the man who's on a limb?
Sing the songs that please him very softly
while we jolt him with a hymn."--Ron Mael
I love the word "obscurantism". I've also found, over the years, that anything anyone ever called "sophomoric", I usually found "funny as heck and smart as a whip". It's as though in the great plastic play sets of life, some of us are meant to play with Matchbox cars, even while others, no doubt more attracted to bright, shiny things, play with Hot Wheels.
That's not to say that in such matters I here intend to argue for a Right Way and a Wrong Way about matters of style. I personally believe that enough truly wrong things and too many right things in this world already which need righting or following to worry too much about whether one prefers, for instance, radio controlled cars or making stained glass windows.
I always think of the sub-sub-title of my journal as "Oft-Told Tales Repeated and Retailed Relentlessly", so I have probably already memorialized how I had extra teeth, little vampire fangs which appeared between my baby teeth and my adult teeth. They were in fact two little "supernumerary" fangs,
extracted on a day when I remember asking the dentist when he was going to begin just about the time he had finished, remember stomping in clod-hopper shoes from the waiting room, insisting I could transport myself (and thereby proving I was manifestly not in control of my footsteps, as I looked like Clem Kadiddlehopper at a barn dance), and going to a toy store afterward to buy Foto-Electric football, a curious game featuring that high-tech sports game device, an actual light bulb, which was used to illumine paths of plays which resembled nothing so much as the Snake River, seen from the air.
The point, though, is not these teeth per se, which, after all, were essentially and entirely merely two teeth, now extracted, once treasured in a jewel box, now lost to posterity. It's of passing interest that my brother and my sister each also had extra teeth, leading me to theorize that we are part of a new species of super-numerary advances in civilization, which evolutionary progress I have interrupted by failing to procreate.
Indeed, if teeth were my theme, I might dwell on the "tooth carving" book I found at a Good Will store and which sits on my shelves until I have used modeling clay and actually carved a tooth, whereupon I will despatch it to other shelves in other time continuums or time zones or zona rosas or what have you.
But tonight instead I write of absurd things that are and are not beautiful. Let's take Hoover Dam. Tonight on the PBS affiliate they played the cool-est documentary about the Colorado Dam, now properly renamed Hoover Dam. I loved the pictures of Herbert Hoover campaigning as "The Great Engineer". I loved the way the incipient dam towered, like a bridge of false teeth, over the not-yet-diverted Colorado River. By contrast, related material on the Mississippi flood control plans, while fascinating, seemed less dental and more gummy, a kind of Atchfalaya gingivitis, if you will. Draining things past wetlands is nothing like the porcelain brilliance of water cycling from the tunnels past the Hoover Dam.
I stood inside a dam once, in Oregon, on the Columbia Gorge. My favorite part was watching the fish climb the fish ladder. It was rather like one of those huge plasma TVs, except instead of odd women on Fox finding their father and women who could be in college discovering microbes instead competing to wear a bikini in a swimsuit issue, the screen showed more worthy things--salmon and lamprey. Lamprey are prehistoric fish, which look a bit like eels which have lost their way. When they climb the fish ladder, they move at high speed, not so much "climbing" as ascending the heights. It's something to see, let me tell you, almost as cool as the fluorescent snake tails by the waterfalls nearby.
Part of what I love about the world is the endless variety of it all. You walk on a chilly day on a Canadian mountain, and here is a marmot, just standing there. Then you walk over boulders, and the curious rock rabbits sometimes appear. I remember once hiking past rocks which had a group of weasels taking cover there. They alternated popping up, like an arcade game or a calliope. This is the kind of natural diversity you can really sink your teeth into every time you see it.
I never like the feeling I get when I lose that wide-eyed perspective on things. I want the world to be full of Franz Ferdinands, who declare themselves a "groupie free zone" (I personally have been groupie free all my life) and the boojum tree, which proves that Baja is not Hell but Heaven. I want Gandhi statues in Santa Monica, competitions to grow the largest watermelon, and flapjack breakfast fundraisers for child advocacy centers.
Sometimes it's so easy to gnash one's teeth at smarmy talking heads who try to defend departing from
civilized treatment when dealing with the uncivilized or the random inanities of positions hatched in academic journals nobody reads rather than formulated to deal with the real lives of people on Main Street USA. But teeth are awfully good for smiling, too, I believe, and tonight I found myself smiling at a long story about an opening statement that was only truly funny because I was smiling.
Even when one gnashes teeth, with one's mouth set just right, it all works out. If a wince can launch a thousand moments of efforts to set something, some one thing, some little thing, a little right, then the grinding may be worthwhile.
That poet fellow who wandered on about the best minds of his generation and about Moloch missed the point that so much living and important stuff is done by people who are anything but the best minds of any generation. I gnaw, sometimes, on the curious elitism which intelligence can bring. Perhaps it's not always an invitation to Mr. Harrison's "Crackerbox Palace", but sometimes fitting in can be so confining.
I think, with a note of inevitability, that it may take the publicity after a tsunami aftermath for people to really get serious about ending the child sex trade. Sometimes it's easy to say "there are no solutions", until one comes up against the impossible and daunting, and then solutions appear. The curious thing is that while the best and brightest solve so many things, a lot of things are solvable and solved by the plodding bulk of us.
I think, sometimes, there's a profundity in the offbeat strayways of life, the barbershop quartets, the sand paintings and cataloging of lizard species. There's an endless desert of ideas and fun, and the ability to make things work. One day, I was working in downtown Dallas, when the local ballet went into a deep financial crisis. All the downtown workers, almost as one, pulled out their credit cards and phoned in a made a donation, and saved the ballet, for a time. On the one hand, this was a great story of how private folks could pull a cultural institution briefly from the brink of the chasm of clamping jaws below.
But on the other hand, I think of how much popular entertainment the donated funds could have purchased, had they been realigned into folk entertainments. I sometimes think that what we all need is a good mariachi band and perhaps a little pogo. I was watching the Flaming Lips tonight on Austin City Limits, thinking how they're actually pretty cool, "after all". Imagine if we spent a tiny bit of public money now spent on "higher things" on encouraging a local pop music scene, or even the local country music scene. It's enough to make your mouth water enough that your teeth get drowned.
I've been pleased that private donations to tsunami relief have been so active thus far. I steadfastly decline to pick up this week's hot AM radio topic about the sufficiency/insufficiency of the US response and of the UN's comments. My hope is that when a zillion people give money (not to mention folks like Sandra Bullock who are really opening more abundant coffers), then people with money will realize what an immense force for good they could be. Imagine the unlikely--a world in which hunger becomes history and lifespans world-wide approch lifespans in the richest countries.
Because, you see, it's that particular Matchbox car I want to drive. Not the one which races at top speed down the track suspended with a vise from a table. Give me the modest station wagon, that actually hauls something useful. Give me a little thing I can sink my teeth into. Let me sing my own song, admittedly off-key and microtonal. I need not be understood, so much, as sinking my teeth into doing something good.