Culture postsFriday February 06, 2009
We Are Not a Serious Nation
I checked out YouTube for the first time in a long time this morning, saw the shit that passed for shit there, and thought of Gore Vidal: We are not a serious nation. I read a friend’s account of how even at a pizza gathering half the kids were texting other kids rather than talking with the kids present, and thought: We are not a serious nation. I read Paul Krugman’s column in this morning’s New York Times, about how serious our economic crisis is, and how lame the response in Congress has been, particularly from the Republicans in Congress, and thought: We are not a serious nation.
I look at this site and think the same. You do what you do. I try to write about movies seriously but to what end? We’ll see where this goes. Both versions of “this.”
In November I wrote a spirited defense of how “The Daily Show” would fare in an Obama administration but I’m having my doubts now. It’s the economic crisis more than Pres. Obama. Every joke about it, from a guy making millions, and I think: “That shit ain’t funny.” Comedy is, what, tragedy plus time? They’re ignoring time. We’re just wasting it.
I apologize for this post but a blog is about what’s on your mind and this is what’s on my mind. Probably yours, too.
The economy shed 598,000 jobs in January. I knew of three of them.
Edward Hopper's Quiet
Patricia and I finally got down to the Seattle Art Museum to see “Edward Hopper’s Women,” a small exhibit, limited to two rooms, that has been on view since mid-November. I’m of the “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like” school, and I love Hopper. He may be my favorite artist. His paintings feel quiet. There’s a stillness to them, often a sad stillness, but I’d still like to be in them. My favorite in this exhibit, which included maybe a dozen paintings, was “Automat.”
A few years ago, reading Milan Kundera’s“Ignorance,” I realized that the saddest thing in the world to me is loneliness — particularly female loneliness. If men are lonely I often view it as their own damn fault. But the loneliness of women kills me. Here’s the paragraph that did it. Re-reading it now, it doesn’t seem like much, but back then it brought tears to my eyes:
Standing at a bar, she slowly sips a beer and eats a cheese sandwich. She does not hurry; there is nothing she must do. All her Sundays are like that: in the afternoon she’ll read, and at night she’ll have a lonely meal at home.This graph could be describing an Edward Hopper painting. It could be describing “Automat.”
Patricia, meanwhile, loves “New York Movie”: the light on the woman and how lost in thought she is.
The exhibit does a good job of describing how weighed-down she seems, reminding us that, though most of us go to the movies to escape, it’s reality, sometimes grim reality, for those who work there. Me, I love the sliver of black-and-white — the 1939 film — on the left side of the painting. (It’s much more noticeable in person.) It didn’t strike until now but it’s fascinating that the black-and-white world is the escapist fantasy, while the world full of color is the one where we’re heavy with burden. That feels so right (in the painting) and so wrong (in the world).
Afterwards, Patricia and I walked home via Westlake Center in downtown Seattle. It was a beautiful day for the last day of January — low 40s, the sun out, less gray than usual. We passed panhandlers, street performers, black kids selling candy bars. More than usual? It felt like it. It felt like the beginning.
Good-Bye To All That
All of which puts a cap on a year most of us are happy to see leave. Hell, I almost feel like giving it a swift kick as it exits. Take that, you little f--ker.
Some bright spots (Pres. Obama) but otherwise a lot of noise and short-sightedness, entropy and quick, unprecedented collapse. Nobody I know is hurting yet, but some are pinched, and everyone’s wary. We’ve been feeding on stuff we know is bad for us and now comes the price and the wrong people will probably pay it, as wrong people often do.
It’s an arbitrary point we’re crossing, but it doesn’t mean we can’t feel new. So wave good-bye (or swift-kick) 2008. And hello gorgeous.
All Customer-Service Roads Lead to India
Just got off the phone with India. Okay, with amazon.com's customer service department. Should I put "service" in quotes? Yeah, like that.
We all know the game. Tried downloading a song off amazon.com, something millions have done without a problem, but when choosing the application with which to open the .mp3 file, I picked, apparently, incorrectly. At least a pop-up window told me I'd picked it incorrectly. But instead of sticking around to help, the window disappeared. Meanwhile a big thank-you from amazon on my purchase. And the purchase? Nowhere. Just another day in the disconnected neighborhood.
