November 20, 2013
September 26, 2013
There’s a character in The Day of the Locust. His name is Harry. He’s a failed Vaudevillian. And his image has stuck in my head.
THE WHOLE PLACE BLEW UP
Hands on the pedestal. Toes tapping. Fingers snapping. OOOE. Charlie What Was His Last Name slid down the aisle. Knee knockers. Of the drug store. His body incredibly still. His feet like clippers over your neighbourhood hedge. In a swirl. Soft shoe. Sand between his toes. Put your ear to the floor. Don’t it sound sad? Vaudeville. There was laughter in his shoes. His fingers snarled. And the air, it just stood there shy and naked.
Charlie stopped up at the make-up counter, his chin pointed toward the ceiling. Really He was feeling it. His back arched, heels spinning, the sequins on his trousers and his vest squinting at the store lights. His fingers tapped the glass top, one over each, ever so lightly. His fingernails recently manicured, cured of melancholy. He tipped his green bowler hat, the hat he’d been given by the deputy mayor on St. Patrick’s Day. The hat rolling down his arm, to a hand, which caught it seftly. Like Jack Duffy caught that hay maker, and placed it back on his noggin. There was a smile on his mug. They were chums never parted. Like cousins under mosquito netting.
“How are you doing today, Charlie?” Deborah Hall asked. The cosmetician was deeply immersed in a magazine. Fashion research. She Liked It Hot And Rough,was written across the magazine’s face. And there were lots of tips inside. How to make chocolate cake without putting on a pound. And what he really wants under the sheets. Charlie knew that they liked it rough in Hamilton. Of course there was always the horn section, dipping their silver mouths into the hot molasses. They liked to call it jazz.
Charlie batted his eyelashes. His head jerked toward Jerusalem and then toward Deborah. His smile was forked, almost demonic. If only humans had never learned to speak, we could all order hamburger tartar in mime.
“Well,” he declared like a full committee of the learned and the privileged. And added, just as an aside, “And how are you?” His voice was theatrical as if it had been trained in a private school in Switzerland. His mouth the bulldog in the dog house. Hearing a funny little sound from his gut, which he didn’t understand, it being pure slang, which only the thugs on Queen Street understood or cared to understand.
“Whateva!” the cosmetician responded shrugging her shoulders in a very melodic manner as if her movements had been choreographed by a Spaniard at Juliards turning the pages of her magazine, her fingers like Fred Astaires.
Charlie relaxed, his body melting from some celestial pose. He leaned over the counter like a flaccid Dali time piece, making ‘I’ contact.
“Well, here’s one to put a smile on your lovely face,” Charlie said. And he loved Deborah’s lovely face. Would have put it on a postage stamp, signed her up to play Joan the last woman on the ark. But a trombone blasted the image of Deborah in his ear, smudged his hair, and misspent his youth. “A woman walks up to the beautician and asks, ‘Can you make me beautiful?’ ‘Hey,’ cries the beautician, ‘I’m a beautician, not a magician.’”
Charlie smiled, tipped his hat once more with juggling delight, than sashayed gaily down the aisle.
Deborah looked up from her magazine with a bored glance and watched Charlie disappear around the corner.
“Whateva!” she sighed and returned to her work. And the whole place blew up in silence.
May 1, 2013
Where did we come up with the concept of judgment. I mean final judgment. Does it make most of us feel good that those who have prospered at the expense of others will get their come-uppence? Is it the need to feel as if there must be some justice in life? All religions as far as I can tell, preach that the righteous shall be rewarded. Upon what evidence?
And so we build our lives.
March 4, 2013
Of course I’m going to brag. About my eldest daughter. She has quite a lot on her resume. My daughter won a Canadian Screen Award for her work on “Todd and the Book of Pure Evil.” (She’s the tall one)
December 30, 2012
I always had a great affection for Wallis Beery. His gruff exterior apparently reflected a gruff interior. But there was something endearing about his boyish manner. The other actor/comedian who had a great affect on me was W. C. Fields. When I wrote Mr. Willis, I had both of these actors in mind. Something about a drunken buffoon that brings out the humanity in many of us.
Mr. Willis comes from an ebook called “The Box”.
Little Betty stood at the schoolyard gate waiting for the three girls, who had blocked her way, to attack. She was scared. There was no way to escape. The school building was locked up and retreating into the schoolyard would only delay the inevitable. All the other children had long since gone home.
The first girl, a broad shouldered red head named Sandra, jabbed her finger into Betty’s chest.
“What’s your hurry?” Sandra asked.
A second girl, Mary, stepped out from behind Sandra.
“Ugly shouldn’t be in such a hurry,” she added.
Betty pushed Sandra’s hand away and spit on the ground.
Shirley, the third girl, stepped out from behind Mary. Shirley waved her fist at Betty.
“I didn’t like what you said to my little sister. She didn’t do you any harm.”
Betty sneered, her arms folded defiantly across her chest. She didn’t know Shirley’s sister.
“I didn’t do nothing to nobody!” she responded.
The three girls circled Betty. Betty turned back and forth trying to keep each of the girls in her sightline, trying to prevent an attack from her blind side.
A man in a white suit stepped up behind the girls. He had a smooth puffy ghostly face and dark brooding eyes. His mouth was lipless and wiggled like a worm across his face. Though his appearance was odd, it did not detract from his otherwise amiable countenance.
“Now girls,” he said, “I don’t believe this is the way young ladies ought to behave. We must mind our oughts.”
The three girls who had surrounded Betty were surprised by the intrusion of the man in the white suit. No one had seem him coming. Shirley muttered something to Sandra who repeated it to Mary.
The man in white smiled. “I’m sure that ladies from Our Lady of Sorrows School ought not to talk in such a rough manner.”
The girls began to retreat.
“All talk!” Betty spat out in a last taunt at her enemies now in full flight.
The man in the white suit wiped his brow with a handkerchief and then grabbed the fence for support.
“I’m feeling quite faint.”
Betty cried out to the girls who had now moved off down the street.
The man in white laughed briefly than grabbed onto the fence with both hands. He hiccupped.
“That’s another word from the ought not list,” he said with conviction but with little energy.
“What’s it to you!” Betty cried.
The man in white took a deep breath.
“Actually, it is my business. That’s why I am here.”
Betty put her hands on her hips and examined the man in white who seemed in some distress.
“You some kind of pervert?”
The man in white’s smile broke under the onslaught of another hiccup.
“Hold your breath, stupid,” Betty suggested.
“Hold your breath. It gets rid of the hiccups.”
The man in white held his breath, held if for so long that he began to turn blue. Betty slapped him on the back. He gasped for air.
“I didn’t say forever!”
The man in white took several more breaths. He raised himself up and began to breath easily.
“You look like a pervert,” Betty said. “What’s with the white gloves?”
The man in white looked down at his hands and quickly removed his gloves, stuffing them into his pockets. There seemed little difference in his appearance. His hands were as white as his gloves.
“My name is Mr. Willis,” he said with a smile. “I am quite respectable, I can assure you. I have letters of recommendation.”
As the man in white talked, Betty stepped passed him and down the street. Noticing her departure, Mr. Willis turned and quickly followed behind. Betty turned around.
“Why are you following me?”
“It’s my job,” he said.
Betty turned so abruptly on the man called Mr. Willis that he almost fell over her.
“Are you from family services? Mother told me never to talk to anyone from family services.”
“And why is that?”
“They’re all a-holes,” Betty shot back and after appraising Mr. Willis, added, “And you’ve got all the credentials.”
“I am not from family services,” Mr. Willis said straightening out the cuffs of his shirt.
“You can’t be my mother’s new boyfriend. She doesn’t date pussies.”
Mr. Willis looked down at the little girl.
“Is your mother as charming as yourself or is this congenial quality of yours an acquired skill?”
