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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Roswell's Ghost

The chopper flew in low over the arid desert plane, which had just landed owing to its arid condition in search of the fuel truck near the end of this makeshift runway in Tacos, New Mexico. We were behind schedule and Ford hadn’t helped any by his impromptu rescue of what he laughingly referred to as the ‘alien’.

When he’d finally set down over by the cratering truck, (a catering truck sinking into a crater – duh…) I hustled over to where he landed and beckoned him.

“Jesus Harry, we’re sucking sunlight here and you’re off chasing after…” I looked at the tarp he had thrown over the thing, then back at him. He looked up at me, with that Harrison Ford twinkle, and realizing he had disarmed me again, smiled.

“You won’t believe it. This thing is the real deal.” He was enthusiastic. I was skeptical.

We were shooting second unit stunts with Ford and Daniel Craig for the film, Cowhards and Lizard People From Qantolopopolous (later shortened to Cowboys and Lizard People)*. It wasn’t going well. I was fresh off my script ER work on the ill-fated Spunky Does series when I got a call to direct some touchy second unit stuff with the principals from the film. As Spunky didn’t, I needed a break, so I caught a flight to Taos, New Mexico and things got weird.

*later shortened to Little Greeny

It turns out there is a Taos New Mexico and a Tacos New Mexico and that pretty much everyone involved in the project ended up in the wrong place, Jimmy Smits completely befuddled landed in Chimichanga, Old Mexico. So, by the time I had assembled everyone, I was in no mood to fuck around.

Unfortunately for me, Harrison Ford was always in the mood to fuck around. And as he was the money shot, (sorry Danny, we had some good times, but you know Han Solo trumps Bond every time – so get over it) I had to play along to keep him mollified.

At first it was drunken pranks, we’d sit up drinking until late and then guess who on the crew was gay, then call gay escorts to their hotel rooms and bet which ones would end up staying. Tacos has a major underground gay scene, literally in bunkers to protect them from illegal aliens, outer space aliens and Dick Cheney and we found some of the overnighters a little surprising – and you know who I’m talking to, Danny.

Anyway, it didn’t take long for Harrison to get bored with the gender preferences of the crew and others, and take up more troublesome exploits to stave his advancing ennui. We barely avoided a national incident when he loaded about 500 gallons of black paint into hoppers on his chopper and set about painting some of the White Sands military installation black. We had 2 F-16s on us until one of the pilots made visual confirmation that the pilot was indeed Indiana Jones so they let him finish painting, then blew it up after we flew out of visual range. Some great guys. My ass.

Daniel Craig, drunk again, (Christ, it was 10:00 in the fucking morning, what is with these Brits?) sauntered over and glanced between Harrison and the tarp strapped to the skid of his chopper. Ford had set it up for medical carry so whatever he was up to was contained on a stretcher, lashed down under the tarp.

“I saw it while flying over the mesa. I landed up on a dune and snuck up on the little bugger.” His eyes twinkled, “Fought like a son of a bitch. Lucky I didn’t get bit.”

We peered underneath and saw the oddest creature. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. They made it all sticky and all but impossible for me to see. I pulled back and gave them a quick rinse with a bota bag I carried for just such emergencies, sweet, sweet saline solution. The critter either belched or farted, as I couldn’t tell one end from another it was impossible to determine.

Meanwhile, Craig was vomiting onto the pavement, mostly due to the wretched smells emanating from the “thing” we had just taken hostage – but his drunkenness usually led to a puking frenzy some time during each shooting day so it wasn’t out of the ordinary. Just horribly disgusting.

We had both seen plenty of weird things lately, but this last was a real doozy. It looked like a family of five all living in the same body, oddly potato like, but very spewish. It writhed around, almost appeared to be copulating with itself and made all manner of unfortunate sounds

What was it? Where did it come from? Could we eat it? Seriously, I was getting hungry and really needed to know. The cratering truck had cratered completely – I told them not to park there but the stupid bastards wouldn’t listen and now we had to send all the way back to Tacos for burritos.

I lay flat down and examined the creature more closely. It was scared, that’s all I could tell. Harrison was all full of himself, puffed up as if he had discovered a new species. He addressed no one in particular as the crew began to congregate.

“Think I caught an alien. A, a real one, not like someone from Mexico.”

The thing made a sound “Dekkerssssszzz” then deflated into nothing. I looked at Harrison. “Nice Harry, real nice. Now can we get on with our real reason for being here…?”

Harrison looked perplexed and befuddled. “What the…? What did you do? The…”

I squared off with him, just like Lou did with Jake in Chinatown, Craig in the background wiping spittle from his mouth, “Harry. It’s Roswell.”


Stupid Hair

I often hear people talk about having a “bad hair day.” This is a social indicator of individual displeasure at not looking as good as you did, say, the night before when everyone was looking at you through beer goggles. At least as good as you thought you looked. The sad admission that, no matter how hard you tried, your physical self was intent on not living up to your mental expectation, or at least desire, of how it should be best presented to an unsuspecting public.

