The Flaying of Kenneth Padilla

Santa Fe. January 2023.

The creature circled a glitzy ballroom, repeating the same cruel greeting for each of its two-dozen enablers. It would reach out with a webbed black hand stretched wide from pinkie to thumb. Like a bat. The bat hand would wrap itself around the whole hand of the businessman and give a quick, sharp squeeze. The creature would look into the businessman’s eyes as it hurt him, smile a lizard’s curling smile, and move on to the next besuited enabler.

Harry Martinez rubbed his stinging fingers after his turn and whispered to Doug Coake: “Remember when we pulled the strings?”

“Ssh!” Coake replied.

The creature’s tail swam slowly through the air behind its back as it loped on flattened talons from one man to the next. When it got to Carlos King, King refused to shake. King was standing straight as a steel pole, vibrating like a tuning fork. “I won’t—“ King’s voice cracked to a halt when the creature’s head craned down to his level and sniffed his photo-2face, neck, and chest. The nostrils at the end of its scaly snout stopped and the creature purred with a grave depth King felt along the nerves in his spine.

Go on,” it purred.

“I won’t give you any more money!” He was plowing ahead, screaming his rehearsed speech while he stared straight forward to avoid meeting the spotted yellow eyes of the creature. “My teachers won’t be forced to work for free! No more!” He threw himself down on his knees and put his palms up and tears emptied from the sides of his red hopeless eyes. “Let this be my fate! It must end!”

The creature tilted its head 15 degrees. Then a clawed hand rose and snapped two digits and a pale elfin slave in tattered and soiled robes stepped out from nowhere, coughed, raised a hand into the air, and wheezed “What’s disappointing, but not surprising. . .”

The elf coughed again. It was sick.

“ . . . is that this so-called ‘offer’ . . .”

On “offer” the elf made air quotes with shriveled green fingers.

“ . . . from the status quo defenders does not once mention the most important element of education – our students. . . .”

King cried out and wept harder. The elf continued.

“ . . . It’s unfortunate our students can’t afford the organized political operation from which union leaders benefit.”

The elf bowed its spotted fuzzy head and pulled up a hood to shroud its face in shadow. Then it was gone.

“It is always the same! Oh God!” King heaved with sobs and his body flopped forward. “The same words every time.” He was drooling on the rug.

What the creature said next came like a slow exhalation of smoke: “I know.

It turned its head toward Bitsy Harper, the investor standing nearest King. Bitsy flinched wildly as the creature opened its mouth and, with a reflexive head jut, hacked a glowing fire orb at Bitsy.

“NOOOOO!!!!” Bitsy shrieked as he stumbled drunkenly in small circles, arms flailing, whole body on searing blue fire. He ran to the window and crashed through, exclaiming agony. His death wail dimmed and ended suddenly.

Aaahahahahaha!!!!” The creature’s laugh was resounding and full-bodied and shook the chandeliers. A clawed finger pretended to wipe away a tear and then the creature lost the humor in its yellow eyes and peered down at Carlos King, who had exhausted himself crying and laid on his side merely whimpering, eyes closed, thumb just shy of mouth.

You’re going to continue payment,” the creature hissed at King, “and now you’ll cover Bitsy’s share as well.

 

. .<

 

January 2014 was a fine time to be in business with political elites. The perks stimulated. Parties, awards. Lavish meetings catered of lobster and chocolate fountains. Having money meant you had sway over powerful people, and those powerful people enjoyed decadent meals.

Money swindled is 50 times as sweet. And it gushed. Net profits would double or triple from year to year as fat contracts were inked with winking impunity and tax rates shrank to nothing. What’s my business? Didn’t matter. All it took to feast from the cash geyser were connections, and flattery got you everywhere.

Then the weirdoes showed up—misplaced like men in a gynarchy; their sex simply different. Everything would have been fine if it just stayed about the money, but here’s the problem with getting rich doing practically nothing: Any soulless monkey can choose to join the game. They could play, to be fair. But they were fucking weird.

“Don’t you know the devil is real?” The rookie representative was twitchy, little hair wisps free from gravity. Thin neck. Why didn’t he blink? “We are chosen, and all is lost if we do not keep the devil away.”

Uh. What did that have to do with making money?

