Everybody come and play!
Where every day is laundry day!
Check your standards at the door!
They'll only get in Marty's way!

That's right, it's

Notes From The Temple of Dominoes #37

"Tickling your funny bone
with the shrapnel
of the American dream!"

 

Tonight's episode:

Ever have one of those dreams
where you keep waking up driving?

 

 

 

97/ 6/17 I've got a really really boring script idea and I'm gonna tell you all about it. See, it's about this Virgo named Louis who wants to turn his agony and loneliness and sense of desperate wonder at life into a tight firm scantily clad 90-page film script that will put butts in seats and make their owners scream with laughter like exploding hyenas all across the planet. He finally hits the brink of suicide after watching several Frank Capra movies and missing the point of each of them and decides that if he's going to die, he might as well experience the world and confront his stupidest fears and be robbed and beaten by strangers in the middle of the Arizona desert first. He would leave his tiny world and confront his future, knowing only that it was far away and he would need to change himself drastically to find it.

His first emboldened step: his housemate Zoe - the one with the graceful smooth legs and awkward brown clothes and the black lace bra that hangs under her thin dress like a glorious clinging oil painting he glimpses only a half-inch at a time and only on hot days. He can't say he's in love with her; he isn't. He hasn't been in love for over four years and by the time he'd fallen in love with his last real girlfriend, they'd been broken up for four months and she was pregnant by someone who owned a house. This is different: subtle, playful, shallow, irresponsible. Exactly the sort of pointless kamikaze nosedive adventure he'd spent his life avoiding and he could only now recognize as the vitamin for which he'd been starving since infancy. It was time to balance his diet.

A few tedious scenes pass showing exactly why he hates his life and his job so much. He's got pressure on him to pretend to care about doing what no sane person would care about doing, checking graphic reproductions of legal invoices for copy quality. Ugly tourists should pass by and point into glass cages where strange tentacled creatures are on display wasting away whole hours of life doing these things he's expected to do all day long five times every week without screaming or setting fire to anything. He realizes the sales counter in a fast-food restaurant is really an eerie display case, where uniformed adolescents playfully reward the zoo people with handfuls of snack treats and do their best to smile despite their captivity.

Next comes the outrageously funny scene where the protagonist tries to kill himself (think of the crowded cabin scene in "A Night At The Opera") that leads him to abandon his treadmill life in favor of a poorly planned roadtrip with lots of fascinating bonding and self-discovery that will either knock your socks off or bore you into a coma, depending on how often you use the word "talky" in a sentence. Before I describe that, though, I must interrupt myself with a concert review.

 

U2

Oakland Stadium,

Oakland, CA

June 19, 1997

A second show had been announced and I finally bought two tickets for approximately the price of a minor organ transplant when I realized that I really would prefer to spend the cash than wonder what I missed. Every friend who had an opinion was offended by the $60 ticket prices and rightly so, but being the analytical misanthrope with increasingly ludicrous ambitions involving the production of multimedia rock music stage shows that I am, I decided it was an investment. I would be an anthropologist, cynically observing a mass culture ritual and secretly hoping the band still knew how to rock with all the force of nature...like they used to. I wasn't counting on it.

I first saw U2 on December 15th, 1984 at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium, because although I did think of them as silly pretentious rock-hippies I didn't have to pay for the ticket, but at some point during one of their passionate songs about war and love and other pressing issues, I was overwhelmed to realize that...they meant it. We had finally been offered something that wasn't a joke. If I tried to describe how exciting it was you'd guffaw and stop reading, convinced I had mistaken clever rock showmanship for messianic accomplishment, that I had allowed some shrewdly executed pop culture ritual to fill for an evening the vacuum left inside me by an empty culture or an inadequate religion or predictable adolescent loneliness or naiveté. All that's important is that if I had ever wondered exactly how powerful a concert experience could be, that performance taught me that there is no limit. Thousands of strangers gather in an enormous room, each to risk the possibility that they all might at some point recognize that they are there together - that the cages holding them apart can be lifted invisibly away by the right kind of graceful, honest, furious gesture that focuses the attention of the entire room into a single point, and in doing so reminds the witnesses of something that every other moment of their lives works tirelessly to make them forget.

