How To Avoid Happiness

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Once in a grocery store in Brooklyn the cashier seemed sad and preoccupied. When I asked her how she was doing, the story came out that she’d felt a lump and was about to go see the doctor.

She then reached over and pulled my hand onto the side of her breast and said, “It’s here, over here.”

It was winter and she was wearing a thick sweater, so I couldn’t feel anything. I don’t remember what I said, but I’m sure I was sympathetic.

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Several weeks later, I asked her how she was and I think she answered  distractedly that she was fine, seemingly forgetting that I had felt her up just a few weeks ago and she had practically been crying in my arms. I saw her periodically over the next year whenever I needed coffee or pickles or vast quantities of beer, and everything seemed to have returned to “normal.”

A more humorous encounter involved an older woman crossing the street with me one afternoon. I don’t know how we got into the topic of marriage, but her husband was dead, she was good with it (she lived in a 55 and older *active* senior building) and she summarized marriage this way: “I was a maid, a cook, a slave, and a hooker.”

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In a completely different situation, how I got on the bad side of Mrs. Bacchus, the elderly woman who lived in our old apartment building, is still a mystery.

She was like a human version of a parrot. Evidently, if a couple buys a parrot, the parrot will generally end up bonding with either one or the other, but not both. So it’ll only talk to one, accept snacks from one, sit only on one’s shoulder, and spend the rest of its life ignoring the other half of the couple.

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Mrs. Bacchus made it perfectly clear that she was a human parrot when my husband was emptying her trash for her one day (she was always asking him for favors) and she passed along some unexpected advice: “You need to get a better wife.”

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The only problem was, I hadn’t bought her, and neither had my spouse, but yet somehow the weird, unpleasant bonding had happened anyway.

There was a missed opportunity at Smart & Final going on a year ago. A woman in a Rascal came racing up to me out of the baking aisle saying, “What’s going on? Isn’t it crazy?”

I was like, “What’s crazy?”

“Everything!”

“You mean…politics? Or just in general?”

“In general! But politics too. Oh, don’t get me started!” And then she added, “Trump’ll get re-elected.”

Assuming she was saying this in a doom and gloom manner, like an Oracle of Negativity powered by Rascal, I said, “Oh, God, I hope not.”

There followed a long, pregnant pause…after which she said slowly, like something had just occurred to her (which it obviously had), “Oh….you don’t like him.” And then, “Why don’t you like him?”

I was like, “Why? Do you like him?”

“Yes, of course!”

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She answered me impatiently, as if I had just asked, “Are we breathing air?”

Looking back, I realize I should have stayed there, probing,  performing an impromptu autopsy of her psyche, but I was in a hurry and wasn’t in the mood to explain that I would dislike anyone  who ran for president because they were jealous of Gwen Stefani’s salary on “The Voice”.

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Strange how so many of my encounters occur at the grocery store, and usually always with women.

Do I keep forgetting items and have to shop constantly, and do women always outnumber men three to one at Ralphs and Pavilions? If so, that would just confirm that 1., Mrs. Bacchus was right on target recognizing me as a bad wife and 2., the woman whose marriage consisted of furniture polish and unwanted sex was also correct in that women’s work is never done.

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I was walking through the Ralph’s parking lot a week ago and a woman passing me by said, “Are you happy?”

Immediately I was like, oh, my God, here we go. I smiled and said, “No.”

She pointed at my shirt and said, “It says ‘Happy.’”

I had, indeed, forgotten that I’d thrown on my black T-shirt that had the word “Happy” written across it in white letters.

“You’re not happy?” She seemed fairly confrontational. “Your shirt says ‘Happy,’” she reminded me again.

“I guess I’m trying to convince myself,” I said.

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And that was true. I remember seeing the shirt in the store and thinking, “Ha. Hilarious.” Maybe through osmosis happiness would melt through the material and leak into my skin. Maybe its aura would douse my personality in a bath of beauty and joy.

