5.28.2011

You Can't Escape Your Biology

There are not many persons who know what wonders are opened to them in the stories and visions of their youth; for when as children we learn and dream, we think but half-formed thoughts, and when as men we try to remember, we are dulled and prosaic with the poison of life.
—H.P. Lovecraft

The object of desire, the object which stokes one’s passions and ignites the senses; that which lay at the center of the best time in one’s life. The subject of sighs of regret, memories of one’s halcyon days. The thing you didn’t try hard enough to keep, you fucked up, and now you’re left to contemplate a life of solitude, breathing in and out in a gray and exhausting world that grows dimmer and dimmer until you lay down and die.

In my case, the one that got away was a copy of the soundtrack to the movie Rollerball; it happened last week, and I’m still thinking about it.

Last weekend I flew up to Maine, for a day, because my niece was graduating from college. Also I was thinking, I'm tired of New York, I’m sick of all the garbage I have to wade through here, I hate all the people, I hate all the places, and when I start feeling like this I have to hit the reset button or else I’m going to crawl underneath the furniture and hide for weeks. What could be better than a weekend in sunny Maine, with my niece and nephew and eldest brother and eldest sister-in-law, checking out her cool art stuff and wandering around Portland, which couldn’t be any worse than the other Portland in the Pacific Northwest at the very least.

The other thing was, going to Maine would give me a chance to get on an airplane, which I’m really good at. I’m good at packing just the right amount of stuff, I know which terminal any given airline is in at JFK, I like to wait for things, and I really enjoy sleeping in anything that moves. It turned out that Portland was full of hippies, freezing cold, and it rained all the time.

One thing you should know about me, Dear Reader, is that I have a somewhat difficult time connecting with people. I’m good at being friendly—but secretly, I’m just doing a modified impersonation of David Letterman. I have funny things I say, I prompt people to talk about themselves, and I keep the conversation moving along. But really, it’s all learned behavior. I spent a good chunk of my childhood catching snakes and frogs in the middle of nowhere; with human relations, I am usually vague and distant. I tend to go to shows alone, not socialize, and then just leave, which seems reasonable enough. What am I gonna do, talk to a bunch of people? Jesus.

The point is, I’m good at travel. If I could figure out some way to be mobile and have a tiny income, I’d just go all over the place and never ever stick around anywhere, never have to see the same people and do the same things.

The hotel I was staying in was in the middle of town and was seriously underbooked, with old ornate elevators and the odd Mainer stumbling around. It occurred to me that, just like H.P. Lovecraft sez, you can’t escape your biology. I was soon among my people, drinking beer and listening to my nephew tell a pretty great story, which went like this:

So I was at this fuckin party at this house and the fuckin cops came and I was like oh fuck so I jumped out a second story window and just ate shit and when I stood up and some fuckin kid lands on me, and this fuckin cop shines his, uh, his flashlight at us and was like stand still but I was like fuck that and I fuckin took off into the woods and ran into this tree, but then I got up and no one was around so I went back to see what the fuck was goin on and the cop saw me and was like don’t fuckin move so I started bookin into the woods, runnin into trees, fuckin running through brambles, eatin shit right and left, I lost my fuckin shoes, and the cop was behind me but I jumped a stone wall and tripped and fell into an electrified cow fence which fuckin wrapped all around me and was stuck to my skin and shit so I couldn’t get free, and I was shoeless and gettin fuckin electrocuted, but I heard this fuckin cop and got free and took the fuck off and got home. Then I remembered fuck, I need to find my fuckin shoes.

My niece, meanwhile, has been making hundreds of tiny florescent trees out of paper, and they are fantastic. The motivation behind her art is fantastic. People were bugging out looking at her stuff in the gallery.

The secret plan the whole time I was there, was for me and my brother to go record shopping. Portland has three record stores, and my mind was swimming with the unlimited treasures that might be found. “There’s no way that these lumberjack schmucks understand the potential of the sick-ass vinyl in this town,” I was thinking to myself.

Quietly, my brother and I formulated a plan to sneak away at every opportunity to check out the record stores. It was pouring rain and we had no umbrellas, so we ran giggling from one place to another. He picked up a shitload of Allman brother records, I got the Shangri-Las and a sound effects record. And at one store, which we snuck into 5 minutes before closing. My brother began making a pile of Kansas records, I found a pretty good copy of Metallic K.O. for $4, passed on a totally fucked Bo Diddley record, and out of boredom (while my brother examined the grooves of a Little Feat LP), I started perusing the soundtracks section, and came across the soundtrack to the movie Rollerball.

And I’ll say this right off—if you don’t like this movie, you don't deserve to be human.

James Caan plays the Michael Jordan of a mega-violent futuristic sport designed to control the masses. [GROOVY, right?] The fascist government of this world decides that James Caan is too revolutionary and wields a dangerous amount of power, so they attempt to bring about his demise.

It should be mentioned that the sport of Rollerball is basically a lethal version of roller derby, with motorcycles, and this weird chrome ball that the participants have to throw into a tiny goal.

There is all this really intense classical music, crummy computer fonts from the olden-timey days of Atari and that kind of thing. James Caan revolts, however, and kills everyone else in the game to stick it to the man, a lone gladiator, his future uncertain: will he be liquidated, or will he stride out into the world, triumphant in a pair of tight polyester slacks? You never really know whether Caan will don slacks again at the end, because them’s the brakes when it comes to these kinds of movies, movies where grown men do karate on rollerskates. Why is he fighting? Mostly it seems that it’s because he misses his family, who were forcibly removed or killed or something by the overlords of Rollerball.

There’s no resolution to this; there’s just a bunch of death, which although dramatically unsatisfying is true to life. Individually we’re just these bags of cells and fluid that run down and die.

So I was in the store, looking at this copy of the Rollerball soundtrack, priced at $5, it was pouring rain, and for some reason I didn’t want to get it. I really should have; granted, I was a little low on cash, but I’d set aside some folding money for the trip. I was either going to get this record, or later, get drinks in the lounge on the roof of the hotel, which looked creepy and isolated.

I said to Scott, “I want to buy this record, but I also want to have drinks in the hotel lounge because it will be like the Shining.”

“There’s some beer in our dad’s room,” he said.

“Stealing beer from dad is not like the Shining AT ALL,” I said.

“Dude, get the Rollerball soundtrack. That movie is awesome.”

I should mention that my brother gave me all sorts of music on tape as a kid, lots of mixes or just tapes of Beatles albums. His beat-to-shit copy of the Rollin Stones’ Get Your Ya-Yas Out was one of my favorite tapes when I was a little kid; it played too slow and was muddy and stretchy and distorted, like it was coming from a reversed magnetic death planet far off in the cosmos. I was disappointed when I heard how the record was supposed to sound. My brother once built me a bicycle from spare parts (he’s amazing at building and fixing bikes), when I could barely walk I watched him make a giant rabbit out of snow. He trained his dog to fetch anything. He can basically conjure wonder out of random materials; I took a very different path in life, where I am always hunched over paragraphs of text both at work and at home, worrying about copyediting and proofreading, making sure that paragraphs are kerned correctly, poring over typesetting specs, and in general just destroying my vision. I think about fonts. There was a time, though, when I was a little kid, watching a wobbly video of Rollerball in my parents’ living room, and thinking about how the future was doomed. It was just going to be ominous electronic music and people in spiked gloves smashing each other in the face, or something. My future was definitely doomed. I was always sure of this.

“Forget it, man. Do I really need the Rollerball soundtrack? I have so much stuff I don’t need.”

We had to get back to the hotel. The rest of the day passed. There was graduation, I shot the shit with my parents, hung out with my niece and nephew, and ate horrible pizza. Back at the hotel, by myself, I packed my luggage and sat on the bed, exhausted.

I’m terrible at going to sleep anywhere which isn't a moving vehicle. Once I’m asleep, I’ll sleep forever, but getting there is impossible. Anxieties eat at me all the time. I worry about death. Sometimes I read about totalitarianism when I need to sleep, and I had a Victor Serge novel with me for just that purpose, but I felt disgusted by looking at all the letters all lined up. I know that language is supposed to be the force that gives me meaning, but sometimes it just gives me a headache and makes me nervous. The words don’t always cooperate. The room had a TV, but I'm not really a huge TV fan.

I crept upstairs to the bar and got a drink and sat at a table near the window so I could look over the city, which spread out indeterminately below. Somehow, it was still raining, so everything was blurry. I had to get up in four hours to fly back to NYC and go right back to work, and then I had other writing projects, and I was supposed to edit something. I'd barely slept. I wish I’d gotten that Rollerball soundtrack so I could go home and put it on the turntable and turn it up, really loud, and maybe then I could drift off to sleep. I was exhausted.


4 comments:

fuckface said...

This is pure genius.

Rick said...

Thanks, "fuckface."

Rance Mulliniks said...

Your luxurious prose shames that of your lesser-esteemed contributor, that dreadful scalawag! Death to he, and exalt the Editor!

I always thought "Rollerball" was depressing, but I could never quite articulate it with such grand eloquence. Behold the power of Caan!

Rick said...

Mr. Mulliniks, you should perhaps not be so critical of Matty, who is aces in my book. ACES.