Monday, December 22, 2008

Pop Culture and Christmas -- 6 1/2 Short Blogs about Music and TV for the Season No One Can Agree To Disagree On Anymore.

1. My favorite Christmas song is "Joseph, Who Understood", by the New Pornographers. It's sung from the point-of-view of Joseph, the least sung about guy in the Bible, who hears the townsfolk of Galilee belittling his status as a father and husband because, to them, he's a cuckold. Joseph's response is to talk to Mary about this. He understands that "Some things are bigger/ Than we know", but still needs to know "Mary, is he mine?" It's a beautiful pop song, full of glorious choruses and harmonies, and background cadences that work both as a Greek chorus and an answer to Joseph's questions. By the end, he's singing "Mary, He is mine", which is why the title of the song is what it is. "You're Asking Me/ To Believe/ In Too Many Things" is as heartbreaking a line as ever written. "Mary, He is mine" is the determination of a father to do the right thing. Glorious. Go to iTunes and buy it now. It's a buck, for cryin' out loud.

2. After that, it's the BC Clark jingle. For those of you who have never been inside the state of Oklahoma over Christmas, BC Clark Jewelers has been around for a very long time, and is older than the state itself. At some point, the gods smiled upon the commercial songwriters of central Oklahoma, and they came up with this gem of a jingle that is almost impossible to get out of your head, once heard -- and you cannot live within the state lines without hearing the song over and over for the month of December. Then it disappears, back into the vault to be reissued next December. Never re-recorded since its original version, it sounds beautifully retro and timeless AND works fabulously as a commercial, placing the store in historical context and providing you with the information you need to go spend money there. It never gets annoying, and no matter how many people are around, they will all start singing along when it's played on the radio. You can be arrested for not doing so in some of the smaller towns in Oklahoma, as a variation of their old "sundown" laws. BC Clark Jewelers should not be confused with the Trust House Jewelers, who aren't around anymore, and who used to sponsor a lot of local late night television. This led to Godzilla movies being interrupted every 15 minutes by a picture of their French Market Mall store, and a Muzak version of "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" playing as the owners displayed horrifyingly expensive, tacky as hell jewelry for you to buy. Late at night.

3. There are so many worst songs involving Christmas that I could write entry after entry without my usual sardonic glee and just display pain -- the pain of Magic 104's already horrible station going Christmas since some time in late November. There's nothing like 24-hour, constant, enforced merriment to make you Grinch out all over the place. Worst thing I've ever heard: any of the myriad versions of "Mary, Did You Know?", which is answered "Yup, she did." Didn't you read that book? Almost any Christmas song written especially for a movie made in the last ten years also falls under this umbrella, especially that piece of shit "Where Are You, Christmas?" song that Faith Hill sang in that even shittier version of How The Grinch... Ron Howard plopped on us from above. Magic 104 is a constant pain in my side. It's the station more people agreed to listen to at work, so it is played constantly. I have NPR on at my desk, but am not always there, so I get to listen to Magic 104's playlist, as selected by (in my mind, at least) their typical listener: a conservative 30-ish, low 40's-ish female secretary with three kids who thought Bon Jovi was the height of rock and roll in the 80's, but is too scared to listen to Top 40 radio now because it's all hip-hop and rap. She loved Garth Brooks at the time, and CARES about the contestants on American Idol. Think "Debbie", Frank Zappa's hypothetical teenager who is the focus of record companies' promotional departments, but grown up and almost 40, and you've got it. Magic 104: ass-kissing radio for your home or business. I also get to listen to Bill O'Reilly every day, in part because I believe in free speech and listening to those people you vehemently disagree with so you can understand where they're coming from. Also in part because the guys at work like to hear me yell back at the radio. "That's bullshit!!!" is another big Holiday tradition.

4. At one point I could recite all the lines, sing all the songs, and perform all the voices of the great Rankin/Bass classic Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Let me say this again; I could do them on command, and do so now without being asked. Many's the person who has heard me do this and looked wide-eyed at the weird person speaking like Yukon Cornelius. Rudolph is to me, and for many people my age, THE Christmas TV special. And how did this happen? Seriously? How does a stop-motion puppet show from the late 60's come to dominate every other Christmas Special around it? Is it the message, that you should accept people for who they are and understand that every person is special in some way? Is it the songs? I mean, who doesn't love the timeless beauty of "There's Always Tomorrow For Dreams To Come True"? Or the remakes of almost-blacklisted folkster Burl Ives' classics "Holly, Jolly Christmas" and "Silver and Gold"? No, what makes Rudolph so timeless is that the special helped create a whole chunk of Christmas mythology, and inhabits its world so completely, that it's hard to imagine Christmas without an Island of Misfit Toys, or the hope that the ones we love will simply accept us as who we are. That makes Rudolph, the character, a cipher. He can represent any minority group you want, and any hero you need. He's a tough deer-of-action who is polite, caring, and flies when people like him. And Hermie may be the best gay Jewish puppet role model ever. The fact that you can buy the entire cast of the show at auction is one of the weirder realizations of my adult life.

5. The Charlie Brown Christmas Special has finally fallen victim to enforced nostalgia, for me. Now, they spread the 24 minute cartoon out to an hour, with more commercial breaks than you'd think possible in 60 minutes, and ram a few shorts in afterward to keep you watching -- and in order to fit in more commercials. The CBCS, as we hipsters call it (only me), is also the only special that really tries to downplay the festivities in favor of a discussion of the theme of Christmas. For many people, that means the Story of Jesus's birth -- and ONLY the story of Jesus's birth. For the special (and this has to be read a bit into it, as I never got high enough with Charles Schulz to ask him), the theme is the way Capitalism has destroyed the original meaning of Christmas, and has "created" a new, commercial and status-appointed meaning. Fogged up in the mist of ideology, time, and people bitching about "Lack of Tradition!" and "Tannenbaum?!" is the thing I remember most from the Story -- that Jesus's parents were willing to defy death in order to bring the child into the world. That selflessness (and let's not forget that Mary didn't really have much choice in the matter) and generosity (the two of them allowed that Jesus was their child, even though God was the father) is faintly echoed in Charlie Brown's pick of a runt-of-the-litter Christmas Tree, that he likes in spite of what everyone else says, and in spite of what everyone else thinks he should purchase. Linus eventually steps in, as he usually does, to provide some sense in those chaotic times, and simply recites a few lines from The Bible that resets everyone's bearings. Jesus, he points out, was a Gift. Be happy with the Gift. Selflessness is the reason for the season.

But the ideology gets a bit crossed here. Linus seems to be saying that the gift of Jesus is what's important to remember, that it is the meaning of Christmas. In one sense, he's right. Christians are supposed to celebrate Christmas as the birth of their Savior -- the Savior of the World, for them. But the holiday is so much more than that. For those of us who aren't Christians, it's a pause for breath, a chance to take the year as a whole and celebrate those things that make life worth living. For you, it may involve religion. For me, it's my family and friends, and the hope that people can continue to be as selfless as Jesus's parents, and do unto others, etc. The CBCS isn't quite sure how to work this all out. After his tree is rejected by his selfish compatriots, Charlie takes it to his house. He'll love it as it is, so there. He's much better than you, and is self-important enough to know it. His attempt to make the tree more palatable -- the ornament from Snoopy's prize-winning Christmas doghouse display that Mr. Brown (sounds like Mr. Shit!) puts on it -- only succeeds in hurting the tree, and he runs off, screaming. His "friends", who have followed after him, possibly to see if he'll commit suicide, give the tree their "love", which for Linus is the gift of his security blanket, and for the rest, the moving of ALL of Snoopy's decorations onto the tree, thus making it as pretty as all the others BECAUSE THEY'VE MADE IT THAT WAY. Far from being an acceptance of the tree as it is, the Peanuts cast remakes the tree in their own image, and it is accepted. Hell, they even serenade Charlie Brown as some sort of "keeper of the flame", when Linus is the one who got everyone to shut up for a minute and think about the "meaning" of Christmas. The blanket around the tree should be enough, but it isn't for Shermy and the rest. Charlie bought the tree, and they made it less individualistic, just so he and it would fit in better. At the end, it just looks like every other over-decorated tree in the world, and not "itself" anymore. Rah frickin' rah. As dark as Peanuts got, I think this point might actually be what Charles Schulz is trying to get at, but, again, I never got high enough with him to ask. Dolly Madison cakes for all!

Next up, a Marxist revaluation of the Cold and Heat Misers.

6. Without doubt the saddest AND sappiest Christmas song is "Same Old Lang Syne", by schlockmeister Dan Fogelberg, he who told us about his penis size years before doing so was hip: "Longer". (See! I told you there would be dick jokes!) This 5 minute opus about a rock star who meets an old high school girlfriend in the grocery store is not the set up for Time Chasers, but the saddest of all Xmas songs: the reunion that turns into the Big Suck. Filled with little details about frozen food and drinking in the car, the song represents nostalgia past, present, and future in a nice Christmas Carol-ly sort of way: the Future, in that the song is about the inability to recreate the past, either in action or feeling, so it's best to look forward; the Present, in that the damned thing is played on Magic 104 every hour, and because I am about the age of the main character now, so, watch out, nostalgia fans!!; and the Past, which takes some back story.

We used to have dances in high school, back in the day when I danced not to attract the opposite sex, but to have fucking fun! Really! I follow the idea that if music makes you want jump and down, then jump up and down! Forget the embarrassment that comes with trying to impress someone with your dancing, just do whatever the hell you feel like. Dancing is the greatest thing ever for those who want to express feeling through dance. All that said, I am one of the greatest disco dancers of all time. Hands down.

