Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

ImageThe summer is filled with buzzing—weed-whackers, motorized toys, motorcycles in the distance…and insects. Most of the insects are nothing more than an annoyance; these are the house flys, the beetles bumping endlessly against the screen, the cicadas in the trees. Then you have the more sinister insects, the ones that bite and sting and burrow in your skin and menace the world. These insects produce a different, more ominous buzz. A low pitched, creeping sort of vibration that drones on like industrial machinery.

 I woke from a power nap one afternoon to such a sound and jumped to attention. Though usually a slow-riser, I was immediately alert. Natural selection kicked in and flight was immediately engaged. I skittered into the next room and peered around the corner. Circling the living room was a massive hornet. His lean, striped abdomen bobbed gently, like a boxer’s power hand cocked, waiting for the moment to land the hay maker. This was the conquistador of hornets. He had ventured into the new world of my living room in search of food and nest building material—hornet gold. He was not to be trusted and I knew right away he was no Quetzalcoatl but a yellow and black demon. After several attempts to kill the fiend, I finally dealt a death blow when he became trapped against a sunny window.

Image

Hernan Cortez, himself. He won’t be conquering anyone now.

I should have known there were more barbarian predators lurking nearby. When I discovered the nest my reaction was hardly one of shock. It was Saturday, errand day, and I was in the mode of checking things off the list. This would be one more short term goal achieved, I thought, as I shook the can of hornet spray. The unsuspecting hornets were hard at work constructing their fortress where, no doubt, they were raising an army intent on destroying the human race. I said a prayer. I raised my can and pressed the button.

Image

The horror.

Their skinny bodies dropped from the nest like ash from the sky during a wildfire. Convinced they were helpless, I knocked the nest to ground and watched the last few evil bugs writhe slowly as their dismal lives faded away. The world was once again safe for democracy.

Just as I was about to go inside, a hornet returned; he must have been out getting a pack of smokes or something. He flew around confused, circling the spot where his home used to be. Where was the nest? Where was his family? He looked to the ground, and with horror, spotted them all scattered and stiff on the concrete, drenched in poison.Image He thought of all the mistakes he’d made, the selfishness and sin of his younger years. Why did those innocents have to be the ones to die? Why had he been spared? Why had the God of all Hornets forsaken him?

He looked at me. I looked back at him, imagined the hatred in his eyes. I watched him swear to avenge this senseless genocide. I felt my fingers loosen from the can. I let it drop to the ground and ran inside.

What had I done? I’d made a martyr of the colony. But I had to do it! It was them or me! I had to defend my home; it was survival of the fittest and damn it, I’M the fittest! But still. I’d created a hornet holocaust.

Now every day when I go outside, I have to do it with eyes in the back of my head. I know he’s there, in the shadows of the gutter, or inside some hollow log nearby, just waiting, waiting for the right time to attack. Or maybe he’s after every human he can find. Hundreds of good men, women and children are feeling the wrath of my actions while peacefully sunbathing or mowing the lawn. Like the hornet himself, my suffering is not physical, but psychological—the pain of guilt.

I will live the rest of my summer in a deep paranoia, never more than an arm’s length from my precious hornet spray. He haunts my dreams as if a Mel Gibson character.

There is no hope for me. Save yourselves.

Advertisements

Image

Blood erupts from bludgeoned bodies like the murky water of a pond disturbed by tossed stones. It coats the virgin white flowers of a spring meadow when a man on horseback is shot. It is smeared, by a sleezy Leonardo DiCaprio across Kerry Washington’s beautiful and terrified face. One loses track of the body count somewhere in the neighborhood of the second act as one by one, slave owners drop in montage and quick cuts just as fast and Jamie Foxx can pull the trigger.

