I mine hypnopompic interludes for gems, remaining in bed for a quarter hour or so each morning while I wake fully, bedcovers pulled to my chin as I sift material from post slumber hallucinations.
Most mornings, I’m unable to retrieve the better ideas and images once I am awake and alert, though I sense them as they recede and dissolve. I know they are better because what I manage to recall is of little use once I sit down at the keyboard, or stand before the easel in the studio.
One morning, however, debris of value appears, keyed by my viewing of a news network program: “The Year in Review.” I snatch it up, hustle it to the surface, and kick-start an amalgamation of what, at other times, would be unrelated ideas and images. Not so, this day: I detect a pattern, elements dovetail neatly together; the pattern develops with distinctive, albeit unusual, internal logic.Begin.
The program hostess wends her telegenic way to the events of July, and after several mentions of the idiots in politics, the hyenas on Wall Street, and the spuds taking up space in the White House, she turns to the subject of industry and innovation.
Thereupon arrives Musk.
Leaving aside detailed speculation concerning Elon Musk’s scrambled brain box (I attribute his jumble to a pharma problem, while a scientist might veer to an explanation involving genes and repeated high voltage shocks) it is clear the man, as do others of his ilk, wants to destroy all that has been held dear since childhood by Americans of worth — i.e. those of us spawned and reared in the Eisenhower era, skilled practitioners of the duck-and-cover maneuver, masters of the stick shift, dreamers who imagined themselves dancing next to Cubby and Annette, folks who chanted the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of class in elementary school, and attempted years later to destroy the economy with bundled mortgage-backed securities.
Some of us, to this day, sing the first verse of God Bless America before every meal, and if we served in the military, we wear ball caps emblazoned with the names of wars, units, ships, etc. whenever we shuffle to the grocery store to purchase large boxes of Cream of Wheat and packs of glycerin suppositories. Cap wearers often linger at the entrance to the store, waiting for someone to thank them for their service.
Others of us, memories adjusted during decades of stultifying mid-level management work for the benefit of others, imagine that our year spent as free spirits in the 60s, tie-dyed and dancing barefoot in the park to the accompaniment of tambourine and ocarina, involved something other than late-adolescent nonsense financed by our parents. We employ expressions such as “cool” and “far out” when we connect with kindred spirits at a property owners’ association potluck. We rave whenever possible about the “greatest” music ever made, conveniently forgetting Mozart and company.
We are, all of us, driving our Rascals on shaky ground. Monsters are dissembling our foundation.
In his passion for destruction, Musk is allied with, among others, the voracious greed monkeys who toss their feces in the halls of Congress, and a Great Leader who emits Big Mac gas while slumped semiconscious at a desk in the Oval Office.
Now arrives the Tesla.
I believe I am correct to note that neurosurgeons, and no doubt most urologists, prefer the Tesla over the Buick, in particular the Tesla Model X P100D with Ludicrous Mode — a beauty bringing 588 horses, 920 lb-ft of instant torque, and some serious towing capacity to the asphalt.
This makes sense: many physicians have little or no authentic respect for tradition and the frontier values that motivated the ancestors of we Americans of worth to, first, take by brutal force a significant portion of a continent, requiring the near extermination of both the buffalo and the native population then, second, to transform a roughhewn society into the economic powerhouse and beacon of liberty that prompts Republicans to weep when the anthem is played prior to a high school volleyball game, and erupt in a spitting rage when Sean Hannity tells them a dead Mexican may have voted illegally in a municipal election in Nogales, Arizona. I know this to be true of most physicians. My father was a doctor, as was a cousin.
This holds, too, for other so-called professionals — bankers, titans of industry, financial advisors, realtors, and used car salesmen. Certainly most lawyers, as well. And a formidable number of chain-smoking long haul truck drivers who cruise the interstates stoked to the tits on eye-openers, their oxygen generators and cream gravy keeping them alive as they battle COPD, inept motorists, and the weather in order to make it to Shreveport in time to deliver a load of unripe avocados.
Musk’s Tesla is a touchstone. Rub it to free its secrets, all of them complex, most unfathomable.
To summarize a rub’s available meaning: Will an 18-year-old in Deadwood, South Dakota, fresh off his successful stint in a GED program, ever hear the words, “Bobby, you did a great job with the distributor and plugs on that Chevette. It’s time for you to have your own garage. With your name on it.”
No, he won’t.
The Tesla is a high-tech token of a gaping wound that won’t heal without leaving an ugly scar, a sign of the transformation of the American dream — a dream that now excludes those citizens who were once the marrow in the nation’s sturdy bones, the platelets coursing through its freedom-loving heart, often adhering to its arterial walls.
In the new America symbolized by the Tesla, Bobby is strapped to a lifetime of small engine repair performed in the back room of a rural hardware store, peaking with mind-numbing work on snowblowers damaged by careless retirees. One such blower will present Bobby with fragments of Timmy, a cap-wearing Vietnam veteran’s beloved Bichon Frise.
