Thursday, December 31, 2009

The 2011 New Year’s Day Message from the FAA

Due to the hysteria created by the Underwear Bomber, the FAA went into a sanity lockdown and began a new round of regulations for the flying public that continued throughout 2010.

To the Flying Public:

Congratulations one and all for surviving another wild and wacky year with us here at the FAA as America continues to fly around this great globe of ours! We hope you've had as much fun working through our regulations as we’ve had making things up on the fly (aren't we the punsters?). We understand the awkwardness brought upon by observing those willing to walk across tarmacs at gunpoint, seeing their babies dropped on cold floors,or watching as infirm epileptics are held down by airport personnel during possible fake seizures. So in 2011 we will be making a few modifications to our bylaws to better assist you throughout your journey.

1) We will no longer require a colonoscopy 36 hours before take off-for those under the age of 100. 2010 has brought tremendous advances in technology. Many of our screeners (straight from Blackwater University) are now skilled enough to inject cobalt isotopes directly into the jugular. This hastens your ability to get through the day-long security lines since it irradiates all organs at once. Hiding anything anywhere on a human body is now a thing of the past. Frequent travelers have complained of the sienna-like color in their burning urine for weeks afterwards. We believe there is no scientific correlation between colored urine and sudden death; hair loss; shrunken genitalia; or anal and stomach bleeding. We have been told by government trendsetters that sienna will be the new Fall color of choice among the fashionistas, so frequent flyers are already ahead of the game.

2) The pat down, reach around, feel up finger jab will remain in force for the foreseeable future. We regret the unease this causes those young females whose landing strips don’t match up with their hair, and those well-buffed males who appear to be swaggering with a package far greater than they deserve. The latter will continue to be pulled over and strip-searched to see whether their equipment measurements are in line with those now listed on their passports. This is no time to enhance any numbers needlessly; for if you do the terrorists have won.

3) We at the FAA want all of you to know that we take complaints of using cattle prods and Bunsen burners very seriously. For the time being, we have stopped hiring any individual who has been employed either in slaughter yards or chicken processing plants, though some pesky applicants still sneak through. We certainly do not want our traveling public treated as if they were either cattle or capons.

3) As of January 1st, 2011, we will be stocking our own required brand of thong underwear for women and jock straps for men. We have listened to your screams of walking buck naked through terminals with only the harsh glare of searchlights and snarling dogs as your companions. Made of the highest quality of polyester blend, the FAA undies hopefully will be clearly delineated enough to keep our friendly genitalia-sniffing Dobermans at bay. Rest assured that we had no knowledge the Pentagon had mistakenly shipped us a pack of border patrol canines trained to bite down on all low-hanging fruit of illegal male aliens.

4) Expressions like “you call that a pee-pee?” and “dick-less wonder” and “let’s touch to make sure they’re hung properly” have been replaced with less provocative terminology for addressing male passengers as they wait to be manacled into their seats before flight. We at the FAA extend our heartfelt sympathies to all XY chromosome carriers traumatized by our playful female TSA operatives. Lucky for us, lobbyists in Congress have exempted all federal agencies from frivolous class action lawsuits. We are not to blame if your junk is undersized.

5) As of January 1st, females under the age of 30 whose nipples become erect due to the lack of heat in the cabins will be allowed to maintain them without incurring penalties. Those females over 30 must arrive at the airport with a doctor’s explanation explaining why this phenomena still occurs for them. Females suffering through hot flashes can continue to share their heat with passengers next to them.

6) Planes will continue to taxi from one airport to another if the flight is under six hours. We know this remains an inconvenience for those customers who find it quicker to walk to their destinations. However, strutting your stuff across the plains of the Midwest or traipsing around unescorted by federal marshals through the mountain ranges of Appalachia, for instance, will now immediately place you on the n- fly list and could cause you to be shot on sight. Trans-oceanic flights will maintain a glide of no more than ten feet over the surface of the water regardless of wave size.

We believe we have finally solved that embarrassing and sticky problem of public evacuation during a flight while bolted and manacled to your seats. We have replaced those holes cut in the seats that were hastily lined with adult diapers back in early 2010 with a new form of technology affectionately called “Outhouse Moderne” that combines the scent of French vanilla candles with a steady downward suction that keeps the rectum teased and delighted. Their stainless steel build makes for easier cleaning, and so far we have had no complaints of either splinters or cushion burn though it still remains cold to the touch.

We realize that flying is a privilege and not a right, so we at the FAA will continue to strive to make your future flights as unremarkable as possible. Wishing you all a Happy New Year and pleasant journeys in the year ahead!


Here is our winner of the 2010 Passenger of the Year at our new FAA approved snack shop at LAX.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Shorts In Between the Caroling

Those of us who scour the Internet looking for animated good cheer that doesn't involve liquids, find plenty to choose from this time of year in the files of gifted animators. Christmas means so many things to those with the talent to draw objects other than water from wells or long stretches in the state pen. Take these three samples for instance, all of which exhibit how expansive a holiday Christmas actually is.

PAPU Meets Santa Claus from Xeth Feinberg on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Jake Heifetz: A Real Mensch

Jake was one of my father's closest friends from the old days of the Greenbush area. Both met after World War II when Madison's Triangle Area became their home after long years of wanderings and displacements. The men knew each other for close to a quarter of a century before my father's declining health forced him to abandon the bitter Wisconsin winters in the late 70s for the warmer weather of southern California. My father never made it back to Madison.

Both men could talk the hind leg of a donkey and neither refugee ever grew tired of swapping stories about the good old days in the Shtetl which I always thought sounded pretty rotten and bleak for them and their families. They spoke to each other in Yiddish, prayed in Hebrew, and talked to the world in broken English.

Jake was the neighborhood handy-man. He could always be counted upon for his strong back and a steady carpentry eye. On most good days after work, he tended his garden, a lavish little backyard farm that supplied his family and friends with all the necessary vegetables for any dinner time meal.

In the early 1980s I came back to Madison for a wedding. In the last hours before the flight back to Los Angeles, I decided to visit the old neighborhood for the first time in many years. Walking past Jake's house I saw him tending that very special plot of land of his. He recognized me immediately and said how sorry he was to hear of my father's death. He offered me some tomatoes, corn and rhubarb for the trip home. I told him Madison's finest would be too bulky to take on the plane. No problem, he said. By the time I turned around his wife was walking towards me with cut tomatoes, steaming corn and whatever one does to make rhubarb edible. I had a great meal, missed my connector to Chicago and spent several extra hours at the Madison airport waiting for the next flight out.

I never saw Jake after that, but I'm certain that garden grown rhubarb from a lovingly cared for back yard plot on Chandler Street still clings somewhere near my spleen.


