Friday, January 21, 2022

Or Whatever That Award Is Called These Days

First dream on the new bed. 

I’m with my dad in Penn Station in New York, and we see a knife fight at the bottom of the escalators. Two guys, circling each other like they’re in the video to “Beat It.” Dad perceptively points out that there’s something phony about it; it’s a distraction so the cops won’t be looking at – and here he looks around for a moment, then points – “this door,” he says. We see an unguarded wooden door nearby, but there’s also a man standing at a podium, looking at the door and sketching something. I tell him hi, and explain to my dad that these distraction fights are why the Village Voice always stations a cartoonist right by the door, so someone can be watching it at all times. (The Voice editorial staff and the NYPD working hand-in-hand is how you know it’s a dream. Also, the vigilance of cartoonists.) 

I leave Dad upstairs and go down to a train platform. I lie down on a bench, and a train rolls right over me (the bench is low enough that I’m unharmed). Tucked away in the undercarriage of the train is Kimmie Schmidt, who’s excited because she’s just been nominated for an Oscar for Best Mechanical Work on Trains, or whatever that award is called these days. As the train rolls over and past me, she gives me a quick kiss; I’m the first person she told!

Then Kimmie and I join our colleague (doing what? I don’t know) at our desks on the train platform, and someone (maybe Kimmie? Probably Kimmie) goes from desk to desk leaving trays of sandwiches made with organ meat – liver, kidney, I’m not sure; she wasn’t specific. I’m curious about the sandwiches, but also aware that it’s not actually my desk, I’m just filling in for someone. But then I realize that you can’t just leave organ meat sandwiches out without refrigeration, so I dig in. It turns out the first one I eat is more like grilled squid, and it’s delicious. 

I head to the station’s food court to look for cans of squid and organ meat so I can make these at home. And then I wake up…tentatively. I’m a little nervous about getting out of bed. It’s three or four inches higher than our old bed, and I want the floor to be where I expect it to be when I step down. I’m not at all confident the floor wants the same thing. 

But anyway: New bed, new dreams! 


Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Caesar's Greetings

We got a number of stories out of our recent trip to New Orleans. Here’s one of  'em.

It was Halloween week in New Orleans, and it looked like everybody was going to be in costume. That was the price of participation in this huge celebration all over the city, and it was a fair one. I wasn’t ready.

Kathy had a great red dress with a sugar-skull design, and a matching mask. All I had was a shirt designed with the pattern of the Overlook Hotel, and some blue jeans. It’s a cool shirt, but it wasn’t enough. 

So we went to Mr. Binky’s, a costume shop a couple doors down from our hotel. And it had a TON of costumes: wizards, cops, princesses, devils, vampires, etc. And plenty of accessories: knives, wands, swords, boas, hats, hairpieces, vibrators, dildoes, buttplugs…

Oh, yeah. Mr. Binky’s is also an adult boutique. The costumes kind of take over the store this time of year, but a few racks of the sex toys were still there when we first stopped in. (The next day, they were gone, and the place was as family friendly as it was ever going to get. Which is to say, about 95%; don’t look too closely at the lotions behind the counter, kids.)

I had my eye on a Julius Caesar costume. (Actually, it might have said Augustus Caesar on the package, but why quibble?) There were two reasons for this. One: It was basically a robe, and there are fewer fitting issues with robes than other costumes. And I’m not an easy guy to fit. And even so, I had my doubts that this was going to fit me. 

But looking around, I didn’t have many other options. I didn't want to be a cop. I didn't want to be a clown. And some of the costumes, well… ”racially insensitive” is the kindest way I can categorize them. (Even the wizard costume—a solid choice for me—was titled “Grand Wizard.” I’m sorry, but what? I just wanna be Gandalf, don’t make him sound like he’s in the Klan.)

Ultimately, I didn’t trust the sizing of the Caesar costume, and “all sales final,” as the sign says, so I went with a simple partial Sherlock Holmes costume – a shoulder wrap to suggest his cloak, and a deerstalker hat. I bought a pipe along with it. Kathy bought some costume jewelry to go with her dress, and we were set. 

We got in line and saw our friend Carrie, in the shop for some accessories for her costume. (One of many—Carrie does it up.) We chatted for a while, and she invited us to Bingo Night at the Black Penny, a bar on Rampart. Then she was rung up and left, and we checked out and went back to our hotel.

I looked at my Sherlock Holmes outfit right away, and it turns out it was missing the hat. So I went back, and despite the “all sales final” sign, they found me a kit with a Sherlock Holmes hat and a pipe and magnifying glass. I bought some makeup to go with it, in case I needed it for something. I wasn’t sure what, but I’d need a backup plan in case I couldn’t get the hat. 

OK, fast forward through a great night of music and food, and we decide to end our night at Black Penny Bingo. There are a few rounds left to go. And for the first round we play, the announcer holds up the prize: a Julius Caesar costume. And it has the magic word on it: PLUS. It’s gonna fit me! 

