| Target. Sunday. Four PM. Two moms, two daughters. The mothers are dressed well, late 40s; one daughter is a lanky teen wearing the standard sullen LIFE SUCKS face, eyes darting around to see if anyone catches her doing something as STUPID as looking for Christmas ornaments with her Mom. If you could intercede, you’d say “see this here? This item your Mom is considering for this year’s tree? In 25 years you’re going to come across this in a box of stuff when you’re cleaning out her house and it’s going to stop you dead just to look at it. Either you’ll recognize it, and be reminded of all those Christmases you had that you’ll never have that way again, or you won’t recognize it – in which case you’ll wonder what was so terribly important that a Christmas at home with your folks went unrecorded in your teenaged mind. Loss or guilt, your choice. Maybe both.” But of course if you do that, they call the manager. The other child was 13 or so, not yet infected with the bleak soul-sucking ennui of American Teenhood, but clearly looking forward to the day when everything would suck as much as it sucked for the cooler older girl.
“Well, scratch the bellybutton piercing then,” the older teen said in a flat sarcastic voice.
“I don’t know,” said her mom. “Where would you go?”
“You could look in the book,” said the other mom.
“They’re not in the book,” the teen spat.
“Well, maybe under tattoos?” the mom said.
Perhaps it’s just me, and my aversion to driving needles through your own flesh, let alone the flesh of your children, but the fact that you’re talking about calling a tattoo parlor on your teenager’s behalf ought to suggest you stick the chocks under this one’s wheels, no? But I can hear the moms talk: kids today, they all have one, we had pierced ears and that was a big deal, what’s the harm.
Eh. Whatever. I was in a bad mood anyway; Gnat had been churlish before I left, and I sulked off on my rounds Full Martyr Mode. Do we need Nyquil? Sure. And of course I’ll get it, because there’s alllllways Nyquil when someone gets sick, thanks to who? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you? To me, you say? Why, what’s this, gratitude? I didn’t recognize it. Come closer, gratitude, so I can feel your face; my eyes aren’t so good anymore. Then the grocery store, where I got everyone’s favorites, as if to punish them. Oh, the guilt they’ll feel when they see we have everything in the exact quantities we had last week. Ridiculous, I know. Bad mood.
No good reason for it, either. Unbecoming self-pity. I blame the HP scanjet 4600, which ceased to work Friday night. I had much scanning to do for the next book, and it crashed the computer every time I used it. Hmm. Well. I’d recently upgraded from 10.3.5 to 10.3.6; were there new drivers? There were. I installed, rebooted, tried again. Crash. Spent some time on the HP technical support line, which nailed down the problem – the gargantuan upgrade package did not eliminate the previous drivers, it just put new ones next to them and hoped everyone played nice. Once we had figured that out it was easy to get things working, but it took an hour I would have normally spent decompressing, and by the time I got to my Friday night pleasures – the matchbook, the new Bleat design, the noir movie – I had a curdled mood, and the sense that the weekend had already elapsed.
Cry-frickin’-baby. Could be worse. You could be inching through an alley in Fallujah with your back to the wall, you know. Spine yourself, moron. So I did the work, watched the movie, had a scotch, bade everyone goodnight, and went downstairs to watch TV until I lost consciousness on the sofa.
I watched the first episode of Battlestar Galactica’s new season. Not something I ever thought I would look forward to, given how much I loathed the original. I mean, if you were eight years old and watched it in your Underoos and have great love for it because it was part of your childhood, that’s fine. Sad, but fine. At the time we quasi-adults thought it was stupid, and an obvious ripoff of the Genius of George Lucas. (In retrospect, they just showed us what Lucas probably would have done if he’d had to produce a weekly series.) I watched the two-hour special on Sci-Fi only because Ronald D. Moore was connected to it. He could re-envision “My Mother the Car” and I’d watch it. (In his version, the “mother” would be some sort of holographically stored personality matrix based on the character’s dead mother, loaded into a GPS program to humanize the user interface; he buys a new car, hears his mother’s voice. As the season goes on the computer program based on his mother begins accessing emotions and memories the software writers did not intend to include, but were unintentionally added to the matrix due to the program’s cross-correcting synaptic relay duplication algorithms, or something like that. In Moore’s hands, it would be believable and touching.)
Anyway. The new series has not yet broadcast here in the states, but it’s coming. Bottom line: Yes. Yes, indeed. It’s very good. Even the Courtney-Love-as-Starbuck thing works. The slogan for the show: “The World is Over.” And that’s exactly how it feels. The show has a pervasive ache to its tone and timbre, and I applaud all involved. I can only hope that the people behind the 80s version of “Buck Rogers” watch it and soil themselves in shame. If Twiki ever went up against Jar-Jar I’d root for the Binks. Which says a lot. To be exact, it says “bidi bidi bidi.” Meesa hate that.
Saturday night. Party. Had a fascinating conversation with a Spanish woman – but you know, I should say “European woman.” Would a European say they had a conversation with a North Dakotan? We were talking about the EU, the rule of Brussels, the new constitution, etc., and I asked her if she felt more like a Spaniard or a European.
There’s a scene in the movie “Rob Roy” where someone is cleaved with a broadsword from shoulder to the bottom of his clavicle, and for a moment he stands there, bisected, agog. That was her reaction. Without the spattered viscera, of course. She said she felt more like a European. I asked what that meant, and I got a series of indistinct advantages: integrated currency, ease and cheapness of travel, and the ability to compete globally. Europe had to unite to compete, she said. It was admittedly hard, given the histories of the nations, but it had to be done.
I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but it seemed as if the United Europe was a concept admired for the advantages it presented over fractured nationhood, and little else. There was no sense of cultural cohesion – in fact no cultural identity at all aside from a vague subscription to generous welfare benefits and the need to Compete. Again, I don’t want to take too much from this, and my reaction was no doubt due to my own preconceptions, but: I got the sense, again, that Europeans deep down are starting to suspect they are screwed. The conversation about the welfare state led to the matter of the declining birthdate, which led to the matter of immigration, which dead-ended in the Big Uh-Oh Which Cannot Be Discussed. I wonder if this is how it works over there: when you run up against the issue of Muslim extremism in Europe, people are inclined to draw back and STOP, because the conversation will otherwise fork into two polarizing camps. The cultural history and heritage of Europe runs smack into the new post-national multicultural ideology overlaid over the ancient nations, and the disconnect is severe and worrisome. It'll be interesting to see if the end result of European "nationalism" ends up as cultural chauvinism after all, or whatever form of that idea they can muster at this late date. What do we stand for? We stand for not being Islamic radicals. It's not enough to sustain a culture in the long long run, but for the short term, it'll do.
Later I was talking with an architect, who described how housing is a right in Europe, unlike America, where there is no such right.
“But it’s a right granted by the state,” I said.
“Yes, of course.”
“So if the state grants it, the state can take it away.”
He was baffled. “Yes, of course, but they wouldn’t.”
Mm-hmm. Yeah, that never happens. Anyway, the food was great and all the people were beautiful; the hosts were charming and it was a fabulous party. I wish we could have stayed, but the babysitter had to be relieved.
The babysitter was about Gnat’s age when we first met her – she lived next door to our old house on Girard. A little girl running around laughing and playing, full of endless glee and delight. They moved away after a few years, but lo: she showed up last summer as a counselor at Gnat’s day camp, and we hire her for the occasional night out. A little shy and quiet; not a trace of Teen Disease. It’s hard to find kids like that. They're not in the book. But that doesn't mean they don't exist. By the millions. You hope.