Sunday, August 26, 2018

Peace with Goodwill

I wonder what Klaatu would think of us now.

I pulled up a beach chair in my local park Friday night and treated myself to a screening of the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.

I’d made certain earlier in the day that the folks at the Narrows Botanical Gardens were screening the 1951 original starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal and not the 2008 atrocity with Keanu Reeves.

This was the last night of the summer movie festival and I was feeling kind of low. I hate winter with a passion and in my mind once we clear Labor Day, it’s a screaming hell-plunge into freezing days, 16-hour nights, and no outdoor anything.

So, this seemed like a fine way to start the summer send-off: a beautiful night, a great film, and a five-minute walk home.

Of course, you have to deal with traffic noise, winds ruffling the movie screen, and noisy kids running around and shrieking at each other, but the price was right, as my father used to say, meaning it was free.

Based on a short story “Farewell to the Master,” by Harry Bates, The Day the Earth Stood Still tells the tale of Klaatu, an alien who visits earth from another world on a mission of peace and is shot by panicky soldiers shortly after he steps out of his flying saucer.

Klaatu has come a long way to warn humanity to clean up its psychotic act or face annihilation. He’s accompanied by Gort, a monstrous robot that is capable of nuking entire planets. And Gort comes awfully close to wiping out the earth until Patricia Neal issues the famous command Klaatu barada nikto!

“I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason,” Klaatu states at one point.

The Decision Rests with You

Substituting fear for reason? I can only imagine what Klaatu would think if he could see the current political situation. The world was a pretty crazy place in 1951, no doubt, but since then we have amped up fear dramatically while flushing reason straight down the crapper.

“I'm impatient with stupidity,” he declares.

Oy…we’re in worse shape than I thought.

The film has numerous messiah references. Our hero uses the alias Carpenter; he is killed and resurrected, and eventually ascends into the sky.

Interestingly, The Day the Earth Stood still came out in the same year as another one of my science fiction favorites, The Thing from Another World, which views aliens as bloodthirsty invaders to be destroyed, not as superior beings.

Before he leaves Klaatu advises humans to lay down its sword and shield.

“For our policemen, we created a race of robots,” he says. “Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us.”

Initially I thought it was bizarre that people would hand law enforcement duties over to machines, but then you look around and see so many people with their noses stuck in a smart phone.

Autonomous vehicles will be driving on our roads sooner than later and sex robots are apparently a thing. How long before we entrust robots with police work as well?

It sounds creepy, but it’s hard to believe that machines could do a worse job of maintaining order than we have. Whatever we do, we’d better get on it soon before Gort makes a return engagement.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

52 Minutes

Okay, I probably could’ve handled that a little better.

Last week I got the bill for the double knee surgery I had back in December and since I had switched insurance companies in the interim, I figured I should touch base with the old outfit to see what was going on.

The price tag is sizeable to say the least and I wanted to know what was going on before bill collecting commandos kicked my door its hinges.

So, I called my old insurance company and what followed was a nearly hour-long waking nightmare that would’ve scared the screaming Jesus out of Rod Serling himself.

The experience left me shaken, exhausted, barely able to speak, and perilously close to insanity.

And I’m not exaggerating about the time: my cell phone clearly showed that 52 holy-shit-on-a-shingle minutes had burned up during the course of this telephonic fiasco.

This was the same week I reconnected on Facebook with a novelty song from 1966 called “They’re Coming to Take Me Away,” which turned out to be the perfect soundtrack for this horrible experience.

I knew I’d be bounced around a little bit at the outset and, sure enough, the first lady I spoke with once I got through the robo-voice said she had to switch me to another department—and promptly hung up me.

I angrily hit the redial button and then the torture began in earnest. I was shuffled, shoved and shunted from one incompetent imbecile to another.

At one point the horror show veered off into Stephen King country when one of these losers apparently had her headphones switched off.

“Is anyone there?” she asked repeatedly.

