Monday, June 30, 2008


For reasons not worth detailing, I have temporary custody of Tabbatha's cat Midnight. As longtime readers may remember, Midnight spent several months here last year, so I just sort of thought it'd be cool, everybody would know each other and everything would be (relatively) calm.

I realize cats have very little short-term memory, but--and this can't be stressed enough--Midnight used to live here. As soon as I let him out of his carrier, he immediately headed for the bathroom window, his favorite nesting spot. Clearly, he remembered the place.

Everything was going to be fine, right? Right?

But his mere presence sent Delmar into a hissy fit the likes of which I've never seen, growling and wailing and carrying on with such force I fully expected him to collapse from a stroke. Even when Midnight was in another room, Del still carried on, even physically attacking me, apparently for the crime of bringing this...this...thing into his presence.

Midnight seemed okay at first, even rolling over onto his back to allow me to rub his tummy, but eventually Del's growling got to him, and he started growling back. It never really went anywhere, a couple of low-life wannabes slinking around hurling threats at each other, like the world's most hapless gang leaders.

While all of this went on, Monika hopped up on a chair, the better to literally look down on her roommates. The deal with Monika is, as long as I pay proper attention to her (the attention she deserves as The Most Beautiful Cat In The World), I could bring a crazed hyena into the apartment and she wouldn't care. (Unless, of course, the hyena made the mistake of getting in her face, in which case, she'd have to give it her patented James Coburn Zen Cool smackdown. But that's another story.)

I didn't get much sleep. Del sat at the foot of the bed all night, wide awake and on guard, and his weird guttural rumblings were like having a subwoofer cranked to 11. As I write this--through bleary eyes--Del and Midnight are growling from opposite sides of the room, and the tedious, unwavering tones are like being forced to listen to a Gyorgy Ligeti composition.

Fortunately, Midnight goes home this afternoon. It wouldn't surprise me at all if, by that time, he won't want to leave, as he and Del will be scampering around like the bestest buddies in the world.


Sunday, June 29, 2008


Sunday morning, 5 AM, lost in dreamland, then--BZZZZT--the piercing wail of the phone. My eyes open immediately, I stumble for the receiver...but it's not ringing. The caller ID shows no one had called. Evidently, the phone only rang in a dream.

Why? What is my subconscious trying to tell me? Is it trying to evoke a similar crack of doom ring on a similarly lazy Sunday morning twelve years ago? Is it trying to remind me of hearing my mom's voice on the other end, quietly telling me my dad passed away during the night?

If so, it's working. I return to bed, but every time I close my eyes, images and emotions flash in my brain, memories half-forgotten, of driving out to Mom and Dad's apartment complex that misty morning, the police having arrived before me, the flashing lights on their cars stabbing through the fog. Mom, strangely calm, sitting in her chair making small talk. Dad's sheet-covered body carried out, only glimpsed for a fraction of a second before I averted my eyes. Me, making at least some of the inevitable calls to siblings--I can't even remember how many I spoke to, or what was said, or if I cried.

Probably not--the most concrete memory is an overwhelming numbness. A turning point had arrived and I shrugged, unable to fully engage it. All I could do was detach myself from any emotion and stumble forward without a look back.

And it worked.

But now, this morning, wishing only to go back to sleep, that dull roar of nothingness I've grown to know so well is replaced by an unidentified voice whispering in my ear, wondering how I could have felt so little, asking when I'm going to re-engage with life. I tremble under the covers, unable to answer.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


The weekend! Sweet, idling days of nothingness, with laziness expected if not actively encouraged in all things. Including this site. In other words, a clip job.

And this one comes with a bonus--pain! Deep, soul-battering pain! Yes, I want you to hurt like I did back in '82 when I first heard this thing. And my agony had a name: Charlene.

The most amusing thing about this record is that it was released by Motown. The second most amusing thing is that it was recorded and initially released in the mid-seventies, but didn't become a hit until the early eighties. It's whiny tone, lugubrious arrangement and repeated non-ironic use of the word "lady" certainly marks it more as a relic of the seventies than eighties. Maybe if it had seen more chart action in '77 it would have seemed like just another of that year's overscaled weepers, somewhere between When I Need You and Don't Cry Out Loud. By '82, it was an anachronism. Yet it became a hit. Go figure.

In any event, a truly awful song. And despite all that crap about "subtle whoring" and "unborn children" and seeing "things that a woman ain't s'posed to see"--GAAHH!!--the damned thing was originally written from a man's point of view. And you can hear the even worse original lyrics in this jaw-dropping version performed by Howard Keel.

Let me just say--I really, really like Howard Keel. He made a series of B westerns for producer A.C. Lyles back in the sixties that ran on TV a lot when I was a kid, he gives a great, underrated comic performance in Kiss Me Kate, and of course, he was a pretty amazing singer.

But boy, that last-mentioned talent is nowhere in evidence here. He seems to be going for a crusty Old Man Of The Mountain vibe here, which...well, it's worse than Charlene, quite frankly. But at least it manages to be laughably bad instead of gnash-your-teeth-and-pray-for-death bad. So, and I use this word advisedly: Enjoy.

Friday, June 27, 2008


So remember that whole thing I said yesterday about how I'd be trying to sleep later and possibly post less frequently? Heh.

Sorry if either of the preceding posts seemed hastily written. They were experiments in knocking stuff out faster, spending less time obsessing over proper word choices. (Many of you are probably thinking, "Geez, he actually spends time on this? Poor sap.") Also, sorry about ending the gun law piece with an Alanis Morissette quote, which is actually a reference to a bitchy dialogue exchange between Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr in the movie Go. When you're riffing on anything involving Jay Mohr, it's pretty sad.

Just to provide you with the entertainment my words here can't provide, let me offer you a Chuck Jones classic, as good as any seven minutes ever committed to celluloid.


