Ranch House

I need suburbs. I need a ranch house. The suburbs I can build, but I need photographs. I need a ranch house in Boston.

There is one, according to a real estate website. Not far from me, maybe, as the crow flies.

Taking a neighbor friend’s camera stranded with me for over a week thanks to a pointless whateverthefuck with her roommate, I set off, round the lake and the roundabouts, and mount the hill. I’ve soon been walking for half an hour, and the light is slipping away.

This is where the wealthy, if not the superwealthy, live. You could forget you’re somewhere between the Arboretum and West Roxbury for a moment and believe you’re on a summer colony road on the coast of Maine. Gardens, hedges, slate, brick, and tiny golf green lawns. Sidewalks begin and end at random on the twisting hillside street. Clip off three feet of that decrepit mansion’s lawn to complete a sidewalk? He knows the mayor! If he’s still alive in there…

I’m not a student anymore. It’s been a long time. I’m moving discreetly along streets where people don’t walk to visit anyone, snapping pictures occasionally with a manual zoom lens. Should I say I work for a real-estate company if some gel-combed executive dad stomps out and demands to know what the samhill? Tell the truth, that I’m compositing bits and pieces of different photos into backdrops for a virtual film set? Say I’m on a public sidewalk and he can go fuck himself, more likely. You get more of yourself under yourself in your thirties, but you no longer have the endless blind confidence of a college student. It was a long time ago, and you thought the East Indies couldn’t be more than three weeks’ sail to the west. I must be supremely bored if I’m even wondering about this.

Farther than I expected, but there it is, marked by the real estate sign. A single-floor ranch. Brick. The wrong era. Built into a hillside, and almost entirely obscured by a hedge. Fuck it. Snap. Snap.

Up the hill. Dead end. That sounds good. A few more single level houses, also the wrong era. No era in particular, in fact, unless you call the ’80s trying to hide its shame an era.

“I was there, Gandalf. I was there, in the 1980s! I was there when the strength of men failed.”

Wend my way around. A different way off the hill. The light is going. Some interesting houses for later – once I’ve Photoshopped out the trees, hedges, power lines. Why must houses hide themselves away? A latchkey sprinkler erodes a mossy sloped lawn to mud. Old garage doors built into the hillside molder, automobile mausoleums waiting for the final burial of the car. It wasn’t the auto that built these suburbs and exurbs in the 1920s, but the light rail, and thermodynamics always win in the end.

That night. Transfer the pictures. Call the girl. Voicemail: I’d like to chat. Text: What’s up? Me: Help me run your roommate’s camera equipment back up? Her: Did you call her? Me: I want to talk to you, but figured we could do something useful as well. After a while: Will it help if I promise I’m not a vampire?

She comes downstairs, grabs an armful. She says she doesn’t have time to talk. Up the stairs. She doesn’t appear to be doing anything. Later in the week? I accept.

I’ll be shocked if she calls. She’s so much like me as a student, putting things off until they go away, avoiding life, covering for her shyness. So much like me now. But I’m sick of the whole thing. I’m sick of being a gentleman. I’m sick of identical “It’s not you, it’s me” speeches from women with nothing else in common.

Men. Women. The unfinished revolutions. The uncomfortable détentes. The ugly houses, zealously maintained.

The Fetish Diary: American Apparel

Consider American Apparel. Notice something: The clothing is hideous. Ill-fitting, lumpy, revealing of the wrong aspects of the anatomy, short-changing the best, whoring the remainder. A retro among many retros, that recalls nothing more than a bad Sigourney Weaver movie from the ’80s. You would think that this brand was a failure, a joke.

But you would be wrong.

American Apparel is not a clothing company, but a sprawling meta artwork. The Millenial Era expression of one man’s antisocial personality disorder.

Sex plus product is a trackworn formula. The appeal of the ads goes deeper than that. If the models are appealing but the clothing is unappealing, what does it say if the overall ads are appealing? It says that the models are winning.

Theirs is a temporary victory. An anxious, uncertain victory, as their facial expressions — always their facial expressions, in every ad — beg us to consider. They are winning against the clothing.

They are beautiful. Strangely. Tragically. Momentarily. For just a fleeting instant — so the narrative of the artwork shouts — in the first flush of youth, they are for a manic, over- and underconfident, fast, lost moment precisely Good Enough.

They are prey.

The American Apparel narrative is art, horrible and total. One man’s view of women as objects. Objects to be taken, used, discarded past their shine — much less their usefulness.

Look at this waste. This trash. Stare for a moment. Look what I’ve done to it. What would you like to do to it? Fine, it’s all yours. It’s almost over anyway.

Sartre’s hell can’t hold the man for whom there are no other people.

What Should We Do With Polanski?

The more I read about the Polanski case, the harder I find myself leaning toward witch hunt, but I’ll remain on the fence. The pertinent data seems to be as follows:

Statutory rape is based on the assumption that a woman under 18 can not make rational decisions about her sexuality when confronted with an adult. This may be true. The US says that this girl could have in 5 years. Britain says she could have in 3. Other countries differ in either direction. In my opinion, the US is closer to the truth. Whatever the case, it’s difficult to argue sanely that the crime is equal to that of a forced sexual assault against an adult woman.

