Monday, August 13, 2012

It's All About Food

Everyone who had a backyard in the Greenbush area also had their own highly prized vegetable garden.   Like hiding money in mattresses, the owners of these gardens saw farming their own vegetables not as a strenuous hobby but as Pavlovian survival technique...a victory garden for the soul. Understanding how to till the earth had kept these old coots alive through mass famines and wars in Europe or the wreck that was the Great Depression. G & S Grocery was just down the street and that was good for cheese, bread, and milk, but for squash and rhubarb, tomatoes, carrots, and corn, the yield of their backyards would do just fine. The allure of stealing the crops of others without getting caught made me the ex network executive I am today.

My mother who survived the London Blitz had her own backyard garden. I did so much digging and weeding during my summers that I instinctively began singing "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" and "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow," at the supper table. My father would join in with "Tumbalalaika" which sort of defeated the point. To this day I can't get the lyrics of "Ole Man River" out of my head.

I love most food and should never go to waste unless thrown at politicians. My mother would say, "Finish what is on your plate Greenbushboy. At this very moment Albanian children are starving." I'm an American. To this day I have no idea where Albania is. Why eating my cauliflower or squash would make life any better for starving Albanian children still escapes me.

I govern my waistline by the Hobbesian philosophy that bakeries and vending machines have absolute authority over common sense and the threat of diabetes. I was so chunky as a Greenbush child that once I began rolling down Mound Street, no one had a prayer of catching me and forcing me to return their paper bag lunches. During the school year, I spent so much time in the afternoon  rummaging through the slop containers of that day's school cafeteria left overs, most onlookers thought I was some fat desperate homeless guy or the school principal. It was at these moments, surrounded by half eaten desserts, that thoughts of starving Albanian children came to mind.

I did have pabulum priorities at Central High. I never once ate any salads or the daily mystery meats served to us by the Waupan inmates hired as school chefs. No food ever went wasted in my world including meats of speculative origins. I would feed them to the Greenbush rats to keep their population in check (sorry PETA). By the time I was a high school senior, I had so many chins I gave many of them away to British college kids studying at the University.Technically I had skin in the game even before I went off to college.

As I got older, my social skills improved markedly around food. No more dumpster diving for me. I would politely ask my dates if they planned on finishing their main course as soon as the dish arrived. Most were happy to oblige as sudden commitments arose leaving me alone at the table. I always thought women washed their hair before a date. I had had enough therapy over the years not to publicly lick my plates clean, though like stealing produce from other people's gardens, it was a tough habit to break. In grade school I was called Lassie because of all my plate licking. This really embarrassed me as Lassie was female.

 Chef Carson Gully
One of my favorite weekly shows, growing up in Madison in the 50s, featured  Chef Carson Gully. He was the head chef for the University for years, and I marveled at what he could do with meats and eggs and vegetables. Madison repaid his loyalty and dedication with zoning laws prohibiting him from purchasing a house within the incorporated areas of the city.

Carson Gully had me dreaming of becoming a chef. Never truly discovering how to turn on a stove without blowing up the neighborhood, I gave up all thoughts of culinary expertise and simply went with eating what was put in front of me. My kitchen skills have not improved much over the years. I can turn on a blender, but then what?

I'm not sure whether IT'S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD was written before or after BROADCAST 101, but they are close first cousins. I'm certain someone read one version and gave me notes which evolved into the other. There are changes, just not sure about the sequence.

All live action shows in my universe take place in a Vermont town called Squires Corners. I don't know why. Characters in live action children's programs follow some simple rules: kids are the protagonists, parents are clueless as road apples, adults run around flustered as if their hair is on fire, teachers walk around dazed and confused, and bullies are as dumb as a sack of nails. Regardless, IT'S ALL ABOUT FOOD was written years before the current craze of iron chefs and those crazy characters jumping up and down in rage that someone would have the audacity to spread mascarpone rather than Swiss meringue over a red velvet cupcake.

Well now this is interesting. I just lost my entire concept. I thought I was doing a cut and paste. It now looks as if I performed a search and destroy. IT'S ALL ABOUT FOOD currently has an APB out for it. Of course I never back any files up that are 20 years old. I just find them from old flash drives and move them over to my current computer as a cut and paste rather than a copy and paste.

Until I find it, I can tell you it involves the rivalry between a brother and a sister in a high school for chefs (the school teaches other things like math and driver ed). The original title was The Hatfields and the McCoys go to Cooking School. As part of the package, there were food fights, anger management sessions for teachers, a CGI created jackolope, a 6'9" gym teacher that yodels, children walking around the set covered with food, a reputed ghost in the rafters, a New York City food critic that steals recipes for apple crumble pie, kids who projectile vomited (off camera) and helium balloons filled with deviled eggs. Maybe I should let this idea remain "disappeared." The idea of helium balloons filled with deviled eggs sounds very unappealing.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Coming of Age

There is something magical about an independent bookstore. The frayed and soiled carpets, the musty scent of yellowing pages, the pungency of rarely cleaned litter boxes, the wonder of discovering mouse dropping within the folds of the very book one came to purchase. I have modeled my post college living arrangements in much the same way.

Aside from fast food joints, most of my waking hours at Wisconsin, when not running up and down Bascom Hill in my attempt to stop the war in Vietnam, were spent at Paul's Book Store on State Street. There was, of course the requisite thousands upon thousands of new and used books, both hard cover and paperback  (first editions that I could have purchased for pennies now worth a fortune!) which I sometimes took notice of. I remember the dirty carpet and the musty smell. I used to see a one eyed cat walking around like a character out of a Kipling story, but I never stumbled over its litter box. And yes, I did page through a book one time and discovered mouse droppings within.

