Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight - Dir. Christopher Nolan

Due to my moroseness over the fact that I was not able to attend the 4th Annual Pitchfork Festival in Chicago for the 4th straight year this weekend, I am going to attempt to assuage the pain from not being able to blog about it to blogging about the only vaguely sociable thing I did this weekend, which was to see the Dark Knight, a movie that was filming in Chicago around this time last year, which was wrapped in mystery and with good cause. This is one of the few movies that doesn't give away that much in the trailers, at least up until now. Who knows if that will change as the marketing strategy changes after opening weekend, if such things as trailer editing for television spots does change after a film opens, the whole business of this industry mystifies me, but up until now the marketing strategy was not to give too much away, and I will attempt not to do that in this review. However, I have to say this marketing strategy is also in your face everywhere, at least here in L.A. Practically every single page of the Calendar section of the L.A. Times is plastered with an ad for the movie. I went to on Friday and it was plastered with a "Dark Knight" template. Also, the movie earned a 9.6 out of 10 rating, and was currently rated as the #3 film of all time.

Is that accurate? Is it a 4-star, 9.6 out of 10, Best Picture nominated, all-time classic film? I hate to overhype anything, but I have to say I found it immediately better than the original Batman directed by Tim Burton, and that is a film that I grew up with and have loved for ages. So yes, I think Nolan's re-imagining is more relevant for our times, and never seemed to drag in any segments the way Burton's original did and does. Unfortunately, there are no Prince songs, but they would have seemed uncommonly out of place in this film. It is a very dark, nearly solemn film, though not without its sense of comic relief. There is a very large cast, and every actor does exactly what they need to with their role, and in several cases, more. The screenplay is a rather extraordinarily balanced thing, with this thought in mind. The action sequences, a few notably filmed in IMAX, are as good as any that have come before. Ultimately the Dark Knight should get its share of nominations. It would be ridiculous at this point to say it would win Best Picture, but I do not think it would be wrong to say it should get nominated for it. It is an excellent achievment on every level.

It bears mentioning how one views the movie, because if it is possible to see it in IMAX, that is what I would do. We went to see it at the Universal Studios CityWalk, and were duped by a non-informational website into buying regular tickets, so not only do we pay $10 for parking, but we also just get to see it in a regular theater. In any case it was fun to see Universal Studios for the first time, though of course we weren't going to the theme park. CityWalk was interesting enough, with its outdoor-bar-atmosphere and notably, the machine that simulated skydiving, where people get inside with some weird suit on and fly up like fifty feet inside this tube powered by wind. It was pretty sweet--I may do it sometime, but also it seems kind of scary now that I think about it. We went inside to the movie and waited in a line maybe thirty feet long roughly forty minutes before the film was to start. They were nice enough to let us into the theater about a half hour before it started, but most of that time was spent voicing our disappointment that we weren't in an IMAX theater. However, this is mostly a personal anecdote and not really relevant for regular would-be viewers of the film, except to say, if you want to see it in IMAX, be careful about which ticket you buy if you do it online, because at least during opening weekend, most of the shows were sold out.

An opening night show at 9:10 was something of a spectacle, with many teenagers wearing newly minted Heath Ledger t-shirts, which at first I mistook for merely being a Sex Pistols t-shirt or something like that, but then I realized more than a few were wearing the same one. I found this rather offensive, that a t-shirt company is opportunistic enough to capitalize on the tragedy and to mass-market it to teenagers in a "punk rock" styling. I remarked that I wondered if the profits went to his family. Who knows, in any case, the culture of death that surrounded this film was singularly remarkable. The nearest comparison I could make would be when The Crow opened like fifteen years ago or whatever. Except Brandon Lee was not quite as popular a figure, and his manner of death was so bizarre as to simply confound. Also, The Crow kind of sucks and The Dark Knight is really awesome. It is without question the best Batman movie that has been made. However, one has to admit that the tragedy which befell its most consummate performance has cast an entirely different shadow over the film, and has given the film a weight unlike the vast majority of films are ever capable of bearing. The separation between fiction and reality is blurred and skewed just vaguely enough so that the film becomes a document of the psychology of our times.

The only annoying thing about the movie was the kid sitting next to me who was audibly moaning in pleasure after the first three or so of Ledger's scenes. He would say quietly, "Oh my God, that's so scary," or "That was the creepiest thing I've ever seen in my life" or "Jesus Christ that was so amazing," and I wasn't quite sure if he was saying it for the benefit of his friend on the other side, or for our general five foot radius. In hindsight, I almost wish I had joined in with him, and been like, "Oh my God, I know, I'm like creaming in my pants now." Regardless, this was only a minor inconvenience (of a similar variety and less burdensome than the one when I went to see There Will be Blood, when an elderly man gave his own running commentary of the film for the whole 150 minutes), and there were many true moments of solemnity in the sold-out theater, a rather amazing thing. Though when the Warner Brothers logo came up at the beginning, some kid shouted, "Finally!" and some guy shouted, "Shut up!"

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film, beyond Ledger's performance, is the metaphor for our current national situation--that is, Gotham as a symbol of America. True, it does not seem anywhere near as corrupt, however this government has certainly given us our doubts as to whether the "good guys" are really on our side or not, an element that is echoed in the film by the seemingly untrustable nature of the police force. To be honest, that is one element I did not understand. However, when Morgan Freeman sets up the cell phone signal surveillance system, and Christian Bale sets it up so you can see around the immediate vicinity of every cell phone that is on in the city, and Morgan Freeman sees this, and becomes upset by this method of spying on people, a political message emerges. Of course the technology in this scene and the year-long current-event the FISA Bill are not all that unrelated. One might be going too far, however, to suggest that Aaron Eckhart's performance is representative of this current regime's notion of right-versus-wrong when it comes to pursuing and capturing evil-doers. Nevertheless, the manifold associations one draws, the emotions stirred up, and the plain mastery of the storytelling all establish The Dark Knight as the most outstanding feature of the year thus far. The only problem with blogging about it is that it seems kind of redundant. It's not exactly like I'm saying anything different from everyone else.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Every Day is Worse Than the Last