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That Happy shirt is kinda old now, though, and I don’t think that way anymore. I feel like happiness is overrated. It’s too fleeting, like trying to catch the wind. Being satisfied is better. Satisfaction is achievable, and durable, like a sturdy pair of comfortable jeans. I’m sure this is old news to a lot of people.

My lady encounters all have one thing in common, though (besides being weird): the search for happiness and the reasons why it’s so hard, in a moment, in a lifetime, in part of a lifetime, in an afternoon, to attain it. And even harder to keep it.

With satisfaction, everything might be different. It could act as an ethereal ballast for serotonin rushes and mercurial emotions.

People might bounce back faster from health scares and the world might not seem any crazier than usual and insulting someone’s wife probably wouldn’t be their first go-to and they might not care as much if they were a whore for their partner, and they’d just laugh and flip off the parrot every time it refused to acknowledge their existence.

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So…a satisfying Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate it.

Pleasant, peaceful, satisfying holidays to you.

And most definitely have a potentially promising, hopeful, encouraging, favorable, enlightening, optimistic, revitalizing and satisfying 2021.

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TRICK OR TREAT?

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The other day after writing a book review, I scanned everyone else’s thoughts and came across one that said (sic), “I wish there’d been a heads up about the explicit sex scene. I wasn’t expecting that and wish there had been a warning.”

When I think of scary things, apropos to today, Halloween, ghosts and goblins and the undead do not make my list. Rotting corpses and witches intent on my destruction are nice, in my opinion, compared to the horror movie we’re in today.

What movie is that, you ask?

I don’t know, maybe Cancel Culture Dystopian Nightmare?

Wear Your Seat belt and No Smoking Outside Nanny State Regime?

Freedom of Speech Accepts Blind Date with “1984”?

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What’s the difference between former US Senator Al Franken’s tacky locker-room-humor depicting him with his hands hovering lecherously over a sleeping female soldier’s breasts, Christine Blasey Ford alleging that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, and Congressman Jim Jordan witnessing sexual harassment on his Ohio wrestling team?

One difference is that Al Franken’s tacky, some would say classless humor, was immortalized in a photo while the others, so far, involve he said/she said only.

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And while Al’s actions may have been considered offensive and extremely sexist, one must remember that he was still a comedian then, and although I’m not “excusing” the joke, per se, when, exactly, were comedians elevated to Buddhahood-like existence?

Where the hell would Pryor and Carlin and Sykes and Silverman and Bruce be, today, in this recycled McCarthy-era world where everyone lives under a microscope, under suspicion, their every syllable dissected and judged by the Moral Thought Police, the social media version of the Eye of Sauron?

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Meanwhile, in our upside down world, the potentially much more dangerous behaviors of Kavanaugh and Jordan have been shelved and, for now, just forgotten while upstanding Al Franken simply bowed out.

This is what I’m confused about: when did we all turn into such soft, wiggly Jell-O that we need to be “warned” about sex in a book, as if coming across verbal descriptions of physical love was going to make our eyeballs implode or spur a psychotic break?

I wonder—do you think it’s possible—that the person was irked or annoyed or “put off” by the sex because possibly—just a guess here—they got turned on? And if so, since when is that a no-no?

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I’ve noticed more and more of these warnings in front of books, as I’m sure you all have. Some even go so far as to warn that there’s “strong language.” I’m sorry—are we all adults, or are we not all adults?

Strong language? Sex? Violence? Do we need to armor ourselves with emotional hazmat suits now before we even crack open a book because our psyches have become that fragile?

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What if Turing and Mandela and Newton and Margarita Neri and Socrates and Qui Jin and Galileo and Fela Kuti and Esraa Abdel Fattah and Socrates and Mother Teresa hadn’t continued in a straight line down the paths they had chosen but instead succumbed to public opinion and “soup du jour” societal beliefs and conclusions?

What if Turing was too afraid of being “outed” to crack the code? What if Esraa decided “You can’t fight City Hall”? You can’t be Jell-O when you’re trying to instigate big changes. Maybe because mega changes will reverberate a lot longer than meta warnings about profanity.

