Sunday, August 05, 2007

Death of a Book and Other Items

About an hour ago, I woke up from a nap to find a telltale churning in my gut: I needed to shit, like, now. So I did. I was still a little groggy from my nap. As I moved to flush the toilet, I inadvertently bumped the top book from a pile of them I have sitting on the back of the toilet. As if by design, the book plummeted straight into the shit- and piss-filled water. Not quite sure what to do, I fished it out gingerly with two fingers and dumped it into a black plastic shopping bag. This book is dead.

The title? Please Kill Me: The Uncensored History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. The reason it was sitting on top of the book pile, despite the fact that I’ve read it at least three times over, is that along with doing this massive “Alt 70s” collection of MP3s, I got a yen to go back and re-read certain parts of the book, mainly the death of Johnny Thunders in New Orleans, years of heroin abuse finally nailing him in a lonely hotel room. It’s a perfect book that uses the slapdash effect of dozens of oral recollections to mimic the fractured and frenetic pace of that whole 70s punk/new wave scene.

It’s somehow appropriate that this is how the book dies. If I were younger, I’d dry the thing out, and recall this ignoble moment via the shit stains and vague piss odor on the book. But these days, it just makes more sense to throw it out. If I see a cheap used copy going around, I’ll surely snag it again.

(Note to Sheryl Crow: I used a lot more than one square of toilet paper to wipe my ass. Woman, you must take different shits than I do. Or is it just that celebrities shit ice cream, while the rest of us make do with filthy excrement?)

*

This time of year, August, is such a strange time. It’s still in my head that school starts soon, that feeling of summer slipping away. On one hand, I’m sick of summer and tend to be more of a cold-weather person. I enjoy wearing sweatshirts and such, perfect day to me is about 55 degrees, sunny and brisk.

On the other, August feels like the mid-20s in life: the sensing of a departure point, in this case the sense of youth one had as a child and teenager giving way to true adulthood. Most people mourn that (again, the moronic concept of a 25-year-old “feeling old” that I’ve heard dozens of short-sighted buffoons parrot over the years), whereas I’ve come to see you don’t have any context of a full life until you ditch that sense of childhood, or at least place it in the rear-view mirror. A properly aimed rear-view mirror is a worthwhile tool in life. Without one, you tend to think everything is much closer to you, when the reality is its miles behind you. And you understand that you’re always moving at whatever chosen speed, and sometimes you need to glance back to know where you’re going. I remember when Meat Loaf came out with the song “Object in the Rear View Mirror Appear Closer Than They Are” … and I was jealous because every time I saw that loaded message stenciled into the glass of a rear-view mirror, I thought that would make a great song title. Save I had a country song in mind more than bombastic Air Supply rock.

*

Headed back home to PA in a few days. Again, this time of year: on my morning run, I pass by the high school, which is a good quarter mile off in the distance, but I can hear two things: the sounds of padded hits and whistles as the football team goes through its grueling “two-a-day” August workouts, and the marching band practicing on an adjacent field, wheezing through a rancid version of “25 or 6 to 4.”

From my own life, and it’s hard to admit, this was also preseason golf practice! (I should have went out for football. I was coordinated enough, some of the guys in the neighborhood went, some didn’t, I held the social hierarchy against the sport, which I shouldn’t have.) The golf team … we were such a bunch of losers. But I can tell you that when you get losers like that together, they always have great fun. We got to golf about 36 holes a day for free at a local course, so our August was spent doing this all day, then afterwards driving/horsing around until we all went home for dinner around 4:00 or so. I can still recall Neck (nicknamed so because of his long neck) driving us around in his dad’s car with “Candy-O” by the Cars, “We Are the Robots” and “Autobahn” by Kraftwerk blasting from the Sparkomatic. Strange music choices, but it was pretty cool stuff for a bunch of teenage rednecks in the middle of Pennsylvania to be listening to circa 1981.