Anyway, as one of the final slow songs of the evening, you know, the one where you're supposed to finally wind up with the person you have true affection for and stare MEANINGFULLY into each other's eyes and postulate on "For us, what happens next?", "Syne" is the greatest song, since it is about the time AFTER the relationship, after you've had your final dance with someone and they -- and you -- have gone on to other things. For those of us who had an eye on the future, it became the song to dance to and ponder deep, philosophical thoughts about the end of high school, the beginning of adulthood. It can be the first understanding of the power of nostalgia -- even before you've earned it. "Syne" allows that feelings never quite disappear, but are replaced, and either submerged completely, or re-interpreted ("I shouldn't have been a jazz musician after all!"). So you get a feeling of nostalgia just from hearing the song, because you once danced to it with someone you said you liked a lot, maybe loved, and now aren't with. Nowadays, the song simply takes me back to the time when I thought deep thoughts about relationships instead of actually having them; when I "acted" instead of doing. It's nice to think that teenagers are self-aware in high school, but in most cases, we were doing what we thought we were supposed to do at the time, instead of actually doing something because we wanted to do it. High school is a time of role playing, not introspection, unless you're role playing the part of an introspective teenager, which is, again, a role (and then you become a Goth: "Burn! Burn! Burn Hot Topic! Don't let it steal your soul!").

And that's why "Syne" is so sad. These two people are trying to connect with old parts they used to play, but that time is over. It'd be nice to recreate some magic every once in a while, but a lot of times, there isn't magic, just nostalgia. My nostalgia for the song "Same Old Lang Syne" is on many levels, from remembering people I used to dance to during it, to the genius of Darren Penrod, who put it on last on the slow-dance/make-out mix tape most of us copied to have as our own. You know, the one that had a lot of Journey, Styx (Styx?), and The Eagles, whose "Wasted Time" is another one of those instant nostalgia songs, but isn't Xmas-related, so it's not in here. It reminds me of a time when I thought I actually knew a lot of stuff, but it turned out I knew shadows of things, like owning the guidebook to Plato's Cave and expecting it to provide the true experience, rather than just being promotional material. I strongly believe that graduating from high school causes a sort of mental illness. You're grouped in with a bunch of people for up to 13 years, and then -- POOF! -- you're not. Set up. Fail. Suddenly, you don't see that guy with the cowboy hat in the hallway anymore, or hear Darron Dunbar's magnificent, wonderful laugh, or see Cindy, or ineffectually criticize everything decent with Mark, go "Myeh!" with another Mark, or slow dance with whoever happened to be closest and cutest when the right song came on. Good days, high school. Too bad, as the saying sort of goes, that we aren't adults when we experience it, so we can understand the beautiful tragedy of it all: fraudulent, meaningful, pointless, incisive high school.

So "Same Old" re-creates, for me, that realization, late in my high school tenure, that I had spent too much time trying to do what you're supposed to do in high school, and not enough time actually enjoying it, which is, of course, part of the teenage experience, too. Oh, to be the un-enlightened person who looked at high school with less pretentiousness and less shit-headedness. Oh, to patronize some more. Oh, for the days when I didn't have to worry about so much shit that it becomes hard to be a part of one's life, and not an observer. Well, that's what adulthood is for -- to figure out the world. And you have a long time to do it. Adulthood lasts the rest of your life, which means you have a lot of opportunities to figure out stuff, but as you get older, less time to enjoy the knowledge as you try to pass it on to someone younger than you who is in the same trap you were "at that age". At the end of "Same Old Lang Syne," the protagonists part, and the snow turns to rain, which will wash away the beauty of the Winter Wonderland and return us to the rest of the year. Christmas is a time for reflection and exhaling -- lots of exhaling. Far from there being a War on Christmas, we rush towards the end of the year faster and faster each year, hoping the exhalation process starts earlier and earlier and lasts longer. Crappy Christmas music starts blaring out of radios a little earlier in November each year, and each year, Wal-Mart tries to push Xmas on us a bit sooner. I realize that some people are concerned about the death of Christmas, which is the dumbest fucking thing ever. No, it's more dumb than those Christmas commercials that try to convince you to buy the stuff you want instead of being happy with just getting a gift. And I know that Bill O'Reilly's greatest Holiday wish is to run around with a claw hammer bashing in the skulls of any and all who don't celebrate Christmas the same way he does every year: fucking mountains of hookers on top of a running chainsaw. But that's his deal, and he's wrong about Christmas. What he's really worried about is being passed by, about not being a part of something. He doesn't want his way of life to disappear, so he forces the world into his own mold, and tries to compress it into a shape, much like using a Play-Doh extractor. He's doomed to fail, thank God. As history bypasses us and makes it more difficult to actually be involved in a moment of history than ever before -- witness the "instant historocity" of the Obama election, and he hasn't even taken office yet -- we are forced to concentrate on the mundanity of our own lives, and try to force events into narrative conventions so we "get" our lives. Well, there's nothing to "get", no "meaning" to extract. There are lessons to be learned, for sure, but not everyone gets them. Christmas is a time of beautiful impermanence. It comes, leaves a trail of destruction in its wake, makes us happy for a few weeks, and then is gone until next year. Snow falls, sits on the ground, then melts or gets washed away by the rain. Presents are wrapped, and the wrapping paper is ripped and tossed in the corner to get at the thing inside, then winds up in the garbage can, unless you reuse it, which is a stupid idea. Whatever event you thought was incredibly meaningful in your teenage years turns out to be useful for creating nostalgia, that beautiful feeling that nothing will ever be the same again. Damn, I hope so.

6.5 Hey, Merry Christmas everyone. Happy Holidays, just to make sure everyone gets a shout out. While my sarcasm meter may be off the charts right now, the one thing I really want to do right now is thank all those people who have been and those who are still a part of my life. I hope you're happy. I hope you succeed at something. I hope you are loved by someone and love someone back, even if it's a love without all that fluid passing. I hope you can be the person you want to be instead of the person someone else wants you to be, or that society wants you to be. I hope you're not judged, and I hope you don't judge. If you're religious, remember that you could be wrong. If you're not religious -- ahem --, remember that you could be wrong. Share a gift with someone for reasons other than selfish ones, and love the gifts you receive because they were given for this reason: Appreciation. "The worst thing in the world," the amazing songwriter Peter Case once wrote, "is to be unwanted/ To be used up and thrown away." Like wrapping paper. So take your time unwrapping things. Someone spent some time making the gift look pretty, and you should take your time in order to appreciate the thought. If you are alone this Christmas, and I've been there myself, appreciate the incredible feeling of independence and the fact that you're leading an alternative Christmas lifestyle. Break a tradition, and try to create a new one. Whatever the heck else you do this holiday, try to be nice to someone. Happy Saturnalia, everyone. I mean, Happy Kwanzaa. Sorry, I meant, Happy Hanukkah, all of you. I mean, have a nice life. Breathe deep and exhale slowly, since you have another full year heading at you faster than you'd probably like to realize.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

OKLAHOMAN HISTORY X

Well, Barack Obama was elected president last night, a moment that scares, humbles, and thrills me to the core. This country has been divided by politics for too long, and maybe this is a sign that – because voters crossed both party lines and other, media-created ones – we can heal some of the fractures.

I will not hide the fact that I voted for Obama, and that a part of me felt proud to be able to do so. However, he’s not the candidate I initially supported – that’s his new VP – and, far from the evil “liberal” tag people have tried to paint him with, he’s a moderate, and moderates don’t necessarily get as much done, because they don’t push as hard. I apologize to all the moderates – 2, maybe 3 people read this thing? – out there, but I am reminded of a joke my Constitutional History professor told in class, when he explained why he flat-out hated moderates, which, strangely enough, is very similar to a “how many blanks does it take to change a light bulb” joke I invented years earlier. Here’s his joke, paraphrased, or rather, misremembered and recited to myself in an attempt to not screw the damned thing up:

A dam breaks and a wall of water is heading towards a bridge with hundreds of people on it. What does a Conservative do about it? “The wall of water is a necessary correction in the amount of humans on the planet.” What does a Liberal do about it? “We must throw an enormous amount of money in front of the water to stop it from hitting the bridge, and then build a newer, not-yet-designed-but-better bridge next to it.” What does a Moderate do about it? Nothing. All the people die and water crushes through everything while they’re trying to please everyone.

This was, of course, his reason for being a Progressive, and not a Moderate, a political position someone had inquired about.

His name was Dr. Crockett, a 70-ish year old man who taught the two-part Constitutional History class one night a week, for three hours a night. We rarely stayed past the first hour, and if we did, it was because we were giving our Supreme Court presentations in class, and, since there were about 80 of us in there, they could go all night. He also took smoke breaks every 15 minutes, and coughed up chunks of what must have been his remaining lung every five.

It was a great series of classes. One thing most people don’t know about me is that, along with my Film and TV degrees, I also have a History degree. With honors; 4.0 and shit. One of my personal favorite moments in time to study is the year 1848 and the European Revolutions that threatened to change the social order completely, spreading equal rights across a group of countries, and which were put down violently. Historians refer to it as "The Year The World Could Have Turned, But Didn't." I got my multiple degrees by stacking classes, taking history classes as Humanities classes for my Film and TV degrees and vice versa.

The “work” you did in the Const. Hist. class was research Supreme Court cases. This meant you were assigned 2 cases per semester, and you had to get up in front of the entire class and explain the case, along with historic precedence. Sometimes, this was really boring, and you might only need 5-6 minutes to explain the Interstate Commerce Clause and how it dealt with state-to-state rail transportation. Other times, and this means when I got my “randomly” assigned cases, I got Roe v. Wade, or Gideon V. Wainwright, and that meant basically teaching the class for half-an-hour while Dr. Crockett coughed and wrote notes, and giggled at whatever jokes I could make. Yup. Jokes around Roe v. Wade. I did ‘em. They mostly involved swimming vs. paddling, but one was about the Texas judicial system, which I compared to the Nuremberg Trials, only backwards. He thought that was funny as hell, and coughed and spluttered approvingly. I also stated my political position on the issue of abortion (I’m pro-choice, but that’s another couple of entries, and I’ll summarize by saying that having a choice means you don’t have to do something, either), which I thought was mighty “vaginal-sy” of me (why is it that you have to have “balls” in order to show nerve? Does that mean all women are spineless cretins?). The rest of the class looked at me like Keith Olberman into the camera during a “Special Comment”. Or an OU fan watching us lose to Texas for the third time in four years. And what the fuck is up with that?

The two of us had one extended conversation, at the end of the second class, when I had gotten my paper over Eugene V. Debs back with a nice “A” on it – earned, damn it – and a comment about my R.V.W. joke that said something along the lines of “Nice to know someone who’s willing to voice an opinion that’s not popular in a place you can’t drink in.” I decided to thank him for that, and apologize to him for using the class as a bit of a soapbox. He coughed and chuckled, possibly both at the same time (coughled?) and said not to worry about it. He asked me why I wrote the paper over Debs, since he’s a historical figure who, while once a viable presidential candidate from inside jail (for speaking out against WWI), was disappearing from America’s collective memory. I admitted that I admired the fact that he stood for what he believed in, and never traded his position of authority for anything other than results. The man walked the walk and talked the talk. I admitted I wasn’t a Socialist, and that I thought humanity would never be ready for the amount of altruism and empathy true Socialism requires; you have to know why you’re giving up certain things and agree to do so in order for it to work, which means you have to care for your neighbor, sometimes, more than yourself. We’ll never get there, I said.

Cough. Cough.

"Well, you’re probably right. But it’s nice to know that some people have enough faith in people to think they might be able to do it. Sometimes just knowing those people can make the difference.”

I also told him about my research into Oklahoma’s history, and how Socialism was once a relatively big part of Oklahoma’s initial government. We elected some real Socialists, and everything. There’s a very radical, leftist part to the early history of Oklahoma, which I thought was interesting, considering how right-wing the state had swung during my lifetime. Mmm-hmmm, he muttered. “But let me tell you about Oklahoma’s ‘radical’ nature.” He then proceeded to tell me about the one big anti-war protest held on the OU campus during the Vietnam War.

“Oh, it was big – a couple of thousand students and teachers all gathered around, with signs, bullhorns, songs and everything. Then, the police showed up and told everyone to leave.”

Cough.

“And they did.”

He laughed at this, and I did, too. He’d told the story like a great comedian, building up the size and ferocity of the crowd, which immediately gave in the moment someone in authority told them to. The punch line was both hilarious and telling, and his point was clear; no one was willing to go to jail, and no one was willing to fight back. The “protest” was all about following the crowd – everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we? (“Linger” begins to play). The leftist movement at the start of the 20th century wasn’t just a few fanatics and bath-avoiding people at the time; it was a full blown movement, and Debs was a national hero, not just “that ass-hat” who wants to get laid at a peace rally. Oklahoma, he was saying, followed trends, it never started them. When it came down to the business of implementing anything, ahhh... there’s the rub. As soon as Socialism was destroyed as a political force nationally, it died here, and never raised its head with any import again. As the country moved further to the right during the 80’s and 90’s, so did Oklahoma, up to where it is today, about as far to the right as you can get without meeting yourself on the other side – a bit less Conservative than North Korea, but not quite as far left as Jasper, TX. Eventually, the state will shift back to the left a bit, as the country always does after the turn of the century, but it will never get as far to the left as its early, radical days, because those progressive, radical days will never return to the United States. Never. Never ever ever.

(Not that those early days were some sort of leftist paradise here, oh no. But imagine trying to be elected as a Socialist candidate in Oklahoma right now. “Hi. I’m David Murphy, and I’m running for office as a member of the Socialist Party.” “Are you fucking kidding me? Officer!”)

One thing I’ve noticed about Oklahoma in the past few years is how openly hateful it’s become towards anyone who slinks past Moderate into “Liberal.” There are many reasons for that: the abundance of ultra-conservative talk radio, which more rural Oklahomans are going to listen to, since it’s the only thing out there, except for NPR, and they don’t listen to it because it’s “biased”; the continual bullshit of this being the “heartland” of America, because it’s in the middle of the country, and has all that small town blah-blah-blah-whatever, which is supposed to be what America should stand for, not those evil cities, where nothing good can ever come; and what I call the “squeezing the air out of the bag effect”.

The “squeezing the air out of the bag effect” is illustrated as follows: you want to put something in a plastic bag that seals and ship it in a box. So that the bag takes up less space, you want to get the air out of it, so you close the end and press the air inside towards the seal, so that it will eventually get pushed out, leaving you with less air in the bag, so it takes up less space in the box. Before you get the air out, though, it bulges towards the end of the bag you’re pushing towards, which gets harder and harder to squeeze out. Think of that as a group of people who refuse to turn with the tide: Racists, for example. As these people get squeezed out as society progresses and understands how bad prejudice and racism are – not to mention how fucking stupid prejudice and racism are – not to mention how incredibly stupid the justifications for prejudice and racism have become -- not to mention how embarrassing it is to remember how na├»ve and stupid you can be when you’re uninformed and don’t know what words like “jigaboo” mean, goddamn I used that word so often before I actually knew what it meant that I’m about to throw up on the keyboard as I type this – I’ll start the sentence over now. As these people get squeezed out as society progresses and understands how bad prejudice and racism are, they’ll bunch up where they can and get harder and tougher in their stance as they’re pushed out of society. That’s a decent sized portion of Oklahoma for you; pushed to the extremes as the rest of the country moves on, and, because they can’t understand why they’re wrong and are too fucking caught up in “lost lifestyles” and “lost ways of life” to understand that there’s a reason why those things are LOSING, that they become more ingrained in their ways, instead of questioning them, which all human beings should do every once in a while.

It’s easy to either dismiss these people or ridicule them, and there are perfectly good reasons to do both, but in doing so, all we do is create a “siege mentality”, where all they do is associate with people who agree with them, and have their beliefs entrenched further. This solves nothing. It proves nothing. It makes people feel even more like outsiders than they already do – earned in many ways, of course because they're fucking bigots -- but that doesn't mean you stop trying to reach them. Lead by example, and you never know what you can accomplish. I heard a quote last night that, of people who considered themselves prejudiced at one time, being regularly around the person they were prejudiced against, such as at work or school, 90 percent of the time, it eliminated the prejudice. There are dozens of real-world examples we can use to prove this, from the person Derek Vineyard (American History X) is based on, to Malcolm X, on whom the film Malcolm X is based.

Now, I've tried this before. If you read the previous blog, you remember that I dated a red-haired beauty who turned out to be a bigot. True that. She did, in fact, hide her prejudices from me because I stated up front in our relationship that I didn't like prejudiced people. I guess it's a sign that she actually cared about me that she hid it as long as she could. It finally came out after we went to see that damned Wong Foo blah-blah-blah movie, where the magic gay people who are played by stridently (vocally so) non-gay actors save a small town from itself. Afterward, I said the movie was okay. She said, "Yeah, it was okay, except for all the gay stuff." Picture me, eyes wide open, yet another revelation dropped in my lap. I decided to stick around and try to change her by example, and this turned into what the interweb peoples call an "Epic Fail". She eventually got to where she was talking about shooting Bill Clinton, and I knew I had to get out, which led to the, again, embarrassing-yet-necessary answering machine message.

I made a choice I hated but needed at the time, and something I wish I'd done earlier in my life, when I was much more tolerant about what people said about the "Others", which actually means I didn't have the vaginals to get away; I wanted them to be my friends because I hate loneliness.

Let me tell you, loneliness is much better than pettiness.

When I began grad school at OU and started teaching, I decided that it was time to make sure I walked and talked the walktalk. Conservative students? I let them talk. Liberal students? I let them talk. Bewilderingly silly sorority girls who wanted to keep midgets as pets? Yuppers. (Oh, no shit. This happened. Greatest quote ever? "It's always sad when somebody dies. Especially midgets.") The idea here was to give everyone a legitimate voice; the idiots would hang themselves, and the serious ones would get a soapbox. The rest might learn a little bit of tolerance to other points of view besides their own. I talked about Doctor Who. Every once in a while, I taught some writing. Greatest compliment I ever got was from a student who told his counselor that he felt students could talk about anything in my class, no matter how much I disagreed with them, and they would be treated fairly. I loved teaching. I miss it dearly.

(Goddamn certain people.)

So, while watching John McCain's concession speech last night, I felt sorry for him. I don't think McCain's a bigot, or anything like that. I think he allowed himself to be coached by people who felt that the "Squeezed" peoples would take the vote, and not the squeezers. They were wrong, and John McCain's reputation will never recover. He came a hell of a long way with his speech last night, where he said exactly what needed to be said in exactly the right way, making him almost Shakespearean in his tragedy; Othello never got such bad advice. What we need to do now is build on what HE said. Obviously, Barack Obama's election is a sign that things in this country have gotten better. But make no mistake, complacency will kill this event. What McCain said about this being a historical event is right, and something many of the people who voted for him will have to understand. I know some people who voted for McCain who feel very left out of this event. While Obama's victory is historical, they see that, but they also lost a presidential election, and that means that, no matter how much they may understand the importance of this election, they can't enjoy it, because they lost.

Now is not the time to throw this in their faces. Now is not the time to squeeze against those who can't see this as anything but a lost campaign. Now is the time to engage in two of the things that America seems to have lost over the past few years: Empathy and Altruism. These two things, these two unselfish parts of our psyche have been in short supply the last few years, deadened by a constant negation in the manner our politicians have acted, and also by those who used recent events to greedily take more than what they might have honestly earned. Folks, there's a difference between having money and having all the money you can get. Selfishness and greed are Un-American and "not good". The Drive to Succeed is what we learn about in the history books, and that is why we cherish those people who, upon making their fortune, use it to help others. Those jackasses who can't live with less than 200 million dollars, and who will do anything to attain it want one thing: Independence. And power. Two Things. And the status those levels of income can provide. Three things. There are three things...oh, fuck it.

Now is the time to change the way we talk to each other. Instead of referring to all Republicans as bigoted bastards, we need to understand that in doing so, we are no better than those people who saw Obama getting elected last night as a sign that the country is headed to hell in a hand basket. The key to getting people understanding how stupid prejudice is turns on one question: How many of the people you are against do you actually know? How can you say all black people are shiftless and lazy when you can't possibly know more than .000000000000000000001 percent of them? And the same with Conservatives, or Republicans, or whatever side you immediately roll your eyes about when they're mentioned?

