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The Green Room, Grey Gardens, and a few more movies

Green Hell (1940)

From marvelous moviemaker James Whale (Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Man in the Iron Mask, etc), this is a passable but sometimes laughable safari flick, filmed entirely on studio lots.

We're on an expedition to the Amazon jungles, searching for and hoping to steal some Inca treasures. The natives attack, killing a junior archaeologist (Vincent Price, so young his voice sounds different than in his famous roles), and that's about it for the movie's action. The rest of the drama is about the dead Price character's wife (Joan Bennett), who drops in on the raiding party and quickly becomes the object of every man's drooling.

Some of the dialogue is a hoot, oddly and un-really written, and what can be said about the story? Buncha manly men and one beautiful woman, what would you expect to happen? The movie's not awful, but it's not much.

With Douglas Fairbanks Jr, John Howard, George Sanders, and Alan Hale Sr.

Verdict: upper MAYBE, or lower YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦   

The Green Room (1978)
a/k/a The Vanishing Fiancée

François Truffaut wrote, directs, and stars as Julien Davenne, a lonely, introverted man who writes obituaries for a failing magazine, and loves the dead more than the living.

Davenne's wife died some years earlier, and he's never gotten over it, never will get over it, and doesn't want to get over it. Moving on after the death of a loved one, he believes, is an insult to the dead. 

Remembering his dead wife is the only thing Davenne is passionate about, which is both sad and honestly understandable. Maybe even admirable. He has so much love for the dead, and no love left for anyone who's alive.

In one scene he buys his dead wife a fancy ring, and tells her about it — though she, of course, isn't there — as he slips the ring onto a mannequin's hand in her honor. 

Everything his late wife owned in kept in a green room in Davenne's house. When fire damages the room and its contents, he buys and restores a church ruined and shuttered after WWI, to rebuild and restore it as a bigger, better shrine, not only for his wife, but for every person he's known who's died.

"If you agree to be a member of society, be ready to feel a deep sense of disgust."

This is a real wow, a movie that made me say "Holy crap!" at the end, and a few times along the way. You'll have no notion where it's headed. Is it a love story, a character study, a horror movie? Whatever it is, it's French, and it's very, very good.

Based on "The Altar of the Dead," a short story by Henry James.

Verdict: BIG YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Green Screen (2021)
Streaming free at YouTube

NEVERENDING
FILM FESTIVAL
#307  [archive]
JULY 7, 2024

This is a 14-minute short, about an Indian boy whose life isn't Dickens-awful, but isn't good. He works as delivery boy for a restaurant run by grumpy man who may or may not be the boy's father, but doesn't show him any affection. There's no mother or other family in the kid's life, and his only friend is another street waif.

Then the kid makes a delivery to a computer graphics classroom on the college campus, where they're filming a scene against a green screen — the technology that allows special effects to be superimposed across the background. How green screens work is explained by the only smiling person in the film, but the boy misunderstands it as magic, which leads to the film's gently terrific climax.

Written and directed by Mangesh Sapkal, this is too good for IMDB — it's not in their giant database. 

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Greetings from Africa (1995)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is a clever romantic comedy, barely ten minutes long, about a lonely young lesbian looking for love. I'll say nothing more, except that it delivers the laughs, and captures well the kookiness of humans, and especially of humans looking for other humans to connect with. What a species.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Gregory's Girl (1980)
Streaming free at Tubi

Gregory is a dorky teenage boy trying to be cool, the star striker on the soccer team, but he's not particularly good at the game and isn't trying very hard.

On open tryouts day, a pretty girl named Dorothy tries out for the team, and she's more skilled than any of the boys.

Suddenly Dorothy is the new striker, Gregory is switched to goalkeeper, and he's OK with it. All he wants is to make Dorothy his girl, but he's all knees and nerves, and never quite knows what to say, which makes for an agreeable light comedy. 

"If women were meant to play football, they'd have their tits somewhere else!" 

Written and directed by Bill Forsythe (Local Hero), this is an original — its own thing, not much reminiscent of other "coming of age" movies.

Thinking about it afterward, I'd compare this to John Hughes' widely beloved teen comedies, not because they're similar but because they're kinda opposites. In a Hughes flick, the teenagers have wisecracks and embarrassing moments, and it's funny — sure, I like Hughes, same as most movie watchers do — but you never watch a Hughes movie thinking his teenagers are like real teenagers. All the kids in Gregory's Girl look like kids, sound and act like kids. It feels for reals.

I will only slightly complain about a turn to the plot that's never explained. I'm confident that my guess at what happened and why is correct, but I would've liked at least one line sorta 'splaining it.

Or hell, I'm old, maybe the line is there but I missed it.

Clare Grogan of the band Altered Images has a featured role. 

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Gretel & Hansel (2020) 

This is the Brothers Grimm's legend of Hansel & Gretel, told from the girl's perspective, with the fright factor ratcheted up for a non-kiddie audience. 

I wanted to like it, and it's somewhat successful, creepy and visually striking. Alice Krige (Star Trek's Borg Queen) plays the witch. The movie makes big mistakes, though, that keep derailing everything.

A good scary movie involves the use of darkness and shadows, but most of this is so under-lit that you're never quite sure what's going on, and it's dark for the length of the film. I overcame the moviemakers' mistake by starting the movie all over again, with my media player's brightness set to 150%.

The dialogue is very soft-spoken through most of the film, and same as the darkness, talking quietly can be an effective tool in building tension, but it becomes frustrating when nobody speaks in a normal tone until the film's final scenes.

And also, the story falls apart at the end.

Verdict: MAYBE. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Grey Gardens (1976)
Streaming free at Watch Documentaries

Edith and Little Edie were Jackie Kennedy Onassis's aunt and cousin, two eccentric old ladies who shared a mansion on Long Island. According to news clippings shown at the film's start, they lived in "a garbage-ridden, filthy 28-room house with eight cats, fleas, cobwebs, and no running water," until the Health Department ordered the place cleaned up under threat of eviction.

When that made headlines, Mrs Onassis sent a clean-up crew and pitched in herself, getting the house habitable again. After that, filmmakers Albert & David Maysles became interested, and dropped by to film Edith and Little Edie's home life.

The resulting documentary, Grey Gardens, is widely considered a masterpiece, and I ain't arguing. It's fascinating to watch these two batty dames interact. Thumbs up, definitely.

I'd only say, as I often think while watching movies, why does it have to be rich people? There are far, far more poor people than rich people living in squalor and mental illness. When I was the "I'll do anything" guy, I worked in a dozen different households with people as squabbly and fascinating as Edith and Little Edie, or more so. But poor folks don't have Jackie Onassis to drop by and help tidy up the place. 

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Grey Gardens (2009)

30+ years after the true events of the original Grey Gardens, Hollywood took these two wacky characters, Edith and Little Edie — both of them long since dead — and fictionalized and scripted them. Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore star, with Jeanne Tripplehorn as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Before clicking 'play', I'll confess to misgivings about the whole idea. It's one thing to bring in cameras and show real people to the world, as the documentary did — at least the ladies gave informed consent. But I'm pretty sure this film is gonna be mocking them, which seems more distasteful.

OK, 'play', and let's see…

Wearing old-age makeup, Lange and Barrymore do a credible job capturing the essence of Edith and Little Edie in their Grey Gardens era, but most of the story is a flashback to their younger years, to see the beginnings of their nuttiness. It feels faithful to their real characters, and heck, maybe it's even true to their lives, but — who cares? Nobody needs Edith and Little Edie's origin stories.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

James Whale: Father of Fear 

Werner Herzog has a dictum: "The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot." But he does not want to explain it any further.

7/7/2024   

• • • Coming attractions • • •     

The Grifters (1990)
A Grin Without a Cat (1978)
Grindhouse (2007)
Grizzly Man (2005)
Grizzly Rage (2007)

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
Now accepting movie recommendations,
especially
starting with the letter 'H'.
Just add a comment, below.
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
 
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Aren't you proud to be an American?

From Pathetic Life #2
Tuesday, July 5, 1994

The highlight of my otherwise tedious today was when Judy, a co-worker, told me about her Fourth of July weekend. To be fair, I had asked, but it was just a nicety. The only answer I'd wanted was, "It was fine."

Instead she recited some earnest platitudes about America and patriotism and How Important It Is. "It's more than just flags and firecrackers," she informed me. "It's a day to ponder the real meaning of America."

Wise people say politics and religion shouldn't be discussed at work, but sometimes it's fun to go spelunking through the empty clichés, so I asked, "What's the real meaning of America, Judy?" I had to ask twice and add "seriously" before she answered.

