Two weeks ago, I was a guest on the fantastic podcast, Books and Booze, to talk about my new horror story, “The Castle on the Hill,” in a new anthology from Sirens Call Publications. On the show, I talked about everything from mental illness to scotch to Miley Cyrus. Check out the interview here: Joseph Lapin, Episode 81.
But to me, the most exciting piece I had come out was my recent piece on the declassification of Area 51 at Salon. So far, it has garnered quite a bit of attention…good and bad. A lot of people in the comments hate the piece. They thought it was so obvious that the government was lying about Area 51 that the idea of outrage seemed naive and pointless. However, some people seemed to connect with my message: That the government is controlling what is real with misinformation, and our lack of outrage is frightening. It’s not whether or not we knew they were lying; it’s how we are reacting to it. Let me know what you think about the story.
It’s been an eventful week with a lot of exciting news, and I haven’t even had the opportunity to document all that’s been going on. Last week I had a new piece appear at the LA Weekly on Matthew Specktor’s American Dream Machine. I loved writing this piece, and it seemed to have a connection to the piece I wrote a couple of months ago on trying to rediscover the California dream. I was lucky enough to interview Specktor at Musso and Frank’s in Hollywood. That restaurant is one of the coolest places in the city. I love how it’s dripping with the ghosts of an ancient Hollywood. Now I’m working on a piece on Chiwan Choi. I’ll be interviewing him soon. Looking forward to that.
Another exciting development: As part of Booktalk Nation, I will interview Matthew Specktor on the program. I’m going to have a discussion about his book American Dream Machine. This is going to be a pleasure. I’m so excited about this event, and I really hope you will sign up for the talk. Click on the link above and enter your email. You will receive a phone number and a conference-call code.
And finally, my good buddy, your good buddy, Joe Clifford had his novel, Junkie Love, appear on bookshelves everywhere. Have you picked up your copy? Well, I believe you can buy it here: Amazon. Lol.
So earlier, I was walking my dog down Barrington, and the sky was oh-so blue; the flowers were blooming; and the traffic was slowly meandering towards the 405. I HAD been at work all day, and the spring air was thrilling — almost like something you would read out of some grocery-store novel to enliven the jaded from winter-solstice blues. I was training Hendrix, my dog, and I was thinking about something I saw earlier on Facebook: Anger is a choice.
That’s when I noticed a truck barreling down behind a car on the way towards Santa Monica. The truck blew past the car trying to turn left, and as the truck was passing, the guy stuck his finger out the window and flipped the car the bird. And it wasn’t just a regular old middle finger; it was the Washington Monument of Fuck Yous — if you know what I mean.
Los Angeles, I have never seen a city so free with their middle fingers. The other day on my way to work, I was driving towards Westwood, when a white Bronco came out of nowhere, swerving in and out of lanes, and for whatever reason, the Bronco starting flipping me the bird — as if I had just cut her off. I couldn’t figure out what this person’s problem was because we were stuck at a red light and nobody was moving. It just struck me very strangely — don’t Angelenos know that the middle finger should only be used in the most extreme offensive? Only in times of extreme offense like somebody kicked your dog or called your wife a bitch.
So why is it that Angelenos use the middle finger so freely?
Because Los Angeles is so large and people are moving so fast, I have a feeling most casual users of the middle finger have never experienced this gesture gone wrong. A driver will flip the bird, and there will be no time for retaliation. Well, I, unfortunately, have experienced the wrong side of the middle finger.
Back in high school, my buddies — Czar and C-Mac — were driving up to Riverside Park — an amusement park in Springfield, Massachusetts, now called Six Flags — in my Subaru Wagon. I was driving, and we were rushing to get there. We wanted to have the whole day at the park to make the crazy admission fee worth it. So I was pissed to find this guy in a SUV, driving 65 m.p.h. in the left lane.
I passed the SUV on the right and then pulled back over to the left lane, slowing down just enough so he could see me. I stared back at him through my mirror, and I saw the man’s face; I saw his wife; I saw the New Hampshire license plate; and I saw his kid in the back seat. Without any hesitation, I showed him my middle finger so proudly you would have that I had been waiting my entire life to tell someone they drive like an asshole.
Big mistake. I drove a little bit faster, and then all of a sudden, a red truck pulled up out of no where, and they flew right behind me. They were right on my bumper, and I thought they were going to hit me. I looked in my rearview mirror, and there were two guys, maybe about 23, with their shirts off, a small confederate flag draped over their mirror, and they were demanding I pull over.
My buddies didn’t say a word; they just looked at me to see what I was going to do. I didn’t know what I was going to do though. So I just pretended like I didn’t see them. I stared straight ahead, thinking they would go away.
