Sunday, December 31, 2017

Paper Traitor (in progress)

Sondra rolled her head back and laughed.  The deep-throated chuckle chilled Griff, hurtled him back to the time he'd owned a tire factory.  Or was it ore?  Fabrics?  Shit.  The specific industry failed to materialize. 
The glimmering shimmering moment trickling icy fingers into his ribs was attending an animated movie with his then-wife and his then-stepchildren.  Some malevolent queen up on the screen rolled back her cartoon head and laughed at the black end certain to befall the virginal heroine. 
That version of Griff would never have believed he could be tripped up by something small and light and held in the hand, enclosed in a slipcase emblazoned with NFL logos or a Hello Kitty. 
He failed to believe he was important enough to earn the title of target.  It wasn't a vast conspiracy.  It was change.  It was the way the world worked.  Once it was cave walls.  Then clay tablets.  Now the migration from the page to the indefinable, yet another progression.  He was collateral damage.  A prince vanishing in the dust of a kingdom unexpectedly crumbled.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Whatever Is Unknown Is Magnified

There is a small percentage of Americans anticipating the moment the President of the United States pulls off the mask and reveals it's been Andy Kaufman all along.  

A goof 33 years in the making.    

I've taken Kaufman in bits and pieces.  Never seen an episode of Taxi.  The closest I've come to Heartbeeps was shelving the movie novelization in a bookstore science fiction section.  

Kaufman's all over the place on YouTube.  Letterman appearances.  Dick Van Dyke appearances.  Comedy specials.  Wrestling matches.  

From this side of the last three decades, he's unnervingly prescient, sensing the future fracturing of attention spans, leaving a record in bite-sized pieces for future historians to poke and sniff and ponder.  


At the end of his Carnegie Hall appearance, Kaufman infamously invites the audience out for milk and cookies.  Buses are waiting outside to roll the horde towards their snack.  

Credits are rolling.  A single camera bounces behind Kaufman sliding through the adoring throng.  Random women embrace him.  Smooch him.  They're electrified.  He looks like a small town unknown quantity, the guy teenagers can always count on to supply them a half-rack come Friday night.  He's in a bathrobe.  Coated in sweat.  But given the razzle-dazzle apparent on men and women's faces, Kaufman could probably fuck anyone he wants right there and then.

This week Garrison Keillor was let go from Minnesota Public Radio for inappropriate conduct, specifically, a hand on a woman's back.  

Included in an e-mail to the Minnesota Star Tribune, Keillor commented: 

"If I had a dollar for every woman who asked to take a selfie with me and who slipped an arm around me and let it drift down below the belt line, I’d have at least a hundred dollars."

I read that portion of his statement and thought it sour grapes.  Chest thumping bullshit.

And then I watched women all but throwing themselves at Kaufman, a resident on the same unattractive celeb shelf as Keillor, and it doesn't remove the tarnish from Keillor, but it does dangle the awful possibility that Keillor might not be speaking a complete untruth.  


At the most wonderful time of the year, a premium was placed on Beverly Center parking.  Employees with mall parking passes were hip-checked until the New Year.  Instead, we parked at the Pacific Design Center and rode a shuttle down San Vicente Boulevard to work.  Sundays we were let off a little easier.  We could park in a garage at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, just to the west of the mall.  

One, maybe two Christmas shopping seasons, I worked the max.  Overtime junkie.  Just under 70 hours a week.  Roughly, 7 AM to 7 PM.  Mostly wielding a box cutter in the bookstore backroom. Often schlepping boxes between Brentano's on the Beverly Center upper levels to the Waldenbooks Calendar Kiosk sprung to life a level below.  

Business casual dress code.  Even for the shipping clerk.  It was a powerhouse, a $2 million a year store.  Look the part, play the part. 

I pushed through the mornings on Ralph's powdered donuts.  And home, consumed an admirable amount of bacon and cheese sandwiches, potato chips, and Coke.  And even though it was Los Angles, considering the hours toiling in cardboard, strapping tape, and packing peanuts, never really saw all that much daylight.  

