Thursday, July 23, 2009

No matter where I was, or how weird & crazy it got, everything would be okay if I could just make it Home.--Hunter S. Thompson

I guess I had this idea that everyone must have some similar landmark that could be the center of their universe. Some places have a mountain that’s always on the horizon. Maybe for some people it’s a grain silo. Maybe a tree. Maybe a flat field. Maybe an apartment building. The iconic mascot of a place that is home.--Phil Elverum

The thing is: I really don't feel like I have that. Technically, my hometown is a little town in Texas called Linden, but I left it before I was old enough to really establish an identity there. I moved back when I was twenty years old and spent the next four years or so there, but I made no friends and felt no special connection to the place beyond the family I had there.

The years between my time in Linden were spent in an even smaller town in Louisiana, and I suppose that technically I feel more at home there than I do in Texas—if I go there I can see familiar faces, and most of my adolescent memories are tied up in that place—but I don't really know anyone there anymore, I have no family in the area, and so there is no reason for me to go back.

If I had any one place that I felt was totally mine to call home—“my own personal Lighthouse that I could see from anywhere in the world” as Hunter Thompson put it—it would probably be my grandparents' home in Texas, just outside Linden in an unincorporated community called Bear Creek. We lived with them off and on throughout my early childhood and following my parents' divorce and, when I returned to Linden to attend school and spend long graveyard shifts working at the EZ Mart, I lived in their home while they separately went about the slow business of dying, and I lived there in the house alone for nearly a year afterward before leaving it behind to live in an attic in Arkansas.

The house had always been the place for the entire family to gather. My grandparents had five children, so there were a lot of grandchildren. I have nearly a dozen cousins, and there would usually be a couple of weeks in the summer when most of us were running around outside getting bitten by ants and playing in the dirt. Holidays were always a big to-do, with thirty of us easily packed into the house, the adults playing Moon or Forty-Two, domino games that I never learned to play despite their soundtrack—the clack of the tiles and the laughter of grown-ups—playing constantly in the background of the first twelve years or so of my life.

But naturally, as my grandparents became more frail and as the cousins got older and went off to school or got married or had children of their own, coming home to Bear Creek became less of an option, and by the time my grandfather died in September of 2002, the house had ceased to be the gathering place for the family.

(He built it himself, almost literally. He worked in the mill at Lone Star, then would come home and between tending to the cattle or the two gardens, he built the house that stands there now. Working off and on like that, it took somewhere around a decade. I can't imagine having that kind of strength or dedication, and I can't really imagine I'll ever have it.)

But no one really wanted to live there. They had their own homes, their own lives And so the house went on the market and, after a year or so, it finally sold, and passed out of our hands.

It seems like those memories, and the things that happened there, in that place, were a hundred years ago, and happened to someone else.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Last night I watched The Marine, starring WWE superstar John Cena. It was pretty funny and awful. They say "the marine" about ten times, and there are at least seven ridiculous explosions. Also, the guy who played the T-1000 is in it, hamming up a storm.

Does anyone remember when wrestlers were tough? They were strong and muscular, but they were also kind of flabby...they looked solid. Most, if not all, of the guys wrestling professionally nowadays look strong, sure, but they don't look tough. Cena himself is huge and muscular--his neck must be thirty inches in diameter--and he has a gigantic, blocky head that looks to have been carved from stone, and he could break every bone in my body twice with little or no effort...but he just looks like a big overgrown doofus. And when the end credits for The Marine roll, and Cena begins awkwardly rapping, then it's confirmed: doofus. Not tough.

Cena and his kind are sadly representative of what kids think of when they think of wrestlers: oily muscleheads who wear Ed Hardy t-shirts in their off-time and listen to T-Pain to get themselves pumped up before a match. The kind of guys who throw fake gang signs and make kissy faces in their Myspace photos. In short, they think of douchebags. And as we all know, no matter how strong a douchebag may be, he is never intimidating or tough-looking.

Look at "Dirty" Dusty Rhodes or "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan or Ric Flair: those guys are/were certainly strong, but it was the kind of strong that you got by working construction or being a farmhand or working in a steel mill or living in the woods and fighting bears. It's the kind of strong that you associate with your father, when you're a kid. Those old guys were basically big strong rednecks, tough guys, like bikers. Guys that like to drink shitty beer and listen to ZZ Top and have gross sex with bar hags. Guys that would never make kissy faces in their Myspace photos. Guys that would never have a Myspace profile to begin with.

Guys like this.

