Monday, May 06, 2013

The Reagan Buckley Knew: WFB's memoir and its alternative take

I seem to be unable to read this title as anything other than “The Reagan I Knew.” The Gipper, in the wake of the Iran/Contra scandal, famously proclaimed that, though his heart told him he hadn't approved arms sales to terrorists, his head told him he had. What Buckley’s head and heart told him over the years, I could not say, but The Reagan I Knew describes a politician who might as well be wearing a cape—he’s a strident, confident voice who all but saved democracy for the future, and to Buckley, anything less than our complete adulation is insulting. Heart, one; Head, zip.

It’s a personal memoir, at its heart. You might find astute political analysis in Buckley’s dredged-up columns from the 60’s when he runs through gubernatorial contests—that’s an example of WFB at his best. There are transcripts of Reagan’s appearances on Firing Line, and I got a kick out of eavesdropping over Buckley’s and Reagan’s debate over the surrender of the Panama Canal, and their conversations over Nixon, Ford and Carter.

But the material revealing what these men were really thinking is what’s really engrossing, to say nothing of infuriating. Take, for example, “A Self-Interrogation on the Size of the Government,” where Buckley attempts to explain away Reagan’s campaign promises to shrink government, given the fact that Reagan’s deficit rose from $79 billion to $153 billion. Buckley argues to himself, “It is a factor in democratic government that pressure is brought to bear to finance, by federal spending, projects that commend themselves to…some of the voters”:

[The] political power of the legislature was greater than the political power of the executive [when federal expenditures rise]. When the forces that ask for more spending prevail, their success depends in some measure on their power to move against the traditional American ethos [of self-subsistence]. Reagan always believed that people should earn their own living, and that a country should too, and that a country that does so is entitled to its national budget.
Read between the lines: The president has to resist the legislature, which is influenced by its constituency. Therefore, federal success is measured by its ability to resist majority votes, which will force them to go out and get a paper route to pay for their health care. I guess Buckley doped out the majority opinion during one of his intercontinental yacht-jaunts across the ocean and decided considering them further in political affairs was unnecessary. (That’s not a fair observation, I know. But I don’t care.)

There’s more of this kind of sentiment, and you don’t have to look all that hard. Buckley, unsurprisingly, does not have much to say about the Iran/Contra scandal except to quote a letter he wrote Reagan in 1988, urging him to issue pardons to Poindexter, North, et al. What’s particularly telling is when he raises the possibility of Reagan having to take the stand and testify: “In order to do this, you will be instrumental in exposing to public view the mechanisms by which the United States protects its vital interests. What the Left in America will do with this is absolutely unthinkable.”

Translation: We can't tell Joe Citizen about our support for sonsofbitches, because George McGovern will use it to win elections. Plus, Noam Chomsky will also use it to erect Chairman Mao statues all over the White House lawn.

The conduit between the two men is, by today’s terms, disturbing and unsettling: Reagan taking his cues from National Review, all but publicly acknowledging that it was Buckley and his ilk that created him, and nobody bothers to say a fucking word? What would happen if President Obama made a pet columnist out of Eric Alterman at The Nation or something? I don’t know what the Buckley/Reagan relationship says about the media and politics in the 80’s, but I’d like to think we've come farther than that today.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Local artist's performance gets rave reviews, and gets me tail

MIDNIGHT, CHICAGO--I'm at the L'An Riche, the swankiest, trendiest, most elegant restaurant this side of the Mississippi and other side of Elkhart, Indiana. The place is dark, intimate. Across the table from me sits Victoria Beckham, model/singer/businesswoman currently in a transition, she tells me, to actress/model/lingerie tester. Tall, curvaceous, lissome, with an elegant bearing and nice boobs, she epitomizes grace mixed with raw sex appeal. Her long lashes bat at me flirtatiously from across the table and her left foot is gliding up my pants leg. I stare at her sullenly. What a fucking bitch.

"How's your veal," she purrs.

"I hate it," I sulk, pushing it around on my plate.

"Maybe some wine will help," she says, pouring me a glass and stroking the neck of the bottle suggestively. Once the glass is poured, she pushes it over towards me, allowing our fingers to touch. I smirk, grab the bottle, and down a few slugs. Then I wipe my mouth with my tie and slouch back in my seat sullenly.

"So anyway, I was saying I'm just so fed up with our society's social mores," Beckham continues. "I mean, the idea that we can't have what we want when we want it is so unbelievably primitive when you think about it. The idea that sheer animal magnetism is absent our civilized species is a throwaway to a Victorian morality that does our primal psyche no good."

"Yup," I respond when she pauses. I have no idea what the hell she's talking about.

"For instance, the notion that sex should be interlocked with some type of relationship, however brief, simply isn't healthy. I mean, look at you and me together. What's to stop us from going back to my place, dimming the lights, and having me strip for you and pleasure you while you watched ESPN? Just our stupid culture's obsession with values."

"Right," I say when she pauses again. "Values. You nailed it."

