The Roots of Downcast Part 2: High School

High school graduation. Who would think such an innocent face would hide such a caustic sense of humor?
High school graduation. Who would think such an innocent face would hide such a caustic sense of humor?

Some of the classes that Stephanie Starr takes in “Downcast” are actual classes I took at my high school, including European History, and Honors (or rather, A.P.) English.

It was in A.P. English that I first read Jonathan’s Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and Volataire’s “Candide.” These two satires resonated very deeply with me, as I had finally found words that saw the world the way I do – with its beauty, hope, and hypocrisy.

The assignment that came with these books was to write our own satire.

I wrote a piece called “The Quest.” It got an A+++ (I’m not kidding. That’s literally the grade it got).

So, for your satirical enjoyment, here is the masterwork from 17-year-old Cait.


“The Quest”

It all began with an innocent quest for the answer to the ultimate question: where can a girl buy a pair of run-free pantyhose?

Honors realized how critical run-free pantyhose are for a first impression and vowed never to rest until she found the answer to this question and freed all woman-kind from the bondage of worrying about their pantyhose running.

For days, Honora tried to think of the answer to the ultimate question, but, alas, she could not find it. She then tried to think of how she could find the answer. She thought for many days and many nights, and finally found a solution.

“I must find a place where there would be people who would know where a girl can buy a pair of run-free pantyhose,” Honora thought to herself.

Being the bright girl she was, Honora sat and pondered until, in a burst of inspiration on the fourth day, she concluded that fashion-sconscious young girls would probably know where to get run-free pantyhose. The inspiration lasted long enough for Honora to realize that young girls are usually found in high schools.

Honors hopped into her car and sped (not literally, she was too honorable to drive faster than the speed limit) to the nearest high school. She walked in determinedly and put her nose in the air. The highly sensitive organ soon caught the smell of heavily fried foods and sugary deserts. Honor’s nose led her straight tot he cafeteria where she found clusters of students anxiously bent over sheets of paper.

“Excuse me,” she said to the nearest table of kids. “Are you students here?”

A student looked up and said scornfully, “We are seniors, not students. Furthermore, we are currently involved in enjoying our high school career, so will you please state your business succinctly or go away.”

Honors was taken aback, but not to be deterred.

“What are you doing?” she asked politely.

All the students looked up at her, each with an expression of absolutely terror and confusion.

“We’re filling gout college applications for colleges that we have to go to, or else our prestige and position in the world will be forever affected negatively!” said a panic-stricken student.

“Oh,” said Honora, not really understanding, “But what will happen if you don’t get in?”

But her question was lost to the students who had returned to filling out their applications.

One student spoke to himself as he checked off boxes on the application.

“National Honor and Sobriety Society President, Spanish Club President-” the boy was interrupted by a girl going for his throat with a her pen, yelling “I’m the Spanish Club President!”

A short, bitter fight ensued which ended quickly because both students killed each other rather efficiently. Four students from the Environmental Club came and took the bodies away for recycling. They gave Honor to understand that this was a fairly common occurrence, and that they had a special bin outside just for senior bodies, and another one for junior body parts (the juniors were not as violent yet; they were just practicing for the real thing).

The scornful student blinked and remarked, “Actually, I’m the Spanish Club President.” He then went back to his work.

Honors pondered this strange turn of events for a few moments, then embarked on another round of questioning.

“What do you put on your college applications?” she asked.

A harried-looking student looked up and said, “Everything we’ve ever done that was important, and if it’s not important, they have classes here that teach you how to make it sound important. For example, I have 16 scholarships, 27 extracurricular activities, two part-time jobs, and I do 10 hours of community service a week.”

Honor was astounded.

The student continued,” I also have a 5.23 GPA out of a 4.0. I have taken all the A.P. Classes there are.”

“What intelligent people these students are!” Honor thought to herself in awe.

“Who wrote ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ and what kind of writing is it?” Honors asked. She had always wanted to know about it, but nobody had ever told her. Honor figured that these brilliant students could tell her.

The student looked sagely at her.

“Ahhh, that was a paper I got an ‘A’ on, but I do not remember.”

“Oh dear. Well, can anyone tell me the answer to the ultimate question?” Honor cried.

A girl looked up and said, “If I can, I can put on my application that I answered the ultimate question!”

“Where can a girl find a pair of run-free pantyhose?” Honora asked.

The girl’s face went blank, then she turned back to her application and wrote under awards: “Finalist in contest to answer the ultimate question: Where is it physically and geographically possible/probably to employ capitalistic principles of free market to gain possession of nylon habiliments that are technically designed to resist the destructive action of action.”

Honora realized that she couldn’t find the answer here. Disappointed, but not discouraged, Honora got back in her car and went home to think of where else she could find people who would know where to find run-free pantyhose.

After five days of intensive thinking, Honora came up with an answer.

“Pantyhose are sold in stores, and store clerks have to know about the products they sell,” Honora reasoned, “Therefore, I must go to a store.”

Honors got in her car and sped to the nearest clothing store. The moment she walked in the door, a bevy of salesladies swooped down on her, all smiling, offering assistance.

