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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Content to be Arnold

I was recently reminded of the 21st century necessity to generate crap—I mean content—to continually replenish my rousing marketplace value and keep my awesome name before the unsteady eyes of an adoring but fickle public.

The problem—and you know there’s ALWAYS a problem of some kind—is that I’m not sure it’s humanly possible to maintain the extraordinarily high level of quality that people have come to expect from my intermittent Blah-ugh! pustules. I feel it’s important that I at least try to fool them into believing I’m keeping up with some degree of quality, whether provisions are bright or nye, but given the growing pressures of modern times to make this a veritable joke factory of regularity, I worry that those loyal readers—you guys—will somehow get short shrifted, or short changed, or possibly both, in my zealous attempts to grind a generous helping of delectable pap out of my editorial blowhole.

That said, there is never a shortage of important things to address, beginning with my utter laziness. The good news is I’m coming to see my laziness as a beneficial part of my work pattern—mainly the part where I don’t get anything done. This is actually very important because it makes other things I do seem that much more striking—or at least makes the things other people do seem strike-worthy, and if that’s not public service, I don’t know what is.

But this is about content and I have a lot to get to, beginning with an in-depth analysis of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography—Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. People will think I’m being facetious, but I’m actually astounded how informative a textbook it is for me, not to mention an entertaining and rather culturally intriguing pile of pulp. (Kudos to Arnold’s editorial blowhole!)

Still, I want to start with complaints, as they’re more fun. The first—possibly the prime, or even only—is the subtitle, which is grammatically stupid. I’ve spent many minutes wondering if he suggested the title and was then too stubborn to admit that it should be “unbelievable” and not “unbelievably.” (And by the way, if you’re too thick to know why they’re not interchangeable and would need me to explain it to you, you have no business reading a sophisticated Blah-ugh! like mine and I want you to unplug right now and go take an English class!) I imagine him sitting in his sunny office in Venice (CA) with his loving klatch of semi-sycophantic cronies, reviewing the business of the day in his bruised Austrian English, “Dis book, it should be just having a funny, simple title, like ‘My unbelievably true life story,’ because it is unbelievable. Don’ cha see?!”

Despite some of our political separations and his rather cruel treatment of Lou Ferrigno in Pumping Iron and his harsh foreign accent and his crude military haircut and his muscles and his money and his cigar smoke, I really like Arnold. I think his movies are the cat’s pajamas, and I can honestly say—with the possible exception of the third reel of Jingle All the Way—there isn’t a movie of his I wouldn’t call worth at least two viewings, if not many, especially if you have Alzheimer’s and forget things very quickly.

My fond memories of Arnold extend to when he was governor and I was living in California. One evening at a softball game in Brentwood—many of you don’t know this about me, but I was a highly advanced if not particularly well dressed softball player in my day—a cavalcade of very large, ominous black Humvees showed up near the field. The whole game stopped and everyone stood around in a kind of stupid terror, unclear what the danger was, for it certainly all felt very dangerous. A small group of large Secret Service-type men emerged and prepared the way for what turned out to be Governor Arnold, who was apparently stopping in at the adjacent gymnasium to pick up one of his kids, or perhaps watch one of them play basketball or do curling or something.

Everyone stood far away in dumb amazement and fear as Arnold, escorted by his large cronies, paced confidently toward his destination. But being me, of course, I had to jog over—actually putting all the men on momentary alert in what might have been a tense moment had not both Arnold and I handled it with such aplomb. “Hey!” I announced. “You’re the best!” We shook hands and he said, “Tank you!” He was shorter than I reasoned he was supposed to be—6’ 2” my ass!—but I didn’t want to be rude and mention it, though if I’d read his autobiography back then—that is, if he’d written it—I would have drawn a humorous comparison to him insulting Dino De Laurentiis about his height and accent, and we would have laughed … or perhaps not.

But none of that’s here nor there. I can tell you he was very sweet, in spite of his decaying stature. I advised him to start making movies again, to which he declared, “Ha ha!” And now, years later, as I read his book, I think of our moment together, which I suspect he looks back upon with all the acuity he might devote to some forgotten moment he was bitten by a mosquito in his Austrian past.

