In response to the International Olympic Committee’s recent decision to drop wrestling from the Olympic games, the United States Congress, in its tireless pursuit of avoiding any actual responsibility, has taken up the issue.
For someone so fat and loud, Santa has a way of sneaking up on people. With just five days until Christmas, and you having accomplished about as much shopping as you have self-improvement over the past month, Evan Allgood and A.C. DeLashmutt (of “Evan and A.C. Disagree” fame) have you covered. Don’t know what to get your mother? That cousin you can’t stand? The man who has everything, or nothing? That girl you just started seeing? Grab your credit card and start—er, continue—reading, and please, for the sake of keyza partiers’ everywhere, check your inhibitions at the door.
My first morning back home in Virginia. I have a piece of toast in one hand and the ear of a Labrador in the other as I bend over the Post, chewing. Jamon is streaming NPR on his iPad, something about Black Friday, door-busting 50% discounts on plasma TVs, strikes, crush injuries. I’m not really listening; I’m hate-reading The Family Circus. Yesterday’s caption was, “I’m not eatin’ as much today because I’m planning on overeatin’ tomorrow.” Today, “It won’t cost you any money, Mommy. You can just pay with a credit card!” I stop chewing, stick out my tongue and let a sodden bite of toast plop back onto the plate. My sister’s face is stricken. “I wish you’d stop reading that one,” she grumbles.
I was alone and there was no sound at all. Towering rust-red dunes circled the flat I stood on—I could see wind flinging sand from the high crests, but I couldn’t hear it, only the rasp of the white saltpan under my feet. Around me, dead trees twisted out of the ground, shriveled and black like the hands of something mummified. The shadows of the dunes fell halfway across the bowl they ringed, and the shadow was stronger somehow than shadows elsewhere, denser, so that the salt on one side of the line dazzled me with reflected hot white noon, while on the other side it seemed hours later in the day, nearly the end of it.
Some places are so ancient, the gravity of the eons they’ve endured so strong, that you lose the sense of yourself as a thing with mass, with weight—you feel light, legless, minute, like a mote of dust, and you scrape your shoes against the salt earth just to reassure yourself with the sound you make. This was one of those places. The Dead Vlei.
First of all, relax. It’s Saturday. It’s not even raining. On your way back from morning yoga, stop by the greenmarket and pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers, because it’s so gray and uggo outside. While you’re at it, maybe get an organic brioche and some rhubarb preserves to have at tea time. When you witness harsh words exchanged over the last carton of free-range organic pullet eggs, shake your head and tsk. Take heart in your survival of past weather disasters, such as The Blizzard of 1996, when you got to stay home from seventh grade for two entire weeks. When people try to engage you in conversation about the coming storm, shrug and say, “Oh, you should have seen it in ’96. Now that was weather.”
Scientology! Auteurs! Handjobs and fingerblasting! A naked sand nymph! We here at Trop can’t think of a recent movie that’s inspired such an even mix of exaltation and exasperation as P.T. Anderson’s The Master. It’s plenty critically acclaimed, sure, but it also has been met with some (occasionally valid) trolling by moviegoers (check out those Metacritic scores!). Either way, no matter how you feel about it, auteurist masterpiece or masturbatory mess, The Master is the kind of movie that lingers in your head, the kind of movie that demands some kind of drawn-out conversation. So, if you haven’t found anyone to have that conversation with, then you’ve come to the right place… because the four of us had that conversation for you.
[Caveat emptor: the following discussion is freckled with spoilers.]
EVAN ALLGOOD: Time to kick off this Master discussion. The opening question, courtesy of one A.C. DeLashmutt, is…
Why are Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) so drawn to each other?
Evan’s log, Stardate One-Zero-Two-One-Two:
A fellow Trop author named A.C. DeLashmutt has fired a wobbly, misguided “photon Tropedo” at the Evanprise, making a case for First Officer William Riker as the sexiest Enterprise crewmember. Though I’m comfortable enough with my sexuality to tackle the Picard-Riker argument head-on, A.C. was too remiss (and sexist?) to even acknowledge the existence of the Enterprise’s female crew. Therefore I feel it is my duty to explain why the sexiest officer is not Deanna Troi, or Dr. Beverly Crusher, or… um… Guinan, before moving onto the main event.
In honor of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s 25th Anniversary, A.C. DeLashmutt and Evan Allgood took a (very) fresh look back at the beloved series of futuristic fables, and asked each other the question that has been hotly debated by fans since the dawn of Comic-Con: when it comes to the Enterprise’s spandex-suited crew of intergalactic do-gooders, who is Star Trek’s sexiest? Set your phasers to “stunning,” because we’re about to run a Level 3 diagnostic on this thing.*
I always walk into Washington Square Park from the southwest corner, the chess quadrant, where big men in do-rags hock games like fruit vendors. “You sir! You look like a chess player. Yessir, you do. How ’bout a game?” Toward the center of the park, around the fountain casting off sunlight in a million droplets, the crowds are already thickening. I find a slab of marble dappled in shadows, and sit down to watch. A pair of boxers duck and jab for a small audience. A beard in a trucker hat holds a sign reading “Free Advice.” Next to me a tall man in a muted plaid shirt presses a pen hard into a notebook on his knee, leaving a line of black letters in microscopic capital. A woman in front of an easel holding an oil portrait is listening to a man with a bike. It takes me a minute to recognize that he’s homeless, and it isn’t because of his generally shambolic state of dress—the binder clip holding up my pants just now obliges me to look forgivingly on the sartorial foibles of others. Nor is it his increasingly earnest talk of UFOs. But the pages of the Daily News he’s turning through are so worn that they drape over his hands like a cloth.