"America is about freedom, democracy, standing up to tyranny." Clichés again, so I asked her to tell me more.

She looked at me like I'm nuts, which I am of course, and she asked, "Aren't you proud to be an American?"

I had to think about that, and she didn't like the silence. She scowled and shook her head and walked away before I'd found an answer.

And I was glad to see her go. Nobody wants a big hairy argument in the office, so I sat down and got on with my boring work, but Judy's question simmered in my head all day.

Am I proud to be an American?

I'm lucky to be American, that's for sure. There are many far worse countries, but being an American was an accident of my birth. I can't take pride in a house I don't own and didn't build, especially when the roof leaks and the porch squeaks and the carpet is rotting.

Is America all about freedom, democracy, standing up to tyranny?

I really don't think so.

If America is about freedom, why are so many Americans locked up for "crimes" that harmed nobody? When cocaine and prostitution and gay marriage and an unlicensed cocker spaniel are all as legal as cherry coke and holding hands, then America will be about freedom.

Maybe America is about democracy. 49 people being ruled by 51 is certainly an improvement over 51 ruled by 49. That's democracy, and I respect it in principle, but in practice everything seems much more about money than votes. I'm not sure it's worth all the firecrackers.

And if America is about standing up to tyranny, we wouldn't have fought a war to return Kuwait to its rightful tyrant, and we wouldn't be repatriating refugees to certain death in Haiti, and we wouldn't have bombed the hell out of Vietnam and Cambodia, and etc, etc.

And "we" didn't do those gawdawful things — scoundrels in America's White House did, with help from scoundrels in Congress, and all the scoundrels running the military-industrial complex. That isn't "we," when they're doing ghastly, abhorrent things that (hopefully) you and (definitely) I would never do.

So I'm sorry, Judy. I don't give politics and patriotism much thought in my day-to-day life, but when I do, it doesn't make me proud. It makes me angry.

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.


Greed, Green Eyes, and a few more movies

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Charlton Heston plays Brad, who runs a financially-struggling circus, and Heston hams it up, even by Heston standards of hamminess. 

Brad hires a big-name trapeze artist (Cornel Wilde) to bring in bigger crowds, but the show already had a daredevil trapeze lady (Betty Hutton), and she's now willing to take crazy risks to prove she's better.

Meanwhile, Buttons the Clown (Jimmy Stewart, under greasepaint) has a dark, secret past, and his present is pretty weird too — Stewart wears his clown face all through the film, even backstage, even during the off-season, presumably even when he's asleep.

Nobody in the circus thinks that's strange, because all the performers are often doing their acts backstage too, in this movie's crazy circus universe.

Also, everything is always clean, the animals are never mistreated, and gosh, Brad the manager sure is a swell guy. Hope nothing happens to him…

NEVERENDING
FILM FESTIVAL
#306  [archive]
JULY 6, 2024

The Greatest Show on Earth is, in a word, not. It's a huge clunker from overrated moviemaker and enthusiastic racist Cecil B CeMille, who also narrates bombastically. It was made with the gracious cooperation of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey, and it's a giant infomercial for the circus.

But hey, this is your only chance to see Gloria Grahame ride an elephant's trunk, and the flick also has Dorothy Lamour, Lawrence Tierney, and (of course) Emmett Kelly. 

Verdict: NO. 

♦ ♦ ♦

The Greatest Thing That Almost Happened (1977)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Jimmie Walker is a second-string high school basketball player, who gets leukemia.

It's a 'very special' TV movie, and a chance for Walker to be an actor, with no laughs and very little of his ordinary mugging and making faces.

The movie is Disneyfied dreck and even takes place at Christmas-time, the music is wrong, and it doesn't add up to a lot, but Walker is good.

Debbie Allen and James Earl Jones co-star, with bits for Valerie Curtin and Kevin Hooks. Directed by Gilbert Moses (Roots, Willie Dynamite). 

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Greed (1924)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

A jumbo-size and rather frightful-looking actor named Gibson Gowland stars as John McTeague, who trains as an apprentice to a dentist, and opens a dental shop in San Francisco.

A longtime friend of McTeague's brings his cousin Trina (Zasu Pitts) with a toothache, and Dr McTeague low-level molests her while she's under (pre-novocaine) ether. Just a kiss, but still, ick.

