What Ever Became of...Bobby Brady?

Like so many troubled young adults, Bobby’s problems began in high school.  With the elder Brady children no longer at home and his parents preoccupied by step-sister Cindy’s compulsory reassignment as a “special needs” student by the local school board, Bobby turned toward the “stoner” community at Encino High for mentorship and social support.  Given the still palpable reputations of his oldest brother and sister for academic excellence and athletic achievement, Bobby appears to have fashioned his own social identity around indiscriminate drug use and increasingly public displays of anti-social behavior.  Already a suspect in the spray-painting of “FUCK” on the school’s tennis court, Bobby narrowly avoided expulsion after stealing a power-sander from shop class and abrading the word “BITCH” on a popular cheerleader’s recently acquired Camero.  In the summer preceding his senior year, Bobby was arrested for possession of a controlled substance after attempting to smuggle psychotropic mushrooms into a Rush concert at the Anaheim Convention Center, an event that greatly increased tensions in the Brady household and led to Bobby briefly crashing at his friend “Weasel’s” apartment in Van Nuys.  Entreaties from Greg, now a successful investment banker in Los Angeles, only further stoked family tension when Bobby told his older brother “to mind his own goddamn business.” 

Through extensive surveillance and perpetual threats of military school on the part of Mr. Brady, Bobby graduated in 1982 and then enrolled at Cal State-Fullerton to begin coursework in the fall.  The family was somewhat encouraged at this point in that Bobby expressed a belief that college wouldn’t “suck donkey dick” in the same way as high school.  Unfortunately, by the spring quarter of his freshman year, Bobby’s extraordinary appetite for marijuana and a table-top version of Ms. Pac-Man at a local pizza emporium resulted in his expulsion for poor attendance and bad grades.  An unexpected windfall of $1000--Bobby’s share of the royalties earned from a family recording made during happier times--allowed the troubled teenager to conceal his failure from his parents by renting an efficiency in Sun Valley and pretending to still attend classes.  Here Bobby embarked on a business venture that he was convinced would show his friends and family once and for all that college was for “stupid shitheads” and that he did indeed “know what the fuck” he was doing. 

Plying local high school kids with free pot, Bobby secured the use of a kiln to produce a series of custom-glazed bongs fashioned to resemble characters from the then extremely popular Star Wars movies.  The venture came to a rather ignominious end, however, when a profoundly high Bobby—his fingers still greasy from the remnants of a Del Taco chicken burrito—dropped and shattered his entire inventory in the parking lot of an Orange Country flea market.  A brief effort was made to regroup, but having been spotted by an ambitious young studio attorney who had been at the market in search of retro furniture for his new nursery, Bobby received a “cease and desist” order the following week for copyright infringement.  

Out of school and out of money, Bobby had no other option than to return to the Brady household.  Bobby’s attempt to pawn a necklace stolen from the nursing home of former housekeeper Alice led to another brutal argument with Greg over the 1983 Christmas holiday.  When a cat carcass was discovered in the trunk of Greg’s prized Z-28 shortly after New Year, there was a growing consensus among the family that Bobby was more than a “total fuck-up” and might in fact be mentally ill.  Mrs. Brady counseled against a direct confrontation, however, promising Bobby was still in the process of “finding himself.”  As Mr. Brady had by this time “washed his hands of the little fucker,” Mrs. Brady’s wishes were respected and the incident eventually forgotten.   

With Cindy now removed to a training-facility for the mentally disabled, Bobby dedicated himself to transforming the girls’ old bedroom into a combination “fuck pad” and band rehearsal space.  Jamming most afternoons with Weasel, himself recently released after a brief stint at Vacaville, Bobby entered what can now only be described as a “manic phase” in which he continually boasted of the inevitable success of his new progressive-rock band, “Falcon Apocalypse.”  An attempt was made to book a gig by renting time at a nearby roller-rink, but plans appear to have collapsed when the bass player decided to move back to Atlanta and live with his “slightly less bogus” father. 

Bobby’s most dramatic crisis appears to have stemmed from a still murky series of events during the summer of his 24th year.  Mr. and Mrs. Brady woke one morning to find a hastily scrawled note from Bobby announcing that he had suddenly realized a need to spend some time in the desert to “get his shit together.”  Three weeks later, state police discovered the Brady’s station wagon abandoned in the parking lot of a Jiffy Lube in Taos, New Mexico.  Two weeks after that, the Bradys received a phone call from the Colorado Highway Patrol informing them that Bobby was undergoing a mandatory 48-hour psychiatric evaluation at a hospital in Ft. Collins.  Though the complete story could not be completely pieced together, officers believed that an unfortunate convergence of LSD, heat stroke, and a colony of “talking” prairie dogs had convinced Bobby that an evil entity was attempting to eat the earth from within and that all of humanity would soon fall through the planet’s weakened crust. An attempt by Mrs. Brady to blame this delusion on Mr. Brady’s incessant discussion of “the Big One” during Bobby’s formative years only further inflamed the situation.  The couple soon parted.

Upon discharge, an attempt was made to secure some form of vocational training for Bobby.   After his repeated institutionalization for schizophrenic episodes threatened to deplete the family’s medical plan, however, it was decided that Bobby should live at home and collect S.S.I.  After Mr. Brady’s death in 1991, Bobby and his step-mother moved to a smaller apartment near Glendale.  Upon her death, he is expected to become a permanent ward of the Metropolitan State Hospital in Los Angeles as no other member of the Brady family is willing, in Greg’s words, “to put up with his bullshit.”  

How to Hear Your Angels (2007)

Doreen Virtue, Ph.D.
Hay House, Inc.

Author Virtue was apparently a "therapist" until she decided to devote her full time and attention to writing books about invisible beings and then holding seminars training others "how to hear your angels." Angels exist, as do faeries (a different seminar, I guess). Below is a section from a chapter on "Animal Angels"

Would it surprise you to discover that among the deceased loved ones who watch over you are some of your beloved pets? Your dogs, cats, horses, and any other animals you deeply loved stay with you after their physical passing. The bond that you shared with them when they were living acts like a leash that keeps them eternally by your side.

When I give workshops, I tell audience members about the dogs and cats I see running and playing throughout the room. Usually we can figure out pretty quickly which dog belongs to which person, because these creatures stay by their owners' sides.

We are later told that matching spirit cats to their owners is more of a problem, because as we know, cats don't give a f*#k in this life or the next.

If you think it's irresponsible to encourage people to believe they can "hear angels," don't worry, Virtue has a checklist to determine whether or not you're really hearing celestial beings or if you're just going insane. If the voices you hear are "taunting, alarming, or cruel," use "abusive words," or tell you to "hurt yourself or others," odds are you're insane. Anything else--Angels!

Virtue has written a couple dozen books about how Angels reveal numbers to you (what a great idea for the lottery, no?), help you with therapy, and draw energy from crystals. Virtue is also clairvoyant, knows ancient healing secrets from Atlantis, and has a Ph.D. in psychology---so look for her to rule the world very soon, or at least the conference center at your local Ramada.

Lady of the Stars, Stevie Nicks (1995)

Edward Wincentsen 
Wynn Publishing

A fan's appreciation of Stevie Nicks' post-Fleetwood career. Mostly pictures and drawings like the one below, prefaced by a rather long account of the author's failed attempts to secure Ms. Nicks' participation in the project. In telling that story, Wincentsen introduces us to another fan who once ran a fanzine called Platform. Nicks requested that this other fan cease publication of the 'zine, but apparently still allowed her to pick up "esoteric books" for her at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore. Later in the book, Tori Amos is nominated as having the potential to carry on the Stevie Nicks tradition, should she want to.
Wynn Publishing apparently specializes in fan-written books about '70s rock acts. You can also get books about Led Zeppelin, Lynryd Skynrd, Heart, and Joe Walsh.

Chicken Problems

Popular Mechanics Shop Notes (1943-44)

The Richest Caveman (1991)

Doug Batchelor
Mountain Ministries
Kid in late-60s stays at home smoking pot with his rich Elvis- Presley-songwriting-Mom in Manhattan before going off to Military School, a hippie progressive Academy in Maine, and a "floating school" in Italy where rich parents hide their disruptive children until they are of age. This is interspersed with extensive drug use and hitchhiking until narrator finally decides to live in a cave near Palm Springs. Lives there as a hippie for a year and a half with a Bible some previous cave-dweller left behind. Conversion. An appearance on NBC news as that rich kid who lives in a cave and talks about Jesus. Marriage. Ministry. Etc. Less a compelling case for Christian conversion than a scathing indictment of the educational system in the early 1970s. Batchelor is a more genial narrator than most in this genre, still he occasionally wanders into offensive territory as when noting that all of his Mom's celebrity Hollywood friends that he met as a kid were "homosexual" and "drug-users" and thus desperately unhappy.

