Latest Permission Slip: So Susie Can See THE MATRIX at School

One of Susie’s winter semester classes at The Graham School is “Utopian and Dystopian Literature,” and earlier this week she brought home the latest of many permission slips her mother and I have signed since her first day of preschool.  This time it asked permission for her to see The Matrix, which is, I suppose, an example of a dystopia.  I signed it, because I have never been one for censoring what Susie wants to read or watch.  (I have never seen the movie, but Susie may whet my interest enough that I’ll borrow the DVD from the library sometime in the near future.  I’m still enough of a typesetter to think of a matrix as the die on a Linotype machine that shapes the character.)

Currently, they’re reading Anthem, Ayn Rand’s only tolerable writing.  My guess is that soon they’ll be proceeding to 1984, and when that happens, I plan to buy the DVD of the movie, starring John Hurt and Richard Burton (in his final appearance).

John Hurt as Winston Smith, rewriting history in the Ministry of Truth, in  1984.

And I’m sure The Matrix will hardly be the most violent film she will encounter before she reaches adulthood.  Recently, as part of my revived interest in Stephen King’s epic novel The Stand (a Lord of the Rings-like tale transplanted to 1980s America), I’ve been lackadaisically making my way through the 1994 four-part miniseries.  I’ve gotten some heat for not shooing Susie from the room when I watch it, or for not watching it only after she’s nestled all snug in her bed.  She’s watched parts of it, and has read some of “Captain Trips,” the first volume of Marvel Comics’ excellent adaptation.  Apparently, letting a 14-year-old girl watch any Stephen King story other than Stand By Me guarantees that she’ll turn into the next Aileen Wuornos.  I’m willing to take my chances–if Susie is uncomfortable with a scene, she’ll bury herself in her journal or the latest book she’s reading.  The worst that can happen is nightmares, and if they happen, you wake up, switch on a light, and maybe get a glass of water, and that’s it.

A high school English teacher emphasized the point that in a good horror movie or story, the grossness is kept to a bare minimum.  Where they get you is with suspense.  Susie didn’t fully understand this concept until she saw Jaws for the first time a week or so ago.  I brought it home from the library, and all that she had known about it previously was the F-F sharp tuba music playing whenever the shark is in the vicinity.  She was afraid that she would be totally grossed out by the movie, but she was able to watch it and enjoy it thoroughly.  There is only one scene where we actually see the shark’s teeth actually touch someone.  Susie expressed the appropriate outrage at the blindness and callousness of the small town’s movers and shakers to the danger the shark presents, which will give her an advantage if she ever reads or sees Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.

And no, she did not have nightmares about sharks for several nights afterwards.  The other night, we watched the first half of Jaws 2 (which was not as good as the original, but which never received the proper respect), and will probably watch the rest of it over this long weekend.

When I was younger than Susie, only television stations had access to video tape, and seeing movies at home was rare indeed, except on TV.  (I remember one friend of mine saving money from his paper route for months so that he could rent 16-mm movies and a projector for a New Year’s Eve sleepover.)  Until my mother left us, it was rare indeed that I got to see a movie downtown, and when I did, it was usually a Disney movie.  I remember how much I had to plead for my dad to take me to see Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Once she left, that was when I began watching movies that were for a more adult audience.  Since Dad was gone from before the time I got home from school until I was nodding off in front of the TV, I had oodles of unchaperoned free time.  The first “grown-up” movie I saw (I am not saying “adult” movie for the obvious reasons) was a 1970 horror movie, Count Yorga, Vampire.  I saw it in the auditorium of Thomas Hall, the classroom building at Marietta College where my dad had his office.  On Friday and Saturday nights, they featured “Cinema 75,” so-called because the admission price was $.75.  During that same period, however, my dad refused to give me money to see The Trial of Billy Jack with a friend.  Seventy-five cents, on the other hand, was a pittance to pay, and the movies at Cinema 75 were usually quite good.

The first movie I lied about my age to get into was Saturday Night Fever, although I told people for years it was The Exorcist.  The theater owner would not let anyone under 16 in to see Saturday Night Fever, and this was an occasion when I appreciated my dad’s uncanny ability to turn morality and ethics on and off as though it were a light switch.  I was 15 when the movie came to town, so he told me to tell them, if they asked for my age, that I was in my 16th year.

Dad also went to bat for me when I got in trouble for using foul language at school.  When I was in sixth grade, a boy named Rex was taking too long (in my estimation) at the water fountain.  I said, “Hurry up, Sex!”  (I’m sure every kid named Rex has heard that one a few times.)  When the teacher who busted me explained this to my dad, he asked, genuinely puzzled, “What ‘bad word’ did he use?”  So I got a walk on that one.

I paid it forward a few years later.  During Fire Prevention Week in high school, our homeroom teachers handed out fliers about how to escape the house if it was on fire, and it featured drawings of the inside of a house, showing where fires can start, etc.  Before class, I had told a friend of mine that I had seen my first porn films at a guy’s house the previous weekend while his parents had been out of town.  I was unnecessarily graphic in describing the films (as if they actually had plots!), and he had asked me if I enjoyed the films.  I seesawed my hand in a comme ci comme ça gesture, and added, “Now, the guy and the pig… I could have lived without seeing that.”

