From the Blog
5:35: I get home from work and bring in the mail. Sitting down on my bed, the day catches up with me and I slowly slump over. Just a minute to rest my head, maybe, before I take on the evening.
6:55: I open my eyes. Crap. I snag a handful of snacks to clear my head and then start writing. Tonight feels really productive, but Word tells me I only added 1860 words to my total. Tuesday I felt like I was struggling but ended 2050 words up. In fairness, though, most of those two thousand and fifty words weren’t that great. A lot of “then”s and “were”s.
8:05: Writing done, I walk to Inman Square to help ImprovBoston move out. We have to empty the entire theater, even if it means carrying trash with us to the new space to dispose of it there. I help brute force IB’s legendary foldout couch from the basement up to the top floor. I also help Bobby’s fiancee Claire dispose of the two absolutely filthy rugs from the basement, which cough up blinding clouds of dust every time they’re folded over, moved, touched or looked at for too long. There’s some minor confusion as to what’s going and what’s being thrown out, and of course because we’re improvisers the typical workload is “move something fifty feet, crack jokes until people pay attention to you, repeat process.” But the last load gets out the door at about quarter after ten, when I take my leave.
10:30: I pass crossing the street from the Asgard. “It’s packed tonight,” he says. “Lots of hipsters. Guys with hats.” I understand exactly what he means once I’m in the door: guys with ill-fitting jackets and fedoras, skinny girls with thick glasses and leggings. Asgard’s become A Scene. Fortunately, they’re all talented singers, so I don’t mind listening to them cover “Patience” or Meredith Brooks or “Sweet Caroline.” I won’t tell you what I sang; let’s just say you couldn’t call it a comeback.
11:50: After chatting up Greg W., Pete F., John S., and , I make my exit. (Note: , , and others were also there; I just didn’t get to talk to them as much. Alas! Alack!).
2:40: My dreams involve keeping a girl who’s on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew hidden from the ambassador to England (who happens to be one of the HR generalists at the Company). We run up and down a lot of stairs; the ambassador delivers a lot of angry voice mails to her case worker. I also find a secret 8th floor in a building on Boston College’s campus which I’d never seen before. This floor had a huge bar and grill with very low prices and a Barnes and Noble.
Dear everyone who matters,
This LJ notwithstanding, I don’t talk a lot about myself and what drives me. I’ve always been the quiet type. And about jiu-jitsu, which I’ve been studying for seven and a half years – longer than I went to any single school or held any one job – I tend to say even less. I think this is the humility that discipline imposes on you. I never tell people, “I know jiu-jitsu” or “I teach jiu-jitsu” – I always say, “I’m studying jiu-jitsu.” And that’s what I consider myself: a perpetual student.
To make up for years of silence, though, some background: the martial arts fascinated me for years, as with most boys who grew up in the 80s. Brief flirtations with the karate club and the fencing club at BC didn’t really engage me. Then I happened to get a flyer from BC’s jiu-jitsu club and decided to get off my ass and do something. I took the shuttlebus from Greycliff to Newton Campus and sat in a quonset hut with about forty other underclassmen. Of those, three are still paying students: myself and two others.
I always had the expectation in my mind that I’d quit when I ran into something too frustrating to learn quickly. But I stuck it out through forward rolls, rear rolls, judo, breakfalls, shiho nage (don’t ask) and other things that, to this day, I still haven’t mastered. I always secretly feared that I’d quit when I first got a severe injury. But I’ve broken my nose and stress-fractured a couple different fingers in class, I end more classes sore than whole, and I still haven’t stopped. And I knew – deep down secretly knew – that I’d stop coming once it grew inconvenient. But there was a stretch of about nine months, my senior year in college – when I was applying for grad schools, writing a thesis and directing a play – that I would walk to class at least once a week, sometimes twice. Three miles when I couldn’t catch a bus. In the snow a couple of times.
I think I keep at it because jiu-jitsu’s the only time that I’m regularly challenged during the week. Think about it: how many times in a month – or in a year – do we deliberately throw ourselves into something that we don’t know we can do? Job interviews, asking strangers out, standing up to the occasional asshole: we’ll take rare trips outside our comfort zone but we don’t regularly live there.
Anyhow, you’ve all been very patient with me. You’ve understood when I have to duck out on Tuesdays and Thursdays for class, or when I limp home bruised and sweaty but still smiling. I think it’s time you got to see what I’ve given seven and a half years of my life to.
On the afternoon of Saturday, March 15th, two other students and I will be promoting to black belt. It would mean a lot to me if you could be there.
(1) Has January felt like a long month to anyone else? I think back on some of the big things I’ve done recently and they’ve all happened in 2008. Not that I’m complaining; I prefer to stretch each second between here and the grave as long as possible. But it’s hard to believe there’s still 3 days left before February. Who knows what could happen in that time?
