restaurant or in a spanish club, wherever, just all over spain. lindsay had been to spain, she thought, she was pretty sure. she didn’t remember a lot about it, those days, the way things were then, god, but in a sort of way she remembered spain. what she remembered was that it was hot and beautiful and so….spanish. artistic, too. even if you didn’t go to a museum or tourist thing or old cathedral or whatever, just walking around in the streets there felt like art, felt like being part of the art of the world. so spanish, like a poem. her memory of those days had holes in it, big holes, craters like on the moon, but she could remember one time in barcelona, one beautiful thing. they had gone on the roof after dancing all night, her and some models and fashion people and et cetera, and sat in the sunrise, coming down. while they had been sitting there, listening to like bob marley or something, some reggae, god, doves had landed on the edge of the roof, right in front of them, maybe ten doves, maybe more, perfect white like toothpaste against the sunrise. it had been so beautiful, like in a movie when a director wants to make something look beautiful and dramatic and so has birds land or take off in slow motion.

she was so happy she had told sam her poem, so happy. this was the difference, this was what it felt like, the real, holdable feeling of difference. it was like…permission, is what it was. love like this was feeling permission, it was an all-access pass to the v.i.p room in someone else’s heart. like, lindsay could never have told her poem to one of the boys she had dated, not even wilmer, not even him. he was sensitive, sure, but he was too funny, that was the problem with him, he would have made up his own poem that was much funnier and cleverer and then her poem would’ve been forgotten. it was always about him, that was the problem with him. and to tell riley a poem, god, it would’ve been impossible, it would’ve bounced off his big, fat head like a basketball. but sam was different, sam had simply listened and heard and taken the poem inside her, she had held it there like hidden jewelry, like a locket under her shirt with a tiny picture of lindsay in it. this was the difference, it was, it so was.

“this is the difference,” sam had said one night as they laid in bed, eating strawberries from the farmers market. it was one of the first nights they were together, really together, one and one equalling two. “the difference is that they can understand your boobs,” she had said, really quiet, holding one of lindsay’s breasts from underneath and smiling, “but they can’t understand your heart.” and when she had said the word “heart,” she had pressed her hand into lindsay’s chest, firm and strong, like a doctor trying to fix what was wrong with her.

and it was beautiful and everything, of course, and lindsay had laid there holding her and being held by her and eating the strawberries and it was beautiful, yes, but actually inside she had felt weird for a second, it was that french feeling, deja vu. lindsay didn’t understand why she had the feeling, she didn’t want to feel it, she just felt it. and then a second later, she knew, she remembered. she remembered that this guy had said the exact same thing to her one time, about the boobs and the heart and the difference between them and how others didn’t understand. it was word for word, she thought, although maybe he had used the word “tits.” lindsay couldn’t remember much about the guy, that time was hazy, those days, things then, god. he had a beard, she thought, she remembered it scratching her face in the dark.

but anyway, even though it was the same words that the two of them were using, it was different, there was a difference. when he had said it, it had just been words, meaningless, the boring verse of a song you waited through to get the chorus. he had just wanted to get high and fuck and ask her about what famous people she knew were like and if he could meet them and stuff. with sam, it was different, she could tell that sam meant it, she meant it with her eyes and her lips and the hand on lindsay’s heart, she meant it. lindsay decided it was like standards, like jazz: sinatra, holiday, etc. it was like how a singer could make a song happy or sad by singing the same words in different ways, just by changing the little things, turning a phrase or a melody, skipping a beat.

this was the difference. lindsay was so happy, had been happy since the moment she woke up that morning next to sam and they had ordered room service and smoked in bed and not gotten up. just the simpleness of that, god, it was just so wonderful to stay in bed and smoke too many cigarettes and love her so much. it was like a poem, new york was like a poem, their life was like a poem, everything was so wonderful and lovely and just, well…poetic. it was all happening, inside and outside and around. the words for things, all the possible words for description of things in life danced in a nightclub in her head, they were wearing beautiful clothes and moving in perfect time.

she trailed behind sam a little bit, not far, just walking a little slower, just thinking. she wanted to think of a poem, another one, a better one than rain and train and spain. she wanted to write it in the little leather notebook she carried in her purse. the notebook had a clasp and tiny lined paper and she always meant to write things in it but never did. she wanted to write in it now, though, she wanted to save this moment in the book like a wish in a box, like money for a rainy day.

but…she couldn’t. nothing came to her, not word one. she couldn’t think of a poem, she couldn’t conceive of any possible poem, even by plath or dickinson or all the greats put together, that could match what it felt like to be holding sam’s hand before they reached the turnstiles and then letting go of it to revolve through, alone, unheld, weightless, and then on the other side their hands catching together again without them even having to look, like magnets finding their poles or birds not needing maps to know which way south was. she couldn’t imagine a poem that could show that, that could say that, that could feel what it felt like just to be walking with her love today, on their way to lunch in new york. lindsay thought that a poem about that moment would be like a neon sign on a sunny afternoon – no matter how beautiful it was, how intricate and bold and wonderful, it would be nothing compared to the bigger beauty of the sun, it could never shine to match it. lindsay decided right then who needs poems and sped up to catch sam, to grab her and touch her and walk close, in step, together. new york, it was like a poem, their life was like a poem, who needed paper? they were two words in line, they were synonyms, they rhymed.


protect the child, hold her tight, keep her close.  that’s his job, that’s his goal, that’s the task that’s been set out for him.  it’s all told in the writings, in the sacred pages, it’s laid down in the words carried on the last breath of the dying prophet.  the future is her – she is his objective, she is his mission, she is his everything.

he holds her tight and covers his eyes with dark filters because there are enemies all around, even here on the sidewalk, in front of the theater, they are always present, waiting for him to slip. the enemies are cloaked in skin and teeth and hair, they blend into the woolen crowds and he cannot see them yet, not their true selves, he cannot, not until the next level or perhaps the one after, but all the same he knows they are coming for her, the child, they are coming, always, and he must protect her. at all costs he must protect the child.

sometimes at night he sees one of the old stories on television and he wishes they could be real, he dreams of it.  how easy it was to save the world then, how simple, how true.  he wishes that he could win the battle by hanging on wires from ceilings and shooting guns and wearing thick rubber masks. he dreams night after night of his jet dancing through clear blue skies and him pulling a trigger and launching a missile and things explode, kaboom, and he wins, it’s over, he wins, and everybody claps and cheers and stands up in their seats.  that’s what he wishes, too, that the people would be with him again, the audience, that they would love him again, that they would understand why he was doing what he was doing and instead of joking and mocking and ridiculing, instead of all the toxic negative energy they were creating inside and out, he wishes they would join him, that they would learn the tech and use it to clear themselves and save the world.  he wishes that in the war he was fighting every second of every day he could have their support, their eyes and hands and help.  he wished he didn’t have to do it without them.

but he did have to do it and he could and he would and would continue to do, until the end, would protect her with everything he had, at all costs would follow the mission.  he had become selfless, it was so long ago, he had sat in the room and they had connected the wires and the electrodes and then had turned on the current, the hum, the shock, it burned like love.  he had forced the self out of him and down a wire and into a box, a small iron box, the blinking screen of the meter registering that it had finally passed out of him.  that night, after he had recovered, they had driven into the desert with the box, they had attached it to a rocket and shot it into the sky and he had seen it disappear into the stars, gone forever.  his body was simply a shell now, inside there was none of the meat of self and being and none of the evil of those things, the way they weighed you down. now there was only space and energy and clarity.

and now he is standing on the sidewalk, carrying her to the car, all the time keeping watch for threats, and he is a shell.  these arms he has, he doesn’t need them except to hold her and touch her and make her feel his energy, to let if flow into her like milk into tea.  his legs are dumb and slow and their only worth is to bring her away from danger, from them, the enemies.  his face, how he had loved his face when he was young, the hours in front of mirrors flexing his jaw and winking and smiling, the expressions, the looks, he had finally understood that his face is not important, that it’s just a mask that he wears because she and the world aren’t yet ready to experience his pure energy.

they had told him the mission in pieces, in levels, one chapter after the other.  at first, when he was young and stupid, he had wanted it all at once, he had demanded it, he had jumped up in the auditing room and said he had to know everything, now, or he would quit, he would leave, he would show them he wasn’t afraid anymore, he didn’t care what they thought they knew about him.  how stupid he was.  if he had learned then what he knew now, if he had learned it when he still had all of those souls burning inside him, filling his body, if he had learned the weight of his task, it would have crushed him, he would’ve died and with him would’ve died all the chances for her and the world.