Fans of every age and state of predictable dress flooded through the gates at the Oakland Stadium, and while I'm not really the high-school pervert I used to be (after the agony of college and the frustration of adulthood I've evolved into a completely different type of pervert) I stumbled through the cheerful mob struck with that hormonal blindness that causes everything but breasts and the occasional bare shoulder to be eliminated from my field of vision, so friend Ben led me carefully down the stairs to my seat and I curled up whimpering because my lower back has been aching since I started riding my bike to work without doing the proper stretches afterwards a month ago. I pushed my feet against the seats in front of me and stared at the stage - a clever orange-and-yellow fast-food parody of a rock stage towered over by an enormous golden arch and a cocktail stirrer of the same height with a huge lemon sitting underneath. A deliberately hideous McPlatform from which to release a stadium of spoiled rock consumers from the emptiness and misery of their Thursday evening. Okay, I was skeptical.

It took them four minutes to piss me off. With a spotlight pointing out a stream of heads sliding through the crowd, the screen behind the stage lit up with the costumed faces of the band I'd paid to see, projected on live video from two hundred feet below. Eventually the band made it onto the screen - I mean, the stage - and suddenly I was watching the video for the band's new single "Mofo" acted out live and projected on a television as wide as a football field. Some musicians fumbled about underneath. Occasionally it occurred to me they were the same people.

Sometimes I feel like my mission in life is to explain why live concerts are better than TV. The whole point of a live concert is that the person demanding my attention is also demanding the attention of every other person in the room; entering from a parking lot of cars from different cities, we are all allowed finally to become one magnetized organism. Finally. It's impossible to look at a well-executed concert without thinking of Hitler's Nuremberg rallies, of course, because the last century of history has taught us to be terrified of the thought that any crowd of seventy thousand people might agree on anything, but anyone who thinks church accomplishes what a good concert can't has been attending the wrong shows. We need to be reminded that there is a world outside each of our arrogant little skulls. We need to be reminded that we are each part of something much, much, much bigger. And occasionally, we need to be immersed, not in judgment, but in joy. We need something to make us forget ourselves, so that we can at last remember everything else.

From two miles away, it must have looked like the E-ticket apocalypse. Blurred faces and guitar-playing figures projected at mammoth scale mimed out the tremendous sounds of U2 at full Armageddon volume. From the second row, the image of Bono retching into the mike must have looked a thousand times more powerful with the projection of his own hunched-over figure blown up to the size of Texas and towering behind the performer on the screen at the back of the stage, monstrous and beautiful like the egos that produced the show I still hadn't decided to enjoy or despise. There are few moments in life when I so loathe myself as those when I realize I've been actively seeking out reasons to resent something I went far out of my way to experience. I enjoy hating things. I'd become a cynical, petty, burned-out adult, surrounded by giddy screaming brats who hugged one another repeatedly upon recognizing each catchy, familiar anthem. I'd been left behind.

Throughout my first real sexual experience years ago, an endless loop of Catholic hymns from my childhood repeated loudly in my head and it occurred to me that apparently I hated to have fun. Now I was standing a thousand feet from a band I loved and I couldn't stop pestering myself with clever observations. "I wonder when the worth-sixty-bucks stuff is gonna happen...at this price, the show better be five hours long and end with a lap dance...I will never be able to afford to stage a show like this...the enormity of the lighting system alone makes it clear that my life is a shallow puddle of failure... Jeezus, is it too much to ask Bono to remember the words to his own songs? I guess it's my fault for noticing...must I be young and thoughtless to enjoy a rock concert? Is my life over already? What am I missing that's right in front of me?..."

The parking-lot-sized screen flashed and danced behind the stage like a very very very loud laundromat television and it was impossible not to watch it. And every second I did, I forgot where I was. I forgot that thousands of people were there with me. I was there with the same goal as everyone else - to give my attention over to something that actually deserved it, and to be transformed with thousands of other people into part of it for the length of the evening. It's horrifying to think that I might have to defend the idea that humanity is elevated when thousands of people are encouraged to sing and move together as a common force, but I've seen such group experiences be positively dignifying to all involved. The impossible-to-ignore video screen, however, had exactly the opposite effect. Every moment that my eyes were on the video screen was a moment spent alone. To watch another human being perform is to be reminded that what I am and what I am paying attention to are the same creature; on some level, we must respond to one another...and in doing so, we become more human. When I watch television, I become nothing.