I'll be seeing Wall-E this weekend, and will no doubt have some further thoughts once I do. I'm looking forward to it, though perhaps less enthusiastic than other recent Pixar films. One of the problems with Pixar is their work is so routinely good, it's easy to take it for granted. And when they produce something astonishing--specifically Brad Bird's The Incredibles, the only film produced by Pixar that wasn't developed in-house, and which I feel is one of the few genuinely great films made so far in this century--it is, of course, disappointing when they go back to doing things that are merely good. (Also disappointing--Bird doesn't work there anymore.)

Not everyone loves Pixar's stuff, but there's no denying their track record. Sure, some of their movies are better than others, but even the least of them (that would, of course, be Cars) are still pretty good. In other words, the bottom line for the studio is not how to push the technology of CGI forward or to offer stunning visuals--though they do that every time--but to make good movies.

These days, that seems like an almost radical notion. Sure, bad movies have always been with us, but at no other point in history have so many stinkers been released, and it sometimes seems as though studios are deliberately making crap. How else can you explain this?

There's not even an authentic joke anywhere in that trailer--just a bunch of references to other movies, and even then, they have to resort to having a character point out that another character is supposed to be Hannah Montana--it neither looks nor sounds like her. A half hour of watching basic cable would have given the creators of this garbage a set of obvious, easily mocked mannerisms, but they aren't even willing to do the most minimal amount of homework, and in fact seem to almost mock the very audiences they assume will line up for this thing.

If it's a hit, things will only get worse.


Since the U.S. Supreme Court has officially decided it is the right of every American to own a gun, all I can say is, let the shootin' begin!

And it has, of course--The very day the court handed down its decision, a guy in Kentucky went on a rampage at his job, killing five co-workers and himself. It didn't get a whole lot of play in the national media because, frankly, what's another office shooting at this point? Heck, even school shootings are getting to be routine.

Now, with the very real possibility that guns will be even easier to obtain, it could turn into Dodge City on Mainstreet, USA--or at least in big cities like Washington, DC. The attempt by the mayor and law enforcement officials in DC to prohibit concealed weapons was the very move that inspired the right-wing nutjobs at the Cato Institute top take this case to the Supreme Court in the first place, not caring a whit that the DC ban was a reasonable attempt to staunch the flow of street violence.

Since the violence doesn't effect them personally, they simply don't care. Conservatives crow their support for Law 'N' Order louder than anyone, yet police organizations in most big cities favor some sort of restriction on handguns. Isn't it ironic? Don'tcha think?

Thursday, June 26, 2008


It's 4 AM as I sit down to write this. By my standards, that means I've slept in.

I'm always up at 2 or 3 in the morning, grinding out the wordage here. That's because I wake up early, and I can't get back to sleep. Which is true, to some extent. My sleep patterns have always been erratic. Still...what if one of the reasons I can't get back to sleep is because I'm worrying about what to write?

Hard as it may be to believe when you're plowing through yet another rambling anecdote about adorable kitties, I actually spend a lot of time and thought considering what to post here. I want it to be as good as I can possibly make it.

But I'm beginning to think this rising at 2 AM thing is a lot of malarkey. Let it go and stay in bed, I told myself this morning. Post later in the day, or don't post at all. It'll be okay.

I guess what I'm saying is, there could be changes around here. Less frequent posts, maybe, or...hell, I don't know. I've made the promise to myself before to spend less time here and more time doing actual real-life activities, and always wound up back at the same place at the same time, doing the same thing.

We'll see.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Even as a kid, I was a credit junkie, so I remember seeing Kermit Love's name in the credit roll for Sesame Street. Then again, his name was Kermit, so it kind of stood out.

Back then, I had no idea what Love, who died this week at the age of 91, did on the show. Now, thanks to his obit in The New York Times, I know: He designed Big Bird. And Snuffleupagus. And Oscar and Cookie Monster. (But not, oddly enough, Kermit The Frog.)

For that alone, Love's place in the annals of American culture should be assured, but it gets better. Fascinated by puppets since childhood, he got sidetracked by a lengthy career designing costumes and settings for theater and dance, starting out working with Orson Welles.

And it still gets better: He designed Rodeo for Agnes DeMille and Aaron Copland, Fancy Free for Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein, One Touch Of Venus for DeMille and Kurt Weill, and collaborated with George Balanchine for forty years.

In my world, anyone who hung with Kurt Weill, Jerome Robbins and Jim Henson is eligible for sainthood. Kermit Love toiled in semi-anonymity, but he worked with some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, and served them well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


The parking lot faces west, a perfect view of the descending sun, the yellow and pink-streaked clouds. Summer night falls with a subtle grace, unlike the abrupt darkness of February and March, back when I first started dating Katie.

It's nearly nine o'clock. Back then, the sky would have been black by this time, and I would have climbed into my car to pick her up after work. I could do that now, possibly. I could call her and see if she's working, see if she needs a ride. I haven't talked to Katie since we broke up, and it feels like some business was left unfinished.

That's the thing about relationships. They end, or at least mine always seem to, but they never really go away. I can never quite come to grips with the fact that somebody I knew so intimately, so well, could just disappear. Are they supposed to leave no trace on my soul? Am I supposed to pretend they didn't matter? But they did matter--for however long we were together, I shared my life with them, they became a part of my day-to-day existence. When somebody enters so fully into your life, something will always remain, the DNA of your life has been irrevocably altered.

Despite that, I don't know now--I didn't know then--what my feelings were for Katie. I liked her, certainly, and maybe I thought that was enough, it could grow into something else in time. Or maybe it was a placeholder relationship, doomed from the start to be nothing more than a divertissement between the acts of my life. I didn't mean it to be that, and I certainly didn't mean to hurt her if she perceived it that way. Maybe that's the only reason I wish to speak to her now, to apologize and move on.

