Sunday, February 27, 2005

Foxx and Eastwood, Yo

Well Jamie hooked the Best Actor trophy for Ray and Clint copped two Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture for Million Dollar Baby...

Easy Reader & Galadriel Scoop Oscars

I try to avoid watching the tube at all costs and thus I'm not watching the 77th Annual Oscar Award ceremonies (I'm actually reading magazines right now) but I sensed a surge of energy coming over the hills from the direction of the Kodak Theater so I thought I'd look around online to take a gander at what happened...

Traffic reports on the radio are telling Angelenos to avoid the Hollywood 'n Highland area at all costs because it's always a mad house during one of these things -- isn't that special? ...well, lo and behold Morgan Freeman scored a long overdue award for best supporting actor for "Million Dollar Baby" -- I'll always remember him as Easy Reader from TV's The Electric Company, so in "Driving Miss Daisy" he was in "Easy Reader Drives Jessica Tandy to Piggly Wiggly," Shawshank Redemption was "Easy Reader Goes to Jail & Meets Tim Robbins" in "Unforgiven" it was "Easy Reader 'n The Outlaw Josey Wales Pop a Cap in Lex Luthor
s Ass" and so on...Also, Cate Blanchette's turn as Kate Hepburn in "The Aviator" got her a bald guy for best supporting actress, so I'm 1 for 1 as far as predictions go...oh yeah, Hilary Swank got Best Actress propers, too which is cool. Although she got dap for "Boys Don't Cry," I think she got prematurely snubbed for her work in "The Next Karate Kid"...but that's just me...I'll check back in a few to see if my Jamie Foxx prediction comes to full fruition...Laters

Dude, You're Quoting Shakespeare?

...I got an e-mail from a co-worker laced with literary quotations that reminded me of this book I'd just finished called, "The Story of English" by Robert McCrum, Robert MacNeil and Cran William written as an companion for a BBC documentary which went on to become a UK Best Seller ; the documentary aired in the states later on PBS and was followed by the book itself. Here's an excerpt from the section that illustrates just how influential William Shakespeare's writing was and still is...

  • If you cannot understand my argument, and declare 'It's Greek to me', you are quoting Shakespeare;
  • If you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare;
  • If you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare;
  • If you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare;
  • If you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose,
  • If you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony... laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise - why, be that as it may, the more fool of you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare
  • ....if you think it is high time and that it is early days and clear out bag and baggage and that that is the long and short of it ...and that the truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, without rhyme or reason, then - to give the devil his due - if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare;
  • ... even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villian, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then - by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! for goodness sake! what the dickens! but me no buts - it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare."

    So, "but me no buts," if you're into word origins and etymology, as am I, this book will do you no wrong (click on the header for a direct link)'s a sweet read. Laters...

Ray of Light - Will Jamie Foxx get Props for Ray or will his double nomination be a Collateral loss?

A couple of days ago I was talking to this friend I used to date when I first moved to L.A. and she goes "Yep, it's hard to believe you've been here for 10 years now." and I was like "nofriggin'way!" As I did the math in my noggin, turns out she was three months which brings me to Jamie Foxx and this year's Oscar Awards.

I fell off the turnip truck and onto Highland & Hollywood back in the summer of '95 and started dating this woman I knew from back East, from whence I'd just arrived -- as most transplants tend to do when they get out here until they realize why they left behind the loathesome lot who remained wherever it was they'd fled from in the first place, but I digress. Anyway, she worked as a suit at one of the bigger talent agencies and for a minute was representing Jamie Foxx. One night she asked me if I'd like to go to a function with her which was a comedy show featuring hot black comedians on the rise and Foxx was slotted to perform. New to the coast with the straw still sticking out of my shoes, I shrugged "why the hell not?"

Following a 15 minute set, Jamie bounded offstage and up to his agent, my girlfriend and we met. Plans were made in the comedy club's parking lot to go have a late dinner over at a diner back over on Sunset, the name of the joint escapes me at the moment but it's over there by the Saddle Ranch...with a couple of railroad cars in front of it or something but anyway, we got there before Foxx did; we were sat, ordered and after almost finishing our meal, Jamie did eventually show up (tardiness is a given out here) and even then it was clear that he had big plans but so does every waiter, bellydancer and cabbie out here. If you walk into any Starbucks at mid-day and look around, everybody's reading a memo, of a xerox of a fax of a "hot treatment." In Jamie's case, he had yet to make any waves in film but he'd earned his bones on the Wayans brothers' groundbreaking "In Living Color" sketch comedy show on TV and had since moved on to star in his own popular eponymous sitcom.

This was years before I'd make my own inroads toward writing in/ about the business but I noted, even then, that he had an interesting mind and half of the preconceptions about the guy didn't pan out and I was hard pressed not to like the guy. I found out that dude's an accomplished pianist and can sing his little ass off so it was no surprise to me when he actually did start kicking ass as actor (his stand-up can be played at times) in films like Any Given Sunday and Ali. When the latter came out many were scratching their collective yarmulkes saying "who woulda thunk it? Jamie Foxx playing a black Jew?"

Since then he's been one to watch and instead of going the "cheesin' n chitlins" route from stand-up to sitcom to comedy film until forced back to stand-up, Foxx has honed his talents in the acting Dojo and actually gotten better at what many around these parts like to call (I'm doing finger quotes, here) "the craft." Considering his musical/ improvisational comedy background it seemed that playing Charles was a no-brainer in hindsight but remember, movies take years to get made and I'm sure whomever mentioned Jamie initially was laughed out of the meeting room while he was handed his/ her hat but needless to say the script landed in the actor/ comedian's lap and the rest is blah-blah-blah...

While I don't doubt that the multi-talented Foxx didn't rock out while playing Charles (nope, haven't see it yet), he's up against some heavy hitters in the Best actor in a leading role category, the list includes Leonardo DiCaprio who went to Sean Penn-sylvanian method acting proportions with a multi-tasked portrayal of Howard Hughes (and all of the nervous ticks that that entails) in The Aviator which I did see but didn't cotton to -- because it was playing nearby and I had the time, plus I'd heard that Cate Blanchette did a bang up job as Kate Hepburn. I'll admit Cate has her moments playing Kate but she was far better in Jim Jarmusch's Coffee & Cigarettes while playing two poeple and in 1/16th of the time, no less. I don't know, maybe it's hard for me to relate to a billionaire hypochondriac with a milk fetish or a brassy patrician actress from New England. But that's me, yo...

Other contenders for the Best Actor title are Johnny Depp who had jaded & grizzled journalists on the film beat crying like little bitches at screenings all over town last year for his nominated performance in Finding Neverland, Clint Eastwood also got a nod from the big "O" for Million Dollar Baby. Clint has been making quality films for quite a while -- always under budget, which the suits love in this town -- but he's never walked away with a fistful of Oscar; this might be his year. Many of the voters in the Academy are old schoolers with one hand on a cell phone, one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, making this an opportune time to give Dirty Harry his propers because dude ain't getting any younger, yo -- Hollywood loves their own and C.E's double nom seems like an insurance policy so that they can throw something at the aging actor/ director/ producer, as he's also nommed for a Best Director award -- before he "moves on to the next town" as my grandfather used to euphemistically say about taking the eternal dirt nap (guess it runs in the family).

Last, on the list of contenders is Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), one of the most underrated actors working in the 323/310 area code with chops for days (he gave Denzel a real run for his money with his supporting role as the squirrelly Mouse in Devil in a Blue Dress) -- I didn't see HR but plan to because Cheadle never disappoints, no need to gallop with the herd -- he's no thespian slouch by any means and he closes the list that makes Foxx' chances of scoring a statuette for his supporting role opposite Tom Cruise in Collatteral more plausible but even in that group he's up against thespian stalwarts like Alan Alda (The Aviator) and Easy Reader himself, Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) so the geriatric voters might throw a spanner in Foxx' works for that category too...but then again it could go either way.

Kevin Spacey won the Best Actor award for his work in American Beauty in which he essentially played a married weed-smoking Verbal Kent (his role in Usual Suspects) while beating Denzel Washington who'd played the wrongfully jailed Rueben Carter (3-times over) in The Hurricane (the scene in which Washington plays off of himself in the three different emotional states of the same character should've gotten him the B.A. Oscar way back then -- if you've ever been on a film shoot, you'd know how difficult it is for actors to keep one character's actions consistent for the editing booth, let alone three in the same sequence; when he lost I stood up screaming in disgust at the TV "who in the hell is Kaiser Soze??!!!" Washington eventually won for playing a (surprise!) thuggy cop with interpersonal issues but that win was a day late and a dollar short -- to be mentioned in another entry, altogether: to be mentioned in another entry...

