I didn't think driving off would do me any good, so I went back in to the counter and announced brightly, "Hi, I seem to have done something really stupid and tried to drive away with the nozzle still attached to my gas tank!" A guy who was waiting in line next to me was nice enough to say, "Well, that's why they call it an accident." Some consultation followed behind the counter. The cashier started out by saying, "They can just pop it back in. Bobby pulled a hose out last week and Jimbo just popped it right back in." But somebody else, apparently the manager, decided that Jimbo had had to call somebody to fix it and it had cost $125, and on a Sunday it might be even more. Another guy standing by the counter, apparently a regular at this gas station, backed her up. $125 sounded to me like either too much for a service call or too little (why not $65? or $500?), but if she was pulling that number out of thin air she must have picked the right one because I decided the price was right and went off to find an ATM. The manager wouldn't let me drive away without leaving my driver's license (ha, ha!). Knowing Southside Virginia's speed-trap industry (typical story: my mechanic was pulled over doing about 75 and ticketed for 80 mph; the county recommended an attorney, who got the fine reduced from $500 to $300, for a fee of $150), I half-expected her to call the cops to report me for driving without my license. St. Christopher or somebody must have been with me because I made it the mile or so up the road to the bank and back without being pulled over. At least I got a receipt for the cash. Now I wonder if I should cancel my credit card just in case they're tempted to decide that $125 wasn't enough and they should look up the card number from my gas purchase and charge a little more to it.
There were some interesting racial dynamics in the different stories I heard from the cashier, the manager and the gas station regular. I could tell you each person's race, but that would just kill the mystery. I'd rather leave you to guess it yourselves. For background, the station's staff and clientele were about evenly mixed.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada looked gorgeous, but it frustrated me. I wanted to call it White Men Can't Fuck (that last word was used often in the movie, and often incorrectly IMO). Like Guillermo Arriaga's other scripts Amores Perros and 21 Grams, it has an interesting plot all chopped up into flashbacks and flash-forwards, but like 21 Grams it is sunk by the writer's cluelessness/hostility toward the US and Americans. 21 Grams just features some incomprehensible dialogue, the kinds of things no American would ever say, but The Three Burials has way more than it can carry in a heavyhanded Mexican immigrant/Border Patrol theme. The newbie Border Patrol agent is a total cartoon of muddleheaded violence and frustrated lust (he stars in a hideous brief sex scene that tries to outdo the prostitute scenes in Monster's Ball for sheer, impersonal, unsexy ickiness). Melquiades Estrada, on the other hand, is a saintly, soulful paragon of an undocumented immigrant. Tommy Lee Jones gets to be the Good American who goes on a mission to bury Melquiades's body in Mexico, not in the US "with all the billboards." The good news is that Amores Perros was brilliant, so if you want to check out Arriaga I'd recommend sticking to his scripts set in Mexico. I wish he would do his part by sticking with what he knows.
The song "River of Transfiguration" by Six Organs of Admittance is very nice for listening to as you drive along the Potomac River in twilight. It clocks in at 23 minutes and 50 seconds of gloriously trippy, fuzzy feedback overlaid with some kind of chanting and clever jazzy drumming, and I'd gladly have it go on for another 23, or 46, or 69 minutes. In fact I did, listening to it over and over on my way home last night.
Just as I was bracing for more tiresome one-sided coverage of the Israel-Lebanon conflict, the latest issue of The New Republic reminded me why I subscribe, with an interesting review of Michel Houellebecq's latest novel. Houellebecq's work, like a lot of trendy polemics (Fast Food Nation, The Beauty Myth, things like that), is something I feel I can get away without reading as long as I can find a good review instead. So I was happy to see that James Wood had something brilliant as usual on Houellebecq's latest. It's subscriber-only, which bugs me, but here's a bit from the end to give you a taste of it:
Houellebecq's fiction seems at present incoherent, seesawing between a savage critique and a barely expressible solution, and likewise seesawing between the author's distaste for modern sexual excess and the pornographic zeal with which he documents it. Houellebecq may not be the racist misogynist of popular allegation, but his fiction partakes a little too easily of the vileness it supposedly dislikes. There is an obvious quality of moral resistance on the part of the author, expressed in his furious exegeses, but the fiction itself--the dramatic representation--offers no mimetic resistance. It is the fiction that is itself comparatively weak, and comparatively uninteresting. Which magazine ran an extract from Houellebecq's new novel? Playboy, of course. [Italics from the original.]There's another literary trend absorbed without too much tedious actual reading. It saves me time for my current read, Robert Fitzgerald's translation of The Odyssey, which is a yummy late-summery treat.