Thursday, October 28, 2004

Reality TV

I have had an aversion to Reality TV since its inception, to the point where I’ve wondered why I seem to be so different from the rest of the nation, who say they hate it but watch in the relative anonymity of their homes. I have a physical reaction to these shows; I have to change the channel.
I’ve finally figured out why. I lived it – 24 years ago.
I must first give you some background. I attended a church-owned institution of higher learning. It was a College when I attended, now it is a University. There are a number of these scattered across the United States, perhaps now even around the world. One of the experiences available to their students is a summer "missions" program that takes several forms. The one that interested me, frankly, from the tender age of 12, was a musical group made up of 16-- 8 singers, 8 instrumentalists, culled from these schools to travel, evangelize, and otherwise publicize the schools themselves. Looking back, the circumstances of this junket read like a script treatment for the next season on Fox.
Take 16 strangers, aged 18-21, with all of their regional diversity and immaturity, and commit them to 10,000 miles of travel and concert appearances in 10 weeks, confined primarily to 2 passenger vans, with a cargo van and trailer. Give them one week of intense rehearsal and training in a dormitory setting, followed by an appearance before 12,000 people to start them off. On their "tour", they will spend their nights, either alone or in small groups, in the homes of church members along the way. Watch as the constant confinement, boredom, and summer heat provide an atmosphere for relational fireworks! Watch romance spark, sizzle, and fizzle. See alliances form, and conflict threaten to destroy the group! Witness open rebellion against the status quo and racial prejudice! See them endure physical trials as they perform outdoor concerts in 100-degree heat! Tuesdays at nine on FOX!
Oh, the memories. Discovering Vernor’s Ginger Ale. "Cubby", from Xenia, Ohio, tornado survivor, who sought out and drank TAB. Three kinds of Buffalo wings put out for us for dinner in the church basement in Buffalo, NY. It’s funny, but I can’t remember names, but I see faces, and remember smells. Going to Disney World, alone.
We were allotted $2.50 for lunch. This $2.50 was to be documented via receipt from the culinary provider, and any differences would be paid for from one’s own resources. As my bud , Wally, now a right reverend in his own right, will attest, movie stubs from the feature "Airplane" were not accepted. The physical interpretation of this reality was, well, McDonald’s. A Big Mac, Fries, and a Coke only set you back about 25-60 cents. I cannot tell you how this made me proud to be serving the Denomination of my Father’s employer and Doctrinal guide for my spiritual consciousness. I thought I had made the church big-time. Turns out that means they’ve mastered the art of cheap. We were often left to improvise, with poor equipment, planning, and no resources to help. It is a major reason that I am not in ministry, and why I am not a member of this organization. They sent us out to represent them, and treated us like crap. It would not have taken much to have made this 5000% better, in terms of both human treatment and the product we strove to provide. That is a different tirade, sorry.
I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but the population of the 2 vans became pretty well set. The cargo van, which seated only 2, was reserved for either those who needed to talk out a conflict, sweethearts who wanted some privacy (while traveling, of course), or those who simply could only stand to endure one other person for the next coupla hours. There was often conflict over who got to take the cargo van.
It also, now, strikes me that this was before cheap Walkmans, the PC, Internet and email. We had to agree on stuff like what music to play, today everyone would just plug in their own iPods.
Then there was the people we met. The horn players all ended up at one house one night. The man of the house kept suggesting that they might want to step outside for a moment, he’d understand. Turns out, he thought they might want a smoke, and when pressed, expressed his sincere appreciation that these horn players would give up their summer to play for "those Christian singers." To his Ohio mind, horn players couldn’t be. Another life changed. I had the pleasure of spending a Saturday night alone with a lovely, older couple in Homestead, FL. As we left the main road, headed for their solitary trailer amidst an avocado grove, I had the fleeting feeling one gets as a horror movie begins to unfold. It passed, and we settled into the living room, the Mrs. fixing dinner, and my gracious host turned on the TV. He turned to me, and said, "Y’all got that back in California?" – jabbing his finger toward the set. "What’s that?" I asked, seeing two talking heads. "Niggers and Women doin’ the news." I answered, "Yes, yes we do." Unfortunately, I was very tired that night, and politely excused myself from the table after listening to Dr. Dobson’s radio show that evening. I was more homesick than that first summer camp when I called my mom every day, begging to come home.
It was, however, a complete joy to play nearly every day. Niagra Falls. The hills of West Virginia. Nashville. West Texas. Memorizing "The Long Run" album, by the Eagles. The Jeff Lorber Fusion tape. Listening to an evening of old radio shows, from an old theater radio, in a hundred-year old brownstone in Buffalo. Bittersweet.
So that’s it, the reason I can’t abide reality shows. That and the fact that I find no joy in the manipulation and humiliation of others. What has become of us?