Bono wasn't much help. Years before I'd seen him reflect back the energy of an entire auditorium by facing straight into the audience and standing with an absolute confidence that was neither clumsy nor threatening. Not since Freddie Mercury has a human being been so capable of attracting attention, and the warmth with which Bono returned it to the audience made his band's performances uniquely powerful. Yet over the years he's developed a familiar collection of stage moves apparently designed to thrill mobs of ticket holders from a thousand paces, but which in practice cast off the focused energy of a performance like water off a shaking dog's wet fur. Where I had seen him stand and lead a crowd, now he drops limp like a marionette, suspended from the arm that holds the microphone...or he kicks his knees high in a rubbery dance, like a human being stuck in a cartoon world and trying to blend in.

The cartoon beckoned but I struggled weakly to watch the musicians below the enormous screen, thinking about the band I'd seen in the past. U2's show in 1986 was a lesson in disappointment, the most exciting band in the world struggling to shove a Cow Palace full of MTV morons into rock'n'roll communion and failing admirably. Their performance at Oakland Stadium in 1987 was an uneven thrill ride with moments of pure bliss. And I couldn't blame them for 1992.

Juliet flew down from British Columbia for a week's visit. Three years before I'd fallen into stupid impossible love with her, sitting around a campfire with "The Unforgettable Fire" playing on her boyfriend's tape deck and four other pals gathered around to remind me of how ludicrous my feelings were. Years later I'd acquired tickets to see her favorite band on the second day of her visit. It started as a joke that only later did I realize I meant as a statement of pure honesty, but after the shock of confronting a dear friend I really didn't know very well and inviting her into my one-cast-member life for a week, I proposed to her the morning after her arrival. That left six days to figure out what I had meant and why she was there and whether or not we were going to have sex before she left. We spent a baffling afternoon being tacky tourists and dear, frustrated friends and wound up at the Coliseum for U2's indoor Zoo TV tour. I arrived expecting an industrial-strength avalanche of passionate rock theater, and what I got was...ridiculous. U2 had seen their church become a toy factory and they decided to burn it down. While they were still inside.

It was a wicked display of deliberate self-parody with Elvis costumes and disco balls and I loved it and I hated it, but most of all I hadn't had enough time to adjust to it. By the end they'd played some of the most powerful, creative, romantic songs ever to achieve heavy radio rotation and the dazzling show formed an eerie parallel to the beautiful-insult-to-my-expectations turn that my life had taken that day. Juliet said it was the best concert she'd ever seen, adding that she only wished they'd played "The Unforgettable Fire", which suggested to me that we'd just watched a pack of vandals burning down apartment buildings and she was left wishing that they'd destroyed the museum too.

Back in the Oakland Stadium, Bono and The Edge stood on a tiny annex stage in the center of the crowd singing their hit "Staring At The Sun" under a soft blue light that would have suggested the glow of a swampy moon if not for the intrusive flares of bright neon haze from the hot dog stands and t-shirt booths behind every column of seats which made the onstage spectacle look less like a stadium concert and more like a halftime show. I looked over rows of seats facing in several directions, mobs of fans bunched between the sound and light booths and the sprawling limbs of the stage. Lines of people swept back and forth past the concession counters behind us. My attention was everywhere but on the performers. If the Nuremberg rallies had been this sloppily organized, Hitler would have been a threat to nobody.

Here's why I hate stadium concerts: Every song is performed as if the audience were a flock of superbeings capable of hearing musical nuance and mumbled lyrics buried in a hurricane of amplified sound and instantly deriving from the obscure words and noises some statement of immediate impact. The result of this delusion is the bizarre advent of hypothetical music, the audience applauding like trained seals for the experience they would have had if they'd been able to hear the songs clearly. The show is designed to be an experience so massive that the entire spectacle must be broken into parts and consumed over the course of several weeks, like a night class - studying lyrics at home and learning with repeated listenings to appreciate songs with no immediate appeal, so that the two hours in the sports arena can be focused on celebrating the performer instead of noticing the performance. Two-thirds of the way through U2's show, I was still wondering when the musicians were going to get to the point.

And then they got there. After an aliens-emerging-from-the-glowing-orb entrance that made it crystal-clear the fellows were going for belly laughs, the stadium plunged into a simple, massive rave-ish light show as the band began the encore with the slick "Discotheque". After an evening awkwardly focused neither on the band nor the audience but on the video screen itself, the entire tremendous room suddenly became the center of the stage and the party began. A few tunes later, Bono announced that they would play one last song and the band stepped gently into "One".

