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.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Beast, Making Love to Itself

Poor Schmuck sings: Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street.

Poor Schmuck thinks: Is she really going out with an ape like him?

What, in 1979, English singer Joe Jackson (in the role of Poor Schmuck, all greasepaint and clown shoe) didn’t know about what a woman sees in a man – and of a man – could well fill an album – a sad, lyrical testament to the ignorance of the young men found prowling the council tenancies of Britain’s Thatcherite squalor.

Of course, old Joe’s not alone.

I’m a schmuck too.

And chances are better than even you’re a schmuck too.

We’re all schmucks, every last one of us – male or female.

We all linger before the primate cage, transfixed by envy or desire, seeking to fulfill a need we choose not to elaborate upon – the “beast crush” – where oily-haired counterparts copulate beyond practical concern – Jack and Jill rolling down the evolutionary hill, thick hair doubling itself along their haunches – a strip club soundtrack sliding through the seaweed fluctuations of their collective mind.

Picture this:

Poor Schmuck’s dad, peering over the Daily Mirror: “You let Grape Ape get ‘is chocolate in yer niece’s peanut butter – an’ everythin’ goes to pieces, it does!

Poor Schmuck’s mate, lingering before the tattooed pizza parlor: “It’s just like that, innit? We become Cornelius and Zira, exchangin’ partners with Taylor and NovaLancelot Link guest-starrin’ on bleedin’ Charlie’s Angels – old Jane Goodall – gettin’ her jollies in the clutches of King Kong!”

The borders become unclear in the prideful plea of the singing clown, he and she transposed, a knuckle-dragging pelt shaking at the base of the sexual tree – a monkey stealing Adam’s apple from the sleeping snake.

God quickly becomes a baboon, resting on a dark cloud, admiring his simian design in a puddle of rain.

The church-builders will never allow it!
     Even the atheists will cry foul, refusing to let anything muddy their crystal clear understanding of Darwin’s strobe-lit gait across the phylogenetic stage.

But the clown will have his way!
     Poor Schmuck is awarded a second season, the gorilla left standing in the rain – a bouquet of courting roses wilting in his hand – the nougat-limbed beast backing away from its self, returning to its designated cage.

Now it’s Irish singer Elvis Costello who casts himself against the ape, reading her as next year’s model, pouring bile on those who fail to share his misanthropic gloom – the King asking the queen – who’s on first?
     And don’t forget Graham Parker – or Pete Shelley – or Ari Up – any number of angry young twig-limbed Brits with quivering knees – the dyspeptic bookmobile driver, the roofer’s son, the proto-feminist hairbrush – all standing tall behind the shield of rock and roll, clearing the jungle floor, finding their balls strung across electrified wood – their voice hanging from a microphone stand.

This was never a problem for performers like Lou Reed and soul vixen Betty Davis, two singers possessing an acute understanding of their gender counterparts – Reed playing the unfaithful wife to rock‘s rooster, Davis spreading his legs – both capable of sketching a woman bruised with love, splendid and sexual in her ruin, a feast for the dissolving male spirit – a fair lover for the girls hiding in the back.
     Magilla Gorilla, Cheetah, Curious George – but a few products of the unholy union twixt troglodyte and God’s image – the fanciful agents busy supping from the loins of their muse – Reed giving rise to the bristle, singing of the beast making love to itself – Davis dancing with its shadow.

Meanwhile – back in Britain – the ape, it would seem, was walking hand-in-hand with the clown in the window – leaving the girl to find other company.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Looms Inside My Machine

How willful is our denial, I have to wonder?

How carefully do we avoid the elephant rotting in the corner of the room?

When we sit, half-naked in the doctor’s office, our guts rumbling under the tenacious dull smack of the clock’s relentless hands – sending the minutes tumbling through an abyss lurking within our troubled hide – do we imagine the great Jumbo, his chest a red jungle gym heaving with feasting hyenas, his eye a black pool teeming with flies?

Do we face, in this horribly mortal moment, our natural collapse in the lively scheme of things?
     Or do we see P.T. Barnum, counting ten thousand dollars on the lap of Queen Victoria, taking the chain about the celebrated pachyderm’s knee, leading him to his fated collision with a Canadian train?

Perhaps we see Walt Disney’s Dumbo, his great comical ears lopped and dried into chamois to wax a dictator’s car.
     Or Pooh’s Heffalump – but a hollow leg, holding an assortment of broken umbrellas. Kipling’s Colonel Hathi, his teeth crying balefully at the thoughtless touch of a child lacking dedication to her lessons.

I’m not so much speaking of our colonization of the other animals – the jackass and the monkey alike, running our circus of selective hubris – rather I’m pointing to the fearful disregard we hold for our own corporal fragility, our dire impermanence in the shade of the evolutionary show.

How is it that we spend our lives almost completely ignorant of the workings of our own bodies?
     So much so, that we treat those who spend their careers detailing the evisceration of the human form as magicians and saints – or high-paid vultures.

The surgeons, the forensic investigators, the coroners, the serial killers, the soldiers, the men who clean the toilets at the football stadium – they are all standing in the guts of mankind, twisting, pulling, plunging, prodding, embalming, suturing – putting the pieces together, tearing them apart – Marcus Welby, an even-toothed jackal practicing his grin, looming before a ceiling of blinding lights – Quincy, M.E., pouring drinks in his rocking houseboat – Jeffrey Dahmer, a celebrated chef – all receiving the cultural applause of an audience frozen with fear.

I think of the stupor on the face of the slaughterhouse jimmy, knackered from head to toe, his senses addled by the smells and the sights and sounds of the rendering factory – the automated bludgeoning, the blood-black pistons pounding, the fuck machines of death. I cup my hands to my ribs and I hear the tapping of Upton Sinclair’s keys, the cutting and stripping of flesh, the chopping of unwanted bits – the hooves and horns that hold panels to spaceships, the eyes and brain and balls gathered at the bottom of our soup – the skin that pockets our money – the gelatin that shapes the plastic angel, a credit to us all.

How cozy we are in our segregation of death, our agreement to devour on principal, our need to fantasize its sanctity.

When we eat each other, it is a last resort, a horror to behold, a humor unbound – John Cleese and Graham Chapman in a lifeboat – eyeing each other’s arms and legs, buttocks and thighs, shoulders and wings – winking under their rain-repellent hats – a rugby team diving up the frozen pieces of its dead teammates on an icy slope.

     They could only identify her by her dental records, her x-rays, the black windows showing the form of her cavities – the peculiar slant of her last remaining wisdom tooth.

I turn on the television and it implores me to watch the dead – bodies carted like hogs, dressed in dark plastic, sexy examiners doing the limbo under yellow tape – and I think of the thresher of genocide coming down, the rush of stinking bodies, the popping, punctured flesh, the releasing of vital fluids to an indifferent sun, dark stains lingering where hearts and eyes and genitals used to be – the scavenging birds in a fury – beating black against the falling sky.

I think of Jumbo, broken before a bruised locomotive – of people laughing as a swinging neck breaks under a grand old tree – and I hug myself, trying to forget what looms inside my machine – lest it should come out to get me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Not-So-Private Dick

A man’s brain is not connected to his dick – no matter what your girlfriend might tell you.

The penis sports its own brain – the purple derby bouncin’ on jolly old roger when he walks the plank – if you know what I mean.

This, please understand, is not the same as stating that man has no input in the arrangement, no responsibility to strive to uphold – for it just isn’t true.
     Holmes would be lost with Watson, just as Watson would be lost without Holmes.

Man is as culpable as he is capable, his reason only impaired when he allows it.
     Nevertheless, it is wrong to call him cunning in the way he maneuvers through this conflicting trajectory, for he is at its mercy, through and through – just as a woman is bent by the whims of her own biology – Little Dot obsessing, Little Lotta craving – Betty drowning in Veronica’s lake – Thelma lead by Louise.

It would seem to me, as immodest as it might sound, that the cause of the so-called “battle of the sexes” – Lucy seeing the back of Ricky’s hand, Ralph fleeing Alice’s frying pan – is none other than this need to see one’s desired self mirrored in one’s partner – a state as impossible to accomplish as it is to relinquish the need for – so many succumbing to the illusion, envisioning that perfect self and calling it love.

But, more often than not, it ends in a disappointment projected in a matched grudge, the sexes coming together in their fury – the red robot poised before the blue robot – a rock ‘em sock ‘em cultural slugfest defined by the very duality of sex, the windstorm of reproductive assignment that decides us all.

It’s been said that men seek sex by means of love, while women work from the opposite side of the net, using sex to find love – Bobby Riggs dying just a little in Billie Jean King’s arms – but I can’t buy so completely into such a generalization, for it seems an overreaching summarization of what is, in essence, a highly-complex web of chemical considerations between the “heart” and “mind” – Cupid’s arrow breaking The Thinker’s repose.

I believe we work in a blind field, picking the sleep from our eyes, not as two sexes, but as carriers of attraction – gatherers of the components of regeneration – every one of us of defined by the balance we hold, the division of what we call masculine and feminine, the dual agents that rely on mutual attraction to propagate – forever pulling on the generational chain to which we are all inextricably linked.

It may be true that men are almost always thinking of sex – a mob of lustful Robert Crumbs parading their crosshatched penises – but that says more about the composition of their powers than it does anything else. Our very survival as a species relies on a system designed by the magnetic pull of sexual compulsion, an arrangement, by nature, of opposite inclination, of opposing power – the Snoid exercising his ejaculatory prowess, Krazy Kat eating a brick.
     What ultimately decides the balance of a man – his masculine portion – is what also defines a woman – for we are all shareholders in the same corporation, an enterprise built on male and female energies.

This, of course, I speak as a man – contemplating a woman, contemplating a man.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Counting Machine Fuhrer

You’re late.
     The clock hanging over the kitchen sink says it’s fifteen minutes after the hour, the small hand making its move to split eleven down the middle.

You can still hear the acid sarcasm dripping from your father’s gin-bathed lips, as he surrenders to his high-backed chair, the evening paper slung across his gamey lap like a worn saddle.
     “You get that sorry ass back in this house by eleven – you hear me?”

Your head is spinning. You lean into the sink, smelling the dank perfume of the garbage disposal.
     “Who is it on that damn clock anyway?” you think, revisiting the cheap whiskey in the well of your throat, striking up another aimless conversation with yourself.

     It’s – it’s that black cat – the one from the old cartoons, what the hell was his name? Francis? Fred? Frederick?

Christ, I’m stewed – the old man’s going to rearrange my face for sure.

     Wait on! Got it! Felix! The Odd Couple! Tony Randall! The geezer who keeps pumping out the babies! Felix Unger! Felix! Felix the Cat – Felix the goddamn cat! That’s who’s on the clock! Mom loved Felix!

Your vomit spirals into the metal sink, splashing the lace curtains before you can drop your head. Deep down into that stinky drain you go, smelling potato peelings and egg shells and the vodka your mother used to christen the pipes with – while your father was out there, somewhere in Minnesota, selling his inferior calculators to brain-free office managers, cracking bad jokes in a greasy spoon, rubbing himself against a waitress on his way to the restroom – a slow-motion race to unleash the bitterness spoiling below his dry heart.

     What’s going on? Why do we have such a hard time recalling this simple shit?

Cats, mom loved cats – especially the cartoon ones.

     Garfield. That one’s intact. Now, what was that other one – he was orange too, but kind of lame – Heathfield? No, stupid! Heathfield? Fuck me!

God, my head – I wish I could open it up and stick it under the faucet. My brain’s rising like Jiffy Pop on the stove – corn and artificial butter fucking in a silver chef’s hat.

     Heathcliff – that’s it! I knew it was like one of those romance books – you know, windswept cliffs and silk handkerchiefs and all that gothic stuff? Shit – mom liked those too, didn’t she?

You encounter your father by the stairs, fit for a gladiator’s pit, his inky eyes stenciled with anger, an anger you have been helping along, what with all your silly “gay gallivanting” around town, sporting those circus-bright playboy jackets, the rumpled hip-hop fedoras – all the tell-tale signs of a roll in a Motel 6 with the likes of Audrey or Nancy – or that totally-stacked Betty – man, what a doll! A virgin too – according to the latest spread sheets.

