Thank You

I almost wrote about politics today. I clocked out for lunch, dug my big-ass Dell keyboard out of my laptop bag, and completed a couple of paragraphs about the tyranny of the Arkansas legislature before I realized I didn’t give a shit anymore.

It’s been too long since I’ve publicly declared my love for my wife. Maybe that’s silly, but it’s an important thing to engage in from time to time, especially when you have a teething infant in the house.

Willie is an absolute joy. He’s even precious when he’s sad. Last night he poked his bottom lip out and we distracted him with music and toys. Sometimes he would forget he was in pain and break into laughter. Sometimes it was just time to cry.

I am so glad Gina agreed to enter into a legal contract with me, move into our house, generate a combined-DNA copy of us inside her body (but make him look just like her), and allow medical professionals to torture her for hours before precariously ripping him out of her body. I cannot communicate how thankful I am for these things. It’s a massive debt to repay, but I’m willing to spend the rest of my days giving it a shot.

I knew that we’d make it forever when we missed a flight to London and spent a day traveling from Atlanta to Paris to Heathrow only to have arrived on the day of the Tube Strike. We walked miles to our hotel, got lost multiple times (my fault), spent hours stuck on a train back from Cardiff because of a signal failure, and somehow we refrained from killing each other. There was frustration and some tears, but we were together, on a mission, on an adventure. Adventures aren’t boring, and neither was that trip.

I dragged her, exhausted, to Slough (armpit of the world I’ve been told), to briefly meet Tom Baker. We saw Sylvester McCoy again for a slightly awkward chat, and I made eye contact with Matthew Waterhouse at his empty table. These days I would have sidled up to shoot the shit, but it was my second con ever and I didn’t know what to do. I still remember his gaze, and how it seemed to say, “It’s okay. I’m not a dick. I promise.” Maybe next time, Adric.

We returned to our hotel, no train breakdown this time, and took a nap. It was four or so in the afternoon when we awoke, and I was intent on going to Kensington to see the exterior shooting location for Rose’s apartment. Gina said, “Sure,” but she didn’t know what I was up to.

We were in the courtyard, alone (or so I thought) when I kneeled and removed a blue ring box from my backpack. The girls and I had picked it up the day before Gina and I left the country, and I’d been hiding it from her for days. After we embraced I noticed a couple across the way, in a laundromat right behind where the TARDIS would have landed. Their mouths were open. I waved. They waved back.

I would say that’s the greatest thing I’ve ever pulled off, but it’s second place to this, the thing I’m still pulling off. This bond, this marriage, we’re doing it. It’s solidly one of the most important things I’ve ever done. This is my crowning achievement.

Gina, I love you with all my heart. You give me gifts, big and small, every day. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now we’ve got some adventuring to do.

Allons-y!

Swing and a Miss

As an overweight kid, PE was almost never a good time for me. If I had any constructive criticism in hindsight, it would be for teachers to find some physical activity each kid excels in, or at least one they enjoy, and let them pursue it. I probably would have loved weightlifting but I never got a chance to try it until I was an adult. I excelled at covering the goal in floor hockey, because I was so big. One time I delivered a shutout, which earned me one of the few genuine attaboys I ever received from a coach.

I usually ended up last man standing in double dodgeball because I was great at dodging but not too hot at catching or throwing. Inevitably, the weight of the world would fall on my shoulders while I faced off against two or three bullies across the line. The victorious squad was always made up of the guys who’d failed a grade or been held back a couple of times, and they seemed eight feet tall and/or 37 years old. This intimidated the shit out of me, which is funny because I probably outweighed them.

One day I’d finally had enough after I’d lost yet another game. I’d just been subjected to the groans of my defeated team behind me on the bleachers, and one of the smaller thirtysomething boys, a weasel-faced guy who delighted in tormenting me, called me a fatass. I lost it and let loose an awkward, feathery, glancing punch at his upper arm. He cocked back and popped me in my right ear, launching my eyeglasses across the gymnasium.

The PE coach shouted, “Hey!” and the battle of Central Elementary School was over. Dickhead McGee was dragged off to the Principal’s office where he was probably berated for at least 45 minutes, and I got away scot-free, which is nuts because the coach witnessed the entire affair. I can only assume that after she heard what he said and saw my pathetic attempt at reprisal, my pop in the ear had been deemed punishment enough. Obviously the bully had it coming, it being a gentle knuckle-shove in the bicep.