Look at it this way: Ric Flair started wrestling in 1971. He stopped wrestling in 2008. That is nearly forty years. Ric Flair was a tough guy for a living for nearly forty years. Guys like John Cena usually retire a couple of years into their career to focus on making terrible music or to promote energy drinks or to star in terrible, terrible movies like The Marine.

Rhodes has a son that wrestles now, as does Ted "The Million Dollar Man" DiDiase, as does Randy Orton. All of these sons are douchebags. They're an insult to wrestling's great tradition of giving stupid rednecks something to yell at on TV on Saturday mornings, a place to direct your simmering anger, instead of beating your wife or kids or dog. In this way wrestling has long fostered healing and togetherness.

In all seriousness, wrestling has a beautiful old-timey feel, an almost vaudevillian quality--the good guys are called "babyfaces" and the villains are called "heels"--there should be a guy in a straw boater and a striped coat coaxing you inside to see the huge men named Goliath or Samson or Hercules, men wearing leopard-print leotards and lifting huge trapezoidal weights. Men who marry beautiful midget women and eventually own racehorses and saloons. Men who become the first in the community to buy a motorcar. Men who inspire respect, whose funerals are attended by hundreds of mourners, who create legends that outlive them, who cast long shadows over all the subsequent generations.

You know. Tough guys.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Of late, I've become somewhat obsessed with talk radio. I had a job earlier this year with the Census Bureau, which meant that I spent a lot of time riding around in my car. And because I got tired of listening to music, and because NPR doesn't begin to air news programs until three PM, I would often spend a good part of the early day listening to AM radio, a scary place that is populated chiefly by angry lunatics and condescending charlatans that know exactly which buttons to push to rile up their equally angry listeners, who are for the most part older white men who feel threatened and put upon. The kind of people who genuinely believe that there is at this time a plot to overthrow The American Way Of Life that they have become accustomed to. The kind of people who get angry when they dial an 800 number and are told by the automated voice at other end of the line to push one for English.

(There's a really good article about this very subject by David Foster Wallace available here )

These hosts vary from the purely stupid (Sean Hannity, who says things like "this is the Greatest Country In The World, and Obama has the nerve to call us arrogant?") to the absolutely unhinged (Mark Levin, who screeches like a banshee for hours on end) to the genuinely evil (Michael Savage, who makes no attempt to mask his hatred for gays and immigrants). So it was quite a shock to me that, after hating him for as long as I've known of his existence, I came to realize that Rush Limbaugh is actually the only talk radio host that I can stand to listen to for more than five minutes. Not that this is an endorsement of Limbaugh—he is a terrible, terrible person, and I am sure he will go to hell when he dies—but he is the least worst option. Levin and Hannity and Savage are all idiots, clearly, but they are first and foremost zealots: they all genuinely believe the hateful bullshit that they spew day after day after day. Limbaugh, though, is more of a showman. I'm sure he believes most of what he says, but I'm also sure that he's a smart enough guy to know that the really insane, out-there shit is just that: shit. He knows exactly what to say to piss off his enemies and to encourage his pathetic, hero-worshipping fans. Whether or not he actually believes it is beside the point. If Shit Really Went Down, Rush would find a way to survive, like a cockroach.Hannity and Glenn Beck and Levin, though, would be down in the Führerbunker to the bitter end, waiting for the doors to be kicked in so they could swallow their cyanide capsules in unison.

I'm getting off track. What I really wanted to bring up was how utterly humorless all of these guys are. When I say humorless, I don't mean they don't try to be funny, just that they all fail at it, and miserably. Their humor most often takes the form of bad puns or weak, childish wordplay. Michael Savage calls Michael Jackson “Michael Jackass”; Levin calls the Washington Post the “Washington Com-Post” (and it's not bad enough that this is not only not funny, but he repeats it constantly); on Limbaugh they play a song, supposedly sung (in a lispy, faggy screech) by Barney Frank, called “Banking Queen”, to the tune of ABBA's “Dancing Queen”. Because Barney Frank is GAY, get it? They also played Michael Jackson's “Beat It” intercut with soundbites from (I shit you not) Pee Wee Herman, a joke that is both really bad and about twenty years out of date.

In some ways, I find these awful jokes more insulting than the idiotic opinions being put out there by these morons. We all have differing political opinions, fine, but just about everyone knows when a joke is good and when it's not. Even if you don't agree with Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert you should be able to laugh at something that's objectively funny. I've never seen or heard a single talk-radio host tell a joke of any kind that's even somewhat funny. They should take a long hard look at Janeane Garofalo, a comic who used to be pretty funny but who long ago got swallowed up in being bitter and self-congratulatory. It's just not funny if you're the only one laughing.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes - a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.