Betty turned and walked quickly down the street. Mr. Willis staggered behind her, struggling to keep up. Grasping his chest, he cried out.
“Could we slow down? I’m afraid, I’m not quite myself today.”
Betty stopped and hands on hips, glared at Mr. Willis who leaned against a No Parking sign, coughing.
“You’ve been drinking. I can tell. My old man is a drunk. Mother’s last boyfriend was a drunk.”
Mr. Willis tapped his back pocket with his palm.
“Just a wee drop to settle my nerves.”
Mr. Willis took out his handkerchief again and wiped his forehead.
“This is my first assignment and I’m a bit nervous. Butterflies.”
“Who are you really?”
“I told you. I’m Mr. Willis. Your guardian angel.”
Betty was silent for a moment. She shook her head.
“I may be a kid but I am not stupid.”
“It’s the truth,” Mr. Willis insisted.
“You got some kind of ID?” Betty asked.
Mr. Willis searched his jacket pockets, his trouser pockets. As he did so, a small of flask of whiskey fell out, smashing on the sidewalk. He smiled sheepishly. Betty turned abruptly and stepping passed him, crossed the street. After looking down sadly at the spilt liquor Mr. Will stumbled after her. Upon reaching the other side of the street, he spotted a park bench and begged Betty to listen to him.
Betty stopped. “Why should I?”
Clutching his breast, and breathing deeply, Mr. Willis fell onto the park bench.
“You don’t suppose I could get a drink around here, do you?”
Betty shook her head and took a seat on the bench beside Mr. Willis.
“You don’t have a fag, do you?” she asked. “I’ve been trying to quit but it’s hopeless.”
Mr. Willis shook his head. “The other guys smoke.”
“What other guys?” Betty asked.
Mr. Willis pointed down.
“You’re not really an angel?” Betty looked at Mr. Willis with less apprehension.
“Oh yes, certainly.” Mr. Willis nodded. “But don’t ask me to become invisible. I get motion sickness.”
Pouting, Betty turned away.
“I need proof,” she said crossing her arms across her chest.
There was silence. Betty turned back to Mr. Willis. There was no one there. Betty got up and walked around, looking behind trees and bushes, but found no one. Finally she sat back down on the bench. Just as she sat down, Mr. Willis reappeared. Betty gasped, then giggled.
“That was great!”
Mr. Willis turned away and began to vomit. When he had finished he wiped his mouth with his handkerchief.
“That was disgusting!” Betty cried. “You still look kind of green.”
Mr. Willis wiped his forehead and around his neck.
“Can’t hold your liquor, eh?”
Mr. Willis put up his hand.
“Could we talk about something else?” he pleaded.
Betty shrugged her shoulders.
“You’re not a very likeable little girl, are you?”
Betty turned away.
“That’s not very kind,” she muttured.
“Wasn’t meant to be,” Mr. Willis responded as he completed his clean up. He reached over and dropped his handkerchief into the garbage. “You were quite correct when you described my actions as disgusting. I can’t help but question the evolutionary advantage of vomiting.”
“Angels are supposed to be kind,” Betty piped up.
Mr. Willis straightened up his jacket.
“Where did you learn that rubbish? Angels don’t lie. There’s nothing in the rules about being kind.”
“I hate them!” Betty cried.
A puzzled expression fell over Mr. Willis’s face. “Hate who?”
“Them,” Betty responded then added, “Everyone.”
“That encompasses an awful lot of people. Could you be more specific? Surely you don’t hate your mother.”
“She named me Betty. I hate my name. Everyone else is named after movie stars or astronauts or athletes. I’m named after a cake mix.”
“Surely there has to be more to it than a name? What else does your mother do that you can’t abide?”
Betty looked puzzled.
“What else bugs you about your mother?”
“Everything about her. Her new boyfriend. Her old boyfriend. Her hair. Her clothes. Her. Her. Her. Everything is about her. When is something going to be about me?”
“What about your father? Can you talk to him?”
