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Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2001.
a terrible thing, to see something different
december 15, 2001
This has been a wonderfully normal week.
On Monday, Mary went back to her dermatologist to see if the vestiges of poison ivy she contracted early this Spring, months and months and months ago, were at last finally under control. They almost were. Just a small, raised red rash here and mostly there, and still a slight itchiness to her eyes. She was prescribed yet another cream, this one with the consistency of fresh, barn-churned butter. Our neighbor, a great person, short with a graying Elvis comb-lift hairstyle, we really like him and his wife, but over whose wooden fence common with ours the poison ivy draped, hanging down with three-leaf arrays, and hairy-rooted tendrils, causing Mary to contract it in the first place, while we cleared out brush, is somehow sincerely, mysteriously convinced his poison ivy patch is, in fact, a spreading blueberry bush.
I had lunch with my friend Dave Tuesday.
We both work for the same company. About a year ago, I arranged to start working from home. I thought it would be much more peaceful, which in fact it is. When I look up from my monitor, cat falling asleep on my lap, I see out into our backyard garden, flowers and butterflies, birds swooping across. Dave didn't want to work from home, because he didn't like the idea of being cut off from a nine-to-five routine. Working from home, he thought, would leave him too isolated from the world. I thought maybe it would put him back in touch with the world, but it was none of my business.
We e-mailed each other about a week ago to decide when we'd have lunch, and he told me the company is in fact shutting down the office where he works. Everyone there (about a dozen people) will have to start working from home by the end of this month. When I went there to pick him up, the other office workers, hearing my voice, came out of their cubicles, hugging me, shaking my hand. It's been months since I had seen them. Many of them I've known for years.
Dave's a little ambivalent about working from home, but I can see the possibilities are starting to dawn on him. If he's trying to complete a difficult project, he can do it nonstop, without someone darkening his doorway, clasping a box as if there's a dry-iced organ inside, asking, "Did I-- I forget-- Did I show you the pictures I took of my grandson trying to eat turkey at Thanksgiving? You haven't seen these yet, have you? This is the first one," holding it out like a sandwich offered to the hands of the homeless. "I took the first couple of rolls before dinner, while he was sleeping. The first forty or so are kind of blurry."
In addition, the company has just been bought again, in yet another acquisition (there have been six or so over the years since I started. I've lost count). The new parent company sent out a memo to all employees reassuring them their jobs are secure. "We know what the true assets of your company are. It's the people!" In other words, we're fucked. The daisy-cutters will probably start dropping early next year. "We're willing to bend over backwards for our people!" They don't tell you in which direction they expect "their people" to bend over. Guess.
Dave's doing well. He works in AIM, which stands for Analytical Information Management. He writes programs which analyze the millions of bits of data the company receives, in order to forecast trends in health care costs (while we're in this sentence, could we all agree to stop this nonsense about treating "data" as if it were in the plural form? I realize there is a singular form of the word, "datum", but it's never used. Data is information. We don't say, "Your information are ready", so why should we suddenly start writing letters with sentences like, "Your data are ready", rather than the infinitely more sensible, "Your data is ready"? The trend has apparently been started by some engineers (not all-- engineers are great people), but some engineers who really do not understand the rules of the English language, who carefully memorize one rule (plural nouns require plural verbs), without ever understanding, or even being aware of, the exceptions, much like those people who have memorized the "rule" that red wine should only be used with red meat, white wine only with white meat, without ever being aware of dishes such as coq au vin. And if they truly don't understand the grammatical rules regarding collectives, shouldn't they at least be consistent, and start saying things like, "Congress are adjourning until the fifteenth?" Just a thought.)
Dave used to teach sociology, but as he got older (he's in his late fifties now), he realized he and his wife could never retire on a professor's salary, so he went out into the business world. Even so, he's unlikely to be able to save enough money, projected out over his remaining work years, to be able to retire without some money worries.
He and I got along together immediately once he started at the company, arguing politics and metaphysics. Over time, we became good friends. Whenever he'd stop by the door of my office, I knew our initial remarks, small talk, would lead to serious discussions.
