Intermission (Go For A Soda)

I am aware that up to this point, I’ve been woefully stingy with the visual aids in this little Fifteen overview.  So while Nickelodeon rakes in some more cash from its sponsors, let’s remedy that situation.

First and foremost, behold the season 1 opening credits featuring the glorious theme music composed by Matt Ender:

 

 

Now the season 1 cast:

ashley
Pink Denim Dork
matt call
“Hello, Alcoholics Anonymous?”
jake
Dreaming of a 3-way with Matt & Courtney
theresa waah
What do you mean Garanimals are for toddlers?
kelly iago
Do NOT fuck with Kelly
brooke eyes
That Garanimals-wearing freak is my sister?!
billy
The Sexiest Man Alive
dylan
At least I outlived Luke Perry
courtney
GAAAAHH!
cindy and olaf
When A Hippie Loves A Doofus

We’ll be returning to our regularly scheduled program shortly.  In the meantime, why not grab yerself a carbonated beverage and dig on some classic rock straight from America’s Hat:

 

 

 

Freaks, Faggots, Drunks & Junkies

pinball

Season 1, Episode 2

I have had recurring nightmares, though I don’t ever recall having a nightmare one night, waking up and living through the day, going back to bed and picking up on last night’s nightmare right where it had left off.  Have you ever wondered how that might feel?

Scenes from last week, theme music, exterior shot of The Avalon (Chinese Foods) and then – holy fuck – COURTNEY IS STILL WHINING TO JAKE ABOOT HER PARENTS!!  At first, I wasn’t sure if this was the exact same conversation from last week because for at least the first 30 seconds, we’re assaulted by an extreme closeup of Courtney in her cow milking-best, quiver-lipping her way through an explanation of the “Dad-sized hole” in her household since he moved oot.  Finally, when they pan oot to show us the whole booth, we see that it’s still Jake being bombarded by this torrent of unsolicited self-pity and he’s still wearing the same shirt we last saw him in.  This pathetic soliloquy eats up the first three and a half minutes of the episode before Courtney finally decides that the “bright side” to all of this is that it will give her writing material.  So now we know that Courtney fancies herself a writer.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Now Matt is back at Attila The Hun.  This time, we can hear pinball sounds but the flippers don’t respond to Matt’s fingers.  What kind of fucked up prop is this?  Couldn’t these morons just buy a goddamned pinball machine and plug it in?  They must have purchased this thing from the same discount prop store that provided the Hillside lockers.  Kelly coolly eases her way into the pinball room and starts asking Matt some very specific questions aboot his weekend plans and whether he’ll be spending time with Ashley.  This is an information gathering mission, of course.  Matt tells her that Ashley is bogged down with homework but they might spend time together tomorrow.  Mission accomplished, Kelly takes her leave and Matt looks puzzled.  No one ever seems to be suspicious of Brooke and Kelly when they are so clearly in the process of trying to destroy lives – just puzzled at the interactions.  It’s as though none of these kids have ever met each other before – or they’re all having a recurring group nightmare that doesn’t ever pick up where it left off.

Now we’re back at Hillside where Ashley is studying.  She’s wearing Matt’s letterman jacket over her usual pink attire and before I even have time to process how ridiculous she looks, here comes Courtney down the stairs looking like an FLDS sister-wife.  Ashley bolts oot of her seat to apologize for not calling Courtney last night, Courtney says it’s fine and that she’s fine, which is the cue for her best friend to remind her that she’s not fine, no one’s fine, nobody in the history of ever has ever been fine, Courtney!  “Come on…maybe you’re coping, but you CAN’T be fine.”  Jesus Christ, Brooke, let’s get cracking on destroying this asshole, please.

While I’m trying to fashion a noose oot of some old bedsheets, Ashley’s blathering on aboot how she’s certain she failed today’s English test as Brooke approaches the table, says some Brookey things and soaks up Courtney’s sycophantic flattery.   Matt approaches and sits down next to Ashley.  Brooke, who is still hovering behind everyone at the table, tells Matt that it was great talking to him on the phone last night which elicits a stunned “What?!” from Ashley.  Aside from the look of shock on Ashley’s face, this is all very boring and it turns oot Brooke called Matt aboot a homework assignment or some shit, but since this is all clearly part of Brooke’s evil plan, I put the noose aside and resign myself to finish watching the scene.  This was a mistake on my part, because after Matt leaves the table with Brooke tagging after him, Courtney turns to Ashley and says, “Brooke really dresses beautifully, doesn’t she?  In fact, Brooke is beautiful.”  Forget it, Courtney.  She’s oot of your league.  But I understand Jake is single.

Now we see Matt and Jake at their bizarre stand-alone pair of lockers.  Matt tells Jake that he’ll catch up with him later because he “got a note from Coach Williams” who wants to see him at noon.  This is a high school basketball coach who communicates with his team by passing notes.  Jake ascends the stairs in a paroxysm of Matt adoration that ends with a completely unironic, “Catch ya later, Ace!”

The dulcet tones of Dylan’s guitar emanate from the lounge where he is sitting on a table playing his electric guitar which is plugged into an amp that’s sitting on a coffee table that seems to have appeared in the lounge just to facilitate Dylan’s private jam session.  Seriously.  This butt nugget is hanging oot alone in the school lounge with an electric guitar and an amplifier, yet he acts surprised when Deadpool shows up and gushes aboot what a great guitar player he is, as if he hadn’t expected such an intrusion upon his private concert for one.  Oot of nowhere, Dylan says to his little identically-dressed groupie, “Did you know Jimi Hendrix played left-handed?” as Matt approaches, makes a few “rock star” remarks to Dylan that I guess are supposed to be insults, and mocks Billy for his Dylanesque duds.

Back in the girls’ locker room, Brooke and Kelly remind any amnesiacs oot there in TV Land that they’re plotting to do something devious to Matt and Ashley.

Now we’re back in the strange locker vestibule and Courtney is tagging after an extremely disinterested Brooke talking animatedly aboot her writing.  As if attempting to save her pathetic friend from further embarrassment, Ashley comes bounding down the stairs like a six year old that just ate a case of Pixie Stix and tells Courtney that she did okay on the test she’d been stressing aboot earlier.  She asks Brooke how she did on the test and she curtly answers, “fine.”  Dylan is listening as he comes down the stairs and he notices (because he has eyes) that Brooke’s test paper is sticking oot of her folder, so he snatches it and informs everyone in earshot that she got a 53 on the test.  Brooke runs off, mortified.

What follows is the single greatest scene ever.  Ashley, still wearing Matt’s letterman jacket, approaches Matt at his locker:

“hi, matt.”

“YEAH?!?!”

“jake said you had a meeting with your basketball coach.  So how’d it go?”

Matt violently chucks some books into his locker, slams it closed, it swings back open (of course) and Ashley is once again left to wallow in devastated confusion.

The excitement is short-lived, because now Courtney and Deadpool are on the steps waxing catatonic aboot their parents again.

Back at The Avalon, Filth Pig serves up some sodas to Matt and Ashley’s booth.  Matt’s explaining to Ashley that Coach Williams told him he’s lazy, despite the fact that he averages 19 points a game.  Never one to engage in damage control, Ashley whispers another log onto the fire in Matt’s soul by seeming to side with Coach Williams:

“I don’t know.  Maybe…”

“MAYBE WHAT?!?”