after the rocket had disappeared into the sky with the iron box, it seemed like so long ago now, they had given him a new level, the next part of the story, his mission.  david and the others had climbed into the first limo and left him alone in the second, they knew that he liked to advance alone, they had learned this about him as they had learned so many things.  at first, they had given him the levels on paper, like all the others, but reading was so hard for him and they had understood this and in their wisdom now they gave him videos, words and sound and picture all helping him to understand better.  in the back of the car that night, his heart beating fast, he had pressed play and the screen had filled with light and the mark of the organization had shown, had fixed on the screen and held, reassuring him, comforting.  it had been replaced with a beautiful young girl, brown haired, dancing around in golden light and nature, running through trees, paddling a canoe, all in smooth slow motion like underwater.  it was old video, it had that texture, maybe from some television show, he thought, he wasn’t sure, but he knew that she was perfect, that she was almost naturally clear, he could see inside her shell and feel that, this was his power now, at this level.  while he continued to watch her, she in overalls and innocent clothes, the voice from the screen said that his new mission was to meet this woman and take her to the top of the tall steel tower in the old world, the very top, that there they would create a union, a bond, that their energy would coalesce in the steel and send a signal from its summit strong enough to reach ten million light years away

and he had done this, it felt so long ago, centuries, he had done it, he had taken her to the top of the tower and given her the ring, the ring with the crystal from the capsule they had found at the bottom of the ocean.  they had given him the next level and he had learned of the child, that they would come together and make her and he would give her the name of the rose. and he had done this, he had laid down with katie and injected the promise into her, he had done it, and nine months later she had released the formed child into the world, screaming, sweating, and while david and the others watched he had quieted the two of them with touches, giving them strong, firm touches more powerful than the drugs she screamed and begged for.  he had touched the two of them, first katie and then the child, touched them on the cheeks and the breasts and hips, had pressed into them with his fingertips, passing his energy through their hot, wet skin, sending the good in and expelling the bad.  he had done it, he had done it all, he had advanced up the staircase, level after level, rung after rung.  he had done it and he could do it and he would do it and he is doing it, he’s fighting the war, completing the mission, every second of every minute of every day.  and now he’s on the street in the fall air, holding the girl in his arms, and she’s warm and breathing and makes soft noises.  the living promise, the golden key, the beginning and the end.  he holds her closer as the flashes go off at his left and his right and across the street.  he wears the filters as protection, so that his eyes will never be blinded and he can always keep watch, can always protect her.  at all costs he must protect the child.  the future is her, she is his everything.

whore or madonna? that had been heidi’s totally serious halloween dilemma in the costume store, whore or madonna, madonna or whore, etc. etc. oh god, decisions. heidi hated making decisions for a lot of reasons but mostly because they closed off possibilities, because really if you thought about it decisions killed possibilities, choosing one choice over another was like murdering possible good things that could happen in the future. it was kind of like abortion in that way, which heidi was also against, anti-choice, those pictures they showed her and spencer at the private meeting in the dark room, they projected them up on the wall, oh god, the little hands and fingers floating over the wall like ghosts. she had started crying then, which she had not expected, she had not expected that the meeting would cause tears and she had not planned her make-up accordingly. normally she knew when she was going to cry because it was on the sides for that day and so she could plan for it, she could be ready for it, but these tears had come out of her eyes naturally, like sweat that hurt, and in the dark spencer had grabbed her and held her and said, “it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” like a boyfriend in a movie.

but spencer wasn’t here at the costume store and she was in charge and that was good because spencer had chosen their costumes last year and was a real butt about it and that was a bad time in their relationship and she didn’t want to go back there. heidi didn’t believe in the past, she believed in the future, she believed in possibilities, she believed in all her future wishes that hadn’t yet been granted. standing in the aisle, freaking out at all the different possible choices, she had done her breathing like she saw on TV yoga, in, out, in, out, in, out. she had reassured herself that she didn’t have to worry about this decision because it wasn’t like this was her main costume (barbie, which she had done badly in seventh grade but which she hadn’t been confident enough to do again until the surgery) or even her secondary costume (sarah palin but really respectful and totally not ironic like everybody else well maybe a little ironic but not totally), no, this was her third costume, which was really not even that important, not at all.

