Four Poems

No, no, the blog is not quite dead yet.

Should it be?

Ah, that’s an awfully good question.

I guess I’m being stubborn about it. There are worse things in the world to drag my feet over, and refusing to let this blog keel over probably isn’t going to make the all-time countdown.

I don’t think so, anyway.

I don’t know why I’m doing a post. The odds of this blog ever being anything but an orphanage for misfit short stories and poems are pretty grim at this point. And I’m forever hesitant over sharing those things here to begin with, since they really ought to be put through the paces of being submitted to literary journals and the like. Sharing them here always kind of feels like I’m giving up on them.

Actually, I’ve had the feeling that I’ve given up on writing in general for much of the year.

Granted, we’re only a couple of weeks into the year, but things have already escalated nicely in the departments of self-loathing, intense doubt, and anxiety that wears a cunning disguise of being easily distracted (“Tommy Lee Jones does look like Grumpy Cat! Neat!”). It has not been a great year so far for work, and that’s entirely my fault. I haven’t tried to finish the third novel, I haven’t pushed myself to start on new projects, I haven’t taken any chances, and I haven’t learned the intricacies of naked tap dancing (and that last one is really goddamn important).

I’ve been disappointing myself over and over again, and it’s made worse by the fact that I’m aware of what I’m doing every step of the way.

This isn’t going to end with a declaration to do better, work harder. Obliterate a few more brain cells through the magic of frantic creative work. If you have to call this anything, just think of it as catching up over coffee with something righteous thrown in for good measure. I’m well aware of how far behind I am on everything I want to do, and I’m aware that I’m going to be twenty-eight soon. Seemingly in the same length of time it takes me to breathe in and out slowly and only once.

Things need to change. Saying that to myself over and over again isn’t going to make that happen. Whether it’s in the back of my mind as I try to fall asleep, or in a paragraph of an introduction to a blog post a few people will hopefully read. The only thing I can do is be even more of a bastard to myself than usual.

And what I definitely can’t do is let things like being tired of being single, the frustration of having a tenth of the career I envisioned for myself when I was young(er) and (even more) stupid slow me down. I can’t let my love affair with aspects of the well-worn past (even if that past includes things that happened as recently as five or six months ago) fuck me over again and again. And I sure as hell can’t let the responsibilities that are inherent in living a life that is not allowed to include trying to head-butt the TV at thirty miles per hour run my life forever and ever. I have to commit myself to a mild obsession with moving forward, and I have to maintain that thought at all times.

No matter how many days in a row happen to suck with the glorious style of an aging porn star trying to win Miss Universe.

This isn’t a declaration. I’m just thinking out loud.

There is a difference. At least there is while I type this at 2:30 in the morning.

In short, bring on the wrecking ball, bring on the work that I should be demanding of myself day in and day out, and bring on the deranged optimism for things like the ability to let go of those weird artifacts from the past, and the dream of once again having nothing but thousands of miles and dozens of towns worth of travel to look forward to.

That is not, as far as I can tell, too much to ask for.

And if it is, well, fuck it, man, because I’m asking for it anyway.

Vintage Surreal Gangster Cinema

It wasn’t Halloween.
It wasn’t one of those awful goddamn
costume parties,
where everyone would rather just get stoned
and watch vintage Samurai cinema instead.

A man who got fat reading “War and Peace”
three times in a row just decided to show up
in a Snow White costume that wouldn’t have fit
a man even half his size.

A girl in a leather nurse’s outfit.
She doesn’t really dig on the whole saving lives scene.

Tweedledee was there.
Tweedledum was down to a black veil and wifebeater.

The Devil was Legion. Figures.

A higher power believed in the darkness
being able to pick off the lights in various hallways.

But it was a mansion. Plenty of dusty bulbs
to guide the desperate, lonely and frustrated
to the safety of a commonplace bedroom.

Complete with a commonplace view
of some strip of some kind of paradise.

And all the violent weather a person can eat.
More than enough to make leaves and branches behave like ghosts.
More than enough to think you really can be afraid of everything.

The windows were huge, were put in a century
and a half after the house was built and survived
a baptism, and just didn’t fit the rest of the place at all.

But practically no one cared. Anyone who did
was too nervous to do anything but laugh.

And the house band held everyone together with pins and string.
Mostly Rockabilly. A little John Lee Hooker and Blind Lemon Johnson
for when everybody just needed to calm the hell down.

A handsome kid dressed as a man dressed as an artist
who stays away from coffee, booze
and any wooden track rollercoaster.

He’s swallowed whatever he accidently crushed
in his pocket earlier, and he’s starting to forget
the name of the wife he came with.

She left hours ago. Love just happens like that.

Everyone just felt overdressed and old.

But they woke up when the house band played
something they had never heard before.

Here Comes the Next Birthday

I bring you in for the dip,
because I really can move like Christopher Walken
once in an unholy while,
and down you go. Right into the bathtub gin
that tastes suspiciously
like bathtub vodka.

Let’s not talk what year this is,
your original hair colour or
why you think there’s bruises
in the backs of your eyes.

Both of us fell for people,
who found happiness and emotional clarity,
long after they started writing love songs
for the next one on the line.

The gin wears vodka goggles.
Let’s just put it like that,
because it sounds logical
in this part of the country.

I need some logic
in this cold place of a time
that has no teeth,
but plenty of good upper-body strength
and the best running shoes from 1994.

Someone’s gotta load me into the car,
and hope the driver is a cohort of mine
from last summer.

We can’t trust anyone from further back than that.
I don’t know what I’ve said to other people at other parties.

You take a long drink getting out of the tub,
and I can hear your friends laughing. On all fourteen floors.
I still think someone installed cameras in this miraculous joint,
before you moved in, with the three cats, the knives, recipe books,
snow globes and all the sketches you’re not going to finish.

It’s impossible to make love here,
and not feel like someone somewhere is watching,
talking to others over thirty-cent martinis
about where you went wrong as a child.

I can’t complain.
I’m through complaining.
Through with imagining old loves are still star-struck,
with something I’ve never been able to put my finger on.

Or anything else,
but this isn’t the time, place or sleepy crowd
for dirty jokes that worked beautifully that one beautiful time.

This is the rest of my life,
and I’m just not much of a writer,
actor, entertainer or scoundrel anymore.

I don’t care for cooking.
You can still use a kitchen after it’s burnt down.
My mind is always somewhere else,
and that goes for a lot of things.

It just kind of flies around,
and I leave my thoughts
with nothing but more trivia.

I hate trivia.
There’s a lot of things these days
I’m not fond of.

Your friends.
My friends.
All the people
I wish were here instead.

Dig Your Own Grave And Save

The groom had a bad cough. A really bad cough.
And these eyes that wanted to dress up
as a runaway train.

The bride had buried all of ‘em. Every last doctor
who had ever brought her flowers for every day
they ever loved her for her dangerous temper.

She had to be older than him by fifty,
sixty years. And the wedding reception looked lovely
to me. But I wasn’t driving a car. I wasn’t walking calmly
to the time and place that could have turned out to be
my last night on earth. So I didn’t give a damn
if their wedding made it impossible to drive down Main Street.

I probably could have saved that guy.
This was clearly something he didn’t want to be a part of.

Kept walking instead. I only knew one of the bridesmaids intimately.
I didn’t like the look of those angels with sniper rifles overhead.
Those wings would kill a whole lot of people, if they just decided
to come down the level of mere mortals.

Guess that old lady could call in favors.
The way ordinary people call out the name of the last person
in the history of their lives that would ever rush to be by their bedside.

And I just didn’t want to get involved. I’m still not cautious.
Don’t accuse me of finally playing it safe. Please, please, don’t.

It’s just that I don’t need any more friends.
Not that kind. I’d prefer it if the psychopaths, contract killers
from the class of 2003, and girls who think it’s cute to call themselves
Bang-Shift Betty, all came to me instead.

I don’t have a problem with the people I can love forever,
and only trust three nights out of ten.

I’m just not going out of my way to entertain them anymore.

Baby, You Got a Sick Mentality

Paranoia is realizing
that you’re the only one at the birthday party
who isn’t a doctor,
and then wondering what each of them
might be thinking of you.

I limp,
talk to myself,
add a little more rum to the punch,
cough when I need a cigarette
and fall asleep every time someone tells me
that I’ll be working for their infant son someday.

They could put me away with all that,
and there’s enough of them for me to know
that could happen if I grab the wrong wife’s ass.

Could be for the best.
You know you done screwed up,
when you have to hire a young girl to follow you around
and tell you what you did wrong every morning at 5:15.

And then I’d have to be careful about who I employ.

Last thing I need,
is some kid telling me that I’m living in the past,
and that things are better now than they were twenty years ago.

Shameful or whatever that I don’t really know if that’s true.
I’m scared of hospitals,
and I only ever watch the news
when an upcoming appointment goes missing.

Reading fiction seems to cover everything else,
and I have plenty of friends who balance
keeping me informed with getting over their addiction
to pathological lying.

This is called a compromise.
It’s like settling for finding shelter under a cancerous tree
after the lightning starts to follow you like a cheery bloodhound.

If I turn out to be wrong about something
I can still meet someone who can teach me how to play chess,
and how to play a piano that’s been busted up.
Shipped to more countries than there are winos
making a living by getting people to pay them
not to spray-paint erotica on the sidewalks.

That’s a lot of drunk people with high-school diplomas.

I’ll bet they were just like me, not too long ago.
Probably went to pot when they hit one of those parties
with all those smug doctors and kittenish wives.

Paranoia tells me this,
and it doesn’t even have a voice worth remembering.

You would think otherwise.


After the War: Sample Chapter

I probably shouldn’t even pretend I’m ever going to get around to anything else for this blog besides orphan short stories and poetry.

I know there aren’t going to be any movie reviews on here anytime soon.

All kinds of wild promises have been made, mostly to myself (it just happens to be that I also write and share them with people, because I’m fucking stupid like that), and none of them have been realized.

That’s okay. Writing random pieces about social or political events, random anecdotes picked up and fleshed out from the day to day madness of everyday life, these are fairly small promises in the long run. The only person who really cares about them in the end is me.

I guess it’s not so bad. I disappoint myself all the time, and I seem to handle those punches just fine. There’s no reason in the world to believe I’ll never get around to writing some of the things I’d like to write for this blog. Drunk Monkeys, as I’m sure I’ve said before, gets a lot of that original material now. I’m okay with that. It’s one of the best websites or literary journals I’ve ever worked for, and I’m grateful to have an Editor who is game for just about weird, potentially stupid idea that pops into my head.

There really isn’t a reason to even have this blog anymore. I started it as an excuse to write more non-fiction, and as an excuse to write about movies again. I work for a few sites now that handle both of those things pretty well. I still have ideas and pieces I’ve love to write for this blog, stuff that I don’t think would work anywhere but here, but I still have to get through the work I do as a freelance writer (and it’s rich, fulfilling stuff, I swear to God), poetry, short stories, my third novel (which is repeatedly reminding me that I should have chosen calculus over Percocet in high school), work for Drunk Monkeys or The Modest Proposal, or work I can find just about anywhere else.

I get through all of that, and I’m just fucking tired.

And I don’t have things like acting work to strike a good, healthy creative balance, so I tend to get bored or tired after four or five thousand words worth of work in a given day.

I didn’t want to do a short story this time (I have several ready to go, but my heart really is more on selling them somewhere). I didn’t want to do poetry. That doesn’t leave me with a ton of material that isn’t either somewhere else, in my mind head, or so goddamn wretched an exercise in attempted creativity that keeping it around almost qualifies as self-injury.

It leaves me with the second novel I’m still trying to sell.

I’m not going to run the whole thing here. I’d still like to see it travel the world, find a few people who dig it, and bring me back a few dollars when it’s all over. What I don’t think is any great crime is running the first chapter here. I don’t believe I’ve shown it to anyone. People have seen the first novel, but no one seemed to care for it, so I don’t image it’s ever going to go anywhere.

The second novel, After the War?

I like it. I like it a lot. And I sincerely hope that other people like it, too.