The full list of Oscar nominees and categories can be found on header link [click on the header and it'll redirect you] also, if you'd like to learn a little more about Ray Charles -- and who doesn't? -- here's a little 411 on him, ... take a look, you' should find something that'll surprise you, I know I did [like, he'd beaten Charlie Pride, the black country singer, onto the C&W charts by a few decades]...Laters.

1948>> In Seattle, Charles became a minor local celebrity in the club circuit. He formed the McSon Trio with Gossady McGee, becoming the first black group to have a sponsored TV show in the Pacific Northwest.

1949>>"Confession Blues," recorded on the Downbeat/Swingtime label, is a hit debut, putting Charles on the map.

1952>>Ray's contract is bought by Atlantic Records, where he records songs such as "I've Got A Woman," "Mess Around," and What'd I Say."

1954>>"Swannee River Rock" is Ray Charles' first single to crossover into pop.

1961>> Charles is awarded a Best R&B Recording Grammy for "Hit The Road Jack."

1962 >>In a somewhat confusing outcome of events, the country ballad "I Can't Stop Loving You" wins Ray a Best R&B Recording Grammy.

1963>>"Busted" garners another Grammy-Best R&B Recording-at the 6th-annual ceremony.

1966>> Ray Charles' single "Crying Time" is a hit and wins him two Grammys: Best R&B Recording and Best R&B Solo Vocal Performance.

1967>>Charles drops out of the music scene following a heroin possession bust. Ironically, when he returns, his first hit is "Let's Go Get Stoned."

1975>> "Living For The City" is awarded the Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male Grammy.

1979>> Ray's classic rendition of "Georgia On My Mind" is approved as the official state song of Georgia. The singer is also the first artist to be inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

1981>> The Hollywood Historic Trust initiates Ray Charles' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

1987>> Charles is awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement trophy for his contributions to American music.

1990>> "I've Got A Woman," Charles' first #1 hit single (R&B, 1955), is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and the collaborative effort "I'll Be Good To You," helmed by Quincy Jones, is awarded the Best R&B Performance by duo or group for Charles' duet with Chaka Khan. His role in the Pepsi "You got the right one, Baby" commercial series wins him a Clio award as Best Male Performer.

1993>>President Clinton presents Ray Charles with the National Medal for the Arts, and Charles' version of "Georgia On My Mind" is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame while Charles also wins the Best Male Vocal Performance, R&B for "A Song For You."

1994>> A Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to Charles at the Black Achievement Awards Ceremony.

1995>> Ray receives another Lifetime Achievement Award, this time from the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.

1997>>Charles' 1960 album release The Genius Of Ray Charles is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

1999>> The album Ray Charles In Person, released on Atlantic 40 years prior, is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

2004>>Charles dies due to complications from liver disease at the age of 73 in Los Angeles, CA

" Charles lost his eyesight at the age of seven. Because of his family's poverty, he was accepted as a charity case at Florida's St. Augustine School for the deaf and blind. While there, he learned Braille and typing. He also took lessons outside of school: a neighbor taught him to play the piano.

" Charles made the insightful observation of the correlation mathematics has to music. He taught himself to arrange music in his mind, describing each instrument's part one by one.

" Imitating the stage stylings of Nat "King" Cole, in his salad days as a soloist he headed for Seattle, WA.

" In the early '50s Charles started working with R&B musicians such as Lowell Fulson, Guitar Slim, and Ruth Brown, which "toughened up" his recording sound.

" In Seattle, Ray met an aspiring musician whom he took under his tutelage. The young man was Quincy Jones.

" The recording of "I've Got A Woman" was a crucial moment in American music. This adaptation of gospel into secular R&B became a #2 hit. It heralds the point that Ray found "his voice" and began developing its now familiar nuances.

" In 1959 the song "What'd I Say" became Charles' biggest hit to date, reaching #1 on the R&B and #6 on the Pop charts.

" When Charles went to ABC, he was given more control of the production of his songs and eventual ownership of them (making him one of the first recording artists to do so). He utilized this power to make such hits as "Hit The Road Jack" and "Unchain My Heart."

" In 1962 Charles switched gears on the pop music scene by recording his first the hit country music single " I Can't Stop Loving You" and then recording the full album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music. The album was immensely popular, topping the album charts for nearly four months.

" In a description of "soul" music to Time Magazine, Charles stated "(that) radiates from a sense of selfhood, a sense of knowing where you've been and what it means. Soul is a way of life--but it's always the hard way."

" In 1971 Atlantic Records and ABC collaborated on a 25th-anniversary salute to Ray with a release that comprised material from both labels.

" In 1979 Charles' version of Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia On My Mind" was declared the "official song of the state of Georgia," and he was invited to be present on the floor of the state capitol to sing its inaugural performance.

" In 1980, Ray had a featured role in The Blues Brothers, the cult hit starring John Belushi and Dan Akroyd.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

MINK STOLE - Why she's still wading in with Waters

Mink Stole has been with John Waters since the beginning back in the mid '60s. More recently she can be found on the big screen in John Waters' A Dirty Shame and in her one woman show called It's All About Me. Despite what the stage name implies, she's not a not a drag queen, yo.

Talk about meeting John and what got you into acting?

I discovered that I was sort of good at it. I was just out of high school when I met him so I really didn't have much of a background in acting. I was always histrionic, so it was not a huge leap to go from histrionic to theatrical. I'm not a Juliard graduate or anything like that. Some people really can never act. There are some people, it doesn't matter what kind of director that you have, they're never going to be able to act. I'm not naming any names.

Where does the name Mink Stole come from?

My name is Nancy Paine Stoll, that is the name I was born with. When I was working on the first film with John in front of the camera--now remember, we're talking 1966--so we've got Diva and Ingrid Superstar, so Mink Stole was an obvious choice. I didn't realize that it was going to be the name that carried with me forever-- people still think I'm a drag queen. Drag queens have these names now, they didn't back then. Even as recently as a couple of years ago, I was doing a play in San Francisco and one of the alternative papers listed me as "The Legendary Drag Queen" Mink Stole. I was doing a play called "Sleeping with Straight Men," and there's a drag role in it but not mine. I don't even really like "legendary" because I think legends are people who are dead, or almost dead, and I'm not quite dead.

Did you ever think that the work you did with John Waters would be so enduring?

There was absolutely no way to know that. We were in Baltimore! You know Baltimore is a small town that's disguised as a big city. We were very insular. We weren't in New York, so there wasn't really that sense of it. And it wasn't until Pink Flamingos came out and opened at the Elgin Theater in New York, and that was in '71 or '72, by which time I was living in San Francisco. People were really kind of taken aback by it. It tooka long time for me, personally, to catch up with the phenomenon of John and the films.

What do you think of the NC-17 rating and do you think the content of your new film is political in any way?

Well, I dislike censorship in all it's forms and I dislike the government telling people what their children can go to see. There are some 15 year-olds that would be perfectly comfortable watching this movie and there's some 40 year-olds who would not be. I think it's political insofar as it saying "what I do with my life is my business and it's okay. I'm not hurting anybody so leave me alone." We have such sexual hypocrisy in this country, this movie exposes some of that. It's important, at all times, especially in times that are becoming more repressive, to keep the envelope pushed. To keep pushing at the edges because if you give in to it then they'll just take more and more stuff away from us.

SHANE CARRUTH on Primer, now out on DVD

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, Primer is Shane Carruth's directorial and acting debut. Set in the non-descript suburbs, the film follows Abe (Carruth) and Aaron (David Sullivan) two young engineers working on projects in their garage, who stumble upon the means with which they can convey themselves through time. Once they realize the possibilities of the latter and it's implications, the two begin on a journey that tests the very fabric of their friendship.

"I had pipe dreams thinking 'maybe people might respond to this," says Shane who wrote, directed and starred in the film. " I was really naive and it was just a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be -- this has far exceeded what I thought was possible with what we were doing, he says of winning at Sundance and the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for advancing science and technology in film.

In the telling of Primer , Carruth took a chance and chose to eschew overtly simplified "red pill, blue pill explanations" to demonstrate how far the rabbit hole goes -- which adds to the Lab-coat and beaker feel of the story's premise and begs the question: will the scientific layman in the audience have a chance of comprehending the engineers' techie-talk that provides the foundation of the Primer storyline? Shane thinks the answer to that is easy as 1, 2, 3.

