On the recent Colorado movie shooting tragedy

The shooting at the Colorado movie theater this past weekend was an unspeakable tragedy. May the survivors and the families of all its victims soon find peace.

One of the lesser-important results of this tragedy will be a renewal of the debate over violence in entertainment. Had the shooting occurred at the debut of the Katy Perry movie that debate probably wouldn’t happen, but yes, it occurred at the debut of the latest Batman movie, and yes, that movie is very violent.

While superhero movies are certainly trivial affairs, if you do get drawn into a debate about their virtues and vices it’s best to go in with some knowledge. That’s why I highly recommend Gerard Jones’ excellent book, Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence. Jones is a veteran comic book writer with a serious interest in the debate over violence in entertainment. His book takes a scholarly look at the psychological research on this subject, and provides a convincing refutation of the overheated rhetoric on the dangers of violent entertainment. I really need to write an extensive review of this excellent book in my blog, but for now I highly recommend this book for anyone who feels a need to argue against the heated rhetoric you’re likely to see soon about movie violence.

The Academy 1A – 1C Revisited

“No ma’am.” Butch tries to lean forward, but the seats in this Cadillac, they’re so big and slick I feel like we’re being swallowed by a leather-throated monster, he has to grab the back of Annie’s seat to keep himself from slipping back. “This is the first time I’ve ever been to the Academy, Mrs. Hutchinson.” Butch is like that, he’s always mister this and misses that and doctor so and so with adults, Annie’s family are like that anyway, if Butch or me called her Laura she’d probably scold us like we were one of her kids.

But Annie’s mom is all smiles, she does this quarter-turn with her head back at Butch while she’s driving, says it’s a marvelous place, so full of history, yada yada, then she tells us for the THIRD TIME this morning that her son Sierra’s the fifth generation of Hutchinson to have gone to the Academy, so Butch and me smile again but I see Annie’s shaking her head in the front seat.

I’ve been at the Academy a few times, back when I did football and basketball in middle school, we’d come here for games. Annie’s mom turns into the entrance they have, they’ve got these two stone columns you go through and there’s still these iron gates, I dunno know why they still have em there, they’re always open. Maybe it’s cuz-of the arch that goes above the columns, gates look just like it, both have that same fancy A like the arch. Those A’s look kinda cool, it’s English or French or something.

The part I really like is the road leading to the campus. They call it a campus, like it’s a college or something, and compared to Bark Bay High School yeah, it looks like a college. They’ve got the money, they can make it look like anything they want. This road they’ve got, they’ve got these big oak trees on either side all along it, kinda like a fence, which you can understand cuz-of the fields on either side. They’ve got soccer fields on the left, baseball diamonds on the right. They’re practice fields, they play the games on real fields with stands and a scoreboard and everything. Baseball coach at Bark Bay, he’s always complaining about how the field’s in such bad shape because they play soccer on it in the fall, no way they’d let anyone else play on the football field.

It’s fall, so there’s all these brown oak leaves on the road, you can hear the Cadillac scrunching up leaves and gravel. I’m looking out the window, at the fields beyond those oak trees. The fields are flat for a while, but then there’s these hills going up and down, and they must rake or mow the leaves all the time cuz-of everything’s still so green, it’s green everywhere, the hills look like waves on a green sea.

“Hey,” calls Annie, so I turn to her and she’s looking back at Butch and me. “You guys ready for today?” And I’m like, “It’s just a practice, you know. Bouts don’t count. I bet they don’t even fill out a tournament sheet.”

Her mom turns to Annie, asks what a tournament sheet was. “It’s how they keep track of wins and losses during a fencing tournament. That, and how many touches you win and lose. But I think Bernie’s wrong, I think they’ll keep a sheet, they’ll treat it like a real tournament. This is the Academy, after all. They take everything like it’s a challenge.” Annie likes to point out when I’m wrong.

Annie’s mom drives up to the field house. I been in there once in middle school, they called it a track meet but we were mostly just running around. Butch was sick that day, he didn’t go. Field house is this big rectangular building, it’s got ivy all over it. Like I said, they want it to look like a college. There’s this parking lot next to it, it’s made of these small white stones. Christ, they can’t even stand to have dirt lots in this place.

Annie’s like “Let me make sure the buidling’s open,” so she gets out of the Cadillac when her mom parks and runs up these three gray stone steps leading to these wide double-doors that got these big brass handles. Annie pulls on one and the door opens, so she turns to us and nods. Like we can’t figure it that it’s open by ourselves.