She is now merely a part of the past, another face and name to be never fully forgotten, one more in a string of never-to-bes. Most of my relationships have been like that. I've been married to one woman, intended to marry another, and was absolutely in love with them. Things, of course, didn't work out. But at least they reminded me I'm capable of feeling.

There were others, a woman I loved in some sense though actual coupledom remained elusive, and one I wanted so desperately to love, but which ended only in indifference. The rest were like Katie, high hopes and good starts followed by slow fades.

I linger beside my car for a moment. Traffic flows lazily through the parking lot. Hand-holding couples emerge from the stores of this bland suburban strip mall. Birds flutter and dive before the sunset. I don't call Katie, of course, nor do I wish to. It was only a passing thought, a moment lost in time.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Though it's Monday, it's the end of my work week, so I'm a little tired.

Definitely wish I had something to say about the unexpected death of George Carlin, but, though his influence in the comedy world is great, he wasn't really a big favorite of mine. (Gotta give it up for the headline in The NY Times, though: GEORGE CARLIN, SPLENETIC COMEDIAN, DIES AT 71. I truly hope the word "splenetic" will be used in my obit.)

Also considered saying something about Mike Myers' continuing Peter Sellers obsession, and how it manifests itself in The Love Guru...but that would involve me thinking about The Love Guru, and, what with my blood pressure and all, probably best to avoid.

Did I mention I'm tired?

So, you're thinking, is he just going to post some randomly-chosen clip, then? Oh my, yes! That's what I do! In this particular case, I give you a trailer for the less entertaining than it looks Black Shampoo from 1976. The movie starts out, as the title suggests, as a knock-off of the previous year's Warren Beatty film, then takes a turn into pure blaxploitation, but the maladroit touch of director Greydon Clark prevents it from being much of anything.

The trailer, though, is every kind of awesome. From the funky score, seemingly random editing and, especially, the narration by the late Adolph Caesar (THE voice of seventies exploitation), this is the kind of ad that does its job--makes you want to run right out and see the damned movie.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Some time ago, I expressed my fears that the release of Mike Myers' astonishingly awful-sounding The Love Guru would bring about the end of all joy and goodness, and people would never laugh again.

Based on the reviews, such a nightmare was indeed possible: "Downright antifunny," claims The New York Times' A.O. Scott, "almost hypnotic in its awfulness," says Nathan Rabin at The AV Club, while Slate's Dana Stevens pronounces it "the most joy-draining 88 minutes I've ever spent outside a hospital waiting room." Clearly, this movie is every bit as lethal as predicted.

Except--no one's going to see it. The American movie-going public, the same collective who made inexplicable hits out of Myers' Austin Powers and Shrek franchises, has suddenly shown an unexpected attack of good taste and common sense, and in their avoidance of this loser's noxious stench, has decided to preserve laughter and happiness for at least a little while longer.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


What can I say? I have this weird obsession with seventies variety specials. It was the last gasp of a type of entertainment you just don't see anymore. If anyone even tried this sort of thing now, it would be intentionally campy or drenched in irony. It wouldn't--couldn't--be so apparently sincere, and profoundly bad in a way that's almost charming. If only it weren't so painful. Here's an example--the awesome spectacle of Lynda Carter doing...whatever the hell she does.

Here's Hal Linden singing the lugubrious theme from The Goodbye Girl. Yeah, he's actually a good singer, but the material and the setting and...Well, take a look.

And--The horror! The horror!--Paul Lynde and Roz "Pinky Tuscadero" Kelly (as she's actually billed) and Florence Henderson and Billy Barty and...I can't go on. Just watch--if you dare. Scrub your eyes with lye soap after viewing this, and you may be able to erase it from your sight. But, oh, what of your soul?.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Really, New York Times? It's come to this?

"With Get Smart as the latest television show to reach the big screen, which series, if any, should be remade into a movie?"

This is your above-the-cut invitation for Reader Comments? What are you, USA Today?

I've tried to ignore Blogginheads and The Opinionator and your inexplicable showcasing of David Carr. I politely avert my eyes when David Brooks and Thomas Friedman do their thing. I shrugged when you hired William Kristol, and even that cover story on Naomi Campbell in the Sunday magazine...Well, actually, that was pretty bad.

I just feel like maybe I didn't know you as well as I thought I did. Maybe we should take a break. I'm not saying I'll read other papers, but...Okay, yeah, I probably will. But as long as you have A.O. Scott writing movie reviews, I'll still stop by. We can be friends. It's not the end, just the end for now.

Seriously, though, get rid of Kristol.


"How was everything today?" asks the waitress.

"Just fine," I say, my tone blandly polite.

Paul looks at the waitress, then nods in my direction. "He's not my dad."

"Oh?" She smiles.

"No. He's my mom's ex-boyfriend."

"Ex-boyfriend? And he still takes you out? He must be nice."

"He is. He's very nice, but my mom just didn't want to be with him." He shrugs.

"I, uh, um--heh," I interject.

"He won't tell me if he still loves her," Paul continues, "but we're going to a movie later."

"Oh, that sounds like fun."

"That doesn't even...Why"

"You know what else, though? He has a really bad apartment!"

She nods sympathetically. "My apartment's pretty bad, too."

I tap my face with both hands and my mouth flaps, though no words seem to be forming.

"It can't be as bad as his. There's cat hair everywhere. He really likes cats."

"I...I'm sure you need to know all this," I stammer in apology, then turn to Paul. "She doesn't care about any of this."

"First of all, you don't know that..."

"I do! Nobody needs to know this."

"Oh, I need to know all kinds of things." She looks at Paul with a conspiratorial smile, grabs our empty plates, then is gone.

"See? I was right. You should always listen to me." He shrugs. "Which cookie should I eat first?"