Mother Teresa didn’t “feel God” for 50 years. What would have happened to her today if that had leaked on social media? Would she have been criticized, shamed? Received death threats from Christians?

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Socrates was killed for what—“corrupting the youth”? When in reality he was simply encouraging critical thought and boosting intelligence levels from the equivalent of “The Kardashians”, say, to maybe closer to Ted Talks?

Murdering “witches” then. Cancel culture now. Blasphemy then. Burning books now. Freedom of speech? Or Conditional Freedom of Speech? There’s a not-so-fine-line between trying to consider everyone’s feelings, while simultaneously expressing yourself—but only to a point, and very, very carefully so that no one could possibly be offended–and the road to hell, isn’t there?

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Why isn’t it okay to feel torn anymore? I feel torn when I see Al Franken in that photo, because I wouldn’t want to see my niece or my daughter or my mom in that position. But it’s also just dumb, too, and part of me kind of snickers and says, “Oh, Al Franken. Come on.”

Life isn’t just black and white, right? It’s a many-colored beautiful complicated crazy thing. But it seems like we’re slowly erasing away any gray, trying to completely eradicate not just pain but even discomfort, to sanitize and Disney-fy until no unique, identifying features are left.  There’s no being torn anymore. There’s right or wrong. Yes or no. Good or bad. In trying to accommodate all, we seem to end up alienating many and accommodating very few.

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Maybe everything’s exaggerated and excessive, as with all new movements, and will eventually even out with time. But for now, though, that’s a scary haunted house that I want no part of.

(RIP, Sean Connery)

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A Walk Through Burbank In the Time of Plague

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I went on a walk a few weekends ago to my favorite thrift shop during the plague. I know it’s not really a plague. But it feels like it. It was the weekend of my birthday and I was now [cough, cough, hack, barf] years old. No, I didn’t turn 15, although I know I sound like I did. Burbank, California used to be a small town nobody cared about back in the days that Johnny Carson made fun of it. Not so anymore. It’s crowded, trafficky, houses and rents are unaffordable.

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I read somewhere once that Burbank was the headquarters for the KKK back in the day, but now I think they were referring to nearby areas like Glendale where the American Nazi Party set up camp and where a prominent KKK leader lived. Sadly, Glendale, along with Culver City, which once billed itself as “The Heart of Screenland,” both used to be sundown towns.

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By the time my husband and I moved here in 1999, all that was changing but still not quite changed. I vividly recall going into a neighborhood coffee shop called Frank’s (which is now closed but often used as a set for movies). An elderly gentleman at the counter glanced up from his newspaper, did a double take, locked eyes on my husband and would not stop staring at him the entire time we were there. We were amazed that he didn’t keel over. The force of his anger could have powered a small city for a week.

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On my birthday walk through the neighborhood, though, some [cough hack choke] years later, none of that was happening. Of course, being mixed race, I’m not as obvious a “target” as my husband, and anyway, Burbank is a more inclusive environment these days.

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Some familiar sights were ahead. I knew where the section of sidewalk was where the big red ants lived and remembered to lift my skirt up as I walked past.

The house where the man sat meditating on the front lawn was coming up and, yeah, there he was. Except this time his eyes weren’t closed. They were open above his mask and as I passed he raised a hand in hello, which I took as a positive omen. Of what? Who knows. All I know is he was always deep in meditation the other times but this time we actually made eye contact and had non-verbal communication.

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The Presbyterian church that often had interesting messages posted on its billboard outside was ahead. One of the best ones they ever had was: Come With Me If You Want to Live. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Terminator, that’s the line Kyle says to Sarah while he’s trying to save her from Arnold Schwarzenegger).

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In the parking lot two men stood next to their cars, at least ten feet apart, and one said to the other, “I would vote for Satan himself instead of Donald Trump, but…”

Unfortunately, I was out of earshot after that. I wish now that I’d stopped walking and pretended to look through my purse while I eavesdropped. ‘Cause I have no idea how that sentence could possibly be completed. That “but” was only a tiny, one-syllable word but seemed to carry the weight of collapsed stars along with its hidden meaning.

