Monday, January 16, 2006

In the year that we have been training our eyes on the outside world—on the ephemera, media, culture, and general goings-on of those whose very being is our U.S. zeitgeist at large—we have surely made out the prima facie case for becoming a hermit. At any given time, the reigning American consciousness is so creepily disquieting that it’s all we can do to keep from spending all daylight hours in the john with little more than a copy of The New Yorker1and our ankle-binding skivvies to defend us.

Yes, friends, we are scared and we are weak and we would very much like to succumb to simply hiding from it all.

But we do not. Why?

Good Night, and Good LuckThe idealistic answer is that facing up to the world’s most disturbing tendencies is, well—it’s what we do. By facing them and writing about them and exposing their inner absurdity, we perform a public service of Murrowesque2 stature.

But the honest answer is simply this: we face outward at the world because it is even more utterly disquieting for us to stare at ourselves. Our own bodies—ourselves3— are monoliths of disquietude. As ever at our back we hear time’s wingèd Hooptie drawing near, things change physiognomically; things appear and change color and drift and buckle such that we are in a state of near-constant fear and fascination. Are these things normal? Are they signs of decrepitude caused by youthful indiscretions or our poor moral standing? Should we call a doctor or, more likely, begin performing Asian rituals of self-mutilation that might bring us both spiritual enlightenment and a smoother overall appearance? Is there a Yu-Gi-Oh! card of Dorian Gray we might play to rack up some serious damage points?4

Rather than truly ponder these questions, we stare outward, considering the career of Jennifer Aniston or mulling the failure of American industry to create a decent battery. But this week, we face our own hard realities: the disquieting modern trends on our very own bodies. Look on, ye mortals … and despair.

Skin TagsLittle Skin “Tags” that Grow for No Apparent Reason
One day, there they are: little flappies of skin that appear out of nowhere, barely a sixteenth-of-an-inch long and normally colored, that neither itch nor hurt nor disturb in any true way. Except that they are there. We point them out to doctors in some distress. “What are these things, Doc?” And he calls them “skin tags” and assures us that they are nothing to worry about. Leave them alone. (Right.) More appear, then some vanish, then more appear but flappier and somewhere else. We find this bodily trend so disquieting not because we suspect they are cancerous or evil but—quiet the opposite—because we suspect they are not. We suspect, quite simply, that they have no purpose. They just ARE—like an appendix or like Regis Philbin. They are capillary-filled syllogisms proving that nature is random and weird and wants for any True Order. We stare at them each morning coming out of the shower (one of us has a festering community of “tags” beneath one underarm and wonders if they are somehow “fed” by Old Spice or Mennon products) and feel their sophomoric chill.

Pop RocksSwallowing
It ain’t rocket science. Gulp, and you got it. Then, suddenly, one day: Acid reflux! Spastic colons! What the … ? A digestive system that has hauled us through wasted youths of Fool’s Gold Loaves5 and Checker’s drive-thrus begins to act just a leetle beet tetchy—and then the whole damn thing is off-kilter. Can’t talk. Throat hurts. Voice gets weird. What the hell? Is the warranty run out on our G.I. tracts? Are they voided by the aftermarket rims we put on our duodenums the second we drove ’em off the lot? Maybe we swallowed two many Pop Rocks and Dr. Peppers when we were kids, but—hooo-eeee—we suck us down some Pepto up in here some nights. And if you whine about this to your personal primary-care physician, all he’s got for you are those little purple pills at about $4.99 a day.6 In any case, what once was unconsidered and automatic now tends to unpredictability and truculence. Fie on you, gastrointestinal tract! Fie on your unfulfilled promise, your casual dereliction of duty!

Unpredictable Nostril Traffic
We both find ourselves increasingly afflicted by the sensation of having something in our noses that keeps us from breathing freely—but it’s not enough of a booger to blow or pick out, so we are just kind of vaguely uncomfortable. There’s all manner of knuckle massaging and shirtsleeve scraping as we realize that, to do something about it would mean the kind of serious (and time-consuming and mirror-requiring) excavation which we are just not comfortable letting you witness. We have heard it advanced that this is actually the result of the same hair loss that afflicts our glowing pates—in other words, that long ago tiny hairs within our nostrils once performed the thankless job of moderating and regulating the disposition and motility of our noses’ inhabitants, but now, with them gone like so many bouncers abandoning their doors to moosh on hot chicks in the back by the bar, their absence has led to a true free-for-all, nose-traffic-wise. Let’s just say no one is minding the velvet rope. And we are just not of an age to carry Kleenex, or, God forbid, a handkerchief7.