As Marnie Stern says, "Put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket." As stated on my AOL Instant Messenger away message, my previous story, "Failure, Inc.," had a bit of precognition working for it--as today, (in 38 minutes, I will leave for it) I am going on an interview on the 14th floor of a building in Century City. What wondrous madness literature can wreak in our minds! Yes, I am meeting with a woman named Amy, and so, as Marnie has suggested, I have not spent the day looking for any more jobs. That is my egg-basket approach while job searching. Do not complicate matters more greatly by continuing to look when you have an interview. Just watch that basket. And write stories while you wait for the interview, which occurs at 6:30 PM, making it the latest interview I've ever done in my life. I spent the day writing this story, which is notable for many reasons, not the least of which is my attempt at writing from a female perspective, a coup that always seems to fail for me. It is 1,401 words under 5,000, making it a bit more digestible than "Failure, Inc." However, it's subject matter is a bit extreme. I hope no one finds it overly naive.

Every Day is Worse than the Last

Brenda Lowery ambled through her local Farmers Market on a Sunday morning in July. She saw hundreds of people stopping at little produce stands, buying organic jams and jellies, chatting affably with the proprietors. It was a large-scale local community scene, with everyone in the town coming together to enjoy fresh goods from farms, and amidst it all, Brenda forgot her purpose. She did not remember what she wanted to buy. All foods suddenly struck her as unappetizing. She did not want to eat anything, but she knew her pain would only increase if she did not. She found a stand that was blending fruit smoothies, and she decided to get a strawberry, banana, and blueberry smoothie. She sipped it through a straw as she walked the fifteen minute walk home.
When she came to her apartment, her smoothie had already been depleted. She threw the cup in the garbage. It was a Sunday afternoon now. Tomorrow there would be work, and while Brenda thought she might call her friend Jillian, she did not feel like putting on a sociable face. Of course, Brenda had confided in Jillian many times, had talked to her often about the unhappiness in her life, and Jillian had never expressed impatience. A few of Brenda’s friends from the past could not put up with such depressing comments, and so she had learned to filter her moods according to the situation at hand. Since meeting Jillian six months ago however, Brenda had opened up anew, and it had more than a little to do with Jillian’s own willingness to validate Brenda’s emotions—that is, Jillian understood Brenda, because she too was unhappy.
Brenda opened up a recent Nick Hornby volume, read a chapter, and decided she didn’t want to spend any more time reading today. Reading got her nowhere. Oftentimes, she would try to tell her co-workers about the plot of the novel she was reading presently, and they would respond with a disinterested “oh really?” or “that’s good that you read so much.” Later she would hear them talk with great enthusiasm about movies that had opened up the previous Friday. Brenda secretly thought everyone was less intelligent than her, but she never once betrayed this thought by allowing it to issue forth into the atmosphere.
She turned on her television, which came complete with digital cable due to the post February 17, 2009 date. Brenda had thought that change strange. It was as if now there was no option to use outdated technology. Crusty old professors could still utilize twenty-pound laptops, but nobody in any home could watch a lower quality picture on TV. However, nobody complained particularly about this. If it was a serious issue for you, you worried too much about TV. Brenda did not worry about TV; she just found it strange. She couldn’t turn it on without being persuaded to try a new product. Increasingly that became the case with the internet as well. Still, she flipped between movie channels, doing her best to avoid persuasion.
She finally cracked and flipped open her cell phone, highlighted Jillian’s name and called her. No answer. “Hi, this is Jillian, leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” Beep.
“Jillian it’s Brenda. I’m just wondering if you’re doing anything this afternoon because I really don’t know how I’m supposed to spend the next three hours. I’ve got nothing going on and company seems the best way to make the hours pass more quickly, and be more worthwhile. Eh, but you’re probably busy, but if you feel like it, give me a call. Bye!”
Jillian sent a text message a few minutes later that asked Brenda if she wanted to visit at her apartment. Brenda did not want to bring her unhappiness with her into someone else’s home, but the invitation had been extended and she often found it rude when they were declined, and so she texted back that she would be there in a half hour. She went into her bathroom and freshened herself up, then went out to her car and drove to Jillian’s.
Brenda rang the doorbell and Jillian opened the door, and opened up her arms to welcome her friend. They walked into the kitchen and Jillian asked if Brenda would like a cocktail or a cup of tea—which was she in the mood for? Brenda said a cocktail, and Jillian said okay, made two gin and tonics, and brought them into the living room. They said, “Cheers,” and took a first sip.
“So how has your weekend been?” Jillian asked affably.
“It’s been slow. I didn’t really do much. I went to the Farmers Market this morning,” Brenda answered factually.
“Ooh, did you get any yummy fresh produce?” Jillian asked appearing excited.
“It was weird. I wanted to get all of this stuff, and make a really nice dinner tonight, or something. Then I just forgot what I wanted to make, and I didn’t know what I needed anymore. So I bought a smoothie. That was all,” Brenda admitted.
“That happens to me sometimes,” Jillian assuaged, “Sometimes I just go blank, or I’ll leave my bag somewhere and completely forget about it, then two hours later I’ll realize I’m missing it, and it’s too late.”
“It was sort of like that. Just, everyone around me scared me. Like, they were judging me based on what I was looking at, what my dietary habits might be. I feel bad enough that I’m not vegetarian…”
“I know what you mean, but trust me, they’re not worried about vegetarianism. You’re at that Farmer’s Market, you’re on their side.”
“But then I feel compelled to support them, and I couldn’t think of anything except the stupid fruit smoothie that I wanted.”
“Well, that’s supporting them. At least you didn’t go to Jamba Juice for it.”
They each took another sip from their drinks, then Brenda asked Jillian the same question:
“What about yours—did you do anything fun?”
“Oh God, I went out to Pink Taco after work on Friday with my co-workers. I got so wasted. I met this guy there, Sam. We made out, but I regretted it immediately, and now he keeps calling, and I don’t know how to let him off easily.”
