Thursday, December 10, 2009

Popular Madness Takes a Breather

Popular Madness is taking a break for the holidays, but will return in the New Year. 
See you again in 2010!  – J.W.E.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

With Buckets of Ice, Fighting Sleep

I think of this mad rush of technological innovation and reapplication we are currently experiencing, this digital cramping in the gut, this redrawing of our world to fit within such tiny, invisible parameters, every day bringing an addition to the addition, each device growing thinner and smaller before our open hands, and I can’t help but relate it to other, more limited moments in our commercial history, those times when a product demanded a momentarily intense turnaround, a frantic dance to keep supply level with demand, changing its face over night, bending to an intangible will, the whims of a commerce-driven zeitgeist – the future always ready to be sold in the morning, the advantage of the new rising with the rooster, sending us forward with its anxious clarion.

The comic book industry was once this way, as unlikely as that might sound.

During what is commonly referred to as the Golden Age, comics were turned out with alarming frequency and number, favorites like Captain Marvel selling millions every month. It’s within the panels of the comics from this era, and the subsequent Silver Age, that I find the mysteries of mass production – those bizarre, almost unconscious images and dialogue that seem to have been born of a fever, running the hot brow of obsessive publishers turning the wheel day and night – of artists sitting at their desks, their feet in buckets of ice, fighting sleep, moving ink onto paper – an endless bailing of line into a sea that devours, but never returns, its intangible tide caressing the shore of an invisible nation.

The lurid charm of these cheaply-printed screams and shouts – socks and pows, biffs and bams, giggles and laughs – it still hangs in the air about us, but is now relegated to media far more integrated into the circuitry of the blinking circus we call civilization – Billy Batson having become a cipher in an overheating video game.
     What was once a furtive escape – adventure rolled into a back pocket, to be savored on a rooftop, or up a tree – is now a system of rote instructions and hand motions requiring achievement, a pyramid scheme of accomplishment and gratification, seeing that we all busy ourselves devouring entertainment, fulfilling our job as consumers, supervised by the unblinking Eye of Providence, God the money counter, lining the back of a dollar bill.

Just as the early comic book industry routinely pillaged the newspaper cartoons for already-existing material to fill its product, so too has the digital demand forced a new industry to assimilate its tangible forbearers, Kindle seeking to close the books on the print-bound publisher, iTunes burying the needle of the record business, EBay silencing the auction house, Expedia grounding the travel agent – all dragging their kill back to the cave, talking it apart to replicate its bones for the generation to come, a people evaporating into themselves – even as they expand the perceived gulf between what is man-made and what is God-given.

As our grandfathers traced traffic, their noses deep in the latest issue of Captain Marvel, so do we tread the ground, our eyes and ears glued to the devices that define the cutting edge of the present, the heralds of tomorrows, the shapes of things to come, gadgets and widgets born at the aching wrists of code-writers and programmers, sitting up late in their screen-illuminated cubicles, drinking Red Bull and Vitaminwater, dreaming of their beds, numb in the cathode light.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Boys in Blue

Somewhere in a world caught between the gelatin folds of my bluey-grey brain, there exists a comic book featuring Batman outfitted with a gun holster, a weapon he uses without pause on every criminal he catches, gunning them to pieces with a vengeance befitting his mad disguise.

This comic, born of a mind succumbing to the sweet poison of sleep, I would title SERVES THEM RIGHT.
     It was most surely printed in 1941, two weeks before America entered the Second World War, the last time a pacifistic citizenry would claim shock at the action of the bullet, wetting their lips on the milk of the honey called Freedom – the carnival prize hung just out of reach by the wrinkled white faces lurking the midway.

As bizarre as it might seem for a character such as Batman to carry a gun, it is hardly a stretch – a pistol being, after all, a far more plausible weapon than the Looney Tune gadgets he carried around with him throughout the 50s and 60s. But Bob Kane’s dark knight, though he affected the tone of hard-boiled crime cartoons like Dick Tracy, was quickly swept into the legion of punching “long johns”, the mimics and imposters born in the wake of Superman’s speeding popularity, agents of justice who might out-race a bullet, or melt shut a gun barrel with their eyes, but would never utilize one – less they become as evil as the villains pitched against truth, justice and the American Way.

This, of course, was a load of rubbish, the stampeding way of America primarily being fueled by the advancement of weaponry manufacture, namely its pivotal part in the innovation of mass production, spurred on by the Springfield Armory during the American Civil War.

It was with the advent of WWII that America’s munitions industry truly went supernational, the first world conflagration in 1914 having been its proving ground.
     After the attack on Pearl Harbor there was no turning back, America spent the next decade on an adventurous game of weaponry hopscotch, leading up to what Dwight D. Eisenhower cautiously dubbed “the military industrial complex“, the furious business model that torpedoed itself around the globe, forever changing the face of war, American weapons and armed bases having been a featured part of practically every national and international fisticuff since – be it covertly, or in blatant defiance of supposed international law.
     Such an infusion of business opportunity, spurred on by tragic circumstance, is what 9/11 theorists latch onto in their illustration of a government complicit in its own injury, seeing the pre-WWII pacifism in direct correlation with the pre-9/11, post-Soviet Union, militaristic ambivalence that permeated American politics – George Herbert Bush’s saber-rattling in the Middle East having whet the appetite of those still lurking in the sticky shadows of the midway.

Such international operations – from Vietnam to Korea to Grenada to Panama to Iraq – have all been sold with the glorified image of the armed benefactor, the soldier, the officer, the angel of justice who has been part of America’s identity from the outset, flint arms and matchlocks carried to the new shores by the Puritan pilgrims in the late 1600s, weapons used to keep wild animals, and native peoples, in their place. Early settlements like Jamestown and Henricus had sheriffs (“shire-revee”, in Old English, from shire, as in county), men who oversaw the implementation of law, a system of governance more often than not enforced with the barrel of a gun.

The emblem of this system, its uniformed, armed herald of order, has been forged right along with the country’s identity – from Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys to Marshall Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke, from Capt. James Tiberius Kirk wielding his phaser to the Governor of California sending shotgun shells careening across movie screens. Americans equate a civilized society with the security sitting within the cylinder of a gun – be it a weapon hanging from the belt of the badge-wearing grandfather paying for his coffee, the bored ex-football player standing mutely in the alcove of a shopping mall, or the Gulf War vet greeting you at the entrance to your local Target – irony filling his black leather holster.

Every boy grows up cradling an imaginary pistol in his hand, watching the olives and midnight blues flickering on the television screen, the bullets loaded behind enemy lines and patrol car alike, every police station housing the neighborhood army, those citizens entrusted with the deadly toys of their trade – an officer’s only friend when the chips are down.
     The way in which the gun has defined America’s notion of security goes hand-in-hand with how the country has matured itself, leaving a Glock under Little Nemo’s pillow, a Colt beneath Linus’s blanket – a nation of grown-up children going POW! POW! POW! in the face of a reality indifferent to the trappings of justice, where every designation of who is to be protected, and who is to be served, carries with it a sentence of time – the speed of which travels an oiled barrel of steel.

No matter how noble the impulse, no matter how pure the intent, no matter how firm the nerves, how fair the heart – those who marshal the prescribed order are the Dynamic Duo of justice’s pulpy face, the weapon drawn quickly asserting its senior role in the duo – leaving a costumed boy wonder holding the trigger.

Monday, December 7, 2009

White Flashing Tails

How tiny might life be before we fail to consider it life?

It seems plausible we might reach this conclusion, all evidence to the contrary, through the very vanity we exhibit in the presence of the smallest living things – from the snail to the louse, the book midge to the facial parasite, the microscopic worm, the cell, the sperm – the white flashing tails descending on our creation – Tom Thumb undressing Thumbelina, Rick Moranis shrinking his kids.

We have learned that size determines much accumulation of power, be it true physical stature, Charles Atlas pimping his biceps in comic books, or a persona magnified through illusion and threat, the Wizard of Oz plotting behind his curtain. We have applied this to those that watch us from the dark – the twinkling eyes of the raccoon, the traveling S of the snake – the quickness of their retreat.

With one hand we crush the tiniest, Terminix applying the final solution, while with the other we feed the small that live in our homes, Morris taking his finicky time, all the while throwing nets over the largest, Melville’s whale sliced on a beach, Babar beaten into a boxcar – displaying them as icons of our own great achievement – Adam and Eve dominating Goliath, King Kong beating his chest, chained to a studio door.

We wage war on the invisible and the furtive, the serpents of science and medicine flying on twin flags as antidote and poison charge the door, vanquishing the bacterial hordes salivating outside the walls of our technological castle.

We are so busy conducting this futile campaign, detonating the fruited vaccine of our dreams on the populations we house, that we fail to see our role in the whole, that the vermin feasting on our epidermal desert exist in proportion to the health and abundance of our follicles.
     We provide for them, not they for us.
     We are the cattle in the pasture, the poultry stunted in their boxes, the lamb bludgeoned for her flesh, receiving a smile from Bo Peep as she ties another ribbon to her crook.

On the other hand, how large can life be? How can it ever be measured?
Just as the nesting eggs of cellular division can never been exhausted, neither will the vast galaxies ever find their fingertips, their span the very measure of continuance – one hand stretching forward, the other reaching back, a breathless H.G. Wells playing his own time machine.

We seek to embody this impossible duration in our gods and goddesses, in the men and women we deify by the prints they leave in the sands of time, Jesus of Nazareth staining his shroud, Neil Armstrong scraping his boot on the moon. We construct giants, monuments who put us in the middle of our perceived lot, seeing ourselves the good-hearted pilot of universal change, the instructor of wisdom – all the while being nothing more than the farmer of self-satisfaction plowing his fallow field.

But just try telling a man this is so.

All you’ve receive is an eyebrow rising – a bomb dropping – the horizon aflame.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Graceful Existence

We know this is a bi-polar world, two sides living within a one-sided argument, Harvey Dent cursing The Batman’s name, humanity progressing towards its own demise, each conquest over what it calls nature a step up the stairs to its final evening, a sad and lonely room waiting, where a sick son named Norman dusts the corpse of his mother, neon flickering through thin curtains, signaling the Hitchcockian end.

Like a hermit crab making its way through Costco, we have encumbered ourselves with so much artifice that we can no longer move, our lives divided by and immersed within the invented particulars of the static of reason, the dizzying whirlpool of action and correction we call civilization, our part in the charade of society, the tempest of culture and war, class and crushing despair.

We first embraced the cool stranger in the red shadows of our birth, wailing at such a God’s fury, a creator so demented as to make us arrive unfulfilled, our tiny bodies craving sustenance, demanding survival, building the platform for greed, the very basis of man’s haphazard pirouette across time’s fleeting stage, the epileptic ecstasy of Martha Graham.
     We are brutes, pure and simple, monsters growing terrified of our own hair, the remnant pelt of our ancestral primitivism, Lon Chaney Jr. baying at the moon. We are a creature who has absorbed his artificial world, sending it through his very blood, shitting it out in a vicious stream, his splayed legs like the posts of a gate blown open by insanity’s fetid breath.

We, thus portioned, tormented, cannot but see the world lying about us in halves, in this and that, in them and us, in good and evil, his and hers, Fiddle and Faddle, Tom and Jerry, Turner and Hooch. We project our sickness on the morning and the night, on land and sea, on father and mother, on daughter and son. Half of us dream of bringing the parts together in harmonious joy, progressive Bambis grazing the liberal fields of the modern Democratic Party, the other half plotting to keep it apart, Rush Limbaugh barking at the microphone, Dick Cheney moving things in his basement bunker, everyone frothing at the mouth in their episcopalian hubris, waves of drool clashing as words are exchanged, grievances aired, desires made known, enemies so born, armies thus made, the toys broken before the dawn.

How I wonder what we would have become, had we never picked at the peace of the moment, had we never squinted into the light, seeing two suns, closing the book on a graceful existence.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tethered To the Soil by Their Drinking Veins

There was a time when we worshipped trees.

I’m not talking about some pious reverence, some devout bending of the knee, I am talking of recognizing the forest’s role in our lives, in the natural play of our days. The wooded glen standing in the mist, its outline chattering with mad birds, it is the lung of existence. We take in the air scented by its limb and leaf, filtered by its effervescent rustling display.
     We know all too well that it is the tree, the big plant, the weed gargantuan that cleans our air, that absorbs the soot and the smoke, the oil and the mercurial rain. They are the thirsty totem of the world’s degenerating scalp, the ringed straws reaching to the heavens, the wooden rocket ships tethered to soil by thirsting veins.

The tree has two heads, one at each end of its existence, a match for any Doolittle. One is ravished by the wind, showing the sun its thousand forked tongues, the other buried in silt, chasing moisture as it races ever downward, losing itself in every direction. It speaks with both, sucking in the mysteries the Earth leaves behind, as it struggles to survive the vermin running its troubled hide.

How mighty are the trees that still scrape at our skies? Are they truly the lords of the vegetative nation, or is their size deceptive? Are they rather tumors in a field of tulips, the cancerous growths of a host losing its hair, tickets to Disneyland for those willing to believe?

We transform them with a deafening rapidity, turning natural tower to plank and bow, to bat and beam, chopstick and toothpick, rocking chair and oar. We harness their blood, the sweet syrup of their hardened skin, we mutilate and set fire to their limbs to warm our homes, we decapitate them when they peer through our lines of communication, when they dare intervene in the conversation of civilization’s giants, T-Mobile, Verizon, Comcast, the humming sentinels leaving headless cripples in their wake, standing like H.G Well’s Martians on metal legs.

No matter what the undergraduate philosopher might tell you, every falling tree makes a sound, for sound exists without an ear, just as signals exist without a radio, Chuck Berry without an audience. The tree felled by lightning, its brittle trunk devoured by beetle, visited by invisible blight, bursting great galls in frenzied smatterings, it passes through the nightly news, lining Tom Brokaw’s golden throat, the cellular chat, the murmur of a planet’s misbehaving child, it cuts right through it, on its way to the cradle from which it has sprung, never leaving the care of the nursery, the warm milk of a replenishing lap of birth and death, of bud and decay, the glory of a swelling mushroom building up from the rotting of the composting wood.

