Banter M Issue 16

In this week’s edition of ‘Banter M’: 

The Fight-  In part one of a two part piece, Ben Cohen recounts a terrifying street fight in Los Angeles that changed his life forever.

I Watched One of Sarah Palin’s Most Unhinged Speech Ever, So You Don’t Have To – Bob Cesca unpacks the craziest speech of Sarah Palin’s career so far. Warning: It is crazy.  
 

The Grand Finale – Chez Pazienza opens up about depression, the dark thoughts that often accompany it, and the death of Tony Soprano

The Fight-Part I

by Ben Cohen

“You’re a fucking fag. Go fuck yourself you little bitch.”

As I attempted to shield the girl I was with from the intoxicated idiot hurling insults at me, I made a mental note of my surroundings. 2.30am, Sunset Blvd by the Comedy Store. Not too many people around, and those who are aren’t sober. As we get to the slope of the car park by the Andaz hotel where her car is parked I turn round and face the guy.

“You need to go home man. I’m getting my car and we’re going home. Seriously, fuck off.”

“What did you say to me bitch? You think you’re a tough guy? You wanna fight?”

“No man, I’m not looking to fight. Just go away.”

I grab the girl’s arm and start walking up the slope. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told the guy to fuck off as he seems even more agitated. He begins to follow us.

“Where are you going?” I ask.

“To get my car. Fuckin’ bitch.”

I scan the car park ahead – there is only one car and it’s the girl I’m on the date with. Shit. This is not good. As we reach her car, I take the key from her and click the door open. The guy stands in front of the car and starts insulting me again.

“You think you tough? You fuckin’ faggot. I’ll beat your ass.”

This time I begin to size him up. He’s 5ft 10, solidly built with a shaved head and a noticeably thick neck. The way he carries himself makes me think he knows how to fight. I have seen this many times before, doing battle in dozens of kick boxing gyms, Krav Maga studios and Jiu Jitsu dojos. Fighters develop a specific posture – a way of alerting others that they can fight and are confident in their physical abilities. The guy standing in front of me isn’t in amazing shape, but his physique bears the indelible marks of years of serious training. I see his hands twitch as he readies himself for a potential fight.

I am not going to take any chances here.

“Walk away,” I say. “I’m warning you. This is not what you think it is. What you think is happening is not happening, so go away.”

“What?!? You think you’re a fighter? You little bitch. I’ll fuckin’ kick your ass faggot!”

The girl pulls my arm nervously. “Ben, what should we do? This guy is crazy.”

Suddenly a switch goes off in my brain. He’s not leaving until he gets a fight, and I can’t run because the girl I’m with could be in danger. So I will have to make him leave.

“What did you call me?” I say, turning my ear towards him so that he can repeat the insult.

He leans in and begins to repeat the insult.

“I called you a fuckin…”

WHAM!!!

I pivot quickly and slam a right hand into his jaw. What an amateur, he fell for the oldest trick in the book.

I hit him so hard that a searing pain shoots through my shoulder, aggravating an old injury that has plagued me for years. As he stumbles back from the blow, I back off to assess the damage.

I’m amazed that he hasn’t gone down.

“So you like to fight then?” the guy says, apparently delighted that I had hit him, and not obviously hurt by the almighty blow I thought I delivered.

Suddenly, a wave of serious doubt floods my body and I start to panic. I hit him incredibly hard and he doesn’t seem affected by it. Worse than that, he wants to fight and I don’t know whether I have the strength or skill to beat him. This isn’t the gym, there are no referees and I’m up against a guy who, by all appearances, is completely crazy.

We begin to circle each other, our hands up like boxers. I’m 5 weeks removed from surgery on my chest, so I’m not in fighting shape and can’t rely on muscle power to win. I need to use everything I’ve learned in almost 25 years of Martial Arts training.

“You like to fight?” he keeps repeating.

“Yeah, I do motherfucker. Let’s do this,” I say, only half believing myself.

