Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Cult of Social Media

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

There's a fine line between a cult and a religion. It's called tax-exempt status.

If the omnipotent IRS deems your organization as a legitimate religion, then you don't have to pay taxes. Ever. It's a good scam if you can blow a fast ball by IRS auditors, but there's far more lucrative ways to make money.

Cults are cults. I was raised in a cult (the Catholic Church) and I regularly attend cult meetings several times a year (Phish concerts). I've been paid a decent wage writing positive things about a cult (the poker industry) and I even succumbed to peer pressure and caved in and joined the cult of Facebook.

In the new season of Arrested Development, one of the characters joked something like: "Leaving Scientology was a lot easier than deactivating my Facebook account."

Facebook is like the mafia. Once you're in, you're in for life.

The worst aspect of Facebook (and mostly all forms of social media) is how it dehumanizes you and turns your once meaningful relationships into units of information and your page/profile/account essentially becomes a database. Any sort of virtual connection (comment, "like", or tag) seems cold and impersonal. Data collection. Binary. 1 for like; 0 for nothing. It's like we've been reduced to 1s and 0s.

I'm not a Luddite opposed to social media and I think those platforms (much like the philosophy of life) are all about what you the individual user wants to do with it. You can take it seriously, or not. You can become a wallflower or jump right into the fray, You can stir the pot and spit venom at people on the opposite side of the political spectrum, or you can try to make people laugh when they're having a rough day.

I am not thrilled with Facebook's evolution from an online version of the "Fuck Finder" to its bumbled IPO. Facebook treats its users like cattle and all that data that people willingly fork over is virtual gold for Zuckerberg and his cronies. Some trends disturb me like heightened superficial interactions and bullying. While other things outright enrage me like having user data been manipulated/exploited and bought/sold by multi-national corporations for malevolent reasons (spying) or consumerism (marketing). But it is what it is. It's not compulsory, but there's so much peer pressure to conform that anyone dissenters are marginalized.

Social media is a great means as a connection point, but I firmly believe the real world is where you truly cultivate that original virtual connection into a blossoming real, concrete relationships either as an acquaintance, colleague, friend, or confidant. I'm one of those people who feels guarded about virtual connections. Maybe it's the poker player in me that feels more comfortable being able to observe people in order to get a read on them through non-verbal communication. Nothing can trump human interaction. The virtual world is a substitute, like methadone, but it could also be a raging addiction like heroin.

Some of the saddest cases I've seen are people who eschew their real lives in favor of the internet world to hide online and use the anonymity of the internet to create a new persona thereby extinguishing the real life trauma. That schism is dangerous and unhealthy and I'm frightened to think how many millions of Americans are hiding in the virtual world and making insincere and superficial connections with other hurt people. Instead of having a deeper connection in which they can help each other work out their real life issues, they opt for a more fantasy-like realm. It's no wonder Catfish is a huge popular show. I guess my biggest surprise is why doesn't it happen more often? I suspect it does, but most people are so embarrassed about how deep they fell down that rabbit hole.

Like anything else, if you have you're shit together, you will flourish in real life and in the virtual world of social media. If you're a train wreck in real life, no matter how much you try to cover up all of you're weaknesses, it will eventually bubble to the surface.

In the 80s, if you had a shitty day or were down in the dumps you could crawl into bed and go to sleep and hope that tomorrow is another day, or you can zone out in front of the boob tube, or you can listen to depressing/uplifting music on the radio. But today's kids are slaves to the "stream" and they must plug in and find out what everyone else is doing, who is everyone gossiping about, and if anyone else is talking shit about them. Shit, it's hard enough to do that in real life, it's even more vexing to go home and manage that aspect of your life.

In 2013, when someone having a bad day, the entire world is aware of it via social media. Everyone has a bad day. Life is a series of bad days squeezed in between a ton of mediocre days with the occasional day of awesomeness. But when someone has a couple bad days in a row, they're on the verge of an epic social media meltdown. I've witnessed my fair share of them over the last few years. It's some of the best/worst aspects of social media voyeurism... like a car wreck on the freeway that you cannot look away from when you pass by.

It's not like the old days when you can close the door to the bedroom and insulate yourself from the outside world and wallow in your own misery for a bit until you feel better and emerge from your cocoon of self-loathing. But in the 21st century in which everyone stars in their very own reality show, people are so addicted to social media that they forget that they can go bonkers without live-updating it.

I'm old school. I prefer to go fucking bananas behind closed doors.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Morphine Drip of Binge TV

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I like humor. It's a defense mechanism to mask all of the internal pain pulsating through my veins. I prefer absurdist humor. The more absurd, the better. As soon as I was old enough and could stay up late to catch Saturday Night Live, I watched it religiously and I'm proud to say I learned most of my politics through SNL sketches. I got hooked on sitcoms as a little kid when Three's Company came on and I became infatuated with Jack Tripper living the swinging lifestyle in Santa Monica (and yes at least two times in my life I had a living situation when it was me with two other women, and this doesn't count the time I lived in a loft with my girlfriend and two roommates who were drag queens, which in itself could be its own sitcom). Cheers came along and I never missed an episodes and I wasn't even old enough to drink in bars, yet I loved every bit of it. When Seinfeld arrived, it blew the hinges off the door. It was wacky, absurd, and the characters were deplorable, which is why it was fucking hysterical.

David Lynch is hysterical in his own way, but it's not absurd, rather it's mundane. Lynchian humor in the same vein as postmodernist dark humor that magnifies the ridiculousness of mundane normalcy.

David Foster Wallace had the best explanation of "Lynchian" humor, which he explained on the Charlie Rose show... "Let's unpack the idea of Lynchian and what Lynchian means is something about the unbelievably grotesque existing in a kind of union with the unbelievably banal."

Enter Arrested Development. The show got cancelled in the mid-00s. Fucking network dildos in suits have zero taste and would rather give Justin Beiber's pet monkey his own reality show.

Subversive humor hits home hard. The Simpsons is such a fantastic show because of all the underlying shots they take at the ridiculousness of American society. I remember reading an article once in the early 90s about how that particular TV critic felt The Simpsons did a more accurate job portraying American family life than the most popular show at the time The Cosby Show.

Dysfunctional is kitschy in 2013. Some of the most popular sitcoms from the 90s paved the way, because they were centered around the zaniness of every day life in the family unit. That's why so many viewers identified with The Bundys and The Connors.

Arrested Development was a show ahead of its time. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks it was canceled because it was too subversive and too much of a social commentary on the worst aspects of American society -- greed, vanity, classicism, narcissism, and over-consumption. That's why it was such a great fucking show. But it was too clever and not your typical formulaic sitcom. The best kind of comedy is the kind that makes you laugh out loud and howl while it's happening, but then takes root and you realize sometime later (perhaps after  second or third viewing) when you realize that the joke is funny because there's some element to the truth about it.

I think I'm paraphrasing Hunter Thompson here when he said, "Only in America do people laugh when you tell them the truth."

I sort of binge-watched the new season of Arrested Development. It was released on Saturday at Midnight on a holiday weekend was genius because it gave rabid fans an opportunity to watch it all in one sitting or for the hardcore fans, it gave them a chance to watch it a second time. All day Saturday, one of the cable channels ran an Arrested Development marathon, so I was able to refresh my memory with some of the last season. I was still working at the time of the Midnight release so it wasn't until 2am or so that I put on the first episode. I showed a bit of restraint and only watched one because I had to get up early the next day for work. On Sunday and Monday I spread out five or six episodes during work breaks. I finally finished a two-week assignment on Monday night and as soon as I was done, I got schwasted and sat down to watch the rest.

This is not the first time I binged on a series. A couple months ago I went a little overboard with House of Cards. Once I started, I couldn't stop. So far, Netflix has released two series online -- House of Cards and the fourth season of Arrested Development. The fucktards at Fox gave up on Arrested Development and it failed to find a second home at Showtime. So they opted to shoot an entire season and release it on Netflix. All at once.

Is this the future of "television"? Instead of traditional network TV, will shows now release it all in one batch online (if not at Netflix, or Hulu, or some new streaming site) at the same time and fans can enjoy it without watching the same fucking car insurance commercial a thousand fucking times?

Last year while I was still recovering after an accident, I spent a ton of time confined to bed rest or couch rest. I was jacked up on pain pills and I revisited The Wire. Last year, in the anticipation of Aaron Sorkin's new show Newsroom, I wanted to catch up on his work on The West Wing. It was one of Nicky's favorite all-time TV shows. Shit, if a former Hollywood D-girl spoke highly of Sorkin's work on a regular TV show, then I knew it must have been good. In a two-week period (actually it was about 11 or 12 days), I tore through the first four seasons of The West Wing. Only four because those were the ones Aaron Sorkin wrote. Nicky had the first three seasons on DVD, so it was easy. I think I streamed the fourth online at Amazon. I noticed you can watch the rest of the season via Netflix, but I haven't been that bored... yet.

