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Archive for August, 2011

Reality

From the ages of 8 to 11 I wore berets to school. Every day. In my mind the wearing of berets made me a sophisticate, an eight year-old far more worldly than my classmates in their bedazzled fare. At the height of my beret period I owned upwards of 23 berets. It was like Dr. Seuss. There were blue berets and red berets, school berets and bed berets. I wore berets while playing ball. I wore berets while at the mall. I wore them here, I wore them there. I wore them nearly everywhere. Throughout third, fourth, and fifth grade, they were a mainstay. And I thought I was the coolest. I made no connection between my donning of hats meant for gay poodles, and my staggering unpopularity.

 

On the first day of middle school, I strolled into the kitchen wearing one of my jauntiest numbers, a purple wool beret with silver studs around the base. And my mother, with love in her heart, looked me in the 11 year-old eye and said, “If you ever want to have friends, you will stop wearing berets.” She made me take it off. I was hurt.

 

Throughout that first day, I encountered a new level of school bullying. My property was stolen and destroyed. I was covered in RC Cola. I was so, so glad that my mother made me take off the beret. I have no doubt the beret would have upped the ante considerably, and I enjoy not being burned in effigy. I only wish my mother had told me I looked like a dumbass earlier.

 

If you are engaging in jackassery, the better friend is not the one who supports your fantasy. The better friend says, “That makes you look fat,” or “There’s no way you can hit the high notes in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’”, or “Honey, you are just not a lesbian. I’m sorry, but you’re not.” Reality bites. But in a good way.

 

Reality is a harsh teacher. And it gets a bad rep, for pulling no punches, and delving into corruption, and barbarity, and hopelessness. But with every act of cruelty it is begging us to make it better. Fantasy never asks for help. It never strives for improvement, because it already thinks it’s perfect. And that is dangerous. Fantastical thinking says, “Worry not about global warming.” It says, “Enjoy Pokemon. Believe in Scientology. Eat Hot Pockets.”

 

Also, Reality has better stories than Fantasy. There’s no fucking contest.

 

In Narnia, the Pevensie children escape the London Blitz and party down with talking animals and Christian allegory. They become war heroes, and leaders, and journeymen of the fantastical.

 

But in the inescapable Netherlands of World War II, a fifteen year-old Audrey Hepburn carried messages for the Dutch Resistance in her ballet shoes, and danced for audiences of spies by candlelight. When she finished they held their arms aloft in silent praise and thanks, because applause would bring the police.

 

In Hogwarts, an unassuming kid named Harry Potter discovers he has magical powers, becomes the greatest wizard ever, and saves the world, and it is, indeed, awesome.

 

In Kyoto there was a warrior named Okita Soji. He was a captain in the army. He was considered the greatest swordsman of his time. He was fourteen fucking years old.

 

In Verona, teenagers named Romeo and Juliet meet a tragic end because of unyielding parents and a series of contrived misfortunes, and it’s hella romantic.

 

In 1898 Britain a guy named Ewart Grogon falls in love with a woman named Gertrude. Her dad doesn’t like him, doesn’t think he’ll make anything of himself. So Ewart says he will walk across the length of Africa and prove he can do whatever he sets his mind to. Potential father in law is like, “A worthy task. Best of luck,” which is the Victorian equivalent of “Never gonna happen. Go for it, douchebag.” Ewart walks from Cape Town to Cairo. It takes two and a half years. He survives cannibals and fever, thieves and heat. He marries Gertrude shortly there after, and is “most joyously pleased,” which is Victorian for “Bangin’ your daughter tonight.”

 

Fantasy is what we can’t do. What we can’t have. What we can’t be.

 

Reality is the intricacy of blood vessels. It is the truth that we will destroy ourselves or venture to the stars. It is genocide and kindness, orgasm and prison. Reality is the most hilariously awful date ever, and the existence of Jolly Ranchers, and that time I totally got laid in a library. If there is a God, God’s face will be more wondrous and inane than anything we could dream. Reality is.

 

I am grateful for flights of fantasy, and the occasional escape. They are not without merit. Often, they are inspirational and necessary. But Jeff Mangum never records In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, unless he falls a little in love with Anne Frank. Richard Adams never tells his daughters a story about rabbits called Watership Down, unless he first learns true camaraderie during the Battle of Arnhem. Gene Roddenberry never creates Star Trek, and Sydney Newman never creates Doctor Who, and Charlaine Harris never creates True Blood, without first wanting a reality in which we actually don’t discriminate against those who are different, and we actually learn from the mistakes of our past, and in which we actually go boldly where we have never gone before. The fantasy of it, the trappings of vampires, of a goofy British time traveler, and the crew of the USS Enterprise, they’re trappings. Beneath, Reality is still there, more varied and kaleidoscopic than any artist can capture, begging us to make it even better.

 

And, yes, each night, as I drift off to sleep, I wander through fantastical, wonderful scenarios. I win awards, I perform with rock stars, I spend a sordid and sweaty week with Simon Pegg.

