I parked Perlo, my pepper white MINI Cooper, five and half blocks away from my destination, leaving the car’s front and rear bumpers at the mercy of New York City drivers. I could have secured my ride in my friend’s garage, but that would involve me having to see her. Why was I going to my friend’s house, if I clearly didn’t want to see the woman? Well, I didn’t intend to visit her, I was on my way to see a second friend; and because Fate seems to enjoy the torture of my soul, they have been sharing a two-family home for the last three years. I should say that in this essay the word friend might be synonym for really close relative whose story I want to share, but not without the safeguard of plausible deniability. However, my precaution might be unnecessary, for I’m submitting this piece to The Witches’ Voice, and to quote my friend, she “won’t be caught dead, reading a website that deals with such unclassy religions.”
My friend’s ignorant ways when speaking about faiths, other than the one she practices publically, is not the only reason why I avoid her company. I keep my distance because according to her, “Classy ladies wear makeup, spend Thursdays at the beauty parlor [yes, she actually says ‘beauty parlor’] and are above any spiritual practice that promotes dancing barefoot in the woods.” And no, homemade lip gloss and the fact that I wash my hair every day, do not fulfill her classy lady requirements. The last time we talked, she went on for hours about how “curly hair is for the moneyless”. I opened my mouth to tell her that lip gloss and home hair washing suited me well then, but she froze my attempt by pointing a freshly manicured index finger at her teenage son, and shouting “Video games are the devil’s latest weapon of choice, Junior. They are stealing your soul, your brains and your class.”
I laughed. My friend scowled. Her son closed his bedroom door. I left; still laughing because my friend’s use of the word ‘class’ brought to mind John Seabrook’s Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing + The Marketing of Culture, and the thought of religion and video games as class determinants was just too hilarious not to roar at. I stopped at the door, and seriously thought about turning around to calm her down, but I shook my head and walked out instead. I had no right to tell her that her 17-year-old son was trying to make sense of his life by merging the things he loves most, some of which happen to be quite classy if seen through his mother’s eyes. My friend’s child reminds me of Seabrook in “My Father’s Closet,” the second chapter of Nobrow. The author’s “father thought it was in poor taste to wear logos or brand names” on clothing (45). Seabrook suggested that he “could have tried to explain to [his] father that… in a system of status that values authenticity over quality, a Chemical Brother T-shirt” (47) meant something and it opened certain doors. I, too, could have told my friend that her son was a young genius who was using technology, literature and religion to create a comic strip he believed would bring people together. It sounds farfetched, I know, but it is not as insane if you have all the details.
Junior, my friend’s son, goes to a rather privileged faith based secondary school, and he wants to work in the school paper. He loves his mother, video games, classic literature, Catholicism and Witchcraft—the latter is practiced by his mother when she thinks no one is watching. He is also an amateur videogame builder. His latest project, “Classic Lit: Zombies and Spirits Combat,” is a spinoff featuring characters from a short story I wrote for him for his fifteenth birthday. The kid has liked T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer for a long time. He is crazy about zombies too. I am crazy about anyone who enjoys reading as much as he does, so I helped him with his gaming project by creating two of the zombie profiles. The part when Conrad’s main character says “With a gasp I saw revealed to my stare a pair of feet, the long legs, a broad livid back immersed right up to the neck in a greenish cadaverous glow. One hand, awash, clutched the bottom rung of the ladder. He was complete but for the head. A headless corpse! The cigar dropped out of my gaping mouth…” (9) provided one character for the game. The second zombie sprouted from Eliot’s “The Burial of the Dead”. Junior and I thought “That corpse you planted last year in your garden / Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?” (71,72) would be the perfect addition to his lethal zombie team. The third and last undead was Lazarus who, if ever killed in the game, can call his friend Jesus to bring him back to life. Junior name his Jesus character Nekromancer.
I think the game is brilliant, and would be very proud of my son if he came up with it, but I know my friend would not approve. She was raised Caribbean Catholic, like me, and her family practiced Witchcraft as part of their spirituality. But things changed after she married Junior’s father, the sole heir to a successful meatpacking and processing chain. Meatpacking might not sound like a very elegant business, but it seems that the owners can keep their stylish persona as long as they are underpaying someone else to do the actual meatpacking. The day my friend became Mrs. Meatpacker Empire, she told all her close relations that she “was working on becoming a lady”—I’m not sure what she was before that. She began to do her hair every Thursday and quit attending our rituals in the woods. But that wasn’t enough; she also felt the need to put down anyone who still practiced Witchcraft. She dropped out of college because, in her mind, a woman of class shouldn’t do anything but fundraising for which she assumed no education was required. And when I thought things couldn’t get worse, she said, in front of my Colonel, that I was “possessed; nothing else could explain a decent woman not bathing every day or sleeping in tents with a bunch of soldiers”.
The same annoyance I felt, years ago, when she called me a soldier knowing well I was a Marine, brought me out of memory land right before I rang her bell. My feet and thoughts had taken me to her doorstep. I was ready to talk to her son about sharing the details of his project with her. I was sure if he told her the videogame was based on the works of Eliot, Conrad and the Christian Bible, she would give us the chance to explain exactly what that meant. Not that she would care much about the works of two great writers—the lady in question doesn’t have much reading time between manicures—or cares about the fact that video games might promote problem solving skills, but I thought she would be interested in the last video game night I had the opportunity to witness, at the house of a friend who happens to be a Harvard graduate. I was planning to woo her with the menu alone: we toasted with Veuve Clicquot, ate pistachios, prosciutto, mixed olives, a salad of cannellini beans and tuna with a white wine vinegar, olive oil, capers and Dijon mustard vinaigrette. Next, there was another salad of toasted walnuts, grapes, Gorgonzola Dolcelatte and lettuce with a walnut and sherry vinaigrette. And the evening that started with a discussion about hedge funds and state laws, ended late into the night after three fierce games of Halo and a tray of homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. The devil didn’t show, the Harvard graduate remains intelligent, and a conductor and pianist—who, by the way, won the game—continues to conduct and play like an angel.
All that went through my mind, as I tried to convince myself that ringing my friend’s doorbell would be a good idea. I didn’t. I walked back to my car, realizing that I couldn’t visit one friend and avoid the other, and that no one can make Junior’s mother see that we are living in a period of nobrow. The fact that class, religious or otherwise, has been reduced to an individual’s choice and taste, implies that my friend is likely to continue seeing things from her cultural perspective, as will I.
Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing + The Marketing of Culture by John Seabrook
The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad
“The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot