In Defense of Cold

September 26, 2016

charles-phoenix-at-fosters-freeze-e1382479951262

The following is from a talk I gave on September 8, 2016 at the Write Club in the Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles, CA.

Cold is not well appreciated. Cold is usually defined as the absence of heat. But can’t we say that the opposite is true? That heat is the absence of cold?

Cold gives us wonderful things. Cold gives us ice cream. Cold gives us popsicles. Cold gives us slurpees. And what does hot give us? Hot gives us sweaty arm pits. Hot gives us rashes. Hot gives us melting polar ice caps. What good is that?

When you travel, go some place cold. Go to Iceland, Greenland, Siberia, Alaska, the Yukon. Some place where you can’t work up a sweat. You won’t need ice cold drinks. You won’t need ice cubes. You won’t need air conditioning. You won’t have to pack sun screen. You won’t have to worry about having a bikini body. My Viking ancestors never had to worry about getting too hot. For them, every day was chill. The Inuit are the most mellow people in the world. And they have to eat whale blubber.

I hate hot. Many years ago, I had a job selling vacuum cleaners door to door. I only lasted two days on this job. The first day, it was hot. I was in Ventura County, which usually doesn’t get that hot, because it’s right next to the ocean, but they were having freakishly hot weather. It was around one hundred degrees. I walked around all day in the hot sun. I didn’t sell any vacuum cleaners. The next day, it was around one hundred degrees. I walked around in the hot sun. But then, we got a lead. You see, I was working as part of a team. Someone had found someone who was willing to watch a free demo of how the vacuum cleaner worked. So the team leader sent me to this house to do the demo. I knocked on the door, and this tall, bald man with a beard answer answered the door. He looked like an old hippy. He led me into the living room. I set up the display stand showing all the parts of the vacuum cleaner, and then I began assembling the cleaner I would use in the demo. As I was doing this, I noticed that there were people going in and out of the house who didn’t seem to be related to one another in any way. This seemed strange to me. Then I noticed that there was this huge pile of books in the living room. It was AA literature. Then it dawned on me: this was a halfway house. They had sent me to sell a really expensive vacuum cleaner in a halfway house. I had to think about what I should do. I didn’t want to make a scene. If I simply left without doing the demo, they might complain to the company, and I didn’t want to get into any trouble. So I decided I would do the demo really quick, and then leave without doing a sales pitch. Cut my losses. So I asked the old hippy guy where he wanted me to do the demo. He led me to a stairwell. It was in an enclosed space, and it led to the second floor. There was carpeting on the stairs, and the carpeting was filthy. Absolutely filthy. It looked as though it hadn’t been cleaned in years, maybe even decades. So I started cleaning this thing. There was no air conditioning in the house. There was no ventilation in the stairwell, no windows in the stairwell. By the time I was halfway done, my clothes were drenched in sweat. I mean, they were sopping wet. And I was wearing a necktie, which my job required. Nobody was paying any attention to me, except for this one guy who gave me a large bottle of warm gatorade. Which was nice. So it turned out that this hippy guy wasn’t interested in the vacuum cleaner at all. He just wanted someone to clean his stairwell for free. So I packed up my stuff and left. Walked around in the hot sun some more. Did not sell any vacuum cleaners that day.

I got home late that night. I took a shower and went to bed. I set my alarm to wake me up the next morning. My body felt hot, even though the night had cooled off. I didn’t sleep. I tossed and turned. I kept thinking the alarm was about to go off. Thoughts were rushing through my head. Crazy, half-formed thoughts. Finally, the alarm really did go off. I turned it off and went back to bed. I didn’t call in sick. Nobody from the company called me to ask what was going on. I spent most of the next two days flat on m back. I had no energy at all. I just felt exhausted. I lay on the floor, because I found it was cooler there. I was staying with my sister at the time. She was out of town. I was glad of that, because I didn’t want her to see me in the condition I was in. When I felt a little stronger, I took a cold bath. I drank cold water. The cold healed my body. The cold made well again.