“What lovely, friendly people!” Honors thought, “Surely I can find the answer here!”

The saleslady with the broadest smile and the most robust offers of help shooed the others away and turned back to Honora.

“Hi, my name is Betty. Can I help you in any way? My job is to make your shopping experience here better and better and better…” the saleslady said, firmly grasping Honora’s arm and propelling her into the middle of the store where Honora could get a complete view of the store.

“I’m looking for the answer to the ultimate question,” Honor said.

“In the great mix-and-match sales rack of life, aren’t we all?” the saleslady replied brightly.

Honors paused then continued, “I was wondering where a girl could get-”

“You can get everything a girl could want right here!” cried the saleslady, enthusiastically flapping her arms to indicate the whole of the store.

“And what’s more,” she continued, “I’m here to make sure you get it in a pleasant and efficient way. I just want to let you know that anything you ask me to do will make me ver, very, very,very happy.”

Honors was delighted. At last, she had found the place where a girl could get a pair of run-free pantyhose.

“Then take me to them!” cried Honora.

The saleslady looked blankly at her.

Honora looked at the saleslady, taken aback.

The saleslady coughed suggestively.

Honora, being the bright girl she was, realized the saleslady didn’t know what she had come for.

“Run-free pantyhose?” Honora said sheepishly.

The saleslady paused a moment, then said cheerfully, “We have everything a girl could want except run-free pantyhose.”

“Don’t they make run-free pantyhose?” Honora asked anxiously.

“Oh, probably not,” replied the saleslady, shrugging, then smiling in a way that would have made most people call for the men in white.

“Why not?” inquired Honora.

“Let me show you the latest in pantyhose technology,” said the saleslady happily, dragging Honora over to the stocking section. The saleslady rifled through packages until she came up with the one she wanted.

“This is the newest pantyhose style,” the salesleady announced, holding up a package of ‘Banes Worry-Free Pantyhose.’

“These pantyhose are specially designed to free women from the threat of getting runs in their pantyhose,” the saleslady explained ebulliently.

“How?” asked Honora.

“Simple,” continued the saleslady jubilantly, “The manufacturers recognized the problem women face each time they wear pantyhose. Since we, the women of the United States of America, in order to form a more stress-free life, demanded worry-free pantyhose, manufacturers made pantyhose with runs already in them. That way, you don’t have to worry about getting runs in your pantyhose because they are already there! Now isn’t that just peachy and marvelous?”

Honora looked dejectedly at the package of run-filled pantyhose and asked, “How much are they?”

“A real bargain!” cried the saleslady, “Only $37.99.”

Honora was shocked. “Why do they cost so much?” she asked.

“Profit, of course. That is the great blessing of the capitalist system! But let me assure you, dear customer, that we here in this store have the lowest prices of anywhere in town. And if we don’t, and you can prove it to us, we will all happily commit suicide and leave you the store in our will, just to oblige you,” replied the saleslady excitedly.

Honora realized sadly that she would not find the answer to the ultimate question here. She took her leave of the saleslady and the store, with all the salesladies sending her off with bright cheery calls of farewell and promises of making her next visit even better and better and better…

Honora left the store and went home, despairing of ever finding the answer to the ultimate question. Upon her return home, she found the latest fashion magazine waiting for her. She absently flipped through it. Suddenly, she sat bolt upright. There, on page 79 of the magazine, in big, bold letters, was the answer!

Honora read it carefully: “The new trend in fashion: Out with nylon pantyhose, in with cotton stockings and knee-high socks!” Honora reflected on this and finally came to the conclusion that it was the best, most convenient and sensible answer. After all, hadn’t she proved that a girl can’t get a pair of run-free pantyhose?

April Fool’s for Transplant Peeps!

At the climbing gym, where else?
At the climbing gym, where else?

I had a kidney transplant in May of 2007 (almost 7 years! DV, going strong!). My uncle, Franco, gave me one of his kidneys. It wasn’t a surprise that we were a genetic match, given our predisposition for adrenaline rushes, reading, and very bad practical jokes.

April Fool’s has been a specialty of mine for years with him. I don’t always do something, so that way, he gets lulled into a sense of false security. I can go years without playing a prank. I play a long game. I wait until I have the perfect idea, and even if it means waiting until the following April to carry it out, I will do it.

Two years ago, I decided it was time to unleash my latest bit of heart-pounding brilliance. I called his home phone and left a voicemail message for him. It went something like this:

“Hi, this is Kate from the Mass General Hospital’s Transplant Unit. I’m a donation coordinator, and I just wanted to let you know that the paperwork for your second kidney donation is in the mail and should get to you by Friday. Please follow the instructions and fill out all the forms, and take the release forms to your doctor. We want to thank you again for your generous, life-saving gift of both kidneys. My number is <I listed my real phone number> if you have any questions.”

It was all worth it for the single moment of confusion and panic he had before he figured it out.

I’m still grinning. Evilly, of course.

Only Lovers Left Alive: Everything for the Punchline

Only_Lovers_Left_Alive_posterI watched “Only Lovers Left Alive” over the weekend. It was hilarious. I’m still chuckling about it. So clever. Why? Because it’s not until the very last scene that you get the joke of the ENTIRE movie.

