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Updated: 58 min 49 sec ago

New York City, May 21, 2017

Mon, 2017-05-22 18:01

★★★★★ The nearest and most forceful of the birds singing in the morning sounded one staccato note, with well spaced pauses between each one. The slightest parting of the blinds let the full light-flooded scene below come through. The sidewalks were active early. There was already a line outside the bakery, not a bad one by the bakery’s standards, but the day had gone past being nice enough to wait around in. It now demanded motion and activity. A glance over the shoulder to check the time found treetops blocking the clock atop the bank building. A passing neighbor’s face was unrecognizable till the last second in the deep shade of a wide-brimmed hat. A building worker chased pigeons out of the fountain with the spray of a hose. The five-year-0ld was surly about going outside again, after he’d been to the playground already, but once he was on the move he began happily barking orders into a toy flip phone. Petals blew through the trees onto the path into the northern end of the Park. Great Hill was strewn with blankets and people, and a kite was struggling to get aloft. Chipmunks scattered in the leaves and a catbird hopped by the path. The greenery was thick enough to briefly achieve seclusion. Mugwort was up amid the trees and in the open, in sun and shade, with the woodland animals and the old city birds around it. The walkways obeyed the terms of the flat geometric map on the phone while rising and falling in and out of view on the swells and troughs of rock and land. Matte ripples ran over the surface of the Harlem Meer. The northmost part of the Conservatory Garden was dense with withered standing tulips, crowded and still straight. A couple in immaculate white chased with gold posed by the Untermyer Fountain, crystals glittering in the woman’s hair clip and clutch purse. Another couple was posing on the lawn of the middle garden, their embracing coached and tracked by a photographer yards and yards away on the grass with a long lens. More dressed-up people attended by more photographers waited their turns. The breeze tossed the plume of the fountain there like a horse’s tail. Up on the overlook new wisteria vines thrust and coiled into space, feeling for something new to grasp. The couple from the lawn had made their way up to the shaded pergola. “Kiss!” the photographer called to them, from the far end of the row of benches. Two people with a pair of binoculars peered up into the dark of the ceiling of vines, making pishing sounds to rouse birds. Down in the final garden, the flowers were trembling bells or immense creamy clusters or purple metal geodesic domes. Sparrows flew down to join the bronze bird in the dish lifted by the statue in the Frances Hodgson Burnett fountain. The sun through the leaves of the Japanese crabapple made pennies at the bottom of the darkened pool shine. In among them was one dime. A pink colored pencil floated on the water with the leaves and petals.

New York City, May 21, 2017 was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Somebody Is Hiring A “Millennials Investigator”

Mon, 2017-05-22 14:33
Whatever that is.Image: Adi Korndöfer

Is this the best job posting you’ve ever seen? Yes.

Millennial-focused Investigation series. Aggressive, passionate, tireless, proven boundary breaker with an intense work ethic and a millennial POV. With resume, please provide a link to video materials and a 2 -3 paragraph (max) cover letter stating A) your research and investigation background and B) any prior-century news event you have done an extraordinary deep dive into. No prior experience or completed degree required. Location flexible. Military background a plus, not required.Please send portfolio to:

Uhh, what is Studio City? Besides desperately in need of a millennial? A media agency? I dunno, you tell me.

Somebody Is Hiring A “Millennials Investigator” was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

You Ought To Know Frank Eaton

Mon, 2017-05-22 13:03
Old-School Show-Off: “Pistol Pete,” Gunslinger and Father-Avenger

Centuries after Hamlet but decades before Inigo Montoya, an American boy set out to avenge the death of his father. His name was Frank Eaton. Some called him Pistol Pete because of his unparalleled trigger finger. He was not a fictional character, but he seemed to know that his story sounded like literature, that there was something trope-like and near-allegorical about his mission. He had a fine sense for the drama of it, and stretched the truth when it served his story. He called his revenge “the great task of my life.”

Across the Atlantic, existentialism, nihilism, and absurdism had already taken root in the minds of European sons, and in their literature, father-son relationships were messy things whose dissolution pointed to man’s alienation from God himself. But frontier narratives like Frank’s never bothered with any of that agonized existential stuff. In Frank’s memoir, good is rewarded, evil is punished, and God smiles down upon him as he gallops across the plains of America, guns smoking in his holsters.

Frank Eaton was born in Hartford, Connecticut on October 26, 1860. His father, also named Frank, was a soft-spoken Civil War veteran who bought a homestead in Osage County, Kansas for his wife and three kids. Both Union and Confederate veterans were settling down in Kansas then, so the atmosphere was tense, bitter, and undercut with violence. Young Frank first witnessed the violence up close at age seven, when his father brought him along to a vigilante meetup that culminated with someone beating a judge to death.

Before long, the violence touched home. When Frank was only eight, a group of six ex-Confederate raiders — the Campsey-Ferber gang — came riding up in the black of night and yelled for Frank Sr. to come to the door, convinced that he had ratted them out to the local sheriff. When little Frank opened the door instead, they burst past him and gunned down his father in sight of the entire family, yelling, “Take that, you goddamn Yankee!”

After his father’s funeral, a family friend took Frank aside.

“My boy,” he croaked, “may an old man’s curse rest upon you if you do not try to avenge your father!”

The next day, the man brought over an old Navy revolver for Frank, and the kid began to practice shooting. Like a Western Hamlet, Frank was forever haunted by the murder of his father, except he spent no time agonizing over what to do next. He knew that he needed to learn to shoot, and shoot well, because the difference between a fast draw and a lightning-fast draw was the difference between life and death. His mission was straightforward, practically Biblical: an eye for an eye, six lives for the irreplaceable life of a father.

From the ages of eight to fifteen, Frank learned to use his gun. There was a purity to his behavior during this time: he rarely shot an animal that he wasn’t planning to eat, he swore he wouldn’t touch a drop of whiskey until he was 40 years old, and he didn’t mess around with girls. (His first kiss was a chaste one, coming from the lips of a devout Catholic girl named Jennie who later gifted him a massive crucifix.) As he grew into a crack shot, his mother remarried, and the family moved to Oklahoma, within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. When a teenage Frank stopped by Oklahoma’s Fort Gibson to train with the cavalry there, he found out he was already a better shot than the troops were. “Pistol Pete,” their commanding officer called him, impressed.

He was fifteen when he found out where the first of his father’s killers, Shannon Campsey, was hiding. Shannon had holed up in a creepy little one-room cabin near Oklahoman town of Webbers Falls, also located in the Cherokee Nation. Criminals of all stripes loved to hide out in the Nation — avoiding the US government and filching horses and cattle while they were at it — and so the Cherokee were pleased to hear that this scrappy little teenager had big plans to kill Shannon, who’d been stealing their cattle for years. Frank rode up and spotted the murderer sitting on his porch, a Winchester rifle across his lap. “Hello, Shan, don’t you know me?” called Frank, and at the sound of his voice, Shannon leapt to his feet. “I knew he was fast and a dead shot,” says Frank, “but I had been trained for this since I was eight years old.” Frank emptied two shots into Shannon’s chest before the Winchester ever fired.

Two years later, Frank nabbed the second killer, Doc Ferber, riding up to him and yelling, “I am Frank Eaton and I ought to know you, Doc Ferber, for you are one of the men who killed my father. Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” The third killer, another Ferber brother, had just been murdered in a poker game (“Somebody else beat me to him!”) and when Frank attended his funeral in an attempt to find the remaining Campseys, a deputy US marshal came up, expressed admiration for Frank’s sharpshooter skills, and offered him a marshal position, even though he was technically too young for the dangerous role. Frank accepted, but insisted on finishing up a few more revenge killings first. Before long, he’d nailed two more Campseys in a single bloody shootout. There was only one killer left.