Her mom rolls down the window, asks if she sees anyone there, if she sees Coach Dan. “We’re early,” Annie says, “Coach Dan should be here any minute.” I open my door, second later as I’m getting out the car I hear Butch open his door. Annie’s mom asks if she should wait, and Annie’s like no, if for some reason they cancelled she knows where Sierra and she will be and we’ll walk over, and her mom’s like are you sure and that’s when Annie loses it, she stomps her foot and screams OOOOH!, she’s trying to be funny but you can tell she’s pretty mad. By that time Butch and me, we’re already walking up the steps and Annie’s waving us into the field house like she’s a traffic cop. Then Annie shouts “Will you just GO already?”, and she follows us into the field house without waiting for a reply.

Butch is in front of me as we walk in, and I almost bump into him, he’s looking up at the ceiling like a tourist in Times Square. It is a pretty impressive sight, the field house is. They’ve got this large oval running track on the outside, it’s got eight lanes. That’s where we did most of our running during that track meet. On the inside, it’s big enough for a football field. This Academy guy told me once, we were playing football, he said the varsity team would practice in there some times if it was bad weather. What Butch was looking at, there’s these thick mesh curtains, they’ve got, hang down from the ceiling. Some go up and down the long way, some go across the short way. You can stretch them out or bundle them up, change the layout of the interior for whatever sport you want to do. It’s pretty cool. At Bark Bay we just have the one in the basketball court, can divide it in half.

Thock. Butch turns to the right, looks towards the center of the interior. I look too, there’s these tennis courts, hadn’t seen them when I was here a few years back. They’ve got these chain fences around them, and there’s this man and a woman, they don’t look like students, guess they must be teachers. They’re not really playing, just hitting balls back and forth to each other. I see the sand pit in front of it, that I recognize from when I was here, we did the long jump there.

It’s cold, not much warmer than outside, colder if anything. “They forget to pay the heating bill?” I ask Annie. It was spring when we came here in middle school, it was a lot warmer than today.
“They don’t have central heat or air-conditioning in here,” Annie says, real confident-like, like just because her brother goes here she knows all about this place. “Usually people are training, so they don’t mind it being a little cool. I remember Si telling me they bring in portable heaters sometimes in winters, and big fans in the summer.” She calls her brother Si sometimes, sounds likes she’s saying sigh. Double-J says only his friends call him that.

“So this place does have power?” Annie nods, points up at the banks of ceiling lights. She’s got this face that says duh. Whatever. “Makes sense,” I says. “Coach Dan said we were going to use electronics for our fencing tournament today. Or practice, or whatever this is.”

A change for the better

[I’ve decided to make “The Academy” a first-person narrative from Bernie’s perspective. I’d like to develop his character a little more, and I’m hoping this approach will help in this effort. So hot on the heels of this post will be a re-write of the first three entries for this story.]

The Academy 1C

It was only as he walked into the building, behind Bernie and in front of Annie, that Butch recognized it as a field house, an indoor athletic training facility. A large oval running track, eight lanes wide, loped along the outside edge. The interior was large enough that Butch imagined it could contain two football fields. From the ceiling hung several thick mesh curtains, some stretched thin across their width, others bundled in waves at one end, and even though Butch had never seen a building like this before he instantly knew the curtains were hung from tracks running across the ceiling, and could be opened or closed as needed to define a training or competition area.

Thock. Butch turned towards the sound to his right, looked towards the center of the building, saw an area of tennis courts enclosed in chain fences. A man and a woman, clearly not students, Butch guessed they were teachers, were hitting tennis balls back and forth to each other. Butch scanned the area quickly, saw a sand pit that he recognized from watching the Olympics on television as a landing area for the long jump,

“They forget to pay the heating bill?” Bernie asked, head turned in Annie’s direction. Butch quickly realized that the field house was not much warmer, indeed almost seemed colder than the crisp autumn air outside.

“I don’t think they have central heat or air-conditioning in here,” Annie replied. “Usually people are training, so they don’t mind it being a little cool. I remember Si telling me they bring in portable heaters sometimes in winters, and big fans in the summer.”

“So this place does have power?” Annie nodded, pointing up at the banks of ceiling lights. “Makes sense. Coach Dan said we were going to use electronics for our fencing tournament today. Or practice, or whatever this is.”

