All posts by J-Money

Twitter: @JDollarSign

Netflix Instant Classic: Out of the Furnace

Genre: Gritty Thriller

What’s it about? Hill people literally duking it out for money and their lives.

Who’s in it? Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Willem Defoe, Casey Affleck, and Forest Whitaker

You’ll like it if… You like movies like Winter’s Bone and A History of Violence. (If those two movies had a baby it would be Out of the Furnace.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

Big Brother flies straight. He’s a wise, hard worker who follows in his father’s footsteps.

Little Brother is a wild child. Determined to break the mold – and a tradition of perceived failure – he desperately tries to punch is way out of poverty and into a better life.

But instead of finding fortune, Little Brother is confronted with the moral destitution that comes with his own poor life choices. He gets in over his head and Big Brother has to come bail him out… If it’s not too late, that is.

Either way, things are bound to get messy.

It’s one of Hollywood’s favorite formulas and it is very much at work in “Out of the Furnace.”

Of course, I wouldn’t be reviewing this movie if it didn’t do a damn good job. (It’s worth noting Out of the Furnace was produced by Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio, which accounts for the star power and strong direction.)

Just look at the cast. It’s fucking loaded.

And in addition to being well-acted, it’s well shot.

Set in primarily in Pennsyltucky, we also get a look at New Jersey’s Ramapo Mountains. Both locations are desolate.  The two regions are portrayed as being more than just poor areas – they’re lawless lands governed by the insular silence of their close-knit  and clannish townsfolk.

In fact, some of the locals took exception to being portrayed as drug-addled “inbreds,” even going so far as to file suit against the filmmakers.

It’s actually fitting that the movie should prove so contentious, because there’s a lot of fighting onscreen, as well.

Russell Baze (Big Brother) is fighting to walk the line. He’s a diligent worker fighting to keep his head up in a dying steel town.  He fights his emotions.  He fights the impulse to drink. And most of all, he fights for his family, especially his little brother, Rodney.

Sometimes he wins sometimes he loses.  But the struggle, as the kids say, is real.

Rodney fights, too. He’s an Army man that gets deployed overseas to fight Iraqis. When he gets back home he fights the memories. He also fights people.

That is, Rodney participates in a bare-knuckle boxing ring on behalf of the local sleaze merchant.

And, as I said, things get messy.

I’m not going to go into anymore detail regarding the plot, because one of this movie’s strengths is that it keeps things interesting, even while clinging to a tired form.

The one twist I do feel comfortable revealing, however, is that it’s Forest Whitaker who usurps the infamous “Batman voice” from Christian Bale.

That, and maybe one other thing…

I didn’t understand the final shot of the film – the very, very end. So I looked it up and found an explanation here [SPOILER ALERT, obviously]. So if you do watch it, and you’re confused like I was, there’s your answer.

Here’s the trailer…

Party Animals

It’s no secret that all across the country there is farmland. It stretches from the fertile river plains of the East, through the towering cornfields of the Midwest, all the way to the great plains of Montana and Wyoming and the potato fields of Idaho.

On many of these farms, of course not all, there are animals. And some of these animals, unbeknownst to their masters, can talk. Now, it’s true that most of the time, they stay quiet. Many are too busy working, some are shy around humans, and others are just plain antisocial. But the animals do speak, often to each other and rarely to a small child by and by.

So, it should come as no surprise (as a farm animal’s life can often be dull, even boring,) that they commonly exchange stories to pass the time. And there’s one story, in particular, the animals enjoy telling more than any other…

It has lots of variations, as it’s been passed on for many years, but it always ends the same. It’s the story of a pig named Pilkington and his dealings with a particularly harsh master. Some piglets have questioned the story’s veracity, suggesting it was made up to scare them into obedience. But then there are some animals who will swear to its truth and even claim to have known Pilkington themselves.

The story takes place on a small country farm, no one’s certain exactly where.

It, like many farms, had a large red barn with a tarnished copper weather vane sitting atop the roof. There were clumps of fresh, golden hay scattered about the floor and dangling from the open shutters. A large grass field wrapped around the structure like the rolling sea around a ship. A rickety wooden fence encircled the land, but it was very worn and served little practical purpose. There wasn’t another soul or farm like it for miles.

Yet, on this farm, there lived a most exceptional group of farm animals. There was Anne May the heifer, the Farmer’s strong-backed oxen Lenny and Bruce, and the farm’s senior resident, outside of the Farmer himself of course, Murphy, who was a dog.

Being the longest lived animal on the farm, Murphy had developed the most thorough understanding of its workings. He also had what many would describe as a sturdy bond with the Farmer. Yes, Murphy wore his age outwardly. His eyes were crusty and cloudy with on-setting glaucoma.  His long, scraggly whiskers and his brownish-grey patchwork coat reminded all of the other animals just how much old Murphy had seen.

There were other animals of course, hens and roosters, stray cats and dogs, ducklings from a nearby pond, jack rabbits, groundhogs, and crows which would happen by and so on. Also among them was Pilkington the pig, who like most pigs was stout, portly, and all-too-often covered in mud from the day’s wallowing.

Pilkington spent more time wallowing in the mud than any other pig.  This was due not only to his enormous girth and stumpy legs, which made getting up a Herculean task, but his laziness, as well.  He was so large and sturdy, small piglets would often crawl about him in games of cat and mouse or king of the hill. While Pilkington was obviously agitated by all the small hooves clattering about his head and shoulders, he did little more than snarl angrily before resigning himself to failure and returning to sleep.  The only concentrated energy one ever saw Pilkington exert was to get to the trough and consume three or four portions of food before most other pigs could stomach one.  Feeding time was when Pilkington’s large, cavernous snout could be heard across the farm, snorting breathlessly.

Pilkington was quite content with his station on the farm, being required only to eat and sleep throughout the day while the other animals worked in the fields.  At times, it even seemed that he derived a sense of self-satisfaction and enjoyment from watching the other animals toil in the hot sun.

Of course, despite his frighteningly morbid obesity and total lack of constructiveness, Pilkington was quite astute and manipulative. His reputation as wily was well-founded and enhanced by a profound ability to articulate. Pilkington once convinced a young piglet that he was not a piglet at all, but an adopted duckling and for that reason had no right to the feeding trough.  Indeed, Pilkington had tricked nearly every animal on the farm into doing or saying something they didn’t want to, at some point or another.

All of these animals and more lived under the supervision, and some might say despotic rule, of a wary old farmer. He was something of a cross old man whose wife had left him many years ago. Since then, few had seen him wearing anything other than his worn blue overalls, straw hat, and the same tight-lipped, unforgiving expression on his face. He seemed to have little else to do but work. In fact, the Farmer worked tirelessly, constantly driving the animals to maintain his pace, which was exhausting to say the least.

One day it was extraordinarily hot. The thermometer on the side of the barn stretched nearly to its limit of a hundred degrees. (Fahrenheit, of course, as neither the animals or farmer had mastered the subtle intricacies of the metric system.) Despite the harsh temperature, however, the Farmer continuously worked the tired, panting animals. He demanded a near deathly effort from his oxen, Lenny and Bruce. They were forced to drag the large plow, a crude wreckage of iron that easily weighed ton, through the dense and stiffly soiled fields.

“Faster,” the Farmer screamed, “This field needs to be plowed by midday if I am going to get all of the necessary crops planted on time!”

The Farmer drove Lenny and Bruce forward, giving them light strikes with a long wooden stick of about a finger’s width. As Lenny and Bruce struggled to finish plowing and dragged their stern instrument back into the barn, the Farmer tossed buckets of seed to the ground, and hurriedly moved on to Anne May who was waiting to be milked.

The Farmer wasted no time tearing his milking bucket from its place on a nearby shelf and slinging it right under Anne May’s bulbous utter. He tugged at her furiously nearly causing her to wince and kick. It seemed he had about milked her dry.

As the Farmer yanked the bucket from under her, Anne May caught a glimpse of its contents and was proud of the amount she had seen. It looked as if she had set a new personal record. Still, the farmer looked disappointingly at the bucket and then scornfully back at Anne May.

“I’d expected more from you Anne,” he said bitterly.

Then, he turned and walked away with no expression of remorse or gratitude whatsoever. (The hens received a far worse scolding moments later as it was brought to their attention that they had not fulfilled their egg laying potential.)

By the end of the day the animals were exhausted. As the sun began to set, and the Farmer retired for the day, many of the animals gathered around a modest watering hole and some nearby shade. Pilkington was the first animal to muster enough energy to speak.

“Why must we constantly tire ourselves for the old man in spite of how poorly he treats us?”

Sensing some righteous indignation on Pilkington’s part, and perhaps an ulterior motive, Lenny and Bruce spoke up.

“What do you care Pilkington?” Lenny asked. “You didn’t do anything but wallow in the mud all day.”

“Yeah we were the ones dragging those plows through the hot sun,” Bruce added. “And poor Frankie the mule has already passed out from exhaustion.”

The oxen’s large size and narrow, beady eyes lent credence to what they had to say.

“I’m just saying,” Pilkington responded, “maybe it’s time we did something for ourselves… like throw a party.”

The animals were taken back by Pilkington’s proposal and decided to listen to what he had to say.

“I know some Clydesdales that can have a whole bunch of that beer the humans drink over here by tonight. The only thing we have to do is wait until the old farmer falls asleep. Then we’ll be able to relax for a change.”

The animals seemed to be swayed by Pilkington’s argument. They had worked hard all day, which as previously stated, was extremely hot. Just then, Murphy sat up to speak.

“I don’t like this idea Pilkington,” he said. “The Farmer is not a man to be tampered with. I suggest we enjoy our nights rest and prepare for tomorrow’s work.”

Pilkington again assumed his tone of refute, as if he had been personally assaulted by Murphy’s suggestion.

“Murphy, you old farm dog, you’ve been under the Farmer’s thumb ever since you were a pup. Whose side are you on? Are you with the humans, who abuse and take us for granted, or are you at heart an animal, a young pup that wants desperately to feel alive for once in your life? This could be that opportunity, our one chance to do something for ourselves and truly live. I say that, in this case, the reward is well worth the risk, and I for one will not be a slave! Now who is with me?”

Stirred by the rousing speech given by Pilkington, the highly susceptible animals heartily agreed, all with the exception of Murphy who slipped into his makeshift dog house as the Clydesdales arrived later that night.

As the horses departed, leaving tall barrels of beer behind, the animals quietly began their party. It was the first the animals had ever thrown, and it started off small. Many animals were wary and unsure of how to act.  They sipped their beverages slowly, giggling and feeling naughty. Soon, however, the animals became increasingly intoxicated, and as word of the party spread, the night’s events grew increasingly boisterous.

Anne May had gotten into some moonshine and could be seen staggering about with a bottle marked with three poorly drawn X’s on the side. She stopped staggering for a moment to relieve herself behind some bushes unknowingly showering several small field mice. Fortunately, the mice, whose low tolerance levels had reduced them to a drunken stupor, thought it was merely raining.

Lenny and Bruce began confessing their undying affection for one another. They’re large arms squeezed tightly around each other in a brotherly embrace, tears rolling down their cheeks.

“I’ve never felt so close to you Lenny,” Bruce remarked.

“Yeah, it’s almost like we’re two eggs who came from the same hen,” Lenny moped back.

Then, the two gazed off into the light of the moon which never seemed quite so bright. As was the case with Anne May, the furthest thing from the minds of Lenny and Bruce was getting discovered by the Farmer.

Murphy, however, was stirred by the sounds of what started out as a dull roar, but had grown into a clamoring cacophony.  He found Pilkington amid the thick of animals.

“Pilkington,” he said, “You must do something about this party, it’s getting far too loud.  You’ll wake the Farmer and we’ll all be in serious trouble.”

Pilkington looked at Murphy incredulously, as if Murphy’s suggestion was so implausible it was beyond comprehension.

“If the Farmer was going to catch us, he would have done so by now.  Why don’t you go in and sleep with him in his bed?  If your loyalties lie with him, why don’t you?”

“That’s ridiculous,” Murphy responded objecting to the notion that he would take the side of humans over his own kind.

Pilkington wasted no time pressing Murphy further.

“Of course it’s ridiculous because the Farmer would never have you in the house.  He feels you are so beneath him that he considers your mere presence an insult. Yet, you stand here before me asking on his behalf that I adhere to laws he invents for us on whims.”

“I’m not asking you to do right by me or the Farmer, Pilkington, I’m asking that you do right by our entire farm, and all of these animals, by ending all of this before something bad happens,” Murphy said.

“I do right by me!” Pilkington snarled.

With that, the conversation was over, and Murphy returned to his ragged dog house, his head pointed directly at the ground.

Meanwhile, more and more animals flooded in. A band of stray cats had brought the necessary instruments to form a small string band and began to play. The cats screamed out the chorus and refrain in a series of well pitched meows, while crows and birds chirped along with the melody. Dancing broke out across the farm. Dogs and cats joined hands, and loving jack rabbits snuck off behind bushes.

Now, the festivities had reached a fever pitch. All of the animals, be they drunk residents or unconcerned strangers, let their voices grow louder and louder.  Animals barked, screeched, oinked, meowed, mooed, and trampled around noisily.

Suddenly, the rickety porch door swung open and a shotgun blast sounded, splitting the night in two as it echoed off into the distance.

“What is the meaning of all of this racket?” the Farmer exclaimed.

All of the animals scurried, fleeing to their respective living quarters and far off the farm. This left only Pilkington, who thoroughly inebriated, slipped in the patch of mud from which he had berated Murphy moments before. He struggled to get back to his feet, as the other animals – terrified of what ramifications may await them- remained quiet and still in their positions.

The animals waited for the Farmer to come scold them, but there was nothing.  Eventually, they fell asleep relieved that the Farmer had seemed unconcerned with what had transpired and left them to sleep off their afflictions.

Murphy was the first to wake the next morning, as the rest of the animals were in no condition to rise so early.  The farm was more quiet than he had ever known it to be. There wasn’t so much as weak chirp from a chick, or muffled snort from a sleeping piglet. Not even the morning rooster could open his sleet-filled, bloodshot eyes to make his daily morning call.

Murphy proceeded across the farm investigating what was left of the previous night’s carnage. As he strolled about the farm he noticed that all of the animals seemed to be accounted for, with one exception. Murphy thought hard for several moments about who was missing. Then, as he approached the farmhouse, he caught the distinct smell of bacon.

THE END

 

J-Money Mix Tape: Alien Invasion

I’ve been thinking about ways to review music here for a while now…

What I’ve decided is to assemble short playlists with each individual song sharing a broader theme.

It’s a new feature on Drunk and Humble: J-Money Mix Tape.

Today’s Theme: Alien Invasion

Earth People – Dr. Octagon

 

On the whole, Dr. Octagonecologyst is one of hip-hop’s most influential albums. It’s ground-breaking for its unique lyrical style (Kool Keith as Dr. Octagon) and inventive production (Dan the Automator).

Make no mistake about it, this is a modernist work.

I had a professor in college who used a famous quote from Ezra Pound to explain modernism: “Make it new,” he said.

And that’s exactly what Dr. Octagon did.

There’s a small niche genre called “Afrofuturism.”

Afrofuturism combines elements of reality with science fiction and fantasy. But whereas the larger science fiction genre is traditionally white (Captain Kirk, Luke Skywalker, etc…) this sub-genre focuses on Afrocentricity.

That is, it’s a genre through which black people (a people whose history has so long been oppressed, repressed, fractured and forgotten) can either re-imagine the past or conjure up a whole new future for themselves – a future outside the bounds of predominantly white culture.

The artist Sun Ra gets credit for pioneering Afrofuturism in music. And Parliament Funk expounded on it.

But it was Dr. Octagon who brought the genre literally into the future by melding it with hip-hop. And the result was a whole new type of music, Trip-Hop.

Kool Keith was so bored/dissatisfied rapping about this world that he invented one of his own, along with an extraterrestrial alter-ego – a gynecologist and surgeon who transcends both space and time.

So his rhyming goes beyond guns, gold chains and clubs, and even the more nuanced social commentary of hip-hop’s early pioneers. It’s a mash-up of medical terms and techno-speak.

In a recent article for Vulture, Questlove describes Kool Keith’s lyrics as “scatological, philosophical, philological, neurological, at times defiantly illogical. They thrum with the thrill of discovery, of what’s unknown and — despite the torrent of terminology — only half-articulated.”

They even almost make sense sometimes, but sense isn’t the point here. This is an elaborate sci-fi fantasy played out through stream-of conscious wordplay that is complex, visceral and imaginative.

This is a kaleidoscope of rhyme that, seemingly disparate, connects a sophisticated tapestry of words through assonance, consonance, and internal and slant rhyme. Ryhmes appear, disappear, and reappear at unexpected times and places.

At first glance, it looks like a mess, outerworldy even. But it’s really controlled chaos.

What’s more, is that for all the subtly, sophistication, and imagination Dr. Octagon brings lyrically, Dan the Automator matches him every step of the way. His driving beat, symphonic layers and sci-fi nuances turn the rantings of a linguistically gifted madman into a rich and varied soundscape.

It’s like we’re being taken for a ride on Doc Oc’s spaceship. And you better buckle the fuck up.

It’s achievement enough to create a metaphysical universe in which this lunacy can exist, but to bring that universe to life through sound is something else entirely.

Turbulence – Deltron 3030

 

Dr. Octagon comes from the year 3000. And just 30 years later comes another intergalactic anti-hero Deltron Zero (Del the Funkee Homosapien).

Like Dr. Octagon, Deltron is joined on his journey by Dan the Automator who takes his considerable skills with production to the next level.

The layers of instrumentation, sound effects, and texture are both multiplied and amplified, giving Del (maybe the most underrated emcee I know of) a huge playground for his linguistic talents.