The country's moving back to the center again, and I hope Oklahoma doesn't take too long to follow suit. The important thing is to make this more than just a fad to follow, like protesting "The War", being "Socialist", or wearing flannel. Please, don't wear flannel again unless you're cold, or you're a lumberjack. Come the fuck on, people.

What has to happen is a change in the way America sees itself. Far from the perfect, City-On-A-Hill that's always mentioned by people, and which is almost always misunderstood or misused, we are a bunch of human beings with roots from all across the planet, possibly the first country that can claim that. And, in that, it means we are literally citizens of the World. Not as in the "One World, One Government" stuff many End-Timers scream in terror about, but as in America IS the World, in a microcosm (maybe not so micro). For better and for worse, the rest of the world looks to us. What we do now with this opportunity is how the rest of the world will turn. We can come together, embrace our differences and how those differences make us better, and, thus, make the world better. This cannot be a fad -- something that's hip and cool one minute and then ridiculed on one of those fucking Vh1 (I mean, the "List Channel") "Remember the 00's?" specials.

If it is a fad, then we need to ride it as long as we can. Maybe we can get it from cool to crap to kitsch so fast we can turn it into nostalgia. Maybe then we'll remember the things we have yet to do as the time the world got to a turning point.

And it did.

Cough.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

THE STALKER OF THE HORRID DEPTHS OF HORROR

(as a way of dealing with what was/is actually a pretty emotionally and mentally traumatizing event, I’ve decided to write this blog entry as a tribute/parody to/of the great horror writer, H.P.Lovecraft. For those not familiar with his work, I suggest reading these first:

http://www.dagonbytes.com/thelibrary/lovecraft/thedunwichhorror.htm
http://www.dagonbytes.com/thelibrary/lovecraft/thethingonthedoorstep.htm
http://www.dagonbytes.com/thelibrary/lovecraft/thewhispererindarkness.htm

Of course, you might decide to read more of that instead of the blog itself, which is pretty cheesy and full of denial, and the approach I’m using means only this: I. Am. Still. Dealing. With. It.)


THE STALKER OF THE HORRID DEPTHS OF HORROR

The darkest parts of the universe contain some of the most foul and reprehensible creatures known to man. It is, perhaps, only our predilection for covering up the horrors by denial and repression that allows us to survive such things. For myself, I can only hope my memories are crushed -- shattered beyond recognition soon, for the human mind is not built to survive the tests and despairing wraiths of the festering pools of horror I have been subjected to. If deadening blackness waits too long, my mind will eventually shatter under the weight of too many times at the key hole, too many times at the window, too many times at that little...hole thing... in the door, you know, the thing with the lens that bends that allows you to see who’s at the door – the peephole, that’s it! Too many times at the peephole, waiting, listening for the sounds that might come by....

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

I was once a student at the College of Rose State, located in the City of Midwest in the state of Oklahoma, which is a part of the States United in America, on the continent of America (North), sitting plainly on the planet of Earth in the Universe known as This One. A friendly place, its fountain wet and sparkling with the lights underneath the water in a technically brilliant display of wet light. The buildings sit full of people during the day, but closed and empty at night, possibly to allow sleep to release them from the possible horrors that could possibly exist somewhere on its campus. No man knows.

For four or five years this campus was my home away from home, since I did not live there, but at home, a place not on campus, making, therefore, the campus not my home. It felt like one at times, and I had developed a friendly banter with its occupants and temporary visitors one might call dialogue.

“Hey, Dave!”
“Hey, what’s up?”

We spoke to each thusly, these others and myself.

At the time of this horrid tale, I was recovering from what would come to be known as the Relationship I Needed To Get Out Of But Couldn’t. A young, red-haired beauty had smitten my heart, and I was hers, heart and soul. After a few happy months, during which we saw each other frequently, my heart grew 3 times as big, full of the love I had for her, and hope for the future it might contain.

Alas, it was not to be. The woman turned out to be possessive and a bigot, and had concealed such personality “quirks” from me until familiarity bred ease of around-ness, and she dropped her guard. I, for once, was traumatized, knowing my strong feelings for her would make it difficult to leave. After months of mental anguish and physical exploration, I knew I had to leave, but how? I knew that if I was in her presence I would never be able to utter the words I needed. So I did it on her answering machine. A spineless move I admit, but what else you gonna do?

Thus freed, I spent the next few days both pining for and yearning against the young woman, whose face I saw every day until I took her picture down from the bookcase. I begged off the dating scene for a while until I could get my bearings straight, which I did by looking down and seeing where I was. “Healed!”, I proclaimed myself. But my proclamation was incorrect. I was not healed, just alone – alone and lonely. And horny. Very horny.

One day in late October, I was venturing around the Humanities building, where I spent most of my time, due to the fact that many of my friends were there, and I had a lot of classes in the building. I entered the computer room through the door, where a Spanish immigrant woman I was acquainted with was typing away, and a woman with shorter hair sat with her back to me, typing, as well.

“Hey, Anna. What’s up?”
“Oh, hey, Dave. How are you doing?”
“Oh, okay. How’s your grandmother?”
“Oh, she’s fine.”

It was at this point that the other, non-Spaniard woman turned over to look at us. Her short hair and glasses proved the fact that she was a short-haired woman -- with glasses.

“Hey, Anna? Who’s this?”
“Oh, hey, (her name removed to avoid accidental incantations of some sort), this is David.”
“Hi.” (me here)
“Are you a student?” (Her)
“Yeah, last year of a two-year program stretched out to five.”
“Nice to meet you.”

She turned and returned to her typing. Anna and I went into the main broadcasting room for a class we had. It was a class in... NEWS FEATURE PRODUCTION! And kinda fun.

That Friday night, I dressed myself to the eights and planned to attend a campus theatrical production, something I enjoyed doing, since I was the campus theatrical production reviewer, and took my job very seriously, handing out stars and everything. I noticed some friends in the audience who were not Spaniards, nor immigrants, and sat down next to them, for the familiarity of friends can often overcome the weirdness of... the... inside place with the thingie in the lobby. The short-haired woman was among them, dressed nicely, and looking very cute, I might add, if the horrors of cuteness can cover the deeds of the black soul. And we’d just met, too.

After the play – a fantasia that Jeff Tiger completely stole, I went to take my leave of the group, when the short-haired woman with the glasses asked if I wanted to meet up with some people to have a drink at a restaurant nearby. Lonely from my broken heart and horny in my soul, I took her up on the offer. We went to the restaurant, drank, and talked. The conversation was pleasant, as pleasant as conversation with a militant vegetarian can be. Yes, she was a vegetarian, a militant one. As I just said.

Drink combined with more drink combined with horniness to produce what is known as a “make-out session” in my car back on campus, where I had driven to reunite her with her mode of transportation – a small, blue farm truck. The kind with the flat bed in the back and cab all the way front – like the British ones. Before things got too far, I righted myself, said I’d had a good time, and prepared myself for what was next.

“So, would you like to do this again?”
“Sure.”
“I’m free Wednesday.”
“Okay. What do you wanna do?”
“Let’s get dinner. Do you like Flip’s?”
Flip’s was/is an Italian restaurant in Oklahoma City, with a large vegetarian menu.
“Sounds good,” I said. “How ‘bout I pick you up here and I’ll drive?”
“See you then.”
We separated then, slightly disheveled, and exchanged phone numbers. We also decided what time we should meet, since that was something we needed to know.

She got in her little truck and drove away, her vehicle making a noise that I thought was cute at the time, but which now reverberates in the moldy passions of my soul:

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

Between the time I had sucked face and the time of the date, I’d had second thoughts. I definitely wasn’t ready to get involved with someone emotionally, since my heart was still bruised and battered from the Tyson-like beating it had recently taken. I decided that if the date went well, then I’d continue to see the woman, but deep down, I knew this was not the time for such things.

We met and headed to Flip’s.

Dinner was comfortable, full of small talk and black bean soup. Eventually, she said something that told me I needed to cut this off, quickly.

“You know, there are a lot of vegetarian dishes you might like. I’d love to cook some for you. You could come over and I’ll cook.”
“Sounds nice,” I uttered, knowing that any more would give her the idea that I was interested.

I drove her back to campus to drop her off, and realized I needed to end this now.

“Hey, I’m sorry to do this, but I don’t really think I can date right now.”
“Oh, what’s up?”
“I just had to get out of a relationship that really wasn’t right for me, and I thought maybe I was ready to go out with someone again, but I’m really not. I’m sorry about this. It has nothing to do with you or anything like that, it’s just that I think I’m going to deal with myself for a while. Okay?”
“Well, we can just hang out, right?”
“Sure.” A BIG mistake. I had left an opening – an opening that I wanted never to be filled, but which turned out to be big enough to drive a farm truck through.
“Okay, well take care, and I’ll see you around campus.”
“Okay, and I’m really sorry. I had a good time tonight, but I’m just not ready to date anyone, yet.”
“Well, I’ll keep in touch.” She got out of the car and closed the door, walking over to her farm truck. She got in and drove away.

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

What I said was truthful – I had no intention of dating anyone for a while, and just wanted to lose myself in a series of meaningless sexual encounters, not taste delicious black bean soup at her place. “That seemed to go well,” I thought, and headed home.

Over the next few weeks I began to receive letters from her – letters that were full of friendliness, slight flirtation, and advice for how to deal with my problems. I smiled as I read them, and filed them in the plastic container I kept my more impermanent, scrunched up papers, before I took them out to the big, green, roll-able trash bin. If the letters seemed to be coming more frequently than they should, I was too busy with school and work to notice.

Eventually, the letters still kept coming. She began to hang out in the broadcasting lab more often than normal, since she wasn’t actually a part of the department. After the 9-10th time I “accidentally” ran into her there, I began to avoid hanging around the lab socially, and only showed up to do my work – a change in my social nature I assumed would be temporary.

