Archive for April, 2006

What a Fucking Bastard

Friday, April 28th, 2006

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Today in the Los Angeles Times, I read about a New York “producer” named Eric Steel, whose documentary “The Bridge” will screen this weekend at a film fetival in San Francisco. Steel and his “crew” used concealed cameras to film suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge over the last two years, by obtaining a permit from the city to make a documentary about the visual majesty of the bridge. Steel says he was motivated by an article he read in 2003, recounting the bridge’s fatal attraction for the depressed.

The documentary includes vivid footage of nearly two dozen suicides. As he recorded the suicides, Steel sought information about the identities, and then filmed interviews with grieving family members. He never told them that he had filmed the suicides they were discussing. They are not happy about this.

Steel says that his crew intervened in 5 suicide attempts. I guess the others were just…..too cinematic to pass up? “It’s hard to watch anyone die” Steel notes. “No one on the crew went unscathed.”

WHAT?!   I don’t know about the crew, but it looks like Steel is unscathed to the tune of a few million bucks plus a shitload of publicity. His intent, he pontificates in the LA Times, is “to illuminate the darkest corner of the human mind.” HUH?!   Doesn’t he mean, to pander to the basest instinct of the jaded moviegoer?  Can we get Joseph Conrad to step in and  clear things up, like Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall?

Suicide Prevention groups are calling Steel’s movie  an irresponsible, reprehensible snuff film, and  worry about the well-known phenomenon of copy-cat suicide.

I think I believe in freedom of speech. I’m really being tested here, know what I mean? The story includes a nice photo of Mr. Steel’s fat face, which seems to be begging to be smashed in with a baseball bat.

Anyone who misunderstood “Mothers who Kill” and thinks I might  whack my kids, can stop worrying about it.   I need to kill this stupid fucking bastard before I  do anything else, and that includes the dishes and the whippings with the hickory sticks behind the barn.  

Mothers Who Kill

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

I’ve always been fascinated by mothers who kill. I don’t feel this is necessarily connected to my own mother’s bouts of rage against my existence, which she viewed as a “curse” on her. I was never afraid she would harm me. At least,  not until I was in my thirties.

The first case I remember hearing about was a distraught Japanese mother who had walked into the ocean with her young child. The child drowned and the mother survived. She was defended in court by a lawyer who explained that the Japanese culture requires a suicidal mother to take her children with her into death. It is considered an act of love and mercy to spare the abandoned child a life of grief. At the time, I identified with the mother. Perhaps it was just easier than identifying with the child.

Later, Susan Smith drove her two sons into a river and blamed a car-thief. Watching her describe the incident on TV, I felt a chill. I knew she was lying, as did all my friends who were mothers. Still, I didn’t really hold it against her. It was the blatant lie that I found disgusting.

Still later, Andrea Yates. Now there’s a mother who killed. The mind can not comprehend the scope and duration of such madness. The sheer work involved in killing so many children!   Her crime was hard to think about but impossible to cast aside. Details of her life and marriage started to emerge. Her husband knew she was nuts but didn’t see a reason to stop impregnating her. He took up some dubious form of Christianity which necessitated moving his psychotic wife and brood of young children into a van. He left every day to go to his respectable job somewhere, while Andrea Yates sunk deeper into depression. After the trial, I saw a home movie of Andrea sitting in the van, seemingly catatonic while children literally climbed over her, like cockroaches. Of course she had to kill them! I thought, shaken by the images. Who wouldn’t?

Recently, I read that a pair of toddler siblings had wandered away from their home and drowned in a nearby pond. The mother claimed that she only turned her back on them for a moment. Both of the children required special medical care on a daily basis. The mother found time to tie a shiny red ribbon in her hair for a press conference. Note to police: She did it.

Still more recently, a thirty-four year old woman has confessed to killing her two children while her husband was at work. The children were reported to have been stabbed up to 200 times, each.   This mother really meant to kill her children; that much is obvious.

What doesn’t appear to seem obvious to our society is that these women are not really so unusual. What sets them apart is that they crossed a thin line, one that separates thought from deed, impulse from act; and it’s a line most mothers tread more often than anyone wants to admit.

Mothers with colicky babies who seem to never stop crying, mothers with tantrum-throwing toddlers, mothers with chronically sick or destructive or oppositional kids, mothers often isolated all day from reasonable human beings (i.e. adults), mothers of every race and social strata and age group who have no-one to whom to confide the unspeakable words: I HATE HIM!   For every blinding moment of hatred, there may be hours and weeks and years of the deepest sort of love, but those moments are real. You don’t mean that, a husband will reassure the wife who slips up and voices her feeling. But we do. We all hate our kids at times, and we are able to transcend those emotions in order to ensure the survival of our species. We regain our maternal footing and then feel guilty for harboring a single dark thought about our precious angels. Until the next time they keep us awake all night or carve a tick-tack-toe grid on an antique dresser.

Lately, if you are attentive to news reports, you may perceive a trend in mothers who kill. The acts seem unduly savage, like the woman who hacked off her baby’s arms and let it bleed to death while she waited for the cops to arrive. A woman down south has just been arrested for chopping off her daughter’s head with a hedge clipper. In Australia, a woman’s diary has revealed a long history of smothering her babies. Are they monsters or women without resources, like social services and supportive relatives? Is a species that strands women alone with children in a pressure cooker of poverty, fatigue, worry, loneliness, high fructose corn syrup and daytime TV, beginning its journey to extinction?

A new mother who hears her infant’s cry will often start to lactate. The cry affects her pituitary system, providing a biological reminder so the baby won’t starve. But that same system functions also to make the cry literally unbearable. A father or neighbor may tune it out; the mother’s entire being resonates to the sound. When it goes on too long, or too often, she is agitated. According to U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, homicide is the leading cause of injury deaths among infants under one year of age in the United States. In Australia, more infants under the age of one year are murdered than die in car accidents, accidental poisonings, falls or drowning. Oops. Maybe nature went overboard in calibrating this mechanism.

Studies show that the biological role of friendships between women includes the reduction of stress hormones, decreased risk of dementia, a stronger immune system, and many other benefits. Do our friendships help us resist the urge to kill our kids? I’d like to see some research in this area. Did Andrea Yates have a best friend? Somehow, I doubt it. I know that if she’d called me, I would’ve told her years ago to leave that bastard or at least get her tubes tied. Would you bet that any of those notorious mothers had recently enjoyed a nice frappuccino with her girlfriends?

When I was a young mother, I was unprepared for the endless demands of a baby. I rarely got more than two hours of uninterrupted sleep. I began to feel like a zombie.   If I went out to a restaurant, my baby woke up in my lap just as my food arrived. I began to resent my husband’s freedom to relax, eat, or leave the house alone. Sometimes, when only motion would lull my son to sleep, I would push his pram back and forth in the hallway until he drifted off. Once, after an eternity of pushing the pram with no effect on the volume of his rhythmic screaming, I pushed hard enough to see his little body flop up and down, like a rag doll. It was mean, I knew, but satisfying.

Don’t get excited! I never did it again. I just remember the feeling of mania born of exhaustion. I learned that when I felt desperate, I could call my older sister, a seasoned mother of two who had seen it all. “Don’t worry” she would intone calmly, “Of course you hate him.” Hearing the inhuman screaming over the phone, she would even sound impressed. “Wow, that’s really awful! You   poor thing.”

I won’t claim that my first born owes his life to my sister, but I do wonder why mothers are expected to cope with so much stress and sleep deprivation, and so little practical and emotional preparation for what motherhood involves. My son grew into an unusually sweet and even compliant child. I was very lucky in that respect. I don’t think he defied a parental command until he was fourteen or fifteen. By then, a woman rarely entertains fantasies of killing her kid; by then, he is more likely to kill her. I heard a novelist say wistfully of parenthood that you spend years pouring everything you have into your child. All your love, patience, tenderness, time, wisdom and money. And if you do it right, he’ll grow up and leave you.

My son grew up and left home. But before he went off to college, I was a new mother once again, with a baby boy who arrived two months early. He was tiny and precious and when I was finally allowed to bring him home from the hospital, he cried continuously. He cried for forty days and forty nights, and then he cried some more. Sometimes, at dawn, I would turn to his weary dad and sob, “What’s the point of him?” I honestly couldn’t remember. At various times throughout his infancy, I rejoiced in the miracle of his survival, or considered him a pitiless human siren designed to shatter my sanity.

Today, my youngest son is twelve years old. When I’m out in a shopping mall and I hear a baby’s relentless screaming, I feel the mother’s pain. A bundle of joy begets a bundle of frayed nerves, at the very least. Every mother is both Mrs. Cleaver and Medea.   Our impulse to protect, under a certain set of circumstances, can give way to an impulse to destroy. As my boy enters adolescence, the form of autism he was born with can produce tantrums of such magnitude that we’ve had to call 911 for help. Like electrical storms, his tantrums terrify the dog and rattle the windows, plunging the household into chaos. My friends ask me how I can stand it.   I shrug and answer that I don’t have a choice.

My mother’s rage when I was growing up was so constant that it just seemed normal. I vowed to do better when I had kids of my own. At some point, during the last decade of her life, she turned her wrath on me with a single-mindedness that I found truly alarming. What if she managed to get a gun? I blocked her phone number, so she called me from payphones. She issued weird demands in the voice of a wicked witch. Eventually, she lost interest or just wanted to make peace. Before she died, I forgave her for everything, of course. She did the best she could as a divorced mother of two young children, in an era when a “divorcee” was shunned as a threat to all decent women.