Jake Heifetz was born on April 17, 1917, in Lachwa, Poland and died Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009. Jake was a special man. He was a father of five, grandfather of six, and was soon to be blessed with the birth of his first great-grandchild. Jake himself was the second youngest of seven children born to Arieh and Leah Heifetz. All but two of these children were later killed by the Nazis (with a third older child already residing in the Unites States). In September 1942, Jake and his brother Zelig escaped the mass destruction of their town by the Nazis and their collaborators, and fled to the woods. There Jake and his brother lived for the duration of the war, homeless in their own homeland; fighting to survive against desperate odds. Jake not only fought against the Nazis, but he even managed to meet and marry his wife, Fania in the woods. The story of how Jake was able to obtain a ring for their wedding is emblematic of the way Jake lived his life. As the Nazi soldiers were fleeing from the Eastern front, one soldier begged for bread. Jake, who was armed could have killed this man to avenge all that he himself had been through, but he said that option did not seem right to him; instead he traded the man a loaf of bread for his ring. That ring served as Fania's wedding ring for over 50 years. Jake remained a person who believed in the kindness of others, and who brought joy to all around him. Jake carried candies in his pocket and all the children who knew him, knew to go to "Uncle Jake" for their sweet dose. With a candy in his pocket, and a joke up his sleeve, Jake was always ready to be part of any social gathering. Since arriving in Madison, Jake worked as a carpenter. His strong hands have helped build houses and cabinets, have held aloft the torah like nobody can, and have handed out countless candies and toasted many occasions with his ubiquitous shots of whisky. After his retirement, in 1974, Jake took on the role of caretaker at Beth Israel Center, a role which he has held for many years. In this role, many people would say, Jake was the synagogue. His recitation of the blessings were reminiscent of the world of the heder in which he spent his early years studying the Hebrew prayers. Jake was extremely well read, and perhaps under different life circumstances would have chosen to study or teach the Jewish texts. His humor and his great love of life, will be sorely missed by all his family and extended "family." May his memory be for a blessing. Jake is survived by his five children, Leah, Ethel (Tom), Pauline, Lawrence and Steven (Judy); and by his grandchildren, Tommy, Shayna, Bria, Allie, Jordan and Josh. Funeral Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009, at BETH ISRAEL CENTER, 1406 Mound St., Madison with Rabbi Joshua Ben Gideon officiating. Burial will follow at Forest Hill Cemetery. The family would suggest memorials be made to the Morris Heifetz Welfare Fund at the Beth Israel Center.
Cress Funeral and Cremation Service 3610 Speedway Road (608) 238-3434

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Starman, 12, died Thursday October 15 in Boston, Massachusetts after being found comatose in his apartment in Cambridge. According to his family, the cause of death was kidney failure; he had deteriorated rapidly over the last two months.

Starman was known for his large size and his inquisitive and good-tempered personality. He tirelessly patrolled the front door, and supervised all visitors closely. Known for his extraordinary vocalization, he was able to engage his humans in conversation. Among his other achievements was the ability to leap onto any counter when running water, allowing a drink, was turned on. His penchant for unexplored water sources resulted in a number of upended or broken vases. He also showed unexpected precision in his movements, and while he put his entire head on the keyboard, he often was able to limit his keystrokes to CapsLock. He possessed extraordinary great big gentle soft paws.

He was first given the title of Great Cat by his human, Gary, who predeceased him. Afterwards, he worked with his housemate, Chicago, to support his residual human, Lynn, and he is widely credited with contributing to her survival. Since then he has received numerous accolades and honorary titles.

Because of his size, coloration, and disposition, it was rumored that his ancestry included a Labrador retriever. Although the claim was disputed, his ancestry remains a mystery.

His ceremony will be private. His ashes will be scattered one warm sunny day on the terrace, in his favorite sitting places. A portion of the ashes will be reserved for the daylilies and grasses known as “Starman salad” that have survived his quest for dietary supplements.

He is survived by his elder partner, Chicago, his human, Lynn, both of Cambridge, and another human, Jon, of Los Angeles.

He managed to purr one last time this morning as a final going away gift for his bereaved owner.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Worst Pickup Line Ever

Last night I attended a screening near UCLA of “Inglorious Basterds” a film so tedious, boring and idiotic that halfway through the movie, my fingers began to reflexively Twitter Psalm 23 in Morse Code. I found this frightening, since I don't know Morse Code and have never Twittered anything in my life. I left the Westwood Theatre with fingers more arthritic than when I arrived several hours before.

Walking down the street, I noticed a couple in front of me on what obviously was a first date. How did I know this? The male was trying to hold the female’s hand; the female ever so politely kept jerking her hand away and trying to stick it in her mouth for protection.

I sped up my gait, for I love to hear the conversations of others -- especially those set up by or eHarmony. I stopped using Internet dating services when I discovered that profiling yourself as a man who loves going "Dutch" was more of a turn-off to women than posting on-line medical proof of non-erectile dysfunction.

The man, of normal height and build, was in his mid fifties. He was dressed as if he had just been kicked out of his house at 3 a.m. in the morning and forced to sleep in his car. The woman was rather attractive, though somewhat plump. She appeared to be in her late forties. She, at least, had spent some time looking through her wardrobe in preparation for this date. She was not wearing flip flops and professionally torn jeans.

This is as best as I can recall their post movie discussion:

MALE: I was really disappointed. I was expecting more blood and gore from Tarentino. This has got to be his lowest body count since "Reservoir Dogs." Did you see "Grindhouse?" Now that was fucking genius. I could tell you hated the movie. Your fidgeting was really annoying.

FEMALE: Damn straight I was fidgeting. Odd choice for our first movie, but I guess since you were paying, I had to go along. I haven’t seen any of his films. Now I know why: I find them too gory.

M: You just said you never saw any of his films so how do you know how gory they are?

F: I read the Internet Perry Mason.

M: Look I’ll make it up to you. I’ll buy you a Starbucks. You do still want to continue the date?

F: I’m a big girl.

M: You said it. I didn’t.

F: What?

M: Forget it.

F: You were a real charmer over the phone. You’ve been nothing but sarcastic and angry all evening. Did one of your ex-wives piss you off this afternoon? Were you like the high school clown?

M: At least I have a sense of humor. I'm a successful attorney, just like I said in my profile. You on the other hand left out a few key points. Like really important ones.

F: A successful attorney? From the way you're dressed, do all of your clients live on the beach with you? Tell me what I left out.

Here they stopped. Lucky for me I still had my Coke cup with me. I gulped down what was left, tossed out the ice, and then sat against the wall of Jerry’s Deli, holding out my cup for loose change. They did not notice me...just like my dates when I was actually going out with them.

M: Forget it. Let’s at least get some coffee. I'll buy.

F: Instead of that candlelight meal you promised over the phone? No, tell me what I left out of my profile.

M: The candlelight shit was going to be for the second date. I need some caffeine for the drive home. I'll tell you what you left out. That picture of yours is hardly current. What is it, like ten years old?

F: That picture was taken last summer in Jamaica when I actually was enjoying myself. Thank God you didn't volunteer to pick me up to see this fucking movie!

M: I live in Long Beach. You live in Northridge. Westwood is a convenient midway point. I use it all the time for these stupid get-togethers. I would drive up to Northridge if I saw any reason to do so tonight.

F: Are you fucking kidding me? Well there won’t be. You’ve been divorced how many times?

