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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On Louis C.K., Kant, Orwell and why the ends never justify the means.

Upon entering class today, I was faced with the projected image of Louis C.K. On the screen rested the cued clip for a segment titled “Of course, but maybe.” He, and the clip, however, would have to wait. There was first the issue of the reading quiz.

We were tested on our comprehension of a text from Orwell “on shooting an elephant…” and from Heschel, a theologian. I was readily equipped with my problems with Heschel, who I find to be, if one thinks of argument as a dance, a real tap dancing motherfucker. His text argues for religion, and, that religion is everything. It is not caused by our desire, say, for a patriarchal figure to watch over us and give us comfort, a la Freud. It is not simply the reflection of an economic system, beliefs determined by material existence. It is simply everything. It is a totality. It is not caused, it is not an effect, it is the entirety of the operation and the question.

Religion, for Heschel, lies in the essence of life itself. And there it was: that mendacious motherfucking word again.  But first:

The Orwell we read was a scathing and ironic depiction of his remembered plight as a policeman in one of England’s colonies, the time that he was forced, coerced… the time that he decided to kill an Elephant. The story itself indicts imperialism, and its glory lies in the examination of the psychology of a subject acting on behalf of a belief, while at the same time, fully aware of that belief’s untenability. It is, just as Kanye West describes in “All Falls Down,” when he describes being at once aware that we “buy a lot of clothes when we don’t really need em” in order to “cover up what’s inside” because patriarchy and capitalism has made “us hate ourself  and love they wealth” while at the same time admitting that he “ain’t even gonna act holier than thou / cause fuck it, I went to Jacob with twenty-five thou.” For Orwell, in the story, as I saw it – who else? I’m writing – the story as framed is, of course, whether to shoot the elephant or not, all of which presupposes that the choice is so binary and dialectical.

Imperialism, capitalism, patriarchy – the bastard by many names -  exercises it self in the very framing of that question for its subject: to obey, or disobey. This is binge, purge. This is cheat on your girlfriend, repent and buy flowers. This is the symptom of the problem that is a larger condition. This is the point: for Orwell, he himself is so totally within the system – one he himself READILY admits he despises, writing “for at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing” [the emphasis mine], that before he acts he already makes the mistake, one impossible not to make – given his condition – of framing his choice within a totalizing ideology.

In other words, what the dominant ideology robs us of – hegemony – is having any other ideology. What Gramsci, the man with whom I associate the term hegemony, or Althusser, who is part and parcel with the former, depict most explicitly and menacingly, is that hegemony isn’t just the dominant ideology: it is the only ideology. That is what it robs us of, that is the feeling Kanye experiences: does he, newly rich, buy himself all the shit he dreamed of? Or does he donate it to charity, as after Katrina (Kanye himself admits this contradiction in his infamous rant about George Bush, where he describes having bought expensive designer clothes even before donating to charity, and hating himself for it). The state of the subject within hegemony is of being robbed of another world view, though we intuitively – and, as in Orwell and Kanye, rationally – know the one with which we were raised to be inadequate if not wholly untenable, immoral and/or inherently flawed beyond recompense.

The words “beyond recompense” indicate, in that phrase, that the dominant ideological system – say, “capitalism” – is not justified. Or, more explicitly in the words that I’d like to focus on – finally, he gets to his point, the pedantic bastard! – are: “the ends do not justify the means.”

When Louis C.K. in the clip cued, finally animated after our reading quiz, begins to speak, he discusses how we all do this: We think to ourselves, “of course, but maybe” as in of course it’s a terrible thing that people have serious peanut allergies that can cause death and suffering, and that, as a result, all people who work in food should be educated and aware of the danger… but maybe, we should just not, because all those people with nut allergies probably aren’t the fittest to survive anyway. Or, we “of course” think that slavery is a terrible, terrible thing – the audience now, after having laughed at his lighter previous examples, now contorting their faces in horror at the expectation of what is about to be said – but that perhaps all human greatness, be it the pyramids, the transcontinental railroad, the Iphone – requires throwing death and human suffering at the problem. Of course, we realize, slavery is terrible, wrong, bad, unacceptable. But at the same time, for some of us, probably all of us, there is the thought that perhaps, the end justifies the means, so long as we have the latest Iphone.

Of course, it doesn’t. However, what this exercise demonstrates is manifest: that intuitively we know something to be true, while at the same time, we are able to rationally argue a terrible thing to its justification. For me, this demonstrates two of the central problems  with which I’ve come into contact in all of my late night, neurotic, nervous, self-obsessed searches for meaning and understanding: the problem of intuition being subverted, in what amounts to sexism, in favor of “objective” and communal rational thought. And also, the problem of utilitarian logic, or, in other words, of the ends justifying the means.

The only way any horror can ever be justified – be it imperialism, capitalism, dropping the atomic bombs on Japan – is if one can justify the means of doing something with its supposed ends. However, what this does is to try, as some English majors and professors try to do – those mendacious motherfuckers – is to separate form, from content, as if form were something decorative, rather than intrinsic to the content in question. This is an issue of placing meaning over moment, of interpretation over seduction and the joy of the text. But moving on:

For we have Heschel, he who argues that “religion… is the integration of the detail into the whole” and also “neither a state of mind nor an achievement of the intellect” and “a divine grant to man… a permanent condition.” For him, religion is an “everlasting fact in the universe,” one in which “all existence stands in a holy dimension.” You perhaps, can even imagine me regurgitating my lunch here now as we speak, you and I, the smell of it on my breath as I wretch and attempt to spew forward this mendacious bullshit – but we must move on. For, “religion is, as it were, the space for perpetual contact between God and the universe.” And lastly AND BEST: “man does not possess religion; he exists in religion… for every soul is a wave in the endless stream of the destiny of man.”

There it was, the finale, the last tap to the dance that seals the scene.

This brings me and us to another set of my great big issues of thought: the ideal of essentiality, and the mendaciousness of universality.

When Heschel argues that religion is the essence of life itself, he of course presupposes that there is this thing called essence, and that it is somehow inherent. What is, essence? From whence did this creature arrive? Essence, as in, the essence of man, depicts something essential within him, which leads us to the concept of the “soul.” The soul – of course – is a fucking fiction created by the church in order to hold us accountable for our actions on this Earth in the fairy afterworld. It is the same way with the doctrine of free will. They are both fantasies created to exert control over people, in order to hold us accountable. This is from where guilt stems: from the supposed belief that we could have acted otherwise. For, we had SO MUCH control…

The problem of universality is the one of a so-called “objective world” of capital T truth. An example of this can be found in Kant’s categorical imperative, where he believes an action can only be justified if it would be okay if everyone did what you are doing. In other words, it is therefore unethical to, say, lie, for, what would happen if everyone lied? Or, as the kids as the end of football practice may ask themselves when they are cleaning up the field, putting the blocking sleds and tackling dummies away: what would happen if everyone didn’t stay to clean up, and instead run to the locker room to shower and change for their hot date that night?

The problem with this is, of course, of prescribing ethical action as only being that which everyone would do and agree is the right thing to do in any given situation. This is the logic of fascism, of group think, the violence of the will to community. Here, the absolute value is “reason.” For religion, it tends to be “selflessness.”

The problem is of “always” and “never,” of believing that something can be always wrong (and even, to get postmodern, the problem of saying there is never a never #nextlevel). Example: murder. When President Obama accepted his Nobel Peace Prize, he described how, as leader of the free world, he cannot act and live “by the words of Gandhi alone.” In other words, he cannot martyr himself – and the nation – on the cross of non-violence (although perhaps, in some instances, he and we should). We must attend to the moment, and act accordingly. Trying to prescribe some absolute standard by which we attempt to live our lives is, for some people, probably wholly adequate and necessary. Some people really can’t decide what the “right” thing to do is, given the situation. Some people really should consider an “objective” framework when deciding how to act, because they have really shitty intuition and are probably stupid, which is not their fault. However, for some, being told over and over again, by religion, by philosophers and rationalists and nuns and priests that we should always stop, and consider our actions by some golden rule or standard is, honestly, fucking overwhelming, and leads to an all-consuming neurosis.

However, if there is any standard by which we can act, let us at least start with rejecting the belief that the “ends can justify the means.” If we do that, if we trust our first blush, intuitive reaction, the “of course” in Louis C.K.’s shtick  - if we do that, we just might be alright. 


And maybe then, we won’t, any longer, have to kill any elephants.

Friday, October 10, 2014

in the summer


There are times, it seems, more conducive to living than to writing, and when in older age I look back at the Summer of '14, I will not remember much writing. I will remember poker games, trips to Vegas, the World Cup. I will remember lying in Balboa Park's grass under light leafted trees that split and grated the morning's light over us, together. I will remember being paid back the loan I lent my mother, my Uncle's sixtieth birthday, taking a trip in a limo to visit our family's rentals in places we'd never think to live, and spending money at dinner like I didn't earn it. I'll remember our beautiful but stifling hot apartment, and winning the money in poker to justify installing an A/C. I'll remember the party we had before it, when I'd just gotten my deferral from Columbia, when I gathered with my friends from my Senior year, and drank Sangria into the warm summer night until they all went home.

I probably won't remember the video games played stoned on a couch against twelve year olds in Calabasas or against forty year old black men who talk shit while they're beating me. I'll probably forget the silly fights I got into with Jane, maybe even the one I got into with Kyle, where there was shoving. I hope I do and too don't forget the sickness I felt on one of those early tuesday or thursday mornings when the weekend of drinking and smoking and lifestyle of endless summer would catch up to me as I ran and boxed with Ernesto on the sands of Ocean Beach.

I'll remember our weekend in Beverly Hills and Orange County, Jane and I at a wedding shower and a party to say good bye to my brother until he returns from service in Qatar, both the same weekend, where we travelled up and down the Southern half of our state to meet my family obligations.

Will I, though, remember all of the sleepless nights I spent sweating and turning over with Jane next to me, as I worried about my future, what New York holds for me, and money?

Will I remember the anxiety I have over my eventual and expected future performance? The feelings of insecurity relative to who I am, what I have and haven't done, with the way I spend foolishly? Will I ever be able to provide for myself? Will I always be spending money like I didn't earn it, because I didn't?

It seems, as much, that I won't get rich playing poker, no matter how much I might hope I'll cash in on a tournament win, or find myself avoiding a day job by playing against chumps online. And anyhow, like with coaching and football, to make it, I'd have to go all in, and, when it comes to the desire and ability requisite to become truly great, when it comes to Poker, I have neither; I think I'll stick to writing.

But writing what, then? The proverbial dinner party conversation, the follow up to every time I'm introduced with "he's going to Columbia for writing."

I don't know, but I also do: as Rilke wrote, our childhoods are sources which can be tapped endlessly; we always have something we can write about.