Trying to get the book published is rapidly reaching the point where I may have to go the self-publishing route. I hope I don’t have to, but I will if the times call for it. There are a couple of other places I’m hoping will consider the manuscript, such as Tarpaulin Sky (they want a 20$ reading fee that I don’t have at this moment), before I finally start looking at things like Kickstarter and all the self-publishing options that are available to me.

Not much of a set-up is needed here. It’s about a dumb kid, and what he does when he finally gets a sense of what’s out there in the world. I spent close to a year and a half writing and editing it three times. More could probably be done with it, but I don’t know what that might entail. For now, until further notice, it’s as perfect as it’s ever going to be.

Selling this book is a considerably larger, more important dream than writing something specifically for this blog.

It’s a dream right up there with being somewhere like Central Park on a cool, steady fall day like this.

It’s even up there with getting out of Virginia, and seeing some of the people I don’t get to see as much as I would like to.

I need to make that happen pretty soon, obstacles such as living in the middle of nowhere, and not being able to drive, be dammed.

I live for being in constant motion, and I think I would probably feel a lot better than I have been these past several months. There have been a few trips, but nothing substantial, and that’s what sucks so much about being addicted to something like travel.

It’s rarely enough. It hasn’t been enough in years.

But I need to make it happen soon. I need things to move past me so quickly that I can barely keep up with them. I need to see some of those people I miss. Some of whom I miss more than I can ever describe in writing. Or whatever I think sounds very worldly and compelling after another shot of paint-thinner at four-thirty in the morning.

Because I’m not a clever man. I just think I play one when I think someone’s paying attention.

December 28th, 1997

“Missouri.” Warren said the name again and waited to see if it might develop real meaning. He still wasn’t having much luck with that, so he gave up and hoped his mom would step in.

“Yeah,” Barbara said. Her entire body was turned away from the computer. Her small hands were in her lap, and her attention was entirely on the conversation at hand. That was kind of impressive these days.  “Missouri.” She smiled and pushed some of her long auburn hair back behind her ear. She looked weirdly pleased with herself.

Warren kept going back to the historical implications of this all this. In twelve years, they had gone on exactly one vacation. That had been to Alberta to see family followed by a brief stop into the extraordinary powerhouse of activity and day-to-day life that had been and still was Vancouver.  That had been six years ago. It had also been about that long since even the discussion of going somewhere of interest had come up. Warren had never thought about it much. Some families saw the world, took a thousand pictures and then put them away in a closet for fifty years. Some families didn’t go anywhere more emotionally taxing than McDonalds on a busy Saturday afternoon. His family was in the second category, and he had never really seen a problem with that.

This didn’t include his mom’s recent trip to Vancouver to visit one of her childhood friends. That had been a purely solo, two-day venture.

“I was thinking,” she went on, smiling, “That we might even try to work in a trip to New York, depending on time and money.” She shrugged. “We’ll be in the states for about a week.”

He nodded, not listening to her as closely as he wanted. Missouri. America. That wasn’t just a sudden family vacation to somewhere like Victoria. That was kicking the third dimension in the balls and flying down the road with the fourth and fifth in tow at a couple thousand miles per hour. It was the kind of thing that worked its way into a TV cliffhanger.  Make the announcement, and then back off to let the several dozen possibilities jostle for position.

It was staggering, entirely too confusing for the middle of the afternoon. The more he tried to process it, dumb everything down to a couple of easy sentences, the more it kept crashing and burning in the middle of what was becoming the ugliest traffic of thought disaster in recent history. “When would we be leaving?” he asked.

“New Year’s Eve,” she said. “We’d have to drive down to Victoria, and then take the ferry to Seattle.”

“And why are we doing this?”

She shrugged. For just a moment, she looked like she didn’t know what she was going to say. “Well, some of my friends from the Pet Talk Forum are getting together in Missouri, and I just thought it’d be nice to go and even make a family trip out of it.” She shrugged again, reaching for her cigarettes. “We haven’t had one in years, after all.”

Warren nodded and tried not to make a face when she fired up on of her smokes. There was something in the way she was being so casual about this. Relaxed was not something Barbara was known for by the few people who had managed to work their way into her life. Everything revolved around the concept that the world only had about fifteen minutes of life left in the tank. It was everything or nothing and nothing less than that. She was also obsessively dedicated to making sure every possibility could be seen from a thousand miles away. Anything outside of the routine was to be shot down on sight.

He looked at her. The one great contradiction to all of that were her children. Even at twelve years old, he could see that. Five minutes for a microwave dinner would have her tapping the kitchen counter in mild frustration. But when it came to him or any of the kids, she could stand still for hours and put up with just about anything. Now, she would wait as long as it was going to take for him to answer.

She was remarkable, infuriating and extraordinary. Usually, all at once.

“Who’s going?”

She took a drag from her cigarette, absent-mindedly brushing aside a bit of ash when it fell on the knee of her pants. “You, me, Daniel, Morgan and Kelci.”

He raised his eyes. “Dad’s not going?”

The cigarette took to resting in the ashtray. It would probably burn down to the filter. She turned back to him, shaking her head and smiling. “He doesn’t want to go,” she said. “He’d rather stay behind and try to catch up on work.”

Well, that was just one more thing to wonder about. The idea of Dad not going along for something like this struck him as weird.

“So,” she said, “Count you in?”

He needed to put this conversation to bed. He needed to get outside where things stood to remain perfectly still long enough for some form to come together in all this. Everything really needed to slow the hell down and start making even a little sense. “Sure,” he said. “I mean, I can’t imagine just me and Dad here for a week or whatever.” He tried to smile but couldn’t get everything behind that gesture to come together. “We’d probably murder each other and burn the house down.”

“Probably,” she agreed. And right on cue, she was reaching for another cigarette.

“I’m going to go outside for a bit,” Warren said, seeing the chance to get away and going after it with arms open. “I guess we can talk about this some more later?”

“Of course,” she said, “But try not to change your mind at the last minute.”

He smirked without meaning to. “When have I ever done that?” He was close to the front door now. He was almost out.

“Never,” she said, smiling as well. The last cigarette was dead. The new one was lit. “Forgive either my stupidity or insanity.”

“A little bit of both, I’d suspect.”

She smiled, and let a long moment of silence suddenly appear and build up into something conscious. “I think this is going to be a lot of fun,” she said. “Really exciting.”

“I know.” And he meant that. When there was another long moment of silence between them, this one feeling even stranger than the last, he took the opportunity to open the door and finally make it outside. That same awkward silence disappeared the moment the shockingly kind, cool air smacked him in the face. It had to be at least fifty, which was just extraordinary for a Vancouver Island winter. It was quiet outside, too, but it was a different kind of silence. The stillness out here seemed to move with everything from the trees to the occasional car to the distant sounds of someone yelling from the beach. Warren sighed, took a few steps into his backyard and then stopped. He didn’t feel any smarter for being out here. The sudden and honestly quite brutal changes that were suddenly in place didn’t magically dumb themselves down to a sitcom solution.

All the same, it was already a lot easier to think. He didn’t have to look at anyone, and there was more room to move around. Everything here was familiar. Every direction could be anticipated. Every moment was right in front of him. He started up the long drive way to get to the street. Familiar was good. This was one of those times when familiar was absolutely necessary.

He made it to the street in one piece. There were several directions he could take from here. Enough possibilities existed that he stopped again just a few steps away from the front of his driveway and looked across the street at the house in front of him. The lights were on in one of the upstairs bedrooms, and he could see a figure moving around. The ocean was off to the left, just down the street, past the house where the Vietnam draft dodger lived and often went mad on an almost daily basis, past the house with that horrible dog that was very likely going to kill someone someday. He would have to walk past all of those houses and then through a small trail that would take him to a part of the beach where a lot of the aging surfers and unending line of tourists liked to visit. Warren had never been sure why. He hated the tourists and had never been able to understand the appeal of standing on a piece of cardboard and trying to make the ocean listen to reason.

It was beautiful though. Sometimes.

But he didn’t want the ocean just then. The moment seemed to be calling for a long street that would end eventually and offer no other choice but to turn around go back in the other direction. The ocean would be there if he wanted it. This was a night for wandering around, staring at silent houses and glancing in the windows of the occasional car going by.  Nothing was really going to be solved between now and whenever he managed to go to bed, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t worth trying.

He finally settled on turning left at his driveway, putting some automatic distance between himself and the ocean. It was a walk like this that always made him briefly understand the whole thing behind smoking. It sure as hell would give him something to do with his hands. He stuffed them in his pockets and wondered if anyone was out and about this evening. It wasn’t uncommon for everyone in the neighborhood to get together and kill as many hours as possible with whatever was possible. But it was winter, and no one really liked to go outside unless there was a chance of snow.

And it didn’t really snow in Ucluelet. Not often enough to look forward to it, anyway.

The biggest problem he had with a family vacation was the idea that Dad wasn’t going. Not that he wanted him there, but he knew his father enough to know that he wasn’t one to just let his family disappear into a different country for a couple of weeks. He wanted to ask Dad about it, but his work schedule made that fairly impossible. Besides Christmas Eve and Morning he could count on one hand the number of hours he had seen him.

He wanted to talk to him about it a little, but that just wasn’t going to be in the cards.

Oh well, he thought, kicking at nothing but the air. It wouldn’t really solve. He could see where all of this was going, and he couldn’t see himself doing anything but just going with the goddamn flow. That was usually the case. All of this thinking, walking around and watching the world hit replay and start the brief away message all over again was just a lot in the way of distraction. He knew what was going to happen. He knew what he was going to do.

He took the next left and could see a car coming down the road. The actual town of Ucluelet was actually a good five or more miles away. This was just a collection of houses, weird portions of forest and a couple of school bus stops. They called it Millstream, which never really made sense to him. If you didn’t go out onto the main road, down the freeway towards town, you could probably spend the rest of your life assuming that the world had finally come to a complete and comfortable stop.

The car went by quickly. Disappearing around the corner he had just passed. He purposely missed a chance to look in the window and see who it might be. He wasn’t up for that tonight.  Whoever it was, they were probably going somewhere more a hell of a lot more interesting than Millstream.

Another left or right option came at him. He went with right, even though it was a short street and would have him turning back soon. His mind went to the Pet Talk Forum and how it had come from seemingly out of nowhere to stand as the bulk of his mom’s social calendar. Not that she had ever gone out a whole lot anyway, but most of her internet time was spent kicking around that one particular corner. She talked about the members all the time, especially that snake guy. His name was Leonard. There was also Harold, the old man in Denver, Colorado who raised pit bulls and wondered if his daughter would ever call him again. Then there was Ted and Kara, that couple in Missouri. He imagined their house would be the site of this completely random get-together.  Those four were the ones she talked about the most. At different points over the last few months, she had even shown him various pictures of them. Anyone else was mentioned only occasionally. He wondered which of them would be at this thing.

He could definitely imagine writing a story or two about this. He didn’t write very often, but it was one of the few things in his childhood that seemed to get a positive reaction out of other people, so he turned to it when everything else was looking dire. Walking slowly, he felt desperate to stretch things out and take his time. He put aside small thoughts like what would happen when they got there. He tried to focus again on some of the larger ideas. When that didn’t work he just let everything swirl around until he looked up from the ground to see the short road already coming to an end.

Three Poems

I’m still a lousy liar.

And I also suspect this will be a fairly short (well, for me) introduction. The truth of the matter is that I’m frustrated, extremely exhausted and completely lacking in the necessary faith and creativity needed to do this shit day after day.

It doesn’t help things that I was without a computer for several days this month. And then running into issues with my internet connection after I got a cheap, refurbished laptop (I’m not complaining about this). Those things seriously screwed around with my schedule, plans and assignments, but those things are still fairly new to the scene. I was feeling pretty miserable, depleted and shockingly indifferent about that long before I ran into trouble. The only thing that’s different now is that I’m feeling even worse since I started trying to get a routine dancing in good formal wear again.

When have I not started off a post this way?

Good question.

