Sunday, October 02, 2011
The history of right now
Home on break from college a handful of days before or after Christmas one late-grunge evening, my mother reading on the couch, I placed my CD (remember those?) copy of Beggars Banquet in my parents' booming stereo system, pressed play, and leaned back on the couch as the percussive intro of "Sympathy for the Devil" recognizably filled the available airspace and hairspace. (That tasty stereo now sits unplayed in storage next to the garage in the home my father shares with a woman who is not my mother in the only open space not occupied by 17 hairless cats or a handful of small dogs, though a caged Malaysian serama mini-chicken is the stereo's roommate, for reasons only a divine creator could understand. My step"mother" likes to accumulate small, hairless, and/or plentiful animals, though she doesn't seem to enjoy them much once she has them.) My dad, coming home from work a few seconds later, entered the room, greeted my mother and me, listened for a few minutes, then asked me, "Who's this?"
"The Rolling Stones," I replied casually, mentally appending a silent "duh" or "no duh," possibly even reaching back six or seven years to junior high's "doy" or "no doy" or the dreaded "uhhh-DOYYY!!"
Maybe he wasn't paying much attention, I thought, but his next question was the real gobsmacker:
"Is this their new album?"
I was struck dumb. This song, bouncing off the walls of his home a few short years after the new jack swing-murphy brown-schindler's list era, originally bounced off the walls of every American and British teenager's home in late 1968, when my father was a junior in high school. A classic rock staple, a massive worldwide hit, a cultural flashpoint, a big rock song by a big rock band, the second most famous rock band in the world then and now, in a time when rock hadn't yet fragmented into a bajillion little pieces and subgenres and scenes and dogmas and traditions and specializations, and my dad couldn't place it. He was impervious and oblivious to its omnipresence (said Don King). The old man and I clearly had different ideas about religion, rock and roll being mine, none of my business being his.
My sister was privy to a recent conversation between my father and his wife about something I no longer remember, but the kicker is my father's defiant response: "None of my kids have ever, ever smoked marijuana in their entire lives!" The naive trust in this response is almost sweet, and my dad's own cultural illiteracy, high and low, fear of the unknown, even an unknown as benign as a joint on a friend's couch in 1970, and his general obliviousness to anything not happening in the same room as him, gives you some idea where he's coming from. In beatnik terms, my old man is a square, an apple, a clyde. He stays close to the pad, and he won't pick up on the action you're laying down. Becker was his favorite TV show, The Bucket List and Rambo high in his cinematic pantheon, Larry the Cable Guy his top comedian. He admired Steve McQueen until he found out from an A&E True Hollywood Story that McQueen loved pot. "Man, that guy was my hee-roe," he told me dejectedly over the phone. His favorite musical group is ZZ Top. Not for their sound. For their giant beards, sunglasses, and souped-up classic cars.
It's really no surprise, then, that my father had no idea I was a teenage midnight toker. He couldn't interpret the signs. My best friend had long hair and drove a van with tinted windows. I didn't play sports. Girls didn't like me. My room's contents included a drum set, a waterbed, metal magazines, posters of junkie rock stars, unread Carlos Castaneda books, well-read copies of Naked Lunch and a history of LSD and Bukowski and Vonnegut and Ginsberg and Tom Robbins and Jim Carroll, a stolen emergency traffic light (still blinking for a few months), and a boatload of cassettes and CDs, including the White Album, Sabbath, Hendrix, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Clash, Sex Pistols, and various other classic rock, metal, punk, indie, and mainstream alternative stuff. (Bonus anecdote: One summer afternoon, I rode my bike from my friend's basement to my backyard with reams of weed-stench rising from me like cartoon stinklines and eyes like dirty fishtanks, and I ran smack into my dad. I had a conversation with him I gigglingly recognized even then as stunningly incoherent. He never caught on.) I was a lonely, sad, pissed off, and curious teenager. What did he think I was doing? Playing Uno? 2011 postscript: I can't even remember the last time I smoked pot, and I played Uno two weeks ago.