“I wish I got wasted and made out with some guy named Sam on Friday. Instead I was watching that movie Evening with Vanessa Redgrave and thought about how all the best moments of my life were behind me. Ethan.”
Ethan had been Brenda’s greatest love, and they had been broken up for two years now. They had met at the end of college, had begun dating shortly before graduation, and did so for roughly one year until Ethan had to move away for medical school. Brenda had toyed with the idea of moving with him—taking their relationship to the next level—and Ethan had said of course he wanted to stay with her, but he didn’t want her to turn her life upside-down for him. She considered that his convenient excuse to break up, had thrown a fit, emphasizing that she knew he really didn’t want to stay with her, was met with piteous glances, and was left by Ethan shortly thereafter. He had said something about how she always had to be right before he left her apartment that night more than two years ago. Now he was swiftly making his way through the program, would be a practicing doctor in another five or six years, and Brenda would not be the doctor’s wife, as she frequently dreamed.
“Trust me, you wouldn’t want to make out with this guy,” Jillian said, “He’s very horny and desperate. He texted me yesterday saying, “I want you to come over and get naked,”—he doesn’t have any tact.”
“I want a guy that doesn’t have any tact,” Brenda said, “I have no tact.”
“Well do you want me to say, ‘Hey Sam, I don’t really like guys without tact, but my friend Brenda does, maybe you want to see her instead?’ I guarantee he’d go for you.”
“That’s okay,” Brenda said, “That’s kind of an intimidating situation.”
“Suit yourself, it would have been a good way to get him off me,” Jillian said.
“Just tell him you’re not interested,” Brenda said.
“No, that’s mean,” Jillian said, “I don’t want this kid to get all depressed and start calling me and asking, why, why, why? I have to do it some better way. I think I’m going to tell him I’m moving away.”
“You can’t really go wrong with that,” Brenda said.
“Unless he asks to see me before I go,” Jillian said.
“You can just say you already left, it was an emergency personal situation,” Brenda said.
“Well I can never go to Pink Taco again, because if I see him it would be really bad.”
They took another sip of their drinks. As if out of nowhere, Brenda began crying.
“Oh Brenda, don’t be upset, what’s wrong?” Jillian asked, immediately moving closer to her friend, putting her arm around her and rubbing her shoulder.
“It’s just hopeless Jillian, I feel so hopeless,” Brenda let out between sobs.
“Why, what’s hopeless? You’re an amazing person—how could it be hopeless?” Jillian said in an attempt to cheer up.
“I’m not, I’m not an amazing person at all,” Brenda said, “I just hate everything. I hate my stupid name, I hate my stupid body, and I hate everyone in the world.”
Jillian said, “Wait, do you hate me?”
“Everyone except you, but I hate the way I have to act around you, making you put up with all of this useless complaining,” Brenda said, her sobs subsiding slightly, her sniffles and heaves coming in intervals.
“Oh, I don’t mind your complaining Brenda!” Jillian said, “At least you’re being real.”
“Yeah but I hate that this is me being real,” Brenda shot back, and began sobbing anew. Jillian continued to rub Brenda’s arm in care and sympathy.
“You’re my best friend, Brenda, and I just want you to be happy,” Jillian said.
“But this is the condition. I’m never happy—I’ve never been happy—except with Ethan.”
“It doesn’t do you any good to think about Ethan,” Jillian said in a concerned tone.
“What would you know is good for me?” Brenda snapped, “I loved him, and he loved me. It was the only truly happy period of my life.”
“Don’t you believe it’s possible to have another happy period?” Jillian asked.
“What do you think I’m going to say? Yes?”
They each took another sip of their drink, Brenda more with an affectation of desperation.
“Just relax, Brenda. Something good will come your way if you just accept your situation for what it is. You always talk about making a change—what’s wrong with what you’re doing now? You have a good job, you’re living in a very fashionable city, you have friends that really care about you. That’s not so bad is it?”
“No, no, no, I hate my job, I hate this city, and I can’t be real around any of my friends except you,” Brenda stammered.
Jillian was running out of ideas.
“I really don’t know, Brenda. Is there anyway I can help?” Jillian asked.
“Just keep holding me,” Brenda said, curling up into a smaller ball as Jillian continued to comfort her.
“I think we should text this guy Sam,” Jillian began, “And we should have him come over here.”
“I thought you didn’t want to see him ever again,” Brenda sobbed.
“It will be a moment of comedy, and if you want to take him home with you, nobody will have to know,” Jillian said, opening up Brenda’s options.
“But why would I want to get involved with this guy?” Brenda said, in an almost angry tone, “You said yourself you regret making out with him.”
“It’ll take your mind off depression,” Jillian said, “Your concerns will change when he comes through the door.”
She texted him a message that said, “Why don’t you come over to my house and have drinks with me and my friend Brenda?” And a few minutes later, Sam texted back saying, “I’ll be there in a few.”
Forty-five minutes later, Sam arrived. Brenda’s face showed no signs of sadness. Indeed, she and Jillian had been laughing as they heard the doorbell ring. Sam entered Jillian’s house, and indicated to Brenda that Jillian had made reference to her in the text message by saying, “You must be Brenda, I’m Sam.”
“Would you like a gin and tonic, Sam? That’s what we’re drinking,” Jillian asked.
“That sounds great, I’d love a gin and tonic,” Sam said.
As Brenda made more drinks in the kitchen, Sam began quizzing Brenda.
“Are you from here?”
“No, I’m from Ohio,”
“How did you end up here?”
“It just seemed like the best city to move to.”
“Have you lived many other places?” “Not really.”
“Where did you go to school?”
“Ohio State.”
“Haha, goodbye Columbus,” Sam said.
“Yes, goodbye Columbus,” Brenda echoed, surprised.
Jillian arrived at this comment with three more drinks in hand.
“So Sam, do you still want me to come over and get naked?” Jillian asked. Brenda and Sam were both shocked.
Sam appeared nervous. “I’m sorry if that was in bad taste, I was just really horny,” Sam said.
“Ooh that’s such a nasty word, ‘horny,’ it sounds so crass,” Brenda said, sensing the comedy.
“Yeah,” Jillian said, “But it’s honest at least. You admit you have no excuse?”
“No excuse beyond wanting it,” Sam said.
“Notice, Brenda, how he says ‘it’ and not ‘you.’ Sam, is this your notion of tact?” Jillian toyed.
“Yes, I’m sorry, I’m just not very tactful.”
“You know, I don’t like tactless guys, but Brenda does.” Jillian uttered.