Then he pursues her through more appropriate methods, and soon after they're married, Trina plays an illegal lottery, and wins $5,000 in gold coins. She's thrifty, though, and refuses to spend a nickel of the money. 

McTeague's pal, the guy who introduced him to Trina, is increasingly resentful of the lottery winnings, so of course he reports McTeague to the newly-created California Board of Dental Examiners. The Board informs McTeague that, since he never attended dental college, he must close his office and cease drilling and filling teeth. So he's out of work, but still Mrs McTeague refuses to touch the winnings.

That's the basic beginning, but it gets weirder, with severe finger-biting, and off-beat performances by all the principal players.

I've always heard that this movie is great, and it's certainly quite good. For much of it I was riveted, and despite its long running time it never had me feeling antsy, but it gets a YES, not a BIG YES. The title is Greed, but this would be better titled Envy, or maybe Just Plain Weird.

Erich von Stroheim (Foolish Wives) co-wrote and directs, but does not appear on camera. He intended this film to run nine hours, but nobody's going to buy tickets to a 9-hour movie, so the studio sliced and diced it to two hours and twenty minutes, says IMDB. The version I saw had been reconstructed by Turner Classic Movies, and runs almost four hours.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Green Eyes (1977)

A Vietnam veteran returns to America, but can't find work, can't find where he's supposed to fit in stateside, so he decides to return to Vietnam, a country now at peace.

That's a gutsy concept for 1977, and Paul Winfield stars as the ex-soldier, Lloyd Dubeck. He's a decent man, and Winfield is an actor I've always found charismatic, and he's excellent here.

When his tour of duty ended in 'Nam, Dubeck left a pregnant girlfriend behind, and now he's looking for her, and also for the child. It's seems an impossible quest, especially since half-American kids have it rough in Vietnam, and half-black American kids have it even worse, and anyway, in all of Vietnam, nobody's willing to give Dubeck straight answers.

This is a made-for-TV movie, but it must've been a prestige project, because it doesn't feel televisiony, and doesn't follow the standard-issue storyline you'd expect. Filmed in the Philippines, the setting is immersive but bleak, but enlivened by some unexpected but always plausible humor, and especially by Winfield's warm performance.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Green Glove (1952)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is a too-religious melodrama of a church where nobody's supposed to ring the bells, so the bells ring themselves.

There's an American GI who returns to the ruins of France after the war (shades of Green Eyes, above) because he wants to find some mysterious green gauntlet full of jewels. There's a dull romance in the mix, and a framing for murder, and it feels like a noir gone wrong.

Written by Charles Bennett, who wrote some pretty good stuff for for Hitchcock (Foreign Correspondent, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Sabotage, The 39 Steps), so let's blame this mess on the direction by Rudolph Maté, and the full-of-itself musical score by Joseph Kosma.

Maybe blame me, too; I hated this almost instantly with its opening 'miracle' of the church bells, and spent the rest of the movie scowling and shaking my head.

It stars Glenn Ford, Geraldine Brooks, and (they want me to call him 'Sir' but I refuse) Cedric Hardwicke.

Verdict: NO.

7/6/2024   

• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Green Hell (1940)
The Green Room (1978)
Gregory's Girl (1980)
Gretel & Hansel (2020)
Grey Gardens (1976)
Grey Gardens
(2009)

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
Now accepting movie recommendations,
especially
starting with the letter 'H'.
Just add a comment, below.
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
 
← PREVIOUS          NEXT →

"Nobody likes going into the city."

My brother Clay organizes a family picnic every summer, and that's a nice idea, ain't it? We're all old, don't see each other very often.

It's a big event, with dozens of people, and I hate crowds. It's family, though, so I went to the picnic the first year I was back in Seattle, 2022. Had a good time, despite getting cornered for half an hour of one-on-one conversation with my stoner nephew George.

Last year's family picnic was in Prairie Dog City, which is so far from Seattle you can't get there on public transit. I hate riding with someone else, so I didn't go.

This year's picnic is on the other side of the Cascade mountains, in eastern Washington. It's a 'destination picnic'!

CRANKY
OLD FART

#435  [archive]
JULY 5, 2024

Which seems kooky. Clay and his wife Karen live in the next county south of Seattle, but everyone else in the family lives in nearby suburbs. Me, I don't drive, and I'm not gonna go Greyhound to a picnic, so count me out again.