My main attention, however, was always drawn to an ever present establishment of eccentric Cirque du Soleil characters that would gain their intellectual nourishment at Paul’s before trekking down to the Mifflin Street Co-op for other forms of nutrition. Spontaneity being the source of all light, these itinerant actors would select randomly a book off the shelves and begin to perform excerpts from it. Geology or astronomy, numismatics or children's lit, the subject made no difference. The performances would range from full blown recitations to mime presentations. I watched them in awe. For the first time I became aware of the simple fact: one did not have to be stoned to feel stoned.

One performance artist in particular fascinated me. She was a tall frizzy haired brunette who wore Trotskyite glasses slipped low across the bridge of her nose. Her clothing was upscale Salvation Army. Her jeans were torn around the pockets and knees, a fashion statement made decades before this particular look became a symbol of conspicuous consumption among the young. She wore no makeup, not that she needed any. I presume she neither shaved under her arms or her legs because at that time, shaving was a form of oppression by the Man. I never got far enough with her to find out.

I once asked her her name. She smiled and said to simply call her Ishmael. I found that a very strange but mesmerizing name for a girl. Only with the advent of Google and an extension class at UCLA in 19th Century American Literature did I come to realize she was hinting I should take my own personal hike. I often wonder what became of her. She and her company of thespians disappeared one cold Wisconsin winter never to be seen again. Either the group disbanded or found a bookstore elsewhere in a community  where the weather was less inclement and the atmosphere did not sting from tear gas.

So those memories were the basis of what follows. Why not a series that takes place in a bookstore, a children's book store.Those working in such an environment are not only well equipped to discuss the intricacies of the arcane world of children's literature but tend to be more patient than a convent of Carmelite nuns. I'm not sure whether any idea that involves books and singing and dancing would have a chance today. This was written the same year that Google came online. I've added some new hip references though I still say "groovy" and store all my Grateful Dead paraphernalia next to my walker so as not forgetting where I put them.

When not tearing up the artistic landscape at James Buchanan High for the Performing Arts, sixteen year old HOLLY HOBBS can be found singing and dancing her time away at a very special place called JABBERWOCKY. Jabberwocky is one of the last of its kind—a free standing independent children’s book store in Seattle, Washington and Holly is its hardest working non coffee drinking employee. Which is a lot to say coming from Seattle.

The store survives because of its personal service, customer loyalty, and a convivial after hours atmosphere of folk singing, poetry reading, and whatever else is out there that is both clean and free. The format is mutually attractive to those who have children and those who find them the ultimate nuisance. The two story red brick store known for its imaginative window displays and its crooked book shelves has been a landmark in the Seattle area for two generations. And no one knows more about how to service the needs of both parent and child than the owner CECELIA PENDRAGON.

Maybe other children’s book stores are quiet and staid environments where a parent can rush in, grab the au currant book and then flee to a safer haven for adults. But Jabberwocky is different. Most days a shoe horn is necessary to pry people away from the soft couches and cozy corners filled with goose down pillows. The store is a constant swirl of confused parents, unctuous sales reps, crawling toddlers, and testy authors waiting to autograph their books and carve their initials into the ancient mahogany signing table.

But Jabberwocky is much more than what one sees. Rusty pipes clang throughout the day. While there is never a water leak, the noise sounds like the last throes of the Titanic. The basement has something living amongst the walls or so local legend says. Whoever walks down its rickety steps suspects something is watching them. Whether this micro Sasquatch actually exists or not is anyone’s guess. So far the only voracious readers residing in the basement are spiders, dust mites and silver fish.

There are two buildings which book end Jabberwocky that add additional flavor to the selling of its books. The building to the left is a co-op unit which has been under constant construction for the last 10 years (the owners are fussy). The construction workers tend to make a lot of noise especially when singing sea shanties and pirate songs (no one knows why). They never enter the store and speak a language no one recognizes.

The other building is the HAPPY SINGING KENNEL FOR ALL ANIMALS GREAT AND SMALL. The lungs of many of the clients of Happy Singing wail out their love songs throughout the day making conversation within the store somewhat difficult. Some stroll on in with their owners after a day of confinement and instinctively head straight for the animal stories. Most of their owners need the leash rather than their pets..

So this is how it all began. Holly Hobbs just wandered in one afternoon looking for a book for her younger brother. A part time job was available and she has worked there ever since. Holly is the store's Jackie of all Trades. With grandiose enthusiasm she stocks the shelves with books, cards, toys, and sentimental ephemera. She points confused parents to their lost children and whinny kids to the bathroom. She deftly handles those toddlers still too young for a chain gang but far too old to sit still in a stroller. She soothes the panicked young students looking for that last minute quick read to complete the next day’s book report. Expectant mothers wishing to give an intellectual edge to their unborn bundle know exactly who to approach for that easy listening Mozart musical tape. And after many a rather rambunctious birthday party for a five year old or wonky author signing, she can be found afterwards mopping the floor like a sailor swabbing the deck.

Surprisingly the above list of chores is secondary to what she is was first hired to do: to be the afternoon assigned reader of picture books. Being the consummate showgirl, Holly's ego took a beating every time someone in her audience fell asleep during her interpretations of steam shovels, flower loving bulls and tigers that speak. So she began to change her act to what it is today. Holly is the singer-dancer-storyteller-raconteur and maestro of her own variety show, “Telling Tales Outside of School”. What started as a one girl recital now is a full blown Buchanan High School for the Performing Arts production number.

And why not? Jabberwocky has a stage and the high sachoolers have their own clothes. Why not put on a musical show? The school is a chock a block of singers and dancers and musicians all waiting to perform…anytime and anywhere. Why wait for Buchanan High to set up another auditorium concert just for  adoring parents? Jabberwocky gives them an opportunity to branch out and play to the public even if much of the public are young enough to be their kid brothers and sisters (sometimes they are).

No one will ever confuse this setting with American Idol, but then there are also no wonky judges telling the participants they look like bugs either. The performances are part Ringling Brothers, part Broadway, a little bit of Ed Sullivan (spinning plates and ventriloquists) and all kitsch. The shows draw in a massive number of neighborhood regulars who would otherwise have a reflexive gag sensation at the mere mention of the word “children”.

To lend more chaos than constructiveness are several of Holly’s friends from school. There is MACK her erstwhile boyfriend, shy beyond comprehension except when he’s singing on stage. Then watch out because this kid has a set of pipes on him. Nothing like belting out Kipling’s Just So Stories in a Frankie Valli falsetto. He has butterflies in his stomach when HE IS NOT performing. Otherwise he spends most of his time in the corner reading picture books since that’s what he wants to write one day. Little kids are always asking him where the bathroom is. He does not know why.

There is FIONA whose father manages the large chain bookstore several blocs away. She hangs out with Holly because the book selection at Jabberwocky is far greater and the store is much friendlier. Her father refuses to allow any form of entertainment at his store. He says it scares customers away. Actually the parents and kids that frequent her father’s store scare her. Fiona adds a whole new dimension to the word “overacting” especially when she dances to her own choreographed version of “Good Night Moon”.

There is EDNA, goofy class clown of her school by day but stone cold intellectual whenever she sets foot in the store. No one understands how she can go from Lucy Ricardo at Buchanan High to imperial, haughty, and rude performance artist LUCRETIA. At Jabberwocky her character has the bedside manner of a bag of rusty nails. Her act is part Norma Desmond, Diageliev, Cruella DeVille, and Cher. She does not understand why the kids love her performance because it is so French salon. She also spends boatloads of money at Jabberwocky trying to complete her Maisey collection.

Let’s not forget Cecilia Pendragon, owner of Jabberwocky. A former student of Buchanan High, she now runs Jabberwocky as if it were the Julliard of the West Coast. It a comedy club but without the comedy, the liquor license, or the hecklers, but everyone gets a shot at performing. While she has been known to walk around the store strumming a banjo, her talent remains keeping the doors open and the talent flowing from Buchanan High and other schools.

Sure there are youngsters crying in the audience and parents in search of wayward children. Sure there is that constant clatter of next door construction and next door barking and meowing and rusty pipes that come in whenever someone needs a bass in the background. But this unintended wall of sound does not disturb any of the performers, customers, authors or salesmen. In fact it offers a respite from the wailing of two year olds using board books as teething tools.

In creating a series around the chaotic environment of a children’s book store and the assorted eccentric characters frequenting it, we fall directly in line with those closed surroundings already on the air: Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Hanna Montana, That’s so Raven, I Carly, Naked Brothers Band. With Coming of Age we have the ability to highlight different musical performances in each episode while the winning personalities and talents of Holly and her main friends act as the energetic backbone for it all. It’s an odd way to sneak in the idea of a weekly variety show with singers and dancers and pets and rusty pipes, but it is worth a shot. Oh yes, there is something downstairs in the basement!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Broadcast 101

Twenty years ago I wrote BROADCAST 101 after an evening of watching nothing but VHS recorded public access programming. I don't remember why my life had come to such a screeching halt for me to sit on the floor playing around with dozens of half inch tapes; whatever the reason is now lost in time like my hair and eyesight. I thought that perhaps what was missing at that moment in kids programming was a show that went from all singing and dancing and squealing to all screaming, all crying and all tripping--the sort of action found in wartime films featuring Abbott and Costello.

For all but one hour a week, public access programming in Squires Corners is not too dissimilar to what can be found anywhere else in the country: an interminable stream of harshly lit and poorly shot cheap as spit programming. This is a great country where hapless individuals can pontificate on topics as far ranging as secret government surveillance, conspiracy theories, men in black sightings, women’s water polo, rhythmic gymnastics, alien abduction stories, comic book valuations, and wine tasting, and all done within the same show.

Yet once a week for 60 minutes, public access television in Squires Corners morphs from bug eyed lecturers musing about anal probes into a high school gong show. Broadcast 101 is broadcast from the sweaty confines of the JOSEPH CONRAD HIGH SCHOOL gym and the driving force behind each program is the ever lovely Miss Ilene Fendrich, first year teacher extraordinaire. 

With the gusto that only teens can muster, the program is all talking and singing and dancing and crying and bitching and moaning and wheezing and carping and mulling. It's about dating and homework and parents. It's about peer pressure, life in the not so fast lane of Squires Corners, and how to survive being totally disappointed in your closest friends. There are cooking segments, garage band tryouts, hot waxing car demonstrations, and the best way to pickle pickles.

The overall production is a total mess. Students stumble over floor cables and into cameras. Klieg lights crash down. Scofflaws race through camera shots one step ahead of stern detention hall monitors. Backgrounds topple. Audience members spill sodas on hot electrical equipment. Babies cry. The on camera guests yell insults at each other. Food fights break out among the crew, temper tantrums spill over from lunch time arguments. Cheer leading practice and basketball drills take place along the far wall. Murphy's Law would hide itself in shame.

Attempting to keep cast and crew from spinning off into worlds only Rod Serling would be familiar with are  16 year old OSCAR CLOVIS and fifteen year old SYDNEY KANVIK, dual hosts of Broadcast 101. Smart, funny, quick on the up take, Oscar and Sydney would be the perfect leads in any Disney movie were it not for the fact they are first cousins.

Skulking around the edges are the nefarious Iagoesque twins, MARKHAM AND FIONA BISSELL, top jerks from a competing school, who get air time on just about whatever subject they want because their father supplies the necessary food and electrical equipment to keep the show afloat. There is SPIT RICHARDSON and his gang of multi cultural delinquents who supply the on key musical interludes. His entire band get their weekly hall pass to leave their permanent seats in the principle’s office?

We can't forget MIRANDA CORTEZ, investigative reporter, weather girl, and all around cheerleader who has yet to achieve accuracy either in news, weather forecasts, or in spinning and jumping. She doesn’t have the brains to come in out of the rain because a youngster with an  I.Q. of 160 plus looks at getting wet a little different than everyone else. Her father is also the mayor but that has nothing to do with her on camera time.

 Broadcast live before a bleacher crowd full of adoring parents and worried teachers and from the spacious but run down school gymnasium (where the Badgers play their home basketball games every Friday and Saturday nights), the show is a weekly must see. The idea was so simple and naive at first. Ilene would take her class in broadcasting and turn it into the real thing. Instead of the usual classroom lectures and broken down visual aids handcrafted from the fifties, she would use the public access channel and produce a hands on experience. Her students could create their their own version of a morning program in the late afternoon: rotating hosts, local school reporting, cooking and fashion segments, and an occasional song and dance number from the theater department. In the process of putting together a weekly show, the students would learn something about themselves as well.

However, Ilene should have heeded the wise words of Robert Burns: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” What started out as a class assignment for her students soon devolves into an entire school project where everyone wants in. By 3:50PM on the Thursday of the broadcast, the gym looks like a major staging area gearing up for a ground assault and in the middle of it all is 24 year old Ilene Fendrich.

Hired straight out of a Los Angeles graduate program in education, Ilene immediately takes the school and its teacher hierarchy by storm...again. She was a student once herself at Joseph Conrad High, the school’s head cheer leader, its valedictorian, and bemused editor of the school paper. Now back at her old stomping grounds, her idea of broadcasting from the new gym is now almost back in full bloom.

But things have changed since the old days of six years ago when Ilene could run roughshod over everyone.
Life was so much easier when Ilene was in high school. She was the ultimate Big Girl on Campus and the leader of the most exclusive clique in school. She was the school’s ultimate mover and shaker; she made every social event happen at Joseph Conrad regardless of odds. She finagled major rock groups to come and play for their proms; for three years running she enticed or blackmailed the best chefs in a five state area to send their best desserts for Grad Night free of charge. She was also student council president, editor of the newspaper, and straight A student.

 Most of her old teachers have migrated to the competing and newer school, FRANKLYN PIERCE HIGH. The new principle, MR. COLIC, is a no nonsense disciplinarian who doesn't care about Ilene's student time at Conrad High. He is focused on the present. His biggest worry other than the idiots on the school board are the liability concerns facing the school now that Conrad High is back using its once condemned old gym. Used as a large storage room during the years that Ilene attended Joseph Conrad, it has been somewhat refurbished. It is now the main location for all after school activity whether it is gym practice, the Latin club, cheer leading, or drama practice. An unfortunate chemistry experiment totaled the new gym but construction should be completed within the next 18 months once the school bond issue is settled.

But Irene has stumbled into a few changes since her days in high school. A new capitalist reality has set in where strings are attached to just about everything. For example, the owner of her favorite campus hang out, Big Gus of BIG GUS’S ELECTRONIC EMPORIUM AND PIZZA JOINT has turned from being a wild and wacky guy to a steel cold businessman in six short years. Big Gus loves that Ilene has returned home and is more than happy to supply food and equipment free of charge for her broadcasting class but with two provisos: free advertisement several times during the program and more importantly, screen time for his two bratty twins. Big Gus’s kids go the evil Franklin Pierce High where a rabid competition exists on every level with Joseph Conrad High. Ilene is very familiar with these two little creeps as she baby sat them in high school. MARKHAM and FIONA were twin monsters before they became teenagers. Now Lady Macbeth and Iago have simply grown worse.

Disciplinarian Principle Colic has attached a few strings of his own. He now has one day a week where he can dump all of his troublemakers outside of his office. Rather than have them sit in detention class and take up his time, these reprobates can work floor crew with Ilene’s students.Principal Colic enjoys walking across the set during broadcast to personally inspect whether his wayward students are crewing and not actually studying for the next day's police line up exams. Ilene discovers a number of them can sing and dance better than they can spell.

Broadcasting sixty minutes a week takes seven days to complete. The lead up to the broadcast makes for marvelous tear jerker programming as well. Writing copy and gags, blocking skits, booking guests, whitening teeth is 24/7 work. So is backstage stabbing, power grabs, forgotten commitments and broken promises. The lowly Badgers continue to practice their lay ups and free throws at the other end of the gym while the show broadcasts live. COACH HARRIS, the 6’9” gym teacher who is there at the ready with his electric guitar just in case anyone wants to hear him sing power ballads from the 1970’s.  Did I mention the cheer leaders practicing in the background as well?

Pity poor Oscar and Sydney in their new found role of celebrity hosts! Every student, teacher, stranger, and tourist now desires the coveted air time that they apparently control. It’s a real slow day when someone isn’t auditioning in front of them with their latest juggling routines, projectile vomiting tricks, impossible yoga positions, original songs, Oprah like tales of woe, ancient cooking recipes, wacky home movies, and human pet tricks. How Oscar and Sydney handle the chaos of broadcasting live and still keep their sense of humor becomes the backbone of each episode? They realize that viewers tune in for the flubbed lines, the idiotic guests, the tech problems galore, the continuing soap opera that is Big Gus’s twins, audience rudeness, and everything else which has nothing whatsoever to do with the show itself?

They walk the halls accosted by students ready to perform for them. Notes aren’t so much passed to them as flung at them. They receive mysterious phone calls late at night and e mails from schools all over the country begging for a chance to be on their show. Principle Colic has even noticed an up tick in the number of students showing up for detention whether they have been assigned to it or not. It has recently been noted that students from other schools have sneaked in to detention classes as well for a shot at working crew. For a program about life in a high school, little if any time is actually spent in a classroom. Action takes place in the Big Old Gym, Principle’s Colic’s office, bathrooms, or the backstage of the auditorium where many of our key players end up cooking up evil plans or combating power grabs. While it is not quite Shakespeare in the round, BROADCAST 101 offers that first stepping stone to American Idol, network news, or Washington politics.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Grandma Karpis-Barker: A Movie Pitch

Well if it isn’t Yankel the Pitchman on the phone. So how long has it been since we last spoke…3 hours?
I love you as if you were my brother-in-law; which, of course you are. So how’s my sister and the kids?
No different than they were three hours ago. I'm a busy agent. A mover. A shaker. I revel in restless leg syndrome.So what is now? A kid who hypnotizes the country in believing he is old enough to run for President. An alien dinosaur that comes to Earth thinking that Jurassic Park is legit? What was the other one you told me this morning? Oh yes: A Siamese cat that walks across a DOS driven computer in the Pentagon setting off our entire missile system. You described that as an apocalyptic comedy of errors for Disney.
It's a scream. The Pentagon running on DOS driven computers. Sounds already like a Disney comedy, right? Shoot the idea out to your studio poker buddies the next time you get called out on a busted flush. You start pitching before they start laughing. How much did Harvey take you for the last time, Amarillo Slim?
What is it Pitchman? Can’t you just send it to me?
You know I hate to write anything down until there’s money involved.

You also hate showing up for dinner without first calling.

Okay, now picture this. An old lady, grandmother old (not Ozark grandmother old which could be someone in their early thirties) but at least old enough to join AARP and overweight, but not so heavy she needs a hoist to move her. We'll also insert shots of her crocheting booties for the local orphanage, delivering milk to homeless shelters, and doing dowsing work on the side. Her house looks like Extreme Makeover has handed her name to the producers of Hoarders. Her main job pays next to nothing: She's a crossing guard or someone who takes in ironing. The woman doesn't look as if she has a pot to piss in. No wait. Make her a school bus monitor. I have no idea what a school bus monitor does, possibly monitoring bus mileage or air quality, but that job has been in the news recently. We see her walking really slowly toward a school bus, possibly because she has poor circulation. She’s wearing supp hose and she’s brown bagging it, but the bag looks like it was stolen off a dumpster diver. But this is a real hardy salt of the earth type. She’s heading towards a bus filled with kids that look too dangerous for Gitmo.She barely has time to sit down and begin knitting those booties; Note to self: maybe make them socks for our Marines in Afghanistan. Do Afghan soldiers need socks? Anyway, four boys begin to verbally wail and curse her out. Just starts up for no apparent reason. Making fun of her weight, her clothes, her hearing aids. One kid says she'll die alone and be food for her cats for a month. Another kid says she’s so fat her farts come out in a different time zone. You know bad Friar’s roast jokes.

Now my first thought was make her a black grandmother, but then we have to make sure none of the action takes place too far toward the back of the bus for obvious reasons. I didn’t want to limit the director to specific location shots. Anyway, a black female regardless of age would do a Charles Bronson on these punks and that would take my idea into a whole new Pam Grier direction. Then I thought, make her Hispanic. I threw that out because I didn’t want any extraneous scenes where we would have to prove her American citizenship. Some paying customers would still believe she was illegal and taking this low paying job away from some American grandmother who couldn’t make the graveyard shift at WalMart. Making her Asian was a non-starter. The audience always expects Confucian pigeon English and some kung fu battle right up front. Knowing development execs the way I do, the Chinese grandmother would have ended up being pitched to Jackie Chan and then this whole idea would make no sense at all.

Hey Pitchman, this is already longer than my last root canal and equally as painful. 
I love your humor. That’s why my sister married you instead of the heart surgeon now running Sloan Kettering. Anyway, you’ll see shortly why I made her white, old, overweight, and vulnerable. The punks on the bus are all white as well. No reason to get bogged down in any racial craziness. Anyway, brother in law, when was the last time we had a bunch of young white villains that weren’t inbred cannibals from the Ozarks, clown faces from The Warriors, or tweeker bikers? Were all the kids in Lord of the Rings white? Don't matter. None of these kids have English accents so I don't care.. We'll also figure out how to use the word “wilding” in the title somehow unless that doesn't test well.. You know something like the “white wilders.”

I just thought of something. You know my mind is always working. They’re not white teenagers. They’re white middle schoolers, tweens. They’re like the young spawn of Satan. Boy that’s sounds like a great movie title for Rob Zombie. Young Spawn of Satan. Rolls off the tongue real well, don't you think? Can you get me a meeting? Hello. Hello. You still there?

Barely. Just lighting my tongue on fire with an old butane lighter. So far this sounds somewhat familiar to a story I think I heard about from just about EVERYONE! 

Hey, I'm Mister Pitchman. You don't think I have a bunch of twists up my sleeve. Anyway, these kids just keep tormenting her.They're mean little shits, cursing and screaming in her ear, telling her she’s fat, and her family wants her dead and she’ll die alone eaten by her cats which will take over a month for them to consume her down to the bone.

Didn't you just tell me that line?

Possibly, but who can remember that far back? But the old lady just sits still, maybe says a few words, and tears up. Did I say we could steal some old Friar’s roast materials?

I don't know. You lost me thirty seconds before the phone rang.
Bear with me. I’m coming to the good part. One of these kids just so happens to be recording this entire smack down. Now you’re asking. Why record this? It’s not a sex tape. What’s the point? Here’s where the story starts twisting and turning like your reflux stomach. This kid uploads the video and it goes viral. I guess everything goes viral nowadays. I wonder if the Japanese have done a horror movie about a video going viral and killing its viewers. Make note to Google and IMBD that thought.

Make sure you look up the title The Ring.
Thanks. Will do. The country goes nuts, is outraged by the treatment of this poor woman who sits stoically throughout just letting the kids say whatever they want. Maybe she throws out some bromide about sticks and stones or something like that. Remember I don’t write. I leave that up to the experts. Some do-gooder starts a fund for her on the Internet and boom! suddenly everyone in America remembers they all have overweight grandmothers they’ve ignored or maligned or refused to let kiss them because of old people smell. So the money pours in to this website, tax free money, I might add. Hundreds of thousands of dollars from total strangers. Strangers who otherwise might want to stop food stamps for kids or pap smears for poor women.

Now here’s the kicker which turns it into a perfect Lifetime movie. We discover in Act II that the grandmother is more than she seems. Through flashbacks but not a lot of them, we see her around a kitchen table with the vintage vinyl coated tablecloth and 50s diner chairs, all non matching colors. Perhaps she even covers her furniture with plastic sheets. The four kids and the kid cameraman are sitting around the table practicing the very same smack-down lines we just heard on the bus. She hits the kids on the head with a ruler if the inflection is wrong or not mean enough. When they do good, she gives them milk with the stale saltines.On the table are DVD’s of Tarentino’s movies and Full Metal Jacket.

The grandmother maiden name is something like Karpis or Barker. In fact let’s make the old lady’s name is Edna Karpis-Barker. She tells these kids that the meaner they are to her, the more money will come flowing in. She might quote PT Barnum, but I don't want this to feel like a period piece so probably not. Just no hitting her because when the video goes viral, that could be construed as criminal assault. The cops will show up anyway, she says. The kids will have to write apologies, go before the cameras, cry and say how ashamed they are. We get to know more about these kids. They're not bad kids. They've just thrown in with a real bad grandmother. We might work in a teachable moment somehow.
You know with all the teachable moments this country has had recently, we should all be PHDs by now. 

She tells the kids to be prepared for death threats and their parents will be humiliated as lousy parents who should be publicly whipped for producing such snot-nosed bastards.But that's the downside. She will, however, be all over television. The darling of the media. She explains that after two news cycles this story will disappear, but the money will remain. She'll collect the money off the Internet, make a bunch of thank- you-very-much-stump speeches and then they'll come over and split the loot. Easier than robbing a bank.

Were you dropped on your head as a baby? This is crazy.

All goes according to plan. She goes on a fully paid vacation funded by some sad-eyed billionaire wracked with guilt because he squealed to the cops on his own grandmother when he was a kid for growing medicinal dope in her hydroponically equipped basement, Act Three takes a sharp vengeance turn and down some pretty rough streets. Grandma Karpis-Barker absconds with all the dough leaving the boys sitting on a mountain of death threats, school expulsions, and homelessness now that their parents have been publicly fired from their jobs. So all five of these kids are walking the streets, pariahs in their neighborhood, probably buying dope from some Tim Roth type of guy. Then one day while they’re hanging around a vacant Blockbuster Video store thinking of buying guns and going into busy for themselves, some hard bitten man comes up to them. Now the audience thinks it’s a Jerry Sandusky type guy, but it isn’t. He’s a private detective. Now if we want to get a quality star for this part, I can introduce him earlier, maybe busting some heads or landing in jail because he was conveniently at a murder scene just when the cops arrive. Anyway, he knows exactly what happened to the kids. He’s had run ins with Grandma Karpis-Barker before, and before the Internet, her bunko ploy was stiffing bingo parlors and running smokes up from North Carolina to the Indian reservations in upstate New York.

To sum up, this Tom Sizemore type character ends up tracking her down. There are car chases, a gunfight that closes down the Verrazano Bridge, and Grandma Karpis-Barker looks like she is shot off one of the bridges’ trellises. Does the Verrazano Bridge have trellises? We’ll get research on it during pre production. Anyway, no money is found, the body is never recovered leading us into the Lifetime sequel, Busted Lives: A Redemption with Bullets.

Pitchman, I’ll get on right away. Oh damn, my 10 percenter is here and she’s brought her Newfie with her. Has it been walked? Hey, Hey, that's a handwoven Persian rug from the 15th Century. Why is he sniffing that spot?

Babe, when I come over tonight for brisket, do I have a pitch for you. It’s about Seaman, the Newfoundland Dog that accompanied Louis and Clark. The twist here is he’s possessed by the Salem witches burned at the stake.


Hello. Hello.

ADDENDUM:  Could the above scenario be real?  Could someone actually pitch an idea in Hollywood turning this Karen Klein video upside down, making a helpless grandmother into a calculating bunko artist par excellence, and be taken seriously? Not only has it already been done. but the second draft of the script from the network-okayed writer is a week late. Hollywood is a town of pitchmeisters, many of whose ideas make even less sense than  telling your girlfriend the truth about the size of her backside. Come to think of it here's another idea: Obama discovers he's a secret terrorist Moslem and gives a thumbs up to a drone attack on himself.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Here I Come Again

It has been far too long since my last blog. While I took the Rose Bowl defeat seriously enough to actually not use the word "badger" in any sentence for several weeks, the main reason for my disappearance was legitimate writing assignments, some which involved money rather than promises or the bartering of fruit and vegetables. In my line of work which I have never been quite able to explain to anyone, one goes where the potential of money can be had...much like hookers streaming into Tampa, Florida for this year's Republican Convention. Girls and because this is a Republican Convention, boys, remember to bring your own protection since these delegates fervently believe that ovum are worth their weight in gold until they are born and become burdens to society.

But recently the pickings have been slow to non-existent so once more I find myself making those plaintive phone calls to various outlier sperm clinics usually located just south of Patagonia. Yes, I know I am too old to donate and any attempt would call for immediate EMTs and paramedics to be close at hand (no pun intended). I also know from reading brochures that no sperm bank would ever take swimmers that already have signs of coronary occlusion.

One of the new features of this blog will be the publication of unformed ideas and concepts written for no apparent purpose other than I had nothing better to do on a Saturday night after my credit card had been denied once again. Other materials that will see the light of day here are serious proposals (at least I thought they should be taken seriously) that received the same response from executives that any male who's a 3 receives from any female who is a 9 or higher. There's no point in keeping these ideas hidden away on hard drives when everything else in life appears to be softening up.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Badger Tears

This is not the ending I was expecting. Bucky is sobbing on the streets of Pasadena. Somewhere Hubbard, Rosa, and Purdy are singing On Wisconsin off-key. All over the dairy state, cows are tipping themselves over in shock and dismay. Beer refuses to leave their taps. Oscar Mayer is blowing a dirge on the wiener whistle. The colors of cardinal and white walk around shrouded in black crepe. Lawry’s wants its steaks back.

I am disconsolate. I am angry. I just ate my cheesehead without the benefit of strong whiskey or any other lubricant. It went down as hard as the last second football spike ending a game without any time left on the clock.

Congratulations to Oregon. The last time an Oregon team won the Rose Bowl, America was several months away from entering World War I. The Czar was still running around Russia scooping up Fabergé eggs. The Ottomans still had an empire. And Iraq was not yet a country.

This Badger loss is my fault. Not the Jared Abbrederis fumble at the four minute mark of the fourth quarter. Not the questionable burning off of two time outs in the second half when neither, as it turned out, was really necessary. Not the fact that Montee Ball had three carries in the fourth quarter for NO YARDS. No, I take full responsibility for the loss: I, Mister Greenbushboy himself, was too damn lazy to go to the game and drink the beer, eat the hot dogs, wait in line to whizz, and listen to drunks around me question how Russell Wilson came to Wisconsin.

Every time I’ve sat my ever expanding keister down in the nose bleed section of the Rose Bowl, the Badgers were assured a victory. I was there in ’94, ’99, and 2000. Suddenly in my old age, I’ve become, like my exercise patterns: unreliable, lackadaisical, lethargic, slothful, and gaseous. In 2011, I decided to actually watch the Rose Bowl game in the comfort of a home with a 50 inch screen and I gobbled down food until it ran out in the third quarter. And what happened? Wisconsin lost to some team whose name shall never be mentioned in my presence.

This year, I went one better. The screen was the size of a mansion, there were enough bathrooms for a battalion, and the food service began the night before. And how did it end? We lost again. How can I call myself a Badger when obviously all I’ve been thinking about is my own self interest and my gut? Isn’t there a circle in Hell for reprobates and blackguards such as myself?

The next time Wisconsin has a quarterback the quality of Russell Wilson, I’ll be dead and won’t know about it anyway. Unless we have someone even half as good waiting in the wings come September of this year, the Badgers will end up at best playing in one of those toilet bowl games held before the New Year and who gives a crap about them? I fear that Wisconsin’s loss only portends what the Mayan Calendar has been warning us all along. The end is nigh.

Rose Bowl 2012

I’m a Bucky Badger who lives out in Los Angeles. Until Barry Alvarez rode in on Rocinante in 1990 and gave all of us Wisconsin football fans a reason to live for Saturdays, Badger Football was so bad that any Wisconsin emblazoned clothing I wore around the city, I had the words “Be Kind, Be Generous, Show Pity” sown prominently into it. I must admit I did plagiarize that slogan: It is the union motto for the WGA out here as well.

I learned to despise the football programs of both Ohio State and Michigan. Those two teams, made up primarily of walking sides of beef, were proof positive of the existence of Satan’s spawn on Earth. Only in high school did I discover where those two states were located and how close in proximity they were to Wisconsin. This made me even more nervous, since geography was one of my better subjects in school.

Prior to 1990, I personally was leading a life best described as unglued and disquieting. I walked around in a daze and was known for mumbling the names Alan Ameche, Pat O’Dea, and Pat Richter whenever stressed out. I was arrested several times during those years for wearing my Wisconsin parkas and sweatshirts in 100 degree temperatures and pronouncing the word "Sepulveda" incorrectly. People also thought I was a Washington State Huskies fan which really made me hated around UCLA and USC.

The Rose Bowl is a beautiful stadium. I’ve gone there for concerts, 4th of July celebrations, and its fabulous flea markets. The stadium is either 26 or 32 miles from my place depending on which car encrusted freeway I try my luck on. MAPQUEST says it is about a 40 minute drive from where I live. MAPQUEST is afflicted with alcohol poisoning. On an average day, when most traffic patterns originate in Hell, the trek is well over an hour. On Rose Bowl Day, bet on a probe launched to Mars to get there quicker.

I went to the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1994 and some miscreant sided swiped the left side of my car causing several thousand dollars in repair. I went to the Rose Bowl Game on January 1, 1999 and a drunk or drunks used the right side of my car as a public urinal and vomitorium. The pissing rubbed the paint off the car and the ralphing smell took two weeks to disappear.

For the January 1, 2000 game, nothing happened to my car. I did, however, misplace my binoculars and break my glasses tripping down a flight of stairs at the end of the game. I no longer remember whether I was pushed by the mob racing to leave the Stadium or just slipped on some cheesy food. It took me ages to find my vehicle and driving home with eyesight just north of Helen Keller’s proved both my mettle as a foolhardy male and my capacity to cry on command. I will always be thankful for all the DUIs caught on the roads that night, employing the police so fully that they ignored this squint-eyed fool snaking down side streets, back alleys, and through portions of the LA subculture at 12 miles an hour. I got home by sunrise.

