Back Row Heckling

"Don't you take anything serious?"

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#26 Even Old New York Was Once New Amsterdam pt. 1

     Here I was flying into the clogged heart of America. Everyone knows D.C. is the seat of government but the barely hidden truth of this nation is that cash is king. New York is the financial engine of the country and I was going to burrow myself deep into its layers.  Like a certain film wizard I had no memory of the place, gazing on it for the first time since a decade and more of paranoia and a couple years of a fear of the waves.  I wasn’t looking to wallow in the anxieties of New York’s populace, but what was I really trying to get out of going there? Family was a given, but I was not going to be trapped in endless conversations I had no intention of being a part of in the first place.  I wanted to get into the city and let that famous New York vibe wash over me.  I wanted to find the weirdos and the self-made tribes that cluster in their designated spots.  I was also going to get my hands on as much pizza as I could. 

     Right away any expectations I had were starting to unravel when I landed at JFK.  On the way to my Brooklyn base camp I passed through Queens. This was not the New York I was expecting. There were far too many trees, there were small one story houses all over the place. This was not NYC, it was the suburbs.  Not only that but from JFK to the western end of Brooklyn stretched on forever, I had only spanned the length of one borough and a smidge of another.  This was the trick up the city’s sleeve. It is the lumbering monster of several cities joined as one.  Coming from America’s third largest city still made me amazed at the sprawl of the whole thing. 

     I had gotten in pretty late so the first day in town was a wash as I set up my sleeping space and dropped into a heap, exhausted from my tour of Boston’s finest airport as I waited for a four hour layover forced upon after my flight cancellation. I had woken up at 5am to rush to the airport only to find out my original plane was cancelled and was made to fly out later in the day to Boston , further than New York because airline logic went out with dress clothes and cocktail service on all flights. Next day was all about supply runs for the week, because when someone offers you their finished basement for the week verify first. It may be a basement alright, but finished seems to be a word with a flexible definition.  I would be sharing space with a family of spiders, a powerful need for less heat, and a bathroom that was not ready for its debut performance and led to slight flooding later on.

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Filed under writing Wednesday New York City

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     There are movies we all have that we can watch an unlimited amount of times. No matter what point of the film you catch it at you will still end up watching the rest of it. A lot of those movies for me are Scorsese films. “Goodfellas”, love it, have to watch it every time I see it. I have the recipe for the prison dinner scene saved for when I have enough people to make steaks, pasta and meat sauce for. Gotta slice the garlic real thin so it melts when it hits the pan. “Casino”, just as great, let’s just watch till that part at the end. Robert DeNiro why did you marry Sharon Stone? Joe Pesci I can never hate you, you violent cad. “The Aviator”, yes let’s do this, because you know Leo and, wait why do I watch “The Aviator” so many times? I love all the music in it, I listen to the soundtrack all the time, but I also listen to the “Pirate Radio” soundtrack and haven’t seen that movie once. Chalk it up to good performances and a curious story of an obsessive man. That’s a little suspect too though because I’ve had several people, including a film professor tell me they thought it was kind of a strange movie. Then I looked at the character of Howard Hughes and how much I saw myself in him. Yes ladies and gentlemen, I feared I would become a crazy loon like the real Hughes in his later life and became fascinated with his slow decline. 

     Do you have obsessive compulsive tendencies? I sure do. In general I have a strange nervousness to me, like I have to much neural acuity going on. I blink more than most people do all the time, I get phantom twitches now and then, and shaky leg like nobody’s business. I like to wear jackets or a bag on my shoulder because I don’t know what to do with my hands when I walk around. I chew on plastic and drum pens. I don’t like to drink coffee because it just cranks all that unease up to 11.  In “The Aviator” Howard gets real anxious when someone eats one of his perfectly arranged peas. I don’t think I’ve ever gone that far by I certainly have found myself eating food in a certain pattern. I don’t have crazy methods of organization, more like purposeful messes. It may look like some junk in a corner, but that is the corner that stuff belongs in, it does not go anywhere else. I will straighten everything on my desk to line up with each other. A few things I grew out of. I used to count to eight steps when walking to school, repeating the process till I got there. I would count all the stairs when going up and down a staircase.