"It was important to me that what they're saying [on screen] is real and based on the real world. Those scenes are written with information in there about the politics of the group and who's enthusiastic about what; who's proprietary," he says while pointing to the human nuances of the characters he'd drawn for his film. "The hope was that even if they're humming, [then] it's propelling the story -- you're learning something...I didn't want someone to come in and go:'now give it to me in [plain] English' and then someone else delivers some [hackneyed] metaphor for what they're actually doing."

"I needed this device to heighten the risk," he reveals. "When I got to the part about it affecting time, not only did it satisfy the theme but it also seemed like there were a lot of things to do with it that I HADN'T seen before," Carruth remembers. "Something that had always bothered me with time travel stories [in film] was this idea of picking up in one point in time and finding yourself in another and then he shifts gear towards Einsteinian subject matter.

"If you jump back a day, you would find yourself [in an] empty space because of the amount of distance that the earth has moved since yesterday," he says matter-of-factly. "It seemed like any time you were going to address moving in time you've got to address space -- and it doesn't help that space and time are considered part of the same fabrics -- let's talk about everything. So coming up with the analogy of how I thought this [machine] would work in the real world, had this wierd logic to it that was interesting to me."

Placing all of the Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and science fiction what-ifs aside, the theme of Shane Carruth's film posits an ethical through-line that points a finger at what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature" and as Shane sees it, the impetus shooting the movie involved more than taking a leap of fantasy. "As I get older I think I need to find a way to understand why people do bad things [to each other]," he says. "I knew that I was going to have [to tell] this story," Carruth explains. "I was interested in it because it seemed very universal. Whether you're talking about politics or power structures...This is something to me that is WORTH exploring and talking about -- that's what started it."

There are many twists on the road to truth. In addition to the science-fantasy storyline, the Primer premise was actually grounded on real scientific theories and the screenwriter/ director had to find actors to portray the principle roles and do the leg work to flesh out their roles which yielded a couple of surprises. " I auditioned over 100 guys for the lead roles -- that's how I found David [Sullivan]; the only guy willing to look at the material [and learn science background]. I know what it was," he declares, "I wasn't offering to pay anyone. I realized , at some point that, if I casted of these guys and they left after 3 weeks, for whatever reason, then I can't recover from that. I couldn't reshoot that stuff," he explains. "I'd memorized a good portion of the script and I just decided to step into it. I figured, 'if I'm going to be there everytime we shoot [anyway], then that's one less person that I have to call every day."

After committing to playing one of the lead roles in the film, Shane had to check his ego at the door while portraying the part -- he'd never acted in anything before and film was at premium. Carruth recollects, in hindsight, that there were a few more lessons to be learned on the fly -- as a novice actor who's performances that he, himself, would have to edit later in the cutting room. Everyone likes their own brand, don't they? "He was this annoying guy that I had to edit around," Shane says self deprecatingly of his stab at acting. "Two months into editing I stopped seeing myself -- I don't see myself anymore when I'm watching the film but I know that it was annoying at first," he admits. "It was like, this guy's breaking my scenes. What is he doing?"

It's called show "business" not show "friends." Irrespective of accolades from Sundance, the new director's no babe in the woods; he's well aware of how the bottom line of his first offering will affect what he's working on right now and the creative limitations of working on larger products. "I've been able to have meetings here, in Los Angeles, with people that I KNOW that I wouldn't have been able to meet with before. I love directing and I hope to get to do it again," he concedes without cynicsm. [But] I would hate to be the opposite situation where I suddenly HAVE a budget but I've lost [creative] control -- so I'm trying my best to find a way to meet both of those needs.

Hals Und Beinbruch; Break a Leg

Names have been changed but embellishments are few...

I got in late one night following work as a "clerical dogbody" at yet another "temp-to-perm" assignment when I checked my machine and found out that Ute had called and left a message stating that she'd like to see me before she went back over to Germany for the holidays. Mind you, I mercifully hadn't heard from her in a while since "The Deustchland Debacle" [see Cuckold Cocked] and the emotional imbroglio from a few years back had lost their sharp edges and, besides, it was Christmastime for chrissakes.

Since then, I'd been hit in a cross-walk by an old geezer that ran a red light - from which I had mended after 12 months of therapy - and had re-joined the workforce again via another (yes, another) agency assignment, this time my "walk-on role" would be that of a CSR (that's customer service representative to the uninitiated) in the billing dept of a credit card company; an environment that the Marquis de Sade would have had writer's block attempting to describe.

After two rigorous weeks of what can be loosely described as a mixture of "training, testing and herd-thinning," with a class that dwindled from 25 trainees to 10 "survivors," the case-group was then thrown to the wolves to fend for themselves while applying their newly-acquired phone-skills. Essentially unprepared for the rat-a-tat barrage of inane, fee-based missives of irresponsible and hostile consumers from Shreveport to San Diego, the setting quickly called into question whether any of those rationalizations I'd inaudibly chanted like a born-again monk about "things soon getting better." Hell, after about four solid weeks of settling the bill disputations of tornado-bait ensconced in the RV parks of the midwest and angry housewives on cell phones in Seattle -- some multi-tasking by slapping around their screaming progeny while cussing out people on the phone -- we all began to have second thoughts about our most recent occupational choice.

At about this juncture I realized that my skill set was wanting. I was ill-prepared to negatiate the onslaught of overdraft charge-fueled rage as these people would shriek ad nauseum into their wirelesses about why they didn't want to pay late fees on bills they claimed never came in the mail -- please people, it should be illegal to be drunk on the telephone; save it for David.

The monetary appeal really began to wear thin during that hundredth hate-filled phone that followed the beep in my headset after which I was instructed to chime in with "Thank you for calling "blah-blah-blah," my name is Chris how can I help you?" Seriously, how many toxic in-bound phone arguments can one person take before snapping out a la Tom Cruise (yeah, him again) in that breakdown/breakthrough scene in Jerry Maguire? "Help me, help you" I'd caught myself blurting during more than a few "you're robbing me blind" tirades made by customers placed on hold for more than twenty minutes at a clip and left to stew in their juices by an automated 1-800 "self-service" number ( fuck-you-very-much).

The ceaseless stream of vitriol can be daunting, to put it mildly; often I'd close a call feeling unclean or like I'd rather be dunked in egg salad and chained inside a crawlspace with a pack of starved dingoes tripping on "E." All the while I'd nurse the fact that sometimes in life you do what you must when the money's funny. So what? Bearing all of this in mind it's easy to see why I picked up the telephone when I saw Ute's name on the caller ID; I guess I aquiesced to yet another phone message picked up in a moment of psychic weakness. What the hell? Small doors open to large rooms...yeah, whatever dude.

Since Ute and I had last spoken, I'd moved to Pasadena because it was close to the job that I held at the time and Los Angeles proper was too far of a hike to make every morning by the MTA, Los Angeles' mass transit bus and rail system -- it used to be called the RTD which straphangers deemed the "Rough, Tough 'n Dirty" because of the unsavory characters that they had to stare at and deal with while shooting through the tubes -- I guess I'd just been harboring thoughts of returning to New York City on the Jungian level but that's niether here nor there. I lost that job but I stayed in Pasadena anyway but that's another tale, altogether: that's another tale. (fans of the movie "Airplane!" will get that joke).

According to her message, Ute wanted to meet up for dinner & drinks and I thought (yes again, I tells ya) "why the hell not?" So, like a lamb (a very feeble-minded lamb) being led to the slaughter house, I returned Ute's call and agreed to meet her on the following Friday but when I hung up the phone, everything that had occurred with "the Foil du Frankfurt" from a year-and-change ago came rushing back to me in vivid detail. I froze at the thought of another horrifying encounter with her, like one of those rabbits in Richard Adams' fairytale Watership Down. I had contracted a momentarily paralyzing case of "tharn," but being a man of my word trumped any inclinations to pull a no-show. Besides, I tried to call her back to cancel in my jack-rabbit's panic but she didn't answer; there was no turning back. I think she stood by the phone and watched it ring while dancing a little jig in a Lucifer costume -- pitchfork, horns, pointy tail and all -- she had plans for me

In the world of entertainment there's the saying "break a leg" which performers tell each other in a tone of esprit de corps. As lexicographers would have it, the colloquialism's history reaches beyond the circle in the round and extends back to German pilots and the aerial dogfights of WWI. As word-history maintains, after the big war, the saying was translated by European thespians who'd come into contact with their German-born counterparts while working the boards in the playhouses of Europe in the years that followed. Apparently, the saying had been appropriated from a German phrase which earlier had, in turn, been usurped into the popular German idiom from ex-WWI aviators who wouldn't dare wish good fortune on their comrades. The logic being, if you wished good tidings on a fellow pilot before he went off on a mission that could prove dangerous, it would "tempt" the forces of evil to stridently step in and cause mortal harm to their buddies; the inherent carnage of warfare was bad enough, so why go there? Just wish him "a broken neck and a broken leg" and he'd be sure to have the malevolent (and airborne) forces thrown off his flight trajectory, for at least a little while, and he'd return to base with his extremities intact.

