Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How the World Series Will Kill Your Children, and Why

So . . . I am almost forty-three years old. I've been around, I've seen some shit. I've been in places I shouldn't be at times when I shouldn't be there with people who do gnarly stuff. Then I grew up and have had to be the protector sometimes because, ya know, I'm a dad and a dude. I'm not afraid of shit, is what I'm saying. I mean, sure, I am uneasy around certain large-ish spiders. And bodybuilders make me uncomfortable, not because they're strong but because they look like their skin is going to explode. And lately I'm not so sure about the Amish. But I'm not afraid of anything, not really. Which is why it's a little disconcerting that, as I begin to write this, I've been sitting at my desk for almost an hour, reluctant to go back to sleep because I just had the WORST NIGHTMARE EVER.

Admittedly the details are a little fuzzy. I was in a crappy raised ranch with a bunch of people who were, presumably, my family, except they were all characters from the shows I grew up watching in the fabled seventies: sideburns doctor from Emergency, Grandpa from The Waltons, Agent 99 from Get Smart (we weren't related, I think she was dating my uncle, that dude Gopher from Loveboat). Peter and Jan Brady, my two least favorite Bradys, were my brother and sister. Typical. I have such lousy dreams. Anyway, for some reason there seemed to be a bunch of what we used to call "mental patients" in the house. They mostly kept to themselves and were, of necessity, heavily medicated. I'm guessing it was sort of like those people who have like nine foster kids at a time, and the state pays you to take care of them. I mean, honestly, if you're mentally ill, there's nothing better than to be strapped to a twin bed in the home of a modern thermonuclear family. At least that's how it was in the seventies. I'm pretty sure we loved our crazies.

So, alright, here's the thing: I had this sense of foreboding the whole time. Premonition, really: I knew the fat guy with the mustache, the one wearing the grey sweatpants and the stained t-shirt, was going to go berserk, with foreseeable consequences. I think I saw this coming because, scamp that I am, I was the one who for some unknowable reason . . . unfastened his restraints! Oops! That was me, I guess, rebelling against the middle-class upbringing I never had. So, yeah, I set the monster free. And very slowly, with no expression on his face, with very little fanfare, in fact, he went about butchering my entire made-up seventies television character family. And guests (sorry, Agent 99). I was outside by then, watching strange things happen through the picture window. Of course, windows work both ways, and as he was flaying Mr. Bentley from The Jeffersons, the crazy guy looked up and saw me standing in the yard, looking in. He headed for the door. Then I woke up, and except for my already enlarged heart pounding out of my chest, I lay perfectly still, lest the real-life murderer know I was awake and ready for him. I. WAS. TERRIFIED. And then, from the desk eight feet away, my phone buzzed, not the usual three buzzes that let me know I have a message, but five, six, seven -- I stopped counting, it just kept buzzing and I was too busy filling my pants to care anymore.

So I got up, and I went to my happy place -- Turns out that wasn't safe either, because the first thing I came across was an article discussing how politicians and health officials are urging Major League Baseball to ban the use of chewing tobacco during the World Series.

I have a few thoughts on this subject. The first is this: Stop. Stop. Stop stop stop stop stop stop stop. Stop! Fucking cut it out already! Seriously, just stop! Cut the shit! Please. Stop. Please.

Here's the article: (I don't know how to make that a hotlink, maybe blogger will do that for me?)

Here are more of my thoughts: stop telling people what they shouldn't do to themselves, and stop saying you're doing it for the children. That is unmitigated horseshit and it offends me more than most other horseshit you could name. Here is a direct quote from the letter sent by a group of US Senators to MLBPA union head Michael Weiner: "When players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example." Are you fucking kidding me? If this argument were only specious, I could dismiss it and say, "Yeah, nice try." But this is witch-hunt shit, man. I'm sorry, let me get this straight: your child's health is at risk because he saw somebody doing something? Burn them! Burn them!

Okay, let's get some facts out of the way, see if we can't feel better about this. The combined population of Texas and Missouri (it's the Rangers and Cardinals squaring off in the World Series, in case you missed the news), depending on who you want to believe, is probably about 32 million people. Take out the typical non-baseball demographics -- NASCAR fans, eighty-one percent of football fans, professional dancers, exterminators, and potters, and that leaves a whopping 174,000 people in those regions who are likely to watch the games. Factor in another 80,000 people worldwide, some of whom are diehard baseball fans (like me), the rest, meh, they're somewhere, the game's on, they're sort of watching, but it counts. That's about a quarter-million people who will probably watch these games on TV (sorry, Fox, can't win 'em all -- good thing you have football, eh?). And of that quarter million, guess how many are kids? Well, here's the thing: the revenue is in the prime-time slots, and you want to push the start times as late as possible to get the west-coast viewers home in time for the third inning, so that means late starts, so you're likely to have a whopping 3,500 kids worldwide watching any or all of these games. That's right: 3,500 kids. Even if every single one of these kids has his eyes glued to the set the instant Chris Carpenter is inadvertently caught on camera stuffing a wad the size of a small raccoon into his cheek, and even if each of those kids wakes up the next day and tells two friends, and each of those kids tells two friends and . . . wait, where was I going? Oh, yeah: where are the parents?!