There will be issues of "so what?" Why should anyone care about your upper middle class coming of age existence? What makes you so special? Who writes auto-biographically at 24 except pro-athletes?

I have my hopes and ideas on writing about and taking down USD, satirizing the whole corrupt capitalist corporate fascist frat existence it perpetuates; I want to write my book on playing football; I have the title of my book on undergrad life "The Parrots of Ocean Beach" (they, when alone, self-harm); I have my works of theory, on Social Media and the 21st century self-conscious aesthetic: The question comes, as I have the ideas, do I, though, have the words? (and the inclination...)

Virginia Woolf wrote that all one needs to write are twelve pounds and a "Room of One's Own." I've got more than twelve pounts, even after paying USD for my final Fall semester, and two of the latter. So what's the excuse?

Like I said, there are times for living, and for writing, for experiencing and reflecting. The sun also rises, as does it set, and there is a time each for both. And as William Blake said himself "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom," and don't I hope it.

If I am approaching my palace, may I do so humbly, and desperately, ready to cast off and move past my period of indolent excess and hedonism, my Summer of the sensual.

The question Kanye poses "What's worse, the pain or the hangover?" looms in my mind, as well as what it was that I was medicating, but upon approaching it, the answer seems clear. To quote Peter Bjorn and John, "All those expectations." Great ones, to be sure, the desire to be included in the social-cultural discourse of my era, to have a seat at the table, to meet those I idolize from afar... and the work requisite to get there.

"Simplify, simplify, simplify," Thoreau wrote, and my awareness of the myriad of ways in which the common trappings of modern consumer capitalist life distracts and prevents the creative has grown, for it is hard to focus on art when thinking about your cell phone bill, student debt or the lack of food in your fridge. Also, I don't think anyone wrote the Great American Novel after shopping for a new pants at Nordstrom.

I know I'll become the writer I want to be, for I know too the only thing that stands before me as I do is me, myself, and the doubts and anxieties over which: am I good enough, do I matter, will I make it, do I want it badly enough?

I want to meet Kanye, Obama and Bieber; I want to campaign for Elizabeth Warren; I want to sit court-side at a Laker game, high five Kobe Bryant; I want kids in freshmen English classes to read my work; I want to go to my high school reunion needing no reintroduction. But then again, who doesn't?

But I think I have a chance to make all of that happen.

As Lupe Fiasco raps, "if you are what you say you are, a Superstar, then have no fear; the crowd is here, the lights are on, and they want a show..."

If I am what I've been told I was, there's only one way to find out. And, I guess I soon will. They say if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere.

Come next Fall, I'll start to find out. Until then, there is what Tom Petty called "the hardest part," "waiting," but also too, readying. And reading, and writing.

For we write in order to remember, and when the fifteen or so images that make up my life flash before my eyes, what will they be? What will constitute the felt impression of my life, my time, my presence here on this Earth, fleetingly? What will be said about me, if anything? Does that matter?

To me, it does. It's time to put my money where my mouth is, and for one more Fall semester at USD.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"So, when this loose behavior I throw off / And pay the debt I never promised / ... I'll so offend, to make offence a skill; Redeeming time when men think least I will."

In order to begin, you have to have a question. I’ve stared at blank white pages projected from my MacBook screen, wondering where to begin, where to end. They say a story has no “beginning or end,” one just arbitrarily picks a point of departure, a jumping off point, in media res. What is it that I’m trying to ask? What is it I’m trying to solve? What is incomplete that requires attention? What keeps me from sleeping peacefully each night, slumber finding me by misdirection, by finding me inbetween thoughts thought to stave off the emptiness of sliding into practiced death. I’ve never found it easy.

What is it I stay up at night wondering? What am I doing with my life? How am I going to avoid going broke? Am I really going to make it to New York City? Will I have success when I get there? What will I write?

But more than anything, lately, the question I find myself asking constantly, inevitably, piercingly, without answer, without solace: Who cares?

Who fucking cares?

Who cares what you write, if at all,  and who cares about what you think? Why does it matter? Is my form of writing, the kind that got me into grad school, the non-fiction, personal essay / memoir just an exercise in the most grandiose form of narcissism? Is writing about what has been a means by which to make it matter?

In a world in which pictures or it didn’t happen, am I living blog post by blog post, to be, to blog?

We tell ourselves stories in order to live, as the White Album begins. What story am I telling myself? Why is it so important to matter?

Orwell counts ego as one of his four or so motivations for being a writer. Are the words I type and post nothing more than an act of desperation from the abyss of nihilist despair?

Yes. Definitely. Absolutely. So what?

I want to write about football. I want to write about being bullied, being called a fag and gay and made fun of for being sensitive, feminine. I want to write it so kids like me can read something like it and feel that someone else out there, anyone, understands, and has come – if not to terms with it – than to a place where that pain can be transformed into art, or used to motivate art. “Art”…

It’s a loose term for what it is I do.

I’m overwhelmed by the enormity of what I want to accomplish, and self-conscious over the fact that my little diatribe about playing football and growing up conservative and middle class is something I consider overwhelming. I’m so afraid of failure, I must be, otherwise I know not what to make of the kind of consuming anxiety I feel each and every day. I project it mostly onto money matters, my fears of failure and New York City probably, perhaps, easier to control, to stomach, to consider in terms of dollars and cents rather than of initiative luck and talent.

What am I going to write? It’s been so long.

It’s been so long since I’ve done this and even longer since I made up stories and told them to others. I literally don’t know what it is like to write fiction. I haven’t done it since one time in high school and from before that it was just making up “choose your own adventure” tales for my family centered around Star Trek and James Bond (I wasn’t, then, so concerned with being original).

Each time I read something I write, as in a writing class, as in non-fiction, or autobiography, I get good results. People tell me they like it, that I’m a good writer, that I have talent, that they enjoyed it.  All I can think about is how would anything like I’ve just read to them could every make it into a magazine like GQ or The New Yorker.

Ego, my dear, the root of it all. The narcissism and delusions of grandeur that come with those great expectations would be uncomfortable if I hadn’t taken them so damn seriously for so long.

And then there was Columbia, and admission. The one school I applied to, the one that accepted me, that was cool with me deferring… I desperately need it. I have no idea what I’m doing with my writing career, I’m utterly out of practice and terribly devoid of professional skill. I wouldn’t know where to start writing a profile, nor have I ever written anything seriously journalistic.

My lack of confidence is abundant and consuming. I doubt myself at each and every turn, and the only times I can remember myself not doing so I was barely more than a toddler, or consumed in the intoxication of the first Spring in which I read Nietzsche, when I was eating little, and on a “crazy” diet. I go through letters from my time then, and the feeling is similar as to when I listen to the lectures of professors I thought so insightful at 19, and so cliché now. Have I gotten more cynical? Is that possible? Am I just desperately in need of some mental health counseling?

I’m living alone in Ocean Beach in the place I previously shared, avoiding the impending financial realties that await me when the money runs dry. Unless I strike it big betting on NFL football players as commodities through daily fantasy football, a job is in my near future, which, while not the worst thing, does depress me considering how long I have not worked, and how little I’ve written in that time.

I believe there are times for living, and times for writing, or at least that’s the bullshit excuse I’ve concocted to justify weed, video games and the indolence I’ve known my whole life. Marx was lazy too, they say, writing and creating in intense, manic bursts. I’m like that too, it seems, and though I don’t mind being in his company, I do mind that without thinking I instantly compare myself to him, doing myself injustice in my own narcissism.

I can’t get out of my own head, and having less of an audience than I’ve had before for my thoughts and anxieties probably hasn’t been a good thing. I’m not writing for the school paper that fired me, or reading aloud for the writing classes I’ve already taken.


I believe firmly that life is a three act play. I’m coming to the end of the first, and I’m excited and anxious about what awaits me in the next. I’m turning 25, I’m moving to a New City, I’m following seriously the pipe dream I’ve had my whole life. My mom and Mrs. Stanley told me I was the next Mark Twain at twelve, and looking back on things, that probably wasn’t good for me. I think I need to free myself to be the shitty writer that I perhaps am, while at the same time striving for greatness. I don’t know if that makes sense, because it doesn’t.

Does it need to? I’m so caught up in my worldview. I reject Agape and selfless love because of the ressentiment that accompanies it, and the mendacious logic inherent to the will to community, the will to fascism and the will to violence, but I’m not even sure if I can articulate anymore what exactly all of that means, or what is wrong with it. One goes through the exercise of discovery, of tracing the argument as it bobs and weaves, the thread that finds itself wound into a ball wherein it circles itself, making it tighter, tighter, without coming to an end. That is what I am: I’ve woven myself into a hardened circle of my own circular logic.

I reject Nietzsche as patriarchal and find trouble even typing those words. I resent a morality of Strong and Weak on the grounds that I find it caught up in a narrative of dominance and submission, while at the same time feeling that there is more than Nietzsche means. I feel that I’ve once understood and have lost some infinite thing, to paraphrase DFW, while at the same time reluctant to embrace a world view like his, one so dependent on abstraction, one so distrustful of sentiment and intuition. Which is probably unfair.

I need guidance, and I don’t know where to seek it. All I need is myself and I’m afraid to admit it.  I feel like  a joke, the great white upper middle class hope without any of the work ethic or the insight to sustain it. I’m a crotchety hypocrite writing melancholy from the comfort of my ivory tower, sustained by the trust of my family, spoiled rotten without any of the smug security that ought come with it.

I hope to god that I have something significant to say, other than to rant online to people who read anonymously. I hope to god I can make this work because the alternative is one I’ve never seriously considered.

But what will I write? How will I begin?

Is it fiction? Is it second person? A collection of short stories? How does one begin?

 I don’t know.

But I do know it is time to start.

Because the alternative is overwhelming. And I can’t continue telling this joke about myself being a writer moving to New York City without having any of the bonafides to back it up, without any claim to my name. I want to matter desperately in a world that I believe to be inherently meaningless, caught in a contradiction I’m all but too aware of yet too weak or too stupid to escape from.

All of my friends and sedatives mean well but make it worse, as it goes, and I know that I am both all I need and al that is stopping me, my one and only friend and certainly my worst, most vicious and cruel adversary.

One of these I’ll wake up without the same old anxiety, the same insecurities. One of these days I’ll move without awkwardness, bereft of the low self esteem to which I am incredibly accustomed.  I won’t resent people I think are shitty drivers, and I won’t take the person on their cell phone tailgating me to be indicative of the plight of the human race as it faces self-induced destruction.

One of these days I swear to god I’ll publish something, I’ll sell it and make the money I so desperately seek, and feel so uncomfortable wanting to earn. They made us hate ourselves and love their wealth, as it goes, and I am more than ever aware of the despicable nature of the system in which we live and my desire to succeed still within it.