I think the two good things I got out of today was hearing a really fantastic song by Maximo Park, “The National Health” (it’s a catchy fuckin’ tune, man), and getting a nice reminder that I have someone in my life who loves me an awful lot. Love will not save the world. I don’t think so anyway. What it will do is give me a good reason to get out of bed in the morning. She’s about five and a half hours away, and it would be quite nice to be with her right now. She’s a great motivation, not the only one, but an awfully great one, to keep working, keep trying to find ways to make a few bucks.

The fact that I went back on my promise to never indulge a long-distance relationship ever again should speak at least a volume or two.

But I’m still tired, still sick of a lot of things in life, still feeling guilty for letting myself fret and mumble over those little things, still wondering where all my good ideas went, if they’ll come back, even for a visit.

And, yes, I’m still wondering if I’m ever going to write about the fact that things are going better than I ever dreamed.

So, I’ll count my blessings, tell myself I’m just not trying at things hard enough, not thinking creatively enough at ways to make those things happen, and I’ll definitely tell myself that I’m not courageous enough to try something different.

The part of me that believes all of that is nonsense is a very, very small voice these days.

We’re going to settle in for some more poetry. Anything outside the box I’ve designed on this blog has either fizzled out for the time being, or just doesn’t strike me as being worth the energy or time.

I know, I know. That’s my problem.

I’d like to quit this stupid whining, but it’s one of the few things in my life that’s guaranteed to give me exactly what I put into it.

Something tells me the three poems (I haven’t picked them yet, but I have some ideas) will reflect the mood I’ve been expressing here.

Anybody want to place their bets?

My Psychological Arithmetic
By Gabriel Ricard

I’m not working on new ways
for people to leave me,
believe me,
but I am meeting more and more people
who consider the funeral fringes of town
to be just too noisy for their tastes.

You have to manage your own ride
if you want to meet with those types.

Drink everything in their dining room cabinet,
get a tattoo by the light over the stove
or faint when the art-school models
remember your first name.

You have to lose absolutely everything
if you want to get to the place
where you can throw away your life in 48 hours.

That was a piece of advice
I picked up from a massage therapist,
with a police record that could travel around
Madison Square Garden forty-six times.

She was mean. She wanted friends like me
to pay with their lives. It’s just that she wasn’t very cunning.
Cops were always banging on her front door
with handcuffs and a dozen gin-soaked roses.

Even in her dreams,
she only ever cared about herself.

But I followed her everywhere.
I thought I was going to write forever in those days.
Play the junkyard game show on the weekend,
and win twenty-thousand dollars I would never make otherwise.

Way back whenever,
I thought at least half of my success story
would consist of things I didn’t deserve.

I thought I would always be brave enough
to steal a car from a museum in broad daylight.

When I went from age twenty-one to twenty-seven
the other day
I found that my slight touch of madness
was suddenly feeling the pressure
of knowing that it could breathe without machines.

It could spread its wings,
and bowl over a room full of laughing,
hard-working sociopaths.

Turn Manhattan into an elevator that trembles slightly.

My psychological arithmetic
ain’t what I hoped
it would eventually be.

What I’ve got are spirit guides made of steam and glass,
mistakes who wear long tongues and brilliant business attire
and not a single shred of hope
that I can tell you in ten words or less why life is worth living.

I can’t throw a basketball into an open window
of a burning building,
so don’t even bother asking me to get my life together.

What I can do is get so frustrated
that I go to bed early,
and run head-first
into a good fighting chance.

Mainstream Medicine
By Gabriel Ricard

Back to the start of a Wild West show
that hires itself out to a birthday party.
With a cast of thousands and a lot more fear
than the euphoria you might expect.

Back to the basics of a very complicated matter,
oh yeah,
but don’t worry, sweet baby,
because nothing’s going to change for a little while.

We can still be struck dumb and held for ransom
by the same old broken bridge that used to take us
out of this same old broken town and into the same old—

oh yeah,
you get it.

You’re an airplane full of philosophers.
All in agreement that the plane is going to crash
when puffy clouds shred the wings right off.

This isn’t an effort to work over your hard-earned feelings.
I’d never jump out of an airplane ninety feet above the ground,
with a dozen roses taped to my back if I didn’t absolutely love you.

I’m teasing.
My sense of humor doesn’t believe in mainstream medicine.

You forgive me in the time it takes for us to believe
we have every right to run those four red lights in a row.

Broadway isn’t going to wait for us,
and neither will a future that promises
to make sense of this no man’s land.

Some pairings are discussed
and then created amongst the bumper-car stars.
Some of them can’t handle
what that Tom Petty cat called “The hardest part.”

Honeymooners figure out what they’re made of
when the sun comes around to clear out the band,
and leave the lovebirds with smug, gently caffeinated silence.

That ain’t going to be us.
We will not become a couple that throws
bags of empty wine bottles at each other
the way clowns throw pies,
they wish were bags of empty wine bottles.

Old men are not going to barely make it
to their favorite local bar, sit down,
drink their fill
and write an opera about the way we lived
ten years completely out of control.

We’re not going to die in each other’s arms,
and I’m not going to drown in what I think
your eyes are really saying.

My instincts love spirits
even more than those old men.

They can rest their weary, clicking tongues a while.

I don’t want anything running off at the frozen mouth.
When I’m trying to kiss you like they do when war is over.

Nothing’s going to change for a while,
and then it’s just going to get better.

No one gets rich on that kind of ending,
but we’ll make do with cynicism about other things.

The Logger’s Hut
By Gabriel Ricard

In 1989 my mother and I went to the nicest restaurant
in our small town. It was the big reopening
after it had been closed due to a bad fire the month before.

We used to eat there all the time. It was always just the two
of us. Even after two brothers and a sister came along.
I suppose in the grand scheme of small things,
it wasn’t that nice a restaurant. But children are easy to please
and small towns can make a lot of something Victoria
would have swallowed up in the first week.

My mother and I always had fun. It didn’t take much
in them days to make me feel like an adult. I ordered on my own,
drank good Earl Grey tea and complained bitterly about my classmates.

We always had fun. It was still fun when we went for that big reopening.
You couldn’t even tell that half the place had gone up in flames.
No one talked about it. The body count was never able to rise
above zero. I was five and didn’t think much of the whole thing at all.

Back then I was pretty committed to The Lord. I prayed for my family,
prayed for myself and assumed I was building up a line of credit
that would make me invincible for most of my teenage and even adult years.

I was even committed to straight lines
and the personal opinion that all a person ever needed
to make everything okay was sincerity.

On Friday afternoons I would wipe the blood from my nose
and laugh with them as best I could.

So I wasn’t surprised that the restaurant
was the same as it had ever been. My mother and I ordered tea,
talked about school and didn’t say a word about my father
or any of the siblings. I guess I always wanted to be an only child.

In my old age I’m not quite that selfish,
but you will see that in me from time to time.

I think I was just happy to have someone’s undivided attention. So much
that I didn’t really think much of the way it always smelled like
the smoke from the kitchen had just become a threat. I didn’t say a word
about the fork that moved across the table when my mother wasn’t looking.

I didn’t even bring up the sudden anxiety attack that had me convinced
by the time our cheque came that we were too far
in the back of the restaurant to get out safely. Assuming someone
came out of the kitchen and asked as politely as a person
on fire could for a glass of water and a first-rate burn ward.

It was a new thing not being able to tell my imagination
to calm down and enjoy the weather. I wasn’t used to
bad dreams that could talk back, hide their faces
under comical fists
and didn’t need that messy business of sleep after a long time
of laying very, very still and trying not think very much.

Nothing happened. There was no fire,
and I felt better as we paid for the meal and left.

Outside I noticed a face pass through the middle
of the glass in the window, but it was gone before
I could tell my mother. It was as startling as the figure I then noticed
in the clouds overhead. The shape was all clumps of rain and lightning,
but that sword was pretty easy to figure out.

I held my mother’s hand
and tried to assume the best of everything
that was bigger than what I could think to say
at eight p.m. every night.

Over the years I’ve become increasingly frustrated
with things that are greater than the best a child
can think of when it comes to hope and brazen common sense.

Three Poems

The dream to come up with original content for this blog continues.

I swear.

It’s just hard to find the motivation to do so. It seems like most of my essays head over to Drunken Monkeys. That’s certainly not a bad thing.

Doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to come up with something anyway.

I can’t complain though. I’m not that negative. I’ve been traveling more, and through that, and the long line of weirdoes I’ve met along the way, I’ve actually been eager to write lately. My resolve to sell that second novel is back in fighting shape, and I’m even starting to think of how to expand a novella I wrote a while back into a third novel.

The last couple of weeks have been particularly fruitful. It’s been a long, long while since I felt the drunkenness that comes with having more images and ideas than I know what to do with (Old Crow helps with that drunkenness, but it also kills the whole spiritual high thing I was going for a moment ago). I’ve tried to nail down a few in two of the poems I’m tossing into this post, but I know that it’s going to be the kind of thing where I lose twenty such visuals for every couple I manage to lock away.

That’s okay, and the reason why that’s okay is because it’s not going to be the last time I get to knock around a small piece of the world like this.

Hot, Moonless Nights Abroad
By Gabriel Ricard

Abel came back to life on a Tuesday morning,
but Cain had already been back for years,
and everyone had always liked him more anyway.

He wrote great poetry about dysfunction,
and could ride a bicycle down any hill in San Francisco
with his eyes closed, arms out and heart way wide open.

When you risk your life like that,
every day is the last day of summer,
and when it’s gone,
when your nerve leaves you with the bill
you’re never going to get it back.

What the hell was Cain to do?
He moved to New Albany,
gained two hundred pounds
and got a job at the post office.

It was never his plan to come back and cause trouble,
or tell anyone anything they weren’t going to believe anyway.

He turned bitter in a hurry. He became quiet about it, too.
That kind of thing can happen to anybody
with unrealistic expectations of what’s waiting for them at home.

What really killed him,
and this weirdo knew a lot about dying,
was how quickly you could get bored
with a town of less than ten thousand.

Right, right, right,
yeah, yeah, yeah,

The Kindergarten teacher was a burlesque dancer
with a missing leg. You almost always wound up
with either a dead body or a bag of phony diamonds
when you bought a used car. The local chemical engineer
wore his wife’s clothes, and stopped people
from committing crimes they hadn’t even thought of yet.

One man had seen “True Grit” so many times
that he could look at it fourteen different ways.

Some of those involved pretty far-out stretches of the imagination.

Some writer also just happened to be born there
as he was making his way to the little-known town
of Gravedigger in Hollywood, California.

Hapless, foolish, bloated, lonely Abel
came to regret the whole drunken notion
of returning to the land of living.

He drank beer like Mary drank secrets.
He waited for fights with people
who tried to use his apartment complex’s dumpster
but didn’t actually live there.

When he finally decided that he would die
if he didn’t leave and soon,
he checked with some of his friends from the old days.

No one recognized him,
not even his voice,
so they just assumed he was a really,
really confident liar.

That just made things even worse.

Until The Day of My Tenth Life
By Gabriel Ricard

The sandwich shop is called Hell’s Kitchen.
I can guess,
and I’d probably be right,
that the gentleman in camouflage
and a shirt that used to be white
has been sitting out front a long time.

If he’s blind,
if he hasn’t got a friend in this blue and red world,
and if he’s been waiting for the leaves to change,
then my heart is obliged to go out to him.

If he’s just waiting for a sandwich and a winning horse,
then I wish him the best with that, too.

Even though my dearest comrades and saviors
started out as strangers I don’t ask him for his life story.
I’ve got places I don’t want to be. Places I don’t need to be.

My heart is a Hollywood Video next to a Civil War cemetery.
Or at the very least it’s catching some sun in the hands
of a young lady. She ran away from the circus
to rest her weary eyes
in the cool hush of an unforgiving room.

I will love her until the day my tenth life is up for auction.
Love her until the ninth one feels shiny and new to the touch.
Hold her until everything catches up to me.
Because a quick cut can hear me trying to breathe properly for miles.

Savages will be waiting for me in the future,
and I know they will be savages when the future becomes defunct,
and I have a whole new set of rules,
that will not reveal themselves to me
until long after the ambulance forgets to pick me up.

