I ruin movies by making them better…in your mind!

I tend to ruin movies by making them better.

See, I’m one of those annoying people who, for entirely selfish reasons, tries to get his friends to watch movies I’ve already seen. The reasons? Mostly so I can have someone to talk about it with, and of course, validation. (“Yes, Randy, that was a good film that I would not have seen were it not due to your incessant nagging. You have good taste in film, and hence are a good person, and you can stop hating yourself now.”) I have a lot of issues on that front.

Anyway, the problem is that I’m a pretty shallow man and hence have pretty narrow tastes. Mostly I just watch Science Fiction films. Current ones, old ones, classics, sclock-fests, I don’t really care. I also like anything by the Coen brothers, up to and including that bootleg of a very drunk Ethan puking his guts out in a toilet, while his sibling is laughing so hard that he can barely keep the shot in frame. (“[Rowlf] For God’s sake, Joel, why aren’t you helping me? [Rowlf]) I also claim to like everything by Terry Gilliam, but I’m lying about that. I really only like three of his films. Some war movies are cool. I mostly pretend they’re happening in space, anyway. Theoretically I like any western that’s more than two hours long, but watching a marathon of Terrence Hill films a couple years ago has made me question that. Oh, right, and I used to like some foreign art films up until I turned 40 and suddenly started finding them all disturbing.

So, really, not a lot of depth there, if I’m honest. Which I just was.

Bottom line: Nobody is interested in the movies I’m interested in, nor have they ever been, nor should they be. Yes, everyone will go to see Star Wars IX: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, but everyone was going to see that anyway, right? I’m grateful to have something to talk to them about, but it’s completely lacking in the ‘validation’ thing I mentioned above. It’s not like I talked them into seeing Colosus: the Forbin Project, or The Andromeda Strain (Both of which are super-rad and bitchin’ by the way). Do you know how hard I had to work to get anyone to watch Blade Runner in the decade between its release and the time it spontaneously became popular? And now everyone thinks it’s the 2nd best SF film of all time, and half the people reading this were born after 1992, so you’ve never known a world in which it was just me and Ridley Scott saying, “No, honestly, it doesn’t suck! And it’s pretty!” And Ridley, honestly, didn’t seem that interested after “Legend” also bombed. (That one totally deserved it. It sucks)

Since nobody likes what I like, I have to kind of oversell it in order to pique their interest. I’m sort of bad at this, in that I tend to be honest. “Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is, unquestionably, the most original and important thing to happen to the vampire mythos in 50 years. However all that important stuff is in the last five minutes, and you also have to suffer through a pre-acting-lessons Bruce Campbell, which, as you know is painful, but here’s a list of concepts that, while poorly executed through the rest of the movie, are still sort of interested. And again: the last five minutes are the absolute best thing in the entire history of best things themselves!”

Needless to say, my batting average is pretty low.

Which brings me to the way I ruin movies for everyone.

See, I grew up in a semi-abandoned citrus grove that only had three other widely-spaced houses, and the occasional biker gang. Oh, and rattlesnakes. Lots and lots of rattlesnakes. Needless to say I didn’t have a lot of friends to play with. My dad was a dad, and hence mostly interested in sports, and relaxing after a hard week at work. Movies were low on his priority list. My mom…wow. My mom worked as a ticket girl in the box office of a movie theater in the ‘50s, but never bothered to go in and watch any of the movies. In 1977 the last film she’d seen in a theater was “The Sound of Music.” That movie was two years older than I am, and I’m half-convinced that she only went to see it because she used to work for the Von Trapp family. (It’s true! She did!) There was absolutely no chance on selling her on seeing anything, ever.

I had a shot with my dad, though. The problem there was that his attention span for things he wasn’t already interested in – like football – was fairly short. It was even shorter when football was actually on TV while I was making my pitch. This meant I had a very narrow window of opportunity to make my sale. I’d wait for the extended commercial break between quarters, and I only had 15 minutes. Less if he needed to use the can.

Basically I’d stand directly in front of him, and run through the whole plot of the movie at lightning pace. I’d jump around to give an impression of any cool action scenes. I’d deliver dialog in different voices so there wouldn’t be any confusion as to who was speaking – because, remember, I didn’t have time, and he was only half-paying attention. I would quote any cool dialog I could remember, and other dialog I couldn’t quite remember verbatim I’d punch up on the fly. Sometimes I’d hum or whistle theme music. I would describe in glorious detail any cool visual scenes, and then, hopefully, I’d get to the conclusion before “…and we’re back. It’s the fourth quarter, and the Bucs are down 21 points against the Dolphins. For the third time in three seasons.”

I never had much luck with my dad, but I got really good at my weird little presentations. Being constitutionally incapable of selfconsciousness, I started doing them at school. I had a better memory in those days, so I could just launch into one whenever the opportunity arose. These were always extemperaneous, always tailered to whatever the person I was talking to would find cool. Spoilers? Pfeh. Here’s the truth: most people won’t watch movies if they don’t already know how they’re going to end. Audiences are lazy. Particularly with old films, and remember, there wasn’t much Science Fiction in theaters in those days, so much of the time I was just trying to get people to watch, “It: The Terror from Beyond Space,” or “Fantastic Voyage,” or acting out why people shouldn’t watch, “Creation of the Humanoids.” Yeah, that’s right, I could use my skills to plug or kill a movie. I’m just that good.