The tree strikes a balance between terra and strata, between gravity’s bed and its gulf of absence, the vast arena through which the seed drops, twirling in life’s spinning design, borne by whispered breeze and the gust of a hurried beast, riding a shield of quills to neighboring pastures, foreign groves and burgeoning orchards. The tree is a thermometer, wilting in the heat, an icy pillar in the cold. It is a needle, searching an entrance to the planet’s vascular parade, Sid scratching at Nancy’s flaccid white arm.

The tree welcomes calamity from above, just as it witnesses calamity below.

From the tree we hang and climb, lynch and love. We leave our marks across its weathered suit of armor, carving our hearts to its breastplate – before toppling it to the ground to warm our toes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Open Arms

Have you ever stopped to consider just how disembodied is our perception of war, those of us who have never known its stink and terror?

We think of the pomposity of its delivery – of the Hollywood travails that make or break the boys, the popular young actors lining the trenches, a baby-faced Michael J. Fox eating his dinner from a rusty can – and we place it safely in a corner of our conscience, where we hug at the lusty bravado of Lee Marvin and Steve McQueen, the gilded sleeves and metal-strewn chests, the tall tales of beachfront heroics and jungle deliverance – grandfather’s medals sleeping in a glass case.
     But what do we know of its day to day passing, of what becomes of the mind in those circumstances?

Of course, the human mind, shined like its shoes, arrives pre-conditioned for the battle, the boot marks of disciplinary rape lining its shattered young face, every G.I. Joe tagged for the return trip, ready to slip into his plastic sleeve.
     But that is only the first step of the dance into madness we call armed conflict, the unchecked theater born of national adversity.
     There is somewhere they go, these men and women, those enlisted and shanghaied, those who march with brave and stupid faces into war’s cacophony, convinced they have been prepared to trample strangers into the mud, conscript and civilian alike, separating flesh from bone, bone from body, body from soul, soul from any further consideration – the helpless crushed by war’s cascading rush across resplendent horizons.
     Surely they must disappear into the sound of their own hearts, the tender timepieces pounding in their ivory cages. One minute they are frozen, the heat of battle slamming them to the ground, the next they are rising on mechanical legs, their brain having reminded itself that it is a weapon, letting reason marry murder to mayhem, misery to multiplication, menace to metal, mud to meat.

The vets, they will return, many in pieces, many like teabags, pouches of departed humanity waiting to be stewed in patriotism. Many more will appear seemingly unscathed, grinning with shining lapels, monsters lingering inside their skulls, Nosferatu scraping at the window of recall and recoil, Vincent Price lending his baritone to the blunderbuss flashing through the night, the blackness at the window reflecting only the face of a suppressed fear.
     There is nothing that can be done about this, though were it not so I believe none would raise a fuss, for who really wants to watch the broken fall apart?
     I cannot believe a single soul has ever returned from the fury of war untouched, their daily thoughts not filtered through the blazing memories of the field of death. It may rise in unexpected places, like some dark daffodil in the shadow of a lonely curb, or it may lie across the canvas of the decorated veteran’s facade, defining his mood and mode, a cold gripping hand taken in by the puppet’s hollow body, giving life to that which begs only for release from its daily travail.

I cannot know how weak my imagination might be in this regard, I can only pursue it to whichever conclusion satisfies it, its terrible need to know the fullness of my civilization’s intolerable sickness, the aching weakness of the heart taught to destroy, to meet white eyes with its open arms, its bombs bursting in air, Tom Cruise winking woodenly at the setting sun.

War is hell, so they say, but I can only see in it a tragic painting of Heaven, men spreading their wings, Gabriel taking the hand of Icarus, droning in legion from the sky, puncturing the clouds, dropping their sanctified messages onto rooftop and hillock, child and lamb, each assured their soul has a place in the downy folds of their Father’s sanctified lap.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Everyone a Stop-Motion Penguin

Where a man steps is indicative of where he is headed, and of what he is looking for.
     But beyond every Hollywood Star there sits a banana peel, just waiting to dash a man’s hope for prosperity in this unforgiving world, turning Errol Flynn to Buster Keaton, Martha Graham to Lucille Ball.
     We might walk a rope five hundred feet over a city – or we might walk the sobriety line, a flashlight beam between our spinning eyes – either way we are struggling to balance ourselves, death and pride hanging on the line.

Philippe Petit, the diminutive Frenchman who crossed the Twin Towers in 1974, was a man who would have been ignored on any busy intersection of New York City that overcast day, a slight figure cut like Jim Carroll playing Peter Pan.
     But atop those monolithic bristles, scraping the mist-draped skies, he was a giant, the biggest man on Earth for one very famous afternoon, laughing at the police as he danced along a 2.5 cm cable, ignoring their demands to return to the rooftop upon which they huddled, dark blue birds watching a magical cat tread the heavens.

What is it that gives certain men such a flat view of the world, such indifference to perspective, that they can walk a rope strung across the hood of a circus tent, as if it were a chalk line on the sidewalk?
     Is balance a relative thing? Is distance up to us?
     Can we ignore the definition of space, compressing time so that our journey is over before it’s begun, a boat sailing the planet on the inertia of its own dreams, a child aging before our eyes, a prehistoric man searching his iPod?
     If every ledge is but a curb to the bridge walker, is not every small step a leap for mankind, watching himself leaving the Earth, Neal Armstrong shitting into a plastic bag?

Men like Petit, Armstrong, Knievel, Earhart – stuntmen, daredevils, pilots and astronauts – they all chuckle in the face of fear, its mocking mask born of the quaking equilibrium, the lustful magnetic embrace of gravity, that which vertigo rules with its dizzying trickery.

It is commonly thought that those who suffer vertigines are afraid of heights, but this is simply not so. Acrophobia is the fear of heights, a position of predisposed fear, while vertigo is a physical malady which can cause one to literally fall to the floor, all sense of balance pulled from under suddenly untrustworthy feet – the carpet lining the lighthouse platform tumbling into the sea, Kim Novak slipping from Jimmy Stewart’s arms.
     Calling a man burdened with vertigo afraid is like calling a chemically depressed individual sad. There are immeasurable depths of difference between the two, which only those inflicted can every truly know.

We learn to walk by putting one foot in front of the other, everyone a stop-motion penguin on ice, entrusting the surface of the planet to remain with us, even as it proceeds on its own accord, the turn of the axle-strung sphere leaving us in a momentary limbo, a weightless puppet hung to the air, a kite of skin and bone, our blood a stream of oxidized bubbles.
     Just as the depressed force themselves through the floorboards, flattened to any sensation but the rapidly compressing shelves of their numbing malady, so do those who defy the orbital dictates, their focus unnatural, their concentration a laser beam burning a vault door – James Bond hurtling through the air.

When all is said and done, we must all heed gravity’s incessant conversation – the aerialist in her sequined tights, the drunken teenager blinking at twin moons, the seizure patient squeezing a rubber ball, the white-haired patriarch dropping into his pillow – all trapped as we are, in the back of destiny’s bus, time the ancient passenger mumbling into our chests, reminding us of life’s ruthless fall into decrepitude and disrepair – Philippe Petit grasping his walker, searching for his feet, not finding the ground.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Comedy in a Casket

Upon the recent death of Jim Carroll, revisiting his seminal rock-punk classic, 1979’s Catholic Boy, I couldn’t help but recall how funny I used to think that album’s most popular single, People Who’ve Died, was, and, I’m afraid, still is – even after Mr. Carroll’s sad passing.

