7.24.2015

The N.F.L. and Not Junior Seau Have Taken the Easy Way Out



I've heard it stated frequently in the aftermath of Junior Seau's suicide on May 2nd, 2012, that he took the so-called "easy way out".  I'm not so much interested in adding to the redundant rhetoric regarding the sad particulars of Seau's case, but rather wish to examine this "easy way out" mentality that inevitably crops up whenever anybody, famous sports star or not, takes their own life.

When people have terminal cancer, we don't accuse them, as they near death, of taking the easy way out, because that would be absurd, not to mention ignorant and just plain cruel to say about someone suffering tortuous and terminal pain.  But those who've suffered long with what amounts to a cancer or a disease of the mind, generally aren't given the same grace or compassion as those whose deadly afflictions are physical and observable.  Those who commit suicide chose to die, right?  And nobody chooses to die of cancer.  Not even three-pack-a day smokers are choosing to die one day of lung cancer.  This apparent choosing to die, choosing to reject life and the love of others can create a curious resentment and abiding anger even among those not personally involved in any given case, even Junior Seau's.  Within hours of the news of Junior Seau's suicide, people not connected to him in any way other than having watched him play collegiate and professional football for twenty years from their televisions, were flooding sports talk radio programs with their subdued tirades.  Their guilty verdicts were in (even before any evidence, pro or con, could have possibly been collected):  "Junior Seau took the easy way out."  As if suicide were as easy as ready, aim, fire.

The first time I contemplated suicide, I was seventeen.  Over the next six years, as my life and relationships eroded, leaving me isolated and alienated (even as I was surrounded by so many damn people) on the ruinous soil of dread and despair, I discovered how hard it was to die, that suicide was not easy.

I found myself alone one night at the age of twenty with my father's .20 gauge shotgun.  My intent that night wasn't necessarily suicide, but to test myself and to see if I could really do it, if and when the time came that I knew I needed to; if and when, that is, I got so desperate I saw no other means of escape.  The three preceding years had been anything but easy.  Easier, even less, was holding that cocked and loaded shotgun in my hands, or sticking the double-barrels inside my mouth and tasting that awful metallic taste as my front teeth inadvertently scraped the steel of the cold barrels -- a sound I'll never forget as it seemed to literally scrape across the inside my head.  I remember my right hand trembling as my thumb fumbled for then finally found the trigger.  I was not thinking about the opening line of Hamlet.  All I was thinking was all I had to do now was squeeze. To squeeze or not to squeeze? I knew then that I probably could squeeze the trigger, but that squeezing it would not be easy.  Over the ensuing three years I would attempt suicide twice, and both times it was exhausting.  Not to mention how hard going was the almost constant internal turmoil of those horrific years of despondency in between.  After my second hospitalization, and another three years following my first "test," that deeply wounded young man I once was finally got some help that lasted. More than twenty years have come and gone since those hellacious days and months and years. I've discovered since then that choosing to live, choosing to endure, to persevere and all that, is not an easy way out either.  But I'm convinced that as hard as living is sometimes, it's a hell of a lot easier than suicide.

I suspect the decision Junior Seau made on May 2nd, 2012, wasn't easy, either.  Needless to say, what his family has had to endure the three years since his death has no doubt been emotionally excruciating. And now comes the disturbing news that, against Junior Seau's wishes, the N.F.L. won't let his bereaved daughter introduce him at his Hall of Fame induction.

If anyone can be accused of taking the easy way out in Junior Seau's case, it's the N.F.Ls. cruel and despicable decision makers.

The N.F.L. is obviously more concerned with protecting its precious premium brand and lucrative image above all else than properly honoring or respecting the wishes of one of its greatest players who gave them literally everything, including his life.  No wonder so many intelligent (and now former) N.F.L. fans such as yours truly have increasingly come to abhor the league's ludicrous decisions, absurd disciplinary policies, and frankly creepy culture of crime and violence its long enabled and now ultimately represents. 

