Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fang hearts “Banacek” and a good night’s sleep

I think it was Bill Cosby who first said, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Yet on it goes. Now The Man Cub has found ways to take advantage of the vicious bug he has bequeathed us. I rolled out of bed at 5:25 this morning and cracked the bedroom door so I would be the first to hear him when he awoke, so The Missus could sleep in and hopefully begin to get better. She was already up. She tells me, “The boy has been up since 2:30 a.m., on and off. He’s on the couch right now; every time I try to move him back to his bed…” She shrugged her shoulders and her hands made involuntary throttling motions.

“Go to bed,” I told her. “I’ll take it from here.”

On the one hand, I’m pissed that he’s taking advantage of the fact that me and The Missus are taking turns on the couch so our coughing doesn’t keep each other up all night. (Believe me, if it had been my turn on the couch, he damn sure woulda still been in his own bed.) On the other hand, working situations to one’s own advantage is a necessary survival skill in this life, and it looks like he’s picked it up genetically from me and I won’t have to teach it to him, so I’m also kinda proud of him.

So right now she’s sacked out behind closed doors and I’m just waiting for that first plaintive wail from the front room. Got episode 12 of “The Johnny Cash Show” queued up – Odetta and Roger Miller guest star, should be a good one. I have a mountain of work yet to climb this weekend, but first I want to finish this post I started last night, a paean to a particularly vapid, misogynistic TV show I’ve recently fallen in love with.

Readers of this blog are probably either too young and missed “Banacek” during its original network run (1972-74) or old enough to vaguely remember it and, like me, couldn’t pass up the $10 price for the season one DVD set. (Well, it was $10 when I bought it, I note it’s gone back up to $25 on amazon. Highway robbery!)

Who, or what, is “Banacek?” It’s what (ahem) actor George Peppard stank up living rooms with before signing on to lead Mr. T and “The A-Team” in the 1980s.

It’s what you’d get if a really brilliant contemporary film director did a satirical deconstruction of everything that was terrible about ’70s tv-cop shows, replete with tanned middle-aged ‘sex symbols’ in polyester suits, fast cars, stiff quips and horny bimbos as far as the camera can pan.

Except, here’s the twist – he’s not a hard-boiled detective, he’s a fast-living insurance investigator. And not just any insurance investigator; he’s the James Bond of insurance investigators. In the opening credits montage, he’s not jumping over car hoods or punching out bad guys, he’s sculling. Lusty babes throw themselves at him like Catholic schoolgirls who have just seen the face of the Virgin Mary in a piece of burnt toast. His confidential informants aren’t pimps or streetwalkers, they’re rich guys who live in mansions and speak with British accents and are always sitting by the phone waiting breathlessly for a call from their favorite American insurance investigator.

And when he’s not berating his dimwit chauffer or rebuffing the advances of nubile, starry-eyed coeds, he’s spouting alleged “old Polish proverbs” to prove he’s so cool he’s not even ashamed of being a Pollack, a motif that is weaved heavy-handedly through every episode.

Is he sexist? No way, baby. He’s irresistibly sexy! Mike Meyers must have been smoking Banacek when he dreamed up Austen Powers.

There’s run-of-the-mill bad and there’s self-parody bad and then there’s “Banacek,” rising above mere badness and self-parody to achieve a sort of Zen-level of smug self-satisfied awfulness.

Let me be clear: It’s the purest of pure shit. It’s the very definition of condescending drivel. It makes the star’s later work on “The A-Team” seem like Olivier doing “Othello” at the Old Vic by comparison.

But I’ll be damned if when I thought yesterday afternoon, “I need to run something [while I work] that will make me happy. Make me smile and not have to think. Life is hard, I need TV that is easy,” a picture of the Banacek DVD cover didn’t float up in my mind’s eye.

Yes, I thought to myself. This will make me happy. This will while away my work hours peaceably and if I miss whole parts of episodes, I won’t feel like I missed anything afterwards. In a funny way, I treat “Banacek” with a callous disregard equal to that with which Banacek treats his women.

Arrogant? Check.

Insufferable? Check.

Insufferably arrogant? Check and double-check.

TV to watch when you don’t care whether or not you’re watching TV? Bana-check!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My life as a dickhead (continued)

Everybody here’s been sick all week. Ran the boy into the doctor on Monday and he was declared officially infected which resulted in an antibiotic being prescribed which resulted in the quick beginning of a recovery. By Tuesday morning, he was already acting his old sly, mischievous, impertinent self… and I was seeing dead relatives.

Yup, just as the Man Cub began to bounce back, me and his mom got our worlds rocked by the same virulent bug. The Missus became symptomatic before me and is taking longer to pull out of it, but this is at least partly because of her disinclination to self-medicate.

Not me. That’s why the good lord gave us anti-anxiety meds, Advil PM and addictive personalities – mix & match till you find a combination that works, that’s my motto. Back in the day, I’d take a handful of Tylenol PMs and chase it with half a bottle of Nyquil. Not because I was under the weather, mind you, I just liked to feel the tips of my hair tingle before I passed out in a nervous, uneasy restless stupor.

I really knew how to have a good time back then…

These days I stick with prescribed dosages of medicine, and then only when poor health dictates. I even have a bottle of (prescribed) anti-depressants in the cabinet that gave me a wicked nasty buzz the first time, and instead of ‘faking it till I make it,” I never went back for seconds.

So after a really horrible day of single-parenting Tuesday – horrible because it was the peak day of my illness, including a 100°+ temperature and shakes so bad I felt like a cartoon character – I’m slowly on the mend. The fever is gone and the headaches are manageable with copious amounts of aspirin and a steady diet of what I call 12-step Mimosas (3 parts OJ to one part Mountain Dew). Soon the cold will settle into my chest for a long, miserable residency, but right now I’m in the eye of the hurricane and feeling almost like my old self.

The Missus, however, had until recently resisted my entreaties that she self-medicate, at least until my pissy little snit this morning. She’s been up every night this week with coughs and aches, and sleep-walking through the days worn-out and/or passed out and not getting any less sick. My pissy little snit today proceeded from her malingering illness compromising the sanctity of my dearly-held schedule, but goddammit, she knew I was a reprehensible asshole before she married me. I literally told her so in as many words. If it wasn’t for pushy, reprehensible pricks like me, mankind would still be living in caves and drawing stick figures of buffalo on the walls with our own poo.

The bottom line is, this evening I finally got her to take an off-prescription, over-the-counter sleeping med, and she’s currently enjoying her first night’s sound sleep all week. As long as she wakes up in the morning, I will feel righteously vindicated!

At long last, a lifetime of recklessly wanton recreational drug use is beginning to pay off. Speaking of which, my own Magic Beans are commencing to kick in, so I should probably wrap this up while I’m still hitting more character keys than backspaces. (Fingers tend to get really thick and clumsy when Downers begin doing their thing.)

Somebody remind me I wanted to write about HBO’s “John Adams,” “The Prestige” and “Sweeney Todd” next time. Being sick cleared away loads of time for slack-jawed TV watching, and a lot of it kicked serious ass. Personally, I don’t mind being sick all that much. I used to pay good money to make myself feel this shitty, plus I get to indulge in all sorts of extracurricular lying about and accomplishing of nothing.

It’s other peoples’ illnesses that bring out the worst in me. Why doesn’t Hallmark make a card that says “Goddammit, get up off your ass and feel better, you’re pissing me off!” I think it’d be like a license to print money for them.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The MacGuyver Chickens

“…St. Peter don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go…”

46 ain’t what it used to be. It used to be old. Mid-40s guys in the movies when I was a kid were always these desperate, graying, cresting-the-hill geezers in bad suits, but most of my peers seem to be plugging right along at about a mental 28 or so. Our bodies are beginning to betray us right on schedule, but in our minds – unlike earlier generations – we have yet to accept the fact that we have more of our lives behind us than ahead of us.

But this post, reliably, is not about my peers or anyone else, it’s about me. I’ve lived long enough to know that unless there is videotape or I write it down right away, the details of this sort of thing (a pleasant day spent with friends during which catastrophes of my own making were repeatedly narrowly averted) will be lost to me. It’s one day later, and already I’m hearing details from yesterday and going, “Oh yeah, that’s right, that was funny!” not to be polite, but because I’d already forgotten the particulars described, so I really am hearing it for the first time.