Maggot Brain

Summer is a notoriously slow time in television, particularly July.  In fact, the networks recorded their lowest ratings in thirty years for the first week of the month, further evidence that broadcasting is dead, dead, dead.  So if you’re not interested on wagering as to whether or not certain people can in fact “dance,” summertime presents slim pickings.

Happily, the Animal Planet has stepped in with a series that is ideal for summer viewing, a short cycle of shows that--like all great television--makes no real demands on your intelligence or time but simply washes over your gray matter like cool pink lemonade.  And, as is also the case with pouring a sticky-sweet sugar drink over an actual brain, the series is unbelievably disgusting. 

Monsters Inside Me provides a whimsical look at those creatures that have the greatest potential to eat us—not in a spectacular Grizzly-Man display of entrail spaghetti —but through a slow and pernicious burrowing into your softest and juiciest organs.  The “Monsters” in question here are parasites.  Each episode pairs up two case histories of innocent human meat-puppets suddenly beset by a plague of tapeworms, screwworms, maggots, bedbugs, scabies, and other organisms that remind us sometimes the “circle of life” is a pus-filled sac of hookworms hanging from your duodenum.   Did I mention the show is disgusting?  It’s disgusting. 

I used to think the most extraordinarily padded sequence I had ever seen on national television was a “cat attack” segment on Fox’s When Good Animals Go Bad (Fox’s whole documentary wing, alas, appears to have been destroyed by the Internet, where a mongoose to the crotch video is only a few clicks away).  When Good Animals Go Bad once did a full seven minutes on a woman who went into a Manhattan pharmacy and apparently had a cat startle her by jumping out from behind an incontinence display.  Since there was no footage of the actual “cat attack,” Fox had to juxtapose a Polaroid of some dubious scratch marks and a talking head interview with the “attacked” woman, interspersed with video footage of an adorable tabby made sinister through posterization, reverse-negative effects, zooms, bad-synth washes, and some nicely choreographed leaps.

You know you want to see it, and you should—It’s right up there with the shower-scene in Psycho, a testament to how a skillful segment producer—working with a decent editing intern-- can rob you of a few minutes of your life without you actually caring all that much.

Crazy Store Cat!

The woman here claims to be a “tourist,” but the tiger-print jacket and razor-nails she chose to wear to her nationally televised “cat attack” interview suggests: a). she is actually from one of the more gaudy of the five boroughs; or b). she works for the production company itself.  Fox has proven it will lie about pretty much anything, so I see no reason to believe their Animal Attack bureau operates at a higher standard.

“Crazy Store Cat!” is pretty good, but Monsters Inside Me is maybe even more impressive for taking the gross yet ultimately minor tragedy of having a fly lay maggots in the back of your head and somehow stretch it out to three 7-minute blocks.  Here’s essentially what they have to work with in each episode:

1.    An interview with the poor schlep who suddenly discovered he had “MAGGOTS IN HIS HEAD,” augmented perhaps by the family physician who discovered and then had to remove the MAGGOTS IN HIS HEAD.

2.    Location B-roll of where the person most likely hooked-up with their hookworm, and any relevant photo stills of the actual rashes, boils, and/or infections triggered by the creature. 

3.    Re-enactments of people poking at their suspicious bumps or seizing when a voracious tapeworm finally makes it to the brain.

4.    Computer animation of that episode’s featured parasite illustrating its most disgusting activities once inside your body.  Particularly horrifying are the demonstrations of how various worms get from point A to point B by eating through your flesh.  The episode I saw featured some abomination that has a rotating head with hooks to better tear his way through your tender tissue. 

5.    Hipster biologist Dan Riskin explaining just what the parasite is up to, and what would happen if you didn’t do something about it (hint: things don’t go well).

The overall look of the show is straight out of the America’s Most Wanted style manual, only no one wants a Raccoon Roundworm Infection.  Wisely, the program avoids outright comedy, but the overblown narration and hyper-disgusting animation suggests that everyone on both sides of the screen know why we're watching.  It's summer.  Nothing else is on.  Parasites are really disgusting.

The episodes also allow us to imagine what we would do in a similar situation. For example, in one segment a woman has a rash on her breast that eventually becomes a raised "worm-shaped" lump.  When she pokes it, it moves.  And yet she patiently awaits her scheduled appointment with a dermatologist the next day rather than, say, IMMEDIATELY BLOWING THROUGH AS MANY RED LIGHTS AS NECESSARY TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM AND HAVE THE SQUIRMING BREAST-WORM REMOVED ASAP.  

Infinitely more disturbing than seeing a lion or shark attack, no doubt because parasites carry a much different psychic load by reminding us of how fragile we are—not in terms of having porous bodies that break down frequently, but as an autonomous ego that likes to pretend it exists in some lingering Cartesian divide apart from the bloody pile of viscera that actually houses consciousness.  Perhaps this is the real source of the show's appeal.  Parasites are disgusting, but so are we--after all, we're both part of the same grotesque eco-system.  Getting eaten by a lion, that's fine, at least you have the illusion of two mighty beasts locked in mortal combat as warring subjects (until blacking out from the excruciating pain).  But having worms eat their way into your hypothalmus and drive you insane is just more evidence that evolution hates us. 

Confessions of a Psychiatrist (1954)

Henry Lewis Nixon
Beacon Books

Today people are so eager to talk about their stints in therapy that it seems almost impossible to believe a time existed when there was still some stigma attached to being an emotional hot mess.  But as the particularly lurid pulp cover from  Confessions of a Psychiatrist (1954) suggests, lying on a couch and telling a relative stranger your innermost secrets, fears, and desires once occupied a gray area somewhere between sexual seduction and mental rape. "Every boudoir was his office. Every patient his plaything."  The art is very clear about this: Is this psychiatrist reaching for this woman's "mind" or her va-jay-jay, and which will he analyze first?

As this title predates the more explicit pulps of the early 1960s, this particular psychiatrist's "confessions" are actually rather tame; in fact, the novel often reads more as a naturalistic "slice-of-life" tale about a struggling young professional than as a steamy potboiler about perversions and depravity.  And yet, the plot of Confessions is so profoundly weird and improbable, so ostentatiously Oedipal, that it is impossible not to suspect the entire thing is a big joke at the expense of psychiatric culture.  Both convoluted and coincidental, the book's plot really must be approached algebraically to make any sense:

Theodore Highsmith (*) is our 34 year-old "confessing" psychiatrist/narrator.  Just finished with his residency, Ted (*) is struggling to establish his own psychiatric practice in Chicago's loop.  For now he lives with his 23 year-old wife Beth (#) in the lakefront Evanston mansion of his widowed father-in-law, P.F.($)

Ted (*) has two principle patients: 1). Barbara Morrow (^)-- a sexy looker who is in distress after ending her relationship with a local mobster; and 2). Thomas Moore (%)-- a 27 year-old graduate of Northwestern who remains, despite his best efforts, a frustrated virgin.

Ted (*) doesn't like living on his father-in-law's dime and wants to get his practice up and running so he and Beth (#) can move out and get a place of their own.  Plus, Beth (#) seems increasingly restless, but Ted (*) thinks it's nothing that can't be cured by "putting an 8 lb. baby inside her," which he also hopes to accomplish as soon as circumstances allow.

But one day Ted (*) comes home and discovers that his impressionable young wife has decided to take up yoga.  This new pursuit comes with an unforeseen complication: "You aren't supposed to sleep with anyone who isn't a yogi until you reach your Overself," says Beth (#), adding this process of self-discovery could take months or even years.  So, unless he's willing to take up yoga, Ted (*) must now come home everyday to see his newlywed wife nude on the bed in the lotus-position--and yet he must not touch her!  

Things get worse the next day when he finds out that his the father-in-law, P.F. ($), has decided to take up yoga as well.  So now when Ted (*) comes home at the end of a long day of head-shrinking, his naked wife (#) can be found meditating on the bed with her nearly naked father ($).  It is truly one of the most perverse articulations of the Oedipal triangle you could ever hope to encounter.  She's still mine, buddy, and you're going to have to kill me to get her!  The scenario is thus:

                                                          ($) <<<<<>>>>> (#)

                                                                         (*) :-(

But it does at least give Ted (*) an excellent excuse to begin fantasizing about seducing his older, less squirrel-brained patient, Barbara Morrow (^).

