The Toads post “Breaking Bad in Stromboli” was published today over at Berfrois. Turn off the internal infernal TV for a few minutes and click here to check out the hep stuff happening these days at Berfrois!
that he would be like a princess
blessed across from you
a breath away,
your laugh leaves
me cold with doubt
still your kindnesses
pink and blue flowers,
long after this dormant grass
past the fires and all the dead
batteries burnt matches
library books soot lathed,
long ago the last picture
show the last ’56 Chevy
out of the drive-in
audience hammering home,
long after the rearmost look
will we remember
the kisses blown
from open hands
and flippant wrists
dissipating smoke rings
the papyrus of your skin
upon which critics crawled
to carve their handles
to try to lift you back
oomph circling overhead.
I walked down to meet Susan on Hawthorne late afternoon but arrived early and when I passed Nick’s and noticed baseball on the screen I ducked in to wait at the bar for a text asking my whereabouts. I ordered a glass of milk and a coffee chaser and the bartender asked me if this was my first visit to Nick’s. The game was in the 8th inning, a 3 to 3 tie, the Dodgers against the Cubs out spring training in sunny Arizona. A group of young folk occupied the north end of the bar, but I alone watched the game. The tables were all empty. The balls were breaking late, bad, away. The Cubs scored in the bottom of the 8th on a sacrifice fly to take the lead 4 to 3, and the Dodgers in the top of the 9th could not break away. My first taste this year of spring training TV was bad for a Dodger fan. I like the Cubs, too, and hope they do better than last year’s cellar close. Edging the Dodgers 4 to 3 yesterday marked the Cubs first win in seven games this spring training season. It’s still early, but the Cubs are off to a bad start. Cub fans are a forgiving bunch. Dodger fans live in baseball paradise at Elysian Park. But baseball and paradise broke bad some time ago, came the summers of our discontent, baseball breaking away.
One of modern baseball’s design problems, as McLuhan explained, is that it’s a poor fit for television. Baseball is not pixel friendly. McLuhan saw how vaudeville moved to radio and radio to television, where there will never be enough channels, the need for distraction being what it is, even though all channels do the same thing and distract in the same way. But he did not foresee vaudeville being rekindled by Lady Gaga and Madonna in the Super Bowl arena where the camera is now a drone following the collective unconscious eye of the audience. Meantime, the living room remains the electronic middle class mosh pit. The form of television is its art; the channel hardly matters.
Yet some said that “Breaking Bad” was television finally or finely elevated to art. The art of the installment, the fix, waiting for the next episode, the episodic adventure induced by Walter who like Fagin in Dickens’s “Oliver Twist” lives and thrives in a world of children. Is breaking bad an occupational hazard of teaching resulting from classroom isolation from the real world? Or “Breaking Bad” might have been titled “Death of a Teacher,” Walter White the Willy Loman who lives on TV fantasy to avoid the existential question imposed by being crushed beneath the wheels of contemporary financial, job, metaphysical, and medical malaise. We interrupt this post to bring you a full disclosure: I never saw a single “Breaking Bad” episode when the series was running. I did read a few reviews. I recently watched the first three episodes, borrowed from the library. I was thinking I might try to see the whole thing through, to its conclusion, and angle a post off it. But I don’t want to watch any more “Breaking Bad” episodes. Predicament may harden the romantic heart in all of us.
For one thing, the premise of “Breaking Bad” seems algorithmic. A high school Chemistry teacher with experience and talent gets an existential kick in the butt when he discovers he has terminal cancer. He sees an opportunity in the two years he has left to make some quick money as a meth chef and improbably takes to a life of violent drug associated street crime. Various critical reviews suggest something philosophical going on. His street name is Heisenberg, and it’s probably true that nowhere in contemporary life are things more uncertain than out on the street, certainly not in the living room, watching television. So the existential predicament is the close proximity to death, not to be confused with the close proximity of television. But everyone dies and knows they will; why wait any time at all to break bad and kill the TV? Most people break indifferent. No life is longer than the one spent in moiling drudgery.
