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Sunday Stories: The Night Out Award

Seven beers. Oh, they’re pretty cheap! Three women introducing themselves. Some are hot but none quite as hot as the one tending bar. Is she available? She smilingly is not. That makes eleven people, enough to play soccer. As is wont first there is a study round. The place is clean. Number 12 enters, maybe he’s the coach maybe security. A tiny guy, he clearly is muscle. The ladiezzz sit down, there has to be a start button. Mr. Cool orders three cups of bubbly, damned expensive. The music picks the women up and places them at the bar drinking bubbly already somewhat moving.

The place is clean. A clean place to do business in. Continue reading

June 17, 2012 Posted by | squalor, Sunday Stories | Comments Off on Sunday Stories: The Night Out Award

Sunday Stories: Enrique Sensini

I could have started this with: “Aren’t we all Enrique Sensini’s?”. It would have been an awful way to start. Possibly even worse than the way I did start it. There are two reasons for this: one minor, one major. First: there is no Enrique Sensini, at least not in the book “Llamadas telefónicas” by Roberto Bolaño. Further, the whole idea of taking story characters to be archetypes of something is flawed. It is likewise with the tendency to read stories in allegorical or symbolic ways. The notion of seeing stories as pointing to something outside of them (a message, a moral, universal truths) is annoying. Undoubtedly a lot of stories are conceived in this way. Stories thus conceived can be classed with the majority of stories: bad stories.

Good stories create as yet unknown worlds. They should not be reduced to a handful of insights about the world we think we already know. The stories in “Llamadas telefónicas” do that. Sensini exists. Enrique Martin exists. They do not exist to make a point (just like we don’t exist as an instrument of a bigger plan). This is not religion. It is creation. Enrique Sensini doesn’t yet exist. Creating him would throw some light on what might be. Knowing what might be tells us something about what is: “una sensación de estar y no estar, de distancia con respecto a lo que me rodeaba, de indefinida fragilidad.”

So who is this Enrique Sensini (if he isn’t Sensini, nor is Enrique Martin, nor is like any of us) ?

Continue reading

August 7, 2011 Posted by | squalor, Sunday Stories | | 4 Comments

Disposable furniture

The Girlfriend and I are worried that our apartment is going to be pretty empty at first, as I am leaving most of my stuff in Kalamazoo for now and we only have so much room in our budget for new furniture. We looked at a second-hand shop last weekend and found that many of the pieces seemed quite expensive. Talking about it afterward, though, we drifted toward the conclusion that the reason IKEA and other particle-board self-assemble furniture is cheaper is because it’s basically cheap crap — disposable furniture.

Often no thought seems to be given to moving the piece (particularly with desks), because the expectation is basically that you won’t move it. In a stationary position, they’re basically solid, but any shift of orientation is risky. Taking it apart with the intention of putting it back together again is either impossible or causes permanent damage, particularly with those weird connectors where you have a round piece in one board that connects with a rod in another board (what are those called?) — they’re not meant to be reversible.

I wonder how much one really saves in the long run with such stuff. In my case, I think of the Bose Wave Radio that I got in college — ten years later, it’s still going strong, and I probably would’ve bought several cheaper units during that period. And that was a factory refurbished model!

The need to pay for quality can be overdone — for instance, it’s unclear to me that a household could possibly need the old Kirby vacuum or a Dyson rather than a “disposable” brand — but as I think about the fact that most of us spend our time in homes and businesses full of crappy particle-board furniture and that the average piece from a second-hand store will likely outlast something you buy new from Target or IKEA, it makes me kind of sad.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | squalor | 8 Comments

It’s Always Sunny on Capitol Hill!

On the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the “Gang” goes through one petty scheme after another. What makes the show so amusing isn’t only that their schemes are so detached from anything recognizable as reality, but that their schemes are so weirdly disinterested — they’re scheming solely for the sake of scheming. I think that something similar is at work among centrist senators. The real goal of holding up the negotiations, making random “moderate” demands, etc., is simply to have an important, king-making role — in short, it’s scheming for its own sake. Even the oft-cited baseline goal of remaining electable is something of a ruse, since incumbent senators usually have a lot of leeway (see Joe Lieberman, from the liberal state of Connecticut). The schemes aren’t aimed at reelection — rather, reelection is aimed at the continued ability to scheme.

This is really the only possible explanation, because it’s painfully clear that they have no principles or values that they’re trying to advance. It’s a difficult conclusion to bear, since it means that our fate is essentially being determined by sociopaths, but I think we sensed that all along anyway.

November 22, 2009 Posted by | politics, squalor, television | Comments Off on It’s Always Sunny on Capitol Hill!

Finance quasi-jargon

For the past few years, I’ve been doing financial writing on the side for supplemental income (i.e., virtually my whole income). It’s pretty basic stuff, mostly just telling investors how their portfolio did compared to a particular benchmark. While my sample size is limited, I have noticed a trend of what I call “quasi-jargon”: terms that are peculiar to financial discourse, yet do not seem to add any meaning whatsoever.

My (least) favorite example is “newsflow.” From context clues, I have determined that “newsflow” is information that becomes known in the public sphere and impacts stock prices in a positive or negative way depending on whether the information itself is positive or negative. In other words, “newsflow” is “news.” The addition of “flow” to the end — unmediated by either a space or a hyphen, mind you — adds absolutely nothing that I can tell. The only argument in its favor is perhaps that it’s a shorter way of saying “a stream of news that’s consistently positive or negative,” but isn’t the “flow” aspect of it already implicit in the very concept of news itself?

Other examples are less clear. One always “reiterates” guidance (management’s official expectations for revenue, etc.), for instance — one never “reaffirms” it, nor “holds it steady,” nor any other possible synonym: it’s “reiterate” only. In my mind, this is a second type of quasi-jargon. Instead of making up a new term that duplicates an existing term, you capture a completely normal word and make it play a jargon-like role, as though it’s irreplaceable. But it’s perfectly replaceable, and insisting on this particular word accomplishes nothing that its synonyms could not just as easily do.

July 13, 2009 Posted by | squalor, syntax | 10 Comments

Nostalgia and its opposite

Today I saw an apartment very near my current place that’s charming in its “vintage”-ness. It even has a slot for the old-fashioned ice-box, where a huge block of ice would be delivered periodically. The layout of the foyer (entryway? you know, the place in between all the apartments) and the actual apartments is somewhat skewed, as the building stands at a diagonal intersection — making it feel somehow more “Chicago” to me. Although my plans still feel unsettled, I’m putting in an application on principle.

Later in the day, I looked at a place in a bizarre, 70s-style boxy thing. It stuck out like a sore thumb on a street otherwise filled with the standard Chciago-style buildings (see the Google Street View). The apartment was big enough, but there was an atmosphere of squalor surrounding the whole thing. I may still put in an application because it’s at such a great location — but then, I spend a lot of time at home, so maybe I should think more in those terms.

It seems impossible to me that anyone could be nostalgic for a 70s-style building. No one — not any of our children, not anyone in any conceivable future — will ever look at a 70s-style building and think whistfully, “You know, they don’t make them like that anymore.”

The shameful thing, though, is that back then they built things better than we do now! One might at least find the boxy little building linked above amusing, but no one could experience any emotion of any kind looking at the dismal paint-by-numbers condos that continue to spread throughout the fashionable (or aspiring) areas of Chicago, even at this late date. It’s not just the sameness: nearly every street in Chicago is filled with the same style of long, narrow 2- or 3-flats, broken up by the occasional courtyard building. It’s not even a quality issue, because they at least use bricks instead of siding and of course all have the requisite insanely over-equipped kitchen. It’s just the crushing corporateness of it — something not unrelated to suburbanness.

One of my friends from Olivet was something of a towny. Like my parents, hers had moved into a new development after she went to college. Her parents, however, were of less modest means, and everything in the house was a dramatic gesture of some kind, a class assertion — down to the familiar over-air-conditioned chill. Yet for reasons of family drama that I never got a direct hint of when I was over there, it was never finished. Certain parts of the floor were still plain wood, unencumbered by the imposing tile they were expected to have. Whole rooms seemed as though they had been freshly carpeted but never vacuumed for the first time — filled with boxes and, though I may be hallucinating this, random plastic tarps. This slight tweak away from the standard finished suburban “home” revealed a place where you wouldn’t be surprised to hear a murder had taken place, where you could go years later and find blood still on the walls because no one had ever gotten around to cleaning it up or perhaps even noticed it.

Increasing numbers of our condos are going to be unfinished or at least uninhabited. I currently live by one of these imposing edifices, and even though some of the apartments are now occupied, the street-level retail stands empty, the drywall unpainted except for those occasional splotches of white, the floor eternally populated by ill-defined buckets, and of course the boxes and plastic tarps. They have yet to put in a lawn and have made only furtive gestures toward snow removal — as though they somehow aren’t really there, aren’t really part of what’s going on on the street.

There is a strange foreboding that comes with walking past it, a sense of something dying and not yet having realized it — a self-propagating process of carving up the city into a million little suburban “homes,” gesturing toward curving streets with randomly curved walls, everyone with their little decks unconnected by stairs and unable to help them in the event of a fire. Walking past this building, the material detrius of gentrification, is the only time I worry about being mugged, as though I deserve it simply due to my proximity.

It’s not that soulless corporate condo architecture is the only site evocative of violence — the apartment I mentioned first is evocative of Barton Fink, implying a distinctly pre-air conditioner violence brought on by sweat, and the squalor of the 70s-style apartment carries with it associations of other scenes of cinematic violence (for some reason, domestic violence comes most readily to mind). Yet the condo is reminiscent of the sheer nihilism of American Psycho, a violence generated by a combination of boredom and class anxiety. You could imagine the type of person drawn to that generic condo setting up a sniper rifle on the deck — in fact, you’re almost shocked it hasn’t happened yet.

April 4, 2009 Posted by | squalor | 5 Comments