I want to imagine a better world through art, so I think about writing science fiction. I hope I have the creativity within me to do so, or the gumption to take the psychedelics necessary to bring me back to that land of first metaphor and dissimilation.

Either way, I feel better already. I’m headed to San Francisco this weekend for my girlfriend’s birthday, set to adventure in the land of the brave new 21st century, the place from which Postmates calls, home of Facebook and the epicenter of our techno-gilded age.

I’ve heard it said if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Fuck those people. That’s the will to community in action.

Maybe I will be all right, in the end. Maybe I will.

But I’ve got some writing to do. And I can’t keep on just ranting.


Friday, August 22, 2014

The problem with the ALS Challenge no matter how much $$$ it raises

The problem with the ALS challenge, no matter how much money it raises, is similar to the one posed by Slavoj Zizek on the matter of those commercials with starving African children's eyes welling with tears of starvation and anguish imploring you to make just a dollar a day donation: it alleviates guilt without dealing with the issue's root cause.

Now, I know this may seem strange and/or stupid - But it raises all this money to combat disease, and it's participatory - surely, this must be capitalism and social media coming together for a good cause...!!

But it's not - and here's why:

The ALS challenge operates like a priest's dictates, through guilt, and shame.

You can do something, you have free will, it is in your control - and shame on you if you are challenged and do nothing.

However, what the challenge and all the money raised to combat the disease mask is the fact that we live in a system in which we fight diseases like we elect presidential candidates: we throw money at them, especially the ones with the best PR and Press.

The ALS campaign, despite all its "good," distracts us from the fact that healthcare and disease prevention exist in profit-motive oriented marketplace. The fact that we accept living in a world in which the more money you have, the better healthcare you get, is a point lost in this entire conversation, one that with all of the optimism surrounding Silicon Valley and social media is forgotten in the name of our progress. ALS is truly terrible, and the suffering of those estimated 30,000 Americans afflicted surely deserves our efforts - but perhaps we might want to examine the manner in which all diseases are fought, such as those estimated 14.5 million who have or have had cancer and are alive today, or the 30 million with diabetes, and how the solutions for each are sold, rather than getting too happy with ourselves for the brave way we tossed ice over our heads in our swimsuits and bikinis.

Until we live in a society in which the right to life extends past our days as a fetus, all the social media activism and donations will mean little in comparison to the pain and undue suffering we accept each day by those who can't afford the treatment they need and deserve.


figures and estimates come from:
http://www.alsa.org/about-als/facts-you-should-know.html
http://www.cancer.org/research/cancerfactsstatistics/survivor-facts-figures
http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/


Friday, May 30, 2014

What the Fuck is Happening? Capitalism, Sex, Violence and Elliot Rodgers

Last Friday, May 23, 2014, I went gambling at a casino up the 5 at a place called Ocean’s to celebrate the last day of school. I learned my lesson about playing to make a straight with the first hundred dollars, got back to even, then went all in against the best and luckiest player at the table to lose my last of three hundred. I found my way to the bar, and ordered myself a drink.
“Can I get a double Bacardi Gold on the rocks, please?” 
It was the drink I’d make when I had my first apartment when I was eighteen, sitting alone on a porch overlooking a Rite Aid and a few shuttered restaurants (it was the Summer of 2008). I’d sip rum poured cold from the freezer with ice into my cup, take it and a cigarette – Camel Lights, or Benson and Hedges Light Menthols, it was a toss up – and read Hunter Thompson’s “The Rum Diary” and never actually finish it. It’d been a long semester.
I finished the drink quickly and began to think about playing the ponies, live from Santa Anita and making my money back and then some, only needing twenty dollars on a twenty to one horse and I’d be back and walk away with more than even, but first, there was Snapchat.
I checked my phone for the first time in hours, and saw a Snapchat from my little sister Cambria. She was in a car – not driving, thankfully – and the caption said she was on her way to Santa Barbara, her long blonde hair blowing in an SUV, heading north on highway 101, having the time of her life in her wayfarer shades, smiling her fullest smile.
I Snapchatted her back one of me drinking, naturally. She responded with a face of semi-sarcastic concern. I asked the bartender if she knew how to make a Caribou Lou when she came back to take my order for the next drink, and then I apparently ordered a few more. It’s best to keep in mind I’d had have half of an omelet sandwich and only a scone for breakfast, along with the requisite overdose of caffeine. I did not, to the best of my recollection, win with the ponies though I don’t believe I took my tickets to the teller. I was also unsuccessful in getting the guy next to me who shared his racing program to let me buy him a drink. I seem to recall that I tried more than twice.
             I woke up hours later in time to hang out with my girlfriend and her friend from out of town, along with my roommate Kyle. We went out to drink, myself first needing In-N-Out but settling for Del Taco, and then making the decision to stick to beer, and only Peronis. I came home, I went to bed with my girlfriend, we made love, all was well. I woke up the next morning with a pounding hangover. After we all woke up, we went to brunch at a hip place in Hillcrest where the maître d wants to look like Adam Levine, and expects you to laugh at his jokes. It’s called D-Bar. We were seated shortly. There were mimosas.
             It was not until then that I began to recollect some strange AP News alerts on my phone from the night before. The iPhone having died, I hadn’t looked at it since I’d charged it that morning, as I tend to make a point to not look at my phone over breakfast. For whatever reason that morning, perhaps owing to a feeling of uneasiness, I did.
             There was news of out of Santa Barbara of a shooting, another one, a mass one, a white kid, male, apparently alienated. I dismissed it.
             It was not until I came home to my apartment and recollected in the hazy blur of my indulgence yesterday the snapchat of my little sister from her way up the coast to Isla Vista. She has friends at UCSB.
             To say my blood ran cold would be cliché, but frankly, I know not of other words that effectively communicate the feeling of my body as it felt horror, desperation; However, I stayed calm, for the time being. I couldn’t accept that that kind of thing would happen to me, to her. It was the only thing that could help in that moment, I think, until my girlfriend came into the room and reassured me: “it’s okay,” because  “Cambria that morning had “liked” her instagram” from that morning. I felt thankful, for once, for the brunch Instagram. My sister, at least, was okay. She was Instagramming.
I called her, to no avail. I texted her, “please call me.”
             She did. I thanked the god I don’t believe in. But, apparently, we weren’t out of the woods. Coincidentally enough, strangely, oddly, mine wasn’t the only little sister in Santa Barbara that weekend. So was Sammi.
             Kyle’s sister Sammi had also gone to Santa Barbara the night before, driving up to stay with her friends who were Alpha Phi’s at UCSB. You may know where this is going from here.
             Kyle called. She told him: of being told to lay down on the floor upstairs, of hearing Elliot Rodgers pounding, of hearing him scream at the door “I have business, let me in!” , how he’d given up, how he’d apparently killed two girls and wounded another from the lawn. The girls were kept from doors and windows facing the yard. The authorities didn’t want them to see and to then remember the image of what would have otherwise awaited them.
~
             Every time “one of these” things happen, as in Aurora, as in Newtown, as was in Columbine… Every time one of these things happen, I think of how scared I am the next time it will hit closer to home. I think of how the gun nuts would feel if it was one of their children killed by a wacko with a weapon. I think of how god damn angry I am the “crazy” are left on the streets, to fend for themselves, without adequate health care, without people to administer to them. But this was different.
             It came out that Rodgers had access to mental health care, and though I was skeptical when it was the family lawyer saying it, thinking of their need to demonstrate a lack of liability, apparently he kid had a problem that his parents recognized. Apparently, a BMW figured into that, because Rodgers was aware of the “hierarchy of cars” and he wanted it to feel better about himself. What is this hierarchy? We know it without having need to so much as say anything. You can even ask a child.
             I thought of how just the other day, I’d come across a BetchesLoveThis post about broke guys. It’s a humor and cultural satire site, the snarky tone expressing the clichéd perfection of a “betch” which may or may not be code for upper middle class and Screen shot 2014-05-30 at 4.33.00 PM.pngwealthy and primarily white females, the type that join sororities, shop at Nordstrom, get White Girl Wasted, who enjoy their vodka sodas. The site is hilarious, and incredibly self-aware. At the bottom of the post in question, there was something about American Express cards. They had an image, top to bottom ranking Amex cards, the joke being “don’t date a bro who only has a green one.” There were comments on the piece, expressing to the editorial staff that they had fucked up, that platinum was above gold, and that “…any Joe can have a business AMEX didn’t mean shit. Betches don’t just go out with just anyone…” Black was on top, of course, all agreed. There was some other kind of this bullshit, people talking about the cards they have, humble bragging. I’d begun to think about how we live in a society in which these little hierarchies exist, and though of them we are not always even conscious, they persist below the surface, as presences.
             On the Sunday following the tragedy, my girlfriend Jane came over, shaken. I’d just been telling Kyle how Jane was the last person who should read any of the shit I had been about Elliot Rodgers, about what was being revealed about his YouTube channel, his manifesto. I’d watched the thing; I’d commented to Kyle that I knew Jane couldn’t handle it. She’s just not the type for horror movies.
             “I read it,” she said. She seemed pale, and physically sick. She also walked in carrying a sixer of Canada Dry.
             “What?”
             “I only read the first line and I had to stop. Julia showed me.” She seemed near tears, but I couldn’t tell if it was because of the anxiety she was feeling, or the pain in her stomach. I figured it west best to assume both.
“The LA Times published his whole thing.”
              "His" manifesto. Julia was the one who’d sent Kyle and therefore myself the video of Rodgers that had already been taken down from Youtube at that point, for a violation of terms of service.  I couldn’t believe the Times would publish the damn thing; then again, I guess I could.
             The last time “one of these things” happened, I was told by some news anchors and journalists that we should not publish and circulate the name of the perpetrator, so that his dreams and desire for infamy and posterity beyond death are ruined, so that we aren’t complicit in the act of violence he created by helping him create a Wikipedia monument to himself. That was the last time, some shooting, somewhere, some school, some victim. There’s been so many lately, I think it’s fair to say you can hardly blame me.
But here it was: his words, on the page.
            I can search “Rogers manifesto” in Google (even with the typo), and up it pops, the whole thing, on Scribd. The future is here, and our culture is not changing but its greatest flaws and horrific features – perhaps all of its features – are being magnified and expanding exponentially, multiplying in intensities, outward, grotesquely.
             “All I ever wanted,” Rodgers writes “was to fit in and live a happy life amongst humanity, but I was cast out and rejected, forced to endure an existence of loneliness and insignificance, all because the females of the human species were incapable of seeing the value in me.”
    Literally. The fucking "value."


 ~
This is what is keeping me up at 2:02 a.m. at my girlfriend’s house, when we went to bed sometime around midnight. Because before I did, while she was showering before sleep, I read an article on an affiliate of Gawker called Jezebel on Elliot Rodgers’ “Friends.”
The article was written by a journalist, Erin Gloria Ryan, who tracked down the site “friends of Rodgers” used after PUAHate.com was taken down in the aftermath of the Isla Vista stabbing, shooting and vehicular homicide rampage. She found them at another site, writing things like:[1]
“I do believe I have the knowledge to kill 100 people. I believe I have the knowledge to kill the entire school. I know that's pretty pathetic, I think.
Go back to my old school, past assembly, 9:00. Chain every single door. Shoot everybody in the assembly hall.”
Simultaneously, and unique of pity as an emotion, this boy here is both aware of the weak, sad, and “pathetic” nature of what he is saying, feeling and believing, while also finding indulgence in that depressive self-pity, giving him some sense that what he says or does is justified, by virtue of his subterranean, negative, isolated existence, perpetuated continually by itself, and each other. It goes on.  They say “Elliot is a hero.” And:
             [9:28 AM]: he would have had a boring incel[2] life then died of cancer without reference to "this". without ever leaving a mark or a wikipeda and go on just like it had in the past.he is famous 4 ever now.
In these individual’s minds, Rodgers attained some kind of Ozymandian defying life after death: though rock crumbles and visages fade, what you say, do, write or read can and will be used against you in a court of law, as well as extend in all other forms. The terrifying thing is, Rodgers wasn’t alone. His words mimic the perspective shared by those in the comments above. There is a male perspective out there: it is young, it is lonely, it feels different and apparently emasculated, enough to believe that:
[12:39 PM]: rape is low inhibition, DOM and alpha. its the ultimate DOM move
[12:40 PM]: what's your rape count
[12:40 PM]: rape is pretty beta[3]
[12:40 PM]: if ur havent raped someone by age 22, ur prob a truecel [celibate] for life
[12:40 PM]: not rape rape, but date rape
[12:40 PM]: Not DOM enough
[12:40 PM]: date rape is the behavior of masculine blacks, and very alpha
[12:41 PM]: who is gonna be the next elliot rodger on this chat? i nominate greg 
Caught up in “asserting dominance,” these boys clearly have no sense to talk about how they feel to people outside their world, and perhaps no outlet available in whom to confide about all of this, their exclusion, their feelings of persecution, their urges to act out sexually. What is it about these men and our culture that seem so unable to express what our society perceives as “feminine” values and traits? Could they not talk to someone, a professional hopefully, who could stop these swirling downward cycling accelerating negative forces, perpetuated by them bouncing the same bullshit off each other? These boys say they feel disenfranchised because the women they find attractive and feel they deserve seem to go for “alpha males,” some idealized notion of masculine assertive dominance, which, apparently means violence and utter disregard for others, in the style in which Elliot Rodgers said he was trying to embody when he committed his final act.
             The question is this: Where are we as a culture such that men like these exist? Of what condition are these men a symptom? It’s not a matter of what causes this: guns, mental illness, bad parenting, Hollywood or Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen (apparently?)[4]. What disease has infected the American social consciousness? In what kind of society do men like these exist?
             All, some would say. I think that’s a cheap cop out.
             Why is it that these young men feel simultaneously entitled to these objectively very attractive females, and resigned to their inability to attract them? One idiot blames Rogen, for movies where nerds get the girls. Arthur Chu[5] had a more interesting, intelligent take. Media, and our cultural narratives, are no doubt a problem. So too is this bullshit pervasive “need” we have created in men to express their dominance and identity through “getting laid.” So too is this about what Tony Soprano once asked, wondering “Whatever happened to Gary Cooper?” It is about men not being able to talk about how they feel, except to other men, online, with anonymity between themselves, recycling the same, dangerous thoughts.
             It begs the question: why is it that we live in a society in which we tell women to watch their drinks, to never leave them nor to accept ones from strangers, rather than one in which we tell men to not put shit in girls drinks? Oh, you blacked out? Shouldn’t have left your drink out… Why do we continually shame women with what they wear, as if men wouldn’t do the same damn thing if they had that kind of body? Would abortion be a question if men could get pregnant? We'd justify it and still keep women from having the same rights, somehow. It’d probably be the only law this Congress could pass, I imagine.
             Rodgers wrote about once getting angry at a party after watching a pretty blonde white girl go for a full Asian guy, wherein he grew resentful because he, only half Asian, but also half WASP, felt higher in a social hierarchy based on skin color and class distinctions, an issue similar to his insecurity relative to the kind of car keys in his pocket, and similar to his obsession with his Gucci sunglasses. Rodgers felt that he, objectively speaking, was an attractive man – and frankly, he wasn’t ugly. I don’t’ see why he had a problem getting chicks (except for his whole worldview thing). He came from money; his dad worked on the Hunger Games as a director. He went to Santa Barbara City College, the place all the rich kids from Orange County who didn’t get into four years when they graduated from high school went to still “move away” and get some kind of college experience before moving back home after three years of rent and tuition money, in other words, an elite place. And then there is UCSB. I’ve been to Isla Vista: I’ve never seen so many astonishingly beautiful people before in all my life. Surely, it was overwhelming. But this guy, one could think, should have been fine. But he wasn’t. His mental illness, his Aspergers, his perspective on the world, it led him to self-pity and blame; not blaming himself, of course, but others: women. How dare they not sleep with the men Elliot thought they should be?
Maybe all of this has to do with a culture of “going through too much bullshit to mess with these drunk and hot girls,” to quote Kanye.
Maybe it’s about putting Molly in her cup and “She ain’t even know it,” a la Rick Ross. Maybe it’s those damned “Blurred Lines.”
             Maybe we have a problem in America with the way we look at sexuality, and maybe, it wouldn’t be such a god damn issue if we didn’t feel it was a sin to be horny, to lust and want women, men, both, either. Maybe if we weren’t taught shame of our bodies by the Church and fitness magazines, or maybe…
             Or maybe there is nothing we can do about the ressentiment fueled culture we live in, in which men hate women who, god forbid, as a result of evolution favor men with the ability to better procreate and protect them, and who find men that radiate health – i.e.: are in shape – to be more attractive. They might even compete for equally attractive partners themselves.
Maybe the images of men and women we are being give and that we are creating are unhealthy. We are bursting at the seams, unable to come to terms with how to express our sexuality – how else do you explain twerking and Miley Cyrus? Perhaps our ideals, our idealized images of ourselves – the James Bonds, the Beyonces, the Kim Kardashians in our heads– aren’t leading us to consume ourselves, but to be consumed by others.
that’s sexuality in America, today. It’s not about you, or him/her, it's about them. It’s about if he/she looks good on Facebook to your friends when you post your relationship status. It’s all about how she/he looks on Instagram, the value they connote. Even Beyonce has been caught photo shopping[6], and so has Lena Dunham (for Vogue). Call it Blurred Lines. 
Rodgers’ former roommate told ABC News that the hook-up culture Rodgers so desperately wanted to be a part of lead to his pain and motive.
"Everything that he dreamed of, this was when it was going to happen," Rugg said. "The Isla Vista culture is very much focused on going out, having a party and taking a girl home with you and stuff like that, so I can understand it hurting and making him feel lonely if it doesn't work out, but not quite to the extreme that it was taken."
~            
 “Got a hundred acres I live on, you ain’t even know it,” Rick Ross raps. “Got a hundred rounds in this AR, you ain’t even know it.”
             What is going with America? Why are we idealizing these people? It’s well known[7] most Rap is listened to by white men: why are they relating to violence  they’ve never known? I guess a better word than relate – because they can’t – is admire. And when we look at it that way, it becomes clear: we are a generation of men raised with no knowledge of ourselves, filled with distorted images of masculinity, caught somewhere in the malaise of where feminism left off, left “leaning in” but still left out, men content to feel oppressed by reverse racism and enjoying their newly found victimhood while women are still “bossy.” Maybe this is what happens when young men are no longer sent off to war; they forget about how killing and violence doesn’t make a man, how it’s bullshit, how it’s not cool, that there’s a reason Vets don’t want to talk about it…     
But we do have Grand Theft Auto – and thank god, it’s a fun game – but my god, not everyone can take a joke, and that may be reason enough to seriously examine where we have been, and where we are going with these games, this media. When beating up a hooker, killing her and taking her cash in route to a car jacking has become a virtual participatory joke in the American Zeitgeist, something is wrong, and the solution is not asceticism, purity or a return to Jesus.
 We really need to get our shit together and start teaching from feminist and racial perspectives in our public schools. We need to get educated, and to educate. We need to stop spending money on wars we will never fight against enemies too relatively weak to matter, to stop being the dumb rich but money poor jock bully on the playground with “righteous” intentions, and to start being that nerdy guy, to embrace him, to accept him, and not because he has some clever ruse to get the hot girl out of his league to sleep with him. Maybe we start to value him as person, for who he is, not for the car he drives, the shoes he wears, the school he went to or the title of the job he has. Maybe we all have stopped being able to so easily look at each other as fucking human beings rather than commodities to buy and trade, date and dump, acquiring low, selling high, trying to reach for that guy or girl in the hottest sorority or frat. I am not the school I went to, the brand of my jeans, the car I drive or the tag on my underwear. I’m Nick, and I’d much rather talk about the books I’ve read, the places I’ve gone, the foods I love and what makes me human. 
But in this stage of Late Capitalism, it may be too late. We may be doomed to commodifying each other, wherein men see women as sexual objects, more and more filled with plastic to appease our tastes. We’ve commoditized water, oil, land and soon, through carbon tax, even the pollution we put into the air. Why not each other? With few answers, at least one, it seems, is deadly certain. To quote from another of these bastards who knows the truth concerning the future as much as either me or you:
“guys i bet you this will happen more times in 2014. others will do it. Promise[8]







[1] Time-stamps not available for these two separate messages, each from the same individual.
[2] Code for “involuntary celibate man.”
[3] Perhaps Ryan? Or a more moderate would-be college girl killer… who knows?
[4] Ann Hornaday’s Washington Post Column that following Sunday pointed the figure at them.
[5] The former jeopardy wrote a smart and brave negotiation of our society’s relationship with the nerd stereotype, especially in relation to rape culture.
http://www.npr.org/2014/05/30/317361633/jeopardy-champ-arthur-chu-on-nerds-entitlement-and-elliot-rodger
[6] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/11/beyonce-thighs-photoshop_n_5134346.html
[7]  A whopping 80%: http://www.policymic.com/articles/78487/how-music-executives-created-black-hip-hop-for-white-suburban-kids
[8] Time-stamp not available.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My Columbia Application Work

