Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Brush with The Stony Lonesome

Sometimes we get so caught up in our regular day-to-day that we forget to stop and smell the proverbial roses. We wallow, at least I've caught myself doing it from time to time...3/4 of today was like that for me but sometimes life throws you softballs and, if you're lucky, you'll pick up on it....

I was in a real mental shitty "day joy" was everything I didn't want it to be and more. And during my commute home from work, it took an extra hour to get to the shack because all of the Metrobuses were packed to the rafters with straphangers doing exactly what I was trying to do only they'd gotten onboard before my stop -- in L.A., many MTA drivers will just shoot right on by you if they think they're filled to capacity. The latter seems, if you'd ever gotten on an empty #720 at Pershing Square Station on the way to West L.A. in the morning only to be packed into a scenario not unlike that of a transcontinental BFP cattle car, to contravene any well-laid plan of maintaining public safety...Soon you learn that some drivers pay attention to how many motherfuckers are getting on/ off their coach and some just don't and that's word, yo. In the wake of such a shizzle-filled workday, I acquieced and gave in to the powers that are, nee, accepted the fact that my trip back to the pad would take longer than normal -- so I shot into a convenience store on La Cienega, bought a 22 oz. bottle of Heineken and waited. After taking a couple of hits, I waited some more -- lighting a couple of Parliaments in the interim. Eventually, a moderately filled #33 eased on down Venice Blvd, I got on it and an hour later I was downtown at Union Station. Since my train wasn't due for another 20 minutes, I hung out by the outside door near the Amtrak kiosk and smoked another Parli while polishing off the remainder of my Heineken. Just as I was about to kill my butt and walk on toward my subway platform, a black guy and a white guy walked out -- both sporting white jumpsuits with stenciled numbers on the pockets and yellow borders on the collars and sleeves. The white boy walked up to me and asked if I had a cigarette to which I replied, not fully absorbing what his attire implicated, "You got a quarter, yo?" His homepiece, who'd already shot past me in a flurry, yelled back: "look out for him, he's my nigga. We just got out!" It was then that it all came together in my mind and I got the zap on my dome -- Union Station's just a couple of blocks over from the windowless human holding pen known as Downtown County Jail. After checking out the jailhouse tatts that adorned brother-mean's arms I looked at him and apologized. "Sorry, dude. I was trippin', take the pack and keep your ass outside, son." "I'm damn sure going to try," he replied while lighting up and walking off into the L.A. night. It's easy to get caught up in the bullshit of the everyday, the desert of your reality but it's always cool to be slapped up in the facial space with some real hurt to put your shite into perspective -- there are a grip of people going through some thick shite on the regular and it trumps whatever you're dealing with. Suffice to say, tThe cock-ups that occurred during my day at work paled in comparison to whatever hell those two men had been through during their stay at the greybar hotel... I can only imagine...

Note: Pictured above is a view of a cell in South Africa's notorious Robben the one that Nelson Mandela Nelson Mandela was held captive in for so many years before Aparthied fell and he finally got his chance to be the man he was destined to be...maybe one of those guys I met in the train station will make lemonade out of the lemons they've gotten in life...maybe not...I like the lemonade scenario better, though -- I hope they both stay out forever...laters...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Tavis Smiley's back, yo!

Last March I wrote about Tavis Smiley (pictured here interviewing Tori Amos) getting unceremoniously hooked from National Public Radio's airwaves and how that made me want to kvetch. Last night, since it was hailing (raining too) out here in L.A., I decided to stay inside and do a little reading and writing on a Friday for once, so I switched on the radio (maybe to catch Science Friday with Ira Flatow on Talk of the Nation) and was surprised to see that dude's back on the air. According to my man's Web site, he, himself, chose not to return to the radio last December...but I can't help but think that there was something rotten in Denmark...I was born at night but not last night...Dude had a nightly TV show on B.E.T. and PBS, so I knew he could hang -- I've read positively spun press releases before in my day but that's neither here nor there...I'm just going to take what I called "The Tavis-ty" with a grain of salt the size of a cinder block. The new radio show airs every Friday at 10:00, I recommend Tavis Talks (click header for link to PBS show) if you like a little "pepper " in your public radio, that is...Laters...

BTG: Four on the Floor!

When I left that group Full Stop back in Atlanta, I had to get employed so I got a job as a dishwasher in Little 5 Points and soon moved on to become a cook there. I did that for a couple of years and never forgot the experience. For all intents and purposes, the differences between playing in a rock band and working in a restaurant are few, while the similarities are many. The same dynamics take place, you just don't take your show on the road -- it comes to you. While working there, I met some of the greatest people that I ever would -- I just didn't realize it. Here's another short I wrote in a tribute to them...

Humid mist clung stickily to the skies above the purple-pink rooftop lights of the Atlanta skyline. In Little Five Points the only souls on the streets were a few street kids and hustlers divying up the aggregate handouts from that day's round of panhandling and pick pocketing - they'd quickly spend it on a couple of six packs and maybe a couple of slices of pizza at Felini's Pizzeria. Over at the Jamaica 5 Points Grill, Dennis had already ran through the line-up of the night's dinner specials with the cooks and waitstaff in preparation for an impending dining rush that had never materialized. It was 8:30 on a Friday night but the J5, as the locals called it, was practically empty, only a few regulars eating egg bread and drinking coffee. Thoroughly non-plussed by the goings on in the restaraunt he managed, Dennis balled up his apron,wiped a few crumbs off his whiter than white starched shirt and walked outside to smoke a butt. Where in the hell were they? After inspecting his display window a few seconds with his twitchy New Yorker's eyes, Dennis started slowly thumbing through the "Creative Loafer," the free rag that told Atlantans what was going on in in town. The Loafer came out every week on Thursday and was a valuable tool for gauging how he would assign his wait staff, but last week he let his assistant manager, Carol, do it for the first time. "Hope you didn't screw the pooch, Carol, " he smirked as he robotically scanned through the various listings for Buckhead, Midtown, Virginia Highlands and then Little 5 Points. His bushy eyebrows jerked up. Aha! He'd found his culprit.