It would be naïve to react with shock at the overwhelming brutality of a Quentin Tarantino picture, after all without the appropriate amount sadism, murder and racism, viewers would feel somewhat betrayed.  Kill Bill: Volume 1 probably had a body count higher than Django, and its most violent scenes took on a (sometimes literally) cartoonish quality. In the same way as Tarantino’s first four films, it existed in a world that was fabricated, representing no particular time-period in a hyper-stylized version of a place (Kurasawa’s Tokyo, Ford’s Texas desert, etc.). With Django and Inglorious Basterds before it, Tarantino has placed the revenge theme in historical context in a way designed to strike a tender chord easily accessible in the American psyche. He has one purpose: to make the viewer feel comfortable with all that blood.

With the exception of a few unfortunate innocents—some “mandingo fighters” and of course, Cristoph Waltz’s smooth talking vigilante—the overwhelming majority of slaughtered souls have one thing in common. They are all ugly, remorseless caricatures who exist in a dimension as emotionally distant as Tarantino’s gorgeous and classic panoramic shots. These guys had it coming, and in this frontier justice, we are meant to delight. But there is tragic miscalculation: The Holocaust and American Slavery remain the two titans of American shame and emotional suffering and continue to affect us all on a personal and visceral level. We don’t want to see these things downgraded to vehicles for style. These topics must be handled with care.

If we are to simply address the ideas of good and evil as stock entities and polarized opposites, it becomes very easy to identify with the dashing, gun-slinger who clearly represents good. Tarantino, the film historian, asks us to consider the Western, the Blaxploitation film and the Revenge Plot as vehicles for this purpose. Of course the characters have limited emotional depth or psychological motivation or fear—they are not meant to represent actual people like you and me, just idealized form. The film explicitly references Seigfried and Broomhilda, but unlike the epic tale, Jamie Foxx’s hero has no tragic flaw. The minute he jumps on a horse, he is unstoppable, unflappable and unrelatable. There is nothing about American slavery as emotionally simple as that.

There is a moment early in the second act where Django is reluctant to kill a target because the man’s son is with him. Convinced by Schultz that this is the job, he finally pulls the trigger, dutiful but reluctant. When later, he poses as a Black slave-trader, he treats the slaves with coldness and brutality. As Schultz questions his behavior, he defiantly references the earlier incident. Is there a moral dilemma here? Maybe Django has actually become the sinister character he is portraying. Maybe there is a deeper, institutionalized self-loathing that is manifest in his treatment of his black brothers who remind him of what he really is. Maybe he is so consumed with personal revenge that it transcends the hatred he feels for the system that brutalized him.

We never find out.

There is no suggestion that any of these potentially meaty themes are resolved or considered as Django systematically liberates Broomhilda and destroys Candieland and virtually everyone in it before riding off to moonlit freedom.

Django is not really engaged with the world that makes up the plot. He is inadequately hurt, enthralled, joyous or reluctant. If you seek to feel some sense of remorse or self-doubt or the sort we all feel every day, than you won’t find it here or in anything this talented auteur has done in fifteen years. Maybe some day.

Vicious

Posted: August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized, Weird Shit
Tags:

It can be difficult feeding a snake. Especially when the scent of a rodent lingers on your fingertips.

Serpents don’t know your finger isn’t a mouse.

20120806-231929.jpg

This afternoon I stopped, during work, at a bank in Hanover to deposit last week’s paycheck. I stood at the counter, calculating how the deposit would affect both my checking and savings and trying to fill out the deposit slips accordingly. I was uncomfortable since this wasn’t my regular branch; I thought of an argument I’d had with a teller at another unfamiliar branch in the past over some petty discrepancy.

There was a lot of noise in the lobby, nothing severe — only the spontaneous, manic laughter of any workplace on a busy Monday afternoon; a lot of people talking at once, all of them women, middle-aged and speaking with cigarette-shredded voices and the peculiar Pennsylvania accent of that area. One teller was shouting through a microphone to a customer at the drive-through window in order to sound clear through the speaker on the other end. She was only doing this out of perceived necessity, but it was excessive and it left me unnerved.

