Friday, December 21, 2007

Two Nightmares on Birch Street

Twice in the past week I sat bolt upright in bed at 2:30 A.M. because of a horrible nightmare. Both were caused not by phantasms but by frightening, real life pictures I had seen.

The morning before the first nightmare started casually enough with a cup of coffee and an early morning perusal of some news web sites. One story lead to another link which lead to another story which lead to another link which lead to another story which finally lead to the picture that disrupted my sleep later that night.

I can't imagine the self-esteem of a woman who would do this to herself. I won't say anything disparaging about this because, it seems to me, she disparages herself enough. How can someone who has (or had) everything do this and then take a walk on the red carpet? That night I went to sleep with a sweet little dog and a furry little cat and woke up sweating and terrified by the monster that had the ponem of Joan Van Ark.

The following week I was awoken again, sweating and terrified, by another picture.

This picture was used for the Huckabee family Christmas card while Mike Huckabee was governor of Arkansas. Huckabee is a fat, white male running for the Republication nomination for president. He has two fat, white male sons. They are all wearing the same shirt. Can you tell who is whom? It's similar to the old Jergen's television commercial where they showed a pair of hands and the viewer had to decide which was the mother and which was the daughter. I wondered what type of grown man would ask his children to dress in the same shirt as he for a photograph. And then I wondered what type of adult child wouldn't say, "Dad, wtf? I'm not wearing the same shirt as you." So I decided to do some research into this Stepford family.

  • Former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee has been a fat guy for the bulk of his career as a public servant. In 2003 his doctor diagnosed him with Type 2 diabetes and told him if he didn't change his eating habits and start to exercise he would be dead within 10 years. Of course, he wanted to live so he lost a lot of weight and wrote a book telling everyone to do so also...proselytizing about this as he does about his religion.

    And it is now coming to light that, for political purposes, Huckabee implored the Arkansas Parole Board to release a rapist from jail who then went on to rape and murder twice more.

    I wish his doctor was mute.

  • Janet Huckabee is a turkey hunter (which explains her marriage to Mike) and a dog strangler (see above). In 2004, she agreed to convert her marriage to a covenant marriage. This is a marriage contract option that compels the couple to seek counseling if problems develop. It provides limited grounds for divorce or separation, and restricts lawsuits against spouses. According to Mike, who signed the Covenant Marriage Act into law in Arkansas, it "offers couples a chance to be held to a higher level of marital commitment." Interesting that he feels the act of marriage alone is not enough.

  • John Mark Huckabee (left kneeling I think), the eldest boy, is rumored to be a purveyor of fine pornographic magazines. According to his mom, John Mark is like a radio station: "You tune in a radio and every now and then you'll hit a frequency and think, Man, I wish I could get that and you don't quite get it, but every now and then you get it? Well, John Mark is kind of like that." I'm not sure who that quote tells us more about - mother or son?

  • David Huckabee was dismissed in 1998 as a Boy Scout counselor after he, then 17, was involved in the hanging and torture of a stray dog with mange. In 2007, he was arrested for attempting to board a plane departing from Little Rock, Arkansas with a loaded Glock handgun. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge brought against him for "attempting to carry a gun in a prohibited place." He was also fined by the city of Jonesboro for $62.50 for operating two businesses without a license. So incensed by this fine was this fine young man that he paid it with 6250 pennies. Huckabee is also quoted as having said, "my dream is to either be the President or to be the one who makes the President the President." Well, he wouldn't be the first idiot elected president, or the first idiot to make the president the president.

  • Sarah Huckabee is the seed of Mike and Janet Huckabee. She is also wearing a shirt that matches her mom's. At this point, that's enough. But if you want more there's an interview with her here.

After finding out these little tidbits about a family that purports to be Christian now I wonder what type of American would actually vote for this man?

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Day Paris Hilton Went To Rehab

This is a dream I had; I've never actually been to rehab.
I was rather surprised when she agreed to visit me but, if truth be known, she's been my BFF for, well, for ever and isn't that what friends do? So Paris flew to Denver, rented a Maserati, and drove one and a half hours into the Rocky Mountains for family day.

Her visit was quite a surprise to those in the facility. They had no idea I even knew her. But Paris walked in like any other family member and, first thing, asked to use the bathroom. As we walked by a table, there was a plate of burned-up incense. Paris looked, not sure what to make of it. She took a pinch and put it to her nose.

"Paris! You don't snort that. It's ashes."

She looked at me resignedly. "I know, Michael. I was just smelling it."

We moved on from the table and I showed Paris to the loo. When she returned (with her hands washed), we went into the sun room and chatted for a while. The other students were overwhelmed and alarmed that Paris Hilton was sitting in the sun room of their rehab center. Some came up to her and she was very gracious. Others just stared from afar. Finally, one of the center's counselors came over.

"Hi Ms. Hilton. I've been chosen by the staff to talk to you about drugs."

"Excuse me?" Paris asked.

"Well, we need to search your belongings for contraband."

"Do you search every guest who comes to visit?"

"No. But we don't know the history of every guest that comes to visit like we do yours."

Paris handed over her bag.

"Paris, I'm so sorry." I said.

"It's not you, Michael. I'm just so famous. People read all this stuff about me and assume its true. There's nothing in there. I came to visit my best bud, not get a Rocky Mountain High...Colorado." She laughed at her allusion. As long as I've known her, Paris has always loved John Denver. Finally, her bag was returned.

"Thank you, Ms. Hilton. It had to be done."

"Whatever..." Paris retorted in that way only she can. At that point, my sister walked in the room. Lisa and Paris had never met but she had no pretensions about Paris.

"Hi Michael. Hi Paris."

Paris took to the normality of her greeting right away. "I love your fur, Lisa."

"Oh, thanks, Pah. But it's not real. I wouldn't walk around in real fur."

"You wouldn't?"

"Of course not. We should take a walk around these beautiful mountains and I'll show you why that would never enter my mind."

And that we did. Paris had never seen animals before and was entranced by the elk, rabbits, and chipmunks. We returned from our walk and decided to play a game of Scrabble. Paris spelled words like HOT and HO (\ˈhō\ def.: a call to attract attention, used especially to attract attention to something specified as in Westward ho!). Lisa, a working mother, used words like BASEBALL and PRACTICE. I put down ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM. Paris thought it was incredible that I could spell that word with seven letters. Lisa challenged and I lost a turn. But, I won the game anyway. (I'm a writer. Ho!) The ladies were nonplussed; Paris wasn't sure what nonplussed meant so we looked it up together and laughed.

Ultimately, it was time for family and guests to leave. We all said goodbye and Lisa and Paris walked out together. Lisa had nothing to learn that day but I think Paris might have taken away a few things. At the least, she now knows that HO has two meanings.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

George W. Bush IS A Monkey: The Proof

On Nov. 26, 2007, business talking-head-with-hair Erin Burnett referred to George W. Bush as a monkey on national television.

Three days later, she apologized on national television. She obviously never saw this photographic proof:

Thanks to Rich (whomever you are) for putting together the original proof. It is, after all, more concrete than the proof our monkey used to start a war in Iraq.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

You Can't Go Home Again, You Can't Go Home Again Not

They say you can't go home again. Well, Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again. I never quite believed it so I put the idiom to the test when I returned recently to my home in San Jose. When I left Northern California two years prior, I found a single mom to be my roommate. She lives in my house on a full time basis and I come and go as I please. I had been coming and going once a month for a year and a half but unforeseen circumstances caused that to stop a few months back. So when I arrived in San Jose this time, it had been after a longish break.

I got to our house after midnight and went immediately to sleep. In the middle of the night, the songbird was calling (I had to pee). I was sleeping in the basement of this 900 square foot house. (The basement is so small it doesn't even count in that number.) I dutifully got out of bed in the pitch black and managed to trip over the suitcase I had left in the middle of the floor. I put a hand out in the dark to balance myself and proceeded to pierce my palm. I could see from some errant lighting from the stairs that it was a Brazilian objet d'art made of tin.


I bravely soldiered on - up the nine rickety stairs that led to the real living space. I turned on the light in the bathroom and immediately noticed blood splattered all over the floor and the bathroom sink. It could've been Saw 17.

"Holy shit. Who was bleeding? Do I have to clean this up?"

The blood spills were getting bigger. It was dripping buckets on the sink and the floor.

"Holy shit. It's me. It's my hand."

I looked around the bathroom for anything and realized that I knew nothing regarding the possible location of a band aid. With my hand frozen over the sink thanks to the dripping blood, I heard Lulu, my single mom, stir. She had apparently awoken because of my incessant stumbling.

"Oh Lulu, I'm so glad you're up. Do you have a little band-aid I could use?" I asked casually.

With sleep still covering her eyes, Lulu answered in her sing-song way. "Oh, sure, sweetie. They're up hear in the...whaaaaaa? Honey, what happened? There is blood everywhere!" Mom mode kicked in.

"Hand up!" she yelled forcibly. I lifted my hand over my head as Lulu ran to the kitchen and grabbed a paper towel. She returned, washed my hand with soap and hydrogen peroxide, and applied pressure to it using the paper towel. "From the color of this mess, I can tell you have enough iron."

Lulu bandaged my hand and told me to keep pressure on it as I fall asleep. As I drifted off, I ruminated on the fact that not only did this never happen when I lived here full time - I never even owned a box of band aids. You can't go home again.

The next day, I told a few friends about my experience with the tin object d'art. Said friends told me that, since I had not had one in 25 years, a tetanus shot might be a good idea. When I searched the internet and found pictures of people with the disease all spazzed out, I agreed with them. So I went to an urgent care facility, a concept of which I had never heard.

It seems urgent care is a doctor's office where you walk in with your insurance card and they treat what ails you for the amount of your co-pay. Well, this particular urgent care was taking its bloody well good time. After waiting an hour and a half (and reading the TIME magazine analysis of Hilary Clinton's persidential nomination campaign twice) I finally mentioned to someone the length of time I had been waiting. She got the doctor on his ass. I thought about the medical profession. Some things never change. You can't go home again. NOT.

I was prepared to rip this guy a new asshole for making me wait. I had seen him on the telephone a few times - not looking at my chart. He had even taken before me a patient who had walked in after me. I was pissed. When Dr. Longfellow entered the room thoug something happened: he immediately charmed me. He was a sweet, jovial fellow. I couldn't help but go from anger to a desire to charm (metaphorically) him back. And I did. You can't go home again.

After work, I returned to the basement. Hoping to have some time alone with my memories, I stood in the backyard looking around and was surprised to find the trees and lawn were perfectly manicured. When I lived in the house full-time, the grass was always mowed but the weeds were so overgrown and the trees always needed to be cut. Now the trees were not bushy, flowers were in bloom, the lawn was mowed, and the yard was clipped. You can't go home again.

I walked in the house, for the first time during daylight, and was floored at how small it had become. For one thing Lulu has low-hanging balls. She hung objets d'art all over the ceiling. it might have been lovely for a 5 foot 4 inch woman to walk underneath those balls but not for a 6 foot 1 hunk of man (poetic license). You can't go home again.

I ran into a neighbor I hadn't seen in almost two years. "I knew you must come back but I never saw you." She is the member of a couple that had recently had a baby. The baby was adorable. Wearing an adorable jacket. She was excited. We chatted and I told her I had written a play and had produced a reading of it with actors and everything. I was excited. She looked great. I looked great. You can't go home again. NOT.

I went to Santana Row, one of the most commercially crass and undeniably faux-European strip malls in America, There was an orchestra playing Christmas music, one week before Thanksgiving. There was a very tall couple. I loved it. You can't go home again. NOT.

I bought a CD. It was a NEW CD. You can't go home again.

Ohhh. No more petals left. I guess Thomas Wolfe was right. At least it keeps this cock-eyed caravan exciting.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Bride's Side: A World Premiere Reading

Denver, Colorado. Crossroads Theatre. Monday, November 5. 7:10 PM. My first play, The Bride's Side, had its world theatrical premiere. It had real actors, a real stage, a real audience, a real tech guy, and a real wedding cake.

Here are a couple of shots of the wonderful actors who performed that night. From left to right (above), I'd like to introduce Russell Costen, Carol Rust, Roger Simon, Davis Bennett, Rhonda Lee Brown, Bill Thompson, Maureen Hines, and Renye Ress* (sitting). Sean Mellot is standing second from right below. These people, between the lines of their own lives, took the time to rehearse and perform this play for the purpose of helping this playwright further develop the work. The memory of our time together is one that I will always cherish. I, first and foremost, thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

The audience was 40+ people. (I think it was almost 50 but my hope was for 40 so I'll leave it at that.) I had spent three weeks prior to the performance posting flyers around Denver and sending out email to virtual groups that I belong to, virtual groups that I don't belong to, people I know, and people I don't know. Amazingly, it worked - I saw some people I know and some that I don't know. I even didn't see people that I do know which leads me to believe that I did, in fact, have a large audience. Thank you all for attending.

It was truly an incredible experience for me to see actors bring to three dimensions the characters that I had, up until then, only heard in my head. I learned a lot about the play in terms of lines that could (and should) be cut by just hearing them said aloud. Even more telling were the comments I received from the members of the audience that stayed for the talkback. I thank all the friends and playwrights who gathered the courage to tell me what they thought. It was incredible feedback that I will use to make this play even better than I think it is now. (Hey I'm allowed.)

It was a whirlwind of a month from my initial decision to do this reading through the actual performance. My goal at the beginning of the year was to write this play and have a reading. Well, I did it. It's funny that the day before the reading I thought to myself that the next time I wasn't going to be so self-indulgent with my goals. Fast forward to the morning after the reading and I'm already thinking, next stop, the coast. If I mentioned which coast I was referring to that would again be self-indulgent so I'll just leave it open for now. And with a little luck, someone else will pay for the wedding cake next goal around.

UPDATE: I received an email from the artistic director of a theatre in Pennsylvania who, based on the synopsis I submitted, wants to read the script. So now I have a week to integrate the changes I decided to make based on the audience's comments. Great news but I thought the stress was over. Oy gevalt.

