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Monday, February 26, 2007

GHOST RIDER (2007)

I’m sure by now you’ve heard the film adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Ghost Rider character licks the balls. Well, I’m here to offer a dissenting opinion.

Sure, I never liked Ghost Rider (but always felt he had a cool visual; a black leather-clad biker whose head is a flaming skull, riding a burning chopper, so what’s not to like?) and sure, the movie was directed by Mark Steven Johnson, the guy responsible for the cinematic butt-rape of my boy Daredevil, a crime I will never forgive, but I am still a hardcore geek and I try to see any comic book movies when they come out, more often than not getting burned in the process. And thanks to expecting to get burned, I have learned to expect nothing from comic book flicks so any actual entertainment I get from them is gravy. Armed with that philosophy, and the overwhelmingly negative reviews from both the media and my friends who saw it, I expected nothing whatsoever from GHOST RIDER.

The film tells the story of Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage), a stunt biker of Evel Knievel-level proportions who many years ago sold his soul to Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) and must now become the Ghost Rider, an entity that functions as the Devil’s bounty hunter and collects the souls of evildoers. The Devil needs the Rider to kick ass on his douchey son, Blackheart, who, aided by three elemental demons, wants to destroy the world and depose his dad, and along the road of supernatural asskicking Johnny is taught the lore of the Rider from a grizzled old gravedigger (Sam Elliot) who has good reason to know about all about the Rider. There’s also an utterly superfluous love story, but that doesn’t get in the way of the tongue-in-cheek monster stuff, and I have to admit that I was entertained.

Now don’t get me wrong, GHOST RIDER is not a “good” movie, what with the utterly disposable romantic subplot, campy gags, and a couple of major lapses in logic, but it is a fun bit of popcorn silliness that would work great on cable as a time-waster. And the one major component of the film that took me pleasantly by surprise — and probably irked the diehard Ghost Rider groupies — is the fact that the film is actually a Western in contemporary biker drag; from the opening narration we are told that the West was built on tall tales and legends, and that’s exactly what GHOST RIDER is, a semi-spooky heroic tale of second chances and taking one’s destiny by the horns. If you’re expecting a straight superhero epic you will be sorely disappointed, but if approached with the right frame of mind and a firm acceptance that what you’re watching is a fun B-movie, then GHOST RIDER is definitely worth matinee price, the eventual DVD rental fee, or a viewing on HBO. And as for Mark Steven Johnson, this was his second chance after the abominable DAREDEVIL — still arguably the worst of the Marvel Comics movies, although the recent PUNISHER movie gives it a run for its money — and I think he’s turned out a work that is definitely being unfairly maligned. Maybe he'll do DAUGHTERS OF THE DRAGON next, or WEREWOLF BY NIGHT...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

NEW YORK COMICON 2007

Bouncing back from the unspeakable clusterfuck of last year’s debacle, the 2007 Comicon at Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Center was an improvement in many ways. This time around, whoever did the programming turned over the bulk of the Center’s vast space to the event and the look and feel of the place brought me back to the grandeur of conventions held there over fifteen years ago.

The three-day geekfest ran from Friday through Sunday, but my schedule allowed me only enough time to go on Friday and that suited me just fine; the convention opened at noon on Friday for pros, exhibitors and the press, with the general public allowed in at 4PM, so I would be able to make my exit before the crushing horde stormed the place.

I arrived at the Javits Center at noon and asked for directions to the pressroom so I could pick up my pass, but it seemed that none of the Center’s staff had any clue as to where the designated room was. I told each staffer I ran into the exact room number and ended up being directed to four different locations, none of which was where I needed to go, before I found someone who pointed me to the right place. Upon hitting the press room I discovered that I was not on the list and had to fill out a form with all of my information; I was there as a reporter for Publisher’s Weekly, but since I freelance for them I don’t have a business card, so I had to go through the red tape. As I scrawled down the page, my editor from PW came in to collect her own credentials, and once it was made clear to the convention check-in staff that I really was exactly who and what I identified myself as, the form was yanked from my hand before I had finished it and my press badge and lanyard were thrust into my hands. Thus armed, I made a beeline for the dealer’s room.

Unlike last year, the dealer’s area was wisely kept separate from artist’s alley and allotted enough room for vendors to set up impressive displays and allow what was certain to be a huge crowd to mill about with relative comfort. Reflecting the trends of recent years, much of the space was dominated by manga and anime companies, leaving the remaining areas to indie publishers — one of whom was an old friend and co-worker who told me that the promoters did not provide the indies with chairs and tables promised in their signed contracts, instead attempting to rent chairs for $75 and tables for an insane $700 for tables, until he set the douchebags straight — representatives from comics shops, the latest in video games (the DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION display for two participants was amazing), independent filmmakers, DVD companies, original art dealers, toy and T-shirt salesfolk, and a tiny bit of land devoted to role-playing games.

While scoping out the place for bargains and interesting tchochkes I ran into many friends and co-workers from my thirteen years in the comics biz and was shocked to see how much we’d visibly aged since I first set foot in the Marvel Bullpen seventeen (!!!) long years ago; graying hair, paunchiness, sagging tits, it was all there, and that was just me. Damn, aging is a bitch…

The number of costumed attendees was less than expected, but it was only the first day, so who knows what would turn up later? There were the requisite Star Wars cultists, including a Boba Fett whose helmet supplied the electronically altered voice,

lots of barely legal girls dressed up as anime and video game characters and implant-laden horror sirens (most in the employ of companies who know that nothing gets a geek’s attention like hot chicks with big tits in skimpy outfits), Spider-Man,

and there was even a dog in a full body Superman suit.

When I asked his owner if I could take the beast’s picture, I swear the dog looked and me with an expression that flat out said, “Look, I know I’m just a dog, but allow me what remains of my dignity, for fuck’s sake.”

I then went upstairs to artist’s alley and said hello to the various artists I have known and worked with over the years, first seeking out my pal of nearly thirty years Amanda Conner, and her partner in crime Jimmy Palmiotti. Both talented to an unfair degree, the twosome somehow remain humble and utterly personable, each possessing a vile sense of ribald humor that shocks many but makes me feel right at home, and I adore them both dearly.

For those not in the know, Amanda is one of the few women to break into the boy’s club that is mainstream comics — meaning both Marvel and DC Comics — along with kicking ass in the minors, and possesses a clean, concise line that communicates exactly what comics used to be, namely sheer visually appealing fun, and I herewith suggest her for the regular artist on BIRDS OF PREY; it’s DC’s best superhero book that has great scripts by the incomparable Gail Simone but has suffered from very inconsistent art, and Amanda could remedy that with her eyes closed. And talk about a natural pairing: A.C. draws hot, tough chicks like nobody’s business, and that’s what the fucking book’s about. HELL-LOOOOOOOOO!!!

But I digress.

After A.C. offered to look after my coat and extraneous gear, thereby allowing me to move about the show relatively unencumbered, I checked out the rest of the artists on hand and was pleased to see Frank McLaughlin, a longtime inker for both DC and Marvel who also happened to be my first judo and cartooning instructor.

“Steven!” he yelled when he saw me. “How’s your mother?” We chatted for a bit and then I moved on, my encounter with Frank further driving home the fact that I’m now middle aged. After saying hi to a few other old friends I headed back to the dealer’s room and began to shop in earnest.

