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Fur and Loathing with Noam Chomsky

November 22, 2012

Noam and I are eating twinkies in front of a giant plasma screen.  On it is a sprawl of limbs in a scene from this dirty Asa Akira gonzo title we’ve rented, and he’s showing me how to work his new vaporiser.  “The cannabis from Syria is probably the best on the planet, you know,” he instructs me in his off-handed way.  “It’s one of the greatest legacies of Hassan al Sabha.  Now twist this here until it locks.  Good.”  Outside in Gaza City, the IAF is making womp rats out of the locals.  In our 15th-floor suite, we’re well-appointed and blasting Cyprus Hill on the speaker system.  Noam is wearing Dr. Thompson shades and a card hat with a translucent green bill.  “This man is my doctor,” he has been pointing at me, telling anyone he sees.  We’re here to cover the genocide, I’ve been repeating after him.

Well I’m here on a journalistic assignment anyway.  Some online paper.  Something like Baffler, or Tatler, or The Singapore Worker’s Daily.  Some liberal toss.  4,000 words, photos on the site’s main page, and they retain an option on a follow-up segment.  The important thing is they’re paying expenses.  I’m still waiting on the photographer to arrive.  We joke to each other that he’s probably died out there somewhere, the first in a line of dying photographers we’ll be dealing with, just like the drummers in Spinal Tap.  Noam happened to be here on his very first visit to the Strip when both sides ramped up the back and forth.  What a real pisser of a time to be taking his first trip here.  Dumb luck, really.  He’s getting the full experience now.  Welcome to the ghetto.

wrong kind of spinal tap

wrong kind of spinal tap, dude. (image: ummc.edu)

I met him at this grab-a-granny singles’ dive around the corner.  You don’t really want to leave the hotel room in a town like this, but then you’ve got urges, don’t you, and not everything’s available on the room service tab.  Good thing I got curious.  As soon as I walked in, I saw this snowy haired guy in glasses.  Across at the bar ordering cocktails, wearing his familiar sweater and oxford combo.  Even while on the make between two horny, middle-aged housewives at an Arab discotheque.  I’m like, hey, that’s the famous linguist and activist, Noam Chomsky.  I’m going to get him fucking wasted, and we’re both going to get laid.

Turns out, at forty years or so my senior, he parties harder than I do.  Had me snorting pure crystal MDMA out of this little bottle-vial thing and shooting tequila into my eyeball within like, thirty seconds from our introductions.  This guy is hysterical for fun.  We ended up bringing the bar trash back up to my suite, earned a few noise complaints from the floor below us, and he’s been my guest here since.  Four or five days of wall to wall bullshit sessions, punctuated by the sound of bombs bursting in air, rockets’ red glare, and visits from Palestinian intellectuals who leave bleary-eyed and slurring.  We’ve been recording the whole thing from a few devices streaming live onto the old inter-web.  Noam’s toting around a handheld dictaphone and a few miniature tapes.

One afternoon, of all fucking people, Natalie Portman shows up at the front door of the suite.  She gives Noam a fist-bump and asks, “who’s this awkward prick.”  I can infer she means me.  I get the sense that Noam and her are quite well acquainted when she hands him a bag of pills and he hands her a roll of notes.  I tell her I’m a big fan of what she’s been doing with Audrey Hepburn’s career.  We get into a bit of a fight over whose turn is next on the snooker table, and then she nonchalantly asks about the piece I’m writing on the murder of innocents in Gaza.

How’d you know what I was writing about?  She says she heard from Noam’s security heavy out in the hallway.  I was astonished; Noam has a security heavy?  He responds in the affirmative as he blows out a cloud of smoke surprisingly milky for a vaporiser, “one of many… my security detail is pretty necessary anywhere I go, but for Palestine I thought it might be best if I brought a small army with me.”  Then he quips, deadpan as you like, “everyone else is doing it.”

