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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Five Things No One Cares About

March 29, 2011: I was toying with the idea of putting this Blah-ugh! on hiatus, given my utter revulsion with having to update it so frequently. But then I thought of all the people I'd be disappointing -- all the working stiffs and sad singles and miserable married and restless young and smelly old ... I just couldn't bring myself to let any of you down. I just hope you're all satisfied now that you've ruined yet another evening I could have better spent eating hazelnut gelato and watching adult films.

And what to talk about? I keep thinking about Mel Brooks for some reason, but that's not a topic. (I had the opportunity to meet him once in L.A. at a Hanukkah celebration, of all things, at a synagogue; I found it a unique thrill to hear him scream out "dreidel" when the rabbi was trying to goad the many kids in the room to answer the question.)

I'm also ruminating rather anxiously on the sad state of technological affairs, wherein people drive down the road typing messages in their phones, leave their lanes and accelerate in irritating fits and starts, and demented parents play DVDs in the backs of their minivans to keep their kids medicated and still, and half the people I know can't be present for a conversation without keeping one eye on their portable email device while they're feigning attention, and on and on ...

But besides myself (and possibly the one known only as Mordant Glee) no one even cares. No one sees how demented it all is, how we're robbing a whole new generation of creative thought and silence, and slowly steaming the brains of this generation, which no longer values silence or solitude, but just constantly craves distraction through a thousand forms of trivia. Like drug addicts, they're scared to sit still and feel a feeling. It's depressing and pathetic, but mostly maddening because nobody seems to see how wrong it is ... And so I won't talk about that.

Instead, I'll mention I finally watched the new Wall Street movie, and it was pretty good, and Michael Douglas didn't look at all as bad as I thought he would (which I feared would be kind of like an Aztec mummy, and instead he just looked like this mummy they had on a Twilight Zone episode, which wasn't quite as shocking). As I said, it was a pretty good movie, though I couldn't understand most of what they were talking about -- all this weird business/money-speak, which is as foreign to me as an automobile engine. But I recognized the romance and excitement, in part because the music cued me to do so.

And speaking of the Twilight Zone, I was ecstatic to find my local library recently purchased the entire catalogue, and with shameless relish, I've begun introducing my children to the most brilliant episodes, starting with "The Masks" and "Five Characters in Search of an Exit." Rod Serling was a rare genius, not unlike Charles Dickens or myself.

Now why is this different, you ask, then the parent who stifles their brats in the backseat with automotive video, my forcing my poor dumb children to ingest great quantities of vintage sci-fi brilliance? Well ... it just is, so leave me alone.

Which reminds me, I hear the kids watching the Brady Bunch downstairs -- the one where Jim Bachus buys the Bradys a pool table -- so I've got to run ...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jarret's Frank Film Forum (FFF) -- A General Review

March 22, 2011: So many movies -- so little time!

If you're like me, you want to do whatever you can to keep at bay the maddening voices that pollute your head, and quell the tumultuous mix of turbulent emotions that constantly bombard your spirit and tea-stained psyche. Toward this end, nothing gets the job done (short of heroin and pornography) like the always-captivating enticement of the big blue screen.

(NOTE: In my case it's a relatively little screen, but it is blue, which is the important thing. It's also mesmerizingly heavy, consisting of ancient tubes and, I suspect, giant hunks of metal that simply weigh it down in the event of great windstorms.)

Anyway, since my youngest days, I've found great solace and security in the hypnotic intoxication of television and all its holy offerings. And while we don't currently even have cable owing to my humiliating inability to earn a decent income, thanks to our expansive DVD collection -- (and our wonderful local library's considerable catalogue) -- I still manage to secure ongoing comfort, constructive therapy and the emotional medication I so sorely need on a daily basis.

That said, I wanted to share some of my more profitable viewing experiences of late, starting with a very satisfying vampire movie called "Blade." Yes, this is the one with the great Wesley Snipes as the Daywalker, abetted by the great Kris Kristofferson as the cigarette-smoking, tattooed stereotype he so aptly embodies. What a marvelous array of effects and action this classic offers, including several scenes where Snipes grins maniacally at the oddest of moments, promising more strange turns and dashing images of vampiric execution. All told, I highly recommend this 1998 classic, which features a standout performance by Stephen Dorff (what an awful name ... almost as bad as co-star "N'Bushe" Wright!) as a very nasty vampire, and a weird performance by Udo Kier, whom I suspect may actually be a real vampire after all.

