The Latest Thing
Fiction

The Latest Thing

by Erik Swedlund

I decided that I would ask Stacy out before the end of the day. I started casually, asking a non-related question. Also, I didn't ask it of Stacy. "Ben, do you remember that Devo song, 'Post-Postmodern Man'?"

"Yes."

"What's post-postmodern?"

Ben looked up from the episode of "My So-Called Life" we were watching. "Whatever's after postmodern, I don't know."

"Well, what good is that?"

"It's the latest thing."

Stacy said, "I like the latest thing.

"I agree," Ben said. "Jackie Chan's First Strike was good, but only until Rumble in the Bronx came out."

I thought for a minute. "I don't know. The latest thing isn't always the best thing, is it? Sometimes, old things are good, even better, than new things."

Ben sneered. "Like what?"

"Like toys," I said. "Yeah, toys. Toys were better when we were growing up than they are today."

"I think you're confusing how good a thing is--its worth--with your nostalgia," Stacy said. "You have to be careful. Nostalgia is deadly."

Ben said, "Yeah, nostalgia is the number three killer of people age 24-40 today, and even worse in the 41-65 bracket."

I gave them a standard eye-roll-to-the-ceiling. "Even if you guys weren't being flippant, it seems obvious to me that nostalgia worsens as you get older. I assume you'll tell me that nostalgia is the top killer among men age 66-82."

"Actually, no," Ben said. "By that time, nostalgia falls in the list due to the rising influence of adult diaper related mishaps."

"Seriously, aren't toys like the Etch-n-Sketch and the Sit-and-Spin better than any toys today?"

Ben snorted. "The Etch-n-Sketch was a woefully primitive graphics editor, with no on-board memory or storage, and the meekest of image modification tools. The Sit-and-Spin, owing to its dubious name, is a topic I feel best left for another day."

"I think toys today are great," Stacy said. "Here, look at my talking Teletubbies doll."

"Ooh! It's Tinky-winky!" Ben squealed.

I pointed to its head. "With the oh-so-suggestive triangle thingie on its head."

"Yeah," Stacy said. "This a model from back before he was outed as the gay Teletubbie. Remember that?"

"What does he say if you squeeze him?" I asked.

"Oh, a bunch of boring, non-homosexual stuff."

We turned our attention back to the TV.

Getting Ben and Stacy off the couch is an overwhelming task, but one that I'm devoted to. I'm sure that their lives could be improved if they would go outside for a walk or something, instead of sitting around and making lists.

"I think today I will privilege movies about elephants," Ben said.

Ben's Elephant-Movie List

  • Larger Than Life, with Bill Murray
  • Smoky and the Bandit II
  • Dumbo (banal)
  • Operation Dumbo Drop (the latest thing!)
  • (not technically a movie) that episode of "The Simpsons" where Bart gets a pet elephant named Stampy

Stacy's Elephant-Cameo List

  • Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls
  • Made in America, the Ted Danson/Whoopi Goldberg "vehicle"
  • Jumanji (very banal)
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • that Jimmy Stewart circus movie; Big Top, I think
I realized my real goal should be to just get Stacy off the couch, and forget about Ben. He was a bad influence.

"Can anyone think of a movie with Madeleine Cahn that you would consider a Madeleine-Cahn-movie?" Ben asked.

Stacy turned to Ben. "Let me see something that you've written."

Stacy is obsessed with writers. The written word is uber-uber to her. Somehow, I don't think she'll like Ben's stuff; she keeps asking to see it, but he never shows her.

"I was just working on something the other day," Ben said. "I think you would like it. In my fiction, I'm playing with the idea of beauty."

The glimmer in Stacy's eyes turned to a full-force glow. She nearly oozed adoration onto the carpet. "How are you playing with it?"

"Sort of like a cat. I pounce on it, then bat it around a lot until it goes under the couch."

Stacy flops back into a reclining position. "Dumbshit. That's fine, though. I'll just go see Robbie read tonight." Robbie is a poet. He wears a lot of black, boots (black boots), and has that kind of floppy haircut that's always getting in his eyes in the most seductive way. He's a waiter at a local new-age Mexican restaurant, and he reads poetry at the coffee shop on Friday nights. Stacy is especially obsessed with Robbie.

"Why do you think we, as a people, enjoy watching sitcoms so much?" I asked.

Stacy said, "Do you suppose it's because it confirms our suspicions of the banality of the love slash death relationship and the meaninglessness of the sublime, in its incommunicability?"

"Tut, tut, no," Ben said. "I believe it's because it continualizes our de-egoed, intellectualized individual with the low-brow, populist populace."

"Really, I must differ, though I agree with Stacy in part. I would say that our love of sitcoms stems from a natural privileging of the expressible foundation of rationality over the non-express, anti-rational unreproducable," I said.

"Plus, sitcoms always have sub-plots," Ben said.

"Hmm?" I said, prompting.

Ben continued. "The sitcom is a complex animal. While on the surface, it may seem that the protagonists' mishaps are merely for our yuks, every episode carries within it a powerful moral message. And nowhere is this message more apparent than in the sub-plot. The sub-plot offers a compelling alternate take on the main plot of the episode, and, invariably, it is the realization by the characters in this week's main plot that the characters in this week's subplot are suffering through similar difficulties that the entire sitcom universe is able to return to the stable, unchanged state dictated by rerun portability within the 22 minute time limit."

"Example?" Stacy said.

"Let us consider this episode of 'Mr. Belvidere' we have before us," Ben said. "While Bob Euchre, in the character of George, is having marital problems, we are given the subplot of Mr. Belvidere's struggle to get his green card. By the end, Bob slash George will realize that both he and Mr. Belvidere are striving for acceptance despite their differences from the norm."

"Gee, wouldn't it be nice if we had a subplot to deliver moral messages to us?" I said.

Ben said, "Maybe our subplot is your clandestine sexual desire for Stacy here."

I think I blushed extremely visibly. Stacy looked at the ceiling. Ben is a real asshole.

I have no problem with a guy and a girl living together before marriage. I lived with a girl once. The thing that bothers me about Ben and Stacy living together is that they aren't together together. It's just not natural to live in sin if there's no sin.

And, of course, I always walk home dreading the idea that there might be sin that I don't know about.

"Hey, do you remember that episode of 'Friends' where they all found out about Monica and Chandler's secret relationship?" Stacy asked.

"Of course I remember it," I said. "That was just on last week."

"Oh, yeah," Stacy said.

"Why are you remembering that? You should be remembering cherished childhood memories, like riding up and down your driveway on your bigwheel."

Ben said, "We can no longer help ourselves. We are limited to reminiscing about recent events. It's a problem I call Post-PoMo, pre-memory zeitgeist. It's the condition that results from growing up in a postmodern environment."

"I don't see where you come up with this stuff," I said.

"The basic set-up is this: the postmodern world bombarded us with news and information. Now that we recognize our postmodern condition, life for us is post-postmodern, and we no longer have time to form true memories. Hence, when we long for the past, our nostalgia, our zeitgeist, must come from recent events. We've had no catch-up time to file memories away."

"Bullshit," I said.

"Try this one on, then. How do you remember Frankenstein--"

"Frankenstein's monster," Stacy corrected.

"Only the pedantic insist on that," Ben said. "It's the same as people who have a hissy-fit if you suggest that the year 2000 is the new millennium. But back to my original point. How do you remember Frankenstein, truthfully? As a misunderstood symbol of the dangers of scientific advance, or as a straight-man to Abbot and Costello?"

I sighed. "Okay, you're right. Frankenstein has become less of a literary figure and has been co-opted by pinball games and surf-rock bands. But where do you find the time to research Mary Shelly while sitting on this damn couch?"

"I don't need to get up. This week's rerun of 'The X-Files' was the Frankenstein episode called 'Postmodern Prometheus.'"

I switched the channel to MTV.

"It's hip hop. Change the channel," Ben said.

"Don't you like hip hop?" Stacy asked. "It's the latest thing."

"I think it's just a little too macho for me," I said. "It's all about showing off. Like the connection between jazz and masturbation."

"Except that masturbation isn't the only connection to rap--how about kung fu?" Stacy said.

"Can we go five minutes without drawing a media-inspired parallel?" I asked.

"Rap is all about 'Look at my method, check my style, it's so tight.' And in kung fu movies, you have dialogue like, 'Your kung fu is excellent, but mine is better.' Hip hop artists are the cultural reincarnation of Bruce Lee."

"Well, that's about enough onanism from you guys," Ben said, and stood up off the couch. "Let's go watch somebody else beat off."

"Like Robbie," I said, and we all left for the coffee shop.

I forgot again.
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