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Monthly Archives: July 2012

It’s appropriate that the film Last Summer is set on Fire Island, just a ferry’s ride from the Long Island mainland, as the sun-baked atmosphere is as dry as kindling and the cool crashing waves from the Atlantic are no match for the palpable, hot energy surrounding four teens confronted with the challenges of adulthood.

It’s 1969 when two gangly teenage boys, Peter, (Richard Thomas, pre-Johnboy), and Dan, (Bruce Davidson), wander across Sandy (Barbara Hershey), a comely child-woman boasting a 157 IQ, kneeling in the sand, trying to save a seagull dashed on the beach from a fishhook in its throat. Sandy’s intentions are to make a pet of the seagull, as well as the two boys, and to train all three in the art of obedience. As the saying goes, she has hand. As the three become more bound by true confession and experimental groping and intimacy, the aura of the ménage a trios is similar to that of a pack of ferel dogs. They taunt the local toughs with their overt sexuality. They steal beers and drugs from the grownups’ stash. They fill out a blind date questionnaire with erroneous information with intentions of messing with both the dating service’s computer and any respondents.

You get a sense of the period in U.S. history from the setting. Hyannis Port is a far piece up the coast, where Camelot’s tarnished image has been dragged down in the American collective psyche by cynicism toward both Vietnam and Chappaquiddick. Parties of the privileged, up and down the beach, are mired in alcohol and illicit drug use. And the teens are ‘digging’ the rebellious sounds of the late sixties while boredom slowly creates an underlying narcissism.

As the threesome train the seagull to do tricks, a fourth teen, Rhoda (Catherine Burns), enters the picture. She is critical of the perceived abuse of the seagull. Rhoda’s high-mindedness and grandmotherly bathing suits ensure her place as the outcast within the group. She’s far more principled compared to the other three, but she’s heavy-handed, acting like the jailer/babysitter who kids can’t help but attempt to fluster while enjoying every minute of it.

It’s Rhoda’s timid sexuality that sets up the final and disturbing scene. It’s a bit over the top and I can’t help but wonder if something less destructive and, instead, more ambiguous would have equally given the film a more profound conclusion. That said, it was this shocking final scene that I vividly recall from the first time I saw this film 30 years ago and what compelled me to seek out this hard-to-find film. (Since when does a film with an Oscar nomination become lost, priced at $189 on Amazon.com and unavailable on Netflix?) Based on Evan Hunter’s novel of the same name, I can imagine the author’s attempt to illustrate the pathos of the time, equally disturbing and depicted in the rebellious wanderlust of Easy Rider or the death and darkness of Apocalypse Now. All three of these movies end with a shot to the gut, leaving the viewer to either ask “Is that the end?” or to wonder how often dare we forget someone might be watching over us and managing the ledger of deeds and misdeeds.

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While watering the lawn, those are the words I heard shouted from a neighborhood kid playing with friends. It’s an obvious reference to the Al Pacino classic Scarface, a movie about an enterprising Cuban immigrant making his way in Miami in the ’80’s by delving into political corruption, drug trafficking and murder. The quote comes at the end of the movie during a cataclysmic scene in which Pacino’s character, Tony Montana, armed with a M16-A1 assault rifle, his “little friend”, is indiscriminately shooting anything that moves.

Any other day, overhearing such a quote might sound harmless while soliciting a chuckle. But not today. Today we find ourselves, as a nation, once again, caught up in the bloody blur of fantasy and reality combined. James Holmes, this year’s Jared Lee Loughner (aka former U.S. Senator Gabrielle Gifford’s attempted assassin and murderer of six bystanders), has taken his place in the history books, filled with youthful homicidal maniacs, by going on a killing spree during an opening late-night screening of the latest Batman installment in Aurora, Colorado. I’ve yet to see the film, but the formula is, no doubt, that of the usual fare. Evil tries to take control of everything and, in so doing, kills innocent people while good plays its part in attempting to minimize collateral damage while more innocent people are killed. All the while, impressionable children are allowed to exercise their freewill to decide what is best for their personal viewing. After all, what harm is there in that?

