Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What The F*#%?

Sometimes I feel I use the word “fuck” too much. It seems as if almost every sentence I utter is interjected with the word “fuck”, and usually not in a sexual context. In fact, it usually has nothing to do with sex at all. Rather, it’s always like “Look at this fucking idiot” or “I couldn’t give a fuck about that” or “The fucking tuna melt in that fucking restaurant is fucking awesome!”

Most times it stands alone, as in “Fuck off” or Fuck that” and sometimes it’s used to back up another expletive, as in “That fucking jerkoff”. Sometimes it’s used in exasperation, like when you’ve seen something that shocks you, as in “Fuuuccckk”. And, for optimal emphasis, it’s can be used by itself many times over in the same sentence, as in Dennis Hopper’s classic “Fuck you, you fucking fuck” from Blue Velvet.

Let’s analyze that phrase. You’ve got five words, and three of them involve the word fuck. Perfect. You can see how much thought I've put into this. In any event, it now seems impossible for me to not use the word in any given number of fucking sentences. Anyway, you get the point. I’m a big fan of the word “fuck”. I’m not offended by the word, and I don’t get offended when others use it around me.

I don’t know when this started, but it has definitely progressed over time. As a kid I never cursed. In fact, back then I didn’t indulge in a lot of the bad habits I now flaunt as an adult. To me hard core cursing, like tattoos and motorcycles, was something that only criminals and/or members of biker gangs took part in. So, not wanting to be associated with that kind of ilk, I went the other direction and embraced the true Catholic boy inside. Cursing was something altar boys just did not do.

So while my far more ebullient brother was well on his way to becoming the hard-core cussin’ Philadelphian he is today, I was using words “shoot” and “darn” in place of the obvious, far raunchier substitutes.

Growing up my parents cursed, employing a lot of the standards, words like shit, hell, bastard and damn. We heard “Goddamm it” a lot. But I never heard my parents use the F word, which is perhaps a reflection of a generation that didn’t use the word as freely as we do now. But I’m sure they used that word. My dad was an Irish cop, for God’s sake. I’m sure when he was hanging around the patrol room he would use the word as freely and with the same reckless abandon as I do today. But at home I never heard it used and I’m guessing they withheld that one from their vernacular when around the kids. We were, after all, a Catholic household.

This Catholic upbringing told me that cursing was something God frowned upon (if not my parents, who, as you’ve learned, had their own set of expletives deleted). The Bible never mentioned anything about God or Jesus cursing, although I’m sure Jesus let a few fly when he smote the moneychangers from the temple. Jesus said in the Bible that cursing is a sign of evil in a man’s heart. If any one of the almighty triumvirate of God, Jesus and The Holy Spirit was against it, that’s all I needed to hear. I knew a sin of that magnitude had to be punishable by fiery damnation, as if there’s any other. And I didn’t want any part of that.

So I have to pause and reflect when I utter when one my favorite phrases: “Jesus Fucking Christ”. Again with the Catholic thing, but I knew there had to be something sinful about using the dirtiest of words so closely with the hallowed name of Our Lord and Savior. But there it is, smack in the middle, rubbing shoulders with the words Jesus and Christ. Jesus Fucking Christ. Although I now consider myself a recovering Catholic, I still harbor a strong feeling that only Satan could be responsible for such an awful utterance.

So how did this start? At what point did I go from altar boy to stevedore? Maybe it was college when I surrendered to a more liberal (read: not Catholic) way of thinking. Going away to college took me out of my Irish/Italian/Catholic Philly neighborhood comfort zone and exposed me to people of all walks of life, from all parts of the country and the world. Believe me, some of those guys from the coal mining sections of Pennsylvania really knew how to light up a sentence.

At the same time I was playing college ice hockey and I’m sure that had something to do with it. Hockey players are famous for colorful, inventive cursing. I had a college teammate who I’m pretty sure invented most of the curse words we use today. This guy made cursing an art form. Of course, during the summer he worked on the docks in Chester, PA, a hard scrabble, working-class community just south of Philly.

