The guiding principle of Six Ridiculous Questions is that life is filled with ridiculousness. And questions. That only by giving in to these truths may we hope to slip the surly bonds of reality and attain the higher consciousness we all crave. (Eh, not really, but it sounded good there for a minute.) It’s just. Who knows? The ridiculousness and question bits, I guess. Why six? Assonance, baby, assonance.
1. Gradations of brutality: Would you rather spend an hour as a guillotine cleaner in 18th century France or a year working in the Trump White House?
I think working in the Trump White House would be wild. I’d feel obligated to take that gig if it were offered. I’ve only finally cut short work on two professional assignments in all the years: an investigative piece on a pedophile ring; and a similar type of story about organized dog fighting. I felt a shadow of very bad vibes in both cases, which I was afraid might carry over to people close to me. Maybe the Trump WH would be the perfect fulfillment of those earlier aborted projects. On the other hand, being clean and cool mentally/physically, I’m not sure I could deal with the stress and bizarreness without slipping back into old habits. Having worked weekends in a busy ER, I think the guillotine would be old hat, so to speak.
2. Say your mind was swapped with your pet’s, who would be more successful: You as your pet or your pet as you?
I’ve had very close relationships with the spirit guide family animals since I was first independently mobile or able to remember. They’ve always been smarter than I am. They’ve always been inspiring heroes of courage and heart. I think of them as Mysterious Travelers between the Worlds, and I doubt I will ever be in their league.
3. Do scorpions have rich inner lives? Why or why not?
I base a lot of my perspective on how they taste when you eat them. I had one that tasted very much like Manzanita bark. Another, in another part of the world, was unfortunately like a stale pretzel dabbed with airplane glue. I smoked one in Borneo that had a strange aftertaste mix of aluminum and cinnamon (mild, fast onset and departure of dissociative effects like unto Salvia, with an amber tinge to the visual field). Vinegaroons are called that for a reason. In short, how could any predatory venomous arachnid not have a rich interior life? Plus, they’re very sculptural.
4. If you were hanging out in front of a 7-11 and an evil wizard pulled up in his Dodge Charger, got out, and said he was going to turn you into a cartoon character, but was willing to allow you to lobby for your desired result—OK, I guess he’s not the epitome of evil, but he’s still really bad (permanently arched brows, a truly disconcerting beard, perhaps a demonic familiar or an ill-tempered cat, and the Charger, obviously)—which character would you choose?
I’d consider Bojack Horseman’s ex-girlfriend agent, Zoidberg from Futurama, or Uncle Waldo from the old Hoppity Hooper show (I liked the kind of epileptic fit he’d have when he got an idea.).
5. What should the length of the jail term be for using “blessed” conversationally in describing oneself or one’s life?
My old man was a Congregationalist minister and I was baptized in the water hazard of a golf course, so I’m fairly ecumenical on this topic. I’d actually like to think I’m a man of many blessings, and I’m living proof of the value of a good defense attorney.
Accepting there are exceptions, I guess it seems to me like most people who use that terminology do so in a performative manner. They’re trying very hard to point to the superiority of their lives, their piety, or both. You make a fair point, though, I’m sure not all people who use that construction are doing so in a performative manner. But what about the people who are. As a student of human nature, which I know you are, you must admit there are many who do just that? Family ties aside, how do you feel about them?
I have a visceral abhorrence of behavior that I feel either intuitively or more concretely falls under the rubric of political correctness / virtue signaling—or people whose basic presentation in the world follows the plot line of “I Saw the Light.” I also loathe any whiff of Pollyanna-ism, and I think that those who believe their glass is half full often just don’t like what they’re drinking. So, insofar as you’re talking about this composite ilk, I’m more likely to favor the drowning cage than jail. If, on the other hand, it’s a matter of Survivors relative to Victims, I back Survivors, even if their terminology might grate. Isn’t it always a question of what someone’s real message is to other people and the world at large? How genuine is their gratitude?
6. What are you thinking?
Today I’ve been thinking that despite all the money spent and attention paid, we’ve actually still underestimated the effects (for good and bad) of Popular Music.
Go on, tell us more.
Do you know what the #1 song in America was the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima? “Sentimental Journey” by Les Brown and His Band of Renown, with Doris Kappelhoff the distinctive featured vocalist. That’s Doris Day, an extremely interesting female figure in popular entertainment—often forgotten now, but one of the biggest stars of the 20th century, across pop music, film, and later TV. In fact, on the levels of culture hero, superstar, and multimedia talent, she was the direct pre-Elvis rival and counterpoint to the Big Bang Crosby and Sinatra. Yet you won’t see any Doris imitators in Vegas or Branson, MO. Odd.
More? A lot of people can at least generally understand the perspective that insects are really the dominant life forms on Earth. We tend to put this understanding to one side (for many reasons), but it’s always there. By analogy, I think what we call “pop music” occupies a metaphorically similar position of primacy within the sphere of Popular Culture. There’s excellent quantitative evidence that we are all exposed more fully (+ indirectly and unintentionally) to this type of communication above all other mass forms. We hear all the time about the number of images we’re bombarded with relative to people 200 years ago. There is some discussion of ‘noise pollution,” but we rarely focus directly on the category of “organized sound” that is Pop Music. I’ll bet you good money you’ve had the experience of “having a song stuck in your head.” I’ll end with the elliptical assertion that we need to bring the study of Pop Music into the realms of epidemiology and mental illness.
Kris Saknussemm is the author of the books Zanesville, Enigmatic Pilot, Sinister Miniatures, Sea Monkeys and Reverend America, amongst others. His novel Private Midnight is now in the labyrinth of development as a cable TV series. A native of the Bay Area, he has lived for many years across the Southern Hemisphere. Having taught of late in Africa, Asia, and as the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Seattle University, he is now based in Las Vegas.
Kurt Baumeister has written for Salon, Electric Literature, Guernica, The Weeklings, Entropy, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, and others. His debut novel, a satirical thriller entitled Pax Americana, was published by Stalking Horse Press in 2017. He is currently at work on a novel, The Book of Loki, and a hybrid collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry entitled Superman, the Seven Gods of Death, and the Need for Clean, Romantic Poetry. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.kurtbaumeister.com.
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