Items of Potential Interest

There Were A Bunch of Infinite Jest References on Parks & Recreation Tonight For Some Reason

Tonight’s Parks & Recreation episode contained a bunch of throwaway references to Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I got this easter egg spoiled for me by my Funnybook Babylon Brother Pedro: “Supposedly Parks and Rec is dripping with Infinite Jest references this week” read the text I received while at the grocery store. I thought about this on the walk home, wracking my brain as to how the two could tie together. Ben Wyatt is the only series regular who I can even imagine possibly having read the book. Maybe Infinite Jest is Perd Hapley’s intensely ill-conceived Book Club selection? Jean-Ralphio sues someone after he gets hit with a copy of the hardcover? Why would Parks and Rec be dripping with these references?

I watched the episode, and I still couldn’t tell you why: I know that Parks co-creator Michael Schur is a big IJ fan, so I assume was a just a fun joke. Perhaps other episodes have had background references to White Noise or Lost in the Funhouse or other books I barely remember reading. But we don’t have half a dozen copies of any of those books in our apartment, so I’ll point out these references instead.

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See? Just names to amuse people. Councilman Jamm’s law firm is composed of one Ennet House resident, two Enfield underclassmen, and one ETA star/AFR spy. There’s no symbolism, just names you may recognize. The Dane Cook Routine of literary references. None of the firm’s partners appear, though Bil Dwyer’s lawyer is named ["Tall"] Paul Shaw in the credits.

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In the Anne/Chris plotline, they take the “Incandeza-Pemulis Parenting Compatability Quiz”. This is the closest thing to a “joke” I can find in these references, since the parenting skills of both of these families are suspect, if not criminal. Plus I can totally imagine Michael Pemulis trying to phish credit card info out of online quizzes.

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Later they visit a “Doctor Van Dyne”, who is neither veiled, hideously scarred, or the PGOAT. She might be named Joelle though, based solely on the length of the blurry first name on the plaque behind her:

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And over in what I guess was the A-Plot, Ben and Leslie travel to the town where Ben was Boy Mayor to get a key to the city. When Ben collapses due to a kidney stone, he is taken to a hospital named for Gene Facklemann, an opiate addict and Don Gately running buddy.

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So I suppose it’s appropriate that Ben gets laid up on morphine, which Doctor Clipperton insists is “quite good”. Weirdly, the painkiller enthusiast doctor is named after another tennis player, the faux-then-actually-suicidal Eric Clipperton.

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This forces Leslie to walk into the trap laid by current Partridge Mayor [Ortho "The Darkness"] Stice, who gratifyingly wears [nearly] all black.

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At the ceremony, she is harangued by two unnamed citizens, who appear in the credits as Kate Gompert and Ken Erdedy, two more Ennet residents.

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If I had gone into this episode cold, I am sure I would have been delighted by these easter eggs. But given an hour or so to allow my mind to race, I found myself disappointed. Would it have killed them to find some Byzantine Erotica to hang up in the doctor’s office? No one drinks out of a Flinstones juice glass, traps roaches under tumblers, watches seventeen hours of M*A*S*H? Couldn’t the Bicentennial Celebration have some Trial-Size Dove Bars being handed out? Why wasn’t Ben visited by a ghost or some guy who licks sweat off of people while in the hospital?

These are, of course, entirely unreasonable expectations for a sitcom. Then again, last week’s Archer had a whole bit about 1980s New Mutants casualty Douglas “Cypher” Ramsey, so maybe anything is reasonable these days.

Reading on the Job: Week Two

Here’s a summary of my second week of basically getting paid a living wage to sit at a desk and read, occasionally assisting someone with their financial straits.

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Reading On the Job: Week One

I started a new job last month! It is a job that involves answering phones. It is decent work for decent pay, and there is a lot of downtime. If the aggregate downtime while I am sitting at a desk is not close to 50% of my workday, I’d be surprised. Consequently, I have been reading. Reading things on paper! I had practically forgotten how to do that, in no small part due to the fact that I’ve spent the past few years trying to replace all of the paper words in my life with digital words. I’ve done a pretty remarkable job: I’m down to “waaaaaaay too many books” from my 2009 “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU WHY ARE YOU KEEPING THIS WHERE DO YOU EVEN SLEEP IN THIS APARTMENT?” peak/nadir. But my new job requires (for reasons I do not fully understand but accept with no real malice) that I do not have any non-work electronic devices out. So I have been picking, mostly at random, things lying around the apartment that are on paper, and reading them. Below is a list of things I read, in part or in full, on my first full week on the job.

 

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FICTION

Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead – One of two books I read this week about a New Yorker traveling to rural Kansas. At least, I assume Winthrop was in Kansas, what with its Exoduster origin story and it being in a flat area of the Central Time Zone. Like most things in the book, this was left unresolved and vague. It was an engaging read, though I’m not really sure what, if anything, it was supposed to be about: plotlines and signifiers seemed to dangle as loosely as the pre-revamp Apex bandages with their lousy adhesives. I can also tell that Whitehead really loved the nomenclature/branding thought exercises that take up a significant portion of the book, as his latest book Zone One is chockablock with endless descriptions of fictional products, brands, and media figures. I found it charming here, when it’s at the forefront of the book, but distracting in Zone One.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver – Carver is someone I thought I had barely read. Turns out, I’ve read quite a bit of him, probably through scattered literature classes and anthologies. I felt like a lot of these stories were more sketches of moments than actual, you know, stories — “Tell the Women We’re Going” and “After the Denim” being two exceptions and therefore two standouts — though they were generally very evocative sketches. The title story was the least compelling by a wide margin, but absolutely the best title, so I forgive it.

NON-FICTION

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This book — like Capote in general, I guess — is one of those things that I’d never gotten around to reading because I felt like I had absorbed all the salient parts through cultural osmosis. This book was also the first thing Jessica suggested when I asked if I could borrow some of her books, since I was apparently going to be getting plenty of reading done on the job. I won’t say anything in here is revelatory, though I admit I assumed the two killers were also lovers. The initial chapters seemed to support this reading, unless 1950s toughs called each other “honey” and “baby” a whole lot, met up for “dates” in diners, and other things that were probably just Capote being ‘cute’.

Capote also might be the originator in popular creative non-fiction of projecting inner monologues onto real life people; I know he apparently did a ton of interviewing of all parties, and the testimony of the killers was well-documented, but he’s running through the private thoughts of the deceased, too. I didn’t think the book suffered for it, though I lament the technique continued into hundreds of other books by less talented authors. Despite this and a slew of people later claiming the book isn’t exactly factual at times, I’m still glad I read it. I am equally glad that Lowell Lee Andrews, the nerdy outsider from the University of Kansas who slaughtered his family over break, did not turn out to be (to the best of my research) to be a Stephenson Hall alumnus. I’ve already made one shameful Lyleman discovery for 2013, I didn’t need another.

Fakers by Paul Maliszweski- I read a good portion of this series of essays a few years back before the book was lost in the churn that is papergoods in my apartment. Maliszweski edited McSweeney’s #8, possibly the last issue of the journal that I read nearly cover-to-cover. I think that is due in no small part to it being one of the last issues to come out prior to The Believer’s launch, a result of which was the drastic reduction of non-fiction in most McSwy’s volumes. I am always more willing to go into non-fiction blindly; even if the essay itself is poorly written, there at least exists the possibility that the topic is interesting and will lead you to learn keen new things. A bad piece of fiction is just a bad story.

For the most part, the back half of this book was a little disappointing: several of the essays are either familiar territory (Joey Skaggs! He tries really hard to trick people in the media!) and/or people who are overt fakers (Sandow Birk! He was making old-time posters about modern things before it became the dominant form of expression on nerd tumblrs!) neither of which seem as interesting to me as genuine, temporarily accepted authentic fakers. I did enjoy the chapter on Clifford Irving, who I had somehow never heard about, despite being the subject of multiple films and apparently dozens of books and articles.

