30 June 2014

This May Not End Well But You'll Like It - My Favorite Roman Polanski Films


I only recently came off a Roman Polanski binge having watched all of his films that have gotten so much as middling reviews. Polanski is often forgotten when great directors are discussed perhaps because he has not been especially prodigious and he has thus far made but one movie that is certain to be forever remembered as a classic. Moreover he does not have a particular style or genre that he has made his own. Plus the man's name will forever be linked with a notorious multiple homicide in which his wife was a primary victim and a nasty sex scandal of which he was guilty. Oh and let's not forget that both of his parents perished in the Holocaust. But none of that should obscure the fact that Polanski is a damn good director who for 50 years has been cranking out some wonderful motion pictures.

There is a pattern to Polanski's films the discussion of which is a spoiler in and of itself so you are now fully warned. There are no happy endings, at least among the eight films that make up this list of my favorite Polanski films and the several others that I watched. The main character either doesn't live happily ever after or doesn't live period. While Polanski has taken a lot more than his fair share of knocks in life he has also been an internationally celebrated success since the early 1960s. The horrible childhood memories of living in Nazi occupied Warsaw and the murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate at the hands of the notorious Manson family are more than enough to make a bitter cynic out of any person. But Polanski's has never seemed angry or morose. Indeed his movies reflect a passionate artist who is meticulous and inspired. The endings may not be happy but the films are not somber or dark or even pessimistic.

Polanski succeeds as a director in large part because he uses excellent source material and often collaborates with top notch screenwriters like Robert Towne. Billy Wilder suggested that it is the screenplay that makes the film more than the auteur and Polanski's work is a strong supporting argument for that contention. He is clearly working from strong scripts.

Polanski takes on a variety of subject matters in various settings. Just these eight films alone represent such diverse times and places as Los Angeles in the 1930s, Scotland in the middle ages, Poland during WWII, England in the late 19th century, and contemporary London, Paris and New York.

Polanksi's films are not dominated by setting, character, music or atmosphere but are a blending of all these elements and more in whatever way best serves the story as a whole. While his films do not end happily for the characters they do for the audience. None are depressing and all are in some fashion or another memorable. I can't wait to see his next, Venus in Fur.

Chinatown (1974). "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown." The hero of our story, Detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) lives to fight another day but evil triumphs in this '70s version of film noir that turns the genre on its head. Evil is personified by Noah Cross (John Huston) who has fathered a child with his daughter (Faye Dunaway) and wouldn't you know it he lives and its his daughter who takes a fatal bullet. Chinatown has surpassed greatness and lives in the rarefied air of classics, a status it richly deserves.

Tess (1979). It's got tragedy written all over it. You really want the title character (Natassia Kinski) to be able to settle down and experience a true they-lived-happily-ever-after denouement but you can also sense that's not happening. It's a shame. She's a nice kid and has continually gotten jacked around by men, a gender notorious for its lack of kindness toward women. Tess does not make it easier on herself suffering as she does from the dangerous flaws of honesty and pride. The ravages of fortune and the hectoring of one man gets to be too much and she finally commits murder. The film ends with her capture and the information that she was subsequently hung. Truly one of the most beautiful tragedies ever filmed.

Repulsion (1965). This is a brutally honest film about a woman who totally flips her lid and kills two people. So no one's perfect. A young woman (Catherine Deneuve) lives with her sister in a London flat. She has a good job, a suitor and is drop dead gorgeous. But she's also got serious emotional problems that spin out of control when big sister goes off on vacation with her boyfriend. Two men, including her beaux, enter the apartment at various times and neither makes it out alive. It's a brilliant examination of someone first teetering then going completely over the edge.

The Ghost Writer (2010). You talk about the bad guys winning....I'm going to trot out a tired old cliche and aver that this is a criminally underrated film that should have been showered with awards. Ewan McGregor plays a journalist who is hired to ghost write the memoirs of a Tony Blair like former British PM. He slowly begins to uncover some serious political chicanery and for planning an expose he is the victim of a rather untimely "accident."

MacBeth (1971). You may have heard of this play and its author, one William Shakespeare. You may also be aware this is one of his tragedies and tragedies do not, by definition, turn out well. One can make the case that MacBeth gets what's coming to him. This is one of the finest adaptations of a Shakespeare play I've ever seen and I can't wait to get a gander at its new Criterion edition coming soon (Hey Criterion! Send me a copy and I'll say nice things about it and you. Promise.)

Rosemary's Baby (1968). Let's put it this way: an innocent woman (Mia Farrow) gives birth to the devil's baby. Bleak enough for you? Oh but there's more. By the end of the film she seems perfectly ready to raise satan's spawn, she has given in to the forces of darkness. Rosemary's Baby is spooky. Mostly because it seems so real -- not that I believe for a second in a prince of darkness (well aside from Dick Cheney) but the tone of the movie suggests reality as horror not fantasy as horror as marked by the titular character's shout of "this is really happening!" while in a supposed slumber the seed is being planted.

The Pianist (2002). Okay well at last we have a hero who survives, is on the winning side, continues a successful career and no devil is born. Yeah that's nice but then again he did have to make it through the Holocaust so it's not like we're dancing in the aisles as the closing credits roll. Adrien Brody stars in the true story of a famous Jewish Polish pianist whose life is one of millions ripped asunder by the Nazis. All manner of horror is visited upon him and his family and friends and neighbors in Warsaw. He lives but to have gone through such horrors hardly suggests a victory.

The Tenant (1976).  Polanksi is the star as well as the director in his third film about apartment dwelling gone bad. Very bad. It follows Repulsion -- set in London -- and the New York based Rosemary's Baby. This is set in Paris and the evil villain seems to be the apartment itself which sets the tenant in the same direction as his predecessor in the apartment -- taking a swan dive out the window. It is eerie, strange, atmospheric and like most Polanksi films, brilliantly executed.

28 June 2014

Items I Can't Live Without and Thanks for Asking

Got the below email the other day. I re-print it in full except of course I have redacted the name of the company which will get no free publicity from me. Rather than reply directly to them I have chosen to do so right here. By the way the subject line of the email they sent was "Awesome Blog!" I much appreciate such kind words though I'll bet dollars to donuts that they've never taken a peak at it beyond finding that it existed and getting my email address.
Hi there Richard, 
My name is Alexandra, and I am the community manager for REDACTED. We are a new company that ships awesome REDACTED in custom wooden crates! Our crates hold all sorts of items that will please any guy--and instantly make you the best gift giver ever!
We like to think of our crates as a survival kit. Something someone needs the most, with items they couldn’t live without. With that being said, we would love to hear what you would pack in your own personal survival kit! Whether it be your toothbrush or those chocolate-covered pretzels, we want to know what items are absolute necessities for you!  If you were only able to keep 4-5 of your must have, most essential items, what would they be, and why?
As you can probably tell, this survival kit doesn’t need to include any matches or emergency blankets, so have fun with it and get creative! In your blog post, be sure to include what items made the cut and why! Feel free to include any images in your post to show your readers and us what you absolutely cannot live without.
We love sharing our favorite posts on social, so please let me know if you’re interested and I can send along some more info :) 
Talk with you soon,

Dear Alexandra: First of all I couldn't live without good sized stashes of heroin, coke and meth so those would be my priorities. Of course I'd want a .44 magnum to protect whatever I've got in the chest so there's that. I hate to be without my Deluxe First Lady porn collection which is my stash of erotic photos and drawings of America's first ladies. Mrs. Coolidge in nothing but panties is the highlight of the set.

My box need also contain a death ray to exterminate those who try to use my blog for their commercial purposes. Pixie dust is also nice for those nights when fantasy is on the menu. Speaking of which I couldn't be minus my his and hers bondage equipment -- never leave home without it -- am I right? I also find counterfeit cash comes in handy. I prefer tens and twenties. A few vials of tiger's blood is a necessity to provide that special boost that us gents sometimes need. I like to have a switchblade just in case. Oh and while we're at it my favorite garrote in case I come across someone on my hit list. For light entertainment an eight track of some dirges sung by Bulgarian monks and a copy of Mein Kampf by that Hitler fellow.

What else? Spats, spurs, fake mustaches, piano wire, live scorpions, snake venom, a litle pink tutu, a codpiece, haggis, a colostomy bag, embalming fluid, an acetylene torch and a ball peen hammer. Oh yes a toothbrush.
Thanks for asking.
Sincerely Yours,
Phineas J.Peabody III
(call me PP)

26 June 2014

Let's All Dance - Commuting With Angels

Let's dance put on your red shoes and dance the blues
Let's dance to the song 
they're playin' on the radio
Let's sway 
while color lights up your face
Let's sway 
sway through the crowd to an empty space
-- From Let's Dance by David Bowie

Skinny middle aged white guy with a long pony tail of grating hair. Wearing jeans ass is so flat there's no bulge in his seat. Wears long sleeve tee shirt and hiking boots. He's standing between two other men all are looking up at a building that's undergoing some renovation. They appear to be part of the crew doing the work. It's not yet 6:30 so they're getting an early start perhaps owing to a looming deadline. Guy with ponytail doesn't appear to be in charge but neither is he an underling. He's a basic sort of chap --or so it would appear -- neither renowned nor notorious for any deeds recent or late.

Up the street there's a homeless guy just getting up. He's slept in a filthy sleeping bag on filthy steps on a filthy street near downtown Berkeley which is itself generally quite filthy. The homeless man has scraggly black hair and a long tangled beard. He us underweight his tattered clothes hang loosely. One can almost see the odor that emanates from him. He is stretching and apparently getting ready to face another day of near starvation and embarrassment though it seems possible that mental illness would relieve him of the burden of true self awareness.

There is a young woman hurrying toward the bus station she is Asian in her 20s wearing an expensive looking bright blue blouse and light white sweater. She has on very short pants that reveal shapely fit legs. Her sandals look chic and perhaps expensive. There is a purse hanging from one shoulder and she's clutching a smart phone. The woman seems especially happy but also in something of a hurry. She goes down the escalator of the BART station smiling all the way perhaps having had an especially good evening that has only just ended.

I'm sitting on a concrete slab of a bench waiting for my train. I summon angels to capture this modern moment and make it special for all eternity. So when the train comes the man with ponytail is sitting in it next to the homeless man and the young Asian woman. I board the train and sit and watch as the threesome levitates and the train roof opens up for them and they dance.

It's a beautiful dance accompanied by a large orchestra which has appeared in the adjoining car. The trio pause only to embrace and caress one another and spit fiery balls of incandescent rock skyward.
My fellow passengers are oblivious to the performance. They sit sullenly looking at their phones or at magazines or books or their laps or sleep fitfully despite the orchestra. But at the first stop an elderly African American boards my car and immediately joins the dancers. They now pair off but constantly change partners as the dance becomes increasingly complex and beautiful.


When at last the train reaches my stop the dancers descend back to the train and disappear into a mist. I am alone. And so my work day has almost begun. And so the angels glide alongside me as I take the trolley and then walk to the school and teach and laugh and write and smile and read and talk and remember the magic of my morning.....


24 June 2014

You Don't Wanna Be That Guy Pissing in the Corner of the Bookstore

“I’ve learned that life is one crushing defeat after another until you just wish Flanders was dead.” - -Homer J Simpson.

You don't wanna be that guy pissing in the corner of the bookstore.

There was one once. At least one that I know of. There could have been people pissing in corners of bookstores for centuries all over the world for all I know. Hell it could be an everyday occurrence now.

My first job — I was a junior in high school at the time— was working in a bookstore. One day I overheard a story about how someone had recently been caught peeing in the corner. I never saw the aftermath and don’t know any other details. All I know was what I heard which — again — is that a guy pissed in the corner of a bookstore. When you’re 16 years old working in your first job and surrounded by people two, three times your age you don’t ask a lot of questions aside from those necessary to do your job right.

But imagine the trajectory of a life that leads you to peeing in a bookstore. Somewhere along the line your brain had to have gone haywire or you had just gotten unimaginably drunk. My freshman year in college in the dorm there was the story that this girl had slept with some guy in said dorm and in the middle of the night he awoke to see her squatting over the floor just a few feet from the bed peeing. The bathroom was only a few feet further away. But when you’re that drunk --maybe especially if you’re 18 or whatever….

Many BART stations have areas that positively reek of piss. These are, one imagines, the result of drunks who can’t find a bathroom or the homeless. I’ve seen homeless women peeing in the street and on an outdoor BART platform. Men of course will piss anywhere. Just the other day in broad daylight there was a guy peeing in the parking lot of an Assembly of God church. The thing about it was that he seemed for all appearances to be part of a crew that was doing some work there. The idiot just couldn’t be bothered going inside or finding a secluded spot. Maybe he had prayed to god to make him invisible while he pissed and it didn’t take.

But still the notion of a guy pissing in the corner of a bookstore is something I’ve never been able to shake several decades on. That seems especially egregious. For one thing books are sacred. I don’t know that he peed on books but just the idea that he was peeing right near them is sacrilegious. About the only worse place to take a whizz would be in a grocery store or in a crowded place like a theater.

I always imagined the guy as being fairly old and someone who’d been jacked around by life and couldn’t handle misfortune and so he went screwy. It happens. Some people can’t take a punch in life. One bad break and they snap. I’ve had some tough blows but somehow am resilient or stupid enough to just get back in the game. Ya know how many matches I missed in my soccer career through injury? Zero. I generally miss about as many days of work. I just show up. Around where I work people are always sending out mass emails asking for someone to cover a class. Flu. Cold. Friend in town. Fishing trip. Hangnail. Bad dream. Any excuse not to show up. Me, I like the work and believe in doing what I’m hired to do. It’s not in my job description to not come in because I had a crappy night. Vacations are another matter. I’ll take what’s coming to me.

Anyway I got sidetracked again. It's weird how some things stick in our minds for dozens of years. Too often it can be something said to us out of anger or insensitivity or ignorance. It can be hard to shake resentments once they fossilize. But there are also images that stay with us from what we see or --  like in the case of the peeing man -- something we hear. I can see some of the details of things my dad told me about as if I had been there. The question is why some things stick.

I guess a guy peeing in a bookstore is evocative. For me of course its not only the picture of him in flagrante delicto but as I said earlier who the poor sap was. To get to that point in your life....Like the guy on the BART train yesterday walking through the cars angrily calling out Curtis. He was wearing tattered clothes that along with his misplaced threats to an absent opponent suggested a sad story.

Maybe its just not worth thinking about. Either you can do something to help people who pee in bookstores or people who yell on subway trains or you can help the mentally ill in general or you just have to put your head down and plow forward with life. What you want to do for sure is to be thankful that you aren't relieving yourself in public and make sure there's nothing that will send you down that road. Many of us are more vulnerable to mental and emotional issues than we realize or care to acknowledge. In fact a sure sign of a loon is the conviction that there's nothing wrong. My mom went off her nut and there was no convincing her that she was anything but fine. I've always been saner than I thought. I've frequently expected to be found certifiable when in truth I've actually been managing just fine (or so I'm told).

Odds are I'll never piss in the corner of a bookstore. You probably won't either. But if you do, maybe its time to see a doctor.

22 June 2014

Ziggy Hitchhiked on Acid And That Was Me 40 Years Ago a Mostly True Story With Lots of Gabul Fabbing

Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Wierd and Gilly,
And The Spiders from Mars.
He played it left hand, but made it too far,
Became the special man,
Then we were Ziggy's Band.
-- From Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie

In the middle of bad acid trip and hitching down highway five on a hot Spring day in 1974. The decision to drop LSD before thumbing back from Chico to Berkeley seemed fucking crazy as I watched cars that looked like metal monsters zoom past me. Especially since I was hungry, had no money, no beer and no one with me. Bowie's Ziggy Stardust was flowing up and down my brain although the lyrics were looping around themselves not making any sense and my thumb at times looked like it was the size of  a football and the heat felt like it was frying me and my shirt -- oh my fucking god my shirt -- it was a light gray with white buttons but it was pulsating -- I swear to god. I couldn't tell the difference between my sweat and my breath which was a weird thing to think about making -- as it didn't  -- any sense. No sense. Then a cop pulled over.

He was small town local cop from whatever the hell little city this was I'd been let off near by a friend who was visiting an uncle in the town. The cop got out of his car and looked about nine feet tall and a thousand pounds and had tusks and sunglasses that reflected the universe and I was more in awe than scared. I put my arm down. It felt futile to hitch with a cop approaching me.

Ziggy really sang, screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo
Like some cat from Japan, he could lick 'em by smiling
He could leave 'em to hang
Here came on so loaded man, well hung and snow white tan.

