It’s the wee hours of the morning and I’m sitting here watching the soul crushing black hole that is late night television. The really weird part, besides the crap programming, is that doing this causes little cracks to open in my subconscious and I am reminded tonight of my grandma.
Little snipets of memories, like summer bees, keep buzzing around my brain. Slap away as I might, some land and take hold of me.
I’m six years old, and my white-haired grandma is visiting us in Arizona. The purpose is to help take care of things while my parents prepare for my younger sister‘s birth which is still weeks away. And because I’m just a small fry who takes up the least amount of bed space, guess what? Yeah, I’m forced to share my bed with granny.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had the bizarre disposition of having a slumber party with your grandmother, but I do not recommend it.
First I’d get a bird’s eye view of granny panties with an elastic waistband that are worn all the way up to the fold of skin underneath her boobies. Then she spent the better part of an hour every single night explaining to me about the difference between faith and knowledge, and how she’s baffled about every single thing that’s been invented since the wheel. Along with that came advice like, “You should nail a blanket over your door, it’ll keep the cold air from coming in at night.” Eventually she wore herself out with dispensing wisdom and started smearing little gobs of Vicks Vapor Rub in her nostrils before kissing my cheek and falling asleep.
Those nights were an assault on my senses. I felt like a French soldier trying to sleep in the trenches of world war I. The sound of grandma inhaling and exhaling all night was like sleeping next to Darth Vader, and the stinging fumes of her Vicks burned like hot sauce in my eyes. Light flooded down on me from the lamp she insisted be left on in case she had to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. The bedside table containing the lamp was crammed with her traveling photo collection of every family member that had descended from her womb. Eventually my little brain gave up the fight and dragged itself into oblivion.
I would awake to my grandma’s voice complaining about me sleeping in. It was 5:45 in the morning. She was already showered and dressed and cooking breakfast. Scrambled eggs with bologna anyone? I would sit at the table in my pajamas and listen to grandma tell my pregnant mom stories about “squaw men” and “injuns” and living on a farm back when nobody had automobiles or electricity.
Another memory takes hold, and I’m suddenly 21 years old, home on leave from the army. My family is visiting grandma’s house for the evening. She is impossibly old and shrunken, like a tiny wrinkled troll, yet still feisty enough to insist on making supper for everyone. She talked herself out of making the ketchup spaghetti and settled on stuffed porcupine meat balls (ground beef, with uncooked rice rolled into balls, baked inside bell peppers until the outside was burnt and the inside was raw). My dad’s eyes told me in no uncertain terms to shut the hell up because if he had to eat it, so did I.
Nothing terribly heinous transpired afterwards. We would just all sit around with the usual order of various family members mulling about and telling their stories of some event that happened in the 50’s or looking at granny’s photo albums of dead people. I would gaze into the deep numbing glow of the television hoping to sedate myself and lose track of time until it was time to leave. The evening broadcast of Wheel of Fortune couldn’t be any worse than the stories about grocery coupons or how my little sister knew five different spellings of the name Ashley, and at least the TV didn’t expect me to hold a smile and look interested.
In case you’re assuming that I was an asshole at 21, you would assume right. But I wasn’t a complete asshole. My grandma might have been old, feeble, nearly blind, and her granny kisses still had the incapacitating aroma of Vicks Vapor Rub, but she saw right through my snobbery and remembered the laughing grandson she used to bounce on her knee. “You just put that bad mood away, honey, and give your grandma a hug.”
You think at 21 that you’ve forgotten how to feel pure love. Grandmas make you remember.
Even a few years later, when I was out of the army and living in California. Grandma was way too old to go shopping on her own and I’d occasionally get roped into taking her because everybody else was busy. Walk in the door and grandma didn’t just say “hi.” She’d light up and roll her eyes and throw up her hands and smile.
Shopping with grandma invariably involved an endless comparison of prices and long drives to a huge number of stores while she searched for a box of salt that cost less than a dollar. She was sort of mentally living in an economic time-warp where nothing should cost more than 5 cents. And when grandma offered me something to eat after taking her home, it was gonna be some kind of overcooked organ meat like liver or something like the bargain brand ice cream that had been sitting in her freezer for the past year or so with a crust of permafrost on it about two inches thick.