Not every child falls under the trance of no-pain-plenty-gain that can be ascribed to violent movies and video games. Still there are those that have fallen into a dark hole of escapism and are willing to cross over to the dark side, viewing all others as either ants or non-entities. The rub is that few are interested in paying the ultimate sacrifice for their transgressions, i.e., going out in a blaze of glory like Tony Montana. Psychotics like James Holmes and Jared Lee Loughner appear more inclined to hang around, after the fact, to evidently bathe in the glow of their newfound notoriety.

In the early morning hours of August 7, 1974, French high-wire artist Philippe Petit did the unimaginable by attempting what is known as “the artistic crime of the century”. After six years of planning, he crossed the World Trade Center on a cable stretched between the two towers. Although he insured an increase in security at WTC, he also made history and, by doing so, risking his own life rather than taking the lives of others.

Petit’s feat is that rarity where we find ourselves in awe. Yes, we also share his fear from afar. But we do so knowing that he alone is taking the risk, all of it, upon his shoulders. Guys like Holmes and Loughner imagine themselves as the Red Dragon from a Thomas Harris novel, desperately dreaming of a very twisted state of awe from the rest of us. To their cell-confined-for-life lives I say, dream on. And say ‘Hello’ to your little friend.

Brittle plastic on a sprinkler head and a stubbed toe make for ticky tack fouls in life unequal to starvation and the Bubonic plague, yet they’re pretty close. I’d like to enjoy the remaining moments I have on Earth, but there’s so muchticky…mucht icky… Mutt…much Ricky…much ticky tack that crawls up from the underground, and bends you over backwards. See. Even getting out this last line found me fumbling and bumbling, stymied either by iPad technology or else by App wordplay that would rather redirect me rather than work with me. Yeah, I know. It’s my own fault. Why? Cuz I’m living.

More from the ticky tack front: this afternoon, my wife and I shopped at Target, imagining we could find brake pads for those worn out ones for my bicycle. They had everything else but brake pads. (Are we that much of a slow-moving society that we no longer need brakes? Maybe.) From computerized and multi-functional gadgets to helmets of all shapes and colors, and even a spare kickstand. Since when does a bike manufacturer not include a kickstand for every bike coming off the assembly line? And once a kickstand is off, why replace it? The annoyance it provides during a bike ride – slowly dropping with each bump along the trail and rubbing against the peddle – overshadows it’s usefulness.

Speaking of bikes. While at Target, my wife mentioned getting another bike, a bike rack, and going to places where we could go biking along bike trails – when we have the time. I told her we’d be too old by then and not interested in making the effort. I suggested the time is now. I now suggest that the town of Hackensack is calling us, to come ride that town’s piece of the Paul Bunyan Trail. Tedious upgrades. Cross winds filled with hot air. Low hanging branches like monkey arms to slap our faces. Nothing like it. Ticky tack on the fly.

Amber Sand’s approaching postal delivery felt to her like a “Dear John” letter and a suspicious white-substance filled envelope, wrapped in one. She watched through the drapes as the carrier lumbered forward, toward her front door, nonchalant and absent of distress, like a true co-conspirator, playing out his part, nicely, with a poker-face envious of the high-stakes rollers in Vegas. But the problem, clearly so: it was 2029 and Vegas had yet to be re-established. Amber had fallen victim to a time warp, a rupture between worlds where, in one world, time suggested there was no such thing as time travel while the other world boasted “told you so”.

Now Amber bent down, big-bellied, and pulled on the local periodical shoved halfway through the mail slot and read the shutter-speed headline:

Fourth of July Johnson & Johnson Company Man o’ War of the World’s Greatest Loverboy’s Mike Reno, Nevada Smith and Wesson Corn Oil of Olay Soapbox Derby Hat In Hand Over Your Money

Amber found the news both sad and refreshing but then realized, after turning the page, she recognized the photo on page two, a mirror image of the girl with curious green eyes and thick raven hair, while realizing that today was, quite possibly, the Fourth of July. She listened for the sounds of fireworks, barking dogs and the swiftness of the punching darkness. But such things did not occur as it was still early morning. While someone ate a good breakfast, Amber stepped over the crack in the floor where a light shone with an echo of forever-speed and glare.

