Monthly Archives: August 2012

When My Mother gets excited she goes, goes, goes and spits out her words until they fall into some kind of sentence that probably will not reflect what she meant to say.

“I…decided—Oop, excuse me!—that lobstah I ate last week, oof, wow! Anyway, so. I was walking yesterday and I saw Scott—Ashley, did you know that Scott, from high school, remember?, got married?—but this was a different one, Scott Towley, and he said—Oops, burp again!—well, it was something about what you were supposed to do with your health insurance? Aughhh, now I can’t remembah! What was that song we heard earlier? ‘He said! She said!’, I like that one!”

And you can imagine what it’s like to have this happening in the midst of a crab feast in sultry Maryland, humidity layered over the open water by which we sit and flies orbiting the spice-crusted red shells stubbornly holding on to our dinner meat. Twenty four once blue, now red of the steamed seaborn creatures cover the crisp brown paper set over our picnic table. You pay highly for these guys, but that’s nothing compared to the full day’s work it takes to actually render them edible once they are dumped unceremoniously from a metal bucket onto your table. Shell shards fly everywhere as seven of us smack crab backs with wooden mallets and jab their soft spots with painted-blue metal knives, using our fingers when the tools, as they often do, fail us and that’s when any illusion of civility really suffers. Toss aside their black lungs, try not to make contact with their still open eyes, and suck on their claws ’til they’re empty of edible stuff. All for a tablespoon or two of meat from each one, which you pinch in pieces between your thumb and index finger before rubbing it into the crab’s spiced shell and dropping into your waiting gob.

It’s the fourth day My Mother and I have spent together and I’m wearing thin, but I can always forgive my mother for spitting because she’s had an ill-fit bridge of false teeth in the front of her mouth for as long as I can remember. The teeth do not come down as far as her others do, but they are just as yellow as her natural teeth. When I’m tired after a tense work day, I daydream about slipping into my home, unclipping my bra, and letting that thing fall to the floor. My Mother experiences similar pleasure upon removing her bridge each night, and when I was young she’d wait til it was late enough and then dance a high step about the house to the tune of her well-loved classic rock wearing no teeth, no bra, and no pants, just underwear and a thin tanktop. I always hated interrupting her obvious glee at this point of the night, but sometimes your friends did come over after 8:00 in the evening, meaning you’d have to shuffle her into her bedroom, where nothing changed except that the music transferred from loudspeaker to headphones.

My Mother speaks more words than I even think, but she only says what she skims off the top of her thoughts, letting the darker stuff settle to the bottom where it bubbles, already dead, to the top only for fleeting moments. “Oh, well your cousin got kicked out of rehab and the baby’s back in the hospital–Look at the water out there! It’s GREAT! Man, I’ve got to get sailing this summer.” She lost her father, her mother, and two sisters that I know of by the time she was 32, and had already been divorced once (soon to be twice). I don’t think she grasps how incredible each of her smiles is, and I know she isn’t aware of how much I worry about her. When she has her sixth beer of the night, I develop a cartoon image of her organs failing in revolt, and I want to tell her to stop. But I won’t do that, because ladening her with worries heretofore not heeded wouldn’t be any better for her.


Daisies, Věra Chytilová, 1966

Věra Chytilová could not have predicted that nearly every frame from her 1966 film Daisies would, over forty years hence, seem perfectly composed for Tumblr, the social blogging platform. Yet each colorful scene from the Czech New Wave film drips with a sinister cute charm that Tumblr users gobble up and share readily. Thus it would be easy to dismiss the film as a slight girly frill, something pleasant to see but not worth thinking about for long. That is how I approached the film, even though I knew of its grounding in feminist defiance. Viewing it, however, proved me wrong. With the overwhelming majority of filmmakers being men, it is easy to underestimate how refreshing a female filmmaker’s touch can be. Chytilová entices her viewers to ogle Marie I and Marie II, the gamine beauties at the heart of her film, before allowing her stars to gleefully spit upon the expectations of the men and viewers they encounter.

“We’ve gone bad, haven’t we?”

     Marie I

The world is rotten, and it seems only logical that Marie I and Marie II should “go bad.” They travel with scissors in hand, literally and figuratively cutting whatever and whomever they encounter. In one scene, as a man named John declares his love for Marie II, the girls sit on their bedspread snipping sausages and fruit into pieces.

Don't treat me like this, when you know I love you


Marie II does not wince at his words in the photo above. She’s just concentrating as she cuts the pickle. When she later leans on the phone and disconnects the line, Marie I asks why she did that. His outpour of emotions was their afternoon entertainment, not something over which to stress for long. The girls have quite an eager stream of would-be sugar daddies, and none are slated to last long.

The heroines ascend (or descend) into unbridled jouissance, their pleasure so pure it frightens those around them. The staid couples at an evening supper club enjoy the choreographed lovers who dance for them, but cannot tolerate the real drunken giddiness of Marie I and Marie II. The two are thrown giggling and stumbling from the bar by a humorless waiter. Those witnessing their debauchery display visible nausea and nerves, the result of a confrontation with Marie I and Marie II’s thorough stomping of behavioral norms. The club is a venue for slowly sipping wine and observing stylized dance, a place where vice is indulged within stringent boundaries of good taste. Any true indulgence seems out of place in such a constructed setting.