It got so people would ask me to explain a movie just becaue they wanted to watch my floorshow. My pitch for “Outland” was referred to by a teacher as, “A one man show stage version of High Noon.” Which is pretty apt, really. I did this in college, I did this after college, heck, I still do it now. It’s become reflex. As society’s attention span dropped ever-lower, I got more effective.

Which brings us to the part where I ruin movies:

At some point, people started saying stuff like, “Yeah, ‘Brazil’ was pretty good and all, but I liked your report on it better than watching the movie itself.” Or, “Honestly I think the death scene in ‘The 9th Configuration’ was better the way you did it, then in the film.” or “Your rendition of ‘Forbidden Planet’ didn’t really prepare me for how corny and stiff the dialog in the movie was.”

Eventually, “I liked the Randy version better,” became a common complaint.

Why?

“Well, you get so excited about them, and you’re so energetic, and you emphasize stuff they don’t and downplay stuff they emphasize, and some of your mis-remembered dialog is cooler than theirs, and you leave out the scenes that don’t work. I end up with a picture of the movie in my head, I go in expecting that and I get…just a movie. Not The Randy Version of the movie, which is more fun.”

“And shorter?”

“Oh, yeah, way the hell shorter. I really don’t have the attention span for a three-hour movie.”

Fat, Sweaty British Bastards and Charities

You know those charity candy dispensers you see next to the cash register in some restaurants and small offices? The ones that have, like, York Peppermint Patties or some other ‘meh’ candy like that, and you’re supposed to plunk in a quarter to take one, all proceeds going to the MDA or the ASPCA or whatever?

Quite a few years ago, I was sitting in my desk in the front of the office I worked in when this fat British dude came in with one, and asked if he could put one in our lobby. Low man on the totem pole, I had to deal with these things. I said, “No.”
“Why not?”
“You’ll see on the door right there, it says ‘no soliciting.'”
“This is different, this is charity.”
“I’m sorry, no. Good luck to you, though.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t think it matters, sir, I said ‘no.'”
“I want to know why not.”
“It is the stated policy of [name of company] not to allow local franchise holders to make donations in the name of the company, nor to allow others to place charitable donation boxes on our property, nor to endorse charities. The company does make quite sizable donations to charities, however, and I’d be happy to give you the regional office phone number, if you’d like to see if they can help you.”
“So I could go on TV and say your company doesn’t support charities.”
“You could, but as I just explained that’s untrue, and you could get sued.”
“[Grabs business card off of my desk] I’m going to be on channel 13 later today, interviewed for my charity, and I will tell them that Randall Schantz, speaking on behalf of [name of company] refused to give a donation to a national charity.”
“It’s pronounced ‘Shawn’s,’ not ‘Shantz’. I think you should go, and I’d like my card back.”
“Why? Are you afraid of me naming you on TV as a heartless selfish person?”
“No, I’m afraid you’re going to start calling and harassing me at 3AM, you nut-bar. Look, I don’t know how you think charities work, but bursting in to an office and threatening people’s livelihoods if they don’t take your crappy candy machines is *not* how you win supporters. Now give me my card back.”
“No, I’m going to go on TV and tell everyone that your company hates sick kids and I’m going to tell everyone that you’re the one that told me that.”
“[Picks up phone] I’m calling 911. See? I’m pressing ‘nine’. Give me my card back.”
“No [backs towards door] you can’t threaten me.”
“Oh brother. I’m pressing ‘one’…”
“You watch channel 13, you watch, your name will be all over the place! You’re ruined! You should have done it, but you’re ruined now! And maybe your replacement will be nicer.”

He left. I hung up the phone. My office manager stuck her head over the partition and said, “What the hell was that?” While I explained, I saw the guy go to a couple other offices in the plaza. “Should I get Gene [our boss] to call his lawyer?”

I sighed. “Nah, I got this.”

I got up and went to the pizza/sub place next door.
“Hi Randy. Want a sandwich?”
“Yes, actually. Did some fat sweaty British guy and demand you put up one of those charity candy things?”
“Yeah, I sent him packing.”
“Irksome. How about a Cuban, and a coke?”
“Yeah. Fifteen minutes, I’ll pound on the wall to let you know it’s done.”
“Thanks, Nick.”

I left there and went to the travel agent next door.
“Hi Randy.”
“Hi, Elaine. Tell me, did some fat British bastard just come in here and threaten you if you didn’t take one of those stupid candy machines?”
“He didn’t *threaten* me, but he was very aggressive. I just took it to get rid of him.”
“Could I maybe see it?”
“Yeah, I got it in the back. No way I’m letting that crap clutter up my office.”

She brought it out. There was a phone number on the side. I went back to my office and called.

“Hello, [name of charity]”
“Hi, could I speak to your manager, or whoever is in charge there?”
“May I ask why?”
“Yeah, one of your employees just burst into my office and personally threatened me, and I’d like…”
“Just a moment.”

Less than a minute later a guy came on the line.
“Hi, this is Jerry. What happened? My receptionist said someone threatened you?”
“Oh, not just me, he threatened my Fortune 500 company as well.”
“What?”
“Some British guy came in here not half an hour ago claiming to work for you – you know, now that I think about it, I have no way of knowing if he actually does or not, he didn’t provide any identification or anything…anyway he blustered in here, and when I explained that we couldn’t take his candy thing as a matter of national corporate policy, he went all freakin’ psycho. He said he was going on TV later today – are any of your people being interviewed on TV today?”
“No.”
“Good, I was actually a little worried about that. Anyway, he made an elaborate show of taking one of my business cards and read my name aloud and said he was going to specifically name me on TV for wanting sick kids to die…”
“He did WHAT?”
“Uh-huh. And he was going to badmouth the largest insurance company in America for a local agent refusing to take one of your little candy dealies.”
“Well, you don’t need to worry about that. There’s nobody going on TV today.
“Well, that’s a relief. So does this guy even work for you?”
“Well, he *did.*”
“What, you mean he used and now he’s gone all Colonel Kurtz, doing this as a scam?”
“No, I mean he’s fired. Like as of right now.”
“Oh. Wow. Do…uhm…do you even know who he is? Who I’m talking about?”
“There’s only one fat British guy working for us, and he’s really bad at his job.”
“Ok. Well, look, I don’t want anyone fired, I just want my business card back.”
“Why?”
“Because honestly I’m a little scared of the guy calling me up and threatening me in the middle of the night or whatever.”
“Yeah, see, if he’s threatening to get people fired and slandering huge national companies, and you’re *afraid* of him, then he really shouldn’t be representing us.”
“I can’t argue with that, but really I just want my card, and maybe an apology. Or just some kind of promise that he’s not going to jump out at me with a meat cleaver when I’m walking to my car.”
“I’ll get your card back, and if you ever see him again, just call the cops.”
“Yeah, ok, fine. Also, could you please send somebody by to pick up the dispenser from the travel agent next door? I’ll give you the address. She didn’t want it either, she just took it to get rid of him.”
“Oh, God, yeah. Sorry. I’ll send someone up right now. You know, I hope…”

Nick pounded on the wall.
“My lunch is ready, I gotta go.”
“Ok, I’m really sorry.”
“S’ok.”

Three days later I got an official envelope from [name of charity] in the mail, which only had my business card in it.

The weird thing is that I came out of that whole situation feeling guilty.

MOVIE REVIEW: “Battle in Outer Space” (1959)

I haven’t done one of these in a long while, but when I came across a Japanese space movie I’d never seen before, I just knew I had to cover it.

PLAY BY PLAY

In the not-too-distant future – I dunno, the 1970s, I guess, or maybe the late ‘60s – Japan has a vigorous space program that has its own large space station that looks a lot like a roulette wheel, complete with the little spinny bit at the tip. The station – which is armed for no good reason – is attacked by flying saucers, and destroyed.

Roll opening titles!

UFOs cause several acts of wonton destruction (Which is a great Chinese punk cover band that used to play in…oh, wait, I already used that gag in another review) involving wrecking a train, the Panama Canal, and Venice. Japan got off light. You knew the train was going to get destroyed, though, since it was obviously a miniature rather than stock footage. That’s how you can always tell when something is about to explode in these films: if they use miniatures for something they could have simply gone outdoors and shot for real, it’s gonna’ die.

Anyway, a UN conference is called at the Japanese Space Center to discuss the loss of the space station, the miniature train, and the two poorly painted pictures that are alleged to be photographs of Panama and Italy. They conclude that the earth is under attack by aliens from the planet Natal. How they know this isn’t made clear, and in fact there’s really no way they could.

Meanwhile, the Iranian delegate to the UN Science Thingie wanders off by himself (Always stay with the group! Always!) and gets Zombified by the aliens. He’s now their slave. Why’d they pick an Iranian? I’m assuming either it was the whole “Hostages” thing, which wouldn’t happen for another 19 years, or it might be that he wore a turban, which hid the surgery scars. So anyway, he runs amok breaking stuff ineffectually until he’s outed by a random gaggle of UN delegates who chase him around (If you’ve got sound editing equipment, remove the soundtrack during these scenes, and replace them with “Help” by the Beatles and some girly screams. It’s hilarious!) so he escapes smirkingly, and is disintegrated by his alien overlords.

Scooping up some of the red dust that remains, and putting it under the microscope, they conclude that there was a tiny machine or something in his head that made him act all goofy. The UN re-convenes, and declares that the aliens from the planet they’ve never heard of and shouldn’t know the name of, have set up a base on the moon and are planning to invade, which they also shouldn’t really know. Ok, the invasion is a no-brainer, but the moon thing? What, was it written on the mind control device in really tiny print or something?