When I asked why the family picnic is so far from the family, the answer was, "Nobody likes going into the city."

In other words, it's the old unspoken racism and fear of crime, because there might be a bum within eyesight, which would totally ruin the chicken and coleslaw vibe.

Better news, much:

I'm officially retired. Six weeks after applying, this morning I had a quick phone conversation with a nice lady from Social Security. She asked a few questions about my life — mother's maiden name, and who was my employer in 2016, and what year was my first employment, etc. Being the world's foremost authority on me, I aced the quiz, establishing that I'm who I usually say I am, and she said that's it.

Our call ended about ten minutes ago, and in a word or an acronym, OMG.

When I left Seattle Sprocket a few weeks ago, that was my last working day — ever. The nice lady said that the first direct deposit to my bank account will be in a day or two.

Soon as I've posted this, I'm treating myself to a fancy lunch to celebrate. When the deposit arrives, I'll have another fancy lunch to celebrate again.

The head of the Heritage Foundation, the burn-it-all-down radical right-wing group that's planning the end of democracy, says the ruling is part of a "second American Revolution," which will  "remain bloodless if the left allows it to be."

Which sounds a lot like a terrorist threat, and would probably be charged as such if someone on the left said something similar.

I hesitate to even post this, because why bother? John Roberts is scum, sure, but everyone knows it.

At his 2005 Supreme Court confirmation hearings, he said, "No one is above the law under our system and that includes the president. The president is fully bound by the law." Now, Roberts says the President is above the law, long as the President's name is Trump.

Several months ago, the Biden administration announced that while the climate effects are being studied, liquefied natural gas export permits would be temporarily halted. A bunch of Republican-run states sued, claiming their economies were damaged by the pause, and now a federal court in Louisiana has ordered the Biden administration re resume the permitting process.

But here's an idea! Under the Supreme Court's recent "Presidential immunity!" ruling, Biden could refuse, and have the judge assassinated, and he'd be immune from prosecution. 

40+ years ago, the imprisonment of Leonard Peltier was a popular topic of outrage. On my side of the political spectrum, people protested and wrote letters to their Congress-critters. Being young and skeptical, I did some research, which back then meant an afternoon with microfiche news archives at the library, and I walked away certain that there was AT LEAST reasonable doubt of his guilt.

Which makes his conviction false, his imprisonment unjust.

These days nobody much talks about Peltier, but his conviction remains false, his imprisonment unjust, and he's just had parole denied again. The feds are still adamant that he's guilty, overjoyed that he remains in prison. I remain unconvinced that he's guilty — and even if he is, 48 years in prison seems ample punishment. But he'll doubtless die there.

For your convenience, you can now purchase ammunition from a vending machine at the grocery store. Simply scan your driver's license, pose pretty for the AI-powered facial recognition software, and insert your credit card…

⚡ LINKS FOR THINKS ⚡ 

Hurricane Beryl's aftermath: Carriacou residents' survival stories [VIDEO] 

The Supreme Court's decision changed everything, offering Trump a huge assist in his attempts to avoid accountability. 

⚰️  DEAD PEOPLE  ⚰️ 

Marty Atkins
forgotten person 

Grace Davis
forgotten person 

Tom Fowler
rock'n'roller, The Mothers of Invention 

Russell Morash
DIY TV producer 

Marty Pavelich
hockeyer, Detroit Red Wings 

Martin Stolar
good guy 

Robert Towne
screenwriter, Chinatown

  7/5/2024   

Cranky Old Fart is annoyed and complains and very occasionally offers a kindness, along with anything off the internet that's made me smile or snarl. All opinions fresh from my ass. Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited. 

Tip 'o the hat to the AVA, Bleepity-Bleep, Breakfast at Ralf's, Chuff, Dirty Blonde Mind, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, Lemmy.world, Looking for My Perfect Sandwich, A Sudden Violent Jerk, Mr Souza's Happy Place, Voenix Rising, and anywhere else I've stolen links, illustrations, or inspiration.

Special thanks to Linden Arden, Becky Jo, Wynn Bruce, Joey Jo Jo emeritus, Jeff Meyer, John the Basket, Dave S, Name Withheld, and always extra special thanks to my lovely late Stephanie, who gave me 21 years and proved that the world isn't always shitty.

