Saturday, December 10, 2005

Computers Schmooters

Computers, man…Last night my internet stopped working abruptly.  One minute I was comfortably browsing, and the next, I was stuck alone in my house with no connection to the outside world besides old 20th Century technologies like the telephone or my car.  While diagnosing this problem, I aggravated an already existing problem with my case.  You see, the power button was a bit shorty.  Sometimes when I turned it off, it didn’t want to come back on.  It got to the point where it would only come on if I stroked the power button with just the right amount of tenderness in just the right place.  

Today, I no longer have that problem.  I have a new case, one that’s somewhat quieter, just as pretty, and more than that…the power button works.  It was only a minor hassle taking the guts out of my old case and putting them into my new case, and surprisingly very few curses were uttered in the process.  As you can see, I’m back in the saddle again.

And now that I’m back, plugged in, as it were, I find out that Richard Pryor has died. The man is dead, but the legend will live forever.

I also put up my Christmas tree today. Scotty did most of the work, while I supervised and took pictures. Here's a couple:

Sunday, December 04, 2005


I finished reading Steve Martin’s novella Shopgirl the other day. It’s only 130 pages, but it took me a couple weeks. That, of course, has nothing to do with the book, which is really good, but everything to do with the fact that I’m kind of on a “down” reading cycle. After trying to slog through Brett Easton Ellis’s Glamorama, all the banal detail and painstakingly hip prose proved too exhausting, so I had to put it down for a while. It was too much work.

I wanted something entertaining, yet something literary, something that would sustain my interest instead of allowing it to wane, and as it turns out, Shopgirl was perfect for that. Where Glamorama was rambling and dense, Shopgirl is focused and honed. Where Glamorama spent pages and pages trying to illuminate its themes, Shopgirl communicates them in a few words. Both are funny, sometimes in a laugh out loud way, but they operate in two completely different spheres. Glamorama is a cultural commentary that largely ignores (or downplays) emotions, Glamorama is an emotional story that downplays or ignores the cultural aspect.

There is no trace of the “wild and crazy guy” that you might expect in a book authored by a guy who once described himself as one, or any of the zaniness that you might expect from a guy who used to perform stand-up with an arrow through his head. Instead, in Shopgirl, Steve Martin's themes are weighty and deep: loneliness, love, sex, relationships, depression, youth, middle age, growing up, betrayal, all treated seriously with wit and insight.

Martin achieves this by employing an omniscient narrative, which knows everything about the characters, even things they don’t know themselves, a fairly common device in fiction, only this time supplied with a subtle twist, the complete absence of viewpoint. His introduction to the character Ray Porter (played by Martin in the film) captures this straightforward and all-knowing, yet strangely detached, approach:

There is nothing too mysterious about Ray Porter, at least in the usual sense of the word. He is single, he is kind, he tries to do the right thing, and he does not understand himself, or women, or his relationships with women. But there is one truth about him that can be said of a man who asks a woman to dinner before he has ever exchanged one personal word with her. Mr. Ray Porter is on the prowl.

The story of course, isn’t about Ray, but about the woman he asks to dinner, a young college-educated but still na├»ve girl who works at the glove counter at Nieman-Marcus, the “shopgirl” of the title. Mirabelle leads a rootless existence in L.A., sustained only by her anti-depressants and hope for something better. She has an awkward affair with a young man her own age named Jeremy, but then meets Ray Porter, a fifyish millionaire who is willing to trade his kindness and favors for Mirabelle’s affection

The story unfolds as Mirabelle and Ray start a relationship that is romantic and caring but, in the end, soulless. They quickly realize that they don’t have the same idea about what their relationship is and what it means.

Although he does not know it, Ray Porter fucks Mirabelle so he can be close to someone. He finds it difficult to hold her hand; he cannot stop in the street and spontaneously hug her, but his intercourse with her puts him in proximity to her. It presses her flesh against hers and his body mistakes flesh for mind. Mirabelle, on the other hands, is laying down her life for him. Every time she jackknifes her legs open, every time she rolls on her side and pulls her knees up so he can enter her, she sacrifices a bit of herself, she gives him a little more of her that he cannot return. Ray, not understanding that what he is taking from her is torn from her, believes that the arrangement is fair.

Do you see what I mean about the omniscient narrative? It works! In this passage, and in many others, Martin tells us what the characters think is going on, but also explains us what is really going on. These levels of awareness permeate the whole book. It's absolutely brilliant.

Another satisfying thing is the gradual maturing process that both Ray Porter and Mirabelle go through during the course of the book. Even though she's in her late twenties, Mirabelle has a lot to learn about men, about women, about love and sex. And Ray Porter, debonair and classy in his fifties, is seemingly emotionally stunted until he meets Mirabelle and realizes the effect she has on him, as well as his effect on her. These characters are not the same on the last page that they are on the first, which is one of the first rules of fiction, but it's not done in some cheap, obvious way. They don't suddenly have an ephiphany that illuminates their entire beings. It's gradual, almost behind the scenes, and again, absolutely brilliant.

And I have to say, reading Shopgirl was a lot more satisfying than anything in Glamorama.