Friday, October 31, 2008


The past few days have been a festival of meetings and leaf raking, to the point where I almost managed to forget about the Dow and next Tuesday's election. I'm done talking about the election, I promise. Instead, I'm giving the last word to Rolling Stone, a magazine I haven't read since somewhere around my 18th birthday. Still, Tim Dickinson's Make Believe Maverick is a story well worth reading. If goblins don't scare you this weekend, this story will.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Guess the IRS Can't Afford Spellcheck

I found this in my inbox this morning. I have only one question: why $120.50? If I'm going to be scammed, I want it to be for $14 million USD wired from Nigeria.

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity
we have determined that you are eligible to receive
a tax refund under section 501(c) (3) of the
Internal Revenue Code. Tax refund value is $120.50.
Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 6-9 days
in order to IWP the data received.
If u don't receive your refund within 9 business
days from the original IRS mailing date shown,
you can start a refund trace online.

If you distribute funds to other organization, your records must show wether
they are exempt under section 497 (c) (15). In cases where the recipient org.
is not exempt under section 497 (c) (15), you must have evidence the funds will
be used for section 497 (c) (15) purposes.

If you distribute fund to individuals, you should keep case histories showing
the recipient's name and address; the purpose of the award; the maner of
section; and the realtionship of the recipient to any of your officers, directors,
trustees, members, or major contributors.

To access the form for your tax refund, please click here

This notification has been sent by the Internal Revenue Service,
a bureau of the Department of the Treasury.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Real Reality Show

In a fit of boredom I watched The Hills last night. If you've never seen it, you're probably either smart or lucky. It's a "scripted reality" show, whatever that means, and it's probably the dumbest show on TV. The "plot" centers around a bunch of self-involved twentysomethings having fake conversations about each other at night spots around Los Angeles. As far as I can tell, that's the show's entire premise: relatively telegenic people talking about each other while they eat or get drunk. The experience led me to wonder why my life hasn't been made into a reality show, "scripted" or otherwise. I'm at least as interesting as that bunch of dimwits.

Here, for example, would be the past 24 hours of my life:

Shot of me pinned down in bed, dog holding down my legs, cat holding down my arms. VO: I knew it was morning and time to get up. What I didn't know is how much I would change by the end of the day.

Shot of me at the computer, while the dog jumps up and down and runs in circles around me. VO: The internet is so interesting! I knew it was time to take a shower and leave the house, though. I smelled.

Shot of me in my car. VO: It's time to get gas!

Camera pans through my living room, close-up of me lying on the couch reading the NY Times. VO: Monday's op-ed pages suck. I knew I was hungry, but I didn't know what I would eat.

Montage of me pulling things from the refrigerator while the cat rubs against my legs and the dog stares longingly. VO: Anjou pears are a healthy and delicious snack. Will I ever get my work done for the day? I wonder if anyone is out to lunch right now, talking about me.

Cut to shot of empty restaurant. No one is talking about me.

Evening, living room in darkness. Camera finds me lying on my couch, watching LBJ documentary. As screen fades to black, VO: How could I have known that morning that the evening would find me tired all over again? It was a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

End credits.

Next week on "A Real Boring Life": interior of diner, where I am sitting at the counter reading the paper. VO: I wonder if they'll poach eggs for me today?

Monday, October 27, 2008


I don't even know what to say. Stocks are sinking even lower, my savings are disappearing, I'm unemployed, and Mad Men is now over, not to be seen again until at least next summer. The one ray of brightness in all this is that the election is now just over a week away and the commercials can finally stop. For some reason Pennsylvania is considered a "swing" state. Yes, PA was traditionally Democrat, and yes, PA went for Reagan and the first Bush, but so did pretty much the rest of the country. PA hasn't gone for the Republican Presidential nominee since 1988. That's 20 years. So can everyone stop running the annoying commercials already?

I also wish campaigns would stop wasting their money by calling me, either through robocalls or volunteers, reminding me of when the election is and that I need to vote. I'm a super-voter; I've voted in every election, both primary and general, for at least 15 years. In other words, I don't need to be reminded. I will vote. Leave me alone.

Because I'm one of those people who always votes, campaigns can safely assume that I keep up with the issues and know who I'm going to vote for. They don't need to leave me fake voicemails from the candidates telling me where they "stand" and how awful their opponent is. Wouldn't the time and effort (or at least the money, since these calls are automated and require very little human time or effort) be better spent reaching out to people who don't automatically vote all the time? No one needs to "get out" my vote. I get it out myself, twice a year, and not only do I not require help, I resent having my day interrupted to field a fake phone call from a politician.

I've never been as thankful for DVR as the past month, but once in a while I watch live TV. Say, during the debates, or the nightly news, or a sporting event. I long for the days when I was annoyed at ads for cars and trucks and automobile insurance. I understand that the Obama campaign has raised a ton of money and is in the process of spending it, but I can't wait until the last time I'm forced to sit through the "We can't afford John McCain" spot. I get it already - now leave me alone.

I've often wondered, the past few weeks, if the total amount spent on campaigning for all offices in 2008 - President, Congress, statehouse, each and every office, in both the primaries and general election - were added together, how large would that number be? What if all that money had been used to, I don't know, lower the national debt? Buy up stocks to try to stem the market slide? Help prevent foreclosure? Help the poor have food and shelter? What if we had real campaign reform and stopped wasting all this money?

Maybe the founding fathers had it right. Back then, candidates didn't campaign. They waited at home while their supporters traveled around making their case. They didn't have yard signs, or robocalls. They didn't spend hundreds of millions of dollars of other people's money. I wouldn't want to go back to the days when only white men who own land can vote, but I wouldn't mind going back to a time before the quadrennial onslaught of sound bites.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why I Don't Date Dogs

My cat will eat and eat until he vomits or dies. My dog, on the other hand, has become so codependent and neurotic that he won't eat unless circumstances are exactly to his specifications. If he suspects that I'll be leaving the house he won't eat. If I'm not sitting near him in the kitchen he won't eat. If his bowl isn't clean he won't eat. If he doesn't have enough water he won't eat. On occasion his food will sit in the bowl so long the cat will end up attempting to eat it. On occasion his food will sit until the middle of the night, when I'm sound asleep and there's no chance that I'll decide to leave the house.

My dog is skinny and I don't think it's possible for him to ever get up to his recommended weight. Even when he does eat, he lies around all day fretting. Will I put on my shoes? If my shoes are on does that mean I'm leaving the house? If I leave the house, will I ever return? What happens if I don't return? Even if I'm in the house, I'll be leaving sometime. When will that be? Is the economic crisis his fault? Was it his decision to invade Iraq? Was he somehow responsible for both Kennedy assassinations? What about the Holocaust? Surely he has some culpability for that as well. Unless he's on my lap, playing tug of war, or out somewhere with me, the poor dog is burdened.

Which leaves me burdened. Did I make him this way? I love my dog, and I wanted him to love me, but I certainly didn't want him to need therapy. He makes me feel like Woody Allen's mother. I keep telling him to go make friends, to get a life, but he just looks longingly at me, retreats to my bed, and curls up on my pillow. This morning he even went so far as to attempt to climb into the shower with me, so bothered was he by the five minutes we were spending apart.

Let me point out that all this separation anxiety is only manifest when I am in fact present. Once I do leave the house he just lies on my bed and sleeps or pines. He doesn't cry, he doesn't destroy anything. All of his worry revolves around the inevitability that I will leave his side. Once I in fact leave it, he's fine. In short, he's nuts.

"Dogs are so wonderful!" everyone says. "They give you such unconditional love! They're so much better than people!" OK, true. But I spend each and every day thankful that my dog is not a human. Can you imagine being involved with someone who thought and behaved this way? You would not be able to take it. You would break up. I would also immediately break it off with any human who took a dump on my basement floor, but that's another story.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Take Away the "H" in H.W. and What Have You Got?

I've been somewhat under the weather the past few days, but I did manage to drag myself to the theater yesterday to see Oliver Stone's W. Here's my review: don't bother seeing it. I learned absolutely nothing new about the man's character or biography, nothing new about how and why we entered Iraq. I ultimately left the theater wondering what genre of movie Stone thought he was making - it wasn't really a biopic, it wasn't a comedy, it wasn't satire - and what the point of the whole exercise might have been.

The film's themes were as follows:

W. spent his whole life trying to please his father. Beyond this one originary hurt and motivation, the man is an empty shell.

Condi Rice is a sycophant.

Rummy is an egomaniacal pedant.

Colin Powell was emasculated. And he was right.

Laura Bush likes books.