In less time than it takes to say ‘jumpcut’ the nations of the world are working together building two large spacecraft (Who’s size is really inconsistent) to go the moon to do recon or possibly to kick butt (Also rather inconsistent). Rather than simply go, however, they decide to pad out the film a bit with the most unromantic romantic subplot of all time:

Protagonist and Chick (The characters are all ciphers and fairly interchangeable ones at that, so let’s not even keep the pretense that they have names) go out for a skrog in the park. They lay down. Chick looks up at the moon and says, “You know, when I look at the moon, I keep imagining there’s a prince up there who’ll come down and swoop me off my feet.” I don’t know where you come from, but around here (Florida), if a girl starts mooning about some guy other than you to take her away, you’re pretty much not gonna get any.

Meanwhile, Protagonist says “I think as we move further into the future, our sense of beauty will fade.” What the frack? What are you, a French existential nihilist? Dude, seriously, that kinda’ crap wouldn’t even get you laid in Paris in the ‘50s. Yikes!

I should mention that the girl is reeeeeeealy pretty. Her name was Koyoko Anzai. I can’t find any pictures of her, but believe you me, she’s way prettier than the chicks you generally see in movies of this caliber and period. While watching this, I remembered a scene in the movie “The Mysterians” that was almost identical, and wondered if clueless people not making out was just the zeitgeist of the time. In looking it up, I found that this movie is actually a sequel to The Mysterians, so it was probably an in-joke. Turns out this was a trilogy: The Mysterians (Which I’ve seen a zillion times, but not in 30 years), this movie, and a third one that I’ve never heard of.

So anyway, Protagonist and Koyoko see a flying saucer and beat it back to the base. Meanwhile, their fellow-astronaut friend – let’s call him “Imomura”* – decides to drive into town before the mission to “Kiss the girls.” He’s abducted by the aliens, who plant yet another Zombification device in his head.

The next morning, the two ships – cleverly named “One” and “Two” – are launched. As they fly to the moon, they have no gravity. One third-class yokel – exactly one, and nobody else, despite there being like thirty people on the mission – gets out of his seat, floats up, and bangs his head on the ceiling. The skipper reminds him that they’re weightless, you need to be careful.

“Oh, that’s right, I remember you saying that.”

You’d think this stuff was covered in Astronaut training, but nope, it’s just “Everyone can be an Astronaut day” down at the Japanese Space Center. First fifty people get to go on a suicide mission to the moon. The first hundred get snow cones!

So they pull the guy down. Let’s let that sink in a moment.
He’s floating ‘cuz he’s weightless, they’re weightless too, but they pull him down, when in fact they should go Peter Panning their way up there, too. Evidently, however, you don’t float in zero G as long as you walk carefully.

Seriously: They never explain this. I’d have expected some exposition about “Magnetic Boots” or what have you , but no, just take light steps. Then the officers head into the control room.

Wait – shouldn’t they have been in the control room for liftoff? Wasn’t that where they’ve been all this time?

Evidently not, no.

So they go into the large, submarine-like control room. Evidently the ship was launched on autopilot. Well, really, all rockets are, so I guess they didn’t need to be up there, but it still seems like wasted floor space to me. Ah well.
They pass the floating ruins of the space station, and say a prayer for the dead. This is a really nice scene. Then, en rout to the moon, they get attacked by flying saucers shooting “Space Torpedoes.” (Wouldn’t that mean ‘missiles?’ No matter, they look like rocks anyway.)

Using the super-zap heatray guns that I forgot to mention earlier, but which were invented during a jumpcut in an earlier scene in the film, they manage to fight their way through this and take out a few saucers. Meanwhile, acting under alien influence, Imomura attempts to sabotage and destroy one of their own ships, and disables it’s super-ray gun. He’s caught and ineffectually tied up.

While landing on the moon, the spooky alien baritone warns them to go home, or die. They actually briefly discuss going home.

They then lower some ridiculously over-designed moon rovers to the surface. Seriously: they’ve got tractor treads, and then above these, never touching the ground, they’ve got big car wheels sticking out to the sides. And the things can fly. And they can bend in the middle, but they never do. Impressively enough, they actually built a full-size mockup of the front of one of these! No sooner are they there, then Yokel Third Class (Same guy) manages to bound over the lander by accident. He’s again chided for not being careful.

So they tool around a bit, in boring fashion, and eventually find a cave. Going through the cave, they find the alien base, which is kinda’ boring. They discuss going in to attack it, but decide to get the big portable heat ray machine gun. They send Koyoko back to get the gun, and she’s ambushed by a whole bunch of the aliens in an effectively creepy scene. She’s then rescued by her “Eventually our sense of beauty will fade” boyfriend who’s so forgettable that I actually honestly did forget he was in the movie. And he’s the protagonist!

Why is this scene effective? It’s shot and thought out well. It’s a cave already, so it’s dark and spooky. The aliens are wearing space suits, which saves money on monster costume costs, and allows our imaginations to fill in the blanks. They’re humanoid, but short, child sized, and there’s a lot of them capering about, with helmets that aren’t designed for human heads, making creepy gibbering noises. Protagonist kills them, the they both get back to the cave opening overlooking the alien base.

