Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Monster Movies With Grandpa

Whenever I see a man in a rubber monster suit strangling the life out of a beautiful woman, I will think of my grandfather and smile.

As a matter of course, sleepovers at my Grandparents' house would generally start with a trip to the toy store, and segue into delivery pizza and coca-cola, the evening capper being two or three monster movies with my Grandfather. This is my warmest memory of my early relationship with him.

Grandma would bring us our pizza slices, and mason jars filled with either coca cola or iced tea. Grandpa would go over to the movie cabinet and pick out ‘a good one’. He was usually spot on.

We watched so many monster and b-horror movies together that I can’t remember them all, but a few are archetypal in my mind. While most of the Slasher films kind of bleed together after awhile, Theater Of Blood left a pretty gruesome impression in my mind: The scene where Vincent Price is extracting the pound of flesh from the theater critic who gave him bad reviews was so graphic, and so over-the-top that once I had seen it, it became impossible to shake.

More pleasant are the monsters. The Thing From Another World, both the original and the Kurt Russell Remake were very impressive to me as a young connoisseur, and provided plenty of spin-off material for the play-time scenarios I dreamt up for my brother and sister and I. Alien and Aliens--Sigourney Weaver running around in her underwear through the cold, white halls of the vacant spaceship was oddly intriguing to my eight year old mind--All of the Creature From the Black Lagoon movies, except the one that had him wearing clothes. Lon Chaney’s Wolf Man. Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Boris Karloff’s Mummy. We went from The Giant Ants from Them up to the strange, Lovecraftian grotesque of that under appreciated 80’s gem, Leviathan. I would sit there right next to my grandpa and switch between watching the movie and watching his reactions to the movie. Sometimes he’d smile a little bit when someone would make a morbid joke, sometimes he’d wince, ever so slightly, when he knew someone was gonna get it. Usually, if the movie involved some kind of military craft, he would point out inaccuracies in the way the ship was made-up. More familiar was the exclamation, Run You Idiot!

Just something that came to mind as I am adding the original The Thing From Another World to my netflix cue. I hope the boys are ready for it. I hope all of the flashy CGI monsters haven’t spoiled the creepiness of the stiff-legged, usually off-screen Plant Monster. After it’s all said and done, hopefully we’ll be running around some local playground, trying to figure out the best way to stop the creature and save the earth once and for all…until the next time.

Daisy,Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do...

I keep track of asteroids. They’re interesting to me. When I look at the above image, there’s a little fear, a little thrill. My human solipsism is confounded by the idea of a universe without us. Walking across the suspension bridge the other day (before they shut it down) I looked at our beautiful little city and found it unimaginable that it would one day be gone. All of the bridges down, all of the windows blown out. Ohio used to be underwater. A walk along the evolutionary stones at Sawyer Point illustrates that nicely.

So the next potential planet killer is a little asteroid named Apophsis. Apophis is the Greek name for the Egyptian god of destruction. Perhaps it’s appropriate. It’s a little dramatic for my taste; I prefer Daisy.

Apophsis, sensationalism aside, is expected to be another in a long line of near misses. Only if it passes through what is called a ’gravitational keyhole’ as it zooms past us in 2026, could it cause a problem, creating a highly probable collision in the year 2036.

Why is all of this so appealing to me? How can it not be? If you allow yourself to slip from the Summer Blockbuster angle, step past the survival fantasy, override the slight tingling in your death instinct, there are good reasons to contemplate both your own, and the Earth’s, ultimate revelation. Such considerations aren’t, at least on my part, purely morbid, nor are they some kind of Hicksian yearning for Arizona Bay. While as humans we surely fall short, I don’t eagerly anticipate some kind of cosmic come-uppance.

There’s at least metaphoric rock at the end of both mine, and the Earth’s life. While it can be unsettling to consider, it helps keep me on point, and adds a poignancy to the sound of red, yellow and orange leaves rustling in the fall, so beautiful, and so close to their ends.

Oh, The Books You Will Read!

One of the highlights of my day is always reading the kids their night-night book. I love it, and as my oldest one gets older--and more able to comprehend meatier stuff--I find myself eagerly looking for interesting things to integrate into the boiling pot of his personal mythos.

We started out with Sarah Boynton and Dr. Seuss, we graduated into the Owl and the Pussycat, Steig and De Paolo (Amos and Boris is one of the best written children's stories ever , and 'The Knight and the Dragon' is hard to beat), and now are exploring the wonderful universes of Captain Underpants, Nate the Great, and any anthology of myths and folktales I can get my grubby little hands on. The kids seem to enjoy themselves, and the people at work seem pretty impressed when I tell them I read maybe three, four books a night, all the way through.

A surprising development of the continuation of this Troxell family tradition (started by my mother), is how often I find myself surpassing the dozen or so books of maxims, theology, philosophy, and general worldly wisdom that I've devoured over the past few years, in order to find some kind of resonance in something out of 'Oh,the Places You'll Go!'; It's funny to me that after reading the likes Balthasar Gracian, Sun-Tzu, The Bible, and all kinds of buddhist thought, I find myself in tense moments reminding myself to 'remember that life is a great balancing act.' and getting pretty much all of the nourishment I need from it.

One of my favorite adult authors, Robertson Davies, puts it this way:

"The great book for you is the book that has the most to say to you at the moment when you are reading. I do not mean the book that is most instructive, but the book that feeds your spirit. And that depends on your age, your experience, your psychological and spiritual need."

And I agree. Children's books aren't presumptuous. They speak to something basic and, while perhaps not always pure--children can be little shits--something certainly more charming within us. Shel Silverstein never claimed Boethius as a predecessor, but his simple little verses and lyrics have left a far bigger impression on me than anything that poor, soon to be bludgeoned statesman ever could have.

I'm grateful to my kids for reawakening my love of stories. I was becoming one of those readers who sought out all of the important stuff; How frivolous to only read the classics.
I'm also grateful that my kids are here to share these rediscoveries with me; In them I have found on this re-journey both catalysts, and fellow travelers. Not only do I get to see things with the benefit of my own hindsight, but also with their new eyes. It's phenomenal.

So, if you've got some 'you time' today, and plan to catch up on a little reading, consider forgoing that hefty tome on some obscure country's revolution, put Oprah's newest bookclub downer back on the bookshelf; go up into your attic, or down into your basement, or into your kid's room, and try on something simultaneously new and familiar. I bet you'll be happy you did (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed!).

An Excerpt From My Interview With Stanislav Calhoun

S: Mr. Calhoun. Thanks for calling back.

C: Glad to be here.

S: So, the idea of this discussion is to run through your early public career, and hopefully come to some conclusions about your impact on the overall culture.

C: That's easy. I didn't have an impact.

S:...You got your start in FDR's administration, correct?

C: Well, I was a professor first. A public intellectual for awhile. Freelance. That was after I was fired from Princeton. But, yes, that's right. I was a…peripheral figure in the Brain Trust. No president before Roosevelt has reached out to academics in quite the same way,

S: He brought you in as he was rolling out the New Deal.

C: That's right. I was the head of an arm of the WPA. The whole point of the WPA was, essentially, to create jobs for people who'd lost everything during the depression; There was the famous program for laborers; one man digs a hole, the other fills it in...It even extended to writers. They had writers going around the country collecting slave narratives, writing travel books. It was a spectacular program.

S: And what was your function exactly?

C: I was in charge of creating a program for displaced philosophers.

S: Really? I've never heard of that. Was it difficult to find something to suit our nation's out of work philosophers?

C: Well, manual labor was out. Right from the start. They didn't have the temperament for collecting data or surveying...And meanwhile, these poor guys were wandering the country, offering musings on the nature of Beauty for soup coupons. It was tough. way...At least insofar as shaping public policy is concerned, is what I mean to say.

S: What did you come up with?

C: Actually, the suggestion that we ended up with was suggested by an undergraduate. I forget his name, but great work. Really.So the program we ended up with was this: One philosopher postulates an existential abyss, and the next philosopher jumps into it.

S:How'd it go?

C: Well, we pitched it to Roosevelt, and he loved it. But it was about that time that those fascists in the American Liberty League started throwing a hissy, so the program got cut before we could really launch it.

S: That's a shame.

C: Yes, but look at it this way: If the program didn't get cut, our coffee shops would be understaffed, and pizza joints all across the country would be going through a temp agency to get their drivers. So, you know. Things sort themselves out sometimes.

S: Mr. Calhoun, one final question before we close this interview. Do you call yourself an optimist?

C: Only when I can't find my glasses.