There will be spoilers, but there’s not much plot to spoil, so eh. I will reveal the ending, but it might help you enjoy the film. Caveat emptor, cave canem, et cetera. Yes, that was a Latin joke. You’re welcome.

I heard about this movie because I’m currently tracking a lot of vampire things for research for my book, and also, any time I hear the name Tilda Swinton, my ears perk up. Oh yes, and being on Tumblr means that every third post mentions Tom Hiddleston…with gifs. But I want gifs with flames. OMG, that was such a bad joke.

First of all, let me say I love Tilda Swinton. Love her. Have loved her since I saw her in Orlando. She has this laser sharp talent that is so powerfully trained that she simply inhabits every character without remorse or concession to the viewer. She takes the vampire Eve from mystical Madonna to clingy girlfriend (in a dignified, mystical way) without missing a beat or breaking your suspension of belief.

Tom Hiddleston keeps up with Tilda beautifully, which is such a relief. A lesser Adam would have totally ruined the film. He wields his voice like an instrument from laconic and slangy to hints of the ancient lord within a single sentence. He walks a super fine line between amusing us with the every-so-slightly self-aware irony (see the abandoned theater scene) to revealing the true pathos of his character in unguarded moments like when he is fixing the generator and shows us what an incredibly excited, talented, scientific mind lives in that head.

Mia Wasikowska was exactly what she needed to be: a deft counterpoint that we remember after the end of the movie as one of the things that highlights the hypocrisy of Adam and Eve. Then, and only then, do you look back and understand that there is so much more that is beautiful and broken beneath Ava’s brash, bratty persona.

Ian the character exists solely for the purpose of providing Tom Hiddleston with the line, “You drank Ian.” For a moment, he is every father and/or dog owner who comes home to the mildly catastrophic consequences of disobedience and now has to get out the wet wipes and/or vacuum. That line totally makes Ian worth it.

There’s nothing much you can say about John Hurt except that you are privileged to watch yet another performance by him. The man is a morph master in that you never recognize him from film to film. Somehow, he simply changes his innate appearance to be whatever character he is. It’s not just makeup and wigs. It’s like he rearranges his face.

The Christopher Marlowe thing was a bit random, but eh, random is fine in this movie. It doesn’t detract, even if I felt it didn’t add much. It didn’t really enrich Eve’s relationship with him (though yes, I get it, she loves books and words and probably turned him to keep his genius alive, etc). Eve’s relationship with him smells faintly but more importantly of the brave, independent daughter’s still needing the reassurance of her father’s Rock of Gibralter presence and surety. That’s what touches you in the end when he (SPOILER) dies.

Adam and Eve are delightfully, blissfully pretentious, and I’m still debating with myself whether they are aware of their hypocrisy or not. They are so cerebral and existentially aware of the fine agonies of existence that they seem like that awful couple you sometimes sit next to at Sunday brunch where they discuss the latest work of some Polish literary genius and worse, refer back to his previous works to outline the growth of his dark post-modernist views on medical science.

You get glimpses of real, practical people underneath the facade every now and then, and that’s what makes these characters so funny. There are just slips of moments when you catch what Eve must have been like as a mortal young woman: lively, enterprising, pragmatic, determined, but maybe not so educated as she is now. Adam might have been an angry young man, trained in warfare but with a heart for tinkering and music.

Those personas peek through in hilarious moments, such as when they are throwing Ian into the sludge. They don’t even have to say it out loud, but they know that they always count to three together when they swing a body into the depths. They have done this before. The chess game was also well done, and the wife plays her husband perfectly, just like we all do sometimes, and he takes his loss to his wife just like a man…by blaming her.

Can we stop for a moment and just have some appreciation for the guy in the blood lab? Dr. “Watson”? His scenes are among my favorites. He play out the fear, the suspicion and the fact he realizes they are in a Mexican standoff perfectly. I laughed out loud for this guy. Brilliant.

The movie is slow. Sooooo slow. Like get up, microwave popcorn, come back, and still be on the same conversation slow. Then I realized, that’s the point. We’re watching time pass from the point of view of immortals. When all you have is time, it passes with a painful slowness. Every moment stretches out, and somehow, you have to think your way through to the next moment. The lightbulb went off for me during the scene where Adam is watching the singer in the cafe. He (and we) watch the whole thing because he has nothing but time to watch the whole thing. Ah, so now we get a taste of the agony of eternity. Got it.

The zombie joke is kind of like the Christopher Marlowe joke. Fine. I get it. Doesn’t do much one way or another. Yes, I see the irony that Adam and Eve are zombies in the end, stumbling blindly in search of blood. Check.

The biggest punchline and best joke of the movie is the ending. Of course, Eve would speak in French right before she kills. Of course, they’d be clinging to the shreds of intellectualism with entanglement as they go from refined immortals to workaday predators. In the end, they’re no better than us, no better than human, no better than mortal. In the end, they’re animals, monsters, and true to their nature.

In the end, they prove that even animals can love.