At once, I see why I used to loveâ€”and now hateâ€”the Law & Order series. When I was down with the show, I stuck with the original version. Every so often, Iâ€™d watch SVU, but I could only handle sex crimes and Ice-T-as-detective in small doses. Right now, Law & Order: Criminal Intent is onâ€”Detective Goren hounds his suspect, trips him up in his own lies, as the violins warble in the background, as Detective Eames adds nothing to the investigation, as usual. In any iteration, I knew what to expect from Law & Order, particularly with the original: the police arrest their man (or woman), DA Jack McCoy gets angry because the police violated the suspectâ€™s rightsâ€”digging for evidence without a warrant, interrogating him after he invoked his right to an attorneyâ€”and once the dramatized legal wrangling is over, the criminal either goes to prison or beats the case.
The last show I followed religiously was HBOâ€™s The Wire; since then, sitcoms have come and gone, doctor and cop dramas rise and fall, leaving behind a trail of cliches, and reality shows, admittedly, try to allure me into their worlds. Three come to mind: Intervention, Heavy and The First 48. I watch them, wondering why Iâ€™m watching them, why I care about a meth addict goaded into treatment by a family he shamed and derided for years; why I care about a four-hundred-pound woman looking to reverse the self-inflicted damage done to her body; why I care about police departments hunting down murderers before the first 48 hours. After which, the murdererâ€™s chances of escape increases, leaving John Walsh the unenviable task of tracking the killer down. The reenactmentsâ€”also called skitsâ€”on Americaâ€™s Most Wanted havenâ€™t improved in quality over the years. They seem like wastelands for C-actor bumpkins looking for a way to break into the industry. Iâ€™ve never seen a leading actor at Sundance say, â€œYeah dude, AMW was my big break.â€ I hold out hope.
I donâ€™t watch as much television as I did in the past. I feel guilty at times whenever I think of my upbringing: if the hours spent watching television were instead devoted to reading books, I wouldnâ€™t feel so behind. So many classics I still need to read: Moby Dick, various Shakespeare works, the genius prose of David Foster Wallace. Iâ€™d like to blame my parents, since I fail to recall a time when they shoved a book into my hands, turned off the television, and said, â€œRead, boy. Youâ€™re gonna be a writer some day!â€ No, instead they encouraged outside timeâ€”play time, I think itâ€™s calledâ€”in part because of my weight, in part because I was a homebody. Iâ€™m still comfortable in my own space. I prefer it, although Iâ€™d like a closer proximity to a metropolis: a place with yoga studios (though I donâ€™t yoga) and art galleries and snarky hipster moms pushing strollers the width of Hummers. A place like Tokyo, highlighted by Sophia Coppolaâ€™s Lost In Translation. I want to live like that, in a place like that. The closest metropolis to me is Philadelphia. It has its beauty, its artsy sideâ€”Philly ainâ€™t Tokyo, though. Letâ€™s leave it at that.
Reading a book is actually difficult work for me. I donâ€™t know why. Iâ€™m not dyslexic nor do I suffer from some other learning disability. Itâ€™s a malady of the imagination: I see the words, I read and process them, though sometimesâ€”more times than I care to admitâ€”my imagination misfires. I canâ€™t see the characters completely. No matter how spectacular the description, the character is a silhouette with gender features, maybe a light jacket for the Spring breeze the author introduced into his world, and I never get the hairdos right, even when the author failed to say â€œHe is baldâ€ or â€œShe has dreadlocks.â€ If sheâ€™s a black character, I automatically give her dreadlocks or a small afro; if Iâ€™m feeling adventurous, a Halle Berry haircut.
But itâ€™s always wrong: the author gives her an afro and I think â€œWell, is that a Pam Grier afro or a Shaft afro? It makes all the difference!â€ When I write, my inclination is to associate characters with the looks of a known person. Itâ€™s lazy work according to craft, and I remove the crutch during revision, but if the reader knows the difference between Pam Grierâ€™s afro and Shaftâ€™s afro, then thatâ€™s the reader I love. Itâ€™s who Iâ€™m pursuing in my work. I make the association as a kind of ice-breaker, to show weâ€™re on the same wavelength. Stories, according to craft, donâ€™t work that way. As a reader, I have to fill in the blanksâ€”which is fine, except the blanks remain so when my imagination goes on sabbatical. As a result, I always feel like Iâ€™ve missed something. I settle for anything, even a pedantic analysis of the storyâ€™s theme: oh, theyâ€™re in love, but they canâ€™t be togetherâ€”I can dig it.
Is this televisionâ€™s fault? Or images in general? I was born in 1981: I literally grew up with cable, with Sega and Nintendo, with home movies on VHS tapes and photos my brothers clipped out of rap magazines. They pasted MC Lyte, Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh to the wall; the emcees were adorned with chunky gold chains, with Adidas jumpsuits or Air Jordans. They posed in a frozen performer state: mouth agape, microphone in hand or hand over the turntable, with drops of sweat on their foreheads or necks. Doug E. Fresh sampled the theme from Inspector Gadget, a cartoon I watch with the confounded look I now give Intervention, Heavy, and The First 48. A goofy detective with a helicopter propeller jutting from his gray hat: I wonder if the animators smoked dope and shamed and derided their families and required of them interventions. â€œJohnny, please. You stole all my gold and invented a mentally disabled robocop. Please Get Help!!â€
I can see Inspector Gadget in my head, but not Junot Diazâ€™s Oscar, who was fat and nerdy and uncomfortable and Latino: when all else fails, I give Big Pun or Fat Joe a pocket protector and Dungeons of Dragons knowledge, maybe a little acne, because I canâ€™t see what Diaz saw. Some would suggest this is the freedom literature affords, that a well-crafted story leaves enough space for the readerâ€™s imagination. I think I want specificity. Iâ€™m used to it. Iâ€™m trying to break the habit, to convince myself that Iâ€™m not missing anything when I read a novel. I imagine the characters and their environments as best as I can, but Iâ€™m used to the ease and immediacy of imagery.
Murakami gives me a resplendent Tokyo, Shibuya Station and allâ€”but Sophia Coppola beams Tokyo directly into my brain. I see Bill Murrayâ€™s frumpy, dissatisfied stance; I see Scarlett Johanssonâ€™s grace (and ass via pink, sheer panties); I see Tokyoâ€™s fantastic arcades and titty bars and golf courses. I come from a life of images, not words. Enjoying and creating temporal art isnâ€™t impossible, but itâ€™s hard work. Readers may not be lazy, per seâ€”just wired differently. Maybe I should try picture books or pop-up books. Here is Sam entering his bedroom; his face is sad because Janet, his girlfriend, appears to be getting it from behind by John, Samâ€™s best friend and former animator. Sam grits his teeth; see Sam reach for a blunt object.Â I have no idea what Sam, Janet or John looks like. They all have Shaft afros.