Drooling on the Pillow

Saturday, March 13, 2004


We watched Lost in Translation last night and American Splendor tonight. Of the two, I much preferred American Splendor. Ms. Coppola's movie is wonderful, in its way -- it's beautifully acted and put together. It's extremely poignent and true and evocative. I love Bill Murray and his is a great performance. I haven't seen Mystic River, but I'm sympathetic to the notion that Murray got shopped at the Oscars. But today, just a day later, it's mostly gone. It's a mood piece. It's exquisite and I have the mood stamped on the interior surface where such things are stored. It's there for good, but what facet of the imagination does that engage? The moment that they meet in the elevator and the moment when they finally fashion a satisfactory goodby form a shell that encloses all the longing and regret and fear of which these two souls are capable. But they are two moments and a shell is not a continuum. It's not like Brief Encounter where a narrative line takes you through a recapitualation of a compressed emotional matrix. I'm not saying this is a flaw. It's a remarkable way to look at it and I think it's exactly what she wanted to accomplish. As far as I'm concerned its one of the most convincing portraits of infatuation I've ever seen. I'm just saying that as it's not at the service of a larger goal it's victim to its own evanescence. It doesn't make you angry, or curious, or enthralled, or afraid, or thoughtful. It just breaks your heart a little and then goes away.

I think American Splendor may be, to a small degree, victim to it's own cleverness. It is clever and I think the innovative narrative elements come up short of getting in the movie's way, but only just. It is a much more dense movie, though. Both movies are about people dealing with almost unbearable loneliness. American Splendor is not as dense emotionally, but much more in terms of what the filmmaker puts in front of the characters to challenge their journey. The characters in Lost in Translation have only each other, their fears and their responsibilities to create the narrative tension. American Splendor throws everything but the kitchen sink in front of Harvey Pekar's way out of his miserable existance.

I'm not trying to make a case agains Lost in Translation, I just like the other kind of movie better.


What will interest me, and I know I'm not alone, is how the Spanish and Europeans in general will be feeling about this dispicable act three months from now. Will they understand then that they are at war and adjust their thinking accordingly, or will they continue to find ways to rationalize appeasment? It makes no difference whatsoever if this act was by the hand of Islamists or Basques. Or both. Or neither.

A few months ago I read an analysis by Robert Kagan of the different ways American and Europeans perceived the events of 9/11. He asked you to imagine you're alone in the woods in the neigborhood of a dangerous hungry bear. But you've only got a knife. You're going to figure your best bet is to lay low. Eventually the bear will move on. It will eat someone else. Then imagine the same scenario except that you have a high power rifle. You're going to figure your best bet is to go out and kill the bear before it comes upon you when you're asleep.

Now killing the bear is still iffy, dangerous work and if you wing him you're just going to make him more dangerous. But the bear has taken a goodly chunk out of Spain. What now? How many more bites will it take?

Thursday, March 11, 2004


I just compared my sexual history with a cartoon strip. I think I'm on to something.

I Don't Think We're in Katzenjammer Kids Anymore 

Achwood is getting way, way out there with Ray's pact with the devil (a piano salesman), Phillipe's run for president and the twin shoes of doom. Reminds me of some women I've known. Nothing but trouble, but I can't stay away.


It took us two years to complete the paperwork for our Chinese adoption. Some of this is waiting, of course. You file for the background check, wait for the paper, fill out the paper, send in the paper and wait for the FBI to unearth all your youthly indiscretions. Etc. But a surprising amount of the two years was actually consumed by completing the paperwork. I've seen SEC filings with fewer boxes and less redaction. The Chinese invented bureaucracy and have had 3,000 years to work on the fine points. We also had the misfortune to apply in the middle of a bureaucratic war between the foreign ministry and some species of the interior ministry over control of the lucrative adoption franchise. That set us back four or five months. I have a friend, a literary agent, whose date for going to China and meeting her daughter last year coincided with the SARS outbreak. That would seem like worse luck, but they went anyway and everything worked out fine.

All this nit-picking and compulsive documentation is not entirely a bad thing, though. I have another friend who adopted from Guatemala. They went down to get their son and ran into "unforeseen problems" that were solved by two additional months and two additional thousand dollars into the palm of a judge. That wouldn't happen in China. And if it did, the judge, if he was lucky, would wind up picking nits on a collective nit farm somewhere in Xinjiang (not a quality of life place).

The Chinese make you jump through hoops, but once you make it through the last hoop everything happens exactly the way they say it will.

We were treated with a level of courtesy and kindness from everyone we met that would have made me proud if I was Chinese. Everyone.

Grace was born in Zhanjiang, way down south, only a couple hundred miles from Vietnam. It's one of their Economic Development Zones. My impression, based on less than two weeks residence, is that it is a crummy little seaport over which a zillion dollars in development is being poured to turn it into they know not what. Massive projects everywhere. Skyscrapers going up with bamboo scaffolding in the middle of a square mile of nothing, not even a street. This is cowboy capitalism the likes of which hasn't been seen in this country for a hundred years. It's also far off the beaten track. I had the impression that westerners are extremely exotic here. Lane and I did a lot of exploring in the older sections. There is a beautiful park downtown with a magnificent memorial to Sun Yat-Sen. There are also market areas loaded with funk where you can get just about anything you want, if you know what I mean. When we took Grace in her stroller to these places and paused for one minute there would be a crowd of fifty people trying to talk with us or just gawking. Some would be trying to sell us money (we were warned to steer far away from these), a lot of them just wanted to touch Lane's (red) hair, but mostly they wanted to know what the deal was and try out their scraps of English.

But virtually every one of them wound up saying the same thing. In English if they had it, or they would say it in Chinese and urge someone to translate it for us. It was the same thing said to us by customs agents, ministry officials, cab drivers, by the clouds of tiny young women in ball gowns who wait on you in department stores, waiters, passport photographers, hotel clerks, doctors, street hustlers and shop keepers. Sooner or later they all said the same thing. "Lucky girl."

Well, let me tell you. It's been six years now and Grace's parents are the lucky ones.

But that's for another time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The Doonesbury 

I laughed out loud today at Doonesbury. Not a big deal, I just had gotten out of the habit. He managed to capture the fey little hand gesture Donald Trump uses on The Apprentice when he says "You're fired."

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Life Returns 

Things have eased up a tad at work and I hope to have a little more time to devote to this. I'll tell you the truth, so far I'm really enjoying it -- the writing, the linking, the education I'm receiving from those who have engaged me through this. In another galaxy long, long ago I wrote plays and a couple murder mysteries. It had been almost a decade since I last raised a pen in anger, though, and when I tried last fall I found that it was like riding a bicycle -- after ten years and major knee surgery, it didn't work. I began this just so that I would write something every day. I don't know about any improvement in my prose stylings, but it is getting steadily easier to write the same old crap. I suppose that's something.
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