The Overton Window: Chapter 14
As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Sassafras for going all soylent green on us:
What's up with all the "seasoned?" First Noah was a "seasoned pedestrian" (SCOFF) and now we have "seasoned veterans of the penal system" which is as redundant a description as it is just plain fucking lazy.
Microsoft Word has an easy-to-use thesaurus feature, kids. That's all I'm saying.
Or!! Perhaps the authors are referring to actual seasonings? Perhaps this is chapter where it's revealed that only folks who've rolled in butter, sage and basil are able to see the Political Light of Truth (whatever the fuckall that may be -- I'm not convinced that the authors understand the message any more than, well, Noah).
Indeed, now I'm imagining Noah rubbing himself in various aromatic substances in order to keep up with Hollis and his eau de possum. Perhaps in this alternate "factional" world, political wisdom is correlated with taste, thereby making the colonel- with his eleven herbs and spices- the only man who can defeat Arthur Gardner. Well done, Sass, and keep at it folks! The
And, with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag. My footnotes use the traditional star system (e.g. *, **, etc) while references included in the Afterword to the book are noted with numbered parenthetical tags (e.g. (1), (2), etc.). Kick ass!
Dramatis Personae: In an order chosen by a random number generator.
Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair. Fan of remote telephone booths. Shot in the head by parties unknown.
Beverly ???: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's.
Noah Gardener: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high".
Molly "Hottie McPretty" Ross: Dresses like a hippie, but not really. Looks like a free spirit. Perfectly captures the essence of womanhood. Auburn hair. Green eyes. Pale skin. Has a tattoo on her chest. Wears a silver cross around her neck.
Arthur Gardner Noah's father. Owner of Doyle & Merchant. Megalomaniac. Surprisingly vigorous for a 74 year old man.
Khaled: Lebanese cab driver. Sold out by Noah Gardener.
Hollis: Friend of Molly Ross. Very polite. From the country. May be a Yeti.
Danny Bailey: Some kind of YouTube celebrity. Former lover of Molly Ross. Kind of a dickhead. Loves conspiracy theories and incoherent speeches.
Charlie Nelan: Gardner family lawyer. Silver hair. Impeccably dressed. Looks awesome. Has some sort of weird relationship with GQ. May have the ability to sense when Noah's in trouble using some sort of clairvoyance. Possible kleptomaniac.
Chapter 14: In which Noah meets the parent, impresses Molly, drives around, and ends up with a chaste evening.
Recommended Mood Music:
Page 96, Line 1-4:
He'd kept calm as he walked down the last long hallway toward the exit of the First Precinct, but as Noah finally stepped out onto the sidewalk his heart began to work so hard he could nearly see it pounding beneath his borrowed shirt.
I'm not a doctor, but if a brisk walk gets your heart pounding like that, you might want to be seen by a physician.
Page 96, Line 5-6:
Injustice exists, Charlie had said, and for that fact his young client was now profoundly thankful. [emphasis original]
So, just for the record, he's grateful for injustice. I can only assume that's because otherwise his scrapbook would be pretty dull (Pages 34-35, Lines 34: 24-32, 35: 1-4). Actually, all kidding aside he does let us in on a reason why he's grateful, but it's stupid.
Page 96, Line 6-8:
If it had been an abuse of power that had put him in jail for most of the night, then it was surely a second abuse that had coerced the authorities to let him go.
So, he's thankful that injustice exists, because that injustice favors him. Well, at least that shows more honesty than we usually get from the rich and powerful. That said, it seems like the simpler approach would be to just wish injustice didn't exist in the first place, thereby negating the need for one abuse of power to counteract another. But I'm not a "brilliant boy" like Noah Gardner,* so clearly I don't understand.
Page 96, Line 8-10:
But, however it was won, it was still freedom, and maybe for the first time he fully understood the meaning of that word.
Oh, barf. Noah was in custody for probably ten hours, almost all of that with the supervision of his lawyer, and here he is talking like he's Nelson Mandela. I'm pretty sure that most Americans** don't have any real grasp of what true abuses of power are like. If you want to know, try asking the Chinese or the North Koreans. Anyway, Noah ponders how Charlie managed to convince some of the cops- who were apparently unwilling participants in the whole thing- to come forward about the setup.
Page 96, Line 14-18:
Just as a minor rebellion was threatening to break out between the actual uniformed police officers and the contract security forces who'd been working the scene, a phone call had come in from some high echelon, and right away everything was abruptly and quietly settled.
