Wednesday, December 30th, 2009
49

The End of the 00s: Augustine's Second Cat, by Julie Klausner

The bathroom, in hoardier times
I began the decade with a Kim's Video membership and an unslakable thirst for documentaries about crazy people. I'd rent their only VHS of Chicken Hawk, a doc about NAMBLA members, that featured a particularly memorable monologue from a yellow turtleneck aficionado about something he called "gentle time."

Crumb, my favorite movie at the time, was a then-rare example of what's since become considerably more popular: documentaries about fascinating people who suffer from different strains of mental illness, chased with a bit of tidy white-text-on-black-background coda information about what's happened to them since.

Crumb, with its slow burn reveals and its post-production update of (spoiler?) Charles Crumb's suicide, became a linear alternative to the ol' "turn the cameras on the characters, then walk away" method of 70's gamechangers like Grey Gardens. And throughout the last decade, finding abnormal psychology-themed documentaries with a story arc and an update before the credits became cake. Movies about deteriorating families, madness streaked with genius, and zany kooks followed in Crumb's big footsteps. And 2005's Grizzly Man is still our nation's most chilling reminder of what can happen to unhinged narcissists once they lose the part of "Woody the Bartender" to a totally different blond vegetarian.

Recently, TV began producing more and more docu-style programming starring people suffering from demons or addictions, and some bedazzled blithely with harmless quirks. And just in time for the now-defunct Mondo Kim's space to become a karaoke place, I finally have a DSM IV-worthy cornucopia of bats characters to ogle; as an armchair shrink, a camp aficionado, and a hoarder of human personality quirks I haven't seen before, from a safe distance.

This year alone, TLC aired "My Monkey Baby," a special (would that it were a series!) about American families who live with capuchin monkeys they treat like children. HBO aired the exquisite and insane "Cat Dancers," about a husband and wife circus act that eventually became a husband and wife and third guy they were both sleeping with act. It's also about the albino tiger that caused tragedy for all three. And A&E's "Intervention" spun off a show this summer that elevated the white-text-on-black-background coda into high art-or at least high storytelling-while the subject matter brought viewers into the "deep cuts" section of ab-psych curiosity. Obviously, I'm talking about "Hoarders." It is the show of the decade: our inevitable apex. More people watched this season's premiere of "Hoarders," in which a 68-year-old cat-lover from Louisiana named Augustine, than this season's premiere of "Mad Men." It was a doozy of a show.

Augustine, whose son came home from Washington state to help dig his mother out of the detritus that kept her company since he left home, was a remarkable "Hoarders" subject-not only because she didn't immediately thank the workmen who found her missing false teeth under the mounds of garbage on her living room floor-but because the producers found not one of her dead pet cats, frozen in time after possibly being killed under the weight of Augustine's own falling trash, but two. They found two dead cats. And when they found that second cat, it was as though we could all finally move on from the era of the kind of cringe-doc that we can trace back to Maysles, but lives specifically in the aughts as a thing that we found and made perfect. Maybe in retrospect, Grey Gardens was just "Hoarders" 1.0.

Anyway, the second cat. Do you know that song Jews sing on Passover, "Dayenu"? Hebrew for, "It would have been enough?" Come on, yes you do. Or text a Jewish person. Anyway, it's about how great God is, and how if all He had done was rescue us from the desert, and etc., etc., it would have been enough. If all He had done was rescue us from the desert and take us to Israel… and so on. It's like that "B.I.N.G.O." song, only with a new Old Testament specific each verse instead of a hand clap.

So: If Augustine had found her bottom teeth and not her top ones.

…If there had been one cat's corpse underneath the useless things and dirt she kept around her in hopes of filling the void of not having anybody in her life to talk to.

…If she were just another bra-less character from the Delta region with an oddly photogenic mental illness.

…If she weren't merely a pawn in the latest installment of the "Intervention" franchises, only without the part where they ship you off to rehab and they interview you once you're okay so people watching can feel like they're not just marinating in schadenfreude but instead participating in some kind of redemptive process that helps people help themselves, as though that is what television is for or has ever been for, even though I guess in the long run that might be a better feeling to give yourself than the feeling that you're just smugly laughing at how screwed up sick people can be, and so on and so forth, and "Hey Paula" too

Dayenu.



Julie Klausner's book, I Don't Care About Your Band, comes out Groundhog Day 2010.

49 Comments / Post A Comment

If this post was an eating disorder I would not get treatment for it.

lululemming (#409)

I very much like the cut of your jib, lady. Also, this post, specifically the title of yer forthcoming book, made me finally figure on my own pivotal moment of the last decade, and then I had a sad. And then I looked that the accompanying photo, and I had another sad. Then i saw a puppy, and I went "awww!!?" And so forth.

