Sunday, November 30, 2014


-by christopher hitchens
It's not often i feel my opinion as reviewer or thinker is irrelevant. Yet i'm close to feeling that way over this memoir by the author of "god IS NOT GREAT" (one of the most towering books in the unfortunate history of humankind). Much of my ambivalence is over the prospect of criticizing or disagreeing with one who has won my ardent devotion. I don't want to be trite enough to say that "one can be bright in one area and dishwater dumb in others"...for while this is true, it does hitchens a disservice. I think that had any of us lived his life, we would have come to every opinion and choice he made. And he was nothing if not a person of intelligence and integrity. So at the very least, his views are an important part of humanity's discussion with itself.
Which is not to say that said views are the backbone of this book. One can enjoy it as a singular telling of a life earnestly lived. His vocabulary and command of language mark him as one of the few people who can make almost anyone (including myself) feel a bit dumb. His early life as an international socialist/communist agitator, his unknown jewish heritage, his hobnobbing with western society's intellectual and political elite, his non-partisan skewering of kissinger and clinton, all make for delightful diversion. And his maturation into "anti-totalitarian firebrand" is admirable. His divorce from the left hits home though, as i'm one of those "soft-minded" lefties he scorned for failing to support the military liberations of Kuwait and Iraq. Can wolfowitz be a good guy? With my absolutist pacifist stance, am i one of those whose devotion to principle would condemn billions to slavery and suffering? Is this world still so thoroughly barbaric that taking up the sword in the name of freedom is not only right, but required?
We also diverge in our feelings on America. A brit who realized his dream of american citizenship, he's unapologetically patriotic. Where i see genocide, nuclear aggression, and noxious imperialism, he sees humanity's best hope (this is admittedly one of those murky areas where the truth might be somewhere in the middle).
The greatest compliment i can offer is that our disagreements make me no less eager to read everything he ever produced.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"When Things Were Rotten"

-created by mel brooks, john boni, and norman stiles

Imagine that mel brooks had created a television show at the peak of his popularity - just one year after the release of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and BLAZING SADDLES. Imagine that your family, friends, and the entertainment industry have conspired all your life to keep its existence a secret from you. How would you feel? Would there soon be a burn mark on the ground between you and the nearest [warning: anachronism!] video store?
Well, it exists, in this mid-70s send-up of the robin hood legend. It survived thirteen episodes before the Sherwood axe fell. Wait, the robin hood legend, you say? The same legend spoofed by mel eighteen years later in ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS? The same. Funny how i don't remember anyone mentioning that back in 1995. Well, like they say, only two things endure - success and herpes.
Was it deserving of its fate? Maybe. This is no POLICE SQUAD!, a masterpiece too brilliant to succeed. Strictly speaking, it was at most good - it lacked the hipness and edge of SADDLES, and the acting/writing lightning strike of FRANKENSTEIN. But it's also hard to believe it wasn't better than most of the shows that WEREN'T cancelled in '75. In any case, it motivated mel off the small screen for good, so it's worth a viewing for historical interest. Throw in guest-star richness and some well-earned chuckles, and you'll be glad to have known it.
-friar tuck: dick van patten (EIGHT IS ENOUGH, BEWARE! THE BLOB)
You keep thinking there must be a scene on the cutting room floor of MEN IN TIGHTS with the two casts accidentally bumping into each other in the forest. But alas, dick seems to be the only one mel called for his second HOOD spin, as the abbott.
-alan-a-dale: bernie kopell (THE LOVE BOAT, THAT GIRL)
Bernie, alas, gets more than his share of the forced lines.
-robin hood: richard gautier (GET SMART, FUN WITH DICK AND JANE)
He held up his end, in a role that was originally offered to robert klein.
-maid marian: misty rowe (HAPPY DAYS, HEE HAW HONEYS)
After putting in her time as a piece of set design on the degrading HEE HAW, she shows true comic chops.
-prince john: ron rifkin (SOAP, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL)
The actor most often mistaken for bob balaban. And vice versa.
-sheriff of nottingham: henry polic II (THE LAST REMAKE OF BEAU GESTE, WEBSTER)
As good as his material, plus some.
-little john: david sabin (KENNEDY, ARTHUR 2)
No weak link here.
-betram/renaldo: richard dimitri (JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY, RICHARD LEWIS: I'M DOOMED)
A really darling dual performance.
And the guest turns? Sid caesar, john byner, paul williams, ron glass, steve landesberg, and dudley moore (as a sheik in the only wincingly racist episode). Plus a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance by mel himself.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