I can only assume that this phone call is what Noah meant by the second abuse of power, because otherwise it sounds like a straightforward game of, "You did something illegal and I can prove it, so why don't you drop the charges and save us all a lot of trouble?" And yes, that's a shitty name for a game. This is also a nice way for the authors to paint the police as scary authority figures without quite following through on it. See, it wasn't the nice, heroic police who did something bad, it was the "contract security forces" and the cops were coerced grudgingly into helping. When your target audience loves authority figures like cops, but hates the government, these are the kinds of contortions your narrative is going to have to go through.
Page 97, Line 1-4:
He took in a deep breath of the cold, sobering night air, right through a thin dagger of pain that jabbed hard between his ribs. It hurt, but not as though anything was permanently damaged in there; bent for sure, but not broken.
Again, I'm not a doctor, but based on my first aid and wilderness medicine training*** I have to observe that ribs don't really do that. They can flex, sure, but if they bend at a dramatic enough angle to be detectable to a layperson and don't... you know... spring back when pressure is removed? Yeah. See a doctor. That's what we call a fracture. Well, either a fracture or bad writing, take your pick.
Page 97, Line 5-6:
All the others had begun filtering out behind him, checking their watches, counting and pocketing their returned personal effects...
Right, see, the cops confiscated personal effects. So why again was Noah in lockup with his class ring (Page 88, Line 7-8) still on his finger?
Page 97, Line 18-22:
Something lightly brushed his arm and the contact shook him out of his reflections. As he turned to see who'd touched him he found himself needing to look up to make eye contact.
"Just wanted to say my thank-you," Hollis said. If he'd still had his hat he would have been clutching it shyly in his hands.
Oh, my. I think someone has a little crush!
Page 97, Line 25-29:
"I'll make a deal with you," Noah said. "Tell me what time it is and we'll call it even."
The big man looked up and seemed to take a bearing on a number of celestial bodies before ciphering a moment. "I'd say she's nigh only half past four in the morning, give or take some."
If you didn't facepalm at that, you're a better person than I am. Okay, where to start? First off, they're in Manhattan, which traditionally has a lot of light pollution. So I'm not sure what celestial bodies Hollis is looking for, because only the brightest are going to be visible at all, and a substantial fraction of the sky will probably be blocked off by various structures. Second, the only way he'd be able to do that kind of trick is if he spends a lot of time out of doors at night and, given that he sounds like a farmer, that's unlikely. I suppose he might hunt at night, although that would be a smidge unwise. Firearms and poor sight lines don't mix well. Third, even if he can do this at home, unless "home" has the same damned latitude as New York, he probably ain't gonna be able to do it here. If home has a different latitude, the sky will look very, very different and telling time by stellar positions will be exceptionally difficult. Fourth, why the hell does he speak as though he's from the damned 19th century? And lastly, while "ciphering" can be used to mean "computing," it's an uncommon and archaic meaning of the term. Couldn't the authors have just said "figuring" instead? Or are they trying to impress us with their vocabulary all of a sudden? Anyway, Hollis says goodbye, and lumbers off to... who knows? Seek edible nuts and berries in central park before returning to his native habitat? Noah sees his car appear around a corner- described as a Mercedes- and raises a hand to flag it down.
Page 98, Line 5-7:
Noah took a step toward the car, but stopped when he heard familiar voices behind him. He turned to see Molly and her mother saying goodbye to the last of their departing compatriots.
So, the last time we saw Molly Noah's head was in her lap. And the last time we saw Molly's mom, Noah was trying to bang her in an alley. So how interesting is this encounter going to be? Judging from the rest of the book, not very. Molly's mom introduces herself as Beverly Emerson- no idea why the different last name from her daughter- and then she thanks Noah for getting them out of lockup. Molly also thanks Noah, albeit less effusively.
Page 98, Line 20-22:
There was something hard to place in the way she [Molly] looked at him; it wasn't quite an apology in her eyes, but something like it.
Pity? Contempt? Disdain? Because I feel all three whenever I think about Noah. At this point the car pulls up- a car that the authors make sure to identify specifically as a silver S600 Pullman- and he offers the ladies a ride. Thatta boy, tiger! You'll ride the mother/daughter tricycle yet!
Page 99, Line 1:
"Oh, that would be fantastic," Beverly said.
Page 99, Line 2-6:
Molly took the seat across from him, with her mother beside. The interior of this particular car was designed as a four-person conference room and workspace. Even so, its amenities were every bit as over-the-top as any limo devoted to simple luxury. Every point of contact was hand-worked leather and rare polished wood.
Right, it's an expensive car. Thanks for the update. Can we get back to the story now? Yeah, evidently not.
Page 99, Line 6-13:
Each of the four seats, arranged two-facing-two, was bordered by glowing flat panels ready to provide access to a dizzying array of information or entertainment. Touchscreens were embedded seamlessly in the armrests and consoles, posied to order up any conceivable human need. The entire vehicle was a rolling monument to the comforts of First World business royalty; for the cost of the custom work alone within these few cubic feet, you could easily buy a nice house almost anywhere in the world.
And I'm forced to ask at this point, now that we've had such a thorough description of the car: what the hell does Noah look like? I mean, we've had a much, much more thorough description of this damned car- which will never appear in another scene, thus making this description basically pointless- than we have of our main character. This could be for any of a number of reasons, but aside from plain old bad writing, my guess is it's because the authors would really like to ride around in this car, whereas nobody in their right mind would want to ride around in Noah. Anyway, after noting that he doesn't always ride around in such luxury, and mentioning that his father only rides in armored Maybach 62s ("Did we mention that Noah is RICH?!"), Noah gets each of them a hot towel from a dispenser and they all... you know... rub them on their faces. I'll admit that of the handful of times I've tried something like that, the only time it's ever been enjoyable was on the last leg of a loooong trip overseas. Otherwise, I really just feel like I'm rubbing my face with a used washcloth. Anyway, Noah gets both ladies a soft drink (Seriously, that's what it says- page 100, line 5-6) and they all drink quietly for a moment.
Page 100, Line 10-12:
"Molly tells me that you're a creative writer."
Noah had been in the midst of a sip, and nearly spit out his ginger ale.
Okay, so now we're in a romantic comedy and the hero is meeting the female lead's quirky parents. It isn't that this book crosses genre boundaries so much as that it doesn't have any idea what story it's trying to tell. Anyway, Noah talks about work for a while- including how he's trying to cover up for a Senator in the west who has an ethics issue and a marital infidelity issue at the same time (1). And oddly, all I can think about is it's weird for PR guys to know all the facts since there's no PR Hack/Client privilege. There's attorney-client privilege, sure, but that doesn't apply here. So, really, wouldn't the guy just ask for an image makeover without going into the nitty-gritty of why? Regardless, he finishes this riveting description and then things get silly.
Page 101, Line 3-10:
Noah had been through this introductory conversation many times and so he knew what the next question would be. He'd answered it often enough, at scores of cocktail parties and on hundreds of first dates, and his answer had become so smooth and automatic that he no longer had to worry much about it. Trouble was, though the words were basically the same, Beverly Emerson asked the question in a manner that no one else ever had.
"But doesn't it bother you sometimes, Noah?"
Oooooh. Right. Only TEA partiers are moral enough to really question the art of public relations. Riiiiight. Surely he has a quick rejoinder for this common question, right?
Page 101, Line 17-18:
"Whenever I make the mistake of stopping to actually think about it? Yes, it really does bother me."
Right, OR he'll just validate the premise of his questioner and admit that his whole career is an amoral sham. Yep, he's a brilliant boy, all right. Anyway, at this point they arrive at Beverly's hotel, she gets out, and Molly is left alone with Noah.
Page 101, Line 31-32:
"You've been awfully quiet," Noah said.
"I guess I have."
Mostly at the moment she's wondering why the hell she didn't get out of the car when her mom did. That and whether there's rohypnol in her soft drink. He puts on some music, which isn't described, and then we get this.
Page 102, Line 5-9:
"It was my twenty-eighth birthday today," Noah said. "Yesterday, I mean."
"Thanks. When I blew out the candle on my cupcake, I made a wish that we'd spend some time together tonight."
Oh... god. Just, oh my god! I'm going to be sick. I can't believe I'm reading this shit. Why doesn't he just snort loudly and stammer, "You're so pretty! Can you be my girlfriend?" On an unrelated note: "blew out the candle on my cupcake" would make an awesome euphemism.
Page 102, Line 14-19:
"Noah?" [Molly asked]
"I want to apologize."
"For what?" [Noah answered]
"I think I misjudged you."
"I don't know if you did or not."
I do, and she didn't. Trust me. Shortly afterwards Molly, realizing that she hasn't given her stalker enough opportunities to drug her, mentions that she's hungry.
Page 102, Line 26-31:
"Say no more." Noah touched the intercom. "Eddie, could you take us up to Amy Ruth's, on One-hundred-and-sixteenth? And call ahead, would you? I don't think they're open yet. Tell Robert we need some orange juice and two Al Sharptons (2) at the curb." Through the glass divider, he saw the driver nod his head and engage the Bluetooth phone system.
"What's an Al Sharpton?" Molly asked.
"Fried chicken and waffles. You're a southern girl, right?"
Now, before anyone jumps all over the authors here, Amy Ruth's actually exists and they do, in fact, serve a plate of chicken and waffles called the Al Sharpton. And as a southerner, I do like chicken and waffles from time to time.**** I just feel like this bit is more than slightly out of place in this particular book.
Page 103, Line 4-9:
On the way to the restaurant he learned a little more about her life. Her family had moved around a great deal when she was young, following her father's job as a journeyman engineer for Pratt & Whitney. They'd ended up living near Arnold Air Base outside Manchester, Tennessee. When her dad was killed in an accident and the testing facility there, that's where they stayed.
Remember, aspiring authors: TELL don't SHOW! Why would you ever want a character to reveal their story gradually, or convincingly when you can just vomit it onto the page in the form of narration?
Page 103, Line 9-11:
Her mother then reclaimed her maiden name and started the patriot group they were both still a part of, the Founders' Keepers, a few years later.
You know how it is, you lose a spouse, you start a paranoid ultra-nationalistic organization... perfectly normal, perfectly healthy. Noah asks how old she was when her father died, she answers nine, and he offers than his mother died when he was ten. So, for those of you who have been aching to meet Noah's mom: sorry, no dice.
Page 103, Line 16-18:
"You know what? New topic. Ask me anything." [Noah said]
"Okay. Who's the most fascinating person you've ever met?"
He didn't hesitate. "President Clinton. Hands down."
Okay, I admit it wacky authors, you kinda surprised me there.
Page 103, Line 21-24:
"And you brought up the subject of lying earlier- this man [Clinton] could keep twenty elaborate, interlocking whoppers in his head at a time, improvising on the fly, and have you believing every word while you're holding a stack of hard evidence to the contrary."
And if Clinton could do all that as President, imagine what he could do with a cable television program and a chalk board! Ah, well, never mind then, authors, I am no longer surprised. At this point, Noah goes on to explain how Clinton has a way with the ladies and... um... goes to a bad place.
Page 104, Line 3-5:
"Clinton could read you a fairy tale and you'd be down to your panties by the time Rapunzel let down her golden hair."
On the one hand, this is not what you'd call classy. I mean, really, in my admittedly limited experience one of the best ways to make sure you don't get into a girl's panties is to talk about said panties on the first date. Hell, I don't think I even mentioned my wife's undergarments until at least the third date. On the other hand, does Noah speak from personal experience? Bad touch, indeed.
Page 104, Line 7-9:
"That said, he's also one of the most ruthless sons of bitches who ever walked the earth, and we won't see another like him for generations."
Right, so he's like Dick Cheney, then? Anyway, Noah asks about Molly's most fascinating person and she answers her mother. Then things get a little weird. Well, weird-er anyway.
Page 104, Line 15-18:
"Speaking of fascinating parents, your father would be a gripping subject." [Molly said]
"That he would."
So, don't you think it's weird that we're talking about Noah's dad at this point? Or is Molly the one looking for the parent/child threesome rather than Noah? Regardless, Noah tells about how his father was a Rhodes scholar, studied anthropology at Oxford and then ended up in cahoots with Edward Bernays (3). Then we get into a general discussion of public relations (4)***** .
Page 105, Line 13-14:
"Public relations is the scientific engineering of consent." [Noah lectured]
Don't be too impressed at that way of phrasing it- it's cribbed from Bernays. That said, it is actually a fairly good way to put it. Nevertheless, Molly doesn't understand, thereby opening the way for more exposition.
Page 105, Line 16-22:
"Take a manufactured takeover, like Guatemala (5). We engineered the overthrow of a democratically elected president, and this guy was popular, he was going to take their land back from United Fruit and return it to the people. So he had to be demonized before he could be taken down. If you just march in one night, the people might rise up and resist, and you don't want that. They have to be pacified, so their minds are the first thing you have to change."
Uh-oh. I think I see where this is going.
Page 105, Line 23-26:
"Use our own country as an example. Eighty millions citizens own guns in America, you'd never win if they all started pushing back (6). You can't take away the freedom of an aware, informed populace; they have to give it up themselves."
Okay, so, point number one is that apparently persuasion is the same thing as a diabolical plot to strip a person of their freedom. No wonder the right is so disinterested in actual discussion about problems. Point two is that, as it happens, I am a gun owner. Indeed, I own more than one. And you know what else? I support a pretty substantial number of gun laws. How do you explain that, freaky authors? Regardless, Noah talks a bit more about Bernays and his ilk (7) (8), eventually reaching what I think is supposed to be the explanation of what Noah's father is actually plotting.
