Tuesday, September 24, 2013

On This Whole Aging Thing

Today is my 35th birthday.  Maybe 11 or possibly 12 years ago, I began a little ritual of sitting down and just writing for an hour every year on the anniversary of my birth about whatever comes to mind.  Topics typically range from work, to life, love, death, friendship, sex, philosophy and the general state of my affairs.  I haven’t exactly been the best student at keeping up with this self-imposed tradition, but since this is one of the “big ones”—and because I actually have some things on my mind to say—I thought that as I celebrate the end of my 35th go-round of this little blue ball floating out in the ether for reasons we know not, I figured it was high time to pick up the quill and again ruminate on all things that face me as I stare down the beginning of year 36 of EFA. 

As with everyone else, perhaps one of the surest signs of age I perceive is in my physical appearance.  A few more gray hairs, a few more wrinkles, more of a beer-saving compartment at my midsection than there used to be.  Losing weight is harder than before (although I am typing during the midst of an 11-day cleanse, which is helping in that particular regard), I’ve now been dealing with a bad lower back for six years, I seem to sleep more and get tired just a little bit more easily.

Honestly, other than that, things are pretty good, and for my health I’m thankful.  My friends and I have been grousing about the descent of our bodies from the tip-top peak shape of our early twenties for close to a decade now.  With medication, exercise, yoga and various other methodologies, I’ve been able to get by reasonably well in spite of my two herniated discs and ankylosing spondylitis—a rare form of arthritis that typically manifests when a male is in his late twenties (mine popped up at 29).  My jogging days are long since behind me thanks to these maladies, but I can still hike, bike, walk fast and do a little bit of running within reason.  My heart rate gets up several times a week, and I’m beginning to eat a little better.  Partly because I don’t burn off calories as briskly as I used to, partly because I just want to live a little healthier as I careen towards my “middle ages.” 

I’ve been on mood-altering medication for over three years at this point.  I’ve suffered panic episodes and depression off and on since I was 15.  Three years ago, while working at “the magazine” and things went to shit, it got so bad that I could no longer function healthily.  I started out on the lowest possible dose of an SSRI, and thus far have only had to up the dosage once (although, for various reasons, I may be due for another upage).  Without question, this has wrought a major, positive change in my life.  I’m still me, I still get down in the dumps sometimes, still sometimes wring my hands in agitation on occasion, but generally things have leveled off to a far more manageable degree, and I’m not going through daily life a walking wreck anymore—as I was before the meds started. 

And join the club.  Many or most of my friends are now—or have been at some point—on mood-altering medications of some order.  I firmly believe the stigma has gone away, and there’s greater compassion nowadays for the very real phenomenon that unbalanced brain chemistry can be as hazardous a premise as cooking up Walter White’s “blue”: Handled haphazardly and incorrectly, stuff’s gonna ‘splode.  (And just look to such sad events as Newtown, the Navy Yard, the Colorado “Joker” shootings and elsewhere for what can—and does—happen when potentially dangerously imbalanced individuals don’t get the help they need.) 

My career has been on a slow, intermittent burn since I went full-time freelance three years ago.  I’ve made enough to survive, if not to thrive.  Flush times invariably are followed by the fallow.  At present, things are fallow: I was laid off from my most recent contract editing job middle of August and have had absolutely no income in a month and a half’s time.  Last I checked (and I need to recheck) I will not qualify for unemployment again until after Thanksgiving.  If I can’t get work in my virtuosity fields of editing, writing, film and TV production or vocal arts, by the holidays I’ll most likely be taking your order at Ruby Tuesday’s. 

I’m not “above it.”  In my life I’ve done absolutely every possibly low-paying, thankless job you can think of.  I’ve stuffed envelopes for two consecutive days for $8 an hour.  I’ve bussed tables, sold my soul to focus groups, given cheap tours of my alma mater, laid sod in the hot California sun and even worked for a medical company that produced anal probes.


Sure, I have a college degree; so what?  That makes me no more special than the two of diamonds.  I happened to enter the workforce right after the dot.com bubble burst, and then came 9/11, Enron, Iraq, the global financial crisis, outsourcing and the implosion of the print industry at the hands of the Interwebs.  Before I ever went to college, I worked decidedly thankless, blue-collar jobs for not much money.  I’ve never had too much pride to do it again to make ends meet. 

As a friend of mine once said, the world doesn’t owe you a damn thing.

My only solid job prospect at present is in Washington, DC.  I interviewed there three weeks ago, was told nine days ago I’d made it to the next round and would soon hear more, and have since heard nothing.  My daily grind consists of sending out upwards of 20, sometimes 30, resumes per day. 

Do the math yourself.

I’ll get by.  I always do.  And there are many, many others out there who are far worse off than myself.  I’m in the enviable position of having to provide solely for myself.  I’m not married, I have no children (that I know of), no pets and my parents are still relatively with it and still working. 

Every year, my dad inevitably asks how I “feel” about turning another year older.  I always shrug: “It’s just a number.”  People who worry that they aren’t hitting certain goalposts by certain years are just setting themselves up for disappointment and surefire disquiet.  Yes, I’m closer to my end than this time a year ago, but I stand by my assertion that the thirties are way better than the twenties!  There’s more self-confidence, you care less about lots of the little things, have an easier time letting some things go, and certainly more ease with casting out those negative influences in your life.  I have no time for negativity and Debbie Downers.  I’m not your therapist; get a fucking shrink. 

Listen, we all get down now and again, but I’m not talking about garden-variety depression.  I’m talking about people who never, ever can be happy, even for a moment.  You know the type…you can show up at their house with a giant chocolate cake studded with diamonds and covered with hundred-dollar bills and they’d still find something to complain about.  These are the same people who never have anything to add to the conversation that doesn't directly revolve around themselves and their own neuroses.  Who keep recycling the same five uninteresting stories and bitch and moan about the exact same shit year after year after year after year without ever making any steps whatsoever to change their lot—people whose 2013 incarnations you could swap out for their 2003 incarnations without any noticeable difference…the two versions would likely even yap the same shit in unison. 

George Carlin put it best: “God, people are fucking boring!”

Fortunately, I was blessed with ADD, meaning that I’m perfectly capable of tuning you out if you start boring me, even though it appears that I’m still paying attention.  All you gotta day is repeat back a few phrases the other person says and they’ll think you care.  Meanwhile, I can go on thinking about organizing my sock drawer or what movie I’m going to watch that night while you prattle on incessantly about how you can never get enough together to move out of your parents’ house. 

I think I’m gonna stop doing that, however.  Get ready for more honesty than you ever wanted. 

Ten years ago, I certainly believed I’d be married by 35.  Such has not proven the case for a whole host of reasons.  For one, I’m picky and bore easily.  If she doesn’t fascinate me, I’m certainly not going to pretend.  I’ve been in love and in extreme like many times over the past half-decade.  For various reasons, none of those persons were willing to go the distance with me.  Or even try.  I was in a relationship for the last few years of my twenties; that person and I currently do not speak. 

Since the Ex and I split, I’ve enjoyed a few unbridled years of serial dating and a playboy mindset.  My attitude after 30 was come one, come me…I mean, er, come all.  I gave anyone a chance for a few years.  Partly to get some experience under my belt, partly to see if there were others out there with whom I could genuinely connect.  There were a few contenders, ones with whom I felt a serious connection and desire to up the level from cas to something more meaningful and ditch all other comers.  This may sound arrogant, but in every such instance, it was all…their…fault.  I’ve been at fault a number of times in my dating life, but whenever, in the past five years, I’ve expressed a serious desire to build something more serious, the woman has been the one to put the kibosh on anything. 

