Monday, April 22, 2019

Arya and Gendry: Real Talk

Arya (creepy stare): You make that weapon I designed yet?

Blacksmith (apprentice): Yes.

Arya (creepy question): How many women you you knock dem boots with?

Blacksmith Apprentice (remembering she's phenomenal with weapons and he just handed her a huge one): Gee, how does one remember such things?

Arya (mega creepy): you know...tell me

Blacksmith Apprentice (calculating the number that will not get his throat slit if he says the wrong one): Three? Yeah. Three. I have all of my (straight) teeth in medieval times. I'm not covered in rickets and rampant malnutrition. I have a job and I grew up and live in Whore Central.  I'm played by an attractive person who waxes his chest, so definitely...three.

Arya: Great. I've thought you could get it since I met you.

Blacksmith Apprentice: Since back when you could successfully pass as a boy and were still processing watching your pop's head get cut off?

Arya: I kill people all the time; have I mentioned that again in the past 30 seconds?

Blacksmith Apprentice: Um, I too have always wanted you since the moment I laid eyes on you when you were just a crossdressing preteen riddled with PTSD.

Arya: So,  I kill people all the time; have I mentioned that? But I ain't been 'bout that sex yet, and we gon' die so I wanna know what it feels like.

Blacksmith Apprentice (quickly, under his breath):  It's probably going to feel like VD transmission and unplanned pregnancy.

Arya: What was that?

Blacksmith Apprentice: I said that I would love to enact the sex at the psycho munchkin rich girl, who I'm easily four points ahead of on a ten point scale, in a foundry where I've been wearing leather pants (and no underwear) next to a blazing forge. We have zero chemistry, but, you know, I'm into that.

Arya:  Check this out. Not only am I super pale, I'm covered in grisly, massive, purple scars.

Blacksmith Apprentice:  Thank God. There's no way I could perform if you were not.

Arya:  Have I mentioned that I cut people's faces off and wear them?

Blacksmith Apprentice:  Your words are like verbal viagra. Truly.

Arya:  And remember, we can't make this last forever because we have an army of undead descending on us to cut us into little pieces and the pieces that aren't cut up will reanimate to go kill other people, so you're gonna need to be quick about it.

Blacksmith Apprentice: So you want me to speed through pseudo forcible sex at an awkward virgin on itchy-ass hay?

Arya: Yes. That.

Blacksmith Apprentice: I'd love to make this last hours, but I'll figure out how to get this over with as quickly as possible.

Arya: Also, we gotta do this sober

Blacksmith Apprentice: FFS. FML.

Arya: What was that?

Blacksmith Apprentice: YOLO?

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Observer Effect (originally published in The Charleston Mercury; July 2018)

The observer effect

By Ajax Carpenter

Come one, come all! Come on down, y’all!

Welcome to the Holy City™.

We have restaurants and ghost tours. How about one of those carriage rides; you want one? Oh, and don’t you worry; we have bars galore.

We’ve got everything this famous town is known for. Of course, there are the palmetto trees, sweetgrass basket-weavers, museums, and churches. 

Welcome to this sleepy little place, off in a crook of this vast expanse of a country, down where time doesn’t pass. Look at Rainbow Row! Look at the Calhoun Mansion! Ain’t everything grand?! Ain’t everything just so historic!?!

Thank God for the Board of Architectural Review, the mayor and Charleston City Council, who, lo these many years, have protected our skyline and the character of the city. Thank God monstrous hotels and condos and the ever present cranes aren’t blighting our postcards and pictures and just general quality of life. Just focus down low, down where the restrictions on doing any work on any building whatsoever make it so cost-prohibitive that all but the ludicrously wealthy got fed up long ago and said “It might be nice to live out on John’s Island; maybe Wadmalaw, even.”

Don’t mind the three-hundred-dollars-per-thirty-seconds* parking meters that are monitored twenty-five-hours-a-day*, or the potholes, flooding and legendarily bad drivers. Bring your car. Join the fray. Come to get away from it all, but, if you get homesick for back where you’re from, where it’s not so sleepy and time moves so fast, jump in your car and get that slice of Up North or From Off. We have all the traffic you can handle.

If that doesn’t remind you of home, just wait; you’re gonna love the prices. We’re trying to get them up to Manhattan levels for you. It embarrasses us that you’re not able to pay $17* for a bland margarita.

Do you like our districts? We learned a thing or two from the Florida theme parks. Disney’s Magic Kingdom has TomorrowLand, AdventureLand and Main Street USA; we have South of Broad, the French Quarter, and Wraggborough. Think of the horse-drawn carriages like they’re our monorail.

Spill off the sidewalks. Walk in the streets.  The cars aren’t really supposed to be there any way. They’ll stop. They’ll wait.

Ask the questions. You know you want to. All of y’all do. Titter as you say aloud: What’s a Huguenot? (Ha!) What is a grit? (Hilarious!)