Off with your head


The frictionless rapidity with which the Tumblr community cycles through images does not give justice to works like Daisies. Once posted on the site, each item referenced becomes passe. It might elicit a laugh, a share, or a raised eyebrow, but it generally does not enter any discourse beyond that. It’s hard to overstate the joys of browsing through hundreds of animated GIFs and clever screen grabs, but some visually stimulating content deserve a closer examination than the internet’s rapidity affords. Girls admire the good style and biting subtitles in Daisies when they see screen grabs from it, but I wonder how many, like me, hold off on seeing it. 

Daisies draws to a riotous end. The Maries find an elaborate banquet spread in an empty room, and set upon it. Though at first they pick timidly at the food, they progress toward full feasting indulgence. They dance ecstatically upon the dining table once they’ve had their fill. Marie I strips to her bra and slip, while Marie II wraps herself in the room’s curtain. The camera closes in on their heels as they grind them into still full plates piled with food. The fashion show climaxes in a swing from the room’s crystal chandelier. No one enters to stop them, begging one to ask whether the girls are actually being “bad” in comparison to those who have wasted and ignored the available food. But guilt still stalls the girls momentarily. A jump cut moves the girls quickly from the chandelier and into choppy water. They call to potential rescuers, but none offer to save them, and the girls wonder whether it is because they’ve been bad. Another cut brings them back to the banquet room, now dim when once it was brightly lit.  “When we’re hard working and good we’ll be happy…we’ll be happy because we’re hard working,” the girls agree. First uttered in this film made in a communist state, the words are still held true in the U.S. by those stubbornly clinging to the tenets of rugged individualism. Marie I and Marie II whisper as they begin working while bound in suits of rope and newspaper. The girls rearrange broken plates and glasses, but can’t fix them. It is a farce of reform, and it doesn’t seem like they’ll stick to it long. A falling chandelier ends their well-behaved moment along with the movie. Surely the reckless heroines rebound into more capers after its landing.

This film is dedicated to those whose whole source of indignation is a messed up trifle.

Closing title of Daisies

For more beautiful stills from Daisies, see.

Another film by Věra Chytilová, Fruits of Paradise (1970)

Suck it MinimotoThe apocalypse has come. Life as we know it will never be the same. War, aliens, and plague sweep the nation, and no one has a solution. It’s OK, though, because you are a prepper. Your pockets are filled with everything you’ll need to get home. You’ve got maps, calling cards, an eyeglasses repair kit, and three throwing knives for protection. Maybe you have a gun. You’ll make it home without a hitch, where you’ll pass whatever time it takes in your provision-filled shelter. A well-developed community of blogging and writing preppers has given you all of the knowledge you needed to ensure that you and your family will weather this catastrophe. Survival Mom told you just about everything you needed to know. She made impending doom seem way less frightening. If anyone shacking up with you gets hurt, that’s alright, since you’ll have a survival medicine handbook nearby. For those who have cable and watched Doomsday Preppers, this introduction isn’t necessary. As America continues to mark its time with more tragedies than triumphs, the goal of preppers is sympathetic. The American Prepper Network says,  “We firmly believe that every American family should strive to become Self-Reliant, enabling them to better weather the day-to-day disasters, catastrophes and hardships that we all experience.” A quick survey of preppers suggests that many began prepping in response to sudden unemployment, one of the most common calamities of American life. The author of writes:

I am a prepper. Survivalist. Whatever you want to call me, it doesn’t matter. Five years ago, I had a good paying job, my wife and I got the “big” mortgage, the SUV, a nice big boat…… Then I lost my job. I struggled and struggled some more, sometimes working 3 jobs. I saved our house from foreclosure on the courthouse steps. But the way I see it, at worst, I’ll have saved my family a tremendous amount of money by paring things down to the bare essentials, stockpiling food, medical supplies, and emergency gear (and yes, that includes a few guns, and ammunition) at today’s prices versus tomorrow’s inflated prices. At best, I may have saved my family’s lives.

Fair enough. Though it might be rare to stockpile so many material goods, most try to maintain a rainy day fund just in case. Preppers are easy to dismiss. If disaster comes, I’d like to think that my government will be able to help. Of course, in most states a heavy rainstorm provides more problems than public resources can solve. Still, we should hold them accountable for at least being able to keep citizens afloat for a few days. The same prepper above seems to disagree:
It doesn’t hurt at all to be prepared for what life might throw your way. Think of how different the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina might have been if the people of New Orleans had prepared.

Sigh. As much as preppers speak about their community of fellow preppers, it doesn’t seem like any prepper expects to help anyone beyond their immediate families.

That might just be fine though. Once you’ve seen what the preppers plan to eat during the end times, you’ll probably lose your appetite for the next ten to fifteen years. The images above show the components of a recipe by Chef Tess, the prepper Martha Stewart, for Yankee Pot Roast Gravy and Butter-Garlic Mashed Potatoes. It’s solely for those who find the idea of life without meat so terrifying, they’d go as far as eating freeze dried ground beef. Add water and heat to it all and get: