Thursday, January 13, 2011

At Home in the Jungle

I thought I would check out the premier of a new TV series last night because it was ten o’clock and I still didn’t feel like going to bed; because it had an actor whose character I loved on Friday Night Lights and I was curious to see how much it was the actor I liked and how much it had been the character; and because it was set in the jungle, my concept of which has intrigued me since the first time I heard of it.  I am talking of the series Off The Map, about three young doctors recruited to work in a jungle clinic in a poor country.  Whether I will become a regular viewer of this show is still a question, because as a rule I avoid “doctor” shows and it isn’t clear whether this is more a doctor show or a jungle show.  I fear the former.  I have an almost pathological revulsion to seeing opened-up people, or to seeing skin pierced.  I have never watched the doctor insert a needle into me for blood tests or any other purpose.  I squinch my eyes when a film shows an addict shooting up.  I don’t at all mind the sight of blood, and I don’t mind receiving shots at all, not even novocaine in the gums.  Well OK, I mind novocaine a little, but only to a normal degree.  Some of the bloggers I follow have mentioned liking – or loving – the series Bones, but I rarely watch it and I have never watched the NCIS series or CSI, and I have never seen a single episode of E. R.  I will almost drive into a wall rather than run over an animal that is already dead – it even revolts me to squash one of the larger bugs.  I am not a Buddhist, nor am I one of those folks who revere life in all its forms (last year I killed seven squirrels); I just cannot stomach the sight of broken bones exposed, or internal organs, or the act of skin being pierced.  When I was in high school I was actually excused, in biology class, from the frog dissection (on condition that I learn all the parts from colored overlays in the textbook – I got the highest mark in the class on the subsequent test) .  I simply cannot do it.  I buy my chicken already cut up. 

I am not here to talk about my psychoses or neuroses (they leak out in everything I write, anyway) but something completely different.  There was, early in the show, a scene where the actor I mentioned – I don’t even know his name – goes to an open area where there are a bunch of huts and people doing jungly things to meet a boy who will guide him to a distant patient who needs help.  I can’t really describe the scene nor put my finger on what, exactly, was the specific thing I saw or heard that did it, but something sent a thrill through my mind and the thought, “Oh God, how I wish that were me in that place.”  It was the thrill of possibility, of starting out on the best vacation or job ever. 

This morning I was watching something and I switched over to another channel which was at a point in an ad for a cruise line that showed a group of passengers approaching the ship and I felt nothing, except that this scene from last night’s show flashed across my mind and it occurred to me that people headed to their ship for a cruise, or people walking up to a grand hotel, or people headed to Vegas seem to have that exact feeling that I had last night seeing the village scene.  I see a cruise as a thing I’d have to get through, like a wedding or a trip to the dentist or my job, when I had one.  There might be fun moments or congenial people – there might be – but good moments would be like shiny beads strung among periods when my smile is fixed on my face, when I would be wondering what I should be feeling or saying or doing next, when I would feel out of place.  I feel out of place so often in my life.  Not unwelcome at the weddings or parties or jobs, not resented or disliked, but just like I am not quite sure what to do with my hands.  I am sure many of you have had occasion to attend a funeral or wedding or event that you attended because of your affection or respect for someone involved – or a family event with your fiancé’s family before you knew him (or her) well – where you were acutely conscious of being foreign to the commonly agreed-upon rituals and behaviors among the majority of the attendees, where there were nuances which escaped you.  This is how I feel most of the time in Western countries.  Even when I love some of the folks involved dearly – even the Breakfast Club events with my own family where we gather with my Mom every Sunday at MY house, I have this undercurrent of feeling that I am stringing together moments that are smooth and fun with intervals of casting about for the next thing to say or do.  And afterwards I sometimes wondering why I said this or did that, not cruel or foolish or rude things, but just things that I am not sure are in tune with the interests or mood or interests of the other folks present. 
Why I am utterly comfortable when I am in a place where I don’t speak the language or where the customs are completely unlike those I am used to or where people dislike my government intensely, I can’t explain.  I just am.  And I love it.  Maybe it is because there is nothing to live up to.  Maybe because I am so obviously at level zero that anything I say or do is a move up the scale, even if not always in the right direction.  As strange as everything might seem to most people, I feel like I am at last among people like me.  I am playing with people who are my age.  Nothing I say or do goes on my permanent record.  The more people are unlike me in fact, the more they feel, in my gut, like me.  It only applies to the general environment in these cases, or in one on one interactions; being invited to a home or to a meal can be acutely uncomfortable. 

