Thursday, February 24, 2011


Standing with the other suckers roped into jury duty for twenty minutes or so, waiting for the court house to open.  When the doors are finally unlocked, we shuffle obediently through the metal detectors, find the restrooms, make note of all the vending machines and finally make our way to Room 303.

"We'll validate your tickets when you're dismissed for the day.  Please take a badge and have a seat," says the pleasantly efficient blond in the surprisingly low-cut silver top.  She'll say it a hundred times or more as the jury room continues to fill.  It is now a quarter to eight, and the wait begins.

And how lucky for me.  Though most people in the packed room sit quietly, reading or messing with their phones, I'm sitting in front of two right-wing nutjobs.  They don't seem to know each other, but they feel amazingly comfortable sharing their noxious world views with each other.

It starts out with one of them going on about the "cowardly" Democrats in Wisconsin, which leads nicely into some anti-union bullshit, and then it goes downhill from there.  By the time one of them is waxing nostalgic for the eighties--"We had a good president, and kids could fight.  None of this fucking stuff about bullying.  Who is some committee to decide what a bully is, anyway?"--I start to loathe the criminal justice system.  Imagine having your guilt or innocence decided by these goofballs.

Fortunately, the Donald Westlake/Richard Stark book I brought along provides excellent distraction--damn, that guy could write!--at least until the person in charge appears at the front of the room and instructs the right side of the room to follow her for orientation.  Unfortunately, I'm on the left side, which means I get to listen to more pearls of wisdom from the cornfed Glenn Becks behind me.  It's not even eight-thirty.  Shit.

I'm already up to page 50 in my book when the person in charge--who tells us her name, and it confirms that she is not in fact the woman I once had a mild crush on many, many years ago--reappears and leads us down the hall to a surprisingly disheveled courtroom, with boxes piled in one corner and a rack of folding chairs against a wall.  She rolls out a vintage Zenith, pops in a VHS tape and our orientation begins.

As befits a tutorial presented in an obsolete format, the video walks us in the most dated way imaginable through the essential stuff we need to know about being a juror.  One of the most important things it stresses is to avoid reading newspapers or watching TV.  Uh, right.  This tape is being played to a room full of people with cellphones and iPads, who can easily find out anything they need to know in seconds, and we're being told that we can have loved ones cut out any relevant stories from newspapers before we read them.  I know that Polk County has had to make some pretty severe budget cuts, but would it be too much to ask that our orientation material be produced in this century?

The tape ends, and we're addressed by a judge, who reiterates half of what we've already heard, then apologizes for the age of the video.  The idea of skipping the video altogether and merely having the judge address us from the get-go apparently never occurred to anybody.  After all, that would speed up the process, and God knows we wouldn't want that.

Back to the jury room, where names are called for potential jurors for specific trials.  I'm one of thirty potential jurors for a trial being overseen by Judge Rosenberg, whose name is mentioned half a dozen times, as in "Judge Rosenberg jurors, please line up in the hallway," or "Judge Rosenberg jurors, please wait to the left of the jury room," or "Judge Rosenberg jurors, please wait."

So we wait in the hallway.  And wait.  And wait.  Conversations start, then peter out from lack of interest.  People lean against walls or marble columns, walk around briefly, the lean some more.  All thirty of us watch, mesmerized, as an elderly gentleman polishes the balustrade, and shortly after wondering whether "polishing the balustrade" works better as a euphemism for oral sex or masturbation I realize it has been years since I've been quite this bored.

What was supposed to be a fifteen minute wait stretches to an hour.  It's obvious that the case we were to hear is being settled, but nobody keeps us informed.  Finally some functionary who is different from all the other functionaries we've seen this morning gathers all the Judge Rosenberg jurors together and tells us the obvious: The case is settled. "However," she adds, "this does not mean you are being released from service.  There is one other trial scheduled, and we may yet need alternates for the two other trials getting underway"--and here she checks her watch in an absurdly theatrical manner--"shortly, so please return to the jury room and wait."

