Phony

It happened right in the middle of a phone call.  The phone just died.  Well, honesty it had been sick for some time, but its departure was somewhat unexpected.  This is a landline we’re talking about.  Yes, I have an iPhone but I seldom use it.  Especially for phone calls outside the family.  I don’t want people calling me on what I consider a private number.  That’s what the landline is for.  Now, I had a call scheduled for later in the afternoon and I had to postpone it (via email—does anyone else see how strange all of this is?) until I could get a phone.  Since it was the work week the soonest I could get out was Saturday—I often have evening obligations after work.  So I ordered one online instead.

I was in a bit of a hurry, I’ll confess.  I don’t need a lot of features.  As long as it works for talking to others across a distance, I’m happy.  When it arrived I realized it didn’t have an answering machine.  Hadn’t thought of that.  The number of people who actually call me is quite small.  But if they are actual people I do like them to leave a message if I can’t get to the phone.  Then I remembered that answering machines used to be sold separately.  You didn’t need to have everything in one device.  Our modern way of living encourages that—keep everything together.  The phone in your pocket is a camera and computer and GPS all in one.  And more.  I’m more of a component guy.

Back when records were still a thing, my stereo was a component system.  Ostensibly because some components performed better for certain functions than others did, but really because some were on sale at Lechmere’s.  Nevertheless, the concept stuck.  I’ll admit that the all-in-one functionality is convenient, but I also think it becomes problematic when we have to buy more than we need just to keep up with the Joneses.  People are so reachable (with the exception, it seems, of many academics and contractors)—that we’re spoiled for choice.  In fact, it seems that the only polite thing to do is ask others how they’d prefer to be reached.  The telephone, of course, reaches into one’s private world in a way that email doesn’t.  I suppose that’s why many people are careful not to give out their numbers.  And if they do, we expect to be able to leave a message if they’re not home.


April Really Fools

What’s the best kind of April Fools’ Day prank?  What about one that occurs nowhere near April first?  Actually, I’m no fan of practical jokes.  They usually come at the expense of someone and really aren’t that funny.  And where does that apostrophe really go anyway?  Still, because of a project I’m working on, and because it was available on a streaming service I use, I watched April Fool’s Day in July.  An example of holiday horror from the 1980s.  Although moderately successful at the box office, the movie never took off to become a cultural icon like, say, Halloween did.  In fact, I only recently heard of it.  Part of the reason, I suppose, is the ensemble cast is pretty large (nine friends together for a weekend) and none of them played by big names.  In case you don’t like pranks, there will be spoilers below.

The trope of a number of young people—often college students—isolated in some inaccessible location is common enough in horror.  The optimal number seems to be five, otherwise an hour and a half isn’t really time to get to know everyone’s character well enough.  Of course, one by one they get killed off.  Since it’s set on April Fools’ Day you’re led to think some kind of serial killer is loose on the island, but in the end the entire thing turns out to have been an elaborate prank.  Nobody has really been killed and the audience is on the receiving end of an extended practical joke.

As I try to catch up on horror movies I missed I quite often have to rely on those that come with one of the few streaming services I use.  When I was myself a college student I couldn’t afford to go to the movies often.  Home video hadn’t really become affordable yet to people of my economic bracket, and besides, I spent a lot of time studying.  As the only one in my family that watches horror, finding the time to do so remains a challenge.  And there is quite a backlog.  I’ve been trying to watch horror set on specific holidays as a way of keeping myself honest.  Even that can prove a challenge, however.  I can justify the time, however, and the somewhat modest cost, as research. Hey, somebody has to do it.  And that’s as good an excuse as any for watching April Fool’s Day in July.


Weathering the Sleep

Weather still has a tremendous, if incremental, effect on life.  Patterns where a repeating weather cycle seems stuck in place are a good example.  While not exactly uncommon in summer around here, thunderstorms develop during the hot and humid days.  Our current pattern is that thunderstorms arrive in the middle of the night.  For days in a row.  We had a few days in our current series.  Some of us can’t sleep through thunderstorms, not least because we have to get up and close the windows, pulling fans out, so that the water doesn’t invade.  This means several nights of interrupted sleep and rather unforgiving work schedules the next day.  Companies don’t often take this fact of the weather into consideration.  I’m not the only one yawning all day.