I was actually taken by surprise by the depth of my feeling during that one moment in the show that I have described.  It wasn’t exactly like, “Oh my God, I’m home again,” but it was remarkably like seeing, in the opening footage of the Sean Penn film Milk, the front of the barbershop I used to go to.  I had a tremendous gut reaction of meeting an old friend, of having a free day, of beginning a wonderful vacation.   

Sadly, I think the jungle setting for this show is largely a pretext for having even more horribly gaping wounds and more grotesque injuries than the mere bullet wounds and car crash injuries on the medical shows set within the confines of the USA.  That is too bad.  I am perplexed at the pleasure a lot of folk must derive from close-ups of maggot-filled bodies or torn-open abdomens.  Yet if one brings these things up with any degree of description at a dinner party, one tends to get the same reaction as the proverbial turd in the punch bowl.  It seems to be my curse: I don’t get what people do or when they should or shouldn’t do it.  Pink Floyd has a song where the narrator says then he was young, his hands “felt like two balloons.”  Me too.  Only I feel like balloons all over, especially my mouth. 

Maybe this is why I like films and books about people.  Other folks, folks who get people, seem to prefer shows about speeding cars or injuries or poop and pee or guns.  Real people to a lot of people are a big yawn.  But I love something that makes me wonder how I would react or about how people resolve issues, how people cope with things.  There is a film opening, called The Dilemma which poses the interesting question of what one would do if one saw one’s best friend’s wife cheating on her spouse.  This sounds like it could really be interesting, and even as a comedy, could say some challenging things.  I may well go see it.  And I will hope, hope, hope that the reaction of the characters doesn’t involve farting or pooping. 

I’m an idealist.


  1. Oh David, you made me smile with this post. Yes, I am your blogging friend who loves Bones and watches all of the CSI shows. I have told you before that I close my eyes tightly when they show one of those yucky crime scenes or at autopsy.
    We are all different and all special. I feel that was the divine plan.
    I thoroughly enjoy your posts.

  2. Hello, Mr. Shag.

    Margaret (you know her as Marge) mentioned your blog to me, that it is very interesting and that I might enjoy it; it is and I do.

    Because I am a very old teddy bear who spends most of his time watching over my human being (Margaret), I do not often visit other human beings as I should or would like. It is through learning how human beings think and feel that I hope to become real some day. Also, because I am a little reticent, I do not often venture out into the blogging world because I do not know what people will think about being visited by a teddy bear. Human beings sometimes make assumptions.

    You have written about a number of things which concern my human being, too-- especially that feeling of being "apart--and she and I have discussed it on many occasions. I wonder: is that feeling of being apart from things part of being human?

    As a teddy who only recently began thinking--a thing which does not come naturally for teddies--I find that I feel a bit outside of things, too. I am stuffed with sawdust, you see, and I do not know if I will be taken seriously because of that.

    I think I understand your thoughts about some television programs; there are things I would rather not see there, too. I often get to watch television with Margaret and Steve and sometimes find myself looking out a window or at a picture on the wall, rather than something on the tv screen. The stuffings of human beings belong inside them, not outside for everyone to see--for me, that is a little upsetting, just as it is for you.

    One kind of programming I especially like to see is the kind in which the workings or making of things is explained. Have you seen a program called "How It's Made"? I have never been befuddled by anything I have seen there.

    Now, the nightly news is another thing altogether--Margaret spends a lot of time explaining that to me.

    I will return soon, if that is alright with you, but it may be awhile; keeping watch over Margaret occupies most of my time.

    Thank you for giving an old bear a lot to think about.

  3. Hmmm, I feel differently than you do about "folks who get people, seem to prefer shows about speeding cars or injuries or poop and pee or guns. Real people to a lot of people are a big yawn." Opposite, in fact. I think the people that only prefer the speeding cars, etc, are the same that run the other way when it comes to connecting. It's too hard to do, and too scary to them. But that's my opinion.
    I haven't seen that new show yet. From the little bits on commercials, I almost thought it was going to be "Lost--from the medical tent perspective". I'd rather watch something else. Now, the movie, Milk? OOoooo, that was fantastic.
    Ok, that's all I have to say today. Trying to catch up and just finished commenting on your last 3 posts. Whew. Brain burn.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post. Like Beth, I too am one of those who watch those shows, with my eyes closed when needed, and am an NCIS addict. The fact that we all have different likes and dislikes is what make the world such a fascinating place.

