I was driving my sons to school this morning when the youngest (soon to be age 5) asked me: “Daddy, is it a lunar eclipse?”
No, son. It’s not a lunar eclipse. It’s smoke. Something fast approaching a cool million acres have burned in these past few weeks, and we have at least a month before the rains. You’ll be spending a lot of time playing puzzles and games and watching movies in the next couple days, buddy, because I don’t think your teachers are going to let you outside.
It’s a little hard to keep one’s spirits up in the face of such conversations. Even harder yet when, upon waking in the morning and going to downstairs to make coffee one is struck by the positively Chagallesque character of the light that strains, weakly, through the windows.
On another note.
I was reading the San Francisco Chronicle the other day — because my own hometown paper is a hollowed-out zombie sucking up the good intentions and pluck of naive summer interns before shitting out a pathetically thin stream of actual original content — and I came across the following article: https://www.sfgate.com/streaming/article/netflix-nestflix-viral-movies-within-movies-16385998.php.
I’m pretty sure I was supposed to be amused by the piece. Perhaps it was intended as clickbait (I suppose, in posting the link here, I’ve contributed my own grain of sand to that particular angle of repose. Ah well). Perhaps I was supposed to be inspired by the example of a woman who, after having left (been fired from? Couldn’t stand the rampant sexism of? Thought better of her role in materially contributing to the acrobatic rapine of our vulturish technocratic overlords? Who knows?) a “software consulting job,”* dedicate all of her spare time over the past two months to creating a website that is concatenated crystalline spheres of fake content: fake user reviews for fake movies that spoof genre tropes no one even pays attention to anymore except in the deepest recesses of academe and, apparently, the arid cul-de-sacs wherein out-of-work Sunbelt technorati have a side gig while coding for artisanal chicharrones and pinot grigio.
What this frothy and deeply weird piece of journalism made me think of is — wait for it! — a short story I read my junior year of high school (I’m pretty sure, anyway), and originally published in The Saturday Evening Post. It was titled, as I discovered upon googling a certain key phrase (thank you ravening and rapacious technocratic overlords), “By the Waters of Babylon.”*** In that story, a young man is sent out on a quest, in a post-apocalyptic world. In his quest, he crosses over a river — the Hudson, of course, for what other river could it ever be? — from west to east, and in a dead city discovers waters from which he may not drink, preserved foods from which he may not partake, and (horror of horrors!) a graven image of a god with his hair pulled back into a ponytail like a girl’s. This is 1937 after all, and such things are pearl-clutching-worthy — especially if the graven image is carved with words like “ASHING.” So what does the young man do? He bows down to pray to the fallen idol. Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair indeed.
Oh, come on, man. Of course you would.
Let us leave aside for a moment the fact that reading this story now I wonder what, exactly, the school board thought I, as a 16 year-old at the end of the Cold War, was going to make of a story written prior to WWII but interpretable at that point only in light of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Instead let us focus on what, exactly, any of us who spend time blogging actually think we’re doing. The lady who creates whole alternative narratives on the basis of 30-second black-and-white snippets titled “Angels with Filthy Souls?” (itself apparently a throw-away reference in Home Alone) or worse, full-color come-ons for easter eggs buried in 30 Rock or Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (are you kidding me?). The naively wise cranks at any one of the many, many (oh god, so many) middle-brow blogs (now made redundant by SubStack, or so I gather) who pay for their booze and munchies through voluntary subscription fees while they scribble out semi-academic interpretations of current events as if they were a columnist for the kinds of regional newspapers that died or were bought out 20-someodd years ago?
Or, worst of the worst, singular hermits, believing themselves to be sitting all alone on their columns in the desert, gazing at their own navels in prayer, and somehow imagining that anyone, ever, would read their scribblings? Especially, yes most especially, when in their drunken (albarino, not pinot grigio, as if there were a difference in that distinction) tap-tap-tappings they have attempted most assiduously to re-create through a dense web of cultural references the music of the spheres distantly inspired by the utterly wacky website that inspired this post.
I should go back to my fountain pen and my hard-copy journal. Which, though beautiful, does not so easily admit of editing on the fly.
*My brother’s father stated baldly, once, that he would disown my brother if he ever converted to Mormonry. My mother — his ex-wife — countered by saying that she would disown either of her sons if they ever bought a motorcycle.** My own father has implied, but never actually stated, that he would disown me if I ever became a Republican. I have yet to tell my sons that I will disown either or both of them if they become consultants of any kind, but most especially and particularly those most disgustingly slimy sub-species of burbot, management or political consultants.
**My brother, always tempted to “engage in boundary-pushing” as we say in my family, almost immediately bought a scooter — on a loan co-signed by my father, in a move I’m never quite sure he had the grace to regret. In any case, my brother’s father then upped the ante by offering to purchase a helicopter for me — and if you’re keeping track here, it’s worth emphasizing that I was not in any way shape or form in line to get one single penny of his money. At which point my father, being a wiser man than he is usually given credit for, saw this particular game of weird psychological poker for exactly what it was, took up his stakes and walked away from the table. I hope that I am half the man my father is.
***It is only now, in writing this, that I understand why, some years after reading that short story, I became fascinated by an college choir version (I know, I know, this is a grave and mortal sin. But what is a blog for if not confessing thy sins yea unto the third footnote?) of the song of that name. Not the appropriationist abomination put out by Don McClean, mind you — a tune that that surely serves as muzak on the elevator down to one of the lower reaches of the Inferno — but those straightforward and holy chords sung by Bob Marley and then transposed, as they were, simply and without conscious malice by a bunch of white-ass a capella motherfuckers at an elite West Coast R1 university . For while bearing witness to Mr. Marley’s genius is all in all a good thing, still the gentrifying stain of selling CDs by doing covers of his music is at least a venial sin that needs confession, contrition, and penance.