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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 21, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes even Fred Phelps embarrassed. Last time Buck and Chloe flirted incompetently and Rayford scolded Hattie for... well... something. What happens this week? Pretty much more of the same. Seriously. I don't even know why they went to a new chapter.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for making us wonder:

"That's my [Rayford's] hope, but no. If it's something you can't handle right now, I'll understand."

Is he talking about anal sex or Jesus?

To which I respond: does it have to be one or the other? Because with Rayford, you never can tell. Congratulations, scripto, and keep at it folks. This book isn't going to mock itself!

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.


Dramatis Personae

In an order determined by a celebrity guest commentator....

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer. No longer attracted to Hattie. Bad father. Cries a lot. Lying hypocrite. Christian.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven. Reader of marriage books. Cleans obsessively. Likes egg in her coffee. Bakes really silly cookies. Likes butter churns.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned. Electronics wiz. Fast typist. Clumsy on slides. Travels a lot. Graduated from Princeton. Human alarm clock. Expert in Romanian politics. Fast runner. Hot for Chloe.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde. Claims no moral or religious code.

Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele. Father of two. Husband. Killed himself.

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford. Religiously unaffiliated. Kinda stupid. Possibly hot for Buck.

Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.

Steve Plank: Buck's boss at Global Weekly. Not the sharpest tool in the shed. Press secretary for Nicolae Carpathia.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Secretary-General of the United Nations. Antichrist. Favors arms reductions. An inch or two over six feet tall. Broad shouldered. Thick chested. Trim. Athletic. Tanned. Blonde. Blue eyes. Thick eyebrows. Roman nose and jaw. Carries self with a sense of humility and purpose. Wears understated jewelry. Excellent memory.

Raymie Steele: Son of Rayford Steele. Taken in the rapture.

Dirk Burton: English guy Buck knows. Graduated from Princeton. Kinda gullible. Killed himself Murdered. Left handed.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy. May have the nickname "duck lips."

Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal. Has ties to duck lips.

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

Ken Ritz: Pilot. Profiteering on the rapture. Actually quite polite. Fired for being too careful. Believes in aliens.

Juan Ortiz: Global Weekly international events editor.

Jimmy Borland: Global Weekly religion editor.

Barbara Donahue: Global Weekly financial editor.

Nigel Leonard: Employee of the London exchange.

Alan Tompkins: Investigator at Scotland Yard. Friend of Buck. Kind of a chickenshit. Blown up by an evil conspiracy car bomb.

Bruce Barnes: Visitation Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes to be mysterious.

Vernon Billings: Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes video tape. Raptured.

Mwangati Ngumo: Secretary-General of the United Nations. President of Botswana. Botswanan national.

Eric Miller: Reporter. Rival of Buck's. Able to climb stairs really fast, but not as fast a runner as Buck. Kinda a douche. Died Murdered by falling being pushed off of the Staten Island ferry. A strong swimmer.

Gerald Fitzhugh: President of the United States. Talks like a moron.

Stanton Bailey: Publisher of the Global Weekly.

Carolyn Miller: Wife of Eric Miller.

Alex Phonecompany: Friend of Buck's. Works at the phone company.


Chapter 21: In which Buck and Chloe flirt, Rayford testifies his ass off, Buck is swayed, and Hattie makes a good point in passing.

Page 379- Line Penis Enhancement:

No quote, but when we resume Buck and Chloe have returned and rejoined Rayford and Hattie. Buck notices that Hattie has been crying but doesn't feel close enough to her to ask why. Well, that and the authors have made it amply clear that we're supposed to think of Hattie as some dumb trollop, so who cares if she cries?

Page 379- Line 5-10:
Buck was glad for the opportunity to interview Rayford Steele, but his emotions were mixed. The reactions of the captain who had piloted the plane on which he had been a passenger when the disappearances occurred would add drama to his story. But even more, he wanted to spend time with Chloe.

Okay, okay, we get it. Buck is a miserable sad sack who has to resort to picking up impressionable college students rather than women his own age. Stop putting the guy down already! And how about that second sentence? If the pronouns didn't confuse you just a little, you weren't paying attention! And as long as we're on the subject, it's clear that Buck has no idea what makes a good story because, based on this, if he were ever on Air Force One during the outbreak of war, he'd immediately want to interview the navigator. Has his finger on the pulse of the nation, Buck does.

Page 379- Line 10-14:
Buck would run back to the office, then home to change, and meet them later at the Carlisle. At the office he took a call from Stanton Bailey, asking how soon he could go to Chicago to get Lucinda Washington replaced.