A couple of years ago, I caught up with Mad Men in one long weekend. Nicky loved the show and knew one of the actors (way before they got famous), so she watched it religiously. I watched a couple of episodes at the start of Season 3 and thought it was interesting, so I set aside a weekend to watch the first season. I scored a chunk of hash and tore through the first season in one day. I polished off the second season the very next day and at that point, I was caught up. That Mad Men weekend was the first time I found myself binging on a TV show.

Since then I've heard friends go on huge benders in which they watched an entire series in a huge gulp. I turned friends onto The Wire and they did it with that, or friends who never got a chance to see LOST. These binges are humorous, yet scary to see them exhibit the same behavior as hardcore drug addicts. Almost reminds me of the intoxicating Infinite Jest film from DFW's tome. Indeed, TV is the opiate of the masses. In this day and age, DVRs that allow you to record an entire season of a show for later binge consumption, or the ability to stream en entire season via Netflix (and they have a crazy option in which the next episode will play automatically at the end of an episode for continuous streaming). Ah behold the paralyzing powers of a live-streaming morphine drip.

Some of my friends have consumed all of Arrested Development and I'm eager to hear their thoughts. I know Dawn Summers had some mixed feelings about it.

If anything, I'm pretty ticked off that fucking Wonkette conned her way into writing an episode-by-episode recap of Arrested Development for Grantland. What the fuck? Did she give Bill Simmons a  handjob or something? Why the fuck is a politico-bloggess writing a recap (at a pace of two a week) about a comedy show? Sure, I could understand why she'd be an appropriate choice to recap House of Cards as someone who was a Beltway insider, but there's far more talented writers already on the Grantland staff who could have done a superior job. Yeah, that Wonkette shit sort of ticked me off. Stick to politics and lol-cats instgrams and let the stoners keep writing about TV and binge-entertainment

My thoughts on the new season of Arrested Development? I have to watch it again to fully formulate an opinion. Regardless, I was laughing out loud. A lot. Subversive humor and absurdist behavior is something that appeals to me. Plus, I thought Jessica Savage was fantastic. She's an MVP candidate and I'm so thrilled to see a major role go to a 70+ year old actress. Hollywood tends to throw out any actress over the age of 30, so to see an older actress show off her chops was really fucking cool.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Shaking up the Establishment, Sitting in Limbo, and Fading the Valley of Death

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Covering the 2005 WSOP

In 2005, I did something groundbreaking that shook up the establishment. I moved to Las Vegas and live-blogged the 2005 World Series of Poker on my dinky little poker blog, Tao of Poker. Over the first few weeks of the 6-week long festival of poker, I built up a rabid audience. By the time the Main Event (for you non-poker people, the Main Event is the last two weeks of the WSOP and it's what you see on ESPN) rolled around, Tao of Poker's traffic was redonkulously sick. Looking back at those salacious numbers, it makes me dizzy and jealous. I caught lightning in a bottle. Tao of Poker became a purple cow. I was in Las Vegas for less than two months during the summer of 2005 and in that short period of time I went from an unknown writer to "that guy from the Tao of Poker."

The popularity of Tao of Poker helped me launch a career as a poker reporter and freelance writer, but it also made me the #1 enemy in the eyes of the (poker media) establishment. This was smack in the middle of the glorious poker boom which had blossomed to a billion-dollar global industry overnight. At the 2006 WSOP, rules were instated specifically to prevent me and any other upstart websites from getting those million eyeballs during the World Series. Yeah, I got cockblocked by The Man and the powers that be instituted an hourly update rule. I couldn't post updates more than once an hour or I'd get my press credential revoked. I bitched and moaned about the new Draconian rules for a few days, but then I stopped feeling sorry for myself and plotted a new game plan. I did what my father (a former U.S. marine) taught me to do in the face of adversity... adapt and overcome.

That silly one-hour update rule was in effect from 2006 onward and all it did was protect the financial interests of whatever big media octopus decided to buy exclusive coverage and strangle the rest of poker media with its slithery tentacles. A precedent was set. Those exclusive official outlets were exposed as greedy fat cats because it was all about monetizing their monopoly on traffic than actually covering the WSOP. And of course, the overworked and underpaid kids doing all the grunt work were compensated peanuts and they never shared any of the millions in advertising dollars (from online poker rooms on a spending spree). Over the years, the official update fat cats reaped mega-profits from their monopoly. They wanted all the traffic and all the money. They became ruthless bullies trying to enforce those bullshit hourly updates rules. When it came down to it, they were afraid of one guy with a laptop.

After the 2005 WSOP, I got pushed off to the fringes of the burgeoning poker media industry, which is kind of where I belonged anyway. I liked it all the way out on the perimeter. It gave me a better perspective on the entire industry. It gave me tons of freedom to say what I want. But mostly, it allowed me to experiment with different ways of covering the WSOP through photos, podcasts, and even Twitter. In the end, I worked out a generous compensation package as an "affiliate" and the online poker rooms I pimped out did not give a shit what I wrote about so long as the traffic was bountiful and I sent them new players.

By the time the 2011 WSOP rolled around, Twitter was ubiquitous and the technology improved so everyone had an iPhone. Anyone could update the progress of the tournament. Anyone. That hourly embargo on information was obsolete. The now-bloated bloated media giants had become slow-moving dinosaurs on the verge of extinction.

In 2005, I'm was just one guy with a laptop and that scared the fuck out of the establishment. Just think about that simple fact, and apply it to the global marketplace and you'll start to wonder why all the titans of industry (across the board in all sectors) are shitting bricks right now. The dinosaurs are about to get slaughtered because they are unable to adapt to the sobering fact that millennials "won't pay dick" for content. The entire paradigm is shifting in media and Hollywood and in the music industry. I have no idea where it will end up but a firestorm is raining down fire and brimstone and it will eventually scorch the entire landscape. This apocalyptic battle of old media vs. new media is on the cusp of a resolution. And when it's over, the paradigm will finally recalibrate. The future is not pretty and filled with unicorns and rainbows. It's going to be a bleak winter of discontent like the gloomy scenes out of The Road. I've seen the horrors of journalistic cannibalism, and it's only going to get worse.

Anyway... sorry for that tangent.

2005 was a fine year. In March of 2005, a Vietnam veteran turned photographer and his tech-geek son (Flipchip and Poker Prof) hired me to help them cover the World Series of Poker for their Vegas-centric website. I moved to Las Vegas and the rest is history. I parlayed that original gig into a regular column in Poker Player Newspaper, and from there, I was poached by Fox Sports, who was seeking poker content for their new poker section, which was only in existence to compliment their foray into poker-themed television programming. I started writing for a couple of magazines, mostly new ones that came into existence for the sole purpose to create advertising space for dozens of brand new online poker rooms.

By the time I arrived at the 2006 WSOP, money was literally falling out of the skies. But underneath all the glitz and glamor was the underbelly of Sin City. The poker industry and the online gambling world had a wild wild wild west mentality. It's where former gangsters and web geeks met at the crossroads of commerce. I wrote all about the height of the poker boom in my book, Lost Vegas: The Redneck Rivera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker, which detailed my time in Las Vegas from 2005 through 2008, right at the apex of the financial crisis.

I wrote Lost Vegas as a cautionary tale. Millions of suckers bought into the American dream and the mythological notion of Las Vegas. They all took their shots... and missed. The house always wins. All of those gigantic gaming empires were amassed due to the unrealized dreams of broke-dick gamblers. Even for the few success stories, it was only a matter of time before their life leaks got the best of them and Sin City swallowed them whole.

After covering the World Series every summer since 2005, I took last summer off. During the 2011 WSOP, I was involved in a nasty car accident and I took that as a sign from God to get the fuck out of Las Vegas. I needed a break but I couldn't persuade myself to leave the circus. The universe made the decision for me and I hobbled away from a popular website. It was either the best decision I ever made, or I was committing blog-suicide.

After moving to San Francisco with my girlfriend and taking time off from the grind, I realized that was not mentally and physically prepared for another grueling summer in Vegas and made the wise choice to sit out and let the Tao of Poker go dark. You can't phone in a ginormous seven-week assignment like the WSOP and that's what would have happened if I took the money to return into the belly of the beast. Instead of compromising the quality of content on Tao of Poker and undermining my own integrity, I made the best possible choice I could make under those circumstances. I put Tao of Poker on indefinite hiatus.

There's a huge misconception that I hate poker and hate the WSOP. It's the complete opposite. I love poker and I'm eternally grateful to the WSOP. I have too much respect for the game of poker and the rich history of WSOP to do a half-assed job covering it. If anything, I hated myself more than anything else. The enemy is me. I loathed the metamorphosis that had turned me into a hollow shadow of someone I once knew. I'm surprised it took so long for the circus to corrupt me, but when we fall... we fall hard. I had succumbed to the dark side of the force (addiction is a son of a bitch) and needed to walk away from everything in order to pull myself out. Like I wrote last week in Speed Men, if I needed a crutch to stay on the field and cover the WSOP, then I shouldn't be there in the first place.

