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Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary

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popular culture

Short Fuse

Jolly Roger
Jolly Roger

Originally published by Bitchin’ Kitsch December 2013

Short Fuse

He flips through channels, looking for anything worth watching. Someone said a person’s lifespan is shortened by 22 minutes for every hour of television watched. He should have been dead years ago.

Eyes glazed over, he gapes at flickering images, a kaleidoscope of catastrophe; pestilence, economic collapse, religious extremists, suicide bombers, civil war, revolution, record-breaking drought, floods, global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes and a wild fire out of control in Colorado. The bitter taste of bile fizzles in his throat.

He finds a movie about Vikings with flaming torches pitted against ferocious werewolves. The Vikings have Australian accents, the werewolves clearly actors dressed up in ridiculous wolf suits. A commercial advertises a remake of “Towering Inferno.”

Abruptly, he turns it off, jumps in the car and heads for Walmart.

He turns on the radio. Nothing but bad news. He comes up behind a Dodge Caravan with a sign in the window that reads “Baby on Board”. It annoys him. He takes it personally, like anyone without a baby on board is a deranged, meth addled, demolition derby jockey. Is it to remind him to stop driving fast and taking chances? Or to interrupt the text message he must surely be composing? Will it be the tipping point in his decision not to push the pedal to the floor and sideswipe their vehicle, forcing it off the side of the road at 60 miles per hour? He sees the bumper sticker “I brake for unicorns” and his face burns with aggravation. Temples pulsating and hands clammy on the steering wheel, he shifts over to the passing lane, guns the engine and gives the van wide berth.

He stops for gas and wonders what it would feel like to rob a convenience store.

Still contemplating that question, he scans the headlines of the tabloids as he waits to pay. “Dog Accidentally Shoots Man With His Own Gun, Elvis’s Hidden Extraterrestrial Daughter, Swedish Man Bursts Into Flames on Train Platform.”

Dammit! I could make better headlines than that!

His eyelid twitches. The smell of burnt gas station roller dogs is nauseating. Sweating like a stevedore, he pays and gets back in the car.

Walmart is where style goes to die. There’s a man in Sporting Goods with a mullet haircut and a tattoo that says “Do it in the dirt!” He’s seen that guy at the dirt track races. The man’s trying out baseball bats.

His mind a screeching smoke alarm, he realizes what he must do. He grabs a bat and heads over to Electronics, his senses assailed by images on 27 televisions;  break dancing, burning buildings, cooking shows, Judge Judy, an oil spill, another school shooting.

He can already picture the headline. “Man Walks into Walmart, Smashes 27 Widescreen Televisions With Baseball Bat.” He likes the way that sounds. The bat feels almost too hot to hold in his hand as he strolls over to a widescreen flickering with the image of a raging fire and starts swinging.

Remembering “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac

I was in one of those warehouse sized discount stores the other day when I came across a table stacked with books. One of my old favorites jumped right out at me and I picked it up. I was surprised to see a brand new printing of the Jack Kerouac classic On the Road. That book had a major influence on me as a teenager and young man. I remember finding that and copies of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in a box of my Mom’s books that was stashed in our basement. These books had all been controversial for different reasons and I remember feeling like I had come across a secret cache of some kind of forbidden fruit.

Kerouac had the idea for On The Road in the late 40’s and finished his first draft on one continuous scroll in 1951, although it wasn’t published until 1957. As I held this new edition in my hand I couldn’t stifle my ironic amusement at seeing the latest edition of On The Road being marketed in a discount store with the phrase “NOW! A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE!” plastered all over the cover, along with glossy photos of the 20-something actors smiling with perfect teeth and stylishly coiffed hair who are presumably playing the roles of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady who were, in fact, unwashed, speed addled, pot smoking, besotted, penniless, rag tag vagabonds and not Barbie and Ken Dolls.

I admit to feeling some consternation that one of my own most revered icons from my wayward youth was NOW! A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE! Sacrilege, I say! Not really, but it’s a little like the way I felt when I figured out there was no Santa Claus, or that my Davy Crockett toys had been sold in a garage sale. The death of the 60’s was hard enough to take back then, but do you have to keep rubbing it in in 2012 by making On The Road into Beverly Hills 90210?

So, they finally came out with a film version of On The Road. Well, it took ’em long enough. Kerouac wrote the thing 61 years ago. By the way, what kind of advertising genius still calls films “motion pictures”? The Golden Age of Hollywood is long gone, my friend. A friend of mine told me today that Allen Ginsberg bobbleheads are part of the marketing campaign. Seriously? Must you? That’s just like pouring salt in the wound. If you’re going to do that, then it seems like a Walt Whitman teddy bear would be huge. Or how about a Charles Bukowski doll that smokes, drinks and curses?

I must admit, I am kind of curious about this “major motion picture.” However, I know I’ll be watching this one at home on Movies on Demand, amongst the trappings of my bourgeois lifestyle as I lay draped in velvet and sipping an insouciant cabernet that doesn’t bite back.

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