Saturday, March 26, 2011

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

Faint Foghorn

Cute Lil Retard

Oooh, Pretty!

Feet Waves

The Hives and the Hive Nots

This is a text-chat I had with a female friend recently. Let's call her....Uma.

ME: There's a dogshit smear right outside my front door. Who do I sue?

UMA: If you ever want to feel better about your life, watch Revolutionary Road. Jesus.

ME: Is that with Kate/Leo?

UMA: Yes.

ME: That WAS kind of a bummer.

UMA: Totally. Yet I'm watching it for the second time in three days. I'm oddly fascinated. Good movie, but it's sort of like watching Schindler's Lists twice.

ME: Pretty sure Schindler only had one list, but who's counting?

UMA: Not I.

ME: Get a job.
UMA: I'm looking for work in Austin and Chicago, btw.

ME: Austin supposedly terrific. I will never move to another cold climate, so fuck Chicago.

UMA: There's also Scottsdale.


UMA: Yes, why? Is that a good or bad thing?

ME: I imagine Arizona as...dull. I know it's got nice rocks and shit, but you'll probably be living near strip malls. Plus it's a tad warm there. And white trashy. Isn't it?

UMA: The idea doesn't thrill me. All I can think of is how sunburn gives me the hives. Great _______ school, though, and lots of health spas.

ME: One should steer clear of the sun. I get those hives, too. It's brutal, even the mildest sunburn makes my skin itch like hellfire.

UMA: It's the latest in my ever-morphing condition...I suppose it's better than getting them when I work out, which was the case til last year. I feel for you, mister.

ME: I get them when I work out, too! It's a combo of sweat and heat. On my face especially, which is attractive. It's one of the reasons I hate working out in public: I feel everyone's staring.

UMA: Well, I have chronic urticaria, and it comes in several varieties. They say the workout one, cholenergic uticaria, has to do with changes in core temperature. I get them the WORST in the cold, I can't believe this! I feel sorry for you! 

ME: Cold is fine for me. A cool dry place is best. AC is my friend. Some people are just meant to stay indoors and never move a muscle.  

UMA: Hahaha totally. But it feels like you're a prisoner in your own body when you CAN'T, never mind you don't really want to. And yes, it's very attractive. Like smallpox is attractive. 

ME: I've only been diagnosed with atopic dermatitis. Never heard of this chronic urticaria.

UMA: It just means chronic hives. Mine are of course "idiopathic," which just means my doctor is lazy. Get this: allergy meds CAUSE me hives! It started happening spontaneously about 10 years ago. I gave up fretting over it and just accepted it. When it first happened I spun into a serious depression. Feeling all out of control of my body, feeling it was going to get worse, etc.

ME: Oy. So our lives are thus: if we don't move and avoid going outside, we're fine. But doing so makes us fat and unattractive and socially inept. But working out makes us 10x MORE unattractive. THAT is known as a catch-22.

UMA: A round robin, if you will. It IS pretty cruel isn't it? And I feel like people either don't believe me or don't get it or something...

ME: People who don't have it DO NOT GET IT. 

UMA: Yeah, my ex-husband was super workout man. Now he's all hulky and some crossfit trainer type whose wife is now his workout buddy. Go figure. He SAID he got it, but...

ME: Funny, each time I see you I think you look lovely. I've never noticed it.

UMA: Well, to be fair, I've never jogged in place when we've hung out, but thanks.

ME: Having this shit is a nightmare. It's a constant cycle of upkeep. Creams, etc. I keep first aid gel pads in my freezer to press against my forehead when I get too warm, which is often.

UMA: Oh, wow. So you just get them when you get hot?

ME: Heat is not my friend. I sit on the subway and stare at people with perfectly smooth glowing skin. And I feel intense empathy/sympathy for people with bad blemishes and skin disorders. 

UMA: Yes, definitely. People judge it like it's their fault or something. Are you always in some state of inflammation? Is it actual hives or some other type of rash?

ME: I don't know, but it usually feels like I'm itching. My face especially. It might be psychosomatic. Or just psycho.

UMA: So far, I'm okay when hot or in sun, just not sunburned at any level. The cold one sucks in the winter. My hands, wrists and thighs get covered in hives. Feet, too. It's actually painful.

ME: This talk is making me hard. Weird?

UMA: Yes.

ME: Magic Johnson has HIV and looks like a million bucks. If the humidity is above 60% I turn into a tomato. People run screaming. I had bad hives due to an allergic reaction to meds once. All over my legs, all over my chest. Brutal. I was a kid, but recall it vividly.

UMA: It baaaalows. And LOL to the Magic Johnson remark.

ME: Zat vas a guud vun.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

That's Great, Sir

AMTRAK LADY: Sorry to keep you waiting, sir.

ME: I gotta tell you, my mind is, like, totally blown. I just realized that the music I'm listening to in my room right now--a Mozart piano concerto--is the EXACT SAME MUSIC that you guys were just playing while I was on hold!

(a beat)


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Interview With A Great Actor

While flipping through the cable stations last spring, I hit upon Jaws, the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and The Sting in quick succession. Wow, I thought, what an amazing coincidence: all three movies have the same key grip, the great Stan "Double Trouble" Winchester. For these movies to be on TV at the exact same time is a kind of cosmic synchronicity that rarely happens. I figured it was my patriotic duty to blog about it; otherwise, the terrorists win.

As I was slogging through the internet, finding pages upon pages about Stan Winchester, across hundreds of fan sites specifically devoted to him (Double Trouble Bubble, Stan the Man, Days of Winchester, OMG Stan), an obscure connection between the three previously-mentioned films hit me like a thunderbolt: they all starred Robert Shaw, the actor who played Quint in Jaws, Mr. Blue in Pelham and the quizzical bellboy Rufus in The Sting.

Robert Shaw is a ferocious acting machine, a steel-gazed molten tower of Irish lumber who always seems to be fighting back the urge to give you a severe beating and then buy you a frothy drink in a dented tankard after the beating, and then give you another beating. His onscreen presence can only be described as "scowled." I went through all the other adjectives, and that's the only one that comes close.

Now, Jaws is my favorite movie of all time. It was the first movie I ever saw on our top-loading VCR, and I just kept watching it over and over. I can recite Quint's famous USS Indianapolis speech verbatim. I do so at parties when there's a dip in the action, and it never fails to draw stares of awe. Not to brag, but some listeners are looking at their feet when I finish, most likely out of deference to my uncanny accuracy. What a joy it would be to recite that speech in front of the man who delivered it! Inspired, I started a long search for the reclusive actor, who died of a heart attack in 1978. The phone book seemed like a logical starting point. 

My search turned out to be surprisingly easy, though, thanks to some flat-out luck: my favorite Irish radio station called to tell me that I had won two tickets to see a local band, Molly Malone's Whiskey Thugs, at the Blarney Tooth in Kilbuckle. Can you guess whose voice was telling me this news? That's right. Robert Shaw himself was filling in for the overnight DJ, and so I asked him right then and there if I could interview him in person. Being an amiable chap, he agreed at once. 

What follows is a transcript of that interview.


ME: Very nice to meet you.

ROBERT SHAW: Pleasure's all mine, young fella. Tea?

ME: I'd love some. 

RS: Little nip on ya?

ME: Uh, sorry?

RS: Little nip o'your willet, there, me boyo?

ME: Wow, I have no idea what you mean.

RS: Would you like some whiskey in your tea?

ME: I would love some.

RS: Me too. Haven't touched the stuff since 1996, so I'm fresh out.

ME: Of tea or whiskey?

RS: Ha! Both. I have tap water, though.

ME: That's okay.

RS: Suit yourself.

ME: Where have you been all these years?

RS: Well, after the 1970s there was a lull, but my career took an upswing in the late 80s. 

ME: When you were cast as Sal, the racist pizza maker, in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.

RS: Exactly. That was a great role. Lots of yelling and cursing, but with a social message that still resonates to this day. I got to keep the shirt, that Hawaiian thing. Got it in my closet.

ME: I'd love to buy it from you.

RS: [smiles] Let's see how things progress.

ME: Not many people know that you are an accomplished writer in addition to being a great actor. You're written novels, plays, screenplays. Probably your best-known work is called The Man in the Glass Booth, which you penned in 1967.

RS: You've done your homework.

ME: Well, I didn't want to come all this way without knowing my stuff. Why does voice-over work hold such a particular fascination for you?

RS: What do you mean?

ME: Well, The Man in the Glass Booth tells the story of a VO artist who does wacky cartoon voices for a living, sort of a Mel Blanc type character, and then dresses up as a dowdy British housekeeper so he can be close to his children.

RS: The Man in the Glass Booth is about the moral ambiguity of The Holocaust.

ME: That's not what I have in my notes, Bob.

RS: Sir Robert, if you don't mind.

ME: A perfect segue into my next topic: you've been married ten times and had three children, six of whom you adopted.

RS: Actually, I was married three times, had ten children, one of whom I adopted.

ME: Again, that's not--See what I have written here?

[I show him my notes. He tears them up and eats them. I am honored.]

RS: Let's just shoot the shit, shall we?

ME: Great! What was Paul Newman like?

RS: Never met the man.

ME: Do you think your acting career was limited by the number of roles out there for broad-shouldered, Irish writers who can stare down into the shallow souls of most Hollywood directors?

RS: Well, it certainly helped me snag my most famous role.

ME: You're referring, of course, to Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.

RS: That role was made for me. I don't know who else could have ever played it. I know that sounds like arrogance, but it's what everyone thinks. Quite frankly, I was a little too old for the role, but it's amazing what they can do with a wig and make-up over there.

ME: You famously wore hair extensions for your role as Patsy Cline in Coal Miner's Daughter. Was that a difficult process?

RS: Can we not talk about Hollywood anymore?

ME: Okay, then. How about this: I can recite the Indianapolis speech from Jaws word for word. Would you like to hear it? 

RS: You do that while I start my laundry.

ME: Perfect. 

[I launch into the speech, trying desperately to recreate the pain and maintain the fierce control that the man displayed onscreen. I hear a washing machine running in the basement. Shaw comes back just as I'm doing the whale call, and we start singing "Show Me The Way To Go Home." As in the film, the song builds in tempo. We're both grinning wildly, cackling and shouting at top volume. Shaw leaps from his chair with unexpected spryness and gives me a beating. I am honored.]

ME: That was fun!

RS: Here, press this steak against your eye.

ME: This is a soup can.

RS: Don't you think I know a steak from a soup can?

ME: Oh, wait this is a steak. A chicken noodle steak. In a can.

RS: Now you're making sense again.

ME: I wanted to ask you about your father's suicide when you were twelve--

RS: I'd love to talk about that.

ME: --but I thought my readers would find that incredibly boring, so I'll just ask point blank: were you upset that they didn't ask you to reprise your role as Mr. Blue in the remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three?

RS: A little bit, but I understand how Hollywood works. I'm eighty-two years old now, you know? The most agile man of that age isn't much of a threat, even if he does have an Uzi. 

ME: Solemn words from a wise man. Would you autograph my right buttock?

RS: With my boot heel.

ME: I'm honored.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Why PETA Hates My Parents

Recently my sister had her dog, Murphy, put to sleep. Murphy was very sick and in a lot of pain, and it broke my brother-in-law's heart to bring him to the vet for his final visit. My sister, however, was not as upset by Murphy's departure: I could never visit my sister's home--and hence my niece and nephew--because I'm allergic to dogs. Now she's adamant that Murphy not be replaced by another dog or any other pet that will make me sneeze. For that I'm grateful. I try to visit as often as possible to convince my brother-in-law, a dog lover, that it was all worth it, though he makes "jokes" under his breath that go something like, "I killed my dog for you."

I wish I gave a shit about his need for a pet, although I understand it. Tom is a man's man who wants to be able to sip a beer, watch the Red Sox and scratch his golden lab behind the ears. I get it....but I don't give a shit. To me, it's more important that I'm able to visit and play with niece and nephew. I don't think my sister gives a shit about his desire for a pet, and I'm sure my mother and father don't either. Sorry, Tom. You're outnumbered. 

