Monday, September 29, 2008

The 2008 Valley Review

Here’s something you might not know: This year, Edina debate is a group of imposters from an imposture. Our administration made a deal to make an extracurricular team swap between schools. The deal, the first of its kind as far as we know, took the Edina team to a new community in the heart of Minnesota’s worst skid row: the dirty south of Minneapolis. Instead of a gated community, it is a barbed wired community, a povo demarcation designating our embrace of the historical hobo community “Shoeless Ditch” located just east of Pearl Park.

Shoeless Ditch was a place where hobos went to drink moonshine, sell buggy parts made from appropriated scrap metal, drink hooch, and put on pseudo-vaudevillian performances combining moonshine, scrap metal, and hooch into a toxic brew of hilarity. The hobocamp declared its independence by electing a mayor, “Junkyard” Jack Roland, in 1907. Shortly thereafter, the corrupt state government—led by Governor John A. Johnson, known as “John A. Hole” to those witty hobos—laid siege upon the village. The hobunards tried their hardest, but they weren’t willing to give up any hooch for Molotov cocktails, and the camp was destroyed in less than six days. Many innocent people were killed, and the end result was not a moral dilemma justifying the application of agent-relative interpretations of the action/omission binary (that is/n’t one(?)) in a universalizable manner.

Now, 101 years later, the city of Minneapolis collaborated with a group of New Urbanists to recreate Shoeless Ditch. The most famous vaudeville hall, Chuckle Me Silly, sits across from the honorary statue of “Junkyard” Jack, shown surreptitiously tweaking a pretty young thing while signing an ordinance to implement a minimum age of nine for hooch consumption. Across the street, the famous bordello, The Boozy Floozie, is back, too, its fringed, semi-breastular awnings beckoning passersby to tip a slut on a Saturday night.

Needless to say, all of this history is far beyond revisionary, but since the telematic age has made consensus truth as impossible as finding a question that Sarah Palin is able to answer coherently, no one really cares. They are proud to embrace their inner hobo, dress like their inner Olsen Twin, and hooch it up. There was a problem, though, in Shoeless Ditch. Problem with a capital “P;” that rhymes with “R” and that stands for the robotics club at Shoeless Ditch High.

Now, everyone knows hobo stew and wine go together like vegetarians and homosexuals, and contra-positively and conversely, hobos do not go with intelligent, technologically advanced high school activities. The administration was sick of the nationally competitive robotics club and its head, Gary Garrison, given the affectionate nickname “Mr. Gary” by his students. Last year, their robot TransX had won second prize at nationals and was awarded “most innovative” by Roboteen magazine for its ability to scan a person’s brain patterns and instantly email them a list of the internet sites that best suited their personal tastes in erotica. I tried it out myself; if you had asked me a year ago whether I would ever bookmark a website devoted to close-up views of luxurious kitchen flooring materials, I would have called you “crazy as a bag of uvulas.” But you live and learn. Specifically, you learn that whatever your neurons want, your neurons get. Think dropping a pen “on purpose” destroys the determinist truism? Then rethink “think,” you curly-haired lesbian slut.

With Mr. Gary and his students receiving statewide publicity, it was time for something to be done. Clearly, this endeavor needed to be moved into the wealthy suburbs where it belonged, and replaced by a gritty activity better suited to the hobo climes. Since hobos have to learn to heckle, bicker, and coerce in order to get by in this big bad world, it was only natural to swap the robotics club for a suburban debate team.

So, to make a long story short after telling the long story—which is a narrative form worth embracing like a good stand-up comic embraces the drum-flourish—we’ve been relocated to Shoeless Ditch High, a school filled with povo skanks and crap bogans, while their robotics club flourishes in the marbled hallways, the lofted gold-leaf ceilings, of Edina High, our temple of education. I was chosen to speak for the team at the first school Shoeless Ditch High assembly, and I informed them that while people think suburban schools produce better citizens, I think suburban school produce better educated, dressed, bred, and neuroned citizens. The vast majority of hobos and homos come from the inner city, while most suburban high school graduates go on to become investment bankers and proctologists.

While I spoke, I noticed just how fugly these city kids were, the try-hard emos and housing commission skanks; “bogan city” was no longer a contradiction in terms; that’s a priori because it’s just logical because it is. You can’t contest that without using logic, so any counter-argument ironically appeals to logic, too. Got you there!

The next week, auditions began, and you can only imagine the kind of people that were trying out for spots on the team. There were emos, Christians, lesbians, and even a burns victim. These types are used to failure, so I was sure they’d understand when we didn’t accept any new members on the team, but our bitch principle Ms. Gillespie didn’t believe my industry-level intuition, and forced us to take on every single one of the kids. All I could think to myself was, Make a note: long sleeves and ramps.

