What he said.
What he said.
It’s been almost a week since Breaking Bad ended, and I now think that I have sufficient perspective to provide my POV on the character Walter White, who I feel is one of the most complex, interesting, and significant fictional characters existing in modern history. I don’t normally make sweeping statements like this. I recognize that it’s completely subjective. But I think it’s warranted. We don’t have Shakespeare anymore. You can count today’s good fictional novelists on two hands. Today, we look to the movies, theater, and now, television, for our great fictional characters, more than we do to novels. Which is profoundly sad, but that’s a topic for another day.
I further submit that we are in the midst of a television Golden Age, where the quality of television programming on average well exceeds the quality of feature films at the movies. In my lifetime, I have never so many great shows on at the same time, much less in succession. And before I was alive, I don’t think we ever had this type of quality on the boob tube.
Here’s a brief list of rectn shows I consider historically great:
Some would throw Dexter in there. I’d probably add Justified, personally. The Newsroom on HBO and House of Cards on Netflix may eventually get there. I’ve heard Sons of Anarchy is very good, but have yet to watch it. In the past, you would have MASH, All in the Family, and Hill Street Blues, to name a few. Maybe LA Law (in the beginning). But the above shows are indisputably great and have come so close together in recent years that we haven’t seen anything like it before.
Another thing some of these shows have in common is that they have an anti-hero as the protagonist, or main characters that are uniformly flawed. Tony Soprano, McNulty, Don Draper, Omar, Dexter, Will McAvoy. Some are obviously more flawed than others, and this is precisely what makes them so compelling.
Which brings us to Walter White. I will say this up front: I absolutely loved Walter White. Loved him. When I tell people this, some of them get upset with me because of the bad things Walter did. As if my saying that I loved Walter White the character means that I loved everything the character did. I didn’t love everything Walter White did, obviously. He was a meth kingpin, after all, who destroyed multiple lives, including his own. He was selfish, prideful, and an egomaniac. He had a chip on his shoulder. He felt cheated by life because he knew and believed he was destined for greater things and on Breaking Bad, he proved this to us and showed us how it was true.
I loved Walter White, the character, with all of his flaws. BECAUSE of all of his flaws. I most likely would not have liked the man in real life very much. But he wasn’t real. He was a work of fiction, and it’s the work of fiction and the minds that created it that I respect and love so much because of the effect the character had on me and how inside of his head we were allowed to get. The character, as portrayed by Bryan Cranston, who can do more acting with his eyes than Channing Tatum and other pretenders can do with their entire sculpted bodies, was flawed, torn, complex, and, in the end, beautiful. In the beginning, WW was a family man and chemistry teacher who was kind of wimpy and bullied, not physically, but emotionally by people like his equally flawed brother-in-law Hank, who I decided I didn’t like, and would root against, after the first season. Hank was a jocky, smarmy, know-it-all who treated Walt like a harmless fly for most of the entire series. Until the end, of course. I felt sorry for WW in the beginning. I empathized with him. He had a shit teaching job with students who didn’t give a fuck about him or his class (much as I remember from my own chemistry class in high school.) He wore drab clothes, drove a drab car (WTF was that thing, anyway, a Pontiac?), and lived in a drab house, surrounded by drab furniture.
(Footnote: when WW was walking through Gretchen and Elliott’s house in that last episode, the contrast in the two houses was almost absurd. G&E enjoyed the epitome of opulence: modern, expensive furniture, floors that were made of wood most likely imported from an endangered Brazilian rainforest, trendy art on the walls, huge glass windows, and high-end stainless steel appliances. Compare this to Walter’s POS house, which, for all of that $80 million he made, never got upgraded in even the smallest way. Not even a new fridge or stove. The irony of WW putting it all on the line and spending the smallest fraction of the illegal money he made on a couple of cars and a few knickknacks was not lost on me.)
In the beginning, Walter White was a nice guy, a family man, who then got handed a shit sandwich in the form of a cancer diagnosis. Most of us would have folded, put our heads down and gone through the cancer treatment like everyone does, and just accepted our fate. Walter, who at that point was still focused on his family, chose an alternate and I submit, a more courageous path: he broke bad and became a drug dealer.
