Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Cursed Thoughts

When screen legend Joan Crawford died in 1977, her arch rival, Bette Davis reportedly declared, “you should never say bad things about the dead, only good.”

“Joan Crawford is dead,” Ms. Davis continued. “Good.”

Can you feel the love? Neither can I.

I remember being appalled when I first this heard this story.

Obviously these two women had a history and I don’t think anyone expected Bette Davis to crank out some kind words about someone she clearly hated.

No, what I found upsetting was the way that Bette David declared her hatred so publicly.

Shame on her, I thought. Didn’t she realize how badly her comments made her look? Trashing the recently departed doesn’t do them any damage. It just makes you look like bitter and angry.

Well, last week I got the chance to practice what I had been peddling.

I learned through a Facebook post that a guy I used to work with in the 1980s and whom I hated with an absolute passion had died at 67 years old.

Oh, how I loathed this guy. I could give you all the details—I could write an opera about that prick--but this all happened 35 freaking years ago and I am really want to forget that grief.

I was shocked at the news of his death, and a little shaken, as I always am, when someone in my age bracket bites the dust. You don’t want to think about the belling that tolls for thee.

The challenging part came when people started posting their thoughts about this guy on Facebook.

I was stunned as I read one glowing comment after another, especially from people who I thought should have known better.

Are this people serious? I thought. We are talking about the same guy, right?

But I said nothing. As tempting as it was to unload a whole boatload of venom on this guy’s memory, I clammed up.

When a friend asked for my thoughts, I merely responded “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and hoped that would be the end of it.

But it wasn’t. More questions came my way and that’s when the dark side of my mind reared up and composed the vilest, most vicious line it could create.

I’m not going to repeat it here, but this particular remark included that four-letter gem that starts with a “c.”

Yeah, that one.

His Hour Upon the Stage

Good God, how my fingers ached to hit the keyboard and pound out that message of hate.

If anyone how that right to say such a terrible thing, it was me, seeing as how much grief this guy had caused me.

But I held back. I knew unleashing this vile sentiment would only reflect poorly on me.

Instead I recalled a line from Macbeth that Malcolm uses to describe a traitorous nobleman who confesses his crimes and begs forgiveness before his execution.

“Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it,” Malcolm says.

And that’s what I wrote.

It wasn’t easy holding back my rage. Even now I feel some regret about not dropping the C-bomb, and I want to go back to that memorial post and let the arrow fly.

But if I go back to the post, I go back to the past, and back to one of the unhappiest times in my life.

And I would be revealing my harshest self for all the internet to see.

This isn’t about respect for the dead, it’s about respect for myself.

My father was never one to hold back his feelings, and the fact that a person was dead didn’t slow him down any.

But then my father, God rest his soul, was also a very angry man.

My mother, on the other hand, tended to believe that if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.

I would like to think that I’m a better person than I was in 1980s.

Back then I chose to stay in a hostile environment where nothing was ever going to change.

I complained endlessly about this guy and how he got away with murder, and how unfair it all was.

But I remained there for five years, convinced I could make a difference, and—I suspect—subconsciously enjoying my role as a martyr.

I hope that if I ever found myself in a similar situation that I would have the good sense to vacate the premises with all due haste.

I want to drop the hate for others and increase the love for myself.

Now I have to wrap this up. There are some wire hangers in my closet and I’m going to throw them the hell out.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The 21 Club

Are we tired of the New Year talk yet?

I hope not.

After last week’s tirade, I thought I would focus this week on some of the things I’d like to work on in 2021.

I’ve been looking for a theme for this new year and I think I found it in a YouTube video.

Every January I watch several self-help speakers to put me in a positive frame of mind, and this one guy in particular—Les Brown—came up with a line that really spoke to me.

Find a way to win.

Isn’t that great? Simple, brief, and direct. Five words that tell me to quit complaining, stop making excuses, and get out there and live.

Getting out there is going to be a challenge in the Age of Covid and we’ll likely have a long, slow walk back to normal as people get vaccinated.

But at least I can get out of my head if I can’t get out of my apartment.

