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ALF, "We Are Family"

You might remember in my review for “Tequila” that I said the next episode was one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, but that was bullshit because I’m an idiot. I have no clue what “We Are Family” is about. The one I was thinking of is “Varsity Blues,” which comes next. I’m kind of disappointed, because I wanted to end the season on some kind of ridiculous nonsense instead of one I’m predisposed to enjoy. WOE IS ME

My confusion actually carries through much of the first scene, because Willie is discussing the very issue I’m looking forward to being addressed in “Varsity Blues”: the fact that ALF muthafuckin bankrupts these idiots.

Granted, the dialogue doesn’t get quite that far, but when an episode opens with Willie chiding ALF for racking up a $300 phone bill…well, that seems like a pretty good ingress to dealing with the larger financial problem. It’s not, though. It’s the opening to an irrelevant episode about Jake. Remember him? He’s like Brian, only he has a personality, character traits, and the writers only have to pay him when he has something to do.

Whatever. We’ll deal with that later. Right now we’re covering the phone bill, which is so high because of all the phone sex ALF has been having with Lynn. Then there’s the matter of additional fees for all the photos of his junk he’s been FedEx-ing to Brian. Really this crap is just killing time until the Ochmoneks come over, which is fine, because I actually like them.

I can’t get over how much Mr. Ochmonek has grown on me as a character. Granted, it might be some form of desperation, like in those old cartoons with two characters starving to death in a lifeboat, and to each other they each look like big turkey legs. I’m dying for something to enjoy consistently, so I start salivating whenever I see Porkchop Ochmonek.

I don’t know. I think he’s funny. They come over to invite the Tanners to Jake’s graduation party, and they’re excited because he finished the eighth grade after only one year. “He’s so smart, it’s scary!” Mr. Ochmonek says, and it’s actually a good line.

Jack LaMotta doesn’t get much to do with Mr. Ochmonek, but he makes his lines count. We then get a nice moment when he asks Willie to répondez s’il vous plaît, which I fucking love because Mr. O — with his master’s degree in Art History — isn’t entirely the uncultured boob he seems to be. He’s got a little more going on beneath the surface, even if he doesn’t realize that himself, and I think that’s great. The fact that he didn’t just say “R.S.V.P.,” or “So are you comin’ or what?” doesn’t quite qualify as a joke. It’s funny, but it’s funny because it’s an unexpected reveal of character.

Starving in a lifeboat or not, I’ll take moments like that anytime.

Also, note that the Ochmoneks are inviting the Tanners to one of their family events. This season alone the Tanners hosted a Halloween party and a wedding without inviting the Ochmoneks, who live right next door and probably have to deal with the noise and all the extra cars. In the review for “Something’s Wrong With Me,” ALF analyst Mark Moore left a comment saying that it was understandable that the Ochmoneks wouldn’t be invited to the wedding, as they really had nothing to do with the couple. Which, unquestionably, is true. And yet, the Tanners have nothing to do with Jake. ALF seems to have a relationship with him, but, obviously, the Ochmoneks don’t know that, and ALF, just as obviously, isn’t invited.

The Ochmoneks are inviting the Tanners because that’s the polite thing to do. These people are happy to invite the Tanners, just for the sake of offering. The Tanners wouldn’t be caught dead wishing the Ochmoneks a merry Christmas, let alone inviting them to one of their social functions.

Remind me. Again. Who the bad neighbors are supposed to be.

ALF, "We Are Family"

After the credits Willie comes into the kitchen, and ALF scolds him, asking him if he ignored the sign on the door. It reads GENIUS AT WORK. Willie then strolls over to ALF and says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t make the connection.”

This is another one of my favorite things about the show: Max Wright being given a laugh line that the editors purposefully withhold laughter from.

It’s an odd kind of bleed from the on-set political conflict, and it’s so easily apparent because the show has a laugh track. When an audience response — and the length of that audience response, and the enthusiasm of that audience response — can be controlled with a dial, it means that whenever an actor delivers a line like this without getting a response, it’s a clear and deliberate “fuck you.”

Max Wright was vocal in his irritation that ALF got all of the best lines for himself, while all Willie got to do was walk back and forth shaking his head. So, here, he gets to crack a joke.

I love moments like these, because they reveal a lot about what working on ALF must have been like. Complain enough, and you’ll be given a laugh line to shut you up. Of course, in the edit they won’t paste any actual laughter after it, which will just make you look like even more of a lame idiot to the viewers at home.

It’s a way to get the actors to clam up on set without anyone at home having to believe there’s somebody else on the show as funny as ALF. I sure wonder why everybody hated working with Paul Fusco.

It’s even expanded upon as Willie tries to get ALF to laugh at his joke, and ALF just shrugs him off and says, “Yeah yeah.” You’re not the star, Willie. You’re lucky we even pay you. Now be quiet and let the people enjoy the puppet.

ALF, "We Are Family"

ALF explains that he’s writing a press release. He’s decided to reveal himself to the world so that he no longer has to be in hiding.

Willie, understandably, craps himself.

He’s upset because ALF seems to have forgotten that the government will scoop him up the moment he dangles his face-phallus in public. It’s hard to blame ALF, though, since the show itself also seems to forget this very often. At this point, I honestly think that the number of characters on this show who have seen ALF is larger than the number of characters who haven’t.

But Willie’s impassioned explanation of ALF’s possible fate at the hands of the Alien Task Force (or, as he calls them, “The Government,” because none of the writers can remember what they called the organization) leads to a clip from the forthcoming Project: ALF.

ALF, "We Are Family"

Man I am not looking forward to Project: ALF.

Anyway, it’s an odd fantasy sequence that goes on a lot longer than I would have expected. I guess the writers had some jokes about ALF being in government custody, but didn’t want to actually write an episode in which that was the case. Which, hey, fine. But I’d much prefer a full-length fantasy episode with ALF awakening from this nightmare at the end.

I know, that’s corny, but at least “title character is captured by show’s villain” would be a fantasy episode that had something to do with ALF‘s premise. So far the ones we’ve gotten have been about Kate running for president and a visit to Gilligan’s Island.

This seems like it should play a bit like a Family Guy cutaway. Get there, tell your joke, get out. Instead, we get a protracted sequence of ALF shocking himself by pushing buttons, making jokes about how he hates celery, and then the introduction of a guest character. Which, again, since this is an irrelevant fantasy inserted into the show because Jake’s graduation party is far from adequate material for a full-length plot, is fucking crazy.

Who cares about the fake scientist who doesn’t even exist in the show’s reality? I have hard enough time caring about most of the characters who do. Why am I spending time with this deformed guy?

