Sunday, September 27, 2009


She reaches to the floor, picking up her boots, pulling them on over her black-and blue striped tights, which, combined with her sky blue minidress and emo-girl haircut, suggest she is trying to look much younger than she is. Not that she's old--mid-thirties, maybe--but her age is too advanced to be parading around like this. "Good morning," she smiles. I have no idea who she is.

I actually slept well, I say.

"Then we both got what she wanted." She smiles again, mechanically, and says, "It's time."

Yeah, I say, even though I have no idea what she's talking about.

"I wish it didn't have to be this way. But..." Her voice trails off as she looks at her watch. A second ago she wasn't wearing a watch. She rises from the bed and heads into another room. I follow.

Turn out it's the bathroom. She sits on the toilet, removing the boots she just put on, pulling her dress off over her head. "I really do like you. I wish you weren't a patient. If the clinic knew I was here--"

Yeah, but how are they going to find out?

"Well, exactly. I can't wait until next week." She rises from the toilet and backs me out to the living room. She is very thin, almost skeletal. A skeleton with sweet, sweet breasts, which press against my chest as we share what I fear will be one last kiss. "Take care," she says, and walks back through the bathroom door.

Again, I follow. Only this is no longer the bathroom. I'm standing in the hallway outside of the apartment, all glass and sunlight, and she is nowhere in sight. Must be a nice apartment, whoever lives here. I turn, walk back through the door, and for one split second all is sweet oblivion, nothing but darkness and this familiar sound.


My eyes open.


Delmar sits at the foot of the bed, facing away from me, yowling his heart out, his stumpy tail furiously thumping the mattress. My eyes shift to the clock--4 AM. I have to be at work in three hours. This, regrettably, is not a dream.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


1) Ah, yes, the capriciously-chosen Larry King quote signifying another fresh-baked batch o' Random Thoughts. I've upgraded; instead of recycling Larry quotes from his old USA Today column, I'm using fragments from his Twitter page. Rest assured, the title of today's post makes no more sense in context. In fact, there is no context.

2) Since the Interweb tells me it's what Everyone's Talking About, I should probably make some mention of Mackenzie Phillips' claim that she had a ten-year sexual relationship with her dad. But really, what is there to say? Beyond ICK, I mean?

The thing is...well, there's two things, actually. The obvious one is, Is this even true? Not that it couldn't be--Phillips' dad was noted satyr and drug vacuum John Phillips, as morally reprehensible as any man could be (although kudos to his great score for The Man Who Fell To Earth!)--but, well, he's conveniently dead, nobody else can verify the claim and Phillips is most famous as a wackjob and publicity whore who has regularly used her image as a perpetually recovering junkie as an opportunity to score TV gigs she'd probably never receive otherwise. A look at her filmography reveals more guest appearances as herself (inevitably offering yet another hard-luck story designed to make us feel for her) on TV talk shows than as a character on dramatic TV. She's told us far too much about herself already, yet she's only bringing this up now? Sounds...suspicious.

But fine. Even if it's true, why does anybody need to know about it? She's the former co-star of One Day At A Time, for God's sake. Does anyone care? Yeah, she says she's trying to put a human face on the very real nightmare of incest, but there's such a creepy air of opportunism and desperation about everything she says and does that Phillips is actually only perpetrating the myth that incest survivors are damaged goods. Not to sound insensitive, and I'm sure she's had a plenty fucked-up life with or without her dad's sexual advances, but she really needs to just go away and deal with it in private.

3) Anyone remember that brief post-election period of optimism, when Obama seemed to be making all the right moves, including the announcement of his plan to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay? Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? Especially in light of his decision to use a half-assed law enacted by the Bushinistas to continue holding 50 prisoners at Gitmo without bothering to obtain congressional approval for doing so. True, Obama's people are putting some kind of touchy-feely bullshit trimmings on this, claiming that the detainees will be granted full habeas corpus hearings, blah blah blah, but it's still a blatant reversal of his stated intention, not the first and surely not the last. Possibly the most depressing, though.

