posted by Absinthe | 9:27 PM
Getting the creeping feeling that I’ve written this blog into one, over the long-term. Unfortunately the only thing I can do is write my way out of it. This will take time and effort. Stay tuned.
Popularity: 3% [?]
posted by Absinthe | 10:28 PM
Welcome to the fourth year of your life. Actually, that won’t be for a couple of days yet, but I expect we’re going to be very busy until then. Right now I’m sitting in the eye of the pre-modest-birthday-party hurricane; much of the house has been cleaned, food and beverage materials have been obtained, and I swear the next time I go to the hardware store I’m going to get the right goddamn size bulb to replace the burnt-out porch light.
Probably you won’t read this until you’re at least seven. If by some method you’ve tracked this down by Googling yourself and are hunched at a laptop, surrounded by a few friends hoping to find out if your daddy writes with bad words, then tell them this: fucking right he does. Also when you were a baby you once peed in your own eye.
I hope you have a good time at the party we’re planning. I know at your age, we could turn on a sprinkler and buy a few plastic kazoos and call it a party. Unfortunately, we just can’t let ourselves do that. On the other hand, we’re not the sort of people who blow the curve with a massive guest list and passed canapés and firebreathing jugglers. If any clowns show up at your party, know that a) we’re sorry and b) we didn’t hire them. Sometimes clowns just show up like that at parties. Also in public restrooms, in nightmares, and when you think you’re getting away with something.
We’ve tried to keep the party to only people you know and love, though in the case of mommy and daddy you’ll just have to grant the exception. There will be friends both young and old. There will be a lot of food – three (!) kinds of chili, because some people don’t like beef and some people don’t like meat, all sorts of fixings and snacks, and cake designed after your favorite toys, which will probably be the only thing you eat all day. Know how much we love you by this: we built that cake from nothing and used carpentry tools in its assembly.
Technically we haven’t finished the cake yet. But if all goes as planned, everything in the former paragraph will be true. The fondant icing will be trimmed with a pizza cutter and a framing square, and special pieces cut with a ring mold. It’s all true. Except we’re using a mix for the actual cake. It is really hard to make a cake from scratch and not have it come out like either cardboard or soup, and we are still relatively new at this. Scratch cakes are for seven-year-olds. You are only four.
You don’t seem it, though. Your memory and focus are prodigious and irksome things to us. Very few four-year-olds can maintain an argument that cites relevant precedents and refuses to yield when overruled. (Though, word of advice: you might want to reduce your reliance on outright contradiction and be prepared to stipulate every now and then. Your future debate coach will thank me later for that.) So you’re ahead of the game now. Trust me on this one: go to work now preparing arguments for grade school on why someone should not hit you. Or learn to duck without kneeing yourself in the face.
Actually, kneeing yourself in the face will probably end the fight pretty quickly. Go ahead and practice that.
Party, food, cake, gifts. Friends and family. I hope that terrier of a brain of yours lets you remember this. Unless some clowns show up.
Popularity: 3% [?]
posted by Absinthe | 10:24 AM
Between May 8 and May 18, this blog (well, probably more accurately, this Twitter feed) will be veering sharply back into technical poker territory. Not Bill Chen technical, but I’ll be throwing around a lot of shorthand and jargon and more than a few inside jokes. You should feel free to ignore all of it. I guarantee it won’t improve your life. If you don’t follow poker, the details won’t mean any more to you than a cricket box score would to me.
If, however, you should feel some pressing need to tease out the sordid details of my irrelevant poker tournament travails, then read on, and I’ll try to give you the secret to turning a curious set of statistics and cryptic remarks into a narrative. I will fail in this, but at least I’ll be able to say I told you so when you at-reply me with “DUDE WTF STOP TWEETING NUMBERS AT ME”.
Chip counts (e.g. “9K/13.5K” or “T9000″): In the latter example, I have 9000 in chips. Not dollars, hence the T rather than the dollar sign. (The chips are a way of keeping score, and don’t have any intrinsic value. They do not, in this instance, represent nine thousand dollars in actual money that could be spent on college tuition.) In the former example, I also have 9000 in chips, but I’ve provided an additional bit of information, which is the mean chip count, or value of “par” – that is, the number of chips in play divided by the number of players remaining. This gives spectators an easy way to calculate how I’m doing in comparison to the rest of the field. 9000/13500 = 2/3, so I have 2/3 par. Ideally you should be above par as much as possible. Frequent followers know that this rarely happens to me. Get used to thinking in small fractions.