Outer-Ear Crustiness
Dixie CarterFolks, you knew this was going to be an unflinching examination of issues lesser columnists fear to evoke, and if you’re still with us after the wattles and boogers then we’re not going to hold back just because of your mounting queasy disquietude. So here it is straight up: our no-longer-youthful ears are creepily coated in some kind of hardened schmutz. Are you thinking, “The rest of this crap I could imagine happening to me some day, but not the ear schmutz!”? Well, think again. Our dermatologists say O.E.C. is some sort of normal sebaceous thing, something pretty likely coming your way, like sagging jowls and liking Dixie Carter’s body of work—only sooner. We understand your feelings, folks—it just GROSSES us OUT. And there’s no point scrubbing (heaven knows we are ear scrubbers—thanks, Mom) because it just comes back tomorrow. Perhaps this is tangentially related the nose-hair thing, but it feels like mounting evidence of creeping inability to stem the effluvia of metabolism which heretofore had been pretty easy to keep on the other side of the dike.

Oh no, we’ve said too much? We haven’t said enough.8

Gang of 4Eye-Alignment Drift
This one is subtle but, for exactly that reason, perhaps the most disquieting of all. We are, say, in the bathroom of the Cat’s Cradle after the Gang of Four show, still vibrating with punk energy and a renewed sense that—fuck yeah!—we still have it. Then, say, we half-look at ourselves in the Cat’s bathroom mirror—as in we look just peripherally, the way you might look at a woman in restaurant during an anniversary dinner with your wife—to confirm that we still scan as youthful and edgy and punk and committed to the overthrow of the whole bourgeois shitstem (which, if you have any doubts about your commitment to said revolution, go get you a G.O.4 album: they still wail, at least for a bunch of old codgers). And, at this moment, we find our eyes aren’t facing the exactly the same direction but are just a millimeter off true, making us look kind of like Krazy Kat. We attribute this, as we would any alignment problem, to insufficiently addressed potholes in the byways of our fair cities, but damned if we know to whom we should haul ass to straighten this shit out and lock it down but for good.

Krazy KatPerhaps this is only the most visible of our alignment issues9, and perhaps the whole of these disquieting personal trends can be attributed to things shaking loose—the inevitable result of many years of hard riding and probably insufficient preventative maintenance. Perhaps all we can really do is continue to add fuel additives and put off changing the timing belt in hopes that we do not, in the evocative industry term, “throw a rod”10 anytime soon. Trading in these heaps, alas, is not yet possible.

Anyway, that’s our personal story, noble readers. Stay tuned—and take your Flintstones, they’re good for you.

Wallace, D.F. (2006). Consider the Lobster and Other Essays. New York: Little, Brown. 11

Next Edition: A Very Special Guest sits in for Ed and Will!

1 We realize that little in this world deserves some kind of all-out parody and mockery/dissection like The New Yorker. Its single-panel cartoons have grown precious as well as willfully obscure (should a comic panel, really, ever make reference to Susan Sontag?), its articles about fraud in the Turkish coffee market are often so long that you have to read them in seven or eight sittings, and its deeply pretentious cultural coverage no longer is saved by the presence of Pauline Kael. (O Pauline, now that you are gone, we are left with only Terry Gross to fantasize about when we are imagining ourselves to be high-end liberal Don Juans running amok in the plasticine fantasy world of East Coast intellectuals. Maybe Terry Gross and Roz Chast. But you get the idea.) And yet, ultimately, The New Yorker avoids such a fate because: NEARLY EVERY OTHER MAGAZINE FOR SALE TODAY SUCKS IN A DEEPLY PROFOUND WAY, especially Rolling Stone, which heartrendingly once taught us what it was for a magazine not to suck before caving to occlusion by "lush photos of puffy-lipped girls with their Diesels half-unzipped," etc. 1a It is taking all our might to refrain from launching into a yet more extended footnotes-within-a-footnote investigation of the horror that is Harper's and the policy-wonk-and-no-more-fiction editorial blandness of The Atlantic Monthly. Thus, you see, The New Yorker is essentially the only magazine we can bear without growing a disquietude boil of such high-volume, surface tension-creating volcanic anger that it (The New Yorker) remains our extended toilet-stay choice, hands down.

1a Better bring a canteen; we're not a paragraph in and we are already three clicks from the margin vz. footnotes. The foregoing puffy-lipped / Diesels-unzipped Fantasia is lifted whole-cloth from an essay of David Foster Wallace (2006) 1 that he wrote while putatively representing Rolling Stone on the campaign trail, the decline of which once-hip weekly he nails thus: "I will profess that I was absurdly proud of my Rolling Stone press badge and of the fact that most of the pencils on the campaign staff referred to me as "the guy from Rolling Stone." I will confess that I even borrowed a friend's battered old black leather jacket to wear on the trail so I'd better project the kind of edgy, vaguely dangerous vibe I imagined an R.S. reporter ought to give off. (You have to understand that I hadn't read Rolling Stone in quite some time.) " (p. 158).

1a1 If you think for a moment that our cascading footnotes, our aggressively literate deployment of the basest neologism, and our affection for baroquely curlicued dependent clauses is something we invented, then we are agog; you are the first person to read the Y.P.R. who is not a drooling acolyte of D.F.W. If you are in fact that person, put down your computer immediately and go read him for a fortnight. We'll wait here.

