18 December 2012

santa claus is comin' all over the place.

Well, we're already waist-deep in the Christmas season, and I haven't gotten around to watching even one of the classic stop-motion animation Christmas specials. Many wonderful childhood memories of the magic and materialism of the holiday season are stored for safe-keeping with these corny Rankin-Bass productions. Whenever I watch them again, it's like laying flowers at the graveyard of my innocence—a ceremonial which, as you might guess, occasions a lot of conflicting emotions, including but not limited to nostalgia, melancholy, giddiness, comfort, and mortal dread. I already discussed in my Love Boat blog entry how rituals or artifacts from our childhood, when revisited in our adulthood, tend to lead us to all sorts of realizations and reveries, some of which are ill-advised without prescription medication ready-to-hand. In this entry, I want to talk about my memories of some of these stop-motion animation specials and my impression of them today—from the vantage of my cynical middle age. It goes without saying that this might not be a very pretty adventure...

1.  Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970)

I can't think of a much more disturbing pairing than Mickey Rooney's voice and the body of a young ginger Santa. While it of course didn't strike me at the time, Rooney's Santa is awfully gruff and authoritarian—and when he performs the song 'Be Prepared to Pay' (a.k.a. 'If You Sit on My Lap Today'), it's only a hop, skip, and a jump to the darker intimations of Santa drinking cheap sherry straight from the bottle in his wood-paneled basement and barking at six-year-old boys to take off their shirts and oil themselves up for playtime. In other words, I'd check the sex offender registry before I'd leave my kids with this Santa. (I'll bet you he wears those polished jackboots even in the off-season, if you catch my drift.) 

Claus's love interest (or beard, depending on your interpretation) is a corseted little minx named Miss Jessica, who has roughly the proportions of Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) from Mad Men. Her ample rack and generous, spankable booty are strung together by a totally impossible waistline that could only be achieved by some manner of sartorial torture. As a bookish sex kitten, Jessica no doubt embodies the physical ideal and/or fantasies of her animators—and if I were a woman, I can't say I wouldn't be offended by this stop-motion yule log raiser. After all, she's a funhouse mirror version of the traditional hourglass figure, while Santa is just some lanky, waifish dolt with little to offer in compensation for her sexual allure. (Unless he has a freckled horsecock underneath that red flannel. We know he doesn't have any money—so that rules out the Anna Nicole angle.)

But don't get too worked up, fellas, because you know the last act to this story: like Santa, Miss Jessica ends up fat and probably diabetic. This is the kind of couple that eats fried chicken in bed together and finds leftovers wedged under their teats a few weeks later. One or both of them will probably have to have their feet amputated, and it goes without saying that the sleigh will have to be made scooter-accessible. 

But for me, the real star of this special was was its comic villian—a Bismarck-era (?) despot called the Burgermeister Meisterburger, obviously a none-too-subtle riff on 20th century Germany's penchant for militarism and authoritarianism. Short, squat, and outfitted in the latest in Bavarian kitsch, the Burgermeister Meisterburger bans toys in Sombertown because he trips on one and injures himself. (Yes, the logic is a little shaky here, but what better way to teach the youngins about the dangerous caprices of totalitarianism?) 

There's also a secondary villain in this one called the Winter Warlock, but he turns out to be a giant pussy and is quickly co-opted by Santa into his band of communist rebels. One thing that always really bothered me about the Winter Warlock is that you can tell he is very spindly but somehow he manages to fill out that glittery robe pretty well. I call steroids. I mean, come on... his hands are Rose Kennedy's, but his shoulders are Vin Diesel's. 

17 December 2012

tooth or consequences.

Certainly there are worse pains—childbirth, acute appendicitis, Keeping Up with the Kardashians marathons—but tooth pain deserves a special place of honor in the Pain Hall of Fame. You see, I have this recurring pain in my jaw—it starts in and around a few teeth on the upper left and then spreads until most of my left-side jaw and teeth (top and bottom), from the canines back to the wisdoms, are throbbing in pain. Like right now as I write this. It isn't a cavity. I'm pretty sure of that. I think my tooth is moving in the wrong direction, at a hard angle, such that the root is trying to drill its way out of my gums. Since the particular tooth in question is the lowest among my upper teeth (by a very small margin, of course), I'm speculating that the clenching and grinding I do in my sleep is putting far too much pressure on it. (If you knew some of the dreams I had, you'd understand why there was so much clenching and grinding going on.)

This localized pain discombobulates the entire left side of my mouth within (approximately) 24 hours time. Then this relatively intense pain continues for a few days or up to a week. (I just snapped at 'Sandy' a few minutes ago. I'll blame it on the pain.) I plan to go to the dentist after the holidays are over with, but right now I wish the pain would physically manifest itself so I could beat the living shit out of it. I hate that pain is just some diffuse, sort of relative nothingness. The causes for pain—and the biological processes that define it—can be spelled out, itemized, literalized. But pain itself is insubstantial—almost mystical-seeming if you tilt your head just right and squint.

We are told that pain is important to us, as organisms, because it tells us when something is wrong. It makes our health somewhat more difficult to ignore. (This applies to emotional pain and mental health just as well.) But despite all the ingenious features of the human physiology, I have to confess I've always felt a resentment toward the teeth. Yes, they are useful for chewing and tearing open plastic wrappers with, but on the whole, these little calcified nuggets are more of a bother than they seem worth. Nowadays—besides merely keeping them healthy—we have to worry about making sure they are fluorescently white and perfectly straight. If we're doing things right, we should be able to find our keys in the dark using only our glow-in-the-dark incisors for illumination. And doesn't that pristine white just look great against the orangey-brown self-tanned skin of the countless young white woman who've all but turned themselves into living, breathing 19th-century Negro caricatures? All they need is a kerchief and a watermelon rind and they could step with ease into an editorial cartoon of the Confederacy. 

I don't care much about my teeth. This makes me perverse in our society. Or British. I have a bottom incisor that was actually pushed out of the lineup of teeth many years ago. Probably in my late teens. This particular tooth, as a result of whatever enmity or bigotry, was cast out of the good society of my other teeth and made to live out its days in the dental slums, just behind the others. Long ago, my family dentist wondered aloud if I might want to have it ground down so that it was even with the other teeth. Nah. My supermodel days are behind me, and I'll just have to settle for coasting on my intellect and stellar personality. 

Even before my incisor was ostracized, I wore braces. It's what you do when you're a kid in suburbia. But I just couldn't muster any enthusiasm for wearing my headgear, so one day in a hissy fit of sorts, my orthodontist Dr. Macri told me they were just going to remove my braces because I showed absolutely no interest in my dental aesthetics.
Great. You won't get any arguments from me.

My parents weren't exactly thrilled, but I think they sensed—like Vietnam—this was a futile and costly battle, and in the bigger scheme of things it probably wasn't all that important. Why should I have lovely teeth? It's not as if I'm a smiler.  In fact, I think I'm much uglier than normal when I smile because it brings a strained unnaturalness to my face. My mouth, in its default position, without any exertion on my part, forms a particularly pouty frown. Because of this, I've lived a life constantly answering the question, 'What's wrong?' 

Nothing's wrong. Well, actually, everything is wrong—but nothing is any more wrong than usual. This is just the way my face is. 

I'm aware that eventually my teeth will probably end up looking like I'm a meth addict. This only bothers me when I remember I'm from Indiana—and then when I travel to big cities or foreign countries, they'll ask where I'm from, and I'll say, 'Indiana.' And then they'll look at my teeth—my meth addict teeth—and they'll think, 'Right. That makes sense.' But that's not why I have lousy teeth at all. 

I have lousy teeth because I'm mad at them—because they cause so much trouble and are so expensive but they accomplish so little. It's spite. That's what it is.

16 December 2012

bumper sticker philosophy.

Okay. See that image above? That, my friends, is what we get when (probably) well-intentioned but (probably) intellectually underequipped people try to establish correlations. Back in the good old days—before we posted our every inconsequential thought and feeling (as well as snapshots of our genitals) on the internet—I probably wouldn't even be aware that people thought this way (in other words: poorly). Oh, yes, I might have suspected that there were a great number of drooling simpletons in the world, but their contorted dogmas wouldn't have been foisted upon me so early in the morning before I'd even finished my first cup of coffee. 

