When my copy of Vanity Fair comes, I push everything else aside and go through page by page, tearing out the perfume samples and tucking them into my pocket, stopping to read the editor’s page and Christopher Hitchens (his hair is growing back), looking at all the photos and following the captions to see what the photos are of. All that is about the consumer upper class that controls or at least marks out so much of public life.
I might do this process twice. I also pull out all the extra thick paper and blown-in cards. Then I tear off the whole front half with the ads in it. They are hardly for me. Mostly they are meant for young people or old people with enough money to pretend they are young. Or who are looking to buy their own young person. After that I have a much lighter mag so I can -- as they used to say about Playboy -- read it for the essays. The funny thing is that you COULD do that with Playboy. There often WAS good content. (I had two brothers. I read anything I come across.)
Now I start from the beginning and read the articles, skipping all the ones about starlets and singers. I can’t tell them apart anyway, so why read about them?
I usually don’t understand the stories about the movie biz or deep corporate politics but I read them slowly and try to get it. Mostly it improves my vocabulary and once in a while I get the big picture. This is considered men’s stuff, I suppose. It’s about “game” -- as are most of the articles, really. I appreciate the “smack” lingo and tone.
I read the ones about computer stuff, which are becoming more crucial and complex as time goes on. This recent issue has me understanding a little better the whole Stuxnet crisis and the potential to bring civilization to its knees. I’m wondering about malware affecting satellites and rocket launches. I’m paying attention to the theory of origins and objects of attacks. No one is pointing any of this at me or even at Valier -- wait, there’s a intercontinental ballistic missile site just over the hill from me. Might be decommissioned. No one tells.
And then there’s a huge wind farm within eyeshot to the north that will soon (whether we like it or not) be connected to Canada, computer controlled. It’s not necessarily about the objects of destruction but about points of entry to the bigger system. Stuxnet was originally inserted into the system, they think, by using a flash drive or “thumb” stuck into a laptop. This week at the library I noticed a scruffy guy in a dirty ball cap that said LAPD on it. He had a gray ponytail and I didn’t know him. He seemed to be looking at dating sites and chances are he was unemployed and looking for a friendly woman. But maybe not. Our library is a hotspot and tourists park just outside to use the access. This makes some people nervous.
In line with the idea of particle-izing and then commodifying everything, there was an article about the guy who developed Twitter (where are you, what are you doing, meet up in the town square for a revolution) and the new program he’s working on, which is called “Square.” It’s a way of by-passing banks for direct pay through, say, American Express, by using a merchant’s swipe attached to the side of a smart phone. (Not in Valier. I don’t think our system supports smart phones.) I read Vanity Fair articles like this alongside the articles in the big time reflective websites like Edge.org. They often mesh rather well, esp. when the topic is something like medical issues. DNA research is very much like and enabled by computer developments. And money. There’s no use in being nervous -- full speed ahead.
I had a long love affair with Outside magazine a couple of decades ago and perhaps that’s why I’m less in love with the adventure articles now. I mean I started with Richard Halliburton when I was in grade school and still have “Romance of the Road.” One of these days I’ll get to Bruce Chatwin. Still, if someone like William Langweische is writing, that transcends mere adventure and begins to reach for the meaning of life. The first article I consciously read by him was about the World Trade Towers and it remains the account I trust the most. (I don’t trust the majority of stories about that event but I’m not one who thinks it was a conspiracy -- I think it was more a perfect storm of incompetencies, including the building inspection.)
Of course I appreciate the articles about authors and artists, though it’s all very much about Manhattan with maybe a little dash of LA or Europe. Not surprising. The mag is missing the whole elaborate scene of the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel. I suppose they think it’s unsophisticated, but the dynamics are about the same. And the money, although it’s old-fashioned resource development money.
There is a certain class of people who have one foot in the megacities with their glamour and danger, their politics and technicalities, and the other foot in a local scene somewhere undeveloped, practical, simple. In an underachieving way (I don’t have enough money for the city) this has been my strategy. To participate in ordinary local life full of weather and history is to stabilize one’s identity in a way that’s not really possible in a shifting scene of high theatricality and deception. Cities are places of culture-mix which can be creative or just confusing, even damaging. It’s hard to tell the predators from the prey. On the other hand in a rural setting one must behave as the locals do -- unless you have a lot of money.
I’m perfectly comfortable in this village. In fact, I can survive here but I can’t survive in the urban “fast lane.” Strange food, late hours, too much booze, unknown people underfoot as guests and hired help, and I’m destroyed. Anyway you have to fly to get there and I’m through flying. But it’s amazing how much of that life one can access through the web, UPS and Netflix. In fact, the main luxury in a small town is time. Lots of lovely time. So I have time to sit on a sunny spring afternoon, reading and tearing out the fragrant pages of a slick mag while the town backloaders scurry around out there, rearranging the snow, and Performance Today swells and ripples on the radio.