Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Scorned of Mars

Speaking of distant planets, which I always feel like I’m doing whenever I speak of whatever passes for “normality” in this world, one of the pleasures of John Carter is sitting back and watching other critics (including some pretty high-powered ones) fall all over each other trying to make Uranus out of themselves.

Because some of them did try to insist that the movie was in some way a rip-off The Matrix, or Star Wars, or was “influenced” by many a melange of the other big-budget, rock-the-theater, CGI summer-stock tentpole Fantasy Spectaculars that have become Hollywood’s bread and butter since Star Wars and Jaws essentially rewrote the Hollywood DNA all those years ago in those still-naive, still-exciting summers of the seventies. 
Of course the truth is the reverse and ninety percent of everything that we've seen in this genre over the last quarter-century is indebted to some extent to the Mars novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, also the creator of Tarzan and the Pellucidar series and other lesser known pulp adventure romps. Even A Princess of Mars (the first novel of the series, upon which John Carter is more or less based) didn’t start it all -- but Burroughs combined a wild imagination with an instinct for narrative suspense, a masterful ability to write action, and a shrewd sword-thrust to the reader’s libido.
The problem with John Carter the movie, aside from two things that I’ll get to at the end of this piece, is that it arrives too late. So many movies have so shamelessly stolen from ERB over the years, that John Carter of Mars (to give the title revealed in the closing credits), appearing after something like fifty years of the ultimate, most prolonged Development Hell ever (Bob Clampett was trying to make an animated movie version as far back as the ‘40s. Since then, I do believe that somebody, somewhere, has been trying to get this movie made virtually all the time, and the rights have bounced from studio to studio, from creative team to creative team. The Burroughs estate must have loved this, since they always got paid for the option and never had to deal with a lousy movie damaging the property), is forced into the unenviable position of seeming like a rehash of things that we have seen before, of seeming to steal from itself. 
And so even fans of the original books, which are marvelous by the way, especially if you are thirteen years old, may have to remind themselves from time to time as the movie unfolds that this, at last, is the real deal, and we should not fault John Carter just because we are exhausted by the onslaught of big-budget CGI spectaculars.
What’s evident from the opening scenes is that this picture has been made by people who know and love the books. The plot details may not jibe exactly with A Princes of Mars, the actors and the settings and the visualization may not look exactly like the characters and the places that you had in mind when you read those same books all those years ago -- but how could they? As witness the many artists who have illustrated Burroughs over the years, especially including Frank Frazetta, ERB left a lot open to interpretation, which is part of what drew us into his stories in the first place: he had a knack for making us an active participant in the story. That said, The filmmakers cannot possibly please all the fans; but they have done a remarkable job trying, because they are fans themselves. 
Just as it should, the movie begins in Civil War-era USA, with Burroughs himself discovering the story as it is passed down to him in a wonderful journal. It’s this framing device that gives the story its central Romantic tragedy, one that allowed Burroughs to end his first novel on a cliffhanger (which the filmmakers thankfully have chosen not to do, as I doubt there will be a sequel) and that ultimately gives the movie its heart: because you can’t have a Real Romance, can you, without having something to tear it asunder. Other critics complained that this device made the movie overlong and shattered its focus: I insist that it gives the picture its heart. 
Because the Mars novels are Romances, first and foremost. That they take place on another world and are populated by eight-armed tharks and mad scientists and giant wooly monsters only makes the mushy stuff go down easy for boy readers. There are also themes of loyalty, devotion and elements of charm that you will not find in modern fantasies. It’s not all blood and thunder. At its core, underneath the spectacle, John Carter is humane.
Of the casting, I originally had my doubts. But even with his unfortunate last name, Taylor Kitsch won me over both as the burned-out Civil War veteran and the rejuvenated warrior of Mars ultimately motivated to new heights by the most unexpected and powerful of loves. As the object of that love, Lynn Collins technically only had to be “incomparable,” as that’s how the princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris, is described over and over again in the books. She is that -- oh boy, is she ever -- but she takes it one step further, and one look at her resume tells me why (it’s up at Go look it up for yourself). 
In the end, John Carter is a solid entertainment in its own right and a real pleasure for fans of the books, brought down by a lousy title and a marketing campaign that really fell down in its duty. When you’ve got a property like the Mars books, part of the job of the marketing department is to educate that part of the public that never heard of Edgar Rice Burroughs. You can do this in two sentences. There is a fan-produced trailer out there on the interwebs that is miles, light years, better than the ones that came out of the Disney marketing department. 
You need to let people know, first, that Edgar Rice Burroughs is the creator of Tarzan. You need to let people know, second, that from this unique talent came a story that inspired every fantasy that has graced the screen since. You need to let people know, third, that one of the most beloved fantasy series of all time is finally coming to the screen. And then you need to show Lynn Collins in all her red-skinned, tattooed glory, standing against the Martian suns. After that, all you need to do is simply say:
A Princess of Mars.
-- Freder.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Into Every Life New Music Must Fall

