When Bad Hair Happens to Good People

Two weeks since Halloween and I haven’t even stuck my fingers in the annual pumpkinery. For shame. Here at Pepper we had great readership all through October on a single post from last year: up to 250 wandering wondering souls a day came to read my Top 5 Halloween costumes roundup from 2003, and our search engine logs looked like this for two weeks:

  • Halloween costume penis
  • Halloween costume bartender
  • Halloween costume funny
  • Halloween costume funny penis
  • Halloween costume bartender penis
  • Halloween costume funny bartender penis

Last year I rode a float in the annual Village Halloween Parade, which produced a good photo gallery. The float didn’t work out this year, but since it took until the last minute to not work out I was more or less out-of-costume (I can’t wear getup when I’m shooting, it’s too distracting).

I had already nabbed a bright orange “This IS my Costume” t-shirt (five bucks at the new local Tarzhay), so I donned it and headed out through the spectacular sunny day to Lobo on Court Street, where I like to brunch and tank up on 50 or so cups of coffee when time allows. Lobo, which used to be Harvest, is a pleasant place to hang; I’m not sure that the new Tex-Mex thing actually ups the old Americana thing (though there’s much more tequila, so that can’t be bad). But I’ve got one of those slow-boil bring-me-food waitress crushes on a girl who works there — no, the other one — and I like to drop by to be pampered and fussed over. We play a coffee game where I can’t say no to refills, and when I leave sometimes you can actually hear me slosh.

On the way down Court I pass a guy wearing my same shirt. I look him over. That’s a pretty sorry excuse for a costume, I think. He looks me over too, and crosses the street.

There’s good news and bad news. That night I primp up before heading out to the Red Hots Burlesque Spooktacular at Rififi. I unleash my ponytail (a rare event) and sweep my hair, which is pretty long these days, up over my head, right to left. I mousse it more or less in place. Later, Peaches N’ Cream will narrow her eyes and cock her head. “What is that, some kind of half-man half-woman thing?” she asks. “No,” I answer, “I’m a gigantic combover.”

My waitress, on the other hand, is in a simple afternoon costume that doesn’t tangle her brunchtime duties. Her Halloween costume t-shirt shouts in bright red letters: I LOVE BOYS.

Posted in General Musings |

Fare’s Unfair

I am not a fan of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, except insofar as I reluctantly admire the agency for keeping up an astounding level of venality and incompetence pretty much 24/7/365 throughout the whole of my lifetime. Credit where credit is due, after all.

The MTA is now in the process of foisting through a new fare increase, despite being caught at the last minute with a surplus in this year’s budget mounting to the hundreds of millions of dollars. (“Samovar? What samovar?”) The last time they tried this, just over a year ago, they were caught keeping two sets of books, lying wholesale about their budgets and projections, hiding money like little Enron wannabes, and disregarding the will of the public and the government in their moves-in-mysterious-ways machinations.

As a reward for their dishonesty, secrecy, illegal accounting and brutal abuse of the public trust, the Transit Authority was allowed its fare increase, more or less without comment, which sort of reminds me of a recent national election. The NYCTA board was not disbanded, nor seized, nor arrested. They probably gave themselves a raise, though if they did we wouldn’t likely know about it. Who would tell? In fact, after a brisk search I’m unable to find an online listing of Transit Authority board salaries, although of course those numbers should be public. No surprise there. If you know what they make for our troubles, please point me toward a good link in the comments and I’ll include the information here — thanks.

Staten Island ferry route (marked in yellow)In any case, today the City Council discovered what millions already knew: Staten Island is hard to get to. If you’re not local, Staten Island is a bit of rural topography that accidentally got stuck to New York on January 21, 1898; it is known chiefly as the on-ramp to New Jersey (that’s Jersey on the left). I get my hair cut there, when I get my hair cut. The ferry ride to and from Staten Island is free, which makes little fiscal sense but is nice in the summertime.

A local survey of ferry rider numbers — the State Department of Transportation forgot to get actual ridership figures for the last, well, ever, basically — says there aren’t enough boats in the morning and evening rush-hour rushes, which ought to surprise no one. The other pressing bit of detail is that the 12:30 a.m. boat, which is the last to leave Manhattan at night before the schedule drops to once-per-hour, is packed solid, often so solid that some StIslanders have to wait for the next ride an hour later (the biggest boats, the Barberi-Class Andrew J. Barberi and Samuel I. Newhouse, carry 6,000 passengers apiece; other models in the fleet are smaller).

