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Thursday, May 27, 2021


A friend posted a parody of HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN's legendary GOOFUS AND GALLANT page on his Facebook, and it brought to mind the following tale from my childhood as I recounted it on my friend's post's comments thread:

Goofus and Gallant was my favorite part of Highlights, strictly for its heavyhandedness and for Goofus's assholism.

It struck home for me because my mom had a friend, Althea, who was a divorcee with a son a year or two younger than me who was named Eric, and he was without question the worst, nastiest, most ill-behaved child it has ever been my misfortune to have been forced to associate with, and when we were in the same space because of our mothers' friendship, I was the unintentional Gallant to his all-too-real Goofus.

Mom and Althea were two recent divorcees of color in the Westport/Weston climate of the mid-1970's, so they turned to each other for support. Whenever my mom would have that woman over, she would invariably bring her horrid spawn and we would all go out to somewhere like a mall, where he would always pick the perfect spot and moment in which to act like an unconscionable turd. Some examples:

When Eric demanded some money to buy a snack, his mother told him he would have to wait until dinner, which he did not like, so he snatched her purse, emptied it onto the floor, picked up her coin change, threw it in such a way as to scatter it, and loudly exclaimed (in order to call attention to himself and his mother) "Now, pick it up!!!" His mother, totally broken by her son's behavior after years of such shit, sheepishly complied, much to the indignation of my mom.

The classic example, however, was one time when we were all out at a lake with a fishing pier, and his mother said or did something to set him off, so he looked around for anything that he could cause trouble or embarrass her with, and his sights settled on an innocent fisherman's huge and clearly expensive and well-stocked tackle box. He walked over to the tackle box, gave his mother an evil grin, picked up the tackle box, and promptly chucked it into the lake. It was a deep lake, so retrieving it was not an option. Needless to say, the owner was PISSED, the police were called, and Eric's mother had to hand the guy every bit of cash she had on her at the time.

For me, that was the final straw, as I had endured too much of Eric's asshole behavior and his mother's refusal to give him a well-earned ass-kicking for about two years, so when my mom and I got home from that mortifying situation, 9-year-old me said to my mother "Mom, you know I am not a bad kid and that I would not do anything stupid if you were to leave me here alone in the house. I promise you that, but I'm telling you right now that I absolutely refuse to ever go anywhere with Althea and Eric ever again. He's horrible, she just takes it, and it's always embarrassing and stressful. I AM DONE." Surprisingly, my mother did not object to me laying down the law — believe me, she understood — and after that I maybe saw Eric once or twice more during the '70's, and then only briefly.

According to my mom, Eric was fucked up by his folks divorcing, and he took it out on his mother. Also, and I never noticed this, in recent years mom said that early on she noticed that Eric had hearing issues and that was definitely a major part of why he acted out, but his mother just blew it off rather than get him help when alerted to the problem.

Mom is still sometimes in touch with Althea (now in her early 80's), so she hears about Eric as a 50-something. He's reportedly still an asshole, and he has a string of failed marriages, abused wives, and neglected children.

Monday, May 17, 2021



Just after waking up and while still in a muzzy still semi-asleep state, I thought to myself, "I am middle-aged." l had never thought of myself as such, even when moving out of my thirties, or even when I received my AARP card (when I got it I just laughed). I am currently 55 and turning 56 at the end of next month. My ongoing illnesses aside, I feel little different than I did in my youth. Yes, my body is manifesting the expected frailties of aging, such as joint pain, night sweats, et cetera, but I either wrote them off or accepted them with a "that's life" nonchalance. But yeah, I am middle-aged. It's a kick in the head.
Middle-age is defined as being between 40 and 60, so I'm technically five years away from being a senior citizen. My mother's line is known for their longevity, as exemplified by her, who is currently 88 and shows no sign of shutting down. Mom's mother's line, the James family, has a weird thing where all of the female die at 78, like some sort of built-in shutdown age,  while Mom has the Injun Smith genes from her father, and the oldest woman on his side of the family died at 104. While visiting with Mom recently, she noted her family's longevity and said that even though battered and weakened from that near-fatal car crash five years ago, and cancer in both lungs, she would not be surprised if she hung on into her '90's, and she's pushing 90. I have no idea how long I will live, but despite the isolation from my friends and little or no socializing, all the bullshit in the world at large, and my endless cycle of illness, life could be a lot worse.
Middle-age can give one new perspectives to consider, and I have found that with age there can come wisdom. Being stuck in hospitals or in the dialysis chair, I had a LOT of time for introspection, and I had time to think hard about how I lived my life and the many mistakes that I made. Now that I am older and having matured quite a lot due to how my life journey has gone over the past eight years, l am facing the world with a new attitude and will be going forward with intent to strive to live the life of serene urban warrior scribe. My wild years are now behind me and, to be honest, while they were fun, during that time I did some very stupid shit, and how I never got arrested remains a mystery. 
No more all-night tequila and weed binges and no more drunken dancing atop bars. No more hooking up with crazy women. No more self-destructive behavior in general. Without conscious intent, for around 23 years I was miserable deep inside, so I sought death by misadventure. Thankfully, my job anchoring the kitchen at the barbecue joint for two years allowed me to see clearly exactly what my behavior was and what it looked like, thanks to the antics of many of our bar's regulars. Witnessing their drunken, drugged-out shenanigans and dead end lifestyle was a wakeup call that I heeded, and the realization I had been like some of them set me straight. 
I still imbibe on occasion, and the same goes for getting high, but of late I have been content to sip my Earl Grey and contemplate what a chaotic journey my life has been. My only deep regret is that in my more immature days I did wrong by two of the best women I have ever been involved with and who would have been ideal steady companions and maybe even spouses. I used to fear real commitment, thanks to my formative years and witnessing the shit show that was my parents marriage, but now I'm over that but am alone thanks to my earlier self's immature and scared actions. I would give a lot for a female companion these days. I may be centered, but this urban warrior scribe is deeply lonely. 
But enough of my blathering. Get on with your own journey, and may it be an enlightened one.