For much of my life, I have not been self-determining even in terms of the music that I listened to, instead relying on friends and acquaintances to point me in this direction or that. Sometimes this worked, sometimes, not so much. I remember my friend BC knocking out a cassette of tunes for me by an artist named Dick Feller. Twangy country ballads. This would fall into the category of “not so much.” But then BC’s tastes always did run in that direction, with the Cash family and Asleep at the Wheel being the picks of his that I can not merely tolerate but also enjoy.
Among the very few musical artists that I ever discovered for myself through my own devices were Renaissance (in their second iteration with Annie Haslam on vocals) and Steeleye Span, and I’m proud to say that I think I pointed a couple of friends in their direction.
The whole time that I knew her, my sister did only one good thing for me: she brought stuff home from college. She brought books home and so as a sophomore in high school I was exposed to, and devoured, William Faulkner, Summerhill, P. G. Wodehouse. And she brought music home: in particular, Jimmie Sheeris and Orchestra Luna. Sheeris is dead now and Luna has been defunct a long time with one of its key members dead from AIDS. The two have little in common other than that they travel well beyond the mainstream of music, Spheeris into Jazzy drug-addled mysticism, Luna into a kind of retro-funk-Broadway-pop-classicism. Both were absolutely great in their own way, and I was overjoyed to be able to replace the vinyl records last year.
Left to my own devices, I realized at last that I really like that sort of stuff, the odd and off-beat, the unusual, the kind of music that still holds together melodically but carries a healthy dose of eccentricity in one way or another.
But, left to my own devices, I go for long periods of time, years, without discovering anything new. When I realized this a month or so back, I decided it was high time to change that and go looking for some New Tunes that would be all to my own taste.
I hate labels and this is a subject for another post, but I had a sense that it might produce some interesting results if I went to the music section and typed in the word steampunk. I was right. Oh, yes, I got a lot of junk right off the bat that I was able to dismiss outright: anything with the words “steam” or “cog” in the title, anything with the band members dressed up in souped-up Victoriana, the Dr. Steels and that ilk. There was a band called Abney Park that the Steampunk crowd seem to have crowned their official band. I listened to samples, and wasn’t impressed. 
(Oh, I take that back: I did spring for one item with the word “steampunk” in the title: The Roots of Steampunk 1903 - 1929, and I ask you: forty cuts for $8.99, among which are songs like these: “Yes Sir, That's My Baby” (Ace Brigode & His 14 Virginians); “Minnie the Moocher” (Cab Calloway); “You're the Cream in My Coffee” (Colonial Club Orchestra, Scrappy Lambert); “Darktown Shuffle” (Seattle Harmony Kings); “Ain't Misbehavin'” (Eva Taylor); “Make Believe” (Ben Bernie, Scrappy Lambert); “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along” (Ben Selvin & His Orchestra, The Keller Sisters); “Blue Skies” (Harry Richman); “With a Song in My Heart” (Franlyn Baur); and “It Had to Be You” (Broadway Broadcasters) -- if labeling music like this “steampunk” will bring it to a new audience, I’m all in favor of that; meanwhile, there’s lots of great stuff in this collection that I didn’t have!)
Discounting the obvious crap and moving on down through the list, spending a lot of time and following links of things that were connected to other things that were connected to other things, gradually the mine started to produce some results, and -- with some bands and albums still ahead of me to try -- I came away with a handful of new “discoveries” that are all, to one degree or another, pleasing me very much, thank you.
Right at the top of my list was Rasputina. We are just beginning when I tell you that their music is nearly all performed on cello. Some banjo. Some drums. Melora Creager, the bandleader, songwriter, cover artiste, founder -- Man O Man, that woman is what we used to call a “character,” which makes her one of My People. Rasputina’s songs dart about like Victorian butterflies that have been imbued with an ancient familial curse. Imagine a string quartet that has gone slightly wrong, that’s missing an instrument or two, that’s covered in cobwebs, that’s reaching out to grab you by the sleeve. A warning seems to lie underneath the elaborate tapestrywork of the melody. Their latest album is Sister Kinderhook, and I wish I’d had it in my head during my last stay at 4 East. The song titles tell you something: “Calico Indians,” “Sweet Sister Temperance,” “Dark February,” et all. It’s not Easy Listening. It’s the kind of music that’s intended to alter your DNA, and I like that sort of thing very much indeed.
Next I went with another compilation, The Electro Swing Revolution, Volume 2. If you’ve seen the delightful French animated film The Triplets of Belleville (which was Really Unjustly stiffed for a Best Animated Film Oscar in 2003 in favor of the egregiously sickening Finding Nemo, in my opinion far and away Pixar’s worst movie), then you know exactly what kind of music is collected here. It’s the Jazz Age all over again, baby -- only this time it’s been plugged in, turned on, amped up, the Big Band era filtered through Fritz Lang’s Metropolis; with exciting, pleasing results. The names of the bands meant nothing to me, but one listen to the first cut (“Box of Secrets” by Zarif) was enough to make me push the “buy” button. I can’t put this album on and listen to it from beginning to end, because after a while it becomes too enervating, but taken in small doses, it’s like a straight shot of excitement to your cerebral cortex. 
In the same vein, the French band Caravan Palace is remaking the 1930’s in the image of the Space Age. The very expressive cover of their latest album, Panic, which shows a giant retro robot atop a redesigned Empire State building being menaced by Flying Saucers, says it all. In a very real way, the band are jazz traditionalists, with some of the basic riffs of their music sounding just like they came off of a scratchy old 78 RPM record. But from there, it’s almost as if the music has been filtered through a bizarre, gigantic, Max Fliesherish cartoon Bop Culture Machine; you know the kind of machine I mean; the kind that belches and whirrs and beats like a heart and burps steam and grows a face, chugs on coffee, sticks its tongue out at you and then receives a shock so deep that it lights up so that you can see its bones clear through. That’s Caravan Palace. Again, it’s not Light Fluffy listening, but music to chew on. I guess all these albums have that in common.
Finally, and in a completely different vein, and I do mean vein, I came upon The Birthday Massacre. I really like these kids. They’ve chosen violet as their official color, and it suits them perfectly. This sort of thing doesn’t usually appeal to me; the  music is L-O-U-D with a capital L, the guitars don’t do anything so much as create an almost physical wall against which the rest of the band can throw anything they want. And yet. . . and yet. . . there’s a really invigorating mix of sinister gothic punk themes (“You build it, we break it / You feel it, we fake it”) and, believe it or not, bright and light, almost cheery melody-driven pop (the keyboard player shapes most of their music), all brought into focus by lyricist and lead vocalist “Chibi” (the band uses nicknames, birth names unknown), who often manages to be vulnerable, menacing, evocative and seductive all at the same time.
Of all the albums I’ve discussed here, their 2007 effort Walking With Strangers has been getting the most play here at the all-new, all-different DuckHaus. Its driving loudness seems to help push me on. Its violet anti-social qualities ring true. Except for its eccentricity, its combining of genres, it’s not like anything else I’ve ever chosen for myself before. Perhaps this is part of what I need: New music for a new life. 
-- Freder.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Little Ducks All in a Row

One of the dozens of character bisque figures from my mother's collection

My action plan in the days following my latest release from the hospital has been more or less one of inaction. On the whole, I wouldn't recommend this approach to most people; and yet, within the last week, and seemingly without much involvement from me, a surprising number of the "stuffs" on my plate have either resolved themselves, or are in the pipeline to be resolved.

My car is on the way to being repaired. It just sort of happened. I didn't ask the insurance company to fix it. We were on the phone to talk about . . . ehm, the other person's car, and they just took it over from there. By the end of next week it will be done. All other ramifications of the accident are now fully in the hands of the insurance companies. Legal help for my October court date has been, if not secured, at least contacted.

My furnace has been cleaned for the year. I have a Will in the works (which is kind of a dangerous thing to have in the works in my state of mind, but needs must where the Devil rides, or something like that). The temporary disruption to my phone and internet service was nipped in the bud quickly and easily. Been to the doctor to get my prescriptions adjusted. With the exception of the weekend, which I'd rather not get into, I've been a little Worker Bee. I've been Making Things Happen.

This all feels to me like . . . a band-aid has been applied to the most glaring boo-boos. It's what you do, right?

At the mental health outpatient program we are. . . working on things. There's a lot to work on. For starters, I have all the self-esteem of a tapeworm. No, I take that back. . . a tapeworm has more self-esteem than I do.

I did my first comprehensive job search a few days ago. Lawsy, Miz Sca'lett, after that, a person needs to swallow a whole bottle of Welbutrin! Oh, there's work out there -- if you're happy doing telemarketing for T-Mobile. I guarantee you that after a couple of days at T-Mobile I'd be grinding the Deadly Nightshade plant that's growing in my back yard into a fine paste and downing it with a vodka chaser.

Yeah, Job search. That's an instant trip into Depression City.

Anhyhoo, that's wagon before the elephant stuff. I need to get my resume in order first, so that I can spring, like a wolf upon its prey, when that perfect job comes strolling down the path to grandma's house.

But, you know, my desk is in order. My desk is really neat and organized. I'll never miss an appointment because they're all perfectly entered onto my computer calendar and synched with my phone and iPad. I'm really, really organized. . .

... except I still manage to get about half of my appointments wrong, somehow. Go figure.

If you keep busy enough, you don't notice that your life is essentially empty. My old job at Colby had reached the point where it wasn't even good for that anymore.

I had to laugh in the IOP today, one of the facilitators was trying to think of something positive to offer me, and what she came up with was that I'd managed to establish a really good relationship -- with my cats! I about busted a gut on that one! Talk about praising with faint damns! It reminded me of the old joke about the comic book character Ant-Man: "Wooooooo! I guess you really clean up on those ANTS!"

Yes, my Indian Name is "Makes Friends with Animals". That's also my Mutant Power.

And now I can see that this post has begun to follow the example of my Action Plan and meander off in no particular direction. OK. yes, I'm getting something done. But is it Art?

-- Freder

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lost and Found Metropolis

I often wonder when I write a post about movies, books or any kind of media, if it isn't just literary masturbation; if I really have anything worth saying, worth adding, to any given discussion about any given piece. That's especially true when I have a weekend like the one I just had, which was self-destructive and fatalistic to put it mildly; and it's especially true when the subject is something like Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

Who doesn't know about Metropolis (and, if they don't, who can't find out about it, with much more scholarly information than I could give, at the click of a mouse)? If you don't know it, the story behind Metropolis is almost as good as the movie itself. Maybe better. We didn't think a complete version would ever turn up. We were wrong.

Maybe the best thing to do in the case of Metropolis is to go all personal on you. In the early '90s I was working as The Night Guy in a small College Library in rural Maine. At that time, the lower level was a large computer/study hall and a fully enclosed A/V room that didn't see much use. I came up with the idea of running an informal weekly film series in the A/V room and my boss bought it. That was a great time!

So, once a week, usually on Thursday nights, I'd run a full program beginning with a cartoon, a comedy short, a cliffhanger serial (it was Republic's 1941 Spy Smasher, more on that later) and at last the feature. Attendance was usually pretty light, ranging from a couple of people at worst (for my Halloween show, The Abominable Dr. Phibes) to about twelve (surprisingly, for the animated feature Batman: Mask of the Phantasm).

There was one young student who came to every show. In most cases she stayed to see the features, but she wasn't there to see the features. She was there to see Spy Smasher. I remember as the group filed out after the first showing, she turned to me and asked, "What happens to Spy Smasher?" I said, "Y'gotta come back next week to find out!"

And she did. She came back every week. I overheard her talking to a girlfriend about Spy Smasher once, towards the end of the run. She said, "It's the craziest thing I've ever seen!"

Also towards the end of the run, as the semester was winding down and summer was rising, there was one night when a couple of the students hung around for a while afterwards while I broke down the set up, just to talk. The gal who liked Spy Smasher was one of them. She said, "D'you know which movie was my favorite? Metropolis."

Well, you could've knocked me over with a feather. A silent movie.

She was referring to the Georgio Moroder version, which I ran from a second-generation bootlegged VCR copy. It had only been a few years since the release of the Moroder version, but it was already out of circulation and hard to find.

Like it or lump it, at that time, the Moroder version was the most complete and also the most sensible version of Metropolis out there. But let's be clear: it's not Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and I don't think anyone -- least of all Moroder himself -- ever said it was. It's Georger Moroder's version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, all decked up with color and bombast, and as such it's kind of a neat example of the pliability of cinema art.

I have a friend who loathed Moroder's pop/rock soundtrack... I rather like it, and furthermore, if that soundtrack -- which featured the likes of Pat Benatar, Adam Ant, Freddie Mercury and Loverboy -- can  help Metropolis reach and speak to a new audience of young people -- as it seemed to do in that little screening room way back then -- I'm all in favor of it. If it plays a bit like Metropolis MTV, thems the breaks. It was a noble effort, and didn't deserve to fall into complete obscurity.

Which of course is what happened. Released in 1984, by 1990 it was almost as lost as Lang's original.

You know by now, don't you, that after almost a hundred years of existing with over a third of its original runtime cut and presumed missing forever, a nearly-complete print of Lang's Metropolis was found in Buenos Aires? You know that this is the Philosopher's Stone of moviedom? This is the Golden Goose that no one ever expected to find. This is like finding the arms of the Venus de Milo.

Which is not to say that every frame of the missing footage is a priceless treasure. Especially in the final third, there's a lot of extra running about that doesn't add a great deal to the movie's profundity. But there is some great stuff in those newly discovered twenty-five minutes O my Brothers and Sisters. I won't spoil it for you. Suffice to say that one of the great missing images, and one that binds Frederson and Rotwang, is finally here, and that Freder's sickbed vision of the Robot's dance at last makes sense. There's much that finally makes sense. There's much that is simply fuller, that breathes more deeply. Metropolis hasn't changed with the discovery of its missing third -- but it has become more solid.

Kino has a habit of doing things up right, and in conjunction with their release of The Complete Metropolis they have also reissued Moroder's version. I highly recommend both of them to you. The two complement each other. And I must say, Moroder got one thing spot-on right that the original version, while authentic, just blows: the final shot.

Now then, you might ask. Freder. Yes. I took it from the main character of Metropolis. I don't flatter myself that I'm some mediator, but I do feel, have always felt, a sense of not belonging in any of the established walks of society. Oh, and it's a derivation of my middle name.

-- Freder.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An(other) open Letter to My Father, or, "Issues, I Have Issues..."

I'll try to keep these as simple, unemotional and objective as possible, but I have to get them off my chest.

Issue #1) I see M__ as feeling somehow "betrayed" by the events of father's day and furthermore putting the house up for sale as being at least in part a reaction to that.

And it's a huge OVER reaction. I have ONE relapse and she falls all to pieces and feels all betrayed. And she is not even kin to me. My only relationship with her is that she is your wife.

The only person I really felt that I'd betrayed was C_____, because she was the only one who put any real WORK into my sobriety, and when I wound up back in 4 East d'you know what her reaction was? She put her hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, "You didn't betray me. You didn't betray anyone. This is a disease of relapse."

So, as far as I am concerned, M__ can either climb down off her high horse, or she can ride off into the sunset on it, and either way, I don't give a damn.

You, on the other hand, I give a damn about. I suppose you realize that if you sell the house and move out west we most likely will never see each other again. I know we haven't seen each other much this year, but in case you hadn't noticed, I've been having a rough year. 

And -- even though the money may have come from one or the other partner -- it's a marriage, and that's a partnership, and that means you have a say, too.

Issue #2) I've swallowed this one for years and years and I'm not going to swallow it any more: Who ever decided that YOU get to choose the Agenda for Topics of Conversation when we get together for lunch? For that matter, why do we have to have an Agenda at all? When the guys and I all get together, there is no agenda. We just all talk about whatever pops into our heads at the moment. If we do come to the table with something we want to say, we know we'll get a chance to say it sooner or latter. Why are you so frightened of silence? Silence gives someone else a chance to formulate a thought.

It is really, really off-putting to know that when you and I sit down for lunch, you are just going to yammer out straight, tick off the items on your agenda, and then when you're done, lunch is over -- goodbye.

That's not a relationship.

For my part, I live alone and it takes me a while to work up to a point -- if I even have a point to work up to. Sometimes it's nice to just sit with someone in silence.

Issue #3) I've been trying to be subtle about this by spelling out on several occasions that this is a **MENTAL HEALTH** outpatient program; likewise I've made several references to thoughts and even plans of suicide and those references just seem to have bounced off your head unnoticed. 

My official diagnosis at the hospital and IOP is: "Major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe, nonpsychotic. Alcohol abuse." Please note the word abuse, not addiction. So yes, we are dealing with alcohol consumption specifically in my treatment plan, but as a symptom,  in the context a larger illness, not as an addiction: "Douglas describes depression that he has felt all of his life. He has used alcohol to numb himself. He reports feeling loss of a sense of purpose and meaning in his life. Douglas reports that he has constant, intense thoughts of wanting to die.  . . . He recently had a plan to hang himself at home."

All of this is pretty heavy shit to lay on you, but hear it you must. Just holding it in and sweeping it under the rug isn't going to do me a damn bit of good. 

Knowing all this, if you still feel like lunch sometime, I still think a neutral location is best. You know my schedule!

-- Freder

Sunday, July 15, 2012


With some hours to go before the evening comes along and, with any luck, cools things down enough for me to cut the grass, and with a growing stack of DVDs at my side, I guess you know what I’m going to be yammering at you about today.

First up is Paramount’s 1933 Alice in Wonderland, and O my brothers and sisters, what a disappointment this was. With Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle, Alison Skipworth as The Duchess, Gary Cooper as the White Knight, W. C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty, Edward Everett Horton as the Mad Hatter, Edna Mae Oliver as the Red Queen, Charlie Ruggles as the March Hare, Jack Oakie and Richard Arlen as Tweedledum and Tweedledee (although half of these folks merely provided voicework for their parts), it certainly sounds like it could be like a lot of fun, doesn’t it?

Alas, while it does have a terrific look (a sort of John Tenniel “lite”, a sort of cleaned-up Tenniel that looks like what it is: all temporary structures designed to be used for a day and then quickly struck, with even less attempt at naturalism made than, say, what was made by the far less “flush” Hal Roach Studios in Laurel and Hardy’s Babes in Toyland just a year later), and the doughy fright make-up used to realize the Wonderland characters has some novelty value, this Wonderland is about as much fun as a day at the snail races.

To be fair, Alice is notoriously hard to get right. Come to think of it, has anyone ever gotten it right? Disney failed – twice! Most screen Alices (and it has been filmed to the point where you want to shout “knock it off, awreddy!”) have the effect of making me want to stand up and slide quietly out of the room. Some of them make me want to scream (Whoopie Goldberg as The Cheshire Cat, anyone?). There is a 1949 French version directed by Leo Bunin that I remember quite fondly, but not having seen it in yonks, and my memory being what it is, I can’t wholeheartedly urge anyone to track down a copy.

The best movie version of Alice in Wonderland isn’t even an adaptation of the books. Dennis Potter’s Dreamchild (1985) gives us the real Alice, now in her eighties, coming to America on the centenary of the book’s publication. She has never quite come to terms with her memories of the Rev. Charles Dodgson (whose feelings for her may not have been strictly platonic or paternal), or for that matter of the Wonderland characters, who, as projections of Dodgson/Carroll, have a dark undercurrent that is fully explored here. With Wonderland characters designed by Jim Henson’s creature shop, marvelous performances from Coral Brown as the elderly Alice and Ian Holm as Dodgson, and a full-blooded script by Potter that ranges from present to past, from the outer world to the inner one, this little-known and extremely under-rated picture is the only screen Alice that anyone needs.

Back to 1933.

The problem here is that Paramount’s screenwriters have taken random setpieces from both books, thrown them into a snifter, shaken them up and dumped them out at random onto a chessboard. All of the internal logic of the books, their spinal cord, so to speak, has been ripped out. There is no through-line. It’s just a series of supposedly whacky-charming scenes, except that most of them are neither whacky nor charming. Fields as Humpty Dumpty comes the closest, and the producers must have known it, as it ends up being the second longest sequence, next to Gary Cooper’s turn as the White Knight.

Disney opined that his animated Alice “lacked heart.” This Alice, in the person of Charlotte Henry, goes so far beyond that to be annoying – perhaps not so annoying that you want to slap her silly, but certainly annoying and dull enough to put me to sleep. It’s a very short movie, yet I had to shut the damned thing off and finish it the next day. Beware! Beware! Paramount will try to lure you into this “Wonderland” with the glitter of its stars, but as so often happens, take away the glitter and you’re left with something very common indeed. . .


HBO’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee caught my eye one day from the El Cheapo section at Wallyworld. After a rocky start (which included a couple of really lousy performances from Colin Feore and Fred Thompson as Sherman and Grant respectively, along with some very brief but completely unnecessary foul language and graphic violence that was quite obviously tossed in just to show us that this was an HBO TV movie, not your average namby-pamby broadcast TV movie) this finally settles down to be an absorbing, even-handed portrayal of yet another of our nation’s Most Embarrassing Moments.

I think this may be the best performance of Aiden Quinn’s career. As Senator Harry Dawes, he’s given more meat to chew on than usual, that much is certain. But it is an ensemble piece, and once you get past the painful Messrs. Feore and Thompson most everyone shines – in the case of the Amazing, Shape-Shifting J. K. Simmons (is there anything this man cannot do?) this comes as no surprise.

If it all comes down to the story, or in this case the history, my emotions are mixed. Of course you feel for the individuals caught up in this tragedy, a tragedy so far out of any individual’s control that it might as well be Greek, it might as well be the Gods lobbing thunderbolts down out of the heavens, I mean, good lord, the best that anyone can hope for in such a situation is to dodge the blows as long as you can.

(Aside: in the long political-correctness struggle over what words do we use, how do we call people, how should we label, classify, or otherwise delineate and draw borders around people, I happen to believe that people should be called people; in this case, my preferred terminology is neither “Indian” or “Native American,” but Sioux.)

So – yes, when you look at the frozen body of a dead mother cradling a dead child in the snow, your heart bleeds – how can it not? But when you pull your camera eye back and back and back until you see the nation as a whole; then you realize: there was no way that this was ever, under any circumstances, going to turn out any other way. Your heart bleeds no less for the mother and child, and your soul approves no more of the way the events played out: but that was the way the events always were going to play out, if anything on this earth ever was ordained, by the gods or whatever you want to call them – that was ordained and set out in stone, because the tribes were a force of nature, whereas the whites were an unstoppable machine intent on spreading out across this nation no matter what. If the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon could not stop them, what were the Sioux and the other tribes but a minor annoyance?

Were the people who left their tribes and assimilated themselves any wiser than the ones who stayed? I think not. Just different. When the machine overtakes you, and you cannot stop it, and your choices are limited, you react in your own way, the only way that you can.


My friend S_____, of the Maine branch of Confuse-A-Cat, Ltd., pointed out to me that he read the James Bond books when he was quite young, although his mother did everything in her power to prevent it. Nonetheless, the only book that Ian Fleming ever wrote with children as its intended audience was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a charming story of a working-class English family and the adventures that they have in their fabulous flying motor-car.

With Mary Poppins the box-office miracle that it was, and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli owning, as he did, the film rights to all of Mr. Fleming’s books, it was inevitable that a musical film – very much in the spirit of Poppins, even down to purloining its male star – should be made, and in 1968 it was.

