Saturday, April 23, 2011

My Life With the Easter Bunny

It may seem funny to us now, but I don't blame kids for being scared of the Easter Bunny. I still remember the first time I saw him. I and my brother were all excited about his coming. Our parents had set us up, tried to explain whole thing. We sat at the kitchen table. Then this giant white shape lurched out of darkness and thumped on the window. It was huge. With the ears it was bigger than any adult. Its eyes were enormous. I screamed and ran from the table.

When it was explained to me, I didn't like it any better. Why did the Easter Bunny have to come here? The next Easter, I complained and whined. I cried. I didn't want the Easter Bunny to come visit. Not here. Not in my home where I felt safe. My father looked quite disgusted. He became angry. My mom, filling her role, gave up trying to explain and took pity on me. Maybe not this year? she asked, looking at my father. My father looked away. I continued to cry. I cried until my mom promised to call the Easter Bunny and tell him not to come. This she did while stroking my head. It's okay, honey, she said. He's not coming. But I don't want him to come, ever, I stated. I knew that now the Easter Bunny knew where we were.

The next Easter was something my parents just did with my brother. It was decided I was not mature enough. I was just supposed to wait in my room until it was all over. I liked my room just fine because I had my Peanuts books and stuffed buddies, but it felt different, heated, stale, knowing that something was going on outside and I that I couldn't, shouldn't look or leave. Just going to the bathroom scared me as I was afraid I would run into my parents or, I don't know, something.

After it was all over, my parents did their concerted paternal best at nurturing me, by heaping shame and not at all veiled aspersions on me throughout dinner. My brother shone by the praise of his performance, but, to his credit, seemed a little embarrassed for me once he had gotten his digs in. There was no reason not to hate Easter.

School was not much better. During the egg roll I kept to the shallow end of the action, applying the schoolyard principle I had discovered and learned at dodgeball that seemed to work universally well for life: if you kept to the sides and acted invisible, you were safe a little longer than the idiots who ran up front directly into the line of fire.

The Easter egg hunt was the worst. Here you were outdoors, highly exposed. Easter eggs and god knows what other deadly traps were underfoot. Sometimes there were even dogs.

Somehow, I survived. Understandably, I hated Easter and the Easter Bunny.

Somewhere down the line, it was decided that I should have a go again. More likely, it was now established that introducing me to the Easter Bunny was good for a rise. So at the mall we went to his little hut. At this age I was proud enough to be goaded into not objecting.

The Easter Bunny had two assistants, older girls, who were rather skankily clad from Hot Topic. Their ghoulish makeup could not quite conceal that they were in the seventh grade. The blonde one with stringy hair seemed to sense my apprehension and gave me a look of concern. She held me close as though to admit we were all a little scared of the Easter Bunny. She smelled of Parliaments, pot, febreeze and Mike's hard lemonade. The way she held my hand was kind and genuine. Her fatter friend just snorted and rubbed her press on tattoos.

Eventually the moment could be delayed no longer. The Easter Bunny gestured for me.

I don't know who or what was in the suit, but it stank. He pulled me on to his knee and handled me like I was a ham. His other hand grappled my friend immodestly. Later, in college, I came to know what that smell was well. It was Jim Beam, Old Gold and days old cum. His breath echoed inside the hollow bunny head. It was wheezy and phlegmy like a flooded chainsaw. He asked the usual questions. I gave guarded answers. At the end of our interview he told me he was coming to our house. And: I'm going to put my eggs in you.

This was enough for me. The fiend had to be stopped.

I hatched a plan with my friends. I kept an egg from my lunch and sealed it inside a juice bottle mixed with water and juice. We buried it in the warm earth beneath one of the classrooms. It was an improvised bio-weapon. It would be ripe by Easter.

I don't recall if we had settled on a mode of delivery. Unfortunately, a rival gang of kids got wind of it, dug out the bottle prematurely and tried to use it on us. They thought that the weapon was intended for them and therefore they were justified in acting preemptively to avert terror. What I could not explain in the principal's office in my slightly stained clothing was the true purpose of the project and my sadness and apprehension that once again, this year, we stood naked and defenseless against a common foe.

