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Forget Reactionary Nostalgia

I saw the Drudge Report’s synopsis of the contents of Pat Buchanan’s book about the end of civilization or whatever he’s on about. What a turd. He seems to want to fill the slot that Robert Bork had for a while, writing books chock-a-block full of “widening gyre” and the “lamb slouching towards gomorrah” or whatever the hell the reference is.

Apocalyptic visions can be a sort of dumb fun, I guess. Between him and Al Gore I’m surprised you can hear yourself think at the intellectual bus stop with them both shouting at the passing traffic with visions of DOOM, DOOM, I SAY!

You know, all in all, The Road Warrior was a lot more fun.

The world changes all the time and people don’t like it. They certainly don’t understand it. Neither side. As I get older, I realize that if I’m going to talk about Old Bastid stuff, I have to be careful not to drift into just being cranky. If I was under the age of thirty, and I saw Pat Buchanan and his Legion of Doom Factoid Brigade approaching, I’d cross the street to avoid him. Even if he was right, he’s a jerk. If your doctor ever tells you that you have cancer, and while you’re trying to wrap your mind around that fact he adds: “And you’re ugly and your wife is fat,” you should get another doctor. Even if he knows less about cancer.

If you have experience about a period of time, and it was bad (hello, Jimmy Carter!) you should point out that things were lousy to anyone that might be tempted to try it again in their ignorance. (Hello, current crop of presidential candidates!) But it would be so much more useful to employ your first hand knowledge of time gone by to point out whatever things are glittering in the big pile of woe and sorrow and detritus we call life. They’re always there. Help people to see them for the first time, or remember them kindly.

As I was saying; the seventies sucked. Do not reproduce them. But stuff like this used to come out of the jukebox in the highschool cafeteria thirty-five years back. Pat Buchanon was listening to Four Freshmen albums and freshening Richard Nixon’s drinks back then. Why pay attention to him? Pay attention to this:

Italian Negotiating

-Excuse me, sir.
-Not now, kid; I’m busy.
-Please, sir. Won’t take but a minute.
-Time is wastin’ junior; whaddya want?
-I want to join your carnival, sir.
-Souls in hell want icewater, kid.
-I can do something spectacular. Mom says we really need the money.
-You look like the short end of nothing, sharpened, kid. I need to attract the eyeballs.
-I can do a stunt.
-What could you possibly do?
-I could dive off a thirty foot ladder into my mother’s washtub half full of water.
-Kid, if you could do that, I’d pay you a hundred a week.
-Just watch me…

-Kid, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I never would have believed it. That was fantastic. I’m a man of my word. A hundred a week it is.
-A hundred and fifty.
-One seventy-five.
-Look kid, you’re backsliding on me. What’s the idea of holding me up for more money when we had a deal fair and square from the get-go?
-Oh, no sir; it’s not that. It’s just that I never tried it before, and I didn’t really like it.

A Thousand And One

Granpa told me all about the genie in the lamp.

It’s the oldest story ever and came from the land of the sand and the women with only eyes. It’s in there, the genie of everything, but you have to find him and let him out. Then he’s out and you have to figure what to do with him. Granpa says he’s wonderful but as dumb as a stump, just like all of us. He can do anything but doesn’t know what to do. He needs guidin’.

The lamp is always hidden in plain sight he says. Men go prospectin’ all over the landscape for the easy riches but they’re generally layin’ right there on the ground but you step over them in your hurry and scurry to look for them. Granpa points to the men through the door of the grog shop and they’re playin’ cards and Granpa says what good does it do for them to find the riches anyway.

Granpa would take the books down from the high shelves that the kids weren’t supposed to get because the treasure in them was too dear to waste on such as us. He told me to run my hands over the cloth on the cover to see if it was the real deal inside there. They don’t waste the nubbly cloth on the fakers.

The lady wouldn’t like it but Granpa would shush her and we’d go home and open that book but only so far. A book is like a man, Granpa would say. You can only bend him so far back until he can’t take it no more and then his back breaks. People always put the book back on the shelf but you can always tell because neither the man nor the book can stand up straight any more after that.

Scheherezade told that Sultan all those stories and it kept her alive and me too.

