Ariel Gore’s Atlas of the Human Heart. Heartbreaking, depressing, funny as hell – in equal measures, sometimes all at the same time.

Eric Schlosser’s Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market. I read a bunch of reviews that compared this one, unfavorably, to his earlier work Fast Food Nation. I found this to be a worthy follow-up and suspect that it’s the lack of humor in this book that left the critics wanting. It’s much easier to wax poetically wacky about a machine that shoots french fries than about migrant workers in California, outrageous prison terms for medical marijuana possession, or the absurdities of the Meese commissions pornography witchhunts. That doesn’t make the book any less compelling, in fact I sacrificed a lot of sleep while reading it. I don’t know which of his works I’d prounounce “the best”, I thought each stands on it’s own merits.

Schlosser is talking Wednesday night at Politics and Prose, by the way. Let me know if you’re going. (And Jonathan Schell will be there reading from Unconquered World on Tuesday night, incidentally).

Also last week was Pink Think: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons, Lynn Peril’s dissection of the cult of femininity. (Here’s a tip girls: no matter what the manufacturer told you, never douche with Lysol. Eeeesh).

I’ve isolated some of the problems I had with Neil Gaiman’s book, American Gods. Throughout the whole book I pictured the hero, Shadow, as Tony Curtis, his deceased wife as Susan Strasberg, and Wednesday as Burgess Meredith. It took me quite a while to realize I was even doing it. Once I came to that realization, it didn’t take long to figure out why. I was relating the book to a decades old movie with a strikingly similar plot. In The Manitou the Manitous of the old religions and the Manitous of the new technologies have a show-down in an icy alternative universe. Poor Tony Curtis, who heretofore thought he was only a magician and con-man finds himself playing the role of savior of the world, or at least of Susan Strasberg, who has sprouted a 4,000 year old Medicine Man from her back. Okay, so I’m not saying The Manitou was a good movie, as it most assuredly was not. In fact, it’s Bad in that delightfully mindbending way that makes it hard to describe. Unfortunately, reading American Gods makes me want to fish the tape out and watch the damn thing again.

As for American Gods, I think it could most definitely have benefited from another draft to craft some of the clunkier sections. The heavy-handed foreshadowing could have been fine-tuned too, so that maybe the ending could have been smoother, or at least made less of a dull thud. Nonetheless, it was nice escapism.

spicy suction cups

Just wanted to say “spicy suction cups.”

Friday night – 11 p.m.
My phone service is out, although it’s taken me forever to convince the phone company that it’s out. First I had to explain the concept of “Yes my phone is out, I’m calling on a cellular phone” to the service agent. You’d think the phone company would understand that in The Modern Era one can have a dead phone but still call you from inside their own home, but you’d think wrong.

No phone=no access to blogger. At least the power is still on so I can save this in wordpad. (I hope I don’t grow to regret that statement, there’s quite a windstorm doing ominous things to my trees right now).

I’ve got the house to myself this weekend so I rented a movie. Usually when this happens I pick something innocuous only to discover I’ve inadvertently rented the horror sleeper hit of the season and I get no sleep. I strolled around the store and settled on one with a glowing list of cast credits on the box that included “from TV’s Blossom” and “from My, Myself, and Irene” – not exactly the cast list from a classic horror movie, right? (Well, it sounded like a horror movie – but not the scary kind.) I decided to get it in light of that fact that last time I was on my own I picked Urban Legend and it was almost as stupid as I expected, although it had a few good scares. Otherwise, it was harmless. The follow-up to any horror movie almost always degenerates a bit so, in keeping with my newfound obsession with sequels, I decided to rent Urban Legends: Final Cut.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Not the movie. Me. Well, also the movie, but mostly me. In the first 15 minutes it’s actually had a few good scares. Not to mention that as soon as I put the disc in the phone service went out. And the neighbors were all away too. And the phone company argued with me that my service wasn’t out.

Right out of the gate, I discover that UL II was directed by John Ottman. The guy who scored AND edited Usual Suspects, which, coincidentally, I watched last night. The guy – in my opinion – most responsible for making Suspects dramatic and suspenseful. I suspect I’m in trouble. So far it’s funnier than scary – but there again I can really get into a movie where film students bump each other off. I’m rooting for the Assistant Director, but that may relate to some unresolved issues of my own?

Uh, at any rate, it’s, you know, edgy and clever and fun. And scary.