I admired that. Illegal yes, but WW knew he had a limited shelf-life and it took balls to go against your moral code and do something about it. Plus he was making use of his talents and ended up creating a nearly perfect product. If it were not illegal and destructive to people, we’d be applauding him. I don’t respect or admire drug dealers, but as a character in a work of fiction, I respected and admired the character WW’s decision to take the path he did, given what he was facing. From a fictional perspective, as the final episodes showed us, Walter’s ultimate demise and destruction of his family started with one small self-compromise and lie to Skyler. His criminality was so small and almost comical in the beginning. He and Jesse were like Abbott and Costello in that hilarious RV. When they finally came up with their flawless product, they didn’t even know what to do with it right away. But it was the start of something big.
(Footnote 1: how many of today’s wealthy and established families and corporation got to where they are by doing illegal things like running alcohol during Prohibition and bribing government officials (among other things) during the Industrial Revolution?)
(Footnote 2: nuclear weapons were concocted by some of the most brilliant minds in human history, including Oppenheimer and Einstein. There is nothing more destructive on this planet — and dangerous to the entire human race — than nuclear weapons. Yet, we still admire the ingenuity that led to their creation and pretend that they are for our own protection and defense when we know full well that if they are ever used in a full scale world war, we very well could extinct ourselves as a race.)
Over time, Walter slowly evolved into a darker, more flawed, and more sinister character. He became Heisenberg. To me, his was a beautiful and Shakespearean evolution into a tragic character that made me love him more. His story was modern day Shakespeare, up there with Hamlet and Macbeth. It was a modern day western too, which Vince Gilligan himself has alluded to.
Through it all, Walter White came up with ingenious plans to advance his goals, again, using his talents to subdue vastly stronger and more powerful people like Gus. For much of the series, Walter was an underdog. That was probably the biggest pull for me. I always root for the underdog and because of the way they told the story, I never had the sense that Walter White was anything but an underdog, even when he was at his most powerful. He was always one fuckup away from being locked up and you knew that at some point, the evil people he hired would turn on him.
Also, Walter was never satisfied with the size of his empire until the very end, and when he decided to “retire,” it was too late. Hank figured it out. You had to admire his perfectionism, and I did. But even as Walter was becoming Heisenberg, it always felt to me as if he was trying to act like a bad-ass, as if he was trying to adopt a persona that really wasn’t him. He had to put the hat on, squint his eyes, and lower his voice. It was a means to an end, but it never lasted long and half the time was mixed with a seat of your pants approach that was borderline comical. Unlike Tony Soprano, or Joffrey on Game of Thrones, while certainly a killer, Walter was not cold-blooded or a psychopath, in my view. He was a self-compromiser, excuse-maker, and rationalizer who killed methodically and threw away his morality when it suited his purposes. Is that worse than a psychopath because he knew it was wrong? I know a few people who think so. What’s undeniable is that most of the lives he took were of those in his own illegal industry. Not justifiable, of course, but you can’t compare him to Dahmer or Joffrey in my opinion. And other times, like when Hank and Drew Sharp got killed, it wasn’t something he intended, but rather, the result of events getting beyond his control. The randomness of life interfering with well-established plans. Hank deciding for his own flawed reasons not to ask for backup and not to tell a soul besides Gomie that he was going into the middle of the desert to confront a drug kingpin.
This entire morality analysis is another reason why I loved Walter White. He forced you to do it. He forced you to look at him and then look at yourself and your own character. What would YOU have done in his shoes. You can’t help but root for him at different points in time, but what does this say about you? You’re rooting for a fucking killer and drug kingpin for crying out loud. What, you never compromised yourself? You never rationalized anything? Not a single thing? Not a white lie to someone? You’re a completely open book with people? You tell them everything that’s in your head? Yeah, of course you do.
Walter compromised himself into oblivion. But we all compromise ourselves to some degree, don’t we? Walter White showed us how far self-compromise and rationalization can take us if we’re not careful. The show took place over a two-year period, between Walter’s 50th and 52nd birthdays. We now know that Walter was going to die of his cancer, regardless of what he did. He could have gone quietly, with his family by his side, and died in his own bedroom, surrounded by love. Instead, he died alone in a meth lab, surrounded by gutted Nazis and his beloved metal tubes and vats. While condemning Walter White/Heisenberg the criminal, I think it’s worth remembering what he told Skyler at the end, during their last, brief meeting: He did it for himself. He liked it. He was good at it. It made him feel alive. How many cancer patients can say the same during their last two years of life?
