Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 18

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that is just absolute shit. I mean, just really shameful. Last time we learned about Stuart's amazing plan and how it involves Danny Bailey. What happens this week? Well, we check back in with Noah and Molly, so basically our break from their absurd, saccharine "romance" has just come to a shrieking halt. Goddamnit.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Sassafrass for putting things in perspective:

Friends, I think we're looking at a clear product-placement commercial for KFC. "Everyone loves the Colonel" -- bitch, please. There is no other reasonable explanation for that entire fucking scene. Also, given that Oprah is a clear supporter/lover of the Colonel, I SMELL A CRISPY CONSPIRACY, PEOPLE!

If you consider that Bailey is probably a stand-in for Beck himself, it just makes this entire chapter all the more unbearable. It's kinda sad when you miss the good ol' days of volcano lairs, wise hillbillies and prison rape. But this book is quickly flushing itself down the narrative shitter.

Indeed, when we think back fondly to hillbillies and volcano lairs, things have taken a wrong turn. This is especially the case when we consider that Molly and Noah are two uninteresting people having a boring romance in a going-nowhere book whereas Stuart and Danny should at least hypothetically be doing something more interesting and yet still end up even more agonizingly pointless. Well done indeed, authors! Anyway, thanks for caring Sass, and keep at it folks! This shitball just keeps rolling on.

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.). Oh, yeeeeeaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!

Dramatis Personae: In an order determined by hurling the authors down the stairs.

Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair. Fan of remote telephone booths. Shot in the head by parties unknown.

Beverly Emerson: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's. Molly's mother.

Noah Gardener: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high". Works Vice president at a PR firm. Went to NYU. Is "witty". Frequently forgets where he's going and why. Not good at talking to women. Not really inclined to help out cab drivers. Low tolerance for alcohol. Lost his mother when he was young. Fond of chicken and waffles. Rich as shit. Views himself as a sexual panther.

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. Lost her father when she was young. Impressed by fancy cars. Cocktease.

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. Sodomized by inmates following the rally. Once dressed up as Colonel Sanders to infiltrate the United Nations.

Stuart Kearns: FBI agent. Works on homeland security matters. Kinda old and wrinkly.


Chapter 18: In which Noah eats bacon, Molly goes all domestic, there's the hint that Molly is some kind of revolutionary, and Molly reveals her raging bipolar personality disorder.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 129, Line 1:
Bacon. [emphasis original]

Yes, that is, technically, the entire first paragraph of Chapter 18. Just the word "bacon". And you know what? Honestly the most alluring chapter start of the book. Seriously, who wants some bacon right now?

Page 129, Line 2-5:
Scent appeals to the most primitive of the five basic senses. Unlike a sight or sound or even a touch, an aroma can rocket straight to the untamed emotions with no stops required at the smarter parts of the brain.

I know that the whole "five senses" thing is well established in popular culture, but just once I'd like to see proprioception get proper credit. I mean, shit, can smell tell you where you f-ing foot is?* Nuh-uh! You need proprioception for that, baby!

Page 129, Line 10-14:
Other wonderful smells of a home-cooked breakfast, recalling the finest mornings from his early childhood, were wafting in from a couple of rooms away. Molly was nowhere to be seen, though an alluringly girl-shaped indentation was still evident in the gathering of covers beside him.

So, first off, yes, it appears she's making him breakfast. I gotta be honest, I've never had a woman make me breakfast after the first time we spent the night. That said, I've also never expected a woman to make me breakfast after we spent the night- particularly if we spent the night at my place. But, hey, I'm not Noah Gardner, so what do I know?** Also, unlike Noah, I've never slept with a girl. Where's Chris Hansen when you need him, eh? Second, I'm not sure how to interpret that bit about the girl-shaped indentation. Are his covers made of memory foam, or is this sort of like how Bugs Bunny would run really fast and leave a Bugs-shaped hole in a door? Anyway, Noah checks the clock and notes that it is 4:35, but apparently the clock doesn't give any indication of whether that's AM or PM. Noah, being Noah, is not smart enough to check and see whether or not it's light out, thereby resolving the conundrum. And then we get to a truly dramatic revelation.

