Tomato Soup Adventure

I knew it was going to be a terrible day when the Tercel wouldn't start.  Not sure what the problem is, but about once a month or so it just won't start in the morning.  Once you DO get it started, it runs great for the rest of the day.  No problem.  But that morning it was a problem.

It's embarrassing, but when it won't start I have to hang out on the wall next to the parking lot and wait for a neighbor to come out.  If I'm out early enough usually I can catch someone else going to work.  After nine, though, it gets tough.  And that morning it was already about 9:30 and I needed to get to Jerry's by 10:00 for the lunch shift.  But what can you do?  These are the sacrifices you make to drive a fourteen year-old Tercel in Los Angeles, especially when you can't afford a new battery.

Anyways, I finally got a jump from the guy downstairs when he left for his shift at Carl's Junior.  I haul ass over to Jerry's and get there about twenty after--not too late, I'm thinking.  And then wham!   Some idiot's in my spot, even though it's clearly marked "Reserved for Jerry's Deli Delivery Only."  A beamer, of course.  So anyway, I box him in just to piss him off if he comes out.  I run in the front and ask Jessica to roust his ass on the P.A., and then I run back out to the Tercel.  I get back just in time to see LAPD protecting and serving me by writing me a f@ckin' ticket.  I plead my case, but no dice.  So now I'm down $100 before my first delivery.

First run of the day is just off Sunset.  Two turkey platters and a tuna melt.  I think it was a production meeting of some kind.  There were three guys in there with a big white-board.  In one column they had listed a bunch of zoo animals: lion, elephant, rhino, tiger, etc.  And then in the other column was a list of things with dollar amounts after them: pressure washer $5, baseball bat $10, pepper spray $25, taser $50, and so on.  Somebody had written "Liability" with a big red question mark at the top of the board.  Not sure what was going on and I didn't ask.

I get back to my car and that's when it starts to rain.  They'd been warning about it on the news the night before, because rain is always a big deal here.  The whole city just loses their shit when it rains, and we were supposed to get 2 or 3 inches.  I remember thinking it wasn't supposed to start until later in the day--but here it was, straight up noon. So I get in the Tercel and head back to Jerry's, but my driver-side wiper is pretty shredded so I had to creep back at about ten miles an hour.

Back at the kitchen things had slowed down to a crawl.  No one coming in the front and no phone orders either.   And that was fine by me, because you have to be suicidal to drive across L.A. in a big downpour.  And it was really starting to come down.   Me and Chuck, the other delivery guy on shift, just sat on a couple of milk cartons by the back door and smoked a few cigarettes. 

After about an hour, though, Nick--he's runs the kitchen afternoons--comes in and tells me I'm "up."  I grab the slip and look at the address.  Unbelievable, it's someplace off Mulholland near Laurel Canyon.  The Tercel does not like the Laurel Canyon run, especially in the rain and especially coming back downhill.  Nick rings the bell for the order and I grab the bag.  But it's light as a feather, so I ask what's up.

"One order of tomato soup, no bread," he says.

"Fuck me running, are you kidding?" I tell him.  "Who the hell orders a single tomato soup in the middle of a hurricane?"  But Nick just shrugged his shoulders.  No skin off his ass, after all.

Chuck is laughing.  "Big tip on that one," he says.  I shot him the bird and went out to the Tercel.

Up we go.  Left, right, slow down, speed-up.  To the side, I can already see these little rivulets of muddy water pouring down from the hillside.  Great, all I need is a mudslide, I'm thinking.
To make matters worse, it was raining so hard by the time I got up toward Mulholland that I missed the turn and had to cross over on the Studio City side to turn around.  But finally, after about a half hour of this shit, I get to the turn-off.  And it's a real goat-path--one lane winding back up the hill with a river of water washing down.  I gunned it through a gully full of standing water to make sure the Tercel didn't stall out and then pulled up in front of this white house with big windows in the front.   Check the address.  Yep. That's it.

Normally I just leave the car running.  But here I was stopping on about a 30 degree incline, plus with all the rain, I didn't want it slipping gears and ending up over in Encino.  So I killed the ignition, pulled the parking brake all the way up, and banked the wheels.  I grab the soup out of the thermos-box and run like hell to the front door so that I don't get completely drenched.  But half way up this little path of concrete tiles, my cell phone drops out of my pocket, bounces off a rock, and lands right in the middle of a puddle.  Goddamn it!  I fished it out as fast as I could but too late.  Dead as doornail.

So I'm cursing to myself, walking the rest of the way up the path shaking out the phone and balancing the soup.  Then I see this woman looking out the window.  She's got on these stupid pink pajamas, even though it's almost one in the afternoon already.  And she's talking to someone on her cell phone.  At any rate, I figure she sees me, so I run up to the porch and wait for her to open the door. 


A minute or two goes by.  Nothing.  So finally I ring the bell, and after another minute, pink pajamas finally opens the door.  She's got the stereo on, playing some old R 'n' B song from the fifties.  "Honey Hush," I think.

But rather than say anything to me, she talks into her phone.  "How far is the nearest Jerry's Deli's?"  She's looking straight at me now, just holding her phone up between us.  Just then this robot woman on the phone says, "The nearest Jerry's Deli is 1.2 miles away.  Would you like me to call them for you?"  Then pink pajamas glares at me and shuts the phone down.

She's pissed, obviously, mad I didn't launch her cup of tomato soup up the hillside with a slingshot, I guess.  So I apologize.  You know, the rain?  The sheets of water coming down from the sky?

"This is ruining the dance party I had planned today," she says.  Which is weird, because as far as I could see, no one else was there.

Just then I realize I've seen her on TV somewhere.  I'm trying to figure out where while she's signing the charge slip, but I couldn't quite place her.  Anyway, she grabs the bag of soup and slams the door.  Decent tip, I guess, at least as much as you could hope for on an $8 order of tomato soup.

So I hop, skip, and jump back across the tiles that are still above water and get back to the Tercel.    Crank the ignition.  Nothing.  Crank it again.  Still nothing.  I slumped over on the wheel for a couple of seconds and then,  I don't know, I guess it was the combination of all the crappy stuff that day--the car not starting, being late for work, the ticket, having to sherpa one measly cup of soup up the hill for Miss prissy pants pink pajamas, the car not starting again--anyway, I just lost it.  I punched the seat and dashboard for about 30 seconds screaming my head off.  In fact, I screamed so long I almost hyperventilated.  But finally I calmed down.  Took a couple of deep breaths.  Tried to figure out what to do next.

So I reach into my pocket and pull out my phone to call Chuck for a jump.  And that's when I remember--the cell phone is soaked.   And that sets off round two.  I punched the dash for another minute or two.

Well, what else could I do?  I got out of the car and hopped back over the stones to pink pajamas' front door.  I ring the bell and start getting my spiel together.  Sorry to bother you, my car seems to have stalled, can I please borrow your phone to call for help.  I'm rehearsing this in my mind when, after a long while, I realize no one is answering.  That's weird, I think, because I know she's in there sucking down that bowl of tomato soup.  It hasn't been more than five minutes.  So I ring again.   Nothing.

So I walk around to the front window again and there she is.  She's whirling around in the living room playing this weird banjo--one of those that has a metal front.  Round and round in the pink pajamas.  The stereo's still playing, and it sounds like she's picking out the melody to "Tears of a Clown."   And then suddenly she stops dead in her tracks and looks right at me.   She pulls her phone out of a pajama pocket.

"Remind me to buy banjo strings tomorrow," she says.

"Okay, I will remind you," says her robot phone.

And then she comes to the window and closes the curtains with me standing right there in front of her.

I ended up walking back over to Laurel Canyon and hitching back to Jerry's.   Chuck drove me back up and we jumped the Tercel.  Went home.  Next day I had a cold.

Joan Collins Has a Demon Baby

Joan Collins rebuffed Hercules the dwarf and gave birth to a baby so evil it could kill through little more than the illusion of proximity created by basic editing.  Was it half-Italian?  Was it half Ted?  We will never know, for in less than 90 minutes this evil baby will take flight on demonic hamstrings to kill Collins herself.

Larry Cohen is a coward.  When his demon baby was born it slit the jugulars of the entire delivery team but remained unseen--scampering away through a sky light to begin its reign of half-glimpsed horror in the San Fernando Valley.  There will be milk!  But baby Nicolas is of another order.  As the credits roll, Collins writhes in orgasmic pain as this demon baby will not pass.  It's as if, observes Donald Pleasence, this baby "does not want to be born." 

Larry Cohen's evil baby isn't evil at all, nor a baby, but is instead a latex mutant concealing cables and pulsating air bladders.  But the baby in Joan Collins is The Devil Within Her!, an actual infant and a puzzler of ensoulment. Satan in a baby in Joan Collins--a Jobaytan...the Collinfantifer.   Does it truly "not want to be born," as the alternate title suggests?  If so, why not?  Joan Collins rebuffed Hercules who made a pact with Satan cursing this baby to be both demonic host and dwarf-controller.  But why should such a baby not want out of the womb?  It must need and want to enact its demonic agenda, and surely the tender and mild brain of an infant is no match for the power of Satan.

Then again, perhaps it is little more than a passing moment of stage fright for Nicholas (who could be half-Italian), the baby pausing to contemplate which movie he will occupy once he finally vacates the birth canal: It's Alive?  Rosemary's Baby? The Exorcist?  Little Nicholas, your burden is great, for director Peter Sasdy will ask you to interweave an odd combination of all three.

Forceps force little Nicholas into the mise-en-scene of life--we see him first with his mother, moments after his birth.  But this is no happy scene of mother-child love.  Baby is at the end of the bed, lying inert like an abject excretion, swaddled--yes--but left to fend for himself, perilously close to rolling off the edge.   Joan Collins has turned away and sobs inconsolably, perhaps realizing for the first time she is the putative lead in a movie about a baby that kills through editing.

The Italian husband runs to the bedside and turns his wife toward the camera.  Three blood trails well-up on her cheek, mute evidence of a savage attack.  But who would slash a defenseless mother only moments after giving birth? 

Our first close-up of Nicholas leaves no doubt.  His fingertips are bloody. Adorable baby fingers could do no harm, surely, so we must assume the recent retraction of razor-like devil talons--a chilling effect, no doubt, but one that takes place off screen, alas.  Worse yet, a small trail of blood trickles from the side of the baby's mouth.  Did demon baby Nicholas lick his talons, relishing the sticky-sweet taste of mother-blood as his claws slowly retracted?  Perhaps it was merely an afterthought on the part of the director or make-up artist, a quick smear at the corner of the mouth in case the fingertips didn't "read" properly in indexing the infant's culpability.  But in this accent, the implied horror is incalculable.  Not only is Nicholas cursed by a dwarf and a vector for Satan, he is also an incestuous vampire.

Why has a dwarf cursed Nicholas?  A flashback later in the film will recall the days when Joan Collins was an exotic dancer at a club in London.  Every night she worked alongside Hercules, driving him to the brink of sexual insanity.  And then, on the evening of her final performance, Hercules made his move in the dressing room--a shoulder massage that quickly morphs into outright groping.  Rebuffed!  As Joan Collins flees the club, Hercules accosts her at the door and curses her by announcing the very premise of the film: "You will bear a child as big as me and possessed by evil!"  Strangely enough, this is exactly what will transpire. 