I begin to pump out my jab, feinting with it and stepping in aggressively. He doesn’t take the feints and just ploughs forward, swinging as he comes in. I hit him with a jab that snaps his head back, but he grabs hold of me, ripping my shirt while trying to throw me on the floor. I grip him back and attempt to take him down to the floor, but I can’t move him. He is incredibly strong and shrugs me off without much effort.

I can’t hurt this guy with punches and I can’t take him down either. 

My panic deepens and serious doubt begins to creep in. I could really lose this and it won’t end well if he gets the upper hand. I’m going to need speed and movement to have a chance here so I quickly move backwards to create space for me to use footwork. He comes swinging at me again with heavy, arching punches that would do immense damage if they connected. In between his shots, I launch my own assault – snapping jabs, left hooks and right hands as hard as I can throw them while my tattered shirt flaps in the night.

I am connecting cleanly while he is not – a sign that I am at least the superior technician.

We trade vicious punches for 30 seconds or so, then suddenly, a jab-left hook combination stuns my opponent, and his legs begin to wobble. Finally! I rush in looking to finish him, throwing punches and kicks as hard as I can. I load up on a front kick and slam it into his midsection, hoping to put him down with it. Not properly balanced, he grabs my foot and throws me on the floor. I had forgotten we were partially on a slope, so I stumble badly, falling down the slope. As I try to regain my footing in order to stand up, my opponent runs up and kicks me in the head.

BAM!!

I feel his foot graze my temple and see brief flashing lights – a sign I have been nailed hard. I know I need to get to my feet and get some distance, so I scramble as fast as I can while he loads up to kick me again. I manage to get to my feet and avoid the kick, but as I do he comes in with a huge right hand that catches me in the eye, tearing the skin instantaneously. The power is shocking, and I stumble back, desperately trying to regain my senses.

As I clear my head I can feel a warm trickle of blood flowing down my face, and as the night air hits my exposed chest, a primal instinct kicks in with alarming suddenness. I realize that I could die here tonight, and that I am fighting for my life. There is no time to analyze, no time to doubt, and no time to fear. I must bite down and fight as hard as I possibly can. As my opponent’s confidence surges from the blows landed, I decide to take that confidence away from him in a language he understands: violence.

No longer staying at distance, I meet him head on and begin to trade toe to toe. I can feel my punches landing cleanly, each blow sending shockwaves through my hands and up into my shoulders. The bone on bone contact feeds the beast inside me, each sickening crack reinforcing my primal urge to dominate and destroy. I do like to fight, and I do like to win. My rage is justified – I didn’t start this, but I will finish this, and he will learn who I am in the process.

The effects of my relentless punching are wearing my opponent down and he seems shocked by my viciousness. As he tries to grab me, I pull his head down and begin to unload a series of violent uppercuts into his face, over and over again. He pulls back, and sensing a huge opening, I leap in with a left hook and catches him clean in the temple. I feel my knuckle break on the impact, and the spirit leave my opponent instantaneously. He is beaten and no longer wants to fight.

“We’re done,” he mumbles, staggering from the impact of the blow. 

My mind is still racing, still enraged and still intent on doing damage.

“Fuck you. We’re not done” I seethe, incensed at his cowardice.

I launch another violent assault as he tries to cover up. Several more punches land, but this time my opponent does not fight back. And as quickly as my rage appeared, it vanishes at the sight of him cowering by the wall, his face mangled and bruised. 

“Ok, we’re good?” I ask, the violence dissipating almost completely.

“We’re good,” he replies meekly.

A wave of compassion unexpectedly floods my body and I extend my hand for him to shake – a custom in Martial Arts training after a sparring session. He tries to steady himself and reaches out. We shake hands.

“You ok?” I ask, genuinely concerned. 

“Yeah, I’m good man,” he says, leaning back against the wall.

And with that I head over to the car with my distraught date who has been doing her best to keep calm.

