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Weighing In, Part 1

October 15, 2014 | by

Watching a cage fighter starve himself.

Photo: Jeremy Brooks

“Four eggs,” I instructed the waiter at the finest restaurant in the Palms Casino Resort.

“Egg salad?” He was in a starched suit, pouring water into a delicately lipped glass.

“No, four hard-boiled eggs.”

“Four eggs.”

The waiter returned with four eggs huddled in the slight depression of a sizable dinner plate, as if to further diminish the sad feast through a trick of scale. Each egg had been deshelled, which was, I supposed, the benefit of ordering hard-boiled eggs at the finest restaurant in the Palms. Erik was a few flights up in his hotel room, showering after a workout, but he had asked that his meal be ready when he descended, and I feared displeasing him.

Though his mentor Duke, his roommate Pettis, and his manager could be found dispersed among the card tables and slot machines, not a single member of Hard Drive, Erik’s fighting collective in Cedar Rapids, had ventured with us to Las Vegas. Following a momentous schism between him and his brother, Erik had been “banned for life” from the gym and its environs.

Banished, Erik had returned to Milwaukee, to his warm, fast-talking Italian American coach, to his potential as one of the youngest men in the most prestigious promotion open to men who weighed in at 155 pounds. From their offices in Vegas, connected people continued to call him in Milwaukee, and it was as if he had never made the mistake of going home. Would he like to be in the official UFC video game? They would fly him out to LA, take measurements, and then boys everywhere would fight their friends in the avatar form of Erik “New Breed” Koch. Pettis was asked to be a judge for the Miss Wisconsin USA pageant and, in declining the offer, sent Erik in his stead. Erik met, at the event, the manager of a Jersey Shore cast member. Would Erik like to be on an episode of DJ Pauly D’s upcoming reality spin-off show? He said he very much would like that. He was unattached, alone, free to make commitments to as-yet-theoretical reality shows as he pleased.

Erik at last arrived at the restaurant, sat across from me without a word, unrolled from the napkin his knife and fork, and began the surgical egg procedure with which I was, by then, familiar. I would have liked to discuss our surroundings, as it was my first encounter with a professionally run promotion and I had many astute observations on the subject, but he ate with an air of sacral solemnity I did not wish to desecrate by speaking. It was my twenty-ninth birthday and I had not told a soul in the world. Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Procrastination, Peacocks, Prince

July 4, 2014 | by

Phil, a leucistic white peafowl from the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York. Photo via Twitter.

It turns out that I was right last week (I love it when that happens) about the print version of Nautilus. It’s sharp, well-rounded, and just plain nice to look at. I could recommend any number of articles (such as Slava Gerovitch’s fascinating essay on Russian mathematician Andrei Kolmogorov), but one in particular made an impression: Alisa Opar’s short piece in the Spring 2014 issue on procrastination. I’m writing this, you see, up against the deadline that Dan Piepenbring sets for us each week. I did the same thing last week. Though I spend all week knowing I’ll write a few lines on what I’ve been reading, I wait, without fail, until the very last minute to sit down and write it. That’s because, according to Opar’s article, my future self is a stranger. That future version of me is the one who will have to deal with the consequences of my current procrastination (sucker!). Apparently, making a lengthy timeline that ends with me writing this should help me feel connected to my future self. It’s an interesting idea. I’ll get right on it tomorrow. —Nicole Rudick

Earlier this week, I took a coffee and a book to the Peace Garden at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where I found myself joined by a white-feathered peacock; Phil, a leucistic peafowl, is apparently a regular there. Always followed by his flowing white train, he creates a procession wherever he goes; you couldn’t ask for a more august companion. And with Phil’s distinguished mien in mind, I point to D. H. Lawrence’s short story “Wintry Peacock,” from his 1922 collection England, My England and Other Stories. It tells of secret lovers, purloined correspondence, and a protective peacock named Joey. The narrator finds himself the unwilling mediator of a young English country couple’s marital troubles, a task he meets with equal parts fascination and disgust. As he translates a letter from the husband’s French mistress, he suppresses a gag: “I vaguely realized that I was reading a man’s private correspondence. And yet, how could one consider these trivial, facile French phrases private? Nothing more trite and vulgar in the world than such a love-letter—no newspaper more obvious.” —Chantal McStay

A few weeks ago, I discovered Richard Prince’s Instagram account. Prince, for the uninitiated, is the guy who took images of the Marlboro Man from cigarette ads, blew them up, and called them his own work. Then they sold for a bajillion dollars at auction, and he was celebrated as a deity of conceptual appropriationism. His style of appropriation—photographing and re-photographing—is perfectly suited to Instagram. He takes screenshots of posts by celebrities, prints them out on a large scale, takes photos of them with his iPhone, and then reposts them. “It was like revisiting an older system that I was already familiar with,” he explained in a post on his website, except “the photo paper was an electronic page, the source material was Google, and the re-photography was a screen-save.” In the past year, he’s posted everything from copies of The Catcher in the Rye that credit him as the author to a completely nude ten-year-old Brooke Shields re-photographed from his 1983 work Spiritual America. (That got him temporarily banned from the site.) Prince has made room for his experiments in a medium known for food porn and social one-upsmanship—quite a feat. —Teddy Lasry

