Yes, I had a housemate named Lovan

Just got back from 28 Days Later. I’ve always had a soft spot for the director, Danny Boyle, since I first saw Shallow Grave, back in 1996 or so. I didn’t like his followup movie, Trainspotting, the first time I saw it, but it grew on me over the years. In fact, last summer I bought a poster of the opening monologue of Trainspotting (to remind me, I suppose, of all that I’ve given up so I can have my life as an alien in the suburbs).

I admit that I detested A Life Less Ordinary (but loved the soundtrack), and never watched his next movie, The Beach. But hey: It’s summertime, I’ve been stressed to bejesus over this issue of the magazine (all done tomorrow), and it’s a zombie flick.

Considering the two+ hours of my life that was wasted a few weeks ago by The Matrix Reloaded (freeway scene was fantastic, the “philosophy” was pretty much Lowest College Denominator, and the other fight scenes were over-choreographed), I figured 28 Days Later would be a decent way to spend an evening. Plus, I was hoping that at least one member of the audience would think this was the sequel to Twenty-Eight Days. Alas.

I enjoyed the movie, which is about a plague that has consumed England. The victims succumb to rage, driven to kill (and spread the virus, which is transmitted by blood). We view this new world from the eyes of a man who has been in a coma since the day it began, a bicycle messenger who was hit by a car one morning. He wakes in the hospital to find that London is empty. (For those of you raised on video games, this is done much better than the ending of the Resident Evil movie.) Eventually, he comes across an awful lot of corpses, and then some zombies (they’re not really dead, so it’s unfair to call them zombies, I know).

He hooks up with some other survivors, and learns how quickly you have to decide to kill someone if he or she becomes infected. It’s at this point that the movie then reminded me of a debate I once had back in Annapolis. At the time (1993-1995), I lived in this fantastic house, next door to the William Paca Gardens. Paca, you may or may not know, was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence.

At one point, our house was infested with mice. It took us (two guys and I lived on the first two floors, and a girl lived alone up on the third floor) several days to figure out the clues, but at that point, the problem grew severe. Not content to nibble on bits of cheese and run into perfect half-circle doorways chewed into the baseboard, they grew audacious. I was woken up one night by the sound of one trying to eat through the plastic lid of my Planters peanut container. I shuddered to imagine how huge these monsters could grow if they reached such a source of protein, so I winged my copy of the Bollingen Complete Plato across the room at the target. I missed, and the mouse darted away. But we knew we were in for a fight.

Here’s where the debate came in. The two guys and I opted to poison the mice, but the girl on the third floor insisted on “humane traps.” She felt it was cruel to poison the mice. I, despite my affection for Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus, made the following statement:

“We can’t be humane to them because THEY’re NOT HUMAN. See: they’re engineered to survive. We’re engineered to live. There’s a world of difference. We live. They survive. That’s why we don’t breed dozens of children every year or two. I want them to get pulmonary edema and die in front of their families. Better that than my getting hantavirus.”

In the end, we went our separate ways. Lovan, Fred and I poisoned the mice, and Katie used “humane traps.”

This turned out to be monstrously INhumane, because Katie went away for a long weekend, traps deployed. When she got home, there were approximately 1.5 mice left in the trap. I was called upon to clean it out for her, and take care of getting some poison traps in place in her apartment. I felt like Peter Weller in Naked Lunch. And not for the first time.

Let me get back to the movie. See, the characters are in a world where they can only survive, not live. The tension (besides the threat of rage-infected zombies trying to kill them) is the way they come to recognize the greater importance of this struggle. Not the idea of dying with dignity, but of living for something more than the next day. As one character learns to embrace this, another becomes so stripped of himself that he might as well be one of the Infected. It’s an interesting transformation, albeit against a backdrop remarkably similar to the finale of Apocalypse Now.

I’m not sure about the ultimate message of the movie, which I’m still parsing in my head (and can’t really discuss without giving away too much of the plot), but it was enough to make me think, which is a hell of a lot more than the new Matrix movie did.

So, if you’re into horror flicks that you can ponder after, or at least don’t mind the sight of bloodthirsty zombies in an art film, go catch 28 Days Later. [Note: the film appears to be shot on digital video, rather than film, and this REALLY becomes noticeable in the daylight outdoors scenes. I mean, to the point of distraction. I have a feeling it’ll look better on TV, where the details aren’t magnified as much as they are on the big screen. Or maybe I’m just too darn picky.]