No one walks out of the Valley of Death. That's why it's fucking called the Valley of Death for a reason. I got lucky twice. I struck gold with Tao of Poker and in the process I got sucked into a vortex of the "heart of darkness", but I somehow found a way out and bolted to preserve my own sanity. I hope that if/when I return, that I can find the same way out again. If not, then once I return... I'm back in forever. No one walks out of the Valley of Death two times. No one.

I thought I would be back to writing half-baked tripe on the Tao of Poker by now and hoped the political climate would have improved by this summer, but it's still the same gridlock and in many influential circles online poker is still considered an outlaw pursuit (on the federal level) by the knuckleheads in DC. That's changing. Slowly. Even the puppets cannot resist change. The dinosaurs have been paying off the shifty-eyed shysters and snake-oil salesmen in DC to keep online gambling illegal (save for online betting of horse racing... ah, behold the deeply entrenched old boys network and the magic of "carve out legislation"). But all those old patrons are quickly dying off, which is why the racing industry has warmed up to online poker. It's not a question of "if", it's more of a matter of "when." Sportsbetting and online poker will eventually be legalized in America. It's just taking much longer than anyone wants to admit. Red tape is red tape. State rights vs. federal rights is a fucking nightmare and has been a struggle since the Founding Fathers sparked incendiary debates about it while designing the foundation of America. Then again, had the rebellious colonies lost the Revolutionary War, then we'd all be subjects of the British Crown, which legalized both sportsbetting and online poker. God save the Queen.

For now, the online poker world in the USA is caught in a murky grey area. It reminds me of that scene in The Great Gatsby when they are driving through the valley of ashes.

* * *

I'm sitting out the 2013 World Series of Poker. I was offered gigs to cover the WSOP for other sites, which I respectfully and politely declined. I even got a generous offer to reboot Tao of Poker. I could use the money, but I'm conflicted about returning to Vegas for another seven weeks of self-inflicted torture. I might be back next year... if the timing and price is right.

If you enjoyed Tao of Poker over the years, then head over to Bluff Magazine. They have my exclusive poker content and my archives can be found here. Last year Bluff launched a kick-ass mobile app, so you can read the current issue of the magazine on your hand-held devices.

If you're a hardcore poker junkie and seeking out some of the best and most comprehensive WSOP coverage this year, then check out updates from my colleagues on Bluff's website ( and follow them on Twitter (@BluffMagazine).

In the meantime, if you're looking for a poker fix, then purchase Lost Vegas. It's available on Nook and Kindle, and if you're a Luddite, you can even buy a physical copy. Not only to you get to read about the poker boom and the dark side of Vegas, but you get to support an independent writer in the process.

I'm just a guy with a laptop, who once shook up the establishment. I'd like to keep doing that, so please buy my books.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

2023: Pro Soccer, Green Zones, Internet Speakeasy and Cat TV

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Writing about the past is easy. Re-creating it inside my mind is fun, like playing back a videotape, but the images are crystal clear so it's easy to write what I see. I do not share my half-baked essays about the future here. Some things are best left with eyes unseen, besides, most of that stuff sounds like really terrifying and rambling sermon from a crooked preacher. My morbid thoughts on the future are too dark and apocalyptic, or it's the complete opposite and utterly sappy/hopeful. That's why I'd rather turn on the tap of the past and let those old memories flow out. It's easier to tap into the past. It's like that Kierkegaard quote about understanding life backwards. That's why I spend hours and hours trying to make sense of the past by writing up stories of different events that happened.

I might write extensively about the past, yet my non-writing mind is locked in on the future. I spend too many waking hours obsessed with the future. That's all I think about some days.

Here are a few random things that I think will be huge in 2023 and the ensuing decades...

1. Professional soccer in America

More Latinos are migrating to America from Mexico, Central America, and South America. More Eastern-Europeans are trickling over too. Not to mention the West Africans. Only 100 years ago, the bulk of migration came from Western Europe and Southern Europe. The current wave of immigrants love soccer. Their kids share the same passion and are better than American kids. The current system and sports-entertainment-media machine is not set up to promote soccer because you can't make money on it, but the demand is coming as soon as Big Media and the power brokers figure out pro soccer in America is an untapped gold mine worth billions. Within a decade, we'll see the first big push to bring soccer back into the mainstream (it's tried unsuccessfully several times before). Then comes the boom and the feeding frenzy. Eventually soccer will surpass American football in terms of popularity and in late 21st Century (2080s and 2090s), soccer will become a hotly-contested rival of baseball as the American past time.

Pele and the N.Y. Cosmos
By 2043, the NBA grows into a 48-team international sport with four divisions (Europe, North America, South America, and China/Asia/Australia), but by then the professional soccer boom would have washed over America a decade earlier, in which greedy team owners (global mega-corporations raking in trillions like JPMorganChase-BP-Warner Brothers-Halliburton) bribed sleazy politicians to divert educational funds to pay for a brand new ginromous soccer stadiums with luxury boxes, helipads, and sealed off sections for opposing hooligan fans.

Insider Tip: Invest in soccer-related domains, a soccer ticket scalping site, and an actual soccer franchise. Oh, and a sports book. Betting on soccer is already a billion dollar enterprise, just wait until America gets pro soccer and legalized internet sports betting.

* * * *

2. Green Zones

America is sliding into the financial crapper and we're one nasty bank run away from another Great Depression. I predict a dismal future with starving poor fight each other to the death on reality TV shows just to eat a bowl of gruel. America has kissed its Middle Class goodbye as we've become a nation of uber-wealthy ".1 percenters" and the rest (99.9'ers) are slave-wage mooks saddled in debt. We're already a third-world banana republic that's leveraged to the hilt with horrendous crime rivaling the worst of the worst in South America.

After the shit hits the fan, the rich will live on palatial estates in green zones, which are patrolled by private security firms owned by global mega-corporations (GoldmanSachs-Blackwater-Google-Nestle). Rural America becomes a no-man's land with roving bands of cannibals and Neo-Nazis bikers, while the bulk of have-nots struggle in giant ghettos comprised of disease-infested shanty towns and millions jam packed into the slums in 250-story concrete towers of squalor, like something out of Judge Dredd.

Insider Tip: Invest in private security firms from South Africa and Israel. There's billions of dollars up for grabs in security contracts for exclusive neighborhoods in major metropolitan areas. Fuck Beverly Hills Cop... how would you like to hold the fat, fat, fat contract for the Beverly Hills paramilitary patrol? Private contractors and former snipers driving armored SUVs and providing safe passage to/from Ivy, while keeping both paparazzi and armed East L.A. gangs away at a safe distance.

* * * *

3. Free Internet Speakeasy

What we know as the Internet today will not be the Internet of the future. No more net freedom. The days of sharing information freely and having access to anything and everything is over. The Patriot Act of 2021 will usher in the Sanitized Interwebs of the Nanny States of America a.k.a. SINSA. The Censorship Wing of the newly formed Ministry of Cultural Affairs (MCA) will handle the banishment of books deemed too subversive. When you do a news search using SINSA, you get funneled to corporate-run shill site or fed propaganda from the Department of Internet Defense (DID). In order to listen to music, or read books, or look up stuff the old-school way you'll have to visit underground internet cafes, like illegal bars in the basements of buildings during Prohibition. In these illegal dens of interweb iniquities, you will pay for an hour of "uncensored search capabilities" in which you can anonymously video chat, sext, play video games, watch banned films, research the truth, read underground blogs, or jack off to porn.

Of course, a entire new brand of sex club will flourish in the oncoming decades. The Russian mafia will always have a firm grasp on the sex trade industry and they'll run the bulk of these "sex net cafes." Instead of traditional peep booths, you can jerk off in a stall with a (sticky) laptop that gives you a full menu of porn that you cannot normally access through censored SINSA search engines. In fact on the SINSA whitewashed version of the internet, porn is considered a lucrative means to fund terrorists and thereby banned by the Department of Homeland Security.

These "free web" underground internet cafes already exist in China in 2013. To deter people from visiting or running these speakeasies, the Chinese government kidnaps and tortures the family members of people who visit these cafes. They make those troublemakers "disappear", and they execute anyone who get caught running an illegal internet cafe. In America the way things are headed (toward an internet kill switch), it's a matter of time before these "free web" speakeasies start popping up in and around college campus and major urban areas. In order to combat the rise of the internet speakeasy, the DID will have to form special wing of undercover Internet Cops (think 21 Jump Street meets Hackers), who get to infiltrate these free internet clubs, and then call in a SWAT raid.

Insider Tip: It's too risky to invest in a free web cafe. More money is to be made in web enforcement. Invest in software companies that detect rogue internet connections and sell that software for a redonkulous amount to DHS or DID or MCA.

