- 2009 Iced Borscht guest blogger Jacob Grier interviewed in Esquire
- Before Vegas was Vegas
- Creepy and Freaky: Alcatraz
- Jack Shafer: Why We Vote for Liars
- Klaus Pichler’s Photographs From Vienna’s Museum Of Natural History
- Large Hadron Collider Won’t Destroy Earth With Planet-Eating Black Hole
- Matt Novak: Build Your Own Electric Ghost
- Ricky Sprague on Tom Hanks’ Good Morning America F-Bomb
- Steven Novella: Analyzing Harmless Nonsense
Posts in the California category
Welcome back to “A Borscht-In,” i.e. Guest-Blogger Month here at the site.
Last year’s experiment was so good that there was never any doubt that it warranted an encore performance.
Thus “A Borscht-In II” was conceived, and now it’s finally here — “Sophomore Year.” From this point forward, everything will be beach parties and sugar plums.
Up first in the 2nd Act is the ever-alluring, omni-seraphic and inarguably brilliant Ruth Waytz from Los Angeles, California.
Ruth can be found online here, here and here. Not only is she everything I said and more, she’s also a Green Bay Packers fan, which brings her closer to God than anyone ever in the history of Southern California. (Just joshin” you Californians. Unlike my fellow Oregonians — I actually like the Golden State.)
- 2009: The Year That Eats People
- CELL PHONE COMMANDMENTS
- It’s a Borscht-In!
- There Go Your Abortion Rights
- This Is What I Want
UPDATE! A new post from Ruth revisits PERFECTION, and does so with completely beautiful VENOM. A must-read! And Ruth delivers the scoop on her transformation into a football fan here. Good stuff, and I greatly appreciate the props for Clay Matthews.
The newest arrival at the Borscht-In is void-wandering Scotsman Daniel Kalder.
I’m excited to have Daniel on-board because he is truly one of my favorite authors. His books Lost Cosmonaut and Strange Telescopes are both stellar. Below is a short review yours truly wrote for Lost Cosmonaut back in May. I hope it offers some insight into D.K.’s considerable literary gifts:
Hilarity, Desolation, and Chess: A Review of Daniel Kalder’s Lost Cosmonaut
I became so enthused about this book that I found myself reading passages aloud to friends. One such passage involves a conversation between the author, Daniel Kalder, and a man named Konstantin, who is Kalder’s liaison to a pagan mystic in Mari El. The two discuss the mundanity of offering some non-descript meat to the gods in an oak grove. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the absurdity that seems to dominate much of Russian life.
Kalder excels at diagramming these types of dry and often humorous exchanges, which is probably difficult to do in estranged Russian lands. A lesser writer might fall prey to one of two tendencies:
◊ Smug, ironic condescension e.g. “Look at this hilarious, f#cked up place and these hilarious, f#cked up people!“; or
◊ Solemn, empathic condescension e.g. “My god, look at these sad, terrible places and grim, empty people.”
Happily, Kalder avoids both traps. He doesn’t settle for “easy.” He milks uncomfortable moments for all they’re worth; he refuses to dress up anti-climax with false cheer; and most impressively, he navigates the nether-voids of these desolate places without succumbing to a pretentious, Nietzsche-ish tone.
Misanthropy? No; that’s an “easy” emotion; there’s more to Lost Cosmonaut than that. This is skilled, clever writing. Kalder sees people as multi-faceted character studies, not simplistic caricatures. Lost Cosmonaut forces the reader to confront the clichéd but true-to-life dilemma of “not wanting the story to end.”
Daniel’s contribution to the 2010 Borscht-In expounds on an idea that D.K. riffed on with much panache elsewhere this year, i.e. the sentience of his facial hair. I won’t elaborate — doing so would only broadcast my clumsiness while robbing D.K.’s post of the double kick-drum power it deftly wields. Instead, I provide direct linkage — straight to the source:
Thanks to everyone for participating and/or reading. It is great fun. (And if you want to join the fray, click here. There is still plenty of time, and I’m fine with entries bleeding over into the New Year.)