Meanwhile, Imomura frees himself and blows up one of the moon rockets, then makes his way to the second one.
Humans and aliens shoot at each other a bit, until the alien base blows up, but it disgorges several saucers before it does. On ship two, Imomura loses the voice in his head. In a neat, though brief scene, his face goes from heartless cold to confusion as the signal ceases, and he tries to figure out his last instruction. Then awareness of what he was doing. It’s well played. He sets things right.

The expedition returns to the landing site to find one ship blown up. They assume the saucers did it, but Imomura confesses, begs forgiveness, and stays behind to hold off the saucers with his ray gun while the ship blasts off.
And there you’d think the movie end, but no, there’s an entirely superfluous fourth act.

Back on earth, they decide there’s really nothing to stop the aliens from attacking again, so they decide to build a massive fleet of the “One man scout rockets” they’ve been using, and convert them to fighters. We see several scenes of construction, the aliens attack, and the fighters are launched. These are, no question about it, X-15s with a different paint job.  Seriously, they’re just toy model kits.

Then there’s the titular ‘battle in outer space’ which involves none of our characters. Well, they’re in it, but they’re largely interchangeable anyway, and they’re all on the ground gawking at monitors while the fighting goes on. For a while I thought Protagonist was one of the fighter pilots, but, no, I was wrong. He wasn’t. He was just a gawker, too.

So this is pretty dull. Imagine the last 15 minutes of Star Wars if Luke and Han stayed on Yavin, and the whole fight was left up to Porkins and Biggs. Yeah.

The aliens blow up a very substandard model of NYC, and they take out a mediocre model of the Golden Gate bridge.  The alien mothership attacks Tokyo. Big ray guns on the ground destroy it. Everyone congratulates each other.

Then an American who hasn’t been in the movie at all up to the battle stands up, and a woman and kid come in, and they make a point of introducing his family, and then he leaves. What the heck was that all about?

The end.
OBSERVATIONS

They never specifically say it, but it appears there are only three manned space programs in the world in this movie: The American one, the Soviet one, and the Japanese one. It’s sort of taken for granted that the Japanese had the only space station.

Since it’s illegal to use the UN logo for profit, or without written permission, the producers of this film made a near-exact duplicate, only the earth is turned 90 degrees to the right. Clever! And they never actually say “United Nations” in the movie.

There’s no getting around it: this is a lavish production. George Pal would have killed to have this kind of money. Take, for instance, the space station in the opening scene: it’s shaped like a wheel, and the interior sets stretch off into the distance and curve up, just like “Space Station V” from 2001. That movie was filmed 9 years later. They built half of the moon rover. The interior sets of the space ships were not particularly awe-inspiring, but they were competent and pretty big. They had at least a dozen full space suits for the adults, and at least another dozen for the aliens, and at least 24 helmets, they had a fighter cockpit set, they had a pretty large cast, some of whom, I gather, were minor names at the time. This was a sequel to “The Mysterians,” and it clearly had a lot more money behind it than the first film did.

Wanna’ know how to tell if one of these old productions had any money? Space suits. They’re expensive, especially the helmets. If you’ve got a bunch of ‘em, this is a pricey proposition.

The special effects are your typical LB Abbot/Howard Lydecker thing: models on wires. That said, the quality of the shots is really good, and a couple of the scenes – the wreckage of the space station, or the rockets tumbling towards the moon in slow motion – are really pretty. And everything looks good in lurid Technicolor Oh, sorry, “Tohoscope.” When The model building in this movie is surprisingly sub-par, however.

One neat touch: you know how in these old SF films, fire is belching out of the back of the rocket, and the flames kind of bend in some other direction than straight down? And it looks fake? It’s because heat rises, and the flame will find ‘up’ regardless of the position of the model. In this film, to get around it, they built all the launch pad sets upside down, put the camera upside down, lit the fuse, and then dropped the rocket into a net out of shot. The flames don’t look all bendy, and best of all the clouds of smoke gradually appear to rise. They used the same trick for when the aliens are destroying buildings in Tokyo with their anti-gravity guns: the models and camera were upside down. When the explosions start, all the debris falls up, or appears to.

Man, the science in this film is hokey, even by the standards of the time! We’re told that gravity and temperature are related. The alien anti-gravity weapon works by freezing things so cold that they become lighter, and are thrown into the air by the earth’s own centrifugal force. Uhm…..whaaaat?

And…uhm…I guess that’s about it. Now I remember why I haven’t done one of these in a year or so: they take forever to write. I’m tired.

*- That’s actually the character’s real name, I just wanted to see if you’d look down here.

I wrote a new story

yesterday I wrote a short story called “Dead Man’s Dream,” which isn’t entirely apt, since nobody is asleep in it. They are all dead, though. Mostly, though, I just liked the sound.

Took about 3 hours to write, 2300-ish words. Starts out funny, gets kind of poignant in the end. It was originally going to go much darker, but that would have doubled the length of, basically, a one-joke premise that leads into my actual point, so I wisely dropped it.  The wife and kid read it, and thought it was pretty funny.