But they didn’t stop. They drove up to the side of our car, and they were yelling at us, calling me a pussy and telling me to pull to the side of the road. Well, I wasn’t stupid; I wasn’t about to pull to the side of the road in the middle of Wester Massachusetts. Remember, I was 17–years old; I basically just got my license. Best I can figure it, these were the older sons of the guy in the truck — or maybe even brothers — and they were exacting revenge.
I thought it was going to get real bad when they pulled up in front of my Subaru and started slamming on the brakes. Luckily I stayed calm and just avoided their truck. It must have went on like this for over 15 minutes, until they gave up and moved on.
They sure scared the shit out of me, and I learned that I would make sure if I was going to use the middle finger, then I should use it for something worth fighting about.
Las Vegas was my honeymoon — a lune de miel — except it wasn’t. Unfortunately, Heron and I didn’t leave for Europe or Cambodia immediately after our wedding, and we went back to work. I was exhausted after the wedding — we sure smoked it to the filter — and I was still sore from our family football game at the beach (my best man did elbow me, accidentally, in the face). And on the way to Vegas, driving through the Mojave Dessert, I was married and young and alive. It was exhilarating, and it was my first time to Vegas. Before the trip, I balked at the thought of the Sin City; the image of men and women popping quarters into slot machines depressed me almost as much as that dog commercial with Sarah McLaughlin. But I decided to give it a shot, and what I found was I absolutely loved Vegas. Let me explain.
5. The Beatles’ Love
If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know I’m a huge Beatles fan — like most of the world. Ever since I heard there was a show in Vegas built around the Beatles’ music, I’ve almost wanted to go to the city in the middle of the desert just for that. Well, Heron and I stayed at The Mirage, and we splurged and bought some tickets. Well, it was a great show, and there was a moment during “Within and Without you” where a large tarp was flowing over the crowd, and it became clear that the director was trying to realize a deep spiritual understanding, a global consciousness, a Jungian harmony of epic proportions, that I understood how special this show was; it was something more than just a dance or performance; it tried to express the underlying themes of my favorite albums.
Well, people who go to Vegas always talk about the buffets. And I’m not really the biggest fan of buffets; all that food just sitting there, rotting and wasting away in the neon lights and glassed by sneeze bars. So in an attempt to try something new, Heronand I went for it, and we ate the buffet at The Mirage. It was amazing. I ate eggs Benedict, sushi, crab legs, barbeque, pho, wonton; basically I feel like I tasted a little bit of the world. Surprisingly, the food was fresh, and the dessert bar was one of the most unreal displays of gluttony I have ever seen. It was nice to let go after a few weeks of a crazy wedding diet.
Honestly, before I went to Vegas, I thought it was just a soul-sucking world where people threw money around like they were making it rain in a strip club; I thought that it was a stain on the country so obsessed with all that was anti-soul, anti-knowledge, anti-enlightenment. Ah, I was so serious. But when I arrived in Vegas, I just started to laugh. All of the opulence and mosaics and sculptures, well, it seemed like a joke. Instead of over thinking the superficiality of Vegas, I just kind of became a part of the joke, the theme, the grand gestures that signified nothing. I let loose and laughed at the computerized murals of Michelangelo. I laughed at the vainglorious attempt to bring joy to the adult world. And I wondered, what the hell would future generations think of this place? Would they call Caesar’s Palace a monument? Would they see beauty in our vanity?
What surprised me — and sort of scared Heron — was how much I loved blackjack. I sucked at blackjack, but I started to read about the game and when to bet. So at one point I was down 60 bucks, and I started to play the game differently. I ended up winning 10 bucks, but I started to enjoy the chances, the calculated risk. And then I started applying these lessons to economics. I began to wonder if the stock market was like gambling. The house always wins in blackjack, but does the house always win in stocks and investment? I’m starting to see myself as more of a businessman, strangely, and somehow blackjack just encouraged a deep hunger of mine — an almost need to put my chips on the table and succeed.
1. Vegas is a science-fiction novel
Of course, Hunter S. Thompson pointed out the absurdity of the city in Fear and Loathing, but I feel like the appeal of Vegas is deeper than drugs and the search for the American Dream. It’s a place that Vonnegut would have imagined for one of his characters; it’s a place where time and location exist in its own world; and it’s absurdity runs so deep that the week before we showed up, a huge gun battle happened on the streets. Think about it: you can head to the Venetian and see Gondolas; you can see a pyramid next to the Eiffel Tower; and no one seems to pay attention to time — as if the city existed outside of any Earthly moment. It’s a place so unique in its wonder and nonsense that it seems to make perfect sense for the setting of a science-fiction novel. And that awesome strangeness is fascinating.