Page 130, Line 1-2
It might take all weekend to get his body clock reset to normal again.

Oh, Christ. And we can look forward to incessant updates, can't we? Anyway, he gets up, puts on a robe, opens the drapes- in the process using the position of the sun to determine the time*** and then scene!

Page 130, Line 5-12:
"Are you up, finally?" He heard her voice from the doorway.

"Yeah." When he turned he saw she was already dressed for the day. "Looks like you found the laundry room."

"I went out and got some groceries, too. Your refrigerator was freakishly clean and really empty."

"I eat out a lot."

"Well, I made you something." She smiled. "Late birthday breakfast. Come and get it while it's hot."

Just to be clear: while he slept, she got up, did laundry, got dressed, did the grocery shopping, and made him breakfast. If she also cleaned the bathroom, she's pretty much the ideal conservative woman. Also: "really empty"? Is "empty" a thing that can have multiple states? Can a fridge be, "a little empty"?

Page 130, Line 13-15:
As they sat together at the sunroom table he focused on his food while she returned to chipping away at her half-finished crossword puzzle in the next day's Sunday Times.

As she what now? Returned to chipping away at the crossword puzzle? When the hell did she have time to start, amidst all the laundry and shopping and cooking and shit? And as long as we're on the subject, she has the Sunday paper on Saturday? What? Regardless, Noah asks if she likes word games, she says yes, and then he shows off what a catch he is.

Page 130, Line 18-19:
"Well, if you [Molly] get stumped over there let me know. Not that I'm so brilliant, but I was on the spelling bee circuit when I was a kid."

Words simply fail me. This man is an absolute monument to douchebaggery. Seriously, one day all the assholes of the world will unite to erect a statue to Noah Gardner. Regardless, we spend the next page in a riveting description of Noah and Molly trying to work out the solution to twelve down. And oddly, all I can think is that these two love birds just met, they've had a wild first date, they just spent the night together, and yet the next morning they come across like the most exciting freaking thing they can think of to do is a damn crossword. Yikes. But then things get all serious.

Page 131, Line 16-22:
"I've been meaning to talk to you about something," Molly said. She got up and took his empty plate and silverware to the sink.

"Okay. Let's talk about it."

"I'm not going to be in town very much longer."


"I'm just not. There were some things I wanted to do here, and I've done them now, so I'll be leaving."

Oh, wow. Is she a vampaire? Does she sparkle? Is this going to end in a dance fight in a ballet studio? Will Noah get to go to the prom with Edward Molly?

Page 131, Line 30-32:
She'd busied herself in silence in the kitchen for a little while, rehanging pans and tidying up briefly, but soon she sat down across from him again, reached over, and put her hand on his.

Okay, so, not only does she get up early, do laundry, do the shopping, and cook breakfast, she then clears the table and does the dishes. Seriously, she's the ideal Republican woman. And the rest of us are so very unimpressed that Noah "ungrateful ass" Gardner couldn't even be bothered to clear his own plate, much less do the dishes. Regardless, she tells him to get his jacket so that they can go for a walk and then just happens to stumble across a framed penmanship exercise of Noah's from the fifth grade. It's framed, apparently, because it earned a gold star. Now, the narrative explains that one of Noah's nannies framed it to celebrate his achievement and that the movers must have placed it out when they moved him into this apartment. Right, fine, but that suggests that this gem was sitting out when he was moved, and thereby inadvertently implies that a gold star on a penmanship exercise from fifth grade is one of Noah's greatest achievements. I mean, besides the certificate he received in ninth grade when he finally stopped eating paste, I guess. Anyway, the narrative reveals that the assignment in question is a snatch of poetry that captures his father's justification for his life. And then we get a recitation of the last three stanzas:

Page 132-133, Line 132: 24-30, 133: 1-11:
Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return! (1)

Before anyone cracks wise, this is not the work of the authors. No, this is taken from Rudyard Kipling's (2) The Gods of the Copybook Headings. It might be a good poem,**** but it feels out of place in the book given than we were only moments ago concerned solely with domestic affairs. Anyway, Molly asks what Noah thinks his father was trying to tell him with this poem.

