During this depressing (no other adjective works as well) period known as the Lockdown, it seems I spend as much time dodging "wokerism" with as least as much skill and acuity as I spend dodging the virus. Hollywood, for the most part, is one of those things that I've given up during this prolonged period of emotional/intellectual fasting (Lent?) that I've been putting myself through on the offhand chance that my own lack of substance somehow aided in the creation of this mythopoetic nightmare.
Hollywood has become as narcissistically obsessed with its own sense of virtue and self importance as those slick-haired, flatlander preachers who can go on for days about the glory of Christ without understanding said subject in the least. All the discussion about non-essential and essential workers seems to have lit a fire under its ass to the point that if an A list celebrity so much as takes the trash outside it has to be accompanied by a video lecture on the virtues of recycling. And they make it worse by pretending it's a spontaneous act borne out compassion, as if their agent weren't pushing them out the door, and the film crew, poised and waiting, was a part of the daily trash removal ritual.
It's gotten so bad, that almost nothing that Hollywood puts out nowadays interests me in the least, and before the lockdown I loved going to movie theaters late at night and eating buttered popcorn.
I decided to rent the movie North Hollywood because: A) I was bored out of my mind and tired of deep reading and thinking B) everything else Hollywood has made lately is either pretentious, lightweight, or repetitious C) I like coming of age stories because of their similarity to hero quests and the message they send that with proper guidance we are all capable of overcoming our problems and D) I love movies that are set in the back streets and seldom seen areas of big cities like New York and Los Angeles. In truth, I didn't really expect much and at the beginning, I suspected that was exactly what I was going to get. The movie starts out slowly.
North Hollywood was made by the same people who made Mid90s, a skater flick about a young boy's search for meaning during the decade when pop culture exploded with all its flash and crass shallowness. I didn't like it when I first saw it and didn't really understand why. I thought that it was like a lot of movies about being young and glorified aimless sex, drug use, an alcohol fueled excess, and was serving as a primer for existentialist thinking using the skater lifestyle as a method to convey the message that life has no meaning so it's up to us peons to color it up anyway we that we see fit, mainly by dulling our senses, tattooing everything in sight, and creating our own hieroglyphic understanding of the banality of life. I went back and watched it again though and came away with a different perspective. The second viewing forcefully reminding me of my own straying from the well trodden path being laid out for me by all my disinterested instructors, Sunday School teachers, and my tired, distracted parents.
Like Stevie, the protagonist of the movie (ably played by a young Sunny Suljic), I also was searching for something else when I rejected my parent's lifestyle and whatever it was those well-intentioned adults were trying to tell me because it didn't take more than a minute to figure out that they were every bit as confused and frustrated by life as me.
It seems to me, that the society of the 60s and 70s only wanted me to drink, screw, and get high. If I had to summarize the message of era as I lived it, that would be it. Eat, Drink, and have Sex because tomorrow you die. It didn't occur me until much, much later that there were many other alternate meanings contained in the events of the times. Meanings that people who were much less confused than I held on to tightly and used to guide them forward and who therefore suffered a lot less than me and my friends.
It was the ending of the movie that changed my view the most. Stevie's mom walks into the waiting room at a hospital and sees his friends asleep and has to recognize that Stevie had managed, despite all the danger and false turns, to create a family unit out of nothing but a simple desire for acceptance.
North Hollywood takes up that theme and runs with it. It also offers up something that has been missing from Hollywood for quite sometime, a middle ground that is not a marshy, swampland filled with radioactive alligators and soul sucking zombies, a middle where the conflicting characters can gingerly work their way back toward each other innately understanding that it this middle that needs solidified and maybe even surrounded by a dike or two to hold back the storm waters that both mother nature and stupid sons-of-bitches unleash upon us as we set about the sowing and reaping of our own lives.
The film juxtaposes a flashy modernity representing the future against a backdrop of Leave It Beaver neighborhoods, parent/child conflict as old as the middle of the last century, and outdated social structures and understanding to reveal the truth that the past and the future are locked in a permanent embrace which all about producing moments where we must face decisions about what we should regard as timeless, what new thing is needed to help us move forward, and what needs to be jettisoned or buried. I haven't seen this in a movie for quite some time. Modern movies seem to be always about the blaming, the failing, and the rejecting with the writers and movie makers not only intent on passing out corporate culture judgement while handing out worn-out platitudes covered with bling to make them seem original, and where pushing their often insane belief systems is deemed more important than documenting life as it plays out in real time.
The film goes against a lot of the hogwash that Hollywood has shoved down our throats for such a long-assed time, that our fathers aren't Al Bundy's or Homer Simpson's and never really were except in the poisonous minds of Hollywood scriptwriters, ass kissers, and producers; that Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein may share male genomes, but they were never perceived as father figures (Hollywood forgetting its own role in pushing Hugh Hefner and Larry Flint as culture heroes and the extreme irony involved in shouting ME TOO from a stage at the Academy Awards where they passed out awards to all of the people who shaped that toxic culture in the first place (Thank you, Ricky Gervais), and that there is and always has been a solid middle ground where young and old not only can but must meet to learn from each other without the intersession of the high priests and priestesses of the hedonistic and power mad elites.