Gone are the back-issue-rich cons of yore, the in person oldies market having pretty much given way to the online cornucopia that is eBay, so the pickings in that area were a lot slimmer than I would have liked. I couldn’t find even one of the issues of 2000 AD I had on my list, but I did locate a seller who had vintage copies of my beloved EERIE and CREEPY in decent shape for a mere pittance at three bucks a pop, so I snagged ten of them including the first one I ever read back in 1974. None of the spectacular new FIST OF THE NORTH STAR toys were about, despite the new theatrical film and supplemental DVD flick, but all of the anime toy dealers sure as shit had every other item you could think of. And in my never-ending quest for absurd stuff I got my hands on a DVD of BLONDE SAVAGE (see the previous post) and the first two issues of — I shit you not — RETURN OF THE SUPER PIMPS. And last but definitely not least, I snagged a NO MA’AM shirt, an item emblazoned with the emblem of Al Bundy’s comedically anti-feminist organization from the late, lamented MARRIED…WITH CHILDREN.

And I wish I could have afforded one of these excellent collector's dolls, the average price of which was around $90.

I'd have gone with Supergirl. I may be a Wonder Woman groupie, but she is definitely NOT "heroin chic."

But then it was down to business, so I hauled ass to a panel on how the blogger community has changed, and continued to change, the comics landscape, both in terms of taste making and dissemination of info. I was covering it for Publisher’s Weekly and it was moderated by the redoubtable Heidi MacDonald, so it was guaranteed to be lively and informative. It was every bit as fun as I expected it to be, and I would have happily sat through another hour of Heidi and the panelists exchanging ideas and opinions, but it just wasn’t to be; my job at the barbecue joint beckoned and the general admission crowd threatened to storm the gates, so I made one last meet-and-greet round before leaving and encountered a group of fans who had just walked in, decked out in excellent Superman, Blue Beetle and Power Girl costumes, and when I caught sight of the blonde in the Power Girl getup I had to drag her up to meet Amanda, who had drawn the character not long ago for a mini-series.


No easy task, though, because the blonde was immediately surrounded by an army of horny dudes with cameras, each one snapping away as though his life depended on it. Risking grievous bodily harm, I managed to corral Power Girl and fill her in on her illustrator’s presence, and she delightedly accompanied me for her photo-op with A.C.

Oh, and here's an example of A.C.'s work on Power Girl, and note yours truly's cameo in panel four just below our heroine's glove:

Turns out that Power Girl, the Blue Beetle and Superman were part of Blinky Productions, a group of fans that make no-budget web movies mostly based on DC Comics characters, and their work is a lot of fun. Their films can be found online at www.blinky-productions.com and the one that made me laugh out loud was a short entitled “I’m Power Girl, Dammit!” so start with that one. Anyway, artist and superhero soon met, and it was a fangirl love fest.


Having done my good deed for the day I headed toward the exit and beheld the waiting public, champing at the bit and reminiscent of a crowd of pitchfork and torch-wielding Bavarians about to run roughshod over Baron Frankenstein’s castle.

So with the scent of geekish blood in the air I knew the time was ripe to depart. And so I stepped outside into the harsh winter winds, past the enormous line of ticket holders and hightailed my ass to the barbecue joint.

I'm just curious to see how the New York experience stacks up next to the upcoming San Diego shindig.

BLONDE SAVAGE (1947)

Ah, the ludicrous pleasures of the jungle adventure, a genre more or less wrestled to extinction by the two-pronged assault of political correctness and the existence of reality. With the Tarzan movies leading the pack in terms of entertainment, budget and basic concept — white person/people run around Africa kicking the shit out of “bad” negroes and any wildlife that has the balls to attempt protecting itself, and occasionally taking the time to loot indigenous cultures of their ancient treasures or murder their gods — the genre flourished on the big screen from roughly the early 1920’s through the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, thereafter settling into an almost thirty-year rotation on syndicated television as weekend afternoon matinees. More often than not silly as hell, even the most cheapjack of jungle flicks is a boatload of fun, which brings me to the idiotic charms of BLONDE SAVAGE.

I first encountered footage from BLONDE SAVAGE while stoned out of my mind and watching late night cable in 1987 in a documentary best described as the THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT of bad movies, IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD (1982), during a segment entitled “Musical Memories”; highlights from atrocious cinematic musical numbers unspoiled to hilariously awful effect, eventually hitting a cross section of offensive blackface and faux African material, smack dab in the middle of which was grainy footage featuring some incongruous blonde bombshell in Tarzan-style drag leading a horde of war-painted “Africans” in a non-rousing pre-battle pep chant. As the natives rolled their eyes and furiously pounded drums, the blonde yowled forth in the most White-a-tized voice one could imagine when compared to the earthier charms of the tribe’s “race” music, shouting “Vah-Gah! Vah-Gah! Dah-Koom Vah-Gah! Dah-Koom Vah-Gah!” which apparently means “Kill” or some such thing. As the bug-eyed Hottentots boogie down, they gaze upon the blonde with obvious reverence of her stilted attempt at being funky, until she let’s out a delighted squeal, picks up a spear, leaps off her throne and joins the throng in the Dark Continent Soul Train road company. The footage then abruptly cut to even more outrageous pickanninny shenanigans, but I was laughing my ass off since I find few things funnier than old movies depicting the melanin-challenged doing Black people shit better than Black people do while my dusky brethren stand around admiringly as if to say, “Gaw-DAMN, dat li’l White gal sho’ can dance/eat fried chicken/kill colonials! Yowza!!!” Thus intrigued, I embarked upon a twenty-year quest to find BLONDE SAVAGE, and thanks to the New York Comicon I have successfully obtained my quarry.

The DVD release of the film is transferred from a beaten-to-shit print that jumps about thanks to individual seconds missing here and there, and sports scratches all over the place, both elements that only add to its squalid glory. The film opens with a title card that evokes the most piss poor of matinee serials, yet somehow instills the viewer with confidence that massive goofiness is about to follow, and trust yer Bunche, it does so in spades.

In a nutshell: two doofy White guys, one a handsome bohunk (Leif Erickson) and the other a guy (Frank Jenks) are paid by a rich asshole (Douglass Dumbrille) who owns a diamond mine to locate the hidden village of a tribe who keep giving him shit, allegedly motivated solely by their innate savagery, and when our bargain basement heroes conveniently crash land right next door to the village, they discover a hot blonde named Meelah (Gale Sherwood) —speaking fluent Hollywood “oogah-boogah” gibberish — who’s sort of a goddess to the tribe, and pretty handy with a poisoned blowgun and spear. After convincing the tribe that they aren’t the rich asshole, the heroes take a couple of weeks to fix their prop plane and teach the heathens English, thereby discovering the details of how what would otherwise be a tasty surfer babe came to be situated among a bunch of boogies. From that point the story gets even dumber as the hunky hero gets the Tarzan chick’s nethers into a froth (after shooting an anaconda with a pistol, despite the anaconda not being indigenous to the continent) and has to contend with the adulterous intentions of his employer’s horny and miserable wife (Veda Ann Borg) who happens to be one of his innumerable old flames, and…

Aw, you get the idea, and for a flick that’s less than seventy minutes long, it’s got loony to spare; it gets in there, does its stupid business, entertains, and then it’s over. A perfect B-movie confection. RECOMMENDED (and it's dirt-cheap!)

Friday, February 23, 2007

MILESTONES IN COMICS ART HISTORY: THE DISNEYLAND MEMORIAL ORGY

Wally Wood was one of the all-time great comic book artists, a man who could draw just about anything and make it look easy, and for years I had searched for the title to the following piece of art. Now that I've found it, I give you "The Disneyland Memorial Orgy," and the story behind it.



