Monday, October 29, 2012

The Travolta Effect

A colleague and I were recently chatting, killing time during lunch coverage, when we do nothing much more than provide an adult presence in the cafeteria and answer the occasional student question.  As it turns out, he and I were born approximately a month apart, so there is no cultural reference we can drop that the other will not get.  Despite being born 1,500 miles apart, we had many of the same experiences and influences growing up.

This says a lot about the power of American media and the Hollywood dream machine.  As recently as a hundred years ago, if you were to speak to someone from East Texas and someone from the well-to-do northern suburbs of New York City, it might have been like comparing beings from two different planets.  Don't get me wrong -- I'm sure there are aspects of our lives and attitudes that might confound each other.  But thanks to large helpings of mass culture, we grew up with the same rock and roll bands, songs, television shows, films and iconic actors.

John Travolta would not top any of my lists, were you to ask me who my favorites are, even though I saw him recently in Pulp Fiction (for the umpteenth time), and his performance, like so many others in that film, is spectacular.  His effect -- or maybe the effect of the dream machine that created his persona -- is undeniable.  When my friend and I discuss the "Travolta Effect," we talk about things like hair and clothes, and how he took us from Kotter to Saturday Night Fever to Urban Cowboy to Grease.  

Apparently John has fallen on more difficult times of late.  Since Pulp, his career has been hit and miss. He made an embarrassing, Dianetics-inspired movie, based on L. Ron Hubbard's book, Battlefield Earth, which may have been the low-water mark.  He's had a few mini-comebacks, including a drag musical (Hairspray) and an animated mega-hit in which he voices a dog who believes he is the super-hero Hollywood has created.

More notoriously, in one of the more lurid stories this past summer, John Travolta was rumored to have received some "questionable" massages from a rather shady masseur named Luis.  Then of course, many others came out of the woodwork to say they, too, had had massages that ended up being much more than a rubdown.

I don't pretend to know any of the gory details of what went on there.  Like my friend, and most men in our demographic, I'm sure, I have turned away from the uglier aspects of John's recent travails.  I did happen to notice that Gotti, in which Travolta will play the title role of John Gotti, Sr., is in post-production.  Barry Levinson is the director, and Kelly Preston, Travolta's real-life wife, plays Victoria Gotti, the spouse of the Dapper Don.

So we'll see.  Maybe Johnny T. has one more comeback left in him.  And who knows, maybe my colleague and I will start sporting shiny Armani suits and smoking big, fat Cuban cigars, and the Travolta Effect will once again be in full force.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Little Rebel

Every now and then -- usually after playing with his friend K'Jon in after school -- our seven year old son Jackson will make a play for a pair of earrings.  The idea mortifies my wife and amuses me.  She associates piercings with thuggishness.  I shouldn't make light of her concern.  I know where it comes from.  There's a path we want our boys to walk toward, and it's one of possibilities and healthy living.  And then there's that other path -- of rebellion, that winds its way through city streets at night, through tattoo parlors and after-hours clubs.

I'm not relegating Jackson to either life just yet.  He does have a rebellious spirit, however; anyone who knows him at all can tell you that.  He's not defiant, exactly, although he certainly has those moments.  He's what Katy Perry might call a "firework."  If there's any sign of anything even slightly resembling a party breaking out, he perks right up, wanting to be first in line.  As soon as the intro beats start pumping to a popular song, his face changes, and he becomes entranced, letting the music move him -- both figuratively and literally.  He dances like a dervish, throwing himself around the space in wild abandon.

His impulsivity is probably what scares his mother so much when he starts asking for earrings.  I wonder if he'll do what I did when I was seventeen years old.  Of course, I was anything but a rebel.  Sure, I did some things that, in and of themselves, might be considered rebellious or risky, even, but I was always a momma's boy, when it came right down to it.  But that summer after my senior year, before shipping off to Syracuse University, I decided to do something that would make a statement about me.  One day, after my lawn-mowing shift at the Arbors in Rye Brook was over, I found myself in the house of a young lady I had befriended.  I can't remember the exact circumstances, but I do recall her holding my face in her hand and staring into my eyes, as the ice pack she held on my left earlobe had its desired numbing effect.  She then positioned a potato she'd cut in half behind the earlobe, and said, "Little pinch," as she worked a needle straight through my flesh and into the potato.

I left her house with a stud earring, my stomach fluttering as I imagined my mother seeing this new adornment for the first time.  Funny, it didn't occur to me to wonder about my father's reaction, and sure enough, when my dad got home and finally saw it, he shrugged and said, "Hm.  Looks pretty good."

My mother had a slightly different reaction, however.  Her initial response was, "Okay Danny, joke's over."  We enjoyed a good prank in my family, and she was sure this was one of those (or maybe, like so many occasions, she was trying to convince herself of a truth she hoped existed).  Once she'd had a close enough look to realize this was no prank, she said something unexpected.

"What's her name?" she asked.

"Who?" I replied, knowing full well who.

"The girl who did this to you."  Her voice sounded different, ringing of a dead seriousness that was new to me.

"Why do you want to know who she is?" I asked cautiously.

"So I can put a hole in her, the way she put a hole in you."

I could easily imagine the same interaction between Jackson and his mom, as well as my reaction being quite like my father's -- a shrugging acceptance.  It occurs to me now that having my mother around to help bring up this little rebel might have been a helpful thing; however, in many ways, my mother, the late Carol Runyan Fuchs, was the biggest rebel I ever knew.