You pay a lot of people,
leave a lot of heirlooms on a lot of doorsteps,
I guess, I think, I suppose,
if you want to be as happy as the person
you’re cheering up in spite of your downtown health.

I didn’t ask the man outside Hell’s Kitchen for his story.
He didn’t ask me for mine.

We didn’t even exchange a nod,
but if we had made eye contact
I think we would have.

It’s not about making a lifelong connection.
It’s about finding people you know,
and I mean know,
you’re going to see standing nearby
when your private worlds simultaneously collapse.

I’m amazed at how many of us
are members in good standing of that philosophy.

Everybody’s A Drug Addict
By Gabriel Ricard

It took twenty-four years to reach out
and press my palms against the building.

There was no story there.
The memories of the brave and cynical
did not rush from the cracks to greet my tired blood.

And I waited, too. Believe me.

I might as well have been hanging around
for some easy money and one of those cowboys
who sings, but probably shouldn’t.

It wasn’t a disaster though. I didn’t cry,
or miss the bus at 35th and 5th on purpose.

I just reached out to shake hands
with those who live in the details of the shadows,
and are damn near stalking me at times.

I reached out whenever I felt the presence
of something very lost and very human
in the winds of summer. The kind of breeze
that digs deep before you can even wonder
why you’re suddenly so cold.

My youth sings on in a less-than-stellar
part of the world, and I wish all the time
that it would just shut up, go to sleep
and wake up in what I am working to make
a much more forgiving past.

This is just the kind of thing
I think about when there are more streets
around me than I know what to do with.

Bad intentions to my left.
Sobbing empires of dark clouds on up ahead.
Physical consequences of anxiety to my right.
Broken hearts and cheated livers right behind me.

What’s a young man who doesn’t actually feel young to do?
Do I play dress-up, change my name
and act that people might consider a little classier?

Do I prove that I’m smarter than at least ninety-percent
of the car crashes I’ve limped away from?

Do I learn how to at least make sense to myself?

I can’t keep visiting these old buildings,
and assuming the spark has been there
waiting for me all along.

It’s better that I act as though
I ran out of years to look forward to years ago.

Especially since it might be true,
and that one day love and travel
just won’t be enough.

Right now
I’m content
to be so good at pretending I think otherwise
that you might mistake it for arrogance.

Could be.
Could be that I’m just out of coffee.

At Least The Pooch Had Fun: My Interview With Patton Oswalt

At Least the Pooch Had Fun: My Interview with Patton Oswalt

Poor, poor neglected blog.

I have been meaning to put something worthwhile in here, and I am still forever writing down ideas and even whole paragraphs in my head, but exhaustion, monetary commitments, the usual, tedious depression, other writing projects and love all conspired against the blog. That’s an excuse I’m sure I’ve used before. It just has the added benefit of being true.

Part of the problem is that at least a few of my better essay ideas, which is something I really wanted to see a lot of on this blog, have been finding a place over at Drunk Monkeys. I’m not complaining about that. I’m always grateful to sell work. It’s just that inevitably the blog suffers as a result.

I still have ideas. I just haven’t gotten around to them. I’m going to do my best to work on that. This blog can’t just be short stories and poetry. It’s still supposed to be a testing ground for new ideas, new venues that will hopefully have some kind of positive implications.

I guess I just don’t kick my ass hard enough about getting on those ideas.

The first person I ever interviewed was Harvey Pekar. This was around 2004. I had seen the wonderful, hilarious and moving biopic based on his life and work, American Splendor, and I had read several collections of his brilliant, insightful comics. Getting his number from 411, calling him up and getting an interview were just a lot of messing around, wanting to do an interview and not knowing where to begin.

Harvey was definitely the man who had written those comics and inspired that film. He was funny, cranky, intelligent and gracious. I couldn’t have asked for a better first interview.

I was saddened when he passed away a couple of years ago. A view of the world like his is one we can never have enough of.

Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to interview a long list of writers, actors, musicians, filmmakers, performers and others. I won’t run down the entire list, but even a partial list would include George A. Romero, Henry Rollins, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, Vernon Frazer, Jill Sobule, Lance Henriksen, Tony Todd, Sid Haig, Ray Succre, Lloyd Kaufman, Utah Phillips (one of my all-time favorites, and another treasure who is unfortunately no longer living) and several others. I don’t really care if someone is or was famous. I interview people that I think will be interesting to anyone who might read it. I also interview people because I’ll always be a junkie for good conversation and for any opportunity to learn something.

The interviews unfortunately don’t come along as frequently as they used to. I don’t think there’s any special reason behind that. I just don’t get the same opportunities as I used to. Working for a horror movie site in 2006 gave me a slew of people (many of which I sadly didn’t get to interview), I tried to have an interview every month when I ran my own literary magazine and working for Unlikely Stories kept me busy with writers and other creative types. It’s not that I suddenly can’t interview people anymore. It just doesn’t come up in the usual line of work these days.

I still have a dream list though. People I think would make for a brilliant conversation. I won’t run down that list here, but it’s always there, and I’m always hopeful that the universe will throw some fantastic flash of good fortune my way.

Patton Oswalt was on that dream list. I still remember catching the hilarious, sincere documentary, The Comedians of Comedy at random one night on TV. The film was a record of Oswalt touring the country with fellow comedians Brian Posehn, Maria Bamford and Zach Galifianakis, performing shows in small, intimate venues, busting each other’s balls and discussing their careers and concepts of comedy. Besides being funny The Comedians of Comedy is a great piece on at least a part of what it is to be a working comedian. Its intelligence on the subject is a big part of what makes it so good. I can watch it at least once a year, and even imagine getting my own stand-up aspirations back on track someday soon.

A year or two later I picked up Patton’s album, Feelin’ Kinda Patton in a closing Tower Records (remember those?). I’m still amazed that my girlfriend at the time didn’t crash the car from laughing so hard (I guess it’s a bad idea to put on a comedy album while driving). I’ve enjoyed every single one of his albums, but that particular set might well be my favorite. I can get a laugh just from thinking about his bits on the apocalypse, gay retards, Tivo, Robert Evans, horrible liquor billboard ads, Black Angus and probably everything else on the album. I go through my comedy albums once or twice a month while working. Feelin’ Kinda Patton is always an essential.

Oswalt’s career has only gotten bigger since I saw Comedians of Comedy on TV so long ago. He’s been in several big movies, turned in strong, scene-stealing performances on shows like The United States of Tara, has put out a book, continues to tour and continues to be one of the best I know for summing up exactly how I feel about something.

Anyone who knows me even a little knows how much I could get out of an interview with him.

So, when a woman I was seeing at the time told me her mother was his French teacher, I put forth the idea that maybe she could help me set something up. I didn’t actually think anything would come of it. I’ve requested interviews with all kinds of people, and I’ve gotten just as many rejections with that as I have with short stories or poetry. It’s not a big deal. Like the rest of the rejection process, you get used to it.

It was a surprise then to actually get the interview. I guess it shouldn’t have been all that big of a surprise. Oswalt has always struck me as a nice guy, and it wasn’t completely unreasonable to imagine he would be willing to do something. It was just a question as always of his schedule.

Getting a response was a phenomenal opportunity. That was the only real way to look at it. I’ve tried not to be hero struck by some of the names I’ve interviewed. In my mind it’s probably a better idea to focus on that phenomenal opportunity aspect. Namely the chance to talk to someone who is a brilliant veteran of their field, and the occasion to ask good questions and continue to work at being a reasonably competent journalist.

It had been ages since my last interview, and I looked at being able to speak to one of my favorite comedians (and a pretty damn good actor, too) as a challenge. Oswalt can deliver a great interview. I’ve seen this for myself in The Comedians of Comedy and elsewhere. All I had to do was come up with the kind of questions he would be interested in answering. That’s the part I’ll probably never stop worrying about. Coming up with worthwhile questions is either easy enough to knock down in an hour, or difficult in such a way that it takes days to come up with even half of what I would ideally like to ask.

Oswalt’s questions took almost a week to put together. Blame it on the fact that I was nervous over not having done an interview in over a couple of years. You can also blame it on just being intimidated at interviewing someone I admire. It was probably a combination of the two. It wasn’t like I had never spoken to someone I had a great deal of respect for. It had simply been a while, and I wanted the interview to come off well. It was my hope that a really great conversation with a really great comedian like Patton Oswalt could serve to benefit me in the short and long runs.

Setting it up was easy. Patton was extremely gracious and accommodating, and the interview was going to run on Unlikely Stories. All I had to do was come up with the questions.

And I did. I don’t think I’ve sweated the prospect of coming up with good questions that much since I interviewed Bret Hart in 2008. Oswalt has done more than a couple of interviews in his twenty-year career. I couldn’t imagine there was a question he had never been asked, but I wanted to think I could try to come up with something.

That turned out to be more of a problem than a means of motivation. I did come up with what I thought were pretty good questions. Doubt worked itself into my thoughts as soon as I finished typing them out, but I thought I had the makings of a pretty good interview. A lot of work had gone into the questions, and I used knowing that to send them to Oswalt, sigh with relief and move on to the next thing.

I expected to wait several days, maybe even a week or two, to get the questions answered and sent back. They wound up appearing in my Unlikely Stories email just a couple of days later. Initially I was thrilled. The sooner I got the questions back, the sooner I could write up the rest of the feature, and the sooner all of it could appear on Unlikely.

Reading the answers for the first time is almost always fun. I either format the interview to match the rest of the feature, or I think of and then send out some follow-up questions. What I did with the Oswalt interview was stare in what started out as mute disbelief, and then quickly became bitter-but-still-mute disappointment. Four or five times I read over it, and the one thought I kept coming back to was simple: This had to be the worst interview I had ever done.

It demands repeating that Oswalt was extremely gracious in every way. At no point have I ever held him responsible for his short, almost annoyed answers to my long-winded, occasionally pretentious questions. The fact that he answered them and did that so quickly at least suggests to me that he was still being a nice guy. It just happened to be that the questions were lousy. He answered them as best he could. I thought about this as I looked over the complete interview. The cringing at the questions I had thought of started early on, and by the time I finally stopped reading them, I didn’t want to look at the damn thing ever again. What I wanted was a do-over. What I didn’t want was to have to send it to Unlikely Stories. Nothing could make this thing worth reading, or make me look like anything less than a complete ass. My ambition had completely screwed me over. I looked pretentious and arrogant. Oswalt simply did the best he could with the questions he was given.

Am I being too hard on myself? The couple of people I’ve shown this to have told me so, but two things I’ve never been good at taking are praise and reassurance. I’ll be working on that for what I suspect will be the rest of my life. It’s on the eternal (well, until I die) to-do list.

All the reassurance in the world isn’t going to convince me that I couldn’t have done a much better job with this. I’d like to think that can potentially be a positive thing, and that I’ll do a better job with whoever I interview next.

I’m running the interview here for a couple of reasons. I parted ways with Unlikely Stories after a working relationship of nearly ten years. This was fine, except that it happened before the Patton Oswalt feature could run. Even if I’m not happy with it I still think it would be a shame if it never saw the light of day. That’s probably my little bit of ego talking. I worked hard on this, and it would be too bad if nothing came about as a result of that work.

The other reason is that I want to keep running things at this blog that aren’t just reviews, homeless short stories and derelict poems. An interview would certainly qualify. An interview gone badly is probably even better. I still want this blog to be home to all kinds of things, and that may as well include projects that went to hell in a hurry.

I don’t dislike those particular projects. I just hope that I leave them with some kind of knowledge. Screwing the pooch is only a drag if I didn’t learn anything from it.

And I love learning. Almost as much as I love silly hats.

If you didn’t know that expression, well, go look it up. It’s not literal. I swear to God.

And I’m fully aware of the weirdly perverse pleasure I’m going to get from sharing a project in which I look like a legendary idiot. We’ll just say it’s all part of the learning experience.

And we’ll also keep in mind that this interview was conducted back in January of this year. Some of the questions might be a little bit dated. I’m not editing or changing a thing. Doing so would kind of defeat the purpose of sharing it.