— Mike/Iced Borscht, December 2010
The American Dream, revised, is simple: sell out.
Startup businesses lust for acquisition. Researchers and inventors hope some giant will license their patents. Indie film directors dream of shlocky four-picture deals based on video games. Popular musicians count up street cred to trade in for TV ads. The idea of rising to the top and building something huge feels obsolete to many people. Forget being Carnegie and Vanderbilt, Buffett or Bono, Oprah or Tiger. Instead, let’s sell the company to Microsoft, the invention to Lockheed, the barre chords and hairstyle to Saatchi. The new dominant male strategy is to find the alpha dog and grovel, profitably.
This raises a question. If we’re not going to be superstars and tycoons, why are we working so hard in the first place? Selling out should be easier. The entitled American middle-class kid does not work hard, but the money must flow. When you need to sell out and there’s nothing to sell, what do you do? Work is for chumps and art is hard.
In coastal Orange County, where I live, the problem is acute. There’s an oversupply of young men with great ambitions and little energy. If you’re not an athletic star or a hot DJ or loaded with cash from Dad’s mortgage business, what the hell are you going to do to be #1?
The answer for a lot of these guys is bizarre: start your own clothing line.
This would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Fashion design was for homosexuals and women, full stop. But something odd happened in those years. Surfers and skaters were the first to trade cred for activewear. It made sense for the board shorts and t-shirts to get a personal brand, and the MTV era had just arrived. Stars like future murderer Gator and Tony Hawk did very well, and others noticed. Skate and surf manufacturers all rolled out their clothing and accessories lines. Everyone else followed. If you had a bit of cool to trade, you could sell hats and shirts and all the other junk, and give away your stickers so your customers were ads for an ad.
This phenomenon percolated down through sports to music, dragging along DJs and performers, until just about everyone who could be described as “cool” was associated with a clothing line.
But as noted above, not everyone had cool to trade.
It turns out that’s not a problem. If you’re a partying dude with a wide social circle of other dudes who fistbump you and vomit at the same bars, you’re already gold. Run off a few thousand stickers and give away a hundred t-shirts, toss hats at friends, slap the stickers on fast food drive throughs and junction boxes, and keep dumping money into it. If you’re constantly annoying and willing to spend a lot of money on it, there’s a good chance you’ll succeed. The blackletter type and swirly designs of companies like Affliction are everywhere. I personally know three engaging sociopaths who created their own lines of clothing and did well. If there are enough stickers and flyers and drunk friendly dudes wearing your stuff, you can become a minor mogul of Men’s Casual.
The sell-out dream is now perfect. It’s no longer necessary to build any credibility in order to trash it for money. You can get the same effect by throwing your own money into stickers and shirts and promoting them constantly, which is the kind of behavior the typical O.C. bro dude already finds natural. If you don’t have money yourself, another cheerful drunk does. And the weirdest part of the whole cycle is this: they sometimes do sell out to a big company and do very well. For every 100 red-faced stickered idiots there’s one Paul Frank.
I’m not attached to traditional ideals of masculinity. That whole business is too stupid for anything but humorous use. But there is something jarring about the wealthy and privileged young men in my town and their Jagermeister-fuelled pursuit of fame and fortune in Men’s Ready-to-Wear. But you have to admit: a straight trade of party popularity for business success is a better deal than years of actual effort. All the enterprising bro dude needs is money and a screenprint design, and the rest is done by competent graphics specialists and unfortunate Mexican laborers.
The progression is from those who do, to those who sell to those who do, to those who make t-shirts to sell to each other in hopes that those who sell to those who do will buy these and sell them to those who do, who will sell them to Wal-Mart.
The whole thing smells of empires in decline. Which, I think, will be the name of my new clothing line.