Shuttle in the morning dark.  Shuttle in the evening dark.  Monday through Saturday.  Sunday a glazed over anticipation of the week ahead.  Not even counting down the days to 12/25.  In the heat of the battle no end in sight.  

I don't remember lunchtime.  I know I often walked the circuit.  The bookstores neighboring the La Cienega/Beverly Boulevard intersection.  Bookstar at Beverly Connection.  Borders.  The Mystery Bookstore.  

All four years I worked Brentano's I wore the same pair of black dress shoes.  Even after the heel wore through under my right toes.  Odor Eaters sufficed as shielding between sock and Los Angeles asphalt.

At some point, Brentano's had nabbed a USPS rolling cart. Industrial-sized, burlap strapped to a metal frame, it served as the mobile recycling receptacle.  

Typical bookstore deliveries totaled 35 boxes.  Closer to the holidays, special orders from Ingram arrived every other day, comprising a dozen boxes.  Even sliced up, broken down, the cardboard accumulated quickly.

Once full, the rolling cart got shoved through the backroom door into the back tunnels. The wheels wheeked and squeaked, pushed down the dim lit corridors to the chute room, slipping through alternating pools of light and dark, navigating narrow, seeming never-ending halls.  A lurking seed quickly full-blown, the notion the corridor is purposed to deliver prospects to some black channel state funded program. Researchers splitting skulls and injecting chemicals formulated by only the most creative Nazi doctors money can buy.

That marriage, the smell of concrete and spoiled food, permeated the back corridor.  I retain it. 

I flip open the food waste bin, a switch in the brain goes live, and the smell of slops inundated concrete materializes on top of raked leaves and windswept cedar limbs like a pungent flop sweat engulfing a recently showered torso.  


I'm getting old enough I almost want to wow co-workers with my wild youth.  With who I once knew.  How close I came.  

Like the one where I once interviewed to be Jim Carrey's agent's assistant.  Or Arnold Kopelson's assistant.  Or assistant to the CBS executives overseeing Nash Bridges.  And a runner/gopher for Almost Heroes.  Or the front office help for Single Spark Pictures.

Memory can't supply an accurate location for the latter.  Somewhere on Santa Monica Boulevard.  But I do remember the same office complex supplied What About Bob? screenwriter Tom Schulman his very own dedicated, identified, hands-off-already parking spot.


Somehow someone in a collective knotted up just outside the theater knew what The Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie looked like.  This is 20 years before the magic of smartphones allows everyone to know what everyone looks like.  

Come out of some movie showing on the Santa Monica promenade, we all looked, looked at the guy we wanted to be.  Grabber of the big brass ring.  Or just some random big guy with a lot of ornamental ear jewelry.  The real McQuarrie.  The fake McQuarrie.  Some guy getting off on looking like McQuarrie.  

My friend Greg, a seasoned industry receptionist, had related that the screenwriters earning face time with producers all wore black trenchcoats, all rode the bus, and all smelled.  

The promenade McQuarrie was absent a black trenchcoat.  Which proves little.  On Friday night in Hollywood, no one is taking a bus to a meeting with a producer.  


In the afternoons, Ixtlan interns did a 'run,' delivering screenplays, picking up screenplays, dropping off and picking up contracts.

Pacific Palisades to Sean Penn's house.  CAA.  Lightstorm Entertainment.  Carolco Pictures.  The People V. Larry Flynt production offices.  Some random-assed agent on Hollywood Boulevard where I saw TV's Frank in the lobby.  And then driving home spotted TV's Frank riding a ten-speed down a Los Angeles sidewalk, cleverly steering into the Missing Persons ambulatory adage.  

And at some point, I delivered to the home of either Scott Alexander or Larry Karaszewski.  A/K the duo behind Problem Child, Ed Wood, and the yet-to-be-filmed Andy Kaufman-biopic Man On The Moon.     


Back in my anger-filled twenties, I don't ever recall prepping for an interview.  Yet only a handful of years later, I went to bar exam lengths to nail the interview for a management position at a used bookstore.  A job held for barely a year.  