The family goes home from hospital.  But things do not improve, either for Joan Collins or the viewer.  In one scene, Joan Collins has swaddled her child in a brown towel and placed him in his crib.  Nicholas stares back, vaguely sinister and accusatory in his demeanor.  Is he a mere baby contemplating a diaper dump, or is he the Dark Lord of the underworld plotting his future ascension to the levers of power?  An eye-line match returns us to Joan Collins as a growing look of concern spreads across her face.  We cut back--

LOOK NOW!  BELOW!  or DON'T LOOK NOW if you don't dare.  Through a mere edit, adorable Nicholas has transformed into Hercules the malevolent dwarf.


And so mote it be, for here hath he is. 

Joan Collins responds in the only way possible for a classically trained actress--she raises her hands to the sides of her head in utter disbelief: My baby has become Hercules the sweaty, leering sex dwarf.  Dear God, what is happening to my career?

But when we cut back to the crib we find that "baby" Nicholas is back in his crib.  Or was he ever gone in the first place?  Again, through little more than a simple edit, the entire foundation of the diegesis has been put in question.  Has Nicholas literally transformed into a dwarf and then back again into an infant; or, is Joan Collins slowly going mad, imagining for a fleeting moment that a dwarf substitution has taken place.  A lesser film would give us a definitive answer to this riddle, but happily, here we are left with uncanny ambiguity.

Can an entire film sustain such high levels of terror merely by cutting to and from a baby?  It is an interesting formal challenge, one that sets the bar much higher than the cheap animatronic theatrics of Larry Cohen's killer baby.

Later, a new nanny takes Nicholas out for a day in the park.  She rolls the perambulator up to the rocky edge of a pond and stops to take in the delightfully fresh air.  Nicholas, now in a cute yellow onesie, contemplates his next fiendish deed by sucking on his fingers.  We cut to the Nanny, lost in the wonders of nature.  But then, in a shocking reverse shot, a hand thrusts upward from off-screen to fill the frame.

What hand is this?  On screen for less than a second, the hand resists easy categorization and sets in motion a series of narratological conundrums.  Are we meant to see this fleeting glimpse of a hand as Nicholas the baby reaching out to kill?  Or has the dwarf-transformation happened once again, and it is Hercules who now occupies the perambulator?  Closer inspection of the hand suggests that it belongs to an adult---but viewed in real time, there is no real way to make this determination definitively.  Regardless, after another cut to the clueless Nanny, we see this same hand push the woman in the back, causing her to fall forward into the pond where she hits her head on a rock.  She's dead!  We cut back to the perambulator where Nicholas continues his diabolical masquerade of pinchable adorability.

Needless to say, the decision we make about this hand is crucial.  If, having examined the still or slow-moving image, we determine this is meant to be an adult-dwarf hand, then it's appearance here outside of Joan Collins' field of vision implies that some form of baby-dwarf transformation has indeed taken place, thereby setting our conditions of engagement for the rest of the film.  On the other hand-hand, we are told repeatedly that Nicholas is freakishly "strong" for his age, leaving open the possibility that this jiggly mass of baby-flesh is capable--at certain crucial junctures--to muster the strength and mobility necessary to implement his demonic intent. Ideally, one would need to locate the original viewers of this film from 1975 and query them  as to their initial reaction to this sequence.

Then again, perhaps this is simply a cheat gone wrong, a "mystery" that did not in fact exist before the ability of VCR and DVD technologies to slow this image down for excruciatingly close analysis.  Babies, after all, are notoriously bad at hitting marks or following blocking--perhaps this is no more than a baby "stunt hand" called in to execute the complexity of this shot, thus rendering the "dwarf-transformation" hypothesis wholly moot. 

I do not mean to suggest, however, that babies are wholly incapable of "acting." In another sequence, for example, baby Nicholas is enjoying some sunshine in the back yard.  A handyman finds a dead mouse on the patio and shows it to the housekeeper.  But an eyeline match suggests Nicholas has also seen the dead mouse, as well as the housekeeper's profound disgust at the sight of the dead rodent.  "Throw that thing away," she says.  The handyman then dumps the mouse into a drain on the patio and leaves for another job.

The housekeeper goes inside to answer the phone, leaving her cup of tea unguarded on the patio table.  When she returns, she stirs some sugar into her cup.  But something is amiss.  The camera moves in to frame the dead mouse, now soaked in Earl Gray and resting atop her spoon. She screams and runs back into the house.

And here baby Nicholas delivers perhaps his most chilling performance of the entire film.  As we see him back in his bassinet, snug and cozy, Nicholas flashes a fleeting moment of "crazy eyes," projecting a look of pure insanity and evil.  It is a fleeting micro-expression, really, but one wholly befitting an infant who has, only moments earlier, leaped from his crib, pried open a storm drain, retrieved a dead mouse, dropped said mouse into a tea cup, and then returned--unsuspected--to the security of his bassinet.

The sequence is all the more chilling in that we are forced to execute the sequence of events in our imagination, retrospectively.   Like all great horror, we must fill in the blanks of the leaping, retrieving, and mouse-depositing baby, making it much more terrifying than a crass aesthetic of common visibility.  His signature eye-movement only confirms our worst suspicions--this baby is up to no good. 

Any decent actor will tell you, of course, that your performance is only as good as the cast that surrounds you.  A fine example of this "ensemble" terror occurs later in the nursery.  Joan Collins brings home "Ted," her former manager at the strip club and the possible father of Nicholas (if, in fact, the baby is not half Italian).

We see Nicholas on his pillow, apparently napping quietly.  Ted leans in to look at the boy.  Suddenly, his head flies up and back into the frame.  He is "selling" the illusion of a spirited baby slap. When Ted settles at last in the center of the frame, we see that a small trail of blood trickles from his nose, more evidence of the baby's powerful musculature and freakishly accurate motor skills.

Film is a collaborative art, and here we have many cooks in the kitchen of excellence.  Nicholas must project a sense of imperturbable tranquility.  Ted must convincingly mime the whiplash motion one typically associates with a demon baby strike.  And both director and editor must time this sequence with absolute precision, lest it devolve into a laughable, embarrassing farce for all concerned.

