Monday, February 23, 2015

The Six Million Dollar Man

My favorite television show as a kid was The Six Million Dollar Man. I watched it incessantly in syndication and wore a red track suit everywhere my mother would let me—you don’t know how many times the neighbors watched me run in slow-mo down our driveway to check the mail. I cherished my 12-inch action figure with the Bionic Transport and Repair Station until my dog ate Steve’s good arm off. And Jaime Sommers was probably my first crush well before I even realized what a crush was.

Years later, I figured out the show was based on a series of books by Martin Caidin. I tracked the novels down at my local library and read all four of them, experiencing the adventures of a Steve Austin who was a Vietnam vet and a far more violent bionic agent. Then, many years later still, when actor Richard Anderson (Oscar Goldman) convinced the networks to produce three made-for-tv reunion films, I didn’t care that Lee Majors looked pudgy and Lindsay Wagner looked old. I eagerly recorded those on videotape and watched the hell out of them.

When DVDs took off and studios began releasing older TV shows, I kept waiting for The Six Million Dollar Man to show up on the shelves. But the show never appeared. Then Blu-Ray format began to replace DVDs and still no Steve. Once streaming and digital copies began to replace physical media, I still kept an eye out. I watched as many older shows studios thought didn’t have enough of a fan base to warrant DVD production popped up on sites like Netflix and Hulu. Still no Steve Austin.

Finally in 2011, Season One of The Six Million Dollar Man got released on regular old DVD, not Blu-Ray. Apparently, the delay was due to some sort of rights issue with the property. A year later, Season Two. Then, another year later, the remaining three seasons of the show were released. 

Surprisingly, I didn’t pick any of them up. During the long wait, I managed to see a lot of other things I had loved as a child. Most of them just did not hold up very well. Only a few were tolerable, the rest nearly unwatchable. I did not want to ruin the fond memories I had of The Six Million Dollar Man. And, truth be told, Universal  simply wanted way too much money for an old TV show they gave only a bare bones DVD release. I was not going to pay that much for something I might not like.

Recently, the price of the season sets have finally come down, so I chanced it and bought the first. Over the weekend, I watched two of the three pilot telefilms that preceded the regular show and I have good news. As long as you can get past the terrible ‘70s clothes and some dated effects, it mostly holds up very well.

I'll keep you posted through my Season One binge, but, for now, it appears my childhood is safe until The Six Billion Dollar Man reboot with Marky Mark.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The White Moderate

Unfortunately, the white moderate is still the problem.

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From The Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Not Every Blank is X

It's no coincidence that the truths that make us feel the most uncomfortable are the ones so many of us feel the need to try to soften or outright deflect with phrases like, "Not every blank is X." You see, we don’t like to deal in truth as humans. The truth is messy and uncomfortable and scary, and it often means accepting that our march through life takes place contrary to our wishes and fantasies. We tend to spend a lot of our lives wanting and acting like something or someone is a particular way despite evidence to the contrary. And that’s often why we suffer and are unhappy.

But it’s precisely because a truth makes us uncomfortable that we must needs confront it. It is only by dealing with something directly and honestly as it is, not as we want it to be, that anything can be changed. Running from the truth only makes things worse. It makes it worse for you, for me, for them, for everyone. If your go-to response is, “Well, not every blank is X,” not only are you denying someone the validity of their experience, but quite fucking honestly, that makes you part of the problem.

You are why this is going on.

Listen, if you haven’t accepted this by now, there is only a single and indisputable absolute in this life you are currently living and that is that someday you will die. Period. That’s it. The only absolute ever. Got it?

So, now let’s be clear, no one is saying that every single cop is a racist killer. It's just like that other conversation we were having not that long ago when no one was saying that every single man is a misogynist. However, the problem IS that for each of these enough of them ARE that we find ourselves right here, right now in this very predicament.

And here’s the thing. You know it. You really do, deep down. You know it as the God’s honest. What you’re doing is compartmentalizing it. Oh, well, you know, that’s just this isolated thing over here. It’s not a larger issue and certainly not anything that concerns me. You're hoping that way you won’t have to do anything or examine anything and can go on about your life pretending. You can't. You live here too. 

So stop.

Just like that. Stop.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Rotten Fruit at The Fall Creek Review

I have a lengthy essay up at The Fall Creek Review. "Rotten Fruit" reexamines Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange...but I also talk about Stanley Kubrick, Shane Stevens, the gang novel, juvenile delinquency, and class warfare. If you have a minute, hope you’ll check it out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tell Them Robin Sent You

I nearly wrote this very lengthy post, an essay really, about what Robin Williams meant to me and the impact he had on my life.

I talked about how when I was a child and sitting home alone all day while my parents were at work, my two best friends were my dog and Mork (thanks to back to back episodes shown in syndication.)

Nanu nanu.

You cannot begin to fathom the impact of Dead Poets Society on my life, how many different formats I’ve owned that film, or how many times I’ve seen it. It lead me to so many good and perfect things. Least of which, I can quote a number of Whitman poems thanks to that movie. Every summer when the blooms on our lilac bush die, I stand on the front porch with the dog and recite the first stanza to one of Uncle Walt's poems:

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d, 
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night, 
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring, 
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west, 
And thought of him I love.