4) Wow, I guess I had fewer Random Thoughts floating about my head than expected. Maybe the only reason I structured today's post in this particular fashion is because I simply didn't want to devote an entire piece to Mackenzie Phillips. That, and I was pissed about the whole Obama thing, and just wanted to mention it. But beyond that, I got nothing. Oh, except to note that this week's run of Mary Worth has been action-packed, and how often can you say that about Mary Worth?

5) And the cats, of course, because I always mention them when I write one of these. Monika's her usual self, but Delmar--I'm kinda worried about Del. He's taken to snuggling up with me when I sleep, and he curls up on my lap and purrs, and he's far less prone to violence or odd behavior than he used to be. He's acting...normal, almost. If you didn't know him, you'd think he was an ordinary cat.

Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Psychokitty?

Monday, September 21, 2009


I suppose one of the reasons I've stayed with the same insurance agent for many years is because anytime I have to deal with her one-on-one, it means a trip back to my old home town, which somehow turns into a different experience every time I return. This weekend involved a vehicular misadventure which prompted just such a trip, and I found myself lost in time, shuttling back and forth between past lives.

I took the back way to Perry, from through Waukee and Adel, a route I used to drive every day when I shuttled children from all over Dallas County to Head Start in Adel. There weren't that many kids on the route, and they weren't too talkative, so they were forced to just sit there and listen to whatever music I liked, Siamese Dream and Melon Collie-era Smashing Pumpkins, Automatic For The People-era REM, and lots and lots of Beck. None of that shows up in my personal playlist these days, but I could hear it all in my head as I drove down the hill along Highway 6, 1995 fading into early '96, a period where I could feel it in my bones, that finally my life was building to something, when anything seemed possible.

In a sense, that was true. The spring, summer and autumn of '96 were marked by my belated efforts at a libertine period, living life with an abandon I'd never known before, and early in '97, I met what I thought was the perfect woman, and embarked on a whole new life, far away from the places and people I'd always known.

But that life fell apart, and the only safe place to pick up the pieces seemed to be back in Perry, where, due to dire financial straits and a period of unemployment, I moved in with Mom, who had returned to the house I had briefly called my own in that wild period in the mid-nineties. It was many years down the road, but Mom hadn't changed the alterations I'd made to the house: The walls in the living room were still painted gray and the ceiling black, and the chalky white image of a sword-wielding skeleton continued to welcom you into the bathroom, where the walls remained adorned with favorite quotes from James Joyce and Hunter Thompson.

Lord knows why Mom hadn't had somebody paint over all that (though I believe she was particularly tickled by the Thompson quote, which I'd illustrated with a garish charcoal crayon scrawl of a nightmarish clown), but when I found myself back in the house in the late summer of 2002, all those signifiers of my previous life seemed to mock me, to remind me of the person I was, the person I'd never be again.

Life continued there for several months. I got a job, put away some money, made plans to escape. But unlike before, I couldn't quite imagine a future this time. The person who'd painted those walls was someone who pounded out endless streams of wordage, for payment or for his own amusement, while draining six packs of Rolling Rock as The Replacements blasted in the background. But he'd been replaced by a person who no longer felt the ability or desire to write, and who hardly even listened to music anymore. Joy was a thing of the past. Mom tried to keep my spirits up, but I was too old to be mothered, and after striking out in the world, this small town seemed like nowhere.

Perry had nothing to offer me at that point in my life, no comfort to give. Yet today as I drove away from the insurance office, I ate at the Chines buffet at the strip mall by the bypass, then drove through downtown and stopped at the library. And it was all exactly the same, but the feeling was different. For maybe the first time, I remembered that brief period with some measure of fondness. My situation then seemed so hopeless, all I could see, all I could feel was negativity. But now I remembered how good the food was at this particular restaurant, and as I walked through the library, I noticed the shelves still held a copy of Jamie Farr's autobiography Just Farr Fun, which I had checked out once as a joke, and wound up...well, not enjoying, but at least reading. (Skimming, actually.) It was a pleasant memory of a more pleasant time, or at least more pleasant than I'd ever allowed it to be.

I ended my trip by stopping into Alco, the discount store that opened with much fanfare back in '76, part of a regional chain that was once seen as a threat to Main Street businesses, much as Wal-Mart is viewed now. And at the time, Alco was something new for a small town, offering one-stop shopping for everything, toys and electronics and clothes and hardware. You couldn't find everything there, but you could find most of what you'd need for day-to-day living.

Alco today is much like it was then. The clothes they carry are still mostly from Wrangler and Haggar, the electronics are still manufactured by Emerson, and even the piped-in music hadn't changed: Peg, Steely Dan's inescapable radio hit from '77. That was the summer I started really listening to music, and began writing and drawing a comic strip solely for the amusement of my brother, and where, in this very store, I bought a paperback of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and LPs of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring and George Gershwin's Concerto In F, and of course, the novelization of Star Wars, and I was struck then as I am now by the fact that this place, so mundane and provincial, contained so many things which would point me to another, better world, which would take me away and, ultimately, bring me back home.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Just wanted to note the passing of one of my all-time favorite character actors, Henry Gibson, who lost a brief bout with cancer at the age of 73.

He shot to a weird kind of fame as a cast member of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, the popularity of which seems almost incomprehensible today. But Gibson had been around before that, of course--his movie debut came under the direction of Jerry Lewis in The Nutty Professor, and he had a hilarious part as a hipster Indian in the late-period Three Stooges epic The Outlaws Is Coming.

He was one of the few Laugh-In performers to have a career beyond that show, mostly courtesy of Robert Altman, who cast him as a sinister "wellness expert" (and probable Scientology rep, though that isn't explicitly stated) in The Long Goodbye, and gave him the role of a lifetime as Haven Hamilton, a powerful, ego-crazed country star who inadvertently rediscovers his humanity in Nashville. Right there Gibson gave outstanding performances in two of the greatest films ever made.

He found himself a working character actor, doing everything from sitcoms to cartoon voiceover work, and he could play sinister as well as sweet. He became a member of Joe Dante's repertory company--he was the best thing in The 'burbs and was hilarious in a Dante-directed episode of Eerie, Indiana--and will always be beloved as the head of the Illinois Nazis in John Landis' The Blues Brothers.

He was one of those people who could make any movie or TV show better just by being in it, and he will be sorely missed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


The headlines have all been pretty much the same: DIRTY DANCING STAR PATRICK SWAYZE DIES AT 57.

Honestly, I've never even seen Dirty Dancing, but even if I had, I'm still pretty sure I'd still think of Swayze first ande foremost as Dalton, his iconic character from Road House.

Ah, Road House. That movie has been ironically appreciated by hipsters everywhere ever since its release in 1989, celebrated for its goofy dialogue and outrageous characterizations. But as so many internet chat boards this morning seem to reveal, maybe the joke was on us the whole time, or better yet, maybe our appreciation was never wholly ironic.

Maybe the endlessly quotable, easily mocked dialogue in Road House ("Do you always carry your medical records around with you?" "Saves time.") amounts to its own deconstructive text, even as the philosophical beliefs ("Man's search for faith, that sort of shit") of our mullet-sporting, tai chi-practicing hero are entirely sincere. And after all, as an action movie, it's extraordinarily well-made. And Swayze...dammit, Swayze is great.

In fact, Road House wouldn't be the action movie of choice for Gen Xers everywhere were it not for Swayze's perfectly-judged performance. He's nicely self-aware but perfectly serious, even sincere, and he single-handedly keeps the whole thing from tipping over into parody. No matter how silly the situation, Swayze utters every line as if he means it, and we believe him. Dalton's a man of action anyone would want on their side.

Just as Swayze himself would ultimately become one of the few celebrities anyone could admire. He stayed married to the same woman for decades, a rare feat for a movie star, and he never let fame go to his head. He took his life and his work seriously, and by all accounts was a great guy.

And then, of course, there was his well-documented battle with pancreatic cancer, during which he became--corny as it may sound--a real-life hero. Told he had less than five months to live, he handily outlasted his grim prognosis, determined to fight a battle he ultimately couldn't win, all to enjoy the beauty of one more day, one more sunrise, one more moment on earth.