Spread sheets! Get it? Life’s a regular funnies section around here – I swear it is!

     “I don’t wanna to haf to do thish – but yew leave me no choice, Albert. Yer muther, God haf mercy on her shoul, wood agree – if she wuz here wif me to witnessh yer debauched homecomin’.”

Oh, shit, that’s dad, slurring in your ear, smelling of his drink cabinet.
     How many times have you heard him say that?
     How many times didn’t he find those condoms in your pocket?
     How many times did you escape the fury of his Joe Palooka fists – without even realizing it?
     Do the phantom beatings haunt you even now, as he forces his sleeves to his elbow, taking on the face of a made-for-television dog – a countenance learned from his early days – just another slack-necked pup sat before the flickering attendant?

     Shit. That little, snickering one – Wacky Races, that’s where! Muzzly? Muttley? Muttley! Yeah! Fuck you, Muttley, get out of my fuckin’ way, I’m goin’ up stairs!

Your hat takes flight.
     It must be the thermal updrafts, those born as your brain fulfills it’s buttery mission, a fever of culpability raging in your guts, a sick, soggy collapse coming to your aching heart.

     Why did mom have to die? Why isn’t he the one lying under that damp grass by the reservoir?

He moves towards you, his forearm a parade of muscles, a dark strand of oily hair sliding across his face, giving him the momentary appearance of some Fuhrer of the counting machine set.
     You almost laugh, closing your eyes, steeling yourself for the blow, seeing a tiny chick flipping off a hungry hawk, banjo strings plucking your demise.

     Suck me, old man!

You raise a finger in feeble protest, sensing the inevitability of it all, knowing you’ll be tasting your father’s knuckles in a second or two – merely an appetizer to the rich sweetness of your own blood.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Here Comes the Sun

I really don’t think it’s fair to claim the sun as the cause of skin cancer, just as it’s wrong to blame it for blinding us when we attempt to stare into its shifting heart. We’re the ones with the weak corneas, the compromised immune systems, after all.
     The sun just is.
     Or rather – was.

Helios, Hyperion, Titan, Phaethon, Phoebus, Apollo, Amen-Ra, Shamash, Surya, Old Sol – the seemingly-eternal, glowing residue of a clash of energies so colossal they’ve forged a universe in their afterthought, a universe in which we spin – hopelessly bound to our part in the cosmic detonation.

How can we point to the sun and blame it for our fragility in the face of life’s indifferent trajectory – when we owe everything, our very existence, to that dying orb lighting the heavens?
     It’s like the egg complaining that the hen is smothering it.
     Like referring to John Belushi as Jim Belushi’s brother.

We need to step back and acknowledge our humble posture in regards to what William Shakespeare called “the fire that severs day from night”.
     We need to envision ourselves – such tiny pink creatures, running the surface of the Earth – so vulnerable, so mercurial in our corporal vessel – we who, if left untended, would surely shrivel in the rays of the radiant battery that has given us life.

The sun ain’t a bad guy, not really, he just gets a unflattering portrayal every now and then – one that counters any previous positive image.
     Think of the cheery “Sunny”, the animated daystar who has toiled ablaze for William Kellogg since 1966, selling millions upon millions of boxes of Raisin Bran.
     Now think of the fiery ball of doom casting its orange-yellow pallor over London in the 1961 science fiction film The Day the Earth Caught Fire.

Where’s the parity?

Why such moody swings of definition for Milton’s “God of life and poesy and light”?

Milton, the English poet, that is – not the toaster in those old Pop-Tarts commercials.

I mean, really – in the blink of a watery eye – the sun goes from Adolf Hitler to Adolf Rupp – from Hannibal Lecter to Hannibal, Missouri – from Dick Van Dyke to Dick Cheney!
     Shouldn’t we reserve that sort of bi-polarity for the moon?

While the plenilune brings upon us the werewolf, a teenage Michael Landon creating the tides – making your girlfriend feel uncomfortable in her skin – the sun is busy banishing the vampire, warming the oceans, putting a happy smile on that special face.

Respect the sun, praise it if need be – let it power your home, lighten your hair, darken your skin – but leave it alone – let it be.

Give it not a face, lest it turn on you.