About three years ago, while we both worked in the same building in Richardson, Texas, he went to the men's room one morning, urinated, and, looking down at his stream, saw it was pink.
That's a terrible thing, to see something different.
He went to his regular doctor that afternoon, who referred him immediately to a urologist.
Everything happened very quickly. By the next day they confirmed he had cancer of the bladder. I called him at home the night before his surgery, talking to him for a while. He was resigned to the operation, but apprehensive about its aftermath (this wasn't the type of surgery where they cut into the redness of you, scoop out stuff, sew you back up, and a few weeks later you're as good as new. This was the type of surgery where they removed so much of your urinary system they had to create a redirected route through your body for your urine, so that the waste now emptied into a plastic bag sewn to the side of your abdomen. For the rest of your life.)
I telephoned him at the hospital after his surgery, but he was too groggy and dazed to make sense. His voice sounded like it was coming from the bottom of the ocean. He came back to work a couple of weeks later, working only half-days at first to build up his strength, wearing a beret to cover his baldness from the chemotherapy.
I admire him. He kept up his resolve during the ordeal, kept his sense of humor through the inevitable fall-out (his bag leaked, and he had to go back for further surgery because a hard knot developed in the middle of his abdomen). He's a good man.
He's an atheist, he loves bluegrass music, spending his vacations traveling to different festivals around the country, he served as a soldier in the Vietnamese war, then became disillusioned afterwards, stateside, he saw Frank Sinatra do a set once at the Newport Jazz Festival, convinced he had no interest in this old swinger, fell in love with Sinatra's easy brilliance on stage, and has been ever since collecting his albums. He can't get a job anywhere else, because he's too old and no one is willing to hire someone who has cancer.
I pray he doesn't get laid-off because some young asshole in an office three thousand miles away, tapping his pencil point over Dave's name on a green and white computer print-out says, dark eyebrows and gym physique, "Couldn't this be out-sourced?"
Mary had to go to her ophthalmologist again, on Wednesday, for her six-month check-up.
Mary has border-line glaucoma.
I went with her, sitting in the waiting room, squeezing her hand as she was called to see if her condition had worsened.
She's had to go through a battery of tests, including one in which you sit in a darkened room, fit your chin on a cold rest, push your eyes against goggles, and then have light ten times brighter than a flash bulb go off, photographing your retina and optic nerves. Afterwards, you're blind. It's not like a bright light where once it shrinks you have to squint. You're completely blind. You can no longer see the world. You're locked inside the grayness of your mind. Assistants tell you not to panic, while the light in the room is slowly brightened, until your sight comes back.
Everyone else in the waiting room was over sixty, some in wheelchairs. While I waited for Mary a man and woman came in, both about seventy. She was tall and frail. He was shorter, in a white shirt, pot belly.
They both picked up magazines. He held his up to her. He was obviously hard of hearing.
"DON'T REMEMBER GIRLS LOOKING LIKE THAT WHEN I WENT TO SCHOOL."
She looked at the photograph. "No, that's something new."
"I HEARD THE OTHER DAY THEY'RE GOING TO PAY KATIE COURIC, ON CHANNEL 5, 15 MILLION DOLLARS FOR WHAT SHE DOES. SHE PUT IT IN HER CONTRACT SHE HAD TO BE PAID MORE THAN ANY MAN SHE WORKED WITH. THAT'S A LOT TO PAY A COMMUNIST."
"What makes you say she's a communist?"
"I DON'T WATCH HER, BUT I WAS WALKING THROUGH A ROOM AND I SAW HER ON TV. SHE WAS TALKING TO SOMEONE IN FRANCE. IN FRANCE, IT'S SOCIALIST. THE GOVERNMENT OWNS EVERYTHING. THERE'S NO PERSONAL PROPERTY. AND THE PERSON SHE WAS TALKING TO WAS SAYING HOW MUCH BETTER WOMEN HAVE IT OVER THERE, THEY HAVE ALL THESE RIGHTS. AND KATIE COURIC SAID, THAT SOUNDS PRETTY GOOD TO ME. AND BLAH BLAH BLAH. AND BLAH BLAH BLAH."