At this point, the viewer may be excused for wholly abandoning the "dwarf substitution" hypothesis.  In the last few incidents, after all, it would appear that baby Nicholas has acted alone in his demonic mischief.  To reignite our uncanny apprehension, however, director Sasdy wisely "bookends" the original transformation sequence with one that is even more challenging in its formal complexity and more shocking in its impact.

No sooner has Nicholas chased the deadbeat Ted from the nursery by walloping him in the nose, Joan Collins walks over to the crib.  There is a faint smile on her face, proud perhaps that her son--devil though he may be--gave the sleazy Ted such a righteous beating.  A POV shot shows Nicholas in his crib.  The introduction of shiny car keys off-screen has inspired the young actor to wave his hands back and forth, introducing a novel element of dynamic movement to his typically understated acting style.  As with Nicholas and the shiny object off-screen, we too become transfixed by the baby's animated waving.  But then, in a flash shock cut, Nicholas the waving baby instantaneously becomes Hercules the waving dwarf.  This time there is no mediating shot of Joan Collins to facilitate this transition, just the hocus-pocus presto of a graphic match from dynamic baby to dynamic dwarf.  Only then do we cut to Joan Collins, paralyzed in fear.  When we resume her POV, however, we see that Hercules has once again yielded the terrain to baby Nicholas who, despite his momentary transplantation to a spatio-temporal void of non-existence, a low-budget limbo as it were, nevertheless continues in his fascinated eye-tracking of the D.P.'s Jaguar keys.

How does it end?  Nicholas somehow finds his way into a tree in the back yard and then lures his Italian father into a hangman's noose.  Dead.

Joan Collins runs through the house in terror only to have Nicholas spring up and stab her through the heart.  Dead.

But, happily, the Italian father's sister is an Italian nun.  And not just any nun, but one who has recently arrived in London to perform experiments with rats in a laboratory.  Sasdy leads us to believe this scientific training will be relevant in solving the enigma of the devil baby...but no, it is a complete red herring.  Having pondered this enigma for several days, I can safely say the nun's research program with rats has absolutely nothing to do with anything, standing as a veritable "Ambrose Chapel" of pure misdirection. 

The time comes for sister nun to confront the demon baby.  Here she goes straight to the Linda Blair playbook, chasing the infant around the room while quoting Latin.   It is an extraordinary finale, baby Nicholas repeatedly pulled out of frame by unseen hands to simulate the devil's reluctance to surrender his diapered host.  This manuever has the added advantage of giving the baby a series of painful carpet burns, thereby insuring he stay "in character" by crying through the entire sequence. 

But finally the nun sister succeeds in pressing  the crucifix to Nicholas' head.  His crying immediately stops, replaced with the delightful cooing of an infant freed from Satan's influence. Meanwhile, across town in Ted's strip club, Hercules has slowly collapsed and died in a series of cross cuts.

Our final image of the nun sister says it all.  This baby is clean.  This movie is over.  Let us thank God for both miracles.  

Old Man Cooter Watches "Girls" on the HBO

























A squeaky screen door opens revealing Old Cooter Johnson. Shielding his eyes from the sun, he does his best to shoot an angry glare at some neighborhood boys who have thrown a Frisbee dangerously close to his property line. Satisfied that they are moving their youthful shenanigans down the street toward the park, he approaches the podium, taps the microphone, and begins to speak:

I've just seen me that new show called Girls on the HBO, and by cracky I can't say I care for it much. Now I know you young'uns probably don't give hoot nor holler what an old coot like me thinks about anything on the HBO, but my son-in-law done near busted his tailbone running that wire down from the pole into my TV so's he'd have something to do here at Christmas, so as long as the HBO is all hooked up I'm a-gonna take a peak at it every so now and then.  So last Sunday I was lookin' through the TV Guide to see if that show about those crazy whores in that whorehouse out in Neevady was back on the HBO when I stumbled across this here show called "Girls."  But dangnabbit, it turns out these girls ain't for lookin' so much as complain'.  To hear these girls tell it, you'd think God hisself owed them a fancy pants apartment in the Big Apple and Rock Hudson fer a boyfriend.  And even then I wager they'd still be complainin' about a man knockin' their perfumey bars of soap in the toilet bowl or accidentally leaving their pink pantaloons in the drying machine too long.  

Now, I can't rightly say I followed exactly what was goin' on in this here Girls show.  After a while, all their weepin' and moanin' about how unfair life is and how stupid boys are just started to agitatin' me,  and when I gets mad my thinking has a way of just runnin' into itself 'till I'm not really sure what happened when.  Best I can recall, the whole thing started out with this girl named Hanner (Lena Dunham) leaching a perfectly good dinner off her parents and then gettin' all sour and sulky when Ma and Pa said they weren't a'gonna pay fer her foolishness no more.  Mr. Ghostbuster let it be known they'd been puttin' a roof over Princess Hanner's head and buyin' her food and pills and notions and such for 24 years, even with her all graduated up from a perfectly good college.  Now in my day, a girl that age would've popped out three little bundles of joy to help around the farm, maybe four if'n the husband poked a few holes in her diagram or played havoc with her rhythm colander. But rather than get to babyfyin' like the good Lord intended, this Hanner just wants to live the la-dee-da life in New York on her father's dime, sittin' around on deevans talkin' about eggheaded books that will only trouble her uterus.  If'n that had been my daughter, not only would I kick her out of the house when she turned 16, I'd shut all the doors and change all the locks so she didn't come prowlin' around for extra grub or to stick me with a bastard grandchild she got from baitin' her hook but not reelin' in any decent men folk for marryin'.