Our first topic was already out, and it was about killing an innocent person to save more innocent people. The few students who had ever heard the word “innocent” only associated it with a Britney Spears song, and she’s not that innocent. True enough, but that definition cannot be extended to take out all negative arguments advocating side-constraints, so we needed to go further. We needed to go further than they had ever gone before. I decided to embrace a radical new pedagogical ideology: a combination between the Socratic method and sadocriticism. I call it Sadocratics—a portmanteau word that makes “chromatose” look like “webinar” or “wolphin.”

“Riddle me this,” I asked a group of borderline emo skanks. “If there’s a trolley headed straight toward the robotics team, and the only way you can stop it is by pushing a fat person off a bridge onto the tracks, would it be morally permissible to push the fat person, knowing full well that he or she will be splooshed like an overripe peach?”

“Are there any fat people in your family?” a girl asked me.

“Thank God you asked. What’s wrong with you, bitch?” I shouted. “I have been trying for over fourteen minutes to get you IQ-challenged retards to understand what is surely one of the founding hypothetical scenarios of the entire field of analytic philosophy, and all you do is laugh because you hear ‘anal’ in ‘analytical’ and think I’m talking about what your whore mothers do for a living.”

It was going nowhere fast, unlike the trolley. What’s worse, the parents were complaining left and left to Ms. Gillespie, saying that their precious little children shouldn’t be called “brainless plonkers” or “bodgy ockers.” In the face of nonsense, I did all I could: I organized a mentor program where our experienced debaters had the opportunity to work one-on-one with the challenged beginners. At first, they were hesitant to deal with a bunch of rangers with man-boobs and crap screamers with two-toned emo hair sculptures. All of that changed at the annual swimming carnival, but that’s a story for another day, a day when we have hours to linger over a glass of Thai iced tea and discuss what will perhaps replace the trolley problem in the analytical cannon, the Budgie Smuggler Incident.

What you must know now is we came up with a failsafe solution to scare the Shoeless Ditch kids away from debate for good: We would force them to attend a prestigious, nationally known tournament. And this tournament was not held just anywhere. It was held somewhere, and the somewhere was the cosmopolitan capital of our urbane neighbors to the south: Des Moines. We would subject them to a car ride filled with esoteric noise music and rambling discussions of the liberatory possibilities of poststructuralist ufology. We would throw them into rounds with debaters who talk faster than a skank in a bag of doodles and watch them lose and lose hard, and get subjected to a verbal smackdown (or spankdown, whatever’s more damaging under the moral framework created when the act/omission binary collapses like a breast implant in a pressure cooker) by some of the most intimidating judges in the country, judges who should be universally struck but return to popularity despite their best efforts to the contrary. And, in between days, we would subject them to highbrow and midbrow cultural experiences that would forever alienate them from our post-enlightened ways.

Last Friday, we set off in a van covered in portraits of Chairman Mao juxtaposed with bags of Baked Lays, a meta-commentary on the problematization of the concept of possession they were unlikely to understand. We stopped in Faribault, a crap bogan town, for Starbuck’s—they usually got their caffeine from dumpstered instant coffee residue—and took a brief break for a dérive that revealed the psychological implications of having Quizno’s and Subway in the same strip mall. Their mouths gaped wider than the carbon footprint of the CEO of Monsanto.

When we got to West Des Moines, where the tournament and its home hotel were located, they were clearly shocked by the opulence and brilliant suburbanness of it all. There were fountains across the street, there was a Perkins in walking distance—their chicken Caesar scratches a culinary itch that lingers in me like dormant herpes type two simplex—and the hotel rooms had air conditioning, hot and cold water on tap, and luxurious quilted bedding so unlike the burlap rags they flopped on top of their soiled mattresses—or if they were less lucky, piles of old tires.

We converged in one of the suites for a last-minute strategy session. It was my time to demonstrate how a true professional does what he does best. “Mark my words,” I said sagely, “you will be faced with intelligent, responsive, explicitly impacted arguments all day tomorrow, and you will make a fool out of yourselves and your fat bogan asses will be kicked hard, and often, and resoundingly, and it will leave a mark and it will sting and you will not be able to sit down comfortably for several fortnights.”

They were not deterred by that last one. Stupid me failed to realize that not being able to sit down comfortably is a quotidian occurrence for residents of an imposture hobocamp.

“There is only one thing to do,” I continued, strapping on a mask turning my face into that of a majestic wolf. “Hit it, Natalie!”