Page 106, Line 11-16:
"His [Bernays] vision for this country, for the world, really, was a huge, benevolent nanny state, a plutocracy, where the people would be spoon-fed in every aspect of their simple, dreary lives. He'd show them how to vote, what to eat, what to love and hate, what to think, and when to think it. And, God help us all, my father took those lessons to heart and built on them. He does what he does better than anybody else ever has."
So, apparently a state that takes an interest in the welfare of its people- by, say, regulating environmental contamination- is a plutocratic hell. Good to know.
Page 106, Line 18-20:
She [Molly] looked like a kid who'd just been told what happens to all the unwanted puppies at the pound.
Well, she is trapped in a car with Noah Gardner, after all. In any case, they decide to change the subject, and the car pulls up to Amy Ruth's where a man appears with sacks of food.
Page 106, Line 28-30:
"Good morning, Robert. Sorry if we got you out of bed." [Noah said]
"No trouble, no trouble at all, I will happily itemize my inconvenience on your tab."
"Ha, ha. Just give us the f-ing food, serf!" Anyway, there's a description of some eating and then- and I know this will excite some of you who have been wondering- Molly asks Noah about his mother.
Page 107, Line 8-14:
"My dad met my mother in 1978, and I'll tell you, I doubt if two people have ever been more different. Oh, this is interesting, my mom is actually in that documentary about Woodstock."
He waved a hand in front of his eyes. "I don't know exactly, I can't really watch it. She's kind of making out with some hairy guy, and I'm not sure, I think she flashes the cameraman at one point-"
Okay, so, as it turns out, Noah's mom was awesome. This whole bit makes it sound like Noah is a real prude, though. Anyway, it turns out that Arthur met her while vacationing, whirlwind romance, blah, blah, blah. Apparently she stayed in upstate New York with Noah and Arthur visited when he could, so Noah didn't really know his father until his mom died of lung cancer. And, as it happens, that turns Molly on.
Page 108, Line 4-11:
"Hey." She tapped him on the knee, and he looked up. "Would you mind if I sat over there with you?"
"No, I don't mind."
The seats were meant for one occupant only but she moved across, put their plates aside, and situated herself easily, sidesaddle across his lap, one arm around his back, a hand resting on his chest, her head against his shoulder.
"I think I'm going to like you," Molly said.
Sadly, at this point, Molly doesn't continue by exclaiming, "Oh! I think I just found the middle-high bar!"
Page 108, Line 17-21:
"I think I like you, too," he said. "But I'm warning you right now, if I let down all my defenses, and then you hurt me? Well, you saw what I did to those thugs tonight."
"Oh, no. You'll hit me in the knee with your face?"
"Just as hard as I can."
Okay, so that was actually pretty funny, but just because it points out what a loser Noah is. And also, frankly, the idea of Molly kneeing him in the face just makes me smile. Anyway, they take a scenic ride through central park and then she drops the bomb.
Page 109, Line 2-6:
She stretched dreamily, arched against him as she did so, and sighed and looked up into his eyes. "Would you take me home now?"
"Sure. Where did you say you lived, down by Tompkins Square Park?"
"No. I mean to your home."
"Oh." He blinked. "Okay."
Noah, you dog!
Page 109, Line 9:
"And I'm not talking about anything sexual." [Molly added]
Ah, well, never mind. They decide to have a nice, quiet sleepover- and yes the term "sleepover" is used in the text- and the chapter ends.
Now, at this point, I have two comments scrawled at the bottom of the page. One essentially asks, "Why does she like him? His 'game' is weak as hell". And this is accurate- when it comes to seduction, Noah has all the skill of Homer Simpson, but without the runaway masculinity. I encourage you to be asking yourself this question, "why does she like him," over the next few chapters because there is, in fact, a reason. The other comment reads, "We're at page 109- when does the thrilling start?" And that's a good question, because so far this book has been dull as shit. Sadly, however, the thrilling does not begin in the next chapter. What does happen? Well, I don't want to ruin the surprise, but Noah totally sleeps with Molly.
See you then!
* And I couldn't be happier about that.
** Well, white, heterosexual Americans at any rate.
*** One of the few things I had a knack for in the Boy Scouts. Back in the day I could have built you a dialysis machine out of twigs and rocks.
**** Actually, I've been known to go way out of my way at conferences to visit a local Waffle House. You really should try the chicken and eggs.
***** Yes, I know that's a dead link. Yes, that is the link specified in the book. No, searching for the article title "The Man Who Sold the War" does not turn anything up. Make of that what you will.
Labels: The Overton Window