Glass Maze Every jumbled pile of person

The Adventures of Wears Two Pairs of Underpants Man

Wears Two Pairs of Underpants Man strode into the examination room and stood across from Dr Patel, arms akimbo. “Let us begin!” he cried.

Dr Patel looked up from her chart. “I actually wanted you to remove all your clothes, Mr Jamison.”

“Removed, and gladly!” said Wears Two Pairs of Underpants Man.

All of them.”

“Yes. All of them. Every stitch. I have shed all vestiges of my sartorial carapace and stand before you now, naked as the day I was born.”

“Your underwear too.”

“Of course.”

“I mean, I need you to take off your underwear too.”

“Done!”

A pause. Dr Patel cleared her throat.

“I mean,” she said, “for this examination. For the examination I’m going to do right now.”

“Yes. The wonders of modern medicine!”

Dr Patel closed her eyes. This was her last appointment today. Just one more to go.

The silence grew uncomfortable.


Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs died last night. I saw the news as soon as it broke and then sat there, stunned, watching Twitter light up. All I felt at first was shock — and then, slowly, creeping in like a slow mist, sadness: deep and visceral and with me still.

I didn’t expect to feel this way. I’ve spent the past couple of years railing against Apple’s increasingly closed ecosystem and calling Jobs a dangerous utopianist. At one point I fled Apple products entirely (and then, rather quickly, came crawling back). My infatuation with the man never waned, but I sort of convinced myself that the admiration at its root had long since died on the vine.

I was wrong. It came rushing back last night, wreathed now in an unfamiliar nimbus of loss.

Which is weird. I don’t have any real connection to Jobs — except, of course, through the beautiful things he made. I remember when I first laid eyes on the Titanium Powerbook, sitting on its pedestal, sleek and compact and absolutely gorgeous. My emotional response to that piece of machinery didn’t make any sense, but the same thing happened over and over again for a decade: the iPod Nano, the iPhone 4, the Macbook Air.

That can’t be why Jobs turned out to be so important to me, though. There has to be more to it than stuff.

And it’s not his wild success, either, or his unlikely second act, or his wealth. It’s certainly not the sloganized ideals that Apple claims to represent. You can admire those things, but you can’t love them.

No, I think it’s this: Jobs embodied everything I want to be. Driven and brilliant and passionate, independent and confident and unbowed by dogma. Utterly consumed by what he believed in, and relentless in its pursuit.

He was a sort of living monument to the notion that you have to care deeply about what you do, and that there’s nothing better or more satisfying than making beautiful things. That anything done passionately, and well, is art.

Jobs was that rarest of things: a man wrapped around an idea. The man’s gone now, but he left the idea behind, and the best way to honor his memory is to live it.

Rest in peace, Steve.


Thompson on Nixon

In 1994, Hunter S Thompson wrote a sort of anti-encomium for Richard Nixon, who’d recently died. It’s bracing, brutal stuff — you feel like Thompson’s hatred is going to burn through the page — but some of it sounds sadly familiar. This, for example, on the failures of objective journalism:

Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.

And this, on the slow, steady degradation of our political institutions:

He has poisoned our water forever. Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.

I think you can argue that the eight years of the Bush/Cheney presidency — and the Delay congress — puts Nixon to shame, at least in terms of damage done. Pound for pound, those guys did more to soil our precious little plot of democracy than anyone that came before them. But it sounds like Nixon was their template.


Google to Join Facebook in the Stalking Business

Brad Horowitz, vice president of products at Google:

Google+ is Google itself. We’re extending it across all that we do — search, ads, Chrome, Android, Maps, YouTube — so that each of those services contributes to our understanding of who you are.

Our understanding of who you are.


Mr Swift

Dave Eggers, in a lovely tribute to his high school English teacher, Mr Criche, remembers getting back a paper with a short note on it that basically changed his life. It said: “Sure hope you become a writer.”

Over the next 10 years, I thought often about Mr. Criche’s six words. Whenever I felt discouraged, and this was often, it was those six words that came back to me and gave me strength. When a few instructors in college gently and not-so-gently tried to tell me I had no talent, I held Mr. Criche’s words before me like a shield.