  5. Farts are funny. Unless they're mine and in public. Ugh. I hate old age.

  6. I had that feeling of, "I should be there" when they were standing on the cliff looking at the beautiful ocean... then they showed the guy who was speared by a ray and told that it never cools off at night... I need my cool evening ocean breeze or I may as well be in Arizona. (which is another word for hell on earth)

    I like you, and we do have many things in common, which I tend to think shows my innate good taste, or, I could be incredibly narcissistic. BIG HUGS, Steph (I'm off to watch more of the Chinese backstreet boys, thanks!)

  7. You write so well of the Human experience--the angst we all feel and the idea that keeps sneeking in at times that we might actually be adopted, or aliens, or crazy......less and less now, for me, in fact, I cannot recall the las ttime I felt that guess as soon as I realized that everyone feels that way I knew it was OK to relax about it.

    And that show?? I watched it too, and it struck me as rather juvenile--one for the high school kids....the way each character would at some point look off into the near distance as if they had been terribly hurt somewhere in their past, and were the only one this had ever happened to. But yeah, the place was cool, and the idea that they have to do remarkable things with few resources--or at least different ones than those which come all encased in plastic or ten gazillion items all in a box, all sterile, etc......having worked in the medical arena in my past, this might be interesting...

  8. @Beth - Those yucky scenes seem to be the POINT of these shows. The rest of Bones does not make up - for me - for having these scenes rammed into my attention. Often I don't see them coming quickly enough. We are all different to some degree, but damn few of us are special, except to a few loved ones, and often not even to them so much. It's a nice thought, and one people yank out automatically, but I put it under the same heading as I put "Everything is for the best". But I am glad I made you smile.

    @Teddy - Marge is Margaret? I assumed Margery or Marjorie. Whatever happened to Peggy as a nickname for Margaret? It is so time-honored! Sadly, I have almost no interest in how things are made (especially humans). I want dramas like Southland or The Good Wife or The Wire ALL the time - or at least mixed only with comedy or maybe a little music. I am SICK of (most) documentaries. I NEVER want to see another true crime show or another lion eating a zebra. Never. I am SICK of usefulness.

    @Terry - Watching TV with eyes closed seems just a tad pointless. Have you tried radio? And again, no we are not all different - we are mostly boringly, horribly the same - which I guess is part of why I like Third World travel - at least the same LOOKS different there.

    @MizAngie - Sorry, they are totally not funny in an entertainment venue to me at all, ever. Sometimes something about them is a little funny when someone I know is telling about an embarrassing moment, but on the screen, never. It is like nude sex scenes - they pull me from the story and often change my whole attitude toward the characters in a negative way.

  9. @MizAngie (again) - The thing that is irritating about them is they are cheap shots. A great comedy to me is one like My Cousin Vinnie where all the humor arises from understanding the characters and appreciating the situation they are in.

    @Kit - A visit at last! You were thinking of a vacation, and I was thinking of living there. I want to get used to it not cooling off. But, yeah, that scene was wonderful and inviting. but I doubt the series will make my cut,because in the end, setting would only be enough for me if I actually had been there and recognized ALL the locations. The writing on the show is poor, and that will drive me away sooner or later (probably sooner).

    @Onebeam - Do you think everyone feels so completely alien? - maybe, but so many seem to act and look alike. Your take on the show is exactly what I felt. Sad, because I really like that actor - he was wonderful on Friday Night Lights. He is one of those actors that seem to have an inner sweetness or kindness that suffuses each role (others are Mark Rudd and Andrew McCarthy) that makes me want to be around the characters they play. I do not confuse this with actually wanting to be around the actor - it is a skill that may or may not be something in their real nature.

  10. JennyD - OMG - However did I skip past YOU? I think I meant 'get people' as being 'generally able to behave easily in social situations because of an understanding (possibly a shallow one) of what to do or say and what not to do or say, in most situations. that is, people who are comfortable in what should be familiar situations. Sort of 'been there, done that'. "OK, he loves her, I get it" - yawn. Like at lt least not feeling so out of place as me, when they are NOT out of place (a family dinner?) The show is not Lost at all - only the settings are similar - it is more like E. R. or one of those squirting blood shows, only in the jungle. I was not a Lost fan, but it was far more imaginative, I think.