* * * *

4. Cat TV

All cats. All the time. 24 hour cats. Nonstop reality shows about cat ladies and cat breeders and cats jumping all over themselves. You can also start a second channel called Kitten TV. All kittens. All the time. You'd die of overjoyed kitten ecstasy. Think about it. Everyone loves kittens, right? Creating a Cat Network (CN) and The Kitten Channel (TKC) is a fucking billion-dollar concept. Why hasn't a bunch of suits in Burbank conjured up with this game plan yet? Americans are so fucking dumb they'll watch anything these days, while some people hate their lives so much that they'll gladly lose themselves into a 24-hour cat-themed TV channel just to feel better about themselves. Kittens are instant mood enhancers. All cats and kittens... all the time. Everyone loves kittens and they'll make you melt every time you come across an episode of Box of Newborn Kittens.

Insider Tip: New TV stations are always desperate for content, so if you can come up with a somewhat decent cat-themed reality show, then you can print money with your idea to create a show called Cat Whisperer. Or how about... Cat Shrink? Or Cat Top Chef? The finest chefs competing to create the best culinary delights for felines? You can have Padma Lakshmi host in a cat suit. Me-fucking-ow.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bad Backs, Bad Manners, and I Know Why You Hate Baseball

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I threw out my back over the weekend.

If you have chronic back problems, then you feel my pain and vice versa.

Time is the only thing that can help me. I need time to rest and my body heal itself.

I spend too much time sitting in chairs. It's a job requirement as a writer. When you have to deal with back pain and forced to write through it, you have to become creative with figuring out how to gut it out without completely killing yourself.  I scrambled to figure out a different way to write... standing up.

I concocted a makeshift standup desk using a milk crate on top of my desk. I place the laptop on the milk crate and voila! It's the perfect height so that can type without any strain. The only problem is that after thirty minutes, my legs get achy and I'm forced to take a break. Normally, during a multi-hour writing/work session, I force myself to get up and take a five minute break every hour to stretch my leg, grab a smoke, refill a drink, walk outside around the building, check email on my Crackberry... all before I return to the office and get back to the grind.

With the makeshift desk, I have shorter spurts. I have to stop about twenty minutes in and stretch my back, doing weird exercises (a really bad fusion of Tai Chi and yoga) on Nicky's yoga mat in the living room. During a bad back day, I'm only getting about 40 minutes of work done for every hour versus the usual 55 minutes of productivity per hour.

Such is life. I'm getting older. I have chronic back issues. It's a trade off I made with God. He let me survive two car accidents in Las Vegas, but in exchange, I'm afflicted with random back pain for the rest of my life. It's not a bad deal, then again, it was an offer I couldn't refuse. So now, mostly every day I am reminded about the randomness of the universe and humbling nature of life. Only God can shoot dice with the universe. We're just along for the ride.

Once you get diagnosed with back pain, you're never the same. It's a day to day thing, much like life. Most of the time you're sore but you suck it up and gut it out. Every once in a blue moon, it's not pretty and you're rendered inoperable. You shut down. Nothing you can do about it. Whenever I throw out my back and confined to bed rest, it makes me truly appreciate the good days.

And on the bad days? It's kind of depressing. Doctors orders: bed rest. It's hard for me to do that because I'm an active person (especially my brain) and not someone who enjoys inactivity. At the same time, I don't sleep much so being in bed is torture. The only solace... books and Netflix (via iPad).

During the most recent stretch of bad back days, I tore through a bunch of books, several of which I needed to read for specific projects, so at the least, I felt more productive while confined to bed rest. I haven't figured out how to write in bed... and it's probably best I don't. Although, I developed a nasty habit that flared up in the middle of the night. Normally when I wake up and can't sleep, I'll get up and go into my office to write or watch documentaries until my eyes get heavy and I head back into the bedroom. But during the back back days, I'm stuck in bed and Nicky is fast asleep next to me, and I don't know what I can do that won't wake her. I got hooked on Marc Maron's WTF podcast, but I caught up with all of his recent episodes and eagerly awaiting the next one. So, my options are limited to Tiger Woods golf on iPad until the battery runs dry, and then I'm forced to dick around with my CrackBerry. The last thing I want to get lost in the static on Twitter and get titled by some stupid shit. That's when I started writing long emails to myself via CrackBerry. But then my fingers get tired after 15-20 minutes and I stop. But a couple of those late night rambling emails were transformed into Tao of Pauly posts, like parts of this one. Even while stuck in bed in the middle of the night, I'm trying to do something creative to keep me sane.

Most people would love to stay in bed and watch Netflix all day while jacked up on pain pills. And yeah, it's fun... for the first few hours... and then you get sucked into that dream-like fog and feel completely separated from reality. It doesn't help that you're watching nonstop movies or TV shows -- which are vehicles for you to displace your reality. So, you're crocked on pain pills and your mind is stuck in that tweaked reality and its easy to get sucked into that foggy and groggy world.

You'd be surprised how easy it is to get brainwashed by flickering images and powerful music to manipulate emotions. That's why I'm concerned with people who sit around and watch reality shows all day, because eventually all of that uncouth and aberrant behavior is becoming the norm. Everywhere. The average person knows that its wrong to behave like reality show participants -- who shout at each other and act like total selfish morons -- however, if that's the only thing you watch night after night, after a while, you'll start to mimic that behavior.

That is what is freaking me out the most... millions of people who treat each other like shit because they lost all semblance of civility, common sense, and good manners. Half the sheeple have been spooked by the fear mongers on news channels and they bury their heads in the sand while corporations rape and pillage America, and the other half of the sheeple have been brainwashed by horrible reality TV shows.

We're doomed.

That's why we need to read more books. Books force the reader to use their imagination. Books forces you to use your brain. What a novel idea! Read books to massage your brain muscles and get entertained at the same time.

What readers don't realize is that they are the director, cinematographer, and art director all rolled into one whenever they read a book. I'll write the scene, but you'll have to conjure it up in your head.

Book haters loathe books because they don't want to think. That's why sports or movies are enjoyable and have gross mass appeal because you don't have to think to enjoy it. Hey, I love zoning out every once in a while and watching a good flick. I'm an avid sports fan and enjoy the couple of hours I can devote to enjoying a sport and losing myself in the moment or getting sucked up in pleasurable memories of said sport.

I came up with a generalization based on sports based upon my amateur pursuit of psychology. Don't forget, I'm not a real doctor, but I play one on the internet.

Anyway here it is:

If you hate baseball, then you had a bad childhood.

Emphasis is on "hate." I should clarify my blanket half-baked statement. If a male tells me they hate baseball, then I assume they did not have a good childhood or had a difficult relationship with their father. If I meet a woman who loves baseball, then I can assume she had a very strong relationship with her father.

In case you were wondering... some of the warmest memories I have are playing ball with my brother and father in the school yard on those hazy, lazy summer nights in the Bronx. I loved baseball as a kid. I even wrote about the time my father was named head coach of my little league team. It's titled... The Accidental Coach.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Speed Men

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

My breaking point is 40 hours. If I stay awake anything past 40, then its really fucking ugly. As an insomniac, I can stay awake for 24 hours without blinking. I often joke that I was born on a different planet that had 30 hour days instead of 24, which is why I have trouble going to sleep at a normal time. I had stints due to work (or work-related travel) in Vegas or during serious benders on Phish tour in which I stayed up for 2 days in a row. I think I only surpassed the 50-hour mark a couple of times. That's such a dark and terrifying place that I hope you never get to experience the physiological changes that occurs due to sleep deprivation.

You need sleep to keep you sane. If you don't get enough rest, then your mind runs rampant and you turn into a hysterical zombie. That's why meth is such a nasty drug. It's not the actual effects that will do you in, rather it's the prolonged effects of sleep deprivation that drives you insane and makes you do stupid shit like take apart your toaster to see if GE is spying on you, or decide to dig a hole to China in your neighbor's backyard.

If you watch Mad Men, then you know about last night's episode titled The Crash. By the way, if you're looking for funny recaps Mad Med, head over to Grantland and read Molly Lambert. She consistently nails it week after week.

If you haven't watched last night's The Crash episode yet, or not caught up yet with this season, then you probably should not read the rest of this post because it may contain some spoilers. Consider this a charity disclaimer. But then again, I really don't give a fuck about your viewing habits. I have a small window to write and I'm going to crank this out while the episode of the themes from The Crash are still fresh in my mind.

Speed. It's a crazy drug. The hippies saw the horrors of speed, which is where the tagline "Speed kills" originated in San Francisco. Marijuana and mushrooms are natural gifts from the gods, but speed is manufactured by the Man in sinister labss. The Germans invented speed. The Japanese perfected it. Soldiers during WWII (on both sides) were crocked to the tits on speed. The military dubbed them "Go" pills. In the wake of the Cold War, the Air Force perfected a new pill that would allow bomber and fighter pilots to fly 24-hour missions over the Arctic Circle and stay alert during the opening moments of WW3 with the Russians.

If you have a prescription to Adderall today, then you should thank the U.S. military for their willingness to create a magic pill that gives you the right amount of pep in your step and helps you concentrate, but with built in landing gear so you don't crash. Hard.

That's the inherent problem with speed. What goes up, must come down. When you crash from speed, it's not pretty. It's fucking ugly. But somehow, Big Pharma tweaked and tested and figured out the perfect mixture of a series of amphetamine salts in Adderall that will give you a prolonged buzz, but it won't absolutely tear out your innards while you're coming down.