So, I salute you, Boreas, god of the cold north wind. Bring your snowstorms, your blizzards, your glaciers. I am your obedient servant.

Indignation

August 19, 2016

Indignation_poster

Indignation, written and directed by James Schamus, based on a novel by Philip Roth, is the finest film I’ve seen so far this year.

The film takes place during the Korean War. Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), the son of a Jewish butcher in New Jersey, escapes the draft by being accepted into a Christian liberal arts college in Ohio. There he meets Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), who comes from an upper class family in Ohio. The two become romantically involved, but it becomes increasingly clear that Olivia is suffering from psychological problems. (She admits to Marcus that she once tried to kill herself.) At the same time, Marcus has to deal with the college dean, Hawes Caudwell (Tracy Letts), who exhibits a patronizing moralism, while at the same time expressing a creepy curiosity about Marcus’s personal life.

Indignation is an indictment of moral hypocrisy and religious narrow-mindedness. It is an emotionally powerful film with a shattering ending. It was particularly affecting to me, because I was once in a relationship that was similar in some ways to the relationship between Marcus and Olivia. I’m told that the Philip Roth novel on which this film is based is semi-autobiographical. One of the purposes of art is to remind people that we are not alone. Experiences that we may think are odd or inexplicable may well have happened to other people.

Indignation is a great film.

Some Thoughts about the Election

July 31, 2016

the-new-yorker-who-is-donald-trump

Donald Trump now claims that his comment about getting Russia to look for Hillary’s missing e-mails was meant to be sarcastic. I don’t know about that. It didn’t sound like sarcasm at the time. Besides, Trump doesn’t do sarcasm. He does dismissive put-downs and childish insults, but not sarcasm. He deliberately pitches his rhetoric to people who can’t understand sarcasm (let alone irony).

I love these conservatives who are now recoiling in horror at Donald Trump. These people helped create the political base that enabled Trump’s rise to power. We should let them stew in their misery. The Democrats should not reach out to them. It was a mistake having Leon Panetta and Michael Bloomberg speak at the convention.

Contrary to Jeffrey St Clair’s claims in Counterpunch, Sanders did not betray his supporters. He said all along that he would support the party nominee. It’s not his fault if some of his supporters weren’t listening.

The Democrats set a neat little trap for Trump when they had that Muslim couple whose son was killed in Iraq speak at the convention. They expected Trump to say something stupid about this, and the Orange One obliged. Can you say “Pavlov’s dog”?

Trumpery

June 30, 2016

donald-trump

The whole Donald Trump phenomenon has me baffled. I’ve been following Trump’s career since I was young, and he has always struck me as an obvious fraud. One would think that after his first bankruptcy, investors would have been leery of him. Yet he’s never had trouble finding people willing to throw money into his half-baked schemes. P.T. Barnum famously said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Trump seems to have dedicated his life to proving this statement.

There are some on the left who argue that Trump would be a better president than Clinton. They make this argument by quoting Trump selectively. At times, he sounds like an isolationist, and they contrast this to Clinton’s hawkishness. Yet Trump also sounds hawkish at times. (He says he is going to destroy ISIS. Gosh, how do you think he’s going to do that?) He has also expressed a creepy enthusiasm for torture. (“I like waterboarding”, he said.)

Trump embodies everything that is wrong with our culture: the emphasis on style over substance, the inclination towards macho bluster, the worship of hype, the mindless jingoism, and, of course, the racism. He must be defeated.

The Nation Magazine Goes Soft on Trump

May 26, 2016

lithuania-daily-life

The Nation recently published an article titled  When Donald Trump Says His Foreign Policy Is ‘America First’—What Exactly Does He Mean?. The article consists of contributions from four different people: Sherle R. Schwenninger, Heather Hurlburt, Stephen Kinzer and Juan Cole. They take turns imagining what Trump’s foreign policy might be like. This is a tall order, considering that Trump’s statements on foreign policy have been vague and contradictory.