So I take my ticket, and bingo away… and somehow, I win! The costume is mine! Kathy wins the next one, an awesome white commedia dell'arte style mask, similar to a plague mask. So we’re both lucky, and after drinks with Carrie and her friends, both more than a little tipsy. And with the makeup I’ve already bought, I decide to be Great Caesar’s Ghost, a wink at my intrinsic comic nerddom. The Sherlock Holmes costume can stay in the suitcase, and maybe wait until I have a way to make the whole thing work. 

So we dress up—Kathy looks fabulous, and I’m trying my best—and we walk on over to a balcony party in the French Quarter. And once we’re on the street, before we’re a block away from the hotel, someone spots me and says, “Hail, Caesar.” And I, a college-educated person with a liberal arts degree, don’t know how to respond. So I raised my arm in benediction and said the first Caesar-like thing that popped into my head: 

“Pizza! Pizza!”


Monday, August 31, 2020

Weekend Movies

This weekend was a good weekend for movies.

Not that they were all good movies. But they all had something worth thinking about.

First up was Matt Cimber's psychological horror/slasher movie The Witch Who Came from the Sea. I’d bought this during the Arrow video sale, having never even heard of it before. Oof. A tough one to come into cold, but if I’d known what it was about, I’d probably have never seen it at all. (Trigger warning: child abuse.) Molly (played by the Diary of Anne Frank’s Millie Perkins, deliberately against type) is a waitress at a seaside bar and an aunt to two young boys – but she fantasizes about killing men, gruesomely. And soon we see that her fantasies have become reality… and she’s been blacking out. This all ties in to flashbacks of Molly being molested by her father, which her memory has blocked out; in the present, she adores him. (Her sister, the mom of her nephews, tries to remind her that he was a monster, but she’s having none of it.) It’s really off-putting, full of casual sexism and really uncomfortable flashbacks: midway through, Kathy had had enough, and we watched something else for a while. I finished watching it that night, and right about the midway point where we stopped, it starts to pivot… it gets more directed, and moves inexorably to a haunting, sad climax. There are a few things I liked about this movie – aside from the final scene, there’s a tattoo artist named Jack Dracula, who gives a fantastic, over-the-top performance as he works on Molly – but for the most part, I can’t recommend this one. If you watch it, watch it alone.

Saturday night was a palate-cleanser: the Netflix original Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. It’s a broad comedy starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as Lars and Sigrit as two aspiring Icelandic musicians, and is similar to other will Ferrell competition comedies. It’s a little sweeter, though – there are a lot of actual Eurovision contestants involved, and it treats them kindly. It’s a light and funny advertisement for the contest, where even the bad guys (well, aside from one murderer) are mostly just warm-hearted, misunderstood people. Two moments I really liked: at one point, Lars is being strangled by someone who doesn’t want him to win. As Lars struggles, he’s buoyed by the murder attempt: “You really think I have a chance?” he chokes out, excitedly. And then there’s a small moment, where Sigrit is entering the green room to await the scoring. She’s despondent from her performance, and the fight she just had with Ferrell. One of the other contestants lifts a phone to film her, and the Swedish contestant, actual Eurovision star John Lundvik, gently moves the phone down, giving her privacy. It’s just one shot, but it really moved me. It’s a small bit of kindness that exemplifies the gentle heart of the film.

And then last night, we saw the best of the bunch: How Sweet It Is, a 1968 romantic comedy starring Debbie Reynolds and James Garner. This movie ain’t perfect – its depiction of hippies and the counterculture is on the square side of far-out, and you can definitely expect a few French and Italian stereotypes along the way. But man, Debbie Reynolds is a comic powerhouse. She’s so damn funny, whether she’s eavesdropping on her husband (Garner) have a heart-to-heart with their son, nursing a wicked hangover, or trying not to be noticed in a bikini she put on in a fit of pique. Garner’s great too, but this is really Reynolds’s show.

Basically, the plot is, photographer Garner and son are following a student tour of Europe for a magazine assignment, while Reynolds has arranged a villa on the Riviera for them when the tour’s over. But the villa rental was a scam, and Reynolds instead shows up at the home of a handsome French attorney, known for his wolfish ways….who invites her to stay nonetheless. Passes get made, and rebuffed, but secretly appreciated. Comedy ensues. It’s not the most sophisticated comedy – it ends up in a crowded fight scene in an Italian brothel – but it’s a ton of fun. Plus, it’s produced by Garry Marshall, so there are cameos from Penny Marshall and an elementary-school-age Erin Moran.


Sunday, January 05, 2020

Going, Going...