The night of "The Main Event" began calmly enough. Instead of going home and coming back out, I left my gig and went over to a Mexican-themed bar to suck down a couple of pints with some chicks who'd graduated with me in my "class." After a full day's forced march into the savage hinterlands of CSR purgatory, embalming myself seemed to be on order plus one of my collegues offered to drop me off to meet Ute; it was a no-brainer. In spite of the promised curb-side service, I watched the clock like Dick Clark at around 11:59:50 on New Year's Eve. Clearly I was dreading the "summit" I'd agreed to partake in so I began double-fisting shots and oat sodas -- by the time the dust had settled, I had a brick in my hat and was full of courage.

I checked into the restaurant early and waited for Ute at the main bar and ordered a martini. Almost instantly I began to feel out of place; the clientele and staff were clearly not my type of people. I have nothing against patrician "trust-afarians" who take day-jobs on a lark to pass time between ski trips and skydiving but judging from the underwhelmed glances that the waitron were throwing at me like daggers, I'd been made.

As I sat on my barstool waiting for a tweed jacketed Donald Sutherland to walk in at any minute and begin screeching and pointing me out to the unwitting other pod people, like he did at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I ordered a Grey Goose Cosmopolitan to take the edge off; the effects of slugs I'd had prior quickly evaporated from the stink-eye that the busboys were giving me. As I gulped down my cocktail I realized that I felt like a total fraud and closed out my tab while wild-eyed thoughts of bolting for the nearest exit kicked into hyperdrive. "Punch it Chewie," bellowed Han Solo's voice in my head but just as I stood up to lunge through the well-heeled crowd of professional machers and back into the world that I knew, Ute slid up beside me like a veloca- raptor. The bone-chilling rememberance of a past encounter with another woman and her "precocious" female offspring simultaneously began to seep through my veins like absinthe. "Guten nacht, schotse," she droned in that Eva Brahn accent that I once found cute. She pulled me closer into her hardened-nippled, clinically enhanced cleavage while I shuddered from a second wave of that rabbit-like sensation of fight or flight that washed over me. Donald Sutherland failed to make an appearance that night and our meal ensued with minimal turbulence but true to form, Ute acted like, well, Ute.

It was during a toast that I realized that I cared very little for this woman who found it necessary to draw attention to herself like some idiot actress on a television sitcom -- although I grinned vacuously at her banal witticisms, I wasn't even sitting at the table with her anymore. Ever the drama queen, Ute decided to propose a toast, so with a pinky extended, she raised her glass and mono-toned with a stony Bavarian brogue "Hals und beinbruch," she said dryly. I answered with "Prost" and we threw back the remainder of our wine and rose from our table to exit the restaraunt and part ways -- I was certain, that this time it was forever and I was blissfully at ease with the prospect. As I broke bread with Ute, I had peered deeper into the looking glass than I had in quite a while and I saw exactly what I needed to see.

I'd been thrown off my guard in the past because I hadn't grasped the fact that dating beautiful women is akin to watching a beautifully plumed bird of prey soar overhead. It's majestic to behold and admire from afar but if that colorful raptor lands on a nearby branch and you walk over to touch its feathers, it might peck your eyes out...or it might not and that's the caveat most men fail to wrap their reptilian minds around. Close cover before stiking: eyebrows may be singed. It took me a long time to fully absorb but that night I did.

In spite of the gallons of alcohol I consumed, the revisiting of past dalliances had had a sobering effect on me and the stark contrast it unveiled shot across the skies of my mind as brilliantly as a comet during an solar eclipse. I knew right then and there what I wanted out of life; I'd spent so much time seeking validation in others that I'd lost touch with what really satisfied my soul, as Marley might've put it -- the process of writing; the research and joys of discovery buried deep within layers of letters, chronicling my thoughts through characters and reflections to maybe help those who come behind. To share them with like minded individuals, learn something, possibly; find some answers to my own personal enigmas, perhaps. Those momentary grasps on the truth that come maybe a handful of times in a fully lived life, maybe but whatever the case, it was always about the writing. It always was, I was just too chickenshit to embrace it. To get as much of it all down and winnow through the byzantine algorithm that is life -- that moment of clarity evidenced things that I knew already. I'd known it since I was a kid but hell, sometimes selective ignorace is bliss. I could not look away from the future of realization any longer.

"I'll meet you in the smoking area by the maitre'd's station, I've got to powder my nose," Ute said as I reflexively nodded in agreement, though the very sound of her voice sounded like short-wave radio static at that point. I waited for the duration it took to smoke a cigarette and my feet began to move beneath me, seemingly with a life of their own, taking me toward the train station. I guess they didn't care to wait a nanosecond longer. I stepped onto the crosswalk without looking back as I observed that I had come full circle both metaphorically and geographically.

As I walked toward the train station I realized that the restaurant I'd just eaten in was approximately one block south of the building that I worked in so many months ago; the same building where I'd met Ute on the job; yes, the same place where she'd cruised off of the freeway of love but this time I didn't fancy an emotional car-chase in the slightest. I walked by the edifice on my way to the subway station and, again, my feet took the wheel and pointed me northward, towards home. My mind seemed to comply and we all turned onto a fresh path.

I walked for what seemed like hours, thinking. I waded through emotional backwaters that I'd ignored over the years but they were sealed in amber like a swarm of toxic flies engulfed unawares in some Stone-age swamp; thousands of years old and perfectly preserved for proper scientific deductions to be made when the necessary technology for observation had been designed, invented and mastered. The flies swirled around in my mind like dark clouds and engulfed me as as I strode faster and faster, first up Colorado past the Norton-Simon Museum, then over the bridge on Orange Grove that crosses over the 134 Freeway and the further I walked the better I felt. My feet knew what they were talking about.

I continued my midnight odyssey and listened to my heart beating beneath my overcoat when I stopped dead in my tracks beneath the darkened freeway overpass on Lincoln Avenue; I wasn't alone. It's been said that if you don't pay attention to the signs in life, then you'll pay with pain. And I had payed dearly over the years while waiting for that little proverb to get itself fully immersed in my mind. I'd tithed more than one man's fair share of dues; I no longer sensed the chains linking me to past deeds gone wrong in my youth; some with the best of intentions and others out of unadulterated selfishness. I was atoned for my sins and I felt it innately; that sense of a nearby presence wasn't some living thing approaching, it was the exorcism of past demons leaving on the wing, like the cars whizzing by overhead on the concrete lanes of the freeway. They'd been perched on my shoulders for years like the stone goblins of Notre Dame but it seemed they had interests elsewhere.

Ute called me later that night from her cell phone to reveal that she'd, in fact, been driving around Old Town searching for me with a marked difference in tone that was the antithesis of what I'd winced through earlier in the evening, for a second she almost sounded chastened and contrite. The worm had turned and I think she felt it too. I never called her back; still haven't. When she told me to "break a neck and a leg" she laid to rest any illusion that I might've had about rectifying past wrongs. The truth is, they'll always be there in all their mortifying glory and the best thing to do in regards to that is to seperate the present from the past with a wall of positive accomplishments -- be they helping out a friend who's in a scrape or exploring the depths of my potential in what I take joy in doing...get on with it because time marches on and thus did I.

I realized that you can live your entire life perpetually frozen with the fear of having the starring role in a mundane existence and, in the end, all you'll have is just that. As a direct result of your nail-biting stay among the living, that grip of paranoia will invoke a self-fulfilling prophecy. Inevitably, your life becomes as drab as dishwater when you spend it sitting around waxing philosophic about "coulda's," "woulda's," and "shoulda's." Garrison Keillor, the caterpillar-eyebrowed Minnesotan storyteller, once said: "An ordinary life is what we all get and it's good enough. It's good enough." Never have truer words been spoken...I'm feeling much better now..laters

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Cuckold Cocked: The Power of Poon

Names have been changed, scenarios condensed... but all of this actually happened...

In the time I've spent on the planet earth, I'd like to think that I've managed to get a grip on the inner intricacies of male-female relationships in contemporary America but a recent chain of events have smashed my concepts and theories into a thousand pieces and scattered them to the winds. This chapter in my story began when I landed a J-O-B on the editorial staff of a in L.A. [see Walk Through the Fire post] As I settled into the groove with my new co-workers I began to hit it off with this older woman from Europe, we'll call her Ute. About eight years older, this lady was a hottie. She was single, divorced with no crumb snatchers to hold her down and she was flirting -- often a good sign.

Ute seemed to have it all together; she was decisive and sure of herself, in short, the antithesis of all the ladies closer to my age bracket that I'd pursued in the past. We began to hook up on the DL, a dinner here, a movie there, etc. Initially, playing our cards close was the rule of thumb and our workaday contemporaries in the office were none the wiser - it was perfect! I was having my cake and eating it too, no pun intended. By the third month, however, the cloak-and-dagger exoticness of the scenario began to dull around the edges.

One night over drinks in some Italian restaurant in Los Feliz, I committed a cardinal sin of the dating rulebook. I'd like to say that the combination of scampi bette and the wine weakened my resolve but I'd be a liar-in-the-wink. My faux pas was that I opened up emotionally to Ute that night like I never had before. My rationale was that coming clean was the next logical stage but man was I wrong.

Note to self: the woman will let you know when she's ready to go to the proverbial "next step" on the relationship stairway to heaven - so shut your trap, pay the waiter, keep grinning and enjoy the ride. After that night and a couple of sub par trysts later, Ute began to fade away with maneuvers that would make Herschel Walker proud. First at work, then on the phone and finally one day I looked up and she was in my rearview mirror taking the off ramp from The Freeway of Love - and she cruised on down to "It's Better-than-Ever Street."

What came next was that special kind of hell that can only be experienced during the emotional vacuum of remorse that follows a clandestine on the job poke-in-the-whiskers:
1.) I had to see her everyday at work, 2.) apparently this frauline possessed that whole German precision thing because in a few days she was already slipping off to lunch with some other schlub from New Accounts and lastly, 3.) it became readily apparent that our "classified ops" were now subject to the 2 week Post-Coital Freedom of Information Act - all that butter and no toast.

I felt as if I were laying on the muddy ground of a coliseum in a pool of my own blood while the hoi poloi swilling grappa watched me slowly expire from afar, like all of the vanquished gladiators in the battle of the sexes who went before me, I was forced to eat my heart out with a sullied spoon. Although I felt like a doofus maximus, after a few days I got it together. I ignored the wiseacres on the whisper circuit and did the "old focus on my work thing" while I silently licked my wounds.

One day one of my "concerned" female colleagues - one of the frauline's running partners that I'd dubbed "the ludaligen" - cornered me by the coffee machine to ask me what was wrong, because "I'd been acting differently lately," as she emoted with an I-already-know Cheshire grin. Staring straight at her, without missing a beat, I did what I'd advise any man in similar circumstances to do - I lied like cheap welcome mat while feigning the most earnest, Oscar-worthy facial expressions I could pull up from the within. I told "Scoop Newsworth" flatly: "I'm just getting my priorities straight and it was time to, you know (while tugging on my tie like Rodney Dangerfield), grow up and start getting serious about my career" as I threw two mini-moos into my coffee and got the hell outta there.

A few weeks later, to my surprise, the psychological scars did, in fact, start to heal. I began to venture out among the living again and embraced a new-and-improved mantra: "no more emotions." Since getting all Whitney Houston and emotional threw a spanner in the works, I decided to become a card-carrying member of the Four - F Club: Find 'em, Feed 'em, Fuck 'em and Forget about 'em. It was liberating. Like Superman in bizarro world I knew what my weaknesses were. If I could manage to avoid the rays of a red sun (oh, yeah and hidden vials of kryptonite), I'd be scott-free to do whatever it took to get some leg without all that pesky morality dragging me down - a small price to pay for "a whistle in the weeds." Rejuvenation! Master of all that lie before me! Like Caesar, I was looking for new worlds to conquer! I was rising from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix! I was all that and a bag of Funyons but alas, there weren't any new shores to plunder . I was up to my old shenanigans that rained down a monsoon of hurt. I still hadn't learned but this time I had, what I thought was, a more refined modus operandi. Little did I know I was about to be humbled (again) in one of the worst ways possible - by someone nearly a decade my junior.

A friend of mine from college called me up one sunny Saturday afternoon to tell me that I needed to forget about the "Deutschland Debacle," run for the border and get my ass down by the water. I complied and shot on over to Manhattan Beach to play it fast 'n loose while washing away the previous four months with whatever the guy passed out on the floor was having. That night, following a brief club crawl, everyone returned to the beach house and everything started to swing calmly enough - the standard L.A. glad handing and conversations out on the patio. Unbeknownst to me it would prove to be more than just a standard Southern Californian evening of pressing the flesh and puddle-deep bromides.

I got into a conversation with this younger lady we'll call Tanya. Through the course of our conversation, Tanya and I began to talk about the power of a woman's sexuality over the primal drive of the heterosexual male psyche. Quite sure of myself, I ventured to say that "every man has the choice to control any encounter with the opposite sex if he were of sound mind," which sounded appropriate theoretically as my mouth formed the words to say it. Tanya continued to entertain my naive musings for quite a bit out on the patio, biding her time no doubt and then she moved in for the kill.

About an hour after blurting out my self-assured declarative (was it the White Russians talking?), my new found friend began to break it all down to me in a series of moves that rivaled the fight sequences of a John Woo chop-sockey shoot 'em up flick. Tanya began to explain to me how a woman, especially the younger ones (her words), could control any man she chose to as I scoffed in her face with the snarky hubris of W.C. Fields in a prohibition-era speakeasy.

"Any man," she repeated clinically, "can be rendered a cerebral weakling by executing a simple series of touches to the chest, wrist, forearm and shoulders" Meanwhile she assumed a singular raised-brow demeanor not unlike Jack Klugman in the opening credit segment of an episode of "Quincy, M.E." - remember the sequence when all the hardened cops start dropping like flies while Q. pulls back the sheets covering a toe-tagged cadaver and starts nonchalantly slicing into it's icy-blue gullet like a turkey roast? Tanya began to demonstrate with live-at-the-cutting-slab overtones as we enacted a couple of scenarios with me sitting and her standing and vice versa. After about a dozen run-throughs, she had successfully managed to "overpower" me with subtle sexual ennui every time. Even when I knew what she would do -- I was so ill-prepared that she started warning me about what was coming in her summary examples. After employing a handful of stealthy moves she'd have me rendered null and void, in the palm of her hand -- do they teach this stuff in some secret underground bunker?

Although I was repulsed by this vulgar display of power, I was equally intrigued. I wondered "how could I harness this evil and use it for my own selfish and prurient purposes" but all for naught. As the party pulled to a close, and I stood there deep in my cups feeling like I'd been channeling Don Knotts [old one-bullet Deputy Fife, himself] from the great beyond when I got the zap on my dome and realized that I wasn't just dealing with a sex per se. I had, in fact, stumbled into a super-strong race of beings that only needed men around to extract y-chromosome solely for replication of the species. The onus was on me to find out where they came from -- I'd soon get my answer.

A few weeks after "The Quincy Incident" I got a call from a woman I hadn't heard from in quite some time, Tina. My guard was down because Tina was a single working mother making her way in the world, you know the whole Mary Tyler Moore / Ann Romano, "One Day at a Time" thing, so when I saw her name on the caller ID, I figured "what the hell" and picked up. Despite giving birth to a rug rat, Tina had retained her model-thin figure, she was definitely coming into her own and looking for a new sheriff to hold things down in Dodge City. BOING!

It appeared that Tina was "in a mood" to have a little grown-up fun and wanted to know if I wanted to go out for drinks. I was thinking that bagging her would be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel so, like a lion crouched on an Acacia tree branch surveying the savannah herds for does and calves, eyes slit, I closed in for the pounce and agreed to meet her. After hanging up, I looked in the mirror and cocked an air shotgun chanting: "Who wants some?!!" I should've known there was something rotten in Denmark when she wanted to hook up in a mall restaurant at 4:00 PM, near my house over in Pasadena.

I met Tina that Saturday outside a shoe outlet in the mall and she seemed genuinely thrilled to see me. We chatted for a few moments and then I asked her why she wanted to hook so damn early in the day - while that question was still hanging in the air, and as if reading cue cards offstage, her 7 year old daughter sashayed out to meet and greet -ouch. Who wants some? I guess I did, but that too is in the rear view at least.