Don't ask me to write of home.
            Unless you are willing to listen, for me to be didactic, to twist and turn as I attempt to explain, to place you into a narrative - to construct one - please don't ask where I call home. If you aren't willing to sit, to bear with me, to be patient, to wait as I attempt to find a thread to follow... 
            If you are okay with that, I'll try and tell you: home is at once my past and future in Orange County, a place south of LA called Torrance, and now in Ocean Beach, among other inbetweens. Where was I born? Newport. Where was I raised? All over:
            In the backseat of a hot stale air blue Volvo station-wagon in the Tustin heat, waiting for a nanny to be done doing whatever it was she was doing, waiting patiently, rather not going with her, entering. Staying inside the car by myself, preferable to her, and her smell, and her criticisms, all that bullshit. 
            And in a single family home with one too many bedrooms and a pool rarely used, gone green with algae in the later years, as I used it less, as my step-brother being busy on weekends he was to be with us happened more, as we aged and stopped being able to laugh silly and slap each other with foam noodles in the chlorine waters from which we would emerge, to pee. At least, I would.
            Or in the Newport Beach home built in the Twenties atop a hill overlooking the bay in which my Grandmother and her latest husband lived, whether that was Papa 2 or Mike or just the two of us on those Tuesdays and Thursdays after going to Wushu, a Korean martial art. When I came back ten years later after my first absence, they remembered. No, I'm not that cute. They had to have remembered her.
            And up in the my attic-like bedroom hideaway in my mother's home which we shared with my step-father, occasionally my step-brother but that was rare, mostly the three of us, eventually four when Cambria was born, my half-sister (not that I make such distinctions of fractions in blood or love). Up in that room by myself where I would play with micro-machines and invent narratives as I set them up, always disappointed at the final moment at which play was to occur, saddened when they wouldn't animate, without someone else to make them move.
            Or in my father's various apartments, first in North Hollywood, that place down the street from Joe Peep's Pizza, then later in a house in Torrance, after Zelda - that brief interlude - and of course and eventually with Lorrie, my defacto Stepmother, the woman he has still since not married after almost two decades together have passed, simply because after my mother, he swore. And I cannot blame him.
            Or did I grow up on Glenn Johnson's family room floor? In a sleeping bag, huddled heads all of us, some with no pillows, some of us with plenty, cracker and goldfish bits smashed into the rug below, Sprite cans naughtily without coasters; but this was the Johnson's house: there was no living room off limits, no fancy entrance hall with carpet on which we were not allowed to step. It was a home with a smelly dog named Spot I once let out on accident that I chased down, afraid of dogs, afraid of him getting hit and me blamed, the intense anxiety of that moment in which I felt so apart and separate from the rest of that family that I wished was my own.  Where did I grow? What is my home? What about the apartment into which I moved six months after I turned eighteen? That place called "The Breakers" in Huntington on PCH where I lived alone in that studio apartment, hosting parties for the friends graduated from high school with nowhere to drink, until they left for college, partying then instead with the few that remained, before they got into heroin, after grandma had asked me to move out, when she said she'd spot me the rent.
            It was the one with the hole burned into the carpet and pad with the hot red coals of a Hookah knocked over thrice by the clumsy arms of Ali Lespier, the one whose deposit I lost after I couldn't get her to pay, my letter to her, she so devout, asking her simply, if Jesus knocked over hot coals, what would he do?
            Or was it the place in Newport in which I lived after, further still from my old Huntington Beach home, further from the high school friends, another fifteen minutes away and apparently just outside the realm of reasonable navigation. The place that was convenient when grandma died, because the cemetery was just down the street - no, I don't need directions, I go to Taco Tuesdays at Taco Rosa, it's near. But that's not right. I didn't drink then. I wasn't twenty one. I was nineteen. I mean I did, but it wasn't legal. It's been a long time I've been going to Taco Rosa. The first time though, with grandparents - grandma - and foolishly asking them if they could make my enchiladas, if they don't mind, just a bit extra spicy.
            I've accumulated homes like I have cardigans: integral to life, as natural as skin to my body, at times as itchy and uncomfortable as the old woolen ones from Brooks Brothers, the hand me downs, at times like silk so easy to slip out of, and into. 
            Looking back to remember, into that rearview mirror, caught up on some memory in the turnpike highway of my mind, turning me back, forward, now, into the distance. After years of back and forth, trading times on weekends, moving out of mom's house in Huntington to grandma's in Newport, only to return like MacArthur: I told you all I'd be back.
            When I return "home" now, getting off the 405 north needing to get to Beach and Garfield, I'll get off sometimes before Harbor boulevard, so I can see my old school, those community college stomping grounds, but most of all, the bus bench at which I'd wait in those long Indian summer afternoons after coaching, ready for the two hours to drive fifteen minutes home, ruing my two-Boston-Lager-impress-a-girl-stupid-time-to-drive-home mistake, license suspended. 
            Home are places I have left, and don't plan to return, though I will. I may be through with the past, but that doesn't mean it's through with me. And each time I head south on the 5 with all of that in my mirror, windows down, sunglasses obnoxiously slid over my face, I know the image in my rearview mirror is far from distant. Because I carry with me my home. I am home.
            When I get caught in the traffic of the OB street fair, I am home. When I order a twenty two ounce Green Flash IPA from South Beach, I am home. When I get that smell coming up from the cliffs as I read a book to myself on the sand, I smirk, knowingly in a moment of camp - I am home. When I turn the pages of that novel I've been putting off reading, the one that reminds me too much of people I spend too much time trying to forget... you get it, I'm home.
            Home is not where the heart is, home is where the heart has been: it's the places you've come to fear and loathe and love the most, the places that have left the coffee and wine stained marks on the pages of your novel journey, the aches and pains left from that hit long since on the football fields of your adolescent past, the marks on your back from laying out to catch that one pass too high, that mistake of pride and youth and macho bravado ignorance from a way back September. Home is where I have been, where I will go. It's in bars of New York City I've never been to, in the pubs of London I've since left, in the streets and alleyways of downtown San Diego that smell of hobos' piss.  Home is everything I have known, and will come to know, but don't ask me where it is, where I'm from, where did I go to high school. I graduated from Huntington in 2008. I lived most of those years in another town. I don't mind if you ask me to explain. But please forgive me and understand if I get didactic. Please get it if my story's path doesn't chart along the straight and narrow. Please understand the fits and starts, the stops and turns, the various backward plunges and stumbles over the delicate, the since forgotten, over what still to me is unknown. For I do have a place called home. It's in me, to unravel.
Collecting Interest (an article in USD's "The Vista" newspaper)
            In Wes Anderson's film "Rushmore," the playwriting underdog protagonist is approached by a Scotch drinking, cigarette smoking and divorced Herman Blume (played by Bill Murray) as Fisher serves as his academy's traffic monitor. Noting Fisher's indelible smile, Blume asks him a question:
            "What's the secret?" Blume asks Fisher. "You look like you've got it all figured out."
            To which, Max Fisher responds quite simply.
            "I don't know," Fisher says.  "I think you just gotta find something you love to do, then do it for the rest of your life. For me, it's going to Rushmore."
            As spring begins, as seniors prepare to graduate, and as the rest of us upperclassmen begin to think of stepping into what Tom Petty termed "The Great Wide Open," we are faced with a critical question. Yes, we've spent at least four, perhaps even five years at a university. We've earned a degree. And, like the final scene of the Graduate, as Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross stare into the camera from the back of the bus, the question begged is this: "So, what now?" What do we do with the degree we've presumably earned? Do we know? Did we know all along? And if so, what brought us to that decision? We've already faced this once as current upperclassmen. As freshmen or sophomores, we were forced at some point to declare a major. That decision, one in a series that inevitably close other doors, as every decision we make closes off other options, was one step in a direction. Whether it is the 'right' or 'wrong' one is up for debate, and up for us to find out over the next twenty something years. But we had to make a choice. So, how did we?
            When faced with the choice of which major to pick, how does one begin? There are plenty of lists online, like CNBC's list of "America's Highest Paying Jobs 2012" which includes occupations like air traffic controller ($114,460 per year average) or the blandly named job 'sales managers' ($116,860). But even already, there is an ethical dilemma: Do we pick a job based on its pay? Should we pick a major predicated upon its expected monetary return?
            While each person's position is different, and while there is a story behind every face, here at USD, many of us don't know exactly what it means to starve. I could be wrong. Last week, we had a former USD professor by the name of Ron Bonn give a lecture on journalistic standards to those of us in the news room. On the issue of citation or attribution, he said that anything you might say that isn't universally accepted requires some form of support, at least in a well written news piece. Opinion is a bit different. But let me say this: Does anyone disagree when I say that our school is a sheltered place? It is certainly an expensive one, to which $6.75 hummus wraps and over $3 dollar orange juice can attest. Not all of us were born with silver spoons in our mouths. Some of us were. And if we were, it is certainly a blessing.
            My father worked a job his entire life that he hated. So did my mother. So do many of our parents. My father slaved in the company of idiots to perform a task for which he was over-qualified. He didn't like it, but he did it anyway, because all of a sudden twenty three years ago, he had a kid, and he needed to feed him. Now, as I consider my own career options from a position all together different from that of my father, I can't help but feel like I owe it to him to pick a job I can actually stand. Isn't that what we owe to those who came before us, whether it's our great-grandparents or even our dad? For those who suffered and endured lives with the hopes of ones better for their children, don't we owe it to them to enjoy the choices they themselves did not have? I've long entertained passing thoughts of going to Law School. Before beginning USD as a transfer student, the idea of being able to handle that much reading overwhelmed me. After being an English major for several years, and taking courses under professors like David Cantrell, Atryee Phukan and Fred Robinson among others, I feel like I could handle it, if I put forward the effort. Which, is probably a pretty big 'if.' I come from a family of lawyers, and I know what it takes, and I know what it takes out of you. I'd certainly make money. But would I be 'happy'? Does that matter?
            It's really easy to say you want to pursue a job for the love of it when you're eating Chipotle four times a week on daddy's budget. It's easy to say you want to dedicate your life to helping the poor instead of pursuing financial success when you yourself have never suffered. There are a lot of kids from back in high school who held these lofty ambitions. Then, they graduated. Eventually, they had student debt to pay.
            As it stands now, I am thinking of graduate school for English, rhetoric or journalism. As it stands now, I think I need to find my "Rushmore." When I was thinking of picking a major, I took my own advice, that which I gave to my little sister as she was experimenting and trying out for different sports in high school.
            "Find a sport that you enjoy practicing," I said. "If practice is a pleasure, you'll have fun. I learned this the hard way from playing football."
            There are many of us who will have to take jobs we don't like in order to make ends meet. At some point, we can take less money for a job we'd prefer, cut back on having cable, maybe not get that new 3 series, and do our best impression of Ryan Gosling in "Half Nelson," sans the crack addiction. The point is, we can choose to fight the 'good fight' with less cash in our pockets, or we can sell our sanity in the name of financial security. And isn't this a lame choice?
            If there is anything for which I can be somewhat proud here at USD, it's our attempt to inspire students to affect change through socially oriented entrepreneurship. I am no communist: I'm not interested in sharing things communally, nor running a business without a profit. But at the same time, there's a better way to make money than having making money the single goal. It's the new and hip thing: It's Starbuck's 'Ethos' water or its 'Flex' watches; they donate some percent of their proceeds to charity, in an appeal to your sympathy, and your wallet.
            Even if it is a bit cheesy, it does at least make some difference. But are we obligated to make a difference? According to Catholic liberation theology, we are. From that perspective, to the extent to which our brother or sister suffers and we who are able to address it, we are morally obligated. I tend to agree. I'm not a Christian, nor do I profess to believe in "love thy neighbor." But certainly, when I consider the vast and increasing economic inequality in this country, I do tend to consider the poor. The Occupy Wall Street movement brought this to the forefront in the autumn of 2011. In an article from Mother Jones, the same outlet that scored the infamous '47%' scoop on Mitt Romney during the 2012 election, the staggering level of that inequality is revealed.
            Did you know that the richest 10% control two-thirds of American's net worth?Their average income is $161,139. It's a paltry sum, compared to the level at which President Obama proposed increasing taxes, which was for $250,000 a year and up. At just over $150,000 a year, this top 10% would include many professionals, lawyers, doctors, accounts, and other alumni of post-graduate schools. This would include many of our parents here at USD, who are by no means necessarily the gaudy types when we think of the upper class. But here's where it gets interesting. What do you think is the difference between the top 10% and the top 1%? Try about $2.7 million. According to 2010 date sourced from the University of California-Berkeley, the top .01-.1% earn $2,802,020 a year on average. Within the top .01%, that  per year average soars to $23,846,950. The bottom 90%, or nine out of ten of the rest of us, on average, make $29,840. That includes a lot of teachers.
            Plato has a great point about competing interests. His fundamental question "in whose interest does it lie?" inspires me to continually consider the power of perspectives. And speaking of interest, do you know who the top ten richest members of congress are and how much they make? Take Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) as an example. His estimated net worth is $451.1 million. Close behind is Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif) worth nearly $435.4 million. It may not surprise you, but all ten of the richest members of Congress voted to extend the Bush Tax Cuts. Why wouldn't they? It's in their interest.
            But in whose interest is feeding the poor? It's certainly in theirs. If we are Christians and Catholics, it's certainly in ours. And as we get ready to make the decision as to what career we will pursue, do we owe it to ourselves, to them and to our country to consider those brothers and sisters of ours who suffer? Do we owe anything to anyone at all? To echo the theme of the 2012 Republican convention, I mean, "we built it," right? Or maybe we had help along the way. Or maybe some people suffered in order for us to get there. Maybe we owe something to family, to our friends, and to our sisters and brothers from other mothers. Whether it's Adam and Eve, or the prehistoric early human by the name of Lucy to whom all of us share relation, we are, happy or not, one big human family. Our country is our most direct embodiment of this. John F. Kennedy once asked us to consider "not what our country can do for us" but "what can we do for our country." In the 1980s, when "greed" was "good," that may have been laughed at. Before 9/11, owing anything to our country may have seemed a bit strange, before the reality of our inner-connectedness was brought to the forefront, eliciting American flags, suddenly stuck upon every lawn and over every door step.
            As we consider during the ongoing battle over the Sequester as to which direction our nation might step when considering the role of government, I think it might be appropriate to ask, whatever our politics, to what extent we owe anything to others. We might not. But we at least I think owe it to ourselves to find our Rushmore. Nobody wants parents who come home hating their jobs, kick the puppy and complain. Some people don't have a choice. But for those of us who do - what's it going to be?
She's Still Here (a weekly editor's column of mine from the Vista)
            I heard life described in an ethics class as being in a circle, dancing, locked arms with all those you love - your friends, your family - while one by one, they are taken from you by death. It was a morbid sentiment, one offered by a dead philosopher, but it made sense to me as the classroom squirmed: this life is divided into those who think about death, and those that don't.
            Loss isn't easy. It has its stages. We go through them not just in death, but when we lose a friend too. In death, it's final: they're gone. You can't text them. You can't call them. You can't ask for their advice.
            This is what brought random tears to my eyes the other night on my drive home: as I thought of the need to call my mother to ask her opinion on a matter with a friend, I instantly and without being able to help it thought of how much I would like to be able to ask my grandmother instead. The realization - strange, that even years later, it still strikes me like an epiphany - that I can't ask for her opinion, and won't be able to ever again, at least without some serious smelling salts, was bitter and strange. Worse, it was tinged with the realization that I take being able to call my mother for help for granted. Everyday, she wakes up, goes about her day, and goes to sleep. Somedays, she takes a call from me and we talk. Someday, I won't be able to do this. For me, at times, this can be overwhelming. Call it typical Italian male madness over their mothers if you'd like, but I get guilty, no matter how hard to the contrary I try. I can always be a better son. I know I could be a better brother. It's a curious gift even from a benevolent god that we as humans know of our inevitable demise. I don't know if Sparky or Rex thinks about the big doghouse in the sky, if it exists, or if that sexy Shitzu from two streets down will be there too. What separates man from animal is his ability to reflect - his very concept of himself as subject. It's our ability to reflect on our existence, to question it, to attempt to examine it objectively that makes us human. Arguably, it makes us all-too-human.
            I asked a friend last weekend at Coachella when we were bored or hot what the stages of loss were. I hadn't considered them the last time someone died. I thought of them now considering the loss of a friend. Do we experiences those losses similarly? Do we in both cases begin with denial, move to anger, start bargaining, then accept? Come to think of it, I think I went through this when the San Francisco 49ers lost the Super Bowl. What loss - what death robs of the living - is the chance for that phone call for advice. It's never getting your grandma to approve of another girlfriend again. It's Christmases that feel a little empty. It's an empty chair at Thanksgiving. It's also a gift.
            Without our concept of death, without knowing and experiencing that pain, life here with the living would be almost without purpose. All things must come to an end, and thank god or whomever for it: It's finality that brings us to bear with the present. Without this knowledge, our lives would lack consequence.
            But as I've begin to learn, even though those we love die, they never truly leave us. Just because grandma won't be able to tell me how darling my fiance is, I can still, when I get past the pain and the avoidance, hear her voice. As time passes, as I become more accepting, I've gotten to the point where I can stand to hear her voice in my mind's ears. I've gotten to the point when I can smile when I think of her. I've gotten to the point where I no longer avoid it. They say no man is an island, but I think in some way we are. I've said before that sometimes ex-girlfriends are like colonizers - they came, they saw, and they may have conquered - and now they are gone. What do they leave behind? It the case of European Colonialism, it tended to be their architecture, language and cuisine. They may no longer be in our lives. My grandma may no longer be able to demand that before I leave to class in the morning that I eat. But when I say "madder than a wet hen" or "everything has a price" she lives on, and I begin to think it's silly I ever cried when she died: because they never leave us.
            Each and every person, as long as we can remember, as long as our mind works and memory lasts - our family, our lovers, our teachers, our friends, even the guy working the coffee bar who always knew I was hungover - they may leave this earth, but that doesn't have to mean they leave us. I can ask WWJD. I tend to ask What Would Grandma Think? Sometimes, the answer is overwhelming. Sometimes, I don't need to hear about how messy thinks my room is. But other times, I smile, and wish I could hear her ask me if there's anything she can feed me again. I don't need to believe in god to believe I'll see her soon. The truth is she's all around me. She's right here with me. She's the voice in the back of my head. In the end, that's what we are left with by those who leave: it's the gift of their perspective. It's their voice between our ears.
The Lovin’ Spoonful
“Fancy the Cro–Magnon man lodged in the Tower of Babel! He would certainly feel out of his element. Yet this one is not aware of his exile; he goes his own sweet way and nothing touches him. One of the rare sentences I have ever heard from his mouth proclaimed that you could take it or leave it. What did one have to take or leave?” – The Fall, Albert Camus