I'm thinking, Someone give this guy a sandwich.
It was impossible to read with him broadcasting his side of the conversation, so I left the office, rode down in the elevator, and went outside.
It was still drizzling beyond the glass front doors, the pebbled aggregate of the walks decorated with wet leaves, orange, yellow. I lit up, gray smoke trailing over my shoulder as I moved away from the front doors, to a park bench triangle under dripping trees. In the air was the smell of roasted marshmallows, an olfactory hallucination.
When I went back up, he was still TALKING, but soon afterward he was called into the examination rooms.
Before he RETURNED, I heard Mary's lovely voice, arranging for her next visit.
She looked like an alien, black pupils dilated almost to the rims of her irises, like someone from somewhere serene.
As we walked to our car, even though it was overcast and coldly spitting, she put the ridge of her right index finger on her forehead, to block out the sun.
Her condition was no worse than before. The doctor was encouraged. So are we.
One of my favorite film directors is David Lynch.
The first time I saw a Lynch film was in the late seventies, when Mary and I went to a midnight show in Santa Barbara, California that featured The Rocky Horror Picture Show, some other cult film, a bunch of Abbot and Costello shorts between movies, and Eraserhead.
Our backs were pelted with rice during one scene in Rocky Horror, toast thrown at the screen, dialogue from the film shouted as the actors' and actresses' big lips moved. I remember us sitting on a maroon and gold fabric bench in the ornate lobby between movies, falling even deeper in love, smoking even more pot, waiting for Eraserhead to begin, people staggering around on the expensive dark carpet of the lobby, dropping tubs of popcorn.
I read about Eraserhead a few years earlier, in a review in Castle of Frankenstein, a great horror movie magazine of that time put out from New Jersey. The reviewer raved about the film. It was like no other movie you've ever seen, he said.
We went back inside as the lights lowered. Black and white images, each incredible, appeared one after the other on the pearlescent screen.
Since then, I've seen Eraserhead about a half dozen times. It never ceases to enthrall me. Later I learned Lynch supported himself during this period with a paper route, delivering the Wall Street Journal.
When Mary and I heard Lynch made a new film, The Elephant Man, we were anxious to see it. By then we were living in northern California, just below San Francisco. The movie came to one of our local four-screen drive-ins.
The opening overhead shot, of a woman in labor switching her face left, right, to the sound of elephants trumpeting, and then actually seeing a triptych of elephants raising their trunks, was brilliant. The rest of the movie was a disappointment. Fake mutton chops, conventional narrative.
A few years later, we learned he had been hired as the director for Dune. We saw it when it came out. Aside from the fact the movie included shots of different actors' faces, while you heard their thoughts, which I thought was interesting, the rest of the movie was a mess. He seemed to be trying too hard to be weird. Weirdness works best when the artist doesn't realize the weirdness of what he or she is creating. It's a lot like unintentional humor.
We wrote him off.
A couple of years after that, we saw some newspaper ads in the New York Times (we were living in Maine by then) for a movie called Blue Velvet. The ads showed Isabella Rosallini in Kyle McLaughlin's bare-armed embrace. We read a couple of reviews, and were intrigued. Some time after that, I found out the director was none other than David Lynch, the same guy who did Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, and Dune.
We rented the movie the day it came out on video. I was stunned at the power of the film. I've sat through it about twenty times since, and pick up something new each viewing. It's one of my favorite movies.
And then he declined again. Wild At Heart, as has been remarked by many, seemed a parody of his themes. Self-indulgent. His TV series, Twin Peaks, was in many ways a sanitized, television version of Blue Velvet, and in that mode diminished something in the original. There were many good scenes, and it was far superior to anything else on TV, but there were also too many parts where Lynch indulged in an unfunny whimsy. Nothing, nothing, nothing, is more deadly than whimsy.
