My Lonely Room – A Review

This book is a prequel to The Vandals. As such, it has inspired me to go back and read it again. And although classified “Y.A.,” I consider My Lonely Room a fine, worthwhile read for men or boys of any age.

The setting is Queens, New York, at the dawn of the rock & roll era. A young outcast lives in partially self-imposed exile due to selfish parents; a sadistic landlady; cliquish kids doing what kids do (only worse, in the big city); and social ineptitude deriving from arrested development.

You don’t have to be Polish, a baby-boomer, or from the Big Apple, to relate to Jimmy Yadenik. Those details merge to form a fascinating backdrop for this tale of a boy becoming a young man, and learning to play the cards he was dealt.

I should clear something up: 1950s street gangs are not to be confused with biker gangs. The latter began as clubs made up of drunken, brawling WWII vets out to have fun and abuse their newly attained civilian freedoms. Later they evolved into something uglier, but that’s another story.

Nor are 1950s street gangs to be confused with later gangs, which were more like fiefdoms in the feudal drug trade, where life is a perpetual nightmare for everyone involved–or even just in proximity.

The gang members of the 1950s were teenagers, mostly. A gang was comprised of kids from the same neighborhood, and was not envisioned as a criminal enterprise by the founders. The members often shared interests (rock & roll, for instance; girls; maybe cars), but what united them was a mutual need for protection. Protection from what? Other kids, mostly.

It’s amazing to me, but a lot of big city folks spend their entire lives in a single neighborhood. It’s been that way for a while. Kids like Jimmy Yadenik didn’t look for trouble; but when they strayed into a different ‘hood, they often found it.

Kids behave like pack animals anywhere, but stack them like sardines in tenaments, and the violence multiplies. Faced with this situation, it’s only natural kids would seek safety in numbers. Or, as the Jets sang in West Side Story:

When you’re a Jet let ‘em do what they can

You got brothers around; you’re a family man.

You’re never alone; you’re never disconnected.

You’re home with your own when company’s expected.

You’re well protected.

Sometimes a gang from the next ‘hood would invade yours. Sometimes there were two gangs in the same ‘hood. This is how turf wars got started.

Also, don’t confuse this subculture with the pampered Baby Boomer generation as a whole. Yes, midwestern James Dean wannabes dressed like thugs and tried to act tough during these years, but their “rebellion” came from petulance. No other generation in history had it so easy; had been given everything on a silver platter (except discipline); or had so little to be angry about. “Rebel without a cause” is an apt description for most of them. Or, as Marlon Brando’s character put it in The Wild One when asked what he was rebelling against: “What have ya got?”

But in the asphalt jungle, teenagers weren’t coddled, and didn’t enjoy lives of largesse. Jimmy Yadenik has a father who never bothered to teach him anything at all, much less how to be a man. The father is absent physically and emotionally. The only worth he recognizes in his son is the labor potential, so Jimmy can contribute to the weekly beer fund and the parties at the Polish Club. Jimmy’s mother is a little more humane, but still a lot more take than give. Case in point: they put Jimmy in a foster home so he wouldn’t be an inconvenience to them. As the story begins, Jimmy has just recently come to live with them again.

Perhaps the saddest part of Jimmy’s story is the way he latches onto some advice from a teacher. She gives him a truly underwhelming sample of generic, non-commital social worker talk, and it motivates him. It’s evidently the most encouragement he’s ever received from any adult in his life.

Not especially charismatic or athletic, how is Jimmy supposed to make friends with angry, messed-up kids from other dysfuntional families at school or in the neighborhood?

He acquires a girlfriend who does most of the heavy lifting for him in Love’s Learning Curve, for one thing. (If only all girlfriends could be so straightforward and accomodating.)

Secondly, he finds brotherhood (of sorts) via some streetwise boys who take him under their wings, and help him along in his journey. (If only all de facto orphans could find this kind of peer support.)

