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Friday, December 30, 2011

Do not go gentle into that good night - Dylan Thomas.

It's become clear to me that the end is very near for Dad. It's been this kind of approaching finality for a while now, but I feel in my gut, that it will be very soon.
When I went to see him today, as has been the case for the past couple of weeks, he has told me that people from our lives are coming to see him. People that have been gone for a while now.
My Aunt Betty, My Aunt Gail.
Today it was my Uncle Bill and aunt Marge. I made the two martinis for us, and he said, "Do we have enough for everyone else?" I said yes, you have enough gin and vermouth for several more drinks. "Okay, good".
He got up, and he is now very frail, it takes him a long time to cross the room, and he is shaky on his feet. I watch him like a hawk, but I have to be careful. If he sees me doing that, he says, "Knock it off, I'm fine".
He went to his little kitchenette. Spread a dishtowel, washed the 3 other glasses he has, and lined them up. Got the shot glass and added it to the line up.
"I don't have any olives". "Yeah, you do, in the door of the frig". He struggled to find them, I resisted the urge to help him. "The jar with the red lid". "Okay got it", also added to the line up.
He walked back slowly, shakily, and sat down.
He was more lucid today, that's the thing with Alzheimer's, it's so arbitrary. I had the courage to talk to him today about something I've wanted to say for the past couple of weeks. Something I've gone over with close friends the past two weeks.
"Dad, do you think about Mom a lot?". "Yes. more than I should". "Me too".
"Do you believe she's waiting for you?". "Yes".
We have a very close bond. It occurred to me recently that he's staying here for me. Really, I think he is. He's worried about me.
"Dad, I just want you to know, that if you get tired, and want to go be with Mom, I'm okay. I'll be fine".
He looked at me quizzically for a moment...""Tell me that again?".
"Dad, if you are tired and want to move on, and go be with Mom, go ahead, I'll be okay, you understand?".
He sat back, asked me about my day, we watched Bonanza, I finished my drink, as did he, I kissed him and said, "Tomorrow is New Years Eve, I'll call you let you know what I'm doing". "Okay, I'm so happy you're here".
I am too.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hold me close and hold me fast, The magic spell you cast, This is la vie en rose...Tranlastion via Louis Armstrong

I had a choice the summer of my junior year of college, take a trip to Europe with my fellow art majors, or have a car for senior year.
Amsterdam? London? Paris? Are you guys serious? I'm there already. The first time was  perfect. I was literally awestruck standing in front of Monet's, and Chagall's and Lautrec's... It was insane. My brain overloaded. I. Am. Standing. Inches. From. The Canvas That. Was Brushed BY MONET...
Trocadero, Montmartre, Pigalle, and the food...Jesus H. Macy it's nearly impossible to get a bad meal there. I love anyplace you can get a bowlful of coffee for breakfast.
Second trip, with  my ex. Budget plan. We stayed at the Hotel Picard. Fellow geeks will snicker. It was in the old Jewish quarter, many of the doors had Star of David's on the jambs. The owner was very patient with my fractured Franglish.  His wife was Polish. Long married, they were, and I have no actual idea of their true story, but in my head I concocted a very romantic, dramatic tale of him spiriting her out of Poland with the Resistance. Sat at their kitchen table and attempted to communicate over coffee. So like my Mom, she was. Cooking me breakfast, and coaxing stories out of me.
Proprietor Picard had a sense of humor as well. When Patrick and I checked in, again, budget plan, cheapest room please...
It had bunk beds. He was like "You are married? No, you need big bed". I said, ermmm, "We'll make do". Gallic shrug, sigh, pointed stare..."Big. Bed"...*wink*". In my head, "I'm versatile, I got it, no sweat..." In reality, I just met his stare, and raised an eyebrow. He reluctantly acquiesced.
We walked, we wandered, we wondered, we slummed. Some of the best stuff that happened was so random. One day after a rigorous museum tour, planned to a Martha Stewart degree by me, we schlepped back to the hotel. We stopped at the local grocery for the necessities. I'm walking through, and BLAM, there is a wall, a WALL of Camembert. The clouds parted and the angels sang. I was already in possession of the national food, a baguette, tucked in my pocket unvarnished, as I had gone native, happy camper. I look around, and Patrick was absent, obsessively looking for peanut butter. We did find some, with about an inch of dust on it. Breakfast the next morning was epic. "I am NOT eating that stinky crap..." "Really? You are surrounded by some of the most exquisite cuisine and pastry in the world, and you are turning up your nose?"...
This is why we are divorced.
There was also the extremely intimidating night concierge. Young guy, Grumpy McScowly. There was a pet parrot in the lobby. One night, delirious from art, the Seine, and the carb rush of the ubiquitous baguette, feeling saucy, said, "HEY? Does the bird have a name?" "Oui. THE bird's name is name is Johnny". Smirk from me. "Seriously? Johnny"???, again with the Gallic shrug.
The next night, we again stumbled back to the hotel dead tired. Scary concierge man was sitting with a friend watching "West Side Story". At that moment, "America" was playing for all it was worth. He looked at me, winked, and did a slight shoulder shimmy. I wasn't afraid of him after that.
Parisians have the sense to shop every day, cook fresh. Consequently, if you hit the stores, as per budget plan, around 6pm, it's madness. That is where the peanut butter-Camembert debate occurred. This was the mid 90's. Already, the green grocer, charcuterie, Boulangerie, Patisserie were disappearing. I hate that.
So, me and PB man were in line, and a middle aged, and obviously stressed woman elbows me, and goes off, in French. If I am being mistaken for a local, I take that as a compliment. Patrick caught on very quickly. "Oui, Moi aussi"...Me-"Oui, D'accord".
I told him later that I imagine she was railing about stupid Americans holding up the line with their credit cards. When he whipped said card out, I was like, GAHHHH, hide it!!!
When we got to the cashier, he apologized for the wait. He made us right away. I said, laughing, "No problem, I always pick the wrong line, Murphy's Law". He says, "Oooh is Murphy?" Eh, "The first guy that discovered merde happens".
Merde does indeed happen, and sometimes it's serendipitous.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Moores.