On cue, Natalie turned on the iPod hooked up to the high-volume, ultra-compact Yamaha audio cube, blasting the song “Bitch Track II.” I demonstrated several argumentative techniques, ranging from the howling extension of PIC implications of death to the whirling sheeted six-point theory violation on positivity about positivism, finishing with the pièce de résistance, the dance of the fourteen impact turns with impacts that outweigh on magnitude, time-frame, predictability, obesity, speed, and political irrelevance.

They were overwhelmed, just as I knew they would be. I turned off the music, took off my disguise, and addressed them as frankly as I felt I should have: “You are all failures. You have been failures all your lives. When you fail in life, you fail in the afterlife, and that’s failure—metaphysical failure. Metafailure. Tefa. Ef. [Silence.]

I left the room and retired to my king-sized bed, where I instantly fell asleep and dreamt I was subjecting Frances Kamm to the most insidious form of torture: a lifetime forced to watch Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist again and again with only the guy from Creed and Rachel Zoe for company. “I didn’t know my analytical philosophical revelations would turn into such a shitstorm,” Kamm (’08) elaborated in her defense.

“No warrant, bitch-assed bogan skank!” I shouted triumphantly, turning up the volume just as Michael Cera proclaimed his love for Tillie and the Wall.

I awoke laughing maniacally, as I am wont to do. And, of course, my predictions were right. They were fully and thoroughly humiliated. Judges’ comments included “AFF should quit debate” and “the case needs a standard” (at least I think that’s what it said). Meanwhile, I tested the limits of academically justifiable frivolity by phrasing my decisions in haikus, sestinas, sonnets, and finally in the style of Mark Leyner:

“The waitress at Makudonarudo (that’s what those Japs call it and I don’t mean the Jew kind because that’s an acronym and it would be spelled differently)—after they experience the assault of Harajuku J-pop divas and candy-colored girl accessorized to the point where their toenails are ripped out of their Crocs; transforming the burden structure into a mass of grease in which arguments come out crisp and glistening but not expendable like you know the grammar of the modern at its most so—voted affirmative.”

That night, we ate at a Lao restaurant. The hot chilies and unpronounceable foreign words reduced the hobocampers into quivering masses of gelatinous bone marrow custard, but not the delicious kind I enjoyed heartily. My fortune cookie fortune read: “A mate’s discount in the hand is worth two dropped case-turns in the mystery bag.”

Needless to say, the next day was a short one for our idiotic ones. After round six, they were done. It wasn’t even necessary to make them watch elimination rounds; what needed to be done had been done. And what needed to be done was morally permissible. Back at the hotel, they collapsed, unable to be awoken even by our unnecessary and altruistic offering of things they know, like processed cheese and cases of Stampede Light Plus.

Tonight, they are back in their shacks, having cold Dinty Moore stew for dinner in a room reeking of poverty—which smells not unlike rotten gum nuts—while the robotics team members douse themselves with Axe Vice and chat on MSN while eating takeout from the Big Bowl.

How will the administration react to my fantastic trickery? Only time will tell. Only time will tell. But this is what I will leave you with: the song of Shoeless Ditch High:

They’re povos and they know it
They’re all just dipsticks and dags
They can’t help slamming down grog on a Saturday night
They can’t help cracking a fat on a Saturday night

All of these bogans
They suck at life and then they die
Everyone knows at Shoeless Ditch High
On days like these
It’s a skanky bitch high
Skanky bitch high
Where goodnessness dies

Monday, September 22, 2008

The 2008 Greenhill Review

It started with a natural disaster. Will it end up in a body bag? If so, how many do you need? Don’t you want to dance (say you want to dance)? Can the precarious navigation of the homosocial resist deteriorating into an “event”—whatever that means—that will foment the galvanization of a new form of what could only euphemistically be called “kinship” with the potential to subvert several academic disciplines? Can you hear someone say “discipline” without laughing uproariously? Where do we go from here?

These are only a few of the many questions that linger beneath the tempestuous surface of the new year. Of course, newness has always-already ended; we have (only?) what we have inherited. We are aporias, held aloft by the thinnest lines of narrative coherence, dangling above the abyss that is the post-temporal social in its contingent entirety. Or have I got it backwards again?

We do not need Shirley Phelps Roper or even someone exponentially less unattractive than her to tell us the end is nigh; the signs have been unmistakable since the beginning. Now is the time to declare that the end has already happened, and move on. Forget that we may be cursed with four more years of a vice president whose agenda is about as secular as 770 Eastern Parkway and not nearly as interesting. Messianism is out; it’s over.

Instead of prophets, today we have pundits. On Friday night, we watched one of them holding onto a telephone pole, blown literally horizontally by raging winds, struggling to give a candid report of the weather situation to the news. We were in a moderately priced Italian restaurant, waiting for house-made taglierini, watching a flatscreen television over the bar.

I stabbed my crostini, launching a piece of porcini mushroom into the distance, and sighed. “It’s pathetic what passes as ‘news’ these days.”

“I disagree,” a high school debater replied.

“That’s what you always do. But life isn’t a debate round. All these created spectacles are clearly designed to trick us into imagining an emergency situation and then forcing someone else to deal with it. I don’t understand why they try to make it so realistic. People were fooled by Forrest Gump.”

“That’s because of their mirror neurons.”

I nodded thoughtfully, then poured my glass of Limonata on a man wearing an ascot at the next table. “Oops! My neurons made me do it!”

He laughed and said something in Tagalog.

Back at the hotel, a sense of emergency permeated the lobby, exemplified by an obese woman with a placard that read “Save Yourself Now—With Refreshing Snacks from Our Gift Shop.”

“Is that just a Schlotzsky’s sign turned inside-out?” I asked.

“How can you tell?” she said, clearly potentially embarrassed.

“Shut up and dance, bitch!” I ordered. She complied, but her running man was quite disappointing. I don’t think she’s going to be on the next season of ABDC, that’s for sure.

In the gift shop, a couple wearing Hazmat suits examinined novelty T-shirts, admiring one with the Dairy Queen logo but with “Dallas” instead of “Dairy” written on it. “Wasn’t ‘Dallas Queen’ your nickname when you were in the army?” the woman wondered.

“Don’t ask; don’t tell.”

“You know, in the aughts, being a Dallas Queen doesn’t mean being happy and free. It means you are exactly what you are.”

At that moment, the hotel fire alarm went off, and we hurried outside, finding a group of friends also from Minnesota. We reminisced about the time in Des Moines when a guest at an out-of-control bachelorette party dropped a lit cigarette onto the carpet in her room. It was total chaos as strange combinations of half-dressed people emerged from hotel rooms together. The shame! I was alone with my economy-sized bag of Kettle chips, the best roommate there is.

“Was that the time when there were male strippers in the hotel dressed like firemen?” someone asked me.

“It was one of the times,” I said, “but that’s another story.”

It was. Yet another story was the Atlanta ice storm, where two inches of slush terrified everyone but orthodox Jews and Greeks so much that they didn’t leave their houses. When the electricity went off, a woman from Texas had a nervous breakdown and only recovered after a plate of bacon was placed directly under her nose. Amazingly, she immediately recovered and used the down time to plan structural changes to the national circuit high school debate community.

So many disasters, so much tragedy . . . Why do we put up with it all? And the situations keep getting more and more extreme. It’s like there’s a trolley with five people coming straight at a sad clown whose rainbow-colored hatchback is stalled right on the tracks, and there is no easy solution. Some would call it a moral dilemma; I call it unbridled hilarity.

This time, an overactive sizzling fajita platter in the hotel restaurant apparently caused the fire alarm. Fajitas are so random.

The news reports were still dire. We were to expect two to five inches of rain on Saturday, and wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour. That night I dreamt I was caught in a tornado, whirling above the sprawl of Addison, Texas. I stopped to feed a Korean meatball to an airborne peacock, then adjusted my body so I could drift over to admire Blueprints at Addison Circle, the sculpture in the roundabout at the town center. I was nearly maimed by a plastic tub, but I made it to Blueprints just in time to see the entire sculpture uprooted, joining the swirling matter. Would I be the latest victim of death by public art? I shuddered, remembering the giant “Man With Hammer” sculpture in Cleveland whose mechanism had gone haywire, resulting in the pounding to death of a small family of small people.

The alarm clock went off before my fate was determined. The news forecasts hadn’t changed, and I prepared for the year’s first day of debate watching footage of destruction, wind and waves ruining shoreline communities. Sarah Palin was planning on speaking in a few hours; I wondered if she would repeat the hard-line conservative response to Katrina and say Ike was holy revenge on the sinners, those brazen enough to believe in and even practice pre- and extramarital sex.

Outside, it was cloudy and humid, windy with a hint of dankness—very similar to what I imagine it would be like if scientists recreated the climate of a human womb for an exhibition or perhaps a theme park type of thing. I braced myself, trying to prepare for an event that is arguably psychoanalytically similar to leaving the womb: facing, for the first time in months, the debate community.