Of course, other things interrupt sleep as well.  Any parent of a newborn has those perpetually baggy eyes that we’ve come to associate with trying to get an infant to sleep through the night.  Work doesn’t smile on that kindly either.  Both of these (and many others) are very real human concerns regarding slumber.  HR, on the other hand, looks at the clock with a frown.  This sort of work ethic is particularly bad in America where work is a kind of sacred obligation (unless you’re a minor, rich, or retired).  You owe that time, no matter how sleepy you are or sloppily you may work because of it.  In my case it’s the weather that’s been causing my drowsy days.  I guess I shouldn’t have given up caffeine a few years back.

Weather, although it’s treated as a “neutral” subject, affects everything.  There are deniers, but climate change is real.  It’s measured across centuries and millennia, however, and our point of view spans only the few decades of our own lifetimes.  We come again and again to the myth that this planet was created for us rather than the more factual realization that we grew organically out of it.  Our civilization is complex and grows more so all the time, requiring less and less time in nature.  Nature isn’t predisposed to be nice to us, or to any species.  It’s a matter of balance.  So it is with the weather.  This massive atmosphere above us seeks to balance itself out but we’re making it hotter than it should be.  Many suppose that God will sort it all out, if, indeed, forcing a crisis won’t compel divine intervention.  I just hope the “man upstairs” has been getting enough sleep.


Irony

It’s a funny old world, as the saying goes.  I don’t deal, as an editor, with many agents.  In fact, having been in publishing for nearly a dozen years it’s only happened three times.  The most recent agent is one to whom I sent a pitch for Holy Horror and from whom I never heard back.  The book he sent me isn’t too different from what I was doing in said volume.  That’s the way it goes, you say.  Indeed, I don’t disagree.  But who doesn’t like a dose of irony in an otherwise stainless steel world?  As I’m reading through the proposal I see that it cites the interest in the subject because of the great popularity of the Religion and Monsters sessions at the American Academy of Religion.  I was responsible for getting those sessions started.

Since irony loves company, none of the people I recruited to get that session rolling read my blog.  I’d been meeting with various scholars over the years and started to notice a common interest in religion and monsters, which I personally share.  I suggested to one of these gainfully employed scholars that we should apply for such a session.  She agreed and we invited another gainfully employed academic to join us.  I wrote the initial proposal.  The session was approved (the proposal being helpfully revised by my colleagues) for three years running.  Now it was being cited as objective proof of an idea that this very agent had dismissed when I presented Holy Horror to him.  Our society very much thinks having a university post means you have something to contribute.  No post?  No interest.

I’ve been working on religion and monsters for (conservatively) a dozen years.  I’ve written two high-priced books on the subject and I’ve received almost no traction in the field because I can’t put a university, or college, or seminary, behind my name.  I was formerly an associate professor, but who you are speaks louder than who you were.  Institutions speak even louder—much louder—than individuals.  The thing about privilege is that it works.  So in this funny old world I’m bemused to be watching my own idea helping propel a colleague’s case for an agent.  I’m working on my fifth book, and I sincerely hope this one will retail for less than thirty dollars.  That’s difficult to do without an agent’s intervention.  I know agents are swamped with proposals.  I know they’re very selective.  And I also know that the irony of being a biblical scholar interested in monsters will catch their attention.  Only, however, if you have an institution behind your name.  Funny, isn’t it?

Even the monster smiles

Byte Fragility

A few weeks back—context is always important—I mentioned how a storage drive slipped off my sleek laptop and went insane.  That is to say, it stopped working.  Unfortunately at the time it was the only backup method I was using.  And since my laptop forced me to move a huge amount of data so that it could do its regular updates, all my vegan eggs were in one basket.  (I feel like a bit player in this drama sometimes—it’s really the tech people who are in charge.)  There were literally years’ and years’ worth of data on that slipped disc.  Since then I’ve purchased two back-up drives and I’m backing up onto older discs and drives that are still readable.  It cost more than I care to confess to recover most of the data.  Some of it is gone forever.

