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Friday, December 29, 2023


Once again I cannot sleep, a state brought about by general anxiety over my nearly 91-year-old mother's dwindling health and the endlessness of kidney failure/dialysis and by the fact that insomnia is just one of the many possible side-effects of the illness. I tried using Melatonin tonight but it did not work, so I lay awake staring at the ceiling, alone in my head with my thoughts. I finally gave up trying to sleep and instead sought a long, boring movie to hopefully lull me to sleep. I chose CLEOPATRA (1963), the legendary ultra-expensive Liz Taylor epic whose box office failure nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox. 

I saw CLEOPATRA in bits and pieces during my adolescence, when it used to run divided into parts over five days on The 4:30 Movie in the '70's, but I had never watched it from start to finish, and without commercials. Seeing it while under the thumb of insomnia as I have several hours to go until I must get out of bed, dress, and await pickup for dialysis affords me a new and interesting perspective on it. Yes, it's ridiculously bloated at over four hours, but it's not as dull nor as camp as its infamy suggests or as I remembered it being. It's lavish to the point where the budget practically pours off of the screen, and that extravagance makes it a festival of eye candy. Sure, the dialogue is often stilted, but that was, and frankly still is, par for the course with Hollywood historical epics, and at least it has a huge cast of top-shelf actors to deliver it. With that taken into consideration, I don't buy Liz Taylor as the very Ptolemaic Cleopatra from a visual standpoint (translation: she does not work as an inbred ethnic Greek; way too white), but she wears the gorgeous costumes quite fetchingly and delivers the queen's unflappable arrogance as easy as breathing. (Perhaps expressing more than a little of her own personality.) 

Anyway, I do not find CLEOPATRA to be anywhere near as bad as contemporary reviews and most opinions of it popularly espouse. It's simply the last huge Hollywood epic of the classic era, bigger than most, but also no worse than many. If you ask me, its only real crime was being an exorbitant flop, and critics and the audience always love to dog pile on a loser when it's down. For me the bottom line is that it's saving my sanity during my latest bout of inability to sleep, and for that I am most grateful to it. 

That said, it's back to ancient times with Liz and Dick...

Thursday, December 28, 2023




While making today’s breakfast, I watched a YouTube article where a mother who’s a bit older than me watches classic TV shows with her 30-something son and they discuss them from the perspective of seeing them during original air versus watching them from the perspective of someone born well after the fact. Today’s subject for examination was THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, which was easily the biggest ’60’s super-spy item this side of 007 at the time, and definitely the most popular of the wave of Bond imitators that flooded the airwaves during that era (though most of the other Bond wannabes crashed and burned quickly, even U.N.C.L.E.’s terrible spinoff, THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E, starring a young Stephanie Powers). (It should also be noted that the only other spy shows of the ’60’s that did as well in the ratings were THE AVENGERS, an imprt that was picked up by ABC, and IT TAKES A THIEF, which was terrific but for some reason is all but forgotten today.)

So, inspired by the discussion of U.N.C.L.E. and my clear memories of it — I had dodgy bootlegs of it via the Union Square Nazi maybe a decade ago, so its fresh in my mind —  thinking of snagging the boxed set of Season 2 of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (hands down the best that series had to offer) but it was only available as individual seasons on Region 2.  I personally have no problem with foreign discs, as I have an all-regions player, but I like to own as much as possible on Region 1 so I can lend to my friends. 

Anyway, I remembered that the only way the show was available on home video in the States was as either a handful of VHS tapes that cherry-picked two episodes per tape (I had a couple of them during my VHS phase) or as a fancy complete series set that came in a metal briefcase. The latter was great for completists, but what most don't recall about THE MAN FROM U..N.C.L.E. is that though it lasted for four seasons (and a terrible reunion TV movie fifteen years later) and had two memorable protagonists, the overall series simply wasn't that good. 

The first season was decent, as it was American TV's first attempt at aping the James Bond formula (the series debuted after the release of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and just a few months before GOLDFINGER, with the latter being where the '60's super-spy mania was ignited), but the show was still little more than an obvious Bond knockoff with the sex and violence toned down for primetime viewing. Season 2 saw the show moving to color, which truly brought it to life, but the showrunners also made the series' tongue-in-cheek aspects more overt, but that was okay because it worked. For my money, Season 2 is all that the casual viewer with an interest in '60's spy pop culture needs to bother with.

Then, halfway through Season 2, BATMAN premiered and instantly became a pop culture phenomenon that ushered in “camp” as the new big thing. Without any real understanding of what camp actually is, network honchos scrambled to create shows with what they thought was a camp sensibility, and also tried to shoehorn it into already existing series, much to the detriment of the existing shows in question. That’s why LOST IN SPACE became so aggressively idiotic during its second and third years (though that idiocy arguably made that show more fun and memorable), and why THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. went full-tilt comedy for Season 3. Those of us who have clear memories of U.N.C.L.E. will tell you in no uncertain terms that Season 3 was ruinous for the show, as its plot veered directly into the outright ridiculous, absurd, and silly, with the emphasis on making everything look as intentionally cheap and bad as possible. Look up “The My Friend the Gorilla Affair” as my go-to example of the absolute nadir of the series. Just appalling in every possible way. There is nothing that fails harder than unfunny comedy, and by that yardstick Season 3 was a massive and embarrassing failure. In one season they managed to undo all of the progress and quality of the previous seasons offerings. And it should be noted that the BATMAN-inspired camp wave was a fad that lasted maybe a year, and ddamned near every American TV series that jumped on the camp bandwagon was dead by the end of a season, or less, and pretty much all of them except for BATMAN, LOST IN SPACE, and U.N.C.L.E. are forgotten today. (Though MY MOTHER THE CAR deservedly lives in infamy.) And super-popular though it was, even BATMAN was dead at the end of its third year, largely because its novelty was over. (The show would have been given a fourth season on NBC, provided that all of the sets like the Batcave and such could still be used, but ABC had all of the sets torn down when they got the cancellation notice.)

Realizing the shift to camp was a terrible idea, the U.N.C.L.E. showrunners again changed gears for Season 4, returning the program to its more grounded roots and even giving it a bit more of a darker adult edge, but by that point the damage was done and it was only a matter of time before cancellation. It was the end of the 1960’s and the spy boom was petering out anyway, so the plug was pulled on U.N.C.L.E. halfway through its final season.

U.N.C.L.E. was fondly remembered for the next 30+ years, enshrined mostly by those who were kids when it first aired and who were too young for the more adult thrills of the Bond franchise, though it surprisingly did not turn up much in sydication in the major U.S. markets. (It mostly aired in regions like the Midwest, for some reason.) But then the home video boom happened and lavish DVD sets of classic TV shows became a thing. It took a while but THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. eventually saw relase in a fancy metal briefcase that collected the entire series rather than putting it out in individual season sets. That edition was released at around a hundred bucks, and despite my avid interest in ’60’s spy pop culture, I had no interest in owning the whole series, and certainly not for a hundred bucks. Apparently the general audience shared my sentiment, thus leading the briefcase set to tank to such a degree that it was seen as lack of interest in the property, so no further relases of the series were forthcoming, not even as individual seasons. 

I like having “comfort programming” close at hand, and the closest I could get for THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is a set of the theatrical films spliced together from episodes of the series for release in Europe, where they spiced things up for the movie audience by adding levels of sex and violence that would never have been allowed in the original TV versions. 

Those films sometimes showed up on American TV as filler for afternoon and weekend movie showcases on local TV stations, and that was how I first saw THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., as it never ran in syndication on the East Coast in my youth. I saw ONE SPY TOO MANY (1966), which was the show’s only 2-part story, “The Alexander the Greater Affair," one afternoon on Channel 9 when I was around 11 or 12, and found it a lot of fun, so from then on I kept my eyes open for more. Little did I realize that the much ballyhooed actual series would turn out to mostly be another item that was bigged-up the nostalgia of now-grown children.

And the failed briefcase set now starts at over $200 when encountered on eBay and other collector’s resources. Absolutely NOT worth it.

Monday, December 25, 2023


What a difference three solid hours of sleep makes!

I am quite refreshed and in a good mood, so I just accepted Tracey's offer to join her family for Christmas dinner. My attendance was contingent upon how I felt after today's dialysis, and thanks to treatment occurring two hours early (my session started at 8am, so I was back here before noon), thus granting me early dismissal and some decent time to nap upon getting home, I was able to enjoy more hours of rest than I would have if I had gotten home at my usual 3-ish or later.

I was still feeling the malaise of my time observing my mother's decline for a week when I started my day, so I was gearing up for spending Christmas night alone, with a humble feast of bangers and mash with some of my favorite country sausages from the schmancy artisanal butcher shop in place of traditional British bangers — I enjoy proper bangers, but the country sausages are a whole other level — but that would only have served to allow my brain to ruminate on my mom's situation.

That is NOT what I need to be doing today.

Christmas Day is for spending time with friends and loved ones, and Tracey and I have been the tightest of family since we met 18 years ago, so much so that I had a major hand in helping raise her daughter, my niece Aurora, from age two or three, so I am quite entrenched. And Tracey struck relationship gold with Matt, her second husband, as he treats her like the living, breathing treasure that she is, plus he's amazing with the very-much-a-teenager Aurora. They are only a little over a mile away, and it gives me comfort to know that the door to this artsy nuclear family is always open to Uncle Bunche. And the icing on the cake is the presence of a huge, sloppy Great Dane who barks at me at first — he's doing his job, so good on him — but once that reminder of his guardian presence is made, he's all up on me, leaning into me for pets and scratches in his favorite spots.

In short, what could have been a miserable Yule will instead be one of welcoming and nurture. No judgement. No infantilization. No dysfunction. For the first time in quite a while, I feel happy.

Sunday, December 24, 2023


Christmas Eve at the dollhouse. Things were not exactly merry, as this could very well be my mother's final Christmas. We shall see...

Finally back at home in Brooklyn, and return to the Vault of Buncheness has seldom felt as good. I'll unwind while enjoying the schmancy Reuben sammich I picked up from the artisanal butcher shop — no hyperbole, it is simply one of the five most delicious and perfect sandwiches that I have ever been blessed with — and wallow in the nurturing comfort that is my own bed, covered with comforters that are just the right size, weight, and textures.

But back to my general reality.

It's a sucky Christmas Eve, as such things go, because leaving Mildred alone in the dollhouse does not make me feel good. When I left she was hunkered into her favorite chair in the living room, and when I made to exit I kissed her cheek and said a heartfelt "I love you." She said "I love you" back to me, but her voice was barely audible, and it looked like she was trying not to cry. And having unavoidably observed her behavior for the past seven days, I would bet good money that after I left she just sat there, all alone, staring off into the middle distance for hours.