The 5:07 song is a literal roll call of people in Carroll’s life who reportedly did die, each one seemingly in a more onerous, chilling, Gorey-like manner than the one before – all so bluntly described, the spirit of Raymond Chandler animating Carroll’s cadaverous prose.
     It is this deceptively clinical approach to a subject a lesser artist might have softened with the padding of metaphor – or simply approached as a tear-stained ballad – that makes Carroll’s manifesto so powerful, so lasting – and so damn funny.

Teddy sniffing glue he was 12 years old/Fell from the roof on East Two-nine/Cathy was 11 when she pulled the plug/On 26 reds and a bottle of wine/Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old/He looked like 65 when he died

Isn’t that terrifyingly intimate?
     So clearly written in deference to the harrowing punches these deaths must have delivered to the poet/singer?
     And isn’t that what makes this song so good – so very good it all but becomes a parody of itself, its colorful, Marvel Comics-like parade of names, trumping each other, building the heavenward arc of the song’s emotional architecture?

G-berg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten/So they died of hepatitis in upper Manhattan/Sly in Vietnam took a bullet in the head/Bobby OD'd on Drano on the night that he was wed

It’s this tangible itch, one the song never fails to deliver, that made me see the comedic possibilities in transferring it to a skit featuring a high school cheerleading team practicing their interpretation of the song for a charity fund, one founded to honor (what else?) students who have died.

Like my old associates in high school, one who, only a week before graduation, perished in a motorcycle accident that left him all but indistinguishable from a stretch of dark country road just a mile from my house – Johnny Blaze forever now Ghost Rider – the other, eaten from within by cancerous cells.

Jonny took a dive from his bike/Joey caught something his body didn’t like

Despite the presumably unintended gallows humor of the lyrics, it’s Carroll’s mortuary voice that gives his song its universal connectivity – sounding like Lurch reading the contents of his mother’s will.
This is what I would exploit in my high-octane comedy skit, a “guaranteed-hilarious” send-up of small town morality – and mortality.
     Each death would receive its own series of mimed motions, Bobby OD’ing with Drano on his wedding night – summed up with a subtle slide of a ring onto a finger, followed by a smooth lift to the mouth with the drain cleaner – and then back into the repeating chorus, where each girl crosses her heart and prays, before falling backwards, dead as a cartoon, mimicking crosses on her eyes, right into the arms of the girl positioned behind.
     Of course, all of this has to be performed with the sincerity of Soupy Sales tending a custard pie – to break from such would ruin it.
     Add to this a lovingly out-of-tune head cheerleader – Olive Oyl at the opera – an overly-enthusiastic, effeminate male coach – Richard Simmons playing Richard Simmons – and a plethora of poms-pons – and you’ve got comedy platinum.
     I kid you not.

Mary took a dry dive from a hotel room/Bobby hung himself from a cell in the tombs/Judy jumped in front of a subway train/Eddie got slit in the jugular vein

Jim Dennis Carroll.

What a funny fucker.

Born to spew lavender – all the anger and mistrust a world has to offer – with all the mannered pomposity of Bob Newhart – playing God – picking through the dead, describing the depths of a Catholic Hell.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Corpse of Human Design

Think of the human body as an ancient fortress, each stone in its walls a building block of inherited DNA, the matter handed down through the generations, your grandmother’s poor circulation a treacherous ivy climbing the lookout tower, a reverse Rapunzel creeping into the throats of your archers as they sleep – their bows and arrows the Airborne and Emergen-C you take to fend off the chill of viral invaders.

Imagine the vaccinations swimming your moat, their pointed teeth glistening in the light of a germ-laden moon, fattening themselves upon one another, leaving a single surviving crocodile-shaped nemesis, a giant serpentine vise of ravenous fangs, ready to leap from its murky ring, pulling you and your doctor-recommended horse from the drawbridge settled across the divide between your inoculated home and the terrifying unknown – where the far reaches of the natural world fester with furtive demons mingling, rubbing their wicked haunches with the multiplying minutia carrying disease and pestilence, toxic misery lurking beneath the scales of their arched backs, between the bristles lining their milky throats, floating the pustules clouding their microscopic eyes, the evil pink blisters peppering their wrinkled hides.

Imagine every weakness blossoming on the horizon, the teeming unsanitary hordes, setting their eyeglasses on your guarded domain, plotting to rape and plunder the sanctity of your well being, the cherished robustness of a life so charmed, Charles Atlas coiled about Jack LaLanne, a vigor so reliant upon things so many of us do not understand.

Life sure is scary, eh?

Problem is, the legions massing at the bulwark of your prescribed health are already within your castle architecture, their invisible movements composing your mortal design, the armies parading your particulars fighting their own endless war, their struggle doing more to secure your position than the armored additions every grinning Willy Loman offers at the door.

The sad fact is, each shiny new medication luring you from your guard is a complication to the integrity of your stronghold, your natural agents of protection sent pouring from their armory to encounter the flu shot, the allergy medicine, the cough suppressant, the cholesterol drug, the heart pill.
     Even the anti-bacterial soap with which you wash your fortress hands – the Febreeze that scents the castle air – even these assault your precious ranks, each an occupation force demanding regular attention, putting your kingdom at risk of sneak attack – every vacated sentry post a vulnerable gap in your defenses, a Terry-Thomas smiling for the camera.

How is it that we have become so ignorant of our born securities – those that preserve us with their ambassadorial mingling among foreign bodies, signing treaties with viral commanders, shaking hands with growing concerns – that we allow the oily snake such easy entrance through the ramparts of our sovereignty, welcoming with our pocket books the lab-concocted minstrels of the closed-air drug market, the golden drops of each price-fixed cure set on waiting tongues by the technicians of the pharmaceutical age?

Can it be that we spend so much time lingering at the gates of a security sold on faith and promise, convinced of our fragility in the face of external invasion, that we neglect and erode our very structural confidence?
     Is the castle keep of the intelligent ape to be his casket too, its high barriers the lonely enclave of his self-inflicted suffocation?

Is it already too late to turn the mad chemist away?
     Is it possible to banish every penicillin-fueled Lon Chaney back to the dank depths of his dungeon laboratory?
     Or have we so compromised ourselves out of existence that the battlements of our retreat are filling with the corpses of human design?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Her Dry Church Lips

This is for the teenage girl in Toledo, smoldering in her room, thoroughly convinced that the God she’s been taught to fear and respect is completely full of shit – or at least holding as much in his fiery gullet as her insipid, clueless parents daily stuff into their chipmunk cheeks.

Yes, you, the girl in Ohio.
     This is for you, sweetheart, you with the curdled face, still damp with frustrated tears, sequestering yourself in the metal sanctuary you’ve built.
     Metal Church, Manowar, Accept, Witchfinder General, W.A.S.P, Celtic Frost – the posters with which you’ve lined your walls shield you from the stupidity of the parental world. They form a shiny, tiled halo about your tousled mane, as you stare up at the mundane ceiling of your room, imagining Flying Vs filling the heavens, a sea of six-string comets with raging red tails, born of the fury to rock, the unimpeachable power of a sinner’s raging heart.