Although I can’t go into all the details here, the data recovery company I used—shout out to Tri-State Data Recovery—was able to recover about 99 percent of the information.  They were kind enough to suggest very solid-looking data backup systems so that a slipped disc could never happen again.  This all sent me back to my roots as an ancient West Asia scholar.  Scribes whose data still exists 4000 years later, simply got clay for free from the river.  The first writing material was the best.  I’ve quadruple backed up my recovered files now.  I’ve mourned some of the missing.  Still, I realize that if anything goes wrong I haven’t the technical skill to recover my ideas.  Or my photos.  They’re mere electrons.

I want to save trees.  I try to print only what’s necessary, but incidents like this reinforce my love of print.  Paper has its problems too.  Three years ago, when we moved into this house, torrential rains destroyed a couple hundred books in the garage waiting to be brought into the house.  Data were destroyed.  Granted, a flood can destroy clay tablets too.  In fact, if nature sets her mind to destruction there’s pretty much nothing we can do.  Just ask the dinosaurs.  Still, it disturbs me that all our data are so terribly fragile.  I write things down to be creative, but also because I can’t remember everything I want to.  If a drive falls off a slippery laptop not only does it make a sound, it also puts a dent in your bank account.  Down at the river bank, however, there’s clay free for the taking.


News Shipping

There’s no question that the pandemic has disrupted shipping.  It didn’t help that Trump basically tried to shut down the entire postal system so he could try to steal the election (which he instead tried to take by force on Epiphany), but shipping services still haven’t quite recovered.  I can’t help but wonder if it’s all the “middlemen” who’ve gotten involved.  I still buy things from the internet and if they’re not coming from Amazon they give you tracking numbers, sometimes for companies I’ve never heard of.  No matter whether it’s UPS or OSM, it always comes to the same message when you type in that tracking number that’s just shy of pi in length.  The package is awaiting USPS pickup.  I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened in the past several months.

Limbo is an old religious concept that seems to have been revived.  Your package simply can’t be found.  You can try the Post Office, but since they haven’t picked it up yet they can’t tell where it is.  Or you can call the company involved.  They’ll tell you the Post Office has it.  So you go stirring the alphabet soup of shipping company names while your parcel’s MIA.  I wonder if what these other companies do is go to the loading dock of the seller, get the package, then drop it off at the PO on their way home.  That sounds like the business to get into.  Why say you’re a shipping company when you’re just going to let the beleaguered Post Office handle it?  Because someone will pay you to do it, obviously.

We recently had a package that took three weeks from its drop-ship to UPS to get to the Post Office and finally here.  I stopped into the local PO and asked about this strange partnership.  The woman at the counter told me, “It’s the slowest way to ship, that’s why companies use it.”  Slowest, and therefore least expensive.  Never mind what they charged you for the shipping and handling.  Handling will cost you, you know!  Meanwhile I’m thinking maybe I should start calling myself by my initials and hire out my services to drop things in the local mailbox.  As a corporation I’d have greater protection by law than I would as a guy in his own car.  And besides, if I ordered something myself I’d be able to pick it up directly without having to wait for the tracking number to catch up.


Picture This

For a writer with limited time, a blog seems like a good idea.  Years ago WordPress emerged as the premier site on which to host such a venture—it was free (but like all things in the tech revolution it would eventually start charging a subscription fee), easy to use, and friendly to your average Luddite.  Now that I’ve been doing this some dozen years you might think that coming up with daily topics is the difficult part.  Well, it is a challenge sometimes, I admit, but the hardest part is coming up with images.  Occasionally I have an image around which to base a post, but the fact is I’ve discovered several blogs because I was searching for an image.  So I started putting an image in each post.  So far, so good.

WordPress has evolved over the years.  It has become more and more commercial.  After so much space is filled on your site (I pay regular fees for both the space and for the domain name) you must upgrade.  The next upgrade available to me is “Business.”  This blog is purely an avocation.  Any writer who doesn’t offer online content these days, at least according to the marketers and publicists I know, will never write a break-through book.  From my own experience, agents won’t even touch you unless you’ve got a far larger following than mine (and I’ve been faithful for a dozen years).  Anyway, I don’t want to pay for a business plan, so I reuse a lot of images.  That is the most time-consuming part of posting on this blog. 

You see, I post each day immediately before work.  To search over twelve years of images is difficult on WordPress.  Many of my images are my own, and my phone names them “img” (which autocorrect wants to make “omg”).  Searching those in WordPress to find a specific image can easily take an hour.  Considering the time these pieces are posted, you get an idea of when I have to start.  Good thing I’m an early riser!  My relationship with technology is an uneasy one.  I appreciate content.  Producing it is an act of pure creativity and it’s important to me to do it every single day.  But work is non-negotiable.  Metrics apply.  Consequences for not meeting them can be significant.  Where is that image I thought would be perfect for the post I wrote?  I should’ve renamed them before using them.  But just this moment, work’s about to start.  Now, what am I going to use to illustrate this post?

Remember the early days?

Rolling with Nature

Even breakfast can be profound.  I’ve written before how our obsession with breakfast cereal was based one man’s religious conviction.  Now it’s widely accepted (whether true or not) that cereal is the healthiest way to start your day’s comestible experience.  Quite apart from that, it’s quick and easy and clean-up’s a snap.  The trick is finding healthy cereal.  Long ago I settled on a species of Shredded Wheat—the kind that comes in little squares.  Unadorned, it tastes fine and is more filling that a cereal puffed up with a lot of air.  (Breakfast is early for some early risers, and I need something to last until lunch.)  The Shredded Wheat model, however, benefits from extra flavor once in a while, so I try to blend in a different cereal (I experiment in the kitchen).  Lately it’s been Cheerios (originally named CheeriOats).

I’ve noted before that one of the fundamental issues with the tech revolution comes down to basic geometry.  The pixel is square but life on our planet is in the round.  You notice it everywhere natural.  Straight lines in nature are rare, but curves are everywhere.  This has practical implications while trying to pour two cereals at once (I told you I experiment).  The stolid, almost Episcopalian, Shredded Wheat does not pour easily.  It takes a bit of poking and prodding to get any action at all.  Cherrios, however, flow more naturally—more on the Pentecostal end of the scale.  As I mix my cereals in my pre-dawn laboratory, I began to understand something about life.  Square corners are superior for stacking and storing, but life wants to be round.  Organic even begins with an o.

The roundness of nature is everywhere evident: eyes, raindrops, plant stems in cross-section, even the great circular wind storms that blow across the surface of the globe.  Objects that are round roll and tumble easily.  Rough edges get eroded away.  The square is artificial, but useful.  It means that the pixel will never replicate the flow and ease of the organic.  Given the nature of pi, each circle is infinite, in one of nature’s greatest paradoxes.  We are the denizens of a spherical world.  Our planet shows us the way to exist upon it, in harmony with the other organic, circular beings.  I linger before I pour the oat milk.  A revelation before breakfast is never a bad thing.  It’s only too bad that after this, the rest of the day becomes artificial.


The Persistence of Forgetfulness

It has happened twice this past week.  Maybe you’ve noticed, but probably I’m presuming too much.  Last Sunday and Thursday past, there were no posts on this blog.  Both days a post was cued up and ready for me to hit the “publish” button, but other things interfered.  To get a sense of this you need to realize that my blog posts are always ready to go by 6:00 a.m.  By that point I’ve been awake for a minimum of two hours and have already lined up my initial thoughts for the day.  I also realize that many other people are not awake yet.  Since my blog posts feed out to Twitter I worry (rightly) that a tweet so early will be dismissed along with other early morning bird calls.  I load up my post and wait.

In an abundance of caution, I begin my job at 6:30.  The reason is clear enough—I was let go from two jobs after being told I was doing great.  I don’t want that to happen again.  I’m one of those people whose best time is the morning.  I’m aware this is unusual, bordering on the freakish.  I have come to a compromise—I push the publish button just before I start work.  When I began working remotely (I was ahead of the curve, for once), I knew we’d need a house with a dedicated office.  That office is upstairs and is reserved for work.  My creative writing is done downstairs.  Since I go upstairs before actually starting work to settle in, I need to remember to click “publish” before I read the first work email of the day.  If I don’t, Thursday happens.  (It very nearly happened again yesterday!)