Upon waking this morning, mom did her best to deny that I was leaving in a few short hours, repeatedly telling me that she had no idea that I was leaving on Christmas Eve, and also claiming that she did not know I had to go in for dialysis on Christmas Day, all stated as indignantly as possible. I don't know how much of that was "chemo brain" or what, but once she processed that I was not going to stay she fell back on her tried and true "I'm a helpless little old lady" schtick that was a dead-on repeat of the way her own mother acted during her infamous time of staying with us during the summer of 1988. I was happy to help, but my mother is a world-class liar and gaslighter who will do and say anything in order to get what she wants and garner attention, something she has done consistently for the past 46 years, so I have no idea how much of her actions today were legit or just more play-acting. Whatever the case, I butched up and weathered the remaining hours with grace and did my best to exit with class, kindness, and compassion.

Look at the above Christmas pic of Mildred and myself (photo kindly taken by Tom Petrone, whom my mother has openly noted as her "second son" for over forty years). You'll note that neither of us looks particularly festive. Both of us are doing our best to weather our respective illnesses while acknowledging that our conditions and their treatments are kicking our asses, and this year neither of us wanted anything for Christmas, so there were no presents. 

Well, not exactly. 

My spending a week at the dollhouse and enduring my mother was my big gift to her — she has openly stated that she knows she's an irritating pain in the ass — along with stocking her fridge and pantry with an insane (in retrospect) amount of nearly every food, snack, and dessert that I could think of that she would enjoy, which I just realized was my repeating of of some of her programming, specifically that "food is how you show love" Unfortunately her cancer and the side-effects of chemo leave her with little appetite for an actual well-balanced meal, so I ended up wasting a LOT of money, but at least I tried. I was determined to get her to eat solid meals, but the only one she could fully manage on a daily basis was a breakfast of one of my famous fluffy scrambled eggs, with grilled buttered toast and quality thick-cut bacon. (She has a toaster that she never uses, opting instead to grill her toast in a toaster oven that she refuses to learn to use properly, thus dragging out the toasting time.) Her usual go-to when cooking for herself is a boring fried egg, flipped over twice and fried to the consistency of rubber, her preference since childhood not because it's particularly enjoyable but because it's quick and easy to make, as her life's mantra is "now, Now, NOW!!!" My scrambled eggs are whipped with a long-tined fork for a few minutes in a deep bowl, thus folding as much air into the eggs as possible. The whipped eggs than get slowly cooked in a small sauce pan in which I have allowed but to melt but only barely sizzle, stirring slowly and carefully the whole time. Once cooked to the desired level of soft-but-done, the eggs are plated, and they are invariably a light and fluffy delight. My mother loves them, and one of my few pleasures while in the house during my stay was seeing the look of utter foodgasm on her face as she consumed her egg between bites of thick-cut smoky bacon. When I make breakfasts is about the only time when my every movement is not observed and criticized, and I treasure those moments of peace.

Before I left I noted how much food was left over, and the amount is considerable. Even when at her healthiest I doubt Mildred could have polished off everything put before her over the course of the past week, but at least I tried. She barely pecked at homemade dishes like the delicious sausage marinara reduction that I made, among others, plus assorted takeout when she did not want something homemade, though she did express great enjoyment at the vat of chicken and dumplings that I stewed. She pecked off of that for several days, loving every minute of it. It was actually just a slow-simmered stewed whole chicken, cooked in chicken stock with a couple of Knorr bouillon cubes, a large minced onion, some black pepper, and a bag of hearty, wide noodles that are cooked in the pot with the chicken from shortly before the chicken gets tender. Keep on low heat and stir occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. When the chicken has cooked enough to be separated from the bone with a spoon, pour in a bottle or two of Heinz home style Chicken gravy and blend it into the mix. The noodles will be ludicrously soft — this is NOT a meal for those who enjoy their pasta al dente — and very much infused with the flavors of everything surrounding them, and what you end up with is a dish almost indistinguishable from certain types of old school southern chicken and dumplings, only you don't have to go to the trouble of making dumplings by hand and doing the science tricks necessary for making them turn out just right. It's easy to make and my mom absolutely fucking LOVES the stuff, so that's all that matters.

Sorry to ramble, but this is the first time in a week that my thoughts have had room to breathe. It's good to have my train of thought back.

Friday, December 22, 2023


A friend just posted a page from the 1973 Sears Wishbook, the go-to source for satisfying all children's toy avarice during the annual winter holidays, and that image kicked the Wayback Machine in my skuul into high-gear, returning me to my earliest years in Westport.

 Sears Wishbook G.I. Joe spread (1972)
My parents' disaster of a marriage first began to display visible signs of collapse around 1971, and they were at full-blown war by the time we moved from San Francisco to Connecticut in June of 1972. They thought seven-year-old me did not notice their open vitriol toward each other (it was as plain as the noses on their faces), but just in case they buried me with toys every Christmas. My dad was an IBM exec, so he could afford lavish amounts of presents, and the Christmases of 1972 and 1973 found me awakening to all of those years' new GI Joe stuff, even the top-shelf vehicles and bases, and two or three Adventure Team Joes to be deployed when my older ones inevitably fell apart from play. 
Sears Wishbook G.I. Joe spread (1973)

I was grateful for all of it, because play was my way of disconnecting from the vicious, dysfunctional hellhole that was our home. Those miserable years are what sparked my love of toys, an interest that persists a half-century later, though now I display toys instead of playing with them. Nonetheless, they still grant me comfort.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

ADIEU, ARCHER (2009-2023)

Couldn't sleep — yeah, I know, a real shock — so I passed time by watching "Into the Cold," the series finale for ARCHER. 