Aaaaand we have a sudden and dramatic tense shift within a two sentence span. First, Buck is musing about what he intends to do and then, in the next sentence, he's part way done with it. Given the overall awkward writing, my guess is that the copy editor was driven to drink at some point in the previous chapter and has just given the hell up by now. Lucky bastard. Anyway, Buck says he'll do it soon and Bailey remarks that from what he hears Carpathia's plan to try and take over the U.N. is moving forward as planned. Bailey even volunteers that he hopes people go along with it.

Page 380- Line 6-12:
"I wish they would," Buck said, still hoping he could trust Carpathia and eager to see what the man would do about Stonagal and Todd-Cothran.

"I do, too," Bailey said, "but what are the odds? He's a man for this time, but his global disarmament and his reorganization plans are too ambitious. It'll never happen."

Sadly, in the context of the book, "too ambitious" is not a euphemism for "utterly f-ing crazy," even though that's what they are. This conversation is so absurd on so many levels it makes my brain hurt. And it gets worse!

Page 380- Line 18-19:
"Maybe the U.N. delegates will be smart enough to know the world is ready for Carpathia," Buck said.

Yes, maybe, except that the U.N. delegates do not have the authority to surrender 10% of their countries' weapons and promise to destroy the other 90%. This whole conversation is predicated on the notion that the U.N. is something that it isn't and that the Secretary-General has authority that he or she doesn't. But, hey, the authors haven't demonstrated much of a grasp on reality thus far, so why start demanding it now? Regardless, Buck says he'll get his pasty ass to Chicago to deal with the Lucinda Washington situation, and then this happens...

Page 381- Line 1-10:
Buck phoned Pan-Con Airlines, knowing Rayford Steele's flight left at eight the next morning. He told the reservation clerk his traveling companion was Chloe Steele. "Yes," she said, "Ms. Steele is flying complimentary in first class. There is a seat open next to her. Will you be a guest of the crew as well?"


He booked a cheap seat and charged it to the magazine, then upgraded to the seat next to Chloe. He would say nothing that night about going to Chicago.

Ah, yes. Cameron "Buck" Williams: Secret Agent/Journalist/Creepy Stalker. This book just gets better and better all the time. And amazingly, I want you to remember this bit, because it will actually be important to a discussion we're going to have later on. I also want you to remember this bit because, if the authors are correct, you can get free seats in first class by claiming to be a guest of the crew.* Score! Anyway, Buck wraps up his stalking and hurries back- with a better outfit he keeps stashed in his magic bag- to join his dinner companions.

Page 381- 19-20:
Chloe was radiant, looking five years older in a classy evening dress.

And yet she's not "five years older," creepy authors. She is, in fact, at least ten years younger than Buck and no evening dress can fix that. My wife adds at this point, "It's like the authors have a fantasy of being with a younger woman, so they make her appear older so they can have that, which is just stupid." She's a good woman, my wife: smart, independent, and my own friggin age.

Page 381- Line 21-24:
Rayford thought his daughter looked stunning that evening, and he wondered what the magazine writer thought of her. Clearly this Williams guy was too old for her.

I look forward to the inevitable jealousy jokes at Rayford's expense that are sure to appear in the comments. Regardless, it's somewhat refreshing that there's someone in this awful book who seems to recognize how creepy all this is. Given that Rayford has a spine of Jell-O, I rather expect Buck to be spiritually boning Chloe before they get to the salad course, but it's the thought that counts.

Page 382- Line 1-4:
He [Rayford] had no idea what she [Hattie] thought [of his testimony] except that he was "sweet" for telling her everything. He wasn't sure whether that was sarcasm or condescension.

You know? It could have been sincere. Just because she thinks you're wrong doesn't mean she can't appreciate the sentiment behind your telling her. Granted, in your case the sentiment is a selfish desire to prove how awesome you are by converting a heathen like Hattie, but we'll just ignore that for the sake of argument.

Page 382- Line 5-8:
That she [Hattie] had spent time alone with Chloe [at the beauty parlor] might have been good. Rayford hoped Chloe wasn't so antagonistic and closed minded that she had become an ally against him with Hattie.

Just... wow. Way to trust your daughter, dude. And why are we always viewed as "antagonistic and closed minded" by these guys? Asking for evidence isn't antagonistic or closed minded, it's simple prudence.

Page 382- Line 9-12:
At the restaurant Williams seemed to gaze at Chloe and ignore Hattie. Rayford considered this insensitive, but it didn't seem to bother Hattie. Maybe Hattie was matchmaking behind his back.

Nah. Considering that Hattie claims no "moral or religious code" and Chloe is "antagonistic and closed minded" towards Rayford, my bet is that they've all just decided to have a threesome in the men's room after dessert. Take that, Rayford Steele! Shortly thereafter Rayford lays the smack down on the waiter.

Page 382- 19-27:
"We'd like to spend another hour or so here, if that's all right." [Rayford said to the waiter]

"Sit, we do have an extensive reservation list-"

"I wouldn't want this table to be less than profitable for you," Rayford said, pressing a large bill into the waiter's palm, "so boot us out whenever it becomes necessary."

The waiter peeked at the bill and slipped it into his pocket. "I'm sure you will not be disturbed," he said.

Okay, so, the moral of today's chapter is that bribery in Jesus' name is apparently just peachy. You're taking notes, right? Just for the sake of argument, however, what bill do we think he pressed into the waiter's palm? They're having dinner at "The Carlisle," which I'm assuming is supposed to be this restaurant, albeit spelled differently. Based on their current dinner menu I'm going to estimate that four entrees and two appetizers would come out to around $196.64. Add in three glasses of wine at five bucks each (assuming that Rayford doesn't drink since he's Muslim Born Again, that Buck does because he's a heathen, Hattie does because she's a slut, and Chloe does because she looks five years older in that evening gown), and two deserts at ten bucks each (Rayford and Buck, Hattie doesn't have desert so as to preserve her starved look [Page 51- Line 9-14] and Chloe doesn't have desert because she's a woman and only capable of sex-typical behaviors), and the grand total hits $231.64. Tip is usually assigned pre-tax so at 15%, the waiter would make $34.75 in tips per party if Rayford and company are typical. In point of fact, I rather expect I'm underestimating the average cost since I'm assuming they share appetizers, have cheap alcohol, and generally don't splurge, so the actual average tip amount would probably be much higher. Regardless, though, this implies that Rayford slipped the waiter at least a fifty, and probably a hundred just to be safe. Then again, given the reputation, maybe the waiter is just trying to be helpful in hopes of getting said $34.75 tip and not two bucks and a Chick Tract. Dare to dream, anonymous waiter.

Page 382- Line 28:
And the water glasses were always full.

What the... ? Do I care about the damned water glasses? Was anyone going to read this scene and ask, "Sure the waiter let them stay, but did he keep bringing refills?" Oh, god, the suspense. How can the authors cram that much pointless detail into this scene and yet never tell us anything about what Rayford and Buck look like? Whatever, after some preliminary and- thankfully- skipped over background questions, Buck gets around to asking Rayford what he (Rayford) thinks happened. And then we're off to the races, albeit from Buck's perspective.

Page 383- Line 15-19:
The captain hesitated and smiled as if gathering himself. "I have more than a theory," he said. "You may think this sounds crazy coming from a technically minded person like me, but I believe I have found the truth and know exactly what happened."

Two points here. First, Rayford is "technically minded" in much the same way that a guy who drives a semi-truck is "technically minded." In other words, he has a lot of knowledge about how to use a given piece of technology, but not enough to design it, build it, fix it, or otherwise explain it. So, no, his opinion is really not worth very much. Second, this level of certainty just scares the hell out of me. He doesn't think he knows, he is absolutely convinced that he's correct. And as the authors themselves reminded us (See Page 355- Line 2-3 yet again) everyone is equally convinced of their own explanations, so certainty in and of itself simply indicates a certain lack of reflection. Do I believe that there's no such thing as a god or gods? Yes. Am I absolutely certain? No. The thing is, I don't see how anyone could be absolutely certain one way or another. But, hey, maybe my spiritual mechanism is just broken or something. If so, I've never missed it. Anyway, just as Rayford is about to launch into his tirade, Chloe and Hattie politely excuse themselves, perhaps indicating that the two of them aren't as dumb as we've been led to believe.

Page 384- Line 3-6:
Rayford was privately frustrated, almost to the point of anger. That was the second time in a few hours that Chloe had somehow been spirited away at a crucial time.

Ah, well. It must be god's will that Chloe burn in hell for all eternity. Them's the breaks! All kidding aside, however, the language "was spirited away" is telling here since Chloe initiated the exodus to the bathroom. In the authors' minds, virtually anything- and virtually everything- occurs only because of the will of god. And yet, somehow, it's up to us to avoid hell. The contradictions are just mind blowing. But, Rayford gets past all that long enough to vomit out his story yet again onto Buck.