Was watching Orson Welles's "F for Fake" tonight, and it's kind of a scattershot lark, dodging and weaving this way and that as it talks about a famous art forger, and the man who wrote his biography (even as he was perpetrating a hoax about the biography of Howard Hughes). It's twisty, and I'm not sure there's any benefit to following it too closely. But the film does have some sequences that are treasures, including one part, late in the film, where Welles films the cathedral at Chartres and starts musing about mortality, and the impermanence of even great works of art:
"Our works in stone, in paint, in print, are spared, some of them, for a few decades or a millennium or two, but everything must finally fall in war, or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash - the triumphs, the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. A fact of life: we're going to die. 'Be of good heart,' cry the dead artists out of the living past. 'Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing.' Maybe a man's name doesn't matter all that much."
Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing.


Friday, June 07, 2019

Into the Maelstrom, with the Night Tripper

So a few years ago, Dr. John's set on the Main Stage at Crawfish Fest was called off because of high winds and threatening rain. It sucked, but we couldn't blame anyone... the weather was clearly gonna get nasty, and cutting the set kept him -- and the audience -- safe.
But then, as the rest of the fest went on, we got word -- after the show officially ended, Dr. John was going to play in the pavilion, a quasi-indoors stage. The sides of the place were open, but there was a roof over the stage and the audience area, so we were good to go.
Well, Dr. John took the stage directly from his tour bus, parked behind it -- and all hell broke loose. The skies opened. There was thunder. There was lightning. And there were heavier torrents of rain than anything I'd ever been outdoors for. All pounding around us at all sides...
...except there in front of us was Dr. John, the Night Tripper, absolutely in his element. All around us, Nature was flexing its terrifying muscle. And amid that thunder and dread, Dr. John played a piano festooned with skulls and juju bags, laying down down-and-dirty, voodoo-infused funk. And when he sang "I Walk on Gilded Splinters," you couldn't help but shiver.
"Put gris-gris on your doorstep
And soon you be in the gutter
Melt your heart like butter
And I-I-I can make you stutter."
Eventually, the show ended. The Doctor took his bows, and headed back into his tour bus and into a nice, warm hotel. The rest of us ran back to our cars through the unrelenting rain, fueled up by a powerful hex and ready to drive through anything.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Small Revenge

Years ago, my pal Chris and I were in a Pizzeria Uno in Pennsylvania that was just god-awful. Bad food, bad service, unfriendly staff, etc. Just a hellhole of a place. Before we left, we went to the jukebox, and as a parting gift, set it to play "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" five times in a row. Just so they knew what something was like if it wasn't served cold.

Roll out the headless thompson gunner! We'll have a headless thompson gunner of fun!


Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Room with a Wild Party

The other day, in search of a movie completely out of my regular wheelhouse these days, I watched our DVR recording of the Merchant-Ivory film A Room with a View. Which makes great use of an amazing cast, some at the start of their careers, and some more experienced actors who've just gotten better and better in the decades since. But once I wrapped it up, I started scanning around for other M-I films I'd missed (which is most of them, most alarmingly The Remains of the Day).
But I'd noticed that one of their earliest films was an adaptation of Joseph Moncure March's poem The Wild Party -- a favorite of mine ever since Art Spiegelman reissued it with his illustrations in the 90s. Now, this is a loose adaptation -- the action has moved to Hollywood rather than NYC, and the old vaudevillian is now a Fatty Arbuckle-type fading silent-movie star (played by James Coco), trying to launch one last picture. And Queenie is Racquel Welch, and she doesn't really have any chemistry with anyone who's not named Racquel Welch. She's got a little with James Coco in the beginning, and barely any with her young lothario, played by Riptide's Perry King. It's just not a good movie. (From what I can tell, it didn't open in NY until an early Merchant-Ivory retrospective, some 6 years after its release.)
And yet as a mid-70s version of 1920s excess, it's kind of fascinating to behold. It could have used more -- a lot more -- of March's verse hanging the scenes together. I was really hoping to hear some of that out loud, especially since I'm not quite sure where my book is at the moment. But que sera, and all that. And at least I got to hear this song, a faux-20s paean to hedonism: "Ain't Nothin' Bad About Feeling Good."


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Maybe He Was Singing About Manimal

They must've heard we had moonshine. 
In my defense, I never thought the Duke Boys had gills.
But in the Dukes of Hazzard theme song, Waylon Jennings sings about the Good Ol' Boys "straight'nin' the curves...flatt'nin' the hills..." And for a not inconsiderable period of time, I mis-heard that line as "flapping their gills."
Picture 10-year-old me, wondering if "flapping their gills" was down-home country slang for "talking tough."


Monday, March 05, 2018

So Apparently This Blog is Going to an All-Poetry Parody Format

This is just to say
I have eaten
the leftover queso
that was in
the fridge
I microwaved it
And finished the jar
with tortilla chips.
My bad.
If it makes you
feel better
I burnt the
ever-loving shit out of my tongue.


