By Mr. Fish
“The two real political parties in America are the Winners and the Losers. The people don’t acknowledge this. They claim membership in two imaginary parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, instead.” — Kurt Vonnegut
For those who love pointless games of aggression, rocks will always beat scissors. And the reason why that will never change is because logic has nothing to do with arguing for or against the rules of a game. Any game. A forward in a soccer game, for example, will never call a timeout or stage a sit-down strike to ask why the goalie is the only one allowed to use his or her hands when handling the ball. Nor will a spectator ask why there is an out of bounds or a countdown clock or penalties for poor sportsmanship. That’s because the rules of a game trump the notion that there should exist either compassion or a universal logic that might apply to all games all of the time. The rules of any game insist that compromise be removed from the equation because there is no place for empathy within the frivolity of those contests that we devise for ourselves for the purpose of glorifying our ambition to dominate one another.
After all, when the goal is to win it is imperative, for the sake of establishing a point of comparison, that there be losers from which to differentiate.
“Success is the sole earthly judge of right and wrong.” — Adolf Hitler
A few years back and by pure accident I ended up hanging out with Damian Kulash, lead singer of the rock band OK Go, at the Beverly Hills Hotel where The Nation magazine was simultaneously throwing a fundraising party for itself in the Crystal Ballroom and celebrating the profound contributions made by expert hell-raiser, veteran columnist and Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer to the field of progressive journalism. It was one of those celebratory memorials that organizations sometimes throw for their graying colleagues that are almost always self-congratulatory tributaries that end up feeling more like wakes for the undead; these contrived ceremonies seem designed for the cheerful heaping of praise and adulation, instead of dirt and sobbing, upon a celebrated personality while he or she is still warm and breathing and capable of attracting paying donors instead of freeloading mourners to the host organization.
“God has always been hard on the poor, and he always will be.” — Jean-Paul Marat
It was the day after Kulash had finished shooting the now iconic treadmill video for the song “Here It Goes Again.” “It’s really cool,” he told me, “better than the last one—you’ll love it.” I agreed that, yeah, I probably would. Then he spent the next hour bemoaning the fact that, despite his video for “A Million Ways” having gone viral the previous year and becoming known to millions and millions of people all around the world, he never made a dime off it and wasn’t a billionaire as a result. I asked him what he’d do with a billion dollars. “I wouldn’t be here,” he said, “that’s for goddamn sure.” I agreed that, yeah, he probably wouldn’t.
“The lack of money is the root of all evil.” — Mark Twain
The Nation was celebrating its 140th anniversary and though its reputation for voicing both the outrage and the humanitarian eloquence of the downtrodden and dissident masses was well deserved, I couldn’t help imagining how quickly Woody Guthrie or Eugene Debs or Jesus Christ would’ve been shooed away from the lobby entrance had any one of them miraculously appeared for the purpose of pissing all over the concept that the only way to save the world was through the blatant commodification of peace, freedom and justice. In fact, given the bourgeois sophistication of the crowd, the avian tiptoe of women perched atop their high heeled shoes, the monotonous crush of old white men in suits and the demented cacophony of bling, capped teeth and perfume, without the easeled placards identifying the gathering as an event for Bob Scheer and bleeding-heart, egghead, do-gooder liberals, it might have easily been misconstrued as a seminar for the shareholders of Halliburton or Exxon Mobil. But, then again, this was Beverly Hills, the only city in America where, according to Jack Benny, the police department had an unlisted number.
“In life there are no winners, only assholes with Swiss bank accounts.” — Matthew Lotti
I had deliberately arrived early to the Beverly Hills Hotel, hoping to get there before the room filled up completely with boozy little cliques that I’d find impossible to penetrate later, my pockets bulging with business cards that advertised both my mad artistic abilities and my enthusiasm to overwork the First Amendment to near exhaustion. It was, after all, my secret ambition to, in the words of Pablo Picasso, “live like a poor man with plenty of money.” I was certain that the room would eventually be jampacked with likeminded supporters of free speech, many of them publishers and editors with budgets and payroll departments, each and every one of us inexorably linked by a common disdain for George W. Bush and his international witch hunt for those guilty of anti-Americanism, a thought crime punishable, apparently, by doomsday.
“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people and neither do we.” — George W. Bush
Kulash looked to me like the grandson of one of the doddering attendees as he loitered shyly around the open bar with his hands in his pockets. I didn’t recognize him. He was with a girl and I was with my wife, and, being the only youngsters invited to the event, we eventually ended up chatting with each other outside on an adjacent patio like children seeking camaraderie at a wedding.
“I have to say,” I said, “that those trousers might be about the best I’ve seen on anybody since the cancellation of the ‘Brady Kids’ cartoon series. I mean it.” And I did. The material was a pinstriped rusty orange, like something Johnny Bravo might’ve had upholstered onto an ottoman in his attic bedroom—something you could easily imagine being heavily Marcia-stained and endlessly caressed by the goopy light of lava lamps and multicolored candles that had been thrust dripping into the wanting mouths of empty, wicker-sheathed muscatel bottles.
“Thanks,” he said, looking down at himself. “That’s the best thing about being in a band and moving to Los Angeles. I get to have my own tailor.”
“Well, the tapering is divine,” I said, resentfully, thinking about the shitty tapering job that my older brother always used to do on my pants before we had a show. It was always the same. Three hours before we hit the stage he would be hunched over our grandmother’s 40-year-old Singer, machine-gunning away at a brand new pair of jeans, guessing at the girth of my legs, his bobbin a whirling dervish of evaporating thread. Sometimes, according to the garment produced by his labor, he assumed that my left leg was footless and only as thick as a soda can. At other times he seemed to be operating under the misconception that irregularly pleated calves were precisely what getting laid in Philadelphia in the early ’90s was all about. “What’s the name of your band?” I asked Kulash.
He told me. He then asked me the name of my band. As it turned out, his tailor and my tailor didn’t know each other. Luckily, though, I guessed that there would always be heroes like Robert Scheer and assholes like George W. Bush around to inspire impossible meetings and to give complete strangers a reason to embrace each other’s company despite the mismatched fabric of a society so often separated by naked rage.
“Liberals can understand everything but people who don’t understand them.” — Lenny Bruce