Page 133, Line 25-28:
"He [Arthur Gardner] told me the poem meant that history always repeats itself, that the same mistakes are made over and over, only bigger each time. The wise man knows that it you can't change that, you might as well take full advantage of it. But to me it meant something else."

Well, don't keep us waiting, dumbass!

Page 134, 1-6:
"It's a warning, I guess, about what happens when you forget common sense. You have to read the whole thing to get it. I think it means that there really is such a thing as truth, the real objective truth, and people can see it if they'll just look hard enough, and remember who they really are. But most of the time they choose to give in and believe all the lies instead."

I have no idea whether Noah's interpretation is valid. I mean, my degrees are not in English. That said, I actually find myself agreeing with Noah here, by and large. I think Kipling is saying that some set of basic things remain true and that people forget these at their peril. I disagree that it's just "common sense", however, as common sense usually just means, "things I already believe for no better reason than that I was taught to believe them when I was very young". No, really, the poem almost sounds like an endorsement of science. Be that as it may, I nevertheless find it amusing that the authors are suggesting that if we forget common sense our society will collapse, and yet probably support the idea that cutting taxes will increase tax revenue. Is that sometimes true? Sure, but will it keep working the more you cut? Will revenue asymptotically approach infinity as the tax rate approaches zero? Yeah... not so much. So, in the end, I think one of those things that you really need to keep in mind, is that the world is almost always more complex that we give it credit for. Just sayin' is all. Anyway, Noah and Molly finally get outside for their walk and immediately turn into that creepy couple that you hate running into on the sidewalk.

Page 134, Line 18-22:
She stayed close to him, at times with an unexpected gesture of casual intimacy: an arm around his waist for half a block, a finger hooked in his belt loop as they crossed a busy street against the light, a palm to his cheek as she spoke close to his ear to be heard over the din of the traffic.

"A taser to his ribs just before she ran, a knee to his groin when he caught up to her..." Okay, stalker jokes aside, does anyone else feel like she's treating him more or less how you'd treat a particularly stupid child? Evidently not Noah, because he marvels at her awesomeness for another half a page or so and then we get... this.

Page 135, Line 5-14:
Molly looked into his eyes, and what he saw in her was a perfect reflection of a wanting that he also felt, so there was no delay of invitation and acceptance. It was a different sort of desire than he'd known before, an understanding that something now needed to be said that no language but the very oldest could possibly convey. He bent to her, closed his eyes, and her lips touched his, gently, and again more urgently as he responded. He felt her arms around him, her body yearning against his in the embrace, a knot like hunger inside, heart quickening, cool hands at his back under the warmth of his jacket, searching, pressing him closer still.

If you need a moment to fight down the nausea, trust me, I understand. This is another one of those harlequin romance moments that absolutely litter this shitstorm of a book. And oddly, my main reaction to the whole thing is to marvel at how passive a participant Noah seems to be. It is as though the kiss is happening to him rather than that he is kissing someone. This isn't necessarily unreasonable- men do not always have to be the initiators of romantic interludes, after all- but it's instructive when we consider how utterly useless Noah has been thus far. And, frankly, how useless he will continue to be from here on out. Anyway, after some more lovey-dovey description, Noah and Molly end up sitting in a coffee shop to wait out the rain.

Page 135, Line 29-32:

"I was starting to worry you'd forgotten I was here."

Molly took a deep breath and seemed to collect herself for a moment. "I need to ask you something."

"Why do you have a real doll hidden in your closet? A recently used real doll, I mean?"

Page 136, Line 2-4:
"If we hired you, your company, what would you tell us to do?"

He frowned a bit. "You mean if you and your mom hired us?"

"It's more than just the two of us, you know that. A lot more."

Right. Yes. Of course. It's Molly, her mom, Hollis, some random extras- half of which are enemy agents, apparently- and, shit, I dunno, a couple of dogs?

Page 136, Line 5-8:
"I don't know," he said. "What is it you want to accomplish again?"

"We want to save the country."

"Oh. Okay. Is that all?"

"That's where we start, isn't it? With a clear objective."

Yes, starting with a clear objective is usually appropriate. The thing is, "save the country" is not really the sort of objective you put on a to-do list. It's more the sort of thing that a whole lot of smaller objectives should lead up to. So, no, telling Noah that you want to "save the country" doesn't freaking help. Noah would be well within his rights to tell her this, but since he still desperately wants to bone her, he decides to run with it. After thinking about it for a few moments, he says he'd want to get the diverse groups in her movement together and get them to agree on some things.

Page 136, Line 19-24:
"I don't know- start with the tax code, since your mom is so passionate about that. How about a set of specific spending cuts and a thirteen percent flat tax to start with? Get that ridiculous sixty-seven-thousand-page tax code down to four or five bullet points, and show exactly what effects it'll have on trade, and employment, and the debt, and the future of the country."

Shit, seriously? There are at least eight dissertations in there, much less the new bullet points. And why the automatic assumption that a flat tax is somehow fairer than a progressive tax? It gets better, though.

Page 136, Line 24-26:
"And I'm winging it here, but how about real immigration reform? The kind of policies that welcome people who want to come here for the right reasons, and succeed."

I really have to wonder what the "right reasons" are in the authors' minds. Moreover, I wonder about the grammar of that sentence- specifically the comma. Do they mean the kind of people who succeed in coming here, or who succeed once they come here? The former interpretation is, I think, the one conveyed by the sentence, but I'm pretty sure they mean the latter. I will say that I would love real immigration reform but, in my case, I'm pretty pro-immigration in general. So in my view that would mostly be an increase in the quotas coupled with some degree of amnesty and the imposition of harsh penalties on those who employ illegals, coupled with serious efforts at enforcement. You'll note border fences are not in there at all. Regardless, after some more chit-chat, something occurs to Noah.

Page 137, Line 6-7:
"And what did you mean, save the country, by the way? Save it from what?"

Ah, Noah. He's such a brilliant boy.

Page 137, Line 8:
She looked at him evenly. "You know what."

What I know is that the authors have to resort to that sort of answer because they themselves have no idea what the hell they're talking about. Other than that, I'm as clueless as Noah here, and that's saying something.

Page 137, Line 11-14:
"I know there was a meeting at the office yesterday afternoon," she said, lowering her voice but not her intensity. "I saw the guest list on the catering order. I know who was there. I know you were in it. And I think I know what it was about."

If, at this point, alarm bells aren't going off in Noah's head, he's even dumber than I thought. And, as it happens, yes, he's even dumber than I thought. Over the next few lines she basically demands that he take her to the office and prove to her that he and his father aren't secretly plotting to take over the U.S. I'm not kidding, that's what she does. Noah, surprisingly enough, refuses, and thus opens the way for a bizarre speech.

Page 137, Line 29-32:
"When are you going to grow up, Noah? I know you're not who your father is, but then the next question is, Who are you? It sounds to me like you knew the answer to that when you were in the fifth grade, but you've forgotten now that it's time to be a man."

...what? I can't even begin to follow the tortured writing in that paragraph, although I'm oddly reminded of a more respectable version of Ann Coulter. Anyway, Noah insists he IS a man but then reasserts his refusal to take her to his work place and show her confidential documents she has no right to see. She takes it well.

Page 138, Line 3-5:
"Do you want me to leave?" Her voice was tight and there were sudden tears in her eyes. "Do you never want to see me again? Because that's what this means."

Okay, I lied. She actually takes it like she's freaking bipolar, and I should know as I dated someone with bipolar disorder coupled with hallucinations for two and a half years.***** Or, alternatively, she's not bipolar and is, instead, some kind of TEA party secret agent who is trying to infiltrate Noah's place of employment. I'll leave it to you to decide which of these is (a) more likely to be what the authors have in mind and, (b) which one would produce a more interesting narrative. Regardless, Noah once more says he won't betray his clients' trust and then shit goes down. Specifically, she gets up and leaves, but Noah takes it like a man.