it was still kind of important, though, of course, sort of important or maybe even probably very important because, in truth, halloween was heidi’s secret favorite holiday, the one she privately loved more than all the others. she would never say that out loud, she would always say that easter was her favorite holiday because of jesus and how all the eggs reminded her of babies and like the really cute easter dresses you could wear but really that was just her outside favorite, the one she told people. halloween was her real favorite, her inside favorite. sometimes she wondered if jesus was mad at her for not picking one of his holidays as her secret favorite. she wondered if jesus could be mad at her for having thoughts that weren’t perfect and christian and good and right, if it could be like “minority report” where he could tell the things she was thinking right when she was thinking them and watch them like on a TV screen in heaven. heidi knew that she wouldn’t go to hell for secretly loving halloween, she knew jesus died for her to be able to have halloween as her secret favorite holiday if that’s what she wanted, but what she wondered was if jesus would be personally annoyed or angry with her for not picking the right holiday. she wondered if when she got up to heaven and met him on like a cloud or by a pearly gate or something if he would be like her mom and sigh really deep and say, “i’m not mad, heidi, i’m just…disappointed.”

halloween was heidi’s secret favorite holiday because halloween was a time when you were allowed to try to make everyone pay attention to you and look at you and love you. if you did this other times of the year it made you a whore, an attention whore, god how many times had she heard that, how many times had she cried, in the shower so you couldn’t count the tears. but on halloween it was okay to be a whore, it was encouraged, it was celebrated, there were costume packages, like the costume package she had been thinking about buying, that were labeled “whore,” and lots of girls were buying them and dressing up as whores and it was okay and everyone loved them for it.

she thought halloween was really like a christian holiday because it was a day that everyone could be loved, even ugly and fat people, all of the whole of everyone. the only thing you had to do to be loved was to dress up in a costume, which was heidi’s other favorite thing about halloween, the costumes. obviously she had always loved dressing up, of course, who didn’t, but what she liked about everybody wearing costumes was that everybody was real and not real at the same time. this was complicated in an algebra kind of way but really important. like, everybody was wearing costumes, so everybody was like fake, like not real. but at the same time, you could almost always see through their costumes to the person they were inside, you could see parts of them, their eyes or nose or their tattoos, you could see the real them. and even if maybe they were wearing a big rubber mask or something and you couldn’t see their bodies, you still could see the real them, because on their outsides they were wearing their real inside fantasies, their secret dreams. heidi thought that wearing halloween costumes was like having your inside parts and your outside parts all confused and mashed up, kind of like those skeleton costumes where people have their bones on the outside of their bodies. heidi felt like this kind of all of the time, all mashed up and inside and out at the same time, and so she loved halloween because everybody was the same as her for one day, she wasn’t alone anymore.

but at the same time picking her costume was also so stressful, so completely anxietyful and hard. heidi looked at the wall of halloween costumes, all of them hanging in plastic bags, hundreds probably. each one held the future, she thought, each bag was full of possibilities and if you picked the wrong bag you would get the wrong future and all the other possible futures would die and fall away and you would be ruined forever. she had narrowed it down to two choices, whore or madonna, madonna or whore, but it was still so hard. she had always loved madonna, madonna was her favorite singer, her icon, her role model. but the thing was her favorite madonna was “like a virgin” madonna and the madonna costume they had was “vogue” madonna and even though that was okay it wasn’t her favorite.

and then the whore costume was very flattering, would really show off her body which she was proud of, which she worked so hard on and wanted people to see and be impressed by, but at the same time it was kind of regular and there would probably be a lot of girls with the same costume and even though heidi would look better than all of them, she still wasn’t sure about it. it was so hard, choosing.