Now, if you were running the Transit Authority, or if I were running the Transit Authority, we’d have a second boat scrambled tonight — tonight — to handle the overflow. We’d shoot off a fiery screed to Governor “New York City? Yes, I’ve heard of it” Pataki demanding emergency funds for the boat, and we’d schedule an extra run or two as part of the next route revisions. Perhaps, since we were already stealing money from the public, we’d generously plan on allocating some of the spoils to improve that late service, and actually, you know, do our jobs.

My guess? They’ll revise late-night ferry service late in the weary run to the next mayoral election, not before. Certainly not this week, or next, or any time soon after that. Oh, and the fare hike? The public resoundingly said No at a series of pointless hearings, and local government flat-out concluded that the Authority hasn’t shown need to raise the cost and can’t be trusted at this point anyway. So they are going ahead with it. After all, that’s what passes for a “mandate” these days, isn’t it?

Posted in General Musings |

Autumn Cleaning

Between post-election moping, post-election acting out, post-election dringe-binking, chasing after the lovely stage manager (yes, still), seeing Team America, exercising my willies at a terrifying screening of The Grudge with Jess, and busily reading up on comforting post-election blogs and articles, I’ve hardly had a second to write.

Plus there’s that Day Job thing, and trying to get Ethan Lipton a whirl on radio in Providence for his upcoming gig at AS220 (no luck so far), and moving my room around because the paint-scraping guys need to get to my windows. And the MRI and blood tests, but more about that another time. I’m getting a bit itchy not posting, but the rough patch looks to be over soon enough.

Meantime, you can buy some used DVD’s from me at eBay. Just a day left in these auctions! Support your local Pepper, and help me get these things out of the house. (I promise I didn’t lick them.)

The Truth About Cats and DogsThe Truth About Cats and Dogs – Uma is the body but Janeane is the kind witty brain in this who-met-whom case of romantic mistaken identities. This sweet feel-good comedy is so well done it almost lifts off midway through and dances about trying to pat itself on the back. It’s a distaff Cyrano de Bergerac, basically, with pretty-but-not-pretty-like-THAT radio veterinarian Janeane Garofalo putting her tender words into the pretty-like-THAT mouth of Uma Thurman’s ditzy model. Will Ben Chaplin’s Brian figure out which of the girls he really loves? Of course he will, it’s a movie.

Everything is perfectly in place in The Truth About Cats and Dogs. It’s a fantastic picture, and I have no idea why it didn’t take off as much as, say, When Harry Met Sally. There’s a spark between Garofalo and Chaplin that doesn’t quite take until late in the game, so maybe that’s it. Me, I love Janeane Garofalo utterly, so I was sold from the first unlikely escapade with the roller-skating dog. Did you know that Uma Thurman’s mother was once married to Timothy Leary? True dat.

Jamie Foxx appears as Ed the Other Buddy. Some movies make you want to run out of the house to drink milk and be nice to animals, and this is one of them.

CrushCrush – Terrific acting and smart writing in this comedy of 40-something women and their travails with boys elevates a pedestrian movie and makes it a touching one. Andie MacDowell is generously weak as the glue that holds Crush‘s gushing women-will-be-girls together, but happily her co-mates do a fantastic job: Imelda Staunton’s bulldog of a policewoman finds love in all the wrong places with unselfconscious goofy style, and Anna Chancellor is lush and lovely as a predatory doctor who is love in all the wrong places.

The dialogue is snappy and satisfying, and this parable of love and passage sets its feet and crosses its arms and announces that life doesn’t end at age 30. Good for director Michael Lehmann and writer Audrey Wells for saying the right thing, and points all around for putting in a (visually chaste) lovemaking scene at a funeral, surrounded by gravestones. It’s literary, I tell you, literary. Downright symbolic.

Crush is at its best when it is being snappy and light-hearted and letting Chancellor and Staunton draw their characters with easy style, and it loses urgency the harder it works at driving its plot down the inevitable dark country road; but that’s to be expected, and at the end everyone is older and wiser. Or almost everyone. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you might even wish. As has been noted in reviews, this is a solid and caring mainstream movie that could never have been made in Hollywood, and shows its lineage with pride.

