Friday, March 14, 2014

For the Love of Television

       


It was drizzling as I walked home, my arm around no one’s waist, just slapping my thighs and making a clapping sound only flesh and jeans can make. The streets were empty. Along St. Georges all the stores were dark, the two banks were dimly lit, the neon spectacles in the window of the lenses shop cast a gimmicky light on the sidewalk illuminated by rain.

I know I forget things, but I didn’t know it was so obvious.

It isn’t really, but more and more I’m noticing it.

I dial a number on the phone and forget who I’m calling. I go to the store and forget what to buy. Someone will tell me something, I’ll forget it, they’ll tell me again, I’ll forget it, they’ll tell me again, showing a funny-looking smile.

We all forget.

I forget names, faces, phone numbers, addresses, appointments, instructions, directions.

This is something that’s been happening, more or less to everyone, but especially me.

I forget Jenny doesn’t like to be called Jennifer. Sometimes I call her “hey you.” I forget where I’ve parked the car and then for a long, long moment, too long for comfort, I forget what the car looks like.

Forgetfulness has gotten into the air and water. It’s entered the food chain. Maybe it’s the gum I chew or the coffee I eat.

Maybe it’s something else.

Either I’m taking something and I don’t remember or I’m not taking something and I don’t remember. My life is either or. Either I drink fructose corn syrup soda or I drink coffee. Either I drink coffee or I gain weight. Either I gain weight or I run up the hill at the football field. 

It sounds like a boring life, but I hope it lasts forever. 

The one thing I don’t forget to do is look and listen. There are codes and messages that mark our species unique. These codes are best hidden in the exact medium which prides itself as a mirror to society: television. 

The average American sits in front of the glowing rectangle for six hours a day. I can’t think of anything else I do consistently for six hours a day except for forgetting which may be more these days. TV is filled with content to entertain, to inform, to propagate; but does this constitute as a worthy activity to inhabit our lives for so long in the day on a daily basis? When someone tells you they don’t have a television, they either took Portlandia too seriously, or the sudden image you are struck with is one of a sort of wild child, a savage plucked from the bush, intelligent and literate. He is probably the most interesting person you talk to in the day. 

Or is he?

TV is only a problem if you’ve forgotten to look and listen. We have all felt the urge to turn against the medium just like earlier generations turned against their parents and their country. The realization of time sets in for the viewer and an introspective flurry of explosions propels them to not only resent the box in their living room but loathe the appliance. Television today is another name for spam emails.

I can’t accept that. We must learn to look as children again. We need to absorb the content and find the codes and messages. I’ve been sitting in my room for months watching TV, listening carefully, taking notes. It truly is a great and humbling experience. Close to mystical.

Waves and radiation. The medium is a primal force in the American home. Sealed-off, timeless, self-contained, self-referring. It’s like a myth being born right there in our living rooms, like something we know in a dreamlike preconcious way. This box, this reflection of society, it offers incredible amounts of psychic data. It opens ancient memories of world birth, it welcomes us into the grid, the network of little buzzing dots and lines that make up the picture pattern. There is light, there is sound. What more do you want in a miracle? Just look at the wealth of data concealed in the grid, in the bright packaging, the jingles, the anecdotal commercials, the products hurtling out of darkness, the coded messages and endless repetitions, like chants, like mantras, like worship. The medium overflows with sacred formulas if we can remember how to respond innocently and get past our irritation, weariness, and disgust. 

But it’s just like spam emails, they say. Television is the death of human consciousness, according to them. They’re ashamed of their television past. They would rather talk about movies or the internet.

Take a closer look. Realize what the box is doing, what the purpose of the program is. The paradox of these actors who play on the voyeuristic desires of humanity and pretend to go about their business like they are not being watched by millions of people yet consequently want nothing more and actually hope and pray that millions of people are watching them, it’s stimulating. 

I made it home, wet and tired, cold. These walks remind me that people can complain all they want about the desensitization of mass media and video games and movies, but on nights like this they are all inside their homes feeding the very thing they hate. 

The true evil in our society is music, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Messages from a Typewriter

"We are all living three lives," Janise Laughlin says, "we have a minimum of three identities."

She's sitting on the most West window sill of her East apartment cutting tea leaves with a razor, her long black hair parted in the middle and tied back. She's wearing heavy black-framed glasses. The ceiling cranks with the sound of the heat rushing through the ducts and a siren goes by three stories below on Eastman Street.

"The barista is an archaeologist is a biker guy," she says. "Or he's a poet, a minister, a farmer."

She's cutting more tea leaves and says, "It's a tough call because all the rich people are in disguise. They can be that scruffy guy across the counter with enough money to buy the store and throw it away without sniffing at their bank accounts. One second--"

She walks to the kitchen to set a pot to boil, it's a copper kettle with spittles of rust corroding the bottom sides. "The nice little old ladies by the school, with their sweaters and walkers and diamonds, they are all for the death penalty."

Her hair is noticeably frizzy near the window where the sun can get in.

Art and books fill the walls. The rooms are painted gemstone colors like emerald and sapphire. There's a viridian bloom of a flower in a vase on the table. Only one family picture hangs on the way to the kitchen where the water is getting ready to scream from the kettle, it's of her paternal grandmother who worked in LA as a extra for a few films. She looks to be twenty-something in this picture. Smiling. Happy.

The story of all Americans has been one of travel, and everyone looking to make a new life migrates west across America to the Pacific ocean. "All the strange people leave," she says. "They all go left if you're looking at the map, and we here we are staying right because we either don't want to leave or we can't."

Misfits, refugees, they are everyone and they are no one. This isn't an exact science, but it has some bed of scientific theory, maybe. The angst builds here, on the East-coast, and it explodes and the debris goes West. Sometimes the angst builds and keeps building and it stays here and you have bloated people walking into banks and going to their jobs and cleaning up after their dog because it's what they know. But they want out, they want to stop being a barista and keep being an archaeologist.

I walk over to a buffet stacked with lacy plates and presented in the middle as if a shrine a jar.

"Oh, that?" she says. "That's my childhood tonsils. In case you are wondering, they are floating in a jar of formaldehyde." It's label is from Overlook Hospital. In a gesture, I make a wish and bow my head to the jar. "They grew back, but those are my first ones. Always will be."

The kettle cries and Janise feeds her sifter mug with sliced tea leaves and boiling water.

"I don't drive, really," she says. "When you walk down the street, you see every corner has a story." She sips her tea and wipes of little dustings of leaves from her lips. The steam from the mug slips up above the window, a hazy veil between the glass and the city and the people on the streets. "Here is where the rolling pictures of your life are visible to you everywhere you look."

Janise has a closet space filled with boxes of stolen food and three gallon cans of olive oil. She gets her tea from a botanist retired from the college who throws the same mug at her when she comes asking for more. He has whisky on his breath. There are racks filled with hundreds of identical coffee mugs surrounding him and his plants. He's probably ancient, in his eighties.

"He's a retired math professor, botanist, and mug salesman."

Janise works as a messenger for an old person's home. She walks the halls asking who they want to speak to, who they want to communicate with in the outside world. Their messages are never nice, and they never get replies, so Janise sits at home writing responses to these old-timers.

"You're the only person I could track down," she says. "All the others have either moved west or just don't care. Here." She hands me a letter. It's from Nancy Deegan and she has the penmanship of a founding father. There's something about a cat that needs to be fed, and she is missing one of her earrings my grandfather gave to her. She thinks it's the promiscuous nurse who keeps force feeding her chocolate pudding that is as much chocolate as she is my grandmother.

"This isn't my grandmother," I tell her. "All of my grandmothers live with me."

"Is that so? Well, you can at least respond to her," she says.

"But we aren't even related. I don't know her."

"Whether you are or not, it doesn't matter. What matters is she chose you to talk to. It's not my fault your card showed up in the hands of fate. Besides, I'm just a messenger."








Monday, January 6, 2014

Your Resolution is Better than Mine

In the wake of a new year there springs resolutions to better oneself in order to reveal a growth from the previous year. If we are not constantly moving we remain still and what is still is dead. In order to remain alive, we must promise publicly and privately to our Selfs and the Other within our own Universe to measure in terms of a cosmic barometer of our own words how much we have grown— how alive we really are— so we are not merely existing but living. This is so comprehensibly represented in such activities as Weight Training. Physical Fitness. Going to the Gym.
Weight Training programs found in such places as Bally Total Fitness and Retro Fitness and New York Fitness Club are inconceivably deep and profound things. They have tapped into a specific universe-view. 
Weight Training holds as a descriptive axiom the transparently true fact that for each of us the universe is deeply and sharply and completely divided into me on one side, and everything else on the other. This for each of us exhaustively defines the whole universe. Self and Other. Not only that each of our universes has this feature, but that we are by nature without exception aware of the fact that the universe is divided, into Self, on one hand, and Other, on the other. It’s part of our consciousness.
They hold as a prescriptive axiom the undoubtedly equally true and inarguable fact that we each ought to desire our own universe to be as full as possible, that true horror consists in an empty, rattling personal universe, one where one finds oneself with Self, on one hand, and vast empty lonely spaces before Others begin to enter the picture at all, on the other. A non-full universe. Loneliness. These Weight Training Programs see themselves as warriors in the great war against loneliness. And is this not noble? The emptier one’s universe is, the worse it is. This we all surely accept. 
Now Weight Training perceives the problem as one involving the need to have as  much Other around as possible, so that the relation is one of minimum Self to maximum Other. This is a valid though by no means exclusive way to attack the problem. 
It occurs to me that I couldn’t care less. A full universe. We each need a full universe. Weight Training allies would have us systematically decrease the Self-component of the universe, so that the great Other-set will be physically attracted to the now more physically attractive Self, and rush in to fill the void caused by that diminution of Self. Certainly not incorrect, but just as certainly only half of the range of valid solutions to the full-universe problem. Just as in genetic engineering, there is always more than one solution. An autonomously full universe. Rather than diminishing Self to entice Other to fill our universe, we may also of course choose to fill the universe with Self—quite literally fill the absence around you with yourself—that is to say not only stay fat but get fatter.