Wednesday, June 20, 2012
I Love Trash
Our toddler son liked Sesame Street a lot more than he did Mr. Rogers, a show he would tolerate (hey, some TV is better than no TV!) but never really enjoyed all that much. But Sesame Street, with its friendly critters and songs and kid-friendly adults--that was more up his alley.
And in that alley, of course, lived Oscar the Grouch, who--perhaps because I'm a bit curmudgeonly myself--was my favorite character. And his signature song--"I Love Trash"--in some ways has been the music accompanying my life--my personal soundtrack, especially in one very special category: the movies. ("I Love Trash"--YouTube)
When I was a kid, there was a lot of trash playing at the movies--in fact, there was an entire category of films called "B movies" that were, essentially, trash. No redeeming virtues. Low budgets. Minor actors in major roles. Cheesy scenery and music. Plots as thin and transparent as Saran Wrap.
And I loved them--especially the Westerns (I grew up in the Southwest). My boyhood heroes were Lash LaRue, Johnny Mack Brown, Whip Wilson, the Three Mesquiteers, Bob Steele, Hopalong Cassidy, et al., who shot black-hatted bad guys down at the Sooner on Saturday afternoons and--later--moved to television when that new medium was looking for filler and re-ran the old B movies for years--decades, really.
As I got older, I began going for more sophisticated trash--mostly on television. Hiram had a theater (the college auditorium) where they showed films--but only one showing, Sunday nights (except in blockbuster cases--like Oklahoma and Peyton Place)--and that simply could not satiate my Oscarian appetite for trash. Besides, a lot of the films the college showed were not really trash. I saw Richard III there (zzzzzzzz) and Witness for the Prosecution and The Hustler and other more ambitious films.
And fifties and sixties television showed virtually nothing but trash. Formulaic dramas. Cowboy shows ("horse operas," my dad called them--and "oaters"). Shows about lawyers who never lost (Perry Mason), cops who never lost (Dragnet), quiz shows that were rigged (Twenty-One). And so on.
But when I moved out into the "real" world (i.e., not Hiram, Ohio), started teaching, went to grad school, started writing, and so on, my taste for trash did not diminish. In fact, I fear, it increased. Let me rationalize (i.e., repeat the lies I tell myself): Because I was spending so much time in intellectual pursuits (like lunch duty in a middle school, say), I needed trash, you know, to help me maintain my ... equilibrium. Also, I needed, you know, to "stay current"--to keep up with the trash so that I could, you know, communicate better with my students! It's not that I like Charles Bronson movies, see? But I need to go to them ... for professional reasons.
All of this was very convincing to my very accommodating conscience.
Early in our marriage I continued watching trash on TV (though I slowly began watching less and less television--virtually none now), and the movies we went to were much better--the 70s was the era of Altman and other filmmakers who were actually trying to do something besides providing the light by which people ate popcorn and made out.
Now it's time to confess one of the worst decisions of my early fatherhood. 1982. Our son, Steve, was not yet 10. And Death Wish II was playing near our home in Kent. Joyce was busy. I would take Steve to the movies. Well ... the only people in the theater were Steve and I--and about ten guys who looked as if they could audition for the characters whose brains Bronson's bullets were splattering all over the screen. I felt terrible. But the popcorn was good. And we stayed till the end. This was not my finest hour.
I still tend to favor trash at the movies (though I still see every good film I can, too--Joyce and I are cinemaddicts), and with the joys of cable on-demand and Netflix (streaming and DVD), I can watch again and again those trashy films I love the most.
Here's our week night evening pattern. I am usually in bed, reading, by 7:15 or so. I read a chapter or so in each of the half-dozen books I have going up in the bedroom (currently: Thackeray's Catherine, Wilson's The Social Conquest of Earth, Dan Chaon's Stay Awake, Tóibin's Brooklyn, Dubus' Townie, and Parker's The Jaguar). Then ... I flip on the cable and look for a trashy movie.
(Freud would understand, maybe. One must not neglect the Id. Ids have rights, too!)
When Joyce--whose study is next to our bedroom--hears the TV come on, she closes her door (why?) and works for an hour more (she has standards!), and when she eventually drifts in about 8:45 or so, off goes the trash, on comes a BBC mystery of some sort, and I fall asleep with the words of Inspector Morse winding their way into my ears, up into my brain, where Oscar is singing me his lullaby ...