Digression: the trick (part 2)

Sorry I’m late with this one. Blame capitalism, and fondue.

So by now I figure you can see what I’m doing. In a lot of ways Lovecraft and Waits are apples and oranges. But sometimes a fruit salad is just what you’re looking for.

It doesn’t have to be Lovecraft and Waits, it could be anything. Edward de Bono, the guy who coined the term “lateral thinking,” he wrote this book called Po: Beyond Yes and No. I can’t tell you too much about it, because de Bono’s ideas about copyright and trademark are really not very lateral at all — and if you haven’t heard of him, that’s probably why. Also it’s like fifteen years since I read it. But Po‘s lateral idea is pretty straightforward: stimulating creativity by juxtaposing random ideas.

Climate change po plate glass.

  • A majority of scientists concur that, like climate change, plate glass is man-made.
  • Climate change is subtle and hard to detect. Plate glass is transparent and hard to see.
  • Local temperature increases are most noticeable in urban areas. Plate glass is most commonly found in urban areas.
  • Generating electricity from oil and gas produces atmospheric CO2, contributing to global warming. Air conditioners require electricity, and also (thank you, thermodynamics) produce excess heat. Skyscrapers in the world’s oil capitals, hot places like Houston and Dubai, require a lot of air conditioning. One reason skyscrapers need so much A/C is that they’re largely made of plate glass. A coincidence? I think not.
  • The insurance industry is in danger of being overwhelmed by climate change. My great-grandfather, an insurance agent, was killed by plate glass.

Damn! Forget the financial crisis, world community! We’ve got to get on this plate glass thing!

…where was I…?

…right. Tom Waits po H.P. Lovecraft, po America.

H.P. Lovecraft’s America isn’t Tom Waits’s America. Lovecraft lives in an America of dark forests, demon-haunted hills, ghastly catacombs littered with unspeakable relics. In Lovecraft’s America, a thinning population of white-collared Anglo-Saxon New Englanders clings to a tenuous existence, caught between swarming immigrant untermenschen and the ever-present threat — or temptation — of devolving themselves, through inbreeding or interbreeding, into something less than human. The happiest among them are the ignorant. The few of them that understand their situation suffer from nervous disorders. (Of course they’re also threatened by unspeakable horrors from the cold of space and the depth of time, but in the end that’s kind of a side issue.)

Tom Waits lives in an America of blacktop and telephone wire, boxcars and elevated trains, Illinois cornfields and New York waterfronts. The people of Waits’s America are working men and waitresses, card-sharps and vaudevillians and small-time crooks — and not a few freaks. Their lives aren’t exactly secure. But when they have troubles, they’re ordinary troubles: money, heartbreak, alcohol, man’s inhumanity to man, six or seven kinds of bad luck. When they have reason to be happy, it’s an ordinary human reason: they’ve got cash in their pockets, they’ve got a song to sing, they’ve found Jesus, they’ve fallen in love.

Uncle Violet, Frank the used office furniture salesman (and arsonist), the Eyeball Kid, the Jersey Girl in the see-through top, the one-armed dwarf captain throwing dice while the ship loads for Singapore — their America isn’t a whole lot less weird than the America of the Akeleys and Whateleys and Wards, and sometimes it gets them into trouble they can’t get out of. But they’re on top of it, they’re coping.

…was not his very act of plunging into the polyglot abyss of New York’s underworld a freak beyond sensible explanation?

No, it wasn’t, Howard. It was a job. Sometimes you got to get behind the mule.

6 comments on “Digression: the trick (part 2)

  1. Well, it’s an arbitrary duality like all dualities, but it’s a hilarious and fascinating one. It doesn’t take cults or cyclopean ruins or amorphous monsters to make something horrible out the same Americana Waits uses- take William Kennedy, just off the top of my head. Great commentary though.

  2. David Rosenbaum says:

    Lovecraft lived his whole life in Providence, Rhode Island. His world wasn’t America at all, although some of his stories were set in New England. His world was entirely inside his head.

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