We want you! You’re hardy folk. Way back when we only had 847 million visitors a year* (instead of the current annual count of 74 Trillion*), they’d peter out and leave us be for the real hot of summer. But not you! 143 °* and 138%* humidity for July and August, and still y’all pour in here. Charleston can count on death, taxes, roaches the size of compact cars and this relentless parade of “treasured guests.” If you're sweltering, might I suggest a refreshing bland margarita?

Rarer than a ghost, you might just see a local. They’ll be one of the slightly befuddled older folks (always older; ever older), polite if you ask them a question, helpful, of course; but often with a consternated look as though they’re still trying to figure out what happened.

Downtown used to be full of locals. Children played in the streets. The houses had lights on at night because folks actually lived in them (they weren’t just trophy vacation homes back then). They worked and shopped there and played bridge and had book clubs and threw cocktail parties and actually attended all these churches.

Look at all the contractors. There are more of those than locals. That’s for sure.

But enough about them. That’s not why you’re here. You’re here for the nightlife and the beaches. Get a sunburn and then get to Upper King. Mill about. Spend your money. We’d prefer it if you wouldn’t drink and drive, or shout and fight, but you be you.

Try not to notice the homeless folk that have materialized in the past couple of years, sitting heads down, arms outstretched. But, if you do, don’t they add a little extra flavor?

That guy complaining that everything has changed? Don't mind him. He’s not a local even though he insists he is. That's Gary. He moved here from Dayton three years ago. Don't know which of the guys complaining is Gary? Don't worry. They're all Gary.

Sure, this place isn't what it used to be. It’s not a place very many real people live anymore. Any old place can be that. It’s better! It’s CharlestonWORLD:  the Premier Adult Museum, Shopping and Restaurant Park.

Don’t you like this?! Isn’t it enchanting?! Spend and enjoy! Tell your friends and family! Bring them! Bring them ALL!

Why leave? You never have to leave. We can just make more Charleston, expand it up and out. Absorb the other townships and islands. Stack and build. Stack and build.

Come and see.

Come and see.

Come and see.

Come and see!

*Numbers are estimates, only, but you never can tell when satire will morph into reality.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Achilles and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This whole thing is spoilers and won't make a lick of sense if you haven't seen the movie, so go away if that's the case.

What's The Iliad  about? 

The Trojan War, right? 

No. Achilles? 

No, not really. 

It's about rage. About doomed and ruinous anger.  It's an anger of Achilles, but he does not control it. It controls him and controls the work as a whole.  It is directly because of his rage that his beloved friend is killed.  It is because of his rage that foes and friends alike die.  

Watching Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, I was struck by the explosive rage of the two characters, Mildred Hayes and Jason Dixon, both of whom use later excuses to justify giving into their pre-existing fury.

Mildred is a single mother in a dead end job.  Her husband was abusive and then left her for a girl barely older than their daughter.  That's a life of justifiable rage.  Then her daughter is raped and murdered.

Mildred's rage was there prior to her daughter's death.  It was evident in her scream of "I hope you do get raped!" the last time she saw Angela.  

Mildred harms the innocent.  She wounds the pastor who comes to talk to her with her words.  She drills a hole in the dentists thumb(nail) (though it seemed as though he were trying to harm her with the drill, she could simply have left).  She kicks teenagers in the groin without knowing if they were the ones who threw a drink at her car.  She harms her friend and boss by allowing her rage to get her friend/boss thrown into jail and held without bail.

Of course, the main person she harms in the movie is Sheriff Willoughby.  She wounds him on a level of honor, for not catching her daughter's killer. He was not the killer and there was nothing more he could do. He's an innocent. Not only is he an innocent, he's dying.  Her anger does not care.  She must rage, and so, even after his death, the billboard that was burned down goes back up with his name on it.

Chief Willoughby is her contrast. He too has reasons to be furious, first and foremost being his terminal cancer despite having a young wife and small children.  He has every reason to be angry that Mildred has attacked him as he's dying, knowing there's nothing he can do.  After he has his episode and coughs blood on her face and has to be taken away by ambulance, his last official words as a sheriff are "let her go."  Unlike Mildred, he chooses to let go.  Not only does he choose to stop fighting her, he helps her, by paying for the billboard for another month (which is also, as he says, a chess move, but I do believe he sincerely hoped his gesture would help allay her rage).  Unlike Dylan Thomas' exhortation to Rage against the dying of the light, he makes his peace with what rightly could have made him angry and moves past it.

Mildred, of course, didn't learn from or accept his magnanimity; she can't.  After he died, she gives in to her unadulterated rage and tries to burn down his office.   At that point, she's beyond thought. There is no positive aspect to her torching the station; in fact, were it not for Jason Dixon's action, her daughter's file would have been destroyed (perhaps including the DNA evidence they did have of the killer).  Getting justice is not her goal. Raging is all she has.

Jason Dixon is a fool and a racist and a bully.  He's also a closeted gay man who lives with a domineering mother.  He has a life of rage that, while not justifiable, is understandable.  Then the man who believed in him died.