ALF, "We Are Family"

Like, he actually is deformed. He’s some guy who’s been in a crapload of horror movies, but in this case, why is ALF fantasizing that he’s going to be captured by a guy who can’t grow hair or teeth? Why that specific detail? What’s even the point of this? Nothing horrific is happening…ALF is just fantasizing some shitty dialogue for him and this imaginary scientist to shoot back and forth.

What the hell is going on?

If I’d gone for a bathroom break and came back to find that the Jake’s Graduation episode had somehow become the ALF’s Vivisection episode, I’d have been a confused little boy.

ALF, "We Are Family"

Actually, I’m no less confused as a big boy. What the fuck is this episode? We’re nearing the halfway point, and I couldn’t tell you. ALF racked up a huge phone bill, so it’s time for Jake to graduate, therefore ALF considers writing a press release about himself, and he daydreams about being held captive in a government testing facility.

This…I don’t know, guys. I feel like I’m having a stroke. Nothing here has any connection to anything else.

At least we’re back in the Tanner kitchen. That will give me a chance to reorient myself. ALF’s at his typewriter, Willie’s in his fishing vest, and…

ALF, "We Are Family"

wat

Now ALF is hosting a talk show.

What the actual what fucking what.

What is this episode? He’s on the old David Letterman set, which makes sense, as at this point in time Letterman was still hosting Late Night on NBC. In case you forgot, that’s ALF‘s network. The fact that Letterman himself doesn’t appear goes a long way toward demonstrating his excellent taste in entertainment.

ALF makes some dumbass jokes about eating cats because he’s ALF and ALF eats cats. Then we…

no.

NOOO

ALF, "We Are Family"

Willie is dressed like Paul Shaffer, hamming it up while some actual musician in the background wishes he didn’t need the extra income so badly.

The weird thing is that Max Wright does an actual impression of Shaffer, which itself gave me gallstones, yes, but the reason it’s weird is that he thanks ALF for hiring him after firing Shaffer.

So…what?

What?

WHAT

If Willie isn’t ALF’s fantasy version of Shaffer — and in fact just replaced a version of Shaffer that already existed in this fantasy — shouldn’t Willie still be Willie?

Why is he talking and dressing and acting like Shaffer?

Why is this on television?

Why is any of this happening?

Happy graduation, Jake! I hope you enjoy this series of disconnected bullshit!

Then ALF introduces Sandy Duncan, who comes out and my fucking Christ this is awful.

ALF, "We Are Family"

So, recap: ALF made too many calls. Jake is graduating from eighth grade. ALF is considering writing a press release. ALF is flayed alive by the government. ALF is hosting Late Night. Got that?

Now Sandy Duncan turns up to promote Valerie’s Family.

Like…actually promote it. They talk about the actual show, including the recent plot development of a major character dying, and it seemed pretty fucking incongruous until I looked it up and saw that, at the time, Valerie’s Family was airing right after ALF.

I remember a lot of old shows used to have an actor, in character, say something like, “And now stay tuned for…!” over the end credits, which was a pretty corny way of implying endorsement, but I can understand it.

I don’t often remember the star of a show popping up in the previous one to plead with someone, anyone, to stick around and watch it.

Valerie’s Family now is barely remembered. When it is, it’s mainly due to the fact that it featured a young Jason Bateman. During its fairly short lifespan it actually went through three title changes. Valerie, Valerie’s Family, and The Hogan Family. I barely remember the show existing, so I guess cramming one of its stars into the second throwaway fantasy sequence of an instantly forgettable episode of ALF somehow failed to launch it into the public consciousness.

Then we get a commercial, and I have to admit, it’s perfectly placed. I certainly can’t guess what happens next.

ALF, "We Are Family"

When we come back, ALF is dressed as who cares. He called a press conference, and the family just sits around bitching about how boned they are.

Instead of, you know, calling the reporters or whatever and saying it was a hoax and they’re very sorry.

Or stabbing ALF to death with a corkscrew.

Willie then comes in with a documentary about a Ugandan orangutan, and puts it in the VCR. I was seriously afraid we’d get another fantasy sequence with the Tanners playing the roles of zoo animals. See what you’ve done to me, “We Are Family”?

Also…WHY THE FUCK IS THIS CALLED “WE ARE FAMILY.” WHY IS THIS NOT CALLED “A MISHMASH OF MEANDERING HORSE SHIT.”

ALF, "We Are Family"

Oh good. We actually get to watch it.

This episode is such a stitched together mess, I can’t even believe it. Way back in the second episode, “Strangers in the Night,” I had similar concerns. But, well…it was the second episode. At this point? There’s no excuse.

The narrator of the documentary we’re watching for no fucking reason explains that the orangutan was captured and felt so sad that it died of loneliness.

We actually just watch and hear a clip from a nature documentary. Why is this happening?

When it’s over, the Tanners repeat for us everything we’ve just heard, but at greater length to make sure we understand that ALF is totally like that orangutan, you guys.

What the shit happened to Jake’s graduation party? WHAT THE SHIT HAPPENED TO ANYTHING

Also the Tanners keep pronouncing “orangutan” as “a-rang-a-tang” and I’m starting to understand why Elvis shot his television.

Some reporter shows up, Kate tells him to piss off, and he leaves. Wow. They’re really committed to making sure nothing at all happens in this episode, aren’t they?

ALF then pops up through the plot window and says, sadly, “If Robin Leach calls back, just say ‘ALF who.'” Then the sad music plays and there’s no laughter, so I guess the audience is being asked to weep at a reference to Robin Leach. I can safely say ALF is the only show in history to attempt that.

ALF, "We Are Family"

Willie goes into his bathroom to take a shit, but his shy colon refuses to cooperate while ALF’s eating in the tub. ALF asks Willie how the graduation party was and Willie says fine.

…wait.

That’s it? It’s over? I thought that was the whole point of this episode. It happened off camera? Why did we even have to hear about it? What function did it play at all? Sure, it told us that Jake is graduating from eighth grade. But, if that’s the case, doesn’t that mean Brian and Lynn are graduating from their respective grades, too?

Why are the Ochmoneks throwing a party for their nephew, but the Tanners don’t give enough of a shit to throw one for either of their own children? WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS EPISODE.

The scene ends, but not before we get the great joke that ALF ate Willie’s soap and as a result filled the tub up with a stream of unstoppable feces.

ALF, "We Are Family"

Kate tells ALF to stop wallowing in his own soapy excrement because she wants to take a bath, and when he comes into the living room everyone yells surprise.

It’s…no.

No.

Please. Fucking. God.

No.

It’s a surprise party for ALF.

But…

Jodie is there. And Dr. Dykstra.

No.

Please don’t do this to them. Please. Please don’t put them in this episode. They don’t deserve this. Take me instead.

