They’re coming for you, David!

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

A teacher at the school I work at is going back for her degree (yay higher education!) and asked me to help her with a literature assignment. So I completely re-wrote it. Of course I edited hers, gave her notes on grammar and style, and ideas of additional themes to explore. This is what I came up with more or less. Here ya go! Enjoy!

Please note that I’ve edited and added to this piece for this blog. It was a bit vanilla and just hitting command c command v isn’t very creative.

In his autobiographical essay “Nuit of the Living Dead” from his book Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim , David Sedaris allows the reader an intimate glimpse into his life, which at this particular moment happens to be absolutely fucking horrifying! It is a hysterically dark comedy, juxtaposing an incredibly dark moment in the narrators life with the common and relatable but uncomfortable feeling of forced intimacy with strangers.  Using this juxtaposition, the narrator is able to gain an outside perspective of just how strange of a situation he has placed him in and how that may look to an outsider. It also allows the reader to question how a complete outsider might observe them. 

Some summer Sedaris is living in the French country with his boyfriend, Hugh, who happens to be out of town this particular evening. Sedaris is alone, an American, in an isolated part of France with only a tenuous understanding of the language. He is completely out of his element. In addition to being a fish out of water, he is living in a creepy house. A house that, legend has it, has a very gruesome past. Add this to the fact that it is in the middle of no where, you have a recipe for a haunted house story or three. 

I never believed that a burglar starved to death in a chimney. I don’t believe that his skeleton dropped onto the hearth. But i do believe in spooks, especially when Hugh is away and i’m left alone in the country. During the war our house was occupied by Nazis. The former owner died in the bedroom, as did the owner before her […]

This doesn’t bother David. No, what does bother him is the graveyard down the street because he is terrified of zombies. Yes, he does admit the logical reasoning is and he is damn funny doing it.

It’s silly, I know, but what frightens me is the possibility of zombies, former townspeople wandering about in pus covered nightgowns. There’s a church graveyard a quarter of a mile away, and were its residents to lurch out the gate and take a left, ours would be the third house they would stumbled upon. Lying in bed with all the lights on, I drawed up contingency plans on the off chance they might come a-callin’.

The author also lets us in on his personal life in a way that is crucial to the major plot point. The contention between the narrator and his boyfriend to have mouse traps in the home. David doesn’t want them, but Hugh insists and David allows given Hugh take care of the casualties. Skip to some summer evening in Normandy. Our narrator hears a noise that sounded like something dragging, rather than rolling, which was strange because the reason the couple had gotten the traps was and attempt to get rid of the sound of the mice rolling nuts down the gutters of the house. This is where things go from bad to worse to weird.

English: a rat Français : un rat

The problem with drowning an animal – even a crippled one – is that it does not want to cooperate. This mouse had nothing going for him, and yet he struggled, using what, I don’t really know. I tried to hold him down with a broom handle but it wasn’t the right tool for the job and he kept breaking free and heading back to the surface. A creature that determined, you want to let it have its way, but this was for the best, whether he realized it or not.  

Just as our well-intentioned if not neurotic narrator has got the vermin pinned to the bottom of the bucket as he has determined is the only way to kill a small creature with a strong will to live, he is surprised by a van full of odd Dutch “or maybe Scandinavian” tourists pulled up next to the very porch where he was committing mouse-drowning. Contextually compassionate mouse-drowning. David is momentarily distracted by the visitors humorous accent and ignorance of the surrounding area and invites the stranger into his house to look at a detailed map of the area that he has inside.

He remembers the scene he had abandoned to assist the lost travelers as he and his guest arrive on the porch landing. The Dutch or Scandinavian assesses the scene and attempts to find a common ground.

“Oh,” he said. “I see that you have a little swimming mouse.” His tone did not invite explanation, and so I offered none. “My wife and I have a dog, “ he continued. “But we did not bring it with us. Too much trouble.”

