Page Two

Spurned by cool former friends and driven to distraction by Ralph Nader and the 9/11 hearings, Louis Black busts all Erma Bombeck in the SXSW aftermath

Page Two
So many well-meaning people have asked me if I've recovered from the SXSW tornado. Since "normal" in my case isn't much of a standard, the question is at best tricky. The Sunday evening of the final SXSW weekend I usually spend in the hotel, cleaning up loose ends and balancing books. Now, the remarkable Darin Klein, also known as the man who never sleeps, does all the heavy lifting when it comes to SXSW financials; I'm mostly reconciling numbers for comp wristbands and the like. Monday morning, I head from the hotel to the Chronicle, always arriving late, for our Monday issue meeting.

Now Nick Barbaro not only works SXSW every day but plays in the annual Sunday closing softball tournament, as well. The Print Team he coaches has made it to the semifinals nine times in 18 years. This means he plays at least three games. Given that in all those years Print has won only twice, by Monday he is usually both tired and bitter. Again this year, Print lost in the semifinals. Still, as always, Barbaro was at the office working as I pulled in late.

After the meeting, we go back to work on the next issue. Nick finishes the dummy and reads over copy. I quickly go to sleep, waking only for the rare staff question (which I answer with a threateningly mumbled non sequitur) and the very occasional phone call (comp and favor season is over). I respond to the latter in the most martyred terms about how I'm still going, then immediately take the narcoleptic plunge back to deepest sleep, accompanied by my anti-rhythmic, lumber-mill-sawing snoring.

On Wednesday, I wake long enough to pound out some tone-poem "Page Two," more words than meaning. Thursday is the weekly editorial meeting to plot out the next issues.

Finally, Saturday is my first post-SXSW day off. This year I drove down to San Antonio to hang with my childhood friend Leonard Maltin, who was covering the Alamo premiere there for Entertainment Tonight. As Len went to work the reception line, I headed back up I-35 and home and was soon asleep. Unfortunately, trapped in SXSW time, I awoke after five hours and was unable to go back to sleep.

Sunday, after essentially abandoning my family weeks before, I set to work: mowing the yard, cleaning the garage, sweeping the porches, and vacuuming.

My penance was ignored.

My son was busy doing the joyous dance of he to whom homework is as meaningful and real as is God to an atheist: "I have to go online because I have a question about math," the spoken introduction to a marathon five-hour instant-messaging ballet, interrupted by phone calls (often with the same people) and certain TV shows that had to be watched "for school."

My wife was busy writing away on a piece, while also fielding compliments on Middle School Mom, her new short film that had just played SXSW Film to a swell response. Quite genuinely, she believed not a kind word or enthusiastic comment, but rather brooded on the few she worried had not enjoyed the film.

Bos, our black standard poodle, spent the day seeking trouble, endlessly casing the downstairs for some forbidden item he might dash off with so he could enjoy his favorite game of "watch the slow fool hopelessly stumble all over as he tries to get this away from me." As Bos dodged about, I clumsily tripped behind him, screaming that "this was no way for a dog to act" who had been visited days earlier by director Jonathan Demme. I'm fairly certain that Demme, owner of a black standard poodle himself, came to SXSW solely so he could spend quality time with Bos. Screening The Agronomist, his brilliant, overwhelming new documentary on Jean Dominique, Haitian radio democratic voice and free speech martyr, was only an excuse. Despite the rain, Bos took off, gracefully flying (literally) around the ever-more-muddy back yard to which he soon left ample testimony as, after evading my grasp, he raced throughout the house.

So when people ask about "recovering," I have no answer.

end story

Then there's the world. In Wednesday's New York Times, Ralph Nader offered that he is running because he received so many letters asking him not to, proving that the liberal/progressive community is suffering a terrible virus that his candidacy will force them to confront. No surprise to that reasoning, given the self-congratulatory narcissism of the Naderites – metaphorically the Humvee drivers of the progressive community.

