Is Ken Kesey cuckoo?

Yesterday’s urgent work that didn’t get done? It didn’t matter today. For reasons too silly to explain, not getting it done will affect someone’s numbers somewhere, but now they're last week's numbers. We can take our time with what’s left, as long as it’s processed and input by next Tuesday. 

But next week, a voice on the phone explained, Tuesday’s stack of work will seriously need to be done by Tuesday night.

Like yesterday, I giggled. This job is making me giggly. “Well, if you bring us a stack of work a foot tall, at 4:15 on Tuesday,” I said, “it won’t get done by Tuesday night, any Tuesday night. We're gone at 5:00.”

The voice said OK, but I’m skeptical that my meaning was understood. Next week’s huge stack of Tuesday work will probably arrive at 4:15 or so.

♦ ♦ ♦

After finishing my ordinary work at around 1:30, I worked on the Tuesday pile for a while, but I’d come in early so I could leave early, to go to the dentist.

It was my first visit to a dentist in years that wasn’t a toothache emergency, because for the first time in years, my teeth are covered by insurance. Have I got a great employer or what? (The answer is, what.)

Just before my appointment, something statistically unlikely happened. I was standing at the front desk, and the receptionist was talking at me, when I looked out the window for no particular reason. The dentist’s office is at street level, and at the very instant I glanced out, a man walked by and glanced in — and two years ago that man was my boss and borderline-friend at a job that was reasonably pleasant, conducting phone surveys about everything from personal computers to politics.

I went to the door and so did my ex-boss Tommy, and we talked there for a few minutes, and he offered me a job. The catch is, it’s the same job I quit a couple of years ago — and asking survey questions on the phone was OK, but even my crap job at the department store pays $3 an hour more. And I know from experience, survey work isn’t always forty hours a week. So my answer had to be no, but it’s nice to be wanted.

The receptionist semi-shouted that the hygienist was ready for me, so Tommy and I traded numbers and promised to keep in touch. Hope we do, but we probably won’t.

♦ ♦ ♦

So my teeth got cleaned, and the dentist poked around inside my face, and presented me with a long list of dental work that’s needed. For me, though, it’s about money. 

My employer’s dental plan pays 100% of the cost for cleanings and check-ups, 75% for the first filling or extraction, 50% for further fillings or extractions, and jack shit for anything else. So as the dentist presented his grand plan for my mouth, every time he said words like cap, bridge, or root canal — and he said those words often — the price I’d have to pay went higher and higher, to thousands of dollars I’ll never have. And if I did have thousands of dollars, I wouldn't spend it on my teeth.

Extractions will be my plan, then, same as when I had no dental coverage. When a tooth starts hurting and aspirin doesn’t help, I’ll have it yanked, and I certainly hope a tooth needs yanking before I lose this job, so I can get 75% off.

♦ ♦ ♦

After the dentist, I BARTed to Berkeley to see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus at the UC Theater. 

Cuckoo’s Nest is another movie I can see infinite times and always enjoy. In fact, me and the Cuckoo’s Nest go way back — when it was originally released, it was the first movie I liked so much that I paid to see it a second time, at the Town Theater in downtown Seattle. And a week later I came back to see it a third time. All three were matinee shows when I was supposed to be in school.

All my best memories of high school are the days I skipped.

Anyway, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) is a solid drama about a petty crook who pretends to be crazy, because he’s decided a stay in the nuthouse would be better than a stay in prison. Once he’s committed, though, he finds that the mental ward patients aren’t nearly so mentally ill as the nurse in charge. In high school I thought it was an allegory for high school, but now I recognize that it’s an allegory for life. 

Not often, but occasionally at an old-movie screening, someone involved with the movie is invited to attend and answer questions. Tonight it was Saul Zaentz, who produced both halves of tonight’s double feature. He's a plump old white guy with a white beard and a quick wit, and between the movies, he fielded half an hour of questions from the surprisingly small crowd.

“There’s eight more people here than saw my latest film, At Play in the Fields of the Lord,” he joked. There weren't many questions, but he answered them all, thoughtfully, modestly, and at length but without being boring. He summarized the state of Hollywood films (“When they’re good, it’s only by accident”), and reminisced about some of the people he’s worked with.

Having read Ken Kesey’s novel Cuckoo’s Nest, the movie always seemed like a faithful adaptation to me, but Zaentz said Kesey has always refused to even see it. “Ken says, after what we did with his screenplay, seeing the movie would be like watching his daughter get raped in a parking lot.”

And what did they do with Kesey’s screenplay? The simply didn’t use it. Zaentz said that Kesey wrote his screenplay as a surrealistic satire of his book, “with the nurse wearing a Valkyrie helmet, singing opera, writing in blood on the hospital walls. We had liked the book, and wanted to film the book instead.”

I have no notion what to make of that story — true, false, or fractionally-true — but it’s funny so I wrote it down, and now I’ve typed it and you’ve read it. We all gave Mr Zaentz a round of applause, and someone asked if he was staying to watch Amadeus. He said yes, which surprised me. I mean, he made it, so I gotta assume he’d seen it several times before tonight.

Amadeus (1984) is a cute comedy with serious pretensions of drama, supposedly based on the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I had seen it when it first came out, and remembered it as an amusing but rather hollow thing. I wondered then and wondered again tonight whether it’s fair in its treatment of the brilliant Mozart and the forgotten, not-so-brilliant composer Antonio Salieri.

Everyone on Earth agrees that Amadeus is great, but it seemed long and lackadaisical to me. My impatience was amplified by three college kids making jokes, and by Tom Hulce’s Oscar-nominated overacting, so I left before it was over. Great music, though.

And I’m pretty sure Mr Zaentz was already gone.

From Pathetic Life #4
Wednesday, September 28, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


Pathetic Life 

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  1. Captain HampocketsJuly 27, 2021 at 6:32 PM

    Don't send me bad juju - I've never seen Cukcoo's Nest. Just hasn't been in the cards.

    Amadeus is fine. Just fine.

  2. I haven't seen Cuckoo's Nest since that night in '94. Soon...


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