I nodded and he held out his map, a Xerox of a Xerox marked with arrows and annotated in a language I did not recognize. “I think I’ve got something better in the house,” I said, and at my invitation, he followed me inside.

As soon as this European of ambiguous origin is in his home, he realizes that the first impression that this complete stranger has is that of mouse drowning in a bucket without explanation. As David leads his guest into the living area, he realizes that many of the various knickknacks, publications, novelties and other oddities that, contextually and culturally are perfectly appropriate, but without situational and cultural context an outsider could very well make the mistake of misjudging the narrator’s character.

An unexpected and unknown visitor allows you to see a familiar place as if for the very first time. I’m thinking of the meter reader rooting through the kitchen at eight a.m., the Jehovah’s Witness suddenly standing in your living room. “Here,” they seem to say. “Use my eyes. The focus is much keener.” I had always thought of our main room as cheerful, but walking through the door, I saw that I was mistaken. It wasn’t dirty or messy, but like being awake when all decent people are fast asleep, there was something slightly suspicious about it.

Graphic French true crime magazines were piled on the table. David had been casually reading them to help improve his poor French and one of the issues was open to the crossword puzzle with the French word for VAGINA being the only one filled in because, well, that was the only word David knew. He celebrated this small victory by drawing exclamation points in the margins. A puzzle in the shape of an three dimensional anatomically human laid eviscerated on the living room table. These are just examples of the oddities that adorn David and Hugh’s home.

After the Dutch or Scandinavian tourist has had a good look around the house (after having witnessed the mouse drowning, mind you), David shows the stranger the location of the area he is looking for on a detailed map he keeps in his home. After he clarifies the directions, he offers what American’s would call “Southern hospitality”.

The route was fairly simple, but still I offered him the map, knowing he would feel better if he could refer to it on the road. “Oh no,” he said, “I couldn’t,” but I insisted, and watched from the porch as he carried it down the stairs and into the idling van. “If you have any problems, you know where I live,” I said. “You and your friends can spend the night here if you like. Really, I mean. I have plenty of beds.” The man in the tracksuit waved good-bye, and then he drove down the hill, disappearing behind the neighbor’s pitched roof.

Can the reader really blame the tourist for declining the narrator’s offer? David certainly made a striking first impression but it was not the type he wanted to. He gave off more of a serial killer vibe than a odd ball writer/fish out of water vibe.

What do people think when they first meet me? Or when they read my resume? Or browse my book collection? My home is very revealing. I live with my younger brother, he is a college art student and lives as such. I’m okay with that. He spent two semesters in Paris; we have a French flag flying in our foyer where we keep three bikes and and oversized vintage ashtray.

My brother is an artist, earning his BFA, so there is a gallery of my brother’s art, vintage soviet propaganda posters, movie posters and various prints on every surface of wall space of the living area. Then there is this crazy contraption. Is it an easel? I don’t know.



No excess.

The Stories of Ray Bradbury

The Stories of Ray Bradbury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever read “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury? It’s a brilliant short story (a classic of science fiction literature, in my non-expert opinion) that takes place in a dystopic future in which a family lives in a home that is not only self sustaining but also completely fulfills the needs of it’s inhabitants. It’s a Happy-life Home!

In addition to cooking and cleaning, the house makes sure its tenants are comfortable and entertained as well. It’s completely climate controlled and has been retrofitted with a super fancy nursery for the happy couple’s two mischievous rugrats. What is exceptional about this nursery is that it has the ability to simulate whatever environment the user wishes.

Essentially they have the holodeck from Star Trek as a room in their house.

Now these kids are spoiled little shits. They are developing anti-social behaviors and don’t react well to “no”. And they have genius IQs to boot.The parents are upper middle class and privileged, though they do have a sense of guilt about it and what their opulent lifestyle is doing to their children’s developing psyches.

This is when things get weird(er). Mom thinks a shrink should come check out the nursery because something fucked up is going down in there and it’s got her freaked out. There is Africa in the nursery. Nature at it’s worst. These children hadn’t conjured images of island beaches or Lewis Carol’s Wonderland, but oppressive heat, sulking lions, hovering vultures, and the faint smell of death. Believing mom is just having woman’s hysterics (this story was written in 1951), dad goes to the nursery to take a look for himself.

Indeed, he passes the threshold of the nursery and is transported to Africa. Though he knows that it is an illusion created by the house, it seems scarily real; he can smell the gaminess of the animals and hear them eating. What really freaks dad out is an old wallet that looked like it had been chewed on by beasts. It had belonged it him. Things get too real when one of the lions lunges at him and he runs like hell and bolts the door behind him.

The parents meet with a shrink. They show him the nursery, which is still projecting a simulation of the African veldt all around them. The doc analyzes the scene. He correctly guesses that the children are over indulged and disappointed by their parents. He concludes that the children are using the nursery to act out their violent fantasies. Dad admits that he didn’t let the kids go on a field trip to New York and in his concern for the kids behavior, has become more of a disciplinarian. The doctor breaks it down for the desperate parents.

Where they had a Santa Claus now they have a Scrooge. Children prefer Santa. You’ve let this room and house replace you and your wife in your children’s affections. This room is their mother and father, far more important in their lives than their real parents. And now you’ve come to shut it off. No wonder there’s hatred here.

Deciding the the house has made the family lazy and spoiled, the parents decide they will turn the Happy-Life Home off for a while. Brush their own teeth, cook, make their beds and what not. They would take a vacation. The little demons do not take the news well. They throw a hysterical tantrum before convincing their parents to come enjoy the nursery one last time. Mom and dad see no harm in it and go to the nursery to join the children only to find the nursery empty. Expect for that eerily realistic veldt scene and it’s lions…

A family friend comes to take them all to the airport only to find the children sitting alone, drinking tea, the sound of their parents screaming in the distance.

There are so many facets of this story that fascinate me and I could analyze them all, but since I am responding to a writing prompt, “The Veldt” is an interesting look at the culture of excess and the psychological toll it takes. Not only on individuals, but culturally, and socially. The family in the story had integrated into their lives a piece of technology that ensures physical comfort and contentment. They don’t need to prepare meals, do their laundry, or even bathe themselves. Their Happy-life Home maintains perfect homeostasis. Without meals to plan or chores to do, the parents feel useless. The house even entertains the children for them, with it’s state of the art virtual reality nursery.

Maybe I don’t have enough to do. Maybe I have time to think too much[…] I feel like I don’t belong here. The house is  wife and mother and nursemaid.

The sentiment is not unfounded, as the children’s view of their parent’s existence expresses itself through the nursery, foreshadowed to by the discovery of the wallet in the virtual Africa. The children had also been harboring rage towards the parents for keeping them from getting something they wanted- at trip to New York. That incident made these too-smart-for-their-own-good kids realize that Happy-life Home provided everything they needed. They had never need disciplined before. Parents had only existed to provide.

We’ve given the children everything the ever wanted. Is this our reward-secrecy and disobedience?”

Who was is said, “Children are carpets, they should be stepped on occasionally”? We’ve never lifted a hand. They’re insufferable-let’s admit it. They come and go when they like; they treat us as if we were offspring. There’re spoiled and we’re spoiled.

In a way, the children and the home were dependent on each other. Bradbury leaves it up to the reader to decide whether the house is sentient and can make the projections in the nursery a reality. If this is so, killing the parents would allow the house to remain plugged in and thus “live”, validating the mother’s fears that she is purposeless.

But the parents became coddled to the point of uselessness by their own want for comfort and pleasure. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on technological upgrades to a house that took care of all their base needs, indulged every want of their children and never disciplined them. They literally gave their children everything and when the children’s ability to live excessively privileged lives was threatened, they removed the threat.

“Perhaps too much of everything is as bad as too little.” – Edna Ferber