Blinds and antes (e.g. 50/100 or 300/600/75): The forced bets made by the small blind and the big blind, followed by the ante required of every player – the latter usually coming in later in the tournament. This gives rise to another important calculation: “M”, the ratio of a player’s chip stack to the amount in forced wagers made every round of play, generally every 9 or 10 hands. 9000 in chips looks pretty good at 25/50 blinds; the button could go around the table 120 times without you playing a hand before the blinds ate up your stack. But later on, at 600/1200/200, you have less than 3 orbits to make your move. If you know the value of par, you can also see how much trouble the rest of the field is in too; the lower the M of a par stack, the faster the eliminations are going to come.
Cards, Pocket (e.g. KK, Ac8s, 27o, KTs): In hold ‘em you get two pocket cards. Then, unless they’re kings or better, you throw them away. If for some reason you are foolish enough to play a hand weaker than that, you can tell your audience precisely what you’re holding, with a level of specificity appropriate to the situation. Suits are usually irrelevant unless someone has a flush or a flush draw, when they suddenly become the only thing anyone cares about.
Cards, Board (e.g. AK2, KsJs7cxx, 952 rainbow): The cards the dealer turns up on the flop. To be followed by a turn and a river, if the hand goes that far. Capital letters or numbers are the rank of the card, small letters are the suit (when relevant), and x can mean “this card was unimportant” or “I was busy playing Angry Birds and didn’t see this one” or “I knew I was drawing dead so I was already at the bar”.
T0, Busto: See IGHN
Donkey: A player who’s much worse than you are, but somehow just played much better than you did.
x Outs: The number of cards remaining in the deck that will turn the tables on your opponent(s) and give you the winning hand. Whenever the number of outs is such that the losing player had as much as a 30% chance of winning the hand, but none of those outs were dealt, it is a goddamn crime against humanity and OMG these people play so bad.
El Doble: To double your stack in one hand. Phrase coined by Easycure. Nearly always punctuated with an exclamation point, as it represents a crucial point in a tournament, because it is unusual to double your stack without being at risk of elimination yourself.
xx Remaining/Left: How many players are left in the tournament. Assuming you’re still in the tournament yourself, the smaller this number is, the better.
Bubble: The point at the tournament in which only one more player must be eliminated for everyone remaining to be guaranteed prize money. A chip-gathering opportunity for some, an agonizingly slow grind for others. Generally the point at which everyone makes the stupidest plays. See also Bubble Boy, the person unfortunate enough to go home empty-handed after hours or days of play.
IGHN: I Go Home Now. This is not an auspicious acronym.
MHIG: My Hand Is Good. This one is better.
Ship It, One Time, One-ball Me, HoldholdholdHOLD, etc: Phrases which, if used without irony or any hint of self-awareness, mark the speaker as someone who has yet to discover a useful purpose in life.
Tilt: A bout of irrationality and instability, usually brought on by a failure to realize that if people didn’t do stupid shit that sometimes pays off, there wouldn’t be a game.
Push: To open the betting or raise a previous better by pushing your entire stack into the middle of the table. To be all-in. Synonymous with shove. A method frequently employed by short stacks near the end of the tournament. Sometimes when my stack is tiny you’ll hear me singing “Won’t you take me to … Pushytown?” under my breath.
Not My Day: An attempt to claim that one played well, but couldn’t overcome a run of bad luck. This, of course, is bullshit at least 90% of the time. The 10% when it’s not is when I say it.
Snap: To call (or, occasionally, raise) with absolutely no delay taken for thought. Represents a very strong hand, poor impulse control, or utter contempt for one’s opponent.