Again, I'm reflecting. As a friend put it, many of us are closer to the back door than the front door of life. I have no siblings. I do however have an extended family that are the best. 27 first cousins. A ridiculous amount of seconds. And, amazingly, though I can be a black sheep, a real pain in the ass, I love them all, and they love me back.
My Dad's baby sister Madelene, the wife of one of the most intelligent guys I have ever known, and a very patient Mom, is close to my heart. She seems to have some kind of radar for knowing when I am at the end of my rope. I am down, she calls me...
They lived far away from the Midwest, my home ground, in Connecticut. Still, I'd visit, and it was golden. A different planet, that household, and a good one.
Happy warm chaos. Five kids, and all of them in my corner. I felt like some kind of exotic species.
This particular visit, PJ Jr, his sisters and I for some reason only known to those of us possessing the estrogen were dragging him down the hall. I have no recollection of what kind of torture, and he hollered at my aunt, MOM! She's treating me like a BROTHER!!!
My uncle, Pete Sr. is also dealing with advanced  Alzheimer's. Pete is one of the most intelligent guys I have ever known, and has a wicked sense of humor. He worked for years in publishing, the Mad Men era, sharp as a tack.
He is great at repartee. I've never known anyone as sharp.
He and my aunt were visiting us, here in FL. I was an obnoxious teenager then...Smartass...
He knocked on the doorjamb to my room. I was reading. He said "You need to come outside with me, there's something you need to see"
Me-"eye roll, What? NO".
Uncle Pete-"Come on..GET UP, come see..."
He grabbed my hand and drug me outside, giggling the whole time. He led me to a palm tree in the yard, where there was a huge mushroom, and pointed. Written in Sharpie were the words, "Troll House". I looked at him, and he was falling down with laughter. I joined him.
As a Dad, he is a stand up guy. Kelly, she and I are the two youngest of the brood, told me this story. "I got in trouble one day for talking in class. My teacher made me stay late, and assigned an essay. A thousand word essay, subject, a ping pong ball..."
She went home and told her Dad. He marched to the basement, got a ping pong ball, and wrote "A thousand word essay" on it. Sent her to school the next day with that. Like I said, love him.
There were great times for me at this household, fishing for carp in the local pond with bread, climbing the rocks nearby, and even me and Suzy, Kelly's older sister staying so very awake so that we could put Kelly's bra on the dog, PJ, and send him down the hall.
I love you guys, great times, fond memories, that'a what get's me through.

Monday, November 14, 2011

If blood will flow, when flesh and steel are one, Drying in the colour of the evening sun...Tomorrow's rain, will wash the stains away...But something in our minds will always stay - Sting

I'm just going to thank my great uncle for his honest letter to my Grandmother in 1918. It's still timely.