If you are a critic of the war, and if you've read the paper or watched the news for any part of the past seven years, none of this is new. Why spend the time and money to dramatize what we already know? If Stone was trying to invent a new cinematic genre, the filmed equivalent of naturalism or New Journalism, it just didn't translate. An American Tragedy, In Cold Blood, The Right Stuff, and other literary triumphs of the real worked because the authors were able to tell us more than we already knew about the story. By turning real people into characters Dreiser et al. were able to provide us access to feeling and motivation, to provide psychological as well as cultural context. W gives us caricature rather than character, and our only context is snippets from the nightly news.

The film's main dramatic conflict, and by extension the driving force of W's story, is between father and son, between the patrician and the party boy, the Episcopalian and the evangelical, the rational and the emotional. I have no doubt that the main reason W wanted to enter politics was to show that he was just as "good" as Jeb, to best his brother for his father's approval. That story would have made for excellent drama, but in this instance the conflict is drilled into us by exposition without nuance in the first hour, and the second hour is nothing more than a recapping of the first two years of our misadventure in Iraq. Yes, Iraq ties into the father/son dynamic, but because the primal war is completely dramatically subsumed by the Iraq war I ended up feeling that I'd watched half of a biopic and half of a History Channel documentary featuring bad re-enactments.

Perhaps Stone's frustration and contempt is ultimately reserved not for the first Bush administration but for the audience. We, after all, elected the guy and we, after all, are the ones who will suffer both the consequences and this movie. In the meantime, if you want to see an excellent Oliver Stone movie about an American president, rent the director's cut of Nixon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Oh, the Excitement

So far the month of October has passed in a kind of sameness. The election, the Dow, the election, the Dow. Anger, disbelief, frustration, anger, disbelief, frustration. No wonder all those people are lining up to see Beverly Hills Chiuaua. Movies are one avenue for escape, but here in my corner of the country the most popular frivolous activity would appear to be eating.

Locally, the biggest news of the past two weeks was the opening of a Sonic Drive-In. Here's how divorced I am from the world of fast food: I had no idea a Sonic was coming to the area, or was in fact open, until I drove smack into a traffic jam on my way to the grocery store. Yes, the opening of the Sonic created such excitement that cars have been lined up out of the parking lot and into a busy roadway. The first week the Sonic was open people would wait over half an hour to get into the lot to order their fast-food burgers.

What's the big deal? It's a fast-food product delivered to your car by a teenager wearing roller skates. The roller skates might make the teenager a bit more fit, but they don't make the food any better, or healthier. We had suffered no previous shortage of greasy burgers. The Sonic is located literally across the street from a shopping center that contains a McDonald's, Burger King, Arby's, Red Robin, and Applebee's. True, these other chains lack the roller skates, but at the end of the day isn't all crap food pretty much created equal? A friend actually waited in the long line of cars, dedicating over an hour of his day to procuring a burger that gave him the same indigestion he could have acquired at any other fast-food outlet. Maybe I'm just old and cranky, but I truly don't get it.

This same thing happened in the early 90s, when a Boston Market came to Charlottesville, VA. I have never seen such a mania for overcooked and overpriced rotisserie chicken. For weeks, people would line up to take home some dry chicken and steam table side dishes, as if the South had never before experienced the joys of creamed spinach, mac and cheese, or chicken. As if every gas station in C'ville didn't sell fried chicken. As if never before, in the annals of the American South, had a take-out dinner been offered.

Of course, we now know how that story ends. Boston Markets began sprouting like weeds all over the country, grocery stores and convenience markets began selling overcooked and overpriced rotisserie chicken, most of the Boston Markets ended up shuttered. People in Charlottesville went back to buying chicken where chicken rightly should be purchased, at gas stations.

If there's any sort of moral to this narrative it would be thus: wait another week and there will be no line at the Sonic.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Prescription for a Happy Weekend

There just isn't any good news, is there? Take our good friend Joe. As it turns out, his name isn't Joe and he's not, legally, a plumber. Plus he owes back taxes. Once again the moral of the story is that the last five of one's 15 minutes will be spent dealing with scandal. This morning's headlines promised that the Dow would open with a tumble, thereby ensuring that the Dow will open with a tumble. Even the leaves are sick of this horrible October and have given up, collecting dead in my yard.

There's always television to comfort us. If you think things are bad now, tune into PBS Monday night, where The American Experience Presidential biography series continues with LBJ. America hasn't been great in 2007 and 2008, but watching this will make you damn glad that it isn't 1967-1968. At least no one has yet taken to the streets and begun killing each other. Plus, we wear much cooler eyeglasses these days, and more natural fiber. We need to celebrate the little things.