Three years ago, he forgot my birthday. The next year, he wished me a happy birthday a month too early. He called me once and wished me a happy Mother's Day. It was Mother's Day, but I can think of at least three things wrong with this gesture. If you held a gun to my father's head and asked him to name ten things about my life, he wouldn't be able to do it.
I bring these anecdotes/criticisms/observations up not to belittle or embarrass my father, but to point out that this guy, despite his obliviousness, cultural illiteracy, ignorance, and distanced half-ass parenting has one huge leg up on me and on most of us rubes in the iPhone/iPad/iPhuck era. He never once, not once, started a Facebook page. My dad's a genius in this regard. Yes, I know he can't type, doesn't even have an email account, hasn't read anything longer than a classified ad since he was in high school, and I have my doubts he read any English assignment even then, and he most likely didn't open a Facebook account out of pure lazy indifference, but intent is irrelevant here. His move was right. His inaction was the best action. Oh, how I regret my entrance into the unhallowed halls of Zuckerbergiana. Facebook, Facebook, Mind-Erase Book. Yowzah, I know too many things about friends and relatives and friendly acquaintances I didn't want to know, never wanted to know, regret knowing now. I feel dumber and sadder every time I visit the place (no-place). "Then why don't you quit going there, you big dummy? Why don't you just cancel your account, you big palookah?" You're right to ask these questions, and I'm as stupid as anyone. These things are indisputable. But, I'm hooked. I'm caught up in this ridiculous age of constant babble-chatter and e-sucking and i-fucking and simu-living and irrele-pooting. I have three blogs, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, two email accounts, and some ghostly floating Friendster pages. (The cyber-wind still robo-whispers the name Adult Condor.) In my own tiny way, I'm a selfish egomaniac who needs to be heard by my single digits of fans and needs some reparations for my high school loserdom and invisibility. I need people to tell me I'm funny and interesting. I also like to stay in touch with some fantastic people I probably won't ever see in meatspace ever again, and I need that Facebook account to keep the connection alive.
Here are some tiny examples of what I hate in the Facebook, Facebook, This Is No Place-book.
Irrelevance in Real Time: "Eating lobster poolside at Fancypantsateria. Here's a photo of this delicious food." 17 Likes! 4 Comments! Comment 1: "That looks delish, guys. Have fun!"
You have an audience, Facebookers. Many of us are looking for jobs. Even if we weren't, even if I was CEO of World's Largest Moneypile and Blowjob Factory, Inc, even if my life was creamy, dreamy perfection, I still would not give a fuck about what you had for lunch. Stop taking pictures of your damn food and eat it. Eat it! It's getting cold!
Cut and Pasters: "Some of you won't have the guts to repost this, but many people you know and love are afflicted with Shaky Dangler Syndrome and a fear of petting zoos. Cut and paste this message and copy it to your status or you are a terrible friend who doesn't care about me." 128 Likes! 72 friends have shared this!
Deranged politics and stupidity: I had the misfortune of growing up with and occasionally being related by blood or marriage to a lot of perfectly enjoyable people with bizarre ultra-right-wing views. The combination of Sept. 11 and the recession and hysterical Fox News drumbeating have turned them from moderates to paranoid freakshow lunatics. I don't want to have the paranoid, stupid, ignorant, emotional, thoughtless parts of them thrust in my face every day. I like these people, believe it or not. (Believe it.) I don't like these parts of them.
My cousin's wife, from one of those cut-and-paste jobs: "Only Jesus Christ and the American serviceman have ever offered to lay down their lives for you." And on and on, every fucking day.
Ugly reactionary posturing and loudmouthism: A recent tragedy near my hometown saw a man kidnap and murder a young girl. This family's grief has turned into a lot of loud, stupid soapboxing. From a former coworker with American flags all over his page: "I say we skip the trial and just shoot the SOB right now." 80 Billion Likes! Yeah, because a cornerstone of the American ideology you want everyone to know you constantly ejaculate over is executing people without a trial, you dumb shit! "I say we cut the bastard's balls off with a rusty knife. Hell, I'll volunteer right now." 90 Likes! (including my uncle's wife, who should know better). Look at this genius. This guy hates the murder of a small child! He hates it more than you other wimps! He's taking a stand! He hates child murder so, so much! What a giant of the scene! What a man! What a hero! What a refreshing, unusual, controversial stand on such a divisive issue!