It's hard to believe that the show lasted for fourteen years, which I watched religiously, and its characters have become as familiar and comfortable as the cast of THE SIMPSONS, only in a setting that deftly lampooned the world of James Bond and the plethora of super-spy entertainment/culture that's been with us since the boom of such in the 1960's and that still persists. It was a satisfying ending and I will be sad to see it go, but if I'm being honest I have to say they should have called it a day when Sterling went into a coma that lasted for several seasons, thus shaking up the spy format with season-long lampoons of various genres that were all creations of Archer's comatose mind. None of that was bad, but it just didn't bear the same focused flavor as what preceded those seasons. It also should have bowed out gracefully when Mallory Archer died, as Lana simply did not possess the same gravitas as a boss, nor the hilariously complex comedic dynamic that was woven from what's basically the dysfunctional relationship between a 007 stand-in and his capable-but-alcoholic mother. Nonetheless, I stuck with it and was rewarded with a dependable source of laughs, so it was a painless decline.

So, I will be wistful about the lack of further ARCHER going forward, but what's left behind is largely timeless and can be enjoyed for as long as home video keeps it available. My hard copy collection of super-spy stuff is considerable, and you had better believe that ARCHER has its place in my DVD library. That said, I salute all who worked on the series. You guys knew your subject and lampooned it with love. "PHRASING!!!"

Tuesday, December 19, 2023


                                     Mom's 2023 Christmas tree. A sad marker of the inevitable.

I'm currently staying at my mother's house in Westport, Connecticut for a week, getting dialysis in Fairfield while mom continues to dwindle from the double-whammy of aged decrepitude (she'll be 91 if she makes it to the end of next month) and cancer in both lungs, plus the debilitating chemotherapy that goes with the latter. She's off at chemo at the moment, so I have a few hours to myself.

While mom is off at chemo, I am looking over the house where I came of age, and it just feels like a sad and foreign place. If truth be told, while this is the residence where I came of age, it holds no sentimental attachment for me, as I could not wait to get out of here upon graduating from high school. When mom inevitably gets escorted to Valhalla, I will return here to settle her estate and se the house properly disposed of, but that will likely be my final appearance in Westport for any considerable length of time.

The sight of mom's tiny Christmas tree adds a note of wistfulness, as Christmas was always a big deal for her, and the thought that this very well could be her final Christmas absolutely guts me. Christmas hold no sacred meaning for me as, unlike my mother, religion holds no meaning for me, and I outgrew the fairytale of Santa Claus by the time I was nine, So I will be glad to be done with it. That said, this is a far cry from the lavish annual yuletide tree that mom would prop up and decorate. This year we both agreed that neither of us need anything, so no gifts, and the tree was always for her, so though it's meager, it serves the purpose of making mom happy. so that's all that matters.

Anyway, it's like a dollhouse gene-spliced with a mausoleum in here, and I am well past the limits of my tolerance for its ultra-pristine and cutesy atmosphere and I'm only two days into my stay of seven days. I pine for the noise and day-to-day madness of NYC and for the comfort of my own bed and pile of comforters whose texture does not rankle my dermatitis-irritated skin. I miss my autonomy, as every time I come here since leaving for NY in 1990, my every movement and word is judged and criticicized after being focused upon and analyzed with an unnerving laser-focus. I value the quiet environment of my humble Park Slope studio apartment, and the freedom to simply leave a room for a moment and not have that action questioned or complained about. Though it kicks her ass, her chemo session allows me a few hours free of my mother's obsessive/oppressive presence, and I am glad of it. I will take care of her when she returns and make sure she eats and rests, as she will be quite debilitated, but know that being stuck in this psychological/emotional torture garden that I fled nearly thirty-four years ago eats at my very being.

I love you, mom, and I will do my best to make your remaining time comfortable, but Sunday afternoon and me setting foot onto the Manhattan-bound Metro North train cannot happen soon enough.

Thursday, December 14, 2023


I was watching a comedy special in which the comedian describes receiving and accidental mega-dose as being a terrifying hell-ride, and it reminded me of an incident from the spring of 1986.

It was my third year of college and I was eating Saturday brunch in the cafeteria when a particularly annoying friend of a friend saw me and sat himself down at my table. The guy was a hippie-type who was raised on NY's Lower East Side by an artsy/hippie-dippy mother who was dosed on LSD nearly every day of her pregnancy with him, so hallucinogens had little or no effect on the guy. Anyway, he was perpetually stoned on weed and edibles and he knew I was a stoner, so when he sat down he offered me what I thought was a date or some other dried fruit. I thanked him and wolfed it down, noting it tasted like spiced mud. His face lit up like a Jack o' lantern and he exclaimed "You just ate a huge chunk of blonde Lebanese hashish!" I was quite pissed about that because the guy was always eating nuts and dried fruit, so that's what I thought he had given me. I was ready to wring his neck, but something told me it would be a good idea to leave the cafeteria and retire to my basement single in the dorms for the rest of the day. I'm glad I listened to my own advice, as maybe a half hour after eating the hashish, I began a cosmic trip that lasted for something like the next fourteen hours.

Imagine being as high as humanly possible with no way of stopping it, and that feeling going on seemingly endlessly. I was simultaneously terrified and elated, and I made sure to have a stream of friends coming and going for the duration of the trip. They all helped to keep me calm and grounded, and we passed the time with hours of listening to selections from my vinyl record collection — I remember the extended version of the Duane Eddy/Art of Noise "Peter Gunn" collaboration being spun several times, as its twang resonated quite nicely with my elevated state — with visual accompaniment from untranslated Japanese cartoons that were obtained fresh off of the Japanese airwaves from the venerable Tokyo Video bootleg VHS shop near Grand Central.