Yeah, I said it: where are the parents? Assholes. Look, it's time to stop expecting everyone else in the world to raise your kids. Because of course that's not really what you want, is it? No, it isn't. Here's what it is: parents fuck up. My parents did, as did theirs and theirs. As have I. Your kids grow up to do stupid, sometimes terribly unfortunate, things. And isn't it nice to live in a world where everyone -- even the government -- is willing to make it somebody else's fault. "No, Mrs. Jones, it's not your fault Little Jimmy killed all those people. Those eighteen years of nagging and whining and passive-aggressiveness and neediness didn't affect him at all. It was The A-Team." It's not your fault, Will. It's not your fault. It's television and video games and role models gone wrong. Have another gimlet, flip through the family photo album, and think about how sad you are that the world failed you so completely that Jimmy smokes crack and Joanie is a teenage prostitute. Write a letter to your congressman. Let's fix this shit so no one else ever suffers your particular pain again.

George W. Bush may have said several intelligent things in his life thus far; I am aware of only one. In response to complaints about television programming some parents deem inappropriate for their children, he chirped, in a purely George W. Bush turn of phrase, "Turn on the off button." Parents, if you are truly afraid your children's health will be compromised by what they might see on television during the World Series, turn on the goddamned off button. You know, once upon a time, in a land much like this, there was a very special off button that kept you from ever seeing anything bad on TV: it was called radio. Yeah, that's right: people used to listen to baseball games on the radio. In fact, I think if you dig around, you might find that technology still exists. Back in the day, it was a good thing all they had was radio: I'm pretty sure both corner infielders for the 1919 White Sox -- Chick Gandil and Buck Weaver -- were actually smoking cigarettes while fielding their positions. Imagine the children seeing that on your sixty-four inch flat-screen. In HD, no less! Gosh, I almost fainted.

Being a parent doesn't mean telling everyone what to do, it means telling your kids what to do. And being a senator doesn't mean you're America's parents. You're supposed to be our cool older brothers and sisters. Start acting like it, you bunch of self-satisfied, overly earnest dweebs.

By the way, I just checked my phone to see what all the buzzing was about. There was a text that read, "You have insufficient funds to send a message." I haven't been this terrified since I walked out on The Blair Witch Project.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Make 'em laugh . . .

Shifting gears today, from a dark-eyed Southern dame to a sixteenth-century Frenchman who told a lot of dick and fart jokes. If you've never read Rabelais, don't worry, you're not alone. Nobody reads him anymore, although if you're a writer of anything even remotely comic, you should. At the beginning of each section he wrote a few lines of verse addressed to the reader, and I particularly like the lines he wrote to introduce Gargantua. I don't know the source of this particular translation (it's different from my edition, which is only about five years old), but I like it better than any other I've seen because it's less prosaic and seems to speak more to the spirit of what Rabelais was saying:

Not that I sit here glowing with pride
For my book: all you'll find is laughter:
That's all the glory my heart is after,
Seeing how sorrow eats you, defeats you.
I'd rather write about laughing than crying,
For laughter makes men human, and courageous.

I couldn't agree more. But don't be fooled: he's being appropriately disingenuous. Like any satirist worth his salt, Rabelais' work is sprinkled with, for lack of a better word, humanity -- some dark, some poignant, some sad. In the heart of every blisteringly funny wit lies the memory of a dead puppy. When his puppy died, I suspect Rabelais looked at his friend and said, "Now I have something to give your dead baby on his first birthday." And they laughed, and then they got shitfaced. I'd give up modern medicine, air travel and internet porn to go back in time and be his roommate for like six months. That'd be a party.

I know what you're thinking right now -- you're thinking, "What's your point, Bear?" Because it's a blog, so I must have a point, right? As a matter of fact, I do. And I am indeed getting to it.

