Abused Cats and Dead Extra-Terrestrials

On a somewhat tangential note – but one that I hope to bring around to the topic of Randy Lenz – today is my last day of school before Spring Break, a vacation that is well-deserved and much-anticipated. And a break during which I intend to catch up on my IJ reading.

In my Film class, we are currently watching E.T. I had hoped earlier in the week that there would be enough time in class today to finish the film (I even cut out the traditional “Fun Video Friday” to make sure there was time). But we all know how that Robert Burns poem goes.

So throughout class, I am watching the film and watching the clock, and quickly realizing that we are not going to finish the film. But as we inched closer to the bell ringing at 10:50, I begin to to make a horrifying realization. We are going to end this film right when E.T. dies. And sure enough, there’s poor little Gertie with tears streaming down her face, convulsing as the scientists try to zap E.T. back to life with the electric paddles. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes not just in this film, but in all of American cinema. And that is the last image these kids have etched in their brains as they head off to Spring Break.

ET-1776And I realize as I walk to me next class that I am a horrible person. Not like Randy Lenz horrible, but you gotta admit that that’s a pretty crappy thing to do to a bunch of teenagers.

But then, in a feeble attempt to pacify my guilty conscience, I started to rationalize this atrocious mistake. It’s not like E.T. actually died. I mean, he’s only a puppet. And it’s not like little Drew Barrymore is actually crying. She’s acting. And doing a damn fine job of it in that scene. So even though that image will be etched in my brain forever, and it may take years of therapy, I can appease my own guilt knowing that no extra-terrestrials nor cute little girls were actually harmed in the making of that scene. They are no more than digital images projected onto a screen.

Now here is where I try to tie this in to Randy Lenz. Randy Lenz is a horrible person. In Dave’s post yesterday, he enumerated Randy’s transgressions, giving further tangible proof of just how horrible he is. He is just plain horrible.

But like E.T. and poor little Gertie, Randy is not real. In fact, he is less real than E.T. and Gertie. E.T. is a puppet-sort-of-thing, and Gertie is a character played by a real actress, so there is some sense of reality to them, a physical manifestation. But Randy is just words, just ink on a page. There is nothing real or physical or tangible about him.

Image 79 Randy LenzAnd yet, we are moved – some quite deeply – by those ink splatters on the pages. We are disgusted, horrified, appalled as we decode those ink splatters into actual text, and then interpret that text to give it meaning, and then respond emotively to the meaning given to text.

Our man, Saint Dave (Wallace, not Laird), once said, “Good literature’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Last week I wrote about the comfort that I found in reading about the community formed in the Boston AA, and how I wished we had more safe places like that. And this week, I am understandably disturbed by the descriptions of Randy’s horrible abuse of these animals that unfortunately cross his path.

And yet, both of these extreme emotional responses come from mere ink on a page. No images. No heartbreaking performances by child actors. Just ink on a pages.

I guess that’s what makes it “good literature.”


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11 thoughts on “Abused Cats and Dead Extra-Terrestrials”

  1. I guess it’s just me, but in DFW’s hands, Boston AA is just a place where people replace getting off on A Substance with getting off on others’ agony. Joelle’s veil flutter during the Advanced Basics’ girls’ gruesome testimony seemed orgasmic. Randy, indeed.

  2. I meant to comment on your AA essay last week, but held back because you were so tender. But is once you’ve surfaced the wicked … As presented by DFW, Boston AA is a place where people replace addiction to A Substance that gets them off with getting off on others’ agony. I can’t shake the image of Joelle/Madam Psychosis’ veil fluttering as thecAdvanced Basics girl tells her gripping/gruesome story – it almost seemed orgasmic. Now I’ve said it and my own veil is fluttering.

  3. “Good literature’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Yes but and literature goes beyond comforting the disturbed; it saves lives. Lit gave me a place to go way beyond being comforted; no matter what the subject matter, including some pretty uncomfortable books, I ran away from a difficult childhood. My husband agrees that I’d never have made it out of my childhood if I I hadn’t escaped into books. I made literature my life (as have many of my interesting/disturbed colleagues) because of the lifeline good writing always throws me.

  4. “And yet, both of these extreme emotional responses come from mere ink on a page. No images. No heartbreaking performances by child actors. Just ink on a pages.”
    Thanks for a fine post, Ryan. But I must disagree/pontificate upon the above quote.
    It’s not the ink, or the film images.
    If you found a copy of IJ written in Linear B or Finnish (and did not happen to know those languages), the Randy Lenz passages would not move you, nor would any other portion of text.
    If you were visually and aurally-impaired, the film ET would mean nothing to you.
    It’s the mind that creates the emotional responses.
    And it’s the mind that AA and NA and so many other methodologies (from Vipassana to Scientology) are trying to help the practitioner learn to control. And, IMO, this struggle is the main thrust of IJ in many ways, and was the main thrust of the author’s life. After all, this lack of mental control was the driving force of the original literary declaimant of the phrase IJ — one Hamlet, by name…

    1. Far from simply ink on a page, the images and sounds in my mind of Randy swinging a frantically twisting ten-kilo burden hard against a pole, going “There”, and so on, are just as real as, if not more so than those filtered and pre-interpreted by a filmmaker’s Lenz. But take a look around; an awful lot of what you see in the real world is fake anyway. The only difficulty is in knowing the difference.

  5. The name Randy Lenz is pretty comical. Does the name Randy Lenz suggest the character sees the world through a wanton or libidinous lens, for example? I also wonder if Randy is connected to the Incandenzas somehow given JOIs interest in lenses and JOI’s dad wearing a nearly identical mustache and wig as Randy Lenz.

      1. Me neither. Thanks for the thought, Rob. Good catch! I knew a bunch of Lenz’s in high school AKA Hell #2, so it seemed “just like a name” to me…
        Clearly, you were looking at it through a more sophisticated metaphorical neuro-optical apparatus (“D’yoh, I thought he was gonna say lens.”) than me or Ryan!

    1. I thought it was made way more than obvious on page 656 that he selfishly perceives the world through a randy lens.

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