“maybe he thinks you do need to work a little harder.”

“I scored 27 points!”

“maybe he thinks you can score even more.”

“OH, THIS IS GREAT!  YOU’RE TAKING HIS SIDE!”

Ashley finally snaps oot of her masochistic episode and gets up to go to some meeting as Matt continues to grumble aboot having an absentee girlfriend while he’s “dealing with all this garbage from Williams”.  As Ashley exits, we see that Kelly and a couple of unnamed girls are sitting at a nearby booth watching with amusement.  But this here is a double-lurk situation, y’all, because if you look closely, you will see Theresa for the first time sitting on a stool at the counter eavesdropping on the table of eavesdroppers.  Kelly is planting the seeds of a rumor aboot Matt having a crush on Brooke.  I’m surprised they didn’t keep panning oot until eventually we saw God eavesdropping on Theresa eavesdropping on Kelly eavesdropping on Ashley and Matt.  FUCK – I thought this goddamn scene was finally over.  How foolish of me.  Dutch Boy in Garanimals catches up to Kelly on her way oot and chastises her for spreading rumors.  Kelly refrains from chastising Dutch Boy for not minding her own fucking business.  It is nothing short of tragic that I’m unable to find a Google image of what Theresa is wearing in this scene.

Back at Hillside, Brooke kamikazes Matt in the hallway and tries to get him to admit that he and Ashley are having problems.  Instead, he continues to vent aboot his problems with “the yo-yo that coaches the basketball team”.  We get treated to the exact same diatribe he just unleashed on Ashley at The Avalon, but Brooke, of course, is far more sympathetic and flattering.  Matt thanks her for her manufactured kindness and adds, “It’s nice to get a little support from someone.”  Matt splits, Dylan wanders into view, and Brooke continues flirting shamelessly, as if it doesn’t matter one bit who she flirts with, as long as she’s flirting with someone.  Brooke is fishing for Dylan to ask her to The Avalon later and he pretends to take the bait.: “It could be fun.  Tell you what, forget Avalon’s.  Let’s go to New York for the weekend.”  Brooke calls him a pig and glares after him as he swaggers away, apparently too offended to point oot that the only place in town that any of these little Canadian shit stains ever patronize is called The Avalon.

Exterior shot of the plantation where Brooke and Dutch Boy live.  Brooke’s bedroom is considerably larger than all the apartments in which I’ve ever lived combined.  This is pre-Internet Age, of course, yet she has two computers.  Brooke is putting clothes away when Theresa enters.  The discussion to follow is ridiculous and dull, but of course, essential for the understanding of future events, so let’s see how fast I can explain this nonsense.  Theresa reminds Brooke that she promised she would be home this coming Friday afternoon to answer a call that their mother is expecting.  Yeah, I don’t fucking get it, either.  Apparently, Mom is expecting an important call at 4:30 on Friday, but won’t be home to take it.  Rather than, I don’t know, trust her answering machine, she instead insisted that one of her daughters stay home to answer this call.  Theresa wants to go to Crystal’s birthday party that afternoon, so she’s reminding Brooke of her promise to be home for Mom’s telephone call.  Then Theresa asks Brooke aboot the rumors she overheard Kelly discussing and attempts to advise Brooke not to get between Matt and Ashley.  Harsh words are spoken.  Animosity foments.  The world keeps spinnin’.

Kelly and Brooke are at The Avalon, sitting at the counter.  There are some hard-to-discern baked goods visible through the dingy plastic of the normally empty cake stand, perhaps hastily gathered together by Filth Pig when he noticed that two main characters were choosing to sit at the counter instead of their usual booth.  No one else seems to be present, not even the staff.  Yet, when Brooke tells Kelly that she has a plan to break up Ashley and Matt, they both lean in as close to each other as possible while Kelly cups her ear and Brooke pantomimes whispering a secret.

Attila The Hun room.  Matt is pretending to play pinball, even though the machine is clearly unplugged, while Ashley and Jake hover over him.  They’re still talking aboot Coach Williams hassling Matt.  Ashley whispers something and Matt yells at her.  Jake nervously chimes in and Matt yells at him.  Matt – still yelling — changes the subject to weekend plans.  The rest of this scene makes me giddy because it’s the first time that Matt’s drinking is mentioned.  I’ll let the l’il Canucks speak for themselves:

Matt:  There’s gotta be a party somewhere.

Jake:  Sounds good to me!

Matt:  Then that’s what we’ll do.  You find oot where there’s a party happening and I’ll line up a case of beer.

Jake:  Oh.  Right.

Matt:  Don’t sound so enthusiastic.  C’mon.  You can’t have a party withoot beer!

Ashley:  well, actually, you can.

Matt: Oh, man, here we go!  The ‘Just Say No To Beer’ lecture.

Ashley:  I’m not lecturing.

Matt:  Look — it’s not totally unusual for guys to have a few beers on Saturday night.  So what’s the problem?

Jake:  We’re not saying it’s a problem.

Matt:  Good!

Ashley:  but it’s not just Saturday nights, is it?  I mean, you drink beer more than once a week.

Matt:  LOOK – I’M SICK AND TIRED OF BEING HASSLED!!  First, I have to put up with Williams and now this, AND I JUST DON’T NEED IT!

Matt storms oot of The Avalon as a sullen Ashley closes the episode with this foreboding summation: “he’s changing…and I’m really starting to worry aboot him.”

Trust me, Matt: there isn’t enough beer in the world to make this fucking little whispering douche pickle palatable.  But I’ll bet you everything from a diddle-eyed Joe to a damned-if-I-know that Brooke can hold her liquor.

Next installment: THE DISLOCATED SWEDE!!

 

The Nightmare Commences

cafe

Season 1, Episode 1

A school bell rings as an illustrated high school morphs into a real high school while the greatest theme music ever composed on a toy Casio keyboard assaults your ears.  A wide shot of the school hallway where Matt (credited in the opening as “Matt”), Ashley (“Ashley”) and Jake (“Jake”) pass a basketball around.  Then we find ourselves in Brooke’s bedroom where Theresa (“Theresa”) picks up the phone, then hands it to Kelly (“Kelly”) who proceeds to hand it off to Brooke (“Brooke”).  Finally, we’re in Dylan’s garage, introduced by turn to Billy (“Billy”), Dylan (“Dylan”), and Courtney (“Courtney”).  An interior shot of the Avalon and we’re off to the races.  As you can see, aside from the exclusion of Cindy and Olaf from the opening montage, it basically accomplishes in aboot 20 seconds what it took me 28 paragraphs to do in my last post.

These episodes all had titles, incidentally, but aside from the previously mentioned “The Dislocated Swede”, I’m not going to bother finding oot what they all were.  And no, they are not indicated anywhere on the DVR set that I recently scored which is of slightly higher quality than a collection of cell phone videos of a TV screen.

