by Adam Engel
May 31, 2003
I’m bad. Bad to the bone-marrow. B-b-b-bad.
Nevertheless – and how’s this for “Un-American” sour grapes? – THE MAN is so deep inside my head I can’t even croak-out without melodrama, without conjuring up some fantasy scene outta one of HIS TV shows. True, I haven’t watched television regularly since I was about fifteen, but those first fifteen are formative years. While Europeans my age were learning languages and culture, there I was – and I sure wasn’t alone – watching “Three’s Company” and “Happy Days,” so now I can’t even check out with dignity. My head’s full of sentimental romantic fascist crap. It’s an insult to humanity, a fart in the face of life itself. Enough to drive a man mad. For instance, I’m thinking
(we-ell maybe not exactly)
wild west shoot’em-up war movie, I’m the hero saves the day, sleeps with all three Andrews Sisters, rolls mean old Mr. Potter off a cliff, smiles and waves for the camera for viewers of the FUTURE (uh…that’s probably you)…
me and those women from that “Friends” show up all night talking about life and love and sex and death and whatever minor plot twists they typically cram into a twenty-minute episode and I won’t have sex with any of them we’ll decide we’re too vulnerable or some shit like that and it would ruin our friendship or god knows what perversities they indulge in – really, I’ve seen snatches (heh, heh) of that sit-glum while passing in and out of television blue-lit rooms: their spiel is sicker than de Sade’s, who at least wrote about HUMAN situations
I hit the game-winning HOME RUN match set love (or whatever they do in tennis) forty yard serpentine rush to the end zone TOUCHDOWN
but really more like
(Zee Plane! Zee Plane!)
Thomas Pynchon reads the same zines and websites I read and write for. Why not? If he’d read anything online, it’d be paranoid, lefty tirades, eh? So Pynchon writes to me:
“Really dig your stuff. Keep cool, but care.
And for a moment I believe it. It’s like when some guy offered the Beatles $50 million to reunite for one concert tour or something like that when I was fourteen, or when I went to visit Keats’ house on my first and only trip to England. Only, the Beatles didn’t get back together, and Keats’ house was “closed for renovation we regret any inconvenience,” and that’s the way it goes. Then again, there was that one Sunday in the early 70’s when Charles M. Schultz accidentally put a real phone number in one of Lucy’s cartoon bubbles and millions of readers flooded the lines – “Hello, is Lucy there, what about Linus?” – and the flesh-and-blood people who actually “possessed” that seven digit code had their phones ring-ringing off the walls all day, and when they answered there was a nano-second pause on the other end, a pause of, I don’t know, hope maybe? That maybe, maybe, this could be, like, real? But nothing in America is real, is it? Yeah, yeah, I know: Death and Taxes. Fuck ‘em both.
So I get this email from Kenosha.Kid@blicero.gov and after I get over that cocaine rush of hope and excitement I fall deep into cocaine blues. Dark moon reality cold-clocks me upside the head.
I write back,
“Whoever you are, thanks for the lift. But, as Nancy said, “Say No to Drugs.” Too old – really – to deal with this kind of game. I’m sure the real TP would appreciate the humor.”
Then he writes back,
“No, really, really. I AM Thomas Pynchon.”
And since I happen to know a guy who not only knows TP’s wife, but worked on some kind of digital literacy program where TP’s kid went to grade school, I write back,
“If you’re Tom Pynchon, ask your wife, or your son, who Kevin Kanarek is.”
And he write back and tells me. Not only that, he invites me to lunch.
“A-and bring Kevin along too, if you want,” he adds.
The fantasy progresses to me and Tom becoming pals. He encourages me to work on a book and gets me an advance and I go into remission just long enough to write the book, and Pynchon and Don Delillo and Ishmael Reed and Robert Coover write rave reviews, and it sells, and I have some money to leave behind for my wife and dog and a legacy for the readers of “The Imperator,” the Jericho Senior High School year book, 1983 (why do I still want to impress those people?).