Page 384- Line 15-22:
Buck sat without interrupting as this most lucid and earnest professional calmly propounded a theory that only three weeks before Buck would have found absurd. It sounded like things he had heard in church and from friends, but this guy had chapter and verse from the Bible to back it up. And this business of the two preachers in Jerusalem representing two witnesses predicted in the book of Revelation? Buck was aghast.

Frankly, I think the authors are misusing the term "theory" a tad, but reasonable people might disagree. Additionally, I think it has to be pointed out that backing up one's claims with "chapter and verse from the Bible" really only makes sense if you grant the bible some sort of evidentiary privilege. But if you do that, you really have to be concerned that the bible asserts that the value of pi is equal to three. And then we have a problem. Anyway, Buck asks Rayford if he's heard about all the converts that the crazy preachers in Jerusalem are getting and Rayford gives a fabulous answer.

Page 385- Line 10-11:
"Amazing," the pilot responded. "But even more amazing, it was all predicted in the Bible."

Wow! Just like absolutely nothing in real life! Regardless, Buck finds that the explanation is quite influential to him, at least.

Page 385- Line 19-20:
What else would give Buck this constant case of the chills?

Influenza? Food poisoning? Hypothermia? More seriously: Woot! Personal credulity confused for evidence! If reading Left Behind were a drinking game, I'm pretty sure this chapter would get us all shitfaced.

Page 385- Line 23-30:
Was all this possible? Could it be true? Had he been exposed to a clear work of God in the destruction of the Russian air corps just to set him up for a moment like this? Could he shake his head and make it all go away? Could he sleep on it and come to his senses in the morning? Would a conversation with Bailey or Plank set him straight, snap him out of this silliness?

WILL Batman get to Commissioner Gordon's house in time? CAN the Joker really defeat the caped crusader with his nefarious laughing gas? WILL the department of Child Protective Services find out what's been happening to Robin in Wayne Manor? Come back next week when we answer these questions and more in our next exciting marginally tolerable edition of Left Behind!

No really, that's the end of the section. See you next time!

* Yes, I am aware that this isn't what Buck does. My point is that the reservations clerk seems prepared to do it just on Buck's say-so.



Blogger scripto said...

"He wasn't sure whether that was sarcasm or condescension."

Actually, it was condensation. Hottie was sweating profusely, terrified that Rayford was going to lock her in his Chamber of Correction.

""I'm sure you will not be disturbed," he said."

Too late, Mr. Waiter. Everyone in this literary clusterfuck is disturbed. Writers, editors, characters and especially the readers.

"Two points here. First, Rayford is "technically minded" in much the same way that a guy who drives a semi-truck is "technically minded."


" In other words, he has a lot of knowledge about how to use a given piece of technology, but not enough to design it, build it, fix it, or otherwise explain it. So, no, his opinion is really not worth very much."

Oh no you dint!

Truck driver joke for you - stop me if you heard it before:

What's the difference between cowboy boots and truck driver boots?

With cowboy boots the shit's on the outside.

Thursday, May 20, 2010 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

Let's see if I have this straight:

(1) Rayford can only talk to one person at a time.

Corollary: The women left out of sympathy, boredom, or to explore heathen possibilities. Sympathy for Rayford, that is, since they know he couldn't deal with all three of them looking at him with anything but rapt reverence.

(2) Buck believes Rayford, but is still going to go to Chicago because he gets to sit next to Chloe, who is an older Sue Lyons/Dominique Swain.

Corollary: If he realizes that the Bible is true, he must realize that Carpathia is The Antichrist, and that there is only a brief period of time before Little Nicky sees the evil in his heart and ensures that he foil his evil plot.

But he would rather spend the next seven years chasing and/or shagging Chloe than face the possibility of being able to save this world.

Corollary to the corollary: If we accept the literalness of The Story So Far, do we need to conclude that the BEST-CASE SCENARIO for the Left Behind is Seven Years of Bad Luck, followed by The Ascension? In which case Buck's "I want to shag your daughter even more than you do, Rayford" decision is perfectly rational, since killing Carpathia will ruin the Seven Year Plan.

Why, if what Rayford says is true, would anyone do anything over the following seven years that wasn't in their own self-interest? Which leaves us with: why doesn't Rayford shag Hattie, who is clearly willing and able?

We come back to his finally having realised that adult women are Not What He Wants.

Thursday, May 20, 2010 2:21:00 PM  

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