Saturday, May 08, 2021


My Facebook page often ventures into discussion of the James Bond franchise with like-minded buffs, and the discussion often get heated. I prefer the more grounded entries, with a minimum of gadgets and groan-inducing puns and gags, while others eat that stuff up and favor stories where there more outlandish, the better. As NO TIME TO DIE, the pandemic-delayed 25th entry in the series, looms,  I was recently asked about my thoughts on the overall series, so after much pondering and shuffling of placement, here's my ranking of all 24 official James Bond films from Eon Productions, from least-favorite to the cream of the crop. Please write in with comments and your take.

James Bond: dockside rent boy.
 After the excellence of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, George Lazenby vacated the role of 007, so the studio lured Sean Connery back by paying him an obscene amount of money, plus other assorted perks. Irredeemably idiotic trash that ignores the tragic events of the previous film's conclusion, this mess moves Bond into the 1970's, and it's a transition that just does not work.  A complete waste of Connery in his last film for the official series, this one includes a pointless moon buggy chase, a pair of acrobat females for Bond to battle, a pair of homosexual hitmen, and Charles Gray as a laughable iteration of Blofeld. For completists only. Otherwise, you can skip this and miss nothing.
23. A VIEW TO A KILL (1985) 
 Musical accompaniment: the Beach Boys' "California Girls." I shit you not.
Cringe-worthy garbage featuring a 130-year-old Roger Moore who hot dogs while snowboarding. Not even Christopher Walken and Grace Jones as the baddies can save this disaster. Exceptional theme song, though.
22. SPECTRE (2015) 
Bond endures the unspeakable torment of sitting through this film.
Terrible across the board, with the exception of a stunning opening on the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Wimpiest theme song of the entire run, and the idiotic development regarding Blofeld is worthy of earning the screenwriter a severe caning.
Bond valiantly attempts to flee from this film, but no such luck.
Marred by massive production difficulties, this is more like "Quantum of So What?" Incomprehensible, with headache-inducing editing. That said, I only saw this one once, so I would be willing to give it a second chance, but I fucking hated it upon seeing it on opening weekend.
Bond opts for death by torture, rather than be bored to death like the audience.
Mediocrity defined, all involved just phoned it in for this lifeless time-waster. Denise Richards, the human bobblehead, fails to be believable as a scientist, though I have to give it up for Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), the series first female Big Bad.
19. DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)  
James, please... Invisible car or not, we see you trying to sneak out of this idiotic turd.
A festival of bad tropes with an awful theme song, an invisible car, a Chinese villain who turns into a white man, the unwelcome presence of Madonna as a fencing instructor (!!!), and Bond parasailing while surfing atop a tidal wave. Redeeming factor: Halle Berry as Jinx, rocking a nod to the Ursula Andress DR. NO bikini.
Though surrounded by a bevy of beauties, 007 fights to stay awake.
Great opening sequence that returns Bond to gritty basics, let down by every other aspect being boring and painfully overlong. Wholly unmemorable theme song by a-ha...SERIOUSLY???
17. LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) 
Surprisingly, not a scene from MANDINGO.
Bond and blaxploitation do not mix. Embarrassingly racially offensive, even when it came out, it also features possibly the most overrated theme song out of the lot — Yeah, I said it! Come at me! — and the noxious presence of "comic relief" redneck stereotype Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James). For a long time, before I rewatched the majority of the series, this ranked at the bottom of my list. Redeeming features: Jayne Seymour as the toothsome Solitaire, and the hilarious/ridiculous demise of Mr. Big.
16. MOONRAKER (1979) 
When 007 joined the Rebel Alliance in the struggle against the Empire.
Like LIVE AND LET DIE, this is the tragic result of the Bond series attempting to cash in on trends instead of setting them. Having nothing to do with the source novel aside from some character names, this is 007 in the wake of the ultra-blockbuster box office success of STAR WARS (1977) and by this point the series was too jokey and outlandish for its own good. Balls-out awful, but hilarious if approached as a piss-take.
15. OCTOPUSSY (1983) 