If Frank’s go-to line — “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” — sounds familiar, it’s because that line was made famous by the novelist Charles Portis in his 1968 book True Grit (and in the two subsequent movie versions). Portis borrows liberally from Frank’s life — the unfair death of a father, the killer who joins an unsavory gang, the child-avenger — and though the protagonist of the novel is a 14-year-old girl, she shares many traits with Frank, like an obsessively single-minded purpose and lashings of “frontier virtues.” Sure, Frank kills a lot of people, throws around the word “hell,” and eventually dares to take a swig of whiskey, but he trains for murdering his father’s murderers like some sort of cowboy monk. At the end of his life, he recalls his youth with artless nostalgia, firmly convinced that the wild and bloody life on those plains was, indeed, more virtuous than the “modern” life of the 1950s. He notes, for example, that justice was fairer when it was meted out in the open, man to man, rather than taken into a courtroom.

At the tail end of summer 1881, when Frank was almost 21 years old, he learned that the last Campsey brother, Wyley was out in West Texas. Frank saddled up a horse called Bowlegs and struck off, sleeping under the stars on the way. In Texas, he found that Wyley had skittered off to Albuquerque, and so he rode on. When he galloped into town, the sheriff invited him into the bar for a drink—and who was behind the bar, slinging whiskeys? Wyley, of course. Frank strode in, guns loosened in his holsters, and confronted the killer and his two bodyguards.

“Don’t you remember me, Wyley?” he taunted.

“I never saw you before,” said Wyley.

“Oh yes, you have. It was the night you killed my father! I am Frank Eaton, remember? Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!”

All four of them went for their guns, but Frank, as always, was quickest. He took a bullet in the leg and arm from one of the bodyguards, but all three of his opponents ended up dead. “The great task of my life was finished,” he thought to himself, and rode home.

Though Frank continued to lead an extremely colorful life — more gunfights, a lot of wrangling cattle, and his first taste of whiskey — he was on his way to settling down. He bought a claim in Oklahoma in 1889 and married a girl named Orpha under a big oak tree just before she turned 16. They had two girls, and for seven years, he “knew what heaven must be like.” Then Orpha took sick and died, but eventually Frank met his second wife Anna, had eight more children, put down his guns (for the most part), and took up the fiddle. Finally, he opened up a blacksmith shop in the town of Perkins, Oklahoma.

By the time a 92-year-old (!) Frank sat down to write his memoirs in 1952, the frontier was no more. It had been officially “closed” in 1890. Frank was, distinctly, a product of another time — the child of an America that had vanished.

A decade after Frank’s memoir was published, philosopher Maurice Friedman wrote a book called Problematic Rebel: An Image of Modern Man, which described precisely who Frank was not. Modern Man, after all, is characterized by fragmentation and alienation — often, a fragmentation from his own father. “The inner division which results from the alienation between fathers and sons is as much a commentary on the absence of a modern image of man as on the breakdown of the specific father-son relationship,” noted Friedman. “At the heart of this breakdown, in fact, is the inability of the father to give his son a direction-giving image of meaningful and authentic human existence.” This alienation from the father leads to an alienation from God and an alienation from the self, resulting in the splintered, anguished heroes of Sartre and Dostoevsky and Camus. Even Hamlet fits under this “modern” paradox, lost in a world where the only direction he gets from his father is the howling of a ghost.

But that’s not Frank. His father, by dying in front of his son in a puddle of blood, gave Frank precisely what Modern Man never got: a “direction-giving image of meaningful and authentic human existence.” The death of the father gave his son purpose, a sense of right and wrong, a place in the moral order of the chaotic frontier, a reason to move through the West with confidence. Dying in front of his son was a great gift. And it marked him as a product of a past that — like the frontier — is closed forever. Revenge stories like Frank’s are told, now, mostly as fiction.

You Ought To Know Frank Eaton was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Slow Your Impeachment Roll, This Shit is Going to Take Forever

Mon, 2017-05-22 12:26
And other unsolicited advice.Image: Michael Sobota“I’m getting psyched about all this Trump/Russia Stuff! Is Trump gonna be gone soon?” — Impeachment Izzy

Yes. The Marshal of the Supreme Court has already burned a Scarlet ‘I’ into the President’s manboob. Once the 13th Seal is opened by the Congressional Minotaur the Doctor from “Doctor Who” will select the next President based on Midichlorian Count. No. While it may be fun to get naked and drunk in front of the TV every night waiting for the President to be beheaded on the National Mall, it’s going to take forever. And his head isn’t rolling anywhere any time soon.

Trump’s has been an historic administration. Historically crazy. And potentially historically crooked. Like the NHL Playoffs, however, these things take a really long time to get over with. And by the end of it you will be sick of it. You may get the sense that we’re already in the 5th Act of this tragedy. In fact we’re still in the Cold Open. By the time we’re really to the point where Trump is getting on the helicopter out of Washington we might want him to stay. Because President Pence and a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill would actually be able to get a lot of terrible things done.

But, no, Jim! We’re going to skip directly to Orrin Hatch as president because Trump, Pence and Ryan are all going to be in the same prison cell in Leavenworth. Probably not. That would be more like a coup. Generals taking over does sound much more pleasant than it probably is. And they don’t put people in federal lockup for lying to journalists. They put them on CNN. Over and over and over again.

But acting like Pizzagate tweeters is not going to make you feel better. The U.S. Marshals are not walking through that door. They’re not drafting articles of impeachment at a D.C. Kinko’s. You will not get rid of this presidency via favorite or retweet. Elections do have consequences. And most of those consequences are felt by people who have brains. It’s gonna be a tough couple of years if your intelligence can be insulted. There’s so much bliss to be had by those simply not following along. I’ve never read Proust, but I’ve spent at least 500 hours watching Lawrence O’Donnell. Isn’t that slightly upside-down?

I like to avoid disappointment later like most Gen Xers do. So I figure that everything sucks, nothing will ever work out and I plan accordingly. This so obviously feels like the end of the Comrade Trump era that it’s almost too good to be true. Can you imagine what it would feel like to have literally almost any other human being be president? That’s a tasty egg roll. If you imagine that you will never get to eat that egg roll, if you abandon all of your dreams, you will never feel disappointed. Your life will be hollow and meaningless, you will be an empty husk, but you won’t feel disappointment.

Don’t get out over your skis, people. There’s a long way to go before we’re out of the Black Lodge. It does feel nice to feel the sun on our faces, though. Even just for a minute. To think that this is all something we can survive. That down the road we might once again have a president who isn’t a horrible international embarrassment. We just have to wait for the Marshal of the Supreme Court to put all Republicans in Azkaban. It will take a while. But it is coming.

Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works at a bookstore.

Slow Your Impeachment Roll, This Shit is Going to Take Forever was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A Better Bullfight

Mon, 2017-05-22 12:15
Notes on life.

By Liana Finck

A Better Bullfight was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The “Too Troll” Of ISIS

Mon, 2017-05-22 10:54
Donald Trump’s speech flubsImage: John Keogh

Look, people in political power making verbal errors is nothing new (NUKE-YA-LUR), and I’m not here to be gleeful about errors of speech everyone makes from time to time, usually when drunk, but there is something genuinely interesting about language errors. Usually linguists focus on “language acquisition errors”—the kinds of mistakes you make when you’re either a kid learning your first language or a person of any age learning a second language. My friend’s kid speaks in Spoonerisms all the time (“copping shart,” “can you eel this pegg for me?”). My friend’s kid is also three years old. But many of us fall prey to these consonantal flubs when we’re incapacitated (“I’ve only had moo targaritas!”) or tired/old/talking a lot on Television (“Obama Bin Laden”).

During a speech he gave in Riyadh, he spoke of “Islamic” terrorism, rather than “Islamist.” White House officials cried exhaustion:

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At a briefing with reporters a WH official said POTUS is "exhausted."

 — @Acosta

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Official: Trump's 'radical Islamic terrorism' wording changed because he's 'exhausted'

However, Trump has made this error before, which may qualify it as more of a verbal tic (a la “nucular”). But there was also a lot more going on in that speech that we should be talking about. Here comes Mark Liberman at Language Log to give you to full run-down:

  • He also said “Islamicists,” which is the word of Islamic scholarship
  • He said “Druz” and then corrected it to “Jews”
  • He used his signature “interpolated intensifications”—“leadership” became “absolutely incredible and powerful leadership”
  • He said “the [tu trol] of ISIS” instead of “the true toll.”
  • He mispronounced “leaving” as “living” and tried to spin the flub into an aside about “living so poorly they’re forced to leave”
  • He gave “ethnicity” an extra syllable, somehow

-ist vs. -ic in Riyadh

The real story here is not the Islamic/Islamist error, but the sheer number of errors in one speech. As much as I would like to accuse Donald Trump of falling into the “language skills of a three-year-old” category I think it’s pretty clear he’s in the “old/tired/on TV a lot/Bob Schieffer” one. Is that an excuse? Not really. Speaking in public is one of the demands of the job, and some people do it better than others to begin with. But the real test is how you do it under duress. For Trump the answer is: not so great. But there’s not really anything we can do about it, because you can bet he’s not going to take the time to work with an executive speaking coach. So get used to it, this cringing. He may be exhausted, but this is exhausting, so try to find the fun language angle? You have to laugh to keep from crying. Hey, I tried.

The “Too Troll” Of ISIS was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Indian Wells, “Cascades”

Mon, 2017-05-22 09:47
Why does this keep happening?Photo: YJ Khaw

Weren’t we just here? Wasn’t it moments ago that we were waking up to a new week, full of dread and barely able to drag ourselves to the starting line? Didn’t we just complain about how exhausted we were and wonder how much more we could take? I guess the good news is I can copy and paste this exact block of text over and over again until it finally all comes down, because we live in a world where it’s always like this now. Here’s some music. Enjoy.

Indian Wells, “Cascades” was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

New York City, May 18, 2017

Fri, 2017-05-19 17:57

★★★★ “We all have shorts!” one of the early arriving kindergarteners exulted to the others. The breezes did what they could while the sun was still low, but once the light got down into the streets and sidewalks, the heat was blasting. Warm air pushed into the ears. A gutter full of water and garbage brewed up a stinking invisible cloud. A trash barrel overflowed with empty plastic cups from cold drinks. The view down Broadway to Union Square was lush with greenery; even the little street trees had a jungly aspect. A man waiting in line inside an air conditioned store had a blazer over his arm and his white dress shirt was translucent down the spine with sweat. A cloud capable of blocking the sun drifted with the slow majesty of transience. Music competed with other music through open vehicle windows. Fabrics were flouncing and shimmering; nobody held anything back. A couple kissed with humming and smacking sounds, in the thick of the pack of bodies on the 1 train.

New York City, May 18, 2017 was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jared and Ivanka Host Dinner

Fri, 2017-05-19 15:22
Twizzlers and hiccups.Image: Mark Bonica

IVANKA is project managing a dinner she is hosting to convince JUSTICE KENNEDY to retire this summer. She understands how important a right-wing judiciary is to her father’s base, and believes that a vacancy on the Supreme Court could distract from the all the obstruction of justice and treason talk. IVANKA realizes that she hasn’t heard from JARED in a few hours and rushes to her bedroom to scold him for sleeping during the day.

JARED [sitting on his bed and flipping through an old yearbook, reading his senior quote, a lyric of his favorite band at the time, the Wallflowers.] We could be heroes, just for one day. [JARED smiles as he remembers the day his father wrote the check to Harvard, how special it made him feel to have a dad who would open doors for him, especially at the expense of worthier individuals.] I can be a hero anywhere. I don’t need to be a hero in Washington. Where do Democrats always want to move? Scandinavia? Denmark could be fun.

IVANKA [standing in the door and imagining that she is drowning JARED, not herself]: Another soliloquy? To leave or not to leave? Wake up, Jared. This is your life now. You’re not going anywhere.

JARED [existentially]: I haven’t had a dream since we moved into this dumb house.

IVANKA [logically]: If you’re Hamlet that makes me Ophelia. Which means you’ll be the one who kills my father. [IVANKA takes the yearbook from JARED, and begins tearing pages from it, until the binding breaks.] Go downstairs and help the help with dinner. This is not Hamlet. It isn’t even King Lear. It’s Frontline and we are about to defund PBS. Besides, the President is mine to avenge, not yours.

JARED [putting on his tie and jacket]: First, can I try to get the Lockheed Martin CEO on the horn again?

IVANKA [shaking her head]: Don’t use my brothers’ diction. [IVANKA texts JUSTICE KENNEDY that they will be serving Korean tacos tonight, and that he should please, please bring his appetite.] If we are moving anywhere it will be France and I will probably leave you for Emmanuel Macron.

JARED walks to the dining room, dragging his feet and whining the entire way. JARED is really crabby even though the media reported that he was the one who convinced TRUMP to fire James Comey earlier this week. IVANKA pays no attention as she directs her staff to fill a piñata. JARED eats a carrot stick from the veggie tray and immediately gets the hiccups.

JARED [hiccupping]: Why the fuck do carrots always give me the hiccups?

IVANKA [inspecting the fill of the piñata and then showing her assistant the tree in the yard it should hang from]: It’s been a stressful week for all of us. No one cares about how much air you swallow while eating.

The doorbell rings and it is JUSTICE KENNEDY. He is wearing his judicial robes, tattered and soiled, and he is extremely out of breath.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: I’m sorry that I am catching my breath, before meeting with the family of a coequal branch of government, but a terrier chased me half a block.

IVANKA gestures to JARED to get up and greet the Supreme Court Justice. She motions to her staff to bring JUSTICE KENNEDY a towel to dry his sweaty face.

JARED [rolling his eyes]: Hello Justice.

IVANKA [lying]: Justice Kennedy, it’s so nice to finally meet. In this household, we worship your judicial restraint and moderation. [IVANKA dabs the Justice with the towel.] Please accept my deepest apology for the damage. She’s Steve Bannon’s dog and sometimes she loosens herself out of her leash.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: That’s kind of you to dog sit for Mr. Bannon. I didn’t realize he was still in the picture, to be frank.

IVANKA [shamelessly]: He may join us for dinner. He has been staying upstairs.

The KUSHNER CHILDREN enter, singing “But Her Emails,” a song they wrote themselves, to the tune of “Frère Jacques.”

JUSTICE KENNEDY [eating a carrot stick and then hiccupping]: What delightful children!

There’s a loud rolling sound coming from upstairs. IVANKA knows that it is STEVE BANNON, awake from his nap and bowling with cannon balls he has pilfered from the Coast Guard.

IVANKA [texting STEVE BANNON to quit it, unless he wants to scare off their best hope for reclaiming the narrative]: Jared, why don’t you tell the Justice about your newest business plan?

JARED [entering his carrot sticks into MyFitnessPal]: It’s Netflix but for tap water.

JUSTICE KENNEDY [raising his water glass disgustedly]: Is this from a tap?

IVANKA: No, no. Jared’s product will be bundled with the AHCA if the Senate can ever move away from —

STEVE BANNON enters. There are still marks on his bloated face from the mask his doctor prescribed him for his sleep apnea. He is eating Twizzlers and yelling at his dog to heel.

JUSTICE KENNEDY [randomly]: I’ll never forget where I was when I learned Twizzlers were made of mostly flour.

STEVE BANNON [shoving the Twizzlers into JUSTICE KENNEDY’s personal space]: Want one? Be careful. [STEVE BANNON winks theatrically.] Yours might be poisoned.

IVANKA [texting her chef that they are ready for dinner to be served]: Steve is kidding. He doesn’t think you’ll voluntarily retire while my father is President.