To be honest, I don’t think it’s very good. I mean, it’s good enough. I’ll set it aside as complete, but I don’t think I entirely ‘stuck the landing’ so to speak. I got my idea across, but not as strongly as I’d hoped. Not really worth going in and heavily re-working it, though.

HOWEVER: this *IS* the first wholly original short I’ve done in, I dunno, a couple years? So hopefully this will be the first step in me doing more writing, and I’m sure I’ll get less rusty quickly. And I’m told, as usual, that my dialog was both absurd, snappy, and fun. So that’s good.

Abe, Honest

About thirty years ago I met a professional Abraham Lincoln impersonator. I don’t remember what his day job was, but his side gig was going around to various historical functions abd playing Lincoln. it wasn’t enough to support him, of course, but there was more call for that sort of thng than you’d imagine,and he made 5 or 10 grand a year on the side.

when I first saw him, he was in a line in a cafeteria Getting lunch. It was all an accident of birth, of course, but he looked just like Abe. Same big forehead, same gangly body, horseface, high cheekbones, same unfortunate beard and….Wayfarer sunglasses.

Damn, there was just something cool about Lincoln in sunglasses, you know? They suited him. He didn’t just look presidential or iconic, he looked cool.

As soon as we were both through the line, I walked over to him and said,

“Excuse me sir, I’m sorry to bother you, but do you know you look *just* like someone…”

“So I’ve been told,” he said.

“Abe Vigoda,” I said. “You look just like Abe Vigoda, from Barney Miller, and also from his own short-lived spinoff, ‘Fish.’ Remember that show? You probably get people telling you that all the time, but it’s uncanny how much you look like him.”

He stared at me in confusion for a beat, and then just about blew out his lungs laughing. Which is also not someing you ever see. You don,t ever get to see lincoln laughing, or wearing cool sunglasses, and certainly not at the same time.

I grinned and excused myself, and went to eat my lunch

OBITUARY: Billy Graham 1919-2018

Ah, poor Billy Graham.

Whether you’re a Christian or even an Anti-Christian, it’s very hard not to appreciate Billy and all his work for social causes in addition to the cause of Christ. Even Harlan Ellison once said that Billy seemed to be the only big-name Evangelist who seemed like a good man who actually practiced and believed what he preached, and wasn’t just in it for the money. (Paraphrased, owing to my faulty memory)

He opposed segregation before it was trendy. As early as 1957, he would refuse to preach at revivals that separated Black and White sections. He invited Martin Luther King to co-headline a 16-week revival in NYC. He spoke publicly about the need for nuclear disarmament. He advocated more attention money and time be spent on AIDS back in the ’80s. He was, as far as I’m aware, completely scandal free.

In the 1968 election, Nixon enlisted Graham’s aid in campaigning for him and helping him wrap up the evangelical Christian vote. He made a number of promises of how greatly he could help Christianity once he was in office. Graham did so, but after the election he quickly realized Nixon had been lying to him, and had no interest in making good on any of his promises. He grew disgusted at having been so gullible and so easily used, and remained mostly publicly apolitical for the rest of his life. Even so, he was a guest of 11 presidents, and functioned as an unofficial spiritual adviser to a couple of them.

You don’t have to agree with his stance on everything – heck, *I* differ with him theologically on at least one important point, possibly others – but in the end he was a man who spent his whole life trying to make the world a better place, both spiritually and materially.

He’d been retired for more than 10 years owing to failing health, but just the same: it’s a sadder place without him in it.

I miss John Bennett

I just got to thinking about how I miss my friend John Bennett. I haven’t thought about him in years, but he popped into my head on the way back from my kid’s school, and, dang, I miss hanging out with him.

John and I carpooled together when we were in high school. He was a somewhat-off, more-than-passingly shy guy who compensated with a sense of humor that I can only describe as random.

Example: One time we’d broken into an old building with lots of very old paint that was flaking.

John: I think this is lead paint.
Me: Probably.
John: Don’t eat the paint.
Me: [Laughing] Thank you for reminding me, John.
John: Don’t eat it!
Me: I won’t eat the paint.
John: Good. Because you shouldn’t.
Me: I wonder why this place was abandoned.
John: Maybe they all ate the paint and died.
[Time passed]
Me: Ah, crap! Back up, back up, back up! We need to find another way!
John: Did you eat the paint?
Me: No, the hallway’s full of snakes! Run!
John: [Running, screaming] As bad as this is, it would be worse if you ate the paint!

If that makes him sound aspergery or really OCD, it wasn’t. He was struggling to keep a straight face every time he said it.

Though incredibly low key, he was always a hoot. We’d be at his house, and he’d be making me listen to backmasked messages on Mylon LaFevre albums (Mylon was a Christian musician) and then he’d say, “Let’s go make bombs!” Being of an engineering mindset, he was really good at bombs. Being of a Floridian mindset, I as entirely in favor of this. Then, we’d sneak out into the well-known makeout spot for the high-school kids in the woods (It goes without saying that as a couple geeky Juniors, neither of us could get any chicks) and set the bombs off (Harmlessly). This, of course, scared the crap out of the people, and there’d be screams, and half the cars would go screeching off into the night, and occasionally a whole bunch of the guys would see us lurking and chase after us while we hauled ass back to John’s car. The time he looked over his shoulder while running, then slammed into a tree is probably one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life.

