Sunday, October 17, 2010

From Vergil's "Aeneid:" A Song for the Dumped

I know it's been a while since I last posted myself, so I've been saving up a good long one. Enjoy.

What most people don't know about me is that I was a Classical Languages major at Carleton College. Why don't most people know this? Because it has nothing to do with my life now. I had anticipated this. At college, I spent most of my time doing improv stuff; in fact, I gave little attention to schoolwork, and pretty much phoned-in a Bachelor's from a top-tier liberal arts college. But everyone needs a major.

My academic strengths (if you could call it that- it would more aptly be described as the stuff I was least shitty at, or more specifically the only things I tried to do well) were the humanities, namely history, philosophy, and literature. I had always been a good writer, especially adept at English grammar. I had started taking Latin in the seventh grade, since my middle school, oddly, had a solid Latin program. When I got to high school, I was placed in a high level class, and advanced AP level classes by Junior year. Although quite skilled in Latin, being in AP classes didn't stop me from my other major strength- being a smart-ass.

So I was good at Latin, the least marketable and most irrelevant of academic studies. When Sophomore year of college rolled around, forced to select from a variety of majors that didn't officially include improv, I picked Classical Languages, and true to form totally half-assed my way through it. I figured, correctly, that a liberal arts degree was what it was (essentially worthless) regardless of major.

I enjoyed reading the Latin poets. Caesar wrote some pretty bad-ass accounts of the wars in Gaul, in which the Roman Army rolled in and cut the balls off the ancestors of the French and Germans. Catullus wrote love-poetry and was a moody fuck. Imagine The Notebook in iambic pentameter, full of sexual references and constant bitching about girls who dumped him. Ovid was the ultimate storyteller, and his signature work, Metamorphoses, told the famous tales of Icarus, Pygmalion (the dude who was sculpted by his wife), Daphne, Romulus and Remus, Perseus and Thisbe (later ripped off by an Elizabethan bullshitter and turned into a whiney love-story that nobody cares about.)

But my favorite, and by far the best work of Latin poetry was The Aeneid, an epic poem composed by Vergil late in the 1st century B.C.

Vergil was already a best-seller in stoneback when he was commissioned by Augustus (son of Julius Caesar and the first Emperor) to tell the mythological/historical account of the founding of Rome by Aeneas of Troy. Essentially, Vergil was commissioned to give Augustus a literary handjob (see photo below) to further glorify his reign and justify the complete submission of the rest of the world at the time.
Aeneas was a Trojan noble who escaped getting the shit kicked out of him by the Greeks when they sacked the city in an event completely ruined in film adaptation by Wolfgang Peterson. After dodging a few thousand flaming arrows and carrying his dying father out of town on his back (nobigdeal), he and his crew took to the high seas, destined by Fate to found a new nation on the shores of Italy.

The goddess Juno (Zeus' wife and eternal bitch) plays the role of Roman cock-block, tormenting Aeneas and his crew with torrential weather and other unfair hurdles, motivated somewhat inexplicably by a hatred for all Trojans (perhaps anticipating later failed efforts at contraception? whatever.)

Aeneas and the boys play Deadliest Catch for about ten years, stopping here and there along the road to the glorious founding of Rome. One of the last stops before Italy is Carthage, a city-state located somewhere in modern-day Tunisia, which later became famous for the complete badassery of Hannibal, who after crossing the Alps on fucking elephant-back, took his crew to Rome and didn't even have the courtesy to take any names after kicking so much ass.

Anyways, Aeneas rolls into Carthage and finds Dido, known around the Mediterranean as the "hot" Queen; or alternatively, "I'd give her a 7/10" Queen."
Still quasi-mourning the loss of her husband Synchaeus (he died, and we're not supposed to care how), she's looking for a rebound real bad, and in rolls a dashing prince and soon-to-be founder of the greatest empire the world has ever seen with the boyish good looks of Hugh Grant, packin' heat with a sword and indubitably in his pants. Dido totally pulls a girl boner.