Now many of you are probably asking why I’m so smitten with this book, and I will say shortly it involves Arnold’s frank description of his Germanic discipline and his steadfast commitment to his vision. He offhandedly describes how he knew he was going to do certain things and at times even imagined them so vividly that it was as though he’d already done them. This is quite fascinating and inspiring, as was his explanation that he likes to go into situation like a “puppy” and not be told any of the negative possibilities that could occur. In fact, at one point when someone was telling him the reason why he couldn’t or shouldn’t invest in his first big real estate deal, he cut him off and said, in essence, “Oh my gosh, I was almost started listening to you and your negativity!”

Arnold offers a variety of great ideas to consider and even, perhaps, live by, provided you don’t get caught boinking your nanny.

It just goes to show that, if you’re open, you never know where you’re going to come across thoughts that could be of value to you—even in some stupid Blah-ugh!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Je Suis Charlie; In the Name of Charlie

The Paris shootings have me very upset for a variety of reasons.

There, but for the grace of god, go I … That’s the first one, though to be perfectly honest I don’t know if I really have the nerve to be Charlie—to stand by my convictions as both a satirist and journalist in the face of potentially dangerous threats by this generation’s Nazis.

I sincerely admire them for doing so. In my career I’ve experienced relatively small examples of public discontent in one form or another and it never feels good. I like to think I stand by my beliefs to some extent, but I’d be lying if I said I would definitely willingly open myself to such grave possibilities … I’m really not sure I could do it … I’m glad I don’t have to decide today …

Meanwhile a part of me questions the wisdom of inciting the insane. The longer I live, sad to say, the more pointless it seems to waste time trying to sway anyone’s ideas, let alone the warped, murky reasoning of authentic fanatics.

So what was the point behind taunting these assholes?

Reflecting on it, I don’t think most normal folk feel that compelled to offend anyone or do anything so outlandish that it would significantly buck the conventions of their time. And yet being told that one is not allowed to do something almost makes it a necessity—nay, a responsibility—to do so.

Therefore to some extent there was no point, excepting the fragile value of simply being free to do so. And that is really something—to commit yourself wholeheartedly to a value for that value’s sake.

Yet how many of us would potentially jeopardize our warmth and safety—at least in this age of placid comfort—to do so?! I’m reminded of my favorite quote from Dumbledore in Harry Potter, who said, “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

Whether it ever intended to or not, the American government has done a brilliant job of neutering its dissenters. Following the emotional explosion of the Sixties it wisely allowed a generous liberal girth in which those with opposing ideas could grow fat and sedentary. (Television—the great lobotomizer—was a key part of this, but there were other weapons employed.) It was a brilliant strategy to, in essence, peacefully disarm rebellion.

To me it serves to demonstrate how religious fanatics of this strain have other pathological motivations beyond changing the world to their so-called god’s liking—namely a disturbed desire for confrontation. That’s why on one level standing up to these kinds of people is a mistake, because the confrontation feeds them. Would that we could just ignore them, like errant toddlers, and they would tire and fall to sleep. Their misplaced zeal is of the same fabric—the stuff of undeveloped brain casings and the delusions of an infant’s mentality.

Another key button to this whole tragedy involves people—in this case the editorial team—not being allowed to just be themselves. From a purely psychological standpoint I place tremendous value on the benefits of a person being allowed to embrace their authentic self. Personal repression of one kind or another grows to infect and damage. I suspect a lot of emotional maladies could fix themselves if people were only given the safe space to be who they really are. So to consider this from that standpoint—an extreme example of simple intolerance—is sad and frightening, as well as grossly unfair.

I earlier referenced these people as Nazis in part because they embrace those same values. One of the things I find so frightening is not just the physical dangers that people like this present, but that overriding fascistic threat to conform or die. It seems there are so few of us these days that have the strength to resist. If push came to shove how many of us would quietly roll over and start reading the Quran even though we didn’t want to.