In some wonder, I watch the pre-9/11 inquiries. They are so polluted by unrelentingly mundane political maneuvering that no one escapes unstained. The genius of hindsight will blazingly illustrate the obviousness of what once was not so clear. The vast rumblings of an oversized mob of advisers, diplomats, consultants, pedants, military operatives, and elected leaders will be reduced – with more intensive skill than Gene Hackman's character exercised in The Conversation – to one clear voice in the wilderness.

The real, encyclopedic failures will be ignored or denied as blame is foolishly assigned and more ridiculously avoided. Ironically, the hearings beautifully illustrate the range of these failures. Low-rent political ambitions trump national interests. The inability of various government agencies and offices to communicate and share information pales before their active unwillingness to even try to do so. The Bush administration's myopic world-view is matched by its obsession with control and perception over information and consequences for the economy, international diplomacy, and bipartisan governing. Way too much is being made of Richard Clarke's concerns, as ignored by almost everyone, but administration attempts at smearing him illustrate their parochial agenda. No respite is offered by the Democrats' glee as they try to heap blame on the Republicans for short-term electoral gain.

If you want to see those most responsible for the failures that led to the tragedy of 9/11, look in the mirror. As citizens and taxpayers, we want a quality of government for which we are unwilling to pay. Whether through the right denying most of the world's population humanity or the left exaggerating their nobility, Americans nurse a jingoistic world-view that fuels rather than dampens tensions. In general, we fail to appreciate complexities, going for the simplistic. Rather than demanding the aggressive recruitment of international political, religious, and cultural experts, as well as multilingual diplomats and analysts, we decry government spending. So many, of all stripes, too conveniently blame too much on the Middle East. The left's contempt for U.S. foreign policy and almost any aggressive intelligence gathering is as troubling as the right's giddy sense of international understanding: based on arrogance rather than study and mission; lacking respect, analysis, and vision; based solely on military strength. Across the ideological board, from the extremes of anarchist left to fascistic right (encompassing every position, nuance, and shading within), Americans fail our role and responsibilities. Ever more ignorantly, Americans move forward. Historically illiterate, we insist political reality be reductively delineated by heroes and villains; lacking self-awareness, we are full of blame; trapped by our ideologies, we stubbornly refuse to learn.

end story

Finally, reluctantly and with great sadness I must bring a personal indignation to the attention of you, our beloved readers.

As a context: Many, many years ago, the Chronicle family was much smaller, closer, and broker. Margaret Moser, then music gossip columnist, often made extended forays into worlds inaccessible to the rest. Returning, she would offer lengthy renditions of her fantastic adventures involving beautiful women, creative forms of recreation, and investigations of the unknown so daring they surpass rigorous academic studies. Finally I complained, asking why she never invited me along.

For many years after that, she would conscientiously call. Of course, demonstrating her notoriously unnerving psychic accuracy, the calls always came around 5am, invariably when I was deep in an overly exhausted sleep after too many 24-hour sleepless workdays at the Chronicle. Sweetly, she would entreat me to join her. I'd roundly curse her while she laughingly protested innocence.

But at least she called. In the midst of telling SXSW war stories, currently shunned Chronicle Music Editor Raoul Hernandez reminisced about a dinner to which he brought Rolling Stone scribe David Fricke while Margaret was accompanied by her dear old pal John Cale. Now, Cale is not only one of my all-time favorite songwriters, composers, and performers, but a great storyteller, while defining Fricke by the Rolling Stone moniker (even if only considering the connotations of its brilliant early years) demeans his extraordinary knowledge and talent. Did anyone think to call me? Did Margaret remember Book 51, Section 4006 of the long ago sworn-in-blood New Orleans pledge? Unfortunately, the pledge began with some nonsense about how we were all dedicated to Nick Barbaro's happiness before anything else. It then went on to name all other staff, current and departed, most American bands, and a healthy selection of filmmakers and friends past and present, as well as many dead people of whom we had only heard before finally getting to me, but it did get to me. Did she even think of that long-ago promise to call?

No! I was left out and off. So many other injustices pale before this one. I guess it was just their way of saying, "Happy SXSW!" end story

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