Far From HeavenFar From Heaven – Deep, mannered, and drenched in lurid color, Far From Heaven is a wickedly subversive tale perched in the Douglas-Sirk-suburbia of 1950′s Hollywood and poised to tumble into the thickets and brambles of social change. Julianne Moore plays Cathy, a well-to-do meant-to-do-well housewife at a time when that was considered a proper calling. She is perfect for the role, with backbone and domestic passion and the obvious counterpointed craving for a pat on the head from hubby Dennis Quaid and the kids. She decorates, she supervises the maid, she gives orders to the gardener, and all is well in the world.

But when Quaid starts coming home late for work it’s not another woman: it’s a man he’s been seeing. The black gardener becomes a friend and then a confidante, and that’s just not done in Nicetown. There is some ugly drinking, a black eye, and tears. As much as director Todd Haynes has overwrought prejudice as his main axe — racism, sexism and homophobia intertwine into impossible knots — the secondary theme, which is beautifully and subtly drawn, is of waking breaking hearts, and the pain they cause as they come up for air and change the world around them.

Spy GameSpy Game – Brad Pitt at the height of his powers teams with Robert Redford at the height of his easy invulnerability, and the pair make a two-stroke engine that powers this thin thriller forward at a dead run full of high-Hollywood spy lore, stylish computer-intelligence and CIA maneuvering, and on-the-ground ops running against friendly ops, counter-ops and, no doubt, opp-ops. I love this movie. Loved it in the theatre and bought it for home, but got the Full Screen edition by mistake. It just drives me crazy when I can’t see the sides of the image; I’m the kind that peers into the letterbox instead.

This is the Full Screen Collector’s Edition. Per the All Movie Guide DVD review, “Universal’s Spy Game DVD demonstrates just how much entertainment a DVD can provide. The movie stars Robert Redford as a veteran CIA operative and Brad Pitt as the young spook that he brings under his wing and takes a shine to. However, the movie, which is presented in full frame with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, is almost incidental to the wealth of special features on the DVD.” There are two commentaries, deleted scenes, storyboard comparisons, and more.

Scenes of the CrimeScenes of the Crime – This independent where’s-the-money caper stars Jeff Bridges as the Big Boss who finds himself in the wrong car at the wrong time in a story of betrayal, ego, and the usual suspects. Jon Abrahams is the lead as Lenny, a little guy in the Organization who skips his own bachelor party to drive for Peter Greene’s Rick and ends up in the middle of a no-win situation, with rocks and hard places scattered all around.

Noah Wyle plays the enforcer Seth like he’s been waiting his whole life for this role, and maybe he has. Jeff Bridges is as godlike as he always is. This is a fun noir-light story that isn’t quite strong enough to bootstrap itself up into the big time, a quality it shares with most of its characters. It’s a lot of fun to watch. Mizuo Peck adds unspeakable eloquence in a brief topless scene (yay topless scenes), and Madchen Amick and Morris Chestnut are super as a vivid couple running the nearby deli who, curiously enough, don’t actually seem to have any function in the picture. As if you’re watching the plot, and then the camera wandered over to the side for a bit, and you said, “Oh look, those seem like really interesting people, and they sure look great together,” and then the camera went back to the story except when it got thirsty and popped into the store for a bottle of water. Odd, but it sort of works, if you don’t think about it.

Table OneTable OneTable One looks and feels like a cable pilot. It begins more or less with a few loser-type guys hitting on girls at a local bar. When they strike out they decide that the bar is to blame: the lights too dim, the music too loud, etc. etc. Why, if only someone would open the RIGHT kind of bar, life would be great, wouldn’t it? Opening a bar, that can’t be rocket science, can it? They might as well do it themselves, right? Basically, this is the story. It also seems to be how writer and director Morris Bregman decided to make this movie in the first place.

Because the guys mostly don’t know how to run their own place, the mob gets involved when money gets tight, and decides a nudie bar would be a better investment than a bar and restaurant aimlessly aimed at the kind of Yuppies who can’t properly pick up girls in a loud dark bar. Hijinks ensue. Everyone is redeemed in the end, which is no surprise, and along the way the humdrum battles the interesting to a pretty even draw.