STEVE BANNON [truthfully]: You’re not in the family.

JUSTICE KENNEDY [enjoying arguing]: What about my vote that healthcare, one of the largest sectors of the economy, is not commerce?

STEVE BANNON [enjoying arguing]: What about your vote to uphold the constitutional right to abortion, only in the narrowest of circumstances?

JUSTICE KENNEDY [acknowledging that he agrees to disagree]: I thought it was just brilliant to submit to the media a list of judges the President, if elected, would like to appoint to the Supreme Court, to help convince those otherwise disinclined to voting for him that he cares deeply about dissolving public sector unions. It worked on me, in fact.

STEVE BANNON [eating a fistful of Twizzlers]: What’s for dinner?

KUSHNER CHILDREN [in unison]: Taco night! Kimchi! Kimchi!

STEVE BANNON [gagging himself]: Barf.

The staff sets up the taco making station on the dining room table. Everyone but STEVE BANNON digs in. Even the BANNON DOG begs for kimchi.

JUSTICE KENNEDY [chowing down, and getting food everywhere]: I never knew a dog to eat vegetables. She must like the funk from the fermentation.

IVANKA [kicking the dog]: Please excuse her.

STEVE BANNON: The bitch hasn’t been the same since they made me spay her.

IVANKA [powerfully]: We asked that if you insist on not crating her, you make an accommodation. Spaying a dog that regularly escapes from her restraints seems reasonable, don’t you think, Justice Kennedy?

JARED takes a Twizzler from STEVE BANNON’s stash, and begins coughing hysterically. JUSTICE KENNEDY texts his former clerk and current colleague, JUSTICE GORSUCH, that he wasn’t wrong about these people.

IVANKA [calmly]: Steve, you told me you were kidding about the poison.

STEVE BANNON [truthfully]: I was. He isn’t choking.

IVANKA [sternly]: Jared, you aren’t choking. Justice Kennedy, he isn’t choking. [IVANKA gestures to her children to begin their presentation about why JUSTICE KENNEDY should retire before the market crashes and even government pensions disappear.]

JARED [having an aha moment]: What does it even matter? [JARED dramatically pushes away from the table.] I’m going back upstairs.

JUSTICE KENNEDY [rising to shake JARED’s hand]: The Prince of Washington, what a delight to finally meet you. I see now that the executive branch is in very steady hands. [JUSTICE KENNEDY texts ROBERT MUELLER to please pick him up as soon as he can. He has lots to share.]

JARED brushes past JUSTICE KENNEDY, and walks not upstairs, but into the yard. He picks up the broomstick next to the tree where the piñata is and begins whacking the papier mâché skull. He whacks and misses, whacks and misses. Eventually the piñata falls down, without breaking. He kicks it, but he still can’t break it open. Defeated, JARED sits on the ground and texts IVANKA that he is outside and asks whether someone can bring him a jacket.

Jared and Ivanka Host Dinner was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Music For An Uncommon Era

Fri, 2017-05-19 12:56
It’s time to admit Queens of the Stone Age’s widely panned ‘Era Vulgaris’ is good.“I think the two most difficult things to deal with in life are failure and success” — David Lee Roth

For the last few months, Queens of the Stone Age have been teasing a new album like it’s Bret Michaels’s 1986 hair. Given the fractured nature of release dates and schedules these days, it could be months before we hear a note, or it could magically travel through spacetime in a flash, like a nude Terminator Schwarzenegger and be forgotten by the day after tomorrow. For a band whose catalog exhibits eclecticism bordering on schizophrenia, it’s hard to predict what a new album will sound like. Josh Homme is a divisive, bro-y kinda savant, possibly the last rockstar of a bygone era who still has the chutzpah to cause a ripple in an overcrowded ocean of music. Responses to a rare new album from the band can usually be cut right down the middle, 50/50 for and against, but ten years ago, when their fifth album Era Vulgaris came out, it was widely considered by fans and critics to be the band’s worst. Today, it plays like a prescient piece of street art that the masses weren’t ready to understand.

The record begins with enough dead air to make you check if something’s broken, and the jarring, distorted, harmonized ohm that follows is your first clue that something, in fact, is. The drums, both beat and tone, sound like they could have been made in a garage down the street. A distorted synth plunking out whiskey-legged off-beats are the next barrier to entry. In a foretelling of his future collaboration with John Paul Jones, Homme’s guitar enters like a Led Zeppelin after the crash and burn with a bass line that wavers completely out of key and back in again.

If the listener hasn’t already abandoned ship because of the challenging, sub-radio production, a stark departure from their previously slick studio work, the first lyric, an irreverent statement of intent will probably turn them away, “You’ve got a question, please don’t ask it/ Put the lotion in the basket,” the frontman croons, somehow straight-faced. With that, you know that you’re in for a drunk drive through the underside of a decaying city, four or five too many and cocaine of questionable origin in a stall. Loose-lipped, off-color quips that might not pass the next-morning test. If this doesn’t sound like your kinda party, you’re no fun, head home.

Homme apes the ridiculous big rock tradition of the singer calling in the guitar player for a solo by saying, “I sound like this:” and follows it with a series of oddly selected notes and bends, a singular style that came to fruition on this record that he’s continued to cultivate since, as if he’s searching for new notes and scales that are off the instrument, and skipping all the ones we’ve come to expect from decades of phoned-in lead guitar playing. (It’s a style that would reach its apex on his next project, the aforementioned Them Crooked Vultures, whose lone eponymous record is a clinic of musicianship, production and offbeat, fearless songwriting put on by Homme, drummer Dave Grohl and Led Zep bassman John Paul Jones.) From there, the song’s bridge goes on a horror movie bad acid trip of tempo stacking and guitar sliding that’s masturbatory, not in it’s gratuity, but in that it requires an actual jacking-off motion.

“Sick, Sick, Sick,” the lead single from the record begins with imperfect stabs at dissonant chords like an obnoxious alarm clock or bomb raid warning. Drummer Joey Castillo enters with his typical boxy, caveman pounding on boulders with bones style and throughout the song, guitars, bass and synth build to a cacophonous racket that never quite meets in the middle at a single key. The song is, in fact, sick (in the head) and it’s a glorious fuck you to radio and musical norms of auto-tuning, grid-perfect timing, and song structure.

At the time, critics either didn’t know what to do with this oddity, or outright rejected it like it was Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1913. People weren’t ready for this level of aural dissonance and flouting of musical standards, sales for Era Vulgaris fell far short of the band’s numbers from previous records and listeners deserted like cats with their ears pointing backwards. The Village Voice said, “with the band sounding listless and drained of ideas, it starts trying anything,” and that the albums’ “stuttering robo-fits are basically energy-drink commercials still ripping off The Matrix.” Basically! Still! The Guardian opined, “something is lacking” on songs it called “oddly slender” and that “lurch distractingly rather than flow.” And Pitchfork? “In attempting to cover too much ground, the band loses focus and direction.” “Everyone sings like they’re scared of their own voices,” and that old timeless classic dis: the “obnoxious bridge on album closer ‘Run Pig Run’ kills any chance it might’ve had for worthy inclusion on a future edition of Guitar Hero.” Indeed, as the subsequent decade has proven, inclusion in a shitty video game is the gold standard metric by which all music is judged.

Fans of the band, who often focus more on set dressing and cast of characters, rather than the albums themselves, also disapproved. They longed for the days of Nick Oliveri, nude but for a bass guitar, who helmed some of Queens’ most embarrassingly bad songs, and was later ousted for violence toward women and concertgoers (he has since admitted that the firing was justified). And, of course, Dave Grohl. Yes, his drumming on Songs For the Deaf is goddamn unassailable, but Dave’s not gonna stop the Dave Grohl Machine to be a sideman, so let’s all deal with it, why don’t we? He’s been replaced by a wild animal and then a master craftsman, what more can Homme do to replace arguably the greatest living rock and roll drummer whose aspirations go far beyond drumming?