(2) Per a website I found the other day, I’m going to start incorporating the phrase “I … drink … your … MILKSHAKE! I DRINK IT UP!” into conversation. It’s really only suitable for the most epic level of owning imaginable – someone walks blindly into a perfect punchline, someone gets completely schooled in Guitar Hero, Eli Manning throws 5 picks and gets sacked twice, etc.
(3) I think I’m at the closest to 2000 calories a day that I’ve ever been. And that’s coming up from below, not dropping down from above. I’ve just never been a big eater. I hate taking time away from whatever I’m doing – reading, talking to people, doing work – to prepare a meal. I prefer to stretch each second between here and the grave as long as possible. This explains why I prefer easy-bake bachelor chow: just stick it in the oven, set the timer and walk away. Considering you can still count my ribs by sight and I posted cholesterol in the double digits – that’s LDL, not HDL – the last time I tested, I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong.
(4) I bought a jumbo bottle of generic Men’s One-a-Day vitamins the last time I visited BJ’s Wholesale Club. The instructions recommend taking them after a meal, something I regularly forget to do. I think my average is about 0.300-A-Day, which would play well in the Major Leagues but doesn’t quite cut it for the home game.
(5) Updated Nerds on Sports with what may be my nerdiest post yet. Comment there, not here.
(6) Postscript media blow: I don’t think I ever reviewed Where the Truth Lies, one of my 50+ books from last year. It’s a murder mystery that stretches between 1950s Florida and 1970s Hollywood, told from the point-of-view of the ambitious young reporter investigating it. The book read all right and moved at a decent clip, but there are a few … weird … points that just didn’t sit with me:
- The protagonist is writing a biography on one half of Hollywood’s most famous showbiz duos. I finally figured out about one hundred pages in (later than most, I’m sure) that the characters were obvious stand-ins for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. And while I don’t mind the notion that there were dark and twisted secrets to the Martin/Lewis partnership, and while I appreciate the need to use stand-in characters to avoid a libel suit, it’s still weird. Reading about how one of the two is phenomenal in the sack, I mean an absolute knock-out, and then remembering, “oh wait, she means Jerry Lewis” just throws a bucket of cold slime on the back of your neck.
- The protagonist is a 25-year-old female reporter in the 70s. She’s smart, witty and comfortable talking about sex with strangers. Fair enough; not out of character for the time period. However, I couldn’t help thinking that her tone – her word choice, her tendency toward irony and verbosity – would work better coming from a 25-year-old female blogger in the 21st century. This struck me so many times that I began wondering if the author wasn’t cribbing from Mimi Smartypants or the latest chick-lit offering.
- The back-cover text notes that this is the author’s first novel. Minor stylistic hiccups aside, I found it pretty impressive. Then I learned that Rupert Holmes, the author, was also Rupert Holmes, writer of “Escape (The Pina Colada Song). That means he was between 50 and 55 years old when he started writing this book. And while there’s nothing wrong with entering the writing field late in life, it makes every time that the protagonist (25 years old, female, sexually liberal) examines her naked body approvingly – in the mirror, in the bathtub, while being nailed by Jerry Lewis – really really creepy.
So … yeah. It’s a murder mystery that goes down like a David Lynch movie. I recommend it … maybe? I don’t know.
Sifting through the frozen tundra, I uncovered this weekend’s media blow:
- Nine Stories, J.D. Salinger. It’s probably better that I didn’t read this as a teenager, when Salinger’s “you think everything’s normal but it’s not” storylines would have steered my writing style down regrettable paths. However, it’s good that I read it now, having made a serious commitment to writing, because Salinger’s got a unique mastery of the English language that’s worth noting. Or cribbing outright. The back cover calls attention to the two critical darlings in this collection, which actually didn’t do as much for me as “Teddy,” “The Laughing Man” or “De-Daumier Smith’s Blue Period” did. Still, they’re all gems, rightly regarded in the American canon.
- Hairspray. Infectious, inescapable fun. The most laugh-out-loud entertaining musical I’ve seen in decades. I haven’t seen someone blend catchy pop melodies with subversive lyrics this well since, I dunno, early Elvis Costello. The opening number still gets me a little since, as I’ve said, it’s the only time in memory that I’ve heard someone say something nice about the city of Baltimore. Biggest surprises: James Marsden, who I finally have to admit is better than anyone gave him credit for; Elijah Kelley, as Seaweed (“Run and Tell That” is a real toe-tapper); the song “I Know Where I’ve Been,” which struck me as boringly generic when I heard it on CD but is much more moving when set to film. The only downside: in Christopher Walken’s one dance number, he’s weighed down by John Travolta in a fatsuit. Since Walken can literally fly when given the chance to show off, this is a crime equivalent to Suharto’s.