Cocaine is like getting shot of a cannon. But the euphoria lasts maybe five minutes, or ten minutes max. That's why my favorite drug joke is this...
Q. When is the best time to do a line of cocaine?
A. Right after you did a line of cocaine.
The problem with cocaine is that it doesn't last long. Do a line, get gacked, then ten minutes later, you're rushing back into the bathroom to do another line.

What I liked about Adderall was that it felt more like cocaine and less like speed, except that you never came down. Once you got up in the atmosphere, you stayed there for several hours. Soaring. Flying high. It was truly a wonder drug. Cocaine high in pill form.

My married friends (particularly middle-aged moms) often hit me up for Adderall. It's easy to function with little to no sleep in your 20s. It's a struggle in your 30s. It's impossible in your 40s.

Back in the 1960s, "Mother's Little Helper" was a barbiturate or downer that helped get them through suburban malaise.  But today's postmodern soccer moms need a little extra ooooomph. Raising a family in the 21st Century requires an abundance of energy, so anything that helps get your ass in gear on sluggish days is a godsend.

I dabbled in Adderall, but I don't touch the stuff anymore. I think if I wrote better on Addys, then I'd be crushing those fuckers up and snorting them nonstop. As is, Addys gave me tunnel vision and hindered the creative process. Nothing can ever top a hit off the old peace pipe for the supreme writing buzz, but Adderall is something that is... 1) more suited for editing, or 2) a miracle drug for "all nighters."

My friends and I often joked that the 2010 World Series of Poker (WSOP) was really the World Series of Speed (WSOS). I had access to an Adderall prescription and several of my friends (both reporters and poker pros) regularly took the drug. For a 24/7 city like Las Vegas, a drug like Adderall is a necessity. It allows you to keep going and going and going and going and going.

In early 2005, I played poker at an underground club in NYC. At the time, a friend of mine was a grad student and she would not stop hyping up the joys of playing poker on Adderall. She used to take it to help study, but supposedly it was an immense booster at the poker tables because it helped her stay awake and allowed her to read players better. After I moved to Las Vegas and took a job in the poker industry, I quickly found out that cocaine and meth were old world drugs and that synthetics and pharmaceuticals were the new rage. The new generation of poker players were being funneled through the online poker realm. Most of those players were college-aged, so they were already familiar with the effects of Adderall for helping cram during exams.

In some ways, Adderall and other variants were dubbed smart drugs by Big Pharma. I always wondered if Adderall should be banned at poker tournaments because it is a performance-enhancing drug. The NFL put Adderall on the list of banned substances because it is a derivative of amphetamines. But I also know that if poker tournaments started drug-testing its participants, then no one would show up to play. You can only drink so much Red Bull or Starbucks to stay awake.

When I first got into the poker biz, I relied on my chronic insomnia to get me through tough stretches. As an insomniac, I was used to staying up late and being perpetually tired. Plus, when you're passionate about something, nothing can hold you back. The ability to write (well) while tired, coupled with the pure love of the game, carried me for the first few years in Vegas. But as soon as I became a jaded vet and middle-age crept in, I found myself struggling to tap into my internal energy reserves. I was surrounded by emotional vampires. I was running on empty and used up the last of the vapors. I was dunzo.

That's when I turned to Adderall during the summer of 2010. It was "my little secret how I got ahead." Well, not really. Everyone was doing it. I have an uncanny ability to look someone in the eyes and know precisely what drug their on. Just wander into any poker room and Vegas and you can easily spot the stoners from the kids cooking on Adderall. They have the same glossy gaze in their vacant eyes like cocaine-eyed starlets.

I did not cover the 2012 WSOP. I skipped it for the first time in seven years. The reasons are too numerous for me to discuss in this pithy post, but one of the contributing factors was age. When I got into poker, I had just turned 30. A decade whizzed by and I was approaching 40. It's impossible to work 16-18 hour days, seven days a week, for seven weeks straight without some sort of pharmaceutical enhancements. If I am unable to perform the job as a reporter without the assistance of high-grade Big Pharma speed, then I should not be doing the job in the first place.

I never understood why athletes took steroids until the summer of 2010. I finally got it. I felt like Eddie Harris from Major League. He was an aging veteran pitcher who needed to doctor the baseball in order to get outs and stay in "The Show." When he was younger, he could blow fastballs by his opponents. As an aging veteran with his arm barely attached to the rest of his worn-down body, he needed to do whatever it took to stay on the field and compete.

I had a job to do. I was getting paid big bucks to cover the WSOP on the Tao of Poker. I opted for a shortcut. I barely survived the 2010 WSOP, and wrote a couple of great pieces along the way (e.g. Most Likely You'll Go Durrrr's Way (And I'll Go Mine) and the Odium of Hellmuthstein), but when it was all over, I felt as though I cheated. I didn't have the same satisfaction that I had from previous summers.

I felt miserable.

I felt like a fraud (more so than usual).

I felt like a cheating whore.

I finally knew what it felt like to be Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa the year they chased Roger Maris' record. Be careful what you wish for, because if you take shortcuts to get there, you'll be haunted with the demoralizing truth that you needed an extra turbo-boost.

Sure, I'm being hard on myself about an Adderall prescription. I wasn't taking it to write better, rather, I was taking it to stay awake and be able to work 18-hour days, go home write, then come back and repeat the process. Many reporters took Adderall (and other derivatives) that summer. Thousands of poker players did too. I'm sure so did the poker dealers. And anyone else who had to hump late-night shifts. Heck, plenty of people have to take happy pills every single day in order to avoid clinical depression. Does that mean they're cheating too and their work is tainted as well?

I stopped taking Adderall in 2011, and for the most part, the 2011 WSOP was a sober series. I was stubborn and wanted to rely on my natural abilities. But, I might have popped it a couple of times -- as a last resort -- which was something I was cool with. In small doses (like once or twice over a 2 month stretch), Adderall can be a helpful wonder drug. If you abuse it, it will hallow out your soul and you'll end up a chatterbox speed freak with a million stupid ideas.

So I skipped the 2012 WSOP because I felt as though if I was physically unable to perform the job, then I shouldn't be doing it. I feel similar about the 2013 WSOP. If/when I return sometime in the future, my goal is to be able to maximize a peak performance but without the assistance of Big Pharma.

Which brings me back to last night's episode of Mad Men. In The Crash, the ad firm -- SCDPGCC -- is pulling an all-nighter over a weekend in order to prepare a new ad campaign for Chevy. The company got paid mega-bucks to deliver ideas, so they had to dance like a monkey. In order to keep the creative juices flowing, one of the partners called up his "witch" doctor. He was one of the many Upper East Side physicians who prescribed the rich and famous a concoction that was essentially B-12 and high-grade speed. The Beatles sung about those types of nefarious doctors with their song Doctor Robert. Aretha Franklin sang its merits with Dr. Feelgood.

Shit, feeling down in the dumps? Just call Dr. Feelgood.

In 2013, I have no idea how many kids are being prescribed speed for their ADHD. I have no idea how many college students and  how many professionals are being written prescriptions. All I know is that Big Pharma is raking in billions in profits on legalized speed. Starbucks and Red Bull are raking in dough as well because their products keep people a wake.

My greatest societal fear in a horrible natural disaster. The looting or losing electricity doesn't concern me as much as the tipping point when people drugged up on happy pills and fried to the tits on Adderall inevitably run out of their meds and then they crash hard and go berserk. That's when you'll really see the zombie apocalypse and people eating each other faces... when all the pharmies wear off.

Speed kills. That's no fucking joke.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Whiskey and Ice Cream

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

"I have to stop watching this movie," Nicky screamed. "Why am I watching Greenberg when I fucking live it? I am the Florence character. All I do is drive your grumpy ass around L.A. and run errands like fetching you whiskey and ice cream sandwiches."

For the record, I like ice cream sandwiches but I don't drink whiskey anymore. To quote that Widespread Panic song, "Whiskey makes my eyes look mean."

I have Irish blood pumping through my veins, well, at least 50% of it. The last thing I'm going to do is get loaded on liquid plutonium every night and hope I don't set off a nuclear implosion with my fiery temper.  Whiskey escalates it; marijuana sedates it.

Booze and cocaine destroyed some of my favorite writers. I actively avoid both because I still cherish life and have a couple of more things I have to write before I die, which I won't be able to do if I crawl inside a bottle or collapse my nostrils by snorting Bolivian marching powder.

The older I get, the more I adhere to the main key to life by Johnny Hughes (former rock-n-roll manager, gambler, and author): "You only need one girl, one vice, and one drug. Anything more than one is instant trouble."

Now, that's some deep shit from a true wise man that has lived the hard live on the road. It's not an easy life, but most of the time we fuck stuff up because we make things more complicated than they really are. If you're not getting suffocated by your own neurosis, then you'll drown in your own self-loathing.