First we meet Brooke and Kelly who enter through the perplexing door that may or may not be the main entrance of the school.  On the one hand, there is an exit sign above the door, visible from the inside, but if you look through the narrow window panes, you can see that there’s something else going on back there and it can’t be the direct access to the school from ootside.  If my first day of school at this den of torture had been over a decade ago, I’d probably still be standing ootside trying to figure oot how the fuck to get in.  Anyway, Brooke and Kelly waste no time launching into their mean girl schtick and Kelly tells Brooke that she saw Courtney sitting ootside on the steps “looking totally tragic”.  Of course, they must find oot why ASAP.  Then they continue to fill in some backstory by mercilessly trashing Ashley for being, well, Ashley, and debating Matt’s hotness.  This is the cue for Matt to appear from the mysterious stairwell (which is across from the soda machine, not next to it as I indicated previously…this is important!).  In the early episodes, Matt is almost always wearing his Hillside letterman jacket, which is a small mercy as it temporarily shields us from his abominable wardrobe composed entirely of clashing-colored polo shirts.  Matt asks them if they’ve seen Ashley, then beats a hasty retreat, leaving Kelly to gush aboot how hot he is through her cumbersome but somehow aesthetically appealing braces.  A few pointed eye rolls later and we see Matt approaching a table in the student lounge (?) occupied by a couple of jocks and Jake.  Jake is no jock.  I think the writers hadn’t figured oot what to do with him yet because his attitude is relaxed and even slightly antagonistic as he gushes on and on aboot what a fabulous basketball player his shitty best friend is.  Jake is so obviously warm for Matt’s form, but in a show that tackled issues like alcoholism, divorce and terminal disease, homosexuality was still a bridge too far.  So let’s assume it was intentionally implied.  One of the unnamed jocks hails Matt for scoring “27 points…in the last 5 minutes” in Friday’s game.  I have to assume that the opposing team must all have come down with explosive diarrhea at the 5 minute warning, since it would be literally impossible to score 27 points in 5 minutes even if you were playing against a squad of paraplegics.  This scene is so painful to watch and it’s also the only time that Ashley’s entrance elicits a sigh of relief.  Ashley even somehow manages to walk in a whisper.  She whisper-walks to Matt’s side and whispers “hi, matt”, and Matt gives her a tiny peck on the cheek.  Got that?  A tiny, completely platonic peck on the cheek.  Jake reacts: “WOAH-HO!  STAND BACK!!  WE’LL GET BLINDED BY THE SPARKS OF PASSION!”  I shit you not.  Ashley and Matt mutter a few platitudes to each other that make it seem as if they’re meeting for the first time while Brooke and Kelly, obscured behind a fake potted bush of some kind, sneer at the nauseating spectacle (“If those two don’t cut it oot, I’m gonna gag!”)

As Ashley walks away from the table of jocks, Brooke and Kelly call her over to mock-praise her ootfit.  Ashley is wearing a pink denim jacket over a purple shirt and pink denim jeans.  I won’t have to describe what she’s wearing for the rest of this season, since it’s always a pink denim jacket over a purple shirt and pink denim jeans.  The only variation to her look is that the tougher life gets for poor Ashley, the more her pink denim jacket slides precipitously off her shoulders.

The scene changes and we see Courtney for the first time, wandering around the school wearing what I can only assume is her dead grandmother’s sofa.  Ashley enters from behind and says hi.  Courtney doesn’t return the pleasantry and asks if Ashley’s seen Billy.  Ashley sheepishly asks, “Your brother?” to which Courtney replies, “No, Billy Idol.  Who’d you think?”  BFFs warm the heart, don’t they?  Courtney’s facial features ooze disdain for her bestie – and this is the first time we’re ever shown an interaction between these two.  Courtney says a few more unnecessarily sarcastic things and bolts, setting up the first of countless close-up shots of Ashley’s face trying to process the fact that life just once again took a jackhammer to her fragile little soul.  These poignant and wonderful moments are the reason film was invented.

A completely superfluous dialogue between Brooke and Matt follows.  This whole scene is irrelevant, but there are a few key things to point oot.  Matt is eating a bag of microwave popcorn at one of the lounge tables.  Brooke is carrying what looks like a cafeteria tray with an apple on it.  Brooke flirts for a bit, then walks away.  Jake appears, seemingly from thin air, and asks for the first time the question that is pretty much the backbone of the show: “Did I just miss something here?”  No, Jake.  No, you didn’t, because you were fucking eavesdropping the whole time, just like everyone who inhabits the Ninth Circle of Hell, a/k/a Hillside.  But the important thing here is Brooke’s cafeteria tray.  Never again do we see any sign of an actual cafeteria or lunchroom because everyone brings a bag lunch and eats in the lounge, even though the lounge is never occupied by more than 4 people at a time.

Matt and Jake exchange a few sweet nothings and on their way to the gym, they run into Dylan swaggering through the halls, all leather jacket and ripped jeans.  He greets Matt with a sarcastic (I think), “Hey, Stud”, then launches into what is either an insulting diatribe or a sincere tribute to “THE Matt Walker”, replete with words like “spectacular”.  Then he leans in and pinches Matt’s polo shirt and says, “May I touch your raiment?”  Think aboot that.  Somebody actually sat down and wrote that shit into a television script.  They nearly come to blows, some ominous music plays and we have now established that Matt and Dylan are sworn enemies whose only means of expressing such animosity is through effusive and sometimes Shakespearian praise.  As Dylan exits, Matt sarcastically asks Jake if he should be shaking in his boots and Jake, of course, doubts that “a macho guy like you” needs to be worried.  Jake is mucho attuned to Matt’s macho appeal.

The next scene is supposed to be some time later, I guess, because now Dylan is at one of the lounge tables studying or pretending to study or looking at porn that he has discretely hidden in his open textbook.  Enter Deadpool carrying a skateboard.  It seems that at this stage in his career, Ryan Reynolds hadn’t yet mastered the art of dialogue withoot getting uncomfortably winded.  They talk aboot skateboardy things for a few seconds until Brooke inserts herself into the scene and – just in case we hadn’t yet gotten a handle on what Dylan’s all aboot – says, “Well, look at this!  If it isn’t Hillside’s professional rebel, looking like he just fell off the back of a motorcycle”.   A swing and a miss, Brooke.  Brooke says a few more things and saunters off, leaving Dylan to warn young Billy to “be careful” of women like Brooke because “they’re trouble”.  This is to establish at the onset the sort of hip-paternal attitude Dylan takes towards his little protégé.  But this is Deadpool – no slouch even at 13 years of age – and he’s wise to the fact that Dylan secretly has the hots for Brooke.

Now comes Courtney and Ashley’s second attempt to convince us that they’re actually friends who don’t secretly desire to disembowel each other.  It’s slightly more successful than the first attempt.  As Courtney’s funeral home drapes swish around her lower half, she tenders an apology for having been “a real cow” earlier that morning.  They establish that they’re still friends and then keep acting as if they’re painfully uncomfortable in each other’s company.  Finally, Courtney sits down and fills Ashley in on what’s been up her ass all day, while Billy and Dylan look on, oot of earshot.  Billy is eagerly waiting for his sister to open her brown-bagged lunch because he shook up her can of soda earlier and thinks it will be a hoot when she opens it.  Courtney tells Ashley that last night, “after supper”, her mom wanted to have a talk.  Two or three eons pass as Courtney hems and haws and basically says nothing at all, leaving Ashley to whisper-guess what might have happened.  Before Courtney finds her words (a process that always takes longer than most trips to the DMV), she opens the can of Sprite and gets sprayed all over her atrocious old lady dress.  In her frustration, Courtney decides this is a good time to inform her little brother that their parents are breaking up.  We get a dramatic close-up of Courtney’s tortured face as Ashley whispers, “courtney” over dramatic scene-change music.  I don’t think Jean Paul Sartre could have conceived of a more horrifying version of Hell than this fucking school.