There were nine of them, elected the same year. Crazy-eyed. Devil this and devil that. They were obsessed. Amazingly, they seemed uninterested in money. Wherever their funding came from, they did not appear to work for it. They were always together, holding meetings about changing laws, or singing rhymes in unison.

One night a powerful senator was working late, talking with his lady friend, and one thing led to another. They were expecting privacy when they opened the rusty door to the deepest room in the capitol basement. Instead they saw a group of 12 legislators sitting naked on the stone floor in a circle around what looked like a mutilated animal. Each held an elaborately hilted dagger.

It was the new weirdoes and a few of the odder legislature veterans. They’d been chanting something when the lady friend’s scream cut them off. They looked at each other with instantaneous fear, and there was a flash of blue electricity and a roar like a tiger, maybe, and the powerful senator swore he saw a monster with long, spiny arms and a tail, but he was so scared and split too quickly to be sure what he’d seen.

The 12 from the basement were even stranger after that evening, which hadn’t seemed possible. They became more stiff—wooden—in their dealings with law changes. But they kept at it. Eventually the creature they created came out of the basement.

 

. . <

 

Ken Padilla shook his head and snapped back to the ballroom. His tie was steel blue. He had been day dreaming so deeply that he only barely noticed the flaming man leaping through the fourth-floor window.

They’d gotten numb. A nightmare creature from hell was bossing everyone around under threat of torture or death, and they acted like it was normal.

Goosebumps rose across all the doughy flesh beneath Padilla’s black suit. His mind was going places he didn’t want to be. Epiphany hit like a wave.

“Come quick the revolution,” Padilla said. Out loud.

Padilla uttered those words—through the protestation of his self-preserving conscience—at the creature’s back as it stood poised over a quivering lump of Carlos King. Jagged plates rose along the spine, up a long neck that rotated the terrible head 180 degrees. “What did you say?” it asked Padilla. The rest of the black body followed. It got close. Sniffed. Spread its lipless grin and ran a tongue across rows of sharp needle teeth. The sound and smell of the tongue were nauseating.

Padilla didn’t dare reply. He fought to keep composed, but peed himself. The creature was near enough to be all Padilla saw.

Revolution,” it repeated, amused, hot breath blasting Padilla’s face and puffing back his hair. “With you, I think, I’ll have some fun.

What it did next was not fun for Kenneth Padilla.

 

. . <

 

This has been a work of Flip Side fiction. It was entered into the Santa Fe Reporter writing contest, but lost.

Eat Money: The Governor is Dirty

The Democrats have been dealt a full house. Now let’s wait for them to fold. We’ll come back to this.

First: nut-sack stapling.

“The performance can be seen as a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference and fatalism of contemporary Russian society,” Pavlensky said in a statement.

Pyotr Pavlensky nailed his balls to the cobbles in Russia’s Red Square a couple weeks ago. It was bold and gross and art. Pyotr-Pavlensky

Here’s the most perfect political protest idea for New Mexico: Go to the bank and withdraw hundreds of dollars in change and small bills. Take this cash to the center of the beautiful rotunda in the Roundhouse, New Mexico’s capitol building here in Santa Fe. Eat the money slowly, until news crews and a crowd start gathering (I promise they will) and police intervene.

Eat the money until it wrecks your body.

Governor Susana Martinez is all about the money. She’s constantly jetting to out-of-state fundraisers. New Mexico’s major paper doesn’t ever ask what she’s doing at them, but it does write tiny stories every time she goes to one, just to let us know. This is an almost daily occurrence, and the travel pays off: She’s raised roughly $4 million.

You don’t slurp up that much cheddar sitting in an office, reading and talking to nerds.

Put dirty, sweaty coins and ones and fives in your mouth. Chew the bills a bit and swallow it all down. Repeat. While you eat the money, say through pained tears: “$4 million while your children starve!”

Everyone in this state should consider reading the recent blockbuster article from National Journal, about Gov. Martinez and her “top adviser” Jay McCleskey, who runs the governor’s fundraising operations. His eerie portrait was shot by Steven St. John, who honed his craft at the venerable Albuquerque Tribune:

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Perfect. Well done, Steve. It’s “There Will Be Blood.”