Era Vulgaris is practically a case against the band’s past selves. Following a string of radio hits from 2002’s Songs For the Deaf and 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze that lead the band into bona fide rockstar territory, Queens — with apparent intent — narrowed their fan base. The grimy lo- to mid-fi production and raunchy jokes guaranteed little or no radio play for these songs. Era Vulgaris would be their final record of a major label deal with Interscope records, and its six-years-in-the-making follow-up, 2013’s stellar, cinematic …Like Clockwork would be released through indie legends Matador Records, completing the band’s transition out of the mainstream.

On songs like the robotic ragers “Misfit Love” and “Battery Acid,” the band drips with lurid, half-serious sex appeal and musical prowess. Just try to imagine yourself playing two drum beats at once, like Joey Castillo does here, and here. And is that chorus where Homme declares, “There’s nothing you can say/ You can’t wish me away,” the first and only instance of Stone Temple Pilots nostalgia in history? I think so. “Make It Wit Chu” is a straight up, bluesy goofball sex jam, the joke of which you can only fully understand by realizing that Dean Ween has partial writing cred. The end of the record spins off into a nightmarish, creepshow swirl of twisted psychedelia on “River In the Road” and “Run Pig Run.” It leaves the listener wondering how they got here, returning to the beginning for further listens like a drunk waking up and checking his outgoing messages for incriminating evidence.

The record is a beautifully imperfect monster — a zombie of a former arena rock band. You recognize it and want to invite it in, but you’re afraid it might eat your neck. This is the Pet Sematary version of Queens of the Stone Age that would launch Homme and a cast of legends, unknowns and in-betweens on an artistic journey that keeps unfolding in astonishing and unexpected ways.

Homme almost seemed to know that the record would require a long gestation period. Speaking to Pitchfork prior to the album’s release, he referenced Iggy Pop (whom he’d later work with on the stellar Post Pop Depression) and how it took “35 years for the public to understand the Stooges. I’ve never seen a time release that long before.” It’s been ten years since the release of Era Vulgaris and we can all now acknowledge that everything is falling apart, the empire is crumbling. Homme felt it then and he embraced it, making beautiful, fucked up art out of the the ruins of a dysfunctional relationship with life. Now it’s time for us to let the zombie in. Pour him a drink. He’s dying of thirst.

John Dziuban is no longer a musician. Metal Minutiae is an occasional column on the decline of rock music.

Music For An Uncommon Era was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

You Can Put The Load Right On Me

Fri, 2017-05-19 11:56
Notes on life

by Liana Finck

You Can Put The Load Right On Me was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

You’ve Got To Admit It’s Getting Bonkers

Fri, 2017-05-19 11:33
What an exciting time to be a language blogger.

From reading the transcripts of Trump interviews to an digging into an oral history of the ‘dumpster fire’ (linguistic and pictorial), there is a lot of material coming out of the political scene these days, language-wise, to chew on. Needless to say the language blogs are ON IT—here is an excerpt from a very thorough blog post about an on-air expletive from last night’s “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.” The political strategist Rick Wilson used the phrase “ripshit bonkers” to describe how Trump might “go” on Republican congressmen who abandoned their support of him. The language columnist, linguist, and lexicographer Ben Zimmer wrote:

I’d posit that rip (the) shit out of contributed more significantly to the formation of ripshit. (I acknowledge this is pure speculation, since the word wasn’t previously part of my idiolect, though it totally is now.) Rip the shit out of fits the construction “VERB the TABOO TERM out of (something),” which I’ve discussed here in the past: see my posts on “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this” and “I agreed the fuck out of it.” (There’s also scare/bore the shit out of, which, as Brendan O’Kane noted recently on Language Log, has generated the “fecal intensifiers” scared/bored shitless. I’ll return to that in another post.)

Ripshit bonkers

Strong Language is a language blog dedicated specifically to discussing swears. How dorky and perfect is that? I like it because I sure feel like I’ve been doing a fuckton more swearing than in past administrations. Four days prior, another Strong Language contributor, Nancy Friedman, dove even more deeply into a seemingly growing pile of shitshows she’s noticed piling up since January 20, 2017:

The origins of shit show or shitshow are, alas, murky. Although it sounds like an expression that might have been invented by Americans serving in World War II (like fubar) or Vietnam (like clusterfuck), shitshow appears not to be American in origin at all. The major U.S. dictionaries, Merriam-Webster and American Heritage, have not yet added it to their online word hoards. The online Collins Dictionary, based in the UK, received a reader-submitted “new word” entry for shit-show (yes, hyphenated) in 2012: “A chaotic, freewheeling state of affairs characterised by rampant disorder and the apparent absence of any thoughtful organization.” The OED added its own entry for the term (spelled shitshow) only within the last couple of years; it’s labeled “U.S. coarse slang” and defined as “a situation or state of affairs characterized by chaos, confusion, or incompetence; a mess, a shambles, a debacle.”

Over at Language Log, the OG lang-blog, tha god Mark Liberman looked into the age-old question “flipped off” or “flicked off?” (Just kidding—the real question is “who would ever say ‘flicked off’ on purpose?”) His jumping-off point is a tweet about Republican Darrell Issa’s rather rude response of a hand gesture to a reporter’s question about James Comey.

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I just asked @DarrellIssa abt the Comey news and he flicked me off -- literally gave me the middle finger -- and kept walking. Said nothing

 — @rachaelmbade

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As Liberman writes, it’s like the “bu?? naked” case (where the answer is obviously butt, not buck).

Anyway I have found at least some comic relief in these little explorations into the way we use words to express how completely batshit the first 120 days of the Trump administration have been. The way some people gravitate towards math and numbers to make sense of the world, I gravitate towards words and their utter dissection, from etymology to spelling to pronunciation to usage. My biggest sporting event of the year, The Scripps National Spelling Bee, will be here in just 11 more days (the website has a counter). But what I will not stand for is the spreading of false facts. So I must insist on telling you that despite its perfect illustration with a Tim and Eric GIF, this tweet is sadly false:

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When I found out "slang" is short for "short language"

 — @Phil_Lewis_

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Given how popular this tweet was, maybe this new apocryphal definition will just supplant the old! But “slang” is much older and more Scandinavian than you think. From the Online Etymology Dictionary (I couldn’t for the life of me track down the Liberman citation; please send it if you can):

1756, “special vocabulary of tramps or thieves,” later “jargon of a particular profession” (1801), of uncertain origin, the usual guess being that it is from a Scandinavian source, such as Norwegian slengenamn “nickname,” slengja kjeften “to abuse with words,” literally “to sling the jaw,” related to Old Norse slyngva “to sling.” But OED, while admitting “some approximation in sense,” discounts this connection based on “date and early associations.” Liberman also denies it, as well as any connection with French langue (or language or lingo). Rather, he derives it elaborately from an old slang word meaning “narrow piece of land,” itself of obscure origin. Century Dictionary says “there is no evidence to establish a Gipsy origin.” Sense of “very informal language characterized by vividness and novelty” first recorded 1818.A word that ought to have survived is slangwhanger (1807, American English) “noisy or abusive talker or writer.”

Slangwhanger! I can think of quite a few. It’s fucking Friday. This week has been bonkers. Let yourself enjoy the sweary shit. It feels fucking great.

