experiment: character analysis

so there was this guy I was into my freshman year. a real hip guy. so hip, in fact, that at first, I mistook him for retarded.

pardon my political incorrectness, but let’s call a spade a spade for a minute. and let me be candid here, those were my exact thoughts the first time I saw him – “is he hot, or retarded?” So if you are uncomfortable with that term, just substitute “extra righteous” in its stead.

but really though, the line is fine between the two. there seems to be some recent character rule that whoever the hippest is, also looks the most handicapped. this is not always the case, but there is some undeniable correlation. it actually becomes a little silent game I play to divert myself: who likes Lambchop and who likes Lambchop? Who just spent their lunchbreak looking through the denim rack at DI, and who just took their DI lunchbreak? hard to tell.

INT: Smith’s grocery store, night.

He was classically good looking, big brown eyes, disheveled hair, like a roughed-up Milo Ventimiglia. wearing a one-piece brown long john, booties (untied, laces askew) , and –well, guess this is the most economical way to say this —retard glasses (these will be important later on). All the immediate signs pointed to handicapped, but my fascination remained. America and Kate were with me, caught me looking incredulously in his direction, and together uttered a preemptive, though tardy, “no.”

“what?” I said. “he’s hot!”

“no.” they said, and kept walking toward produce.

“yeah, or maybe he’s retarded." i said, looking back at him. "I can’t tell.”

“it’s the latter,” kate said.

and I wanted to believe her, but I was intrigued and needed to know if this was someone I could have a romantic future with, or if those hopes should be dashed.

“it’s all in the eyes,” I said, hoping to believe this once voiced. "I just need eye contact. I'll be right back."

I proceeded to follow the magnetic little creature around the store, daring him to look me in the eye, so I could determine, as I had hypothesized, whether he was hot or retarded. I needed a recognition, a smile, an acknowledgment, a sudden tongue-kiss, something.

but he wouldn’t look at me! or anywhere near me! he kind of just looked around to himself, muttering and scratching himself and standing in front of the sausage case for an uncomfortably long time. it was hard to be a spy when my subject was so, I don’t know, docile. boring. And I couldn’t just stand next to him all that time without giving up the ruse. I pretended to read labels on an end-cap display, but you can only do that for so long before someone questions your mental stability.

I saw him heading down the frozen foods isle. I quickly ran down to the end of the aisle next to his isle and cornered it so we’d pass each other going opposite directions. I stared him down, but he walked past me as if I wasn’t there.

Eventually he moved on toward dairy, still without any groceries and no apparent interest in me or anything else in the store.

Deflated, I trotted back to my shopping cohorts to give the verdict.

“Can’t tell. but I’m leaning towards retarded.” I said. “But I’m still attracted to him.”

The three of us continued our shopping for another ten minutes, and pulled up to the check out lines when what do you know, there he was next to us, Mr. Special (Needs?), carrying –let me be exact –a 2 liter bottle of store brand grape soda, and a package of hot dogs. no buns in sight. that was it.


Amy and Kate congratulated themselves on their judgment call, and I slung a sack of mini wheats over my shoulder and headed out to the parking lot.

And there he was, outside, chatting up a girl in my geology lab. and they were having a normal conversation as far as I could tell, smiling and laughing and sharing anecdotes that probably don’t involve accidentally mistaking finger nail polish for a condiment.


I stood corrected. And slightly ashamed. So there it is. what a strange world. what a strange bird.

EXT: Smith’s parking lot, night. FADE OUT.

Later that year I’d see “Hot or Retarded Boy” (as he came to be known) around occasionally, at shows, or the old Diego’s, or walking down University scribbling away to himself about who knows what. I never intended to initiate anything. he was too interesting an observational specimen to actually get involved somehow. and then he eventually faded away entirely, a hyperbolic figure only to be brought up at dinner parties, during lulls in conversation.

i met him again, quite inadvertently, about 5 years later, when he, i, and our mutual friend carpooled to salt lake for a show.
I honestly hadn’t thought about him for a few years. but there he was, in the car when she came to pick me up. I had to catch myself from loudly exclaiming “Hot or Retarded!,” myself like the latter, proudly recognizing and properly naming a Person, Place or Thing and expecting accolade or a vanilla wafer in return.

HoR looked slightly less handicapped this time, dressed like any ol' hip kid, but somehow he looked crazier. and it was something in his eyes that told me this. it was like he hadn't closed them at all in the last five years.

