Thursday, 6 September 2007

The Rotten Log I

Well done with the Turkish stuff, Kivak. One bad turn deserves another…

As BA may recall, I was quite the little diarist during my time in Liberec. I took great joy in filling page after page of exercise books with my Deep Thoughts and Incise Observations. I was sure that one day I would turn to these journals and relish the wit and brio with which I had recorded the events of those momentous days.

Recently I went back and read them.

Oh. My. God.

After waiting the several hours it took for my armpits to stop smoking from embarrassment, I cowboyed up and undertook the distasteful work of picking through these callow, adolescent and generally fucked-up observations in order to cull at least a few scraps that might be of passing interest to my fellow Liberec veterans.

With your indulgence, I would like to post some excerpts. On or around the first of every month I intend to put up a few bits of vintage “Liberazzia” recorded in that month during those years. But this will not be an embarrassing “tell all”. I was far too chickenshit to record any of the really damaging stuff so no one needs to worry. Those seeking anything more than mild titillation will be disappointed.

When fellow Liberazzi are written about, I use their blogger nicknames to identify them. Other expats will go by the first letter of their first names. Czechs are identified by first name and maybe a second initial. I believe that the preponderance of Honzas, Martinas, Jiris, etc. in the general population will be protection enough for the privacy of the unwitting natives who were drawn into the events of this degenerate chronicle…

For the maiden month of September the notebooks (the “Rotten Logs”) are rather thin on entries. They paint September as a deadish time when the old hands were drifting back into town and the new folks were attempting to adjust to The Life. The only (just barely) excerpt-worthy entries I could find amid the pages ‘o crap were written in 1997, exactly ten years ago, my last September in Liberec. It’s fairly tame stuff, with the young Rotten apparently attempting to develop a completely original literary genre: Hangover Writing.

I would also like to thank Kivak for creating the motivation for me to go back through and copy elsewhere the few items that are of value in the Rotten Logs. It will allow me to finally burn them.

The Rotten Log for September:
“Yesterday was a fucking horror show. A fucking low point like I haven’t seen in a long time. I spent maybe forty-five minutes in the office, sitting in the Napmaster [the infamous sleep-inducing armchair that passed from generation to generation of Pedagogy Faculty teachers], staring at the wall, completely fucking out of it. A finally rousted me out so he could fuck around with my email account. He tried a bunch of shit with it but couldn’t find what he wanted, so I got on and tried to write email. What a fucking mess. A lot of three word sentences…all I can do is transmit indecipherable horseshit over the internet...Jet-lag, one no-sleep night, booze and a hangover have caught me by the balls…
“After I fouled the internet I wandered around town like some kind of handicap…I drank two espressos at the Hotel Praha in a feeble attempt to smooth out my brain…I ran into Dirt and then Bedrich and they didn’t have a hard time talking me into going for a few jars down at the Drug Garden. I was supposed to have a few with Jiri N. but after I got home and had dinner I just fucking crashed out. It was about seven o’clock…”

“Brutal fucker this morning. Grumpy and down for no reason. Quiet time alone with too many thoughts is not good. I didn’t feel back up to the battle until I listened to ‘Gimme Back My Bullets’ [Classic Lynyrd Skynyrd song] on the way to work. Last night Bedrich, Jiri N. and I busted down a few at the Menza pub. It’s hard to have a conversation about anything without bitching about something. T.U.L. is at the top of the list. Bedrich thinks one more year after this one is a possibility, but only under the most bastard circumstances. He’s super pessimistic about getting private [non-teaching] work. Jiri N. seems to think it wouldn’t be that big a deal, as long as it’s in Prague…
“The FNGs [Fucking New Guys] are just making me antsier to beat feet out of this motherfucker…B from across the hall informed me today that a ‘cleaning party’ is afoot for ‘one of these Saturdays while we’re all around anyway’. Hey pal, you got a problem with the condition of the third floor common room, clean the fucker…fucking gooney bird wants to wash the windows and all that shit. I don’t do windows. This isn’t helping my ‘Decrease the Mean-Ons and Malice’ program…”

“BA’s due back late tonight…Bedrich had the good (?) idea to waylay him at the bus station and force him into an immediate elbow-bending session…”

“Yesterday I rolled in at noon and got busted down a day’s wage for being so late. Fuckin fuck all that shit. Made me uptight. Deserved? Sure. But a symptom of the disease. I wouldn’t roll in here three hours late if I felt there was enough of importance to do to get me in at 9 bright ‘n early…”



Rotten said...

Hey Kivak, I suppose this is as good a place as any to pick up The Road again. SPOILER ALERT!

Thanks for getting back to me on the book. I was thinking about reading it since it made such a big stir in the US (Oprah!) but didn’t finally get off my ass and pick it up until you mentioned it.

I was a little surprised at your endorsement of the book because of all the holy rolling in it. Must have been a yin dose to all that Dawkins yang you were reading. (I haven’t read any Dawkins but I just finished a nifty little screed by one of his adepts named Daniel Dennett called Breaking the Spell. Lot's of cool material on religion as a viral meme...)

First of all, I thought The Road contained some fantastic etchings on the cannibalism thing. Spooky stuff. I counted three that built up to that truly horrifying moment when they come upon the recently abandoned camp with the baby barbecue happening.

But I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, “Okay, they’re pushing for the coast, but what are they going to find there? Disneyland?” The cataclysm is global, after all. To his credit McCarthy didn’t do a Good Ship Lollipop ending, a cop out I thought “Children of Men” fell victim to. One abandoned yacht full of goodies to keep them going a little longer but other than that, more of the same desolation. Fair enough.