You’ve Got To Admit It’s Getting Bonkers was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

T.Raumschmiere, “Jaguar”

Fri, 2017-05-19 10:21
What’d I say?Photo: DeShaun Craddock

I’ve said a lot of stupid things in my life. Hurtful things, vicious things, things that were untrue. I’ve said things I regret, things that still haunt me in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep and I think back to the moment when I said them. I’ve said things in anger that I haven’t meant and I’ve said things very calmly that I have, but shouldn’t have said anyway. I’ve said things in bad faith and I’ve said things that I thought were completely true only to find later — sometimes years later — that I was not coming from the place of sincerity I believed myself to be at the time. I’ve said things in ignorance and I’ve said things in arrogance. I’ve said things for which there can be no apology, even now. But the worst thing I’ve ever said was, “I can’t wait until this election is over, everything will be better after that.” What a fucking idiot. Please don’t ever listen to me about anything ever again.

Except music! I’m still pretty good on music. Here’s something from T.Raumschmiere’s Heimat, which is out today and is very good. You can take my word on that. Enjoy.

T.Raumschmiere, “Jaguar” was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

> You don’t have to feel like an alien

Fri, 2017-05-19 10:00
From Everything Changes, the Awl’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

I asked readers of Everything Changes what they’d tell their 18-year-old selves, if they could (inspired by this tweet).

You can read all the responses here, and below is a small fairly random selection. (Yes, someone did say “Wear sunscreen,” which I also think is good advice.)

  • Just because somebody is romantically interested in you doesn’t mean you have to be romantically interested in them.
  • Thirst is not a good look on you.
  • It’s okay to be nice to yourself.
  • You are right to want to get out, and you are right that you will not come back. — Meredith M-N
  • Stop spending money on bad bullshit; just spend it on *quality* bullshit. — Hugh P.
  • Hey, you’re gay! That’s why you feel like you don’t fit in! — Erin D.
  • You will find your place, over and over again. — Megan
  • Everyone is going to sell out. You will do it less than others and it will make your life harder. — Amy K.
  • Just buy shrink-to-fit Levi’s 501s, wear ’em dark, you don’t need any other jeans.
  • It’s OK, sex isn’t supposed to be like this. You don’t have to feel like an alien. — Z.
  • Get an IUD. Remembering birth control pills is for the birds.
  • Get therapy. The kind of therapy matters. Get cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • It’s okay to be “intimidating.” — A.M.
  • Just because someone is older than you does not make them smarter than you. Remember that. — Kat
  • Do it now. — Julianne F-M
  • Life’s a lot better outside the closet. — Fernando P.
  • Don’t steal your best friend’s man to help boost your own self confidence. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. — Julia H.
  • Your relationship with God is the only one that won’t let you down at some point. But if you build it, it’s more than enough to keep the other ones (and you) alive. — Patrick
  • Don’t tolerate bad, fucked up behavior just because you think those perpetrating it are cool. — H.S.
  • When he asks you to marry him, say yes.
  • In June of 2016 you will swim in the ocean with three people who love you and you will mostly not be scared. Armadillos will make your heart swell. Maybe don’t take shrimp on a backpacking trip. Every time you travel (unless you are depressed) you’ll come home with a few new poems. You have plenty of time to write them.
  • Say “yes” first. — Rich M.
  • The most important thing is to remain true to yourself. Don’t listen or give a shit what anyone else thinks. Trust me. — Esme W.
  • Stay away from Sophie. She is not your friend.
  • Try to make friends with yourself. Try to be kind to this person (you!) who is just trying to do their best. — Hannah
  • Please stop beating yourself up about having gotten accidentally pregnant twice. You are not gross or stupid, your sexuality is not gross or stupid. In ten years you will look back at this time and marvel at how brave and strong you were.

Thank you so much to everyone who added thoughts.

How weird is it to reach a point in your life where you’re kind of wise? Weird and nice.

From Everything Changes, the Awl’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

> You don’t have to feel like an alien was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

New York City, May 17, 2017

Thu, 2017-05-18 17:19

★★★★ Indoors it was already hot, in the brightness of early morning. Outside the night’s coolness was only tenuously hanging on. The schoolyard gate failed to open on time, and the children backed up on the sidewalk got rowdy at the sight of the empty playground. Once the sun got higher, stepping out the door was like setting off a flash. Tattoos were emerging and hot asphalt was giving off its smell. A women, her legs bare and pale, reached over and cupped the inner bottom of the seat of the suit pants of the man she was walking with. Iced coffee droplets dotted the notebook page. A tour bus stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue, top deck and lower deck and driver’s seat all empty. The office temperature was low enough to prompt a walk outside and over to Sixth Avenue and back in the sharp sunshine. Pockets of stale traffic exhaust and stray air conditioning stayed hot or cold in the sluggish air.

New York City, May 17, 2017 was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

To Hell And Back in Offenbach’s ‘Orphée aux enfers Overture’

Thu, 2017-05-18 14:47
Classical Music Hour with FranEdward John Poynter (1839–1919), “Orpheus and Eurydice” (Image: Sofi)

Since writing about Strauss II last week, I’ve found myself completely pulled into the world of mid-19th century light music. I’m trying to return to Beethoven and the likes, trust me, I really am, I’d love to write about sad Brahms piece sometime in the near future (remember him?), but I cannot turn away from the spectacular weightlessness of light music. Pun intended!! Maybe it’s just the coming of spring — slow, but taking hold of the Midwest now. For example: I was sweating outside last weekend, and that’s the last time I want to listen to a heavy and anxious Bernstein recording of Beethoven’s 5th.

Strauss II also got me back on a whole kick about overtures, so here is perhaps my first beloved orchestra, Jacques Offenbach’s Orphée aux enfers Overture, known in English as Orpheus in the Underworld. We all know the Greek myth of Orpheus, but I don’t know, maybe there are teens who read this column who haven’t hit AP Lit yet so they aren’t familiar. Orpheus was a poet and a musician whose wife, Eurydice (a cool name, a much cooler name than any of the Game Of Thrones names people keep naming their babies) dies suddenly of a viper bite on her ankle (actually maybe this is why Eurydice isn’t a popular name) and is sent to the Underworld, as was “the deal” at that time. Orpheus, so overwhelmed in his grief, goes into the Underworld and plays his music for Hades and Persephone, king and queen of the Underworld. And those two say, “okay, great tunes, you can take your wife back with you, but only if you walk out of the Underworld with her behind you and you can’t look back at her until you’re back in the land of the living.” Weird, tricky Underworld conditions, sure, but seems fair enough. Well, you gotta believe that Orpheus messes this up: he gets worried, he looks at Eurydice, she vanishes, this time forever. The Orpheus myth to me was like the purest embodiment of “YOU HAD ONE JOB.” So there’s that.

Offenbach, on the other hand, was a German-born French composer who lived from 1819–1880 writing mostly operettas. He looked wild. Look at him.

(literally look at him. source:

It was his work that inspired composers like Strauss II, but at the time he was alive, he was kind of the troll of the composing world. Many of his operettas parodied or satirized serious operas or operettas; he was hated by both our friends Berlioz and Wagner (the latter also had something to do with some latent anti-semitism). Was this a good thing for him to do? Honestly, I don’t know. At the time of its premiere in 1858, Orpheus of the Underworld was not an immediate success and in fact panned for being “sacrilegious and disrespectful,” and then, for controversy’s sake, it became a smash success. French people, you know?

The overture (it’s Bernstein, of course) begins with a fairly traditional fanfare, not entirely remarkable, though certain big and brassy enough to catch your attention. This being the overture to an operetta, we do get the movement between themes the way we did with the Die Fledermaus overture. This is like a Broadway overture — a preview of what’s to come. By the time it hits the 22-second mark, with the precious little melody between the high strings and the triangle (the triangle), it should be clear that this is light music unlike you’ve heard before. It’s funny! The tone of it is actively amusing.