and she really just didn’t know what to do, she had been standing there a while, looking, and so in the middle of the aisle she had finally closed her eyes and asked god which costume she should pick, if he would please, please tell her so she could make the right decision. before she could even finish asking, she saw a picture of herself inside her head and in the picture she was wearing the whore costume and she looked beautiful and there was light all around her, perfect soft white light, clean like soap. she had opened her eyes and pulled the whore costume off of the wall and it felt perfect, the weight of it was just right in her hands, and holding it she had had the right feeling in her stomach and the right feeling in her heart and the right feeling all the way down to her toes, she was right, it was right, everything in the world was right. she had made her choice and it was the right one and there would be so many amazing possibilities that could happen in the future because of it. she would be a whore and everyone would love her and everything would be alright.

t.i.:

why they got me sitting like this, he thinks, this shit makes me look short.  goddamn, my face is down at tittie level, what the fuck is that, my face is only as important as her titties?  those titties multi-platinum, huh? they win a grammy, huh?

and the photographer says something about tightening up, getting tight, whatever, and she pulls her arm around him, grab his shoulder, and bitch is strong, for real, scary, big hands like lebron or yao ming or some shit.

but t.i. knows that it’s good that he’s here with her arm around him, it’s good, it’s important, he knows, important for sales to all them moms who need to buy they little teenage girls new albums at target and shit for christmas and wanna make sure he ain’t too “gangsta” but also for other reasons, too, it’s important, he knows.

like, i can talk about this shit when i’m in there, he thinks, those motherfuckers get basic channels, right? so they see this shit now and they’ll remember it, they will, cause what the fuck else they got to remember in there, what the fuck else they got to look at, you know they watching “tyra,” what the fuck they gonna watch all day, like “ellen” or some shit? and so we’ll be sitting around in the yard or the cafeteria or whatever and they’ll be all like, “what, i saw you on tyra back in the day, motherfucker, you hit that shit backstage, right right?”  and i’ll be all like, “naw, motherfucker, she begged me, i didn’t want that shit, bitch is crazy, she got big hands like kobe!” and they all be laughing and smiling and shit and it’ll all be cool, i ain’t gotta worry about it no more, just do the time, cool, smooth and easy, ride it out. (shit, that’s a chorus, put that shit on loop: “smooth and easy, ride it out / smooth and easy, ride it out”). yeah, that’s why this is important, this is some shit i can talk about in there with them, some real conversational shit, he thought, since what the fuck else we gonna talk about?  we gonna talk about me, it’s all gonna be about me, 24-7 for 365 days, maybe less with good behavior which i am gonna have, you dig? goddamn, all that talking…

the photographer is asking him to smile different and he’s trying to move his mouth or turn his eyes or some shit, whatever, who cares, but really he’s thinking about the talking, t.i. is, about all the talking he’s gonna have to do in there because what else is there to do but talk? and like shit, you know some fuckers are gonna give him shit because of who he is, you know that shit’s true.  and he wouldn’t tell anybody about how he’s scared, but shit yeah he’s scared. it’s been so long since he was inside and he don’t even remember that shit, he closed it off, he put it back in his mind and locked the door on that shit, put the chain on it, barbed wire.  and his boys all tell him about what it’s like, everybody, skeet and l-dawg and this security nigga that worked at mannie’s studio with two teardrops, everybody tellin him stories and shit, yeah, he heard lots of stories, but that don’t make you ready, they just stories, they make you about as ready as watching “prison break” or “oz” or that old shit with dirty harry about alcatraz.  he did a little time back in the day but shit, everywhere different, you can’t predict it, you don’t know who in charge, you don’t know who in there, one bad motherfucker can ruin you, can break you, one bad motherfucker can turn shit to hell.  he’s got those memories behind a wall, behind another wall, behind fences.  he thinks of that time with weezy, weezy blowing fire and talking crazy mess about mars, about living on mars and smoking mars crip and what an 808 kick sound like on mars and how booties shake in slow motion on mars, and, shit, t.i. knows as much about what it’s gonna be like when he get in there as he knows about what it’s like living on mars, man.

