Polaroids from the Dead

Polaroids from the Dead

by Douglas Coupland
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Polaroids from the Dead by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland takes his sparkling literary talent in a new direction with this crackling collection of takes on life and death in North America — from his sweeping portrait of Grateful Dead culture to the deaths of Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe and the middle class.

For years, Coupland's razor-sharp insights into what it means to be human in an age of technology have garnered the highest praise from fans and critics alike. At last, Coupland has assembled a wide variety of stories and personal "postcards" about pivotal people and places that have defined our modern lives. Polaroids from the Dead  is a skillful combination of stories, fact and fiction — keen outtakes on life in the late 20th century, exploring the recent past and a society obsessed with celebrity, crime and death. Princess Diana, Nicole Brown Simpson and Madonna are but some of the people scrutinized.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060987213
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/20/1997
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 7.37(w) x 7.37(h) x 0.57(d)

About the Author

Douglas Coupland is the author of twelve novels, including Generation X and Microserfs, and several works of nonfiction, including Polaroids from the Dead. He lives and works in Vancouver, Canada.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The 1960s are Disneyland

"Are we in the 1960s yet?" asks Cheyenne.

"Hippies smell like booger," says Amy.

Rain is falling on Oakland for the first time in five years. The drought is over. Scott, Amy, Todd and Cheyenne sit hamstered inside Scott's stepmother's steamy-windowed Lexus, parked atop Spyglass Road, surveying the moistening, months-old remains of the Oakland Hills fire storm--hills once bursting with sequoias, Nile lilies, sago palms and mansions, now all incinerated into a fine oyster-gray dust the color of recycled paper.

"I mean, if the Soviets really wanted to roast the Bay Area," says Todd, "they didn't need a bomb. A hibachi and a few drunk teenagers would have been way cheaper."

"Whose picture is that on the acid?" calls Cheyenne from the rear seat, mopping up a gin spill from her Okie dress and Goodwill cardigan.

"Your mother's."

"Fuck on, Scott."

"It's Bart Simpson," says Amy, the in-car substance authority. "Eighty mikes. And avoid the peace-sign blotter circulating around now because it's totally washout."

A half-hour previously the four friends had liaisoned in Walnut Creek at the Broadway Plaza Mall, their tribe-defining shopping nucleus. Now, serenaded by a My Dad Is Dead CD, they cruise into Oakland via the Highway 24 tunnel through the Berkeley Hills, all four eager to be punctual for Deadhead-parking lot action at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Nutty pre-concert fun starts at four o'clock.

Todd spots a melted satellite dish down the hill. "Imagine BMX'ing in this shit. Or using ATVs. Better buy Mom some more scratch-'n'-wins."

"Wasn't she a hippie?" asksCheyenne.

"Booger-booger-booger," chants Amy. "A sixties chick."

"The 1960s . . ." Todd begins. He considers that era as distant and meaningful to his own life as that of the Civil War or the Flintstones--faint images of beehive hairdos, the moon walk, fat guys with bad haircuts yelling at helicopters. "I don't like the 1960s," Todd decides. "I'd rather be here. Now."

Amy chews apricot leather and scans the cities below, down the gray slopes: Oakland, Alameda, Emeryville, Berkeley--and San Francisco across the Bay--birthplaces of the transuranium elements, flower power, nouvelle cuisine and the Intel microchip. Amy sees these cities now slick with water and cottoned in a fine Pacific mist the ash color of burned houses. She remembers the day last October when the hills ignited--she inventories her mental images of exploding eucalyptus trees, Siamese cats sizzling inside garages-turned-kilns, sparrows burning their claws landing on the stove-element-hot husks of Jeeps, frightened citizens escaping from walls of flame only to drive down the wrong road into fire storms and molten deaths.

And now the hills are cool and damp.

Amy sees a road sign out the window, but the painted letters have burned off. A few minutes ago driving uphill she saw a sign saying, this was once someone's home. go away. Well, she thinks, at least at a Dead concert you can forget for a few hours that the world is going to go bang. You pay your money and you hop on the ride: Fun costumes, tunes as seen on MTV, and afterward you can return to the present.

A cop pounds the window.

"Whoa!" A startled Scott lowers the glass. Apparently the Lexus is parked in a potential mud-slide zone; they must drive on. And so they do--down past the now-rusted melted stoves and heating tanks of the ex-mansions, down onto Highway 24, which connects to the once-quake-pancaked Interstate 880 Nimitz Freeway, then toward the Coliseum parking lot, licking their Bart Simpson acid and dodging jackknifed big rigs and liquid oxygen spills along the way, Scott amusing his friends with tales of his hypothetical career working in the used-car lots of Antarctica.

"In the 1960s they had Merry Pranksters," says Cheyenne. "What do we have now?"

"Wacky funsters," answers Scott.

"Look!" says Amy, rolling down her window amid the entranceway gridlock of VW microbuses. "A Tricia Nixon dress--that's so cool."

"History is cool," says Todd, nodding.

Scott, Amy, Todd and Cheyenne near the concert. Already the scorched hill behind them has been forgotten, along with the other news of the day--minor temblors in Watsonville and Loma Prieta and controversy over the storage of vasectomized nuclear weapons up-Bay in Richmond. But a smattering of the imagery they have seen today will stick. Their way of looking at the world, continuing a process that began fifteen years ago back in day care, will become even more fortressed.

Scott thinks, as he inches toward the lot, that if he, Amy, Todd and Cheyenne killed enough old people, or if enough old people were killed, or if enough old people were simply to die, or if the system imploded and the four of them were somehow magically able to afford to build houses of their own, he would design a house for the real world. His roof would be shingled with slate, not tinderbox cedar, his yard would be free of flammable trees-of-death, his water would be stored in vast dark black tanks buried deep beneath the soil, and his walls, though stuccoed in bright and amusing colors like bubble-gum, lemon or swimming-pool blue, would be lined with steel.

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Polaroids from the Dead 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It wasn't just about the Grateful Dead. It was about the people and the mentality surounding the Dead. I loved it
Guest More than 1 year ago
D.C. has enormous talent: one even could call him gifted. His prose style would make a great paradigm for classes on writing. The content seems to be important, but unfortunately D.C cannot get around his philosophy of life: 'Things Happen.:' We are just along for the ride. His keen observations are spot on. Does D.C. want to go beyond this juvenile philosophy? If he does, he will have to start reading Shakespeare, Keats, Dickens, and,in particular, The Great Gatsby. No, I'm not being pretentious or facetious.