All I hear about is punching these days. The punch heard round the world, or the elbow to the head heard round Facebook, has taken on Harambe-like momentum. It’s not going anywhere, and I keep wondering why.

Last week, I looked up from the customer service desk computer and was faced with a big old dude in leather. His silver Schutzstaffel pin was right at eye level. He saw me pause and look at it before my eyes moved up to meet his. My balls sucked inside my body and made that “poit” sound from Looney Tunes when Bugs tricks Daffy into eating alum and his mouth disappears.

In my teenage years I had the fortune, or misfortune, of being invited into a biker bar a few times. The inside of the place was plastered with Confederate flags and Nazi memorabilia. As a young white boy from rural Arkansas, the Confederate stuff didn’t make me flinch. In those days I found it comforting. The swastikas, however, were always a bit weird. Even young, conflicted, Lynyrd Skynyrd white-boy-hippie me found it a bit extreme. I knew there was a motorcycle club tradition of using Nazi regalia, but I still didn’t think it was cool.

Back at the bookstore, I did my best to be friendly. He asked me if so-and-so was at work today. “Oh boy, he knows someone,” I thought. “This is wonderful.” Now I associate the other dude with motorcycle Neo-Nazis, but I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s the one who just couldn’t take Caitlyn Jenner being on the cover of any magazine without having to exclaim how disgusting he thought she was. Of course, he didn’t say she.

There’s something to the catharsis of watching one dude get elbowed in the ear while the entire world burns around us. Our leaders frequently, flagrantly ignore the law, and the only people who could stop them stand to profit too much from the system to tear it down. I understand now why we’re clinging to that imagery, be it a video with an amusing soundtrack edited in, a page from Captain America, or an Indiana Jones screenshot.

It’s something different, though, to walk the walk. One of my friends crudely suggested I stay on the side of the law during these troubling times or risk reenacting a prison scene from American History X. As an advocate of prison reform, I’m not too fired up about prison rape jokes, but it brings up an important point. How far are we willing to go to punch fascists, and if and when you’re prosecuted for such a thing, how do we think we will manage?

I’m a lover, not a fighter. I might be in the best shape of my life, but I don’t know how I’d fare at fisticuffs. I assume quite poorly. However, there’s something to this thing, which keeps boiling to the surface, I can’t ignore. If forced, I’d have to categorize it as more of a figurative ideology check than a literal set of marching orders. We can play pretend this thing is admirable while we recognize the inherent problems that come along with street violence.

If that’s fence riding, okay. I love this fence. This is the fence between civilization and anarchy, and I can see everything from up here. When it comes down to it, there may be a time for throwing an elbow, but it’s not something you talk about. That’s something the right does when they sit around and masturbatorily clean their guns while they post on forums about how they’d shoot an intruder. It makes you think they want an intruder.

No, when the time comes you just aim well, throw it, and hope the Principal understands why.

Super Bowl Highlights

Lookin’ swole, Star-Lord.

One time I asked one of my FULL COMMUNIST friends how the Marvel Cinematic Universe would exist in a FULL COMMUNIST society. He popped me across the mouth, hard, and said, “How dare you,” then he called me a garbage babyman and blasted the Soviet National Anthem on his cracked, three-generation-old iPhone as he walked away. Almost 67% of that story actually occurred, but you catch my drift.

I should have asked him how Marx would have viewed American Football, or how it would have sprung forth from the wheat fields of Eastern Europe, but that’s just a “fuck you” in the form of a fallacious question. Stalinism has nothing to do with Fully Automated Luxury Pansexual Polyamorous Space Communism, and the answer is we’d appropriate all the good things Capitalism has borne and leave the Wolf of Wall Street bullshit behind. There’s room for every interest on the holodecks of the USS Indefatigable-B.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to see the new Guardians of the Galaxy trailer. Baby Groot sure is cute, and it looks like Karen Gillan’s Nebula may be getting a slightly larger role. Way to go, Karen. Gina and I were forcefully shoved out of a photo area by Karen once. Imagine a slightly perturbed Scottish woman in place of Santa Claus in the scene from A Christmas Story where he face-boots Ralphie down the slide. At least I’m pretty sure it was Karen. I have a running theory that she has a stunt double stand in for her photo ops since she hates conventions so much.

I still don’t believe this is Karen Gillan. The chick on the left is pretty hot though!