  11. As always I love your writing but there are so many layers I always reread it 2 if not 3 times.

    i always find something new, or pick up on something that i missed the first time round.

    I think that is why I find it so interesting, it is never "mindless" words, just put there to fill a void on the page.

  12. Hey, you. "Res ipsa loquitur"? TOO funny! Best chuckle I've had in a week :D
    Here's a cat one for you:
    "You tell'em cat, that's what you're fur"
    I know, I know, you don't even have to say it.

  13. I don't watch much tv, so I didn't watch that show, and don't know the actor.. but I frequently feel like I'm standing outside staring in, and feel more comfortable in foreign countries. I have looked into moving to every other country I've ever visited, even Russia!! I like going places that are very different. Don't know why, and don't really care!LOL I'm just glad it's all making you write more for me!!
    hugs, stay warm.

  14. @OneGirl - Back atcha on the like. And thanks - my ego is duly stroked - and it gets a lot of strokin' just here at home. I hope I can live up to it.

    @JennyD - Don't know if you read my post back when (I could check, but life is short) on the time my sibs and I put on a minstrel show, but your -erm - joke brought it back to me. We went for authentic minstrel jokes where we could find them and one involved the same pun: "Why is a trip around the world like a cat's tail?" and the answer "Cose it's fur to de end of it". I put in our script but I actually didn't get the joke until years later. I am so grateful, BTW, for those 4 yrs of Latin in high school.

    @Jeankfl - So you feel this way too (and the show isn't the point, just the single scene). Why can different feel so comfortable and familiar so alien. I honestly don't get it. But I have looked into living even in a country that I found somewhat hostile (Jamaica). It just FEELS better than here. And yet I really am glad to be an American - just not so much IN America. Certainly I am far more likely to be shot for no reason here, but that's not really it.

  15. Thanks for stoppin by so I responded in like. Reading about farts and poop well, left ah bad taste in my mouth. I am trying to git into the Off The Map show. I was hoping to see a muscle bound Tarzan but nothing yet. Because the same writers write for Greys Anatomy the charactors will all bed hop around and that gets boring. Bug bites and snake attacks and any other critter or disease will crop up and duct tape and tweezers will save the day! Ennaway I am not squeamish at all guess that's the tom boy in me. The shows today lack class. It seems dumber the better, smart mouth naughty kids (and adults) are what people supposedly likes to watch. Give me Discovery channel, history and of course Myth Busters.
    Have a good weekend and da Bears and Packer game can't be missed!

  16. It's nice to find your writings here since Spaces has closed its doors. I'm glad your style hasn't lost its verve.
    Be well,
    Jorge Medico

  17. David,

    I responded to your question on my blog

  18. They filmed the movie The Dilemma near my home and I too thought it an interesting conceit although I doubt their execution will be worthy.

  19. @Toodie - Sorry I caused queasiness, particular when my point is that these things make ME queasy when films go there instead of actually doing good comic writing. I guess I didn't put it too well and became part of the problem. My greatest queasiness is reserved for what I call blood porn and I have turned off this show forever when this week they showed a close-up of a scalpel starting the cut for a Caesarian delivery.

    @Jorge - I miss my Spaces people and I am glad to hear from you - I remember reading your blog often, there and seeing you on mine. Your mention of them closing doors moved me to continue copying my old stuff there into my C-drive for fear one day it will become inaccessible. Thanks for the kind words. "Verve". Great word.

    @OneGirl - Thanks - I have been there and read it. Only you didn't answer my question which was: would you have been better off if you had been taken away by social services, in your opinion.

    @Laoch - Will I see you walking through the background of any of the scenes? I agree that most movies really disappoint lately. I can't believe all the nominations for "The Kids are All Right" which bored me while being somehow distasteful at the same time. I enjoyed The Social Contract and I can see an nod for the lead actor, but Best Picture? Really? I want to see "The King's Speech" - maybe it is terrific, but this year's crop seems pallid. "Toy Story 3"? BEST picture? Why does animating a cliche'ed story make it better? (I am also thinking of the raves over Chicken Run a while back). Last year had some good grown-up films - this year seems like a waste mostly.