I was angry. They played the song beautifully, with energy and reverent joy, and it set into subtle relief the hopelessness of the entire evening. It was clear that this was the same band I had seen years ago, but after so many triumphs during the show, there would be no final redemption. To survive the self-parody of consumer culture, U2 had become the self-parody of consumer culture. The most militantly humanistic band of the eighties had declared that the beast could not be defeated.

If I described how sad it was you'd laugh and stop reading. It was time spent with a friend I love so dearly that it's horrifying to see the damage she's doing to herself. A moment hating the world for destroying itself so tragically. Hating life for someday ending.

I was reminded of how much I loved most of the music these wealthy Irish men had made, both as naive, angry boys and as determined, privileged pop stars. I was angry at myself for having dug up deep veins of fault running through a performance crammed with such intense imagination and labor. I was angry at myself for growing up cynical and frustrated. I was angry at myself for being angry. And every step of the way, the show I'd just seen was ten steps ahead of me, too angry to remain silent and too honest to show a world that was less than repulsive and false and coldly exciting...and too intelligent not to laugh at it.

 

 

 

Hey folks - several days have passed and I've thrown out the script I was working on before and started writing another one with all the same ideas, finally triumphant (more or less) after weeks of self-righteous delusion. Foolishly I'd been writing a story about a guy who spends four pages deciding he hates his life, one page confronting the abyss of his fears and 95 adventurous pages reveling in the insightful bliss that follows near-death experiences when I shoulda been writing about the kind of life I knew, wherein the protagonist spends the whole fucking movie trying to shave down his commute time so he can get home from his shovel-forehead job and write movie and concert reviews so heartbreaking in their eloquent grace that the world of local free publications will be forced to invite him to their secret meetings where agents and publishers and unmarried daughters of film directors gather to make seductive offers to talented guys with no direction or future. Frustrated and ambitious, he copes with his feelings of humiliation by compiling long lists of female celebrities he's going to sleep with before he dies. Frequently he catches himself staring at the ceiling paralyzed with terrified indecision and wondering when his life is going to begin. Occasionally it happens while he's driving. Those are the moments that worry him.

I've been writing this script because I'm dying to know what the protagonist discovers that makes it all worthwhile. I'm hoping to God it's neither a ditzy one-sentence formula for self-discovery nor some idiotic sentimental lie about how life is perfect the way it is. Every week in church as a child I heard them celebrate "The Mystery of Faith", apparently an abstraction resembling the eerie roar of engines grinding incessantly toward distant garages that never emerge on the horizon...the sound without which we'd be hopelessly lost, a field of compasses spinning endlessly away from one another. Somewhere is a discovery that makes sense of the endless hours of unlivable waiting.

I haven't mentioned so far that, like all worthwhile films made since 1970, this will be a flimsy parody of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The scenes with the apes in the desert are somehow acted out by a lifeless flock of frustrated blue-shirted delivery workers, slowly chewing on bagels next to huge tiled walls before the day's work begins. I'll call it the Dawn of Man sequence and it will begin and end during the credits. Next comes the first title card:

HOLLYWOOD

We see Louis with his hands crossed in front of the keyboard, staring at his computer screen. He checks his watch. He thinks. He checks his watch. He thinks. He types, then backspaces. He thinks. He checks his watch. This sequence is 230 minutes long.

The Annotated Martin Azevedo

Now comes the part where I'm stuck like a bent screw. I know the people and the dilemmas I want to illustrate but they're piled like unlabeled tapes on the floor by the stereo. Herein I will begin to arrange them like notecards into a wobbly house. Predictably, my design will start with the wallpaper.

This is a world of characters who have clumsily gone blind, now worriedly wondering what they used to find so exciting about music, movies, their friends and the idiotic little hobbies that they expected to turn into holy lifelong rituals or careers. Life has become hopeless and gray without so much as a formal governmental announcement ("Congratulations graduates! You may now form a line to the right and surrender your enthusiasm! Each row will be given a plastic bag...") and soon the immortal fire of being will power only a search for someone to blame it on. Is there a better reason to be pissed?

Leaning against this wallpaper is Louis, a protagonist so god damn talented and clever nobody will believe he's not insightful enough to reach the big epiphany before the opening credits, and so he must be plagued with hideous character flaws designed to represent the lovable perversity of the audience and thus win their adoration. Louis narrates the story, which means I get to write lots of exciting dialogue that no one would actually say in conversation because it would sound too carefree and self-congratulatory and premeditated, like Shakespeare drunk at a party fighting with the host over his car keys. I live for that shit.