I was raised with the premise that men are commitment-phobic, and that women want to settle down and get serious.  While there’s definitely some truth to that, what most women don’t realize is that when a guy finds the right girl, he’ll move heaven and earth (and occasionally hell) to make it happen.  I did my best in a number of instances these past few years to move the universe, to give and give and be accommodating and meet halfway.  Each time I was met with outright rejection and a lack of even the willingness to attempt a compromise. 

So I continued my playboy life.  That is, until about a month or so ago.  Granted, I’m unemployed and could be moving anywhere for a new job, but while on a date last month, I basically decided that I’d had enough.  Not because of anything this person said or did, but largely because the conversation was entirely her-centric, she asked me no questions, and I felt like I was only there to validate all of the sordid tales of her previous dating experiences.  She didn’t do anything improper or piss me off in any serious way, but I basically didn’t care.  I just wasn’t into the game anymore. 

I came home that night and deleted all of my online profiles.  I no longer pursue or “play the game.”  Honestly, I’ve had my fun.  I’ve been out of that previous relationship for five years.  I had a specific number in mind of people I wanted to hook up with before my next serious relationship.  Not only did I meet my number, I’ve more than doubled it. 

So what?  Well, for its own sake, the experiences were fun, great for the stories, great for themselves.  Sex is usually fun (although not always, but those are tales for another day).  I learned more about myself as a person and as a potential companion.

More importantly, I learned what I don’t want in a partner.

So now I enter an age where most of my contemporaries are married, remarried, divorced or in long-term relationships.  The same people are single season after season for their own reasons.  I’ve tried.  I really, really tried to get into a relationship many times since I turned 30 and became a serial dater. 

I also realized something more existential of late.  Someone asked me recently where I pictured myself in five or ten years.  I rattled off the list of accomplishments: successful author, maybe with a few short films produced under my belt, singing with a cover band, maybe going back to California to live in Santa Barbara, more travel, more fun, more adventures, trying out more new beers wherever I go.  Basically, more or less what I do now.

It occurred to me in the telling, however, that at no point did I mention a significant other being in the equation.  At first I thought that I should be sad about that, but then I pulled myself back from that brink.  It’s OK.  Actually, it’s better than OK.  First of all, as I mentioned earlier, at 25 I forecast I’d be married by now.  Making projections about your future is a fruitless endeavor given that no one can see his or her own destiny in advance. 

But more than that, I think of late I’m beginning to come to some semblance of peace with the notion that for the here and now, I can’t see a mate really adding anything significant to my life.  All of my major trips of the past few years (Australia, New England and Canada, California on several occasions) have been on my own, without friend or family of any kind by my side.  I get to make all of the decisions and do what I want to do when I want to do it.  There’s no jostling for consensus or jousting for position.  It’s I, me, mine, all the time. 

And I meet people along the way.  One of the best things about traveling alone is picking up with strangers in strange lands for activities and impromptu fun.  Or visiting friends of yore and grabbing a bed or a couch for the night without having the baggage of a second person to bunk.  For my 32nd birthday I flew up from home in L.A. to Eugene, Oregon, to visit a girl I was seeing at the time.  For my 33rd birthday two years ago, I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef off of Cairns on the first full day of the three-week tour; that night, several of my tourmates and I went out for drinks and painted the town red (I got absolutely awful food poisoning from that night’s dinner, but that’s for another time). 

The fun is wherever I go.  It requires no preparation or suitcases of party aids. 

Look magazine once published an article with sociological data that claimed that if a man does not marry by 35, the odds are he never will. Rather than huff and puff at this, I choose to see it another way: I am the patron saint of bachelorhood!  Boys, you be boys as long as you want to, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Our society haaaaaates single people with a passion.  Don’t believe me?  Try going to a wedding alone, and the questions range from “Where is your wife or girlfriend?” to “Are you gay?” My answer to all such inquiries is the same: fuuuuuuuucccck you!!!!  I don’t need to explain myself to you.  If my being solo here makes you uncomfortable, then maybe you should keep a better eye on your date.  After all, they have been known to be found with me doing shots at the bar.  I’m just sayin’. 

I guess I’m just dealing with a different mode of thinking at present.  For so many years I’ve been focused on finding “the one” but still taking time out for “the ONES” who came along in the meantime.  But I’m tired of the search.  Honestly, I do pretty well at rockin’ and rollin’ on my own.  If I need to scratch the proverbial libidinous itch on occasion, I can—and will.  That’s not been a problem since I pulled myself out of that self-hating morass of my twenties and into the “here I come” modality of my thirties. 

To wrap things up on a slightly more morbid note, last month I read a story on CNN about a Kansas City sportswriter who, on his 60th birthday,put a gun in his mouthHe was healthy, successful, not depressed, in no physical pain and had no terminal disease.  He basically decided that 60 was…enough.  Better to go out then, he reasoned, than to become old and infirm and losing his mind to senescence. 

Now before you all race to the phone with your fingers above the “9” and the “1” keys, let me just say out loud that I have no intention whatsoever of doing harm to myself.  Firstly, doing such a thing is simply not my style.  Secondly, there are still, as Walt said on Breaking Bad two weeks back, “things I have to do.”  Like finish my book, which is alllllmost done!  I want to publish it, tour with it, talk about it, and then move on to something else.  There’s plenty of projects left for my time and efforts.

But here at 35, I find myself looking backwards instead of forwards.  Most of the goals I ever set for myself have been met.  Items have fallen off the bucket list like dried rice on flypaper.  I’ve been to 39 states.  I’ve traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Mexico.  I’ve been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Oktoberfest in Munich (and next month, the Great American Brewfest in Denver).  I’ve been in plays with major movie stars.  I’ve sung at the Hollywood Bowl.  I’ve been on TV and in the newspapers.  I’ve written for newspapers and national magazines.  I got up on stage with a cover band in front of dozens of my high school classmates at our 15-year reunion in 2011 to sing “American Girl” and was the belle of the ball.  I’ve been at a party where there were 100 naked women just walking about.  I’ve dated a lot of women.  Read tons of books and seen even more movies.  I’ve met several of my heroes, including Bill Maher, Conan O’Brien and Jeff Bridges.  Been to well over a hundred rock shows.  Lived on both coasts.  Met oodles of rock stars, movie stars and various other celebrities.  Made friends by the boatload. 

I’ve had sushi and sake in Salt Lake City, for fuck’s sake. 

Some people never do a damn thing; I’ve done so much.  I could go out today like that Kansas City sportscaster a happy man.  I have no desire to procreate—and have taken proactive steps to ensure that end.  I lack the egocentric premise of “passing on” items and traditions to a new generation.  When in the Outback, I learned that when someone in the Aboriginal community dies, there is a week of wailing and mourning, after which point the departed is never spoken of again.  Ever. 

Why do we feel this need to be immortal by procreating beyond ourselves?  Personally, I’d rather tear out my path while I’m here and do as much damage while I’m here.  No one ever need follow or pick up the pieces in my wake. 

To answer my father’s question, no, I am not bothered by 35 any more than I was by 34 or 30 or 22.  Life is a journey, and I’m enjoying mine.  Even though I look at my past as fulfilled, I realize I’m still peaking.  There’s much left to be done.  Much left to see.  Much left to do. 

More stories for me to share with the rest of you.

And now I have written for one hour and 40 minutes.  I think this year’s birthday goal has been accomplished. 