We already know through the paper’s political coverage that the governor flies frequently for fundraisers. Here’s what else we learn from National Journal about Martinez:

– She didn’t know much about the law granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. When she asked a stupid question about it by email, Daniel Libit reports, “McCleskey chimed in: ‘Voters are hugely opposed to giving illegal immigrants driver licenses … especially Republican primary voters and we should take advantage of every opportunity to discuss the issue.'” It became her top political priority. Good robot.

– McCleskey pays himself more than $13,000 per month from the money Martinez raises.

– The governor has positioned herself as an “immigration hawk,” but didn’t know what the Dream Act was when she was interviewed by Latina magazine.

– There is a Republican Civil War going on behind the scenes over how much power McCleskey should wield. Rep. Nate Gentry Weasel is on the governor’s side. (Prediction: He will soar.)

– McCleskey texted Andrea Goff, who used to raise money for Martinez but apparently quit that job because it was evil, “Buster screwed us… he was supposed to pass it.” Buster Goff is Andrea Goff’s father-in-law, appointed by Martinez to the State Fair Commission. McCleskey sent that text after Buster didn’t vote for a huge state contract with a major campaign donor. That’s my favorite part. The governor stepped off the iron throne to personally twist arms on that one.

So there it is. All these fundraisers are just “another fundraiser” in the newspaper stories, but she’s not getting millions for nothing. They’re making deals. The Downs was just one. There’s almost certainly loads others.

Quick recap: Martinez spends all that time with donors, and her “top adviser” is the dude who runs her PAC. He specializes in rat fucking (literally) and getting money from rich people. He is telling the governor whom to hire, how to run departments, what her positions should be and how to talk to press.

And-oh-by-the-way the hypocrisy is pretty brazen. McCleskey says “Frankly, I think it is a bit sexist to suggest that the governor doesn’t make up her own mind.” No it isn’t. And anyway, check out this bit of reporting, from the intrepid Independent Source PAC:

The (female) victim submitted a handwritten report. . . . Regarding McCleskey, the victim wrote, “he threatened me via the internet, then came over to my apartment at approximately 9:40 pm tonight. He proceeded to tell me to get out of my apartment. I told him to leave. He threw me against the wall, onto my bed. I tried to get up and he kept throwing me down. His friend finally pulled him off of me and he left.”

Does that story rate, sexism-wise? Maybe.

This is the lizard-man pulling strings behind the governor. All the evilness is public record. It should be a slam-dunk for a Dem next year in the election. Stay on the money: Taxpayer dollars for six-figure salaries for spouses. (Also here.) (And here.) All those trips to donor parties aren’t free; there’s at least security we pay for. Exercise equipment. (She lives in New Mexico. Go outside!) Millions raised for glitzy balls and campaign ads.

McCleskey pays himself handsomely to make ugly cardboard flyers full of typos, but there’s lots of money leftover to relentlessly bombard our mailboxes. Expect robocalls galore, too. Expect to hear “Senator X sides against children” over and over in commercials during favored TV shows. Those commercials are hacks’ trash, but they’re big-money, and science says they work.

It’s depressing. Show me a Democrat willing to take on the fundraising culture of politics and I’ll show you the next governor. The mob would turn on privileged insiders.

Dems won’t do it, though. Maybe it’s because they need that money, too, but aren’t nearly so good at getting it.

They’ll choose to debate a liar and lose. Fold their full house, because politics is a game and this is how they play. Forever.

The rise of guys like McCleskey has accompanied the fall of good government. It’s enough to make a person nail-gun his balls. Or eat cash?

I once thought McCleskey might have killed my dog. Too much TV.

Writer Neil Gaiman and Actor Benedict Cumberbatch

Neil Gaiman’s book “Neverwhere” got banned in New Mexico. But that’s not important right now.

Gaiman’s “American Gods”—a novel ranked No. 10 on this list of the best science-fiction and fantasy books ever—was to be turned into an HBO show. The website Patheos.com (“Hosting the Conversation on Faith”), reported over summer “It’s Official: AMERICAN GODS to run six seasons on HBO.”71uz03MbHBL._SL1051_

But then today, this devastation:

Neil Gaiman has just confirmed on his AMA Reddit with Amanda Palmer that while his book American Gods is still in development as a TV show, it is no longer with HBO. This is sure to lead to fervent speculation about what network will eventually pick it up! What do you think? Should it be AMC now that they’re down Breaking Bad? Netflix? Let the debate begin!