 Peace, the most desired thing in the world for over four years has been declared and I understand I am to be one of thousands to see that is is carried out.
     The Germans who were in our immediate front saved themselves from a big drive that we were planning to pull off when they signed up. We were at the front lines, that is, were in the morning when it was called off and we returned to what we supposed to be a rest camp. We stopped in a woods just outside of the ruined village of Vieville, the first night. We returned so quickly that no one had time to make up his pack of blankets and shelter half so we were without these the first night. I managed to crawl into a dugout with some other fellows and slept on a wooden bench all night. It wasn't so bad as we had a fire in a stove and it was warm. The next day I got into a nice cozy bunk in a dugout just big enough for three of us. As we were only about a mile and a half from where we left our blankets, I with three others went back to get them. As we were then only about two and a half miles from (scratched out) where the Salvation Army had a canteen one of the boys and I hiked there to buy what we could. We got back too late to have dinner at our kitchens so bummed a meal at an artillery kitchen getting back after dark. It certainly looked good to see lights all over the hillsides where only the night before every bit of light was carefully covered up so as not to be exposed to the German view. When we got back to the woods we found all the companies camped out in the open with dozens of camp fires burning and the boys hollering and singing like they were mad. Every one went around with a smile of satisfaction on his face and a pleasent word in spite of the mud and wetness. The boys, both Yanks and Germans kept the sky lit all night by shooting rockets and flares each seeming to try and outdo the other. It was a firework exhibition that was mighty good to see. It seems mighty funny too, not to hear the roar of the cannon and hear the whistle of the shells. When I woke up yesterday morning and got dressed I found that the whole battalion had moved out leaving this other fellow and me practically alone. There were kitchens left but the cooks didn't know where they went so we decided to wait for them to receive orders to move, then follow them. We waited until one thirty then started off by ourselves back to a place between the support and front line trenches of our original positions which was only about five kilometers from the woods. Had we watied for the kitchens we surely would have been out of luck for they did not show up until near nine 9 o'clock. We are quartered in some of our old friend Hindenburg's dugouts on the hillside. We were pretty hungry before the kitchens arrived so we had our reserve rations consisiting of hard tack, corn willie, salmon and a sort of prepared coffee.
     Night before last I was told to get my stuff together and make my pack and eat supper in a half an hour that my name had been put in for a seven day leave of absence to go to some big town in France. I got ready although I nearly lost my crowd and when I hiked to headquarters where I waited for some time found out that another fellow and I had been left off the list and no passes were to be had. I really wasn't sorry either as I didn't draw a new uniform and the one I had on was shabby. Yesterday morning the crowd I was supposed to go with came back. They had got lost in the woods going to meet the truck and had wandered around all night with their packs on and didn't know where they were until they came to the top of a hill overlooking our little village. So you see in place of being unfortunate I was fortunate. But I lost my bunk as two others had squeezed in my place when I left. I had to look around and find a new bunk but was fortunate there as I found a place that had German bunks in it which were more comfortable.
     You know while we were in support and front line we only had two meals a day which really was better than three for us. The other day we started on the old schedule of three meals and it was too much for me as it made me sick. I am alright now and eating just as much as ever. I discarded my rifle and ammunition belt and bayonet and now only carry an automatic pistol and belt.
     I am enclosing a sheet of German propaganda dropped from their airplanes some time ago which I found near some trenches.
     What I want most of all right now and which I would give most anything for, is a kodak with a bunch of films.
     I haven't been able to spend money for a month and as a consequence have a pocket full of Francs, worth twenty cents each. We do not draw pay any more at any certain time but have a book like a bankbook showing how much money is due us. If we are away from the company we can draw it from any quartermaster headquarters we happen to be near.
     I received the Register and Leader of the twenty fifth of August on the twenty eighth of October. This is the first I have received and just a short time ago I as down by the orderly room and found two more papers. I haven't opened them yet and so don't know what date they are.
     It seems good to be able to wash the sag paste off. That is the preparation we put on to prevent the mustard gas from burning, but we won't need that anymore.
     I am willing to stay right where I am now until the time of mustering out, which can't be too soon to suit me as I am anxious to be in the best little home on earth as soon as possible.
     Now don't worry about my not getting enough to eat. Remember I am on the front and the theory is that there is nothing to good for the boys here. the boys in my billet get together and we cook hotcakes every night. They go mighty good too.
Well I must say good night for this time.

Written by Private Clyde F. Wilbur, 55th Infantry, Company "F", 7th Division.
to his sister, Miss Madeline Wilbur.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Alzheimer's is the most insidious of diseases. Cancer is a close second if not a contender. My Dad has both. Neither are curable, for him. I've set up hospice, we've both signed the "Do not resuscitate" orders, and his doctors have ordered "Comfort measures only". I'm writing this for those that have been in the same situation, and for those that will be facing this in the future.
I'm prepared as well as I can be. When my Mother died suddenly, unexpectedly, it was heartbreaking, but ultimately braced me for what is to come.
This week has been very hard to bear. My Dad is another person that I don't know, and it's his disease. He has given up. He has no appetite, and he is 6 feet tall, down to around 140 pounds. It's the cancer. He is so weak, and it's very hard for me to watch him wasting away. He is fiercely independent, always has been, and it still comes through. He needs help showering now, and he hates it. Calls the nurses bitches. This from my Dad, who was the most easygoing guy. I'll go ahead and film reference here, he is George Bailey the majority of the time, Atticus Finch when he occasionally needs to kick ass, and Gary Cooper talking through his teeth when he is really pissed off. Once, it seems like ages ago, a kid in the neighborhood threw a rock at me, nicked my nose, close to my eye. Dad asked me to point him out when I saw him next, kid rode his bike past the yard one day, and my Dad strode out into the street like it was High Noon. He grabbed the handle bars of the bike, and leaned down, and told that kid if he ever did that again, he'd be very, very sorry.
I've been through the hard reality of Death before, but nothing hit me so hard as the sudden death of my Mom. She went in for bypass surgery. It's supposed to be routine. I didn't go home for it. That morning, Dad called me, told me that it took much longer than expected. Somehow I knew that something was very wrong, my heart sank. He told me to call him later. I waited all morning, and I needed necessities, cat food, TP. So I went out. When I got back there was a frantic message from a nurse. "You're Mother is very ill, call us immediately." I did, and she told me to get home, and then put Dad on the phone. He was incoherent. My parents at that point were married for 53 years, Dad was hit hard.
I booked a flight. The thing I didn't know is that that airline abandons the check in desk a half an hour before check in. I missed it by 5 minutes. The lady at the next desk told me I should knock on the door to see if they would help me. It's a wonder that security wasn't called... I kicked the shit out of that door, and I already have one TSA report on my record. Just a caveat, don't ever forget that you have a multi-tool with a large knife in the bottom of your purse...
I rebooked, got home early in the am, and am forever grateful for that empathetic woman.
We are now a litigious society. Because there are opportunistic, and well, to be blunt, still some Burke and Hare types out in the world, there is a rule that you HAVE to identify the body before cremation, which is the wish of both of my parents. Duty called. Argument at the funeral home ensues. "I'll do it, NO, I'll do it, Okay we'll both do it...we held and hands and did it. Bad, very bad. Mom had just come from the hospital, was...well, not done up. Plywood box, still in her hospital gown, no make-up, and her hair was greasy, my first thought? She would be soooo pissed off. She was always so stylish, immaculate. She'd have hated that.
Dad broke down. Screaming, crying, and this is a six foot guy leaning on 5'4" me. He grabbed my hand and pulled me out of there. And then my 79 year old Dad at that point shoved me in the car, slammed it into reverse and peeled out of the parking lot.
Grief does these things to you. I know that I have gut punches and maybe even roundhouse kicks to the head coming, when I least expect it.
I'm sure that many of you have heard the phrase "Dig Deep"? Well, I'm digging for all I'm worth, and there ain't nothing in the well some days.
I'm alone in this situation, which is both good and bad. I'm an only child, adopted later in life. My parents took me everywhere. Vegas, Hawaii, the island of Cozumel that existed 35 years ago. They are and were the coolest of the cool. They told me I was adopted as far back as I can remember, and I readily admitted that. I was taunted. Even on the playground I was a smart ass. "Yeah, well, at least my parents planned me..." I get that fierce independence from both of them I think, and for that I am grateful.
Mom you wonderful, petite, sometimes scary woman, when you needed to be, I love you, and I miss you. You are responsible for my love of film and literature, and that is an admirable thing. Dad, thank you for teaching me the tomboy stuff, which you understood. Fishing, properly throwing a baseball, how to be a big time gear head, thanks for the life lessons. You both are in my heart, deeply.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I don't want to start any blasphemous rumors, but I think that God's got a sick sense of humor and when I die, I expect to find him laughing"...Dave Gahan, Martin Gore