I was thread-close to nabbing jobs with considerable heft, prestige, oomph even, and it's entirely possible I wasn't making measurable amounts of eye contact.   

Jim Carrey's agent and I never even pressed flesh.  It was the assistant with the expiration date arranging the hoops.  Slaving dawn to dusk, and now trying to tap down on the impression he was alone in a room with a guy ignorant of office etiquette, Filofaxes, instead, grimly, determinedly, auditioning for the role of a mumble-mouthed serial killer.


It's only now I realize my interview-schtick would've come off seamlessly were I oozing in a black trenchcoat, fresh off Metro, shrugging, lip-farting in response to a producer's inquiries into my craft.


One December morning, arrived for work, parked in the Pacific Design Center garage, engine off, keys in the ignition, I checked the dashboard clock.  


The evening before, getting ready to leave work, parked in the Pacific Design Center garage, engine off, keys in the ignition, I'd checked the dashboard clock.  


It was like the drive home, dinner, sleep, shower, drive to work...
Hadn't happened.  I'd blinked is all.  The quality of darkness beyond the parking garage was the only variable displaying slight alteration.  

Dressed in a light-colored button-down shirt.  Khakis.  Feet in the same decrepit black dress shoes, toes on the right foot shielded by an Odor Eater.  Yesterday's uniform.  Today's uniform.  Tomorrow's uniform.


$7.38 was also my hourly wage.  Which explains my enthusiastic leap into the glorious realm of overtime.  And a still-to-flag sense that sanity holds together about as well as a Granola Bar once you pull the wrapper apart.


If it turns out Andy is President, although the births and deaths in the intervening decades have supplied different faces and brains to man the ship America, there might not be much difference in the nation's reaction to the unspeakable.

A segment of the Carnegie Hall show features a 70-something former actress dancing in time to the stage band rendition of an old-timey cowboy picture tune.  

Playing band leader, Kaufman exhorts tempo change after tempo change, back turned to the old woman, unaware of her collapse, her apparent heart attack.  The stage crew arrives.  CPR is performed.  A suit jacket is draped over the fresh corpse.  The corpse is left alone on stage.  

Conspiracy theorists might argue Kaufman-As-Trump is putting Lady Liberty through similar paces.  And is seemingly laser-focused on the boys in the band rather than the symbol of freedom and democracy.

Is it telling that no one in the Carnegie Hall audience seems to move?  They wait.  And wait.  And wait past the point where anyone should wait, where the con sheds cocoon and transforms into an uncomfortable creeping status quo.

They're like Red Sox fans, waiting for Ted Williams to tip his cap.


33 years in, that cap is no longer made for tipping.  


Even delivered to Carnegie Hall via time machine, I couldn't go out for milk and cookies.  Not anymore.  Not unless Kaufman provided vegan alternatives.  

The problem with backing yourself into a righteous corner is the constant thud and bump.  A step forward.  Several back.  And that cross you're lashed to constantly slipping and sliding, begging adjustment.  

Silently, I judge fictional characters and their food choices.  Harry Bosch.  Alex Delaware.  Lucas Davenport.  I can only interpret the made-up meals as avatar-fare, echoes of the novelist's leanings.

There's milk in chocolate chips.  There's butter in the cookie dough.  

Art rarely bats an eye towards the use of the animal.

This chicken.  Now eaten.

That couch.  Looks like leather.

This model.  Purchasing the crawfish, first, for the shoot, second, for her dinner.

Images lockdown the persistent persuasion to judge and condemn those benefitting from the cut short life of animals.  Yet I'm in constant dialogue with myself.  

How can you not claim that artistic statement depending in part upon the confusion and fear of crawfish is not of the same kettle and kind as the fly fishing classic A River Runs Through It or the fishing essays of novelist Thomas McGuane or virtually the entire oeuvre of nature writer/humorist Patrick F. McManus?  

And what about Annie Hall?  The lobster scene.  

And what about Andy?  

What about Andy.

All that milk.  All those cookies.