Tuesday, August 31, 2010


(Click to enlarge)

I'm in New York for two minutes. One thing I like about this sign is how old it is. All signs should still be like this. Another thing I like, though, is the abbreviation, which feels like it should be pronounced assin (as in, "What are you up to?" "Oh, just assin' [around]") and therefore reminds me of the following... what, anecdote?

When I was teaching ninth-grade English, my students (many or most of whom were, severally and taken as a group, continually if not continuously hilarious*) came up with a mnemonic device I liked.†  Our grammar book had a list of words that one might forget are singular—


no one



—which my students, with lightning speed, reduced to eeno aesn aesn aesn—with the aesns pronounced (you guessed it) like ass'n.  For some reason I thought this was funny.

And that's my whole story.  Here's a picture of me:


* This sentence suggests some sort of brain damage. I did hit my head earlier.

† Someone (on Facebook, maybe?) recently asked for a mnemonic device to remember how to spell mnemonic, and I almost wrote something like, "The extra M is for extra memory," but then I realized whoever had made the request had surely made it only as a joke.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Never understood what these lines were for.

See how this car on the left is parked?*  For the record—I should have taken a picture that showed this—there was no one in the space to the left of her, so it's not like she had any excuse for this.  And, yes, her, because I saw her pull in and get out of her car, and here's where we get to the point I'm trying to make (or rather the question I'm trying to ask): the woman driving this car was totally fucking hot.

That's not a question.  I know.  The question is: is it possible—I'm just spitballing here†—but is it possible that beautiful women are likelier to be lousy (i.e., selfish) parkers on account of their not having not to be?  I myself have cheerfully stopped my car to allow someone to execute a ludicrous move—outrageous both in conception and in execution—just because I saw that the driver was sexually attractive.  I didn't think about it—I'm not proud of it—it just happened.

If you're gorgeous, you can get away with more shit.  I mean—right?  Matter of fact: you are at least slightly less likely to get chewed out for being an asshole.  If you step on my foot or spill your drink on me or drop a bowling ball on my laptop computer and you look like I want to make babies with you and dote upon you for the rest of my life, it is just that much less likely that I will lose my temper with you for doing something that ought to be infuriating.  So: are hot people likelier to be jerks because nobody corrects them?

Ach: I've just remembered that 30 Rock basically already covered this with the whole Jon Hamm storyline.  Well.  Nothing new under the sun.  Sorry for wasting your time, folks.

[UNRELATED: The Alt85 posting has been a little spottier lately on account of I've been way busy.‡  (I've hardly even been able to maintain my porn empire!)  The good news is that it's better, in my view, to have not enough time than it is to have too much time.  And that is why I have chosen mortality.]

Back to work!§

* I've blotted out the license-plate number in a primitive, I-don't-have-Photoshop-and-don't-want-to-bother-the-sun-duck kind of a way.  I'm not here to humiliate anybody.

† I don't know what that word means.

‡ Why am I sometimes drawn to this ungrammatical construction ("on account of [independent clause]")?  I think it might be a Huck Finn thing.

§ Hey, look, Blogger does these caption things, now.  What do we think: better, worse than the old way?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

This Never Happened to Pablo Picasso: the "asshole" offense

As I've said before, the best thing about the otherwise essentially disastrous Back to the Future Part III is the moral: that the best way to deal with violent bullies is to call them assholes and walk away.

I find this notion particularly appealing because I'm no good at it [see also]; I mean, I'm getting way better, but I'm still not there.  If I think someone is being an asshole, I want to be able to say, "He's an asshole," and walk away, but there's this strong drive to engage, to correct, or, at the very least, to report.  Marty McFly does turn to the other people in the bar and announce that "Mad Dog" Tannen is an asshole, but he doesn't feel he has to prove it: when someone does something obnoxious, I feel I have to make sure everyone agrees that it was obnoxious—which arguably misses the whole point.  We have to be OK with the fact that some people are assholes.  Assholery will never be eradicated from the earth, nor is it our job to combat it, really.

But I wonder: is this a fantasy?  I remember reading Nietszche in college and being blown away—this may actually have been one of the first-ever times that I came across one of those ideas that are simultaneously sort of unacceptable but also probably in and of themselves arguably true—by the idea that Judaeo-Christian morality is a kind of "slave morality" based on justifying weakness and failure: that only someone who got beaten up all the time would come up with a rule like "beating people up is wrong."  Let me be clear: (1) I may be getting this idea wrong, and (2) I don't really think it's so.  However, I think it's—how would you say this?—valid? tough to argue with?

Point being... Q. Is the feeling of triumph in not fighting a Tannen and instead just announcing, "He's an asshole!"* essentially a fake-out, a cop-out, or a dressed-up wimp-out?  Q. Is it possible that, rather than (or at least in addition to) a kind of moral victory, this sort of thing is effectively an excuse for failure?

I mean, I'm playing devil's advocate, here, but isn't the "asshole" gambit one that only someone too weak to fight would pull out?  If Marty had been a better gunfighter, couldn't he have just gone out there and shot the pistol out of Buford's hand (if he didn't really want to hurt him)?  If he had been a better drag racer, couldn't he have beaten Flea Needles without hitting the Rolls Royce (or whatever the fuck it was)?

"No, no, physical force is always better with Nazis."

I love the idea, articulated by Barthelme (probably paraphrasing Kierkegaard), that irony is good for "annihilating" things—but, as I worried when I brought that up before, isn't that effectively an illusion?  In the movies, I can effectively conquer the bully by mocking him, but in real life, doesn't he then come up and break my jaw?  And would it be insane to suggest that, in doing so, he wins the argument?

Honestly I'm ambivalent (which, you may recall, means "of both minds").  I believe in right and wrong, as neither absolute nor absolutely relative terms,† and I do think that using violence to resolve disagreements is—you know what?  Let's say inhuman, or subhuman, or at least, like, "a low and rather disappointing, unsatisfactory version of human."  In other words, I don't really think that it's better or even comparably good to beat somebody up or shoot him: I do think that's a moral failure.  It's just that the opposing viewpoint isn't entirely easy to reject out of hand, which may mean that there's some third path...‡

Anyway, the fact that "Mad Dog" Tannen surely couldn't articulate this objection himself is itself possibly somewhat telling.  Or—I don't know, maybe not.  I just remembered writing that thing about being outraged at a dog for barking at you.  Maybe the trick of it is that people who solve problems with physical violence need to be understood like wild animals: you neither blame a tiger for attacking you nor attribute human moral sense to it.

There: I just dehumanized bullies and assholes.  All in a day's work, folks!


* Which, by the way, the movie didn't even really follow through with: see "55 reasons why Back to the Future Part III is one of the worst sequels ever made," reasons 46 and 48).

† You know who helped me get to a place where I felt reasonably confident about this?  Old Erich Fromm.  Might be about time again for me to bust out Man for Himself.

‡ Like Luke Skywalker, who's neither Sith nor quite traditionally Jedi (nerds, go here).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Alt85: a user's guide


I'm coming up on 700 posts, here, which is ludicrous. What kind of a world are we living in, am I right?? But so as Alternate 1985 is essentially unnavigable, I thought I'd offer a couple of pointers to anyone who's arriving here for the first time—who happens to be doing so right when this particular post still happens to be near the "top."*

The "subjects" listed at the right of the page are all real, but for some reason* I've given them ridiculous, user-unfriendly names.  "That silver screen" is movie-related nonsense (that one's reasonably clear), and "the lick it / stick it conundrum" is sex-related nonsense (also not totally impossible to figure out), but why would "the sausage industry" be books/literature-related nonsense?*  So but yeah, poke around there, in the "subjects" list—that's one way to do it.

If you want to learn about me for some reason, you can check out the auto-bioey stuff, which in recent months has become slightly more actually auto-bioey than before: for a long time I totally avoided talking about myself, but then that sort of wore away.

Everything deteriorates over time.

Another way you can circumvent the chronologically linear nature of this thing is to check out the recaps.  Originally I actually used these to keep track of what I'd put up on this damned blog, but now I just check in once every 100 posts and basically only record what posts have gotten the most hits.  Because that's what matters in this world: hits.


In conclusion, Alternate 1985 is an Always Sunny fan site.  Basically I post screenshots and do episode summaries.  Check back regularly for more!*

* I'm an idiot.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

marry, fuck, kill

Does somehow not everyone already know about this?  I thought everyone knew about this, but recently someone surprised me by not knowing.  I guess we've just got a situation where some of you are about to discover a whole new frontier of delightful idiocy, and the rest of you are going to be like, "Wait—are we really still talking about this?"  (Maybe I just described every situation.)

The idea, the game—it's a game—is to give someone three choices and then demand that he rank them (or mark them) "fuck," "marry," or "kill."  When I first heard about this, I thought it was offensive: it's surely the combination of the word choice "fuck" and the option "kill."  But really in the end it's a very tame diversion—and most fun, I find, when you're fucking, marrying, and killing not people, but concepts.  Yeah, I like it abstract.

Basically how this winds up working (of course the game ends up as a way of grouping everything in the universe into categories or even archetypes, like the Beatles game in Fortress of Solitude that I referenced last May) is you'll probably fuck the thing that's most exciting to you in a fleeting way, like something you really want to "possess" but only fleetingly, something you don't feel you need to hold on to; you'll probably marry the thing you can most readily identify yourself with, like the thing you want to associate with and associate yourself with in the long term, or just the thing you're least willing ever to part with; and you'll probably kill...

Well, kill is kind of the wild card.  Do you kill the thing you hate?  I think when the game is at its best, the kill is always a reluctant kill: you kill the thing that you couldn't fuck or marry because those slots are already occupied.*  Ideally the three are hard to rank, which means either that they're all very similarly attractive (or repugnant) or that they're so abstract—I do love the abstract ones—that it's a kind of mental exercise even to begin trying to rank them.

Here are a few examples I remember from last weekend that tickled me.  Fuck, marry, kill:

  • yes, no, maybe
  • positive numbers, negative numbers, zero
  • past, present, future
  • fork, spoon, knife†

The game works best if there are only three options.  Arguably it only works if there are only three options.  My friend kept trying to be like, "Fuck, marry, kill: non-American cities"—which is all well and good except that it really screws with the kill option.  Like I said, kill is usually something you're forced into: to pick something to kill from nearly limitless options—well, that sort of defeats the purpose and just turns into a "What don't I like?" game.

Anyway, the real reason I brought this up is a vaguely, abstractly auto-bioey situation: my friend decided‡ that he had sussed out how I answered these questions, had figured out my pattern, and thought that he would be able to predict my answers, so I rattled off a few fuck-marry-kills that I thought would be particularly challenging for me—and deliberately didn't think about how I'd answer them.  He wrote them down in his BlackBerry, then wrote down his answers, and only then did I try to sort 'em out.  What follows is the e-mail he sent me, recording the two sets of answers: first, his guesses and, second, my actual responses.  Read and learn.

Star Wars: fuck - marry
Superman: kill - kill
Indiana Jones: marry - fuck §

pizza: marry - marry
ice cream: kill - fuck
cookies: fuck - kill

eat: fuck - marry
pray: kill - kill
love: marry - fuck

Interestingly, my friend (a friend since the sixth grade) always got at least one right.  Pizza's a pretty obvious one, I think—although it occurred to me later that that one would have been much better/harder for me if instead of "pizza, ice cream, cookies" it had been "pizza, ice cream, bacon."  I don't even want to begin to tackle that one.

I feel like I should have a conclusion or a moral or something.  Um, I made $130 today.  But then I was watching TV and a guy came on who once had sex with a girlfriend of mine.  So that kind of balances out.  (NOTE: What I just said does not make sense.)

Gossip Girl

* I'm making it sound like I do this all the time.  I don't.  The reason it's on my mind is that my friend and I played it last weekend, and we played it because he's a lunatic and the alternative was probably starting an actual fight club.  (I actually have a bruise on my upper arm from where he punched me like we were in eighth grade.)

† I think I remember that we both somehow agreed that obviously you would fuck the spoon. But then there are two kinds of obvious: the beautiful not-obvious obvious (e.g., "The spoon, you'd fuck the spoon, of course") and the shameful too-obvious obvious (e.g., apologetically, "I guess you'd sort of have to kill the knife, right?"—or, a better example, "Kill the past, fuck the present, marry the future," which would merit boos and groans).

‡ Just realized I only explained the context in a footnote.  Oops.  My friend and I were having dinner with Quentin Tarantino.  That is only mostly false.

§ For this first one I specified that I meant the series, not the characters.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Julius, Adolph, and the boys [UPDATED]

Here's one of my all-time favorite Marx Bros. moments—maybe one of my favorite comedy moments, period:

Joke sort of ruined by the image and the title, but whatevs.

My erst' girlfriend was in comedy and had no experience with the Marx Bros.—as with many people of my generation, the general sense she had was that they were sort of lame and not funny.  The reason I bring this up is that something I've learned is that if you want to convince somebody that the Marx Bros. are funny, you basically have to show them Harpo.

Groucho at his best is probably the best of the bunch—I think that's probably true.  But the big liability of Groucho is that he's so verbal, which means that a lot of what he says has a shelf-life.  One thing I liked in the first season of True Blood was when Sookie raised an eyebrow at the name "Fangtasia" and Bill said something like, "You have to understand that vampires are very old.  At one time, puns were considered the height of humor."  The sad truth is that any verbal humor has a high risk of losing its bite as time goes by.  I don't mean comedy writing in general: I mean verbal wit.  Anything verbally hilarious to us today will probably seem unbearably corny to our grandchildren.  (Is that true?  I think it might be true.)  At any rate, Groucho represents a highly concentrated dose of 1930s comedy writing, and I feel like 75% of what he says in these movies is therefore "groaner" material.  Take a look at this:

The funniest stuff, I'd argue, is Groucho's delivery.  So, for example, one minute in, it's the second "You were close, though" that tickles me.  Do you understand what I'm saying?  In terms of verbal humor, like content, the part about "You certainly know a question when you see one" (1:04–1:16) is reasonably funny, but so much of it is Groucho standing up and shaking the guy's hand.  My very favorite part of this clip—the reason I sought it out on YouTube—is from 1:40–1:48:

GROUCHO:  Art.  Well, I don't know how we drifted around to that, but what is your opinion of art?
CHANDLER:  I am very glad you asked me!  I—
GROUCHO:  I withdraw the question!

That I think is hilarious, but it's a rare example of Marxist repartee that doesn't strike me as the least bit stale ("Well, you go Uruguay and I'll go mine"?).  To be clear, I really like Groucho, but at this point he's essentially an acquired taste, and to a large extent more something you appreciate than viscerally love, a few key moments aside.

But Harpo—well, first of all, of course Harpo doesn't speak, so there aren't any puns or dated jokes we have to groan at,* but most important is that Harpo's comedy comes from this kind of pure anarchic insanity.  If Groucho's the ego, then Harpo's the id.  Harpo's the one who's continually chasing women (literally†), jumping on people's backs, and for some reason (this being one of my favorite things, when I was a kid) trying to get people to hold up his leg.  As such, Harpo's the only one of the bunch who doesn't seem to me to require "translation" (like a currency calculator) to be appreciated today.

Here's an interesting example/counter-example.  The clip below begins with some of the unfortunate this-used-to-be-a-stage-show unfunniness, a useless Harpo's-horn moment (Harpo's horn is the least funny part about Harpo), and an unfunny smoke-blowing gag.  Then, at 0:55, his coat comes off, and the world splits open.‡  You can stop watching after 1:15—those few moments of chaos capture almost all of what I'll always love about the Marx Bros., long after their expiration date.

[Oh, P.S.—it hit me that part of the secret to understanding It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is that although it registers first as being sort of a Seinfeld joint, or Seinfeld meets Married with Children or something, I think that really it has a lot more to do with the Marx Bros. than is immediately evident. (I haven't thought this through at all. But I think maybe Charlie is Groucho, Chico, and Harpo all rolled into one.)]

* They do sometimes give him visual puns ("Not washboard. Passport!"), but way he pulls those off are so fundamentally unhinged that the jokes themselves are still secondary.

† This may itself be a cheesy "visual pun" (see above footnote), but, again, it doesn't matter.

‡ We also get one of my favorite Groucho moments: see, he wasn't all about the corny wordplay.

Monday, August 16, 2010

forget this ad?


I feel like I don't care as much about advertising anymore. What pissed me off so much about it was how much we all seem to ignore—or at least to accept—that we're being manipulated all the damned time, or rather that people are trying to manipulate us, but that's...  Well, isn't that just the kind of thing I was saying was essentially just oversensitive only-child baloney?  I mean, so yes, ads are kind of awful, and yes, people don't necessarily agree with me on that, and yes, sometimes they don't agree not because they actually disagree but because they just haven't thought about it enough.  But so what?  Put it all together, and so fuckin' what?

Actually, I have an answer to that nonrhetorical question.  I think my fuck-this-ad commentary is best when the outrage-to-amusement ratio is fairly low.

I also think I've been spending too much time here examining my own shit and not enough time eating (if you'll pardon the revolting analogy).  Lately, on Twitter, for better or for worse, I've been trying to focus on the "tweet" as a kind of writing*—or, to look at it another way, only saying something when I have something to say—and I think that's a good model for this fucking thing.  (Still examining my own shit, by the way, note.)

A little while back—a few times, actually—I told myself that "2010 is the year."  Year ain't over yet.†

[Yeesh, still evidently shooting for worst Alt85 post ever.  Eventually I'll just post a picture of an unflushed toilet and be done with it.]


* Which was always the main appeal of it to me, but not always quite how I've used it.
† Not how I talk.
‡ At least I made $76 American today in the comfort of my own home and live in Southern California and am therefore currently sitting outside on a patio in an earthly paradise.  I believe that there tree is a lemon tree, even.  And my roommate's dog is so happy, it looks like he's dead.  Wait.  Is he dead?

Stuf (as in Big and Double)


"Scum is human, too." –Zuckerman/Roth
It probably has at least something to do with what that former student said to me the other day about "hilarious, perverted surrealism" (and I'm sure it also has something to do with the inspiring/shaming autobiographical boldness of Ariel Schrag's comics, and of Desiree Burch's 52 Man Pickup, which I meant to write about but I think never did...and it definitely has to do with the sense I have sometimes that I could be way more interesting if I didn't censor myself*—oh, and this), but the idea started to gestate in my mind that I should basically turn myself into a pornographer, or at least let's just say some kind of a sex artist.
     [Before we go on, let me just note, to avoid confusion, that this is not going to happen.]
     I mean, I forget who it was, but somebody said recently† that Nabokov—who, if you think about it, is sort of an unlikely candidate for the level of fame he's achieved, given what a weird, difficult, and essentially narrative-unfriendly writer he is—essentially owes his success to a mistake:‡ he got so big because people thought Lolita was a dirty book.  Same goes for James Joyce.  Is he so famous because back then people were likelier to read or admire a book like Ulysses, or is he so famous because Ulysses was famously banned from the United States for being pornographic?  How about old Philip Roth?  Now (annoyingly) he seems to be known more for books like American Pastoral (which I read and liked pretty well) and The Human Stain (which I haven't read), but he wouldn't be Philip Roth if it weren't for the massive success of Portnoy's Complaint (one of the best and funniest novels ever written), which, like Lolita and Ulysses, can function as socially permissible smut.  How about Nicholson Baker?  I love The Mezzanine, but when I first heard about Nicholson Baker, what I heard about was VoxVox and The Fermata—and I'm not sure you can honestly say that those books aren't smut.
     Point being now here not that I should write books jam-packed with sex (which I should) but that maybe I should take it a step further.  As I wrote in my journal the other day, "started thinking about how the lesson to be drawn from the argument that Nabokov and Ulysses [sic] both essentially owed their renown to the fact that the wider, effectively illiterate audiences of the world had heard that their books were dirty was not that I should write a 'dirty' book like they did, but that I should actually give them [the audiences of the world, not Nabokov and Ulysses] their dirty book.  This means the surrender of a certain reserve or concern about my image and how I am perceived...  But so [...] what if I became what Sasha Grey seems to think she is?  The first truly crossover [pornographer]..."
     Again, this is not going to happen.  But the idea's an intellectually titillating one, I think!

All I can think when I see this is, "Stay away from that."§

Bedbugs (follow-up thoughts)

  • Remembered after posting that business earlier that one cute side effect of dealing with bedbugs, which I didn't quite register until it was over, was that I had my shades down for I think two full months.  This was because when I woke up I'd go straight to the shower and then straight out, and then, wanting to spend no time at all at home, I'd come home late enough that it was basically time to go straight to bed.  Opening the shades again felt like waking up after a long nightmare (which it was, sort of).
  • Writing all that stuff last week (or whenever that was—I have no concept of time) freaked me out, and I had to take off all my sheets and flip my mattress and box spring on their sides to verify that writing about them didn't somehow conjure them up again like some magic spell.  This should be a surprise to no one (q.v.) but is still sort of horribly amazing.
  • A little bit like when I realized that it was possible to misread my blog and think that I actually was married at one point, I want to note here that I have been bedbug-free for almost a year.  So it's OK to get in my bed, is what I'm saying.  Come one, come all!  [See above.]

Vegan power.

Scott Pilgrim (I saw it)
I liked this movie pretty well but was thrown off by something.  The supervegan says, "We have unfinished business, I and he"; Pilgrim says, correcting him, "He and me"; and the supervegan says, "Don't you talk to me about grammar!"
     One problem: although it's true that the convention is to put the first-person pronoun last in a series of pronouns, the supervegan is right and Pilgrim is wrong.  I'd even go so far as to say that Pilgrim is triply wrong: (1) he's "correcting" something that's not very wrong or arguably not importantly wrong at all—stylistically wrong instead of mechanically wrong, you could say; (2) since we is a subject, it ought to be expanded into a pair of subjects (in whatever order), and in this case that pair of objects would certainly be an I and a he; and (3) in no context, no matter what choice you make about subjects and objects, ought subjects and objects ever to be mixed: "he and me" is never, ever, ever going to be right, ever.
     I suppose it's possible that I'm missing some kind of irony here, but I can't see how: Pilgrim's supposed to be smarter than the supervegan, and "I and he" is obviously (ineptly) meant to be wrong and dumb.  This sort of thing maddens me.  Did no one who read the script catch this?  No, apparently not.
     Really it's crazy to care about it either way, but while I can stomach grammatical errors, I have trouble with grammatical errors that people actually think are grammatical expertise—if only because, well, couldn't they fucking bother to check?

Married in real life. Adorable.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Really enjoying this series—made it most of the way through Season Three now. Charlie Day's my favorite. Hilarious. Can he be made famouser?

Oh, and—hey, folks. Sorry for picking fights again, lately—or fightier fights than usual. I think it was that I had begun to half remember that I should trust myself, but the half I didn't remember was the half where you trust yourself enough that you don't have to argue with people who disagree with you just to convince yourself that you're right. God bless every last motherfucking one of you guys, all right?

portrait of the artist as an old man (via)

* Although I imagine the idea that I'm censoring myself may strike some readers as a little tough to believe. (It's true: I'm even worse than this!)

† I don't even remember whether this was in print or in person.

‡ If anyone does know who said this, please let me know so I can give credit where credit is due.

§ This was going around so much, I have no idea who's responsible.  Anybody know?  See above footnote.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

If you want to know if he loves you so, other places it might be

  • In his sent-mail folder.
  • In his private journal.
  • In his phone bill.
  • In his credit-card statement.
  • In his roman à clef.
  • In his therapist's note pad.
  • In the expertly analyzed results of an MRI.

    Alt85, eh?

    [Wrote this last night, and my head's not really quite in the same place anymore—but I might as well throw it on up here anyway, for reasons very much related to what I discuss below. Go on, take a look.]

    Explain it again to us, Doc?

    Mispogon had a very generous and appealing response to my earlier quasi-earnest question of what the hell this blog even is:
    The title encapsulates the idea entirely: how are we supposed to interpret and live in this world that seems to have become a mockery of the future fed to us as children by Steven Spielberg.* We have neither the overt cynicism of the generation before us, nor the canned hope of those who come after us. We wish to be intellectuals but also honest, to be healthily cynical but fair, to rectify the nuanced good and evil fantasies that shaped our childhood with a world that presents both nuance and absolutes.
    But then other day I remembered my own original answer: "combating George McFly syndrome." Hard to believe I'd forgotten, given how much I've brought it up—bandied it about, you might even say—but what does it really mean? (And what does "bandying" mean, while we're at it?)

    Doesn't it really come down to the basic idea that I'm trying to learn to trust myself?

    And—like the amazing argument in one particular part of Emerson's "Self-Reliance" that I liked—the point isn't so much that I should trust myself because I have proved myself trustworthy or because I will be right but because trusting oneself is important in itself. Wait, I lost the Emerson thread. The Emerson thread (which is not only a good name for a Dan Brown thriller but is also super cool) is that WHO ELSE ARE YOU GONNA TRUST?

    I just realized that I'm—I caught myself sort of in the middle of trying to spin my ridiculous little blog into some kind of triumph of the human spirit, or an incredible life-changing self-help philosophy. Yeesh! Do I think I'm some kind of a prophet or something?! Yes. The answer is yes. I do. Please send donations. We're on to something here, something big.

    On the other hand, we're also in some weird emotional state, for some reason, where an iPhone commercial just now actually almost made me burst into tears. So maybe disregard everything above?

    Ow, my heartstrings!

    * Q.v./cf. the brilliant Patton Oswalt "Alternate Earth" bit from 2007: "On our planet, Arnold Schwarzenegger runs California, torture is legal, and spinach is poison!"

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    more summaries of movies I don't remember [UPDATED]

    [UPDATE: Now see Movies I Don't Remember: the blog!]

    [More of this stuff (because some of you liked it*). Click the link; don't make me explain it all again. I will, though, remind you all that this is totally real: this is what I remember about these movies, and I searched out the images only after writing it all down.]

    The Money Pit (1986)
    I'm confident that this is not the same movie as The 'Burbs and Mr. Mom, but how, I couldn't tell you. Mainly I think I remember the poster. I think it might be sunny in the beginning, though, and Tom Hanks may be smiling. Or, wait, is Chevy Chase in this one? I'm pretty sure at some point somebody falls through a floor. And boy, do our protagonists get increasingly upset! Is their peace of mind ever rattled!

    "Homeowners' farce" is the highest form of comedy.

    Uncle Buck (1989)
    John Candy comes to visit somebody (probably Tom Hanks) at his country house and ruins his vacation. Something goes wrong while people are fishing, and I think a bear does something funny/terrifying. Eventually the family either realizes how wonderful Uncle Buck is or manages to tell him off in a toothless fashion. I'm pretty sure I remember being bored by this movie, or at least disappointed by the way it measured up to the poster.

    Hahaha! To the top of my Netflix queue with you, Uncle Buck!

    Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985)
    Two scientists in the jungle find a baby brontosaurus. They have to climb up a cliff and negotiate with Tintin-quality "savages" who might even put them in a big pot of water, although it's also possible that I'm thinking of one of those Romancing the Stone movies. Presumably the dinosaur is eventually reunited with its mother and the bad guy (a scientist who wants to dissect the dinosaur? a poacher?) has a change of heart or falls in mud.

    Um... awesome?!

    Porky's (1982)
    Some teenagers or college students find out about an awesome strip club, or possibly just a truck stop, in Bon Temps, Louisiana, but they get kicked out, possibly even beaten up, and humiliated. They take their revenge by looking at naked women and probably pushing somebody off a pier. Someone (maybe the same person) is eaten by a crocodile. That last part might also be from Romancing the Stone.

    Whoa! Sorry, Uncle Buck—you just got bumped.

    Sesame Street: the Movie (1983?)
    Big Bird and company get locked in a museum. Then Oscar the Grouch crashes through a wall and everybody ice skates hand-in-hand in a big line while singing "Feliz Navidad." Actually, I'm almost 100% sure that this is like three different movies. Remembering this stuff makes me feel like I am on powerful psychoactive drugs. Like I actually almost feel dizzy.

    This picture is intolerable.

    * This one's probably not as good.

    † NOTE: This one I saw for the first time only a few years ago, but in this case the problem wasn't so much time plus undeveloped childbrain as it was...well, let's say that I was indisposed when I watched it.

    A few questions.

    (click to enlarge)

    Why is Eve upset? Why is Adam overweight? Why is his hair like that? Why doesn't Eve have nipples? Why does Adam have an extra belly button where his left nipple should be? Why does he have a belly button at all? [See also.]

    Nightmareville, Pt. 3

    [continued from Pt. 2]

         Adam's job was simply to be on the lookout for bites.  The first problem with that was that Adam constantly thought he was being bitten.  The second problem was that he had spent the first month or so of his infestation not aware that he was being bitten.  How many bites had simply not shown up on his skin, or had shown up and been mistaken for minor irritations or ingrown hairs?  What if he was being bitten and didn't know?  Conversely, what if he was being bitten by a mosquito?  Would he be able to tell the difference?  He wasn't at all confident that he would know for sure.
         Already he felt he had post-traumatic stress.  He hesitated to sit down anywhere, inspecting subway seats for movement and dreading even his own couch, even after the bedbug expert had carefully checked every pillow and pronounced it bug-free.  ("Yeah, no residue at all," he had said.)  Every itch sent him into a near panic.
         So he made a conscious effort—an act of pure will—to declare himself bug-free, in his own mind.  He asserted this to himself as fact because as long as it was a question, the question could never be entirely resolved in the negative—because these fuckers could live up to a year without feeding, and made a point of coming out only during the hours when their unwilling host was likeliest to be sound asleep, and, if they were good at anything at all, were international grandmasters at hide-and-seek.  As long as it was a question, the answer could be no more satisfactory than It does not appear so.  Therefore, for the sake of Adam's mental health, it could not be a question.  Some authority had to close the case, and that authority would be Adam himself.
         "I do not have bedbugs," he told himself.  "In fact, the main difference between me and any other given New Yorker today is probably that I'm less likely to have bedbugs after all this shit I've gone through!"
         So he moved forward, went on with his life, and felt pretty OK—until he realized that this was not like chicken pox: it wasn't something you got once and then were immune to.  Yes, he should be no more worried than any other New Yorker.  But how worried should any other New Yorker be?  Every time there was an article about bedbugs in the newspaper, he couldn't not read it.  Sometimes he even searched them out online; he couldn't help himself.  The articles said that it was pointless to treat a single apartment in a building because the bugs could easily move from apartment to apartment.  Did that apply to apartments where an expert had drilled little holes in the wall and blown powder inside?  Didn't say.  Adam was never going to go to another hotel without keeping all his clothes in oversized ziplock bags and spraying the bags with alcohol later and throwing the duffel in the dryer for 30 minutes on high, but the articles said that you can get bedbugs from having the cable guy visit, carrying insectile pilgrims in his bag or on his pants leg, and you can get bedbugs from cardboard boxes carrying things you bought that are shipped to you through the mail, and you can get bedbugs from sitting on a friend's couch or in a seat at a movie theater, and you can get bedbugs from your workplace, and from the locker room at your gym, an from a friend who drops by with a bag—you could get them from spending the night at a date's apartment, or from a moving van the next time you move—and, yeah, there was at least a 2, 5% chance that they'd just crawl right through Adam's wall, or floor, or ceiling, right back into his apartment, a neighbor's bedbugs looking to spread out...
         So he stepped in front of the screaming D.*

    Happy ending: portrait of the writer in his new, bug-free bed†

    * The D is a New York City subway line (not a hollering penis). This part is lightly fictionalized, by the way.

    † Important note: that's not actually me. Here's a picture of me.

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Fuck Alt85


    What is this shit? I've tried to answer that question once or twice. When Headfoot came into unholy being, there was a bit of a mini-pseudo-crisis, and at a certain point the thing became all of a sudden way more visual. Then there was a while there when I half-heartedly tried to split the thing into at least two separate blogs because of the whole "Fuck This Ad" thing (of which there's been nowhere near as much, lately, I think because I no longer spend a quarter of my life in the New York City subway system). I took a hiatus once (it was like a week and a half)...

    But so honestly I don't really have a grasp on what this blog is. I guess it's a weird hodge-podge—a mulligan stew, if you will.* I know there are people who read it and seem to like it, but I don't have a clear sense of what about it is good (q.v.). I wonder whether anyone likes all of it or if people are really just wading through the stuff they don't like, waiting for the stuff they do. Maybe some people like my insane nonsensical musings about baloney like being an only child and some people like the sad gestures toward humor like the bad movie summaries and some people like when I weirdly complain about signs and bumper stickers or my cruel, nitpicking commentary on people who through no fault of their own don't speak English very well... I can't imagine anyone gets off too much on the shit like earlier today when I pick fights with religious people (i.e., everyone in the world).

    Jesus Christ, I'm a monster.

    It sounds like I'm being down on myself, maybe. I'm not. I'm the greatest human being who has ever lived, and a pure delight in every way. (At the risk of "oversharing," I can tell you that any woman between the ages of 18 and 40 who comes within a yard or so of me begins orgasming uncontrollably. It's actually sort of a problem.) So let's not make this about me.  I'm talking about the blog, here.

    The blog, the blog, this fucking blog.

    One thing that I don't like about Alt85—I was kidding about the negativity earlier,† but this is something that really does bother me—is that I think part of the reason I'm as prolific as I am here (however prolific that may be) is this weird alternation or sometimes combination of (a) my not wanting the thing to just sit here, languish, and (b) my not being satisfied with the most recent entry, which of course is all that some people are going to see.‡ In other words, all too often I'm posting stuff on here not because I have something to say but because I feel I have to come up with something to say—or, even worse, to bury what came before.

    On the other hand, of all the things I'm wanting (by which I mean lacking), something to say is not particularly high on the list.

    Well, one thing's for sure, even if every other question goes unanswered: I may very well have just written the worst-ever Alt85 post right here. You and I were here together for it. It's sort of moving, almost. Like bowels.

    * Harold Bloom used that expression, "mulligan stew," in his comments on a paper I wrote in college. (He did not like this paper.)

    Not kidding about the uncontrollable orgasms. You have been warned.

    ‡ Although last month someone found my blog by Google searching "sluts fucking at kindy," so I guess it doesn't matter that much what's on "top."

    dumb and dumber

    Anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States infuriates me not only because of the bigotry of it, but also because of the sheer stupidity of it. In the Times article the above screenshot comes from, Diana Serafin (whose name goes unchanged here to indict the guilty) is quoted as saying (actually saying, to a reporter, presumably articulating a position she is not mortified to be associated with), "I do believe everybody has a right to freedom of religion... But Islam is not about a religion. It's a political government, and it's 100 percent against our Constitution."*

    And opposing the mosque at "Ground Zero" is one thing—one stupid and ridiculous thing, yes†—but opposing mosques everywhere abandons the one desperate, offensive, idiotic scrap of reasoning that people can reach for when defending their horrible "Ground Zero" position.  And I really do think it's a question of stupidity. I think the people most opposed to the mosque literally believe that they (the mosques‡) are monuments to terrorism—not effectively monuments to terrorism, but literally. I suspect that the woman holding the sign up there isn't thinking, "Rrrr, I hate Islam, it's a bad religion, let's see if we can stomp it out"—isn't even thinking, as I believe Hitchens does, that Islam is fundamentally, essentially violent and therefore inevitably will often lead to things like terrorism—but actually literally thinks that Muslim leaders call Osama bin Laden at the end of the day and have secret rooms in the basements of their mosques with plans thumbtacked to the walls, how to bring down the American government. And probably framed pictures of Barack Hussein Obama.

    But none of this is why I called this meeting—or rather, it's all essentially introducey.

    What I realized the other day when reading about the New York City mosque controversy was that anti-Muslim bigotry gets my goat just enough that it actually outweighs my own beliefs, makes me forget momentarily that I don't think anyone should be building mosques anywhere, either.

    I also don't think anyone should be building churches, synagogues, or Scientology centers—because it's all a crock of shit. I think that bigoted opposition to Islam is worse than Islam, but Islam is still pretty bad. It's not especially worse than any other religion, but...  What comedian was it who said something about how he's in favor of gays' being able to serve in the military except insofar as he doesn't understand why anybody would want to serve in the military? Someone I know was once making fun of people who are really into Jesus, and I was with him until I realized that he kept kosher and felt that God had really guided him in his embracing of increasingly orthodox Judaism. Seriously, dude? I am in favor of mocking any religious belief as long as you aren't meanwhile sitting there unquestioningly embracing your own totally irrational and unjustifiable delusional beliefs.

    Anyway, here's hoping that one day we live in a world in which the bigots and morons of the world have wised up (or at least quieted down) enough that the rest of us can go back to quietly disapproving of mosque-building again—not because mosques are monuments to terrorism, but because they're monuments to superstition and stupidity, just like all "houses of God."

    P.S. Please don't murder me.

    (via; see further, occasionally overlapping blasphemy here and here)

    * Side note: I love all the Constitution talk that mentally ill and cognitively deficient individuals have started getting into since Obama's inauguration. Our Constitution, like so much of religion, seems to have become a matter of blind faith at this point—not its goodness or rightness, but its very content. (When I started writing this footnote, I thought, "I guess I'm saying 'I love' ironically," but then I realized, "No, I do love it because it's great when the mask falls off and people show how fucking ridiculous they are.")

    † And, by the way, I just love the ADL more and more every day.

    ‡ See footnote (and comments) here.

    Nightmareville, Pt. 2

    [continued from Pt. 1]

         There were three major hardships during these two weeks.  The first was living out of bags.  When Adam woke up in the morning, he took off the boxers he was wearing and put them in a ziplock bag that he placed on the dresser.  Then he wiped himself roughly down with his hands in the hopes of dislodging any confused bedbug that might have forgotten to go back into hiding at dawn.  He had not been instructed to do this, but he feared that if he didn't he might draw the plague into the other room, at which point he would need to pack that room, too, into bags and move everything out of there, which would probably mean moving it into a storage space because already he was straining the limits of his paltry Manhattan real estate.  He had been instructed to shower before putting on clean clothes, clothes that of course he got out of a plastic bag, clothes that had been run through the dryer for 30 minutes on high—a hardship in itself because it had meant taking many uncomfortable trips back and forth from his apartment to the laundromat several blocks away and enduring the suspicious glares of the men who managed the place, doing his best not to be seen reading the sign that clearly read, "DRYERS FOR CUSTOMERS WASHING CLOTHES, NO EXCEPTION!"  Meanwhile, the enormous pile of black, sealed garbage bags that had taken over his living room and bathroom made his living room all but uninhabitable: not only was it difficult to walk around, but he was also constantly afraid of catching the plastic with a toenail and tearing a hole that would destroy all the hard work he had already put in.  And being in the living room at all made him fear that he was confusing the bedbugs and giving them a reason (a) not to walk through the poison that he gathered was surrounding his bed, and (b) instead to set up camp in the living room (thus leading, indirectly, to the end of the world).
         The second major hardship was the part where Adam had to be bait.  It wasn't as if the poison would kill the bugs on contact: no: the whole idea, as he understood it, was that they would cross a poison barrier, which would kill them later on, after they had crawled up into Adam's sheets along with him while he was sleeping deep and onto his skin to bite him and suck his blood—who even knew how many.  Having seen them now in the plastic bags, having made the mistake of examining them carefully and memorizing their segmented backs (just the wrong combination of furry and scaly and slimy looking) and twitching legs, it was harder now for him to treat them as an abstract problem, and he was too conscious of them as actual beings, tiny creatures that were actually there, physically, hiding, waiting.  He'd expected that the beginning of the extermination process would make all this easier to bear, both because there was some reason to hope that they'd all been killed already and because now he could take some kind of pleasure in knowing that any bug that came to bite him was biting its last...like Nosferatu...but he'd gotten it all backwards somehow: his phobia and fear didn't work so rationally as all that, so instead he was able to focus only on the idea of his waiting for them, making it impossible for him even to pretend to have forgotten their existence.  He lay there, tense and miserable, staring blindly at the ceiling while all his attention, at red alert, patrolled every extremity and every inch of his skin.  That first night, he must have sat up and turned on the light fifteen, twenty times.
        The third and final major hardship was the doubt and uncertainty.  These motherfuckers could live a year without eating, a year hiding lost under the rug in his living room or in some missed hairline crack in his paint or under his radiator or who knew where.  If he had known absolutely that all this unpleasantness would result in success, that when it was done he would be done, he told himself that he could have endured much worse.  But the lack of certainty resulted in a heightened state of paranoia and anxiety and distress that only deepened as the days went on, and when he got no bites, instead of being happy, he worried that the plan wasn't working, that they weren't coming for the bait, that they were simply waiting, or that they had gotten lost—that maybe when emptying his bedroom for the expert, he had accidentally brought the bedbugs out into the living room, or that the expert had been mistaken and that the bugs had been in his bedroom but also were happily living in his couch in the living room—ground zero has a blast radius, after all—and when all was complete in the bedroom the bugs would be thriving there still, in secret, undetected, healthy, hungry...
         And so this was not a happy time for Adam.  The two-week mark was a date marked in his mental calendar and glowing like Christmas for a five-year-old.  He would lie awake in bed and wish for time to leapfrog over itself, or wish to fall into a coma and awake when the two weeks were done, let the bugs chew on him all they wanted in the meantime, eat chemical death, fucking do it, as long as he didn't have to be awake for it.  The date, of course, drew nearer, but no date in Adam's life had ever moved so slow.
         Finally the expert came again.  He drilled tiny holes into the wall and blew some sort of powder inside; this, he explained, would make it much less likely that Adam wouldn't enjoy a new wave of immigration from adjoining apartments.  "Can't guarantee it 100%, is the trouble with apartment buildings," said the expert, "but this'll make it 95, 98% sure they won't just walk on in here from next door."
         Ninety-five, ninety-eight—that was an A, Adam thought, not even an A-, but a flat A, four-point-oh. Can't complain about a four-point-oh.
         When he began unpacking his clothes and returning them to their drawers, as he had dreamt now of doing for more than half a month, he found to his great distress that what he felt was not relief but skin-crawling dread.  Immediately he began to itch all over.  A hundred times he was sure that he felt a bug crawling down his neck or up his calf;* a hundred times he checked and found nothing.  Skin tags and moles were fingered and investigated over and over.  He nearly had a panic attack.
         He realized that, as unpleasant as "la vida ziplock" had been, it had afforded him some small degree of confidence: at least that which had been cooked and sealed was bedbug-free.  Now he was opening the bags, and some idiot part of his brain was still stuck on the expert's earliest directions, to the exclusion of the latest ones, so that he felt as if he were doing something horribly wrong, throwing open the windows during a mustard-gas attack, taking off his seatbelt in a car whose brakes had just failed.  Don't open those bags!  Have you lost your mind?!  He tried to remind himself that bedbugs were not an invisible airborne pathogen, that they were very good at hiding but otherwise were simply animals—not even microscopic—that he had just gotten done poisoning the shit out of; all the same, something inside of him could not be reasoned with, and Adam was an emotional wreck for the entire unpacking process, from start to finish.
         Then the real nightmare began—a quieter, subtler nightmare, but one that went much deeper...