Originals all, these glossy totems, the 80s being your current specialty, bought online with the money you earn watching neighborhood brats overdose on Sunny Delight and Cheetos.
     We know where these images are sending you, young lady, where your battered little heart is going to look for its solace, and we know all too well the path you’ll take, but let us be the first to tell you, there is no refuge in the man in red – there is nothing radical about the Devil.

Now, that said, we need to make one thing clear.
     This is not a moral piece.
     It is not some digital tract and we are not pressing to be the Jack Chick of the Internet age – surely someone else already has that role comfortably covered.
     No, rather we’re warning against association with the Satanic Lord because he is as much a part of the dogma you are spitting up as is God – and Jesus Christ – and your impossible mother, lingering over you with her dry church lips and her bitter sanctimonious eyes.

Call him what you will – Beelzebub, Lucifer, Satanus, Belial, Ehlis, Azazel, Ahriman, Mephistopheles, Mephisto, Shaitan, Sammael, Asmodeus, Abaddon, Apollyon, The Prince of Darkness, His Satanic Majesty, Hot Stuff – evoke his name as you pound upon your nightstand – it doesn’t matter, for he is simply part of the fable you are revolting against.

Do you understand?

He is the red-lettered KEEP OUT sign your Judeo-Christian upbringing has hung on the door of inquisitive thought – he is your father’s frown – your mother’s face buried in her hands.

You must realize that we are all travelers in a ship of morality, one partitioned on Dante’s plan. Those with little or no heavenly grace are left to burn in the boiler room. Those showing elusive promise are free to float in the spectral limbo of second class. Those having been so Chosen are left to ascend the upper decks – where paradise is always served.

The way to this triad of purification follows three simple paths, all taken at the same point.
     We either choose to follow the sign, spending an eternity with God, combing the golden burrs of sleep from his great beard, or we dither at the holy crossroads, left to forever haunt with a friendly ghost, an intangible prisoner of Limbo’s high walls.
     The rest will fall from grace, plummeting deep below the marker of morality – damned to work the wheels in the belly of Satan’s infernal machine.

Each choice is a compliant one, no rebel will you be to side with Old Scratch.

Don’t let those old biker flicks fool you. Hell’s angel is nothing but a devil loose in Heaven, a troublesome imp running ragged the skirting of the harpist’s gossamer robe, Marilyn Manson screaming in some Florida amphitheatre, Al Pacino bedeviling Keanu Reeves.

If you really want to state your independence, you must step outside of the doctrine of shame, the fortress of guilt, and begin to search for what you really are – neither Gabriel on high, nor incubus of the bottomless pit – but a living conscience, a well of understanding and intelligence not needing a sanctified elevator to gauge the depths of its perceived soul.

666 might be an area code, sweetheart – but you’ve got to live there to use it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An Indifferent Moon

How many of us have ever been bound and gagged – against our will?
     Tied to train tracks?
     Dangled menacingly from a towering precipice?
     Poisoned at dinner?
     Shot at the opera?
     Bludgeoned with a decanter?
     Pushed down the stairs?
     Left hanging from a cliff?

When all is said and done in the theater of life’s violent final act, when the butler and the gardener are hanging their heads in the vestibule – when Angela Lansbury is sipping her breakfast tea, the maid scrubbing the blood from the sitting room floor – somewhere there is an empty stage left standing, upon which a chemically-unbalanced young father crushes his infant son, a teenage girl vomits drain cleaner into a pillow case, a mother shoots herself in the neck – Jack Nicholson shows his canine teeth.

Is the melodrama of murder the sanguine face we put to each foul act, each dark stain left marking the actor’s departure?
     Is the gun drawn in the first, always unloaded in the third?
     Or is it more likely to be pressed to the temple of a kneeling man, his head recoiling at the bullet’s release, a seizure of helplessness setting him to a blossom-lined avenue, a hundred thousand toy G.I. Joes tumbling the assembly chute, racing to meet the deadline of disfavor in an awakening world.

Have we taken the awkward, ugly duckling of real horror and dressed it to kill, putting Baby Huey in Fred Astaire’s shoes?

Red velvet curtains close on the scene, an epitaph is scrawled across a yellow box, the screen goes dark, the imagination concocting each dirty deed done cheap, every rat divorced from his lungs, every damsel carried into shadow – every Gene Autry and John Wayne left tipping his hat with the barrel of his gun.

We are raised on such pantomimes of death, their turgid play-acting reflected in the glassy eyes of Mr. Drysdale’s wife poised in her balcony seat, the miseries of the world the farthest thing from her mind. And yet, even the elite in their perfumed aeries are visited by the terror of the real, awakening to blood on the sheets, a husband slumped into the bath, crimson clots decorating the tile – all the lurid details every True Detective lingers for.

The macabre improvisation of life’s surrender is a story only ever told after the fact, no clues left for a magnifying glass to discern, no guilty tears coming from the broom cupboard, no tidy resolution in the garden, no mustached constable licking his pen, taking indecipherable notes – his cursive loops like the wayward path of fate, circling the tender wrists of a virgin in her nightgown, her underwear blocking her throat, her head a black and purple bulb expressed to an indifferent moon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Deliberately Slow Crawl

It is clear to me that quantity has become the divine wife of the corporate deity through which we measure our success as a nation – and as a world – even as a model of existence itself.
     It is not the quality of the product that punctuates the national conversation, rather it is the number of units sold, the dollars spent in its production, the stock figures reported, the blood pressure of the shareholders.
     It is the overseas demand that gets our attention, the accessories available we read about – the sainted validation of the version we have reached together, the umpteenth update in a deliberately slow crawl to the edge of financial ruin, when the minders of the store will have achieved the ultimate form of merchandise – the invisible, the intangible, the priceless – the eminently replaceable – Oceania in its current form, a bottle of air going for a buck.

Think about it.
     Are we not already well on our way to a commercial brand of faith, one so defined by the mediums of its transmission? Aren’t we quite proudly, and non-ironically, a Pepsi or Coke drinker? A PC or a Mac? Home of the Big Mac or The Whopper? The Dodgers or the Yankees?

First we learned to worship the newspaper – an intangible product applied to pulp, the heroic newsmen, the spinning headlines, Boss Tweed falling out of favor, Little Nemo falling out of bed – then we became enraptured of the radio – another intangible filtered through plastic and metal and wood, charged with electricity, home of The Shadow, Amos ‘n’ Andy, Tommy Dorsey and Captain Midnight – then we began our pious devotion to television – also filtered through plastic and metal and wood, and now plasma, bringing us Texaco Theater, The Honeymooners, Hollywood Squares – on to our current supplication to the computer – a similar, if entirely different level of the inferno – a device through which, by means of a stream of electromagnetic particles, the world has become as flat as a minister’s beer, every Twitter the Facebook of tomorrow, every Facebook the MySpace forgotten – every MySpace the Friendster that elicits only a silly grin – an outdated haircut parading the mall.

The computer is the holy son of the infinite number, the mad mathematician who begat the Internet, a roadway of communication built upon the architecture of the newspaper, the magazine, the book, the record, the film, the television – an insatiable monster that must grow to survive, devouring all three-dimensional media quivering in its trenchant path, Jack Kirby’s Galactus pounding his utensils on a cosmic tablecloth.

Where goes the means by which our culture talks to itself, when it has all been compressed into the field of lights standing erect on your desk?
     The Internet is servile, yet cold, immediate, but distant – intimate – yet utterly impersonal – the mother-in-law of your marriage to computer technology.
     Like a hug from a man with artificial arms – no matter the emotion – the delivery will always be something other than the cradle of blood-warmed limbs – like winning a dance with a paper Marilyn Monroe.

Do you wonder how many possible handshakes the Internet has eliminated during the last decade, how many “Thank Yous” and “Have a Nice Days” it has silenced?
     The communal marketplace has taken a direct hit, storefronts now commonly designated by their physical or non-physical existence, the latter welcoming customers lost to the former, where even the manned register is on its way out, replaced by swiping cards and screens of running data – a sea of virtual numbers crashing upon the banks of commerce – hidden costs rising like Poseidon to upset the boat.

What little can’t be delivered to our homes at the click of a mouse?
     A haircut, a dental visit, a late night bag of pretzels?
     One final beer, a tightly-rolled joint, a transactional screw in a Red Roof Inn?

It is through this portal of instant gratification that the quality associated with the tangible – with having – has become secondary to the item’s availability, a state of affairs that has seemingly trickled down to products as operationally-benign as disposable razors and flashlights – the cheap choir of the dollar store now going for a song.
     How impatiently we wait for the latest edition of what we have, already willing to concede its shortcomings, storing the now-irrelevant version in the garage or attic, ready to join the electronic landfills of this racing age – pocket calculators buried beneath microwaves, lying under modems and monitors – the prehistoric bones of circuit boards and memory cards mingling with cellular phones.
     What sort of a message is this sending to the business world, other than produce, produce, produce, always have something new to offer, and make each revision of form and function an event above all others – selling us Shakespeare as soap opera, soap as perfume.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Sea of Burning Lights

If only I could freeze them in time, leaving them where they stood, their arms reaching out for their Radio Shack future, their world already turning in dizzying flights of mad multiplication, spinning atop a landfill of computer hardware sunk deep into the corpse of the Earth – a shallow grave called Progress.

Did they know what was soon to transpire?
     Or did they simply engage a future so readily sold to them, willfully ignoring the one they were leaving behind?
     I have to wonder about the range we attain, as we focus forward, our intellects climbing from Barney Rubble’s two-door to Henry Ford’s Model-T, the goal the unreachable engine of our very momentum – that which we so boldly, and clumsily, attempt to overcome – the young giraffe trying to watch itself run away.
     Can we ever truly act in anticipation of tomorrow, when, so compelled by yesterday, we all but forgo today?

Did anyone foresee the world of manufactured communication becoming so thin, so achingly ethereal, that it eventually altogether disappeared – walking out of its dress like Nicole Richie?

Is the future where? Or is it when?

Can it be we implicitly understand that space is time, and vice versa, that to travel from nursery to heresy, from cradle to tomb – is to park the ambulance in the cemetery – the hearse in the delivery room – to picture the gravedigger as stork – to draw Death down the chimney?

Remember that future when phones were still hand-held devices?
     That funny old place where we had voices you could touch and see?
     And hear?

Remember when our information screens sat before us, on a table – in our lap?

That ancient world, where dust settled on the objects of an industry powered by an anorexic Zeus – that light bulb-nosed sprite named Reddy Kilowatt – the jagged ruby line of fire running wire and cable, giving life to dead battery and incubated egg?

Don’t laugh!

I know it sounds funny now, but back then it was terrifying for many, especially the older generation – those who could recall when the computer was but an idea, when television was the future – when offering Eve an Apple was more than just a sales pitch.
     Here was yet another age of great change – one in which they’d have to face the withering look of a tomorrow cold to their embrace – Bette Davis putting on her lipstick – Boris Karloff blowing out a candle.

It was a future quietly announced, in unlikely and stale places, a mystery seen only through the magnified attentions of the lonely numerical men, dressed in their compulsion, the mad grinning Riddlers of math, the boys colored by numbers – those who turned inward and began counting down to infinity – while the rest of us remained addicted to the vast imagined stretches of outer space, conjuring our ancient plays of morality upon a black velvet tableaux pierced by NASA’s torpedoes, a sea of burning lights and falling stars, Andromeda the steersman of our anything but cybernetic journey across, and through, the heavens.

Where were we the day our constructed identities – our words and images and passions – when they all fell away into the White Rabbit’s black hole – the never- ending accumulation of digit that made the world go so flat – every little piggy running off to a future marketplace?

Where were we then?

And when have we gone?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Black Table, Black Roses, Black Scissors

I think one of the strangest things about growing up is getting old.
     Or is it the other way around – in that the two seem inextricably opposed – if not altogether disconnected – but inseparable, just the same?

I mean, just think about it.

When we talk about someone “growing up”, we are referring to a blossoming – a path followed to a certain maturity – the Mickey Mouse Club growing its breasts, Alf Alfa growing a voice, Joanie growing to hate Chachi.
     It is through achievement of this desired potentiality – where one attains the mantle of being, in fact, the “grown up”– a title almost primitive in its introduction to the language, a nakedly-blunt appropriation of the terms of endurance, something you’d expect to find dropping from the tranquilized tongue of Cindy Brady or Shirley MacLaine – that we set the increments of our growth as human beings.

You are a grown up

How awkward that sounds, how so close to the mouth of the fire lighting the cave, and yet, it is exactly what we say when our child has found his or her place in the systemized routine we call civilization.

It is this plateau achieved, this putting behind of childish things (to paraphrase a biblical President on the night of his crowning glory) that resounds in our societal cognizance, that forms the adult animal upon which we saddle our hopes, our dreams, our every ambition – ultimately, our very desire to foster new life, to cast tomorrow in our own image – the final recognition of oneself – Dorian Grey aging before the mirror.

You are really old

Conversely, when we talk of “getting old”, we are indicating a fall from grace, the shame of what had budded with promise, had bloomed with beauty – but now quickly withers on the vine.
     Here, in the greasy embrace of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe – in the grip of their short attention to life – getting old is something we choose not to celebrate.
     Instead, we approach it with discomfort, bearing disrespect, barely checking our disdain – motivated purely by fear – Joan Rivers shitting out the years, reaching for butterflies.

And really, who wants to get old?
     Do you think your parents – still high on the plastic flower-infused 1960s – were thinking of their descent into senility and general disrepair?
     Don’t you think instead they dreamed of finding their peak in the clouds, of discovering their untold limits?
We’ll leave it to Florida to learn the face of decay – to feel the ache of the ages lived"

Who wants the smooth and the supple to wrinkle and crease, to hang about the skeleton like laundry on a line – all Stan Laurel in Oliver Hardy’s skin?
     Who wants their immune system to diminish in its fortitude, to send trouble and disease through vitality’s port – Abbot and Costello barging at the door, two stooges in a china shop?
     Who wants to see death – the black table passing the sun – a bouquet of black roses at the bow – a pair of black scissors set to sever the cord of life – Dr. Frankenstein forging for his son a bride built of the grave – a mother counting her days by the eggs nesting within the generations to come?

