(A story I wrote, about 6 years ago, it still seems relevant to me)
“Technicolor Yawn” I’ve heard it called. That word, “Technicolor,” makes me think of “Old Technicolor” and movies like The Wizard of OZ where reds are ruby, greens are over the top “Emerald-City”, blues are sky-topaz and the scariest characters in the whole picture are the flying monkeys.
In 1932 the initial three-color technicolor process was perfected; before that, all movies were in black and white. The new cameras were big and cumbersome with two “splitter” lenses and three large reels of film running simultaneously in parallel through filters: red, green and blue. When the film was processed these three reels were perfectly laminated together for full color. The negatives were super dense and imparted dreamy, ultra vivid, over-saturated colors. It wasn’t quite right.
The film was “slow” and blindingly bright movie lights had to be used during shooting. Brighter, hotter, projection bulbs had to be developed also and if the film reel ever stopped during playback the highly flammable cellulose nitrate films would ignite. Cellulose nitrate, also called nitrocellulose, is the principle ingredient of modern gunpowder. Upon decomposition these old films have been known to spontaneously explode. People sat in the dark, watching the screen, while the film ticked and cooked: just above their enraptured heads, and just below the point of conflagration.
Many people called color a gimmick. They didn’t like it much at first. Sound had been a fairly recent innovation and some people were still getting used to that. They called the early sound films “talkies” because these films featured actors chattering and blathering away constantly with approximately nothing to say. “Scriptwriters” had not been properly invented yet. “Stereo” would not be developed for decades.
The Wizard of OZ hit the screen in 1939. It was a color talkie. Black and white film would not survive this new gimmick. Buddy Ebsen was the original Tin Man, but he was poisoned by breathing the aluminum powdered silver makeup while working under the brighter-than-the-sun movie lights. He was sick a long time and when he recovered he found that he had been replaced. The makeup was changed when next actor was elected.
Various actors had fought and squabbled over certain parts in the picture. Those who fought best, pulled strings and manipulated won the day. Imagine what it would have been like if the Scarecrow had been the Tin Man or the Wicked Witch of the West had been slinky, sexy and seductive: they tried that, it didn’t work. It would have been a completely different picture. No, the Wicked Witch of the West had to be old, vivid green with envy, and want those blood-red shoes of adolescent Dorothy more than anything.
“Well my little pretty, I can cause accidents too” is one of her lines which hasn’t been quoted to death. The art of illusion is fragile, these things must be done delicately.
Another premier in 1939, September first, Hitler invaded Poland. Two days later W.W.II was declared. Hitler wanted Poland; he took it. Hitler was master of the art of illusion. You never knew what he was really up to until it was too late. America was late entering the war. After all everything we needed was in our own back yard.
Flying monkeys- they scared me pretty badly when I was six or so, the first time I saw that movie. In 1939 audiences screamed. Some ran from the theater. Children had nightmares. I’m not sure why the monkeys were so scary, but maybe it’s something about the way that they could fly down from the sky without any warning and just carry you away. Big damn monkeys too, in full, bright, abnormally vivid color, making sounds.
Flying monkeys are somewhere in size between a chimpanzee and an ape: about the size of a small man in a monkey suit. The first monkey on the ground looks unstoppable, absolutely bent on his task. He’s moving fast and with only a dim glimmer of intelligence: he can’t be reasoned with. The second one gets Toto. A whole gang of them rip Scarecrow apart, but it doesn’t kill him. There are advantages to being a straw man. His head and upper torso are intact and his friends put him back together.
“Technicolor yawn,” a novel term for vomiting, is supposed to be a cute or funny name. Makes you think of a wide open mouth, like a yawn I guess, presenting a kaleidoscope of colors. “Yawn,” something you do when you’re tired, or bored and need entertainment. The technicolor part is about being sick. Can a person be all that at once? In any case I’ll be occupied with that particular activity for about six hours straight on this Monday evening. It’s near midnight when the first symptom of food poisoning suddenly and unexpectedly appears, but it isn’t the “yawn”.
