Saturday, July 30, 2011


So Jerry Lewis was at some TV critic's confab or other, there to promote a cable TV documentary about his career, and, as usually happens when he makes a public appearance, he took the opportunity to reveal his essential Jerry Lewis-ness, his uncanny ability to deliver a few observations that are undeniably cogent and wise, but mixed with a noxious egotism and a profound inability to understand when too much is way more than enough.

He railed against reality TV: "The medium is busy knocking its brand out to display the fat lady at 375 pounds who in two months is gonna be 240.  Who gives a shit?"

He railed against the movie industry, technology and pretty much anything that popped into his mind: "The industry has destroyed themselves.  It's no longer relevant because it puts all its product on a stupid phone.  You're going to put Lawrence Of Arabia on that goddamned stupid sonofabitch?  [Social media] are wonderful technical advances, but once people see how much its cluttering up their life, they'll figure it out for themselves.  We're not going to have human beings in twenty years.  People won't be talking to other human beings."

All well and good, and pretty much dead-on (although, hey Jerry, why do you have to work blue?), but the problem is, who the hell is Jerry Fucking Lewis to complain about people not talking to other human beings?  This guy's whole life has been spent holding grudges against people who dared to contradict him, or told him something he didn't want to hear, or simply asked him a question.  (My favorite part of the DVD commentary tracks of Lewis' Paramount titles were his muttered passive-aggressive asides about journeyman cinematographer Wallace Kelley, who shot most of Lewis' films.  I gather Kelley once may have made the mistake of actually taking credit for a lighting effect or something, thus giving the impression that they weren't personally crafted by The Total Filmmaker himself.)

As happened, for instance, at this very same event, when someone asked him about his self-announced plans to retire after this year's Muscular Dystrophy telethon.  "Who told you that?  I never read it.  Anything you read, read it twice."

Lest you think Jerry was just being coy, making with the funny and the ha-ha, when another reporter asked him what his exact role would be on this year's telethon, he responded, "It is none of your business."

Geez, Jerry.  "I didn't mean to sound rude, but on September 5th, the day after that program, I will have an international press conference, and I will have plenty to say about what I think is important, and that is the future, not the past."

Now see, this is where this almost gets poignant, or would if it weren't kind of creepy, like a Krusty The Clown remake of Sunset Boulevard.  Here's Jerry Lewis at 85, faced with the prospect that his annual 24-hour telethon, once a beloved national institution, has been cut down to six hours, a sure sign that the world has moved on, but he can't quite deal with reality.  No, he'll hold an "international press conference" to clarify his role in this thing that nobody cares about.  Clearly, in Lewis' mind, the world still revolves around him.  He's still as big as ever, it's the telethon that got small.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Every Friday, I picked Sue up from her van pool.  We'd never go home; we'd go out to eat somewhere, usually someplace quick and cheap, a KFC or a Subway.  It might have been nice to go someplace better, to linger over fine food, to laugh and share our thoughts.

No time for that, though.  She saw her therapist on Friday evenings.  She liked to get there a little early, to sit in solitude and gather her thoughts.  Me, I had my own ritual: I'd keep driving up the Rockville Pike to the Borders bookstore in Germantown.

It was an unnecessary drive in a way, since we had a Borders in our own neighborhood.  The one in Germantown had a different vibe, though.  The cafe area dominated the entire front section, and on weekends it featured live acoustic music.  I'd linger in the magazine section--every Borders seemed to stock a different lineup of magazines--listening, reading, relaxing.  It was, in a way, my own form of therapy: with that weekly ritual, I purged whatever demons I may have been wrestling at the time.  I began to relax, to be still.

During those waning months of my marriage, I had any number of Borders stores I haunted with some frequency.  The one in Northern D.C. had the best selection of DVDs and graphic novels, the one at White Sands had the most eclectic lineup of fiction and media studies.  Still, I wondered, why so many stores?  Why not have one huge location combining all the best features of every store?

Indeed, the seemingly insatiable need for expansion, to place an outlet in every conceivable market, was one of the factors cited in the decision of Borders' corporate overlords to shutter the entire chain.  There were other reasons--the tanking economy, the rise of e-books--but expansion overkill was almost certainly the last straw.

