Friday, November 24, 2006

"Don't be surprised when a crack in the ice appears under your feet"

I knew our relationship was over when he wanted to leave halfway through the movie.

The cinema manager had severely underestimated the film’s popularity, and our queue wrapped around an entire section of the Dayton Mall’s upper deck. I fretted that the show would sell out before we reached the ticket window—back then there was no such thing as buying movie tickets in advance—and Bill had seemed anxious that it would sell out too. He acted like he had really wanted to see it. What had happened in the span of an hour?

As we waited in line, I recognized classmates Kim and Jenny among the steady stream of dazed and blinking cinemagoers exiting Cinema 3’s previous showing. I waved and they rushed over, their words spilling out in rapid-fire praise for the film. We spoke only for a few minutes before our queue began to move, but their synopsis had made me even more eager to see The Wall.

Bill began fidgeting after only ten minutes, and seemed to grow more upset as the film progressed. His outward display of displeasure mimicked an obsessive compulsive: huff, shift, cross arms, snort, uncross arms, huff, shift, cross arms, snort, uncross arms, ad nauseam.

I, on the other hand, could hardly blink for fear of missing something. When he leaned over and whispered, “Hey, are you ready to leave or what?” I could hardly believe my ears. I shook my head without tearing myself away from the unfolding scene on screen, which just seemed to add to his annoyance.

He continued huffing and squirming for the remainder of the film, crossing and uncrossing his arms in a display of exaggerated exasperation.

As we walked back to his car after the movie, any attempts I made at conversation were met with stony silence. I puzzled over what could have pissed him off this time, the scenes still flickering brightly in my mind. Was it the movie itself? Disapproval for Pink’s drug use? Did the sexual animation make him uncomfortable? Or was it that he identified a bit too closely with Pink: a child adrift without a father, the claustrophobia of an overbearing mother, suffering abuse by relatives at a tender age. It was all there, minus the rock-star drug habit. Of course, deep down I knew it wasn’t the movie. It was me.

We drove home in sullen silence, and I mentally prepared myself for what was to come. We’d been dating for about six months, and I was getting used to the routine: go out, get yelled at. What would it be this time? Raging jealousy that some guy might have looked my way? Was it yet another bout of Puritanical righteousness and he’d decided my clothing was somehow inappropriate? Had I perhaps not laughed hard enough at one of his jokes? Really, it could be anything, and as the car pulled into the driveway, I braced myself for the onslaught.

The fights always began the same. Bill would give me the silent treatment while he ruminated and fumed over some infraction, then he’d begin by saying “we need to talk,” which really meant “I’m going to yell at you again.”

And then he’d drop whatever bomb he’d built up in his head.

The barrage that followed The Wall can basically be summed up in one word: insecurity. Apparently when Kim and Jenny saw us standing in line, I had let go of his hand to wave at them. In accordance with the elaborate set of rules Bill kept in his head, I was not allowed to let go of his hand for any reason. To do so meant I didn’t love him. Oh, he could let go of MY hand if the need arose, but not vice versa.

And according to Bill, I’d not only let go of his hand while in line at the cinema, I’d also done it earlier as we were walking through the mall to get to the cinema! He’d been holding my right hand, and I let go of it to cover a sneeze.

Surely, I rationalized, covering a sneeze was grounds for freeing up a hand, but he shot back that I could have used my left hand for that. The more I tried to reason with him, the more illogical his argument became. I was accused of “pretending to sneeze” so that I could “purposefully let go of” his hand because there was “a better looking guy passing us” and I “didn’t want him to know I was with” Bill.

A derisive snort from me was all it took. He smacked me across the face. Hard. Stunned, I looked at him, completely bewildered, and despite the rage I felt rising inside, my eyes welled with tears.

Immediately he was all apologies and sorrow. He’d never do it again. He’d only done it because I’d pushed his buttons. He loved me so very, very much, and why couldn’t I just behave and love him like he loved me? Why did I have to keep screwing everything up?

I fumbled with the door handle and managed to get it open, and ran, The Wall still resounding in my head:

Did you see the frightened ones?
Did you hear the falling bombs?
Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter when the promise of a brave new world unfurled beneath a clear blue sky?

Did you see the frightened ones?
Did you hear the falling bombs?
The flames are all gone, but the pain lingers on.

Goodbye, blue sky

Goodbye, blue sky.
Goodbye.

Monday, November 13, 2006

"Am I too old? Is it too late?"

One of the best perks of working in the Record Store was getting to listen to music all day, every day. Not everything we had to listen to could be considered "good," as The Sav's taste in music was mystifyingly bad, but he didn't hang around the shop any longer than he absolutely HAD to, so his selections were suffered until he had left the store and we could see his rusty brown van putting its way up the street.

I listened to a lot of music back then--we all did--and each workday brought with it the chance to hear new stuff, and to turn on fellow co-workers and the punting public to new, great sounds.

We'd hide the vinyl in our cars, waiting for the moment when The Sav's van turned the corner onto Burgville Road, headed for home, when we would dash in turn outside and grab up our armfuls, gleefully hauling them inside the store for the perusal of our co-workers. Later the vinyl switched to CD's, but the ritual was the same.

We always tried to bring in stuff we knew the others might like, rather than what we ourselves liked. And in the spirit of comeraderie we always pulled our selections from another co-workers pile, rather than our own. So when it was Reynolds' turn to choose, he might pull something from my list, or from TC's, or Philberts--but never from his own. It was just an unspoken agreement, and served us well.

One album that was never in dispute was Pink Floyd's The Wall. It was the soundtrack to every Saturday night that I can remember working at the record store. We played the store's battered white label test pressing until the turntable went to the great gig in the sky, and then we switched to my Mobile Fidelity CD copy. Every Saturday night at 9 p.m. we put it on, and for the next two hours were transported through the fertile, tormented minefield of Roger Waters imagination, riding the pure ringing tones of Gilmore's floating fretwork.

It has to be the most listened to CD in my collection. Give or take the rare Saturday night off, my calculations tally 576 times The Wall was played while I worked there.

At this point in my life, I doubt that record will be surpassed.

Friday, November 10, 2006

"See the way the shadows come together?"

Long autumn shadows made me loom large on the freshly mown lawn, and I would stand transfixed, my elongated shadow-self reaching from the sidewalk all the way to the covered swimming pool, my shadow-head bent at an angle upon the corrugated, round metal wall. Lifting my foot, I made note that shadow-self was wearing platforms. The higher I raised my foot, the bigger the shoe became, and soon I could see Elton John with little bird legs, stepping from the sidewalk onto a yellow brick road, via a poster tacked to crumbling concrete. But my yellow brick road was a green lawn, the concrete an invisible wall separating sidewalk from grass.

Dad called to me, broke the spell, and I ran to him and climbed into the back seat of the car. He always smelled so good after he’d gotten home and had a shower. Clean and spicy. Mom opened the passenger door and with the push of a button moved the seat magically forward, giving my little brother the room to wiggle in next to me. Another press and the seat moved back to its former position.

There was a lot of magic in Dad’s car—windows that raised and lowered with a button instead of an old chrome crank like we’d had in our old blue car--the car Dad had given Aunt Jewel when we got the new one; seat belts that recoiled when unclasped; wire in the rear window that warmed to melt ice and clear fog; and a thread-thin antenna encased in the front windshield that brought music into the car, except when we drove beneath highway overpasses or sailed through a city with tall buildings, or when we passed the the Land of Giant Radio Masts that Dad informed us belonged to The Voice of America. The name filled me with awe, and I stared at the tangle of towers intently whenever they grew near, hoping to hear snippets of what America sounded like. Usually, it sounded like static, interspersed with Merle Haggard or George Jones or Ronnie Milsap.

Friday, November 03, 2006

"Shop as usual. And avoid panic buying."

Last night I finally got to see my media splice'n'dice heros: Negativland.

Negativland are difficult to categorize. They have been putting out records for over 25 years, but they can't be classified as a "band." They have a long-running radio show (now online and downloadable) called Over The Edge, but they're not DJs.

They are, I suppose, multi-media geeks. Studio producers extraordinaire. The kings of cultural cut'n'paste.

Picture if you will a stage. On the stage are three radio production mainstays:
stage right=turntables'n'mixing board
front center=special effects board and microphone
stage left=three cart machines and dozens of carts. (A cart is is an endless loop cartridge that looks like an 8-track tape and is/was heavily used in radio to air advertising, promos and station jingles.)
Behind them loomed a large "On Air" light.

These are the weapons of Negativland.

Our three media manipulators came on stage looking very much like the info techies they are, wearing slacks, dress shirts and ties, with photo IDs bearing the Universal Media Netweb logo clipped to their breast pockets. We had been handed blindfolds upon entering the show to enhance the aural experience of "radio listening," but few bothered to use them, myself included. I was too interested in seeing them recreate their radio show live, and besides, I could always close my eyes if needed.

The show, a scathing look at Christianity in America, was called "It's All In Your Head." I thought they were brilliant. Having worked in a production studio in college, I know just how difficult it is to get things right on a first take. Negativland did it flawlessly, and seamlessly, for two hours. They plundered everything from Baptist children's songs to the 700 Club to right-wing conservative Christian radio call-in shows, all manipulated to reversal of context, with delightfully wicked results.

Our boys certainly know how to push buttons, figuratively and literally.