Our hero comes home from work every day and types marvelous sentences over and over and over trying to get them good enough to cover up the fact that he's got nothing to write about. He's got elaborate career plans that demand his being focused, lucky, several years younger and much wealthier than he is. He's got friends half his age who have read more books, been more places and had more sex than he ever will. Life is exhausting, time is unforgiving and God is cruel. Umm...

So one overcast September day our hero turns 30 and realizes that someday he is going to have great-grandchildren who won't know which country he lived in. He has given his life over to paths that may never lead anywhere. His greatest passion is self-righteous complaining, which he fears contributes to his loneliness, which leads to more self-righteous complaining. He's been publishing infrequent articles as a film critic and he hates film critics. He's bitter and frustrated and feeling trapped until something wonderful happens, which I'll tell you all about after I interrupt myself again with something else I'm suddenly thinking about.

 

SELF-LOATHING, SELF-DISCOVERY,

SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

FILM CRITICISM AND THE PATH TO ENLIGHTENMENT

by Martin Azevedo

A good friend of mine published a pornographic story - a factual and gracefully written tale about a trip to Madrid where he met a lovely woman and, you might say, explored the local territory - and out of respect and thoughtfulness I elected to read it as I would any adventure story: that is, I mentally shoved the protagonist narrating the tale aside and stepped into his place myself, hoping to enjoy vicariously the adventure I was too clumsy, timid or monolingual to experience in real life. I've usually found this to be an effective tactic which allows me to lose myself in the hypnotic literary spell until I hit a metaphor like "snatch", "honeypot" or "country sausage" and feel myself pulled backward from the exotic locale of the story, through the sticky pages of the Penthouse Letters Thesaurus and again into the drab, tedious life I was living before I opened the magazine. Luckily, my friend was a purveyor of tasteful and well-composed filth, and so his choice of words caused no such interference, but I found myself with another, unexpected problem: every time the word "I" was used, I thought not of myself, nor of some anonymous and forgettable stranger, but of my friend, bobbing his familiar head back into the story and, you might say, blocking the view.

That's what movie criticism is like: the back of the journalist's head becomes the story. Some idiot failed screenwriter with a press kit and a laptop computer sees a movie for free and insists on telling the world what he thought of it, robbing me of the opportunity to experience it independently; our opinions cannot be identical - we're human beings, after all - but my experience of the movie cannot be unaffected by a critic's damaging words. I can't ignore them and I can't dispute them during the film without distracting myself. Critics are the tall hairy guys who always take the seats in front of me and argue about the movie with the people sitting next to them. They think they bring us information, but their every comment only serves to block our view of the information we paid to see. Are we supposed to accept this lunacy?

This, beloved readers, is why I do my best to present every movie review I write as a charming and irrelevant morality tale, with as little information about the film as possible. Why should I tell you the plot before you see the film? Was someone unclear on the idea that you buy your ticket to find out what the plot is?? If you want biased, misleading advice about movies, watch the commercials. They're exciting, expensive and prettier than Gene Siskel on a good day.

Don't get me wrong: movie reviews are fun, just like it's fun to watch someone on the side of the road get arrested, until you crash into the guy in front of you who also likes watching people get arrested. We're all judgmental hypocrites, and I can't resist sharing my idiot opinions along with the rest of the effete, pretentious, self-congratulatory, stupidly analytical heads-up-their-asses hordes of leftover film geek rejects who have to pass the time somehow. But I must vow at least to direct my self-righteous insults against those who try to dictate opinions to the public instead of trying simply to please them. (Paul Hogan said "My job is to make people laugh. The critics' job is to stop me")

Most moviegoers watch a film in order to be charmed, even seduced, as an excited young adult goes on a date, whereas most critics (Siskel and Ebert, for example) approach films as if they're each choosing dates for their daughters, no doubt determined to keep the girls from encountering anything the men recognize from their own lecherous pasts. Like jealous parents, film critics congratulate themselves for recognizing the obscure weaknesses in films that most fun-loving filmgoers would congratulate themselves for not noticing. "This overrated, inexplicably popular film is merely a trite reworking of the same familiar Kurosawa epics, updated with trendy dialogue and guns and rubber suits and set in a Florida hospital during a freak sandstorm, warming over the alien-gorilla-snacking-on-local-children gag (yawn) and beating to death the tired plumber-is-also-Broadway-singer-and-single-parent twist before stealing the entire "balloon factory on fire" sequence from Welles' unseen masterpiece The Defeat of Ygniacio, with none of the grandeur and beauty we may safely assume is in the original."