Netflix! That book’s about a big, quiet loner who gets out of prison and becomes body man for Odin. They travel the country recruiting old gods to join a final battle in a war against new American gods including media, freeways, and drugs. It gets huge. Imagine this as a TV show:

White foxes padded up the hill in company with red-haired men in green jackets. There was a bull-headed minotaur walking beside an iron-fingered dactyl. A pig, a monkey and a sharp-toothed ghoul clambered up the hillside in company with a blue-skinned man holding a flaming bow, a bear with flowers twined into its fur, and a man in golden chain mail holding his sword of eyes.

. . . A sniper at the top of the hill took careful aim at a white fox, and fired. There was an explosion…

It’s a cool book, and it would make an amazing show. I vote Vin Diesel as Shadow. Come on Netflix.

It was Alamogordo High School, 200 miles south of Santa Fe, where a parent complained about a scene with an under-blouse feel-up and swearing. “Neverwhere” was pulled from shelves. Teachers were to stop teaching it.

That one’s about a normal guy who gets stuck in a magical world beneath London’s streets. He tries to help a girl solve a murder mystery as they’re hunted by two sadistic immortal assassins.

“Neverwhere” was this month returned to the Alamagordo sophomores: the district now states the book is “educationally suitable, balanced and age-appropriate” and the novel will return to classrooms and the library.

Everyone should celebrate the controversy by reading it. That’s how you slap back at selfish piety. Or, at least, check out this radio-play version of the story. It’s really fun and well-made, with great acting and clever sound effects. Benedict Cumberbatch is the voice of the Angel Islington, so he can cross that one off his list.

Cumberbatch gets to be the voice of Smaug in “The Hobbit” movies. Or so they say. It feels like we’re never gonna see this god-damn dragon. You think he’ll show up for the last five minutes of the new (middle chapter) “Hobbit” movie that comes out next month, as a tease to the next $18-per-ticket installment? Because I do! Why did this have to be nine hours long? It’s supposed to be about a hobbit and a group of dwarfs defeating a dragon. It’s pretty basic. The cartoon was 71 minutes.

What was I . . . ? Benedict Cumberbatch has a killer resume. He gets big parts. Serious biopic about a controversial present-day icon? Check: “The Fifth Estate.” Supervillain in a summer blockbuster? Check: Khan. As Sherlock Holmes in “Sherlock” he’s neurotic and funny and haunted and uniquely brilliant. That show is awesome, addictive entertainment.

He gets to be in “12 Years a Slave,” the best movie since “There Will Be Blood.” We established a few days ago here that “12 Years a Slave” is acting’s pinnacle, destined to win Oscars for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, and to have multiple nominations in every category.

Cumberbatch plays Ford, and he probably won’t get an Oscar nomination because it’s one of the movie’s least-flashy roles. But it’s a complicated part, and Cumberbatch nails the nuance. Ford was a kinder owner but he sent Solomon to Epps. To hell. He preached gospel over a slave bawling because she’d lost her children forever. He cut Solomon down from the noose, but not until Solomon had hanged there—toes tapping the mud—for who knows how long. Is Ford a good person in a bad world, or a bad person who’s worse for not knowing it? Both, and neither. It’s a hard note to nail.

Cumberbatch should play a Bond bad guy next, or a talkative Quentin Tarantino hero. Then go to Netflix to play Shadow in “American Gods,” if Vin Diesel turns it down.

Cumberbatch is Sherlock on the right. On the left is Watson, played by Martin Freeman. They're the two main characters if you count the dragon it still seems like we're never gonna see.

Sherlock and Watson (Martin Freeman). They’re also in “The Hobbit” together.

Omar Comin’ to “12 Years a Slave”

Omar is on the boat that takes Solomon Northup to slavery. The bad wolf of “The Wire”—Obama’s stated favorite character on that beyond-classic TV show—appears, at first, with a metal mask chained around his face, like Hannibal Lecter or Bane. He vows to fight, tries to fight, gets killed, and thrown overboard. He lasts maybe five minutes of film time, a mystery warrior who chooses to rebel. Solomon dumps his body and watches it drift out to sink below the waves. There’s a message there: Don’t fight.

This is an amazing cameo by the actor Michael K. Williams. He survived a prison stabbing attack in “The Wire,” but his “12 Years a Slave” character is dispatched via stabbing in practically no time. Slavery was so much more perilous than the modern-day Baltimore drug game.