I was fidgeting at the teller’s window in the moments it takes to make the deposit when a man approached the teller’s window next to mine. He was older, and although I didn’t look at him directly, I got the feeling that upon further inspection, he would appear much older than he actually was. Holding his hand was a little girl, no more than ten years old. He panted, worn out by the midday heat and, I sensed, a rather lousy day. Dropping his keys on the counter, he requested that his check be cashed. He wasn’t an account holder and the teller was obliged to request a second form of identification in addition to his driver’s license. When he said he didn’t have one, I felt the tension forming and anticipated trouble. The teller went through the various forms of acceptable ID — birth certificate, passport, armed service ID, vehicle registration — as if he wouldn’t know if he had one of those documents. I could sense his frustration as one by one he rejected her suggestions. It was as if each rejection were its own tiny badge of failure and he delivered each one with an increasing note of despair; not a strategy to elicit sympathy or in any way manipulate. It was the downtrodden voice of bona fide sadness. No, he’d never left the country. He’d never served. Nope, he wasn’t a vehicle owner. Birth certificate? He’d lost it years ago. “You can see, plain as day, by the picture on my license it’s me,” he said, raising his voice, but obviously pleading. “They let me cash my checks at the other place.”

I’ve been flat broke and desperate and I know as well as anyone how it feels to finally get my hands on a few dollars so I could get something to eat. I felt that failure sting, that feeling I thought I’d left behind forever. I saw not him, but myself walking out the door with nothing but a worthless slip of paper in one hand and my hat in the other. To say I sympathized with him would be a lie, it went beyond that. I identified with him. I was his kindred spirit. I hated him for it. I thought “Well for Chrissakes, go cash it the other place and make those people feel uncomfortable. Go force them to choose between professional duties and their loyalty to the human race. It’s not like you’re doing anyone a favor with your ‘business.’ No legitimate institution in the world makes their nut cashing checks for free.”

I waited, bracing myself along with everyone in the lobby for the outburst, but the denouement was nothing more than a futile snicker and a sharp gesture in which he snatched his keys from the counter and turned himself around toward the door in a single motion.

My teller finished making the deposit and smiled at me in a way that was more genuine than teller’s smiles usually are. There was a clear message of camaraderie and the relief that our privileged world had once again been defended from a familiar invader.

I followed the man and the little girl to the parking lot. He was still gripping her hand as if he were a child himself clutching a stuffed animal. From the angle, I could see the girl’s eyes as she looked up at him, inquisitive, careful and worried. “Did you just lose your cool?” she asked in her little girl’s voice. “Not quite,” he said in a voice even smaller.

If someone else would have witnessed this scene with me, what would I say later on? “That poor man,” I’d say, “This economy,” or something apropos of the time, or whatever.

Am I supposed to feel guilty for the things I thought back at the teller’s window, a hostile reaction that I happened to articulate using words? I didn’t ask to have unpleasant emotions stimulated, dragged from the garbage can inside me I haven’t had a chance to empty. The catalyst for my discomfort was external. I was fine before any of that happened. Then my precious, fragile mood was shot. If this guy reminded me of the possibilities—the way my life used to be, or could be in some alternate, but entirely possible reality—then shit. It wasn’t him I hated. It was myself. In America, you don’t have to be rich to live in the leisure class. I’m one of the group of fortunate souls who ranks noisy bank lobbies as one of my pressing issues.

I’m terrified of anything worse.

Maybe it was her innocent ignorance of the reality of the situation. Perhaps it was an innate gift or  possibly a learned sensitivity from already having experienced a life no child should ever have to, but as soon as he uttered those words, I watched her reach out a skinny arm, and rub his back. She comforted him all the way to their car.

“Dear God,” I thought, “Please, don’t let me hear him cry.”

Toss This On The Pile

Posted: July 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

Do I have anything to say?

Does anyone?

