Monthly Archives: December 2010

Bialystock, O’Donnell and Bloom

Perennial failed Delaware senate candidate, Christine O’Donnell, is now facing a federal investigation to determine if she used campaign contributions to pay off personal expenses.

The investigation should come as no surprise.  Questions about her finances and use of previous campaign funds were raised during last fall’s run.  O’Donnell has a shaky financial history, including filing for bankruptcy. The 41 year-old, not only had never won a general election, but also did not have much of an employment record.  Other than her infamous long-ago guest television appearances as a “youth abstinence advocate”, her services as a pundit were not often called upon.

But what if O’Donnell is really smarter than we all could have imagined?  What if she not only never had any intention of winning, but didn’t even want to come close?

And what if the mastermind behind her scheme was not some notorious Republican strategist?  Perhaps she came up with the plan herself, inspired not by the writings of Sun Tzu, but by the work of one Melvin Kaminsky, better known to the world as Mel Brooks.

Imagine O’Donnell, sitting around her modest home sometime in 2009.  She’s waiting for the phone to ring, hoping Bill Maher will finally return her calls and invite her on his HBO show, which would at least give her an appearance fee and some exposure.   She’s ignoring the umpteenth phone message left by her father, telling her once again it’s not too late to enroll in clown-college and learn an honest trade.  She goes through her bills, while absently flipping the channels and leaves on some old movie.  It’ll only be days before she loses even her basic cable.

The movie has just started.  She’s seen it before, and is only half-watching. The down-on-his-heels producer is playing sexy games with some old lady.

The whole scene reminds Christine of the Tea-Partiers, whom she has lately been trying to cultivate.  None of them under eighty!  Yeech.

Now the accountant is auditing the books, asking the producer about some discrepancy.  The producer, points out that the show lost money anyway, so what does it matter?

“Been there, honey,” Christine says aloud, remembering how bad things had gotten in 2008.

And suddenly there’s a spark in the accountant’s eye, and he mentions that under the right circumstances a man could make more money with a flop . . .

An idea pops into Christine head.  She had started out as an acting major and had long been aware that politics is theater.

Re-energized she thinks about an office she probably wouldn’t win.  It’s obvious.  The senate seat she’s lost twice before!

“You can do this, Christine!” She tells herself.

The beauty of it is she doesn’t even have to win the primary. If she can paint Mike Castle as an elitist, she should still be able to bring in the bucks for a write-in with the support of enough old ladies and grumpy old men.   She’ll just have to “dabble into” Tea Party Land for a while.  And like the movie, the worse she does in the election, the less likely anyone is to look into where the money went.

She sets things in motion — hires inexperienced staff, manages to alienate even previous conservative supporters, avoids the press or messes up when interviewed — and yet in a surprise upset, she wins the primary.  While she’s still a long-shot, things are getting scary.  She’s not in it, to win it.

But then her old secret-crush, Bill Maher comes through with those long ago guest appearances, releasing them to youtube where they go viral.

“What a moron, I was!” Christine mumbles, watching a clip.  She laughs at her own inanity.  Meantime the dollars keep rolling in, and the best part is Bill Maher’s new found desire for her.

“Who’s sorry now, bi-atch?” she says watching him plead for her to make an appearance on his show — a show she can finally afford to watch on HBO.

She thinks of a line from the movie that inspired her candidacy, “Flaunt it baby! Flaunt it.” She buys herself new clothes — mostly designer suits like the kind Sarah Palin bought with RNC funds, even gets herself designer eye-glasses though she still has perfect vision.  Then she shops for a condo.

Now, even Rove is a reluctant supporter.  They can’t stop talking about her on MSBNC where Pat Buchanan enthusiastically outlines a scenario that involves the libtards overselling the old anti-masturbation rants, while Tea-Party fever propels her into the Senate.

She nearly panics.  Winning the election would mean actually having to work as a senator, plus all those contributors would be expecting her to do something for the money.  It would be worse than the old days, where a guy would buy you dinner and expect S-E-X.  And if the Dems see her as a real threat, they’re more likely to investigate.

So she decides she has to take it a step further, and she comes up with the “I am not a witch,” commercial.  Comedy gold!

“Those fools,” Christine says to herself while watching an actress imitating her on Saturday Night Life“You can’t parody a parody!” Then she becomes aware of what her left hand is doing while her right is holding the remote. She turns off the set and takes a cold shower.

Election night comes off without a hitch.  No need for a recount!  Her concession is perfect.  She wonders if she just should have stuck with acting all along.  Everyone said she was a real Sally Fields-type and could have done well.

She realizes she’s taking a risk.  In the movie, they were going to take the money and run off to Brazil, but she loves her country too darn much to leave.  Besides she doesn’t even know how to speak Brazilian, and any day Fox will call and offer her a show.  If she gets a Fox contract, then even if the feds come after her, she can pay back the campaign money with change to spare.   Hadn’t Palin proved that losing could legally be so much more lucrative than winning?

But the call from Fox never comes.

“That damn Rove.  What a hater!”  It makes her cry, realizing her dreams of shopping with Sarah or maybe even babysitting her kids will never come to pass.

Disgruntled campaign staffers are talking, and the feds are moving in.  Still, she can’t help giggling as she recalls  how they attempted to blow up the theater in that movie. She knows violence is not the answer, and decides instead to issue a press release blaming Joe Biden.  Though she hopes her fellow Tea-Partiers will come to her aide, in her heart, she fears the jig is up.

“That wasn’t supposed to happen,” Christine laments. “I picked a seat I couldn’t win, ran the worst campaign, and even lost as planned!  Where did I go right?”

Book Review: The Dead Beat by Cody James — Voice, She Has It

The Dead Beat, by Cody James is currently up for the “Not the Booker Prize.” In honor of this achievement, I’m giving this old post a sticky and keeping it up for a day or two.

Some writers create books full of non-stop action and noise.  Others take hundreds of pages to tell sprawling stories that span generations.  Cody James writes pitch-perfect short-novels in which the world is revealed to us in the smallest details.

I fell under the hypnotic spell of James’ prose when reading her first novel, Babylon — which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be available at the moment.  (I hope it’s reissued soon,)  Her second novel, The Dead Beat, is not a disappointment.

The Dead Beat is set during the summer of 1997 in and around San Francisco. Adam, a blocked writer and meth addict is our narrator.  He lives in the usual squalor with his fellow-junkie friends.  Not much happens.  A comet comes and goes as do a couple of girlfriends and jobs.  Resolutions are made and broken.  It all leads somewhere, sort of.

But you don’t read James for her plots.  You read her for the voice, the inimitable, bewitching rhythm that gets into your head and builds itself a home.

A writer to whom she’s arguably comparable is Flannery O’Connor though Bukowski might be a more obvious choice. O’Connor was famous for her Catholicism, and James is a self-avowed Satanist, but both are astute observers able to capture the human condition concisely.  Both offer their characters (and readers) momentary glimpses of a greater truth — what O’Connor defined as “grace.”  Neither is ever guilty of sentimentality, and both write in prose sharp enough to draw blood.

In The Dead Beat, James has the technical challenge of telling the story in the first person through Adam.  She must filter her voice to fit him.  It’s always a bit of magic when a writer can pull this off, whether it’s Samuel Clemens convincing us he’s Huck Finn or Nabokov masquerading as Humbert.  Adam is probably more reliable than either of those two, but he’s still limited. — dead pan, shut down, often high, looking for drugs or in withdrawal.

The grace here is not heaven sent.  If there is a greater power at work, it’s one that comes from community — however warped.  Adam and his roommates care for each other as best they can.   The transcendent is what’s left of their humanity — what the addiction hasn’t yet destroyed — their ability to be kind to each other — to connect.  It’s the sometimes goofy conversations about every day stuff that show us these lost souls — the debate about whether “uncomfort” is a word, whether pot heads are more annoying than coke heads, and of course whether anything has any meaning at all.

This is a novel in which characters struggle to find a reason to go on living, yet it’s strangely life affirming.  James has brought us Adam’s truth, and ultimately it’s our truth as well, one with which we all struggle and can identify.