However, there is one point on which Trump has always been clear and consistent: he is going to build a wall along the border with Mexico (which is our ally), and he is going to make Mexico pay for it. Gosh, how do you think he is going to do that? This is an important question, yet none of the four contributors to this article even mentions it. (Although Hurlburt indirectly alludes to it.)

So, what do these people talk about? Sherle R. Schwenninger starts off on an optimistic note, by arguing that Trump can simply reverse long-standing US policies towards Russia and Europe and on foreign trade. It apparently doesn’t occur to her that this would put him in opposition to most of the executive branch and both houses of Congress, as well as much of the military. The idea that the president can simply change pre-existing policies with the flick of a switch is the sort of naivete I might expect to hear from a freshman college student, not someone who is director of the World Economic Roundtable at the New America Foundation (which, I’m told, is a non-partisan thinktank).

It is left to Heather Hurlburt to point out the obvious: “The belief that large swaths of humanity are sub-human would inform Trump’s policy decisions.” She points out that in Trump’s view:

    … large swathes of humanity are essentially sub-human. Trump’s many comments reveal disdain for Muslims, Hispanics, poor and middle-class people, women, and the disabled. These are not merely personal prejudices. They would inform his policy decisions.

Ah, but then Stephen Kinzer takes us down the rabbit-hole. He predicts that Trump will form a grand alliance with Russia, Bashar al-Assad (who is pretty much a one-man band at this point), Hezbollah, Iran, and the Kurds, which will “turn the tide” against ISIS. Most of these forces are already fighting ISIS in already fighting ISIS in one way or another (although Russia seems more interested in bombing hospitals in Aleppo), so I don’t see how this would change much. Where Trump would break new ground, though, would be in his approach to Iran:

    It is not difficult to imagine Trump reopening the US embassy in Tehran.
    Buoyed by turning the tide against ISIS, Trump might then look again at Iran. Throughout this campaign, he has denounced the nuclear deal repeatedly, but he has not denigrated Iran itself. Many Iranians would welcome his victory, since they call Hillary Clinton “sanctions lady” and blame her for making their daily lives worse. Unbound by the anti-Iran fanaticism that reverberates in Washington, Trump could recognize Iran as a potential partner in the Middle East, even beyond the fight with ISIS. It is a young, modern society, fully committed to destroying the Sunni terror embodied in ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban. Trump would see that Iran shares our Middle East security interests more fully than some of our so-called friends in the region. It is not difficult to imagine him reopening the US embassy in Tehran, and saying, “We should have done this long ago.”

There is so much confusion and wishful thinking here, it’s hard to know where to start. Kinzer thinks that once in office, Trump, who has displayed nothing but contempt for Muslims, will suddenly decide that the Islamic theocracy in Iran is actually pretty peachy and the Iranian people are just swell and we should be their friends. Yeah, right. I don’t know what Kinzer has been smoking, but I’d like some of it myself, because it seems pretty powerful. I’m told that Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

Juan Cole brings us back to reality, pointing out that most of Trump’s policies would be counter-productive. Yet out of the four people The Nation asked to contribute to this article, two actually take a benign view of Trump. The idea that a racist demagogue would make the world a safer place is so absurd, I don’t see how anyone could take it seriously. The Nation’s readers deserve better than such swill.

What Moderate Republicans?

