M*A*S*H: An Appreciation for 2017

One evening when I was in college I was hanging out with friends in their suite. Someone suggested we watch a re-run of M*A*S*H on television, but one friend, Mark, objected. He thought the show was crass, too many references to drinking and sex.

Fortunately the “yea” votes won out, and even more fortunately it chanced to be the episode titled “The Interview.” If you don’t remember the show, “The Interview” is filmed in black and white, a mock documentary in which a correspondent interviews the members of M*A*S*H 4077. (M*A*S*H,  by the way, stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.) Interestingly, it was not fully scripted: the actors answered the reporter’s questions in character.

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

“The Interview” is my favorite of all M*A*S*H episodes, and I might as well make full disclosure right now that I will argue here that M*A*S*H is the best television series of all time. Near the end of the documentary, the reporter asks each of the interviewees if he or she has anything to say to the folks back home. They do, and when B. J. Hunnicutt tells his wife and baby daughter that he misses them, my tears start to flow–every time.

And so they did, sitting in that dormitory suite. I glanced around the room hoping nobody would notice, but instead I saw Mark, the guy who’d objected to watching, brushing a hand at his eye. So did some others. Continue reading

I Am Not for Sale (But I Used to Be)

Several years ago I visited Charleston SC on a vacation. While there I toured the Aiken-Rhett House, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and is now a museum. I love museums and I love old houses, but the Aiken-Rhett House is unique among all the old house museums I’ve ever been to: it retains an outbuilding that once contained slave quarters (discreetly described as “servants’ quarters” in the NRHP nomination form).

I arrived at the house shortly after it opened to visitors for the day, so had it pretty much to myself. I followed the audio tour through the main house, then walked out the back door. Two nearly identical buildings flanked the courtyard—to the left, the stables; to the right, the slaves’ quarters. I went up the stairs to the second floor, above the kitchen. The small rooms, which reminded me of a bargain motel, were where the slaves had once lived. They were mostly bare—I remember a wooden bed frame without a mattress and a simple wooden table—because slaves’ furnishings were not saved as heirlooms and very few have survived the years.

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Cut & Paste. Fold, Bend, Staple & Mutilate.

This past weekend I attended a reading of selections from William S. Burroughs Naked Lunch. I had not read the work before (it’s now on my TBR list), but I knew enough about the Beats to not be shocked by its strange, surreal and sometimes profane language.

In the discussion that followed the reading, someone mentioned there are now websites that will “translate” any text into Burroughs style and I have been eager to try them out. But first, a little background. Burroughs’ strange language is not merely the product of his mind, it is the product of his hands: after typing some of his text, he cut up the paper and rearranged the pieces, thus reordering the words and even inventing new words. That became the “final” version. This wasn’t Burroughs’ own invention (I learned that today by researching online), but he is the most widely-known practitioner of the technique. There’s a video of an interview with Burroughs that includes a short demonstration of the cut-up technique. You don’t need a demonstration, though; it’s easy enough to try it yourself with a printed text (that you’re willing to sacrifice for the sake of art) and scissors.

Or you can do it virtually using online tools. This is fun to play with. Open up a text file on your computer—the odder the better—and give it a try!

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Book Review: Zilch

In January 2002 the thing I wanted most in the world was a “hold” button. But, hey, it was a disaster. I mean really a disaster: I was working for the American Red Cross Disaster Services, we were crazy busy, but I was sharing a phone with four other colleagues in a large, bare-bones office.

I’ve worked in non-profit organizations most of my career, and fortunately for me most of them have been large and well-funded, including the American Red Cross. But comparing my non-profit experience to my rare forays into for-profit work, it is impossible to imagine working in any for-profit corporation for six months without a hold button on my telephone. Never mind that the phone was on a plastic folding table, not a desk, so I didn’t have a desk drawer, either. The cultural divide isn’t always so extreme, but there are certain things that can happen in one world that are unimaginable in the other.

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