Thursday, February 26, 2009

Forward This to 1026 People

Forward This to 1026 People

As himself grimly prophesied before it entered our lives, we watch the big TV, a lot. Spuds likes Celebrity Rehab which is insultingly stagy and of note to me only because it features Bob Forrest of Thelonius Monster, now a drug counselor on the staff of Las Encinas Hospital. For most of the eighties I had regular enough to be disconcerting sightings of Forrest, the wild haired, Scotch taped horn rimmed glasses wearing frontman of the popular local band. Usually Forrest crossed my path in the vicinity of the Silverlake Junction but I’d spot him too at distant valley delis and obscure ethnic markets, mundane far-flung places out of the eastside hipster milieu. It creeped me out but the Bob Forrest who turned up while he was apparently chasing the dragon was far more interesting than the earnest tough love drug counselor.

I'm not sure what about Celebrity Rehab appeals to Spuds. It embarrasses me, but reality shows such as Cops, like good fiction, provoke a rich variety of emotional reactions. I note the consistent reasonableness of the police officers. Nothing is unchanged by the presence of a camera, but even if it is for the camera, I am heartened to see the amount of compassion police officers are capable of demonstrating. The show has been on for twenty years and has spawned many imitators. In addition to its large cultural significance, Cops has modeled a sensitivity that has changed the way that law is enforced in this country.

Lately we’re partial to prison shows. Cameras follow inmates and personnel for months and capture miraculous pockets of humanity amidst the rotting meat consigned to the American penal system. Most of the inmates display mental illness but there is little in the way of psychiatric or psychological treatment. Educational and vocational training opportunities are practically non-existent thanks to the Reagan era notion that prisoners are nothing more than bad people who deserve only punishment. Most of the prison population has been failed by our cities and our schools and a culture and economy that make failure inevitable for many. Himself is gonna try to nail me on the personal responsibility thing here but I think we need to therapize and educate and train the incarcerated population in order to make that a viable aspiration. We have a captive audience and a costly one to feed and house and supervise. It would be prudent to try to salvage what can be salvaged from the broken souls we incarcerate and we would be a better nation if the goal of our prisons was to nurture healing and understanding and knowledge and compassionately dedicate resources to help prisoners evolve into better people. This is also a key to reducing recidivism.

While I’m already pissing off himself with my bleeding heart liberal, pocketbook assaulting, Pollyanna notions I will add that I think Obama has the vision. He is no Jerry Brown but each time he opens his mouth he seems closer. The America he envisions is a good place and maybe one that my beloved curmudgeon, if he could ever get over that Irish Catholic "expect no rewards in this world" thang, would like. I watch the speech to the joint sessions of congress and don’t miss a word. Instead of evoking our military superiority or trotting out 9/11, Obama evokes the history of American innovation and resourcefulness to inspire hope. There is nothing false or hollow or bloated and there is an instructive quality reminiscent of FDR’s fireside chats. All eyes are on Obama, and even though my beloved makes me feel like an acolyte of the People's Temple. I think that many Americans will take Obama's advice. I hope the next eight years sees the selfishness and arrogance that has brought us to our knees blossom into a patriotism fueled by pride at our accomplishments rather than military might. The mere election of Obama changes us in the eyes of the world and in our own eyes and his words flood me with a sense of possibility about America that I've never felt before.

While I rail at himself’s cynicism, when it comes to local politics I sadly share it. Our mayor is running for reelection virtually unopposed. His most formidable opponent is Walter Moore, whose campaign chest is about $200,000. Antonio Villaragosa has spent two million dollars to defeat him. Inevitably he will be elected to a second term, which he will spend like his first term, shamelessly glad handing and fund raising and using his office merely as a springboard to higher ambitions. I hope I am wrong in predicting that he will be our next governor. Perhaps it is just that himself’s cynicism, like cooties, has contaminated me but I already feel depressed that it seems like that California will inevitably choose one of the worst of the So. Cal. machine over my Paul Westerberg of politicians, Jerry Brown.

I have confessed here to my many superstitions and my frequent practice of spontaneous divination. I also read my horoscope (Aquarius) and himself’s (Cancer) and the spawn (both Libra) on AOL and then on the L.A. Times daily. I printed out this year’s "If Today is Your Birthday" prediction and taped it above my desk. It is very good. I hope it is right. Fuck. I hope something is right. I read that superstitious people are control freaks and I own up but suddenly it is more than historical mindfuck anxiety sticking to my craw. There is a cluelessness that exceeds reasonable expectation. Few are unscathed by what feels like financial Armageddon, although the huge company in my misery isn’t as comforting as it would be to a person finer than myself. Our parents did better than their parents and it was assumed we would do better than they did. Many of my contemporaries are reeling that this is most likely not going to be the case.