May 7, 2016

Trump-rally-030516-800x430

According to Yahoo News, the Clinton campaign is considering ways to woo moderate Republican voters. My question is: what moderate Republican voters? Trump steamrolled the other Republican candidates. The “moderate” Kasich went nowhere. The only candidate who managed to put up any kind of fight against Trump was Ted Cruz, who is on the far right. So, where were all these moderate Republicans? Were they too busy watching Duck Dynasty to go vote? So, Clinton expects these moderate Republicans who didn’t stop Trump to help her stop Trump. Could it be that, outside of a few policy thinktanks, there aren’t many moderate Republicans left? I am old enough to remember a time when there were such things as liberal Republicans. They have gone the way of the dodo bird. Ever since Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”, the Republican Party has been moving ever rightwards. (And this has been true of the Democratic Party since the 1980’s.) There probably aren’t many moderate Republicans left. Most of them have likely become either Indpendents or Libertarians or conservative Democrats.

Earlier this week, the Clinton campaign released a “brutal” ad attacking Trump. It’s all clips of Republicans, most of them the ones that Trump defeated in the primaries, criticizing. Who, exactly, is this ad supposed to appeal to? The Republicans who didn’t vote for these candidates? Democrats and Independents who despise these same politicians?

It doesn’t appear to me that the people in the Clinton camp know what they are doing.

The Appeal of Trump

April 22, 2016

AP_294938362751

Donald Trump’s recent victory in the New York primary has revitalized his campaign. By all the normal standards, Trump’s campaign should have collapsed a long time ago. His boorish behavior and the violence at his rallies used to be the sort of thing that would kill a politician’s career. Not any more. Trump once boasted, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” When you think about it, this was actually an insulting thing for Trump to say about his supporters, yet his popularity didn’t suffer as a result. It’s as though, at the end of A Face in the Crowd, Andy Griffith calls his supporters idiots, but they continue to support him anyway.

Murray Kempton once observed that Americans tend to think that someone who uses profanity must be telling the truth. I think there is something similar at work with Trump. Because he says hateful things – things that aren’t “politically correct” – some people assume he must be “telling it like it is”. This is flawed logic, of course, but some people do seem to think this way.

There is speculation that once Trump gets the Republican nomination tied up, he will move back to the political center. If this is true, then what Trump has done is amazingly audacious. He threw away the dog whistle and brazenly appealed to the far right, and by doing so he steamrolled the other Republicans candidates. However, he will have to walk back a lot in order to move back to the center, which may lose him some of his original supporters. And polls repeatedly show that most Americans don’t like him.

So I’m guessing that Trump won’t be our next president. Don’t quote me on that, though.

The Rich and the Poor

March 20, 2016

7670778_orig

One of the curious things about our society is that the rich and the poor often have a lot more contact with one another than any member of the middle class usually has with either group. I will illustrate this point with a couple of anecdotes.

Years ago, I was in desperate need of a job, because my unemployment insurance had run out. I applied at this party rental company for a job at their warehouse. I was hoping to get a clerical job, but instead they offered me a job as a “helper”, meaning I would set up tents and tables and other party equipment at various events, as well as unload trucks at the warehouse. The job only paid minimum wage, but I had no other offers, and I was running out of money. The company catered to private companies, as well as doing events at USC and UCLA, but it also provided supplies for private parties.

One day I was sent out with another employee, who was designated as a “driver”, to deliver supplies to a house in Beverly Hills. Some of the older neighborhoods in Southern California have these wide alleys that you can drive through behind the houses, and this place was in one of those types of neighborhoods. There was a gate in the fence behind the house, and the driver pressed a buzzer to have a house servant open the gate. There was a swimming pool in the backyard. The place wasn’t much bigger than the house I spent most of my middle class childhood in, but in the living room there was a large bronze statue of a naked woman with her arms raised in the air. Anyway, when we first arrived in the back alley, the driver went in first, because he had to get the customer to sign some paperwork before we could bring in the rental items. He told me to wait by the truck, which I did. Shortly after that, a middle-aged woman carrying two bags of groceries came walking by. She stopped and asked me if I could do her a favor. She said that further up the alley was an abandoned couch, and a homeless man who lived in the area would sometimes lie on this couch. This man would sometimes say rude things to her when she walked past. She asked me if I could go up ahead and see if this man was there.