“Holy shit. That was insane,” she says, turning the engine on. “Are you ok?”

As we drive down the slope, I see the guy slumped against the wall and someone coming to help him. He does not look well.

“Yeah, I’m ok,” I answer. 

But as the reality of what had just happened sunk in, I knew that I wasn’t.

Continued in next week’s issue of Banter M

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

I WATCHED ONE OF SARAH PALIN’S MOST UNHINGED SPEECH EVER, SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO

by Bob Cesca

Here we go again. Yet another attempt by Sarah Palin to deliver a public address while sounding like she knows what she’s talking about — and then failing miserably in the process. But this particular speech, delivered at a Tea Party Patriots rally against the president’s Iran deal this week, descended to new levels of horrendousness.

It’s entirely possible she was suffering from a mild heat stroke because she opened her remarks by complaining about the Washington, DC heat.

You all are a lot tougher than Alaskans. Bein’ able to be out here — I’m roastin’, I’m meltin’.

Apparently the first thing to melt were the “g” sounds at the end of her words. But somehow she managed to dovetail the heat with, yes, the Iran deal.

I’ve always said my sweatin’ was my sanity, so let’s bring some sanity to this discussion about this insane treaty

that’s in front of Congress.

To paraphrase Hannibal Lecter: This ham-handed segue into the Iran deal — tut-tut-tut — it won’t do. Also, it’s not a treaty. Oh, and the deal isn’t in front of Congress. The Republicans want it to go to Congress for approval, but that’s only so they can kill it. And besides, there’s no requirement that Congress needs to approve it. I mean, you’d think that being invited to a rally about the Iran deal, she might read something about the, you know, Iran deal.

Apropos of nothing, Palin jumped from the Iran deal to some good old fashioned racism, referring

to BlackLivesMatter protesters as “dogs.”

You know, since our president won’t say it. Since he still hasn’t called off the dogs. We’ll say it! Police officers and first responders all across this great land, we got your back — we salute you!

Funny thing. The Republicans actually don’t support the police and first responders, nor do they have their backs. (By the way, it’s “backs,” Sarah, because they don’t all share the same singular “back.”) For example, the House GOP voted against healthcare for 9/11 heroes, then the Senate Republicans filibustered the law. Why?

Because they said it was a “massive new entitlement program.” I’m not making that up.

House Republican leadership is advising its members to vote against a bipartisan bill that would, among other things, bolster medical support to Sept. 11 victims.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2009, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), would provide medical monitoring to those exposed to toxins at ground zero, bolster treatment at specialized centers for those afflicted by toxins on Sept. 11 and

reopen a compensation fund to provide for the economic loss of victims.

Stay classy, Republicans.

Palin immediately shifted back to Iran.

We’re negotiating with the braggadocios number one state sponsor of terrorism?

Sure, and Reagan negotiated with a nation that had thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at every city in the United States. Oh, and this will come up again, but I thought I’d say it now — Iran is helping us fight ISIS. Perhaps someone in the

rowd realized this glaring oversight and rushed the stage. By the way, the guy who rushed the stage was likely the only black man in the mayonnaise-colored crowd. My guess? He perhaps didn’t like being referred to as a dog. Just a hunch.

Our sons and daughters sacrificed in Iraq — still in Iraq. And they’re there to disempower the extremists in their neighboring crazy-land, Iran.

Again, she’s so full of shitola. Iran is helping us fight ISIS in Iraq. Fact. If she actually did some grade-school level research, she’d understand that Iran is Shia and ISIS is made up of Sunnis. They

hate each other. That’s the kindergarten-level explanation for Screechy McJutty.

So, it’s up to us to tell the enemy: We win, you lose. Just like Ronald Reagan would have told them.

Sure, but in the case of Soviet Russia, such pointless gloating would’ve occurred only after Reagan engaged in repeated negotiations with the Soviets.

Iran was dirty dealing. They were bad actors, already accused of hiding their secret nookular weapons work and their secret—

–Okay stop right there. New rule. If you can’t correctly pronounce “nuclear,” then you don’t get to talk about nuclear weapons, energy or — hell — you don’t even get to talk about atomic wedgies. Why? Because you’re a nincompoop.

Only in an Orwellian Obama world full of sprinkly fairy dust blown from atop his unicorn as he’s peeking through a really pretty pink kaleidoscope would he ever see victory or safety for America or Israel in this treaty.

“Really pretty pink kaleidoscope?” Let’s shuffle

Palin to the front of the long line of people who will owe Obama an apology when gas prices are under two-dollars and Iran moves closer to being a fair player in the Middle East, rather than a sinister “axis of evil” state.

You don’t reward terrorism. You kill it!

Once again, Iran is helping us fight the number one terrorist threat in the Middle East.

[The president] so disrespects you, Congress, and the Constitution, that he won’t even bring the treaty to you wholly.

But didn’t she just say the “treaty” is already “before Congress?” I mean, it’s not but a few minutes ago, she said it was.

[The president] doesn’t even trust Americans to even change our own light bulb of our own choosing.

Yes, President Obama signed that law back in 2007 when — wait. Obama wasn’t president in 2007 when the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 was signed, beginning the phase-out of incandescent bulbs. George W. Bush signed the legislation. Whoops!

I can only compare the enormity [of the Iran deal] to Alaska’s Mt. McKinley. It’s about that size.

See what she did there? She didn’t say “Denali,” like she did in her 2009 farewell address. She said “Mt. McKinley” because she just doesn’t give a flying fuck about anything.

There’s a Russian word for that. It’s called fortochka. And that means “Obama’s window of opportunity.”

“Fortochka” is Russian for a small ventilation window. It has nothing to do with Obama or 

opportunities.

So as Obama leads from behind the skirt of his right-hand man Valerie Jarrett…

Why on earth would she attack Jarrett’s femininity? Oh, never mind. She’s Sarah Palin and she writes by Madlibs.

Where [Obama’s] bad actors are rewarded while a Christian clerk goes to jail.

Fact. U.S. District Judge David Bunning was appointed by George W. Bush and has zero affiliation with the Obama White House.

So there it is. Nine minutes of Sarah Palin making shit up about Obama, Iran, BlackLivesMatter and “nookular” weapons. At least this time there weren’t props.

 

Tony Soprano

Tony Soprano

The Grand Finale

by Chez Pazienza

The following was written two years ago, during a time in which the depression I regularly struggle with was really rampaging through my life. Things have been difficult lately and rather than attempt to express the revived chaos in my head through words that will only frustrate and disappoint me — since my recent issues with writing are likely a byproduct of the problem — I thought it made more sense to simply publish here at Banter this very honest and personal piece I’d already written. It says exactly what I need to say better than I could say it right now.

Act 1: “Try To Remember the Times That Were Good”

Lately I’ve found myself obsessed with the ending of The Sopranos.

Surely you remember it: Tony and two-thirds of his family, sitting in Holsten’s diner, casually munching on onion rings while the tabletop jukebox played Journey’s anthemic Don’t Stop Believin’, a song which suddenly seemed to take on an odd menace given the setting. Tony had just made an uneasy peace with the New York mob, but both he and we understood that threats to him still lurked in every shadow simply by virtue of the life he’d chosen, what had already killed off almost everyone around him, turning him, maybe through sheer good luck, into the Jersey crew’s last man standing. So there he sat, grabbing a bite with the people he truly loved, the blood family he’d tried to protect but whom he had inadvertently poisoned via the same cycle of ruthless violence that created him. Only one person was missing at the table: his daughter, the one whose voice he had come back to at the beginning of the year after being shot by his uncle and put into a coma. She was trying to parallel park outside and once she finished she’d come in and sit next to her father and the Sopranos would 

Nothing.

At the time, the way The Sopranos ended felt like a cheap parlor trick, the final triumph of creator David Chase’s more cynical tendencies and a big “fuck you” to the audience. At the time, the sudden cut-to-black felt like Chase telling us that life would go on for Tony; we simply wouldn’t be around to see it. Of course, the reality of that ending was that nothing could be further from the truth because the reality was that Tony was killed at the end of The Sopranoshe simply wasn’t around to see it and therefore neither were we. If you doubt this interpretation of what’s gone on to be perhaps the most controversial finale in TV series history, go back and watch it again — and this time, look closer. As Chase would say in a later interview, all you need to know about what really happened at the end of that iconic scene is there in the minutes, hour, and weeks that came before it. In the end, he practically spells it out on the walls.

Watch the man in the gray Members Only jacket get up from his seat at the bar and walk into the bathroom behind and to the right of Tony just before Meadow presumably walks in. Remember that the title of the final season opener was “Members Only,” and in it Tony was shot by Junior and Eugene Pontecorvo carries out a hit in a restaurant wearing the same jacket. Think back on the conversation Tony has with the recently murdered Bobby Bacala on the lake, when Bobby muses on being whacked that “you probably don’t even hear it when it happens” and how Silvio didn’t hear the initial shots that killed Gerry Torciano right in front of him. Notice the split-second that Jay and the Americans’ This Magic Moment is shown on the jukebox at Tony’s table, the same song that played after Bobby made his first kill. The woman who walks in who bears an uncanny resemblance to Janice. The two black men who look strangely like the guys who once tried unsuccessfully to kill Tony. The scout leader who looks and dresses like Phil Leotardo and who makes his finger into a gun. Remember Paulie’s comment about the orange cat — the one that seems to stare intently at a picture of Christopher — being a bad omen. Now look over Tony’s right shoulder at the giant painting of the orange tiger on Holsten’s wall and remember Adriana’s affinity for orange tiger print. Also on the wall, the inescapable image of the Inn at the Oaks, which represented the final acceptance of death — what Tony Blundetto called “home” — in Tony’s dream-state after he was shot. As Chase said, it’s all there. Everyone is in place at Holsten’s for Tony’s final reckoning, his life truly flashing before his eyes just before the end comes.

Then there’s the pattern. Tony hears the bell, looks up, the shot reverses and we see what he sees, his family coming one-by-one through the door. First Carmela. Then A.J. Then Tony hears the bell, looks up, and sees — nothing — because there’s nothing to see. Tony is dead, shot in the head in front of his family by the man in the Members Only jacket. Rather than show us Tony being killed Chase does something far more diabolical and powerful: he makes us experience it. This choice represents perhaps the truest stroke of genius in a show that was full of them from beginning to end. It makes you understand that almost nothing you saw up to that point was by accident. Every single little detail mattered and it was all leading you to the same place — to the death of Tony Soprano. That’s what this extended tragedy was always about: his rise, attempt and failure at moral redemption, and ultimate fall.

In the very first episode of the show, Tony panicked over the ducks leaving his pool and understood that it represented his fear of losing his family. In the end, he lost them by being killed right in front of their faces.

Tony never heard it coming. And neither did we.

Act 2: “You’re Going Home”

It’s been so long since I’ve written.

Yes, technically I write almost every weekday, upwards of 4,800 words a week, for The Daily Banter, but for me it’s not the same as writing. I bang out polemics which I sometimes feel very strongly about but which can, I admit, occasionally be little more than the fulfillment of a job requirement. This doesn’t in any way mean that I don’t care and don’t take pride in the work I do for Banter, only that I miss the comfort of expressing the parts of my personality that don’t want anything at all to do with politics or media or generally being a smart-ass, and those parts are many. I always wrote because I needed to, not for anyone else but for myself; I don’t do that anymore. I don’t do it for reasons purely practical and for reasons I try to convince myself are purely practical: because I simply don’t have the time or don’t have the will. There are so many days that I just do not give a shit about the Republicans in Congress, or Barack Obama, or the latest scandal, or who’s outraged over whose crude joke, or what insufferable thing Glenn Greenwald said this week. There are so many days when I spit fiery opinions into the ether that I barely believe and hate myself for pretending to hold to ferociously. You can typically spot these instances by way of a counterintuitive and yet incredibly obvious tell: they’re the ones I defend with the most egregious amount of venom. I fight back the hardest and in the most personal manner when I believe my own bullshit the least. This is the unnatural order of things. And I’m beginning to think that it’s literally killing me.