Reading through the live music section of the Loafer a tiny grin began to grow under Dennis' nose. If he'd had a handlebar mustache, like one of those old-school villains in an Ennio Morricone Western, he would have stroked it a la Lee Van Cleef -- "I knew it couldn't be just the drizzle" he muttered, half to himself and half to Bingo, one of the street urchins reclining on a cardboard daybed he'd spread out in the doorway of "Abba Dabba's" -the closed headshop next door. Squinting down Euclid Avenue, he continued,"There's a 7:00 show going on down there at the Fox Theaterhouse and it's damn near over. Their Parking lot is attached to ours, " he continued to theorize," so when they walk by and smell our specials they'll be all mine." An image of Van Cleef would fit in here too. While his cigarette dangled from his mouth, he rubbed his hands together like Wile E. Coyote and affected an equally cartoonish cackle - "Bwah, ha-ha-ha-haaa!" As if on cue, the glass doors under the Fox Theater's marquee parted like dog track stalls and a sea of concertgoers poured out onto the sidewalks and into the street. Turning toward the oncoming throng of people, with his arms akimbo, Dennis' gaze shot past the ridge of his brow like a Dodge City gunslinger at high noon. The former line cook inhaled the last of his cigarette, spiked it into the concrete, as if it were a football in his enemy's end zone, and he whispered under his breath; "Here they cu-um." With a quick about face, he stalked back into his restaraunt to position his troops - the blood in his veins began to pump a little quicker.

Although the effects of his 7:00 bong session was beginning to wear off, Daniel was still feeling a tad toasted. He figured he'd utilize this unwanted down time to spruce up the joint and keep himself occupied until the night blew over. He was number one on the waitstaff line tonight so he'd be in the house until the bitter end. Even if all of the other waiters were cut early he'd have to stay until everything in the dining area was set up for the morning shift. In short, he'd be there until the cooks left at 2:30 in the morning, so he had to make the most of it. "One of these days I'm gonna get myself outta this town," he said to himself quoting Travis Bickel from "Taxi Driver." People always thought it was weird how Daniel could always find an obscure quote from a film or song lyrics they'd all but forgotten about. Daniel, found his love of all things Hollywood invaluable in the food service industry as well as when he moonlighted at the Blast Off Video store across the street from time to time. He slid around the bar area with a pot of flowers in his hand decorating the joint to retain the desired Caribbean feel. He gave a flower to Nan, the 40-something bartender, and said "This town needs an enema!" - a Jack Nickelson quote from "Batman." She took the flower and courtsied melodramatically, "Thank yall, Mr. Webb." To this Daniel winked, formed two hand pistols and aimed them at Nan, "No sweat, sugar." Even though the reggae and ska bubbling out of the bar's speakers and the island life motif had gotten stale in what felt like to him like eons ago, the waiter continued sprucing up the front dining area. "Anything for a buck" he shrugged at his reflection in the bar mirror and then he spun to make a beeline for the larger tables in the back of the house.

The rear section of the Jamaica 5 Grill is essentially a climate controlled courtyard covered with colorful planks of sheet metal and decorated with palm fronds and artifacts straight from the yards of Jamaica and Cuba. The brilliant colors always seemed to get visitors into a festive mood and the Red Stripes and Mimosas flowed freely. If one couldn't afford to go to the Islands and were in Atlanta, they could always shoot down to the J5 for a glimpse of it at least. Walking toward the back of the house, Daniel continued nit picking on empty tables, taking pride in the fact that he'd found a way to keep his mind occupied for the moment. The drizzle softly plinked on the copper rooftop as he passed the rest of the waiters, semi-hidden in one of the large booths by the beer freezer. Daniel waved to get their attention and yelled; "Hi there, ere, ere, ere" - imitating an empty canyon echo. The ladies were not amused.

The waiters hated dead weekend nights like this, because those were the bread and butter shifts they'd quibble over while the manager wrote out their schedule on Sundays - a failsafe if Monday through Thursday yielded sub par tips. A good waiter could make a week's pay with just two weekend shifts if the customers showed up -- everything else could be redirected to their beer tabs at the Yacht Club. While Daniel arranged plants and provided comic relief, the waitron; Laura Ann, Janet, Monica, Amy and Wendy were wrapping silver - tightly folding napkins around forks and knives (silverware) for future customers to use. There was nothing left for them to do except watch and wait -- and bitch about watching and waiting. "Don't even think about asking because Dennis never, ever, never cuts anyone before 9:00. Never, the bastard," Laura Ann groused. "I could be at home with my little Nicky instead of paying a baby sitter while I hang around here with my thumb up my ass - give me some more silver," she snapped to nobody in particular. " I can't, Amy whined, we wrapped it all, every piece in the house is clean." Laura Ann quickly popped out of her seat like a jack-in-the-box, her eyes wide and darty. Carrying her silver to a waitstation in her apron, she motioned to the others with her head and whispered, "Look alive girls, look alive. Here comes old yeller" as Dennis stomped in through the door at the other end of the room but the waitresses' misgivings were the furthest thing away from his mind.

Rory O'Bannon, was a cook's cook. He was raised by a wealthy Southern family that had disowned him after he decided to marry his highschool girlfriend that he'd impregnated just before the prom. In his mind's eye Rory considered himself of an Irish-American man of principle, unlike his father, who'd shunned his working class origins and went to NYC to make scads of dough on Wall Street and finally moving to the deep South, where his bucks would have a longer shelf life. To those around him, Rory moved through life like a bull in a china shop, and quite like his daddy, he too was prone to hit the bottle which precipitated aggressive physical outbursts in bars that landed him into the "greybar hotel" in precincts all over Atlanta. He was a hell raiser for sure, but he took pride in what he did, though he shrugged it off in the company of coworkers. Despite the fact that his marraige to Rebecca had long since crumbled due to his affinity for the drink, BASE jumping and playing guitar at Pete Townshend levels at odd hours, he never crawled back to his folks. He was existing on his own terms. Pride's a motherfucker, sometimes. He often said "He'd rather get a hot buckshot shampoo and chainsaw circumcision than retreat from the life he'd chosen and fall back, hat in hand with his tail tucked." He wouldn't go crawling to Pop O'bannon for handouts like his big brother did -- he had a three year old daughter to look after. He always wanted to be able to look her squarely in the eye, like a man of his word. He wanted her to recall a loving childhood spent with a father she could always count on to be there for her - at all costs. Rory, or "the O-ster" which the other cooks dubbed him, embraced the working-class legend he'd erected around himself in the wake of a troubled past, founded on a series of impulsive decisions. He had long accepted the fact he'd never look back, because he just wasn't able to, yo.