amiss leftovers

(a follow-up to

Do i want to share deeper (or at least further) insights into the psychological underpinnings of "amiss conceptions"? Well, apparently. But i'm ambivalent, as i'm trying to evolve away from navel-gazing for its own sake. Not that there's no merit therein...naked self-revelation is an honorable art, and can trigger profound resonances (particularly in a culture where most people are seldom honest with themselves, never mind the world at large). More and more though, the standard for my writing is public-speaking potential. Nor is it simply a question of entertainment value - there's a part of me that finds prattling on about myself boring. Not that there isn't some level on which my favorite subject matter is "ME" (like everyone else, i'm too wounded and needy for it to be otherwise), but to a considerable extent, i'm one of those people who are generally eager to deflect attention away from themself. I don't need it like others (or at any rate, i don't need more of the crappy substitutes for real attention this society affords - unless it involves getting my recliner upholstered...but i don't want to make my point before i make my point...i don't want to expose my edifice before the groundwork gets laid...i don't want to suffer from premature articulation...).
Sorry, my mind wandered.
There are at least a couple additional levels to my recklessness. I would say "sexual recklessness", but there's also an element of simple self-destruction - a part of me that's tired of living. These impregnation fantasies are so pervasive, i'm currently having them about a woman i've not even met yet. I may be acting in a play, in the part of her older husband. The fact that we'll be a mixed-race couple feeds into my rainbow libido (and desire to have the world fuck away all skin differences). I dream of sweeping her up in such a mind-bending rush of sexuality (combined with the most emotionally naked intimacy she's known), that the first time we make love she'll want me to cum in her, and hold her on the day she dies.
Care to bet against me? I've got hormones and her crippled self-worth on my side.
I write that with a gentle smile around these haunted eyes...for it's hard to imagine my reservoir of nurturance ever being truly depleted.
But i do feel like i'm holding up the world with nine broken fingers.
Part of this is just about reclaiming my identity as a sexual being. Sex is an integral part of human nature, and we're only beginning to understand the ways in which we've tortured and denied that aspect of ourselves. What could be more natural, more primal, than the moment of conception between woman and man?
Rational? Of course not. Elemental, dear watson.
Is there something a touch predatory in this fantasy? Yes...and that's rather the point. Predation is the foundation upon which romance exists in this society. I've avoided this...and, rather than being rewarded, have found increased loneliness as the result. The notion of romantic predation is amply romanticized (ahem). All's fair in love and war...faint heart never won fair maiden...i resisted and resisted, but he won me over...THE BACHELOR, THE BACHELORETTE, THE BACHELORD OF THE children, we learn to perceive romance in terms of winning or losing. Women are just as corrupted. You set your sights on the one you want, and you "win" when they're yours! But mostly, i've refused to play this game - refused to treat another human being as a prize, or a commodity. And sometimes in the long lonely nights, that starts to feel like foolish naivete. The biggest romantic scars of my life are the two women with whom i've been in love - full, hormonal love (which is the only way to talk about romance honestly, as a function of hormones). There are other kinds of love, including companionate (yay!), but i've felt the sweeping grandeur of hormonal love with two women, and with each, there was a point (or multiple points) when they were ready to "give themselves". And i demurred. They were offering themselves for the wrong reasons, or weren't truly ready to love another. I knew how good it could be if we waited and came together in loving mutuality, but in each instance, the relationship ultimately crumbled (while all the while users and controllers held the keys to their carnal kingdoms). And that's typical of the rewards for being "nice". Many (women, especially) would protest that that's not so. But it is. Deep down, we're confused when a potential lover refuses to treat us as a prize to be won. Ultimately, we shun the non-predator.
So why should these two relationships torment me? Aren't i better off, having held out for healthy? It's hard to manifest that attitude when you look back and see the normal human sexuality you were supposed to live, that never came to be. Days, weeks, months, even years spent unheld. Or held, but almost always with the underlying tensions and fears that surround the "battle of the sexes". Humans weren't made to live like this. In ways science is only beginning to understand, this isn't the way our ancient (and recent) ancestors lived.
And thanks to our cultural penchant for post-romantic immolation, i don't even have the consolation of the memory of these two women thanking me for loving them more than they were capable of loving themselves. I never got to hear vanessa say "Thank you for not taking advantage when i just wanted to lash out at vlad". I never got to hear amanda say "Thank you for refusing to allow me to be less than the person i hope to someday be." I don't even have those tiny, healing gestures.
So a lifetime of being a non-predator starts to feel like the act of a quixotic fool. Never mind being a "player", had i simply taken what was offered, i'd have the memory of sharing the most intense human intimacy with the two women i've desired most. And who knows how many others? For really, in a world like ours based on selfishness, "healthy relationship" is a contradiction in terms...and more and more, it's getting harder to not think that bad sex is preferable to none.
It's thoughts like these that propel me toward recklessness.
And thoughts like...aging.
In an ageist society, aging is a degrading mindfuck. And this 46 year-old homo sapiens is showing (as they might say). When i lean a certain way, my stomach skin gets a little squidgy. It might be temporary, because of a shoulder injury that's forced me to abandon my push-up regimen. It might be that...
But i also got my first white hair this year! The fact that it returned to its original hue some months later is neither here nor there, for...
What's incontrovertible are the lines around my eyes. I call 'em laugh lines, which is embracing, healthy, and at least partly true. If all such attitudes were up to me, aging would be righteously venerated. But it's hard to maintain that serenity of mind, when the rest of the world is only too happy to remind you of your aging...and their reminders are more often than not tinged with either mournfulness or gloating.
Don't fret about me abandoning this kind of essay entirely. Even though it's got a smaller audience, that's almost balanced by the intensity of said audience's appreciation. Plus, i suspect that this kind of essay will be of far greater interest to historians of the 24th century.
And the future is ever on my mind...