The Pitchfork Review, a new quarterly print counterpart to the music criticism site, may not win many converts—it’s very much “on brand,” though Pitchfork’s trademark decimal-point ratings are mercifully absent. Still, even if you’re inclined to write off the site as a hollow tastemaker, give the magazine a look; lavishly designed and thoughtfully composed, it will be of interest to anyone who yearns for the heyday of Spin, Rolling Stone, Downbeat, or The Village Voice. Its latest issue boasts a number of excellent diversions—I was particularly impressed with Gary Giddins’s piece on Stanley Kubrick’s scores, and with Lindsay Zoladz’s “Ghost Riding: The Story of the Performing Hologram,” which examines the burgeoning use of holography and its curious intersection with hip-hop culture. —Dan Piepenbring Read More »

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Michael Robbins on ‘Alien vs. Predator’

March 27, 2012 | by

Michael Robbins.

Reading the poetry of Michael Robbins is kind of like driving around the parkways and frontage roads of America’s suburbs. His poems have a Best Buy, a Red Lobster, a Kinko’s, a Pizza Hut, and a Guitar Center; they reference the slogans of Christian billboards and the bumper stickers of hippies; they offer the choice between Safeway and Whole Foods and between the corporate classic-rock station, the corporate urban-music station, and All Things Considered. The poems are heavy with concern for the elephants, the whales, and the freedom of Tibet. They have a Rhianna song stuck in their heads.

Among poets, Robbins follows in the footsteps of Frederick Seidel and Paul Muldoon in writing about contemporary life using more traditional poetic forms and rhyme. He also references and sometimes even quotes Philip Larkin, John Berryman, Theodore Roethke, Wordsworth, and others. But Robbins is more playful and less grandiloquent than his sometimes-grim forefathers: after reading his first book, Alien vs. Predator, the two things I kept thinking of were not poetry at all, but rather the short stories of George Saunders and the video art of Ryan Trecartin. As Saunders did with marketing jargon and Trecartin with reality television, Robbins congeals his suburban idyll, transforming its vacant vernacular into unsettling poignancy. And sometimes it’s even funny.

I reached Robbins by phone in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We spoke the day after Rick Santorum’s victory in that state’s Republican primary.

Where are you working right now?

I’m a visiting poet at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, which is where I’m staying and just waiting until I get out of this city.

You don’t like it?

The people are great at the university, my students are great, but Hattiesburg is … it’s just like if you opened a university in a Taco Bell, basically. It’s just the ugliest place I’ve ever seen in my life. Read More »

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Fever Pitch

February 15, 2012 | by

Morgan and Taylor, a collage.

Have you seen this video of a three-year-old weeping over Justin Bieber? It became an Internet phenomenon, culminating in Jimmy Kimmel flying the toddler to his show so she could sit on Bieber’s lap. A lot of people thought it was pretty cute. Others found it disturbing, lumping it in with the broader societal problem of the sexualization of increasingly young girls.

This particular example may be a little extreme: she’s three. But there’s a general feeling out that girls are crushing way too hard, way too young, on the boys they see in magazines. Look around, and you’ll find no shortage of six-, eight-, ten-year-olds in the grip of a pretty serious Bieber fever.

I’m here to tell you: don’t worry about it.

Remember Hanson? For about five years of my life, they were my life. Them, and another band, The Moffatts. The Moffatts were the Canadian Hanson: an all-brother band that sang and played instruments and had hundreds of thousands of utterly rabid, scarily desperate young girls tearing their hair out over them. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I spent the years between the ages of thirteen and seventeen doing very little aside from obsessing over these two bands. Or that between 1996 and 2000 I went to more than a hundred of their concerts, television spots, autograph sessions, radio interviews, and other public appearances. That I followed them around most of Canada and a good part of the United States. Or that I spent, in total, probably about sixty nights sleeping in parking lots, on sidewalks, in decrepit motels, and in the back of a minivan. My friends and I once spent four nights in a Walmart parking lot, in the rain, just to be first in an autograph line.

Yes, I had friends. I had a posse, and we were famous in the world of band fans. We were interviewed in newspapers and by radio and television stations everywhere we went. The Life Network did a special on us called The Things We Do for Love. When we showed up at the Sally Jesse Raphael show in New York, to see The Moffatts, the fans waiting outside the studio screamed for us, asked us for our autographs. We were famous for loving famous people. Read More »

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