ALF, "We Are Family"

Kate Sr. and Jake are here too. Everyone’s trying to cheer ALF up by showing him that his world isn’t as limited as he thinks he is, which definitely feels like a resolution to an episode, but not one that saw ALF interviewing Sandy Duncan on Late Night.

This does, however, accomplish something that I like. It shows that ALF has a circle of friends. That’s something I didn’t realize, and which I don’t think the show realized, until this moment.

Usually he encounters these people one by one. Which, of course, is fine. But it contributes to a feeling of isolation that isn’t actually the case. These people can come over and keep him company any time.

It’s also telling that the Tanners didn’t invite the Mexican kid from “Border Song” or the forgotten little girl ALF promised never to forget from the Christmas special. Probably the two people who would most like to see ALF again, and who would actually benefit from having a friend themselves.

But, eh, fuck em. As long as ALF is happy, right?

You may notice something strange about these four guests. Kate Sr., Jake, Dr. Dykstra, and Jodie. One of these things, as they say, is not like the others.

Jodie is the only one who doesn’t know ALF is an alien. So what, exactly, does she think is going on here? As far as she knows, he’s just some short old guy. Isn’t she a little curious as to why they’re all there?

The others know that he’s the last of his species and can’t leave the house. Jodie doesn’t know any of that. Potentially, this could turn into a horrific situation in which a blind woman flees the house into oncoming traffic. But the Tanners didn’t bother to think about that. So fuck her, too.

ALF, "We Are Family"

Surprisingly, the show did think about it, and it leads to the best part of the episode. Jodie makes a joke about ALF’s ratty sweater, and everyone laughs. Then Dr. Dykstra does something very human: he makes awkward conversation with the person he’s stuck sitting next to at the party. Without anything else to say to Kate, he says, “She thinks ALF’s fur is a sweater.”

The look of panic in Kate’s eyes is perfect, and also very human. She pulls him aside and explains that Jodie doesn’t know ALF’s an alien, which you’d think would be a pretty fucking great reason not to invite her to this FEEL BETTER ALIEN party.

Sadly, it doesn’t go any further than this. Dr. Dykstra apologizes for having told Jodie earlier about the time ALF ate a tennis racket because he misunderstood the concept of catgut, and that’s that.

It’s a shame, because there are at least a few great episode ideas in here. The party of ALF’s friends could have fleshed out a nice 30 minutes itself, especially if we got to see some old familiar faces while we’re there. Jodie finding out ALF is an alien should also be a fun — and, let’s face it, inevitable — storyline. Or maybe even when that reporter showed up and Kate shooed him away, he caught a glimpse of ALF through the window, snapped a picture, and now there’s a media circus the Tanners have to deal with.

Any of that is better than watching a nature documentary with fucking Willie.

ALF, "We Are Family"

The Ochmoneks come over looking for Jake, dressed up because they always go dancing on Saturday nights. That’s sweet. When, exactly, is the last time Willie did anything nice for Kate? Or, to be honest, vice versa?

This is why I am willing to believe the Ochmoneks are in love. They have a history. They make each other laugh. They spend time together. Willie and Kate are barely roommates.

ALF hides in the kitchen when the neighbors come over, as usual. Jodie asks why, which is a great question, so Willie knocks her unconscious with a wrench.

The Ochmoneks are hurt because the Tanners had a party without inviting them, but that’s okay, because the episode’s almost over and it’s not like their feelings matter anyway. It turns into a joke about how this is a Tupperware party and the Ochmoneks are cheap. It’s as fitting an ending as anything could possible be for this barely coherent mess of an episode.

I know what you’re thinking. “Did this episode really end before we got to listen to Willie and Kate Sr. perform a duet?”

ALF, "We Are Family"

Don’t worry, brother. The pre-credits tag has you covered. Willie tickles the ivories while Kate Sr. bleats out an abbreviated cover of “The Band Played On.” It’s a well-deserved slap in the nuts for anyone who wasn’t smart enough to change the channel well before we got to this point.

I still have no idea what the fuck I just watched. If any of you can tell me, I’ll be forever in your debt.

One more episode. Then we move on to season three. Which, by all accounts, is worse than season two.

Personally, I don’t know how they could top this.

MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac ALF was considered above-average, though they did grade on a curve. Whatever any of that is supposed to mean. When Melmacians are depressed they eat more (with their “spare stomachs” opening up to accommodate the extra food), and gravitate toward cheap imitation porcelain.

ALF, "Tequila"

I’d really hoped to make it through the end of season two before “needing” another break, so I’m more than a little bummed that last week was interrupted by an unexpected outage. As I mentioned in my previous post, the site went down because I had more traffic in October than my service plan allowed for. That’s not to say it’s never been higher (my “Ozymandias” review of Breaking Bad is probably destined to be my all-time most visited post), but taking a look at Google Analytics, I see that the average number of visits per day has about tripled from this time last year. Over the course of a month, that adds up, and I ended up exceeding my bandwidth as a result.

Mysterious commenter / antagonist E[X] suggested that if I post my screenshots in .jpg format, they’d eat up less bandwidth. And he’s right. (That adds up, too, unquestionably.) But…I don’t know. .jpgs always look lousy to me. I’ll post the first screenshot here again in .jpg format.

ALF, "Tequila"

Do you notice a difference? Maybe it’s all in my mind, and it probably doesn’t matter anyway, but the fact is that there isn’t a comprehensive screenshot collection of ALF on the internet. I’m the last person who would complain about such a deficiency, but if I have the chance to provide one to actual fans out there while I’m already in the habit of reviewing the thing…I don’t know. I think that’s kind of cool, and they can be put to good use by others. The official ALF Facebook account has even burgled my screenshots lately, which is oddly flattering.

Do I love ALF so much that I feel compelled to present screenshots in their highest quality? No. Do I really think my reviews would be less popular or less well-received if I posted .jpgs instead of .pngs? No. But if I can make some passing fan happy, or quietly provide the ALF wiki with a usable photograph of Wizard Beaver, then I feel like I might as well.

These final episodes of season two should be interesting. Last week we had a surprisingly good episode: “I’m Your Puppet,” which was a fascinating look at the frustrations of working on this show filtered through the rigid format of the sitcom itself. And next week we have “Varsity Blues,” which is an episode I’ve been looking forward to ever since the start of season one. I haven’t seen it yet (unless I saw it as a kid and forgot, which is possible), and I won’t spoil it for anyone out there who doesn’t know what it’s about, but let’s just say that the plot description suggests it will deal with probably the longest-standing issue I’ve had with this show. Successful or not, that’s something I am very excited to see.

This episode was mentioned in a comment by FelixSH as being good. Or…better than “Movin’ Out,” anyway. He also singled out “I’m Your Puppet,” and that one was awesome, so potentially the end of season two might look a lot like its long-missed beginning: better than it has any right to be.