Grantland Volume Four - As I implied above, I’ve largely fallen out of devout reading of McSweeney’s publication. They’re still packed with talented people and people I assume are talented, and they’re almost uniformly handsome things. But as McSwy’s trended more and more towards “Various Pieces of Fiction in an Unorthodox Package” and copies of The Believer piled like cordwood around my home, I became a lapsed reader and subscriber. There didn’t seem to be the same sort of focus; though I admit, a lot of that focus early on may have been projected by me. So I was excited when two new journals with broad but specific territories were launched: Lucky Peach for food, and Grantland for sports.

I read a significant portion of the fourth (and final?) volume of Grantland at work, and I’m sad to say I found it lacking. No doubt it’s an attractive book, and much of the writing in it is solid. But it’s almost entirely reprinted essays from the Grantland website. Maybe this was the case from the first issue. Maybe I hadn’t followed the blog as closely a year ago, and so missed out on the earlier volumes’ pieces’ initial posting. Maybe I just became sensitive to this fact when they started including the original blogpost’s information at the end of each essay. Maybe they just had a hard time filling up four volumes in a year. That could go some length to explaining why there were two different roman a clefs/eulogies for Adam Yauch, back to back, in this volume.

That said, there were a couple of really great pieces in there! People should read them online!

MAGAZINE ARTICLES

The Late Adopters” by Robert Draper – More than ever, I am convinced that if I were in a situation where I needed a ton of money at the expense of my quality-of-life and soul — like if my parents or brother were held for a ranson on an installment plan — I should just sell out and be a far-right Republican shill. I could whip up outrage of Baquack Insane Obummer’s latest lunch order over Twitter, and propagate unsourced rumors about FEMA camps on Instagram, and really GOTV on the sectors of tumblr that care about low taxes (and maybe weed legalization) over human rights. They need people like me! Except, you know, people like me who agree with anything they do. That is what this article taught me.

Money is No Cure” by Emily Bazelon – I only skimmed this one because it turns out Jessica accurately summarized the entire thing to me one night. But it inspired me to look up my high school classmate who was doing federal time for child pornography. He’s out!

Frank Ocean Can Fly” by Jeff Himmelman – I don’t know why I assumed that either “Frank” or “Ocean” were his real name(s). That’s mostly what I got out of this article. Also I think this was the issue with the Mark Bittman article about making bread. I should make bread.

CONCLUSIONS, BASED ON A TINY SAMPLE SIZE

  • Collections of non-fiction essays are harder to power through than collections of short stories.
  • Magazines are difficult because they take up more space on the desk. I had a particularly hard time with the Believers, as I couldn’t even fold them over themselves like the NYTMs.
  • I have twice been asked “WHAT ARE YOU READING?” by co-workers. Both times they initiated the conversation out of what I assumed was genuine curiosity and not politeness, but looked profoundly disinterested when I tried to explain.
  • It’s been a really long time since I read something and couldn’t turn to the internet and confirm/deny something for hours. I am unaccustomed to it.

Texas Chainsaw 3-D is Probably Even Worse Than You’d Expect a Movie Called Texas Chainsaw 3-D To Be

In 2012, I saw two commercially released films in the theater. We’re less than a month into 2013 and I’m already halfway to meeting that record. Unfortunately, that movie was Texas Chainsaw 3D.

Jessica has already provided her thoughts on the movie and my reaction to it (along with an appropriately troubled looking photo of me immediately prior to the screening), so I’d like to provide an in-depth rebuttal.

First off, Jessica is correct: I am not a “horror movie fan”. I realize that’s a very broad statement to make, and to sound extra-snobby I should say I don’t care for “horror movies”, in the same way someone might say they don’t like “romance novels” even if they enjoy any number of novels that feature romantic storylines. Most media that fall into calcified genres tend to be formulaic and fan-servicey. I should know, I’ve read more superhero comic books than any living person should. I get why people become fans of very specific genres, and don’t presume to psychoanalyze anyone for their genre affinities.

