all the bleeps that bloop.

all the bleeps that bloop.

Boys Will Be – Phil Lamarche’s American Youth

I bought a withdrawn book from the library five years ago, so naturally, I got around to reading it last week. In American Youth, a boy mostly referred to as “the boy” is on the cusp of high school and is growing apart from his closest friend Terry. When he’s hanging out with two other kids—brothers—he gets enticed into showing off one of his father’s rifles. After a terrible accident, the boy tries to balance his conscience against his mother’s hope for his safety, paternal pressure to not be a general fuckup in his absence, and his own longing to fit in with someone, anyone.

The boy eventually falls in with a budding hate group called the American Youth and gets his loyalty tested at every turn. On a plot level, the book is tight and propulsive, but when I knew that I was going to finish this book in two or three sittings at the most was when I came across this passage from when the boy has breakfast with his father, who has returned home briefly to check in after the accident:

“The boy and father sat kitty-corner to each other, the boy hunched, his head hanging. The father was barrel-chested and gray-haired. His elbows dug into the table, his eyes scrambled behind thick bifocals. As a child, the father had a cyst removed from his left eyelid and now it sagged slightly. It gave him an inquisitive, untrusting look.”

I only included those final two sentences for fun. What got me was the sentence about elbows, eyes, and bifocals. In a paragraph where 99 percent of writers would give you at least some information about the food on the table, Lamarche gives you verbs and adjectives that are easily applicable to food but used only to describe the boy’s father. I love a weird choice like that. It’s destabilizing, and somehow also assures you that you can trust the person creating this world.

Furthermore, this book, which came out ten years ago, presages things like the alt-right and the fallout from the Great Recession that was still a year down the line. And honestly, given the backlash against memoirs like J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, it might serve us all to get our truth from fiction for a while. At least for the next hundred days or so.

Cavett Cavity – Problematic with Moshe Kasher

Comedy Central launched a new show two weeks ago, and it’s stepping into an important cultural gap that’s remained largely unfilled since interviewers like Dick Cavett stopped appearing regularly on TV. [1] Yes, there are hard-hitting and thoughtful shows from the likes of Charlie Rose and John Dickerson, but that balance of depth and unexpected ranginess in conversation, punctuated with spontaneous humor, is hard to come by.

When I was in high school and college, the show that could scratch all those itches was Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, a panel show where Quinn would shoot the shit, roast and get roasted by other comedians in his New York orbit. It was the first showcase of Patrice O’Neal’s brilliant invective, and it disappeared way too soon from the airwaves. Now we have Moshe Kasher, and I think he is up to the challenge of filling Quinn’s shoes.

In each episode, Kasher announces a controversial topic and introduces a panel of two or three people to have a somewhat uncomfortable conversation on the topic. The first episode dealt with cultural appropriation, a subject of special interest to Kasher because he grew up as a wild child in Oakland, eager to fit in with his mostly black peers. He talks about calling his friend “nigga” and how his friend shut that down with the quickness. Also, Kasher co-hosted The Champs, a podcast that was prima facie created to facilitate conversations between Kasher, Neal Brennan[2], and their black guest or guests.[3] So, this is his zone. And early episode awkwardness notwithstanding, this show is doing some important work in televising conversations between curious, funny people on the subjects that dominate our news feeds. The second episode covered addictive tech, and included Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains; the third dealt with Islamophobia and included television director/producer Amna Nawaz, comedian Maz Jobrani, and writer Reza Aslan.

These are good conversations and, because Kasher has stated in interviews that he wants the show to have an old-school Phil Donahue vibe to it, he opens the floor up to pre-taped viewer questions and questions from the audience. I hope the show gets renewed and has a chance to build an audience visible enough to do some work outside the bubble of typical late-night Comedy Central viewers.

It’s a Trap! – Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes

Speaking of whether technology is ruining our brains, I’m currently managing a slight addiction to Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, a smartphone game created by Electronic Arts in 2015. Although the game has been out for 18 months, new characters and combat modes and rewards are filtered into the mix almost monthly to reset my dopamine response to all the magical bleep bloops.

It's a simple RPG card collecting type of game. You build a stable of characters from different Star Wars properties—light side and dark side—and you create squads to fight in various missions to earn experience for new characters, gadgets, etc. Through in-app purchases, you can goose your stats and buy additional resources, and I try my best to only make one small purchase every two weeks. So far, so good.

Here’s when I knew I was in trouble. When I first started playing the game a few months ago, all the missions and adventures would reset every night at midnight. When they reset, you can complete a whole new slew of quests and get lots of colorful experience crystals and all the bleeps that bloop. I tend to get home from work close to midnight, so this was a great treat for me. I’d come home, settle in, and play the game for an hour or so before bed. It’s become a great ritual for unwinding.

Then daylight saving time hit and pushed all the reset times back to 1:00 a.m.

And I didn’t adjust my unwinding ritual. I’ve just added an hour of wait time after work where, even though I might wash the dishes or read a book or talk to the woman who shares my life when I’m not a galactic hero, I’m also in large part waiting for the clock to strike so I can go bleep all over those bloops.

Oh, and they added ships. I’m level 75, they added ships, and I have an hour to go until 1:00 a.m.

This game is tremendous fun. Please don’t download it. Admiral Ackbar knows why.

above image: "Anthony Quinn on The Dick Cavett Show, 1971," ABC / wikimedia commons


[1] Cavett has been on network television intermittently since the 1960s, and I think he’s an unparalleled interviewer. His final major network show aired on ABC from 1986-1987. It’s been a while.

[2] Talented stand-up in his own right. Co-creator of Chappelle’s Show. Depressive.

[3] The Too $hort episode is an instant classic. As is their chat with comedian Tiffany Haddish.

weird, happy adults.

weird, happy adults.

'we've gone too fast for too long'

'we've gone too fast for too long'