Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dreaming of Reality TV

 I dreamt I was at a college dinner, one of those that they might serve to get everyone acquainted with the college at an orientation.  I was sitting at a table with all these other people, most of which were very odd, and there were television cameras all over the place, above and in the corners.  It was perfectly normal, except, I knew that the people I sat with had various psychological disorders, ones that would not get along well without medicine...etc... After a time I left the room and found myself in a large television studio, a place with large "habitats" where people were going about their daily lives, except with cameras everywhere.  Sorta like The Truman Show, except this one had an odd twist to it.  The characters in these stories were picked from mental institutions, facilities, along with normal people, all in an attempt to make a Reality TV show where the people in the situations were just a little more odd than normal, and watch the madness unfold.

I remember while I was working at Borders, that we had a running joke (at least, my coworkers did prior to me working there), that we were unwittingly a part of a Japanese Reality TV show called Happy Booktime Go!, where the strange customers and the strange employees interacted and provided hilarity for the viewers. It made sense, as some of our customers were indeed very strange.

But in my dream, they had more control over the people.  People were taken from one scenario to another, their memories wiped and replaced with alternative ones to match the theme.  Those that were boring or lost ratings were eliminated... as I saw people with machine guns around, for that purpose.  It was built into the show as a terror plot, or a bank robbery, or something like that.

Yes, it was a strange dream, one that I had prior to waking up, which is when I have the strange ones I remember, right before I wake up totally, coming out of the final sleep cycle.  It got me to thinking though.  All our television shows, whether they're actually called "Reality TV" or not, are similar to this. People watch Gotham or Modern Family, and they are just interactions between very odd people, some that deal in gruesome murders, some not.  Some have outrageous violence and sex, some don't. Some make commentaries on society using stereotypes (which may be true or contrived), and some are just made to humiliate people.  I don't honestly think that Chris Rocker is going to become any more loved after his stint on Survivor than what he was before.  He is societies' Joker, made up to be laughed at and scorned, to make everyone feel a little better.  We are better than him, at least.  Push your scarecrows over, and feel better about our lives.  I mean, we all lead lives that may or may not be difficult, but we can all be assured that the side show mentality of the television shows will pick people who are living much worse lives than we are, and it makes us feel good.

So why not pick those people out of the crazy farms, the looney bins, the Mental Hospitals, and put them in a place where they can entertain the rest of us.  There are enough of them, even in the smallest towns, that we would never run out of stooges to laugh at.  So what if they like running down the street naked with a lamp shade on their head... that's funny!! At least we're not like that!

It can easily go that way, you know.  The normal life is no longer appreciated.  Those that live comfortable lives want to see the way others live, so we can laugh at them and scorn their ways. We watch Hoarders or 16 and Pregnant and feel badly for them, even as we laugh at their misfortunes. And we turn the TV off (if indeed it ever goes off) and feel better about ourselves.  It's either that, or take medicine, and the other way is cheaper, and more fun.

I haven't watched much television since moving to Dallas, except for Football on weekends, and even then, I could listen to it on the radio just as well.  I love the Simon & Garfunkel line from "The Only Living Boy in New York," "I get the news I need on the weather report."  It's what I worry about the most, if I got rid of television and cable and everything all together.  I wouldn't have that outlet for looking at storms as they come in.  Sure, I can use the radio and the radar on the Internet which I can read as well as any meteorologist can, but the reassurance of the TV Weather Guy is something that has been coded into me since I was a wee child watching Gary England on CBS in Oklahoma City. So I think I'm going to dump cable, keep the Internet, and then hopefully by the Spring, I'll have an antenna strong enough to pick up the channels on the south side of Dallas (all the towers are in Cedar Hill, and Downtown Dallas is between me and them).  Until then, I'm going to unplug this thing and use it for computer games and other escapes from reality.

I have no problem escaping from reality, but I want to do it without making fun of other people.  I would rather do it with books, Audio or otherwise, and put the images in my head, instead of on my screen.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Road Trip! You Can't Go Home Again...