From Wikipedia:

The Disneyland Memorial Orgy is a cartoon illustration created by Wally Wood for satirist Paul Krassner's radical humor publication The Realist. Published shortly after the death of Walt Disney, the artwork was commissioned by Krassner to portray the liberated behavior of the cartoon characters featured in many of Disney's animated films.

The drawing first appeared in The Realist #74 (May, 1967), and Krassner also published a larger version as a poster, initially selling several thousand copies. The original art was stolen from the printer. Krassner got the idea from Disney's December 15, 1966 death, as he explained:

"This was a few years after Time's famous "God Is Dead" cover, and it occurred to me that Disney was indeed God to Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy -- the whole crowd -- he had been their creator and had repressed their baser instincts, but now they could shed all their inhibitions and participate in a magnificent mass binge."

Krassner was not sued by Disney, but Disney did force Sam Ridge, a publisher of psychedelic posters who produced a colorized, bootleg version, into an out-of-court settlement. The drawing is often used to illustrate certain parts of copyright laws in the United States, namely those that permit original works to be partially copied for satirical or critical goals but which outlaw reproductions made for commercial purposes.

Only about a third of the 64 Disney characters depicted are actively involved in sexual intercourse or are on the point of undertaking it. Most are just observing the others. A few of the characters are occupied with other activities. A dazed Mickey Mouse, to the left in the bottom area, is plunging a syringe in his arm, while the paraphernalia of drug addicts lies at his feet. Next to him, an evil looking and grinning Pluto is urinating on a large painting of the eager face of Mickey. One of the small rabbits from Bambi is probably engaged in the sin of gluttony, featured licking an ice cream cone. In the upper left, Dumbo the flying elephant has just defecated on Donald Duck while in flight.

The wide activity of the scene and the panoramic view resembles the satires of William Hogarth or medieval depictions from such masters such as Hieronymus Bosch. The upper left portion is decorated with a few allusions to the lucrative nature of Walt Disney enterprises.

WORDS TO LIVE BY

This Thursday morning I found out the hard way that beer, Jose Quervo, top notch illegal smokeables, and late night shrimp sushi from a twenty-four hour bagel place do not mix.

TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

DAY OFF ADVENTURES: DOUBLE FEATURE DEBACLE

Since I had the time I figured I’d check out some of the latest Hollywood has to offer, quite conveniently in my humble apartment, on screener DVD’s. I propped my convertible futon up into couch position, cracked open a Bud forty, and let the first movie run, and so began my descent into cinematic Hell.

First up was Eddie Murphy’s NORBIT, an outright disaster that had the poor timing to come out right on the heels of his Oscar-nominated performance in DREAMGIRLS, and hopefully the Academy members voted before NORBIT hit the screens. The film tells the story of the sweet-but-dorky title character whose life gets off to an unlikely start when he’s left as an infant at a Chinese restaurant/orphanage (?) and raised by Mr. Wong (played by Eddie Murphy in the most cringe-worthy stereotypical yellowface role since Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S). There he falls in love with another orphan, and the two “get married” in a pretend ceremony before they are separated when she’s adopted and Norbit is left behind. From that point on Norbit is hounded by Rasputia, a fat girl who bullies the entire schoolyard and ropes Norbit into being her boyfriend.

As the years pass he ends up marrying the increasingly grotesque woman (now played by Murphy in an incredibly realistic fat suit crafted by effects genius Rick Baker) and becoming a part of her brothers’ uber-thuggish shakedown and construction organization, all while his monstrous wife’s emotional and physical abuse escalates into areas that bear no resemblance to humor whatsoever. But just when Norbit’s about as pathetically, miserably downtrodden as a human can get, the love of his life returns (now played by Thandie Newton) to run the orphanage, and she’s the polar opposite of Rasputia, what with being sweet, rail-thin, not an adulteress, and light-skinned, and she rekindles their friendship. As Norbit experiences happiness for the first time since childhood, Rasputia’s evil is given a run for its money by Cuba Gooding’s polygamist, gold-digging scumbag who’s engaged to Newton’s character and intends to steal the orphanage from her once they tie the knot, and since he’s in cahoots with Rasputia’s hoodlum brothers he will transform the place into a titty-bar called Nipplopolis the second the deed is in his hands.

These plots converge with results so predictable that members of undiscovered tribes in the deepest Amazon would call the results stale, and by the time the credits mercifully roll the audience is assaulted with a non-stop barrage of fat jokes that aren’t funny in the first place — let alone the ninetieth time — a horrifying catalog of extreme ethnic stereotypes, ludicrously gaudy pimps thrown in for no apparent reason, white women who yearn to serve the aforementioned pimps at the mere suggestion of being a “ho,” and an animal cruelty gag that almost literally made me gag.

Now, I love stupid and tasteless humor quite a bit, but NORBIT is merely tasteless and aggravating, a prime example of that saddest nadir of entertainment failure: a comedy that provides no laughs and just lays there like three-day-old roadkill. And as if that weren’t bad enough, the film has a balls-out mean streak running through it that negates what it tries to convince us is humorous; abusive relationships are not funny, and it’s truly agonizing to witness the torments Norbit goes through at the hands of his manipulative, adulterous, shrill, would-be “ghetto chic,” grotesquely obese harridan of a spouse, a “comedic” creation of such supreme malevolence that she crosses the line and becomes a monster.

The simple fact of the matter is that NORBIT is a gross display of racist imagery, misogyny, and cruelty passed off as entertainment, sort of an urban Roald Dahl fairy tale without any of that author’s wit or wicked sense of humor. A very big step back for comeback kid Eddie Murphy, and highway robbery of the moviegoer’s time and hard-earned cash.

And you know NORBIT is an atrocity when it makes the unspeakably horrifying origins of a sadistic, cannibalistic serial killer pale in comparison.

HANNIBAL RISING is the latest installment in what has become the Hannibal Lecter franchise, and is by far the most slumber inducing of the lot. Lecter instantly attained horror movie hall of fame status thanks to Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning turn in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS — actually the second film featuring the character, 1986’s MANHUNTER being the first, with Brian Cox essaying the role — joining such beloved latter day bogeymen as Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Meyers, and Pinhead in the popular consciousness, yet being far more frightening due to his status as a mere, albeit seriously twisted, human being. Driven by amoral madness, senses that verge on the animalistically acute, and a cold, reptilian intelligence, Lecter’s crawly evil touched a place within viewers so primal that it overshadowed what many would consider his most diabolical aspect, namely a taste for human flesh coupled with a gourmet’s kitchen skills. The guy was smart, soft spoken and creepy as all fuck, so it was just a matter of time until the box office take spoke and sequels began in earnest.