Juno and Venus (goddess of luuuuuv) pull a little ancient to hook the two up. Their motivations are clear. Juno really just wants to fuck with Aeneas, and sees the perfect opportunity to lay Dido's considerable emotional baggage on Aeneas' proverbial and literal ship. Venus always just wants to see people fuck. They send the two out on a "hunting mission" deep into the woods, blow in a massive thunderstorm which conveniently drops them right next to a cave.


Now, true to form, Aeneas The Dude mostly considers this a notch on his belt, but tells Dido how in love he is with her and how gladly he'd forget about his Fate-driven, Gods-endorsed mission to birth a nation, and instead settle down with her. Dido The Chick considers their one-night cavestand DE FACTO MARRIAGE. She runs back to Carthage gabbing to all her girlfriends and starts picking out his and hers bath towels and shingles for their palace.

Zeus gets word of the whole thing and sends his mercenary Mercury (the dude with the wings on his shoes) to knock some sense into stud-muffin Aeneas. Reminded of his mission, and no doubt goaded by the fact that his crew has been chillin on the ship, probably deprived of ass while Aeneas got a taste of Carthaginian girls-gone-wild, Aeneas decides to peace out.

The epic literary break-up ensues. I'll spare you the actual text, but the conversation went something like this.

Dido: Aeneas!
Aeneas: Hey...
D: So, the wedding's on Friday, I love you so much, our union has the Gods' favor, I love you so much, I've been thinking we should name our son Dineas, I love you more than ever, do you think this cloth makes my hips...
A: Can I just interrupt for a second? You! I just want to say, you're great.
D: I love you!
A: Right. So...this...this has been fun, but I really gotta go.
D: Oh, are you on your way to the market? I need some wheat...
A: No, I mean leave. I'm leaving Carthage right now on my ship so that I can go found the most powerful Empire the world has ever seen.
D: What!?
A: ...Yeah.
D: But...but...(weepy)
A: (pause) Well good talk.
D: You asshole! I loved you!
A: And I had a great time too. But we both know it won't work out. It's not you, it's the gods. You know how it goes. They tell me jump, I ask how great and fated of a nation and where exactly in Italy. So...
D: I got divorced for you!
A: He was dead.
D: I'm gonna kill myself!
A: Right. g2g. kthnxbi.

And off he goes. Needless to say, Dido has a hard time getting over it, and a couple of days later, she decides to build a big fire, grab a sword, and fall on it. A little overboard, sure, but let's think about her options moving forward. Nobody wants to be the rebound of a rebound who was the Prince of Troy and progenitor of Rome. Doomed to be Aeneas' eternal sloppy seconds, no way man.

The best part happens a couple of books later. Aeneas finally arrives in Italy. No sooner does he drop his bags ashore when he encounters the Sibyl, basically an all-knowing lady-oracle who, like everyone the fuck else in the epic, has been "waiting for him." She tells him that the only way to proceed and fulfill his destiny is to descend into the Underworld, down to Hades the God of Death himself, see his past and view the future that is to come. Literary metaphor aside, this trip is a crossroads for Aeneas, crossing the barrier between past and present, life and death, Troy and Rome, Homer and Vergil. I know a thing or two about this part of the Aeneid, folks.

I wrote my fucking Senior Thesis about it. Good solid waste of time and paper, but that's college.

After some sacrificial stuff, Aeneas and The Sibyl do a swan-dive down into the Underworld, cross the river Styx (while "Come Sail Away" plays in the background), throw a bone at Cerberus the badass Three-Headed dog, and enter the realm of the damned.
These are the people who decided to take matters into their own hands and kill themselves, a spurn to the Gods for taking fate into their own hands. After perusing the usual suspects, among them Ajax, the great warrior/Schwarzenegger impersonator who bit his own bullet, guess who shows up?