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#–#

I used to play handball with a guy who explained between games that modern government welfare was like slavery. Poor people are relying on the government for their food, he said, and for their shelter. That was the extent of his argument. “Slavery.”

Sarah Palin said the other day in a speech “When [our debt] comes due, and this isn’t racist … but it’s gonna be like slavery … we are gonna be beholden to a foreign master.”

These two won’t be seeing “12 Years a Slave,” but they should. The evil of slavery (personified by Michael Fassbender as a villain, Epps, destined to be remembered forever) was rape, torture, and demented physical and psychological abuse.

Solomon runs once—and happens upon one of the movie’s scariest, most graphic scenes. Another message from on high: Don’t run. Just like the boat death of Omar was a message not to fight.

Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce calls Sarah Palin Princess Dumbass of the Northwoods. Unless she’s willing to say on-the-record that “12 Years a Slave” isn’t accurate, Princess Dumbass should shut up about comparing anything to slavery. Everyone should.

#–#

My wife said the movie made her “physically uncomfortable,” and demanded afterward to be taken straight home to hug our baby. So much for a drink. There were sobs throughout the theater as we left.

“The Passion of the Christ.” That’s the last time I felt so physically afflicted—in the face and gut—over a movie character. (Maybe “Boys Don’t Cry,” too.) Except in this case, visceral sadness and sympathy are a byproduct of an exciting, interesting flick filled with great actors playing compelling characters.

Scene after scene is just excellent. When Solomon wakes up in chains it plays like raw horror. Then there’s the auctioneer (Paul Giamatti) walking among his kidnapped slaves, many stripped naked, hitting them and pulling on their faces. A family is split apart despite an appeal to the auctioneer’s decency. (There’s no decency.) A little later, we watch the kindest of Solomon’s owners, Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), preaching gospel over the sound of a mother weeping for having lost her children. Ford’s religion probably makes him feel better about enabling such a wretched institution, but it can’t cover the basic wrong he’s committed.

The whippings in this movie make that famous Denzel Washington scene in “Glory” look G-rated by comparison. Even something as simple as a letter being burned in the dark takes on profound meaning because it’s filmed so thoughtfully by director Steve McQueen and the filmmakers.

And oh, God, what happened to Patsey? Epps’s wife is a Hitchcockian monster (think a meaner Mrs. Danvers from “Rebecca”) who torments poor Patsey with physical attacks that make you cringe. And what Epps himself does to her is so much worse. Patsey, man. Patsey. She could pick 500 pounds of cotton a day. . . .

#–#

Other favorite cameo, besides Omar? Paul Dano. He shows up to be evil for a while, squeaking like he squeaked as Eli Sunday in “There Will Be Blood.” Is “12 Years a Slave” the best movie since “There Will Be Blood”? It’s a fair comparison, since both films feature the main character beating the hell out of a shrieking Paul Dano. Kudos.

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See that rope behind him? Messing with Paul Dano had some seriously vicious consequences for Solomon.

How many acting Oscars can one movie be nominated for? We’re about to find out. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon, for so many scenes but especially when he sings at the funeral. Fassbender, for sure. Dano? Paul Giamatti as the auctioneer? Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Patsey, is gonna be a Supporting Actress favorite. Just wait. Sarah Paulson as Patsey’s jealous tormentor is gonna get a look, as well.

#–#

This blog had some fun previously with Brad Pitt’s “World War Z.” Pitt produced “Z” and that movie seemed an indulgent vanity project. It stripped away everything but the title from a beloved horror novel to make a zombie blockbuster without any good zombies.

But Pitt’s production company also made “12 Years a Slave,” and Ejiofor said it was Pitt’s star power that made the movie happen.

He puts himself in the movie, toward the end. Brad Pitt gives one of the very few featured performances that won’t get nominated for an Oscar, but that probably doesn’t matter. I imagine Pitt swung the deals to get this movie made and put himself in there because he simply wanted to be in something so great.

This is the best film of his career. He said so.

There’s a scene where Fassbender’s Epps is chasing Solomon with a razor. They run through a muddy, shitty pig pen and as Epps is jumping the fence he catches his knees and flips forward to smash into the ground. He growls. A pratfall like that is normally meant to be funny. In this case, it’s an instant of surreal physicality driving home two points:

1) This is a ridiculous, insane situation.