Then I watched Roberto Rossellini’s “Stromboli” (1950). Essentially, Ingrid Bergman’s Karin’s existential predicament is similar to Walter White’s, though even more absurd, because she’s saved but ironically condemned to live in a place and with a man she believes she’s entirely unsuited for, which comes with the surprise of the epiphany. The island of Stromboli is a Mediterranean volcano. Life is harsh. Karin was expecting something a bit more pleasant, romantic, colorful. Life on Stromboli is inescapable sun or impervious shadow. The people on Stromboli live under the constant threat of volcanic eruption. Their values are kept immutable by the impossibility of change. Unlike the Mario by the end of “Il Postino,” Karin can’t see any beauty on her island or in the fishing life. It doesn’t take her long to realize she must break bad. But Karin breaks bad differently from Walter. She frantically climbs the volcano that Walter pedantically runs from.
Note: No commas were mistreated in the writing of this post.
Scamble: I met a comma at the bus stop this morning. … Did you hear what I said? I said, I met a comma, at the bus stop, this morning.
Cramble: Be wary of commas. They’ll be on you like fleas.
-Did you know the apostrophe is the feminine form of comma?
-Band of punctuation pirates, the lot of them. Some witch of an exclamation point once hexed me into a pair of parentheses.
-Yes, life is hard enough without being labeled a parenthetical expression.
-Imagine impossible to break away from the vice grip of your parents.
-The bus stop comma seemed a cool enough little fellow.
-What was he up to?
-Just pausing, to say hello.
-I once dated an apostrophe, a beach volleyball aficionado, as I recall.
-Cool comma wasn’t going to the end of the line, Line 15, though, where the periods have apparently gentrified the neighborhood, the so-called Pearl District.
-No more comma splices. A few fragments, still.
-What’s the point of periods, anyway? We never really stop we get up and go again. He got off at the very next stop, the cool comma did.
-Why I prefer the express bus no all of that stop and go busyness biz.
Abducted by alien cats from outer space and whisked away to a faraway planet then shot back to Earth from a circus cannon cocked with physicist rubber string theory, a cat cannonball, Scamble tries to interest Cramble in a tabloid worthy extraterrestrial tale!
Scamble: “And you have nothing to say?!”
Cramble: “Does this have something to do with my recent cloture motion?”
Scamble: “No! The cat planet is called Mkgnao!9. It’s all bushes and trees, birds and fish, and dunes of kitty litter. It’s a cat’s paradise. Everyone there is a hep cat!”
Cramble: “If all are hep, none is hep.”
Scamble: “Nonetheless, no matter what radio station you play, Mantovani! The planet is lush with the sounds of birds and strings and bugs flirting about hither and thither and streams of white wine full of fish on the lark. I’m thinking of moving to Mkgnao!9. Do you want to go with me?”
Cramble: “Sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch? I’ll bet there’s a downside.”
Scamble: “Their oceans are filling with used kitty litter.”
Cramble: “Making it difficult to know how to pack. In any case, how will you get back to Mkgnao!9 if the hep space cats don’t come pick you up again?”
Scamble: “Silence, Exile, and Cunning.”
Cramble: “Here you go with that James Joyce cheap cheat imitation literary allusion stuff again. Anyway, I don’t get the connection.”
Scamble: “Joyce is the patron saint of cats up on Mkgnao!9.”
Cramble: “Lucky Jim.”
Scamble: “I’m going to write a memoir about my Mkgnao!9 experience!”
Cramble: “Sounds wild. I’ve heard the memoir form is popular these days. I was thinking of writing one, but I can’t seem to get past chapter one, “Begot to Nap.” But why don’t you create something new? Wasn’t that the gist of Joyce’s gig, to repair in the garage of his brain the broken bicycle of his island, rally the folks to a new way of riding, or words to that effect?”
Scamble: “I just did!”
Cramble: “Did what?”
Scamble: “Create something new!”
Cramble: “It’s a good thing the id is kept out of sight.”
Scamble: “Do cats have an id?”
Cramble: “Everything’s got an id, if only you can find it.”
When rash throws think
unfolds, unwraps, uncoils
relax what jeers
who held and
Don’t let go of drop
though darkness rooms
and voices blink three
coins in a phone booth
At gas stop stuffed
outside Gilroy near
garlic beer and clown
Carriage trails from Castroville.