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Thursday, December 31, 2009

12/31/09

Some abuse is going on next door. I should specify: some animal cruelty is taking place. At least, I hope it is. You see, each and every precious day of our precarious lives is now pervaded by the operatic cries of a neglected canine in the apartment next to us. By turns shrill, heart-rending and just plain aggravating, this little pooch is working hard to ensure that we share in his sorrows.

This morning I was attempting to devote some well-needed reflection to the vexed question of whether badgers also dream of electric sheep, when this mutt began his extended diatribe on the absence of his masters. Frantically, I searched my library for a ready retort. Having previously misplaced my copy of The Plague Dogs I read from Watership Down instead; our wailing neighbor was bitterly offended.

Perhaps I should consider liberating the beast, but then again, I've never been the animal liberation type, partly because I love Ted Nugent. Also, I've been known to request a steak that comes complete with a cow-bell still attached to it.

Lately, I've a new theory and it's pretty disturbing. What if, there's no dog next door? What if this is some hoax on the owners part and it's really been a cat all along. I'd be so embarrassed. Worse yet, what if it's a kid? I'm loosing sleep.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

12/30/09

Allow me to shift gears for a moment because I've currently run out of ways in which to rip off Woody Allen.

On his Opinionator blog with the New York Times, literary critic Stanley Fish examines our current line-up of cinematic heroes in what has come to be known as the "revenge thriller." This includes films like the recent "Taken," and past classics like "Straw Dogs." He notes a strange tendency of identification in these thrillers. This identification, according to Fish, leads the audience to license some fairly heinous behavior on the part of the hero. He notes also that many of these films present high body counts, much of these perished individuals are innocent and constitute some rather significant collateral damage.

Obviously, Fish can't name every instance of cinematic vigilantism, but I want to add a title of my own: "Inglorious Basterds." Tarantino's latest foray into WWII territory serves as an exceptional example of this kind of film. I should preface this entry by saying that I only made it through thirty-eight minutes of the movie.

The opening scene is the best portion of the film that I saw. Nail-biting tension combined with menacingly clever dialog serve to create a scene that is as emotionally taxing as it is visually stunning. A man is being investigated for harboring Jews in his home in occupied France. Bellow the floorboards, those in hiding tremble. The scene clocks in at an excruciating twenty minutes; we know it can't end well. But it's all downhill from there.

Ranging from clever to self-indulgently pornographic, Tarantino never allows a boring moment to creep into the mix. Unfortunately, the film carries its cowboy violence to such banal heights that any and all credibility is surely lost. I'm sure Tarantino's not looking for any ( that waved bye bye when he introduces Eli Roth's predilection for dispatching his victims with a baseball bat and then adding ESPN commentary), but this piece of trash doesn't even deserve the title of being revisionist. If anything, it's a testament to why animosity ought not to be answered with animosity. Nazis act inhuman, ergo, they should be given inhumane treatment, a positively juvenile formula if ever there was one, and probably one of the lamest cinematic excuses to forge one of the most memorable bloodbaths this side of "Itchy the Killer."

As an aside, having grown up in Austria and lived in the shadow of this dark chapter in our history, this clumsy nod of sympathy (?) to the Jews is vulgar at best, downright sadistic at worst. Roth's presence in the film does nothing to allay the situation by the way.

I prefer and proffer the work of Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke. In his now-infamous "Funny Games," the audience is made an accomplice to the proceedings. We are indicted for our part in viewing the atrocities filling our screens for the sole purpose of titillation; we want bloodshed, that's why we rented the film in the first place, but we don't want to face this little fact. At one point, one of the torturers stares straight into the camera and asks whether we (the audience) believe the family will make it until nine the next morning. Haneke has stated that he wants to present an alternative to the cartoonish violence to which we've become accustomed. He wants an opportunity to show us that the acts we license on-screen may well have an impact on our actual psychological well-being. Fascinating concept. I wonder whether a self-proclaimed cinophile like Tarantino has ever stopped to consider this one.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

12/29/09

I don't have the luxury of thinking of, referring to, or narrating my life in the third person. Sure, I've wanted to, and even considered hiring James Earle Jones to do the job for me, but the truth is, I might be a little offended. Were I to be honest, the resulting scenario might sound something like this: The afternoon was hot as Cameron managed to deftly maneuver straight into a lamp-post. Still reeling from the ordeal, Cameron entered his apartment complex. Cameron had always been partial to quantum physics and any other theory asserting that time and space are equal. Unfortunately, Cameron was also under the false impression that matter and space are equal, and thus mistook empty space for a step, and ended up filing his teeth in a compulsive effort to break his fall.

All that is to say: I'm not a "smooth operator."