The Academy 1B

Laura Hutchinson drove her Cadillac towards a large rectangular building, ivy covering most of its brick exterior. Next to the building was a small parking lot, covered in crushed white stone. She asked whether she should drop everyone off here.

“Let me make sure the buidling’s open,” Annie said, opening her door as soon as her mother stopped the car. She ran up three gray stone steps leading to a wide double-door entrance, pulled on a large vertical brass handle. The door opened, and Annie turned to the car and nodded.

“You sure this is OK?” Laura called to her daughter through the open car window, as Bernie and Butch opened the rear doors. “Is anyone there yet? What about your coach?”

“We’re early,” Annie replied. “Coach Dan should be here any minute.”

“Should I wait — ”

“Oh plesae,” Annie demanded as Butch and Bernie walked towards the entrance. “Sierra’s waiting for you. If for some reason they’ve cancelled, we’ll walk over to the cafe and meet you there.”

“But what — ”

“OOOOH!” Annie exclaimed with comic exaggeration that barely concealed her frustration. She opened the door for Bernie and Butch, waved them inside like a traffic cop commanding a left-hand turn. With a final “Will you just GO already?”, she followed her friends into the building without waiting for a reply.

The Academy 1A

“No ma’am,” said Butch, finding it difficult to lean forward in the soft leather of the back seat. “This is the first tie I’ve ever been to the Academy.”

“It’s a marvelous place,” Mrs. Hutchinson said, turning quarter-profile in the driver’s seat and smiling back at Butch. “So full of history. Sierra is the fifth generation of Hutchinson at the Academy, you know.” Butch nodded politely but with less interest than he had the previous three times that Mrs. Hutchinson had mentioned the same fact that morning.

She turned her Cadillac left, between two stone columns that held a wrought iron arch that bore the insignia of the Academy. Tires scrunching loose gravel as it crossed the entrance, the car crawled onto an uneven asphalt road cluttered with brown leaves from the large oak trees that formed a barrier between the road and large rolling green hills that flowed like water.

Sitting in the front passenger seat next to her mother, Annie turned fully towards the back and made eye contact with Butch (sitting behind her) and Bernie (sitting behind her mother). “You guys ready for today?” she asked.

Bernie shrugged. “It’s just a practice, you know. Bouts don’t count. I bet they don’t even fill out a tournament sheet.”

Laura Hutchinson turned to her daughter, asked what a tournament sheet was. “It’s how they keep track of wins and losses during a fencing tournament. That, and how many touches you win and lose. But I think Bernie’s wrong, I think they’ll keep a sheet, they’ll treat it like a real tournament. This is the Academy, after all. They take everything like it’s a challenge.”

Chapter 4.6B

Annie’s father reminded her to extinguish the fire in the hearth before coming up (but don’t close the flue he reminded her unnecessarily). She nodded, replied that she would come up in a minute.

Grabbing a brass poker from the side of the hearth, she drew back the hearth screen and poked at the burning log, shoving it down to the ashes on the brick surface until the fire was nothing more than orange freckles on the black and gray log.

Stabbing the log reminded her of fencing, brought to mind her impromptu challenge with her teammates that evening, teammates who would now look up to her as captain.

She put the poker back in place, closed the hearth screen and stepped back. The antique map hanging above the hearth caught her attention, and she thought of the conversations she had with her family after her teammates left — brother (We’re Hutchinsons, we take things over. That’s what we do., father (The only thing our family hasn’t done is serve as leaders of this community., mother (Your father knows just enough to realize he shouldn’t know anything more.). And yes, whatever it was that gave her the impression that she was being visited by her long-dead ancestor while she was reading his journal.

(I want my children, and my children’s children, to know who they are.)

She stared at the map, located the approximation locations of her uncle’s lands, thought about what she had learned that evening about her family’s plans. Could her family really be so mendacious, so calculating? She was surprised, and suddenly uncertain about all she knew about her family, save one thing. I love you, she had said to her mother, but could have said the same for everyone in her family, including her uncles. And she had meant it, just as she meant it still in the quiet of the smoldering fire, knew with a certainty she felt as certain as the beating of her heart that her love for her family would never change. But she was not sure that she could trust her family anymore, not nearly as much as she had before this evening. Annie could love them, but not trust her — the thought sounded odd to her, but correct, like a perfect rectial of a poem composed in a language she did not understand.

Annie looked around the room. She saw the fencing mask and foil that her mother had found, the one Butch had left behind by accident. She turned back to the antique map, and smiled. She was Annie Hutchinson, captain of the Bark Bay High School fencing team. And for the first time that evening, that sounded right and good to her.

End Chapter 4 (and this time I mean it)

Chapter 4.6A

Annie (the curious teenaged girl, not the content middle-aged woman) opened her mouth to speak to the figure that appeared to be Joshua Hutchinson. She felt her mouth move, her throat vibrate, but knew without needing the evidence of her ears that nothing audible was coming from her.

Relax.

The sound appeared to come from the figure, who was now holding out a gentle arm in her direction. She heard the voice again, and though she could not see the figure’s lips moving, she was certain the words were his.

You will not be able to speak, and even if I could, I would not be able to hear you. (The middle-aged Annie would not remember the figure saying this.) I can only stay a moment. I just wanted to say that I am happy you are reading my journal. Annie nodded (and the middle-aged woman would remember this part). I wrote it so that my children, and their children, could understand who they were. You cannot begin to understand yourself, if you do not understand your parents, and their parents.

The figure approached Annie, stopping a few feet in front of the desk. The figure looked down at Annie, and smiled.

Annie —

“Annie?”

She turned her head quickly towards the entryway, saw her father standing there, velvet bathrobe over silk pajamas, his silver hair still perfect in its shape. She turned to where the figure had been standing, noted with no surprise that it was gone, then down at the journal, still open to the first page of the geneology.

“I heard a noise up in our room,” her father continued. “I saw a light was still on, so I came down to investigate. It’s late, Bunny.”

“Yes, it is,” she replied. “Sorry. I just got — caught up, reading this old journal.”

“Ah,” her father exclaimed, walking forward. “Old Poppa Hutchinson’s book. Haven’t seen that in years!”

Annie rose from her chair, closed the book and walked with it towards the bookshelf. Putting it back in its place, she turned to her father and asked, “Have you ever read this?”

Carl Hutchinson looked at her daughter, surprise sprouting onto his tired face. “Not really. I’ve looked at it, but the geneology was transcribed by my father when I was a boy, so there’s really no reason for me to read that old journal. Why do you ask?”

Annie shook her head. “No reason. Just — curious.”

Chapter 4.5Z

I am here. Quickly, Annie looked up from the journal.

Decades later, as a middle-aged woman with short sensible hair settling onto a couch after lighting the first fire in her new home, she would wonder why, as a teenaged girl on that wintry night she was named the Bark Bay High School fencing captain, she now believed she saw Joshua Hutchinson, her long-dead ancestor, standing in front of her, turned in profile and looking up at the antique map above the hearth.

(She had not mentioned this moment to anyone in those decades between the time it appeared to happen and the time she lit the fire in her new home, indeed she had not even thought about it herself, or to be more exact on those few times when that memory would resurface she had shoved it back down, imposed her will upon her consciousness and refused to think about what she thought was happening to her on this wintry night.) The sensible middle-aged woman would have therefore not confronted this odd memory for years, and now having reached a comfortable position in her life she would be willing, now that the fire she had just lit reminded her of the time she thought she saw Old Poppa Hutchinson that night she read his journal — she would finally be willing to consider just what it was she thought she was seeing.

I was most likely dreaming, the comfortable, sensible middle-aged woman would think. I had stayed up late, reading his journal, and probably nodded off. But then she would remember thinking that same thought on that wintry night, remember looking for quick confirmation, remember not finding it.

She could smell the smoke from the fire. She could look into the hearth, could see the log was burning much the same as it had when she had noticed it a few moments ago, then quickly down at the journal, could see the same words she had just been reading. Her legs could feel the hard wood of the chair on which she was sitting. A hum from her right — she could hear the refrigerator compressor in the kitchen. Smell sight touch hearing — she quickly licked her lips, could taste the remnants of the ice cream she had eaten earlier that evening.

Dreams can be vivid, the sensible middle-aged woman would think in her comfotable new home as the fire in front of her grew. And memory unreliable — I think I checked all my senses that evening, but that doesn’t mean I actually did. No, it had to have been a dream, or perhaps a delusion caused from exhaustion. That might explain the memory of the senses. Has to be something like that, she would think, because even though she would not think this decades later she would believe then, much as she believed now that Joshua Hutchinson seemed to appear in front of her, that only superstitious fools and crazy people believed in ghosts. And Annie Hutchinson was neither a fool nor insane, not now, and certainly not in the future.