If you need comfort before Monday, head out to the theater, where Oliver Stone's W can make you fondly recall the years when he was damaging only himself and not his entire country.

My main suggestion for succor in these hard times, however, would be that you do the following:

1. Buy the ugliest pumpkin in the patch, or grocery store, or parking lot, or wherever pumpkins are found.

2. Sharpen a two knifes, one as sharp as a hatchet, one as sharp as a scalpel.

3. Carve said pumpkin until it resembles Paulson, Bernaeke, or any member of the AIG board.

4. Leave the pumpkin out to rot.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe Speaks

Dear John the Senator,

Dude, I have a last name. Wurzelbacher. You tried to use it once, mangled it, and now for the rest of my life everyone's going to call me "Joe the Plumber." Listen, I'm a water and waste management consultant, with 15 years experience helping the people of Ohio control the flow of water and waste in their homes and businesses. Sure, I fix leaks, but there's so much more to it than that.

The Obama guy was speaking in my neighborhood, and now that I'm thinking of buying the business I thought I'd ask him a few questions about his tax plan. I guess I ended up on some news show, and now you've made me famous. Except no one will remember anything about me except that I'm a plumber.

You didn't call that other guy "Bill the Terrorist." You didn't say "John the Civil Rights Guy." You did call your opponent "Senator Government," but I think that was just an accident. How come I'm the only guy who doesn't get to have a surname? Plumbers have last names too, you know. Plus, all this free advertising is going to waste unless I change the name of the business to "Joe the Plumber," and that's expensive. I'd need new signs, business cards, checks, all that business stuff. What a pain in the ass!

Look, it was really nice of you to pay all that attention to me last night, what with the whole economy going down the drain so badly not even I can fix it. I'm glad you want to give me a tax break now that I'm rich. I worked really hard to get rich so that I wouldn't have to pay taxes anymore, and I really do appreciate the fact that you're going to continue the American tradition of cutting taxes for a couple of people, especially since you've promised that I'll be one of those people. But next time, can you try to remember my name? I'm really afraid that people will confuse me with "Joe Six-Pack," and I'm already in enough trouble at home because I went out with the guys after that rope line thing over the weekend, and if the wife starts hearing about me and six-packs, well, you know how that can go.

So, Wurzelbacher. Joe Wurzelbacher. Thanks a lot for all the attention, and remember to give me a call if things get a little "backed up" there in Washington. I'll be thinking of you November 4.


Your Plumber

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Market Research

Last week, as I was in the middle of cooking something or other, the phone rang. Because I was distracted, I let the market researcher talk for a few minutes, forgetting even to ask why he was calling someone on the "Do Not Call" list. His company was doing market research on a new TV show, he explained. Would I be willing to watch a pilot and answer a few questions about it? Sure, I replied. I mean, we all know how much I love crappy TV.

I was told the DVD would arrive Monday, October 13, and that I had to watch the show Monday, October 13 for whatever reason. UPS dutifully delivered a package to my door yesterday afternoon. It contained a DVD, instructions, and two sealed surveys. I was told to open and complete the first survey before watching the pilot. I figured this would contain questions about my demographic profile and about what shows I currently watch and enjoy. I guess I'm just a naive idiot; it was a survey asking me about my brand preferences for such things as canned tuna and fabric softener.

Because the survey contained no words, just photographs of various name brands (I put a check next to the photo of my favorite brand in each category), the good news was that this took up only approximately 43 seconds of my day. Time to watch the pilot. Judging from the clothing and horrible "jokes," I'd say that this pilot was shot approximately 10 years ago. There's a reason why it was never picked up: it sucked. It sucked with an awfulness apparent even before the end of the opening teaser. I was asked a total of five questions about the show, which I answered within two minutes of pushing "play."

In order to ensure "the complete attention of the viewer" the DVD's rewind and fast forward features had been disabled. I soon discovered the real reason these features had been disabled: this pilot came complete with commercials, so many commercials that it's length was about 40 minutes, rather than the 30 minutes running time of a network situation comedy. Of course, I couldn't skip these commercials. And yes, the ads were for many of the products that had been featured in the pre-show survey.

After I was done folding laundry and brushing the cat the show was over. Time to fill out the post-viewing survey. It was the same as the pre-viewing survey. Exactly the same. I filled it out with exactly the same answers. What was the purpose of this exercise? It appears that the market research company is trying to find out how effective these commercials are. Would my preference for Downy change to a preference to Bounce after watching an ad? Did the happy family scarfing down Ortega tacos entice me to switch my allegiance from Old El Paso?

At least that's the only sense I can make of the whole thing. That, or there was no ulterior purpose and it was just a way of getting a bunch of unsuspecting Americans to forcibly watch some commercials. The market research company is calling me at 3:30 this afternoon to ask me some questions about the "pilot." I can't wait to talk to whoever is assigned the task of calling me. I have some questions of my own, after all. How much did each advertiser pay for this? Is this the most cost-effective way of marketing? What percentage of participants see through this charade? What percentage of those who see through it are angry? Aren't I on the "Do Not Call" list? Does this mean that television as a medium for delivering commercial messages as we now know them is dead? If we go entirely to product placement and "branded entertainment," what happens to the 30-second commercial? Is this what happens to it?

Bring it on, market research company. I can't wait to talk to you some more.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Beast Without Burden

Even as the economy continues to tank, the business of business rushes onward. Perhaps you've heard that Tina Brown's website, The Daily Beast, launched this week. Can the magic that she worked on Vanity Fair and The New Yorker (and even the short-lived Talk) be translated to the Web? Follow the link and check it out for yourself.

The Daily Beast isn't quite a full-fledged webzine. It's an aggregator, meaning that the editors cull content from all over the web. Although the site contains some original content, as well as blogs, it's main focus is distilling what's news and buzzworthy onto a easily navigated homepage and providing links to those stories.

There are other aggregators out there. Some, like Digg, are reader-chosen; the stories most often "digged" by readers top the list. Others, like Huffington Post and Daily Beast, are "curated" by editors. I go to the Huffington Post not to see what's popular on the web, but to see what's new in liberal politics, just as I would go to Drudge to see what's new in conservative politics. Most curated sites cater to particular sensibilities, particular audiences.

I'm not sure what niche TDB is meant to fill or who it's intending to reach, but in its first week, the editors undoubtedly don't yet know what it's niche will be, either. Right now, it appears mainly to be a destination for people who like Tina Brown, which I guess means people like me, in that I have always enjoyed her publications. I sense it will be a place for me to go when I don't have the time to read longer-form content in Slate or Salon, and am interested in news beyond the narrowly political, financial, or gossipy. I'll give it a shot, in other words. It beats watching my net worth disappear day by day.

Since it's new, TDB is also currently ad-free, which is refreshing. It's design is clean, and right now it can be enjoyed free of clutter. Oh, and one feature really worth checking out: the Video Cheat Sheet, an accumulation of must-see clips from around the Web. It's worth a visit just to find the view-worthy in one place. Why watch the Dow plummet when you can catch Bill Murray's SNL cameo from last night instead?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Another Day, Another Dollar Lost

I'm beginning to wonder why I read the paper every morning. The fact that there's no good news is both cliche and, well, a fact. I suppose I read the paper because it's hard to believe just how bad things have gotten and I need a daily reminder of all the bad news. Six months ago my main worry was the price of grain, while these days I worry that we'll all end up in one bread line or another.

I no longer open my monthly statements sent from the places that are tending to my net worth. I don't know if I have any net worth anymore, come to think of it. I'm no economist, but I do know that something is "worth" only the amount someone will give you for it. It doesn't matter what my car is worth on paper; if someone will give me $20K that's what it's worth, and if I can only get $9K for it, then that's its value.

So, if investors are scared of the market and are selling, rather than buying, stocks, what are my stocks worth? What happens, in other words, if we get to the point where no one wants to buy my holdings? Do they then become worthless? Can the Dow reach zero? If nothing is "worth" anything, what happens? These are honest questions. I hope to never have practical answers to them, but every day the paper makes me worry just a little bit more.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rock, Meet Hard Place

Here's a real-life political question. You live in a small city with depressed property values that has been almost entirely built-out. Tax revenue holds steady, while the cost of services continues to rise. With no new revenues, the only way the budget can be balanced while retaining necessary services (fire, police, street cleaning and maintenance) is to increase taxes every year.

The state has a program to encourage development in distressed municipalities. If voted for, it eliminates all state and local taxes for new or adaptive reuse projects in certain zones. On the one hand, passing these tax breaks is a way of encouraging redevelopment in the urban core, and when the breaks sunset promises the potential for increased revenue to the municipality. In 2011. On the other hand, for the 2009 budget to be balanced, both property taxes and earned income tax must be increased for the rest of us.