- The Towers of the Sunset, L.E. Modesitt. I’m surprised Modesitt doesn’t get more fantasy author accolades, as he writes realer and more complex characters than Robert Jordan or anyone else with the same cover art. The Towers of the Sunset was written after The Magic of Recluce but precedes the first by a few centuries. It weaves political intrigue, social mores, sexual politics and magic as philosophy – not just point a wand and say gibberish words, but a way of looking at the world – into a thick and surprising story. I read the first 440 pages in one snowy Sunday afternoon.
I’m tired of having opinions. I’m going to let the Internet make my opinions for me.
Topic: I don’t vote, on the grounds that the statistically miniscule impact my vote would have on an election isn’t worth the effort (there are tens of millions of voters in any national election and close elections are decided by the courts). However, I refuse to fly if other means (e.g., trains) are available, as a protest against demeaning and counterproductive airport security measures. I do this, knowing that my boycott has a statistically miniscule impact on the bottom line of the commercial aviation industry (they have hundreds of millions of customers a year and get Congressional bailouts when things go bad).
The obvious conclusion is, “Well, you’re a hypocrite / naif / doctrinaire market fanatic / lazy slacker.” However, that conclusion is wrong.
What’s the real reason that I make this distinction? Internet, I turn to you!
Special prizes awarded for the answers Most Likely To Be Accurate, Funniest, Most Convoluted and Most Academic-Sounding. Honorable mention to an answer that can be expressed in a cat macro or silly picture.
So I was sitting on the roof of the Temple, cooling my heels and drinking an Ecto Cooler Hi-C, when the devil appeared behind me.
“Hey Satan,” I said.
“Hey Professor,” he said, sitting down next to me. He kicked his feet over the side.
“I guess you’ve heard that shit’s pretty bad, what with the collapse of subprime mortgages … banks writing off tens of billions in revenue … people losing their homes …”
“But I’m guessing you have a plan, right?”
“Hear me out,” he said, gesturing animatedly. “First, we lower the Fed funds rate by 1.5% – half at an emergency meeting, half during a scheduled meeting. This’ll encourage people to take out loans and buy more stuff, because interest rates will be lower.”
“It’ll also discourage people from saving,” I said, “because, like you said, interest rates will be lower.”
“But that’s the beauty of it!” He smacked me on the shoulder with a rolled-up copy of Variety. “The Fed funds rate is also the rate at which banks can lend money to each other. So if a bank wants to write a loan but doesn’t have the cash available, they can borrow money from another bank!”
I sighed and bit my lip. “Is there a second part?”
“Are you ready?”
I nodded and put on my best expectant look.
The devil stood up, spreading his hands dramatically. “We’re going to give every American taxpayer … three hundred dollars!” He waited for my applause.
“And?” I asked.
He snorted. “It’s like you never even studied economics, man! Increased consumer spending will jumpstart the economy!”
“You know … give it a jolt.” He could see I wasn’t buying it and his face fell.
“What exactly is wrong with the economy currently?” I asked.
He didn’t have an answer, so I told him: “Let’s say you’re playing blackjack with a seven-deck shoe. You’re counting cards and you’re pretty good at it, so you think that the dealer’s all out of
face low* cards. You start putting more and more money on the table. With me so far?”
“Sure,” said Lucifer. “I love Vegas.”
“But maybe your count was off, or you were misinformed and there’s actually eight or nine decks in play. So there are more
face low* cards than you expected. You start losing money.”
“I don’t like this story.”
“And now other players are walking away from the table, meaning all the bad cards are coming to you now. You start busting on every hand. You keep doubling your bet, because you heard from some guy that that was a good way to stay ahead, but that just means you’re hemorrhaging money that much faster.
“Now,” I concluded, “instead of
face low* cards, it’s ‘housing prices.’ Instead of hands of blackjack, it’s ‘investment in mortgage-based securities.’ And the players at the table are the largest financial institutions in the country – Wachovia, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, etc.”
“No, no, it’s not that simple.”
“No, it’s exactly that simple. Investors gambled that mortgage-based securities would keep paying off. This was a speculation based on the notion that housing prices would keep rising. They didn’t. Investors kept shoveling money into subprime funds in the hopes that they’d rebound, or that they could sell them to someone else. They couldn’t.
“And what part of this whole exchange,” I concluded, “would be improved by consumers getting the equivalent of an additional paycheck?”
“But … but … consumer spending …” the devil whined.
“The money’s coming in the form of additional tax refunds,” I said. “Meaning it’s being transferred from the federal government to citizens. What would the feds have done with that money if they kept it?”
“What are they hoping citizens will do with it?”