Eeesh, it's Dido. Super. Duper. Awkward. Here's what happens:

Aeneas: Hey...Dido! What are the odds? Didn't expect to see you. (cough) How've you been?
(Dido looks down, no response)
A: Cool. So, what's been going on. I see you're dead now, jeez. Wait a minute, you're in the realm of the damned...did you...oh killed yourself?
(no response)
A: WTF? I'm sorry, ok? I mean, look, it's not my fault! I loved you so much. Really. I was going to stay, but I had to go found Rome, like I said. Shit shit shit you killed yourself god dammit. I mean, not God Dammit, but, rascals! I'm really sorry. Can you forgive me?
(no response)
A: Really, nothing? Just give me some kind of sign. Tell you what. Blink once if you forgive me. Blink twice if you don't.
(no response)
A: OK, well, my love for you is as strong as ever. Hey...maybe after I fight another 10 year war in Latium, found Rome, and bring glory to my ancestors, and can come back and we can-
(Dido walks away)

How about that shit? I think this is one of the coolest moments in all of Ancient literature.

Not a lot of what was written back then is relevant today. An example would be the sacrificial burning of dead bodies being perfectly legal and, in fact, encouraged. Or slavery. Or man-boy love. Or paying with your weight in salt. Or magical powers. But this is different.

If you've ever been dumped, like really dumped, like in a bad way that makes you hurt and wish you had never known the person and wished they would be hit by a truck, then this part of the Aeneid should make you really happy. Because I think we'd all love to be Dido here. Not in the sense of having committed suicide and spending at least 10 years in the Realm of the Dead before applying for parole to Paradise, no.

How much have you ever wanted to be Dido here? Your ex comes back to you. Wants you back. Sure, the right thing to do would be to forgive. But you know what? Sometimes you don't. Sometimes you're filled with anger and hatred and resentment that won't go away, and it feels good to tell that person to just go fuck themselves. And the most awesome way to do that is by saying nothing at all. Stone cold.

Hey, Aeneas: what's that? You're sorry? Well fuck you. I'm not even going to look at you. Go do whatever the hell you gotta do. Oh, and fuck you.

Way to go, Dido. Such a badass move, Vergil. Get that nose fixed.

Go and read The Aeneid. You can tell your friends, and they'll think you're smarter. And if you just got dumped, be sure to catch Book 6. It's a Song for the Dumped Ben Folds would be proud of.

Thanks for reading today.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Guest Blogger Jill Bernard: On (Winter) Biking

Jill Bernard is an improvisor who says "yay!" a lot. She taught me how to morph, like a Power Ranger. Go to her website, then buy her book. Or the other way around, that's fine too.

Max asked me to write a guest blog on biking a while ago, and I wasn't inspired until now. Why now? Because it's October in Minnesota, which means we're just weeks away from winter biking. Winter. Biking. It's a different beast. Summer biking is like an open mic, anyone can do it. Winter biking takes a level of seriousness.

First, you'll want to think about the tires. If you get skinny tires they have the advantage of cutting through snow like a blade. But when you slide, and you will slide, it's going to be spectacular. Suddenly you are Apolo Ohno, emphasis on the 'oh no'. Maybe you choose big fat tires with tread instead, but the treads fill with snow and the tire becomes a flat, slippery, surface – a round ski. Suddenly you're sliding again, less dramatically than before, but sliding nonetheless.

Biking down a city street one Thanksgiving eve, the buildings shielded me until I entered the intersection, and then the wind blew me into the middle of the street, sideways, directly into traffic. My direction did not change at all, I was merely suddenly five feet to the left. There is no stopping winter wind. It is bigger than you.

Your brakes. They won't work. Winter biking is about planning ahead. There's occasional Fred Flinstone braking, let's be honest. And snowbank braking, when absolutely necessary. Mainly, it's going as fast as you can to make headway while going as slow as you can so you have a chance in hell of stopping.

In terms of facewear, I skip the ski mask. It gets too hot, too itchy, and you look like a police sketch. I prefer a gaiter, even though I can't say gaiter without thinking of goiter. I wish they were called 'tube scarves' but it's just not catching on. I keep the gaiter over my face, pulling it down at stoplights to freeze my lungs with sharp breaths of air.

Your hands. They will be cold. When your knuckles are leading the way through a self-created airstream, no number of extra layers of gloves keeps you safe from peeling red knuckles you warm between your thighs at your final destination for as long as you can while no one's looking.

