Down East Customer Service

True story: I’m up in Maine on holiday, and yesterday it was time to seriously lay in provisions for the week–because arriving with scotch, a six pack of local beer and cheese crackers for my buddy the gull seemed, well, lacking.

So I drove into town for all the rest of the stuff adults are expected to consume. And on the way back, there was only one thing left to get. The Pie. There’s a general store on the edge of town that features local gourmet-grade food–the things that inevitably follow behind “artisanal,” “handcrafted” and “small batch.” At the same time, it fully understands the importance of wrapping all the hipster high-end in a semblance of local authenticity. Me, I say decide: either sell me on a bottle of 2008 Chappellet Signature Cabernet or update me on what those Winslow boys are have been up to. I’m good with each, just not both simultaneously.

But the general store is the only place where I can get The Pie–the very specific blueberry goodness that I demolish in the evenings, the portions meticulously planned to last the week. And so I steel myself and opened the door that has one of those bells on a bouncy armature above it. Same guy as always behind the counter–probably 60 but looks older, weathered by sea air.

“Hi there! What can I do ya?”

“I know what I need, thanks,” said as I head to rack where the pies are. This should be quick. Lots of pies, but not a sign of The Pie. “Any more blueberry?” I ask.

“Isn’t that blueberry special? Best damn blueberry pie in region, if I do say so. It’s won awards, ya know.” I did know.

“But are there any more of them in the back?”

“You’re not the first to come in askin’ for that specific pie. Nope–lots of people do. They know it’s the best pie they’ll ever have. And I have to agree! Heh!”

“So . . . you don’t have any?”

“Oh, no–all gone. Sold out, ya see. They sell out quick, because they’re maybe the best pie in these parts and the word’s spreadin’!”

“When will you be getting more?”

“Now that’s a good question–you must be a lawyer! Funny thing, too: lots of people ask me that. Had five . . . No, make that six people asked me that just today. Probably more like 16 if you count the family member standin’ behind ‘em also wantin’ to know.”

“Are they delivered daily?”

“Ha! That’s a good one. I only wish I knew–sometimes daily, sometimes not, sometimes only when she sees fit to make ‘em. Too bad, too, because it’s the best damn pie in these parts–maybe even the world. People want ‘em bad. I know I do. I can’t tell how many times I’ve had to tell folks that; it was almost like breakin’ news of a death. Because people really love that pie.”

“So no pie in the foreseeable future, then?”

“Never said that! Could be here today for all I know. If they do come in today, there’s gonna be a lot of happy people. Folks like yourself come up here for a week, expectin’ that pie–because it’s just so good!”

“Well, what time do they usually come in?”

“That’s another good one–you’re really askin’ the hard ones today, aren’t ya? Don’t have a time because there’s no specific time. Never has been. Those pies come in when they get here, make the whole place smell of blueberries–so good! Then, of course, they sell out–people want those pies, you know–best pies in region. Local blueberries. Everybody asks about those pies. I even wonder about ‘em. We all want ‘em, don’t we? Heh!” He gives me a knowing wink.

“Okay then–I’ll . . . I’ll just stop in until I’m lucky, I guess.”

“That’s the best plan because that’s what everybody else does–they pop in throughout the day, just lookin’ for those pies. Best, maybe, in the world. Wish I could have sold you one, but I can’t because everybody wants one. Too many people lookin’, not enough pies. Heh! Anythin’ else I help you with?”

“That really good cheddar you carry, I’ll have a wedge of that.”

“Oh, that’s great cheddar, isn’t it? Best around here. Easier to keep in stock than the pie. Love that cheese myself. It’s what I eat at home. People are always comin’ in askin’ about it.”

“So yeah, a wedge, please.”

“Wish I could, but I can’t–been telling that to people all day. We’re fresh out of cheddar, not sure when we’re gettin’ more. Funny thing about that, because not havin’ the cheddar has a lot to do with what the Winslow boys have been up to. You won’t believe the trouble they stirred up . . .”

POSTSCRIPT:

https://culturehack.me/2015/08/08/happy-ending-to-the-quest-maine-blueberry-pie/

Problems Solved: Taylor McSwift

True: Fast food is not my thing. Said not as a foodie or politically or with a concern for nutrition. I simply don’t like most of the stuff. Sue me. Cross-examine many fast food complainers and you’ll find they aren’t abstainers by a long shot. But not me; I’m pretty damn close: My window for fast food is exceedingly narrow: precisely one day a year, on the first leg of my drive to Maine for my annual holiday. And sometimes, if circumstances are right, not even then. And so when I do approach a McMuffin, it is always with something close to fresh eyes.

Which brings us to way early yesterday morning. Me, a micro McDonalds, coffee that, insanely, was the temperature of the Sun’s surface and the aforementioned Sausage McMuffin With Egg. Let’s be clinical and say this–it’s a product reverse-engineered as a profitable solution to a multi-faceted problem that includes focus groups, business model, consistency, speed, mass manufacturing, distribution and imperviousness to preparer error.

As a response to all of these challenges, Sausage McMuffin With Egg is a complete success–but that doesn’t makes it acceptable food, merely a solution to McDonalds’ tangle of concerns and my specific circumstances–in the middle of nowhere, with nothing else open and my better judgement clouded by the remaining tendrils of last night’s dreams.

The McDonald’s muffin thingy is food in precisely the same way that what NASA provides astronauts is food–“food” understood as simply being the “best response.”

In this, a Sausage McMuffin With Egg is a Taylor Swift song in my mouth. It stems from the same same set of challenges–for instance, take “Bad Blood.” It’s a piece of pop music reversed-engineered as a profitable solution that takes into account audience, music business model, catalogue consistency, beats-per-minute, studio time, the lower fidelity of downloads and the demands of Taylor Swift’s touring presentation.

As a response to all this, the wildly annoying “Bad Blood” is a complete success–but that doesn’t make it acceptable as anything approaching good music; it’s merely a solution to the concerns of an ultimately disposable pop star. “Bad Blood” is great pop music in the same way a football chant is.

Which, I suppose, also explains why the only time I might suffer through Taylor Swift is precisely one day a year, on the first leg of my drive to Maine for my annual holiday. And sometimes, if circumstances are right, not even then.

Alvaro’s World

To explain this post, it’s best to understand that I write from a sense of curiosity–I write about things I want to understand. I find myself most often slinging words in an attempt to get inside something that intrigues me.

I’m currently on holiday in Maine, and today I finally toured the Olson House, where Andrew Wyeth produced over 300 of his paintings. While I knew the general outline of  Wyeth and the Olsons, moving through the rooms of the house was a slightly odd and ultimately mysterious experience. Odd because Wyeth’s paintings of the farm are so precise that one has the weird sensation of having stepped into each of their frames. Mysterious because while I came for Wyeth and–of course–Christina, I found myself increasingly intrigued by Alvaro Olson, Christina’s brother–a shy, life-long bachelor who lived with and took care of his sister.

Over the course of the tour, he began to fascinate me–always there yet unknowable. I began to wonder about his interactions with Wyeth and his relationship with Christina. And thus upon arriving back at my holiday cottage, I began to write as a way of channeling Alvaro, to walk in his shoes. I suppose I was looking for the emotional reality beneath his taciturn public face.

I have no idea if there’s more of this to come–or even what this is. I’m currently working on another book, so if the shard means to be something larger, it will need to get in line. William Gibson once described the inception of a book as  the first few  rubber bands that are at the core of rubber-band ball: difficult to initially knot, but then afterwards it becomes progressively easier to add other bands.

This feels very much like a first knotting.

1.

She always waves when they drive by real slow, whether the door is open or not. Open door means come on in and say hi–and I always make sure that I’m not there when they take her up on it. The minute I see a car pulling over, I go out and tend to the blueberries. Sometimes, just to be safe, I move farther out and chop up some more wood. But even if the door’s closed, even when she’s not up to visitors, she still waves from the window at them.

Christina says all this attention is silly, that she doesn’t know what the fuss is over, but I know inside she’s a just little pleased. That finally the world don’t turn away, either from good manners or just feeling sorry. So I can’t begrudge her–all this is not normal, but better than she’s mostly known. Though if it were up to me, I’d string one up by his feet; hang him on a pole by the side of  road for to scare off all the others. Just like that dead gull on the post out there in the middle of the blueberries.

I tried to tell her way back before all this started, reminded her of Andy tricking me and also how his father died, like it was some kind of curse. Are you drawing me, Andy? I said. No, no–it’s just the lamp was his answer. But it wasn’t just the lamp. And that was the last time he ever got me. After that I made real sure I wasn’t in any other pictures. Andy’s nice but also stubborn and you always have to watch that. You’d think that would be a lesson for her, but she could never say no to him.

He put her in the dress that she had made for that wedding years ago. When I first saw what he’d done, I stopped being mad because she always looked beautiful in it. I think it was his way of saying to the world that she was special, and in the end the world agreed. That’s the part I didn’t expect. That he really did make her something special for nearly everybody.

I’d listen to him pacing in the room upstairs. When he stopped, I’d know he was painting. And some of all that back and forth must have been about what her dress was going to look like. I still don’t know when he decided, but he had to have asked Christina for it and she had to have given it to him. So in the end I guess she must have liked the idea. But this much I do know–that everybody everywhere thought her pink dress was great.

It’s the brightest color in the whole thing, Andy said. It’s the color of a shell, he said. And after that I could never think about it in any other way . . .

OlsonHouse

Christina's World

Richard Saul Wurman Was Right

In which an important tenet of information theory is illustrated, the strange wisdom of Quentin Tarantino is honored and The Author thankfully avoids killing a general contractor

Years ago, long before Richard Saul Wurman redefined himself with TED, he was my favorite information theorist–or as he preferred to call himself, information architect. And one of the many Wurman-esque things that has stuck with me is his observation that “people only understand things in terms of what they already understand.” This has served me well in terms of all kinds of writing and, in truth, has probably helped me produce more successful work than I otherwise might have. So yes: Namaste, Richard Saul . . .

But now let’s jump-cut to a remodeling project gone wrong. Over the past couple of months, I’ve had my screened porch remodeled. It was one of the archetypical domino projects: What started out as a-small-repair-due-to-a-leaky-pipe expanded to why-not-replace-the-wall, which morphed into a-new-floor-would-be-nice that, in turn, became now-the-screens-will-look-tired-better-do-them-too. So yeah–big-time Project Creep at its dubious best. Bottom line, everything wound up being redone, thus making it the world’s most expensive repair of water damage.

Don’t worry–I’m not here to obsessively share every step of the job. Because that would be the moral equivalent of 15 old-school slide carousels containing holiday snaps of a place you have no interest in featuring people you don’t care about. Suffice it to say that everything went splendidly (if way too slowly) except for one thing: the bead board ceiling.

And I’ll even shorthand the bead board problem: 221 countersunk screws so badly filled that 95 percent of them were still clearly visible in the finished job. Here’s an even shorter description–Fucking Aesthetic Disaster (FAD). Given this, it’s also vital to know something pertinent about me: When it comes to badly executed projects by purported professionals of any sort, I make Steve Jobs look a go-along nice guy . . .

Jump-cut again to the general contractor and me standing on the “completed” porch. He had stopped by under the impression that I’d be settling up with him on the remaining 50 percent of the bill. He was, of course, delusional in ways I’d not seen since the heyday of blotter acid in San Francisco. So we were both standing there, mugs of coffee in our hands, surveying the project: floor, check; new wall, check; rebuilt bulkhead, check; new screening, check; new molding, check . . . But then sadly we ran out of the non-controversial, well-done portions of the porch. There was nowhere left to go except to slowly raise our collective gaze to the FAD that was my bead board ceiling.

There were many things the general contractor could have said at that point, each offering varying degrees of claimed ownership of the problem–even if only implicitly. However, he chose to probe the limits of my annoyance in an attempt to take the smallest possible responsibility. Thus taking a sip of coffee, he asked with an awkward cheerfulness, “Well, whatdya think?”

