May we remember, as we log on, that half the world’s people have never used a telephone, and recall, as we chatter, that most of those around us have no chance to speak or move as they choose. May we recall that more than half a million beings live without food, and that as many children live amidst poverty and war.
Breaking The Spell Of Consumerism — An Interview With Kalle Lasn
Yes, ads are everywhere: on billboards and buildings, buses and cars. You fill your car with gas, and there’s an ad on the nozzle. There are ads on bank machines. Kids watch Pepsi and Snickers ads in classrooms and tattoo their calves with Nike swooshes. Administrators in Texas have plans to sell ad space on the roofs of their schools. There are ads on bananas at the supermarket. In San Francisco, IBM beamed its logo onto clouds with a laser; it was visible for ten miles. In the United Kingdom, Boy Scouts sell ad space on their merit badges. In Australia, Coca-Cola cut a deal with the postal service to cancel stamps with a Coke advertisement. There are ads at eye level above urinals. There’s really nowhere to hide. And adspeak — the language of the ad — means nothing. Worse, it’s an antilanguage that annihilates truth and meaning wherever the two come in contact.
One Saturday night, my father gave me fifty cents to buy the Sunday New York Times. The Times was part of my family’s weekly ritual. Already, at age sixteen, I was bitter about this paper, because I had been born with a love of comics — every type of comic: Batman, comic strips, MAD Magazine. Yet each week, the gray Sunday Times arrived, thick with facts and want ads.
I’ll be stopped at a red light, or reading a book, or staring out a window on a cold winter’s day, when suddenly a memory from my drinking-and-drugging days will float into view, like evidence of a crime rising out of dark waters. Maybe it will be the memory of the night I took half a dozen Seconals, washed them down with a couple of six-packs, and then got into my father’s car and wrapped it around a tree. Or it might be the gram of coke that tasted funny to me, but which I finished snorting up anyway, and then had a seizure. Jesus, I’ll think, did I really do that to myself? And the sweat will come out on my forehead, and I’ll feel sorry for my own body the way you’d feel sorry for a small, abused animal.
When I got bored with myself in Kansas, I decided I would move to a place that ended in the letter o. After ruling out Idaho, Puerto Rico, Morocco, and Trinidad and Tobago, I narrowed the list down to Ohio and Mexico. Then I asked all my friends — and even some people I didn’t know — whether I should go to Mexico or Ohio. They all agreed it should be Ohio.
About your opening: editors often judge a story by the first paragraph, and yours has no hook. Take the description of the father: his soap-encrusted wedding band, the blue tennis shoes he wears with suit pants and tropical shirts, the fading hair that crests above his forehead — these are all fine, specific details, but they come too soon and contribute little or nothing to the narrative. Always keep in mind that writing fiction is about choices, painful choices.
Raymond’s in the same “promising” eighth-grade section as me — the promise being based on some test we took at the end of seventh grade — but I don’t think of Raymond as promising. Nobody does. He wears high-water pants, and his glasses are held together with masking tape. He has a scattering of white pimples on his forehead, beneath his greasy bangs. Sometimes he smells.