Tonight, my child and I sit in separate rooms at our computers. The atmosphere is pleasant and harmonious.   A few days ago, a woman in Chicago was arrested for strangling her four year old son with a bed-sheet after he disobeyed her command to stay inside the house while she went to the laundromat. After she killed him, she reportedly went back to finish the laundry.

Cremation: Not All Fun and Games

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

The Smokebuster

I was pretty satisfied with the idea of being cremated until I read a story about a fracas over a 450 pound dead woman. Her county provides free cremation for the indigent, but only up to 300 pounds. Her son (who looked like he’d also cost a pretty penny to cremate) complained about his mom’s body just laying at the morgue “like a sausage.”

When I decided to read the story again, I came upon the website of Matthews Cremation Solutions, where a FAQ page includes the procedure for cremating a fat person. You don’t wanna know. Or, actually, if you’re like me , you do wanna know.

Anyway, after spending some time checking out the less pleasant aspects of cremation, I’m having second thoughts about the whole thing. I wanted my ashes to be sprinkled around the cosmetics department at Nordstrom, but not if I have to be shoved into an oven where someone’s huge indigent mama’s overripe corpse just sizzled its way to that great KFC in the sky. Not to mention the idea of special little “pans” for stillborn babies. Just forget it! I’m gonna be stuffed.

Trip to the Vatican by Riesa Reznor*

Sunday, April 9th, 2006

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i have been to the vatican. I have to say, the tour was quite hard to enjoy. it was not a tour. it was a line down the street to get in, and athen once you get in there is a line to pay and then there is a line to get up stairs and then all the sudden you are packed like sardines with about 30K people and you can’t move unless they do and everyone smells like some different kind of ethnic underarm odor and they are all talking another language in your face in back of your face next to your face on your face and kids are crying and parents are yelling in who knows what language. and you move through each room of the vatican following all these people and the signs that keep reminding you the sistine chapel is in this building, somewhere.

and then you are spewed into the sistine chapel wehre all of the sudden it is prohibited to talk. and you look up and its like, FUCK THIS IS AMAZING BUT THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE HERE FUCKING UP MY EXPERIENCE.

i’m glad of course that i saw it and managed to take one blurry picture (and got caught and reprimanded) but it would take the promise of a private tour to get me back in there. my friend, who didn’t care to go in the first place, was mighty pissed off. we both hate people to begin with…that is like the worst place for someone who hates people to go. glad you asked?

we also went to the colleseum, which was A FUCKING MAZING. words can’t describe that structure and pictures don’t do it either. we went to a bunch of museums and this great place where monks are buried and displayed and they take all teh dead monks bones and make artwork out of it. it was like nothing i have ever seen before. you can see it if you click the link

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* uncorrected email from Riesa, who graciously allowed me to share it. Her pix, too.

Nutcase of the Month

Friday, April 7th, 2006

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – A chiropractor who claims he can treat anyone by reaching back in time to when an injury occurred has attracted the attention of state regulators.

The Ohio State Chiropractic Board, in a notice of hearing, has accused James Burda of Athens of being “unable to practice chiropractic according to acceptable and prevailing standards of care due to mental illness, specifically, Delusional Disorder, Grandiose Type.”

Burda denied that he is mentally ill. He said he possesses a skill he discovered by accident while driving six years ago.

I LOVE THIS GUY! Check out his website, too, before he goes to jail or the looney bin. His whole deal–especially his wacky made-up word “bahlaqueem”–remind me of The Fermata, one of the funniest books ever written.

Why Can’t Americans Learn How to Bring Down a Government, Godammit?

Thursday, April 6th, 2006

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End job law in 10 days or face chaos, French PM told

French unions and student leaders yesterday gave the government 10 days to scrap its youth employment law, or face renewed strikes and protests.

Roused by 3 million demonstrators on the streets this week, union leaders yesterday met the ruling conservative UMP party, which is deeply divided and desperate to find a way out of the crisis without appearing to cave in.

The 12 unions said in a joint statement that if the government’s “first employment law” was not revoked by April 17, the French parliament’s Easter break, they would step up protests which have seen hundreds of universities and high schools blockaded for weeks. Asked what they would do if the deadline was not met, unions said that nothing was ruled out.

The law, pushed through parliament by the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, without a debate last month, would spare businesses France’s rigid employment laws by allowing them to take on workers under-26 in the knowledge they could let them go after two years. President Jacques Chirac last week signed the law but amended the probation period to a year and said that firms must state their reasons.

Unions insist on scrapping the law but agreed to talks masterminded by the interior minister, presidential pretender and UMP leader, Nicolas Sarkozy. After meeting UMP politicians yesterday, one trade union leader, François Chereque, said: “They had nothing to say.”

Mr de Villepin, whose presidential hopes have been dented by the crisis, told parliament yesterday he would “draw the necessary conclusions” from the union talks. Some media said it was a veiled resignation threat, others said it was unclear.

Although Mr Chirac urged students and pupils to return to class, protests and school blockades continued.