Yesterday a co-worker pointed out to me that I always flex my hand. I'm not sure what purpose this serves, but perhaps I'm in a mode of perpetual farewell, preparing in advance for everyone's departure and waving to them. A further scrutiny of my motives has led me to the bleak theory that this is my feeble attempt at dancing. Once, I entered a nightclub pervaded by a thundering beat and lots of blissfully bobbing people. I dislocated my hip in an effort to simultaneously dance and avoid all human contact. I think I left it in the V.I.P. room.

It's not the only instance of my dancing inability. At a Turkish cafe, I was jerked upright by the waiter and forced to join a chain of gleeful acrobats who had converged on the rug. I panicked and handed him an uneaten role lying on the table, which, as it turns out, was a better dancer than me.

No, the movements of my body, as well as the flights of fancy occupying the narrator in my skull remain defamatory.

Monday, December 28, 2009

12/28/09

The pestilence of the holidays has spread its ugly wings. By that I mean that everyone around me is starting to bark like a seal. I'm just waiting for my little bacterial care-package to arrive. My wife's been hit pretty hard. I'm trying to make things easier for her, but I'm so bad at finding an adequate response to a coughing fit. My first impulse is always to answer back with a coughing fit of my own, but she just assumes I'm singing another Macy Gray song that's been stuck in my head for the past week.

It was three-thirty last night when I was awakened by what sounded like the mating call of a seal. I sat bolt-upright like Lazarus in his tomb, only I had earlier that evening lost my gauze because a strand of it had become stuck on the blade of my fan. She threw back the covers and exited the stage in search of some warm tea, and maybe some well-deserved relief.

Well, I tried to turn over and leave her to her own devices but felt guilty. In all honesty, I have, for the past couple days, been trying to contract an illness of my own in order to better commiserate with her. So far, all I've managed to do is develop a little poignant sniffle that might trouble a particularly sensitive mother, but doesn't score me any misery points with my wife; she wins.

I walked into the clinical lights of the kitchen and winced my support to my wife. She looked back at me and understood how helpless I was here. "Go back to bed." Feebly, I placed a copy of The Bell Jar in her hand and took my leave. When she came back with tea, cough-drops,tissues, an oxygen tank and a deep-sea diving suit, I turned my fan back on.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

12/27/09

My small fan, bought from Target when I first moved to America, has been a constant beacon of light and hope when it comes to my nocturnal excursions. Its sonorous hum began as nothing more than a rather restrained John Cage piece, but has now acquired the rhapsodic sounds of Symphony Number 9; I can't live without it.

When I stay with the in-laws, I sleep in the living room, and my wife sleeps with her sister. You can already see where this is going.

I had just settled into the chair and was checking out the mating rituals of amphibians and their sociological implications for the West, when I realized that it was two in the morning, and my scintillating sandman-of-a-fan was stranded in my sister-in-law's room. Now, given a choice between a bed and the fan, I'd take the fan without a second glance. In fact, I'd take that fan over a luxury vehicle.

I crept up to the closed door of my sister-in-law like a hooded assailant; I had thought about putting a stocking over my face, but given the fierce cold, ended up putting them both on my feet instead. Furtively, I turned the nob and pushed the door gently open. All was black. Having already sent an S.O.S. via my cell-phone, I lifted the device and shined it into the cave, but saw only utter desolation. Earlier I had tried to text for help but in my distraught condition had only managed to bring out: "And I alone am escaped to tell thee!"

A voice cried out in the darkness, "Whose their?" Without thinking I replied, "Call me Ishmael."

Defeated, I returned to the living room and began researching Simon Weil in order to discover the secret to making suffering fun.

As it turns out, my new little brother had a nightmare and woke everyone in the house, and a couple of folks in the local cemetery as well. I got my fan, it was five in the morning. For the next two hours, I dreamed of its rapidly-soaring blades, and woke up with motion sickness the next day.

Friday, December 25, 2009

12/26/09

Something you should know about me; I'm incapable of having "fun." Now I'm not just saying that because I prefer a hermitage to a nightclub, or because I think that a forty page footnote by Karl Barth is emotionally gripping. There's a very real sense in which gleeful exchanges of any kind, shared between one or more people, inspire deep anxiety in me. I once considered taking my cues from Hazel Motes and filling my shoes with broken shards of glass, but settled for shoes with no support instead. No, fun is not in my vocabulary. I should add also, by way of extension, that I'm painfully conventional. I am not a rebel; I once thought I'd pulled off an amazing feat of scholarly nihilism by translating The Divine Comedy into pig-Latin...

As this Christmas joins the host of others now spent, I am free to look back and assess some of the damage. Note to self: try to load up your plate before sitting down to an elaborate family meal, or else you'll pass more things than a swollen colon. Potatoes, Casseroles made of every conceivable form of vegetation, potatoes--mashed this time--, birds of all feathers, hams--I think the family dog was accidentally passed to me at one point. Anyway, I spilled meat juice in my Jell O and briefly considered becoming an atheist. But then I had a vision of Peter Singer chaining himself to a roasted turkey in order to demonstrate against this foul consumption, and I avidly switched allegiances.