So later, I don't remember when exactly, Hanner is squattin' in a bathtub with this real tall looker (Alison Williams) wrapped up in a towel. And Hanner is eating a cupcake, which in my day sure as shootin' meant she was in Sappho's army if you know what I mean. But there's no preversions going on as far as I can tell, even though Hanner asks to see the looker's boobies. Then they commence to talking about the looker-loo's boyfriend. He seemed a little fruity to me, but you can't deny that boy's gumption bustin' his ass everyday tryin' to please miss looker-loo. But does she appreciate it? Nope. In fact, these two magpies stark a'cacklin' about him being a "pussy" and all, and how looker-loo can't even abide him a-touchin' her anymore.  But I'd wager dollars to donuts that if that boy come home every night covered in axle grease and smellin' of pit bull urine, and then slapped looker-loo on the ass so as to get the possum a-turnin' on the spit before he seeded her lady regions, those two hens would be right back in the bathroom a boo'hoo-ing cause he's so crude and mean and smelly and such. So it just goes to show you, boys ain't got no chance of winning on Girls.

Somehow Hanner's fool friends talk her into quittin' her job, just because it don't pay nothin'. But from what I could see, her boss gave her a big desk in a nice room that keeps her off the streets eight hours a day, so I don't know what she's complain' about. With no place to go, she wanders like a forlorned orphan over to her boyfriend's house. Least I'm guessin' he's her boyfriend, even though he doesn't seem to pay her no mind through all those fancy new phone attachments and applicants and whatnot. Anyways, she ain't there five minutes before he's telling her to get nekkid, turn over on her tummy, and stick her hindquarters up in the air.  And this Hanner just kind of does it, even though you get to thinkin' she don't care for it much.  Now in my day, if a lady said she didn't want any gentleman callers at the back door, she spoke up and said as much. But not Hanner.  She just lies there on the couch like a sack of flour waiting for Prince Charming to lube up his dingus-doo. One's things for sure, this Hanner is no Mary Tyler Moore. Mary Richards had spunk, and it wern't runnin' down her ass crack neither.

Old Man Cooter takes a step back from the microphone and spits on the lawn.  He resumes: 

After all the sexin', they sit on the couch and we find out dreamboat gets his rent money from his poor old grandma, who probably has to stiff her cats on decent tuna meat just so mop top here can realize his dream of being a poet or an actor or a rock 'n' roll geetar player or whatever other "look at me, look at me" jobs the kids think are out there just waiting for them.   Then the lovebirds commence to bellyachin' how they studied English in college and now they ain't even qualified to wash cow shit off turnips, like the Dean of Precious-Pie University put a gun to their heads and kept 'em away from where all the useful thinkin' was.  By my count, this Hanner could be teachin' little children or nursin' sick people or typin' letters by now, but I reckon she's too sensitive to do honest girl work, so she's gonna wait around a few more years hopin' a million dollars just falls on her head outta the sky. 

I almost forgot, somewhere in there we meet this stuck-up European girl (Jemina Kirke) who everyone else thinks is the cat's pajamas just because she's been fornicatin' in Paris and Amsterdam and a bunch of other places no decent girl should ever be by her lonesome.  She and looker-loo and the pussy boyfriend and some kid who loves McDonalds are all sittin' around havin' some kind of dinner shindig.  And before you know it, the European and looker-loo are sittin' in the privy again bitchin' about everyone else who ain't in the privy. Then we find out some Casanova knocked up Euro-girl in her last port of call, which I guess means HBO is gonna make me ride along to a New York 'bortion clinic in a future episode. Well I guess I'll circle my calendar for that too you liberal preverts.

Next thing you know, here comes Hanner from her afternoon romp in the hay with mop top.  First thing looker-loo does is take a big snort of Hanner and tell everyone at the party she smells like she been a sexin'.  Now in my day we didn't discuss religion or politics at a social gatherin'--and we dang sure didn't talk about the sundry stenches wafting up from a person's plumbin' parts.   I almost pulled the wire out the back of the set with that one, but then I remembered 'bout that whorehouse show maybe comin' back and a cooler head prevailed. 

Well, so far we've seen a bunch of screwin' and complainin', so I figured there was nothin' left for these idjuts to do but take some drugs.  And wouldn't you know it, pretty soon McDonald boy is cookin' up a cup of Chinese opium.  Hanner chugs down a cup, and like most hop heads, suddenly she thinks she's such a genius she can't help but shit rainbows and ice cream.  So she high-tails it back over to the hotel where her Ma and Pa are bunkin' and forces them to read some scribblin's she's done  about how bad her boyfriend is, and how unfair internmentships are, and how especially painful it is to be a 24 year-old girl nowadays.  Now in my day, I'd a rather swallowed a dozen shot glasses and pissed blood for a month than let my kinfolk see something I'd scribbled or painted or mused upon generally.  But not this Hanner.  She's so used to havin' her parents blow jasmine smoke up her buttocks that she ain't got no qualms sittin' there makin' them read her masterpiece, waitin' on them to pronounce her the Princess of Ponies.   Ma and Pa tell her it's pretty good and all, but what else are they gonna say?  It's like when my step-nephew Dwayne came back from the crick all proud he'd caught himself a carp, like a carp ain't the most goddamn useless fish in all God's creation.  But ya got to encourage the boy.  So Hanner's Ma and Pa tell her they reckon her carp is pretty good too.  But even after gettin' all this praise and pettin', Hanner has the gumption to ask them for even more money. Eleven hundred bucks a month for two years! 

Well, her parents put an end to that nonsense real quick.  When she wakes up in the morning, Hanner's parents have had the good sense to get out of there pronto.  But they do leave her a few twenties to get her hair done and maybe buy a new dress, so they weren't completely heartless.

I guess that about does it I reckon.

Reporter One: "So, in summary, would you say you like the show, Old Man Cooter?  Will you continue to watch it?"

Well, I don't rightly know. While it was on, I kept hopin' they'd all walk into open manholes what with the endless pity party they was all throwin' one another.  My son-in-law called and told me we ain't supposed to know if we like 'em or not, that it's all a part of the am-bue-getity of things, but I don't know.  That's seems like pretty squirrelly thinkin' to me.  If'n I can't root for any of these young ladies, and if I ain't got much chance of seeing looker-loo's boobies anytime soon, I don't figure I'll keep a watchin'.   Then again, I do kinda wanna see if any of them grows a backbone at some point and quits blamin' everyone else for their life not being all unicorns and candy, so I guess you could say I'm conflictulated. 

Reporter Two: "Cooter, have you seen Game of Thrones?  There are a lot of bare breasts in that show."

Game of Whatsee?

Games of Thrones, it's on HBO right before Girls.

You don't say?  Well, I best get out my good markin' pen and write that one down fer next Sunday.  Now y'all git!

Romney Hashtag Hailstorm

ABC News Anchor Diane Sawyer has apparently set up an interview with Mitt and Ann Romney for Monday, April 16.  In an attempt to keep Sawyer, ABC, and the Romneys up-to-date with the whole social media thing, Sawyer used her twitter feed this afternoon (April 12)  to solicit questions for the presumptive GOP Presidential nominee and his wife.

Below, with very minimal editing, I offer the first 100 or so tweeted "questions" to arrive at #AskRomney.  Some I edited for being nonsensical (at least to me), another was over the line (at least to me).  As far as I could see, out of the first 300 tweets or so, only two qualified as "legitimate" questions that an ABC reporter might actually ask a Presidential candidate (one concerned sending U.S. troops to battle the Mexican drug cartels, the other was more an impassioned plea to defeat Obama). The rest?  Well, take a look for yourself.  If the twitterverse is a barometer of anything, Romney has an uphill climb ahead of him.

WHERE THE WHITE WOMEN AT?!

how becoming android voids you of the irrational components of human life and gives you daily systematicity.

What's your favorite Converge record? If you quickly answer "Jane Doe" I'll just assume you're pandering.

Did you kill Batman's parents? 


Is it cool to see James Bond driving a car in a movie and then go out and buy that car afterwards?

How much of your legacy programming is still COBOL?

Which Blueprint album is most baller?

WHAT IS THIS TREND ALL ABOUT?
 

Is it true that if I kill you, and eat you, that I become you?

Can you open this jar for me?

Who mucks out your dressage horses stalls twice a day?

Have you ever made it with one of your slaves?

How far into International waters must I go to legally beat the deckhands on my yacht?

Do these pants make me look fat?

Do you ever suspect that your groundskeeper is having parties in your mansion when you're out of town?

Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?

You're in a desert, walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise. It's crawling toward you...

Do you have any other wives stashed somewhere? Like in the Cayman Islands maybe.

Y U No Listen to All American?!


What's love got to do with it?

Which disc off of Master P's album "MP Da Last Don" did you play more, the red one or the blue one?

You're walking in a desert when you come to a tortoise. You flip it over and watch it bake in the sun. Why don't you help it?

Why didn't you tell me there was a typo in my last tweet? Doesn't your Mormon underwear make you magical?

do you think you could dunk on Obama. Do you believe you have the sick dunks this country needs
 

AND I SAY HEYAYAYAYAY. HEYAYAYAY. I SAID HEY. WHAT'S GOING ON?

Someone told me the only way to get spaghetti sauce out of carpet is to put half a tomato on it to "resorb" it. Is this true?

zen arcade or double nickels

what emulator do I need to play you

when you saw the Trayvon Martin story on the news, how surprised were you that black people still exist

African or European swallow?

do you get nervous when you walk into Men's Wearhouse and see all the other empty suits?

seriously i've asked obama, NASA, and lots of people by now with no answer to my question: how do I get past the water temple

What happens when someone spills water on your robot parts?

hey is cartoons real? have u met homer simpson when he went to space

Why didn't you become Batman? You have enough money to be Batman. Are you afraid to be Batman?

Why did you think this would be a good idea?

What up player what's the most layers u ever had in a Photoshop file

of all the Mormon planets which is your favorite? Is it the one where black people came from?

To the anonymous intern that is reading these, how does it feel. Are you holding up

who let the dogs out
 

how do i download wu tang

how much did it cost to retrofit a human skin over your sore-ridden insectlike carapace

Will you build a space ship to find God

Why does Mormon underwear have a neckline? Isn't that just a fancy term for a Mormon muumuu?

do you read my blog?

what will u do to stop friendzoning

MORE OF A STATEMENT THAN A QUESTION: U HAVE 2 DIAL 9 FIRST TO CALL EXTERNAL NUMBRS. SOMETIME I FORGET & GET SOME1'S EXTENSION LOL

"Is it true that God didn't make little green apples? Because they're sinfully delicious. "

Do you agree that Wheelman is the most underrated game of the current console generation?

Can you answer this spam bot already? I mean, she's offering you $300 dollars a day!

How would you like to win a FREE iPad while earning 2K a week from the comfort of your own home!

Have you ever thought about hosting a GaiaOnline chat? I bet you'd get lots of followers there.

When you're elected President, will you overthrow the British government so the Smiths can reunite?

Toast or Milquetoast?

When are you coming out with some new pullstring phrases? im tired of your current ones

What's your least favorite country, Italy or France?

were you aware that your last name is also a kind of sheep you fluffy little devil, you

I'm trying to get 3 stars on Level 4-3 on Angry Birds Rio... Can you help walk me through this... I have FaceTime

Whose tusk gleams in the night?

were they all dead in LOST the whole time what a lame show LOL

can you use some of your pocket change to come visit me so i can slap you in your wallstreet mouth?

OMG, i'm actually like dying reading these tweets

Who would win in a fight between a grilled cheese sandwich and a taco?

How in the F*#$ do you not drink Iced Tea?

War. What is it good for?

My feet look glamourous!

Does this tattoo look infected?

Are you going to go back to Bain Capital after you lose the election in November?