Read it to me, Natalie demands.  “I want to see if you’re an anti-Semite like Noam.”  I won’t, I say.  It probably sounds better in your voice.  “Well give it to me then, and I’ll read it to you,” she decides.  No.  Don’t do that.  Suddenly she’s querying me in a distant yet intense tone, “are you sure.”  As sternly a matron as there could ever be, bubbling with the will to discipline, as if she might sprout a khaki uniform and a bristled ‘tache in an instant.  I suddenly think of spanking her bottom with a riding crop.  It’ll be better for both of us if you just read it to yourself.  There’s another moment.  She grabs a lead crystal highball and a bottle of Courvoisier and takes my manuscript to the toilet.

The article at that point was just this scene in Beit Lehia, this kind of surreal moment I had looking at the aftermath of a missile strike.  This house had been turned into a hole in the middle of the neighbourhood.  But like, whatever had been in that hole before had been ripped out and turned into shrapnel that chewed through everything around it.  And in the middle of this hole, spreading out from it, are all of these elephant figurines.  Broken, but not enough you don’t know it’s someone’s shitty collection.  Years of making the same obsessive decision to buy this crap figurine.  That crap figurine.  Arranged and put on display, a dense pocket of tusks, trunks.  Now, inside-out.  Belched out on top of this mess of plaster, cinder blocks; rent, burnt muscle and tissue; rags, splinters, pipes and glass.  Hundreds of elephants.  Crawling over an Alps buckled out of what was a neighbourhood street.  All those figurines.  Anyway.  Reminded me of the bric a brac piled up at my old babysitter’s trailer home back in Nashville.  Same collection of shit.  Small ceramic ones, slender crystal creatures, gargantuan glass painted pachyderms with beaded parade dress: some on stands, in glass cases, some in pairs or sets.  The first time I fantasized about a woman, felt that little flutter of sex for the first time, I was staring at those floor-to-ceiling shelves full of elephant figurines; the initial paranoid shame of the thoughts dissipating at the realisation that no one else could ever have access to what was in my mind.  My reverie alone, between the elephants and me.  And now here they are in the middle east in a hole that was a few houses that were underneath heavy munitions.  Dropped by metal wings suspended on the currents of the status quo and built by hand out of the same stuff what goes into shitty bric a brac elephants.

So this is the story that Natalie is reading while she takes a shit and drinks my VSOP.  Meanwhile, the porn film rages on in the background, Noam begins talking to me about the history of the DuPont-led hemp prohibition in 1930’s US, and smoke is rising past our window from the lives smoldering fifteen floors below us in the Arab street.  Hope she loves it.  Hope at least she doesn’t wipe her ass with it.  Hope she lights a fucking match – those skinny chicks will drop bombs.  Reading my story.

The bodily narrative on the plasma screen is telling a story.  A coarse one, but it’s got all the elements.  Story-telling.  When DuPont wanted to promote their expensive Nylon products, they paid story-tellers to grab the public by the elbow and whisper in their ears.  Print ads.  Product placement.  Disinformation.  Cooked up studies.  Hell, the whole institution of science is only just telling stories, at the end of it.  Good people will put a lot of stock in the conclusions drawn from those tales:  avoid this, take that, optimism, defeat.  All of this before we even get to journalism.  The wildcard stories.  Too much potential in them.  The IAF bombers have been targeting the local media the last few days.  Explode the story tellers, you control the story.  Somebody said once, truth isn’t important, victory is.  Great minds, and all that.  Nat comes out of the restroom, addresses us declaring she’s “going out to find some ketamine” in the hotel bar, and tells me the manuscript is on the back of the toilet.

Noam’s dictaphone replays her voice from this exchange.  “Don’t wait up, Hadrian.”  The hiss of air from the uncovered microphone.  The door closing.  The clatter of the table in the hall being pulled over, the vase of flowers breaking.  “She’s a real hard-headed girl, isn’t she.”  He changes the tape.  The same three tapes keep going in the little hatch, getting filled up, and come back out.  Over and over again.  It’s probably the third or fourth time this one has been recorded over.  He insists on having a hand in the documentary record – “I’m going to be a tad more, eh, old school about it, but I’m perfectly capable of participating in some Gonzo journalism” – even though there are two tablet computers in their desk stands live-streaming the goings-on from two angles.  I call him out on it.  Why not just use your smartphone’s voice recorder?  Why call it documentation when you’re copying over the tapes?