My wife was having a difficult time, having first burned herself with a hair-straightener and then happening upon a ruined pair of pants. I read her the book of Job to give her some perspective. My initial plan was to tell her that you can't keep a good man down, but I forgot that there was much more to the book than "and I alone am escaped to tell thee." Soon I was burning myself with a hair straightener.

But in all seriousness, I must work on this fun thing. A week ago, my wife suggested that we all go ice-skating. She was thinking of a fun evening, doing something spontaneous and wistful. All I could think about were broken bones and torn fabric. Maybe I've read too many Good Housekeepings.

I'm thinking I should get some hobbies. So far, I like reading books discarded by lexographers, and watching movies that are assigned to the horror category because of their production value as well as their content. I also love the band Night Ranger.

Any suggestions?

12/25/09

Last night, when we were all in the process of recovering from a hearty Christmas feast, and cleaning up the ensuing wreckage, I happened upon my new Grandparents. With a devotion that would stagger the most ecstatic of saints, they were pouring over their church address book, working out the precise coordinates of their fellow congregants and weighing their proximity to their own neighborhood and home. I wanted to join in, but my knowledge of geography has always been limited to the three feet directly in front of my face. I couldn't believe how much detail went into this discussion; I hoped the phone book was locked away or those presents would languish under the tree until an architect with a grant from Berkley showed up. Then I considered the plethora of directories, waiting like hidden gems on the internet, and thought that fate would have to decide.

We read from Luke amid the lightening of four cameras. For one insane moment, I considered reaching for my umbrella; I settled for a hat instead. Our efforts began at eight in the evening, and ended just shy of twelve. These presents were really well-wrapped! As the hour grew later, my fatigue overwhelmed me, and consequently, I looked like a man reciting Mozart's "Don Giovanni" in most of the photographs. Any spontaneous moment of joy, once spotted, was siezed, frozen and exploited to such an extent, that I am now convinced cameras are the creation of Medusa.

It's now Christmas day, and as I examine the neat columns of that fated directory, I can't find a single street-name or digit that animates me. I've long suspected myself of being a philistine because I'm a big fan of movies with plots to them, but this simply devastates me.

I've decided to walk up and down the block, noting the various mailbox numbers and land markers. I'll start with actual corporeal bodies, and then move on to directories with pictures in them--training wheels if you will. My ultimate hope is to one day become a connoisseur of mechanical serial numbers, as well as a collector of mileage sheets and discarded digits of every dimension and design. As I type, I'm trying to find some splendor in the floor tiles, but I just keep craving something banal and action-packed, like a complete History of Hegel's Dialectics.

It's hard being unrefined....

Thursday, December 24, 2009

12/24/09

The date says it all.

Last night, I braved the roads and went to the Tennessee Mall; I imagine that the streets of Mecca must look similar to what I saw. At this point, I learned something about myself: turns out, I'm a "personal Platonist." I've always thought of myself as an "Aristotelian" because I prefer horses to "horsness," but I was mistaken. My personal Platonism expresses itself as an ardent attempt on my part to avoid as much physical human contact as possible. I am generally amenable to acts of affection when they are restricted to my wife, but I'd rather share a smile with everyone else any day than a hug; I'm already claustrophobic, and I've never been able to escape the thought that a hug is really just an exceptionally over-heated biological elevator, bereft of the soothing music...

Needless to say, it became quite difficult to traverse the parameters of the mall without climbing into someone else's lap, or at least dusting off their shoulders. I had to desist, of course. My elliptical detours began to inspire a vast malaise of vertigo, I myself was feeling the pangs of motion sickness.

When I entered the bookstore I was overcome with glee at the remarkably opaque and esoteric books available for my fevered perusal. Once I had selected from this enviable list a title that would bore the most intrepid of archival moles, I was in the for the evening....

Gift cards, along with every other piece of technology known to man, do nothing but convince me more everyday that the Stone Age is preferable to this. If I could, I'd move in with the "Flintstones." All that is to say, the card didn't work, though I was absolutely convinced I could fix it with a hammer. I was beside myself. How could I give up Frye's Anatomy of Criticism because of a miserable piece of plastic that was "as dead as a doornail?" Suppressing my panic, and ignoring the gravity of the situation, I suggested a manual entry, in order to capture each digit of the card.

As I write, Frye waits patiently by my side; I just can't wait to add this to the list of books I'm pretending to read. Having just finished pretending to read The Beauty of the Infinite, it's time for a new project. After I'm done with Frye, I'm going to pretend to read the Complete Revised Encyclopedia Britanica.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

12/23/09

Today, I have "writer's block." So, I thought I'd indulge in a fine paradox and explore this seemingly un-explorable subject.

