Tag Archives: Comedy

Garry Shandling: Where Does TV End and Where Does Reality Start

Garry Shandling is probably the most hidden major player in the history of TV. No other person could claim equal amounts of influence on both Seinfeld and The Sopranos. The (post)modern age of TV begins when Showtime debuted It’s Garry Shandling’s Show in 1985.

The time was very different. IGSS was only the second original sitcom ever produced by a premium cable network after Showtime’s Brothers, a show that’s currently impossible to find but was the first sitcom centered around a gay protagonist. Both shows need to be pressed in decent numbers on DVD but haven’t (an amazing looking complete series box set of IGSS was released several years ago, but unless someone with $400 lying around wants to buy me a copy, I’m hanging onto my off-the-air copies from the original airings.) The effect on future shows of IGSS is incalculable-the only analogy I can think of is the impact of the 80s British invasion on superhero comics.

The central conceit of IGSS is that it’s about a guy named Garry Shandling. He’s a comedian. He has a sitcom on TV. He knows he has a sitcom on TV. He even talks directly to the studio audience. When he leaves his “apartment” sometimes he invites them up to hang out in his living room while he’s “gone” (re: walked over to the next set on the soundstage while we see the soundstage.) In a series of elaborate parodies, Shandling takes us through the history of scripted TV up to that point, with a short but hilarious detour into a parody of The Graduate. Nothing is sacred. There are no rules. Characters frequently discuss their own shortcomings or expectations as sitcom characters, not with any pretense they’re real people.

The direct addresses to the audience are the obvious precedent to the standup comedy bits peppered throughout Seinfeld. The anarchic tone and kid-who-just-got-a-bunch-of-toys-and-is-having-the-time-of-his-life feel is second only to Ernie Kovacs. The tone is generally cheerful and light. You get that infectious feeling of a person who doesn’t think they’ll necessarily get another chance to make something on TV-we’re just sort of following whatever thing Shandling thinks they might not let him do later.

The strongest seasons are the first two, predominantly because of this kid in a candy store vibe. The third season is the weakest as it indulges Shandling’s love of pre-Lenny Bruce comedians for a dire 3 episode sprawl toward the end, but the 4th makes a decent comeback and marries Garry off. Fascinatingly this is the only really or fake wedding ceremony Shandling would ever be a groom at. His true love was television and even that marriage was a rocky one.

Shandling is best known now for the HBO sitcom The Larry Sanders Show, which debuted pretty soon after IGSS ended. The two sitcoms seem about as unlike in construction as one can imagine, at least at first glance. The complete embrace of artifice in IGSS gives way to realism in the acting and cinematography. There’s no laugh track. The stationary 3 camera set up gives way to possibly the first ever single camera sitcom ever made. The cameraman is frequently going backwards on roller skates so as to capture people conversing up and down a hallway in a more naturalistic manner-in fact, any “walk and talk” shot you’ve ever seen on a workplace sitcom owes its genesis to Larry Sanders. The acting strives for realism. There’s a comedy of awkwardness, characters and moments that rejects the “we’re going to shove jokes into a chamber play” style of sitcoms that were…all the sitcoms until then. Give or take.

Shandling reveals himself to be a triple threat-he can write, he can direct, and he can act well enough to hold his own with Jeffrey Tambor and Rip Torn, no easy feat. Yet his romance with TV seems to sour over the show’s run. We start seeing moments of drama and discomfort as Shandling realizes he’s one of the few comedy writers who can convincingly write those sorts of moments. He follows characters and trusts they will be funny; he never sacrifices the truth of the character for a laugh. All of this is unheard of in a US sitcom to that point.

Yet, in the construction of The Larry Sanders Show, it’s clear Shandling’s preoccupations didn’t change, just his methods. The show, which follows the behind the scenes drama of a fictional late night talk show called The Larry Sanders Show, uses a combination of low quality broadcast tape and grainy 16mm film, making the scenes when Larry is on TV look vastly more polished than any of the shots of Larry in the office or outside world. In some sense, Larry Sanders is the closest thing you could have to a real life version of the Garry Shandling of IGSS-a man who lives on and for TV, whose life bleeds in and out of TV, a man who knows he’s on TV. Larry can’t seem to have sex without watching himself on TV during the proceedings. Strangely fictionalized versions of celebrities make frequent guest appearances for the first time on a sitcom even though this has since become a trope and was used by shows all the way from Curb Your Enthusiasm to Bojack Horseman.