...but you can try.  I had a prior business arrangement in Oklahoma City, and so I hopped in my Blazer and made a weekend out of returning to the city of my birth.  The saying "You can't go home again" isn't exactly true.  You can, but both "you" and "home" have changed.  The minutes and miles have passed, time's erosion has done its damage.  But instead of waxing metaphoric about the roads traveled, let's put the pavement under foot and experience it ourselves.

Crossing the Red River, which has been shrunk to a small creek with the years long drought here, I was amazed to gaze not upon the "Welcome To Oklahoma" sign that I was expecting, but a huge sign, purple and gold, with a large arch, announcing to the world that a marvelous casino was just a few stops down the road.  I can only imagine a thousand years from now, when archaeologists explore the society of the Native people of this great land, they will find piles of poker chips and alcohol bottles.  It drives me crazy to think that the only way they can make a living is through building of casinos based on loopholes through the separate nation status that the Native Americans enjoy.  And no doubt that the owners of these places aren't "Indians" at all, but outsiders who are using the loophole to their greatest advantage. So you come across the abominations, a casino shaped like all the monuments of the Western World... not the world that should reflect their own heritage... ridiculous...

The area from Ardmore to Sulphur is peaked with slabs of Granite, Limestone, Shale, giant rocks with plateaus that stick out over the Interstate.  What I wouldn't give to stand upon those peaks and look out over the plains, to see for miles, with the Oklahoma wind blowing and the dry heat of the summer. It would be certainly glorious!  And beyond those slabs of rock is Turner Falls, which I've never been to, but from the pictures I've seen of the waterfalls and the river valleys, it is someplace I will certainly explore when the weather turns back warm, the Good Lord willing...

Driving through the town of Davis (past the new Choctaw Casino....), I see the same little town I remember from the 80's.  Sooner's Foods is still where it was, with the darkened isles and the stubborn tenacity to remain in business while Walmarts spring up throughout the area.  And the small shack where we bought firecrackers to set off at the Lake House is still there, still advertising its wares.  There's the turn-off to the Lake House (now cornered by a McDonald's and a Walmart), and past the Chickashaw Heritage Center, a place where they have stored how they used to live so that it won't be lost in neon lights, rounding the corners where mobile homes, A-frame Houses, and people that have lived there for decades still live, still sitting on their front porches and listening to the cicadas in the trees and the wasps building a nest in the corner of the porch.  That's the Oklahoma I remember, taking myself forward on the road and backward through time.  I turn off onto the gravel road that turns to the lakehouse, past the bumps and the hills, but there are new road signs, and Hilltop Road is actually what we called Rock Drive (and that's what it's named on Google Earth, see my prior blog about the discovery), and I drive to the end of the road... to find the gate closed and the grass growing high.  It woudn't surprise me if the bank owned now, from whatever people bought the house after my Grandmother sold it.  The road was the same, and although I was different, it felt good to find my way to one of my homes.

Drove down to the end of the road to the Lake of the Arbuckles, and found that the drought had hurt the lake something fierce.  The buoy that signified "No Boats" was so close to "shore" I could have walked out and touched it.  It's funny, because I remember that buoy being so far out in the middle of the lake, I could never have swum out to it.  But something tells me it's not the drought that made it look odd.  The lake may have grown smaller, but I've grown bigger, and those distances aren't so far anymore.

Pulling into Oklahoma City, the old knowledge of the roads took over, and it would be impossible to get lost.  I asked my mother where every road in town went, and I knew it by heart.  Having time prior to my meetings, I drove out to Westbury, where I used to live.  The outlet malls along I-40 and Rockwell look just as bad as the casinos, but at least they tried to approximate the teepees and other colors of the Native Americans.  The truck stops had grown larger, a sign of prosperity (the outlet mall had sold all of it's shops well before it was even made, and three additions later, it's still full) in the Grand Old State. The houses and roads of neighborhoods newer than anything I knew of (I last was here in 2005) grew up like the grass in the fields, spreading out for miles.  And there is the neighborhood I lived in, the street, the house.... and it looks good! Someone has repainted it and it still looks as I remembered it.   I drove to both my grandparent's houses as well, and they looked okay, both sold long ago and now have new tenants. It's good to take a dip into the past.