The tears of a clown in the employ of MI-6.
Barely passable, ridiculous plot, forgettable theme song, and Bond un-ironically disguised as a circus clown. (see above) Acceptable if you have nothing better to do on a rainy afternoon.
14. GOLDENEYE (1995) 
007 meets Xenia Onatopp and her homicidal vagina.
 Decent but overlong and occasionally dull, but somewhat redeemed by the homicidal hilarity of Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen).
13. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) 
Having banged every female on the planet, Bond explores new horizons.
 I'm gonna get shit for this, but this one is simply far too '70's/disco era for my tastes, plus its an almost beat-for-beat remake of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, which struck me as the height of creative laziness. I also was not fond of Jaws (Richard Kiel), a hulking assassin who's pretty much a cartoonish "upgrade" of GOLDFINGER's Oddjob.
It was 1974 and everybody was kung fu fightin', even in a James Bond movie.
Admittedly mediocre/bad, but mindless fun, this was released the year after ENTER THE DRAGON and Bruce Lee captivated the common zeitgeist, so, much like it had done with blaxploitation in LIVE AND LET DIE, the franchise again mined a popular trend, this time the then-still-exotic East and chopsocky ass-whuppin'. Bond travels to (among other locales) Hong Kong, where he almost gets his ass handed to him by an entire martial arts school, until his bacon is saved by the most badassed pair of schoolgirls you have ever seen (see above). The rest of the story is mostly an excuse for another travelogue, but come on. It's all about Bond versus Christopher Lee. It's one of the few times when I genuinely rooted for the bad guy to win. Extra points for introducing the world to Herve Villechaise as the diminutive henchman Nick Nack. However, points majorly detracted for the unwelcome return of Sheriff J.W. Pepper, and the unforgivable inclusion of a slide whistle sound effect over and otherwise spectacular car stunt.
11. THUNDERBALL (1965) 
She's a man, baby!
One of the definitive entries, sometimes for all the wrong reasons, (which I have discussed at length here) this  is the first of the extravagant 007 travelogue spectacles, as well as being the first overlong installment, which is in no way helped by the turgid pacing. Features two of the all-time hottest Bond girls — Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) and Dominque "Domino" Derval (Claudine Auger) — a terrific opening sequence, a villain who's as cool as 007 (Emilio Largo, played by Adolfo Celi), and my pick for the best of the theme songs. Tom Jones reportedly fainted after hitting that incredible sustained final note, and I totally believe it.
10. DR. NO (1962) 
Meet James Bond (Sean Connery).
It all had to start somewhere, and while it has its moments, it's primitive, basic, and has aged/dated rather badly, but we do get the introduction of the Sean Connery Bond, and he is nothing less than mesmerizing. The classic James Bond theme instrumental is introduced, and the film is pretty much stolen by Ursula Andress in what can only be described as an era-defining bikini. An unexpected hit that spawned a franchise which continues just shy of sixty years later.
What the...?!!!? Where's 007? And who the hell is this Japanese guy???
 Bond fakes his death (for no good reason), goes to Japan to investigate SPECTRE stealing space capsules in a bid to ignite WWIII, flies the awesome Little Nellie (an autogyro with more ordnance than your average battleship), gets married, and receives plastic surgery that turns him into the least-convincing Japanese man this side of Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. Sporting a great theme song from Nancy Sinatra and some incredible sets by Ken Adam, this is one of the definitive entries whose tropes are frequently parodied. (The first Austin Powers movie cribs heavily from this.) It's a lot of fun, if occasionally sluggish at points, despite it coming off like a lavish episode of THUNDERBIRDS and Sean Connery very obviously fed up with being in these films.
HK action legend Michelle Yeoh as secret agent Wai Lin: as badassed as 007.
My pick as Pierce Brosnan's most fun effort as Bond, this features memorable set pieces, a terrific theme song from Cheryl Crow, and, Michelle Yeoh as the coolest and toughest Bond girl of the lot.
7. LICENCE TO KILL (1989) 
Worst wedding day ever.
