Friday, April 27, 2007

Old Dogs (and a new cat).

‘Round the dial here. Lots to cover. Bear with me.

Monday, April 16th was a bitch. First, of course, there was the Virginia Tech massacre. A horrible, horrible thing, to be sure. But a tragedy that the media completely and disgustingly exploited with its usual lack of tact, emphasis on the sensational and very un-journalistic editorializing. I mean, thank God the news networks used that sad music over the montages of the victims, otherwise I wouldn’t have known that it was a tragedy! As Homer Simpson once wisely pointed out, “The music tells us how to feel!”

And then I saw a CNN anchor tag a profile of Liviu Librescu, the professor who barricaded the door to his classroom before ultimately being killed, with the insightful and keen observation, “He’s as brilliant in death as he was in life.” What the fuck does that even MEAN? Are these people truly stupid? Isn’t there SOME kind of IQ test given to prospective anchors? (Yes, that was hypothetical).

Anyway, just when it seemed that the story was winding down and those poor VT students and faculty could start to heal away from the glare of the media spotlight, Cho’s package showed up at NBC News. And I guaran-damn-tee you, they were jumping up and down and high-fiving each other. But the moral indignation with which the other news outlets treated NBC (while simultaneously showing whatever video they could) was pure naked hypocrisy. Arguments as to Cho’s manifesto’s newsworthiness are irrelevant. Of COURSE it’s news. But its sheer existence, the fact of the action is enough. By showing it, they merely gave him exactly what he wanted. This was not journalism. It was sensationalism.

But maybe the worst thing about the news media coverage of the story was their seemingly pathological need to try to tell us WHY it happened and how we should feel about it. Aside from tagging the usual blame-suspects (our media, video games, Cocoa Puffs, whatever), these purported journalists took it upon themselves to get metaphysical. CNN went so far as to invite MD / spiritual guru Deepak Chopra to join them in a search for MEANING in the massacre. Why do bad things happen to good people? They actually had the balls to speak the words, “Where was God in all of this?” Wha--? Seriously?

Here’s a thought: After you’re done searching for meaning in this tragedy, might I suggest another valuable use of time: Flap your arms really fast, click your heels together and try to make the Earth spin backwards in time to stop Cho Seung Hui before he kills anyone.

I just don’t understand why people think that there has to be a REASON for not only good and bad things that happen in the world, but for our very existence. That things need to make sense, that there has to be some larger purpose, some cosmic balance, some explanation. I truly believe there’s not (a belief that I find frankly liberating). I simply feel we stupid humans are nothing more than a simple mathematical probability in the vast size of the universe. Something like us was bound to evolve. So here we are, dominating the planet for the time being, fucking it up big time with our destructive self-absorption and soon we’ll all be gone. With no ultimate punishment or reward. C’mon, join me, have a drink and let’s toast chance.

Anyway. On a more personal note, that same Monday I had another crisis to deal with. My Dad had a stroke. A minor one, thankfully, and he luckily had it in the confines of his doctor’s office, so he was immediately taken to the hospital and put on blood thinners. He stayed there for six days, at which point he was released and my brother Ken and I headed home for a visit.

But heading out was problematic. Earlier on Sunday, I wondered why my keychain lock fob was only eliciting a meager burp from the Jeep after I loaded up my bags. When Ken called to say that he had arrived at the Hoboken PATH station, I hopped in the car and turned the key… and nothing happened. My battery was dead. A few days earlier, right around dusk, I had glanced out my window and thought that it looked like there was a light on in the car, but did I go down and check? Nah. It was just the sunlight reflecting in the glass. Right.

Anyway, as luck would have it, my neighbor Ann was getting rid of some stuff at that very moment (I swear) including her jumper cables, for which, since she no longer owns a car, she has very little use. Her mother was there in her car to pick her up for brunch and so I had a battery to use as the boost for my dead juice. Considering it was a crappy situation, things were going pretty smoothly.

At first, anyway. For some reason at the age of 42, I still don’t feel grown up enough to be confident that I can jump start a car correctly. I always forget, is it positive to negative or positive to positive? That’s right, positive to positive. The thing about a congested town like Hoboken is that to jump a car, you have to close off a whole block. And so, we waited for my brother to arrive to help with the jump while Ann deflected traffic from turning onto my block.

But hooking up jumper cables should be a one man job. It’s simple enough, unless of course, you ignore the color of the clamps on the cables. I put the black clamp on the positive terminal and the red on the negative and then let the cables lie on the ground. Dumb, I know. Then Ken picked them up as I got into the car to rev the motor and hooked the other end of the cables to Ann’s Mom’s car. Red clamp on the positive and black on the negative, as is the norm… but not what I did on my end.

The car didn’t start, but smoke did come off of the battery. Ken quickly realized the mistake and corrected the placement of the jumper cables, after which my car promptly started up. Ann and her mother drove off and Ken climbed into the Liberty and all of a sudden we realized that the CD player was dead. And so were the locks. And the dome light. Ken checked a few key fuses, which seemed to be intact. No, this was something bigger. Oh, shit.

The usual three hour drive back to Lancaster was greatly extended, both literally (by the road work on the turnpike, which forced a two mile crawl to take an hour) and in perception, as the lack of music made the oh-so-common drive feel like an eternity. The anxiety was exacerbated by the thought that there was a good chance we had fried parts of the electrical system.

But there were bigger issues upon arrival home. Hey, Dad, how are you? Hugs. Relieved jokes. Small talk. And then dinner. Mom made turkey, green beans and mashed potatoes. As the food was placed on the table, Dad, having his first non-hospital meal in almost a week, asked the question: “Did you make any gravy?” after which he dumped salt on everything.

For well over a decade now, since my father’s quadruple bypass in 1994, Mom, Ken and I have been on him to take better care of himself. But truth be told, aside from quitting smoking, he hasn’t changed his habits at all (despite also being a borderline diabetic). He has an unrepentant sweet tooth and a German appetite for fat, salt and meat.

The very next morning, we caught him with chocolate smeared on his face, like a five year old boy with his hand in the cookie jar. And it happened again, the salt, the sugar, the candy, the meat, numerous more times over the mere forty hours we were home. He’s an old dog who will never learn new tricks, regardless of how much we wish otherwise. And no amount of begging, yelling, common sense talking, crying or anything is going to get him to change his ways.

But back to the Jeep. Monday morning, I awoke with the plan to drive to the Jeep dealership in Lancaster and beg them to squeeze me in and fix my poor sparky Liberty. I had talked to my cousin Andrew, a giant gearhead who’s flipped a Wrangler a few times in his life. He and Ken speculated that getting everything fixed could possibly cost around a grand.

But before I headed out, armed with a book to read while I waited, Ken and I gave another check to the fuses and discovered that one of the bigger ones was blown, a 15 amp fuse that controlled about a dozen things included all of the things that were not working. We hopped in the car and hit the AutoZone a couple of miles down the road and bought a new fuse, crossing fingers as we put it into the housing.

I turned the key in the ignition and the CD player sprung to life, Wild Cherry exhorting us to play that funky music, white boys. We jumped in the air and whooped with glee, relieved that our collective stupidity cost a mere five bucks to fix. Not a thousand. Which is better.

That night Pix, Tim, Andrew and Uncle Ken came over and we ordered subs (Dad suggested, “Hey, get a bag of potato chips!”) and ate on the breezeway and drank wine well into dark and it was lovely. Tuesday morning came, and after more drama at breakfast (Ham? Fried eggs? How about some chocolate afterwards?), Ken and I were on our way back to New York, musical accompaniment and coffee from PBM making the return trek far less stressful. The anxiety of the week wasn’t completely alleviated, but things were, for better or worse, back to normal (whatever THAT is).

At least for now.