In the example above, The Missus reminded me of how I took a big bite of chicken right after being asked to blow the candles on the birthday cake out, with every apparent intention of blowing the candles out somehow around the mouthful of chicken. (Cooler heads prevailed.)

Bear in mind, I wasn’t even drunk. Yes, I had taken a quick trip to the herbal remedy cabinet, but that was hours earlier, when I hadn’t even almost set the yard on fire yet.

Having people around and being the enter of attention is like being drunk to me. I get glib and my gestures get broad and I don’t really care about what kind of havoc I wreak. Fire is funny – heh heh heh. As long as all eyes are on me.

This is why I isolate myself, and have created a life-situation wherein I am rarely the center of attention. Work from home, concentrate on The Man Cub. Better for everyone.

But we had a few friends over yesterday, and the boy was sick and low-profile for most of the afternoon, and I had a task to complete that involved fire and a willing audience…

Actually, the morning was rough. The boy has some kind of hideous creeping baby crud. Crusty green crap accumulating all around his eyes and nose and he was miserable. Fussy, contrary, short-tempered, clingy; every usually sweet behavior replaced by an unpleasant one. Hanging off us and barking “Nose!” every time he wanted a Kleenex for his runny nose, which was about every minute, minute and a half. All morning was spent dealing with him.

Our first guest, Cliz, called to tell us she was running late just about when the boy got a second wind. For the next few hours he up and running and all was right with the world. I was relieved; Cliz doesn’t get here that often since she moved several hundred miles away, and I was happy she got to experience the fun son, not the logy lad. Eventually, however, it was naptime for the boy and time to start the BBQ…

Disclaimer: I’m as notoriously good at making fire as I am bad at applying it constructively. Yesterday was no exception.

When the full contingent of invited guests had arrived (3 people, one dog) I set about the BBQing duties. We don’t use lighter fluid because The Missus doesn’t like it. I think it’s an Environmental thing, you know? So we have a metal tube with a handle (inset), and you put charcoal in the top of the tube and newspaper in the bottom and light the newspaper, which gets the charcoal going and like that.

So I made the pretty fire, the charcoals did what they were supposed to do and then we waited till they were almost ice-cold before putting the chicken on the grill. So by the time The Missus was serving up the accessory vittles, I was out in the back yard, staring down the trio of insouciant, uncooked chicken breasts and making more new fire to try again to cook them. The problem was, when I lit the fire-tube the first time, I had an empty grill to place it down on and let it do its thing. I forgot about that step the second attempt, so when I went to put the flaming tube down, the grill was already full of uncooked chicken breasts. I looked around for another safe surface I could place the now-roaring firetube down on, and finding none in the dry grass around the BBQ, I raced for the small slab of concrete at the back door as the flaming chunks of newspaper fell out of the bottom of the tube.

I managed to kick the fiery mess – fiery messes – onto the concrete and with Cliz’s help, stamp them out. Big laughs. It was at this point that it became clear to me, I was dealing with some serious fucking MacGuyver chicken breasts here. These things were not going to go down without a fight, and they didn’t care how much danger they placed me in in their efforts to escape the grisly fate I had in mind for them.

So I made my third pretty fire of the afternoon (as Cliz warmed up the oven, “just in case”), and placed the tube down on the grill, where we had made a space for it (see previous inset) since my second attempt. All things worked great, and soon I was ready to toss the burning charcoals under the chicken with their spent brethren. I picked up the tube, Cliz lifted the chicken-laden grill, and I tossed in the fresh charcoals. After the grill was back in its place, I noticed there was a pile of burnt newspaper ash still on it, next to the chicken breasts.

Before Cliz could cry out “NO!!” I leaned over and attempted to blow the ashes off the grill, and instead, of course, ended up blowing them all over the damned uncooperative MacGuyver chicken breasts instead. Guests inside the house reacted with predictable horror, even the vegetarians who weren’t planning on eating any of them anyhow. I tried to pick the ashes off using a pointy BBQ utensil and only ended up spreading them like a lead-laced newspapery glaze across the surface of the finally-cooking chicken motherfuckers…

Eventually, a piece of chicken emerged that was both fully cooked, and ash-free (left). I ate it right away just in case something else happened and the rest of the chickens escaped my wrath.