The reptilian side of my mind had assumed that Tina would've found a babysitter to watch over her daughter for the day but no sirree sir, she brought "Tina 2" along. As I felt myself slipping through the sticky plasma around the border between single life and parenthood I shifted into "familyman-mode" (no cursing, smoking, off-color jokes, etc.) which results in a steady stream of gaffes and unfinished sentences for those of us who don't interact with "the little people" on a daily basis. Like the three musketeers, or rather, Dorothy, Aunty Em and that schnook with the egg on his face, we all walked to a nearby restaurant for din-din. In spite of my "microphany [what I call small epiphanies] that there wasn't going to be any raunch-n-rawness in my immediate future, I put on my game face and settled in for what promised to be fast breaking coverage from the dreaded front lines.

A few minutes after the hostess got us situated into a booth, the waitress arrived with our first round of refreshments - a Chard for Tina, a glass filled with two hydrogens and an oxygen for the crumb snatcher and a strong Kettle One Cape Cod for yours truly. I sat on one side of the booth and the girls sat on the opposite side, the drinks arrived, we ordered grub and Tina and I segued into a conversation that was neither here nor there -- for obvious reasons. As Tina 2 became more comfortable being around me, she shed the shy kid act and slowly began to dominate the scene in that way in which only children her age can.

After fielding the same-ole, same-ole questions about school and the like from me, the littlest Tina launched into me with a barrage of questions, comments and character analyses that I couldn't possibly have answered honestly without breaking the rules of "tall-talk" which I think was a concept she'd already firmly grasped. She was having a field day observing my discomfort while the bigger Tina looked on approvingly at the expansive development of her daughter's conversational skills -- an expression similar to that T-Rex while watching its offspring tear that guy to shreds in Jurassic Park III. When our meal arrived I sucked it down, went around the horn and asked if anyone wanted anything else and promptly closed shop. I gave the waitress my card before she could leave, she seemed to know the dealio because she comped me with another double 'Cod on the house - I guess she'd witnessed this type of cruel and unusual carnage before.

Looking back on that dismal state of affairs, I've wondered if Tina chose to bring along the "date bomb" as a fail-safe from getting hurt again by yet another grubby man-type or if she was just scoring free vittles off the first schmoe who slipped and picked up one of her "let's get together sometime" cold-calls. But even more disturbing, I think she might've been introducing Tina 2 into that shrouded sisterhood of male domination that she'd inherit a decade or so in the future - a primer before the mystery bunker drills mentioned above, if you would. If I had my druthers, I'd say it was probably a mixture of all three but that just didn't help me at all at that moment.

On my way home from the "Episode of the Tinas," I was completely chastened. I felt born again in that I'd sank to a Jerry Maguire low (trying to shoplift the pooty) and still got sidetracked by the unknowable. Men of the world beware: they're making them faster, stronger and (apparently) smaller - they have the technology. The Tinas managed to clip my wings with "the old good cop bad cop bit" which I should've sussed out with ease but we all know that the whole point of said process is to throw off the third party (or mark, in my case) just long enough to roll him for the desired goods and make him want to run for cover- no fuss no muss, thanks for shopping at Target. The ruse worked, I paid, pecked Tina on the cheek, shook "Chuckie, Jr's" hand and I haven't called her since. No follow-up, no phone messages, no thank you - as Kenny Rogers said "You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table. There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done. " Amen brother, you're preaching to the choir. As I pulled into my driveway, I had a moment of clarity that I'd like to share.

Despite the above instances, I don't feel like a complete idiot - wait, I'm going somewhere with this - I realized that I lack the ability to see around corners or through brick walls. The specter of feeling like that old, bald guy who gets slapped over the head on "The Benny Hill Show" around the opposite sex has, in no small way, made us menfolk paint ourselves into a corner when we're forced into dealing with the fair sex. We got nowhere to run, nowhere to hide - they're on to us.

Further, I'd venture to say that I don't even think "they" were ever out of the loop in the first place, so sidestep that topical landmine if the lady you're chatting with brings up the issue - that is, if you know what's good for you. It appears that we have just cajoled ourselves into believing that maybe there is some koan of truth, some Rosetta Stone-like kernel of info that will help us weaken the tenacious vice-grip that biology has on our nads (and hence every decision that we make). Sadly, my brothers, there ain't one so stop squirming and take your medicine - acceptance of reality, as passively-aggressive as it may seem, is the only weapon that we have in our arsenal at this point.

I liken feminine power of poon to that of Jules Winfield, Samuel L. Jackson's gangster character in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction." Whenever you want to seriously question who's in control of the relationship that you may have with any woman, you should reach down into the emotional grab bag and find the wallet that reads: "Bad Motherfucker"... and you better be ten times more charming than that little pig Arnold on "Green Acres"...laters

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Walk on Through the Fire/ Temp Insanity

Semi-autobiographical with hyperbole thrown in to taste...

Following a stint working in NYC I'd moved back to LA to continue pursuing a writing career. As soon as I got back into Tinsel Town I hit the bricks in search of freelance work but the market was colder than a witch's tithe. After about four months of living off my savings I was forced to file for (and subsequently drain) the remainder of my EDD (that's unemployment in CA) as I became hard pressed to find gainful employment. I wasn't looking a gift horse in the mouth, but three months living on the dole (as they call it in the UK) tends to push the envelope of survival in the market driven economy of the 21st Century. I chalked my trials up to learning experience and forged on nevertheless. I was down but not out, I had a degree, I had a computer, I had a telephone, I had transportation - all was not lost.

I got jiggy with the resume posting. I made calls and I sent out a gatling gun barrage of e-mails, query letters and faxes-- I was soon on a first name basis with the operators at 411. I took every temp agency test under the sun short of juggling cantaloupes and sawing the receptionists in half, but after a few weeks I still had nothing- I mean Nathan. Taking advantage of all the spare time on my hands I continued writing but after a while I took a chill pill and stopped because everything I wrote began to sound like the same, dismal and nihilistic dreck that preceded it.

My "me against world" idealism was taken to task as I began to cut out all the activities that were not cost effective. Movies (even rentals) were out the window and dating went the way of the dodo because you can't make the scene, if you ain't got the green. Forget fog-cloaked castles overlooking misty Scottish Lochs, Los Angeles is the loneliest place on the planet when you're broke, busted and disgusted. My pockets were on E as I continued to sink downward toward a rock and a hard place -- like Chief Brody told Quint after seeing their Great White nemesis in Jaws, "I was gonna need a bigger boat."

One Friday morning I woke up and began what had become a daily routine that started with a generic cigarette and a cup of cheap 99¢ store coffee -- by this point everything I consumed was a conceive of name brand goods I used to purchase on the regular in some previous life. Following my hobo's breakfast, I logged online to carpet bomb cyberspace with various versions of my resume while simultaneously cold calling contacts, classified listings, recruitment agencies, etc., that I'd found since my last uneventful bout of searching. Things were looking grim, The rent would be due soon, the refrigerator was empty and the toaster was laughing at me, but that Friday my situation would take a turn for the better.

My granny used to say to me "God only gives you as much trouble as you can handle." By then, I'd become intimately acquainted with the meaning of that little idiom, and all it's shades and textures on a cellular level. My membership at the neighborhood gym had long defaulted, so my health regiment included a steady diet of instant noodles (with hot sauce), chain smoking which was evened out with miles of heavy pacing around a telephone that never rang. Around 3:45 I got a call, and anxiously checked the caller ID, I figured it was a bill collector or telesalesperson because if the agencies don't call you by 2:00 on Friday, they're not gonna call you -- case closed, thank you please drive around. As fate would have it, the goddesses of serendipity were with me, it was a temp representative (hereafter referred to as a pemp). She was calling from one of the agencies that I'd juggled apples for a few months prior and had never heard from. She told me about this job opening with "should you choose to take this mission" tones, while I pantomimed cut to the chase gestures on my end. We dotted the I's and crossed the T's and she reeled my ass in -- no shoe phones, no self-destructive microfilm or exploding envelopes.

Of course I took the gig, I had one foot in the soup kitchen door and the other one on a banana peel; what the hell else was I going to do? She could've told me they were paying me with burritos and Zagnut candy bars and I would've jumped at the opportunity. I was at the end of my rope and she knew it. Sometimes you got to swallow the bitter pill of pride and walk on through the fires of degradation to see what you're really made of. Besides, the pemp assured me; "this assignment might offer a full time position further down the road." Hindsight, 20/20: those sadists dangle that Pavlovian carrot in front of the faces of all their salivating job-seeking charges to keep 'em showing up on time. Bah-Stuhds! Now I had to figure out where I was going to canoodle gas money for a week until I got paid. I took inventory of everything I owned that I didn't need to sustain life and let's just say there's a popular record store on Sunset in Hollywood with a sweet collection of Coltrane CDs, they got from some schmoe for dirt cheap -- "only what you can handle," whatever Grandma.