Mom's visit

From Pathetic Life #2
Friday, July 1 - Monday, July 4, 1994

This is a long entry, because it was originally four entries. It's all one story from one weekend, though, so let's get it over with. Grab a beer and make yourself more comfortable than I was the whole weekend.

After moving from Seattle to Frisco in 1991, I lost contact with my family because I'm an awful human being that way. Then Dad died, and I was so far out of touch that Mom had to ask the Social Security Administration if they had my address. SSA forwarded her letter to me, which seems both very sweet and mildly creepy. By the time I got the letter, I'd missed Dad's funeral.

Since then I've been a better boy and remained in touch, calling home once in a while. Why, I even wrote a letter to my mom, once. And now, she's invited herself to visit, and I figured why not? It's just one weekend. Even Mom can't drive me crazy that quick… can she?

So my mom was here, staying at a hotel in the east bay suburbs, for the weekend just passed, and we didn't make each other nuts or anything. This will be a heartwarming story if I write it right, but also a long story. Here goes...

♦ ♦ ♦

In our family, there's my mom, two sisters, three brothers, and everyone's assorted spouses, exes, kids, and cats and dogs and therapists. As the zine goes along, assorted aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, in-laws and ex-laws might be introduced as necessary (if you're lucky, it won't be necessary). For now, to keep this a zine and not a novel, let's only introduce the parents. 

My dad, RIP, was a well-paid industrial scientist, and a workaholic, so we never went hungry but he always worked late and we were never close. That's my fault as much as his, though; I rarely get close to anyone. Dad was big, balding, and Republican, and always wore a pocket protector. He was smart, maybe the smartest person I've known, so his unwavering Christianity was, to me, the enduring paradox of his life. He was a good pop and a good man, though.

Mom is of the old tradition where a man is always in charge, so she was happily subservient to Dad for the 40+ years they were married. She's an extreme pack-rat with a house full of junk, and she shops at thrift stores, though with Dad's very generous life insurance payout she could afford a daily spree at Nordstrom. She's more Christian than Dad was, and Dad was no slacker at his religion. She's a good mom and a good lady, but can be intrusive and judgmental. She gets on my nerves, and I sometimes suspect it's on purpose.

I love my ever-loving mother, but she knows how to push my buttons, and she pushes them all, and after she's pushed them all she starts over again with the first button. She's Christian and conservative and dishes out digs frequently, and she doesn't approve of my life and she's not shy about saying so. We don't have a lot in common except that I came out of her.

So I was a wee bit apprehensive about the visit.

♦ ♦ ♦

Mom seems much the same as when I last saw her, three years ago — she's still a sweet old lady. Her hair has gotten grayer, and she's more endearing and less annoying than I'd remembered. Maybe she's mellowed, or maybe I have, or most likely she's just easier to take in a single three-day dose on rare occasions, than when I lived two miles away, saw her once or twice every week, and there was always a message from her on my answering machine.

It was splendid seeing her over the weekend, but with an asterisk. Mom does most of the talking, to say the least, which is all she lets me say. She told me what everyone in the family is up to, and I care, honestly, about my nephew who got arrested for drunk driving, about my cousin's bad roller-skating accident, about my aunt's hysterectomy that had no complications but still took twenty minutes for Mom to narrate to me.

I care somewhat less, though, when the stories are from outside the family, like my brother's fifth-grade teacher's divorce, and my uncle's brother-in-law's fishing trip, and Mom's neighbor's father's cancer, and her pastor's friend's cat that went missing for a week, and on and on and on. I was tremendously disinterested in those stories, but I listened like the good kid I never really was.

Mom asked some too-personal questions, about girlfriends and would-be wives in my past, and "Have any guests stayed overnight in your room?" I took my pal Louie's advice and answered Mom's questions honestly, or frightened her away by promising to answer honestly if she really wanted an answer. Luckily for both of us, she decided to un-ask most of her more difficult questions.

Several times Mom invited me to come back to Seattle with her, stay at her apartment for a few weeks or months or years or forever, so I could see all the relatives and friends and everyone else I'd left behind.

I said maybe, which means no. I did not explain that the purpose of leaving was to leave, or that bringing me back would require handcuffs.

Mom lives in an apartment now, because after Dad died the huge house where I grew up was too big, too empty, and too full of memories. But she hasn't sold that big old house. Instead she's turned it into a homeless shelter, by giving use (but not ownership) of the house to a charity that helps destitute families. Strangers down on their luck now live in the house where I grew up — probably in my bedroom!