american gangster, that’s a movie, that ain’t life, man.  those guns he was buying were just for fucking around, he won’t gonna shoot nobody, fuck. he ain’t never shot nobody, those guns were for recreational purposes, for serious.  you get blazed and unload a clip into a watermelon fifty feet across yo backyard?  burn through in like two seconds and see that pink and green vaporize into air, feel the stock shake your chest and you holding strong against it and then you go touch the tore up watermelon, all pink and juicy, and that shit’s warm?  fuck, it’s some beautiful shit, man, it’s birth and death and life and watermelon, all that shit, beautiful. why be rich if you can’t enjoy it?  he loved his machine guns, so what, he wanted a couple more, so what, that don’t mean he’s gonna kill somebody.  shit’s in the constitution, man, what, where’s his rights? second amendment, where you at?  and you got nazi motherfuckers up in the mountains, he saw this shit on the discovery channel, you got these nazi motherfuckers up in the mountains with a fucking army and shit and do the cops raid them, do they prosecute ? hell no.  they can’t take they guns because they know those motherfuckers will shoot back, waco, motherfucker, so they gotta target basically law abiding citizens like him who just wanna make money and make love and maybe sometimes shoot some shit in they backyard, what the fuck, america?

and he knows they’re gonna be talking shit in there, he just knows it, all the damn time.  they be sittin around talking or some shit cause what else you do and maybe he says something stupid, it happens, whatever, he say something stupid and he know some motherfucker’s gonna say, “what you know about that?” and then everybody be laughing but not good laughing, bad laughing, the kind of laughing that makes him wanna do some shit that he can’t do if they big and he shouldn’t do if he wants good behavior.  they do cell check and he gotta step out so the guards can check under the bed and shit and all the boys gonna be going “bring em out, bring em out,” goddamn. laughing and shit.  but what he’s really thinking about is the showers and the soap and the steam all around him and he drop the soap and when he’s picking it up he feel a big hand on his shoulder, strong, holding him, and some big 300 pound motherfucker whisper all hot in his ear, right up in his ear hole, “why you wanna go and do that, love? hey, why you wanna go and do that?”  he don’t even wanna think about that shit but he can’t stop thinking about it, he wakes up sweating in the morning.

the photographer is doing some shit with the lights and this is taking forever, just to shoot some pictures, do they think he’s made of time? and do i look short next to this bitch, though, he thinks.  seriously, why they got me sitting like this, goddamn, get me a stool or some shit, motherfucker! and these sunglasses hurt his head, too, they too tight.  who wears sunglasses like this anyway, on top of they head? fucking dumbass white boys, storch probably wear some shit like this, twinkie motherfucker. why they gotta make him wear these broke ass sunglasses like this?  and now tyra’s all telling him what he needs to do and her breath smell like vaseline, and she’s telling him how to smile, how to make his eyes look and shit, like fucking school or some shit.  and he’s going “uh huh, uh huh, uh huh” and nodding and shit but what he’s thinking is don’t tell me how to smile, i’ll smile how i wanna smile, bitch. i’m a free man, i control my shit, don’t tell me what to do, you ain’t the boss of me.  i’m a free man, he’s thinking, i’m free, man, he’s thinking, right now i am, free.  he don’t say that but he’s sure the fuck thinking it.

tyra:

he’s really much shorter than i thought he would be, she thought, much shorter, kind of a surprise, really, honestly.  she was thinking this while holding a very subtle but perfectly constructed and communicative smile, mouth downturned, serious cheeks, eyes half focused but hazy, pupils slightly to the left, a number 187 to be exact.  when she was younger, when she had that kind of time, oh the time she had then, she had looked in front of the mirror and tried to number all the different faces she could do, all the expressions, used polaroids and sharpies and made like a catalog of the numbers and memorized it so she should could call them up in a snap when she needed them, instant, efficient, before the photographer even finished reloading.