I had read the book about three years earlier, and so the movie, which departs from the book the way a rocket departs from a launching pad, was a disappointment. Not a crashing disappointment (we’ll get into that), but as usual with these things, the book was so very much better, and it wasn’t just that nothing can compare to the movie screen of your own imagination. Fleming told a simpler, more melodramatic, less overtly comedic story, and did it expertly. My advice to anyone is still, to this day – get yourself a copy of the book and read it first. It’s not a great classic. But it was one of my earliest introductions to what I latter came to know as a charming trip through the English countryside, and for that it will always be a favorite. Comes with a fudge recipe, too,

Now, Cubby Broccoli came along, took the basic idea, hooked it up to a spigot and filled it to bursting with hot air. He did that with all his pictures, even the Bond movies. This is a James Bond movie for kids, with a couple of good songs to recommend it (especially “Hushabye Mountain”). Here’s what I wrote about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at my Criticker account, and I see no reason to expand upon it here: Succeeds simply by looking great and taking us to wonderfully beautiful locations.


A few weeks back, before all hell broke loose in my life, I posted here that I was going through a “phase” of so-called martial arts and Chinese “wuxia” films in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which I still admire so much. That “phase” did not stop with the handful of movies I “talked” about in that post, friends, no it did not.

The Banquet stars Zhang Ziyi from Crouching Tiger, and it very much wants to be China’s answer to Kurasawa’s Throne of Blood. If it weren’t already taken, that would be a better title for it than either The Banquet or Legend of the Black Scorpion, which is the new title it was given on its DVD release. That ought to tell you something. The marketers don’t know what to do with thing, because the moviemakers didn’t know what to do with it, which is sad. There’s a good movie in here – somewhere.

No matter what you call it, this is Hamlet in Chinese. The adaptation is a good one, the performances are excellent, the movie is drop-dead gorgeous to look at, the drama, being tried and tested, is compelling – but every now and then everything comes to a screeching halt so that we can have a rather pointless (and unusually bloody) wuxia style sword battle, one that, while beautifully choreographed by the master Yuen Wo-Ping, really has nothing to do with anything happening around it. Presumably, the only reason these scenes are even in the film is so that the producers can market it overseas to the same audiences who lapped up Crouching Tiger. It’s just so misguided. They had a beautiful film here without the fighting. Conversely, if you’re a martial arts fan coming to see lots and lots of flying fists and sizzling swordplay, you’re going to be disappointed, because there’s so little of it.

I guess if I was more of an optimist, I’d say, “Oh, there’s something for everyone!” Instead, I feel like they had the makings of two good movies here – and spoiled them both.

Hero and House of Flying Daggers are both of a piece. Both are directed by the same man, both are eye-poppingly, jaw-droppingly beautiful pieces of filmmaking, with strong stories that take time to unravel their full strands of deceit and cunning. Both are tragedies – which I like; you never get that from Hollywood anymore. Both combine art and story and stylish action into eye candy of the highest order. Both were essentially made for the Western audience, again to cash in on the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Both succeed on their own merits as well as on the cashing in part. But neither one really connected with my heart.

As the Hero of Hero meets his swarm of literally thousands of arrows, he does so with honor, not repressing anything, because there is nothing to repress. As the lovers in House of Flying Daggers stumble offstage to their separate fates, we are left with nothing but a sense of futility.

As I wrote in my earlier post, one of the things I liked about Crouching Tiger was that its heroes were even more repressed than I am. Though a tragedy, and a profound one at that, with everyone’s dreams dashed, still the movie ends with one character making a sacrifice that might, just maybe, just possibly, carry the far-distant hope of reversing the terrible woes that she helped to create.

There’s nothing like that in Hero or House, and so I could not completely warm up to either of them.

Although it stars (and was co-produced by) Michelle Yeoh, a martial arts goddess who’s still got it at age fifty, the less said about Silver Hawk, the better. Instead I’ll jump back in time to her co-starring role with Jet Li in the kung fu komedy Tai Chi Master.

I have to call it a comedy because so much of it is played for laughs, even if the expected laughs never arrive. About two thirds of the way through the picture, the hero experiences a crisis of spirit that causes a severe mental breakdown, from which he ultimately emerges as the Master of the movie’s title. This crisis and his eventual recovery from it would be so much more effective if it weren’t portrayed as something out of a Keystone Kops movie, with Li bumbling around doing self-conscious slapstick riffs on his co-stars.

The action – which is constant – is spectacular, though, even if you can see the wires some of the time.

This post is getting on in years, so I will try to cut it short. Next up is Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster; I enjoyed this one even more than the first, perhaps because, in the person of Sammo Hung, it features an older fat guy who can still float like a ghost and sting like a nest of angry hornets. I note with interest other critics who knock this for its nationalistic fervor (the villain is a deeply arrogant British boxer who’s quick with the put down) -- but hey, how many American pictures can you think of that have done the same thing, only ten times worse? Why is it only bad when the Chinese do it?

Finally, Legend of the Fist, again starring Donnie Yen of the Ip Man movies, whose screen presence I am really beginning to enjoy. As another Criticker user pointed out, he always looks so disappointed as he’s pummeling the living daylights out of you.

I wanted to like this one more than I did. It has a marvelous look and flavor, part wartime thriller, part film noir, both perfectly realized, and I mean perfectly. You cannot fault the appearance of this movie or even its overall structure and dynamic. It is dramatically involving. The cast is very strong. But here I think we come full circle, because just like The Banquet above, where we started this little roundelay, I don't think Legend of the Fist is certain of what it wants to be. A Chinese Casablanca? A Wartime Batman? The latter especially is underdeveloped. It doesn’t help that, on the scene-by-scene level, the storytelling is vague and the editing choppy.

We like our movies confident. We like to feel that we are in secure hands for the ninety minutes or so that we spend in these little alternate universes. Isn’t that why we go there in the first place?

-- Freder.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Post that Covers a Lot of Ground, and a lot of Ground Uncovered...

There were many good and fine aspects to the job that I just got myself booted out of, enough that under different conditions I could have seen myself staying there until it was time (and I was able, if I was able,) to retire. But there was one really bad thing about it, and it was so bad that when you threw it on the scale, all the other things went flying off in every which-a way direction, sailing in a graceful arc over the horizon for parts unknown.

That thing would be my boss, who had a knack for turning the simple into the sadistic, the easy into the agonizing, who would never sign off on anything if she could think of one single other alternative way to do it, for better or worse, who looked over every shoulder with the hairiest of eyeballs, who did not care if anything got done or even how anything got done so much as that it got done her way, who always was careful to solicit ideas and just as careful to systematically shoot each one of them down with the cool accuracy of a sniper, who sat in her office and screamed out your name if she wanted to see you, who nitted and picked and picked and nitted until I had no incentive to do anything because nothing I could do would ever be approved under any circumstances, and who loved the sound of her own voice so much that she never used one sentence when ten thousand would do; indeed, a “conversation” with her was a monologue in which she occasionally paused for breath.

But let us get back to the good things. One of those good things was that it provided a neutral location for my father and I to have lunch, away from his wife. This, for sure, I realized just this morning, is something we will have to find a way to replace. Without it, we hardly ever see each other. I feel almost as uncomfortable having him come to my house as I would if I had to go out to his.

The last time that we had lunch together out at Colby, he had some had some sad news for me that just nailed down another one of the coffins in my heart.

He said that he had been out and driven by the Old House.

The dogwood bushes that we had spent thirty years growing along the edge of the road, to “protect” the house from the road, had all been cut down. The lilac bush that had self-seeded somewhere along the way, metaphorically down the road a piece, and which I had once defended with my body when the town came along with a backhoe to dig up in our front yard in a misbegotten attempt to “clean up” the shoulder of the little-used stretch called Bessey Ridge Road – that was apparently gone, too. The maple tree at the corner of the driveway, just a small thing when we moved into the house, now a fully mature tree with a confused sense of branch identity – this had been cut down, too.