Tuna Surprise (#573)

May I recommend Hands on a Hardbody ? It's funny because: they're poor, they're in Texas, and the one lady is a religious nut. All things that still can be laughed at guilt-free.

Hands on a Hardbody is increds! "You are on road to hell. And I'm the devil and I still stand here til you die."

katiebakes (#32)

My documentary-about-a-wacky-person recommendation is The Real Dirt on Farmer John. Here is a servicey link.

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/realdirt/farmer.html

It's truly truly a delight and I've threatened like five times in 2009 to host a screening so let's make this numbah six!

jolie (#16)

Do this please. I will make a Junior League artichoke dip.

JulieKlausner (#1,143)

I will bring a selection of Carr's crackers!

jolie (#16)

OH MY GOD BAKES AND??? THERE ARE RECIPES ON THIS SITE YOU HAVE SENT ME TO AND ALSO BOAS AND GAYS AND NOW I SHALL DIE HAPPY.

(Also my documentary-loving soul adores each and every one of you and sort of also wants Julie Klausner and HiredGoones to each hold a hand while we watch Hoarders together.)

Tuna Surprise (#573)

I'll bring the Shasta.

I feel like this was written specifically for me to love.

HiredGoons (#603)

"Maybe in retrospect, Grey Gardens was just "Hoarders" 1.0."

It's an energy-efficient light-bulb just went off in my fucking head!

jolie (#16)

My best friend – who lives down the hall from me because we are creepy and codependant – made me watch Hoarders and I basically screamed and scratched at my face the entire way through before observing that his/my compulsive tidiness was just the flip side of the same bananas disorder. And also that I was very thankful we got the clean side of the coin.

He also makes me watch Grey Gardens once a quarter. So.

HiredGoons (#603)

I lie along the copper-ridge of that coin – I have a lot of stuff and can't throw anything out, but it's all very tasteful and nice, antique clocks and skulls, vintage cameras and modernist furniture and what have you.

Also, I have my parents' garage which is probably half Boxes of My Youth by Now. My mother slowly trickles things out of it to my nieces and nephews and the older stuff to her 5th and 6th grade students.

Sometimes I'll oh-so-casually ask about a certain old book or rock-collection just to test her and you can visibly see her spine straighten.

Also: I think I want to live down the hall from you.

HiredGoons (#603)

Also: which one of you is Big Edie and which one is Little Edie?

jolie (#16)

We're working on offing our neighbors by crushing them underneath piles of (neatly sorted) trash. I'll let you know when there's a vacancy.

jolie (#16)

He's Big Edie. I cannot tell you the number of times he whimpers at me through the phones that we'll only use to speak to one another (because really – so codependent* and creepy), "Come home, Edie."

We kind of never leave the house also.

*I can never get my -ent vs. -ant straight and God damn you IE for not having spellcheck you fucker

HiredGoons (#603)

If you have a cute caretaker/handyman I'M THERE.

@jolie: "We’re working on offing our neighbors by crushing them underneath piles of (neatly sorted) trash."

You should totally turn this into a Collyer-brothers-themed episode of Law & Order. "Ripped straight from the headlines … of mid-1940s New York!"

brad (#1,678)

a potentially more accurate title to this post might be 'the instrument of our decline? monkeys.'

that monkey article has made me unhappy.

"'This led her to another solution, and to Jessy. 'She thinks she's a child. She doesn't like other monkeys at all,' Lori said. 'She'd rather play with the kids.'

Jessy is with Lori all the time. When she was a baby, she latched onto Lori's arm 24 hours a day for six months.

'Six months that I showered, went to the stores, cooked, slept, everything with her on my arm, because she wouldn't get off,' Lori said. 'You couldn't get her off.'"

just wait until jessy starts listening to the smiths. our future is resplendent with disaffected monkeys.

My favorite part? Lori's husband Jim says "If I hear somebody call her a monkey, I throw a fit. She is my daughter, 100 percent." But, as the article points out, all little children have growing pains : "There were other difficulties, as when Jessy started to nip at Lori and her husband, Jim. They eventually had her teeth removed."
Let me reemphasize that. Jim and Lori think of this monkey as nothing less than their "daughter". They believe that their "daughter" thinks she is a human child. And they see nothing wrong with removing all their "human" "daughter's" teeth.
On balance, it's probably good they don't actually have a child.

HiredGoons (#603)

Oh, they do. But she loves it in the attic with her fish-heads.

brad (#1,678)

see, i didn't get that far in the article- thank god- because, unlike some, i find it remarkably easy to look away from a burning pile of wreckage on the roadside.

i think it's a good trait, but am not sure.

lawyergay (#220)

I laughed and laughed while reading this comment. Logic applied to fin du monde American television = hilariousness.

mathnet (#27)

Hoarders is the only one of this entire genre that I've never been able to stand for more than four seconds and now I feel really left out.

You have to have a family like mine to really appreciate Intervention. I can't watch it overseas but I've seen EVERY clip available on YouTube.

no, i completely agree. that's the one where it seems like they do the least in terms of creating long-term solutions to people's problems. they clean up the house, but not much else. for me it goes:

1st. obsessed
2nd. intervention
distant 3rd. hoarders

The bathroom pictured above bears a striking resemblance to Whitney Houston's old drug den. Just saying.

hman (#53)

What was Augustine drinking out of that big-ass sippy-cup?

Come on. A kind word for TLC's "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant". How can you not love a show where every protagonist says, "I just thought it was gas".

IMDb says it was released in 1999, so I guess it's ineligible (and as the subject is no more crazy than your average MFA, possibly OT), but I'll toss American Movie out to fellow Crumblovers, just the for kicks.

American Movie is probably the funniest sad movie i've ever seen. Or vice versa.

Yes. But you know, I've never once laughed at Borchardt–just admired (envied?) him. He did it!

lawyergay (#220)

"Hoarders," which I haven't seen yet, strikes me as a pathologized "How Clean Is Your House?"

During a period of my unemployment, I Tivo'd and watched "How Clean Is Your House?" with a single-mindedness that rivaled the wanton filthiness of the chavs and alcoholic fathers and British nutcases of the show in its intensity.

I remember thinking at the time, "This could never work in the U.S., because we have to make everything into a 'disease' or 'disorder' that needs meds and counseling and sober-minded analysis, when the cheerful yet loving scorn of a devilish Amazonian cleaning woman and her mousy Scottish sidekick is really the ticket." And now we have "Hoarders."

HiredGoons (#603)

These 'meds' you speak of, can be procured… ?

lawyergay (#220)

…from Mary, my pharmacist liquor store proprietress.

brad (#1,678)

you have a pharmacist? how utterly fantastic.

i feel a bout of the faints approaching. quickly! to my pharmacist for the laudanum!!!!

lawyergay (#220)

P.S. "I Don't Care About Your Band" is the most promising-sounding book I've heard about in months.

zidaane (#373)

I'm more of a "Locked Up Abroad" and 'I Survived" kind of guy although "Worlds Strictest Parents" has made me shed strange Balkish tears I can't explain. My son is crazy for midgets and we both like giant families.
Watching people who get 'tweaked' makes us both anxious and intervention makes me especially not want to answer the door, talk to relatives by phone or have any friends.

“Locked Up Abroad” and "I Survived" are two of my faves.

"If she weren't merely a pawn in the latest installment of the "Intervention" franchises, only without the part where they ship you off to rehab and they interview you once you're okay so people watching can feel like they're not just marinating in schadenfreude but instead participating in some kind of redemptive process that helps people help themselves, as though that is what television is for or has ever been for, even though I guess in the long run that might be a better feeling to give yourself than the feeling that you're just smugly laughing at how screwed up sick people can be, and so on and so forth, and "Hey Paula" too… "

exactly. except that even worse: A&E now has this really weird network self-promo where there's like uplifting, make-you-cry music, and it's like montage of their syndicated shows like "criminal minds" and "bones" but then also their original stuff like "hoarders" and "the jackson family" and "gene simmons' family jewels". and it's like, why the hell are they trying to make "the jackson family" and "gene simmons' family jewels" look uplifting? but then, even worse, they show a clip from intervention where someone's talking about how he's so happy he's off heroin, which does seem uplifting. however, i've seen that particular episode, and the kid relapses and goes back to living on the streets. so basically, while i love A&E and spend way more time than i should watching their programs, that particular promo pissed me off as being, like, wholly disingenuous.

HiredGoons (#603)

Remember when A&E used to stand for 'Arts & Entertainment.'

Yeah, me neither.

Flashman (#418)

When I was at my mum's for Christmas I watched a program on TLC called 'The Grizzly Man Diaries', which was exactly that – just Treadwell's videos and letters, without gloomy old Werner's pin on the events. And it was great, seeing all sorts of footage that didn't make Herzog's film, e.g. a mother lying on her back and nursing two cubs lying on her chest (I didn't even know bears had boobs there).
In hindsight of course he was naive, but what that guy managed to get away with, I guess, for many years was pretty incredible

The little fox that he makes friends with is totally awesome. And in the videos, he's all "oh yeah, this fox follows me everywhere, he's like my friend" and like you said, naive but damn.

zidaane (#373)

If only the fox could take a lens cap off.

baber (#244,003)

Crumb, my favorite movie at the time, was a then-rare example of what's since become considerably more popular: documentaries about fascinating people who suffer from different strains of mental illnes…thanks!!!!
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