This is an on-going process, of course, not bound by the calendar, but I like using this time of the year to breathe life back into my dreams.

I’ve been slacking off on the writing lately, for example, coming up with excuses instead of results. It’s time to crank up the discipline, knock off the web-surfing, and make the magic happen.

Regret has been a real drag on my life and I’ve finally realized that this is another form of self-sabotage.

I regret some of the decisions I’ve made in my life, but constantly re-hashing them just wastes more time—and makes room for more regret, which then morphs into anger, resentment and hostility.

Truth Bombs

Fear has also been a millstone around my soul. Whether it was failing to change my routine, or move to a new location, or bail on bad relationships, I have often let fear take the steering wheel.

This course of action—or the lack of it—has resulted in disappointment and, yes, regret.

Years ago, when I was going to noontime services at Trinity Church, one of the priests, Father Mark, based his entire sermon on the line from the Gospel “The truth will make you free.”

“Notice that it says the truth will make you free,” Father Mark told us. “It does not say the truth will make you rich or make you popular. It just says the truth will make us free.”

Obviously, I don’t like admitting I was afraid to change, but that it is the truth and acknowledging that painful fact does make me free.

Why didn’t I move to L.A. years ago instead of endlessly taking about it and going nowhere? Fear, that’s why.

While many people wouldn’t hesitate making that move to get something they wanted, I just thought of what could go wrong.

The truth is that instead of finding a way to win, I often find a way to lose, to short-circuit my desires and stay stuck in one place.

A shrink once told me that by constantly ignoring his advice, I was winning by losing.

I didn’t appreciate his observation at the time, but now I understand what he was telling me. The fear of change kept me trapped in that awful comfort zone, but at least I didn’t have to take any risks.

I don’t blame anyone else for this behavior; I can’t. But I can acknowledge it, I can handle this truth and I can learn from it.

I can find a way to win.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Invasion U.S.A.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Walt Kelly’s Pogo.

Maybe U2 was right: Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.

I still can’t believe what happened on Wednesday in our nation’s capital, less than one week into 2021.

A mob of Donald Trump supporters, spurred on by the president’s baseless allegations of election fraud, stormed the Capitol Building, something that hasn’t happened since the British set fire to the place in 1814.

The traitors murdered a Capitol police officer during their rampage as they waved Confederate flags and looted offices of senators and congressmen in support of a morally bankrupt scumbag who’d kill his own mother if he thought he’d get more press coverage.

“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” Orange Adolph tweeted last month. “Be there, will be wild!”

Well, for once in his miserable existence, Donald Trump told the truth.

I’m just getting over a nasty cold and now my country is making me sick.

This wasn’t the post I planned to write. I was all set to discuss my goal for the New Year. I wanted to write about change and self-improvement.

But this morning I woke up and the images of those goons trampling through the Capitol kept playing in my head.

Unlike Trump, my father actually served this country, fighting in Europe during World War II. I’m glad he wasn’t around to see the country he risked his life for so thoroughly debased.

We’re going to get a new president in 10 days, but the damage has been done and the insurrectionists show no signs of contrition or retreat.

In fact, according to a commentator on NPR, radical rightwing elements view Wednesday’s debacle as a great victory and plan more hideous events.

Many of these losers believe in the QAnon conspiracy theory, where Democrats, Hollywood stars, and so-called “global elites” are allegedly running a massive pedophile ring and drinking children’s blood.

Trump, they believe, is the only one willing to stand up to them.

'How Stands the Union?

Yeah, really.

People are rejecting science, arguing about something as basic as wearing a mask during a pandemic.

Do you seriously think that taking this precaution is a violation of your rights?

I don’t enjoy covering my face every time I leave my house, but I do it because I don’t want to catch the coronavirus.

Refusing to wear a mask during this deadly time doesn’t make you the next Patrick Henry. It makes you a horse’s ass.

There are those who believe the coronavirus is some kind of bio weapon, while others swear the disease doesn’t exist at all. Some of these latter types are uttering this madness with their dying breaths.