On the question of force, we have two pieces of evidence. Less valuable are Geimer’s recollections of her feelings at the time, which, as hard as it is to accept, were nearly useless when recorded 30 years after the fact. More damning is the application of methaqualone to the girl’s drink — at the time a popular grey market recreational sedative.

There is no pattern of action, unusual for a true sexual predator. Polanski has received no allegations of sexual misconduct in the years preceding, nor in the years since. His pregnant wife had been murdered eight years before the incident. Polanski has now been married for the past 20 years. A settlement was reached, Geimer has dropped charges, and wishes to see the whole thing forgotten.

But America can go a bit nuts when a crime involves sex, especially with a minor, even while lingering over its American Eagle ads. It can resemble a kind of ritual flagellation, and if that’s the case no one deserves to be flogged for our own sins. As I said, I’m reserving judgement on Polanski, but there’s a whiff of inquisition about this.

The Fetish Diary: Bandage Fetish

By now a well-known Japanese fetish, based on the injured Rei Ayanami character from Neon Genesis: Evangelion with a dash of Southeast Asian bird flu chic, I find I can’t get behind this one. Perhaps it’s meant to inspire sympathy, a desire to care for — nurse a potential mate back to health and reap the benefits, but I’m always reminded of the line from William Gibson’s Neuromancer: “Beyond them, at another table, three Japanese wives in Hiroshima sackcloth awaited sarariman husbands, their oval faces covered with artificial bruises; it was, he knew, an extremely conservative style, one he’d seldom seen in Chiba.”

The Fetish Diary: School Girl Complex

There’s no nudity, but I can’t quite call this photoset safe for work either. If anyone understands why that is, please let me know. (The same if anyone with a bit of Japanese can help give proper credit to the photographer.)

“Mr. Noonday”

(Fifty-five word flash fiction for EvilMustache’s Challenger 3.)

"Imagine that. Sixteen different kinds of cheeses. That is simply astonishing."

"You said I-"

"Shouldn't have come, I know. Oh, would you look at that."


"Your ex girlfriend. She has her own demon on her back."


"No. I just thought that would make you feel better."

"When... can I get rid of you?!"

Cult 2.0

Carey Burtt’s sharp and funny short film has me thinking about cults again, and specifically Cult 2.0s. The “2.0” is an irritating neologism for an irritating fact: That new cults have learned from the excesses of old cults. They’ve seen that certain behaviors raise red flags, and they’ve learned that by tinkering around the edges they can gain the same rewards — control and wealth — without bringing the same organized backlash. Jim Jones is dead, but Reverend Moon is one of the most powerful men in America.

Necessary to understanding the Cult 2.0 is the rejection of the 70’s-style language of victimization. Cult 2.0 members are no more “victims” than smokers. Both are addicted, both are progressively harmed, both could stop at any time (but rarely do), and both chose to begin.

Traditional cult members tend to be of above average intelligence — as is vividly illustrated in the Jonestown Tape. At the outset they perceive at least some of the methods of psychological control, but they choose to believe that the positive aspects of the organization outweigh the negatives. They “cult into” these groups; they’re not tricked.

The following are the common attributes of the traditional cult. (Credit to the late Perry DeAngelis.)

  • Surrender to Authority
    • Leaders defeat autonomy
  • Environmental Control
    • Carefully control daily schedule
    • Leave no time to reconsider/criticize
  • Totalism
    • Us vs. Them Mentality
    • Make members feel needed/wanted
  • Loading the Language
    • Jargon
    • Common words given unique meanings
  • Demand for Purity
    • Purity defined by leadership
    • Any sacrifice allowed for purity

Moving beyond DeAngelis, I point out that this is a hierarchical list. The Surrender to Authority requires Environmental Control which supports Totalism which begets Loading the Language which supports the Demand for Purity. The Cult 2.0 merely accomplishes the above with soft power. It’s the paper difference between slavery and sharecropping.

In a Cult 2.0 they don’t control your life, but they sure always need you to do something or other for them, at all hours. They don’t tell you to stop talking to your friends and family, they just don’t give you the time. When your loved ones ask what you do now, it’s hard to explain it all without using that new terminology. Most people wouldn’t understand anyway, right? The Cult 2.0 doesn’t tell you to give them all your money, but if you paid for this training retreat and the next you’d sure start to make progress, and be able to help your local outlet move forward. You want to do better, don’t you? Keep that enthusiasm up. We’re changing the world. And it’s easy.

Cult 2.0s are the antibiotic-resistant germs of the cult world, reshuffling their features to deliver the same payload. Scientology’s Narcanon and “Free Personality Test” tent are easy to spot front groups, but the for-profit Dahn Yoga corporation (Dahn Hak) is a front for nothing but itself. Cult 2.0s don’t kill people; they just leave them broke, broken, ashamed, lonely, and knowing that nothing has been done to them that they haven’t done to themselves.