The 90s Disease and The Global Star Wars on Terror

This is the first of two editorials tangential to political things including 9/11, the Global War on Terror, and how much of a cunt George Lucas is.  I have written this particular piece while in a rather spirited mood.  There is offensive content here and its payload has been calibrated to maximize its potential.

I was in a World History class, freshman year of High School when it happened.

This is one class I will not forget, though I don’t know it at the time.  It will teach me far more than I expect.  We are to be taking a short test on some material we recently covered.  I wasn’t worried, my memory always did serve me well in areas like history.  Twenty-five questions, and then a new lesson.  Twenty-five questions on the origins of Islam.  The strange mechanisms of the world already winking at my future self through a multiple-choice pop quiz.

When the television went on I saw the towers burning.  They still stood over New York, then.  At first the world thought “Tragic Accident”.  Then the second plane hits.  At first the news thought the towers couldn’t fall.  Then they did.  We all watched them fall.  We all watched them die.  Many of my classmates had family working in the Pentagon.  DC is very much a company town.  I’d never been to New York.  I knew people there, the internet had permeated my life in a Very Big Way already, and through IRC I knew people who lived and worked there.  My mind was too dumbstruck to register that they might be in danger.

The reactions of the students were telling.  Mine was that of pain and rage.  None of us had known the horrors of the Cold War, the grim sword of damocles that was Mutually Assured Destruction was foreign to us.  War was something other people made.  We were observers, all, and none of us knew that our world had just been swapped for some new monstrosity, a warped mirror that reflected all the wrong parts of ourselves.  I knew there would be a war.  I knew whoever had done this would feel the unchained rage of an empire.  I knew we would feel the same rage.  And I knew that rage would always be more dangerous to us than it ever would to our enemies.

There is no image I can think of that is so primal, so repulsive to the very core of one’s humanity, and so mortally terrifying than that of a mushroom cloud.  Nuclear annihilation.  As I said we were the first generation removed from the Cold War.  We didn’t know the same fears.  A mushroom cloud, the modern face of death itself, was now all that I could see.  I saw the towers fall, I saw the fires and deaths, the jumpers, the secondary collapses.  I saw them and I thought “Yes.”  I saw mushroom clouds rising over some foreign land.  I thought that death by nuclear fire would be too kind a fate for those responsible.  For the first and only time in my life I was posessed of a terrible notion: We Must Kill Them All.  No exceptions, no hesitation, no remorse.  The world would never before or again see a more fearsome reprisal.  This would never happen again.  Not while We stood upon the bridge.

Some of the students, however, watched, riveted to their seats.  I realized something awful.  They were actually being entertained by this.  Whether the sheer magnitude of this was too much for their feeble minds to grasp I do not know, I do know that there was more than one person that I previously thought was smart who actually commented on how “cool” this was.  And everyone knew why this was getting people off.  I’d seen such destruction before, we all had.  We all paid for it at the movie theatres in the summers.  We lined up to eat popcorn and watch aliens or asteroids or some Other destroy us, only to be vanquished by the might, ingenuity, and wisdom of Humanity.  The 1990s was the Great American Victory Lap and it showed in all our media.  We’re All So Fucking Great, because we survived the Cold War.  If we could avoid annihilating ourselves, we could truly overcome any obstacle the universe would send our way.  The 1990s are why George W. Bush would later challenge the terrorists to “Bring it on”.  The threat to us in the 1990s seemed to never be human.  We had conquered our demons, we were masters of our domain.  Without nuclear war to worry about we could build fantastic new wonders like the Internet, cure diseases, bring the world together, throw down tyranny and lift humanity into a brighter future.  We were building a space station, we were mapping the cosmos, the whole world seemed to peek its head out into the blinding light from a dark cave, just for a moment.  We thought everything was going to be okay, soon.  What could this new millenium bring other than the triumphant dawn of mankind?  And, admittedly it was understandable, justified even.

Star Wars should have taught us differently.  Episode One, specifically.  At the ass end of the ’90s the most sacred of our pop culture icons was going to return with all the majesty of modern CGI and budgets greater than the GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa.  A great big fucking fireworks show to cap our cultural bender.  It didn’t even occur to us that it would be remotely possible for Star Wars to be Bad.  Try and remember that time.   The time when Star Wars was always going to be good.  The time when its only blemishes were written off as a minor misstep by the visionary Lucas.  Its important to remember the time when Star Wars couldn’t possibly be fucked up, even if  spasticated rhesus monkeys suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, smoking crystal meth wrote the screenplay in the AIDS-infested mongoloid spunk of the aborted baby Jesus.  Star Wars was perfect.  Then, Episode One came out.  It was a fuckfest of legendary proportions, childhoods were retroactively ruined, and the insult would only seem to get worse with time.