Grandma also needed to be kept warm. And by “warm” I mean an ambient temperature approximately that of the sun. No matter how high you turn up the thermostat, she always wanted you to turn it up a bit more. Her favorite show was Dallas, but her eyesight was almost gone. And that’s my last memory of grandma. A shrunken old lady with her face no more than a foot away from the TV screen watching that dastardly J.R. Ewing. I tucked a blanket around her legs and wrapped a sweater over her shoulders.
She’s been gone for a quarter century now.
And here I am, sitting in my recliner and surfing through mindless late night television. The channel lands on something with dancing girls in bikinis, I don’t know what it is, let’s just call it Slave Girl Late Midnight Party Hour.
Television has become such a confused orgy of corporate buyouts that its turned just about every late night channel into an obnoxious drunk who’s been exposed to enough Seagram’s for it to blindly stumble into the viewer’s arms. The channel on now seems to be nursing a hangover and puking into a toilet, so I hit the arrow up button on the remote and move to another station.
Chef Tony is trying to sell a miracle knife by cutting through a can. At first it‘s sort of cool, but after the twentieth time he cuts something, I start talking to the TV. Okay dude, I get it. Those knives cut things. I‘m starting to hope he slips and loses a finger. Just kidding. Actually I‘m not.
There’s a trampoline with handles and some douchebag is telling us how to use it. Telling us how to use a trampoline. Give me a break. I almost turn the TV off because it would be more fun to stare at the wall. Instead, I change channels.
Great, Girls Gone Wild. Several years ago, this concept was novel enough that a lot of guys were jealous they didn‘t think of it first. But this Joe Francis guy seems to have convinced himself that these girls are showing him their boobs because he’s cool, not because drunk girls love getting free things and love getting naked. You are not cool Joe, and I’m surprised one of these girls’ dads hasn’t kicked your ass by now.
Watching Tony Little work out is too weird. And skin tight spandex is never okay.
Remember when the Sci-fi Channel used to show science-fiction classics. Not anymore. Now it’s called the Syfy Channel (short for ‘syphilis for you’) and show the crappiest movies ever made. These things are like crusty multi-colored play doh that is drying out. I’m watching a giant CGI snake rampaging after some actors that apparently have no will to live or act.
Something about a website promoting online booty calls. It’s 45 minutes after midnight, so these kind of things inevitably pop up all over the TV. While I ponder the lonely demographic of young males 18-25 that would frequent such a site in search of local slutbags, I decide not to care and change the channel.
Ah yes, male enhancement pills. This one apparently turns your penis into something resembling the size of a baseball bat and makes neon bolts of lightning shoot out your urethra.
Brazilian Booty Lift on CNBC. I thought this was an ultra-liberal news channel?
Another infomercial for online dating. This is for a website that promises to connect women with potential sugar daddies. A chubby woman with bleached hair and collagen lips is giving a testimonial about how great the site works. She looks a little dull and wobbly, like any minute she might collapse to one knee and throw up.
Maybe it’s the shameless lack of class and absence of morality on display here, but I choose to linger on this channel for a few minutes while being absolutely judgmental about it. I imagine myself meeting this chubby sexual terrorist in a bar. She’s texting away on her phone, totally disengaged from any meaningful romantic connection, and so I ask her “Did it hurt?”
“Did what hurt?” she responds, without glancing up from her keypad.
With my best suavity, I lay it on her: “When you fell from Heaven.”
At that, she finally tears her eyes away from the pseudo-binary of endless LOLOL‘s she‘s sending off into the matrix and flashes me a timid smile. The smile, of course, evaporates the second I finish my next sentence:
“Surely, the G-forces from a fall like that would’ve shattered your femurs. I mean, that would explain why you walk like you do. Damn, when you stumbled over here, it was like you had rickets or hemorrhoids or something, like John Wayne with anal sores, like you’re trying to straddle a cactus . . . “
She gets up and starts to leave.
“MONEY!” I shout, whipping open my wallet.
She pauses and turns hesitantly back toward me.
“You want a sugar daddy, right?” Then I proudly start thumbing through the thick wad of bills.
Her eyes go wide and a saucy little string of drool chases its way across her jowl. But when she gets a closer look, she scoffs and walks away for good.
“Hey baby, where you going? These are Chuck E. Dollars! You can spend these on ANYTHING they got behind the counter! They got whistles and tiny combs and shiny skull rings!”
But it’s too late. She’s gone, and with her goes a piece of my heart.
Click, click, click. I finally give up and just shut the TV off.
Online booty calls, girls gone wild, giant wangs and badonkadonks, sexual terrorists. These people aren’t looking for lovers, they’re looking for accomplices. They’re looking for someone that will participate in their weaknesses. They want partners who are attracted to them, not in spite of their compassionless resentment for anybody that isn’t the reflection in the mirror, but because of it.
I open a YouTube tab on my computer, and start surfing the cornucopia of content.
It doesn’t take long to stumble across an Usher video. In Yeah, he lets it be known that he can’t find an idle moment to contemplate the horrors in Darfur because some random lingerie model is always trying to bed him. With all of these nymphomaniacal strumpets pawing at him, he barely has time to pout for the camera in tightly-cropped face shots or stroke his washboard abs.
Now Jay-Z is on my screen. He’s rapping about something, but I don’t immediately get it because the guy doesn’t really have to say anything. The man is married to Beyonce. Most guys would abandon all of their earthly possessions and walk into a fiery death, just for the outside chance that they’d be reincarnated as a wart on his penis and thereby get a brush with glory.
Beyonce in a bikini is walking in slow motion across my brain when Jay-Z’s Big Pimpin’ starts rising to the surface of the blue sparkly ocean behind her. The lyrics force me from my little daydream.
“Now every time, every place, everywhere we go
Hoes start pointin – they say, ‘There he go!’
You know I thug ’em, fuck ’em, love ’em, leave ’em
Cause I don’t fuckin need ’em
Take em out the hood, keep ’em lookin good
But I don’t fuckin feed ’em”
Jay-Z is apparently quite the vivacious lover, as well as a particularly brutal captor. From the sound of it, he could have any number of starving, well-dressed hoes locked up in his basement.
With a sigh, I continue watching the video. There are dozens of the kind of young women who wear bikinis and high heels to pool parties. They probably wear the same thing to family funerals and prison visits, but I‘m not gonna jump to any conclusions. Is this how young men view the fairer sex? Is this what they want? For a girl to be a superficial bimbo in a bikini, carrying a signed photo of Kim Kardashian, and who enjoys pouring champagne all over her breasts while air humping?
Doesn’t seem very realistic. Or friendly. Or healthy. Actually, the whole idea is pretty damned demeaning to women. But then, this is how immature males without actual experience of women outside of pornography imagine females to be. They’re all sex objects. The destructive psychology behind sites like Online Booty Call doesn’t exactly scream respect or maturity either, does it?
Clickety, clickety, as I surf through more waves of ridiculous male fantasies masquerading as pop songs, all the while chewing delicious bite size chunks of Tillamook country smoked peppered beef jerky that I brought home from work. Shaking my head in sad resignation, the vision of my work buddy Thorny drifts into my consciousness and a video he showed me a few nights ago.
He had first watched Shakira pop her ample curves sometime in middle school and I’m sure this imagery assaulted his young eyeballs with the ferocity of a grizzly bear attacking a cub scout.
Her song Whenever, Whenever is sort of irritating to me, but the video really shows off her talents like crawling through mud in skin-tight clothes. Tony Montana claimed in Scarface that he hated Columbians, but that’s only because he didn’t know Shakira was one of them.
Thorny also likes the movie Scarface. Remember the shit hitting the fan when Tony Montana’s former boss sends a hit squad to kill him? Remember Tony burying his face in a white mountain of cocaine before getting all badass on everybody? Well, that’s how Thorny wants to go, only he wants to bury his face in Shakira’s booty before getting shot 300 times and dying under a statue that says “The World is Yours.”
But in all fairness, Thorny also likes Zooey Deschanel and she’s pretty much the exact opposite of what Shakira represents. So I fetch my DVD of (500) Days of Summer, slide it into the player, and turn the television back on.
Thorny described Zooey as, and I quote, “a wet dream cut loose from the mind of God and set free to drift through the world of lesser mortals.”
Well, I don’t know. I just see an actress who plays a wide variety of roles, such as the quirky love interest in Yes Man, the quirky love interest in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the quirky love interest in (500) Days of Summer, and the quirky love penguin in Surf’s Up.
He tells me, “No dude, you got it all wrong. Zooey Deschanel is not actually even a human name, but rather a set of carefully-crafted noetic syllables intended to bypass your higher brain functions and hit your indie gland with the force of a thousand AMAZINGS. Seriously, just think about it. Look at the separate ‘words’ or whatever in her name. It sounds kinda retarded. Now try saying them while looking directly at a picture of Zooey Deschanel. It sounds like ‘happiness.’ Go on, try it.”
I’m not positive, but I think Thorny may have actually fainted while watching the scene in Elf where Zooey sings Baby It’s Cold Outside in the shower.
Okay, I’m just messing with my friend and hopefully getting a few laughs at his expense. Just kidding. Actually, I’m not.
In a sentence, (500) Days of Summer is about a guy who invents a girlfriend in his head and then gets mad when the real girlfriend doesn’t conform to his expectations.
In more sentences, the main character is a guy who is ready to meet his dream girl and then does, in the form of Summer (Zooey Deschanel, obviously). She likes the same music that he likes, and even though she explicitly tells him early in the film that she doesn’t believe in love and hates the idea of being someone’s girlfriend, she likes the same music that he likes so he concludes that they’ll be perfect together. He’s so excited about the idea of dating someone interesting that he never actually gets around to totally investing in or understanding his girlfriend. He’s already fallen in love with Summer because he’s a guy who falls in love a lot, and that’s what he’ll be, always, forever. They date for a while, and it’s good for a while, and then they break up because dating someone solely because they like the same shitty music that you like is never the best plan.
I watch the movie and try to figure out what guys like Thorny see in Zooey Deschanel. Well, she’s wide-eyed and adorable and an eccentric free spirit. I get that. But she’s also sort of stupid.
It’s all a mind game. Zooey is a metaphor. Her character exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The end result is that American males have now developed a pop-culture induced soft spot for chicks who are brainless goofballs with giant eyes.
The ending of (500) Days of Summer annoys me because there’s an opportunity for the male protagonist to learn something. He can realize, “Hey, maybe I’m wrong because I moved too fast too soon, or I expected too much based on my own idea of what a girlfriend should be, or because I based our entire relationship on superficial similarities.” But none of that happens.
Instead, the movie ends with him meeting a new girl. He falls in love with her because she’s pretty, and because they both like the same building, or something.
I’m annoyed by the ending and respect it at the same time. It’s realistic. Nobody ever really does learn anything. The basic moral is “Learn no lessons from past relationships: If something didn’t work out, it wasn’t ‘meant to be, so just wait around for someone who does conform to all of your preconceived expectations.”
Whenever a character in a movie has flaws that are objectively detrimental, the movie will never teach us to, hey, maybe work on those flaws.
Instead, the movie says, “No, you’re fine, everyone else is wrong, just wait around for the PERFECT GIRL WHO WILL SOLVE AND ACCEPT EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU. Because, you know, relationships are really easy and require absolutely no work, compromise, or self-awareness.”
I slip the DVD back into its jewel case and put it away. The television is broadcasting another online dating website. Women are singing it’s praises in how it helped them find a mate who met all their preconceived expectations. I could just imagine the checklists:
I’m looking for a man who’s 6’4”, makes six figures, has a chiseled jaw and washboard abs, is a hopeless romantic, has a great sense of humor and makes me laugh everyday, is intelligent and well-read, loves to travel, will buy me flowers and open doors for me, is sensitive and emotionally available, loves kids, loves pets, volunteers for charities, is a handyman, is great in bed, shares my political beliefs, shares my faith, matches my astrological sign, will not be afraid to tell me he loves me, gets along with my family, will worship me, will spoon me, and will always understand me.
Sweety, that guy doesn’t exist.
I now imagined my grandma back in the old days when people didn’t drive automobiles around. Not the granny panty-Vicks aroma version I knew, but the young woman she used to be. When she wanted to find a romantic partner, she was pretty much limited to the small pool of guys that went to her school or lived in her small town. If she couldn’t find her ideal mate at the local barn dance, she was out of luck.
But she did find someone.
She found someone for life.
And she didn’t need online dating to do it.
Grandma and grandpa created hundreds of people in an amazing network of connections that are still spreading outward in infinite numbers. There are children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and beyond.
I am one of them.