At a party a few weeks ago, a stranger said to me: “Tell me about yourself.”
So I told him where I live, and what I do, and I added that my favorite sandwich these days is peanut butter and banana, by way of communicating my opinion that the command “tell me about yourself” is exactly the kind of asinine conversational shortcut that a man “in finance” would use.
In my dream, a woman is screaming.
Wake up! Wake up! Wake up Commerce Street! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!
Mountain Standard Time: Saturday, 8:15 pm
I am a wedding guest. Someone hands me a glass of champagne. I am smiling in a sea of cashmere and class rings. This morning I flew into a tiny airport where private jets gleamed in multi-million dollar rows on the tarmac. “So what’s your tail number?” we ask one another. Around me are tall mountains tinseled in silvery groves of slender trees with leaves whose undersides flash like coins in the mountain breeze. Someone hands me a glass of champagne. Our cheeks are pink from the sun we got fly fishing, hiking, riding the gondola. The bride and groom are glossy blond and blue-eyed and adored. A toast! Someone hands me a microphone, and I talk about happy childhoods and true love and bright futures and make a crack about wearing a bra before my next public speaking appearance. We are laughing, and it sounds like a hundred martinis being shaken at once. Someone hands me a glass of champagne, and dessert is served, a dozen waiters pour through the festooned tent carrying Baked Alaska and sparklers. At every table there is a promotion, a new baby, an engagement, and I say congratulations, congratulations. This is Aspen.
When you walk down the street in the small town you grew up in, you are never merely yourself. You are you, but you are also your affiliated multitudes: yourself at five, your mother, yourself at twelve, your father; one person smiles at your Aunt Matilda, another nods to your father’s cousin Lazarus. You’re the sum of every year you’ve toddled or walked or limped down the street, an inheritance of bloodlines and family alliances and feuds. Mr. Bern at the bakery still slips an extra chocolate chip cookie into your bag for ten-year old you. Miss Gloria at the paper shop still narrows her eyes at the fourteen-year-old you. And at the Reynolds’s anniversary party, Mrs. Welland regards you with feline hauteur, like a Persian on a tasseled pillow. But it’s your mother she’s despising, whom Dad went ahead and married despite what Mrs. Welland considered to be her very prudent advice.
There’s an attitude to summertime loitering that takes a certain knack. Call it, “the art of the stoop.” I like slouching—I’m excellent at slouching—or leaning, or lounging. And until the climate changes, there’s no question of sitting like a lady—no prim attempts at perching, knees together, ankles crossed. No, those are autumn postures.
I despise libraries.
Where other people see shelves of treasures, I see a gallery of horrors. Just look at the west wall of our library as an example; it’s lined floor to ceiling with books. Up on the top shelf (which sags slightly in the middle, under the weight of the tedium it must support), The Cabinet of Governor Elbert Lee Trinkle, 1922 – 1926 leers down like a human skull. Protruding over the lip of the third shelf is Flora of the Amazon River Basin, its leather binding dry and cracked like the shriveled carcass of a spider monkey. Hideously ill-conceived, Miss Bridget’s Guide to Raising Little Girls and Boys for Jesus is a slim volume wedged between two larger books, where it floats like a curled fetus in a jar of cloudy formaldehyde.
When I was little, my family and I lived aboard a boat for two years, and we traveled close to the mosquito-fogged jungle coastline of Central and South America. Our boat was a motor yacht, a steel trawler, well suited for mincing navigation up winding waterways, and less vulnerable to the caprice of the trade winds. I was always relieved when we entered the glossy brown Amazonian river waters, weighted and smoothed by the silt they carried. The blue ocean was beautiful to look at, but the trawler pitched and rolled like a barrel, and I wasn’t allowed on deck when we were underway, where the fixed horizon gave me my bearings.
The midnight streets of Chincoteague have an almost post-apocalyptic emptiness. The air is wet and the streetlamps slime the cracked gray sidewalks in orange light. Houses line the street but nothing moves in them: no TVs flicker, no dogs bark. I pass by a magnolia tree in full, vigorous blossom and breathe in deeply, but there is no scent at all. It’s eerie, is what it is, like a set on a movie lot, or an empty stage.
Nearly every room in Acorn Hill has one or two items of furniture that look a lot like chairs, but actually aren’t. Many is the time we’ve thrown out a hand and stopped someone with “Oh, sorry! That chair’s not for sitting in.” The unfortunate someone will quickly straighten and look behind himself in bewilderment at the not-chair, and then back at us with a hairy eyeball, as if to say, “Well, that’s fine, although where I come from, a chair is a chair, and not an upholstered riddle.”