Saturday – 1 a.m.
There was a scene so unbelievably scary it’s hard to describe properly. Our heroine is the Plucky Blond Film Student. She’s shooting a horror movie, don’t ya know, about a serial killer at a college who kills his victims based on urban legends. Can’t ever be too self-referential – this sucker has “written by film-school grads all over it.” Film school grads: clever, clever people who can never make too many movies about students making movies…

Then the cheap doublesided DVD crapped out and filled the screen and I spent 10 minutes windexing the disc and convincing the movie to play again. And the phone is still out. And just as I got the disc to play the power blinked out for a few minutes.

Where was I? Oh yes, so it’s the scene where all the students scream at midnight to relieve stress during finals and the killer strikes at 12:00 and no one hears his victim scream. It’s midnight (how convenient) and the crew has just left the set and the director and a few assistants are recording wild tracks of the talent screaming. The actors stop screaming but the director, wearing headphones and operating the boom, can hear the screams of the Director of Photography, who is outside being bludgeoned with his own lens. (That isn’t the scary part. Maybe it was supposed to be, maybe I was too busy entertaining fantasies of my own to notice that it was scary).

Dramatically, the Plucky Blond Film Student DROPS THE BOOM. This is a bad, bad, bad thing. It falls in slo-mo to the floor. When that mic hits the floor anyone wearing headphones is going to be deafened. As that boom made it’s excruciatingly slow free-fall my skin didn’t just crawl, it crawled off my body. Jesus, Mary and Joseph they should not be allowed to show graphic stuff like that in a movie. Of course when the boom does hit the floor it only makes a dramatic orchestral sound, but by then the damage to my own psyche was done and I was curled up in a ball whimpering like a puppy.

Did I mention that my phone is out?

Once the movie was over I decided I’d go up to bed and read. I’ve got an old book I’ve been reading on the bed table. I go upstairs and the book is gone. Gone in that way things are gone in horror movies. A-big-empty-space-where-the-object-used-to-be-gone. After I start breathing again I find the book. It turned out it was just behind the bed, cat must have knocked it off. No big deal. The book – Patricia Cornwell’s Southern Cross is terrible, by the way. We not only get the internal thoughts and motivations of a bunch of characters we don’t care about, we get the internal thoughts and motivations of a dog and a cat. This is all wedged in amongst the endless list of brand-name products her characters use, drive or wear. Don’t waste your time.

2:30 a.m.
In the movies, the killer always hides behind the floor-length drapes. What possessed me to buy floor-length drapes? There’s no one behind the drapes, though. I checked it out with the aid of my trusty guard cat. I figure holding a cat out in front of you at arms length is almost as good as following a guard dog – cats can scratch, right? Actually, my cat would just try to lick someone to death. Useless cat.

3 a.m.
As a kid, I could never go to sleep if my closet doors were open even a crack. I always forget about that til I’m home alone. I have no closet doors. Why don’t I have closet doors? How can you sleep without closet doors? What was I thinking? Home Depot is open 24 hours and they sell closet doors. Can I fit closet doors in the back of my car? Can I install my own closet doors?

Can you get brain cancer from sleeping with a cellphone under your pillow?

4:30 a.m.
After considering just staying up all night and being productive instead of laying in bed fretting, I fell into a deep sleep. Why am I up now? Maybe it’s because the phone company decided to call me to tell me my phone was working again. How very fucking considerate. Remind me to send you a fruitbasket for christmas.

6:30 a.m.
The Renn-Fest neighbors are back and seem to be deploying a howitzer in their back yard. What are they doing?

8 a.m.
I had the worst nightmare. I was having lunch with a bunch of realtors and they were telling me it was such a shame I’d never be able to sell my house and move to a new one. There was a lot of market mumbo-jumbo and jabbering about the recession to end all recessions. Now, not even factoring in the fact that my house is not on the market and I have no plans to put it there, what kind of capitalistic-yuppie-bullshit nightmare was that? Why did I wake up in a cold sweat over that?

Who doesn’t love a stomach virus?

Reading the Iron Chef companion book. Big Mistake. More nausea.

Reading Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama. Big Mistake. More nausea.

Watching TV. The Learning Channel. Benign fluff. Okay. Out of nowhere they join a new program already in progress that I can only guess was (or at least should have been) called World’s Bloodiest Cesarean Sections.

Big, Big, Big Mistake.

We should have gone to Philadelphia this week to the conference, but we didn’t.

Having just (finally) read Don DeLilo’s White Noise, Ms. Skarlet saw too much of herself in the American Studies scholars who only read the backs of cereal boxes. It was terrifying. She couldn’t go. Novel-induced fear is, we would like to point out, the perfect post-modern pop-culture excuse for ditching an academic conference. Additionally, there are no Waffle Houses in Philadelphia. This is not a good situation.

plucked from the ashes of the archives, reposted 02-23-07