Looping a tie-dyed bandana tightly over his dirty blonde hair, Rory cinched the cloth knot behind his head and squinted up toward the cieling of the stock room. The stocky fireplug of a line cook stood in front of the supply shelves that loomed twelve feet above him. Unable to find a ladder, he proceeded to nimbly climb up to the top shelf and grab a couple of 5lb cans of black beans. He threw each over his shoulder and both thumped into a grey hotel pan on the floor below. Although the GA health code prohibited smoking in a food preparation area, Rory lit a small marijuana roach and took a toke. "You want some of this?," he asked Ras Clay, the lanky Rastafarian prep cook. Clay was busy slicing cucumbers into a 50lb container atop an immense oak cutting table. Tucking some of his fuzzy dreads under a tam that sat on his head like a huge, round Ethiopian flag the Rastaman pinched the roach out of Rory's hands as he answered "Well yeah son, big ups. Give thanks!" He inhaled the contraband plant fumes in a long, lung filling hiss which killed it as well. With a stoner's perma-grin, Rory slapped Clay on the back before gathering up his supplies, he opened the prep-room door with a grubby black boot, just as the door shut behind him the broad shouldered cook peeked back in and chuckled: "enjoy the gift that keeps on giving." The door swung closed, Clay turned up the volume on the Augustus Pablo dub reggae booping out of his radio speakers, washed his hands and resumed following the recipe for 50lbs of fresh Island cucumber salad -- contrary to what the nabobs say, Rastas keep are fastidiously clean. "Almost time," he said to the wall clock with reddened eyes, "Almost time."

A couple of minutes after the bell on the front entrance had jingled Dennis in, business began to pick up as crowds of pedestrians filed in - enticed by the smells emenating from inside the restaurant, just as he'd predicted. Nan started seating people from the bar but soon became overwhelmed with trying to pour drinks at the bar and help the new hostess so she left Allison, who'd just arrived, to her own devices. In less than than twenty minutes the J was packed tighter than a drum, with a line stretching out the front exit and a few trickling in from the back. Unaware of the bottlenecks at either end of the house, Rory came strolling out of the prep room with his newly acquired container of wares. As he got closer to the kitchen, however, the deluge became apparent as it got increasingly difficult for him to get around people with his load, so he began to use the pointed edges of the tub as a makeshift cattle prod to lightly poke people blocking his trajectory. "What a buzz kill" he sneered under his breath through clenched teeth, his heart rate quickening. When Rory reached the kitchen he began placing spices and ingredients into their appropriate containers. The ticket printer shuddered to life - server orders had started streaming in from the wait stations outside. Rory automatically began to gather up the strands of streaming paper, ripping apart separate dinner tabs using his mouth as a third hand and sticking them up on the board in chronological order- thirty multi-colored clothes pins hanging on a stainless steel wire that kept the orders in place until they were sent away to their destinations. The board quickly filled up from end to end but this didn't seem to bother the machine which continued spitting a five foot spool of entree orders. Analyzing the situation, the O-ster thought to himself," we're getting hit."

Rory looked over at his assistant cook Simon Sontag, the Design School mama's boy from Connecticut, and barked "Dude!, throw on some more rice!" Simon checked his memory for the correct ingredients for a rice pot together, muttering to noone in particular " 4 gals. of boiling water and oil; add 6 oz. of garlic powder, 3 oz. salt, a cup of bell pepper/ tomato crowns - and oh yeah, a big bag of rice." While Simon measured off a proper rice set up, Rory started slinging slabs of meat on the grill like a blackjack dealer in Vegas. There wasn't an inch of hot black steel left vacant, the smoke began to billow copiously underneath the ever-inhaling hood fans above. Even though his pulse was jacked up, there was nothing for Rory to do but wait until it was time to flip the meat for grill marks. As the decibel level of kitchen clatter began to rise, Dennis blasted through the swinging doors. The manager began whooping and clapping his hands like a sea otter that was completely sixes and sevens, he stared at his kitchen crew while pantomiming cocking a shotgun and screamed "Cha-chiing! Who wants some?!! Turn 'em and burn 'em boys! Turn 'em and burn 'em!!" He lived for moments like this.

Dennis pulled his head cook close and told him what Rory thought was already blaringly apparent: "we're filled to the gills, time to make the donuts."Bobbing his head clownishly Rory retorted "You're such a wanker, get outta my hole." "I'm out tha do', I'm out tha do'!, " the manager yelled back with esprit de corps. Just before exiting he made another declaration of the obvious exclaiming "You the man back here, homey!" As he walked outside and melted into the building fray taking place outside, Dennis took stock of all the activity abuzz throughout the establishment - he was clearly in his element. Back in the kitchen, Rory readjusted the position of the meat on the grill to get those perfectly burned X marks, that had become his signature of sorts. He crushed out another roach he had stashed under the bottom lip of his little reach -in fridge where the meats and sauces were kept. Blowing the remaining smoke up into the hood fans, Rory turned and bellowed:
"Assholes and elbows, boyos! The gooks are in the wire! The gooks are in the wire!"

"The Gooks are in the wire. What in the fuck is that supposed mean?" asked Dave in the dish pit. Rory looked down the line and made eye contact with the newly hired dishwasher on the other end. He pointed a greasy spatula towards the door and shrieked: "Gooks! You know, Diners! Those salad eating faggots out there that are gonna make our lives hell on earth for the next three hours. They're here, they're sat and they're HUN-GRAY!! Stirring up his rice pot, Simon chided the lead cook on with a fake Georgia drawl shouting, "lead us ahwn to vik-tray, mah fayer capit-tayne!" Tim the salad guy chimed in, "Hey Rory, tell the new guy about the fist!"The lead cook considered Tim's request, turned toward the others and held his spatula in a samarai's squat - the weed was kicking in.