Do your magic underwear chafe or do you buy special luxury magic underwear?

what will u do 4 mens rights

what should i do with these nicole scherzinger-branded fake nails that are too purple for me

If you become President, will you make them bring back Facts Of Life?

remember when we were gonna watch the big lebowski then we watched dear john instead and you fell asleep in my arms

How many glasses of orphan tears do you drink a day?

mittins hey i was wondering if u an ur wife need an egg donor. im fertile and broke. im college educated so im a good catch

Why do you prefer the Missouri Fox Trot over the Austrian Warm Blood? Cause the Fox Trot is made in the USA right? 

 if you had to put everyone in the world into a "fat" bin or a "thin" bin, which bin would I be in?

Why is 'bra' singular and 'panties' plural?

do u like movies about gladiators?

Why as a supposed "businessman" his job was to FIRE everyday people and REAP the profits?

I'm 23. Do you think that's too old for hoodies?

If corporations are people, my friend, what length prison term should you serve for killing so many?

consider Ozymandias, or the heads on Easter Island. Each one in their day was a President Romney not unlike you. are they happy?

Pardon me, but do you have any Grey Poupon?

What was it like being a bad guy in all those 80s and 90s jean claude van-damme style movies?

Can mages ever be trusted to walk amongst normal men, or must they always be watched by the Chantry's Templars?

If a red train leaves L.A. at 3pm and a blue train leaves NYC at 6:15pm, how fast would you destroy America?

Are Lovely Canadian girls as sweet & as Canadian as maple syrup?
 

Did Stevie Wonder cut my neighbor's hair? 'Cause it looks AWFUL.

A Visit to the 2012 Whitney Biennial


I recently made my biennial pilgrimage to the Whitney.  If you have any Whitney Cummings jokes to make, please do so now so that we might proceed inside to the exhibit in an orderly fashion.

One of the first things you’ll notice about the 2012 biennial is that the curators have devoted almost all of the fourth floor to a performance space, making the overall show seem much smaller than in years past.  I can only assume this is the result of performance artists and performance curators feeling aggrieved at their perceived marginalization in biennials past.  In any case, the space really eats up the square footage, and from what I could see, appears to be dormant many hours of the day.  When I visited, for example, nothing was going on until, finally, a multi-generational circle of people gathered in sweats and street clothes to do some kind of synchronized calisthenics.  Was it a performance?  Was it a rehearsal?  Was it a YMCA extension course?  Who knows?  One thing is for sure:  If, like me, you go to the biennial for a cram session in the latest painting, sculpture, and installation work, then it's a bit of a letdown to emerge from the elevator, full of art hope, only to encounter an empty gallery covered with black rubber mats.  I felt like a kid at Christmas who rushes downstairs to the tree only to find that 40% of his gifts are tube socks.

This isn't a knock on performance art, especially considering how generous this form is for taking most of the incoming fire from those who still find Van Gogh a little out there.  It's more a complaint about space management.  Perhaps the Whitney should take a page from the Olympics here and divide the biennial into “summer” and “winter” divisions.  That way, those of us who look forward to browsing the exhibit as a type of avant-garde Walmart will have plenty of product on hand to look at,  while those interested in various modes of “performance” can have an entire festival centering on such activities.  And speaking ostensibly as a film/media person, I would be perfectly willing to see the filmmakers and video artists moved over to the winter games as well (then again, perhaps the Whitney's upcoming move to a bigger space will solve all these problems). 

"Last Spring: A Prequel"
In any case, if you are not dissuaded by your confrontation with this immensely negative space, around the corner you will encounter Last Spring: A Prequel (2011), a collaborative installation by Gisele Vienne, Dennis Cooper, Stephen O’Malley, and Peter Rehberg.  As pictured above (and at left), the piece centers on an animatronic adolescent boy wearing a “Chuckie”-like hand puppet (viewed in close-up, we see that the doll has either blood or lipstick smeared on its lips).  Once the piece gets fired up, boy and hand puppet engage in a nicely schizoid dialogue layered over an appropriately creepy soundscape (courtesy O’Mally and Rehberg).  When this piece began, I thought at first Vienne had simply appropriated the soundtrack of a forgotten Eurotrash horror flick, but as their chat progresses, Cooper’s authorial voice enters more explicitly into the proceedings.  

Given its foundation in the basic mechanics of the uncanny, Last Spring: A Prequel can’t help but have an immediate impact.  Beyond the Village of the Damned vibe, there is also an unsettling tension as to just how animatronic this animatronic boy will end up being.  The only problem here, arguably, is the length of the complete sequence.  Once the “gee-whiz” moment of robotic revelation is over, and once the spectator deciphers the schizoid dynamic between a boy and his puppet, the piece continues on for several more minutes, seemingly only to accommodate the lengthy text provided by Cooper.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but after a while, I found it difficult to remain fully attentive to the duo’s tortured mutterings (this may have been a function of the mix or the acoustics of the Whitney—but as I was sitting on the conveniently provided bench and listening fairly closely, I doubt I’m the only person having this trouble. Eventually my mind wandered over to the docent, wondering what it must be like to be trapped hour after hour with Abercrombie and Fidget as they attempted to hypnotize you into committing a murder).  Billed as a “prequel,” the piece will no doubt make more sense once integrated into a forthcoming larger project  “designed as a labyrinthine hotel, featuring a series of grotesque horrors and a teenage boy trying, and failing, to escape his own mind.”  Given that I could still use that description as my own bio, I would definitely stand in line for that one.  

Also notable is a multimedia installation by Werner Herzog, famed director turned intellectual America’s favorite curmudgeon (his voice work on The Simpsons was a true highlight last season--well worth the Hulu time). Measured in column inches, Herzog's "Hearsay of the Soul" is probably getting the most attention at this year's biennial, for the most part positive (although Art Fag City wants everyone to calm down a bit).