See you at 36.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hollywood Days and Night(mare)s: The Princess Kiss

I've encountered a fair number of celebrities in my day, through working in the television and film industries, living in Los Angeles for a decade and a half--where celeb run-ins are part of daily life--and just through the luck of the draw and being in the right place at the right time.  I've been fortunate to meet several of my heroes, including Conan O'Brien, Bill Maher, Jeff Bridges and Weird Al Yankovic, and to work in professional capacities on shows and films with folks like Greg Proops and Rachel Hunter.  I've been an actor in plays with such luminaries as Malcolm McDowell, George Wendt and William Atherton.  During my four-year tenure at Hustler, because the entertainment editor Keith Valcourt had the office next to mine, he invited me along to many a photo op with rockers and movie stars.  I have dozens of pictures to back it up, but all of that is surface glitz and basking in refracted glory of the famous.

I like stories, and I like sharing good stories.  I've got some good ones from my years in Tinseltown as both a working professional and simply just from hanging around long enough to rub elbows with the rich and the famous (and, in some cases, the infamous).  I thought it was high time I started putting down some of these tales to share.  Some are harrowing, some are horrifying, all are fascinating.

And so begins a new "blog miniseries," "Hollywood Days and Night(mare)s" chronicling some of my more memorable encounters with the stars of television, film, stage and the dial.  Some were assholes, some were plain awesome, some are just like you and me but for their millions of dollars.

And to be clear, these stories are defined as "encounters" versus "sightings," which I've had innumerable and are defined as simply seeing someone famous out and about doing the normal things like eating dinner--an activity wherein I personally would find it profane to be pestered were I in their shoes.  (Ask yourself this the next time you see a famous person: Are they doing something that, were you doing the same, you would want to be bothered by a fan?)  To me, having dinner out at a restaurant with family should be off-limits, whereas someone in a coffee shop, walking the street or just doing normal people shit is fair game for saying hey.

And if you are in a fortunate enough capacity, as I have been, to chat with some of them for longer than two minutes, then you can wrack up the photo ops.

So without further ado, let us begin with the story "The Princess Kiss."


In spring 1999 I was in my third year at USC.  My roommate Steve, whom I knew from growing up together in New Jersey, was a year ahead of me and in his final year of film school.  As often happens, he and a bunch of his colleagues were invited to a film premiere.  He brought me along to the Universal Amphitheater in Universal City for the premiere of USC film school alum Ron Howard's comedy "EDtv," a satirical take on the then-nascent 24-hour reality phenomenon, with Matthew McConaughey as the eponymous San Franicscan Ed.  On the way into the theater, there was the entire red carpet affair, replete with paparazzi and stars in tuxedos, etc.  Stars of the film Dennis Hopper, Rob Reiner and of course Opie himself were on hand (who of course was mobbed by some current students for a group photo op).

Steve and myself and some of his film school cronies were walking up the red carpet in our jackets and ties towards the entrance to the theater.  We were certainly no one of importance, but it was just the way into the damn theater.  Steve and I were chatting about something forgettable when, out of the corner of our eyes, we see a man and a woman, up on a small dais, locking lips.  The woman quickly broke the kiss, came down from the platform, and briskly walked away.

"Hey, that was fucking Carrie Fisher, wasn't it?"

Sure enough, it was the second-generation Hollywood royalty, making off towards parts unknown and away from the paramour.  But who was this mystery kisser????

Steve and I turned back to the dais, and there stood a youngish, good-looking fellow with too-blond hair and a million-dollar smile.  He locked eyes with the two of us, beaming out the whitest of teeth.

"Did you guys see that?" he enthused to Steve and myself.  "I just kissed Princess Leia!"

That man's name was Ryan Seacrest, then just 24.

Now remember, this was early 1999, a full three-plus years before he got the gig cohosting American Idol with Brian Dunkleman--which of course he would take solo reins of the following year, vaulting him to the Seacrest-mania that has continued unabated ever since.  At that time he was a little-known former Atlanta radio host who cut his jib hosting forgettable fare in the late '90s after moving to L.A.  One such gig was filling for Talk Soup host John Henson on occasion--a show Steve and I were frequent watchers of.  During the 98-99 season, we'd seen Mr. Seacrest doing a decent-enough job with the comedy recap show of the week's talk show greatest hits and misses.  

The next time we saw him, he was locking lips with Princess Leia.

It was as good an omen for the man's career as anything.

Seacrest out.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Ah-ssential Ahnold

I grew up watching Arnold Schwarzenegger flicks.  He was the ultimate joker/badass who blew away bad guys and quipped while doing so.  Roger Ebert once said it was Arnold’s everyman appeal—this despite his godlike physique—the increased his star power and box office appeal.  Doubtless this was at least partly due to his funny accent and unique pronunciation, such as when he was governor of “Cawl-ee-fore-nee-a.”  Part of his appeal, I also believe, was this fish-out-of-water phenomenon—a tall, bronzed Austrian dude wasting coiffed goons with more exact diction.

Whatever the defining appeal or Mr. Schwarzenegger, fact is that homebody made a few totally awesome flicks, some lesser but decent entertainment as well as some absolute dreck in his career.  Like Sly and “Billis,” of late he’s been trying to recapture that ‘80s action bonanza many of us grew up loving, and reliving it to varying degrees of enjoyable mediocrity (see The Expendables).  Fact is, the action genre was of its time and place…possible only thanks to the Reagan Revolution and its attendant fear of bad guys and “fer-ners.”  (Think about it: Almost all ‘80s action flicks pitted our heroes against funny-sounding assers from other parts of the globe.)  This sheer exuberation of jingoistic xenophobia made Arnold’s contemporary flicks both enjoyable and ironic. 

(I plan to one day expound upon all of this in my as-yet-unwritten book about masculinity in cinema since 1970, devoting entire chapters to the conservatively minded ‘80s action opuses of men small on talk but large on bullet-ridden adventures—arguably, just like Mr. Reagan’s image itself.) 

For the uninitiated—if you’re out there—here’s a primer on the must-see of Ahnold cinema, as well as a guide on some of his lesser-but-enjoyable fare and, finally, a warning about his flaming turds to avoid at all costs.


The Terminator (1984)

Arnold’s career as the ultimate '80s action über-Herr kicked into high gear thanks to this low-budge sci-fi thriller from wunderkind Canadian asshole extraordinaire James Cameron.  After cutting his teeth under schlockmeister Roger Corman, Cameron and his producer/wife Gale Anne Hurd (whom I once met at her wine bar in Pasadena, but that’s another story) scraped together a measly $7 million to tell the tale of a walking, talking-for-some-reason-in-an-Austrian-accent, one-man-army cyborg from the year 2029 whose mission is to travel back in time to then-current 1984 to off the mother of mankind’s future resistance leader against “the machines.”  A high-concept, laughable premise before such terms were ever coined, The Terminator is nonetheless as chilling and mesmerizing now as it was 30 years ago, largely due to its cool lack or irony and bleak sensibility.  Linda Hamilton (later, Mrs. Cameron #3) is Sarah Connor, the 19-year-old waitress with bad ‘80s bleached blond hair who is protected by future badass soldier Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) against the Terminator.  But for the rather dated stop-motion special effects once the Terminator’s “true form” is revealed, the chuckle-worthy hairstyles and trippy ‘80s techno soundtrack, the film’s themes of the inescapability of the future (the Terminator itself could be said to be a stand-in for death itself or the fear of death) and Cameron’s theme-de-rigueur—the dehumanizing and subservience of humanity to the mechanistic—keep it fresh even now.

Arnold’s “performance,” such as it is, is largely limited to looking creepy and keeping it minimalistic thanks to the cyborg’s needing to only fit in just enough among real humans well enough to get close to its target.  Arnold looks menacing and mean and deadly without really doing anything or saying much, which makes the villain of the flick that much scarier.  The Terminator feels no pain or remorse; it simply does what it does: kill without thought.

