Serial Killer TV

I’m one of those people who likes to watch TV to wind down before bedtime, you know, to flip through the disengage-from-the-day style of programming. I’ve long been a fan of all of the “info’ channels: The Science Channel, History Channel, Discovery, the Military Channel, The Learning Channel, The Smithsonian Channel, History Channel 2, etc. etc. Used to be, I could count on these niche cable networks for a good dose of documentary lite—-that perfect blend of Sir David Attenborough voiceovers and long shots of antelopes on the savannah, or the grainy WWII footage of fighter pilots soaring high above the earth.

Lately, however, at the all-important 9 or 10 o’clock hour, I’m more likely to get a good case of PTSD than the sleepies. Consider the programming mix one recent night: ‘Man Eating Supercroc,’ ‘Death Beach’ (killer sharks), ‘Night Stalkers’ (more crocs), ‘Serial Killer Earth,’ ‘Top Secret Weapons Revealed,’ and ‘Very Bad Men’ (which featured a LA serial rapist and gang violence).

Not to mention The Learning Channel (TLC), which could be renamed TFC: The Freak Channel. The show ‘Taboo’ that same night featured an overweight man who wore diapers and slept in an oversized crib (clutching a teddy bear), as well as women who carry around “reborn” dolls that have been repainted to look like creepy almost-babies.

My last hope was ‘How Do They Do It,’ in which “hosts and correspondents showcase the world’s favorite ice cream flavor.” I took a deep breath during the commercial break, then fell asleep before I could find out which one it was.

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Channeling ‘The Office” Part II

So, on my son’s next day in First Grade, crisis struck: he was left out on the playground when his class went inside. (He said he’d been playing Wall Ball with his shoe with a boy from another class). After the Panic Surge (the teacher also quickly burst out the door after finding a gap in her head count), he regrouped.

At home, after telling us that he’d been scared yet avoided any tears, he sighed: “What a thing to happen on your second day.”

All the World: A Stage

I’ve been thinking about the difference between the author who suffers (lives his or her daily life) and the mind that creates (the author we often identify with), and I think there is a bit of an out-of-body experience that happens during the act of creative writing. To pen an essay or memoir about something that happened to you (like Adali’s ‘Up at Dawn’) or to chronicle something you witness while capturing conflict (like Bernardo’s ‘The Walk), you need to get closer to, and yet distance yourself from, such experiences—to step outside your own skin, to peer into the minds of others, or take a fresh glance at your own persona.

Maybe you can then see yourself or others as characters in a play. Life is theater, after all.

The Walk

— An essay by Bernardo Guzman, of the Hopkins Spring IFN Writers:

He came from the south. Nobody saw him coming. With a long-sleeved black sweater, and a black leather jacket draped over him, it’s no surprise he blended into the night. Even the people who caught a glimpse chose not to notice. He had a skullcap pulled low over his forehead, yet his eyes wandered as he dragged himself north on Baltimore’s St. Paul Street. The man, hunched over, made his way through groups of drunken college kids. By the time he reached the corner of St. Paul and E 33rd, he was out of breath. The walk was too much.

He was surrounded now, students on all sides of him. The man couldn’t take the background noise. Students talking about how they couldn’t wait to go to Mexico for spring break, or wherever the hell their lake house was. He took another step with his left foot and tried to steady himself. He looked at one group of young men, and then he opened his mouth as if to speak. But he knew better and chose to remain silent, taking another step forward. The young men looked away and quietly laughed to themselves. The man put his head down and took another step. Then, he took another break, gasping for air this time. More students walked around him. They brushed against the man as they trickled into the Subway deli behind him.

The lights outside of Subway illuminated his pain. Sweat was trickling down his face as he kept one hand on his right knee, holding his leg straight. He was breathing hard now. He knew he wouldn’t be able to stand for much longer. He drudged on, trying to cross 33rd street, only to stop again.

“Why is he standing in the middle of the road? Super creepy,” one girl whispered.

“I don’t know, but let’s get inside Uni Mini. I don’t want to see what happens,” another replied.

The man was disgusted by their loud whispers as he tried to force himself to move on. Still in the middle of the road, he froze. Cars honked at him.

“What’re you, crazy?” one driver yelled.

“Get off the road, you moron,” another called out.

The man became the center of attention. His leg throbbed. He forced himself to keep moving, one small step after another. Every time a car honked, more people turned in his direction. By the time the man reached the sidewalk, he was covered in sweat. He forced himself to sit on the ground. He looked around. The students were now staring at him. Some of them with short looks of disdain. The man sat there, wondering how long before he could force himself onward. He looked up St. Paul Street, only to see a cop car draw near, flashing its lights. One of the cops stepped out and approached him.

“We’ve heard some complaints about a man in this area,” the cop said as he stood above him. “Is there any reason why you’re sitting on the ground?”

The man was cautious. He took several deep breaths before giving shape to his thoughts.

“It’s my leg,” the man said, looking down at himself. His left leg was pulled in so he could rest on top of it. The man tried to keep his right leg straight, but the cop could see that it was shaking.

“Union Memorial is only another block over,” the cop remarked. “Let’s get you there.”

The cop called for his partner, and they helped the man into the car. The man breathed a “thank you.” The cruiser pulled into E 33rd street, and drove off, as the students turned away from the scene.

Up at Dawn

An essay by Adali Martinez, of the Hopkins Spring 2012 IFN Writers

Keep running, running. In this context there’s no disrespect and when I bust a rhyme . . . ”

5:00 a.m. wake-up call. The Black Eyed Peas won’t make it any better. Auto-tuned voices and synthesized beats echo off the church’s high ceiling.  I slide deeper into my red sleeping bag and pull the zipper just high enough to cover my eyes. I try to get into the fetal position but lose my balance and fall off the cushioned pew onto the hardwood floor. Now that’s a wake-up call.

Everyone looks miserable. Who wouldn’t be? Early wake-up means one of two things: we are climbing a mountain range or we are doing a ‘century’. Today we’re riding 101 miles. Maybe it won’t be so bad. Nebraska is as flat as a pancake, right? Wrong. The entire state of Nebraska is a false flat. Elevation sneaks up on you.

There’s no use complaining. I dig through my duffle bag for my cleanest jersey. Smells like wet dog. Then I race to the bathroom to beat the morning rush.

“Anyone got Chami butter? My crotch is killing me today,” says Kim.

“Here you go, Parchment,” Amanda offers.

“Stop calling me that. It’s not my fault I have sensitive skin and a saddle that hates me.”

“Adali, is that a bruise on your butt cheek?” Sheila says.

“No, it’s a birth mark.” I don’t mind getting dressed in front of everyone, but it’s still not okay for Sheila to be checking out my butt. Sure, we had to get comfortable around each other by the second day of the ride. Middle school shower amenities usually mean a rectangular tiled room with 10 spigots on the walls. No dividers. That first time we left our biking shorts and sports bras on and started to lather up.

“Come on guys, we’re going to have to see each other naked eventually.” Amanda was the first to strip down. One by one, we all stripped down. The room fell silent and we each faced the wall to avoid seeing anyone’s bare body.

Adjusting to the 4KforCancer lifestyle has been tougher than the actual biking: 63 days with the same 25 people. I eat on the side of the road every day. I sleep on church floors every night. I endure the smell of cows, road kill, and my teammates.

And, still, worst of all, I have to wake up at dawn.

Author’s Note:

Names have been changed to protect the chaste and chafed.