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Past the church and across the street into the next neighborhood, the sidewalk abruptly ended, replaced with about 20 feet of plants and shrubbery that evidently belonged to the circular driveway and house behind it.

Nobody else had a circular driveway in this neighborhood. Nobody else’s property line mysteriously extended somehow beyond their yard and through the sidewalk, creating an effective green shield between them and the public while also forcing pedestrians to step into the street. Maybe it’s just me, but it seemed fairly unsurprising that the political sign they’d stuck amidst the flowering weeds and bushes was “Sick of Schiff? Vote for Eric Early.”

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All the while, I was passing both the masked and unmasked. I think it was about 50/50. Many people approaching me would abruptly cross the street and continue walking on the other side, regardless of the fact that we were all wearing masks. I found that to be a tad bit extreme, considering we were outside and at other times when we were all in Ralphs or Target, we continually passed each other in the aisles with barely one foot between us. But better safe than sorry, I guess.

Once I had found a couple treasures at the thrift store and was headed back home, the last several encounters were a nice deviation from thoughts of doom and gloom (politics and race relations and the plague–ahem–pandemic).

As I passed one yard, a figure suddenly burst across a fenced-in lawn toward me. I almost screamed. But it turned out to be a friendly Dalmatian with a wagging tail. The owner called the dog back but I couldn’t quite hear the name: either Dolly or Dotty. I was thinking, oh, please, please, please, let the name be Dotty. Please. Please. Please. Please.

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As I strolled by the high school, a man behind a chain-link fence was talking to a black SUV that had pulled up slowly to a stop sign. I heard a girl’s piping voice then the man saying, “You’re driving now, huh? Well, if I didn’t have this fence between us, I’d probably step back.”

If it was [cough hack hack cough] years ago and I was learning to drive and he’d said that to me, he would have been 100% accurate. I had been terrified of learning to drive and in fact had delayed getting my license until I was 18. Before you feel sorry for my parents or my older brother, just know that unless I had to go VERY far, I walked, roller skated, rode my bike or took the bus everywhere. So I wasn’t that much of a burden on them. But I hated driving and still do to this day. Some things never change.

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One of the nice things that hasn’t changed happened when I was almost home. A little further down Dotty’s (or Dolly’s) street, a huge banner was slung across the front of a house that read: SHE SAID YES!

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During these maybe not unforeseen but not entirely expected days of disease and isolation and financial woes and political and social unrest and uncertainty and worry and fear and loathing, it was the cherry on top of my walk to see that banner and share that excitement and feel that sense of hope and potential joy that’s been so elusive lately and that so many, I’m sure, would like to experience again; a sensation rising like the lightest but most tenacious bubble imaginable, the complete opposite of collapsed stars, the antithesis to whatever brings us down low; a beautiful uproar that almost seems to say: “Come with me if you want to live.”

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Unleashed and Howling

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It was night, and dogs came through the trees, unleashed and howling.

Much like the intriguing first line of Mike Allen’s “The Button Bin”, mentioned in a past post, the first line of Gil Adamson’s “The Outlander” flies out like the dogs she’s speaking of: unleashed and howling.  And then the novel continues in unfaltering prose to paint the life of Mary Boulton, a 19-year-old widow, in joyful and harrowing strokes.

In early 1900s rural Canada, Mary, suffering from postpartum depression and the loss of her infant child, comes unhinged, shooting the virtual stranger who is her uncaring, adulterous husband in the leg and letting him hemorrhage to death. Once on the run, her late husband’s brothers pursue her with cold rage across the early frontier wilderness.

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Although this novel came out over ten years ago, it remains one of my favorites due to the sweeping, piercing prose. In the same vein as James Dickey (Deliverance) and Mike Allen, Ms. Adamson is a poet first and a novelist second.

In the beginning, Mary is fleeing, cold and lost, eventually on the verge of death. I haven’t often come across an author who can describe near-starvation with such subjective objectivity:

She shivered in her blighted cloth while phantom snow fell and the stars above reeled. …She felt nothing of her body except a complex of inflexible sinew across her back.