Yes, I had seen some of them in June, when we converged upon Las Vegas to witness crazed dance advertisements, unit-related commerce, exxxotic bowling, and masculine transsexuals creating traffic disturbances on Tropicana in 115-degree-weather. And again in August, I spent two more weeks with some debate people in Los Angeles, watching out-of-control small Asian children destroy elliptical machines, soft-serve ice cream dispensers, and the spirit of diversity and acceptance manifested in not only the otherwise liberal debate community, but also the coed high school cheerleading community.

During these summer debate activities, I obsessed over ethnic food, became a more astute and practiced observer of the AmJack subculture, gave Whole Foods an inordinate amount of my disposable income, and came to lament the lack of In-N-Out in the Midwest.
There were to be no such distractions in Texas. No bowling with strippers; no rabid packs of unsupervised children; no animal style. Instead, it would be boys talking about their speaker points out of rounds, talking about morality and McIntyre in rounds; it would be coaches of all sorts: the vicious ones, the vicarious ones, the Chinese ones as well; it would be, in a word, random.

Even with the anticipation of historically bad weather later that afternoon, I quickly fell into the same routine: pretend to listen to people talking about Heidegger and cognitive science; observe social rituals not usually seen in our own little corner of the primate community; lather, rinse, have some pizza. I was idly contemplating the inner workings of a sea salt grinder between rounds when an unfamiliar face approached me.

“Excuse me, but are you Mr. G?”

“I’m not usually called that outside the community theater community,” I said.

“I thought so. Anyway, my school wants to honor the victims of Ike by writing and putting on an original musical revue.”

“Do you live near Galveston?” I asked.

“No, central Missouri.”

“Well my first thought is call it ‘Ike Can See Clearly Now,' like about how people get through the storm and it makes them reevaluate their situations.”

“Oh, cool! How they appreciate the little things now?”

“Actually, I was thinking more that they’re violently angry at the lack of an organized official response to the disaster and inspired to organize a post-Maoist insurrection aimed at the overcoming of oppressive social apparatuses and technologies of control. But appreciating the little things would work, too.”

“Thanks. You’re given me a lot to think about.”

I promised to write some lyrics for a song by the end of the tournament, but there was no time just then because the last round of the day was released. After one more hour thinking about a fat person being pushed off a bridge to stop a trolley from going off a cliff, it was time to again navigate the Addison dining scene. Someone once told me that Addison has the largest amount of restaurants per person in the country, or maybe it was that Addison has the largest people in the country. It was something impressive, though.

We opted for Tex-Mex. Enchiladas were consumed; stomachs were upset; that insufferable Spin Doctors song was on the jukebox, which made me so angry I crushed a bottle of Shiner over my friend’s head and took out my anxiety on a potentially undeserving piece of tres leches cake.

It was at that moment, in the throes of rage, that I realized the horrible weather had never materialized. It rained a bit, and there was a peacock in a tree, but nothing worse or weirder than that. This really made me think, and when I think it is usually never a good thing. That night, as my stomach churned from the enchiladas, my brain churned along with it. So many ideas were coursing through my head: passivity, disaster, Nietzsche, trolleys, the homosocial. I knew I would be able to come up with a brilliant song about Ike.

The next day, while the debaters were stupidly trying to win their elimination rounds, I strapped myself to the beast—the Roland keyboard in the electronic music classroom—and experimented with chords, melodies, and finally words. By the time the awards ceremony was over, I had my original ode to the hurricane victims. It’s called “After the ‘Cane,” set to the music of “After the Rain” by Nelson.


After the tragedy, we’ve suffered such pain
We’re drowning in a tidal wave, soaking wet with rain
You’re submerged fully from your toes to head
Your dog, your cat, your mailman and your grandma are all dead
Now you realize the corruption of the state
After the ‘cane it’s a chance to reflect
And insurrect
Only after the ‘cane
Can you live again
I know your house was ruined by a tree
Now you’ll fight off oppressive ideology
Your children lost all their precious toys
Come on with me and we’ll subvert and destroy
It’s time to take down technologies of control
After the ‘cane it’s a chance to reflect
And insurrect
Only after the ‘cane
Can you live again

[Singing saw solo]

Anarchists will appear to light the way
Only after the ‘cane
Can you try to smash the state again
You know the time has come for you to face the truth
After the ‘cane it’s a chance to reflect
And insurrect

[Repeat chorus and fade]


So, we’ve survived another one. But there will be more. Even if you only need one, you get more. Life is random like that. But if we stay positive, we might just learn to live together, to share things together—food, rooms, beds, the planet. Our lives.