            I’m not one to make a big deal of birthdays, but being twenty-one, and having cashed in on so few opportunities for big gifts, I thought I had something a little extravagant coming. I don’t think I’d received a birthday gift from my mother for a few years. We’d only recently again started talking. She’d just come into some money, as a result of breaking her ankle in a fall down the stairs. She had it coming, I assure you – there are only so many times you can get away walking with your hands full, drunk, up and down fifteen hard wooden stairs. The doctor who’d treated her fucked it all up.  She’d never walk right again – let alone ski, or run, or jump – but those were things she hadn’t done in years, anyway. Taking such a tumble only gave her all the more reason to not. Without being too morbid – and in an ironic twist of fate I find nothing short of comic – the same Republicans she voted into office, those who cried foul at frivolous lawsuits and screamed for tort reform – they capped her damages. My grandmother’s immortal last words were that “everything has a price.” The price to pay my mother off wasn’t enough to make her rich, only enough to cover most of her debts, and in paying for a room for me at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, she took a stab at paying down the principle.
            I’d called her only a few days before the weekend I’d be going. I told her to cancel the room. She couldn’t understand – but “why?” she asked; only a few weeks ago I’d been so excited and determined – what was it that had changed?
            It was a fair question to ask. Nothing had changed much at all. Technically, I was twenty-one and it was fair for me to drink. Suddenly, we were celebrating the occasion for me to do something I’d been doing since the last day of high school my freshmen year. Congratulations! How’s it feel to be of age? Let me buy your first drink!
            What had changed had occurred in the hangover that followed the night of my big celebration. I would be going to the Chateau the weekend directly following, in exactly seven days. But before that, it was occasion for a dinner, to celebrate my newly legal drinking. And in the manner of every child of divorce, I was pressed to navigate several circles of relations. I’ve grown used to three or four turns at Christmas, of two or three separate trips to share tryptophan each Thanksgiving – Of course I haven’t eaten – I was waiting to see you!  To avoid such an ordeal, the obligation of all the damned attention and shaking hands and yes, why I have grown I thought to throw them all into the same damn room, do the dinner, and be done with it. Surely it’d be strange, having all the distant four corners of my familial life stuck together in the same room, my father with my step-father, mother with my dad’s fiance ( they’ve been engaged over a decade now –  so when’s the wedding?) and that crazy drunk uncle next to that conservative Italian aunt – and me able to drink myself through it, take the birthday money and run – or so I’d hoped.
            The next day, I woke up in nothing more than my suit pants, one of my dress shoes, my suit jacket hanging across the couch, and my coat rack overturned to the side of my bed. Needless to say, it was a two gatorade morning. I felt better after I puked, which I had to self-induce, but after I was done clutching the toilet bowl, things started looking better. I had no obligations for the day, any family members that might call would surely understand and expect me indisposed and hung-over – I could sit on my couch, get high, smoke my joint and watch the Academy Awards, live from the red carpet. It’d be a wonderfully lazy afternoon. I was excited. I had absolutely nothing to do.
            But for whatever reason, and in the manner in which I acted back then, I lit my joint with the patio sliding door wide-open, the smell and the smoke no doubt billowing out into the plaza, the whole apartment building privy to the funny green smell coming again from somewhere amongst the patios. This, altogether, wasn’t out of the ordinary – it was the kind of thing myself, and I’m sure no doubt others got away with all the time – but this was a Sunday afternoon, it was fairly early, and at some point I heard muffled voices, striking a tone of complaint, and fear and the compulsion to hide swept over me. It was the Fear – and it had me.
            It’s constant – it’s non-stop. It’s everyday. No, I mean, I consider myself fairly liberal. Sure – but you have to understand…
            It’s over. He’s complaining. The guy upstairs – it’s him. Was that a woman outside too? What was she saying?
            I think it’s coming from there – yes, I smell it constantly…
            The volume on my television was muted. The room was silent. I crawled on all fours in my underwear – standard hangover apparel – and tried to hear the voices, to move closer, to ascertain the nature of my situation – I was fucked.
            Or was I? Was it all in my head?
            A door in the hall slammed! Might that be a neighbor who’s frustrated? One who’s given up all hope of being nice – he’s finally going to complain! That’s what I get for doing drugs adjacent to the studio apartment of an eighty-year old man – the mother fucker probably voted for Reagan! Hell, he could have voted for Nixon! Jesus Christ, you expect such a man to be liberal? For all you know he could think you’re a dealer! As if I’d sell drugs – but wait, I did. I had sold pot – only to friends, a few times. Jesus Christ, that’s a felony! But they’d need a warrant to search – WHAT WERE THOSE FOOTSTEPS! I heard footsteps in the hall – What was happening?
            You can understand that I was fairly paranoid at this point. I’d been altogether foolish and indiscreet in my drug use, and the paranoia – that of mine is natural, combined with the effects of my chosen drug – had taken full hold. I sat on my couch shivering in fear, contorted into a ball, my arms holding my knees pressed to my chest, as I rocked and tried to convince myself it was all in my head, as if that should be so reassuring.
            Anyway, long story short, after hours of panic attacks and fear and trembling, I called up a girl that I worked with, one who didn’t do drugs, one who I knew in whom I could confide, and confide I did, and for the first time I spoke to someone about “my drug problem.” I’d labeled it.
            The next few days I spent sober – no drinking, no pot, no nothing – and threw myself into journaling, organizing my thoughts, trying to piece together what the fuck was happening. It was the first time in sixteen months that I’d spent more than two back-to-back days being sober.
            And it was in this state of mind, atop my great high-horse, that I told my mother to cancel the reservation for the room, for a night in Hollywood in a hotel on the Sunset Strip, for it could only lend itself to those things I was avoiding. I didn’t say it to her, but I said it to myself: I was tired of being a hypocrite. I told her to donate the room to charity. She demurred. She told me to think it over.
            I did, and gradually relented. It’d be a nice occasion to celebrate a week sober, and I could always just stick to the booze, and nowhere was it written that I had to get so drunk as to feel again so shitty. I’d invite some friends, invite some girls, we’d use the room as a base of operations, and I’d spend my first night out in LA. The hotel still had it’s attraction. It still was a place I wanted to be.
            You remember ******* right? She was the girl I dated – right, she was a year younger. I texted her that week, asking on a scale of 1 to 10 (one being it had no role whatsoever,  10 being the number one, single defining factor ) what role my drug problem had in the breakup of our relationship. She said 6. I'd started really smoking after the funeral.
            Anyway. The requisite Saturday I packed my bags to set off. I’d rolled a joint or two to bring with me in case – one never knows the occasion – and stuck them into a pack of smokes I brought, of which I’d been smoking more of now that I was clean and sober. My oral fixation still needing tending to, you see, but even then it was only a few here and there and every so often – I wasn’t addicted, I assure you.
            I started the long drive up. LA’s only an hour from Orange County – in a vacuum in which no traffic exists. I blared “Exile on Main Street” for the ride, and repeated it three times in the three hours I sat in traffic, then another Stones album, as I watched the hours after check-in time pass, wasting precious seconds of having that room. I sat in traffic and listened:
“I laid a divorcee in New York City,
I had to put up some kind of a fight.
The lady then she covered me with roses,
She blew my nose and then she blew my mind.”
            Finally, I pulled my car up to the valet, doing my best to act like it didn’t matter that my car was covered in one or two layers of filth, that while it wasn’t the only foreign car, it was the only one that was Japanese, and no, really it’s fine. I’m a man who carries my bags for myself.
            I checked in. Yes, all of our rooms are smoking. I carried my bag up to my room, and took it in: it was just as I could have hoped to expect.
            I changed out of the khakis and button-down shirt I’d arrived in, figuring to head down to the famous pool. I brought the novel I’d been working on finishing, having read the vast majority of it in the previous sober week. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you aren’t distracted by drinking or smoking. What excuse could a Mormon ever have for not accomplishing everything? What does that say about Mitt Romney?
            So there I was, at the pool, and then I was at dinner. I ate in a sort of lazy den of a room, the one with the piano, near the front desk, just inside of the garden patio in which there was the restaurant. When I ate, it was busy outside. I sat reading for about an hour before I received any service. I of course took it personally, realizing I was a nobody, and worse, I’d failed to appear to be a somebody, but I was reconciled by the fact that Richard Lewis sat some fifteen feet away, and he had too spent some time waiting. Whereas he waited for fifteen minutes and I waited an hour, we at least both spent time waiting. I grew resentful, and over-tipped the waiter. That, of course, would show him. In that time, I ordered my first drink. Only recently twenty-one, I didn’t know what the hell to say – what does one order? I got a gin and tonic. Conveniently, the largest bottle in the minibar of my room was also gin. As I worked my way back to the room, having finished my first novel, setting out to re-read another favorite of mine, having grown weary of moving my pen and journaling and writing – back to the room, back to a drink.
            Needless to say, at this point any prospect of my friends arriving to save me had by this point withered. Gradually, cancelations had flowed in, text messages responded to with negatives, sorrowful in their sentiment, though I’d known better than to expect any of my friends to drive to LA to participate in such an endeavor. The friends I had in LA were a no-go either. It was quickly coming apparent that I’d be alone, as much as I’d figured and expected anyway. That was probably the real reason I wanted to cancel. I knew that I could expect this kind of thing. I poured another drink, opened the screen-less window, lit up a cigarette, and listened to the sirens as they screamed down Sunset. Another Hollywood death, I thought, perhaps another star dead at the Chateau – if I was lucky. There! That’s it! I’d be on scene to record such an event. I’d have my pen and paper, and a first hand scoop. It was too much to ask for, though, and I knew it. I was soon then distracted by muffled voices from the room next to me.
            It was a party. Young men were standing out on the patio – theirs was a suite – and that blessed sound, that one distinguishable to all men – the sound of young women laughing echoed out into the Hollywood night’s air. It quickly served to depress me. Who were these women laughing next door, preparing for the night of their life? I heard voices. I resented them, madly.
            Woah Brian, what are you doing! Aha!
            Brian was sitting atop the concrete fence that walled their patio off from the seven-floor drop that led to the pool below. He was braving himself into standing. I could hear the girls demur – oh my god Brian, you’re crazy! don’t!  - and again, I grew hopeful. Perhaps this stupid soul would fall, as he was trying to do his best Jim Morrison impression, another Chateau death, and I’d have such an excellent perspective.
            Again, I wasn’t so lucky. Worse, I could hear female voices more clearly. Yeah! We’d go around to random rooms and knock, and just be like, let’s party!
            Terror took over. The thought of some celebratory drunken women and their friends, arriving at my door to discover my sorry ass alone, and drinking gin, and reading – on a Saturday night in LA! I turned the lights nearest my door dark, and slunk towards the room’s couch with my drink.
            After some time, the voices next door became less distinguished, as they finished their pre-gaming and no doubt headed out into the Hollywood night with their friends, ready for the time of their life. I sat in my room assessing my situation. A friend of mine who was unable to come – I knew he wouldn’t – texted me. He asked what I was going to do. How was I going to spend my night?
            At this thought, it became simple. My reservation at the hotel’s bar for six at 8pm had long since passed – six! what a number! – but I could at least now go down for a drink, to check it out…. I realized if I didn’t, that if I stayed in my room alone, I’d feel like a total fucking pussy. I’d wake up tomorrow, hate myself for what I did – or what I didn’t do – and beat myself up over it, forever. With that in mind, I pulled on a pea coat over my white shirt, pulled on my boots and headed out into the night. I brought my smokes and my wallet. I walked the hill down from the lobby and the valet, set out onto Sunset, and quickly arrived at the hotel’s bar. It’s not within the hotel, but next to it. I flashed my ID for access, and took no uncertain amount of pride in being able to enter. I was twenty-one. It was fucking real.
            The entry way of the bar was open-air, such that there was no ceiling but only a sort of lattice, winding against the walls and over, forming an arch above, through which steady streams of smoke slid through, traced back to silhouettes holding their cancer sticks down, and then back to their face, puffing away. I did the same, and did my best to look as though I belonged. I’ve found smoking a cigarette is one of the few things you can do alone and not look like a fool. It’s one of the few things you can do to appear busy and cool simultaneously. If the cost is cancer for the sake of perhaps the world’s greatest icebreaker, in that night, it seemed nothing less than a fair trade. I clung to my cigarette and drew the smoke through my lips, waiting anxiously for the moment in which its flame would expire – in which I’d have to decide what to do next.