We got back to the car, and he was more concerned about spiders than his bleeding wounds. Terrified of spiders.

His nickname was “Evil Genius,” which he chose for himself. Uhm, we’d get on the CB to see if any truckers were Catholics who could help us with our latin homework (nope). We’d sit on his hobie cat on the trailer on the back of his car while a friend would drive us around the Dunedin causeway, which sounded hilarious, but was utterly horrifying. Uhm…oh, he joined the Navigators, a Christian Youth Group, mostly in order to meet chicks. Eventually he realized that wasn’t gonna happen, hence their unfortunate group nickname, “The Never-daters.” One day in frustration, he asked for a garbage bag, then we packed up all their snacks in the bag and left. (We shared them with our friends and total strangers for the rest of the night.) We’d drive up to Newberry and go poking around in the caves.

John: Hey, watch what happens if I turn out the light
Me: DON’T TURN OFF THE LIGHT, JOHN!

He introduced me to the concept of comedy albums (Bob & Doug MacKenzie), and I remember us seeing A Fish Called Wanda together for the first time while visiting him in Gainsville. It about killed both of us

Another fun moment! We were hiking across the unused, shoreward part of Honeymoon island once, through the tall grass, on our way to the woods, to set off bombs. This was broad daylight. I’d never done it before, but past experience had taught John that being on an island well away from the beach gave us a LOT more time to get away before the cops showed.

One time we went out to the woods on Honeymoon Island, which is where he used to test out some of his homemade explosives. Walking through the tall grass, and I hear rustling.
Me: “You hear noises?”
John: “Yeah.”
Me: “Rats? Snakes? Rats and snakes?”
Kpjm: “No. We don’t want to step on them, though. Here, I’ll clear ’em out.”

He lit an M-80, then chucked it randomly. It exploded. Suddenly, at *LEAST* a half dozen couples of elderly gay men hopped up out of the grass and came running out of the woods, either naked, or in their underwear, or speedos, looking horrified. He threw another M-80 high enough that it exploded in the air. The elderly homosexuals kept running. I said at least six couples, but it was probably more.

“Just in case there’s any stragglers,” he said.
“Good thinking,” I said. “So I’m imagining the first time you came out here, you didn’t know this was a place where gay coots go for anonymous gay coot sex?”
“It was a pretty awkward discovery,” he admitted.

I should mention John was wearing a pith helmet at the time. Whenever we went out in the woods or to the beach or the islands or climbing through an abandoned building, or sometimes even just swimming, he always wore a pith helmet. If you asked him why, he’d mumble something about monkeys.

We went to different colleges and saw less of each other after that, but it was always a hoot. The last time I saw him was his wedding. This was before I’d met my wife, and I was recuperating from a bad breakup, so I wasn’t dating anyone at the time. I asked a friend of mine who was a model to come along as my plus-one. Since we’d known each other for years, and had an easy back-and-forth, and a bunch of jokes only we knew, everyone assumed we were together. Every time she got up to go to the bathroom, the guys at the table (Total strangers) would compliment me on her.

“Oh my God, man, she’s gorgeous!”
Yeah, she is.
“You’re lucky to have a woman like that.”
I know. Her and her live-in boyfriend were going to go camping this weekend, but there was a last-minute change in their schedule, so…
“How did an average-looking guy like you get a girl like her?”
She’s not actually mine. I’m just borrowing her for the evening.
“Seriously, dude, how did you get a girl like that?”
I called her boyfriend, and I said, ‘hey, Bob, I need someone to go to a wedding with me, and Heather’s busy. Can I borrow your girlfriend?
[One of the girls at the table] “I think it’s the hair.”
Oh, for God’s sa—Yes. Yes, yes, yes, it’s the hair. Chicks dig the hair. [My current profile picture is from around then. I did have gobs of pretty good hair]
“See?”
Grumble grumble grumble. Then she’d come back.
“What did I miss?”
Everyone was talking about how much they like your dress.
“Oh, thank you!”

This lengthy digression is because evidently this is the reason I never saw John again. His wife was….uhm….not gorgeous. Not ugly or anything by any means. She just wasn’t a model, and all the other girls were basically normal-girl-shaped. By bringing a ringer, I’d inadvertently upstaged the bride at her own wedding, which was a terrible thing to do, and I had no idea that was going to happen. I later found out she was very upset. They never came back from their honeymoon, they started it here, went to Cancun or Fiji or Newark or some exotic place like that, and then ended it in Texas, their new home.

And that was that.

Probably going on 30 years ago. hadn’t thought about it in years, but now that I have, dang, I really miss my friend John.

The Beautiful Farewell to Star Trek

You ever stumble across something really stupid that, nevertheless somehow manages to fill up a hole inside you that you never knew was there?
 
It’s no secret I don’t like Star Trek, and the reason is obviously that I loved it once, as a kid. I’ve considered all subsequent Treks to be disappointing or flat out awful, and I abandoned the franchise somewhere around 1993 or 4. I like amateur films and videos and things, so my only exposure to Trek in the 21st century was through Fan Films, which primarily had nostalgia value, and mostly suck. Eventually there were just too many of these, and they were all too awful, and I drifted away from them.
 
Fan Films have always been illegal (Copyright infringement) but generally not prosecuted. A year or so ago, Paramount decided to start enforcing their rights, and now they’re verbotten. Nobody’s making ’em anymore. Nor will they.
 
Now, the slickest bunch making ’em was a semi-pro outfit out of California called “Star Trek Continues.” Despite the actors not looking much like their TOS originals, and some occasionally dodgy production values, it *felt* like Trek. It was really good, but I lost interest. Over 5 years they made about 10 episodes. Their final episode was said to be the last one of the golden age of fan films, the last one anyone could get away with, which just squeaked by under the wire. I decided, ‘what the heck, I’ll give it a shot.’
 
Now, when I was 10, 11, 12, I adored Trek. Obviously I wanted more, but like everyone else of my generation I really wanted “Seasons 4 and 5” more than movies, or spinoffs or whatever, right? Even still, I long ago made peace with the fact that it wasn’t gonna happen. And love TOS like I did, even as a kid I was aware that it had a lot of problems. I wasn’t blind.
 
But you know what I wanted? The thing that was secretly buried in my heart all this time? A hole in me that I never even noticed was empty? To my surprise, it wasn’t *more* Trek, nor more TOS.
 
I wanted a conclusion.
 
I wanted a solid end to the original show. Not a reunion movie, or anything like that. I wanted the Final Voyage of the Starship Enterprise at the end of its Five Year Mission.
 
And I got it. Holy crap, did I get it!
 
“To Boldly Go…” is a two-part episode. Without spoiling it, the Enterprise’ mission is complete, and it’s heading back to earth when it gets called aside to investigate strange goings on. It bookends the entire series, revisiting some of the circumstances of the “Where No Man Has Gone Before…” and there’s an extended callback to “The Enterprise Incident” that works really well, but the story is all new. Those elements simply serve to bring things full circle, to give a very well-earned sense of completion.
 
The sets are flawless, as are the costumes, the script hits all the right ’60s beats (Though with some modern flourishes, and with some ’60s narrative flaws that I think have to be intentional), the soundtrack (Mostly culled from old episodes) is perfect. It is a bang-on production, and honestly I had no difficulty believing this was the final episode of TOS (Which presumably would have aired in the spring of 1971)
 
At some point, about a third of the way through, the continents shifted inside me and this stopped being a fan film, and *became* TOS. It wasn’t about nostalgia, it was about an end to the epic and the epoch that had been dangling and incomplete in my mind these last 40 years. I never noticed, presumably because shows didn’t have finales in those days. They just *stopped.*
 
This, though, more important than ‘more Trek,’ this was the conclusion I’d never known I was missing. At some point, perhaps halfway through, my ten-year-old self showed up, and we watched it together, me remembering what it was like to be that young, and the other me forgetting what it was like to have grown so crusty and cynical about something I’d once loved.
 
So we watched it, and neither of me can say whether it was really objectively all that good. Both of us thought it was, but both of us were far too close to it emotionally to really be sure. In a way it didn’t really matter if it was good or not (Though, again, I think it was very good), rather it was about fixing that leak inside me. It was about closing that door that had been banging in the wind all these decades, and doing it with a sense of contentment and finality.
 
The final scenes set up ST:TMP, but I don’t care about that kind of continuity. It’s well done, but I don’t need it. What I do need is Kirk, Spock, and McCoy standing alone, talking about what happens next.
 
What I needed was Kirk requesting a desk job because he can still see the faces, and remember the names of all 78 people who died while he was captain, and he just can’t throw people’s lives away like that.
 
What I needed was was Bones retiring because “I’ve seen too much death, and I haven’t seen my daughter in five years.”
 
What I needed was a heartbroken Spock retiring to Vulcan because he’s been tainted by human emotion to the point that he just can’t take it anymore.
 
What I needed was these three guys having been *changed* by their voyage, saying goodbye to the people they were when they started, and moving on to the next stages in their lives.
 
What I needed was them coming home. What I needed was me coming home.
 
Trek is done for me now. There is no more. It ended here, now, last night, on Youtube. None of the subsequent stuff exists. This is all I ever wanted without knowing it, all I never knew I needed. It’s done.
 
The episode ended, and rather than the usual music playing over the closing credits they just played the normal background bridge noises. Then that ended, too.
 
Then I sat there in the darkness, staring at the screen in bittersweet silence for a long time, feeling something I hadn’t felt in 30 years, and smiling all the way through, body, mind, and soul. 
 
And then the ten-year-old version of me got up, walked out of the house, and quietly closed and locked the door behind him.