In the meantime, Wildcat virgin Thomas (%) wanders into the picture.  He talks about the time he almost lost his virginity with a stripper named Miss La Rue (@), but in the end she "slipped him a mickey" and rolled him for his wallet.  He is so despondent at still being a virgin that he is almost suicidal.  Ted (*) decides it is crucial to get Thomas (%) laid by any means possible.  Thomas (%) is grateful and leaves the office energized by his new quest to be more aggressive in meeting women.  And here is how the chapter ends, word for word:

     "Oh, by the way," he said as he was leaving, "I'm a yogi. I forgot to tell you that but I guess it can wait until next time."
     What had I done, I asked myself when I went back to my desk, to deserve two yogis.

Now, this is some spectacularly bad writing: a "casual" remark so glaring in its obvious implication that you'd think it couldn't possibly survive even a cursory rewrite. But this was the age of of the typewriter, after all, and perhaps author Henry Lewis Nixon thought, "hell, I'm halfway through.  Do I really want to retype a more subtle hint here?  Screw it."

Sure enough, Thomas (%) returns a week later to say he met this really cute girl in Evanston in the Yoga section of a bookstore (!!!).  They have a date set for the weekend and Thomas (%) really hopes he will finally succeed in losing his accursed virginity.  Surely, the reader thinks, Ted (*) knows this yogic Evanston girl is none other than his wife...but no, instead he tells young Thomas (%) to go for it, the full Kundalini!  He's not even suspicious when he gets home and his wife (#) is acting weirder than usual.  But on the positive side, at least P.F. ($) seems to have a new dating prospect on the line, so he's beginning to lose interest in yoga and hanging out nekkid with his daughter all day.

Lo and behold, Barbara (^) comes in for her next session to say she just met a new guy--he's a bit older but really rich and treats her swell.  You can tell she likes Ted (*) better, but as that probably has no future, she's obviously looking for some security from a "father figure."  And that man turns out to be.....P.F ($).  Yes, author Lewis treats his story like the Native Americans treated the buffalo--nothing can go to waste, every character must have some connection to every other character, no matter how improbable.   So now we have a second Oedipal triangle.

                                                            ($) <<<<<>>>>> (^)

                                                                         (*) :-(

Hey, guess what?  Thomas (%) is back from his big date.  He tells Ted (*) he and the girl did a few yoga moves and then made out hot and heavy for awhile.  But she put the brakes on and they never made it to the bedroom.  Now Thomas (%) is scheming to give the girl "Spanish Fly" so she'll go all the way next time.  He asks Ted (*) if that would be ethical, and Ted (*) decides, "sure, in your case it would be" (the kid is a 27 year-old virgin, after all, so that apparently constitutes enough of a crisis to break out the strychnine).  And still Ted (*) remains clueless.

But that night Ted (*) has a big fight with Beth (#).  Turns out even though she said she wouldn't sleep with him until she achieved her yogic "Overself," she's mad that he doesn't at least try to seduce her (women...go figure!).  And then she lets it drop that she met this guy in the "yoga section of the bookstore" who really, really wants to explore her chakras.  Finally old fumblin' Freud figures it all out--he just gave his blessing to Thomas (%)  to give his wife Spanish Fly and not take 'no' for an answer.  And there doesn't seem to be anything he can do about it.

Luckily, when Thomas (%) returns for his session in a couple of days, he proves again that he is not one of Northwestern's brightest.  He dosed her with the fly alright, but then got so drunk himself that he passed out!  The sacred vows of marriage have not been broken.  There's still hope for Ted (*) and Beth (#) if those crazy kids can just find a way to work it all out.

Things get a little crazy from here.  Ted (*) meets Barbara (^) by chance in a bar.  If only Thomas (%) could lose his virginity before seducing Beth (#), then he would lose interest and move on.  It's not like he's in love with her or anything, the kid just needs a "notch on his belt."  But what are the odds some woman is just going to come up and sleep with this little twerp (%) before his next date with Beth (#)?  Hey, I've got an idea, says Ted (*), how about you sleep with him, Barbara (^)?  Take that P.F. ($) you patriarchal cock-blocker x 2!  Barbara's (^) response: "Eh, why not, sure, I'll do it." Thomas (%) sounds kind of young and cute and she is just about to marry an old fart ($) in the suburbs--this could be her last fling, she reasons.

But then Ted (*) begins to have qualms of conscience over the whole set-up. P.F. ($) is his wife's (#) father after all.  Maybe it would be a dirty trick to have one patient (^) seduce another patient (%) so that patient (%) won't seduce his wife (#) with that first patient (^) being engaged to his father-in-law ($).  He decides the solution is to pay a visit to Miss La Rue (@) (remember her, the stripper who rolled Thomas (%) about 150 pages ago?).  Ted (*) tells her the whole sob story about the kid (%) being a virgin and all, and that he's about to seduce his wife (#), and it's not like Miss La Rue (@) is a still a virgin herself or anything...plus, he could always go to the police and tell them about the "mickey" scheme she's been playing on young dumb kids from Northwestern.  Alright, she says, I'll do it.  I'll think of some reason to see him again and then seduce him.

Having spent the night getting drunk with a stripper, Ted (*) goes home and has a big fight with Beth (#) that culminates in some wild make-up sex.  Then she put her lips close to my ear and said, "I think I got pregnant that time."  Strangely enough, this will prove to be true.  Marriage saved.  Book pretty much over.

So what happens to Thomas (%)?  "The damnedest thing," he says in his final shrink session.  A woman arrived at Thomas' (%) door and said she remembered him from his football playing days at Northwestern and couldn't get him out of her mind.  Virgin no more!  Ted (*) smiles to himself that his little plan with Miss La Rue (@) worked so well.  But wait.  Not an hour later, another woman shows up at junior's door.  "It was that Miss La Rue who stole my money," says Thomas (%).  Miss La Rue (@) tells Thomas (%) she felt so bad about slipping him the mickey and all that, and she wants to make it up to him.  Now he's even less a virgin!

So who was the first woman?  Oh shit, Ted (*) forgot to tell Barbara (^) the plan was off!  Hilarious!  And even though Ted (*) claimed to feel guilt over old P.F. ($) getting cuckolded by his fiancee (^), it would appear the unconscious wants what the unconscious wants.

Let's review the final equations:

                                            (%) + (^) + (@) - (#)  =  (*) + (#) + (8 lb. baby)

                                            ($) + (^) - (#)  =  (*) + (#) - (^)

The Biograph Potlatch

One of the most pernicious legacies of auteurism is the now deeply engrained habit of siding with directors in disputes over resources, creative control, and final cut.  Film theorists need to engage in a systematic program of research to discover—not how or why we identify with images on the screen—but why we forge strange parasocial alliances with people we’ve never met over issues that don’t really concern us.   I blame Godard.  More specifically, I blame how unbelievably cool Godard looked in Ray-Bans.  How many young aesthetes were led astray in the ‘60s and ‘70s by these images of Godard inspecting footage and cavorting with Anna Karina in those Je vois tout mais vous ne voyez rien shades?  Checking the day’s footage while wearing sunglasses probably isn’t even a very good idea—but who cares as long as they help you sell even a receding hairline on the streets of Paris. 

I gained further insight into the folly of directorial fetishism this week after finally catching up with Michael Mann’s Public Enemies (2009) on cable.  I thought the film itself was okay, pretty good actually.  I didn’t feel like I had witnessed the great American parable of violence and justice it seemed to be going for, but on the other hand it kept moving and Depp is always interesting to watch as an actor.   Plus, I got to see familiar parts of my neighborhood in Chicago decimated by tommy-gun fire.

In fact, I first learned this film was going into production two summers ago when suddenly I was stuck in a horrendous traffic jam in front of the fabled Biograph Theater near my house.  At first I thought it was just construction, but then I saw the tell-tale signs of a movie crew at work dressing an exterior set.  After learning what all the hub-bub was about, I later came back on foot and walked down the street to see how things were progressing.

G-Men gunned down John Dillinger near the Biograph Theater in July of 1934, thereby bringing an end to his life and most likely to any movie depicting that life.  So the crew was clearly dressing the street for the crucial, climatic scene of the film.  And they were sparing no dollar in doing so.

In the satellite map (above ) of the area,  the red X designates the spot where Dillinger snuffed it.  In between the two red slashes (Lincoln @ Fullerton up to about Lincoln @ Altgeld for those who know the city), a crew had installed fake cobblestones and trolley rails to bring the street back to its look in 1934.  Additionally, producers had secured the consent of every merchant on BOTH sides of the street (again, all the way between the two slash marks) to not only remove all modern signage, but also to install false fronts in each display window dressed with period goods and services.  I took a few terrible pictures with my phone capturing the street's transformation:

First we see the Biograph itself dressed with its 1934 marquee for Manhattan Melodrama.  To the left a vintage neon sign has been installed to disguise a modern taco franchise.