His vision is also somewhat clearer and more consistent (not to say better) than Kool Keith’s. Deltron interacts directly with alien technology and creatures in a post-apocalyptic universe. Indeed, only the force of Deltron’s rhyming powers, fortified by the Automator’s beat, can save us from total subjugation.

That’s made perfectly clear in “Turbulence” where the planet earth is revealed to be nothing short of hellscape.

It’s so bad, in fact, that Deltron himself is ready to blast off to Mars just to get away. But before he does he makes sure to paint us a not-so-pretty picture.

A small group of elitists and an all powerful ruler govern society. Workers are forced to conform through brainwashing and propaganda. And resistance to the order means imprisonment, or even a lobotomy.

Does Deltron save us? I’m afraid not. There’s only so much one man can do. And despite all of Deltron’s juice he’s incapable of overturning the new world order.

He may battle the odd spacebeast here and there. Every now and then he jumps to the defense of a citizen. But he also spends a surprising amount of time smoking weed and reading Cosmo, resigned to the fact that change is a lost hope.

I guess Deltron is more like a Han Solo-type, who’s more content to make a living than try to save the world.

Still, his journey is a remarkable one. And in what is largely a sequel to Dr. Octagonecologist, Deltron matches and even surpasses his predecessor.

Clean Elvis – Dan Reeder

 

Departing from the realm of sci-fi trip-hop we come to a completely different genre, indie folk.

Here we find one of my favorite artists in Dan Reeder.

Reeder usually sings about really concrete, tangible things. Other songs of his include “Three Chords, “Food and Pussy” and “Work Song.” These are very straight-forward, almost hymnal songs.

That makes “Clean Elvis” something of a departure. It keeps the lulling melody but it replaces the folksy lyrics with abstract ruminations on bio-enhancement, technology, and of course, alien invasion.

As with all of these entries I have no idea what this guy was thinking when he wrote this.

It’s fucking insane.

Still, I’ve listened to it enough to formulate my own interpretation…

The lyric that always strikes me when I listen to this song is:

“When I say Vietnam it sounds just like Coca-Cola.
I believe most anything as long as it’s not real.”

Again, I can’t speak on Reeder’s behalf and say this is a commentary on the commercialization of warfare but that’s the association I make.

It makes me think of of the war-for-profit military industrial complex, as well as the more subtle corporate invasion.

Coca-Cola is the most iconic U.S.-based multinational – a company whose trademark is recognizable throughout the world. It, like many others, has planted its flag on foreign soil around the globe.

Now, I try to keep things light on this blog, and I’m not going to get too far into this…

But I think we can all agree that many wars have been fought on behalf of business. And it’s no stretch to say warfare itself has been the United States’ chief export over the past few decades.

Literally. We are the No. 1 arms exporter in the world. And through a policy of pre-emptive strike, we’ve ensured that our products reach our perceived enemies just as quickly as they reach our customers.

Just as bad, our soldiers themselves have been commodified and leveraged to extract financial gain for powerful people.

That dehumanization is what brings me to the second part of Reeder’s lyric, “I believe most anything as long as it’s not real.”

It seems to be a tacit acknowledgement of one’s own mental illness.

So whereas the first line of couplet is a nod to commercial warfare, the second line acknowledges the frequent result, mental illness.

It’s not just that lyric that makes me think of post-traumatic stress syndrome, either. It’s the mash-up of “I Will Always Love You,” and “I Can’t Help Falling In Love” that echo through the refrain.

The song is sung in the first person, as Reeder lists his super-human efforts to combat extraterrestrials, but his monologue is interrupted by the refrain of pop music. It’s almost as if the narrator’s imagination has conflated its fantasy with catchy music from the radio (maybe he’s got a plate in his head).

We’ve all had tunes get stuck in our head before, just imagine you’re an afflicted combat veteran who can’t distinguish between flashbacks from Vietnam and paranoid dreams of an alien invasion.

I think we’d all be pleading for help from Elvis.

And that’s how I think of this song…

In my interpretation it’s not just about about aliens, it’s about alienation.

Teenagers From Mars – Misfits

 

Before there was Eminem… Before there was the Insane Clown Posse… Even before there was Gwar…

There was the Misfits, a punk band founded in 1977.

Just as Dr. Octagon invented Trip-Hop, the Misfits’ aggressive, sexual and violent overtones established the framework for Horror-Punk Rock and Horror-Core Rap.

A lot of punk bands aired their grievances with society, attacking specific institutions, beliefs, and people. But Glenn Danzig of the Misfits sang about JFK’s shattered skull and Jackie Kennedy giving him fellatio.

Glenn Danzig eventually left the band, believing he was more talented and more dedicated than his bandmates. He was right, and his later work is darker and more personal. So much so that I wouldn’t attribute to it any amount of camp value.

He’s a serious and talented guy, and he was the force behind the Misfits. But as a band, the Misfits are decidedly campy and even self-deprecating.

This is even alluded to in the first few verses of Teenagers From Mars:

“We land in barren fields
On the Arizona plains
The insemination of little girls
In the middle of wet dreams

We are the angel mutants
The streets for us seduction
Our cause unjust and ancient
In this “B” film born invasion”

Obviously, there’s the explicit sexuality, but it comes in the form of a “B” movie.

That’s kind of what the Misfits are, a B-movie – even if they set out to be something more serious at the time.

But they also happen to be a really good B-movie. Think Evil Dead or Killer Klowns From Outer Space. Indeed, there are a lot of B-movies out there that have more artistic merit than today’s blockbusters.

That’s really the point: The mainstream is boring, monotonous, and governed by powerful (often shitty) people.

That’s where the whole punk rebellion stems from – a lame, out-of-touch mainstream.

And so, with the Misfits, there may be a lot of sex and violence on the surface, but the intended victims aren’t the ones who find their bodies bloodied or their skulls cracked. It’s the squares and parents that cringe at words and phrases like “insemination” and “wet dreams.”

The lyrics aren’t just there for shock value. They’re the barbed wire fence that keeps the establishment at bay, or better yet, puts it on the defensive.

The Misfits want to disrupt the system. They want to give their audience and their own teenage rebellion an avenue for expression.

Simply put, they don’t give a fuck. And they want you to know they don’t give a fuck. That’s what this song is about.

That’s why the refrain is:

“Teenagers from Mars
And we don’t care.”

As with Reeder’s song, the theme of personal alienation is personified with actual aliens. I mean, not to state the obvious, but they are called the Misfits…

So these aren’t earthbound teenagers, we’re dealing with. They’re teenagers from a whole other planet, here to blast your mindless structure and inferior connection. And they don’t care.

And as with many B-movies, I find myself rooting for the aliens in this case. In fact, I just might be a pod person – acting out my human duties like a functioning member of society, while secretly indulging in its disorder and hastening its destruction.

Maybe Danzig and I will hitch a ride with Deltron and Dr. Octagon. Reeder can stay. I think he needs to work through some issues.

 

Dark Night

Change is inevitable. Only a fool would try to fight it.

This was the conclusion at which Dracula had arrived. He’d long ago lost track of his age in years, but was certain he was nearing a 1,000 – at least that’s how it felt. And Dracula had seen a lot of change in that millennium.

Dracula was there during the Dark Ages of Europe, feasting on the peasants without remorse. It was easy to justify his killing in those days because so much of the population preferred death to life. If not for Dracula’s tender bite – a quick and near-painless drain of the precious fluid that grants us life – it would have been the plague, or pneumonia, or marauding warlords that brought death’s release to those poor, wretched beings.

Certainly, the act of birthing a child in that time took far more lives than Dracula ever could, and it was doubly cruel in that it brought new life into the cold, unforgiving world. Dracula’s murder, at least, came with a modicum of mercy.

He was there for the renaissance, as well. It’s true that in this time Dracula was responsible for robbing humanity of more than a few of its greatest minds. The taste of an intellectual, a poet, a philosopher, or even a surgeon brought him an unparalleled satisfaction. Sadly, it was a short-lived phase, all things considered.

By the 19th century Dracula had lost his taste for even the most refined fare. He relocated to the United States, lured by the dual promises of a new challenge and a change in scenery. But by then, he’d seen so much change in the world that feelings of despondence had already taken root – whether he was aware of it or not.

Watching the world’s greatest monarchies rise to soaring heights, only to come crashing down under the tow of democracy forced Dracula to contemplate his own purpose in a way he never had before. Meanwhile, technological advances like electricity, the telegraph, and the automobile, gave simple people powers that rivaled his own, making him feel obsolete.

They erected street lights that kept him from sneaking up on his prey. They used an elaborate system of wires to communicate his potential presence in given areas. And they made quick passage out to the more remote regions of the country to track him.

More and more, the supernatural abilities that had once given him so much pride and set him so far above humanity made him feel useless and antiquated. As many of the world’s farmers turned to factory work, as many of the great hunters ran out of game to hunt, and as many of the world’s great explorers ran out of new land to trek, Dracula had seen his time come and go. He had as much place in the 20th century as Blackbeard or Billy the Kid.

By 1950, popular culture made him more of a joke than a boogeyman. Kids dressed in his garb and bad actors mocked his accent. The memory of World War II was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and even Dracula had to admit that Hitler was guilty of crimes against humanity that made Vlad the Impaler look absolutely amateur.

As the 20th century drew to a close, Dracula finally got access to the Internet, and was forced to admit to the cable representative who installed it that he had no idea how to use it. The cable man rolled his eyes and patiently walked him through the process. As the man was leaving, Dracula beckoned him from his van once more to help him rid an error message that had popped up on his screen.

The man obliged and as soon as he’d turned to leave a second time Dracula bit his neck and drank his blood.

Something was wrong, though. It brought him no satisfaction. He felt just as empty as he had when he woke up that morning – as he had the weeks, months, years, no, decades before.

He dropped the lifeless corpse of the Comcast technician and staggered back into his dark, dusty mansion – a dilapidated gothic-style Victorian home, which had once been located in a treacherous and remote region of the Pacific Northwest, but was now in plain view of Route 5.

Looking in the mirror that cold, lonely night, Dracula could not see his own reflection, but his outdated clothing stared him right back in his face.

“My God, is that a cape?” he asked himself out loud. “And am I honestly the last person on earth who goes by the title Count?”

Dracula had hit bottom. He was overcome with self-loathing. He slept in his coffin for weeks, even months, at a time. His already pale skin reached the ghostly white translucence of Casper. His narrow, effeminate frame grew even more sickly and gaunt.  He tried to cry, but couldn’t.

Then, after years of depression had beaten him down, Dracula decided it was time for a new approach. Rather than live off of humanity like a barnacle on a whale, he would join it. He would seek out a new purpose, perhaps even companionship.

Determined to commit to the most dramatic of all possible lifestyle changes, he used his recently installed high-speed modem to find a dentist. Then, early in the morning on a cloudy, overcast day, he put on a trench coat, hat, and sunglasses. He grabbed an umbrella, pulled up his collar, took a deep breath, and made the trip to the office of one Dr. Larry Finklestein. It was he who had the privilege of removing Dracula’s fangs and replacing them with two run-of-the-mill, composite incizers.

Dracula, the Lord of Darkness, returned home feeling thoroughly emasculated. But he knew that was the price of fresh start. He got a job as a nighttime porter at a hospital. There, he would sneak into the blood bank at night and pilfer bags of the precious fluid. Sometimes he’d poke them with a straw and suck them down like a Capri Sun, other times he would pour them into a goblet like Box of Wine. It never felt quite right, but at least it felt different. At least it felt somewhat human.

Then, one night, as Dracula mopped the floors of Skagit Valley Hospital, he overheard some nurses discussing a newly admitted patient.

“Sarah,” one said. “She’s only 15.”

“My God,” said another. “Does anyone know why she did it?”

“No, she won’t talk to anyone.”

Dracula pressed on with his mop and bucket.  That is, until he reached room 305, where the chart by the door read “Sarah Lynn Taylor.” He was curious so he went inside.

The room was dimly lit but he could make out the girl’s jet black hair. Her face was pale like his, but her high cheekbones were stroked with a bit of rose coloring. She wore the requisite gown and her forearms were wrapped in bandages.

He marveled at her. She looked so remarkably like him, at once pale and dark. Her heart monitor, by emitting a slow, perfunctory noise, confirmed she was living, but to the naked eye she looked to be dead. Indeed, she, like Dracula, was the living embodiment of death itself.

Suddenly, Dracula heard some activity in the hall and he rushed immediately back to his bucket and mop. Some doctors passed by without noticing him and he went about his standard business for the rest of the night – ensuring that the hospital was in no condition short of pristine.

When he returned home and settled down with his nightly bag of blood, he felt different than he did most nights. He thought back to that young girl in room 305 and he felt extraordinary. He couldn’t place his cold, pointy finger on it, but something was different. And as the sun came up, he retired to his coffin eager to greet the next night.

Dracula woke from his slumber the following evening and reported to work at 10:00pm sharp. He made quick work of the first two floors of the hospital and casually happened by the front desk to see if there was any word on the young patient in 305. There was none.

He waited until around 2:30am and then made his way to the third floor. He put up the pretense a little while longer and then quickly ducked into Sarah’s room. She looked a little healthier but still thin and very pale. Dracula watched her for a minute or two. Then he inched closer to her bed. Then closer, and even closer, until he almost brushed the side rail. His heart beat a little faster. And soon without even thinking about it, he took his cold jagged finger and slowly brushed some hair from her face.

Her eyes opened – halfway at first, then extremely wide. Dracula startled and jumped back. And with that leap backwards the menacing corpse-like countenance that moments ago hovered inches above Sarah’s face became a shadowy figure backlit against the light from the hallway.

Sarah opened her mouth as if to scream but no sound came out. Her jaw flapped up and down loosely, emitting only the faintest imitation of a voice. Then finally, after what seemed like hours, she spoke.

“Who are you? What are you doing?”

“Vuhhhh…I’m… I’m va doctor.”

“Then why are you dressed like a janitor?”

“Oh. Ves. I’m a janitor. I’m very sarry. I thought I svaw something on ver face. I vas vorried.”

“What are you German or something?”

“No. I’m vrom Romania. Transylvania, actually.”

“Like Dracula?”

“Vuhh, yes… Like Dracula,” he sighed.

“Cool.”

“Cool?”

“Yeah. Have you ever been there? Like to the castle?”

“Of course, I lived there… or close to it I mean. I verked there… as a guide.”

“That’s so cool.”

“Veally?”

“Yeah Vampires are totally cool.”

“Veally, vy?”

“I don’t know. They’re dark and menacing. They’re mysterious. It’s macabre, you know, like Edgar Allen Poe, or those true crime stories you see on television.”

“Oh. Vell… I used to have vangs, you know…”

“No way! That’s awesome.”

“Yes vay. I vas born vith them.”

“Why don’t you have them now?”

“They scare people.”

“Right, but isn’t that the point? To scare people and freak them out?”

“Vell yes but it gets lonely.”

“Well it doesn’t have to be. You just have to find other people like you. You’re not the only person who has fangs you know. Other people have them, too.”

“There are other vampires?”

“What? No. Not vampires, just people that have fangs put in. You know, like piercings and tattoos. I saw a guy on TV that had these, like, horns in his head. And another guy had his tongue forked.”

Dracula couldn’t help but snicker a bit.

“Va va va,” he chuckled. “That sounds vidiculous.”

“Well, maybe, but that’s just who they are. You should always be yourself. If other people can’t deal, fuck’em.”

“Is that veally how you live?”

Sarah thought about the question.

“Maybe not,” she said, looking down at her bandages.

“Vut happened to ver arms?”

Sarah remained quiet, and was sullen, like she’d just been reminded of something terrible. And she was.

“I… I cut myself,” she said sniffling.

“Vy?” Dracula asked.

“I don’t know, I guess, I’m not real happy with myself either.”

“But vu vould take ver own life?”

“I guess, I don’t know,” she said, now crying. “It’s not just me, you know? My stepdad hits me a lot and my mom is a total bitch. I hate them both. And then I go to school and they make fun of me there for being punk or goth or whatever. Just because I don’t fit into any of their nice little groups.”

“Vat’s terrible. I’m sarry to hear such tings.”

Sara sat crying. Dracula stepped closer to her bed and pushed the tissue box towards her.”

“Thanks,” she said looking down at his hand. “Wow, you’re kinda goth yourself aren’t you?”

“Goth?”

“Yeah, you know, like with the paleness, and those rings on your fingers.”

“Oh, ves. Goth. I’m very… punk.”

“Did you get picked on a lot when you were a kid?”

“I… I don’t vemember.”

“You’re lucky. Tommy Donovan, this kid at school, he picks on me all the time. He spread this rumor that we had sex in a bathroom stall and that he put my head in the toilet bowl. Now people call me Septic Slut. They say and do awful things to me all the time. They throw things at me. They hid my stuff.”

“Ugh, vat’s terrible.”

“I have no friends,” Sara said, again breaking into a wet, sniffly sob.

Dracula sat down on the bed and comforted her.

“I don’t have any friends either,” he said.

“You’re so cold.”

“I know. I’m sarry.”

Then the light came on and there was an orderly standing in the doorway.

“What are you doing in here? You’re not a doctor.”

“It’s okay,” said Sara. “He’s my friend.”

“Well, he can’t be here. Visiting hours are over. Besides he has work to do. Now if you don’t mind.”

“Of course,” said Dracula getting up and moving toward the door. He looked back at Sara, who with tears in her eyes managed a smile.

Dracula retrieved his bucket and mop and made his way toward the elevator with the orderly watching. Then he went down to the lobby and left the building without finishing his shift. Dracula returned to his mansion with a new sense of purpose. He called Dr. Finklestein’s office and left a message saying he’d be in the next day. Then he used the online directory to look up all of the Taylors in the area.