But through the darkness of these evil deeds comes the vibrant outpouring of light and love and consciousness, and that brings its own set of strong emotions.

People around the world—normal people—are once again being united in their clear common beliefs of what they think is right and what is wrong, what they value, what kind of world they want this to be, what it means to be human and humane, what it means to be spiritual, and what the “God” that unites us all—whatever the hell his name is!—wants us to be doing in that name!

         Vive la France!  Vive la Liberte’!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hammer Time

September 24, 2014:  The letters have poured in—many of them postage due; others addressed to Current Resident—but the message has been clear: Blah-ugh! Readers (and see, I’m capitalizing you all now, out of respect and fear) have been wondering about my failure to file new and exciting entries for the past few days (and I believe there’s been about 215 of them ... days, I mean ...) …

Well, it hasn’t been for lack of trying, but I’ve found myself easily distracted by REAL work, familial conflicts & commitments and this new lava lamp I bought which I just can't seem to take my eyes off. In fact, I’ve started quite a few entries, but they’ve consistently failed to materialize because of a new spiritual practice I’m exploring called laziness. (It’s incredibly fulfilling, and I will write about it when I get round, perhaps in the latter 21st century.)

But as the groundswell has seemed to swell, and I had an hour to kill, I felt it might do this dilapidated forum service to actually keep it alive with a feeble injection of humor, wisdom, words and whining.

Just this week I made a brilliant purchase of an eight-movie Hammer Films Horror Pack on DVD. DVDs, as you know, are those little shiny round discs that people take out of the library to use as bases when they play pick-up softball games. What you probably didn’t know was that they can also be used to play magical classic films, such as Night Creatures and The Evil of Frankenstein.

My ever-growing allegiance to Hammer Films has been soundly augmented by this new collection, which I proudly put alongside my various Christopher Lee Dracula movies, the underrated Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, and of course the terribly sexy Vampire Lovers, which offers some of the most sensitive and titillating vampiric lesbianism one is likely to find in British cinema.

I’m yet to explore each selection in this lovely collection, but I can assure you it’s already proving to be a veritable cornucopia of English joy. I decided to watch The Phantom of the Opera first, as it had perhaps the lowest attraction for me compared to some others in the collection. (The Curse of the Werewolf, featuring Oliver Reed, is the one that I’ve long hoped to find, for I don’t remember ever seeing it, and so I’m saving that for last.) Much to my sincere surprise, however, I found this 1962 version of 'Phantom,' featuring the great Herbert Lom—whom most of you know as Inspector Clouseau’s twitching foil—an absolute delight. One of their delicious Technicolor Victorian-era pieces, it’s got all the elements—likable hero, sweet heroine and a most heinous bad guy played by the great Michael Gough, who you’ll also remember from Horror of Dracula.

My second foyer (and I hope I'm spelling that right) into this collection—Paranoiac—was equally as thrilling, even though it took a few more minutes for me to get into. Reed shows up here too and makes it clear why he’s one of the creepiest character actors in the tradition of, say, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Peter Lorre and perhaps Dame Judy Dench. Filmed in luscious early-sixties black and white, it’s both visually and narratively a treat.

And today I have popped in The Kiss of the Vampire and let me tell you, from the awesome opening scene, it’s awesome! While a fool might argue that it’s somewhat predictable—and really, what movie isn’t, except perhaps Darjeeling Limited—I challenge anyone to find a predictable ride that offers more in the way of a satisfying classic gothic soft horror trip. They don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Well, I could go on, as many of you know, but I think it’s better to get something completed and up rather than try and perfect it, or try to expand too long, or try too hard, or try at all, for that matter. So I hope you enjoyed this autumnal offering and will look forward to other offerings which I hope will come presently—among them a closer look at coffee shops and the conversations people hope to have there, as well as a unique examination of what might have happened if Hitler got into art school.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Assessing the Indians

To start, does PREFERRING a particular ethnic group make one a racist? It probably should, to be fair to everyone. In fact, wouldn’t it really be gross prejudice if it didn’t?!

Of course the bigger question rests with why someone who’s so seemingly sensitive to racism (meaning me) is always writing Blah-ugh! entries about race-related stuff. I mean, what the hell’s my problem anyway?!

That said, I really like Indians—the ones from India I mean. Mind you, I have nothing against the indigenous kind—which I believe is where that word comes from, and its original meaning probably sweeps across continents—but today I want to focus on those beautiful nan-eating people we know so well from late-night technical support calls.

I’m not sure what prompted my ruminations for this particular Blah-ugh!, but I’ve always held a fondness for these lovely folks and thought it might be best to examine it in depth. (I mean, maybe I’m deluding myself, and need to break out of my infatuation. And what better time to do it than Valentine’s Day? After all, what have the Indians—or any other national group, for that matter—done for me lately? Plus, as a rule, I’ve never been that fond of people who often go about barefoot, even in summer, because I find feet so remarkably ugly.)

And now I can see I’m already off on the wrong foot, if you’ll forgive the pun, because I’ve just stereotyped Indian people as being barefoot, and I’m sure many are wearing shoes as we speak—my doctor, for instance, and that nice man at the restaurant from whom I buy my malai kofta. Nevertheless, you’re probably going to misunderstand—as you always tend to—because you don’t feel as strongly about feet as I do. Perhaps they don’t taint your outlook as much as they do mine. Well, then consider yourself lucky, for you’re not faced with this constant weighing in of feet and how—like a fungus—they manage to grow over your perceptions of what’s really going on above the ankles.

That said, it speaks highly of my experience with those of Indian descent that I hold them in such high favor, despite their feet (although I could only watch Ravi Shankar play for so long before I’d have to ask him to put some shoes on). With rare exception, all of my dealings with them—be they professional, social or arbitrary—have left me making some mental note about how wonderful people of Indian descent are, and how, given the chance, I would even go so far as to visit their country (should I ever be motivated to leave my town, street, couch or burrow).

Yet while I love the people, I’m not entirely so sure I’m drawn to the culture—or those cows I keep hearing about. In truth—and I can only base this on some old National Geographic articles, a few movies and some related songs, like the Doors’ Indian Summer—I suspect it’s a terribly hot place and I really have limited use for hot weather. I also don’t like the idea of walking around in a nightgown, which I think is very common for the men in places like Bombay and Jabooti, (which I think is in India, but may actually be in Arkansas).

Ultimately we all know I’m deluding myself on some level, even if this is all true. You see, isn’t this really about me projecting my own schema—based solely on my weird perceptions and experiences of life—upon some group or other?! And why would it even have to be a group? Couldn’t it be a musical instrument, or a number, or just about anything that my damaged brain has chosen to hold as favorable for some arbitrary reason?! In all likelihood, some scant past memory—and aren’t all memories really past memories, after all?—is providing just enough positive neural stimulation to prompt rose-colored glasses over my already unfocused eyes.

Therefore, by inverse logic, isn’t this all racism at its worst?! (Cheez, how can you people read this racist Blah-ugh! and still sleep at night?!!) Wouldn’t a fair-minded, healthy , mature individual—which we could all probably agree I’m not—hold no pre-judged perspectives on anyone for something other than their present being (and maybe the kind of car they drive). Hell, if this were Star Trek universe, or maybe San Francisco, I wouldn’t even be conscious of anyone’s ethnicity to catalogue any differences, even if they were positive. (I’d also probably be making it with green women, although this remains more rare in San Francisco.)

I don’t know. Now I’ve forgotten why I started this whole thing—my Blah-ugh! I mean, and not even this particular essay. Perhaps I’m just trying to make a point and, once again, like the quantum mosquito that passes off into future dimensions, it has escaped me.

All I know is I can’t speak to issues about Pakistan or Bangladesh, because I don’t understand them, but I like Indian people, and especially love their food, even though it always gives me fervent diarrhea.

What higher praise could I offer any people?!