Friday, March 12, 2010

The Small Screen

The Small Screen
I am teaching the seventeen year old to drive. It occurs to me that in other countries I’ve visited, cars driven by trainees and newly licensed drivers are clearly marked to alert others to the driver’s status. It would be good to have a sign on the car that says “student driver” when the seventeen year old cuts off a crowded bus. As I typically do when faced with the vexatious, I google “teaching kid drive.” Many of my friends have survived the training and licensing of their teenagers so it seems obvious that I am missing something. The web scour unfortunately unearths no missing link. Don’t yell. Use positive reinforcement. Don’t overreact. You and your firstborn are about to smash headlong into a Hummer…but stay calm.

We suck at suffering in silence. Himself has been suffering particularly unsilently of late and I while I myself am not exactly forbearing, neither was I spoon fed The Lives of the Saints. The purely for profit ostensive learning institution for which my beloved toils has put the screws to its full timers and Himself is this quarter ministering to over a hundred students. He has mentioned this to us, perhaps more than once. I am folding laundry and the kids are sprawled on the couch. Himself, hunched over laptop, mutters perhaps not for the first time “I have so much work,” and Spuds says under his breath, “We should start a drinking game…” He and his brother explode into a paroxysm of laughter. I emit an involuntary snort which I hope Himself confuses for an allergy related incidence. I am thankful that my back is facing my husband and I pray that he will presume my quivering shoulders are the result of folding his underpants and not the constraint of laughter. Nevertheless, the kids’ failure to prostrate themselves at his feet, mindful of the tortures he endures that they may have sustenance, throws him into a big tizzy and he stomps off to his office and slams the door.

I am sorry he doesn’t feel like we appreciate how hard he works for us to have food and shelter and Netflix. I am glad though too that the kids are able to make light. My mother constantly foisted the martyrdom she endured on my behalf in my face and my reaction was usually pretty self destructive. Sometimes the sprats hurt my feelings too, but as devastating as it can be, I am happy that they see through me. It is good that they have each other and are self actualized enough not to fall for a lot of the crap I would inadvertently drag them through otherwise.

Tacit Casamurphy policy is to neither censure nor coddle huffy self righteous self pitying door slammers. We are all capable of being snarly assholes but we are all adept too at snapping out of it. The kids watch t.v on the couch, Himself stews in his office and I retire with a novel. I am asleep when he gets into bed. He is usually asleep when I leave in the morning. I kiss him and tell him that I love him before I go. I try to land a big smooch of lipstick on his face so that I can verify when I return from work that he’s washed. The morning after the drinking game kerfuffle I am probably still a bit annoyed at his brittleness but comfortable in the knowing that assholeness is always a fleeting thing at Casamurphy.

The daily back and forth household management e-mails from our respective places of employment begins and Himself notes that he is sorry at having been thin skinned and adds, “I do wish you would kiss me good morning.” I don’t remember if, still ruffled, I intentionally do not kiss him or if I am simply rushing and as I do once in a while, forget, or if I do actually kiss him and he is so conked by his grading marathon that he sleeps soundly through it.

My beloved is capable of grumpiness en extremis and even after decades, he is still surprised to have attained an intimacy so authentic that his crankiness actually matters to another human being. My revelation, a counterpart to his, and the one that makes griping incessant enough to inspire a drinking game the merest blip on the radar, is that my kisses matter and are missed.

I place second in the Oscar pool. I think people might feel sorry for Meryl Streep for having lost so many times and I dislike Sandra Bullock’s nose. Plus, in a cynicism fueled by trying to make a living of late in the film industry, I cannot believe the academy will ignore the earning power of Avatar. My friend who takes the pot has seen just about every film, while I have seen only about four. Before children, I typically saw four or five movies every week. It is hard to undo the programming that watching television is profligate and that film is the higher form of art. When I consider some of the shows I watch though, like the Sopranos, or Dexter and the Wire, I realize how paradigmatic TV has become. I find that the cable series is consistently more satisfying to me than most of the films I see.

I score three tickets to the Paley Television Fest and make an unusual weeknight outing cross town to Beverly Hills for a tribute to the show Breaking Bad. Himself and I both have vivid childhood memories of swimming in the huge backseat of some behemoth sedan and taking Wilshire Blvd., of the famous synchronized stoplights, to the sea. We both remember the looming white Carnation Building. I was enchanted by Bullock’s Wilshire, having gone there for tea and depiliation bi-weekly for my entire adult life, until it closed. It is now Southwestern Law School and my memories of Dawn (nee Don?) the statuesque transsexual manager of the beauty salon and floating island in the tearoom fade from the foreground as the murder nearby of seventeen year old Lilly Burk last year, while running an errand for her mother, a law school employee, displaces a lifetime of sweet memories.