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Carrie O’Grady had this to say in The Guardian:

Inevitably, there are echoes of Cormac McCarthy. Adamson’s writing is very different – richer, more rueful – but her novel shares that sense of troubled souls rattling around in a vast, hostile landscape, saying little yet feeling much.

The atmosphere reminded me a lot of The Revenant, which I’ve talked about before: not much happening, not much talking, but underneath, a vast and sumptuous inner life of emotions and unspoken comments existed, a luxuriant landscape where contemplation and imagination still reigned because all the crap we’re surrounded by today had yet to be invented.

Mary ends up in Frank, Alberta, the location of the worst landslide in North American history, where millions of tons of limestone peeled off  the eastern side of Turtle Mountain and slid into the valley, killing 70 to 90 of the inhabitants below.

The mountain itself seems symbolic of many things: the uncontrollable whims of the earth being the most transparent, but more subtle connections to immense, unknowable emotions, complex and tangled relationships, and even one’s own supposed purpose in being alive are hinted at in a constant background subtext.

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Although I wasn’t overly fond of Mary being referred to as “the widow” for the whole novel,  I understand the impetus: women as nameless beings more or less walking in the shadow of society and certainly  of men. When Mary starts thinking of a man she met and connected with on many levels, it’s to say this:

As helpless as water to the pull of gravity, the window’s heart ran to William Moreland. Pooling there, wasted, unwanted…How foolish it was to let a man in, how terrible his power once you did.

As helpless as she feels, loving someone who abandoned her, she’s powerless to deny it, just as we all are finally powerless, in the larger scope, existing resolutely as we do in the shadow of the mountain–or fate, or destiny–but often made brave and strong for doing so.

I shivered on my couch as the phantom snow fell and the stars reeled,  fully immersed in a wild, raw life described in turns tenderly and brutally. Mary’s journey consumes one. In wondering where she’ll end up, you end up there with her.

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In the bookcase

 

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A weird thing happened the other day. I thought, “I should call mom and tell her about that.” And then I remembered, “Oh, yeah. Can’t do that,” because she was gone. Even though she hasn’t been around since 2012, this still happens to me all the time.

I guess it’s actually not that weird, but it feels weird. I know it’s a common thing people go through after a loved one passes. It’s like experiencing “phantom limb” but with a person who’s gone instead of a missing leg or arm.

My mother wasn’t young. She was 83. Her actual passing, while not tragic, still surfed along on the tail end of a tragic situation which I won’t go into today.  Before that, though, we stopped speaking for a long time once but then got together later to resolve our issues.

The day we got back together involved an awkward meeting at a restaurant and she was slow to thaw. I’d written a poem and I gave it to her. She never commented on it and I figured she’d just shoved it into a drawer somewhere at home and forgotten about it–or maybe even thrown it away–who knows how deep the grudge went from our year-long disagreement? I know I was still fairly miffed.

But after she passed away and I was helping my father organize her things, I came across it, framed, in the bookcase on her side of the bed.

 

Poem to my mother

 

It happened one day and then was clear

that the years and months

and days and hours

unspooling like ribbons into the stars

and stuffed with the tools

that framed the world

and roused my spirit and my life too

stretched so far I think I knew

that I could never repay you

  

And even though one day that was clear,

I would always be bending

and always be trying

and when the day came I knew it was true

all day all night dusk to dawn

that thank you was tiny and not enough

I would still say it till we were both gone

 

thank you for understanding

thank you for not understanding

thank you for rioting

thank you for relenting

thank you for worrying

thank you for holding on

thank you for letting go

thank you for being my mother

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Hand in a Pocket

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The timing of my last blog, Acting While Black, was a little ironic, coming as it did shortly before the latest incident of police brutality/murder in the U.S.

The premise that black characters rarely survive in movies of certain genres seemed absurdly laughable and it felt worthwhile to jog down that road a little bit, stopping at the glitziest and shiniest of hilarious examples.

After the past week, the humor of Acting While Black has soured in my mouth pretty much. The past week has been a case, for me, of tears over laughter instead of the other way around. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if this is the beginning of the end or not.

But I know one thing. I know that a pocket wasn’t meant to hold a quiet hand while a heart stopped and a voice asked for his mother.

The casualness of it…like a stroll in the park.

Having a cup of coffee while reading the paper.

Waiting for a cab.

The unruffled, hushed, serene patience of it.

I don’t know if we can change. But those who realize that the wound is where the light enters will be the ones who ask: could there be a more chilling action, ever, than that quiet hand in that pocket, waiting out the clock?

Acting While Black

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Lately we’ve been slumped over on the sofa, unmoving, glassy-eyed, barely blinking and uncommunicative.

We’re okay, though. The only “virus” we’ve succumbed to (so far—knock on wood) is the addictive stupor of movie bingeing while locked up inside like everyone else.

During these dazed purgatorial viewings we’ve stumbled across that strange convention of mainly Sci-Fi movies but also lots of action movies, diminishing to a lesser degree as you delve into the other genres, where the black character is either the first one killed off or just eventually killed off period.

It may not be amusing on many levels but on at least one level it’s jaw-droppingly hilarious. So I’m gonna name a few of the most outlandish examples as an ode to the absurd, an elaborate Elizabethan bow to the comically bizarre.

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In The Lazarus Effect, Olivia Wilde kills her friends one by one in admittedly unpleasant ways. But while they later go out by choking, poison, and the swift, clean, preferable death of neck snapping, the first person she kills is Donald Glover of Community, the Martian, and Solo: A Star Wars story fame, and his death is spectacularly violent compared to theirs–namely being telekinetically hurled across the room into a locker and then crushed inside like a car compacter.

WTAF?! OMG!

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Remember The Transformers? There’s a “black” robot in The Transformers! Jazz! Guess what happens to him. He dies! Not right away, later, but who cares? He still dies! The “black” Transformer robot gets killed off!

Jazz’s curtain call actually didn’t bother me that much, since he was somewhat of an annoying cliché, even as a robot, but still…really?

Seriously?

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One of the most ironic and farcical deaths in schlocky sci-fi history happened to Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters fame in Leviathan from 1989. Having survived all the horrors below and actually having made his way to the surface along with two others, he is summarily consumed by the monster (which was supposed to be dead) seconds before the other two characters scramble onto a helicopter and are whisked away to safety.

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I’m not sure when this started in earnest. Maybe the ‘80s? Certainly the ‘90s.

Because looking back, in opposite world, we can’t forget that Yaphet Kotto almost made it to the end of Alien in 1979. And he gets knocked off at exactly the same moment as Hollywood darling Veronica Cartwright.

In Carpenter’s The Thing from ’82, Keith David DOES make it to the end with Kurt Russell. I never can remember his name because he has two first names. David Keith? Keith David?

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Similarly, Keith David survives in 1988 for most of They Live, and in a pretty big role too.

They Live, by the way, was based on a mere short story by Ray Nelson from 1963. A tiny five-page short story called Eight O’clock in the Morning, a commentary on modern-day slavery,  toiling in the shadow of capitalism and getting absolutely nowhere while the powers that be continually insist that all you need to do is buy things, have fun, and “obey” to have a good life.

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It had always irked me that Kubrick kills Scatman Cruthers in The Shining, because having been a huge Stephen King fan as a teenager, I knew Scatman’s character didn’t die in the book. I didn’t know if Kubrick’s subconscious was buying into the stereotypes like everybody else or if it was just a director’s ego. Still, Scatman almost made it to the end.

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After the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s, though, I think hiccups like The Thing, They Live, and Alien became few and far between as the black sacrifice to the movie gods started becoming a “thing.” They even made fun of it with Omar Epps in Scream 2 in the late ‘90s.

A movie favorite of mine, 300, has Leonidas kicking the (black) Persian messenger into a well, and even though 300 was based on a comic book, the actual Spartans from history were not the righteous defenders of all good in the world, and the Persians were not the monsters and villains they were made out to be.

