Tuesday, September 17, 2002

letter to a friend, accompanying music

Okay, brother, we're takin' it back to the old school. No more cds, dammit, cos I can't burn 'em anymore anyway. I needed a return to the cassette, the mix tape, the dub and its pure and perfect theatrical form, two acts with intermission. Got a call from you tonight; you sounded down in the dumps. This makes me want to bring you flowers and kiss your forehead and stuff. So here's some stuff.

There's something I forgot to tell you on the phone, getting all caught up in the cockroach pornography on display before my cringing eyes out back, and in my horror, it just came spilling out of me like some kind of sick sports commentary. I'm awfully sorry. This tale would have made for much better conversation.

There was an electrical fire a week ago yesterday in the walls of my parents' house. Although my mother was in the house at the time, she wasn't hurt, and in fact only a small part of the house was damaged. However, a significant enough portion of the floor above this origin-point basement wall was charcoaled so to necessitate ripping out and replacing it entirely. Dad lost about ten thousand dollars worth of drums, most of which he says he won't replace. Every fabric item or article of clothing, every piece of upholstered furniture, most everything in the house was saturated by the smoke that choked its rooms; this required my parents to get rid of many things with which they would never have otherwise parted. The cost of cleaning would have been too exorbitant to save it all. In addition to this emotional stress, they're also homeless until about Christmas. Lousy luck, man. I'm only thankful it didn't happen in the middle of the night.

In order to put the fire out, the firefighters had to rip the wall down with axes and then, of course, make with the hoses and the spraying and so forth. I think you remember their house, the basement in particular, and you may even remember the wall that burned, because it's the one directly adjacent to the wall against which we unloaded box after box after big-ass box of your entire comics collection. Thousands of them, and certainly thousands of dollars' worth, all stacked and dry and exposed and deliciously combustible. Which somehow managed, in the midst of this infernal fracas of demolition, to avoid attracting so much as an errant drop of water.

Monday, September 16, 2002

the devil's lantern

Remember when violence on television was a big deal? How, in the Eighties, parents all over the country began to panic about all the harmful outside influences to which their children were being exposed, over which they felt they had no control? How new moralist organizations sprang up like mushrooms, petitions were passed from door to suburban door, how chests were puffed, stands were taken, lines were drawn? Boy, was that ever a waste of effort.

Thinking about TV, of what was and what has become. (4:30 am, wide awake; what else is there to do?) When I was growing up, my parents were fairly strict about what we (my, brother, my sister, and I) watched on television. In our earlier years, I remember only a few nighttime shows – Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons – which I always thought were chosen on the basis of their "higher ideals" and lack of violent content. But in retrospect, someone was always getting trapped in a burning barn or kicked in the head by a mule or befallen of some such terrible misfortune in both of these examples, so then I guessed it must've been more about their religious overtones than anything else.

Later the list of approved material grew considerably, including the likes of Happy Days, The Muppet Show, Laverne & Shirley, and M*A*S*H*, but I know from watching reruns as a young adult that we kids can't have been old enough to comprehend much of the humor in these offerings. This is why I now believe my parents so loosened their restrictions on our viewing. How could we be influenced by subject matter we didn't understand?

Violence stayed an issue, however, most notably with regard to The A-Team. I remember the three of us unabashedly begging Mom and Dad to let us watch it, a request which was always met with round rejection. We've joked about it many times since, particularly my father and I; syndication made the show one of his guilty pleasures, and we talk about how no one ever dies on The A-Team, how a car never crashes without a lingering shot of its occupants crawling unharmed from the wreckage, how thousands of bullets are sprayed about yet never seem to strike anything but oil drums, gas cans, and dirt. This kind of sterile violence really does seem comical in light of the tremendously graphic programming that the networks currently broadcast. I wonder, though, if even the tame gunplay wasn't a gateway drug of sorts, paving the way for our latter-day excesses, all the way back to Dragnet.

I finally all but gave up on television about three years ago, refusing to pay for cable every month just to watch The Simpsons and nature shows. My last bastion was The X-Files (my own guilty pleasure), and once that too started to suck so definitively, I lost hope. Aside from a brief dalliance in California with The West Wing (which is admittedly superb), I've been tube-free ever since. But a couple of years before I surrendered the remote, I decided to introduce my parents to The X-Files, unable to contain my enthusiasm for it despite what I expected to be swift disapproval. They surprised me by not only liking but loving the show and, in the end, becoming bigger fans than I, watching faithfully even after it fell to shite in the later seasons. My mother's favorite episode is the one with the deformed inbred family living in rural Pennsylvania, the armless legless mother on a rolling dolly under the bed, the sons chewing up her food for her like birds, murder with axes and clubs -- yes, my own sweet mother, who was once made uncomfortable by the benign tough-guy banter of Mr. T.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

my hiding place

For someone with so much going on, it's remarkable how little I have to say. Two weeks until the wedding, making last-minute arrangements regarding the service, boring unromantic details. Looking for work (still), looking into school (again), more boring details. The baby does whirly cartwheels when I spoon up behind Mommy and put my hands around her tummy, which is already beginning to harden. I am thrilled about finally calling her my wife, after so long thinking of her that way. This happy is conveniently planet-sized, significant enough to somewhat gravitationally offset my perpetual unemployment woes, the worry that burns fresh ulcers behind my shirt even as I type this.

I think I need to take up daily meditation again. Restock the burners with incense and try to hum away some of the stress. Find my hiding place. I know I'm in here somewhere, and I could really go for a pizza.

Monday, September 9, 2002

the jar as economic indicator

Several years prior to his death, Frank Sinatra began marketing his own line of Italian food products. He offered traditional red sauces, Marsala and Scampi cooking sauces, pesto and Alfredo, all-natural and all sold beneath the red-blazoned 'Frank Sinatra' signature. I know this not because I held a conspicuous finger to the pulsepoint of celebrities' consumer marketing schemes during the late '90s, and neither due to any particular dedication I felt to the velvet-throated crooner, but rather that, one dull afternoon, I went to the grocery store, found them on the shelves, and bought a jar, thinking it was funny.

I don't remember if the sauce was any good. You know, I don't even remember eating it. I kept the jar, however. Having long since been rinsed free of any pesky pesto particles, the receptacle now serves as a reservoir for my loose pocket change. This practice of keeping a change jar is a symptom I attribute to my (slowly) growing maturity in combination with persistent lean times, my past inactivity well caught up with me. When I decided at nineteen to drop out of college and go to work, I hadn't properly considered the notion that perhaps I'd like to be able to support a family one day. (Nowadays these kinds of oversights are biting me in the ass like flying mousetraps, and with daunting frequency. Nowadays 'one day' seems much closer than some ambiguous conception of the distant future. In fact, I've been looking into this, and I am becoming increasingly convinced 'one day' has come and gone, and that this is already post-apocalypse without my even having known it happened, months ago, in a borrowed tent on top of a mountain in the middle of a howling windstorm, while I slept.) The jar as economic indicator is a result of being essentially broke ever since. It exists so that, in a pinch, there's a bit extra on hand for takeout food or gas in the car. The thicker the times, the more change collects unraided in the jar.

All this to say that, when last plundered, the jar held almost $35. And, at the moment, it's still empty.