Our first exterior shot of The Avalon, arguably the most consistently confusing thing on this show.  It’s on a city street with an el-train above and behind the street, and an ominous building that looks like the Texas Book Depository flanking the strip of businesses.  The only storefront sign that can be made oot says “Chinese Foods”, though we’re never given reason to believe that The Avalon traffics in egg foo young.  Even the traffic patterns on the street ootside the buildings make no sense.

Inside, a chubby kid is serving milkshakes to Brooke and Kelly’s table.  His apron is filthy and stained, as is the disgusting rag slung over his shoulder.  He never speaks.  You will see this guy several more times and he’s always just as unappetizingly filthy.

The seeds of a plot to destroy Ashley are germinating here, but nothing really gets off the ground.  So I’d advise instead that you pay attention to the extras in the background, at the counter, etc.  There’s a cake stand on the counter that is always empty but I guess that’s just as well because everyone at the Avalon who isn’t part of the main cast appears to be mute, so they might not even have mouths.  Often they just sit perfectly still, staring ahead.

Cut to the boys’ locker room and our first unobscured glance at one of Matt’s unholy polo shirts.  Jake is whining to Matt aboot having to do gymnastics until Matt tells him that he likes gymnastics which, of course, shuts Jake right the fuck up.  Then Jake gets to what’s really on his mind – the fact that he saw Brooke talking to Matt earlier.  Jake’s possessive jealousy is so transparent that I’m surprised Matt doesn’t constantly pirouette to ensure he’s not staring at his ass.  Jake is fully dressed but for some reason has a towel draped over his shoulder for this entire scene.  Matt mockingly advises Jake to watch oot for the pummel horse which is “trying to kill him” while grasping his shoulder in a way that must send Jake’s libido into overdrive.  Matt closes his locker, which doesn’t close.  None of the lockers in this school close, but just bounce back open according to the amount of force applied in the attempt to close them.  In other words, the budget didn’t allow for operable cheap metal lockers.  But it allowed for fucking Ryan Reynolds, didn’t it?

Courtney and Deadpool are in the hallway talking aboot their parents.  Courtney tells him that last night, after supper, Mom filled her in on the fact that she and Dad weren’t getting along so well.  We kind of know all this shit already, so the rehashing is superfluous, but there’s one thing to keep in mind for future reference.  More than once, Courtney describes this little talk with Mom as a “family meeting”, even though it involved only her and Mom (“…because I’m older, I guess” – wrong, Courtney).  But of course (and there’s no such thing as a spoiler alert for this show), not getting along eventually progresses to Dad moving oot which finally ends in divorce.  For each of these developments, a family meeting is called.  However, the divorce news was broken only to Billy in an “after supper family meeting”.  So sometimes, these psychopathic parents tell one child major bad news and sometimes they tell the other, but never both.  I guess they think breaking “tragic” news to a sibling puts hair on yer chest.  We never meet their parents (or ANY adults, for that matter, for the entire 65 episode run) but one thing is for certain: Canada’s version of DYFS needs to pay a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Simpson, stat.

Holy Mother of God, there are still over 9 minutes left in this episode.  What the hell did I get myself into?

As Courtney walks away from Billy, she is blitzkrieged by Brooke and Kelly who are coming down the stairs, ostensibly sympathizing but clearly delighted aboot her family troubles.  No matter how shitty Brooke is to her, Courtney clearly admires her and wishes that she was Brooke instead of Courtney, which I guess is understandable, but no less pathetic to watch.

Back at The Avalon, the disgusting chubby pig of a waiter is delivering a round of sodas to Ashley, Matt and Jake.  These three are seriously sitting at a booth, idly swirling their sodas with a straw, discussing the possible divorce of Courtney’s parents.  The melodrama is so thick you could cut it with a hockey stick, especially that which silently tiptoes its way oot of Ashley’s mouth.  Courtney enters and approaches the table and everyone, of course, falls silent.  The rest of this scene makes me want to pluck oot both of my eyes with a salad fork.  The gang extends condolences to a surprisingly upbeat Courtney and when she informs them that she’s doing okay, they refuse to accept that, especially Ashley, who clearly hates it when people are doing okay.  She even whispers, no shit, “it’s a long way from being okay”.

Back at Hillside, Billy’s sitting on the steps when Dylan descends and tenders a heartfelt “bummer” aboot the situation with his parents.  They decide to go skateboarding.  They could have just as easily inserted a commercial break right here and no one would have been the wiser.

Now we’re in the back pinball room of The Avalon and Matt is holding court at the Atila The Hun machine.  The flippers are moving and a ball is actually in play.  We will see Matt, among others, “playing” pinball at this machine many more times, but this is the first and last time that it actually seems to be operational.  Ashley’s pink denim whispers ‘round the corner like an autumn breeze in Ottawa and she asks Matt how he’s doing.  This scene takes far too long just to essentially establish that Ashley is a fucking dork that belongs to every school club there is and because of this, she and Matt don’t see each other as much as they’d like.  Matt asks her to the mall.  Ashley demurs and says she has to go home and study.  Of course.  Fucking pink denim dork.  They kiss lightly and I throw up in my mouth a little, as does Brooke who is eavesdropping with Kelly at a booth just ootside the pinball room.  Brooke sets a timeline for the destruction of their relationship: next Friday.

Next scene, we’re still at The Avalon, but it must be again as opposed to still because Jake is retrieving two sodas from the chubby pig behind the counter and bringing them to the table where he’s sitting with Courtney.  Remember when I told you to pay attention to the people at the counter in the background?  Right now, it’s the same two people wearing the same ootfits sitting on the same stools as THREE AVALON SCENES AGO.  I don’t understand the way the space-time continuum plays oot in Vancouver, I guess.  Jake and Courtney are discussing weekend plans.  Jake hasn’t heard of any “wild parties” going on, so he predicts that he’ll stay at home “watching reruns on TV”.  Notice how the writers couldn’t even think of an easy pop-culture reference to shoehorn into this chat: the best they could come up with was “reruns on TV”. This is the first time we are made aware of Jake’s fatal Courtney crush, but I think it comes too quickly on the heels of his barely concealed advances toward Matt.  Jake asks Courtney oot – to a movie or something – or at least thinks he does.  Miraculously, she seems to accept until she follows with “we’ll get a whole group of people together and have a really good time”.  DENIED, JAKE!!  This clearly isn’t what Jake had in mind and his awkwardness upon hearing it is Oscar-worthy, but short-lived.  Courtney must hear the scene-change music starting up because she suddenly looks Jake in the eye and says, “Oh, Jake.  They’re my parents.  My mom and dad.  If they break up…what am I gonna do?”  They stare at each other for a painfully long moment as the scene stubbornly refuses to end no matter what the background music indicates.