It's been a ridiculously long time since I've made an entry, here, life intrudes. I'm writing this in the hope that some of you can relate. It may seem a bit whiny, fair enough. I've had several talks recently with people that have been in this situation, and it seems that if you haven't been down this road, you just don't get it. A few of you know that I'm helping take care of my dad who has Alzheimer's and now cancer. The cancer is not curable, and when he was more lucid, less than a year ago, we made the decision not to treat it. He would be risking a collapsed lung, or heart attack just from the biopsy alone. His quality of life at the moment isn't bad. Radiation and Chemo won't cure him, and at this point, well...there is no point. In the very weirdest Catch 22 way, the Alzheimer's is a blessing here, as he has forgotten that he has terminal cancer. So far, he's not in pain. A little short of breath, decreased appetite, that's it so far.
The past couple of nights have been tough emotionally. The memory loss has become more severe. Dad is now forgetting how to do basic things like when to eat, that fact that the bus at his facility can take him to the store, where his razor is. When he has to make a choice, it's really difficult for him. Menus confuse him. tonight at the diner, he couldn't figure out which door was the right one for him to enter the restroom. When the waitress offered side dish choices, he got overwhelmed. Too many things on his plate overwhelm him.
He also repeats himself often, asks the same questions over and over, and make statements that don't make sense. It's very chaotic, because his mind is in chaos. He forgets that I'm coming over to see him, that I've called him that morning, how to use his debit card, figure a tip, write checks. The past couple of nights this has all really gotten on my nerves, and that makes me feel incredibly guilty. He is also engaging in a lot of very juvenile behavior. He drags the straw from his drink across my hand, he steps on and holds down my down foot under the table, throws the paper from his straw at me. It's so surreal, as it's like he's another person. He was always the most even keeled, easy going guy I ever knew. Even if he was really angry, he was subtle. He would go all still and Clint Eastwood, talk quietly through his teeth He didn't swear, or yell, or lose his cool. All of that has gone out the window, and it's very difficult to be around.
I've learned is to keep things very regular. Call at the same time, go visit at the same time, Order the same things for him that won't confuse him.
There are some great moments, along with the scary ones. Today, a regular day, I head over to Dad's for cards and Martinis.
He gets ice, (downstairs at the facility) and makes the ritual Martinis.
I get the cards, I deal. Gin Rummy. We play. I kick his ass first round. And the usual litany, OH POOR ME starts...
"How can you do that to me? I fed you, clothed you...Is this what I get?"
"Oh Geeez, yeah Dad, I'm sooo mean... your deal..."
We play, I win, which honestly has to do with strategy, and a great man with memory issues can't win over someone who knows him...
And we play again. And luck is on his side...and we play again, and again, and then he kicks my ass, and then me him, and over again...
And we have these conversations..."Do you hate me? Because you must, with the hand you've dealt me".
"Yeah, I feel so bad for you, *snort* not...and well...There's that pesky time you have left thing again... This is the good stuff.
I've had some serious heart to hearts with good friends in the past couple of days. Those that know me, and know the disease. The running theme has been we are engaged in a war zone. Seriously, WAR. It's a mine field. You never know what you are going to get.
I am a a reader, I've been thinking in the past few days of  the iconic Richard Matheson novel "I am Legend". In this story, the protagonist, Robert Neville, spends a great deal of time sitting up at night, having a drink, and contemplating what life means. He thinks about who he is, and why the universe can be so cruel. He listens to the diseased outside his home, trying to get to him, trying to sap his strength. I relate to this because Dad's disease is like a vampire, sucking the essence of who he is out of him. I've struggled to maintain my own sanity, be mindful and not let things get to me. I've spent a lot of time to myself, sitting with a beer on the porch staring at the Lake.  I wake up late at night and fight anxiety. I feel like I'm weathering the vampire assault, emotions boarded up like the boards of Robert's house. Every day I have things I must do to arm myself for the chaos. I exercise, I make myself go out, as when  I hole up here, the walls start to make an inward march. I try and do something creative so that my mind doesn't dwell on issues at hand. Garlic and mirrors. I try and slough off the anger and dark thoughts. There is a certain amount of futility to suck up, as I know things will not improve. I feel under siege. The bunker is the home that Dad and Mom made, and it is full of their ghosts, reminders of things lost. This visit, I rearranged things, and brought some of the comforts of home with me. My cats, some brighter lighting, projects. It does help. The anxiety lessens, even though the chaos, my nemesis, waits outside like the vampire horde that Richard Neville tries so desperately to make peace with. I found some today thanks to friends on that social network.

Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Amid the chaos of disease, I try to be the captain of my soul. I know that I am making the right choices out of difficult ones. I treasure the time spent with my ailing Father, and know that when it has reached it's inevitable conclusion, I'll have no regrets. Still, it's a tightrope to walk that I wouldn't wish on anyone. In the meantime, I will try and channel my inner Van Helsing, and keep the Faith.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Not Bad for a Human - review

I've been in anticipatory mode lately.  I've been away from home for a good while, away from my books, videos, my cats, etc., the comforts of home. The books are significant because I've know for a few weeks that my copy of Not Bad For a Human, Lance Henriksen's autobiography co-authored by Joe Maddrey was waiting for me. I'd already read many excellent reviews by other fans and reviewers, and as I'm a hopeless bibliophile as well as cinephile, it was killin' me.

I started the book Monday evening, and with a few necessary (this thing called life) interruptions, I finished yesterday morning. I love to read, and there aren't to many books that come along that I can't put down. If I have to put them down, I keep glancing longingly at them while pesky things like dishes, errands, and eating dinner interfere. Shogun, Misery, Into Thin Air, The Passage, Vincent Van Gogh's letters to his brother, Dracula, these are the previous contenders.  Not Bad For a Human is now included in that list. There are people out there, both famous and obscure, with fascinating lives that don't get an opportunity to tell their story, so the fact that through this book we are treated to one of the more engrossing and profound life experiences vicariously is really something.

I'm sure Joe Maddrey in preparing for this book realized the prolific output of Mr. Henriksen's oeuvre in film and television. Reading the book, I do believe he has seen them all. Enjoyable surely because as Mr. Henriksen says, "I've done a lot of B films, but I've never done a B performance" a dead on comment if ever there was one. Still, I have to give Mr. Maddrey props for taking on the sheer volume. It was worth it. The reviews and opinions on Mr. Henriksen's work are concise and informed. I can tell that Mr. Maddrey  has a great enthusiasm and geniune respect for the work.  Neither Mr. Henriksen or Mr. Maddrey ever succumb to what I'm sure must be a great temptation to sly or snarky about the films that Mr. Henriksen refers to as "alimony films" and that says a lot about the character of both parties. What your mother told you is really true "If you can't say something nice, don't anything at all". It's refreshing to read an autobiography that steers clear of any vitriol or venom.

There are so many great stories here. The description of an evening with Oliver Reed while filming "Pit and the Pendulum", starts off slightly cringe-worthy (read it for yourselves) and ends Bacchanalian. There are accounts of the many times Mr. Henriksen has done his own stunts, gone that extra mile, studied with experts on riding, card tricks, and knife tricks. I talked a little bit about my respect for his commitment in my post about "Near Dark". If it's possible for my already serious respect level to be raised, let's just say it has been.

That's a taste of the juicy stuff, the meaty stuff, one of two reasons I couldn't put it down.  The other reason is that there is a very serious spiritual thread running through the narrative. Life was by no means easy for Mr. Henriksen as a kid and a young man, and yeah, that's a serious understatement. I have a couple of friends who ended up being the parent of the family at a very young age, and the experiences I read about here seem to be similar.  Some people never get past this kind of life, but a few make it through spectacularly. It's reassuring for me to know that you can trudge through difficulty and emerge with real dignity and conviction at the other end.

There was a scrawled bit of graffiti that I used to pass by on my way to work years ago in New Orleans. It said "Bacchus Saves". I think that the gods of art and theater have smiled on Mr. Henriksen metaphorically, and all of us need to take that as a sanctified smack upside our heads. Mr. Henriksen loves what he does, and makes the hard work and commitment look easy. That's a true artist. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Get thee to and get a copy. Saying "You'll be glad you did" is cliche, so just frickin' do it. And when you do, stop by Mr. Henriksen's facebook page and let him know what you think. I guarantee it will be worth your while.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

No music lyrics this time, just a note that I'm going to be on the road.

The posting will probably be less frequent over the next 3 weeks. Max and I are headed to Wonderfest, having a long overdue visit with his family, (all of whom I really like, got very lucky in laws this time) and then on to some of the Vincentennial events. All of this should provide some good writing fodder, which is great, because participating in the "Not Bad For a Human" blogathon lit a fire under me.

I've got some good ideas for some upcoming pieces, something on "The Human Centipede" for sure. Probably "Flash Gordon" and "Times Square". Even though the blogathon has past, I'll tackle the Stuart Gordon/Lance Henriksen version of "Pit and the Pendulum".

Thanks for the comments and support so far. I've really appreciated it.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"I wanna do bad things with you" - Jace Everett

I'm going to write about one of my all time favorite film characters. I watch a lot of movies. At home, we have a floor to ceiling bookcase that is overflowing with DVD's, and another of VHS. Yeah. VHS. George Carlin could have written his "stuff" schtick by just taking a gander at my film collection.

Nope, it's not Indy, or Bond, or any of the usual suspects. It's Jesse Hooker, leader of the vampire clan in Katherine Bigelow's excellent and underrated film "Near Dark". Jesse cuts a swath through this film and in my horror loving heart like the former soldier he is. Jesse is bad, bad news. He is no longer human, and yet he shows an incredible devotion to his family of "Nocturnal Nomads" as I have heard the actors refer to them. They are are like a feral version of the Joads.

I had a great talk with a friend today about this film. In an incredible coincidence, one of my best and oldest friends happened to be in my hometown the same time I am. The reasons we are both here aren't good actually, but the parallel existence he and I seem to share has thrown us together again. Life does that sometimes.

Greg and I have always shared a love of horror. Horror literature for sure, but especially horror films. We had lunch today at one of my favorite places, an Irish bar that I've been going to since I was kid. You read that right. It used to be that the Dad of the dear friend that I mentioned in the last post would take us there, install us at the PONG table, and we'd have burgers while he had a couple of beers. It was a total dive back then. Seriously. Charles Bukowski kind of place. It's more of a fern bar now, but the burgers still rock. And they cook them rare, as it should be.

Of course our conversation turned to things dark almost immediately. The thing with my buddy Greg is that he and I share a very twisted sense of humor. Not just a little of kilter, seriously twisted. And he is one of a few friends I have that if we get to laughing about something, it's like we click, and we can't stop. We can't look at each other, because we already have tears rolling and have gone limp and can't breath. And we mess with each others heads in a big way, and it always ends up in laughter.

He has this thing he does, where he voices a random creepy and generally goofy thought. Like "What if you and I were stranded in the wilderness together, and we were like reduced to eating our own feet, Considine, would you? Or would you just eat me and get yourself out? *he kicks me under the table* "because I would definitely drag your footless ass back to civilization. Yeah. Considine. I'd be there for you". *again with the kick*. This kind of thing usually forces me to publicly flip him off, and that's why I love him.

Then we get to talking about the films that have recently creeped us out, or stayed with us in a very visceral way. We talk about "The Shining" for a while, and then I mention "Near Dark". He hasn't seen it.

There is a special kind of glee when you share a film you love with someone who is fresh to it. I got real excited and focused and conspiratorial, and I immediately launch into why I love this film so very much. It hits the mark on so many levels, but for me, it's all about Jesse Hooker.

I tell him all about it. "There's this scene. Two drifters, petty thiefs, thugs...approach the car where Jesse and his lady, Diamondback are stopped by the side of the road. They threaten different kinds of mayhem. At first, they especially focus on Diamondback. They taunt her something awful, and she just takes it and smiles". She's the perfect partner to Lance Henriksen's Jesse, and in this scene they both do that stillness thing that I was talking about in my previous post. They just slowly grin, a truly evil grin, have a sideways glance that speaks volumes, and after much harassment from these idiots, Jesse speaks.

"I'm wondering how you'll look with your face ripped off". The grin that turns into probably the scariest display of mirth I've ever seen on film. And I actually think it was a good choice that we never see these asshats demise. It would take away from the bar scene. Oh, the bar scene.

The tribe enters a roadhouse to the stains of John Parr's "Naughty Naughty". The minute this happens, you have a sharp intake of breath, because you just know bad things are going to happen, and they do. In a big way. Greg will read this, and I already gave him a few highlights, so I'm going to leave it at that in the interest of those you who may not have seen this film. And if you haven't Get thee to netflix, or your local big box store, and CHECK IT OUT.

I tell Greg about the blogathon, and why I've been enjoying the hell out of it. And why Mr. Henriksen is one of the best artists out there. We've talked previously at this lunch about scaring each other, Greg is a man who has actually hid in the bushes outside my house to jump out and scare the crap out of me. I tell him all about the preparation that was done by Mr. Henriksen for Jesse. The story of that is on an extra of the disc I have, and it's a good one. And I know Greg will appreciate the tale.

Mr. Henriksen basically starved himself prior to filming, and it shows. Jesse is positively skeletal, which is appropriate. He looks like Death that has come for you, and indeed he is. Lance/Jesse took some roadtrips, and he deliberately made himself look like a drifter, hungry, very hungry and gritty looking. He picked up a hitchhiker on this roadtrip, and he messed with him. He told him to roll a cigarette, and then mercilessly berated him about what a bad job he had done with it. In the clip about this, Mr. Henriksen says that he was sure this guy thought he was going to die. And he laughs. We get that.

Greg looks me in the eye, and he says "I LOVE that". Love it. Why do I love that?" And I reply, "It's commitment".

He will be watching "Near Dark" at the next opportunity, and I can't wait to talk to him about it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

You can have my isolation; you can have the hate that it brings - Trent Reznor

Sometimes, we all have to walk the dark path. You have to walk alongside and in the dark to understand and make peace with it. The third episode of "Millennium" that really struck me during my revisitng of the series is "The Thin White Line". Frank Black walks a very dark path in this one, a path that has to do with his regrets and personal convictions, his whole belief system. And as dark as it is, it's ultimately uplifting.

There is a copycat killer loose. He is mimicing a the pattern of a current inmate that Frank put inside years ago. A true psychopath that almost killed him. He wasn't successful, but he left him with a scar, a thin white line across the palm of his hand. Frank bears more than just a physical scar from this confrontation. The events send him into serious contemplation about what he could have or should have done.

I'm going to digress a bit here, but there is a point to this.