We pass the Ambassador Hotel. In 1967 I was ten and my mother’s boyfriend took us to the swanky Coconut Grove there to see the Scottish singer Lulu perform her hit “To Sir With Love” and I guess some other songs that I don’t remember. I was taken backstage after the show and received a cursory smile and a glossy still autographed, despite having spelled my name out slowly and clearly, “To Elaine, with love, Lulu”.

I always tell the kids that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in the kitchen at the Ambassador and this is one fact I can always repeat without inducing insolent “you said that a zillion times” yawns. They turn their heads and look until the hollow remains of the infamous hotel, clad now in cyclone fence, are out of sight. I was on Fulton Avenue watching the election returns in the bedroom with the ballerina wallpaper at age eleven. I had just co-opted a replaced TV for myself. I was probably getting some hippie influence from music, reading (linear notes?) and friends’ older siblings. My mother was relatively apathetic politically once she discovered that volunteering for a candidate was not the greatest way to meet men. I had supported Gene McCarthy in the primary. A film archivist aside here is that when an obituary tribute to Eugene was played at the last Democratic convention the footage used was actually of Joseph McCarthy.

I probably was down with the martyr like commitment of “Get clean for Gene,” although I never would have been attracted to a boy with short hair. Maybe it was because we did have the war in our living room and McCarthy seemed to be the most adamantly against it. Or maybe someone’s long haired big brother had a bumper sticker. Kennedy was my second choice though and Humphrey might as well have been Nixon. I saw the shooting and woke my mom. It took a long while to convince her that I was talking about Bobby Kennedy, and not John.

LAUSD has been trying to turn the Ambassador site into a high school now for well over a decade. Now, there is only a tiny shell of the hotel left, eclipsed by an enormous green glass erection, soon to be a high school. Unfortunately, district enrollment has decreased so precipitously since the idea was born that it is doubtful that the grand modern high school that replaces the historic hotel will ever be filled to capacity.

Spuds is the only kid at the crowded Breaking Bad forum. The show revolves around a high school chemistry teacher whose financial pressure is exacerbated by his need for expensive cancer treatment and leads him to take up the manufacture of crystal meth. I am surprised there are no other edgy precocious teens attending, particularly because the show is so dead on in its depiction of aphasia, vis a vis high school. There are clips and then an episode of the show followed by a discussion with the cast and creators.

The show and a number of others produced for cable not only represent a cultural zenith but also suggest an anomaly. Himself cites yet another article noting that the blog is doomed ,as less may not be more but is what the public apparently wants nevertheless, as evidenced on Twitter and YouTube. . I will make another aside here with reference to the “long form.” Several months ago Himself wrote a very cogent proposal of approximately 500 words regarding his employer ponying up for some professional conferences he wished to attend. It was submitted for the approval of some professional educator on high but returned to Himself the following day with instructions that the request be resubmitted, this time in the form of bullet points.

Breaking Bad is just beginning its third season but there are 86 one hour long episodes of the Sopranos, 60 of the Wire and 63 of Six Feet Under. In an age where a two thousand word essay is too demanding it is weird, but also comforting, that such a substantial audience is eager to sign off from Facebook and commit a couple of work weeks to losing themselves to these triumphs of plot, character and performance. We still go to the movies once in a while but I hope the kids remember with equal fondness the hours our family has invested in a number of excellent cable series and the time we’ve spent together in the dark and riveted.

When I was Spuds age All in the Family was groundbreaking and Mary Tyler Moore was funny but it is films like Harold and Maude, Carnal Knowledge, McCabe and Mrs. Miller and the Last Picture Show that better represent to me an embrace of the downbeat and a more apt reflection of the time I’m from. Perhaps when he is my age, shows like The Wire and the Sopranos will be regaled for their contribution to our culture and Spuds will sense that these are of his time and feel proud.

In a slow news week I bitch about tyro driving and tyrannical tantrums and blather on about the boob tube. I am thankful to be occupied with small concerns and distracted momentarily from Armageddon scenarios. I wonder a lot how my children will remember these times. I vaguely remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, but other than that, compared to the world my kids navigate my child and teenhood days were quite blithe. Yet, while he’ll scare the Bejeezus out of me in the process, the seventeen year old will get his driver’s license. Himself will moan once or perhaps twice again about his workload. The sprats will make more jokes at his expense and more doors will be slammed. We will watch more episodes of the Wire and Breaking Bad. I will kiss my beloved every morning, and glory that this, and so many other small sweet things, matters.


Fionnchú said...

I did not hear Spuds' mutter about the drinking game-- if I had even I might have guffawed. I thought he was mimicking me. For the record, I am gratified however belatedly that humor in its snarkiest form continues to imbue each generation of our respectively jaded, doggedly cynical, lengthy broken family lines. xxx me

harry said...

I saw Lou Rawls at the Coconut Grove in 1968. I'd never stopped to think it was just a few days before Sirhan Sirhan did the deed. My mother woke me the night of the primary, and we watched KNBC together long after midnight. The criss continues to cross. I love you and your boomer's frame. Virtually speaking.