I settled into my new digs quite easily, I learned what I had to learn and did what I had to do. Hell, I even began to rack up a little OT to offset the slave wages I earned doing the same job that full timers all around me were getting paid twice my hourly rate to do while they complained the whole time. Paid holiday? Nope, Sick leave compensated? Forget about it. Still I played the game, I was amiable, I took on tasks, in short, I faked the funk most of the time. "Maybe there's a real J-O-B around the corner" became my mantra. As the weeks wore on, however, the glass ceiling that is the bane of being a temp, began to boink on my forehead.

As fate had it, my department began to catch up to whatever preordained productivity point the suits upstairs wanted to attain -- ahead of schedule, no less. I'd shot myself in the foot by working hard and the writing was on the wall in more ways than one. I slowly began to accept the fact that 1.) I wasn't going to get a full time position at this place, 2.) I hated 97% of my full time colleagues and 3.) this really wasn't a job I wanted at any rate. I was getting nowhere fast, my Achilles Heel was that I had become accustomed to the loot every week because the freelance gigs were still thin on the ground plus there were forces behind the scenes working against me. Heed the warning: it's not paranoia if they really are all out to get you.

It was a Friday, ironically, and I was simply looking forward to the weekend but no sirree-bob. Instead, my supervisor, sent me a e-mail while I was on a break. The note was tagged URGENT and she requested me to "see her before I left" and when I did so she expediently pulled the lever to the old trap door which threw a monkey wrench into all my plans. I guess the beauty of putting a temp to pasture is that you don't have to feel too bad when you do it -- contract laborers should know the heave-ho is coming sooner or later, after all. I was fired, called on the carpet and clueless.

As a temporary you always hear stories of pass iniquities doled out to the temp staff at the companies you work at but you never think it's going to happen to you, well think again Poindexter. When this shite happens one feels like they're thrown to the wolves, left up the creek without a paddle and in my case, I didn't even have a canoe. Financially, I was still in the lurch from the rip tide of unemployment from a few months back. Just as I began to get a little secure footing, the logs on my raft began unraveling beneath my toes, with sharks circling in the depths and vultures squawking in the clouds - brutal. I'd been there, done that and bought the soundtrack, the same bat-crap on the same bat-channel, but this time there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

After the initial round of self doubt and loathing began to subside, I started to breathe again. I reasoned it wasn't the worst thing that could've happened to me and although I might get taken to the cleaners (again) on some other temp job, I'd done it before and I could do it again. So can you, if it ever happens and I promise you it will at least once in your lifetime -- as of this writing the probability, gentle reader, grows exponentially by the day -- just make sure you're heading towards a destination, somewhere you really want to be.

Another key thing to remember is to keep on keepin' on, especially in the face of adversity. I'm not going to lie, the job market has become a battlefield not unlike some post apocalyptic Thunderdome (Two men enter, one man leaves) so be prepared to adapt and survive at the drop of a hat -- suck it up. A couple of weeks of Mac and Cheese puts hair on your chest, builds character, nothing lasts forever, blah-blah. These days nobody's above getting the ax. Most firings are unforeseeable, and pink-slip paranoia is natural but for the love of all that's holy, quit the brown nosing. If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. Take it from someone who knows, the cloak of desperation can never be worn with flair.
Laters, CeeP.

Hollywood Ho-Cakes & Star-Bellied Sneetches

While working the entertainment beat in Los Angeles, I've rubbed elbows with lots of people in "the business" at press events and the like and I can't help but notice the dearth of brown faces whenever I go to one of these functions. Most of the time reality begins to feel like fiction. Like something I've read or seen onscreen and sometimes I feel like I'm in some crazed play where the script is edited and I'm the only actor on the boards without the spruced up dialogue in hand; sometimes I can go for weeks without seeing another minority -- aside from the one's opening doors or clearing tables, that is.

I become mildly perturbed and want to shriek "We're all journalists here, doesn't anyone else see this?" Of course they do but in an industry town as small as L.A. -- and believe me it's a Petri dish -- one should never expect to take on issues such as this in mixed company because the squeaky wheel gets replaced with a spare. And nobody wants to get the "you'll never work in this town again," rant thrown at them from on high -- lotsa powerful people around here, folks. I guess I'll have to walk on over to the edge and stick my big toe in it so, with the latter in mind, let's dive right into the belly of the beast by following the premise of a movie, Hollywood Shuffle, Robert Townsend's 1987 send-up of the state of affairs on the scene in mainstream Hollywood at the time vis-a-vis black actors. Sadly, the times they ain't-a-changed that much since.

Robert's character, Bobby Taylor, is an aspiring black actor chasing the dream of film stardom while he pays his bills by working at the Winky Dinky hotdog stand that appears to be a seedier version of the Pink's franchise on La Brea Melrose but in the ghetto. In short, Taylor's job is crap-tacular but he's got high hopes just the same. Throughout the film's storyline, Bobby imagines himself in dream sequences that put him in soap operas, action films, talk shows and a film noir short, each one features an all-black casts -- he's dreaming, remember. As a whole the film is heavily infused with biting satire of the difficulties that were, no doubt, bitter fruit reaped from revolting personal experiences the film's screenwriters (Townsend/ Keenan Ivory-Wayans) endured on studio casting sessions and cattle calls for the paltry few stereotypical roles offered to blacks in Hollywood (then as now). Same bat shite. Same bat channel; on and on.

Why this movie, you ask? Good question because it brings me to a dream that Townsend's character in the film has that strikes/ struck a chord in me and in my experiences as an aspiring writer/journalist working within the confines of the premise and geographic setting of that particular movie. When all is said and done, Bobby's dream was just to be able to do what he wanted to do as a man (just like everyone else in the world) and not have to jump through the racial hoops of being a black man in a world filled with historically short sighted mooks who just aren't trying to hear it. Many white people whether university graduates, educated at the school of hard knocks or otherwise sensible human beings in every other respect, swear [hand to the heavens] that institutional racism no longer exists but if Trent Lott has taught me anything, it's that we still got a ways to go, even out here in "liberal-ass" Los Angeles. Remember, Aldous Huxley thought we'd be at the George Jetson flying car stage by 1984 and he was wrong...and also dead on about societal/ cultural shifts that would take hold in future times -- seen Fox News Channel lately? What world are those people living in? Sometimes life imitates art...but I digress...let's circle back to Townsend.

In the "Shuffle" dream sequence, Bobby returns to the Winky Dinky Dog shop years later as a made man; he's a star in every way. The old crew who had offered nothing but scathing criticism and wise-cracks earlier are at the end of their ropes. Their once crisp paper hats, aprons and monogrammed shirts are grease-stained and full of holes. Donald, played by Keenan Ivory-Wayans, who'd once informed a then no-name actor Bobby that "he'd never amount to anything, so he'd better get with the McJob program" now unctuously grovels for handouts while his boss Mr. Jones, John Witherspoon, serves up imaginary hotdogs to invisible clients queuing up to a grimy box on the ground; he's obviously gone mad from his failed business venture and prattles on and on about Ho- Cakes because, as he succinctly puts it, "ho's gotta eat too."

Cut back to Townsend sitting in the waiting room of a casting office waking up from the daydream. As the story holds, Bobby's auditioning for the role of Cookie-Head, a pimp who's out to avenge his brother's killer in a blaxploitation film. The casting agents in the other room are all white and make short shrift of any attempts Taylor makes to bring a little humanity to his character reading. They keep asking for less acting and more stereotypical buck dancing* that eviscerates any self respect that the actor might've had for himself beforehand. He scores the role but at what cost?

*Buck dancing: that "shuckin' and jivin' style of overly animated dancing that black slaves would do to entertain whites; blacks acting in a derogatory manner that quantifies racist stereotypes.

Based on personal experience, the premise/setting of that audition sequence rings true on so many levels but more importantly, it begs a question that I've asked myself years before I came to this town as a kid back on the East coast in VA: are white people inherently mean to non-whites? Rather, do some whites even know when they're being snide, condescending or outright bigoted? I mean, everyone catches hell these days just trying to make it with as few of their principles intact as possible; Richard Pryor once said, "It's bad enough just trying to get through the day without killing [somebody]...then you got to throw in that 'nigger' shite in there...that's just [wrong]." Amen Daddy Rich, it's all kinds of wrong.