The Stranger Things season two trailer elicited shrieks of joy, especially at the Ghostbuster costumes. I really hope they don’t screw this up, but I am probably most nostalgic about the 1983-1984 period of American pop culture history, so this is going to be my jam either way. I’ll get a chance to meet those kids in Texas at the end of March, and I plan on asking them if they’ve seen E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. I’m aware that, as kids, they have little to nothing to do with the direction of the show, but I want them to know how it makes me feel. Even though I was smaller than Gertie during the period they depict, I remember it clearly, and the atmosphere is correct. Thanks, guys. Sincerely.

Then, the blowout game from which the Patriots could never possibly recover paused for halftime, and the Queen flew down from the heavens. I am referring, of course, to Lady Gaga, whose talent rises above the obvious trappings of Capitalism. She’s at her best when she’s herself, sitting at a piano or pretending to half-play a guitar. When she sang the Sound of Music at the 87th Academy Awards, I sprang to my feet and wept like I’d seen the face of God. I may have been mildly intoxicated, but I refuse to believe it was anything other than divine.

I’m glad they didn’t have Tony Bennett chained to her ankle. I can’t stand the weird New Yawker she transforms into when she’s with him, because it isn’t her. She was free to do her thing last night, which was a less-weird medley of her hits since the beginning of her career. It was sanitized for general American consumption, with no edgy religious imagery or gross food and art supply related wardrobes. Still, her talent shone through, and praise be to Gaga they didn’t shoot Beyoncé’s double-pregnant-ass out of a trap door in the middle of “Telephone.”

I was half-hoping for some shitty provocative political message, but “Born This Way” was a subtle enough stand-in. Nah, she played it straight (no pun intended) and entertained, which is kinda her job, and scripted or not, I could sense some wonder on her part when she quickly paused to say hi to her mom and dad. I felt it too, as if I were witnessing something historic.

That is, until all the manbros on my Facebook feed started taking dumps all over her performance.

I SWEAR TO FUCKING GOD

“ET” could probably be interpreted as a rage-misspelling of “it,” but I literally meant E.T., as in the Extra-Terrestrial. Do you see how this is becoming a perfect storm of emotion? Why do we have to do this thing every year where people like football then other people don’t like football, then they argue over talking about football and make triple reverse meta ironic posts about football and I’m still fucking talking about football when all I want to do is watch Lady Gaga without some pisswasser-swilling cretin insulting HER MAJESTY.

I’m pretty proud of TESTOSTERONE CRIMEGAME

Guys, I wasn’t cool in high school. I had long hair, which Coach Principal (an all-too-common occurrence in Arkansas schools) loved to take into his fist and pull while he yelled, “SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT, TALBOT!” into my face. Fuck you, Coach. I was in the goddamned marching band and while I had a couple of jock pals who acknowledged the skill required in such endeavors, most of them spent time throwing chewed gum into my hair and calling me a fag. Football wasn’t my bag, baby.

I had a brief fling with football again when I entered college, but my fraternity days ended prematurely, thank Gaga, because I never stopped being ostracized for asking questions about being forced to hold another guy’s balls or being forced to lie under a pile of twenty people while being beaten with pieces of wood. I never understood why “brothers” would do that to each other, so I left, and the fucking football kinda fell by the wayside.

I picked it up again when I started hanging out with Dad on the reg back in 2008. Today a photo of him I’d posted six years ago popped up in my Facebook feed. I’m pretty sure it’s the last photo of him I ever took.

I can look at this and pick out where those belongings are. Stuffed duck, girls’ room. Flags, my dresser. Plaques, garage. Stapler and tape dispenser, office. Desk, sold. Dad, in parts: my brain, my DNA, in photos, in memory, online, Jonesboro Memorial Park Cemetery, oblivion, unknown, etc. ???

We watched his last Super Bowl together. He slept through most of it. It was one of the things I cried over after he died. I also cried because I couldn’t remember who an old watch had belonged to. He’d told me, but I didn’t pay attention. I cried over the business things I knew he’d explained but I’d let it go in one ear and out the other. Silly things, really, but sometimes you need an excuse when “I’m just grieving” isn’t enough.

As far as football is concerned, third time’s a charm, three strikes and you’re out, and it got buried with him. I’m not saying I can’t watch it. I’m not fucking triggered by it. That part of my life, like the professional wrestling shows I so adored when I was an adolescent, is over. It didn’t come with me. Rebellion stuck along for the ride. Star Trek is still bopping along in this old head of mine. Football? It’s in a dusty box in the garage.