Obviously a product of his environment, he could rip you to shreds with a simple look and nicely turned phrase that would always include some intensely obscene word. In the unfortunate event you incurred his wrath, he would attack with the savage relentlessness of a pit bull, pretty much making you his bitch for however long he wanted.

So being around world-class trash talkers meant you had to learn to defend yourself, how to think quick on your feet and return in kind. So for me, college hockey was a training ground where I developed and finely honed the gutter mouth I use so freely today. Which could explain while I feel more comfortable in the company of people who use the word with the same liberal abandon as myself.

Perhaps analyzing or getting to the root of my love of cursing is a futile pursuit. Maybe it’s best just to admit it’s there and make no apologies. I curse and I like it. It’s a way of expressing myself with more emphasize, to add color to my vocabulary. Is that so wrong?

I like to think that I follow in the footsteps of people throughout the ages who have used salty language as form of expression, as something that has come to represent a rich, colorful lifestyle. I’m guessing Steinbeck and Hemingway were prone to graphic language, particularly after a hard night of hitting the bottle. I’m also sure someone like John Huston knew how to dress you down. But, then again, these three men were also cut from a similar two-fisted hard livin’, hard drinkin’ kind of cloth.

Then again, our macho society dictates that our models of masculinity, icons like John Wayne, Wyatt Earp or General George Patton, probably cursed a lot. It just seems to go with the territory. Still, it’s funny the picture that paints, as if only manly-men knew how to turn a filthy phrase. That may or may not be true, but somehow I don’t see Einstein running around the lab going “OK, which one of you fucking assholes took my godamn slide ruler?”

I’ll bet Nixon cussed like a sailor. I’ll bet Katherine Hepburn cussed like a sailor. I’ll bet Babe Ruth had a gutter mouth that could make plants wilt. Jack Nicholson. Teddy Roosevelt. General Douglas MacArthur. Russell Crowe. Keith Richards. Gutter mouths all.

Which puts me in pretty good company.

Psychic Occurrences

Lately I feel like I’m developing psychic powers. I don’t mean like I can see into the future and predict events in history. I can’t read minds and I can’t communicate with the dead. Noted TV psychic Sylvia Brown shouldn’t be sweating that Montel is going to send her packing anytime soon. That would be just silly, because everyone knows that it’s not just Wednesday, it’s Sylvia Brown Wednesday.

Instead, I think about things and they happen to me. Maybe not right away, but soon thereafter. For instance, a few days ago I had a song running through my head (Arthur Conley’s 1967 classic “Sweet Soul Music” to be exact). Later that day I got in my car and there it was, playing on the radio!

Similarly, last Wednesday I was thinking about a particularly amusing episode of Seinfeld where Jerry swears off the kiss hello (perhaps brought about because I’ve been having my own issues with the kiss hello, but that’s best explored in a separate entry). Sure enough, that very episode ran that very night. Freaky, huh?

My new powers extend beyond mass media and I often get a feeling that I’m going to meet people I haven’t seen in a while. Last week I was in Union Square and I passed the Burberry store, where my friend Jimmy works as manager. I thought to myself, “I’ll bet I see Jimmy today” and not an hour later I run into Jimmy on Powell St.

A week earlier I was thinking of my friend Tony who lives in Hawaii and visits San Francisco about every five months or so. I haven’t seen him since last September and I was wondering when he’d be back. He never tells me when he’s coming in; he just blows into town unannounced. Two days later, there he is, popping up at the bar as I was working, which led to a very enjoyable next couple of days.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But these things happen to me a lot. I’m not sure you could call these events premonitions, which are usually a forewarning of bad things to come, like in Heroes when Hiro sees the coming nuclear destruction of New York City.

Instead, they’re all rather pleasant, hearing songs I hear in my head or running into friends I haven’t seen in a while. My latest strange but not unusual occurrences had me thinking that it wouldn’t be all that great to be able to predict the future. It might be cool to know that I will one day own that Mini Cooper or when I can start putting a together the snazzy outfit that I’ll wear when I accept my Nobel Prize in literature. Come to think of it, it might be nice to know now if Sanjaya actually wins American Idol before I invest any more time and emotion.

But there are some things I just would not want to know in advance. There’s a big difference between waking up and thinking “I’ll bet I see the X Files episode where Mulder and Scully are stranded in an Artic outpost with an alien virus” and “Oh, that’s right, today’s the day I get struck by lightning and die”. That’s way too much information. Similarly, I wouldn’t want to know about any hardships, diseases, financial setbacks or painful injuries until when (or perhaps, more optimistically, if) they happen.

And if you can see your own destiny, doesn’t it stand to reason that you can also foresee the destinies of others? I’m not sure that would such a good thing either. On the one hand, anticipating the death of a loved one might make their inevitable passing easier to bear since you’d have years to prepare for it.

On the other, I’m guessing the temptation would be to warn people about their upcoming demise so they could possibly avoid their fates. Could you say, “Dad, you should really stop smoking because on June 1, 2015 you’re going to die of lung cancer” or tell a friend that he may not want to drive anytime soon? Of course not, because that not only flirts with altering the future but in a broader, more philosophical context, it's kind of like playing God, two things that have a knack of coming back to bite you in the ass.

No, I like being ignorant (insert wisecrack here) of my future. I like living my life in the type of serenity of someone who is willing to accept the inevitable…as long as I don’t know when it’s coming. Ignorance, as they say, truly is bliss.

... And We Shall Be Heroes

My  friend Patrick and I know we’re going to be on Heroes next season, if only to be able to go to the great cast parties they always seem to be having. We don’t know exactly how we’re going to accomplish this at this point, but we’re working on it. It’s only logical that we become part of the cast. We love and understand the show, we’re both flawed and conflicted, and we both have better hair than Milo Ventimiglia.

Of course, you can’t be on Heroes and not be a hero, so some superhuman powers may be in order. Unfortunately, most of the powers that are of interest to me, especially the ability to bend space and time and invisibility, have been taken. Invisibility. Now that would be cool. I could have great fun in the gym locker room with that one.

I flirted with shape shifting or the ability to manipulate the weather. I thought about being to communicate with animals but other being kind of Dr. Doolittle-ish how would that come in handy when trying to save the world? No, it would have to something formidable. So, after much thought, I’ve decided that I want to be able to transform myself into any element, which I think would really come in handy as a superhero. It could also cause some problems, which is OK, because each of the Heroes is flawed in some ways and their powers are often a curse to them.

Being able to change into any element would not only be a cool power to show off, but would be extremely practical. If someone is shooting at me, I can turn myself to iron and not only repel the bullets but bounce them back. If I’m being chased I can quite conveniently turn to steam and drift away.

Ditto if I want to sneak into a room. I’d just turn to smoke and go through the keyhole. And if I need to escape a sticky situation I can stand above a sewer grate and turn to water, reconstituting when I hit the pool below. There are no limits to how useful a tool this could be. Being to transform myself like this makes me damn near invincible.

Which could be a problem. It may be too perfect. My powers would have to have a flaw. For instance, maybe I can only retain my transformation for a certain amount of time, say five minutes. Perhaps my character frequently finds that messy circumstances only get messier because he can’t retain his powers, making a quick and efficient escape of the essence.

I would eventually learn that, like The Force, my powers could grow through time, practice and training. Like most of the Heroes, my character would constantly be working at skills he doesn’t quite understand. Maybe, like Peter and the invisible man, I would find a mentor to help me control and strengthen my powers.

I also need to take into consideration is how many elements I could transform into. It may be interesting to be able to run the gambit of the Periodic Table; it could fun to turn into germanium or meitnerium, although the latter would mean I would have a half-life of only 720 milliseconds, which sounds problematic. But it would certainly add to the fabric of my character. I may never have to turn to samarium, but I could if I wanted to.

Practicality states that it would have to be a solid element and nothing colorless, odorless or tasteless; what good is it to become hydrogen? At first glance one might also think there would be no practical reason to transform into halogens or any of the noble gasses, either. But, come to think of it, if I wanted to illuminate a dark passageway I could just turn to neon. Of course, I don’t actually turn to neon. Maybe my body just starts to glow brightly.

Of course, my character would have to have a backstory. We would have to explain how I discover my powers. You just don’t wake up one day made of scandium. Perhaps I’m a physicist. Maybe it’s night and I’m alone, working in the lab. Maybe there’s an accident and an explosion releases a white-hot fireball that’s heading right towards me. Unable to move in time I instinctively turn to iron, saving me from the flames rushing harmlessly by.

In the aftermath I lie on the floor, gazing in amazement and disbelief at my metallic body. This is interesting, I think before I quickly reconstitutes back to my human form, which is, of course, naked, since my clothes have been burned off. But I’m shook at what just happened, not comprehending whether it really happened.

Later, when realizing that I actually had turned to metal, I decide to test my newfound powers, perhaps by thinking of helium. Curiously, my body doesn’t inflate like a balloon, but begins to levitate, gently lifting me exhilaratingly skyward until I am level with the ceiling. Then the powers suddenly vanish and I crash to the floor below.

Hmmm, I think, maybe I’m on to something here.

Death Be Not Proud

The movies are rife with characters whose deaths are considered cool and glamorous and sometimes, like Randy Quaid in Independence Day, saves the lives of thousands of others. Some deaths are Shakespearean in their tragedy; think Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic (although that was probably more cold than cool), Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Chow Yun-Fat in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and you've got the idea.

Movie gangsters seem to die the coolest deaths. Whether it’s Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde or James Cagney in White Heat, getting whacked seems somewhat mythical. Top of the world, ma! How cool is that?

The problem is, in real life most people don’t die tragic, heroic deaths. The truth is most people deaths mirror their lives: dull, mundane, maybe a little painful and of little consequence to anyone but themselves and a handful of other people. We have absolutely no choice over how and when we die. Similarly, the fabulousness of our deaths are also predetermined and out of our hands.

But what if you could choose a cool way to die? How would you do it, keeping in mind that it has to be somewhat rooted in reality, and not involve light sabers, dinosaurs or flying your airplane into the alien mothership. It has to be something that could actually happen in real life.

Maybe your death is a direct result of something that you love to do that goes horribly astray, like getting struck by lightning while flying a kite, being attacked by a shark while surfing or choking on a chicken sandwich, a la Momma Cass Elliot (which is actually a myth. Her actual cause of death was heart failure; the coroner found no food in her trachea).

Before you start, I imagine you’d have to ask yourself some fundamental questions. First, do you keep it private or do you go out in a blaze of glory? Does death come while performing some death-defying act, like setting yourself on fire while being dropped over Niagara Falls in a barrel? Or, like Janis Joplin, do you have some fun with it, kicking the bucket after putting nothing but heroin and Southern Comfort in your body for a week? Who knew that would happen?

One thing I know is this: I would not want my death to be the direct result of doing something really stupid that people can laugh about later. Sonny Bono is a perfect example. He was famous for being married to Cher and for a fairly successful political career, but what most people remember about him is the dumb-ass way in which he died, smashing into a tree while skiing. Like that tree just popped up out of nowhere.

Similarly, I would not want to die by drug overdose, because that seems pretty stupid, too. Being found dead on the floor with the needle still in your arm doesn’t seem like a very glamorous way to go. Neither does choking to death on your own vomit after passing out from too much heroin and Jack Daniels. That seems too easy. Let’s put some imagination into this, people. Gimme something I can work with here.

Or maybe it’s not death at all. Maybe it’s just a very long, tortuous process that makes you long for death. Like being tied to a chair as Rosie O’Donnell gives a lecture on lesbian rights, being forced to watch every movie ever made by Freddie Prinze, Jr., or, my current idea of what true hell is like, a Fergie concert.

No, for me, death would have to be swift, relatively painless, and not involve falling from heights, roller coaster accidents or being attacked and mauled by animals. It would have to be something that a lot of people would see and talk about later. Celebrity involvement would be nice. There would have to be music and, of course, video to memorialize the event.

So, given that criteria, my perfect death would be stage crashing a Springsteen concert, where I would inadvertently trip on an electrical main and have thousands of volts of electricity course through my body. My death spasms would look like I’m really into the show, getting jiggy with some bizarre spastic dance.

And when I finally collapse to the stage, people would think I’m doing a James Brown kind of thing, too exhausted and exhilarated to stand on my own two feet, although I’m guessing James Brown probably never had smoke coming out of every orifice while the air filled with the smell of his burning hair. Or maybe he did.

My dying wish, before four roadies descend on me with the full force of their estimated 1000 pounds, crushing out what little life remains, would be that The Boss would launch into Badlands or Rosalita, something celebratory, and not mournful, like Devils and Dust or Streets of Philadelphia, which is ironic, being that I’m from Philly.

My only regret would be that I wouldn’t be around to witness the media storm that would inevitably erupt or hear people say of me, “What a cool way to die.”

I Want My Mummy

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about monsters. Not the human variety monsters like Saddam Hussein or O. J. Simpson or the Arizona shooter. Those are very real monsters for modern times, scarier than anything Hollywood can gives us.

No, lately I’ve been fixated on the classic Universal Studios monsters from the thirties and forties. You know, familiar monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and, my personal favorite, the Creature From The Black Lagoon.

Since I was a kid I’ve had a fascination with monsters. I saw all the movies multiple times and read Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine with a religious fervor. I collected all the model sets of the classic Universal monsters, carefully gluing the pieces together and painstakingly painting them, making sure to give Dracula a little trail of blood streaming from his mouth, or getting the Creature that right shade of green.

As a kid I never questioned the invincibility of my monsters. I never doubted for once that, if attacked a monster, I wouldn’t stand much of a chance of survival. Fear alone would probably stop me dead in my tracks, unable to move or make decisions, rendering me easy prey. Years of familiarity wouldn’t help, either. I have a feeling that the Wolfman wouldn’t go easy on me just because I did a good job of painting his plastic model figure.

But as I get older I find myself asking questions, disturbing questions that directly challenge the fear factor behind some of my monster faves, questions whose frank answers threaten to expose vulnerabilities that as a youngster I wouldn’t dream possible.

For instance, could it really have been that hard to run away from The Mummy? While indeed frightening, he’s not the most mobile of monsters. He’s slow and lumbering, always dragging a foot behind him. And he’s wrapped in bandages, which I’m sure can be quite constricting.

Still, let's excuse the Mummy if he’s a little slow in getting started. The guy’s coming out of a thousand year nap, so he’s probably a little groggy, and his energy levels are a little low; not having Red Bull in the afterlife is a bitch. But the Mummy never seems to be allowed to enjoy a little acclimation time, a quick cup of joe before getting started.

It’s always up and at ‘em with The Mummy; they revive him and send him right out on his deadly mission of vengeance. So in any given Mummy movie you can expect a scene where the Mummy is chasing someone, usually the heroine who the Mummy believes to be the reincarnation of his ancient love, Princess Ananka. This is particularly true in The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) when the chase takes place in a swamp, despite the fact that the film is set in Massachusetts. He’s lumbering around, she’s tripping over tree roots, nobody’s getting anywhere fast. No wonder the two of them drown in the unforgiving Massachusetts swamps

The modern versions of The Mummy had Prince Imhotep take on human form, which just didn’t work for me. True, it made him that much more formidable, and a lot more mobile, but a lot less frightening as well. The fact that the human mummy looks like he’s more likely to have emerged from a WWF wrestling ring than some musty old sarcophagus didn’t help with the scare factor.

No, I’m a purist. My mummies need to be old and musty, wrapped in bandages and smelling of mothballs. They need to be introspective and eerily serene and somewhat sad, not given to the theatrics and drama of Dracula, or the brute force of a Frankenstein monster. They need to have the wisdom of the years and a tragic back-story; you can always count on the mummy to bring all that cool Egyptology to the table.

And as a purist, I don’t allow myself to linger on such questions for long, because I know that if attacked by the Mummy he would find a way to trap me and wreak his awful revenge, even though I painted his model figure with the perfect shade of dusty grey with just a hint of brown.