Miss Naomi Watts2: Have you seen the Edward R. Murrow movie, Good Night, and Good Luck, that is currently stalking Oscars in your local theaters thanks for the good efforts of the surprisingly substantive former-hunk, Mr. George Clooney? We hope that you have and that it informs you in an entertaining way. As for us: thanks, but no. We do not know why this film--by all accounts very fine indeed and bound for Academy honors up the wazoo--so thoroughly does not appeal to us, but we only know that it assuredly repels us. We imagine men with cigarettes in the studios of CBS fretting about the threats to America, great suits being worn and the men extremely high-minded and serious and the camera zooming in on their cigarette-poked lips and carefully arched brows, and we say: No. We say: Where is the giant ape and the invitingly waiflike sensuality of Naomi Watts? You check out Clooney. We shall stare at Naomi in rapt wonder, conjuring her performance in Mulholland Drive and knowing it was intended solely for us.

Our Bodies, Our Selves3 We are both old enough and young enough to be: (a) deeply familiar with the classic feminist health screed Our Bodies, Our Selves, (b) deeply creeped out by the drawings in said classic feminist health screed which depict sex to be something even more disturbingly hairy and hippie-dippy strange than whatever sex really was like between our parents, and (c) deeply ashamed that we have spent a couple of, er, private moments with said feminist screed doing things that should normally be done while thinking about Naomi Watts, see supra, Note 2. The most recent edition of Our Bodies, Our Selves seems to largely consist of the suggestion that all people be continually encased in some kind of all-weather full-body condom for maximum protection and maximum oddball pleasure. Let it be so.

4 O.K., we totally fluffed that one: neither of us knows dick about Yu-Gi-Oh! but apparently one of us knows a little too much about Dungeons & Dragons.

5 O.K. Against our better judgment, we propose a contest: the first reader to send us a correct definition and etymology of "Fool's Gold Loaf" will get the loving George Motisher treatment (See D.M.T.: "Interacting with the Smarty-Pants Yet Ultimately Insufferable Public Edition") in a future D.M.T. Ready, set--GO.

Prilosec6 This particular medical miracle, one of the cash cows upon which the pharmaceutical industry is galloping its way into the wallets of your congressional representatives to assure that the U.S. does not institute anything as sane and moolah-saving as single-payer national health insurance, also gives you the trots. If you've watched any N.F.L. games this season, you know it as "Prilosec," perhaps, but we see it more as another modern sign--like cell phones and the Segway "personal transport" thingie--that the future is not working as well as promised.

7 Truth be told, one of us--the balder one--has an affinity for outsized bandannas, which in younger years he would insouciantly tie around his head when heat or exertion indicated a chance of precipitation. This affectation both seemed cool and aped a similar tendency on the part of a certain Author (See Footnote 1a1 supra), but it should be noted that in this area, and perhaps only in this area, the other of us did not slavishly adopt the sartorial trend. This could be because to do so makes one look kind of like a hippy Q-Tip (the personal hygiene implement, not the venerably abstract Hip-hoprates of A Tribe Called Quest, who is on record as wanting only chicken and orange juice--that's what's on his ridah--and the occasional potato--by Ore-Ida). Let this mention of hairlessness be the single appearance of "baldness" in a D.M.T. devoted to the physical effects of aging; as by now is abundantly clear, we eschew easy, common-sense notions of virility, youth, or pulchritude. You want something other, go to the bathroom and read the silly article on Bosely hair implants in this week's New Yorker. But don't hate us because we are beautiful. Impotence and erectile dysfunction we're not even going allude to joke about--not these aging specimens (and even if it were an issue we are way too insecure to tell you).

Stipe8 Yes, kids, even a clean-livin' bald celebrity like Michael Stipe is likely dealing with sebaceous ears, swallowing problems, skins tags, or nostril effluvia by now. Rock ’n' roll grants no immunity, particularly after you've duetted on stage with that fricking Coldplay guy, Chris Martin. O Michael, we though we knew ye ...

9 It is the most visible, but not the most risible, certainly. Let us leave it at this: Sir, in fact, "dresses" slightly to the right, which tendency once seemed coy and charming but increasingly disquiets as only urogenital issues can. We have said too much already and forebear at the peril of violating this edition's deepest iconoclastic values and refusal to cave to pedestrian disquietude re: hair and dicks (see Footnote 6, supra).

10 How can a mechanic say "throw a rod," which he might say often, without snickering like Beavis? These guys, despite charging you $799 for a loose fan belt, may be the only thing standing between modern society and total destruction.

11 Sorry, but one of us is writing a dissertation and the other one is a lawyer (by training, not by avocation) and we cite reflexively. Neglect not the end-matter lest we smite ye with the rod of our mouths.

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