Good Will Hunting is the same.

When the lovely wife’s eyes started getting really bad, we sat down and watched a number of movies together that meant a lot to us. One of them was Good Will Hunting. The thing that really struck me on that rewatch, especially now being an adult going through the beginning of a crisis of my own, now no longer a teenager who connected with Matt Damon or Ben Affleck’s characters, was how moved I was by Robin’s performance as Will’s therapist. The “I will end you” scene floored me.

I wrote about all that in great detail.

Then deleted it for the beginning of a very angry post about the people who’ve felt the need to either be dismissive or say nasty, hurtful things. But I deleted that too. They don’t deserve the satisfaction. We currently live under the tyrrany of petty and ignorant men, but that will change. Let them stew in their chosen misery and turn your face away from their offered cup of bitterness. Some day they too will have a moment of awareness and see, as their lives draw to a close, how they will soon sink beneath a dark and lonely ocean of tears to be forgotten.

(And that's something else too, if I can take a moment. Journalism is mostly dead. So in the days to come you will see the ghouls on the march, hoping to join the trolls. The buzzards have already circled. Ignore them. Don't click. Don't share. Don't listen. You do not have to engage.)

The whole time I struggled with what I wanted to write, I kept thinking about Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem Richard Cory. And I think that’s something to remember. How sometimes the stories we tell ourselves about other people can be just as deceitful and unhelpful as the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

But even that somehow feels too dark, I think.

For me, the thing I keep reading that sticks out in my mind, the thing I want to keep hold of is how many times Robin went out of his way to cheer people up when they were sad or suffering or even just nervous. That’s a fucking legacy right there. It doesn’t need any eloquence to prop it up, it doesn’t require any spirituality, it just is. On the most basic human level, it's fucking gobsmackingly beautiful. It's something anyone could and should be proud of, cold hearted internet sonsofbitches be damned.

So that’s what I think you should do, if you want to honor Robin. Don’t be sad. Don’t even sit at home and watch a marathon of his films. Don’t share some motto or meme or phone number. Go connect with another human being right now. I guarantee you that you know someone who is depressed or sad or suffering or worried or nervous or frightened or even just lonely. When was the last time you spoke to them? When was the last time you made them laugh? Reminded them that you cared? Now's a good time. Right now. Go. Call them up. Knock on their door. And when they answer, tell them, “Robin sent me.”

Nanu nanu.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Dirty World Full of Dirty People

I’m a longtime John D. MacDonald fan, honestly still in awe of the quality of his prodigious output. Years ago, coming out of a lengthy Travis McGee bender, I read The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald by Hugh Merrill.

Starting at the bottom of page 71, Merrill reprints a funny spoof of Mickey Spillane that JDM sent Dick Carroll, his editor at Gold Medal, following their publication of The Brass Cupcake:

"It was one of those afternoons when the greasy sunshine flooded Third Avenue like a men’s room with a broken john. She came out of the alley lapping at her juicy red lips with her pointed spicy tongue.

I shouldered her out of the way and blew the smoke off of the end of the rod. He lay there in the alley and he was dead. I don’t know why I did it but I aimed at him and blew off the other half of his greasy skull. It was a dirty world full of dirty people and I was sick of it. I felt the crazy anger welling up in me. He lay there in the alley and he was dead. She rubbed her thorax against me. I blasted his teeth out through the back of his neck.

Pat shouldered her out of the way. He was picking his greasy teeth with a broken match. A smart cop, that Pat.

'I knew you was going to go kill crazy again, Mike. This has got to stop.'

I knew it couldn’t stop. Not while there were people left in the world. Dirty people in a dirty world. I had to kill all that I could. Even if they lifted my license. He lay there in the greasy alley in the greasy Third Avenue sunshine and he was dead and I was glad I’d shot his greasy skull apart.

'Mike, Mike,' she gasped, stabbing her tongue into my ear. It tickled.

I fingered her haunch, then shoved her away hard. She looked at me with those wide, spicy hot eyes.

'You haven’t fooled me a bit,' I rasped. Then I laughed. My laugh sounded like two Buicks rubbing together.

She knew what I meant. She said, 'Look what I can give you, Mike.' She unlatched her Maidenform.

I looked at it. I felt the sadness, the regret. But the anger was there. Pat sucked on the greasy match. He turned his head. He was a good cop.

The first shot nailed her against the alley wall. While she was slipping, her eyes still pleading with me, I wrote my initials across her gut with hot lead. It was tricky shooting.

Pat sighed. He said, 'Mike, the D.A.’ll have something to say about this.'

'Screw the D.A.,' I said. My voice sounded like a lead nickel in a stone jukebox.

We walked out of the alley, down through the soggy sunshine. Somehow, I felt very tired."

See. It’s funny, right? I thought so then, and still think so now. Though it's also a little sad that the genre is still overrun with prose and thought that still amounts to: “a dirty world full of dirty people…”

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