A True Ghost(?) Story for Father's Day; Or, M. Night Shyamalan if you are writing my life please cut it the hell out or at least make that girl from She's All That fall for me.
Seeing all these photos of people’s dads in my timeline made me feel compelled to share this. Sorry if it bums anyone out, but I think writing it out makes me feel a little better. Parts of this are a little flippant, but if i can’t be flip about the circumstances of my own mortality what can i be flip about? It’s also annoyingly coy about some facts but i guess I want to preserve some semblance of privacy about some things. And if I got a day or a time wrong, whaddya want, I was totes high.
A year and a half ago I found myself in the hospital for the second time in a month, awaiting major surgery. I had far too much time to think about it, because for some reason surgeons get the weekend off and morphine drips apparently aren’t what they used to be. The preeminent thoughts in my mind, besides “if that bottle of nitroglycerine fell off the hook, would it blow up?” were about my father, who had, when I was 17, passed away from pretty much exactly the same affliction I was facing. I can’t even fathom what my mom must have been feeling, seeing history repeat itself with her husband and then her son. Sucks to be her!
The pre-surgery staff was super efficient and cheerful, which helped, and although it felt super-embarrassing and inconsiderate of me at the time, so did friends who visited me on that Sunday (thank you all so much). I was in a semi-private room, separated from 3 other patients in various states of pre- and post-operative delirium by curtains, so I think it was recommended that people come in waves so that there might in fact be someplace to sit down that wasn’t on top of a tube or sensor or…worse. Hospitals are crummy places to be even in the most minor of circumstances (shout out to cutting my hand open walk/bleeding to Mt. Sinai Queens), so let me say it again to everyone who came: thank you. My mood therefore fluctuated and I was probably kind of a jerk to people who took time out to visit (I think Chris lugged 75 pounds of comic books across town for me to read and I kicked him out after 5 minutes) but know it was appreciated.
In the late afternoon my mother and brother (who I had asked to be on hand for the surgery for my mom’s sake, in case something went…bad), went out to get dinner and go to church (to pray for me. Jealous that I got prayed for?) so I was eating my hospital dinner by myself and moping when another friend unexpectedly arrived. I totally didn’t share my food with him but complimented him on the hat he wearing, which was a throwback Hartford Whalers cap (in fact, i think that cap was probably better designed than anything than was actually available when the Whalers existed but, I digress). The cap cheered me up because when I was a kid I had gone to tons of Whalers games and it was always a fun time, but then I started putting memories things together and…
The night my father died, he had had what we thought was a minor cold for the few previous days and was under the whether but mostly recovered. It was a school night, but he had still asked me if I wanted to go with him to the hockey game at the infamous mall in Hartford. Now when I got home from school that day, it turned out my little brother had some sort of commitment and was still at school and my mother, who never, ever left the house was starting an adult ed. water color class ~somewhere~ that evening. So, if I bailed on my dad and the Whalers game, I could have the house to myself. Which NEVER happened. I still obviously treasure private time, so this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, so I told my dad I had to study Russian for a presentation I had to give the next day (largely true) and couldn’t do it between periods. I remember him saying to me something like “that’s okay, I was looking forward to having someone else drive tonight” and left, and that was the last time I saw him alive. I spent my so, so, precious private time pouring myself a shot of extremely cheap vodka and stealing my brother’s cassette tape of “Automatic for the People” out of his room to listen to on the living room stereo, both unheard of indulgences. When I got a weird phone call from a very calm woman a few hours later and then tried to hunt my mom down because I was not yet 18 (and this was before cell phones etc.) and the woman couldn’t give me any info, side two of “Automatic..” was on. I hung up the phone and Michael Stipe was singing “Everybody Hurts” and even then, before I knew the awful whole story, I was like “this is laying it on a bit thick”. IT was the 90s, we were ironic about EVERYTHING. Anyway, I will spare you the rest of the nights events but obviously I was one parent short by the end of them.
That was a long set-up with lots of extraneous detail to get to the heart of the matter which were the coincidences that suddenly snapped into focus in my brain: My and my dad’s illness, and a surprise visitor wearing an emblem of where he died, worn by a DUDE WITH THE SAME FIRST NAME AS MY DAD (hi Nick!). So I kind of freaked out a bit. If I had properly assimilated the lessons of my 9 years of Catholic school, I would maybe have considered this a message from my dad from heaven, delivered by an Angel (hi Nick!) but instead I felt more like Bruce Willis at the end of the Sixth Sense when he realized he was already dead (Spoilers!). This was a symbolic twist in my personal story that would have earned a C+ at best in a freshman writing seminar, yet it shook me hard at the time (I’m pretty sure that was the only time throughout the whole months long saga where I was like “holy shit, I might actually die!”), and I think I mumbled out an explanation to my friend and asked him to leave so that I could burst into tears all by myself.
Naturally, i lived through that, the surgery went off without a hitch (or actually, it didn’t, but it seemed so at the time), or at least in this timeline I did (2011 had a great many moments where if i believed in the “many worlds theory” i split off a hell of a lot of baby universes. Happy father’s day to me), so my friend wasn’t a harbinger of death (hi Nick!) or even an example of bad short story writing. But unfortunately since 2011 I have really tangled my history up with my dad’s and sometimes I unfairly blame him for the inevitable doom (which isn’t inevitable or a doom, if my doctors aren’t full of shit) I see before myself, and it has been really difficult to see pictures of him, and even worse when relatives I haven’t seen in awhile say “Oh, you look so much like your dad!” I have finally started enjoying watching hockey again, in the past week staying up far too late to watch dumb sudden-death (…) OT Stanley Cup finals games. So maybe I will be able to enjoy looking at photos of my dad again at some point too. But I see him every day when i look at the scars on my body.
*Bonus 2011 my dad dying dark resonance: In 2011, we learned that the priest my brothers and I had requested perform the funeral ceremony, because he was the only one we had thought was nice, had been accused of (of course) multiple instance of child molestation.
Longform multimedia journalist has seemed to found a standardized format:
1.) Layouts should stretch all the way across the screen.
2.) The story should be broken up into chapters but page breaks occur in the format, not by loading a new page.
3.) they should be accompanied by maps that update upon scrolling.
4.) stories need to take place outside in the snow.
The Times piece preceded the other two, which appeared this week, by a few months. Anyway, all are worth your while but someone should really make the 3D model of Everest I need to really understand these routes.
I want to talk about the ethics of vengeance in Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, and why the former troubled me a lot when I first saw it while the latter did not.
Quentin Tarantino has been called “Godard’s stupidest disciple”, and up until seeing Django Unchained and reading/viewing some of the attendant press around it I would have largely agreed with that. Not that I thought Tarantino’s movies were shitty but that they were pure exercises in style and genre, with any deeper meaning an unintentional byproduct of his hyperlurid fantasies. And his manic public appearances made him seem like a dingbat. But QT has revealed himself as a smart and more cerebral guy than I had thought, see for instance this affable conversation with Henry Louis Gates Jr. on The Root website.
While the climax of Inglorious Basterds hinted at an auto-critique of the filmmaker and his audience by being so explicitly set in a movie theater (and the running joke that knowing film history was essentially a life or death proposition, and that film CAN change the world), these ideas seemed like so many brains splattered on the balcony, looking for something to stick before an overheated conflagration rendered it all to ashes.
What troubled me most was the equation: “Nazis are the ultimate moral bad guys. Therefore it is okay to do WHATEVER to them, including torture, scalping, etc.” That seems to me to be exactly backwards: If the Nazis are the most serious evil one can think of, it is paramount that they be dealt with in the most ethical fashion possible. Particularly when the engine of vengeance is state-sponsored! Yet we encouraged to enjoy an extension of the US Army torturing these evil fucks, in the name of catharsis.
"Playing by the bad guys’ rules" is common enough in Right-Wing action fantasies (both filmic and real life) but has traditionally been forbidden fruit for Liberals and those who believe in the Rule of Law and Due Process and such. (Until the Obama administration, where we don’t give a shit about those any more). Anyway, watching Basterds made me highly uncomfortable for that reason. State power should never be the overdog. In my opinion.
Now if the revenge had just consisted of the Shoshanna arc I think I would find it much more palatable, as it is personal in nature rather than the actions of supposedly civilized state. And that’s the kind of vengeance we find in Django Unchained, and why I think I was far more comfortable with the “justice” being meted out. Furthermore, Djangoexplicitly exposes those liberal concepts such as “due process” etc. that I was so concerned about above as the enabling fictions of the ruling class, rather than inviolable principles. The buying and selling of slaves, the institution of “dead or alive” bounty hunting, these things are prima fascia a mockery of Liberal ideas. Life is cheap and death is expensive. It’s okay to destroy society and its trappings because society is bankrupt. “Humanistic” principles are used to protect the strong, not the weak, and that is why it is thrilling for the weak to ignore them and shoot some slavers in the face.
I really hate when people use the phrase “real talk” as a preface to saying something that they KNOW will offend someone else. It’s equivalent to “I don’t want to be an asshole, but…” You want to be an asshole! I prefer the in vogue “sub-tweet”. In fact, I think that “subtweeting” is a necessary social network lubricant (ewww on purpose!). To paraphrase Saul Bellow, “Compulsive honesty is a disagreeable affliction and may be a neurosis.” In other words, stop taking fleeting feelings, and the fleeting feelings of others AS EXPRESSED BY THE CLUMSY MEDIUM OF TWEETS AND STATUS UPDATES so seriously.
While I think it’s just super to disagree with people - your friends even - over anything under the sun, I sure think it’s shitty to co-sign an exaggerated ad hominem attack based on a willful misreading of someone’s off the cuff thoughts.