“The Leftovers” And The Two Percent World

Warning: contains spoilers for the series finale of “The Leftovers”.

HBO’s “The Leftovers” is in the vanguard of what is currently called “peak TV”, although “peak” does not necessarily mean “good”. Perhaps the phrase simply reflects the fact that we have more TV than ever to watch, all of it available through on-demand streaming services to fill those still, small gaps between extended work hours, helicopter parenting, and mandatory attendance of religious services at the glass-walled Crystal Cathedrals of public exercise. As our modern lives become increasingly leached of any purpose whatsoever, we demand that television serve as a meaning multivitamin, a significance supplement, swallowed once a week so we have something to talk about over the pagan sacrament of overpriced restaurant food.

The standard-bearer for “peak TV” is probably “Game Of Thrones,” that increasingly moronic and banal combination of softcore porn and a Medieval Times restaurant, but there are better and more interesting choices farther down your Netflix list. My long-time readers know how fond I was of David Simon’s Treme, the flawed but heartfelt tribute to New Orleans and its music. It didn’t last very long, unfortunately.

The only things that “The Leftovers” has in common with “Treme” are low ratings and a deliberately truncated run, but I’ve been a fan of the show over the last three seasons and it’s the only television program that I’ve bothered to watch away from my elliptical machine. This past Sunday’s series finale has been lauded for the elegance of its plotting and execution, but what I admired about it was this: the finale was absolutely, unfailingly true to the show’s oft-disguised but never abandoned central concept of narcissistic injury.

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A Boy’s Life

I walked out of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial not giving much of a shit about the stupid rubber alien with the glowing finger. That was just the plot. Even at the age of ten I could tell that the plot of that movie was entirely irrelevant to the film’s true message, which had sweet F.A. to do with aliens. In this case, the medium was the message, that medium being perfectly captured by E.T.’s working title of A Boy’s Life.

The world of A Boy’s Life was alien to me in ways that had nothing to do with waddling creatures or spaceships. I had grown up in tree-thick communities, hoary with snow then hot with decomposing leaves, short sightlines and old houses. Though I’d left Brooklyn a full thirty-five years before the wannabes and the jerkoff Gawkerites arrived, I’d seen early in life that New Yorkers never looked up. There is no vista to see. Your vision is blocked on all sides. This was as true in the dignified decay of Upper Arlington, Ohio as it had been in Columbia, MD and everywhere else.

The world of E.T. was something else entirely. It was barren, bare, the open California sky above and the naked dirt to all sides. The homes squatted close to the ground. Until I saw that movie and really looked at it, I’d never considered that perhaps the sun of the East Coast was fettered by humidity and the omnipresent deciduous canopy above. When Danger Girl came here from New Mexico three years ago, she confessed that the rolling, absurdly fertile Ohio landsdcape made her paranoid, claustrophobic. Surrounded by living things.

And, of course, you had the BMX bikes, Ceppie Maes and Bob Haro making Kuwahara famous. There was so much freedom to be had out there. In Ohio my peers and I were relentlessly tracked and oppressed by intact family units and a neighborhood that considered discipline to be a distributed service, like the French Resistance always three steps too slow or stupid to outwit the Wehrmacht. Out in the amorphous amalgamation of Spielberg’s ur-Cali, the kids ran free, their divorced mothers out pursuing their own pleasure every night and abandoning their progeny to a sort of benign anarchy full of D&D games and unsupervised insanity. The very fact that these kids could hide a being from another planet in their house for days at a time… my mother would have discovered E.T. three hours after he touched down. Max.

I longed for that California the way Huck Finn yearned for the Territory. My BMX friends went without me, moved to Westminster and other places to live the dream. I put my head down and went to school instead. There are people I could blame for that decision but it would be weak of me to do so. The choice was mine. I didn’t acquire a genuine working knowledge of California until I was in my late thirties. Nowadays I know most of the state’s racetracks and backroads pretty well. I’ve probably spent a hundred days of my life in the Golden State, from San Diego to Eureka and points north.

No matter what I do as an adult, however, when it comes to that idealized California childhood I will forever be an outsider, a cargo-cult native of a backwards island worshiping a Coke bottle. Which brings me to the story I’d like to share with you: the life of a modern Californian boy, told by someone who understands the San Fernando Valley the way I understand the side streets and forested paths of central Ohio.

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Who Wore It Worst?

2017 Ram 1500 Sublime Sport debuts at New York Auto Show (PRNewsfoto/FCA US LLC)

Now this is a truck! Just what I’ve always wanted: a lime-green car-hauler and BMX-toter and mountain-climbing mountain-bike carrier. Shame it costs as much as it does and it’s not likely to stick around long enough to get the usual discounts. I’d be a fool to spend $45k on this when I can get the equivalent Chevrolet in a boring-ass color like Titanium Grey Silver Slate for ten grand less. It’s also kind of insulting that they charge MORE for the Sublime Sport than they charge for the Blue Rebel. I’m pretty sure the Rebel has more content.

I’m going to start a trend here. I’m going to post a link straight to the press release. That is all the information that anybody has on this truck. But if you find a report on the Sublime RAM where the writer either makes shit up or rephrases the press release in such a way as to make his report manifestly less useful than the PR script on which is it based, post in the comments and we will make fun of that person.

Weekly Roundup: Ain’t Messin’ Around Edition

I said God damn. Tne Lincoln Continental is already about my favorite American car in a long time — and now they went and made a guitar amp out of it! Where do I sign up? Oh… looks like I can’t.