I don't remember eating anything at any point during the trip, and when it finally ran its course I passed out from sheer mental/emotional/sensory overload.

The next day I tracked down the asshole who dosed me, and I wound up and gave him a piledriver uppercut right in his stomach, which made him throw up all over himself. From that point he was persona non grata around me, and the close friend who introduced me to him in the first place was on board with not bringing him around anymore. Funny thing: a few years ago the friend in question, who today is quite a mess (but that's another story), was reminiscing about those college days and the people she associated with at the time, and with the exceptions of myself and maybe three other people that she named, she noted that all of the "friends" that she ran with were actually pals of the guy who eventually became her first husband, and she evaluated every one of them as "outright pieces of shit," including her future hubby. And the guy who dosed me? She rated him as the worst and most obnoxious of that sordid lot.

Common courtesy Rule Number One among stoners and would-be psychonauts: NEVER dose anyone without their full awareness and permission. It's just not cricket.

Thursday, December 07, 2023


 Okay… I’ve had some time to process everything that’s gone on over the past several days, and I am now ready to bring you all into the loop on what’s been going on.

As you all know, my mother is 90 years old, very physically frail after her near-fatal car accident seven years back, and is weathering perpetual exhaustion due to dealing with lung cancer and chemotherapy while living alone. She has a large support system close at hand, so she is being taken care of, but from what I witnessed during my Thanksgiving weekend at her house, I’m just being realistic when I say that it’s obvious her time is running out. Needless to say, that worries me sick, so I am doing what I can to make her remaining time bearable, a task that is quite difficult when one lives in another state and has a life dominated by thrice-weekly dialysis sessions and their subsequent deleterious side-effects.

So, on Monday I was in my dialysis chair getting treatment when I received a text from my mom’s close friend who’s a Registered Nurse. Upon seeing who it was, my heart sank, but I opened the text and tried to remain calm. The Rn was alerting me to mom being in the ER at Norwalk Hospital because she was having difficulty breathing, and it turned out that it was not the lung cancer but was instead Respiratory Syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) Virus, or RSV. That was the first I had heard of that virus, but apparently it’s been going around. She’s been in the hospital all week and I was even contacted and asked for permission to put her on a ventilator if it should come to that. Thankfully she has not needed a ventilator, but I’m just glad she’s in a facility where she is getting observed and cared for 24/7, plus her RN pal is keeping close tabs on her and checking in with me. And I have been calling mom several times per day, checking on how she’s doing, chatting with her to keep her spirits up, and letting her grouse about the horrible hospital food. During all of this, mom sounds quite frail and was clearly scared during the early part of her hospitalization, but today she sounded pretty much back to normal, probably because she has been told she will be going home tomorrow. She was told that every day for the past two days, but the third time may be the charm.

While worrying about my mother’s health and current situation, without her knowledge I have been attempting to book guest services at one of the Davita dialysis centers near her house, as the company has treatment centers all over the country and patients are told. that we can book into any of them if we need to be in another state. That’s great on paper, but I have tried to book guest treatment at any of the Davita centers in and around Fairfield County for the past two Thanksgiving/ Christmas holiday seasons and was told in no uncertain terms that no spaces were available. Originally, no spaces were available due to the COVID lockdown and nobody traveling for the holidays, but this time I attempted to book slots ahead of the actual holiday week for Christmas, as I would like to be at my mother’s house so I can be as much of a help and a comfort as possible.

During Wednesday’s dialysis, I had a conference with my center’s social worker and told him of my mother’s illness, advanced age, and how her time is running out, so would he please help me facilitate getting me. a booking at a center in Norwalk, the town right next to my mother’s. He sadi he was glad to help and that he would get back to me as soon as possible. He contacted me this afternoon and told me that there was nothing available in Norwalk, so now he would try Fairfield and get back to me when he heard anything. If his efforts are anything like mine over the last two years, I expect another strike-out.

The crux of the matter is that I absolutely cannot take time off from dialysis to care for my mother. If I do, I MY SYSTEM WILL BECOME TOXIC AND I WILL DIE. But I live and get treatment roughly 90 minutes away from my mother’s home, so my daily presence there without my regular treatment on Monday, Wednesday and Friday is impossible. I would gaudy get treatment and endure the post-treatment illness and recovery into the next day in Fairfield County, but it’s looking like that just is not going to happen. The best I can do at the moment is show up after Friday’s session and stay until having to leave on Sunday to resume my regular weekly treatment schedule on Monday.

My mother and I have had a famously difficult, contentious relationship for the past 46 years, and many has been the time when I wished I could simply remove her from my life, but during the past twenty years or so, she has opened up a lot about what made her into the dysfunctional, iron-fisted, belittling, judgmental harridan who was a nightmare to grow up with, and I now see her as a victim of the cruelties inflicted by her psycho mother, my abusive cheater of a father, and the world in general, so I now see her as a victim who needs understand ing and compassion, not scorn. She is still very much a trying presence for me to be around, but she’s the way she is due to what I would armchair diagnose as some form of PTSD that she has refused to manage because doing so would make her appear “weak.” She’s entitled to her opinion, but I call bullshit on that. If she had been able to let her guard down enough to get help and actuall work to heal from the trauma of her miserable past, she’d be a totally different person, but such was not to be and I just have to deal with it as best I can.