I just don’t care about horror movies. I don’t get excited by sudden jolts. I never read Fangoria, and discovered Faces of Death and rotten.com early enough that the make-up and prosthetic wizardry of Tom Savini and his disciples don’t seem that exciting. And I don’t get anything but revulsion out of new-jack “torture porn” films full of snot and spittle flecked anguished faces lovingly brutalized for the camera. Those seem to be the unique qualities that bog-standard horror movies bring to the table. And that’s totally fine if you’re into that. I like overblown melodrama, balletic violence, audience-baiting and existential questions solved with fisticuffs, so I’m content to sometimes consume bog-standard pro wrestling and superhero comics. I still giggle at fart jokes and slapstick violence, so I’ll watch some aggressively mediocre comedies. People like what they like. Read more »

How I Met Your Mother and Scrubs Are Basically the Same Show and Share the Same Flaws

Following up this Twitter conversation:

How I Met Your Mother has a remarkably similar setup to Scrubs, and as it goes on exhibits the same flaws. I say this as someone who liked the first few seasons of HIMYM and really liked the early seasons of Scrubs.

Both shows feature a Boyishly Charming Protagonist who as the show begins is starting his life as a Young Professional. He struggles to find True Love and is trying to Find His Way. He narrates the show, and a huge part of the continuing narrative involves his romantic mishaps.

He is joined in this New Chapter by his Best Friend from College, who is likewise entering The Real World and facing the same struggles. However, both Best Friends are quickly and rapidly paired up with the Best Friend’s Partner (Carla/Lily). The fourth major character is the On-Again/Off-Again Romantic Interest Who Might Be the Protagonist’s True Love. The fifth slot is given to a Scene-Stealing Sociopath, an almost cartoonish character who has very little time for all the touchy-feely drama that consumes the other four protagonists. Read more »

For Some Reason I Own This: Terry the Friendly Dragon Helps You Be AIDS Smart

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I am guessing I bought this during my time at the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library Booktique. Maybe “bought” is a strong word: the Booktique was a storefront in a dying mall that served as the release valve for all the donations TSCPL received throughout the year. It was mainly staffed by volunteers, and as one of them this was the situation I was put into:

  • I would sift through boxes of books donated to the Booktique
  • I would decide what was or was not “salable”
  • I would decide what a “fair” price for the “salable” books
  • I would get first pick of the books, at a volunteer discount off of what I determined was a fair price
  • I would then be trusted to ring myself up and place the proper amount of money in the cash box

It was an expressway to free or effectively books. I took full advantage of it, and ended up shipping box upon box of mostly worthless books back to my parents’ house when I went to college. Many of them have since been donated to some New Jersey public library, but a distressing number of them still fill up my Brooklyn apartment, Terry the Friendly Dragon Helps You to Be AIDS Smart but one of them. Its heart is certainly in the right place, with a tale of children ready to exclude an HIV positive child from their baseball game before a knowledge-bearing dragon swoops in.

Except… Terry doesn’t really tell the kids anything about AIDS. He repeats the familiar advice that you can’t get AIDS from shaking hands or playing with an HIV positive person, but then veers into a series of weird activity pages advising kids about healthy practices that have nothing to do with AIDS: wash your hands, take daily baths, put bandages on cuts and scrapes, get immunized against measles, never talk to strangers. It implicitly undermines the whole “you can’t get AIDS from normal contact” by packing the book full of tips more suited to keep you from getting a cold.

And why a Friendly Dragon? He doesn’t do anything very dragonlike. He flies, I guess.

You can read the whole book here, as it seems to be long out of print. If whoever owns Terry would prefer the book not be available online, please let me know.