But this time, it’s not a scene change, but clips from next week’s episode, and now I understand why they dragged oot that interminable staring moment for as long as they did.  Dramatic effect, pure and simple.  The first rule of an effective teen soap, of course, is this: Always leave ‘em wanting to hang themselves from the shower rod with a towel.

Deadpool: The High School Years

billy

A couple of years ago, I began blogging and have continued to do so, on and off, as the mood or inspiration strikes.  The blog went through several incarnations over time, but the subject matter was generally of the philosophical, political and/or quantum physics-variety with occasional forays into fiction and humor.  Regarding the aforementioned weighty topics, I have plum run oot of things to say.  My points were made, sometimes many times over, and I’m far from being an influential or popular online voice.  Not to mention, I have completely lost faith in the human race as anything other than an aggressive species of dumb animal, so attempting to influence their views is pointless.  Therefore, today I will be changing things up.  Drastically.

I am currently unemployed and not exactly in a hurry to remedy that situation.  Like most idle Americans in the year 2019, I have spent many an hour online delving into trivial minutiae until I reach the level of self-made expert in, say, famous Scientologists or what a colossal douchebag the character of Zack Morris was on Saved By The Bell.  If anyone oot there needs a paper written on either of these topics, hit me up.  Guaranteed A.  But it was the latter time waster that led me (back) down an eerily familiar rabbit hole aboot which I hadn’t spared a thought since the early 90s.  YouTube is digital fentanyl.

Cutting to the chase: I rediscovered, to my sheer joy and consternation, the Nickelodeon teen soap opera entitled Fifteen.  Never heard of it, you say?  Well, you must be one of my friends from the Great White North, the birthplace of this most amazing television program, where it was known instead as Hillside.

Fifteen ran for four seasons, from 1991 to 1993.  It inhabited the same cultural space as Beverly Hills 90210 and Saved By The Bell and had no qualms about shamelessly ripping off the cheesiest aspects of both of those programs (Fifteen’s stereotypical leather jacket-wearing rebel was even named Dylan).  And by the time – wait, what did I just hear someone say?  In the back there, did you just say “Degrassi High”?  Kindly gather up your things and exit the seminar, you Philistine.  There’s room enough for more than one Canadian teen soap opera from the nineties and yet, you insist on mentioning the clearly inferior of the two and fucking up my dissertation.  That’s it…don’t let the door hit you…

Okay.  Back in 1991, a Canadian guy named John Binkley performed television alchemy.  He gathered up dozens of the worst child actors he could find, put them on a mind-bogglingly nonsensical set that vaguely resembled a high school designed by M. C. Escher, stuck scripts filled with the worst dialogue ever written into their little Canuck hands and somehow came oot with pure TV gold.

This page, at least for the next 65 posts, will be dedicated to analyzing, critiquing, exploring and dissecting each and every episode of the mighty and incomparable FIFTEEN – the most incredible TV show ever aired.  Believe it or not, this is not an original idea.  It seems the show has developed somewhat of an online cult following and though mocking its production values and ham-fisted dialogue is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel, it’s the most fun you can possibly have with a gun and a barrel and a fish.   Before embarking on my own exhaustive tribute to Fifteen, I should give some inspirational props to the following two (hysterically brilliant) strangers who beat me to the punch:

https://notmakingplans.blogspot.com/2011/01/fifteen-most-amazing-show-ever-episode.html

http://retroramblings.com/retro-rerun-review-fifteen/

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t let you know that season 1 is available in its entirety on YouTube (and one or two online streaming services).  For the final 3 seasons, you’ll just have to take the word of your humble narrator who recently scored an 11-disc set of poorly made DVRs of the entire series.  This was an experience akin to finding a million dollars in unmarked bills in my mailbox.  No joke.

Following this introductory post, I will be writing an individual post for each of the 65 episodes aired.  Trust me, there is much to explore and the devil is in the details.  So I’ll wind up this post with some vital information that will be indispensable as we progress.  In other words, I’m not planning to describe each character anew every time they’re mentioned, nor will I give multiple detailed descriptions of the handful of environments they inhabit, so take notes.  First, the settings:

Season 1 had precisely four sets: the hallway/student lounge of Hillside High; the Avalon; the boys’ locker room (which also doubled as the girls’ locker room when the need arose); and Dylan’s garage.

In Seasons 3 and 4, we sometimes saw the world’s most depressing teenagers hanging oot at the mall (?), the mall café, and a few of the main characters’ basements.

Hillside High hallway/student lounge:  The design of this school makes aboot as much sense as a hydrophobic fish.  It seems that the door from which the students enter leads directly into a vestibule with a row of lockers on each side.  There is no visible foyer and we are never afforded a view of the actual entrance, other than in stock footage of the ootside of what is clearly a different school between scenes.  Emerging from this small locker-lined hallway, we come to a large open space containing a couch, two tables and a smattering of chairs.  Oh, and there’s a soda machine.  A few feet from the soda machine stand two lockers.  They stand alone.  This makes absolutely no sense, until you realize that these lockers belong to MATT and JAKE, and their privileged location allows for private locker conversation between these two main characters.  Characters frequently enter the scene from a stairwell to the right of the soda machine.  So the school has more than one floor, yet we never get a glimpse of what lies beyond the top of those stairs.  I suspect the stairs were an afterthought when Mr. Binkley realized that there wasn’t a good place for characters to lurk and eavesdrop on what was going on below.  This school is a fucking nightmare.

The Avalon:  Every teen show needs a hangoot, and this one’s a doozy.  I imagine that hanging oot with these self-pitying sad-sacks at this, the most depressing diner/coffee shop of all time, would be an experience akin to attending a wake at an all-night laundromat.  Unlike Hillside High and its hastily constructed stairwell, The Avalon is a lurker’s paradise.  And if these kids are expert at anything, it’s lurking and eavesdropping.  There are counter stools facing the mute, zombified staff and a smattering of booths.  Next to one of the two entrances (that are curiously situated just feet from each other) is a payphone.  In the rear is an antechamber with a pinball machine (Attila The Hun in season 1) and one additional booth.  From season 2 onward, there was a Rampage machine installed behind one of the booths.  A perpetually growing collection of 45 rpm records adorns the walls, along with a neon parrot.  If I had to guess what was on those records, I’d say that each and every one of them is “Go For A Soda” by Kim Mitchell.  There is much more to say aboot The Avalon, but I’ll let that happen organically as we progress through the episodes.

Locker Room(s):  A few blue lockers and a bench.  When it’s the boys’ locker room, there are fake football plays and an announcement for rugby tryoots on the blackboard in the rear.  When it’s the girls’ locker room, the blackboard disappears.  This place makes aboot as much sense as the main hallway, but it’s a good spot for Matt to unload on Jake withoot anyone else around to judge or interject.