     So I had to face the fact, in a film about a man with all these strange behaviors, I had identified my own eccentricities with his and now I watch this man slowly unravel looking for the signs in my own life. The best thing about the movie is that It shows the life of Howard Hughes right before he goes full bonkers, so you see those small moments of his condition poking through his determined exterior. He mutters the same phrase over and over to a colleague not knowing he is doing it. I had had moments, in my own head only so far, of my thoughts being trapped on the same phrase, just saying it several times because something seemed off about it. How long would it take before I was locked alone in  a room ordering cookies with very specific chocolate chip placement?

Filed under writing Wednesday The Aviator obsessive compulsion

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     Have you been watching “Fargo” on FX like I told you so a while back? If your answer is no, why not?  Are you some kind of television hater? Well that is too bad for you if you haven’t seen it yet.  This isn’t really a TV show so much as a story the creators needed a lot of hours to finish telling properly.  There has never been a TV show where after the first couple episodes I could hear the makes whispering “Everything will be alright, we’ll take care of you, just watch.”  I’m not going to give anything away , the actual events in any Coen thing is only half the story anyway. People gots to ramble on with parables and allegories, being all metaphors for stuff. 

     For me the biggest impression left at the end of the season was a peculiar macabre reassurance about the world.  All things work out as they should in the end. There is a balance to the universe, a pendulum swing of karma.  We swing to the dark and terrible but also back to the center and over again to the good and pleasant.  There can be no true middle ground if we seek out so much pleasure, the world has rules and finite material in it. Some must do without for others to have a piece of the pie, but we don’t always do that, so we swing back to the negative. That is where the reassurance comes in. We can always go back to the positive. Things balance out. The evil things in life cannot constantly win out. Just as good times cannot last forever, but we can wait for their return.  But that’s just one idea, sometimes shit just happens.

Filed under writing Wednesday Fargo TV

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     Recently I had a crisis of identity. Which “Star ….” Nerd was I really? Between Netflix and cable I had been awash in both Star Wars and Star Trek media in the last couple of weeks.  On Netflix I watched a bunch of episodes for the last season of Clone Wars, skipping over the Padme/Anakin/Jar Jar episodes. If you are a fan of Star Wars do yourself a favor and watch the four final episodes with Yoda and remember why you liked Star Wars in the first place.  You get my little man going to Dagobah, learning more about himself despite being hundreds of years old, and putting some context to the muddy prequel films.
     Meanwhile on the Star Trek side TNG is on four different cable channels and the original comes on during the weekend so I pop in when I see one interesting. I also re-watched Star Trek Into Darkness, which yeah was worth checking again to confirm my suspicions about that whole mess. The title right away just irks me. Its not like you get a movie called Star Wars That We Are Fighting. Respect the Colon! Don’t make your prime female officer just someone’s girlfriend and don’t make the end of the movie Spock (your Brainy Smurf) beating the shit out of someone. Sure they can fight people but the resolution in the Trek series is never achieved with fists. Having a society do all it can to avoid overt militarism is a great idea for Star Trek, you bums just goofed it all up. Deanna Troi is my jam though, just wanted to point that out.
     I think it would be safe to say I am into both pretty evenly, for differing reasons. I’m sure there a lot of people who are. There is no real stance to be taken, it just occured to me I could not answer the question which one I would choose if someone asked me. I was exposed to both when I was pretty young. I remember my mom watching all the Treks as I smashed Power Rangers into X-Men on the table in front of the TV. I watched the original Star Wars on VHS tapes before George Lucas got his power-mad hands back onto the films.  I think Star Wars was easy to get into when young because it plays with traditional storytelling and themes we all can recognize. Star Trek takes more growing a taste for, with its philosophy, politics debates, and endless holographic Shakespeare productions.  I’ll always want to see swordfights and make laser noises around the house, but I’ve gained a curiosity for existentialism, ideas on morality, and some laser noise now and then.

Filed under writing Wednesday Star Trek Star Wars

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The dirt along this path has a soothing smell
that gets kicked up as a walk along.
Soft clay covered in the fickle bits of trees that close in on either side.
Leaves and twigs that swirl in the breeze, leading me around curves
to see what the ash and oak obscure from sight.
They are like me, heading down this way just because we can.
There is no great journey we are on, only doing what seems right.