Michael (Ryder McLaughlin) the protagonist is a young man in search of a better future. In many respects, he is the continuation of the Stevie character of Mid90s. He wants to be professional skater and faces a lot of hard choices because of this dream. His father doesn't see skating as a valid career choice and urges him to find something more substantial and practical. He's lucky because he does have talent, and the talent brings him to the attention of people who have followed the career path successfully. This however creates problems with what to do about friends who are less driven to succeed and are more into skating for the simple pleasures and the distractions. This is also a throwback thematically. My generation coined the phrase Go With the Flow back in the 60s and society has suffered from it ever since It is more than somewhat refreshing to see something that points out that going with the flow usually carries one downward to the lowest levels of existence. In one of the film best performances, actor Angus Cloud powerfully portrays Walker a character who serves as the very embodiment the effects of such existentialist attitudes when combined with hedonistic life choices.
Vince Vaughn plays the father in one of his best performances. There is a scene at the end that made me tear up at the recognition of the conversations that my father and I never had. My dad was a mechanic, a Dust Bowl Okie, and a working class Renaissance figure capable of building a house or taking a car apart and putting it back together. I, on the other hand, was born to read. It was always in books that soothed my anxieties and searched for truth and meaning. I've gotten to point where I realize that my Dad's knowledge of electricity and mechanical systems would have greatly enhanced my understanding of life in general, and all I ever had to do was ask him a question. He would have answered not only joyfully, but with every ounce of passion that he had in him, and it would have allowed me to share some of the things I learned from reading.
I bought my dad a nice Fender acoustic guitar on his birthday for helping me get through college. It took his breath away when he pulled it out of the case. This movie made me realize that asking him a few simple questions would have done so much more.
The last scene of the movie was simple yet effective as it showed Michael skating away from what could have been an explosive confrontation with his father. Echoing a similar scene in Mid90s where young Stevie and his friends are shown skating down the center of road in the awesome light of the dying sun, the scene conveys a sense of complete freedom that only comes after ridding ourself of the baggage of the past that so often clings to us like stepped-on dog shit, but only after squaring up accounts with all the good our early years had to offer.
One night, I had a long conversation with Shanks O'Toole and one of the subjects we talked about was music. We were discussing the fact that way too many people settle for what the radio and the music industry hands them and go no deeper. They are surface dwellers, so to speak, people who never dive beneath the waters to discover the treasures lying on the sandy bottom and hidden in caverns.
We also shared glimpses into the gloomy side of things. I believe that most people, if they live any kind of a life, would know what I am talking about. Being somewhat depressed, like most other things in life, has a beneficial side in that it strips away the illusions that we use to soften the edges and cushion the blows. Being sad forces one to look at life as it really is and can make one stronger coming out of the shadows. I mention it here because it also helps shape your taste in things like movies, books, and music.
We were talking about the songs we hated because the radio just wore them out, wearing ruts in our brains in the process. I don't know how it is now, I don't listen to radio much, I suspect it's the same. Back then if the song had just come out and worked its way to the top of the playlist, they played it over and fucking over about five minutes apart at least a thousand times, to the point that you wouldn't listen to the song if they bought your mama a new house and filled it with big screen TVs. You grimaced whenever the song came home and cursed the artist who made it down to their third generation.
We mentioned a few of our least favorites, songs we hated with the passion of a thousand burning suns. Then we started bringing up exceptions to the rule. For example, I told him about how I listened to a mixtape of Al Stewart's music every single day while I drove to Fresno State and back.
So, there are exceptions, and to me those songs seem to be a good way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let's face it 95% of the music we've listened to will be buried in our graves, there are a few though which, somewhere down the line, someone will pick up out the heap, blow the dust off, play and say "This shit right here. This shit right here."
I started thinking about it and thought that it would be interesting to go in search of those songs and to see what other people thought.
These are a few of mine, in no particular order.
Year of the Cat - Al Stewart
This is Al Stewart's greatest, some might say, only hit. It is nowhere near his best. I love it though because, in my opinion, it is the most perfectly crafted pop song ever and an object of great beauty. The opening verse, that opening verse....
On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime
She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolor in the rain
Don't bother asking for explanations
She'll just tell you that she came
In the year of the cat
Stewart is idolized by his fans mainly because of his cogent lyrics. However, his backing musicians were always first rate (Peter White, Peter Wood, Tim Renwick, Lawrence Juber ), and his musical ideas were often as interesting as his words. This song is the best example of the marriage of the two.
Kind of Blue - Miles Davis
I am not a huge jazz fan. Kind of Blue is the only jazz album I have ever owned. I believe it is also the greatest collection of music ever recorded. The kids in my class, who generally disliked everything not modern, liked Freddie Freeloader. Go figure.