I did not go to the 2011 Rose Bowl game since my nerves were still on edge from 2000. I sat and watched it on a 50 inch screen at a friend’s house a mere two miles away and bawled like a puppy. Wisconsin lost that game and we ran out of food in the middle of the third quarter.

I will not be attending this year’s game either. Instead, I will be viewing it on an even larger screen with friends who know that a football game of this magnitude has food served two hours before the kick-off and six hours after the last play has been run. As is customary at such events, I will be wearing all sorts of Wisconsin headgear, sweatshirts (one for each quarter), and socks with the famous “W” emblazoned on them. With each touchdown score I will high five some stranger and puff up my man breasts with pride.

Wisconsin will win this BCS game by a minimum of two touchdowns. If for some Mayan apocalyptic reason the Badgers should lose to the Ducks, I will personally sideswipe my own car while peeing on it as I vomit up the last 24 hours worth of stomach contents. Will I be so clumsy as to step on my own glasses? What? Do you think I have cheese for brains? I’ve grown up since my days at Wisconsin.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Bye Bye 2011

My Year End summary to all my friends, creditors, and assorted others who still believe I owe them money.

2011 had more ups and downs for me than a retirement community discovering Viagra for the first time. 2011 was a year filled with some joy, but that’s boring to speak about so let’s get to the mental chaos, the physical pain, and those unusual number of late night phone calls from someone calling herself Manny the Horse.

The phone calls began in early January, threatening to expose some dark secret I had kept hidden since high school. As I did nothing in high school except take up space in the back of every classroom, I was curious about that secret myself. Manny the Horse said she would get back to me on that. When she finally did call again, she apologized, telling me that these late night threatening phone calls were actually for some other Greenbush Boy located in Greenville, South Carolina. She asked whether she could still call me late at night because she loved the hysterical nature of my masculine voice. I told her only if she talked dirty to my fixed cat.

She would later reveal herself to be Esmeralda Schwartz, a psychotic woman claiming to be my long lost daughter. She was last seen yodeling in the Tyrolean Alps. I hope to hear more from her in the New Year because ever since I saw The Sound of Music, I have loved the noise of sheep courting goats.

2011 began auspiciously enough with my final court appearance regarding that nasty paternity suit that had dogged me since my teen years. How one becomes pregnant on a toilet seat, especially if one is alone at the time, was beyond my biological pay grade as I kept arguing in court. The twins who claimed to be my love children born to someone named Sally from Anchorage were finally proven to be the charlatans when both were tasered and forced to hand over some DNA spittle. Lab tests were conclusive when traces of dieffenbachia were found in their mitochondrial strains. My lineage is straight Eastern European fir and switch grass from the Great Plains.

In February, I broke my arm in the defense of a woman’s honor. Apparently she still desired to keep hers. It was all a misunderstanding, as I tried to explain to the arresting officers, who must have mistaken me for a felon on the 10 Most Wanted List and beat me like an Al Qaeda suspect. While recuperating in the emergency room, I met a very lovely doctor who had no interest in me whatsoever. She did, however, volunteer both of my kidneys to an Eastern European body parts cartel working out of the back room of the hospital.

At about the same time, I discovered my love for the outdoors. My normal pattern of spending my days locked away in a cold fourth floor walk up was replaced by the exotic world of nature. This new venture out in the wilderness would eventually help me pay off a number of backlogged gambling debts made during the calendar year 2005 when I began mixing muscatel with Nyquil to cure my inability to draw with my left hand. Planting certain medicinal plants in the back trails of various national parks in Northern California, ,and Idaho resulted in adding the right amount of vitamin D back into my body.

I also learned a valuable civics lesson about our Bill of Rights while roaming the great outdoors. When in doubt about the worth of one’s botanical harvest, it is always best to point the business end of the Second Amendment at your buyers first before the negotiations become too heated. The bullet that tore off half my right ear now forces me to walk rather lopsided, but it does add a certain gangster appeal to my resume. I now have no need for my vast hoop earring collection. No reason any longer for me to watch The Shopping Network. I’ll miss those ads about spandex underwear.

Thanks to a Martha Stewart tip, reusing paper plates are fine as long as they are not washed in a dishwasher. The things one learns as a bachelor.

Thanks to the court ordered electronic bracelet and home arrest, I was finally able to catch up on all the novels I missed from the ninth grade onward. I am shocked to discover that Moby Dick is about a white whale and not the name the author gave to his male organ.

Do you know that tea candles burn at varying lengths?

I finally got around to dusting my apartment this summer. I discovered dust under the dust but nothing I could sell either on eBay or to any of the pawn brokers who now call me by the moniker “Clueless.”

Walked once around the block for my yearly cardio workout.

In September, I decided to try my luck dating again. Removing the electronic bracelet certainly helped with my mobility. The back pages of the LA Weekly have never proven too successful in helping me to find just the right girl for an evening out -- though I’ve spent plenty for a lot of the wrong girls for an evening in. One date refused to eat much even when taken to IHOP. She said she was on some new flesh eating diet, which as I discovered from reading articles on the Internet is the latest Southern Californian craze in addition to waxing one’s teeth, Brazilian style. Another date proved short lived when she began correcting my spelling while I spoke to her.

I attended several funerals during the year which corroborated to those of us still breathing how both depressing and dangerous such events can be. I can’t count the number of attendants coming down with shin splints and angina as they danced on the graves of those just buried. I guess this is a Hollywood tradition I as a Midwesterner will never get used to.

On a lighter note, several more of my friends had ugly divorces this year. I take no pleasure in telling anyone, “I told you so,” but I do find satisfaction in knowing that during the heated divorce proceedings, my gag gifts were not the ones being fought over.

Must end this blog. I believe Esmeralda Schwartz is calling again.