A book and card shop across the street installed with a fake display window and turned into a 30's dress shop.

The local Walgreens disguised as a furniture store, complete with vintage pieces on display. 

A recently abandoned theater space transformed into an old-timey barbershop. 

I'm no math-whiz, but ask yourself for a second how much money it would cost to lay a quarter-mile of cobblestones and trolley track and then completely redesign the store windows of some twenty odd merchants on each side of the street.  But worth it, right?  Especially if it helps capture the grit and realism of Dillinger's final moments on earth.

Like all people who write on film, I'm not above blocking a scene here and there while I'm walking along, especially when a local thoroughfare has been so extensively dressed for the camera.  So I tried imagining what Mann planned to do with this space.  Obviously, I thought, there was going to be some sort of ambitious tracking shot down the street, taking in all the rich details of the set design.  At some point, the camera must follow someone across the street, carrying the action to both sides of Lincoln.  Whatever it was going to be, it sure did promise to be spectacular. 

But here's the deal.  Virtually none of this ended up on the screen.  There is a fleeting crane shot (maybe 2 or so seconds) showing the cobblestones and tracks from on high, but when the time actually came to shoot the core of the scene, Mann opens on a close-up of the agent charged with signaling his peers that Dillinger is leaving the theater.  Once Depp-Dillinger emerges, Mann stays in front of him fairly tight on the sidewalk until the gunfire begins.  There aren't even any cutaways to other parts of the street to show crowd reaction, or other cops running to the scene, or...nothing.  From what my fairly educated eye could discern, this two-week project of massive street transformation translated into: a). an establishing shot of the Biograph's marquee; b). the fleeting crane shot of the street from above.  Everything else appears to have been a complete waste of time and money.

Were there more involved shots involving the street scene that got cut from the film?  Or did Mann not know what he wanted to do until he got there to eyeball the set?  Perhaps he thought in the end the dressed set simply didn't pass muster?  Who knows, but in the future I will try to be more sympathetic to the complaints of producers when they bemoan projects needlessly going over budget. 

And I was so looking forward to seeing bullet-holes riddle the corner Mickey D's.

Enquirer Ass Enigma

The Mindwarpers (1965)

Eric Frank Russell
Magnum Books

Why are the nation's best and brightest quitting their jobs in the government's top-secret weapons research laboratory? Metallurgist Richard Bransome doesn't think much about it until suddenly he realizes--out of the blue--that he murdered a woman 20 years earlier and must now leave himself before he is arrested. As the title no doubt suggests, The Mindwarpers concerns Bransome's quest to determine whether or not this memory of murder is real or a phantom of some sort. Reads more like a detective novel until the very last chapter, in which odd technologies make a sudden dramatic appearance. Essential reading for anyone hearing voices.

Psychotic Anxieties and Containment (1985)

Margaret I. Little
Jason Aronson, Inc.

I bought Psychotic Anxieties and Containment at a library book sale a few years back. For a buck, it seemed well worth the price. Beyond a certain morbid curiosity as to what might constitute “psychotic anxiety” (which sounds like a state of tension beyond even “panic” that still does not have the mercy to shut down the nervous system opossum-style), it seemed like a good idea to have a guide on hand for “containing” said anxieties should they ever erupt and were I—in that moment-- still lucid enough to read. As so often happens when you judge a book by its psychotic cover, however, this is about something else entirely.

Psychotic Anxieties actually belongs to the most esoteric of literary subgenres: psychoanalysts recounting the story of their analysis under other slightly more famous psychoanalysts. In this case, British psychoanalyst Margaret I. Little narrates her 20 some years of therapy—the final seven years of which were under the direction of Donald Winnicott, an analyst apparently pivotal in the post-war battles between Anna Freud and Melanie Klein over the future of psychoanalysis.

This was all news to me. Like most scholars in the humanities, my commitment to psychoanalysis doesn’t really go beyond memorizing the different phases of Freud’s career, learning some good gossip about the “inner circle,” and having an opinion as to whether Lacan was joking, insane, or the most brilliant man of the 20th century. Through Little’s account of her therapy, however, I have now learned that Winnicott worked closely with psychotic children and gave us the famous term “transitional object” (an object that helps children reduce anxiety during periods of stress—like a blanket or stuffed toy).

Little survives her years as "borderline psychotic" to become a practicing analyst herself. To many, this might seem like consulting a surgeon who was once "borderline butterfingers," but psychoanalysis is apparently the one profession where disassociative experience actually look good on the resume.

For psychoanalytic completists only.

Get a Grip on My Boy Racer Rollbar

When Stephen King delivered his manuscript for Christine to Viking in 1983, surely someone in editorial must have thought he had jumped whatever passes for a shark in the deep recesses of northern Maine. Here we have, not a short story, but an entire novel based on what has to be one of the most moronic tropes of the “fantastic” ever conceived—what if an automobile could come to life?  What if cars, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, golf carts and such could become sentient?  It’s the kind of “magical thinking” Freud associated with children and psychotics.  But at least children and the psychotic might be excused for really believing the new Prius in the garage wants to kill them.  To think—as a functional adult—that a “living car” is scary, awesome, and/or entertaining in any way is to be an idiot.

And let’s not forget that King—at the absolute height of his cultural power and industry influence—chose Maximum Overdrive (1986) for his one and only turn in the director’s chair.  Maximum Overdrive tells the story of marauding 18-wheeler trucks that come to malevolent life when a strange comet passes by the earth  (because, you know, such shenanigans must be “motivated” or else they wouldn’t make any sense).  Actually, King should probably be praised for taking on this project.  Most authors given the chance to direct would no doubt try to bring their most ponderous and pretentious work to the screen—so King’s commitment to a making an entire film based on little more than a pun colliding truck transmissions and heavy metal amplification demonstrates a sense of humor if nothing else.  Plus it has a wall-to-wall AC/DC soundtrack, which given today’s penchant for the breakneck mixing of up-and-annoying acts from the studio’s ancillary mp3 division, is a fairly remarkable statement of aesthetic purity and industrial clout.

To my knowledge, the “living vehicle” premise has only been successfully realized twice, both times on television.  As much as it pains me to admit it, Steven Spielberg’s Duel (1971) is probably the best of them all—but of course that’s because we are never asked to believe anything so stupid as the truck being alive.  Much more terrifying is our identification with Dennis Weaver as the target of a blue-collar psycho, a guy who would no doubt squash our guts as well for being car drivin’ creampuffs.  Plus, Duel is a great meditation on the abstract guilt and anxiety that haunts us all.  Who can’t relate to a wide load of repressed fear barreling down the highway of life right on your back bumper? 

The other great “living vehicle” movie is Killdozer (1974), based on a short story that Theodore Sturgeon probably wrote on a dare or while drunk.  What if a giant bulldozer came to life…to kill!  It’s just stupid enough to work because it knows just how stupid it is—as opposed to the current Transformers series that, even as I write this, has invaded downtown Chicago to reuse all the same set-ups as The Dark Knight, not so much to stage a dark allegory of contemporary evil, but to restage Piaget's "Concrete Operational Stage" for the hoardes of pathologically regressed viewers interested in reliving the thrill of their first preschool success in getting all the star, square and circle pegs into the appropriate holes.

 Killdozer, by the way, premiered alongside Bad Ronald and Born Innocent, making the 1974 television season a profound benchmark in the collectively ironicized gray matter of Gen-X.  If you know of the band Killdozer from Madison, Wisconsin—one of the Dairy state’s greatest contributions to ‘80s post-punk anomic sarcasm--congratulations.  Give yourself a couple of more points if you ever owned their first elpee, Intellectuals are the Shoeshine Boys of the Ruling Elite (a title that truly could only have come out of Madison, Austin, or Berkeley between March and August of 1984).  

There are a few other cars in the “things that talk that shouldn’t” wing of the TV museum (as the Simpsons put it so well a few years back).  Most likely more people have heard of My Mother the Car than have seen it, a sad case of producers going to the I Dream of a Bewitched Mr. Ed and Mrs. Muir well one time too many.  Then there is Knight Rider, but here it was never entirely clear if “Kit” was actually a sentient being or if he was just a really well programmed computer forced to banter with David Hasselhoff—but I suppose that is a question we will all be asking with increasing frequency in the dark Terminator days that lie ahead.   