Pop music, though, that’s still a thing. We all loved Michael in the 1980s. You pretty much had to. Music, in general, has always been a part of my life, and whether I’m listening to movie scores by John Williams while I swordfight with the girls, or getting verklempt watching Gaga sing showtunes, it almost never fails to move me. I don’t know if football has ever done it for me, other than something like Rudy, and once again I attribute the frisson to Jerry Goldsmith’s stirring composition, not the sport depicted.

I’m not angry, guys, I’m sad. I’m sad that I have small children at the end of the world. I’m also a glass-half-empty kind of guy, thanks to the dysthymia, and while I hate plastering myself with labels, it’s a good enough word for everything-usually-tastes-like-dirt. You want to know what doesn’t taste like dirt? Music. Movies. Love. I’m glad football tastes like something to you, and I hope it’s better than Bud Ice.

Then again, it’s always the end of the world for someone. It always has been, and until the last human chokes out their last breath, it always will be. If I’m pissing all over Twitter in all caps, it’s because I love something, or I loved something, and that seems pretty precious these days.

When I am 57, Willie will be 18. Will he love football? I don’t know. If we all make it that far, I’m sure I’ll have exposed him to all manner of nerdcruft, but there’s no telling what influence his peers will hold. Maybe I’ll be dragging my old ass up to the stadium every Friday to watch him play at the Betsy DeVos Christian Academy, if I’m not in the GULAG. Old Dad, around all those thirtysomethings in the stands. “Is your grandkid out there?” they might ask. “No, just Old Dad here to see his son play.”

Proud Dad. That’ll be okay. That’ll be just swell. If football is all I end up enduring, well, that’ll be fine by me.

Talbotcare

Welp. I’ll email you again Monday.

I’m going to apologize right away. This isn’t going to be chock-full of jokes. I’ve been in a doomfunk for days. Monday was particularly dark. Everything was death and dirt. Caving in. Suffocating.

I know introspection is often shit, but something hit me like a bolt of lightning yesterday. I have to go back to Monday, though, to tell it. 

The girls were rowdy, as always, and they kept flipping the footstool open on Dad’s old blue recliner with too much force for comfort. From the kitchen, I said, “Hey, could you not break the chair I dragged my father out of before we went to the hospital for the last time?” 

I knew it was a stupid thing to say as soon as I said it, and luckily they didn’t pay attention or understand. Still, moments later I looked at Gina and told her I’d seen something on Facebook’s On This Day feature (THE BANE OF MY EXISTENCE) and it had wrecked me. It was simple but so sharp, a needle in my heart. 

“Nothing like naps and football.”

I don’t even like football, but I know where I was when I posted that. I was with Dad and Blake, and we were spending time with him right after his penultimate stay in the hospital. 

I told Gina, “I hope your parents live to be 125, baby. I really do. It tears a hole in you and nothing will ever fix it.”

She told me it was okay to be sad. I told her I don’t like being sad. For someone who is always fucking sad you’d think I’d have made peace with it. Nope. 

And yet, I had been as okay as I can be with Dad’s death for years. I think about him every day, but they’re usually happy thoughts, or benign at least. The horrifying things pop up from time to time, but they’re mostly blunted by the blessed fuzziness of years passed. Even when I think of him being a massive dick, of which he was certainly capable, I chuckle and think, “Well, that’s Dad. At least I came by it honest.”

What is so raw, so real, here, almost six years out? 

Welp. This is where the navel gazing comes in. 

I recognize the list of events that led to me being a more compassionate person over the years. Seeing the government’s lack of response to Hurricane Katrina was one of the first. Dealing with Dad’s illness was another. Finally graduating from college was one. Becoming a father myself was another, still. 

I can look back and mark those events and others, and they roughly correspond to when I stopped being a weird Randian Republican (can you be one of those without actually struggling though those garbage novels? I was), when I started my short stint campaigning for Obama, when I started yelling about Universal Healthcare, and when I began agitating for labor rights. I can see a rough progression of my human awakening. 

Don’t get me wrong. I backslide and fuck up constantly, but the arc of Bob bends towards justice. 

I recently tweeted,  “I hope the DSM-VI includes Political Dysthymia as a disorder.” That is, if civilization still stands. Regardless, it’s a thing. If you want to put it under the umbrella of Generalized Burnout, that’s fine, but it’s a fucking thing. 