Dylan’s Garage:  Dylan is a rocker.  He rocks and he doesn’t care what you think aboot it.  I suspect he has a very disturbingly unnatural relationship with his guitar, which he carries around like Linus with his blanket.  As a rocker, it wouldn’t do for Dylan to live under the same roof as his parents, oh hell, no.  The exterior shot of Dylan’s “place” is like Fred Sanford meets Mad Max.  It’s a collection of ramshackle buildings, all of which look to be garages, sitting in the midst of a literal junkyard.  One of these garages is where Dylan…lives?  People like to stop by unannounced to Dylan’s junkyard, a situation that Dylan always seems to meet with annoyed confusion.  The garage is “decorated” with road signs, license plates, power tools and sundry garage-type items.  A lot of shit will go down in this garage, my friends, so brace yourselves.

Since the other locations don’t appear until later seasons, I’ll leave it at that with the sets and settings for now.  The mall/café prominently featured in seasons 3 and 4 might need a post of its own.  On to the cast!

Some of the characters’ last names are known, others are not.  If I know them, I will indicate them here, otherwise, I’ll just use the first names.  The beauty of writing a blog that has nothing to do with philosophy or politics or science is that no one will care if I’m meticulously accurate, so any research I do for this series of posts will be minimal.  So many characters came and went in this show – and the 26-episode mess that was season 4 was so busy with unnecessary and flat-oot infuriating cast additions that I think for now, I will just go through the main characters from Season 1.  I’ll introduce the others later on, as they appear.

Matt Walker:  Played by Todd Talbot, currently a real estate agent and co-host of “Love It Or List It: Vancouver”.  Matt is the school basketball star, boyfriend of Ashley, and a drunk.  Prior to a season 3 rehab stint, Matt’s general demeanor towards everyone (including his girlfriend and his best friend) shows that he has the shortest fuse imaginable and he REALLY doesn’t like being hassled.  In other words, he’s a prick.  Until season 4, that is, at which time he inexplicably transforms into The Saint of Hillside High.

Ashley Frasier:  Played by Laura Harris, who later went on to star in The Faculty, 24, and Dead Like Me.  Matt’s eternally put-upon girlfriend, dedicated student and all around “good girl”.  Ashley never speaks above a whisper but the melodrama communicated by her perpetual susurrus will make you want to rip your face off.  Or hers.  I fucking hate this girl so much that I think I might be in love with her.  I’m pretty sure that’s what Matt thinks of her, too.

Courtney Simpson:  This frumpy asshole might be the worst-dressed character in the history of television.  She schmutzes around the school in floor-length floral-patterned Colonial-era outfits complaining about how unappealing she is to guys – even (especially) when she’s in the company of a guy who clearly has a major crush on her.  Ostensibly, she is Ashley’s best friend, though you’d never know it from their interactions.  Courtney is awkward and self-absorbed – a terrible combination, for sure.  Yet everyone seems to inexplicably love this anachronistic twat.

Deadpool Billy Simpson:  Courtney’s younger brother and Dylan fan-boy.  Later, he becomes a bully and later still, a player.  Now let’s go even a little later…2 Guys, A Girl & A Pizza Place?  People Magazine’s three-time Sexiest Man Alive?  DEADPOOL?!?  If you hadn’t already guessed from the title of this post, THIS IS MOTHERFUCKING RYAN REYNOLDS, Y’ALL.  That’s right.  You can run, Ryan, but you can’t hide from your past.  I’m just doing my part to ensure that you never forget.

Brooke Morgan:  Played by Robyn Ross, who seems to be the only former cast member willing to admit publicly that she was a major part of this show.  Brooke is the school bitch, and what a wondrous bitch she is.  She and her partner-in-crime Kelly (season 1) positively live to destroy other peoples’ lives, particularly Ashely’s.  Brooke is a rich, style-conscious, vain purveyor of malicious gossip and devious schemes, and she effortlessly accomplishes all of this without the aid of future technology like cell phones or social media.  She likes to make guys fall for her so that she can reject them.  She used to go oot with Matt, apparently, and this might have something to do with her oot-sized hatred for Ashley, although I never dated Matt and I, too, have an oot-sized hatred for Ashley, so who knows.

Kelly:  Played by Enuka Okuma, currently the star of Rookie Blue, apparently.  Kelly was the best character in the entire run of this show and her one-season involvement with it was far too short.  Kelly initially seems like nothing more than a Brooke tagalong until you get to know her and start to recognize her true seething hatred for her “best friend” simmering just below the surface.  Kelly rocks.  Not literally, like Dylan, but figuratively, like Bill Nye The Science Guy.

Theresa Morgan:  Brooke’s little sister who dresses like the little douche from the Dutch Boy Paint cans if Dutch Boy had been really into Garanimals.  After season 1, she mysteriously disappears (but don’t fret – another sister appears in her place!)

Dylan Blackwell:  Played by Chris “Corky” Martin.  The Rebel.  The Rocker.  The leather jacket-clad, too-cool-for-school dreamboat with rock star aspirations and a subtle-but-sexy facial scar that looks like it was intentionally added to his face through plastic surgery.  Dylan gives no shits.  Until season 4, that is…when he dons a pink shirt, gets a job at a café, and starts giving so many shits about everything he trashed for the previous 3 seasons that I’m actually embarrassed for a fictional character.

Jake Deosdade:  Played by some kid named Ken Angel.  Jake is supposed to be Matt’s best friend, but he is clearly petrified of him – after all, you never know when Matt’s gonna start to feel hassled.  Jake is everyone’s friend, but no one’s crush.  He pines for Courtney – Courtney!! – but although she sometimes refers to him as her best friend (when Ashley’s oot of earshot), she treats him more like a pet hamster than a potential love interest.  Jake is the third most awkward character in TV history (the other two are also from this show, of course).  Incidentally, Jake is the only character on this show who “season hopped” – he was prominently featured in seasons 1 and 3, but not 2 and 4.

Cindy:  The school hippie and unhinged environmental Nazi.  She pretty much exists to chastise people for eating tuna, litter the walls of the school with trite environmental slogans on 8 ½ x 11 sheets of construction paper, and occasionally give a wrath of shit to people she barely knows for things that have nothing to do with her.  But at least she was nice to…

Olaf:  The exchange student.  Eventually, we learn he is from Finland, even though the episode through which he was introduced was titled “The Dislocated Swede”.  This obvious Canadian actor doesn’t have the slightest trace of an accent and the writers’ attempts to make him mangle the language are actually more eloquently spoken than any of the rest of the dialogue on this show.  Olaf exists so that Brooke and Matt can mock him, and so that Billy can befriend him until he eventually decides that he should un-befriend him.  Olaf disappears after season 1 and mercifully, so does Cindy.

So that’s the basics to get us started.  If you decide to stick around for the next 65 posts, I guarantee that you will become just as obsessed with this glorious shit-show as I am.  Either that, or you will swear off ever reading another Desertcurmudgeon post for the rest of your life.  It’s your call.  And in the interest of full disclosure, I should also let you know that if you decide to stick around, you will in short order find yourself utilizing the following words and phrases with alarming frequency:

“Even so…”

“Did I just miss something here?”

“Tragic!”

Either those, or:

“Fuck you, Desertcurmudgeon!  Just FUCK YOU!!”

Either way, I’ll feel like I’ve succeeded in my mission.  Enjoy.

