Total Drek

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Friday, March 11, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapters 4 & 5

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that pits an unidentified enemy against a vaguely defined populace in a battle over something. I think. Last time we had an intermission but the time before that we saw Arthur Gardner explain his plan to do... something. I'm not really clear on what that something is, except that we aren't supposed to like it and it may have something to do with bottled water. Or tsunamis. Possibly. What happens this week? Not much, just some characterization that fails to characterize.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Sassafras for flashing a girl scout and managing to work in a topical reference:

What I want to know is how they lured Gaddafi's speech-writer away in order to get this thing written with such a cunning mixture of pseudo-politics and roach-fucking insanity.

Where's that spirited bitch, Molly? Also, when Noah succeeds in taking her out, will he try to bring her back to the volcano lair for them to do the bitch-with-two-backs? Or do you think he has his own Secret Evil Apartment apart from dad? Finally, I hope we get to meet Noah's mom. I bet she is a goddamn HOOT.

Gaddafi's speech writer is a real possibility, but I have to be honest that somehow that scene reminds me more of Baghdad Bob. Then again, maybe both of them took lessons from the authors? Shit, that is an intriguing theory. As for Noah's lodgings... well, does he seem like he even rates an evil apartment? At best, I think we're looking at a slightly naughty duplex. Thanks for playing everyone and keep at it- the awards will just keep coming!

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.). Booga-booga!

Dramatis Personae: In order of my interst in their stories.

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 Gardner: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high". Works Vice president at a PR firm. Not good at talking to women. 28 years old. Went to NYU. Is "witty".

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.


Chapter 4: In which Noah calls some people and plays the firebug.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 30, Line 1-3:
Noah stopped in the middle of the main hallway and stood there for a while, his head full of unfinished thoughts and that troubling fogginess you feel only when you've forgotten where you're going, and why.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that a few episodes ago (Page 19, Line 16-18) we were told that, "Noah is a brilliant boy." And now this chapter leads with Noah basically coming across like a possible case of early-onset alzheimer's. This could be a characterization fail but, in my preferred interpretation, it's just another piece of evidence indicating that Noah himself is delusional. In any case, Noah "Brilliant Boy" Gardner was excused from the meeting early so that he could make some calls for his father, and then head out for a hard weekend of... whatever it is Noah does, I guess. Womanize at the medium-high level, I suppose. We are apparently not supposed to wonder what it says about Arthur's opinion of Noah's competence and/or trustworthiness that he (Noah) was sent away before Arthur elaborated on his evil plan. Nevertheless, I find myself suspecting that the only reason Noah is a VP is because his daddy sits in the big seat. Don't worry, though- despite the lack of reflection, the absurd melodrama isn't entirely lacking from this scene.

Page 30, Line 10-11
This task he'd been given had started out strange, and then one by one the calls had only gotten stranger.

You know what? I once had a girlfriend who was an operator for the Victoria's Secret catalog and she described that job the exact same way. Apparently you'd be surprised at the number of perverts who just want to hear a woman say the word "panties" over the phone and a mail order catalog is way more cost effective than a 900 number.

Page 30, Line 12-17:
There were no names, only numbers. Each of the calls was answered before the second ring, not by a service but by a personal assistant. Every one of those phones was professionally attended after business hours on a Friday night, and probably twenty-four hours a day by the sound of it. That seemed oddly extravagant, but maybe it wasn't so unusual considering the circles in which his father was known to travel.

Wow. We're apparently supposed to be deeply impressed that Arthur's conspirators can afford the same kind of service as the average medical practice. Awesome.

Page 30-31, Line 30: 18, 31: 1-2:
There'd been audible indications of a scrambler during at least four of the brief conversations, and some sort of voice-alteration gizmo on one of them.

And all I can think of here is that unless Noah just happened to have a cellphone with a compatible scrambler, and the scramble codes pre-loaded, that would have been a pretty short and uninformative conversation. "Um, hello, this is Noah Gardner calling for mysterious conspirator number seven?" "Xhjghtyli! Fhajgight!" But, hell, whatever. Noah decides that one of the people he called is next in line to be the Secretary of the Treasury, and then we get the money shot for this chapter, which occurs in his father's private kitchen. Don't over-analyze the way I phrased that, by the way: it doesn't lead anywhere you want to go.

Page 31, Line 21-23:
Noah flipped on the blower over the range, lit the cooktop in back, and followed the final instruction on his list of things to do.

Destroy this paper; be certain to watch it burn.

Funny. I feel the same way about this book. Regardless, however, that was, if you can believe it, the end of the chapter. And if you're counting at home, yes, that means this chapter is from page 30 to page 31. And they're not even full pages either. But, hey, that paves the way for...

Chapter 5: In which Noah wanders aimlessly, eventually ending up in the PR firm's very own funhouse.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 32, Line 1:
His errand complete, Noah resumed his drift through the halls.

Again- he's a brilliant boy. Right. Sure.

Page 32, Line 1-4:
It was hard to say how much time had passed since he'd been ordered out of the meeting. No clocks were allowed on the walls or the wrists at Doyle & Merchant.