My father died without insurance. He worked thirty years for the same company and was laid off at the start of the Great Recession. After some months of unemployment, he became ill. Insurance wouldn’t have saved his life, but ask these Republicans why that other lifelong Republican shouldn’t have had health insurance. He was a Company Man. Wasn’t he the guy who deserves it

That’s the thing, though. It’s not about deserves. It’s not about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s about money, and he paid. We paid. Someone is pretty fucking rich because of it, but either way, Dad’s dead, y’all. Dad’s dead. 

It seemed like vindication when the ACA passed. People wouldn’t have to do this anymore. Sure, it had been whittled down to a rump of what it should have been, but it was better than nothing, right? In retrospect, it had been sabotaged by its opponents who then spent years holding up those flaws as reason to euthanize the entire thing along with millions of Americans. 

Oh, there is a death panel. It’s called Congressional Republicans. 

This is what I do, though. I’m pretty reactive. I get nudged and I respond. I find reasons for things in a world where there are no reasons except the ones we make, and I made that one. Dad died. He was part of my healthcare stump speech, and we won. We won the consolation prize of “maybe this will be different for others.”

Now it’s being ripped away, like so many other things we build. Sandcastles kicked by a bully before the tide has a chance to take them away. We can’t stop the tide, but we can stop a man. 

Even now I worry that all the people who were dropped from their employer’s plans, mostly part-time folks who could “just go get on Obamacare,” will be left worse off than before the ACA passed. 

We’re not going back to square one. We’re at ground fucking zero. 

I’m going to do what I do. I’ll take this pain and hone it into a blade. I’ll appeal to who I can to save whatever I can, whoever I can, and I’ll be smart about it, Mom. Don’t worry. 

I’ll also be relentless. 

With great assholery comes great responsibility. My power is being a dick. My secret is that I’m always unhappy. Content for moments, sure, but it always lingers there. “Just wait,” it says. “Just wait.”

Well, you just wait, motherfuckers. 

You just wait.

Ten Albums That Changed My Teenaged Life Forever 

In no particular order:

  1. Foo Foo Dolls by the Goo Goo Fighters
  2. Jif by the Rowdy Fuckminstrels
  3. Babyweiner by Heroin Manband
  4. Here Comes 1974’s Hot New Country Western by various artists
  5. Real Men of Genius Sampler by Bud Light
  6. Touchdown by Jim Everett and the Nighthawks
  7. Ambient Trashcan Noises by Impromptu Jazz Ensemble
  8. Disco Cylon by Battlesynth Galactigasm
  9. The Day the Clown Cried Soundtrack by various artists
  10. Frampton Comes Alive by Peter Frampton

Kidding aside, there’s really only one. Spice Girls – Spice. I broke out in a cold sweat in Hastings as I lingered in the music aisle. I had to have it. It was a cassette in one of those huge plastic contraptions, so theft wasn’t an option. I never was much of a shoplifter anyway. My teen thrillseeking maxed out at puking Evan Williams on dirt roads.

I approached the register and pulled out a twenty. To my delight, the young woman behind the counter didn’t seem to give a fuck what I purchased. Nobody really does, but tell that to a long-haired leather-jacketed dude with a Britpop cassette in his sweaty hand.

Before I knew it, I was in my 1995 Ford Ranger unwrapping my prize with slightly trembling hands. Which side is it on? Where is “Two Become One” on this damned thing?

There it is. Fast forward. Yes. Yes. This is finally happening. It’s mine, all mine. Oh. Oh. It’s starting. Oh my.

Candlelight and soul forever.

Anniversary

I just spent 30 minutes hacking into my WordPress account on my new phone so I could bring you this message. 

Many Bothans. 

It’s that time of year again, when Facebook hammers some of my photos into a video and attempts to convince me to share it. I’ll not be doing that today, either. 

It’s difficult to wax poetic about my life before Gina. There’s no rulebook to follow on this sort of thing, so I’ve made my own. I’ll pick and choose what to remember, which is my way, and say that it was, and remains, an adventure

Because of Gina, I’ve set foot in places I never would have visited. I’ve shaken hands I never would have touched. I’ve seen things and done things, some harrowing, but that is the very essence of adventure. Indiana Jones is fun because he gets himself into so much trouble before he reaches for his hat and escapes.

Love makes us strive to be better than we are.

It is with this outlook we forge ahead into uncertain times. We’re lucky to have two anniversaries per year, one on this day, when we were legally wed, and one on April 16, when we celebrated with our friends and family.

Oh, and her birthday just happens to be tomorrow. 

We’ll mark another day, the birth of William Patrick on October 27, as a celebration of Gina’s heroic struggle to bring our son into the world. I am forever in awe. We were fortunate to have a brilliant RN, and an OB-GYN who answered his phone, drove fast, and cut faster.