“He took off on us when I was two. He used to come around to see me, but mother put an end to that. She is such a….”
“And then there’s my teacher. She just hates me. And the other kids in the class. They call me names.”
“Names. Yes, I’ve felt the slings and arrows of my peers as well. Often I have felt that…”
“This is supposed to be about me!” Betty cried.
Mr. Willis smiled sheepishly. “Sorry.”
“Anyway,” Betty continued, “They can call me what they want. I’ll show them!”
“Yes, I know.”
“No, you don’t!”
Mr. Willis nodded. “You plan on walking out on the railroad trestle that crosses Central Park, laying yourself down on the tracks, and awaiting the four forty five train. It will pass over the middle of your back, splitting your torso in two. They will bring small water cannons out on the bridge to clean up the mess. Nevertheless blood, muscles, fatty tissues and some intestine will hang from the trestle for several days.”
“You will be the talk of conversation for several days,” Mr. Willis added.
“Ya,” Betty said with a laugh. “Then they’ll be sorry.”
“And then everyone will forget about you.”
Betty’s mouth dropped. Angrily, she turned away from Mr. Willis.
Mr. Willis looked up at the sky and shrugged his shoulders.
“This isn’t working out,” he said as if he was addressing a third party in the sky. “You might want to consider sending down Anderson.”
Betty turned back to Mr. Willis, looked up at the sky, then back at Mr. Willis.
“What?” she asked
Mr. Willis turned back to Betty.
“You see Betty, this is my situation. I was sent down here to save you, but I think I’ve made matters worse. You seem so determined to end your life and I feel quite helpless to stop you.”
Tears began to run down Betty’s cheek. She opened her mouth to speak then threw her face into her hands and began to sob.
“Nobody loves me,” she whaled.
Mr. Willis did not respond to Betty but appeared to be caught up in his own thoughts.
“If they’d sent Duncan down, things might have turned out quite differently. The job he did in White Chapel was masterful. And look at what Brown did for that poor actress in Los Angeles. Insisting she take acting lessons was a sheer stroke of genius. But I have been sent down to solve a child’s problems and I’m not up to it. If I could find a bar, a drink might settle me down. You’re sure you don’t know any establishments around here where a fellow might quench his thirst?”
Wiping the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand, Betty turned to Mr. Willis.
“Do you love me?” she asked.
Mr. Willis smiled uncomfortably. Betty stared at him, her mouth hanging open.
“Aren’t angels supposed to love everyone?” she asked.
“In theory,” Mr. Willis responded. “You’re not actually that easy to love.”
Anger flashed across Betty’s face.
“What a thing to say! Is that what they teach you wherever it is you go to learn how to be an angel?”
Mr. Willis’s smile collapsed into an expression of despair. His face fell into his hands.
“There I go again. A complete and utter failure. I’m not cut out for this line of work. God, they’ll send me back to the choir. I’m tone death. And I hate singing. All that morbid and thoroughly depressing church music.”
Mr. Willis began to sob. His weeping shook the bench. Betty looked at Mr. Willis with concern for several moments before reaching over and patting him on the back.
“That’s alright,” she said. “I’m used to incompetence. Look at my mother and father. They’re quite useless. You’re a lousy guardian angel. I’m a lousy kid.”
A small grin wiggled across Mr. Willis’s face. He wiped the tears from his eyes away with the sleeve of his jacket.
“We do match up quite well, don’t we?” Mr. Willis said. “Do you think that’s why they sent me down here to begin with?”
“What are we going to do now?” she asked.
“Do?” Mr. Willis looked up at the young girl with a worried expression. “I have no idea.”
“You’re quite funny when you’re depressed.”
“I’m glad someone can profit from my misery.” Mr. Willis tried to smile.
Betty stood up and grabbed Mr. Willis’s hand.
“Could we go to Genova’s for an ice cream? Mr. Genova makes his own ice cream from snatch.”
“I thought you needed milk,” Mr. Willis responded.
Mr. Willis struggled to his feet. The two walked slowly out of the park.
Mr. Willis looked down at Betty.
“I don’t suppose I could get a drink at Genova’s?”
“You don’t like ice cream?” Betty asked.
“Actually,” Mr. Willis explained, “I’ve been trying to lose a little weight. I can barely get into this suit.”
Betty laughed and began to skip down the walk.
“The diet can wait until tomorrow,” Betty declared.
Mr. Willis attempted to skip, stumbled but was caught by Betty before he fell.
December 27, 2012
The first time I saw Bogart on television was an interview he and his wife Bacall did with Edward R. Murrow. It was floss. But there was something about the actor. I’ve seen most of his movies that are easily available. I’ve watched The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca over a 100 times. And some of his other films like Sahara, The Big Sleep, etc dozens of times. His characters always exemplify something weak, incredible flaws, as well as redeeming strengths. He is a romantic hiding under a cynic.
This excerpt is from my book The Black Bird. Have a look.
excerpts from bogart’s diary #1-37
huston decided to hold a costume ball before we began shooting the falcon . we call john the ambassador of dreams eyes in envelopes, umbrella prays for rain (so she won’t feel so useless) . bullet proof ears. he cannot hear death—he only knows it by smell he met each guest at the door. dressed up as fatty arbuckle & holding a jar filled with oysters anyone know i asked. the ambassador winked winked & sprinkled stardust on each of us as we entered while singing WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR MAKES NO DIFFERENCE WHO YOU ARE. i was dressed up as the invisible man . no one noticed … sydney stayed close to the bar or was it the reverse . he looked like the election returns . he said he was disguised as mt. everest . several young starlettes were clustered like small villages around his feet. one was wearing skis and reciting the koran . backwards . another wore two tablets and a long beard that began below the waist … mouth open oven a creampuff danced around the room looking for horny dps especially tall first lieutenants from toronto who read ts eliot. jeffery longstreet said he had a cake for her throat. unleavened, bruised, and circumcised… lorre sat at the piano playin’ popular tunes with a german accent. dressed up as hitler’s bitch in heat. his tail kept falling off. the great dictator received his instructions from his dog . the bitch would open her mouth and hitler would bark … the apaches are waiting at the edge of the desert waiting for the storm to pass . dying of tb . & learning how to square dance … cattle lena in a tux. practicing her courses. digging a plot in her pocket. spitting out cigars. & pinching any ass that grazes by… a pageant of people bursting with beginnings . yankee optimism . parmenides was right we never leave the beginnings, unless you put up your wrist and slash for permission to leave . there is only this solid mass of oneness . we are like creatures, extinct, & frozen in me NOW … why do i always feel like i’m sitting on the edge of the world spitting seeds into the emptiness, flushing the nothingness out of my soul … two colored girls showed up. or was it a costume . everyone gathered around to see them make love in the potato salad. i spent some time in a closet with one of them . she had eyes like a cathedral. i felt like st. francis begging on the front steps for one chance to light a small red candle. i told her she was very tight. she said she felt claustrophobic . being colored is like living in a box. all white women should be blind, peeling off her skin she placed it on a hanger. that i could hardly control … someone handed me a manhattan. i finished a cigarette and flew around the room , solo. i was hoping that it wouldn’t rain. i asked if everyone would mind cease burning their words until i could clear up this mystery. i ran into sydney who was rehearsing as a zeppelin in a bath tub. he asked me to leave . he already had some passengers . easy flo said that she now understood . everything i promised had been part of some plan . to lay her out like an airport and then land… laughing from the chandeliers tequila dorothy in feathers that fell off like snow swung above the drifts of faces. raymond the parrot told her to be careful . someone else screamed — melt … is there any alternative to feeling haunted . a little kid staring out through dusty windows, broken glass on the floors . mice in the rafters . eaves troughs filled with tears. perhaps it is my work . am i nothing more than a series of poses. movement is the illusion they love. i am the offspring of magic and mechanics . cameras have cataracts. they see only what they wish to see … is god some machine projecting home movies in his basement. he is in almost every shot. boring us with the details . all i want to know is, if i slept with you would it make any difference … i feel layered. schizophrenia is an oversimplification . consciousness is not the census taker asking embarrassing questions about your health & the brand of toothpaste you wear. consciousness is a series of skins . i am the latest skin . the snake is crawling back toward paradise
another cigarette … another drink … who is this woman leaning on my arm dressed up as robespierre . she says leave everything to me . i have sharpened my teeth. the basket is ready for your disbelief … i hardly know how to love . only the innocent can love. the rest of us are just flushing out our hearts … a guy called trotsky served champagne. said the revolution was a mistake. people’s stomachs were bored . there was nothing for them to do … beyond all this negativity i keep looking and smiling . smiling has become a task. my agent says that when i laugh on the screen it looks contrived . he wants to have my grin lifted … people swallow answers like pills . kills the pain for a while . once in a crowd of fans i was almost swallowed whole … all i want is flesh between my teeth. fingernails tracing the veins in my vanity. something fragile and warm . a dress thrown over a chair. legs wrapped around my spine . feel the darkness sleeping beside me … is comfort all we are to each other… a child star dressed up as a fire hydrant showed up with her mother. the mother was bela lugosi . huston said that he was offered the kid spread eagled for the weekend if he could find room for her in the falcon . said the mother had a bunker between her legs. louie said it was a machine gun nest … mary asked if i read the script . one scene was being cut. censorship . would i like to shoot it privately.., dash showed up. a head like a silver porcupine, he was not in costume . all he talks about is the war. hitler is the devil’s fallen angel . acting ,he remarked ,was protracted suicide. burying yourself six feet beneath someone else’s dream … does anyone still believe in the self … i remember the first time i gave up myself. she was a big girl . i was seventeen, said i was a saint as i knelt down beside her. i could not stop praying … someone asked me to dance. my feet ran away…
Bogart. Actor. Celebrity. Husband. As Sam Spade. In the movie The Maltese Falcon. Baring of a soul. Stripping down of a life. Reaching beyond the point of death. To Bogart as a boy. Steeped in mythic reality. Originally published in 1982 by The Porcupine’s Quill. Finalist in the 2004 Eppie Awards for Poetry.
December 5, 2012
Too much porn. Too much violence. That’s not my problem. What revolts me in film and it happens regularly now, is watching people, usually men, brush their teeth. Do we need to watch someone stick that thing in their mouth and then swish whatever is in their mouth, around before they spit it out. And its always a mouthful. I don’t know what ascetic appeal this has. Nor what it could possibly mean to the movie. Any movie. I just don’t like gob.
December 2, 2012
I went to see the new James Bond film. Before the film started, we had to sit through more than a dozen commercials. You could not have a dozen commercials on television. With bigger TV screens you can see this same film within weeks with no commercials. This is one reason less people are going to movies. (And give me the real time the film starts, not the time the commercials start.)
The film itself was OK. I wasn’t bored. But I was in the mood for more.
November 27, 2012
I was reading about the Battle of Cannae. Hannibal’s famous fight against superior numbers of Romans. It was the greatest battle in the second Punic War between Rome and Carthage. 60,000 Romans died in the battle. Some who initially survived the battle begged the Carthaginians to dispense them, their wounds begin so horrendous. Other Romans were seen smothering themselves face down in the mud of the battleground so that they wouldn’t suffer a long painful death.
I’m a peacenik. And yet I find these tales of battles fascinating.
November 12, 2012
Next to Johan Vaaler, who invented the paperclip, the most under appreciated figure in Western thought must be Marco Polo. I remember how excited we got in grade 3 when our teacher began to explain Marco Polo’s incredible journey to the exotic East. It was, I think, the beginning of my interest in the afterlife, in science fiction, in alien life forms, in heaven, in reading. It was a tale that emphasized struggle, endurance, and patience. And their subsequent rewards. And it actually happened. To a young boy.