Which we do, for another hour or so, until another yet another functionary appears, telling us to go home.  I wait for the line to thin out before having my parking ticket validated by the blond in the surprisingly low-cut top, which is now covered by a white shirt buttoned to the neck.

Someone must have said something.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Suddenly, it's five years.

I'm forty-five.  Five years is a long time, a considerable chunk of my life.  And yet five years is how long I have lived in this world without Mom.

LiFe without her comforting words, her wise counsel, her fiercely-held opinions?  It once seemed unbearable.  And how I would miss her sense of humor--she could make me laugh anytime I talked to her.  She was--and I hesitate to use the term, but there's really no better description--a life force: everyone who came into contact with her was better for knowing her.  She was the center of my life, my world, my universe.  Life without her would be no life at all.

Still, here we are.  Life has gone on, and I might make note of the fact that the first sentence of this paragraph was a lift from the Bob Seger song We've Got Tonight, which has nothing to do with what I'm writing about.  In fact, I hate Bob Seger, and I particularly hate that song, and maybe it only popped into my head because I'm trying to think of something, anything, to distract me from the subject at hand, because I don't want to start grieving all over again.

Or maybe it popped into my head because I'm frankly kind of bored.  I don't want to be writing another tribute to Mom.  What else is there to say?  This site came into being as a way of dealing with my grief, but it quickly became something else, because after all, how long could the grieving process last?  I still remember so many little details, and still do all I can to honor Mom's memory, but the simple fact is, that memory doesn't mean as much to me now as it once did.  It just doesn't.  It can't.  If it did, I'd live under it every single day, unable to move forward.

It is, after all, the nature of all things to move forward.  And so I have--I rarely think of Mom anymore.  Life goes on, things in their season, and all that.  Letting go is a natural and inevitable part of the process.

Still, something stings my eyes.  Couldn't be tears, though.  Not after five years.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


More passings of people I'd always hoped would be around forever.

Betty Garrett, for instance, has died at 91.  She was a mainstay of MGM musicals in the late forties and fifties, but the famously conservative studio cut her loose when her husband, Larry Parks, was blacklisted for pro-Communist sympathies.  (He named names, which made him a pariah of the right and the left.)  Garrett found work at other studios, she and Parks did a ton of summer stock, and she finally became a much-loved character actress.  I couldn't find my favorite moment Garrett had on film (her performance of It's Fate, baby, It's Fate from the otherwise undistinguished Take Me Out To The Ballgame) but this will do nicely, as she effortlessly takes charge of an amazing ensemble including Tommy Rall, Janet Leigh and Bob Fosse in a number from Richard Quine's wonderful 1955 musical My Sister Eileen.

Pancreatic cancer took the great character comedian Kenneth Mars at 75.  Like Garrett, he made anything better simply by being in it, whether it was an episode of Murder, She Wrote, the cult favorite Fernwood 2Nite, or, the roles that granted him immortality, Mel Brooks' The Producers and Young Frankenstein.  That last film, in particular, has a cast full of great comic performers, but Mars, in a relatively small role, steals it from them all.

Finally, heart failure finally took producer David Friedman, the distinguished impresario behind some of the finest films ever made.

That was, of course, Blood Feast, one of several movies Friedman produced for writer-director Herschell Gordon Lewis.  The almost-competent cinematography and dime store effects came courtesy of Lewis, but that patently insincere warning at the top of the trailer was pure Friedman, a master of selling the sizzle without the steak.  So many of his titles--Trader Hornee, The Erotic Adventures Of Zorro--sound entertaining, but most of the inventiveness was spent on the titles and ad campaigns.  Still, they generally at least delivered on their promise to show gorgeous naked babes, so there's that.  Friedman flourished during a more innocent time of exploitation cinema, though he later produced the notorious Ilsa, She-Wolf Of The S.S., from which he removed his name, as well as some hard-core porn.  But he always had a sense of humor about what he did, and never took himself seriously. 

And it was a sense of humor that united Friedman, Mars and Garrett.  The world is worse without them.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


It was called the music room, mostly because it was the only available space left in the whole school for the band and choir to rehearse.  No one was fooled, though.  The awful acoustics and overhead door on the north side marked it for what it originally was--a garage.