About fifteen years ago, along with a couple of other non-senior citizens, I was elected to the board of directors to our local ancient synagogue. We were shocked to learn that the substantial monies the temple had amassed due to congregants in the largely working class neighborhood scrimping and saving were kept in a single bank account and earned less than 3% interest. We remarked on this folly to the temple officers, noting the higher interest that even the most conservative of mutual funds would yield. The temple president noted quietly that he survived the depression and 2.75% interest in a secure bank account was just fine. After the meeting I had a drink with the other younger board members and we mocked the old coots and their worn passbook.

I receive
from Marion, who is far too busy to attend bootcamp, an email with the subject: Fw: Horoscope test - it will freak you out!-COOL!. Frothing with disdain at such time sucking stupidity, I pull out my pencil and as instructed I number my paper from one to eleven. I write my two favorite numbers on the first two lines. I like the number six. My birthday's the sixth and that not withstanding; I think it is the prettiest number. The second number I choose is 1026. This stems from nearly 30 years of Harry brainwashing us to remember HIS birthday but I have also co-opted it as one of my own favorite numbers because Harry, for all his sinister mind control, is my tangible reminder of the human spirit triumphant, so I use 1026 as sort of as an ironic/hopeful talisman. The other columns are filled with names of friends and song titles and a "funny creepy outcome" is promised. Because I have psycho listening habits which my family finds tantamount to psychological torture, there are a few songs like Yo La Tengo’s "Stockholm Syndrome" and The Replacements "Alex Chilton" that anyone who knows me well would put on the funeral playlist and then be happy to never have to hear again. To my own surprise, as I jot song titles, Springsteen’s "Rosalita" appears on the page. I like the song but I haven’t heard or thought about it much in years and it has no place in the pantheon.

The next instruction is to make a wish. I even close my eyes, an integral part of wish making. Wish and list complete, I scroll down and my horoscope reveals that himself is my beloved, which is sort of duh. Marlene’s position on the list designates her my lucky star, which is also true and it is sweet to be reminded. The song "Rosalita" apparently is the one that conveys how I feel about life. And if I want my wish to come true I just have to forward the e-mail to 1026 people.

Both sprats are returning, after missing last season, to the Silverlake Children’s Theatre Group. Now, in addition to time wasting crap e-mail chain letters from persons too busy to exercise, we are back on Broderick’s mailing list and on the cusp of the intensity that is children’s theater and a rich and rewarding experience for our not so little anymore thespians. Brod, the heart and soul of the Children's Theatre, the glue of our community, is our Oscar buddy. He is one of the few people who gets that while the Oscars is a fun event, it is not the occasion for the frivolity of a party. Brod knows to watch seriously and reserve commentary for the commercials. Gwenie knows to provide excellent spirits before she falls snoring on the couch. Himself was shushed a few times again this year and is now on probation. This year’s production was one of my least favorites, shamelessly pandering to ratings and straying far from the raison d'etre of paying tribute to Hollywood. The musical numbers had no Hollywood feel to them and some say evoked the Tonys. The Tonys are a class act and never loose their rootedness in Broadway. This year’s Oscar numbers seemed more rooted in zero production value television variety shows of the 1960s.

The device of trotting out five previous winners to give the acting awards was just icky. Instead of clips from the actual performances, nominees were addressed directly in heartfelt ultra personal testimonials by former Oscar winners who were obviously reading scripted materials from teleprompters and most likely hadn’t even seen the films. The Judd Apatow film was hilarious and there was a workmanlike tribute to action films. Callow youth were trotted out in a shameless effort to draw young viewers. The whole ceremony gave the strong message that the Oscars are irrelevant and made a point, albeit a very funny one, of nodding to the movies and movie stars people really clamor to see. David Denby, in his new book, analyzes the difference between satire and snark, satire being a more gentle witty poke and snark a mean spirited cheap shot. The Oscar ceremony has always included self deprecation but this year’s ceremony oozed with a self hatred that crossed the line from satire to snark. Perhaps it is fitting that this most evil of Oscar ceremonies was the time that the Academy finally relented to the political pressure to bestow the Hersholt humanitarian award to the despicable Jerry Lewis.