Friday, October 22, 2004

And Now for Something Completely Sweet

I got a phone call yesterday afternoon from an old friend. He's 78.
Ed is a guy who befriended me when I was a young guy. He was leading a music group for the older teenagers at our church, including his two kids. They always seemed to have some other, troubled teen or two living with them, from relatives and friends. With my parents' permission, of course, he'd pick me up every couple of weeks or so on an afternoon, and we'd just go get a coke somewhere and talk. I, frankly, thought it was a little weird at first, but we soon became
friends. I now know that this gentle man has a gift, and he took it upon himself to share it with me. He mostly just listened, but he has a way of guiding others to making the right choices for themselves. The main thing that he taught me was, initially with my parents, but it has been extended with time, to not be afraid to tell those that I love "I love you." He taught me about friendship and unconditional love, simply by placing no obligations on our relationship other than honesty and mutual respect. I know this is an odd description, and I've never had another friend quite like him, but this is the truth.Depending upon your perspective, Ed is either heaven-sent, or he has an uncanny ability to drop into my life at the times when I need encouragement the most. I have not spoken to him in at least 2-3 years.He called me, yesterday. I have no idea if he has the slightest clue that there's no one else on the planet who could have made me feel better at that moment, I was pretty low. As we went through the ritual of catching up, he told me about his grandson, with ADHD and other behavioral problems, and how they got along just fine together.
I smiled.
I love you, Ed. It was easy to tell him so.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Buddy Squawk

O.K, so we did our duty and went to our first Buddy Walk. Buddy Walk is an annual event staged by the National Down Syndrome Society,, one of a few national organizations that do whatever they do - promote research and "awareness", programs for inclusion, etc. Cynical me, you know, they've already found a cure. It's called genocide. Is that being too opinionated?
I was and still am a little dumbfounded that there was zero, zip, nada, no media coverage at all. Which tells me a couple of things. First, that the local Buddy Walk folk are not interested in advocacy. San Diego has at least one TV station that does live feeds on Saturday mornings from Pancake Breakfasts and grocery store grand openings. Secondly, if perchance they did alert anyone in the media, then no one cares. So what. I can be just as apathetic about it as everyone else. Well, kinda.
They sent out some guys with banners at the front, and we were off. Our little walk up the Prado to the fountain and back took place in complete obscurity, interrupting the occasional park regular's morning constitutional.
The best part about it was the opportunity to meet Carmen, Emma's school aide. She has kin with special needs, what a blessing for her to be at this event for us. Amazing. Also, to see Samantha and her family.
When Emma first met Samantha (several months ago), her first reaction, from her stroller, was to reach out and hug her. This time, she grabbed lil' Sammy and wouldn't hardly let go. To have your own, live, baby-doll! I was afraid for Samantha's safety. Elizabeth was joined by her husband, Steve, all her kids, and a contingent of high-schoolers. I'm guessing about a third of Borrego Springs (grin).
There were booths from the local agencies, even the local domestic workers union, who's representative got pissed at me when I wouldn't sign up for their mailing list. Solidarity, sister! . There was also a GREAT local band, they kept Emma dancing non-stop for nearly an hour.
So we walked around the fountain, looked at pizza at 10:30 in the morning, listened to some music, "did a little dance and then we drank a little water", saw a lot of other tired-looking people with their Ds kids, and then we left. We went to the Aerospace Museum.
It was a good day.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Two Supermen

The news in the paper today contains the obituaries of Ken Caminiti and Christopher Reeve. The first one literally gave me pause, I had to stop in my bathrobe and re-read the headline to be sure. I remember thinking something like "No. Really? Isn't he (reading first sentence) - younger than me? Aaaaaagh!" It's still, I'm glad to say, an uncommon occurrence.
Ken Caminiti was the last ballplayer that I really enjoyed - not only his performance, but the way that he brought intensity and committment to what he did. My favorite story about him comes from a Spring Training game. A "fan" was heckling him from the stands. After a few innings, Mr. C. left the game, showered, and calmly joined the man in the bleachers. He proceeded to ask the man about his family, his work, and then asked him if people came and yelled at him while he was trying to do his job. No cursing, no chair-throwing, no lawsuits. I liked that, very much. When a man with 'guns' like his only uses his strength on baseballs and bats, he gains my respect.
His later revelations of steroid use pretty much coincided with my disillusionment with baseball and professional sports - I really can't fault him, ultimately, with being the best that he could be in that profession, at that time. Achievement often means sacrifice, and we all struggle with our own smaller-than-life sacrifices for even mediocre gains. The cocaine, well, I understand that it's all part of the mix, yes? If his profession (let's not forget the player's union, k?) had put humanity before the dollar, then maybe he'd still be around for his Hall of Fame induction.
Christopher Reeve, to me, represented the best of a lot of what I know nothing about - Acting, and what I perceived to be pure Humanism. Listening to him describe both always left me scratching my head - I'm pretty sure that he and I perceived this universe in some diametrically opposed ways, but that was also what fascinated me about him. To be a noble celebrity, given a cause, is yet another role to play, I think he did this as well as anyone could, and his willingness to make his personal struggle - including the rigorous therapy that he chose - public, shows a character and courage of extraordinary proportion. He made the world a better place, when he could have turned his back on it. He worked to help others, making his life more difficult, painful, and demanding than it needed to be. A Champion for Humanity.
Two driven individuals. Two Men among men. Two tragically flawed Heroes for my generation. The same, but different. One had time and abilities taken away, the other spent his. They were both, perhaps, too 'big' for thier bodies for completely different reasons.
I admire them both, still.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

I have just proven that money does not buy happiness, but you can be miserable in much nicer places.
I just spent what still was about the best time that anyone could have, a long weekend pretty much doing what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. I was also able to pretty much send my own mind into a tailspin of self-pity and depression. Realizing what was happening seemed only to exacerbate my anger and self-loathing. Even in the company of my best and closest friends, I managed to isolate myself to the point of loneliness. To those who were present who may read this, I am truly sorry. This is not easy, but I'm trying to honestly understand what is going on inside my own head, and writing sometimes helps that. I've been wondering what it's like, if Van Gogh could feel himself being pulled into (and out of) his own maelstrom of mental illness. Please don't worry, I'm not seeing swirling colors or anything like that. Then, at least, maybe my heirs could make some money.
I have all of the rationale in front of me. I know that merely walking away from one's everyday doesn't make it go away, but trying to act as if everything is just ducky for more that about 3 days makes me feel like someone who'se eaten a bean & cheese burrito, 2 hours into a tupperware party. After a while, it just hurts. Is my behavior just selfishness? (I'd really appreciate it if you didn't answer that for me). When can I no longer just "pull myself up by my own bootstraps", is it up to someone else to determine that I've had enough? Do I just need to find a "Pity Party" somewhere (Maybe I'll rename this blog). It certainly looks foolish and selfish, with two days of perspective, but in the midst of it, there seems to be no way out, no medication or crying jag, or beating two rocks together to mitigate it.
Why am I so afraid when someone does ask me , "you alright?" that telling them it's not will either turn me into a dishrag, or that there's no point in describing what seem to be the unchangeable ironies of my existence. No one wants to be needy.
**This post has been festering in the draft stage for nearly a week. Unresolved as it is, I'm going to just throw it up on the wall and move on. I don't particularly like it, but then I don't particularly like much, at the moment. Thanks for hanging in.***