    [to be concluded]

    * As I do now, rereading all this (see "PTSD").

    Saturday, August 7, 2010

    Augusts 7

         1:31 a.m.  Maybe because of Proust, I spent a good part of the evening skimming through six years' worth of [journal] writing, remembering.  [Two girls I liked in 1992 or so]!  Sure, I remember them.  But I didn't remember how much it ached when they went away.  Partway through twelfth grade, I started thinking this was a terrible idea: I was identifying too much with the main character.  I wanted to find [girl I liked in 1995 or so].  I couldn't stop reading, because I needed to see how it all turned out.  I needed to see how I made it to today...
         2:08 a.m.  No, its ridiculous: I've changed immensely. I'm practically a different person. The impossibility of pinpointing a clear turning point is because, short of serious trauma, there's rarely or never any such thing.
         Making sense of oneself, going back and trying to recognize a continuum—depending on how it's done, it can be sheer foolishness.  Every night that we sleep, there is a break in our identity.  I talked to Margaret today about the way we organize our time in such a way as to break it up.  My theory was that we create miniature simulations of the summer breaks that used to carve chapters out of the endless prose of our young lives.  Rest wasn't the vacation's only function, or even its primary one: the most important thing was that we had these breaks, these divisions.  After college, unless you become a teacher or a grad student, those breaks disappear; so we create our own, out of whatever we can, whenever we can.  The wisdom-tooth operation was one for me.  The trip to Europe was one.  Even my parents' anniversary, when they took [then girlfriend] and me with them to Nobu—that was one. Because the next day was Day One.
         Tomorrow is Day One.

         I went to the beach today. I'm told that if you can see the ferris wheel, you're in Santa Monica. Very well, then I was in Santa Monica. My goal (which I stole from a friend—fuck, I'm so goddamned unoriginal!) is to go to the beach once a week all summer. Since July 10, I've managed to pull it off. (I was out of town last weekend but went to the beach all the same [q.v.].) Today was the first time I've gone alone. It was nice: I lay in the sun, thought a bit, let my mind go, read my book, watched a couple make out. (At what point am I a creepy old man? Am I there yet? [See above.] Some day, Jah willing!)
         Then I tried running. I hate running. I'm bad at it. But I like having run, and it's so goddamned good for you. Sun and exercise: these are things my erst' analyst prescribed to me in lieu of antidepressants. I've gotten pretty good at sun. But fuckin' exercise! In New York I got pretty good about getting to the gym—I had this great gym and would run three miles on the treadmill looking out over the Hudson at Jersey City*—but here I just run around West Hollywood and almost immediately my body is like, "NO! FUCK YOU!" and then my brain says, "Come on, you know you're capable of this, and it's going to be so—," but my body interrupts like a toddler having a temper tantrum in a supermarket, and then of course what are you going to do? You kind of have to leave the supermarket.
         In other news, West Hollywood is shaped like an amoeba; this is why it looks like I live in West Hollywood even though I don't. Also, West Hollywood has a logo that I believe is supposed to represent the shape of West Hollywood, and that looks like an eight-bit amoeba—something you might shoot at in a video game. Nice.

    8-bit amoeba, or super-tetroid monstrosity

         Speaking of West Hollywood, I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge, and that movie is gay. I don't mean gay the way the kids mean it today. I mean, the way the kids mean it, it would in fact apply, but I mean it's gay. It's gayer than Brokeback Mountain. Watching that movie was like being a best man at a gay wedding (which I've done). It was like going to a gay pride parade (which I would never do: homosexuality is a sin against God).
         Oh, and Prop. 8 is totally under siege. I don't want to alienate anybody, but if you're opposed to gay marriage, you're a fucking idiot. Really. There are honestly two reasons to oppose gay marriage: you're a douchebag, or you're an idiot. Actually, you know what? If you're opposed to gay marriage, I do want to alienate you. You oppose gay marriage? Guess what: fuck you, you're a faggot.†

    * Sometimes imagining I was being pursued by zombies, often thinking of A Separate Peace.