Thursday, June 19, 2008


The phone rang Tuesday night. The caller ID showed Tabbatha's name, but I knew who'd be on the other end of the line. "Are you working this weekend?" Paul asked.

Yes, I said.

"Um, so that means you have--what day? Thursday? You have Thursday off, right?"

Yeah. And...?

"I had an idea. I thought maybe--You know I always go to day camp, right?"

Yeah. I just picked you up from there last week.

"Okay, so I thought instead of going there Thursday, my mom could drop me off at your place, and we could eat and do stuff, and that way we could spend the whole day together. Wasn't that a good idea?"

Sure, but what kind of stuff would we do?

"Well, we'd have breakfast. At Donutland. Of course. And go to a movie..."

A movie, huh? Kung Fu Panda, maybe?

"You knew! Yeah, we'd go to that, and we could have lunch and...Well, we'd have the whole day, so we could have all three meals together..."

Yeah, uh, maybe just two...Breakfast and maybe eat after the movie...

"And we'd be going to Old Country Buffet, right? Because we really should go there. And then maybe we can go to Barnes & Noble, and then we can--"

Well, we'll take it one thing at a time. We'll go to Donutland--

"Oh yeah!"

--and then see what we feel like doing next.

"But we're definitely going to Kung Fu Panda, right?"


Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Another day, another obit, and this one really hurts: Cyd Charisse, dead at 86.

Maybe she didn't have as long a run as many great stars; her career was essentially over by the early sixties. And she didn't have many leading roles, and most of those were nothing to write home about--any big fans of Meet Me In Las Vegas? She wasn't a great actress, though she did fine work in Nicholas Ray's Party Girl and Vincente Minnelli's Two Weeks In Another Town.

What she had was Presence--she was a star by divine right. Oh, and she could dance. And she had those legs.

When well cast, as in Minnelli's The Band Wagon, she was matchless--funny, haughty, vulnerable, endearing. So watch that, and Silk Stockings, and It's Always Fair Weather, and you'll get the best of Charisse on film. But start with this, a relatively small part in the picture that made her a star. I've seen it countless times, and with every viewing, I become more firmly convinced it is indeed the greatest movie ever made. Here is Cyd Charisse owning Gene Kelly in Singin' In The Rain.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


The brilliant special effects makeup artist Stan Winston has passed away at the age of 62, and as sad as that may be for his family and colleagues, it's sadder still that his profession has slowly been dying for years.

Winston worked on Jurassic Park and Terminator 2, movies in which his work was augmented by then-revolutionary CGI effects. Soon, of course, CGI would become the new norm, and when makeup effects would be deployed, they would be hidden under a thick haze of digital effects.

Not that they needed to be. One of Winston's greatest creations, the alien queen from Aliens, was created entirely on set, and is a wonderfully lifelike effect, terrifying and not unsympathetic, a major character in the film.

Aliens remains one of Winston's most impressive credits. He'd done fine work on the oddball TV movie Gargoyles, created impressive character designs for the overlooked comedy Heartbeeps and handled the impressive gore effects in the minor horror classic Dead And Buried. His work with James Cameron on Aliens and other pictures made him a superstar in the world of makeup effects, but like Rick Baker and Rob Bottin, other geniuses of the field, his star began to wane as producers began to bypass the time-consuming practice of on-set effects for CGI they could drop in anywhere they saw fit.

To those producers, I say look at Jurassic Park again. Winston's creations, particularly the scarifying closeup of the T-Rex, had a tactile presence all those digitized critters lack. The camera could linger on them, the actors could react to them, the cinematographer could light them, all because they were there. They were real, and though they could not breathe or bleed or feel, in Winston's hands, they lived.

Monday, June 16, 2008


1) My goodness, we've had so many place-holding clip jobs around here lately, it's been a while since we've had a good old fashioned place-holding Random Thoughts post. So watch out, since these things tend to lead to Star Wars references.

2) The flooding around here seems to have stopped short of the all-out disaster we feared, though the many, many people left homeless would certainly dispute that. Elsewhere in the state, cities were absolutely devastated, and we'll all likely be holding our breath around here everytime it rains. And this seems to be a summer of rain.

3) Paul informed me sometime ago that I'd be taking him to The Incredible Hulk as soon as it opened, so we saw it Friday night, flood waters be damned. The surprising thing is, it's not soul-crushingly awful.

That's not to say it's, you know, good. Edward Norton tries to rise above this sort of thing and fails, Tim Roth is weirdly miscast as some kind of super soldier, leaving only William Hurt to get into the proper spirit of the piece. It's kind of dull but watchable, and at least the action scenes are cleanly staged. The CGI is sometimes laughably bad, and the whole thing turns into a remake of War Of The Gargantuas, but Paul loved it, as I no doubt would have when I was eight. When a coda shamelessly sets up an upcoming spin-off, he was in Heaven: "Iron Man and Hulk will be in the same movie? We're going!"

4) Before the movie, we sat through a full half-hour of commercials and previews. One of the ads was a Verizon spot, directed by Spike Lee--is there anything he won't do these days?--and featuring Timbaland. Paul confused him with Justin Timberlake, and we started an Abbott and Costello-style "Timbaland/Timberlake" routine, unfortunately interrupted when his attention wandered to the next commercial. Still, I was amused, even though the people sitting in front of us were probably annoyed.

5) People who dislike the Star Wars prequels dislike the fact that George Lucas felt the need to tie everyone and everything together, no matter how improbably. So, they fume, it's one thing to show Wookies as part of the bigger rebellion against the Empire, it's quite another to specifically haul Chewbacca himself into this thing, to the point of establishing he's an old pal of Yoda's.

Me, I don't have a problem with that, except: How then did Chewie, an apparent hero of the rebellion, wind up hanging with a two-bit smuggler like Han Solo. Did he become disillusioned with the rebellion, or did heat from above force him to go off the grid? And is it a good idea to give a minor character a more interesting backstory than your protagonists?