All of this said, I’m glad I went to a 6:15 showing of this, and not a late night one. Because the zombie thing has always creeped me the heck out, to be honest. It’s one of those recurring nightmares, a world where everyone is simply massing to get you. You know: as opposed to my daytime paranoia, where I also figure everyone is out to get me, but at least they’re not trying to devour my brain. Well, not physically, at least.

And in fact, this is one of the problems I have with crowds. Not crowds in general, but crowds that are all out for a specific purpose, like at a rock “concert” or something. One of the videos that most profoundly weirded me out was for Drive, by REM. It’s a black-and-white performance video, consisting mainly of Michael Stipe, in slow-motion, crowd surfing. There’s something so fascistic about the spectacle of it, that I was literally revulsed the first time I saw it.

[Also, the song itself is a pretty dull knock-off of Rock On, by David Essex, the latter tune my friend and author Vince Czyz so beautifully integrated into his short story, Zee Gee and the Blue Jean Baby Queen.]

Sweet dreams, baby . . .

It begins…

Review copies of The Immensity of the Here and Now are in! The moment I finish up my gigantic Top Companies issue of the magazine, I’ll start sending out to reviewers (and other interested parties)! I was afraid the Print-on-Demand would come out looking crappy, but the quality’s just fine for review copies! Yee-haw!

In other news, I had a productive trip to DC for the BIO conference. Got to meet up with buddies from college and grad school, which was fun. Upon returning home, I had the added benefit of discovering that the central air in the house still works. This has been critical for survival, the last few days…


San Antonio this week (6/14-17), DC next week (6/22-24), laptop at the ready. I hope the change of scenery gets me writing thoughtfully again. But I’ll likely spend the evenings wrecked on margaritas.

I received a manuscript in the mail yesterday, about 100 pages, double-spaced, which I’m working my way through this morning. It’s a strangely compelling collection of short fiction, a little reminiscent of Charles Portis, but with less of the dry absurdism, and more of a nostalgia for a locale and an era that I’m not very familiar with. I’ll read the last story on the flight this afternoon, along with Moneyball, by Tabitha Soren’s husband.

Catching Up

Sorry to have been away so long. I’ve been too busy making excuses. The stack under the hall table is long gone. All the books are downstairs in the old rec room, which I’m planning on turning into a library/study. Spent yesterday evening tearing away about a third of the wood paneling that’s been on those walls since before I was born. I have visions for what to do with this great space, but no expertise. I hope I’ll be more diligent about it than I’ve been with this blog.

The Immensity of the Here and Now is at the print-on-demand company. I should have 75 review copies pretty soon (another week). Website to follow, provided my buddy John’s able to update

Got to show off my lack of Jewish observance, the past two weekends. First, I was invited to Sabbath dinner two Fridays ago by the family that hosted me on Passover. The father’s an American-Israeli rabbi; the mother’s Yemeni. They have 5 kids. Their Judaism is an ecstatic process, filled with impromptu singing and a love of God.

The mother seems to be obsessed with “making an honest Jew out of me;”thus the invite to Shabbat. I warned her that I’m not a very good Jew. Though I can transliterate, I can’t read quickly, and don’t remember very many prayers from my childhood at Hebrew school. More to the point, as I said to her, “There are much better ways to start a 25-hour period of rest and contemplation than by going from New Jersey to the upper east side on a Friday night.”

But I went, met some eligible women I wasn’t too interested in, bantered wittily, prayed, and ate. It was a lovely evening, but I felt like an alien, just like I did at Passover. Not because of anything they did, but because of a certain social ineptitude that I have. I have this real problem with just Letting Myself Go in company. When the people broke into song, slapping rhythms against the long wooden table, I found my back growing stiff and I felt out of place.