After that, he did a prequel to the TV series, Fire Walk With Me, which I thought was better than Wild At Heart or the series. With Lost Highway, he returned again to the dim, dark shadowy world of dreams, and although it wasn't as cohesive as Blue Velvet, it was a film only he could make.
Mary and I saw The Straight Story, a G feature for Disney. It had some good scenes. To be honest, I probably won't bother seeing it again.
We haven't seen Mulholland Drive yet. It's received better reviews than most of his other movies, and as of this writing has just won the New York Film Critics' Circle award for best movie of 2001. We're anxious to see it.
I admire Lynch very much, because he talks more about the creative process than anyone I know. Again and again in interviews he emphasizes the importance of an artist sitting still in an armchair long enough for inspiration to arrive. He talks about the importance of dark spaces in a canvas, so the imagination can go inside that darkness to imagine further. When he talks about childhood, it's about the stunning information children receive. For example, if you walk towards a tree, the tree grows larger. There's no question he is seriously committed to making highly personal films, even to the point of creating some of the furniture that appears in his films. As I said, I like some of his movies more than I do others. But even those movies which, in my opinion, aren't as successful, are much better than most of what's released. I think he's one of the most important directors we have, and there's no question the best of his work will survive.
So I do admire him very much. This past Wednesday, I looked at his recently launched website, DavidLynch.com. And I was disappointed.
For someone so concerned about freedom, his website is very limiting. You must have Flash 5 and QuickTime 5 in order to view it. In addition, it works with Internet Explorer only. A statement on the opening page explains DavidLynch.com is not viewable in Netscape.
You also need broadband access. You can sign-up for the site if you don't have broadband, if you only have a 56k dial-up modem connection, but you agree, "My membership fee will not be refunded."
And refunds get into my biggest issue with the site. DavidLynch.com is not a friendly, come on in, site. It's a site where you have to subscribe with a credit card. At $9.97 a month. It's one of the very few sites on the Web, other than porno sites, where you're charged a monthly subscription.
What are you getting for your $9.97 a month? Well, so far, Dumbland, a series of Flash 5 movies that had been previously available for free on the Internet; Rabbits, a series of short films where people dress in rabbit outfits, but otherwise act normal; brief, under a minute excerpts from some of his works; a weekly radio show featuring Lynch's daughter, Jennifer; some of Lynch's noodlings on a synthesizer; a live bird feeder cam; etc.
Is it worth $9.97 a month?
For $9.97, I can rent Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Lost Highway at Blockbuster. Am I going to see that kind of shocking, innovative artistry at DavidLynch.com with my $9.97 monthly subscription?
Of course not.
David Lynch is not poor. Not by a long shot. He owns three homes, side by side, in an exclusive section of Los Angeles, and won a multi-million dollar settlement recently against a French distribution company. His website is currently receiving over three million hits a day. He doesn't need your $9.97 a month, and it sets a bad precedent. The best thing about the Internet is its freedom, not only of expression, but of cost. Lynch's argument is that he wants his experiments on the Web to be funded, by someone other than himself. My argument is, you're my hero, but if you want $9.97 a month from me, give me something more than a bunch of people dressed up in fucking rabbit costumes.
The site also includes a store, where you can buy Dumbland coffee cups, and Eraserhead caps. Can Blue Velvet refrigerator magnets be far behind?
If you're curious, Lynch's site is located here. But be sure to bring your credit card. You won't be welcome without it.
I had a dream Wednesday night, which I didn't have to pay for, and for which tee-shirts and action model toys are not yet available, where I was in an indoor crowd of loud people, bobbing faces and moving lips, swirled scalps and knotted buns sparkling under the candle illumination of chandeliers, when a gray informational window lowered like mini-blinds above the soiree, and an animation started scrolling. I realized right away I was seeing a Flash movie, but by the jerkiness of its animation, and the primitive stick figures, I knew it was only, like, Flash 2.0, rather than the latest version, Flash 5. In my dream, I got really pissed. How unfair is this? What is wrong with me that my dreams don't include the latest version of such a popular software?