Sunday, August 31, 2008

Palin, Obama, Plate o' Shrimp.

For a plague on both your houses voter like me, disenchanted with both parties, at least the race has been shaken up by McCain for once acting as the maverick he's supposed to have been all along. I never saw "Slacker," but if Obama can be counted among GenX by its caffeinated technorati, I guess I can too. Too young for the smug boomers, too old for the raised-by-video millennium Generation "Why." Inspirational quote from film: "withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy."

By no means am I punching the chad for him and Sarah Palin, but at least it'll throw off the momentum Obama's picked up last week at the convention. Of course, God's pretty mad at New Orleans once again, and looks to be using Gustav to splash down on Crescent City again to rain on the parade of the GOP. I thought He liked the GOP better than their secular humanist nemeses. To think that the Republicans scheduled their shindig in the city of St. Paul. Rick Warren better get his game on and rally the faithful so Haiti's inudated instead.

From today's pretty dismal Los Angeles Times, a few tidbits of note in these dog days. As Layne and I predicted separately, vocal training as well as coiffure intervention's needed stat. Palin's PTA mien and whine may make listeners think of another Palin, Michael, and his Python routines. When I heard the news of her selection on the radio, a snippet of her blather accompanied as a soundbite, and she sounded like the schoolmarm she looks. She reminds me of the nailed-down, lacquered-up, and business-suited middle-aged middle-management drones at work who spout the platitudes of the higher-ups to us little guys. You wonder if she unpins her hair, if she tells cruel jokes, if she laughs at rather than with other people, and you wonder. [Update: three days into her campaign, already her tresses tumble to her shoulders in a redo.]

I think of me being the same age roughly as her and Obama, and I strain to place them among people I'd have hung out with, let alone befriended in the days of bigger hair. But, I've always been the aloof one. Palin would sweat as a jock and Obama would brood as a dweeb. They'd both have ignored me; doubtless I'd have returned the feeling.

Bob Drogin's "She Starts Making U.S. Rounds" observes at her ballpark debut in a Pittsburgh suburb:
But Palin's speech -- the same one she gave Friday -- was less well received. Because of either ballpark loudspeakers or just nerves, her voice cracked and at times rose to an uncomfortably high pitch. Midway through her talk, some families could be seen leaving the park.

So much for the hockey-mom vote.

Marjorie Miller's "Palin Fever Comes to Town" describes her hometown:
Wasilla, about an hour north of Anchorage, is in the Mat-Su Valley, a place of sweeping lakes and rivers where clouds of mist lie low in the fields and snow-striped mountain peaks jut from the clouds. It is a town of fewer than 10,000 in the middle of a region that is home to nearly 80,000. Charmless strip malls with big-box stores line the main highway; lakefront homes open onto dramatic views.

Sarah and Todd Palin, who have five children, have a home on Lake Lucille, according to former neighbor Ray Pursche. When he moved to Wasilla in the early 1980s, he said, the town had one blinking traffic light and a few stores. That began to change while Palin was on the City Council, starting in 1992, particularly during her two terms as mayor.

"She's been very helpful, always bringing business into the city," Pursche said.

When Palin's mother, Sally Heath, answered her door Saturday, she apologized for not being able to chat. "I'm just trying to follow protocol," she said. "I guess life really has changed." She said family members were to meet with the campaign in Anchorage later in the day to confer on what they might and might not say.

This reminds me of Bonner Lake, where I passed through last year about an hour out of Seattle, along another exurb belt where formerly rural weekend getaways were being drawn into the suburban maw. We drove on our way to the back entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park down a straight arrow road, no longer a two-lane that once had ambled through forests and meadows. Now, it had been widened for the same franchises you see in every middle-class thoroughfare. The parking lots had been hacked out of the groves, SUVs swarmed with stocky families waddling about, and the same ambiance had been lost that so many in the GOP-- and among their rivals-- hail as essential to our supposedly rootsy, local, friendly small-town mythologized way of life, if you can call such concrete expanses and commercial devastation organic.

You also see in this excerpt above the shift that will befall this charmless stretch of progress. That is, if as we're all told we must never stop building, spending, and getting in the ways of the world too much with us. We spread samsara and call it nirvana. Palin's utter opposition to preserving her own state's Last Frontier, her nearly total rejection of the safeguards some have tried to keep in place against relentless development of "resources" rather than "open space" can be seen in miniature in her hometown. The pressure to change under the winds not of Gustav but of media scrutiny in the service of capitalist juggernauts thunder down on the Northwest, Alaska, and New Orleans. Whatever's fresh succumbs to homogenization, and no cream rises to the top. Palin will be branded, or refurbished into a type as when she was Miss Congeniality. You also contemplate how her family and her neighbors will begin to warp and furl as the media descend, to probe every nook and cranny of Palin's past. Layne could not find any beauty contest pics last night on the Net.

Similarly, over in Obama's neck of the cyberwoods, we find spin control. You cannot log in to his website unless you register. You can not find, as I tried to tell my now-deaf father of 91 yesterday by scrawling with a Sharpie in a notebook, easily a snapshot of his mother, or details of his father's bigamy, procreative activity, drinking, or death in a car crash after he ruined his life by the bottle. His story, told at the fittingly named Pepsi Center last week, has been shaped and packaged as carefully as will Palin's. Still, for exoticism, ignoring the decidedly tract-home chic names of Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and baffingly Trig, her children's part Yup'ik heritage may make them as multicultural as their bi-racial opponent.

Finally, in a multiracial megapolis such as mine, far away from sylvan vistas of any kind let alone mooseburgers or salmon (unless you find the latter in a market), there's the "25 Best L.A. Films of the last 25 years." Nothing I had not heard of, although I have not bothered to see many, as I'm tired of the (#25 reluctantly) "Crash"-type of epiphanies undergone as did Paul Haggis-- inspired by the '91 carjacking of his Porsche (not Pursche) outside a Wilshire video store-- to tell us how, gasp, we live in our cars, and wow, can't we all get along in our improbably coincidental group-hugs to replace equally contrived rivalries choreographed by New Yorkers, Brits, and awestruck hicks who come into our city to tell us what we already know.

Scott Timberg selected as #8, however, one that I'd pick. (And I agree with "L.A. Confidential" as Numero Uno, featuring as part of its ambiance "around Elysian Park where pockets of period-perfect architecture still stand" a cinematic millisecond glimpse of our own "Owl House" where Layne lived when we met and fell in love.) Timberg comments about another slice of down-and-out, non-Porsche El Lay, 1984's "Repo Man":
This is the City of Angels in the wealthy '80s, but it's far from glitzy: L.A. is filled with guns and almost no vegetation, a huge swath of the population seems to be unemployed, racial tension is high, buildings and lots are abandoned, and every convenience store we visit is in the process of being knocked over. Instead of responsible adults we have homeless savants, televangelists and blissed-out ex-hippies. Years later, the film -- a kind of hinge between "Taxi Driver" and "Pulp Fiction" -- shows an L.A. that doesn't seem that far from where we're heading.

I agree with that. A preposterous movie, but more memorable than many of the homilies about the meaning of life as understood by moguls and/or Westsiders, ghetto yoof, or Ice-T, who's the missing link between these demographics with his 35,000 square foot mansion in Woodland Hills. The rest of us non-actors, or as Variety puts it, "non-pro," muddle along and occasionally, as momentarily as the shot with the "Owl House" in the background of the Echo Park basement house, recognize where we live.

Caught in traffic, bewilderingly diverse, millions of us and more never stop coming. 1 in 31 Americans live in L.A. County. We're in the "far from glitzy," long past the forest-to-minimall stage of evolution, and "almost free of vegetation," as the construction surrounding my home helps eradicate even the chaparral. And, in such a concrete perch, down the street a supporting actress on "Everybody Hates Chris" parks her Beamer. She's part of the business that surrounds the rest of us.

Earnest filmmakers keep coming to lecture us and perhaps inspire us local yokels. Even though director Alex Cox hails from outside Liverpool, and now lives in Oregon (I'm jealous; I guess he misses the rain), I do forgive an outsider's intrusion. His punk-addled heart was in the right place, and he preferred the quirky to the bombastic, less Obama and more Otto. His Pogues-sponsorship in the dreadful follow-up "Straight to Hell" and perhaps his misguided "Walker" (pity he botched a great story idea) merit mention if not as much as "Sid & Nancy."

That reminds me of fish, in tangential "Repo Man" style. Its in-house philosopher, Harry Dean Stanton, would understand; Sarah Palin labored one summer packing crabs, as do many Alaskans apparently. Probably more "working class" than her rival's extramural occupations at the height of Greed is Good decade. Did Obama ever work a job to pay for grad school expenses the year after he and I graduated college, still for minimum wage? I doubt if he did, at Harvard Law. But I did so when "Repo Man" came out. Had to go all the way to the Beverly Center-- maybe even down Wilshire in this era when the video store was barely beginning-- to see it in a tiny cubicle of their multiplex. And it wasn't in a Porsche. Only Westsiders, you see, were deemed the target for an arthouse angle on the low-lifes before gentrification changed "La Vida Loca" (didactically unwatchable, but filmed down the block from "Owl House") into the coffeehouse hipster mecca that even today defies the collapse in real estate, so eager are new arrivals to settle there and yammer on about what we natives again already know. Such jaw-flapping, in fact, suits the shaggy-dog narrative of the silly scenarios that permeate the city's underbelly in "Repo Man."

And I still remember "plate o' shrimp." In fact, as such a coincidence, in "Crash" fashion if less ideologically loaded, came yesterday as my dad had the Shrimp Trio Platter (an outrageous $12.79) at Coco's. Don't blame me. He likes it there. Strip malls. Exurbia. It was his choice.

Wikiquote by "Miller," the repo lot's "groundskeeper," played in "Repo Man" by Tracy Walter:
A lot o' people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch o' unconnected incidents 'n things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice o' coincidence that lays on top o' everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, "plate," or "shrimp," or "plate o' shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.

Photo: "Shot of Plate O' Shrimp." "In the City of Angels in the wealthy '80s," I saw this diner in the heart of Latinized downtown, perhaps around Broadway. However, I cannot pinpoint its location even on this site: Bob Cantor's Repo Man Links Page. As trivia notes: Later, the two Latinos who've stolen the "Asimov" car park outside a diner which features a huge sign in one of its windows reading: PLATE O' SHRIMP $2.95.

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