“The nature of this atrocity is on-going, iteratively flaring up, becoming over-looked; I feel this is a fitting way to document this cycle.   Tape it.  Tape over it.”  I balk.  I am drunk and impulsive.  The fuck are you talking about.  Noam fixes his eye on me, and there’s something arresting, menacing there… he pushes up on the underside of his card hat’s green cellophane bill with his fingers in a gun shape.  “I can unpack that thought for you, if that’s what you need.”  I’m silent.  I’ve never imagined how stern and chilling this man could be – I’ve never felt more in mortal danger.  Like staring at a laser.  The laser begins:

“The fact of the conflict between these groups, irrespective of whether it stems from geography, property, or religion; the very fact has been with people for so long, they are now dealing more with the fact, and less and less with the conflict itself.  Nobody even asks the question of ‘why’ the fighting is going on, the siege of the territories, the retaliations. And so there can be no will to end it.  Cure the disease?  No, well, people just accept the symptoms.

“But even more perverse than this, my friend,” Noam is leaned on one elbow on the arm of the leather sofa and uncurls a forearm to grab his bottle of Becks, “is that this has resulted in an expectation of cyclical mass murder; the perception of which also happens to roll like a wave through the news media.  It has been like this for so long, the public has gotten used to the waves.  Their frequency.  Their period, their crests and troughs:  Something dirty happens.  People cringe, maybe donate.  People move on to the next news item.  Then when it doesn’t happen for a while, people start wondering when the next dirty happening will occur.”

He necks the bottle.  “What I’m saying is, most people now treat massive scale atrocities here as an item of ephemera.”  He seems to have forgotten about my outburst.  I relax.  “Everyone loves to report this stuff, but then the attention wanes while we wait for the next putsch.  Nobody seems to be interested in fixing whatever causes it.  It’s really an interesting development of modern society.”  I recall how this patent detachment compelled Charlie Rose in an interview to practically giggle like a little girl and start a tickle-match.  It’s like he’s omniscient and unimpressed, all the time.  I guess it’s all the pot.

…..

On the tape, we hear an exchange from later at the hotel bar.  There is a dust up between two locals over what Nat’s first film role was.  One fellow was certain he was correct.  The other fellow was certain only of his interlocuter’s astonishing incorrectness.  Twenty years ago, this would have been an unfathomably impassioned argument raging on without end.   Now we have the IMDB smartphone application.  Wikipedia.  Dictionaries.  All at our fingertips.  If this isn’t the first awkward step towards humankind achieving peace, we never will.   Disagreements in bars, in living rooms, on car rides and walks in the park, we no longer need to escalate past a wager of some sort.  Once the tension surfaces, bang, the lancet strikes and the boil is drained off.  It was Page Turco, and it was 1986.  It was the clavicle, and he was out for three games.  We answer away each problem as easily and off-handedly as an alcoholic gambler in denial.  This instant ability to turn the other cheek.  To solve a problem, not by closing ourselves off by locking eyes and swords, but by looking for answers.  If we aren’t onto something here.   After they resolved their question, the two local guys watched videos of recent airstrikes  they had filmed on their phones.  Like they were trading concert footage.

Natalie is sitting with us in the corner near the front windows.  Astride the building’s security embankment and massive stone abutment, we overlook the darkened streets of Gaza City.  Flares going up here.  Search lamps beaming from there.  She says to me, “so you’re just another bleeding-heart, liberal prick, same as you look.  I did like the bit about  jerking off in your babysitter’s trailer, though.”  I reply that I do sometimes work for pay, which means I get paid to produce something my employers are willing to pay for.  “Yeah, yeah.  No one gets paid to have principles.  So, do us a favour, shit head: buy us a fur coat and a tiara’s worth of blood diamonds.  I’m feeling horny.”  The sound of Noam’s voice calling out for shots.

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