HANNIBAL (2001) sucked balls almost as much as its source novel, suffered from Jodie Foster’s absence (although I would never turn up my nose at Julianne “the carpet matches the drapes” Moore’s redheaded loveliness) and was met with both critical and audience apathy, then RED DRAGON (2002) retold MANHUNTER far less effectively, with a bigger budget and more upscale cast, but also didn’t set the world on fire like SILENCE had. You’d think that after two relative duds in a row Hollywood would give it a rest, but NOOOOOOOOOOO…

This time around we are presented with Lecter’s youth and the hideous events that spawned him, and I’ll be damned if anyone really cares about the end product. The story pulls off the double barreled kick in the head of not only demystifying the character, but also rendering his origin a glacially-paced snooze with understated acting so turgid you’d think it was performed by the Royal Shakespeare Zombie Repertory Company. The guy playing the young adult Hannibal has no screen presence whatsoever, to say nothing of the slightest trace of menace, and for a budding cannibal the guy is one emaciated motherfucker. Seriously, this guy looks the kind of wannabe hipster/poet type you knew in high school, all black turtlenecks and posing, just waiting for a savage beatdown from the flitty president of the drama club who hates him for being too much of a pussy. Oh, and just to spoil THE BIG REVEAL, the Lithuanian brigands who killed and ate Lecter’s little sister to stave off hunger during the closing days of WWII fed Hannibal — presumably to keep him alive in case he’s needed for the next barbecue — a broth made from his sibling, and that's what truly pushed him over the edge. And now you have been spared two hours of dullness.

Let's hope my next day off movies will be better.

Monday, February 19, 2007

AAAAW, BARRACUDA!!!

I love the writing of Garth Ennis because it appeals to the arrested adolescent sensibility within me, the aspect of my forty-something psyche that finds over-the-top ultra-violence, sleazy sexual scenarios (the day when T.C. fucked the cake in PREACHER remains a landmark), creative profanity and all-around laddishness to be a shitload of fun, so when I found out that the crazy Belfastian bastard has scribed a five-part mini-series about Barracuda, my favorite character to surface in comics during the past decade, I almost called Garth to offer him a serious BJ by way of thanks (I’ve never played the skin flute, but anything is possible when one is drunk enough).

For those out of the loop, get to your local comic shop and pick up the PUNISHER volume entitled BARRACUDA; it’s about how the Punisher meets a huge black dude who’s every bit as badassed as he is, and I’ll be damned if you won’t love Barracuda despite the fact that he’s a vicious killer for hire. His charming, sunny attitude is infectious indeed, and when the Punisher not only cut off the fingers on the dude’s right hand and then dumped him into a roiling sea full of ravenous Great White sharks, I was truly saddened to see him go. I mean, think about it: today you’re the baddest, Blackest thing next to Darth muthafukkin’ Vader, and the next day you’re shark shit. How do you get outta dat?

Then the mini-series arrived, and what I assumed would be a flashback turned out to be a continuation from what would have been a terrible end. The big black motherfucker turns up very much alive — I won’t reveal how, because it’s such a perfect way out of a no-way-out situation that I laughed my ass off, recalling the MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS episode “The Cycling Tour,” in which the two heroes are ludicrously bailed out of certain death by firing squad (who, thanks to their horrendous marksmanship, have to resort to rushing the condemned with bayonets) when a title card appears that reads SCENE MISSING, only to turn up in an entirely different location and react with, “What an amazing escape!” — and in less time than it takes to read here he steals a classic car, thoroughly fucks up some suicidally-disrespectful Mafiosi, and is enlisted in a mission for their capo, a leader who is clearly modeled after Christopher Walken, right down to the unmistakably distinctive cadence of his dialogue. I’m just pissed that I have to wait a month until the next chapter.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent art by Goran Parlov, whom I had the honor of working with during my days editing OUTLAW NATION. The guy can draw his ass off, and I will kick you in the skull if you disagree.

Bottom line, THE PUNISHER PRESENTS: BARRACUDA #1 was the highlight of this week’s comics reading, and I say to the powers that be at Marvel, stop fucking around and give Barracuda his own book with the same creative team!!! You have winner here, so if it ain’t broke, DO NOT FIX IT!!! TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

BACK IN THE DAYS: ON “NO TELL” MOTELS

In the early 1980’s there used to be a commercial that ran on local television for a motel named the Grantmoor Motor Lodge in Newington, CT — near Hartford, making it a bit over an hour north of where I grew up — and the place had all the earmarks of a so-called “no tell” motel.

The ad opened with the breathy sound of at least two women going “Ooooh, Waaaah!” followed by the kind of sleazy, sweaty wakajawaka music familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a porno movie. Then a sultry voice cooed, “The Grantmoor Motor Lodge! For the perfect romantic getaway! Plush beds! The Mirror Ball Disco Room! And the heart-shaped love tub!” all while images of the sensual splendor to be had at the establishment unfolded before the wondering eyes of horny teenagers, one-handed insomniacs, and would-be pornographers. Seriously, I have never seen such a perfect setting in which to lens a tenderloin epic, each specialty room conjuring up thoughts of out-of-shape naked hippie types with dirty feet and acres of “Seventies Bush.” Just like I like it, oh, yeah…

Sadly, I was too young to experience the fleshly delights of the Grantmoor, so all I know of it is what was shown in the ads, and even though I was but a callow youth I knew sleaze when I saw it. This was the kind of place where someone could get pregnant or contract an STD from merely sitting on the sheets, and I would bet good money that each room was equipped with hidden cameras so that the antics of the patrons could be taped, packaged, and sold in a kiosk in Manhattan’s Port Authority bus terminal back in the days when you might have been sold into white slavery if you dared to enter. And, amusingly enough, there was a sister establishment to the Grantmoor on Long Island, namely the Commack Motor Inn, that ran the exact same commercial on NYC television, changing only the name.

In fact, the Commack Motor Inn became so infamous that it’s even featured in one of those gag lists on the subject of “You Know You’re From Long Island When…” and in the case of the Commack Motor Inn, the gag was “You know you’re from Long Island when you know exactly where the Commack Motor Inn is, even though you claim you’ve never been there.”

I have no idea what made me think of the Grantmoor, but I checked it out online to see if it still exists, and here’s what I found:

THE GRANTMOOR MOTOR LODGE

Newington, Connecticut

The Grantmoor Motor Lodge, located on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington, Connecticut, sits 154 miles due south of the Shady Lawn Motel in White River Junction, Vermont. Built in the 1940s to speed up the drive from Hartford to New Haven, the Turnpike was nicknamed “Gasoline Alley” because of the thirty-two gas stations that sprung up along its eleven-mile way. Now, however, the Turnpike serves as the main corridor between Wethersfield and Meriden; no one has called it “Gasoline Alley” in years. Though big-box stores have set up shop where gas stations once stood, the strip has managed to hold onto a few residual traces of local flavor. Between and off to the side of the newly minted national and multinational chains—Lowe’s, Krispy Kreme, Raymour and Flanigan, Burger King—lies a sundry string of distinctly regional operations, from independent motels to the odd Fifties diner.

While most of the motels here hunker meekly by the side of the road, each somehow more unexpected than the next, the Grantmoor makes its presence known far in advance with a towering steel sign that rivals even that of Wal-Mart’s. Despite its initial hubris, however, the motel keeps a prudish distance from the road, hiding behind an expansive, heavily divoted and frequently empty parking lot, which the Lodge shares with the Sphinx Temple (a Shriner meeting house) and the Golf Improvement Center Driving Range (self-explanatory). Eventually, though, the Grantmoor’s signature white modernist zigzag pokes through the horizon, a colonial “G” pinned to its top.