To recap: talking car stories are for morons.  So imagine my surprise after being tricked into reading a talking car story that is actually pretty good: The Four Day Weekend by George Henry Smith (Belmont 1965).  If you’re wondering how a person can be “tricked” into reading a book, then clearly you are not familiar with how pulp covers worked at mid-century.  As the FTC has no jurisdiction over commercial artwork, pulp publishers have enjoyed a long history of simply lying about what is actually between the covers.  For example, if you will examine this particular cover closely, you will note that it depicts a heroic man, trailed by a slightly less heroic but still very attractive woman, fleeing from some ungodly array of futuristic fighting machines.  X-wing-like fighters strafe them from above.  Another guy appears to be floating in the background, suggesting all of this takes place in the zero-gravity of space or perhaps an exotic far-flung planet.  But The Four Day Weekend is about none of this; instead, it about talking cars that try to take over the world. 

I was particularly duped by the blurb that appears on the top left: “What happens to a man when a woman is the boss—even in the 21st Century?”  This is a wonderfully ambiguous statement, and one that requires us to assume the place of a teenage boy buying this book back in 1965.  Does this statement mean: after 2000 years of bossing men around, what if women are still in control EVEN in the 21st Century?  Or does it mean: what if EVEN in the future masculine techno-utopia of the 21st century, women somehow find a way to take over and become “the boss?”  Either way, it’s a great example of the hilariously unexamined sexism that modern men like to pretend they don’t find funny anymore.  As almost all sci-fi is about dreams of male autonomy, the blurb should probably read: What happens to YOU when teachers, moms, and girlfriends still get to boss guys around even after high school? 

As the story opens, our protagonist, Charles Henry Hyde, is one of only a handful of passengers still riding mass transit in Los Angeles.  This is an old science-fiction trick, of course.  To proceed in the story, we have to imagine and concede a future so distant that L.A. has not only built a working light-rail transit system, but one that has already peaked and now teeters on obsolescence.   Hyde takes the train each day because he absolutely loathes cars—which is fortuitous as it makes him a great character to focus on once all the cars go berserk.  When he come home each night, meanwhile, his wife Agnes nags him for hours to buy a car so they won’t be the embarrassment of the neighborhood.  This is where the “woman as boss” idea appears briefly in the book: even though Charles Hyde lives in the futuristic 21st century, he is really only a sci-fi cousin to the many bedraggled suburban commuter-droids populating all manner of genre fiction in the early sixties—sitting on the couch each night with a Martini while the wife in cold cream and curlers reminds him of all the shiny consumer crap they don’t own yet.   

Agnes is particularly interested in acquiring El Toro, an exciting new bright red model with scenes of bullfighting embroidered on the seats and gold-plated cattle horns emerging from the grill.   Charles is also pretty sure she’s having an affair with the guy running the car lot.   

This is one reason The Four Day Weekend is somewhat less insufferable than most sentient Chevrolet fiction—author Smith at least recognizes the whole genre is based on a type of perverse sexual sublimation, be it fourteen-year-old boys identifying with Big Mack trucks that just want to “rock you all night long” or a befuddled Jerry Van Dyke going through some form of creepy Oedipal crisis with a 1928 touring car.   While it’s not quite up there with Ballard’s Crash (1973), Smith’s book also explores our strangely erotic commitment to the one consumer investment we make that holds the greatest potential for killing us dead.  In fact, most of the book’s opening consists of Hyde witnessing increasingly horrific pile-ups around L.A., interspersed with his musings as to why we accept such carnage. 

But then we discover that all of these car wrecks are not "accidents" at all; instead, they are part of a systematic program of human genocide engineered by a new generation of computerized “super-cars.”  We have reached a tipping point, it seems, where WE are the ones in THEIR way, causing such inconvenience to our auto overlords that we must be targeted for extinction.

After that it’s pretty much every man for himself in the vehicular apocalypse.  Charles goes home to find his wife Agnes dead—somewhat predictably gored to death by El Toro.  He then leads a growing band of survivors through the city toward the Pacific where they hope to escape to an island off the coast renowned for having no automobiles.   

Which gives us the highpoint of the book, in my opinion.  Charles and the other survivors reach the island of San Marco, which in the 21st century survives as a type of beatnik commune.  Artist models walk around nude.  Bearded men wander about doing little to nothing.  There are no doubt bongos held in reserve somewhere.  Here at last, we think, is a refuge from the mad, mad, mad world of materialistic auto culture, a place to build a new utopia based on an economy of espresso, berets, and angry poems about “organizational man.”  But as they stand on the beach pondering the fate of the world, Charles and his friends see something on the horizon.  As it gets closer, it appears to be a ship of some kind.  Charles gets out his binoculars to take a closer look……Dear God, it’s El Toro!  It’s El Toro riding on a WWII-era landing craft, making straight for their beachhead!

Now this is why you read cheap genre fiction from the past—moments of beautifully unforced Surrealism that haunt the mind and inspire a chain of ever-more perplexing questions.  How, exactly, did El Toro commandeer a landing craft?  Is the landing craft a willing mechanical accomplice, suggesting that all modes of transportation have become sentient, or has he been forced on this mission against his will?  Given that we last saw El Toro somewhere near Santa Monica and that the major port in the area is in Long Beach, are we to imagine that an incensed El Toro had the presence of mind and determination of will to drive himself all the way down the 405 to find a landing craft so as to complete his oddly specialized mission of killing a single married couple?  Better yet, Charles can see through his binoculars that El Toro is MAD, angrily burning rubber back and forth (like a bull!) in the limited space of the troop carrier (which here becomes a floating pen leading to the bullring).  Astounding. 

Well, to bring this to an end, it turns out the cars have all been programmed to kill by a master computer back in Detroit (OMNIVAX!), necessitating that Charles, some beatniks, and his new and better replacement wife “Helga the nude model” must fly to Motor City and destroy it before it destroys all humanity.  As our final revelation, we find that the computer is itself under the control of--I kid you not--three large sponge-aliens in big jars that are using the cars to clear the planet for their own species.  I can only imagine this last detail came from an editor at Belmont, concerned perhaps that the book wasn’t yet “science-fictiony” enough.  Throw some alien sponges in there, that’ll keep the little twerps happy! 

The humans win of course, but with historical distance, it is a pyrrhic victory.  Reading the book in 2010, there is only the residual melancholia of having briefly revisited a world where the global apocalypse could conceivably issue from Detroit, a lost reality where Detroit still commanded enough economic and ideological power to feasibly control the nations of the earth.  I don’t have to tell you how sad and pathetic that all seems now from the perspective of the REAL 21st century America.  What a fate, even our own old popular culture now mocks us from the collapsing bookshelves of a million thrift stores.

Which leads to a final idea on the “hey my car is alive” front.  Rather than have Michael Bay waste his time on another Transformers film for infants and imbeciles, why not make the “talking car” film to end all “talking car” films, one appropriate to America’s plight in the new global order?  I’m pitching a film about a crack team of sentient 60’s muscle cars—Camaro, Challenger, GTO, Barracuda—that travel around the world A-Team style destroying the mass transit systems of the world’s more efficient capitals.  The London Tube?  Collapsed when Camaro sets off a series of timed explosions, careening wildly through Leicester Square as he makes a daring last second escape.  Train à Grande Vitesse?  Derailed by GTO and sent flying down the streets of Paris to overturn a comic chain of baguette carts.  The Hyundai plant in South Korea?  Destroyed in a tearful final sacrifice by Challenger as he takes one for the team, loading himself with vintage hand-grenades from the DMZ and detonating just as the first of the newest, most fuel-efficient Sonatas is about to roll off the line.

How to motivate this sudden campaign of violence?  Best to leave it wholly unexplained, I think, but as Hollywood could never stand such uncanny blankness, perhaps the cars can all accidently inhale “freedom dust” while on tour with an original copy of the Declaration of Independence.  Filled with the spirit of American liberty, the four friends dedicate themselves to regaining the nation’s market-share in car production by any means necessary--preferably by instigating many awesome explosions.   Perhaps there can be a romantic B-plot as well, Barracuda falling for a lovely Citroën during the Paris mission. 

Please send me whatever residuals you believe are fair.    

Additional Note: As ridiculous as the above movie idea is, I just realized it may have been unconsciously channeled from a commercial featuring George Washington attacking some British Redcoats by driving a "new" Dodge Challenger into their line--holding aloft an American flag no less.  I like my idea better, but in fairness, the residuals should probably be shared.