Although we had pets growing up, my side of the family has never valued their lives all that much. I consider a pivotal moment in my life to be the night I was watching Snoopy Come Home, the heartbreaking tale of Charlie Brown's dog leaving him for another woman. In this case, Snoopy's original owner: a young girl who's sick in the hospital. There's a prolonged goodbye scene where Snoopy bequeaths all his belongings to Charlie Brown's friends, then they give him a going-away party with speeches and gifts. Charlie Brown is stricken to tear-dripping silence, Snoopy is bawling, everyone's bawling, Snoopy walks off into the sunset. Then Charlie Brown can't sleep and he's pressing his forehead up against Snoopy's empty doghouse, wandering around the house in an existential crisis like a zombie on thorazine. And all the while this sad song is playing about changes and how life is just a random series of meaningless events with sprinkles of happiness doled out between long bouts of misery and loneliness. Heavy shit for a six year-old. My father sees me crying and says, "What are you crying for? It's just a dog."

Wow. Thanks, pop, for making me suppress my honest emotions. I'm a great man now because of it: rounding the corner to forty, unmarried, unloved, and emotionally distant from the world because I don't want my dad thinking I'm a pussy. (He did his best, though. Really. It wasn't that great, but I can't blame him for too much.) His Snoopy comment seems ironic, however, when you consider the heartwarming tale he told around the hearth a few Christmases ago:

When my dad was a boy, he had a dog named Blondie, a big mutt with a black-brown coat and a small tuft of blond hair surrounding her ears. When my dad came home from school each day, Blondie was at the door waiting to greet him with enthusiastic panting and tail-wagging. One day, Blondie wasn't there to greet him. No one in the family knew where she had gone. My grandfather put my dad in the car, and they drove around the block looking for Blondie. My dad yelled her name until his voice was hoarse. They drove in wider circles for hours around the neighborhood. My grandfather, who loved the dog just as much, drove with his head out the window calling out, "Bl-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ndie!" 

But Blondie was gone. They never found her.

Many years later my dad and my grandfather were sitting in a bar together drinking beer, and my grandfather looped his arm around my dad's shoulders and said drunkenly, "You know, I just wanted to say...I feel awful about the day I had to shoot Blondie." 

I'm sure my dad did a spit take, not only because of the news that his dog was assassinated, but because his father had shown him affection and regret. Turns out that while my dad was at school one day, Blondie had jumped up and bitten his older sister, Joan, on the cheek. My grandfather, a crusty Irish sort who liked to solve problems quickly and cleanly, took Blondie out to the woods and shot her in the back of the head. I guess that's the way things were done then. My dad always said that my grandfather was a strict disciplinarian, but what the FUCK? This was during the Great Depression, and it surprised my dad that my grandfather didn't make a stew out of Blondie. Apparently tact prevailed that day.

Maybe my dad cried when Blondie was gone, and maybe his father said to him, "What are you crying for? It's just a dog." Seems possible. Maybe my dad was trying to impart that wisdom on me while I was watching Snoopy Come Home. It certainly stuck on the day that my mom accidentally ran over our dog Maggie.

Maggie was a mutt we found sitting in the parking lot of a restaurant. She had no tags, so we kept her. Good dog, except she used to chase all the neighborhood cars and bark a lot. She used to sleep in the driveway under the back of my mom's car. 

I think you can see where this is going. 

One morning my mom started the car and saw Maggie run out from underneath. Then my mom forgot her purse or something and went back in the house. During that time, Maggie laid back down under the car. My mom didn't realize this. She came out of the house, got into the car and backed up over Maggie. The poor woman was devastated. When she told my sister and me what had happened, my sister burst into tears, but I remained stoic. My father was just to my right, and I could feel his gaze. I don't think he would have been mad if I had cried (I was only eleven or twelve), but I felt I would have been disappointing him if I did so. I just nodded and went to my friend's house up the street. Didn't cry then either. Don't remember if I ever did.

Once my mother ran over a cat and kept going. We were on our way to pick up my dad at work (his car was in the shop), and we were running late. Mom was sweating that; Red Smith doesn't like to wait. My sister and I were young and in the backseat, probably making noise and driving her batshit. On a wooded road a cat darted out from the woods and mom drove over it. My sister and I, horrified, looked out the back window of the car and saw the poor thing flopping and twitching in the road. 

"Mommy!" we shouted, "You just ran over a CAAAAAAAT!"

Mom was in tears. "I know, kids! I'm sorry! I'll buy you ice cream later!"

At least mom displayed some feeling about these matters. She may have been prone to mowing down helpless animals, but felt bad enough to buy us treats to cold-freeze the trauma.

Red Smith? Not so much.

When my folks were newly married, before my sister and I were born, they lived next door to a family that owned a dog that barked a lot. One morning, around 4am, the dog was barking incessantly and woke my father. He couldn't get back to sleep and decided he might as well go into work. The sun had not fully risen when he pulled up to the stop light just ten yards from the house. He sat there waiting for the light to change, the only car in the early-morning quiet. He glanced to his right and there, sitting on the curb, wagging his tail, was that goddamn dog from next door, the one that had woken him up on that day and so many others...and my father thought: He looks like he wants to go for a ride.

So my dad leaned across the passenger seat and popped open the door. Lo and behold, the dog did indeed want to go for a ride. He jumped onto the seat, slapped his front paws on the dashboard and panted with delight as my father roared away toward the rising sun. He worked at a chemical plant about twenty miles away, but this morning he drove an extra ten miles to Route 9 in Framingham, right next to Shopper's World, and let the dog out by the side of the road. 

Done and done.

When my sister and I were kids we had a cat named Mittens who had gray and black fur with four white paws. Mittens.

Mittens was with us for many years doing what a cat does best: spreading out on the sofa in the exact spot where you want to sit; grinding its asshole into your face when you're sleeping; shooting you that contemptuous look when you serve it dry cat food. We loved Mittens. Her purr vibrated warmly in your lap. When she stretched and dug her claws into your stomach, she did it with love. We had Mittens for over a decade. We watched her give birth to eight kittens. We gave all the kittens away (or so our dad told us).

Mittens finally began to show wear and tear. She was sick all the time, coughing and spitting up a lot, shitting in places she normally wouldn't shit. And then, one day, Mittens wasn't around. My mom said she let her out one morning around Halloween, but she never returned. My sister and I were worried. We had my father take us around the block looking for Mittens. We called out her name until we were hoarse. My father, who loved Mittens as much as we did, stuck his head out the window of the car as we drove around looking for her shouting, "M-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-TENS!!!

No Mittens. She was gone. My sister and I gave up hope day by day, and I noticed that we were getting ice cream more often. 

Two months passed. 

On Christmas Eve, 1983, we were sitting in the living room opening presents. The Chipmunks were mouthing off to David Seville, my mother was preparing the hors d'oeuvres for the swarm of guests that were arriving within the hour, and my father was pretending that his new set of golf tees was an appropriate gift. Then suddenly, during the hiss between songs on the 8-track tape, we heard a strange sound. It cut through the air and we all froze. "Jingle Bell Rock" started playing, but we heard it again unmistakably: someone, or something, was scraping at the front door. 

My dad walked to the door, opened it...

...and in strolled Mittens. She hopped onto the couch and nuzzled her head into my sister's open hand. I ran into the kitchen screaming, "MOM! MOM! MITTENS CAME BACK! MITTENS CAME BACK!! IT'S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!!!"

My family gathered in the living room and stared at our beloved miracle pet who was now curled up on the couch as if not a day had passed, as if she had been here all along. She purred away in my sister's lap. 

After the euphoria passed, we were all quite shocked. No one more so than Red Smith, who had taken Mittens out to his favorite spot on Route 9 in Framingham, let her out of the car and drove away. Quite possibly the dog from next door was still sitting there waiting for him. What a disappointment it must have been to see my dad--after so many years of waiting for his return--and then watch him zoom off again, leaving behind a fat, old cat with IBS. Mittens probably sat on Route 9 for about five minutes before she thought Fuck this and started her two-month journey home. 

It wasn't until years later that I deciphered the resentful glance Mittens gave my dad as she strolled through the front door and plopped defiantly back onto the couch, as if she was saying: 

Screw you, Red. I don't go down easily.

Good for her.