This is both a solid action flick as well as sci-fi of the best stripe that makes you actually think in the midst of the mayhem. 

Best moments: Cameron stages some decent action set pieces despite the limited budget, including a truly terrifying truck chase and the climactic battle in the factory.  He would of course go on to refine his action technique with Aliens, T2, True Lies and, of course, Titanic.  Arnold buying up weapons in the sporting goods store from the drunken neighbor from Gremlins ends in a chillingly funny way. Also, there’s a pretty hot love scene between Hamilton and Biehn.  Ah for the days when movies unapologetically put tits on display. 

Best Ahnold moment: “I’ll be back.”  Just before crashing through the police station windows with a truck, Arnold delivered the first utterance of his ubiquitous catchphrase, which, for better or worse, has dogged him ever since.  (The original scripted line was “I’ll be right back.”) 

What else to watch for: Cameron regulars Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton pop up in smaller roles, as does Rick Rossovich, or “Slider” from Top Gun.

Interesting factoid: Sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison sued, and won against, the producers for bogarting ideas from several of his short stories without crediting him.  Subsequent printings now give him “special thanks.” 

Commando (1985)

Is Commando a good movie?  No, but it is an awesome movie, which is not the same thing. (In fact, my friend Dave goes out on a limb to say it is the epitome of cinema.)

This film is basically the apogee of all things Arnold.  Switching from villain to hero after Terminator, Arnold plays John Matrix, a former special forces soldier whose daughter (a prepubescent, pre-Who’s the Boss? Alyssa Milano) is kidnapped by one of his former colleagues.  In exchange for her release, Matrix must assassinate the president of a fictional (and never named) South American country so that perennial sleazeball Dan Hedaya can rule over it with his iron frown and bushy eyebrows. 

Again, we don’t watch these flicks for their ingenious plots.

Commando is so over-the-top that it could actually have veered into the realm of the ridiculous were it not for the fact that it is played completely straight, with no winking at the audience and absolutely zero apologizing for the buckets of gourmet gore in the last 30 minutes as Matrix slaughters an entire armada of brown-skinned guerrillas single-handedly before boxing it out with bad guy Bennett (Australian Vernon Wells), culminating with Matrix impaling Bennett with a fuckin’ steam pipe!  (Quip: “Let off some steam, Bennett!”)

You gotta love the rah-rah Americanism of it all.  The bad guys are once again darker-skinned fer-ners from nondescript south-of-the-border countries and led by a bug-eyed, psychotic Australian mercenary with just a bit too much of a burning homoerotic subtext for Matrix. 

To be read: “Stick it in me, bitch!” 

Commando also marked the beginning of Arnold’s penchant for one-liners in all their corniness.  Hitchcock said humor was needed to relieve tension, but the phenomenon of an action hero delivering cringe-worthily constructed quips after disposing of a foe pretty much can be traced back to Commando—at least for Arnold. 

Commando is also genuinely funny, thanks largely to the addition of the fish-out-of-water character played by Rae Dawn Chong—yes, the progeny of perennial stoner Tommy—whom Matrix ropes into assisting him rescue his daughter.  Fish-out-of-water characters, especially in absurd films like these, are meant to be the avatars for the audience and ask the logical questions that we as moviewatchers do while watching.  Such as “Why the fuck did this guy just tear the passenger seat out of my convertible?????” Chong’s performance is actually far better than the material has a right to, and her addition to the narrative elevates the flick from pure action schlock to slyly ironic wit. 

Best moments: Too many to list, but the moment when Commando definitively takes it to 11 is when Matrix leaps from an ascending jetliner leaving LAX, lands in a swamp (having lived in L.A. for 15 years, I assure you there are no such Dagobah-ish delights anywhere in that particular airport’s vicinity), rolls over, stands up, brushes himself off, and starts the countdown on his watch.  It must be seen to be suspendedly disbelieved. 

Best Ahnold moment: In the one-liner sweepstakes, it’s between “Don’t disturb my friend here; he’s dead tired” and “I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now, I'm very hungry!”

What else to watch for: Bill Duke, who would later costar in Predator, is Cooke, one of Bennett’s henchmen.  Duke and Schwarzenegger’s fight in the hotel room—and their ludicrous macho banter while trading blows—only works because of Rae Dawn Chong’s side-splitting asides.   
Interesting factoid: The never-realized sequel to Commando wound up morphing into the first Die Hard movie.

Predator (1987)

Arguably Arnold’s most “legit” film, Predator is so fucking badass that its replay value remains undaunted after a quarter-century.  The story is pure machismo on steroids, with a platoon of hardened American commandos sent into the Central America jungles to rescue a diplomat.  In the grand tradition of cinema, things don’t go according to plan, and the team encounters a hostile extraterrestrial sportsman whose aim is to hunt them down one by one, taking their skulls as his trophies. 

What’s interesting here is that the cast included many of the baddest mofos of the day, including Carl “Apollo Creed” Weathers, Sonny Landham and two—count ‘em, two!—future governors in Arnold and real-life former Navy SEAL and professional wrestler Jesse “the Body” Ventura!  I’ve always appreciated that this film thematically brings these hardened warriors to their knees before a superior foe, i.e., all of their muscles and combat training and machine guns can’t protect them and don’t mean shit against this sneaky motherfucker who leaps from trees like gravity don’t exist and, to boot, utilizes a cloaking device.  It’s a great allegory for…whatever.  But just like Aliens the year before, it showcases a pack of warriors who get their proverbial asses handed to them by an intellectually inferior species.  (Interestingly, James Cameron believed Aliens to be a metaphor for the Vietnam conflict.)  The characters are forced to use their wits and cunning to try to defeat the monster rather than bullets alone. 

Also totally cool is that the film doesn’t even become a soldiers-versus-alien flick until nearly 60 minutes in, with the first hour devoted entirely to an arguably tossaway plot about the rescue of the diplomat…who, wouldn’t cha know it, turns out to be a CIA operative in league with Carl Weathers and his superiors in Washington.  All of this stuff is actually interesting in and of itself and moves the plot forward rather than simply being a flimsy screenwriting smokescreen excuse to get the grunts into the jungle and up against the Predator monster as quickly as possible.

That said, the sequence of the commandos wrecking the shit out of the enemy guerilla compound is one of the most enervating set pieces in late-‘80s action cinema.  Jesse Ventura picks up a fucking mini-gun for Chrissakes!!!!  (And you guessed it, the bad guys are once again brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking types, in keeping with the general meta-theme of jingoism.) 

Then the Predator shows up and shit gets real.  Yes, there are lame clichés, such as the Native American character of course being in tune with the spirit world, and dude knows, just knows, that something ain’t right out there.  You know, just once I’d like to see the nerdy character (played by screenwriter Shane Black in Predator) be the one who is down with the spirit world rather than the hackneyed Indian trope. 

And yes, once it gets going, Predator borrows some rather standard slasher flick beats, but it works
There’s never been anything like it before, though it’s been imitated to far lesser results ever since.  This is sci-fi/action/horror at its very best!

Best moments: The raid on the village is drool-worthy.  In a movie as slam-bang as this, a little quiet time can also be both suspenseful and memorable.  After the unintentionally homoerotic steroid commercial where the bare-shirted commandos set up the trap in the woods, there’s about a ten-minute stretch of everyone simply…waiting for the creature to show up.  During the same sequence, Elpidia Carillo, the film’s only woman, has the one and only monologue in the film, delivering a speech about how in the hottest years, a mysterious demon returns to her native village in Mexico to collect human trophies—a creature she refers to as El cazador trofeo de los hombres, or “the demon who makes trophies of man.”