The first third of the overture is relatively solo-heavy: we move from the clarinet to the oboe. The oboe solo is strange: melancholy and lyrical all at once. The oboe is not always an easy instrument to love (sorry), because it is tough to be a team player if you play oboe. It doesn’t really sound like anything else! I mean, sure, it sounds kind of like a clarinet, but clarinet at least has the decency to have that rich, expensive-wood-furniture sound to it at times. But there have always been a lot of times to me where the inevitable oboe solo comes in and go, “Oh here’s this idiot.” It’s not fair, I know. This one, however, always catches me. It sounds like such a distinctive voice in the midst of this overture. And then it leads right into the cello, damn it. What could be better? A cello solo? In the first third of a piece? You should be thanking me (and Offenbach).

The piece takes a turn at the 3:51 mark: dark, frightening, intense. This is a formal reset, shifting us out of solo world and back into the triumphant morning announcements of the early moments of this piece. Almost immediately, we’re launched into a violin solo that almost sounds like it would normally come right before the end of a piece of music. This violin solo, however, guides the orchestra along with it through the middle third of the overture. It’s sweet, and it’s perhaps the most traditional “light music” section of the overture. I mean, this is a waltz! It’s a little dance between the violin and the orchestra.

The final third: you know this. You definitely know this because you have been alive on Earth and have ears with which you have heard music for such a long time. It’s the Can-Can. Not just any Can-Can. The Can-Can. This is the Can-Can, from music pop culture and Moulin Rouge! This is the origin. It did not spring forth out of nowhere, but it was, in fact, written by a human man. Isn’t that insane? That someone wrote it? This is its purest form: the drug that is the Can-Can. I have so little to say about it beyond: it is the best thing in the world. You may be a dunce and think that the Can-Can is annoying. It’s fucking not. It is good as hell, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And it’s so perfect, in my humble opinion, that the Overture ends with that. You listen and you think, “this is good, it works, I like it,” in a passive and nice way. It’s a very satisfactory piece, of course, up until that point, but then, when the Can-Can comes in, it’s just BANG. It contextualizes all of it! All of it is a prelude to the Can-Can. And you immediately have to listen to it again, you have to reset, because once you know it’s coming, you know it’s there the whole time, like Orpheus himself, you find yourself looking back.

Fran Hoepfner is a writer from Chicago. You can find a corresponding playlist for all of the pieces discussed in this column here.

To Hell And Back in Offenbach’s ‘Orphée aux enfers Overture’ was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Shows Of Prey

Thu, 2017-05-18 12:26
What “The Pickup Artist,” “To Catch A Predator” and “Cheaters” had in common.

Back in the mid-aughts, my father’s DVR overflowed with shows about predators. There were episodes of MTV’s “The Pickup Artist,” NBC’s “To Catch a Predator,” and the syndicated program “Cheaters,” and when I visited him, he would force me to join him in his “man cave” and watch them. He would laugh and laugh, and even though my brain was cobwebbed by grad school, I realized something about this experience was profoundly discomfiting. All three shows dealt with troubling subject matter of widely varying levels of cultural acceptance, but at the back of them was a simple theme: sexual predation. The zeitgeist has long since abandoned pickup artistry, serial entrapment of sometimes-reluctant sex offenders, and candid-camera busts of unfaithful partners, but why had some viewers embraced them in the first place? There was, I suppose, a weird kind of “gotcha” factor at play in all these cases: the aspiring pickup artists sometimes got their girl, the cheaters usually got their comeuppance, and the captured predators always got the humiliation many felt they so richly deserved. Viewers could be entertained by lifehacking at its crudest: one group of seemingly hopeless cases were trained to be better people, while another, far more dangerous group wound up locked away for a long time.

Few “arbitrary targets” could resist the PUA game of Mystery (Erik von Markovik).

When pickup artistry burst on the scene, propelled by the alarming success of Neil Strauss’s The Game, it was promoted as a way of instilling confidence in put-upon beta males. Men like Mystery (né Erik von Markovik), the featured dating coach on “The Pickup Artist,” saw their duty as redeeming hopeless, introverted nerds, thereby granting them access to the princesses to which a long line of nerd-oriented entertainment had told them they were entitled. Budding pickup artists preyed upon reluctant women, hoping to “neg” and “kino escalate” them into “number closes,” in the process trying to win the various challenges and events set before them by the showrunners.

As described by Strauss, these terms had been developed and refined over the course of years of research shared on internet forums. The “seduction underground,” as the large online community of people doing this research was called, became the subject of widespread media attention — some of it critical, some of it merely descriptive or even weirdly encouraging. Through pickup artistry, aggressive predation was normalized as esteem boosting, and men like those described in Strauss’ The Game could be viewed in a positive light: they had transformed from zero to hero and taken what was rightfully theirs. But it was disturbing to see these tactics incorporated into an MTV series: it was like we were watching high-pressure sales being closed, with an undercurrent of sexual hostility running through the entire exchange. It was one thing to discover a troubling subreddit full of “rules” and “tips” for talking to girls, but something altogether different to see trainees sent into the field to utilize that material to attract unsuspecting “arbitrary targets” (ATs).

“To Catch a Predator,” a “Dateline” spinoff, occupied a similar place of prominence in mid-aughts culture. The show, which spanned only four seasons from 2004 to 2007, represented a collaboration among “Dateline” producers and the show’s correspondent Chris Hansen, local law enforcement, and an internet-based vigilante organization called Perverted-Justice that provided technical support for the sting operations being conducted. The show had an easy-to-follow format, as potential “predators” were identified and isolated in chatrooms by a Perverted-Justice team member, contacted via the phone by another team member, and then ordered to bring specific incriminating items with them, such as beer and condoms, when they travel to an appointed location where Hansen, a master of the disapproving-dad demeanor, awaited their arrival. After learning that the object of their trip wasn’t actually showering or drying off or whatever they always claimed to be doing, the entrapped individuals would nibble on complimentary cookies while stammering their way through an awkward interview with Hansen. When they attempted to leave, police would swarm over them, giving viewers a necessary sense of closure.

Peter Sciacca is in for a big surprise on NBC’s “To Catch a Predator”.

But the above doesn’t do justice to how uncomfortable “To Catch a Predator” was. It was brutally effective as prime-time filler, addictive binge-watching junk food that rewarded its audience with eye-for-an-eye punishments: the “predators” were themselves preyed upon by civic-minded crimebusters and the popular TV host who helped them. Ethical concerns abounded, and even Perverted-Justice volunteers sometimes entertained doubts about what they were doing (one volunteer, in commentary that accompanied an online Perverted-Justice profile, said that he initially felt bad for an overweight man but eventually realized that he too was “scum and sub-human”). The AIM chat logs still available on the Perverted-Justice website make for disturbing reading, but not nearly so much as how the show came to a bitter end: it was cancelled in 2008 following a bust that led to the suicide of a Dallas assistant district attorney who had been chatting and trading photos with Perverted-Justice volunteers. As profitable as the public torture of a highly specific class of mentally unwell people had been, the risks of liability were too great.

Finally, there was (and still is) “Cheaters,” a program in which something called the “Cheaters Detective Agency,” whatever that ill-defined entity might be, preys upon people in difficult or failing relationships, using hidden cameras to record evidence of infidelity that can be employed to anger these unwilling participants and delight home viewers. This show somehow remains on the air (on the CW Plus network, so only just barely) and is approaching its 300th episode. Its heyday, which encompassed the hosting tenures of the smarmy Tommy Habeeb and even smarmier Joey Greco, lasted from 2000 to 2009, when Inside Edition revealed that the 2003 stabbing of Greco had been staged by producers (in that regard, the producers of “Cheaters” could be said to have preyed on their target audience of couch potatoes).

“Cheaters” host Joey Greco recoils after being “stabbed.”

The news about Greco’s phony stabbing was mostly met with laughter, as had been the case with similar revelations related to “The Jerry Springer Show,” but a great deal of this programming wasn’t staged, as with physical encounters that led an aggrieved Dallas woman, accused by Greco of cheating on her partner, to file charges against him for physically restraining her at her workplace in order to force her to watch videotape of her alleged misdeeds (Greco was acquitted). In fact, many episodes from the show’s early seasons depict such uncomfortable incidents, when either Habeeb or Greco keeps an allegedly unfaithful woman in place and forces her to answer questions on camera. Questions about consent, relationship openness, and other issues were put totally to the side; the complexities of long-term intimacy were never addressed.