I, in turn, took a sip from my mug as I simultaneously searched for a diplomatic response and my Happy Place. And as usual, I failed miserably at finding either. “Well, here’s what I think–it’s the fucking ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. It looks like it was installed by blind, rabid, meth-addled chimpanzees with spit, a blunt army knife and a crowbar in-between wanking jags. That’s what I fucking think.” I gave him a dangerous, tight-lipped smile and then pulled on my coffee again. Contemplate those limits, mofo. After which I said nothing, having long ago worked out that it’s always instructive to let the other person fill the engineered silence.

The general contractor simply stared. My liver/fava beans/chianti moment had instantly forced him to cast aside Plans A through F of charming his way out of this. A hat-in-hand offer of a five percent discount coupled with back-slap was now so not the way to go.

“Errr . . . uh, well . . . um, yeah, I take your point. And I want to make this right–I’m going send Fred back to make this right.” Fred was the original installer of the FAD.

“Why the hell would you do that?” Okay, I hadn’t seen that coming.

“Well he’s responsible for this and I’ll make him fix it for you.” I noted that the general contractor had suddenly made himself blameless because now it was All Fred’s Fault.

“No, you won’t be sending Fred back precisely because the Fucking Aesthetic Disaster you’re looking at is either Fred working at the bleeding edge of his incompetence or–worse–in a deeply comfortable groove of I-don’t give-a-shit. Sending me either the same moron or the same guy who can’t be bothered is not the way you’ll make this right. Are we clear?”

This was not going well for the general contractor because a maniac was suddenly standing between him and a four-figure settling-up. “Well, what do you want me to do, then?”

Remembering Richard Saul Wurman’s tenet, I tried a new approach: “What I want from you is Winston Wolf . . . I want you to send me The Wolf.”

“Who the hell is Winston Wolf?”

“Ever see Pulp Fiction?

The general contractor was perplexed at that this seeming change of topic. “Well, yeah–sure . . .”

“Remember when Vincent–John Travolata–shoots the guy in the car? Who do they call?”

He pondered this for a moment. “Um, Harvey Keitel–they . . . they call Harvey Keitel.”

“And Keitel plays Winston . . .”

“. . . Wolf!” the general contractor said, momentarily pleased with himself.

“And what does Winston Wolf do for a living?”

“He’s the clean-up guy . . . for when things get out of hand.” The general contractor was now deeply into this; it was if a pub quiz had suddenly broken out in front of him.

“Exactly. And that’s what I want–Winston Wolf. Because from where I stand, Fred is John Travolta, and he’s just shot my bead board ceiling in the fucking face–the construction version of blood and guts is everywhere. So what I need is a professional clean-up guy.”

The general contractor began to look cagey as he tried his best to play dumb. “How do you know I have somebody like that?”

“I know it because you subcontract all the time, and people tend to be morons and so it follows that a percentage of the guys who do work for you absolutely shoot their jobs in the faces. So yeah, you have a really good clean-up guy somewhere, and I want him here. Send me The Wolf.”

Like a beaten man laying all his cards on the table, the general contractor said, without even pretending to think, “Yeah, okay–I’ll send Phil out next week. He can’t come sooner, because . . . well . . . he’s busy.”

“Cleaning up after someone else, I’m guessing.” At this, the general contractor averted his eyes . . .

Jump-cut one more time to today, as I write this waiting for Phil The Wolf to show up and make right my bead board ceiling. I imagine that just like Harvey Keitel, he’ll come with trash bags and clear me from the area with a curt professionalism. After all, there’s metaphoric blood and brains to attend to and damage to  seamlessly repair–and all this will require Phil’s undivided, specialist focus.

If there’s any kind of silver lining to this sad tale of power exchange and Wurman-eque explanation via classic film, it’s this: The chance, however slight, that Phil will arrive in a 1992 Acura NSX, wearing Harvey Keitel’s tuxedo.

I’ll let you know.