Once I was biking downtown and a bus driver slid open her little window to say, “I don't know if you know, but your ankle's showing.” She was right, I didn't know. My pants had slid out of my sock and an inch of flesh was exposed to the air. It was pink as a hibiscus and completely numb. As it came back to life under water in the restroom it prickled then burned. Exposure, that's the enemy of the winter biker. Exposure to cold, exposure to drivers who don't expect you and also can't really brake. Exposure to snow drifts that rust and snowplows that crush and snowstorms that temporarily blind. Exposure to brain freeze and flushed cheeks and hot sweat against cold air.

I winter-biked one year, in about 1997, just to see if I could do it. I did it, and then decided that was stupid, I would never do it again. I am considering it this year, not because I think it's any less stupid, but because I live just far enough away from the theaters to make walking and busing commutes seem too slow. Does a mile to and fro seem like a manageable amount of winter biking? Enough to wake you up but not enough to get you killed? It seems possible.

See you in the middle of the intersection.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Guest Blogger Andrew Murphy Davis: THIS JUST IN: HBO Hates Money, Loves Multiplying by 1.5!

Andrew Murphy Davis is my best friend and aficionado of all forms of media.


As I sit here watching the Sopranos on A&E (at my parents’ house), I find myself less offended by the usual suspects (a preponderance of slipshod editing, bikini tops, and “bloodsuckers”), than by the original purveyor of this deservedly acclaimed series.

Fuck HBO. Fuck them. I’ve felt this way for quite some time, but with the premieres of Boardwalk Empire, Bored to Death, and Eastbound and Down (sit down and fucking watch it, Max) all aligned along a neat little hedgerow, it’s come to a head.

HBO has always been run by a bunch of pretentious cockbreaths, but their asshole tendencies have reached a fever pitch, which is to say that they’ve refined their dickwad practices to the point of art. Just as their showrunners (Simon, Chase, Milch, and others) have consistently raised the bar of a much-maligned medium, HBO has doggedly pursued excellence in the field of corporate arrogance and (as the French put it) “les doucherie."

Let me begin by saying that I will NEVER subscribe to HBO. I don’t even have basic cable, and I miss it like an acute anterior rash. But HBO is especially verboten for the following reasons:

1. Lifestyle porn (Sex and the City, Entourage), as a genre, is abhorrent, and I tend to avoid it.

2. No one can consider himself a man that says, "Sorry guys, I gotta go home and catch 'True Blood.'"

3. I highly doubt that anyone’s going to walk out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel and into my living room, poring over the minutiae of my home entertainment system and judging/murdering me accordingly.

4. One word: Netflix.

“But Andrew,” I can hear you saying, “for the same low monthly rate, you get Cinemax and its genre-slumming pals.” Turns out I don’t give a shit, because I can make a similar list... to the MAX:

  1. I’m not a particular fan of fake tits, dry humping, or synthesizer sax music, and also I know how the World Wide Web works, so Skinemax features hold little attraction for me.
  2. Watching "Alexander: the Final Cut" for a 15th time would be a tad excessive.
  3. “I really wanted to see Hancock at one of my five local multiplexes two summers ago, but there simply wasn’t time.”- This has never happened.

So it would behoove HBO to accept that they will never count me among their subscribers and start taking my money by other means. But they’re dicks, and being dicks matters more to them than making money. So here are the two main areas in which they have failed miserably at the deceptively simple practice of capitalism.


With the Eastbound and Down premiere approaching, I casually investigated the possibility of watching it the way I currently watch the best show that television has ever had to offer ever: Mad Men. I would buy an iTunes season pass and watch every episode on the Monday following the Sunday on which it aired. But this is implausibly impossible.

HBO clearly doesn’t want my money, because they don’t offer downloads of any current shows. No, after a season has finished its run and pirated/DVD versions have dispersed, only THEN shall it be available. Because everyone loves to pay $2.99 a pop (more on that later) for something they can get for free or get from Netflix and rip (which is to say nearly free).