“I’m having a bad hair day” has entered our cliché lexicon and very pleased we are with it.

I doubt that I have ever had a good hair day. Ever. You see, I have stupid hair. This is no reflection on its intellect (as most hair would be hard pressed to even register on the SATs), just my acknowledged exasperation at having hair with a mind of its own. Regardless of my desire or best efforts, my hair does just as it chooses, consistently in direct contravention to my own wishes for it. It’s an amazing thing to see. Amusing. Fairly goofy-looking with no assistance, when my hair enters the picture I am destined to the ignominy of total goofydom.

An apt representation of what lives beneath its wild and unpredictable depths, it shoots out all directions at once, is multi-colored (though this year has seen much of that leave) and most of it insanely curly, with the odd straight ones just to make sure we all know who’s in charge. No amount of grease or unguent can contain its unruly design: short, it defines piles of curls that all have different places to go at the same time; long, I can bind it, but it either compresses into a single homogeneous swirl of hair, with lots of delightful stragglers tickling my face and ears and pretty much just floating around halo-like, or becomes a huge poof, a Brillo pad of fuzz attached to the back of my neck with a frenzy of flying facial follicles.

As I become an oldling, it has taken on migratory patterns displeasing to the split-end user, deserting the top of my head, making my face a huge spotty bean, and reappearing on my back. I’m concerned this progression could leave me entirely bald with a nice furry tail. I suppose a tail would at least offer some compensatory value to chrome-domery but I prefer my hair atop Mount C Rage where it belongs, not fleeing in shame out the back way.

Then to make it worse, it’s taken to growing out my ears. What is that shit? Why do I need hairy ears? I’m not a fucking Hobbit or some barnyard buddy. It’s hard enough for me to hear as it is without my ears going for a look. I’ve never seen ears with a nice style job, they just look fuzzy and odd. And to add a little slap, my mustache is growing up my nose. It was always a separate entity from my nose hairs; they were neighbors, got along fine.
Perhaps too fine as they now appear to be cohabitating. I am at a loss to define the evolutionary value of hairy ears and nostrils, but aesthetically they are irritating nonsense.

Some would suggest the completely shaved head as a means of coping. This is a thoroughly unsatisfactory solution. At its very root it signals surrender, a pyrrhic victory to remove an offender that was leaving on its own…Slowly…But in that I would have to face an even grimmer reality: I would look impossibly goofy with no hair. My head is oddly shaped and were it exposed in its entirety, I would likely be relegated to sideshow status, which would at least accord me steady employment and an audience.

But of course, the main issue is the shaving. I hate shaving my face and it’s right there in front of me. My head goes all the way around the back, to regions I rarely view and can see only with considerable difficultly. There seems an inherent danger in thrashing around the back of one’s head with a plastic machete. And once back there, where does one stop clear cutting with the back forest in full bloom? It goes on and on… Shaving my head wouldn’t reduce my GQ (Goofiness Quotient) and would require even more maintenance, with blades of varying degrees of sharpness. This is not an option.

My head hair fleeing down my back, my face hair being completely ridiculous and inappropriate, I seem to be in the midst of some kind of insurgency of attrition by militant hairrorists, though I’m disinclined to wage a count hair revolution. Guess I’ve always had a soft spot for kinky rebels. What little of my hair that still remains covers it nicely…

© simmbiosis 10/6/14

Mom

Let me tell you about my mom. Because really, to truly understand a person, you kinda need to know where they came from. My mom is where I came from: popped right out of her…well, probably not that easily. According to the popular recollection, my dad put me in her initially, so clearly as with all things mammalian, I am product of a group effort. It might not take a village, but a couple of families and distillery will deliver in a pinch.

Jan, as I am wont to call her when not using her maternal title, was a product of the Great Depression, the one in the 1930s that the bankers used to gin us for World War II. Youngest of 3 sisters, her dad died when she was 2, and for a time she grew up with a stepfather. A drinker unsurprisingly, as this culture is particularly good at producing those as well. Jan told of how Jim, her stepdrunk, would hide bottles around the house to make it seem that his drunkenness was in fact a glandular condition that only smelled of rye.

Jan and her sisters were all redheads – a gingery lot. I remember how the room seemed on fire when they would get together, their behivey hairdos arching toward the ceiling, threatening to ignite the insulation. Spots? You bet. They were a freckly collective, Jan to my recollection the spottiest of them all. They proved contagious, those spots, and I ended up with the little bastards all over me too while my brother, with the hairline, has none. My sister got a few.

I got my Dad’s gender and my Mom’s spots. Among many other attributes as well. Didn’t get the red hair thing, so I dodged that additional torture, but my parents’ head genetics combined to give me a noggin of the curliest Goddamned hair you’ve ever seen. Short, its ringlets jockey for position of cranial primacy; long, it is a diaphanous hydra lashing out in all directions simultaneously, independently. Quite the thing to see.

