Friday, November 18, 2011

The buttons I’ve pushed

Outside a drab, industrial detention center, we pull in and drive up to a keypad mounted on a post in front of an electric gate. We’re merely a four-digit security code away from our rented storage unit, then merely a padlock away from all our crap we’ve come to reclaim.


The gate gives its affirmative nod – a beep – but then hesitates as if re-checking the guest list. It decides not to budge.


“Wha-? What’s the number again?” I’ve got my fingers back up on the keypad. 


“The last four digits of my old South Salem phone number,” my wife says.


How could I forget? 2-8-2-2. Thirteen years ago, those four digits represented a security code in their own right. ...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Warning: This column contains nudity

My friend Kurt Schmucker had a wild streak that ran like a hairline fracture through his mother’s China, out into the neighborhood and through my childhood.


That fateful day, we opened the doors to one of our hiding spots, a basement bulkhead to an American Legion hall next door to my house. Upon closing the doors tight against the daylight, Kurt pulled out a penlight, clicked it on, and handed it to me. Then he pulled out the contraband from his jacket: one of his father’s Playboy magazines he cadged from the attic. Our 10-year-old hearts thumped as we flipped through it. “Wait, go back.” “Wait, hold on.” And there they were: naked females with their mysterious body parts, fearfully and wonderfully made.




Kurt and I were not newcomers to images of naked women. By the time we had pointed that penlight beam upon the pages of Playboy we had already logged many hours down in the perpetually chilly basement of our community library where we had chiseled our way like horny-toed archeologists along the yellow, sedimentary layers of aged National Geographic magazines unearthing photo features of bare-breasted aborigines.



When we came upon those photos, we’d point, gaze, and then memorize the month and year of the issue for future reference. In retrospect, while we certainly believed we were pressing into the forbidden zone, the matter-of-fact presentations of those bare boobs of the outback provided us with no way forward. They were devoid of the sensual, mere anatomical facts.


Still, we’d stare, we’d giggle, but ultimately the joke was on us. Those women stared right back as if to say, “What are you looking for?” From where they came from -- the red dirt of slow-tempered survival -- a bare-breasted woman hauling a basket of papayas bore only one genus of orb worth salivating over: the papayas not the boobs. None of this registered with us. We saw boobs. Hey, look, boobs!


And for us, National Geographic boobs naturally served as gateway boobs to Playboy magazine boobs, which had nothing to do with cold anatomy and everything to do with a better life ahead, an incentive for growing up and becoming men so that we may take up residence within the hemisphere of feminine beauty and its occupants.


Not that we could have verbalized that at the time. But I do remember, even then, staring at those photos in Playboy and wishing to crawl down deeper into the darkness of that bulkhead and to somehow emerge on the other side of that camera lens so as to talk with those women to try to sort things out.


As Kurt and I flipped through the pages, from come-hither look to come-hither look, it was as if an egg had cracked in our consciousnesses. Something was hatched. Maybe this is what it feels like to take that first addictive hit of crack cocaine. Or maybe this is what Dorothy felt when she awoke to that color-saturated world, confused, enticed, trusting and not trusting as she was led onto that yellow brick road that begins in a dizzying spiral.


We covered the magazine in leaves and exited our hideout. We went out to the front lawn of the American Legion, clambered onto the World War I cannon, took aim at Mr. Synnot’s house and commenced firing imaginary artillery until everything was left in imaginary ruins. Sigmund Freud would have laughed till he peed himself.


That evening, back home, I felt shame. Shame is that exclusively human sentiment that extends back to when Adam sunk his teeth into the forbidden fruit and suddenly felt the need to privatize his privates. As you may recall, God then handcuffed Adam and that woman, Miss Eve, and gave them a lift outside of town where their misshapen desires were commanded to conform to a T-square.


This, of course, is where I live still, outside of Eden, along with pretty much everyone else. But lately I’m feeling like I need to gather up my wife and boy and head back to that Garden and plow the fields of the Lord, if for no other reason but to shield my son from the ubiquitous emotionless, reckless, toxic pornography that can now be accessed in seconds through smart phones holstered to your child’s book bag. This stuff aint Playboy. If Caligula were around to see this, he’d turn from his hoofed counsel and adjust his eyes.


Will my boy eventually view this trash with his own Kurt Schmucker? Of course he will. Who can stop it? It’s all there on broadband. Everything is settled. All you sex-ex teachers can now put away that banana and condom and find new employment. All you apple knockers seeking the knowledge of good and evil can put away your cartography instruments because latitude is now off the charts.


Dear Lord, send us the fig leaves.


Please.


And not too skimpy.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

So that’s what a nitpicker is?

The following is an interview with my wife, Cara, who has spent the better part of the last four days in an existential crisis after discovering lice on our 8-year-old boy’s noggin.

FELIX: So, lice. Tell me more.

CARA: Come on. I’m going to need a more specific question.

FELIX: Understood. I was away, and you discovered Henry had lice. That’s gross. Walk me through it. 

CARA:  We were watching a movie. He was scratching his head a lot. ...

Put up your Dukes!

For good reason, it took a long time to question the plausibility of Bo and Luke Duke ripping it up in the General Lee on the dusty back roads of Hazzard County. But of course you can't be a mature American adult nowadays without understanding that had these two strapping fictional heroes in the "Dukes of Hazzard" lived the life they portrayed on television, they would quickly have:

1. died
2. been charged with no less then 1,000 counts of attempted vehicular homicide and fleeing the scene of a traffic stop
3. needed a full-time attorney, a cheap one, definitely a family friend with whom they could barter, maybe make payments in the form of chicken eggs and ham hocks. ...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The word made flesh, the flesh made words

By Felix Carroll 

By slow degrees, year by year, octave by octave, our tones have descended from the atmospheric heights of upper-register parentese, the customary glissando, the child-directed speech that humans employ when encountering fragile, newly formed fellow beings.

"Whoo's ... thaaaaat ... baa-bee? Whoooo's ... my ... booy?" my wife and I would say, leaning toward our tiny child, selecting each word with a set of tongs.


Studies have shown nearly every culture talks this way to babies and that such talk helps form bonds and teach speech. In our own case, we've certainly formed a strong bond with our boy, even if, by bond, you only mean that he climbs into the car with us every time we're about to leave town. And by means of baby talk, we've certainly passed language on to him, such that he can tell knock-knock jokes all the way from the Berkshires to Boston.

First there was The Word, we are told in the creationist account. Or first there was the Big Bang, we are told by many evolutionists. Either way, first there was noise of some sort, which only makes sense. ...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Searching for words

He plugs the key in and twists the ignition until his shiny blue pickup roars to life. The engine idles a moment, and then the dashboard beeps with intent. It's the gas gauge, its heavy hand making inroads into the menacing red zone of empty.


Muscling the pickup into gear, Garry McKay says, "Yeah, you'll get your drink later, girlie." But not now. Now, he's going across town to get beat up.




With a left-hand turn onto Broadway in Rotterdam, he suddenly merges with the sluice of city traffic through a world of words. The Blue Jay Tavern flickers by in perfectly plain English.


"Nope," he says. "Didn't catch it."
Crazy Nick's Video?
"Nope."
Second Chance Consignments?
"Uh-uh."


A whole wondrous, maddening, milelong midway of words winks and blinks with come-hither commerce. Words that promise to repair, pump, bless, buy, sell, save, shear, cook, cool, bake, reupholster, clothe, serve, wash and fold.


Garry's blinded to it all. ...