I introduced myself, and then said nothing else. And after spending a bit of time pretending I didn’t know him, hadn’t had jokes with friends at his (and my, per my attraction) expense, I came to conclude he was actually more than sufficiently intelligent. just marched to his very own, very small and musically difficult to decipher drum. good for him.

long post short, I bought some glasses recently.

Climactic, huh?

I didn’t realize it until I made jared try them on for fun, that they are eerily similar to the glasses HoR was wearing. what does this mean? what does this MEAN!

Hot and Not At All Retarded Boy

what I have learned:

don’t judge a book by its long johns.
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experiment: friendly persuasion

or: what advertising has taught me about politics.

i still don’t know who I’m voting for in november. really.

in hopes of maintaining as much objectivity as possible, I’m trying to sort through all the hype and SNL skits and meaningless statistics and mudslinging and get to the meat of the situation. the issues. and I’m having a hard time contextualizing just about anything. just about every “fact” is contradictory. though it might seem unpopular or unwise to even still be considering a republican candidate, I don’t see any reason I shouldn’t still try try try to garner facts late in the game. though mccain has a crazy lazy eye and palin sounds a bit folksy and uneducated, I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. I hate to judge a book by its cover, or even its prologue, or amazon rating. same goes with team obama.

now, a word on branding. and the point of this political epistle.

coming from a branding back ground, it’s always fascinated me how people are so influenced by a brand. and why shouldn’t they be? there are people whose full time jobs it is to segment every micro-niche of a population, demographic-designators (and sometimes market designers, shudder) who know what product to sell to whom, when, and how to sell it to them. they’re smart. they’re sneaky. they’re subtle manipulators. remember those truth, anti-tobacco ads that have been running for the past 5 years or so? remember how Big Tobacco was segmenting some of their customers? to a T? and how they would convince people to smoke and keep smoking? Well, I’m a far cry from a politico, but I can guarantee you this much, the tactics employed by political branding and campaign managers are just as deeply specific and shady as Big Tobacco's. I know motives are different here, and that's the big difference, but you know what I mean.

this might come as a patronizing, underwhelming shock, but you, me, and miranda july have ALL been targeted this way! outrage! very specifically. and marketed to in a way that is hard to understand, but whose techniques have undergone rounds of focus groups and ethnographies, and in the end, mister advertiser knows that you are 24, drive a pontiac hatchback, subscribe to Wired, and eat chicken vindaloo four times a month. they know to get you they'll need to say the following key words: "energy-efficient" "change" "maverick" "web 2.0" blah blah blah. and then they strike when it's hot (2am on facbook) with a carefully tailored message that makes you think "Gee you're right, I must be a Obama/McCain type of person!"

And you might not be completely wise to this scheme, because the whole point of effective branding is to convince your target market of the superiority of a brand UNCONSCIOUSLY. so when they’re shopping at target and have to choose between Method and Softsoap, they automatically go for Method, for reasons they can sometimes articulate, but often times cannot. it equates to a feeling, an impulse. Also, Method has just undergone a package redesign and comes in hipper bottle with less clutter and copy, so why wouldn't you? But does it clean better than Softsoap? Doubtful. and in the end, you’re paying for aesthetic. a prettier package.

I have to say, the brand of Barack Obama has been very good from the start. He’s had the fortune of good designers, good marketers, a flock of celebrity endorsers who petition his cause and his good name all over the internet. his campaign understood new media and how to milk support from online communities from the get-go. the “maverick” was, unsurprisingly, a little late on the draw. so even initially, from a branding standpoint, it was good to be Barack Obama. What can I say, he’s a Mac.*

And he sounds like he has some good ideas and simple (if vague) summations for how to put our country back on track. (or rather, to pick it up from the fiery rubble that used to be a track and brush it off). I’m not afraid of people voting for Barack Obama. instead, my fear is this: too many people may be voting for Obama the Brand™ instead of Obama.

don’t get me wrong, he's appealing to me as well. what's not to like? he’s attractive, clean cut, presentable, articulate, confident, general good orator and seems like a generally good man with good motives. and I hope he is, because I may be voting for him in 4 weeks. maybe I’m just hyper-aware and paranoid because of my ad background, but something in Barack, seems, well, too good to be true. too. . . crafted. it's like i can just see what that first meeting (for him and mccain) was like where all the campaign managers, image consultants, branders, designers, etc sat huddled around a conference table and said: "okay, how can we sell him to soccer moms? how can we mobilize college kids?" you know! I've just been in those meetings too many times. it's so much about image and perception.

i like the IDEA of Obama. will I like the reality? and am I frightened by the prospect of voters who opt for him without really investigating what a Obama White House would mean? the point of this whole thing isn't to say, don't vote Dems, but is to say, think about why it is you're voting for him. or if you're leaning GOP, the same goes for y'all. I know it hurts, but baby, be a little self-analytical. for those of you who already have/are, good on you.