Table One is so-so overall, but it’s worth seeing to watch Luis Guzman shine as a flaming gay maitre d’ and Michael Rooker build a fantastic character, a gruff ex-hockey star, out of slim sticks, and also for the on-and-off bits of levity via the guys from the mob. There are cute girls, some of whom have lines. The ones who don’t have lines periodically take off their shirts, but not enough to offend.

All or NothingAll or Nothing – This superb Mike Leigh film makes you want to slit your wrists, pour poison in the slits, shoot yourself, and make sure there’s ground glass on the bullets, just in case. Actually everyone is more or less delivered to grace at the end of this grim film, but getting there is the tricky part.

We have the destructive girl who seems on top of things but repeats the mistakes of her Mum, exactly. We have the long-married couple that falls into callous cruelty. One of the fat children can’t find love and pretends not to care; one has medical trouble that nearly ends in fatality. The abusive boyfriend shags the cute girl (in his one concession to the audience, Leigh gives you a character you wish would take her shirt off, and then she does). Another mother is a lousy drunk. But they all love each other, or summat. Mike Leigh writes and directs, and the acting ensemble is understated and absurdly good.

All or Nothing paints the quiet longing of its characters with such understatement and impassivity that audiences can project anything from faint hope to utter despair onto the canvas. Like Naked, the director’s brutal 1993 black comedy, the film sometimes seems to dare viewers to keep their eyes open. Leigh is so intent on depicting the stuff of humanity without prettification that his characters’ raw emotions and even their gloriously flawed faces and bodies sometimes seem too fearsome to continue watching.” – All Movie Guide

But don’t be fooled: grim as it is, this movie is enlightening and true, and full of vision and joy. The cast of jes’-folks looking actors plays it real and close to the bone, and it’s powerful to realize how rarely anything faintly resembling real life ever makes it onto your TV screen. For humans everywhere.

Glitch!Glitch! – Topless wackiness and in-your-face nonsense are paramount in this robbery caper gone sloppily wrong. Nico Mastorakis is sort of the Roger Corman of European beach-babe movies, which is either a good thing or a bad thing or just a thing, depending on how you look at it. This minor entry in the Mastorakis oeuvre features dumb thieves pitted against even dumber thieves, a femmy Ninja, a wandering hypnotist mystic, a pink miniature remote-control helicopter, and some of the lamest pretenses ever to coax giggly girls out of their tops. It’s outrageously bad, in a fun way.

This is the Omega Entertainment release, which features additional trailers for other Mastorakis outings and Part IV of the director’s jovial, rambly biomentary look at his body – ahem – of work. I’ll admit it, I bought this DVD new and have been its only owner. Mastorakis is a character and a half and I was checking out the, um, fruits of his efforts.

Posted in General Musings |

Neuro Stancer

America est Omnia Divisa: One of the benefits of the mucky rush up to the election was the return of William Gibson’s blog, which had been in Sleep Mode since September of 2003. You may know Gibson best as one of the big and worthy names in cyberpunk science fiction. In the real as well as the future world he’s a restless and incisive thinker, and a writer of supple depth.

On November 3rd, following the election, Gibson posted this:

Virgil, as ever, has it down: “Dis aliter visum.”
Also, David Bowie: “Look at those cavemen go.”

Dis aliter visum = The gods decreed otherwise.

Shameless Commerce Division: I’m selling some DVD’s on eBay in addition to the books I listed here on Friday. The auction for these movies runs until Thursday; there are 12 up for sale, and I’ll try to post them all in the course of the next few days for your edification and examination. Please buy ‘em, I need to get them out of the house … and I promise to spend your bid-money on fine and useful things. Like, say, beer.

Ali The Stickup eXistenZ Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy

Ali – Will Smith soars in this film about the irrepressible political seeker and athlete Muhammad Ali (“an effective combination of impersonation and nuance” – All Movie Guide) — even if you have no interest in the material, which is deeply interesting, the movie is worth it just to see Smith strut his stuff in a role he devours from the bones out. He and director Michael Mann spent 2 years and $100 million delving deep into the heady sticky politics that converted young strong Cassius Clay into the irresistible Ali over the years from 1964 to 1974.

An all-star cast, featuring Jamie Foxx, John Voight, Mario Van Peebles (Malcolm X), LeVar Burton (Martin Luther King, Jr.), Joe Morton, Giancarlo Esposito, Ron Silver, and the ever-delightful Jada Pinkett-Smith, in a natural turn as Smith’s wife onscreen and off.