Not only is this a damned heroic thing to do, it's also something I'm not sure my Dad would approve of — and I know that our neighbors would disapprove — so, way to go, Mom!

That's the big picture of Mom's weekend visit. Now, let's get into the details:

♦ ♦ ♦

On Friday my Mum landed at Oakland Airport, but I was waiting to meet her at the San Francisco Airport.

Such a fun afternoon that was. I stood in the crowded lobby looking up at the readerboards, but couldn't find her flight, because her flight was arriving thirty miles away. I don't drive, so I took transit (bus, BART, and another bus) to get from one airport to the other, while worrying about a 62-year-old woman, on her own in a strange city.

The World Cup is nothing compared to the kicks I gave myself that night, because the whole screw-up was my fault. She'd told me on the phone, "My flight lands at 1:15," but she didn't say which airport and I never thought to ask. It never occurred to me that someone flying to San Francisco would land at Oakland Airport.

So I was an hour and a half late picking her up, but Mom was OK and not even angry. When I found her, she was talking about Jesus with some airport proselytizers.

(In my defense I'll say, I drove to San Francisco in my van. I've never flown to or from San Francisco, and in three years living here, Maggie last month was my very first visitor, and Mom was my second. So I don't have any experience with the airports, or with hosting anyone in San Fran.)

(Still, pretty stupid, Doug.)

We BARTed to Mom's hotel in Walnut Creek, where I stayed with her for three days. Walnut Creek is a stucco suburb many miles east of San Francisco. And why would someone visiting San Francisco stay way out in the 'burbs? For that I have no answer. If it was up to me, I would've gotten her a short-stay room at my residential hotel in the city, or at a less roachy but more expensive hotel nearby. It wasn't my decision, though.

Anyway, because of me going to the wrong airport, we were running quite late, and Friday afternoon became Friday evening, as Mom and I rode BART to Walnut Creek. It was the first time I'd seen her since Dad died, so our conversation was all about Dad. I cried a little, and Mom cried a lot.

She's still in mourning. I was and still am greatly saddened by Dad's death, but it undoubtedly hit Mom much harder. Maybe harder than I can imagine — for longer than I've been alive, she spent every day of her life with him, raised six kids and built her whole existence around him. Of course it's terribly traumatic for her to go on without him. Many tears were wiped away, with many hugs and many memories about Dad, on the train, and in our six-block walk from the BART station to the hotel.

At the hotel, they had our reservation wrong. It was supposed to be one room with two beds, but they had us down for one room with one bed — jeez, I don't want to get that close to my mother. The desk clerk acted like it was our fault and our problem, and only when I got gruff did he switch us to a room with separate beds. Once we were finally checked in, we called out for pizza and talked about Dad until lights out. Mom cried a lot, I cried a little, and then we hugged and went to bed.

I couldn't sleep, so after Mom started snoring I turned on the TV with the volume real low, and got a minor surprise. Walnut Creek isn't just a boring forty-minute BART ride from San Francisco to nowhere. Maybe because of mountains or maybe they get a discount from the cable company, but all the TV stations were from Sacramento, not San Francisco. So I watched unfamiliar newscasters on Channel 3, instead of my favorites, Dennis Richmond and Elaine Corral on Channel 2.

♦ ♦ ♦

Friday had been fairly normal but Saturday started getting strange. Mom and I had Breakfast Jacks for breakfast, and our family thanks God for every meal, so Mom said grace at the plastic table before we unwrapped our sandwiches. It was a long grace, and her eyes were closed so I wanted to get a head start unwrapping, but they use really crinkly paper so I had to wait.

The Breakfast Jack at Jack in the Crack is, without a doubt, the finest morning meal yet invented in Fast Food America. Ham, egg, cheese, bun. No condiments necessary (though I like to add catsup). I had five Breakfast Jacks.

While we ate, Mom brought out a large plastic bag filled with photos of all the nieces, nephews, and strangers in the world. Soon she had pictures spread across the table, and by the time every photo had been narrated to me, morning was over and we'd sat in that booth at Jack in the Box for a little less than four hours, but it felt much longer.

I was hungry for lunch, so I bought us Jack in the Box burgers and fries to go, and we returned to the hotel. After lunch Mom sang hymns at me for an hour and a half — she had packed a hymnal, for God's sake, literally.