Chief Willoughby says at one point, "If you got rid of every cop with vaguely racist leanings then you’d have three cops left and all o’ them are gonna hate the fags so what are ya gonna do, y’know?"  A way to look at that is that in the rankings for who's lower in society, the closeted gay man must assert himself above the "persons of color", which he has apparently done off screen in an incident referred to as torture. He might be gay, but at least he's better than the blacks, he might justify to himself.  (Obviously pointing out what he's doing is not condoning the behavior.)

Dixon most probably tortured an innocent black man. He routinely attempts to bully or attempts to intimidate others, though a point that isn't noted by many is that his intimidation and bullying don't actually work.  The billboard painter mouths off to him and spits at him at the beginning of the film. Red stands up to him at the bar and in his office (prior to the great exception, of course) and Mildred bursts in and calls him a fuckhead and he just takes it.  He's a stupid little man who reads comic books and whose mother puts any real thoughts in his head and everyone there knows it. And he knows they know it.  He's impotent, that we see, but it's clear that he's furious about his impotence.

And then Willoughby dies and Dixon uses that to justify finally acting. And so he grotesquely assaults Red and Red's assistant.  But his rage only works against the weak and he's not actually changed.  Minutes later he's shamed and fired and he's back to his impotence.

Dixon's counter is Red, as we see at the hospital.  Red is a frail, weak, stupid man, but, unlike Dixon (ordinarily), he stands up for himself and will not allow himself to be badgered or disrespected. The chief and desk sergeant try to get him to back down and he refuses.  Dixon drunkenly bullies him at the bar and he insults Dixon right back.  After what Dixon does to him, Red had every right to be furious and, since this is a film about explosive rage masquerading as revenge or justice, he could have harmed Dixon right back in the hospital. Instead, like Chief Willoughby, he lets it go and chooses not to be defined by his anger.

I have seen reviews that claim that Jason Dixon and Mildred Hayes get redemption by the end of the film.  No. They are not redeemed. They are still just as flawed and awful at the end of the movie as they were at the beginning.  I did not see a movement away from rage at the end of the movie, a requirement for any talk of redemption.  What I saw was that the two furious characters were incapable of stopping their anger, so they end the movie contemplating pointing it in a direction where it might serve some function, where it will harm the person or persons who "deserve" it rather than be responsible for harming the innocent.

Near the end of the movie, Mildred torches the "midget" and never fixes it. It is important to understanding her character that she does not fix things with him.  She could not fix things with him even as, moments later, she stood up for her ex's ditzy girlfriend. And I believe that was because she could use her rage to protect the ditz. Her ex-husband was trembling when she approached them.  Her rage could not fix what she did to the "midget."  As for Jason, he was going to kill himself (raging against himself) and it was only when he considered going with her, so he could focus his rage externally and, perhaps, positively, that he gave up on shooting himself.

Obviously murder or killing vigilantism is a large step for either Jason or Mildred. Mildred is the angrier of the two, but Jason appeared willing to kill himself, so who's to say what he'd be willing to do once he'd reached that point.  For her it's a level higher than she's gone yet, but that does not lead me to believe she won't. Particularly knowing that she's going to recognize the stranger and remember him threatening her.  Why was he several states away in the middle of nowhere Missouri when he's from Idaho?  When he was telling the story to his compatriot at the bar, he says there were two others with him. Perhaps one of them has the elusive DNA?  Are his accomplices his perfect alibi since the authorities don't know they're looking for three men and not one?  The stranger confronts her after Willoughby's death, but the incident at the bar happens at least weeks if not months later (Dixon's wounds have scarred by then). Why was he back in Ebbing, Missouri? Killers coming back to the scene is a known trope.  I do not think it a great stretch to think that Mildred would do the stranger great harm and that Jason, bolstered by her, wouldn't do the same.

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri is not The Iliad. In The Iliad, the scene of Priam, a  grieving father, coming to his greatest enemy, Achilles, and asking for the corpse of his slain son Hector is such a touching human moment that it breaks Achilles' anger and the work can end once we see the final result of that ruinous anger in the funeral of Hector.  If Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri were similar, if Mildred Hayes and Jason Dixon were to be redeemed, it would have ended at Willoughby's funeral, after Mildred and Jason got his final messages.  

But it didn't end that way, because their continuing rage wouldn't allow it.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

If "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" were given "The Last Jedi" Treatment

(I feel bad for you if you're reading this and you didn't understand there will be spoilers, but I have a low opinion of humanity so here this warning is anyway. Spoilers. Spoilers. Spoilers.)

I didn't like Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  I thought it was inappropriately funny. That was simply irksome.  What made me actively dislike the movie was that they may as well have called it "Millenial Star Wars: The But Actually."  My head hurt as I went back and read the stellar reviews I'd seen, but skipped reading, prior to seeing the movie. "Brave!" "Bold new directions!" "Subverts all conventions!"

No. What I saw was as obvious and lazy as what DC is doing with their disaster of a cinematic universe.  They started with a plan and when it got pushback, they simply addressed the pushback on whatever the next film was going to be regardless of what that did to story or logic. "People complained about collateral damage in the last one. Make someone say this city has no people in it!" "People thought it was too serious! Make the new one funny even though it doesn't fit and the jokes arent, you know, funny."