CeilingEpilogue

The Place Where We Started

Notes on the sad state of audio remastering and how
cutting-edge technology is wasted by a greedy music industry
pursuing an increasingly less-sophisticated audience


And the end of all our exploring
will be
to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time

–TS Eliot

Recently I added another three terabytes of media storage space and decided to re-rip some of my CDs to the Apple Lossless format. After all, I now had room for songs that each weigh-in, on average, at 32 MB. Apple Lossless is essentially a bit-for-bit duplication of digital music that’s compressed and converted back on-the-fly to its perfectly replicated state. Thus the whole “losseless” thing–the digitalized music literally is the copied CD.

This has forced me to determine the most pristine source for each re-ripped CD. Which really is a genuine challenge because I collect music–lots of music; more music than you can imagine, and more than I will ever publicly admit to. Normal people have some Bowie CDs–probably not all of them. I, on the other hand, have a three different remasterings of Bowie’s complete works. This is not bragging–it’s an admission of an obvious problem for which I should probably seek professional help. I mention it because it follows that if I have three complete sets of Bowie remasters, well, there must be multiple remasterings of, say, the complete Miles Davis–and, god help us, you’d be right. Thus finding the best source for my new Apple Lossless duplications is a very real problem for me.

And yes, I know what you’re thinking: Well, no biggie, fool–just use the most recent remasters. Advancing technology means increasingly better re-digitaliztions. To which I say in the most world-weary music collector’s tone possible, You’d think, wouldn’t you? But frequently–perhaps even more times than not–you’d be wrong about this.

Let’s digress for a few moments–because an analogy is badly needed. Think of remastering in terms of the restoration of a piece of art. Remember a few years ago, when they restored the Sistine Chapel ceiling? Pretend that Michelangelo’s ceiling is Bryan Ferry’s Mamouna (simply because it’s been the cause of my most recent struggle). Okay, so you’re the art historian-cum-restorer and you’re standing there in the Sistine Chapel, staring up at the ceiling. What’s the first thing you’re thinking–what’s the project’s prime directive so to speak? If you’re sane, it’s Christ on a cracker, this is a fucking Michelangelo, revered the world over–first and foremost I must Do No Effing Harm. To which I once again say in the most world-weary music collector’s tone possible, You’d think, wouldn’t you?

And “harm” for our art restorer, beyond the don’t-physically-damage-the-damn-thing-it’s-priceless, would be a failure to return the Sistine Chapel ceiling to its original state–to fail to honor as closely as possible the Big M’s intention. Easy-peasy, yes? You’d think, wouldn’t you? So it follows that you’d do research–you’d find the earliest possible photos, you’d find the most protected pieces of pigment to ascertain the true colors of the work, you’d consider its entire palette and how the values work in relation to one another. That sort of thing. More full-bore easy-peasy, albeit labor intensive. You’d think.

Now imagine if, when reopened, the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling colors were Op-Art bright–yellows were school-bus hued; blues were all deeply IKB; flesh tones were more akin to those in HD porn. Imagine, too, that the ceiling’s dimensions had been made smaller, and that the background had nearly been eliminated in favor of the foreground. And finally, that God’s hand gesturing to Adam has been repositioned, even though only slightly. So what do we now think of the art restorer? Yeah–me too. I’ll just pop out to get torches and pitchforks for everybody . . .

Let’s review: restorations–physically, visually or sonically–should allow the audience in question to experience as closely as possible the artist’s original intent. We have a goal, we have a path and we have a yardstick by which to measure success. So what the fuck is going on with most audio remastering? This should be easy-peasy, right? You’d think, wouldn’t you?

My recent adventures in ripping cherished CDs to Apple Lossless have underscored something horrifying–for all of the reasons outlined above, close to 80 percent of my remasters are simply not as good as the original releases they replaced and put out-of-print. Far, far from it. In these cases, a Sistine Chapel ceiling went into the remastering studio and a version painted on black velvet came out. Easy-peasy my ass.