For consumers, however, the signs of the end had come in the form of the chain's reaction to slowing sales of recorded music and movies: the once substantial (if overpriced) music and movie sections were reduced by half or more, if not eliminated entirely, and replaced by a bizarre assortment of pop-culture gewgaws.  The Borders here in the Des Moines suburbs carried so many Nightmare Before Christmas-themed figurines and board games, it felt more like Hot Topic, albeit a brightly-lit Hot Topic that sold a metric ton of Tom Clancy novels.

That particular location closed a few months ago, and though I had spent many, many happy hours there over the years, in the end, I wasn't sorry to see it go.  It had turned into nothing more than a delivery system for the latest best-sellers, and the author most likely to stop by for a book signing was Sarah Palin.  It was no longer a place for me, or anyone who cares about books, and it never would be again.

Friday, July 15, 2011


I sit on top of the passenger car, surveying the nocturnal landscape.  The outskirts of a small town--a meatpacking plant, a filling station, a river snaking through the night.  Just as I'm figuring out my surroundings, I hear noise at the end of the train.

I climb down.  A family--an old woman, two distracted adults and several small children--of indeterminate ethnicity insists that I participate in their ritual. Glowing rings appear in their hands, are tossed in the air, and all family members catch them, expertly.  One ring is flipped to me.  I catch it, barely, but it tries to pull from my hand.  I let it go, and it flutters briefly, then clatters to the ground.  Only now it is no longer a ring, its hollow center is full, like a bottle cap.  All other rings, their centers also full, fall to the earth, their magical glow extinguished.

The old woman regards me with great sadness.  "Death," she says.  "Death will follow you."

"Follow me where?" I ask, climbing without much enthusiasm into one of the elegantly-appointed cars of the train.

"Everywhere."  She pulls the door shut.

Cats and dogs, some remembered, some unknown, crawl through the car.  I ignore them, drawn to the rickety steps with the railing around them, illuminated by a single bulb.  A shelf runs along one side of the stairs, filled with old board games--Clue and Monopoly, sure, but also Dark Shadows and Mr. Ree! and Planet Of The Apes.  That last one was mine, of course, and I want to stop and linger over it, but I continue down the stairs.  There should be a little dresser at the bottom, with the bathroom on the other side, and the familiar clutter of the dining room all around--this is the house I grew up in right?  Something long dead and all that?

But no.  I get to the bottom of the stairs and it's just another car in the train.  The club car, and really?  This is the death following me?  Skeletons and cheesy-looking zombies dressed in old-timey suits?  This is supposed to represent what?

I slide open the door of the club car and continue on to the front of the train--or possibly the back, since I have no idea which direction I'm going.  There's a car full of brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, and kind of like the cats and dogs, some are more familiar than others, but I focus on a screened-in area beside this car, filled with diffuse, unearthly sunlight.  I enter, making awkward conversation with more people I barely know.

But I recognize them.  They're musicians who worked briefly with my ex-wife.  Some of them are perfectly cordial, some are pissy and bitter, holding inexplicable grudges against me.  One is particularly vocal, and I cut him off by saying, "Hey, I just wanted her to make a halfway decent album, and you couldn't deliver."

"Yeah," he says, "but what about what she wanted?"

Death.  Yeah, I get it.  My marriage.  Ha.  Very symbolic, like that stupid MASH episode where we see everyone's dreams.  Next thing you know I'll be floating in a river of severed limbs, just like Hawkeye, and please, God, can I never think of that again, or any episode of MASH from the BJ-with-a-moustache era?

The train stops.

Or simply ceases to exist, since I don't actually disembark.  I stand at some sort of crossroad--ooh! symbolism!--deciding which way to go.  The landscape looks vaguely familiar--kind of like the bottom of Cemetery Hill, but not really--so I just pick a direction at random and start walking.

Soon enough, I'm joined by Paul, who greets me with his usual, "Hey."

"Hey.  How was the new Harry Potter?" I ask.

"Do you want me to tell you?  I'll be seeing it again with you..."

"Yeah, I know, and that's why I'm thinking this whole 'death will follow you' thing just isn't making much sense.  I mean, yeah, I dated your Mom, and that didn't work out, so sure, another failed relationship, another 'death'"--I make sure to deploy ironic air quotes--"but you and I still hang out."