There was a period after I was inflicted with tinnitus, my ex died, and Nurse Ratchet type people started telling what I could and couldn't teach when I couldn't listen to music with words. Most of what was passing for music then was blather that you could dance to and reminded me way too much of the staff meetings I was required to attend.
My ex's passing months after my dad's passing had made me all to aware that we never really talk about the truth. It hurts way too much to even know that it's there.
Discovering Miles Davis and Kind of Blue got me through the darkness. I don't know how. I really can't explain why. All I know is that I can still put the album on, and it will chase away the blather and the nonsense.
If You See Her, Say Hello - Bob Dylan
There are times that I have to shut this song off when I hear its opening notes. Dylan owns the rights to most of the music that I love. This is the one song that is most capable of penetrating past all my defenses and reducing me to a trembling fool. It is also the one most capable of putting me within earshot of God. Well, maybe just outside of a closed door, but close enough that I can hear him talking.
If you get close to her
Kiss her once for me
I always have respected her
For doin' what she did and gettin' free
Oh, whatever makes her happy
I won't stand in the way
Though the bitter taste still lingers on
From the night I tried to make her stay
The lyrics to this song reveals what some people have known all along, that Dylan is a shapeshifter, and one capable of entering into the dreams of sleeping people. He stole these words from me and from the inarticulate yearnings of every other broken heart. Listening to this song, I can visualize the whole progression of my relationship with my ex from the first shy kiss till now.
Run - Lindsay White
I'm not one of them fathers who run around saying that my daughter is the greatest songwriter who ever lived. She is one of my two favorite people, it goes without saying. The fact that I place her on a list which includes Dylan, Stewart, and Prine should tell her what she needs to know.
We are as different in our political outlooks as night and day, yet when I listen to her lyrics and her insightful metaphors, beautiful imagery and perfect similes, I know that she still sees the same world that I do although we sometimes disagree on what it means. And maybe that is how it should be.
how do i breathe now there's no air in my lungs
how do i climb down this ladder's out of rungs
how do i slow down when all i ever did was
all i ever did was run
I've often told her this is my favorite song of hers. It reminds me of my own anxieties and how much of my survival I owe to the flight part of the "fight or flight" scenario, a trait her mother hated. It also reminds me of the need to always make better efforts to be better. Something we do agree on.
Fish and Whistle - John Prine
To be honest, this has not always been my favorite John Prine song. It is right now though. That's the beauty of Prine. John Prine is a like a high dollar mood ring. He could pull a lyric out his ass on just about any emotion and thought. Makes it hard to choose a favorite, but works well when you need a song because you're feeling low, you need a laugh, or are just trying to make sense of something that's just out of reach of understanding.
However, there are two lines in this song that elevates it above most everything else he ever wrote.
Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us and we'll forgive you
We'll forgive each other 'til we both turn blue
And we'll whistle and go fishing in the heavens
Those two lines should rank among the most perfect encapsulation of truth every written. They trump most everything I've ever heard a man or woman of God say on the subject. It's mankind's perfect response to our situation, and one that I'm sure that God would listen to, ponder, and say, "Well, alright then. Let me get my pole."
I like reading about the history of both Los Angeles and San Francisco. I also love San Francisco and often wish I had moved there when I was young. Although this book tells some great stories and anecdotes about the history of how the city became what it is today, it is principally about the San Francisco of the 60s and 70s wherein it careened crazily from one extreme to the other like a drunken sailor on shore leave.
The book has a decided liberal bent. You can tell because of what it fails to mention. On one hand, it goes out of its way to somewhat glorify the antics of the Hallinan family and their efforts to make the city a more equitable and just place to live which is all well and good, but it also downplays the role of communists like Harry Bridges to follow a party line which at that time was largely dictated by one Joseph Stalin, a man who certainly was no piker as an evil mass murderer.
In the author's defense, he does treat the sins of Jim Jones and those who helped him gain political power unsparingly. It was only the murders two weeks after Jonestown of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk that allowed those most responsible for Jones's rise to power to go unnoticed and largely unpunished. The author was extremely fair in this regard.
The book is also highly entertaining and very well written. However, it is the fact that it serves as a perfect illustration of the nature of duality, showing how good and evil can exist in same person, in the same historical reality, and even in the retelling of the stories that is both its strong point and its major weakness.
The structure of book shows how a society marked on one side by unbridled creative freedom also could contain traits of extreme narcissistic excess and evil and would inevitably evolve into putrid decadence and violence. The slant to the left, however, gives the appearance that the author is a little unwilling to look too deeply behind facades to tell a more balanced story. In short, he seems a little too enamored of the city's contrarian past, to recognize the role that such a past plays in the problems that the city currently faces.
The ancients would have understood the role that drugged out ecstasy plays in the search for self knowledge; they would have also been abhorred at the idea of handing it out in punch bowls without the structure and guidance to contain the flow of flood waters of the subconscious. They would have known by their understanding of the cult of Dionysus about the monsters and the violence that would be unleashed. It makes one wonder if the people who set The Summer of Love in motion understood that truth, or, if it all happened as spontaneously as they would have us all believe.
There are several books that should be read in conjunction with the reading of The Season of the Witch. Acid Dreams by Martin A. Lee is one. The book details the efforts of our government in programs that utilized LSD. Chaos, released last year, by Tom O'Neill, is another in that it presents some of the things going on at Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic in a more sinister light. One might be surprised to discover that our government was also spiking the punch bowls of unsuspecting people and also appeared to be trying to use hallucinogens to implant false memories into people.
I think anything that deals with the history of the Venona project would help balance out the view of this country's Cold War history where those who fought against communist infiltration are almost always portrayed as the bad guys and those who participated in espionage against our own country are considered to be naive at the very worse. There is plenty of guilt to go around from that time period, and our continuing reliance on Hollywood to tell us the way it all went down, and Hollywood's smug self-serving excuses not only hinders our ability to truly understand the era, but also cast some suspicion of its current actions and pronouncements.
In this light, Season of the Witch successfully underscores the fact that there is both good and evil in damned near everything that enters into this world, and that is always the people in the middle who get screwed. It would have helped his message if the author had done a better job of clarifying it more simply as the formula: good things inexplicably often come out of bad intentions, and evil often grows out of well meaning people.
The biggest problem of this book is the naive belief that it was a Super Bowl victory that saved the city from its demons. It might have stopped the bleeding for a while but can be regarded as a cure only if you think of a band-aid as a cure. I think it is hard to look at what the city has become and not think of San Francisco as a elegant lady haunted by her past, her beauty, and her sins.
The Turner Classic Movie channel recently ran three of the 1960s era Beach Blanket movies from back when I was a kid. God, I loved them movies back then, and I think I saw most of them because I had a this huge crush on Annette Funicello which began when she was on the Mickey Mouse Club.
Looking back, I can't even see what I thought was so cute about her. I mean her hairdo looked about as soft and appealing as a plastic football helmet. She was supposedly out in the sun and sand all day, but that one bottom curl on her left side never moved from the first scenes of Beach Party to the ending scene of How to Stuff a Wild Bikini the last film to feature the romantic duo of Frankie and Annette.
The genre was supposedly apolitical and many people have said that American International Pictures, the studio who invented the genre, wanted to keep things light because of the general unrest that was keeping much of the nation sleepless during the 60s. In actually, the movies are anything but mindless, I mean they are mindless, but they also contained hidden political agendas.
In the first place, the movies were known for their lack of adult authority figures. Placing the setting in the surf culture of Southern California gave the producers license to leave the parents of these kids back home in the Suburbs mowing their yards and hosting bridge parties. These movies fed into the fledgling youth culture that was emerging after World War Two. Some of the characters, especially the antagonists, were comic caricatures of groups and individuals who would later morph into the dirty, disenfranchised and drug addled denizens of Southern California hippy culture of the late Sixties.
I believe it's possible to see the comic North Dakota Pete character in How To Stuff A Wild Bikini as the fictional progenitor of the living king of nightmares, Charles Manson. The movies, in general, seem to have many parallels with Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. As I watched these movies, I was totally amazed at just how banal and stupid they were, and I couldn't believe that I actually watched two such movies every Saturday during my early adolescence.
The second way that they projected a political agenda was in the unbridled Hedonism which seemed to be the theme of the entire beach movie catalogue: don't think, party all the time, and think about sex 24/7. And that pretty much describes the 60s as I remember them. I don't think it was much of an accident that these films mirrored the same message that we were being forced fed by the media and popular culture of the day.
There was an article in Life Magazine about Hippies and how cool and colorful they were. There was also an article and iconic cover featuring four psychedelic images of the Beatles. Manson gave the Beatles credit for being the influence of his lunatic ravings and as crazy as it sounds, he had a point. My transition from a baseball playing, book reading, clean cut kid into a pot smoking wannabe hippy, was largely engendered by those magazine covers and articles in Life Magazine.
In one of the articles, the authors talked about how the Hippies would smoke baked banana peels and sniff powdered nutmeg in order to get high. My mom came into the kitchen one day and saw me baking banana peels in the oven. When she asked why I was doing it, I naively told her the truth, "To get high!" She hit me on the head with a wooden spoon. I don't know if it was the blow to the head, or the content of those articles that started the change, but it wasn't long before I quit playing wiffle ball in my front yard and listening to every game Willie Mays played on the radio and began to openly seek out more covert ways to get high and listening to Mick Jagger sing about painting red doors black and trying to get me to sympathize with the devil.
I know that were some natural juices and bodily changes that played a big role in my metamorphosis, but no other generation in American History before us had been so seduced by the Song of the Sirens, obsessed with sex, and lured away from our parents' homes by not one Pied Piper but literally hundreds of them, each attired in the clothes of clowns and jesters, leading us on with songs about sex, drugs and freedom while holding long poles with burning joints hanging at the ends of a string out in front of us.
It was during this time, that the producers of popular culture were constantly defending their product as saying that it only mirrored what was happening in our society, and that is still what they are saying today. Today, they might actually be right, but it is only because of the years and years that they have been pushing this lowest common denominator shit onto the airwaves, the press, and the movie theaters. In other words, it is not much of a leap to say that they made the culture what is was, and not the other way around.
There is one thing I didn't notice when I originally watched Beach Party, the first movie of the series, and it was the looks on the faces of the characters as they were dancing and even on the face of the legendary surf guitarist Dick Dale; they all looked constipated. I thought they were all about having fun, but apparently they were not getting enough fiber to go along with their beer.
The other thing I failed to notice back then, was just how fake everything was. Frankie, Deadhead, John, and the boys looked nothing like the people who really running the surfing scene back then, and most of the actors playing kids weren't even kids; John Ashley and Joel MaCrae, two of the mainstays, were only two years younger than my mom.
And if all of this isn't enough of an argument to justify charging the producers with the crime of corrupting the morals of millions of America's minors, they did something unforgivable in four of these movies, and that was in casting Buster Keaton in them.
Keaton probably needed the money at the time, but the sumbitches should have just gave him the money rather than to try and gain some degree of respectability for his presence in what can only be truly be described as a celluloid version of feces. Using the comedic genius, one of the truly great geniuses of film, in these movies can only be compared to getting getting Picasso drunk enough to puke on a table and then recreating and packaging the results as plastic vomit.
I know that some people who read this are going to roll their eyes and mumble to themself, "What he's getting all worked up about? Those movies were just harmless bits of fun." All I can say in response is that if I had just kept playing wiffle ball and listening to Giant games when I had the choice, then maybe I wouldn't be living in world where it is almost impossible to escape the immature mindlessness that passes for culture these days, maybe Miley Cyrus would be in a television show where she would be playing the matronly version of Hannah Montana instead of writhing about like she lost her damn mind, there could be Broadway versions of Peter, Paul, and Mary's song catalogue, Andy Griffith could have been president, and Fred MacMurray could have been our ambassador to the UN.
Nah, screw that! I'm just glad that we weren't subjected to the sight of Annette wearing her mouse ears on the center pages of Playboy Magazine.
This was another book I got for a dollar at the University Women's Book Sale. I had read it years ago and have watched the movie several times. Larry McMurtry is one of my favorite authors; he is also the author of my favorite American novel, the sprawling myth of the American West Lonesome Dove.
I always had some issues with the Peter Bogdanovich's movie even though it is a great movie, one of the best. I never liked the choice of Cloris Leachman as Ruth Popper, even though she won an Academy Award for her role as the mousy wife of the brutally narcissistic Coach Popper. My wife was a high school coach's wife, and while I was never particularly brutal, I was certainly narcissistic enough to cause her some grief. Anyways, I didn't think Leachman was pretty enough for the role. Ruth Popper was meant to be a trampled flower. I don't think Leachman played her with enough life left in her to attract a boy like Sonny.
I also felt that the movie took it way too easy on Coach Popper. The moviegoer couldn't get inside his head to hear those interior monologues that make him out as a monster. In a sense, it is his story that is being told. McMurtry was onto this toxic masculinity stuff a long time ago. Coach Popper is a monster who cares only about one person, his selfish, fat-assed self. It doesn't matter who he ruins or destroys, as long as no one questions his right to serve as a role model to Thalia's young men.
Yes, I said role model. Sometimes they don't have to be good people. We can just as easily decide to be not like someone as be like them. I have a belief that McMurtry read Fred Gipson's classic Old Yeller growing up. I would bet on it. The juxtaposition of Coach Popper's character, or lack thereof, up against that of Sam the Lion looks to be borrowed from Gipson placing the slobbering, selfish Bud Seary up against the selfless, polite Burn Sanderson.
I always taught that the Gipson placed them side by side like that to show young Travis Coates how he should act. Gipson gives him a choice, behave like Searcy and be universally loathed and avoided, or behave like Sanderson and become loved, respected, and admired.
There is also a deeper, more hidden message in all of this juxtaposing. In Sam the Lion's case it is how much it hurts sometimes to be good. That's the same message of Christ. We live in an age where Happy Meals and ice cold Coca Colas are said to be the cure for all our ills, and that happiness is what we seek on this earth and basically anything goes in our pursuit of it.
Nothing can be further from the truth. Ronald McDonald, in essence, is the Antichrist and Coke is his beverage of choice. Maybe he's not the real one, maybe he's just a cousin, or maybe he's only a piece of him, but the idea that happiness is truth and the real reason for being is as bogus as store bought homemade biscuits.
Yet, the character I feel the most empathy for is not Ruth Popper as she still has a tiny sliver of hope, a glimmer that keeps her afloat. Coach Popper is the lost soul here, McMurtry reveals that Coach's voice is an echo coming out of the Pit, a hell he arrived at without even knowing there were other choices.