Russell, Alexandra, and John (1981)

Joseph R. Simonetta 
Simonetta Press

John and his twin sister Alexandra lived on a star called Ammeron that, sadly, was falling "out of harmony" due to the neglect of its greedy inhabitants. Luckily, John and Alexandra's parents took the family to summer on another star, nearby Jashar, where the two children one day met a man named "Russell" out in the woods. "We immedately found ourselves at ease in the company of this gentle man. His every motion, word, and gesture bespoke of love and kindness. A certain glow emitted from his being, an embracing light, an enfolding prescence. Somehow he was at once both of youth and of age." On the cover, Russell resembles Jesus, but with a small bird perched on his index finger. For the next many summers, John and Alexander meet with Russell each day to discuss the larger philosophical truths of the universe. This particular volume--apparently written in free-hand with a sharpie and then xeroxed--is a record of their final summer together, just after John and Alexandra finish what we must assume is "Space High School" back on Ammeron. As there is nothing in the book to frame this as fiction or allegory, I presume the reader is to take it as true. So here is one of the nuggets of wisdom to remember: Perhaps in truly being ourselves we fulfill the ultimate metaphor.

Nightfall (1956)

David Goodis
Lion Books

In his introduction to the most recent reprinting of Nightfall (Centipede, 2007), Bill Pronzini makes the case that this is Goodis' "most accomplished" novel. How this is a better read than Cassidy's Girl (1951) or Black Friday (1954) or Down There (1956) is hard to say, but pulp taste is probably even more relative than legit taste. This is definitely one of the more strangely plotted of his books, Goodis at times having his protagonist Jim Vanning experience two different spatio-temporal orders mapped atop one another as he tries to piece together what the hell is happening to him. The ending is both dreamlike and yet slightly forced, but that doesn't necessarily negate the pleasure of following the semi-amnesiatic probably doomed Vanning as he wanders around Manhattan consumed with guilt and inexplicably in love with a girl he just met who quite possibly will mean his death.

Obey Me, My Love (1965)

Sylvia Sharon
Lancer Books

Suzanne Jackson is feeling blue. Her parents have recently died in a car accident while vacationing in Europe, and now--a year later--her older brother is moving to New York. She's sure she'll never see him again once he becomes a famous writer. Together, they've just sold the family antique store in Berkeley, leaving Suzanne with nothing to do other than finish her Ph.D. in literature at the University of California. Out of boredom and self-pity, she enters a short-story contest sponsored by San Francisco's hippest arts magazine...and she wins! What will happen, though, when she realizes that winning the contest has made her coveted prey within the city's most elite club of multi-generational lesbian bondage enthusiasts?

Ostensibly a "dirty" book under Lancer's Domino imprint, Obey Me, My Loveis really more a travelogue about mid-60s San Francisco high society. Author Sylvia Sharon (if that is indeed your real name, Miss) revels in providing lengthy descriptions of North Beach, the Bay Bridge, the fog, Nob Hill, etc. In fact, the entire book has a wonderfully giddy stream-of-consciousness feel to it. Here is Suzanne at the awards dinner for her short-story prize.

The dinner--which began with a rich cream of potato soup, progressed through flounder with a vintage Pouilly Fume, featuring a buttery-soft chateaubriand on a wooden board artistically outlined by a tracery of whipped potatoes, mushrooms and tiny peas with baby onions to which a 1959 Chateau Haut-Brion was memorable accompaniment, continued with a Romaine salad whose subtle dressing made Suzanne exclaim aloud with gustatory pleasure, and concluded with a chocolate profiterolle and pink champagne--was served by a piquantly attractive maid, who could not have been more than 19 and was attired in lace cap, embroidered white lace apron over an extremely snug black satin skirt whose hems only reached her lower thighs, short-sleeved white satin blouse whose bodice exhibited a good deal of cleft of her astoundingly close-set round milky breasts.

The point here, I think, is that rich lesbians in the Bay area have excellent taste. And that's just one sentence!

Definitely better written than it needed to be (further research--ok, google--reveals Sylvia Sharon to be a pseudonym for Paul Little).

The Diary of a Rapist (1966)

Evan S. Connell

NYRB Classics

A rather harrowing first-person account of psychological disintegration and violence, as well as a precursor to more familiar texts like Taxi Driver (but without the ironic redemption at the end) and American Psycho (but without the irony period). Earl Summerfield is a low-level bureaucrat in San Francisco who divides his time between a). loathing his job; b). loathing his wife; c). loathing the moral decay of the nation; and d). fantasizing about making something of himself to end his overwhelming sense of powerlessness. Over the course of a year, we witness the narrator's increasing descent into psychosis and eventually violence. Unpleasant but effective. Of relevance to anyone interested in stories of psychotic descent and post-war disenchantment.

Famous Colon News

from the Huffington Post (July 13 2010)

The Coming World Dictator (1981)

John Wesley White
Bethany Fellowship, Inc.

Lookin' for the anti-christ circa '81. Factors in the mix: Godless soviets, the Sex Pistols, Charles Manson, astrology, the EC, Idi Amin, Madalyn Murray O'Hare, Jim Jones, TM, Hare Krishna, Moonies, Rastafarians, Scientology, EST, HPM, The Bionic Man, Woman, and Boy, Wayne Gretsky, Schwarzenegger, John Denver, Morris the Cat, Rupert Murdoch disguised as a koala bear, and The Bay City Rollers. Yes, those Bay City Rollers.

To quote White, "But would sophisticated westerns actually 'worship the image of the beast,' as the Bible indicates? The evidence points strongly to that possibility. 'I just adore him! I just worship him!' a teenage girl screamed when she saw her favorite singer from The Bay City Rollers in Toronto...As The Toronto Star noted, 'Adolph Hitler would have given his last pair of jackboots to manipulate children with the skill of the Rollers."

Later, noting the world's fascination with "Beasts" of all kinds, White writes, "When Johnny Carson announced his new three-year contract with NBC for the Tonight Show, the UPI circulated a photograph of him dressed as a rabbit." So there. All in all, a fascinating look into the ever paranoid hermeneutic of the Christian-right mind.

Daytime Harlot (1965)

Ben Ellis
Magenta Books

Men were so simple.  So utterly simple.  She had only to shake her tits at them and they would do handsprings. She could make them do anything she wanted.  Who said it was a man's world, anyway? 

So sayeth Marion, wife turned hooker in Daytime Harlot (1965), yet another in a seemingly inexhaustible supply of "suburban sin" novels from the 1960s.   For aficionados of this particular subgenre, here's the "plot" in pulpy shorthand:

"Frigid" Marion turns tricks in rented apartment -- her frustrated husband Tom is having affairs -- flashback to Marion's life story (abused girl >> hates father >>  teen prostitute >> man-hater >>  lesbian >> gold-digger >> daytime harlot!) -- back to present, Tom orders a hooker by phone to meet and "entertain" a visiting business client --Tom, his boss, and the client meet hooker at airport -- it's Marion! -- a final fight and confession ("You still don't the know the worst of it, husband," she said, her voice stronger now--full of bitterness.  "What I really am is a queer!  How do you like that, huh? A queer!  I'm a whore just for the hell of it, but a queer because that's the way I am!") -- Tom walks out on her to quit his job and leave town forever -- Having lost all respect, income, and cover, Marion goes up to roof and jumps "into the void."

All in all, a fairly typical excursion into the sleazy underside of sham '60s marriages.   Except Daytime Harlot features a rather strange epilogue.  No sooner has lesbian-wife-harlot Marion hit the pavement, the book tacks on a nice little romantic fantasy involving Tom:

It was sixteen months later when Tom Roberts and Nancy Bannon were married in a church in Chicago.  His mother came from Minneapolis, which was his boyhood home, and her parents were there. 
      Tom had never seen a woman look more beautiful in a wedding gown.  Or in anything else for that matter. As he looked at her, he called himself the luckiest man alive for having drifted finally to Chicago--after seven booze-drenched months in California, Arizona, and other places best left forgotten--and for stopping in one day at the struggling agency whose ad he had seen in The Tribune.
      It had been a small ad--for a small job.
      But Tom had landed it. 
      And that had set his feet back on the path again. 

What makes this epilogue peculiar is that "Tom," for the most part, is invisible in Daytime Harlot.  We meet him in the book's opening pages, but only to establish that Marion has "a problem."  The majority of the book recounts in salacious fashion the various sexual encounters that "turn" Marion into a man-hating lesbian.  Tom only returns in the final few pages for the ill-fated rendez-vous at the airport.  Marion's leap from the roof seems a definitive ending--especially since she is the focal point of the entire novel.

One has to suspect that the epilogue was added for the psychological benefit of the straight male readership targeted by such fiction.  Sure, it's great that Marion is appropriately punished for whoring and lesbianing and all that--still, there's something unsettling about having the heteronormative rug pulled out from under your feet so violently.  Imagine the triple humiliation that unfolds for Tom (and thus the reader) in the novel's climax:  My frigid bitchy wife is actually a prostitute...and a lesbian...and this is all happening in front of my boss. Man, am I ever screwed.  No wonder author Ben Ellis felt the need to tack on a "happier" ending for his audience of married men, many of whom--while titillated by their imagined glimpse into the world of trick-turning and lesbian seduction--were no doubt a bit spooked by such close contact with these more "perverse" worlds. 