6) I warned you about the Star Wars thing. At least I wasn't going on about Vincente Minnelli. Remember, I'm never more than five minutes away from bringing up The Pirate.

7) The Yankees are adopting a new motto for the rest of the season: "We suck marginally less than we did previously." I'm sure it will catch on.

8) The reaction to the death of resolutely mediocre journalist Tim Russert shows everything wrong with politics and the people who cover it: Russert is held up as some sort of paragon of excellence, when in fact he consistently towed the line of conventional wisdom, never questioning, for example, the Bushinista's rationale for war until, of course, the tide of public opinion turned. I'm sure he was a nice guy, or as nice as somebody who lives and breathes politics can be, but he was very much a part of the power structure, which would not, in any rational world, be a reporter's job. But hey, he had a cameo on that one episode of Homicide, so he gets a pass...

9) I brushed Monika thoroughly Saturday night, and when I woke up, her fur had inexplicably fluffed out, making her look like a chinchilla. Not a big deal, really, but too darned adorable to not mention.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


When I try to remember my father, there is no image or action that froze him forever in my mind, no particular memory, nothing warm or sad or anything else. He was just there.

My brothers and sisters, all older than me, might have more concrete memories. By the time I came along, the last child, five full years younger than my nearest sibling, Dad was pushing fifty, and had lived as much of a life as he intended. He was set in his ways, did not go anywhere except to work. Before long, he would start working at home, and would never have to set foot off his own property again.

Celebrations were not things he cared for, so Father's Day was a meaningless ritual to him, as was his birthday. As, for that matter, were all other birthdays, or even his own wedding anniversary. Life, it seemed, was something to be endured, not celebrated. In my childhood, he wasn't a cold presence so much as a passive one, floating anonymously in the background while my mom celebrated and encouraged my eccentric tastes, which Dad wouldn't have understood even if he'd cared.

That was the impression as a kid, one I continued to hold as I grew older. Looking back now, twelve years since he died, it still seems accurate, if not entirely fair. My perception was always that Dad was, essentially, a very simple man. Now I realize he was anything but.

The details of his life only emerged to me in bits and pieces. As a kid, I knew he served in World War II, that his parents died before I was born, that he was of Swedish descent...and that was about it. Never did it occur to me what horrors he must have seen in his military service, and not until I was in my twenties did I learn he had been one of the first people to stumble upon the horrors of the Dachau concentration camp. Not until later still did I try to piece together the details of his childhood, a grim existence spent in a mid-Iowa coal mining community, in which everyone, even kids, were expected to perform dangerous, tedious, soul-crushing labor.

And not until it was too late did I realize Dad's way of dealing with his demons was to simply ignore them. He was of a generation that didn't talk much about their feelings, and in his case, he simply chose not to feel. He loved his wife, he loved his kids, but he wouldn't allow those emotions to the surface, because something dangerous could also erupt. With everything buried, everything was safe.

There are photos of my dad from the forties and early fifties, with my mom, with my oldest brothers. His ruddy features and receding hairline are prominent, but so is a rather incongruous feature: a smile. When I was a kid, he'd laugh--he loved corny shows like Hee Haw and truth Or Consequences--but rarely smile, not for any sustained amount of time. He didn't frown much, either, and I don't remember him ever getting really angry. It was like he'd spent all his emotions getting to where he was, in a corner of the world he could claim as his own, where all pain could finally be kept at bay, and all pleasure, too.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Another day, another hastily assembled clip job. There's a reason for this, actually. If you look at the time I posted this, you'll notice it's later than usual. In other words, I'm getting more sleep, instead of waking up early to write. While this is certainly healthier for me, it also gives me less time to figure out a topic, assemble thoughts and tap out words. Or maybe I'm just burned out. (Or would that be "burnt out"?)

Anyway, clips. Here's one of my favorites, XTC, in rehearsal with one of my favorite songs, Dear Madam Barnum. Even when he blows a line or strains for a note he can't hit, Andy Partridge is one of the coolest guys alive.

A song from Shock Treatment, Richard O'Brien's unfairly maligned follow-up to Rocky Horror, featuring nice vocal turns from journeyman actor Cliff DeYoung (who's great in this) and the always wonderful Jessica Harper. I find myself singing this one a lot.

Finally, a great scene from one of the best movies of recent years, Ghost World. I'm including this partly because of how unbelievably hot Thora Birch is here (and seriously, in my world, I am Mr. Thora Birch), but mostly because Steve Buscemi's cranky, whiny, deeply pessimistic--but endearing and funny, dammit!--character me put it this way: This is pretty much like a car ride with me.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Violent rain clickclickclicked against the window, the wind whistled, then paused, then bellowed with full fury, waking me. I couldn't see the water rising as I laid in bed, but I knew it was happening. The same tonight as the last several nights: rivers overflowing their banks, sewers backing up, manhole covers flying through the air.

Here in Des Moines, we're enduring flooding possibly worse than experienced in '93, which was the worst ever, a once in a lifetime occurrence, we were told. Now, as it happens again, the forecast calls for more rain. What happens next?

Punishing rains batter the entire Midwest, and where there's no flooding, there's worse: Four people killed by a tornado that swept through a boy scout camp.

Seventeen dead from the heatwave on the East Coast. Countless dead from the earthquake in China and the cyclone in Myanmar.

Brutally hot summers, freakishly warm winters. Maybe, we think, there's a reason for this, and maybe we have an idea what that reason may be, but we won't change how we live. We're lousy stewards of the planet, and even as it becomes obvious we've knocked the natural balance out of order, we continue to do what we've always done.

And the rain still falls.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Not that I care about Strawberry Shortcake, but this article certainly makes me ill, and not because I've been inhaling fruit-scented dolls. I'm no genius, but it seems to me, if this character no longer connects to modern kids, you could, I dunno, create a new character instead of wasting time and money "reimagining" one nobody seems to care about.