It was, therefore, the only sheltered area in the entire building that could temporarily house a pickup, and so that was where we gathered: seventh and eighth graders being allowed for the first time in school history to build a float for the homecoming parade.  This honor had previously only been bestowed on freshman and up, and the significance wasn't lost on us.  It meant we were practically in high school, which meant we were practically adults.

Normally we would have been outside working on this, but a furious rain pounded the ground, as it had the whole previous night, as it was scheduled to do all day.  If it continued, the parade and all related events scheduled for that afternoon would be canceled, but none of the twelve and thirteen-year-olds gathered inside the music room were thinking of that.

Most concentrated on the papier-mache figure taking shape on the back of the pickup, some sort of angry bird wearing a YJB Raiders helmet.  Others, less ambitious, hung on the periphery, happy just to have been granted a period full of extended goof-off time, free from the burdens of the classroom.  I was one of those, though I wasn't all that celebratory about my freedom.  I hated gatherings like this, feeling perpetually isolated from most of my classmates, so non-social it hurt.

Still, somehow I found myself leaning against the driver's side door of the pickup when Dale, one of my classmates, and Marty, a grade ahead, slid into the cab from the other side.  They motioned me inside, handed me the key--how had they gotten hold of it?--and Marty said, "We need some music."

I turned it to auxiliary.  Dale punched buttons on the radio until he came to KIOA, the local Top Forty station, the one station everyone listened to.  We suffered through some commercials and the top of the hour newscast, then, finally, music.

Well I was sixteen, sick of school
Didn't know what I wanted to do
I bought a guitar
I got the fever
That's rock & roll

I was twelve, and I already knew Shaun Cassidy was nothing but a TV pretty boy, that this song, this product, had nothing to do with real rock & roll.  But Dale and Marty were bopping their heads in time to the music, and damned if I didn't start pounding out the beat on the steering wheel.  By the chorus, we were all three singing along.

Come on everybody, get down and get with it
Come on everybody, get down and get with it
Come on everybody, get down--that's rock & roll

We kept swinging our bodies back and forth in time to the rhythm, and pantomimed playing along to the cheesy sax solo.  For three minutes, we freed ourselves to wild abandon.

That song ended, some Neil Diamond crap came on, we emerged from the pickup.  Dale and Marty went off to do something else, and since I wasn't explicitly invited to join them, I crept back to the periphery.  I had briefly glimpsed something new and different, a kinship with people I barely even knew, but now I stood in the corner by the big windows, watching the rain, falling, falling.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


A friend was moving, she couldn't take all of her pets with her, so please welcome to the stage another player--new kitty Staley.  I don't really need another critter around here, what with the cat and the dog I already have, and Janie's cat, which will presumably be joining us shortly. 

But Staley is fuzzy and gray, and darned if she doesn't look a bit like much-beloved and still much-missed Monika and...and she's just insanely lovable, is what she is.  She's already shown she can hold her own against a leaping Beagle, and even though Delmar hates her, that's not too troubling, because of course Del hates everyone.  (Except me, of course.)  It's a little disconcerting to be reading in bed and suddenly have a fuzzy gray presence appear in my peripheral vision--for one brief moment, I think Monika's still around--but there's comfort in that presence, as well.

So again, welcome to Staley, but a sad farewell to Tura Satana, the iconic, magnetic star of one of Russ Meyer's greatest films, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!  Unfortunately for Satana--her real name, incidentally, which is one of the many awesome things about her--that film was released in 1965, a time when nobody in the filmmaking establishment was paying any attention to the disreputable likes of Russ Meyer, so her amazing performance, which should have led to a long, well-earned career, pretty much led nowhere.

She wasn't a great actress, but she was an astonishing presence--would it be too much to compare her to Cyd Charisse?--and she certainly deserved better than the Al Adamson crapfests she wound up doing.  Later in life, as appreciation for Faster, Pussycat! became more common, she became famous for simply being, adored by fans for one great role. 

And while it would have been great if she'd done more, what she did was more than enough.