Another keg of fulfillment has been found in the first two "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, which I'd never seen before now, but have proven to be very joyous romps all told. Johnny Depp, of course, is generally grand, and while his wonderful Captain Jack Sparrow is much more Hunter Thompson than Keith Richards (as he claimed), how can one possibly tire of Depp's Thompson, and so I'm simply looking forward to the next two installments in the series to see more of it. Orlando Bloom is all chin, but that may be why we like Depp all the more and keep rooting for Bloom to be skewered in each sword fighting scene. And Keira Knightley ... is ... soooo .... f***ing ... gorgeous!

Finally, I've just been re-watching a slick David Mamet flick called "Spartan." (The nice thing about having brain damage is you can watch movies once and then forget everything about them a couple of years later.) It's quite a solid suspense/action film, and while I like to think I would have done a better job playing Jim Morrison in "The Doors" movie, Val Kilmer was acceptable there and really does a very fine job with this role. Mamet is a pretty solid film maker and writer -- and I don't praise many, actually -- despite what I hear are some strange personal behaviors. (He actually wrote a solid book on acting, as well, which I found enlightening; yay Mamet, you old legend you!)

So that's all I've got tonight, except now I can't stop thinking about Keira and her chin. I'm going to finish this "Spartan" movie and hope it carries me comfortably toward my bedtime with a minimal of distractions -- thoughts, feelings, ideas, imposing images of the future, the past, the present ... Y'know!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How Green Is My Toilet

March 17, 2011: Aloha and begorah to all you Irish folk; may all your vomit be green vomit.

Remembering that I've adequately bashed this and other revered iconic March moments in past Blah-ugh! entries, I thought tonight I'd (once again) focus on something much nearer and dearer to my heart -- the sanctity of toilets. Toward that end -- (and I must have used that silly double-entendre before!) -- I thought I'd present you with a most poetic moment that I experienced just tonight.

You see, I was feeling somewhat despondent earlier owing to several factors -- among them, humanity's failure to recognize my greatness, my Blah-ugh! readers' failure to recognize my greatness, my failure (thus far) to find a literary agent, my Blah-ugh! readers' failure to help me find a literary agent ... All in all it was a frustrating night, in which I was focused on humanity's numerous shortcomings, as well as the one or two that I can claim. Most of all, I couldn't shake that too-often recurring sense of my not being understood, of my not being accepted as I am, and not being loved simply because I'm (after all) so infectiously lovable.

So it was that I found myself in the downstairs toilet of my local library; not for any particular reason, except I had to urinate, and what better place for a literary man like myself to do so. And as I approached the urinal, I was overcome with that singular inspiration one only finds in Muse-addled moments of bathroom clarity, and the first lines of an inspired poem formed effortlessly in my pee-focused mind ... I took out my pen and wrote:

"Hello Toilet.
You still accept me, despite my shortcomings.
I can always come to you
Open and honest
And share
My innermost secrets"

Yes, once again, the answers were presenting themselves in porcelain, and all I had to do was show up. All at once my angst and frustration were softened by the satisfaction of being understood, as well as the elation of creative birthing. (I knew I was on to something big, and envisioned the veritable epic I would write as both tribute and analysis of the role the toilet has played in my life.)

Then suddenly this guy came in and hurried into the adjacent stall. This, in itself, wouldn't have bothered me, but he began talking over the wall. "Do you use the toilet on the second floor that often?" he said. And believe me, I froze, because I'm not one to talk to strangers in a toilet, let alone close friends. For a minute, I thought I must have imagined it, or perhaps he'd brought a phone with him or ... something. Let me tell you, it was very disconcerting.

"Somebody tore the toilet paper dispenser right off the wall," he said, louder now. "Brand new it was!" Again, I didn't respond, but raced to wash my hands and flee before he came out and identified me. (I was probably in my car before he even had a chance to flush.)

Looking back, after I jotted down his dialogue to get it verbatim, it seemed a kind of interesting coincidence that this weirdo would intrude on my toilet solace to express his own (dare I say) loving insights and experiences relating to the sacrosanct library toilets. And who was I, but a self-centered urinator bent on using the toilet to meet my own needs and not open to sharing the communal nature of this particular pee parlor.

Anyway, it gave me pause, if not humility. Tonight I was able to recognize our shared humanity, replete with the fallibility, need to be accepted, and -- when all is said and done -- deep, deep affection for, and gratitude toward, the many toilets in our lives.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Being Hip To Time

March 14, 2011: I'm a bit confused why no one told me they were spinning the clocks forward today -- not angry, just confused. Had I been in possession of that information, I like to think I would have warned the people around me -- close friends and family at least -- that life as we know it was about to change, and they had damn well better get prepared.