"Hearsay of the Soul"
Herzog’s contribution honors the landscapes of the 17th-century Dutch artist Hercules Segers, who Herzog advances here as the “father of modernity in art.”  That’s above my pay grade to have an opinion on—but there’s little doubt that Herzog’s piece is looking backward in an interesting and even progressively reactionary way.  It’s a very basic set-up: slides of Segers’ landscapes project on five screens accompanied by three extended pieces of music.  The musical centerpiece is a duo for organ and cello performed by Dutch cellist and composer Ernest Reijseger (music also heard in Herzog's recent Cave of Forgotten Dreams).   

While the other two pieces of music simply play under the slides, here Herzog devotes two full screens to capturing Reijseger’s intensely expressive performance.  It is fairly basic documentation—Herzog frames Reijseger so that we can appreciate the virtuosity of his technique and the play of emotions on his face.  While it might be a cliché to say that Herzog “gets out of the way” and simply allows Segers’ images and Reijseger’s performance to amplify each other, that is precisely what happens here (and in an interview before the biennial opening, Herzog steadfastly resisted being called an “artist,” preferring instead the honorific of “soldier.”  Some might accuse him of being disingenuous, but I don't think so.  Hearsay makes no pretensions to being an original or innovative art object, but is instead a more stylized example of Herzog's new emphasis on the documentary format).

Reijseger in performance.
“Hearsay of the Soul” looks backward, not simply by refocusing attention on Segers, but as a kind of threnody for European modernism generally.  What struck me most was its overt nostalgia for virtuosity, technique, and affect as legitimate components in a contemporary aesthetic (again, for Segers and Reijseger, Herzog’s voice isn’t really an issue here).  Reijseger’s playing is so beautiful and heartfelt that it almost makes you uncomfortable, followed by the realization that this awkwardness is a tension produced by the punishing demands of possessing an increasingly brutal form of the  “aesthetic disposition"--as Bourdieu once famously called such acculturation. Trained, as we are, to mirror back the detachment and disinterest performed by so much contemporary art, Herzog’s rather straightforward appreciation for these images and this performance is almost too candid.  After the full half-hour, I left feeling like Herzog had created not so much an "installation" as a very personal mix-tape.

Film folks might also want to check out the program of shorts by California experimentalist Laida Lertxundi.  The Whitney describes her work like this:

The enigmatic cinema of Laida Lertxundi resists easy categorization. Her works could be described as landscape films, set as they are against the backdrop of Southern California’s deserts and mountains, its blue skies and wild shores. These environments are sparsely populated with non-actors, who are sometimes wandering, sometimes still. Sequences are repeated and reframed, calling back to one another; recorded music plays within the world of the film, taking on the character not of a soundtrack but of a field recording. Narratives are hinted at, flirted with, yet never realized. Her films function as both exactingly arranged experiments with the syntax of film language and lovesick daydreams, fragmented and full of longing.

Lertxundi's "Footnotes to a House of Love."
Translating the museum speak here, I would describe Lertxundi's "enigmatic cinema" as another example of the calculated blank minimalism/studied indifference dominating so much recent film and video work (the phrase "resists easy categorization," meanwhile, is art-speak for "I'm not really sure what is going on here exactly, so I'm not going to take a position on it."  Fair enough).  In Lertxundi's films, various young people lie around, not doing much of anything ("sometimes wandering, sometimes still"...yes, I guess that would cover just about any film ever made). Meanwhile, the camera occasionally wanders off and finds an object.  There is a fascination with early sixties pop music. When the Whitney writes "recorded music plays within the world of the film, taking on the character not of a soundtrack but of a field recording," that is their rather complicated way of saying Lertxundi uses a lot of diegetic music in her work. And when they write, "narratives are hinted at, flirted with, yet never realized," that is their way of saying most of the films obey some limited coherence of time, space, and character, suggesting a scenario of some sort, but nothing definitive ever really develops from the situation. 

Bored youngsters hanging out in 'Stranger Than Paradise"
Whether or not the curators wanted to place these films in dialogue with Herzog's unabashed invocation of the sublime, in dialogue they most certainly are.  In fact, seeing the two artists' work side by side left me thinking about the history of this particular style of blank, desultory filmmaking over the past few decades.  There's one "scene" in Lertxundi's program, for example, where a couple of people (one with an accordion) are simply hanging out on a motel bed watching TV.  Cranky old modernist that I am, this made me think of Jim Jarmusch's early studies in dead time and immobility, most notably Stranger than Paradise (1984).  Whereas filmmakers of that era often used this kind of impassive minimalism to invoke a Beckett-like black comedy of our collective cosmic screwing (waiting for Godot or waiting in Cleveland--very similar in the end), contemporary filmmakers seem to have honed this down to a kind of sedate resignation, a way of inhabiting more than representing the world.  The Whitney describes the tone as "lovesick daydreams, fragmented and full of longing," but for many these films will no doubt evoke Baudrillard's sentiments about "nullity" in contemporary art.

Therein lies all the duplicity of contemporary art: asserting nullity, insignificance, meaninglessness, striving for nullity when already null and void. Striving for emptiness when already empty. Claiming superficiality in superficial terms. Nullity, however, is a secret quality that cannot be claimed by just anyone. Insignificance -- real insignificance, the victorious challenge to meaning, the shedding of sense, the art of disappearance of meaning -- is the rare quality of a few exceptional works that never strive for it ("The Conspiracy of Art"). 

Distinguishing the accidentally null from the calculated null from the meta-null from the null sublime remains a major challenge for most critics, armchair or pro.  Where Lertxundi fits into this spectrum, if anywhere, will depend on the spectator, and no doubt there is a generational component at work here also.

Some will find Herzog's piece too earnest; others will find Lertxundi's work too elliptical.  But I did appreciate having them side by side, if only to force myself into thinking about how these two faces of the documentarian impulse continue to figure in contemporary filmmaking.