Everything got quiet in the J5 kitchen, the only thing to be heard was the rat-tat-tat of the ticker and the loud shish of the fish and fowl on the grill as Rory paused for dramatic effect. Well boys, he began solemnly, "all this kitchen really needs is four on the floor when the gooks are in the perimeter. You need a born again-hard lead cook, a competant plate man, a straight up salad guy and a dirty-dirty dish dawg." ( Simon and Tim started to bark and bay like bloodhounds hot on the trail at the latter). "Four on the floor!" he continued, while flipping meat and holding up four digits with his free hand, "When running like a well oiled machine we are not unlike four fingers on a hand. We join together with a thumb - the servers. To this, Simon and Tim batted their eyelashes at each other and effeminately lisped " The way-tresseths." Rory went on, "Four fingers and a thumb! When pressed tightly together, they form a fist!" he exclaimed while tightly pursing all of the digits on his hand together. The stocky grill man then reached up for the kitchen radio, perched on a spice rack to crank up Jimi Hendrix' "Stone Free." Looking over to address the others with the booming voice of an evangelical Baptist minister he bellowed, "and with said fist-uh, let's do this-uh!" Throughout the entirety of Rory's stove- side sermon, the ticket machine continued to do its thing, like a miniature gatling gun.

The cooks had snapped into action while the clatter of pans, utensils and rock 'n roll rose to deafening proportions. As they placed the first couple of steaming orders under the serving lamps and garnished them, the servers bum-rushed into the kitchen and began hurriedly grabbing their orders and placing them on huge serving trays on the other side of the line - adding their own finishing touches just before carrying them out to the hungry crowds waiting outside. In Rory's mind's eye those meals were fading in the rearview mirror, he was focused on pulling the paper rectangles denoting meals that were gone from their clothespins with soggy fingertips. He then tore each ticket on the bottom and impaled it on a metal spike - indicating the meal was cooked and gone. Nights like this was why the O-ster was always at the helm. He not only talked the talk, he walked the walk and it seemed, over time, that the cooks who worked on shifts with him only got better at cooking themselves which is why they always wanted to be on his crew. They'd loyally follow him to the very end of a grueling shift and give it their all, even the dish guy. Simon looked over at Rory and asked him in a sonorous New England twang, "So tell me Rory, which finger on the hand are you, anyway?" Placing a new handful of tickets into vacant spaces on the board, the lead cook looked over at his wiry Yankee plate man and dryly replied as the printer continued stuttering, "You know which finger I am Simon," he held up his hand to gesture with a wry grin..."I'm the middle one."

*Note: Many of the characters in this series of shorts are composites of people I've met in life and this too is, sort of, a compilation of moments that took place while I was in the room. Names like Clay, Tim, Simon, Rory and Dennis were real peeps I befriended back in ATL (above is a picture of the storefront in Little 5 Points where Dennis would stand and smoke Marlboros -- it's been closed for quite a while but the last time I was in town the memories still oozed out of that door.)I think these were great people to know and they came into my life when I really needed them (again, I didn't know it at the time) and everything I've learned from interacting with them sticks with me to this day. I can't say that I knew what I was doing or where I was going at the time, because I didn't. And I won't fake the funk, pretending that everything was always keen and groovy back in Atlanta, because it wasn't. But I will say that people like the ones above really do exist and it gives me hope; I feel blessed to know that there are still real people out there, we just have to really look around to find them...Laters..

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Milla Jovovich: Ultraviolet Q & A

What up? Last Thursday I shot over to the Sony lot for a screening of Ultraviolet and a roundtable with Milla Jovovich, the star of the
film. She's a lot taller in person, yo -- most celebrities are munchkins in the flesh -- and she's personable too. Girlfriend's come a long
way since Dazed and's some of what went down. Laters...

Q: You got your hair cut really short now, is it for a new role?
Milla Jovovich: Yeah, well I cut it short a while ago and I had to have it short for the film -- you know, because of the wigs and stuff.

Q: So, how was it working with Cameron (Bright)? He's a child actor, as were you, did you offer him any advice?

MJ: He was a sweetheart. I watched him work -- it was crazy. Those child actors, all of us child actors are sort of wierd. (laughs) I think of myself and I'm like 'people must've thought I was wierd. It's very disconcerting.

Q: You give him any acting advice?

MJ: Well, I guess so but he offered me more advice though, like on how to hack into video games -- I'm like getting [technology] directions from an 11 year old. (laughs) It's like 'okay, this is appropriate' this is definitely telling of our times, you know? But he's a smart kid and he's incredible.

Q: You've done more preparation for this film than any of your others. Were there any doubles or was it all you on screen?

MJ: Well, definitely, I had two doubles on the set -- three doubles, actually, doing specific things and each were very talented -- but I do all of my stunts as well. I didn't do motorcycle sequences and I did do, like, the flips. You know what I mean, the gymnastic stuff, obviously...but all the sword fighting, all of the martial arts.

Q: Do you mean you're afraid of motorcycles?

MJ: (whispers) I am! You know, I feel like I shouldn't be responsible for having that kind of machinery in my power -- that goes that fast. It's not safe. I'm an actress, you know, I just don't think it's safe. Give me, like, a plastic sword and that's fine but don't give me a real sword or a real motorcycle --

Q: -- but you were on a motorcycle on the set?

MJ: Yeah, we did like a rig, with a motorcycle on a rig and I'd just go like that and like that (pantomiming leaning left and right on a motorcycle) Not very much to it. (laughs)

Q: You ever get hurt doing the other stuff?

MJ: We got hurt all the time but the worst [time] that I got hurt was -- I hurt myself, actually -- it's literally like when I was [practicing a scene] spinning the sword and spinning it really fast and I ended up stabbing this guy and stabbing myself in the leg. And there was blood everywhere and, you know, the doctor came on-set and took me back to the [examining] room and I'm thinking: 'I need to get help. I need to get an IV, I need CPR'...knowing I needed stitches, obviously. (laughing) And they're like 'no, you just need a band aid. You know in America it'd be an emergency if you got a paper cut but in China they're crazy, well not 'crazy' but it's just a different culture completely. The stunt men that are in China are incredible -- they really do the stunts. It's like not much of a safety rig and things like that. There's no padding and they just fall, you know, down four stories and land on the concrete. It's an amazing stunt and it's real!...So, it's a very different environment, making an action film over there.

Q: Was there a lot of pressure on you with someone coming up to you and saying, ' this was written for you, specifically?'

MJ: No, it was wonderful! I mean, I felt more pressure having to learn all of the sword fighting because, you know, that was something new for me. To feel like somebody cared enough to [write] this and respected you enough to do it -- it was awesome, it made me feel really good.

Q: How much of this film was green screen backgrounds and how much of it was an actual set during the shoot?

MJ: The only thing that was green screened was on the roof...we actually had the roof (as a set) but it was surrounded by green screen - none of the bombs are going through real buildings or anything.

Q: Could you describe the differences in the martial arts training that you undertook while prepping for this film as opposed to the training process you went through with Fifth Element and the Resident Evil flicks?

MJ: You know, I think, Fifth Element wasn't totally martial arts-driven, the training, it was lots was more, just physical stamina training and to just to be prepared to work the kind of hours that we were working. And we did a bit of martial arts but I'd just do kicks and stuff, so, it was mostly just some stances and things. But the only difference between Resident Evil and Ultraviolet -- I guess the fighting style -- is, I'd never done Wushu before. Resident Evil was pretty much street fighting, like with Tae Kwon Do and a bit of Kung Fu, maybe but it was much more of a modern street fighting style. And here [on Ultraviolet] you really had a major influence from the Eastern style of martial arts. You know, Wushu was pretty much the basis of all of the fights and then you have all of the Filipino [styled] fighting but we give a twist because that all has the Wushu through it and that's all, like, the roses with the hand spinning the sword and, so, it was a very fresh, new look for this type of American film.

Q: Speaking of Resident Evil, you're shooting the third film now? Anything we should expect from this film that we haven't seen in any of the others?

MJ: Well, definitely, Alice -- you know, she's changed a bit -- so we can expect some crazy, new stuff. Like, she's got some crazy new powers...(laughs)

Q: So what's this Resident Evil about?

MJ: The script is awesome, it's going to be really good. I don't really want to say too much because I haven't really talked to [Sony Studios] about what I can and can't say. So, I'd tell you the whole story but...I would tell you the whole story, I would tell you everything but I can't. (laughs)

Q: Is there one fight sequence in Ultraviolet that stands out as the most difficult to enact?

MJ: I haven't seen the movie, like the finished-finished product. I saw all of my ADRs (dailys), I saw a lot of the fight sequences because I had to, like, loop all of my (starts Kung Fu grunting) you know, to show some effort (for close-ups). You know, I hate watching myself on film -- so, I tend to not really watch my movies too much. You know, only if they make me, like at a premiere or something. But I have to say, my favorite scene, that I remember [shooting] -- it's hard, you know the red room, the library [sequences are] awesome, the white room, I think, is incredible too. The flaming sword fight is insane because I was [literally] fighting with a sword that was on fire, so, that was pretty incredible because you had to do all of these really close call kind of moves where the sword is swinging really close to you -- and very fast. But [a sword] all on fire, so, that was pretty cool. And that was a pretty crazy set because we were in this black room but it got very smoky, very quickly, so, we were all having [physical] problems that whole week. Everyone was sick...I don't know what chemicals they were burning in there but it was hard on everybody that week.

Q: So what was the hardest part, the sword play or the Wushu stuff?

MJ: You know, this was, like, all rolled into one, so, there was one time I got food poisoning and I still had to go to rehearsal and [the scene rehearsal] was for the library fight -- where I have the two guns that turn into swords -- and in that scene I had to do all of these [kicking] spins, and I'm like spinning and spinning and spinning and I'm just feeling so ill. It was like 'spin, spin, yaccch (pretending to wretch), spin, spin - yaccch, yaccch...And they were like, 'okay, go home.' It was awful because then we had to come on set the next day and do the actual scene and I wasn't feeling very good.

Q: Was that you really throwing up at the beginning of the film?

MJ: You know what's really funny, is that I never really threw up white stuff before (laughing) so I was curious to see what were they going to give me and it was vanilla milkshake. I was like 'cool! This is good!' (laughs)

Q: Word is, behind the scenes, that you're a dedicated stunt person for role training as to what you'll try and stuff like that...

MJ: Sorry, I got the wrong size for this dress (Starts fiddling with her over-skirt that she's wearing over her jeans) It's a size and a half too's so small.

Q: Very clever distracting technique to utilize during an interview .

MJ: I know, I wish it was a more strange, uncomfortable question.

Q: You know if you have a problem with it, you probably should just take it of...

MJ: You keep talking and you'll see how much training I got for this movie. (laughs - still adjusting her skirt)...What was your question?

Q: In the film you carried yourself quite well on screen. Do you think you could handle yourself in a fight for real?

MJ: You're lying. You're lying! Mike Smith [ the fight choreographer] told me straight out: don't EVER try this in public. If you ever get into a situation where someone's coming up to you -- you [get in] one [punch], if you can get a good one and [then] run if you can. He's like, 'I don't ever want to hear or see of you doing any Ultraviolet stuff, like, on the street. (laughs) I once, for a while, tried to figure out, like, how I could carry my (nunchuku) sticks around -- like conveniently in my purse -- but...(laughs)

Q: You've been doing a lot of action films as of late, and you already have a franchise going, why'd you take this role?

MJ: I, kind of, the way that I approach acting, in general, is what makes my choices different from this [particular] girl. In that sense, it's not really like I'm going to be that different, it's just the choices that we make that makes us different from everybody else. It gets to the whole thing where if you're playing a bad guy, you have to play it like this: (snarls and breathes deeply). You know, you can just be normal -- and it's your choices that make you a bad guy -- so, in a sense, I just tried to see what was in myself that's running away from family, having kids -- my mom was 24 when she had me and I'm 30 and so, of course, there's that thing of like ohhh, 'is this something that I'm running away from? I know she is, Violet, for sure, she's running away from that side of herself; wanting to give love, she brings that to people -- that love, on a much lesser extent, I can too. I bring better things than that to people, you know, I feel that I've been hard on myself in a sense that. I work a lot and I don't have very much time for personal relationships. In shooting this film it made me think about 'what is your future' and 'you do need to slow down a bit' and 'start thinking about something else that 's really important and not just 'my goals, my dreams.' Like what about just feeding a child, you know?... you don't thing about governments and career choices -- when that diaper's dirty, that's the only thing that's important. I think I need some of that in my life.

Q: Ultraviolet's a tough chick. Are you someone who can't be easily swayed into doing something you don't believe in as well?

MJ: Definitely, I have a healthy...I'm definitely stubborn in certain ways, I'm a bit obstinate, I guess, but I should hope that I try [to] listen...I'm not scared to say, 'I'm sorry' or admit that I could've been wrong, kind of a thing...It's really important to be open and to not get too hardwired into what you think and just because you have certain experiences doesn't mean that you should generalize...I tend to be open minded.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring actors trying to make it in this town to offer?

