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Third Eye

Spun Cycle

By Afefe Tyehimba | Posted 9/3/2003

Inside a Blockbuster, a mother and daughter debate. "Mom, just because I see something doesn't mean I'm going to do it," the daughter says, holding a copy of the recent brain-on-drugs flick Spun.

"You doggone straight you won't do it!" the mom replies, staring disdainfully at the zonked-out face of actress Brittany Murphy on the video jacket. "A tale about drug heads . . . that's entertainment?" the mom asks, clutching a copy of Bringing Down the House as if it were an unquestionably better choice.

Finally, yours truly relented, knowing that my teenager's cinematic tastes are eclectic (her faves include Austin Powers, Menace II Society, Scary Movie Howevermany, and--go figure--Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). I figured Spun for a harmless, pulp-fictionalized story of speed freaks who don't sleep, bathe, or do anything that doesn't involve crystal methedrine, straws, and hypodermic needles.

In large part, I was right--which is why, even though I watched the horrid thing to the end, I never imagined that I'd wind up later relating to it.

Having come of age in the '70s, Spun held no revelations for me. Throughout high school, and at concerts by groups like Grand Funk Railroad, I'd seen other versions of Murphy's watery-eyed, tripped-out self. And while I could appreciate actor John Leguizamo's zany zest as a dope-dealer-gone-wild, he didn't outdo any of the ludicrous, sniffling peddlers I've seen flashing Cracker Jack box jewelry to beauty parlor patrons.

Long before the film ended, my daughter had fallen asleep, and I was feeling totally disenthralled by the movie. It was hard to dig characters that didn't dig themselves; it was harder still to see their longing for love or something like it, and then watch them do meth marathons away from any chance at that. Even drug-related films like Traffic and Studio 54 had something to say about modern politics and culture, but Spun felt empty and anesthetizing. Thirty minutes into the film's 101, I'd decided it had nothing to offer me.

The next day I was driving along Baltimore-Washington Parkway, returning from a school-shopping jaunt with my kid to Arundel Mills. The mall had been manic, with florescent sales signs pulling eyes--and feet--this way and that. The highway lanes leading away from the mall were packed with cars filled with other shopworn adults whose earnest wish, I'm sure, was to get home and rest their tootsies--and their wallets.

We'd been on the road maybe five minutes when, glancing in my rearview mirror, I spotted two guys on a motorcycle zigzagging through the lanes. They looked like the usual cycle suspects: leather and jeans and bandannas and, no doubt, a slew of tattoos. "Dag, what's their problem?" asked my daughter, who, along with people in other cars, had trained their eyes on the men, who were getting way too close to vehicles as they cut through traffic.

"They're probably 'spun,'" I replied sarcastically while tightening my grip on the steering wheel. A moment later the duo whizzed past us, and my daughter commented on how the back passenger was grinning like a jackal at car passengers. Seconds after they passed us, there was a sudden burst of smoke and a sea of brake lights. Already driving in the left-hand passing lane, I swerved over onto a patch of grass near a guardrail, wincing against the sound of what I feared would be an impending pileup.

Incredibly, all three lanes of traffic abruptly halted without accident, save the one in front of us all. The motorcycle had apparently bounced off a guardrail and went belly up, immediately bursting into flames and setting both its riders on fire as well. About 20 yards away from the cycle, I peered through my windshield, watching in disbelief as the grinning man writhed on the ground, his body one flaming ball.

Suddenly, the driver of a Honda jumped out of his stopped vehicle and rushed to his trunk. What came out of my mouth next was bizarre and stupid: "Ugh! Just like people today. The guy's burning and this man grabs his video camera!" The do-gooder was getting a blanket to try and help the cyclist.

In moments, state troopers were on the scene and using fire extinguishers on the men and the bike. People got out of their cars to get a closer look, commenting on how lucky we all were that heavy traffic had stopped quickly without accident and, said one woman, that gasoline from the motorcycle hadn't "fired us all up."

Instead of hanging around, I joined other cars crossing the highway median, deciding to take an alternate route home. While driving it was hard to process the images I'd just seen; mostly I didn't want that slice of harsh reality to linger in my mind. I felt sadly hardened, like many seen-it-all-and-then-some urbanites, and antsy like post-Sept. 11 and sniper-alerted American citizens--and disconnected, like drug heads who'd rather alter reality than cope with what it.

"Sometimes you've seen so much, it's hard to react," my kid said, trying to explain why she, too, was feeling detached. "Yeah," I replied cryptically. "Maybe we're the ones who're really spun."

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