With its wood-vinyl walls, Indian tapestries, and a large sheet of glass that keeps the proprietors safe from their clientele, the lobby suggests a New Delhi bank circa 1973. Behind the front desk, a row of photographs displays the Grantmoor’s diverse array of accommodations so that visitors too shy or too tired to talk can pick the kind of room they want merely by pointing. (Rooms are for single guests and couples only. The rule reads: “Only two people allowed in room. No Visitor! No Party!”) The most deluxe room, depicted in a photo on the far right (the photos are arranged in a left=worst, right=best sliding scale), features a heart-shaped waterbed, a heart-shaped Jacuzzi, and a floor divided into carpeted and uncarpeted zones. A car stereo is mounted in the bed’s headboard next to a lighting control panel, which features not only a variety of basic color choices but also a variety of color gradations. (If you don’t like your pink “hot,” you may opt for “somber.”) Here, the mood is at one’s fingertips.

The options to the left of the Most Deluxe Room feature, in descending order of notability (but also silliness): round beds, four-poster beds with sash, four-poster beds without sash, with/without Jacuzzi, plus/ minus television—until one reaches the Most Far Left Room: standard double bed, bureau, no Jacuzzi, no television, scuff marks on the wall. One senses immediately the deep stench of nicotine. Even without all the bells and whistles, the Most Far Left Room retains a certain cachet: a mirrored ceiling. In fact, every room at the Grantmoor, from Most Deluxe to Most Far Left, comes with a mirrored ceiling. One may lie on a bed and examine one’s reflection for as long or briefly as one wishes: hourly, nightly, and weekly rates are available.

For those who enjoy water sports, the Grantmoor offers a half-empty pool and a hot tub filled with rocks and newspaper.

And then there were the reviews from people who stayed there:

STAY SOMEWHERE ELSE!!
By A Yahoo! User from Belfast
06/17/05

Cannot understand why this place is still doing business!! The proprietors overcharged for facilities that they knew did not work; no heating in winter; $20.00 for one extra blanket; a non-smoking room (for which I paid extra) reeked of nicotine -not good for an asthma sufferer; bath tub was cracked, filthy and the hot-jets they advertise didn't work; 'hot' water was brown and unpleasant. The curtains hadn't been cleaned in years and needed replaced, bed linen was old and torn in places; I had to be careful when walking on the carpet due to frayed areas. When I complained to the management, they barely understood English, and just kept insisting I give them more money! What For??? The only thing I liked about the place was leaving!

Do us all a favour - Bulldoze the bloody place to the ground!

DIRTY CONDOM WRAPPER IN BED
By A Yahoo! User from torrington, ct
10/26/05

Grantmoor was a horrible hotel. I went just last weekend, in the end of October, and the heat was not working for the entire building. Of course, my boyfriend and I were not informed of this prior to paying for the room. In fact, we were not informed of this until we said something. Then to make matters far worse, when we woke up the next morning, we found an old condom wrapper in the bed, between the blanket and the sheet (obviously not ours). When we complained and said we were leaving early, they refused to give us our money back and only offered us another room. While we were arguing, at least two other groups of people had come by attempting to leave as well, due to the freezing cold in the rooms. We ending up getting about a quarter of our money back and that was all. We are in the process of fighting this still. I was disgusted and disappointed. I will never go back, and suggest people think about this before going there themselves.

I don’t know about you, but I would love to go there and catch such elegance on video!

FUCKING MORONS LURK AMONG US

Last week the barbecue joint sent out a bulk mailer to the local neighborhoods, and interest from potential customers has been sparked. Business has picked up, and we are now constantly getting calls asking for general info such as our hours of operation and where the nearest cross street would be. But every now and then we get a call that proves morons still lurk amongst the gentry. Allow me to provide an example:

The phone rang, and Tracey the waitress-goddess answered with, “Bar BQ! May I help you?” and the voice on the line asked, “Do you serve barbecue food?”



What kind of fucking idiot asks that question? Is the name of the restaurant not a sufficient clue? Has barbecue suddenly come to mean pan-Asian fusion?

Fucking moron…

STEPHEN KING: ONE READER'S ASSESSMENT

My buddy John just got through reviewing the just-released comics adaptation of Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER — which can be read at his blog — and his words were not what I would call kind. This came as no surprise because I’m a King fan and have read many of his works, but THE DARK TOWER is the only book of his that I couldn’t finish, making it about halfway through the damned thing before I relegated it to the trash in disgust. I found it dull and pretentious, and while the resulting series does have its fans, judging from what I was able to read in the first volume I’m at a loss to explain how that’s possible. Maybe the subsequent books improved, but I’ll never attempt them.

But as I said, I am a King fan, and it’s easy these days to forget that he once was a wordsmith of considerable merit before churning out novels seemingly every other week. I discovered his stuff just about thirty years ago, and as a young horror fan I couldn’t get enough of his well-told, truly horrifying yarns, enjoying his writing in exactly the same way that I enjoyed hearing a hair-raising campfire yarn from a skilled raconteur. So what I’m going to do here is give you my list of the King books you should read — and you really should read them — plus a few of his books that outright sucked and therefore need to be flagged as trash.

CARRIE (1974)

This tragic tale of an unfortunate teen misfit who must endure the endless torments of adolescence, her evil peers, and her over-the-top-abusive psycho/religious nut mother is a real page turner, but the need to read it was rendered null and void by Brian DePalma’s excellent film version. The only reason to give the book a look is to see the title character as King originally intended her to look; Carrie White is described as fat, ugly, and cursed with terrible acne, and Sissy Spacek’s version in the movie is actually kind of cute, if not a little odd, so it’s hard to understand why she’s considered unattractive. The film builds audience sympathy by making the cruelty of the world surrounding Carrie downright unbearable, and if you can’t feel for her while watching the flick, then you simply have no heart.

SALEM’S LOT (1975)

The first great vampire novel of the latter twentieth century — way better than the limp-wristed, non-scary foofery of Anne Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE — , King really starts feeling his narrative powers here, and the results are creepy like a motherfucker. I won’t even go into the story because you really should experience it for yourself, but it has some of the most frightening sequences I have ever read, some of which stand among the high points of the author’s career. Very strong stuff indeed.

THE SHINING (1977)

This claustrophobic ghost story is the very definition of the word creepy, and Jack Torrence’s descent into madness as the dire forces that infest the Overlook hotel influence him is harrowing in the extreme. Definitely worth your time, and much better than the admittedly atmospheric but not-scary film by Stanley Kubrick, a flick that polarizes horror geeks to this very day.

NIGHT SHIFT (1978)

This collection of short stories was my first exposure to King and I would recommend it as a perfect staring point for the newbie. There’s something for everybody in this grab bag of chills, and while there are a few clunkers, the gems really shine.

THE STAND (1978)

Gargantuan when first released and then later expanded into a “director’s cut” version, this epic about a plague that wipes out most of the global population and sets the stage for the final confrontation between Good and Evil is a rich and compelling page turner with a large and fascinating cast of characters — Nick Andros and Tom Cullen steal the book — and some truly unforgettable sequences, but the otherwise excellent story gets flushed down the toilet by one of the most trite and contrived gimmick endings in recorded history. It’s still worth reading, though, but be prepared for that asinine, quite literal “deus ex machina” of a closer.

