Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Underminer.

I realize this is more-or-less (usually less) a music blog, but I've recently read the single greatest book in the whole wide world, a piece of work so pitch-perfect and HIGH-larious it practially begs to be read aloud, and I need to tell you about it. In its way it is musical, an aria to be performed by anyone with the ability to make you feel like shit with an offhand comment. A person who might be called your frenemy. A person who might say, as you join her for lunch, "Did you throw up? No, I just smelled throw-up for a second."

SO. The book is The Underminer, or The Best Friend Who Casually Destroys Your Life, by Mike Albo, with Viginia Heffernan. (Referred to as Hefferman in the acknowledgments. Undermine much, Mike?) Albo is a writer/performer who recently closed a one-man show in New York, reviewed here. The Underminer follows the all-too-brief association between some poor sap (you) and the uber-successful, passive-agressive-genius best friend of the title, who speaks directly to the reader (still you). The one-sided conversation begins at college graduation, and progresses through the developmental stages of urban life in the 90s: starting a band; crashing hip parties; Internet dating; breaking up; catering; flirting with indie film; attending Burning Man; moving to an outer borough; ending, where all things do, in New Zealand. The Underminer has a ridiculously successful life ("But I did get this really weird call from some animated TV show that is starting up? It’s got this really boring name, The Simpsons? I don’t know it’s probably dumb, but we’ll see. “The Simpsons.” So lame, right? Whatever. The Simpsons the Simpsons The Simpsons. How boring, sorry to bring it up. The Simpsons."), as do all of her friends, while the undermined loser sinks lower and lower. Funny, eh? Yes, it is. Because it is so beautifully, underhandedly, understatedly cruel. Cruelty delivered with a smile ("Your singing voice is so different from your appearance. It’s like when I close my eyes I would imagine the person singing was a sultry sexy vocalist from pre-war Berlin, and then I open my eyes and there you are! Your big shiny American face!").

This book is so distilled, as if every slight you've every heard, or imagined, or invented for yourself was squeezed into a black lump of pure evil, then buffed to such a high gloss you can see yourself in it. And to look at it feels like retribution. And it's fucking funny as hell.

If I could, I'd read you the whole thing. You. But for starters you might enjoy a special Valentine's Day Underminer column that appeared Monday at Slate ("I have to say, I am so glad I am not single these days. It looks so hard! It's unfair for someone so nice and standard as you. With your new hairdo."), along with an audio clip from Albo. Also, since I can't help but share, here are the first few paragraphs of the book....

Campus of Clarkwell College,
Graduation in the town of Clarksville, somewhere upstate,

Hey there. Whew, what a day. First I did the ellipticycle for an hour and then I had to run to the dean’s small cocktail party for honors students and then I had to hurry up and turn in that Green Form so I could graduate.

You know, the Green Form.

The Green Form? You didn’t turn it IN?! No, it’s that green form that we got at orientation when we first came here four years ago. Yeah, sorry, but it kind of is important. It’s the Green Form. They told us never to lose it, remember? No not the blue registration card, the GREEN form! Maybe you just have it in your wallet and you didn’t even know or something. Check it.

Wow, your wallet. You actually keep everything all crammed in together like that? No, it’s just kind of amazing. I would freak out if I couldn’t streamline my wallet. Oh -- I think you dropped this $20. Oh, no wait, it’s actually mine. Sorry.

Well, anyway, you need the Green Form to graduate, otherwise…No, I mean I’m sure they have an alternative. You probably just have to wait an annoying day or one term or year or something. Wow, I can’t believe you forgot.

You are so funny, you. Man, am I going to miss college and all your crazy flakiness. Ha Ha! You’ve always been the funny one in our gang.


Anonymous KT said...

Genius review of a work of genius. Genius genius genius.

4:38 PM  

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