The letters still still kept coming – one of them a card-slash-puzzle, with a picture of the something-I-can’t-remember on it. I began to realize that my plan was not working, and that I’d have to avoid her even more. I kept the letters, for some reason – a reason my subconscious may have been preparing me for – the horrors up ahead, around the turn, over by that grey house on the corner – no, not that one, the one with the white fence and the – yes, that’s it. Those horrors.

I continued to avoid her, sneaking around the broadcasting lab when I could, ducking around corners, and slipping into the radio booths for a chance at sweet, sweet privacy. I was invited to a Christmas party at her house and politely declined, stopped answering phone calls from her and politely saying I was busy – every single time, and never, ever ventured across campus without looking around first. At the time, I was not quite self-aware enough to notice that I’d altered my normal daily patterns – a sign that should have been obvious, much like the big, golden arch that announces your arrival at McDonald’s. There would be no delicious fried pies for me, though. I was in for a rude awakening, and not by alarm clock, but by Tiger.

Jeff Tiger was a photographer for the paper, and also enrolled in some broadcasting classes. He was a cool person – cooler than most everyone I knew. His sense of humor dry as the dust on the bookcase I’d neglected to clean and smart as all get out. The Spring semester had just started, and I was delighted that my eternal college enrollment was about to end – this chapter, of it, at least. I showed up at the lab and joked about it “being safe?”

Jeff seemed weird -- like a weird tale. He walked over to me and spoke softly. There was no stick to be seen.

“Hey, there’s something you probably need to know.”
“What’s up”, I asked, head slightly cocked with my usual quizzical look.
“Let’s talk somewhere else.”

We walked to one of the empty radio booths and he revealed to me something I was not prepared for. He had attended the woman’s Christmas party, as had a few other students I was familiar with. What they had seen there and what they had experienced had dumbstruck them enough that they seemed not to think I needed to know this, or were too scared of the consequences to reveal the horror to me.

Indeed, they had gone to the party at her place outside of town. The hostess without the most-est had given them the obligatory tour of the dwelling, which was normal until they all got to her bedroom.

There, on the wall, covering much of it, was a collage of photographs of me, taken at various places and events for the school paper and not used, but here blown up and assembled into a larger, more bigger picture of obsession -- obsession with me. While many of the guests thought this was weird, they said nothing, possibly to avoid upsetting the host, which is something you should avoid at parties. After the consumption of much alcohol, she took one of the pictures off the wall and began rubbing it on her privates, saying how much she wanted to fuck me and how we’d made out before and it was “totally awesome,” or something like that.

Jeff looked up at me, and I’m certain my face had lost all color, and since I am white, that’s not necessarily as impressive as the large brick that fell onto the floor – shat from my very insides.

It all came crashing around, Keyzer Soze-style, until I had the picture in my head – a picture I would most definitely not be rubbing against my privates. The letters, the “accidental” meetings at the lab, the puzzle-letters – all were signs of obsession. One make out session and some laughs had produced infatuation, for want of a much harder term to actually admit to at this point in the story.

“Are you shitting me?” was my response.

Now, my avoidance was filled with more than mere avoidance – it was filled with despair. This despair yanked at my soul with a tight grip, spilling my fears into the open for all to see. This was fucked up. I'd heard about this sort of behavior, but it was usually the other way around.

Now I ventured around campus even fuller of awareness, noting every time she seemed to show up in the same building I was in or at some event I was participating in. I noticed that I had lost my joy at my impending graduation. Attending classes now became a game of militant vegetarian and mouse, but this time, the vegetarian might eat the mouse, with a black bean soup for an appetizer. The weather seemed colder somehow, as if it was winter, which it was.

At night, I couldn’t sleep, for my ears were now aware of a noise that I had heard before, but which I now recognized:

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

Was she actually driving by my house at night? To see if I was home? The answer, it turned out, was yes. I found myself listening for the sound of her farm truck before I passed into merciful sleep, looking out the window from a crouched position to see if – horror of horrors – her truck was out there. If there was a knock at the door, I looked through that hole-thingie to see if the visitor was her, knowing I would have to pretend to be either dead or too busy to actually answer it.

This went on throughout January, into February. I played avoidance, and she was winning, if the point of avoidance is to avoid, which it is. I finally realized that I was being Stalked. Stalked. Stalked. Stalked. Stalked. Stalked. I heard the

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

of her truck in my dreams, and they became nightmares.
I decided I needed help. I contacted Darryl, a man who headed security on campus, and personal acquaintance from a few classes and asked what could be done about it.

“Well, is she really following you around on campus?”
“Yup. It’s really freaking me out.”
“I bet. Well, have you thought about getting some kind of restraining order, or something like that? Using legal means to deal with it?”
“No. I don’t really want to do that.”
“Well, we can do a couple of things. If you want, I can arrange it so that you have an escort around campus...”
“Really? You can do that?”
“Sure. It’s part of our job. You’d be amazed what kind of fucked up people want to scare their wives or girlfriends.”
“Jesus, this is fucked up.”
“Yeah, sorry. The other thing we can do is simply make sure there’s a security guard present by your classrooms when you come out, and not necessarily escort you around. They’d be there just to kind of watch out for things.”
“That would be cool.”
“No problem. Sorry, man.”

And, with that, I knew what was happening was far more than just a spurned person trying to hook up with me – it was Stalking. I was being Stalked. If man is the most dangerous game, and I am a man, then my dangerousness was being overpowered by her Stalkingness.

I continued to go to work and school. At the time, and now again, I worked in north of the City of Oklahoma, many miles from Rose State’s campus. I assumed she had no idea where I worked, and, thus, did not concern myself with her possible appearance.

I could not have been more wronger.

One Wednesday, about 30 minutes before I was to leave work for the day and head to a Jean Claude Van-Damme hockey/terrorist movie, I looked outside. Her truck was parked in the lot.

“Jesus Christ,” I softly uttered to myself.

The woman was still in the truck, waiting, waiting, waiting. And waiting.

“I do not fucking believe this.”
George walked up, a German immigrant who worked with me.
“Who’s that? Your girlfriend?”
“Oh, fuck no. I can’t believe this.”
How did she find out where I worked? I had never told her about my job. Eventually, it would be revealed that she’d used her – ummm- position to look up some stuff on the college’s computers, including my emergency and work numbers.

I decided confrontation would be my only chance here. I figured I was safe, since the building had lots of people in it who might help if I screamed loud enough. I clocked out early and walked up to our secretary.

“Hey, I’m going out to talk to someone. Could you watch out the window and call the police if anything happens?”
“The police?”
“Yeah, this witch has been following me around and somehow she’s found out I work here.”
“Want me to call them now?”
“No. I’m just going to walk to my car and leave. If she follows, I’ll drive straight to a police station.”

I walked out towards my car. Her truck door opened, and she got out. I tried to avoid contact, but when she got close enough I yelled:

“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Well, since you’re not answering my phone calls or ever calling me back, and since I can’t seem to catch you on campus, I just wanted to talk.”
“Do not come to work to see me again. Do you understand?"
“Well... I just wanted to talk.”
“Seriously, leave me the fuck alone. Okay?”

I got to my car/sanctuary and got in. I looked back. She got in her truck and drove off. I waited a minute to catch myself and stop shaking, and stared down at the steering wheel and dashboard. This was getting out of hand. I looked around again for her truck, and then drove off, looking backwards every time I could, waiting for the sound that now filled my head at night, regardless of its actual presence:

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

I enjoyed Sudden Death as much as I could. There’s a really funny scene involving a fight between Van-Damme and a large penguin mascot in an arena kitchen that is awesome, but other than that, the film’s pretty pedestrian. I drove home, looking around, listening, hoping that she’d gotten the message.

At home, I continued my routine of looking out the window, listening for the

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

of her truck, and peering out the door-hole thingie. I was not doing well. Coming off of a relationship that had become too painful to continue with and which I had gotten out of in an admittedly cowardly but necessary manner, I was emotionally and mentally vulnerable, and this was not helping. I had stopped going out in case she showed up at the same place I was, and even the weekend S&M sex club visits had lost their luster. The ass-spankings I provided were lackluster, probably. I don’t know, the ball gag kind of helps cut out any complaints. Do we really need to go into this aspect right now? I’m trying to vent here, okay? We can get into my time as a paid dominant later. Shit, that cat’s out of the bag. Anyways.

I began to feel as though I needed to talk to her employer. Before I did this, I decided to talk to Karen, a friend who taught at the college, to see if she knew who I needed to talk to. I went to her office and we chatted away. Outside, even though it was mid day, it was dark. Snow was beginning to fall, and the usual “will classes be cancelled” talk was starting to go around. It might get nasty out, they said, so we watched the snow fall from her office. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Humanities office door open. It was her, the Stalker, I mean. She sat down by the front door, making it so that if I left, I would have to go by her. I was ready to leave, by then. I told my friend what was happening, and she walked out of her office nonchalantly, in an attempt to size up the situation.

“She’s just sitting there. Of all the nerve.”
“I can’t take this much longer. What do I do? I don’t know if I should call security, hide and try to wait her out –“
“Hell, I’ll call security.”
“Hang on. Can you dial upstairs?” (to the lab, where I had a class later)
“Sure. Here.” She handed the phone to me as it rang. As luck would have it, class was cancelled. I was done for the day, and could leave. Good, I thought. The snow was coming down pretty hard, and everything outside was white, pure. Unlike this situation, which was not.

“Okay, I’d better do this.”

My friend told me she’d run interference, and “escort” me out of the office by walking with me. Hopefully, this would throw the Stalker off and I’d get away. As we headed past her and out the office door, towards the exit, we were followed. I exchanged a look with Karen and told her that if I didn’t call her later, to please call me and use the secret “ring once, stop, and then call again” signal we’d worked out so I’d know it was her and not the Stalker. I left out the door, and was followed.

Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch, my shoes went as they trudged on through the snow towards my car, which was parked in far Hyboria.

Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch went her boots as she followed.

She started to catch up.

“David!”

I didn’t acknowledge.

Louder. “David!”