There is no important search happening on this trek.
The scene before me is interest enough.
To the right is a tree bent with age, its drooping leaves
forming an arch, a formal entrance to its home in these woods.
Above comes the song of finches and doves welcomes you further in.
Stones old and worn with much to say about the years they’ve seen
offer up the perfect seat to pause and enjoy the experience

I am not here to sit though, I am here to walk with no real goal in mind.
That is my small escape from the pattern of life, to be out here
in these trees, making my mark in this dirt.
I will go back soon enough to spend my days sitting and staring, but in this moment I can get the smell of the leaves and the sound of those birds as I walk to an unknown location.

Filed under writing Wednesday

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     Dr. Manhattan, the nude quantum entity from “Watchmen” escapes Earth to self exile on Mars. Imagine for a moment that you could pull off such a feat and remove yourself from humanity and all the pressures and obligations that come with being surrounded by the human race. There would be no more pretenses to uphold, no egos to tip-toe through. You would hurt no one’s feelings, but you could not lift them up either.  Would it be more liberation or loneliness? Maybe human connection is something you find you desire far too much to sever altogether.

     Maybe you can get used to it after a while though. Perhaps you already have. What do you do with your time now? You are in a world of your own and you can accomplish whatever you see fit. Where do your thoughts go? Do you do anything magnificent if there is no one to witness it? Is curiosity and self discovery enough incentive for you to do great works? You can’t just tick away the days simply existing, or maybe you can who knows.

     Can it be life if you are the only thing living it? You are another piece floating through space with no record you had ever been around unless you leave something behind. It can be great works, it can progeny, it can even be the lasting effect you’ve had on other people all that time. If you can live with this then kudos to you. There is a lot you must consider when deciding to become a quantum entity, least of  all if you really need to be nude this whole time.

Filed under writing Wednesday

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     Conversation. How does it work? What is a more mystifying sensation than trying to trace back a twenty minute conversation you just had with someone. Start with observations on the complimentary salsa and end on your chances of visiting space, all in one long chain of chatter. There are master craftsman of the conversation. I am not one of them. I can earnestly listen to anything because I am not one to squander an advantage over the lesser species of the planet, speech making us the obvious overlords of the ape branch.  Alas the mastery of the ear arts is less praised against the power of the mouth.  A roundabout way to say I am that person who has to slide into conversation like Bugs Bunny into a soup pot. Not a total shut-in but not the life of the party either.  Fine by me, I find I like what most people have to say more than what I think is alright to babble about.

     I am not even good at talking to people like a normal super-ape, I stare off to the side as if talking to myself and anyone around me is just lucky to hear it. I mumble and will reference any song your mix of words happens to resemble.  I spew random facts at because I don’t have burning passions to espouse, and I don’t get that ruffled if you don’t like the thing I just thinged. I am so easy going I am just fine with “the uncomfortable silences “, if anything loud things get to me the most.  Yet if its too quiet I need music or 10 hours of Law and Order in the background.  So don’t take my silence as anything but sitting in the moment waiting for my time to strike, because if anything I’ve thought of the one thing I wanted to see for five minutes now.  That’s how it can come to be I’ll saunter my way towards your vodka gummie bears to find I mentioned The Unabomber and how young Americans can learn from India’s female gangs in one glorious conversation.

Filed under writing Wednesday conversation

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I sat atop the roof to watch the night sky
but there was no magic in it.
It was hard to climb up to and dirty to boot.

I walked over to the park to take in the scene
but found nothing to admire.
All muddy from the last day’s rain and no one around.

I trekked down to the lake to watch the waves go by
but got no sense of calm out there.
The still water reflected back the empty sky above.

With all these things there came to me
no stirring of great emotions
So I made my way back home the same doleful person.

I made my way across the street to see a car a come by
and I saw that thing I longed for.
I swear to you it seemed to me a dog was actually driving.

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#18 Evil Has A Name, and It’s “Tragic Childhood”

        Are you watching the “Fargo” TV show? You should be, it is fantastic. There is a character on the show played by Billy Bob Thornton who gets his kicks from messing with people in small and large ways (i.e death). Sometimes he does it for money but he always does it for the pure pleasure of doing so.  He real has great moment with a dude offering him a zombie survival kit saying “It’s already dog eat dog friend, I’m not sure what worse a bunch of zombies could do”. This murderous, calculating sociopath, this is a guy who gets me.  What is the defining feature of zombie movies aside from the zombies? The real shitty humans who will throw you to the dead for that last box of cheerios. That is the real danger I want my stories to be about, the evil inside of men’s hearts. Zombies and other monsters are too simple, just kill them off, but you can’t kill an essential truth of humanity.  I like apocalyptic movies where there is only the folly of man to blame and we have to ponder the idea of what keeps us all in check, whether it be the rule of law, threat of arms or our own compassion towards each other.  Heck civilization barely has to crumble away just show what people are capable of when they believe they have no accountability for their actions.

          On the flip side of this is the trend to try and explain why an evil person or character behaves the way they do. Psychology tries to find the root of evil in our past selves and characters get back stories to set up their motivations or explain their behavior. Along with that is trying to rehabilitate traditional antagonist characters with stories from their point of view. The Russell Crowe version of Robin Hood started out as a script about the Sheriff of Nottingham and his version of events. There’s that Maleficent movie about the dragon shifter from Sleeping Beauty being just misunderstood.  Not that this tactic can’t be good but a lot of time it doesn’t work or it robs an interesting character of the appeal you had for them in the first place. The best example of this is Hannibal Lecter when they rolled out the pretty ridiculous “Hannibal Rising”. The original Lecter was an inhuman oddity, an abomination, a devil in the flesh however you saw him he was just as amoral as it comes. In “Hannibal Rising” they removed the idea that he was just pure evil for evil’ sake and tried to explain his actions, with extreme prejudice. He not only lived through World War 2 but he had a little sister to take care of by himself, but not just that he had to survive Nazi mercenaries, but also his sister had to be eaten in front of him.  It took the most enigmatic movie monster and made him tragic. No thanks. 

          People don’t need extreme circumstances to want to do terrible things.  Humans are naturally selfish, greedy and vengeful in turns. The stories come in when people act on those feelings.

Filed under writing Wednesday evil Fargo television film

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#17 I Watched Lone Ranger and I Kind of Liked It

          Yeah that’s right, you heard me.  It’s about as much praise as I can give the movie. It wasn’t completely terrible, it had funny moments and western tropes I enjoy. It also had bits I did not enjoy and I could see why it turned a bunch a people off. I finally watched it because I believe you can’t shit on something you never tried.  Let’s dig into the good before I rip it too much. First reason to like this movie, the horse. The horse is great in this movie. Its like a cheeky monkey character.  Somehow they got a horse that looked like the Danny Glover of horses, meaning he looked like he wanted to shout he was too old for the shit going on around him.  He drank old timey whiskey but was always ready for action. He was Horse Cop, the grizzled police veteran three weeks from retirement.  The second thing was undercutting the idea of supernatural or magic things. They toed the line so you could say this was just a lucky guy and his super smart horse or the Lone Ranger really was unkillable  and he had a spirit horse. You could pick either and be right.  Having the other Comanches call out Tonto for being unstable grounded the whole movie which was good because otherwise this would have just been Pirates of the Caribbean with six shooters.  Third the plan from the villain wasn’t too ludicrous. Shoving Indians off their land to steal the silver on it and make way for the railroad was a very real thing that happened, just a lot more white people than one main dude.  So pretty standard western setting, cavalry versus natives, trains cutting through the frontier and plenty of rocks and sand. 

          Then comes the things I did not care for and made the movie very meh.  Right away was the choice to go with a framing device, like anyone cares that we need a reason to learn the story in a movie. That’s why we watched a movie to get a story.  Old man Depp was very weird to look at and it not just set up the story of the Lone Ranger but it kept interrupting the events so you get pulled out of it.  You had my attention and now you yanked it away, not a great idea for an okay movie.  Alright we have to get through that fine. Now you go ahead and throw Helena Bonham Carter into a Johnny Depp movie, because that’s not a joke by now.  Not even as someone important to the movie really, so it just sticks out as a thing you point to, “jeez these two on screen again, they must be in a tryst with Burton by now”.  The biggest thing though was the weird cliche that kept happening all the time.  The old stop shooting all the time to point my gun at the other star for a really long time while we wait for some strange coincidence or unlikely rescue to stop me from shooting.  Seriously this happens to everyone main character in the film until the very end. Not quite like the evil monologue pause just like let me walk over to you and say something witty but don’t shoot.

         I think the movie fell into the “John Carter” trap. I liked that movie as well but it definitely was not a $100 million dollar enjoyment film. I could have liked the same movie on a smaller budget. Maybe don’t buy three whole trains to crash for thirty minutes.

Filed under writing Wednesday The Lone Ranger movie