* I'd like to thank my fellow playwright Renye Ress for her time, experience and ear. She gave me invaluable help in putting this reading together and was the evening's hostess. Check out the Denver Playwrights wiki for information on our next play reading on Nov. 26. Renye's own play, The Magician Auditions, is being read on Dec. 10.

** And Cathy Thomas for grabbing my notebook and writing down what everyone said before the headiness of the evening made me forget.

*** And, last but not least, George - for the cookies, the brownies, and other stuff, too.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Bride's Side: A New Comedy for the Stage

Ohmigod, the first public reading of my play, The Bride's Side, is happening on Monday, Nov. 5, 2007. Here's a synopsis:

The Bride's Side of the family is the focus as Philip and Rosie Newman lead a caravan of their adult children to the wedding of their grand daughter. On the way, cars are driven, pipes are smoked, trousers are dropped, and butterflies are released; but nothing erodes the enthusiasm of the bride's side for life, for family and for each other - even the secrets they spill as the bride and groom unwittingly cut the cake.

The reading will be held at the Crossroads Theatre at the corner of 27th and Welton Streets (2590 Washington Street) in Denver, Colorado. For more information, visit the play's page on my web site at There will be a talk back following the reading where your comments and suggestions will be most welcome.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Buckingham Nicks and the Platter Splatter

Most record collectors can proportionate their lives by how many records they have, or had. (I am referring to both the black and silver platters but they will always be records to me.) If you were to ask me where I was when I had 15,000 records I could tell you. That was the purge of 1992 after I had spent 20 years collecting music. Somehow, I managed to corral this amalgam of licorice pizza (no silver yet) into a small single on Miami Beach but when I decided to move back to the West Coast, they were history. I made only $4000 dollars from that purge because no one cared.

There was a smaller, but none less heart-wrenching, purge in 2000 when I left Sonora, CA - the place I had planned on spending the rest of my life with the soul mate I met on Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. We broke up and I loaded my car with records. I made $5000 this time because the merchandise also included CDs and books. (At least I wasn't traveling 3000 miles this time.) Backstory finished, the very important decision I made the other day is not one I took lightly.

I am through collecting records. I am through scouring the record aisles looking for that elusive CD. That one platter, if you will, that will change the course of history. That phenomenal collection of Shirley Bassey 1960s B-sides. Pylon's first album. Lani Hall Classics. A complete collection of Melanie (between LP and CD). Lucille Ball in Wildcat.* No, I'm not through listening to music. And, I'll always buy music. But I won't troll the aisles anymore. I won't go out looking for the Holy Grail of record collecting, the one platter on which I have yet to lay these puppies: a CD of Buckingham Nicks, the record Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham released right before they joined Fleetwood Mac and made music history. I've had the vinyl but it got lost in the '92 purge. It's a beautiful album full of soon-to-be Mac-esque songs. And it's the Holy Grail because it never existed.

Despite the enduring popularity of both of its key contributors, Buckingham Nicks was never officially released on CD. Bootlegs dubbed from vinyl have circulated since the late 1980s. It has become one of the most requested titles for CD release. In 2003, Rhino Records announced the album's pending release as a deluxe CD with bonus tracks; however, the CD was never released. Buckingham and Nicks share ownership of the album. Though Nicks has expressed some willingness for a CD release, Buckingham has not.**

See? Holy Grail. And I was retiring from the game before it was mine. (Oh my lord, record collecting is an addiction.)

In celebration of my decision to stop, I decided to spend a last blow out day. (Don't we all?). I got myself ready, picked myself up, and took a bag of CDs I was selling to Twist and Shout in the city I sometimes call home, Denver. I was hoping for a $50 credit so I wouldn't have to put out cash. That's always a big thrill when stricken with this addiction.

So I start down the rock/pop aisle alphabetically. Historically, I would forget to check Buckingham in the Bs and only remember of the Holy Grail when I get to the Nicks section in the Ns. Too lazy to walk 12 letters back I would laugh to myself that "this was the time I was indoubtedly missing my copy of Buckingham Nicks." Well, here I was flipping the keepers*** in the Bs when I saw a card with the name Lindsay Buckingham.

"Hmmm. At least I remembered to check this time. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha."

(None to pleased with my maniacal laughter, the guy flipping the C keepers moved down to the next letter.)

I reached for Buckingham. "Looks like there is one CD there. Probably that most recent one from '92. I always see that." I pulled the CD up. The Buckingham CD keeper was momentarily stuck. I pulled a bit came loose and...gulp...I always forget my glasses...gulp...I feel light-headed...and...ohmigoooooddddddddd!!!! Ahhhhhhhhh!!!! This is it...

(This was internal. The guy now flipping the D keepers was unaware.)

There they were Stevie Nick's breast and Lindsay Buckingham's hair. Yes, I was holding in my hand a copy of the Holy Grail of record collecting: Buckingham Nicks on CD. When I leave this store, for $19.99 (cheap at double the price), I will be an owner of the non-existent CD version of Buckingham Nicks. As I calmed down, I realized this was the universe telling me something.

"Yes, Michael. It is time to stop. You've got other things to do. And because it's time to stop - here is Buckingham Nicks. There's nothing more to search for. You've grabbed the golden ring of record collecting. You've reached the apex: Buckingham Nicks on CD."

You're right, Universe. Between my guy, my dog, my cat, my house. My health. My job, my plays, and all the other my's that everyone tries to juggle, I have other things to do.

* All in my collection

** Copied from the Buckingham Nicks entry on wikipedia.

*** keeper plastic contraption in which a CD, DVD or video game is put by a store employee before the item is put in the racks to sell; as in "Joe, put this new stock in keepers and get it out on the floor now!" (overheard at Second Spin).

Friday, September 14, 2007

Of Tyra and Britney

I watch America's Next Top Model. (Cycle 9 begin this Wednesday September 18.) Tyra Banks is great, and you can never get to much of Twiggy. I remember the episode of ANTM that someone has now taken and mashed with Britney Spears' NBC interview to comment on her recent performance at the MTV Music Awards. Check out this incredibly funny commercial for a very special episode of The Tyra Banks Show.

And here's a clip of the original Tyra scream fest from ANTM Cycle 4:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Of Boobs, Barb Wire and Mahogany

In the early 1980s, I lived in Hoboken. For three years I rented a five room railroad for $300 a month. When I moved out of the flat, I unbelievably left behind a paper grocery bag full of movie posters I had bought from the manager of the Jerry Lewis Cinema in Massapequa, a theatre I frequented as a teen. The poster for Mahogany was one of those I had and I lost. I was cruising the internet recently when I came upon an image of the poster. So I decided to watch Mahogany again and relive my memories of this and all the posters I've loved before.

As Mahogany begins: it's not that bad. OK, the shot of ultra successful fashion designer Tracy Chambers (Diana Ross) going back in time to become the girl in the hood is a might cheesy, but there was a nice subtle touch when Tracy is on the elevated train and gets inspiration for a design of her own from a graffiti artist she spies outside the window. Tracy's character is revealed a bit more as the movie continues (home life, work life, studies, meeting future love Brian Walker) but then IT happens: Tracy arrives to work late and is berated by her boss (Nina Foch) as they walk through the workplace to meet photographer Sean McAvoy (Anthony Perkins). The scene ends at the point I've taken the screen shot on the top and the film cuts to a shot of Ms. Ross and Ms. Foch entering the room (screen shot on the bottom).