Instead, the Easter Bunny came and went as usual, popping out of black Lincoln Continental in a hockey mask, distributing painted eggs and treats and brochures about home invasion.

I hated everything about Easter. I hated the baby chicks that some people bought and what they did to them. I know it was all symbolic, but it made me sick.

I never liked or understood the stop motion holiday specials where the Easter Bunny came to town, made kids strip and dance and then turned them inside out.

The school psychiatrist lead to a regular psychiatrist and liked her just fine. I didn't mind talking about myself. What bothered me was that thing coming into our home. Now, in addition to little pastel candies and chocolates, I had itsy little pills to eat every Easter.

My parents worried about my propensity to get up in the dead of night and walk around the house. It was really nothing to worry about. I wasn't sleepwalking. I was a light sleeper and it was good just to have a quick check on things and make sure the house was secure. This habit really paid off one night.

I didn't hear anything when I awoke. As usual, I walked around the living room, the familiar furniture still having the blurry patina of a dream. Perhaps I would sneak in some television. I was not sure at first what I was hearing, or if there was anything to hear. It was just around the edge of my ear, like a buzz that was there and not there. It could have well have been just my sleepy head. I stared at the sliding glass doors. They were unlocked. The sound bounced off them to my ears. Moaning. A woman moaning. It was my mother.

I edged towards my parents room. The horrible sounds grew louder. I could call the police, but it would be too late. I got a cleaver from the kitchen, the kind my father used to cut up whole chickens.

When I opened the door, it was him. And it wasn't even Easter, not yet.

I was just a little kid, but I wasn't stupid. I knew I only had one chance to save my mom. I had seen horror movies and Easter specials. I went for the neck.

The bunny head turned and screamed my name.

My father made it as far as the hall before collapsing. The suit front was soaked with blood. My mother screamed and screamed. I ran over to see if I could help him. My father's hand was at his neck, but I had cut good. He could barely speak. What he said was: I'm proud of you, son.

It was then I understood the true meaning of Easter and the Easter Bunny.

I'm a father now. Now it's me who pulls on the rabbit skin and stands outside the window with the little baskets full of eggs and chocolates, fake grass and broken glass.

They have to learn. To grow up. The world is terrifying and horrible, but they don't have to just take it. This is the gift we give our children, the only way we know how to protect them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Brain Remembers and the Heart Lies

I don't like to indulge in nostalgia because it tends to confirm the hypothesis that the present is the only form of life possible and that our memories are projections, screen memories.

Bear with me, however.

I recall as a child that the much anticipated Saturday evening television was preceded by an interminable overture that my parents enjoyed -perhaps yours too, for that is what I am trying to determine.

The show, as I recall it, was old-fashioned and nostalgic -even for my parents. Its songs seem to originate in some infinite pastel colored past, some deep racial memory of superannuated sing-a-longs, past a screen of time made from the flux of popping champagne bubbles and soft music. Youthful faces of Mormon uniformity in matching outfits sang slowly in all-too perfect harmony at a pace that slipped behind dirges and foghorns, pleasant, beaming ditties that could be sung through a mouthful of teeth without ever missing a smile or taking a breath. The show itself was named after its gently accented and genteel host. 

I mean, of course, The Singing Brain.

The mature series never started with the Singing Brain himself; he mainly introduced the acts. By then people had gotten comfortable with his appearance in his tank (as comfortable as they were going to be, anyway) and the careful orchestration and skillful direction of the show created the willful illusion that the brain could see and hear, engage in playful banter and tender duets.

ʼ"Well, if you're so smart, you tell me which came firs!"

In reality, of course, the brain was wholly isolated, deprived of any sensory input, its seemingly flawless ability to integrate, interact and intermesh with the external world being explained wholly by the principle of epiphenomenalism.