Dalton himself couldn't have done any better. Pain don't hurt, indeed.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Whatever else I may have been planning on writing about is significantly less important than this breaking news: Roger Corman is getting an Academy Award!

True, it's one of those lame-career achievement Oscars, and presumably mostly in recognition of all the people (Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, Peter Bogdanovich) who toiled in Corman's exploitation factory early in their careers, but I'd like to think the Academy is finally coming around to appreciating real movies. Which would you rather see? Some lame thing with Gwyneth Paltrow in a corset, or this?

The choice seems clear.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


3 AM, and maybe I can get another half hour of sleep, a half hour of quiet and calm--

WUMP! patpatpatpatpatpat SKRETCH SKRETCH SKRETCH patpatpatpat


patpatpatpatpat CRASH!

Monika again, the pitter-patter of her feet echoing loudly in this small apartment, and punctuated by sounds of God knows what. She's taken to leaping about wildly, getting into everything then moving quickly on, and generally acting like an inquisitive kitten.

But according to the cat age to human age conversion chart, her equivalent age would be eighty. How many eighty-year-olds go running and leaping like this? Mall-walking, sure, but Monika is jumping on everything in sight, caroming off the walls like Donald O'Connor. It's kind of cute--hell, it's adorable--but it's also incredibly irritating, because she leaves an inevitable path of destruction in her wake.

Also, she's very loud. And she insists on doing this now, when I'm trying to sleep.

And what can I do to stop her? Pick her up and hold her? She'll squirm out of my arms. Throw her in her carrier? She'll yowl furiously and tip the thing over. Shut her in another room? She'll scratch at the door.

So I get up and go about my morning business, a bit earlier than I'd like to. She continues to leap and cavort. I fill her water dish, and she sticks her front paws in and splashes the floor. I change the litter box, and she hops into it and starts literally punching the litter.

Finally, I sit down, figuring I might as well relax and watch her play. Naturally, she picks that moment to hop up on the bed and go to sleep. Was this all some elaborate plan to get me out of the bed, just so she could have the whole thing to herself?

Knowing Monika, I'd have to say yes.

Monday, September 07, 2009


As recently as ten years ago, Jerry Lewis' labor day telethon extravaganza still had some sort of cultural relevance. Sort of. The local stations carrying it--The Love Network--were network affiliates, willingly bumping ad dollars in prime time, giving themselves over to Jerry through the night and all the next day.

True, it was a far cry from the glory days of the sixties and seventies, when top singers and comedians would stop by and entertain live, and big-name stars would join Lewis on stage. Still, you'd get to see imported performers from lesser Broadway shows and second-tier musical acts like Ringo Starr's All Star Band, and co-hosting duties were handed to the likes of Ed McMahon, Tony Orlando and Norm Crosby, who admittedly failed to amuse or enlighten on any level, but at least they were there, familiar TV faces you had seen in the past, providing some level of comfort by their very presence. More importantly, the whole furshlugginer ball of wax still showcased the awesome spectacle of Lewis himself, cranky as ever, lurking about the stage like an aneurysm waiting to happen, self-righteously lambasting any critics who failed to appreciate his work, routinely chastising anonymous assistants who failed to cater to his whims with all due speed.

Things had already gotten pretty dire in the past decade--for one thing, few network affiliates bother carrying it anymore, and those that do seldom run the whole thing--but the program this year was absolutely painful to behold. Third-rate Vegas magicians were introduced with embarrassing superlatives, and much of the show was given over to sub-America's Got Talent singers and dance troupes, many of which the co-hosts couldn't even bother introducing by name.

Ah yes, our co-hosts, Jann Carl and Nancy O'Dell, perky blond "correspondents" from rival TV infotainment programs, here united by both their fealty to Lewis--expressed over and over and over again--and their utter vapidity. This was it? This was the best they could get? Sure, Ed McMahon is shilling Budweiser in Heaven, but what about Tony Orlando? Did he really have better things to do?