“Tequila” starts out with a scene that’s good without being particularly funny. Kate is preparing for a visit from her old college roommates, and because she wants to make a good impression, everyone has a chore to do. ALF and Lynn are polishing the silver, and this might be the first time that we’ve seen ALF and Lynn assigned the same task. The fact that they’re both bored by it makes it easy for the show to pass it off as an exercise in quiet bonding, and I love that.

ALF makes all the normal jokes you’d expect, and they’re neither more nor less funny than usual, but what I love is watching Lynn’s face. When Andrea Elson actually smiles (as opposed to acting like her character is smiling), it’s adorable. And whether she’s laughing out of turn or not, it suits the context: Lynn doesn’t want to do this, and will take any release she can get. The same tired jokes coming out of the same tired alien represent a small escape, and if you watch her face through this scene, you’ll see that she laughs at every single one of them. It’s sweet, and 100% believable.

Then Willie and Brian come home with groceries, and Willie screams at his wife to drop whatever she’s doing and come open the door for him.

God I hope Kate’s old roommates give her shit for dumping Joe Namath for this guy.

ALF, "Tequila"

Anyway, ALF wrote shit on the wall, and I’m a bit disappointed by Kate’s over-the-top reaction.

Yeah, don’t get me wrong, this sucks. In theory. But it’s not like ALF wrote anything particularly objectionable…just something stupid. Unless there’s a dirty joke in WELCOME DORM QUEENS that I’m not getting. If he wrote HELLO YOU SHITTY HAGS I’d understand…and it’s not much of a reach to think that he would write something like that.

Kate’s gasp of horror when she notices this rings false. Anne Schedeen does her best with it, but the reveal of the writing isn’t enough to justify it, so it falls flat. Her immediate decision to cancel the dinner is even more out of scale to the problem.

Instantly a wealth of ideas present themselves as alternative solutions, especially since the groceries just arrived and she hasn’t even started preparing dinner. If there’s time to do that, there’s plenty of time to…

…paint over it. It’s high enough on the wall that nobody will accidentally touch it, so it doesn’t matter if it’s still wet.

…hang a sheet over it. Explain that there’s a crack or some water damage there that’s being fixed tomorrow.

…come up with a cover story about Brian doing this, thinking it was a nice gesture. It’s not like the kid has any other role on the show; might as well make him the designated scapegoat for ALF’s shenanigans.

And those are just the first things that come to mind. I’m sure you guys could come up with a dozen more. But because there’s some crayon on the wall and she married a worthless piece of shit who gives up after five seconds of caressing it with a damp sponge, Kate calls her pals and arranges to meet them at a restaurant on their old campus.

ALF, "Tequila"

They do, and it’s what Alan Partridge would sagely describe as a load of women talking blabbering crap. The conversation is stilted and hollow. They don’t really feel like old friends, to me. They feel like four actresses at a table exchanging background information about the characters they barely get to play.

It just about builds to what could have been a great storyline, though: after her three friends discuss all the rad shit they’ve been up to, they ask Kate what she’s been doing. “Nothing,” she replies, and the delivery is perfect. Schedeen sells the sadness of it without making it feel like Kate’s aware of the sadness. It’s the kind of thing somebody says without thinking that turns out to be more truthful than anything they say when they are.

But that’s about it. It’s a shame, because way back in “Jump” we learned that Kate used to do a hell of a lot. You know. Before she married the sentient pepperoni log we call Willie.

The suggestion that her friends are still living exciting, fulfilling, successful lives might suggest that it’s Kate who took a wrong turn…or, at least, offer enough of a suggestion to that effect that she can explore it throughout the episode before realizing she’s happy where she is, and that that’s what matters.

Nothing groundbreaking, but something recognizable. And it’s a shame that her “nothing” response just sort of gets swept away. I want to see that episode. Schedeen could sell it. I wish they’d let her.

ALF, "Tequila"

Two of her friends leave — I don’t know who they are, so let’s just call them Pancho and Miffy — and she’s alone at the table with the third, Maura.

It’s an odd scene, and I know Schedeen is a stronger actress than this episode is letting on, so she may have just gotten some very poor — even by ALF standards — direction.

See, as soon as the other two depart, Kate starts telling Maura how proud they all are of her, and of what she’s accomplished, and it sounds so desperately supportive that the same take of this line could play over a scene of talking Maura down from a tall building.

We find out in a moment Maura is depressed, but Kate doesn’t know that, and indeed is shocked to find out. So why is she already talking to her like a suicide prevention operator?

Maura begins to cry, and Kate believably doesn’t know how to handle it. It’s probably been a long time since she’s had to deal with anything like somebody’s real emotions. Certainly before she moved onto a soundstage webbed by deadly puppet trenches.

That much, I buy. What I don’t buy is Maura asking if she can stay at Kate’s tonight, and Kate replying, “Uh…no.”

Sorry. The next scene lets us know that what she’s worried about is Maura finding ALF, but the delivery just makes it sound like Kate’s a bitch. And the thing is…she’s not.

She’s chilly. She’s stubborn. She lacks a sense of humor. But all of this, we’ve seen by now, is productive. She runs a tight ship, and her intentions are good. She’s not selfish, really. Yes, she wants things her way, but she wants them her way because she’s convinced that’s the best way for her family. And considering the pack of idiots she lives with, it’s hard to fault her for arriving at that conclusion.

So, no. Kate would not turn away a crying friend with a callous, “Uh…no.”

She’d make an excuse, maybe, but “Uh…no” is reserved for when ALF wants to dance naked on the roof, or when Willie wants to touch her boobs.

Not a friend in need. That’s not Kate.

ALF, "Tequila"

She calls home to tell Willie that a friend will be spending the night. While he’s on the phone, ALF climbs a ladder with a bucket of paint so that the ladder can fall over and the paint can ruin the couch.

It’s fucking stupid.

The only funny part is watching ALF fall, which is impossible to catch in a good screenshot, but it looks like they just stuffed the old midget suit with leaves and dropped it from the rafters. Brilliant.

ALF, "Tequila"

In the next scene, Willie has disposed of the couch…apparently.

Seriously, where the hell is it? He set up the cot because ALF ruined the couch, yes, but WHERE IS THE COUCH? You can’t expect me to believe Max Wright fucking shouldered a sofa out of the house all on his own. And even if he did…why? Wouldn’t it be easier to just drape a sheet over it?

Willie tells ALF that he’s not sleeping in the garage tonight; he has to sleep in Brian’s room. You know, because “you’re not sleeping in the garage tonight” was a such a massively successful plan when Uncle Albert came to stay.