“The Year in Review” reveals little else of interest once the mold is scraped from the enormous cheese ball that is 2018, but key information lurks at the periphery. One of the most revealing things about the program is the long breaks that allow for advertising; the commercials feature gangs of thin youngsters of all races, drawn from all points on the LGBTQCis, etc. spectrum, gallivanting in the latest duds, toting iPhones and various other in-the-moment accessories.
These people represent the new American Dream, and are kept in a refrigerated vault in Burbank when they are not on set.
During a jaunt to the city, I sit on a plush chair at a Nordstrom’s while my wife shops at a nearby store, and I watch people enter and exit the high-end establishment. I would stay longer than I do, but for the nervous security guard who, on his fourth slow trip past my perch, orders me to move on. I understand his concern: I look like a degenerate, elderly terrorist (likely an addled holdover from the Baader-Meinhof experiment) with a bunch of explosives strapped around my midsection. The bulge, of course, is flab, not Semtex. Too many carbs will do that to a guy, and one thing is for sure: I love my carbs. Musk and his cohorts will never change this.
I stand, and as I move away, I tell the guard: “Thank you for your service.”
While I sit, I scope at least a hundred people of all ages, races, heights, weights, genders, and sexual preferences — a satisfying glimpse at the roots of identity politics — yet only one returns my gaze, and she seems worried I am about to snatch her purse or ask questions about her underwear. Many who pass me look down at phones held in their hands, the others focus on a point in the distance or, perhaps, trudge along in a mall-induced daze, waking only when they reach the sportswear section. Not one person in the parade looks like the sprites who gallivant in the television commercials. The sprites stored in the refrigerated vault in Burbank.
With few exceptions, those who walk past are … how to put it? … average. A hefty gal wearing stained pajama bottoms and flip-flops, and a fellow with a skull tattooed on his face, skew the mean.
All who pass are subject to the tyranny of the ad trade.
Barely restrained capitalism has given birth to any number of ugly offspring, but few more abhorrent than the advertising business. For decades I’ve subscribed to Esquire magazine, eager to encounter some of the finer long-form nonfiction in the trade, but for the last five years or so I’ve found less writing and more advertising. Features are chopped for the benefit of the short-attention-span crowd, and to suit a shrinking budget. The increasing numbers of men’s fashion ads display more and more … how to put it? … vampires and frail, pale geeks sporting fussy hairdos and manicured nails, with not a scar, broken nose, double chin, missing digit, or goofy dental array in the mix. Who are these freaks, and how am I to relate to them? How are the average folks I spy from a chair at the entrance to Nordstrom’s going to maintain decent body images and healthy self-esteem when Nosferatu and his legion of the undead are held up as standards?
Do the average proles soothe themselves with fantasies as they slog toward the sportswear department, seeing themselves in their minds’ eyes wan and wrapped in expensive fabrics, vacant wags and waggettes wearing obscenely expensive footwear, eager to attract the attention of similarly clad/shod and dim characters at a pool party that will never take place?
If so, they are in for a letdown.
Do they imagine themselves to be a vampire or previously gallivanting model, seated behind the wheel of a new Tesla, iPhone in one hand, the platinum steering wheel of the costly auto in the other? What does a vampire order at the Starbuck’s drive-thru?
The telenews vixen chirps that Musk sent one of his machines — red in color — on its way to Mars a while back, a mannequin lashed to the wheel. I believe it is a vampire and not a mannequin, but how does one tell the difference?
Musk and his Tesla are mentioned in a Guardian of London piece reporting on the commercialization of space flight, and the battle for dominance. Also mentioned are that Branson fellow (the one who looks like he’s playing D’Artagnon in a B movie), the owner of Amazon, and a clutch of cutting-edge industrialists, art collecting oligarchs, and hedge fund managers.
Let the games begin.
I discuss this situation with my brother, Kurt, and my nephew, Carter, as we take lunch at a Korean restaurant. The eatery is outstanding, but I can’t relay the name, since I don’t read Korean. We are the only waegukin in the joint, and the atmosphere is spot-on: K-pop blasts at 8,000 decibels on the sound system, numerous televisions are positioned so a patron seated in a booth has a choice of several screens on which to watch the latest Sistar videos. Given that I am an old man, I am far too fond of the singer/prancer wearing silver, thigh-length boots.
The topic of Musk, Tesla, and commercial space flight takes its place in a dialogue that first includes Kurt and Carter attempting to agree on a reasonable price for a 10-seed packet of their latest hybrid, to be offered for sale at an upcoming West Coast marijuana growers’ convention. This particular seed was a smash hit in a test run in South Carolina, and Kurt is convinced $800 per pack will make for an easy sale. Carter opts for a lower price.
They reach no agreement, then fret over their company name which, so far, includes one word: Biogenesis.
Kurt and Carter sample their products regularly, and encounter a common problem with weed-fueled creativity: following an inspired start, distractions invariably cut the process short of the mark.
A great name is needed in a cutthroat, image-driven industry so, for the promise of a small cut of the profits, I offer up a beauty, its creation prompted by a dose or two of my pal Joe’s tincture, tempered by several gin tonics.
Astro Plasma Biogenesis.
For no additional fee I provide the company slogan: Perfect products for our home planet…and the galaxy beyond.
Kurt and Carter seem to appreciate my effort: they buy my lunch.
This exchange segues seamlessly to consideration of the greater topic as we devour kimchi pancake, dumplings, pork and beef bulgogi, and the finest spread of banchan I have ever encountered. Scholars of banchan claim there are 215 million possible combinations, which makes the task of a cook in charge of a restaurant’s banchan station daunting, to say the least. This day, we enjoy Kongnamul, Danmuji, Gyeran, Kkakdug, and some mighty fine Eomuk bokkeum and Gyeran mari. Instead of the typical potato salad, we are served a scattering of small rigatoni in a creamy sauce, which we don’t eat.
The greater topic?
Space tourism in this transformed, but still, possibly, best of all possible worlds.
Space X, Blue Horizon, Virgin Galactic. Which project will come out on top and suck up the big bucks?
Musk corrals the best early odds, despite his ragged state of mind. He promises he will shoot Yusaku Maezawa, Japanese billionaire founder of a fab fashion retail operation, into space, rocketing the avaricious and spindly gent around the moon, and bringing him back.
That’s 20 fucking 20!
Maezawa is said to be enthusiastic about the pending journey, and I question how well informed he might be. There have been a number of news reports concerning Teslas bursting into flame while on freeways, on back roads in Bel Air and Beverly Hills, and in driveways at mansions owned by neurosurgeons. Is Maezawa aware of these incidents?
The next morning, I stumble again in the hypnopompic chase, losing most of my purchase as I move to the light. My confusion dissipates after a fifth cup of coffee, and I like to think it would take but three cups brewed with beans passed through the digestive system of an Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) to do the job. I make a note to contact my friend, Milstein, to arrange for a shipment of Kopi Luwak Gold. Milstein knows his civet beans, and he has solid connections in Sumatra. Perhaps he can get me a deal if I order in bulk.
The only treasure I haul from this trip to the post-slumber mother lode is an edgy vision of Maezawa, tiny, trembling, and alone in the SpaceX cabin, just after he’s informed that the thrusters needed to orient the craft for its return to Earth have failed. Musk is at a loss to explain the malfunction, apologizes repeatedly and incoherently, turning in circles, hands clasped to the sides of his head, before he collapses to the floor of the control bunker to spasm, foam at the mouth, and call out for a fistful of mood stabilizers, and his mommy, Maye.
The ranks of Musk’s organization are filled by thin youngsters gallivanting with iPhones and whatnot, so the event is captured on video. Fans of space travel are able to watch Maezawa’s demise on You Tube. As many times as they want, free of charge.
Surrendering to panic upon hearing the bad news, Maezawa sobs and shits his space suit but, in the grand Japanese tradition, he gathers his emotions, ties them in a neat bundle, deposits the bundle behind a stack of koans, steeps the last of his konbu and bonito flakes, and offers a stoic shochu toast as he hurtles to his oxygen- and heat-free Major Tom moment some hundred million miles from Earth.
I like to think Yusaku will spot a vampire driving a red Tesla before the oxygen supply in the capsule is exhausted.
I’m distressed by my vision. I am not entirely without compassion for others, regardless of what family members say, and I fret throughout the day, anxiety thwarting a planned reread of the late, great Jim Harrison’s “A Really Big Lunch.” I particularly enjoy Harrison’s description of a casserole that includes an array of the upturned noses of young pigs.
Dampened by my vision, I keep myself from suffering a further setback by listening to a recording of Kyu Sakamoto’s masterpiece, his version of Hachidai Nakamura’s “Sukiyaki,” the original title being “Ue o Muite Aruko.” (An apology to fans of the written Japanese language: there is a line above the o in Aruko, but I can’t figure out how to get the word processing program to place it there).
I download the hit and sing along as I listen to it, again and again. This does the trick, until I remember that Sakamoto perished in a plane crash. The symmetry is too much to bear.
There is nothing left to do but choke down three or four droppers’ worth of Joe’s elixir, pop the top on a pint of Tanqueray, and head for a restaurant.
I reject the first option that comes to mind — a favorite ramen joint. Too soon.
I choose instead an out-of-the-way Lebanese/Palestinian cubbyhole, the name of which I can’t relay, since I don’t read Levantine Arabic.
I naively assume roasted cauliflower with za’atar, fresh hummus, lamb kafta, garlic sauce, pita fresh from the oven, and a glass or three of Chateau Kefraya, a decent Lebanese red wine, will calm me, peel my attention from the source of my stress.
But, no, the vision persists: Maezawa hovers, space suit saturated with waste, frozen droplets of dashi floating in the depressurized cabin of the Musk Mobile, frost crusted on Yusaku’s sparse mustache. Kyu Sakamoto drifts past the window of the craft and waves. Were there an atmosphere in deep space, Sakamoto’s hair would wave as well.
This would not happen if Bobby was in charge of his own garage, Maye Musk had not taken on that one load of sperm, and the iPhone was never invented.
Or, perhaps, I should leave my bed a bit earlier from now on.