Wait, what? Seriously? A high powered PR firm that literally cannot tell the fucking time? Are we really supposed to believe this shit? It boggles the mind. Surely there must be a good reason for this touch of madness?

Page 32, Line 5-8:
It was one of the many quirks meant to remind everyone that this wasn't just another workplace. Over the decades the office had morphed into a science-fair diorama of the inside of the old man's brain, furnished with everything he liked and nothing that he didn't.

A diorama of the inside of the old man's brain? So... gray and squishy, then? More seriously: so the reason is just because the boss says so? Isn't this kinda a stupid rule, though? I mean, how do they get to meetings on time? Do announcements say things like, "Staff meeting scheduled for when the sun is seven degrees past its zenith"? Very back to nature. The narrative goes on to explain that the rule was instituted in 1978 when someone checked their watch during Arthur Gardner's heartwarming remarks at the company Christmas party. I'm not sure what sort of heartwarming remarks Gardner would offer but, based on chapter 3, I'm guessing something along the lines of, "Some of you will still be alive for the beginning of the new year. This is fortunate as I require laborers in my enterprise." So, basically, he instituted a crazy no timepiece rule because one person one year seemed to be perhaps a bit impatient. Also, as long as we're on the subject: the dude has been running the company since 1978 and he still isn't a named partner? WTF? Anyway, Noah keeps wandering about aimlessly, showing the kind of drive we expect in a hero, and finally stumbles across this chapter's point.

Page 33, Line 6-11:
This particular corridor was the company's walk-through resume, a gallery of framed and mounted achievements, past to present. Press clippings, puff pieces, planted news items and advertorials, slick, crafted cover stories dating back to the 1950s, digitized video highlights running silently in their flat-screen displays. It was a hall of fame unparalleled in the industry and the envy of all competitors.

Great, he's wandered into the advertising wing of Epcot, but without all the animatronic dummies and whatnot. And frankly, that last sentence makes me wonder yet again whether we're supposed to view Noah as an unreliable narrator. His behavior with Molly makes him seem delusional at best, but this? I mean, how many companies have these sorts of shrines? I somehow do not think that envy is the right emotion to describe this shit. Anyway, we're lucky enough to get a recitation of the contents of this shrine, most of which I will spare you from, but not quite all.

Page 33, Line 21-26:
On a dare, Noah's father had once boasted that he could transform some of the century's most brutal killers into fashion statements among the peace-loving American counter-culture. And he'd done it; here were pictures of clueless college students, rock stars, and Hollywood icons proudly wearing T-shirts featuring the romanticized images of Chairman Mao and Che Guevara.

That's some fine writing there, in that it manages to get in digs against the educated, peace proponents, and celebrities in one shot. I would probably suggest that most of our heroes are, in one way or another, romanticized and imperfect, but that doesn't mean that everything they did was bad.* Next, you have to love the way this passage implies that anyone who, say, thinks that Guevara had admirable qualities is just a victim of advertising, as opposed to the holder of a serious political opinion. Because, really, in this book nobody holds a genuine political view except those who agree with the authors. Anyway, the authors decide to move us away from politics and into medicine.

Page 33, Line 30-32:
If you hear about restless-leg syndrome often enough, one day soon you might start to believe that you've got it. Cha-ching; another job well done.

Now, I'm not a doctor or a biomedical scientist, so I'm not really in a position to adjudicate the literature on restless-leg syndrome. That said, neither are the authors, and this bit comes dangerously close to constituting medical advice. We're then treated to an extended discussion of what a scam lotteries are, terminating in this.

Page 34, Line 11-14:
A fifth-grade math student could seemingly blow the lid off the whole scam; to reach even a fifty-fifty chance of winning you'd have to buy a hundred million Powerball tickets. Everybody knows that, but still they dream on. [emphasis original]

Okay, first, based on my experience with people who don't work with probabilities and statistics on a regular basis, I seriously doubt that "everybody knows that". This is to say that everyone knows the odds are poor, but relatively few people seem to grasp exactly how poor.** Second, though, I often think that when someone buys a lottery ticket they aren't purchasing a chance to win. Instead, I sometimes think that what they're really buying is hope- hope that they'll have enough money to pay for their kid's braces, or their husband's cancer treatment, or even just for a vacation once in a while. And, frankly, for a lot of people, that kind of hope is precious enough to be worth a couple bucks every few weeks. Basically, I think people buy lottery tickets for the same reason they drop a couple bucks in the collection plate on Sunday, though I somehow doubt that the authors will be quite so quick to label that a scam, too. Anyway, from here we move on to Noah musing about how it's difficult, if not impossible, to do the right thing in a complex world.

Page 34-35, Line 34: 24-32, 35: 1-4:
Case in point: Noah had a friend in college, not a close friend, but a self-decribed bleeding-heart lefty tree-hugging do-gooder friend who'd gone to work for an African aid organization after graduation. She'd kept in touch only casually, but her last sad letter had been one for the scrapbook. It turned out that after all the fund-raising and banquets and concerts and phone banks, all the food and clothing and medical supplies they'd shipped over had been instantly hijacked and sold on the black market, either by the corrupt provisional government, the corrupt rebel militias, or both. Most of the proceeds bought a Viking V58 cruiser for the yacht-deprived son of a parliament member. The rest of the money went for weapons and ammunition. That arsenal, in turn, fueled a series of sectarian genocidal massacres targeting the very starving men, women, and children whom the aid was meant for.