And that’s all you need to know. More than you need to know. Probably I left out some important things but if you’re all that interested you’ll figure it out as we go. I won’t take it personally if you unfollow me the 30th time I post something gobbledegooky about what a shit move I made in the dull middle stages of the fifth tournament in three days. But yes, there are people who want to know this stuff, and they constitute as loyal a readership as this blog is ever likely to have. Plus some of them sent me money, and I feel obligated to keep them in the loop. It’s a good way to spread misery around, which is the purpose of a blog anyway.
Popularity: 2% [?]
posted by Absinthe | 7:23 AM
You see them – and, on a day when the stench of the city’s offal is mild and the wind is right, smell them – on your way through the city gate. They rest on a tall shaft of wood, a mockery of the body that carried them in life. Their stare is empty and unwavering, if the crows haven’t got to their eyes yet. Some are fresh, their features still recognizable to those who knew them. Some are not fresh.
They are there as a warning. Or a taunt. In times of siege they might have been enemy soldiers, or criminals who had the misfortune to sufficiently resemble the invaders. Chew on this before you cross us, is what they say. The practice is barbaric, but when the heads are displayed in sufficient numbers, startlingly effective.
Otis got me thinking, as he is wont to do. About whether I want to see a picture of Osama Bin Laden’s corpse. And, probably more important, about whether I want anyone else seeing it.
I don’t need to see the picture. Not to know that he’s dead. There are people out there who could stick their fingers into the oozing bullet holes and still not believe; I’m not one of them.
I want to see it, though. To satisfy that morbid curiosity, to give my brain a little jolt of a reminder: This is what we are capable of. There’s a part of me that wants the head on the pike, for both sides to see. But wanting isn’t the same thing as needing; wanting isn’t the same thing as deserving.
Otis’s oldest son recently asked him why people are willing to kill for what they believe in. (And here I am thankful that my own son does not yet grasp such concepts.) I don’t have the answer, nor do I think it that simple. Not everyone who kills in the name of a cause necessarily believes in it all that strongly, not even those who are willing to blow themselves up for it. But what I do know is that moral certainty is the deadliest human condition by far. Rage and greed aren’t even in the same league with zeal. Believe the wrong thing and you can justify the death of every single person on this planet, including yourself.
(Sidebar: I had a conversation with a noted attorney once asking about an amusing hypothetical: There are people out there right now who are trying to hasten the Rapture by artificial means. Genetically engineering some signs from Revelations, stuff like that. And so, I asked, since they’re trying to bring about the end of the fucking world, which would kinda mean my death, would I be legally justified in killing them? As sort of a, you know, precautionary measure. The answer was a carefully parsed examination of the necessary intents, available avenues of retreat, etc, all of which boiled down to “Yes, but the jury’d still hang you.” So that kinda borked my summer plans one year.)
There’s a long list of things that we, as a species, are going to have to get over in order to have any kind of peace other than that of the grave. Scarcity of goods and energy. Stewardship of the planet. But none of those things will matter if we can’t get past tribalism. If we can leave the head on the pike in the past – if everyone agrees that yes, this was something we did once, but no more – that’s one infinitesimal step toward a resolution we can all live with.
And it doesn’t work if you insist that the other guy go first.
Popularity: unranked [?]
posted by Absinthe | 9:31 AM
Osama Bin Laden cost me my first job in Hollywood.
It wasn’t a particularly good job, and it wasn’t, from a career perspective, likely to have been all that far from my last. Still, there it is.
I usually don’t bring this up unless I’ve been drinking. First of all, because so many people lost so much more that day - their lives, their families, their futures, their minds – that griping over a bottom-of-the-ladder writing gig on a stupid game show that didn’t have anything more than a pilot presentation order seems to be a horrifying failure of perspective. Secondly, it usually takes a couple of drinks before I’ll tell you anything meaningful about myself. Information about the war on my neuroses is usually given out on a need-to-know basis, and you Don’t Need To Know. And last, telling tales out of school is a quick trip to persona non grata-ville in LA – memories are long, grudges are heavy, and nobody ever got fired for saying no. But since I never developed a persona worth noticing, and a long time has passed, and the timing seems apt and I won’t be naming any names …
It was not the ideal starter job. Cable. A game show, a genre Chuck Barris would probably admit is even less respected than reality. I had high hopes when I went out to LA, polished specs mailed out well in advance, even managed to set up a couple of meetings with agents before I’d even rented a place. They’d listen to me politely for five minutes and then tell me to go write a Drew Carey Show spec. I’d try to work out the best way to confess that signing up for that show, whatever its merits, would be akin to me taking a hit out on myself: By midseason someone, possibly me, would be looking to kill me. In that time the conversation lull would get painfully awkward and the person in the room with the cheapest suit would ask me if I wanted another bottle of water before I left.
Before I left.
So my dreams of fast cars and easy money (okay, functioning car and actual money) were not looking so hot. But then the week before I moved my whole life halfway across the country, I got a call. While we were on our honeymoon. And the call said, hey, we’d like to hire you for next to nothing for a job with no security doing something you’re not terribly excited about and by the way can you start three days after you get home from your honeymoon? So of course I said yes, yes, a thousand times yes, and is there by any chance I could have more than 72 hours to pack up the accumulated detritus of 27 years on this planet? Maybe 96 hours? And they said no, and I said, ok, then.
It wasn’t much of a writing staff. It was two middling, untested joke writers doing something they’d never done before, supervised by two producers who knew their jobs but also knew they were running a longshot project for a particularly fickle, schizoid network. (Which has since made good, but that’s another story.) We wrote scripts, threw them out and started over, invented themed minigames, pored over trivia books looking for new questions that could be rephrased in mildly humorous ways. We actually begged the network for notes at a couple of points, feeling that their requests were heavy on buzzwords but low on substance. We filmed silly skitlike creations; in one of them, I appeared as a hapless criminal, who for some reason (or, perhaps, no reason at all) was wearing a beret, and who was punched by a man in drag with balloons stuffed in his shirt. This is one of many, many reasons why I will never be president of this or any other country.
We booked a theatre, performers, a host, volunteer contestants, did as many runthroughs as our budget would allow. Which wasn’t many. I got dragooned as a tech and a voiceover artist and probably a dozen other things that weren’t in my job description but that my theatre experience made me barely competent for. It wasn’t perfect, but somehow it worked. It was light, funny, and surprisingly savvy for a shoestring production. It was exactly what they’d asked for, something hip and self-aware, that you might stumble across while flipping channels and keep watching. And we got it all together just in time for the folks from the network to fly in from NYC.
It was really only one guy we were doing the show for, but he brought like a five-person entourage with him. We packed the audience with enthusiastic people from the production house and lined up our most vivacious contestants. We had material for two shows but thought the show was solid enough we might only have to do one.
Turns out we needn’t have bothered with the one. The guy, the fucking network guy, took no fewer than seven cellphone calls during the 21-minute presentation. Which I knew because he had the best seat in the house, just to the front of our jury-rigged AV setup, and he talked so loud he almost made me miss some cues. If I’d had a dart gun or a sap I’d have knocked him out just for the satisfaction, because if you’re the kind of person who flies across the country to watch a show put on expressly for your benefit and cannot focus on that show for less time than it takes to get your fucking hair cut, then you are a world-class tool. And, regrettably, we had neglected the critical world-class tool demographic during the development process.
Lost cause notwithstanding, we dutifully started setting up for a second runthrough, but then the producers told us to save the effort and concentrate on smiling giddily instead. Unfortunately none of us did coke and the NYC crew was in an impromptu closed-door conference with our bosses. So we stewed.
The producers came in after a while, with their irrepressible, jaded grins fixed, and said, “Well … they like that it’s a game show.” Quick round of facepalmings, some hysterical laughter.
“Well, what -” we began.
“<redacted> says it was hard to follow.”
“How would he know? He was on his fucking -”
And then I got shushed. In a kindly, placating fashion, but yes, I got shushed. Uncharacteristically, I stayed that way. We listened to the notes, had some good ideas as to how to implement them, promptly got drunk enough to forget them, got back to work the next day.
They gave us four more weeks on the contract; we spent the time rejiggering the project, pulling as many fresh eyes as we could in to give us feedback. Salvaged what we could from the scripts – we repurposed a bunch of material from the runthrough we didn’t use, and pulled more stuff we’d rejected back when we still had a cool idea instead of what we were working on now, which was a basic quiz show. (We’d made another all-too-common mistake: giving the network what they asked for, rather than what they wanted.) Tapes were made and FedExed to New York; helpful notes might as well have been sent back west by Pony Express.
With time running out – at least, as far as I was concerned, because if the network pulled the plug without watching another runthrough, I was out of a job – we finally got word: they were coming back. It’d be a no-budget presentation rather than a low-budget one, with one of the producers serving as a host (ably, and better than the pro we’d hired the last go-round) and no technical equipment more complicated than a bell, but it’d prove the concept. It was so simple even an idiot who can’t put down his cellphone for more than three minutes could follow it. We figured we were still a longshot, but we’d put in the hours and shoehorned some good jokes into the script. The show wasn’t anything special, but it worked.
We got word on Friday that they were coming out the following Wednesday.
Wednesday, September 12, 2001.
So obviously that didn’t happen according to plan.
I actually went in to work that Tuesday, because nobody had told me I shouldn’t and it was, after all, my job. I and the other writer stared dully into space, refreshed the CNN webpage obsessively, went out back for cigarette “breaks” every half hour, called it a day at noon. In the days to follow, nobody knew anything. Which isn’t unusual when you work in media; what was odd was that nobody felt obligated to obfuscate their ignorance. “Should we be working on something?” we’d ask. “Dunno,” would come the reply. “Are they ever coming out?” “Dunno.” “Will we still have jobs forty days from now when the budget runs out?” “Dunno.”
Eventually, as people who think they’re funny tend to do when they’re trapped in a room together with nothing to talk about but a tragedy, we started to make jokes. Not good ones, or even memorably bad ones; the only bit I vaguely remember was a short series of classified ads offering office space in the air previously occupied by the Twin Towers. “Recently vacated; some structural deficiencies.” But they made us laugh, or at least got us to forget for a moment that we honestly had no idea if something even more horrible was about to happen. If you could die any minute, there’s no such thing as “too soon”, and if you’ve lived this long without realizing that you could die any minute, I have some good and bad news for you. The good news is that jokes are emotional vaccines; the bad news is that I may have graduated last in my class at comedy school, but you still have to call me “doctor”.
The network quietly let the project expire. I mean, we made a tape of our best work and sent it to them, once air traffic was restored – no way were they getting on a plane – and they sat on it and then just didn’t call until the last possible moment, and then said, “Sorry, no.”
In TV you can’t give somebody with power a single reason to say no to a project. Because they’ll do it. The appetite for risk may have increased somewhat in the intervening years, as production costs drop and the marketplace splinters, but there are still a lot of network VPs out there who make a very good living by saying no ten times a day and not even having to say yes once a year. And 9/11 gave everyone a lot of reasons to say no. Thousands of them. You couldn’t even take it personally. For one brief moment, everyone in the room would have agreed that what we were doing was meaningless. We’d all forget it eventually, but not soon enough to save the show.
And there you have it: my brilliant career as a game-show writer, strangled in its crib by a monstrous act that took place thousands of miles away. The bugger of it is that even now, nearly ten years on, I can’t tell you whether or not what happened was bad for me. The past is another country, and we don’t live there anymore; I can’t go back to see whether, undisturbed by this calamity, I’d have gotten somewhere, found good work, stumbled one time less on the righteous path to a WGA job. A decade later I wouldn’t want to go back anyway. I’m happy where I am.
I take no joy from the news that the sonofabitch of all sonofabitches is dead, though I’ll admit I delight in the chance to make jokes about it. I wish I could remember the old ones, the ones we spat out like broken teeth in the days when nobody knew anything, when we were all heartsick and frightened and angry. Maybe the old jokes would be funnier today.
What matters is that they were funny enough then.
Popularity: 2% [?]
posted by Absinthe | 8:22 PM
A children’s book for parents that tells it like it is. If I’d had access to this the first fourteen months of parenthood might have been slightly less psychotic. I wish I’d written it, because I sure as hell said the title often enough. (If you happen to buy it through the embedded link, I can still profit from it! Commerce is great.)
Popularity: 1% [?]