            I set out for the bar proper – there was a smaller one just past the entry way, with small tables previously reserved, at which people who looked like they belonged talked to each other and ordered more drinks. Into the main bar, and down the steps, into the crowd pressed against the zinc, at which the barstools were all occupied. I made my way to the service end, next to the DJ, and waited to be served with a drink. It didn’t take long, and as it was I was lucky, a patron left their seat permanently, allowing me the chance to take a seat, which would no doubt make me look like I did at least somewhat belong. I was quick to take the seat, so as to no longer stand aloof. I sat down with my gin and tonic for which I’d given the bartender a twenty, which he felt gracious in accepting the change. Apparently, I’d tipped him well. I had no clue what was the etiquette. I only assumed it was customary to tip twelve dollars on what should have been an eight dollar drink.
            I sat and I stared across the bar into it’s back, looking at the hanging glasses and the displayed bottles, staring at them as if into an infinite distance, doing my very best James Dean. I was the youngest person at the bar, it was clear. I did my best to appear as if I belonged.
            I successfully ordered another drink – this time, I handed him another bill again, and this time, he brought me change. I tipped, probably overly graciously again, but as I’d been served promptly, and as I had a good seat, and as I was twenty-one, I didn’t get so caught up in worrying about it as I would perhaps otherwise. But as I accepted more gin, this time lighter on the tonic, a tall and gratuitously good looking young man in a fashionable black button-down shirt, in shape, with short spiked hair, made his way between my seat and the one directly to the left adjacent. There was no one sitting to my right, other than the DJ in his booth. According the tight fit, and showing his natural hospitality, he said hello, or offered some small amount of conversation, and watching him grow continuously more frustrated at his inability to order a drink – especially after he’d perhaps seen how quickly I’d received mine – I asked him a question: “Does it always take this long to get a drink at a bar?”
            The question was symptomatic of my inexperience in such environments. With the noise of the crowd and the music, there was no way so many syllables could be exchanged in any kind of cogent manner. He looked confused, and I repeated my question. It was to no avail. Finally, I said: ” I don’t know, I just turned twenty-one. I don’t know how these things work, you know?”
            At this, his demeanor changed. His frustration at his inability to procure alcohol for him and his friend at the bar was set aside, as he took in the gravity of my previous statement.
            “You’re twenty-one? No shit? You looked like you’ve done this before, I thought you were way older. Shit, you’ve already got this figured out! You’re way ahead of where I was at your age.” His name was Adam, and at this, it offered him occasion to reflect just where he was at my age, his twenty-first, and what he was doing.
            “I remember exactly where I was when I was your age. I was at Florida State, and I knew I wanted to be a surgeon. I promised myself I would be by the time I was thirty. I set a goal, and I worked towards it. That’s important man. It’s about setting realistic goals, and working towards them.”
            He took me under his wing in those moments back and forth from the bar that night, each occasion for a drink, another occasion for a life lesson. He mostly repeated his emphasis on goals, and I explained to him where I was from, and how I’d received a room at the Chateau as a gift.
            “No shit? That’s some fucking gift.”
            Sometime around my third or fourth gin and tonic (for which I paid nothing, for “being cool,” the bartender told me) I started to settle in to the mood and to the experience going on around me. I looked out onto the bar, and watched the people. I watched the Scarlett Johansen look-alike bartender working the opposite side of the bar – of course, I’d pick the side with the trendy male Asian hipster – and tried to think of the room as a writer would. I looked upwards, and saw that the ceiling was pierced by abstract pieces of torn metal – shrapnel – and tried to think of how that was so poetically fitting. Sometime in the middle of me trying to feel important, Adam asked me a question.
            “Hey, you got any plans tonight?”
            I, of course, did not.
            “Me and my buddy, we’re going to a strip-club later… you want to join?”
            He had me at strip-club.
            “You’ll need at least two-hundred dollars, I’d say, minimum.”
            I wasn’t so sure. Two hundred dollars was a lot.
            “Ah, I don’t know if I have that kind of cash.”
            “Come on, you’ve got a room at this fucking hotel and you’re telling me you’re broke? How much is a night there? It’s like five, six hundred dollars a night, isn’t it?”
            “- but it was a gift, ah, I don’t know -”
            “Well think about it” and at that, he left the bar and went back to his friends standing nearby.
            At this, I began to think. I’d have to withdraw the money from an ATM. It’d mean pulling more money out of my college trust fund, from which I bankrolled my life at that time, taking advantage of a very liberal interpretation of what constituted “educational expenses.” I’d blown through a lot. It wouldn’t be the first time I pulled from the fund more than I should, for reasons I probably shouldn’t, but in the hedonism that ensued after the death of the woman that lead to my receiving the trust, it wasn’t hard for me to justify much with just the words “Carpe mother-fucking Diem.”
            It was a sentiment I’d never really shared with the rest of my friends, you see, for whom losing control and having fun came much more easily than it did for me, an eternally anxious over-thinker. Those friends of mine that had lambasted me for being such a bore, for not trying the drugs they did, or doing as much, for not being willing to go out, damn it all, to let loose – those friends had long since moved to New York before my grandmother’s death, though I still heard their words. After they’d left, and after I’d started to use some those drugs of which for so long I’d not been accepting, I felt a new level of kinship with them, even in the distance - a sense of understanding. Each time they came to town provided me with the occasion – to show them how I’d known I was wrong, how I’d changed – how I wasn’t afraid to Carpe the Diem. That I understood brotherhood now. That I’d changed. More than anything else, I was no longer afraid to die. That’s what it was. I’d experienced death, again, and closely. I’d spent many years afraid of it. I no longer shared such a sentiment.
            The next time Adam came to the bar, last-call approaching, I asked him if he was still going to the strip-club. They were.
            After the strange scene that I’ve learned since accompanies last-call – the moment when the lights come on, the shadows removed, the harsh lights from above revealing the nature of the sexual object in front of you, of being forced in the moment to accept your fate – I ordered my last drink, drank it down, shook the bartender’s hand, and left with Adam and his friend Rich.  We walked down the steps and out the bar onto the street where I lit a cigarette. Adam was talking to some cougar, and though I thought I saw her with what appeared to be a husband, Adam was fairly drunk and didn’t care. He didn’t care when the husband came back, nor did the husband, and though I didn’t understand what was going on, I thought I perceived him taking her number. It was unclear, and I smoked my cigarette as I waited. Adam and Rich and I then set out, headed to the strip-club down the corner.
            The name of the place is “The Body-Shop.” It had a thirty dollar cover charge. Rich paid for Adam, and me too. It was a gracious gesture, and one I respected. It also meant less chance of me over-drafting when I pulled the requisite two-hundred I’d need from the ATM. As we walked from the host’s booth into the Strip Club proper, the decadent and depraved scene struck me in all the fascinating and entrancing horror of a beautiful dead naked women lying in the street. I stared and I stared between pangs of conscience, watching blondes dance, rubbing their bodies against poles, waitresses in what might count as bikinis walking past, looking for their next client on-top of whom to perform their next dance. Adam over-drafted, and Rich had to help him out. The irony of the surgeon being broke in relation to the silly college student would have been funny if it weren’t sad that I was nothing more than a trust fund baby, about to defraud the IRS in using educational funds for a private lap-dance session. Adam, after taking his money and recollecting himself, was approached by a young looking blonde, whose boobs appeared to be real. He pointed towards me and asked, “Have you met my  friend?”
            She hadn’t, and she proceeded to take me by the hand. At first, I moved to shake her hand, corrected myself, and let her lead me (Leave it to me to try and shake the hand of a stripper). She pulled me past the ATMs against the wall, those that stood in a half-circle against the shape of the stage. Past those, and into the VIP area, where she asked if I wanted a really good dance. She told me it would be two-hundred dollars. At this, I took to my wallet, and counted the bills I’d taken, along with those I’d already had. I was having trouble counting, and I thought that I was a few dollars short – how I’d managed that, I didn’t know. But she counted them for me, and reassured me I could always go to the ATM after. Apparently I had enough. She collected my bills and gave them to the large black bouncer behind the counter who took my money.
            She looked into my eyes and took me by the hand, leading me through the curtain that separated the rest of the club from the VIPs. She lead me by the hand through a corridor. On both sides, men sat obscured by the shapes of naked women dancing on-top of them, their bare backs bending and contorting against them. No faces were makable. At the end of the path rested another curtain. She pulled it aside, and I found myself in a room no more than five feet wide. A velvet couch took up most of the room. All the walls were mirrors.
            “You look like somebody, you know?” She said. She sat me down on the couch, and began to straddle me.
            “I do?”
            “Yeah, you’re that guy, aren’t you? You look just like him.”
            In jeans and a peacoat, I could have been anyone. I didn’t try to convince her otherwise. She’d removed her top – a liberal term to describe the material that she wore to cover the nipples of her boobs – and let me know it’d be okay to touch them. Already, being a VIP had its perks.
            “You’re young – how old are you?” she asked
            “I’m twenty-one.”
            “Wow, really? I’m twenty-three. Most of the guys who come in here are so much older. My boobs are real. Feel them.”
            I obliged her. I also felt that because she thought I was somebody, and because I was young, I fell into the trap of believing I had a chance with the stripper. I was different – of course. I told her I had a room at the Chateau. This impressed her, as I expected it would, and as she continued to grind against my body, pressing her breasts – I’d confirmed they were real – directly into and against my face, she asked:
            “Do you like to party?”
            Of course! What does one say to such a thing? “Yeah, I do. That’s what I’m going to do later in my hotel room.”
            Yes – well played sir. Be it the gin or the feeling of cocksureness that comes from a naked woman atop of you who aims to please, I felt clever in offering her the chance to inquire into my plans for later.
            “Really? -”
            At this, bending herself over, her hips still atop my mind, her body bending such that she could take her purse – was it there the whole time? she couldn’t have been wearing it – and out of it, she pulled a small spoon, scooped up a tall mound of white powder, and offered it up to my nose.
            At this, the moment froze. I thought of the cost, of doing a random drug with a stripper in the VIP lounge of a seedy stripclub on the Sunset Strip. I reflected. I knew I had no choice. Quite vividly, clearly, and consciously, I said to myself the words of a favorite author: “Buy the Ticket. Take the Ride.”
            Sniff. Sniff.
            After I’d pulled two white mounts into my nostrils, she offered herself some of the same. Seeing her do the drug as well was no doubt reassuring.
            “We should party later – how much more do you got?” she asked.
            Fuck. It became quite clear that “Do you like to party” is code for “do you want to do some coke” and that when I told her I was “partying later” I’d told her I had a hotel room with more coke, and that she’d offered me her coke only after I’d made this clear. I was fucked. Once it came clear I didn’t have any more, her mood shifted, and terror began to take shape. The curtain tore open – “time’s up!” Another large black bouncer, without the faintest hint of a smile or of friendly sentiment, now led the girl and myself out of the room, as I pressed my pants down and shifted nervously.
            “You’re gonna tip me big, right hun?” she reminded me.
            Of course. I had to pay for the drugs. She expected another hundred dollars.
            Fuck. Me. She followed me to the ATM, as the large bouncer loomed behind, just barely distant. I typed into the ATM and prayed to not over-draft. I prayed and I hoped and I despaired, desperate that the machine should spare me, that five more twenties come out, that I could turn to the stripper and the bouncer behind her and be free of any indemnity or obligation. The machine beeped pleasant, dispensed the cash, and I turned to her to say -
            And she took the money and split. I laughed to myself and walked off. I didn’t look for Adam or Rich. I knew they’d understand. I set out onto the Sunset Strip, lit a cigarette, high from the blow, and a little bit drunk, and felt alive and living.
            I opened the door to my room. It was empty, just as I’d left it. I was back to where I’d started. Nothing had changed. The only difference was what I’d done. Otherwise, it was exactly the same. I laid a long time alone in my bed before sleeping. I still missed her. Both of them.