Saddest of all was our host, a shambling, pathetic old man, rambling incoherently, blinking incessantly. Jerry Lewis was once one of the most famous men in the world, and dammit, he really was a great comedian and a brilliant filmmaker. But he was also always an arrogant prick, and this year his telethon seemed to represent some sort of ironic come-uppance: All his friends have either died or deserted him, and he had nothing to fall back on but his increasingly frail comic gifts, and they simply weren't enough. In that sense, his final, ritualistic performance of You'll Never Walk Alone took on an unexpected poignance: Lewis seemed to be singing to himself.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


I'm not too proud to admit I just spent way too much time searching for clips from some of Mitzi Gaynor's variety shows from the seventies, ostensibly to use as illustration for another of my ongoing explorations of how weird, inexplicable things from my childhood take on other forms in adulthood.

Such an urge may have been inspired in part by a trip back to my hometown yesterday, a place I've managed to avoid for probably a year or so. Whenever I do this, I'm always visited by ghosts from my past, apparitions I'd prefer to avoid, thank you very much. And more often, I find myself struck by how nothing is quite as I remember it, how memories distort reality, how everything is subjective, how nothing is objectively true.

Which, you know, is kind of a bummer.

And while Heaven knows I'm more than willing to write about incredibly depressing things around here, hey, it's a holiday weekend (even though I have to leave for work in forty minutes or so) and, really, who wants to spend it brooding? It's been awhile since I indulged myself with a good old-fashioned clip job--and by "awhile" I mean since my last post--so let's enjoy, shall we?

Here are The Replacements with Kiss Me On The Bus. Sure, Paul Westerberg will never be this great again, but the good news is, since he's found some measure of sobriety, he's less likely to go out in public with hair like this.

Beastie Boys with Hey Ladies.

Bernard Herrmann's magnificent title music from Hitchcock's underrated Marnie.

And a strong contender for Favorite Song Ever, Marvin Gaye's scarily intense Trouble Man.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Ah, it's been awhile, hasn't it? I had a day off last week, and usually on days off I can devote time to writing, but eh, I was busy. And today's a day off as well, and I'm not particularly busy, but I've got a lot on my mind and...well, posting isn't exactly a priority these days.

Not that I haven't had things I wanted to discuss. In particular, I wanted to explore my sneering reaction to Teddy Kennedy's death to how I felt upon hearing of the death of songwriter Ellie Greenwich. She was best known for the teenage symphonies she and Jeff Barry wrote for in the early sixties, particularly The Ronettes' Be My Baby, which has to rank pretty high in the annals of Greatest Things Ever. And not to downplay Greenwich's contribution (she wrote the music, Barry the lyrics, and God knows the music is appropriately dreamy), but what makes the record isn't the song, or Ronnie Spector's haunted vocals, or the brilliant arrangement by Jack Nitzsche or the awesome drums of Hal Blaine--it's all these things together, as they were so awesomely assembled in the studio by genius producerPhil Spector.

And Spector was a genius, no doubt--if his Wall Of Sound masterpieces didn't prove it, the stark, intimate sound of Plastic Ono Band confirmed it. But he was also notoriously psychotic, abusive and, finally, murderous. And yet...everything horrible about him doesn't make his work any less great. Why, then, can I forgive him, and not Kennedy? Is it simply because we kind of expect artists to be terrible people, but politicians, being in charge of our lives, should be held to a higher standard?

An interesting point to ponder, but hey, I'm not gonna take the time to explore it in depth here. In fact, things may be more sparse around here than usual, since major changes are underway. (In my life, that is. Not at this site. Hell, I haven't even changed the format in all this time.) Well, "major" may be too grand a way to state it--it's not like I'm getting married or anything--but it's something that will keep me occupied for the next month or so.

Appy polly loggies, then, for such an uneventful post, but hey, I'll try to provide some entertainment. Here's the hilariously deadpan video for Gleaming Spires' Are You Ready For The Sex Girls, which should have been a smash but somehow wasn't. The Spires were an offshoot of the early eighties incarnation of Sparks, and anything affiliated, however tangentially, with Sparks is automatically aces in my book. A great song, plus pie and coffee...what more could anyone ask for?