M: Let me tell you something. A woman your age should be happy any man pays any attention to her and is willing to try to use his junk to get her off.

F: Fuck you!

M: You only wish!

The woman stormed off. The guy turned around and walked past me muttering, “Fucking cow." Looking down at me, he said, "You’re lucky you’re homeless.”

He didn’t even drop any loose change in my cup.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Coming Up...More Blogs

Coming up topics:

Why I haven't blogged in ages.

The missing letter from a Disney superhero.

Looking for a Beetlejuice animation cell.

Lost in an August Minnesota blizzard.

Bumping into Miss Right 30 years too late.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My Divorce is Now Final, for Now

I just can’t quit her though She has grown big, fat and ugly since our first idyllic get together some three decades ago. Her face, once graceful, fine and gentle now is a lumpy mess; the curve of her calves, so svelte, beautiful, alluring now rage outward as an uncontrollable mass; and the simple luxury of a kiss and a hug long ago vanished, supplanted by the ubiquitous push and a shove. Her fingernails, manicured and delicate in her youth, now configure as gnarled lobster claws , a built in GPS system linked directly to my wallet and nothing more. She is mean, spiteful, and hard to deal with, but I just can’t quit her.

She has cost me a lifetime of fortunes and forced me into sleeping positions crack addicts wouldn’t be found dead in. I’ve abandoned friends and business associates. I’ve traveled long distances to be with her; lived in my car for her; forgotten to get a life, ditched girlfriends, forsaken showers and walked around like so many others under her spell -- dazed, confused, seeking that one dumpster to tie me over until her return.

How have I been repaid after years of extreme faithfulness, a fanatic subservience to all of her peculiar demands, and my blind tolerance towards her new BFF’s, speaking languages no universal translator would even bother inputting? Around her bloated waistline now hang, like malignant mothballs, the hip Hollywood tripe and their whiny "Entourage"-style acolytes; role-playing juvenile card sharks, and Renaissance Faire wannabees who stumble around looking as if they’ve missed the last botany boat ride to Fangorn. The worst of the lot are the gamers, ever confident that their opposible thumbs are gifts from above and therefore better than us mortals.

I want my old San Diego Comic Con back.

I first met her back in the late 70’s, in a poorly lit convention hall in a nondescript downtown hotel in San Diego. I didn’t know what to expect, me a fresh faced kid from the Midwest, she a southern California beauty of dubious background. I had never met anything like her before, certainly not in Madison. She had everything I wanted and more.She spoke my language and I didn't even need to hide my Midwest twang.

Her price for several days of companionship was in my budget, and so we danced the “come hither, you geek” fandango all weekend. The two of us were young, trim, our hormones not yet in need of high octane booster injections to keep us awake all night. I finally had someone to talk to that didn't nag me about cleaning up my room or bathing regularly or wearing shirts that didn't have button down collars.

I loved her from the very first booth of Fawcett Comics. This sweet little thing could have come from the wrong side of the tracks, off the beaten path, piping down from the valleys of no return for all I cared. She was all mine and I didn’t have to share her with no more than several hundred equally strange and pasty looking characters. The only girls I remember seeing were runway models that looked like Mojo.

She made all of us feel right at home for we were safe in her arms. Jocks didn't show up to beat us up; girls didn't pull surprise wedgies on us; and all of our milk money went to purchase additions to our collections. We were respected, cared for, made to feel like royalty. And no one laughed at me the entire time I wore my Superman cape.

Over the next several days I saw copies of all the comic books my mother had burned while mourning my death at either Antietam or Balaclava or Isandlwana or whatever battle she used as her excuse to rid the basement of everything I held dear. Early editions of X-Men, E comics, Mad Magazines, Fantastic Four. I could have them all back again, wrapped individually in clear cellophane and not in butcher paper, which is what I used to wrap them in.

I could have my collection back again. Just like new except for the inflation cost. Okay so that would mean I would have to finally get a job and no longer ask for pennies as a mime in front of LACMA on weekends. I could do that. I could finally go legit in my 20s.

Now, after all these years of loyal service and probably millions of dollars in bought goods, She treats me like a two bit hooker with speedball needles still stuck in my arms. She has gone big big time, paralyzing a city as if she were Godzilla and Mothra combined. 125,000 people arrive for her services this year. I am trampled on by hordes whose only connection to comic books is that they know how to spell paper, jostled around and packed into rooms as if I were practicing to become a Japanese commuter and forced to wait hours for over-priced hot dogs, cheap beer and cold hamburgers. Truckloads of paparazzi and gawking fans follow celebrities down halls that resemble Pamplona except here everyone resembles the bulls.

This is it. I finally want a divorce from her. I never want to see her again. I bump into no one any longer, except at parties where everyone is so drunk I am referred to as that crusty old spittle-soaked guy who hates the world. I’ve been shut out of too many panels and had too many of my feet stepped on by walking Hindenburgs.

I couldn't find anything I can afford. Hey! I'm buying comic book art, not Tiffany Crystal. The hotel rates are beyond exorbitant, including the one I stayed at that charged me $350 a night to swim in their fountain and scare off the pigeons.

I am now driving back on Interstate 5: angry, disillusioned, and exhausted and writing this post using both hands because cars are bumper to bumper so why worry about steering? And when I see her again, this time next year, mark my words, She’ll get a piece of what’s left of my mind. And I’ll be wearing steel tipped work boots so I won't care who steps on me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NOIR OBGYN is finally out of the ER

It seems like forever, but it wasn't really that long ago. On May 6, 2009 I posted a wacky little piece entitled NOIR OBGYN: FINGERS OF FURY. At that time, I mentioned the treatment itself was about ready to go online. As you can see, I was off by several months.

I have always hated the process of writing. Twisting my head 360 degrees and spitting out pea soup is so much simpler an act than plowing into the thought process of producing one paragraph that seamlessly leads into the next. I just don't process thought that way. Creative passages lurch and jerk away from me, perambulating like some befuddled drunk muttering in sotto voce, "I'd rather be lost in the Gobi Desert than be part of this mess."

Despite my meandering prose and run-on sentences, no one ever confused me with Jack Kerouac -- unless we're talking about Garness Kerouac, the petty sneak thief I knew in Mad City years ago.

I remember at Madison Central High School, a teacher, upon reading one of my essays when I was in 10th grade, stuck her nose so close to my eyes that my lashes cleaned off the last snack she'd eaten in the teacher's lounge. What a caustic dog! She asked whether English was my second language. I told her it would be once I mastered stick figure cave painting.

For me to compose even my John Hancock on a worthless check, I go "method noir," turning as paranoid as a bag of snakes, as alcoholic as a beat poet, and as angry as a vegan at a Coney Island eat-a-thon.

I start smoking around the clock and even next to the clock. I prefer the cheap, unfiltered cancer sticks that make your eyes water and your mouth taste like twice-burnt flesh, though two-bit bargain basement stogies found burning on top of dumpster piles do just fine. I like second-hand smoke from hand-me-down cigars.