THE DEAD ZONE (1979)

The tale of John Smith and his psychic “gift” is a strong contender for the best book King ever wrote and that’s not a statement to take lightly. Heart-breakingly sad and human, THE DEAD ZONE is an emotional roller coaster and a half, and from the moment that the hero emerges from a coma of several years with the ability to infallibly see the future you just know this book will not have a happy ending. During the course of his adventures, John Smith tries to discern why he was given his power, and when the answer is revealed it’s like a sledgehammer to the heart. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

FIRESTARTER (1980)

The first of King’s throwaway pieces, this sleight page-turner is fun nonetheless, but it doesn’t begin to approach the entertaining heights of the previous books. This story of a little girl with pyrokinetic abilities and her mind-controlling dad, both on the run from a top secret and very sinister government agency, reads like THE FUGITIVE with super-powers, and if any of King’s books was a natural for adapting into a comic book, this is it. This book was also adapted into a truly terrible film starring Drew Barrymore, and if it comes on cable throw your TV out the fucking window.

DANSE MACABRE (1981)

For the academically-minded horror fan, this non-fiction entry is a scholarly and thoroughly entertaining history of the horror genre, so if you care at all this is a must read. It’s great, but I would really like to see an updated edition that addresses the changes within horror since the 1980’s. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

CUJO (1981)

Allegedly penned while King was so coked-out that he doesn’t remember writing it, this is a taughtly-paced story of a mother and son trapped inside a stalled car in one-hundred-plus heat by a rabid St. Bernard. However, the novel-length format is definitely not warranted for this material and the whole thing would have been much better as a short story or a novella. And the movie’s merely so-so.

DIFFERENT SEASONS (1982)

This is a collection of three novellas and one short story, each supposedly highlighting the spirit of the four seasons. The short story, “The Breathing Method,” is reminiscent of an E.C. Comics TALES FROM THE CRYPT shocker, only if they’d been able to get away with the twisted image of a woman who’s just been beheaded in a car accident valiantly defying death just long enough to give birth after properly performing the breathing technique she learned in prenatal care classes, her severed head soldiering on several feet away from her laboring body. It’s the weakest entry in the collection, but that’s okay considering the heavy hitters it’s up against. “Apt Pupil” is a chilling character study of a young boy who discovers that an old man in his neighborhood is a Nazi war criminal and blackmails him into telling him the details of his time as an overseer in a WWII concentration camp. The two feed off of each other in a horrifying symbiosis and the result is one of King’s darkest, most disturbing non-supernatural yarns. “The Body” is a reminiscence of a group of adolescent boys and their bonding experience while on a quest to view an actual corpse and is quite good, but the book's main event is surely “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” the excellent account of an innocent man’s decades of incarceration and misery in a corrupt and torturous prison. Absolutely riveting, the story was adapted into THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, the movie that many feel is the best King flick ever made, and they just may be right.

CHRISTINE (1983)

A partial return to form in full-length storytelling, this creeper about a high school loser’s eerie transformation once he acquires the title antique car isn’t bad, but it will be largely forgotten not long after you read it.

PET SEMETARY (1983)

Horror is a visceral genre, an avenue of storytelling that brings to the fore our deepest, most primal fears, and if properly conveyed that can be a thing of storytelling beauty and awe, and with the shattering PET SEMETARY King wrote what I consider not only his best work, but also one of the masterpieces of the entire horror genre. The truly nightmarish narrative introduces us to a sweet couple and their adorable toddler when they move to a town in Maine that houses an ancient Indian burial ground deep within its backwoods. Local legend has it that if you bury your recently deceased there they will return from the hereafter, and when the family cat is killed on a dangerous highway across the street from the family’s house, the legend is put to the test and yields a hideous reality… And that’s just the start of a maddening descent into family loss of the worst kind imaginable, and the unimaginable depths that a parent can sink to in the throes of crippling, irrational grief. Without question one of the bleakest books ever written by anyone, PET SEMETARY scared the living shit out of me when I first read it twenty-four years ago, and its impact has not diminished after the four times I’ve read it since. Seriously, read this one and know the truest, darkest meaning of the term “horror story.” HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF (1983)

I love me some werewolf stories and when I heard that King was undertaking a lupine yarn I was over the moon, so to speak. Until I read the book. CYCLE is definitely a tossed-off piece, offering alleged chills that wouldn’t pass muster in an issue of HOUSE OF SECRETS on its worst day, the only redeeming feature of which is some post-FRANKENSTEIN art by horror comics legend Berni Wrightson, and since he definitely burned out much of his genius illustrating those beautiful pieces, what’s on display here is only of note for Wrightson completists. Almost as complete a waste of time as the film version, SILVER BULLET.

SKELETON CREW (1985)

More short stories, but this collection doesn’t come close to the glories found in NIGHT SHIFT, save for the unbelievably gruesome SURVIVOR TYPE, an account of a castaway on an island totally devoid of food and the lengths he goes to in order to stave off hunger.

IT (1986)

For some reason this vastly overrated novel is enshrined by many as King’s finest hour, and I just don’t understand why. It’s about a group of adults who shared a terrifying experience as children, and when signs point to the same baleful presence rearing its head again in their hometown, they reunite for final combat with a creature that feeds on the fear of kids. It’s not badly written but it simply isn’t as good as I’d been lead to believe, and I was particularly put off by a tasteless kiddie gang bang scene that does figure into the plot but is just plain squirm-inducing on several levels. And the revelation of exactly what the Big Bad is falls thuddingly flat, especially after meeting it the guise of Pennywise the evil clown, or having read anything by H.P. Lovecraft. This book was the one that made me more or less give up reading every King novel when they came out, and from this point on I would only check in occasionally.

MISERY (1987)

A cracking good yarn about a romance novelist who ends up held captive by a psychotic fan, this is very enjoyable stuff. And while the film version was very good, it tones down a lot of what the book’s creepy vibe puts out, especially in regard to the “hobbling” sequence.

GERALD’S GAME (1992)

The only reason I read this was thanks to a good friend who hated it so much that she forever swore off King after it offended her to the core, so I was curious to see what was so godawful. It’s about a woman who gets handcuffed to a four-poster bed as part of an S&M game and gets intentionally left there by her bastard of a husband in hope that she’ll die in the middle of nowhere (the house is in a secluded location and no one knows she’s there). The rest of the book is her trying to figure out how to escape and it’s just not worth the effort to get through.

THE GREEN MILE (1996)

Loved by many, met with apathy by me, this story about a condemned gentle giant with Christlike healing powers is maudlin in the extreme. The black, Christlike version of Lenny from OF MICE AND MEN is a clich√© character that I thought had died out in the late 1950’s, but obviously I was mistaken.

BAG OF BONES (1998)

Of the later King books, this is far and away my favorite. It has supernatural overtones but it’s actually a moving love story disguised as a tale of hauntings and old wrongs in need of being righted, and I was actually quite saddened when I reached its conclusion. It’s about a writer whose wife is killed in a car accident who returns to his childhood home in order to heal and get his life/career back on track. He soon meets a lovely young woman and her sweet little girl, and things start looking up for our hero until he discovers that the woman exists in a world of awful shit, and must endure for the sake of her kid. Surprisingly, one bright spot in the guy’s life is that the unseen spectre of his wife followed him to his retreat and communicates with him via a bunch of those alphabet fridge magnets; she still loves her husband, and approves of his potential involvement with a new love, but then things take a major turn for the worse… HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

HEARTS IN ATLANTIS (1999)

I’d like to fill you in on this one, but I didn’t like it and have honestly forgotten what it was about. All I recall is that it’s a few short novellas or some shit… Feh, whatever.

So there's my two cents on the works in the Stephen King catalog that I've read. What do you have to say, dear reader?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

YOWZAH FOR HOLLYWOOD: THE TRUE STORY OF "SLEEP 'N EAT"

When recalling the long and undeniably odious history of the depiction of Blacks in American cinema, most film critics and historians would immediately cite Lincoln Theodore Perry, better known as Stepin Fetchit, as the poster child for the coon stereotype and its negative effects.