About one week later, Sarah returned home. She lay down in her bed, fell asleep and had a strange dream. She was in a graveyard but she wasn’t scared. The janitor from the hospital was digging a grave but it wasn’t hers. He looked up from his work and flashed her a sinister smile. She could see on his hand the gold ruby ring he’d worn at the hospital. She woke to the sound of something hitting her window.  She got up to inspect it and saw something on the window sill outside. She opened the window and picked it up. It was the same glittering gold band and blood red ruby she’d seen in the dream. Then she gasped and looked up to see the shape of a bat flying off into the distance.

The bat flapped its wings gracefully and faded out of sight. It flew with purpose to another house not very far from Sarah’s. About the same time a young man was returning home drunk from a party. He lifted his keys to unlock the front door but he dropped them. He bent over to pick them up and as he rose he came face to face with a dark shadowy figure wearing a cape and sporting a pair of fangs.

“Var you Tommy Donovan?” the figure asked.

“Yeah. Who the fuck are you?”

 

Netflix Instant Classic: Thelma and Louise

Genre: Early 90s Action

What’s it about?  Two women with no real responsibility prove that they deserve no real responsibility by setting out on a vacation that quickly devolves into a crime spree.

Who’s in it? Shooter McGavin, Dottie “Queen of Diamonds” Hinson,  Susan Sarandon, The psycho from Reservoir Dogs, and Brad Pitt’s abs.

You’ll like it if… You like domineering/submissive women, old cars, big sunglasses, and random early-90s actor cameos. Or if you hate men, rationality, and consistent plotlines.

I know that you know what Thelma and Louise is.

Even if you haven’t seen it, we all know how it ends.

But there are 128 more minutes in this film, and I do think they’re worth exploring.

So here it goes…

First off, my favorite character in the film wasn’t Thelma or Louise. It was Darryl, Thelma’s brutish, misogynist, philandering, deadbeat husband.

He’s a scumbag, no doubt, but he’s played by Christopher McDonald, who we all know better as Shooter McGavin.

If you’ve seen Happy Gilmore you know how much McDonald excels at playing a douchebag. Well, in this movie, he takes his schtick from the country club to the country – small-town Arkansas to be precise.

Darryl has the look and charm of Kenny Powers and the small-town Regional Manager-pride of Michael Scott.  He drives Camaro with a T-top that just screams “You’re fuckin out!”

Christopher-McDonald-Thelma-and-Louise

That McDonald is fun to watch makes up for the fact that his character exists only to engender sympathy for wife Thelma, when she finally flips her shit.

Sure, she could just leave him or file for a divorce, but she’s the submissive type. She’ll put up with any amount of shit from anyone.

And so enters Louise.

It’s kind of funny that Louise is clearly supposed to be the force that liberates Thelma from her overbearing husband, but in actuality, she’s just as domineering as Darryl is.

Louise bosses Thelma around throughout the movie, eventually making her an accessory to murder, and by the end, costing her her life.

That’s the kind of friend Louise is, a psychotic one (though it is Thelma who puts the hand gun her purse as the two prepare for their “fishing” trip).

And so these two powder kegs pile their shit into a convertible, take a polaroid selfie, and speed off.

Of course, they get hungry and have to stop off for a bite to eat. For a reason only God knows, that means swinging into some honky-tonk, country-trucker rube-fest with a band fronted by (I shit you not ) Matt Dillon with a two foot long pony tail.

(Editor’s Note: Since I wrote this review four years ago people Googling “Is Matt Dillon in Thelma and Louise?” have accounted for maybe 90% of my tiny little blog’s traffic. If you’re looking for an answer to that question, the truth is I don’t know for sure but I’ve freeze framed it multiple times and I don’t think that’s him. Sorry.)

It’s here where we meet Harlan – the second sleezebag man to manipulate Thelma.

He’s trying to get it and Thelma is trying to have a good time. And so, after some alcohol and line dancing we find ourselves in the parking lot, where Harlan attempts to rape Thelma.

He almost succeeds, but Louise shows up with Thelma’s gun.

Now, shooting Harlan for trying to rape Thelma would have been fine in my book, or even if he’d made an aggressive move to assault Louise, making a justifiable case for self-defense.

That’s not what happens, though.

Harlan’s busted and he stops. All Thelma and Louise have to do is walk away. But then Harlan makes the fatal mistake of calling Louise a bitch and saying a few other unsavory things.

That’s when she shoots him. It’s a dumb but necessary plot twist. Obviously, if it were a clear-cut case of self-defense, Thelma and Louise have nothing to do but call the cops and wait. End of movie.

But the fact that Louise blows Harlan away in cold blood means they have to book it, which is what they do.

Thelma immediately suggests they go to the cops, and Louise tells her to shut up. In fact, Louise even tries to pin the blame on Thelma for getting caught up with Harlan in the first place.

This is what I mean about Louise being just as bad as Darryl, and it really undermines the whole notion of liberation and sisterhood.

The fact is, Louise really is a bitch. We find out later that she, herself, was the victim of sexual assault years earlier. But that doesn’t justify her hostility towards men or towards Thelma.

Still, that doesn’t make it a bad movie. It’s okay. It moves along well enough and the carousel of celebrity cameos keeps things somewhat interesting.

I was just surprised to learn this movie won an Oscar for best original screenplay.

Especially with lines like: “I may be the outlaw but you’re the one stealin’ my heart,” which comes courtesy of Brad Pitt.

05 THELMA E LOUISE

The acting isn’t bad though. Both McDonald and Pitt have a lot of fun with two detestable characters, and both Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon were nominated for Oscars. (They lost to Jodie Foster who won for Silence of the Lambs.)

Taken lightly, it has plenty of camp value, and its place in pop culture pretty much demands at least one viewing.

If I was a little disappointed it’s because I expected to see two women pushed over the edge by an oppressive patriarchy; what I got was two brats on a poorly planned (albeit entertaining) crime spree.

Great Escape

“Do you want some water?”

I paused to think about the answer like I was on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” and Craig was Regis Philbin, like it was a trick question. I considered using a lifeline or opening the car door, jumping out at the next light, and making a break for it.

Could I really trust Craig? He was my roommate sure, but the kid is shady.  I had to play it coy and get some more information out of him.

“Maybe,” I said.

The ball was in his court.

He half chuckled, put the bottle between us and said, “Well, it’s here if you need it.”

Now certain of his indifference as to whether or not I took a drink, I did. If he was really up to something he would have been more persistent. Or would he? I second guessed myself as I brought the bottle to my mouth, but it was too late. Once I felt the wet plastic on my lips and the refreshing fluid within touch my tongue, I didn’t care anymore.  I even forgot what I was wondering about in the first place.

The water reintroduced the sensation of moisture to my parched, disgustingly dry mouth, washing the taste of smoke out, as it cooled its way down my throat.  I needed that.  My eyes were dried out too, probably bloodshot, but that didn’t bother me so much. It’s not like I was going to have to talk to my parents or the police or anything.

It was 2:00am on a Wednesday, technically Thursday I guess, and it was just me and Craig cruising down I-95 at just under 80mph. We wanted to get to the University and back as quickly and efficiently as we could.  After all, we had class the next morning and this wasn’t exactly conducive to the process of higher education.  We were going there to buy drugs, large quantities of them, with the intent to then sell.  Now, don’t get the wrong idea about us, we’re not drug dealers. We’re just college kids with alcohol fines and no money to pay them with.

It just so happened that Craig’s brother knew a kid at the University who would front Craig an ounce of weed, which he could divide into eighths, or grams, or whatever other denomination people wanted to buy it in, and then sell. Once this was done, he would have to return, give our source his share of the profit, and pick up the next batch. It was a flawless system.

Where do I come in?

Well, he’s my friend, and I guess trafficking drugs across state lines is what I get for being the only friend of his with a car. Plus, I had sex with his sister, and I guess I felt kind of bad about it. This made us even.

“Now my helmet’s on, you can’t tell me I’m not in space
With the National Guard United States Enterprise
Diplomat of swing with aliens at my feet
Comin’ down the rampart through beam on the street
Obsolete computes, compounds, and dead sounds
As I locate intricately independent
Economic rhymer got savory store food
In Capsule D my program is ability
For a reaction and response to a no-one
Identification Code: Unidentified
I got cosmophonic, pressed a button, changed my face
You recognized, so what? I turned invisible
Made myself clear, reappeared to you visual
Disappear again, zapped like a android
Face the fact, I fly on planets every day
My nucleus friend, prepare, I return again
My 7XL is not yet invented”

That’s Dr. Octagon, our music of choice when taking part in this kind of activity. It may not look like much to you, but it made a hell of a lot of sense to me at the time. I consider Dr. Octagon part of my college education, perhaps even one of my professors – though I don’t think he really has a doctorate. If he did though, it would be in the same field I’m majoring in, Perceptual Experimentation and Perpetual Escape, I call it.

That is, drugs have always been a way for me to escape. Escape from my petty problems, anxiety, and even society as a whole. I don’t get along particularly well with any of those things, and while I know that drugs aren’t a solution to those particular ailments (if such a thing even exists), what they do give me is a freedom from them – albeit a temporary one.