But an ongoing cultural conversation has changed matters for the better. An awareness of bodily autonomy has driven the “seduction underground” into a more subterranean remove, its disaffected remnants metamorphosing into sites like RooshV’s loathsome “Return of Kings,” where contributors openly advocate for sexual assault (RooshV, for example, has gone so far as to propose legalizing rape) and have gradually drifted into the lunatic fringe of the alt-right. Public opprobrium remains high for individuals who have expressed a sexual desire for boys and girls under the age of consent, as seen from the number of ham-handed remarks wishing that these people were themselves sexually assaulted in prison, but no network has rushed to revive “To Catch a Predator”-style programming, a form of self-censorship unlikely to cease as long as the threat of a costly lawsuit looms.

And though “Cheaters” continues to air, high-profile reality fare, however problematic the depictions of race, gender, and sexuality seen therein, at least emphasizes a degree of voluntariness on the part of the featured players: the cast members of “The Bachelor” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” are all there, at least in theory, because they want to be. Meanwhile, a voyeuristic show like MTV’s “Catfish,” which still features aesthetic conventions such as blurred faces and confrontations, occupies a kind of middle position. Hosts Nev and Max have spent six seasons helping victims discover and then deal with the individuals who have been catfishing them, albeit with the aim of enabling all parties to better express their feelings rather than punishing the guilty.

These three lowbrow artifacts have aged out of our collective memory remarkably fast, but we owe it to ourselves to revisit them in order to understand why social justice campaigns against triggering or traumatizing content are necessary. And perhaps we still have a lot to learn about predation and exploitation, given that slightly more highbrow fare such as “Missing Richard Simmons” (Simmons claims to be just fine) and “S-Town” (the main character commits suicide but the show must go on) now occupy a seat at the entertainment table. Granted, these slow-building, addictive podcasts are perfect for our commutes, but they’re also on ethically shaky ground. Richard Simmons isn’t spotlight-seeking Kim Kardashian — he wants everyone to leave him alone! — and John B. McLemore, reclusive country genius though he might have been, is dead and thus unable to consent to anything. We already experience plenty of humiliation and discomfort in our own daily lives, with some people suffering more than others; the unwilling and vulnerable needn’t also function as grist for our entertainment mill.

Shows Of Prey was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A Poem by Noah Eli Gordon

Thu, 2017-05-18 12:01
In Praise of Negative Capability

I must have been about twenty

Old enough to sneak into a bar

But not to frequent one

Not that it’s important

Save to establish authenticity

But this was when my mother

Lived in Pompano Beach

Right by the intercostal

I was going to visit Marcus

Who was hanging out at Ray’s

Ray lived on the other side

Of the water so I had to cross over

The road when the bridge

Was down which was often

Late at night like this

South Florida in the 90s

Was one of the few places

Where people could still disappear

And most everyone I encountered

Was on the cusp of doing so

Rounding the corner this red car

Skids out in front of me

Some kind of expensive convertible

I was walking in the street

(Because there weren’t sidewalks)

I’m sure the driver didn’t see me

He had the top down

And let fly what looked like

The desiccated remnants

Of a dove before speeding off

Tiny white pieces covered the road

They were just paper just a letter

I collected the torn-up squares

And walked on to Ray’s to get

High with him and Marcus

Later I reassembled the entire thing

A two-page letter to a now-ex lover

It was a pretty standard affair

The mystery for me was that I was there

At the intersection of this drama

And I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

To piece the thing back together

Since it would have been better

Had I left it as a dove

Noah Eli Gordon lives in Denver and teaches in the MFA Program at CU–Boulder, where he currently directs Subito Press. His books include The Word Kingdom in the Word Kingdom (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2015) and Novel Pictorial Noise (Harper Perennial, 2007), which was selected by John Ashbery for the National Poetry Series and subsequently chosen for the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award.

The Poetry Section is edited by Mark Bibbins.

A Poem by Noah Eli Gordon was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The World Roger Ailes Made

Thu, 2017-05-18 11:26
Lucky him, he doesn’t have to live in it anymore.Photo: krbo

If you’re looking for someone to encapsulate the legacy of Roger Ailes, who died this morning at the age of 77, Slate’s Isaac Chotiner — whose interviews are currently the best in the business — has some thoughts:

When Rupert Murdoch hired Ailes to create Fox News as an “alternative” to the mainstream media, Murdoch’s intention was clear. He wanted to degrade American society in precisely the way he had degraded British society. And when degradation is your goal, there is no better hire than Roger Ailes. Ailes was a political aide turned television genius who emanated anger; his crucial insight was that there was a great amount of money to be made off the resentments of others. And the more you could stoke those resentments, the more money you would earn. At the same time, you could increase the net amount of resentment, and create a coarser society, all the better for your own pocketbook.

There is also this sweet remembrance from Awl pal Ken Layne.

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They're both at peace now.

 — @KenLayne

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I think that’s enough space to take up with Roger Ailes.

We Live in the World Roger Ailes Broke

The World Roger Ailes Made was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Every Color Of Cardigan Mister Rogers Wore From 1979–2001

Thu, 2017-05-18 11:26
Work uniform goalsdecisions, decisions…

While y’all were watching the world fall apart this week, I was watching Fred Rogers build it back up. For the past few days I’ve been transfixed by the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” marathon that began on Monday afternoon over on Twitch. Like watching the “Joy of Painting” with Bob Ross, zoning out to “Mister Rogers” is an exercise in escapism. After Rogers helped reset my brain I began to wonder about all the handsome, colorful sweaters he famously wore. Did Rogers have a favorite?

Fortunately, Tim Lybarger, a 40 year-old high school counselor from just outside of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, wondered the same thing a few years ago. Back in 2011, on his blog devoted to all things Mister Rogers,, Lybarger recorded the color of every sweater Rogers wore in each episode between 1979 and 2001. “When I realized such a resource didn’t exist,” Lybarger told me over email, “I just felt like somebody needed to do it…might as well be me.”

The chart below uses the data Lybarger meticulously collected to show how Rogers’ preferences for the color of his cardigan changed over time.

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Each square represents an episode and the approximate color (designers don’t @ me) of the sweater that Rogers wore. There were three episodes during this stretch when Rogers went without a sweater.

Some sweaters were worn once and then never again, like the neon blue cardigan Rogers wore in episode 1497. Others, like his harvest gold sweaters, were part of Rogers’ regular rotation and then disappeared. And then there were the unusual batch of black and olive green sweaters Rogers wore exclusively while filming the “Dress-Up” episodes in 1991. To this day, members of the Neighborhood Archive message board claim those are the only sweaters Rogers wore that were store bought. The rest were hand knit by his mother.

As a ’90s kid, I associate Rogers with his red cardigan more so than any other sweater, so it was surprising for me to see that green is actually the color he favored the most — edging out red by a total count of 74 to 54. It turns out though, Rogers was red-green colorblind, so I like to think that some punk PA was messing with him and told Rogers they were both different shades of brown.

A noticeable pattern also shows up when you lay out the color of each sweater Rogers wore chronologically: Over time, Rogers ditched the pastels for darker, more saturated tones.

Before every Urban Outfitters in the world was stocked full with cardigans, Rogers made them his signature accessory. His fashion-forwardness should inspire Mark Zuckerberg, the modern poster boy of the “work uniform” movement, to try and dress a little less like a fuckmook.

The code used in this analysis can be found here.

(Ed. note: Fred Rogers’s questionable ess-less possessive has been honored throughout.)

Every Color Of Cardigan Mister Rogers Wore From 1979–2001 was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.