“If you can hear me, Master,” Amber spoke, trembling, “know this: I am not afraid.”

As soon as the words ascended from her lips, now roiling in a colorful cloud of disharmony near the ceiling, Amber realized at once that she was, indeed, not afraid. A pentagonal pyramid stood tall in the corner, over-flowing with misery, while a fat cat, black with red-speckled ears, beat it’s tail against the hardwood floor where it lay and told Amber, “Shut up, will you already?”

“Why should she?” asked the two-headed dog, a family fixture for more generations than could be recalled, leaning against a spinster-aunt clock with hands the size of pitchforks and a weeping, number-pocked face only Father Time could love.

“Go argue elsewhere, you two,” demanded Amber. ” I may be too young for today’s events but I know I’m much too old to listen to old foes bickering in a pool of sediment and malaise.”

“Bitchy,” whispered the cat to the two-headed dog.

“Wanton,” the dog suggested.

Amber returned to the newspaper headline and began to empathize with the weary-looking “&”. She saw how it stood all alone, between those mischievous Johnsons. Even the little “o” had the assistance of the ” ’ “, she noted. And then she spoke softly to the “&”. “We are alike, in name, shape and burden. But you may rest now. And thank you for the news.”

All alone as well, Amber then lay down for only the second time in her short life, resting and relaxing for but a moment. Hours passed and by the time the screaming ended and the crying began, she found herself no longer alone, in the dark and absent of soul. The flashy explosions outside from nine days earlier and the lowing of the animals inside filled her ears with noises and her eyes with unseen trials from the future. She was planning on a long one with someone known to be at times charming, but mostly not very kind.

It’s a Saturday afternoon and the sweetest summer breeze in days billows the leaves on the vines draped along the old red brick mortar exterior of the coffee house where, a hundred-odd Minnesota summers ago, railroad people struggled to stay cool. The patio displays mostly couples tables of heavy durable plastic and thick, brown wicker chairs under old shade trees.

The past week’s weather, in degrees, was made of a string of hundreds. Pavements buckled. Lake water felt like warm milk. Dogs begged for indoor comfort and cats sun-bathed with expressions that said “kill me now; I’m in heaven”.

The old railroad folk worked long days, languishing in daily chores while etching out a menial living, on this very same plot of land where new people drink freshly-made iced tea or a latte mixed with steamed soy milk. There’s an aura of comfort round these new people, people who are seemingly at peace with the new weather and life itself, and without the need to verbalize it. Instead, they drink. Breathe fresh air. Share one another’s company while attempting to forget the struggles of modernity.

A middle-aged woman surfs the web by way of music, with eyes closed, meditating, perhaps in search of her inner self. Her male companion reads from a hard copy book. He appears more perceptive than intuitive. An engineer perhaps. Someone who trusts numbers and formulas.

Another couple, much younger, yet in the early stages of couples-who-like-alike, is seated at a table near the white-picket fence. Similarly off-blonde hair and round pasty faces with blushing cheeks and pale empty eyes. They each sip from a cup of iced coffee, his elbows resting on the table, displaying his control of all things, and she resting against the back of her chair, allowing him to believe he is in control of all things. They’re as quiet as though all is understood, pre-determined, and youth and patience are their best friends.

An older couple are seated on the porch with their elderly son who pecks a way on a laptop. There’s a sense he appreciates this time with his parents, appreciates his father’s nervousness while watching him check his Blackberry every few minutes, and appreciates his own patience for his mother’s undoubtedly terminal preoccupation with trite, yet innocuous, observations.

The sounds of passing vehicles side swipe the tranquil air. Most cars hum along while others roar for attention, as if they were Paul Revere on steroids. The steady traffic is a far cry from the long ago train whistle that sent panic through the resident wildlife in the nearby woods while alerting the locals of travelers and goods just arriving.

Now an over-dressed woman of both sophistication and worldliness saunters onto the patio. She paces, unable to sit and relax, and, instead, gives the impression that every moment of the day needs to be filled with vitality. She’s not alone. Her voice is loud, disruptive, as she speaks into a cell phone, making the world appear much larger than the little patio at the little coffee house. It’s self-centered moments like these that make others forget the things they’d like to remember.