One of the best lines from the movie, though, from Xerxes, the 9-foot tall Persian King, speaking to Ephialtes: “Unlike cruel Leonidas who demands that you stand…I require only that you kneel.”

Which sounds a lot like the Chinese “curse” that says, “May you live in interesting times.”

The words sound really good at first, right? Then little by little you start to realize, hey, wait a minute…

But by then, it’s too late.

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One of the most ironic deaths ever—even more than Ernie Hudson getting dispatched by the monster two seconds before his cast mates are saved—is that of Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead from 1968.

Duane Jones had a starring role as a strong character and capable leader (something fairly unheard of during those days) during a Zombie crisis and who—like Mr. Hudson—made it all the way through to the end… only to be shot by police… who thought he was undead.

Whoa!

But, boy, we were on the right track once with casting. I wonder what happened. One thing, though: it won’t last forever. This, too, shall pass. And become a footnote in history.

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As time went by, the acronym DWI turned into the jokey DWB (driving while black) which then in turn became a running theme: RWB, EWB, SLB (reading while black, eating while black, sleeping while black) which, beyond the ominous symbolism, is also an attempt at levity, something desperately needed these days.

So as my husband and I slowly de-evolve on the sofa before the flickering Netflix screen, and maybe you do, too, we can add to the growing list of acronyms with lighthearted humor as we wait for perspectives to change, society to shift (if even a little; already the skies are cleaner!) as the light at the end of the tunnel gets nearer:

SNNSFC: Saying no to Netflix and Sci-Fi Channel

TRHTDFDC: Trying to remember how to do fractions during coronavirus

SOTWDL: Staying on the wagon during lockdown

NSOTWDL: Not staying on the wagon during lockdown

SPPUZAWARTJSFWT: Surviving the pandemic/possible upcoming zombie apocalypse while any race by telling jokes, sharing food, and working together

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JUST BECAUSE

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Just because the days are stressful lately and this excerpt sent to me by a friend from David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King” feels, to me, like a meditation, a gentle inundation, a still, sweet, patient hush…

Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb’s-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtain, muscadine, spine-cabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother’s soft hand on your cheek.

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An arrow of starlings fired from the windbreak’s thatch. The glitter of dew that stays where it is and steams all day. A sunflower, four more, one bowed, and horses in the distance standing rigid and still as toys. All nodding. Electric sounds of insects at their business. Ale-colored sunshine and pale sky and whorls of cirrus so high they cast no shadow. Insects all business all the time. Quartz and chert and schist and chondrite iron scabs in granite. Very old land. Look around you. The horizon trembling, shapeless. We are all of us brothers.

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Max in America: Into the Land of Trump

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A sheltered, artistic Mexican man.

An overprotective mother who passes away.

A balloon.

A journey across borders…both geographical and psychological.

I know everyone’s beaten down by the present U.S. administration and can probably barely endure another moment even thinking about it, but Henry Chamberlain’s Max in America: Into The Land of Trump comes at us sideways from a different point of view: one of a Mexican national.

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Remember them? The sex offenders and criminals running across our borders in droves, raping and pillaging wherever they go? Oh, wait a minute. That was the Vikings. Or was it Chaucer (yes, Chaucer!) or Jeffrey Epstein or Bill Cosby or obviously guilty but slapped on the wrist Kavanaugh or the Church covering up—to this day–for disturbed priests?

Rape aside, what about other criminals? The Madoffs and the Mansons, the Enron guys and the Ted Bundys? And yes, women too. Shouldn’t we worry about being murdered in our high schools by our fellow Americans or while we’re listening to music at a concert before we worry about Mexico?

I think so.

Realizing late in life that the beloved comics he’s always enjoyed lack Mexican-themed stories, Max comes to understand that his mother’s zero interest in Mexican culture fostered much of his blindness toward racial and cultural inequality, and once he “immigrates” to America, he can’t help but continue on to related, much larger issues.

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Once in the States, he begins to face the bigotry and biases that “ethnic” Americans face every day, and the author impresses upon us a startling truth out of this: “Your otherness becomes you.”