“It’s because I’m tactless, too,” Brenda said, sensing an opportunity, “But I need to know I’m not going to be outdone in the tactile department.” She was enjoying herself now.
“Well is there some way I have to prove I’m more tactless than you?” Sam asked Brenda.
“I think you need to get naked,” Jillian said.
Brenda looked over at her with a look of mild concern, but also appreciation. Sam took off his shirt without a word, untied his shoes, pulled them off, pulled off his socks, undid his belt, unbuttoned his button, unzipped his fly, pulled off his pants, pulled off his boxers, and sat back down on the couch, saying “Satisfied?” to Jillian.
“Yes, I think you’ve proved your tactlessness. You will really do anything if it means getting laid won’t you?” Jillian continued to bait.
“Anything within reason,” Sam said, taking another sip from his drink.
“What do you think of that body, Brenda?”
“It’s okay. I’ve seen better, but it’s okay.”
“Okay enough for you to fuck?” Jillian said the word with devilish indifference.
“It wouldn’t be right,” Brenda said.
“Oh, why wouldn’t it be right?” Sam started, disappointed.
“These are weird circumstances,” Brenda said, “It’s not the way it should be done.”
“I don’t think Sam is going to complain, you said you wanted to make out with him instead of watching that movie Friday night,” Jillian brought out.
This perplexed Brenda, how Jillian had become forceful in her silly game, and so she decided to put forth her own perplexing comment:
“That body is only okay enough for me to fuck if you fuck it too,” Brenda said.
“Oh you’re making this so complicated, Brenda,” Jillian said.
“I’m serious. If I do it alone, you’ll always be able to hold it against me.”
“I wouldn’t hold it against you,” Jillian tried to interrupt.
“But if we all do it, then we’re all implicated, and really then, nobody will have to know. I won’t constantly be scared for the rest of my life that you’re going to drunkenly mention it at a party or something.”
“You don’t think she’d mention it drunkenly at a party if we all did it?” Sam asked philosophically, but then quickly added, “Whatever, I won’t complain either way.”
“No, put your clothes back on you moron,” Jillian said.
“Really?” Sam said.
“Yes, really,” Brenda said, “I don’t know what you’re thinking Jillian but it’s not working.”
“Man! You can’t do that to a guy!” Sam protested.
“Well no matter what you say I am not going to suck your dick,” Jillian said, “So I’d suggest putting your clothes on, retaining whatever small dignity you have left.”
“That’s just cruel, Jillian!” Sam said, pulling his boxers back up.
“Don’t blame it on me—it’s Brenda’s fault.” Jillian said, “If she didn’t have to go ahead and try to get me involved.”
“You’re the one that started it all!” Brenda said.
“You’re the one that called me and said you wanted to hang out!” Jillian said.
“This is the stupidest fight in the world,” Sam said, “Can we just forget this happened and have a nice afternoon?”
“No!” Brenda said, “Nobody is going to have a nice afternoon now. This is so fucked up. I think you should just go, Sam.”
“Really?” Sam said, looking at Jillian.
“Brenda, you still have a chance, do you want to take him home with you?” Jillian asked.
“Excuse me, do I have an opinion here?” Sam asked.
“No, you don’t,” Jillian said, “You’re a boy, and boys are stupid.”
“Fine,” Brenda said, “Sam, please get dressed and come home with me. Jillian, this has been one of the most fucked up afternoons of my life.”
“But it worked out well, didn’t it?” Jillian asked, a mischievous smile coming over her.
“Yeah, I can tell this is going to end really, really well,” Brenda said, taking Sam’s hand as she walked out the door.
Outside she told Sam to follow her in his car to her house. When they arrived at her apartment, she mechanically pulled him inside, became undressed with him, fell onto her bed with him, and spent twenty-three minutes feeling indifferent and mildly entertained, surprised that the day had led to such an unlikely end. When they had had their sufficient fill of each other, Brenda asked Sam if he would not expect to see her again.
“Of course I want to see you again.” Sam had said.
“It’s only because I put out, isn’t it?” Brenda said.
“No, you’re beautiful,” Sam said.
“You’re just saying that,” Brenda said, “You want to stay on my good side.”
“What’s so bad about staying on your good side?” Sam asked.
“Due to the nature of the circumstances, this should only be a one-time thing,” Brenda said.
“What do you mean, ‘due to the nature,’ we had a good time didn’t we?”
“I don’t know. If I stay with you, Jillian may not respect me,” Brenda worried.
“Are you kidding me? She begged this to happen.”
“Right, exactly, it’s so perfectly planned by her.”
“Look, she did a nice thing. She knew I wasn’t good for her, but she knew you’d be good for me.”
“What!” Brenda said, shocked.
“It’s true. She’s a very astute matchmaker,” Sam said, trying to save himself.
“But you make it seem like she was trying to help you out. She’s trying to help me out. Get it straight!”
“I don’t see why the phrasing makes such a difference,” Sam started.
“It makes all the difference. You guys are always so self-centered. You don’t give a shit about dignity. All you care about is your stupid conquests. The more one-night stands, the better! Oh, it impresses your friends all right, but do you know how it makes me feel? It makes me think you’re more likely to have herpes.”
“What are you talking about conquests? Do you want me to tell you how many women I’ve slept with in my life?” Sam asked.
“What, tell me,” Brenda said.
“Three, you are the third.”
Brenda tried to stifle a laugh, but could not help a smile from creeping over her face. “Three! That is pathetic! Oh my God, and with your gyrations back there, I bet this is actually only the third time you’ve done it period—once with each!”
“It’s true—does that make you feel better?” Sam asked.
“God, you really are inexperienced! That’s almost endearing but I have to say we have to consider this a one-night stand. You’re not my type. So thanks for the night, but I think it’s best if we both get enough sleep before work tomorrow.”
“Right,” Sam said, “Thanks, I guess.”
“Thank you too, bye.”
Sam left.
The next morning Brenda went to work, boring old work. During the eight hours she spent in her cubicle, she thought of the previous day and her moments with Sam. She began to feel bad, that she had treated him in that manner. During her lunch break she walked up and down a two block stretch of Santa Monica Blvd and continued to feel guilty. She left a message on Jillian’s machine saying she wanted to get Sam’s number. Jillian texted it to her. Brenda texted Sam saying, “I’m really sorry about what I said last night—do you want to have dinner together tonight?” Sam wrote back, “Just tell me where and when to meet you.”
Brenda left work and went to her car. She sat in rush hour traffic for over an hour. At some point during that hour, she pondered and decided she had not felt so happy in years.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Failure, Inc.

Failure, Inc. is a story that I wrote over Sunday and Monday of this week. It's the first story I've written in a long time. I was aiming to write something that could be submitted for under 5,000 word writing contests (this is 15 words under 5000). It is almost a matter of protest against my present-day circumstances, which are highly distasteful. I am not afraid of anyone plagiarizing the story because I do not think it is very sucessful. It is in a way an expression of the frustration of unemployment, and employment in general.

Failure, Inc.

Van sat in the waiting room in the 14th floor office of a mysterious company named Failure, Inc., a Time Warner Company. The office was located in Century City, CA, and the Time Warner Affiliation gave Van great confidence that he would be going to work for a highly reputable firm. Nobody had mentioned what Failure, Inc. did for its business. Indeed, Van had answered a very mysterious online advertisement. This is what it said:

Are you tired of going on useless interviews? Do you ever get fed up with overcrowded areas and politically correct corporate atmospheres? But, are you still in search of an employer than can take care of you, even if you don’t have to be their slave? Our company may be for you. We are in search of highly creative individuals to manage a number of projects. Growth potential is limitless. All applicants will be considered. Please send your resume to

Van was supposed to meet someone named Christopher. Christopher was the owner of the company and he had told Van over the phone when he called that he insisted on personally doing every interview, because the filter of an additional HR assistant would have forced him to be more mechanical about the process, and Van had remembered he said, “There’s nothing mechanical about our company at all.”
Christopher came into the waiting room, saw the one young man sitting there, said, “Van?” introduced himself, and led the way to his office. It was a rather bare office, the only accoutrements being a computer on Christopher’s desk, a few posters on the wall that looked to be book advertisements, and a degree on the wall from Loyola Marymount University.
“Did you find the place okay?” Christopher asked.
“Yes, I’ve been to Century City a bunch of times,” Van answered.
“But I bet they’re always telling you to park in the mall garage, right?” Christopher added.
Van laughed politely, “Yeah, the first three hours are free.”
“That always used to piss me off so much,” Christopher said.
“You used to interview here too?” Van asked, wanting to appear intrigued.
“Ten years ago, I was probably in the exact same position as you. From your resume it looks like you went to school on the east coast, tried to live at home for a while, and then decided to move to L.A. to , let me guess, work in the entertainment industry?” Christopher spun.
“That’s pretty much accurate,” Van answered.
“Well, Van, I want you to relax then. Please, take off your jacket, loosen your tie. All your worries are over. Let me tell you, I started this company as a reaction against the options available to the young, intelligent person without appreciable business skills. Such bullshit, such bullshit when you get out of college and look for an entry-level job, and then you find there’s nothing out there unless you go back for more school! Crazy! But, when it happened to me, I really had nowhere to go, but I started going to Loyola for law school, and somehow I made it work. I got my J.D. and rather than starting my own law practice, I started this company, and I serve as head legal counsel. Intellectual property is my specialty, and at Failure, Inc. you will be creating intellectual property—your own.”
“So, what would I actually do if I started working for the company?” Van asked.
“You come in from Monday through Friday, from 9 AM to 5 PM, or another 8 hour span if your commute is unreasonable with rush hour traffic. Some people start work at 6 and leave at 2. I don’t care, so long as you put in your eight hours. I’ll tell you right now, it’s really easy to slack off here and do less work than you should, but in three years of business, I have not had a single problem with anyone trying to lie about how much work they’ve finished. This is the only place in the world where people do what they love. A lot of people apply for this job, I get a lot of resumes, but I only pick the ones that I know are capable of producing intellectual property. That is, a college education, though I do not make that a stipulation as I have had some employees who are brilliant despite a lack of collegial knowledge. Also important is your list of top five authors. That is very important in the cover letter and you did a good job—wait, who were yours again?”
“I think it was J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Bret Easton Ellis, Don Delillo, and Philip Roth,” Van recalled slowly
“Very American! You see, most people have trouble naming five that they really like beyond all others. I never judge who their five are, but you can usually tell if someone is listing someone whose books they have never read. I know it sounds weird, but you can. People list authors that are somehow associated with one another. But this doesn’t really matter. Let me continue, you will come in from 9 AM to 5 PM, or some such other 8 hour period, and you will have your own cubicle that you are free to decorate with whatever you want and you will have your own computer, and you will have the option of a PC or Mac, tell me what other company does that for you! Finally, you will begin your work, which is to produce content. We always start every new employee off with their memoir assignment. You will write about your life, and you will do it in a brilliant manner. All of our employees do it first, and every employee reads every memoir, and then everybody is on very good terms with one another. We have such a happy family here!”
Van became somewhat nervous at this explanation, “What if I don’t feel comfortable writing about my life?”
“Why would you be uncomfortable?” Christopher pushed.
“I haven’t made any great discoveries…” Van began
“You’ve failed, no?” Christopher asked.
“Yes, I’ve failed over and over.”