    † "But if one of them took the dick out of his mouth and started acting all faggy and saying annoying, faggy things—'You know, people from Phoenix are Phoenicians,' or something like that—I'd be like, 'Hey, shut up, faggot! FAGGOT! Quit being a faggot and suck that dick!'  That's what I would say to him." –Louis CK

    Nightmareville, Pt. 1

    [Wrote this business sometime during the second half of 2009. It is, unfortunately, almost entirely autobiographical (q.v.).]

    oh dear god jesus no

         As Charlie had heard it, Adam had been waking up with bug bites for a few weeks, and at first he didn't think anything of it, or didn't connect the itchy red dots, but then he started getting paranoid.  For some time, now, the New York Times had been on a kind of cycle and would do a big bedbug story once every few years—alarmist stuff about how before long every apartment in the City would be infested.  It didn't have anything to do with hygiene or housekeeping or social class: anyone who visited a hotel, even the fanciest ones, risked bringing back bugs in his suitcase, and the new globalized "flat earth" was just an easier surface for insects to scurry silently along from Point A to Point B to your bedroom.  Adam had two friends from college who had discovered the creatures in their apartment, and it had turned their lives upside-down—they had recently wed, and the first two or three months of their married life had been less conjugal bliss than waking nightmare.
         So when Adam started to wonder about bedbugs, a terrible fear had pierced him and gone right for the heart...
         Adam had read fifty articles on the Internet, and his apartment had felt increasingly hostile.  He had looked under his mattress, shone a light under his bed and at the tiny cracks where the floor  met the walls, gone over his sheets in search of black spots of insectile feces, and found nothing.  It was his imagination.  Bedbug bites were supposed to be bunched together in little clusters, these ones weren't.  Mosquito bites, they were mosquito bites.
         Still, he would wake up in the middle of the night with the feeling that something was crawling crawling up his hairy leg, or because his dim smoldering awareness of an itch on his back would suddenly flare up into full conscious worry, and he'd sit up suddenly and snap on the light and search his sheets.  He never found a thing.  The thought that bugs were hiding in his bed with him, waiting for him to go to sleep, was a hard one to put out of his mind, but he had been a human being for decades and knew that he sometimes got an itch, sometimes got a crawly feeling on his leg.  It had to be ignored.
         So when he felt an itch or got the feeling that he was not alone in bed, he made a point of not sitting up or turning on the lights—but he couldn't resist running his hand along the sheets to feel for foreign objects.  Inevitably he'd find something, and then he'd turn on the light, panicked, carrying what felt like a struggling many-legged creature between thumb and forefinger to hold under the hot fluorescent light; inevitably it was lint, or a piece of skin, or a hard grain of something from one of his pores, sharp and shiny like a grain of sand, like a pearl.
         What can you do other than check?  And if you find no evidence, is it not perverse to go on worrying?  What point is there in it?  Not every itch or bite signals disaster.  Adam moved on.
         One morning a week later, he woke up with a constellation of bug bites across his shoulder blade, bunched together, in clusters.  He stared at them in the bathroom mirror from various angles, looking over his shoulder, until the muscles in his neck bunched up and began to hurt.
         That night he woke up in the middle of the night to piss, and he saw something on his arm, plucked it off and dropped it into a ziplock bag and sealed it and placed it on his desk in the living room of his small one-bedroom apartment.  The thing was small, not quite like the pictures on the Internet.  Its legs moved uselessly in the bag, slipping and sliding on its plastic surface.
         The next morning, Adam called an exterminator, an expert, recommended by his married friends.  The expert took one look at the bug in the bag and said, "Yep, that's a nymph.  Looks about two weeks old."  He flipped over the mattress.  He flipped over the box spring.  "Yeah, see, that's fecal," he said.  Then he pulled back the plastic corner of the box spring.  "Get me that plastic bag, will you?" he said to his assistant, and his assistant brought over the bag with the bedbug nymph in it; the expert took out his business card and removed something from the box spring, shaking it then into the bag.  "There you go," he said.
         The expert found several more bugs in Adam's box spring.  Maybe five or six.  They looked just like they did on the Internet.  Adam watched them in their bag, saw them crawling over each other.
         "This problem is about two months old," said the expert.  "Where were you two months ago?"
         At a wedding.  At a country inn in Massachusetts.
         "Oh, yeah, you got a big problem over there."  The expert happened to be looking down at a corner of Adam's floor when he said this, and Adam nearly had a panic attack before he realized that there meant Massachusetts.
         The expert explained that bedbugs are in just about every hotel and will get in your bag.  Bedbugs will get into your bag in the trunk of a taxicab, in the luggage hold of a commercial airliner.  You don't take any chances: travel with your clothes tightly sealed in super-size ziplock bags, throw the duffel in the dryer when you get home: roast the fuckers.  Everyone needed to do this, said the expert, everyone in the world.  The problem was nearly out of control.
         Another thing everyone needed to do was to put his mattress and box springs in special encasements so the bugs had nowhere to hide, and anyone like Adam who already had a problem needed to put special interceptors under all the legs of the bed.  But first what was going to happen was that Adam was going to move everything out of the bedroom, all of it in plastic bags; and all of his clothes and towels and sheets he was going to have to put in the dryer for 30 minutes on high, after which they'd have to go in new plastic bags; and all of these bags had to be filled not all the way up, so you could twist the tops real tight and then fold them over and then close them with rubber bands, loop 'em over a few times to make sure they're airtight; and every single book needed to be wiped with alcohol (70% or more, the weaker stuff just slows the bugs down—you could get special alcohol wipes from CVS, intended for use as preparation before injections) and put them in bags; and the only thing left in the bedroom on the day they came to treat the place (which Adam and the expert scheduled for three days from that afternoon) would be the bed and the dresser.  That was the prep work that Adam needed to do.  It took him the full three days.
         "From this point on," said the expert, "this room is ground zero.  They don't live more than a couple feet from where you sleep—you ever sleep on the couch?"
         No, he didn't.
         "Good.  So the bedroom is ground zero.  You keep a towel rolled up under the door so they can't get out, and"—he laughed in a way that might have been slightly sadistic, but probably not—"you gotta sleep here.  You want to keep them in the bedroom, and that's why they're there: you.  They get out into the living room, you've got a much bigger problem."
         Three days later, the expert's men came, and they cut open the box spring and found several more bugs, which they put in ziplock bags, and they used special machines to blow hot steam into the open box spring, and all over the mattress, and in the dresser, and in the closet, and along the floor, and along the walls.  The expert's men sprayed poison along the bottoms of all his walls to keep any bugs from escaping or climbing back in, or down to the floor from the walls.  Then Adam had to leave for three hours as they treated the floors of "ground zero" with something particularly lethal.  After that, and until the second treatment, which he'd schedule in two weeks, Adam's job was the sleep in his bedroom every night.
         He was bait...

    [to be continued]

    holy fucking lord god NO