What a dumb fuck. Even child murderers think child murder is wrong. Put some of that energy into reading a book or buying a Malaysian mini-chicken. Why are you encouraging this stupidity, uncle's wife? You're an educator. Embarrassing.
Am I kidding myself? Is this the same old stupid on new technology, or are things getting worse? On at least ten occasions in the last two years, I have looked up from a table at a bar downtown when the conversation stopped only to see every other person's face balls-deep (Mel Brooks' Faceballs) in their iPhones, and I don't even go out that much anymore since I've been out of work. It's dark comedy and tragedy at once. Remember seeking things out? Remember the thrill of the chase? Remember being somewhere and actually being there? Remember being present? Now you don't have to take the effort or even bother to shape your personality at all. No more happy accidents or bitter disappointments. Everything is bite-size content, all equivalent, all meaningless. We click like on Life instead of living it. Says a guy with three blogs, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, two email addresses, and a deep ass-groove in the chair in front of my computer.
You can't escape mediocrity offline, either. Middlebrow middleminds are the middlemen at every institution on Earth. I've spent many lunch hours in teachers' lounges in the past few years and whoo boy. The main topics of conversation: Dr. House, Glee, Lean Cuisine frozen dinners, weight loss and gain, shit-talking about the teachers who weren't in the room, Oscar winners, which movie stars are purty. These are the educators of our youth. These are the people who believe they have a firm grasp on culture. You know what these people laugh at, pooh-pooh, sneer condescendingly at? High culture and low culture. The former is the province of the poseur and the snob, the latter the dirty rabble beneath, they tell each other over their beloved Lean Cuisine. They just don't want to do the real work. The pleasure of getting your hands and brain dirty in the real upper reaches of human achievement or in the beautiful, thriving sleaze of the gutter. They don't know, can't know, will never understand that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Supervixens or Vigilante or Swinging Cheerleaders has more vitality and invention and urgency and sweet, sweet life than any 100 English Patients or King's Speeches or Slumdog Millionaires or Beautiful Minds or Paul Haggis Crashes or any other visually dead, respectable flatterer of the middle mind. Any good, really good, professional wrestling villain since the 1950s can show you more about life than any high school English syllabus. The sweet, beautiful purity of a pro wrestling villain, a guy who can make an entire building full of people hate his guts, that's art. That's low culture at its best.
Lincoln, Nebraska. 1997. I'm in the crowd for Eddie Guerrero vs. Ric Flair. Guerrero grabs the mic and confidently announces with some of the best manufactured contempt I've ever seen, "It's a real disappointment that I have to wrestle tonight in Lincoln, Nebraska, home of the worst college football team in the world." At the time, as most of you know, Nebraska had one of the best college football teams in the world. Guerrero whipped that crowd into an orgiastic frenzy of hate with one sentence. Most of those suckers knew the show was a choreographed spectacle of preplanned show business, but one sentence and they all forgot. They lost their damn minds. They pelted the ring with full beers, empty beers, cups, programs, food, candy, spit wads, gum. The ring, in just thirty seconds, was covered in shit. They had to stop the match and clear the ring out. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
Guerrero later died in a hotel room from a life of steroids, speed, booze, road food, lack of sleep, and a job that required him to take hard falls on his back, knees, elbows, and face. These guys are better Christ figures than most literature and film examples you want to throw my way. They live it. They die for our sins, our lazy, fat-assed need for spectacle and entertainment. They're forced to die for our sins by their god, Vince McMahon. I grew up in the middle of a golden age of professional wrestling, a time of quality regional promotions and healthy competition. A time of polytheism. Now, we're back to the corporate status quo of Vince McMahon's monotheistic monopoly, but these guys are still out there, destroying themselves for you. When's the last time Dame Judi Dench put her life on the line to make you lose your damn mind and throw your full beer at a fictional representation of evil? That's art, baby. That's better than any app on your iPhone.
Disclaimer: Everything in this post is ridiculous and not ridiculous.