Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Google-Rang

It’s all Google’s fault.

Yes, Google, the great all-seeing eye of Internet search engines, with its unnatural ability to find out anything about anybody, is the cause of all my problems.

It’s turned me into Quasi-Modem.

Now, thanks to Google, each night I climb into my digital bell tower, a bitter, twisted gnome determined to relive the past.

I want to know all about the people I don’t like, people I haven’t seen or heard from in years, so I hurl my queries out into cyberspace only to have them come spinning back and hit me upside the head. It’s the Google-rang. And it gets me every time.

I search for anyone who’s done me wrong, two-timing girlfriends, grade school bullies, obnoxious ex-coworkers, and discover the worst possible news imaginable: they’re happy.

They’re not rotting away in a filthy dungeon in some sub-equatorial dictatorship; they’re not locked in a B-movie mental institution, trussed up in straitjackets and living on Thorazine and Rice Krispies. And they’re not starving on the streets of some gloomy metropolis, eating out of trash cans and arguing quantum physics with the pigeons.

No, these heretics have the gall to be getting on with their lives and are doing just fine; and what’s worse, they’re doing better than I am. Of course, that’s no great trick, which only makes me angrier.

Healthy, mentally stable individuals know how important it is to banish the past. They let bygones be bygones, get on with their lives, forgive and forget and look forward to the promise of a new day.

But who cares about them? I forgive nothing and forget even less. I don’t know what a bygone is and I certainly won’t let one be. I grab the past by its bristly tail and drag it out of its murky cave, where it can eat me alive.

If someone vicious little pinhead double-crossed me in kindergarten I’ll track the blighter down, even though today he may be a paunchy optometrist with three grown kids and two ex-wives. He still shouldn’t have taken my blocks.

A co-worker ratted me out to the boss during the Ford Administration? Let me at the keyboard. I’ll find the worthless weasel wherever he’s hiding—even if he’s the CEO of a Fortune 500 company—and treat him to the full brunt of my internalized rage. That’ll teach him.

And the ex-girlfriends? Don’t get me started. With a few keystrokes I’ll find them in their happy homes with their adoring husbands and beautiful children, living their storybook lives. And when I do, boy, I’ll gnash my teeth and writhe to beat the band.

I know what you’re thinking: Golly, the Prozac Fairy really needs to make an emergency stop at this guy’s house. But you don’t understand. I’m not a stalker. I’m more of a lurker.

I don’t actually do anything with this painful knowledge—no bricks hurled through duplex windows, no BMW tires slashed to confetti; no animal parts sent C.O.D. These searches are purely for my own edification…and torture.

There’s an old Star Trek episode where Kirk and crew beam down to a strange planet and find their thoughts being turned into instant reality. Kirk runs into a space academy upperclassman who tormented him years before and, after taking even more grief, catches up with the wisecracking cretin and pummels him into the ground.

It turns out the aliens running the planet designed it as a kind of visceral theme park where people can unleash their fantasies without doing any real harm. By digging into Kirk’s psyche they learned what he really wanted more than anything in his life was to clobber that putz from the past.

With a resort like that, who needs Club Med? If I could only go there I’d really take of business. I’d start with the nuns in Catholic school, move on to that fat load of blubber who tortured me in the Seventh Grade, go on to my high school math teacher, and round off with every employer I’ve had since 1980. I might have to make two trips. Hell, I might have to move there.

Or maybe I could drop all this Web searching and get on with my life. Maybe I could forget Google and all the other Internet snooping devices and just live in the now. I like the idea of jettisoning the past and opening myself up to new experiences.

I just want to type in one more name…

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Year of the Rooster

This has been quite a day: In addition to being the Chinese New Year and Ash Wednesday, it is also the last day of my unemployments benefits. A triple witching indeed.

This is the Year of the Rooster, and I was born in that year in 1957, so a Chinese friend assures me this will be my year. I'll take whatever I can get at this point, as I quite nervous about the future.

I have to find a place for myself in this world so I can pull my own weight. I don't want to be working at 70, but if I don't get a job soon, it looks like that's where I'm headed.