I had a couple of really amazing teachers in high school too, and they made that four-year slough of despond not just bearable but occasionally even fun — and, in retrospect, kind of inspiring. I’m thinking about Mrs Page, whose AP English class injected Faulkner into my life; Mr Hood, who didn’t teach history so much as perform it, bring it bodily into that cheerless antiseptic classroom; Mr Lewis, a part-time actor who injected thespian flare into everything he did.

And most of all Mr Swift, who taught creative writing and ran the literary magazine and is, second only to my dad, a lot of the reason I’m still writing today.

Sadly, I don’t have a whole lot of specific memories of my time with Mr Swift — my brain is sort of an anti-sponge that way. But I do remember his bemused half-smile, and the way he delivered criticism — gently, in a way calculated to instruct rather than sting — and, most of all, his careful treatment of the overheated, “experimental” love story I submitted to the literary magazine in my junior year.

It was called Ladyfair, and it was garbage, bad enough to remain reliably mortifying a quarter century later. I remember handing it in to him, and waiting for his reaction — and not getting one. He just let it pass: without praise, thank god, but also without the scorn it so richly deserved. I can only guess at his motives, but I really think he was being careful not to bury my enthusiasm under the loam of it’s early mistakes. He thought there might be better things coming, and was wise (and kind) enough to nurture the good and ignore the awful.

We’re all clay when we’re young, and even people who aren’t responsible for molding us can screw us up pretty easily. When someone like Mr Swift, this guy who we weren’t related to, who we couldn’t really do anything for, who wasn’t contractually required to do anything more than yammer at us for 45 minutes every day and grade our papers and then move on to the next batch of disaffected wastrels — when people like that don’t just not fuck you up, but actually bend over backwards to help you become better than you otherwise would have been — I mean, I don’t believe in miracles, but I think that’s kind of miraculous.

It’s sad that we live in era that’s turning steadily against its teachers. Many states are mandating lockstop curricula geared less toward educating (much less inspiring) than they are toward getting you through standardized tests. Eggars, again:

I don’t remember Mr. Criche teaching us how to take standardized tests, but when we took them, we did well. I don’t remember Mr. Criche gearing his lesson plans toward any state-regulated curricula, but we did pretty well on any and every scale. Why? Because he made us curious. He was curious, so we were curious. He was hungry for learning, so we were hungry, too. He made us want to impress him with the contents of our brains. He taught us how to think and why.

Teachers are getting laid off1 in staggering numbers these days, and the ones who aren’t are enduring assaults on their already meager salaries and benefits. This is, in a word, insane. Even if the profession wasn’t filled with people who routinely go over and above the call of duty, it would still be one kazillion times more useful to society than the smug billionares who sit atop the income pyramid, busily trading and grifting and greasing palms and adding nothing to anyone’s lives except their own.

But education is filled with those kind of people. Matt Damon made this point, forcefully, at the SOS Teachers March in July:

A teacher wants to teach. I mean, why else would you take a shitty salary, and really long hours, and do that job, unless you really loved to do it?

Look, there’s no need to scour the world for weeping statues or messiah-shaped coffee stains or sane Tea Party candidates: there’s a miracle happening every day in every school in every state in the country. We take that for granted — I certainly did — but it’s a gift that we appear to be busily destroying.


  1. As Krugman says: “The brunt of state budget cuts in public spending is falling on education. Somehow, laying off hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers doesn’t seem like a good way to win the future.” 


Gibson Talks About Stuff

BoingBoing just put up a fantastic, pithy, wide-ranging interview with William Gibson. It’s well worth a read. Here he is on the various armageddon scenarios lurking on our horizon:

What do you worry about? I’m talking about loose nukes, global warming, economic meltdown, creeping fascism.

All of the above, and anything else in that general ballpark. As one does. Sometimes I remember that I evidently assumed that Ronald Reagan was probably about as weird as it was going to get; that that all seemed a bit over the top, a grave if semi-comic but blessedly temporary anomaly. That’s scary.


Bayard and Pete Go North

This May, my friends Bayard and Pete embarked on a month-long trip from New Mexico to Alaska. They drove the entire way — Albuquerque to Deadhorse — in a seasoned old RV named Bessie, and, best of all, chronicled the whole journey on their blog: Bayard and Pete Go North!

Here’s their description of the Dalton highway:

We made it, and what a trip it was! The road is this wonderful combination of crazy and magical. The road itself alternates between beautiful and smooth asphalt (very little of this!) to dirt which was rutted, muddy, narrow and seriously rough (a LOT of this!). A good speed for much of the road was 30 mph- but at times it was tough to keep Bessie above 15 mph! It took us 6 days at the wheel to travel it’s 828 miles, round trip. Granted, this was a fairly leisurely pace, but we met a lady working in Coldfoot who had spent a summer ferrying people up and down this road. She’d drive the whole length in a day, sleep 8 hours- and drive the whole thing back again! She seriously earned my respect! Not to mention- she made one fine key lime pie!

Despite it’s roughness the road had this almost intangible quality to it. The road is a thin line that weaves deep in to the wilderness of Alaska. The is literally nothing, zip, zero, nada for a hundred miles at a time. As you are bouncing and wash boarding your way down this road, at some point it hits you how far away from everything you are! We met a fellow who was working at Prudhoe Bay who had driven up there once and had had two blow outs in a row, and only had one spare. He said he ended up camping by the side of the road for a week waiting for a new tire! It is truly the end of the earth out there. But somehow these factors all come together to give the road a real soul. You feel like you are somewhere special. It’s hard to explain it, but we all felt sad when we finally pulled off the Dalton and back on to the smooth surface of state highway 2. The Dalton is road unlike any other, and it was a pleasure to get the opportunity to spend a week getting to know her.

I would never in a million years actually choose to drive 800 miles on a deserted wilderness road in a dodgy RV — I have a very strict avoid-nature-at-all-costs policy — but this actually makes it sound kind of awesome.

Ditto for the whole blog. Well worth a read.


So That’s What Bourgeois Looks Like

I don’t think I ever really understood the word “bourgeois”, as an epithet, until I read this paragraph:

When you realize your home’s look hasn’t evolved much since its post-college phase, you put the Ikea bookshelves on Craigslist, start searching for a contractor who won’t drive you crazy, scrutinize endless tile samples and stop considering Pottery Barn too public a venue to fight with your spouse. Then you prepare the neighbors and pay the county.

Instantly, powerfully nauseating.


Toxic Zealots

I continue to believe that Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry and the other deeply unqualified zealots on the Republican stage right now won’t make it past the primaries — but the damage is already done, just by virtue of their presence (and prominence) in the national dialog. They debase the entire political process, and make it seem like a clownshow that’s not worth paying any attention to.

Which just turns reasonable people away from politics. Which, in turn, strengthens the zealots’ hand.


The Diner on the Edge of Hell

My new story, The Diner on the Edge of Hell, is out in the latest issue of Weird Tales. Happiness!

Here’s an excerpt:

Petrie shrugged and sat back, chewing placidly, and looked around the diner. It was a spotless, perfect stereotype of a diner: bright porcelain tiles, harsh fluorescent lights, a juke box, a pinball machine. A line of pennants hung just below the ceiling, points-down, like a colorful array of stalactites. Booths lined three of the walls in a sort of squared-off U, capped by the long formica bar at the back of the diner. A demon in a kilt stood behind the bar, wiping down its glossy surface. His name was Harold.

“Hey,” called Petrie, and pointed at his empty mug. Harold glanced up, with two of his eyes, and nodded.

There was a flash of color on the other side of the window, and a rift opened up in the molten sky. Janikowski leaned toward the window and watched something pour out of the rift — a long columnar thump of something, like a narrow waterfall — and explode into a roiling particulate cloud when it touched the ground. He squinted through the muck until the cloud resolved itself a swarm of creatures, tiny with distance, making its way toward the diner.

“I thought we were waiting for a girl,” said Petrie.

“We are.”

“Then why am I looking at a horde of demons?” There was a tightness in Petrie’s voice that some people might have mistaken for fear.

Janikowski stood up. “I don’t know.”

“This is a setup.”

“Maybe.” He took a step toward the door, looked back. “You coming?”

“Hell yes I’m coming.” Petrie ducked under the table and came up with his cannon. It was long and smooth and tubular and taller than he was, made out of some kind of milk-white metal, with a muzzle the size of a rabbit hole and some sort of fiendishly complicated mechanism on the butt end. “This is finally getting interesting.”


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