The Stickup – An odd little picture, featuring James Spader as the good cop and the bad cop in a small-town bank-robbery flick where all is not as it seems. This is a fun little low-sights faux-noir movie. It’s slightly overambitious for what it actually goes and does, which is pretty much a virtue in my book. A bit of water slops in on the deck at times — Spader knows the boat is sinking, but he bails with the best of ‘em, and most of the stock characters take on convincing small lives of their own. Nice twisty plotting at the end, which you’ll probably see coming if you like to see the end coming. Co-star Leslie Stefanson also acts opposite Spader in Alien Hunter, which I’m not selling today. I know you wanted to know that. Written and directed by Rowdy Herrington.

eXistenZ – David Cronenberg is an intricate, obsessive, intelligent, disturbed director, and eXistenZ is one of his finest pictures (he also wrote the screenplay, which is an original story idea). The movie spins in remarkable directions, imagining an overwhelming massively multiplayer online game that toys in a larger sense with film as a medium and play as a lifestyle. Sexy Geek Girl Jennifer Jason Leigh (a moment of silent appreciation for Sexy Geek Girls, please) enlists Jude Law, who is and isn’t as innocent a bystander as he seems depending on which buttons you push, for a flee-for-all plunge through artificial lands. Willem Dafoe and Ian Holm have terrific cameo appearances.

“Every bit as stimulating, absorbing, intelligent, and difficult to watch as his best genre films … All of Cronenberg’s trademarks are here: an overarching sense of doom, fiendishly gleeful gross-out gore, a healthy sense of humor about the proceedings, and serious questions about the nature of existence (hence the title). … eXistenZ is an aesthetically challenging work of art that is ripe for repeat viewing.” – All Movie Guide

Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy – I do love a bad monster movie, and director David DeCoteau is king of ‘em. This one is just terrible. Terrible, terrible, a waste of film, what were they thinking, yikes shouldn’t someone have smacked someone else along the way and improved this thing? Needless to say I enjoyed it thoroughly. If you like this sort of thing you might like this sort of thing, and if you don’t I seriously recommend that you do not buy this movie.

For some outlandish reason an Aztec mummy ends up in a “museum” (which looks suspiciously like a living room) at a private school for bored students whose lives exist in a maximum of two dimensions. Aztec mummy? Did they do that? Whatever. As it happens one of the students is — wait for it — an Aztec High Priest. Well, secretly, you know, and they’ve all been waiting for this moment. For generations. For thousands of years. I forgot to make popcorn, but I really should have. Did you know that Aztec Priests wear sequins? Whatever. You learn something new every day.

Anyway, the mummy, who comes with his own accessorized Mummy Knife, eventually wakes up, which is a big surprise, and starts slashing away at everything in sight. There’s some mumbo-jumbo about the end of the world and the sacrifice of a virgin, one of whom happens to be handy. DeCoteau is an oddly demure director, so the (potentially expensive) special FX take place off-screen and we just get to see spatters of blood, and as is often the case in his movies the nubile nudity that always seems about to happen never quite arrives. This isn’t DeCoteau’s best work, but really, what is? I mean that in a nice way.

Posted in General Musings |

Buy the Book

Nicholas & Alexandra: The Last Imperial Family of Tsarist Russia Events that Shaped the Century Memnoch the Devil The Personal Feng Shui Manual The Simple Living Guide
Liberty! The American Revolution Be Cool The Hearing Rising Sun New Choices in Natural Healing

I’m an available-space guy, by which I mean that when I’m going on a trip I take out a vast pile of stuff, sort through the basics, and then fatally wonder if there are more basics to consider. I mean, what if it gets really cold? What if it rains? OK, rain gear is basic-level basic, but get this: what if it’s cold in the morning, and then it warms up, and then it rains? Guess I’d better bring waterproof sandals. And warm socks, just in case. Two pair. Because the first pair got wet when it rained, see?

That sort of thing. I’ll continue thinking this way until all available space is full, plus about 10% more of space that is purely theoretical. I’m the guy at the airport who says, sure, you can open my bag. But you have to close it again, because it took me 10 minutes this morning to get the zipper done and I’m not going through that again.

Apply this what-fits style to a small studio apartment in Brooklyn, though, and you’ve got disaster. I bought new shelves the other day, and populating them means taking everything out and sorting through it (it’s no fun to have stuff if you can’t take it out and sort purposefully through it now and then). Which is how these 10 books got nominated to be sold at eBay. Please feel free to buy them: the auctions end Sunday evening between 5 and 8. Titles, in case some of the images aren’t clear:

Buy my stuff! Every book that leaves this house under its own steam is a book blessed!

Posted in General Musings |

Excess of Evil

Well, that sucked. At least it’s over. Mostly.

Posted in General Musings |

NEWSFLASH: Someone Will Win!

Now we’re getting to the nail-biting stage. I’m not very connected in politics, but I’ve heard some starts-with-a-K mutterings and closet exuberance here and there, from places I can’t source or sources that I have no idea what they’re talking about. Or, usually, both. Finally something I can post a link to:

Zogby is calling it for Kerry.

However, since much of the rest of the site comes up with errors, this might just be a hack attack. Time will tell, time will tell. Still 45 minutes before the first polls close!

Posted in General Musings |

This Election Has Performed an Illegal Operation and Will Shut Down

Well, well, well: in New Orleans, at least, the electronic voting machines don’t work. What a surprise. I mean, it’s not like everyone in America saw that coming, or anything.

“No, no no. The machines will work just fine.” Riiiiiiiight.

The Election Incident Reporting System at this hour is listing 8,110 reported election events, with New York and Pennsylvania leading the pack – it makes sense that events would cluster in the East, since our polls open earliest and have thus been open longest. 677 of the reports are machine-related incidents, 395 are voter-intimida … oho, the online system just crashed (ha, perfect). I imagine it will be back later. Major media isn’t reporting much right now — CNN, for one, seems unaware that there is a world beyond our borders — so this information is more as-it-happens than it is reliable; that’s the caveat for today.

Posted in General Musings |

The Partisan Lonely Hunter

This morning I went up to my old public school to vote. I was at school there only from kindergarten through 4th grade. In 4th grade one Ms. Vend was appointed principal, over the howls and protests of parents and the local school board. Ms. Vend was the sort of shallow, mean, gratuitous, and ineffectual leader — much like the Governor of Texas who sits in the White House today — who inspires her minions to be even more venal than she, and who can be counted on in general to let bad slump into worse.

Naturally I remember this only by proxy, but the neighborhood was tumbling into light poverty and the district was in the throes of one of its ethnic readjustments, and P.S. 163 must have seemed a likely place to dump a patronage body who had worked her way through the system and needed to be put somewhere to pasture her way to retirement. Lucky us.

In the course of a few grim months, everyone who could afford a private school suddenly afforded one. Ms. Vend’s comment on the swelling of her minority percentages was benevolent and terrible: she opined at a public meeting that you couldn’t expect them to learn like we do. The sad thing is that she probably thought this was generous and enlightened, like say the rule of the British Raj in India. I’m sure she just wanted to help.

After a teacher slapped a difficult girl named Shannon in class one day and called her a bitch (in the company of a racial epithet with which I shall not burden these pages), I dutifully toddled home and reported the action to my Mom over lunch recess. Calls were made, authorities were summoned, and suddenly it was time for me to change schools and hop to an adjacent district where I could be terrorized by kids my own age, instead of by kids my own age together with the vengeful posse of an enraged teacher.

So I turn up at the old school building once a year (OK, sometimes I let those little in-between election years slip, but hardly ever) to complete two roughly-annual traditional missions:

  1. vote.
  2. buy a cupcake, strudel, Danish or similar crumbly sticky thing from the Parent Association Bake Sale.

Target acquired. Objective accomplished. De-briefing:

  1. full Democratic line, top to bottom — on an old-style flip-lever analog voting machine, the kind that actually counts the votes.
  2. lemony cupcake with light sugar frosting, home-made and yummy.

Go Kerry! America, keep out the Bushes!

Posted in General Musings |

Ecce Manny

I worked my way through college. My family was middleward in the middle class, which means we starved for nothing, and did without fancy gadgets and disposable fads. Books yes, movies sometimes, fancy birthday parties of the soul-cringing variety, never. We favored original art over coloring books, which left me craving coloring books into early adolescence (there’s a lesson there, somewhere). We had enough of everything and took care of most of it, lest we not have enough further down the line. We turned off the kitchen light when we left the kitchen. Waste not, want not. Don’t worry, be happy. A stitch in time saves nine. Old 20th Century wisdoms.