In Last Jedi, they subverted everything that had been done not just by The Force Awakens, but by the canon.  Why do I call it "Millenial Star Wars: The But Actually"?  Because I imagine writer/director Rian Johnson excitedly telling producers, "So, General Hux is set-up as the rival to Kylo Ren in Force Awakens. But, actually, he's just a bumbling fool who sputters his way through a severely out-of-place phone-on-hold joke. And he turns into a slapstick piece later." And the producers must have been like, "Well, the big complaint in the last one was that everything was a retread of the A New Hope, so that definitely doesn't make him look like the reincarnation of Grand Moff Tarkin any more."

And then Rian Johnson said, "Right! Right! And Poe Dameron!He's the quippy, hot-shot pilot! He's like Han and the flying parts of Luke! Right? But, actually, he's an incompetent hot-head glory-hound who gets a bunch of people killed and his big seize-the-moment save-the-day gambit just fails." And the producers weren't sure that's how they wanted to market the sexy guy in the movie, but, you know, sure. Why not? No one's going to say they saw that coming.

And then Rian Johnson said...

Look. I can do this for the entire damn movie. It's not brave or bold. It isn't a new direction, so much as an opposite. And subverting is asinine for this franchise.  Why?

Because Star Wars, famously, is about the archetypal hero's journey. It just is. You can tweak that. You don't subvert it. Otherwise it stops being Star Wars.  Strident fans of The Last Jedi will argue otherwise, but, as we know, people are idiots.

The Last Jedi sucked. It was someone on stage at an improv theater yelling "no" when everyone knows the rule is "yes and" and gunking up the works. That's not brave. That's being an asshat.

To subvert consistently every time means to destroy character and story-logic. To demonstrate, I will do the same to another beloved franchise that is built atop an archetypal structure. 

I give you Millenial Star Wars: The But Actually version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

On the opening page, we find that Hermione's actually been sneaking a muggle device, a "kindle reader", under her robes, loaded with notes from an OCD prior valedictorian muggle-born graduate. You thought Hermione was plucky and smart. But, actually, she's a damn cheatery cheater-face.

And then we run into Harry and Ron and you think, those two are the sorta-daft-but-plucky-chosen-one and his definitely-daft-and-cowardly-sidekick. But, actually, Harry's not the chosen one. He's just some sorta-daft-but-plucky kid who was only plucky because Dumbledore told him he was the Chosen One. Luckily, Snape walks by Ron, Harry, and Hermione's car on the train to Hogwarts and says, "Potter, you're not the chosen one. Your parents didn't die protecting you from an evil wizard. Your actual parents are your terrible aunt and uncle and they carved that idiotic thing into your forehead because they hate you." And Harry's like "OhEmGEE! I knew it!" and immediately loses all his pluck and still is sorta-daft and Ron's like, "I wasted a year sucking up to you and you're a nobody" and he doesn't leave, because he *is* a coward, but he isn't Harry's sidekick anymore.

And so Cheatery Cheater-Face and Sorta Daft and Cowardly arrive and ooooooohhhh, a mystery comes up! So of course our heroes are going to solve it! But, actually, they're perfectly reasonable twelve-year-olds and they're like, "Kids are being frozen stiff or killed. I'm staying in my room until this blows over."

So you think that Cheatery Cheater-Face and Sorta Daft and Cowardly will eventually get off the schneid and start trying to figure out this mystery, but, no. Snape wasn't being a liar. Harry really isn't anyone in particular.  And without Harry having that as his drive, Hermione and Ron have no reason to get involved. So they just sit.

Luckily, we have a real go-getter in the form of Albus Dumbledore! And Albus is in his little tower thinking up how he's going to solve this Chamber of Secrets thing when the Basilisk punts him out the window and he falls to his brutal, grisly, splattery death in the courtyard below.

But! But! But!

After a moment of looking at his very dead corpse, one eye rolls back across the courtyard and jumps back into its socket and then the blood seeps its way back in and the organs arrange themselves back into functioning order and the bones knit perfectly and the skin unrends and he flies back up to the tower, through his window, down the stairs, into the infirmary, and he lies down to take a lengthy nap without explaining what the hell just happened to anyone.  Because it's magic, you plebeians. Don't get your panties in a wad just because you've never seen anyone do that before.

And everyone is perplexed as to what to do. Snape is in charge, but he says "we can't stay here in the castle, so we're going to wander the grounds." McGonagall tells Snape that walking kids through a dangerous set of fields, forests, and gardens filled with magic monsters and kung-fu trees is a supremely stupid plan, and in no way a real plan, but he tells her she's a hot-head who's always trying to be in charge and she doesn't know his plan and he isn't gonna tell her, so take that! So McGonagall gets Hagrid and, I don't know, the incompetent seer teacher and Dobby to go to Burton-on-Trent to find a Herpetologist to help them figure out how to stop this mean-ass Basilisk because while stupid, it's better than walking the grounds.