 

But the reality that cradles me is pretty sweeter. My boyfriend holds me, working out the problems of the day. And, I am able to sleep, and dream, because I know that in the morning, he will actually be there.

 

That’s what can happen when you accept the world as it is and stop wearing fucking berets. 

 

 

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In 1987 Randy Shilts published And the Band Played On, a groundbreaking chronicle of the AIDS epidemic. He had been covering the AIDS epidemic for the San Francisco Chronicle since 1982, but it had taken those five years for the country at large to even begin dragging ass into discussion of the disease.

 

In 1987 Ronald Reagan was spending nearly all of his presidential capital overseas to end the cold war, famously saying on June 12, 1987, at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Upon returning to the US, though, he did turn his mind to the long-neglected and festering injustices of his own country. Almost two weeks after his media victory at the Berlin Wall, on June 25th, the Great Communicator arranged a House Joint Resolution, and issued Presidential proclamation 5672. He brought Republican and Democrat together, and ushered in a new dawn of observance and appreciation.

 

National Catfish Day. “In recognition of the value of farm-raised catfish, the Congress, by House Joint Resolution 178, has designated June 25, 1987, as “National Catfish Day” and authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation in its observance.”

 

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a scant 24 years since the Gipper declared a day of National Catfish appreciation. We’ve come so far. We are still so young.

 

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim June 25 as National Catfish Day. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

 

Tonight, across the country, in remembrance, families will gather to devour the beasts according to their regional specialties. There will be Tuscaloosa catfish served with corn bread and rice. There will be fried, blackened, and grilled. There will be feasting. And then, once supper is complete, Americans will retire to the television, where the annual viewing of “Grumpier Old Men” will take place.

 

A Presidential Proclamation is intended to be a statement on public policy. They can be substantive, like the Emancipation Proclamation. They can be largely ceremonial, like National Dairy Goat Awareness Week (also, Reagan). But, either way, they are writs delivered to the American people from on high with the sentiment that this is what is important to us, as a country, right here, right now.

 

In June of 1987, it was National Catfish Day.

 

Reagan’s doctors maintain that he showed no signs of Alzheimer’s until the early 90s. Following this assumption, that Reagan was in his right mind, then what he intended we observe and appreciate, to this day, is an animal known for mud digging, bottom feeding, and stabbing bystanders with venomous barbs attached to their mouths. And, you know what, gazing about at the collective asshattery we laughingly refer to as American politics, I’m gonna call Presidential proclamation 5672 a home fucking run.

 

The catfish. In the whole of American poetry there is one line celebrating the catfish. In Potato Blossom Songs and Jigs, Carl Sandburg writes, “I have seen farmhands with their faces in fried catfish on a Monday morning.” Man, what a crap poem.

 

The catfish. I’ll grant that a great many catfish have died in America. I’ll even grant that the deaths might have increased as a direct result of Reagan’s endorsement. In 1987, 190 million pounds of catfish were consumed in the US. Also, in 1987, over 40,000 people had died from AIDS, and another 70,000 had contracted it. Since 1980, Reagan had not publicly mentioned AIDS, let alone issued a presidential proclamation regarding it. But, lest you think Reagan was entirely silent on the matter, the New York Times published a brief piece in April of that year entitled “Reagan Urges Abstinence for Young to Avoid AIDS”. His exact words on the subject were, “I think that that particular subject should be taught in connection with values, not simply taught as a physical, mechanical process…But let’s be honest with ourselves, AIDS information cannot be what some call ‘value neutral.’ After all, when it comes to preventing AIDS, don’t medicine and morality teach the same lessons?

 

In short, don’t have sex, or you’ll get what’s coming to you.

 

One hopes he wasn’t in his right mind. One hopes that if he’d been in possession of his full abilities his response would have been different. But, coming from the man whose legacy involves trickle down economics, neo-cons, and ketchup as a vegetable, who knows?

 

So, we are left with National Catfish Day as one of the many bewildering, absurd, and pathetic monuments of Ronald Reagan. How should we observe with appropriate ceremonies and activities? What would be the correct show of honor, not only for the noble catfish, but for the man who brought national attention to them?

 

Perhaps a reading from Dante’s Inferno. The ninth circle, treachery. Second level, the traitors to country and citizens. “…one head hooded the other one; the way the starving devour their bread, the soul above had clenched the other with his teeth where the brain meets the nape.” The betrayer’s skull is forever gnawed by his victims, you see. We shall read aloud, and tell our children stories of how catfish devour more than they feed others. Like we teach the fairy tale of Santa on the roof, we will teach the poetic justice of our 40th president consigned to eating the muck in hell’s carpet, a generation of AIDS victims forever gnawing on the back of his addled, vile head.

 

Or, maybe just a catfish fry at a gay wedding in New York. Maybe that.

 

Happy Catfish Day.

 

 

 

 

 

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