Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Present Perfect

"...the pop star, as we knew her"--and here he bowed slightly, in her direction--"was actually an artifact of preubiquitous media."


"Of a state in which 'mass' media existed, if you will, within the world."

"As opposed to?"

"Comprising it."

(From Spook Country by William Gibson)

I grew up with Mr. Gibson, I guess, seduced like everybody else by his Prettily Wasted nineteen-eighties version of the twenty-first century--conspicuously lacking flying cars and robots, but full of expensive drugs and more expensive computers. And I still like his recent stuff, too--although he's long since rejected the Future for the bleeding edge of the present. As that passage indicates, he now wants badly to be Don Delillo II, and in some ways he's better with the poetry of Waves and Radiation than Delillo could ever be. He's still trying to work with thriller plots, though; it seems to be what he's most comfortable with. And Spook Country is entertaining enough, as were the few books before it--but for thrillers they're pretty sedate. Not a whole lot seems at stake. But this book, at least, seems to be trying to jumpstart a series of some kind--at least I hope so. It seems perverse to invent a Supercool Cuban-Chinese Gangster Kid with mysterious Santeria-derived ninja skills, and then use him only to plug holes in a shipping container with magnets. (Don't ask.) There must be more non-futuristic adventures in store for that guy, and possibly for the novel's protagonist, Hollis Henry, an eighties underground rock star turned amateur spy. But all the paranoia and gadgetry and portentous pop-culture philosophizing made it worth the time, certainly. Plus, there's a character from Gibson's last, Pattern Recognition, back for a second engagement, and he has the wonderful name of Hubertus Bigend. What more do you want?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Winged Victory

I'm not sure what I may or may not have told some of you in order to win your affection, but the truth is that I'm not really any kind of ornithologist. Birds are perfectly fine with me in the abstract--it's nice that they can fly around, and everything--but up close they tend to be a little bit scary and more than a little bit unhygienic. They don't seem to have any good reason to like us, and I'm usually pretty sure they don't.

But I still have to be sort of impressed when I walk a block or two from my house and come across a damned bald eagle. Well, "come across" makes the encounter sound more dramatic than it was--it was at the top of a very tall tree and paid no attention to us whatsoever.
But I'm a city boy at heart, and, you know...EAGLE! It was like an airbrushed painting from the back window of an F-150 pickup had sprung to life, right in my neighborhood! (There wasn't much mistaking it, in case you're quite rightly doubting my identification skills--my lousy cellphone photography doesn't do it justice. The bright white head, and the sheer intimidating size. Those are crows sitting there in that photo, eyeing the visitor with some alarm, not sparrows.

And on President's Day! Anybody else here proud to be an American? Huh? Am I right? For a moment I felt certain that it was the reincarnated spirit of Jimmy Carter, come to bestow blessing on us. Then, you know, I checked Wikipedia. Now I'm thinking William McKinley.

Bird songs:
(These are also walking-in-February songs, conveniently enough.)


"The Funny Bird"
(Mercury Rev)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Back at the Alma Mater—Bancroft High, Rust Belt University, whatever you prefer. I have not yet been seized, so presumably I'm still allowed on campus. Or else I haven't been spotted yet. I'm supposed to sit in on a fiction-writing class as an Elder Statesman, which will be fun unless someone lets on to the kids just how little fiction I've written. But it's pleasant and gratifying to linger here and wander through my old time-wasting haunts and drink tea and savor the fact that the place no longer has any power over me. Nobody within miles of me is allowed to impose any deadlines on me or require me to get up in the morning! Even when I was having fun here, I was always at least a third of the way to terrified at all times. There was a good chance, at any given moment, that there was something that I should be doing but wasn't.

Also wonderful is something I'd always loved but forgotten all about—our Student Union has the only ATM in the known world that actually asks you to "Input Desired Amount in Multiples of $1." Yes, one dollar. It looks like a programming error, but it's totally for real and legit. And it shows such concern for and understanding of the customer base, on the part of the financial institution responsible. Let me be the first to say that as an undergraduate, it often matters a great deal that you are able to withdraw, say, seventeen dollars instead of twenty. Sometimes twenty is too much. Sometimes ten is. I never actually tried to withdraw a dollar, but I hope that this machine would allow it.

What isn't pleasant is the fact that I no longer can get on the Rust Belt Wireless Network! I don't have an account; as far as this institution's Information Technology is concerned, I don't exist! For somebody like me, this is awful, like losing a limb. Like coming home at night and finding the locks changed. Let me be the first to make the public call for an official Alumnae Login. But anyway, this means that I won't post this till later.

Also, I was dismayed to find that the burger place in the student union that I remembered with guilty fondness was gone--replaced by some salad joint. Called "Croutons." Seriously, Croutons! Now, a lesser satirist would make some hackneyed decade-old point about health-obsessed Americans, as if I couldn't get plenty of other bad food within forty feet of Croutons. But I'll merely point out that you don't win friends with salad.

I hope I'm allowed to address the student body this evening. I have a speech ready.

Kids! Stay in school! I know you think that studying isn't "rad," or "dope." But getting mixed up with drugs and gangs isn't "cool" at all. By the time I was your age, I'd killed six guys. [Pause. Lift shirt, exposing surgical scar from 1978. Wait for gasps to die down.] ...And I'd come within inches of dying myself. But then I learned about a guy, a really Powerful guy, who doesn't care if you're "cool" or not. He's always there for you, and if you need somebody to turn to, well, he's your man.

His name...is Prince. And he is funky. Now do your homework!

Or I could just "scare them straight" about their study habits. I'm a cautionary tale!