Bond is at his most savage and Flemingesque as he goes off the reservation to avenge the mutilation-by-shark of friend and colleague Felix Leiter (David Hedison), whose wife was also gang-raped and murdered (on their wedding day no less). This one polarizes Bond fans thanks to its hard edge and shockingly vicious violence, but I'm a reader of the Fleming novels, so I found most of the films up to this point to be lacking the sadistic nastiness of Bond's creator, therefore I dug this. It has a great SCARFACE-influenced villain played by Robert Davi and bears a sense of tension throughout as 007 pursues his vendetta without the approval of MI-6. Very good until the weak final third and the questionable inclusion of Wayne Newton as a superfluous minor villain.
Bond, ridding himself of a pesky assassin.
After the cartoonish excesses of MOONRAKER, it was back to basics, resulting in what is hands down Moore's best Bond effort. Minimal gadgets and quips, plus a nastier edge that evokes Fleming. A bit '80's-dated but still very good.
5. GOLDFINGER (1964)  
BOND: Do you expect me to talk?
GOLDFINGER (jovially): No, Mister Bond...I expect you to DIE."
Arguably the most iconic film in the series, Its every aspect carved the basic Bond template in stone, which was a bad thing because they more or less repeatedly remade it for the next two decades. It's also something of an oddity because Bond spends the majority of the running time a prisoner of the superb title villain, but that's offset by classic characters like Pussy Galore, Oddjob, the rolling arsenal that is the legendary Q Division Aston Martin DB5, John Barry's stellar score, and Shirley Bassey's indelible title song. This is the goods, kids, and if your mom saw it when it came out, Sean Connery in this made her wetter than a swamp.
4. SKYFALL (2012) 
London calling.
The second-best of Daniel Craig's run and a high point for the franchise. After the disappointment of QUANTUM OF SOLACE, I went to this with the lowest of expectations, but what I got was a superb modern entry and one of the very finest of the series. Solid plot, tough-as-nails 007, a great villain whose revenge plot against Judi Densch's M is understandable, and the full-force return of the Aston Martin DB5.
Sean Connery is out. Enter George Lazenby.
The first Bond without Sean Connery, this has one of the strongest plots in the run, and newcomer George Lazenby does an adequate job as 007 in what would be his sole turn in the role. Too bad he didn't stick around, because he likely would have improved had he done more entries. The plot hews close to the source novel and this would have taken the #1 slot on my list if Connery had starred, but that minor quibble is made up for by brisk direction and incredible cinematography, a quick pace that belies its long running time, Telly Savalas as arguably the most formidable iteration of Blofeld, and Diana Rigg as the most tragic of the Bond women. The instrumental title theme is one of John Barry's best, and he kind of ripped himself off when more or less remaking it as the theme for the posthumous Bruce Lee film, GAME OF DEATH (1978).
2. CASINO ROYALE (2006) 
Enter the blonde Bond.
A superb, shattering modernization of the first Bond novel, as well as a soft reboot for the series, with not a missed note in the whole endeavor. Basically Bond's origin story, this one's so good, you won't care that Bond has a face like a bulldog and is a blonde. All of the elements fire on all cylinders, resulting in a top-notch 007 thriller.
The rarest of the rare: an immediate sequel that far exceeds its predecessor. 
The second in the series and the most no-bullshit Bond of the entire run, as well as one of the best spy films ever made .This Hitchcock-influenced effort hews close to the source novel, largely eschews over-the-top gadgets and quips, and gives us a solid Cold War-era straight espionage thriller with excellent villains and arguably the best/most realistic fight scene in the entire series. Though it may come off kind of slow by modern standards, the strength here is the plot and the performances, all of which are top shelf. Especially memorable are Bond's Turkish ally, Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz), Istanbul's more fun answer to MI-6's M; terrifying ultra-butch Russian SPECTRE agent Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), whose overtly predatory dykiness must have been quite shocking some sixty years ago; psycho hitman Red Grant (Robert Shaw), and the lovely honey pot Soviet agent Tatiana Romanova (Daniella Bianchi), who is unwittingly played by SPECTRE and ends up in it way over her head. Simply put, this is everything a Cold War-era populist spy thriller should be, and it is in every an improvement on its predecessor.

And here's hoping that NO TIME TO DIE ends the Daniel Craig era with a bang, rather than a whimper!

From "8 James Bomb Bomb Movies" (MAD MAGAZINE #165, March 1974)