The midnight internet — that’s how I hear dogs barking in the dark. I still recall with ruffled neck-hairs our first night in our new apartment in East Palo Alto in 1967, after we’d settled ourselves into the dirt-street loveliness of a little cottage among almond and fig trees, a place that had not yet erupted into the street riots that were to come. I’d grown up in farm country and knew about night-time barking, but the college years had been implacably urban and I had to learn again what it was to be in a less imprisoned environment.
So I was startled at how panicky I felt to wake in our new bedroom and hear dogs barking, near, far, and urgently. Dear Lord, what dark force was roaming the streets? I’d forgotten how easy it was for dogs to freak out at the least provocation. It took a long time for me to settle myself down.
Now we live in a hybrid town/country environment. We’re only a fifteen-minute walk from downtown Sebastopol, but we’re on half an acre and have a lot of trees. Beyond us things thin out. There are lots of big properties within earshot, and they all have dogs.
My hips have gone to hell, but my hearing is still hyper-acute, and my memory of individual barks is encyclopedic. Yup, that’s the little neurotic yark from Benny next door, and that’s the more grounded woof from the black dog out back, and that’s the new puppy to the right, and that’s the wonderful hound-sounds from way down the road. But there are more, many more, and why are they all caucusing at one AM?
Sometimes I think they are all giving warning about some awful predator roaming the neighborhood, though most likely I think they’re hassling a raccoon or one of our feral cats. But the urgent alert still ups the heartbeat.
So today I drove solo to the ocean (CB’s at a retreat) and turned the AM radio on, the FM having inexplicably died. I listened to twenty minutes of “information,” a smooth high-pressure alternation between traffic updates, sports, and national news, all in thirty-second barks. Nobody seemed to have any idea that their individual bark should relate to any other. It was totally surreal. None of the information being conveyed had any relationship whatsoever to the ocean, the bluffs, the people thronging to the beauty of the seashore.
It was all barking in the dark.
Returned Monday from a men’s gathering in the Mendocino woodlands. Incongruous: three days among the redwoods beside a babbling brook (which actually babbled), in company of 70-80 worthy men, while hearing a retelling of The Iliad—the wrath of Achilles and the murderous Trojan War. Much talk, then, about the roots of violence, and for once, among men, much of the talk was personal—a welcome relief from most male interchange, where the impulse, inevitably, is toward discussing “the issue” as objectively as possible, with little more personal reference than if we were debating the export economy of Chad.
Then returning to Sebastopol and finding the news item that a 30-year-old woman, frustrated at being unable to find a grave she was seeking at the cemetery up the road from us, assaulted a 60-year-old woman sitting on a nearby bench—a total stranger. Only an assault charge has resulted from this, not an epic poem.
Looking at my own moments of rage past and present, I know they rise from one common core: impotence. The times when that’s a literal condition aren’t a problem: my mate and I can do a dozen different things with dreamy satisfaction. It’s the metaphorical impotence that makes me bellow with rage or slam my palm into the wall: the unforgiving plastic package, the bike rider who cuts out in front of me, the billion nasty tricks of the computer—moments when the dead object just won’t hear your need, when your solitary confinement in a little motorized box prevents any action beyond your blowing the guts out of your horn, when you’re trapped in the absurdity of trying to swat the mosquito hum of robo-calls or hump the bureaucracy into any response whatever.
When we ascend to the loftier level of politics, that same dynamic pervades, amplified to death-metal blare by the megaphone of the Web. We feel we’re getting shat upon, so we’ll cheer a candidate who’ll “shake things up,” and if there’re a million casualties in that earthquake and decades of chaos to follow, that’s a small price to pay to relieve the gridlock in our guts. And like disease in warfare, it doesn’t stay on one side of the front lines: Rage is an equal-opportunity employer who pays way above minimum wage and doesn’t discriminate on basis of race, creed, or righteousness.
Many, many years ago, it occurred to me that if the U.S could truly listen to the Soviet Union’s critiques of us, and the Soviet Union could reciprocate, we’d both wind up infinitely better. It never happened, of course, nor is it happening within our own political discourse. Thankfully, in that arena, we don’t have nuclear arsenals lined up (though I can easily foresee the day when we have private armed militias), but we can very readily do serious damage, if only to ourselves. It’s rapidly becoming evident that we’d maybe better replace the national motto E pluribus unum with You’re an asshole, jerk!
—From the Fool—
I thought if you could make a movie just with close-ups. Just people’s eyes and noses and mouths. You couldn’t even see their hair-dos. It would save a lot of money, so they could sell tickets cheaper.
There wouldn’t be any scenery, but you could still do car chases if you had sound effects and then some flickering lights on the face, plus they could scream. If you needed to know they were looking at the Eiffel Tower, maybe, the actor could just say, “Look, there’s the Eiffel Tower.” You wouldn’t need to show it.
People might think the whole thing was kind of weird, but after a while we’d all get used to weird. The point is to get right down to what you really want in the movie: the soul.
And it sounds funny to talk about movies having souls. But if big companies are people, then movies could have souls, or anyway we ought to try. And you wouldn’t really need any special effects.
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© Bishop & Fuller 2016