“Also why I picked your resume, Van! I can sense failure from a mile away. Why else do you think the company is named it! This is the greatest secret company the world has ever had, and everybody who sees the name, Failure, Inc., they’re like, “Why would I ever want to work for them! Failure is bad!” But I see failing as good. Too many people succeed! Or rather, too many people brag about their success. Not enough people whine about their failure. It makes everyone else feel small. Great, you’ve got a happy marriage! I’ve been a lonely bachelor for my entire adult life and you just made me want to kill myself! You see, Failure, Inc. is my way of getting back at everyone, and doing it in a way that is going to make all of us internationally famous and rich. Everyone says that life is unfair, so how come all you see are smiles all the time? Van, you are special.”
“Thanks,” Van said, finding the whole interview more bizarre by the moment.
“When you admit all the failures you have made in your memoir, you will be cleansed! You must be completely thorough about every single failure, and then you will know, intuitively, how never to fail again. And actually! Actually! Would you believe that a good deal of the sense of whether or not you are a failure comes from the company you work for, so already, I like you Van, I can tell you are a really good person, you are kind of set! Forever! AND, the greatest thing about Failure, Inc. is that your work is not just busy work. Your work is highly significant. Your work will go on to be produced by film and television studios, be available in bookstores across the country, and if it is good enough, people will still utter your name in praise years after your death.”
“I just don’t see how you get paid to do this,” Van asked.
“Do you see the ‘a Time Warner Company’ designation on the subtitle of our company placard? Ha! A multi-billion dollar corporation like that, founded upon entertainment values, is more than happy to support our cause, once properly explained. Our payroll is provided by them and our production overhead is provided by a series of grants which we are always obtaining. Would you believe that I actually received a MacArthur Genius Grant last year?”
“No way,” Van said.
“Yes way,” Christopher went on, “The company was original enough that they considered me a genius. That’s $100,000 we got. Now, we also have people who work on obtaining grants for us—those are the only ‘less creative’ people we have working for us, though they do produce content in their spare time, just not as much as other full-timers. No, their experience is in grant-writing, and they are the only typical business employees we have. We also have a printing press in one of our rooms, and you might think we should have a full-time printer, but actually, everyone is expected to learn how to operate the printing press. Do you have any questions?” Christopher seemed to stop and finalize things.
“What is the compensation?”
“You have a base salary plus commissions. Are you okay with that?” Christopher asked.
“What is the base?” Van asked.
“A lowly 32,000 dollars a year, with taxes taken out of course. With California tax laws, that kind of sucks to be honest. Figure close to 20% taken out, but it’s worth it, you’ve got to admit it’s worth it!” Christopher joked excitedly, “I feel much more comfortable with Arnold around! In fact! Would you believe that the Governor himself and his wife came to personally congratulate me on my MacArthur? Do you know what the Governator said to me? He said, “I want you to write a story about California in a post 9/11 world, all of the wildfires. I want you to write about Malibu homes on fire! I will return to the movies to play a firefighter for that subject!” I laughed, I laughed so hard. He is a great man.”
Van was very impressed with Christopher’s anecdote and sat stupidly smiling for a moment.
“But sorry, $32,000, minus 20%, that’s a little more than $26,000, so that’s a little more than $2,000 a month, which is just barely good enough to live on here.”
“Depending on where you live….” Van mumbled.
“Yes, but your commission will be lucrative. You will make 10% off the total price of your production—effective forever.”
“Nice,” Van said, “But it must take a while to produce that first memoir.”
“Yes, that’s generally the only problem we have in offering jobs to people. You would think that everyone would be ecstatic to take this position. Some people are just too greedy that $26,000 isn’t enough to live on per year, but also, those people probably lack the confidence that they can produce something that a random stranger is going to waste their time reading, or watching, whatever.”
“Yeah, but, what if you don’t produce enough,”
“We have ways of dealing with that. You will still be paid your base salary, but if you show no signs of progress or productivity in this realm, you will be fired. I’m sorry! I know it’s a really cool company, but we have to fire people. The ironic thing is its called Failure, Inc. but a lot of people come in here thinking they’ll be able to take on the full-time task of producing a huge amount of entertaining, worthwhile content, and after just a few weeks, they start claiming they’re blocked, and sometimes their work looks more and more like plagiarism, and if everyone decides that the work they’ve produced is bad enough, they will be asked to leave. Most people don’t have this problem, though. We have a team of twenty-five employees, and every year we lose about one or two, either because somebody finds out who they are and makes them a better offer (which we always think they are idiots for taking, because we all laugh to ourselves about how they’re totally going to be taken advantage of now) or because, like I mentioned before, they just don’t have what it takes. How does this all sound to you, Van?”
“It sounds great.”
“Would you like to start on Monday?”
“Yes, definitely!”
“Okay great, come in at whatever early hour you choose. The dress is casual. Some of our employees come to work in ripped jeans and t-shirts. I myself wear a suit because I am the President and a lawyer. I actually don’t want anyone else wearing a suit because it makes me feel less important. But yes, come in on Monday, and remember, you are now working for the greatest company in Century City, and potentially the world—your life is about to change so much for the better.”