I hold a handful of solid beliefs, some of which are unpopular, some contradictory, some just plain inconceivable to friends and loved ones. I won't lay them all out right here and now, but I'll give you one meaty example. I believe politics is flawed in the same way religion is flawed: they are systems of belief that are based on the assumption that people are fundamentally better than they are. In fact, they depend on that assumption, to the extent that it's really more of an assertion. I think the world is actually at least half-full of dinks (and believe me, I know sometimes I'm one of them). But even the ones who aren't really dinks are, by and large, still lacking in the sort of virtue that ideals like democracy and christianity ultimately require. That's not the problem, though. The problem is that too many people either refuse to acknowledge that reality, or they are incapable of recognizing it.

For a while I thought we lived in a unique time, unique because it appears to be lacking in anything that could be considered an ethos: a collective sense of who we are, what we believe, what we want. I've only been around since the very late sixties, so as I considered this question, I thought maybe this is what we get post-God, post-feminism, post-industrial, post-globalization. Maybe this is what we get from too much television and MacDonalds. Don't get me wrong, I'm not assigning values to any of these things, I was simply brushing my fingertips against touchstones and asking, "Was it this?"

Reading Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, books written almost five-hundred years ago, I find myself pleasantly reminded of the thought that seems too often to be standing at the back of the room, reluctant to raise its hand -- perhaps because it shouldn't have to. That thought is this: nothing's changed. Humankind possessed no more or less sense of its collective self five centuries ago than it does now or has any time since or will any time in the future. We are, by and large, shaved apes who can drive cars and make omelets. We are collectively stupid about so many things, it's amazing we invented the sundial, let alone the smartphone. But here's the thing: we did. Now think of every dumb thing you've ever done with your smartphone. Impressive, right? And if you think about it, you know there had to be some Babylonian dude who looked at the sundial and said to his buddy, "You know what'd be really funny?" We are knuckleheads, boobs, doofuses.

And ultimately, I guess that's why I kinda like us. I'm willing to bet Rabelais felt the same way. And Mark Twain and Groucho Marx and Lenny Bruce and George Carlin and Larry David and Louis C.K. and on and on and on. We are spinning through our lifetimes in a live theatre of the absurd. And thank goodness for it. Anyone who knows me well knows I joke constantly. Sometimes it's hard to tell I'm joking -- I almost never laugh out loud, laugh mostly with my eyes, in fact -- but it's a rare occasion when I'm not cracking wise. Because I have to. Because there's no world I can even imagine that would be bearable without it. The idea of a world that settles its nonsense, gets its head out of its ass and achieves the truly noble objectives of peace and equality and health and prosperity is beyond laudable. But I'm not going to lie to you: I kind of hope it doesn't happen in my lifetime. Because did you ever hear the one about the guy who was perfectly happy? Nah, me either.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Okay, so if you're paying attention, you'll know what I mean when I say this is the kind of day where the writing was like a big, fat, angry slice that loops deep, deep into the woods to the right, gone. Wrote for shit. But that's not the end of the world because, well, this is America and we have lots and lots of ways to pass a shitty day. I am so glad I'm not a Visigoth: they had like one thing going on -- invade shit -- and the rest was all just lonely, frustrating downtime. I read a little Flannery O'Connor (because I like to be able to say things like, "Oh, I'm reading Flannery O'Connor" and watch people's eyes glaze over), I perused some news of the world (dumb fucking world), played a little sudoku to keep my mind sharp for my golden years (fuck you, Alzheimer's), got some Chinese food and have spent the last couple hours watching episodes of Louie. I don't know what you're doing right now, and unless you're my daughter, who should be finishing her homework, I don't really give a shit, here's what you should be doing: watch Louie. Louie is the brilliant sitcom featuring Louis C.K., who might be the second smartest guy to ever speak extensively about his own masturbation habits. He is easily the funniest. I saw one episode last year sometime, and recently my friends Chili and Peaches, independent of each other, told me about another episode they'd seen, so I pulled up the Hulu (because I am poor and I live in a cave without an actual television) and watched. That was last week. I loved it. So tonight with no pep, no zing, no unbridled enthusiasm, I decided to pick my way through the series to date (he's in the midst of season two now), and holy shit is this a good show. It's not just that it's funny, believe me. I mean, yeah, Louie's character is your typical fumbling mess who finds himself perpetually in the midst of awkward moments often not of his own making but, shit, he's a bit of a clod, so ultimately isn't everything a little bit his fault? Aside from that, though, the show features these smart, unexpectedly touching exchanges that, unless you're a heartless prick, give one pause to consider some of life's more complex questions. I don't want to ruin the experience by telling you too much -- just watch the goddamned show. You won't regret it, unless you're a bland, humorless person who takes everything personally and you're only happy when you're critiquing somebody else's bad behavior or, like, tattling on somebody. Watch it. It's on FX, too, but I don't know when, so you'll have to do your own legwork if it's that important to you to actually watch it on your television. Go do it. Now.