I’m Mr. Blandings –Only Without The Book Contract, A Maid, Or Two Girls; And Mr. Tissander Won’t Return My Calls

[Editor’s Note: Written in 2005. ]
{Author’s Note: I guess I hadn’t figgered out the Intertunnel doesn’t pay by the word yet. There is no editor.}Let’s be positive today. Nary a discouraging word, as they say.

O.K. I’m positive that Hollywood hasn’t made ten movies as good and entertaining as “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” in the intervening 57 years since it was made. Yup, I’m positive.

Hollywood is in a slump, according to Variety. People don’t plunk it down reflexively at the box office any more. Lots of head scratching up and down the Sunset Strip. Well, let me give you some hints, over there on the west coast, about why we’re not buying as much of this piffle as previously: It’s because it’s crap.

It always was crap, I know. When I was a kid, TV was in black and white, and had three or four channels. You watched whatever was on it. Period. And if you were home sick from school, propped up with pillows in the bed, fortified with those wonder drugs, aspirin and ginger ale, the one treat you got was the 11 inch black and white TV at the foot of your bed, and bad movies all day long.

TV, with only those three or four channels, still didn’t know how they could possibly fill all those hours. They’d show any drivel: Candlepin bowling for a couple of bucks, or maybe just a gift certificate. Community Auditions. Anyone who’s ever seen Community Auditions can’t watch American Idol. Once you’ve seen the spectacle of an overfed adolescent in a tutu twirling a baton to a lounge combo version of a Sousa march, nothing else will do.

But of all the dreck, Dialing for Dollars was king. Dialing for Dollars was a local show, where a bad radio announcer would host an interminable movie in the afternoon, and occasionally pause to pick bits of a shredded phonebook out of a rotating basket, and call the phone number on the scrap. At first, the available technology didn’t even allow you to hear the person being called, making the tableau seem even stranger than it was. If the person was home, and watching the movie, and could identify the movie, and knew the exact amount of cash they were giving away, they won a few bucks. Think of those odds. The unintentional comedy factor was pretty high; picture watching, watching mind you, a bad emcee count on his fingers and intone: One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Four Rings…

People would actually answer their phones back then, and talk to whoever was on the line. No call screening. No unlisted numbers. No cold call salesman. No answering machines yet. Hell, the host would still reach party lines occasionally back then. For you youngsters, a party line was a phone circuit that served several homes, because phone lines used to be precious, and expensive. The phone would ring slightly differently for each user, and your neighbors could pick up their phones and listen to your conversations if they felt like it. And so occasionally the host would be talking to three shut-ins at the same time, none of whom were watching his movie.

The host would mostly get elderly ladies, who didn’t know what day it was, never mind what the movie was, and started talking to the guy as if they were restarting a conversation they had started in 1936, and he’d sit there, politely trying to get an interjection in edgewise, always failing, and looking at the camera like it was an oncoming freight train. Finally, he’d get the question out, and the women would say:

“What did you say your name was, again?”

And he’d always say: “Buh Bye” sweetly, and they’d add ten bucks to the till, and he’d PUT THE PHONE NUMBER BACK IN THE BIN. Try, try again, indeed.

The more upscale local station tried a bit of class by showing the same dreadful movies at midnight on the weekends, but with a host in a tuxedo. He’d stand on a set reminiscent of a Busby Berkley musical, in bow tie and tails, and try to find something interesting to say about the movie. There was a problem. The fellow hosting the show used to be Bozo the Clown on Saturday mornings, and we all knew it. And try as he might to be urbane, many of us would always look at him and smirk. That poor fellow spent his whole rest of his life trying to be suave and sophisticated, but the greasepaint and fright wig always showed somehow, like a tattoo you got when you were young and drunk, and regretted for every waking moment for the rest of your life.

Off topic perhaps, but I met his son once. I attended a party at the local junior college, the summer between high school and college. The college had always had the reputation as a place where wealthy people send their ne’er-do-well children to dry out and be babysat by the faculty, until they could ram them back into the real college that had expelled them for partying too much. My friends and I were just the poor local schlubs, very out of place, and must have looked like the dead end kids to these little inebriant fauntleroys. We were the guests of a lovely young lady who was dating a friend of mine. The movie host’s son was there, drunk as a lord, and began hitting unmercifully on my friend’s girlfriend, right in front of him. My friend could have disassembled the little blighter into his component limbs, and stacked them like cordwood if he’d had the mind to, but he was a gentle sort, and slow to anger. The little cretin eventually brought out what I’m sure he thought were his big guns: Do you know who my father is?

I butted in: “I sure do. He’s Bozo!”

This was not the answer he was looking for. He withdrew.

Anyway, eventually you saw every movie ever made- good, bad or indifferent. Occasionally they’d show a good movie like “Blandings,” by mistake perhaps. And you got a perspective on how hard it is to make a really good movie. It must be difficult, there’s so many of them, but so few worth watching.

What I suspect, however, is that recently they’re not really trying to entertain us anymore. They really don’t seem to care that a vast majority of potential viewers, me included, don’t need to see another movie about a hit man with a heart of gold. Forty five of them a year for the last ten years has fulfilled my need for comic murderers, thank you. I’d rather see stories about interesting and attractive people, like the Blandings.

“Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” was made in 1948. It was essentially remade in the 1980s, with uneven effect, but still with enough of the original’s luster to shine on through, as “The Money Pit.” Tom Hanks and Diane from “Cheers” made a good comic team, and we own that one too and wqtch it occasionally. But Blandings is king.

Cary Grant is da bomb. Cary Grant is a movie star. Picture Tom Cruise sitting on a couch across from Jay Leno. That’s a very small picture, even if you have widescreen television. Now picture Cary Grant sitting across from Johnny Carson. They’re both too big for the screen, no matter how big it is.

Everybody in Hollywood is a homunculus compared to Cary Grant. He’s dead, and in black and white, and my wife still reminds me: “You know, Cary Grant is a babe.”
Grrr. Yeah, I know.

And unlike modern actors, he can act. Not Olivier acting. I mean, “Hamlet” isn’t in danger of breaking out in the middle of one of his movies. But you only need so much Hamlet in your life; somebody tell a joke, will ya? Cary Grant knew how to.

And Myrna Loy was a babe. She had the looks of the woman you would marry, and stay that way. She started her career as a vamp, but morphed into a matron eventually. The vamp always showed, though, like a glimpse of garter, and I still remind my wife: “Myrna was a babe, you know.”

Grrr. Yeah, I know, she says.

And Myrna knew how to deliver her lines for their full comic effect. Most actresses today sound like they’re reading that shredded phonebook I mentioned earlier, aloud. Without their glasses.
The story is and interesting cultural artifact about city folks building their house out in the countryside. It’s funny to hear them talk about Western Connecticut like it’s out on the prairie, and bucolic as Vermont. Mr. Blanding’s house would fetch tens of millions of dollars today. But the story is universal, for anybody that builds a house, and raises children, and works at a job. The humor is the sort that’s a lost art these days. It’s quiet, and self effacing, and subtle. Mark Twain used to rail against people that “told jokes.” He knew how to be funny, which is to tell a story in a humorous way, and avoided punchline fodder. And a movie, a comic movie, is just telling a story in a humorous way, isn’t it? It should be. This one is.

And it’s interesting to look through the actors who have small parts in the movie. They all know what they’re doing, and push the story along nicely. Only a a fetishist would recognize more than a few of them by name, but they all look familiar. Then you look up their resumes, and are amazed:

Louise Beavers, who plays their maid, and comes up with the advertising slogan that pays for that house, was in 163 movies!

Harry Shannon, the well driller, who has the best scenes in the movie, appeared in 149 movies. I vaguely remember him shooting at John Wayne, or shooting at the someone else with John Wayne, a few times.

Nestor Paiva, who plays an appraiser for 30 seconds in the movie, was in 186 movies.
And Jason Robards (Senior) knew how to work. He appeared in no fewer than 206 movies, and then had a son to be in a few hundred more.

And you know why they worked like that. They were professional, and people that knew how to write and produce movies knew enough to use accomplished and dependable actors, and tried mightily to entertain us. They still do entertain us, though they’re all dead now.

It’s the live people in Hollywood that have forgotten how, or never knew.

I Need Old Lessons (Still, Again, Whatever)

[Editor’s Note: Re-run from so long ago you can’t recall it or didn’t see it anyway]
{Author’s Note: I’m busy and there is no editor and even if there was I’d have him sanding things instead of editing}

I’m not old, really.

I don’t mind the idea of getting old — I guess. I hate many of the early manifestations of it, of course. I don’t like waking up feeling worse than when I went to sleep. There was some creaking in the hips after pulling my toddler son in a wagon all over creation on Hallowe’en. The calendar really does have a sense of urgency now; it never did when I was young and dumb.

So I’m ready to learn. I’m in the market for Old Lessons, but no one’s selling. Everybody justs acts like overgrown teenagers until the day they die. And I’m not interested.

You see, I’d like to be dignified, at least a bit. Is that so hard to understand? Forget the calendar; just hanging around long enough to see bell bottom pants come and go and come again is enough for me to think: I’m getting off this crazy train.

I don’t want a second wife. I don’t need any Viagra.

I don’t want to listen to Jay-Z records… I mean discs… grrrrr… downloads.

I don’t want to dress like an effeminate Frenchman and wear a helmet to ride a bicycle. I don’t want to wear sneakers to funerals.

I don’t want to get married on a beach by a Vegan Wiccan mail order minister, while releasing doves. I don’t want to go to Disneyland – and leave my children home. I don’t want to get dressed up for Hallowe’en.

I don’t want to watch television. I don’t want to paint my face to attend sporting events and run on the field. I’d prefer to dress like Tom Landry. I think all the coaches should dress like Tom Landry, too.

I don’t want to drink out of a great big sippie cup all the time, like a gigantic infant, just because you’ve all decided that you’re dehydrated.

Note to the world: Coca-Cola, and all its brethren, is candy. It’s sugar dissolved in fizzy water. Only latchkey children eat candy all day long. Note also that Diet Coke and all its brethren are diet candy. Diet candy is for diabetics. What kind of person eats diet candy all day long? I don’t know, but they’re not going to be giving me any adult lessons. I’ll have a glass of water, thanks. In a glass. A glass glass.

I don’t want to see Lindsey Lohan naked. I don’t want to see Lindsey Lohan clothed. No bungie jumping. No fantasy camp. No Zima. I don’t want a Dodge Viper. I refuse to walk around with things stuck in my ears to listen to rock music that I could recite from memory anyway. I don’t want a tattoo. I don’t want an earring. I don’t want a Harley.

I don’t want to give anybody a high five.

I like it when the clerk at the bank calls me “sir”. But then again, I always did. I’m not “dood.” I don’t want anyone to ask me for my driver’s license when I buy booze. There were 48 states when I was born, and one telephone company, kid. Give me my booze.

And no — no diet beer. That’s for little girls. I’m a man. And I’m going to be an old man someday…

If it kills me.

Wait For It

Cary Grant Versus Marvin Gaye

What did I do before the internet? Oh, yes. I watched Cary Grant movies, and listened to Marvin Gaye records.

The End Of History

A few years ago, a pack of morons who shall remain nameless remarked that we’d come to “the end of history.” Since we’re gettin’ history, full-bore and in spades every day, I think that remark and all the people who seized on it need to be ridiculed as the myopic narcissists they were, and are. BTW, electing people that claim that problems stop because they’re in charge is unwise. I indulge my children by closing the closet door at bedtime because they’re afraid a monster might be in there looking at them. If there really was a monster in there, I wouldn’t tell them to go to sleep and close the door anyway. There’s no monster scarier than Dad.

Sam Cooke has one of the loveliest voices in the history of lovely voices. It was fun to hear it lilt over that compendium of things. I’ve been around for a while. These people are not my contemporaries, but none of them are obscure to me, either. What a rollicking half-century it’s been, chock-a-block full of history, really. Did you know everybody in there? They made some history for themselves, instead of stickin’ their fingers in their ears and going lalalalalala…. Try it, it’s fun. The history, I mean.

Month: November 2007

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