What about Sunday, did I hear you ask (in my imagination)?  Fair question.  Weekends I try to hold out until after 7:00 (so late!) or later to post.  But on Sunday I’m in charge of the adult education program in my faith tradition.  I schedule and run the Zoom meeting.  Since that program is early, I need to be ready early.  By 6:00 a.m. on Sunday my post was loaded.  Many Sundays, however, are about as busy as a workday although it’s all volunteer work.  I awoke Monday morning and found Sunday’s post still in the dock.  The world has been spared my musings for a day.  Ironically, WordPress had been sending daily streak messages “You’re on a streak!”  My streak struck out on Sunday, and again on Thursday.  Maybe it’s time for a new routine.

It’s like there are two minds at work here.

The Unholy Trio

Culture has a powerful prophylactic component.  People don’t want to be seen questioning authority and accepted “truths.”  This is especially the case as they grow out of their teenage years and learn to fit in as part of the herd.  Some subjects make this particularly clear because cultural biases deride them, never giving them a fair chance at consideration.  I’ve run into a number of these over the years, but an example will bring these abstractions to clarity.  Recently a commentor sent me to the video “Kaneh Bosm: The Hidden Story of Cannabis in the Old Testament.”  The idea is one I’ve addressed before—that cannabis was used in incense combinations in the biblical world.  Now, I haven’t done research on this, but what becomes clear is that many scholars over the years have dismissed the idea out of hand because, well, it invokes pot.

The reason marijuana—something I’ve never used and have no desire to try personally—has been demonized is one of considerable interest.  This is especially the case since it appears to have been widely used in antiquity.  No respectable biblical scholar, however, would be caught suggesting that it might have been incorporated in the rites of ancient Israel.  The modern stigma of cannabis, in other words, discounts the possibilities that in ancient times it was used in sacred contexts.  The “war on drugs” in the United States was largely led by religious conviction.  The heirs of Christian prohibition.  Sure, some drugs can lead to real problems.  The deeper issue, however, is that society’s structure leads people to the place where drugs seem to be the only answer.  The civilized response?  Make them illegal.

That mark against controlled substances colors our view of history.  If such things are illegal now then they must never have been used.  Chemical analysis of various utensils (what might be called “paraphernalia” today, indicates that ancients knew of and used cannabis.  Our ordered view of ancient Israel as receiving the one true and utterly sacred faith preclude the possibility that our demonized substance could’ve been used in ancient times.  I’ve noticed this with the other topic of the documentary—Asherah.  Conservative scholarship still denies that ancients might’ve thought Yahweh had a spouse.  (My own work does not deny this, but simply questions the nature of the evidence; I think it is likely people believed Yahweh had a consort.)  So we once again collide with a “no go” topic.  So, after we admit the possibility of drugs and sex, so the thinking goes, what we we find next—ancient rock-n-roll? 


Considering the Time

Does anybody else find the name “Office 365” ominous?  Perhaps I’ve been reading too much about Orwell, but the idea that work is waiting for you every single day of the year is worrisome.  The way people unthinkingly buy into technology is a way of being used.  Like Cassandra, however, I get the feeling I’m just talking to myself.  365 could simply mean it’s always available.  For me, however, the PC is symbolic of corporate America.  And corporate America wants everything thing you have, at least if it can be liquidated.  That includes your time.  Now that the weather’s improving I spend beautiful days sitting at a desk behind a screen.  Before I know it that beautiful day’s gone for good and I’ve not stepped outside once.  I’ve been 365ing.

An organization I know has a dysfunction.  It keeps trying to plaster on technological bandages to solve its problems.  Such bandages only pull the wounds open again when they’re yanked off.  It’s the latest thing, the new communication technology that “everyone will use.”  Only it never is.  It’s just one more app that I’ll have to learn and yet another way to invade my private time.  Time I might otherwise spend outdoors.  Look!  The sun is shining!  All day long the birds and bees fly by my windows, celebrating.  I’m sitting here scratching my head.  Yammer or Slack?  And who comes up with these stupid names?  And are they available 24/7?  Do they even take into account that human beings have to sleep?

Studies now show that people my age who routinely get less than six hours sleep a night have a greater risk of developing dementia in their seventies.  Yet Office 365 will be waiting even for them.  Those whose retirement funds were never as secure as they hoped or thought they were face a future at the Office.  It will be there, always waiting.  Like Winston my time comes at a cost.  It’s the chill, early hours of the day.  Even as I work on my personal writing (which is not even done in Word, thank you very much), I know that the Office—which now includes Teams and even holds my calendar in its icy electronic fingers—is waiting.  Perhaps, if it’s a weekend, I’ll be able to stave it off a bit.  Even if I can, however, it will be waiting 24/7, 365.  Only time outside those parameters can be called one’s own.


Leap Night

I was quite young when I saw Night of the Lepus for the first time.  Well, I had to have been at least ten, but when I recently sat down to watch it only one or two scenes looked familiar.  Like most poorly done horror films, Night of the Lepus has gained a cult following.  The story is loosely based on Russell Braddon’s comedic novel Year of the Angry Rabbit.  Without the comedy.  Or at least without intentionally being funny.  In an effort to control rabbit overpopulation in Arizona, a new virus is released into the population.  Instead of killing off the bunnies, it makes them grow as large as wolves and become carnivorous.  They go around attacking people with big, nasty, pointy teeth (to be fair, Monty Python and the Holy Grail wouldn’t be out for three more years).

Night of the Lepus was criticized for not being scary at all—a cardinal sin for a horror film.  I was kind of embarrassed when my wife walked in and found me watching it.  Nostalgia can do funny things to a person.  It is almost painful to watch the public officials make such obvious missteps each time they start to get an idea of what’s happening.  They’re almost as imbecilic as the Trump administration was.  Meanwhile rabbits are hard to make scary.  Perhaps William Claxton should’ve read Watership Down.  Ah, but Richard Adams’ classic was only published in 1972, the year the movie was released.  What was it about the mid-seventies and rabbits?  

Part of the problem is that Night of the Lepus takes itself seriously without the gravitas required to do so.  Who can believe actual rabbits are vicious when, to make them monstrous, the movie simply shows rabbits against miniature scenery?  Their human handlers occasionally smear their mouths with red, but a rabbit doesn’t appear cunning and vicious.  And to get them to attack people they had to use human actors in rabbit suits.  I’m a fan of nature going rampant as a vehicle for horror.  Hitchcock’s The Birds did it effectively.  So, I’m told, did Willard (which is remarkably difficult to access with HBO never having released it onto DVD).  The seventies were when ecology began to be recognized as perhaps the most important of global issues.  Half a century later we’re still struggling to reconcile ourselves with it.  Meanwhile the rabbits have begun to appear in our back yard.  They may nibble our perennials, but I’m not afraid.  At least as long as they don’t watch Night of the Lepus and start to get some ideas.


Lines and Silver

If you’re thinking about silver linings, here’s one to ponder: waiting in lines has, with certain exceptions, disappeared during the pandemic.  Yes, some people waiting in line to be tested, others to be inoculated.  Early on lines were long to buy toilet paper.  By and large, however, waiting in lines has ceased for many of us.  For me that’s a silver lining.  Even from my youngest days I’ve found waiting in line problematic.  Not that I think I’m more important than other people—not at all—my mind keeps itself pretty active and standing in line has been one of the more difficult times to keep it engaged.  I generally keep a book with me.  The lack of mass-market paperbacks in the categories I tend to read, however, makes having a book in your jacket pocket difficult.

People standing in line are often surly.  It’s not always a great place to strike up a conversation, to improve your mind.  It is the epitome of wasted time.  Not just for me, but for everyone involved.  Learning to live mostly at home has greatly reduced that wasted time.  Interestingly, many people have reported being bored with their extra time.  Others of us find this small windfall just enough to keep in place as we continue sprinting along.  Regardless, the line waiting absence has been one silver lining.  When I was a student I used to call waiting in line a theological problem.  What I believe I meant was that time should not be wasted and your options were severely limited by standing in a queue.

For many people, I suspect, the smartphone has addressed the issue even before the pandemic came.  My smartphone has never been that much of a comfort to me, when it comes to time.  Although I’m on social media I don’t spend a whole lot of time on it.  It can easily become yet another way of spending time I don’t have to squander.  Reading ebooks on a small screen doesn’t really lead to any sense of accomplishment for me.  Perhaps I think about it too much, but it seems that real goals are met in the real world.  Ah, but this is meant to be a silver lining post, the lack of lines.  As the pandemic slowly dies down, queues will return.  Books won’t have grown any smaller in the meantime.  Perhaps I could use the time wisely by learning to explore the wonders of the universe in my pocket.  Just after, however, I finish this book in my hands.


Not Out Loud

I’ve been thinking of funny things lately.  Literally.  You see, while many of us are waiting for vaccines or any sign of hope, it’s natural to try to cheer oneself up.  I try reading books with the reputation of being funny.  I try looking for movies that IMDb tells me will make me laugh.  One thing I’ve discovered is that what’s truly funny is a matter of taste.  Some comedians make me laugh.  Others, well, don’t.  Books that I’m told are LOL (“laugh out loud”) funny often turn out to give me a snicker or two as I wend my way through the pages.  The “out loud” part remains elusive.  But it’s the movies that get to me most.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that made me laugh from beginning to end.  “Sophomoric” is the word my wife used to describe most of the movies on online comedy recommendation lists.

I suppose funny is a matter of buying into lowest common denominator culture.  Education, if we’re honest, can knock the sense of humor out of you.  Besides, most movies have a story to tell and few stories are funny every step along the way.  During a pandemic you might well need something like that.  Of course you couldn’t go to the theater to see it if it came out.  There’s some fun stuff on the internet.  People I know will sometimes send me things that make me chuckle, but I’m guessing I need to step away from horror movies for a while to reacquaint myself with what’s funny.  I got so desperate the other day that I sat down and tried to make a list of the funniest movies I ever saw.  Then I looked at the lists I found online and saw little overlap.  Where to go for a good laugh?

Our sense of humor must have roots in our youth.  I really got into religion then, and I became a very serious teen—we’re talking eternal consequences here.  So much so that I had a conscious epiphany one day that I no longer laughed.  I needed to rebuild my sense of humor.  I tried buying funny books (which wasn’t easy in a town with no bookstores).  I tried to catch up with the others in school who were always talking about this or that funny movie they’d seen.  Of course, anything crude scandalized me then, so it had to be clean fun.  Now it’s a matter of trying to see if anyone gets my sense of humor.  After a year in lockdown we could all use a good laugh.


Rabbit Years

A childhood horror movie that I only recall in the most wispy of fringe memories is Night of the Lepus.  It’s one of those monster movies that involves mutated animals, in this case the unexpected rabbit.  I’m not sure why it’s been on my mind lately, but a little research indicated that it was based on the Russell Braddon novel, The Year of the Angry Rabbit.  This book is out of print and still under copyright, so finding a copy wasn’t easy.  Apart from vague images of giant rabbits, I had no idea what to expect.  The book turned out to be a comedy horror, in that order.  Remembering that the movie wasn’t funny (although it is consistently considered one of the worst cinematic efforts of the time), I wasn’t prepared for this.

You see, I don’t like to read about books before I read them.  I don’t read cover copy.  (I tend not to watch movie trailers either, unless it can’t be helped, like when you’re in a theater.)  I suppose knowing a genre of a book helps, but I just wanted the experience of reading the story behind a movie that won’t completely vacate my memory cells.  The Year of the Angry Rabbit is a satire on government, war, and capitalism.  If you’re not expecting a serious horror story it’s quite funny.  Russell Braddon never became a household name—he was from Australia and a person’s cultural impact tends to be greatest on their own continent—but if you knew this was a satire from the start you’d probably enjoy it as such.  Although written in the sixties, it’s climax takes place at the millennium, now two decades past.  It’s always interesting to see what people thought we might be up to by now.

Although there are elements of humor to our politics, Orwell seems to have been more on the money than Braddon.  Nevertheless it’s important to keep the old stories alive.  There are still people like me who will seek out rather obscure novels from many decades ago.  They might have to have sat on library shelves for years without having been checked out—this used to be the glory of the library, before “evidence-based usage” studies ruined them.  I search for things I want to read in my local small town library and find that my tastes are too obscure.  Besides, old stuff has to be cleared out to make room for the more recent books hoi polloi wish to consume.  I’m glad they’re still reading.  For me, however, I’ll need to stretch back to a time before I was old enough to read to satisfy an unrelenting memory. It was rabbit years ago.