Here’s to my wonderful companion, the patron saint of stepmothers and a fantastic mother in her own right, thank you. I adore you, my love, my wife, my life. 

Here’s to you, my greatest adventure. 

Allons-y!

Postcards from the End

I could have sworn that I took a photograph of Carrie Fisher from across a crowded convention hall in Dallas. It’s not on any of my hard drives or stored anywhere I can find. Gina searched her computer in case I was mistaking one of hers for mine. Nothing.

Apparently, the scene is just so burned into my brain that I convinced myself it was a photograph. I can still see her sitting at the end of the table closest to us. She’s wearing a brown pantsuit and sunglasses. We stood there, Gina and I, in the center of the autograph area, which we called the celebrity zoo, and gawked. I wasn’t about to stand in line for four hours when there was so much to do. There’s always next time, right?

Suddenly I’m a kid and I’m over someone’s house, I don’t remember who, but they had a new VCR and a bootleg of Star Wars and they keep pausing it and rewinding it at all the parts they want to see. Later on, it’s Obi Wan Kenobi disappearing at Vader’s last strike, but the first moment is “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”

Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.

Don’t be alarmed by 2016, children. People have been dying forever. There’s a neat convergence of social media saturation and the mundane march of time going on here, so prepare to get wrecked for the rest of your life. Your grandparents had to mourn Elvis in front of the television. Their parents talked about FDR over the breakfast table as they cracked open their newspapers. They all clung to each other as their progenitors passed, and they didn’t have an electronic bulletin board to slap their grief upon.

Here’s what I want you to do today: If you find yourself in pain, think of someone else you’d like to contact, someone who is currently breathing, someone you appreciate, and write them a letter. Get a piece of paper, a pen, an envelope, and procure the appropriate postage. Let them know, because it’s going to be too late on the day they leave this place.

It’s cathartic to jump on the social media train and I don’t blame you for it. I’ll do it myself, but once we get that notch in our belts we’ll move on to the next tragedy. I’d rather not just live moving from crisis to crisis when I can send someone a message of love and admiration to break up the monotony.

We’ll take things for granted until it’s time for us to be buried or burned. It’s human nature. I am under no illusion that this meager missive will have an impact on millions of years of evolution.

Until then, thank someone today. Thank Carrie Fisher, then thank someone because Carrie Fisher isn’t here to thank anymore.

Maybe from now on, December 25 is Christmas, December 26 is Boxing Day, and December 27 is a new day of thanks for those who gave us hope. The artists who helped us dream when we were little. The people who let us know that maybe there’s more to life, even if it’s a space opera.

Thank you, Carrie.

Have a Day

I was born on Thanksgiving Day. I don’t often request a day off for my birthday because I know I’ll have one off that week anyhow. This almost always results in the regrets, but I keep doing it anyway, which sums up my entire life well enough.

I’ve long been on a love-hate rollercoaster with this turkey-addled mess, as has society. At first, it was kinda neat to be born on a holiday, but disappointment set in when I learned it was hit-or-miss thanks to our calendar. I still wore it as a badge of honor in elementary school, the Kid Born on Thanksgiving.

As I grew older, I began to realize how it wrecks everything when it comes to planning a birthday celebration, sometimes making it logistically impossible. (I want to say highly improbable, as Commander Data would, because nothing is impossible. Then again, some things are so improbable that they might as well be.)

When the social justice bug bit me I started rallying against Thanksgiving shopping. The Glorious People’s Revolution would not tolerate late nights and early mornings of work on that sacred day, but then the origins of the deal tend to sully the whole affair. I view it as a much earned day off, while others can’t forget the fairy tale Disney-fied handshakes between musket-brandishing guys with pilgrim hats and shirtless feathered dudes in fetching buckskin trousers.

It’s much more real now, today, while our government assaults and maims the descendants of the original inhabitants of this land on their land. State-sponsored violence on the Great Plains seemed like something long gone to a white kid in the 1980s and 1990s. Chalk it up to an inadequate Southern public school education, but it was supposed to be history, like bugles and cavalry charges. I was a young dude with long hair who still thought it was hilarious to do war whoops when my anthropology instructor, the late John Thomas, told us about the brutality of life on the reservation.

He conveyed tales of inter-tribal violence, which he compared to the gangs we were so familiar with here, in Arkansas, during the 1990s when Little Rock and Pine Bluff were the most dangerous places in the nation. He hinted at murders that would never be solved. He said that we didn’t know, we couldn’t know what it was like. A class full of white kids sat silent, stunned.