What else to watch for: Screenwriter/director Shane Black, whose script for Lethal Weapon was filmed the same year, is Hawkins, the dorky, socially aloof, bespectacled soldier in the platoon.  He was initially brought on to brush up some dialogue but wound up being cast due to his improv skills.  Indeed, many of Hawkins’ lines, including his notoriously off-color jokes about the u-s-s-y, were ad libbed by Black.  

Interesting factoid: A young, unknown Jean-Claude Van Damme was initially cast as the Predator, but upon learning he would be entirely replaced by a special effect in post, the Muscles from Brussels up and quit to do…well, whatever menial job he was manning at the time.   

Total Recall (1990)

When I first saw this film in a Chicago theater in August of 1990 with my mother, brother and aunt…it pretty much scared the hell out of 11-year-old me.  Not the crazy mutant-and-creature stuff on Mars, but rather the implosion of Douglas Quaid’s (Arnie) daily world after a trip to the “memory service” company called ReKall, which implants phony memories into your noggin that are “cheaper, safer and better than the real thing.”  Doug starts out as a mild-mannered—though still Arnold-rific—construction worker in a near future who has recurring (not reoccurring, for you grammar Nazis out there!) nightmares about the Red Planet next door to us.  He holds down a working class job, a nice apartment and has a real hottie for a wife (a pre-beaver-displaying Sharon Stone).  But those thoughts of Mars won’t leave him alone.  So he does what anyone would do: Heads to ReKall to be implanted with a “memory package.”  The swarmy salesman/doctor (funny how even in the future, the word “doctor” is used loosely), suggests Doug try the “Ego Trip,” which allows the implanted memory to be not just Doug as construction worker, but as a playboy or a famous jock or a…

“…secret agent!  How much is that?”

I remember smiling in that air-conditioned comfort against the bitter Chicago summer at that moment, knowing that I had just been hooked.  This shit just got real!  Wouldn’t you know it, the memory implant goes awry, Doug wakes up in a Johnny Cab taxi (voiced by Robert Picardo, he of the holographic doctor persona on Star Trek: Voyager), and before he knows it, his friends, coworkers and even his wife are trying to kill him.  Mysterious spies are right behind.  And Doug realizes he has innate combat skills that would make even Jason Bourne look like a pussy. 

That was what scared me!  The notion of what we perceive as our daily reality is a self-imposed cushion against both chaos and insanity.  And to have that security suddenly upended and taken away was about the most terrifying thing I could imagine at that tender age.  Doug does what any of us would: resist and fight to put meaning to it all.  It’s an existential premise if ever there were one.    

But enough about little EFA and his nightmares.  The fact is that Total Recall is an effin’ good flick.  Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, it toys with both the notions of reality and perception: Are you in fact the sum of your memories, or do your current choices negate what you know about yourself…or are told about yourself?  It tinkers with the very idea of solipsistic self-determination and free will.  This is heady stuff, and a decent enough premise for a summer action flick that could easily have gone off the rails had it not been handled as well as it was. 

In his review of the film, Roger Ebert maintained that it was Arnold’s performance that was central to selling the film.  Despite Arnold/Quaid’s physique, Schwarzenegger “isn't a superman this time, although he fights like one. He's a confused and frightened innocent, a man betrayed by the structure of reality itself. And in his vulnerability, he opens the way for Total Recall to be more than simply an action, violence and special effects extravaganza.” This vulnerability of Quaid’s, and Arnold’s believability in embodying same, is key to the film’s success.  It is Arnold playing against his own type—not a commando or soldier, but just a guy who finds out more about himself than he’d dared imagine. 

And the film is fun.  Quaid’s journey takes him to Mars, where he meets the woman of his dreams (literally) as well as a planetful of mutants, psychics and, of course, the three-breasted prostitute.  The revelations of the plot are secondary to Quaid’s internal struggle with who he is or isn’t, what is real or imaginary and whether or not he can “control” his own fantasy (if it is a fantasy, that is). 

It looks cool, it’s entertaining, overly violent, great special effects, and the ride is well worth the price of admission.  The fact that it’s actually thematically deep and invites the viewer to determine what really happens is bonus to this killer sci-fi mystery. 

(Oh, and if you want to listen to one of the most hilarious DVD commentaries ever, toss on the flick and listen to Arnold and Dutch director Paul Verhoeven explain away the movie in dueling European accents.)

Best moments: Expanding and exploding Rob Bottin dummies becoming puffy when characters are exposed to Mars’ low-oxygen atmosphere.  It’s scientifically beyond bogus, but it’s damn entertaining to behold. 

Best Ahnold moment: This film has numerous one-liners, but the most politically incorrect—and therefore best—has to be when Quaid plugs Sharon Stone in the forehead and then quips, “Consider dat a de-vorce.” 

What else to watch for: Marshall Bell, who plays Kuato’s “host,” appeared as the villainous Webster only a year prior in Arnold’s comedy Twins

Interesting factoid: The film sat in development hell for years, during which time the part of Douglas Quaid was tailored for Patrick Swayze.  Due to numerous delays and rewrites—not the least of which being that Act III continued to be a problem, with the alien air machine being the ultimate “solution” reached—years passed.  Arnold’s schedule opened up, while P-Swayz (ironically) moved on to Ghost.


Terminator 2: Judgment Day (aka T2) (1991)

I rewatched this seminal work about a month back, and I gotta say…it hasn’t aged well, mostly because of its attempts to be funny rather than just being awesome.  This time around Ahnold goes from heavy to hero, with the second Terminator 800 sent back to 1994 to protect young John Connor from the T-1000, the crazy-awesome liquid metal Terminator played by the underappreciated Robert Patrick. Granted, the effects still look killer (it was the film to see in that magical summer of ’91), the lengthy action sequences are top-notch, James Cameron transformed Sarah Connor from a hapless waitress into a cray-cray female Rambo…but I found the viewing experience to be, well, not as it once was. 

For me anyway, the tone is not quite right compared to its predecessor.  It’s not nearly as dark and bleak as the original, and the timbre of the picture is tempered with too much dopey humor.  What made the original so fucking creepy was the sheer vacancy of the machine’s empathy.  But now we gotta sit through a nearly three-hour machine-attempting-to-act-like-people play, which *does* produce some genuine laughs—including a scene in the extended director’s cut where the Terminator attempts to smile, with side-splitting results (and if Arnold never teased his kids with that face, they had a deprived childhood indeed)—but mostly brings the level of awesomeness down from the sublime to the ridiculous.  (And am I the only one who’s weary of the premise that robots can be “just like people”?)

Plus, I firmly believe that T2 marked the beginning of the inevitable downturn in Arnold’s action career.  Dude was 43 when the film was shot, and while still in tip-top physical shape, the subtext of the movie is that the T-800, like Ahnold himself, is rapidly becoming outdated and obsolete.  Nowhere is this more summed up than after the climactic fight with the T-1000 (whose destruction in the molten metal tank is guaranteed to give you nightmares) when the Terminator, busted up after being shot, stabbed, blown up, run over, burned, chilled, smashed in the face with a steel girder, had his metallic arm shredded to bits in a gear AND impaled with a steel pole, wearily moans, “I need a vacation.” 

With those four words, Arnold, knowingly or otherwise, entered the descent of his career as action superman.  Everything has been downhill ever since, with the macho, invincible paragon persona he cultivated in the ‘80s torn apart and brought down to earth in increasingly subpar attempts at keeping himself relevant into his fifties and beyond. 

T2 truly was the last of the “great” Arnold movies.