My other fear here is that people have sided with Obama because of what he is not. He is not GWBush. he has kind of been branded as the anti-bush, an antidote to bush and all bushness. Understandably, Americans are anxious for "Change®" after a corrupt and disappointing administration. I am one of them. But I hesitate to vote for Obama soley on grounds that he is NOT bush. That being said, If you (and I) are going to elect him as our next president, do so because of what he IS. not just because he represents some epistemological enemy to your enemy (Bush).

Let me reiterate. I’m not anti-Obama. I’m not pro-Obama. Same goes for McCain. Although part of me loves an underdog, and also feels like the McCain ticket has been treated a bit unfairly. Fair and Equal Time? not to my knowledge. I’m an avid NPR-ite, but I’ve got to say, everytime I turn on the radio it’s Barack Story Hour with Michele Norris. Everyone has their biases, not least of all news organizations, but I’m just saying. If nothing else, this election year shows us the tremendous role media plays as a political influencer. did the first presidential get-together remind anyone else of the JFK/Nixon debate? the young, handsome candidate vs. the semi-saggy, less attractive, abuser of the auditory? (i really can’t stand his voice).

if you think I’ve let mccain and sidekick off the hook in all this, I haven’t. I just think they've endured the majority of the mocking for geninue (but lots of superficial) hmm, shall we say “missteps?” and do me a favor when you watch the next debate (as well as in the future): try to ignore colloquialisms, hairplugs, or freakishly skinny necks, and listen to what people are actually SAYING. and whether they're spouting off nice-sounding slogans written by some copywriter or are getting to the hard and fast specifics of the situation.

so wrapping up. if upon further investigation I vote for Obama, I’m assuming it’s friendliness as usual between you (internet audience) and me. But know that If I vote for McCain it was because I genuinely felt it was right, and my integrity wouldn’t let me get out of it. To mine own self vote against universal healthcare, government bailouts, and gay marriage.

If you have actual facts (in CONTEXT!!!) that might be helpful for an indecisive moderate like me, let me have em.

what I have learned:

- it’s hard to know where one can go to get unbiased information.
- the power of branding is pretty amazing.
- SNL has really lucked out by having a cast member who could double as a vp nominee. it's almost too easy for them this season, but it may prove to be their saving grace.

*i was not the first to use this analogy, but i should have been! i've been saying it since march! stupid ny times, stealing my thunder.

**it should be noted, that when it comes to politics, it is very likely i don't know what i'm talking about. take my opinions for what they are - opinions. but in terms of branding, listen to mama.
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experiment: graduate school

are you ever sitting somewhere, in some present or ongoing situation and thinking, "mis-take." or "esoteric bullshit." (pardon my language, but c'mon, if you don't use at least four four-letter words every hundred or so, what sort of creative writer upholding the face of academia ARE you!?) if you've felt these feelings, then you, friend, will know of my troubles. well, troubles no more.

using disgusting amounts of agency, i withdrew from the MFA.

yep, that's right. didn't even make it a semester. and it's too late to apologize. too late. rather, ladles and gentleminds, i offer you this promise.

"Shine on you crazy diamond!" you yelled.

I've heard your call. and i've heeded. Indeed, i've heeded. and I will shine on, i swear it. I shall sally forth into other recreations! creative entrepreneurialism, netflix binge, debilitating bouts of self-doubt and second guessing, pie challenge, - - - here i come!

i really hate to solicit praise, but i think some congratulations are in order here.

what i have learned:
I - capital C creative capital W writing is not necessary for creative writing. (i'm really counting on this hypothesis to pull through for me). though the structure is nice.

II - grad school is neither the answer nor the question.

III - but it's not that hard.

IV - a raven is really nothing like a writing desk.

V - having a university dress code was actually kind of nice.
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