 

The Broadcast (A Quantum Bedtime Story)

test

Part I

It was October 3, 1954.  Yu Nguyen had just arrived at the Dumont Network headquarters in New York for his overnight shift as an unpaid intern.  It was 11:45 pm and the control room console was alight with The John Hopkins Science Review which was currently boring the hell out of approximately 30 insomniac viewers across the Tri-State area.  This was always, somewhat fittingly, the final broadcast of the night before the network signed off.

Yu Nguyen was feeling mischievous.  This may have been a trait inherited from his parents, Vietnamese immigrants and physics researchers whose whip-smart wit often failed to penetrate the dense minds of their new American colleagues and acquaintances. The pronunciation of their son’s name was a bilingual pun that invariably went right over the heads of Americans who insisted on addressing him as “Yoo Nah-Goy-Een”.

In less than 15 minutes, the closing credits of The Review would give way to a ghostly image of the Stars and Stripes billowing in a slo-mo breeze to a blaring brass band rendition of the National Anthem.  Then a test pattern would appear accompanied by a sustained high-pitched tone.  On most nights, it was Yu’s job to sit in a chair and watch the test pattern, seemingly to ensure that it remained appropriately dull and pointless until programming resumed at 6:00 am.  But tonight, he had tasked himself with something far more stimulating.

He reached into the pocket of his long peacoat and retrieved a pair of scissors.  Then he stood up and sifted through a shelf of film reels until he found the one containing last night’s episode of Captain Video and His Video Rangers.  Finally, he fished a small cigarette lighter from his breast pocket.  With all the necessary tools now at hand, Yu set to work snipping, splicing and fusing until he’d successfully created 10 seconds of celluloid-borne live action so cryptic that it would nearly drive the entire species insane.  But that turn of events would have to wait a full century before coming to fruition.  Tonight, Yu’s subversive handiwork would manage to mildly confuse precisely one person: William Blotnick, an out-of-work CPA who was staring at a TV in the Bellevue drunk tank at the onset of the worst case of delirium tremens he had ever experienced.

Over the course of that interminable night, William saw all kinds of horrifying things.  He saw spiders marching in lockstep up and down his forearms.  He saw winged bedpans and snarling, angry thermometers.  And when he glanced up at the television that was bolted to the wall across from where he lay, he saw the test pattern suddenly transform itself into an image of terrible actor Al Hodge in the role of Captain Video speaking to a younger terrible actor named Don Hastings.  Here’s the dialogue that accompanied the unexpected scene:

Hodge:  The fate of the galaxy depends on your completion of this most vital mission.

Hastings:  But Captain, why have everyone’s faces disappeared?  Where have they gone?

Hodge:  It’s too late for them, Ranger.  Dark matter swallows every face in its path.

Hastings:  I want them to come back!  Where are my parents?

Hodge:  In the universe just over there, Ranger.  If you reach them, the price of your reunion will be the annihilation of the galaxy.  Forget about them.  Forget about everyone!  Now go!  Your very life, as well as your pudgy little face depend on how well you balance yourself at the edge of the Event Horizon.

Then, just like that, William found himself staring at the static image of a test pattern again.  The whole interlude had been so unexpected that even the flying bedpans and threatening thermometers had paused to take it in.

In less than a year, William Blotnick would die of kidney failure.  Yu’s little prank would have no further effect upon anyone for the next hundred years.

On October 3, 2054, Susan Biers-Cohen was taking a midnight jog along the exercise trail that surrounded the sleepy condominium community in which she lived.  She was about to have a most bizarre and inexplicable experience triggered by subtle subatomic processes that had occurred over the course of the past century.

Back in 1954, at the conclusion of the surgically spliced scene from Captain Video, the photons of light that had danced together to form those 10 curious seconds of television became entangled.  Invisibly and outside of experiential space-time, the scene played over and over, theoretical only for lack of an observer but as real as the tree that falls in the forest unwitnessed.  New episodes of Captain Video and The Science Review and The Morey Amsterdam Show were shown every night, followed by the National Anthem and six hours of a static black and white test pattern.  This daily sequence of events continued until the entire network went under in 1956 and all of it receded into obscure pop culture history.  Except for 10 inexplicable seconds that refused to be forgotten.  They were now poised to change the course of Susan Biers-Cohen’s life before going on to change the course of history.  And with the benefit of hindsight, it’s rather incredible to note that back on October 3, 1954, Yu Nguyen had found his own sly trickery worth no bigger a reaction than a quick, self-satisfied chuckle.

 

Barking In Tongues

barking

Echolocation, also called bio sonar, is the biological sonar used by several kinds of animals. Echolocating animals emit calls out to the environment and listen to the echoes of those calls that return from various objects near them. They use these echoes to locate and identify the objects. – from Wikipedia

“Hey, Tim. How was your weekend?”

“Good!  Too short!”

“Ha ha!  I hear ya!”

How many times on an average day would you guess that you engage in seemingly obligatory but wholly pointless noise making similar to the hypothetical exchange above?

The opening question masquerades as genuine interest in the specifics of Tim’s weekend.  It is actually an example of human echolocation – releasing sound into the atmosphere in the hopes that it might find a recipient who will confirm the questioner’s existence by replying to the rhetorical query.  Tim’s reply, which consisted of a nondescript monosyllabic answer, followed by the most stereotypical and painfully un-funny verbal garnish he could possibly have pulled from his ass, served two purposes: 1) maintaining his social status by reacting to speech with speech, as is culturally expected; and 2) seizing on an opportunity for Tim to perform his own act of echolocation which was successful immediately upon his acquaintance’s insincere laughter reaching his ears.  Not a whit of useful information – or any information, for that matter – was exchanged in the brief conversation, but its real motivation was fulfilled.  Two insecure people just reinforced their own sense of self by using each other as literal sounding boards.  If you’ve ever been awoken in the middle of the night by the incessant barking of several neighborhood dogs, then you’ve witnessed the exact same behavior from our canine friends.  If a dog bark can be translated into English, I suspect the closest word we possess to convey its meaning is “hey!”  For whatever reason, dog #1 shouts “hey!” into the night air and quickly receives a response from the dog next door.  “Hey!” says the dog next door, causing the dog three doors down to assert its own existence: “Hey!”  Before you know it, a canine cacophony befalls the neighborhood and your sleep is ruined.  So you grab your phone, call a friend and say, “Hey.”

One might reasonably suspect by now that I harbor an out-sized distaste for most human communication.  And that person would be right.  But my real inspiration for writing about this topic with such frequency is not simply to express my feelings about it – or perform typewritten feats of curiously verbose echolocation, if you will – but to hopefully make the reader take a microscope to their own utilization of speech (or text) as an ego reinforcement tool.

Despite the increased levels of noise that we make, I’ve noticed that what can actually be called “conversation” is a rarity to hear.  We utilize language to compose self-serving monologues that we speak to each other ignorant of the fact that our dueling cross-purposes make it impossible for either person to hear the other.  When there is no one present at whom we can speak, our internal monologues kick in.  Digitally, we increasingly search for the perfect “meme” to send to everyone in our contacts list so that we can continue to assert our existence without having to say anything at all.  “Look at this funny thing that someone else wrote!  Ha ha – doesn’t that just perfectly describe ME?”  Unless the meme addresses a pathetic lack of originality and creativity, the answer to that question is no.  But I digress.