Director Noah Baumbach (Squid and the Whale and Greenberg) and I have a lot in common, mostly because we grew up roughly the same era in NYC. Yet, we also had a totally different experience because he had bohemian/intellectual parents supporting his pursuit of the arts. I only went to Wall Street because 1) I like to gamble, and 2) it would get my family off my back. I fell into that role at two different times. And in both instances, one day I woke up and realized I was living in someone else's movie. I was living someone else's idealized life. It wasn't mine. One day you're numb to everything and the next you're sitting on a subway wondering why you are wearing someone else's clothes.

Every once in a while, you get to break out of that song you're imprisoned in, or bust out of that glossy Hollywood film where you were only a mere actor (and you're dreaded parents the cantankerous director and duplicitous producer). The most exhilarating moments in life occur when you improvise and go off the script. It drives purists berserk, but it's what makes life worth living.

Breaking out of someone else's narrative isn't easy. Literature, art, film, music is filled with the heartache surrounding that disconnect. Walking away from someone else's scripted life is painful. Miserable. But once you go your own way... the relief is immense and the freedom is intoxicating.... until all of those lofty and fleeting feelings pass, you're still wrought with anxiety and fearful of the future. But heck, at least it's your choice and you're not filling the roles of one-dimensional characters that you're parental units and society wanted to thrust you in. That's why they (they = parents, teachers, society et al) make rebellion as insufferable as possible. Blazing a new path is a lonely pursuit as an individual. But as a group and collective, a rebellious pursuit can bring the system to its knees. That's the real reason why the government outlawed LSD. They originally thought dosing the public would turn the masses into sheeple, but instead it enlightened the masses and turned them against the machine.

The kids today are rebelling, but it's not like what happened in the 60s with massive protests and flower power. Today's revolution is happening on the internet. Millennials refuse to pay for anything. They indirectly have crashed Hollywood and the recording industry and the publishing industry. It wasn't a noble pursuit like their hippie parents who wanted the throw a monkey wrench into the gears of capitalism. Rather, these e-kids are simply too pampered coddled,and entitled, and that acute selfishness has fueled the current revolution, which has brought major institutions to their knees. The paradigm has shifted so quick and so fast that the white-bred dinosaurs got caught with their pants down. The old guard can no longer control the new guard, so now they'll rush to those used car salesmen in DC and beg them to shut down the internet, or reform the internet, or do something to keep those meddling kids from fucking up their rackets.

Sorry for the tangent. Back to Greenberg.

If you haven't seen it (trailer is here), it's on HBO a lot these days Greenberg is about a morose New Yorker who doesn't drive and he moves to L.A. for six weeks to house sit for his uber-rich brother. He fails to reconnect with a group of friends he knew in his 20s. And to complicate matters, he screws up a relationship with his brother's assistant. All the while, he doesn't drive and feels like an alien visiting another planet.

Several scenes from Greenberg hit home. They hit home too hard for Nicky, which is why she couldn't keep watching it. Sure, I'm an exaggerated version of Greenberg, but there are moments he says things that I've actually said, or thought. The best dialogue is not some smarmy Sorkin dialogue, or a witty repartee by Mamet, but it's the matter of fact lines that match the internal chatter running inside my head. That's why I dig Noah Baumbach so much because he's able to write simple lines that are embedded with complex internal issues. So whenever Greenberg talks, it's sort of like hearing myself think out loud.

No wonder Nicky was freaked out.

The other day I woke up and realized I was Greenberg from Greenberg. This scene from the film is the perfect way to describe me in Los Angeles... a lonely march uphill.

Everyone at some point, most men my age wake up in the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime. "You may ask yourself, 'how did I get here?'"

It's at that precise point you question the cliche of a life you're living. Most of the time, you accept that's what your role is. "Same as it ever was." If you don't, well then you're ensconced in a mid-life crisis. I never had a mid-life crisis, because I have weekly existential skirmishes with myself, so all of that angst doesn't build up and result in a destructive Vesuvius-like explosion. I liken my weekly bouts with existentialism like that scene in Fight Club when Ed Norton is beating the shit out of himself. That's me. Whaling away on my own dense skull. I lived so hard and fast in my 20s that I never thought I'd make it to 30, and frankly, I didn't care. And then in my 30s, I caught a big break and finally had a shot to do something as a writer, and that's all I focused on was not fucking up that opportunity. But along the way, I lost sight of everything I originally set out to do.

Last year, I woke up one morning in San Francisco, and I was in a Talking Heads song with a beautiful wife in a beautiful house, wondering how the fuck did I get there and cognizant that 40 is just around the corner?

I first enjoyed Greenberg as a dark comedy because it was about a New Yorker who lived in L.A. and didn't drive anywhere. I mean, that's totally my next novel. But the more I watch the film, the more I begin to understand how the film is a neat parallel for my relationship with Los Angeles. One of the opening parts of the film is Florence driving in her car, and you get to see L.A. like everyone else sees it... from inside a car. The first dialogue is a skiddish Florence asking if she could merge into a lane. That's so fucking L.A. that I missed it the first time I saw the flick. For me, that's the quintessential L.A. experience because I'm sitting in the passenger seat while Nicky drives around. The bulk of my L.A. experience that opening scene. Trapped inside an insular bubble as daily life whizzes by.

It's days like today when I miss riding the Muni in San Francisco, which smelled like cheap old-lady perfume, urine, BO, weed, and Chinese herbs.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

No Soap Radio

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

My fellow jaded and pharmaceutically-enhanced members of Generation X know about how radio was the shit back in the day before MTV burst in like a mafia hitman and unloaded two taps to the back of radio's head.

The post-war apartment building where I grew up in the Bronx was not wired for cable. At the time in the early 1980s, cable was literally a box the size of a cigar box with an on and off switch. When it the box was "on" you got either HBO (Home Box Office) or Sportschannel. My cousins in New Jersey had something called "Showtime", which showed first-run movies like Jaws or Apocalypse Now. I essentially grew up on 6 TV channels -- 3 majors networks, 2 locals, and PBS.

Yes. Six.


That's it.

Sometimes, we were able to pick up Long Island's PBS station, but it was often fuzzy and the same programming as NYC's PBS. I was limited to six stations, but you know what? I didn't mind much. I didn't know any better. This was the start of the 1980s. Things were looking up. The Islamic fundamentalists finally released the hostages in Iran, and a bunch of snot-nosed college punks beat the unbeatable and mighty Soviet Union hockey team.

Despite brief glimmers of hope, times were tough. Gotham was in decay. NYC was broke. I also had to walk to school barefoot in the snow and had to fight off baseball-bat wielding gang members with painted faces and make-shift Yankees uniforms.

Okay. Neither the snow or gang thugs are true, but when I saw The Warriors as a kid, I was freaked out that the rival gangs roamed the subways stations at night.

So, we had 6 TV stations and I had memorized the TV Guide. I only had a handful of Atari games, so my entertainment options were limited. I read a ton of books. But mostly when I think about the halcyon days of my childhood, I think about playing sports in the schoolyard (hoops and stickball... yes, my brother and I played a lot of stickball and another game indigenous to NYC called "Stoop") and riding my bicycle throughout the neighborhood (without a helmet). Yes, when nothing was on TV, we went outside to play.

My only real cultural outlet was the radio. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, the radio was the pulse of the outside world. But then again, radio was no better and in the process of becoming corporatized, but at least there was something to connect a kid from the Bronx to the outside world. The DJs were arbiters of taste. If I heard a song on Z-100, then it must have been cool.

Like many kids growing up in the 80s, I did not have too many options but to cherry pick musical tastes from the radio. I was the oldest so I didn't have older siblings to pass along their musical tastes (like Cameron Crowe's sister in Almost Famous giving him her albums when she fled to San Francisco). My parents weren't hippies. My father was much older than my mother and he was straight out of Mad Men. Although my parents lived through the 1960s, they had the mentality of the  1950s and never embraced the 1960s. My mom was the daughter of immigrants, so she had an incredibly sheltered life. My father was too square for counterculture and let the ever-changing nebulous world of the 1960s pass him by while he crawled inside a liquor bottle for the next several decades. I guess one of the reasons I like Mad Men so much is that I'm trying to figure out what my parents were like before they met and before I was born.

My father never listened to music. The only music-related moment happened one night he was drunk and driving us home from a WWF Monday Night Wrestling match at MSG and Lionel Richie's song All Night Long came on the radio and he started to sing along in drunken gibberish while speeding on the West Side Highway. It was scary at the time, but a funny story to tell today.

My mom (and my aunt, who lived around the corner from us) had an extensive record collection, but it was mostly early Beatles and calypso music like Harry Belafante and uber-mellow shit like Helen Reddy. She had a handful of Motown records, but she primary listened to the Golden Oldies radio station, which played a ton of Motown.

When I think about the radio, I have three early memories that are as clear as when I experienced them as a young child.
1. My mother playing Motown on the Oldies station.