Ironically, all the poison I regularly unleash is nothing compared to the poison I keep inside. It churns constantly, feeling at all times like it’s threatening to eat a hole through my sometimes fragile psyche. When things were at their worst in my life a few years ago, it was my ability to express what I was going through — the release of putting it down and pushing it far away from me

— that saved me from going completely crazy. But I don’t do that anymore. No, at face value things are nowhere near as relentlessly punishing as they were from mid-2009 through the next couple of years, when a combination of pain and paralysis caused by the collapse of my marriage and being removed from my child left me floating adrift and alone: no real home to speak of and no real sense of who I was as a person, what beliefs I still had to cling to, or where to turn to make the almost constant anguish stop. But something is still wrong — naggingly, achingly wrong — and I’m finally having to truly come to terms with the fact that it isn’t something being generated from without but from within. I have a beautiful and caring girlfriend, whom I love (dearly). I live in sunny Los Angeles (again). I don’t do drugs or drink too much (they don’t work in the end). I have major financial considerations that I at all times feel like I’m being crushed by and they cause me to work almost inhuman hours just to keep my head above water (but it’s not as if it’s the first time in my life that I’ve been in this position). Like everyone else, I deal with good and bad and try to navigate the world as best I can. And yet I don’t sleep most nights. I often wake up crying. I rarely want to get out of bed. I sometimes dread leaving my home. Even when I’m laughing, I can feel desperate and broken inside. And always present at the front of my mind is that the older I get, the more hopeless my future is going to seem.

Here’s something I’ve been longing to say for quite a while because I always felt like it was  important: My divorce taught me something that I desperately needed to learn. It taught me something I was supposed to learn twelve long years ago, when I was in rehab for a devastating heroin addiction. Put simply, it taught me the truth of the Serenity Prayer. Anyone who’s read my book, Dead Star Twilight, knows that that seemingly trite nostrum is a common refrain for those who hold tightly to the wisdom of “The Program.” While I always understood the idea of it, I never actually accepted it — until I finally put my arms in the water and began to paddle after almost three years at sea in the wake of my break-up from my wife. It was then, at long last, that I “got it.” You have to accept that there are some things you simply can’t change or control, another person’s actions being one of them. I couldn’t do anything about what had happened to me. I was completely at the mercy of what someone else wanted for both her life and mine, with our daughter caught in the middle, and I had only two very clear choices when it came to how I dealt with it: in the immortal words of Andy Dufresne, I had to get busy living or get busy dying. So I made a choice to come back out west, to the Pacific, which, again according to Philosopher Dufresne, has no memory — hopefully no memory of what happened to me the last time I was in L.A. My drive across the entire country was the metaphoric made literal, a sudden bolt of physical momentum that finally led me forward for the first time in a long time — appreciating each new day rather than uselessly looking back on anything that had happened in the past, any of the immutable events of history that had led me to each precious new second in time. It was good. It was the lesson I needed.

But it’s a difficult outlook to maintain when you realize that each time your child visits from her expensive three-story home in Dallas, you have to convert your bedroom into hers and play a personally heartbreaking game of pretend, hoping she doesn’t notice or care about the difference. When you’re struggling with the kinds of money issues that seem to have ceased being a problem for other people years ago. When you can’t understand why anything can make you cry. When you truly come to believe, finally, at the age of 43, that there’s a very good chance you’re not going to live to see old age, nor would you much want to.

Yesterday, I was wandering a local Rite-Aid, looking for a bottle of water and a bottle of Tylenol. As I moved through the aisles, I noticed that the music playing on the overhead speaker system was Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule the World, a seminal song from my high school years. I try not to look back on those days too much because nostalgia gets you nowhere; again, the past is past and there’s no changing it. But I do miss the optimism of that era, the knowledge that no matter what went wrong, there would always be time to fix it. Tears for Fears then segued into Bon Jovi’s Who Says You Can’t Go Home. A New Jersey band. Singing about going home.

Act 3: “Every Guy Who Ran That Crew…”

There aren’t enough superlatives to fully and properly express the impact that James Gandolfini had on television as an art form and, as has been almost universally acknowledged, on those he came into contact with throughout his career. He died last week at the far-too-young age of 51 of a massive heart attack — cut to black, likely didn’t even hear it coming — but by creating the most complex, indelible and influential character in dramatic television history, he ensured that his legacy will live on for a very long time indeed. Like his alter-ego Tony Soprano, he was taken from us so quickly that we barely had time to process it, each, some have argued, a victim of his own bad choices. In Tony’s case it was a life of crime; in James’s case, a potential lack of attention to the deterioration of his heart. Either way, the end result is the same: death, an abrupt nothingness. I’m left wondering, though, whether Gandolfini ever looked back on his work on The Sopranos and felt somewhat haunted by it, if he pondered whether he’d ever do something that good, create something that undeniably flawless, again. An artist, of course, isn’t merely to be judged by his or her current output but is in reality the sum of it over a large swath of time; provided they’ve got real talent, people tend to judge artists by what they’ve done throughout their lives, not simply what they’re doing at any one moment. But creative types themselves don’t always see it that way; they can go completely fucking crazy, unleashing their own private hell, simply by doing nothing more than constantly asking if their best days as a painter, actor, musician, writer, and so on are behind them.

I don’t claim by any means to be a great writer, but I admit that I now go back and look at the material I wrote for years on this site and in Dead Star Twilight and it’s as if I’m reading the work of someone else. I remember the act of writing but I can’t for the life of me explain how I came up with the words that I did. What I read from years ago feels fearless and passionate, far too fearless and passionate to come from the person I know now to be me, the person I live with every day and night. That person is timid, frightened almost all the time, aware maybe of the best way to proceed but once again too trapped under the weight of mid-life stasis to actually proceed that way. That person has proven time and time again that it all comes back to this: feeling despondent, feeling overwhelmed, absolutely sure that his best days are behind him. Only now it’s worse because I’m finally willing to — have no choice but to, really — admit that a lot of the past wasn’t all that great. So if the past was bad and it’s the best it’s going to get and there’s no other way to live but for today, what the hell do you do? How do you continue to move forward?

In the last season of The Sopranos, David Chase put Tony Soprano on the final path toward his inescapable end. Tony was shot and awoke from a near-death experience to find that he’d been given a second chance to redeem himself and possibly live out his years in peace with his family. But it took almost no time at all for him to return to the life he’d come to know all too well and enjoy far too much. He cheated on Carmela, killed Christopher, arrogantly and ignominiously gave up on his treatment and was consequently dumped by Dr. Melfi, and with all of this, the wheels were set in motion for Tony’s doom. Again, as Chase said, it was all there. Anyone could see it. In fact, if you go back and watch all of Season Six of the show from start to finish with the knowledge that Tony is killed at the very end of the final episode, it’s impossible not to see just how obviously, meticulously, and brilliantly that outcome was set up.

Everything in his life led to what finally happened to him.

It’d be nice to believe that he could have changed it, could have averted his ultimate reckoning. But who can really say for sure? Maybe he hadn’t, in fact, chosen it. Maybe it was something he couldn’t change and something he therefore had to simply accept. Maybe his death, like his life, was inevitable. It was the only ending that made sense.