You might not have noticed, but Lincoln is working very hard to associate the new Continental with modern-traditional African-American musicians like Gary Clark Jr. and Jon Batiste. There’s a lot of Sixties-style photography and marketing going on. I think it’s brilliant. Let Cadillac reach out to the rappers; Lincoln is all about the cool. Gary Clark Jr. is a cool dude. And a bit of a player, too, even if the video doesn’t showcase his best work.

Speaking of players… let’s see what your favorite mediocre guitarist had up his sleeve this week, shall we?

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Review: The Story Of My Assassins, by Tarun J. Tejpal

“It cannot be too widely known,” LJK Setright used to say, “that Setright does not indulge in correspondence.” While I am a long-time reader and admirer of Mr. Setright, I cannot share his placid commitment to a diode-esque communication with my own commenters. If you ask me a question, I will most likely answer. If you’re looking for a quarrel, then I’ll probably be your huckleberry. And if you recommend a book for me to read, I will make an effort to check it out.

Such was the case when CJinSD recommended Tarun Tejpal’s The Story Of My Assassins. Mr. Tejpal is a journalist and muckraker (in the complimentary sense of the word) who has been named to “India’s 50 Most Powerful People” thanks to his founding of Tehelka, a website that specializes in undercover “sting” investigations.

The Story Of My Assassins follows a sort of reverse-Mary Sue version of Tejpal. Instead of being famously successful and widely known, the narrator/protagonist is the junior partner in a failing investigative magazine. On an otherwise unremarkable weekend morning, he finds out that he has been the target of an elaborate plot to murder him — one that was foiled by the police before the assassins could reach his home.

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For Me, It Was Tuesday

Raul Julia was a multiple Tony Award winner, a humanitarian, and an authentic cultural hero of Puerto Rico. He died of a stroke during a protracted battle with stomach cancer. His last major role was as “M. Bison” in Street Fighter. After Julia’s death, much was made of the fact that, after a long and much-celebrated career, the actor had “ironically” died immediately after starring in an awful film based on a video game. But there was nothing ironic, or accidental, about it. Knowing that he was desperately ill, Julia took the role at the request of his children, who were fans of the game. And his performance just about redeems what is otherwise a meritless film.

The above scene from Street Fighter is the “Trope Namer” of But For Me, It Was Tuesday. Check it out. And a very happy Tuesday to all of you!

“This Shows That You Really Are Israeli”

I think I’ve underestimated the degree to which Palestine-fetishism has penetrated American universities. This young woman, who most likely has little to no real-world acquaintance with the Middle East, feels empowered to walk into someone’s store and lecture them for supporting their homeland. She starts with the usual hectoring rhetoric on diversity and inclusion, but near the end, she slips a bit: “You really are Israeli.”

A few thoughts on the video and the situation:

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The True Victim Of The Somali Terror Attack Was, Um, The Somali Terrorist


#BlackLivesMatter: a hashtag for a political movement funded by George Soros and others to the tune of over $133 million. The true purpose of Black Lives Matter, according to the most perceptive external observers, is to establish something between complete federal oversight for local law enforcement and the complete federalization of local law enforcement.

#SayHisName: A hashtag meant to memorialize African-Americans who are killed by the police. The idea is that by saying their names, we humanize them, allowing us to see them as people instead of statistics or mere criminals who “had it coming”.

#BuckeyeStrong: Some meaningless stupid shit that presumably is meant to riff on #BostonStrong, another meaningless hashtag that seeks to equate the death of people who were the victims of terrorist violence and the “struggle” of people who kinda-sorta live in the same neighborhood.

Stephanie Clemons Thompson is facing calls for her resignation/termination after expressing sympathy for Abdul Ali Artan, the nutjob who tried to run a bunch of OSU students down and/or attack them with a knife. I’d like to see her fired as well. I’d also like to see her publicly flogged, the way we used to treat enemy sympathizers and fellow-travelers before we all got so civilized. But Mrs. Thompson’s biggest mistake is, I think, not her sympathy for the Somali-immigrant terrorist and Muslim cry-bully, but rather her myopic, self-deceiving refusal to take him seriously.

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Out, Darned Spot!


In 1807, Thomas Bowdler published The Family Shakespeare, “in which nothing is added to the original text; but those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family.” And no, the famous line isn’t changed to “Out, darned spot!” but rather “Out, crimson spot!” which in fact is a bit of an improvement to the original text as it makes it perfectly clear to younger people that Lady Macbeth is referring to the king’s blood.

There are two major editions of The Family Shakespeare; the first one was largely or entirely the product of Harriet Bowdler and omitted a few plays (Romeo and Juliet chief among them) entirely because they could not be thoroughly sanitized without becoming incomprehensible. It was published anonymously, because Harriet did not think it appropriate for women to have their names on a public document. For the second edition, Dr. Thomas Bowdler put his name on the book and reversed some of Harriet’s more enthusiastic changes, in addition to restoring the deleted plays. Readers who are curious about the Bowdlers and the critical response to The Family Shakespeare can read more here.

As with Rudolf Diesel, society has paid Thomas Bowdler the supreme compliment of lower-casing him; one can occasionally read that something was “bowdlerized”, meaning that it has had the offensive (or exciting) content removed. The massive changes in social norms over the past fifty years means that we’ve changed what and how we bowdlerize; today we focus more on violence than sex, where the Greatest Generation censored sex more than violence.

The newest chapter in Dr. Bowdler’s legacy, however, isn’t about sex or violence; it’s about a word.

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Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil


I am very proud to be a Contributing Editor for Road&Track magazine today. It’s not because I’ve written our Performance Car Of The Year feature for each of the four years we’ve done it, although that is one of the things that, as Belle&Sebastian sings, they can write on my grave or when they scatter my ashes. It’s how we handled a situation that was deeply upsetting and embarrassing for all of us at R&T — and how we broke the rules of the business in doing so.

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