How many fucking people need to see ALF / get murdered by ALF before these morons just leave well enough alone and let the fucking space creature stay in the shed? There’s no reason given at all, and I certainly can’t think of one. Can you?

Why is it smarter in any way to hide ALF one room away from their guest than it is to hide him in a completely separate building? Especially when he wants to be in the other building? Yes, I know he likes Brian, but he doesn’t like spending the night with him. The kid always wants to cuddle afterward and talk about their feelings.

Kate and Maura arrive back at the house, and Kate calls Lynn in to say hello. She doesn’t call her son because to hell with him.

Maura is a lawyer, which I’m only mentioning now because Lynn starts swooning over her performance in the People v. Fusco case. So, yeah, like “I’m Your Puppet,” we get a little dose of meta comedy. Unlike “I’m Your Puppet,” though, it goes nowhere, and just seems bizarre.

Why is a teenage girl with no interest in law going ga-ga over some case we don’t hear anything about? Of course, People v. Fusco does eerily presage the class action suit I’m putting together on behalf of everybody who sat through this season’s Christmas special.

ALF, "Tequila"

Massive shocker: the thing that was absolutely guaranteed to happen the moment Willie told ALF he had to sleep in the house happens.

Seriously, I’m all for plot contrivance. I am. I know we have about 20 minutes to tell a story front to back, and if logistical corners need to get cut, so be it. But in this case, it’s not a corner being cut at all. It’s Willie saying, “ALF, we need you to stay out of the way of our guest, so instead of sleeping where she will never in a thousand years find you, you’ll be sleeping a few yards away.” And it makes no sense whatsoever.

It was the same thing in the damned Uncle Albert episode. You can contrive for ALF to be in an easily-discoverable place, but we need reasons for ALF to be in an easily-discoverable place. You can’t just shit him there; you need to do at least a little bit of legwork.

Maybe the garage has caved in from some of ALF’s antics. Maybe he broke his leg falling off the ladder and needs to be in the house so Brian can take care of him. Maybe he’s in the shed, but Maura comes out because she hears him rocking out to “Billie Jean.” There are any number of ways to address this in a way that at least makes some superficial sense.

Instead, the Tanners keep addressing the problem of hiding ALF by making sure he’s out in the open.

No sense is being made. Period.

ALF, "Tequila"

So far, the contrivance has been no worse than the one in “We’re So Sorry, Uncle Albert.” But the result is worse. At least Uncle Albert did a rational thing when he discovered ALF: he dropped dead on the fucking spot.

Here, Maura assumes ALF is someone named Sammy and invites him to have a drink.

The next morning they’re still chatting. Okay, so, Maura’s drunk. Fine. She sure drank a lot of tequila judging from that screenshot, but an hours-long conversation with a space alien is not allowed.

Sorry. It’s not.

At some point she’d have to realize this wasn’t who she thought it was. Maybe if she just saw ALF in passing. Or if they only spoke for a few minutes. I’d still be a little skeptical at her lack of panic, but rapping with a moonman until the sun comes up doesn’t raise even the smallest flag for this woman?

Drunk or not, I call bullshit.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but any time I’ve been drunk, any warped perception has been in terms of interpretation. You know? Somebody tries giving you a hard time, but you’re so happy you hug him and don’t realize you’re being insulted. Or somebody says something perfectly benign and you suspect you’re the butt of a joke you’re not alert enough to understand and get upset.

In other words, drunkenness causes you to misunderstand things, certainly. (Or at least makes it faaaar easier to do so.) But it doesn’t make you see things that aren’t there. I might hear something a friend says and interpret it incorrectly, but I don’t look at my friend and see Mr. Peanut. I might stumble around, having trouble remembering my address, but while searching for my house I won’t look at a tree and see a lung.

So, no. I’m sorry. You cannot have a protracted conversation with an alien from an undiscovered civilization without batting an eye. God, I have enough trouble talking to regular human beings when I’m sober. I can’t begin to imagine how a drunken conversation with an extra-terrestrial would go.

ALF, "Tequila"

Later on Willie and Kate hear ALF stumbling drunkenly around the house. At first I was puzzled by their lack of reaction, but then I realized that by this point the Alien Task Force are the only people in LA that haven’t seen ALF, and this is nothing new for anyone.

Maura tells ALF — who she still thinks is Sammy — that he shows up whenever she drinks, arriving around the third margarita and leaving sometime during her blackout. The fake audience of long-dead nobodies doesn’t laugh, so I guess this is supposed to be a sad and tender moment.

It doesn’t work for two reasons, though.

Firstly, we don’t know who this person is. At all. She’s a lawyer, she was Kate’s roommate, and she drinks. Granted, that’s more character development than almost anyone else on this show, but it’s still not enough to make us care about her. See why that “nothing” comment in the bar was so much more enticing? We know Kate. That means that when she is the one working through something, stakes are involved. We’re interested to see how it turns out. Instead, it’s somebody we just met, and will never see again. It doesn’t actually matter.

Secondly, this is not how drinking works. Honestly, it feels a little like the alcoholism stuff was written by a kid who only knew booze from after-school specials.

Alcohol is not a hallucinogen. It has the potential to be a terrible, terrible thing when misused or overused, but that doesn’t mean it makes imaginary people appear and chew the fat with you until you pass out.

I’m curious as to how much drunk acting on television is true to life. It’s hard for me to come up with many examples; typically it’s overplayed for broad laughs (Barney on The Simpsons is a good example, or Jack on Father Ted), or it seems to spring directly from the tee-totaling minds of The American Temperance Society. It’s very rare that any show, even the great ones, manage to do drunkenness right. (The “Thanks for the Memory” episode of Red Dwarf comes to mind…and not much else does.)

I’m going to open up to you folks.

I grew up with an alcoholic father. It was not pleasant. I have terrible memories that I wish I could shed, but I can’t. I’m stuck with them. Alcoholism is an absolutely awful thing to endure. The memories of being around it dig deeply into you, and not one of them will be pleasant.

So I’m not opposed to a didactic “don’t drink” episode. I don’t need one, but if it’s a message a TV show wishes to pass along, well…more power to them.

But instead of building a storyline or a plot point around what can actually happen when somebody’s drunk, these shitty shows have a strange habit of inventing something stupid, and treating that like it’s the reason we should exercise moderation.

In this case, it’s little goblins who visit Maura. Which, with all due respect, what the fuck. I remember an episode of Family Matters in which Urkel drank some spiked punch and fell off the roof, clinging to a clothesline, after having invented a dance named after himself that everyone else at the party spontaneously did along with him. And at some point in school we had to watch a video in which some kid accepted a sip of beer from an older friend, and then he could never shoot hoops again because a fleeting taste of Coors Light is enough to make you dizzy for life.

