Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Pictures, Shorthand and the Black News

Happy Pictures, Shorthand and the Black News

Our mayor is a good friend to the charter school Spuds attends and the Faustian bargain is that the school is obliged to kiss ambitious ass and facilitate (surrounded by multicultural children) photo ops. A new dance studio and science lab is to be dedicated and while I generally shun such events, Spuds pesters me because Mayor Villaraigosa is allegedly traveling with an entourage that includes will i am from the Black Eyed Peas. The director of the school advises us that we are to remain seated when the mayor arrives. The orchestra will play and then the mayor will go to a table where a piece of wood, a nail and a hammer are poised, so that he can be photographed working on the school’s new addition. Derisive snorts erupt from my section of the bleachers at this announcement. The orchestra breaks into Vivaldi’s La Primavera and the mayor, will i am and several local politicians and a few celebrities I don’t recognize and Big Boy from Power 101, not so big after bariatric surgery but a crowd pleaser nevertheless, arrive on a bus painted to resemble a trolley. The mayor is photographed hammering from a variety of different angles. He recounts his apparently single handed creation of the charter school and also of the careers of the local politicians who grin sheepishly behind him. Spuds and the 16 year old get autographs from Big Boy and Will i am, whose genuine warmth gets them stoked up and slightly assuages my own cynicism. The assemblage is herded back on the trolley for the next photo op at another neighborhood improvement project.

I bake hamentashen and a casserole for a Purim potluck at the little temple. Plas keeps me company and in between some Cops episodes I hit a weekend news commentary show on CNN. It is hard for me to listen to the NPR these days and a story about a Hooverville on the banks of the Sacramento River nearly put me over the edge. Still, I need an audio background for the filling of hamentashen and masochistically, go for news. But I like this news. One story after another tells about how things are really not bad. The stock market has rallied. Housing starts are up. Banks are starting to lend. Everyone loves Obama. A survey of African American’s hopes for their children’s futures reveals that over 65% are confident that their children will prosper. Then it is revealed that only 34% of white people polled feel the same way. I look up and notice that both anchors are African American and it registers that most of the calls are from African American viewers. If a Jew, and it would have to be a theoretical one because I can’t think of a real Jewish politician I could support, were elected to the White House, I would be Sally Field “You like me! You really like me!” happy. Being hated and disrespected by the prevailing culture can make you feel like shit about yourself. Of course black people are happy. Himself rumbles up from his bunker, the walls of which are not thick enough to shield him from his hearing impaired wife’s need to crank up the volume. Befuddled, he asks, “What in heaven’s name are you watching?” “The black news,” I tell him. And I’m going to keep watching it.

I drag my family to the little temple for Purim, only to arrive twenty minutes late, missing a puppet Purim spiel performed for the children. We are in time for a brief havdallah service and a potluck. Judaism is so very food driven that I am always surprised by the meager offerings at a temple potluck. I brought about five dozen hamantashan and a casserole with about forty servings but others arrive with thimble sized bowls canned bean salad and small foil tins of Swanson’s lasagna. I am reminded of the quintessentially Jewish lament, “such lousy food and such tiny portions.”

The medical staff at the hotel is concerned about my mother’s weight loss and she has been prescribed an appetite stimulant. She’d kill me if she were lucid enough to know I’d signed off on that. The zipper on the Sport Sac purse she’d carried for years broke and I forgot to bring her another purse but am surprised at her resourcefulness because when I arrive to fetch her, she’s found in a drawer an ancient hideous Gucci knockoff. She expresses delight about it again and again. “Do you remember this bag Layne?” the narcissistic disorder intact, expecting me to have recall every article in her wardrobe. Which I do. We have taken her to McDonald’s a couple of times as she has eaten there with greater Ă©lan than anywhere else in our repertory. She weirdly lists to the side now, when walking or sitting, practically on top of me in the booth at Mickey D’s. She examines the purse over and over again. She has neglected to transfer the contents from the old purse into it, so it is empty except for a tiny bound memoranda book, dated 1979, when she was 59 years old and I was 22. This might be the missing link, the last insight I will ever have into what made her tick and I distract her a bit and snatch it. I pull it out when I get home and recognize the graceful penmanship she’d learned with pen and inkwell but discover that it is written in shorthand.

I remain her needy vain and shallow girl and the little memoranda book brings me no closer to understanding or forgiving. My beloved writes about the satisfaction he takes from writing for his blog and the exchange of ideas it foments. It is some of the finest writing he has ever done and it is written for himself and an exclusive cadre of kindred spirits. We both bemoan our meager readership and that there is no Fullbright for bloggers, but I would take no less joy in my writing if it were for his eyes only. It is a great pleasure to begin to mention something and be stopped by a companion who has already read the account here. Sometimes my feelings are hurt when I write about someone I assume reads here and receive no acknowledgement and realize I’d assumed incorrectly.

Mimi Downey has bailed from Facebook. I am underwhelmed with it myself. I began using the Internet in 1990. Social connections, in the early days were made via newsgroups and chatrooms and I was hooked right away by the harbinger of the cyber social revolution. I started self publishing personal essays on My Space about three years ago. There was a schism and MySpace evolved closer to social networking and serious writers, moved to Blogspot or other sites. Facebook came on the scene and MySpace has become more of a music networking niche. Facebook is attracting more new users in my age group than any other. About half of my friends are on it and a handful seems to spend a good deal of time there daily. Himself and I have both connected with some old college friends but Facebook seldom consumes more than 30 seconds of my day. I am asked to participate in quizzes (I should live in Paris. The punk star I most resemble is Patty Smith.) but there is a childish neediness the site exudes that feels treacley and cloying. Be my friend. I’ll send you virtual cookies and hugs and shamrocks.

I am as needy as the next guy and have used the web for social networking longer than just about anyone I know, but the networking I’ve done, from chatgroups to listserves to blogging has depended on words and not icons or avatars. Facebook has reduced our desperate human quest for connection to rapidfire, kneejerk, superficial and banal. Facebook is a huge success because it relies very little on the intimacy of words, and doesn’t foster the scary intimacy of intimacy.

I discover a compromising photograph of the 16 year old posted there and I point it out to him. Apparently the photograph was captured at an extremely strange angle because it was the other kid holding the beer. The consequence of my skepticism is that I am deleted from his friend list on Facebook. The result of this is that cable for his computer is relegated to the trunk of the mudmobile. I have been reinstated, as has been the cable. I am not, however on his top five friend list. I take opportunity of our renewed friendship to peruse his photo library.

When I shove the 16 year old to take off his headphones so I can inquire after him, the response is monosyllabic and bears little resemblance to human speech. The information I get from other sources is often justification for concern. The optical illusion containing the forty has been removed but there were several years of photos of the 16 year old, many with the same friends he’s had since nursery school, whose parents, also on occasion are contacted with less than flattering reports regarding their own sixteen year old’s deportment. I haven’t seen photos of my teenage years for a long time. I don’t even know if there are any. But I don’t think they would be filled with the pure joy of the 16 year old and his large group of friends goofing around and hugging and dancing. I think the teen job description prohibits any display of happiness in the vicinity of those who bore him into a life of love and privilege. It is good to see in the photos a good and happy fellow.

I like to drive the car and choose the music. There are very few people I am comfortable with as drivers and even fewer as d.j.s. The 16 year old is into music and has that guy thing. In the film Diner, a newlywed berates his wife for screwing up his arcane and complicated system of record classification and the 16 year old failed to glean the irony of this. He lists titles and dates and side projects and displays, like his dad, an extraordinary memory for minutiae. He also has a very sophisticated ear and his preferences in alternative rock are somewhat a hybrid of Him and Myself’s with a healthy smattering of Uncle Bob.. Himself totally lacks the hip hop gene and while I am more open eared, I really only enjoy stuff that’s been whitened up, like Kanye and Bow Wow and Gym Glass Heroes. The sixteen year old has tried to get me to better appreciate hardcore, more authentic artists but the result has backfired and I am reluctant to cede control of my car stereo to his IPOD. As a teen, I was blown away by the exquisite beauty that was rock n’ roll. My mother was indifferent to all manner of music but my dad had a fine ear and a wonderful collection of big band and popular vocal open reel tapes. The music, I longed to share with them, to touch them with, was just so much irritating noise and I was crushed that they were too deaf to be lifted by what I found so exalting.

In my campaign to be a less shitty mother, I agreed to IPOD domination by 16 year old daily for the 40 minute morning school run. There is a no Hip Hop rule although he sneaks in a tune or two but nothing that has addled me to “turn that shit off!” level. He has good taste and has played me a couple of bands I really like. A lot of his explication leaves me cold and he still won’t talk much to me about anything else but I suspect that I probably am more familiar with the music he likes than most of his friend’s mothers and while I still drive the car, I am happy much of the time to listen to his music, with him.

I lock the office door on Friday night thankful to have made it through another week but every week it seems so much more friggin’ barely. I return home, more and more determined make shabbat and chill and restore my soul. Before dozing I hear Spuds downstairs sprawled on the couch happily jabbering on the phone. I see the 16 year old in photos that explode with pure joy. My Beloved, weary with my worries and the comically dystopian direction his employer has taken, still shines, the brightest light in the whole fucking universe, with every word and every embrace.

I am the needy fat daughter of a beautiful woman. I will not send you good karma on Facebook but I write here, and sometimes it is hard, every week, not in shorthand, to tell you who I am and challenge you to love me.
Shabbat Shalom.


FionnchĂș said...

Well, comically dystopian at least makes me feel like I'm in a George Saunders story. I don't know if that's a pick-me-upper. I think you need to learn shorthand post-haste. Back to secretarial school!

I wonder if I too am deleted from Murphy Major's top-five, but I think even in my oldster's lack of hip awareness that ranking's on MySpace, not FB-- the friends rotate randomly in the latter domain, along with constant requests to Send Good Karma and help save the rainforest by gifting Little Green Patches (which somehow accumulate into snatching from the bulldozers nearly a hundred million square-feet to date, perhaps enough for, what, the equivalent of one shopping mall?) to Friends.

Typically, seeing people I went to school with and sometimes dissed, I now get guilt tripped into these cosmic exchanges in cyberspace that eerily mirror some Buddhist conception of compassionate mindfulness floating about us ineffably. I wonder if all this accumulated dharma in our socially networked realm will bring us any closer to forgiveness, lovingkindness, and that overworked "tikkun olam"? Shabbat shalom, if wearily so here. xxx me

P.S. You, me, Chris with a Ch and a dog named Boo all apparently resemble by that FB quiz: Patti Smith... not Patty Smyth(e) or whoever the other 1980s one hit-wonder was.

harry said...

I wound up being Debbie Harry, which I can only point to drugs as some possible explanation. I also have only 10 FB friends, which oddly embarasses me.

What a lovely, lovely bit of writing Layner. How can writing of this quality find a larger audience? It still seems to me that books should matter to some...