“I’m here!” I shrieked at my smartphone. “I’m here!

I couldn’t bear the thought of being cut off again, of having to redo the whole hideous process, and I wailed into my palm like a champion hog caller.

Where Life is Beautiful All the Time

Finally, this genius got her phone to work and promptly told me to stop shouting.

Ah, but the shouting was just beginning. This woman had mastered neither her job nor the English language and after a few minutes I started to wonder if waterboarding could be all that bad.

Now I’m not some xenophobic knuckle-dragger with a slobbering hatred for foreigners. These people were hired because corporations want to save money by not hiring American workers—savings, by the way, that we consumers never see.

But if you are going to take the road to Bali with your customer service department, the least you could do is staff it with people who can speak and understand English.

“I can’t understand you,” I told this woman. “Please put your supervisor on the phone.”

I was convinced she was going to hang up on me, but moments later a man—an American man—picked up the phone and proceeded to help me out.

He was courteous, helpful, and knowledgeable—the exact opposite of everyone else I had spoken with that day.

I was relieved, but also angry. Where the hell had he been for the last 50-odd minutes? It seems like they kept him in a glass case and broke it open only when lunatics like me called up and lost their shit.

I felt like some medieval invader fighting my way into a castle only to learn that the dude standing next to me had the key to the front door the whole time. Gadzooks and go fuck yourself, my liege.

But the biggest problem here was yours truly. Once again, I let the anger and rage take over; once again I wasted my time, energy, and health trying to berserk my way through a problem that required patience and intelligence.

I keep saying I’m going to change my evil ways and yet here I am writing another post about my latest implosion.

Of course, many alcoholics and addicts slide back into their destructive behavior and they do what they can to get back on solid ground. I’m going to treat this like a temporary setback and resume my anger management routines.

I have to do something constructive or one of these days someone will be coming to take me away.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Flying High

You think I would’ve learned my lesson with John Ford.

Several years ago, I rented "How Green Was My Valley" from Netflix because I thought it was time I finally caught up with Ford’s 1941 classic about a family of Welsh miners in the early 20th Century.

I had seen so much of Ford’s work that it seemed wrong to have this one slip by for so long.

But I confess that I wasn’t feeling terribly excited. Yes, it was supposed to be a great movie, but I thought it might be stuffy and dated. And what the hell did I know from Welsh coal miners anyway?

I was responding to this film with all the enthusiasm of a trip to the dentist.

Well, when I finally sat down to watch the thing, I was sobbing so hard that I was nearly dehydrated by the time the credits rolled. The setting may have nothing to do with my life, but the characters and the emotions grabbed hold of me like few films ever have in my life.

I strongly suspect this is the reason why it’s called a classic.

Now I’ve had a Russian film called “The Cranes are Flying” on my Netflix hit list for ages.

Again, I had heard great things about it, but I thought it might be dreary and depressing and I allowed myself to get sidelined by the latest hot movie or TV series, while the cranes kept flying further south down the list.

Finally, I decided I needed to watch something with some gray matter. I had been burned too many times by positively-reviewed action crapfests that offered nothing beyond mindless violence and deafening special effects.

The people responsible for these atrocities weren’t even trying to make sense. They were just throwing junk on the screen and hoping audiences lapped it up.

Hidden Tears

Enough, already, I declared, let me sink my eyeballs into a real film. So, I moved Mikhail Kalatozov’s World War II saga up to the Number One spot and five minutes in, I knew I had struck gold.

Made in 1957—the year I was born—“The Cranes Are Flying” tells the story of Veronika and Boris, a pair of young Russian lovers whose lives are torn apart by Germany’s surprise invasion in 1941.

Kalatozov is a visual genius, composing beautiful deep-focus shots that take us right into the story.

“The Cranes Are Flying” is among the “"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die," and it’s also a favorite of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola—and it’s easy to see why.

Be warned there are no superheroes, wookies, droids, or CGI. There is only a powerful story told with bold, unforgettable images.

According to, the film caused quite a stir in the Soviet Union because of its depiction of such issues as draft dodging and war profiteering—a sharp contrast to the propaganda bilge that people had been accustomed to watching.

“The Cranes Are Flying” has also renewed my interest in making my own film. I’ve running my yap since the Middle Ages about how I want to make my own film.

Perhaps this experience will be what I need to get me up off my ass and out into the world.

And I’m also wondering what other classics I’ve got buried on my Netflix list.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

One Summer Night

Saturday night went so well even the R train cooperated.

Residents of Bay Ridge and the surrounding areas know all too well the misery associated with the Broadway local that chugs through our fair neighborhood…whenever the hell it feels like it, apparently.

In fact, the R train and its express associate, the N train, are often referred to as the Rarely and the Never ‘round the parts.

But last night the little engine that wouldn’t came through big time to put the finishing touch on an awesome save as I abruptly flipped the bird to the comfort zone.

Now my weekend started off nicely on Friday when I met two of my writing class buddies in Park Slope for an evening of food, drink, and yakking. We had talked about meeting up and, following the advice of sister and auntie, I took the lead in making the thing happen.

Saturday’s weather report had initially called for rain most of the day, so I decided to skip making any serious plans to focus on a slew of household chores that I have been putting off since the Johnson Administration.

But in turns out you really don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows—or when the rain falls, because after a heavy morning storm, the clouds took a hike, the sun came out and the temperature rose.

And I was all lit up with no place to go.

What followed was a rather depressing exercise in denial. A Brooklyn filmmaking group was having an event in a bar in Williamsburg, but I managed to talk myself out of going because it’s a pain to get there, I didn’t want to come home late on the subway, and I don’t know the people running the thing, and blah, blah, bullshit.

My next tactic was to get dinner and watch an old movie I had recorded a while ago but suddenly just had to watch right now. Naturally by the time that was done, it was too damn late to go to Williamsburg.

Under the Moon of Love

Step three was self-abuse. I proceeded to berate myself for being a procrastinator and a hopeless loser who’ll never change. This tactic is particularly insidious because it gives the illusion of motivation, but actually uses self-loathing to dig myself even deeper into a hole.

Finally, I pretty much evicted myself from my own home. I was not going to sit in front of the TV on a fabulous summer night—that’s what February is for.

The Brooklyn Museum has a First Saturday event every month and while I didn’t want to go, I pointed my butt to the subway and rode downtown—whining and complaining the whole way about the trains and the noise and the freaks hanging around me.

I kept on bellyaching as I got off at the museum stop and walked up the subway stairs.

And then I saw people—living, breathing people, not images on a TV screen—laughing, singing, and hanging out. The museum had a Caribbean theme and they had a steel drum band with people walking around in all kinds of wild costumes.

I had a nice chat with a cigar-smoking lady near the museum entrance, but other than that I didn’t interact with people all that much. And I was fine with that.

I was amongst humans and that was good, as opposed to being sequestered in my living room in front of the widescreen.

I was alone, I suppose, but I wasn’t isolated, and the distinction is important. Sometimes it good to be alone so you can think, make plans, and assess your life. Isolation, however, is a grotesque greenhouse for all sorts of poisonous thinking.

I stuck around for a couple of hours and then skipped on home. I braced myself for a long wait at Pacific Street for the local ride back home, but I had barely touched down on the platform when the R train came rolling down the tracks as if I had called ahead for a reservation.

On one level, very little happened. I took a train ride to one place, milled about for a while, and then turned around. But there was a lot more going on beneath the surface. I had broken free of the ruthless tentacles of despair, routine, and self-pity to rub elbows with reality.

More of this kind of action is needed. Summer is burning away, and I don’t want to be locked away in February wishing I had gone out more.

Let’s just hope the R train gets the message.