Lincoln Theodore Perry, aka Stepin Fetchit, in character.

Fetchit’s lazy, simple-minded spook archetype left an indelible mark on American pop culture for decades until being put to death by the Civil Rights Movement and the general public slowly achieving a measure of enlightenment and sensitivity, but what is largely forgotten these days is that Stepin Fetchit was Hollywood’s first Black superstar, and where there is great success imitation almost always follows close behind. There were innumerable Fetchit clones infesting the screen in no time and the majority of them are justly relegated to obscurity, but the example of this “phenomenon” that I would like to bring your attention to is one Willie Best, who, if you can believe it, was at one time billed as “Sleep ‘n Eat” in such triumphs as 1931’s UP POPS THE DEVIL.

Willie Best, aka Sleep 'N' Eat. No, SERIOUSLY!!!


I could go on in my own words, but to me the definitive account of Mister Eat’s career is found in SON OF GOLDEN TURKEY AWARDS (1986, Villard Books) by Harry and Michael Medved, so I’ll let the Medveds fill you in. Here’s the article, from the section on “The Most Ludicrous Professional Name in Movie History”:

Hollywood’s shameful treatment of black Americans in the first fifty years of this century offers one of the most embarrassing chapters in the history of movies. Nearly all black actors and actresses (as well as blackface impersonators) of the 1930s worked under degrading pseudonyms; the one authentic black superstar of the period, Lincoln Theodore Perry, used the infamous alias “Stepin Fetchit.” Others came and went, including Aunt Jemima, the two Black Crows, Buckwheat, and Snowflake, but none of these clowns of the early talkie era assumed an identity as insulting as the unfortunate Sleep ‘n Eat.

Born Willie Best in rural Mississippi in 1916, the future star came to California as a teenage chauffer for what his official biography later described as “a nice white man.” When his boss returned to the Deep South, young Willie remained in Los Angeles and tried to support himself washing dishes at hash houses, but, as the studio publicists chortled, “he was too slow to make a good living at that.”

His fateful “discovery” by two Hollywood talent scouts came one afternoon as he sat on a fireplug in downtown L.A., broke and hungry. “My gosh, what a type!” one of the movie men enthused to the other. “Another sleepy Stepin Fetchit!” one of the movie men enthused to the other. Willie’s less than energetic response to their offers only increased their conviction that they had made a major find. “Actin’?” he reportedly drawled. “Ain’t never done dat kin’ o’ work.”

Nevertheless, he was soon earning $25 a week toiling long days in the studio, appearing under his new name,” Sleep ‘n Eat.” In his debut role (UP POPS THE DEVIL, 1931) he plays the part of a foot-shuffling, eye-popping laundryman who steals a chicken leg from Carole Lombard’s kitchen. His next picture, THE MONSTER WALKS (1932), offered a far more substantial role, with Sleep ‘n Eat co-starring, alongside “Yogi the Gorilla,” as a frightened chauffer in a haunted house. At one point he looks the monkey in the eye and comments, “Well, I dunno, I had a gran’pappy that looked like him — ‘cept he wasn’t as active!”

And so it went through twelve featured roles, playing slow-witted porters with names such as “Exodus,” “Wellington,” “Catfish,” “Drowsy,” and, inevitably, “Sambo.” When he reached the height of his career in the mid-thirties, Warner Brothers proudly described Mr. Eat as “the man who replaced Stepin Fetchit as the screen’s slowest-moving, slowest–talking human!” In movies such as THE NITWITS, KENTUCKY KERNELS, and THANK YOU, MR. JEEVES, he worked endless variations on the same themes, talking to himself, running in terror from various spooks, and delivering lines of dialog like “Ah jus’ love to take off mah shoes an’ play in de raindrops!”

By 1936 he had accumulated enough clout with the studios to drop the demeaning “Sleep ‘n Eat” designation and begin acting under his own name, though the nature of his roles remained largely unchanged. In fifty-five more films as Willie Best, from TWO IN REVOLT (1936, in which he co-starred with a dog and a horse) to SOUTH OF CALIENTE (1951, with Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and Pinky Lee), the veteran performer never departed from the persona of “that lazy, easygoing colored comedian.”

In 1951, an embarrassing arrest for possession of heroin combined with the public’s declining interest in “ethnic humor” to put an end to his long career. Even the smallest roles proved beyond his reach after the drug charges, and the former Sleep ‘n Eat died in 1962 after a decade of difficult living. His passing received only the briefest mention in the Hollywood trade press.

The Golden Turkey here goes not to Sleep ‘n Eat himself, but to those studio publicists who made such relentless attempts over the years to promote him to moviegoers as a comical subhuman. The various press releases designed to advance his career could have served as the basis for either libel suits or race riots had they been issued today.

They describe the star as “coal bin ebony,” with “kinky black hair on a perfectly round dome… He is six feet tall when he straightens up… He thinks he is about 22 years old but is not quite sure… When he is not in a scene he is usually found curled up in a corner sleeping.”

Most insulting of all, the press hacks boasted that Sleep ‘n Eat “gets a nice salary, but the studio only gives him five dollars a week and puts the rest in a trust fund so he will have some of it left, as he spends every cent of it as fast as he gets it, and doesn’t care.”

It’s ironic that the victim of this abuse invariably impressed his co-stars as a sensitive and capable professional. Bob Hope, who worked with him on THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940), once described him as “the best actor I know.” In 1934, while wearing the label of Sleep ‘n Eat, Willie Best sadly confided to a black journalist: “I often think about these roles I have to play. Most of them are pretty broad. Sometimes I tell the director and he cuts out the real bad parts… But what’s an actor to do? Either you do it or get out.”


BACK IN THE DAYS: THE SAGA OF "CHICKEN SLAVE"

When I left home to find fame and fortune after college I ended up sharing a foldout bed with my buddy Jared for eight months in an apartment in the remote area of Brooklyn known as Flatlands. The building was a house owned by the father of Dave, one of the residents, and his dad had no clue whatsoever that there were two tenants living there other than his son and the legitimate roommates, John and Eddie. In fact, when Dave mentioned in passing to his dad that a big Black guy was living on the couch, his father said something to the effect of, “Yeah, sure there is. Whaddaya take me for, a schmuck?” Anyway, the five of us lived the swingin’ bachelor life in all its squalid glory, and our existence was enriched by the presence of Dave’s pet bird, a sweet little parakeet named Chicken, or rather he was known as Chicken until Eddie re-dubbed him “Chicken Slave” in honor of lurid gay porn novels with titles along the lines of TEA ROOM CHICKEN SLAVE and CHICKEN SLAVE RIDES A COCKED THUMB.

Not Chicken Slave, but an amazing lookalike.

This teeny bird was an upstanding example of domesticated aviform life, and his cute little songs brightened up the day. We’d often let him out of his cage so he could fly about the flat and get some exercise, but sometimes he would aggressively resist being returned to his gilded enclosure and would zoom around the place like a kamikaze pilot on Benzedrine. There was one such incident when it fell upon me to apprehend him and the little sod eluded my lumbering ass with ease for nearly a half hour, and then I hit upon the brilliant idea of using a deep saucepot to try and scoop him out of the air. After another twenty minutes of interpretive dancing over furniture and bouncing off of walls, the proper angle presented itself and Chicken Slave flew straight into the saucepan with a loud “THUNK!” As loose feathers festooned the dining room, it resembled what I’d imagine a goose down pillow would like after somebody tossed a lit M-80 into it. I reached into the pot and grabbed Chicken Slave — who was quite unharmed, just stunned — and as I put him back into his cage I could have sworn I heard a heard a chirpy little voice say in fluent Brooklynese, “What the fuck just happened?”