"Yeah, we're hanging out right now."

I stop walking.  "But you're not actually here."

And indeed he's not.  The road has stopped at a large white house, with a neatly-trimmed lawn and a river running beside it.  People sit on the steps, people I should know, dressed like cast members from The Waltons in their Sunday-go-to-meetin'-time clothes.  They're portrayed by ex-cast members of Mystery Science Theater 3000 because why the hell not, but they're passing around old photos and mementos and things I should know.  They're talking about Mom, but they're getting the details wrong.

"You can't know," I say.  "You weren't there.  I wasn't there, either, I wasn't there, even though she asked me.  She wanted me to come up that Monday night, to crash at her place before I took her to the doctor the next day, but I begged off because I was tired, and so she fell and when I got there Tuesday she had that horrible bruise on her head and she was hallucinating and...Maybe if I'd been there, maybe if I'd been there..."

My tear-filled eyes make the sun-dappled water in the river shimmer more than usual, then it twinkles, and I realize there is no river, it's just an elaborate video display, and the image changes to a wall of ads for nineties hip-hop albums.  There are shelves all around, books and DVDs and old LPs.  Mom sits beside me in a plush leather chair.

"I'm afraid I could spend some money here," I say.

"Do you have money to spend?" Mom asks.

"Some, yeah."

She smiles.  "If you see something you want, you should get it.  If you wait, it may not be there when you come back."  Her words hang in the air, fading.  I realize I'm coming back into the waking world.

There's a cat on my pillow and a cat at the foot of the bed.  Janie is in my arms.  I pull her a little closer as she sleeps, feeling her breathing.  The fan gently blows the cord of the window blinds, and I listen as it bounces against the wall, clack, clack, clack.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Wow. It seems as if new posts here, already decreasing in frequency, are becoming as rare as Bigfoot sightings. I haven't died, and I haven't officially decided to vacate this space.

I just...don't have much of an urge to write anymore. This could very well pass, but it could take some time, and whatever readership I may have actually built up here (Ha!) will likely grow bored and move on. And who could blame them? There's nothing here to read!

But you're still here, aren't you, Theoretical Person Reading This? You decided to show up, and for your effort, you deserve some kind of entertainment. Since I'm not capable of providing that myself, here's a typically lurid TV spot from a late seventies slasher classic. They really don't make 'em like this anymore.

Friday, July 01, 2011


Flipping the channels yesterday, I unexpectedly came across an episode of this.

I hadn't thought of this show for...geez, decades, I suppose.  It ran for a season and a half back in the mid-seventies, and it never really lived on in syndication.  Like most TV, it was there briefly, then gone forever.

But seeing it again, with that montage-heavy opening, so typical of its era, and Merle Haggard's theme song, and Claude Akins' craggy face and Frank Converse's epic moustache, I was suddenly transported back in time, to a very specific and vivid memory.

I'm sitting on one end of the couch with comic books scattered on the floor around me, and my oldest brother Keith sits on the other end, a paperback in his hand, though he's watching more than reading.  Dad is in his recliner, his ever-present can of Grain Belt beside him, and Mom in her chair.  My brother John, sipping an iced tea in his rocking chair, watches as well, though perhaps ironically.  My sister Julie sits at the old school desk beside the couch, a textbook and paper in front of her.

The TV is tuned to Movin' On, of course, and it's still the old black-and-white Philco, not the Quasar color set we'd acquire by the time this show reached its second season, when we could see Akins' Kenworth rig in all its green glory.  Dad and Keith keep a running commentary going about that Kenworth, about how they show it doing things it simply wasn't capable of, and Keith uses the phrase "Hollywood jive" to describe the show more than once. 

Mom watches intermittently, looking up whenever Converse is onscreen, returning to her cozy British mystery novel whenever the focus shifts back to Akins. Julie is completely disengaged from the whole thing, scribbling furiously at her homework.

Me, I'm just sort of there, zoning in and out, happy just to have a moment with so many of us together.  My brother Mike is already married, my sister Ann off to college, but here the rest of us sit, gathered around the cathode-ray fireplace, everything else in the world miles away, and I am content.