RIP, Walter White. It will be a very long time before we see another character remotely like you.
American History 101
Goodbye, Breaking Bad.
Long time, no write. How to explain this, other than that my life has evolved to where I don’t carve out as much writing time as I used to. Blogging time, I should say. Or either, actually. It was a lot easier to blog (I so hate the word) when I was in the city and living in an apartment that required minimal maintenance. Having a house and a yard is all-consuming because there is always something that needs to be done, could be done, should probably get done. Last weekend I spent two and a half hours stacking wood that had been sitting there under a blue tarp for months because I was too lazy or too busy to stack it when it was delivered last November. And we have a garden that we’re trying to cultivate, so the weekend before that I spend two and half hours weeding the beds in the middle of the day like some Guatemalan. Ever weed a garden? It fucking sucks. It’s work. It hurts your back and your legs are sore for days afterwards. I have a healthy new respect for immigrants. The last thing you feel like doing after this kind of yardwork is sitting down to a computer and writing. No, you feel like drinking. And sleeping.
I’ve also been working on my photography, which seems to have eclipsed my interest in writing for the time being. I did my first wedding a few weeks ago, “did,” in a very general sense: I had my Nikon D700 and a 50mm lens to work with, that’s it. No fancy flash, no helpful zoom lens. Just my camera and a prime lens. It simplified things greatly, but was a bit limiting also. Fortunately, I wasn’t getting paid — it was my wife’s cousin’s wedding — and the wedding was a low-key barbecue affair, so I was able to practice and experience what it would be like to be a wedding photographer when this law thing finally shits out without any undue pressure on the quality of my work. Still, it was like 100 degrees, outdoors, with no air conditioning, and I was also supposed to be attending the wedding and enjoying myself, so it was a fairly tiring day, though a lot of fun. In a short while, I will return to the 400 pictures I took, filter out the best ones, and load them to the couple’s Snapfish website for public viewing.
The cherry on the cake of my summer thus far, and yet another reason why my writing has been dormant, was helping my parents move to Florida a few weeks ago. They made the jump after living in NH for the past 40+ years. In other words, in their entire married life, this was move number two. My parents are 66 and 74 years old, respectively. I attended the closing, as my mother “encouraged” me to do after having slept in a fleabag hotel that my mother had reserved for all of us on their last night. It’s a strange feeling to sleep in a hotel (let alone a shitty one) in the same town you grew up in. I had never done that before. I did not enjoy the experience at all. I felt like an outlier, a castout, an exile from my birthplace. It was downright weird, and the low quality of the establishment — a place I’d driven by 1000, 10,000 times in my life while thinking “hey, that hotel looks pretty nice from the outside,” only added to my disorientation.
Then there was a pit stop at my house in NY for a couple of days. My mother, who, God bless her, had to manage this major move by herself without any prior experience in the area, brought with her four, huge suitcases full of clothes because she didn’t know how long it would take to find a house in Florida. I suggested perhaps Fedexing one or two of them down to her cousin’s house in the same town they’re moving to, but she thought it would be far easier and less expensive for me to cart them through two airports, which I did. My father has early to mid-stage dementia, so even though he still recognizes people and follows conversations and laughs at jokes people make, he walks reeeaaaal slow, can’t communicate very well, and is therefore not too helpful in these situations anymore. He’s basically along for the ride and waiting for instructions.
I could spend hours talking about getting to Florida, helping them with the rental apartment, looking at 18 houses in 3 days, and how my poor father had to go to the bathroom in one of the houses we were visiting and ended up peeing on a piece of Saran Wrap that the asshole owners wrapped over the toilet seat so no one would use it, and how the broker and I had to clean it up, but I won’t. I could talk about how my poor mother, strung out, frustrated, and tired from all she’s had to do in the past year to get ready for this move, all while caring for my sick father, who kept her up all night and couldn’t explain what was wrong and what he supposedly saw going across the bedroom, lost it in a bank parking lot and started crying and asking God why this was happening to her, but I won’t.
Things eventually calmed down, they found a house they liked, and they’re closing at the end of this month. They’re also thrilled to be in Florida, my dad is more talkative and happier than he’s been since he was diagnosed, and they have much more medical and social support down there than they ever had in New Hampshire. My mother forced the issue, had a vision, and made it happen, so I couldn’t be prouder of her. This did not make it easier to listen to her opinionating about every goddamn thing in the universe when I was down there, but hey, no one’s perfect. I got them there in one piece and their golden years have officially begun.
All of this would be great fodder for a short story, if I could only find the time. As it is, my parents’ move has me thinking about my retirement and what I want for myself and for Wife when we are a bit older, which is scarily now only about 20 years away. F me. My parents have taught me that you really need to plan for this stuff, or it’s going to be harder later. It’s one thing to hope to retire in Florida or Italy or wherever you want to be, but you have to actually put yourself there and determine what it is that’s going to make you happy. My mother put a premium on having people around and social activities, which she was sorely lacking in New Hampshire since my sisters and I left. We saw plenty of houses in new developments that were nicer and way less expensive than the house she ended up buying (which is nice too), but it was important to her to be in a community of people her age and close to her neighbors. At first, I was like, “This house is way nicer, you should really think about it. The neighborhood will develop eventually.” And my mother was like: ”I may not be alive to see that happen. I want to be in a community now.”
I began to see her point. At that age, honestly, at every age, you need to be around people. You need friends around you, things to do, a purpose to get up in the morning. People and community give you that, whether it’s at your job, your school, or your bridge-playing club. My mother understands that, and now I do too. People need people. We are social animals, not hermits, and it’s no small wonder that the most alienated and estranged of the world, the Ted Kacynzkis, the Osama Bin Ladens, the Boston Bombers, and the Tim McVeighs, have separated themselves from society so much because, for whatever reason — political agenda, worldview, or personality disorder — they didn’t find their place around positive people. It’s sad, but it’s a reality for too many people.
For now, all I can do is observe and learn.
‘Walking Dead’s’ Norman Reedus Photobombs ‘Game Of Thrones’ Fan Picture
Lots of emotions this week. Is it possible to think humanity is an abject failure and shining success in the same sentence? I guess so. Boston showed it to us. Boston. A town of surly people, provincial mentality, a town with a chip on its shoulder, showed us what human beings can do when the chips are down, what we are capable of, that light always prevails over dark. A cynic would say that all the do-gooders were from out of town. I don’t believe that. I know it’s not true.
They still haven’t caught the turds who did it. It’s a miracle more people didn’t die. It’s also scary to think that this type of occurrence may become common one day, that we’ll all look back on this and 9/11 as a walk in the park compared to a dirty bomb where thousands died in a flash. I hope we don’t go there. But if we do, I know for certain that there will always be helpers, there will always be a hundred plus signs to offset every minus, there will always be those who bring light to dark, both through their actions in moments of immense terror, and through the memories they leave behind in the minds and hearts of those who loved them.
These vegetated surfaces don’t just look pretty. They have other benefits as well, including cooling city blocks, reducing loud noises, and improving a building’s energy efficiency.What’s more, a recent modeling study shows that green walls can potentially reduce large amounts of air pollution in what’s called a “street canyon,” or the corridor between tall buildings.
For the study, Thomas Pugh, a biogeochemist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, and his colleagues created a computer model of a green wall with generic vegetation in a Western European city. Then they recorded chemical reactions based on a variety of factors, such as wind speed and building placement.
The simulation revealed a clear pattern: A green wall in a street canyon trapped or absorbed large amounts of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter—both pollutants harmful to people, said Pugh. Compared with reducing emissions from cars, little attention has been focused on how to trap or take up more of the pollutants, added Pugh, whose study was published last year in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
That’s why the green-wall study is “putting forward an alternative solution that might allow [governments] to improve air quality in these problem hot spots,” he said.Compared with reducing emissions from cars, little attention has been focused on how to trap or take up more of the pollutants, added Pugh, whose study was published last year in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
That’s why the green-wall study is “putting forward an alternative solution that might allow [governments] to improve air quality in these problem hot spots,” he said.