"Hey there son," he said in a voice that sounded like 12 echoes reverberating through the whole Sacto Valley. The cop was trying to seem friendly, he even smiled but it was awkward and had he just turned into a pig in front of my eyes? No way he was like a pig cop which was too weird given how some people referred to cops as pigs back then. I said something to him like "glthchplfllg." I hoped it sounded intelligible and not insulting and he was growing as he approached me then shrinking to the size of a turnip and I was freaking out but what could I do standing there with a cop approaching me and cars careening past with waves of steal flowing out of them.

"Son, you know you can't hitchhike on the highway?" The words swirled around outside my ear and zipped through my brain yet somehow registered. I hadn't mentioned that I was tripping on acid to him, had I? But he knew. I knew he knew. Why play this game with me? I was going to jail for drugs for trippin' in public. I was toast man, toast. I was also thinking how Nixon was president and that he was an asshole and this cop and Nixon were probably friends. Both pigs and assholes and pig assholes and I was just about to go to jail forever. My dad would not understand and I was never coming down from this acid trip which was now starting to mix with bad reality to be really really bad -- I was fucked.

"Sorry officer I didn't know there was a law about that. I thought you could hitch anywhere." I got that out and it sounded coherent and I couldn't believe I'd done it. I was so fucking relieved.

"Well you can't. You can be at on ramp gabul fabbing roxtlyem schlpooopm...." I had started to lose what he was saying and it was freaking me out then...Then. He searched me. Thank whatever that I wasn't holding though I'm pretty sure he was checking for weapons. As if. "Gabul fabbing...nxchpuky, there son, okay?"

Then he told me that he should bring me in as in arrest me -- implication: he's a nice guy -- but that he wasn't going to be a hard ass with me because...again I don't know, I was just trippin' off the fact that his hat was growing straight up and had reached a cloud. Why didn't he feel this happening? And had he been talking to me for like two days and was I over their on the overpass watching this conversation or was I here the whole time and holy hell I would never get acid from Ned's friend again; hell I would never ever touch the stuff again. Ever. That is if I ever came down from this trip. Hell no I wouldn't so much as have a glass of wine with dinner if I ever managed to come down off this. And why did he keeps saying "gabul fabbing nouyiexch pglifft"?

So where were the spiders while the fly tried to break our balls?
Just the beer light to guide us.
So we bitched about his fans and should we crush his sweet hands?

Next thing I know I'm sitting in the backseat of the cop car which is weird because its like a cavern inside and I was looking at me from somewhere else. It was in reality (whatever that is) a really short ride though for a second I think he's taking me all the way to Berkeley. The giant pig cop drops me off at a place where I can hitchhike and wishes me a nice day and shit and I thank him a whole lot and he speeds off and I wonder did I say anything really bad like calling him a pig and guess I didn't because he was nice to me and is my hair sweating, is oil coming out of it? Where am I? Is this me hitching or am I watching me and if I am where is my body I can't find my body and am I in it? Oh I'm not so sure and there are trails coming off the passing cars....

Then one stops. It's a big van. The door on the side slides open. "Hi"  comes from these shrill girlish  voices and it's a bunch of young queers. "We're going to San Diego!" they trill. "Come on in." "Uhh no thanks I'm just going to Berkeley." The door closes and the van is gone.

That was too weird in normal circumstances. Trippin' it was utterly outrageous. If it really happened. Who could tell. But San Diego sounded normal, so I think it did.

Ziggy played for time, jiving us that we were Voodoo
The kids was just crass,
He was the naz
With God given ass
He took it all too far
But boy could he play guitar.

My arm goes back out with a thumb up and it looks like its elongated. The sun is changing colors and why did I drop acid in the morning a morning I was going to hitch 175 miles? It was a few minutes or a few hours or maybe a few months later that another car stopped. Two guys in the front each several years older than me. They say nothing as I get in and tell them I'm going to Berkeley. "Your lucky day we're going to Oakland so you're set."

I finally felt relaxed as they pulled onto the highway. Finally feeling fine except I couldn't tell if someone was sitting next to me and it was me sitting next to me. The guys up front were talking as if I wasn't there or at least as if they didn't give a rat's ass if I was hearing them. From what I could gather in my psychedelic state they had shared a woman the night before.

It was hard to sort out the circumstances and whether the woman in question was a prostitute but it was pretty clear they had enjoyed themselves had a lot of sex with her and were reliving the glory. Even stone cold sober and undrugged this discussion would have been strange to me but heavily under certain influences my mind was awhirl at what they were talking about. I was 20 and had long since lost my virginity but a threesome seemed like something from movies and not anything in real life. But it also occurred to me they were just making shit up to mess with my head. If so I could have assured them that they didn't need to do a damn thing to mess with my head given the state it was in.

Making love with his ego Ziggy sucked up into his mind
Like a leper messiah
When the kids had killed the man
I had to break up the band

I'd been with them for maybe 20 miles maybe 200 maybe 2000 light years when -- without checking with me if it was cool -- they pulled off to stop at a market. I'm sitting there feeling everything but the worst part is when its nothing like I'm straight all of a sudden and I know this isn't right that I'm still in the middle of the trip so feeling normal isn't at all normal and is ultimately quite terrifying and why should they have asked me if it was cool to go to a store. It was their car. Gabul fabbing. One of 'em dashed into the store and minutes later returned with a bulging shopping bag. The passenger pulled out two long necked sweating bottles of Budweiser. It was at that moment that I realized my mouth felt like the Mojave Desert. When the driver asked "you want one, man?" I do believe I was the happiest person on the planet Earth. I gladly and gratefully took a bottle and nothing has ever tasted better.

Best of all, fears of a total mid acid trip freak out had vanished. My high had mellowed instantly.

The rest of the car ride was like skimming down a water slide in slow motion with colors dancing above my head. They were talking but it all sounded like "gabul fabbing and blahs and yaks" so whatever. It was getting cooler outside as we neared the Bay Area. When we got to Berkeley I was coming down from the high and it was a soothing nestling back into Earth. Onto. Among. I don't know maybe amid or amidst. Anyway I was on Earth, even my brain was settling into a semblance of normal with very little gabul fabbing. Though still some.

They dropped me off in downtown Berkeley about a twenty minute walk from my Dad's house. I couldn't go straight there though because my mind was still spending some of its time dancing in the cosmos. I walked over to a park and bummed a smoke off some hippie and we talked for a little bit. After awhile his old lady showed up and she was really nice and I ended up telling 'em about my trip and how the acid was wearing off and I was killing time before going to my Dad's place. They thought I was a really cool dude which some people did back then when I was high. Finally they had to split and I was ready to go too.

My dad was glad to see me and gave me beer and after I showered we went out to dinner with my step mom. It had all worked out, the day I mean, and I went to sleep thinking the world was a pretty okay place if you were at all lucky.

Ziggy played guitar

20 June 2014

I'd Like a Bag For My Banana Please

Do you want a bag?

For a banana? I was buying one banana because I forgot to bring one from home. And I was asked if I wanted a bag. For one banana. I said no thanks and put the banana in a coat pocket.

Here's your receipt.

My receipt for the purchase of one banana. Seventy nine cents.

Yes I'll need that for my files. That banana is a business expense as I'll be eating it at work so I'll be deducting it. You know what. That banana needs me, its a dependent. I'll be declaring it on my taxes. Give me the receipt. And I want a bag for it and since you now charge for bags I'll need a receipt for the purchase of the bag. Also can I get an escort out of the store? Someone might jack me for my banana. You'd better call me a cab I don't want to have to walk the remaining two blocks to work carrying a banana with or without a bag. By the way you forget to ask me if I want to donate a quarter of million dollars to save starving babies. They do that now at a lot of stores. Ask if you'd like to donate to some worthy cause as you're checking out. Maybe I wasn't asked because I was paying cash (remember that?). By the way you didn't ask how I wanted my 21 cents in change. You just gave me two dimes and a penny. Maybe I wanted a couple of nickels or four nickels. Or three nickels and six pennies. For all you know I'm hoarding nickels. What kind of store doesn't ask if you want nickels? Nickels have some heft. Unlike dimes which are so damn thin. Dimes are like anorexic fashion models. Nickels are sturdy. Another thing I missed out on by paying in cash is being asked by if I approved of the amount I was being charged. I'm going to start saying no. I want to pay less. Knock a couple of dollars off the price and then you can charge my card. Otherwise it's no dice. Speaking of annoying questions. The clerk forgot to ask the most important question of all: did you find everything all right? There's another question I'm going to start changing my answer to. Like today I would have said -- had the clerk shown the compassion to ask -- no, I had a deuce of a time finding this banana. I looked up and down every aisle before discovering that you'd hidden these bananas where no one without x-ray vision could possibly see them. It was pure chance that the monkey in your store led me to them. Really this did-you-find-everything-all-right question is a poser. Are stores suddenly concerned about the vision of their customers? Our sense of direction? Or just our intellect in general? If we say that it was particularly difficult to find the canned yak, are they going to ban us from their store for gross stupidity? That's it, they're trying to trip us up. They're going to start banning imbeciles. My advice: play it cool -- even if you couldn't find something at all act like everything is jake. No, no problems at all, it took me less than a month to find it. But hey thanks for asking and can I have a bag for this ten cent pencil and a receipt and can I make a donation to save the puppies and for the love of god keep the change.

(This post is lovingly dedicated to my wife to whom I'll just say no that that is not a banana in my pants.)

19 June 2014

The Deer Hunter -- Stripped of Controversy it is a Magnificent Film

Never dreaming that I shall be clarifying and condensing that chronicle of simple things through which I blundered so diffidently. - - From Memories of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon.

A movie can carry a lot of baggage with it. We read the book. We first saw it with someone we subsequently broke up with. We last saw it on a day when we got some bad news. We read all about the controversy surrounding the film and didn't see it for years. We read a spoiler before seeing it the first time.

Perhaps the ideal way to see a film for the first time is to know absolutely nothing about it. Our mind completely clear of any preconceptions. Of course that pure virginal experience can still be tainted by events after the movie -- someone we respect has a diametrically different view of it or we subsequently read a horror story about the director's behavior on set.

I first saw Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (1978) upon its initial theatrical release unaware of much of anything other than that it was a critically acclaimed movie centering around the Vietnam War. Back then a film's critical acclaim didn't mean so much to me and being about Vietnam was interesting but not a selling point. The US had only left Vietnam a few years before and movies having anything to do with the fiasco were only just beginning to be made. And in truth, while the war was a central issue to the film, less than a third of it was set there.

The Deer Hunter provided one of the most profound cinematic experiences of my young adulthood. The scenes in Vietnam -- especially of course the Russian Roulette ones -- made my heart pound palms sweat and imagination race. I wanted to see the movie a second time and never see it again. I wanted to think and talk about it and avoid it completely. I had nightmares about it.

Then came the controversy -- or at least my awareness of it. The Deer Hunter, it was said, was racist as it suggested that the North Vietnamese were sadistic stick figures who forced prisoners to play Russian Roulette. Also the closing scene where the characters sing God Bless America was maudlin sappy patriotism. Surely this was a pro war film for the right and violated my political beliefs. Now I would have to turn my back on the The Deer Hunter and decry it. Which for decades I did.

It was not until I discovered Cimino's subsequent film, Heaven's Gate (1980), a year and a half ago that I even considered re-visiting The Deer Hunter. Happily I did.

The Deer Hunter, despite the controversy that surrounded it, was highly acclaimed by critics and earned numerous awards including the academy award for best picture. While hardly forgotten today its telling that I got my DVD copy of it for under $4 and there were no commemorative special editions for its 20th or 25th anniversary or any other anniversary and I see no plans for one in the future. I can only speculate whether this is a result of  the controversy surrounding it.

The cast was top rate with Robert DeNiro in the lead and a supporting cast led by Christopher Walken (who won an Oscar for his role) Meryl Streep and in his final film role before his death from cancer, John Cazale (this was one of five films Cazale appeared in and they all were nominated for best picture with three of them winning).

The film is long but only if you look at the time of the film. If you just watch it The Deer Hunter is just as long as it needs to be. It needs to take its time in the small steel town in Pennsylvania at the job at the wedding at the bar on the deer hunting trip. And of course in Vietnam and back home again. You need to become acquainted with these American working class people as they go through their rituals and laugh and cry and drink drink drink. It is not idyllic but it is happy and it is American and there is a spirit of life to it and thus there is the incredible shock when suddenly we see the boys in Vietnam. At war. With death and fire and bullets and the enemy their new companions. The horror of capture. The rats the confinement the cruelty. Okay it was an exaggeration in reality the Russian Roulette was not done but movies should bot be taken literally. The idea of using Russian Roulette came before it was decided that the movie would be set in Vietnam. This is also a film rich in symbolism that viewers can explore in depth or ignore at their pleasure and the Russian Roulette scenes are rife with symbolism.

And that God Bless America ending is infinitely more ironic than patriotic.

The Deer Hunter is a hefty film. It weighs on the psyche. It is heavy with our culture and with meaning. It reflects the rape of innocence that war brings to a society. It is filled with loyalty friendship and the degeneration of the human mind in the face of utter horror. It is about hope and promise and love.

Cimino became a Hollywood golden boy with the success of The Deer Hunter, a sterling reputation that went straight down the toilet with the incredible budget fiasco that was Heaven's Gate as well as the tepid response to that film. Okay not so much tepid as scathing. That film has been restored re-released and hailed by many including yours truly. It's Criterion edition is spectacular and it was one of my favorite films of all time. The Deer Hunter is also a film I now revere as I am able to watch it mindless of any controversy extraneous to the cinematic experience. I can recommend it without qualification.

18 June 2014

The Missus and I Got to Santa Cruz With an Ugly Detour and I Rant About Other Things

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - - From Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson.

Drove down to Santa Cruz with the missus yesterday to fete youngest nephew on the occasion of his graduation from the local university. The drive and Santa Cruz are very nice. Lots of green, it was great to get away for a bit etc. And youngest nephew is well deserving of celebrating. But in a weird way the highlight of our journey was a stop in a godforsaken hell hole called Union City. I suppose its name derives from the fact that it is a union of all that is wrong in cities.

We pulled into a large outdoor mall area to hit the Starbucks for a caffeine fix. There before us was American culture in all its sterility. Every imaginable fast food eatery, all the shops you see in every city of any size in the US and a massive multiplex theater showing major films being screened all across this great land of ours. (Sic.) There was enough diet cola within a five mile radius to drown a village. There was sufficient fatty foods and sugar to kill off every terrorist in the world twice. There were obese Americans waddling about in shorts and sandals. There were other overweight people smoking and thus practicing a desperately slow but sure method of suicide. There was the cocoon that the American middle class wrap themselves in. All the supposed comforts. The familiar highlighted (or low lighted) by piped in and popular music serving more as a sense duller than entertainment.

People could hang out at the mall for hours shopping and slurping then drive home (you must drive no walking or bikes or public transportation in suburb city) and sit in comfort in front of your TV to watch what everyone else was watching. Or to sit in front of your computer screen to update your status and check other people's. How was cousin Fred in Dayton doing? Still in a relationship? Let's find out. Oh and to post a photo of the new dealy whooper I bought. Won't that make Mavis back in Canoga Park jealous!

Yes the vast outdoor mall was quite the reminder of what lies out there all throughout middle america (the heartland!!!). Acre upon acre of the same damn thing everywhere you go. Regional differences are a thing of the past. We're all one big homogeneous glutinous mass of butter and electrical wiring. From screaming out of the womb to whimpering into the grave americans are securely nestled in a common culture of corporate consistency as they clamor for the creature comforts of conformity.

Speaking of the internet....I am extremely easy to find. My name is not exactly Mike Jones. Indeed I do believe I'm the only one of me to be found on this planet. A quick google search will lead to this blog where my email address is easily found. As a consequence I hear from all manner of crackpots degenerates and brain addled addicts -- and those are just my old friends. But I also get requests to look at a short film -- and sometimes longer ones -- and to write nice things about it a (sorry Mr. Scorsese but I'm kinda busy these days). If you've got a film you want me to watch the answer is no. I really am a busy lad and I don't want to feel obliged to say nice things. Good luck though. Also I get a lot of requests to link with my blog or to advertise with my blog or to say nice things about their blog or website or product. To those I say: leave me the hell alone. This is not a commercial endeavor and I'm not in it for anyone but me and anyone who happens to read something and enjoy it (both of you). I thank my reader most profusely.

I'm often asked what questions am I most often asked by students. That's an easy one: "are you going to retire soon?" Another question I get asked a lot is: "can I transfer to another class?" And finally I frequently get this question: "will you please wake up." Now you know.

One great thing about teaching is that you get to be around other teachers. For the most part these are wonderful insightful clever people. Many have a wicked sense of humor (I don't and think that any attempts at humor either in writing or speaking should be severely punished preferably with a bullwhip). So other educators are peaches and that includes most of the people I currently work with.  There are exceptions like this one -- I wanna say person but I may be stretching it -- who conducts personal phone conversations well within hearing range of most of San Francisco. A beauty of cell phones is you can go most anywhere and talk. Privacy is always possible. But this one individual sits a few feet away from us describing symptoms to her doctor. Suffice to say that far from needing to hear this we do not want to hear this. Said person also gabs about less delicate matters while in our midst and this is merely annoying not to mention inconsiderate. I think she's kind of a kook, a belief shared by others. Whattaya gonna do?

I got nothing else folks. But I'll be back again soon with another edition of Gonzo Blogging. Peace.

16 June 2014

Three Love Stories, Sort Of


She was from India. She was  21 years old. Her name was Dalia, she was beautiful beyond any words I can conjure. When she smiled at me the first time I met I her I swear to god I almost melted right there on the spot. Our relationship started off perfectly and then took a mad twist into hell.

My history with girls was pretty spotty at the time. I was 24 and had long since lost my virginity but had only sporadic success in the romance department. First of all I was painfully shy which made it difficult to meet girls in the first place and secondly once I started dating someone I got scared if they really liked me and backed away. Plus I always and I mean always found something wrong with every girl I dated. Shoot you can find a flaw in absolutely everyone who's walked the planet. I was just looking for excuses to bail on girl. There were a few girls I probably could have had a really nice relationship and maybe one or two who I could have eventually moved in with or married. But I kept getting in the way.

But it was different when I met Dalia. She was the first girl I ever fell madly in love with at first sight who would give me so much as a second look. All the other girls I'd had a love at first sight thing with were unattainable -- at least that's what I told myself at the time -- so nothing had happened. But Daila I was going to approach. Screw the shyness I just felt from head to toe that not only was she beautiful beyond belief but that we were made for each other.

This first time I saw her was at a party some friend of my cousin Dale was having in this really nice part of San Francisco called the Marina District. She was standing at the doorway from the living room to the dining room holding a drink in her hand. I guessed it was a gin and tonic and later found out that I was right. This was funny because I hardly drink myself and can barely name more than a few mixed drinks or kinds of beer or wine. Anyway she was just standing there all alone. I guess I stared at her for a minute or more though it seemed at the time that I'd been looking at her my whole life. She finally noticed me and smiled. I usually would have looked away at that point but this one time I held my gaze and smiled right back. I could hardly believe what happened next. I walked toward her.

I wasn't thinking about the possibility she was with someone at the party or that she was married engaged or had a steady guy. That would have been too horrible to contemplate and anyway I was just focused on the moment. So I walked right up to her and said hi my name is Emil and stuck out my hand. She gently took it for a second and said she was Dalia and that it was nice to meet me. We started to talk and all I felt throughout the whole conversation was euphoria. I mean it coursed through my very being.

So Dalia, it turned out, had only recently moved to San Francisco from New York and had just one friend in town who had encouraged her to come to this party. Her friend was a girl named Tonya who I actually knew -- coincidentally enough -- and once considered asking out, but was I was too shy at the time -- like usual -- and she eventually had a boyfriend, a nice fella that I also knew. So we immediately had Tonya in common plus she shared my love of classic novels -- not a common shared interest among young people, let me tell you -- and Italian food and the ultimate cliche -- walks on the beach. I know, I know but it was true for both of us. We were like obsessed with walking on the beach. That was going to be our first date, a walk on the beach that and a dinner at an Italian restaurant. It all happened very fast. We're chatting away about this and that and getting along so well and having so much in common and this setting up of a first date the next weekend just flowed naturally into the conversation. Perfect. I was over the moon.

The first date couldn't have gone better. We walked we talked, before you knew it we were holding hands. We had a romantic dinner. We walked more we held hands more we kissed and kissed and kissed. The thing that really blew me away was that Dalia liked me as much as I liked her. I couldn't have been happier. I didn't expect to sleep with her that first time and didn't. She was going to be worth the wait. The wait wasn't too long. Dalia and I consummated our relationship exactly two weeks and four dates after we met. I can still very clearly picture seeing Dalia naked for the first time. She had the most flawless body I'd ever seen. Not just in person but including pictures, photos, anything on the internet. I'm not the type to brag or detail sex so I'll just say I never had it better and when Dalia said the same thing I believed her.

A few weeks later I told Dalia that I loved her. Her response: "I love you too." This was the high point of my life and what soon followed wasn't exactly the low point but it did suck all the joy out of the past month.

I'm a broad minded guy. Liberal family, degree in English literature, work for a publishing company and while I don't look at porn I have no objection to graphic sex scenes in movies as long as their not gratuitous. But Dalia's confession was a jab in the face.

This was a couple of weeks after the I love you exchange. Everything was still going great. Dalia had landed a job at non profit organization like she'd wanted and we were spending every night together and everyone including my parents thought Dalia was great and that we were perfect together. Then one Saturday morning while we were still in bed Dalia said there was something she had to tell me about. She didn't want any secrets between us. I had no idea what it might be but was sure that there was nothing that could change the way I felt about her. I was wrong.

Dalia said that when she got to San Francisco the original job she had lined up fell through and she was quickly broke owing the moving expenses from the East Coast and first and last month rent  and cleaning deposit in her new apartment and she hadn't gotten the deposit back from her old place in New York. She'd been desperate for money and couldn't ask her parents because they were struggling with twins in college to support.

Well so what Dalia did to ease her financial burden -- and it eased but good -- was she did a porn video. She'd seen an ad in the classifieds of a weekly newspaper and figured it was either that or starve. In fact the money was really good. For just one afternoon -- just a few hours actually -- of work. If you can call it that. Dalia gave me all the details. I think she needed to and I think I needed to hear it once I knew the general topic. She met these guys in a hotel room and they gave her half the money up front. She talked to the camera for a bit answering questions mostly personal stuff about sex which she mostly lied about trying to play along. Then she had to take off all her clothes. They filmed her some more and took some still photos. Then one of the guys undressed and they had sex in all kinds of positions including oral sex. It ended with the guy ejaculating on her face. Then with the cameras rolling she was given the rest of the money and that was that.

I was stunned. I understood or thought I did. I understood why she told me but wish to this day she hadn't. I could have never known and we might still be together. Probably would be.

After telling her story Dalia cried and cried and I comforted her. I told her it was okay and to forget about it. I loved her so much at that point.  I have to confess that we had sex right then and there but it wasn't making love. We both really enjoyed it but it was different. I was like angry and hurt and needy all at once and in a sick way turned on by what she'd told me. We went on about our Saturday and had a pretty nice normal day together. But that night she fell asleep before me and I started to obsess about her story. I had trouble sleeping for the obsessing and I continued to think about the next day and all the work week. Finally the next weekend Dalia asked how I was doing with what she'd told me and I admitted that I'd thought about it a lot. Then I made a mistake. A huge one. Maybe I could have eventually forgotten her story. Maybe I would have accepted it as the one flaw in this magnificent person but I'll never know. Because stupid me insisted that we look at the video. You ever do that? Make some decision that's a colossal mistake and you look back years later and wonder what the hell you could have been thinking?

Anyway it wasn't hard to find the porn site that had the video because Dalia remembered the name of the outfit that she contacted. So we watched it. I'd never been both disgusted and turned on at the same time. There was "my" Dalia as beautiful as ever but with some big hairy guy whose face you never even see. And there doing the same things we do only...Well it was different, of course. I was sick with jealousy and aroused simultaneously. It was weird. All we saw was an edited version of about five minutes (there was another whole hour you could watch by paying). When it was over I made what I guess was another mistake -- though the damage had pretty much been done. I pointed out to Dalia that she seemed in the video to be enjoying herself and asked if it was hard faking it like that. Dalia could have lied. She should have lied. But she told me the damn truth. I didn't have to fake it, she told me. The sex was really quite enjoyable. Then she added that of course she'd never do it again and that it was better with me but the cat was out of the bag and I knew she was never as loud with me as she was on that video. She'd really enjoyed it with that anonymous porn guy. She'd had probably multiple orgasms. We were done.

I didn't break it off right there. It actually took me another week to realize that it was all over. I couldn't be with her anymore. I'd never stop thinking about it. I told her right up front. I added that I still loved her and always would but I couldn't be with her anymore. Dalia cried a lot but said she understood. I advised her that when she found someone else to not mention the video she'd made. Dalia agreed that that was a pretty good idea.

All this happened four years ago. I've been much more successful with women since then and have had a lot of relationships and most recently met someone, Hannah, who I think I'll marry someday, we're very much in love. I see Dalia around every once and awhile and still think she's the most beautiful woman I've every laid eyes on. I still wonder sometimes if she was the one. I love Hannah, I really do, and think I'll be happy with her the rest of my life. But...

If only Dalia hadn't told me.


Laura, I hated the way you wore your hair that day at the mall. I mean really, what were you thinking? It made me so mad. I just couldn't believe it. I suppose I know what you're thinking that I obsess about the way you look because I'm in love with you or something. Well maybe I am. Maybe I do find you to be the most gorgeous creature on earth and I can't bear to be apart from you for even a minute. Well so what? So I can't live without you. Well I could but I'd be miserable. Will be miserable. Whatever. Just plain fucking miserable. Oh my god so what it still it doesn't excuse the way you wore your hair that day at the mall and why did you go with your friends and not me anyway??? That's what really ticked me off. You said you needed to stay at home and study so I went to the mall to buy some shoes and there you were with that ridiculous hairstyle and you're telling me you changed your mind about studying when one of your friends called and you realized that one paper wasn't due until the following week. So I don't and I never did feel like you lied to me I just thought you could have called and said you were going and did I want to go and the fact that you said you didn't think of calling me really hurts. So maybe this isn't so much about the way you were wearing your hair -- sucky, seriously sucky -- but about what may or may not have been a lie. I mean we were always doing things together and always told each other everything and you even said that you'd tell me if I ever got too obsessed with you which I had done before a few years ago with...well like I need to tell you. So anyway its pretty clear that you don't have the same feelings for me as I do for you and that you never will or at least its not likely that we'll ever and I should just move on and find someone else but ohmygod I really do think you are so sweet and that you've said so many nice things to me is really one of the highlights of what's been my life so far and I hope I get to see you again and I'm sorry I've said such awful things about the way you wore your hair that day at the mall and I'm sorry too that I've gone on and on like this but after all we were really close and I can't believe that you said you didn't want to be friends anymore and that you feel that way but. But. I can except this and move on I really can. Please try to understand me a little bit. K? And I love that you've changed your hair back to the way it was before, I really do.
P.S. I don' think this makes me a Lesbo despite what Kristen said. Yeah I let her read it and she said I shouldn't have said all this but so what.


Everyone said that Brad and Carli were a perfect couple. My opinion is there's no such thing. No two people are pefect for each other any more than any one person is perfect. Sometimes two people work together really well they click in bed and if they're friends too they can make a long lasting relationship. My parents for instance have been together forever. They are by no means a perfect couple but have each learned to make enough compromises without violating their true natures that they are really happy together. Brad and Carli had been together since high school. Maybe before I'm not sure. Anyway a long time.

I was Carli's best friend, Nicole. We met freshman year in high school and had everything in common and were like sisters. I saw Carli through the ups and downs of her relationship Brad right up until she shot him in the face with a .44 magnum. Seriously no one saw that coming but I'm getting ahead of the story.

From the time I met her Carli only ever spent time with Brad her family and me. Her family consisted of a mom and dad who couldn't be bothered with parenting and a little brother who was as big a brat as you'll ever met. Tommy, her brother, was about five years younger than Carli and didn't seem to be from the same planet as Carli let alone the same family. But between Brad her family and I Carli spent the least amount of time with her family if you don't count sleeping in the same house which she actually didn't do all that regularly. So I knew Carli really well. We shared all our secrets and our dreams and opinions. Maybe I should feel stupid that I didn't recognize that she had some serious mental issues but there were no clues. None at all. Not until it was too late that is.

Brad I got to know fairly well too. He was the type of guy who was every girl's dream. Very handsome athletic and super polite. He was also a straight A student and funny and fun loving. Brad seemed destined to be successful in life. You could see that he was going to get a good job and be a great father and husband and of course it seemed like Carli would be his devoted wife to his devoted husband. You didn't get the impression that Brad was going to own a company or be a politician or have his own law firm, just that he'd do really well and make everyone he knew proud. Brad was the kind of guy that girls would literally fight over if they thought it would do any good. But since he and Carli were basically inseparable all the girls just left him alone and admired him from afar. I know I did. But Carli was my very best friend so really I was just happy for her.

I wanted to go to the state university because of their outstanding theater program and I knew I could get in so it was the only place I applied. Brad was accepted at three or four schools but he picked state because he didn't want to be too far from his family. Carli naturally went because we were going there. She barely had the grades and was wait listed in. Of course Carli and I shared a room in the girls' dorm and Brad was across the street in the boys' dorm. Needless to say that besides classes and studying Carli spent all her time with either Brad or me. It was just like high school except we were away from home and the school work was more intense.

Everything was cozy and fine that first year and the beginning of the second year when Carli and I shared an apartment with another girl, Chrissie and Brad had an apartment with a couple of other guys. Again we were in close proximity.

But trouble started as I could tell Brad wanted a little more independence. He didn't exactly want to date other girls (he was still totally devoted to Carli) but he wanted more time for himself or to be with his buddies. Meanwhile Chrissie was developing a little crush on Brad. Maybe not so little I'm not sure. It was hard to tell because she was such a flirt -- to some people she was a slut but that's just talk and who knows if there's any truth to it.

No one knows where Carli got the gun. To this day she hasn't told a soul. I sure have no idea. Anyway I'm partially responsible for what happened. Not really, not in any way that makes me feel guilty. I mean if a person is going to crack they're going to crack and if I hadn't gotten the ball rolling something else would have. See we were half way through sophomore year and I had decided to transfer from state because I really wasn't into theater anymore and so what was the point of being at state when I could go to a better school. I knew it would mean leaving Carli but so what, we weren't going to be living together forever. But when I told her she just snapped. I'd never seen her first get so angry calling me names in a really ugly voice I didn't know she had. Then switched to crying uncontrollably. I'd hardly seen her shed a tear before and she was balling her eyes out. I told Carli she needed to get a grip. I'm the first to admit that I wasn't very sympathetic or kind towards her but she'd kind of freaked me out and all over something that I didn't think was such a big deal. So the point is that she really flipped when I said that. Carli was throwing things and screaming and crying hysterically. I was scared. Then Chrissie comes home and she was like "what the fuck?" and "calm the hell down, Carli." Carli stopped finally but then she just stared at at Chrissie and called her a whore and accused her of trying to seduce Brad. When she said that Chrissie turned all red -- who knows why but probably because she did have a crush on him. So Carli picks up on this and this really sets her off. She's totally convinced that Chrissie is sleeping with or trying to sleep with Brad. Chrissie finally just turns around and goes out the door.

Everything stopped. It was weird. Carli was suddenly all calm and she meekly apologizes in a way that suggests she doesn't really mean it. I went in my room cause I needed to study and there'd be enough drama for one day, plus in this weird way Carli seemed okay.

About ten minutes later -- like I told the police I didn't check the exact time -- I heard Carli leave the apartment.

The rest of this story is what everyone else around here knows but you probably don't if you're reading this. Carli goes to Brad's. All his roommates are there. He mentions that he is going on a trip during the four day weekend coming up with his buddies (without her, of course) and she gets really angry. Again. They go outside to calm down and talk in private. About a half hour later Brad's roommates hear the gun shot. When they check things out Carli is driving away and Brad is laying there with...well I understand it was gross. She had shot Brad twice in the face and if he'd lived there wouldn't have been enough plastic surgery in the world to reconstruct his face.

The police found her parked outside of liquor store just sitting there. Carli didn't say a thing. She was what they call catatonic for days. When she did talk -- and this is still the case -- she has very little to say and only in short clipped sentences in this dull voice like she's drugged. Carli says nothing about why she did it.

It's a full two years later and I still have trouble some nights sleeping. I get depressed sometimes too. Carli's parents were devastated of course. Although they did admit that Carli had some dark moods since she was little and they think they started after she woke up and saw a burglar in the house, an event even I didn't know about. She had been six at the time. But who knows?  Course her parents never mentioned that they didn't ever pay much attention to her and who knows what all she was like at home and what problems she had there and what they could have done for her. But that's over. We'll just never know the full story of Carli I guess.

So Brad and Carli were not the perfect couple. They seemed like it for awhile. But the true test of a relationship is time. You see two young people together and want to tell me they're perfect together I'm gonna say, get back to me in 20 years -- at least.

14 June 2014

Unbelievably Six Months Later I Revise My 2013 Top Ten List

Film critics all over the world -- and idiots like me -- annually put out a list of their ten favorite films released that year. Such lists generally start appearing in mid December and the whole business runs its course within a month, if that.

My top tens have been appearing on this blog every year but I've been cranking them out since long before their was an internet to post them on. I've got copies of them on this substance called paper dating back to the mid 1980s. Looking at them now they're sometimes a source of embarrassment. The phrase what the hell was I thinking often comes to mind. It is after a second viewing of  a film that it really comes into focus. A really good film generally is much better appreciated after a second viewing although sometimes the initial impact diminishes. Of course there are the movies you miss during their theatrical run or the ones that are released in your area well after the calendar year. I didn't get a chance to see Amour until March of last year. Had I seen it in time it would have topped my 2012 list.

I'm sure many others who put out top ten lists would have very different versions after second viewings of films or after finally seeing one that had been missed. This does not diminish the fun and even importance of putting out a top ten list in late December. I'll continue to the practice for as long as I am able.

This year I intentionally set about to re-watch all the movies that made my top ten. This was no great chore as I liked them all. I completed the task the other night with Her which finally got its DVD release on Tuesday. I now offer the top ten list I posted on this blog in late December and a revised list based on second viewings. Frankly I'm surprised at there was so much difference. But not very. I even had a new number one. A few years ago I revised my top ten list a few days after posting it. Watching Melancholia a second time made me realize it was my favorite of the year and I quickly admitted and re-posted the list sending shock waves throughout the film world (okay that was an exaggeration there were no shock waves.)

That's enough ado. Here are my revisions.

1. Nebraska (Payne)
2. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coens)
3. Frances Ha (Baumbach)
4. Blue Jasmine (Allen)
5. Kill Your Darlings (Krokidas)
6. La Grande Belleza (Sorrentino)
7. Her (Jonze)
8. 12 Years a Slave (McQueen)
9. Blue is the Warmest Color (Kechiche)
10. Reality (Garrone)

1. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coens)
2. Her (Jonze)
3. Nebraska (Payne)
4. Blue Jasmine (Allen)
5. Frances Ha (Baumbach)
6. Reality (Garrone)
7. 12 a Slave (McQueen)
8. Kill Your Darlings (Krokidas)
9. Blue is the Warmest Color (Kechiche)
10. La Grande Belleza (Sorrentino)

12 June 2014

Remembering a Childhood Friend

"The world is so goofy everywhere -- like you imagine that when you get to Paris with Simon there'll be raincoats and Arc de Triomphes of brilliant sadness and all the time you'll be yawning at bus stops." -- From Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac.

I imagined a lot of things and raged when I realized that they wouldn't come true angry at the injustice of the way life parcels out its joys and wonders and makes us suffer and work and be sick in between the raptures and delights of discovery and the orgasms of whimsy.

We fight the demons of our own making and laugh when we lose knowing that other battles will follow just as tragically humorous or humorously tragic. But there is always tomorrow.

I thought about Thornton Nedley the other day. That was his real name. He was a friend of mine in elementary school. I don't recall that he had any other friends. I had plenty of other friends but hung around with Thornton because I felt sorry for him and loved his name. Who wouldn't love a name like that? Yes I actually made friends with someone in part because of his name. I was like that as a kid. Thornton was African American wore coke bottle glasses and had buck teeth. I'm pretty sure his IQ was solidly below average and he had no athletic skills to compensate with. He struggled in school and occasionally got into trouble sometimes having fits in class. Teachers didn't care for him and classmates thought him weird unattractive and stupid. Thornton's voice was a mess. When he spoke it sounded like he was simultaneously doing a spit take. He was teased fairly often in the cruel way that kids do. He clearly needed a friend and I took on the role. He was glad to come over to my house -- he had few other choices. I didn't think of it at the time but he must have really appreciated that I was nice to him.

By talking and playing with Thornton I discovered that he was just as much fun as my other friends and had a a good sense of humor. One on one he didn't seem so dumb. And when you're nine years old intellectual insights aren't what you're looking for. A decent imagination and a willingness to act goofy more than qualifies one as a playmate.

There were occasional queries from my other friends as to why I had befriended Thornton but no one really gave it much thought. Kids aren't all that reflective. Any suggestions that I made about Thornton joining us when we had plans as a group were summarily rejected so I stopped bothering. Anytime that I was to spend with Thornton was to be just the two of us.

Of course I could only devote so much time to one person especially one who was so unpopular. As girls and music became more important to me Thornton became less important. Social status started to count for a little bit and it wouldn't do to be associating with a certified loser. I was not being cruel -- after all I had been the only classmate to hang out with him at all -- it was a practical decision and a gradual one at that. Thornton was well used to being alone and losing our friendship of a few years time was probably not a blow. At least I never thought so. Now that I write about it I'm not so sure.

I saw Thornton sporadically during junior high and high school but can't recall ever talking to him beyond a casual exchange of greetings. I have no idea how he fared in school or socially although I can't imagine he prospered in any way. Adolescence was not designed to cater to the likes of poor Thornton Nedley. Schools today are better at serving the needs of students with physical emotional and mental handicaps (special needs kids they're called). Back then you were pretty much on your own.

A few years after high school I was in town and saw Thornton. He was very vague about what he was doing but did say that he lived at the downtown YMCA. He joked about some of our former grade school classmates in a manner more appropriate for someone still in grade school. I gathered that his intellectual development had been especially slow. I realized then that the jokes kids had been made about Thornton being retarded were, while cruel, probably accurate. I felt sad and helpless and wanted nothing more than to be able to do something that would "fix" the poor guy and make him happy. Not that he seemed particularly unhappy. It was just....

That was the last I saw of Thornton and I had little occasion to think of him since. Before writing this I googled him and found that he had died in 2000 at age of 47. I could find no cause of death nor any other details of his life. If I had the time skills and resources I could probably learn more about his life but even at that I doubt I'd learn much.

It's very sad to think of Thornton now. Not at all depressing, life is too big for that. I'm glad that I was able to give him some friendship for a short part of his life. It speaks well to the kind of kid I was. There's no use regretting that I couldn't remain friends with him longer than I did. That would have been asking too much. It is not for 11 year olds to be caretakers of other children.

So what to make of this? I suppose that if you or someone you know comes across a Thornton Nedley you should make a particular point not to merely dismiss him. You can spare a little time to be nice to the guy even if merely by inquiring as to his or her well being from time to time. Showing you care. It can mean a lot.

I recall being downtown some years ago and walking by a former middle school student of mine named Josh. He was white kid who'd loved my class done really well and enjoyed talking to me about history after class. We got along well and he got all As from me. He was in high school at the time I saw him. As we passed each other Josh looked the other way pretending not to see me. It has not been uncommon for former students to act in this manner. Moments after passing Josh another former student, this an African American, happily called my name from across the street and enthusiastically waved to me and pointed me out to his friends. Derek had been a student at the same time as Josh but had earned straight Fs numerous detentions and even suspensions. We did not get along. I mentioned this to a good friend and co worker who was African American (I say was because he is deceased). He explained that Derek knew that despite the bad grades and disciplanry measures he'd received from me he realized that here was a white man who cared about him. For I had taken the time on a number of occasions to speak with Derek and encourage him.

People remember your kindness and your consideration even to the point that they forget slights or measures taken against them. I hope that if Thornton Nedley ever thought about me as an adult he remembered our friendship. The idea that he might have makes me smile.

11 June 2014

Signs You Are a True Berkeleyite

As regularly readers of this blog (both of us) know I currently reside in Berkeley, California USA. My feelings on this point are at best ambiguous though there are very very few other places in this country in which I could conceive of living. I am much prouder of the fact that I grew up here in the Sixties (I went off to college and did not return to live here for several decades.) Growing up in this town when I did was an irreplaceably wonderful experience. But that -- as they say -- was then and this -- as they further say -- is now. Being an acute observer of the human condition (I do like to flatter myself) I  quite naturally fancy myself as something of an expert on the denizens of this fair city. I taught in one of its public schools for nigh on 20 years and make my way around the city a fair bit.

While my political views are ones that I share with most Berkeleyans and I am culturally in tuned with most of the populous, there are some rather significant differences in the attitudes and behaviors and habits of my fellow Bezerkers and I. That is of course perfectly fine. At least from my perspective. There is an element in Berkeley that does not care for deviation from what they consider the norm. Berkeley is a very liberal city -- nay progressive -- but not everyone is open minded. Some are baffled when you don't speak the party line.

This city is a bit of mess in many respects these days (it's downtown is an ungodly sight) but it has some very pretty neighborhoods and it is the home of the greatest public institute of higher education in the world (Go Bears!). Berkeley has a rich and proud history including its seminal place in the political upheaval that epitomized the aforementioned Sixties.

Anyway that is all preamble. I now get to my point. Some may call it stereotyping. I think of rather as bit of harmless inventive profiling. That is to say I have created what follows, a list of the signs that you are a typical citizen of Berkeley (this list applies mostly to males and many items apply especially to those between about 30 and 45 years of age).

Signs You Are a True Berker

* You ride your bicycle as often as possible.
* Your son Noah attends a private school.
* You love to putter around in your garden.
* You make a weekly trip to the Farmer's Market.
* Two of your best friends are a lesbian couple.
* You regularly make token donations to the local PBS station.
* You've gotten into organic coffee.
* You enthusiastically voted for Obama in 2008 and begrudgingly in 2012.
* Your daughter Fiona plays youth soccer.
* You see a play at the Berkeley Rep every few months.
* You are proud not to have cable TV.
* You have a good friend who uses a wheelchair.
* You enjoy a few glasses of wine with Friday and Saturday dinners.
* You do yoga.
* You have anonymously made mean and snarky comments on Berkeleyside but are not proud of it.
* You deny -- even to yourself -- that you don't really like Black people.
* You have attended  a city council meeting to voice a concern.
* You've read Slaughterhouse Five four times.
* You're humble but nonetheless brag a little bit about what a good salad you make.
* You still talk about that great Philosophy professor you had in college.
* You kind of like sports but are not fanatical about it.
* Your wife is Brazilian or Asian or you are both Jewish.
* Your last vacation was to Central America.
* You studied in France for one semester of college.
* You are an enthusiastic recycler and composter.
* You have a cousin who's a Fox News watching conservative and he forwards you annoying political emails.
* You avoid wearing suits and ties or otherwise buying or wearing dressy clothes.
* You play the guitar, albeit badly.
* You want to go to Portugal.
* You speak enthusiastically about the time you saw the Cirque du Soleil.
* You go backpacking several times a year.
* You've never been in a fist fight.
* You're pretty sure you have strong feelings about Israel/Palestine but aren't sure what they are.
* You don't order your children about but try to reason with them and explain.
* You love Thanksgiving but have mixed feelings about Christmas.
* You were an enthusiastic film goer until you had children.
* You always spoke of your wife's pregnancy as "we" are pregnant.
* You listen to Spanish guitar music a lot.
* Your speech is always very politically correct.
* You like or at least pretend to like everyone you meet.
* You stopped having original thoughts two days after your first child was born.

10 June 2014

Lessons Learned of Appreciating a Person Even While Judging Him (Or Her)

The chain-smoking red bull drinking skinny hipster was angry because his cell phone had been stolen. "I'm going to find out who took my phone and fucking kill him. I will kill him," he angrily proclaimed. Truth was that he couldn't knock over my grandmother. Guys like him always talk big but if ever confronted by someone over five feet tall with a few muscles he'd cower in the corner. A bunch of profanity laced empty threats was all he was worth. He'd be dead soon enough what with his rotten diet and cigarettes and drugs sometimes and no exercise and erratic sleep habits and the smoking. God the smoking. That'll kill him sure.

His name is Liam which I'm sure he thinks makes him kind of cool as if a name conferred anything on a person. Naturally this Liam character is from the suburbs. Usually city guys know not to talk tough unless they're prepared to back it up. We know how quickly someone can call you on your mouth or decide that you need to prove yourself or they want to prove themselves and you as Mr. Big Talker are just the person to use for that purpose. But these loud mouths from the sticks mostly haven't had their asses kicked let alone done it and dudes like Liam hadn't played any sports other than maybe whiffle ball in the backyard and some ping pong so they hadn't had to prove their mettle and been tested in competition. So big talk was easy for Liam.

Of course Liam would never come within miles of knowing who stole his cell phone it wasn't like he could do anything to find out or would even try for that matter. Talking a lot of loud bullshit is as far as he'd ever get on the matter that and stewing in his juices. It's something that Liam should be getting used to. His kind of mouthy is always a target for thieves and scam artists. As big as he talks he's just a sucker plain and simple.

Mind you Liam isn't a total waste of space. Not quite anyway. This guy is a veritable fountain of cultural trivia whether it's about popular films or music or TV shows or comedians or sports. And not surprisingly he has some pretty strong opinions about who was good and who sucked and especially about who was overrated. He tosses off his conclusions as casually as he burps and never says excuse me either for the gas or the obnoxious opinion. You could even elicit an opinion or two from it (like you'd want to) about art or literature but it isn't really from him knowing anything he's just going with boilerplate stuff he's ripped off from that one cultured friend he has. Liam hadn't picked up a book since finishing college which of course was a state university where he eked by getting a BA despite constant hangovers and failed romances and strangling debt which was part of his life yet.

Yeah so Liam is quite adept at spitting out his opinions which he'll do on any pretext but he's disinclined to listen to yours or at least solicit it. He'd sure as hell overhear what you had to say and either dismiss it out of hand or save it to use later for himself. Fact is Liam is forever snatching other peoples insights and making them his own repeating it like he'd done a lot of thinking which was far from possible. A cultural scavenger. Liam's mind is always going a mile a minute in large part because he's always so hopped up on coffee red bulls and diet coke but he never goes into depth thinking it's all this superficial bullshit that he's churned through. Thoughts will pass through Liam's mind like a mouse racing across a room.

Funny thing about Liam and guys like him -- of which there are too many for my taste -- he's always between romances. Men that self-possessed are usually not appealing to women over the long haul. After a few weeks they see there's nothing in it for them and look elsewhere. The initial attraction was based on a certain charm that wears off real fast. Plus if there really into the physical side of a relationship the Liams of the world are always a disappointment not being athletic types and contrarily having as little endurance in the sack as they would trying to jog around the block. Speaking of getting around the block, Liam is a car bound creature. No bikes or walking. Avoiding public transportation like the plague.

At this point it might surprise you to learn that I don't mind working with Liam. Not at all. He is usually good for a quip and will stand still for one of my one liners. It's also nice that Liam never wears you down with endless conversations about weekend plans or weekends just passed or any of that other trivial bullshit that so goddamned many co-workers will put you through. Like I'm supposed to give a shit that they're working in their garden this weekend or going to see someone in concert I've never heard of or they have a really close friend in town that they're excited to be hanging out with or that they're preforming a ritual slaying in the park at midnight with their cult. And do they really give a rat's ass that I'm doing this that or the other? Oh and I don't care if you got a really great night's sleep or tossed and turned or had a quiche you made yourself for dinner last night or ate at this new Burmese restaurant where they kill the wild boar right at your table. I don't care. Oh sure if you're one of the two or three friends I've made at work bring it on and brace yourself for my latest but if you're just one of the crowd leave me alone -- which is what Liam does. I appreciate it, man. He keeps to himself or keeps it light --

--- speaking of annoying co workers there's this one loony tune who goes well overboard I mean not just overboard but completely out of sight of the friggin' boat with her "I'm so happy for you!" whenever someone leaves work for a better position or to go back to school or to move to another country or to finish a prison sentence. Can you really be that fucking happy for someone you barely know? Matter of fact I'm somewhat unclear on how you can be happy for someone else. I know in my case I'm quite adept at being happy for myself when good things come my way and I sure as shit don't need someone else being happy for me. Stay out of my happiness. Admire it from afar if you must but don't try to horn in on it. When you're grading papers or planning a lesson or just inhaling and exhaling after or before a class you don't need someone you barely know telling you their life stories and asking intimate details like when did you get potty trained or what's your concept of eternity. No thanks. Liam doesn't go in for any of that bullshit. Ask him a question and he'll answer it without launching into monologue. And if he asks you something it's pertinent and doesn't require self hypnosis or hours of research at the National Archives.

So bottom line (and oh how we've come to like bottom lines in our society cut all the bullshit and tell me if I'm going to die tomorrow the rest is just details) is that Liam has his faults just like anyone else and his good points just like anyone else (though I'm still not certain Ms. I'm So Happy For You has anything going for her). It's damn easy to dismiss a person because they have this peccadillo or that. I've done that one helluva lot in my life and maybe lost out on getting to know some really cool people or at least some folks who might have helped me understand and appreciate the world or turned me on to a book or new way of considering things or told a good joke. Who knows? But we can lose a lot just writing people off willy nilly. I've been tempted at times to mentally tell Liam to go take a hike and henceforth ignore him in perpetuity but I'm glad I've fought that impulse and thus been able to take pleasure in occasional badinage with him. That's a cool thing, to find a way to connect with someone even for me a guy like Liam someone who I ultimately don't respect for so many reasons but I can still appreciate for other reasons.

People. Sometimes worth it.