But worse than any of this, the saddest news of all, the two hundred-year-old maples that sat one on each side of the front walkway and sheltered the house from sun and heat in the summer; these had been taken down as well.

Those were the trees I climbed as a boy. Their branches rose far higher even than the big old barn, and I climbed all the way to the top, long before I became afraid of heights. From there I could see all the way to where I live now. Their branches extended far over the road, and I walked out along them. Cars, the few that came along (it was a dirt road back in those days) passed underneath me.

In my mind, they were brother and sister trees. One was slightly smaller than the other, and the smaller one was more difficult to climb. I only managed it a time or two.

But in the larger tree I passed many hours, until we both started growing too old. Not too old in our minds and hearts: the tree began shedding bark and losing branches, from the top down: nooks that I once sat in came tumbling down during the hard ice storm of a decade or more ago. It had grown quite fragile, and for my part, I had grown much more solid and heavier and much less nimble. I did climb the tree in later years, oh yes I did, but never as high and never as easily. You might say that our visits together grew shorter and farther apart, until in the end. . .

. . . in the end, our visits were limited to my sitting under the tree in the dead of night, with a purple drink in my hand, contemplating how strange the house and the world felt without my mother in it.

The whole front yard – completely razed.

So now – I knew that I never wanted to go back to the old house. Now I know that I can’t. The house that I lived in all those years no longer exists. What would have been sad would now be like taking a knife in the heart –without even having the beneficial effect of killing me.

-- Freder.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Movin' Right Along. . .

This day took a bit of an unexpected turn as my personal belongings arrived on the front porch. It was rather a large box (if you’ve been paying attention at all, you know that I don’t do things by halves, and inhabiting a workspace is a specialty. I know that there are people out there who don’t have anything personal in their offices, and whose desks look like golf courses or runways or the Gobi desert, but I’m not one of them). After going through the house and doing a head count to make sure that I’d not lost any Quats during the incursion, I hauled it into the kitchen and sliced it open with a pair of scissors.

They didn’t even give me a new box, I thought. Customers always get a new box. That’s how petty I can be. Recycling doesn’t count, or it counts a little less I should say, when one is getting a slight kick in the teeth. I suppose that I was smarting at this last formality, and one of the more ridiculous ones, in the process of getting canned.

And it was ridiculous because the moment I opened the top I saw that they’d saved, packed and shipped a bunch of useless crap that I’d have simply tossed: promotional mousepads, crumpled notes to myself on work-related themes, printed adverts that I’d thought were cute enough to put on my wall (but certainly not cute enough to take home with me), a soda bottle cap, crap that immediately got scaled into the trash. Time, effort, and yes, their money wasted, just because they could not allow me to do the job myself. I wouldn’t even have minded if they’d insisted on having a security officer standing there scrutinizing my every move just to make sure that I didn’t commit some diabolical act of collegiate sabotage.

Like – oh, I won’t even go down that path in my imagination. There are any number of things I could do to make their lives more difficult if I wanted to try. The problem is, at whom is the first person that the Finger of Suspicion would point? Uhm-Hmmm! Some things just aren’t worth it for the tiny amount of pleasure they would give.

Moving down through the box: adding insult to injury, they broke my Unity College soup mug. I have to assume that they did it deliberately, because a) nothing else breakable was broken and b) the body of the mug was neatly wrapped in paper while the handle was carelessly tossed into the box beside it where I would inevitably cut my fingers on its sharp edges. Which I did – twice. Do you know how hard it is to bandage your index fingers when both of them are spurting blood?

There were things that I was happy to see again, but there were two things in particular that it would have grieved me to lose: first, the hand-painted wooden sign reading LT. (JG) and my father’s name, USNR, from my father’s days in the Nany, spent on the east coast in the earliest years of his marriage to my mother. It was actually his second tour of duty; his first, in the Merchant Marine, having been declared as Not Counting.

Second, a small (3 1/4 x 3 3/4) creation of my mother’s, moved to my cubicle only after her death. It’s a predominantly orange papier mache sun with a blue-eyed, smiling face on a thick block of wood. Many were the bad days and bad moments that I looked at her sun and was both cheered and saddened. I don’t know that things would have been any different if I had looked at it on the afternoon of the 21st. Or the afternoon of the 19th, for that matter.

At any rate, both of them have joined me at home now, I am whole and completely contained between four walls once again. My mother’s sun will smile at me every time I enter my study; my father’s sign will declare our shared name over the library. All is well.

-- Freder.

Monday, July 9, 2012

What Was, What Is, What Should Have Been. . .

If you had asked my conscious, thinking, sensible self if he had any notions or intentions of walking out of his job without even giving two weeks notice and with nothing else lined up I'd have absolutely one hundred percent said No, Not, Nien Not Never, and Oh, by the way do you have a million or so to support a struggling arteest? Because, you know, if you twisted my arm I could be persuaded to change my mind!

And yet on June 21 I believe that some lower-than-conscious part of me made a more or less conscious decision without my, so to speak, written consent. Whatever part of me that it was, I honestly believe that it metaphorically grabbed by the arm, and said to me, "Come on, kid, this place is part of what's killing' ya. I can't let ‘em do it."

This low “friend,” this part of me who comes from the bowery of my mind, the bronx of my Id, the Hell’s Kitchen of my repressed feelings, this Mike Hammer of the undared and unspoken, the guy you never want to let into the living room, took me by the arm, drew me to the counter, circled my hands around the bottle and glass. “It’s almost time to go back there, kid,” he said. “Have another drink.”

“Okay, now have another. Don’t stop there. Keep goin.’

This disreputable friend got me into a lot of trouble, much of the fall-out of which I can still only guess at – but for the purposes of this post let’s just begin and end with the loss of my job.

On June 19 my boss eviscerated me in a performance review with a bunch of trumped-up malarkey while her boss sat there and watched. Then she said, “Do you agree with these comments?” In no way did I agree, but I said yes, and like a good little Concentration Camp prisoner, I zigned ze papairz zat zey put in frwunt huff me.

What I didn’t see then, and just realized today, was that the paper I signed that day was the college’s way of making that “herding” motion that a person makes with their hands when they are trying to manipulate an animal into a pen, or towards a door.

In my case, pen or door, it didn’t make any difference to them, one way or the other.

And hindsight being what it is, I wish that I was in better touch with that other man inside me, whoever and whatever he is, the one who grabbed me by the arm two days later and said, “Come on, kid, I won’t let ‘em do it to ya.”

Because I certainly wouldn’t be any worse off today, and might be a little better off, if I had just had the gonads, if I had been able to call that guy up to the surface, just once in my life while I was sober, if I had just once in my life been able to put it all together and become, just for a little while, the Gary Cooper that every man ought to be –

-- and stand up in front of those two wicked people, and let that piece of paper just drop of its own weight down onto the desk between the two of them, so that I could say, firmly, but without meanness, “You can keep it. I quit.”

-- Freder.

Strange Cargo, indeed!

Clark Gable makes what's possibly the most dramatic entrance of his screen career in Strange Cargo (1940), a typically good-looking prison escape thriller from MGM that mixes jungle trial and tribulation with implausible romance and even more implausible bible-thumping deo-literalism.