Of course, none of this helps me now. It's 1:15 in the morning and I'm wide awake. I've got no one to thank but myself for taking that two-hour nap this afternoon, but had I known I'd slept in to 10:30 and not 9:30, as my clock had claimed, I might not have devoted additional hours to finding my bliss (or at least more of my bliss) in dreamland.

Still, if anyone's equipped to handle the precarious, hallucinogen-like experience of a lonely sleepless night, it's me. I have a long history with late nights, and not because I've led some sort of romantic life of early-hour parties and spell-binding sunrises. Ever since an early age I was drawn to staying up late. I remember always wondering what it was like later and later into the night -- what it felt like and what went on in those mysterious small hours that one was strictly forbidden to visit. I think I was seven when I somehow ended up awake until 3:15 on a weird night of television and childish antics. By junior high I'd done my first all-nighter, and had found it uniquely invigorating for some stupid reason I still can't explain. In high school, I developed this strange compulsion of staying up all night on a regular basis and cleaning my room. I led such a disorganized life, it seemed that every couple of months I needed to stay up all night and reassemble everything (as if it really ever helped!). This, in turn, led to some confusing beliefs that I may have been meant to live by the moon cycle, which still kind of makes sense to me because the moon rises about 50 minutes later each night, and so one logically sleeps in another 50 minutes each morning until they work their way around the clock in 29 days ...

Which leads me to comment on the churlish construct of our whole narrow-minded conformist world, which requires (or seems to require) that we keep our timetable in strict alignment with Washington and the World Bank and all the other Right Wing institutions. (That's why they even have Daylight Savings Time; it's merely a method of testing our obedience to the arbitrary whims of the Power Elite (or P.E., as they're known).

It's unnatural is what it is, and when I finally realize some significant income from my book, cartoons and clown paintings, I'll start living right, smash my alarm clock (or my wife's alarm clock, since mine isn't even plugged in) and get back to the natural cycles as the Universe (or at least the moon) intended them.

Meanwhile, I'm happy to have killed a good 25 minutes on this entry -- now being that much closer to sleep, as well as my death. Ironically, the experience vividly reminds me of that great Peter Fonda line, as heard in that sketchily constructed classic movie "Easy Rider" -- "I'm hip to time."

Remember, all you readeres who thought you could escape that gruesome image and idea -- Naked Peter Fondas! We're all just Naked Peter Fondas trying to stay on schedule ...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

27 (Or So) Things About Me That May Surprise You

March 10, 2011: I recently came across what I assume was a stupid regular column in some magazine. (The column was, in fact, stupid, but it's only my assumption that it was a regular column.) The title was something like "27 Things About Me That May Surprise You," and it was written by Martha Stewart, about whom I knew next to nothing, despite having cut her lawn one summer. I can say I still don't know much about her, and even that's enough (although I found it somewhat interesting that she likes to bring her own lemons on planes).

Anyway, I thought it might of some value -- to me, of course, and not you -- to share some of the lesser known facts about myself -- so I present: "27 (if I can think of that many) Things About Me That May Surprise (or even Shock!) You" (although in actuality there's a good chance they may not even interest you).

--For starters, did you have any ideas how much I hate when men wear loafers without socks. I think I reference it in both of my novels. I really just find it incredibly irritating and I'm convinced that we, as a society, will never really start unraveling all the problems that face mankind until people stop doing that.

--I can't ever remember how to count in Spanish. Not that I ever took Spanish, but you'd think after all this time living in America -- and being able to count in Russian, German and French -- I'd have it down. Yet whenever I'm faced with the challenge, it always baffles me.

--As well as being convinced that both the two Kennedy assasinations and 9/11 were government conspiracies, I don't believe the moon landing ever took place. Saying that outright sounds somewhat funny in itself, but the evidence is ridiculously clear and I'm baffled that more people don't see it. (Our government is also responsible for both Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus, by the way, but that's a whole other story.)

--At age three I fell in Paul Newman's pool. (That's another whole other story.)

--While I originally wanted to be a professional baseball player, by fourth grade I wanted to be an actor, and then by junior high I thought seriously of being a writer ... Interestingly, at age 21 I gave some serious thought to trying to play minor league ball. Also interestingly, I'm still thinking seriously about being a writer ...

--My official favorite food is eggplant parmegian (but I can never spell it), and my favorite dessert is cold pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

--I don't drink, although I still have a fondness for sex and gambling.

--I don't technically have a middle name, although I have two first names, the second of which I almost never share with anyone. (My wife thinks it's Bernard, but it's not!)

--I had my first grey hair in sixth grade. (I remember Andy Cameron lovingly plucking it out at recess; he recently died and now I'm feeling guilty.)

--I literally enjoy the company of my two children more than anyone else in the world. They accept me just as I am, (not like you people).

--I've spent time in every continental U.S. state except North Dakota. Despite the urging of one friend, I'm not dying to go ...

--Though I've never received a journalism award, both Walter Cronkite and Nat Hentoff have shared with me their individual admiration for something I'd written.

--I struggle with tea constantly staining my teeth. I've never worn braces, but pride very straight choppers, which have literally been admired by strange orthodontists who've crossed my path.

--I once found a dead body.

--I can play banjo, along with guitar, piano, drums and xylophone. (I bought my banjo in a pawn shop in Spokane, Washington, which is actually known as the Lilac City (as least out there).)

--One of my great regrets in life is that I wasn't born in England. I love the weather there, as well as the accents and fish. I'm hoping someday someone will invite me to come and live in London ... or Manchester (ahem!)

--I hate computers, and find the Internet a colossal time-waster. Despite the handiness of having an online Blah-ugh! I'd much prefer a newspaper column, or a hard-copy newsletter ... or perhaps a TV show!

--I still like to collect comicbooks, and while I stupidly sold my once-vast collection years ago, I continue to pick them up here and there. (I've always loved collecting things and have, at one time or another, collected coins, stamps, beer cans, bottle tops, baseball cards, books and rocks.)

--I'm long-winded. Despite my considerable skills as an attentive listener, I love nothing better than to talk. (My wife, who used to listen to me, will concur.) A large part of why I write is because I just can't shut up.

--I greatly prefer rainy days, and will often go for long walks. I find my meditative bliss on walks, but prefer quiet suburban streets to isolated wilderness.

--I used to love dogs, but now they mostly annoy me. Our cat annoys me too, especially at night, but I don't drown her in the bathtub because it would hurt the kids. (Perhaps when they're older and would understand.)

--I like to stay up late and sleep late into the day. I often do my best writing late at night, and sometimes I just write crappy Blah-ugh! posts about eggplant, England and strangling cats.

Next time I'll tell you more about Martha Stewart and her lawn!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jarret's Frank Film Forum (FFF) -- A Review of "Easy Rider"

March 7, 2011: This is getting more and more confusing ...

Those of you who've passionately followed my Blah-ugh! -- (meaning the two of you sitting toward the back) -- will, of course, remember the FFF -- a popular (and copywritten) featurette we've sadly neglected revisiting for far too long. For the rest of you (meaning you other three), I thought it might be enjoyable to spill a sampling of my astute (albeit churlish) observations where the magic of movies is concerned and watch as you once again find yourself marveling (perhaps even aloud), "Why do I read this stupid thing?!"

Actually, my inspiration to talk about Easy Rider comes from a Byrds' song I was just listening to over and over again in my car this afternoon (which actually appears twice in the movie -- the song, I mean, not my car) called "Wasn't Born To Follow," which I knew wasn't written by Roger McGuinn (whose original name wasn't Roger but Jim ((and, for all we know, might very well not really be named McGuinn either))), but instead was written by Carol King (of all people) and Gerry Goffin (whoever the hell he is). I simply think the song is brilliant, at least performed by the Byrds. (Who knows what kind of mess Carol might have made of it with that warbly voice of hers.) But part of what made it so brilliant to me was this lovely, genius last line, which ends, "... She will argue with her logic, and mention all the things I've learned that really have no value; in the end she will surely know I wasn't born to follow." ... BUT, when I researched the song to find out the writers (like the fair, unbiased Blah-ugh! reporter I am) I was shocked, depressed disillusioned and just plain annoyed to discover that the line is "mention all the things I'D LOSE." Now doesn't that suck!? How am I supposed to find inspiration in that song NOW, knowing that instead of being a righteous 1960s anthem extolling otherness and the drug-induced Buddha mind (and I'm sure I'll be hearing from Mr. Heinz on that one!), the song's just another love sick-inspired example of Carol King's anger toward men ...

But in the end, that's neither here nor there, for the movie was what I wanted to spew about -- that classic bit of cult cinema directed (and starring) the late Dennis Hopper, showcasing the cross-country travels (and travails) of a couple of hippie/druggies, and also starring the lovingly benign Peter Fonda, who delivers some of the most magical cinematic lines in history, including "I'm hip to time" and "It gives you a whole new way of looking at the day."