The World Health Organization has called this moment an infodemic, according to an article posted on the National Geographic website, a time in which a deluge of data is muddled with falsehoods, sometimes—as we saw in Washington--with devastating effects.

And it’s not just these freaks trashing our country.

It’s also the corrupt politicians, like Mitch McConnell and others in the Republican High Command, who know full well that these people are crazy, but were willing to use this demented fury to push through their own agendas.

A group of Republicans who continued to challenge the election results even after the rioters had invaded the building, even after people had died.

That is a special brand of treason.

People are putting a lot of blame on social media, which must shoulder some of the responsibility for this, but we had Hitler long before we had Twitter.

Facebook, Instagram and the other outlets are pouring gasoline on these hateful fires.

I’m going to try to be more hopeful this year, but make no mistake: the United States is suffering from Covid of the soul and there is no vaccine on the horizon.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Rockin' New Year

This will be brief by necessity.

I have started the New Year as sick as a whole kennel full of dogs.

It feels like a nasty sinus infection but during these plague days there are no guarantees. so obviously, I'm a little nervous.

I have been checking my symptoms to see if they resemble anything like Covid-19 and so far, they don’t. In particular I haven’t lost my sense of smell or taste, which are two of the big ones.

But, Christ, I sure feel lousy.

Some of my family members are urging me to get a Covid-19 test and I intend to, but right now I can barely move around the house.

I have been living on soup, crackers, and some really bad TV. This is a hell of a way to start a new year, but then I felt fabulous on the first day of 2020 and look how well that worked out.

The SyFy Channel ran its annual “Twilight Zone” marathon this year and I made sure to record one of my favorites, “Nick of Time,” which stars William Shatner and Patricia Breslin as young newlyweds whose car breaks down in a small Ohio town.

The couple have lunch at a local diner and soon Shatner becomes fascinated with—and then enslaved by—a fortune-telling napkin dispenser at their table.

Soon Shatner is convinced the thing is actually predicting the couple’s future, until his wife finally snaps him out of it. He realizes his foolishness and the couple leave, ready to face life on their own terms.

The episode ends with a clearly frightened couple sliding into the same booth and pumping the thing for answers.

“Two people permanently enslaved by the tyranny of fear and superstition, facing the future with a kind of helpless dread,” Rod Serling says. “Two others facing the future with confidence — having escaped one of the darker places of the Twilight Zone.”

Written by Richard Matheson and broadcast on November 18, 1960, “Nick of Time” has an important message about the dangers of being ruled by superstition and fear.

Part of me says that starting off a new year so sick is a bad omen, while my more logical side says I can make improve or change any time I want, calendar be damned.

I think I’ll side with Captain Kirk on this one.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Ribbon and Blues

“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

When Alexander the Great encountered the Gordian knot in 333 B.C., rather than untying the mass of tightly entangled ropes, the young king drew his sword.

“It makes no difference how they are loosed,” he declared, slicing the knot with a single stroke.

That’s often my style when I’m faced with tough problems—for better and usually for worse. But on Christmas Day I decided to give the Alexander technique a rest in exchange for a little patience.

My sister, auntie and I had gotten together for our holiday dinner where we ate, laughed, and tried to forget about Covid-19 for a little while.

After watching The Mousehole Cat, one of my favorite holiday movies—yeah, smartass, I cried, okay?—we returned to the kitchen for dessert, which included a stack of Italian Christmas cookies, wrapped in plastic and held together with a brightly colored ribbon.

Any other time, I would’ve grabbed the nearest sharp knife or scissors, chopped that ribbon in two, and dove head first into the cookie pile.

On Friday, however, I had a sudden and odd flashback to a previous holiday dinner where my auntie was on dessert patrol.

This memory suddenly popped into my head where, instead of samurai slicing her way through the ribbon like I would do, my auntie was slowly untying the damn thing.

At the time I thought, what the hell is wrong with this woman? Why is she torturing us like this? I want my cookies and I want them now, damn it.

“You never know when you’ll need a ribbon,” she said.

A child of the Depression, my auntie can’t abide waste and by applying a little bit of effort she was able to salvage the ribbon and still unwrap the goodies.

Good Ribbon

Now it was my turn. I really wanted to see if I could be as careful and as deliberate as my auntie.

It didn’t seem likely, given my notorious short-fuse, but I’m looking to improve myself and I thought this was worth the effort.

And so, I began…

Patience and anger have this tight relationship, where the lack of one quickly leads to an explosion of the other. And I was feeling it big time on Christmas.

The obnoxious knot was not coming undone. Whoever tied this thing must have been a sailor or a sadist because he sure as hell didn’t want us getting to those cookies.

As I felt the anger levels rising, I applied my shrink’s advice to detach and observe—that is, step out of myself and view my actions and thoughts like a scientist watching someone else.

I saw how my mind invariably reaches back through time to replay ugly incidents from the past as a way to rev up the rage. Anger is a drug just like heroin and it’s always looking for something to feed on.

I didn’t take the bait this time, though. I didn’t rip the ribbon to shreds and then suffer through the inevitable regret.

I just kept working and it got to a point where I honestly didn’t recognize myself. The guy looked like me, but he wasn't flipping out like I usually do.

Finally, I undid the knot, pulled aside the ribbon and liberated all those cookies.

It felt good to reach my goal without destroying something and, as result, the cookies tasted even better to me.

Sometimes it does make a difference how knots are loosed.

I know that I am by no means cured of my anger issues. In fact, I was getting quite impatient when I was trying to find illustrations for this post.

But as soon I told myself to let things go, I felt better and I found some cool images.

I may never become King of Macedonia, but as least I’ve got my cookies and a nice long ribbon.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Dark Holiday

It’s Christmas and what better way to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year than by watching one of the scariest movies in creation?

My sister and I did that very thing recently when we viewed The Haunting, Robert Wise’s stunning 1963 adaption of Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House.

This film has been scaring the screaming bejeezus out of my family for a generation and I am happy to report that it delivered the ghoulish goods once again.

We had gotten together for one of our Saturday sanity sessions, where we emerge from our respective Covid cocoons for dinner, TV, and some much-needed social interaction.

Netflix was on the fritz on this particular evening, so after rummaging through my sister's DVR collection, we settled upon our favorite fright flick.

I was thinking that this was an odd choice given the time of year, but then I remember that A Christmas Carol, the mother of all holiday stories—is packed to the rafters with all manner of things that go bump in the night.

Christmas as celebrated in Europe and the U.S. was originally connected to the “pagan” Winter Solstice celebration and the festival known as Yule, according to Justin Daniels, a religious studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

And now with the coronavirus breathing foully down our necks, a good ghost story offers a nice distraction from the dismal reality.

Shot in black and white, The Haunting tells the story of paranormal researcher who assembles a group of people at Hill House, a notorious New England mansion with a history of violent deaths.

“Hill House had stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more,” Dr. Markway, the researcher tells us at the film’s opening. “Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there... walked alone.”

Oy vey, I’m getting scared all over again...

The group members have all sorts of tangled emotions that the evil old house feeds on, which is something I never noticed as a child, as I was only interested in the spooky stuff.

'A House that was Born Bad’

One of them, Eleanor, is emotionally unstable and her condition rapidly deteriorates when she comes to Hill House.

Julie Harris, who portrayed Eleanor, was suffering from depression at the time she was filming the movie and she channeled her own issues into the character.

Claire Bloom plays Theo, a clairvoyant, who is a lesbian, although the censors of the day decreed that her character could not touch Eleanor.

Wise made the film as a tribute to his mentor, Val Lewton, the producer of such horror classics as Cat People, I Walk with a Zombie, and Wise’s first directorial effort, Curse of the Cat People.

Lewton believed that people were more afraid of the unknown than things they could see and that philosophy is on full display in The Haunting.

There are no severed heads, no gallons of fake blood spraying across the screen, none of the stomach-turning crap you see in so many of today’s slasher movies.

No, this film brilliantly uses sound and darkness to fill you with an overwhelming sense of dread—even after multiple viewings.