Do you support this program? Do you give tax breaks to developers while taxes go up for the rest of us? Or do you say no, and hope that developers will undertake projects in your city nonetheless? I'm completely on the fence on this one.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Why I Don't Have a Rec Room

I wish I liked football. I do like tennis and baseball, so it's not an aversion to sports in general, and I've tried to like football, I really have. I can watch a game on occasion, but I just can't get into it. I wish I liked football because it seems like a nice way to take up a fall Sunday.

If I liked football, I could hang out in bars Sunday afternoons. I'd have an excuse to drink beer and eat chicken wings. Or I could sit in a rec room somewhere with a bunch of guys drinking beer and discussing all the mistakes the coaches are making. If I liked football, I could eat a lot of chips. Nachos, even. If I liked football, I could wear a team jersey and scream at the TV.

Football games are now played a bunch of nights each week. If I liked football, I could sit in bars Sunday, Monday, and Thursday nights, chugging the Coors Lite pint specials. If I liked football, I could hate Tom Brady. Or I could love Tom Brady. If I liked football, I could care one way or another about Tom Brady rather than sitting here wondering what all the fuss about Tom Brady is about, anyway.

If I liked football I could care about the weather in Chicago and Green Bay. I could buy a foam finger. I could tolerate John Madden. If I liked football I wouldn't mind having to watch parts of games every Sunday evening waiting for 60 Minutes to finally begin. I would never point at my TV and exclaim, "Why are you showing the overtime of this stupid game! Get to the Condoleeza Rice interview already!" On the other hand, if I liked football maybe I'd never have to suffer through Andy Rooney again.

Most importantly, if I liked football I'd have something in common with what feels like 85% of this country and 99.8% of the guys I know. If I liked football, I'd automatically have something in common with nearly every other American. Ultimately, if I liked football, I'd be qualified to be Vice President.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

It Figures

My car came with a four-year warranty (Did you know that this is the correct spelling, rather than "warrantee"? Neither did I), which expired on September 29. Monday. When I started the car Tuesday, both headlights burned out and the check engine light went on. Are manufacturers really that smart? And if they are that smart, why are automakers losing money left and right? That's all I have to say today.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Party Like It's 1959

Enough of politics (although I'm really looking forward to tomorrow night's debate). The most exciting news I've had in a while is the fact that Revolutionary Road has finally been made into a movie, directed by Sam Mendes and starring Leo and Kate Winslet, no less. Yates' is, I think, the best novel of the 1950s, of suburbia and conformity; it out-Cheever's Cheever. It's filled with bleakness, drunken-ness, and all around bad behavior, which perhaps explains why it's taken 45 years for it to be adapted for the screen. My assumption is that the success of Mad Men led the studios to think the time was right for this particular period film.

If you're not familiar with Richard Yates, he served in WWII, had TB, wrote a couple of great, minimalist novels and some of the best short stories of the 20th century, was an accomplished creative writing instructor, and drank himself to death. Read his collected stories and see that Raymond Carver didn't come out of left field. In fact, just read his collected stories; many of them are truly wonderful, ultimately better than any of his novels.

Revolutionary Road is the story of April and Frank Wheeler. Frank works in PR; he and April meet at a party in the Village, fall in love, marry. Despite their "artistic" leanings they move to the suburbs. They are predictably unhappy. They talk and talk to each other, drunkenly and manicly trying "communicate," to work through their angst. They decide that if they move to Paris everything will be different. They never make it to Paris. I'm not giving away the ending, just read the book for yourself. The title is, of course, ironic.

In times of trouble we long for the safety and certainty of the past, or yearn toward the better times of the future. We watch period dramas secure in our hindsight; we know better than the Wheelers, we know their plot has nowhere to go but to grief, we feel definite that we're smarter now. But are we? How many dreams were sublimated into mortgages during the past decade, how many aspirations swallowed by consumerist desires? We still want what everyone else has, we still need at the same time to feel different.

The Wheelers' story unfolds on the cusp of cultural, political, and generational change, a cusp we are today similarly balanced upon. We smoke and drink less, we no longer wear fedoras or girdles, we believe we are more enlightened about sexual and racial politics, but underneath the song remains the same: the more we strive, the more we compromise.