The other challenge the show repeatedly faced, according to Wikipedia, was lighting the brain, as directors struggled with numerous unique problems involving the albedo of the tank, the need for a clear focus on the camera subject without making the dinner time audience nauseous and the ever-present potential risk of damaging the brain's tissues by overheating.

Nonetheless, every show ended as its premiere had, with the brain singing one its signature solos, a strange song, to be sure, plangent and affecting, a singularly original composition of a mind entirely freed and quarantined from all stimulus and feedback, entirely a priori and alienated -and yet human, all-too human.

Toward the end of his solo he would be joined by his old chorus, in the full dress uniforms of their departments and lab coats. I always wondered if the scientists and generals who has created the brain enjoyed their brief moment on the stage. They never appeared in any other segment. I like to think they kept on out of sense of obligation to their lonely creation. Though the stage was ringed by singing siblings in identical golden curls, it was Lockheed Martin and the technical staff at Groom Lake who were the brain's only true remaining family.

It was always hard to predict when this final solo of the brain would end, because of its musically (and mathematically) unfathomable structure. Perhaps this regular uncertainty helped explain why the show seemed to go on forever -the producers had to accommodate the brain's indeterminate number and cut the show accordingly. Above all, they had to bracket the end of the show with a prerecorded farewell, rather than the violent pleas for death that the brain ended all his performances with.

Of course, everyone knew that the brain wanted to die and begged for the release of death almost constantly -especially people in the industry. It was an open secret among professionals on Ventura Boulevard. It even made the air on the show a few times: oh, grandpa, the girls would laugh.

By the time of The Far Out Brain Show, however, the brain had stopped singing, per se. Its contribution now consisted of scripted artificial dialogue, that it often flubbed, and long, bizarre stream of consciousness monologues whose appearance had prompted the retooling of the show. Eventually the show was basically just these opaque and inscrutable soliloquies that sounded like Samuel Beckett characters arguing about Whitehead while reading lottery numbers and directing air traffic accompanied by freaked out acid rock on a stage where the brain seemed to float through the groovy oil projections with the go-go dancers.

It was hard to follow, even for the turned-on set, as the brain would simply blurt out NUMBERS ARE REAL ENTITIES; PEOPLE ARE NOT during a “Mother Goose” skit (copied from The Goodies) with Ken Berry and the cast would basically just try and rap along: that's heavy, man. Soylent Green is people, too.

People (real or not, soylent or not) began to wonder why the show was still on the air; my parents, anyway, stopped watching. The loyal viewers of the show, however, remained: cognitive and mathematical scientists, radical psychiatrists and, for reasons still unclear, members of the intelligence and diplomatic communities.

The singing brain's performances, however, continued to decline and rumors of organic damage or drug abuse began to circulate. People said the brain had difficulty remembering people's names and appeared “bloated and disheveled.” 

A reclusive and paranoid brain in a dingy tank

Perhaps this was to be expected: it was, after all, the longest continually publicly performing brain on public record. The Soviets supposedly had a “harmonizing cortex,” but it shrunk and died and never performed publicly.

When a suddenly youthful and invigorated Singing Brain returned to the stage with catchy tunes and ribald banter, the brain's longterm fans sensed fraud. Indeed, Fake Brain had none of the genius or otherworldly charm and talent of the original, being hired largely for its looks.

The photo that broke the hoax. Note the different part in the central sulcus.

Yet for those who knew him, the Singing Brain had earned its rest and were glad for it when it moved out to New Mexico. The albums it eventually produced there are now widely hailed as prefiguring much of ambient and low liminal post-human post-music today and there is a great deal of interest in the scientific and military communities for these and other lost masterpieces. There is hope that a complete catalog might be reconstructed, but its surviving wife and son have been reticent about releasing any further “brain music.”

To his credit, Fake Brain continues to this day to perform a loyal, if derivative act at the Sahara. It is, however, an imitation done in the sincerest flattery and as a true art. As Fake Brain writes in his memoirs, I Am Not The Singing Brain, there's something about the Singing Brain's music that “people with bodies will never fully understand.”