So, now we focus on defeating that Basilisk, right? Nope. We go to Burton-on-Trent with Hagrid and bad seer and Dobby they go on a brewery tour of Bass Brewery and they bitterly complain about the vagaries of alcoholism and tada! they see the Herpetologist, but they get arrested and thrown in brewery jail, but, luckily, there's an Irish man in Brewery jail too. And everyone knows that Irish guys are not to be trusted since they are alcoholics too, but everyone knows that they hate snakes, so Hagrid and bad seer and Dobby escape from jail with Irish guy and they get him to the Chamber of Secrets and he's like "hahahaha! You should never have trusted me. I don't like snakes, but I love beer. And these basilisky people paid me in beer so hahahaaha."

Meanwhile, McGonagall is freaking out because Snape's leading a bunch of idiotic wizard kids outdoors amongst killer spiders and whomping willows and who knows what else and she's like "Enough!" And she starts to pull out her wand when Dumbledore shows up and he's like "NOPE!" and Expelliarmuses her. And then Dumbledore says to Snape "Great to see you. Let's not talk about me being invincible without my wand." And Snape says back, "Of course. And you're going to be magically cool with my plan I didn't tell anyone about, which resulted in most of the slower kids being picked off by various apex predators, because, guess what! I led us to Hagrid's hut!"

And McGonagall's like, "Why didn't you just say that's what you wanted to do? I mean, I would have told you that an entire school couldn't fit in there and I'm not sure that it will keep out a basilisk, but at least it could have been a conversation."

And Dumbledore's like, "You need to learn you're not always the one with the answer."

And Snape says to Dumbledore about McGonagall, "I like the cut of her jib."

And so Dumbledore and Snape lead McGonagall and the thirty kids left to Hagrid's place.

But as they're doing that, the basilisk starts shooting random darts of poison out at them right in front of Hagrid, Bad Seer and Dobby and those damn kids just aren't going to make it. Hell, Basilisk takes out at least ten in ten seconds.

Meanwhile, in the Chamber of Secrets, as Basilisk is shooting poison at those twit wizardlings, we finally lay eyes on duh duh duh Tom Riddle/Voldemort! The villain!

But, actually, when he's all talking to the Basilisk about killing Hagrid, the Basilisk just bites Riddle's head off. So he's dead. For sure. And we don't know squat about Riddle: who he was, why he put this plan in motion, why he loosed a basilisk.

But, actually, that's not important.

But then Snape's all like, "Fret not colleagues and children! I am mighty!"

And Snape sets himself on fire and then wingardum leviosa's himself at the Chamber of Secrets so hard that he splits it in half and topples three of the towers, while, of course, he dies a very splattery death that he will not be recovering from because only Albus can do that. Maybe.

And McGonagall's like, "Whoa. That was badass. But couldn't he have just set the whomping willow alight and flung that at it? I mean, noble sacrifice and all, but if we can just launch flaming stuff at folks, that would have been the common sense move."

But whatever, because the ten kids left and McGonagall and Dumbledore and somehow Hagrid and Dobby and bad seer all make it in to Hagrid's hut, so problem solved.

But, like, actually just because Snape wrecked the castle, that didn't mean that he actually killed the basilisk or the, I dunno, basilisky people with it and they're outside and they're pissed. So Dumbledore's like, "Dude, we got some rusty garden shears. We gotta get ready to fight."

And Basilisk is a fan of overkill so it got a legitimate medieval battering ram on some sort of rolling frame and he's gonna use it to knock Hagrid's hut right the hell over, and it looks bad. But Dobby decides to sacrifice himself by cutting one of the legs of the battering ram off with the rusty garden shears he was given, which in no way was going to work, but whatever.

But actually, then bad seer snatches him away and kisses Dobby and the basilisk and basilisky people don't kill them, which is supposed to be their basilisky plan, and Dobby and Bad Seer go back in the hut and man everyone is screwed because there's no way out.

So then Dumbledore appears in front of the hut and says "Basilisk, quit being a punk!" Which makes Basilisk mad so Basilisk rushes forward and kills the hell out of Dumbledore, and I mean kill kills him.

But, actually, that was Dumbledore's brother Aberforth who is an inkeeper and looks like him and it's cheap, and I don't think Aberforth had been introduced into the series yet, but hey, it needed to happen. And while all that's going down Hagrid's like, "wait, Aberforth is dying on purpose because he knows there's a way out of this hut. Except he doesn't. At all. Like he legitimately has never been here. Ever. But fine. I have rats and I never figured out how they got in and out. Holy crap. Turns out I have a cellar!"

And so real Dumbledore and McGonagall and Hagrid and I guess bad seer and Dobby  and, it turns out, Cheater-face and Sorta-Daft and Cowardly and two other kids (we'll make one of them Draco who you think is bad, but actually has been working on his self esteem and is pretty cool it turns out) and they get to the back of the cellar and there's no way out but Harry's like "Well, my name's on this so it turns out that even though I'm sorta daft and I don't have training and my parents were nobody who weren't killed by a super-villain wizard, I'm the best boss ass wizard ever so um 'We gone' and he apparates everyone the hell out of there and they all cram into his possessed flying car and off they go to find a new school.