When I think of pure youth, that’s one of those things I recall: driving around aimlessly in a car with some very cool shit playing on the sound system, as a world which made very little sense to any of us passed by on the roadside. I love the few moments of adulthood where that sense of adventure and camaraderie is somehow captured once again – it doesn’t happen a lot, and I miss it.

*

Been watching a show on the History channel called Human Weapon. It’s two guys, one an ex pro football player, another an ultimate fighter, going around the world to learn different types of traditional self defense, and ending each show with one of them fighting a master in each art they learn.

There are very few drawbacks to the show. The football player is a good-sized guy, and you can tell he’s a good-hearted person. Unfortunately, he’s shaved his head and has a goatee. If you’re not already aware, this is a bullshit look favored by balding guys who try to intimidate others with their “tough” vaguely biker look. It’s an awful look that I generally see right through. But, every now and then, you will run into a genuinely tough guy sporting it – thankfully, this guy doesn’t have tattoos.

The other guy is smaller, more wiry. I get the impression he spends a lot of time practicing karate moves in a mirror, shirtless, while “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins plays on a sound system. He has that way about him. Overall, though, he does seem like a respectful guy – the two together make a good combination, sort of like an ass-kicking version of Lennie and George in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

Aside from that, the shows are great because they show the simple mechanics of some truly brutal moves, all sorts of nasty stuff that look really hurtful on paper. The most interesting part of the show is when they demonstrate the moves with computer-generated models, and you can see the basic physics that are the heart of these nasty, age-old practices. The thing is, you’d have to be dealing with someone standing still or totally oblivioius to get him in a position where you could pull these moves – the success is based on little resistance and a perfect combination of surprise and your strength completely over-powering that of an opponent. Which is rare.

What I love about the show: it strips the phony senses of bluster and machismo that we attach to self defense. Our whole culture is swallowing that deranged stance whole, via professional wrestling and ultimate fighting. There’s no real art: there’s kicking someone’s ass, dude! These guys find that in other countries, a lot of these martial arts are just as much religion or cultural history as they are self defense. You learn them the same way we’d study The Bible or learn history in school. We really don’t have any indigenous form of self defense in America, whereas these Pan-Asian cultures have these martial arts built into their cultural background for centuries. And it looks like there are some guys who somehow train for a living, in rice fields and dojos in the countryside ... it's very appealing for me to imagine that sort of pure, unfettered existence while typing this in New York!

They reduce it to an art form, one that you can use to bring genuine physical damage to another human being, if necessary. They also impart that sense of responsibility that goes along with learning such things. That you don’t learn it so much to hurt others as you do to perfect a skill and take some minor place in the history and maintenance of the art. Make no mistake, I’m sure any master in these martial arts will tell you how fatal some of these practices are. They had a karate master this week who broke three boards placed together with two fingers, and a baseball bat with a forearm blow. A guy with that sort of physical knowledge is not someone you want to mess with in any sense! And in our bozo culture, this meek-looking 70-year-old man would appear to be cannon fodder for some muscle-head creep looking to push someone around -- what a bad, bad surprise he would get with this guy.

It’s refreshing to see two guys, who I’m willing to wager are badasses in their own right, take this sort of approach to learning self defense. I get the impression these guys are having the time of their lives being paid to travel the world and dabble in martial arts they either know or are curious about. And I love the idea of both of them having balls enough to go up against a master of each art, knowing the best they’re going to do is not get knocked out. This show would be a disaster with the wrong approach, which is to say two blustery guys trying to prove how big their dicks are via martial arts: American flag do-rags and riding choppers through third-world streets while George Thorogood-style blues play on the soundtrack. But they’ve picked two low-key guys who are willing to start from scratch each time and have their asses kicked each week. That’s the right attitude.

1 comment:

Andy S. said...

"As if by design, the book plummeted straight into the shit- and piss-filled water."

Sir, you have defiled the Koran of punk. Gitmo is too good a place for you.