this t.i. situation registered a 187, for sure. tyra had a true talent for assessing situations, understanding their particulars, processing, and translating her reaction into a certain facial expression which was a perfect reflection of the situation.  this t.i. situation was a 187: sad, but sad in also a hopeful way, wistful, full of wist, almost melancholy, close to dipping into melancholy, but with a grace note of something okay like dreams and hope.  t.i. had to go to jail and that was sad but he was rich and people loved his music, tyra included, whatever you like, and that musical love was hopeful, full of hope.  t.i. was kind of rude and standoffish backstage and he wouldn’t sit with her and talk and he just stayed in his dressing room with his boys and the door closed, which made her sad, but then during the taping he had said a lot of lovely things about young people and inspiration and following your dreams, which she thought might be part fake but she could see the eyes of the girls in the audience, their eyes crying and and believing, and that meant hope, and that was the whole point.  tyra liked giving hope to people, that was the whole point, that was the reason she did the show, to make people hopeful, full of hope, but at the same time she knew had to cut the hope with something else, that just hope wasn’t enough.  there’s that saying that hope floats but tyra thought that wasn’t true, that if you took one of those, you know, rubber rafts and pumped it full of hope it probably wouldn’t stay above water, especially in a storm.  katrina, oh jesus, never forget.  if you think about hope like eating, god she was hungry, if you think about it like eating, you can’t get full on hope, it’s like shrimp, you can just keep eating it and keep wanting more and never get what you really need, which is some bread and corn and iced tea.  damn, she thought, shrimp for dinner, for sure, make the call after this is done.

it reminded her of something barack had said backstage.  she had gone backstage with him, after the show, into the dressing room, and there had been so many people there, well, really, the entourage had probably actually been about the same size as t.i.’s but t.i.’s folks were all big fat boys slumped in chairs, fools seemed like they were sinking into the floor, horrible posture, whereas baracks’ people in their suits and their hustle bustle and their white voices made it seem like there were twice as many, like they were running a country from inside her dressing room, like it was the oval office.  anyway she had gone backstage with him and they were just joking, just making little small talk and jokes, and he was about to leave but one of the line producers, linda, had brought her little two year old backstage and wanted to take her picture with barack which was really not appropriate and tyra had tried to establish strict boundaries between staff and guests and when she showed up in the doorway tyra had shot her a look that was a smile with her mouth but her eyes as hard and sharp as japanese knives (#36).  but linda had come in with her little girl and the little girl was wearing the most adorable little outfit, this onesie covered in red feathers or faux-feathers or something, so she looked like a bird, tyra had made a note to find out the company so they could do a giveaway.  she had walked the girl up to barack and said oh mr obama, a picture with my daughter please and of course he said yes and barack grabbed the little girl and lofted her up into the air, against that starchy white shirt, and everybody was watching and linda had her little point and shoot ready and he said, “hope…is a thing with feathers,” and he smiled that smile, that big, white teeth smile, a number 1 in tyra’s book, a perfect number 1, and linda’s camera flashed and everybody had laughed and groaned and said he was corny.

and now charles is shifting the lights which she knows he is not doing because of a lighting problem, this is a TV studio, for god’s sakes, this is the tyra show, they don’t have lighting problems, and he tells her with this look out of the corner of the eye that t.i. isn’t giving him what he needs, she loves charles for that, they can communicate without speaking, they’re almost telegenic that way.  she curves around a little to look at t.i. and his face looks like he’s getting his driver’s license photo, it looks like he’s just coming to the solution of a hard math problem, it looks like he’s watching a tv show that is not very entertaining.  in any case, it is not the right kind of expression, it is not the right kind of smile, it’s not what he needs and she needs and the audience needs.  and so tyra tries very nicely to give him some advice about things he can do with his face, small things, she’s good at giving advice, and he’s saying “uh huh, uh huh, uh huh,” and pretending to shift his expression but he’s not listening and really it’s just a damn shame, is all tyra can think, what a waste.  because tyra knows that faces and smiles can make hope and dreams come true, they can make hearts move and votes cast and laws pass, they can make people feel things they didn’t even know they knew how to feel, but they can only do this if you get the faces right, only if they’re perfect, only if they’re just so.  otherwise you just look like a damn fool; short, too.

anne hathaway, whole foods

November 1, 2008

it looked like a little man, was the reason she laughed.  the laugh had started quite naturally; she laughed because the ginger looked like a little man, like a funny little nubby brown man with a long giraffe neck and little rounded nubby nub nubs for arms and legs.  it had looked funny and so she had laughed.  it amazed her that it was so simple, really, this process, this laughing, this seeing something funny and the laughter coming out just an instant later.  it amazed her because she hadn’t laughed lately, she hadn’t been in a laughing mood lately, she hadn’t felt like a laugh lately because of him and because of what people thought of her because of him and said about her because of him and because of how she remembered him holding her and what his eyes looked like closed sleeping, because of all the good and bad and strong and dark himness of him.  she hadn’t felt like a laugh lately.