I agreed to do this. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it was just a latent sense of chivalry in me. Anyway, I walked quite a ways up the alley before I finally saw the couch. There was no one there. I turned around, and as I walked back, I found that the woman had followed me part of the way there. I told her that the homeless guy wasn’t at the couch. She seemed relieved and grateful, and she thanked for me for checking for her. I told her it was no problem, and I started walking back to the truck. I suddenly realized at this point that I had actually devoted quite a large chunk of time to this endeavor; I worried that the driver may have come out to find that I was not where I was supposed to be. When I came to the truck, I saw the driver standing there. I was afraid he would be angry at me for wandering away. Instead, he asked me in a mildly curious tone of voice where I had been. When I explained to him as best as I could what had happened, he simply nodded and motioned for me to help him start unloading stuff from the truck. I can only assume that what happened to me was a normal sort of occurrence in this neighborhood.

But that’s not the story I really want to tell. Here’s the story I actually want to tell you. Most of the people who worked in the warehouse were from either Mexico or El Salvador or Honduras. Most of them spoke only a limited amount of English, and some of them spoke barely any English at all. However, there was this one guy who was from Belize. He was so unique in this respect, that the other workers would sometimes call him “Belize”. (I can’t remember his name, so I will call him Belize as well.) As you would expect from someone from a former British colony, he spoke fluent English. His job was maintaining and setting up gas grilles. The company would sometimes send me out on assignments with him as his helper. I would basically be an extra set of hands for him in case he needed them. I liked talking to him, partly because we had similarly critical views of the way the company was run, and partly because he always seemed wound up in a way that I found vaguely amusing. He was always complaining that the company was making unreasonable demands on him and making him work long hours and so on. He once told me that he had a wife and daughter in Belize. He hadn’t seen them in a long time, because he had to work so much in order to support them.

One day the company sent him and me out on an assignment in Bel Air. A couple of grilles had to be hooked up for a private party there. It was fairly late in the day, and Belize immediately began grumbling that it was going to take a long time to drive out there and back in rush hour traffic. (The warehouse was in Inglewood, near the airport.) He pointed out that the event wasn’t scheduled for a couple more days, so he couldn’t understand why he had to hook up the grilles right now. The management would not be moved, however, so off we went.

When we arrived at the address, we found a long concrete wall facing the street, with a gate in the middle of it. Belize and I got out of the truck, and we went to the gate, where Belize spoke to someone through an intercom. After a moment, the gate opened up, and we walked in. There were trees in front of us, and the driveway curved to the left. I couldn’t see any house. Belize and I walked along the driveway, and we came to a large shed. There was a man there who was apparently the person who had spoken to Belize on the intercom. He told us that a vehicle would come to take us to the house. After a few minutes a large golf cart came, and Belize and I climbed in the back. The cart took off down the driveway. We suddenly came out of the trees, and there was in front of us this vast lawn, on the other side of which was a building that looked like a palace. The driveway skirted along the right-side of this expanse and went past the house. The cart stopped when we arrived at the back, and Belize and I got out. We walked up this brick path until we arrived at the back porch. It was semi-circular, and about about half the width of a football field. There were enormous glass doors on the mansion that opened out onto it. One the other side of the porch, a steep hill, with a staircase in the middle of it, sloped down about 300 yards. At the bottom of the hill was a large rectangular swimming pool, at one end of which was a semi-circular portico, supported by Roman-style columns. Inbetween the columns were marble statues. Workmen were in the process of covering the pool with a temporary dance floor.

One of the glass doors opened up, and a man came walking out. He had an air of authority about him. He was dressed in a blue pastel dress shirt, a blue pastel necktie, and blue pastel dress pants. He came up to Belize and me, and when he spoke to us, I immediately detected a French accent. My thought at the time was “Oh boy, this guy is going to be an asshole.” Yet he turned out to be pretty reasonable. He told us what had to be done, and he said that if we needed anything we should just ask him. Belize then set to work. There were two grilles that needed be hooked up, one on either side of the porch. Belize did the first one without any problem, but he had trouble getting the second grille to work. The man in blue pastel was patient with us and asked if there was anything he could do to help. Belize eventually figured out what the problem was, and he got the grille working. The man in blue pastel shook our hands and warmly thanked the both of us (although I really hadn’t done much). He then called to have the cart come to pick us up. Belize and I walked back to the driveway.