Why was Star Wars bad?  Why, when the first film was made at the end of the Vietnam War, and the series improved to its crescendo in the last great arms race under Reagan, why was this new Star Wars, forged over years in the victorious, pre-utopian 90s, so bad?  Well, the problem was that Star Wars was perfect.  Only someone who no one thinks can do wrong would or could fuck up Star Wars that badly.  People around this man should have slapped the shit out of Lucas, the studios should have detonated his script.  And it was the ultimate 90s script, no tremendous conflict, just a small backwater trade dispute, some political maneuvering, you know, easy shit.  Shit that normal humans deal with all the time, nevermind Jedi.  Shit that Yoda should have sorted out in five minutes.  The whole of Industrial Light and Magic blackout drunk with money, and the entire production in a dissociative trance of denial, with no one challenging the fever-dream bullshit spewing from George Lucas.

A New Hope was made in the fucking desert with props that constantly broke, never-before-tried effects techniques, a veritable shoestring budget, and more problems than anyone knew could happen on a movie.  Everyone thought the movie was going to be horrible!  It was the exact opposite of The Phantom Menace in almost every way.  The script was chopped, cut, tightened, until it was lean and unrelenting.  Comedy and drama in balance, the Hero’s Journey updated for the modern era, and most importantly: Good Triumphs Over Evil.  Not an ultimate triumph.  Significant, but ultimately just another battle.  It was exactly what it needed to be in that time, in that place in 1977.  Star Wars made everyone remember “Hey, we’re the good guys.  We can do this!”  The Phantom Menace made us ask “Hey, you’re supposed to be the good guys, are you sure you can do this?”.

In its own way TPM is also exactly what it needed to be in its time, which is to say an overproduced monstrosity.  A monument to excess.  We let it happen.  We were so busy telling George Lucas how great Star Wars was that he forgot the adversity that gave it a soul.  In the 1990s, we were all in the business of buying our own bullshit and confirming ever so politely to each other that our shit did not in fact stink.  The Millenial Generation had arrived and the Baby Boomers were going to kick back and get nice and fucked up with the hottest new drug for them: Unlimited Power.  How could America possibly get punched in the dick by the Actual Sand People from Tatooine?  Even if that happened, how could America so fuck up their response as to get bogged down in not one but fully two Vietnam-grade quagmires?  We learned that lesson!  We won, remember?  We’re the good guys!  We can do this! What are a bunch of irritable brown people going to do to us, nothing, because we’re America and we’re so fucking Perfect.

In the 1990s the US Economy boomed thanks to the Internet, we had the largest budget surplus in history, and our biggest problems according to the news were blowjobs and sharks.  We gathered all that money, and all that confidence, and when we were attacked we hit back with our own great big Phantom Menace.  An obnoxious, showy, over-budgeted, over-produced foreign-policy Hindenburg called the “Global War on Terror”.  We named our enemy.  The “Axis of Evil” ooh, scary, very Sith Lords, love it.  For Iraq we even got our own Attack of the Clones complete with equally farcical justifications for a war!

The best thing about those movies, the prequel trilogy is that for all its flaws it does one thing incredibly right:  From start to finish, episode one title crawl to episode three credits, the good guys manage to give the bad guys exactly what they want.  The Jedi, through arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence fuck absolutely everything up.  The bad guys play them like a fiddle and achieve almost every aim.  The only thing that stops them from winning completely is that at the eleventh hour, a couple of people get their shit together just long enough to set the stage for the next generation to fix everything they broke, if they can, maybe.

And America did the same.  We gave the bad guys exactly what they wanted, first we got good and scared.  Then, we got good and angry.  We started a war with too much confidence and rage and no decent plan.  We alienated potential allies with our rhetoric.  After 9/11 even Iran was chomping at the bit to help us.  And why not?  They’re fairly modern, certainly when compared to their neighbors.  They’ve got just as much an interest in making sure the Taliban and Al Qaeda quiet down as we do.  We were on the way towards real dialogue when President Lucas threw it all away by naming them to the axis of evil.  And we got distracted, went off podracing in Iraq.  We give radical groups decades worth of justification for their agenda in places where they were as welcome as syphillis.  Now the western economy has tanked, and what did we get for all of this?  We managed to get our shit together just long enough to shoot the guy responsible in the eye.

