The burrito looked like a monster’s chrysalis. Its bigness was its primary feature and utility. It was a large object you could look at and think I will not be hungry after I eat this. I will, in fact, probably feel a little sick. I cannot remember if I was even hungry in the first place. I was definitely a little sick afterwards. The tortilla contained steak, onions, tomato, and beans, but I tasted none of those things, or at least none of those things distinctly. Its flavor was undifferentiated burritoness. And salt.
I clothed it in salsa verde. I drowned it in salsa verde. I ate it in mouthfuls until it was gone. I was not hungry after finishing it, but again, I’m not sure I had been hungry before eating it. It cost $7, and it was $7 mediocrely spent.
Infante’s Inferno is a long novel about fucking. Here are some words from page 82: “pouting wet lips.” Here are some from page 321: “sucks at my flesh as if wanting to drain out the nerve juice.” These are not particularly sexy quotes from particularly sexy passages; I literally just flipped the book open to a couple random sections and pulled them.
G.C. Infante, writing as a barely fictionalized version of himself, narrates his life only through moments in which he is horny. The story covers a lot of ground—there’s some tossed-off yet incisive stuff about film and pre-Castro Cuba in there—but it always hews closely to flesh, as a hand or a tongue might. Back to what matters, Infante seems to be saying, after a brief digression about his uncle’s politics. Back to breasts, asses, shoulders, necks, legs, labia, ankles, and sometimes dicks.
This is exhausting and numbing, but never not a little thrilling. Infante has a subject that inspires him. His language gleefully doubles back on itself—pinwheeling, punning, playing with itself. Some 200 pages in, the book begins to feel like masturbating for the fourth time in a 24-hour period. There is something to be said about this experience. Infante probably says it somewhere.
If you don’t like basketball, the games go on forever. Fortunately, I do, and so they seem short to me. When I was 10, I would pout a little when halftime struck, because I knew my favorite television show was going to be over soon.
No matter how much you like basketball, the NBA’s regular season goes on forever. It yawns, and so do you. Like a lot of worthwhile things, it is sometimes a slog. For six months, you are there for it (the inverse is occasionally true), which means you experience it while in good and bad moods, while tired and starting to get drunk, with a headcold and fretting about finances. The games themselves are the same, more or less. Some are more well-played than others, but they run together. You watch out of habit. If it’s your job (it is only sort of my job), you watch because you feel like you should.
Over time, you become familiar with names, faces, and talents. You learn about strategies and tactics. You develop affinities and hatreds based on little besides geographic allegiances and aesthetic sensibilities. All of this is rewarding enough, but it’s not the primary reason to watch a basketball game.
Here is the reason: LeBron James is nonchalantly dribbling the ball upcourt, when he sees something before anyone else does. In a split-second—foosh!—he’s at the rim, bouncing off a defender, laying the ball in. What unfolds in that foosh! moment is the sort of unique, smooth, sudden violence poets spend days hunched over a notepad trying to create. It incites a feeling without name, but it’s one you know: terrifying and cold and bubbly and sometimes you shout or laugh. It happens all in an instant, but it never leaves.
There is no human being more deplorable than the one who whoops and hollers at parties for the sake of it, the crowd-baiting fuckwit demagogue who treats social gatherings as high-five accumulation contests. He is having a great time because he is constantly, demonstrably in the thrall of feeling great.
What’s not-so-secretly depressing about this dude is that he is afraid of quiet, and that is why he fills it up with noise. He is afraid of talking, so he shouts. He is afraid of standing still, so he dances. He is a wretched black hole of want. If you stand too close to him, he will tear you quark from quark.
Bud Light slapped its logo on a small skiing town and populated it with a thousand wretched black holes of want. It branded the experience the #UpForWhatever Weekend, and hired several film crews to shoot what appears at first glance to be a short documentary about molly. Inflatable zebras, glowing jackets, silliness, and Alesso abound. “The best part of whatever is that you don’t know what the best part is,” a man shouts into the camera at one point.
I don’t see “parts” though. That word suggests substance. I see signifiers. I see a thousand assholes and a bunch of money being thrown at those assholes in the form of, like, bright colors and pageantry. What are these people up for? I think when I watch this cynical docu-commercial. They seem like they’re up for nothing, or only for the sake of being up.
I’m walking down an alley on Watch Dog’s Chicago’s west side. I have something to do—people to kill, probably—but I’m abdicating my duties and exploring instead. I am making the game nervous. It doesn’t register what I’m doing as an activity. It tells me, trying to be helpful because it assumes I am deathly bored, that someone is about to get mugged a few blocks over. There’s a warehouse full of ne’erdowells a half-mile from here. It tries to give me a task every few minutes, like I misplaced my cosmic time-card and am now forever on the clock. I just want to walk down this alley, game. To see what you’ve put there.
Watch Dogs is technologically impressive and sometimes fleetingly beautiful, but it has no guts. It is merely big; it is not much else. You cannot get lost inside it, because it will habitually interrupt your reverie to remind you what you must do next. And it confuses repetition with richness. There are only so many times you can slickly disarm a guard before it stops feeling like a neat maneuver and becomes a grim joke.
There are a lot of games like Watch Dogs. They are full of activities and these activities fill bars and create new activities which full up new bars; they stretch out for digital miles, a chasm of digital investments. Some of them are fun and interesting, but they all run out of steam at one point or another. Their bigness is borne, not of necessity, but of a desire to be big. They eat hours—whole afternoons—and return little. You stand outside yourself while playing these sorts of games, and think, What’s being consumed?
Header image by Bart Everson
Abandoned railway by Geoff George