This blog is neglected, but it’s not finished. I get busy, and I get depressed at running into what I feel like is the same brick ad-nausea. Those shouldn’t be excuses. I don’t want them to be, so we’ll hopefully see a little more life in this town over the coming months.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve opened up shop. Why not think of something that might celebrate that a little?

Gabriel Ricard: There will always be people who say that there’s no room for humor amidst whatever might be going on in the world at that given time, socially, economically and the like. I’ve never believed that to be true, but even I had moments in 2011 where my ability to find humor in things took a hit. There were times when I just couldn’t laugh, and I have to admit that scared me. Did you experience any thoughts like that over the past year? Was there ever a point where you thought, “Jesus, I just don’t think I can find humor right now. There’s just too much awful shit going on.”?

Patton Oswalt: No, never.  Sorry, but there’s always something funny about something.  Just depends on the approach and context.  Anything.

GR: Strictly in terms of comedy, more specifically your material, what would you say was the most compelling news story of 2011? Or has something gone down in the early months of this year that blows last year out of the water?

PO: I don’t think in terms of a specific news story.  I try to filter what I see (or fail to see) as larger trends through my own limited, personal view of the planet.  That’s where my comedy comes from.

GR: Artists of all kinds speaking out against George W. Bush during his presidency wasn’t a particularly radical concept. However, I always thought that you were one of his most persistent and vicious critics. At least, in terms of the mainstream. I remember reading something rather moving you wrote in the wake of Obama’s election in 2008. We’re nearing the end of his first term, and even some of his staunchest supporters have begun to wonder if they backed the right horse. A common sentiment in your stand-up during the Bush years was anyone or anything would be better than Bush. I would imagine you still feel that way, but I would be curious to know what your thoughts are on Obama’s first term, and if you see yourself voting for him in 2012.

PO: I will vote for him again.  He’s failed at a few things (his health care bill could have been stronger) and succeeded at some others (the auto bailout, killing bin Laden).  But Bush failed at everything.  Everything he tried he failed at.  

GR: You’ve been doing stand-up now for twenty or so years now. That would certainly qualify you as a veteran of your profession. Does it feel like it’s been that long? Do you see yourself slowing down, spending less time on the road?

PO: I’ll spend less time on the road, but probably the same amount of time going up onstage, in little rooms around Los Angeles, working on new material.

GR: Does it help the stand-up that you’ve worked in so many other fields? Writing books, writing for television, writing comic books, voice-acting in television, films and video games, appearing in live-action films and television. You’ve certainly covered a pretty wide spectrum so far. Does it help to work at these other things, and then come back to stand-up?

PO: Yes.  Anything else I do is to increase my visibility and fan base so I can do more stand-up.

GR: What’s the strangest or most surprising job you’ve ever had as a writer, actor or comedian?

PO: None of them have been particularly surprising.  It’s not like they sneak up on me.  And they’ve all been a little strange.  I mean, they’re all creative pursuits.  They’re supposed to be strange.

GR: Is Ratatouille still the thing you’re most recognized for?

PO: No.  I only did a voice in that.  Why would people “recognize” me?  My face wasn’t in it.

GR: I think what I love about people who only know you from Ratatouille is showing them some of your stand-up. This has come up a couple of times, and the reactions tend to be something along the lines of “Really? That’s the same guy?” I would say that’s a testament to your talent as a performer, that you can do an all-ages film like Ratatouille, and then do a stand-up bit about a guy looking bored to tears while shaving his balls. Did you encounter a lot of surprise from people that you can go from one of the spectrum to the other like that? I always imagined you must have met parents who know your stand-up, who are then accompanied by their children, who know you from Ratatouille.

PO: No.  I didn’t write Ratatouille. I was a performer for hire.  I was doing my stand-up for 19 years before Ratatouille.  Everyone understands that.  Why would they be at all surprised?  Unless maybe they don’t know how movies work.

GR: You’re getting a great deal of good press for your performance in the new Jason Reitman film, Young Adult, with Charlize Theron and Patrick Wilson. You play a character named Matt Freehauf, a guy who lives with his sister, walks with a permanent brace and cane, has a whiskey distillery in his garage and much like Theron’s character, is haunted by the past. It’s still a comedic role, but I would say there’s a lot more depth going on with this character than some of the others you’ve played over the years. The only other film appearance of yours I can think of that comes close to mixing humor with darkness so well is the 2009 film Big Fan. Was this a difficult role for you to play? What did you utilize to play what looked like an extremely challenging character? Other films? Your own life? I read somewhere that you consulted both an acting coach and a physical therapist to prepare for this.

PO: Yes.  Every role is difficult because it’s new and it’s a different voice and you want to serve the script and the overall project.  But doing a new stand-up bit is difficult.  Writing a book is difficult.  It’s all difficult in different ways.  And yes, I consulted an acting coach and physical therapist.

GR: Is it your hope that perhaps the critical success you’ve received with Young Adult will lead to other varied roles?

PO: Isn’t that why anyone does any project?

GR: Are there other roles lined up? Anything we can look forward to?

PO: Quite a few things.  Can’t say right now, though.  Too nebulous.

GR: Were you allowed to improvise a lot in Young Adult? Is that something you typically do in acting? I guess I thought this because you seem pretty capable of going with the flow in your stand-up, commenting on your surroundings or even on a particularly annoying audience member.

PO: I was allowed to but I didn’t.  I thought the script was really good, and I was excited to deliver it.  A few lines here and there.

GR: Speaking of audience members, I did happen to read about the woman who attempted to record a bit of yours, your response to that, a different comedienne’s response to the entire incident, and then your rebuttal, available on your website. Can you tell us a bit about that? The entire incident brings to mind other incidents of you dealing with hecklers or just people being obnoxious. You have a great talent for handling them, keeping the show on track and even creating some new material right there on the spot. I guess there would have to be quite a trial-and-error approach to learning that kind of thing.


GR: Do these people ever damage your enthusiasm for performing live?

PO: No.  They’re few and far between.

GR: Do things like YouTube, Facebook and other sites make your job as a comedian even more difficult? In that you have to be aware that even defending yourself in the midst of a performance may entail having to later defend the defense, if that makes sense.


GR: As I said, you’ve been in comedy for a long time. I’m guessing there were a fair number of lean years, and I was wondering at what point you realized that you were finally starting to make some headway? What kind of discouragement did you put up with?

PO: The same discouragement anyone puts up with who pursues anything creative. No money, bad jobs – but it was always fun, and I didn’t have to do anyone else’s work, so I never really minded.

GR: Tell us a bit about your book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, a collection of essays that was released last January. Now, this is going solely on your stand-up, but putting together a book like this struck me as something that might have been in the works for a really long time.

PO: I’d always been writing – online, stuff for magazines, TV shows and screenplays.  I just had enough stuff out there that eventually a publisher came calling  That’s how it usually works.

GR: Can we ever expect for another essay collection, or perhaps a novel?

PO: Another essay collection, yes.

GR: Are there any comedians under-the-radar that you’d like to mention?

PO: Kyle Kinane.  Rory Scovel.  Natasha Legerro.  Karen Kilgariff.  Hannibal Burress.

GR: As I said before, your career has run for roughly twenty years now. What are the biggest things that’s changed in comedy over that period of time? What has remained the same? Most importantly what is it that keeps you coming back?

PO: There were no “big changes” — they were all small and gradual and to be honest, I was concerned with just getting onstage and writing new stuff.  Same with what remained the same.  The changes are for the industry and audiences to deal with.  I keep coming back because it’s fun, and I don’t want to do anything else.

Kony 2012: Charity, Self-Absorption and Slacktivism

The problem with writing about something topical is that there’s a fair chance that everyone else has already gotten to the story and probably done a better job with it. That shouldn’t deter me, but it does make me question whether or not it’s worth throwing in my two cents. I never imagined that my blog would be a hot spot for the news of the minute, but I’ve had several ideas squashed by not being able to develop them quickly enough for the piece to be relevant. That’s the nice thing about fiction. I can generally get away with knocking around an idea for as long as I want.

I do want to branch out though. This blog has been running for several months now. Breaking out of my creative comfort zone has always been a part of the plan. I didn’t start this just to expand a bunch of movie reviews from a Facebook game. I didn’t even start this solely for the purpose of putting up a creative orphanage for the poems and short stories that have never been able to find a place to go. Both of those things are fine, but this blog was also supposed to be a chronicle of my efforts to try and expand my range. I’m not going to be able to do that by second-guessing every idea. Or worrying myself to death ahead of time as to how it might turn out.

I’m not going to accomplish anything if I’m not willing to potentially make myself look foolish. That’s a lesson I’ve learned a few times over the course of my life, and it’s one I’m trying to put into practice now.

There’s certainly no lack of news stories or social trends that I’d like to try and better understand through writing about them. I’ve chosen this one because, well, it’s been on my mind a little more than the other candidates. The aim isn’t to just write opinions about something that’s going around the news lately. I’d also like to get a stronger sense of why I feel the way I do about this story, a clearer image of my personal outlooks and reactions to things, and the best way I can do that has always been through my writing.

We’ll just see how it goes. Hopefully, it will be a learning experience that doubles as something worth reading.

I won’t know if that will be the case, until I try.

Don’t worry. There’s still going to be plenty of movie reviews and other creative nonsense. I’ve just been ready to try something else for entirely too long. It’s time to find some new ventures, and it’s time to start trying to find a better balance of being creatively fulfilled and actually making some money once in a while. I know it can be done, but I’m also aware of the odds behind succeeding at such a thing. I don’t have a lot of choice but to play those odds, and yet I’m excited nonetheless. That has to be a good sign.

If I could just find some acting work I might cheer up for more than fifteen minutes at a time.

That’s a thought, and I’m sure I’ve never, ever expressed it here before.

Kony 2012: Charity, Self-Absorption and Slacktivism

By Gabriel Ricard

I don’t know when I first heard of Joseph Kony, but I know it was well before a thirty-minute video went viral, shook Facebook and Twitter into a near-stupor with the attention it received and has since gone on to stir one of the more compelling debates to come along in recent weeks. I don’t derive any satisfaction from the fact that I didn’t need a charity, Invisible Children, to tell me about the monster behind the Lord’s Resistance Army. There’s the concept of being smug because you were one the first to get on board for a particular band, movie, writer, restaurant or something like that, which I find relentlessly irritating, and then there are those who truly believe it really matters in the end when you learned about something as significant and terrible as the ongoing situation in Uganda. It’s good that you knew, but it would be even better if you’ve actually been doing something with that knowledge.

My problem is that I rarely do anything with my knowledge. I am constantly exposed to images, videos, conversations and occasionally experiences of how profoundly and coolly horrendous this world can be. I can’t recall who told me about Joseph Kony (it may well have been my mother), and I don’t remember when it was, but I know what I did with the information. I filed it away with all the other things that give one a sense of complete despair and hopelessness. That’s selfish and a clear act of self-absorption, but I guess doing so is also a matter of self-preservation. It’s not the same as ignoring the problem, but it does come close. My own problem is one of feeling extremely limited in what I can do. I don’t have a lot of money, so I’m rarely in a position of being able to donate to any one of the seemingly countless worthy causes that I’m aware of. I live in the middle of nowhere, and I can’t drive, so giving my physical time and energy are also problematic.

Those come off as excuses. Maybe, they are. I try to see them as limitations I currently have an extremely limited amount of control over, but it’s not like I’ve risen to the cause of self-sacrifice for the greater good, every time I’ve had a chance to do so. Being one of those people who give themselves purely and unselfishly to some horror that cannot be defeated without the support of humanity would be wonderful. It’s not that I’m gunning for empowerment or personal fulfillment. Those things are nice, but they don’t call out to me. I’d just like to give more than what I have been.

In the end though, I’m a writer, and that may well be the first and best way I can contribute to the things I believe in. The bulk of my output deals in my enthusiasm and belief in the arts (which includes the occasional dick joke), but I’ve always been the product of the things I absorb, and that thankfully covers a pretty wide range of people, movements, ideas, places and more. I write about the things that interest me, but that doesn’t completely quell the fact that I’m interested in certain things that I want to share them with other people. That’s not a bad thing, I don’t think. The trick is to just not be obnoxious about it.

Facebook is great for that sort of compulsion, but there’s also Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, Tumblr and a host of other social networking sites. All of them have potential. All of them can in fact be used to create awareness and debate. There’s a lot of cynicism about the idea of “Slacktivism.” I can’t say where I first saw the word, but I think it accurately describes a growing contingency of people who truly believe that liking, commenting on or sharing a deathly somber social or political event entitles them to feel like honest-to-God activists. There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing any of those things. The cynicism people express seemingly has more to do with those take their capacity to do more than just share a video on the internet for granted. At least, that’s how it appears to me, and I think that’s a justifiable frustration. It’s great that you suddenly care about something that has nothing to do with you. What gets in the way is a person’s ability to separate that something from you. To take a reaction and use it towards charitable, unselfish means is almost never beyond one’s reach. Self-absorption, a thousand distractions both understandable and not and even being overwhelmed by discouragement tends to get in the way.

I feel as though I struggle with all of those things. All I can do is try to learn from that struggle, and to let go of selfish thoughts in relation to causes, and what I can do to aid them. Sometimes, writing about it, or just trying to generate awareness and dialog are the best tools at my disposal. I don’t say this to justify my lack of doing more. It just might make me a better contributor to the world at large if I accept this fact. I’m not in danger of breaking an arm from patting myself on the back. That’s never been my problem. What I have to do is get over the guilt of wanting to do more, and that can be just as arrogant and useless as the people who are so busy giving themselves high-fives to the victory music from Rocky that they forget what it was they shared on Facebook to begin with.

Maybe, not as bad, but it’s awfully damn useless in the end if it doesn’t lead to something that helps more than my bruised and battered sense of self.

What impresses the most about the Kony 2012 video is that I still people posting opinions and fostering dialog. I’ve remarked at least a few million times now on my misanthropy towards people and what motivates them to say and do things, but it’s hard to be complete bastard about the aftermath of Invisible Children’s lengthy video that detail Joseph Kony’s monstrous deeds, and rally for others to join the cause. What I do understand is the extreme skepticism of Invisible Children’s qualifications as a charitable organization. Even the disgust some have felt towards the video’s smarmy, arrogant posturing makes sense. Sitting through the video is a task and a half. Not just because of its details, but because of how it comes across. I had a lot of difficult discouraging the thought that the filmmakers were just as concerned with crafting an image for themselves and Invisible Children as they were with their finding an audience for the video’s content. I never really did discourage it. The video is so smug that its heart is almost lost in an ocean of pretention.

So what? It’s unimportant what I think of the video from a technical or narrative standpoint. It’s that aftermath that’s held the greatest fascination for me. God bless those detractors. Even the ones who are clearly just getting off on wanting to be right. They have worked harder than those filmmakers in pointing out a number of highly suspect points about this organization. Their points have reached almost as large an audience, as those who posted the video with little thought towards doing some genuine research on their own part. Major news outlets have covered some of the very critical questions these doubters have raised. Issues such as Invisible Children’s handling of their funds (which they have responded to on their website), their desire to see military action, their failure to include Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, in their condemnation of Kony and the LRA. Or how the video failed to mention that Kony is reportedly no longer actually in Uganda. Some might respond to all of this by wondering if raising these questions will make a difference. I’ve noticed that it has actually made a difference. A quick glance at my Facebook news feed reveals people who are actually responding to the dissent behind Invisible Children in a way that might actually be meaningful. They’re actually looking for and then sharing information on organizations that don’t have the benefit of a slick video, but don’t raise quite as many red flags.

Nagging thoughts still creep in. Will this momentum have long-term implications? Will this receive the time and attention it truly deserves? I really don’t know, but I want to hope it does. That hope might be foolish, but I’ll give it a shot all the same. One thing is certain, and that’s the inescapable fact that if Invisible Children sincerely wanted to make Kony famous, then they have succeeded wildly. That video has received seen over forty-million hits thus far, and that number is certain to continue climbing for at least a while.

And what am I going to do? Whatever I can. I don’t want to feel empowered by what I do. I just want to see what hope, compassion an open mind and strength can do. That might have to be limited to writing, talking to people and sharing information and ideas. While I’m not about to wait for a humanitarian award I will always ask myself if what I’m doing is all I can do, and I will only look at that in terms of what I want to assist. Anything else is just an obstacle that gets in the way of whatever the actual subject might be.

However, I will always be engrossed by the evolution of a story on the internet. It’s engaging to see what happens to the original idea, what people do or don’t do with it when the ball is in their hands. Call it a modern-day version of people-watching.

Call this article whatever you want. All of this has been very keenly on my mind lately, and is often the case the best way for me to process something on my mind is to write about it. I have no clue what the writing will mean to others, and I shouldn’t care. This is just an aside to things around us that matter a whole lot more than what goes through my head. Commentary is nothing without action. Talking and thinking are not sins to the best of my knowledge. What is a sin is letting it get in the way of exhausting those actions.

If something truly good happens from all this everything else will just become mere static. When that happens a person is able to see that the work at hand is never truly done, and that thought will hopefully encourage them to get up in the morning, and do it all over again.

The following links were invaluable in the writing of this piece.

Kony 2012: Invisible Children And 7 Other Charities Fighting For Child Soldiers
How the Kony Video Went Viral
Think Twice Before Donating to Kony 2012, the Charitable Meme du Jour
What The Hell Is All This ‘#Kony2012′ Crap About?

Three Poems

I’m procrastinating on all those bold, fantastic new things I want to do for this blog.

I swear I’m going to work on it.


Pinterest, sobbing over a Tumblr of NyQuil, peculiar women and articles about New York in the 1920’s are very, very critical to the work that I do. I hope that just goes without saying.

Women Love Jesus Talk
By Gabriel Ricard

I’m honored to say
that some of the best Shakespeare plays
I’ve ever seen
have been in junkyards,
and loser-takes-all boxing rings.

The girls are ridiculous at those.
A dozen strange head cases just like me
are lined up to kick the old cigarette machine,
and then act like they picked up the limp
chasing them across town in elementary school.

I don’t stand out in these places.
My clothes are not brand-new,
the plain, ordinary coffee has been half-gone for hours
and my footsteps are muffled against all this noise.

For the record
they still carry the stupid hopes
and charming loser ambitions of everyone,
who used to come here,
and secretly wished to one day grow old.

Someone else already broke their neck. They tied a bed sheet
around their neck and tried to fly
out the first-floor window
amidst glorious, heavy metal fanfare.

I was actually there for that.
Would you believe it was also
the one and only night
where I almost got hitched?

Everything was glorious and unreasonable that night.
The band was ready to leave Kansas City behind.
I traveled hundreds of miles,
and almost forgot how much the sun can feel like a Vegas hack
when you go long enough without staring it down.

I deserve to be blind,
or telling people how hard it is love again
on one good leg.

I’m sure the hole in my stomach
could contribute a lot
to a game of basketball.

I wake up in the night,
remember I’ll never be innocent,
remember no one else is there,
and I suddenly start coughing for no reason.

A spiritual woman told me that’s enough.
Another spiritual woman told me to try harder.

I loved them both,
and you can probably diagnose me
with a phonebook worth of a paper
on that alone

A gang of bright-eyed atheists took me out to lunch.

I swear,
their Cadillac never went slower than one-fifty.

I might have laughed harder in the past,
and I know I’ll laugh harder in the future,
but there was something,
I hate to say it,
but there was something magical
about that night.

I didn’t breathe a word of that to them though.

Can you imagine how that would have gone over?

Friendly Skies
By Gabriel Ricard

I didn’t have a clue
as to where the hell I was,
but that didn’t stop me
from having a couple drinks.

I knew I was somewhere
in the city of San Francisco.

I knew I was in one of those
ugly parts of town that appeals
to artist crowd.

I had that much to go on,
and it was enough in my mind
to let me think that there was
nothing at all wrong with standing
in the middle of a crowded loft
with a cigarette and a drink
I couldn’t immediately identify.

There was some music,
a lot of socially acceptable racist jokes,
some bondage and suburban witchcraft,
and a bunch of alcoholics dressed
in nostalgia acts and talking about the war.

I didn’t know a single person there,
except for some Bettie Page bukkake queen
knock-off who insisted that I knew
how to get back to North Berkeley.

And when I told her I didn’t,
she promised me that I’d feel terrible
when I checked the papers tomorrow morning,

But I didn’t see much of her after that,
so she really wasn’t the problem as much
as somehow making it back home was.

I left the party
around the time I caught two girls
performing a blood oath
with what was left of this guy
I had earlier seen in the company
of a twelve year-old dressed like Sailor Moon.

Even at twenty-two,
younger than half the room,
I was still too old for this sort of thing.

I made it down onto the street,
more than a little drunk,
and lit a cigarette while I tried
to figure out the next moment.

in a desperate bid for the rush
of a nice change of pace.

But as I was thinking,
a homeless gypsy walked by
and asked me for a dollar.

I gave it over,
in need of a little Vancouver karma,
and she reached out
to take my hand and kiss it.

As she did,
she flipped over to face the palm,
looked it over a second,
then let go and told me not to bother.

I asked her what she meant,
but my timing was bad,
and I caught her just as she was getting
run over while crossing the street.

The driver didn’t stop,
and the gypsy didn’t move.

I sighed and managed to check my watch.

I somehow knew
that I had less than fifteen minutes
to find the BART station and the last ride
back to the safety of Hayward.

There wasn’t much else
to do but stumble across the street
and make a sharp turn at the corner
of a bad feeling and a hell of a long shot.

There wasn’t much else to do but laugh
and laugh and laugh and laugh some more.

All the while waiting for the crowd
above ground and below to get a little nervous.

Kansas Visits Virginia
By Gabriel Ricard

They hit the back roads,
miles and more grassy miles
of hitchhikers decked out in long lost fashions
while they wait for their stories to be told.

He guns the truck to eighty-five
and smacks her hand when she tries
to reach for the radio.

Miles and more underworked miles.
Fields with solitary homes in the distance
where no one wants to be stand still
but can’t leave for fear of those violent rumors
that have been following around the wind that picks up
at eight p.m. every night.

The people are few
and demented in between and seem to know
before anyone when trouble is balling up its fists
for something bad on the horizon.

The three of them in that truck
know all about it. They finished high school
four years ago. A lot of the time it feels like
they’re paying off the student loans
of twenty ambitious icons.

They got married two years ago
and have yet to get any children out of  it. No one can say
they haven’t tried. Not one friend or well-wisher can claim
he hasn’t prayed enough,
or that she hasn’t seen enough kindly southern doctors.

Youngsters love to let hope drift through
their fingers. The two of them are starting
to really hate people like that.

The third person,
the third wheel,
he doesn’t really hate anything. He writes books
or some such thing, tells jokes and borrows
a lot of money from loan sharks who are always
auditioning for one reality show or another.

He sits in the back of the truck
and miraculously gets his cigarette lit
every single time.

The couple in the front hasn’t said much
since leaving the baby shower two hours ago.
She worked out all her crying in the bathroom
at Applebees. He dug his hands into his pockets
as he went inside the gas station to pay twenty dollars
on number five.

They’re getting mean in their old age and
Terrified that they might run out of people
who will put up with it. He never wants to send her
packing into the kitchen floor. She never, ever wants
to disappear at a rest stop during one of their trips to Northern Virginia.

In the back of the truck
the third wheel knows they’re running out of time.

He prays for wisdom regardless of consequence.
He still manages to keep from getting angry
and wishes he was just someone who leapt from
car to car, truck to truck, city to world at large
to do nothing more than observe, nod
and move on.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Thirty

Well, I guess it’s nice to know I can finish a project once in a while.

When I decided to expand the Facebook 30 Day Movie Challenge to what would essentially become thirty essays on film, I didn’t think it was going to be a very big deal. I saw it as a nice way to get this blog rolling along with original material. Not just an orphanage for short stories and poems that couldn’t find a home. I guessed it would take a month, maybe two, to finish, give me the chance to write movie reviews again, keep the blog awash in material and perhaps set off a spark or two for other ideas.

The other ideas are indeed playing ping-pong in the arena of potential, and no one’s going to argue I didn’t get to write movie reviews again. What I completely underestimated was how much of a self-inflicted (the worst kind) chore this would be at times, or how long it was going to take to expand on thirty movie reviews, most of which are only three or four hundred words on my Facebook page, and turn them into something I could be relatively pleased with.

That’s okay. I love a good learning experience sometimes. I’m pleased I saw this through to the end.

It seems as though people dug these. I hope so. Writing for pleasure comes first, but that only carries a person but so far. Eventually, you want to hopefully find an audience of some kind. I’m doing okay with that, I think, but I can always do better.

That will probably never change, the fact that I should be doing better, working harder, and that’s as disheartening as it is enthralling. To have both of those things at once is at least guaranteed to keep me awake.

No idea if it’s actually going to lead me down some kind of positive road.

Well, nothing else to do at this point but say thanks to those who hung in there through all thirty reviews, and to ask anyone reading this to hang around for whatever’s coming next. Look for more poetry, more short fiction, some experiments, some, yes, reviews and more.

I can’t promise anything. Except that I’ll do my best to make it worth your time.

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Thirty: The Last Movie You Saw

Sorcerer (1977)
Directed by: William Friedkin
Starring: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal

A recent, rare interview with Gene Hackman left me wanting to watch The French Connection again. Hackman is one of my favorite actors in general, and William Friedkin, who directed the film, is one of my favorite directors. The French Connection might well be the best film either one of them has ever done. It’s a wonderful tour of vintage New York, and it’s a ferociously-paced, brilliantly shot and well-acted film (with my favorite car chase of all time). Watching it again was a pleasure, and it sent me over to Netflix to see which William Friedkin movies I still hadn’t gotten around to seeing. There’s a few. I’ve seen and loved The Exorcist, Blue Chips, To Live and Die in L.A. I thought Rules of Engagement was shockingly stupid for the talent involved. I still need to see Bug one of these days, and I’m eager to see Friedkin’s latest, Killer Joe whenever it makes its way over to a wider release.

I noticed Sorcerer as one of his films that I had never seen, and I was surprised. It looks like something I would have snatched up and seen ages ago. The cast looked great, it was Friedkin’s follow-up to monstrous back-to-back successes The French Connection and The Exorcist, and the story, a remake of the classic The Wages of Fear, all came together as something I just didn’t imagine was going to steer me wrong. The film was a notorious critical and commercial flop in its time (and that wouldn’t be the first time for Friedkin), grossing something like twelve-million against a then-substantial budget of twenty-million, but it’s in recent years come to be appreciated as a beautifully-suspenseful film, and something of a minor cult classic.

All the *really* good cult classics make sure to include fire.

It’s a mixed blessing that by now, Netflix is pretty good at predicting how I’m going to rate a movie. Their guess was that I would give Sorcerer a 4.1 out of five.

Between that, and people like Roger Ebert and Stephen King counting the film amongst their favorites (Ebert was one of the few major critics to give the film a good review during its original release), I imagined I was in pretty good shape for a pretty good movie.

I was right, too. Sort-of.

The problem isn’t in the story. It’s a good one, in which four men, (Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou) from four different parts of the world find themselves, for different reasons, living as exiles in a remote Nicaraguan village. The village almost functions as a character unto itself. It’s a filthy, desperate place. One doesn’t go there by choice. One goes there because they have no choice. The horrors of the circumstances that brought the four men there quickly becomes small, in comparison to what caused them to flee their original lives in the first place. Friedkin’s best films capture the chaos, danger and earthly Hell of where they occur. Sorcerer is no different. These four men might be running away from something, but they don’t want to die in that village.  That proves to be their collective motivation for taking on the assignment of driving two trucks full of volatile nitroglycerin to an oil well that has caught fire, and can only be repaired with explosives. The money might be good, it might make their doomed dreams come true, but only the truly hopeless would take on such a job. Hopeless is a good word for not only the tone of the movie, but for the four protagonists themselves. We may or may not want them to succeed, but we’re in constant doubt from beginning to end, if they can make it through the job and find the redemption that drives them, like a very specific, intoxicating kind of madness.

That madness and drive is realized through great performances by all four leads. Scheider stands out in particular. It’s a shame his career slowed somewhat. He always brought a tired-and-yet-somewhat-manic humor to his characters. They were either good-naturedly enduring their circumstances, or they were doggedly pursuing an obsession that almost never resulted in a happy ending. Cremer, Rabal and Amidou all turn in wonderful performances that dually stand on their own and contribute countless miles of humanity to the story, but the star here is definitely Scheider. His transformation over the course of the film is nothing short of haunting. This isn’t a horror film, but the depths Scheider sinks to, in order to get what he wants, are truly frightening at times. All of them achieve this startling, tragic change, but Scheider is the one we barely recognize by the conclusion of their unforgiving journey.

All in all it’s a pretty rough weekend for the guy.

The last hour of the film reflects that frightening aspect in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. There’s no question that Friedkin knows how to pile on the severity of each moment in his best films. Sorcerer suffers greatly from a painfully slow first half. It’s not that a slow build to something as violent as the second half was a bad idea. It just doesn’t work as well as it should have, given the people involved, and it can make getting to that pitch-perfect second half a bit of a chore. The sin is not in taking time and care in establishing four back-stories, bringing their dire situations to a boiling point until the task of driving those trucks becomes a silver-lining. The problem is that it just didn’t need to take that long. Sometimes, moving this slow works, and sometimes, it doesn’t. Some may disagree, but Sorcerer probably could have benefited from a slightly shorter running time. It wouldn’t have hurt the white-hot intensity of the second-half or damaged the range and force of the acting. These things would have come through regardless. Of those four back-stories none of them made much of an impact on my ability to be invested in that second half.

It’s worth noting that the European cut of the film was along these lines. Twenty-eight minutes in all were removed. This includes everything that shows us what brought the four men to Nicaragua to begin with. It would be interesting to compare that version (which would knock the movie down to something like ninety minutes), cut and released without Friedkin’s consent, to the one I saw. I’m not sure eliminating all four background stories entirely would have been the way to go. I still wonder if even a few minutes left on the cutting room floor would have made the difference for me.

Some say you have to watch a movie twice to really get what the movie is trying to show you, and that might be the case here. For now I can only say that Sorcerer didn’t truly get my attention, until Scheider and company begin their trek. That’s when God, the universe, bad luck or whatever you want to call it holds up both fists and begins swinging with a vicious attention to the details of pain. It’s expected that everything that can go wrong will go wrong, but that doesn’t make it any less riveting. The weather turns ugly at one point and assaults the two trucks with a hurricane season’s worth of rain and wind. It gets worse from there very quickly, becoming an element of a possible suicide when one of the trucks attempts to cross what might be the most rickety, perilous bridge in film history. That the truck fell of the bridge several times during filming shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Being relatively certain of the truck barely making it across doesn’t mean a thing when the scene unfolds before us. The tension becomes something thick, almost tangible. Our attention on the disasters that appear legion, descending upon the truck as struggles along, is absolute.

It’s not as bad when you later learn that the local post office goes through this every single day.

I hate to keep dividing the film in terms of the first and second halves, but it’s difficult not to when one is so distinctly more enjoyable than the other. As a whole Sorcerer is pretty good, somewhere in the neighborhood of a 3 ½ out of 5, if we’re going to use Netflix’s rating system (may as well). Most of that rating comes from the second hour, but Scheider, Cremer, Rabal and Amidou are collectively what make the difference between the first hour being sluggish, and the kind of thing that’s so dismal, you have no interest in sticking around for the rest. If you feel like Sorcerer is taking a little while to really get out of the gate, stick around. The best of Sorcerer is able to stand alongside the best of William Friedkin’s career. That’s not too shabby, considering his filmography.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Nine

Being miserable but still wanting to work is frustrating sometimes. I’m not at a loss for things I’d like to write and rant about. Fifteen minutes on any reputable news site or blog yields just as many ideas. SOPA is a good example, but in general there’s more than enough horror in the world to fill this blog with social and political commentary.

It’s about time I took a serious swing at that stuff, and not just allude to it in everything else I write, so you may see a process of experimentation with that type of writing in the near future.

Hopefully, there will be a long vacation from movie reviews for a while. I’m pretty burnt out on them, but I’m halfway tempted to try a short-ish column of some kind.

Then there’s just banging out some free-wheeling observation pieces that I hope will have a decent humorous slant going for them. I still dream of writing for, and this blog is as good a place as any to work out the best voice for trying to do that.

My mind is more erratic with conflicting, warring thoughts than I can ever remember it being. Writing is still a beautiful way of sorting them out. With a little luck this blog should become an awfully interesting scene over the next few months.

So, stick around, put up with the tail-end of this challenge and wish me luck.

Being unhappy for no reason is no excuse for a lack of productivity, or for not trying at all times to find the next thing that keeps you at the table you worked so hard to get to in the first place.

I’ll be twenty-seven the next time I blink for more than a few seconds. I complain constantly to myself of not being where I thought I would be when I was seventeen, eighteen. Moments of the universe’s giddy idea of bad fortune aside I have no one to blame for that but myself.

And, really, weird ladies, disgruntled gentlemen, wouldn’t you like to see me talk about something else besides movies and self-loathing?

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Nine: First Movie You Remember Seeing

Ghostbusters II (1989)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Sigourney Weaver

One of the recurring themes of these reviews is that many of the movies mentioned here are ones that have been favorites for a long time. A lot of things act as markers over the course of my life so far. People, places, certain books, certain albums, TV shows to a very minor extent, and, of course, movies. Some of the long-time personal classics mentioned in past reviews, I can remember the exact time, place, surroundings and even feelings that happened to be around at the same moment. Others are vaguer, and seem as though they have been part of my landscape for as long as I’ve been alive. I’m not going to remember the first time I saw them. That’s fine. It’s usually not important. I would call it a mildly engrossing, self-absorbed trivia of a kind.

Sometimes, I just like to look at the first time I saw a movie, and see how it’s held up over the years in the face of everything else in my life evolving, changing, disappearing or moving past me. I’m interested in seeing how the consistent (my love of movies) moves, alters or endures within the inconsistent (damn near everything else).

I’m going to cheat slightly. I’ve already listed the first movie I ever remember seeing (Ghostbusters). So, instead I’m going with the first movie I ever saw in a theater. Going to the theater can still be a wonderful experience. I don’t go as often as I would like, but some of my favorite memories are that of going to a theater, sitting in the dark, blinking and then being at a complete loss to explain how a couple of hours could have gone by so quickly.

Bad movies can have the opposite effect. You’ll check the time a dozen times, stagger out of the theater as quickly as possible when it’s over and wonder if it’s possible to get the time and money back.

That’s happened to me, but not so often as to sour me on going forever. I’m twenty-six, have been going to movie theaters for twenty-two years, and I still get a nerd rush from going to see a movie at night, completely loving it and then coming out of the theater to the strange blur of the real world. The blur goes away, the evening goes on, but the movie, if it was any kind of impact on you at all, stays with you for a while.

It was a much larger experience for me as a child, but then again, most things were. I’m just happy that I still like going at all.

It makes sense that the first film I would see in a theater would be Ghostbusters II. At that point in my life I was pretty damn obsessed with the whole thing. My parents saw no alternative but to take me. I still remember not being able to sleep the night before. My optimism in those days was pretty solid. There was no way this could end badly. The thought that the movie might be intensely terrifying on the largest screen I had ever watched a movie on, or the possibility of the movie not being very good didn’t even occur to me. I had countless toys, an already-worn-out copy of the first movie on VHS, a proton pack, a trap, the firehouse and watched the cartoon every time it came on.

There was no way this could end badly.

No way at all.

In retrospect I blame my parents. My four-year-old perspective was not ready for Vigo or the part where Ray, Winston and Egon go into the sewer to find the river of slime. I had seen horror films up to that point, but this was different. This was at a movie theater with a screen the size of a small island. Speakers roared and shook the darkness with music and sound effects from every corner of the room.

I wasn’t especially crazy about the dark back then.

My parents realized they had made a mistake pretty early on, but I’ll always remember that sewer scene. I wasn’t handling it very well, and my parents used the moment when the gang decides to go back and get their proton packs as a last-ditch effort to calm me the hell down. I would imagine the other patrons in the theater were pretty sick of me at this point. I’ve dealt with freaked out kids at movie theaters, and I’ve wanted to hit whoever brought them with a sock full of quarters.

My parents managed to calm me down, and then Ray had to go and finally track down the river of slime.

That didn’t please me a whole lot. I turned to my mother and echoed one of Ray’s lines from the film. “Why aren’t they going back?! Why aren’t they getting their proton packs?! They NEED their proton packs!”

And so forth.

It was a long time before my parents took me to see a movie.

Not even Bill Murray’s pscyhic powers could save me.

I loved the movie though. I thought it was just as good as the original. Over the course of my childhood I watched it just as many times. Things like Vigo became a good deal less frightening as I got older.

Almost twenty-two years later, and I still watch it every once in a while. It hasn’t aged perfectly, but it’s holding steady. I’ve come to realize through the years that it’s not nearly as good as the original. There’s a lot of great things in it (like Peter MacNicol stealing every scene he’s in as Vigo’s lackey, and the whole completely left-field romantic subplot between Rick Moranis and Annie Potts), but it just doesn’t have that lightning-in-a-bottle sense of fun that the first one had. The writing and cast can barely hide the fact that they’re pretty much just trying to repeat the magic. There isn’t a lot of originality to be found.

Does that really matter though? I don’t think so. It’s a good formula, and it would have been foolish to mess around with it too much. Ghostbusters II is still an incredibly entertaining movie. Murray asking Akroyd if he’s been sleeping with the slime, followed by Akroyd looking entirely too uncomfortable, is still one of my favorite bits from either movie. The same goes for Murray, and his horrible TV show, Ernie Hudson’s encounter with the ghost train and Ramis’ great deadpan line, “We had part of a slinky, but I straightened it.”

Another endearing quality of Ghostbusters II are the small, distinctive roles filled out by actors like Kurt Fuller (whose interactions with Murray are fun), Kevin Dunn as a psychic, Ben Stein, Philip Baker Hall, Cheech Marin and Brian Doyle-Murray as the psychiatrist who wearily listens to the Ghostbusters’ pleas to be let out of the madhouse before Vigo ushers in his “season of evil.” (I would argue that’s every Christmas, but I’m not the ghost of a 17th century warlord).

I also didn’t know until recently that Max Von Sydow did the dubbing for Vigo. That’s worth a couple of brownie points for the movie right there. I’ve often wished my own life was narrated by a man whose voice probably makes God nervous.

This movie has plenty to enjoy. It just doesn’t stand on quite the same level as the first one. I can live with that, and I can therefore enjoy the movie on its own terms.

There’s a good story, too. I dig the idea of a long-dead European tyrant haunting a painting, drawing energy from a river of slime beneath the streets of New York City, and how this pulls the Ghostbusters out of litigation and obscurity, and back to work (the courtroom scene, with Moranis as their sublimely incompetent lawyer, is great). I’ve seen worse examples of a follow-up to a classic going through the paces. Could it have been better? Maybe. Should it have been made at all? That’s up to individual opinion. Probably not, but I’m glad they made it anyway. Ghostbusters is one of those things I unapologetically can’t get enough of. As long as the entire gang is on board they’ll have my complete attention.

Ghostbusters II at least deserves credit for one thing, even if you hated the entire thing. It got Bill Murray back after a four-year exile from acting, with the exception of 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors, after the failure of the underrated Razor’s Edge. I’m certainly not going to complain about that. I don’t even blame him for wanting nothing to do with Ghostbusters III (the last time I checked). Two movies just might be pushing it. This sequel will always have a place in my library and geekdom memories. I’m not going to weep if all we have to enjoy is a great movie, a good movie, a fantastic video game, a memorable animated series and an assortment of books and comics. Why do we need anything else?

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Eight

I often wish I had the means to do videos or even podcasts, if only so I could steal that haunting, soft opening Ellen Barkin rocked in every episode of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour.

Go find it. I’m not going to run an example of that intro. It just wouldn’t be the same as actually saying it.

Two more reviews for the series?

Oh boy. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m going to be finally finished with this by the end of this month. It’s best to just shoot straight through the last two days, so I’m not going to be running anything else until thirty reviews are committed to this blog. We’re on day twenty-eight, and the last two may as well be already written.

God knows what’s next for this blog. I have ideas, but none of them are setting the world on fire for me at this exact moment. That could be my mood, or it could be a hint from upstairs that I should wait for some inspiration. Being finished with this will probably clear away a lot of excess cobwebs, and make room for new ones. I hope so. I’m writing more than usual right now, but I’m still waiting for an idea that sets off that mild but wonderful obsessive steak. I want to fall in love with an idea the way I fall in love with an unbelievable woman. That wish has been lingering in every other project for a while now. It’s time I became deathly serious about finding a project that sets off that kind of love. I’m already thinking (an occasional hobby of mine), but I’m looking to finishing and then cutting these loose ends around my neck.

It’s time to move on, and trust for the best to meet somewhere along the way.

On an unrelated note, it was around this time that I was running lines for my role in Frost/Nixon, so subsequently acting has been on my mind even more than usual. I have no idea when the next gig will come along, and that’s pathetically distressing.

Nothing to do but hope and pay attention for anything that looks promising.

That’s often the case, it would seem. I’m not complaining. Simply observing.

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Eight: Movie With Your Favorite Villain

Richard III (1995)
Directed by: Richard Loncraine
Starring: Ian McKellen, Annette Benning, Jim Broadbent

Choosing the movie with my favorite all-time hero was relatively easy. Yes, there were contenders for the spot, but it didn’t take long to sort through them and decide on a favorite. I didn’t doubt my pick for a moment. Close seconds aside, Indiana Jones did not get much of a real challenge from other possibilities, or any of those close seconds.

Those who know me know that while I can appreciate a great hero, I’m much more likely to enjoy the company of a truly memorable villain. A classic villain needs a hero of equal stature to achieve immortality, realized through their conflict, but I’ve always felt that the hero needs the villain more than the other way around. A villain without a good guy who measures up can still be supremely entertaining. A hero without a worthy opponent usually just bores me to the point of a mild, half-awake coma.

The only time I ever give a damn about Superman tends to be when he’s facing Lex Luthor. I’m a fantastic for anything-Batman, but my interest in the character is never any higher than when he’s up against The Joker. Peter Cushing needed Christopher Lee. Optimus Prime is even better with Megatron. Sherlock Holmes to Moriarty, and Liam Gallagher to Noel Gallagher (although I’m not quite sure who the good guy/bad guy is in that one).

This list can go on, but it shouldn’t. The point is that choosing my favorite film villain was a much more difficult task than picking the hero. I didn’t lose sleep over it (it’s not like I sleep very well to begin with), but I there was considerably more thought involved in this category than with most of the other days. Lots of second-guessing, lots of moments when I thought I had made a choice, only to then think of someone else.

Ian McKellen in Richard III has a couple of things going for it against other contenders. McKellen himself is one of the finest actors of our time. He is as captivating and convincing in heroic roles (a couple of people might have seen him in Lord of the Rings), as he is when it a film demands he play the exact opposite (the X-Men films, or even the underrated Apt Pupil). I like him either way, but he entertains me just a bit more as a bad guy, and he’s never entertained more than he did as Richard III.

Go ahead, call him a queer.

That’s one reason. The other is that it seems as though the character itself is something of a prototype for a lot of other villains I like. I look through a list of favorites, notice similarities between them and Shakespeare’s version of the real-life king and keep in mind that Richard has a couple of centuries on the rest of my list. He’s one of the earliest maniacal villain s I’m aware of, and after a lot of thought I decided he was my favorite.

I don’t think you get to truly consider yourself a badass, until you’ve screamed “My Horse! My horse! My kingdom for a horse!” from behind of the wheel of a scout car that’s being attacked from all sides by the sights and sounds of your army getting the living crap kicked out of it.

That scene pops into my head quite often. McKellen’s Richard is a monster, but he’s a charming monster, and no one can say he’s not ready to go to bat. We know he’s headed for a fall, but we also know he’s not going to make that easy for anyone who’s coming after him.

My choice in such a strong field of contenders gets considerable help from Richard III being one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched a number of films based on Shakespeare’s works in the last ten years or so. Richard III is my favorite.

Tromeo and Juliet is pretty damn good, too though.

Like a lot of people, I had to get the hell away from high school in order to finally start appreciating Shakespeare. I’ve been slow to make my way through his work, but I’ve come to truly enjoy plays like The Merchant of Venice and King Lear. For the most part the tragedies are infinitely more interesting to me (someone told me once that The Merchant of Venice was originally intended as a comedy, but I really don’t know if that’s true).

Richard III is also my favorite of his plays, period, and Richard Loncraine’s 1995 film adaptation is a brilliant reinterpretation. There are distinct differences between the film and the original material, but the center of the story, Richard himself, is unchanged. The character leaves a lot of room for an actor skilled at playing bad guys. Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone and Al Pacino have all good turns as Richard in other film versions (I’ve never seen the Olivier version, and that’s something I need to change one of these days). All those guys were good, but they can’t even come close to the lofty heights reached by the vicious, deranged menace McKellen punches into every single line and gesture. McKellen uses both his talents as an actor and fan of the play to deliver a performance that is as sinister as it is enthralling. It makes sense that he had a hand in adapting Richard III for the screen alongside Loncraine. His belief in the story and character is prevalent. Every line is delivered with intensity and passion to spare.

“Let me just finish this smoke, and then I’ll go back to murdering everyone.”

Other great actors are in the movie, but sometimes, it’s hard to pay attention to them. Robert Downey Jr (who looks pretty sedate throughout), Annette Benning, Jim Broadbent and Maggie Smith make the most of their time. Nigel Hawthorne is wonderful, fatally tragic from the onset as Richard’s brother. Everyone is great, but the name on the marquee is still the one that we’re hopefully going to pay the most attention to. This is the kind of role that could lend itself to drowning in camp under an actor with no concept of balance. McKellen has balance to the point of making it look easy. He’s proven that in just about everything he appears in. He plays Richard full-tilt and straight down the highway to hell, but he never reaches comical heights. It’s entertaining, but it’s also dark, intense stuff. What’s chilling is in how he plays Richard so smoothly that we sometimes forget the horrors of his political ambitions. If someone wanted to, regardless of their particular politics, they could probably draw parallels between Sir Ian’s performance, and the notion of people in real life being so taken by a public figure that they are able to practice intentional amnesia in response to what they’re really up to. That is one of the most gripping facets of Richard III.  We are able to at times lose ourself in the performance itself. More than once, McKellen makes anyone decent look pretty dull by comparison.

The 1930’s London backdrop does a lot for this movie, too. It’s a perfectly-realized atmosphere of chaos, fear, greed and insanity. It’s a natural fit for the drama that unfolds. This is the perfect stage for a madman to swoop in, tear the house down and go out via the same sword he used for his bloody rise to power. All the way to the end Richard III is a perfect example of what film can do to enhance something like a Shakespearean play. It adds something worthwhile to an often-told tale. While never forgetting that beneath all of that is a story and central character as rich and compelling as when they were first created. Shakespeare’s plays live on because of people like Ian McKellen.

Looking again at the more recent films, books, TV shows, comics and the like it’s hard to imagine some of those other villains matching Richard for ambition and ferocity. Most of them wouldn’t stand a chance in a confrontation. Barring my opinion of Laurence Olivier’s film, whenever I finally see it, I see Ian McKellen as the greatest actor to ever take on the best villain I’ve ever seen in a film. Richard III is unblemished filmmaking from top to bottom, but McKellen is what puts the movie on my list of classics.