MJ: I read somewhere, I think it was Bette Davis, who said 'Never take Sunset (Blvd), always Fountain (Drive). [quoting screen legend when asked how does one make it to Hollywood). I thought that was really great advice. I thought that you can't get truer than that! It's very matter-of-fact, and I like that.

Q: With all of the action films you've been doing and all the training that that entailed, you ever thiink of doing martial arts seriously?

MJ: No. No, because, well, what would I do with it? I love reading about physics, I love science magazines. I definitely relate to being disciplined and being able to help yourself through more control over your body and, hopefully, your mind -- I don't think that I'd be, like tomorrow, [saying] 'I really think I want to compete in like the state championship for Tae Kwan Do,' I don't think you would see me doing that, for sure. (laughs)

Q: Well, what is your impetus for getting into action films and learning all of this stuff, then?

MJ: Well, I got Fifth Element which sort of started me off in that direction and then with Resident Evil, it was my brother's favorite video game, and I figured it'd be great to have another great action movie under my belt -- I loved doing it and it's fun -- but at the same time these kind of movies will give me more of a chance to make and develop a smaller, independent project that I want to do as well. There were a few different reasons that I felt like it'd be good to get involved with these kind of movies and sort of turned into something bigger than I ever imagined when I first did it...I make movies and I love it, so I guess it made sense. When you love to do something, for sure, you find people that relate. [to you]

Q: So, you have an independent project you want to develop?

MJ: Yeah, this movie .45 which is coming out this year -- it's a really incredible script by an amazing writer. And the guy that directed it, he wrote a play called Blackout which is something I used to do in acting class which is a collection of monologues from AA. (Alcoholics Anonymous meetings) It's a movie about domestic violence and that's something that -- being from Eastern Europe, you know, it's something that's very prevalent, something that is very normal in Eastern European society. So, it was something that I felt like I wanted to portray -- a woman who's trying to escape that world. I felt that [the story/subject] is important...

A Free Spirit in the Material World or Homey Don't Play Dat!

Here's a short piece I'd written a couple of years ago that I found and punched up to post here. The beauty of writing your thoughts down and saving them is that it affords you the chance to look back at what you were thinking at a given moment and compare/ contrast it with whatever your current state of mind may be; it let's you check and see if you're still walking down the lane or if you'd, somehow, veered off it and become something else. Although my circumstances have changed in many capacities, I've found that some things in me just won't change..guess I'm still walkin'...Laters...

I was working as an administrative temp, as many freelance writers are forced to do from time to time, when one of the full timers asked me what I "really" did because I didn't comport myself the way she'd imagined me to be while passing in the halls. First I told her the boilerplate "just looking for an entry-level opening". After a barrage of idiotic follow-up queries I broke down and admitted that I was a struggling music journalist. After pausing for a second, my mildly interested inquisitor looked me straight in the retina and stated: "Music journalism? Isn't that an oxymoron?" As I looked up from my temp PC I realized I was being cornered; forced to justify why I chose not to pursue a "legitimate" profession or launch a career track in a more "traditional" manner. The latter cannot be resolved with a simple five sentence reply because apparently many members of the complacent nine-to-five set can't wrap their noodles around a task I like to call a "satisfying proactive job quest." It seems they'd rather schlep their way through a series of bad gigs as "associates" nee "full time staff employees," than follow their hearts which I've never had a problem accepting. They, on the other hand, seem to get some reptilian thrill out of poking fun at free-thinkers with twisted little twigs of unimaginative bon mots like: "hopes don't pay the bills," etc. Maybe in the short-term that would ring true, but there's a bigger picture here and as many variables at play as are the twists on the road to truth.

Circumventing encounters with automatons and the like can be a daunting prospect at times. In the workplace it should be expected but in personal settings it's always a siege of self worth. Sometimes I liken choosing an artistic career path to what I call the "Vegas Syndrome," you know that, feeling a chronic gambler might experience in a casino parking lot after they've spent all of their bread on a 48 hour wager-fest and all they have to show for it is a handful of stubs, half a pack of cigarettes, a sweat soaked collar and the pimp-slap that is the reality of destitution. We've all been there, in one way or another. Be it for sums of capital or the emotional investment of the mental shitty that a romantic relationship can turn into -- "Vegas" is inevitable, son, no matter what you do so you might as well be proactive and enjoy the ride for all it's worth. Back to the $64,000 question.

Now more than ever, given the present context of the job market, it's definitely a shot in the dark to veer off the beaten path of convention as far as the working world is concerned. For those who allow their inner voices to be easily squelched, the rationale is just go along to get along and surrender to the weight of the world. Remembering this, I stared back at my full time inquisitor and mustered my resolve to deliver a definitive reply that would curtail any further questioning from this chatty chick all up in my piece. My reply went along the following lines: "If the day does come, when I must give up following my need to be creative and settle for the hamster wheel grind of a professionally plebeian life, I'd find comfort in knowing that at least up until that point I'd never looked back. Although, 85% of the time, it might have been a financial war of attrition, I'd be able to say with the conviction of hard experience that I gave it the Full Monty" and, with the resignation of those bound for the gallows, I'd grudgingly acquiesce stating "I fought the law but the law won."

Egged on by the Jimmy Stewart pomp of my prose, I continued,"I'd know that I didn't waste years (or decades) of my life in abject fear of being called on the carpet by the hated micromanagers of corporations I abhorred working for in the first place. In that instance I could embrace the fact that I'd ponied up the karmic fee for dreaming without regrets. I would have answered the questions that most leave unanswered about themselves while not having to fade away feeling "I coulda been somebody! I coulda been a contenda!" No refunds w/o receipts: There is a non-negotiable price to pay indeed, but like my brethren and sistren all over town who will continue to seek their manifest destinies between the raindrops and in the ether I'll continue to stand firm. I'll hold dear that barely tangible promise that we know in our heart-of-hearts is just around the corner. Before that possible future of submission comes to pass, however, I'll ask the cosmic croupier for one more hit while the drinks are still on the house." With an indignant look of a devout Crusader's resignation in the presence of a heathen espousing screeds of his pagan deity, the stiff-jawed Julie did an about face -- arms akimbo -- and went back to her cubicle. I stayed on that assignment for another month or so and I'd see "the judge" at the coffee machine in the pantry or while walking around the corridors...but she never asked me to justify my aspirations/station in the world again. I'll close this little aside with lyrics written by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones... Laters, CP.