Yet over the course of 6 seasons, the tone of the show sours and becomes increasingly dark and cynical. Shandling was probably getting worn down. Starring on, writing, and running a TV program for 10 years straight would get to anybody. He broke up with his real life girlfriend, the woman playing Hank’s secretary, around season 3. I’m imagining it wasn’t a smooth break up given that she’s replaced in the next season as Hank’s secretary with Scott Thompson from Kids In the Hall. The show nonetheless barrels on.

In making Larry vain and not particularly likeable and being powerful enough to be a dick, by having him get addicted to pain pills, etc etc etc, Shandling lays the groundwork for the HBO anti-hero 9 years before The Sopranos aired. And more importantly, Shandling lays out clearly the potential inherent in subscription TV-one has to remember the bulk of HBO programming at that point was stuff like Taxicab Confessions, boxing matches, 3rd run movies, and softcore porn. The idea that it was the place to make “prestige” TV would’ve been considered insane before then.

But when Larry Sanders ended, Shandling went into semi-retirement. He’d make talk show appearances occasionally, wrote and appeared in a middling movie about an extra terrestrial who starts dating, but didn’t do any TV writing for the rest of his life that I’m aware of. His last filmed project was a series of lengthy face to face interviews with the cast of The Larry Sanders Show for its DVD release.

In most peoples’ bodies of work, I wouldn’t bother talking about DVD bonus features, but these interviews resemble the DVD bonus feature genre in general as much as any of Shandling’s shows represented TV up to that point. There’s a lot of crying. There’s a lot of awkwardness. It gets deep. We see Shandling’s John Cassavetes streak that was hidden in plain sight all along. And he got to show the value only he could see in a seemingly disposable form one last time.

Notes from a Millennial: In Defense of Decency

Note: This article refers to “millennials” repeatedly. While the name for any generation is always going to be broad terminology, there are many differing opinions on who exactly is a “millennial.” The following article presumes them to be Americans born between 1982 and 2004, as per the more common definition of “millennial,” but again, this terminology is loose and should not be considered definitive, even within the context of this article.

Second Note: I’m not going to even bother addressing the hypocrisy of many of the criticisms against millennials in this article. There are matters re: millennials that I desired to address, and I think the aforementioned hypocrisy is self-evident (and if it isn’t, give some consideration to the fragile emotional constitution of the Tyler Durden-idolizing man-children who first spread “snowflake” as an insult).

“Forced worship stinks in the nostrils of God.”

 – Roger Williams (1603-83 C.E.), Founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (1636-776 C.E.)

A state religion is nothing out of the ordinary in human history, and even if a nation does not have a state religion de jure, they will almost certainly have one in practice. This applies even to supposedly secular societies, even the society administered to by the “world’s first secular government.” In America, however, a different worship took root: in a land made secular in order to accommodate all the religious beliefs of its populace, many of them religious pilgrims, a unified religion came to be understood by Americans, one defined by indulgences specifically proscribed against by their “true” faiths. Golden calves were erected; divinity was invoked to justify imperialist expansion into the western parts of Northern America; Americans worked on Sundays, seeking to satiate the capitalist god they held before their true gods; we coveted our neighbors’ goods. The ’80s came and the Reagan gang took power, and a predisposition in American culture toward crude materialism became a crass classism, and pretensions that the ideology that “anyone can make in America!” was meant to be uplifting were increasingly dropped in favor of a reading of social Darwinism into that same ideology, and beyond that, even mainstream apologism for eugenics.

For a country that prides itself on being so exhaustingly Christian, America’s culture is markedly shaped by a sternly resolute contempt for the poor. And so we face the timeless panic about The Kids These Days, who, to establishment culture’s dismay, are not ones to regularly associate themselves with organized religion, systemically racist institutions, or patriarchal politics, and who by overwhelming margins are rejecting capitalism and professing an admiration for anything ranging from a European-style mix of capitalism and socialism (more common) to full-blown communism (less common, though substantially more common than in prior generations). America watches in horror as the young turn to the writings of Karl Marx, even though America never even understood what Marxism is. The nation shields its eyes, shuddering to watch the carnage of a generation of Americans who believe god is dead or never existed, and simultaneously wagging a finger at them for wanting to help those who cannot help themselves, the central tenant of the belief system laid down by their own god; the very same whose rejection they bemoan. Millennials have rejected not just the mainstream religions from which the god-fearing populace picks and chooses their beliefs, they have, more problematically to the American establishment, also rejected the false gods of consumerism and the accompanying notion of “ethical consumption.”

There are regular articles which trot out polls detailing how millennials are incredibly socialist and really hate capitalism, but also millennials don’t understand what socialism is and also like aspects of capitalism. We get it, man. You want us to think millennials are dopey. They don’t even know what Betamax was; how ignorant! Except your polls don’t offer the option of a mixed system, and typically, when you look at the other generations polled, they know even less about what any of the political systems actually are. So the narrative is that millennials are vapid, ignorant, self-obsessed children in adult bodies, except apparently everybody else is even more vapid and ignorant. If millennials are self-obsessed, our adoption of the baffling insult “social justice warrior” as a golem for our political beliefs is, at the least, a strange way of expressing self-obsession. Millennial-bashers, blind to the juvenoia that they suffer like every generation before them, will look for the opening here and say that the millennial desire to support those who are disregarded is out of a selfish need for self-affirmation, the product of a culture where losers get trophies. Of course, it was these same critics giving those trophies who created that culture (if participation ribbons even had a significant impact on culture at all, which seems dubious), but this paradoxical critique of millennials’ competitiveness has already been hashed out millions if not billions of times on the internet, and at any rate, even if self-affirmation is the objective, if the means to that end are the establishment of a compassionate society, who even gives a fuck?

zizek would prefer not to
Pictured: Millennial expressing feelings on participation in capitalism.

The last of the so-called “millennials” will cast their first ballots in elections in 2022, and you older generations (and self-hating millennials; don’t worry, we won’t forget you when the guillotine blades are being waxed) are probably praying for a reprieve, but you’re not going to get it. Generation Z, our little brothers and sisters and our sons and daughters and nieces and nephews, are even further left, and they will cut you if you don’t respect which gendered pronouns someone wants to be referred to with. As someone who idled away many a teenage afternoon listening to the likes of George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Chris Rock, etc., I know I’m supposed be all bent out of shape about this for some reason or another, but none of those reasons really resonate with me. I get that people like to be edgy, but there’s two types of edge: the edge that makes you uneasy because the government might try to censor you, or corporations might try to use their leverage against you, and the edge that makes you uneasy because you know what’s being said is harmful to someone. One is punching up, one is punching down. When Lenny Bruce used racial slurs, he was demonstrating the ghastly language that could be used in the presence of police offers in attendance at his comedy shows, ostensibly to put a stop to “profane speech” that might come out of Bruce’s mouth. Bruce could say “nigger” and “kike” all he liked, but the second he used a Yiddish word for cock, the handcuffs came out and flexed the power of what truly was then a “nanny state.” That, state-enforced regulation of speech, is “political correctness run amok.” Society responding as it will to ignorance is not. Millennial culture’s greatest crime is desiring that those with their hands upon the levers of power be punched at as opposed to those crushed by the gears those levers operate. That doesn’t make it wrong to laugh at a joke that punches down; laughter is mainly involuntary, and can be triggered by surprise or the release of tension just as easily as by genuine humor. But is there impetus upon the speaker not to offend?

Jerry Seinfeld moaned that he won’t play colleges anymore because they’re too politically correct. Really? What jokes is Jerry Fucking Seinfeld doing that are going to cause him to be driven off of a college campus like a philistine, and if his act does actually reveal him to be a philistine, why should I object when a bunch of arts and humanities majors, whose money paid for the privilege of him speaking before them, tell him to shut the fuck up? In short, no, there is no impetus upon the speaker not to offend. But there’s also no impetus upon the audience to listen, or not to yell at him or not walk out, or even give him a platform to speak from in the future. Just as there’s no impetus for comedy club owners in multicultural population centers to book a comedian who screams racial slurs and death threats at black patrons. Free market, amirite motherfuckers?

big lebowski assholes
“Dude, ‘Chinaman’ is not the preferred nomenclature. ‘Asian-American,’ please.”

The final primary line of attack against the culture of millennials seems to be that their concerns are petty, and that while this makes them obnoxious, and possibly dangerously inert to the whims of society as a whole, their political capital is wasted on things like the aforementioned gendered pronouns, and they are essentially helpless to impart real change upon the world. This is a highly flawed reading of the situation. To my specific example, having society respect your desire to be referred to as a man or a woman specifically might not seem like a big deal, but if you were transgender, you would probably think that it’s a pretty big fucking deal. The fact that you perceive the group concerned as ancillary suggests that majority rule justifies bigotry against minorities, and forgets that all of the groups that you consider “ancillary” combine to form an incredibly large segment of society. Unconsciously, you reveal an “us or them” division in your social ethos that ultimately only distinguishes in a coherent way the difference between the majority and everyone else. As to the view of millennials being doomed to ineffectuality, the irony is that those holding this opinion are doomed to political and social obsolescence by it. No one can deny that American culture is undergoing an upheaval, and anyone who denies that the so-called “P. C. Culture” of the millennials is one of the two major adversaries is fooling themselves. None of this is to say that millennials are without opposition; there is, of course, the other side, the people who went to Trump rallies (but perhaps not the economically-disenfranchised who didn’t but voted for him). But the fact of the matter is, American culture is seeing a wholesale rejection of its ingrained norms, customs, and mythology, and the “social justice warriors” are one of the two main groups fighting that battle. To consider millennials ineffectual is laughably obtuse, and, perhaps worse, deliberately ignorant. If anything, millennials are the ones who should be cocky, as thirty years from now you will be dead, and they will hold most of the seats in Congress. Burying your head in the sand has never been considered a wise tactic, and certainly, to discount the scope of a major social force dooms those who do so to irrelevancy.

I couldn’t be any happier with that.

The Long Black Clown Car

Though the major events of his life had occurred in Los Angeles and Manhattan the funeral was held in the small backwater where he’d spent the final years of his life painting and repainting the walls of his wife’s house different shades of green. No indications were left whether he’d found the desired shade. The choppy gradient between the final two shades suggested he hadn’t. His wife had, understandably, shown no interest in this project and had no light to shed on the subject. No one asked about it; there had been few visitors.

He’d been on the Ed Sullivan Show several times when he was much younger and not dead and Ed Sullivan was still on television. His estranged son showed up but none of the other mourners recognized him. They’d never met him. No one cried. The plain green casket was lowered into the ground with pulleys.

An anonymous admirer had sent a single rose. His widow held a banana and stood next to the grave and spoke.

“He…we all laughed a lot. And this banana…one of his bits, one of the ones he did on Ed Sullivan, it involved a banana. I’d do it but…uh…I couldn’t do it justice. You’d just have to see it. I have it on a tape somewhere.”

She dropped the banana in the hole. It landed next to the rose. A shovel was pushed into the pile of dirt next to the grave. We each took our turn shoveling dirt into the hole. The dirt concealed the long-stem rose, the banana, and finally the dead man.

Most of the mourners, friends of his wife and lifelong residents of the backwater, had shown up knowing he’d been on Ed Sullivan and little else, hoping to hear juicy tales of his show business exploits. However he had outlived whoever had known these tales. A small catered reception was held in the back of a sports bar after the burial.

“So…uh…how did he die?”

“His liver hardened.”


“It solidified.”




“Then he died.”

“That’s terrible.”

“It took about two years.”

There were more details about how his liver hardened. But the tray of pasta in cream sauce had been uncovered and the mourning had made us all very hungry.

The conversation after that mostly revolved around the quality of the cream sauce.

After we ate the widow read the note that accompanied the single rose to the people seated at her table.

“A wonderful companion, a shoulder in my times of need. I’ll never forget the wondrous times we had together; the way your body felt in my arms; the way my body felt wrapped in yours. I’ll see you on the other side.”

It was signed “Miss Bavaria.” No one at the funeral remembered a Miss Bavaria.

The widow guessed he’d arranged the delivery of the note and the rose himself before he died. As a practical joke.

“That’s the kinda guy he was,” she said. “Anything for a laugh.”

Rock-A-Bye Baby (1958)

Popular wisdom asserts that Lewis did his best work under director Frank Tashlin’s supervision. It seems a reasonable enough assertion. Lewis’s gags are given structure and direction by Tashlin-he’s not pulling himself in 8 directions at once (as in Three on a Couch or The Family Jewels) or indulging in failed pathos, since let’s be honest here, his only non-failed pathos was the prom-speech that ended The Nutty Professor.

I was very curious to see what this film was exactly, since the premise of Lewis adopting triplets seemed, well, curious, as the premise of most solo Lewis outings is “Jerry Lewis breaks things.” However, none of the expected child abuse occurred. The film as a whole was fairly sweet if somewhat raunchy. Nowhere near the amount of strained sentimentality one would expect. Some gags showed some real invention and this is the film where Lewis has the most bizarre gadgets; if Lewis were Buster Keaton and The Ladies Man his Seven Chances, his picture dealing with horrific anxiety around the opposite sex, Rock-A-Bye Baby would be his take on The Electric House, his picture dealing with the anxiety the gadgets around you might get the better of you. One of the better Lewis solo-outings.

Being (Funny) and Nothingness: Phenomenology of the Poop Joke

To be who you are is to avoid the itch: (as in):

Who knows dot dot dot. (Y’know.)

-Robert Ashley, Perfect Lives: The Church

Jokes work in a variety of ways far too numerous to be summed up in a blog post, and their manner continuously changes at a speed where it’s difficult to keep up with the new manifestations; yet at the same time, they’re recognizable as such in a manner that suggests a deep undercurrent. By the same token, over time jokes are torn down by culture until only their architecture remains to be fully examined. What passed for jokes at the time of the first popular joke book, Poggio’s Facetiae are by now far less recognizable as jokes than as simply horrible circumstances the writer escapes abruptly without cleaning up. An example:


A friend of ours related at a party that one night he had found gold in a dream. “Mind,” said someone, “mind that the same thing does not befall you that befell one of my neighbours, whose gold was turned into muck.” Being asked to relate that dream, “My neighbour,” he said, “one night dreamt that the devil had led him into a field to dig out gold. When he had found a good lot: ‘You are now not allowed to carry it away,’ quoth the demon, ‘but mark the place, that you may be alone to know it again.’ The man inquired what sign he could well use: ‘Cack here,’ replied the devil; ‘it is the best way that nobody should suspect there is gold; none but you will have cognizance in the matter.’ The man thought that a good plan and, awaking forthwith, became aware that he had abominably loosened his bowels in the bed. Rising amid the muck and stench to leave the house, he set on the crown of his head a cap wherein the cat had just done its needs. Enraged at the horrible smell, he had to go and wash the filth off his head and hair. Thus the golden dream had turned to turd.

I’d here separate-artificially because the discourse of our time makes little distinction between the two forms-the joke and the pun so that I can point to their similarities as tools of expression-the procedure of masking as realization as masking. The pun holds for Robert Ashley, similarly to how it did for James Joyce, the possibility of breaking open the language-a forced epiphany, a realization a phrase or term or action has more in common between its disparate contexts than would seem to be present in their usual staid contextualization in functional discourse.

But then, the narrative joke works similarly. In the joke above, the gold of the dream becomes the turd of the cat. The clean resolution, complete with something between a moral and a punchline. But moral and the punchline are the same phenomena in separate guises: a means to derail the narrative off the track of the infinite into the chasm of set meaning, a ribbon bow to tie up the gift so that the debt can be incurred in the receiver. Who’s to say the next night the turd might not again become the golden dream?

The joke means its meaninglessness; its a quarantine of sorts. The joke stands as the refuge in which the body reacts or doesn’t; to analyze or explain a joke is one of the least attractive social tacks that can possibly be taken. The joke is the way to approach the possibility of having been fooled in the various guises in which the phenomena of disappointment can be engaged; synechdoches for the greater possibilities of meaninglessness. The marriage of Kafka’s nightmares and slapstick comedy seems natural. Kafka’s most faithful children are the visual comedians that probably never read him.

In Ernie Kovacs’ silent Eugene special from 1961, he visualizes the seduction of sense, culture, truth, beauty, and whatever else the comedian and philosopher share in common as the unseen partner in their conversations that keeps evading them or that they in turn have run away from in terror. It seems easiest to get this across as a series of screenshots with commentary underneath.

The comedian approaches reality in the manner of a phenomenologist; they grasp it loosely with no special sentimental attachment to procedure and in fact an outright hostility toward the possibility there could be a standard procedure in the coming into being of the gag. I used to work as a stand-up comedian when I was 16 and most comics would only explore the mechanics of the joke in clearly circumscribed territories; the life stories of other comedians and superstitious mantras about what constitutes “funny.” Their writing style seemed very much the product of carefully manicured automatic writing. They were probably wise in taking this strategy.

The intellectual is the enemy of the comedian and as a person given to both tendencies I feel very much like a house divided. Tellingly, despite a good head start, I have not advanced especially far in the comedy world. I recorded a comedy album which has been very popular with the five people who’ve heard it and otherwise ignored. At a house party some people in a circle were competing to see who had the most offensive joke. I won this competition by some margin with a 400 year old joke about two nuns in the woods which was promptly met with horror, killed the conversation, and left me very much persona non-grata for the remainder of the evening. There isn’t much steam left in the “they were asking for it” self-defense, but I feel compelled to defend myself by saying such. They literally did ask for it.

Nevertheless, I learned my lesson and won’t repeat the joke here. All I can say is read Gershon Legman and whichever joke you think it is, that’s probably it.


The trajectory of the joke or gag can run in two directions-toward the possibility of sudden clarity or out from under the entrapment of a confining clarity. This is compounded exponentially by the place of the audience, who have a much larger position in relation to the joke than to other forms of discourse; their laughter is the tightrope the comedian walks between “greatness” and the sprawling Siberian no-man’s land of the faux-pasian failure. In the comedian the audience looks for the forceful validation of the comic as a secular preacher whose dictum can be taken or left a la carte because “Hey, it’s just a joke!” or the deflation of a threatening or disliked rhetoric. Comedians exist whose acts revolve around lazy smarm in the form of witticisms; they seek the validation of applause under the guise of seeking laughter. There is an audience for this sort of spectacle, and a lot of them really like Bill Maher.

Because the comedian’s success with the audience is reliant on the ability of the audience to read their performance at lightning speed as a confirmation (by transgression) of the bounds of their shared discourse, a confirmation created by the presentation of the negative definition of said discourse, the comedian acts as a gatekeeper. However, in the the comedian’s constant necessary engagement with the discourse outside the bounds of the cultural discourse represented in the figure of the comedian, the comedian plays loose and risky with the possibility of falling over either side of the line.

The comedian as little Shiva, destroyer of “sense”, has a long and respectable history. From the fictional Svejk upon whom my username is derived to Cantinflas to Professor Irwin Corey to Steve Carrell’s winding, collapsing monologues on the US version of The Office, this archetype has existed in numerous incarnations, each with their own distinct characteristics as contenders in the battle over what constitutes the culture. This is feigned powerlessness as a means to question the possibility of sense or relevance of a style of language. A monologue delivered by Diane Keaton in Woody Allen’s Love and Death illustrates this line of comedy well:

To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you’re getting this down.

The line of thought here, like the golden dream become cat turd at the beginning the essay, is wrapped up neatly in the stylistic rupture of the final line, “I hope you’re getting this down.” Another dialogue from the same film that illustrates as well or better:

Russian gentleman: So who is to say what is moral?

Sonja: Morality is subjective.

Russian gentleman: Subjectivity is objective.

Sonja: Moral notions imply attributes to substances which exist only in relational duality.

Russian gentleman: Not as an essential extension of ontological existence.

Sonja: Can we not talk about sex so much?

In the case of Woody Allen and in the literary world, Stanley Elkin, the language moves very rapidly as a means to keep running around and thereby avoid falling into a void; a nothingness; the equally disturbing possibilities of ones thoughts having set meaning and their being meaningless. In this passage, the opening to Elkin’s The Living End, the rapid riffing against the solidifying toward sense is itself a narrative of rapid disappearances and the crumbling of a everything around the protagonist that would signify reconciliation with civilization, as the statue crumbled when Kovacs attempted to kiss it earlier:

Ellerbee had been having a bad time of it. He’d had financial reversals. Change would slip out of his pockets and slide down into the crevices of other people’s furniture. He dropped deposit bottles and lost money in pay phones and vending machines. He overtipped in dark taxicabs. He had many such financial reversals. He was stuck with Super Bowl tickets when he was suddenly called out of town and with theater and opera tickets when the ice was too slick to move his car out of his driveway. But all this was small potatoes. His portfolio was a disgrace. He had gotten into mutual funds at the wrong time and out at a worse. His house, appraised for tax purposes at many thousands of dollars below its replacement cost, burned down, and recently his once flourishing liquor store, one of the largest in Minneapolis, had drawn the attention of burly, hopped-up and armed deprivators, ski-masked, head-stockinged. Two of his clerks had been shot, one killed, the other crippled and brain damaged, during the most recent visitation by these marauders, and Ellerbee, feeling a sense of responsibility, took it upon himself to support his clerks’ families. His wife reproached him for this, which led to bad feelings between them.

The more and more rapid escape into noise, sense, nonsense, and any sort of life raft that might stroke one’s shoulder seems to be the defining broad striving of our time. Away from the neuroses and the possibilities of entrap in being something or being nothing.