"And speaking of nailing," she says, biting her fingertips softly and, when my attention is distracted by a dust mote floating gracefully through the air, grabbing a bread roll and thrusting it into a muffin vaguely shaped like a woman's behind, "I have a redheaded model friend  who said she's at my place right now, absolutely naked, chained to the bed, waiting. For us."

"Fantastic," I say, doodling a monster truck onto the menu. "She can have this veal. It sucks."

"So even though the answer is perfectly obvious, I'll ask you anyway: Where would you like to go after this?"

"I think we both know the answer to that," I say, leering appreciatively.

"I think we do," she asserts.

"You and me..."

"Uh huh..."

"...with nothing to come between us..."

"Oh baby..."

"...except Brendan Losch's solo performance." I whip out the stage bill and flash it at her with what I can only guess is erotic abandonment. "He goes on in two hours, so we'd better leave. Right now. So I can get a good seat."

Beckham sighs heavily. "I don't quite know how to tell you this..."


Except she does, as it turns out. The only reason I'm at this posh restaurant with some broad for whom, I'm told, half of Chicago would gnaw their left testicle off in order to get a shot at, listening to her prattle on about her high-power celebrity career and disdain for undergarments, is because Brendan's band manager, in a last-ditch effort to get rid of me for the evening, bribed her to take me out and keep me away from his show. In fact, as we sit here, a mere four blocks away at Cafe Mustache, Brendan is setting up for his gig. And what with Aaron Sandberg and John Morton accompanying him, plus Erik Bostrom sitting in the audience throwing empty beer bottles at their heads, it's the closest thing to a Bullets in Madison reunion this century is likely to get.

"So, let's run through it again," Brendan is (probably) telling John and Aaron right now. "First song, I'm on guitar, Aaron, you're on cymbals, John, you stand behind him and look pretty."

"As if I could look anything else," John retorts indignantly.

"Next song, John, you're on the cymbals, Aaron, you're on tambourine looking moody."

"I majored in that in college," Aaron asserts proudly. "Looking moody, I mean."

"The next two songs, I want you guys on either side of me, gently working the cymbals and tambourine, and then after that, Aaron can do background vocals, caressing the microphone stand and looking moody and discontent. John, you lay out on the floor and whistle backup."

"We got this," John assures him. "We're going to sizzle. The audience will be remembering this for at least a half hour."

"And one more time, where's what's-his-name? That tall guy who thinks he's a reviewer?"

"He's at that fancy Frog restaurant with that former Spice Girl," Aaron says, checking his iPhone. "I paid her twenty bucks, so she'll be all over him like Roseanne Barr at a buffet. No chance he's showing up tonight."

"Then I guess that's it," Brendan says. "Okay, let's set up the tambourine over there, and the cymbals over here...John? John, what's wrong?"

John's face has gone white and he shrieks like he shrieked that one time when he found out that men's fashion store would be out of Spritz cologne for a month. "I forgot the cymbals!" he yells and barrels through the already-crowded cafe, shoving several groupies and BiM-emulaters out of the way so he can make the fifty-mile round trip back to his tenement apartment on the poor side of town to retrieve his cymbals set. Behind him, Aaron is snickering.

"I hid them in the closet," he tells Brendan. "Now let's go get a beer and stare at our phones."


All of this is a reasonable surmise on my part, but since I'm not actually there but instead getting my time wasted by this prattling simpleton in front of me, I don't get to see it. Which just goes to show you once again: there is no justice in the world. Nor decency. Nor good veal, for that matter, which this dump I'm sitting in could say plenty about.

"Did I show you my tattoo?" Beckham whispers throatily into my ear. For some dumb reason, she's now sitting next to me in our secluded booth, with one thigh draped across my lap and her arms around my neck. I stare embarrassedly at passers-by, gesturing towards the empty seat in front of me, raising my eyebrows and point at her as if to say, She's a little dumb. What can I tell you? "It's of a comet," she breathes. "Right next to my...special place. Want to see it?"

"Nah," I say, rolling up my sleeve. "Now here's a tattoo." And I show her my pride and joy, up on my shoulder: Brett Michaels' made-up face, emblazoned with the logo "Open up and say Ah!" She looks suitably impressed.

But not impressed enough to pay the check, call a cab and get us the hell out of here over to the show in time for Brendan's full set, where he'll be playing music that has so far garnered the attention of XRT MTV and the Home Shopping Network. I grow desperate. And as William S. Burroughs once said, Desperation is the raw material of drastic change.

So as she fiddles with her bra strap and talks incessantly (and a bit irritatedly, it now seems to me) about the Kama Sutta or something like that, I whip out my Bic lighter and surreptitiously set the table lining on fire. The resulting chaos should buy me ten minutes to shove past her out the fire exit and grab a cab, so I can make the show. The subtlety of this plan is brilliant, I realize, and necessary. And as Plato once said, Necessity is the mother of invention.

Anyway, dear readers, that's the best I can give you at the moment, as I am currently en route. So if it's not too late, go check out the show, and if John has those cymbals, rest assured, they're going to rock the joint. If not, whatever. Because, after all, as Brendan Losch once said, They won't give a shit. Or something like that.

Which would you take? A no-brainer.