All he ever wanted to do was be the Marlboro Man. It is an interesting note that McMurtry never says that the anecdote to Toxic Masculinity is wearing skinny jeans and buns on top your head or going along with the crowd no matter how stupid they fucking are. He makes it perfectly clear that real men tear off pieces of themselves and give up their dreams of glory to feed and bind the wounds of others.
Salvation is not without scars. That line comes from one of my daughter's songs. Sam the Lion is the true role model in that he gave up his own chances at happiness to try to make the world a better place to live. He was kind, understanding, and generous to a fault.
McMurtry has used this all suffering hero many times, most memorably in Captain Call of Lonesome Dove. But there's also a bittersweet chastisement involved.
In this book, Sonny, soiled but still innocent, returns to Ruth Potter, seeking motherly solace as much as sex, knowing full well that their relationship will never end well; it was in fact incestuous. To become his true self, he needed to man the fuck up and to go help save Jacy from her own destructive nature. The sins of Sam's self sacrifice, yes, there is such a thing, and his failure to help Jaci's mother Lois avoid her fate are revisited upon Sam.
Men are too often tied to the ground where they fell out their mother's womb, and the umbilical cord only stretches to the city limits sign. Sam needed to have left Texas and taken Lois with him. Sonny needed to drive faster and further when he had the chance but stopped in hope of sleeping with her and staking his claim instead of saving her from her destiny. Jacy tried to tell him as much.
In Lonesome Dove, Captain Call would never acknowledge that he fathered a son from a whore. It is one of the most compelling situations in all of literature. Men are taught that we have to be perfect, but all we really need to learn is that it is our scars that make us men. It is the holes in the palms of our hand, and not our perfections that really matter.
A sign of a great book is that there are other stories involved, little side streets off the main road that are as every bit as interesting as the story being told. McMurtry is a master of positioning these stories, and alluding to their existence in the thoughts, behaviors, and dialogue of his characters.
I'm glad that my friends couldn't see through my window shades to see me mimic the victory celebration of Duke Kaboom after he succeeds at jumping his motorcycle across a wide space in one of the last climatic scenes of the movie. Later, during the final scene when Woody is surveying the wide new world before him from high atop a carnival carousel, I was even happier that they couldn't see me cry. I always cry at the end of these damned movies, and I wish whoever is writing them would knock that shit off. Not really. It's their power to move us that makes them what they are.
I love the Toy Story movies. I had just told a friend that I wished that I could go see this one on a big screen. He told me to just go see it. I told him I'd have to borrow his kid because someone my age just can't walk into a animated kid's movie without people pouring on the side eye. It's ironic that we should have to treat such things like we used to treat girlie magazines and worn out Playboys, and watch them when we are alone.
This is a sad state of affairs because these movies are so we well written and the artistry is such a wondrous thing to behold, but mainly because the message they send is so damned uplifting. And at age sixty-seven, I need the uplifting almost as much as I need my blood pressure medications.
These stories, so different from what passes for adult fare nowadays, tell us how to live life and face the obstacles that it constantly throws at us. They illustrate the need for friendship, love, and respect, and, above all, they show us the importance of acting decisively and doing the right thing for the right reason.
This story is about aging and losing your purpose in life. I've struggled with both since I retired two years ago. When the girl child starts neglecting Woodie in favor of her other toys, it really hits home. I wasn't happy with the way I was treated at work before I retired, no one, except a few friends, would listen much to anything I had to say despite the fact I just spent forty-five years perfecting what I should say and how to say it.
According to the creators of movies like Joker this should be the time I start turning on society and reeking horrible vengeance on society at large. Woody doesn't do that and neither should I. He is noble, he acts decisively when his friends' well being is being threatened, and he is, above all, selfless. It seems a shame to me that a fictional wooden puppet knows more about how humans should act than most of our so-called real heroes with their constant blathering, virtue signaling, preaching, and willingness to commercialize pretty much every aspect of their life.
There is a subplot going on too. Woody has to make a hard decision regarding his loyalty and love for his friends and doing what is right for himself. The last scene of this movie is my favorite because as always, with the help of a bit of fate engendered in large part by his decisive action, he figures it out. It's kind of like the choices that people my age have to make whether we will continue clinging to the familiar till the bitter end, or finally overcome our fears and doubts and be willing to take on something new.
I know, I know, haters going to tell me the Toy Story brand is a commercial venture too and Woody ain't really real.
But he is, Virginia. He lives inside us all, or, at least, those of us who can still muster up a sense of hope and a tear or two.
Have you ever noticed how old men walk like marionettes with a drunk puppeteer pulling the strings? I'm not poking fun at old men either; they all remind me of Dad in his later years when keeping his balance while he walked was something of a chore. I love watching old men walk into restaurants; it inspires me watching them defy the pull of gravity. There ain't no bullshit about them either. When you get up into your eighties life has pretty much washed away most of your illusions.
I went to eat breakfast at The Corner Cafe at the side of the Save Mart on Akers and Goshen. I saw a lot of old men come in with their wives, and the waitresses greeted them like old friends. That kind of stuff makes my heart feel good. I like this place a lot. It is one of my favorite places to dine in Visalia.
Its not just a place for old people either. There's always a mixture of all kinds of people and there's a down to earth atmosphere. The waitresses laugh and joke with you, and they keep checking on how you are doing. The food is down to earth too, nothing fancy, just good old fashioned, well cooked, home style dishes served with a side of friendliness.
They are very generous with their servings too. I had a meat lover's omelet served with fruit and coffee. It was all very good. I have had the steak and eggs and pork chops and eggs there too. I recommend that you only order one pork chop because they are thick and juicy and a second one is too much to eat at one sitting.
The decor is auto themed. They even have the front end of an old Chevy above the alcove that leads to the kitchen, and a juke box embedded in one of the walls. There's a long counter to eat at and that's usually where I sit because it reminds me so much of the diners in those old black and white movies.
I like to imagine I'm a truck driver in one of the old movies stopping in for a bite on a long, lonely stretch of highway, shooting the shit with a saucy waitress and gulping down a hot cup of java to stave off the cold. You can do that there; it has the characters and the props; all you need is the imagination.
I also enjoy looking at the people talking while they eat their breakfasts. The place is always full and on the week-ends there is usually a line to get in. There's a relaxed homey feel about the place, and it's good thing to see. Dining there is like an anecdote for the contentious times we are living in.
I thoroughly recommend this place; it has a great reputation in Visalia. Take a friend or two, turn off your phone, and sit and enjoy each other's company for a bit.
And if you are an old man...may God bless you and keep you on your feet.
There are two Pita Kabob's in Visalia; there used to be three. The one at the Mission Viejo Mall at the corner of Akers and Walnut has always been my favorite. I have eaten there at least three times a month for the three years and have yet to have had a bad experience.
It advertises itself as Mediterranean Fusion and offers an extensive menu of traditional Mediterranean dishes such as gyros, falafel, humus, pilaf, pita bread, shawarma, and kabob. It is freshly made and well cooked. The restaurant also serves specialty burgers of both lamb and beef, delicious soups, wraps, and rice bowls. Both Visalia restaurants feature a great selection of craft beers.
I like it because it is a place where I can hang out and people don't get all up in my business. I am kind of weird because I am something of a loner who eats in Visalia a lot because I work there and like to grab a bite before I come home. I usually take whatever book that I am reading in with me and try to eat at leisurely pace which allows me to do some mental chewing while in the act of physical chewing. I like this Pita Kabob off of Walnut because the people who hang out there don't make me feel weird while I'm being weird.
Take today, for instance, I was drinking some nice ice tea while waiting for my Mediterranean Rice Bowl with grilled chicken and pilaf (which I heartily recommend by the way) and reading Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show. While I waited, I read the following passage,
"While they had rolled around trying to sleep they had kicked the heater wires loose, so that the rest of the trip was miserably cold. The cafe looked like the most comfortable place in the world when they finally pulled in. Genevieve was sitting on the counter reading an old paperback of Forever Amber that everyone who had worked at the cafe had read several several times. When she saw what bad shape Sonny and Duane were in she put it away and fixed them some toast and coffee; as soon as they ate a little they dozed off and slept with their heads on the counter while she filled the coffee maker and got things ready for the morning business. Asleep, they both had the tousled, helpless look of young children and she kept wanting to cover their shoulders with a tablecloth or something."
That's some seriously good shit right there, and I think they could've overcooked the pilaf and burnt the chicken, and I still would have been smiling while I ate that rice bowl. But they didn't; the food was delicious and my experience was doubly good.
The only bad thing about the meal was when I walked into an occupied bathroom because the guy had failed to lock the door.
You can't unsee that shit.
I went to this restaurant located off of Shirk Avenue going north from 198 because someone who I trust very much said it was the breakfast place in Visalia. I was immediately disappointed when I walked in because they handed me a lunch menu. That's my fault for taking so long to find my phone.
The exterior looks somewhat like a warehouse but the interior is fixed up very tastefully. The servers are very friendly and, in my experience, very good at what they do. To start with, I was pretty disappointed that I wasn't getting breakfast. The lunch menu had a plenty of options though, but nothing that I really wanted to eat. I wanted breakfast. I don't know if they would have served breakfast if I had asked because I didn't.
I settled on the first burger listed as the thing I would have probably ordered if I had come for lunch. When it arrived, it was several inches taller than it needed to be. To me, any burger over three-three and a half inches is just fucking acting pretentious. It was topped with what I assume was a homemade potato chip which only served to reenforce that initial judgement.
The burger was cooked to perfection but lacked any real defining flavor. I know that good chefs prefer to let the meat do the talking, and there was nothing wrong with the burger in that respect. But I love In-and-Out burgers, just so you know where I'm coming from, and think that a fifteen dollar burger ought to be something to write home about.