Or you could examine the reasons no one cares about the characters anymore. Why, for instance, does Disney feel the need to upgrade Mickey Mouse, and why, in God's name, do the pinheads at Warner Bros. keep tinkering with the Looney Tunes characters? The reason kids these days don't know from Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny isn't necessarily because the characters are irrelevant, but because their starring vehicles are almost impossible to see.

Sure, Disney and Warners empty out their vaults periodically, but in expensive DVD sets aimed more at adult collectors than anyone else. In my experience, kids still love a good Road Runner cartoon, whenever they're exposed to one. The Disney Channel and Cartoon Network used to regularly showcase vintage animation, but these days they're too busy airing Spy Kids or Hook for the umpteenth time to bother celebrating the characters they claim to love. Maybe if kids had as many opportunities in a day to watch Daffy Duck as they do Camp Laszlo, they'd come to love these characters, too. And maybe--just maybe--they'd subliminally pick up on how much better these vintage cartoons are, how much more lively the animation, how much more vivid the design. Maybe they'd be able to separate the good stuff from the crap, the same way I could when I was a kid. (Sure, I'd watch Hong Kong Phooey, but I loved The Bugs Bunny Show.)

Or not. Let's just shamelessly pander to kids instead, let's give them what we think they want. As depressingly craven Warner executroid Lisa Gregorian puts it, "You want a dark, Goth version of Tweety Bird? Have at it." Sure. Why not?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


In the wake of Hillary Clinton's concession, I heard a hard-core Clintonite interviewed on the radio, refusing to admit defeat. "When I listen to Obama, I get a good feeling, but where's the experience? How can he do what he says he'll do when he hasn't been in Washington that long? Hillary had the experience, and so does John McCain, and I'll vote for him before I'll vote for Obama."

The mind reels. Yeah, McCain has the experience to get done whatever he wants--which is almost certainly the exact opposite of whatever this self-proclaimed feminist believes in. And as far as Obama's lack of Washington experience--I'm sorry, wasn't Clinton's husband the governor of a relatively small state when he ran for the presidency? Not a lot of face time with world leaders when you're running Arkansas.

There might have been a hint of condescension in this Clintonite's attitude (she described herself as part of the "prized demographic--white and well-educated"), which is ironic since she also tried to claim victimhood, to claim her candidate was somehow defeated by a male power structure . In their desire to set some sort of historical precedent, she and so many Clinton supporters neglected to notice they'd put all their hopes and dreams in an empty vessel, and couldn't even realize the historic moment they so desired may have become irrelevant.

If Clinton had taken the White House, many of her backers might have been surprised by how quickly she turned her back on them. It's her nature. She'll do anything, say anything, go whatever way the wind blows, all to do whatever will gain her short-term popularity. She'll support NAFTA when wealthy donors tell her to, and denounce it when she's stumping for working class votes. She'll support invading Iraq when it's popular, then talk (vaguely) about pulling out when support goes down. It's easy to be all things to all people when you have no core values.

Many of Clinton's most ardent supporters were old-line feminists, who'd come of age politically in the sixties and early seventies, had been on the front lines of the struggled for equality in gender and racial politics. What they seem not to have noticed is that they essentially won the war. The fact that Clinton's bid for the presidency was taken seriously doesn't mean she has shattered the glass ceiling in politics. It means a new generation has taken over, and they don't even see that ceiling.

Consider Barack Obama. It's at least as big a deal that a product of a racially mixed marriage may well become president of a country that, only forty years ago, still considered miscegenation a crime. Yet the majority of Obama's supporters, who generally skew younger than Clinton's, don't consider his racial identity a big deal. Sure, it's part of who he is, and may inform his outlook--but on the whole, they're behind him as a person, not a symbol.

Forty, even twenty years ago, the idea of a woman or African-American even announcing a serious candidacy would have been a big deal. We've moved beyond that now; we haven't shed all our old prejudices by any means, but at least at least recognize them, and have largely learned how to overcome them. In that sense, we're a better nation than we've ever been before. It's no longer necessary to install a hollow opportunist in the White House just to make a point. Hopefully, before November, Clinton's supporters will realize that.

Monday, June 09, 2008


I seem to be getting more and more into the work of the late Roger Miller. Before he started recording his own material, he worked as a songwriter in Nashville. Everyone from Ernest Tubb to Loretta Lynn recorded this number, but here's Roger's version. Even though he's remembered today mostly for his writing, all I could think as I watched this was, man, what a great singer.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


A pretty good evening: His mom wasn't sure if she'd have time to get him there, so I picked Paul up and took him to his baseball game last night. The game went well, the weather was perfect and when she got there, Tabbatha was very talkative and fun to be around.

Paul had told the two of us separately that we should all three go out to eat after the game, because "it's been so long since we've done that." I think I know what he's trying to do, and I appreciate it, but it's not going to happen.

I get the feeling that I'm better as an ex than as part of a whole. Not just with Tabbatha--my ex-wife sometimes uses me as a sounding board, and recently I've had a couple of ex-girlfriends (or, more accurately, one ex-girlfriend and one woman I briefly dated) call me out of the blue just because they needed to rant, and they knew I'd listen.

Not sure what that means, and I'll ruminate on the topic some time in the future. Right now, I'm not even thinking of dating, just kind of floating through life. That's okay, it really is; it's good to have time and space to breathe.

Friday, June 06, 2008


Thunderstorms pounded constantly last night, brutal, punishing, wrath-o'-God stuff. Between the rolling and the rumbling and the ping ping ping of the rain battering my windows--plus the cats freaking out in reaction to the whole thing--I pretty much got no sleep.