Page 138, Line 11-15:
Noah watched her through the glass and let himself hope for a few seconds that she'd have a change of heart and turn back into his waiting arms so all could be forgiven. But, just like falling in love with someone you've known only for a single day, those things really happened only in the movies.

Okay, yeah, I lied again. He actually takes it like an insecure teenager who has read too many shitty romance novels. But that's only fair since the above paragraph reads like it's from a shitty romance novel. And at the end of the day, who is to say it's not?

But that's a question for another day, because this chapter is over. Come back next time when Noah and Molly- yep, you guessed it- infiltrate his place of employment. It's a dangerous mission that nevertheless has all the excitement of a trip to the post office.

See you then.

* As a side note, if your answer to this question is "yes," we really need to have a conversation about your hygiene.

** Considering that I'm happily married to a wonderful woman whereas Noah is a loser, I suppose the answer to that should be: "Quite a lot, actually."

*** Since he looked at a clock already, this really isn't as impressive as Hollis' stunt.

**** I truly do not know. As it happens, I am pretty much entirely unable to hear rhyme or meter. As a result, I tend to read poetry like oddly-formatted prose. Drove my English teachers utterly nuts.

***** It's fun at first,****** but it gets weird after the first time you find her adjusting her bathing habits so as to discourage demons from possessing her.*******

****** I'm not at all serious about that. It was actually a wrenching experience that put me into counseling for a while. I have a great deal of empathy for people who love those with psychiatric disorders.

******* That's not a joke, that actually happened.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He felt her arms around him, her body yearning against his in the embrace, a knot like hunger inside, heart quickening, cool hands at his back under the warmth of his jacket, searching, pressing him closer still."

Welp, I guess Beck is a defender of our rights to full-on dry hump one another in public. You know, like the FOUNDING FATHERS WOULD HAVE WANTED.

Also, I'm fairly sure that the fridge is a metaphor for the entire book. This narrative is not merely empty, it's really, really fucking empty.

Finally, while I'm not a Kipling scholar, I do have an MA in English Lit, and I imagine that Beck got a cheap thrill out of quoting a staunch anti-Bolshevik (Rudy also demanded that the Indian Swastika emblem be removed from his texts when the Nazis came to power). That said, most lit scholars agree that Kipling is controversial and his poetic meanings often misunderstood, so I have a hard time thinking that Noah "brilliant like a bag of hair" Gardener's interpretation is to be credited as anything more than yet more vile wind issuing from out his ass. But then, I never won a gold star in penmanship, so what the fuck do I know?*

*Nor would I frame such a thing, but then I failed Assclownery 101 in college.

Friday, June 17, 2011 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"Bacon. [emphasis original]"

The, er, authors were watching a dog food commercial and their, er, editor never made them take this line out.

captcha: arejewu, or are jew u? I'm starting to feel like Alvy Singer.

Friday, June 17, 2011 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"As she what now? Returned to chipping away at the crossword puzzle? When the hell did she have time to start, amidst all the laundry and shopping and cooking and shit?"

It's nearly 5:00pm. The better question is "how did she know the smell of bacon would finally rouse Noah?" Which brings me back to "they typed the dog food commercial" as the Occam's Razor explanation.

"And as long as we're on the subject, she has the Sunday paper on Saturday? What?"

Uh, yes, several (non-time-dependent) sections of the NYT Sunday paper are delivered on Saturday to subscribers. (A&E, NYTBR, Magazine, Want Ads, etc.) This is a nice thing for the delivery people, on balance.

Friday, June 17, 2011 10:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Actually, this chapter almost seems kind of realistic. They got together last night, it was great in a shallow, physical way, but in the cold light of day they see each other clearly and part ways. He's still a callow nobody, she's still a thin coat of sexy on a huge pile of crazy, and they just don't fit into each others' lives. They're a little sad, but by this time next week they'll each have an amusing anecdote.

And Noah, don't insist to the woman you've just slept with that you're a real man. If you didn't already convince her, you won't.

Friday, June 17, 2011 11:39:00 AM  

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