Tag Archives: black humor

Sentimentality

This enlargement shows hookworms, Ancylostoma caninum, attached to the intestinal mucosa. Barely visible larvae penetrate the skin (often through bare feet), are carried to the lungs, go through the respiratory tract to the mouth, are swallowed, and eventually reach the small intestine. This journey takes about a week.

When I was a child, I remember sitting with my mother as she hate-watched The Waltons. Mom twirled the ice cubes in her Manhattan, and took a moment to note that the Great Depression was uncheerily named for a reason, and that reason was that everyone (save rich people) was poor. She liked to point out that being poor was not fun. Also, that all that barefoot walking around that the Walton kids indulged in probably led to hookworm infections. The hookworm is an intestinal parasite, which meant that even if the Walton family had enough to eat, they’d starve. Etc.

But what stuck in my mother’s craw about The Waltons mostly was the sentimental tone of the show. Like there exists a magical past that was filled with happiness that we could time-travel back to.

Mom wasn’t merely unsentimental–she was anti-sentimental. She believed that people should be clear-eyed about their pasts, otherwise they were bound to continue to make the same mistakes over and over.

Anytime I find myself indulging in any form of sentimentality, I hear my mother cackling at the Walton family (“Good night, John Boy!”) as they wished each other a good night at the end of each episode.

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but my family moved around a lot, mainly because my father, like a lot of Americans, confused movement with upward progress. He thought that he could chase down happiness. This is an American trait. We ended up in Florida, which is filled with happiness-chasers. Florida attracts immigrants from all over the damn place, most of them confusing boiling heat and a lack of winter with paradise. And paradise equals happiness. Got it?

My childhood was better than the one the actual Waltons lived, I have to think. Polio had been cured by then, for instance. Indoor plumbing took care of hookworms. Also: shoes. There was no Great Depression. We had hyper-inflation and WIN (Whip Inflation Now!) buttons. We had a series of incompetent or corrupt presidents, and a slow drain of money from the working class to the wealthy that continues today. Such is life. You can try out voting if you don’t like that. See if that works out.

Think of memory as a barn door that opens wide when you’re experiencing times of extreme joy or fear, and nearly closes up during ordinary life, or when you’re bored. Your brain is designed that way by God. Blame Him. Your brain wants be able to either recreate that extreme joy, or figure out a way to prevent whatever was causing your fear. It wants to suck down every detail during extreme times… and create a map to joy or away from fear. Rollercoasters take advantage of this. So does 24-hour network news. These memories become cement. They’re stuck in there. As time goes on, they are often sweetened a bit, or a lot, to make them palatable. Sure, it’s an ugly blob of cement, but if I plant roses all over it, I’ll be able to stand to look at it, and after a while, I may even enjoy having to look at it.

I sometimes run into people from my past who invite me to be sentimental about a specific time in my life. I was in the Army, for instance. The Army is designed to be memorable thanks to heavy weaponry and sudden death. Old soldiers take those memories and, because they’re stuck with them, turn them into something better… something nice, even if they aren’t nice. The old soldiers want you to indulge in the niceness fantasy with them. Like: Wasn’t it all fun? Didn’t we have the best time? Because you don’t want to be stuck with a bunch of unfun memories, do you?

I went to a small Catholic high school in Florida. My graduating class had maybe 90 people in it. About 15 years ago, I made the mistake of moving back to Florida for a couple of years. My mother was dying. Florida was too-too familiar and horrifyingly alien at the same time.

I ran into someone I’d gone to high school with. He was offended that I didn’t recognize him, or his name, which he repeated to me several times, each time more incredulously. I’ve since reforgotten his name. I was working as a newspaper editor/reporter and he was a cop. We had lunch, and he named a bunch of people from high school. I didn’t remember their names either. He gossiped about them for a while. He invited me to remember the good times I’d clearly not had in high school.

“You really don’t remember any of this stuff, do you?” he asked, shaking his head.

“Nope. Should I?”

I’d learned enough about civility by then to wait until I got into my car, safely out of earshot. And then I cackled.

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Your shitty free movie of the week… this week: Mr. Mike's Mondo Video

Mr. Mike

Before his brain exploded in the mid-1990’s, Michael O’Donoghue was one of the greatest writers of pitch black humor in this country. He wrote some of the best sketches in Saturday Night Live’s early history, including this sketch that asks the age-old question, “What if Superman ended up in Nazi Germany instead of America?”

As you may imagine, his vision probably didn’t always align with the vision of NBC, so a lot of his sketches did not end up on the show. Where some of the best of the rejected sketches ended up was this 90-minute special, which never ran on NBC. Instead, it ended up at the midnight movies… where a young me saw it. There were about ten other O’Donoghue diehards sitting with me in there. So much doomed laughter. Ah… warm memories. When Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video came out on VHS, I bought a copy, and wore it out. Now it’s on YouTube, where anyone can watch these little bits of pure genius.

Mondo, for those of you not familiar with the term, is an exploitation documentary. For an example, see my review of Primitive London.

My favorite moment… “Coming up next… Japanese girls bathing in dolphin blood!” It’s a movie in which women shoot down planes with pointy bras, people have ecstatic visions of Jack Lord, and cats are chucked into a swimming pool. The musical guests are none other than Sid Vicious, Root Boy Slim, and Klaus Nomi.

As Mr. Mike himself said in a Spin magazine column right before his brain went kablooey: “I don’t think of myself as just another writer. I see myself more as an Instrument of Destiny with a clear moral imperative to set the world straight on a few things. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not claiming that I’m right and that everyone else is wrong. All I’m saying is when the Angel of the Lord appeared to me and allowed me to read certain key passages from The Book of Life, it gave me an ‘overview’ that others may not have. Call it ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Truth’ or a ‘Mandate from God,’ I don’t care. I prefer to consider it ‘one man’s opinion’ and let it go at that.”

If you think this world is a Wonderful Place Filled with Hugs and Love and Puppies Licking Ice Cream Cones, don’t go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTmN3N5v0W4

But if you’re like me, and see this world as the bleak fucking hellhole that it actually is, only Mr. Mike can make you laugh until you vomit and vomit some more, until you dry heave boiling black bile.

For a contemporary master of black humor, visit with our master of ceremonies here on ParagraphLine.com, Mr. Jon Konrath by buying his new book Atmospheres.

Love you all bunches! Your pal, Jan (pronounced “Yawn,” you heathens!).