For four years at school I was a student security guard, first on dim scary Detex night shifts in the Physics labs and then, over time, on easier tours in comfier spots with chairs and windows and sometimes a kitchen or a cleverly-placed sofa that could not be seen from the entry.

Junior year I was in love with Lehze, and she lived in the Yard, so in a bit of clever thinkin’ I took a couple of Delta shifts there. Weeknights in the Yard there was only one student security detail, from midnight to 7:00 a.m. The rest of the day real guards did the work; student security was a pay-the-kids and save-some-money makework compromise. We weren’t meant to actually do anything risky or securityish on the job. Ideally we’d just sit in the Guard Shack and watch TV, and occasionally walk someone to her room or respond to a lockout. Or, and I say this just for argument’s sake, one might go visit one’s girlfriend and spend the night in her room in Weld. Just theoretically.

Most Yard nights I would relieve Manny, a Uniform Guard, at the Delta shack by Widener Gate. Manny was Lord of the Manor in the shack, and he brooked no nothin’. It was his fridge and his comfy chair and his TV, and nights when WWF wrestling was on, your turn in the chair didn’t come until the last slam was slammed and the last fist was pumped. Manny was a fan. You were in his shack. Therefore, you were a fan too.

I got caught up in the exploits of the Federation. It was absurdly over the top, and it functioned more or less as a comic book for television. Heroes, villains, mercenaries, turncoats, and the righteous Hulk Hogan ruling above them all like a sleeping Zeus or Odin. My favorite was King Kong Bundy, who was to meat as Spongebob Squarepants is to sponge and square pants. But the others were wonderful too: Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Andre the Giant, George “The Animal” Steel, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, The Honkytonk Man, Brett “Hitman” Hart. The cast of characters was no less than mythic, or Shakespearian.

I commented one night to Manny how awesome it was that the story ruled in wrestling just as it did in literature. Manny turned to me, his moustache eloquently drooping in cold scorn. There is no story, he told me, all ice. Voice low and anger barely checked, he ticked through the articles of WWFaith. This is a contest between men of power and great heart, he hissed. Combat among heroes. It comes out as fate will have it, not according to some kind of script. It is obvious, he sneered. These men prove their strength week after week, battling their enemies and rushing to aid their friends. This, my young friend, this is life.

When WWF was over that night he refused to get up from the chair. He sat there for almost an hour, silent, time ticking past in the shack. When he left he left without a word, and he padlocked the fridge behind him. The next week when I came to relieve him, he took the TV home. He punished me with silence, betrayed by my failure to believe in the hard truth of professional wrestling.

Eventually Manny thawed, and cautiously we shared the closing bouts of WWF shows again in the overlapping minutes of our shifts. I never talked about the games any more, and as far as he was concerned my heresy was purged. One night some bit of choreography went woefully awry. An unlikely dive off the ropes to shoulder-block a floored and writhing victim slipped off-time. The guy on the floor got up too early, realized his mistake, and tried to dive back down; but his nemesis was already airborn, and he hit the floor where no body lay. There was a stunned pause, and the man who was not on the ground rejoined his script by throwing himself down with a howl, as if he had been slammed after all. The leaper rolled on top of him, and from that point it all went forward as planned chance would have it.

The silence in the shack debated itself and turned in place like a dog getting ready to sleep. I said nothing, and nothing, and nothing. Finally Manny turned, his chin held high, and he sniffed, ready to make his pronouncement.

“Well,” he said. “Well. I’ve heard people say this before but it’s nothing I ever saw before with my own eyes. And until I see it with my own eyes, I don’t like to think bad of people, because everyone deserves an even break. But what just happened here, I saw myself, and I don’t like to think that I can’t see the truth when the truth is in front of me.”

He paused, and sucked his upper lip. “That,” he said, “was one crooked ref.” And with that he shut off the TV, left the padlock off the fridge, and headed out into the after-midnight dark.

I can’t help but think that come Tuesday morning, if he votes at all, Manny will be voting for George W. Bush.

Posted in General Musings |