Head still down, coat closed tightly against my body, multi-colored scarf waving in the wind, all I could think about was that this was it. “She’s not even trying to hide it anymore,” I thought. I wondered if I should break into a run, or keep going and hope she would just get tired and give up. That didn’t happen.

Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch, scrunch behind me, but much faster. She was running to catch up.

I was truly frightened here – more frightened than at any time in my life. I really did not know what was going to happen next. My senses heightened, waiting for an attack that might surface: tentacles of black ochre wrapping around my very soul, non-Cyclopean geometry mingling with pervasive chills, a sack full of batteries. She had caught up by now.

“David!”
I stopped. I figured if she was going to stab me or something, then, fine. It’ll at least be over. I honestly felt helpless. Tired. I gave up.
“What? What do you want from me?” I half-yelled, half-whined. I shrugged and felt my body deflate. This had exhausted me completely, and I just wanted something to happen. The constant getting up, looking out the window, staring out the door-hole-thingie, the constant listening for the

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

of her farm truck had finally killed me.

“What is it?” I turned, snow still falling, faster now. I looked at her face. There was no expression on it except misunderstanding. She had no idea. No idea at all.

“I just wanted to talk to you, that’s all.”
“Please,” I pleaded, sanity starting to slip. “What do you want?” I said these words slowly.
What
Do
You
Want?

Something happened. She seemed to straighten a bit. We both stood there in the falling snow, which was starting to get heavy, and began blurring the perfectly ordinary geometric buildings around us.

She stirred suddenly and did something I did not expect. She shook her head side-to-side slightly and looked at me.

“Relax, David. Sheesh.”

And then she walked off into the snow, her image blurring and disappearing from view. I stood there for a few seconds and then simply turned and walked to my car, got in, rested my head on the steering wheel, and started the car. I had a long drive home, and it would be longer because of the snow.

I never saw her again after that. Maybe something clicked in her. Maybe she had gotten tired of it, too. Maybe the helplessness and resignation on my face as I stared at her there in the snow finally told her that this wasn’t working, whatever she was trying. Maybe she saw my face and decided, “Sheesh. What a puss,” and decided I wasn’t worthy. Regardless, she was gone. It took a few days for me to realize this. I still looked around corners, still looked out the window, still looked out the peephole. After those few days, I realized it was over.

However, it wasn’t. It still isn’t, in some ways. Those “safety checks” I had developed were now habits. I kept looking out the window, the peephole, around the corners. Even when I moved to Norman, I found myself still doing them. I still do now. The whole time altered me. I changed into someone who lost the ability to get close to others, to avoid the possibility of this happening again. I became distant, and it took a long time for someone to break through. "Stalker’s" gone, I guess, probably living somewhere in the Orient, maybe meditating on her vegetable militancy and hopefully not thinking about me at all.

And the habits are all still there, 12 years later. I still wander in front of windows and look out like a sad, caged animal hoping someone will release it. I find myself walking up and looking out the peephole in the door for something that probably isn’t going to materialize, but which, deep down, I still think can. At night, I still hear the sounds of cars driving by, and listen for the horrid noise of her farm truck, its sounds confined to the repetition of a single, mad onomatopoeia of all too obvious source:

putt, putt, putt. putt, putt, putt.

ADDENDUM

As an addendum to this rambling shoggoth of a tale, I’d like to add one thing. What I really lost after all this, and which has never honestly returned, is Trust. Until this year, I don’t think I’d ever realized how the two events –bigoted, controlling girlfriend and Stalker, not to mention my own failures in past relationships with people, friends or otherwise – had destroyed my ability to do that.

One of the most important parts of any true relationship is Object Permanence, otherwise known as Trust, specifically, your ability to trust that when someone isn’t around, or isn’t reachable, that they’re still there for you. That is something that’s always been difficult for me, and these events have made it well-nigh impossible. It affects every relationship I have with people, and every move I make as a person.  And, of course, that lack of Trust is also a part of how I see myself. If you can’t trust anyone, that includes you. I hesitate before every sentence, every time I put something out there for people to see or read, I am concerned about communication and fear that what I write or say will never be what it is I mean it to be -- which in a post-modern world  makes it even more difficult, since all meaning can be and should be questioned. 

To lose such trust in yourself and everything in general makes life a horrible thing to live. You cry out for those moment of real sincerity – real, unbreakable and unmistakable, true moments when you can relax and allow yourself the beautiful opportunity to really let go of your self and accept someone else’s.

I wrote this as a Lovecraft parody because I wanted to try and find a metaphor (this was all symbolic? Really, Dave? REALLY??!) for the way you can be altered by events in ways that never leave you. Lovecraft’s protagonists may win a small victory, but they never can leave the experience behind. They are changed for the worse. And while the immediate danger may be over, the universe is full of other things that will snatch you up into its darkness and spit out the contents, chewed and desiccated. Even in the Role Playing game based on his works, you have a Sanity level, which, if you lose too much of it, means you lose your mind.

I am altered. I know this. I cannot help it. I have tried and I have failed and yet I try again. One thing I despise is the bullshit definition of insanity as “to repeat an action over and over, expecting a different result every time.” No. That is Life. Following that idea, then Life itself is Insanity, and it may be. Lovecraft’s “gods” are nothing more than infinitely powerful, mindless beings who do what they do because they simply do it. Those of us in the wake are buffeted around and try to ride out the tempest.  And *you* try surviving a hurricane and see if you don’t come out different through the other side.

And, something else that’s real and horrible. One thing that is not in the story, and which I left out as a politeness, is that I did have a girl friend at that time, at best we were FWB’s, but she was still someone I was close to. We’d both been hurt recently, and just needed some shelter for a while, and we did that for each other, even as this was happening, which she was aware of, and which she helped with just by being someone who demanded nothing and expected nothing but friendship and some fun.

She’s not allowed to talk to me anymore. Or her long time friends. (I say “allow” when I really mean “she’s made the decision to go along with someone else’s demands on her and her life”.) True, lasting relationships survive on Trust. When that trust is destroyed, nothing works again as it should. It is only the truly strong who can overcome such horror and begin again, and I know I am not a strong person anymore. I am tired. I am tired of being sad, of being alone when people are all around me, and I am tired of trying. Perhaps the meaning of all of the experiences related in the story is that the horror ultimately has won. No truck sound is needed to trigger my fears. All I need is the sound of my own voice.  Sometimes it can convince me otherwise, but I don’t trust that guy enough anymore to let it be.

Putt.Putt.Putt.


Monday, October 27, 2008

END OF THE HIGH-PITCHED YEARS

I turned 40 on October 28th. Happy Birthday to me and everyone else who shares it. On the day I was born, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention played their Royal Festival Hall performance in London, which would later be incorporated into the film Uncle Meat, and which is available on the CD Ahead of Their Time. A pretty good concert, the first half is devoted to a “story” that Zappa made up involving the more “talented” band members going on strike because they want to play “real” music, and not that comedy rock crap Zappa kept throwing at them. “They’re making up their lines as they go! Isn’t that amazing?” Zappa intones at one point. Eventually, a monster eats someone and the rest of the concert goes on as normal – again, pretty good, not great.

As I sit and recount some of the more outlandish bits of my life for public consumption, I realize I’ve shifted into a weird, second-person voice. Let’s change that.

I’ve had a pretty full life. I’ve done some fantastic things and some really bad things. I’ve helped and hurt people. I’ve been self-centered and generous. In short, I’m a human being. If there’s one thing existentialism has taught us – and it has – it's that human beings are flawed critters, and once that part of us is recognized then our very existence is ours. We follow laws not because the laws make us, but because we choose to follow them. There’s no psychic force that makes you follow the speed limit, just as there’s no force that makes you be good or bad to people – it’s just you. I’m not religious, and I don’t want to offend anyone here, but ultimately, you are responsible for what you do. That idea is both liberating and fucking scary. What’s to stop you from murdering someone? You. Even if you’re religious, the choice to follow that religion is yours. Belief in a higher power doesn’t cancel out the idea that you make the moves. Sure, there may be a higher power that puts the idea into your head, but you’re the one who has to put the idea into action. Belief may say that the higher power makes you do stuff, but you don’t always do what that higher power says, right? I mean, if every thing you do is directed, then what's all this crap about "free will" that's used as an excuse for the inevitable "If there's a God, then why is there so much suffering in the world? Why is there good and evil?" You will never get an answer to this, only static like that TV in Poltergeist.

Here's an "example": Picture poor Job – no, not the Arrested Development character who performs “illusions” (“a trick is something a whore does for money, Michael” - shot of disturbed children surrounding him – “or candy.”), but the Biblical one – shaking his little fist at the heavens, cursing God for what it’s either allowed to have happen to him, or what it’s done to him. Job has put up with an enormous amount of crap, and has every right to finally snap and curse God. God, of course, snaps right back with a long, beautiful speech known as “The Voice of the Whirlwind.” It’s amazing stuff, some of the best writing ever, but which can be boiled down to God looking down on Job and saying, “Fuck you.” Now, the original pre-translated story ends there, but the Biblical version, translated by monks who simply could not let Job end up that way, throws in a moral where Job, in celebration of his previous faith in the face of calamity, gets pretty much everything he wants: family, money, cows, and a Wii (way before electricity, which is pretty much another smack in Job’s face).

I digress in my digression. At this point, the late, great Bill Hicks enters the room and begins reciting a part of his “My Philosophy” routine, where he digs himself into a hole so far down in his routine discussing serious matters that he winds up in China, where he is chastised for not telling “dick jokes:” “Why you no tell dick jokes? No one want to hear your philosophy, tell dick jokes!”

Sigh. My point is that no matter what creed or philosophy or religion you might adhere to, you are the one who has to put it into action. That puts an enormous amount of power in the individual, and can be reeeeeally scary. Some people say “fuck this”, and decide to retreat into the masses, letting others tell them what to do and think. Others go too far with the individuality and “there-is-no-higher-power” parts of existentialism and simply give no shit about the effects their actions have on other people. We call these people Objectivists. HA HA!

Somewhere in between is the rest of humanity, creeping along, trying to make sure food is there, bills are paid, and there’s some fun around to take their minds off of the fact that life seems to consist of no more than trying to make sure food is there, bills are paid, and there’s some fun around to take their minds of off the fact that life consists of the same shit, day after day. Of course, that’s assuming you’re not somewhere that basic survival is still an “option,” such as the so-called Third World. There, the options narrow down to “eat” or “don’t eat and you die”. Regardless of your philosophy, creed, or religion, all human beings screw up, and all human beings do great things (although some at different levels than others. You think me giving a homeless guy a couple of cheeseburgers matches the woman who bathes a person who can't do that for him/herself anymore?). As the great philosopher John G. Maynard once said: "All pain is relative." So is happiness.

I’m a happy person. I’ve done some really nice things, and some really shitty things. I like to think that they balance out all right, but I know I’ve hurt some people so much that they’ll never want to see me again, and might have some sort of psychic damage years of therapy will never fix. I also know that I’ve done some decent stuff I can be happy about. Among my accomplishments is marrying an incredible woman who puts up with my shortcomings as I put up with hers, and we both try to help each other get over the rough spots. We have a child who is so amazing that her teachers thank us for her, and other parents thank us for her, as well. Lori is the main person to thank for that; I had to work most of the time, and pitched in when I could. We’re both still working on that whole “shoe-tying” thing, though.

But it’s not as though any of that erases the bad stuff, it just makes the bad stuff fade away a bit. I owe apologies to many people, and I’d like to take the time for one right now:

To David Gibson.
I am sorry I let our friendship end the way it did. We used to be as close as people get, and, for various reasons that are too stupid to recount here (but let’s just say I was a jackass and move on with it), I let that disappear. Those were great times, and I fucked them up. I hope you can forgive me, because even though we do this “Facebook” thing these days and seem to be cool again, we were once close enough to cry in front of each other. You seem to have a good life, my friend, and I wish I could still be a part of it the way I used to be. I am so sorry.

And, of course, there are dozens of others, ranging from people I've worked with to that guy whose girlfriend dumped him at a bar so she could take me home, to the guy whose athletic scholarship got yanked away from him because I flunked him in one of my film classes (Star Thought: show up for class every once in a while and this sort of shit doesn’t happen. Kapeesh?)

But there’s a lot of stuff I’m glad I did. The family thing seems to be going well. Lori and I have been married for 8 years, mostly very very happy, sometimes only very happy, and our daughter’s extremely happy. I’ve read to people with AIDS as their eyesight faded, and tricked women into dumping me so they’d wind up in the arms of the person they should have been with. I tried to get Jerry Brown elected president in one of the most lost causes ever – I still can’t find the cause and have looked under the mattress several times – and tried to teach people in my classes that just because you disagree with a point, it doesn’t mean the point is invalid, or below your scrutiny. And my brother and I talk again, and have for 8 years after we didn’t for a few others. Let’s not go into that except to say I love him very much, and I know he does me. And our relationship is better than it ever has been. Rock.

I turn 40 today. Everything still seems to work fine, although I stretch out a lot more to make sure it all still does. I still have my hair -- longer than in high school, but not as long as it has been in the past. My legs kick ass, and I have shapely calves some dancers would give their eye teeth for. I still think my eyes work, although the raccoon-esque bags around them – which are more hereditary than sleep-deprived – grow bigger and darker with every day. You can, of course, as my “cousin” Paul Westerberg once said, check my age by the rings, much like a tree. 40 is nothing more than a count – a way to tick off the years you’ve survived, not the years you have left. People use 40 as a marker because it’s halfway to 80, which is “old”, and after that, you’re getting close to death. But you can die at any time, and that’s not based on your age, your philosophy, religion, creed – whatever. You could be halfway to death at 15, or 50. Dwell on that, and you lose out on the enjoyment that the stuff before death can contain. 40 is the end of the “high-pitched years”. You know, when you play hide-and-seek and count out loud, the pitch of the numbers gets higher before you reset to the “10’s” “(get higher as you count) 37, 38, 39! (down again) 40.” However, after 40, most people stop counting and say their age at the same pitch for the rest of their lives. I plan to keep rising and falling, just like I always have. I'm happy. More than that. I feel young -- if young feels like the satisfaction you have with your life before it gets all complicated by shit such as life.

So, Happy Birthday everyone! Eat what you want. Drink what you want. Remember to tell people what you think about them, and be nice when they tell you exactly what they think of you. Don’t hurt anyone unless they ask you to, and apologize when they don’t. God or no God, you might as well behave as though someone's watching you all the time, and, as always, there’s no script for you to follow, so make up the lines as you go along.

And don’t get eaten by the monster.

PS: There will be more dick jokes in the next blog. (As if anyone continues to read this thing...)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ahem. 12 SHORT ENTRIES ABOUT JAY HILBURN

What follows is all true. It's pretty raunchy, has some raw sex and drug use, and lame attempts to take an everyday situation and make it into some kind of metaphor for the human condition. In this, I freely compare myself to Robert Altman, without the talent. Or the pot. Tonight.

1.
I used to wear a black, valour bathrobe to school. Initially, it was part of a drama skit I did, then a part of a research paper that couldn't materialize, no matter how hard Mrs. McIntire tried to help. Irregardless, it felt damned comfortable, and comfort was the buzzword for my Senior year.

While coming back from a jazz band trip to Stillwater, I heard a cry from the back of the school bus we were traveling in. It was Jay, and he was asking for me to throw the bathrobe back to him. I did. Now, I wore clothes underneath the thing, so don't think I was naked here. After we got back to the high school, Jay was waiting for me to take him home, and he was leaning back on my blue Pinto's passenger door, robe closed, still in his jazz band uniform -- blue blazer, tan pants, you get the drift. As I walked towards him, I noticed the slight grin, slight embarrassment (Jay embarrassed?), and how he held the robe closed around him tightly. He apologized for something in advance. I stopped and looked at him quizzically. He mentioned that he'd been getting a blow job from some girl in the back seat and things had... well...gotten messy. He also said he'd pay for the cleaning bill and opened the robe. It looked like someone had punched a saline breast implant. $15.00 at Rod's Cleaners that Monday. He never paid me.

2.
My sophomore year of high school, there were tryouts for the No.1 and No.2 jazz bands. Initially, Mr. Coon (Yukon jazz band director, as opposed to Mr. Taylor, the head band director) had simply assigned us to each class, and Jay was in the No. 2 band, probably because he'd been busted for pot the year before, and Mr. Coon wasn't taking any chances. After the dust settled, the three drummers in the 1 band were Jay, a guy named Shawn Thompson (who shall now be known as "DL"), and me. DL shouldn't have been there. An ass-kisser, he'd memorized how each song we were playing went, and played the same fills and riffs he'd heard on the recordings (no matter how lame they might have initially been) -- so much so that Jay and I used to make fun of the fact by repeating those same fills on the conga drums behind him, or singing them to each other. This perturbed DL to no end, and made him do those same fills even harder, as if to emphasize the fact that he was playing the same drum fills over and over. He quit the next year. Jay moved to his earned post as No.1 drummer, and I found myself half the time behind the drums, half the time behind the new vibraphone that the band had purchased, possibly because they had someone who could sort of play it -- me.

3.
Jay and I never had a single conversation of any real importance. We never discussed life, future plans, politics, anything other than music, drugs, and fucking. I saw Jay every day from 7th grade until we graduated, and I have no idea who he was, except that he got a lot of pussy. And he liked Frank Zappa.

3A.
"Music, Drugs, And Fucking" is the title of my next album.

4. I once sold all my Zappa albums to help out a friend, and had to get back "Zappa in New York" from Jay to do this. I drove over to his house and got it from him, and went straight to the Record Shop on 23rd street, over by the Red Dog Saloon, a strip joint of no mean reputation. Alexander, the owner of the record store, a tall, very skinny man who always dressed in a white tuxedo shirt and black vest, much like Bill Berry circa 1986 (and me, circa 1986-90), looked carefully at my wares, nicely impressed, and then he got to the "New York" album. As he unfolded it to look at the gatefold sleeve, small pieces of pot flecked down the spine onto the glass case in front of him. Jay had obviously rolled a joint on the open album, and he hadn't cleaned it off before he gave it back. Alexander smiled and said, "Well, I guess I can give you an extra dollar for that."

5.
Jay once tried to get me to sell insurance with him during my Senior year. I always wondered where he got the money for those suits he used to wear. Jay dressed to the nines his Senior year. While I had my robe, he had his sport jackets and dress shoes. I assumed this was what adulthood would be like, and noted the difference between us: he wore dress shoes, I wore fuzzy bunny slippers, since I was highly influenced by Val Kilmer's character in the film Real Genius. I wanted to be him. Jay wanted to be Neil Peart, but a Neil Peart who got laid a lot, and wore nicer shoes. We once picked up a couple of girls at a band contest in Atlanta (Altantia) my senior year. He was wearing his blue, dragon patterned kimono robe, and I made them laugh. No one ever laughed at Jay's kimono. Only one of us got lucky, and it wasn't Jay, for a change. I have no idea what the young woman's name was, but had fun with her in the bottom of the hotel parking garage. Jay thought that was the shit. This may have been the only time the fuzzy slipper was on the other foot.

6.
Speaking of the Senior band trip to Altantia, Jay made very sure we got all the percussion equipment packed on the buses, along with his two suitcases. When we got to the hotel, he revealed that he'd smuggled his entire home stereo on the bus in one of the percussion containers, and one of his suitcases was nothing but bottles of booze wrapped in socks and other pieces of clothing (this suitcase was much lighter on the way back). In our room was Jay, myself, David Pritner (another senior), and Marcus Perdue (a sophomore who out-matured all three of us). I didn't get to drink very much, because I was still the lookout guy, sitting out in front of the room and sending little signals out when someone of authority was coming by. That "someone" was Mr. Taylor, the only band director who'd made the trip, and who pretty much gave up on the idea of controlling us, since he was the only person of authority there. Bottles were disposed of the same way Luther Mauldin (sp?) disposed of hotel phone books -- out the hotel window. When we drank the last of the champagne, we threw the bottle out the window at the building across the street, and it hit some sort of electrical fixture, sparks shooting everywhere and plunging the abandoned building into darkness. We immediately closed the window and curtains, turned off the lights, and avoided the phone calls that kept coming -- possibly from Mr. Taylor, possibly from the two girls Jay and I had picked up, probably from people wanting us to turn down the Rush and Zappa tapes. Fun trip. We're all going to hell for it, but it was a fun trip. It's called "Altantia", by the way, because that's the way it was spelled on the itinerary we got from Mr. Taylor. Oh yes, on the way to the city, someone threw a bottle of Jack Daniels into the bus toilet, which led to us being stranded in the bus depot for a few hours while they tried to figure out what to do. Good times.