Thus, so do we seek our maturity, ignoring the warnings of age, content to find measure, and satisfaction, among others on an equal footing – those just as ready, and willing, to build this kingdom we call ours – this world we’ve based upon our temporary defiance of the inevitable rotting arc of our human existence.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Young Man and his Iron Heart

The day you turned thirteen, you decided, quite resolutely, that you had two hearts and no brain.
     You were what your French teacher, she of the visible bra strap and Caroline Munro eyes, had called “tragic romantic” – romance tragique.

Your fate was settled, etched in stone – carved into inevitability’s hillside by ancient astronauts, their starships, Venus and Aphrodite, orbiting the Earth.

You were fated to be a headless cupid, forever dipping your bow in accident and folly – a five-foot Tony Manero, strutting about in a pale blue leisure suit from JC Penny, cueing your heart to a dozen different girls, plucking the sad strings of an overactive imagination – winning the love of Jessica Lange and Erin Grey, Lynda Carter and Tanya Roberts – a late-night lothario dropping a cherry in Elvira’s drink.

Having slept heavily on your itemized harem, the next day you decided it was instead two brains and no heart that plagued you.

Now you were Rodin’s Thinker, frozen in repose, victim of a sleepless, artistic genius, Steve Martin playing Vincent Van Gogh, all jerky despair in your humble grotto – a clenched-teeth grin in dead man’s plaid, sitting before your easel, clutching at your ears – suffering the insatiable need to replicate the nonsense in your head.
     You were Teenage Picasso, cursing your twisted reflection, your features lost to the abstraction of depression, a junior Clint Eastwood, squinting into the sun, tensing your trigger finger, sickened by the quivering jellyfish scurrying for cover.

It went back and forth like that, from that point out, on into your early twenties, until life finally hit you too hard – once too often – and the heart won out, the battered vessel of romance rising, placed on a pedestal by Hope, and his bed-ridden brother, Dream – the twin needs of a desperate soul – leaving you with a tin foil spine, paging through the Golden Book of your clearly-drawn ruin.

Your mind sent to the gallows, reason dangling at the end of a rope, your enemy was now conscious thought, lingering on the horizon, Kilroy thumbing his nose – a snickering Dick Dastardly peeping over his black cape.

You had no choice but to continue the fray of existence, an idealized version of yourself held in each fist, a post-adolescent Robert Mitchum juggling love and hate, searching for your romantic heart, your loving heart, your tortured heart, your broken heart, your sacred heart – each as user-friendly, as shopworn an ideal, as your concept of God.

This is the trail of blood you follow to the melodramatic self, the imagined victim lying in the rowboat, prostrate on Agatha Christie’s sitting room floor, the butler hiding behind a wall of stoicism, the maid smoking in the broom closet, the gardener wiping the sticky evidence from his topiary shears – truth lurking in the shadow of a tree spiked with limbs, a turnstile, the revolving rings of time – father to son, mother to daughter, rail to road, road to sky, sky to moon, moon to mars, mars to infinity – the two-legged race of heart and mind – the eternal curse of the generations.

And you, a thirteen year-old freak trying to navigate your own obstacle course, hitting back with your fist-wound hearts, fearing the poison in your mind.

But you would endure, for you had built yourself to survive, just like Tony Stark built his Iron Man.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When The Earth Rolls Over

Whether by chance, or design, you are the progeny of the potato – of the stem that swells underground.
     How many mornings of his long, rich life did your grandfather, a potato farmer, bend before the cut of his plow, his horses steaming from their nostrils, the ashen trees clotting against a watery English dawn?
     You can only wonder how he might have responded if presented with a can of Pringles, the potato snack that is only 43% potato, a billion-dollar product of space-age design, manufactured with a machine invented by a science-fiction writer – a chip notorious for its tendency to cause loose and bloody stools, the severe bouts of diarrhea that have destroyed many a toilet’s inherent composure.

You’re sure he would have just shrugged, sucking at one of his perennial mints, pulling at his suspenders, heading into the kitchen to fetch a piece of string.
     For, you see, your mother’s father – bless his departed soul – was a man who could fix anything with a piece of string – especially a broken toilet.
     He was a demon when it came to mending things in unconventional ways, with whatever was handy.
     The man was a regular nineteenth century-born MacGyver.
     He’d mend his broken privy with a piece of greasy twine that had been used to string a rabbit over the kitchen sink – an unlucky visitor to his well-tended field.
     Conversely, you’re sure he could have mended a piece of string with the toilet.
     Hell, he probably caught his rabbits with bits of each.
     The man was industrious.
     And rooty.
     As rooty as a rutabaga.

You came from this relationship with the soil and cannot ignore it, as paltry as your acquaintance with the planting row might be.

What is it that is so intoxicating about the scent of a turned field?
     What are we smelling when the earth rolls over?
     Is it root and spore and mineral and rain?
     Is it the saliva of the worm, the viscous trail of the slug, the dank perfume of the grub?

You can only suppose it is all of this, and more – so much more – the taxonomy of worlds unknown, of civilizations caught between stones, of societies clutched by molecules, of invisible eternities – portholes to the center of the planet – a center that can never be reached.
     The substrate we expose is largely the excrement of the smallest farmers, the substances channeled through their tubular bodies, the filtered, liquefied essence we call dirt – the residue of a mad, endless shitting, the flatulent rearranging of the planet’s face – of which the Olestra-stricken chip cruncher is no equal.

To the furtive fauna that tend this planetary covering do we owe the vegetable, the fruit, the tree, the grass, the mushroom, the flower, the fern – the heather on the drowsy hill where a boy comes alive, his pale limbs entwined with those of a pretty girl, rolling absent-mindedly onto his can of Chile Cheese Dog Pringles, the wind whispering “Once you pop, you can’t stop”.

In the name of the potato, the French fry, the chip, the hash brown, do we scalp the planet and gouge at its flesh, forcing its renewal, defining biological maturity at the seed, germinating to satisfy the stockholder, growing to feed the beast that bleeds at the press of our knife.
     We place our very survival in the dirt-laced fingers of those who understand the land, giving them our hunger, entrusting their expertise – wholly ignorant of its basic tenants, the factors that make the field essential or destitute – the things your grandfather knew as well as the back of his hand.

And, you’re quite sure, the back of his toilet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Scattered Across North Dakota

Do you know what’s so frustrating about growing up – about traveling through time?
     Besides that it’s well proven to be the pathway to death’s door – a path, quite paradoxically, a different length for each and every one of us.
     You can blame the old guy with the wild, white hair for that.

And, no, I don’t mean God – I’m talking about the guy on the bicycle – Albert – the man who took faith for a relative spin.

No, what I find so confounding is that we can never just stop and say to ourselves “This then is the 1960s”, or “This is exactly what 1985 is like”.
     We can’t do this because we don’t know our time until it’s well over – the epoch of an age only coming into clarity when it’s been swallowed by the wake of passing days – then regurgitated – painted with the brush of collective memory – like some canary-yellow telephone hanging in an episode of That 70’s Show.

This heady rite of turbulence leaves us only with plastic surfaces upon which to place our memory – the mad rush of life left to the stiff vulgarity of an enamel Ziggy adorning a pedestal that reads “World’s Greatest Streaker”.
     Or a photo T-shirt of you and your kitten, Muffin – the Kodachrome transfer disintegrating in a box beneath a heat-curled stack of Bay City Rollers LPs.

