27 August, 2000

Dear Friend,

. . . Unpleasant moments happen to all of us, but when they happen to me, I suspect they are harbingers of worse to come. I fear that deep disturbances -- as yet unseen -- are about to break forth in painful and catastrophic change.
"Deep Rising" photo one
. . . This morning, for example, I woke before 5 a.m. Who can sleep with roiling intestines?
. . . It wasn't a precious moment full of sunshine and butterflies. It was unpleasant, the kind of dark moment an American should not have to endure, a slap in the face to our advanced culture and scientific achievements. And to think it was happening to me, a successful American alpha male, the pinnacle of Western civilization, the apple of God's eye!
. . . For such unpleasantness to happen, something had to be terribly wrong. But what?
. . . When my guts rebelled last winter, I ended up in surgery. Doctors wielding sharp knives and wonderful drugs took away my dear old appendix, to which I had been very attached.
. . . Of course, you who follow my adventures know I didn't just lose my appendix. That same week I also lost the State of Texas, a huge loss, bigger than France. I may never recover.
. . . So, when I awoke this morning once again suffering indigestion, it made me wonder what suffering and tribulation was at hand. Would I lose more precious bodily parts? Would I lose Delaware, a state bigger than Rhode Island?
"Deep Rising" photo two
. . . I hope you've enjoyed director Steven Summers' hilarious movie "Deep Rising" starring Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, and Jason Flemying. It's a fun movie and -- I know you'll find this hard to believe -- it may be more enjoyable than Paul Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers". I recommend watching it with three teenage boys and their dads.
. . . In "Deep Rising," a pleasure ship in the South Seas is found dead in the water and everyone on board is found dead as well. Our heroes board the ship and spend ninety side-splitting minutes escaping the voracious deepsea snakeworms that have risen from the ocean's bottom where they had lived unsuspected and unseen. Now that I think of it, these snakeworms look a lot like roiling intestines, but with teeth.
. . . [Caution: Before you rush out and rent this movie on video, be warned that it received uniformly bad reviews. Like "The Mummy", it was promoted as scary. Both are funny. Expecting it to be funny, you might enjoy it. Then again...]
. . . Like all scary films, the characters in "Deep Rising" are often given clues that something horrific is about to happen. Again and again they fail to interpret those unpleasant portents for what they are.
. . . In real life, we do just the opposite. In real life, we see portents everywhere and try to correctly interpret them. We all have read newspapers and watched TV news. Painful and catastrophic events have afflicted people just like us -- law-abiding God-fearing taxpayers who should be immune to such insults.
. . .Sensitive as I am to subtle portents, I, like my fellow Americans, get nervous when anything out of the ordinary strikes. When something like indigestion wakes me in the night, I fear something is about to rise from the depths and get me.
. . . I know what you're going to say. You're going to say my indigestion had nothing to do with terrible things to come. You're going to say my troubled bowels were not warning me of a painful and catastrophic future but instead were plainly saying something about the recent past, that I should never again skip dinner and have a caramel ice-cream sundae instead. You're going to say that, if there's been an insult, it was me insulting my digestive track with so much pure sugar.
. . . Okay. Maybe that's true, to an extent. But then a deeper, darker question presents itself. Why did I choose to eat something certain to make me sick? Obviously it wasn't because I think I can eat the same things I did thirty years ago. That's too simple an explanation and fails to recognize the complexity of my psyche.
. . . No, the reason must be something deep, dark, sinister, and beyond my control.
. . . If I did something so obviously foolish as eating ice cream covered in syrup and whipped cream with a bright red cherry on top, it must be because I had something akin to a death wish. Subconsciously, I must have wanted to wake up early in the morning with a troubled soul and knotted guts. That's the kind of explanation I want.
. . . If I ate a caramel ice-cream sundae, it had to be because something was eating me. But what?
"Gilbert Grape" cassette cover
. . . Have you seen director Lasse Hallstrom's excellent movie "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" starring Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Juliette Lewis? In that film -- shot near Waxahachie, Texas -- there's no question what's eating our hero. This teenager's family is impoverished. His father committed suicide. His mother weighs three hundred pounds and hasn't left the ground floor of the house in years. His mentally retarded younger brother needs constant supervision.
. . . What's eating me isn't so obvious. If there's anything wrong with my family, it's that we're so unexceptional. Of course, my dad did tend nuclear weapons for the U.S. Navy and, after retiring, tended elephants at the San Diego Zoo. I suppose that's exceptional.
. . . Have you seen the Darwin awards? One went to a zookeeper who tended elephants. To see a list of Darwin awards -- the stuff of urban legends -- visit http://www.cambs.com/humour/silly11.htm.
. . . And, if you have a deep, complex explanation as to why I ate a caramel sundae, let me know.
. . . [Note: "Gilbert Grape" gathered uniformly good reviews. By all means rent it.]

Responses:

An ice-cream sundae? Piffle! If a mere confection could provoke your latest missive, think of the literary heights you could have scaled with a recent indulgence: a 1:00 am "big steamin' bowl" of Wolf Brand Chili with Beans, washed down with a Guiness Stout or two. Proust! Hemmingway!! Thurber!!! Remember: whatever doesn't kill you can only make you wish you were dead.
--Ike

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