Boom! That's some dope stuff right there!

The whole idea of a trilogy, which these new Star Wars movies are supposed to be, is that a common thread runs through and the characters progress in logical, somewhat linear fashion throughout so they can come to a conclusion at the end of the third one. Now everything's all willynilly and they have to cram way too much in the third movie to get it to where the good guys win, because, guess what? The good guys are going to win. That's what it is.  But it's not going to be cohesive nor, most likely, very good.

We're not going to get what could or should have been Star Wars' Prisoner of Azkaban or Goblet of Fire or Order of the Phoenix or Half Blood Prince or the Deathly Hallows because Rian Johnson screwed up the series' Chamber of Secrets so badly.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Presidential Prescience

My first (unpublished) novel was (in some ways) about a reality TV star president named Donald, married to a former supermodel, who unfortunately happened to preside at the coming of the apocalypse.  He filled his cabinet with not-so-qualified folks.

I started that novel in 2007 and finished it in 2010.

Who knew, right?

And then in 2012, I figured it was time to get back on my horse and start writing again. And the plot was going to be a billionaire who purposely ran the most confounding, antagonistic campaign ever, and it somehow led to him nearly getting elected.  I worked out a treatment and nailed down the plot points and all that I had to do was actually write the damn thing.

And then life happened. And, honestly, I made the super mistake of talking about the project, which many writers will tell you dooms it because then you get the satisfaction of the project without, you know, actually having to write it.

Anyways, it was to be a satire and farce, of sorts, and I did write the prologue that set the motion in action.  I wrote this back in 2012.

Anyways, here's another who knew:


"Candidate: Prologue

           It all began, as happens more often than not in the world of politics, with a scandal.  Of course, as political scandals occur with such regularity as to be nearly routine, one could be forgiven for being jaded and rather ho-hum ordinarily.  This particular incident constituted no ordinary scandal though.  This was the name changer; such a to-do that all subsequent scandals would be cast against it, just as, up to then, every preceding had been labeled and compared to Watergate. 
            In fact, it was a complex of controversies on top of each other and mashed together in an inextricable national miasma: a debacle, wrapped in a disaster, inside a catastrophe. 
            You see, it would not be out of the ordinary for a politician to be shot.  Someone tries to shoot the Big Guy all the time.  No one's ever tried to shoot a First Lady though.
            Thus it was that the world's attention was transfixed when First Lady Annabelle White survived an assassination attempt, though only in the technical sense of the word "survived." The .50 caliber bullet, fired from over a half-mile away, had been blown off target by a fortuitous (?) gust of wind and so struck her left shoulder instead of her chest, effectively severing her arm from her torso.  A hasty field cauterization had stanched the torrent but she'd still lost entirely too much blood and, by the time she'd been rushed to the hospital and they'd frantically squoze nearly three quarts into her, she was miraculously physically alive and unmiraculously quite brain dead.
            Of course, it was quite expected that a Right to Die discussion would erupt in the media, particularly when the President fired the Head of the Secret Service for not simply failing to protect his wife, but instead for his agents not abiding the First Lady's Do Not Resuscitate.  That sparked its own maelstrom of criticism and calls for the President's removal because it made virtually no sense and so he must have been incapacitated by grief.  That was, until the FBI finally captured the shooter, a former Marine Corps sniper turned CIA assassin, who it turned out had been ordered to kill Mrs. White by the government of the United States. 
            At first, it was thought to be the specific command of the CIA Director, George Herbert, but upon his arrest, the bureaucrat released an audio recording revealing the order had come from the embattled Mr. White himself.
            No sooner had that revelation come to light than the former Secret Service Chief, in a breathtaking violation of his multitudinous oaths of secrecy and confidentiality, revealed that the First Lady had been actively maneuvering to file for divorce.
            Rumors had long abounded of the President's profligacy, but the thought that a First Lady would file for divorce still managed to shock.  Any President's infidelity had long since been assumed as de facto and tacitly understood as part and parcel of any political marriage. 
            The, by then, incarcerated (!) former President refused to explain himself or admit what he'd done that would have driven a woman who, to that point, had been viewed as cold and calculating and as politically driven as Lady Macbeth to nuke the Presidency.  Surely whatever it was had to be beyond the pale, which is an extravagantly distant boundary for the most powerful man in the world.
            It took a bit, but the explosive truth was finally discovered when the FBI and Secret Service jointly, due to fear of a cover-up by either, searched the First Lady's effects and found her diary.  A shrewd, paranoid woman, she'd written in code but the FBI's computers made short work of the decryption.  The newly elevated former Vice President, now President Smythe, had insisted on absolute transparency with the investigation, going so far as to allow embedded reporters with the investigative teams, so as to prevent even the hint that a cover-up could exist.  However, once the diary had been decoded, the first official to read the transcript went wide-eyed and called the acting President.  Within minutes, all reporters were expelled, the diary and all decryptions were declared "Absolutely Secret" by Executive Privilege due to National Security concerns, and the documents were moved to the most secure vault in the world, Fort Knox.
            That set off a firestorm that saw President Smythe impeached, convicted, and removed from office for refusing to turn over the documents to Congress.  The Speaker of the House, being of the opposing party, the Republicans, flatly refused to ascend to the Presidency unless the documents were released before he took the oath of office. 
            All the cabinet members, terrified of what the documents could possibly hold, resigned en masse so as not to have to authorize their release for the Executive Branch.  In fact, each Undersecretary also resigned until Bennie Richards, Undersecretary of Education, mercifully ended that portion of the travesty, assumed the Presidency, ordered the documents released without reading them, immediately resigned, and had the Secret Service drop off the shortest tenured President in American history at the closest bar.
            The Director of the Bullion Depository duly complied with former President Richards' order, walked out of the front door of Fort Knox with the documents in hand, and immediately read the contents to the country (and world) from the podium that had been set upon the steps for that very purpose.
            And so it was that the whole world discovered that the First Lady, well aware of her husband's philandering and concerned about what the old horn-dog might do if unsupervised during the State Visit of the Russian President and, more specifically, his statuesque, former swimsuit model of a First Lady, barged into the Oval Office in the middle of the night when she'd woken and noted his absence from their bed and, sure enough, caught him in flagrante delicto with the Russian.

            But not the female Russian.

            And that was why, after a series of the most spectacular scandals in the history of the world since, at least, the Caesars, that included an assassination attempt, a Right to Live/Die debate, a cover up, the criminal arrest of a sitting President, another cover up, the empeachment/conviction/removal of a President, a series of resignations, and the most public revelation of state secrets of all time, all future political controversies would forever thence be appended with the suffix


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

London 2017: Day 3 and Finale

Day 11, April 2nd, 2017-Day 12, April 3rd, 2017

I toss and turn and wake up feeling like a git for my behavior yesterday.  I piddle around on my computer as I wait on Alex and Aurora to get up. It's an extremely lazy morning, as it should be after the big day we'd put in.  Once we wander into the kitchen for breakfast, I apologize and they graciously shake it off.

I'm leaving in the evening and it's a lovely day out, but we're feeling sluggish, so Alex suggests a movie. We walk along, stopping briefly at a realty shop and peruse the multi-million pound properties. "Oh, I think I'll have this one." "Not me; too small! I need much larger! If it's not 10 million, it's rubbish."

After the movie, we wander about, basking in the sunshine.   London in spring is lovely, but I'm of an age that big-city-life, no matter the beauty, simply can't be done. Alex and Aurora are 24 and the world's their oyster.  Big-city-life is precisely where they should be.  But not for me. Fortunately, I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I can be on a sailboat and cavorting about the harbor.  I want to go home. 

But that is later and this is now, and now it's time to head back so I can pack and be on my way.  They escort me on the bus to the train station and then we say our goodbyes and I'm off to Gatwick.  Goodbye, London. Til next time.

Irish customs is as indifferent as before. I stop at the general shop in the airport to pick up another plug adapter because I somehow misplaced the one I got the last time I came through less than two weeks ago.

It's been a long day and I feel like hell. I'm of no mood to catch a cab into town and then try to figure out a hotel at 9:45 on Sunday night. I walk over to the airport hotel, happily fork over the way-too-much they want for the room and collapse on the bed to sleep, blessed sleep.

I wake up, get breakfast in the dining room, pack up, and head out.  I drop my key-card off at the desk and, on my way out the front door, I pat my pocket to make sure I have my passport. I don't.  I remain calm. It must be in the room. That's why I check my pockets, after all. Things happen.

I turn around and grab the key-card I just dropped off at the desk. I head back to the room and search. It's nowhere to be found.  I calmly go to the front desk and ask the woman to check to see where the clerk the night before put my passport, because I must have left it at the desk when I was checking in.  She looks around and says there is no passport.

Now, I panic. I race back to my room and this time, I toss it, like the FBI does in a movie.  There is no passport. It's now two hours until my international flight. I have to get over to the airport.

As I walk over, I make sure I have my wallet. It's got my driver's license and my military ID.  Surely, I can sweet-talk my way over to the US with those. Still, I'm nervous.

Once in the airport, I head to "Information" and ask the man behind the counter that, if I dropped my passport somehow last night, who would it get turned into. I explain that I had to have had it to get in through customs last night.  I think it must have fallen out of my pocket when I bought the adapter.

He makes a phone call to security to see if they have it.  While we wait, I ask him what I do.  He tells me that since I came in last night, a scan of my passport should be on record with the airline so that probably will get me through US customs. Probably. I gulp, nervously.

But, Praise Be!  Security did have my passport.  I make it on the plane.

And then it's a long flight and then a longer layover in NYC because of storms and by the time I land in Charleston, it's 1am when mom picks me up.  