I watched it last night as a guest at the home of my friends C____ and S____, who were part of that Quat Confusing Team that cared for my youngsters whilst I was away during my several stays at 4 East.

Long before the bibles start to get thumped, long before the nefarious Eduardo Ciannelli, known to me primarily for his turn as the title character in, ironically, Republic’s fifteen-part serial Mysterious Doctor Satan, even pulls the first bible out of his prison uniform, we get to see Gable being released from his solitary-confinement cell on Devil's Island. As the door opens, all we can see are a pair of angry eyes staring back at us out of the darkness. Slowly he steps out into the light -- an action that all by itself prefigures the picture's theme -- to reveal a bowed but very much uncowed and unbroken prisoner ready for more punishment.

By comparison, Joan Crawford's entrance into the picture a few minutes later down on the colony docks is a terrible come-down, although a tenacious Gable does get a nice toehold, so to speak, on her ankle. She has the added disadvantage of having a lot of scripted baloney to slice through: I can't honestly think of many women who wouldn't start hollering for the gendarmes the moment(s) that Gable enters her life.

But, of course by design, she gets more and more beautiful as the movie progresses, and it's nice to see her looking and acting so well, like someone you would actually want to date.

To my own personal embarrassment, I'm afraid that I didn't see where this tenaciously hokey picture was taking us until quite near the end, when it was lopped into my face like a big cream pie and twisted and pressed and twisted some more just to make sure that I understood that I'd taken a pie in the face. It was a case of my thinking, Naw, they wouldn't go there, would they? Only to learn, Oh, yes they would.

As a literalist, I was expecting that the "God" character would turn out to be, you know, someone real. Perhaps someone working for the Devil's Island Authorities. And, come to think of it, in practical terms I don't guess that I was very far off! Of the seven Initial prison escapees, not counting Crawford, who was only hitching a ride in the first place, the final score is: four repentant and dead, one retreating from a shadow, one (Gable) repentant and back in the prison camp, happily serving out the final three years of his sentence knowing that he can snog Crawford to his heart's content on his release, and one presumably looking down from heaven, smiling beneficently, and purring to Himself, My Will Be Done...

-- Freder

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Oh, WELL-butrin! Well-BYOO-trin! Come h'YAR, boy!"

How strange a month, and how strange to be emerging at last in a completely altered frame of mind, in completely altered circumstances.

Some of this is going to be Old News for some of you, while to others it will be Fresh Dirt.  But, just like clockwork, just like my NP promised me, the Welbutrin finally kicked in and for the last three-plus days I have been a different person. Not dancing a polka or anything. But at least I'm not giving razor blades and other sharp instruments long, thoughtful looks.

Before that, you didn't want to know me. I have at least a couple of friends who will personally confirm that.

On my latest release from the hospital I started drinking again right away. I didn't exactly make a secret of it, and the disappointment from my friends and family was a palpable thing, as if I was doing it to be recalcitrant, as if I was doing it out of spite, as if I was doing it just for the hell of it. I think wantonly is the word I'm looking for here. It's as if they felt that I was doing it deliberately to hurt them and myself.

The fact is that I was in torment, which sounds like a grandiose word, and something that I think most people will find hard to understand if they haven't been through it. For the first time in more than a decade I was effectively attempting to function without any kind of medication at all, self-or-otherwise. Here's what I learned: I am a person who cannot live without medication.

I had thought that just getting home and being with my cats would settle me down, but this was not the case. In the end, I think that the ideal would have been if I could have spent my days at 4 East and my nights at home, but it doesn't work that way (and oh, how as a patient I began to resent the staff, even the ones I liked {and maybe especially them), just because they could go home at night!

Down time at 4 East can be terrible thing -- especially when one is between medications. As patients, We do slow, shuffling laps in our hospital socks up and down the length of the hall like restless zombies. We sit in the Day Room, staring through glazed eyes at programs no one wants to watch. We lie in our beds, sometimes curled into balls, sometimes splayed out out like cats on a hot day.

On the good days, of which there were hardly any this last time, I journaled. This time, with the absence of medication making me by turns angry, weepy, self-destructive or just plain empty, the best I could manage were abstract doodles.

On Friday afternoon, my first full day in the hospital, my last day on Prozac, I had felt fine. By Sunday afternoon I was ready to die. I couldn't think clearly. Could hardly formulate thoughts into words. I shuffled about avoiding other people's eyes, staring at the whiteboard (my release date was conspicuously blank), staring at the picture of my NP and wondering what she was doing with her day off, out there in the real world. My substitute NP for the day, who is not a bad person, could tell that I was upset and took me in early for an extra session. She noted that I had written the word PURPOSE in big block letters in my journal and she latched onto this as a good thing, but I immediately pointed out to her that a Purpose is exactly what I don't have. She answered me with some metaphysics about Stop Signs.

Much later in the day, my nurse found me slumped in a chair by the telephones, head in my hands, breathing hard. I had just been thinking about strangling myself with the telephone cord when she came along. She took me into one of 4 East's side offices, gave me another pill, tried to talk me calm. She talked about the possibility of Electroshock. This horrified me. I know that the process has advanced some, but all I could think about was MacMurphy and Jack Nicholson and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

By Monday afternoon I was sitting on the floor at the end of the hall, sobbing uncontrollably, saying, "I want to go home, I want to go home," This sort of thing gets noticed at 4 East. My NP called me into an office again. I said that I didn't want to be alive anymore and she got very stern with me, said that if she heard any more talk like that she'd Blue Paper me.

I didn't know what that meant, but I was sure it was bad, so I shut up.

I believe that my NP was a bit between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it was clearly too soon to discharge me; on the other hand, staying was doing me no good either. Together with the Social Worker, we began to work out a plan, and the next day quite early in the afternoon, they gave me back my frock coat and my straw hat and I was free to go.

But toddling on foot up the hill to the college I felt like a scarecrow, a joke version of myself, which is to say a joke of a joke. It was grey and drizzling. I stopped by the bookstore to pick up my handbag and iPad, to say hello, then went down to look at my car. As my friend S____ had said in the hospital, the damage was much more than I had been aware of at the time, but it was still drivable. Home I went, damp inside and out.

S____ had not found what remained of my bottle of vodka. This both disappointed and pleased me. I was in a state of confusion and upset. Being home and getting things back to normal with the cats and sitting with them did help a bit. But it was like having my head stuck in a round of cheese, and being home and having these normal occupations only cut away a very small bit of that cheese from around one eye. That night I drank myself to sleep.

The next day I went out and bought another bottle along with the regular groceries. I knew before I got in the car that I was going to buy another bottle. I knew that I needed to, the same way that you know you need to put on a pair of smoked glasses on a blindingly sunny day. I still wanted to be dead. I still wasn't thinking about anything else or anyone else. I knew that the only thing that would take the edge off of those thoughts was vodka.

Even so, somewhere in that day, day and a half I looped a belt through my stairway and notched it tight. I didn't want to use it right then but I wanted it set up in advance in case I needed it.

I did manage to keep from binge drinking, from black-out drinking, from drinking to the point where I could not function. But I knew that this was not sustainable and I'm not sure what I was waiting for. One thing or the other. It was either Tuesday or Wednesday when I ended up in the Hospital yet again, and this time it wasn't the alcohol that got me there, it was my mouth.

You reach a Tipping Point with alcohol where it doesn't make you happy any more, it makes you feel worse, and at the urging of a friend, in order to further delay my appointment with that makeshift noose, I made the mistake of calling the Maine "Help" line.

Don't ever do this. Don't ever do this. Don't ever do this.

At first it started out fine. I got a nice young woman and my hope and expectation was that we could just talk it out. She listened and she kept saying, "Well, Doug, I'm glad you called, you sound like you're in a lot of pain," and things were going all right. Bur I was pacing as I talked and I kicked the line out of the jack. I managed to get it plugged in and called straight back, getting the same same woman explaining what had happened. "Yeah, Doug, I was worried about you. .."

But by then the tone of our transaction had already changed. We talked for just a couple of moments more and I'm not even sure what I said that prompted a second voice to suddenly come on the line and say, quite urgently, "That's it! I'm calling The Police!!"

I said, "What? The Police?! No! No!"

But the line had already gone dead.

From my cell phone, in a state of absolute panic, I called my friend BC to tell him what was happening -- as if he could have done anything abut it, he lives in a different state altogether. Almost before the words were out of my mouth the cops were on my doorstep. Leaving all the lights on, leaving the door unlocked, they summarily dragged me out of my house and threw me on my side into the back seat of the squad car. I was taken to a room of the hospital that I had never seen before, through an entrance that I'd never been through before. I was ordered to undress.

The room was FULL of people, including several women, so I foolishly tried to figure out a way to get my underwear off under the cover of my shirt and pants -- and I was succeeding, but not fast enough for one of the cops.


I said I am and went on trying.

"DO IT!" shouted Officer Prick.

I looked up at that son of a bitch, I looked him right in the eye and said with some irritation, "I am!!"

Suddenly four pairs of hands were on me and my clothes were ripped off of my body. A paper johnny was draped over me and I was pushed down onto the table. When I attempted so sit up and swing my legs over the side, Officer Prick pushed his red face into mine, slammed his elbow into my chest and drove my back down onto the cot. Velcro straps were immediately looped around my arms and legs. A needle was jammed into my arm.

The room emptied out pretty quickly after that. Of course I couldn't move at all. They turned all the lights out. There was only one window into the next room and not a soul in sight. I shouted "PLEASE! PLEASE!" and got no response.

Whatever it was they shot me up with took about a half-hour to completely take hold of me. About twenty minutes into that, a nurse came along and removed one of the leg restraints, but for me it was too little, too late.


The next morning I awoke to find two of my friends at my bedside, BC and EWR. At first, I couldn't understand how they had found me. Whatever they had shot me up with the night before had left me in a severely doped-up state. But my arms and legs were untied. They weren't going to let visitors see me like that.

They knew only what the hospital told them, and I knew only what I had experienced. A Crisis worker was sent in to "negotiate" my release. He kept having to go back and forth between us and his boss. The offer was put forward to put me into a Crisis Home. Both of my friends thought this was a good idea. I most emphatically did not. Furthermore, I knew that unless I was arrested for something or blue papered, I could not be held against my will. The Crisis worker finally came bak with his final offer of the day: I would call in to the help line again that evening, and I would report on Monday Morning to the Augusta office for an "evaluation" of some sort (I was so drugged out that I didn't catch what it was for) and furthermore if I didn't do those things the police would be paying a call on me again.

Other than that, I was free to go.

I went home and under the watchful eyes of my friends dumped out the half bottle of vodka that remained in my house, and took down my belt noose. I fell into my bed and slept through the day. It was BC who woke me up in the late afternoon when he had to leave.

Here's how it all worked out: I made my call, and my appearance in Augusta, which turned out to be a wild goose chase -- they weren't even expecting me "and there certainly wouldn't have been any criminal consequences if you hadn't shown up."

For two more days I "muddled through somehow," just sort of existing, drinking yes, just enough to keep from screaming; mowed my lawn; felt down, called a couple of friends instead of the help line -- some lessons only need to be learned once.

Then on the third morning I woke up, blinked, and thought: Hmm. Don't need it. Don't want it.

The next day. . . I didn't even think about it. The only time I thought about it at all was to realize that I wasn't even thinking about it.

Yesterday S & C down the road invited me to dinner on Sunday, and at first I told them, well, I can't bring wine. But as I was walking away, I thought, dang it, of course I can. No one's gonna hold a gun to my head and force me to drink it. And I'll be perfectly happy with my ginger ale. Cheez Whiz, if watching someone else drink was an intolerable trigger I'd never be able to watch movies or TV again!

Besides, Chardonnay was never my Poison of Choice. So, yeah, I bought a bottle of wine at the store today and it's not calling to me from the kitchen wine rack.

Which brings us full circle to my statement at the beginning. Like Colonel Shuffle in the WB cartoon, I no longer feel like I'm calling and calling and calling for Welbutrin and getting no reply! The self-destructive thoughts -- and behaviours -- have stopped. I am finally where I need to be. I can breathe again.

Mind you, I haven't done anything. I haven't even called the insurance company since the accident. I haven't even looked at a job site. I haven't even opened my resume file, gotten an estimate, looked into extending my health insurance through COBRA, nothing, nada, zilch, zero, Inner Tube, Donut Hole.

I figure with a month like the one I've just had, and for that matter a two years like what I've just had, and for that matter an EIGHT years like what I've just had, it can't hurt to just learn to remember how to breathe again.

-- Freder.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

And the Curtain Opens. . . on an Empty Stage

Now that I am Fully Unemployed, I know that there are things I should be doing. Unfortunately, I'm so depressed that I don't seem up to any of them, even when it comes to basic things like shaving and showering. The new anti-depressant seems to have kicked in at least to the extent that I'm no longer crying all the time, but about all that I seem up to is lying in bed with my eyes closed, letting the day pass as it may. I'm even having a hard time watching films. Reading is Right Out.

I note that Colby (I have no beed to conceal their name anymore, do I, now that I no longer work for them?) has yet to advertise my position. For that matter, they've yet to return my personal belongings to be. What's keeping them?

While I was in hospital, I was urged by both my NP and Social Worker to contact Colby and find out the status of my employment, because they said that there were things they could do at the hospital to help me in the event of my losing the job.

So, naturally, Colby waited to fire me until nearly a week after I was out.

When I spoke to them, days earlier, I knew when the words came out of my mouth what it would mean for my future. So again, what kept them? Did they have to put on their thinking caps and wait for the lightbulb to come on?

[Aside on the subject of lightbulbs: have you noticed that you can't buy 100 watt incandescent bulbs in the stores anymore? As soon as I realized this I hopped online and bought a case of the things. I think I have enough now to last me the rest of my life. More than enough if my life continues down this path.]

My lawyer is out of the office all week, and my NP still doesn't return my calls -- a bad habit of hers. Well -- I know how to write a resume and begin a job hunt. But, unlike Colby, I think there's good reason for a period of inaction on my part.

There's a lot of Bad Junk swirling around inside me that needs to settle. I got into this mess because I am a mess, and that part hasn't changed. I'm hoping that the mental health outpatient program that I enter next week will do me some good in that area.

Because, knowing what I know, I wouldn't employ me in my current condition, even though I'm sober. For now.

-- Freder.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...