On the way to ripping Bryan Ferry’s 1994 Mamouna, I did A/B comparisons of four CD versions to the original UK vinyl pressing of the recording. And because I sense that the suspense is killing you, I’ll cut to the chase: the US Virgin 1994 CD of Mamouna–its first appearance on compact disc–blows away the touted-at-the-time 1999 remastering in all possible ways. The 1999 remaster narrowed the sound stage, eliminated space between instruments and lost an integrated sound in favor of individual instruments which were all made to take what can only be described as the in-place equivalent of solos. We’re talking an aural aggressiveness that borders on harshness. And so 19 years on, down a road that passes by massive technological advances in sound processing and digitalization, I’ve chosen the first CD appearance of Mamouna to preserve with a lossless technology that didn’t exist when it was released. This is so not easy-peasy; this is unacceptable. We have the capability of exactly capturing Bryan Ferry’s intention two decades ago, and we choose not to do so–to instead rethink the release in a way that, one can only assume, makes financial sense 19 years on.

By “financial sense,” I’m not referring to the cost of the remastering itself. Because in this case the tapes were in good shape and, given the history of sound recording, 1994 wasn’t that long ago. You want cheap? Here’s contextual cheap: Find the master tape that’s upstream of the version EQ’d for vinyl. Play it back on the same deck that recorded it (or one like it) connected by a single cable unmediated by any sound processing devices to the best digital recorder you have. Sample the master at 192kHz/24-bit. Done: a near-perfect sonic snapshot of what Ferry left on the original mastering recorder when he exited the studio well-pleased two decades ago. How hard can this be? All things considered, it’s easy-peasy. At least you’d think, wouldn’t you?

So no, the “financial sense” I’m referring to is the only metric the music industry pays attention to–the number of units moved, or–in this case–the number of units resold to those who already have a copy of Mamouna and, hopefully, to new, younger potential fans. For those already owning Mamouna, the remaster has to sound “new;” for younger, potential fans, Mamouna has to sound of-the-moment rather than 19 years old. And the single answer to both these needs is to change the recording by way of deforming it in the remastering. This is definitely not about Artistic Intent. Rather, it’s about differentiating as if it were Coke New Mamouna from Old Mamouna for one market and making it of a piece with the compressed, shrill and MP3-based music that’s the sonic reality of younger audiences. The music labels change releases when remastering them because it makes marketing (and therefore financial) sense for them to do so.

Purists will insist that however onerous, this technically remains a remaster rather than a remix–but I don’t. Because when a previously subtle bass leaps to the front and comes thundering out of the speakers, when the sound stage narrows, sifting instruments to the center in a kind of stereo-mono and when integrated instrumental interplay is shattered by hyper-detail in the manner of an overcooked HDR photo, it is a remix in all ways but the name. Who you gonna trust, the purists say–us or your lying ears? Me, I’m going with the thing that walks and talks like a duck.

I’m genuinely outraged by all of this. We’ve reached a point where we can almost be plunked down in the studio next to Bowie as he records Station To Station or with McCartney as he listens to the final mix of Ram or by Harrison’s side at the playback of All Things Must Past. Instead, we got terrible remasters of all these recordings–garish parodies of themselves–like film stars with too much Botox . . . It nearly makes my music-loving head explode.

But having said this and understanding that my ranting is ultimately useless, I still cling to the dream that someday the best music in my collection will be direct, flat transfers from the original master tapes. And if I can further hear the splices between songs, I’ll be even happier. Given today’s technology, this should be easy-peasy. You’d think, wouldn’t you?

Out On The Edge Of Generic

And I’m hanging on a moment of truth,
Out on the edge of glory…
–Lady Gaga

I’m just back from a trip into the deepest exburbs of Virginia that’s left me agitated in a way that seems close to an anxiety attack. Now it must be said that I usually do anything to avoid the Virginia exburbs; that even a flight from Dulles is pushing it for me. Over the years, I’ve jokingly ascribed this avoidance to the fact I have the exburban equivalent of refrigerator blindness; that past Dulles, I always seem to get instantly lost–turned around out there not from any unfamiliarity with landmarks, but rather from their complete absence. And in retrospect, I suppose, this should have seen as a warning sign . . .

I was returning from the unavoidable errand, maybe 60 minutes outside Washington, when my growing unease turned into, well, anomie. Or something like it. The absolute sameness surrounding me and stretching into the distance was suddenly overwhelming.

Each wide-spot in the road, those places where any other culture would have placed towns, featured identical post-modern shopping centers with the same beige-and-brown stores; where the signs in the parking lots were always name/noun-place–and where those places were always Run, Creek, Crossing, Commons or Square.