One of the people that I still just respect to an insane degree, to this day, was a cop. One of my best friend's Mom actually. Mrs. Neff. She was the first woman to work at our city PD. She then became a county sheriff, and eventuall FDLE. She was tough as nails. That, and she made a mean Key Lime Pie. The dichotomy is what is key here. She could decorate her house like a photospread in Vanity Fair, and that night smack a drunk felon upside the head with her Kel-Lite to subdue him. Frank Black has said over and over that he is not a cop. Technically, no. But he works in that world that is there to uphold all of our principles. He doesn't bake or decorate, but when he is at home there is a shift - he keeps the dark path far from the yellow house, by doing all of the things a husband and Father do, which is wisely emphasized often in this series.

It takes a special kind of person to do what Mrs. Neff and Frank Black do. I've heard that law enforcement officers have different ways of dealing with the special kind of daily stress they face. Some engage in gallows humor at a crime scene. While sitting at the table and eating that Key Lime pie Mrs. Neff would tell us about her day. She she didn't spare us for the most part, because she wanted us to know. She chose which experiences she shared carefully, but they all had a point. She wanted us to know about the dark that was out there, to be prepared. She could be funny, like telling us about how the recorder in her purse at an undercover sting wasn't working, and the John she was about to arrest was getting way to close and personal. She would tell us this while my friend and I would help her dress really trashy for the evening's work. We clipped roach clips in her hair, Picked out the tightest jeans in her closest, told her NO! Not the leather purse, you need a Crown Royal bag for your cash...

Sometimes she would scare the crap out of us, telling us about the time she was first on the scene of an accident that killed a girl our age, and had to go tell the parents that their daughter was dead. She didn't mess around, Mrs. Neff. And she loved her work. She loved it, and like Frank Black, eventually had to step back from it for a bit, transfering to a dept. in charge of transporting fugitives, after the undercover work. She told us she was spending way too much time every night with addicts, prostitutes, pimps, and petty criminals, and it was making her question her commitment to the job.

In "The Thin White Line". Frank has to confront a similar set of circumstances. This case, the one that he had such a close call with himself, is causing him a lot of angst. He isn't sleeping. He's reliving the trauma in his dreams. In my last post, I talked a bit about how sometimes in life you don't have good choices, just a few that are bad and less bad. When he and Richard Alan Hance last met, even though Hance had killed some of colleagues, and terrorized Frank himself, Frank made the choice to wound but not kill, and put this man into the justice system.

That brings me to the pivotal scene in this episode, Frank has to confront the monster, the man that is responsible for mentoring the current killer out there.  He has to confront the dark path he walked with this man in the past. And seriously, Mr. Henriksen hits it out of the park. Out. Of. The. Park. It's crazy good, this scene. I usually don't use this expression, as I don't have them. Just a basic rule, take that as you will. Frank has cojones of steel, and a job to do, and he will not be manipulated by this evil, empty man.
There is a lot of subtley in this scene. Stillness. Mr. Henricksen steps into the dangerous territory of the cell and is focused and still. Zen like. It's a dance between he and this murderer, played by Jeremy Roberts, who I gotta say, is intense and great. Frank needs information, and he plays on Hance's ego to coax it out...He makes him tell his story, Hance's walk down the dark path after he was bullied. The dance then escalates as Hance starts to relive his crimes, among them the fact that he groomed his former cellmate into the killer Frank Black now hunts. Frank has a job to do, but his hate for this man wants to compromise that. You can feel the taughtness of his emotions. It's as taught as the tension Hance fells due to the constant hum of the flourescent lights in his cell. Frank's moral code is keeping him on track, but his gut is telling him that he should have taken this guy out. And he is tempted, by his doubts and colleagues. And the moment where Frank tells Hance basically, give me a reason to be crazier than you, because I'll go there with no regrets and TAKE YOU OUT is stunning. Mr. Henriksen has this look in his arsenal, it's like a laser death ray, you don't want to be on the other end of it. Hance loses.

Frank now knows exactly how this end game with the copycat killer is going to go down. He is prepared. He steps in to the dark path of the sacrificial victim, and turns it back in the killer's face. And in a final confrontation a very important thing happens, Frank tries to get the killer to step off of the dark path. He is just about to be possibly successful, and Lt. Bletcher takes that option from him.

I won't say I was sorry to see the bad guy go. That's the dilemmna we all face. Step onto or out of the dark.

In a brilliant coda to the story, there is a panning shot of Hance sleeping. The lights go out.

Frank Black made an oath, and he will stand by it. That's the great thing about him, he walks the dark path when necessary, and steps off it at precisely the right time.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Anyone can see that the road that they walk on is paved in gold - Tony Scalzo

I mentioned in my last post that the first two standout episodes of Millenium I had chosen to review, I had a personal connection with. "The Wild and the Innocent" is another very well written and acted episode of this greatly underrated series.

The connection - I'll start with Charlie Starkweather. Caril Ann Fugate was a 14 year old girl in 1958, who's 19 year old boyfriend, Charlie Starkweather, murdered her family and then took her and set off on a midwest killing spree. To this day, there are many unanswered questions about both of these kids. That's what they were, kids. My Mother's cousin lived the next farm over from Caril Ann Fugate. I've always been fascinated with the story, and have seen "Badlands" and "Murder in the Heartland" several times. I've never seen any of the Starkweather related films with my film loving Mother however, as it was just too close to home for her. She talked to me about how much the story bothered her, and how she followed the story when it happen so closely because she knew some of the people involved. I kept thinking about all of this as I watched "The Wild and the Innocent".