Granted, the film still works from start to finish, and the state-of-the-art special effects still look convincing 20-plus years later.  It’s solid action/sci-fi entertainment all around, but if given the choice, I will take the original Terminator—even with its creaky and dated stop-motion effects—every time.   

True Lies (1994)

Reteaming with Jimbo Cameron for the third go-round, the dynamic duo went full-bore action-comedy in this little gem that starred Schwarzenegger as Harry Tasker, a secret superspy whose wife (a well-utilized Jamie Lee Curtis) believes him to be nothing more than a boring office drone.  As with all things Cameron, it’s big and overblown, but that’s why we like his shiz.  The comedy works for the most part, despite (or perhaps because of) its none-too-subtle bite of misogyny.  (For a filmmaker who frequently places strong women at the center of his work, Cameron can be a bit of a woman-hater.)  Cameron regular Bill Paxton shows up in the priceless minor role of a used car salesman out to seduce Harry’s wife with the cover story that he’s some kind of spy (is there really much difference in those two lines of work anyway?). 

Continuing the trend of Arnold in decline, Harry is portrayed as sexually vacuous, with his unsatisfied wife out to get some action (pun intended) of both the nookie and adventure varieties once Harry’s real occupation is made known to her.  It makes for good comedy when Jamie Lee joins the fun and of course is both clumsy and unwittingly pulls a Homer by dropping an Uzi down a flight of steps, taking out multiple bad guys (this time of the Middle East variety, so apparently we’re giving those Central and South Americans a break) in the process. 

This being a Cameron movie, there are enormous set action pieces, not the least of which is a car/helicopter chase through a Florida waterway, with an actual former highway bridge blowed to smithereenies by Harrier jets in the process.  This is followed by Jamie Lee Curtis dangling from said helicopter.  That’s no stuntwoman; that’s really Janet Leigh’s daughter hanging off a flying metal heap and screaming for her life.

Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984)

This character was tailor-made for Arnold at the height of his bodybuilding days.  A strongman warrior who says little and hacks to bits creatures and other humans alike with a broadsword, both of these films are appreciable in their own way.  Personally, I prefer the Destroyer because it’s more fun and also funnier all around.  The Barbarian is more a serious, Wagnerian, Baroque tale of a child rising from nothing to become the über-Mensch and vanquishing great evil.  Barbarian is elevated from schmaltz thanks to a truly chilling performance by James Earl Jones as cult leader Thulsa Doom.  In one crucial scene, the voice of Vader entreats one of his minions to leap 200 feet to her death just because he fucking says so.  “That…is power!” that impossibly rich basso profundo informs Conan before commanding “Crucify him at the Tree of Woe.” 

I know I’m in the minority for preferring Destroyer, but sometimes you just want an adventure with plenty of good laughs, which Destroyer has in spades, thus beginning the showcasing of Arnold’s ample comic talents. 


Red Heat (1988)

An Austrian guy trying to speak with a Russian accent is just plain funny.  So is teaming him up with devil-may-care Chicago cop James Belushi to take down a Russian drug czar (or tsar, depending on which style guide you prefer).  Best scene is right at the start, when Arnold blasts his way through a Soviet-era spa and punches out a baddie in Moscoviansnowdrifts while in the buff.  Sadly, stuntman Bernie E. Dobbins, who fought Arnie in said nudie boxing match, contracted pneumonia and passed away from complications not longer after.  Red Heat was dedicated to his memory. 

The Running Man (1987)

Yet another dystopian cautionary tale, this one about a futuristic game show where players actually fight for their lives against the show’s resident mercenaries.  Quite ahead of its time (c’mon, how far off are most contemporary reality shows?), the casting people pulled off a coup by landing former Family Feud host Richard Dawson to portray slimeball MC Damon Killian.  This was pretty much the nadir of Arnold’s one-liner films, with Arnie dropping one tailor-made for each successive killing of his nemeses.  And, of course, the requisite “I’ll be back.” 

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines art print
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Much better than you’ve heard and a decent entry in the series despite the notable absence of James Cameron.  Then in his mid-fifties, Arnold fought the biological clock and got back to his T2-era musculature in order to reprise the titular killer yet again.  Scrumptious, teutonic blond-later-turned-lesbian Kristiana Loken was the Terminatrix, or TX, who not only turns her arms into various firing weapons but also increases her boob size in a key size in order to distract a cop (yep).  This was Arnold’s final film before his stint as Governator of California, and pretty much the close of the bronze age of his career (not to be confused with his “bronzed” younger age).  It also features Arnie delivering the cringeworthy line “Basic psychology is among my sub-routines” as well as the laughably serious line “Your confusion is not rational. She is a healthy female of breeding age” directed at no-longer-quite-so-young John Connor (Nick Stahl) in reference to future mate (hottie Claire Danes).  T3 was also noteworthy for retracting the hopeful ending of T2 in favor of a grimmer, apocalyptic finale—that war with the machines is not only inevitable, but Judgment Day will happen before the end credits roll.


Eraser (1996)

If nothing else, skip to the CGI alligators that tear apart bad guys at about the midway point.  Arnold caps one and then drops the fabulous bon mot, “You’re luggage.”

Last Action Hero (1993)

It’s not without its charm.  Despite its overall failure at the box office and among critics, there are some good ideas here about the “rights” of fictional characters as well as a few decent scenes, most notably a postmodern car chase in the “movie within a movie” that parodies all of the clichés of car chase movies in the process.  Self-reflexive cinema before Scream, LAH was a decent enough idea that needed about another year of script rewrites and the exfiltration of annoying kiddie star Austin O’Brien. 

Collateral Damage (2002)

Arnold’s first post-9/11 actioner was delayed by six months in the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington due to some elements of the plot being a bit too close to home for comfort (including an attack on DC). 

Kindergarten Cop (1991)/Twins (1989)

Arnold’s “comedies” were by turns entertaining or excruciating to behold—sometimes at the same moment.  These two entries were fine in their own way, but neither is great cinema.

The 6th Day (2000)

I include this film for one reason only: It features Arnold’s best one-liner EVER.  “[Well, Drucker] Ihope they clone you before I kill you…so you can go fuck yourself.”  I’ve laughed that hard in a movie theater maybe three times in my life. 


End of Days (1999)

Arnold fights the Devil on the eve of the millennium.  A movie no one wanted to see (or make, judging by its overall sloppiness).

Raw Deal (1985)

This Arnold-versus-the-Chicago-Mob film is so embarrassingly terrible it defies explanation how it was ever greenlit.  When Arnie actually pauses to put “Satisfaction”by the Stones into his car’s tape deck just before blasting his way into the bad guys’ hideout, there was no going back to even turkey status.

Batman & Robin movie poster [George Clooney/Arnold Schwarzenegger]
Batman and Robin (1997)

Arnold is Mr. Freeze and…ah, fuck it.