“The trots”, is the first flying monkey to arrive, so to speak. The colloquialism, “trots” doesn’t make me think of anything, except maybe the fact that I didn’t trot to the bathroom fast enough. We make up funny names for things we don’t actually want to talk about. A foreign body has invaded mine. In six hours it has mobilized, multiplied and successfully liberated my digestive system from my control. Freedom fighters. Or insurgents: what I have consumed is consuming me. Everything, absolutely everything, gets consumed by something else.
A man sits in the White House with a sixty percent approval rating. If he starts raining missiles on the people of Iraq in a few days, a week or a month, his approval will go higher still. All of France, Germany, Russia and China to name but a few countries, think he’s a dangerous madman, a bloodthirsty cowboy. We know better, we are Americans and our president couldn’t be that way. He is defending our constitution. He is bringing peace to the Middle East. He is a sworn-in agent of democracy. Our top rated shows on television feature real people lying, cheating, stealing, beating each other up and generally screwing each other over. Some of these concept shows were borrowed from Great Britain. Great Britain likes our cowboy. The consumers have spoken.
Iraq has 142 years of oil reserves at current production ratios, the second largest oil reserve in the world after Saudi Arabia. Iran is in the top five, the second of three “Axis of Evil” countries named by our president. The U.S. is pretty far down the list, we have only seven years left before we run out of our own oil. Great Britain has four years. The big red hourglass has been turned over and sand is pouring through.
The blood of the earth is black. Who put it there and why? Were they careful and methodical when they created it? It doesn’t “go bad”, it just sits in the ground at a cool fifty-two degrees waiting to be sucked out and consumed. It does have an expiration date, seven years for us, 142 for Iraq. Our frig is almost empty. There is no way to burn petroleum without creating poisonous gases, no matter how refined. It is a good lubricant for machines and can be reused many many times. Otherwise we don’t know what to do with it. It’s toxic, it’s poisonous, but we love it.
So I’m sitting on my toilet staring at my own shit on the white tile floor and thinking “well, that never happened before.” It makes me think of geriatrics, and the trick of always making it to the bathroom on time even when you are sick. I suddenly have a lot more sympathy for those whose physical selves have deteriorated to the point of causing them embarrassment, and beyond, well beyond that. I almost always feel like I am somewhere in my mid-twenties, but right now I feel way past my chronological age. There is something about seeing my own body-fluid outside of my body and some place where it shouldn’t be, some place I never expected it to be, that is unnerving.
My bathroom is incredibly tiny, just a toilet, stall-shower and sink. The door swings inward and therefore can‘t be opened if the shower door is open at the same time. It can’t be opened if anyone is sitting on the toilet. The door almost can’t be opened if you are in there at all: there’s a bit of a dance involved; of grabbing the doorknob, pulling, and backing up nearly into the shower before you can finally escape. On the upside however, you can, if so inclined, touch everything in the room from the one tiny square that you can stand in: shower nozzle, toilet-tank, faucets. No bending, no stretching, touch everything. It’s a tiny universe. Everything is connected, all within reach and every movement has an outcome.
Star and I can’t reasonably take a shower together, this somewhat complicated by the fact that I have gained about fifty pounds in the five years that I have lived as a born again college student in this generic little Northern California town of little distinction, called "Chico" which means "boy." It's a good name for it. Our town’s claim to fame; The Adventures of Robin Hood was shot here, with Errol Flynn, in Old Technicolor, 1938. That year Joseph Goebbels declared the assassination of a single German official an “international Jewish conspiracy”. Angry Mobs immediately killed 96 Jews, burned 1000+ synagogues among many other acts, and 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. It was called kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass.” Welcome to Sherwood.
Sorry, Robin Hood is only one of Chico’s claims to fame, the other being massive college-student riots. Storefronts smashed, cars overturned-- not protesting anything, just rioting, for fun. Drunk and bored. A technicolor yawn.
A journalist once described Chico as the place where you will find Velveeta in the gourmet foods section. That pretty much describes it. Ok, there’s a river and some trees because there had to be a Sherwood forest, but Chico is like my bathroom except without the Velveeta. I once swam where Little John got knocked into the water by Robin Hood. They became fast friends as soon as they were done whacking each other with wooden sticks. I love the movies.
Another thing that you can do in my tiny bathroom is sit on the toilet and throw up in the sink at the same time. I am now finding this out for the first time. It seems that my body is making simultaneous efforts to purge itself of some unknown substance. At this moment I am not thinking of the ruby slippers, all covered in glitter, clicking together, “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home”. I am not hearing that song in my head ‘Ho ho ho, ha ha ha, and a couple of tra-la la’s, that’s how we laugh the day away in the merry old land of OZ.” There is probably a vague ringing in my ears that does not sound like the bells of Saint Peter nor can it be described as musical in any way. I say probably because I am paying no attention to sound right now, but instead, trying to figure out what it was that I ate.
This is not a talkie. The colors don’t please me, they are for identification purposes only, they are decidedly not technicolor. My girlfriend, Star, asks through the bathroom door, “Are you all right?” and I answer after some delay. I don’t really hear in stereo anymore. Most of the hearing in my right ear got lost somewhere.
Minutes have passed, maybe longer, I am partially recovered and cleaning the bathroom. Spraying blue Windex on the white surfaces of the floor, sink, and toilet has a pleasing effect, like an instant solution to a very big problem. I imagine the ammonia burning, killing these pathogens that so recently poisoned me. Each time I squeeze the trigger on the spray bottle I’m thinking “die, die, die”. If they are tiny flying monkeys, I am unaware of it. They may feel pain or have a desire to preserve their own lives, these small beings. I doubt that they can be described as evil, hungry maybe, maybe even ambitious, but not evil. They do what they do. I do what I do.
It’s a blue chemical rain of ammonia that they receive, a bio-toxin guaranteed to kill, but from my great distance and relative size, the microscopic bacteria are expiring in complete silence, without any drama or suffering evident. They absolutely do not stand a chance. There is no hope, no god for them, unless he is me, and I hold the technicolor blue windex; a weapon of mass destruction.
When I am done I take a shower, assuming that the ordeal is all over. But in the shower I begin to feel lightheaded, weak, and dizzy. It is some effort to get the water turned off and myself out of the shower before fainting. Soon I am sitting on the bathroom floor, dripping from the shower, with my head between my knees to keep from passing out. The window is open and it’s cold. I’m shivering but not inclined to reach for a towel. It’s somewhere after midnight. My girlfriend tries to open the bathroom door and can’t, the door presses up against my right knee, “Do you want me to take you to the hospital?” she asks, “Maybe,” I say, but I am thinking how wrong that would be. This is a private thing, it’s mine and I don’t want to share it with anyone. It's a secret. “Besides,” I tell myself, “there isn’t anything that they can do for you- unless you pass out, so don’t pass out.”
It’s now after the second or third bathroom session. I have managed to dry off, get warm by the wall heater, and ask my girlfriend to help me write down the things that I can remember having eaten that day. What do we have that needs to be thrown away? What do I need to warn others about? It seems like an orderly and reasonable thing to do within the few minutes afforded me between panicky runs to the bathroom.
Throwing up again: I notice that things are coming up in the wrong order. Last thing in should be first thing out, and it isn’t. “Wow, I didn’t know that my stomach could do magic tricks” I think to myself, and the fact that it can does not explain why it would want to. The presentation is out of sequence, non-chronological and I don’t understand it. It is confusing the facts like rewritten history, and the proofs are disappearing as fast as I can flush. No paper trail that anyone can follow.
Chocolate doesn’t seem so appealing like this. It’s just regurgitated brown batter now, as ugly and boring as crude oil. I can’t remember at all why I like chocolate at this moment and yet I love chocolate, I always have. It’s just another concoction that we humans make. We make stuff, we consume it, we excrete it, over and over and over again. And then one day we die, and the stuff that was our body gets buried and turns into other stuff. Stuff stuff stuff, I am so tired of stuff, nothing but stuff to deal with. Later Star argues with me, it’s not about the chocolate, she says, but I can’t shake the idea that it is. It’s somehow all about the chocolate.
Chocolate muffin, with chocolate chips, bought from the liquor store across the street and what I assume to be the culprit. God knows how long the thing was actually buried in their semi-refrigerated section at fifty-two degrees, give or take. There was no date on it. Who made it? Who actually mixed up the batter and baked it and stored it there? Were they a careful methodical person? I’ll know as much about that as I will ever know about how, or why my stomach did a magic trick. Was it to frighten and amaze me? To shock and awe? Was it to keep me entertained while waiting for this sickness to pass? Was it trying to trick me, misdirect me, get me to agree to something or just observe my response. I no longer trust my stomach. God knows.
Nothing I swallowed on Monday tasted evil, it all went down just fine. Some people say that chocolate is a necessary evil. Chocolate is a funny thing, it has a little caffeine in it, and it has a lot of chemicals which mimic brain hormones. These hormones give you the same feeling as love. Then there’s the fat and sugar-it’s like artificial love, it’s addictive. Most chocolate contains lead, from it’s source; tetraethyl lead, an ingredient of refined petroleum not yet outlawed in Africa; the source of most of our cocoa. It’s in the ground, the water, the chocolate.
It’s hours earlier in the evening and I am laying my hand on my girlfriend’s blonde head, meditating and asking to remove whatever this plague is, this thing that keeps her from sleeping, causes pains in her knees, neck, back, circulation problems, extreme sensitivity to temperature, crying jags and more.
I’m a healer, or at least I was one at one time. I have healed quite a few people just by laying my hands on them but I haven’t healed Star. For years I have been watching her fall further into despair and frailty. Maybe she has an autoimmune disorder, maybe rheumatoid arthritis, something similar to chronic fatigue or to fibro-myalgia but not the same. Another healer told her she was going to end up with Multiple Sclerosis. Never tell that to a hypochondriac. Star doesn’t believe in hypochondria. I can’t say that I think the problem is all in her head but I think that it may have originated there, now it’s systemic and it’s tearing her apart.
Star calls it a curse and she doesn’t know what it is. “Curses!” the Wicked Witch said, “Somebody is always helping that girl”. Somebody is always helping Star, actually, everybody is. An amazing amount of aid gets dedicated to her by family and friends on an ongoing basis.
That same healer who diagnosed Star also thought that the world was largely coming to an end last summer, and he told many many more stories crazier than that. Sometimes I worry what people will think of me if I voice a controversial opinion. Sometimes I talk about one thing when I am really talking about another thing entirely. Maybe I shouldn’t worry. I don’t think we listen all that hard anyway.
“No, you’d better not do that,” she says, and I take my hand away, “Remember what happened last time” she continues, “I spent half the night clawing at my chest afterward”. It’s true, she hadn’t told me about that response for a long time, for fear of what I would think of her. I had worked to separate her from this thing which plagues her . . . whatever it is. I pictured ripping, removing, separating them apart and throwing the offending entity away, even giving it a bit of a trouncing for good measure. My hands were laid on her for healing but I was kicking ass in another realm. I knocked the stuffing out of it.
Fighting wasn’t the thing to do I think. I followed an instinct and I was wrong. My girlfriend unfortunately had a bad night after that. I don’t know if her clawing at her chest was to let something out, or to let it back in. One of my drawbacks as a healer; I’m impatient. Not everything can be changed overnight. Not everyone wants to be healed. There is a lot invested in habit and history. But I don’t always know what’s best and it’s condescending to act as if I do. Star says I don’t understand what’s going on with her and I’m wrong. Flying monkeys, we move fast but we don’t think a lot. Scary, even now.
Another session with the toilet and I am shouting because I can hardly stop myself, it’s more of a bellow. A sound comes out of me like my soul is leaving my body and won’t be back anytime soon. At the time I can think of better places for it to be. My girlfriend comes in and touches my lower back and it feels like an electric shock. “No don’t touch me please!” I say, and I am back to my task at hand, surprised that I am getting worse instead of better. I had believed that things improve over time, pretty much everything.
I don’t know if I am protecting myself or protecting her from some sort of spiritual contagion. I find myself thinking of the movie “The Exorcist” I can’t help it, even though I have never actually seen the flick from beginning to end. Released in December 1973, when Star turned two years old, “The Exorcist” was billed as the scariest movie of all time, based on the true story of a two month long exorcism of a 14 year old boy in 1949, the year that NATO was formed and the USSR tested it’s first atom bomb.
The main character in this film, a young teenaged girl, is sick a lot and generally annoys people. She is possessed by the Devil, which is something I don’t believe in. I only barely believe in evil at all. Usually when people say “evil” they mean something else. Linda Blair’s head turns around completely backwards at some point in the film and she’s looking the wrong way. Two Catholic priests show up to try to drive out the offending entity. Apparently the Devil is Catholic too because he really responds to what these priests say and do; that should make him pretty predictable. Had he been a Buddhist or Muslim demon it would have been a very different film. How they made the plot interesting I don’t know. Like I say, I never saw the movie. There were sequels, each one worse than the previous.
In 1973 Saigon fell and we fled Vietnam, Watergate gathered steam, and audiences ran in horror and nausea from “The Exorcist”. September 2000 the original film was re-released; audiences laughed and ate popcorn. The art of illusion is fragile
I can’t help wondering if some kind of curse on my house is being cleansed through me, through my body. It is a fact that in my eclectic belief system I sometimes ask the assistance of the archangel Michael, the warrior angel, to clear dark energies away. He likes to fight, I like to fight. What can I say, I like the image of an angel with a flaming sword, it’s cool, even though I’m not a Christian it just works for me. I had asked for his help earlier that evening, before I knew that I was sick, it wasn’t for me, it was for Star, I felt fine. There was nothing wrong with me.
In between retching I thank the archangel for his assistance, I thank him for the opportunity to be an instrument of God. It’s impossible right now not to think that some sort of cleansing is going on. My body feels like a battlefield, a little country wracked with explosions and soaked in toxic chemicals. I feel like I asked for this, but I don’t know, I really don’t know.
Star is in her room throwing a fit like a woman possessed. It’s before midnight and I am not sick yet, feeling only mildly bloated. Star can’t sleep, even though she has done everything that the sleep expert told her to. She is tearing something up, I can hear it from my room. I lie in bed hoping that it isn’t something important like her syllabus, her notebooks or textbooks.
I get up and check on her, ask her not to put another hole in the wall like last time. She is sort-of sick all the time and generally annoying to live with, and it’s getting worse. She has new complaints, new symptoms every day. I think that there is nothing inherently wrong with her. In fact she is one of the sweetest and kindest people I have ever met, her smile positively lights up the room and she is likely smarter than me; to name just a few of her qualities. But over the course of about five years, her behavior has become completely intolerable, and if I had a good witch who could wave her wand and grant me just one wish it would be for her to be carried far, far away from me.
Out in the living room we both start to talk. She is calmer. I try to lighten things up, “ I ate this little muffin and it just got bigger and bigger and bigger, now it’s this big!” I indicate a globe-sized orb with my hands, she laughs. “I’m sorry you can’t sleep,” I say, “that must be terrible.” And I do mean it: that’s when I lay my hand on the top of her head, and then she asks me to stop.
Somewhere after this I am retracing my thoughts, which are beginning to get very confused. My reasoning abilities are impaired and my memory is too short to be trusted either- I have lost not only the chronology but some of the events of the evening itself. It’s a scary place to be. I am trying to sort it out in my mind so that I understand what is going on, what happened and in what order and exactly how I got here. I want to understand and I don’t want to be wrong.
Around three a.m. my brain is repeating the word ‘Ricin’ in my head, one of the world’s deadliest poisons. It can be easily extracted from castor beans. “Terrorists caught in London manufacturing “ricin” the headline said. “Oh God,” I think, “Maybe the terrorists are poisoning the chocolate, the coffee, other stimulants that good Muslims don’t indulge in. What a brilliant way to attack the US, poisoning only the forbidden fruit. I’ve got to e-mail the FBI. Or it could be Smallpox. It’s an early outbreak of smallpox and I am one of the first victims. Too sick to go online. I haven’t checked the news today, maybe there are outbreaks in the major cities.”
The NBC nightly news has somehow become the most effective terrorist organization on the planet, and all they do is talk. Why do they want us so afraid, and why do we keep watching?
Dimly aware that Ricin and Smallpox probably have nothing to do with me, I am also still aware that I truly might be involved in some kind of spiritual cleanse and that I probably should be praying. It is just as likely that I ate a quantity of food containing tiny bar-shaped bacteria called “salmonella” which is a fairly random event having nothing to do with anything, just bad luck. Or it’s both. Or it’s neither.
I question just where it was that I went wrong to begin with, morally that is; the chocolate muffin that I ate now seems irrelevant: this must be punishment for something. I need to apologize. I need to do better, be a better person. I am growing old. I am certainly decadent. Where I used to be strong I am now merely fat. Where I used to think in long complex thought patterns I now merely hold opinions, it’s much easier. Worse yet, I would actually recommend this to others. The ignorant are more successful, achieve higher office, they live longer and when they die they die happy, rich, and without regret. They are winning, they are winning the war. It is taking me a long time to figure this out. There must be something that I can do about this. I don’t know for sure whether I am becoming better or worse. I am a college student. I am almost thirty-nine.
It’s six in the morning and I am taking my first drink of water for quite some time. I instantly know that this is the best tasting water I have ever had. There are repetitive thoughts in my head which have been looping back and forth, over and over. I can’t describe the nature of these thoughts further, but I am unable to make them stop. I have been trying to sleep despite feeling very cold, shivering, and breathing very rapidly. I know that I won’t be able to hold down the water but I drink it anyway. I can’t resist it and it makes me feel better in that moment that I am drinking.
Star is on the couch and has taken muscle relaxants. She is able to sleep between my bellowing and moaning but I don’t know this. I am vaguely sorry to be keeping her awake but there is no point in telling her so. I eventually drift off myself and dream of a large black rectangular object which is occupying the interior of my forehead. Eventually this dream, which turns out to be a headache, wakes me up. The headache lasts three days. My first solid food is Friday and that’s my birthday .
I’m dizzy and tired for about another week from the sickness, then I am okay. Star had complained to me after a few days of being sick: on my birthday I think it was, that I had better get well because she couldn’t “carry me” for much longer. “Carry me?” I wonder; I have been lying around, sipping water and asking for nothing at all, an inert object. I don’t get it, but I think that is the day that I decide I really can’t be with her anymore. My body may have decided that a little sooner.
On Valentines day I buy myself an electric guitar that I can’t afford. Star buys herself a drum, and me a small teddy bear wearing a white t-shirt and black leather jacket. He looks a whole lot like me. I think that’s what I am to her in a certain way; a teddy bear that she cries and holds and tells all her secrets and troubles to. But I just can’t take it anymore. It doesn’t take much to blow Star over as if she were made of straw and she falls apart; legs over here, stomach over there. She’s at war with herself. She’s Iran and Iraq, North and South Vietnam, Palestine and Israel. What a world, what a world. I don’t know what the problem is but but a nagging feeling tells me that it’s me. She’d be better off without me. I’m not what she truly wants or needs.
I take Star out to the movie theater for Valentines day and we watch an incredibly melodramatic, sad movie because our first choice, what we came to see, is pretty full up and only the front row is still available: it’s a big splashy musical with lots of dancing and fun. But when you are that close to the action you can’t really see what’s going on, it’s like you’re in the movie, not watching it, you have no perspective at all.
So instead, Star and I opt for the second choice: It’s about spending the hours waiting to die, or deciding to truly live. Almost everyone in the film cries, and a couple of them die also. Most every relationship in the film is full of grief, longing, obligation. I find myself wishing that we hadn’t watched the film on Valentines day, that this hadn’t been my gift to her, but it was.
Four days later Star reads an early draft of this essay and informs me that she is quitting school and returning to her family and friends in Eugene, Oregon, The Emerald Valley. Unlike the scarecrow she gets no college degree as yet, but she has an excellent brain and I’m sure she’ll get by. She has to leave while there is still something left of her. Who cares what the square of the hypotenuse is anyway.
Her mother is coming down to pick her up. Her mother is a Witch, no joke; a good Witch, we think. Actually Star isn’t entirely sure what kind of Witch her mother is but she strikes me as a nice enough person. She owns a chapel and performs marriage ceremonies, has a lot of cats. Waves her wand and Star is gone.
Within a day the house feels cold and empty, like I’m not even there, it’s as if I melted away. But there is finally peace, and I’ll adapt to that. Star escaped, she got away. I hope she finds what she needs. Oregon is pretty far off, somewhere over the rainbow. It rains there a lot. There’s no place like home.