The events of the day have been more boring than a conversation with a paperclip salesman. My wife and I packed up and drove to the in-laws. It's the holiday season; so naturally, I drove as if everyone on the road was trying to kill me. Everybody else drove as if I was playing hard to get. If yarn had been attached to the wheels of these vehicles, they would have woven quite a tapestry over that highway. I wondered if I had brought gauze.

I'm always disconcerted when I see a man on his phone, or a women texting while operating a vehicle. I don't fear for people's safety, I fear for their grammar usage! I tried it once. A simple "I love you" to the wife. I ended up sending the message "I lobe you" to a dear friend, who has, over the years, been many things to me, but a wife has not been one of them. Consequently, the word "lobe" is a German verb, meaning to worship. Though I hold my friend in high regard, I must confess, his name hadn't crossed my mind the last time I approached an altar.

I'm a man who likes a challenge, so long as it doesn't involve building anything, or wrapping a Christmas present--a seemingly-simple task that has me convinced I'd have better chances at designing a Gucci purse, or joining the efforts of the Human Genome Project. My challenge to myself is to one day text Whitman's "Song of Myself" in its entirety to my wife, while navigating Atlanta's roads during the after-work hours.

So far, I haven't gotten past the I....,but I'm sure that one of the people I passed on the highway was texting Hamlet to a friend.

Monday, December 21, 2009

12/22/09

I lost my faith three times today over an ironing board.

My wife's been out of town for the past two days, and I've kept the apartment in a livable condition. This is not to be confused with an enjoyable condition. Shacks are livable, leper colonies are livable. An apartment where the floor is visible is enjoyable. While musing over some of the finer intricacies of these two words, I noticed with dismay that the ironing board was still in the middle of the living room floor. There it stood like some make-shift bar. I considered placing a couple of drinks on it for kicks, but then thought it in poor taste.

As soon as I turned the board over I realized why I should have gotten an engineering degree. The undercarriage of this simple device may has well have been a description of the process of nuclear fusion written in Sanskrit. Clearly, a lever was protruding from the board's innards,and my inner Sleuth told me that this ligament must serve some mechanical function. Then again, it may have been an aesthetic choice of the architect's, or some witty comment on the gender of the board. Perhaps it was even a jab at sexism; the tyrannical ironing board, effete symbol of woman's suffrage, ironically-endowed with the very feature it was supposed to serve. Meanwhile, as I became lost in thought, the board remained inert, and I grew concerned. Surely I, a man with a liberal arts degree, could crack the code of this common household aid.

The thing may have been fool-proof, but it wasn't philosopher-proof, and I lost a few of my heavenly jewels to that two-legged,gray surfboard. By the time I had worked up the courage to sheepishly inform my wife of this most-recent defeat, the understanding voice that met mine on the other end of the line made me feel even worse.

One day, I must build something. It must be something in the most literal and tangible sense of the word. Whether this something is of any intrinsic or utilitarian value is a matter of supreme indifference to me. But it will prove to me that it is possible for me to contribute something more to this planet than vain speculation, and complaints....

12/21/09

I've never felt comfortable journaling privately. My instincts tell me there's an invisible critic perched somewhere nearby cackling at the various solecisms that have crept into my work. If the public has access perhaps this will introduce a measure of accountability into my writing.

We are slouching towards Christmas. This used to be a much-anticipated event; it's now a scientific inevitability, like nature's call or photosynthesis. If it comes and you're not ready, they'll stop the press and hand you Scrooge's cloak. The clamor of carols in department stores says only one thing: "Buy Buy Buy Buy fallah lah lah lah lah." If you're not Scrooge you're a consumer.

I used to love Christmas trees.... Ah, the bliss of peering at this beautiful beast from the vantage of childhood. My wife and I stepped straight into a rather rude awakening at the local Home Depot. Tying this thing that properly belongs in a forest onto the top of a car in sub-zero temperatures hardly endeared the experience to me; I think I even whispered a "Bahumbug." After we got the tree into our microcosm of an apartment, I noticed with dismay that our floor had accumulated more needles than a vaccination clinic. While my wife broke out the tools of the trade---shiny trinkets and various globes bereft of all geographical features---all I could do was fantasize about vacuuming. Never had this seemingly mundane chore seemed so enticing to me. I noted with especial relish all of the small attachments on the machine that would allow me to search out the most arcane regions of our floor plan. I felt like a deep sea diver in search of lost treasure.

As I write, the tree leans crookedly as if whispering to the adjacent wall about my ineptitude. Every morning I'm sure I'll find the tree felled in the middle of our living room, blocking my path to the television. But there it leans conspiratorially; it's just biding its time.

I hope you're all fairing well this Christmas season. Maybe at some point we'll all find the time to escape the tree, the mall and those thousands of carols and see the people we call family and friends. I love you all wherever you are...

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