This isn’t only a function of being around devout Jews. Last fall, at my friends’ parents’ farm-house up in Granville, NY, I found myself weirdly withdrawn when the other 5 or 6 people at the house began “percussing”with all manner of drums and other instruments (NOT in a Robert Bly drum circle kinda way, mind you). They fell into each other’s rhythms so easily, I was flummoxed as to why I couldn’t get into it. And, of course, the moment you start thinking, you start over-thinking. (One of the few times, in fact, that I was able to get over this stuff was at a party held by the same friends (John & Liz), where I got wrecked, and bongo-ed my way through a couple of songs on Stop Making Sense. Who needs to think when your feet just go?)

This Saturday, I was invited over to a Shabbat/Shavuot lunch, at the home of a girl from high school, whom I’d only seen once since 1989. A far-left, non-religious, suburban Jew back then, she had transformed in the intervening years. At our 10-year reunion, we learned that she’d become an observant Jew (I hesitate to use the word “orthodox,”as it conjures stereotypical images of black hats) and wouldn’t be showing up that Saturday evening until an hour or so after sunset.

(I should point out, by the way, that I LOVE reunions for exactly that reason. It’s not simply the catching up with old friends that I enjoy, but the completely unexpected curve-balls you get thrown at you, like Dorothy becoming Devorah, or Greg the football thug becoming a hypnotherapist. I don’t think my career is particularly shocking to old acquaintances (everyone assumed I’d be “a writer,”), but my willingness to live in a quiet suburban world might freak them out a little.)

Anyway, Dorothy/Devorah invited me to her Shabbat lunch, where she and I talked for probably the first time. We didn’t get along back in high school. We corresponded a few times, following the 10-year reunion, but not extensively. So, when I began telling my stories, revealing the curious histories of my family, she was surprised. It’s a cliche, of course, to think that your life is completely normal, but I really did go many years assuming everyone had tales of immigration and “old country”stories that entailed six or seven old countries. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve realized these stories are exotic little treasures for average Americans.

What happened to the immigrant spirit? The more time I spend in that aforementioned quiet suburban world, the more it seems like people only have stories of their own pasts, that they’ve lost the stories of ancestors overseas.

Maybe it’s part of being a first-generation American, but I can’t really get in the mindset of people who had American parents. It’s a foreign experience to me (ha-ha), not having people who Came Here. But then, that’s sorta why our family went to see the Cosmos, not the Yankees, when I was a kid.

I’m rambling, but any of you who’ve ever spoken to me know that this is pretty mild, as far my rambles go. I’ll go into more details of Saturday’s lunch later.

Fortress of Solicitude

Sorry it’s been so long. Between the move (to the house I grew up in, which is unbelievably quiet and serene), the June issue (which will be done tomorrow, come hell or high water), the book (which went out to a POD company last week for review copies), and the ads I have to get made (for the new issue of Poets & Writers), I haven’t had time to write. But I plan on getting back to writing by the end of this week, probably kicking off with “The Lama and the King,” which I’ve wanted to write for a while. My main opus, “Gold/Stopwatch,” will have to wait a bit, till I’ve done more research and more cogitating.

But right now, it’s back to 3000 words on biomanufacturing, and another 1800 on the results of my magazine’s annual Salary Survey (item of note: the “most frustrating aspect of the job” for people who earn more than $150,000/year is “inadequate compensation”! Bite me!)

God is love.


No updates lately; sorry. Since returning from Puerto Rico (loads of fun, informative press tour, the discovery of rum and mofongos), I’ve been overwhelmed by the new book, the June issue of the magazine, and an impending move (less than two weeks from now). More soon.


In other news, I’m having a nice, relaxing time here. Been using SPF 30 sunscreen, so I’ve been okay thus far. Except that I seem to have sunburned the top of my head, which is pretty irritating (in more ways than one). Can’t really douse one’s hair with sunscreen, so it looks like I’m going to have to pick up a baseball cap sometime.


Drug Deal

I’m on a press trip in Puerto Rico this week, as mentioned earlier, and it’s been sorta tough to get any blogging done. The perfect sunlight tends to, um, make too much glare on the laptop’s screen. Yeah, that’s it.

Anyway, this morning, before heading out to the beach from my most excellent hotel, I trawled through the news and performed my usual morning info-ablutions, courtesy of CaribeNet‘s high-speed network ($14.95/day charged to the room, but it’s a necessary business expense, since the business center downstairs charges $25/HOUR (!) for net access.

During that time, I read Derek Lowe’s recent blog entry (Pfizer’s Shell Game) on the Pfizer/Pharmacia merger. Derek’s blog (In The Pipeline) is a great venue to get an idea of what’s going on in the intersection of drug development, business, and culture. I liked it so much in its previous incarnation (Lagniappe), that I asked Derek to contribute a regular column to my magazine, Contract Pharma. The first time we paid him is when I realized that Derek Lowe is NOT a pseudonym, and that he had no particular interest in the #2 pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.

I appreciated Derek’s entry today, not least because I tried writing a pair of editorials (I’ll post them when I’m back in NJ) in that vein about a year ago, when several major mergers were being floated in Big Pharma. Derek seems to have hit the nail on the head in the fundamental fallacy of Bigger-Pharma-Is-Better-Than-Big-Pharma: throwing more money at R&D doesn’t make your rate of success increase (and it may just slow down drug development).

Every industry goes through phases of major consolidation and, in some respects, Pharma (and Biopharma) has actually gotten to it much more slowly. The FTC and other groups make sure that no company has too large a share of the Pharma industry, forcing companies to sell of drugs in fields where it might otherwise dominate. I don’t have the numbers in front of me to determine the new Pfizer/Pharmacia’s market share (and I’m too lazy to look it up), but I’d bet it’s less than 15%.

What the merger seems to be about, coming so shortly on the heels of Pfizer’s 2000 acquisition of Warner-Lambert, is covering up short-term R&D problems by buying another drug pipeline. In my editorials on the subject, I talked about this concept, and how it just can’t work in the long term. At some point, there’s going to be no-one to acquire with a meaningful pipeline, and the burden of integrating tens of thousands of new employees is going to wreck the organization.

The question I had then, and still have, is this: Does sales-and-marketing mean more to Pfizer than research-and-development? It’s a tricky question, because without new drugs there’d be nothing to sell, but it could easily be argued that Pfizer bought Pharmacia because it was tired of co-marketing Celebrex (and its successors) and wanted to get the total share of the profits (and perhaps maximize them beyond the efforts of the two separate companies).

The fundamental point of Contract Pharma, is this: If you don’t do something very well (that is, as a core competency), pay someone else to do it. Otherwise you’re just wasting resources that can be focused on what you do best. It’s long been stated that what Big Pharma does best is develop drugs, and sell them. I’m just wondering which one’s more important to them.

The Here and Now of the Immensity

Spoke to Paul West earlier (and, for a brief moment, his lovely wife, Diane Ackerman), to make sure we were on the same page regarding his new novel, The Immensity of the Here and Now. At present, I’m wrapping up the process of selecting a printer. This is the first time Voyant has put out a hardcover release, and that’s a different proposition than making paperbacks. The plan is to combine printing of both hardcover and paperback (with the paperback going on sale a year or so after the hardcover), so as to keep overall costs down (even though I need to put out the capital to print the paperbacks that will sit unsold for a year).

Estimates from the dozen or so printers I’ve solicited range from $X to $XX (I don’t want to give away too much info). I mean, there’s literally a 100% range between the bottom and top bids. In fact, the highest bid comes from a company that always sends ridiculously high bids. It’s strange, because this company really goes out of its way to advertise how it handles short runs, sends nice sales materials, and makes plenty of followup calls. But this is the 4th straight job where they’ve come in thousands of dollars above anyone else, with no particular value added. At this point, I included them in the bidding process sort of as a joke.

But, since I now have a pretty good idea of the costs, I’m pretty confident in the cover price that the hardcover is going to carry. This is important because, without it, I can’t send out promotional materials to bookstores, reviewers, etc. Now I can finish up the layout of the book itself, and send it out to a print-on-demand company to make 50 uncorrected proofs of the book. These can then get mailed out to the aforementioned reviewers, as well as people we hope will provide early blurbs for the book.

[Meanwhile, Mr. West will go over one of the uncorrected proofs and turn it into a corrected proof, sometime before July, when I plan to send the final book to the printer (at which time I’m going to need to have a cover design ready for both HC and PB versions: eek!)]

All this needs to get done by the end of the week, since I’m leaving for a business trip/vacation on Saturday to Puerto Rico. I’ve never been there, but it sure oughtta be nicer than hanging out in Jersey all month.


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