Have you seen these fucking commercials? I’m talking about the “everyman” spots for the price-inflated heartburn/acid-reflux prescription-remedy Nexium, featuring more-pomo-than-thou camera angles and jumpcuts from a focus on a single gray-haired man who is very earnestly telling you that he feels your chest pain, that he tastes the acidic regurgitation in your mouth, that he is “just like you,” essentially, and paces confidently around an at least five-hundred times larger than life-size “purple pill,” called here the “new purple pill” (“new” meaning with some paper-thin yellow stripes around it) and arguably no different from the old purple pill, a drug called Prilosec that quite effectively treated the same symptoms.
The commercial is insidious, I think. Seeing it for the first time perhaps a month back as it interrupted my viewing of a now-forgotten NASCAR race, I exclaimed something so drunkenly apelike that my girlfriend forwent her work in the next room to run in and make sure everything was OK. I grunted and pointed to the tube, from which now spewed the continuation of the monologue of the gray-haired “everyman,” but now the audio was at ever-more-pomo-than-thou odds with the visual, which was of the same man, quite silent now, and in slow-motion walking toward the camera with one hand in his pocket and his eyes pinched to a slit and meaning I think to impart a measure of sincerity and dead-seriousness as the monologue now in voice-over–FROM THE VOICE OF THE SAME NOW-NOT-TALKING MAN ON THE SCREEN OTHERWORLDLY IN SLOW-MO LOOKING VERY SERIOUS AND COOL–hammered home the possible side effects of the drug, which included severe headaches and fucking diarrhea! A classic hoodwinking effect, I think, this fragmentation of audio and visual. I was so enraged I pounded on the coffee table and screamed “diarrhea!” at the top of my lungs and then doubled over with a debilitating laughter.
I laughed even more when I got to snooping around on the web and realized that the makers of Nexium, a pharmaceutical company by the name of AstraZeneca whom you’re more than likely well aware of, were also the makers of Prilosec, in 2001 (and still highly ranked in subsequent years) the hands down top-selling prescription worldwide. Class-action lawsuits were brought against AstraZeneca in November 2004 in California and in January of this year in Massachusetts by enraged consumers who alleged, with doctors to back them up, that AstraZeneca was up to false advertising in its offer of Nexium as a “better” heartburn/acid reflux reliever than Prilosec. The drugs are essentially carbon copies of each other, many doctors say, also noting that, by this time, Nexium is about seven times more expensive that Prilosec. The Pentagon, even, who spent assloads outfitting the proud and the brave with the latest in relief from the gas-inducing stresses of wartime, came out just last week with a statement saying they were dropping Nexium in favor of the now over-the-counter available Prilosec or its many generic versions.
I ask: Is it any wonder? You’ve seen the commercials, the jumpcuts, the fractured and distracting point-of-view, and though there is a place for such–consider Thomas Pynchon’s great fractured behemoth of a novel Gravity’s Rainbow–breaking into my viewing of Sunday afternoon motorsports to tout a drug that is by all accounts nothing more than a disreputable cash cow for a mammoth drug company is entirely out of line.
But it was also certain that, in the weeks following my outburst, I began to see the entirety of the television enterprise as equally misleading. The NASCAR broadcasts with their top-of-the-screen bars and split-screen effects, the news programs running the stock-market tickers, the sunbursting headlines on newsmagazines…with the exception of maybe Charlie Rose on public TV most everything was full of nothing, the box a veritable aesthete, full of sound and fury and highly complicated stylizations, signifying jack shit.
Speaking of which, my pal the high-energy Mr. Eric Graf, progenitor of the magazine and record label Terry Plumming and whom you may remember from such pieces as KING DIRT and my fave ONLY HEARD HERE I GOT THE DTS!, has proposed a 12-show episodic serial to be filmed in 12 weeks in the fall. I’m looking for a team of Chicago writers to attend the planning meetings (starting up in June and sure to be quite fun in and of themselves) and write stories that can be turned then into teleplays and etc etc. The concept is quality TV, no budget–Wing and Fly, essentially. I’m all for it.
And for now: stay away from NASCAR and hence chili dogs and fizzy drinks and prescription Nexium commercials, but if you must get near, tell your doc you’re on to the game, and get your money’s worth, I suppose…
I will say, the tour was a success.
The tour was a success in spite of a great many failures, things like:
1) ultra-low turnout in three of the seven cities;
2) the AWOL status of one of the participants, who tragically was turned away while attempting to breach the iron-solid border into the great dystopic megacapital of the world;
3) the driver being keyed up the entire time on an overabundance of caffeine and nicotine and carbon monoxide, which threatened to send his blood pressure to fatal new highs…
Thankfully, the two performers rocked, or tried very hard to rock, and the driver always managed to find a bar just in time to imbibe and loosen up the veins just enough to keep him going.
And there were moments of sublimity.
DAY 6: Faced with the specter of an any-day-now impending volcanic eruption at Mt. Saint Helens, the driver drove on, traversing the rural highway that led to the great mountain’s base on an hour’s detour. His fellow traveler, who was not at all acquainted with him before scarcely three-four days prior to the incident, and in spite of the arguably suicidal tendencies he was clearly exhibiting and involving her in, giggled wildly at the monstrous bomb’s proximity, a mere twenty miles distant. On a map by the roadside detailing the reach of the catastrophic early-80s eruption, the two saw their own current coordinates delineated by a very warm and intimate “You Are Here!” and back to the west, from whence they’d come and in which direction was likewise their only possible escape route, the towns noted on the map which were no longer there, having been “destroyed,” as the map put it.
“If it blows, we’re fucked,” said the driver. He shuddered, deeply, lit a cigarette, jumped back into the car, his companion giggling wildly again, his own heart exaggeratedly pounding, and beat a hasty retreat.
Such was the mood in the final days of the Perpetual Motion Roadshow #24, undertaken by myself and Ms. Liisa Ladouceur, humans on the brink of emotional collapse, maybe, the former recently engaged and missing his fiancee and not quite sure after all how he’d make it through the rest of his life without people buying his books or even offering a supportive guffaw to the jokes in his stories, the latter having just experienced the loss of a very close grandparent and who missed the first stop on the tour on account and who was, as she said, simply “not happy” about being out here, so far far away. Humans on the edge of things, here in the appropriately volatile topography of the Pacific Northwest, now cruising down to the old logging town turned vogue hippie hipster metropolis, Portland, with high hopes for the first good turnout of their travels (hopes that would be rewarded in spades, as they say, but not before an initial scarcity of on-time showgoers), to the eventual sleep of the damned in a house haunted, or so claimed resident and damned fine host Moe Bowstern, by a lady named Helen and innumerable other spirits.
The driver was taken aside by the host just before lying down to sleep and apprised of the ghosts in the upper rooms of the former boarding house, regaled with the tale of the curse laid down by the former occupants. The host spoke of ritually killed chickens, of a certain Venezuelan witch who at the official housewarming party detected the curse’s presence, and in a phone message delivered after a week’s worth of worrying over what to do about it, advised the host and other residents that “there’s something fucked-up in your house.” The decursification involved lots of salt in corners and the subseqent ritual removal of said salt, plus fire, all of which ultimately worked, as the driver was told. Then he was notified of Helen, a lost but ultimately benign spirit, a former resident of the old house, who spent her time wandering the halls. “Plus there’s a knocker,” the host said. A knocker. The driver wandered upstairs to his room for the night and, promptly upon sitting down on the futon laid across the floor, was greeted by a spectral black feline specimen, gaunt but lithe at once, who sat at the edge of the futon and stared at him for some time before laying at his feet and staying for the entirety of his fitful, horror-movie sleep. Pindeldyboz, his friend/associate Ms. Whitney Pastorek and her own fellow travelers who were, at that very moment, entering a spa somewhere in Napa, one of the three referenced as a self-described “spa junky.” The idea was floated that our trajectories should collide in the vicinity of Eureka, on the Northern Cali coast, old lumber/logging town turned coastal hideaway, though the driver didn’t know these facts yet — the place existed in his mind only as a small coordinate on a map perhaps 7 hours distant, perhaps longer. He scratched vaguely at his chest, saying “OK, so I’ll call you again when we get to California.…”Ali flickering away on the television screen, a knock came at the door. A man with a beer stood outside (you could see him through the pinhole viewer), and after conferring, the driver and fellow traveler decided against answering the knock. Sleep came quick, sans dreams. And in the morning the fellow traveler discovered a playing card left on the ground outside the door like a marker — it wasn’t the Ace of Spades, thankfully, but rather the innocuous 8 of Hearts. “My favorite number,” said the fellow traveler. “That can only be OK,” said the driver, tramping off for the free motel coffee.