My roommates and I soon realized what a bad idea letting the bird fly around was when Eddie decided to include Chicken Slave in his maniacal idea of “playtime.” You see, Eddie has a restless mind, much like that of a bored eight-year-old, and he will create fun for himself out of whatever materials are at hand, and to Hell with the laws of God or man.

Eddie, the scourge of birds smaller than himself.

For example, there was the game of “Chicken in a pillowcase,” wherein Eddie would grab Chicken Slave (who was innocently minding his own business, reading his latest issue of KERRANG) and drop him into a pillowcase. After a few moments of loudly chirped protest, Eddie would lower the opening of the pillowcase so Chicken Slave could see a way out, and as he would gear up to escape Eddie would close the pillowcase again. So it would go until Eddie got bored, or until Dave yelled at him and rescued his pet.

A variation on “Chicken in a pillowcase” was “Chicken in the coffee table,” in which Eddie would place Chicken Slave inside a shelf in the living room’s hideous coffee table and close the shelf door. This door had a latticework front that Chicken Slave could actually fit through, but when he tried to get out Eddie would block his exit with his hand. Again, this would go on until he got bored or the bird got rescued.

But Chicken Slave’s day-to-day grind was not all fiendish James Bondian death traps; John smoked heavily back in those days, and as a consequence his brown fingers reeked of nicotine, a smell that apparently gives parakeets the Horn, and when Chicken Slave would perch on John’s hand he would catch a whiff and then he’d start to fuck John’s finger. His tiny talons would anchor his violently convulsing body, and after about a minute of Herculean effort he’d cum (spelled this way because it’s dirtier) all over John’s hand, an act that never failed to crack John up. Needless to say, that bird was fiercely loyal to John.

Yet such moments of innocent dalliance were short-lived, thanks to Eddie inventing a new game to play, namely “WWII Fighter Pilot.” For this diversion Eddie would assume the persona of a fighter plane, arms outstretched to simulate wings, voicing the sound effect “Nyeeeeeeeeeooooooow” and slowly circling the apartment in search of aircraft that encroached on his territory. In other words, Chicken Slave.

“WWII Fighter Pilot” was by far the least oppressive of Eddie’s scenarios, having no actual physical contact with the parakeet and actually allowing Chicken Slave to practice his flight skills in both senses of the word, so Eddie would run around like a noisy idiot and the bird would evade him. That was all well and good until the day when somebody left the kitchen window open and Eddie chased Chicken Slave right out into the friendly skies of Flatlands, never to be seen again. Legend has it that as the wee budgie fucked off toward the unknown, a small, chirpy voice was heard to exclaim, “Oh, fuck this shit! I’m outta here!”

I just hope he wasn’t eaten by a red-tailed hawk, or one of our obnoxious neighbors.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A VALENTINE'S DAY WISH TO MY FAVORITE WOMAN ON THE PLANET

Okay.

Here's the requiste St. Frankenstein's Day piece, but I dedicate it to the one woman who keeps me sorta sane.

You listen to my whining, tolerate my massive insecurities, and even though we'll never end up together for permanent, there is no one, and I do mean NO ONE, who understands me better, and for that, among many other reasons, I will always be thankfull for your presence in my mostly irritated existence. We've been tight for twenty-three years now, and I'd like several decades more.

I swear to the gods that I treasure you more than written words can say.

-Steve


PS: and if you have any doubt that this Valentine's Day wish is to you in particular, just recall a certain incident involving "special" brownies.

God, I miss you.

Monday, February 12, 2007

YASSUH!

As anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant situation can tell you, sometimes you have to deal with asshole customers. Most restaurant staffers have the fortitude to simply suck it up and endure all manner of abuse in hope of a decent tip — which asshole patrons seldom leave — but during the times when I have had to interact with the obnoxious I weigh the situation, and since I am of the kitchen and do not receive tips I have to choose my battles. I can usually walk away without chewing some douchebag a new one, but sometimes the temptation is simply too much to resist (the now infamous "hot sauce cokehead" incident immediately springs to mind).

The other night at the barbecue joint was relatively busy, and Tracey the waitress goddess was inundated with people to look after. When she's being showered with questions about what's good on the menu that night and I happen to be within earshot I will step in and field the queries, armed with a pitch that would have done P.T. Barnum proud, more often than not amusing the guests. Face it, there's nothing more entertaining than a chubby Black guy who cooks and can tell you in minute detail, especially in a barbecue joint.

Anyway, I noticed Tracey being grilled by a four person group redolent of privilege and condescention, so I sauntered over and insinuated myself into the palaver, going through the dishes and punctuating each with a description of mouth-watering delights for the palate that bordered on the pornographic. Three of the group oohed and aahed at the sound of yummy goodness, while the lone woman among them asked detailed questions meant to put down the cuisine and demean me for having the temerity to leave my "place" and dare to speak with demi-gods such as herself and her companions, sneering the whole while.

After enduring her mini-inquisition, I concluded my spiel with a promise that they would not be disappointed by whatever they may order, only for the sneering harridan to attempt getting in the last word with a rude "Well, why don't you stop your yacking, get yourself back into that kitchen, and serve us our food?', that last bit being accented by a superior nod to her friends as if to say, "Like how I showed Kunta?"

Suddenly, time came to a complete halt, and a voice within me exclaimed, "Oh, HELL NO." Several strategies for retaliation vied for first place in a nanosecond, but then my internal monologue was replaced by the strains of what can only be described as the most minstreled-out version of "Dixie" imaginable, banjos-a-plinkin' and chickens-a-cluckin', and I knew I had my perfect avenue for revenge.

I reentered the space/time continuum, and as "Dixie" filled my ears I adjusted my posture into an exaggerated slouch, let a subhumanly stupid look wash over my face, slowly scratched my head and began to speak in a drawl that I guarantee you must have sent my grandmother's corpse break dancing in the grave, in other words channeling my inner Stepin Fetchit (look him up online if you don't know who he was). "Yass, ma'am," I said, rolling my eyes like Dr. King's worst nightmare. "I'se jes' gon' git mah black ass back to dat dere kitchum an' dish y'all up some scrumptious vittles! Yowzah!" After personally setting race relations in this country back by approximately one-hundred and fifty years, I lazily turned and shuffled out of the table's visual range, catching the stunned looks on the group's faces, and noting Tracey's mouth hanging open in disbelief like basketball hoop. I ducked into the men's room to snicker to myself, and when Tracey walked by the open door she flashed me a shit-eating grin that struggled to hold in a gale of laughter. I then hit the kitchen and trayed up dinner for Missy Anne and her men-folk. When I brought out their meal, the group did their level best to look at anything and everything but my smiling face. When I returned to the kitchen, Tracey came in and said, "That was hilarious, but I had to pee, and I came close to wetting myself!" And the best part of all this was that two of the guys from the table actually stuck their heads into the kitchen and apologized for their friend's behavior.

Not much of a contribution to Black History Month, but as that icon of Black tricksterism, Daffy Duck, once said, "What the hey? I gotta have SOME fun!"