But what about that ending? I ruminate on this shit so much because it bears directly on the post-Apocalyptic "heavy metal novella" I’m trying to finish up. Hard to write an end for a story that takes place after The End. I don’t know how much to read into the end of The Road. The bow and arrow guy that took a flare in the face comes out to find the boy, but doesn’t kill/eat him when he does? Why not? There’s some implication that they’ve got religion out on the coast, an echo of the man’s statement that it’s his holy charge to look after the boy (the holy rolling I mentioned earlier). So if the bow and arrow man's so full of Jesus, why the fuck did he shoot the father in the first place? Because that happened before the loving father “enlightened” him (literally, by shooting a burning fucking flare in his eye) and now that he’s “seen the light,” (heh heh) he’s going to do the right thing by the boy?

Either that or he’s recognized that the boy is on the verge of an adolescent growth spurt and is of greater nutritional value on the hoof, rather than drawn and butchered on the spot.

I’m not particularly partial to the ‘just put your trust in Jesus to fix it’ method of ending stories (or of conducting your life in general. There’s a missionary boy who comes to our Prague Playhouse acting workouts. Eighteen years old and already born again and knows absolutely fucking everything. Couldn’t answer my questions about why Jesus has been such a slack ass viz the Human Suffering Problem but insisted “it’s going to be the first thing I ask God when I’m on the Other Side.” These people are a lethal fungus hellbent on rotting the species from the inside out...they must be stopped...but I digress...). So I give The Road a B-plus.

Where I thought the book excelled was as a meditation on parenthood, fatherhood in particular. The man knows the world is full of deadly killers who will literally eat your child alive. Sounds like a revelation a new dad would have. Plus the man’s need to be hard for survival’s sake, even though he risks earning the boy's hatred because the boy doesn’t understand just how bad the world really is. Any dads out there want to comment?

Also a very nice touch with the portrayal of the boy, who gets a little bit sassy later on in the book. Yeah, we’re walking through Armageddon, but that doesn’t mean pre-teens are going to be any less bratty. Nice work.

Okay, that should just about get it over the net.


Kivak said...

Hey Rotten, I appreciate the contribution. I was really beginning to run out of steam there. Don't know whether I can keep up another six months of blogging on my Jack Jones before I start encountering some interesting experiences to relay back to the two of us via the blogosphere. I got an extremely rare email today from my 'adopted' mother in Jablonec who was laying down the usual law about not straying into countries that don't follow the Nine Cathecisms of Consumerism. Which is interesting given that my birth mother used to fret about me living in Third World countries like Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s.

But back to McCarthyism. I've been wracking my brains about how you came up with that interpretation of the ending. I reread the ending tonight and consulted the missus, who read it after me, but we're both puzzled. The bowman who took the flare is highly unlikely to be the boy's rescuer at the end because you're left with the distinct impression that he's left dying in the arms of his woman. The guy at the end is carrying a gun on a leather lanyard, so why would he bother with a bow and arrow in an earlier assassination attempt? It seems more likely that the final gunman is part of the crew that abandoned the bowman after he was shot and maybe went after the father and boy because they'd be useful to have in a larger human community. Fuck knows.

From a highly personal point of view, I read more secular ameliorism into the book than I did religion. I haven't read anything from McCarthy himself about his motivation for writing the book and the symbolism used, but it's hard to read the hand of God into the story as the driving theme unless you're an out-and-out Amargeddonite, or as a modern parable of Noah without any of the resources for rekindling life on Earth. That's why I was a bit confused by the ending, because I felt that the offer of any type of hope was a cop out. But then again, if a reader is of a religious bent, they can interpret the carrying of the 'fire' as somehow perpetuating a belief in God. I wonder what Richard Dawkins would make of the book.

I agree entirely though on the father-son theme and how brilliantly the love of the father for the son is portrayed despite the extinction of all hope (another potential religious motif I guess). The way the father brutally suppresses his own humanity in the face of the son's innocent and dogged belief in goodness is done quite superbly done. You're very optimist thinking that an actual father might offer an opinion on this issue...

Sort out that 18-year-old missionary position boy with a copy of Christopher Hitchen's God Is Not Great. See how he refutes it ;)

Can't be arsed checking this for grammatical errors. It's 11pm and I've had three large glasses of very cheap red wine.

Rotten said...

Check it:

Ismay Soldier Co-Authored Critique of War
By MATT GOURAS - Associated Press Writer - 09/13/07

A soldier from eastern Montana killed in Iraq earlier this week was one of the authors of a high-profile New York Times editorial critical of the progress being made in the war.

Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray of Ismay was remembered Wednesday as a strong and friendly leader who loved the Army and dreamed of being a soldier his entire life. A member of the 82nd Airborne Division, he died Monday when the cargo truck he was riding in overturned in Baghdad.

Another co-author, 28-year-old Sgt. Omar Mora, also was killed in the crash.

The Times piece, called “The War As We Saw It,” expressed doubts about American gains in Iraq. “To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched,” the group wrote.

In the last line, the authors reaffirmed their own commitment: “We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.”

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, whose nephew was killed in Iraq last year, said Tuesday that he was asking the military for details of Gray’s death.

"I was deeply saddened to learn of another young and clearly gifted Montanan lost to the war in Iraq," said Baucus, D-Mont. "Our soldiers and their families sacrifice so much."

Gray graduated with a class of just 18 from Plevna High School. He was one of five students from the class that joined the military, and news of his death spread quickly through the 138-person town, said school secretary Lynette O’Connor.

Plevna is about 19 miles east of Ismay, a town of 25 residents in 2006.

Read the rest at: