12 July 2007

Dept. of Richochets and Gooseflesh

Jon Lee Anderson establishes some field cred, and Ian Frazier horripilates at the "uncanny scent of our beginnings."

I never read thrillers growing up, unless you count the Hardy Boys. And no spy novels, apart from "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," by John LeCarré, which I had to read for a fourth-year class on espionage at SFU—the class I was in, incidentally, when the attacks of September 11th took place. I didn't play with G.I. Joes, and, frankly, never understood the ecstasies my Egyptian friend Kareem found in them, flinging himself, and the figurines, around the pool deck at his Toronto home, spittle flying from his mouth—Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat, Snake Eyes, noooo!!!

All of which is to say I was unprepared for Jon Lee Anderson's ducking, barrel-rolling, ricocheting account of American opium eradication efforts in Afghanistan, "The Taliban's Opium War" (July 9, 2007). About midway through the article the prose turned all And then we heard an explosion over the ridge; there were shell casings and bone fragments all around. We poked our head out of the foxhole, and I had to remind myself that I wasn't reading a paperback I'd found wedged between two bus seats. And just seconds after that admittedly disparaging thought, I had another: Shit, the guy got shot at, for four hours, in Afghanistan. He's got more street cred—field cred, whatever—than Fitty. (Audio here.)

I had two more thoughts, too:
1) Invite more goateed, tatooed DynCorp employees to my next barbecue. How cool would it be to get them all hopped up on Bud and amphetamines and pair them off in human cockfights?

2) Save a little of that opium juice from the knocked-over and broke-open poppy, fieldworker Khalil! I'll swing by around eight. You can show me what to do—we'll make some tea, rub it on our gums, whatever.

Ah, I was going to write more about the insouciant little article that followed Anderson's (hence the post title), but I've run out of time for the moment. It was Ian Frazier's "On Impact," the tale of a meteorite (or perhaps something more sinister) that recently fell into the New Jersey home of Srinivasan Nageswaran. Although I know Frazier's name, I can't call to mind another of his articles. In this piece he's delightfully breezy, and he has a fine ear for slang. Tell me you don't love a guy who could write three opening sentences like these:
"People get excited when strange objects fall from the sky. We seek portents and meaning, we venerate the object, and we horripilate at the uncanny scent of our beginnings, or end. Even wised up by science as we are, we tend to freak."
("Horripilate"—I looked it up—means "to cause one's hair to stand on end and get goosebumps," as in "I horripilate at the sight of blood," or "Hitchcock movies horripilate me.")


AJ said...

I, too, was unprepared when I came across that part in Anderson's article yesterday. I was almost falling asleep (depressing reading tends to put me to sleep) on my couch in the afternoon. Then I sat up as I began to read that paragraph and got instantly hooked. It was quite an article.

JJB said...

It really was. I loved some of the comments of those DynCorp guys, too.

AJ said...

Yes, they were quite colorful. The last comment in the article - Was it said by one of the DynCorp guys? - kind of stuck with me and I have been mumbling it all morning, trying to decide if I would sound ridiculous repeating it to my friends at Starbucks later today.

I also liked Frazier's article (actually I liked all the articles in this week's New Yorker, except the book review by Tim Parks - it was so embarrassing I couldn't finish it). I generally love his Shouts & Murmur pieces. He wrote an interesting article a couple of years ago on the danger of history with capital "H" and Hulagu. He is one of the writers, I think, that make The New Yorker what it is.

JJB said...

Haven't got to the Parks review yet, but will keep that comment in mind. What was the DynCorp quote you were repeating? The one about how the real problem is "you, the press"?

Ah, now that you mention those Frazier pieces, I have a flicker of memory.

AJ said...

I thought "you, the press" sounded all too familiar, although it did get me to stop for a few seconds. The quote I was referring to was in the last paragraph. “Good thing I’m not an idealist—I’m just here for the money.” Is there any way I can say this without sounding like a villain in one of Kevin Costner's movies? Maybe I shouldn't repeat it to my friends. Maybe I should just give them the article.

JJB said...

No—use it! Best case scenario: you're getting out of a Nissan pick-up in the Starbucks parking lot, you flick a cigarette, utter the line, and punch your least-favorite friend in the face.


zp said...

!!OK, I was less forthright in my post on Anderson, but full disclosure, I thought it was creepy that the politics and imagery of the piece seemed so very similar to the BBC mini-series Traffik. Only that was "about" "Pakistan." Mid-read, I thought Anderson's action sequence might be a bit gratuitous but then I finished the article and I was sure it was.

But I've got to disagree re "strange objects [that] fall from the sky." Too precious - I read those same lines and moved on. Recent Frazier on the New York fox was brilliant, on the price of books, not so much. I think I posted on both but if the fox thing is online in full you must read it. You must.

People also liked Frazier on hogs, I think.

JJB said...

Too precious! Snake Eyes, noooo. I have to stand by that lede, although that charge of preciosity makes me wonder for a moment. We're not going to get all Wolcott/Gopnik on Frazier, I hope?

I will definitely check out your posts and the fox piece—cheers.

zp said...

Check it out. TNY archive describes it thus,

"SHOUTS & MURMURS casual about a coyote in Central Park. Told in the style of J.D. Salinger's 'Catcher in the Rye'"

Like it's made for you.

I, on the other hand, kind of didn't catch the references and read it to myself in a slightly different voice. Whoops.

Guilty Pleasure, "What I Am" from May 7.

JJB said...

Ahhh, so much to read! I shall report back.

Anonymous said...

Tsk, just when I thought I was your first Egyptian friend...!
Now i feel unspecial and de-exoticized! ;)
PS: The only thrillers I read growing up were Enid Blyton's "Barney" mysteries. Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and (im sorry to say) Agatha Christie were the literary equivalent of sleeping pills.

Mollie said...

Frazier is great. I thought the same thing about those opening sentences. He's written some tales-of-my-midwestern-past for the NYer, and some very funny humor pieces in the NYer and elsewhere.