Wasn’t there more to life than such shallow ephemera?
     Or have we truly become the customer animal – a barrel of monkeys, shaken and stirred by the golden ribbon of our progress-mad age – Tweety Bird begetting the smiley face begetting Pac-Man – songbird to disembodied grin to devouring maw?

Take yourself at the classic age of thirteen for instance, that culminating dawn, where adolescent energy shifts into pubescent vitality – where the gene code begins to rear its prefabricated head – the face of your mother, or father, rising from the inky depths, like some silent totem – a mirror made of flesh and blood.

Thirteen was insanity – wasn’t it?
     Can you really remember your thirteenth summer?
     Wasn’t your tremulous mind abuzz with notions of adulthood, hormones raging as you threw yourself into the porch light – an “insect” in the scheme of things – dying over and over – with a reckless glee?

And aren’t we all still careening, our befuddled minds in the desperate company of our failing bodies, using memory like some parking lot DeLorean, racing back to the giddy peerage of our parents – even as they so rapidly decline before our very eyes, defining a future we scramble to avoid?

As it is with every age, and in every moment of time’s terrifying and deadly scheme.

Trying to define, to summarize these furious instances left bobbing in the foam, seems akin to a young paleontologist, who, upon discovering a new animal – some precocious prehistoric child scattered in troves of bone across North Dakota – sets about to deliberate its skeletal structure – only late in life realizing he had the ancient creature completely upside down – presenting Barney by way of Godzilla, Snuffleupagus through the wooly tropes of 10,000 BC.

Childhood was, and is, a wholly subjective state – and yet we seem so intent on framing it with undue clarity, as if in our formative years we were the wriggling nymph in its cocoon, tracking its coded escape – seemingly oblivious to the spinning bulb, the great dizzy Earth that grows and discards us with an indifferent routine – Globey conducting the Playhouse with his Disney hands.

We can be placed by decade, given our generational surnames, X meeting Y, but this market-appointed demarcation does nothing to shed light on the being that grows within the pack, the societal beast dressed by machine, fed by charity, bathed in regret – that which is but a link in the burying chain.

Wasn’t it we, so smart in our Garanimals, “Sticking Up for Breakfast”, who rose from the muck, Darwinian victors replicating, showing off our multiplying DNA – partners in a square dance that forever goes around and around – on into the biologically-sculpted heavens?

I believe it is our inherent vanity that holds us back, that keeps us from learning all there is to know – about bones unearthed, about bones inside – about being thirteen, suddenly realizing there are others stuck in the same fine mess as you – boys and girls with ruddy faces and fevered brains, pressing at your back, the weight of their focus your own – your salivating brothers and sisters – spelling the true nature of mankind.

Monday, November 16, 2009

My Bloody Old Innards

Have you ever stopped to think about what you really are?

I mean – really really are.

Is not the human torso essentially an upright basket of bones, the puffing chest of Charles Atlas and The Tasmanian Devil alike, cradling approximately fifty pounds of gelatin mass, the litany of vitals to which we ascribe so much import – the heart, the lungs, the liver, the kidneys, the pancreas, the stomach, the intestines, the colon – the fruits grown from the stem cell, the living goods we carry with us throughout our days?

Have you ever consider what happens to this jumble of organs, when you are running, or jumping in place, or standing on your head?
     It doesn’t just stay in place, packed as tightly as expensive china, rather it must move. And as it moves it must settle, bits and parts shoving and pushing into one another, the glob rocking as one, wet and sticky within its vitality, the god of the human cavity, the assembled mystery of life, the center of the machine – the bottom bracket, the pedals, the cranks, the down tube – the primary source of motion, the very cycle of life.

It’s surprising we can’t hear it, that regular sloshing and squelching, the bushel of soft tomatoes carried down the road, singing its working song, that old tale of the liver drinking himself away, of arteries running blue, of the lung who fell in love with the heart, of the kidneys boasting in the drawing room – the stomach calling it quits, a rupture in the quiet – the Michelin Man blowing a tire.

Too I wonder what transpires down there in the great unacquainted, when we pour in the hot sauce and the chili and the peppers. What violent encounter sends pain climbing, to the very tip of our tongue? What intestinal fury sheds tears, breaks blood vessels – leaving a red face hanging in the air, the arms and legs beneath it going mad like broken pendulums, setting the shadow of a dancing spider on the kitchen floor – Freddie Kreuger drying his nails?

To this constant companion I raise a toast, this damp autumn night, my bare feet caressing the wooden floor, my eyes growing heavy with a longing to dream, my skin as delicate as rice paper, stroked by the soft breath of an overhead fan.

God bless my bloody old innards, I must think, each and every one!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Leaving Lolita

I’ve never read Lolita.
     I’ll admit, the book’s infamous storyline has left me with a bit of a phobia, an irrational fear of encountering some sticky stain or the other left over by the sort of person who undoubtedly curls up with such a book on a sunny day, hiding from the din of society’s carnival, derelict in their sallow and empty lives.

Creeps, otherwise.

I mean, just think of all those lecherous, unwashed pedophiles, lurking behind the shelves of your local library.

I’m sorry. Did I just say that?
     I meant to say those lecherous, unwashed bibliophiles.

And, hey, let’s not forget the unmarried uncles, the lizard-eyed trigonometry teachers, the dewy-nosed assistant principals still living with their mothers, the Polish film directors currently sitting in Swiss holding cells – the whole horrible, nasty, unsavory bunch.

Throw the book at ‘em!
     Give 'em the chair, I say!

The comfy chair, that is, the one in the middle of the children’s section, with the grandmotherly cushions.
     I mean, even pedophiles pay their taxes – after all.

But really, only a creep would check out a book like Lolita from the public library – right?

Well, no, of course not.
     We’re more enlightened than that.

Lolita is considered by many to be one of the greatest books ever written – a sly, complex, funny, and critical narrative essay on our society and its mores.
     Still, I have the sneaking suspicion we’re all Humbert Humbert deep down inside – quite likely Lolita too – a notion that renders all used editions of Nabokov’s novel something of a cultural handkerchief – or perhaps a doorknob – a cafeteria spoon – a hotel pillow – the archive of analogous objects is practically endless – as endless as the wayward inclinations of the human heart – and the dirty fingerprints etched across its fragile shell.

At the other end of such affairs, I’ve also not read Charles Webb’s The Graduate.
     But, really, who has?
     Isn’t that a bit like bothering to read Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes?

Still, that literary oversight has done little to render my Mrs. Robinson Complex inert.
     And, really, what foul gummy residue might lurk between the pages of such disregarded mileposts of literature to dissuade me from picking them up?
     Their spines are more than likely still dimple-free, anxiously waiting foreign fingers, sitting virginal on the shelf.

Perhaps it’s just my age.
     Perhaps being in the rough middle of life provides one with just as much to leave behind as it does to anticipate – to obsess upon, to fear – a red ribbon in the hair of youth acting as a warning to all those who would attempt to surreptitiously brush its leg as they pass on by – those hugging the shoulder of impending decrepitude, making contact with the inevitable lines of age.
     I’ll soon find out.
     I just put a copy of Lolita on hold at my library.

Time to start that car, you dirty old man.