Positive, positive. It is the year of the rooster after all, but if I don't get a job soon my goose will be cooked. Oh, gosh, I couldn't resist making that joke--even if it laid an egg.

I wonder what the hell happened to me that I ended up in that situation. No career, no woman, no family--I'm just a middle-aged teen-ager. It's time to grow up and get a life...

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Ox-Bush Incident

There’s nothing like an old movie to teach you a lesson about modern times.

I discovered this the other night when I sat down to watch “The Ox-bow Incident,” a classic western directed by William Wellman. The 1943 film stars Henry Fonda, Harry Morgan, Anthony Quinn and a cast of fine character actors straight out of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

I thought I was just going to sit back and enjoy a fine old movie, but instead I found myself looking at a frontier rendition of George Bush’s war in Iraq.

Sounds crazy? Tell it to Sponge Bob Squarepants—just as soon as he comes out of the closet.

Based on Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s novel, “The Oxbow Incident” tells the story of a group of Nevada cowboys in 1885 who, upon hearing about a rancher’s murder, form a posse and inflict some hangman’s justice upon three hapless cattlemen they capture on the trail.

In contrast to today’s multiplex McMovies, “The Oxbow Incident” has no digital effects, comic book heroes, vicious mutants, alienated aliens or murderous cyborgs from the future who run for governor of California.

No, the characters here are all too human: ignorant, angry people driven by bloodlust and rage to do some pretty terrible things.

Illegally empowered by a corrupt deputy, the vigilantes barrel ahead even though the evidence against the three men is highly questionable at best.

They insult and intimidate anyone who gets in the way of their necktie party. One townsman who has the nerve to plead for sanity is mocked as an old woman and beaten for his efforts. It’s thug rule on the range.

Sound familiar? Okay, well, how about this: the mob’s leader, bent on proving himself and making a man out of his son, struts around in a Confederate officer’s uniform, even though he’s never been anywhere near a battlefield.

The only thing missing is a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

Now I know it’s been a while, but does anyone remember how our fearless cowboy president barreled ahead into Iraq, shouting “weapons of mass destruction” even though the evidence was highly questionable at best?

And do you remember how anyone who challenged the would-be warriors was branded a traitor, a coward and worse—all by people who, like George Bush, never fought in any war?

In his constant chatter about terrorism, Buckaroo Bush has demonstrated a fondness for cowboy lingo, spouting such gems as “smoke ‘em out,” and “wanted dead or alive.”

However “The Oxbow Incident” doesn’t have these simple-minded white hat/black hat confrontations. In this story, the bad guys aren’t all that bad and the good guys learn they’re a lot closer to the evildoers than they realized.

Lately Bush and company have been riding tall in the saddle, waving their purple fingers in the air in celebration of the Iraqi election.

But anyone who has followed this wild bunch knows the danger of such early celebrations. We’ve suffered through a series of false finish lines, like the fall of Baghdad, the flight suit fandango, Saddam’s spider hole surrender, and the battle of Fallujah, to name a few.

Every time Americans think this misguided war is coming to an end, the neo-con cowboys strap their shooting irons onto somebody else’s son or daughter and cry “head ‘em off at the pass!”

There are some important differences between film and reality. You can’t rewind the Iraq war. You can’t undo the damage, reclaim the lost young lives, or re-attached the severed limbs. And you can’t bring back the thousands of dead civilians or yell “cut!” at the obscene images coming out of Abu Grahib.

Unlike the movies, no one in real life seems to have learned anything either. Bush’s Hole-in-the-Head Gang still seeks other places to throw up their rope.

My favorite scene in “The Oxbow Incident” occurs near the end of the film when a black preacher who has accompanied the mob falls to his knees before the swinging bodies and sings the spiritual “Lonesome Valley.”

The camera tracks the lynch mob as they ride off with the song’s haunting lyrics hanging over their heads.

You got to go tothe lonesome valley…you got to ask the Lord’s forgiveness, nobody can ask Him for you.

And the lonesome valley we’re riding through now seems like it will never end.