Jingle All the Way (1996)

“Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in Jingle All the Way.”  And with those eight words, his career was officially over.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Last Date I Ever Will Go On

Boy & Girl chat at party for two hours
Girl, upon getting up to leave party, gives Boy her numbers unprompted
Boy likes Girl, finds her intelligent and interesting, fascinating even
Boy & Girl text for two weeks off and on, make drink plans
Boy meets Girl at bar, conversation and laughter ensue
Boy is drinking more than Girl
Boy takes Girl’s hand during late conversational tale about how he has thrice cheated death
Girl does not resist hand taking
Hand holding continues off and on for remainder of time at bar, at his initiation
Boy & Girl leave bar
At logical parting point, Boy points out his car parked just down the block
Despite his vehicle being within snowball’s throw, Girl suggests she instead drive him back to his vehicle
Boy & Girl walk to Girl’s car in a nearby parking deck
Girl drives Boy 90 seconds to his street-parked car
Boy says he had a really good time tonight; Girl responds in kind
Boy & Girl kiss
Boy again says goodnight, exits car, drives home
Boy texts girl two days later; no response
Boy waits, texts girl again five more days later; no response
Girl sends Boy message saying she was “freaked out” by his behavior
Girl sends Boy message saying she currently has no intention of dating “anyone”
Girl sends Boy message saying she’s “sorry” if she gave the “wrong impression”
Girl sends Boy message saying she has no intention at present but making new friends
Girl sends Boy messages saying she had “no idea” what to say and thus hadn’t responded
Girl clearly had plenty to say
Boy stares at ceiling for forty-five minutes straight
Contrary to typical pattern, Boy then starts drinking and smoking
Boy writes genuine, heartfelt apology to Girl for “overstepping his bounds,” etc.
Boy writes genuine, heartfelt apology to Girl for causing her any “troubles and vexations”
Boy writes genuine, heartfelt apology to Girl but hopes, sincerely hopes, they might even be friends
Boy decides this will be the last date of his life
Boy sits down to write good story

He Just Wants to Run the Bases

Anaheim, California
September 2000

Most folks would agree that, for hilarious or worse, I have never lost my youthful spirit.  Or my willingness to jump without a net and see what happens.  I’ve been asked by several people where the name for this blog, “He Just Wants to Run the Bases,” comes from.  Like most monikers, it came about by accident in the moment and only later became a catchall for my life’s adventures. 

Here’s what happened:

At the end of summer 2000 I was fresh out of college, living in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles for $300 a month and working part-time in nearby Monrovia for one of McGraw-Hill’s construction publications.  (The “dream” had come true.)  Not even 22 at the time, I was barely making ends meet and hoped that this will all a stopover on my way to becoming a great film director.  (This pattern of barely living above being broke has continued to dog me the past 13 years.) 

I was also pretty big into baseball back then, having lived with “Vaughan,” who, like me, was a relocated New Jerseyan whom I’d known since middle school.  He brought west his love of the Mets and of the game in general.  In the previous year we’d attended a few Dodger games and caught many more on TV. 

A year earlier, his best friend from middle school, “Swood,” came out to earn his master’s degree in chemical engineering from Caltech.  Swood is without a doubt the funniest person I have ever known.  Literally everything that comes out of his mouth in that dry, self-assured voice is laugh-worthy.  He’s also probably the smartest fellow who’s ever crossed my path and has done quite well for himself in the petroleum-refining sector.  Nearly seven feet tall, he’s also athletic, pleasant and the good kind of nerdy.  Like Vaughan, he also knows his sports. 

Did I mention he was funny?  And he’s fast!  While playing the original Smash Bros. video game at our Echo Park apartment, the character Pikachu—a short, chubby, yellowish rodent alien creature—for whatever reason, constantly screams its own name whenever you make it attack your opponents in that high-pitched, accented tone. 

Pikachu!  Pikachu!  Pikachu!

Swood, perhaps as a way of throwing off his fellow gamers, in response to the character’s constant name-saying, called out “Fecal juice!”  It didn’t really sound like that’s what Pikachu was saying, but it did get a laugh and most certainly distracted the rest of us in the game. 

Advantage seen and taken.  Laughs were had by all.  And, of course, it became a “thing” to be dropped into conversations at inappropriate moments—typically by myself. 

So one weekend in late summer Swood and I decided to catch a Sunday afternoon Angels game down in nearby Orange County—behind the “Orange Curtain” as is a local SoCal-ism. 

Whom the Angels played and who won has been lost in time, but what happened afterwards is unforgettable. 

During the game-closing announcements, the P.A. said that it was “Kids Run the Bases Night” and anyone “12 and under” was welcome to line up outside the home plate entrance for a chance to round the diamond, high-fivin’ their favorite mascots along the way.

Swood and I exchanged one of those should-we-or-shouldn’t-we-but-we-already-know-we-are-going-to glances. 

It was on.

And so we dutifully lined up with hordes of OC habitués of various shades of whiteness in the queue outside the stadium.  At first Swood and I were basically like, “Are we really staying to see if this works?” but as the line edged ever closer into the park, the time to turn back shrank and shrank. 

Then we were inside the park, descending through the box seats towards the field itself.  Ankle-biters screamed about us while their rich parents pretended to care.  When it was their turn, the guardian adults ran the 270 feet from first base around to the home plate in stride with their kids.   

Once on the field, Swood pulled out his digital camera (a rarity at the time) and said he would stand off along the first base line in order to capture the moment for all eternity. 

I turned my baseball cap backwards.  I guess I thought it would make me seem “younger” or something. 

Just before the start line, a small kid didn’t seem like he was really ready to do this, so I gently asked if perhaps he might like to run together.  (Admittedly, this was done not out of selflessness at all but rather to give me a front for being there amongst children in the first place.)  Behind me, his mother seemed to take a particular dislike to this notion; I have no idea why. 

The kid then took off running towards second base.  Giving him a bit of a head start, I then leapt forward. 

Here goes nothing.

“Hey, wait!” I heard behind me, but like hell was I stopping.

I hooted and skipped my way around the diamond like a five-year-old on an exaggerated sugar rush, high-fiving the San Diego Padre, the St. Louis Cardinal and other besotted human mannequins.  I made a full show of slamming down with both feet at home plate.  Swood was standing there to meet me, his face a mixture of bemusement and horror, waving me quickly away.

“Let’s go.  Let’s go,” he breathed. 

We briskly made our way towards the exit behind the parade of satisfied kids and mollified parents who could now go home and get their drink on. 

“I got some good ones,” Swood said, tapping the camera. 

“What happened?” I asked. 

(Here follows, more or less word for word, what Swood told me upon recent re-inquiry.)

“I told some sympathetic lady who was working [by the runners’ starting point] that you just wanted to run the bases.  Then when you just took off the dude working the plate kind of questioned what you were doing there and starting running after you.  Then the lady whom I had just spoken to basically repeated to this dude, ‘He just wants to run the bases.’  At that point the dude essentially just tossed up his hands and let you go.” 

In the best of Swood’s photos, you can see me about four feet off the plate and the dude in a red shirt looking off towards his right while motioning towards me in a WTF gesture.  (Unfortunately, as this was now over a dozen years ago, the photos are effectively buried somewhere in Swood’s home, but he has said he will do his best to unearth them.  As soon as that happens, you’ll see them!  I promise it’s worth the wait.) 

Walking our way back to my blue ’93 Toyota Paseo, Swood and I discussed what quick stories we’d have hatched had I been “caught.”  Swood was basically just going to say, “C’mon, it’s his birthday tomorrow and I told him he could run the bases.  It would make his whole year.”  My plan had been to basically act like a screaming, retarded child and whimper and holler “SWOOD, YOU TOLD ME I COULD RUN THE BASES!!!!!!!” and scream and pout and jump up and down and throw tantrums until the staff realized it was better to just shoo us off. 

We laughed about it the entire drive back to Pasadena.  In the grand scheme of things to ever “get away with,” this was fairly pedestrian, but for us, it made for a damn good laugh. 

And unbeknownst to us at the time, the more people we told and the more the legend grew, the phrase “He just wants to run the bases” entered our lexicon and became a moniker for EFA’s ongoing life story.  My friend Carol soon said that the first of my autobiographies should be entitled He Just Wants to Run the Bases, a collection of essays the cover for which would feature me standing on home plate at Angels Stadium, staring longingly to the center field wall. 