My friend thought this was hilarious, and, out of boredom, he was doodling on the fire prevention flier, and got in trouble with the teacher.  What was the offensive doodle?  In the bedroom, he drew a man’s head on one pillow, and a pig’s on the other.  Neither were anatomically correct–only heads.  I mentioned this to a teacher, who grudgingly let it slide.

Since Susie will probably be spending the summer in Florida with Steph, my major project will be restarting the book-cataloging job I had underway when my other laptop was stolen from Weinland Park.  That may involve organizing the DVDs as well.  I am sure some parents would not be happy with the fact that Porky’s and Se7en are on the same shelf as Despicable Me.  (I will never underestimate anyone’s ability to zero in on the sketchier titles in my video or book libraries.  When Steph and I were first married, we had about 200 VHS tapes, of all genres, including many classic movies and TV moments, and the title that a guest could spot from a mile away was something like The Sadist or She-Devils of the S.S.  (The latter is more of a sex farce than an actual porn movie.)

And yes, if Susie wants to see The Exorcist or Porky’s, she can.  The disks are not under lock and key.  The only restriction I have placed on anything is that if she chooses to see JFK, I have forbidden her to use it as source material for any paper on the Kennedy assassination she may turn in during the course of her academic career.

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Kerouac’s Biographer Reads at (Where Else?) Kafé Kerouac

Yet again, I have to kick off an entry by apologizing for my absence from this blog.  Several consecutive weeks of 56-hour work weeks does that to you.  (I thought my latest gig at the bookstore would end with the Winter Quarter rush, but that was not the case.  I emailed my supervisor to let him know I had a new cell phone number, and he replied by asking if I could work nights Monday through Thursday “until further notice.”  I need the cash too much to decline, so I accepted.)

This past week broke the repetitious cycle of get up-work at Job #1-walk to Job #2-go home-collapse, at least temporarily.  Gerald Nicosia, author of the definitive biography of Jack Kerouac, Memory Babe, made a brief trip to Columbus, as a part of a trip to Oberlin.  He and I have corresponded (by snail mail, and less frequently by email) for the past seven or eight years.  While researching my near-completion-for-the-past-few-years memoir of Robert Lowry, There Are No Promises Here, I wrote Nicosia to ask him for information about Lowry’s publishing a short excerpt of Kerouac’s book of Buddhist meditations, Some of the Dharma in 1958.  (I go into more detail about this in this 2007 blog entry.)  I thanked him for his help, he wrote back, I wrote back, and we have been writing almost non-stop since then.

When Gerry began planning for a trip to Oberlin, he suggested flying into Port Columbus, renting a car, driving up to Oberlin, and then spending time with Susie and me before flying back to the Bay Area around San Francisco.  Since he and I had never met in person, I was crazy about the idea.  He has long been “the best friend I have never met,” since our entire friendship had been one of correspondence.

He was sitting in his rental car on my street as I walked from the bus stop Wednesday night, after the bookstore job.  (He had heard me talking to someone as we walked up from the bus, and recognized my voice from the taped letters I had mailed him.)  He was staying in a motel near Riverside Methodist Hospital, but wanted to meet Susie and me, and spend some time before shaking off the jet lag and retiring for the night.  When Susie came home a little while later,  we headed for the Blue Danube for a late dinner.  (That’s the first place that I take guests when they come to visit.)

When the plans for Gerry’s visit to Columbus began to solidify, my next move was to email Mike Heslop, who has owned and operated Kafé Kerouac for the past eight years, and suggest that Gerry do a reading there.  Gerry and Mike emailed back and forth a few times, and then Mike emailed to let me know he had arranged a reading for Friday (last night) at 7 p.m.

I would have wanted a larger crowd, but the people that did come were genuinely interested in Kerouac, and were familiar with On the Road and Kerouac’s other writings.  (One person asked questions about Satori in Paris.)  Gerry brought several trade paperback copies of his newest book, One and Only: The Untold Story of On the Road, which appeared in November.  This is the story of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady’s madcap trips back and forth across the United States, as told through the eyes of Cassady’s first wife, Lu Anne Henderson (known as Marylou in On the Road.)  Gerry spoke of his friendship with her and with Kerouac’s daughter Jan (who wrote the novels Baby Driver and Trainsong, and who died of renal failure in 1996), about his co-author on One and Only, Anne Marie Santos (Lu Anne’s daughter), and about his role as a technical adviser on the On the Road movie, which began production in 2010.

Gerald Nicosia answering questions at Kafé Kerouac, February 10, 2012.

After living for many years in the Bay Area, Gerry was a little startled to see snow–the first in weeks–begin to fall in Columbus when he returned from Oberlin yesterday afternoon.  It’s been a mild winter so far, and there have been several days when I was completely comfortable walking around in a hoodie or a sweatshirt.

Not the case now.  Normally, except for rush period, I do not work at the bookstore on Saturday.  Today was an exception.  A co-worker of mine is sweating blood about a calculus midterm that he has next week, and he wanted to spend the weekend studying for it.  Since it would mean a fatter paycheck for me, I agreed to fill in for him.  It was quite difficult to leave the warm confines of my bed and house to venture to the bus stop, especially when it’s 17 degrees F. outside.  I had planned to go to the Adult Talent Show at church tonight, but once I’m indoors, I’m there to stay.  I think Susie and I will order in and watch a DVD of Young Frankenstein.
Gerry reading from One and Only.  I introduced him at the beginning of the presentation, but the flash on my camera didn’t work when Susie took the picture of me at the microphone.