Monday, February 2, 2009

The Life-Changing Nothing

There is a neat website, Making Light, that repurposes or originates their own content, and I was led to it by another interesting website, The article that led me to Making Light is by a fellow named Peter Kleisler. I really hope his American Cargo Cult gets wider dissemination, because it takes an excellent look at the American Way of Not Thinking Too Much, and articulates it all really well, and in nice, short, punchy sentences that I can use for my own ends.

But that's not what I'm writing about today. Making Light also had a story about how a small thing can change your life. The story is about a guy (speaking to a high school audience), how he killed his best friend while driving drunk. And that when he got back to school, he was pretty much shunned by everyone. At a point where he was thinking of ending it all, one of his fellow students casually offered him a stick of gum. "The gum," he said, "saved my life."

So Making Light suggested a topic: how did something small change your life? For me, it was a movie. I was living with two guys, paying a tiny rent to stay in a small bedroom while I worked my way from $4.10/hour all the way up to $4.35/hour as a gas station attendant.  I was twenty-five years old, no prospects, not much education (on paper), and neither ambition nor any sort of belief in myself. I wasn't suicidal so much as terrified. I wouldn't have had the courage to pull the trigger, any more than I had the courage to go out and do something with myself.

The Cotati Cinema ran two screens and charged a $1. Which, even in the mid-eighties, was a bargain. On my two days off (in the middle of the week), I went to see Runaway Train, with John Voight and Eric Roberts as escaped convicts (in Alaska) who get themselves locked in the back end of a four-engine stack, whose conductor has a heart attack after opening the throttle up. The engines basically go off on their own, and the two convicts are stuck trying to figure out what to do, and how to get off without being recaptured. Rebecca deMornay does a decidedly non-sexy turn as Sara, the Hostler Helper, and she's the only one on the train with any knowledge of how they work. The movie is preachy in many ways, but I hadn't heard any of these sermons before.

Manny (John Voight): Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger.


Sara: Hold me. I don't want to die alone. 
Manny: We all die alone. 

I don't know why, but a lot of this stuff that Manny spouted during the movie really inspired me to re-think my own capabilities. To look at myself, not from my father's perspective, but from no perspective in particular. To come out from under the layer of filters I was living in.

I paid my fare to see that film four times in the next week.