It sure is tough having to think about what you’re doing living on stolen land. My old friend John Weems, Advocatus Diaboli, whose birthday, as luck would have it, is tomorrow, would say that everyone lives on stolen land. There’s something to that, and while I still cling to the urgency of what is happening now, I concede that our governments (ancestors, kingdoms, elders, warlords) have never stopped committing crimes against humanity whether we support them or not.

I’ve gone on at length before about the violence we do to our fellow humans just by living. That Thai worker chained up in an ice house slicing shrimp probably appreciates the overpriced platter you just ordered at Red Lobster. Our slavery footprint is astounding, yet we can all watch Glory and get a tear in our eye. (12 Years a Slave? I’m showing my age.)

Whatever you do today, maybe take a moment to think about how you got here, and how the things you have got here. I’ll help you out a bit. It was probably given to you, and it was most likely taken from someone else if it didn’t come over on a container ship.

When you’re done with the socially prerequisite self-flagellation, have a good time. Don’t try to have a good time, because trying is setting course to break your ship up on the cliffs of failure. Just do it, as that old sweatshop empire of cobbling children would tell you. Embrace solipsism for two minutes and relax, like Frankie said.

Relax because you’re not always going to be able to, guys. You might find yourself in a hospital room on this hallowed day. I have. You might find yourself sitting in a nursing home. Been there too, and while I was just visiting, someday it might be permanent if I’m lucky (or unlucky, take your pick).

Maybe I’m talking to myself here. I can’t assume you don’t know how to enjoy things and require my magnificent wisdom to lead you to the promised land. I hope that’s the case. It means that you’re solid and I’m giving myself a pep talk, which is par for the fucking course. I have difficulty operating without bouncing everything off the world. Thanks for the pingback. I’d be blind without it.

That said, no matter what it means to you, have a day. Relaxation, revolution, revulsion, rest. Have a day then have another tomorrow. Have a day to hold as a beacon in the darkness ahead. Have a day, you silly fucks. Have a day. Have a day.

Have a day.

 

I’ve Been Waiting

I just worked three overnight shifts to complete the holiday setup. It ended up being more like two-and-a-half shifts, which was a relief. Lynn brought her sound system and we listened to 1980s pop all night. The awkward hilariousness of the lyrics was not lost on us. After the fourth or fifth time through “Jessie’s Girl” I wondered aloud when Rick Springfield was going to kill Jessie. The discussion quickly went down the rabbit hole of Rick planning the murders of subsequent boyfriends and, ultimately, the titular Jessie’s Girl.

Why is 1980s music so fucking creepy? The lyrical content is stalkery and often describes borderline illegal activity, if not outright condoning it. The Police alone (and I’m talking Sting, not the guys who choke you to death for committing the terrible crime of living in America) have enough songs about unconventional relationships to give me this vibe, and they were one of the most popular bands in their day.

Throw in “Jessie’s Girl” and we’re developing a trend. When I was a kid, I thought Rick Springfield was Bruce Springsteen’s shitty little brother. It initially makes little sense, even with the similar names (that’s not how surnames work, Bobby), but I assume it’s because my child mind somehow recognized all the other celebrities and their less talented siblings. Sylvester and Rick Stallone (see, there it is. The S-name, the “Rick”, the shittiness), John and Jim Belushi, Patrick and Don Swayze.

“Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler isn’t so bad on its own, but I’ve seen the video. In those days you couldn’t divorce the MTV extravaganza from the tune itself. It was an important part of the presentation, and since this particular one featured the singer lusting after young schoolboys I’m going to put her down in the “set sail for prison” column.

Perhaps this is me at my most Tipper Gore, and I’ll accept that criticism. Thing is, I’m not saying it’s necessarily bad or that it should be loaded onto a rocket and fired into the sun (that’s ska. Build the ska rocket now – we have the technology). I’m only telling you it makes me feel kinda funny, and not like climbing the rope in gym class, Garth.

Lyrical content aside, 1980s pop has always sounded haunting. Even as a child I was creeped out by it. “Thriller” by the late King of Pop was supposed to be scary, but “We Built This City” by Starship (no Jefferson here) and “Out of Touch” by Hall and Oates are equally unsettling. The synthesizers are ethereal and unreal, existing in the uncanny valley of musical production. Earlier prog rock situations have this effect on me as well, but that shit was supposed to be weird. When it’s appropriated for club music, everything sounds like a funeral.