Did they just change clothes? Ross is wearing a red dress and Foch a blue dress in the first scene. But when they walk into the room, Ross is in blue and Foch in red. The clothes are different but Ross still carries her notebook and Foch seems to be wearing the same necklace. There was no reference to the quick change or to it being a different day. The change was subtle but this was bad subtle. They just walk in the room wearing different dresses? Oh, yes, happens all the time. Please, even bad movies need some semblance of character motivation. I kept rewinding and watching it again. (And I was watching my VHS tape which takes time and precision to rewind.)

OK, all bets are off. In order, here goes:

  • Frame Composition: Tracy (Diana Ross) and Brian (Billy Dee Williams) have a fight concerning the use of poor black people as background in a high fashion photo shoot. The two actors are on opposite sides of a chain link fence during the fight. Between the two, center screen, is an extra that plays the whole scene with tennis match eyes, moving them back and forth from Ross to Williams and back to Ross until Williams ultimately walks off. The extra steals the scene.

  • Classic of the Genre: The photo montage of Ross becoming a huge fashion model is akin to Patty Duke's nightclub singer training montage from Valley of the Dolls.

  • Tracy as a Model: It is absurd for Tracy to decide to wear her own design on a job as a fashion model. She has been hired to wear clothes for photographs. The right thing for her to have done was to ask Sean as a friend to photograph her later in some of her designs, you know, for fun. Her behavior is selfish and ego-centric.

  • Tracy as a Designer: Tracy chooses to wear the most ridiculous design in her collection for her Italian auction 'debut'. Now I've heard of haute couture but who is Tracy of Chicago designing for? Japanese geisha space aliens? Why didn't she surprise everyone with a nice dress like the one she wore to the party afterwards? I guess if she had worn a different dress, it would've been a different movie. Her behavior is selfish and ego-centric.

  • Anthony Perkins Plays a Freak...Again: Sean McAvoy is not sympathetic and that creepy Perkin's smile during the gun fight is truly revolting. McAvoy represents a heterosexual male's fear of turning gay and even when he attempts to kill that side he can't or doesn't. Oh, Mahogany, who knew you had that depth to you?

  • dianipple Alert: Ross's breakdown after Brian no spoiler here is laughable with her dripping hot wax all over her naked body. More importantly though is that, when she later puts on her bathrobe, you see her left 'dianipple' and applicable boobage.

  • Diana Does Diana and...Lucy: The car crash scene with Ross doing her infamous Take the picture, Sean face is frightening in its similarity to the strait jacket shot from Lady Sings the Blues.

    It is also very similar to the even more infamous Lucille Ball spider face.

  • Success is nothing without someone you love to share it with Billy Dee Williams is good as Brian, the up and comping alderman. He delivers the film's iconic line credibly despite its hoakiness. Ross, on the other hand, is initially wooden. Her performance seems to come into its own when Brian arrives in Rome. This and her new found success inspires diva-esque behavior that seems to impel her with energy. And even though Ross twirls great in one scene in the graffiti-inspired dress she designed that doesn't make for a very good movie - even a good 'bad' movie.

  • Do You Know Where You're Going To? You do get to hear the lovely theme from Mahogany twice. It really is the best part of the movie.

  • VERY ENDING SPOILER: Ross proclaims to Brian at film's end, "Mister, you got my vote." So Tracy moves back to Chicago to be with her man and to whom is she gonna sell her clothes? Who wants horrible dresses that look like the inside of space ships? Or now success will mean something because she has someone she loves to share it with.

After Mahogany, I decided to quench my thirst for the other side of the boobage scale and watch Pamela Anderson (or as she is billed on the DVD, Pamela Anderson Lee) in Barb Wire. Like Ross in Mahogany, Lee gives her audience what they want right off the bat; over the credits, she does a water dance a la Flashdance, with her tits on high. (And they are quite a pair.) A hot version of Word Up performed by Gun plays over the performance. (In Mahogany, Ross sings her #1 hit over the credits. That's what her fans want. Am I the same person?) You might have to agree to being over 18 if you decide to view the Anderson nudie clip below on YouTube. Seriously.

It's two weeks later and I'm still trying to finish Barb Wire. (Boobage is not always enough.) I can't seem to get past the first thirty minutes but today I will - otherwise, this entry won't be published. I'm back where the soldier asks Barb to dance. I never realized until now that the song the goth chick band, Die Cheerleader, plays in this scene as Barb is dancing barefoot is indeed Dancing Barefoot, a song by Patti Smith. Such subtle character development in a comic book movie!

Anderson Lee's prowess as an actress is revealed in the scene where she discovers her blind brother's dead body. (I laughed. I cried. It became a part of me.) Anderson Lee is also suitably droll when her ex-man introduces her to his new wife, a scientist. Barb retorts, "How impressive. I'm sure you'll have very strong, smart children." The best line though goes to Xander Berkeley as Police Chief Willis. After Steve Railsback (as a Congrssional commander) rails, "If Cora D escapes, I will personally rip your heart out of your ass and stuff it back down your throat," Willis deadpans, "That's not very sanitary."

It is also interesting to note that scientist/wife Cora D has had her face altered; the before picture shown to Barb reveals a woman with very Negroid features.

The after of Cora D is very light-skinned black actress Victoria Rowell. Now we can look deeply into this decision and decide that the creators of Barb Wire felt that dark-skinned black women are more intelligent but they needed a prettier, light-skinned black woman to bring in the bucks. Here they use the more mainstream, acceptable light-skinned black woman to propel the movie's story forward while the Negroid actress is relegated to a static picture. Why did the black-skinned actress have to become Michael Jackson? The bad guys made it a point to say that her face doesn't matter as they can tell her identity via a retinal scan. So why change her face at all? Or why couldn't Barb Wire herself be the new Cora D? (Pamela Anderson Lee is delightful as Stephen Hawkings!!)

I finally finished Barb Wire. Of course, all's well that end's well. Except of course for the blind brother, and the dark-skinned actress in the static picture. I haven't seen either since.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Of Music and Membranes

I was born in 1959 and my sister was born in 1961. That makes me two years older than her. (Some of you might want to do the math; the rest of us will move on.) When I was growing up (as opposed to out), I was not considered mainstream in my musical choices. I remember asking Lisa one night in 1980 if she wanted to come with me to see this Irish band I'd heard tell of, performing live.

'Who are they?'


'Nahh. I never heard of them.'

I went to the show, history, of course, was made, and little sister still kicks herself when I mention it. (Sorry.) But, I have noticed over the years that Lisa has become quicker on the ball to new music. She bought and runs a record store, has for almost 20 years. In that time, she has sent me enumerable packages filled to brimming with CDs she thought I might like. I have discovered many a new band within those packages that I wouldn't have if Lisa had not sent them on.

