Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Malicia, Part Two

It was a week later into October. I had to snort. I just got another notice from the Comptroller's Office at school telling me I had better have the balance of my semester's bill paid, or... huh. Didn't actually specify the "or else" part of it.

I didn't know it then, but it was going to be a semi-annual ritual for me: at registration, I go and pick up the bill for my tuition and expenses. The Registrar's work study flunkie tells me I can't register for classes unless I put up at least half the balance due. I can't put up the money, since my student loan disbursement is being held in Financial Aid, pending my registration for classes.

It was the same circuit, over and over, in August, and again in January. Finally, the Financial Aid director stepped up and saved the day. I did appreciate his intervention, but it did seem a trifle like he was rather enjoying the debt of gratitude many of us "owed" him for cutting through the red tape. But the nightmare wasn't quite over, yet. Around about he middle of October, here came the notices demanding the second half of the semester's tuition, which of course, depended on getting the next disbursement of the student loan, which didn't come until about the first of next month.

Endless cycle of "I made arrangements," "Yes, but I see a payment is due," "But I can't make the payment until I get the loan money," "Can't you pay just the $500?" If I could make such a payment, I wouldn't be relying on student loans and work study to pay for school. I'd just tell Dad, "Yo! School's gonna cost ya' this semester... I got this astronomy class with a killer lab, and stagecraft's gonna need some supplies... Oh, and while you're at it, dorm life's a drag, and there's a great up Union Avenue..."

It worked out in the end, really, but there I was, cutting a class that I had gotten the gist of, but wasn't too comfortable skipping, standing in line outside the Comptroller's Office. I counted the holes in one of the ceiling tiles, and made a ball-part estimate of how many holes there were in the ceiling altogether, guessing how many tiles there were across the width of the hall, and how many tiles spanned the distance between the support beams, how many support beams... I started jotting a few of the numbers in the pocket notebook I kept in the breast pocket of the wool coat that was smelling distinctly like a dog wading out of some shallow part of the Puget Sound.

In front of me, an excited voice that sounded like being on a runaway roller coaster felt informed the cashier just what she could do with her billing statement. There were pleas for logic, threats, and I think I heard just the slightest tremor of a proud young woman about to lose face in front of about half a dozen freshmen and sophomores, and another three or four entry-level bureaucrats in the office.

I shook my head, trying to cover my nervousness with a look of disbelief. I don't remember what I was thinking, what held my attention so, as I had lost interest in counting the holes in the acoustic ceiling tiles, but I was suddenly surprised to find I was next in line to the next available cashier, right next to this storm of... purple.

I had nearly forgotten a brief encounter on the cobblestones of the Proctor district. What I did remember wouldn't even have been much of a dream, only that there was a presence around me since that night only about a week ago. I looked at her, from behind, and tried to get a guess of what she looked like up front. Most of the intricacies of her figure were obscured in the draping of a long, very dark purple coat, topped with a bobbed mop of burgundy-tinted raven black hair.

I stood there for an instant, taking in an almost nostalgic sensation in the moment. The assistant behind the desk, dressed in the classic Wall Street wannabe white shirt sleeves and a silk tie that overstated his position, cleared his throat, "Can I help you?" I fumbled a bit, passing the manila folder of my financial aid papers across the counter top.

"Uh, yeah. I..." Before I knew it, there was the Director again, reaching over to look over the billing statement. "This one is a 'Code 7a,'" he instructed. The assistant seemed a little puzzled, until the Director launched into a stream of office lingo, explaining procedures to this power tie.

Painless, I wondered, as I coasted out of the Comptroller's. But don't they talk to each other? Financial aid, comptroller, registrar?

I stepped on a sheet of paper, and I glanced down. Yes, obviously, someone dropped it. I picked it up, and looked for a name, maybe I could place whose it was...

It seemed an odd chance to take, just calling out a name on a piece of paper, and I could have just dropped it off to campus mail down the hall, or maybe taken it back inside, but that could have taken days or weeks, and this might have been important, this... billing statement.

"Mary?" I spoke up, barely louder than a private conversation. No response from anyone. Try the whole name,maybe? "Mary Alicia?" I called. I got a few glances, but no positive I.D. I turned to look behind me, perhaps, and now I was startled by a figure, all in shades of purple, a damp, bobbed hairdo like a flapper, partly plastered against a pale complexion. A round face, with a strong chin and a sharp, pointed nose.

And piercing violet eyes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

So it goes...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

They Call It, "Nostalgia"

I went to download some stuff from iTunes, and somehow I came across a number of selections that lead me on a superficial trip back about 20 years...

I thought it was funny, reading some of the reviews of such bands as Wang Chung. I love the way the present generation, or perhaps it was a fellow Child of the '80's who generally labeled music from that time as "cheesy."

I'm not about to defend it from subjective perceptions like that. I can't. Of course it was cheesy, at least the pop stuff was. Sure, every generation, every decade, has a handful of truly talented composers and lyricists that do wonders to capture the essence of a particular time. Sometimes they define it, sometimes they're just exceptions to the usual glut of gooey sentimentality and clones of a handful of other popular acts. The point is, they are few and far between, and they are often the "redeemers" of a generation from the merciless attacks of the new young 'uns.

No. Like every other decade of pop, the 1980's didn't have just one sound. Even in specific genres, there was no ONE sound, although it seemed as though if one could stop time, a taxonomist could do a doctoral thesis on trying to classify certain genres, sub-genres, and movements within genres... all somehow unique from the others.

Well, there was a certain sound quality in bands like Wang Chung, and the occasional riff from Duran Duran that suggested a certain... loneliness. "Dance Hall Days" just had this echoing quality that felt like it was being played in an empty, dilapidated hall, much like the way the accompanying video suggested. "Rio" by Duran Duran had a wailing saxophone solo that felt the same way. It is at once eerie, and a bit lonely. It seemed to ironically express a certain alienation that even the bands that specialized in angst couldn't quite convey.

That's about how I remember the 1980's. Sure, it was a time of celebration, but it was a celebration that really didn't have a lot of cause. I think as a country, America was just finally sick of feeling bad, after Watergate, Vietnam, the Energy Crisis, and the U.S. Embassy siege in Tehran. Like almost every other country or civilization that was down in the dumps, we elected a President who promised everything was going to be just fine, again.

Did they get better? They seemed to, and we seemed to believe many of our worries had just melted away. There were, however a number of problems we seemed to be sweeping under the rug, though, and they did seem to be creeping in, even as we were partying like it was 1999.

There was this problem with the homeless. There were a lot of vets who felt they didn't get the respect they felt was due them (for the most part, at least as a culture, we seemed to have addressed that, finally giving Vietnam vets at least a "welcome home," and a number of cultural tokens to cheer them up for coming back from an unpopular war that amounted to naught. But I digress); AIDS was becoming a serious health issue, although when we first heard about it, it seemed like it was just a "gay" disease, and drug use was starting to get to be more of a problem, despite our First Lady's "just say 'No'" campaign. Oh, yes. AND we had a President who seemed fanatical (and/or senile) enough to press the dreaded "red button" that would annihilate life on earth...

Maybe that was part of it, then? Despite this cheery, "let's just party" attitude, perhaps we did have a sense that all was not necessarily well, and like the indestructible homicidal maniac with the collection of mundane objects-turned-lethal-weapons, these problems were just outside the perimeter, waiting to strike.

Under the cocaine highs (this is a broad generalization. I never did coke. For one thing, I never had the money or the connections.), and just beneath the surface of the impeccable (but sometimes gaudy) fashions and the perfectly coiffed hair, in the undertones of the catchy dance beats, there might have been the slightest sense that something was wrong, like a collective depression. That would certainly explain the 1990's with all the grunge and the angry girl bands... a party that long is going to have a helluva hang-over.

In another way, we never really lost sight of it either, though. Taking dramas like "Miami Vice," and To Live and Die in L.A., that depicted a growing drug problem, and the Columbian cartels were getting stronger, and most cops who mattered were all on the take, yes, actually, we were aware of this, despite the glamorization of he situation. It seemed the soundtracks of these hopeless-feeling scenarios were reminders that, hey, this is a problem. Sure, Sonny Crockett drives a speed boat on the job, dresses in cutting-edge Armani (with the black t-shirt underneath), and looks great, sporting that eternal three-day growth of beard, but this guy is always one step away from being screwed, big time.

Sooner or later, we had to crash. We could only drown out the outside noise and numb the ache for so long before we realize we could stand to try to address these issues. Rap and Grunge began emerging right about when I should have graduated college in the first place. Well, rap had been around a while, with all that breakdancing we thought was going to save inner-city youths from violent gang wars. As for grunge, it was a new reformation of pop music. There were only so many hair band ballads and emotionless dance tunes meant to be heart-felt love songs (we also deluded ourselves into believing "Disco" was dead and buried) the half-generation behind me could take before saying, "This does not jibe with the world view I'm being fed." So, I guess, instead of further ignoring the angst like we did, the new kids chose to wallow in it, wearing it like we wore collar-up polo shirts with our 501's and penny loafers.

I imagine the nostalgia sets in when I realize the music today isn't mine. I'm not the target demographic the record execs are aiming for. Matter of fact, the record execs really don't know what to do with themselves, anymore. But instead of being able to retreat to these same sounds that were my shield from my parents way back when, and my cushion between me and my peers, and the insulation that filtered out news of the "Doomsday Clock," the music seems not to convey alienation, but it is now someone else's shield from me. It now alienates me, leaving me to wonder if and when I ever had a common thread with these people after me.

Nostalgia, however, is a dangerous drug. They retreat behind THEIR music, I slink behind mine, and before we know it, there are TWO walls between us. No wonder generations cannot relate.

I had a point to this, but I seem to have run out of steam.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Good Easter!

I unofficially conducted my own little Easter vigil last night, staying up far later than I should have, following streams of consciousness on the Web.

One of the last things I came across, oddly enough, shortly after Midnight, was a clip from on Jesus Christ Superstar on Youtube.

The Gospel According to Judas, you could say, long before the actual texts were discovered. A lot of people say this movie is blasphemy, but I have to stop and wonder about that. Is it, really blasphemy to have a character speaking what almost everyone since A.D. 33 has been thinking?

"Everytime I look at you, I don't understand how you could let the things you did get so out of hand..." To this day, I don't know that anyone understands Jesus completely. Theologians, amateur and professional, try to "package" him (as one of my old pastors called it), others obfuscate him to where He probably wouldn't know Himself, still others put Him on a pedistal without ever looking for what He was about.

Just from what we have about Him in the Bible, is it really possible to blasphemy against Him? In bodily life, He took the form of a humble carpenter. He was not a born into the Royal Household, and He shunned the company of the local High and Mighty. He chose, rather, to surround Himself with the very dregs of society: the lower working class, the destitute, and even those of means were branded "sinners" in the society of the day. It's hard to grasp, having grown up in a nation that prides itself for being egalitarian, but admit it, aren't there just certain people you'd rather not let your children play with? Yes, those people. He hung out with them.

So, again, is it remotely possible to blaspheme against such a person? Against the image that has built up around him in just under 2000 years, sure, but to try to strip away the centuries of dogma surrounding Him, to try to get to know Jesus on terms we can cope with, is that so wrong? To get behind the Orthodox icons with the metalic halos and the blue-eyed Max von Sydow depictions, to try to find the man who grew up in a small town in a backwards province of the Roman Empire, to actually see the man who took upon Himself the lowest possible role in life, that of scapegoat not only for His family, His tribe, or His race, but for all of humanity?

How do you blaspheme against that?