2. Listening to Yankees games on the radio with the "The Scooter" (a.k.a Phil Rizzuto) giving the play-by-play.

3. My father shaving with a radio playing in the bathroom. I always woke up hearing 1010 WINS in the background. Their tagline has been imprinted into my memory banks: "If you give us 22 minutes, we'll give you the world."
My earliest musical memories is Motown on the radio. That's not a bad primer and foundation to have as a musical base all things considered. Of course, the rest of my music education was up to me. Without cable and access to MTV, I relied on the few music-themed shows on TV like American Bandstand, Soul Train, and Friday Night Videos. In order to catch live performances, I had to stay up late and catch bands on Saturday Night Live. The first time I saw The Clash? They were the music guest when Ron Howard hosted SNL in 1982 (I think).

I relied on the radio and my high shcool classmates to turn me onto music. I started out high school listening to Top 40 stations in NYC (primarily Z-100) and then slowly moved over to classic rock (K-Rock and NEW) and faint-signaled college radio (either Fordham or Columbia) by the time I graduated high school. My musical interests changed dramatically when I went to high school in Manhattan and met kids with excellent taste in music. Once again, I cherry picked from the bands they adored. I bought cheap cassettes in Chinatown and I gave blanks to friends, who made me copies of their favorite albums. This was at a time when I was introduced to mix tapes. Eventually, I started visiting Tower Records in the Village and near Lincoln Center. I probably wasted weeks in both stores looking around mesmerized at the vast musical archives broken up into different genres. Friends were very good at stealing tapes. Me? I was too chicken-shit, but I the only thing I ever shoplifted from Tower Records was Greatest Hits by The Cars.

Eventually, I learned that Top 40 radio was set-up to sell ad space and that songs were played usually to boost record sales. I still listened to sports and the occasional blacked-out Yankees game on the radio. Plus, I enjoyed the wackos who called into WFAN during the infancy of the all-sports radio station.

As I slowly accumulated more and more albums and built up a music collection, I listened to the radio less and less. The only exception was King Biscuit Flower Hour on Sunday nights at Midnight and they played excerpts from live Grateful Dead concerts. I started to get into The Grateful Dead when I was 16. I had caught my first show at MSG when I was 15 and got hooked. The first CD I ever purchased was Skeletons in the Closet, which essentially was a melange of greatest hits that every classic rock station in America frequently played like Sugar Magnolia, Truckin', Uncle John's Band, One More Saturday Night, and my favorite Dead song... Casey Jones. I used to piss off the neighbors by cranking up Skeletons.

I moved to Atlanta for college. The radio down there sucked. Too many country stations. But luckily, my new batch of friends turned me onto a whole new universe of music. But that's a story for another time.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Late Night With My Pickled Brain

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Low hum.
Whirling micro fans.
Silver shovels, bronze spray tans.
Gold dust women out-running the shadows.
Soothing rain completes me.

Zagging and zigging and zugging.
Through easy traffic.
Passing truckers loaded with loads of trinkets.
Made by the tiny hands of exploited Chinese children.
Jobs that union men once did before they became dinosaurs.

Scorched Earth and empty orange groves.
Dry sea. Wet air. Upside down flock of seagulls.
Mudslides. Discarded empties.
Corroded car batteries. Splintery benches.
Governor doesn't know where he slept last night.

Loaded dice. Sleight of hand.
Hijacking dreams when people sleep.
Inserting intrepid memories.
Biting my lip in my sleep.
Traveling in crowded buses, but in someone else's dream.

These things are not easy to explain when understanding is even harder.
It's that... it's just... it's not easy.
Art is art.
Until it becomes self indulgent tripe.
Tripe, if seasoned and prepared properly, can become a gourmet dish.

We have selective memory as a community.
We have myopia as a country.
And even then, we can't trust ourselves.
Can you look in the mirror and not throw a stone?
The house of cards will collapse on Humpty Dumpty.

Revisionist memories have staged a coup inside our head.
Erasing and deleting.
Eliminating the awkward and smudging out the miserable.
Extinguishing thought terrorists.
Squishing them like doomed ants.

Spin. Propaganda. Hyperbole.
History is written by the winners.
Like a fascist state.
Ordering the ministry of education to re-write history books.
Future generations will only learn about half-truths.

And never know who flatters the prince the most.
We stare at clocks four seconds too slow.
Mixing cocktails with toxic spirits.
Chafed encounters.
Drenched. Absorbed. Saturated.

Bon Jovi's frazzled 80's hair is the cultural equivalent to elephant diarrhea.
The excess of the "me" decade makes everything else seem underhanded.
The haves own everything.
The have-nots barely have $14 in their checking account.
We stopped cultivating culture.

Evasive phone messages.
Senseless guilt.
Despicable focus.
Reading books you shouldn't be reading.
Silently judging the supercilious culture.

I knew a rich girl who had no clue about the external world.
When she was 10, she ate gourmet cheese sandwiches.
She ask her maids what was it like to ride the subways.
Now she's getting married in Santa Fe.
I pretended the post office lost the invite.

Hatred shouldn't exist.
Yet it thrives in a petri dish the size of Los Angeles.
Try to understand the evolution of a sitcom plot.
Examine the impressive scholarly arguments.
Declare your profound ambivalence.

Addicts cannot contain themselves.
Roaming the slums for a 24-hour product.
Humanize the experience.
Sad and feral.
The flicker of the TV in the darkness makes me feel less alone.

Cat ladies die on couches.
Urine soaked carpets beneath their feet.
The pungent aroma of ammonia.
The famished cats fed on her toes.
Then they ate each other.

Illogical infantile pleasures.
Be wary of excessive pleasures.
Dangerous daydreams.
We are only vehicles.
But when you're brain stops, that's it.

Close your eyes.
It all continues.
The distilled thoughts.
The muted memories.

Raids with masks.
The bad guys always wore masks and black hats.
Lack of participation in the ponzi scheme makes them suspicious.
The thinkers will be marginalized.
Unless they buy into the snazzy commercials pitching fancy red cars.

The moon's gravity is 1/6th of Earth.
Astronauts and their movements were handicapped.
Slaves to their own bulky space suits.
Do you dream in outer space?
And what do cosmonauts' farts smell like?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Cutting Room Floor

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Last summer I participated in a interview for a documentary film on the poker boom titled "Bet Raise Fold." The crew came to L.A. and interviewed me in my living room. I have not seen the final cut, but one of my "scenes" was deleted.

Here it is...

I think the film debuts sometime this summer. For more info visit their website... Bet Raise Fold.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Starbucks Hell, 90210

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I found a rare empty seat at the Starbucks a couple of blocks away. Although I live on the wrong side of the demarcation line by a mere block, the Starbucks is on the right side of the tracks and considered Beverly Hills territory.

I sat down opened up a book. It took a mere 90 seconds before the fake-tanned shit-stain at the adjacent table put me on mega-tilt by talking loudly on the phone. I got a quick reminder why I avoided Starbucks at that time of the day (specifically 2pm). The conceited clientele. Wow, talk about a miserable and insufferable bunch of fucktards.
Customers at Beverly Hills Starbucks at 2pm on a weekday:
1. Nannies
2. MAWs (Models, Actresses, Whatever)
3. Suits
4. Screenwriters
The non-white nannies employed in Beverly Hills take care of bourgeois babies with a pretentious names like Bella and Jayden. The nannies hog up aisle space pushing around gigantic top-of-the-line strollers (the size of Mini-Coopers). They're often spotted flipping through US Weekly while talking on their antiquated cellphones, presumably complaining about their slave-wage job and venting to another bored nanny.

The emaciated MAWs, clad in yoga-pants two-sizes too small or some other work-out attire, have immaculate make-up on their faces. They have not eaten more than 200 calories a day since 2002 and at least three of them tried out to be a Lakers Girl. The not-so-bright MAWs send the cashier on mega-tilt while rattling off their order in a condescending manner. The MAWs make a simple order of a "skinny sugar-free vanilla latte" more complicated that it should be. They take turns going to the bathroom to throw up. Oh, and they never fucking tip.

The suits don't really wear suits and most of them don't even have a tie or suit jacket with them because it's 82 degrees outside and only shyster lawyers or the head coach of the Lakers actually wear a suit and tie in this town. The consortium of independent business types are incessantly yapping away on their phones, mostly trying to show off in a weak-ass attempt to impress the model-types. Nine out of ten of these suits are struggling real estate dickwads (a high percentage of which are still digging themselves out of debt post-housing crash). Oh, and the other token suit is a wanna-be Ari Gold who hogs up all of the power outlets and trying to play super agent while desperately trying to sign the kid who played McLovin from Super Bad.

The screenwriters are the easiest to spot because they're the only ones not talking. They're all unshaven, mostly smell like weed and/or cigarettes, and wearing either a NY Yankees hat or an over-sized t-shirt featuring some sort of comic book brand. The writers diligently peck away on weathered MacBooks while re-working the third act denouement in their knock-off Fitfty Shades scripts.

If you want exact numbers, it's roughly: 45% suits, 25% unkempt writers, 17% MAWs, 10% Nannies, and 3% miscellaneous.

