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.