ON THIS DAY: Happy Birthday, Hank Greenberg

101 years ago today Hank “The Hebrew Hammer” Greenberg was born. Mark Kurlansky wrote a book about his life last year, something I only learned today. The combination of author and subject puts it high on my 2012 reading list, but in the meanwhile let’s run down some of Greenberg’s remarkable achievements:

  • - Debuted with the Detroit Tigers in 1930 at the age of 19, becoming the youngest person to play in the majors at that time
  • - Played only nine full seasons due to injury and a forty-five month enlistment in the Air Force, the longest WWII military tenure of any ballplayer. Despite missing most of five prime seasons due to the war, he was a two-time MVP and four time All-Star
  • - As the first real Jewish baseball star, was the subject of all manner of unkind words, which he mostly took in stride, though he admitted in his memoir that he sometimes “wanted to go¬† and beat the shit out of” the hecklers, on and off the field. His restraint — a few notable exceptions aside — was said to be something Branch Rickey pointed to when counseling Jackie Robinson on how to handle himself in the majors. Robinson cited Greenberg as supportive and “a class act” in their interactions in 1947, but at Robinson’s 1972 funeral Greenberg lamented that he felt guilty about not doing enough to help black players as “people” rather than “ballplayers”
  • - Just two years earlier, Greenberg had testified alongside Robinson in support of Curt Flood, helping to create Free Agency as it is today
  • - Apparently Greenberg recorded a song with Bing Crosby and Groucho Marx!

 

You can watch a feature length documentary about Greenberg’s life here.

Ages of Me: R.E.M.’s Up (October 26, 1998)

28666Thirteen years ago today, R.E.M. released Up, their eleventh album. A little over a month ago, R.E.M. announced their break-up after three decades of making music. About twenty years ago, R.E.M. were my first favorite band.

They weren’t the first band I really liked — I loved lots of parts of my parents’ record collection, and there were plenty of radio hits I dug — but R.E.M. was my favorite band: the first one whose album I bought with my own money, the first concert I went to on my own, the first band whose back catalog I obsessively tracked down. I posted on the R.E.M. message boards on Prodigy, and when I got Internet access in 1994 one of the first things I did was join #REM on IRC. The first people I met off the internet were from #REM, and embarassing photos of said encounter popped up on Facebook a couple of years ago.

But like a lot of things from youth, I stopped caring about R.E.M. at some point. It didn’t happen overnight. I picked up all of their albums, even the ones I listened to maybe twice. But when I saw the news that they were breaking up, I didn’t feel much. It felt like an old restaurant you’d gone to as a child finally closed up, or when you find out some 1950s actor passed away and you’re a little surprised they were still alive. But it reminded me of how important R.E.M. were to me for a sizable chunk of my life, and the anniversary of their albums’ releases seem like as good a time as any to reflect on that.
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The Gentleman’s Cocktail: An Alternative in a Post-Four-Loko World

Last year the world of irresponsible drinking was rocked by Four Loko, a beverage containing both alcohol and caffeine! This deadly combination was labelled “blackout in a can”, “cocaine in a can”, “a legalized speedball”, “The Human Suplex Machine”, “The Dog-Faced Gremlin”, and other scary monikers by the press, leading to several state-level bans and a suspension of production in late 2010. Clearly, this was a threat of cosmic proportions!

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Mustachioed Pitchers of the 1980s #12 – Tim Stoddard

tim-stoddardTim Stoddard
Mustache Rating: 3.5 Fingerses
Years Active: 1975, 1978-1989
Teams Played For: Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians
Career Stats: 41-35, 3.95 ERA, 76 saves
Was He Ever a Diamond King?: No
Claims to Fame:

-While only scoring a 3.5f for his mustache, he receives 5.0 Walruses.

-The only person in history to have a World Series ring (1983) and an NCAA Championship ring (1974). Kenny Lofton made it to the World Series and Final Four, but is ringless.

-Was also part of championship high school and college baseball teams

-Is a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame

-One team short of joining MPo80s brother Dick Tidrow in the NYY/NYM/CHW/CHC club. Stoddard pitched one inning for the White Sox in 1975.

-Immortalized in Rookie of the Year as the pitcher with the big butt

-Has served as a coach for Northwestern University‘s baseball team since 1995

-Kept the mustache as late as 2001, but is currently mustachless. Has kept the big butt.

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