Is it all just my fault? Why can't I watch a movie with Zen detachment, letting go all intrusive opinions? Maybe I should have paid no attention to the critics in the first place. Maybe I should just mind my own business. Maybe I should become a terrorist.

 

I'll finish that up later, when the survival of civilization deems it absolutely necessary...right now I'm still wheezing in the wrestling pit with the two idiotic narratives I've been struggling to bang out before the human race evolves beyond the need for spiritual curiosity or an entertainment industry...which two narratives, you ask? Hmm....

So I'm apparently writing about someone who can't not write about himself. Everything he writes turns into his autobiography and traps him there with nothing to write about except his writing. It's a recipe for bland screenwriting and he knows it, so he decides to do interesting things and write about them. Thus begins the predictable montage of wacky desperate illegal man-on-the-edge shenanigans that will look exciting in the trailer. And thus begin the comparisons to other movies, which I'll do my best to ignore.

Louis drops by Alexander's house, entering into a jungle of stacked newspapers and magazines, plastic bags collected and bound with twine, boxes of dishes and clothes, old books, junk from garage sales....Alexander lives with his grandmother, where he watches videos and writes lovely poetry about his misery. Louis loves Alexander but hates to be dragged into his life - it's like a haunted graveyard. Nothing ever escapes from the house. Louis' whole life is beginning to feel like that. Alexander's has felt like that for a long time.

The story trips forwards, one too-simple sentence at a time, until we know Louis through Alexander and we know Alexander through Louis and we're thrilled to have learned exactly how uninteresting their lives are. They push each other to change the things they complain about constantly, but after three years nothing is different. Until now.

Louis knows he's going to leave, somehow. Alexander knows he never will. Alexander tells Louis to go where he should have gone all along. To Zoe.

* * * *

The story goes on from there, as you already know if you've ever seen "2001: A Space Odyssey", and there's lots of good stuff coming up about long-held dreams crushed in terribly amusing ways by characters finally able to sacrifice what they had long considered too valuable to risk.

And there's nothing like a barely-begun story to make any writer feel like he's soaking wet and carrying a leaky car battery. I've been squeezing my skull closed for weeks over this bloody thing and like a podiatrist so fascinated with his feet he can't walk, I've been sufficiently desperate to expose the truth of the character that I've given him nothing to do but sit enthralled with his own escalating mediocrity. My current goal, then, is to wait until I get bored enough to allow him to escape. And I'm gettin' there.

Louis' life is an airplane hangar and it's burning down. After years of slow excuses, suddenly he's desperate to grab the few things that are truly valuable to him and throw them in the plane before jetting to safety. Will Zoe fit in the plane? As well as anything or anyone would. Jeez, I dunno...but he's gotta find out. The curiosity would take too much space.

He confronts her. Her reaction is incomprehensible - angry, laughing, astonished, scared. He takes it as a no.

He kidnaps Alexander. It's been ugly watching his friend become another item in storage in his grandmother's house. They drive South. Toward Hollywood. Toward old friend Charlotte. Toward the desert. Toward nothing in particular.

Nothing else to say about it now. Plenty of work to do.

 

A N T H R O P O L O G Y

I N F A N T S C I E N C E

97/ 7/13 It wasn't until I arrived a the sushi restaurant with Ben C. that I recognized what's been going on in my life. I'd spent the day in that state of intense, lonely boredom that grows out of my delusion that the world is a tiny house and I'm only allowed into certain rooms...we ordered trays of sushi and I savored Ben's continuous stories and observations while chewing into pieces of fish and rice drenched so thickly in explosive green wasabi that each bite was like a hammer blow into the bridge of my nose and through my forehead. I cackled with glee, reveling in Ben's beautiful life-changing dilemma tales while tears poured down my cheeks and I swayed back and forth, gasping through my nose and trying to experience the sensation as something else but pain. It was far far more than a meal - it was a thrill ride, like taking hits of nitrous while riding the Giant Dipper. And after bludgeoning myself with half a plate of these delicacies it occurred to me that I was aching for a physical, sensual experience. I've been living my life in front of the computer lately...

Ben's gone through something of a month-long epiphany crisis that isn't quite over yet, and it was sublime to hear him describe it. The evening was like watching a river begin to carve a new direction for itself; it was clear that this conversation marked a moment which could only happen once.