When we got back to the truck, and we had climbed in the cab, Belize suddenly realized that he had forgotten to get some paperwork signed. He told me to wait in the truck while he went back. It so happened that only a few hundred feet up the road some workmen were chopping down a large tree. A long flat bed truck pulled up, presumably they were going to load the felled tree onto it. One of the workmen came over and through the driver’s side window told me they needed to position the truck along the side of the road and our vehicle was in the way. He asked me if I could back it up. I explained to him that company did not allow me to drive the truck, because I wasn’t designated as a “driver”. I then told him the driver had gone inside and he would be out in a few minutes and that he would be more than willing to move the truck. I expected this person to be sympathetic to my situation, since he must have known that companies usually have strict rules about the handling of vehicles. To my surprise, he got angry. He demanded that I move the truck. I once again explained to him that I was not allowed to drive the truck, and I once again explained to him that the driver would be out in a few minutes and he would move the truck. This just seemed to make him more angry. The two of us shouted at each other for I don’t know how long. Another workmen came up and began shouting along with the first guy. They eventually seemed to get tired of this, and they walked back over to the flat bed, where they conferred with some other people. While this was going on, Belize came back out, hopped in the cab, and threw the paperwork down beside him. He started up the truck and pulled away from the curb. He was completely unaware of what had just happened. I thought I should tell him, so I did. I assumed he would be impressed that I had refused to cave in to those guys, but instead he just seemed to get angry. “You should never drive the truck,” he said to me in a harangueing tone of voice, even though I had just made it clear that I knew better than to do any such thing. He then went on about how if I had damaged the truck while moving it, he would have been liable for it. Which seemed to me be completely unnecessary.

That was the credit I got for doing my job right.

Embrace of the Serpent

February 29, 2016

Embrace_of_the_Serpent_poster

The destruction of the Amazon rain forest is one of the great tragedies of our time. It’s not just an environmental tragedy, but a human tragedy as well. Ciro Guerra’s film, Embrace of the Serpent, is a fierce condemnation of what European colonialism has done to the Amazon Indians.

The film has two stories running parallel. In 1909, a German ethnologist, Theo (Jan Bijvoet) enlists the help of a shaman, Karamakate (Nilbio Torres) in finding a rare medicinal plant called yakruna. Thirty years later, the American botanist, Evan (Brionne Davis) gets an older Karamakate (Antonio Bolívar) to help him look for the same plant. Karamakate is the last surviving member of his people. He has a deep distrust of whites, yet in each case he reluctantly agrees to help a stranger.

Embrace of the Serpent reminds one of Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala, in the ways it contrasts the values of a primitive hunter-gatherer with those modern people. Karamkate complains about the wastefulness of whites and about their attachment to “things”. This film also criticizes the way in which the knowledge of indigenous peoples of the Amazon, including their knowledge of medicinal plants, has been destroyed.

It is also critical of the influence of the Catholic church in the region. In one scene Theo and Karamakate come across a mission run by a Capuchin friar. He forbids the children there from speaking their native language, and he whips them when they disobey him. Years later, Evan and Karamakate find this same mission. It is now the site of a religious cult led by a white man who claims to be Jesus. The suppression of native culture has allowed a perverted existence to take its place.

Embrace of the Serpent is a great film.

Fired!

January 20, 2016

this_is_theMovieNight_original

The following is a talk that I gave for the Write Club at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles.

Getting fired has a stigma attached to it, and I think this is wrong. After all, when you are fired, what does it mean? It means you didn’t fit in at the corporation you were working for. And what is a corporation? It is a machine. It certainly isn’t a person. It exists merely to create value for shareholders. It exists for no other reason. And you are a cog in that machine. When you are fired, it shows that you are not a cog, but rather a unique individual, and therefore incompatible with the system.

It is better to be fired than it is to quit. When you quit, you are doing your boss’s job for him. Why should you? You’re not getting paid to do his job, are you? No, make the bastard fire you. Make him earn his pay. He gets paid to make you earn your pay, so make him earn his pay. Give him some reason to fire you. I don’t know, trim your toenails at your desk. Scratch your ass at the water cooler. Chew with your mouth open.

But whatever you do, don’t get fired for some grubby, venal reason. When I was working at Coca-Cola, they had this contest, in which one of the prizes was this retro Coca-Cola vending machine that you could have in your living room. A guy I worked with was doing the paperwork for this contest. He arranged things so that one of these machines was delivered to a friend of his, who hadn’t taken part in the contest. When the company figured out what he did, they fired him immediately. A couple of security guards escorted him out of the building. They didn’t even let clean out his desk. They wanted him off the property immediately. So, he sacrificed his job so a friend of his could have a Coca-Cola vending machine in his living room. Oh, please.

On the other hand, I’ve seen people go out of their way to get fired, but weren’t. This doesn’t seem right to me. To me, that is sort of like coitus interruptus. The climax was never reached. Years ago, I had a temp job working in a warehouse in Edison, New Jersey. I was doing inventory with some other guys. It was a Lowe’s warehouse. We were going through some boxes, and I found this box with gold-plated toothbrushes in it. This struck me as the most pretentious yuppie thing I had ever seen in my life. I started laughing, and I pointed it out to the guys I was working with. “Hey, look at this,” I said. “Gold-plated toothbrushes.” I thought they would find it funny just like me. But that’s not what happened. Instead, their eyes lit up. They threw themselves upon the box, and they began grabbing fistfuls of toothbrushes and stuffing them inside their shirts and pants. Well, it was Friday, and at the end of the day, we had to go to the personnel office to have our time cards signed. So, all these guys go into the office with toothbrushes stuffed inside their shirts and pants. This one guy had so many toothbrushes stuffed inside his pants, that he was walking like this. (Imitate walk stiff-legged walk.) And there was this one manager there who kept staring intently at this guy. He looked as though he was about to say something. And I was thinking, “Oh God, this is my fate in life, to be arrested for stealing toothbrushes in Edison, New Jersey.” We were in that office for what seemed to me to be an eternity, as one of the managers signed our time cards. And during that whole time, this one manager kept staring at that guy. And when the guy had gotten his time card signed and turned to walk out, I thought, “Oh boy, this is it.” The manager watched him go out the door, and he didn’t say anything. And although I’m glad that manager didn’t say anything, I have to admit that I actually felt a little disappointed. There was no completion to this story, no dramatic confrontation. I found it aesthetically unsatisfying.

When I was working at Coca-Cola, I was in the human resources department. Now, working in human resources is an exercise in cognitive dissonance. You’re supposed to make the employees feel that the company cares about them, but at the same time, you’re supposed to make it clear to these same employees that the company doesn’t really care about them. It’s a very nuanced message that you’re sending to people. But when you fire someone, the nuance is gone. The pretense is over. The company really doesn’t care about this person, and it doesn’t care about you either.

And so it was that I was eventually fired from Coca-Cola. It didn’t happen all at once. I was told that my services would no longer be required after the end of the year. They said that I was being “laid off”. Over the next several months, they gave me less and less to do. At the end, they gave me a going away party. None of my bosses attended. I got a cake and a nice severance package. I didn’t feel like looking for another job, so I went back to school, finished my art degree, then I came back to LA, met some really cool people, and now I’m doing shows like this. So, getting fired is not the end of the world, it is a beginning.