DAY 7: “Oh, that’s Zelda. She was keeping guard of you,” the host said, next morning, on the way out the door with the driver and fellow traveler. The host pulled a stalk from a rosemary bush out front and proffered it as appeasement to the road gods. And they were off, if not yet for the road, then in search of diner, a place with bad coffee, preferably, Oregon being a state of good coffee in the year AD 2005, with even the most heavily bumpkin-populated towns featuring drive-through espresso bars and fresh-ground french roast in its full-service gas stations.
The driver parked, putting the rosemary stalk to his nose and inhaling deeply, pondering the idea of a Hail Mary, though he’s not and never will be Catholic, and placing a call to another tour, that of the lit mag
By 7 PM those gigantic trees were being dodged by the touring duo, the driver’s heart racing on a cataclysmic combo of some of the aforementioned drive-through espresso and near a pack’s worth of cigarettes chain-smoked in the twilight. If there was beauty ever, it was here, though his mind was arguably not so settled as he yanked at the wheel to send the rented chariot careening around 180-degree curves at 40 mph, feeling like Fitapaldi or Earnhardt at Watkin’s Glen in the sharp back-and-forth of certain Redwood-banked passages, and one might even have had the feeling of descending into the hot bubbling center of the earth were it not for the stimulants tightening one’s veins, the two occupants of the car past words, for certain, each in his/her own turn mumbling the lyrics to any number of songs spewing from the radio, then at an uncertain point lapsing to silence, maybe even happy, for the moment, the music ceasing by way of some half-remembered movement of a hand on a knob, or maybe a willful aggravated stabbing of the eject button to render the noise ceased, ceased, and the mild roar of wind in the cracked windows churning on to Crescent City, the coast, the half-committed-to goal of seeing the sun set over a body of water, anathema to this half-quartet of easters. But Crescent City, CA, was all Pacific fog and rocks, no sun in sight to set at all, and two teenage boys each in their own brand-new Pontiac Firebird screaming hip-hop at rest at the coastal pull-off where the driver and his companion likewise came to rest, for a brief half-hour. The boys were booming, true, but at the same time miraculously carrying on a conversation from the driver’s seats of their respective rides. The driver sat and relished the stasis after seven solid road hours. Pictures were taken,
calls placed — “We’re sticking around here, Eureka.” “Eureka.” “Well, yes.” “OK, we’re a hour-half out.” “Call me when you get here.” “OK.” — twas time for the meal of the week: KFC wings and potato wedges, respectively, for driver and fellow traveler. Quick sustenance and onward, up the hill on highway 101 into the Pacific fogbank that enveloped the entirety of the 85 miles to Eureka so thick as to inspire visions of the rented silver chariot careening off the shoulder of any number of blind turns in the road. Suffice it to say they made it, even off the freeway in the dark for gas and a six pack for the driver, anticipating their impending stop for the night. Another call: “We’re gonna stay at the Holiday Inn,” was the word of the touring brethren, but the driver and fellow traveler could not find this lored Holiday Inn.
Now quite justifiably fed up with the rented chariot’s confining quarters, the two checked into a Motel 6 and the driver drank a beer very quickly while his cell phone charged, after which yet another call went out. “Uh…there’s no Holiday Inn here.” “No shit.” “We’re at this other place.” “What about this brewpub?” “Oh, Lost Coast, I think?” “Avenue H?” “Yep.” “OK.”
But even meeting at the brewpub proved difficult, as it had been quite some time since the driver and Ms. Pastorek had been in the vicinity of one another and so a drink or two was consumed before recognition played its little games on the brain: after which, “eureka” would be the watchword: pleasantries were exchanged, the wonder of the encounter was well remarked upon, stories floated (a favorite being one about an interview with P. Diddy Sean Combs in which the question “What is your Secret Passion?” was in turn floated by the interviewer — Diddy responding, “History.” “Well, umm, any particular period?” “Nah, I mean like the History Channel. I was watching this special about the dude who invented the airplane the other day. You know, I wanna do something like that.”) willy-nilly over a round or two before the arcs of the two traveling teams diverged, to the respective north and south sides of town. (Likewise would be proffered the idea that T-shirts should be made to commemorate the chance meeting, something like,
“PBOZ / THE2NDHAND: Eureka Dream: Cali 2005″
on the back and with devilish figures on the front and the single date on the back, maybe.)
Later, back at the Motel 6, after half of the driver’s six pack was obliterated and said driver was exceedingly tired, the last scene of the Will Smith vehicle
And thus the 8th and final day began in Eureka, CA, and yes, it was plenty OK.