Every now and then I watch a *critically acclaimed* AmerICKan film to see if Hollywood’s thirty year decline into stupidity has been reversed. Based on the Academy Award nominated The Descendants, the Tinsel Town slide into imbecility continues. This confused dramedy tells the pseudo-poignant story of Matt King, a soon-to-be fabulously wealthy Hawaiian landowner whose life is turned upside down after his wife suffers a tragic accident which leaves her in a vegetative state (how many mediocre Hollywood scripts of the last twenty years are dependent upon the tragic accident gimmick?). King is saddled with two bratty daughters whom he must somehow learn to parent in the absence of his wife (not that her absence could matter that much, anyway, considering how obnoxious the daughters already are). King is played by movie starGeorge Clooney, who tries hard to look perplexed and overwhelmed--for this he was nominated for Best Actor. OK. Anyway, in another stale Hollywood plot twist, Clooney’s King learns his comatose wife has been unfaithful (not while she was comatose, no, she was committing infidelities before her tragic accident. . .but having a comatose wife carrying on an affair would have been a refreshing plot twist), and thus instead of feeling guilty for neglecting his marriage and his family, as he had felt when his wife was just a vegetable, and not a slut vegetable, he now feels victimized. Clooney’s King soon learns there’s no hope for his brain dead whore, and the plug will have to be pulled. The movie wanders on, with Clooney’s King having to tell family and friends the sad news, while he also searches for the man who was fucking his wife. Inexplicably, if this were the real world, but for forced comedic purposes in the celluloid world, Clooney’s King is accompanied on both missions by his bratty daughters and the oldest bratty daughter’s moronic boyfriend. Lots of inappropriate behavior ensues. The Descendants is a bizarre mix of tear-jerker sentimentality and Apatow-esque rude. I never could quite figure out the point of this thing, other than to refute the old maxim: a slice off a cut loaf is never missed. Adding to the film’s woes are the wooden acting of Clooney’s supporting cast, beginning with the girl who plays the oldest bratty daughter, a mannequin named Shailene Woodley. Woodley is blandly attractive--she looks as if she could have been a swimsuit model from Target’s Memorial Day circular, but she lacks personality and delivers her admittedly awful lines as if she were the one in a coma. Even worse is a fellow named Nick Krause, who plays the bratty daughter’s simpleton boyfriend. His character is so dumb, ill-mannered and rude, he’d even be shunned at Ridgemont High. One supposes the lame script intends for this character to be some sort of lovable dimwit, but Krause plays him with all the subtlety of a claw hammer. The only thing more baffling than the point of this horribly off-key soap opera is what the fawning critics saw in this misfiring mess.
Day after day I drive past this downtrodden damsel. I have to do more. I have to do more than give a one or a five every now and then. She troubles my spirit.
I have compassion. But I also have morbid curiosity. Here’s a chance to reflect the love of Christ. No. I don’t know what that means--the love of Christ--it’s become a cliché. Here’s a chance to minister to Christ. Of course, my motives aren’t pure. There’s something about this sad-sack’s depression, her forlorn demeanor, her surrender to misery, that attracts me. Not sexually. I mean, there is not an extraordinary sexual attraction. There is, of course, the always present ordinary sexual attraction. . .in that I would fuck anybody, given the chance. But I must be given the chance. . .meaning there is no attraction present that would cause me to work for a chance to fuck her. Ordinarily, we will fuck anybody--given the chance. But we are rarely given the chance, so we live and die having fucked relatively few, as most people aren’t worth the bother.
Anyway, this roadside supplicant’s despair appeals to me. I imagine myself sick and tired, chained by responsibility to this mortal coil. But every time I drive past this doleful creature, I realize I’m only at the beginning of my descent--I have to fail MORE before I can genuinely welcome cancer or a lightning bolt. The beggar woman’s thorough defeat is seductive. As the Sodomites had a carnal lust for the angels of the Lord, I have a spiritual lust for the fallen angel of I-94. Her broken spirit is admirable. It is the gateway to the Kingdom. So as I drive past, I decide to feed one of the least of Christ’s. I will feed her body, and in return, she will feed my soul.
I park in Maple Village and walk back to the Jackson Road exit. The pathetic panhandler seems wary as I approach.
“Hey, how you doing?” I ask as I hand her a five.
She stares at me with her usual blank expression, then a flicker of recognition, as they say, seems to cross her heavily made-up face.
“I haven’t seen you in a while,” she says, taking the five.
“I’ve been gone for about ten days. You OK?”
“Yeah. Kind of.”
“You want to go get some lunch? There’s a Wendy’s down Jackson. I got my car over there, and I can bring you back when we’re done.”
“I’m not allowed to leave like that, cuz, I don’t know, I was in the paper--I don’t know if you read it in the paper?”
“No,” I lie.
“This guy had offered me some work a couple weeks ago when I was standing here and I like got in his car to go with him and. . .he attacked me.”
“Oh, gee, I’m sorry to hear that.”
I notice the people driving past, staring at us. How many of them read the story in the paper? Maybe they figure I’m trying to pull a similar stunt? Am I?
“I reported it to the Ann Arbor police you know, and then they told me I could stand here but I couldn’t go with anybody. Not that I wouldn’t appreciate the food or anything, I just can’t afford not to stand here and make what I need to make so that I have a place to sleep, so. . .”
“I understand. No problem. What happened, anyway, to cause you to be out here like this in the first place?”
“Um, I was working at IHOP on Carpenter Road in Ypsi, got in a fight with my manager, got suspended for two days, went to come back to work and was told I was fired.”
“That’s terrible,” I say, thinking her story is not nearly as tragic as I had hoped.
“You know I was a waitress, I counted on the money I made every day. I lost my apartment. It was eight hundred twenty five dollars a month, you know? You know, I had a little bit of money saved up, but not much. It’s me, my mom and my daughter. It’s like, how much can I really save? Eight hundred and twenty five dollars a month?”
“Where are you staying now?”
“I been staying at the Harmony House out in Ypsi, you know? This guy charges me forty five bucks a night.”
Forty-five a night? I wonder if she realizes that’s way more than eight twenty five a month? And the Harmony House is a dump. Crack whores ply their trade there.
“If I can’t make the forty five, I’ve got two friends, one’s on Section 8, so I can’t stay with them, but if I don’t make enough money for the hotel room, then they’re like my last resort for a place to at least flop my head for a night with my baby, and, you know, I don’t want to burn them out. I can’t let them lose their Section 8 because I need a place to stay, it’s so hard to get on Section 8, so I only sleep there when it’s absolutely necessary, and then, there’s tent city, but I don’t want to take my kid there, she’d be so scared.”
“Yeah, that would be awful,” I say, thinking the Harmony House is a thousand times more frightening than tent city.
A wave of depression rolls over me because her story is so lacking in pathos. The story of a pancake house hothead who couldn’t kiss the manager’s ass. She’s not the punching bag I’d hoped she’d be, the punching bag I needed her to be to lead me to the love of Christ.
Still, I’m here, might as well try to make the best of it.
“I come out this way every day to pick up my kids at school, and I see you standing out here, and I wonder what happened, and if you are all right. I hope God will take care of you. Are you a Christian or anything? You got a church you could go to?”
“I mean. . .” And the tears burst forth. “I don’t have anything like that,” she sobs. “Not that I don’t believe, I believe. I have some faith, you know? I pray all the time. I feel it’s all I ever do these days, is just pray.”
She dabs her eyes, the garish make-up smears into a hellish mess. I feel a little better, now. Like we are both getting somewhere.
“First Baptist Church in Ann Arbor might be able to help you out, if you got any way to get down there.”
“Bus. That’s how I get around. I had a car,” she continues to sob, “until three weeks ago. I got into a car accident on 94. Somebody hit me from behind, totaled my car.”
“You’ve had nothing but bad luck, lately,” I observe.
“Yeah, I feel like it’s just kinda. . .I don’t know,” she weeps.
“Well, let me write down my phone number. If you ever need a ride or something, call me. Or if you just need somebody to talk to. I’ll do what I can to help.”
I have a pen in my jacket pocket, but no paper. I open my wallet and take out a one, and write my phone number on that, and give it to her.
“Thank you! I feel weird about calling people, though. I don’t want them to think. . .you helped me out, I don’t want them to think I am asking for more.”
“Don’t worry about asking me for more. It won’t bother me at all.”
“Thank you. Is it all right. . .er?” she asks, holding out her hand.
“Sure, we can shake hands.”
We shake. I tell her my name, she tells me her name. We exchange God bless you's, and that’s it. I go back to my car.
It was a let down. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? It’s not her fault, of course. It’s not her fault she’s not much worse off than me. I had hoped her misery would be so total, we could meet at the doorway to the Kingdom, that I could draft in after her. But, no. I have the feeling she could get a job next week waiting tables at Denny’s, and she’d feel born again. It’s unfair of me, I know. It’s not her fault, my spiritual doldrums.
Of course, we’re never really depressed. . .We know nothing about real depression. . .We’re melancholic. . .Who wouldn’t be? Melancholic, vaguely rueful, knowing we should not be where we are, that we’ve been allowed too much, overindulged. . .And for what? With what result?--Lars Iyers, Spurious.