The garlic seasoned fries were fresh and very tasty. I know that there are many foods that a touch of garlic enhances, but I generally don't like it when the garlic stays with you a long while after you leave the restaurant.
I can see how people would like this place, it has a nice bar, it's very clean and welcoming, and the people working there are nice. I do believe the chef knows his business and is undoubtedly more knowledgeable about food than I am, but, as the title says, I am a Cut Rate Gourmet and prefer my food a little bit more down to earth.
I don't care if the burger is a little more pricey either, but don't be sticking shit like chips, pretzels, or a big assed lettuce leafs that you have to tear off in order to eat it on it just to make it look fancier than a burger needs to look. Burgers are a food of the common people and should be practical. Above all, make it taste better than an In-and-Out burger.
Like I said at the beginning, I trust the person's judgement who recommended this place. I'm pretty sure the breakfast is probably as bomb as she described, and I plan on finding out. I also liked it enough to return to try something else.
The Joker's On Us
So, you are thinking about going to watch the Warner Brother's highly anticipated yet controversial movie Joker?
Let me save you nine bucks. Take about four hits of acid, drink a half a bottle of vodka with six ounces of Clorox bleach, put on some head phones with AC/DC's Highway To Hell playing on a continuous loop broken up every ten minutes or so by ninety seconds of Roxy Music, put your dick or any comparable body part into a blender, and turn it on, but only after you have opened every window in the house so that the neighborhood's feline population can climb in and snack on your scabrous, putrefying flesh.
You'll not only get something fairly equivalent to the movie going experience and save time and nine dollars, you'll also save yourself from that unholy moment in the future when you will be dying and forced to look into the mirror and see yourself as you truly are and sadly recognize the fact that the positive side of your life's ledger has very few entries compared to the debit side. People might want to argue this, but I'm basing my assessment on the belief that there will ultimately be a price we have to pay for this letting stuff like this be catalogued as entertainment and worthy of the hundreds of millions that it will make.
This is not a movie per see, it is a mangled myth, created, I suppose, to satisfy America's increasingly bloodthirsty addiction to violence and mayhem. What other excuse could there be? Myths are not to be messed with, we have forgotten this in our headlong rush to destroy what vestige of morality and goodness we still possess.
What else do we have to look forward to, reality shows where the contestants are armed with razors and machetes? Sports where the failure to win results in the death of the athlete. We have been there already, and we've done this already. The idea that we can sanitize the experience by seeing it in a theater with popcorn and a Big Gulp where the blood don't get on us and we can't smell the odor of the urine and the shit is wrong. The blood still gets on us; we just can't see it.
There was a time when we use to know that the Roman Games depicted a civilization driven mad by its excesses, now we can't even tell the difference between us and them.
Coming out of the theater, a man walking behind me told his wife, "That was pretty good, huh?"
I resisted the urge of turning around and telling him something in my best Tommy Lee Jone's voice. It would've caused a stir and not changed anything. Nobody likes the one who rats out the sinner or the sin.
Joker is a movie that cannot be judged for its cinematic features, its acting, or its direction because to do so would involve detachment from the experience, and it is a movie about our ability to detach ourselves from life in the first place.
At one time, the term myth was considered as more of a verb referring to the unfolding of existence via the experience of existing. The later advent of philosophy changed it into a noun that could be analyzed from an objective distance. Even today existentialists argue that the distance between the object and one who analyzes often leads to errors in a truthful understanding the world.
Trying to break this movie down into its parts in order to determine whether it is a good movie or not misses the point; it's not that kind of movie. Joker is a highly visceral experience, the viewers are not there to analyze it, they are there to experience the nightmare world that surrounds us behind the endless facades that we erect in order to deflect the ever present knowledge of our own mortality.
The movie holds up a mirror and forces us to look at ourselves. while, at the same time, calling us out for being in the theater in the first place. It correctly points out that we are all complicit in creating the madness of our times, some more than others, but all guilty of the neglect of truth in favor of diversion.
This message rings somewhat false in that the myth has been turned inside out and upside down and ordered to do things that myth is not supposed to do. The movie points an accusing finger at the rest of us, yet, seems to ignore the fact that it has been the entertainment industry, more than any other entity, that has led us to this point in time.
The only consistent theme presented in all the chaos is that the father is absent, ergo God is dead, or at least nonexistent, and life has no real meaning. My answer to Hollywood on that point would be, "Just how the fuck would you know? Maybe he just don't like you."
Joker is more than a warning. It is like a road sign where the sign has been placed after the exit you needed to take. The line where the neighbor lady calls him a hero because he killed rich kids is very disturbing considering our current political climate. Maybe, we are supposed to believe that its just good wholesome entertainment.
The only place this movie should ever play is at the El Capitan Theater in a quarantined Hollywood with lots of trained psychiatric staff and cleaning crews on hand.