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Breasts and Blitzes through the Dim (February 4, 2004)

My friend N. is always asking, “When’s the party start?” N. is a convivial sort, learned on the subject of cakes and ales. And if there is a woman or bookmaker at the table to impress, then no man is happier.  But like any connoisseur, N. is deathly afraid of showing up too early at a loft rave or boulangerie. When he was running pirated DVDs between New York and Tampa, N. spent a lot of time on the road, and the sight of businessmen nursing drinks alone at airport and hotel bars made N. realize that he needed a personal style, something to distinguish him from the other anti-social yobs when he was getting plastered at Holiday Inn happy hours. He started dressing in black and wearing thumb rings, like Bono and Sting. He had his hair feathered a fifty bucks a clip, his molars buffed by Tom Cruise’s man, and took to wearing his wristwatch over his shirt cuff, a trick he learned from a rich Italian named Agnelli connected to the Fiat fortune. Most importantly, N. began to study timing, the art of knowing when to arrive, when to depart, and when not to reveal yourself at all. 

On Sunday I needed N.’s sense of the moment. The Super Bowl was listed as beginning at 3:00 p.m. but I knew better. I tuned in at 3:25, which I thought was fashionably late. On the screen was a congregation of blissed-out teens gazing adoringly, the look of Moonies or Guiliani Youth or both. The objection of their adoration was soon revealed: a vaguely Baltic-looking man in longish curls and macramé scarf. He has the stink of a New Age rock star: chiseled, earnest, vapid, harmless. He is the manufactured love interest that high school jocks fear when their prom date chicks go back east to college, leaving Mr. Letterman Camaro drinking Coors Light and talking about losing the league championship on warm Thursday evenings by the gravel pits, hoping his girlfriend doesn’t fall for a sophisticated grad student full of sweaters and big ideas about Aspen and Locke’s social contract. But before I could decipher Meester Schmuck’s maudlin lyrics, the pictures of several astronauts flashed on screen: it was a pre-game tribute to those unlucky souls incinerated in American’s decades-old quest for hegemony over Mars and the price of crude oil. In increasing horror and fascination I watched as the thousands of “fans” crammed into the stadium held up placards that, when lifted together, made an adequate facsimile of the stars and stripes. Big business = pro football = empire = war = carefully controlled mass hysteria < common sense. At song’s end battle helicopters flew over the stadium towards the John Ford horizon, an unintended homage to “Apocalypse Now” and napalm and fear and death. Before some other MTV star can begin the national anthem, I hit the mute and finish reading the back of a cereal box.

The game itself was all right, though I don’t remember anything about it. Oh, just a minute. It’s coming back to me, like twists of smoke up the canyon to the sky. The underdog Carolina Panthers tied the game with a touchdown with under a minute left. They had all the momentum as the game headed into sudden death overtime. Or so I and a few hundred million other people thought. On the ensuing kick-off the Panthers misfire, booting the ball out-of-bounds. Horror or horrors. The Patriots (is there any doubt who Ashcroft and Rumsfeld root for?) got the ball at the 40-yard-line. Under the cool guidance of QB Tom Brady, New England moved crisply into field goal range, and kicked the winning field goal with only a few precious ticks left. Patriots hoot and holler, Carolina stares deep into its cups.

And oh, there’s something else clanging around the cold jail of my mind: the ridiculous half-time show where Janet Jackson’s breast was shown as part of a P.R. campaign. Upon closer examination (thanks to internet websites dedicated to celebrity lewdness) Janet’s right jug was kitted out in a metallic nipple ornament that looked like something a Norse warrior might use to fasten his cape or bearskin. This was meticulously planned spontaneity, subsequently blamed on faulty wardrobe stitching. Predictably, the Repugs at the FCC are enraged, crying foul and profanity and immorality. I don’t know, but give me a naked breast for half a second any day over a perpetual war on terror that destabilizes the entire world and bankrupts America. More clichés: Janet has a new album coming out. Oh that little imp of a social climber! A woman, and a black woman moreover! Put her in her place, drag her down, confuse the big issues. Meanwhile, beneath a circus tent and surrounded by leeches, perverts and victims, Janet’s brother Michael adjusts his plastic nose and titters. 

The phone rings and I pick up, expecting it to be friends from Boston pathologically enamored of the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics. But it’s N., who asks, “Incredible.” Yeah, he really blew it. “What are you talking about?” What are you talking about? “My new idea for an new emotion: 15 girls dancing slowly in a half-lit room with high ceilings, a big room, maybe a small ballroom, and these girls are moving slowly, almost imperceptibly, but they’re dancing, dancing to this soft twee rock music, and you’re just in the corner, watching them wind down, you know, like a strange and quiet ballet dancers, mechanical fleshbots.” Did you see the Super Bowl? “Football’s over, man. It’s tired, it’s last century.” N. hangs up, the bastard. On-screen the Patriots owner blathers on about teamwork and destiny and cream-filled marital aids. The sense of loss and bewilderment that comes with every post-game Super Bowl show. The commercialism, the false humility, the cries of next year and Janet Jackson flapping in the breeze. Football’s over. So what are you going to do about it? 

In other news, B-actor and C-singer David Hasselhoff has complained to the curators of the Berlin museum after discovering that his photograph was not part of an exhibit about the fall of the Berlin Wall. The actor and producer famous for those freedom-loving shows “Knight Rider” and “Baywatch” told German magazine TV Spielfilm that he had helped reunite Germany by singing his song 'Looking for Freedom' to millions of fans at the Brandenburg Gate. 

LOOKING FOR FREEDOM

One morning in June some twenty years ago
I was born a rich man's son.
I had everything that money could buy
but freedom I had none.

I've been looking for freedom
I've been looking so long
I've been looking for freedom
still the search goes on.

I've been looking for freedom
since I left my home town
I've been looking for freedom
still it can't be found.

I headed down the track
my baggage on my back
I left the city far behind.
Walking down the road with my heavy load

Trying to find some peace of mind.
Father said: You'll be sorry son
if you leave your home this way

And when you realize the freedom money buys
You'll come running home some day.

I've been looking for freedom
I've been looking so long

I paid a lotta dues,
had plenty to lose
traveling across the land.
Worked on a farm, got some muscle in my arm

But still I'm not a self-made man.
I'll be on the run for many years to come
I'll be searching door to door.
But given some time, some day I'm gonna find
The freedom I've been looking for.

I've been looking for freedom
I've been looking so long.

So maybe Germans are even crazier than we thought.

Hasselhoff recorded “Looking for Freedom” at the end of the Cold War. The song was number one in Germany for eight weeks. Hasselhoff was invited to sing “Looking For Freedom” on top of the Berlin Wall on New Year's Eve, 1989. “It was the first time Germany had been unified, and close to a million East and West German fans stood together in the freezing cold at midnight watching me perform. I was overcome with emotion,” said Hasselhoff. 

Well, David, not exactly the first time Germany has been unified. But let’s not dwell on the negative.

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