After the ashes incident, Cliz took over the BBQing duties… and I didn’t make another mistake until it came time to blow out the birthday candles. But at least now you can understand why I didn’t want to stop eating those damned chickens even long enough to blow out my birthday candles. Plus remember: good with starting fires, inexpert at everything that comes after, including putting them out.

After dinner, Cliz favored us with a short acoustic guitar performance, The Man Cub perked up, and best of all, the MacGuyver Chickens were good and cooked and either consumed or waiting in the fridge to be ignored and thrown away sometime next month when they go bad.

If it wasn’t for my help, a good time would have been had by all instead of just me. Thanks, everybody!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Johnny Cash sings Woody Guthrie

...from sea to shining sea.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


The Last Boy Scout turned 40 this week, the age by which conventional wisdom has it that he should have turned from his youthful liberalism to a more mature, pragmatic conservatism. Well, he was way ahead of that curve…

His friends threw him a blowout at a venerable local watering hole, where his regionally-famous band has played off and on for years. Explains why they’d give the club over on a Friday night for a private party. He’s built-up a lifetime of good will in this city (adjacent to Christmas Island) and it all came together for him last night. The bastard even pulled me out of retirement for 5 minutes to jump up on stage and sing “Rockin’ In The Free World” with him.

It was wicked cool. Even the guys in his band were kind and generous with their time with me. I’ve gotten better at picking friends with age - not more friends, just better ones.

Anyhow, the anticipation of the event made him especially cheeky all week. In one email right after Bill Clinton had once again resurrected his wife’s tall Bosnia tale, he gloated, “When he was campaigning for himself, he must have let his handlers make all the decisions, because he doesn’t appear to have the political instincts that everybody previously credited him with.”

I had to let that one sink in. It was his week, after all – birthday on Monday and party on Friday. I didn’t want to get into any partisan sniping unless it was absolutely necessary. As soon as I got home from the club bash, I sat down and banged out a response:

[The suggestion that Bill Clinton was always a fumble-footed political clod] is revisionist thinking. I’ve been culling bits from VHS tapes I made of “Cool TV” back in the ’90s on my Christmas-vintage VHS-to-DVD recorder, and Bill Clinton is all over them. And it turns out Mr. Clinton actually was really, really good back then. Smooth as ice, cool as a cucumber, both quick and thoughtful on his feet... There was a reason his enemies called him “Slick Willie,” because he was. Until Monica, no charge they leveled at him stuck other than “He’s smarter than us, guddurnit!” (Sound of foot stamping in impotent rage.)

This guy currently campaigning for Hillary, by comparison, is like an off-brand knock-off of that guy, or a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox. A pathetic shadow of his former, reliably slippery self.

Did he get stupid in the last eight years? No, his public appearances revealed no trace of his current political dementia till his missus decided to go for the gold ring. Is he off his meds? Is it all part of some multi-phase, long-term Machiavellian construct designed to win Hillary the nomination in the final reel?

I think not. I think the old Silver Fox is still in possession of all of his faculties.

I think he’s taken a look down the road – to the history books yet to be written – and decided getting Hillary elected would be a net loss for his legacy, and I agree with him.

Oliver Stone, well-known conspiracy theorist and regarded as one of the filmmaking community’s leading crazy people, has already done a bio-pic of Dick Nixon (“Nixon”) and is apparently working on a similar project involving our current Pennsylvania Avenue resident, “W.” A few pages of script have leaked, and they suggest Stone is not going to take the even-handed approach with “W” that he did with “Nixon.” Maybe future filmmakers will be more generous, like Bush’s imaginary future historians’ paeans to his cunning foresight...

Reading these few script pages, it suddenly occurred to me, if Hillary gets elected and Oliver Stone was to make a movie about the Bill Clinton presidency, it would likely begin with him getting his knob polished in the Oval Office (after an impeachment montage of actual news clips over the opening credits) and end with Hillary’s inauguration, camera pulling back and Bill lapsing, Rosebud-like, into the shadows.

And I think Bill worries that’s how history will remember him, too. Two asterisks. His entire eight years reduced to a trivia question: What president was both impeached as well as married to the country’s first female president?

So [I said to The Last Boy Scout], go ahead and criticize the sad little red-faced man on the TV news and the YouTube putting his foot in his mouth again and again; I am regrettably compelled to agree with you. But don’t kid yourself that the man did not have game when it was his political career on the line.

And don’t discount the possibility that he still has game and that he still sees his political career as on the line, and deep-sixing his wife’s candidacy is how he aims to protect it.

One asterisk is a black mark. Two are book-ends.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

“Oops! My bad (but it’s not my fault!)”

So my buddy The Last Boy Scout sends me a link to this news story (being a former newspaperman himself), with the gloat, “Let the record show that this guy is a Democrat!”

The meat of the story (ahem) concerns a former San Diego councilman, running for office again, allegedly caught peeing into a cup on a street corner in some tony San Diego enclave, then following that up with a quick flogging of the old Molly Malone. Out there, on the street. While running for office.

I understand all his campaign ads end with a voice-over, “I’m John Hartley, and I approve of my penis.”

You’d think that’s bad enough, until you hear his explanation, which (again) I steal liberally, and verbatim, from an actual news organization. When asked for an explanation of his inexcusable behavior, he said, “I made a mistake.” Then he added, “I take full responsibility for my actions.”

WTF? Since when do you take responsibility for a mistake?! That’s the definition of a mistake, something untoward that occurs that is beyond your control. How do you take responsibility for something that is beyond your control??

And as for his explanation that it was a “mistake”? Locking your keys in the car is a mistake. Running head-first into a newly cleaned glass porch door – mistake. Whacking off in public is a choice and a fucking stupid one at that, compounded exponentially if the perp in question is a public figure, currently re-running for office!

Which at long last brings me to my point.

I’m sick to death of this “mistake” mea culpa-non-mea culpa. It’s just a way to disown own’s egregious misbehavior without taking responsibility for it. Like running to rehab. “I’m not a run-of-the-mill pervert at all, I just have behavioral issues stemming from childhood that with therapy, the love of my loyal wife,” gesture to mortified, matronly woman standing next to you on podium, “and accepting Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior…”

Oh, and then he pleads “no contest,” which is legalese for “I made a mistake I’d really rather not own up to.”

Best of all, this yutz is apparently planning to stay in the race.

So the story ends with this asshole tacitly admitting his guilt without the onus of having been officially found guilty, drawing a tiny fine ($500) and being set loose again on a finally wised-up public. Why the fuck doesn’t he have to register as a sex offender? Does anyone think this is the first – or the last – time this asshole is gonna engage in this kind of antisocial behavior? That it’s not going to escalate?

If he wasn’t a local bigwig, this story would have had probably the ending that it should have had. The court fucked up big-time by not bringing the full weight of the law down on this dunderhead. Force the responsibility for his actions on him and let him whack off in the prison yard for year or two and see how that goes for him. I hear they really go in for explicit sexual acts performed in public in the Big House.

The Betty Ford Clinic will always be there for him when he gets out if he still needs it.

“This” and that

Featuring more Man Cub artistic genius:

When I asked him what it was called, he replied, ‘This’ as only a child could. Enraged, I cried, “That’s no fucking kind of answer! Did your mother put you up to this?” After a quick call to my sponsor, a clear and searching moral inventory (that was no picnic, let me tell you) and a frankly perfunctory round of amends-making, we retitled it “Untitled Mixed Media 1” and I took a handful of Ambien and went to bed.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Hillary's Big Lie

Everybody’s got one. I do. It’s usually a lie you tell yourself, and it’s always a secret.

Also, it’s usually inconsequential to anyone but you. The problem with Hillary’s big lie — that she is more electable than Obama in the Red States in November — is that it’s consequential to everybody. How it’s remained a secret is a fucking mystery to me. It’s always smelled like a stinker, every time I heard it repeated by campaign spokespeople and willing media surrogates, but I never sat down and worked it out why. Fortunately, some people get paid to do that and I just read a column by someone who has.

His name is Matt Taibbi, he writes for Rolling Stone magazine and he’s really smart and funny (if a bit grim; he covers politics, after all). It’s a lengthy, well-written, thought-provoking piece that I discovered, but the part that exposed Hillary’s Big Lie so succinctly I present here verbatim:

(CLICK HERE for the whole Rolling Stone article)

...Saying that Hillary is better qualified to take on John McCain because of her performance in those ['red'] states only makes sense if (a) you believe that the people who voted for Clinton in the primaries will not vote for Obama in the general election, and (b) you believe that no Democrat can win the traditionally red states. In fact, Hillary has mostly been winning the traditionally blue states —places like New York, California, Massachusetts and New Jersey —that are going to go blue in November anyway, no matter who is running on the Republican ticket. And even in the states Hillary has won, it has been registered Democrats, not swing voters, who have carried her to victory, while Obama has dominated her in virtually every contest among registered independents. Even in her home state of New York, Obama whipped Hillary among independents by fifteen percent. In Missouri, that margin was twenty-eight percent. In California? Thirty percent.

Obama, meanwhile, has performed extraordinarily well in traditionally red states like Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina. And sure, some of that is due to the black vote. But all of his victories have been marked by two things: larger-than-usual turnout and routs among independents, leading to the large number of blowout wins that are basically responsible for his delegate lead at the moment. On Super Tuesday, Hillary won sixty percent of the vote in only one contest, Bill's home state of Arkansas. Obama won seven states by that margin or more.

In other words, Hillary is winning the Democratic voters who are going to vote Democratic anyway. Obama is bringing in new voters, and he's winning large numbers of swing voters in red states.

Hillary’s too smart not to know this, but she’s still gonna sell this nonsense about her being more electable the same way “Mission Accomplished” and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was sold to just enough mouth-breathing yokels to fuck up our country for the last eight years.

Why aren’t more progressive-types screaming bloody murder about Hillary’s Big Lie? How ‘progressive’ are we really if we just keep swallowing politicians’ flimsier and flimsier lies? Shit, at least Colin Powell had a vial full of baking soda to wag at the cameras.... Every time I’ve heard Hillary’s claim to be the most electable in the last couple months I’ve wanted to scream.

Taibbi said it perfectly. Obama is picking up unequalled swing-vote numbers in red states, and Hillary is drawing the Democratic faithful, who will vote the ticket no matter who’s on it, an electoral formula guaranteed to result in lost red states again in November! Obama literally gives us reason to hope for some red-state victories (especially with an unpopular-among-the-base candidate at the top of the GOP’s ticket), for Christ’s sake, and Hillary continues to spew her vile, selfish lies.

Augh!! It’s her fucking hubris that pisses me off. But she’s a politician, I expect them to be full of themselves. What I really can’t understand or forgive is the reliability of the stupidity of the American voting public. “I’ll buy that for a dollar! Hyuck yuk yuk...”

God bless you, Matt Taibbi. How do we get your few vital grafs, above, out there in front of the pseudo-progressive knuckleheads who need to have a goddamned map drawn for them? How can we get you on “American Idol”?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Charlton Heston: An Appreciation

Can you believe what a major prick I am? I love this guy’s work, but my first thought when I read tonight that he passed away at 83 was “Mr. DeMille, Charlton Heston is ready to have his gun pried from his cold, dead fingers.”

And my second thought was that I’m still pissed at Michael Moore that my last filmed memory of this titan of 20th century cinema is that of a sick, frail old man hobbling away to escape from a predatory documentarian’s camera. Shame on you, Michael Moore. You had me ‘till Heston.

In the end, my feelings about Charlton Heston aren’t even a mixed bag. I take my hat off to the man. It wasn’t just that he effortlessly measured up to the larger-than-life characters he played, it’s that if Chuck Heston was in a movie, that was gonna be a movie worth seeing. Take a look at his page on, every movie he was in, even if it was crap science fiction from the ’70s (“Planet of the Apes,” “Soylent Green,” “Earthquake,” etc.) it was always an exciting yarn. He had a sense of story that was damned near impeccable. To this day, a giddy chill runs through me every time I stumble across a Charlton Heston film I haven’t seen before. “El Cid” just made it out onto DVD for the first time a couple weeks ago – I was in line on day one. Not the Great Movie it’s made out to be (Sophia Loren mopes through its entire length, large empty eyes and stilted line readings torpedoing every scene she’s in – I loved learning in the ‘extras’ that Heston hated working with her as much as I hate watching her work), but Heston carries every scene he’s in, usually on his broad, naked, sweaty back. Never has unintentional homo-eroticism garnered more mainstream approval than in the films of Charlton Heston!

He played Men’s Men from Julius Caesar to 'Buffalo Bill' Cody to Moses to Andrew Jackson twice (once as president in 1953’s “The President’s Lady” and once as general in 1958’s “The Buccaneer”), Thomas Jefferson, John The Baptist, Henry VIII, Abe Lincoln, Michelangelo (a whole different kind of man’s man to whom Heston lent his trademark Alpha Male moxy anyhow) to my personal favorite, loveable slave trader Whipple 'Whip' Hoxworth in 1970’s “The Hawaiians.”

Did he make a lot of bad movies? Oh God yes. Was he great in all of them? You bet your ass. He would chew no piece of scenery before its time. I’d watch any one of his flicks again at the drop of a hat. And chances are, I’ll have my opportunity in the next few days as Turner Classic Movies will undoubtedly run a marathon of the films they have in their vaults featuring him.

The only flick I caught him in that I didn’t make it through was “Khartoum,” and that was because he didn’t enter until 45 minutes into this U.K. snoozer, after it was already long-since rendered DOA by almost an hour’s worth of aloof British stand-offishness. One thing Heston never was, was stand-offish. He sank his teeth into every role like Ted Nugent devouring a fresh, hot kill. He was shameless, egotistical, brazen. He had to be to play the characters he played.

And yes, he was a fire-breathing right-winger. So fucking what? The artist’s judgment was beyond reproach, the man’s decisions, well, they were open to more broadly-ranging interpretations. I was always able to separate the two, the same way I never held Jimmy Stewart’s way-right-of-center politics against him. Sometimes, you just have to check your ideology at the door.

What an amazing body of work. What a great, gleaming Hollywood god. When they made Heston, they threw away the mold, man. We’ll not see his like again.

I for one mourn his passing, and can’t wait till The Man Cub is old enough for me to share this extraordinary screen icon’s unparalleled filmography with him. As the man himself summed up his career, “I've played three presidents, three saints and two geniuses — and that's probably enough for any man.”

Meeting Across The River

(I could tell you which river, but then I’d have to kill you.)

Well, I finally had the Bruce Springsteen experience our older sibs used to rave about, pre-“Born In The USA.” I was transported, swept up, taken completely away to another place, a place where America didn’t just talk about heroes, it “sings about them,” as Bruce joked ruefully at one point near the end of the show. Probably a wink to his futile participation in John Kerry’s failed presidential campaign, I figured. I could imagine Bruce thinking, “Woody’s machine killed fascists, but mine didn’t even make them blink.”

But I digress, diverge, divulge…

I’ve seen Springsteen religiously since the “Tunnel of Love” tour (yes, for a guy my age, I came to the party late). And every time I’ve seen him, there were two constants. One, I always had unbelievably shitty seats. For “Tunnel of Love,” a friend flew out from the great American Southwest, and for her efforts, she was rewarded with a seat at the opposite end of the stadium from the stage, top row. Seriously, it was wall behind us. Paid a bundle to see him at the Paramount in San Francisco, horrible seats. “The Rising?” Horrible seats, and guys next to us chanting ‘U. S. A.! U. S. A.!” through most of the show.

The other thing they all had in common was, I never got the Bruce Springsteen magical experience they used to write about back in the early days, when a young Bruce would play 3.5, 4-hour shows, every night to ecstatic crowds of college kids his own age. Everyone raved about how it was so much more than the sum of its parts, a communal this, a shared that... Blab la bla. I was starting to believe it was all hype, or more likely, either something Bruce could no longer muster or I could no longer tap into. All likely scenarios: bleak.

Plus I hit him at a bad time. “Tunnel of Love” was not a stadium-pleasing collection of tunes to be out hawking. Bruce’s marriage was going to shit and he and his music were caught up in that. His reunion show with the E-Street Band, whenever that was, around 2000? Seats were so bad and high up, it felt more like summiting Mt. Everest to a really great soundtrack. I remember the Jumbotron, Bruce’s legs and being afraid to lean forward too far lest I fall to a certain death. “The Rising” show we saw, for me never caught fire. Even “Devils and Dust” failed to produce a sustained “Bruce Moment.”

So maybe going in with diminished expectations this time was a plus. I was no longer looking for the Big O, I just wanted to go see a show. Plus, we did have better seats than had ever been scored before. (Confession: we actually could have had general admission tickets, but I hadn’t seen general admission tickets in so long, I just searched the screen in vain for “Seat” and “Row #” while The Missus bought us our best seats yet. By the time I went, “Oh, wow, general admission – the floor!!” the screen had timed-out.)

Whatever it was, even during a lackluster number or two, the show at least reached a shadow of its mythic status. I was taken away, transported… Bruce seemed to be having a great time, Little Steven had his doo-rag on and shared funny looks with Bruce whenever they dueted, Nils Lofgren demonstrated why Bruce still keeps two lead guitarists on board when he absolutely destroyed the solo in “Because the Night,” Clarence had a golden throne stage right to sit on when he didn’t have anything to do on a song… gee, maybe it’s because Patty stayed home this leg of the tour, according to Bruce, to ride herd on their three teenagers. I don’t know, but it was fun. Bruce seemed looser and flirtier. We were still far enough away that, even on the Jumbotron, I wasn’t sure the chick on stage wasn’t Patty till she picked up a violin for one song. Whatever it was, it made for My Most Excellent Bruce Show Ever.

On his new record, there’s a ‘bonus track’ at the very end, called “Terry’s Song.” I read a couple places how it was about one of Bruce’s oldest friends, a guy I guess he grew up with and kept with him (maybe in some ‘staff’ capacity, like Elvis’ Memphis Mafia?) who recently passed away. It’s a great little mournful acoustic tune, the kind of thing Bruce ought to do a whole album of, like “Nebraska” again. Anyhow, he didn’t do that tune in the Arena last night and probably never will, but he did do the early-career deep-cut “Backstreets,” and I suddenly noticed one of the song’s two main characters was named “Terry” and the context was totally that they were a couple of dead-end kids trying to make their way through a rough old world, but that they were gonna stick it out and hang tough together “till the end.” In spite of all the lofty patriotic and anti-Iraq War themes of his new material, this song seemed to be at the heart of last night’s performance. And maybe that genuine, unforced emotional heft, even more than Patty’s absence, is what kicked the ass of all those other Bruce shows I’ve seen.

Here’s the lyrics to “Backstreets,” © 1975, from

One soft infested summer me and Terry became friends
Trying in vain to breathe the fire we was born in
Catching rides to the outskirts tying faith between our teeth
Sleeping in that old abandoned beach house getting wasted in the heat
And hiding on the backstreets, hiding on the backstreets
With a love so hard and filled with defeat
Running for our lives at night on them backstreets

Slow dancing in the dark on the beach at Stockton's Wing
Where desperate lovers park we sat with the last of the Duke Street Kings
Huddled in our cars waiting for the bells that ring
In the deep heart of the night to set us loose from everything
to go running on the backstreets, running on the backstreets
We swore we'd live forever on the backstreets we take it together

Endless juke joints and Valentino drag where dancers scraped the tears
Up off the street dressed down in rags running into the darkness
Some hurt bad some really dying at night sometimes it seemed
You could hear the whole damn city crying blame it on the lies that killed us
Blame it on the truth that ran us down you can blame it all on me Terry
It don't matter to me now when the breakdown hit at midnight
There was nothing left to say but I hated him and I hated you when you went away

Laying here in the dark you're like an angel on my chest
Just another tramp of hearts crying tears of faithlessness
Remember all the movies, Terry, we'd go see
Trying to learn how to walk like heroes we thought we had to be
And after all this time to find we're just like all the rest
Stranded in the park and forced to confess
To hiding on the backstreets, hiding on the backstreets
We swore forever friends on the backstreets until the end
Hiding on the backstreets, hiding on the backstreets

Copyright © Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP)