Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Two Stories

I heard two very different stories this past Saturday, both of which could be fairly termed "grotesque," and I don't quite mean that negatively.

First, The Trans-Siberian Orchestra--a bizarre cultural agglomerate of hair metal, Christmas, and Symphonic Rock--packaged a nice kernel of seasonal joy in some of the more garish wrapping paper I've ever had the luck to observe. The result was a strange piece of Xmas theater, mostly plotless.

TSO, FYI, plays a musical style that no mainstream grandmother likes for 11 months of the year and every mainstream grandmother loves in December. And while the band's Christmas mash-ups are pretty impressive, the rock-opera affectations that accompany those songs--consisting of spoken word narration, soundclips of Martin Luther King, prop-dragons, a gratuitous mention of Darfur, hydraulic lifts, spouting fire (hydraulic lifts spouting fire), an image of Condeleezza Rice, allusions to an angel drinking whiskey, sexy liturgical dancers, a guy dressed as a hobo, more fire, Winston Churchill, subliminal feti, and inexorable lasering--had me scratching my head.

It wasn't the underlying message that befuddled me; I love Christmas, and I even love weirdness. It was the fact that there was a feeling in the arena that this story made sense; that, somehow, the commercialized fever-dream had something to do with the spirit. Again, many of the songs are quite inspired, and I'm not necessarily criticizing the mix of silly and spiritual, Goddy and gaudy. I think what I responded to was that I was being told to feel a certain way--graced--but wasn't really being given the hints as to how or why.

Instead of loving Christmas more, I left thinking that maybe there was something about the audacity of hair metal that I could get behind. Those headbanging, hair-flippers knew they were being ridiculous up there, and they seemed to be having fun. It was only when they nudged me toward feeling something they hadn't earned that I got wary (Martin Luther King? Really?).

But then the Gladys in row 16 banged her head right along with them, her perm awash in pyrotechnic, and I tapped my feet too. On the whole, a fun time with family.


The next story has no moral and made no claim to ultimate truth. It was told to me a couple hours after the TSO concert. There was no flashiness. Winston Churchill made no appearance. It was quietly grotesque.

My friend Dave--a somewhat bizarre personal agglomerate of Joaquin Phoenix, Gumby, and an Elk--told Megan and me about a recent morning when he and his girlfriend were hurrying out of the house.

As they backed out of their driveway, they spotted a deer curled out on the side of the road. Instead of lightly gasping and muttering something about the "poor creature," the two of them had an idea. It seems they'd been interested in a hunting license already, interested in harvesting, in true woodsy style, some venison (Dave's girlfriend grew up a hunter/gatherer of sorts in one of the remoter enclaves of Alaska).

The deer had been dragged to the side of the road by the driver who'd hit her, and Dave and his girlfriend weren't sure what the protocol was here. They had no need for damaged doe, and they'd heard something about New York's regulation of roadkill. But they thought that if they cut into the deer and it was still warm, they might be able to make use of it.

As Dave's girlfriend approached with her pocket knife, she hesitated, he hesitated, and the deer, which had been knocked hard by an oncoming truck, lifted its head and looked at them.

"That must have been horrifying," I said, not because of the shock, but because what they'd considered a possible lucky break was now an ethical quandary.

"And I was running late," Dave said.

They decided to euthanize the deer, but just before they did, their neighbor--a local cop it turns out--approached and asked if they needed a tag for it. I found this part of the story darkly--I repeat, darkly--farcical. In a moment of natural beauty and sadness, delays kept arising, the way they tend to in conscience-testing times.

They did want a tag, they said, and, yes, they did want the compassionate arm of the law to handle the poor creature, which they would treat well and value through the winter, and share.

That's how I came to hear a true, grotesque story. And that's how tonight's supper came to my table.

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