Now, I don’t know Dr. Octagon personally.  I don’t know what kind of drugs he does or what kind of world he’s escaping into, but it sure sounds like he’s having a hell of a time, and that’s something I can relate to.

We got to the university somewhere around 2:45… I think. I am frequently reminded of just how nice my own college’s dorms are when I visit other schools. I wouldn’t say they were like tenements, because that kind of irresponsible hyperbole would exaggerate the claim unnecessarily. But at the very least, I was glad to not be living in them.

The building most resembled an old run down hotel. In fact, it resembled one so much I thought it might actually be one. The carpet in the hallway was red with a kind of pedestrian series of green and gold tessellations. The walls were off-white, and by “off-white” I mean had at one point actually been white, but were now layered with filth and dirt. It was eerie, and not just because we were there to tend to such shady business, but because it was the kind of dirty and quiet atmosphere that make cop movies so suspenseful.

There were pipes running along the ceiling exposed, and thick doors on all the rooms.  I felt like had I approached any one of them and executed the secret knock, I would have been let into a room with sordid men betting cocaine, alcohol, and underage sex slaves in poker games.  Like there would be a gauntlet of crack whores guarding the door, each one missing a different tooth, and haggling over who could give me fellatio for a cheaper rate. You may think this an exaggeration, but I’d be willing to bet that something to that effect was going on in at least one of the rooms. It had to be.

We went to the room our connection called home.  He opened the door and led us to the back. He looked pretty average, but not like a kid I’d fuck with. Just imagine an average sized 21 year-old with a shaved head, moderate build, and a tattoo. It doesn’t matter what kind of tattoo. I don’t remember what his was, but it was more likely generic and typical, rather than, say, an angry red demon riding a raging bull with bloody horns dragging the souls of the damned behind them on a leash.  I would have remembered if it was something like that.

There seemed to be a lot going on in the main room. At the same time, though, there was nothing much going on at all. There were maybe eight to ten people in there, most sitting on couches looking pretty high. They were all drinking what was likely the cheapest beer on the market, but none of them really seemed to be having that good of a time.

We were led into the bedroom that was decorated with posters fully endorsing marijuana as a way of life. One depicted a group of happy elves merrily collecting cannabis in wheel barrows and sacks they had slung over their shoulders, like trick-or-treaters on a particularly prosperous Halloween night.  All of their eyes were red and bloodshot like mine probably were. I had trouble imagining how a bunch of elves, blessed with such a fruitful bounty of weed and clearly high all of the time, could summon the initiative to harvest it so diligently. I wondered if they actually tended to the plants, but I got the impression that they were growing organically, without the intervention of elves.

A kid I hadn’t seen when I came in, interrupted my thought process by coming into the room, making sure to close the door behind him. He was holding a can of whipped cream.

“You guys wanna do some whip-its?” he asked.

By whip-its, he meant put our mouths on the nozzle (Yes, the same nozzle everyone else had obviously used) tilt our heads back and inhale the gas propelled by the aerosol can. That explained the glazed over, catatonic expressions on everyone’s face when Craig and I walked in, as well as their indifference to our presence. In seven minutes they wouldn’t have any recollection of us whatsoever. We politely declined, and the guy left to rejoin his friends.  They, unlike the elves, were not being productive during the course of their highness.

We made the transaction pretty quickly. Often when marijuana is purchased it’s customary to smoke some of it as an expression of good faith and gratitude. This, however, was understood to be a business transaction – one which was to be done with haste and just as quickly forgotten about. Craig and I would smoke on the ride home. It had been an hour and a half of highway driving since we last got lit and it was damn near time to re-up during the long drive home. Craig packed a small bowl while navigating me back to the highway.

Back on I-95 I got in the right lane, set the car on cruise control, and held the wheel with my knees while I smoked, constantly glancing up to make sure I wasn’t going to rear-end anyone and that I was at least somewhere between the lines. I was getting a nice buzz going. I didn’t even notice the cop car pull up behind me, not until he put his lights on, anyway. Then I took notice.

It’s tough to explain how I felt at that moment, high, driving a car full of weed, and now being pulled over by the police. All I could see was my entire life spiraling out of control. I was mortified by the idea of my car being impounded, having to somehow explain all of this to my parents, and the end of my life as I knew it. I couldn’t breathe, but somehow this situation needed to be dealt with. I quickly tried to reassure and compose myself. The last thing I could do was look scared or guilty; cops can smell fear.

I slowed down so the officer would think I was immediately complying but I wasn’t even thinking about stopping yet. Craig quickly stashed our pipe in my center console. Luckily, I had had the window cracked, I don’t like to bake out my car for a variety of reasons, this being one of them.  Craig and I both put our windows down all the way. We were lucky it was spring and having our windows down was legitimate. Had it been winter, we really would have been fucked.

Still slowly decreasing my speed, I coasted off to the shoulder of the road. Now it was time to put my game face on.

He took a few minutes, probably running my plates through the computer, and then he began the walk up to my window. I could do nothing but bear witness to the slow approach of my imminent doom through my side view mirror.

“Alright, I need your license, registration and insurance, please.”

I know it sounds cliché but that’s really what cops say.  I had the documents ready for him, and he examined them with his flashlight, then a black light, and then his flashlight again. Then he shined his light on me and I winced, closing my eyes as if I had just seen a solar flare. “What are you guys doing out this late?”

“Honeymoon,” I said. It was bold, and slightly aggressive, but tactical. I’d rather the officer think me an asshole than high or drunk.  Also, my experience has led me to believe that police aren’t robots, no matter how much they want you to think they are, and most all of them are insecure. That’s why they took the job in the first place. If you make a bold move it can throw them off balance. And it did, but he was hardly amused. I hesitated and then smirked, as a strategic retreat, then I gave him the real answer as a truce. “We were visiting some friends at the University of Delaware.” He said something like “Alright,” and went back to his car, leaving Craig and I to writhe in agony and contemplate the pending tailspin our lives were sure to take.

The officer came back.

“Have you been drinking tonight?”

“God no.” I said it with authority and conviction. Like the concept was ludicrous. That would be crazy. What kind of lunatic would drive under the influence, putting people at such unnecessary risk? And really it was true. I hadn’t been drinking.

He accepted my response. “Well you were going 75.”

That was when I realized that this was about me speeding, not, strangely enough, about me smoking weed while driving with my legs. If I handled this calmly I could escape with a fine.

“Well it’s just that it’s late and we have class tomorrow. I just kind of set the cruise control. It’s late you know, no one else is really on the road.”

I was starting to talk too much, but I didn’t mind looking guilty… guilty of speeding. I could put myself at his mercy and maybe get some sympathy.  Yeah officer, you got me. I broke the law.

“Alright that’s fine,” he said. “Just slow down and don’t let me catch you out here again.” I put the car in drive and he watched me take off. And that was the end of it.

Craig and I were shocked. We didn’t laugh, we didn’t speak, we didn’t make a sound. We just finished the drive in complete and utter silence.

I was talking earlier about escape, and in my opinion this was certainly a daring one. We were two kids who took a chance doing something dangerous and got away with it. In the end, there was no penalty and I have the luxury of looking back on an interesting experience that bore no unwanted consequences.

I won’t forget that there may have been though. Just like I won’t forget the difference between being home free and getting caught.  I might say that smoking a bowl while speeding down a highway with my best friend is as close a thing to free as I’ll ever feel.  I just hope I don’t get caught, not by the police, but by the idea of freedom being defined as doing whip-its in my drug dealer’s dingy apartment. At least after a while, the police let you go.

 

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

To be perfectly blunt, when I heard adult men were watching this show, I immediately suspected it was a sexual identity thing.

But having seen it, I no longer believe that’s the case.

I think it’s a suspended adolescence thing.

That is, what I saw in the 22 minutes I spent watching My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic was a cartoon intended for children… but not necessarily little girls.

In all honesty, I didn’t see anything in this show that was inherently feminine.

Yes, the six main characters are female, but they’re not gender specific stereotypes.

They’re gender-neutral stereotypes.

One’s kind of a brain – self righteous and responsible. Another is wild and rebellious. One is kind of ditzy. Another is rural and industrious. One has ADHD, I think… Whatever. The point is, these are all traits that could just as easily be applied to boys.

And as far as the plot is concerned, these girls don’t spend their time doing stereo-typically girly things. They don’t sit around braiding each other’s tails or shopping for horseshoes. In fact, two are rather tomboyish.

What they do is explore the different aspects, and limitations, of what it means to be a friend .

It’s not exactly what I’d call sophisticated, but there’s enough to it to keep things interesting, entertaining, and even educational.

That’s a lot more than I can say for SpongeBob SquarePants, which is far less coherent.

In the episode I watched, one pony offered to make the other ponies dresses. They took her up on it. But then they were super critical of the designs and made her redo them over and over until they were abominations. Then they all embarrassed themselves at a fashion show where the Tim Gunn of the pony world shamed the shit out of them.

Moral of the story: Don’t be a dick. Or… Wait for it… Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth.

Also, “Sometimes when you try to please everyone you end up pleasing no one – including yourself.”