This is a tough one.  And now, like it or not, its up to my generation to fix everything the grey-hairs broke.

If we can.



The Epic Legends – Atlanta Day Two

Atlanta, Georgia.  There are two great things I can say about the place.  The first is that it was once razed.  The second is that it is home to the most delicious soda I have ever tasted.  It might as well have been fucking Ambrosia.  On day two of my great voyage, I learned many things.  I learned to overcome my fear of recently-released prisoners who were hard-up for cash.  Kind of.  I learned how to piss off an entire bus full of people.

Mostly, I learned that almost everything you do will suck in some way.

These stories are not for the faint of heart.  They depict graphical things graphically.  They involve less-than-flattering portrayals of the author in his younger days.  There are some points at which many people would be offended.  In fact, if many people aren’t offended, I am not doing my job right.  The Atlanta Saga, as I have come to call it, was a series of events that shook me to my core, and changed the course of my life, subtly, but I would not be who I am without it.  So now, without further ado, on with the story.
Day two:  The first thing I remember is hurrying downstairs to the lobby, and enjoying what very well might have been the best free omlette I’d ever had, it contained expertly-cooked sausage, bacon, and cheese.  It was so good, that I forgot I hated eggs themselves.  The warm embrace of the prescription medications I was then dependant upon was upon me, and I was having a much better day, especially when compared to the horrors of day one.  Whereas the first day was a lesson in anger, the second day was a lesson in humility.

For a good while I talked with my few acquaintances in the hotel, I didn’t have many.  Most of the people were older than I or too irritating to endear myself to.  While the setting was strange, the social model was still that of Woodson High School.  That is to say, the rich and beautiful rule everything, while people like me attend class in the back of the school and ride the short bus.  That, however, is a story for another time.

I found myself starting to think that the trip might not be as much of a disaster as I’d thought it would be.  At the very least, my skin was not turning green, and nothing was being smashed as a result.  Soon, however, the real business of the day would unfold.  Competition!  I was here to sing, after all, and it is a little known fact that my gorgeous tenor is responsible for a full two out of my three total relationships, so I was good at it.  I still am, though that voice is now manipulated into a pop-rock hybrid of Anthony Kiedis and Jonathan Coulton.  Attracts more women than old British naval drinking tunes, though those are still fun.

We boarded our dread-chariots once more, leaving Atlanta altogether, to go to, oddly enough a suburban high school much like my own.  A deep-south doppelganger that made me wonder why we couldn’t have just mailed these fuckers a tape.  We were scheduled to perform last, and as it is my nature to suspect the worst in all things, I had come prepared.

My tuxedo hid the equivalent of a small game store, laden with various people’s GBAs and the new SP variants, I functioned as an entertainment mule.  Why?  Because, my friends, my tuxedo was the largest.  I was 6′ even and roughly 270 lbs in those days.  While I stil retain the title of “hefty motherfucker” I’ve managed to shrink that to a relatively svelte 200.  My gargantuan pockets were lined not with silk, and carried not handkerchiefs, but games!  As I passed out my hoard to the eager waiting masses, disaster struck.

My tuxedo jacket decided it was no longer pleased with my physique and the fact that I had jammed it with no fewer than three handheld gaming systems, and decided to send two buttons flying violently from my gut into a pretty young lady’s face and eye.

Now, the staff was prepared for such (legitimate) wardrobe malfunctions, so I was not worried about looking like a sloppy bum on stage.  Well, no more than usual, but still.  What I was worried about was that this extremely attractive girl who I’d known since we were the innocent ages of seven was incapable of opening her right eye, and about to reveal that she was not only pissed off, but capable of Hulk-tendencies herself.

My friends, not since the summer of 1994 had my groin felt such pain.

As i lay slumped against a Snapple machine, ice-pack pressed firmly against my manberries, a grown woman I did not recognize approached me with a pitying look in her eyes.  She reached inside my jacket and extracted the spare buttons, and proceeded to repair my vestments, but not my pride, or my testicles.  The two are good friends and would be suffering for some time.  On the upside, it did help me reach the high notes during my solo.  Not all was disastrous.

Our performance was solid.  As solid as it could be considering one of the sopranos fainted under the blistering heat of the stage lights, which I for one believe should be used by the government as riot control devices.  My solo went off without a sour note, I was pleased with my performance.  We sang heartily and with good humor, dare I say we knocked those British naval drinking tunes out of the metaphorical park.