I’ve always been haunted by it in the same way that 1930s and 1940s big band music sends a chill down my spine. Other genres don’t do this to me. Rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s and 1960s, hard rock in the 1970s, that shit is alive. Motown, funk, and psychedelia, they still move after all these years. Tears for Fears, however, sounds like a dirge. I know I was just a little guy, but it seemed that way then.

I hear the freakiness in other places, though. There’s something chilling about gritty old blues, country and western recordings. Warbly 1920s jazz crooners send a shiver down my spine. Hell, Kurt Cobain sounded like a dead man before he decided to do a little at-home dentistry. Radiohead? All of it.

If we’re talking about an entire era, though, holy shit. You could make the Haunted Mansion at Disney a whole lot freakier by piping in 1980s Top Forty Hits. Goddamned electric organs, sadness, and lyrical threats of spying and molestation. Instead of hitchhiking ghosts the exit mirrors would reflect everyone with shoulderpads and bad hair. Hell, a lot of those songs were what was cranking while Dad helped set up the Trumann Jaycees Haunted House in the early 1980s, so I’ve experienced it in person. That could also be the cause of my bias.

If I’m going to engage in introspection, there may be other reasons I associate 1980s music with death, but I’m certain I have something concrete here. Crank up Foreigner’s “Waiting For A Girl Like You” on an overcast autumn day and tell me that shit isn’t spooky. Halloween is coming. I’ll be waiting for you down at the motel in a plywood maze that smells like spray paint. Jessie’s dead, kiddo.

It’s just you and me now.

Back to the Past, Part II

I posted this one year ago today, which already seems like a thousand years, but that is the nature of time. I’ve added some notes in brackets. Enjoy.


Great Scott!

As you are probably aware, tomorrow, October 21, 2015, will be the day that Marty McFly traveled to in Back to the Future II, and I’m not ready.

By “not ready” I don’t mean I can’t handle it. I mean it in the sense that it’s like the Halloween costume I haven’t planned. It’s the exam I didn’t study for until the last minute. Years ago I would have said, “It’s an Interview and I didn’t shave,” but that may not make sense anymore.

It’s highly possible that some of you haven’t even seen this film, and I implore you to drop everything and go watch all three right now. The first film, as 1980s adventure/comedies go, is right up there with essentials such as Ghostbusters or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The much awaited sequel, which lent tomorrow’s often-Internet-hoaxed-but-still-hallowed day, came out on November 22, 1989, the day before my birthday. The third film, while arguably the weakest of the three, still holds up to repeat viewings and features an anxiety inducing locomotive race-against-time. Some of you may have seen that train sitting next to a tarnished DeLorean at Universal Studios. I have. It’s a mock-up with Alan Silvestri’s score pumping out of it, but I must admit that I got chills when I stood beside it in the 95° Florida sun.

I don’t want to make this some long screed about what the future should have been, because that’s not what the movies were about anyway. They were about how our decisions affect our lives and, repeatedly, about how those decisions, when made out of blind greed or anger, have long lasting repercussions for not only us, but the people around us. We can post all the clickbait articles in the world about what the films got wrong but I think we might be missing what they got right, and it’s not the Cubs’ chances at the World Series. [This is relevant in 2016 for more reasons than the Cubs being in the World Series again.]

Maybe this only means something to people over a certain age, and that’s okay. I’m glad that I experienced something that I hold dear first hand, with precious people, some of whom are no longer with us. You Star Wars guys know what I’m talking about, and I hope that trailer last night brought back some of that wonder. It did for me, and it’s about damned time. [So far your future is looking bright, SW fans. ST is all weird and we’ve gone almost a year without Doctor Who (don’t yell at me, greybeards). At least there’s Marvel and DC television. Nerds will survive.]

That’s the wonder I try to hang on to, through the scary and the ugly and the mundane. I think we all need a wonder injection from time to time but they can be hard to come by. I think of my children being born, of Sam Neill whipping off his sunglasses in Jurassic Park, of a whale breaching right behind our fishing boat in Bristol Bay. Things real and unreal. This is how we keep going.

On the day after tomorrow, we’ll have traveled one day further than Marty did. Then another, and another. Behind us will be not a day unprepared for, or a party gone off half-cocked, but a milestone. One of many. What lies before us?

Well, if my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour you’re gonna see some serious shit.

[Oh my. We have, and we are. Godspeed.]