I punch myself in the kisser and kick myself in the groin. I cut myself shaving, yet leave a two-day stubble growth to assert my manhood. I toss my apartment looking for a bottle of three dollar gin to start a four day lost weekend. Energy- saving bulbs are tossed out the window, replaced with flickering neon lights.

An apartment ain't no damn good for "method noir" unless asbestos fibers flake downwards from the ceiling into your day-old, cigarette-filled coffee mugs, bought years before on the boardwalk when you were the captive young swain of some beat up old madame. I go out and steal this lung angina from condemned buildings around town.

I scrap away two layers of insulation, making my walls so thin the silhouettes of those next door neighbors performing nastiness aerobics on each other displace the need to download porn. I go out and hire actors to simulate whatever I just said.

I make additional changes to the mise en scène: A toilet functioning both as a bath tub and a dishwasher comes straight from a green web site called "Why Waste Water Fool?"

I collect dirty dishes from around the neighborhood and pile them sky high in the sink, then call in some favors and have a pest service deliver cockroach carcasses to throw around in a feng shui manner. For good measure, I cut up my "euro-trash furniture" to give the sense that either a drug cartel or the DEA has been rifling through my place looking for some blow.

I play the low cool bass of Charlie Mingus and rumble it against the wet cobblestone streets of that mean hydra the paparazzi call the City of Angels. I purchase both the rain and construct the cobble stoned streets. My back hurts; I now owe the mob plenty for they control both the rain and construction materials. And my last back alley crap game lost me my rent.

I stare out from cracked, shadeless windows and wait for the guns I've place strategically around the neighborhood to find owners that believe people do kill, not the Mach 10's in their sweaty hands. I hear a boisterous buxom blond knocking on my door, though any female over the age of 18 who doesn't outweigh me will do just as well. I get my babes from a new LA web site called "Los Angeles: Down, Dirty, Cheap and Free to be You and Me."

Now I'm ready to dance my fingers over my Underwood and compose sentences that don't resemble a schizophrenic's notepad. The end result: Noir OBGYN: Fingers of Fury.

So that's why this took so long. Oh that and I herniated a disc and found salvation in my cats trying to bury me as waste material in their litter boxes. According to this classy noir video I also need a sexy accent to go along with my stubble.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I Can Predict the Weather Because of the Moonwalk

I saw Michael Jackson perform only once. It was at Dodger Stadium and he was performing along side his brothers during their Victory Tour concert. My ticket stub reminds me the date was December 3, 1984. My high-priced seat in Chavez Ravine was so near the top of the vertigo section that had I fallen over backwards, I would have washed ashore on Catalina Island.

While I liked Michael and had followed his career since his Jackson Five days, I was light years removed from the fanaticism of the couple seated next to me. Both knew all his lyrics and dance steps by heart and proceeded to entertain those around us with movements best described as epileptics on crack.

The girl was a good 75 pounds heavier than her intended body frame making every one of her violent sideways gyrations potentially lethal to me. To make matters more dangerous, she was drunk. I had been an open air concert goer for two decades by that time. I had seen Joplin and the Doors and the Fuggs and the Stones and Led Zeppelin and The Dead and countless other performers; yet I never felt my safety more threatened than on that December night. Shortly thereafter I became a leg man.

After Jackson's signature "moonwalk" performance, the girl moaned for no apparent reason that Michael had invented that move. I was too stupid to remain silent. I told her that no, Michael had copied that series of steps from other choreographers like Shalamar and tap dancing wizards of yore.

Her head all but exploded. I thought she was going to smother me into the next time zone -- especially when she growled she had never heard of any tap dancers named "yore." Her boyfriend, Megatron, starred at me, telling me with his eyeballs, "Don't even argue with her if you value your life." After that evening, I realized I had arrived at the age where having a strange woman throw up in my lap was no longer an advantage in asking for her phone number.

But I had seen a variation of the moonwalk performed years before Michael Jackson made it world famous. I busted up my left leg trying to duplicate it. Because of my orthopedic condition, I now have advanced warning when either a blizzard or tornado is about to strike. Unfortunately, since I live in Los Angeles, that meteorological ability does me no damn good.


One night back in the late 1970s, I found myself walking around that area of lower Manhattan known as Alphabet City. This was my first trip to the Big Apple, so naturally, I was all gung-ho to experience the true underbelly of what was America’s most bankrupt city at the time. No museums or art galleries or fancy restaurants for me: I wanted the urine essence of NYC. At 1 a.m. in the morning I was so lost amidst the abandoned buildings, the needle parks, the panhandlers, and the drugged-out Midwestern tourists that Rand McNally would have thrown up its longitudes in despair over ever seeing me again. Even the stray dogs stared at me with compassion, for they were just as disoriented as I was.

My sense of direction has always been lousy. I go missing in my apartment looking for the bathroom. I can’t read street maps; the stars above me all look alike; if I were a sailor, a sextant would be nothing more than an object I would feel guilty imagining myself with. That night I was so turned around I felt all Bonfires of the Vanities inside me, though the Tom Wolfe novel was still a decade away from publication.

I was staying at the Chelsea Hotel about a year before Nancy Spungeon created a reason to have her own Wikipedia entry. The tattooed woman behind the reservations desk had been very helpful, giving me an upscale room where the mattress was still drying out from the party the night before, its stained edges matching the garish yellow wallpaper that itself appeared to be tearing away from the walls in disgust.

My occupancy came with all the usual Chelsea Hotel amenities for that time: opened liquor bottles, someone's soiled underwear, and a number of used hypodermic needles. I don’t recall whether there were any surprises in my toilet, but there might have been. If I had looked hard enough, I would have found granules of heroin or cocaine lying around on the floor; however I was on a business trip so I ignored that temptation to speedball by myself.

That evening, I asked the hotel’s concierge where I could find the mean streets of Manhattan. He refused to divulge that information unless I paid for it. I had seen "The French Connection," "Superfly," and Death Wish, so sliding him some "jack" for some "411" made all the sense in the world to me. Why this concierge was whispering from behind a dumpster located in an alleyway across the street from the hotel I still don’t quite understand. He smelled like New York City in the summer, so I knew he was legit.

I greased his palms. He told me to look down, smell the wind direction, and then follow the yellow pee line from 23rd and Broadway down to East Houston, and then keep walking towards the East River. I would find all my dreams answered in an enchanted place called the East Village. He told me to hurry back before dawn or the hotel would rent out my room to someone living. If they found my body, I would be ID'd through dental records, which, remarkably, remain to this day the most valuable part of my estate.

In the late 1970s the East Village was an exotic, thriving crap hole: One of the roughest, toughest, most desperate areas of the city. This was still paradise compared to other areas of NYC. A cabby taking a piss on one of the side streets told me that as bad as this part of Manhattan looked, Fort Apache, the Bronx was Hell burning in overtime. I asked him where that borough was. I just wish he hadn’t turned to face me when pointing north.

Co-mingling together on the East Village streets like a social worker’s meal ticket were the starving homeless, the diseased hookers with their psychotic pimps, burned out bohemians, forlorn street artists, and the ever present white Wall Street East Sider looking to score some blow -- cocaine or otherwise. Amazingly, the vibrancy on the streets was as infectious as typhus. People were singing and dancing, apparently caring less whether this night might be their last.

It was so romantic. Love like the scent of feces hung marvelously in the air. "Why had no extremely talented though unknown playwright or composer ever thought of taking this roiling atmosphere of humanity and walloping it into a hit Broadway play?" I pondered as I stepped gingerly around the retching wretched.

Near the corner of Avenue B where East Houston turns into Clinton this dopey white boy found the goldless rainbow's end. Under a flickering street lamp and to the beat of a broken down, first generation boom box, a bunch of black and Puerto Rican street performers were sweating out moves as if auditioning for Jerome Robbins. These guys were taking turns bouncing off of each other, a repertory filled with exaggerated high side kicks, impossible splits and knee drops, head spins and the gravity defying one armed handstands. Their syncopated heel work was extraordinary. Either these performers were the scruffiest looking gang bangers out of Julliard or a bunch of muscled up guys working off steam because they hadn’t made the cut to a "West Side Story" revival.

I have always been envious of tap dancers. They can high step across floors, jump stairs, slide over table tops and in some instances march straight up walls and ceilings. Many times they perform with partners, making going to social gatherings that much cheaper. My own dancing skills remain limited to those movements one makes dancing at the end of a rope of one’s own making. The only time step I ever successfully learned was placing one foot in front of the other. I think my parents called it walking.

One kid in particular offered a time step that appeared to make him levitate across the sidewalk. I checked to see if he had a people mover underneath him. He slid backwards yet I never saw his feet leave the cement.

I asked him afterwords how he did that particular move. He wondered what a scrawney white guy was doing hanging around at this hour of the night in the East Village. I told him I got lost looking for Lambeau Field. Then we all scrotummed up to talk Giants and Packers and Bears football. You can bond with any other male as long as sports, guns, girls, and violent movies are the topics. I pulled off my shoe and give the group my cab fare home. They were that good and I was tired of limping with a bunch of coins in my sock.

Herky-jerky, on my way back to the hotel trying to emulate that dance move. My actions scared a drunk guy so badly he flagged down a passing cop car. I was forced to walk a straight line to prove I was not publicly intoxicated. I explained what I had just seen and what I was trying to do. The black cop turned to his white partner and translated to him that I was just another bow-legged, knocked-kneed, non rhythmic white kid trying to go urban. The white cop told me to stick to the waltz and the Twist. Learning street would just injury me into sterility. I asked if they would drive me back to the Chelsea. They laughed and with their siren blaring, they sped away.

Fast forward about a half a dozen years. I see Michael Jackson perform “the moonwalk” on television during the 25th anniversary of Motown. I immediately think back to this unknown 1 a.m. dancer in the East Village. Michael had carried the dance step to a new plateau; but, obviously, it was neither as new nor as revolutionary as so many of the non-dancing commentators were saying at the time. I signed up the next day to learn how to do the back slide, technically the correct term for this tap dance move.

I had taken a couple of lessons when I discovered that although I had two working feet, one walked south with confidence while the other traveled north under witness protection. I was more Fred Mertz than Fred Astaire.

Instead of practicing on a dance floor, which I found boring though safe, I decided to play fast and loose in a back alley one afternoon. I was making progress on the glide when, out of nowhere, much like a gaggle of mistresses at a Republican get together, a pot hole rushed forward as I was sliding backwards. I tumbled downward long enough to view nothing truly of importance flashing before my eyes. I landed on my ass, dislocating my shoulder and tearing up my left Achilles tendon. I was on crutches for a month. I found it very suspicious that my instructor paid me not to return after my recuperation. I never did learn how to moonwalk properly, but the gimp in my leg gives me first crack at weather predictions.

To my best recollection, this video approximates many of the moves I saw that night some 30 years ago in the East Village. And, yes, I still practice my version of "the moonwalk." People who have seen it dial Houston to tell them I have a problem.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hoping Not to Blow My Fingers Off this July 4th

Today celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. That means as a nation we are 233 years old, still young enough to repeatedly believe we lose our innocence every time something really bad happens to our national psyche. That hoary expression "America will never be the same again" has been used so often by commentators since our beginnings that it might as well be part of a Madison Avenue created brand logo by now.

In my lifetime, America has been irretrievably shaken to its very foundations so often that if this country were a condo complex, no self respecting building inspector would allow tenants to remain within its walls. We were shocked when the Russians launched the first cosmonaut into space; we were stunned during Kennedy-King-Kennedy assassinations; we were humiliated by the events of Watergate; we were surprised at the machinations involved over the Iran-Contra hearings; we were embarrassed throughout the Clinton impeachment, and, of course, 911 spelled the end of everything except numerals.

We have always taken the blow, standing stronger every time, returning to our place of prominence, bloodied yet unbowed. We can survive anything because America's uniqueness lies in its most abundant non-outsourced asset: amnesia. After every major kick to our collective head, we rush to our Lethe rivers, whip up a 200-proof broth of amnesia ambrosia, then triumphantly walk home to our City on the Hill. This must be a Puritan-Pilgrim thing, for we are forever being reborn guiltless, faultless and sinless. Best of all without a hangover.

I love this most about America. We stay magically virginal regardless of how many times we get laid by the patronizing politician, the snake oil salesman, or the cunning clergyman. Nothing fazes us. We are as bendable as a willow facing down a twister. Always as pure as the driven snow even if the slush has been trucked in over four states. Every day may tempt us with the perverseness of a prom night escapade, yet with the knowing expectation that if something nasty does occur, we can erase the mistake by ignoring it, forgetting about it, or shoving it under an imported carpet.

I love the 4th. I used to be one of the jerks who would hold lit cherry bombs in my hands until the last second; who would light sparklers in the dry tinder of the Madison Arboretum; who would eat so much at picnics that vomiting and viewing the fireworks became synonymous.

So before I again test my luck with illegal fireworks, loaded weaponry, and my stomach vs. beers and brats, I leave you with three of my very favorite videos. Each one describes an aspect of our national psyche that no other nation can lay claim to.

We are truly an optimistic country. We really are. Nothing will ever defeat us for we have nothing to fear except fear itself -- unless you spend your time watching Fox News. Then all the armaments granted us by the 2nd Amendment won't be able to protect us from THEM and, damn it, we know who THEM are or is, or whatever. Otherwise, no matter how bleak, dour or depressing the situation facing us looks, happy days are just around the corner even if those constructing the corner just went bankrupt. Not only do we make lemonade from lemons, we pour enough sugar into the mix to send us all into diabetic shock. Too bad if you don't have health insurance.

We are a religious country and with it a tolerant nation. Otherwise why would we have so many toe-tapping, knee-slapping, jumping up to the ceiling songs of spiritual redemption? Gospel music is our salvation. Without it, this country would be as poor as a deep sea fisherman in Kansas. Even a down on his luck white sinner like Elmer Gantry can find solace in a black church if he knows the words. Who would have thunk that Burt Lancaster could sing?

We are a nation that begs to be pickled and processed by polecats. Otherwise who would we buy our musical instruments from so we could eventually forgive them for leading us astray? Wall Street wrecks havoc on Main Street, yet we blame the unions. Politicians blame the weak, the sick, the infirm and the immigrants while they scrap regulations and rules so they and their lobbyist friends can make millions. Congressional representatives refuse to vote to to provide the electorate the very same comforts afforded them for life. No wonder all of us wait expectantly for Prom Night.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Relaxed Wife: A Study in Serenity

I wish I could find a politician's wife to marry. Any female willing to stand by her man in front of the entire world while he fashions some horse's ass excuse for sliding back into teenage Porky's-Animal House stupidness is my kind of soulmate. Or sole mate, depending on whether she also shines shoes. I wonder if you have to be a politician yourself to purchase a relaxed politician's wife?

Whatever factory manufactures these porcelain dolls, I pray it remains on American soil. We need the jobs. Given the political hypocrisy rampant wherever powerful men gather, a healthy supply of Stepford crystal will always be in demand.

These birds come equipped with a morals free chip planted in their furrowed brow, a hypnotically induced blank expression on their faces, and spinal rectitude their mates can only aspire towards. I would love a piece of this franchise action. Imagine the money one could make selling these relaxed wives wherever good men gather to bond: strip clubs, stag parties, bordellos and, of course, those weekly males-only poker games.

To cavort with hookers, play footsie in bathrooms, walk along non existent Buenos Aries waterways and still be forgiven by your mate . They don't stock that syrup on the on the shelves of Walmart. But I bet Atarax is dispensed in its pharmacies.

This 1957 promotional film from Pfizer is for Atarax, a drug still administered today for the alleviation of anxiety and the embarrassment of nasal drip. With just the right medication, nothing will ruffle the feathers of this modern Eisenhower woman including being married to a guy who spends his waking hours making funny constipated faces and dreaming of money attached to fish hooks. That's evidence better living through chemistry is not merely for the young experimenters or the sick and dying. It's for all of us.

I love 1950s wives. They spend their waking days prancing around their apartment, dressing like Donna Reed, reading books in a monotone voice-over, cooking, cooking, cooking, and exercising their cares away with a hot iron over a bunch of clothes straight out of the washer. How would an upscale 1950s woman have taken the news that her husband had tom-catted around like some back alley wastrel? Probably the same way today's political wives do: whiskey neat, water back, with all the muscle relaxants from their last plastic surgery. Unless, of course, they were NRA members.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Goodnight Bill

I love short films. Perhaps it's because I have attention deficient disorder or a small bladder or the thought that I might forget where I parked my car if I stayed too long in the theater. As much fun as it is to see mind rupturing visual effects, or hear the best in ear splitting noise, or marvel at what great actors can do with awful dialogue (Lawrence Olivier as "Zeus" in Clash of the Titans readily comes to mind), sometimes all I need to stumble through my day is a good short film and plenty of aspirin.

I remember this short from a Los Angeles film festival of several years back. It made a tremendous impact on the viewing audience. Simple. Pointed. Powerful. Don't believe that bromide, you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Too bad you can't teach old politicians anything.

Why do I bring this film up now? If you don't ask, I won't tell.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Do You Know These Missing Men?

Three young men were murdered 45 years ago today. Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney joined the ranks of dozens of others who, just over the last 60 years, were shot, stabbed, bombed, and lynched attempting to straighten out the left behind mess of post Reconstruction America. These three became known to America as the Mississippi Burning Boys who should not be confused with the Birmingham Four or the Meadville, Mississippi Two or the Orangeburg, South Carolina Three.

The US Government has put out a handy guild to the Civil Rights Movement of the last 100 years. It has a lot of pictures for those who want a simple overview of the greatest social revolution in America since the Civil War. Given the fact that no one apparently teaches this material in depth in the schools any longer, perhaps this scaled down version is a good primer. For those truly adventurous, this website will keep you reading long into the night.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I Download, Therefore I Emmy Voter

The term For Your Consideration (FYC) is a familiar mantra during this time of year for those of us who are voting members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (some 14,000 plus). The Emmy nominating process is in full swing, all of which culminates Sunday night September 13 on CBS with the Prime Time Emmy Show. Other networks think so highly of this star-studded program extolling the excellence of the television world that they can't wait to counterprogram against it.

Right now, our home floors and office desks should be piled high with DVD screeners. Production companies, cable and broadcast networks, and, in some rare instances, select individuals should be inundating our mailboxes with DVDs of selected series episodes or one time only specials,in order to remind those of us in the business about the past year’s worth of brilliant television and how much of it we missed by doing silly things like getting out of the house.

I’ve been watching television for so long that I still use rabbit ears to clean loose scrapes of food from under my refrigerator. With the advent of all digital programming this month, rabbit ears joins 8-tracks, the Edsel and collegiate political discussions as things of the past. I will miss my little buddy. I hope he tastes good.

In the old days, three networks and the NET (forerunner of PBS) were all we fanatics had at our disposal. Just like the new car lines, all major programming premiered in the Fall. We rearranged our lives for the new season so we could laugh and cry and fail to do our homework; some of us even penned love letters to our favorite stars. Emily Dickinson, who spent very little time watching dramas (preferring sit-coms that better resembled her own life), went school girl nasty over David Janssen; she said it best after the premiere of the 1964 Quinn Martin series, The Fugitive:

Wild Nights

Wild nights. Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port
Done with the compass
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden.
Ah, the sea.
Might I but moor
Tonight with thee!

Intelligent design scientists were still years away from inventing recording devices. We either watched at the prescribed time or found ourselves watching missed episodes during the dog days of summer. Those of us who stayed indoors to watch a summer replacement variety show like Dean Martin now have engrossing stories to tell our grandchildren.

With the introduction of the consumer VCR beginning in the late 70s, viewing habits became far more malleable; we regained our bi-pedal mobility and actually saw sunlight from beyond our windows. No longer constrained by obdurate network schedulers, we could tape a show, leave our apartments for food or even attempt a date; yet we were comforted by the knowledge that, upon return, our episode would be waiting. Life truly had become more gooder.

It took some time, but by the late 1980's eligible Academy voters began receiving VHS copies of the just concluded season through the mail. The Academy was forced to go late 20th Century because it was finding it more and more difficult to coax enough volunteers away from tennis or golf weekends to hype their own occupation: The old way of casting ballots was just too medieval.

I love show business with the same fervor as I love stalking celebrities, but even my ardor was tested mightily with the old methodology. The Manhattan Project had far less security than this ballot process. Driving into Beverly Hills gang territory to vote in your appropriate categories was both nerve-wracking and time consuming.

Volunteers would be forced to spend whole weekends sequestered away in various NORAD-like buildings around the country, sifting and winnowing through the previous year's shows for the top five contenders. They couldn't discuss what they saw or how they voted. In fact, they weren't even allowed to acknowledge their spouses if they were in the same room together...much as it is at any Hollywood soirée. After one of these behind closed doors, windowless room, stale donuts and cold coffee experiences, methadone withdrawal was never feared again.