but today would be a good day, she had decided, was a good day, would be a good day, was going to be a good day, oh such a good day.  like those day calendars, those ones with the metal binder ring and the 365 little sheets of paper and they had quotes or cartoons or pictures of cats in costumes on them? she didn’t have one of those (iphone, who needs anything else?), she wasn’t the kind of person who had one of those, like her aunt or something, but if she was that kind of person she would have written in magic marker on the entry for this day, “GOOD DAY,” in all caps, and she would have meant it.  it was a good day.  she actually hadn’t planned to wear black because black didn’t feel like a “good day” kind of color, at least in LA, not really, but that morning she had gotten yogurt on the little sunny sundress she was going to wear and so she had gone with the black, the old standard, the devil wears ha ha ha.  it was a good day, it was going to be a good day, she was getting out, going out, doing things, making things happen, buying things so that later she could cook those things with her friends and they would open a bottle of the wine she had just bought and look at the ocean and smell cooking smells from the things cooking in the pots and pans she had bought earlier and maybe once they were tipsy sing motown songs into hairbrushes like in cheesy movies.  she would never sing a motown song in a hairbrush like a microphone in a movie she was actually in, she was done with that princess shit, jeez, jonathan had told her at a private dinner that that part of her life was over now, her younger days, she was changing, she had depth, now, but deep inside somewhere she still liked the idea of it, of off key catterwauling into imaginary microphones.  R E S P E C T, etc.

and now she was laughing, now she could feel the laughter rising up from her stomach, so fast, like magic, like a wish coming true.  a balloon inflating.  the wet cold from the refrigerated cabinet made her skin tingle and so the growing laugh was wrapped in a shiver, but it was ok, it wasn’t a bad cold new york shiver that reminded her of him and his big arms, no, it was a good kind of shiver, the kind that felt electric and white and touched bone. and though the laughter had caught her by surprise, this was the thing she did, this was the thing she decided to do: she caught it, she took it, she grabbed the laughter and held it inside her and she decided in the middle of one millisecond to stretch it out, to elongate it, to make the most of it.  she was going to laugh.  it was a good day and she was going to have a good laugh, she was going to make this laugh count, it was going to feel good. as the laugh began to explode out of her mouth, high pitched and keening, louder than she had though, she flexed her body to accommodate it, arching her back, letting her neck go limp and roll back over the vertebrae, all the sinewy tension melting into soft tissue that was shaking like waves under the laugh.  she felt good, she was controlling the laugh, she was making it more than it was was, she was taking this thing, this natural thing, and using her abilities to shape into something more powerful, some force of goodness that could transform her.  it was a good day, it would be a good day, she was laughing.  she rolled her shoulders back, following the natural contours of the laugh but also guiding them, controlling them.  it was easy, it was a piece of cake, it was pie easy, it was shifting from first to second to third on PCH in perfect sunny weather.  it was a good day.

but then, just as easily, just as quickly, just as naturally, she was losing it, it was going away, it was dying.  the air wasn’t coming out of her mouth, she was running out, the sound was cutting out like a music box unwinding.  she breathed in silently through her nose and tried to repurpose it into the laugh, like laugh fuel, but it just came out as squeaky breath.  under her sunglasses, she looked out of the corner of her eye at the ginger, trying to remember what it was that was so funny that it had made her laugh so that she could laugh at it some more.  it was a little man, she reminded herself, ha ha, that was the funny thing, wasn’t that funny, couldn’t she see the funny little nubs?  but it didn’t look like that anymore, it just looked like a plant, like a dirty brown something that she would would have to scrape the skin off later and it would burn her mouth.  she squinted at it, she tried to make her eyes see what her brain wanted, tried to make them see, one last time, that it was a little man, that it looked like a tiny little man that she was holding in her hand. why couldn’t she see him anymore, where did he go, what had changed, wouldn’t he please come back?  she flexed her biceps, her calves, her thighs, she gripped the ginger, she tightened her spine, all her yoga muscles hardening. she stood there and she held the pose, praying for it to last just a little bit longer.

back

November 1, 2008

so i am trying something new and dailyish now.  if anyone’s still around, bear with.