7.18.2015

The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston



I'd just as soon have not read Richard Preston's The Demon in the Freezer if it meant I could remain blissfully ignorant of the disturbing reality that vaccine-resistant smallpox and anthrax is undoubtedly already in the unhinged hands of jihadists or other sadistic dogmatists around the world, and that a large scale bioterrorism attack on North American soil is more a question of when than if. Yet with the bumbling bureaucratic bozos at the Pentagon running amok recently, FedEx'ing live samples of anthrax by mistake to more than fifty unsuspecting laboratories across the States and overseas, perhaps the deadliest likes of Isis are the least of the Western world's worries after all. Look in the mirror for a change, drunk Uncle Sam!

The Demon in the Freezer makes me wish I didn't know how to read -- almost -- it's that unnerving.  I'd rather not know that the former Soviet Union was producing weapons-grade smallpox by the ton as late as 2001 on the eve of 9/11, and that today -- or so say several Russian scientists who've since defected to the U.S. -- the authorities in the former-USSR have no idea where those tons of weapons-grade smallpox went.  Despite the worldwide "eradication" of smallpox in India in 1978, the USA and the former-USSR decided to freeze samples of the virus in order to keep it "safely stored," presumably as a  "safeguard" pretext in the event it got into the "wrong hands" and a vaccine needed to be manufactured from the stored samples in an emergency.

Had our wise global protectors simply destroyed all smallpox in the first place, like they were supposed to do when whatever treaty it was got signed and contractually obliged them to do so, no one would have to worry about any virulent vials of smallpox getting smuggled into the wrong hands would they?  Oh, but it's more politically complicated than that, Freeque, simply doing the right thing and destroying every ounce of it.  Yeah, and only because the bigwigs in this world don't trust each another enough to follow through on their historic, much ballyhooed agreements.

The Demon In The Freezer reads like the finest of John le Carré's espionage thrillers, replete as it is with international intrigue and suspense.  Can you imagine United Nations inspectors today confronting Vladimir Putin's covert bioweapons operations in Russia?  Neither can I.  Good luck, Doomed Earth, against vaccine-resistant smallpox and anthrax!

7.14.2015

Hell House by Richard Matheson




Hell House's ending totally surprised me. I wondered just how much Richard Matheson may have waffled with that black-and-white, cut-and-dried, definitive ending.  Because ghost stories generally don't end that well.  Though, granted, two of the four people who entered Belasco House lost their lives, but rarely have I ever read a "ghostly" novel that ended so unequivocally. In wondering if Matheson maybe was intentionally going against the grain of the ghost story genre, leaving it purposely free of ambiguity, free of any doubt, I found an interview in which Matheson indeed confessed how unsatisfied he was by two of the endings in classics of the genre -- Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House -- and predetermined that Hell House's ending would be clear cut, devoid of equivocation.  Even with his ending finished before he began writing his book, I believe he pulled the ending off without it feeling contrived, but rather following its own unforgettable, frightening course to its utterly surprising climax that served also as kind of Matheson manifesto on the origins of evil.

First U.S. printing, Viking (1971)
Hell House is a first rate horror novel no matter how it ended.  It gave me the chills -- gave me goosebumps -- in a piping hot bathtub the night I finished it.  I enjoyed Hell House's pitting science versus faith (albeit faith in the paranormal/occult); empiricism versus mysticism; and how both science -- as evinced in the physicist Dr. Barrett's life's work, the "Reversor" -- and the supernatural, in the mediums Florence and Fischer, were instrumental in combatting the mansion's predilection for psychological torture and murder.

The Reversor was a clunky contraption of dials and knobs that must have resembled a large generator -- a large metaphysical generator.  Dr. Barrett believed the power it generated would produce enough negative electromagnetic radiation (EMR) to eliminate any residual energy, or "positive EMR", still inhabiting the house from its previous deceased occupants.  This positive EMR, in Dr. Barrett's strictly empirical eyes, was the real culprit for the mansion's unexplained paranormal activity.  I enjoyed how Matheson set Dr. Barrett's scientific worldview in sharp contrast against the frankly bizarre beliefs of the passionate proponents of the paranormal in the mediums Florence and Fischer.  Their snarky dialogue provided, at critical junctures of crises, fleeting doses of much needed relief from the nuclear cauldron of nearly constant intensifying pressure ongoing inside that hellacious house. Reading Hell House has made me want to read more haunted house/ghost stories, in order to see how they've evolved in literature over the years. I suspect few have relied as much on science as Hell House.

I suspect also, after reading Hell House, that some alleged "haunted houses" in literature are a trifle more haunted than others.  Belasco House, the "Hell House" of the novel's title, as it was commonly called by the mediums and other ghost-pros who dared entering it, was considered the "Mt. Everest of haunted mansions".  However, comparing Hell House to Mt. Everest doesn't do Hell House justice when one considers that of all the mountaineers who've ever attempted to climb Mt. Everest, only about ten percent have died; whereas, conversely, only ten percent of the people who've ever entered Hell House and spent the night there have left the house alive.  Exceedingly more deadly, based on the statistical rates of failure recounted in Hell House, spending the night there than attempting to climb Mt. Everest. I doubt even El Chapo could escape from Hell House alive.

TOR edition (1999) 
with Michael J Deas cover illustration
Hell House, if you'll pardon the momentary longeur, is so adept at sending anyone who'd spent a night there straight to an early, grisly grave, it's practically as effective an executioner as capital punishment is here in The States.  A pity that capital punishers could never be allowed to sentence its vilest criminal offenders to Hell House to die (assuming, of course, Hell House were real).  Such an unorthodox Hell House Death Sentence, unfortunately, would probably constitute cruel and unusual punishment; too cruel, no doubt, for even pedophiles and serial killers.  And too unusual because it usually took too long to die there, up to four days and nights in some instances, as was the case for one of the mediums who entered the house with Dr. Barrett.  And one of those nights was a gruesome night of necrophilia, and that's necrophilia of the unexpected reverse kind initiated by the dead upon the living.  Yuck!  Christ, even when an an execution goes awry in a state sanctioned house of horrors, as was recently the case in the botched lethal injection of Joseph R. Wood in Arizona, his death still lasted for only one hour and forty minutes. Hardly the type of slow tortuous death that goes on for days inside Hell House.

Richard Matheson
While Biblical passages loom large a couple times in Hell House, particularly Matthew 5:29 (though I think John 8:32 could've rung just as true in Matheson's narrative contexts as well), there's nary a hint of Catholic subtext in Hell House (thank God) until we enter its chapel and find a perverted (though not inverted), life-sized, and shall we say, wooden, crucifixion; the blasphemous imagery obviously borrowed from Anton LaVey's own borrowed depictions of the Black Mass then en vogue at the time of Hell House's 1971 publication.  The chapel gets more intriguing when its secret gothic chamber and the pathetic power for so long concealed there is revealed in a denouement that's more akin to Julien Gracq's stylized "Chapel of the Abyss" chapter in Chateau d'Argol than any of the lurid and absurd schlock ripped off by that carnival clown, Anton Lavey.  For the genesis of evil, as Richard Matheson envisioned it, and as he empowered it in Hell House, while allowing spacious room, yes, for the supernatural (or the paranormal or whatever the hell one might wish calling the eerie shit -- and forgive me if I momentarily risk giving away too much), was at least as much if not more the result of the malignant manifestation of a human ego gone superbad, a la Hitler, than that of lost or angry spirits, whom, being somehow stuck in their carryover of negative emotions after death, go berserk on the other side to such an extreme their unearthly echoes of outrage can be heard by those psychics attuned to hear them.  Even for the most gifted psychics, however, such as Florence or Fischer, opening themselves up to hear them doesn't always mean they'll automatically receive illumination, but rather madness, or much worse. . . .

Some novels can so possess you they literally scare the hell into you.  The Exorcist is one example. Hell House, another.