Then of course there’s the hairline issue. The last time I saw my Dad he lay in silent repose upon the mortician’s slab. Through my tears I noted that while his mind, then body, had wasted away into ineffectiveness, he had a perfect hairline. Thick, defined, still had a little color. My Mom’s hair is fairly thin in age. That’s the hair I got, the thin curly stuff.

Bill, my dad, liked his drink. And upon deciding that she was inextricably linked with him, Jan decided to become a drinker as well. And as many Americans (and non-Americans alike) they would enjoy the occasional libation. Every day. As it was legal, readily available without a prescription and promoted widely, she joined the majority of drinkers in the notion that it is safe, forgetting that war is legal, readily available and prescribed regularly and promoted widely but is in fact quite dangerous.

A notion I would come to by and by.
Fueled by similar logic and deep cravings for acceptance then relief, my folks smoked cigarettes as well. My dad changed brands on occasion based likely upon what the rugged, manly individual on the TV told him would best fulfill his vaporous machismo needs, but my mom was a loyalist, and to the best of my recall smoked Salem menthols in the green pack. By their 50s they both hung that fun up.

And good for them.

In his 50s my dad also stopped drinking, which was good for everyone else, but signified in him the death of his childlike/childish joys, which I suspect led to his deterioration. He gave up.

Jan, on the other hand, likes her drink to this day. While it might be suggested that combining a tumbler of vodka with a handful of pharmaceuticals could be dangerous, Jan abides now in her 80s. In this an argument could be posited that our addictions sustain us as we must work to sustain them. Gives us something to do, gives us something to look forward to. As I get old I understand this.

Mom was afflicted. The tensions of life with Bill; raising a spoiled little boy while contending with a self-indulgent adult boy; a couple of miscarriages; then a damaged boy and finally an even more spoiled girl led to her back ailments, many and excruciatingly unpleasant. Body affliction leads to pill addiction, and as the years progressed, so did Jan’s dependence on the things which palliated her symptoms, for in cure comes diminished sales receipts. And in the USA we invent afflictions to profit from the cure. Just like with our computers.

I can’t say how much of my crazy mom was my crazy mom and how much was the combination of pharmaceuticals with the psychological stressors attendant in her life. She came of age during the USA’s mass chemical testing on its citizens and was certainly impacted by it as were (and are) we all. Upon reflection I see a person in pain reacting to all kinds of new and untested substances more than the angry lady that used to chase me around the house yelling at me.

When I had reached teenage, Mom made an acquisition (or two) that certainly changed my life. She bought a piano. A big old upright. Then she bought a player piano. The upright was boomy and loud and out of tune, just like me, and we fell into immediate accord. I recall the joy of watching the player piano work its magic and marveling at all the amazing sounds such devices can manifest. Bill was really into music so my interest in piano held little appeal to him because he saw I would never make any money with it. Mom, I think, takes pleasure in the fact I can make music, and she actually liked some of my songs of old. Probably doesn’t mind some of my current ones either.

Some.
My dad was good with the English language and had a sense of humor. Mom has an infectious laugh. A useful combination as I learned young a good way to relieve distress was to get a laugh. Unsurprisingly, distress increased as the innocent guilt of childhood metamorphosed into the guilty innocence of teenage. I was called upon more often to find humor in the myriad unfortunate situations I got into, which made some of them better, but only served to exacerbate most.

I would suggest that this has led to my creative endeavor in life. As the solitary child for nearly 3 years, my primacy was usurped by first my brother then 11 months later, my sister. I went from all the attention (at least the good attention) to barely any at all. In Showoffitude I realized the means to recapturing the spotlight. Mom’s receptiveness to my goofiness evolved as my goofiness developed into useful capacities.

I know that the positive rewards I realized as a boy drive my creativity still, even though I’ve long since given up trying to impress my mom. Maybe with music a little, but for the most part, my family from top to bottom don’t much cotton to what I create, so I impose it upon them less and less. Which is fine. We each have tastes peculiar to us and I mine are far too peculiar for most.

Mom is very feisty. She terrified all of us kids and Bill when we were young and has never been one to want in her expression of her perspective. If she felt we should know what she was displeased by, she was always very ready to let us know. Curiously, she was displeased by a lot. We were fairly rambunctious as children, growing into positively dangerous as we got older.

She got involved in politics fairly young, likely owing to Bill’s political awareness, and ran and served in local county politics when I was teenaged and getting into all kinds of mischief. I’m sure my behaviors didn’t advance her political aspirations. She takes pride in her civic activism and I suspect she enjoyed her foray into politics more than she would have had it become a career. Even from a spectator’s perspective it is corrupting.

In our non-religious house, politics became the subject of esteem. Jan is a life-long Republican and fiercely proud of it. Just like Bill. I was raised very conservative with strong libertarian leanings, as Bill was not a big fan of Drug Prohibition and repeatedly expressed that the Constitution made no provision for the legislation of morality. Jan is more Law & Order: it doesn’t matter if it is right or not, if it is the law, it must be enforced. I suspect her exception (as with everyone) is when it is applied to her and those close to her. She didn’t like my drug use, she hated it for a period, but I don’t think my time behind bars as a result of it made her very happy either.

Even though I was just an asshole kid, I was still her asshole kid.
And while I find many positions she holds to be in tension with my perspectives, I don’t see my mom as a liar. My dad either. Mistaken perhaps, an easy mantel to hoist, but I have no recollection of them lying to me or promoting the idea that mendacity paid dividends. They believed what they said and didn’t allow me to think lying was a good thing. The result is that I am a terrible liar and more truthful (or direct) than polite society prefers.

In this I learned to own my shit. Everyone is happy to jump in with reminders of their successes, but Mom inculcated in me the importance of accepting my failures as well and, perhaps more importantly, admitting them. Owning my actions is something I am pleased I was raised with; wish more had been raised with it.

I consider myself among the fortunate few who get to enjoy really good lives. I grew up in a good time, good conditions surrounded by good people for the most part. I’ve had an amazing amount of joy. Fun, lots of fun. If I could have been any person at any time in history I’d still be me now (or George Clooney) because most of the people in history are dead and I like being alive. A lot. And even in my usual privation I live better than most while even George Clooney can’t do what I can do. So, he’ll just have to settle for remaining himself.

Mom is a fighter and that above all other traits I prize because I got some of her whiner and the fighter helps me modify it into qualities less repellant. When I’m feeling sorry for myself, Bill will pipe up, “Don’t be a baby, you baby.” To which Jan will respond, “I’m not a baby. You’re a baby…” And I will usually grab for some intoxicant or another to push them back with the full understanding that no matter how old I get, how smart or how stupid, no matter what I do with the remainder of my life, they will always be in there guiding me, driving me.

I take a certain comfort in that.

(They insisted I include that…)

Thanks, Ma.

6/17/14

Bastard

When I was young and had the occasion to run afoul of my mother (an occurrence more than just occasional), she would call me a bastard. Occasionally. When my dad would transgress, as he was indeed wont to do, she would call him that as well: a bastard. Now in my case that was a certainly less self-denigrating insult than calling me ‘son-of-a-bitch’ if only by degrees. When she would talk to Opal, Bill’s mom, she would refer to him as a son-of-a-bitch. In later years she claimed she didn’t realize what she was saying.

Clearly one could apply the same standard to calling one’s son a bastard: the insult self-applied in the inherent suggestion of one’s dodgy morality. It could be in no way my fault that I am or am not a bastard from a biological standpoint – I was too ill-formed to have any real influence on the matter. So it becomes an odd insult at best when directed at one’s offspring. Indeed that moniker applied, regardless of where, is a commentary on someone’s parents’ behaviors and is no way reflective of the child’s choice. If it was up to us, we’d all be George Clooney.

As I got old enough to consider simple mathematical equations I realized my parents’ anniversary was a mere 8 months from my birthday. While mature beyond my years, it was never indicated that I arrived any earlier than my allotted 9 months – conditions were cozy, I was well tended, why vacate before the lease is up? I say… But simple math confirms: my Mom was with me before she married my Dad.

I am of virgin birth.

Or my Mom wasn’t necessarily as chaste as she led many of us to believe. In fact, whenever I alluded to said sidereal discrepancy, she was quick to giggle and avoid the subject completely. As avoidance was how we dealt with many issues around our house, it wasn’t out of the ordinary. As she didn’t admit to having premarital hummana-hummana with my Dad nor did she deny the virgin birth possibility, I ran with the likely rather than the divine explanation, always holding out the grander hope…

You see, I am very different from my family. My family is crazy. Don’t get me wrong, I am crazy as well, being a part of the whole ‘family’ aspect of the observation. The difference is (as it usually is) is that I know I am crazy. I’m not homicidal or anything, don’t have special relationships with my stuffed bunny or whatever, but I understand by any rational measure – you know, what society presents as rational – I am crazy.

My family (what remains of them) accepts that I am crazy, but – here’s the scary part – they think they are sane. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that the only truly sane members of my crazy family are the ones, like me, who understand they are crazy. Of particular interest to no one in particular, there is no one in my family like me.

I suspect now that I might understand why.

This has been a hard year by any measure. Started out destitute, and after visiting a dear friend who was recovering from lung cancer, got terribly ill while repairing a piss-saturated deck at Bobby Kennedy’s kid’s house in the Palisades. For half a month’s rent. In March, my nephew died horribly in a single-car collision. In June, Gayle was felled by that cancer and in July my mother died. For 2 weeks, I traveled a thousand miles of the deepest grief I believe I have yet known.

Before my Mom died she called me and asked me to come and see her. At this point she had entered hospice and knew the end was near, so her request for me to come back was very sad but understandable. I was working on the ESPN machine so I told her I’d be up in early June. But the check got tied up, as checks will, and by the time we were able to head Northward I got the call: Gayle had passed. Pat, my oldest friend, was utterly devastated.

The trip became immensely harder.

Upon arrival, we found Jan doped out of her skull on huge amounts of morphine and an endless panoply of other chemical emollients, an oxygen tube wrapped around her face. Death seemed imminent, and all communications had that dream/nightmare quality as she shifted about in her drug haze talking to people who weren’t present and preparing for events long past. Moments of recognition were punctuated with moments of confused terror, delusion and paranoia.
I hearkened back to my Dad’s death in 2001. Alzheimer’s took him down slow and hard, leaving him lost and terrified, coveting death. Begging for it. Of course a humane society doesn’t allow people who have deteriorated so awfully that only death will end their suffering to die with dignity, so Bill soldiered through until catatonia stole his motor function and held out till I could send him off.

People I know have bad deaths. Sorry to those of you I know. Keeping that in mind, I recommend all those I know to have good lives just in case this horrid trend continues.

One moment of lucidity will stay with me the remainder of my days: my son Errol (who had been caring for her for some time before we arrived), Robin and I were with Jan when the haze cleared and she knew us all. She was pleased we were there, together, especially as her other two children who lived more locally couldn’t make the trip. Errol set up the CD player and put on The Moment, my first piano concerto, which astounded and pleased Jan greatly. She was amazed at what her boy had created, at what he could do.

I told her, “I made that but you made me so this music wouldn’t exist if not for you. You’ve made the world a more beautiful place.” The look of satisfaction on that one face in that single instant made all the work required to create it dissipate into delight. Art can do that. The moment shared.

Before Jan went down, and she went down very hard with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, she had an unexpected burst of lucidity. She had joined wonder-girl Robin and me for a compelling little chat that I had the occasion to record in which she offered the real reason for needing to see me: she needed to get something off her chest.

As her coherence was dodgy at best, at first I didn’t pick up on what she was saying. Some of the conversation was to me while big parts of it (the juicy stuff) had me as a neutral unnamed 3rd party to whom she confided about me. She made it clear to us that she didn’t want me to know about this. She’d kept it a secret my entire life, apparently only her mother knew:

Bill wasn’t my biological father.

That honor/disgrace belonged to someone in San Pedro named Tidwell. While dating Bill, she had messed around with Tidwell, found herself with child (zygoat) and seduced Bill with the notion that the little bundle of freedom-ending responsibility gestating in her womb was of his delight. She indicated that he never found out.

She had tricked my father into marrying her under the pretext that he had knocked her up, and he raised me under the belief that my curly, reddish hair and spots were the natural outcome of his natural manly outpouring. I have lived the entirety of my life under this perception. If he had any idea, he never let me know.

“The only charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception necessary for both parties…” – Oscar Wilde

I’ll admit I was fairly surprised by this revelation. 58 years seems a long time to keep secret what some might imagine as relatively significant information. Learning about your real father when there might actually be a possibility he’s still vital seems more likely to achieve any hope of a functional relationship. Expand the Christmas card list, that kind of thing. But she kept it, her private little embarrassment, all to herself.

Grown larger each passing thought, the secret becomes more difficult to tell the longer it hides.

Such secrets, it seems, become a burden and as with all burdens, the longer you carry them, the more back-breaking they become. All who knew Jan knew of her back afflictions. It would seem in trying to put something she couldn’t face behind her, the weight necessarily became more crippling each year until she could carry it no more. At the end, she gave it to me, with the tease of relevance, plummeted into the hospital, and within a few days, was dead.

Taking the short view, this could be seen as selfish and a little cold; keeping the true biological nature of a child’s parentage from them the entirety of their life, then achieving catharsis by dropping it on them at the last moment, callous.

The long view affords a more palatable palliative: when she called me a bastard, she was just being honest.

RIP Jan Simmons 5/20/31 – 7/7/14

7/31/14

A Little Chat

When I entered the room, everything was already in place. I appreciate good prep and well understand the revealed costs of sloppy planning, having too many times spent precious hours compensating for amateurism and the preciousness of dilettantism. These jobs can be so messy when not properly attended, and posers and show-offs merely increase the difficulty of a hard circumstance.
I am an executioner. I receive pay and even the occasional plaudit for making people offensive to my employer non-existent. To that end, often at my discretion, usually at direct request, I see to it that those dispatched enjoy a journey of agony so remarkably intense that demise is a welcomed mercy at my hand. Often the pain inflicted is sufficient to send my subjects into the great beyond without further inducement on my part.

Which is fine. I find no particular joy in my work, it is but a job and one few are properly suited to. Through training and practice one develops skills, but the drive to such avocation must exist innate: executioners are born then made good through work. Those who take up the work owing to some psychopathology or sociopathology invariably leave the field, often the way many of their subjects do – by death’s official hand. I’ve dispatched more than a few.

Today was different – a little moonlighting. A favor to a friend if you will. Death was not the object, no. Something much deeper and more grievous – I would find this wretch’s spirit and rip it from him. I would eviscerate without ever touching a blade. I’m just that good.

I didn’t know him, didn’t know why, don’t care. Ever. Not my place. I am a technician, an engineer of pain, of death, but not a moral authority or judge. I seek no confession or repentance, I offer no atonement. Those fall out of the purview of my department. I’m the nuts and bolts guy, dealing in hard realities, not squishy abstracts. Salvation? Repentance? Take it to the man in the dress if you want someone to feel your pain. You come to me, you feel your own as well as any I can muster for you.

Usually I work in a fairly sterile official environment – blank walls, tile floor with a drain, good light but not too bright (I have my vision to consider), a rolling worktable for my tools, and a single metal chair or gurney for the subject. Intensity Rooms, as we call them, are ideally isolated with good sound-proofing and access to running water. Water is vital for cleaning up as well as making a mess out of someone, so a good room always has a nozzle.

As I wasn’t working in my usual institutional environment I was pleased at the steps taken to assure my maximum effectiveness. The room appeared as an add-on to a residential house: tile floor, glass walls, decent ceiling clearance.

It had been cleared of everything but a single chair, upon which the subject had the occasion to be lashed. The walls were enshrouded in black to control the light, visibility, and to deaden sound. As this was to transpire in a fairly populated suburban setting, I took the unusual step of turning on some music, giving it some volume. It was just me and him. As it should be.

The music was my own, something driving yet grating, like running the finest edge of a cheese grater across the inside of your skull, back and forth with increasing urgency. I wisely wore earplugs: often even with gags and other sonic muffling accoutrements the subject can manifest cries so shrill as to leave one with hearing loss if not adequately prepared. My ears still ring from an evisceration in Wrilling where the subject shook so violently as to dislodge my ear protection and render me permanently impaired.
Such are the hazards of such work. Beats plumbing…
He was naked but for a sack over his head. His hands were cuffed behind him and he was additionally secured to the chair (which was bolted to the floor) by his ankles. He wasn’t going anywhere. I had all day.
I stepped over to him after setting my toolkit on the table which had been set for me. As the music wailed I leaned in close to his head. “Can you hear me now?” I ground my boot heel on his left foot’s little toes, crushing them. He shuddered then slammed his bagged head right into my nose, breaking it, blood gushing. He had spirit. Even pained, I found that to be good. I was there to remove it, crush it, demolish it, shred it beyond any recognition – I needed to know where it was.

I stood, grabbing my bleeding nose with my left hand, elbowing his face with my right, knocking a few teeth out. They oozed out in a bloody drool under the sack which obscured him from me. He heard me.

I was furious, more at myself than him. I hadn’t even changed out of my street clothes, my shirt was saturated with blood – my blood. I got cocky, and the pro knows that getting cocky is a sure way to get yourself fucked up. And with no one more so than a person you are about to kill, a person who knows you are going to kill them. They don’t tend toward tolerance or ready compliance – most when pressed will fight to stay alive.

In those moments, I am the one they fight. Hence the precautions. I am the vanguard against run-amok disregard for rule of authority: after me comes chaos. With me comes chaos controlled. That is the role of the executioner: chaos controlled.
He got me right on the nose. Assuredly broken. It hurt an awful lot, my eyes welled with tears. I instinctively looked around: any cameras? The threat of embarrassment overcame the pain of injury, an amazing condition. Upon establishing our privacy, the throbbing became one with the pulsing musical beat swirling around us in our special time together, and I grabbed some cotton and stuffed it in my nose. My shirt was a mess. I was annoyed.

I took it off and considered it – if I didn’t give it a good cleaning right now, it was lost. I was at work: lost. I set it aside; I would make use of it soon enough. Long ago I determined to accept loss or personal failure with dispassion – my line of work is about loss and personal failure, to get trapped by sentiment is to perish. I stepped up and kneed him in the nuts. Even though the chair was bolted to the floor, the impact moved him back at least a foot – he literally compressed under my assault.

Then he expanded! I pulled back just as he erupted in puke and blood, cascading from under the sack, rolling down his chest and belly, pooling around his horribly mashed balls. I stepped back and brushed a little puke and what looked to be part of a tooth from my pant cuff. He trembled violently, sweat pouring from him along with more puke and blood. He definitely heard me.

“You know why you’re here.” A statement, not a question. They always know why they are there and to a person deny it till they can endure it no longer. Many cave rather quickly these days as the pussification of our culture has lowered our threshold of pain. Now it hurts too much to even go to work and everybody sits around whining about their pain online. It sickens me.

He was silent. I wasn’t sure if he was being cagey, thought he was being tough, or had swallowed his tongue, so I posited my suggestion more forcefully by bringing a two-foot length of 1.5-inch steel pipe down on his knee, busting the cap right out of his leg, sending it bouncing across the floor. Must have caught him with the edge. Oh well…

The third option averted, he bellowed, “Cocksucker!” I brought the pipe down hard on his shoulder, shattering his right collarbone. He heaved, flopping that direction, and I hit him upside the head with the pipe, just a tap, to keep him focused. He reeled. His chest and crotch were fairly covered with bloody puke and what looked to be chunks of flesh – he probably bit through his cheek. But still he didn’t cry or beg. Defiance. I like it.

I dropped the pipe end down on his right foot – it caught him on the middle toes, breaking three of them nicely, nearly severing the middle one. He jerked. “Still feel tough huh? I’ve got all day. This is just the intro, you can trust me on that. They’ll be finding pieces of you in coyote shit from here to Pomona.” I grabbed my desecrated shirt and stepped over to him. My kid gave me that shirt. Still, as I had executed him several years back the sentiment just wasn’t there.

I took the shirt and wound it into a fairly tight rope. Wrapping it around his neck, I twisted it tight and pulled him up hard. Holding the shirt in my left hand I began to pummel his face through the bag with my right, pounding, pounding.

Then, one good smack and the bag came off. I beheld the wretch. He had allowed his transitory other pursuits to distract him, he had neglected the one person who stood by him and made her sad. The wretch was I.

I woke with a start. I trembled and noticed I was soaked with sweat. Robin slept peacefully next to me. She had been reading more of her grim tales of monsters of days gone by. Once more, her sickness caught up with my madness and it infected my dreams. Sure, I had missed her birthday gift, I deserved the beating. But I was so sick of her psycho nightmares.

I smacked her on the back of the head and pretended to be asleep. She woke up all kerflubbled.

It’s good being a jerk….

Friday, September 26, 2014

My Favorite Hour (A 50s Memoir)

When I was young, quite young actually, I held a much coveted position as a staff writer for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. It was there I met and worked with some of show business’s most notable comic minds: Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Ernest Hemingway (who only worked the first season) and the always hysterical Topo Gigio.

Originally called His Show of Shows, 47 writers good and true were hired and sacked before they came up with Your Show of Shows. Their Show of His, Our Show of 90 Minutes, A Show of Hands (offered by sponsor Ponds), Skippy’s Peanutorium were all floated and sunk before Sid himself came up with his Your Show of Shows. It was rumored that Mel Brooks came up with the first Your but in Sid’s autobiography Your Book of Books (not to be confused with Mel Brook’s autobiography Your Book of Brooks) Caesar dispels that notion:

“Everybody wanted a piece of the title. Woody Allen ran around for months claiming exclusive rights to the ‘of’. The ‘of’. Who wanted a stupid ‘of’? Oy!”

It was an amazing time and a rare honor, almost raw, to work with such show business luminaries and Hemingway, who mostly contributed fishing sketches and brought the beer. In fact, it is a little known story that the beer was what ultimately led to Hemingway's leaving the team. Sid wasn’t big on fishing to begin with, so most of Ernie’s work ended in the crapper, which led to contention between them.

The break came when Ernie (he despised being called that) submitted receipts for the beer. I’ll never forget Sid’s response: “Forty thousand dollars for beer!? For that I could have bought some Germans and brewed my own!”

When he found out Ernie was the only one drinking it he went through the roof. When we got him back down he kvetched: “This is the funniest thing you’ve submitted since you worked here. And it breaks my heart. I could almost understand import, but Coors?”
And with that, he had Woody Allen fire him. Hemingway was a big man and didn’t begrudge Woody for this; we all knew Sid hating firing people. Especially large, rowdy, drunken people, who liked firearms and shows of masculine physicality. He hated firing those kinds of people.

So Woody took the hit for firing Hemingway. Right cross to the nose if I remember correctly. Sent him reeling over a waste can. While hysterically distressing at the time, after Woody got out of the hospital, all fences were mended, primarily by his legal team of Pinchuck, Moosebine & Berkowitz. With the costly litigation, Ernie was driven into early retirement to enjoy his declining years in peace, I imagine. Don’t know what ever became of him…

Originally Neil Simon worked as part of a writing duo with Art Garfunkel. After the Hemingway debacle, budgets were slashed and belts were tightened (this after the disastrous belt slashing and budget tightening first attempt) and Art was let go. Sid had Mel fire him: I remember Mel’s exact woids, “Dis is television, we sell soap. There’s no place for Art in TV.” As we all know that was later expanded to motion pictures, music, literature and the stage.

Of course, Art thought Mel was joking and continued showing up for work until he finally noticed the sign on his office no longer read Garfunkel & Simon, but simply Simon. Infuriated, he grabbed his letters and numbers, storming off, but in his haste he forgot his punctuation which gave Simon the edge in the writing game and it has served him well if popular accounts are to be believed. Garfunkel moved onto other pursuits and achieved phenomenal success in dry goods, where punctuation is only a luxury.