And instead of dropping me off at my boat, she just takes me back to her house, and though it's a guest room, I'm back where I'm supposed to be: home.

Irish folks drink and drive?!?

Monday, April 3, 2017

London 2017; Day 2

Day 10, April 1st, 2017

We have a lazy morning and an English breakfast and though we have no plan other than a comedy show tonight, we head out just after noon, but not before cracking a beer.  We walk along the Thames and spring’s in the air and it’s warm and lovely.

We spot a pub and Aurora needs to use the loo, so we head towards it.  There’s a very drunk forty-something-year-old woman sitting outside at a table with three guys and she asks me if I’m Crocodile Dundee, because, though I ditched the poncho, I’m wearing the Australian model cowboy hat.  We briefly chat and I perform a bit, but I also don’t want to get roped into it with people who are hammered drunk by 1pm, so we make our excuses and head inside. 

I get us a round and Alex and I are chatting when the woman (we’ll call her Kelly) comes in and asks to sit with us and then she’s telling me how I’m fascinating and I’m like, all right, here we go.

And though we slept, I’m still just sorta worn out tired from the trip and we did it up the night before and I go to push again and it’s improv with folks who have no idea again, but something goes wrong, as it sometimes does, and I’m not hitting the notes right, and I’m being a bit of an ass.

The key to improv is the very basic, but crucial, dictum “yes, and…” whereby you go positive.  But tired and drinking, from time to time I’ll get on a bad angle and then I’m negative and crap on people’s good time because the meta of being a bummer is amusing to me in that condition and whelp that’s where we are. 

So Kelly is very drunk and hadn’t been to bed last night. She and her friends just kept it going.  She’s not getting that I’m being straight-faced ridiculous and I’m saying things like “Well, you know you shouldn’t feel bad about staying out drinking because, at the end of all this, we’re all going to be dead and nothing means anything. Babies die of cancer. Jerks make billions of dollars. Nothing’s fair.”

She pauses and says, “Are you single?”

To which I say, “Of course. Always. People are awful.”

Kelly wanders off to use the Loo and Aurora says, “I think she likes you. She asked if you were single.”

And round about the time Kelly returns from the loo, her mates come in and here we go. They sit down and join us and they’re a rough bunch, but pretty darn friendly.  And one of them, a forty-something Jamaican DJ, takes a shine to me and he and I banter and I ask him if he’s as good a DJ as Paris Hilton and he pauses and sizes me up and laughs and laughs.

And then I see if I can bum him out and go back to the negative well and finally Alex has to say, “Yeah. Ha. That’s getting a bit old.” Which, if you know how polite the British are, means I am being a shit because he had to say it.  I try to curb my behavior, but fail. Mea culpa.

And they buy us a round and they tell Aurora and Alex that they’re a good-looking couple and the DJ says, “You know how I can tell you’re rich? It’s the teeth.”  His teeth are jacked up; as are Kelly’s; as are the two other drunk guys.  My teeth are middle-class messed up.

Somehow the drunk folk ask about guns, but I explain that guns are tools and it’s really the willpower is what matters. I shake the empty pint glass in my hand and say, “My go-to is the Old Crack-and-Stab!” as I pretend to break the glass and stab the DJ with it and he howls with laughter. “The Old Crack-and-Stab! Hahahaha!”

They want to do more beer, but I have no interest in letting strangers hijack our day and I can already tell I’m being too much, so I apologize and tell them we have to meet people and off we go. Kelly is heartbroken.

We walk along and have to go by Parliament and Big Ben, where there was recently a terrorist stabbing, and there’s a huge crowd out in front of the McDonalds. There are lots of tourists, but then also immigrants, and I see many women in hijabs.  I don’t like crowds at all.

We walk on past the crowded areas and find another pub. We get a pint and have a seat and then I turn into the bummer guy, but not because I’m trying to ruin Alex and Aurora’s day, but because I’m tired and in a way and we had enough beer to put me in a mental rut and I’m really displeased with my behavior. It’s sunny in London! And I’m being a bummer.

We leave and find their friends at an outdoor market and there’s more drinks and I’m pushing again and being way too much. This time I’m trying to pretend I’m a Kiwi. Then it’s more drinks as we head to the comedy club and then it’s more drinks and we kinda, sorta, forgot to eat lunch or supper and I’m being, in a word, obnoxious. I even tell a few folks my goal is to be obnoxious up to the point of being punched. Because that’s a great way to behave with folks. “It’s meta!” I slur.

The comedians are funny, but my hat gets me called out by the MC and then I make a particularly loud groan at a joke and get called out again and not great. Not great. 

And then we head to another place, but, by this point, my go-to move has kicked in and I’m just exhausted and I’m falling asleep any time we sit for longer than a few moments. This time, it is not sleep, blessed sleep.  It’s “Wake up. We’re leaving.” And we get back to their place and I pour into the bed and I am not real proud of myself; I can tell you that.  It's April Fools' Day. I'm the April Fool.