Last week I saw Heart in concert. My heart wasn't in the show because I was away from Max who has been going through a few unexpected medical dramas. (He's recuperating.) But at the show Ann Wilson, Heart's lead singer, mentioned her new solo CD and I thought to myself, "I wonder if there'll be a promo?" Seven days later, without having spoken, that CD was on my doorstep. I attribute that to sibling membranes. (Or the fact that Zoe Records decided to do some marketing.) Even though Lisa and I live on different sides of the continent and see each other only once a year, those sibling membranes are still strong.

And Hope and Glory shows Ann Wilson is still strong. She had performed a beautiful rendition of John Lennon's Isolation at the concert but the CD is equally as beguiling. It is very directly and poignantly Ann's stance regarding the situation this country is in. All, but one, of the songs on the CD are covers, and she has chosen each title specifically and performed them with various partners subtly. From a very original take on Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song to her impassioned plea (with help from Wynonna) on We've Got to Get Out of this Place, Ann has carved a new niche for herself as a protest singer with soul...and heart. If you appreciate her message, you'll certainly appreciate the beauty of this undertaking. If you don't, she sings some really nice songs.

Thanks for a great CD, hon. Oh...pluralize that.

love you

Monday, August 20, 2007

Max Does Montana

Hi. They call me Max.

They would be Alpha and Maxi-Me. Alpha wears glasses on his forehead and Maxi-Me wears them on his eyes. (I think they go on the eyes.) Alpha is Alpha because he's from New York. Maxi-Me gets the pillow next to Alpha when we sleep which I get when Maxi-Me is working. He's bigger than me. Maxi-Me.

We spent alot of time in the mover last week. We took a drive to Kalispell, Montana. I don't know what Kalispell, Montana is but I'm glad they didn't leave me alone like they did Lucy, my cat.

Both Alpha and Maxi-Me kept moving around inside the mover. I liked it better when Alpha was behind the steering circle because I could see.

If Maxi-Me was behind the steering circle I was shoved in the back seat with my poop bags. Alpha's boss.

The first day, we made it to Gillette, WY and were looking for a place to sleep. We had to stop a few times. Maxi-Me kept saying No Pets Allowed but I didn't get that 'cause Lucy wasn't with us. After we left the mover, they locked me in the room with that square thing on, showing me a lot of moving color and sound. Sheesh, don't they know it's harder to sleep with that on?

When they came back, I could smell food. They were talking about having had iceberg lettuce for a salad. It seems Alpha had a bag of spinach in the car that he retreived and brought into the restaurant. Some lady from New Zealand then wanted to know where Alpha got the greens. He told her but unfortunately had none left to share. The lady was one of six members of a kiwi Harley Davidson gang that had come here (with their bikes) for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. None of us thought any more of it...until the next day.

We drove to Devil's Tower the next morning. The entire trip there the mover was bombarded by loud sounds. Maxi-Me said the motorcycles were in full throttle. When we got to Devil's Tower, the cacophony was in surround sound. There were more than 16 motorcycles. (I can only count to 16 - four per paw.) We decided not to stay because it was so loud it ruined the ambiance of the natural setting...or as natural as this setting can get.

America in a Nutshell

Next stop, the lovely C'mon Inn in the town of Bozeman, MT. It was a very nice place to stay. Lots of water in the lobby with secluded hot tubs and waterfalls - none of which I could go in. If you're ever in the midwest, go on in the C'mon Inn.

From Bozeman we drove straight to Kalispell. At this time, we started to smell smoke from the fires that were burning all over the region.

The mover finally stopped for what turned out to be two dark go-sleep's. We met two ladies that live in a house with animals like Alpha and Maxi-Me and me do. They had some animals I had never seen before.

I love the ladies. Look what they gave me when Alpha and Maxi-Me went to Glacier National Park.

I thought I'd let Alpha tell you about Glacier:

In order to do Glacier right you'd need three days minimum. We had one afternoon. And there were so many cars and people that one afternoon that the park rangers were letting everyone in for free. As it was we had to wait almost a half hour to get in the park and they were just waving you by.

We went to Lake MacDonald first. It was quiet (thankfully) and beautiful (obviously) despite the smoke that was hanging in the air from the forest fires burning in the area.

Avalanche Creek is beautiful but, being the most popular trail, the throngs of people were annoying (screaming kids; yuppies with baby carriages navigating a slatted path; a Christian group that had a dog on a leash despite a big sign that said No Dogs On This Trail
[Editor: WTF?]) So we decided to leave the sprawling throngs and take a less-travelled road up the east side of the park. As it turns out, we came upon a portion of the park that was felled by fire in 2002 - apropos considering the fires tearing up the region on the other side of this mountain.

From the car, desolation was all around us; the trees were black or fallen. From the car, there was nothing to see. As we drove the sixteen mile road to find the trail on the map we started sensing something. At about mile 8, George voiced what I had been thinking.

'Look at all those baby pine trees. They're 2 feet tall.'

'And those are the trees we have in our backyard, aren't they?'

'Birch. I didn't know they could grow here.'

'And look at those wildflowers.'

We drove a few more miles, found Huckleberry Mountain and got out to walk the trail.

From the road, the skykline of black tree skeletons were ominous. But from the trail you could see something was happening lower on the forest floor. There was a carpet of new growth. The forest was being born again (in a good way). The pine trees were two feet tall and growing. There was a chipmunk. The wildflowers were covering the forest floor in yellow and purple. There goes a butterfly. There are Alpine trees growing. It's raining. The birch trees were fast-growing, some of them six feet tall. Alot of this new growth would probably one day be overtaken by the larger pines and become compost for the florest floor. But right now this was an amazing sight; and considering the western Montana fires that we had been dodging since arriving in the state, this seemed a fitting way to see Glacier. I had expected snow and mooses
[Editor: Why isn't it meese like geese?] but George and I got to see something very spectacular, the birth of a new forest.

The next day they locked me in a room again and went for a rafting trip on the Flathead River. Boy. We left the ladies the day after the raft trip and were in the mover for a long time. Some little stuff happened but that's not important. We had a fun time and we're home safe and sound. That's important.

NOTE: You can see pictures of Glacier and the rafting trip by clicking the gallery image.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Extras is Something Extra and The Comeback Should

OK I'm a few years late on this - you know, the not having cable thing and all - but I just caught up with Extras and what a smash. The second series from Ricky Gervais of 'The Office' fame, Extras is just as good if not oftentimes better. It concerns Gervais as Andy Millman and the luminous Ashley Jensen as Maggie Jacobs, two professional background artists. Andy is an actor and always looking for that elusive part (or line) while Maggie keeps looking for that elusive man. Each episode centers around the particular project the two extras are working on and thus involves the particular star of said project.

The first epsiode with Kate Winslet is classic television. Her explanation of why she is doing a film on the Holocaust is tasteless and hysterically funny. But then she tutors Maggie on the fine art of phone sex and I will never look at her the same again. Kudos to Winslet for lampooning her celebrity and going along with the script.

Other actors do the same: Ben Stiller and Ross Kemp are certainly in on the fun. Stiller's rant on his movies's grosses and his take on the signifigance of Dodgeball to this particular drama he is directing is over the top and spot on all at once. And Maggie's confusion over why Kemp is NOT a member of Spandau Ballet mirrors the confusion most Americans would probably feel when watching this scene but, for me, it gently solidifed Ms. Jensen's skill as an actress. (I've never seen it but I read that she is now on Ugly Betty; gotta start watching that one - which my mother has been telling me for the last year.)