The advantage of performing last is you don’t have to wait up forever to get back on your buses and travel to whatever hellhole is next on your agenda.  For us, it was a twofold stop.  Constructed for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, the Coca-Cola Pavillion and the Atlanta Underground.  The Pavillion speaks for itself.  It is a monument to Coca-Cola, in all forms.  We went on a guided tour, which was unremarkable and boring, that is until we reached the fountains of the gods, as I have come to call them.  There were two rooms, wherein one could sample an entire world of Coca-Cola products.  There were of course the local varieties, the traditional concoctions, these were all in great supply, pouring from mighty apparatuses adorning the walls and ceilings.  It truly was quite a spectacle.  However, the second room introduced me to a flavor so tremendous in its power I have a difficult time believing it has not been marketed in the United States.

Watermelon Soda.

Watermelon soda from China, no less!  This was a variety of Fanta (which, as they declined to point out, is a relic of the Third Reich, that Coca-Cola devoured after the war) that was manufactured and distributed in China, as the faucet stated.  It was, simply put, the greatest beverage I have ever sampled.  I drank as much as I could.  Seriously, I filled myself to bursting.  Thankfully I was in civilian clothes once more, and these had no potential for rupture.  I’m reasonably certain they would have.

While I was quite reluctant to leave the soda behind, the soda that I have been searching five long years for, all in vain, I had to.  We had a schedule to keep, and I was not going to be the one to fuck it up.  I marched across a fairly tranquil square, with a fountain in the middle to the Atlanta Underground.  Now, if you haven’t been, I suggest you don’t go.  The place is a shithole.  A sort of underground mall, only lacking anything even slightly interesting.  There is food.  Indeed there is a Hooters, which is where most of the people on the trip with me promptly disappeared to.  I soon realized the folly of my soda-consumption, though, when I was hit with a sudden and uncontrollable need to urinate.  I saw a restroom at the far end, which I walked into.  Walked, however, might be too kind a word considering the state of this lavatory.  I waded, into the two-inch deep muck of human filth that covered the ground.  Desparate as I was, I was still not about to proceed further into this piss-swamp than I had.

Has anyone here seen Trainspotting?  There is a scene entitled simply, “The Worst Toilet in Scotland”.  Remember that scene?  I bet you wish you didn’t.  This is the scenario I was facing, only it was not merely a toilet, but a whole 8’x12′ restroom.  I have no idea whether the situation there has since been rectified (ouch, bad choice of words) but I will never, ever return.

What happened next can best be decribed as one of the most surreal moments of my life.  A large black man near the doorway looked at me, standing dumbstruck.  He knew my thoughts.  He said in an unassuming voice, “You gotta take a shit?”  I turned sheepishly and nodded.  He told me to follow him.  Now, keep in mind that while Washington DC, and indeed my portion of the suburbs has its share of black men, many of whom I am friends with, I am not in Washington DC.  I was suddenly acutely aware of my whiteness, and the fact that this man was a giant, And the Atlanta Underground was indeed underground, and a very dark place even in the brightest of daylight.

I followed a cautious eight feet behind, roughly the length of his arm, I’d say, as he showed me to the clean restroom.  Relief.  Relief at last.  I hurried into the one available stall and proceeded to urinate with a force that would put industrial machinery to shame.  I may have blasted a hole clean through the porcelain of the bowl.  Before I was finished however, I saw something I’d never seen before.   A familiar face looked down at me from the neighboring stall.  The Giant.  He proceeded to explain to me, the very definition of captive audience, that he had recently been released from prison and he didn’t have much money.  Gulp.  He also asked if I could spare some.  I couldn’t.  Double gulp.  Of course I didn’t say that because this man could take my skull between his thumb and forefinger and simply twist it off my body.  Instead I told him to wait as I finished up, and to please stop watching me piss.

I took my sweet-fucking-time as I was suddenly unsure whether or not my last moments would be spent Elvis-style, on the toilet.  When i finally decided to give him five of my remaining dollars, I emerged and handed him the money, told him it really was all I could spare, and hurried past his titanic form and out the door.  I spotted among the stalls of cheap trinkets and ridiculous clothing one that carried several samurai swords.  No doubt they were of poor quality, but nevertheless I decided to park myself near them.  I went to the Dairy Queen directly across from it and bought a Blizzard.  I was the most paranoid person on the planet, and must’ve looked like some kind of fiend.  In fact, I was so paranoid, and so afraid to leave my position of strength near the weapons, that I lost track of time entirely.

I was half an hour late for my bus.  Fearing the worst I chucked the Blizzard and bolted for the entrance, hoping to find the bus where I left it.  What I ran into, however, was a search party.  Four individuals, selected because of all the people on the bus they were the least likely to murder me for making them wait half an hour in the sweltering Atlanta heat, were sent to scour the underground for me or my remains.

I ran into them, and explained the situation.  I recounted how I was on the run from a giant, and that it was in my fear that I had stayed as long as I had.  This may have appeased them but it did not appease the other thirty people on the bus, driver included, who all wanted to rip me limb from limb.

It was in this moment that I was able to put into proper order my capacity for risk assessment.  It is one thing to be potentially kidnapped/raped/slaughtered by a total stranger who is half the size of God.  However it is far less dangerous than pissing off a bus full of people, one of whom has already delivered a crushing blow to your genitalia in the span of this day.

My place as the most awkward motherfucker in the history of school trips was secured.

Soon we arrived, late, at a cafeteria-type restaurant.  The name escapes me, mostly because the food was terrible and I was still fearing for my life, or at the very least the structural integrity of my reproductive organs.  I engaged in some oddly satisfying conversation with one of the nearby girls on the bus who Colin the Traitor did not violate on the journey down.  Something strange happened.  I was talking, I was being sheepish and self-deprecating in regards to the day’s events, but she was laughing.  Not at me, but with me, as the cliche goes.  She thought I was funny.  She was hot!  She thought I was funny!  I promptly made arrangements with the girl she sat next to to swap seats, so that she and Colin could tongue each other some more, but more importantly that I could utilize my newfound talent of flirting with attractive young women.

In not too much time,  we returned to the hotel, where catastrophe struck again.  The announcement came that the hotel had opened their pool.

Now, for obvious reasons I did not go to the pool.  For one, I cannot, and have never been able to swim.  Also, I weighed 270 lbs and my skin tone rests somewhere between albino and irish on the Whiteymeter.  I didn’t want to blind anyone.  Instead I sat in the lobby, reading a book (Scott Adams’ God’s Debris if you were wondering) and drinking tea.  I actually looked fairly sophisticated.  I looked, dare I say, normal.

And then.

Out of nowhere.

Or rather, out of the pool, come those who did decide to swim.  A parade of young, beautiful women in bikinis, and muscled Adonises.  A display of youthful sexuality that demolished me.  One, my recently-recouperated penis wanted to see what all the fuss was about and decided to pop up and take in the scenery, giving me my second school-trip record, of most embarassing hard-on.  Two, I was suddenly acutely aware of how unattractive I was in all ways but one, and how oh-my-god-stunningly attractive my classmates were.  I was in the bottom one percent, here.  I realized why I’d never had a girlfriend.  I realized many things.  One of them was that apparently scantily clad women are allowed to sit on the laps of scantily clad men in the lobby of a public hotel, dripping wet, in rather expensive looking chairs, without any objection, other than the thousands of ones my mind was screaming at them.

To be fair, my mind’s objections weren’t specific to upholstery, they were mainly objections that none of them saw fit to sit on my lap, though in retrospect that was probably a very good thing, considering the tent I was pitching.

I briefly considered breaking out one of the calling cards I’d been given to contact my father and call for rescue.  I wanted to bail.  I wanted to wash my hands of all this nonsense and just leave.  Go home, where everything was safe.  After all, I’d done my job.  I’d sang perfectly.  There wasn’t any reason for me to stay the final day.  Ultimately though a voice I’d come to know far more intimately in the coming years would tell me to stay.  It was myself, my hidden courage.  At some level I knew this was something I had to face.  This trip embodied every social fear and anxiety that I’d ever accumulated, and I was going to conquer it.  In any case I would not run from it.  I would not be conquered by this city, or these people, or myself.  So I went upstairs, to the room I had signed up for.  I faced Sergio, also known as Bigfoot, and his lustrous coat of thick black hair.  I unpacked my bags.

Fate was with me that night.  I won the coin toss for the one bed in our room.  I had another peaceful night of sleep.  Waking up the next day restored a bit of pride, a bit of faith, and a bit of feeling in my ice-numbed scrotum.  The itinerary for this day was simple.  There was only one stop.  Six Flags Amusement Park.  Then, the long journey back home.

To be continued.