The failing transmission on my car has gotten a higher word count lately than himself’s stubborn assholelike refusal to use the cellular telephone. I have a small claims date to sue Rusnak Volvo (the Jerry Lewis of car dealerships) over the faulty part and resolution of this will determine if or when the transmission is replaced. I have mastered sort of coasting into second gear for the last four months. I do this Pavlovian laugh/cry thing whenever we jolt roughly into third. I have an appointment with the administrator at the 16 year old’s school. I will say here publicly that he is a good boy and I am not the most rotten mother in the world but the meeting at the school is not for the presentation of a good conduct medal. We are late, as usual, and the car is not shifting smoothly into any gear. The transmission failure light goes on. I manage to get to the school and play the supportive mother with good effect, if not abundant sincerity.

After the command principal's office performance, a root canal is next on my agenda and I coax my car to Nick's, wishing, as I have for decades, he'd get nitrious oxide. Nick is unable, due to calcification, to excavate infected festering molar pulp and it makes me feel sorry for him because he is so sorry. He describes my troubled roots with cunning detail and eloquence, a poetic elegy to my lousy teeth that softens the blow that I might need referral to a specialist. Fiscal shock and awe. Teen troubles. Automotive exasperation. Impenetrable calcification. I forgive myself my spontaneous divination and internet chain letter horoscopes. I forgive myself the hours spent horizontal and watching cinema verite reality. And I can cry a bucket, moved by my new president's message of hope and it doesn't mean I'm Hitler Youth.

I haven't played the Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle for years. I only have it on vinyl. "Rosalita" drifts into my head as I finesse the Volvo into traffic on the Pasadena Freeway. I don't remember all of the words, just "Some day we'll look back on this and laugh and it will all seem funny."


harry said...

1. At first glance I thought your trenchant blog had become a review of cable TV.

2. I remember the weird obssession you had with B. Forrest. I also seem to remember he once vomited on my shoes, perhaps behind the Variety Arts Theater, but that may have been a dream.

3. If I understand your description of the process, your mistake was that you put 6 first and 1026 last. Had you put 1026 first you would only have had to email 6. There is an important lesson here.

4. The line before the Rosalita line you remember is "I'm comin' to liberate you, confiscate you, I want to be your man." Liberate/confiscate... ah the seventies.

FionnchĂș said...

You masterfully assemble the high and low points of your past week into a Watts Towers-worthy edifice complex. I passed that as I do on the Blue Line yesterday and happened to notice its peculiar insistence more than I usually bother to after hundreds of mass transit commutes. Like your blog entry, Simon Rodia's labor of love reminds me of your obsessions, lovable and bewildering and memorable as they are. I've probably known you as long as it took the Italian immigrant to construct his twin towers of scrap iron and pottery shards into what some call art and (m)others call an opportunity to bring peanut butter sandwiches to the youngest members of LBJ's Great Society. xxx me

Cari said...

Regarding our truly fucked prison system: I totally agree that a massive mind-shift is needed to prevent recidivism and uplift the prisoner's self worth. But in this "put 'em away to rot" culture, I just can't see that happening in the near future. However, I am a staunch advocate of prison industry. Not just license plates or laundry, but the creation of total manufacturing complexes, enough to rival China for our addiction to tacky plastic goods (sans lead and dangerous chemicals), along with producing a myriad of other consumer goods. Learning work skills and ethics are two of the greatest gifts an incarcerated person can receive (along with counseling and education, of course) Prison labor can contribute greatly to our economy, instead of shipping jobs overseas. Sponsoring corporations have the advantage of state-side manufacturing, and a constant, willing labor force. Part of the inmate's wages can be allocated to victim's assistance programs as well.
About 3 years ago, I saw a program where a CA state prison had an on-site butcher shop. They strictly kept track of those sharp-ass knives, of course. Cow carcasses were brought into the prison for processing into a variety of cuts to feed the population. Only the best behaved inmates were allowed to work there, the program was considered a privilege to learn a marketable skill and keep those otherwise empty hours(and hands)busy. Screw up, and they were instantly booted. I think they mentioned only 2 minor incidents in a 10 year period...not bad. Sadly, due to the "punish them up the ass" mentality, the butcher shop was recently closed down. Now these guys are probably back to making "pruno" in their cells. If we trusted prisoners to cut up meat, we can certainly allow them to do assembly line work. I would never suggest that we move existing US jobs to prisons, but for those positions which are currently being(or potentially) outsourced, think of the possibilities! Even an organic prison farm could bring the food costs down, and surplus could be sold to the public.
Realistically, the prisoners who would participate in these work programs couldn't be the "ad-seg" serious anti-social violent offenders with really bad uncontrollable behavior traits. But there are enough less-damaged inmates who would benefit physically and emotionally from gainful employment while they serve their time. They're not called "Correctional Facilities" for nothing. We need to give "Corrections" a REAL meaning again.

Off the subject: Gaudi=Rodia=Gaudi