Yeah, well. Back on earth…
I actually was a celebrity a couple of weeks ago, when I went to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside D.C. Not only had I actually lived to the ripe old age of 38 (so far) with Diamond-Blackfan Anemia, but in 1966 or so, the infant Adam Engel was actually one of the first to receive and respond to the Prednisone treatment by THE Dr. Diamond himself. Needless to say, the NIH wants me to undergo some of their test treatments (they call them “Protocols”) with nasty drugs – For FREE! – so if one of them does the trick the government can give it away to some drug company which will charge me two billion dollars to use the “treatment” if I’m still alive two years from now. Just call me Slothrop. And don’t call the NIH at all.
But why this need for the game-winning home-run? The Super bowl-winning touchdown and spike in the End Zone, all cameras upon me? I thought I would have grown out of it by now. No, that’s a lie. I thought I would have done something of, for lack of a better word, VALUE, by now, and that thing, a book or something, would have allowed me to grow beyond the tired sports metaphor and die in peace.
But Americans never die in peace. Most of them, at any rate. They’re too burdened with all the shit they were told they were supposed to do but never did and probably never could. They’re too guilty, too ashamed to die.
Like in that book, “A Fan’s Notes,” by Frederick Exeley. Guy can’t live his life cause he’s not Frank Gifford. Never gonna make that game-winning touch down for the New York Giants his father so adored. No spike and dance in the End Zone. Just booze, cigarettes, anxiety, depression, roast beef, meaningless labor, death. Like Daddy.
So it was Daddy’s fault all along! Then again, who’s Daddy, usually, but another incarnation of THE MAN? A mannequin with tapes in his head. DVDs, now. Microchips.
Terrible, but true: most people you meet, particularly in a “professional” capacity, are recorders, digitized to interface in real time, albeit somewhat limited by the unfortunate sloppiness of wet-ware. Meat-puppets fronting for THE MAN. HIS very own kazoos.
Here’s a fun experiment: watch a night of TV News, if you can stand it, then go around asking people, particularly “professionals” in suits, official-looking coats, arm-bands, uniforms, funny hats etc., what they think “about stuff.” You’ll get minor variations on what you heard and saw the night before. Maybe a harsh opinion or two added courtesy the NY POST or Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly or whoever. Like that kid’s game, “Telephone.”
After all, it was THE MAN, or his white-coated representatives, who condemned me to death. Tell you the truth, I don’t feel THAT bad. They tried the same thing with Pynchon’s Tyrone Slothrop, but he escaped, sort of. Why not me? Is it not my right as a “free American citizen” to skeedaddle when the Reaper (or THE MAN) comes a knock, knock, knockin on my door? Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin, I say. Go away. Piss off. Die, Death, and yer little MAN too.
Okay. It’s settled, then. “I’ll die on my own time,” as my friend, Paul, said to THE MAN’s white-coated toadies when given a similar prognosis almost a decade ago.
Now, it’s one thing to cheat Death, but THE MAN is a bit more wily and cruel. How to escape the corny, mawkish scenes THE MAN put in my head, the sentimentality and illusions? Don’t think they’re harmless fun, those corny greeting cards and clichés. Out of such cerebral dysentery patriots, Liberals and talk-show hosts are made. False feeling. The soap operas and sticky sweet flash-backs (often of experiences you’ve never actually had) the MAN and his Media slather all over your brain like Aunt Jemima’s-plastic pancake syrup. Looka dat nice smiling auntie Jemima (a bit updated: thinner, especially the nose and lips; capped teeth; cleaner kerchief; lighter hue) jest so happy to be cooking home style Frankenfood for THE MAN, pouring his sticky brown maple-flavored lab-fresh chemo-spunk all over your frozen waffles.
That’s the real sickness anyway…all the rest is just biology.
Adam Engel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. But Death be not SPAM. He has your IP number, Death, so don’t try any of those cute aliases like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s “Block Sender,” all the way, dig? Anything You send gets the bum’s rush straight to Engel’s “Delete” file.