It’s certainly not the best path to manhood a boy could take, but it beats the azimuth set for him by his parents and teachers.

If you were born some time within the last half-century, you will probably find something in My Lonely Room that resonates with you.

Behind the Scenes at Sun Records

At great sacrifice, this transcript of a backroom creative meeting was obtained.

In a smoke-free zone in the bowels of Homowood, Commiefornia, a diverse gathering of creative consultants discusses a potential TV show.

MS BUTCHCUT: So, this series would have a lot going for it. We could provide a glimpse into the Dark Ages (the 1950s), and expose how backwards everything was. Yet at the same time, rock & roll symbolizes this enormous, unstoppable spirit of rebellion–against the borgeois; against materialism; the patriarchy…and it was rising up to challenge societal norms. Of course, it’s an opportunity to tell the story in a different way–highlighting the strong women behind the scenes who never got credit, until now. And we know white people will watch it, because it’s got Elvis.

PUFF TRIGGLY: Did you get my ideas for the series treatment? I printed them and put them on your desk, so…

MS BUTCHCUT: I did get them, and you’re right: vanilla white men have been getting the credit for everything far too long. But I don’t think this is quite the show to highlight the societal contributions of transgender necrophiliacs. We’ve got at least one Strong Female Character in the treatment, who we’ll gradually reveal as the one who  really held Sun Records together and made it work. But we’ve got to be subtle about it, because the rubes have been complaining about Strong Female Characters lately.

DUNNING: Who told them TV is not reality? Ah d-d-d-d-d-they must have hired somebody to screen our shows. Somebody who can see past the beer in their lap. (Laughs.)

KRUGER: Strictly speaking, it’s sort of not likely that they could have noticed what we were doing on their own. For sort of 50 years, they sort of never caught on before now. Most likely, this is, strictly speaking, part of the fake news epidemic that sort of mobilized the Flyover Puritans to start criticizing our effort to be inclusive.

DUNNING:  Ah why d-d-d-don’t we just solve it like we usually do: have the actress playing the secretary show some skin? I mean, she should have big boobs; nice legs–that’s a given. Presto! No complaints about her being the brains of the operation.

PUFF TRIGGLY: Sexist! How dare you!

MS BUTCHCUT: Really, people. It’s the current year. That’s just offensive on so many levels. But certainly: we’ll make her sexual. We’ll show Sam Phillips cheating on his wife with her…

NECKBEARD: But, like, later we’ll have her experiment with lesbianism, right? It’ll be perfect!

MS BUTCHCUT: No. Again, we have to be careful. So ix-nay, at least for the first season.

PUFF TRIGGLY: But that’s not inclusive. That’s not inclusive at all. So…

KRUGER: Exactly. That’s why, strictly speaking, I still say we should sort of have Elvis be gay.

DUNNING: I d-d-d-d-don’t know if we can pull that off.

MS BUTCHCUT: Elvis is a sacred cow. I’m afraid we’re stuck with a white male heterosexual character who’s not a bufoon, a rapist, a murderer, wife-beater, terrorist or criminal. Two such characters, actually–we can’t reinvent Johnny Cash, either. They’re both still too popular in Flyover Country for us to stray too far from that rigid-minded mythos. But at least we can make their fathers reprehensible. Of course their mothers will be wise, moral, and intuitive.

KRUGER: Please tell me we’re not canning my work on Jerry Lee Lewis. I mean, with all their sexual hangups, the rubes couldn’t possibly put him up there on the same sort of pedestal as Presley and Cash.

NECKBEARD: And come on. His cousin was, like, Jimmy Swaggart.

KRUGER: Strictly speaking, Swaggart is sort of the ultimate Religious Right icon. We have a moral imperitive to sort of highlight his hypocrisy. You know how outraged the rubes get over “hypocrisy.” It’s just sort of hanging right there in front of us, sort of begging for us to play that angle to the hilt.

MS BUTCHCUT: Of course Swaggart is fair game. We can never skewer him enough. But we’re going to build that case gradually. At first we’ll concentrate on Lewis’s reprehensible rape culture.

NECKBEARD: Excuse me. Sorry. I’d like to get back to our Strong Female Character. I’ve been, like, developing this scene in my mind: Her and Phillips are in the studio, and she’s fixing something he screwed up. Then this crazed gunman bursts through the door to rob the place. White male heterosexual, of course. In fact, he should make it clear he targeted them because they “play that nigger music.” But the secretary, like, performs this roundhouse kick that knocks the gun out of his hand, and then, like, proceeds to beat the living shit out of him, while Phillips cowers, hiding somewhere.

DUNNING: Ah d-d-d-d-that’s a great scene, but it belongs in, more like, an action-oriented show.

KRUGER: Strictly speaking, shouldn’t we get back to solving the sort of lack of inclusivity?

PUFF TRIGGLY: Exactly. At the very least, one of the characters should at least be gay. So…

MS BUTCHCUT: While I know where you’re coming from, it’s just not that easy. We can’t make Presley or Cash gay. Lewis is too unsympathetic a character, so it can’t be him. Same with Swaggart. Colonel Tom Parker is despicable, so he’s out. You know how the bozos in Flyover Country are fanatic about a rigid view of history where a given narrative should conform to known facts and all that reptillian-brain framing.

NECKBEARD: Maybe, like, we could bring in Little Richard for a few episodes. Show how he was victimized for his lifestyle.

KRUGER: But, sort of more importantly, show him in at least one love scene.

DUNNING: I d-d-d-d-don’t think Little Richard ever recorded for Sun Records.

MS BUTCHCUT:  He didn’t. And again, all that historical accuracy crap is an obsession for the target audience. We won’t be able to slip that into the first season.

KRUGER: So…what you’re sort of saying is…all we can do in the first season is inject one Strong Female Character; show how nuclear families was oppression of superior women by inferior men; show some vanilla adultery by Phillips; some vanilla fornication by Lewis; a little bit of racism here and there; and strictly speaking, that’s sort of it?

MS BUTCHCUT: Well, I’m afraid so, yes. I mean, aside from, you know, a bunch of dramatized biographical plot points for the rubes.

PUFF TRIGGLY: But…but…but…sympathetic gay characters!

 

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The Last Kingdom (Seasons 1, 2) – a Review

I almost didn’t even give this series a chance. Hollywood and television have me so gunshy, I doubted they could produce anything that won’t nauseate me. And the BBC, from what little I know, is brimming over with cultural Marxixts just like every other long-established media/entertainment organization. To trust them with anything even remotely historical? Forget it.

Then I found out it was based on Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales. I’ve read some of Cornwell’s fiction (Agincourt and a few of the Sharpe novels). He’s a competent storyteller and he doesn’t butcher historical flow or details enough for me to take exception. So, “Once more into the breach,” sez I.

I guess you could say I semi-binge-watched the first two seasons on Netflix–finishing them in about a week or so.

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The Premise:

In the late 9th Century, a Saxon noble and his heir are slain by a band of Danes a’viking through Bebbanburg in Northumbria. The lone surviving son was baptized and named Uhtred before being captured by the Danes.

Earl Ragnar spares the boy’s life, respecting his courage and truculence, and raises him as a Dane along with a Saxon girl named Brita. After growing into a man, and losing his adopted family (via treachery from other Danes), he becomes a vassal of Alfred, king of Wessex…”the last kingdom.” (Vikings have run roughshod over all other kingdoms in the British isles.)

Relevance:

With all the current brouhaha by the “alt-right” about race, immigration/invasion and “Magic Dirt” vs. “Magic DNA,” this series couldn’t be more timely. Genetically, Uhtred is a Saxon; yet his attitude, disposition, customs, etc. are decidedly Danish. This duality makes him an outsider in both worlds (not because everyone on both sides reject him out-of-hand, but because his ambition to rule Beddanburg causes him to side against the invaders; while his Danish weltanshuang motivates a contemptuous disdain for the Saxons and their ways.) Though he wields completely different weapons for a completely different type of warfare, Uhtred during the viking expeditions is not unlike Thomas Sowell during the USA’s present Cold Civil War, in that they are both slogging through similar conundrums–their demographic profile contradicting their deeply-rooted belief system.

The Religious Aspect:

Although Islam and other religions get a pass, Christianity is universally hated by the string-pullers with the monopoly on resources in the entertainment industry. It would be foolish to assume Christianity would get a fair shake in this series–especially given the behavior of the Roman Catholic Church through history. And, the historical backdrop for Last Kingdom smacks of religious conflict. The peoples of present-day Great Britain were Catholic during the period depicted, while the Northmen were still unmitigated pagans. How could you tell a story in this setting that ignored the religious aspect?

So of course the series takes cheap shots at Christianity, through the nominally Christian characters. But it is usually understated enough to ignore.

Historical Accuracy:

Alfred of Wessex and some other characters are real historical figures, while Uhtred and many others are fictional. Historians know a lot about Alfred because his life is very well-documented for the time. But as for the rest…well, it was the Dark Ages, folks. We are familiar with some generalities of the period…that the Vikings were raising hell in western Europe, for instance (and allegedly are the culprits who made London Bridge fall down); that the Catholic Church was growing in power; that the traditions of Roman civilization had given way to the early stages of feudalism…but there are just too many big, gaping holes in the historical record to ascertain specifics about much of what went on.

It wasn’t a question of if, but when the creative team would unleash their arsenal of ludicrous Grrrl Power tropes in the series. Surprisingly, the obligatory butt-kicking Womyn Warriors didn’t rear their preposterous heads until late in the First Season. Even more surprising: this revisionist hogwash was dialed down quickly enough to prevent me from giving up on the series. I truly am curious what caused the correction, but relieved nonetheless.

The series creators brought a technique to the screen I consider ingenious: When revealing geographic locations via subtitles, the ancient name is displayed first, then it transforms into the name it is known by today. As someone fascinated by the evolution of language, I really appreciate this gimmick.

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Other Stuff:

I’m not an expert on Dark Ages melee techniques, but it seems to me when you have a shield and your enemy is swinging a sword or axe at you, you would use the shield to block or deflect the blow. Evidently, though, the shield is just an ornament, and you block a swinging sword with your own sword. Nevermind that banging two metal blades together repeatedly converts both of them to crude, dull saws–this is what BBC fight correographers have decided is the logical tactic.

It’s easy to identify the important characters on this show, because they don’t wear helmets, even in combat. I’ve remarked before about the wisdom of refusing to protect your head when weapons will be streaking toward it, so I won’t completely rehash it here.

Suffice it to say that Uhtred’s brain usually operates like somebody’s who has fought in many a melee without a helmet. Watching him navigate the ethno-political waters of 9th Century Britain is like watching the Johnson Administration navigate through the Vietnam conflict…in slow motion. For the entire first season, it’s a safe bet that in any given situation, Uhtred will choose the most  idiotic course of action possible, then follow-up with a rash decision to make matters even worse. In the second season he seems to have learned a little self-discipline, thankfully, and dramatic conflict is generated in other ways.

I almost titled this post Mascara Kingdom because, for a few episodes, several of the male actors were painted with black eye shadow. It stuck out like a mosh pit at a royal ball. Seems like one character in Game of Thrones was made up that way too, if I remember correctly. Don’t know what the purpose is, but I’m glad they seem to have given up on that effort–it looked pretty stupid.

I might watch a third season of Daredevil if it comes to Netflix, but no other TV show has proven worth my time in several years. This show I plan to watch more of–and might even read the books it was based on, if that tells you anything.