Monday, September 15, 2008

"SUBSTANTIALLY FARTHER BEHIND THE SCENES THAN YOU'RE APT TO WANT TO BE"

More David Foster Wallace reading. Befitting the times, here's the article he wrote for Rolling Stone after traveling with John McCain for a week in the 2000 campaign: "The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub: Seven Days in the Life of the Late, Great John McCain."

Typical of his journalism pieces, there's lots of self-deprecation about his utter lack of qualification to be a journalist (or "pencil," as he calls them in this piece), and tangential descriptive passages that threaten to steal the show from his very thoughtful and astute political analysis.

On the press bus that follows the Straight Talk Express, known as Bullshit I:
What's hazardous about Bullshit I's lavatory door is that it opens and closes laterally, sliding with a Star Trekish whoosh at the light touch of the Door button just inside — i.e., you go in, lightly push Door to close, attend to business, lightly push Door again to open: simple — except that the Door button's placement puts it only inches away from the left shoulder of any male journalist standing over the commode attending to business, a commode without rails or handles or anything to (as it were) hold on to, and even the slightest leftward lurch or lean makes said shoulder touch said button — which remember this is a moving bus — causing the door to whoosh open while you're right there with business underway, and with the consequences of suddenly whirling to try to stab at the button to reclose the door while you're in medias res being too obviously horrid to detail, with the result that by 9 February the great unspoken rule among the regulars on Bullshit I is that when any male gets up and goes two-thirds of the way back into the lavatory anybody who's back there clears the immediate area and makes sure they're not in the door's line of sight; and the way you can tell that a journalist is a local or newly rotated onto the Trail and this is their first time on BS I is the small strangled scream you always hear when they're in the lavatory and the door unexpectedly whooshes open, and usually the grizzled old Charleston Post and Courier pencil will give a small smile and call out "Welcome to national politics!" as the new guy stabs frantically at the button, and Jay at the helm will hit the horn with the heel of his hand in mirth, taking these long and mostly mindless DTs' fun where he finds it.
On the chain hotel rooms where McCain favors staying ("Rolling Stone/RS" being the author himself, of course):
Rolling Stone, who is in no way cut out to be a road journalist, invokes the soul-killing anonymity of chain hotels, the rooms' terrible transient sameness: the ubiquitous floral design of the bedspreads, the multiple low-watt lamps, the pallid art-work bolted to the wall, the whisper of ventilation, the sad shag carpet, the smell of alien cleansers, the Kleenex dispensed from the wall, the automated wakeup call, the lightproof curtains, the windows that do not open-ever. RS asks whether it could possibly be coincidence that over half of all indoor suicides take place in chain hotels. Jim and Frank say they get the idea. RS references the terrible oxymoron of "hotel guest." Hell could easily be a chain hotel. Is it any accident that McCain's POW prison was known as the Hanoi Hilton? Jim shrugs; Frank says you get used to it, that it's better not to dwell.
Why McCain prefers dialogue to speeches:
In fairness to McCain, he's not an orator and doesn't pretend to be. His metier is conversation, back-and-forth. This is because he's bright in a fast, flexible way that most candidates aren't. He also genuinely seems to find people and questions and arguments energizing — the latter maybe because of all his years debating in Congress — which is why he favors Town Hall Q&As and constant chats with press in his rolling salon. So, while the media marvel at his accessibility because they've been trained to equate it with vulnerability, they often don't seem to realize they're playing totally to McCain's strength when they converse with him instead of listening to his speeches. It's McCain's speeches and 22.5's that are canned and stilted, and also sometimes scary and Right-wingish, and when you listen closely to them it's as if some warm pleasant fog suddenly lifts and it strikes you that you're not at all sure it's John McCain you want choosing the head of the EPA or the at least three new Justices who'll be coming onto the Supreme Court in the next term, and you start wondering all over again what makes him so attractive.
There's an expanded version printed in Consider the Lobster but the Rolling Stone one is right here right now. (Note: the glossary of terms at the end decodes DFW's funny acronyms. Might help to read it first) Read it all, it's more than worth it.

Sigh. Fuck.

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