The novel ends, of course, with Tom and new virgin-wife Nancy in bed:

She embraced him with her arms and her legs and whispered breathlessly, "Oh...you're wonderful, darling.  Oh...Tom...my lover...my darling..."
      She moved with him, her passion a perfect match for his own, as she gave herself and as he took her in the sweet pure beauty of love.
      Tom felt that in a sense it was for him, also, the first time.  Suddenly all that had gone before seemed to be nothing but a dark and soon to be forgotten dream.
                                                                      --THE END--

For this brief moment, a sleazy "do not sell to minors" paperback and the Harlequin romance share an identical ending-- slightly damaged but recovering man marries virgin girl in utopian fusion of love, sex, and gainful employment.  It's almost like the book takes the scared little boy reading the book and consoles him with a big hug--"there, there...the scary lesbians, prostitutes, and frigid wives who would humiliate you are all gone now, a dark and soon to be forgotten dream."  A porno Jane Eyre from Rochester's view, with the "mad wife" renting a sleazy attic near the airport to screw strange men and an occassional Grace Poole.

Mad Men Prequel




Timmy: The Story of a Sparrow (1962)

Clare Kipps
Arthur Baker Ltd.

In 1940, two weeks after her husband died, Clare Kipps  found a "crippled" baby sparrow on her front porch.  She took the bird in and named him Clarence. During the London blitz, Clarence became a minor homefront celebrity by amusing everyone in his local bomb-shelter.  He could do card tricks, pretend to read the paper, and in a stunning finale, impersonate Hitler (a beautiful image: the Luftwaffe flying in formation above, Clarence the flightless sparrow mocking Der Fuhrer from below).  Clarence passed away in 1952 at the age of 12, and Mrs. Kipps published a memoir of his exploits in 1953 under the title, Sold for a Farthing.

For most people, sharing a home for 12 years with a sparrow hopping from room to room would probably be enough (Kipps describes the difficulty of not stepping on Clarence, especially after his stroke of 1951 made him less able to discern domestic traffic patterns). Only a few months after Clarence died, however, a woman contacted Kipps to ask if she wouldn't consider adopting another wounded sparrow.  At first Kipps was hesitant (Clarence's death, she remarked, had finally made her free to travel a little), but with a little more persuasion, she adopted "Timmy" (above) in 1954.  This photo is in fact from Mrs. Kipps' second (!) sparrow biography, Timmy: The Story of a Sparrow (1962). 

Timmy, we learn, was a much more gregarious and quarrelsome sparrow than his predecessor. And while he couldn't impersonate Hitler, he could do his "church" trick (below), which consisted of Mrs. Kipps giving Timmy a coin and telling him to give it to the Vicar.  Timmy would then dutifully take the coin behind a photo frame and place it in an ashtray.  

The British public does not seem to have taken to Timmy with quite the same fervor as Clarence, even though the "church trick" was actually more impressive than Clarence's Hitler impersonation (which appears to have consisted of Clarence chirping louder and louder atop a little tin cup until he at last swooned and fell over).  The real hero here, of course, is Mrs. Kipps, who ended up sharing her home with an uncaged sparrow for 22 years.  And her friends, perhaps, who willingly came to visit a woman who kept an uncaged sparrow in her home for 22 years.  

Most fascinating of all, however, is the strange proto-logic of the sequel: the belief of a small British press that the market could sustain not just one, but two books about the intrigues of sparrow companionship. 

The Blood Circus (1968)

Thomas Fitzpatrick
Fawcett Gold Medal

Great biker trash with newly minted LAPD officer going undercover to infiltrate "The Beasts," a particularly sadistic gang led by a LaVey-like baldie looking to stage the biggest rumble in Harley history. Writing in the wake of Hunter S. Thompson's famous book on the Hell's Angels, Fitzpatrick is obviously peeved at the nation's growing fascination with biker lore. At various points in the book, LAPD officials rail about how disgusted they are that "long-haired journalists" are trying to turn these gangs into outlaw heros and underground icons--when of course bikers are nothing more than degenerate trash. To ensure we don't identify with the biker lifestyle, Fitzpatrick opens the book with the gang chain-whipping to a pulp a former University of California tennis player, right in front of his wife and kid (although for some sickos, this no doubt has the opposite effect than Fitzpatrick had hoped).

The Mall Cop Meme

Give that all modern labor is in some sense alienated, the culture industries would be foolish not to nominate certain occupations at certain historical moments as examples of comic hyper-alienation.  These are jobs that appear more demeaning and humiliating than most and thus become targets of open ridicule, at least for the middle-class taste formations that have typically served as the media’s main demographic.  The Honeymooner’s Ralph Kramden may have faced the daily frustration of driving a bus through New York City, but sidekick Ed Norton had the much funnier job of patrolling Brooklyn’s sewers, a career made even more hilarious in that Norton was so positively upbeat about swimming in a river of shit everyday.  Exterminators and “cable guys” present a more uneasy yet still productive avenue of such humor, the laughter more anxious because these particular professions occasionally bring the working-folk into the middle-class home (and just who presents the bigger nightmare for this audience, “Henry” from Portrait of a Serial Killer using an exterminator uniform to break into homes and commit gruesome homicides, or Jim Carey’s “Cable Guy” refusing to recognize the appropriate boundaries of interclass socialization?)  Plumbers are known for both their high fees and ubiquitous butt cracks, while a bitter Al Bundy spent the Bush/Clinton years as a middle-aged shoe clerk engaged in the time-honored gag of stuffing fat lady feet into pumps two sizes too small.

Over the past couple of years we’ve seen a new working-class occupation opened to collective mockery: the mall cop.  The Learning Channel is currently running a reality series called Mall Cops that follows security patrols as they keep the legendary “Mall of America” safe in the post-consumer apocalypse. The impotent authority of the “Rent-a-Cop,” meanwhile, has been a joke meme for several years now, often reduced to the analogical impotence of not being allowed to carry a gun.  Last year, finally, saw not one but two “mall cop comedies”—the excruciating Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) with Kevin James and the unexpectedly brilliant Observe and Report (2009) with Seth Rogen. 

Why mall cops and why now?  No doubt part of this fascination stems from the nation’s gradual realization that the “shopping mall” has become a default emblem of all that is absurd and horrifying about the “American experience.”  Here we have even more reason to be outraged that Dawn of the Dead (1976) has yet to be included on the National Film Registry, even as it remains perhaps the most politically prescient film in American history (yes, Night of the Living Dead [1968] is on the registry, but Dawn is clearly the more significant title).

Since Romero’s masterwork first appeared, many have explored the rich political possibilities of mall allegory.  At this year’s Whitney Biennial, Josephine Meckseper’s “Mall of America” displayed footage of unsuspecting dolts shopping--blissfully unaware that they were being made to look sinister and stupid through the addition of digital filters and what sounded like Einstürzende Neubauten falling into The Gap. Then there is the Disney corporation’s Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (1999), not so much an allegory as a straightforward appreciation of a mall/junior high school aboard a space station as tweener paradise, so desirable in fact that once Zenon is unjustly exiled to earth she fights like hell to get back into orbit with her friends, clothes, and fluorescent accessories (in the end, it’s a much more refreshingly candid account of contemporary American identity than the insufferable humanist blather of WALL-E (2008).  F*#k the earth!  I’m staying in space with all my cool commodities!).  In Kingdom Come (2006), meanwhile, J.G. Ballard transposed his unique talent for narrating slow-boil social disintegration from the modern high rise to the modern shopping center, seeing the mall as a fascistic co-efficient of the west’s increasingly racialized class struggles—a point made in much more humorous terms by Chris Rock before he checked out and became a Grown-Up. 

There's no more little towns - it's all malls! And they're all the same! The mall in St. Louis is the same mall in Detroit.. it's got the same Gap, Banana Republic, Chess King, Sunglasses Hut, all the same crap! And every town's got two malls! They've got the white mall, and the mall white people used to go to. 'Cause they're ain't nothing in the black mall! Nothing but sneakers and baby clothes!

Malls remain fascinating because they promise so much and yet deliver so little—and increasingly they serve as a pointed reminder of the uncomfortable equivalence between buying power and political agency.  Even malls that have not been explicitly segregated in Rock’s terms nevertheless frequently stage a spatialized lesson in class structure:  J.C. Pennys and Payless Shoes at one end, Neiman-Marcus and Gucci at the other (with “mall cops” watching for those who cross a certain “invisible” boundary).