Now, I have to remind you that this breakdown only happens before 2pm, because once it gets closer to 3pm, all of the high school and middle school kids invade Starbucks. When school lets out, the Starbucks becomes a zoo and the noise level quickly rises to annoying and uncomfortable levels. The nannies with strollers leave and they're replaced by a new batch of nannies who are tasked with buying blended Ice Mochas for the spoiled kids in their care. The suits react by talking louder and louder. The writers snarl, pack up their shit and abruptly leave. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Scar Tissue and Funky Monks

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I finished Scar Tissue otherwise known as Anthony Keidis' memoir about leading a dual life as a junkie/addict and being the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Once I picked it up, I could not put the book down.

Celebrity biographies can be broken into two different categories: brutally honest memoirs and whitewashed fluff jobs. Fans want the raunchy stories and to help unravel the mysteries of said public figure. Meanwhile, business managers and PR people want PG-rated halcyon highlights of the star's life.

A couple of years ago, I was approached to ghost-write an autobiography of a well-known poker pro... but with one caveat... I could not write about his drug use and womanizing. I turned them down. I want to write books that I want to read, which means I want to read about crazy stories about infidelity and drug-fueled benders. Very few of us ever get a chance to sleep on pile of cash and be surrounded by beautiful women, so we have to read memoirs in order to vicariously live through those stars.

I declined my opportunity to ghost-write a sanitized book about the genius of a specific poker pro. Last I heard, he hired and fired three or four writers since then and the book is still unfinished.

Anyway... I'm not a huge Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, but I respect them as a band because of their longevity and perseverance to keep going despite overdoses, personal addictions, and several line-up changes. A couple of years ago, a friend recommended the book because I had recently moved to Los Angeles. I never picked it up until this past week because I needed to read it for a potential work project. I found a used copy for a couple of bucks.

Scar Tissue is Keidis' 450-page autobiography, which I proudly devoured inside of a 30 hour period. It arrived in the afternoon and I read a third the first night, the second third the next morning, and I polished off the final third later that night.

I enjoyed reading about what L.A. was like in the 1980s, especially the old rock clubs that had become shitty punk clubs. Keidis attended public grammar school across the street from the same Catholic school that both Nicky and her sister went to (along with those Hilton Sisters way before they got famous for being party girls). Keidis and Flea went to Fairfax high school and they used to dine and ditch at Canter's Deli. In his 20s, Keidis dated Ione Skye (before she got her breakthrough role as Diane on Say Anything) and they shared an apartment about 15 blocks from where Nicky and I live now.

For most of his life Keidis was a drug addict after getting introduced to marijuana and Quaaludes by his father, a struggling actor who turned to dealing drugs to pay for their rent in West Hollywood (at a time when WeHo was a total dump and they were surrounded by trannie hookers). His old man was well known in the club scene in the 1970s and bouncers let lil Keidis tag along like a mascot. He was able to go the Rainbow Room anytime until he got 86'd because of Flea. Keidis took some of his high school buddies to the Rainbow and they pounded pitchers but Flea couldn't handle his booze and puked everywhere.

Keidis dropped out of UCLA because he developed a cocaine and heroin problem. He was shooting both drugs and spent every single dollar on his addiction, something he'd struggle with over the next few decades. It seemed as though Keidis had two distinct periods of his life -- on the sauce and sober. It's during those sober moments when the Chili Peppers created some of their best material and sounded sharp during live shows.

Scar Tissue gave some nifty background on the punk and post-punk music scene in L.A. before hair bands ruled the airwaves and dominated MTV. If your a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, the books sheds insight in the different incarnations of the band. The original drummer, Jack Irons1, went to school with Flea and Keidis and he played with the Chili Peppers mostly at the beginning (except a short stint in 85-86 when Cliff Martinez was the drummer) before he quit after the OD of founding member and lead guitarist Hillel Slovak (also another school friend of Flea and Keidis). Chad Smith replaced Irons in late 1988 and has been with the band ever since. Smith was a heavy metal drummer with "hair band" hair which was not the type of music genre (punk-funk) that appealed to Flea/Keidis. Smith nailed the audition but they said he could only be in the band if he shaved his head and got rid of the cheesy frizzy locks. Smith wanted to be in the band, but politely told them to fuck off. They respected that and let him keep his hair.

It seemed as though the lead guitar player for the Chili Peppers was always in flux. After Hillel died, the band was crushed. The drummer left, which meant that Flea and Keidis had two choices: break up or find two new musicians (drummer and guitar). They decided to honor Hillel by continuing to play. They hired Chad Smith on drums and then added John Frusciante on guitar. Frusciante was a music savant and still a teenager when he joined the band. He was a Chili Peppers super-fan and had gone to many of their local gigs. He had the talent and ambition and was a perfect fit.

Rick Rubin moved the band into Houdini's old mansion in the Hollywood Hills. It was haunted, which freaked Chad Smith out and he reused to sleep there. Everyone else lived in the mansion and supposedly they didn't leave for several months while recording Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

Flea's brother-in-law shot a documentary Funky Monks about the recording process. It's a great glimpse into the Chili peppers world circa 1991...

The Chili Peppers blew up because Blood Sugar Sex Magik became a mega hit. The Peppers arrived at the perfect time too because the L.A.-savvy band understood the leverage and power of music videos. Their initial videos were completely different than what you saw on MTV. The music was loud and funky but enough of an edge that you got some punk cred.

The overnight success of the band freaked out Frusciante. He quit at the height of their popularity. He'd spend the next few years shooting heroin as his house turned into something you'd see on Hoarders. Frusciante almost died because he set his house on fire after nodding out. Six or so years after he quit, Frusciante returned to the band right after Keidis got clean again. Everything aligned for those sessions during their comeback album Californication (1999).

During Frusciante's hiatus from the band, Dave Navarro (Jane's Addiction) stepped in as the lead guitar player. He was talented but definitely did not sound like either Frusciante or Hillel. The Chili Peppers only released one album during Navarro era -- One Hot Minute (1995) -- and it was awful compared to Mother's Milk (1989) and Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991). You really can't blame Navarro mainly because Keidis was back on the sauce and ensconced in one of the darkest eras of his life.

In high school, I liked this girl (I went to an all-boys Jesuit school and she attended a nearby all-girls Catholic high school) who was into the Red Hot Chili Peppers. She made me cassette copies of Freakey Styley (1985) and Mother's Milk (1989). One of our first "dates" was a special punk show in Midtown that featured The Dead Milkmen2, a band that I fucking loved. It seemed like the perfect night... we could get in without IDs because it was a 16 and over show that featured each of our favorite bands. I don't recall much of my first Chili Peppers' show other than the fact I left black and blue and was mesmerized by a speedy rendition of Jimi Hendrix's Fire, which they played in what seemed like 90 seconds.

Sometimes you get introduced to a band because it's what other people like and then you find out that you like them too and don't have to fake it3. Luckily that happened to me. The relationship with the Catholic school girl lasted a couple of weeks, but for several years I had an affinity for the early Chili Peppers. They put out ten albums total and with the exception of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, their best stuff all happened in the 1980s when they were young, crazy, energetic, wild, and druggies without becoming full-time junkies. The post-rehab bloated version of the Chili Peppers is not for me.

The book is interesting even if you're not a fan of the Chili Peppers. If you don't like punk/funk or hate to read stories about people shooting up behind dumpsters or hearing about deviant sex with groupies, then don't bother reading the book.

The drug stories are not bragging, on the contrary, they are cautionary tales. At his worst, Keidis and his punk girlfriend didn't have a car (which is insane for native Angelenos) and they made daily treks from their apartment in WeHo and to Downtown (several miles) to score heroin. Many nights they used up all their money and didn't have bus fare, so they were forced to walk. Miles and miles. One of the funnier stories in the book happened the first time the Chili Peppers officially met Nirvana backstage. Courtney Love was there and she ran up to Keidis and said "You don't remember me?" Love used to live in L.A. during her days as a stripper and she used to see Keidis and his girlfriend Kim during their junkie hitchhiking days wandering around on the streets and she'd often give them lifts back to WeHo. Keidis didn't remember her because he was so fucked up.

Those are the little gems that add to Scar Tissue. It's really a multi-purpose book: a memoir, a book about addiction and recovery, a book about the Chili peppers, and a book about L.A.'s music scene in the 1980s.

* * * *
1. Drummer Jack Irons often gets credit for helping form Pearl Jam. He knew a surfer dude (Eddie Vedder) in San Diego who was in a Chili Peppers cover band. When Jeff and Stone formed a new band called Mookie Blaylock, they were in search of a singer. Irons suggested they give Vedder a shot. The rest is history.

2. I was obsessed with The Dead Milkmen in high school, particularly their song "Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child."

3. It's refreshing to genuinely like a band someone turned you onto. Nothing was worse for me then pretending to like Jack Johnson because my girlfriend at the time loved him, but I suspected she knew I was full of shit when I'd start singing Jack Johnson lyrics in a Bob Dylan voice, or read random articles from the New York Times to the tune of Johnson's "Banana Pancakes."