…That’s what the dress-making pony learned.

And it may have been a harsh lesson, but it’s one she learned in style.

There was not one, but two catchy musical numbers in this show…

I’m gonna be straight with you: I love cartoons.

I grew up watching them and I’ve continued watching them well into my adulthood.

Looney Toons, Animaniacs, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Venture Bros., Archer, Bob’s Burgers, Home Movies, The Critic… I watch them all. (Not anime though. Not my thing.)

And the art behind MLP holds up as well, if not better, than any other cartoon I’ve ever seen.

It has its own distinct style that’s bright and colorful, and it uses a lot of creative imagery.

The pony world is literally full of magic, and the artists take advantage of that freedom with whimsicality  and theatrics. The scenes sweep across the screen with flourishes, sparkles and vapor trails. And they’re interspersed with crisp transitional images.

Basically this is exactly the kind of show I would recommend watching while high.

That’s what I did. And I don’t regret it. The animation and music were definitely stimulating and the plot line was easy to follow. It was like taking a magic carpet ride through Candyland or a Mario Party or something.

It’s about ponies that happen to be girls… So what? Should girls not watch Breaking Bad because it features a bunch of men killing each other? Hell no! Everyone should watch Breaking Bad.

Does that mean it’s deserving of cosplay?

No, I probably wouldn’t go that far.

But if society can accept a grown man dressed up as Darth Vader or Batman, then we can certainly accept a guy who just wants to get his Rainbow Dash on.

Of course, I will say that I haven’t watched any more than the one episode, and I don’t plan on revisiting Equestria anytime soon.

But that’s not because it’s a bad show. It’s not because it’s a kid’s show. And it’s definitely not because it’s girl’s show.

It’s because I don’t have any more weed.

The Hunt

When I was just eleven years old my daddy taught me how to shoot. The gun was heavy but I could aim it. The sound was loud but I liked the way it shattered the sky. And the smell of gunpowder didn’t make me cough, it brought me home.

I learned to still my breathing and my body. It’s like being an Indian, he said. You lay perfectly still, one with the earth. Feel each leaf under your belly. Watch everything. See the way that tree bends…the way that branch bows… that leaf skips across the ground… that crow flies… that buck steps closer… and closer…. and drops. Drops before it even hears the round being fired.

I did see it. I did feel it.  You can feel a buck coming long before you can hear, see, or smell it. You can feel it pacing its last steps, and it doesn’t even know you’re there. Nothing knows you’re there.

Sometimes I hid so well my father couldn’t even find me. He’d look for me, to check up and make sure I was okay, but I let him walk right past – just because I could. If I could deceive him, nothing could find me. My father knew everything about me. He knew when I’d done wrong and when I’d done right. He knew when I was lying and when I was telling the truth. If I could hide from him I could hide from anybody, anything.

One time I was hiding down in a ravine, just up on the crest with my feet dangling a little off the edge. I was part way under a tree stump. I’d mired myself in dirt and leaves and thicket. I could see my father off in the distance. He could feel it in the air, just like I could but he was going the wrong way. The buck wasn’t near, but it would be. So I waited.

I watched. Just the way Daddy’d taught me. I watched the leaves, the termites, the birds, and the clouds. Then I heard it just like I knew I would. And it was close, so very close I could hear it breathe. I could see the steam billow from its snout. I could feel its muscles flexing through the ground. But I waited, and waited, and waited… still.

It was so close, that when I shot it, I heard blood spatter onto the leaves. I heard its fur flatten into the soil. I scared myself.

I jumped up so high so fast I almost ran. Why was it so different this time? Why did I want to run? Why wasn’t I happy? It was such a big creature, my daddy was gonna be so proud. Why did I want to run?

I walked slowly while my heart raced ahead. And I heard it fighting to breathe. I heard it kicking… gasping… struggling… surviving and wondering why. I was so close to it and it was alive and it was asking me why. I wanted to shoot it again but it looked so scared. What if I shot it again and it still lived? Then I wouldn’t just be a murderer I’d be a monster.

Die! I pleaded. Why won’t you die? Please just die. Fucking die…

I turned my head crying.  After a few more minutes it finally stopped. I ran off as far and fast as I could. And I hid. I hid in another ravine – in another pile of bramble and bark and leaves and dirt. I hid for what felt like hours. I hid until I heard it again.

I heard the light footsteps. The breathing. I wiped the tears from my face, I stilled my breathing, and I stood up straight as an arrow with my gun in hand.

“I don’t wanna hunt anymore Daddy,” I said.

“We haven’t been out here that long,” he said, “Shouldn’t we wait until we catch something?”

“No, there’s no game to be had. We’ll try again next time.”

My daddy knew that I was lying.

“I’m cold,” I said.

Daddy knew I was telling the truth.

Unhappy Meal

I ran out of the McDonald’s with clumps of rubbery purple foam dangling from my shirt and lodged under my fingernails. I had just emerged from the fight of my life. There was blood dripping from a cut above my left eye and scrapes on my elbows and knees, but you should have seen Grimace.

I don’t know where that rotund purple wannabe comes from, or what his precise affiliation with the McDonald’s corporation or Ronald himself is, but I’m sure I knocked that smug little smile right off of his face. Maybe the physical bruises will blend in with his purple color, but the bruising I levied upon his ego will be perfectly evident for quite some time. It’s not going to be the same happy go lucky, self-confident purple powerhouse heading home to Mrs. Grimace, but a broken, embarrassed, shell of a Grimace who – like a Vietnam vet suffering from post traumatic stress disorder – won’t ever be quite the same. There’s no doubt he’ll be forced to take a few personal days before returning back to his little promotional tour.

You see, knowing Grimace, the Hamburgler, and Mayor McCheese would be at my local McDonald’s distributing free cheeseburgers and pencil sharpeners as part of a promotional marketing blitz, I showed up to the restaurant right at noon, when the giveaway would allegedly take place. I had only intended to pick up a free cheeseburger on my lunch break, but when I found out that Ronald-shaped McDonald’s pencil sharpeners were part of the deal, I was all the happier.

There were some kids already in line at the restaurant and I was willing to wait my turn. I waited for a number of minutes but Grimace, the closest representative to me, refused to provide me with the cheeseburger and pencil sharpener I well deserved. Maybe he thought one of the little brats crowded around my body actually belonged to me. I could accept this misunderstanding as plausible.  After all, how could Grimace know that I was mistakenly given a vasectomy by a negligent doctor who was supposed to perform a vesicotomy to remove a cyst from my bladder that had been causing me a great deal of trouble when it came to urinating.

Then again, how could I have known that the doctor I had been referred to by a “friend” that I used to buy my weed from would be capable of such oversight. Yes, the doctor blindfold me before leading me to his “operating room,” which looked strangely like the kitchen in which I had just been served pita bread and tequila. Yes, the doctor’s credentials looked highly suspect, in that his diploma was a piece of framed cardboard with “Harverd” written in magic marker.  And yes, I was anesthetized with a warm glass of rum garnished with a syringe still lingering around the rim, but his rates were affordable and I was uninsured. This is what you get when the Democrats are in office.

Regardless, after 10-15 minutes Grimace was still ignoring my repeated pleas for what was promised to all of those who arrived at McDonald’s between the hours of twelve and one o’clock pm on this particular Friday.  My patience with this giant purple gumdrop-shaped calamity was beginning to wear thin.

Several times, when he would go to distribute gifts to the smaller children navigating around me, I would make a quick reach to try and snatch them before the children could, but Grimace was quick to withdraw the offer, dodging my attempt and pressing the cheeseburgers and pencil sharpeners directly into the children’s arms and chests. More than a few times he turned to me and shook his whole body back and forth, each time with surmounting urgency. However, his fixed expression prevented me from knowing whether he was shaking to indicate anger, disappointment, or even pity. Or maybe Grimace was just trying to maintain his center of gravity which was surely tested by his awkward and cumbersome shape.

As twenty minutes, then close to a half hour passed, my frustration turned to outrage.  What did Grimace think? That I got my jollies by going to McDonald’s restaurants across the country on the off chance that there might be a promotional giveaway and I would be blessed with the opportunity to stand amid a swarm of small children whining and clamoring and carrying on, their parents looking on at me with disgust in their eyes? As if I was enjoying their little nuisances prattling around my hips, legs, and rear.

Well to set the record straight for Grimace and anyone else wondering, I’m no pervert. I just happen to believe in the American dream. An American dream that says we’re all entitled to the bounty of free corporate giveaways, I even more so than these little trolls.  After all, it was their parents who paid for their free McDonald’s binges. But the money for my Happy Meals and McNuggets comes right from my own pocket. This was blatant age discrimination and if Grimace would be party to it perhaps other McDonald’s icons would represent the corporation more fairly.

Having realized that Grimace, likely a communist pedophile and ageist, was not going to accommodate me, I moved on to who I thought would be a more open minded McDonald’s representative in Mayor McCheese. Surely, the product of a democratic election would better represent the ideals of this great nation and understand my plight.