The internet is full of lots of people who say lots of things about lots of different subjects, but what motivates them? I feel as though people are motivated only by a desire to be heard. It’s selfish, not benevolent or idealistic. The proliferation of opinions serves not to introduce new ideas to the world, but to create a signature voice — one more authorial identity forged by text.  I’d like to think I’m different, that I’m doing this for selfless reasons in the interest of the amelioration of the world at large but I’d be liar, and frankly no one would believe me; anyone who thought about it would realize that I was ultimately self interested like everyone else.

I suppose the key is to remove myself as much as possible from the work itself. The blog format allows a degree of anonymity; however, if I touch anything relatively controversial, I owe it to integrity to identify myself.

Okay, so I won’t touch anything controversial…that often.

It’s about the glory, and I’m through pretending that it’s anything else, I want to be read, and as a byproduct, I want my work to matter to someone. It’s the desire to be read, loved, talked about and paid that gets me going but none of that can happen unless I create something that people care about. The work has to benefit something much bigger. I’ll only find self-value in that.

How neurotic.

But this is the attitude of every single one of millions who set out to do precisely the same thing. It’s very difficult to deal with the fact that this format, though fresh, hip and undeniably the easiest way to get yourself out there, is the most bastardized form of writing next to texting, tweets and status updates. Everybody’s doing it, so how do you stand above the rest? How can I deal with creating another garbage bag full of letters and punctuation to toss into the landfill of the internet?

What can a writer hope for? No one can publish a book or a long-form expose every day. Despite this, our society forgets us if we fail to publish regularly. It seems the best thing that can happen to a writer is to write an article that gets people talking and gets passed around for a few days like a kitten meme. The ravenous hunger of public consciousness must be fed every couple of minutes. The courses of its meals happen in cycles — at best, a few weeks at a time (sex scandal), or in multiple installments, divided by lengthy hiatuses (controversial/historic legislation). How is a person of letters to keep up?

F. told me something that stuck in defense of Twitter, an institution much derided by many writers I admire, not the least Jonathan Franzen. It is necessary in her professional world to glean relevant information from a multitude of sources, a daunting task considering that new information is hurled at us constantly from every direction. Using Twitter, she can filter the information from the sources of her choosing simply by controlling who and what she follows. This provides her with a stream of links and headlines all of which originate from sources that are relevant to her. Indeed, some (or most) of us click feverishly on the follow buttons of our favorite performers and athletes, but for an educated reader, a list of quality sources can serve a much more useful purpose of building expertise in the subject of her own stratosphere. Sorry, Lebron.

This phenomenon can work in reverse. As one of the educated reader’s personalized links, Selective Appeal will only be read by those interested in reading it. Complete strangers will never find it in the bottomless sea of blogs and articles. In a sense, this allows me to select my readers, not one by one, of course, but by the magical chain of exchange that virtual word-of-mouth provides.

This is the pattern of the world: first a friend, then a friend of a friend and so on.

Inevitably, SA, will fall on uninterested eyes and that branch of the chain will end. The beauty is that it will only branch out where interest exists. No one has time to read 700 boring words.

Forgive me, dear reader, the banality of this explanatory post. It is not my intention to patronize, but remember, I set out to write with pursuit of glory in mind and as a byproduct, I realized the real value of what I was doing. Suffice it to say that I’ve given myself reason enough to press on.

But, quickly, an appeal to you:

Comment.

Share me.

I want a forum, not a soapbox.

Give me something to go on, because if you don’t I’ll just publish stupid reviews of movies from the seventies and poetry about my girlfriend and Philadelphia sports. That’s not a threat, it’s a plea. I’m not interested in writing a diary.

 

Huge Ego.

Onward into the day, a new world in every footstep, a quotation in every breath, history with every thought.

Work in progress,

But can evolution leave the bluebirds alone?

 

The coffee in the pot has evaporated to acid. Time to take a break.