Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Urgent

Urgency is an immediate, pressing need, an existential itch desperate for scratching, an impending sneeze while an audience member at a concert.  Elements of urgency are contributing factors to one or more needs demanding your attention now.

Sometimes, you can see urgency and consequences, those two mischievous twins of story, skipping down the road, hand in hand, their exuberance and their chemistry threatening the orderly movement of the narrative.

They are adorable because their obvious joy in each other's company transcends mere cuteness or impishness; they are having the fun we hope to have when we consult story.  The hoped for fun changes somewhat from to genre to genre.  We read Stephen King because with such expertise, he leads us to the fun of being frightened to the point of dread, not only of what comes next but of those hours in the late night or early morning when we snap awake from the fear aroused by some sound or play of moonlight or shadow, the urgency of some creeping, monstrous thing, here in the room with us.

Some of the late, lamented Donald E. Westlake's mystery novels, in particular his novels featuring the criminal Parker, have such a sense of immediate, urgent danger, betrayal, and sudden, spontaneous violence, that we realize we've doubled down on our bets for fun, wanting that chilling tingle of suspense with us at all times.  When he writes as Richard Stark, Westlake presents us with the anti-hero, Parker, who is so good at being a robber that he finds it impossible to consider any other profession.  Trouble is, Parker often comes up against other criminals who are neither so good or operating under the same moral compass guidance as Parker, thus the constant wonder to spice up our reading fun, What can go wrong now?

Men and women writing in every genre have found ways to provide us with the urgencies of those genera, offering us unlimited potential for fun.  We--you among them--like to give more high-minded definitions for the fun, some of these little more than excuses for transference, for identification with the Parkers of our imaginary Reality, the one often so far away from the real reality.

"You could never get away with that in a story,"  some of your early echelon students say of an idea or a concept.  You can, provided you impart enough plausible urgency.

How do you accomplish that? Thus the inevitable and cynical riposte.  This is, after all, a world and reality of logic, where water boils at 212 Fahrenheit degrees at sea level.  How do you make anything of that?  Any number of ways, including the setting of the story in Denver or Santa Fe, where water boils, true enough, but it does not boil at 212 degrees because neither city resides at sea level.

Early viewers of Star Trek, urgent for weekly adventures featuring the actors Shatner, Nimoy, and Takei, acted out their own stories, beaming one another up or down or out via teleportation and accomplishing warp speeds as though such things were an actual rather than fictional qualities in our real Reality.  Made perfect sense for them to do so, as indeed it made sense for you and a fellow named Josephs to act out The Lone Ranger, which produced in its whimsical way a greater drama than the actual Lone Ranger narrative.

You were always chosen to be Tonto, in spite of your argument that the real Tonto did not wear horn-rimmed eyeglasses.  Week after week, you were informed that you died better than anyone else at Hancock Park Elementary School, one particular death from atop a pile of packing crates actually drawing applause from Georgia, the sixth grader who regularly beat you at tether ball.
No matter, your contrary argument that Tonto, the real Tonto, did not ever die; your ability at dying made you as Tonto a done deal.

Desperate for a literal role reversal, you went so far as to argue that it was well known not to be Jewish, but Josephs trumped your urgency with his own need to remain the Lone Ranger.  He reminded you that he, too, was Jewish, and as though to put the matter to permanent rest, called you out for being able to say fuck you in Spanish, which was a thing the real Lone Ranger would never say in English or Spanish.

Such things were in orbit about you and you were not yet ten.  Being able to fall off boxes in the playground of Hancock Park Elementary School or jump from garage roofs on Maryland and Blackburn Streets, or say fuck you in Spanish were not tools you saw as useful, nor was there true urgency yet in your needs to do so.  Instead, you abandoned your urgency to be the Lone Ranger.  You let Josephs make good on his threat to "get me another Tonto," a fellow named Jack, who had the good sense to put mud on his face to cover his freckles.

You began an activity that both puzzled and drove you, companionable qualities, now that you think about it, to those or urgency and consequences.  You were driven for some time to make notebooks, more often than not pocket sized, more often than not composed of the pulpy foolscap paper so common in schools in those days.

The consequences of having notebooks led you to the exquisite urgency of needing something to "put" or write in them.  For a while, you were committing to memory multiplication tables and the symbols for the known elements; you experimented with filling notebooks with these--until you discovered the ready availability of both in a dictionary that sold for twenty-nine cents in the Thrifty Drug Store at the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Cochran Street.

The need to put things in these notebooks and the consequences of as yet having nothing to put in them ultimately led you on to collecting small premium cards that came in packages of Wings cigarettes.  You amassed quite a collection.  You believe you can actually lay your hands on one of these card in a matter of minutes.

You needed another five or six years before you were able to quell the urgency of finding things to put in notebooks, but you are happy to say that the urgency to do so, once established, remains with you to this very day.

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