On the surface, this human tendency towards pointless loquacity might seem somewhat innocuous.   In truth, it is the very thing that keeps our species mired in ignorance of its true nature and interdependent relation to everyone and everything that exists.

If humanity were to have a sudden collective epiphany about the ways it refuses to face reality through verbal distraction, the first important steps toward the eradication of war, injustice, poverty and hatred will have been taken.  Did that sound over the top?  Melodramatic?  Hopelessly simplistic?  If so, that’s just because you haven’t been listening.  Behind these words is a profound silence, something that my typewritten communication is woefully inadequate to impart.   Simultaneous internal and external silence is the only state in which one can hear another.   Our increasing refusal to cease expressing ourselves even for an instant ensures that we no longer internalize the suffering or joy of anyone else.  Our capacity for empathy is diminished with every needless sound that we make.  A lack of empathy is synonymous with a lack of humanity.  War, injustice, poverty and hatred can only exist when sufficiently nourished by inhumanity.

Becoming intimately and fearlessly acquainted with one’s own mind is only daunting because it demands an unforgiving silencing of your ego voice – the voice that constantly expresses the belief in its own intrinsic worth and indispensability.  I assure you – you will not disappear if you release your iron grip on identity and control.  But you might just learn that your identity is false and you never had any control over anything in the first place, at which time, you will be on the doorstep to freedom.

I do not have any instruction to impart.  Instruction is the purview of belief systems and belief systems are just another example of our imagined importance or even imagined fucking divinity.  When no two people share the exact same views or experience of phenomenality, how can a preconceived, self-conscious system of beliefs possibly apply to anyone, let alone everyone?  As soon as you grace an idea with the suffix “ism”, it becomes its own imagined authority that will allow for no deviation from its stated doctrine.  And yet no two people think alike, even if their self-expression is nearly identical.  There are as many conceptions of Christ as there are Christians.  As many of Buddha as there are Buddhists.  And to make things even more convoluted, no one has yet provided irrefutable proof of the existence of either of those alleged men of old other than as central figures in scriptural prose.   If you have the courage, abandon adopted views and beliefs by simply understanding them as such.  Take an honest assessment of the things you hold dear and ask yourself why without fearing the answer you may receive.  You might just find (god forbid!) that you can think of almost no activity as motherfucking self-consciously arrogant and proudly boring as meditation.  Or that you’ve been secretly aware, all along, that formal prayer is the spiritual equivalent of talking to the toaster.  Admittedly, these realizations are initially scary.  But if you can manage to sit with them long enough without struggle, you might just find that they are the very stuff of liberation.  Enlightenment.  Holiness.  Divinity.  Whatever your preferred “ism” mistakenly calls that ineffable thing constituting our true nature-less nature.  But be very, very still.  You can only hear it in utter silence.

Shhhh.

Born – Married – Dead

chicken

Dubiously celebrated pop-artist Andy Warhol famously opined, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”.  In this age of viral flashes-in-the-pan, it’s tempting to attribute impressive prescience to Mr. Warhol for having made this prediction several decades prior to the dawn of the internet.  But in doing so, one would need to square that suspicion of genius with Warhol’s curiously soup can-heavy body of visual art, not to mention countless cinematic nightmares that collectively served as a platform for Divine to somehow make transvestism even campier than it already was.

It seems more reasonable to believe that the very definition of fame has changed immeasurably since the days when one actually had to sing or act or invent or win Super Bowls or commit mass murder if he or she desired renown beyond their small circle of acquaintance.  Since “fame” is such an amorphous term that self-adjusts to the times, let’s generously call a “fame-worthy” event something that at least merits a mention in the local paper.  If you’re Ariana Grande, that event might be an unexpected sneeze or a new ass-cheek tattoo.  But for most of us, there are only three events that our culture considers important enough to report in the press: birth, marriage and death.  Two of these events are universally inevitable, of course, which leaves only one wild card – marriage – to potentially set one apart from every past, present and future member of the species.  And yet more than half of the earth’s population enters into this meaningless love contract at some point, so everyone feels that their particular ritual must stand apart from the rest.  In the US, this usually translates to celebrating the monumental event by inviting friends and family to a big hall where they eat, drink and perform the Chicken Dance.

So you were born a number of years ago and you recently invited a bunch of your family and friends to a big hall to eat, drink and perform the Chicken Dance.  What’s left?  That’s right.  The day you begin the slow transformation into a pile of mulch.

Where does this leave those of us who have already exited a vagina and opted, for whatever reason, to eschew the sacrament of marriage?  It may seem hopelessly bleak, at least in the minds of people who estimate their life’s value by the number of “major events” it has thus far contained.  The entire template of the popular version of a life worth living is precisely what keeps us so miserable.  And if we’re not exactly miserable, then we’re anxious to the point of distraction at the prospect of losing the fruits of our accomplishments.

Everything is relative, and to what you choose to relate is your only real freedom of choice.  If you choose to compare your experience to the current cultural image of a successful life, you are doomed to disappointment sooner or later.  You may fail to live up to such an image or the image itself might just change into something completely incompatible with your past ideas of success and happiness.  But what if you instead chose reality itself as the constant against which you compare your experience?

Reality is flux.  It is perpetual interdependent change as viewed through a perpetually changing mindset.  There are as many experiences of reality as there are lifeforms on the planet.  In other words, reality is personal rather than static and definable.  A primitive method of utilizing this knowledge is to buy into a religious tradition with an attractive afterlife cosmology.  This time-honored tradition continues to imbue countless people with an undeserved sense of eternal importance, but it demands more than a little subconscious suspension of disbelief.  Incidentally, that’s also what’s needed to sustain a good case of paranoid schizophrenia.

In case you didn’t notice, I just extracted all tangibility from the term “reality”.  The reason you’d be hard-pressed to find just two scientists or theologians in agreement as to its real nature is because it is nothing more than a will-o-the-wisp.  Its very emptiness is what enables us to personalize it in any way we wish.

For the purposes of this post, let’s agree that the undefinable, ineffable nature of reality renders it essentially meaningless.  Or we can just say that something so open to eternal debate without hope of a logical consensus is, quite literally, nothing.  No-thing.  This is precisely why it is the ideal concept to use as the fulcrum in your own experience of relativity.  Compare your life, your actions, your words and feelings to this grandiose no-thing called reality.  Since a thing cannot be meaningfully compared or related to a no-thing, doing so might just be the very definition of freedom.  There is nothing in the Universe that can render your life good or bad, worthy or unworthy, meaningful or meaningless, including you.  Once this sinks in, you will inevitably stop indulging in such self-important mythology and learn to simply live.  Experience.  Explore.  Laugh, cry, yell and scream while understanding the utter frivolity of it all.  Get married.  Get a tattoo on your ass cheek.  Adopt a lemur.  Move to Scranton.  Become a Scientologist.  Eat a tennis ball.  Whatever the fuck you want to experience, go ahead and experience it.  And remember that it means absolutely nothing because you mean absolutely nothing because the Universe has given us all the priceless gift of experiencing what it’s like to be thinking, feeling, conscious beings that came from, are composed of, and will return to absolutely nothing.

Carpe diem.