I found the tone of this series similar to that of The Comeback, the HBO series by Michael Patrick King and Lisa Kudrow. The Comeback was not a ratings success (although it was certainly an artistic one) and was cancelled after one season. The episode of Extras with Les Dennis is as funny and painful to watch as many of The Comeback's best including the second to last episode, Valerie Shines Under Stress. Both of these series' are beautifully written and wonderfully acted.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Playwriting for Dum-Me

I am a playwright.

My relative lack of experience though makes that statement sound jarring (and a little frightening). To calm my nerves, let's start at the beginning. In January I decided it was time to get off the pot and write the play that had been ruminating in my mind for two years. I searched for a playwriting class so I could learn what the hell I was supposed to do and found the Playwrights Showcase of the Western Region and it's adjunct Boot Camp for Playwrights scheduled for six months hence. I registered, scheduled a week off from work, and took a local playwriting workshop with Terry Dodd in the meantime. Thanks to Terry and the other writers in the workshop I finished a first draft of The Bride's Side the day before the combination of classes, workshops, and play readings I had signed up for way back when was slated to launch.

The Boot Camp began on Sunday, July 15 with three days of instruction led by my new favoritest (sic) person in the world, Aosie Stratford. Aoise (pronounced Ay-sha) was imparting the type of information I'd been yearning for since the beginning of the year. She was talking about the playwriting process and what we needed to do to write and rewrite (and rewrite) the best play possible. Thank you Aoise from the bottom of my electronic inkwell.

The Showcase followed the Boot Camp; it began on Wednesday and continued through Saturday. The days were filled with play readings followed by critical analysis. The readings were interspersed with workshops lead by many of the Showcase luminaries. Aside from Aoise, the Showcase luminaries included Dawson Moore and Anna Garcia-Romero, the two other Boot Camp instructors. Additionally, Christine Emmert, Edith Weiss, Scott McMorrow, Richard Dresser, Susan Lyles, Scott Gibson, Chip Walton, and Kent Thompson helped to light our way.

The readings were wonderful to see and hear. It gave me a real sense of community to be with others who call themselves playwrights and discuss their works in development. Two of my personal favorites were The M Word by William Missouri Downs and Bel Canto by Thomas Pierce. I also attended the Showcase workshops which gave me even more invaluable information.

I've organized all the notes I took over the 7 days and have put them here so I know where to go when I need information, inspiration, or innovation. Feel free to come back if you need the same. Thanks to all those mentioned and especially Pamela Jamruszka Mencher and her staff for putting this incredible experience together.

Oh, by the way, I was given this badge on my first day of the Boot Camp. It's nice to see the confirmation as I begin the process of submitting and developing The Bride's Side, and researching my



    • Find your voice and trust yourself

    • Find your own way of working

    • Figure out the most economical way to tell this story

    • In pottery making - the best pieces came from the group that just cranked them out - start cranking

    • There's no such thing as writer's block for writer's whose standards are low enough

    • Playwriting is a 2 part process:

      1. Write what ever comes into your brain: put it on paper without thinking about development, character, craft, etc.

      2. Once you have a draft then ask questions: do I have beats, what is happening subtextually vs textually, issues of craft

    • You can't fake the primal emotion of a play, the heart

    • Sin: NOT revealing secrets and betraying your loved ones

    • If you're boring you are not being true to yourself - don't edit yourself

    • Stay connected to your work on a daily basis - discipline yourself

    • Writing is organizing your thinking

    • Write notes all the time and gradually they coalesce into something

    • Write long hand first, not in play format - when the paper is incomprehensible, go to the computer and type a first draft

    • When the audience has to put stuff together they become a creative part of the process and are emotionally involved in a good play

    • 5 character plays are the best (up to 8 can be produceable)

    • As playwrights, if we provide heroes, we provide people who lead the way to a better world

    • No play is ever finished

    • Plays work by engaging the audience

    • You are the best and worst critic


    • Don't put anything on stage that isn't used and use everything that is put on stage

    • Comedy should arise out of the character's desires


    • All plays are about solving a problem whether it be personal, situational (scene of conflict), or philosophical (theme)

    • The theme of a play is a philosophical idea - the premise is the starting point of the action (often a question as in what if...)

    • You might not know the philosophical question until you've finished a play - once you do, go back and make it a great play

    • EXERCISE to flesh out an IDEA - do this several times to refine it - use it as blueprint

      • This is a play about __________

      • It takes place ____________

      • The main character wants _____________

      • But __________ happens

      • The play starts when _____________ and ends when _____________

    • How can I escalate the play? Make it surprising? Make a reveal? Make a reversal?


    1. linear (cause and effect) a - b - c - d

    2. shakespearean/qualitative/association ( a-b-c gap in storyline of play k-d gap l-z ) woke up had coffee brushed teeth gap checked email

    3. circular form

    4. pattern (a-b-c then a-b-c but a little different)

    5. conventional forms (farces, westerns)

    6. synthetic fragments (all time periods exist simultaneously on stage)

    • EXERCISE: Find form/structure you like and master it (rewrite a fairy tale six times and decide what works best for you)


    • Structure is essential to the value of the play

    • You want the audience to keep guessing but not get lost

    • A play is cumulative. Everything builds on the first scene. Momentum.

    • What promise does the play make to the audience at the beginning?

    • The audience's perception of the play goes in one direction ----> forward. The structure, though, does not have to be linear.

    • WORLD OF THE PLAY is what you make it. It can be magical or direct. You can put things together that aren't usually side by side.

    • EXPOSITION usually includes tone, character, setting/convention. It is not a good tool for creating tension. Exposition should come out of action. Flashback is a type of exposition

    • TEXT/SUBTEXT Hemingway's Hills LIke White Elephants is an artful example of subtext at work - an abortion story but abortion is never mentioned

    • If you have a clear inciting incident, the audience will never ask the question: WHY NOW?

    • 3 Part Structure

      1. Beginning starts with status quo; introduces the world of the play followed by an inciting incident that asks the dramatic question (will Hamlet avenge his father?); mostly exposition - who, what, why,where, when - full length play this is in ten pages, ten minute play this is done in one page - introduce the protagonist (the man or woman that changes the most) - what's the conflict of the play - where and when should come out in the dialogue not the stage directions - you need to educate the audience at the beginning, don't condescend

      2. Middle asks what is at stake for the character (rising of stakes), what are the character's objectives (pursuit of objectives), and what obstacles are in the way (moving of obstacles); the meat - the plot that resolves the major dramatic question

      3. End contains the crisis point which is the point when you can no longer back out of it, a character is put into a situation where they must make a choice. Climax of the play is the decision, the resolution is the moment at the end of the play when you get a sense of what will happen after it is over (run into the wall so to speak) the momentum of the play has no where else to go, you run out of play. End scene has a decision which resolves the conflict we should be able to get conflict from the resolution

    • Types of Structure

      • Quest/Character structure - someone sets out to do something; there is an inciting moment of the play that puts the character on a quest, pursuing objective throughout the play until the end. The character could get what they want or end up dead

      • Event organized structure (wedding play: Five Women and one Dress), dinner party play

    • Major dramatic questions are incorporated in a play like nesting dolls

      • The smallest doll is who, what, where, when, why, and how.

      • The middle doll is a major dramatic question (will Hamlet kill his father).

      • The outer doll is the major philosophical question (is revenge worth it).

    • A beat is a unit of measure in a scene - a complete action within the negotiation of a scene. A beat mark falls in a scene where the character changes tactics. This happens when there is a new obstacle in the scene.

    • When it feels like something is not working on page 9 the problem is not on page 9

    • Vary pace of dialogue

    • An entrance can inform how the scene will end

    • Don't try to solve the play, complicate it

    • At the start of play audience doesn't know the rules (world of the play)


    • Characters are best when active - central passive characters can't push story along because they don't make any choices (Passive + Fear/Desire/Pressure from inside or outside = Active)

    • Believable

    • Relatable/Familiar

    • Complex/Diverse/Opposing

    • Humor/Moving

    • Intelligence

    • Flawed/Human

    • Pecularities/Specificity/Attention to detail

    • How long has it been since your character has made an active choice? Five pages? Ten Pages? If it's been a long time that could be an issue

    • Structure of a character is an arc, up or down (smiley face or sad face). If a boy starts out with a girl and loses her the character's structure is down

    • Whose got the power at any point in time, shifting power gives the play energy

    • The journey of your main character should cost her something

    • Everyone is a want machine and that's how they function

    • Is every character absolutely essential?

    • Discover what your character wants and everything they say is an attempt to get what they want

    • If another character has what they want how do they get it?

    • Every character has a different way of speaking and a unique vocabulary

    • Know what traits your character needs to propel the plot forward

    • Who is the last person your character wants to see - put that character onstage


    • Theatres get grants to do readings

    • Know the reason you are doing a reading

    • Get actors/people who understand your work, esp. comedy if you have to explain it to them they are not the ones

    • A FIRST READING IS FOR YOU: read all the parts in front of a group of people

    • First Actors Reading

      • Cast the play, cast the audience

      • Do a reading in the town library, neighbors, friends, they have no agenda

      • SIT IN THE AUDIENCE and feel what works

      • Before reading put a copy of your script in a manila envelope and seal it - it'll always be there

    • Audiences are never wrong, individuals can be wrong, critics are born wrong

    • Who do you listen to? everybody

    • Don't make changes to your play right after the reading; let it ruminate first; write comments down and put it away

    • Clarity, anyone who tells you aomething that makes the play clearer, use it

    • Give people a compelling reason to produce your play


    • Successful rewrites: accept what you've written - maybe it's not done yet; be honest with yourself

    • If rejected, maybe you have to just write a better play

    • Maybe I'm not good enough to write this play is an excuse

    • You might have to get rid of your favorite scene; there's nothing as pointless as a wonderful scene in a bad play. Remove it.

    • Steven Dietz after you process comments, look for the 90, 100 degree turns in your play they make it interesting not 5 percent turns

    • EXERCISE: at the top of each page write down what question is being asked by this page - too many pages with the same question means that your play is bogging down

    • EXERCISE: write about the play you want to write not the play that you've written - Start out with This play is about and continue in prose; reconnect with the expansiveness of your original vision


    • Submit everywhere - don't rely on submitting one play and waiting

    • Make them say no to me

    • Assume they will say no

    • Before submitting remember there is only one chance at a first impression; don't put the play out there unless it is ready

    • Keep track of submissions (spreadsheet - theatre company, where they are, when sent, what happened)

    • Follow submission guidelines

    • Cover letter should acknowledge that this is a play in progress (in development)

    • Cover letter should tell what ultimate goal is (reading, full production, looking for an opportunity to hear the play)

    • synopsis is not a marketing blurb - don't tell how funny it is



    • PRO: control the show and how it is done

    • CONS: shitload of work, not fun, $$$$$$

    • Plan a production schedule backwards: pick a venue, add 3 weeks rehearsal time, 6 months out from the first performance is when PR starts

    • Can pay money to actors and crew as stipend (percentage of door)

    • Remember to always include crew

    • Taxes: schedule c profit and loss statement if you don't own a home; form your own 501(c)(3) if you own a home (Three Wise Monkeys)

    • Huge portion of the house comes from friends and family of the actors and from having a bunch of plays by different playwrights

    • Free venues: outdoor parks, elementary schools, community centers, senior centers, houses of worship

    • To choose actors go see plays in your community; check out colleges, craigslist

    • Concessions are the real money maker go to costco and then mark up the stuff

    • Playbill can just be 8.5 x 11 back and front print out

    • Remember front of house help

    • Throw a party for the opening night, cast, or whatever - that's a great thing


    • Need to schedule really well

    • Pay for the audition space even though you can rehearse for free in your living room

    • At least four and up to six people per half hour audition

    • ell them you are roughly looking for nights and weekends rehearsal schedule

    • Callback within the same week

    • Pay for the callback space

    • Call those you want AND those you don't want- let everyone know


    • 1 min on stage time equals 1 hour of rehearsal time

    • Run your rehearsals as professionally as possible

    • When telling somebody something bad you can always say the producer said

    • Find free rehearsal space

    • Tech rehearsal (light cues, sound fx) is most important make sure you schedule this in


    • Vertical response pay as you go email

    • Playbill inserts in other shows: if another theatre has a show in Sept and Nov and you have one in Oct trade the blow in of your postcard in their playbill with theirs in your playbill

    • Dramatist's Sourcebook

    • Marketing yourself is about who you've met and who you've spoken with

    • Identify theaters that do the plays you admire and get to know those theaters

    • Search within organzations for the point person behind their programs and get to know them

    • Fringe festivals are a good way to go - built in advertising, etc. (San Francisco Fringe Festival)

    • Best things playwrights can do

      • Network - stay in contact with writers, go see theatre, long distance playwright services

      • Thank you notes to those who help

      • did I say network, network, network

    • Worst things playwrights can do

      • Being confrontational, rude

      • Taking feedback poorly


    • 2 rules

      • Don't stop writing (free form)

      • Don't edit

    • Take a lot of workshops

    • 10 minute different from full-length play (full length deals with a number of issues, themes and ideas - 10 minute only deals with one issue


    • Tom Stoppard

    • Read Poetics by Aristotle

    • Political theatre is things that concern a community

    • From Spoon River Anthology: In my youth I had the wings but didn't know the mountains. In my old age I know the mountains but don't have the wings. Genius is youth and wisdom.

    • In the dark times, will there be singing? Yes, the singing will be about the dark times.

    • Should playwrights get an agent? No - only motivated if you are already successful - you are more invested in getting your play out there than an agent

    • National New Play Network

    • It takes a first production to really know what is right and wrong about a play

    • First productions don't bely the history of the play

    • Plays don't exist until they are on stage

    • Striking things theatre companies look for in new plays

      • Disease play done in different manner

      • Fresh take on the old stories

      • Contemporary

      • How do you stage this?