I’m not standing on the outskirts making fun of ALF for wanting to do an alcoholism episode. I don’t think it’s necessarily lame or quaint or idiotic. But since alcoholism is something that has affected my life — directly, deeply, and irreparably — I’m concerned by how many shows and specials want to address the problem without actually addressing the problem.

Have Maura try to drive home and crash into the mailbox or something. It can be small-scale. She doesn’t have to hit a kid. But have her do something that reveals an actual danger of drinking too much.

Have her say something stupid to Kate, insulting the woman who gave her a place to stay for the night when she needed a friend. The next morning she can reflect back on what she’s said and be horrified.

Have her get drunk and trip on something, falling down and giving herself a black eye. Maybe ALF has to carry her back to bed, so they can still meet if that’s so fuckin’ important.

These shows try to horrify people without even touching upon how these things can turn horrific. Their cautionary tales exist in a sort of fantasy land where even the worst possible outcome isn’t all that bad. Drink too much and some invisible creatures will keep you company? Sounds fun, actually. And god knows I’d drink however much liquor was necessary for a party full of strangers to gather ’round and spontaneously Do The Reed.

It’s bizarre. It’s like a show trying to make a point about gun control, but it uses for its example a scene in which the main character drops a pistol on his toe and it really hurts.

If you want to say something about the issue, say something about the issue.

Don’t invent a harmless version and act like you’re afraid of that. That’s not helpful, and it’s disrespectful. Trying to warn somebody of the reality of a topic like this absolutely requires an acknowledgment of that reality, and if you need to “invent” a different outcome, it needs to be as bad as or worse than what we see in real life. This isn’t advice…this is a rule.

ALF, "Tequila"

ALF comes into the room and they all talk for fucking ever about how much he needs to barf.

Willie remembers that in college, they used to call Maura “Boilermaker,” because she drank a shitload of boilermakers. So…Willie and Kate went to college together? That’s kind of interesting. I guess. Has this come up before? Of course it hasn’t. Who am I kidding.

ALF goes into the bathroom and we hear him barf for fucking ever.

ALF, "Tequila"

We cut to Lynn and Maura having breakfast. It’s just basic, time-killing bullshit until it’s time for Lynn to go to school, at which point she tells Maura how proud she is and how she wants to be like her when she grows up and all the same kind of shit her mother was saying last night at the cafe. Why are the Tanners in suicide prevention mode lately?

Yes, Maura’s a fuckin’ wreck, but neither of the characters finds this out until after they deliver their “you have so much to live for” speech. It’s really odd.

Maura starts crying again and Willie guides Lynn out of the room in the first human gesture I’ve seen in the entire episode. It’s something I can see an actual adult doing with their actual child, with the intention of explaining later. Willie, being a shit father, is probably not going to explain later because he’ll be busy staring vacantly at the wall, but this part of the process, at least, is familiar.

Kate confronts Maura about her drinking problem, and it’s…not all bad. Kate gently asks her how much she drank, leading the conversation without being confrontational. Maura defends herself by saying she’s under a lot of stress and is fighting with her husband…which isn’t an excuse, but is a perfectly valid way of explaining a one-off night of stupidity.

Neither wants to push too hard, and both are clearly uncomfortable. It’s actually a decent enough scene, if we didn’t need to keep cutting to ALF doing nothing in the living room because Paul Fusco is constantly paranoid that people will forget who the show is named after.

In fact, y’know what? This conversation is way too close to being effectively relateable, so let’s just send the alien waltzing in without any reason.

ALF, "Tequila"

ALF announces to Maura that only she can see him; he’s invisible to Kate and everyone else. Maura, in spite of the fact that she’s stone-sober now, believes this. If it was absurd for her to have this conversation last night after a bottle of tequila, it’s upgraded to fucking ridiculous that she could have it again, now, sober, in front of another person who just sits there quietly waiting for this to resolve itself.

ALF, through his talent of spewing nonsensical bullshit that fictional characters flick themselves off to, saves the day. He appeals to Maura’s sadness and desperation, and gets her to admit she has a problem.

Which…y’know, Kate was kinda doing on her own. One friend to another.

These are two people who have known each other for decades. They have a history together. They trust each other and they care about each other. When Kate allows herself to understand that Maura has a problem, she is finally ready to help Maura with that problem.

All of this comes dangerously close to being a logical resolution to a serious subject, so of course it gets interrupted by ALF, the magical booze gnome, strolling in from the living room and tying everything up with a neat little bow.

It would be fine if this was the joke. Perhaps Kate was doing just fine, but ALF comes in with good intentions and fucks it all up. This late in the episode that wouldn’t make much sense, I know, but what happens doesn’t make any more sense anyway.

Why does ALF have to intrude on this scene? Were they trying to make a point about recognizing the problems you have, or were they trying to make a point about how awesome ALF is?

ALF, "Tequila"

I guess it’s the latter, because the short scene before the credits has a letter arriving from Maura, who assures the Tanners that even though she will never be seen again, she’s doing great and will be forever.

Kate thanks ALF and tells him that they owe him “a big one.” You know. Because he explicitly disobeyed their orders by skulking around the house the night they had a guest sleeping in the living room, and then rudely interrupted a very serious conversation Kate was having with a fragile and desperate woman.

You know, this episode could have been pretty good if it weren’t for this show’s frustrating tendency to cram ALF into as many scenes as possible. And that’s the problem with this show as a whole. ALF, as a character, suffocates everything else. The good stuff happens around the margin — Kate’s background business, Lynn giggling, Willie dropping his crack pipe — because it has to. At the center of the show, whether or not he has anything to do with the story or has any reason to be there, it’s ALF. And that’s draining.

It’s like having your annoying uncle show up at every party you attend. Sure, any one of those nights could be fun, but after a while…won’t you just stop going?

So, yeah. Alcoholism is bad, but you know what’s the opposite of bad?

ALF. He’s just great. His jokes are wonderful, and he solves so many problems that two human beings speaking like adults could never hope to solve.

What’s all this shit about admitting you have a problem and letting the ones you love help you through it? The real solution is the saintly alien who pretends to be an imaginary drinking buddy and sorts your life out, and sometimes rapes the kids.

How many of these episodes are just going to be about how perfect ALF is? It’d be one thing if he was ever actually helping anyone, but instead he just sort of causes problems and sometimes offers up half-assed solutions that only work because the episode has to end sometime.

See, when I was growing up, I always thought that my father needed help. That he needed to open up to somebody — anybody — about whatever it was that made him drink so much. That he needed to look at himself in the mirror and say, “I have to slow down.” That he needed to reflect upon what he was doing to himself, to his friends, to his job, and to his family.

I see now that what he really needed was a wisecracking alien to tell shitty jokes, rip a fart, and tap-dance out of the room.