Never has a film so perfectly captured the remarkably distinct fear of a quintessential bad-vibe pot moment as when Hopper and Fonda sit smoking with the great Luke Askew around the campfire in the desert night:

Hopper: Hey, man. Where ya from?
Askew: A city ...
Hopper: I just wanna know where yer from, man.

And never has the south been so accurately portrayed as when the rednecks start shooting the L.A. hippies. It's poigniant (though I can never spell that) and almost documentriacal (I think I spelled that right). (You southerners out there know what I'm talking about ... Be honest!)

And the use of the Byrds' music is brilliant, and that very song appears twice -- once when they pick up Askew hitchhiking, then later when they go swimming with the girls.

Unfortunately, as wonderful a movie as it is -- though not necessarily a particularly good one, because really it's awfully cheesy and kind of pretentious and vaguely incoherent all at once -- that swimming scene is most startling because you see how Peter Fonda's power is completely taken away when he's stripped of his Captain America jacket and you have to view him perched up on that stone wall, naked, with his sunken druggie's eyes and mad mutton chops. That's the most acute moment of commentary on the 60s drug culture -- despite the romance of cross-country cruising and American flag regalia, at the end of the druggie day, illicit consumption makes all of us -- men and women -- look like naked Peter Fondas!

Friday, March 4, 2011

My Pot Problem

March 4, 2011: It may disturb many of you to hear this, but over the past 14 years the most remarkable series of circumstances has apparently coalesced and brings to light the shocking discovery of a very serious pot problem that I'm now facing.

It all started yesterday afternoon, when I was washing the dishes. We have this well-worn stainless steel 1.4 liter Dansk pot that's been in the family these past 14 years, serving us well, particularly for making glop (a dish that I created in the early 1980s) and for boiling water (as I don't allow a teapot in the house for reasons I'll have to explain another time).

Well, I was washing away with a kind of Buddhist fervor -- drawing my dirty blue sponge in a counter-clockwise motion about the supple rim of our Scandinavian cookware -- when all of a sudden a startling sharp cut ripped across my innocent left thumb, like a knife blade, or the biting words of an angry Scandinavian. For a moment I thought it might have been caused by the pot itself, but I didn't see how that was possible ... So, owing to my notorious inability to trust my own feelings (at least where physical pain is concerned) I chalked it up to some strange minor nerve damage due in large part to fluctuating water temperatures ...

But imagine my shock when, an hour later, I saw the gash across my traumatized thumb. It was a blade cut! There was no doubt about it. And I knew at once that it was this little Danish pot -- the one that had posed itself as a dear part of our family for so many years -- that was responsible.

Quickly -- for I have children, you see -- I found that pot, drying so innocently in the dish rack, like it was just another normal day -- and I wasted no time examining its rim. Imagine my further shock when I discovered that a section around the edge -- about four inches of that very rim -- had somehow been honed to a razor sharpness over these 14 years, and was now no less than a potentially deadly weapon.

I went to work immediately -- for I have children, you see, and also a terribly careless wife -- and got my hammer. (Actually, it's not my hammer, for it's borrowed, but for the purposes of this story, just accept it as mine.) I assumed that if a sharpening stone could shear a blade, why couldn't a hammer dull it, so I began pounding the pot ... but to little effect. In fact, I think I somehow made it sharper ...

Alert to the potential danger, I informed my son not to wash that pot anymore, and also made a mental note to warn for my daughter. I also phoned my wife, but she didn't pick up, so I got resentful and decided to just let her cut herself, but then I decided to be big about it and shared the story last evening. (She didn't have much of a response, but I suspect she took it seriously; who wouldn't, after all?!)

Since yesterday I've been contemplating just why the rim has been reduced to that razor sharpness on one side. The logical theory, of course, was that 14 years of boiling water in that pot -- in particular, pouring that water into cups and bowls -- slowly ate away that top edge of the pot, like running water would smooth a stone over time ... However, there's one little problem with that theory: everyone in my family is right-handed, and therefore always pours the water to the left of the handle ... but it's the edge on the right that has become sharp!

I'm not entirely sure what the next step will be. I want that pot out of this house immediately, but wife (for some disturbingly curious reason I can't yet deduce, and believe me, my suspicion grows!) insists that we wait and don't do anything hasty ... Interestingly, I'm beginning to realize she's always been attached to that particular pot ... Very attached!

Meanwhile, that Nordic pot sits still, silently, in my dishrack at this very moment ... purporting to be innocent ... stealthily secluded 'neath the seemingly benign clutter of ceramic saucers and glass ... and waiting ... waiting ...