7.
Jay and I carried on a "war of attrition" or "war of stupidity" on DL for most of our senior year, stemming from the time DL bitched out a band director in front of a few students for no reason than to make himself look good in front of a few students. Jay and I surreptitiously recorded the thing and played it for Mr. Taylor later on, who just shook his head, laughed, and whispered, "Jesus." Towards the end of the year, an event happened that illustrates how close Jay and I were and how vindictive we both could be towards DL. DL was dating an amazing young woman he would eventually dump, whose mother used to bring him breakfast snacks during first hour band. She would open the band room door -- it was a separate building from the main high school -- show DL the snack, and then close the door. When Mr. Taylor wasn't looking, DL, who was our tympani player (primarily because no one else wanted to and DL defended his turf enough to make eyes roll) and who wasn't always needed during rehearsals, would sneak outside and eat. The last time he did it, Jay and I made eye contact, he rushed to the far door, I went to the near one, and we locked them. After a few minutes, a quiet "knock" could be heard, and the door knob jiggled. Same with the other door. I asked Jay, as unloud as loud could be, so as not to disrupt the entire proceedings, "Hey, where's Shawn?" Jay replied, "He went for doughnuts and a Coke."

David Gibson, trombone player extraordinaire (no, really, the guy's the reincarnation of Frank Rosolino, but with less violence), turned and asked us the same question.
"Where's Shawn?"
Jay and I in Unison: "He went for doughnuts and a Coke."
From across the room, Wayne Coon Jr., trumpet player.
"Where's Shawn?"
"He went for doughnuts and a Coke."
This spread quickly through out the band until Mr. Taylor finally had enough, slammed his conducting wand down, and yelled, "What the hell is going on?"
"Shawn went for doughnuts and a Coke." Mr. Taylor dipped his head down, shaking it slowly, at last beaten. Then, there was a loud pounding on the door. "This is the Principal! Open up this door!"
One of us did, and Mr. Lobaugh -- my neighbor and old friend -- opened the door, looked around, and then Shawn came in, head down, no eye contact to be made. Mr. Lobaugh closed the door and left.
After a moment of silence, Mr. Taylor got back to the task at hand. Someone behind us, possibly Mike Smith, quietly asked how the doughnuts were. He got no answer.

8.
DL, of course, stands for "Dickless".

9.
I've been looking for Jay for a few years now, just to see how he's doing. He and I both received full rides to the then CSU on jazz scholarships, and we both blew them, although it took him a much shorter time to do so. We used to carpool, but after the 10-20th time of knocking on his girlfriend's apartment door to no avail -- or him answering the door half dressed while he played old Chase tapes -- Chase is to Chicago as a high school Stone Temple Pilots tribute band is to Pearl Jam -- and was too high to go with me, I just stopped. The next time I saw him was, I think, at the same party (which will now be referred to as "The Party" because of its ubiquitous-ness in these blogs) where I saw Cindy Gamsjager the last time. Poignant coincidence, or one hell of a party? Your choice. The party thrower wound up re-painting lines in a parking lot, while the rest of us got off scott free.

10. Jay took me to a party once, not at Todd Suitor's, where he almost always partied, but somewhere close by. He picked me up and parked a ways down the street, which led to a short walk to the house. We'd just gotten there, popped open beers, leaned against the fence in the backyard and started to talk, when we saw the flashing police lights out front. We dropped said beer, hopped the fence, and ran all the way across town to my house -- quite a ways to do such a thing late at night. We drank beer with my dad out on the patio for a couple of hours until I eventually drove over to the area and let Jay out to pick up his car and drive home. Jay's car was a bitchin' dark-blue Trans-Am (or Camaro, things are shaky here), that looked great, and drove fantastically. It used lots of gas, though. I watched the gas gauge actually go down when he peeled out in the parking lot once. He peeled out that night, too, since the cops were gone. He may have gone over to Todd's to party, I don't know. I went home and continued to think about how cool it was that I actually got to escape a raided party with Jay Hilburn.

11.

As human beings, we crave closure. It allows our lives to fit narrative conventions that we’ve been exposed to all our lives: beginning, middle, end. When this doesn’t happen, our lives enter the world of tragedy – especially when that closure is not how we’d want it, which life regularly isn’t. Here’s a for instance: I had been looking for a guy named Sean Shepler for a few years. I went to high school with him; he was damned funny – “Hello! I’m Mister Icy Drink Machine! Can I help you?” – and damned annoying -- the Drama Room door -- at the same time, but usually more funny. A mutual friend – Brian Gorrell, yet another fantastic musician I’ve had the pleasure to know, let me know out of the blue that Sean was dead, and had not died in a particularly pleasant fashion. I’d lost contact with Sean after The Party. He and I had simultaneously concocted the same lie that saved Cody (the party thrower) from getting charges pressed against him after The Party. We’d drifted apart, but I had seen him DJ down in Norman a few times before I finally moved down here, when I didn't see him again and then heard that he was dead. The sudden news of his death affected me in ways I did not expect, maybe because I was hoping to find him and reconnect, and maybe because it was not how that story should have ended. Sean was talented, damned funny (again), and should’ve had his own radio show on Sirius, making fun of everyone and everything while playing Miles Davis’ Tutu album. If I’m not looking as hard as I’d like to find Jay, then it’s for that reason: I don’t want to find out he’s dead, or drugged, or some other destiny that he damned well didn’t (doesn’t, let’s be optimistic) deserve. In this, I am practicing Avoidance.

As culture advances, mentally – HA!, there’s a concept – we have to become used to the idea that life, ideas, events, whatever, don’t happen the way we’ve necessarily been taught. World War II doesn’t begin with Pearl Harbor and end with the dropping of the A-Bomb. It’s an event that occurred because of multiple historical and cultural problems and multiple stupidities that are much more complex than a Jerry Bruckheimer film might make it out to be. However, it’s easier to think of it as: “We were attacked. We fought back. We built up our strengths, came together as a nation, and then beat the shit out of bunch of racists and fanatics, ultimately leading to the usage of the greatest scientific advance of the time to end the whole thing, and setting us up as world power!” This makes us look absolutely badass, and much of it is true. But there are grey areas: the whole Isolationist Movement and slight turn towards Fascism that people like Charles Lindbergh wanted (and the peace movement, which people Like Edith Keeler would have had us follow before she was wiped from the timeline. Thanks, Captain Kirk.) After the war, we had to deal with the consequences: the A-Bomb opened up the world to advanced means of destruction, we had troubles with prejudices and paranoia of our own to deal with afterward. To this day, many people hate it when their mythology is confronted with reality. Face it, folks. Human beings created this country – human beings who were as flawed as the rest of us, some of whom dug slavery, hated Germans, and fucked around because they could. However, that doesn’t fit the narrative, so we deny it.

I link this to my drug using, sex-filled friend from high school because I’m consciously avoiding answers. I’d prefer to remember Jay as this awesome guy who did and said what I wanted to say and do, and who once accepted a best musician award at a jazz contest while wearing my bunny slippers. He’s probably doing just fine, married, has a great job, and prefers his life now to his action-packed life in high school. I’d like to think that, as I slam closer to 40 and still deal with the fact that my life, as great as it is, is nowhere near what I thought it was going to be. In many ways, it’s better; I never thought I’d be able to have kids, and I never thought I’d be happier poor than when I had a nice-sized disposable income that allowed me to eat what I wanted, buy CD’s out the wazoo, and create a laser disc collection that is the envy of many unknown Japanese people who are still interested in such useless things. So, in a futile attempt to avoid the pressures of a non-narrative ending to a narrative I’ve created, I’d like to mis-quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, who once said that American lives have no second act. We get multiple acts, folks, and have no intermissions or entre-acts to consider what the hell just happened before we move on to the next. There are nice pauses sometimes, but, as Boethius said, “It's my belief that history is a wheel. ‘Inconsistency is my very essence’ -says the wheel- ‘Rise up on my spokes if you like, but don't complain when you are cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away’.” Good and bad times mix, and we make the narratives of our lives and read them as we want. Many want their lives to read linearly, from beginning to end, but our lives are much more like Tarkovsky’s masterpiece The Mirror, which he uses as a metaphor for existence: our lives are like dropped mirrors, and the pieces reflect back different parts of us and our lives. It’s messier, but more accurate.

12.

One last fragment. Jay called me up out of the blue a few days after graduation and asked if he could come over. My folks were out of town, so he said he'd bring a bottle of champagne, drink it with me in the hot tub, and we'd celebrate our graduation. We did this, but after about ten minutes, a young woman we were both acquainted with suddenly showed up to say hi to me, saw the two of us, and proceeded to take her clothes off and get in the tub, with a "come hither" stare if'n ever I've seen one. Jay immediately jumped at the chance, took off his bathing suit, jumped in the tub, and the two of them waited for me. I took a rain check, and closed the patio doors and the curtains to give them privacy. I smiled and drank more champagne. Eventually, someone else came over, and we talked while stuff was happening. Jay and the girl eventually came in, towels on, and went into the bathroom. Water started running for a bath. I waited a few minutes, and knocked on the closed door. The girl opened it, and Jay was lying naked in the bath tub, huge grin on his face. I grinned back, and closed the door. Our lives were all in front of us then, and hopefully, they still are. Wheel goes round.