Fuck you, ALF.

Anonymous Death

November 5th, 2014 | Posted by Philip J Reed in internet - (2 Comments)

The Black PageI spent Tuesday night with some friends. They may be moving to Germany. I may be able to count the number of times I’ll see them again on one hand.

It was a fun night. I came home late. Tired, but not enough to sleep. So I went onto 4chan.

No, I’m not linking to it. Nor will I include any pictures. Because during a night of aimless browsing — the very last context I’d expect — I witnessed a murder.

An actual murder.

This is not a metaphor. This is not a cutesy way of making a point.

There was a woman who was murdered and I was there to see it.

I’ll explain, but at the same time I’m not sure how much I can explain.

4chan has a reputation, of course. But I know people who use it, and enjoy it. I think you need to go into the site knowing you’re going to hear a lot of inflated, ridiculous talk. It goes without saying that that talk will focus around subjects that polite conversations do not. You can come up with your own examples. I don’t need to supply them. If it comes to mind, it’s there. Right now.

But it’s talk. It’s words. What are words? I can say anything I like. That doesn’t make it true. And if you get offended by it, you can visit another blog. Right?

Words.

4chan was only words.

And pictures.

On and off over the past few weeks I’ve been dipping into 4chan. No real reason. It just felt like a blind spot to me. It’s a well-known (albeit not well-regarded) corner of the internet that I knew almost nothing about. And, sure, I’ve seen it before. But I hadn’t really explored it. Scroll through the nonsense and you might find something funny. You might not. Does it matter what you find?

I found a murder.

This night, this past Tuesday night, I knew I just wanted to kill time until I fell asleep. And I figured that was as good a time as any to give that site another chance.

The first photograph I saw will be easy for you to find online, if you’re so inclined. I recommend you don’t. It was a woman, naked, on her back. She was in bed, with her head hanging over the edge of the mattress. Her skin was a sickly bluish grey. It was instantly, deeply haunting.

But I did not know what it was.

Online, you can find pictures of dead people. It’s easy. Real, and realistic fabrications. Over-the-top effects to rival Hollywood. Sometimes you can’t even tell them apart. Things spread as fact. Sometimes they might even be.

So I thought, maybe, it was something like that. Some crime scene photograph of an unfortunate corpse that recirculates every so often in circles I don’t have any reason to frequent. Just to gross people out. Just to make them uneasy. Like I was now.

I didn’t click into the thread. But the next thread was something more benign. I don’t remember it now. I think it was something like, “Share something you’ve never shared with anyone.” That was more interesting. Without clicking into it, I could see the most recent reply. Somebody said, “This murder thing has me really worried that it’s real.”

Other threads cropped up. I still didn’t click into the original, but I also couldn’t look away. I didn’t want to know more, but I think what I wanted was to find some logistical flaw. See the string. Spot the seam where the photograph ended and the retouch began. I wanted something I could end on. Some punctuation that would let me go to sleep with the assumption that it’s at least possible that this didn’t really happen.

But it did. As more threads appeared and more photos appeared and old comments by the murderer were mirrored, I was finding it more and more conclusive.

Many pictures.

The same woman.

Impossible to tell how old. 40? 35?

I’ve never seen a dead body before. At least…I don’t think I have. I’ve never even attended a funeral service. I find them disrespectful. And yet, here I am, presented with naked photographs of a woman who has just been murdered. Disrespect to the dead cannot come in any purer form than that.

The first picture was shared with a comment along the lines of, “It’s harder to strangle someone to death than you’d think.”

Can you blame people for thinking it was some kind of very dark joke?

What on the internet isn’t a joke? What on the internet isn’t to be taken lightly? You need to let these things roll off of you.

More photos. The marks on her neck were clear. Somebody worries that it’s real, saying he can’t believe that “a woman was murdered on 4chan for our amusement.”

Whatever amusement there was died down quickly. At least overall. There were still assholes, but it’s impossible to know if they still thought it was some kind of gag, and didn’t want to be on the embarrassing end of some grand reveal.

“Nobody knows,” the murderer said. “Her son will be home soon and he will find her and call the cops. Right now, you people are the only ones who know.”

Who was she? Where was she? What happened? Why was she naked? Were they lovers? Did he initiate some dangerous sex game with her and then take it too far when he knew she’d let him?

Nobody else heard anything. Her neighbors were home. There was no struggle. There was no breaking and entering. Whatever happened, this woman was expecting something very different. She’s dead now.

Her murderer took her life, fully intending to do so. He planned it. He took photographs. He posted them online. He said he wanted to share them before he got caught. As of right now, I don’t know that he has been caught.

Someone finds an article online. Sure enough, the woman’s son found her dead body and called the police. Breaking news. Before long at all, it’s tied to the photos posted on 4chan. That was her. She had a family. Her son has no mother. A woman’s life is over, and I watched it happen. I watched it move from sick possibility to cold, stony permanence.

My stomach hurts. I don’t know what to think. If I think about it at all, I feel dizzy.

Why was she murdered? We’ll probably never know. But the urge to post the single most disheartening, disgusting thing in the history of a site known for being disheartening and disgusting certainly comes to mind.

I don’t know if it matters. Whether this woman was killed in an argument gone awry or she was killed for the “amusement” of a website, she’s dead. It certainly doesn’t change anything her family and friends and neighbors are going through right now.

There’s a real danger to creating an environment that takes things too lightly. Desensitization is very real. I know, because I experienced it. Just a few hours of browsing 4chan over a couple of weeks had exposed me to think I wish I’d never seen or read, but it all just becomes a sort of beige palaver after a while. Drugs, violence, depravity, yes, yes, I’ve seen all this. You just keep scrolling. These things lose their meaning. These things lose their identities. This things, in a very real way, become just words, and you pay no more attention to them than you do a licensing agreement when you install software.

You’re on the computer for something. These words are not that something. So on we scroll. Down, down, down, down.

I saw a dead body. I saw a woman killed for my amusement. I was on that site, wasn’t I? I was scrolling. What was I scrolling for? Had to be something, right? And how much did I have to scroll past to find it? There was a kind of escalation involved, and it was one I didn’t even feel.

Didn’t even feel until it hits like a brick to the gut.

And a woman is dead. Strangled in what sounds like it was a long and difficult murder. Her neighbors watching television. Eating leftover Halloween candy. Her son on his way home, unaware that anything, anywhere, has changed.

That’s what happens, I guess. When you scroll down far enough.

Now how the fuck do we get back?

Pills

November 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Philip J Reed in personal - (7 Comments)

antidepressants

I’ve opened up, a bit, about some of the emotional struggles I’ve faced. What I’m not sure I’ve opened up about yet — and what actually has bearing on what happened here at the end of October — is the fact that I take medication.