After thinking about this for quite a while, I've come to hypothesize that many white people don't even realize when they're acting this way. Maybe the mouth-breathing, sheet-wearing, rebel flag wavers are on message with their consciences but I do believe that, based on their inter-racial demeanor, many Triscuit-eating, suit-and-tie Caucasians don't even realize they're dyed-in-the-wool bigots -- based on their actions, mind you. Prove it? Okay, but it ain't pretty. I'll present you with exhibit A:

I worked as freelance content writer for an entertainment company known the world over for big budget movies, music and cartoons, etc...For months I worked remotely from home and sent in my work via e-mail and jiffy bag drop-offs. Whenever I had questions about a project I'd talk to my boss or his assistant on the phone, through instant messages and e-mail. I did more work at my computer by 9AM [ in my underwear with pop tart crumbs all over my t-shirt] than most people did all day; it was sweet I tells ya.

Over the course of time my boss' secretary, Maria [who's white before you ask] left for maternity leave and a lady from the temp pool, Katie, took her place. I continued to converse with the office in my usual ways and all was fine for weeks without a hitch until the day I came in for a last minute PR meeting. When I got to the building I went to several departments to visited with colleagues in the flesh, PR people and others I'd known for years, until the meeting. As meeting time drew near I made my way toward that part of the building and when I got there I just asked the receptionist, whom I'd also known for a minute and white also, to buzz me into the beehive and she did. As I walked down the corridor with my proposals and notebooks toward the elevators I fell in behind this snappily dressed blonde woman with tightly-pursed lips who instantly began to project an aura of hostility that the rock band In Living Colour and Public Enemy once referred to in song: "No I'm not gonna rob I'm not gonna rape why you wanna give me that Funny Vibe?!

Inured to this whole dynamic, I felt relieved when other people, mostly white, began to enter the elevator as we went up but soon we were alone again and the tension returned like a fog. When the elevator dinged on my floor I, I exited and began to walk toward the meeting rooms; so was Ms. Master Race -- "just a coincidence," I thought. As I approached the waiting area I spotted my boss talking with some other people from our dept and made my way toward him. We made small talk and joked for a minute and then he mentioned that he wanted to introduce me to his temporary secretary who'd be taking minutes and notes for our portion of the presentation and then he turned to find her. "...I'd like to introduce you to Katie, who's working in Maria's stead for a few months" he said to me as my eyes met hers and I reached to shake her hand. Unfuckingbelievable! Katie, the lady who would be taking notes for me in the meeting, was none other than Ms. Funny Vibe, herself.

Suffice to say, I was gobsmacked and Katie began to blush profusely which told me that she was fully aware of what she'd done; she just didn't know or care to whom she was giving the business to back there on the Oswalt lift. I know I wasn't just imagining that shite and her reaction when we met corroborated my suspicions. Mind you, I'd joked with Katie via email/ IMs and even on the phone for weeks prior and everything was itty-bitty flowers and patches of sunshine -- I'm guessing it was because she couldn't attach a skin tone to screen name or my voice; but I'm just spitballing.

The elevator encounter was a different story altogether, hell, we never spoke once during our ascent but hindsight, 20/20 & all that -- I doubt that it would have mattered. Miss Thang probably had me pegged with a rap sheet a mile long irrespective of the fact that one would have to had cleared five separate security checkpoints to have gotten that deeply into the building in the first place. All of this clearly points out the weak-as-water, illogical behavior triggered by racism both de facto and overt. Not to put too fine a point on it but racism makes normally sentient, compassionate individuals -- people who love their babies and blue-haired grandmothers -- do and say things that call into question the depths of said cognitive intelligence and Katie was no exception.

Sure, we've all heard the "urban myth" about the old white woman in a Chicago who ran from an elevator and through the lobby of a four star hotel to tell security about the two "dangerous looking" black men lurking in the building; when security swarm in on the two "thugs," the officers on the scene quickly realize that the two "hardened street toughs" turn out to be Eddie Murphy and Michael Jordan on their way to a charity benefit of some sort. Yeah, yeah - sure, sure, I thought aloud when I heard that one but now I'm not so cynical. I now believe they do know, and continue doing so because they're not called out on it by their progressive peers who have chosen to adopt a cultural/world view consistent with the century they exist in and know it's bad form to think that way.

The latter makes "cool whites" an accessory to the [hate] crimes committed by modern day Boss Hogg- Bull Connor types -- you ever see any of that 60s-era news footage with pot-bellied rural types drawling "we don't have no problems with the 'good nigras' 'roun heah." Man, they really sounded as if they believed they were being diplomatic, didn't they? Stanislovsky and Stella Adler had nothing on those guys! While claiming to be 100% pro equal rights and change, those "antebellum idealists" would "Russian smile" for Northern TV cameras by day but that was the chrysalis stage. After a couple of shots of 'corn squeezin's' they'd hulk-out like werewolves bathing in the rays of a new moon, slip into bedsheets which would complete their transformation from genteel store clerk/ mill worker into cross burning night riders come nightfall - one of the oldest Southern traditions of them all, if you're from the region, as is yours truly, then you know what I'm talking about. You've heard the stories, even if it's not particularly subject matter you'd talk about at parties...

Although it's become more difficult for minorities to point out the bigots-in-the-closet among their colleagues and neighbors, when they pull a "Katie" on you, everything becomes crystal clear; right as rain. It's almost a relief that you've sussed them out and you flip through your mental transcripts of everything you've said to and around them in the past to see if you've revealed any of your deepest thoughts in their presence -- see? It drives us batty too. After we "met," Katie became the polar opposite of the ice queen on the elevator but out here that's de riguer. You can't spell "myopic ass hole" without L.A., you know. The damage was already done and her name was buried deep within the pages of my "bitch book." The rapper/ activist/ lecturer Chuck D once said "these days you can't see who's in cahoots 'cause now the KKK wears three-piece suits," which admittedly is a sweeping generalization but you get the point, you really can't tell anymore until it's too late and it's making everybody crazy.

I've always savored the irony of lifelong bigots, who, while laying in their deathbeds, suddenly get the zap on their heads, realize that we're all human beings and find God -- just before they think they're going to meet him. Essie Mae Washington's revelation to finally come forward and tell the world that her biological father was Strom Thurman sent ripples through the mainstream media for about 15.5 minutes (outside of the Southern states). Thurman had built his entire [and extraordinarily lengthy] political career, keeping the "coloreds" in their place. Despite the fact that he had "Jungle Fever" in his youth, with a teenaged maid no less, the real world ain't a "Spike Lee Joint.

As quietly as it's kept in mainstream groupthink, the whole American melting pot ideology has been put into play since the arrival at Jamestown, VA and it should tell any card carrying member of bigots-R-us that all that "inferior race" dreck is a truckload of hooey. They know what they're doing in those restaurants, hotels and elevators; it's tired and oh so stale - I call it the Krinkelbine Syndrome. Ernest K. Krinklebine is the duplicitous sideshow carny in Dr. Seuss' short story "The Sneetches" who sold the "star-making" machine to the plain-bellied Sneetches who wanted to swim on the segregated "Star-Belly Only" beaches. Once they bought in, he sold a "star-removing" machine to erase the stars from stomachs of bigoted birdies and on an on it went until all of the Sneetches, plain-bellied and starred, ran out of cash at which point Krinklebine packed up his machinery and rolled out of town a wealthy man and therein lies the rub: racism [and classism] has always been a tool to benefit a few, often monied, individuals who got that way by keeping the bigot-ball rolling amongst the poor -- through obfuscation, political misdirection and statistical red herrings -- with no basis on reality as they ran to the bank.

It's been said that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it and this is one of those cosmic truths that continues to resonate within the human experience but there is definitely a time to move on. and this, gentle reader, is one of them. We can't kill them all and let God sort 'em out, we got to deal with them, one by one if necessary. There's more than one way to skin a cat and [insert time-worn get the job done colloquialism right here]. Being a racist, white or black, is a cop-out; an intellectual short-cut that burns up synapses that you might need later on in life when the jackals of Alzheimer's start circling in the darkness around your once brightly burning mental fires.

Where did it all begin? Where does it end? I'm certain that if we don't start taking ownership of what's wrong with with our world and start acting like we're all in this together, we're all going to continue getting pimped by unseen forces that have everything to gain from the intellectual laziness of thinking along the lines of "it wasn't me, that was hundreds of years ago." Maybe so, but many are still reaping the rewards of those colonial culprits set into motion and remember: when you stick your head in the sand, you're still leaving another important orafice unguarded and wide open for conquest. So the next time you catch one of your cohorts ranting about "the nigra problem" or "those crazy-ass crackers" you tell them "talk to the hand Krinklebine, the world's gotten too small for all the Star-bellied Sneetching."