Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Times, they are a-changin' ...

I am waxing nostalgic today. Perhaps it has a little something to do with the fact that I am buying a car made the same year I was born - a 1979 Lincoln Town Coupe (powder blue, by the way). It may have something to do with the subject of my last class - the decline of traditional media, e.g. The New York Times et al.

I was particularly moved toward this very subject when, after class, I came upon the article below:
Generally, it concerns the matter of the very prime real estate of the New York Times' 52-story Manhattan headquarters being up for grabs. The venture arose from an effort on the part of the paper to raise $250 million; they were "saved" from this fate by way of a Mexican billionaire. That, however, is a story for another day.

The thought - bringing this back to the subject of declining media - circles around the same inevitable question: is the advent of immediate information (i.e. Internet news feeds, streaming video, and the like) along with the ever-shortening attention spans of mass media consumers going to kill off that which we know to be news? And then, secondarily, is that so bad?

Given the jumping-off point(s) of moveable type, the printing press, etc., one must realize that the problem inherent to comparing such innovations to the present circumstance lies in the orientation. Before moveable type, what did we have? There was no broadly available text, readership (literacy) was limited and there were myriad gaps between the intellectual concept and practical applications.

In the present context, where the question is whether to read hard-copy or surf innumerable sources simultaneously, the choice of even the most conservative among us tends toward the bounty of information. That is to say, that few among us subscribe to even three (let alone five or six or 20) of the world's papers and spread them out before us at breakfast to read them - cover to cover. Nonetheless, many of us regularly open several windows simultaneously to read two articles, a web-log, the latest celebrity gossip, an email from a friend, an advertisement from a preferred store, and whatever else happens across the screen.

It is a question then of connectivity. I once said, of being an English major - that it was a solitary and insular engagement, concerned more with the mind's eye than the community voice. Interconnectivity, mutual engagement, and interaction on a grand scale are the buzz words du jour. We are at once and always in each other's thoughts, work, lives. Avoid the Orwellian cliches therein.

The old ways will die (are dying) - held onto only by tradition and the nostalgia I feel here, writing this. There is hope for the elite few, perhaps, and I hope that the New York Times will be among those - as it has been to date. We are not on the dawn of new things; they arrived. Are here. Is it so bad that things are changing? The answer to that lies in what so many sum up simply as nostalgia.

The romance of bygone days (and things) is the small prize we collect when the light of those real things fades.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"I Hear a Symphony"

Sundays here are cacophonous. I awoke this morning at 3:45; I don't know what it is or what it suggests that that is some magic time for me. I have enormous trouble sleeping almost every day of the week, although I think boredom has made my sleep patterns a bit more regular - boredom and hot tea or coffee. I awoke at 3:45AM, and at 5:55AM my father started "churchin'." Churchin' is the term I use to refer to my father's Sunday ritual.

It starts with AM radio - a program with a loud "Sudden Baptist" preacher extolling the virtues of a good, Christian life and the penalty for not living up to said standard, i.e. "goin' to Heeeeeeeeeelllllllllll ..." Somewhere around 9AM is when my father readies himself for actual church. He goes through his usual ablutions - adding to them a healthy dose of Stetson or Old Spice - church, or a date, being the only occasions in which he wears cologne. The sound of his shambling steps across the parquet floors fades into the kitchen, where the refrigerator opens with a sucking sound, the oven door whines a metallic, grating plea ... and all that's topped off by the clock radio in the kitchen being flipped on.

There are three or more clock radios in every room. I'm not sure why, except perhaps that they are cheaper than stereo systems and seldom break - as evidenced by the really rather adorable '50s or '60s Sony with the eerie green glow and the amazing bass in the speakers. It is not this one he listens to, however. The Sony has small numbers and is thus hard to see, so he opts instead for the small black and white TV - one of the portable sort one took on road trips back in the '80s, before the age of the portable DVD player. It has a built-in radio, and only operates at one of two volume settings - mute or LOUD! I hear damnation and hellfire licking at the wall between the room where I sleep and the kitchen.

Dad leaves the house quietly - apparently no longer willing to fight the good fight to guilt me into attending church with him. It's been some time since I've been to New Mount Pleasant Baptist Church - where Daddy was a deacon, and I was regarded very strangely. As a beloved child of a deacon, no one would say it ... but the sashay in my step told tales against me - even at 13, and 375 lbs.

It's quiet until Dad returns. He fusses about in the kitchen - retiring to the couch in our dinette, another hand-me-down from an ex-girlfriend, as so many things are - the couch, that is, not the dinette. Amusingly, that couch came from Joyce - my biological aunt, who my father dated briefly while I was in high school. It was a conversation between Joyce and my father on which I eavesdropped, where I learned that my (biological) mother never called back because she didn't want any fags in the family. Every piece in every room has a story.

Sundays are particularly depressing days here - the overbearing presence of church, the darkness, the sense of implied reverence that means one should neither drink, nor dance, nor sew a dress or otherwise labor on this sacred day. I do nothing much - lay on the couch, watching bad movies on Sci-Fi and biding my time until the Brit-coms come on, biding my time until the boredom becomes such that the five books I'm reading and the Tetris application constantly open on my PowerBook do not stem the tide of ennui.

Dad goes to bed at 3 in the afternoon - retiring to his room to watch TV. I was actually still in bed when he went to bed, getting up only to microwave the care package from Burger King that I could not bring myself to eat last night and ate today only out of a lack of options.

I swear that when my money finally comes in I am going to live on sushi and whatever crazy vegan, elitist, health food, green fad I can shove into that refrigerator - alongside the innumerable fast food packets of condiments, including (inexplicably) 82 packets of icing meant to top those little cinnamon rolls from the BK Breakfast menu. I expect the Burger King to emerge at any moment - his creepy, plastic puppet face belying some sinister intent.

Dad's return to bed does little to stem the tide or quiet the roar. As I sit here - trying to think and shut it all out - another televangelist plies his wares. I can only hear shouts, loud vitriol, and the familiar strumming of Baptist church hymns with the still comforting noise of big, black women - sweating - and singing out their hearts.

This will go on until 11, or so when I am just settling into Hyacinth Bucket and "Keeping Up Appearances." Having been bored to tears and slept all day, I will be up all night. Somewhere around 2AM I will feel the pull of closing eyelids and I'll be out until 3:45AM whereupon I will wake up yet again and bide more time until ...

My father and I are locked in an amusing game. Martyrdom. In his defense, in my father's case - it's no game. He just is that self-sacrificing. Profligacy is not appreciated in our family. You win no prizes for self-indulgence, but there is a great deal of respect to be had in suffering with a smile - or at least a stoic pride. My father, just as an example, did not accompany me to movies as a child. He was not by any means willing to let me go alone. That would be dangerous and irresponsible; he was just too cheap to pay the ticket price.

So, he paid for my (child's) ticket and then sent me off to the theater - urging me to make the expense count, stay and see as many movies as I wanted. He sat in the truck, in the parking lot, eating pecans and listening to the radio while I spent anywhere from an hour and a half to 6 hours ducking theater ushers and looking askance at the creepy (sometimes hot) guy in the back row. Recently, when his gum disease required the extraction of three teeth, he avoided going. Mind you, one side of his face was so significantly swollen as to prevent speech and his eye was beginning to close. No amount of convincing took - until one of his girlfriends caught sight of him and ordered him to listen to me. Thank God I had her number, or this would have gone on for weeks more.

To that end, my desire for food or a functioning bathroom (the shower doesn't work, and the light's gone out) seems like juvenile whining, aimless complaints from a self-indulgent, spoiled child. I actually feel guilty asking my father for bus fare when I don't have something pressing to which to attend. And while I would enjoy some "walking-around" money, that's simply out of the question. When I told my father the other day that I just could not eat another Whopper, that I needed to get some groceries, he gave me $4 - and a ride to the Everything's 99 Cents store.

Among the familiar sounds in the house tonight is that of my father sitting on the floor of his bedroom, a crinkling newspaper spread over the thread-bare wall-to-wall carpet. He was cracking pecans - pressing one against the other - and I could hear that sound I've been hearing since I was about 3 years old, cracking pecans and the sound of his chewing. Shortly thereafter, he shambled down the hall in order to slay the dragon.

The dragon, in this case, is the oven. I baked a sausage the other day - one of those we picked up after the funeral a week or so ago, and the damned thing exploded. They are all meat and grease and pepper, as the oven quickly learned. A short while ago I heard the tap-tap-tap of the Comet can on the carbon steel floor of the White-Westinghouse. Dad spent an hour scrubbing the oven spotless. He out-martyred me. As a consequence, I am having three more of his teeth pulled tomorrow morning.

I am only half kidding, by the way; we do have a dental appointment in the morning. My father is not looking forward to having more work done, although I think he's rather amused at the happy pills eventually involved. He did seem awfully fond of those.

And then there is the Frenemy. Boredom does horrible things to one's mind, largely the thinking of thoughts that have no bearing on one's life or interests. Steven called tonight - drunk - having had 2 Blow-jobs (the shot), several Rums and Coke, etc. He is still such a drinking neophyte as to attempt to keep track of the type and number of alcoholic beverages consumed. He had that all-too-familiar drunken lilt in his voice when he called. He said some series of reasonably insulting things and then begged off to take a nap. I was neither amused nor concerned, but I cannot resist curiosity. He has been on the war-path of late, trying to wring some small sum from TAMUK-SA because he's been both unemployed and flat broke for a month or so now.

He sustains himself selling plasma and getting injections of Rabies. Accordingly, he now has the veins of a 45 year old drug whore. And now he has "a confidential benefactor." He used that exact phrase just the other day when I called him. I called him, mind you, because he has been using my eBay account without my knowledge. It seems he was "fantasizing" and placed bids on two items - Abercrombie & Fitch Jeans ... and Buffalo Jeans, to the tune of a hundred dollars. He won both bids, and I now owe for his jeans. I called to bitch at him on this matter, and he laughed it off saying that he was getting funds from "a confidential benefactor."

The phrase was clearly constructed to get my goat, and it failed to do so, at the time; however, with all the time in the world to imagine random things, I've worked myself into a guessing frenzy. It's most likely that he borrowed money from his friend, John - a person who makes $16/hr. and has good credit, which causes the Frenemy to regard him as a millionaire. And there's the other alternative - prostitution.

A month or so ago - his $120/mo. Sprint bill unpaid - Steven's phone was turned off. A guy with whom he has phone sex, and who is apparently quite eager to meet "Tori," the alter-ego, offered to pay the bill for "her." Mind you, the guy balked when he heard the bill was not a relatively reasonable $50 or less (a la Cricket or Pocket) but something around $287! It's quite possible that "Tori" has employed just the right combination of feminine wiles and begging and gotten this personal trainer and loan consultant to pony up some spending cash. The other options: drug-dealing or stealing his mother's checkbook (only one of which has he actually done before) are too boring to merit much thought. Otherwise, I got nothing ...

And on that note, I am feeling the familiar call of a few good books before I pass out for an hour or two. I don't know if I mentioned, but I had some good news (finally) on Friday. I got two responses to my myriad Craig's List job hunts. I have an interview - my first in about a month - tomorrow morning. I have a suit ready, a shirt pressed ... and my mohawk will be nicely tamed, along with my beard. It'll also be the first time I've showered in three days ... but you probably didn't need to know that. I am so very sedentary, I haven't even developed a funk. I mostly just shower for fun these days - to rinse off the cobwebs and give myself an excuse to use the Eucalyptus body scrub I picked up at the Everything's 99 Cents store.

I digress, I have an interview tomorrow (rather ironically, with a law firm). The other bit of good news is that the first set of my student loans paid over Friday. I went from having a $5,000 balance at UIW to a $700 balance. The next round of student loans will clear that balance and set in place a comfortable refund check. That check is the key to my survival - or rather, to my having a life. I have contemplated the ubiquitous term - dying of boredom. I am on its verge at this point.

Thankfully, I am still alive ... and somewhere in the course of one day or the next two weeks, I will have a car and the ability to buy a cup of coffee. Until then ...