Friday, November 7, 2014


Okay kids, it's time to stop asking "Whatever happened with amanda?" I'll sum up.
After i arrived in FL, she described me to someone as her "oldest friend".
In that moment, i knew i was probably fucked.
I was also honored, but knew that she straddled a precipice, with one foot still in the vortex of demons that had made a happy meal of her life. I knew that anything she built up or put on a pedestal, she would be hard-pressed to not burn down.
Crackle crackle?
Of course, that image is a bit misleading, as it's too much about me. From day 1, i knew that any attempt at genuine friendship stood a very good chance of ending badly. Even if i did everything right.
And please don't take that to mean she's so much more fucked up than most. In the big picture, she's not. But in the small picture, her damage can be terrifying. Yet on a certain level, that actually puts her ahead in the game. With your damage out in the open, you're almost forced to deal with it. Whereas the people who are always "okay", are often the most lost. And somewhere inside, she knows where she wants to go, and is actually closer to self-love than most ever get.
It's been over a year since we've had any communication other than the occasional stilted e-mail. At this point, i'm mostly just looking to have my next note be my last, otherwise it feels like this relationship will officially end on the day i send a note that comes back "address no longer valid".
And may i tell you how pissed off i am that i've had to refer to amanda in this essay TWELVE times thus far with either "she" or "her"? This barbaric fucking language, with our moronic gender-specific personal pronouns! I'm reminded of this because a couple of you wonder whether some romantic or sexual element has been at the core of my devotion to her. No. Please don't measure my spirit by the limits of your own. From the first, i just knew that i was profoundly qualified to help her escape the broken, angry child inside her (and that i might use our other attractions as a tool in the service of that).
But twelve (oops, now seventeen) pronoun reminders that she's got a vagina, as opposed to just being a human?? You know, just a...person? Don't tell me it's not important. Don't tell me i've fallen out of my tree. We need to replace these words. The history of human language the past ten thousand years has been about concretizing "male" as the norm. There's not one single aspect of our culture which this idea doesn't pervade.
MALE is the norm.
Norm male.
What, i'm reaching? Are you quite certain? Then you and i must meet for a wager after the essay. I'll be in the conservatory.
This pronoun nonsense makes me almost as sick to my stomach as her shitstorm of hurtfulness. It would be pointless to offer details - at the risk of an epic undersell, it's the same callous brutality we've all come to accept as normal. Nor am i saying that i haven't wanted to puke simply for my own sake...that anyone who offers selflessness and unconditional acceptance could be crucified like i have, but...i try to focus on the fact that how we treat others is a reflection of how we treat ourselves. By that measure, she is in a mind-warping world of hurt. She says she'll come back to our friendship...but she says things she doesn't mean. I suspect she burned us because she couldn't deal with being seen for who she is. The fact that i saw, and still offered nothing but love, is irrelevant. She's not ready to stop running from herself.
And none of that takes into account the unhealthy relationships in her life, ever pulling her in one direction or another. So i don't think she called me to Florida with the conscious intent of finishing us.
But don't be sad. What i'll remember most is that one single moment she truly opened herself up, very possibly for the first time in her life. For the briefest blink of an eye, she stood in her doorway looking out at me, and whispered that she'd never really let anyone in.
I know, i's a touch obvious, but how maudlinly, hysterically revealing is it that she was standing in a doorway as she said those words?
We gallows humorists live for that kind of shit.
If i had that moment again, before she turned around and closed her door, i'd say "No kidding. Why do you think i've been standing here for fourteen years?"
I love you all.