Life is all about flat-line simplification and stupifying stuff down. I want it delivered to my door and easy to start. Why induce unnecessary anxiety levels by purchasing a piece of technology so complicated that Einstein would need to text message Niels Bohr for help in putting it together? Who needs the aggravation? A cottage industry has arisen over the last twenty years in publishing extolling the virtues of making everything non-threatening, push button simple. In fact right now I'm looking at my copy of Breathing for Dyslexics. I thought I was purchasing Breeding for Dyslexics, but I digress.

Mailing scores of VHS tapes cluttered up dens and second bathrooms all over the country, but life became so much easier for us. We could now participate in the elective process with only our ass muscles, leaving the rest of our bodies reposed for high intensity yoga, Pilates, and diet flushes. Since it was no longer necessary to drive to any fortified luxurious locations, the average John and Jane Q Emmy voter could kick back and view missed episodes the way they were intended to be watched--- in your underwear, while making dinner, showering or playing poker. Hopefully the VCR was connected to a television.

VHS begat DVD and the goodies just kept coming. We’d receive scores of disks, each with a representative sample of episodes. Some years the packaging housing the DVD's was more creative than the shows within. After the voting season was over, we dumped them off the Catalina shoreline, gave them to friends to sell on the black market, or used them for skeet practice. Those voters who were really conscientious returned the discs to the Academy, where they were recycled off to our servicemen around the world. The troops in Iraq, no doubt, couldn’t wait to get their hands on copies of Generation Kill.

This year, my floors merely have last month's pizza cartons and old nachos chips from New Year's 2007 littering them. Due to the economic downturn, going green, and the success of the Internet tubes, this season's hard copy DVD giveaway failed to materialize. The years of episodic swag are coming to an end. Some of the majors are still sending DVDs through the mails (HBO, History Channel, Universal, USA, for instance), but most are saving $$$ by directing us to the Prime Time Emmy site. So much for skeet shooting and illegal dumping this year.

Instead of watching episodes for consideration on HD or plasma screens the size of a network executive's ego, we voters can now gather around the comfort of a large computer monitor to mark our selections on a downloaded Emmy ballot. Just what I crave after spending twenty hours a day in front of a computer screen looking for work, watching YouTube, befriending people on Facebook, or downloading the latest yoga positions from certain Eastern European web sites. My retinas already have carpal tunnel. Judging the highest quality of television programming this way is like eating tiramisu through a straw.

Damn progress, but if this be the wave of the future, damn progress again. I have four television sets, two set up with DVR capability. I'll hunt through the weekly listings for missed episodes with the obsession of an out-of-work print journalist looking for a solvent newspaper rather than watch prime time shows online. If I need both Viagra and that restless leg syndrome pill to get me through all-nighter view-a thons, then so be it. What else does the Academy want from me?

Gamers tell me there are cables and pulleys and doo-dads available to connect computers to television screens. I could download a show and, magically, watch it on my 12" black and white Emerson if I was of the right mind. Well, I am of the wrong mind. Right now that's a no go. If I have any more wires and attachments coming out of my wall sockets, I'll need to pay for a live-in fire inspector.

Before tackling this season's product, I'm reminded that some Emmy obligations from previous seasons still need my attention. I wonder if it's too late to forward ballots for the final season of X-Files or Season Two of 24?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

He Never Left Omaha Beach

I remember his name being Wendell. He was tall, not basketball player tall, but the height I hoped to one day grow to. His face was already alcoholic lined and so many pockmarks, the sort caused by teen age acne left ignored by ignorance or cost. His eyes were a series of black circles matching the flecks of dirt that all but fell out of his ears. His teeth were a hard dark yellow even though he was still technically a young man. His hair was cut Army short, though there was hardly any left.

He had a noticeable scar over his right eye. The tip of his left middle finger was missing. Both happened, he said, after the war: the first in a bar fight; the second, a farming accident. The man was a mess.

He sat alone by the water’s edge, not mumbling to himself or flailing away at imaginary combatants like so many of the other performers in Brittingham Park. He simply sat there, occasionally tossing out a pebble, staring straight ahead out towards the far shores of the lake. He smoked one Lucky Strike after another.

He’d take a couple of quick puffs, then leave the cigarette dangling from his lips before hitting it for one last drag. He’d flick it into Monona, watch as it bobbed around in the water until the waves brought it back to shore. He would pick up the soggy butt and bury it into the grass in some odd formation only of his understanding. Seconds later, he would check in his pocket for the pack and light the next one up. One afternoon he smoked his way through two packs, leaving forty cigarettes face down in neat rows along the shoreline before walking out of the park. He left none in the water.

Wendell spoke softly perhaps embarrassed by his high pitched voice. He was in his early 30s, but since the war he felt older than his grandfather. I don’t know how we started talking, me an eight-year old and him old enough to be my father. Times were different back then. I lived two blocks away from the park and never thought once about worrying about my safety. I don’t remember ever being told not to talk to strangers as long as they weren’t too odd looking or too drunk.

Perhaps I wanted to bum a cigarette. My mom still smoked at the time; my dad stopped after his first coronary almost dropped him dead in front of us. Cigarettes were not part of my diet at home. Right now I wasn’t at home.

Everybody’s Wendell’s age had fought in the war. Not the Korean War which no one talked about even back then, but World War II. My dad had fought in Europe, but he never spoke of it. No matter how many times I asked what life was like in a prisoner of war camp, he came back with another story about how great life was in America. He told me to learn about the war from reading books or speaking to someone else.

Wendell never gave me my first Lucky Strikes. He said I should wait until I was ten like he did. He grew up a couple of towns over from Jesse James's farm, but spent his summers with an uncle living like Tom Sawyer near Hannibal. I knew who Jesse James was from television; a couple of nights before he had fought a gun battle with Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok over some woman in a saloon. Jesse James never fought in World War II as far as I knew. Tom Sawyer was news to me.

I was an impatient kid. “Cut to the chase” or “move on to the third act already” I would tell people later in life when the preamble to the story was already dragging my interest down. I wanted to know how many people Wendell killed in the war, not who his neighbors were or names of childhood friends like Tom Sawyer.

He said he shot a lot of animals as a kid, but shooting rabbits and squirrels was a whole lot easier than trying to bring down than a soldier firing back from behind rocks or trees. He didn’t know how many people he plugged, maybe none. He just spent his time in Europe walking in one direction and stepping over more bodies than were buried in all the Lutheran cemeteries between Kearney and the Mississippi. He used to take pictures of them, though he now had forgotten why. He burned them all one night shortly after he left Missouri. He said he was drunk. One day he wanted to go back to Europe and take pictures of living things, but only after he felt better. He never spoke directly to me. Either he looked at the ground or watched intently as his cigarette butts washed along the shoreline.

Today marks the 65th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. Wendell was one of the tens of thousands of soldiers who hit Omaha Beach that morning. He said he just closed his eyes as the LCVP neared the shore, opening them only when the guys behind him pushed him out into the water. He said he swallowed half the red Atlantic that morning, lost his weapon almost immediately, pushed buddies aside as he fought the waves and found plenty more guns waiting for him when he finally struggled his way onto the sands.