      • Compelling fairly quickly

      • Integrity of character development

      • Relevance to what we are struggling with as a society

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Truth, Lies, and the Poop on Hairspray

My day started innocuously enough: an early Sunday morning walk with Max around the neighborhood. As we returned, I saw a barefoot man across the street on his neighbor's lawn, watching as his dog took a dump. I recognized the dog as one that is often on a chain in the front yard of a house five doors down. Right or wrong, I assumed the man was not planning to pick up his furry friend's package so I stood and watched. He did the cursory look around before walking off and saw me.

"What?" he said, looking embarassed.

"I'm just waiting to watch you pick it up," I said.

"I'm gonna pick it up." He pats his pocket looking for a non-existent bag. It was now clear to me that my assumption was correct - his dog's morning elimination was now his neighbor's responsibility. And he knew that I knew.

"I'm gonna pick it up." he said weakly.

If I had a bag I would've given it to him but I had just used my last one so I said, "Just don't walk your dog past my property." Then I turned the corner away from him.

"Where do you live?" he replied, gaining back a vertebrae or two.

"You're an asshole," I said and continued walking down the block, passing my own house, and turning another corner so he wouldn't know exactly where I lived.

Later, I told George about this encounter, and he yelled at me.

"You didn't say that. He's our neighbor. That is rude. I know he was wrong but sometimes you go to far. That wasn't necessary."

I felt so stupid. I had to tell George the truth.

"Um, well, I actually said 'asshole' under my breath and we were kinda already down the block from each other by then so I'm sure he didn't hear. I think I'd be more frightened than I am right now if I thought he'd actually heard it."

"Really?" George said.

"Yea. I was just trying to be a superman."

He laughed so I think we're cool.

So, with poop on my mind, I decided to see Hairspray, the film version of the Broadway musical update of the 1988 film starring Divine (who famously ate dog poop in Pink Flamingos - full circle). Well, the 2007 musical, which I shall refer to as H2, is a vibrant, tuneful, exciting and yes, at times, overwhelming film. The one/two punch of Good Morning Baltimore and The Nicest Kids in Town, the Corny Collins scorcher, gets your adrenaline pumping. From that point, it falls into familiar high school musical terrain (a la Grease) albeit with the much more interesting theme of integration and race relations. H2 is a throwback to older style musicals where the characters break into song; more recent musicals like Chicago and Dreamgirls added their songs to the periphery of the story - on stages, in recording studios, and in someone's mind. In H2, people sing in the streets and break out in song at a whim. This works as H2 is a joyously wonderful movie experience.

The big question I had entering the theatre was the casting of John Travolta in the role of Edna Turnblad. It took a while before I sorted out my feelings on Travolta's performance. I was glad the director eased Edna into the 2007 storyline; she doesn't show up until after the opening numbers and is very low-key. Edna is now portrayed as an agoraphobic who hasn't left the house in 12 years. The H2 Edna is ashamed of her size; and it subtly plays into that fact when you see Travolta hiding behind synthetic makeup. Don't get me wrong, Travolta turns in a strong and sympathetic performance - one of which he can be proud. But there is a certain irony in someone wearing fat makeup playing a character that dislikes, and is ashamed, of her size. Why was he chosen to play the role? Or why wasn't the weight gain real? So, with all these questions, I decided to watch the original Hairspray (which we'll call H1) for the first time in close to twenty years.

First and foremost, H1 is a comedy, not a musical. The songs serve as musical numbers for the Corny Collins dancers or as background music commenting (applicably well) on the action. H1 feels very real and accurate. (Writer/director John Waters commented that the Corny Collins show is an exact replica of the Buddy Dean show he remembers from his childhood.) It also carries a scenario that is often tastelessly funny (as one might expect from Waters). H2, on the other hand, is a full blown Hollywood musical from the first frame to the last, with over-the-top characters, wild splashy dances, eye-popping colors, a sinfully, infectious score, and a much cleaned-up scenario. (No pimple-popping scene in H2.)

In H1, Divine is proud of her bulkiness. Her size is a non-issue. Divine's Edna is big and wears a house coat, has frumpy, oily hair, and a sweet and sour attitude. While Travolta's character needs provocation to become Tracy's agent, Divine's Edna moves from her mother to her agent to her business manager in a matter of time without provocation. When I first saw Divine onscreen, I realized Travolta's make-up needn't have been so massive if he was going to play the H2 Edna as written. Harvey Fierstein, Bruce Vilanch, and Michael McKean have all famously played Edna at different sizes. Some real weight gain and a little padding would've done wonders for the reality of Travolta's Edna. (Didn't DeNiro do that for Raging Bull? Renee Zellweger?) Not that Travolta is bad; I warmed to his portrayal but it took time.

As for the rest of the movies, Nikki Blonsky and Ricki Lake are both wonderful in the role of Tracey Turnblad with Blonsky playing sweet and pushy as well as Lake does sweet and snarky. The appearance of Jerry Stiller in H2 as Mr. Pinky was a wonderful surprise, and both of his performances (Wilbur Turnblad in H1) are a delight. The morphing of Mink Stole and Deborah Harry into Michelle Pfeiffer is a miracle of cinematic proportions. Christopher Walken's turn as Wilbur is sure to earn him an award nod of some sort. The use of Town without Pity, a song about an interracial romance, in H1 is poignant and, in H1 again, the wino's song is as emotionally relevant as Queen Latifah's I Know Where I've Been is to H2. Both are mastery. Amanda Bynes and Elijan Kelley are winning as Tracy's friends, Penny and Seaweed in H2. And, in H1, the way Waters builds the noise level in the Special Ed class to become the beat that the kids dance to is nothing short of brilliant. There are none of these off-the-wall touches in H2 (except maybe Travolta's wink to his Pulp Fiction dance). But it's still a great, fun film. And the original? It's even more enjoyable, just in a different way. And remember, there ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.

Or, if you'd like, here's the 1977 update which shall hereafter be referred to as ANLTRT2. Interesting how the camp version came second in this instance.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bees Gone

Remember Highlights? It's a children's magazine that I always found in the doctor's office when I was younger. It had a section called Hidden Pictures in which you had to find the differences between two almost identical pictures.

In the spirit of Highlights, here are two pictures of my home in Denver. The first was taken before it was purchased. The second was taken a few weeks back. I've already circled the differences so you don't have to pull your hair out.

So, what actually is missing? An 80 year old silver maple tree.

We got a letter from the Denver Parks Department in April, 2007 telling us that the trunk of this tree was hollow and a danger to the community. We needed to choose one of the approved tree removal companies and take it down within 45 days. It was a real sad time as we collected bids from a number of companies; not only for the loss of the tree but for us as well. We were getting quotes upwards of $2000.

I called the arbor agent and told him that the expense was way beyond our budget. He mentioned that if we did nothing, the department would remove the tree for $903. Uh, can I get that in writing?

So we did nothing and sure enough on June 2, this was confirmed in a letter. And on July 6-7, the tree was removed. On July 9, the stump was ground down. Here are some pictures I took of the process.

We were able to use some of the branches to line the plant beds in our backyard so the tree's spirit is still around. But never again will our home be shaded by the canopy of a silver maple tree. (You can no longer plant these trees in the city of Denver.) Nor will the bees, who lived in the trunk longer than we lived in the house, have a home as I explain in this video.