Amazon's "Help" section not only didn't help me locate the file anywhere on my computer, but somehow,while clicking this and that not too carefully, I inadvertently bought another song. One I'd never heard of.
So. Searched for and called their customer service number. Explained the situation in a very hoarse, bronchitis-ridden voice and was informed that they weren't trained for MP3 problems, but they gave me a number to call. That person, too, wasn't trained on MP3 issues but she transferred me to someone who was. Apparently the transfer went all the way to India (more likely: stayed in India) because the dude on the other end had a thick Indian accent. If he's in the U.S. I feel sorry for him because no one will think he's in the U.S.
After I explained the situation (sans the second, inadvertent purchase: too complicated), he said he was sending me an e-mail with instructions and I was to go to the amazon page and refresh it, but his instructions merely led to more questions, which I tried to ask, but which he batted down, initially, with a demand that I not interrupt him. Since his final instructions didn't answer my questions, I asked them. Do I refresh the amazon homepage or the "thanks for purchasing..." page? Do I click on this link in the e-mail? Is refreshing the homepage supposed to do something? Because it did nothing for me.
He: "Sir, this is the last time I'm going to tell you this..."
Really? The last time?
This is how you lose customers. You create a needlessly complex model that contains bugs on common paths and a customer-service department half a world away.
Finally bought the song on iTunes. Time wasted: an hour.
Escape from Sea-Tac
You know that scene in "The Empire Strikes Back" when Han Solo and his Millennium Falcon crew run away from x-wing fighters and land inside a hollow meteor, which they soon realize, as it rumbles, is not a hollow meteor after all but some kind of space creature, and so they zip out to safety just as the thing snaps at them and nearly devours them? That's how Patricia and I felt Sunday getting out of Seattle. Just with a lot more downtime.
Merely getting to the airport was an adventure, and involved a friend's 1961 Land Rover, several steep hills that were supposedly "closed" but weren't blocked off and which we went down anyway, a broken windshield wiper and a broken cable. But we made it...
Except you heard about Sea-Tac that day, right? Waited in line an hour, checked luggage, through security, drink at that sad little African-themed bar that has nothing at all to do with Seattle, then to Gate A14. Which showed no signs of our flight. Departure board said A11 and we went there. Voila. Except another flight, to New York, was loading. Just as it was leaving we were told, "Go back to A14." But there was another flight there that wouldn't take off for another hour. Meanwhile it kept snowing. Meanwhile all Alaska and Horizon flights were cancelled. Meanwhile our flight, which was "on time" and scheduled to leave at 4:10, disappeared completely from the Departure board because, I suppose, the flight was "on time" and it was now past 4:10.
Finally we got the news: "Go back to A11." Where we were told that our plane, which had landed two hours earlier, would finally deplane at Gate A2, but we couldn't go there because that gate had no computer to check us in. Eventually it showed up, at A11, and, as snow swirled in the darkness outside, we boarded. About two and a half hours late.
Then we waited. And waited. For the de-icer. There were three planes ahead of us and two de-icers. (For the entire airport?) One broke. The second ran out of fluid. When they got the fluid, its pump broke. Meanwhile it kept snowing. Meanwhile the plane kept getting hotter. Meanwhile our pilot informed us that if this process took longer than 90 minutes, federal regulations stipulated that this flight crew couldn't continue and would be forced to take a sleep break. Meaning the flight would be cancelled? That question was left unanswered. Meanwhile, according to the Seattle Times Web site, which I checked via my iPhone, all hotels in the area were booked.
And still it snowed.
About 45 minutes later, our plane was finally de-iced. Then we sat in the darkness for half an hour. No word, no nothing. Finally, without a word, our plane began to move. People applauded. At approximately 10 p.m., or six hours late, we were airborne.
The awful thing about the entire process, like everything these days, is the lack of accountability. Yes, the snow, and, yes, Seattle is unprepared for the snow, but why the constant stutter-steps with the gates? Why was our flight unable to find a gate? Why did they run out of de-icing fluid? Etc. But who to call? Sea-Tac? Port of Seattle? Our tickets were purchased online and the entire horrible process felt that way. Like there wasn't a person at the other end.
The punchline? Airborne now, the pilot came on and announced: "We will be arriving in Minneapolis at approximately 2:50 a.m. Current temperature there is...eight degrees below zero."
Merry Christmas, everyone.
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