The increasing visibility of the “mall cop” as a target of comic ridicule is no doubt a function of the culture’s overall disenchantment and growing disinvestment in the fantasies previously afforded by mall culture.  Mall cops are also powerful emblems of the paradoxes of consumer capitalism.  Just like construction workers who toil for years building houses they can never afford— a type of “anti-barn raising” that an evil John Ford film might direct in an evil parallel universe-- mall cops must make consumer utopias safe even as they themselves cannot afford many of the products and services that surround them.  In this sense, watching a mall cop chase down someone who has just boosted a Chanel purse is rather like watching a eunuch throwing a priapic sex fiend out of an ancient Roman bath.

As TLC’s Mall Cops makes clear, the primary task of mall security is to sacrifice themselves so that others may shop—patrolling the mall fortress to make sure unpleasant symptoms of the “real world” do not seep into the themed environment.  I’ve only seen a couple episodes of the program, but it becomes clear very quickly that a mall cop’s day typically consists of:

a.    shadowing and/or chasing shoplifters
b.    disciplining packs of unruly teenagers
c.    reuniting lost children with their deadbeat parents
d.    rousting schizophrenics, perverts, buskers, and other non-consuming eccentrics 
       from the premises.
e.    patrolling the washrooms for illicit drugs and sexual activity
f.     guarding those who have fainted and/or suffered some more serious emergency until 
       trained medical personnel can get there.
g.    breaking-up occasional fist-fights.

Mall Cops is thus a type of Cops-Lite, covering many of the same crimes and crises as its full-caloried brother, but usually in a less violent form and with the weird understanding that mall cops are generally not authorized or accredited to really do much of anything other than stand around until the “real” police or EMTs arrive. 

And this is ultimately what makes the “mall cop” most vulnerable to ridicule--his or her hollow relationship to any real authority.  Just as they often can’t shop in the stores they protect, they also can’t deliver the justice and discipline seemingly signified by the badges and epaulets on their rented uniforms.  On Mall Cops, for example, every time there is a significant breach of an actual law (assault, theft, etc), the mall cops must call-in “back-up” (but actually “front-up”) from the local municipality’s actual police department.  In fact, the Mall of America is so legendarily gigantic (and thus rife with crime) that Bloomington, Minnesota operates its own small police station on the premises—a kind of holding room where a lone cop vested with actual authority receives and processes whoever the rent-a-cops detain.

Obviously, mall cops are inherently funny because they think they have power when really they do not—at least not any significant or ultimately meaningful power.  In a culture where almost everyone feels similarly disenfranchised—cut off from having any real power at work, in the community, or on the national stage—the mall cop is the perfect collective jack-ass, someone who still believes (or at least deludes himself into believing) that he wields some form of authority.  TLC certainly recognizes this mock-appeal in the promotional materials for Mall Cops.  In the cast photo, the “cops” stand in a flying-V of arms-crossed determination, as if they’re about to scramble to a fleet of Spitfires and fight the Battle of Britain. Even more humiliating in the program itself, every time an infraction is called into mall dispatch, producers cut to a green-on-black schematic of the mall with a blinking dot indicating the location of the transgression—essentially using the visual codes of The Terminator to belittle a guy who, for minimum wage, must tell obnoxious teenagers to quit throwing French fries off the balcony of the food court. 

The two mall cop movies of 2009 both exploit this humiliation of toothless authority, albeit with very different results.  Significantly, Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Observe and Report have almost identical plots—dedicated mall security officer in love with a girl “out of his league” faces down an extraordinary threat to the mall in an attempt to win self-respect, the girl, and the admiration of real law enforcement.  And yet, even though the two films were obviously in production at the same time, Observe and Report seems as if it was conceived as a critical response to the horseshittery of Paul Blart: Mall Cop—an anticipatory deconstruction of a film it hadn’t even seen yet but nevertheless could still predict element by pitifully predictable element.

Those who have yet to enjoy either film should stop reading now, as much will be spoiled below.   

Paul Blart is the kind of beloved comic doofus central to Hollywood ideology almost since its inception.  Awkward, fat, and bumbling--but with a heart of gold--he wants nothing more than to be a good single dad to his daughter and maybe to find happiness with Amy, a fellow mall employee he hopes to ask out on a date.  After various humiliations related to his weight and lack of authority, Blart finds himself alone in the mall with a crack team of super-criminals, a gang headed by the turncoat kid he was training to lead the next generation of mall cops.  His relentless and truly inexplicable dedication to protecting the fully insured property of his employers, mixed with a little pluck and luck, ends up saving the day and winning the girl.  Upward class and sexual mobility reaffirmed, everyone goes home happy thinking once again that nice guys do indeed finish first in this the greatest cinema of the greatest nation on earth.  

Happily, Observe and Report wholly eviscerates this annoying formula.  Written and directed by Jody Hill, one of the creators of HBO’s equally dark Eastbound and Down, Observe and Report is one of the more explicitly political films to accidentally sneak out of Hollywood in quite a long time, so dark and unrelenting in its portrait of masculine psychology that, rather predictably, it angered the usual circle of film critics who feel the cinema should above all else never be “bleak" or--worse yet--"mean."

Like Blart, Seth Rogen’s “Ronnie Barnhardt” also lives in a “broken” family--not with a cute daughter, but with his perpetually reforming yet frequently out-cold alcoholic mother.  He too faces a “super-criminal.”  Not some ludicrous team of scheming thieves borrowed from an equally ridiculous caper film, but just a common creep who likes to run around the parking lot flashing his Johnson at women as they get in and out of their cars.  And yet Barnhardt is no less dedicated to his job than Blart; in fact, for the first half of the film he seems bizarrely over-dedicated to his position. There’s a girl involved, of course, Anna Faris courageously throwing her all into an “all rack/no brain” performance that makes her character—putatively our “romantic interest”—utterly repellent (in one of the film’s more subtle gags, she is completely devastated by her encounter with the flasher’s penis, even after she has just arrived at work listening to an almost comically filthy rap song about dicks and va-jay-jays).  Barnhardt’s determination to catch the flasher that has so traumatized Faris quickly brings him in conflict with Ray Liotta, the grizzled “real” detective who treats Barnhardt like an idiot. In a brief but wonderfully nasty side-plot, Barnhardt (like Blart) attempts to join the real police force, but finds that Liotta—whom he sincerely believed was treating him as a professional equal—in actuality thinks he’s a moron, hates his guts, and wants him to fail spectacularly. 

About half-way through the film, however, there is a rather astounding revelation about Barnhardt, one that completely derails the logic of the overall genre--even as it perversely helps to better explain it.  We discover that Barnhardt is bi-polar and off his meds--not figuratively, but literally.  Instantly, all of the familiar building blocks of the “little-guy” comedy become recast as a function of manic delusion.  The “gung-ho,” “can-do” attitude, the blind determination to succeed, the excessive loyalty to his employer, the dogged pursuit—to the point of sexual harassment—of Faris, the ferocity of his hatred for the flasher, the desire to “be someone” and advance in the professional hierarchy—all of it becomes a by-product of raging psychosis.  In effect, the film tells us that a person would have to be “insane” to believe in all that shit, the very same shit that Paul Blart so blissfully shovels without the slightest hesitation.

Like all “little guy” heroes, a mall cop finds ideological redemption only when his hard work, honesty, and determination eventually succeeds—capturing the girl’s heart and earning the respect of higher authorities (who of course then want to induct him into their ranks).  Barnhardt does in fact capture his exhibitionist Moriarty (to the heartbreakingly beautiful accompaniment of the Pixies “Where is My Mind”).  Rather than follow any magnanimous professional code, however, Barnhardt beats the perp to a pulp and personally delivers him to the police station.  Liotta and his cop cronies are on the front steps, smirking as they see Barnhardt approach.  Here at last is the big moment of fake recognition and fake respect we have all been waiting for.  But luckily, Barnhardt appears to have learned a hard lesson about the real world during his previous 90 minutes of relentless humiliation.  Handing over his suspect, Barnhardt tells the three cops to go fuck themselves. 

What was the last movie you saw where the big emotional payoff at the end involved a bi-polar maniac telling three cops to go fuck themselves?

The mall cop comedy may end up being the shortest-lived cycle ever.  What Paul Blart creates, Observe and Report destroys…utterly.  Let this be the end of cheap jokes about fat guys forced by the economy to wear fake uniforms and worry about the security perimeter of the Banana Republic, hoping beyond hope that some suit will notice their dedication and award them a girlfriend and a gun.  Let's move on and mock window-washers or toll-booth operators instead.