When raising me, my mother had no examples of how to parent or how to foster a healthy psychological/emotional environment, but she di the best that she could and it could have been worse. Anyway, knowing what I know as an adult, I cannot help but feel for the Mildred that could have been, and because of that I will not abandon her, and I will do my best to make her remaining time a positive family experience. I just hope something can be worked out with the dialysis center.

Needless to say, all of this has left me a sleepless, stressed-out disaster, and if I could I would just dig a hole, disappear into it, and hide out for the duration.

Friday, December 01, 2023


"We're gonna need a bigger boat..."
I've been on the go since waking this morning for dialysis, but I had to pop in briefly state that I thoroughly enjoyed GODZILLA MINUS ONE. I'm too wiped-out to write about it at length, but let it suffice to say that it's definitely one of the Top 3 that the franchise has to offer. 
It's the best of Godzilla films aimed at grownups, right alongside the somber 1954 original, as it's basically a drama about the last days of WWII and their aftermath for the Japanese, focusing on a deserter kamikaze pilot who encounters the pre-irradiated Godzilla and subsequently plunges into an ongoing state of PTSD and survivor's guilt. Returning to his bombed-out home, an orphaned girl with an orphaned infant (not her child) fallin with the pilot and the three form a makeshift family that does its best to survive. We follow them for two years and become quite invested in them, but then Godzilla, now mutated and rendered titanic by atomic radiation, returns...
It's all as serious as a heart attack and bears no trace of the signature goofiness of many of the series' entries. It's genuinely scary in parts, quite suspenseful, visually spectacular,and it featrures a Godzilla that's as mean and nasty as we have ever seen him. Here he's a complete and utter bastard, an implacable living holocaust that's just plain unstoppable. While entertaining as hell, there's no "fun" about any of the proceedings, as Godzilla's path of destruction is treated as the outright horror that it would be, were it to actually happen. The sequence where Godzilla razes Ginza is worth the price of admission, and it will have you on the edge of your seat.
If it's playing anywhere near you, do not miss this one on the big screen. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

 Poster for the Japanese theatrical release.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023


Outside of the blogiverse, I've spoken a lot about the curse of living with a strict daily limit on my fluid intake, and some have written in for clarification exactly how much I (and late stage kidney failure sufferers/dialysis patients in general) am allowed to consume.

The maximum safe amount I am allowed is a total of 32 ounces of fluid per day, and that amount is what goes up to the Sharpie line drawn on this half-gallon container. 
That's a little more than two average-sized glasses of anything potable, but also not very much, so you can see how difficult it is to keep within the prescribed limit. And that limit applies to all fluids. Water, soft drinks, coffee, tea, soup, the water and juices in fruits and berries, you name it. 
Before going on dialysis, I regularly downed perhaps 80 ounces of water per day, sometimes more, as I subscribed to the belief that the body needs a lot of water. Well, let me tell you in no uncertain terms that going from being able to guzzle at will to having to make do on barely a sip here and there is torturous. There are days when my body craves nothing more than being able to take a long, slow draw from a big bottle of refrigerated Poland Spring, but every trickle of that blessed H2O gets tallied in my head, so imbibing yields only the most fleeting of genuine enjoyment, even when I am thirsty to the point of near madness. 
And because of the restrictions, when I do drink anything, I limit myself mostly to water, with occasional lapses into heavily-diluted punch flavors from the juice aisle at the Associated. Every now and then I will treat myself to a can of soda, but one of those equals around a third of my allowed daily intake, so sodas are a rare indulgence. But that's okay. Since all of this began, I have come to value water like I was a Fremen on Arrakis, and I will happily and eagerly accept water over all other libations.
Whenever I get my long-awaited kidney transplant and I heal from the surgery and everything is declared okay, I intend to finally properly slake my thirst with an aforementioned long bottle of Poland Spring that's been refrigerated for at least a couple of days. And it will be glorious.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2023 - DAY 31: SUSPIRIA (2018)


Slaves to the rhythm.

Virginal American Mennonite Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) goes to West Berlin to study at the all-female Markos Dance Academy during the infamous "German Autumn" of 1977. (Look it up.) Upon arrival she finds the school in a state of turmoil due to student Patricia Hingle (Chloe Grace Moretz) vanishing after telling her psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor Dr. Josef Klemperer (Tilda Swinton in very convincing old man makeup), that the school is actually a coven for witches. Before she disappears, Patricia gives the psychiatrist her journals, which contain detailed information on the goings-on within the school/coven, including notes on the Three Mothers — Mater Tenebrarum, Mater Lachrymarum, and Mater Suspiriorum — three pre-Christian witches of immense power. When Patricia goes missing, the aged psychiatrist begins to investigate.

While settling in at the dance academy, Susie is immediately tasked with learning the choreography to a complex multi-person dance that the rest of the students have been rehearsing, and she proves so good that she is given the lead. But just before Susie's leap into the spotlight, Olga (Elena Fokina), a student, who was close with the missing Patricia, has a meltdown and curses out Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton again) and bolts to her room, where she prepares to leave the school. Madame Blanc carries on nonetheless, directing Susie to try the dance, and as Susie performs various severe movements, an isolated Olga is thrown bodily around an empty and mirrored studio room with each abrupt gesture by Susie, her body becoming more and more impossibly distorted and broken as the performance goes on. 

The horrific fate of Olga. 

When Susie is done, several of the school's matron's go to the still-breathing Olga, skewer her with handheld meathooks, and spirit her body away.

From there, as rehearsals intensify for an upcoming live performance of Madame Blanc's piece, entitled Volk, Susie becomes drawn into the coven and more of what's going on with the coven, its members, and their purpose is slowly revealed, with Susie right in the center of it all, and Dr. Klemperer getting more than he bargained for as he uncovers the dark truth. I would love to tell you more, but the rest of the film's surprises are best gone into cold...

