Thursday, January 02, 2003

I am writing this during the halftime show of the Orange Bowl. If I remember these correctly, it should be ending by about next Wednesday.

I had a quiet New Year's. In my experience that's the best kind. DEK and I watched The Black Six New Year's Eve afternoon. I was expecting fourth-rate blaxploitation; I got sixth-rate blaxploitation. It made Dolemite look like Citizen Kane. OK, maybe Citizen Ruth. Premise: Six NFL players play a motorcycle gang that may or may not care about anything, and then they have this big climactic fight with a white motorcycle gang who killed one of their brothers, and they may or may not have won the climactic fight and/or died. The last scene makes the final scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail seem decisive and relevant.

Then we went to an alleged party that turned out to be a very small get together with a few friends (total attendance: 5), watched some movies, and played a game of redneck trivia that I won due to my knowledge of 18th century British literature. I crashed at Bill and Terri's, and Bill and I had New Year's brunch at the Olive Garden. All in all, it was a quiet celebration; whenever I've tried a more elaborate one, I've always ended up miserable, so this is the way I like to do it.

What the hell's a Coraghessan?
My latest read has been Budding Prospects by T. Coraghessan Boyle, who wisely goes by T.C. nowadays. I had some reservations about this book because Boyle teaches at USC, and I learned through the grapevine there that he has a miserable reputation as a human being. But I had read The Road to Wellville years ago and enjoyed it, so I went ahead anyway.

Here is the opening paragraph of the book:
"I've always been a quitter. I quit the Boy Scouts, the glee club, the marching band. Gave up my paper route, turned my back on the church, stuffed the basketball team. I dropped out of college, sidestepped the army with a 4-F on the grounds of mental instability, went back to school, made a go of it, entered a Ph.D. program in nineteenth-century British literature, sat in the front row, took notes assiduously, bought a pair of horn-rims, and quit on the eve of my comprehensive exams. I got married, separated, divorced. Quit smoking, quit jogging, quit eating red meat. I quit jobs: digging graves, pumping gas, selling insurance, showing pornographic films in an art theater in Boston. When I was nineteen I made frantic love to a pinch-faced, sack-bosomed girl I'd known from high school. She got pregnant. I quit town. About the only thing I didn't give up on was the summer camp. Let me tell you about it."

I liked him immediately.

"Summer camp" turns out to be a scheme proposed by a sort-of friend to grow $1.5 million of marijuana one summer in rural Humboldt County California with three guys. Boyle describes the paranoia, original glee, and ultimate disappointment of the project with a manic energy that really caught me up in the adventure. This is a unique take on the traditional story whereby people start on an escapade with high hopes, continually lower expectations until they are as low as can be had, but ultimately achieve some sort of satisfaction (a) from completing a project, even a hopeless one, and (b) from an unexpected source--usually (and in this case) a person of the opposite sex. Taking this plucky, Algeresque story and placing it within the framework of an illegal activity is a bit original, by for the most part the joy is in the humor and style.

The original goal of my reading list was to read the whole damn thing, learn more about the West, and find new authors I want to read more of. Now my goal is to read 50 of the 100 because I don't want to spend 5 years on just this one list, and I'm well on my way to accomplishing the other two goals. Boyle is almost certainly someone I'll come back to. The best comparison I can think to make is to call him a slightly more highbrow Tom Robbins.

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