Towards...fame?  Infamy?  Sexual conquest (at that time in my life, sex period would have done nicely)?  Fortune and glory? 

How about just staring towards today, March 11, 2013, twelve a half years later, when the story behind the moniker was at last put down in writing.  I yet have no books published, but the stories are beginning to unfold far easier than I might have dared dream back in 2000, and I begin to relate them with my friends.  I have no real audience yet, but I’m a writer and to parrot the same, writer’s write.  So I write what I know and where I have been.  This was simply one story from my life’s trajectory up till now. 

I have so much more to tell, and I hope you’ll join me.

I just want to run the bases. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Artform of Peeing Without Paying

I'm working on a nonfiction book called Interregnum, which is about my leavetaking from Larry Flynt's house of smut in 2010 and my subsequent drive to Montana and the three weeks on the road before returning to L.A.  Here before you now is the world premiere of an excerpt, which is taken from Day 1 (yeah, I still have a long way to go).

We've all been out and about when you gotta go...I mean when you really, really gotta go!  Believe it or not, there's an "artform" to entering an establishment for the sole purpose of using the restroom.  As often as not, the employees of the establishment in question are on to you, especially in the later hours when the bars are closing or near to closing.  This is especially true in urban area.  (If you told them you there simply to use the restroom, you'd be promptly turned about.)  Ergo, a certain degree of subterfuge is typically called for.

I've done this so many damn times over the years that I'm almost--but not quite--ashamed of myself.  Actually, I'm more proud of my creativity, especially in the following excerpt, which I bring to you from the early morning hours of August 15, 2010.  It was my first day of driving, in which I pulled 750 miles from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City (a record I would break two years later when I drove 900 miles from Eugene, Oregon, to L.A....and which I hope to never top).  So after a rather large iced tea and oodles of water, the ol' bladder was screaming for relief.

Here's what happened:

            I have to pee.  I really have to pee.  I pull off I-15 in Victorville, a little not-much of a ‘burg in the desert.  There’s a Denny’s askance the interstate.  It’s still fairly early and there’s no one seated when I burst in the front doors.  The hostess/waitress at this godforsaken hour asks me how many are in my party. 
            After years of finking my way into establishments for the sole purpose of urination, I’m an expert at this.  I tell the seen-too-much-of-life waitron that I’m waiting for approximately six others to join me.  I mime typing into my iPhone—ostensibly to text my phantom friends. 
            “They’re on their way.  Which way to the restroom?”
            She points me the way.  I release a stream of urine that has been brewing for nearly 200 miles.  Relief. 
            There’s a delicacy to leaving the house of urination upon release.  Sure, you could simply escape out the way you came, but that makes both yourself and the employees look bad (to whom, I’m not sure, but bear with me).  Back in the Denny’s lobby, I can see the waitron moving some seats together for myself and my ghosts. 
            Tact is now called for. 
            The iPhone is again whipped from my pocket.  I begin excoriating Flaky Phantom Friend #1 as to his location. 
            EFA to Waitron: Is this the only Denny’s locally?
            Waitron: There is another one on Stoddard Hills Road
            EFA: Oh, crap.  I think my friends went there.  Hold on.
            For emphasis, I hold up my left pointer finger in the proverbial “hold on” gesture.
            I step outside.  Perhaps still feeling the waitron’s eyes drilling into my back, I continue my faux nascent-asshole-tearing into Flaky Phantom Friend #1.  To complete the illusion, I actually say out loud, “Are you fucking kidding me?  I fucking told you it was THIS ONE!” 
            I storm fake-angrily towards the Scion.  When sufficiently out of view, I sigh heavily and gruntily—both in appreciation of my empty bladder and slightly detestant of my own charade.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

RIP: Huell Howser

As someone who lived in California for so many years--and who happens to be here after the untimely passing of Huell Hauser--I am going by the axiom that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But still, I am so going to hell. Here is my take on Huell continuing his show on the "other side." RIP Huell...and thanks for giving me an excuse to work on my Tennessee accent all these years.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Moment of Self-Reflection: I Am a Modern-Day Living Protagonist

Moment of Self-Reflection: I Am a Modern-Day Living Protagonist

As they so often do, today’s moment of self-reflection came as the result of jetlag, a redeye, undersleeping, and those old-time classics: the shower and substances.

While showering yesterday afternoon during my first day in Los Angeles, I kept coming back to a difficult thought: This time yesterday I was in HawaiiParadise.  But no longer.  A little more than a year earlier I took the trip of a lifetime to Australia and New Zealand.  I’ve never wanted more in my entire life to simply just miss that plane back to the U.S. 

My vacations are precisely that: side trips into the avoidance of my real-world problems.  Some people get drunk, others stuff themselves with food, I grab a flight somewhere.  For two or three or five days or several weeks I get to live life like I have no real issues.  No debt.  No job.  No singlehood.  No permanent place to live.  Adventure makes me get to be the self-appointed leading man of my own existence.  I share with my “audience” my adventures and travels as if it’s part of a new book for them to plop down a few pennies at the supermarket checkout line.

I live my life like a fictional character might.  I have cast myself in an ongoing real-life adventure tale—one that I would want to both read and/or imagine myself vicariously being. 

Within the past week I got into a hula-dancing competitionat a luau (and came in second) and sang to sharks before getting in the cage.  Many of my friends are starting to slow down; I speed up.  Because it’s more fun that way.  Because then I have more stories to tell.  Because if I didn’t, then you wouldn’t have anyone to read about who still does interesting things that a man his age might otherwise do best to avoid.

It’s a difficult path to tread.  You must go out and find the adventures, the major and minor players, and the locations.  They will not find you.  If this strikes as solipsistic, then consider that I can only ever live through my own view and vantage points.  This is my story to live and mine to tell. 

My story will not be boring. 

Did Mt. Doom come to Frodo?  No, he had to walk there.

Did the road roll out its entreaties to Sal Paradise’s front porch?  Of course not—he had to go “on the road” to find what he was looking for.

Just as I will have to go searching for the journeys.  The adventures will not come to me.  

I would rather be a poor adventurer than a stable homebody. 

The reason I live as I do—and this was the big revelation—is because I choose adventure over stability.  I could be working three jobs right now to ensure that I have enough money to eventually get my own place.  And what’s there really to do at home anyway? 

This has almost certainly been a partial cause of my inability to maintain—or, nay even get into—a solid relationship.  Why I seem to hop from girl to girl and have done so more or less constantly for four years since I was in my (very first) adult relationship.  (Maybe they’re not all crazy after all, but I’ve found that the exact means of driving them away is to confess even some small modicum of emotional connection.)  Or why I can’t keep a job for more than a few months.  Or have an address that I don’t vacate and turnover an average of three times a year. 

It’s almost certainly why I don’t wish to have children. 

If I’m home and stable, I have nothing to do but wish I were “out there.”  If I’m adventuring, I continue to be poor...but at least I see the world, even through a poor man’s eyes rather than see it wearing diamond-spectacles and staring at high-priced picture books from Wal-Mart that might make a good coffee table item for dad.

And I share it with, my friends, my colleagues, my readers!  I shall continue to endeavor to break through to writing for people who do not know who I am, but in the meantime, it is you, my readers, who believe in me and encourage me to continue writing for another day. 

My adventures inspire my writing.  My writing is inspired by outstanding writers who came before me (currently reading the incredibly Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut).  Meeting people inspires characters both real and imaginary (sometimes both at once!).  This I distill—experience, people, places—and transmute them into a digestible and entertaining vessel for your consumption. 

Allow me, ladies and gentlemen, to be your vessel.