Legendary director Dario Argento's 1977 SUSPIRIA is hailed by the majority of horror fanatics as one of the scariest pictures ever made and a landmark in Italian horror, but I have to go against the herd and proclaim it a load of overrated bollocks. It admittedly looks great and is quite eerie, I won't fault it for either of those aspects, but the film is a textbook example of style over narrative substance. The conceit of a German dance academy being a front for a coven is little more than a framework upon which Argento could hang assorted violent/gory set pieces, or an excuse for creative set design and lighting, as there really isn't a story to speak of. The 2018 version is another matter altogether, as director Luca Guadagnino takes the basic elements of Argento's vision and weaves them into a well-fleshed-out examination of several themes, including motherhood, death, loss, the dynamics between females, embracing female sexuality, the abuse of power, and Germany's awareness of its culpability for the Holocaust. Over the course of its lugubriously-paced 2.5 hour run time, we get to know and understand the characters and how real world events are reflected in the coven, and we learn what's up right along with them. 

In this era of endless remakes that seek to cash in on name recognition while rendering what was once adult content into a soft, safe, and sanitized PG-13 confection, it's nice to see a remake that has the balls to take chances and treat the audience like grownups. The script approaches its particulars with  the assumption that the viewer has had a good deal of life experience, as well a working knowledge of late-20th century world events (much of the current events cited in the story is not explained in full detail), and the lengthy run time allows everything room to breathe. And the embracing of the R-rating allows for multi-person nudity that makes perfect sense for the events depicted and is never gratuitous, and the story's gory and violent visuals are let loose with abandon and skillful realization.

I could go on and on but I'll just leave with a recommendation that when sitting down to watch SUSPIRIA 2018, it's a good idea to have had a nap beforehand, as its slow and quiet pace can act as a soporific. I suffer with insomnia, so I came to it quite tired and ended up nodding off a few times, which necessitated backing up to where I left off and starting again. The film is in no way boring, but it's easy to crash on if you're just plain exhausted.

And with that...  


Poster from the theatrical release.

Monday, October 30, 2023

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2023 - Day 30: John Carpenter's VAMPIRES (1998)

"Well first of all, they're not romantic. It's not like they're a bunch of fuckin' fags hoppin' around in rented formal wear and seducing everybody in sight with cheesy Euro-trash accents, all right? Forget whatever you've seen in the movies: they don't turn into bats, crosses don't work. Garlic? You wanna try garlic? You could stand there with garlic around your neck and one of these buggers will bend you fucking over and take a walk up your strada-chocolata WHILE he's suckin' the blood outta your neck, all right? And they don't sleep in coffins lined in taffeta. You wanna kill one, you drive a wooden stake right through his fuckin' heart. Sunlight turns 'em into crispy critters." - Jack Crow on vampires.

In New Mexico a team of hardened Vatican-sponsored vampire hunters led by Jack Crow (James Woods)  routs a nest of undead suckfaces, destroying nine of them with extreme prejudice. 

The team of Church-appointed vampire slayers receives a blessing before getting down to the business of wiping out undead suckfaces.

Not a bad day's work, but where is the master vampire? Seemingly nowhere to be found. But no big deal. The team celebrates their victory at a sleazy motel, surrounding themselves with whores and getting hammered. Too bad they didn't do a more thorough search of the acreage where the house serving as the vampires' nest was, because they they would have noticed the blatantly fresh grave only a couple hundred yards from the residence. 

At sundown the master vampire, Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), claws his way out from the soil, and track the hunters to their place of revelry. In short order the master suckface mercilessly and gorily slays all but Crow, whom he calls out by name, and Crow and his righthand man, Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) barely manage to escape, dragging a bitten prostitute with them. Despite Montoya's protests, Crow knows that prostitute Katrina (Sheryl Lee) has 48 hours before she fully transitions to being a vampire, but as she chcnages she will become connected to the master, hearing what he hears and seeing what he sees, so the hunters can track the master through Katrina. And there's also the question of how the master knew Crow's name. Crow realizes that the hit on the vampires' nest was a setup because the master knew not to be present, so who marked the team for a massacre? After returning to the motel to stake, behead, and bury the dead and burn the place to the ground, and, with a young priest in tow (Tim Guinee), the proper hunt for Valek is on. But exactly who is this Valek, why is he so powerful, and what is he after?

Makin' with some stakin'.

Yer Bunche has been a John Carpenter fan since seeing the network television debut of HALLOWEEN back in 1979, and I have seen all of his films over the 44 years since. His films often bear a signature look, feel, and sound and, good or bad, they tend to entertain me with an experience akin to reading a comic book, but some comics books are masterpieces, others are just okay, and what remains are wastes of trees. VAMPIRES, though quite entertaining, a very much a flawed work that feels like Carpenter's heart just wasn't fully in it. The script is about 2/3 polished, but it falls apart significantly during the final act. The ending is one of carpenter's weakest, and by the start of the final reel I found myself checking my watch.

I first saw VAMPIRES when it came out, but that was during a period I consider my "lost years," when I went through life engaging in excessive drinking and weed-smoking, so I saw a lot of movies in states so wasted that I barely remember the details of a lot of those flicks. This was one I remember finding middling at best, so I hoped that in seeing it again I would experience a work whose merits I had mostly erased with my own drunken disconnect. But no, my initial impression was spot on, and what I got was pretty much a mid-level actioner that was like what I would have come up with in my backyard at age seven while enacting a story with my Adventure Team G.I. Joes and their mobile support vehicle, only with vampires. (Though I did not have any dolls that would have made for decent vampires. I did, however, have a Mego Supergirl that served as an all-purpose female character, so she would have been a good fit as Katrina.) The film doesn't bear the signature Carpenter look or feel, nor is the score as pronouncedly loaded with Carpenter's composition flavor. Among the roster of the director's works, VAMPIRES, while an okay way to pass just over ninety minutes, is a lesser work, and you miss little if you give it a miss. There are many much better vampire films to be seen, so go for something like Hammer's KISS OF THE VAMPIRE or TWINS OF EVIL.

Poster for the theatrical release.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2023 -Day 29: THE BABADOOK (2014)

If it's in a word, or it's in a look... You can't get rid of the Babadook.

Amelia Vanek (Essie Davis), a single mother in suburban Australia, struggles with raising her six-year-old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). The boy's father was killed in a car accident while driving in-labor Amelia to the hospital, so Amelia has held onto and not processed her grief over the entirety of her son's life. The boy is raised knowing that his father was killed on the day he was born, but all mention of the father is swiftly shut down by his mother. The pair pretty much live isolated within their house, with their most frequent social interactions being with Mrs. Roach (Barbara West), the kindly old lady next door, so their world is quite insular and sad. Samuel is an intelligent, creative kid who is learning elementary stage magic and build functioning weapons for home defense, but his behavior has become increasingly erratic and aggressive, some of which may have to do with him being on the spectrum, which leads to his mother withdrawing him from school. Caring for her difficult son while also juggling her job as a caretaker at a home for the elderly has left Amelia a wrung-out mess, both at work and at home. She has not slept for weeks, and catering to her son's constant needs wears her down to the point of her beginning to weary of motherhood. 

Part of their nightly ritual is Amelia reading the restless child a story to lull him to sleep at bedtime. One night, Samuel selects a book from the shelf that neither has seen before, a book entitled "Mr. Babadook," about a dark and scary monster that announces its presence by screaming "BA BA BA DOOK DOOK DOOK" and then terrorizing its victims. 

The book spooks the shit out of Samuel, who already had fears of monsters lurking beneath the bed and in his closet, but once the book is read, he begins to see the Babadook and yells at it to go away. Of course Amelia thinks it's just another element of her son's issues, but when scary and dangerous things begin to happen, Amelia and Samuel are confronted with the Babadook. But even with all of the experienced evidence, is the creature real, and if so, what is its motivation?  Or is Amelia, whose patience and nerves are beyond frayed, simply going mad?

It's nice to know that studios can still make intelligent horror films for grownups (though it should come as no surprise that a film of this nature was not made in the United States.) I steered clear of THE BABADOOK for years, because I often disagree with the opinions of those who gush over modern horror efforts seemingly indiscriminately, and also because it involved a kid, which is often a formula for trite and toothless scare-free shudders. That said, I'm not gonna lie when I tell you it's really heavy stuff.

When a harried mother can take no more. 

As the only child of  single mother whose nerves and patience were on a hair trigger, writer/director Jennifer Kent's examination of her story's two leads hit me like a sledgehammer to the guts. It's an intense, very emotional slow burn that perfectly communicates the fear of madness, from the POV of both mother and child, while making us care for the main characters. There are no cheap jump scares or gore, but what it brings instead is a mounting sense of tension and dread that held me riveted. During some of the mother's freakouts, I was transported right back to the fear I felt of my own mother during her manic, angry episodes. Essie Davis's performance as Amelia is utterly believable and natural, especially when losing control, and six-year-old Noah Wiseman gives the best performance by a child actor that I've seen in decades. At no point does he play Samuel as preternaturally precocious or cloying, instead enacting a confused and fragile child that we have all encountered at some point. Or a confused and fragile child that we ourselves were.

 In short, THE BABADOOK is an excellent film that I recommend to all who seek dark material that has more to offer than some dumb-as-dirt slasher movie or cookie cutter possession flick, but I will not be revisiting it. Sometimes art just hits too close to home.

Poster for the theatrical release.

Saturday, October 28, 2023



Lately I've been using Ian Fleming audiobboks to lull me to sleep, and Fleming's super-exhaustive outlining of every detail in a scene's environment puts me out after about 15-20 minutes. Last night, however, I woke up about ninety minutes into DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, the fourth James Bond novel (originally published in 1956), and lay there in the dark for a while, actually concentrating on the story. I had not read that book since probably 1978, when I devoured all of the 1960's editions of Fleming because they were an ubiquitous presence in second-hand book shops (I got the whole run at Fairfield's long-defunct Book Finder), so I had forgotten just how bad that novel is.

When Fleming is firing on all cylinders, his work is exciting and visceral, but when he's off, it's painful and embarrassing to read. He tends to write American gangsters as cartoon stereotypes straight out of B movies of the 1930's and 1940's, so reading the dialogue of those characters immediately brings to mind the caricatured mobsters from Looney Tunes shorts. It's bad enough while reading the novel, but it's immeasurably worse when an actor reads it aloud in audiobook form. Yeah, I accept that all literature is a product of its era, but DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER serves to underline Fleming's considerable ignorance regarding people and cultures other than his own.

Bottom line: I rank this as Fleming's weakest book, somehow worse than THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (which also featured cartoon gangsters, one of whom was named "Slugsy"). If you ever decide to read Fleming's Bond stories, most of which have little or nothing to do with the subsequent films bearing their titles, I advise you to skip DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. It has aged about as well as milk.