The truly great thing about this episode of Millennium is the choice to lay out the narrative in an epistolary style. Maddie Haskell is a troubled young girl living in an abusive household. Maddie's letters to the innocent in this episode, her "Angel", are the framework for an analysis of what makes disenfranchised kids do the bad things they do. Maddie's Mother has been murdered by her abusive Stepfather, and Maddie and her very wild boyfriend Bobby are forced to deal with him.

"Hell Maddie, what did you think he was coming up here to do, read you Winnie the Pooh?..." No, Maddie's Stepdad was not going to read her Winnie the Pooh, and in fact gets knocked out and placed in a car trunk by Bobby. Bobby is the catalyst for Maddie's reluctant search for answers to why bad things happen to good people. The sad part is that, when your choices dwindle, you often have to make hard choice from bad ones. The least bad. Once Maddie chooses her path, her options dwindle even further. She decides to find her Angel, the one good thing she has in life, and this where she and Frank Black will cross paths.

As soon as Frank sets his hands on the pages of Maddie's inner dialogue, well...There aren't many actors that can convey deep emotion with just a look, no dialogue. Mr. Henrikson is one of them. Frank finds Maddies personal missives, and the sequence where he reads them is handled perfectly. It's impressive acting, and I was completely knocked out.

There is that, and there is the scene where Frank Black confront's Maddie's abusive Stepdad. The abuser is complaining of his treatment at the hands of the kids, and says "I want to help you, I really do, they beat  me and left me in the truck. If it wasn't for that air pocket, I'd be dead. You ever think of that?" Frank levels that steely gaze at him and says "Yeah, but not the way you do". The look speaks volumes with that one line. Frank has to do his job for this girl, and no one will ultimately get in his way.

There is an incredible script here. Maddie's words, how she talks about her mother and her child, that's the true innocence that makes this episode so very poignant. She talks about Faith, using the words of her pastor. "Though none of us saw the miracle in the Lord's Tomb that day, All's you have to do is believe in it hard enough and it would come true. That's what faith was. We can't be weak, we can't dismiss the miracle, You have to be strong enough to make mysteries real." Frank Black knows about Faith. It's obvious that Frank feels for her, and this is brought home when Maddie and Bobby's story comes to it's inevitable violent end. I was pleased that she made the right choice, the best choice from her very limited options and that Frank appreciates that about her as well.

"You saved me that day, only man in my life that ever did anything nice for me." This is what Maddie tells Frank in the final scene. Frank visits Maddie, and again, Mr. Henriksen doesn't have a lot of dialog. Frank is there supporting Maddie in the only way he can, and that is all over his face, in every shot, as well as the connection he feels for this girl, so different from his own. Heather McComb is terrific as Maddie and I was once again very moved by the entire episode.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"You can't save everyone, but you can try" - Bruce Springsteen.

The past few days I've been re-watching the great Chris Carter series Millennium, starring Lance Henriksen. Mr. Henriksen has an autobiography coming out on May 5th, and since I have this fledging blog, I've decide to participate in the blogathon to coincide with the release.

It's been since the original airing of the show that I've seen all of the episodes (At 47, my memory ain't what it used to be, especially considering my past exploits...) and good a friend has been bugging me to re-visit it. I got the first season, and dug in. The standouts so far - The Well Worn Lock - Wild and the Innocent - The Thin White Line. The first two resonated deeply with me personally. The third, well, it gets everything right.  I'll review the first, the others to follow in the coming days.

These episodes are the reason that I'm mesmerized by Frank Black. The series is intense, and he and his family are the beacon in the dark. The first episode I've mentioned is really more of a vehicle for Catherine Black (Megan Gallagher) though props to Frank, for being the supportive husband all of us in the estrogen brigade would love to be married to.

"The Well Worn Lock" is a horrific story of abuse. For anyone that doesn't understand why a victim can't walk away, they need to see this.

A dear friend, a woman who I miss deeply as she passed away in 2007, at age 48, experienced this very kind of abuse. I was talking to her on the phone one evening, and she mentioned that she was watching a documentary on Iwo Jima. Her Stepdad was there. She said "Oh, there's some guys with flamethrowers, burning up the Japanese, probably my Stepdad, he would have enjoyed that".

It hit me then. I asked her if she was abused. Her answer - "In every way you can imagine. Sometime, we'll sit and have a drink, and I'll tell you about it." We never got to.

A few things you should know about her. She was an incredible artist. She did illustrations of B&W film stills. She did them with acrylic and those tiny aught size brushes that have like two sable hairs. They're stunning. Friends think they are photographs. She also was one of the kindest people I ever knew. Giving, sharing. Amazing, given her circumstance. You can see her art here.

She accomplished this body of work despite near blindness in one eye, due to the beatings she endured. After her death my husband and I visited her Mother and we all commiserated on our feelings. Her Mother gave us some of her monster figures from her room. There was no bed in it. She slept on the floor her whole adult life, because of what happened to her in the bed she grew up in. She wore her hair short, because he liked it long. He threatened her beloved dog. He ended up hanging himself.

As I watched this episode, I was both uncomfortable, and relieved. Uncomfortable to see a realistic portrayal of what so many refuse to pay attention to, and relieved that there are people out there that GET IT. The threats - for our friend, it was the death of her pet. She didn't dare. And if she did, no one would believe her, and that's key. The authorities will probably listen to you, but if they have any doubt and send you back, well, that situation is the ultimate loss of control, and victims have too much of that already.

The Blacks get it. They get what it takes to bring these family skeletons into the light. They get why we all need both retribution and redemption.

By the end of it, I was so moved, I sat for a long time....just thinking how much Linda would have liked it.