“So either the feds spend one hundred billion dollars,” I continued, doing some quick math in my head, “on highways and dams and bomber jets and bridges that don’t go anywhere, or consumers spend one hundred billion dollars on food and clothing and cars and the Nintendo Wii. Where’s the ‘jumpstart’ here? Where’s the kick in the pants?”
“Yeah, but, c’mon!” The devil smiled, laughing weakly and dismissing my objections with a wave. “We’re putting money back into people’s hands, rather than letting the government spend it. I thought you were a libertarian! You know: ‘taxation is theft’ and all that.
“That’s a question of what level of taxation is moral,” I said. “That’s irrelevant. This is a question of what’s actually going to happen. It’s like … it’s like debating whether or not to kill someone by dropping a weight on their head, vs. debating whether or not gravity is real.”
“So you’re telling me the economic stimulus won’t have any effect on net?”
“I didn’t say that. The federal government is now one hundred billion dollars out of pocket. Do you really think Congress will cut the U.S. government’s budget by one hundred billion dollars? Or any significant fraction of that?”
“So the U.S. government goes another hundred billion into debt,” Satan said.
“Which means inflation,” I said.
“And lower interest rates mean easier credit and more loans.”
“Which means inflation.”
“I don’t suppose inflation’s good for the economy, is it?”
“Inflation encourages borrowing and penalizes saving,” I said. “What’s the point of putting money in a 401(k) that earns 7% if prices inflate 8% every year? Better to just buy a car, or a house, or something I can actually wrap my hands around and enjoy. Better to go into debt; the money I put toward interest payments will be worth less and less each year.”
“But everyone’s buying stuff!” Satan said, making one last-ditch effort. “And that stimulates demand, so people will start producing more …”
“So if I’m the Gap, and I see people spending their refund checks on my sweaters, I order up a thousand more sweaters than expected. Then what? People already spent their refund. I’ve got all these sweaters I intended to sell at $40, which I now have to mark down to $30 in order to sell. And since the thirty dollars a new customer pays for a sweater don’t go as far, thanks to inflation, I’m now worse off than before.”
The devil pouted, tracing doodles in the dust on the rooftop with his finger. Then he stood up. “Well, I tried.”
“No, definitely. Yeoman’s effort.”
“Same time next week?”
“I’ll be here.”
“Could you bring me an Ecto-Cooler Hi-C next time?”
“Apage, satanas,” I scowled.
He laughed. “I get that a lot.”
* * *
“Consumer spending” is a popular target for federal efforts because it ties directly to GDP, one of the most commonly cited statistics. More people spend money, businesses presume that there’s an increased demand for their products, and they start to produce more.
However, consumer spending is only part of the picture. The opposite side is consumer saving – individuals sinking money into savings accounts, money market accounts, the stock market and retirement funds. Investment also gets businesses to produce more.
The moral of this story: the economy is not a thermostat – it’s a thermometer. What we call “the economy” is an agglomeration of several favored statistics – the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the strength of the dollar, GDP per capita, inflation, unemployment, etc. If “the economy is doing well,” that means those numbers are high. If “the economy is doing poorly,” those numbers are low. But those are all statistics. They’re numbers that measure the performance of people and firms in the real world. I can’t just dial up one statistic without affecting everyone in the real world, anymore than I could crank up the thermostat without also increasing the amount of oil I consume.
Those are numbers on paper. This is the real world. And unless you see a pronounced change in the real world, there’s no reason to think changing the numbers will make a difference.
* pointed out that I had this exactly backward in the original draft – high cards in the deck favor the player, not the dealer.
Updated the default pic. There are some awesome promo stills on Marvel’s website of Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony in a half-assembled exoskeleton. But I can’t turn them into the userpics I want. So I’m settling for merely phenomenal red and gold.
Saturday, MICHELLE BONCEK, Kristen and Anna reunited for Spinning Hardcore. Joanna, Brain, Grace, Mia, Bob and I showed up to cheer them on. (EDIT: Rachel V. showed up later, owing me ten thousand dollars [SHE KNOWS WHY]) Kristen and Anna have that unspoken chemistry which makes any improv group work – an instinctive give and take with each other that makes for really fun energy. Bob also performed with Lindsay G. Afterward, we retired to the Cantab, where Diane Blue and the Fatbacks wailed through a catalog of soul and funk standards. At one point I yanked everyone on to the floor and made them dance.
Did I mention I bought a Frequent Soaker package at Inman Oasis? Because I did. They have a special in January which makes it a pretty sweet deal. My next best source of intense heat is the sauna in Quincy. The trade-off is: $7 for 30 minutes in a communal hot tub (Inman) vs. $25 for 60 minutes in a private sauna (Quincy). I’m probably going to spend the rest of the morning figuring out what the discount rates of Privacy and Walking Distance are. Maybe I’ll publish a graph. Or maybe I’ll just go soak in a hot tub.