On Monday, Christopher greeted Van in the waiting room again and showed him to his cubicle, outfitted with a Mac, as Van had requested in the e-mail asked of him over the weekend. Van met some of his cubicle neighbors—Allison, Jerry, and William—and all of them wanted to chat it up.
“So it’s a pretty cool company, huh?” Jerry asked.
“Yeah, it’s the coolest,” Van said.
“You’ll never want to leave,” Allison said.
“I feel confident that this is the best possible place we could end up, we’re all very lucky,” William said.
“But you have to do that memoir assignment first, right?” Jerry asked.
“That’s right,” Van said.
“That’s the test,” Allison said, “If you pass the test, you get to stay.”
“Don’t sweat it,” William said, “Almost everyone passes. You wouldn’t be here in the first place if they didn’t think you could pass it.”
“I just don’t think my life is interesting enough!” Van let out excitedly.
“Pfft, and you think ours are?” Jerry said.
“Nobody’s life is interesting,” Allison said, “All interesting stories are full of lies.”
“Or full of filters,” William added.
“Yes, the absence of failure,” Jerry interjected.
“Failure is interesting,” Allison said, “Just remember that. Failure is more useful than success.”
“Can I ask you,” Van said, “What did you start your memoirs with? When you are born, or when you went to school—where do you start?”
Jerry picked up his phone and said, “Christopher, Van needs help starting his memoir.”
Not a minute later the President appeared and looked benevolently down at Van.
“Opening segment jitters?” Christopher guessed, “Remember, you are working for Failure, Inc. What is the biggest failure of your life?”
Van had difficulty summoning up this factoid. His life had been a romantic failure, but he did not want to write about that. “Probably moving to L.A., thinking I was going to work for some big movie studio, running out of all my money, barely scraping by with help from my parents,” he finally said.
“But you ended up here!” Christopher said, “So your failure has led to your destiny. I don’t consider that very worthwhile. Every try committing suicide?” he asked.
“I don’t know….yes?” Van said.
“Suicide is the most interesting subject in the world! Camus made a career out of it and won the Nobel Prize for Literature! Our ultimate goal is for one of our employees to win that esteemed award. Practically everyone’s memoir begins with a suicide attempt. It’s perfect you see. There’s obviously some sort of failure attached to the desire, it’s interesting, and it’s empathetic because you show yourself at the bottom, as low as anyone else can go.”
“But do I really want to do that, do I really want everyone to see how weak I’ve been?” Van asked philosophically.
“Yes! If you’d like, you can write about how you got accepted to Swarthmore and majored in English, but I’m telling you, I don’t know if that memoir will pass our test. Part of the sacrifice of working for Failure, Inc. is that you show yourself naked, with all of your accumulated faults, weaknesses and inadequacies. If you deny possession of these less attractive qualities, certain elements of your story may strike the reader as inauthentic. Authenticity is so important in art! How would you feel if a friend came into your room, poured his heart out to you, told you all of these crazy things about himself that you had absolutely no idea about, and then, just as he was about to leave, and just as you were about to stand up and hug him goodbye, he says, “By the way, I was lying about all of that.” He is not as good a friend anymore, now is he?”
“No,” Van concurs.
“Your work should be honest about your failures. When someone picks up a book, they’re hoping that the author will have some sort of intuitive understanding of their inner state. That is the only sort of literature that is worthwhile—the kind when, as you read it, you feel the author is speaking to you directly, making reference to your immediate, present situation, as impossible and supernatural as it may seem. That has been the aim of literature since the ancients, and, unfortunately, I must add that people find it less and less necessary to read books, so much of our content will not actually be read as it is intended by an audience, but read by more creative developers, who will then turn the story into a movie, and who will find actors to represent your person, so that the audience will feel more comfortable identifying failure with someone who, obviously, is a pretty big success, if they’re a celebrity at least.”
“So my memoir should just make people feel better about themselves?” Van asked.
“In a nutshell, that is not a bad guiding principle,” Christopher said, smiling, “Is that helpful enough?”
“Yes, I think I’ll be alright now,” Van said, and began typing his memoir on the Mac at his cubicle. He wrote about his suicide attempt in L.A. Or rather, his thinking on a suicide attempt, since he had been so afraid that if he attempted, it would work, since there would be no one around to assist him in his potentially life-threateningly injured condition. Authenticity was in play here. There would be no lies about rope purchased, blades sharpened, pills procured, strange heights sought. There would be description of Van alone in his bed at night, an impassioned monologue flitting through his mind, rushed, pessimistic thoughts. Romantic hopelessness, the inability to sustain an independent lifestyle, social anxieties and bitter loneliness—all these emotions coursed through Van’s words. He was writing from the heart. By lunch hour, which everyone took together at 1:00 in the conference/lunch room, he had completed over two thousand words.
All the employees sat around a giant hexagonal table, opening up their individually designated bags. Christopher saw Van enter and gestured towards the open seat next to him.
“I forgot to ask for your order, I’m sorry, so I took the liberty of getting you the same thing as me,” Christopher explained, “So how are you getting on? Did you start well?”
Van opened up his bag, which contained an Italian sub, a bag of Vickie’s sea salt and vinegar potato chips, a banana, and a can of coca-cola. “I think I did pretty well. Is 2,000 words good?”
“It’s hard to measure whether word count production rate has any relation to end product efficiency. You could be writing a 150 page book or a 900 page book. But in general, in the first week we like to see a high production rate like that, because we will be paying extra close attention to your first work, obviously. The more content we have to sort through and critique, the better we will be able to assess your strengths and weaknesses, and to get a sense of how much of a failure you can be for us.”
Van started a bit at the last comment, and Christopher noticed, and laughed, saying, “I’m sorry you’ll have to get used to that! We don’t like to say the word ‘success’ or any variant of it. We always prefer to say fail. Call it a superstition or whatever you will.”
Van slowly chewed his sandwich and Christopher asked, “Do you have any more questions?”
“Yes,” Van said, “What exactly do you label your business under?”
“Well,” Christopher said, “We are one-of-a-kind. We are a fully operational agency-publishing house-printing-press-literary-legal-counsel firm. We haven’t been able to come up with a tidy acronym. Basically, we are a publisher.”
“But no agents?” Van asked.
“We’ve done away with literary agents. You’ll find many of your colleagues used to seek out their assistance. You’ll also find many of them had a bevy of distasteful experiences. Another one of the perks of Failure, Inc., right there. I’m your agent, okay, and I’m also your editor, okay, and that goes for all of your colleagues as well. Everyone helps each other through every part of this process—brainstorming, motivating, reading, editing, printing, and selling—so you’re not alone in the void, like always. And it’s not like a typical writing group where maybe nobody knows what they’re talking about, or you’re realistically only writing for them. Here we are very much writing for a living. Also, there is no spirit of competitiveness—rather, we foster a very deep respect for teamwork and cooperation. To be part of Failure, Inc. is a great honor in itself, and people are often just as proud of this as they are of the work they produce under our banner.”

A week later Van’s first work had been reviewed and he was called in for his editing appointment. He sat across from Christopher in his office.
“Your work looks good,” Christopher said straight out, “I think you’re going to fit in very well. Of course you do still need some help, I would like to specify, in the field of detail.”
“I know it’s a problem” Van said, “I never know how long to go on for.”
“How long of a book are you trying to write?”
“To be honest as short as possible because I really want to get the memoir book out of the way.”
“What! That is a cardinal sin, Van!” Christopher pressed a button on his phone and said, “Betsy, get me Allison.” Allison arrived a moment later.
Christopher asked her, “Allison, what is your opinion on rushing through assignments?”
“It’s the stupidest thing you can do,” Allison said, “Rome is not built in a day.”
“Excuse me,” Van said, “But Rome would have been built much faster if they had the technology we do today.”
“And tell me,” Christopher said, “What technological advantage do you have over Cicero?”
“Printing press?” Van asked.
“Computer, printing press—you may have these at your disposal, but you lack the authority of Cicero. Ask yourself—is there anything you know with great certainty? Are there any facts you can admit you understand?”
“I’m going to die,” Van said.
“That is so typical,” Allison said, “That knowledge is completely trite.”
“I’m going to have to pay taxes?” Van said.
Christopher said, “No, I pay your taxes for you. I take care of everything for you! I order your lunch for you! I get you a Mac because you prefer it to a PC and still you want to rush through your work! Do you know how long I expect us all to be working here?”
“How long?”
“Fifty years! When I hire someone, I expect them to be here for fifty years! Tell me if you feel the need to be rushing through your work now!”
“I guess I’m just not thrilled about writing a memoir. I don’t like writing about myself.”
Christopher drummed his fingers on his desk. “Allison, what did you learn in writing your memoir?”
“How much detail to go into.”
“Ta-da! Van, it is a learning experience. All jobs require you to do something distasteful, to dive into material with which you might not be comfortable. This is the hardest part for a lot of people, but I’m telling you, I like what I see. I just don’t like cardinal sins! Allison, tell him about cardinal sins!”
“Cardinal sins occur when someone expresses doubt as to their ability to complete a task.”
“But aren’t I supposed to be proud of all my failures?” Van asked confusedly.
“Yes,” Christopher said, “Keep writing down all your failures you fool! Your level of detail is the only thing that needs work. Otherwise you are passing with flying colors! Tell me, do I need to know about your pet goldfish? What does it matter what his name was—indeed, I even doubt whether you knew it was a boy fish or girl fish. What does your relationship with your pet goldfish tell me about you, or your story? That you led a very dull existence? Fine. If your story is about how your life is dull, then include those dull details, but I will mention again, I don’t think a memoir containing a bevy of goldfish details is going to excite anyone. But your life has been an adventure, Van. You don’t have that problem.”
Van said, “I’m feeling a lot of pressure.”
“That’s because you’re putting it on yourself! Would you prefer that we give you a timetable in which to finish your rough draft?”
“That might be helpful for me,” Van said.
“Fine, you have three months to complete your memoir. Now, people say that books take years to write, but we are much more efficient here. I am confident you will be finished in three months, then, three more months to turn in the polished product. How do you feel now?”
“Good, then back to work!”

Six months later Van finished his memoir, learned the printing press, printed 100 copies and began contacting bookstores across the country. Obviously first Barnes & Noble and Borders, as you could easily clean out your one hundred copies if all of their stores wanted a few. After the big ones, it was on to the more underground ones, the ones deeply respected in cities across the nation—Strand Bookstore and Shakespeare & Co. in New York, Quimby’s bookstore and Myopic books in Chicago, Circus of Books in Los Angeles, more and more from research on the internet. Then it was onto publicity. Christopher called Van into his office at this period.
“You see Van? You see how easy it is? We’ve done all the hard work for you! We’ve had faith in you all along, and you see, our faith pays off! Next we have the most exciting part of your career, the publicity! I’ve set you up with a feature in the L.A. Times. You will be interviewed, and your book will be given the fluff treatment! Now, in a week or so, the real reviews will begin appearing, but for now, put your best face on, and tell them how great Failure has been for you. They always love jokes about the name.”
Van met with the L.A. Times reporter who introduced herself as Mary at a Peet’s coffee shop. She asked him about how he got the job and he said it sort of fell into his lap. He answered an ad, he had an unusual resume, and there was a response. He said he stumbled into the greatest dream of his life. Mary asked him about his book and he called it a stunning declaration of love for the refuge of art. He said the book describes all of his problems with working in the 21st century business world and how due to an “act of God” he could now do what he loved.
The reviews for Van’s first book, Tiny Checking, were very positive. What the reviewers said Van lacked in experience, he made up for in earnestness. They said it was truly heartening to read someone’s thoughts on the breakdown of the workplace and the idea of sustainable lifestyles. They said the ideas had always been taken for granted, and Van had been shrewd in his skewering of society’s so-called foundations.

Until Van euthanatized himself at age 79, he worked at the same office of Failure, Inc. He saw his co-workers die, and he met co-workers thirty years his junior. He wrote twenty books in his time, and Christopher became lenient in vacation time after the first three years. He had developed a summer vacation plan not unlike those designated for teachers. When Van was suffering, and about to leave the office for good, Christopher called him in for one last meeting.
“Well Van, I bet you didn’t think you’d last. Look at me! I’m 89 god-damned years old. You wonder what the secrets to longevity are, and then you stop caring about them. Van, were you happy?”
“I owe everything to you Christopher.”
“Good because we own everything about you. We’re very glad you chose to support our cause. You didn’t win the Nobel, but you got nominated! That’s something. Unfortunately it’s too bad you had to see Jerry win it—I mean, he deserved it, we can all agree, but it must be bitter to be nominated and lose to a colleague! Don’t worry—Geographical Syllabi will be read for generations to come. And I still like Tiny Checking! What youthful ambition you had. I will be happy to make some sort of speech at your funeral. When is it scheduled for?”
“Next Thursday.”
“Well, good show Van.”
He shook Christopher’s hand a final time, left the office, took the elevator down, went to his car, drove to his house, ate a satisfying meal, and went to bed.