Okay, so, the first moral here is that we shouldn't try to help anyone in need because it will always just turn out badly. So, hey, fuck charity. The second moral is that, apparently, Noah has a really, really appalling scrapbook. I mean, seriously, does he collect all of the depressing news from his friends? "Woah, this letter says that Bob caught his wife cheating on him with his dad and his boss at the same time! This is totally going in the scrapbook, right next to that article about the genocide in Rwanda!" Fortunately, at this point, Noah's thoughts turn once more to Molly.

Page 35, Line 14-22:
And what had that woman said today? All you PR people do is lie for a living.

That's right, sweetheart. Well, Miss Holier-that-thou, to paraphrase the artful response of a prominent client of the firm, I guess that all depends on what the definition of lie is, now doesn't it? And while you're looking that up in the dictionary under L, run your uppity little finger down the column to the last word of your indictment: living. We all have to make one, and unless I'm mistaken, you and I both get paid with the same dirty money. The difference is, one of us isn't kidding himself.

Yeah, I've met this kind of guy before. The kind who gets rejected by a woman and then has to convince himself, and everyone around, that she's really a dumb slut and he's too good for her. It's an ugly reaction and seeing it here in print doesn't make it any prettier. On a more positive side, however, that whole "other words that start with L" bit reminds me of one of my favorite songs from musical theatre ever. Really! Anyway, Noah's thoughts wander through the various presidents that have been aided by Doyle & Merchant, and then we finally see the promise of some sort of plot advancement.

Page 36, Line 15-20:
A dull headache had begun to pound at his temple, and Noah abruptly remembered where he'd been meaning to go: the bulletin board in the break room. He had to grab the address of that meeting of flag-waving wackos, and then finish his conversation with an attractive but naive young woman who might need to be straightened out on a thing or two.

And if that isn't an inauspicious end to a chapter, I don't know what is. Honestly, it sounds like the beginnings of a night that will end in sexual assault. But I'm sure that won't be the case because, after all, the authors wouldn't want this book to be too racy, as that might upset their base.

Regardless, that's the end of today's episode. Come back next week when we tackle chapter six, in which Noah begins a harrowing journey. Well, not so much "harrowing" as "boring" but, you know, one of those adjectives that end in "ing".

* Actually, for the record, I think Mao was pretty f-ing bad for China, but that's just me.

** I concede, however, that I've always been fond of the saying that a lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math.



Anonymous Jonas Wisser said...

"Uppity" and "straightening out" a woman in the space of two pages. I'm impressed at how incredibly vile this book can be without trying.

Impressed? No, I'm sure that's not quite right… oh, yes: depressed.

Friday, March 11, 2011 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you miss the point of Noah's scrapbooking. Someday, he'll have a corridor that looks like the inside of his brain, too. Except for the patchy bits of empty wall, for when he forgets what he's thinking, where he's walking, or what he's supposed to do next.

Also, "This task he'd been given had started out strange, and then one by one the calls had only gotten stranger." Is it only me, or does the subject shift from "task" to "calls." Are both strange? Isn't there a simpler way to convey this? Oh, yes. Two sentences.

Friday, March 11, 2011 5:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clearly, Noah needs the Scrapbook of Sorrow to one day complete his own Brain Diorama of Depression. Where else is he going to get the material?! Ralphie Wiggum?

Also: Who self-describes themselves with every negative stereotype that could possibly be ascribed to your political/social position? If nothing else, it will make introductions at parties fucking exhausting. "Hey, I'm Bob! I'm a bleeding-heart lefty tree-hugging do-gooder friend! Wanna donate to a relief effort and stop eating meat?"

Saturday, March 12, 2011 6:50:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"Great, he's wandered into the advertising wing of Epcot, but without all the animatronic dummies and whatnot."

This may be the scariest sentence in the entire piece. Certainly, there is more drama to it than any of the quoted text.

Did Drek and his wife (sorry; no hentai link this time) really take their barely-past-embryonic child to Epcot? Or is it possible that Drek the Uninteresting has already passed through those Hallowed Halls in the role of Uncle?

Or (dramatic pause, or--in the context of this book, new chapter so we can pretend there is more to it than there is, just like this run-on parenthetic aside adds mothing) is Drek one of those people who goes to Disney World voluntarily? And does his wife know?

"A fifth-grade math student could seemingly blow the lid off the whole scam; to reach even a fifty-fifty chance of winning you'd have to buy a hundred million Powerball tickets. Everybody knows that, but still they dream on. [emphasis original]"

Now we know why Judd Gregg retired! He made Glenn Beck's "dumber than a fifth grader" list—even while getting richer.

Saturday, March 12, 2011 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"Destroy this document. Be certain to watch it burn."

Don't shred it! Don't tear it! Burn, baby, burn!!

Monday, March 14, 2011 11:26:00 PM  

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