Wendell rarely spoke of further wartime adventures beyond the shoreline, as if everything else, including the times he saw both Eisenhower and Patton, never really mattered. Even in his dreams, his war stopped at the sands of Omaha Beach, he once said softly. No matter how many questions I asked him, his war memories ended that cold morning in June, 1944.

He only saw his own blood once: the night he slipped and cracked a tooth while running past a dead horse looking for a place to pee. He was lucky, he said, in between puffs of smoke. No one else he really knew came home breathing. He let slip about spending some time in a hospital after the war which made no sense to me. What was he doing in a hospital if he had never been shot?

He went back to Missouri after the war, but his mom had died by then. His father was now living with a women Wendell hated because his old man had been hanging around with her even before he left for the Army. His girlfriend was gone; died in childbirth, his friends told him though no one would give him any information who the father was or even if the child had lived. He’d spent a couple of nights in jail for disorderly conduct or firing a gun into a house, I’m not quite sure any longer. Over the last decade plus, he had floated from one relative to friends to VA hospital. He was now living in Madison in his great aunt’s garage over on Jenifer Street, but he was going off to California shortly, hopefully to build ships.

He wanted to go back into the Army, but they wouldn't have him. He had tried finishing up his high school degree, but school never interested him. Whatever he would learn from books, he had already seen more with his eyes. He once said to me that he felt like one of those floating cigarette butts that needs some assistance making it back to shore.I don't know if he ever made it back I don't know if he ever made it back. I never saw Wendell again after that summer. The boy from Missouri had survived Omaha Beach. Whether the veteran I met more than fifty years ago found the strength to swim towards a more serene shoreline for himself remains unknown to me. I pray he did.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I Faint at the Sight of Real Blood...However

When I get jaundiced-eyed reading the humorous polemics of C. Wright Mills, the ruminations of Dwight MacDonald from Partisan Review or even the salacious events surrounding the lives of Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and Madame de Staël, I kick back with a case of Smirnov, pack my brain stem in the freezer, and watch an example of one of my favorite film genres: the Japanese splatter film.

Examples like Ichi the Killer, Battle Royale, Guinea Pig, Shogun Sadism, Machine Girl and Tetsuo, the Iron Man are so over the top in their blood-spurting excess, hot gore juggling, severed limbs bouncing, and agonizing diamond-splitting screams that I need a drop cloth and ear plugs as part of my viewing pleasure. I'd invite others over, but I can't afford an in-house metal detector.

Grindhouse, Tarantino's homage to the American gut-wrenchers of the 1970s, is an afternoon field trip to Peck's Petting Zoo. Saw, Hostel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Halloween franchises are like subtle allegorical works of art penned by Herman Mankiewicz in comparison to these buckets of blood.

Japanese splatter-gore is simply raw, unadulterated tens on the gag-o-meter. Many are adaptations of successful manga comics, which means the readership is mostly male and in the millions. Knives, chainsaws, razors, swords, pipes, and shivs come in contact with eyes, ears, noses, heads, genitalia -- the end result a technicolor spray of red dye and Karo syrup with prosthetic limbs thrown around like fists at a drunken wedding party. This is gonzo with ginzu.

Basic story lines feature revenge gone beyond the pale, followed by mass mutilations, geysers of blood, abattoir hoedowns and nifty wire work (when affordable). And what's not to love about those weird foot-tapping ABBA-esque pop culture bubble-gum ditties that come out of nowhere and are sprinkled over the most graphic scenes like carobs on Sundaes? Makes me want to jump up and cut open cantaloupes (even in off-season) with battle axes and samurai swords. Watching them without subtitles is recommended; half the entertainment is creating your own dialogue.

Tokyo Gore Police comes from the visual effects master Yoshihiro Nishimura, make up wizard behind Suicide Club, Machine Girl and other films emphasizing hemoglobin hi-jinks. Eye-balling Eihi Shiina, one of Japan's top models, dancing around in her school girl outfits, flowing kimonos and various other manga inspired accoutrement is difficult at best.

Perhaps Lupo the Butcher was one of the progenitors of rivers of red corpuscles as comic relief. I first saw this diamond about 20 years ago at an animation festival. I laughed so hard I still cough up blood. Danny Antonucci, the Canadian animator behind this classic went on to create Ed, Edd, and Eddy for the Cartoon Network. Had Lupo lived to have sons, they would have been these three boys, minus, of course, selected limbs.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Cultural Reference Older Than Six Minutes

My last blog was entitled "Wimpy is for Hamburgers, Not Americans." I thought it was a rather clever play on words and the title worked well for the main point of the post. With 2.5 millions Americans locked up in stir and with Supermax prisons dotting the countryside like big box roach motels, why the irrational concern from wimpy members of Congress, stoked by whiny media tele-prompter readers, towards adding a couple of hundred more guys from Gitmo to the ledger books? It wasn't as if these toughs were actual super villains who could bend metal or fly at the speed of sound.

I remember in high school being so clever with my double entendres and smart-ass remarks that 1) I got punched in the nose by teacher and student alike; 2) the principal christened my very own chair in detention; 3) I spent most Saturday night in my bedroom alone watching professional wrestling matches broadcast out of the Twin Cities; and 4) even I was confused by half the things I referenced. I would read the encyclopedia just to flavor my classroom disruptions with punchlines a tad more intellectual than "ya, says you" or "your momma wears combat boots from Yosts."

One day, I was slapped with three hours worth of detention for comparing boar, bore and Boer with the yawn factor of the teacher in front of me. Talk about being an obscurantist. None of my fellow classmates understood the final Boer reference, blowing the stand-up totally even though I was seated at the time. Mr. D. did, as he was English, had been born around 1900, and as I woefully discovered later, one of his cousins had died in an ambush there. I did get some laughs when I was dragged out of my seat and shoved out the door. My punishment: writing 50 times Rupert Brooke's poem, The Soldier.

I received several e-mails over the last 48 hours asking me to explain the meaning behind the "Wimpy is for Hamburgers, Not Americans" title. Was I making fun of hamburgers? Was I a vegetarian? Was I saying that Americans are "not?" I thought the line was self-evident. It never occurred to me I had written words in need of a footnote. Then I realized the title actually had a double meaning, one even I was not familiar with. Me bad. I apologize. I should have done a Google search myself.

I was referencing Popeye the Sailor's sidekick, J. Wellington Wimpy. Wimpy, as the above cartoon illustrates, will do anything for a hamburger. In fact, the character's "I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" was, at one time, as famous an expression as "duck and cover." The Wimpy reference dates back to the 1930s. "Duck and cover" to the 1950s. I'll make my younger readers feel comfortable. So what do you think of The Vapors?

I had no idea that at one time there was an English fast food chain called Wimpys. My father was a butcher in Madison; what was the point of ever going out for a hamburger when I could have rib-eye any time I wanted?

So that's all there is, there ain't no more. Nothing subversive, just a plea for our Congressional representatives to stop whining like a bunch of politically grandstanding stick figures. Speaking of producing appropriate wood, this town in Hardin, Montana is certainly living up to its name.