2) The acting, writing, and directing in “12 Years a Slave” are amazing in ways both big and small.

This is the best movie of Brad Pitt’s career, and he was in “Fight Club.” It may go down as one of the best pictures ever made.

God Fight

At the 4:25 mark of “Rap God,” Eminem says “I’ma kill you. Lyrics coming at supersonic speed.” Then he’s like an Olympic sprinter off the starting blocks. Em raps fast enough to sing 90 words in 15 seconds,* his voice a machine gun. The sequence ends with “I make elevating music/You make elevator music.” And it all rhymes. Look up the lyrics to this song and you’ll see long sentences, because Eminem can rap at supersonic speed and he has a lot to say. BGAPEE05

“Rap God” is one of the best tracks on Eminem’s blockbuster new album “The Marshall Mathers LP 2.” The other biggest album of 2013 is “Yeezus,” by Kanye West, which includes a song called “I am a God (feat. God).”

So, two hip-hop icons. Each with a new album. Each with a song about how he—is—a—God. It’s a God fight of the highest order.

(Unless you believe in real Gods. Who fight.)

And it’s not even close. Kanye’s “I am a God” is an awesome song, but it’s crap compared with “Rap God.” “I am a God,” Kanye says. Then he says it again, and again, and again. The lyrics in-between that same line on repeat are much shorter. “I am a God” features this absolutely classic line:

I am a God

So hurry up with my damn massage

In a French-ass restaurant

Hurry up with my damn croissants!

Terrific stuff, but it’s also quick and goofy compared with Em. (“I am a God” is half as long as “Rap God,” too.) It’s one thing to be a God because you just say it constantly and brag about how large your life is. It’s another to claim Godly powers and then rap crazy lyrics in this way that thrills for the sheer skill and talent it takes to spit so well.

We can’t sing along with Eminem. We can merely bob our heads and smile.

Kanye sells plain white T shirts with his name on the tag for $120. He proposed to his reality-TV-star girlfriend, Kim Kardashian, by renting out AT&T Park, where the San Francisco Giants play. He had an orchestra playing while the jumbo-tron flashed “PLEEEASE MARRY MEEE!”

Eminem married his high school sweetheart twice. Her name’s Kim, and their relationship has been fraught enough to spawn songs about him killing her with the help of their daughter. Eminem has also adopted two other daughters related to Kim (according to Wikipedia).

At the beginning of the great, great “MMLP2” song “The Monster” (featuring Rihanna), Eminem raps about wanting to be an artist, not a celebrity.

I wanted the fame but not the cover of Newsweek

Oh well, guess beggars can’t be choosey.

Wanted to receive attention for my music

Wanted to be left alone in public, excuse me.

He means it. Kanye, on the other hand, loves fame. Cultivates it. The unveiling of his kid’s name (North) was HUGE gossip-mag news. Eminem is adopting daughters and keeping it himself.

At the end of Kanye’s “I am a God,” the music gives way to long screams. The soundtrack goes full-blown slasher-flick. He’s screaming, and we hear the sound of running steps, and the music sounds like it should accompany Michael Meyers slowly stalking a babysitter.

What’s with the screams? The website Rap Genius proffers thus:

(T)hese are screams of being internally tortured.

Kanye is a god in terms of material success, but he ends the song screaming for his life, stopping for breath, panting, only to start again in front of a horrorcore backdrop. He’s like a victim in a slasher flick—except he’s being eternally tortured and pursued by his inner demons.

It’s a theme that’s been apparent from (“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”) onward. The notion that he’s sold his soul for fame and fortune and the juxtaposition between his strongly-Christian upbringing/core and his decadent celebrity lifestyle of sin.

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That’s interesting, and when you’re listening to the song it makes you think. But it doesn’t make you bob your head and smile. It’s not really music, listening to a guy scream and run.

Kanye’s a celebrity making art; Eminem’s a writer making music. Being a God is about creation, right? And creation is putting out product. Both men are claiming to be Gods, but one created a better song about it than the other. This God Fight goes to Em.

*Check out the 8-minute mark of this performance.

NFL Concussions and My Conscience

Let’s talk about Reggie Bush.

Football combines speed and strength like no other major sport. You must be able to knock over and/or outrace huge defenders to be an NFL playmaker. This is why the average NFL career lasts under four years—it’s incredibly hard to keep your body strong enough to do it well.

Thus the list of best players often changes from year to year. Once someone like Michael Vick or RG3 or Terrell Owens starts playing really great, they have to give absolutely everything they’ve got, enduring terrible punishment to make big plays. The prime of a career can be just one season.

RG3 last year, right? Young Bruce Willis to Cam Newton’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. Or Adrian Peterson gaining 2,000 yards for the Vikings, willing his team to the playoffs. Remember Randy Moss’s rookie year? Or when Falcons-era Vick won that playoff game in Lambeau? Vick highlights used to be better than “Mad Men.”

My favorite football player in 2005 was Reggie Bush, and he wasn’t even in the NFL yet. On the big-money (wink wink) University of Southern California football team, Bush unleashed what I believe is the best running-back play I’ve ever seen. He has Olympic-sprinter speed, so even when he slows down to put a move on a guy—and his jukes humiliated defenders—he was still blazing so much faster than everyone else on the field. He’d accelerate the whole time, breaking tackles and jumping over guys. He averaged 8.9 yards per carry that year. The average length of his 16 touchdowns was 31.9 yards. Big. Ass. Plays.

(Video highlights!)

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AND YET. The play I think about first when I think about Reggie Bush is this hit he took as a professional on the New Orleans Saints, against the Eagles. Click here for the clip. This is a photo:

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It was such a violent hit, but its immediate aftermath made it sad. Bush stood to walk it off and within two steps was back on his knees, crawling. He was hurt terribly. The guilt I felt watching this hit is more memorable than the joy of seeing him skate around defenders like a demigod at the pinnacle of his magic abilities.

. . . . &*<–

This current NFL season has been really fun so far. Burque league opponents will tell you my fantasy team, Mingo Fuck Yerself, has won seven straight games thanks to Megatron, Jimmy Graham, and an unmatched stable of four RB1-level running backs—Knowshon, Lacy, Fred Jackson, and Giovani Bernard (who just Thursday night broke the best touchdown highlight of the year).

I’m playing the Burque commissioner this weekend, and am leading our game 100.35 to 97.00 as I type this. I’ll remain in first place even if I lose.

Look, do not take a running back in the first two rounds of a fantasy draft. Take the best wide receiver and the best tight end. Take running backs in the middle rounds—rookies and older vets who get a lot of carries.

I am loving fantasy this year. I sit there watching games for hours every Sunday, updating the score on my phone’s fantasy app constantly.

. . . . &*<–

There is this fantastic new book out, called “Slow Getting Up.” It’s by Nate Jackson, who played tight end for the Broncos in the middle aughts. He writes about an injured teammate getting drunk on the sideline during games; about the difference between his weekly salary as a practice-team player ($4,000) and as a member of the official roster ($15,000); about how hard it is for a pro athlete to date but how easy it is to get laid; about camaraderie and friendship among teammates in the face of destructive drama like losing streaks, terrible coaching (Mangini on the Browns), or quarterback controversy (Denver turning on Jake Plummer for rookie Jay Cutler).

And he writes about a practice when he was on a German NFL Europe team:

Players grunt, coaches yell, and pads and helmets crack, creating a frightening symphony of early-onset dementia.

Early-onset dementia.

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The PBS show “Frontline” had a blockbuster episode last month called “League of Denial,” about the prevalence of brain injuries in football players and about NFL executives working to downplay the danger. “League of Denial” was full of crazy anecdotes, like former Steelers center Mike Webster, whose mind fell apart after football to the point he was living in a truck Superglueing his teeth into his head and falling asleep by Tasing himself. Junior Seau, an amazing linebacker for the Chargers over the decade I was becoming a football fan, killed himself with a shotgun blast to the chest just three years after he retired. Other ex-NFL players have committed suicide the same way. They do it so their brains can be studied.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a condition football players get from knocking into one another so frequently. Their brains develop spots. The side effects are dementia, memory loss, confusion, depression, and aggression.

When a 21 year-old football player with no history of concussions killed himself, doctors analyzed his brain and found CTE. One doctor tells “Frontline” she wonders if every football player has it.

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The Cleveland Browns are playing the despicable Baltimore Ravens as I type this. The Browns are winning. My two-month-old daughter is sleeping in her monkey rocker next to me, wearing the little Browns onesie my badass aunts sent us when she was born. This is great?

