Friday, January 4, 2008

January is the Cruellest Month

Another bloody year. Literally so, in some countries. Here, besides a few celebratory murders, not much violence marked the transition. Now we are bleeding into day 4, and the same pre-new-year depressed friends are equally post-depressed on my answering-machine.

My son is applying to college which seems to me some kind of virtual occupation. Forms filled out online, the importance suddenly of being earnest on the internet where most teenage profiles are somewhere between fantasy, irony and blatant lies. We read in US news and World Report that due to the herd-nature of the Baby Boomers, there is the largest pool of college applications for fall, 2008. What was going on in 1990 besides Kurt Cobain emerging that prompted these people to behave like adults and reproduce?
I can’t remember. I’m losing pre-natal recall.

No wonder my friends are depressed. If they’re not facing massive college bills, they forgot to have children and the mirror reminds them that at this age their own grandparents were pulling up stakes. Some of them spent long teenage and adult hours learning to play guitar…practicing, playing in thousands of bands, listening to records, studying. Trying to make it, sometimes making it; going to rehab, moving in and out of relationships; failing to succeed, succeeding at failure. Failing at failure. I like that one.

We had no heat last night and for some reason I had the illusion that the TV would provide some kind of warmth. I sat with a blanket too cold to look for the remote and saw some late-night rerun where the host was playing Guitar Hero. The game. Which is realer than real, and maybe gives the gamer the same rush some rockstar gets when he pulls off a massive hot solo onstage. I am afraid to test this out. In fact, for a parent with apparent manual dexterity, I never mastered any version of Nintendo or Playstation. I retired at Space Invaders.

But it makes you think. Not just Guitar Hero…there is the Band of Brothers game now. My old Dad had to drop out of a plane with a parachute, get blasted by shrapnel and gunfire, suffer permanent hip-damage and post-traumatic stress. Now there is the virtual version. I wonder if it pisses him off. I don’t ask, because anything I ask pisses him off. We had it too easy, we post-war children who went to college. We were allowed to use our brains. Some of us write books, wrote for television. I can’t imagine writing lines for a talk-show host who is playing a virtual game on television. I can’t imagine who invents the Band of Brothers game when there are actual veterans still living. But there are terrorist games that allow you to virtually experience driving a plane into one of two populated glass-walled towers.

As my son presses ‘Submit’ for one of the colleges of his choice, I wonder how they are processing his virtual application for a future. He found these colleges on an online list. His girlfriend didn’t even know Indiana was a state, even though there is a minted quarter to prove it. I remember my college choice was based on some blonde boy who fed me peyote in Mexico. I wanted to go where he was.

At this point, war to my son is a movie, music is a computer game, college is the recipient of an online form. Tonight he watched the Knicks rather than the Iowa caucus results. At his age I was working for my candidate, despite the fact that I couldn’t vote for 3 more years. College was the Emerald City, life was Oz.

My son wants to make money. Cramer-money. College is a game with real money as reward. At least I think so. The internet is free, but these applications are pricey. Up to $85 to press ‘Send’. No pictures. This is not only not required but not permissible. Bad people misuse things like this on the internet. Bad people misuse things that are real; they misuse people that dream. This depresses my depressed friends. Not so my son. He watches films like ‘Hostel 2’ without flinching.

I watched Barak Obama speaking in Iowa. My son sent a virtual application to that state. For a minute, I felt as though I was in a time warp, as though the things that came out of this politician’s mouth were not rhetoric but real. As my son dried himself off by the TV, he asked me ’He’s good, isn’t he?’ I think so, I answered. But then I realized he thought this was maybe a film, that Obama was an actor…after all, some of the candidates are actors….some of them were our mayor, who is also a character in the 9/11 simulated virtual game. It is hard to tell the game from life. It’s hard to distinguish gospel from bullshit on the internet; it’s all in hypertext. How these colleges can designate their future class from the virtual pool is beyond my grasp. And how these kids with the right to vote are processing the choice of candidates is also a mystery ..Is it another online game? More SAT-worthy multiple choice? At least they must go to the polls. Or not.

For Christmas this year a friend put our old family-movie footage onto dvd. It was a great gift. ‘Nothing is reel’, the card said. Somewhere, I was. As my son will be or will not be, in Indiana or Iowa or Arizona. As our next president will have been one of these candidates. Or not. I personally believe in Iowa.

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