In the distance, townhouses were precisely punctuated by McMansions. I had a vision of driving by them at 90 miles an hour and watching them rhythmically pulse in the same way a picket fence would. These too were beige-and-brown–as were the gas stations, hospitals, post offices and medical centers. And everything–shopping centers and housing alike–was designed in an oddly sinister homogenization of all American architecture since, say, 1920. In no way timeless, but rather out-of-time–as weird as the always-conceptual and mediated bagels of Butte, Montana. Structures that half-heartedly tried to be proportionally charming only to end-up zombied by their own blandness–a simplification dictated by pre-fab construction rather than minimalism.

And I’m driving through all this surrounded by nearly identical SUVs, all in the same palette of earth-tone colors, as Lady Gaga’s pop-commodity voice belts out “Edge Of Glory” over the boom of  predictably beige beats and a stuttering, radio-fodder hook. It sounds exactly the same as anything else on any other Top 40 station, and then the conceptual-and-mediated sax solo appeared, sounding as if it were built from samples of “Baker Street.”

And there’s miles upon miles of this sameness–there’s 60 fucking straight minutes of this non-landscape–and the Gaga song never seems to end and all the mommies in all the matching SUVs all have ponytails pulled through the holes in the backs of their matching baseball caps. And that’s when the sense of anomie started; that’s when uneasiness began to feel like an anxiety attack. Think the precise opposite of agoraphobia–not fear of wide-open spaces, but cultural claustrophobia instead. And, of course, there was no pulling over–not there; not in the middle of all that. It was Bat Country, and I was the poor bastard who had finally realized it . . .

Hunter Thompson once described Las Vegas as what the world would be doing on Saturday night had Hitler won the war. I similarly think that the exburbs of Virginia are the final triumph of the Pod People from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. It’s what developed 50 years after Kevin McCarthy ran through traffic screaming “They’re Here!” These exburbs are where the Pod People hang out while planning their next weekend junkets to Vegas.

And most damning of all, they’re where Lady Gaga is still considered edgy.

The Truth About HBO’s ‘The Newsroom’

On the level of storytelling, HBO’s The Newsroom is abysmal. Remember Basil Exposition from the Austin Powers franchise? Well, on this show, everyone is Basil Exposition. And Aaron Sorkin should be deeply and abjectly ashamed of this. If, of course, Sorkin were in the storytelling business in terms of this project–which he isn’t.

The Newsroom is nothing less than porn for media critics–and in this narrow mission it entirely succeeds. An entire cast of fictional characters consistently speaking in painfully self-aware and sledge-hammer explanatory ways is, well, as unbelievable as a pizza delivery guy having instant, hot, three-way sex with a well-endowed customer and her equally blessed friend (who may or may not be a younger sister). This is not a failure in dramatic construction–it’s the whole point. Rule of thumb: if you’re perusing porn (or Sorkin’s show) for the story, well, you are so watching the wrong thing . . .The Newsroom has the precise dynamics of an X-rated film for the specialized audience it’s targeting–those who care about news and the news business, and who are appalled by its abdication of mission and authority. What the fans of The Newsroom are exclusively waiting for is The Money Shot–the rants about what news once was, what it’s like now and what it could be. The manner in which we get there, lamentable as it may be, is ultimately of no concern. Go ask a porn aficionado whether believable characterization and realistic psychological motivation regarding pizza delivery guys are needed or even necessary. All that wooden failure to convey the quotidian is simply breath-catching filler between the ongoing tangled limbs and orgasms–put up with by the audience because sex (or its analogue, intellectual validation) is bound to pop up sooner than later.

Aaron Sorkin is to media critics what Russ Meyer was to fans of impressive breasts. Full stop. End of story. Fade-to-black with the cold-bloodedly soaring theme music.

No one loathes The Newsroom-as-failed-dramatic-vehicle as much as I do. But after three episodes, I find myself still watching–a slave to the cheap intellectual thrills and release of its glistening and throbbing media critique.

I’m not proud of this, but there you have it.

Sue me.