One of the most frightening scenes starts with off with a thunderous pounding in the middle of the night that grows louder and gets closer to the Eleanor and Theo, and while I was watching it, I had a flashback to a childhood vacation in the Poconos.

We were staying in this cottage and our parents had rented a TV just so we could watch The Haunting. We were away from the city's bright lights and being up in the woods, where the darkness is real, made the movie much more terrifying.

Okay, then. So, we had our devilish little detour and now we’re gearing up for our holiday dinner, where we’ll eat, drink and watch Ebenezer Scrooge get put through the supernatural ringer.

I can’t wait to hear Marley’s ghost hit those high notes.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sign on the Window

It’s the holidays, that time of year where I spend much of my time hurling swear words at my widescreen in response to all the shameless advertising.

There are few things I hate more than some money-grubbing corporation telling me that it won’t really be Christmas unless I buy whatever overpriced crap they’re peddling.

Most of these ads are about as subtle as one of those door-busting holiday sales that department stores insist on staging--and about as pleasant.

These spots blatanly hijack beloved carols and regurgitate them as pathetic jingles.

They dragoon Santa Claus and Ebenezer Scrooge to serve as pitchmen, encouraging us all to have a Merry Christmas as we run our credit card bills into the stratosphere.

One car company is particularly outrageous. I refuse to mention the name, but the ads depict smiling simpletons giving each other brand new cars—complete with oversized bows—as gifts.

Oh, yeah, everybody I know gives out cars at Christmas.

I have this reoccurring fantasy where a repo man drives up, hooks the gift-wrapped vehicles to a noisy old tow truck and drives off into the snowy darkness with a hearty cry of “you’re missed your payment, loser!”

(By the way, Saturday Night Live recently roasted this awful ad campaign.)

The only holiday ad I enjoy is the Norelco Santa commercial, which I have loved ever since I was a little shaver.

This spot features a stop motion Kris Kringle sliding into a town on a giant Norelco electric razor. The ad ends with the now-famous line, “Even our name says Merry Christmas.”

But now Kohl’s has come along and disrupted my long winter’s kvetch with a 90-second gem that has me clamoring for the Kleenex every time I see it.

And yet I keep on watching it.

The ad, created by director Rodrigo Garcia Saiz for the ad agency Yard NYC, is part of the retailers’ “Give with All Your Heart” campaign and it sure gave this old heart of mine a serious workout.

In this Covid-conscious story, a little girl befriends an elderly woman living next door through a series of signs they hold up in their windows.

There is no dialog and the only voice we hear is Willie Nelson singing “The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie.

You Gotta Have Heart

Yeah, they’re really hitting below the belt on this one.

“Will you be my friend?” the little girl writes on her sign.

“I would love that,” the woman responds.

And here comes the water works. There’s something about this little girl just straight up asking someone to be her friend that gets the teardrops falling.

Only a child would be so forthcoming in seeking companionship. Somewhere along the way to adulthood we seemed to have lost this ability to connect with each other in such a simple and direct manner.

It’s an easy question to a child, but to an adult it can sound like desperation.

Okay, so next the little girl puts up a sign asking the woman her favorite color.

“Green. Yours?” the neighbor asks.

The little girl tapes up her response: “Red What’s your name?”

But then something goes wrong and the woman drops out of sight.

Time goes by, the little girl looks out her window forlornly for her new friend, but all she sees is the taped sign on the window gradually come loose.

Finally, on Christmas morning, she gets up, looks out her window and sees her friend is back. The neighbor is wearing a plastic hospital bracelet, which explains her disappearance.

The spot ends with the woman holding up a sign asking “Did you get what wished for?” and the little girl smiles and nods her head.

And I start crying hysterically.

I can’t help myself, damn it, this thing just breaks my heart. It is a testament to the filmmaker’s skill that he was able to stir up so much emotion in less than two minutes.

Yes, it’s a commercial, but it’s not a rallying cry for rabid consumerism.

The Christmas season is likely to be very difficult this year.

The world was a lonely place before the coronavirus arrived and this plague has only served to increase feelings of isolation a hundredfold.

This ad shows that people can still connect in the harshest times even if they can’t get close.