Here comes the sun, doo da doo doo
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's alright…

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Up, Up and Away

You’ll not think me a very nice person for admitting this, but if I were Superman, the first thing I’d probably do is destroy the world – or at least every trace of the human heart.
     Do I have issues?
     Oh, I suppose I have a few.

But, look, it’s not actually about the people, you realize, not at all – it’s more about Superman.
     I mean, who the hell is Superman?

Who but a mad man would acquiesce to having his identity so completely erased, masquerading as human – super or not?
     Who else but an orphan shot into a cornfield, raised by two aging aliens – half his life having become an act of timidity – the other a universal power trip.

Superman knows his heritage very well, after all – what else is he doing in that cathedral of ice – other than surfing the Kryptonian internet his father left him, fixating on images of his world crumbling down – like some 9/11 junkie?

What else could he possibly have to dwell upon so resolutely – that sleep would come as no release?
     Of course, I’m presuming a Superman sleeps likes the rest of us – an Ambien rooster pecking at his bedcover.
     For all I know, he might spend the night watching the heavens through his ceiling, focusing in on distant worlds, people watching in distant galaxies, looking for bad things to happen – Jimmy Stewart poised restlessly at his interstellar rear window.

So, you see, I can only but conclude that he is well aware of what he is doing in swearing to protect his adopted race from itself – a chore surely topping the to-do list of any atmosphere-crazed Florence Nightingale.

Ignore what the sun has done to Superman’s physical strength, his immune system, his speed, his vision, his hearing, his sense of taste and smell (one must suppose) – what I want to know is what has it done to his mind? His conscience? His nerves?

Madness is both the super hero mythos and its ethos, especially when fashioned by those with a psyche torn in two, their hearts as flat as paper dolls – the grinning, square-jawed mannequins – the jovial supermen and wonder women of the four-color printery – heading to the office each day under an assumed name, complete with the knowledge that a circus costume waits in some secret covey, an out-sized ego they will hurry themselves into – before leaping or flying through the nearest exit – racing across rooftop and sky in their lunatic clothes, announcing themselves officer and savior, displaying their genitals in pronounced glory – porn stars and stunt men all – dipped in the bright colors of emblem and flag.

The short capes, the cuffed boots, the masks – it all seems so much more suitable for some precocious child on a Victorian stage – a fey jubilee sprite lingering before Lewis Carroll’s camera – than for an adult with an obsessive-compulsive need to be of assistance to others – to right perceived wrongs, to follow the highly subjective decrees of nationhood – battling for truth and justice and liberty – notions one and all – notions men in costume have died for since civilization began – the insanity of the ages in bloody evidence.

Superman, as king of these people, is surely the maddest of all.

That is why, if I were he, I would destroy the world.

If I were Superman – if tomorrow I awoke to hear every mouse leaving its hole, every cheese being sliced, every rattrap coming down – I’d be inundated with sensory input – frozen – Clark Kent standing naked before the mirror.
     Don’t tell me I could selectively channel what I wanted to hear, for wouldn’t that mean I was missing some grave injustice, some clarion call of “evil”?
     I would linger in my vaudevillian bachelorhood, a victim of super-paranoia, crushed by the mantle of Godhood bestowed upon me.
     I mean, seriously – how would I ever get my job done? Let alone save the world?

In order to spare my sanity, there is only one thing I could do.

I’d have to destroy every man, woman, and child – lest I be kept forever glued to my station, inert within my superior state, useless to anyone but myself – Speedy Alka-Seltzer on a treadmill, Mr. Clean in a darkened room.

And, yes, I realize that’s paradoxical, that after the horrifying carnage I’d be left all alone, no one to serve, the sole agent of life on a devastated planet, biding my time, expending extravagant energies born of the yellow sun – mourning my dead parents and their dead world.
     But, really, what choice would I have?

Even a “super-conscience” wouldn’t spare me from a planet’s worth of guilt.
     I’d be more Atlas than Kal-El – burdened by my deed – the self-serving culling of a species having set the weight of a world upon my back

There is, of course, one other option.
     I could spare everyone my troubles – by simply leaving the Earth.

Now wouldn’t that make me a truly super man?