As Max continues on a fairy-tale like adventure buoyed by strange luck and almost ludicrously chance events which propel him into stand-up comedy on a quest across the States to “press the buttons” of a sometimes complacent society, I learned a lot, including some interesting stories about past personalities like George Herriman, an American cartoonist, famous for Krazy Kat, who passed for white but spoke about racial injustice through his character in code.

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Throw in the author’s delightful artwork before every chapter and lines like, “He might turn you in to ICE.”
“He might turn me into ice?”!
and you’ve got a quirky, odd saga told with insight, feeling, and humor. One can’t help but root for Max…who is, in the end, rooting for all of us.

I would definitely not skip over the epilogue, as a reader. The press conference following Trump and Putin’s secret meeting is displayed in full and is a mind-boggling read, complete with both of these dangerous men at one point actually applying the word “humanitarian” in regards to themselves. Mind-blowing. Craziness. Max in America.

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And The Bear Attack

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Origin of revenant: 1820-30;  French: ghost, noun use of present participle of revenir to return, equivalent to  re- + ven (ir) to come  (Latin venīre); a person who returns as a spirit after death; a person who returns.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” is featured on a random internet list as one of “15 great movies that are incredibly boring.”

I have three words to say to that. Three times: the bear attack. The bear attack. The bear attack.

Although the Arikara onslaught on the fur traders early in the film was an uber-realistic, white-knuckle event which is captured in an uninterrupted, continuous shot without cuts, in my opinion the bear attack on DiCaprio’s character Glass was the eye-boggling winner as far as effects go. I think I’ve seen that scene at least four or five times, and each time is as horrifying as the last.

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But we can’t say a movie’s not boring just because of one scene, right?

Right. There’s action in this movie. It’s just spaced far apart, like the desolate stretches of frozen land that DiCaprio’s character traverses as he makes his way toward sweet revenge against the one who murdered his son and left him to die.

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Between Glass’s ghastly physical suffering and thirst for vengeance, the relentless attacks of the Arikara tribe who are also searching for the chief’s missing daughter, the French hunters who happen to be holding prisoner and raping said daughter, and myriad other randomly violent and demoralizing situations occurring in the story, one might wonder why the hell is it so boring then?

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On a side note, according to a Wikipedia article, a Canadian actor was “strongly critical of the movie for portraying French-Canadian voyageurs as murderous rapists.” And according to Allan Greer, the Canada Research Chair in Colonial North America, “generally the American traders had a worse reputation than the Canadians.”[49]

I would venture the difference to be in pacing and presentation; the dialogue tends to be formal and thoughtful, lacking quips and “cuteness,” the spectacular cinematography lures you into its imagined interior: you can almost feel the snow, the fire’s warmth. There is a savage beauty, and you fall helplessly in love.

And time spools out easily, almost dreamily between events, giving the viewer the space to recover, imitating, in my opinion, how time was probably experienced anyway back before our technological age: heavier, lengthier somehow, more packed with feeling, patience, even consideration of consequence. Nothing like today.  This movie nurtures time. That could be boring to some.

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In reality, the real Hugh Glass had not been holding a fiery grudge which drove him forward to seek revenge. In reality, Mr. Glass evidently only wanted his rifle back.

And the bear attack. Don’t forget the bear attack.

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Greed, misunderstanding, lack of empathy, betrayal: the makings of a good Hollywood movie (for some).

The general state of humanity.

Politics.

I wonder if a country could be a revenant like a person. If a country could, maybe the U.S. will be a revenant. Maybe slit open, cleaved in two, the odds stacked against it, it’ll dig upward, burst outward into something new.

Does a country have a voice? Maybe it does. Maybe howling, it’ll survive the journey and return, racked and scarred, like Glass, but alive, even though, in real life, Glass didn’t want revenge; he only wanted his rifle back.

And you’ll be happy to know, also in real life, that the fort took up a collection to pay him for all his trouble. A good end to a frightening, punishing quest. Could happen to anyone. Could happen to us.

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