I sat upon the bench in front of Mustang Valley Elementary School and called those who I wanted to meet, and while some were out of town, others were there and available.  Mustang Valley look exactly the same... except they paved over the playground to make a parking lot (cue Joni Mitchell) , and the new playground is plastic and safe and looks like the things they are supposed to represent.  We made the rocket ship into such a place, and the Spider, and the gigantic Teeter-Totters that I'm sure would have spawned lawsuits today... but it used to be my playground (see prior blog for that, as well).

I went to visit my mother's friends who agreed to let me stay the night, and we went to BJ's Brewhouse and I had some wonderful Balsamic Glazed Chicken with White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes.  I also went to see the Granddaughter of Robert Orbach, my grandmother's boss.  I found, while cleaning out my house, a scrapbook of all of the goings on of Orbach's Department Store, along with the writings he did on his own Printing Press.  I brought the scrapbook to them, as I felt it would the only place on Earth it would be appreciated.  I was so right on this, as they had lost a lot of Mr. Orbach's writings in a house fire a couple of years ago.  It made me feel good to bring them home.

One other thing I did was to drive to the east side of Oklahoma City and visit the Omniplex (okay, yes, it's now called Science Museum Oklahoma, but to me, it will always be the Omniplex).  It was like reliving my childhood.  Some things had changed, some were the same as I'd always known it.  The balls that rode along their prospective tracks have been doing it for as long as I remember.  I stood there watching it for quite a bit, as it was, if nothing else in that city, the idea that, in a world where change is inevitable, there are always those points of constancy. It made me feel good.  I missed the pendulum, slowly swinging with the power of the Earth's Rotation, and the Geodesic Dome Playset (which probably was taken away when someone got hurt and wanted to sue...).  The Earthquake display was still there, showing that same movie with actors with 80's clothes.  The planetarium did their daily show, and I went into the darkened room with the night sky projected on the domed ceiling and relaxed.... until a family with 8 kids came in and sat behind me... all with attention spans of 30 seconds.  Last time I'd been there, the guy doing the show probably hadn't even been born.  It was a perfect ending to my trip, my look back into my past.  

There's a certain confidence I found there, to see everything that had changed, mutated (the casinos and outlet malls), and grown up all around the city. And so had I.  I could now drive anywhere I wanted, go anywhere, and I had the ability to do it.  I brought things home, even as I had come home, to a certain extent.  But in the end, I drove back to Dallas, to my apartment, to my job, and to my home.  And I'll go back... there's so many people I didn't get to see, places (like the OKC Bombing Memorial and Bricktown) that I want to visit, but there will always be time for that.  Just 3 hours north.  A short jaunt, as the hawk flies.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Great Sleepers

I wrote this about my dad, being one of the few memories I have of him, of the house in Oklahoma City.  The fan was high on the vaulted ceiling, and woe be it to whoever let a balloon go in that room.  The light would shine in from the patio doors and the windows and reflect off the dust (and smoke) in the air.  It was usually quiet on Sundays, when a football game wasn't on.  And when it was....

This poem, in whatever form I submitted it, won the 1999 AWP (Associated Writers Press) Intro Award and was published in the Mid-American Review.

The Great Sleepers

Sunday afternoons, the ceiling fan
whispers as it turns around--
A chair squeaks, an ancient squeak,
the contemplative creak of a sleeping lord.

He sleeps in that chair,
old, rustic and blue, the way
Caesar on his throne watched
gladiators battle, and genuflect,
saying "Morturi te salutamus,"
so does this king, owner of all he sees,
snoozes through the Cowboys beating the Bears,
or maybe dreams
of when his dad sat on the couch
eating donuts, smoking cigars.

The rulers of this world, look at them.
They sit in their ancestral halls like old kings
overlooking tiny empires. And then sleep.
Even Charlemagne had blue slippers,
  lying on the floor.