Monday, May 11, 2009

Recent Acquisitions

RECEIVING, May 11 - Recent Acquisitions:

I doubt the residents of Prague could have ever imagined, way back in August 1968, that their sufferings and travails would have made such a fine coffee table photography book, and even finer birthday present for me. Of these 250+ Josef Koudelka photos, what stands out is the time lag between opposing sides. Cold War Czechs grieved over the gulf between their country's scarcity and west Europe's futuristic prosperity, but in these pictures the gulf is between modern urbanites and the WW2 re-enactors that came to subdue them (Prague's men, teetering between the eras of hats and beards, resemble 21st century Brooklyn hipsters). The Warsaw Pact troops looked a lot like German Infantry, down to their flared helmets; one soldier, standing with the sun shading his face, is rendered into the eyeless chiaroscuro of Nazi propaganda. When a brutal army invades a gorgeous city (and the residents act with inspired passive resistance), is it possible to take a bad photo?

This thing was the bane of my employment at the video store last year. Rows of novelty electronic keychains dangled at eye level for every adolescent who came stumbling down the aisles, and many of my shifts were punctuated by the sounds of wretching and raspberries every eight minutes. These things are loud! I never sold one. They're awful. Isn't repeated exposure to fart sounds, in the course of one's job, a form of sexual harassment?

I wrote a strongly worded Karen-Silkwood-style email to store management about the devastating impact of this product on employee morale. When that didn't get the response I'd hoped for, I had to resort to stashing these things in spots no customer could reach. Now that I own one myself (a birthday gift from my ex-store manager), I'm not sure what to do with it. On one hand, it's a depressing reminder of how low American civilization has sunk in my lifetime. On the other hand, I know if I donate this to a thrift store or mental institution, I'll be kicking myself, years later, for reasons currently unknown.

After years of using one of the pillows from the couch, it only dawned on me last week that I'm an adult and can buy a proper, new pillow at Target any time I want. So I did, for $6. Although I'll be spending a third of my life with a pillow of some sort, $6 really seems like the upper limit of what I'm willing to shell out. Also, it's nice to remember my dreams now, but kind of a bummer that they're all really boring and about trains. Yawn.

This hand-lettered, Old Navy shirt, size large - an instant addition to my all time top five birthday gifts - is pretty much a perfect adult-proportioned duplicate of the one worn by a wayward waif in 1979's "The Jerk". Only I'm not sure how to wear it. Jury duty, obviously, but what else? Concealed, at job interviews, so that I can unbutton my overshirt if the conversation gets stupid and stride out like a man? And how can I properly convey the essential nihilism of the shirt?

I watched our neighbors' cats several times this year, and each time I'd read a few more pages into this book, perched on the shelf just above the litter box. I finally bought a copy on eBay last month, only to discover I'd gotten the crummy 90's lame-lady cover instead of the cool 80's creepy cover paperback. I don't even want to read this anymore.