Career Opportunities

They offered me the office, offered me the shop.

They said I'd better take anything they'd got.

Do you wanna make tea at the BBC?

Do you wanna be, do you really wanna be a cop?

Career opportunities are the ones that never knock!

Every job they offer you is to keep you out the dock.

Career opportunity, the ones that never knock...

I hate the army and I hate the R.A.F.

I don't wanna go fighting in the tropical heat.

I hate the civil service rules.A nd I won't open letter bombs for you.

Bus driver...ambulance man...ticket inspector...

They're gonna have to introduce conscription.

They're gonna have to take away my perscription.

If they wanna get me making toys.If they wanna get me, well, I got no choice.


Ain't never gonna knock!

Note: it's a trifle punk, if not downright pessimistic but look at it this way -- if we only walked along on the sunny days, we'd never complete our life's journey...double laters.

Get Back to Work: Whistle in the Weeds

Here's a joint I wrote set in Little 5 Points, Atlanta -- a place I used to live/ work in about 10 years ago. Hindsight 20/20, I realize what an incredible time it was for me and how when you're young you sometimes tend to live your life so fast that you never stop and sniff on the buttercups...I'm glad I kept a journal...all of the characters in this one are based on real peeps I knew, worked/ partied with back in L5P...I'd written about my deceased homebiscuit George and the MJQ Lounge last year when I was over there, here's a couple of other people I'd like you to meet...Laters...

Ever the stickler for promptness, Dennis Carbone, a chain-smoking, hot tempered, restaurant manager was always working on a slow burn that many who knew him thought he took to Ralph Kramden proportions when he had a bee in his cap about something. He'd been waiting for the new hostess he'd just hired and she was late. "Tardy on her first day," he snorted and French inhaled the cigarette smoke curling up out of his mouth and into his nose. Never one to stand on ceremony, Carbone walked inside the Cubo-Caribbean joint he ran and prepared to start seating people himself -- then he noticed the new hostess, Allison, walking toward the front of the house. He made a note to himself to ask her to tame that wild-and-wooly mane of hair when she's on his floor -- but now was not that time. The J5 was in the initial stages of a full on dinner rush. Working his way around the room, he slid in flirtily behind the new hire, put his hand on her hips, and whispered "Hello beautiful." Alli turned to see who it was, "Oh hi, Dennis, should I get started?" The fact that he was directing her toward the punch clock while they walked through the crowd answered her question as she asked it. Nanoseconds after she'd punched in, Carbone simultaneously slapped a clipboard a clipboard/ waitlist in one hand and a seating chart in the other then grabbed her by the shoulders and pointed her toward the main entrance at the front of the building.

Though she was quite young, Allison Albrecht was already seasoned in the food service industry, so she dove right into the fray. She'd just been hired as a hostess on the previous Wednesday and after only a couple of days of training runs during the slower day shift, tonight would be her first official turn at bat -- working alone. Alli wasn't fazed - she'd had hostessing gigs every since she'd arrived in Atlanta: before this, in Mid town and and before that in Buckhead at yuppie enclaves like Good Old Days and Cafe au' Nice but she'd never worked on this part of town before. She only visit Little 5 Points to see bands play and score the occasional bag of weed or X. She walked into the J5 following a hottie she and her girlfriends spotted walking across the pedestrian commons that faced Euclid Avenue -- that's when she noted the "hostess wanted" sign and just applied for the hell of it. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." When her impromptu interview with the managar on duty ended her girlfriends -- and the cutie had long gone. As she walked towards the hostess desk, the hunky guy she'd been tailing ran right past her holding a big, steaming pot of beans with pot holders. "Comin' through, make a hole," he yelled while hobbling through the crowd of patrons and staff like a fiddler crab with hemorrhoids."Rory," she whispered to herself while reading the name stitched on the cook's shirt. "He works here?" she thought and then smiled "Guess I do too," she thought, reflecting on how fast everything went down in the past few days. She was surprised that Carbone called her back on the very night of her interview. His gruff, greasy demeanor and heavy New York accent made her reticent to accep the gig -initially, but there was something that resembled charm in the guy too. She took the gig. Impulsive as ever? Yes...but she wasn't quitting her day job just yet.

Allison began greeting the waiting patrons, seating the larger parties at the 12-tops in the back and sorting out everyone else accordingly. Dennis, who'd returned to his post outside to take a couple of puffs, watched silently -- dragging on a Marlboro while standing under the neon "Jamaica 5 Points" sign. "I sure can pick 'em," he noted, marvelling at his innate ability to hire top notch staff -- so certain was he of his on-the-spot character assessment skills that he rarely even read resumes; totally relied on his gut impulses while interviewing prospective employees. Such was the case with Allison and this other chick, Monica. He was a gambling man who took his cues from his instincts and he knew a diamond in the rough when he saw one. "Allison's kicking ass and taking names...but Monica, on the other hand," he thought shifting his gaze to the other side of the house, "she might be a whole 'nother kinda crazy -- hope she doesn't get herself into the weeds," he said to nobody and walked inside. Nancy, the head bar tender, had begun frantically waving in his direction. The J5 Grill would be soon filled to capacity, "Oh hell, here comes the goat fuck," he muttered to nobody as he zig-zagged through the crowd towards her station.

"Ms. Pritchard, 'ow might I help you this fine evening?!!," Dennis exclaimed affecting a bad British accent. "Very funny D.C." she dead panned. "Look, my register is practically out of change and the Bud keg is almost dried up, " motioning toward a red and white beer tap that had begun to pour mostly foam into the pitcher beneath it. "Don't get your knickers in a tick," the manager quipped, accent still intact, " I'll sort you out, post haste!" While walking in that quick, steady way that Manhattan natives do, Dennis pulled an oversized ring of keys out of his pocket as he bolted for the beer coolers. Looking down at the keys instead of where he was going, engrossed with picking through what the waiters called the "big O," he looked up just in time to see the new girl, Monica, coming toward him with a look on her face that he'd seen many times before. There was no way to sidestep her, he filled his lungs with a deep breath and braced himself. "Oh hell, here comes the goat fuck."

"I can't take this pressure," said the young waitress close to tears. "I'm in the weeds and nobody's helping me." Dennis looked over her shoulder and back at her station, which was comprised of five two-seat booths and one large table, the smallest wait station in the restaraunt - all five of the two tops were occupied. "Look," the manager said tersely, " I don't have time for this shit, I've got to run around to Felini's ang beg for singles. I got to help the new hostess seat guests and I got to re-keg the front bar with Budweiser before its tapped out- can't this wait?" " No it can't wait! screamed the novice waiter, I'm in the weeds, I need help! I need --" Dennis pressed an index finger over her lips and pulled her off the serving floor, through a set of swinging doors and into an empty corner in the kitchen out of earshot of the dining customers.

"Ok, spill it," he said impatiently. As tears streaked down her cheeks the college sophomore squeaked, "this is too intense, I'm not ready for this pace, just put me back on weekday mornings until I go back to school," she whimpered. " I'm sorry, I just can't do that," he said coldly and emphatically. "What do you mean you can't do that?!!" she shrieked. "I can't just wave a magic wand and make your station slow down, suck it up, it's your job," he explained. " Well I don't think I want this job, I can't handle this, that's why I'm going to school in the first place - so I don't have to work at schlubby jobs like one this for the rest of my life! I'll quit before I serve on that floor again!"

Dennis had heard enough, fed up with this barrage of neophyte gripes, he pulled a long slotted spoon out of a sink and ceremoniously gonged on a soup couldron hanging from a hook in the cieling. The earshattering clatter of the busy kitchen soon lowered as waitresses and cooks skidded in their tracks - even Clay, the laid back Rastafarian prep guy washing knives in the corner seemed to hear through his blaring headphones. The staff got so quiet, in fact, the only sound to be heard is the sizzling grill top and the bubble of hot pots on the stove. When Dennis hulked out everything stopped. Having pulled everyone's attention to him, Dennis turned on his heels like a military drill instructor and began to stride around the tiny, hot room inspecting his Friday night second shift staff; his aces. These were the hard-boiled best that his staff had to offer, they were dug in deep and moving fast, but far from overwhelmed. He likened himself to a colonel, leading his cavalry into the grip of battle. Searching for the right phrasing, Dennis strolled around, chest out, arms folded behind his back and then he addressed his small force:" Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a question to ask you. I want you all to reply by show of hands," he said slowly - "How many of you people have been to college?" The wait staff looked at the cooks, the sweaty cooks looked at each other and they all slowly begin to raise their hands - practically everyone. Totally soaked, Dave the new dishwasher looked up from behind a steam cloud rising from the dishrack and said "second year undergrad" as he pointed a soapy finger into the chest of his food-splattered apron. "Carry on, " the manager said to his crew.

The moment passed when Rory, the head cook, looked around at the state of affairs and exclaimed "ORDER UP! UP! UP! GET IT OUTTA HERE! DING! DING! DING!," while maniacally slamming a spatula on the service bell -- as if defibrulated from a coma, the rest of the staff jumped into action and resumed tearing around the small hot kitchen. As the frenzy regained momentum Amy, all tattoos and fire red hair, swooped into the kitchen and slammed a heavy tray of used dirty dishes in front of Dave. As she and the dish dog cleared the remainder of eaten meals from plates, short waitress announced in an attention K-mart shoppers tone: "walkin' in I got two veggie pattie apps, a ceviche app, a mixed grill, a 1/2 rack and dead bird salad hold the oranges!!!" Shaking his head and chuckling to himself,Ras Clay, rolled up the volume of the reggae in his headphones and continued drying his cultery. "Hey, just put that anywhere," yelled Rory when one of the waitresses drops a plate and it shatters all over the floor. Everyone laughs at the joke, even Monica.

Food is dished out and soup is ladled while salads get slapped together and decorated in a frenzied cadence. Absorbing the electric rush of adrenaline, that permeates the kitchen of any restaraunt worth its salt, Dennis stooped down a little to look at his distressed new waitress directly. With a crack of wryness traced across his face, he placed both of his hands on her shoulders and he whispered in her ear: "See if you can guess what I'm thinking right now?"
Monica looked back at her manager's craggy face with a smile of comprehension, she got it, finally. In unison they said:" Get Back to work." After he spun the waitress around in an about-face, Dennis came in close behind her, peered over her shoulder into her field of view and said "Now get real, clock your ass back in and go make some tuition money. You just got sat - a four top" and gently eased her out of the swinging doors and back into the shuffle that was the dining area. Wide-eyed over at the bar, Nan pantomimed "4" to the waitress as she poured beer and mixed drinks. In a fluid motion, Monica placed drinks on a tray and slid four menus between them while she approached her newest table. "Welcome Jamaica 5 Points, my name is Monica and I'll be your waiter this evening, would you like to hear our specials today?" behind her, the waitstaff and busboys continued working in a flurry oblivious of her recitation of that night's line up.

"I sure can pick 'em," Dennis noted while standing under a noisy overhead vent. He took a brief reprieve, stepped back into his little cave of an office and sat on a chair that was probably older than the ass that was in it. His left hand automatically began to dig into the rectangular bulge in the pocket of his crisp white shirt and he pinched out a Marlboro by the filter. His other hand met the butt in front of his face as he quickly lit it with a shiny Zippo. Although he knew he had an ever-growing list of things to do, he took a breather anyway - it could wait. "Whenever you think everthing's going to fall apart without you, it's time to go," he grumbled to the palmtrees on the calendar tacked in front of him. He sucked in a deep puff and started inspecting the cherry ashes through a briskly exhaled cloud of smoke before frenetically crushing the whole cigarette out in a rain of sparks on an ashtray, then bounded out the door. "This Bud's for you, boss," Nan screeched staring angrily at the foam oozing out of the Budwieser tap. "I know, I know, I know," Carbone groused while trotting toward the keg cooler. "Skirts," he muttered, "they never think you know what you're doing." Serving up appetizers for her table, Monica watched her manager blow past while inspecting a big ring of keys. She was getting into the swing of things. She couldn't have known it but she was feeling what Dennis was thinking in the freezer at the other side of the restaraurant -- he wouldn't have scheduledd her work on such a busy night if he thought she didn't have the minerals.

Note: this shite actually happened one night (the whole hand raising thing during a full on dinner rush on a Friday night). I learned a valuable lesson working as a cook in that joint. You gotta whistle when you're in the weeds -- when you laugh the world laughs with you. When you cry, you cry alone...let's ask Gary Coleman what he thinks ...