The temptation is there, to be sure. We want simple answers to very complex questions, the same way that we fantasize about gods sitting on clouds in pristine satin robes—in order to feel that our that our chaotic, irreducible lives have some meaning or intelligible plotline.  We've all grown up on storybooks, television shows, and mainstream movies, and as a result our minds automatically grasp for the symbols, the foreshadowings, and the simple causalities that take us from 'once upon a time' to 'happily ever after.' But real life—as few of us need to be reminded—is a lot messier. People suffer and die without purpose. The bad guy sometimes wins. Protagonists suddenly act strangely and out-of-character. And the story never ends—but is followed by epilogue after epilogue after epilogue...

I could say so many things in logical rebuttal to what is on that t-shirt above, but mindless slogans like that (which are as slithery as anything Madison Avenue could produce) really don't deserve logical rebuttal. You have to earn the right to be taken seriously. We're all certainly free to express ourselves as we wish—this being a 'free country' and all—but we really need to be careful. Slogans and talking points have a way of expressing things for us, or in lieu of us. They seem to save us the bother of really having to think about things rigorously for ourselves, but I don't think we can ever be absolved of that responsibility.

15 December 2012

remember me?

Yeah, so what if I disappeared for a few weeks? Don't I have a life to lead too? You just show up here whenever you have an itch, scan through a couple posts, belch, and return to your scat porn or your online gambling. Well, I'll have you know that the first half of December has been a trying time for me because I... Wait a fucking minute here! I don't have to explain myself to the likes of you. Why don't you start up a blog and then we'll see how timely your posts are? 

The truth is that this blog has almost turned into a part-time job for me. The kind of part-time job, I mean, where you don't get paid anything and yet you are required to carve a huge chunk out of the cheese wheel of your time trying to string together words in interesting and/or informative permutations. It ain't always easy, as I learned this month when I began to fall precariously behind in my real salaried, soul-deadening job. It's more fun, to be sure, nattering on about House Hunters or Mariah Carey's cavernous high-occupancy vagina, but it just doesn't put bread on the table. It's very strange to me that they pay me for processing invoices (which is something any motivated primate could do), but they don't pay me for my musings, which are well-nigh priceless. (I don't mean priceless as in invaluable. I mean priceless as in not having a price attached to them. Yet. If someone would like to attach a price to them, I'm willing to field any offers. This is a tag sale for my paragraphs.)

So yesterday there was another mass shooting, and I thought to myself—but not in a sleazy, opportunistic way—that I should really be writing about events like these. I place a sort of moral pressure on myself—that if I don't comment on these tragedies then it must mean that I really don't give a good goddamn about dead kids. But I do care. At least abstractly. It's difficult to care about words and numbers, and '18 children dead' doesn't quite register as a hard-and-fast reality to me. I don't have a proper sense of what that even means. Maybe it's because I don't have children myself, but I don't think that's the reason... I actually believe that my imagination refuses to travel down certain roads, sensing that they are dangerous and won't shepherd me to a desired destination.  I don't really want to feel (in a full or direct way) what the deaths of eighteen kids feel like. I know what death is. I know what children are. I know what murder is. I'll just set the pieces of the crime out over there on the floor, but I won't assemble them into a whole. There's no catharsis to be had in experiencing that level of misfortune. We have to kid ourselves that we can find something—anything at all—in every negative experience to take from it: a lesson, a perspective, a memento mori... But there's really nothing there. If you aren't aware that everything can be taken from you at any moment—suddenly and irrevocably—then you're profoundly delusional. Catastrophe 'reminds' us, I suppose, but what instruction can it offer? You'll hug your children tonight, but what about next year? You can't live your whole life in a heightened state of tragic awareness; on the one hand, it probably isn't possible while retaining one's sanity, and on the other hand, that kind of life isn't really life at all.

Eventually we let down our guards again. We take things for granted. It isn't a failing of our character; it's just that natural disposition of living life. We can't be expected to incessantly confront our contingency. We can't realistically brace ourselves for disaster around every corner. A lived life is defined by its carelessness. Living is what you're doing when you're not really paying attention. That's why it happens so fast. I would tell you to enjoy it while you have it—but you'll only really enjoy it when you don't concern yourself with enjoying it.