A quick check of my phone, and . . . . Yes, I’m still barely winning my fantasy matchup, and I got T.Y. Hilton going tonight for the Colts and beastly Packers playmaker Eddie Lacy going on Monday Night Football. Mingo Fuck Yerself is a hurricane of awesome. This is great?

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I see so many head-to-head collisions every Sunday as I watch these games. They happen constantly, hits damaging the brains of these amazing warrior athletes, the gladiators of now.

If I’d lived in ancient Rome I would have watched those gladiators murder each other with swords and spears. The Coliseum’s full whether I’m there or not, right? There’s nothing I could have done to stop the blood in the sand, and they probably put on a great show.

So, what? Keep watching football, right? The NFL is so much fun, and unlike years past the players actually know how much they’re damaging their minds by playing. Maybe that makes it all right.

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I want the decision taken out of my hands. The hope is my daughter will get older and we’ll have too many fun daddy-daughter things to do on Sundays, so no time for watching football. Then I won’t have to hear these guys’ heads cracking together so often.

But what if the Browns draft Johnny Football Manziel and he gets them to the Super Bowl? They win the championship, but at the end of the game he takes a head hit so huge it kills him. This far-fetched scenario would be absolutely awful, but there would be a moment when all beleaguered Cleveland fans felt the long-sought joy of truly winning.

It would be sick.

Men Vs. Monster

Derrick Rose is back on the Chicago Bulls after missing all last season with a blown-out knee. He was MVP a few years ago, over LeBron James. He gets buckets at the end of close games, and the Bulls have the best defense in the NBA so their games are always close. D-Rose did it in his second game back, three nights ago, against the Knicks—blasted past one defender with long strides and launched himself into a much taller help defender, Tyson Chandler, a seven-foot former defensive player of the year. Click here for the video. This is a photo:

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D-Rose, on the left there, is nine inches shorter than Chandler, yet you see him shooting from well above the big man’s reach. This was the deciding shot with five seconds left in a one-point Bulls win.

D-Rose is 6-foot-3, 190 pounds. He’s a man. LeBron James is a monster. Six-eight, 270. No one said it would be easy.

Last playoffs, the Houston Rockets’ Patrick Beverly dove into Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook’s right knee as Westbrook was calling timeout. (Video.) Westbrook stood, spun, and angrily smashed his hand onto the scorer’s table. He kept trying to straighten but stayed bent over, holding the knee. Limping terribly. When he did stand, he stared scary-furious down the court at Beverly.

Like D-Rose, Westbrook is a powerful man-sized point guard with impossible athleticism. He needs his right knee for attacking the basket. He had surgery. With the season beginning this week, Westbrook can’t come back because of complications with the stitches, necessitating additional surgery. Sigh . . . .

Westbrook is much less disciplined than D-Rose. Westbrook shoots a lot more. He’s less efficient, but he can dominate and score 40 points. And he isn’t even the best player on his team! The Beverly hit cost Kevin Durant his best teammate: Westbrook the warrior wing man and weapon.

Before last season the Thunder stupidly traded James Harden, aka “Pappa Smurf Beard.”

IFWT_James-Harden-beard-4

Pappa Smurf Beard is a scoring-machine shooting guard in a league with very few good shooting guards, and the Thunder dumped him for lesser guys because the Oklahoma City owner/bosses couldn’t afford to pay another superstar’s salary.

Durant is so fun to watch and so easy to root for. He’s taller (6-9) than LeBron, and way smoother. The ball looks light in Durant’s hands, and his shooting form is feathery perfection, hand curling into the cookie jar every time. He’s the top scorer in the NBA, but he’s screwed if Westbrook’s knee can’t recover.

You have to have good teammates. Jordan had Scottie. LeBron left his home-town team in Cleveland to play for the Miami Heat so he could team up with Dwyane Wade. Durant needed James Harden, and now he definitely needs Russell Westbrook.

D-Rose had to take a whole season off to get his knee right. Now he is the tip of the spear that may be the only hope to beat the Heat.

Durant is doomed in his quest to beat LeBron if Westbrook can’t come back much faster than D-Rose did.

Watch these knees. LeBron is a monster. You need nice knees to take him down. You have to be able to fly.

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