Ben's been a grad student in Anthropology and will soon be studying in New York for a year to produce his dissertation. He's been experiencing great tremors of doubt - does he really want to be an academic? Why the hell is he going to New York? - and in fact he's coming to recognize that the person he truly is, the soul he feels inside, is not simply the list of responsibilities and talents he's gathered around himself; he is, in fact, an altogether different being than that shell he's been maintaining, and that being is growing stronger unto itself every day now.

He already might have proposed to Susannah months ago, but she's been feeling very unsure of her future; having graduated, she's now visiting her mother in Sacramento and meditating on what direction to take her life...she'd suggested that if she moved to New York, they could get married; but if her life took her somewhere else, they should consider ending their relationship. He was very proud of his response...well, I'll paraphrase the way I remember it: she's crazy. He's not going to marry her just because she moves to NY, and he's not going to break up with her just because she doesn't. They're talking about something far far deeper than that. She feels hesitantly responsible for making decisions that will direct the rest of her life...planning her life as if she's extracting the solution to a math problem, when in fact her attention should be focused on what she wants now. Not because her desires now are somehow more wisely ordained than her thoughts about her future, but because she's going to live the rest of her life in a moment called right now, and so she'll be lost if she plans her life only for the future, only for a person who has not yet wanted anything, and who might never exist at all...

He asked her only one thing: could he be honest with her about how he felt? About how dearly he loved her? That was all he needed to know. If he could be honest with her, then all other pretenses of proper behavior would follow far behind them. What they would have would be true and would be as solid as it could be until it ended itself - not by their decision but before it.

Ben carried a sackfull of revelations gathered since we last spoke. He'd spoken to two of his advisors, asking them questions unheard of in academic offices. He admitted to them that he'd recently come to recognize something he could only describe as his immortal soul - his true self, at least - and now, suddenly aware of this element of his being that was far more important than his studies or his career, how was he supposed to find Anthropology worthwhile? Who gives a fuck about spending a year in New York? Isn't anthropology about love - about falling in love with some different culture and sharing its beauty with your own culture? What is there to fall in love with in New York?

And he was reminded by their responses of how lucky he was to have worked with them in the first place. He repeated their explanations: "You don't go there because you already love it." (I'm paraphrasing.) "You go there because you haven't experienced it yet. You give yourself over to the experience, and in experiencing it...you can learn to love it. You learn to see it for what it is. And then when you return home, you realize you've learned to see your home for what it is." He would study New York, the exotic humid island...and he would learn about himself on the deepest levels.

Ben was on a roll and I could barely keep up. He'd realized that Anthropology is the study of human beings, and human beings are a species not of answers but of questions. Anthropologists ask questions of their subjects and they print the answers as if the answers were the words that contained the truth about the people studied. But in fact, the answers are unnecessary. I didn't understand; it seemed a little fanatical. Ben continued, and slowly the picture emerged - but not 'til after he left, really.

When you ask someone five questions, they may ignore three of them, shrug them off with a shake or three words. The fourth they may give you a few sentences. But perhaps the fifth question will light a fuse inside and you'll hit a vein of thoughts. And so the real goal of most reviewers is to ask the question that will keep the interviewee talking for an hour. But, Ben pointed out, the answer they give is an approximation and a reflection; it's the coincidental snapshot of today's answer. What you've really discovered is that this is the question the interviewee spends time thinking about. And that's when you've really brought people together. That's when you've really discovered something worth loving. Providing answers is a learned skill; asking questions is a deeply human trait. And what Ben's been discovering is what it is to be truly human.

Maybe more answers tomorrow. Certainly more questions. Goodnight.

* * * * * * * *

Trying to remain calm. I get rabid furious about little things - bad movies, bank charges, the clumsy way we push people off the bottom deck of the economic yacht and act surprised when they climb back on and angrily drip all over the fancy carpets - and so as calming therapy I'll soon be employing these and other clever phrases in an essay entitled "You Get What You Pay For", one of several dozen hateful dissertations in my upcoming how-to-improve-the-world instruction book, Everything I Needed To Know About Life I Learned By Investing In Shoddy Merchandise. Watch this space for further developments such as additional chapter titles...as for the screenplay, I'll continue as I've been doing, assembling words and scenes here and there on those rare days when I have had adequate sleep and haven't been crippled with aggravation by some depressing metaphysical realization or infuriating news item. I do intend to make the script into a film eventually, and I have kinda gotten bored with not finishing things...

The title was Notes From The Temple of Dominoes #37, and I needed an appropriate theme slogan to drive the ideas home. What clever phrase could I place after the title that would ring with the appropriate tone of cheerful bitterness? I would need something to announce "You will enjoy this writing, even while it's true that life is like the very very tedious process of being thrown out of a speeding car." My first idea utilized the pop-culture approach:

Notes From The Temple of Dominoes:

The cry for help that refreshes!

...which seemed to land right on the money as far as I was concerned, but I really didn't want all my friends to go through the whole "Oh, yeah, I read it...so, are you okay?" ritual that turns the adoring compassion of beloved friends into just another annoying thing everybody does. So then I considered the self-deprecating approach:

Notes From The Temple of Dominoes:

Because there's more to life than

good looks and high standards!"

...which was just too cheap for the level of hideous tongue-yanking profundity I'd expected to achieve in these pages. I moved on to confront the spiritual issues of the moment more directly with my next idea:

Notes From The Temple of Dominoes:

Because you can't be betrayed

if you don't trust anybody!

...which again is hard to actually argue with but it might make my friends think I'm eager to wind up relaxing on a well-groomed hospital lawn in Massachusetts, so by now I was really grabbing at crumbs:

Notes From The Temple of Dominoes:

Somber, desperate mourners say the darndest things!

Notes From The Temple of Dominoes:

"Oh ye of little faith,

welcome to the club!"

I'm struggling to avoid discussing complicated subjects nowadays, since as a mostly skilled communicator I've come to believe that when someone disagrees with me about anything it's my fault, and so for example I really shouldn't discuss religion, even while it's most of what I think about, but unfortunately I've found that religion is like hair: everyone's got at least some, and everyone's is kinda funny, and nobody can really tell what theirs looks like to everyone else...

Four months ago I was in a crisis because none of my little kindergarten hobbies seemed worth the vast amounts of lonely time I poured into them, and I couldn't think of anything to write that felt worth writing, and for some reason I'd even forgotten that there was no divine mandate that I donate my tiny footprints to the great lemming convoy of technological revolution...I'd somehow been absorbed into the dominant world religion that's been emerging for at least a few decades which decrees that more important than ourselves or each other, more important than honesty, more important than happiness, even more important than accidental worthless money is the continued acceleration of the emerging culture of technological and economic "progress" and I owe it to myself and the world to wind up on the cutting edge of one of the various machete knifeblades currently hacking to pieces the tedious memory of the world we all grew up in. I haven't yet managed to steer completely clear of this threatening path, but I'm grateful at least to have jerked myself awake when I did...

Still doing the same job for a few more weeks and realizing that to work in Internet tech support in 1997 is to struggle to bridge the growing chasm between the self-righteous ignorance of the average consumer and the emerging monstrosity of complicated technology. In the end, it's like providing customer service for the apocalypse. The public has been promised miraculous revelations and the machinery isn't yet up to the task. They call up enraged because their two-thousand-dollar machines won't make those scratchy beeping noises they're supposed to make when they click the shortcut thing on the desktop and they want to know when we're going to fix it and why are they paying so much for this kind of service? I took everything too personally before I got a job being blamed for other people's mistakes... dammit, I became a control freak to avoid exactly this kind of torment...

Feels a bit like being a priest, actually, except that the mysterious and vengeful God is kept in an air-conditioned room across the hall and the frustrated parishioners constantly threaten to convert to the cheaper, more reliable church across town...

* * * *

97/ 7/27 Oi. This has taken too long. Jeez, am I tired. Boy, it's late. Gosh, this isn't through yet. Been out on long writing safari hunting for big beasts of esoteric truth and time has gone by and whatever I've tied to my bumper in the past month has been chewed and refined and poured back into the gas tank and here it is a month later and am I successful yet? Ha! Still gotta go to work tomorrow...Hope you've all been well. Let's keep in touch and together we can help each other escape.

 

 

 

 

Big thank-yous to Ben Chesluk, Laura Shapiro, Evan Hunt, Ben Lorvan, Bill Crandall, Sean Dixon, Pat Mazzera, Joane Azevedo and Sarah Alford. Send cash, rude advice and incriminating photographs to Raining Goldfish, Box 590104, San Francisco, CA 94159-0104. All writing herein Copyright 1997 Martin Azevedo. Yawn. Have a nice day. Thank you for reading. More tomorrow. Goodnight.

 

© 1997 Martin Azevedo

 

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