I've Got Amazing Powers of Observation
Forgive me (darling) for getting a little heady with our last post of the week. I watched The Dead Zone last night, one of my favorites. It plays a little dated, because it was made in the fucking '80s, but Christopher Walken's performance is still mesmerizing.
The better scene, which I can't find on You Tube, is where the sheriff (Tom Skerritt) comes to ask Johnny Smith (Walken) to use his powers of second sight and help him solve a series of murders. It's this great bit, repeated almost verbatim from the Stephen King novel, where the sherriff says something about how God gave Johnny "a gift," whereupon Walken delivers this killer soliloquy about how God threw him into the path of a truck and knocked him into a coma for five years, and when he woke up his job was gone, his girl was gone.
"God?" Johnny asks in disbelief. "Oh, God's been a real sport to me."
This movie came out in '83, and I must've seen it at least two dozen times over the years. Johnny Smith is a weird hero to have, but he was always right up there with Rocky and Luke Skywalker, Superman. And it is a superpower, really. Maybe the best the one. The ability to change the future. Because you can't change the past. (I'm discounting the deus ex machina superpower/moment of Superman I when Superman reverses the Earth's orbit to go back in time, since it essentially establishes precedent that every time something doesn't go Sup's way, all he has to do to fix the problem is fly backwards really, really fast.)
I recently read the book again, which was the first novel I ever read. I remember being in the 10th grade and the teacher (help me out BHS grads--Mrs. Colaiacovo?) asking everyone in class to list his or her ten favorite books, and my having to make them up because I'd only actually read one, The Dead Zone. Which is kinda funny considering what I call myself these days. One fucking book. I'd read kids' books of course, Hardy Boys, The Great Brain series, Bernstein Bears, but all through elementary, middle, and into high school, all those books assigned? Never cracked a fucking cover. I hated being assigned books to read. Not because I hated reading. Like I said, I read a lot of kids' books. But because I hated being told I had to.
Because my life really is a Bruce Springsteen song.
It wasn't until after high school, when I was well into my first four-year-stint in college, that I started getting into books. And it wasn't because of any class or professor; it was because my buddy Jimmy told me if I wanted to matter in this life, I had to start reading. Then I read Catcher in the Rye and the rest, as they say...
That's one of the questions I really wish I could magically have answered. Like Johnny Smith clasping the spine of a novel... Having read exactly one (adult) book in my first 20 years of living, how many have I read since? Got to be at least a thousand, right? Or maybe that's shooting too high. 500? I mean, you could do it like I average 3 books a year, but it doesn't really work like that. There was that stretch in rehab where I read 50 books in 50 days, and then think of all the classes I took, repeating undergrad and getting my graduate degree, with sometimes upwards of 20 books per class, and while out of school now I've only read 20 books or so this past year, this feels like far and away the fewest I've read since I was in my 20s. No, I'm thinking at least a thousand. Maybe a couple thousand. Maybe more. Then again, I'm delusional.
I wonder where I'd have ended up if I never started reading books. Lots of people don't read them. TV and movies are a fucklot faster. Yeah, books open up a whole new world to you and all that shit, knowledge is power, etc., but sometimes I wonder if I might've been better off staying the way I was.
I was having an Internet exchange with this guy, George, the other day. George and I used to be roommates back when I was an out-of-control, in-your-face, let's-fight-about-everything punk. An East Coast transplant like I, George had an equally strong personality, and we clashed pretty much daily. I used to like to say things just to get under his skin, which was easy to do. He'd get so worked up. I remember these reoccurring conversations we'd have about my drug use, which was not only starting to escalate but which I was championing like a mutherfucker.
"Hey, George," I said, "You taking aspirin is no different than me doing speed." (I didn't posses my gerunds back then). "You drink coffee, right? You're a drug addict too."
George would get so inflamed. And rightfully so. Because I was an asshole and full of shit (God, who doesn't like a good early morning anal conceit, eh?)
I think it's safe to say the guy hated me, whereas I just hated everyone equally and reveled in being a dick. But now we make nice on the Facebook.
George was really into weightlifting back then, like I am now. One of the things that would drive him nuts was when people would see him after not having done so in a while and say, "Wow, you look great, George! Did you lose weight?" People think they are complimenting you, but no bodybuilder wants to hear that. When people say that to me these days, I get pissed. I'm like, "I lost body fat (mutherfucker)! I weigh the same!"
George posted a pic the other day and I commented, saying he looked great and asking if he lost weight. He wrote back, something, like, "Very funny. But if you think about the old you and the old me, I'd say you're the one who came fill circle, Mr. Biceps." Of course referring to my 17" guns, of which I am so proud.
And he's right. I have come full circle, which can make a man question what the fuck all that work was for. Yeah, I learned a lot, empathy, experience and all that shit, but what if I just stayed in my hometown, married the first girl I fucked, got a job, got fat, went bald, and the only thing I ever read was the Sports' page like my old man. Would the world--my world--be any different?
It'd be nice to be Johnny Smith for a day and see what might've been. Maybe somehow my mother would still be alive. I wouldn't have Holden. But I wouldn't know that, would I? So as much as the boy is sewn into my very fiber and fabric of my being, how could I miss him? I guess what I'm getting at is I feel like the old Bernstein Bears book, the one where Papa Bear wants to buy a new hat, so he goes to the hat store to try on new hats, leaving his old one at the the counter, and after trying on a wacky assortment of crazytallshortfatsilly hats, he's like, "That's the hat I want!" And of course it's the same hat he came in with.
I know, I know. It's the journey, not the destination. Just seems like if I would've known where I'd eventually end up, I might've packed a little lighter.
Maybe, either way, we all eventually end up in that same room, alone, staring at a wall, and asking that same goddamn question...