Which makes me crazy. Right? I mean, I’m not in pain. I don’t have cancer. Is it fair of me to just pop a pill and gloss over the hard times when everybody else has to deal with their problems like an adult?

These are the kinds of things people assume. They must. Otherwise people like myself would be a lot more open about the fact that we take the medication we do. Somebody can mention openly that they take Percocet — a very addictive and frequently abused painkiller — because they sustained a physical injury. Very few people would begrudge them this escape from their pain. In fact, they’d be likely to make allowances for fluctuations in that person’s behavior. They are, after all, on drugs.

Mention that you take an antidepressant, however, and you get a very different response. Anything from a skeptical “You don’t seem depressed…” to an openly dismissive eyeroll. Every so often, yes, you’ll get a response of understanding and support. These responses tend to come from people who have taken them as well, or have close friends or family members who have. That is to say, they’ve learned that it’s nothing to be afraid of.

Why, exactly, is this something that needs to be learned? Isn’t the fact that somebody is taking medication to help them through their problems a good thing? Wouldn’t the far scarier situation be that somebody with psychological issues refuses to treat them?

When this site went down, I was in Chicago. I’ve never been there before. I didn’t get to see much of the city. One reason for that is that I was there on business, and though I wasn’t in the office, eight hours’ of work still needed to be done each day.

The other, much more serious, reason is that I was suffering withdrawals.

I take a pretty minor dose of Zoloft. Not because it’s a magical pill that makes the bad things in life go away. That doesn’t exist.

What does exist is medicine that helps to regulate the chemicals in my brain. And that’s what I need. Before I started taking it, I had issues with anxiety and with depression. Now I still have those issues, but in ways that are far easier to deal with, and to understand. Anxiety is no longer crippling, for instance. It still exists, but the way I experience it now — thanks to medication — is closer to the “normal” experience of anxiety. Depression isn’t as deep anymore, nor does it linger anywhere near as long.

I’ll be honest with you: medication doen’t unfairly circumvent the problem. What it does is give me the help that I need to face it head-on, and learn to deal with it in a way that will not kill me.

It’s not evasive action. It’s not retreat. It’s the opportunity fight in the battles that I used to lose outright.

I say it’s a minor dose because that’s important. It’s so minor that I’ve missed taking it for days, and haven’t had any problem. In Chicago, however, far from my pharmacy, with my forgotten plastic bottle an insurmountable distance away, it happened. I went through withdrawals. When I realized I’d left my medication at home, I didn’t worry. It’s never been a problem before.

But now, all at once, it was. And so when the site went down…well, no offense to anyone, but that was the least of my worries. Sure, I probably could have called my hosting company and handled it that way…but…

…I couldn’t.

At all.

I couldn’t do anything. Because my body was rebelling. My mind was rebelling. They got used to medication that they wanted, badly. And it was mutiny.

That’s the best way I can describe it. I was barely able to force myself out of bed and for much of the trip unable to force myself to eat. My body was having none of it; it wanted Zoloft. Which I didn’t have. And which I could not have. It wasn’t pleasant.

Years ago, before I left New Jersey, I took Lexapro. I was sold on the idea because it wasn’t habit forming, and only had to be taken temporarily. Apparently the medication was designed to “teach” your brain the appropriate chemical levels it would need to operate normally. So you’d take it for a while, and when you stopped your brain would remember how much of what chemicals it needed to produce. Sounded great.

In Florida, I went off Lexapro.

It was habit forming. It didn’t teach my brain anything. And I entered what was probably the worst three or four weeks of my life.

The withdrawals were severe and debilitating. I wasn’t me. So much of that time is a blur, and a dark one. What I remember about it I remember second hand, from friends who were there for me, listened to how I felt, and can remind me now what it was like.

Otherwise I’m left only with scattered details. Mornings that I’d wake up on the floor, unaware of how I got there. Times at work that my brain would seem to shut down and reboot…sensations of sight and sound coming back only gradually. Phantom shadows that belonged to nothing. And a day that I was driving in my car and heard Neil Young singing “Harvest Moon” on the radio. It’s a sweet song, one I quite like, and not sad at all. But hearing it, in that state, I had to pull over, because I was breaking down. Weeping hard. Some emotion had been triggered by it. One I still can’t place. This wasn’t me.

In Chicago, the withdrawal wasn’t as bad as that. It was bad enough that I wasn’t in any kind of shape to do…well, anything apart from the work I was sent there to do. I brought a book, and couldn’t read it. I brought my 3DS, and couldn’t focus enough to play. I had friends near there…but I didn’t want them to see me in that state. That wasn’t me, either.

I meant to say all of this in my last post…but was still recovering. I didn’t have clarity of mind. And I wanted to make sure I got one point across better than I could have at the time:

People taking medication for emotional problems just need a little bit of help. That’s all it is.

It’s nothing to be afraid of, and — as I hope the above makes clear enough — not at all an easy way out. People who take that medication are necessarily working harder than those who don’t need it. For most people, brain chemistry and emotional stability just happen. Like breath. Or a beating heart. You don’t need to focus on it. Sometimes something may interrupt it, but it doesn’t take much to get it back on track again.

For me, and for folks dealing with things so much more difficult than I am, that’s not the case.

Getting things back on track takes labor. It takes time. It takes focus and attention. It’s hard work, because the track may have to be built again from scratch.

Just understand. That’s all.

When you find out that a friend or a colleague or a family member of yours takes some kind of antidepressant, antianxiety, or even an antipsychotic medication, you know the best thing to say?

Nothing.

At all.

Because that’s not them. The medication is a tool, and a necessary one. Otherwise — I can promise you confidently — they wouldn’t put themselves through what’s involved with taking it.

Don’t draw attention to it. It will just make them feel uneasy, even if you think the attention you’re giving it is positive.

If you must say something, let them know you’re there for them, and leave it at that. If you’re not there for them, or you aren’t able to leave it at that, don’t say anything.

Mental health issues are scary precisely because we know so little about them. Limitations in the field of medicine — both logistical and ethical — make it very easy for doctors and scientists to study the physical healing process, and almost impossible for them to study the mental healing process.

We’re making progress. We’re learning. But we’re in dark, scary waters, fighting an enemy we know nothing about.

Don’t be afraid of the people who need help. By definition, they’re weaker than you are. If anything, they’ll be afraid of you.

Help them. Or don’t.

But never hinder them. And be aware that you’ll never know what that person is going through on the inside. They’re suffering wounds so deep nobody — that person included — can see them.

You might think their medication is frivolous. And you’re welcome to think that.

But if so? Keep your mouth shut. And have the decency, at least, not to trip them up as they seek the safety you take for granted.

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