Which can serve as an explanation, if not an apology, for the previous post. I mean, a clip job is always a desperation move, and yeah, they're pretty much always designed to show off my particular obsessions, but this one...I dunno. That Admiral Ackbar clip was shoehorned in there with all the finesse of--

Damn you, Ackbar! You and that creepy Bruce Jenner-meets-Mark Hamill spokesman. Listen, pal, anyone can spot a trap once it has been sprung. No medals for you, Fishboy--I think they oughtta bust you down to CPO, or whatever a lower rank would be back on Mon Calamari.

Yes, I know Admiral Ackbar's home planet. I, um...Pretend this never happened, okay?


This is how my mind works: I stumble happily across this--

--and think, Wow, what a great combination. I wonder if I can find Stevie Wonder and Tom Jones--

--because Tom Jones is awesomeness personified, if only for singing the killer theme to--

--because, in my world, all roads lead to James Bond. Or Star Wars. And don't think I didn't try to figure out a way to get Admiral Ackbar in here, but I couldn't figure out how to logically connect...oh, the heck with it:

Sure, it's a trap, but we have faith in you, Admiral Ackbar. Faith that Lando Calrissian will save your sorry puke-colored ass.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Variety reporter Michael Fleming, like many in his profession, likely doesn't really know much about show business history. His job is to document the latest news from Hollywood, and if while doing that he occasionally pretends familiarity with a film he's clearly never seen, well, who cares.

My gues is, the bland tone of Fleming's piece on the proposed remake of I Spit On Your Grave will become common whenever this monumentally bad idea ever sees release. Because the original was made in 1978, it will be assumed that the original is dated, and as Fleming notes, the Saw and Hostel films may have convinced contemporary audiences these films are the state-of-the-art in horror.

I'm sure any remake will be more flashily directed, maintain a more consistent tone, probably even feature cast members from whatever CW show the producers can afford. It will look a lot like the remakes of Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, and will be heavily promoted with pop-up ads at sites like Ain'tItCoolNews and Dark Horizons.

And it will be bland as oatmeal.

Meir Zarchi's original film is poorly made and utterly indefensible, but by God it works. Its story of a woman's revenge after a brutal rape sounds like a quasi-feminist Death Wish riff, but only in outline. Since the opening rape sequence goes on and on, as heroine Camille Keaton is repeatedly brutalized and violated by a quartet of backwoods creeps (one of them is developmentally disabled--for comedy relief purposes), and Keaton is nude for so much of this, one begins to suspect Zarchi intended this sequence for our enjoyment.

Which, let's face it, he did. Zarchi's film was clearly made to play in big city grindhouses (its distributor was the notoriously slimy Jerry Gross Organization), and he intended to give audiences what they wanted. He wasn't, shall we say, appealing to all that is fine and noble in mankind--he was pitching this to an audience full of sleazeballs, eager to cheer on every depravity, to enjoy watching the hot naked chick fondled by their on-screen surrogates, to vicariously live out their revenge on every woman who ever said no them.

I know this firsthand, because I saw I Spit On Your Grave in the depths of pre-Giuliani Times Square, where it still played as late as 1981, with an audience primed for it, loving it as the bitch got what was coming to her. They'd switch allegiances at the drop of a hat, because they also seemed to enjoy the later revenge scenes, but I'll never forget the guy behind me laughing during the rape scene, muttering, "I want a piece of that."

I'm not, Lord knows, defending any of this, but whatever else Zarchi's film was, it was more than just a movie. It was a kind of interactive event, the crude images on screen enhanced by the base audience response they were designed to elicit. That sort of thing is impossible now, because nobody goes to the movies in the same way. Grindhouses are a thing of the past, and whatever drive-ins still exist show only the usual Hollywood fare. When I saw I Spit On Your Grave in '81 it was part of a double bill with a Sonny Chiba kung-fu epic, and the two movies played in an endless loop, with no down time between them. Audience members came and went whenever they pleased, staying as long as they wanted, since the theaters would be open all night. No commercials, no trailers for bland new Hollywood product, just endless on-screen nastiness, playing to an audience full of society's dregs, gathered together because there was no place else to go.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


This 1975 redneck classic is one of the movies I thought of while sitting through that endless CGI-enhanced chase scene in the latest Indiana Jones epic.

There's so much to love about this movie--well-delineated characters, a surprisingly complex script, an ace supporting cast (Slim Pickens, L.Q. Jones, Dick Miller, R.G. Armstrong)--and, of course, the fact that the hero is named Carroll Jo Hummer!

But mostly, what impresses most about White Line Fever is Jonathan Kaplan's economical direction. Kaplan's style is resolutely non-flashy--his set-ups and cutting never call attention to themselves, but he gets the job done with maximum impact. Modesty has become a sin in the big-dick world of the contemporary action movie, with gargantuan set pieces and inflated running times being the order of the day. But Kaplan conjures more white-knuckle excitement, more fun, into ninety minutes than you'll see in any mammoth blockbuster.

Oh, and needless to say, no CGI.


Well, Barack Obama has officially won all the delegates he needs to be the Democratic nominee, so he can get on with the task of running a campaign against John McCain and--

She's doing what?

An excerpt from what should have been, in any rational world, Hillary Clinton's concession speech: "Who will be ready to take back the White House and take charge as commander-in-chief and lead our country to better tomorrows?...Nearly eighteen million of you cast votes for our campaign, carrying the popular vote with more votes than any primary candidate in history."

Ah, crap, no. She's not...Is she?

"I hope that you'll go to my website and share your thoughts and help me in any way that you can."

Yeah. She is. Even though Obama won the nomination fair and square, she's still pretending he's somehow not legit, that voters in Florida and Michigan were somehow disenfranchised, although disallowing their votes were part of the rules Clinton agreed to before her campaign ran into trouble. When she needs them, they're her friends. Any other time, she wouldn't give a rat's ass about them.

That's Clinton in a nutshell. It's all about power, getting what she wants by any means necessary. Take her vote authorizing Bush's invasion of Iraq. At the time, the country was pro-Bush, pro-war, and it would have been political suicide to vote against it. When the political tide turned, and the war became unpopular, Clinton claimed she was somehow duped, and if she had it to do over again, she'd vote against it, she's solidly anti-war. But as recently as 2005, she was making the Cheney-esque claim that the insurgency was in its last days and victory was at hand.

It's easy to take both sides when you have no moral center. She'll lie with all the subtlety and finesse of a four-year-old, and when caught, she or her boorish enabler of a husband will throw a hissy fit, claiming sexism while throwing the blame at Obama, as if it's his fault she's lying. And like a four-year-old, she wants, needs, to be the center of attention. If her party's leaders quietly suggest it's time to move on, she'll threaten to pitch another fit all the way until November. She'll drag the party down and guarantee a Republican victory, as long as it prolongs her time in the spotlight.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


For about an hour, I had an incredibly maudlin poor-pitiful-me post up here. It's deleted now, because, frankly, it was just...not good. If anybody saw it, just pretend it never happened, a figment of your imagination, there and gone.

But we're still feeling sentimental around here, and intend to indulge it. This is a song I used to view with utter indifference, until I noticed my mom cried every time she heard it. Now, of course, it makes me cry. Go figure.

Monday, June 02, 2008


The top-placed story at the Arts section of today's New York Times is a review of the new Journey album, and they like it. This is Journey 2.o, with that anonymous new guy singing, the guy who supposedly sounds just like Steve Perry, and the fact that I even know who Steve Perry is (or was; do we have any proof he still walks this mortal plain?), and can almost differentiate him from REO Speedwagon's Kevin Cronin, makes me sad. The fact that I know who Kevin Cronin is makes me near suicidal. (For what it's worth, I originally titled this whiny screed Can't Fight This Feeling, until I suddenly realized--or Wikipedia enlightened me--that was actually an REO song. The really sad, near suicidal part of all this is, though Journey and REO blend together in my mind, I can easily distinguish them from Styx.)

I was going to post a clip of Journey's eighties cheesefest Separate Ways, a perfectly stupid song that made for one of the dumbest music videos in music history, but the gremlins at Sony Music have stepped in and disabled embedding for every posting of that song at YouTube, and there were plenty of postings. So you'll just have to imagine the worst thing you've ever seen, accompanied by irritating keyboards and screechy vocals still won't be as bad as the reality of Separate Ways.

Anyway, the point is: Journey, new album, enthusiastic review--the apocalypse will be arriving right on schedule.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Every day when I leave for work, I know I'll have to set at least five minutes aside to say goodbye to the cats.

Monika's morning ritual is simple. She yowls incessantly as I stumble from bed, demanding fresh food, since the food set out last night is either a) gone or b) stale. (Dry cat food is what they're fed, so obviously it can't go stale. But she's been looking at the same bowl of food all night, and in her mind, it's gone stale. Cat logic.) She continues to hover around as I perform my morning rituals, hoping against hope that a can of tuna will be opened. When she figures out there are no special treats coming, she hops on the bed, sprawls out and goes back to sleep.

There are several designated sleeping places for Monika, but for whatever reason, only when she's on the bed does she stretch out, her body twisting into numerous tortured positions. Normally, when I'm ready to leave, she's on her back, legs at all different angles.

Which means I have to rub her tummy to wake her. She responds with a series of twitches, her body involuntarily twisting around my hand. She raises her head, looks around, yawns once or twice, stretches, then skrunches her eyes shut. There's half a minute right there, and then she really demands attention, head-butting my hand until I begin scratching her head, then moving her face about to guide my fingers to the perfect spot, eyes still shut, purring furiously, so darned adorable I can't do anything but give her the attention she demands.

Until I see Delmar, sad and alone, not getting the attention that used to be his alone.

The thing with Del is, he's always been easily confused. When he was a kitten, he'd hop off my lap (or be pushed off, since he bit and scratched even then) and scamper off, into another room--then get confused, wondering why I wasn't there. He'd yowl and yowl until I called him, and he'd run to the sound of my voice, curling up with me again, his purr almost as fierce as his teeth, which would inevitably start biting again. I'd endure the pain as long as I could, then plop him down on the floor again, and the whole routine would play out again in an endless loop.

Years later, Del remains as insecure as ever. Monika doesn't really care when I leave, unless I'm gone overnight and can't properly refresh her food dish. Del panics if I'm only off doing laundry or something; if I'm gone for two days or half an hour, it's all the same to him, and he's right there at the door when I return, grabbing my leg with his front paws, nibbling and scratching at my hand as I reach down to pick him up. He lets me hug him for a few seconds, then growls and hisses and demands to be set back down--but he never goes far from me, and as soon as I sit, he's on my lap.

So unlike sleeping Monika, Del is an active part of my morning time. He sits on my lap or at my feet, he follows wherever I go, he even drapes himself across the side of the tub as I bathe. He's always there, so when I get ready to leave, we've been keeping each other company all morning.

After petting Monika goodbye, I have to lavish more attention on poor Del, who bears no apparent ill will towards Monika, but seems unable to understand why I spend time with anyone but him. Naturally, while petting Del, Monika has wandered to the edge of the bed and is watching me, letting out a little meow to let me know she needs more petting. So I turn back to Monika, then back to Del, back and forth, spending a little less time with each until I finally head for the door.

But I always pause and give one final head skritch to Del, so the last thing he'll know of me is a sign of my affection. Monika is a wonderful cat in every way, but Del, poor Del, in all his neuroses has captured my heart as fully as any living thing ever could. No, more than that--with inexplicable rages beyond his control, his extreme vulnerability mixed with an unearned sense of entitlement, and a profound love he can't properly express, I've come to believe Delmar is my heart.