Speaking of the pecuniary question, comments on the iTunes pages for HBO’s shows are dominated by this and similar statements:

Putting aside the utter ridiculousness of comparison between inconvenient pricing of a television show and the securing of goods and services by threat of physical force, AND the idea that iTunes was the entity that deemed an episode of Entourage 50% more valuable than an episode of Breaking Bad, $2.99 for a 50 minute download in standard definition is fucking asinine. The only logical explanation for a web non-strategy so idiotic is branding. In following it HBO positions itself as a hip, web 2.0, (meaningless buzzword)-type company while offering nothing that competes with their omnipresent DVD box sets. Speaking of which...

2. DVD's

So I love certain seasons of HBO shows, to the point where I might consider paying to have them in my home at all times- portable and ready to play, rain or shine anytime, anywhere. What’s the answer? DVD box sets! What’s stopping me? They suck rancid donkey balls.

After running through the complete Sopranos, Deadwood, Wire, Flight of the Conchords, and (sigh) Rome by means of Netflix, I am relatively qualified in diagnosing what pieces of shit these DVD’s are. Let us begin at the beginning.

Before EVERY SINGLE EPISODE of EVERY SINGLE SHOW, HBO reminds us who brought us what we’re about to enjoy:

Out of an ocean of snow/static arrives a monolithic logo set to an angelic chorus- as if God himself is smiling upon the entertainment to follow.

What level of insecurity drives someone to this kind of figurative/not-quite-as-figurative branding? Taking a red-hot “HBO” iron to the quivering forehead of an unsuspecting episode of hard-hitting drama just to let everyone know it’s yours? Great job letting everyone know what a tiny penis you have, HBO.

Now the meat of the episode- which is green, rotten, and ugly. Artificial grain, washed out color and aliasing artifacts are de rigueur in all of these series. DVD transfer is science, not art, HBO- you get what you pay for, so stop being such insufferable skinflints.

Another area in which HBO gets its shit handed to it is in disc efficiency. Notice how other 13-episode drama seasons come as a 4-disc set? That’s because at least four 50-minute episodes can fit on a single disc with minimal compromise of quality made in the compression. But HBO seasons (at least until recently) came as 6-disk sets. Is it because their content is 50% more valuable? No- it’s because they only put two or three episodes on a disc and give extras their own disc so they can mark the set up by (you guessed it) 50%.

And though some may think this is a minor concern, the lack of a “play all” button (anywhere, ever) is evidence of a serious corporate personality disorder. So you’re blowing through the (singular) Wire season 4 and don’t want to stop for breath? Too bad, because HBO considers television a discrete, quantized medium and will make you go back to the fucking menu and see their fucking logo every fucking time.


In fairness, none of this would be an issue if HBO didn’t produce some stellar content. If all it was capable of was entertaining trifles with above-average production values (Dexter, Weeds..-fuck it Showtime’s entire lineup), I could terminate our relationship with extreme prejudice. But I have decent taste, and they attract the talent. Thus, we arrive at an impasse.

HBO is aware of this, as their entire brand is based around challenging fare and creative freedom. But like all brands, at its heart lies a hypocrisy. Coca-Cola urges you to open happiness, rather than an ice cold can of sugar crashes, childhood obesity and sad Colombians. Nike has always associated itself with the purity of Primal Sport (“Africans Running,” as longtime CEO/chairman Phil Knight likes to call it), but what they sell is expensive body cargo that does nothing to improve performance or prevent injury. While HBO may sell itself as a salon extending complete freedom to creatives too edgy for networks or basic cable, and as a vendor for deeply personal, affecting material, it has what can only be called a compulsion to control every aspect of its consumption. Its end goal is for consumers to receive their content simultaneously and without intermediaries-by purchasing a monthly subscription. Nothing you want to watch this month? Fuck you, you’re getting it anyway. This archaic, purely hierarchical model of media distribution is antithetical to the progressive image they project. Absolute top-down control of the viewing experience also costs them money and is, therefore, anticapitalist, irrational, and perverse.

Plus, they passed on Mad Men. So fuck ‘em.