Of course Brooks and Reiner were virtually inseparable, beyond all the time they spent apart, one hilarity after another except, oddly enough, at work. At home, at Solly’s Deli on 54th (not to be confused with Sauli’s Belli on 45th), on the subway, in the elevator for Christ’s sake, these were two of the funniest guys I ever met. I actually lost weight trying to eat with them because I couldn’t get any food past my trachea. Hysterical.

But then they’d show up at work and couldn’t rub 2 chuckles together to save their lives. It was amazing. Initially dubbed Writer’s Block on the Clock, shortened to Clock Block out of convenience, some suspected it was an attempt to hold out for bigger paychecks, knowing that if Sid fired them, invariably he’d have to have one fire the other one which would just get messy and cost more than just tolerating their shenanigans. Hard to imagine these two comic powerhouses on a career defining show unable to come up with a joke, but there it was.

They actually made Hemingway look funny, putting a little hat on him and a big squeezy red nose. This of course after he had passed out drunk again after offering up his latest version of his fishing joke. He didn’t discover his get-up until he passed a mirror on 55th St South, whereby he punched a newsy and caught a hack to Trader Vic’s on 44th St W. Interestingly, he forgot to remove the offending apparel and ended up in an impromptu rendition of HMS Pinafore at Elaine’s.

To counter Clock Block, Sid had Alice Bluhearty, the network stenographer, follow Carl and Mel around and transcribe their conversations. Their first season contribution in fact came from 7 elevator rides, 3 breakfasts, 9 lunches, 12 dinners and a traffic jam on 9th St. One of their most memorable routines, that escapes me at the moment, came from them waiting for a prescription at Schwab’s on 97th.

A couple of wonderful guys, inoffensive to work with and brilliant to hang around with – sadly, owing to the remarkable trajectory of my career, I haven’t had opportunity to keep track of their work. I hope the industry has served them well.

And little Woody Allen; 2 first names and everything. Woody was the closest one to me age-wise, we were both the young upstarts and the subject of much ribbing, a little hipping and some spining from the other guys on the staff. After some particularly vicious shinning from Neil, Woody moved closer to my end of the conference table while castigating him, “Very mature, Neil. No, no really quality stuff. I’m beginning to understand why everybody thinks they took the wrong name off your door…”

I remember one particular crunch where we needed a punch-line for the Near-sighted Boxer sketch. Reiner kept suggesting the Boxer knocks himself out, while Brooks just kept repeating “Nibbles” (ultimately the line we went with). I’ll never forget at one point Woody looked up at me, as he did most people, and said, “Uh, could you pass me that pencil?” And I did. A defining moment in my writing career to be certain.

Woody was a chick magnet and he seemed to always have one or two stuck to his shirt or trousers. Often they would become the source of material for the show as we would peel them off and make them wait for Woody in the green room. Sid often said, “If comedy doesn’t woik out for you, you could become an adult haberdasher…”

In his autobiography Sid recounted, “When the show finally cancelled, Woody gave me a lovely double knit jacket with two blonds stuck to the sleeves. I only wear it on special occasions. Usually when the wife is out…”

At first I thought Sid had hired Topo so Woody would have someone to be bigger than, but the first week Topo made it clear he was settling for no sizism or rodent bias, or he would scurry. I came to feel he held something, some deep dark secret, some ineffable shame over Sid, and I wasn’t alone in this: Woody, Neil and Ernie all expressed similar sentiment. The way Sid let that cute little fuzz ball walk all over him made us sick to our stomachs, except for Woody, who got sick to his pancreas, leading to another hospital visit.

Once, while Woody was hospitalized for a pancreatic enema (Panema) Sid became incensed at my perfume joke, telling me in no uncertain terms, “It stinks!”, while the term Simon used was Fragrant. Eager to please Sid, I set about rewriting it, removing many of the “Nose” references. As I typed furiously, I felt a tap on my shoulder – it was a boy from Western Union with a telegram for me. It read:

To: Simmons

Writing Staff – Your Show of Shows

Re: C. – Topo asked me to inform you - You’re Sacked
That is all

Hemingway



Monday, September 22, 2014

Aloft

Deranged didactics dumbing down
Waylaid wearing world’s weight
Drawing deeply designers drown
Worried wonder why we wait
Rigid reason rejects renown
Insane insistence ids inflate
For fulsome fearsome faces frown
Constant cries commiserate
Seeking solace spirits soar
Heartened healthy heads held high
Majestic minds meander more
Worried we wait, wonder why
Entreat excitements eyes explore
Freed from fear from fetters fly
Elate ecstatic evermore
Satisfaction’s soaring sky

With wings we waft
Seek sojourn soft
Detritus doffed
Afloat aloft

Cumulous caressing cloud
Far from fervor friendlies float
United untamed unbowed
Reason’s wrecks remain remote
Even empathy endowed
Resolute resisting rote
Disappointment disavowed
An aerial antidote
With wings we waft
Seek sojourn soft
Detritus doffed
Alive aloft



©2014 simmbiosis 8/27/14