As mayor, Mayor McCheese would certainly have the authority to right the wrongs rendered unto me by the evil Grimace. So I made my way through the mob of children, working myself up close enough to the good Mayor that I might make my plea.

“Mayor, excuse me Mr. Mayor,” I said, “I’ve been trying to get a cheeseburger and pencil sharpener for a half hour, but Grimace wouldn’t give them to me. He’s prejudiced and maybe a communist pedophile. Please could you hand me a cheeseburger and sharpener so I can get back to the work?”

But my appeal fell on deaf ears, if Mayor McCheese did in fact have ears, which it didn’t appear he did.

“Mr. Mayor, please, I really have to get back to work, and if you won’t give me the cheeseburger and pencil sharpener who will? I don’t trust the Hamburgler, he’s a criminal for God’s sake. He and Grimace are probably in cahoots.”

Still nothing. Sorely disappointed, I decided my next, and perhaps only, option was to bluff Grimace. I moved back across the floor towards him, the crowd of children beginning to dwindle.

“Look Grimace, I just talked to Mayor McCheese and he says that this promotional giveaway is for everyone not just those you judge as being worthy. He says if you don’t give me a cheeseburger and pencil sharpener, he’s going to revoke your right to participate in McDonald’s marketing campaigns. His authority comes right from the clown himself, and I’m sure he’s the one that stuffed the ballot boxes, so you better listen.”

Grimace continued to ignore me. It was now a quarter ‘til one and I was still without burger and sharpener. Soon I’d have to get back to work and I was hungry. This was unacceptable. I stood waiting for Grimace to make the right decision, but he didn’t.  That’s when it happened.

A child I had seen served, a child whose cheeseburger and pencil sharpener I had attempted to intercept, returned to Grimace who presented him with yet another cheeseburger – and furthermore a gentle pat on the head. He would go the extra mile to touch the kid. That was all I could take.

“Alright Grimace, you win I’ll just go to Burger King or Arby’s, somewhere middle aged divorcees with dead end jobs are appreciated.”

I turned my back and began walking away, towards the door, as if I were really giving up. Well, guess what I’m no quitter! I turned around and ran full sprint at Grimace. I buried my shoulder into his chest and took him hard into the counter, igniting an eruption of cheeseburgers and plastic pencil sharpeners. Grimace and I hit the ground, and next thing I knew the Hamburgler and McCheese were trying to restrain me.  I never intended this to be their fight but the turnstiles had been struck down and I was ready to take on all comers.

The Mayor put his arm under mine and tried to pry me off of Grimace. I threw an elbow back and connected with his giant hamburger head, turning it ninety degrees to the left. Sensing he was at a disadvantage, I kicked at his legs until he tripped and careened into the nearby trashcans. The print on the cans said “Thank You.”

“No need to thank me,” I thought to myself coolly. “That deposit is on the house.”

The Hamburgler took a step back, slightly startled by the thrashing his friends were receiving. But like the last generic ninja left in a Steven Segal fight scene, he had no choice but to step up and take his beating like a man. Slightly out of breath and my blood coursing with adrenaline, I said, “Bring it on jailbird.”

I got to my feet and he came at me trying to grab, but I pulled his hat down in front of his face to disorient him. Then I brought my knee into his abdomen. He doubled over in pain and gasped for air. I pushed him towards an empty booth, which he clumsily toppled into. I’d expected more from a guy who’d spent time in the clink.

Then I saw the looks of horror on the faces of all the children, parents, and McDonald’s employees, and I began to realize the magnitude of the altercation.

“I… I’m sorry,” I said.

I was about to explain that I had just wanted a cheeseburger and a pencil sharpener to keep in my desk at work when I felt two large purple arms grab me from behind.  Grimace had gotten up off the floor and had me in a bear hug with his fat mitts tightly squeezing my chest. I struggled, but his grip was strong and I couldn’t pry myself loose. I saw Mayor McCheese regaining his composure. The Hamburgler sat up. They were rallying.

Grimace held fast while McCheese lowered his head like a bull and took aim to charge me.  He stomped his loafer-clad feet and took off full speed towards me with his hamburger head poised for a direct hit into my sternum. The Hamburgler was looking on with a sense of satisfaction as he witnessed the assault from his booth. He was grinning with delight as he watched the momentum of the fight turn against me, his eyes glittering with anticipation. But I clinched and pulled at Grimace with all my might, tearing tufts of purple foam as I pried his arms from around my waist. I dropped to the floor just seconds before Mayor McCheese collided with him. Both toppled over the counter, taking one of the registers with them.

On the floor I grabbed two cheeseburgers, got up, and bolted for the door. The Hamburgler rose and tried to stop me, but he couldn’t get a handle as I stormed by pelting him in the face with one of the cheeseburgers before flying through the doors and making my exit. I didn’t run to my car. If the police came they’d be looking for it. There were too many witnesses. I’d have to hide out and return later.

I ran across the street, cars screeching to a stop, their horns blaring though my brain. I ducked into a nearby Burger King knowing no McDonald’s spokesman would be warmly received there and that I would be sheltered from any further attacks by my assailants. I’d be granted asylum for sure, possibly even praised as a hero and knighted by the Burger King himself. But not yet.

I rushed into the bathroom as quickly as I could. I had to regain my composure, clean the foam out from under my fingernails, and scoff down a hard-earned cheeseburger. But more than anything else, I had to take a piss. My bladder was killing me.

Netflix Instant Classic: Wayne’s World

Sometimes people ask me what my favorite movie is…

I just about always answer Wayne’s World.

Most people just laugh. And they should.

But I’m also dead serious.

Here’s why…

First off, Mike Myers is an extremely underrated comedic talent. He’s more famous for Austin Powers, which is understandable but also kind of a shame.  Because  (while insanely funny)  Austin Powers was a parody – and one that wore out its welcome, at that.

Myers would have been smart to stop after the second movie. And he would have been even smarter to not pursue The Love Guru at all.

The latter abomination notwithstanding, Austin Powers overshadowed Myers work on Saturday Night Live. I loved watching early 90s SNL growing up. The cast was fantastic and Mike Myers was one of the highlights with characters like Simon, Lothar, and of course, Wayne Campbell.

If you’re not a member of Generation X – which I’m not, either – then you’ve probably forgotten how popular Wayne’s World was. It debuted at No. 1 at the box office and grossed over $121 million, which was huge at that time. It also spawned a sequel and even a video game for SNES.

Everyone tells those “That’s what she said…” jokes with Michael Scott in mind… But it was Wayne Campbell that got there first.

There were other one-line wonders and catchphrases too, like the less durable “Schwing” and “Not!” and the more subtle and better-aged “Excellent,” “Party on,” and “Game on.”

It’s not just those flippant phrases I crack up at when I watch the movie, though.

I think my favorite scene is early on, when Wayne’s ex-girlfriend gets him a gun rack for a present.

He says: “Stacy, I don’t even own a gun, let alone many guns that would necessitate an entire rack.”

That was the first time I ever heard the word “necessitate”and it was because Wayne Campbell was smart enough to use it.

You see, while on the surface they seemed to embody the Gen-X slacker mentality of the time, Wayne and Garth were intelligent, polite and industrious.

Which brings me to the heart of the movie…

The reason I love Wayne’s World so much is because it’s almost a fairy tale re-imagining of the grunge era.

Characters wear grungy clothes but they still look relatively clean. We see background actors drinking, but we almost never see the main characters imbibe (Just once when Wayne shares a rooftop Champagne with Benjamin).

Obviously, there’s no heroin, either, despite its prevalence at the time, particularly among grunge-era musicians.

Indeed, it would have been easy to set this movie in Seattle, where grittier grunge cliches were running amok, but they didn’t.

Wayne and Garth are suburbanites from Aurora, Illinois. They more or less revolve around the cultural epicenter of Chicago, without being absorbed into it.

As a result, they’re the product  of a cleaner, safer environment, where they’re insulated from the dangers of the city and that era.

But whereas Beavis and Butthead spent their slow suburban nights on the couch watching TV, Wayne and Garth spent their time on the couch making TV.

And good TV at that. If Wayne’s World were a real show, I’d watch it every week. Everyone would. It was funny, absolutely, but also joyous and sincere. And its production represents another cultural meme of the time – anti-corp., grass roots, do-it-yourself artistic expression.

The grunge era was all about not selling out and there Wayne and Garth were every Saturday night on public access.

They do of course, sell out in the movie, but only for the chance to make their hobby and passion their full-time job. And when the sponsor attempts to force change on the show, sapping it of its integrity, Wayne walks out.

That’s grunge.

And that’s Wayne’s World.

There’s escapism, naivete, and earnestness in what Wayne and Garth do. They love music and they love entertaining. They embody all of the child-like ethos of the era, and none of the grim alienation or cynicism.

They go to grunge clubs and loft parties, sure.  But most of the time, you can find them munching on donuts at Stan Makita’s, playing hockey in the street, or just lying on the hood of Garth’s car watching planes take off at the airport.

And that’s really what makes me wish Wayne’s World was my world, too.