Wednesday, February 07, 2018

With apologies to Poe

Oh, the rapping and the tapping
And the wet and ceaseless slapping
Of the rain as it relentlessly does fall!

How I need a long vacation
From the tintinnabulation
As it strikes the air conditioner down the hall!

And yet I edit these notations through it all.


Sunday, January 07, 2018

The Very Model

"I am the very model of a modern stable gen-i-us/
A presidential pussygrabber, Hail to the Obscen-i-est/
Who can’t help tweeting Rocket Man, whose button is the teeniest/
And other flimsy metaphors for measures of the peen-i-us"

CHORUS: His hands are tiny metaphors for measures of the peen-i-us!


Sunday, December 24, 2017

"They're putting up reindeer, and singing songs of joy and peace"

I discovered the musical equivalent of Die Hard being people's favorite Christmas movie: Joni Mitchell's "River" is one of my favorite songs to hear around the holidays. It's not a Christmas song; it's a song about sorrow over a breakup that happens at Christmas. But like Die Hard, its setting is clearly Christmas, and like Die Hard, it uses a Christmas tune in a minor key to set the mood (in this case, phrases from "Jingle Bells").
It's not a Christmas song, but it's such a large part of my holidays, and such a counterpoint to the prevailing sentiment, that it's easy to mistake it for one. And sung beautifully tonight, as always, at Glen Burtnik's Xmas concert in New Hope.


Friday, December 01, 2017

NaNo, and NaNo Some More

So National Novel Writing month did not result in my churning out 50,000 words of my novel, Oubliette 7. However, I did manage to put nearly 20,000 words on virtual paper before the wheels came off the cart -- a confluence of the good (sudden work from a few new clients) and bad (a cold that took me out of the running for a few days).
But in doing what work I did, I made significant progress on learning about: How the prison planet works; the aliens that populate the cell block I focus on; some galactic history, and how it can turn on at the whims of a booking agent for a Canadian morning news show; the underpinnings of one of the cases my detective is investigating; a number of other characters in the prison. 
I also questioned my decision to spell guardbot as one word; had it been two, I'd probably be another thousand words closer to my goal. 
Regardless, I know a lot more about this book than I did at the beginning of November, and have been writing notes to myself about new characters to introduce and directions to go.
One other thing: On Thanksgiving morning, I got an email from an editor I'd pitched the book to (sending him an overview and a first chapter) back in May. While he won't be publishing it, he called it "a strong SF/noir pitch with a great protagonist." So that's a little extra fuel to propel me to finish this sucker and get it out into the world.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Rififi Riff

So in my dream last night:
There was a trick, performed live on the Conan O'Brien show, where Penn & Teller for some reason had to change clothes in the back of a moving pickup truck, and when Teller took off his socks he wiggled his toes and said, "Sweet freedom!" on a live mic. Which was a big deal, because Teller doesn't talk onstage.
This was all part of an orchestrated uproar, for P&T and crew (of which I was a peripheral part) to steal $1.3 million from the Vatican. Which seems like money they don't really need, and is pretty much a rounding error for the Vatican, so I don't quite know what the point was.
Anyway, we were all celebrating at a casino afterward, and more and more people left, and suddenly more and more of the tab was being left to me. I'd told a couple people I'd pay for their drinks, but I started looking at what was left on the receipt, and their were lavish meals and acrobats and prostitutes to pay for. Which was not part of the bargain. (And not really part of my dream, aside from the accounting, either! Which is irritating.)
So as I'm starting to look around for someone else to pay this tab, since I'm not gonna get my expenses reimbursed by the company because I'm a freelancer, my phone rings, and it's my bank already calling me about suspect credit-card charges. (As it does about twice a year, but never *before* the fact!) And I realize...I don't have to deal with this. I'm dreaming, and this is paperwork. I have better things to dream about.
Never got back to the sex acrobats, though.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Rise Up

The Rise Up Chorus concert of thanksgiving for veterans was an incredible success -- both the adult and the children's choruses sounded amazing (as did the oboe interlude, playing an Ennio Morricone piece I'd never heard, "Gabriel's Oboe"). The songs were well-chosen and well-sung, and I'm thrilled and proud for Kathy to be a part of this group.
There was one moment toward the end, when the choir was singing a tribute medley to the armed forces, where the members of the various branches were asked to stand (or raise their hand) when their branch's song came up. There was a gentleman in front of us who stood when "The Army Goes Rolling Along" was being sung, and then sat down for "The Marines' Hymn." Then he stood up again for the Navy's "Anchors Aweigh," and I thought, "How many branches did this guy serve in?" But then he reached down, and helped the man sitting next to him to his feet, and then sat again while the rest of the naval theme continued. At which point he stood up and helped his friend back to his seat.
I guess what I'm saying is, it's important to remember we're all on the same team. We should lift each other every chance we get.