She wanted me to sing along, so for some of the songs I sang along. Mom very much wants me to be a Christian, and singing "How Great Thou Art" put a smile on her face, so what the hell.

I tried to engage her in a philosophical discussion about the words to "Onward Christian Soldiers," but Mom would not be philosophically engaged. You'd think a Christian in the 20th Century might be embarrassed to sing a song that glorifies the Crusades, when Catholic warriors killed countless Muslims, Jews, non-Catholic Christians, and probably anyone else who seemed contrary in any way. Nope, no embarrassment. "It's one of my favorites hymns," Mom said, and sang it again.

♦ ♦ ♦

At about 2:00 on Saturday afternoon, we (finally!) walked to the station and BARTed into the city, where we did typical tourist things in Chinatown, shopping and gawking and eating dinner. We also talked about Dad, so there was more crying.

After we'd eaten, Mom stopped at a phone booth and looked up the address of a local church of her denomination. I didn't even know what she was flipping through the pages for, until she said, "And this is where we'll go to church tomorrow."

Oh, you think I'm going to church? Let the guilt tripping begin, but church schmurch. I haven't been inside a church in many years. It's all so blessed irrelevant to me, but I suddenly saw the error of my ways:

It was Saturday night. Come Sunday morning, Mom would need to go to church, because Sunday is "the Lord's Day" and she never misses church. She would need my bus and BART expertise to get to whatever church she wanted to attend, so I'd need to accompany her on the train. And once we'd reached her destination then — we'd be going to church together.

It was the perfect trap. Utterly brilliant! Arrrrgh, why hadn't I seen this coming?

Mom always goes to church on Sunday. Always. I was born in the early morning hours on a Sunday, and Mom likes to brag that she was at our church for services later that same morning. I've never known whether that's true or she's violating the ninth commandment for fun, but the point is: My mom never misses church.

Still at the phone booth, Mom asked what I think about Jesus Christ. I told her I don't think about Christ much at all. His name is often on my lips, but not in a way Mom would like. (I didn't say that, though.) We disagreed about me going to church the next day, but without really arguing, and without reaching any consensus.

We didn't talk much on the BART ride back to Walnut Creek, because my mind was spinning. I didn't want to go to church when I was 15 years old, but I had to, because I was fifteen years old. Well, I am no longer 15 years old, so I don't go to church — that's one of the perks of being a grown-up.

And I emphatically did not want to go to church the next day. I'm not a Christian, so why would I go to church?

For my mom, that's why. I looked out the window as the train rolled along, signed over-dramatically, and decided I was going to church the next morning. God damn you, God.

I wasn't going to close my eyes and pretend to pray, wouldn't put any money in the collection plate, but I'd politely sit through a sermon without snickering. For you, Mom. 

Once decided, I began to dread it. The worship service would be the easy part, actually. The hard part would be Sunday School before church, or whatever they call Sunday School for adults — sitting in a small room with a bunch of strangers, Bibles open, everyone super-sociably sharing scriptures and trading Christian cliches, and everyone shaking my hand and asking, "What church do you usually attend?" and "How long has Jesus been living in your heart?"

I don't know how to spell "ay yi yi" but I was living it. Could I endure a couple of hours in a church without either laughing or losing my mind or punching someone?

Look, I respect freedom of religion. If you want to worship Christ on a cross, or worship a pile of pine cones, you absolutely have that right. And if I don't want to worship anything, I have that right, too.

I have less important things to do on a Sunday morning than … what I knew I'd be doing the next morning. But I'd be there. I'd been snookered by my mother, and by Jesus.

♦ ♦ ♦

On our walk from BART back to the hotel, Mom and I talked about Dad. She cried a lot, and I cried a little, and at the hotel she gave me a very special gift: a videotape of my father's funeral.

Now, this may seem rude and if so, my apologies, but — I don't want to watch a video of my father's funeral. I didn't say that to my mom, but I did tell her that I don't own a VCR so I can't watch it (which was a lie). Mom thoughtfully promised to make an audiotape of the videotape, and said she'd mail me the cassette. I said thanks, but didn't say that I also don't want to listen to my father's funeral.

I've already said that I didn't know about it when my father died, because I hadn't told anyone in my family my address or telephone number. What needs to be added is, if I had known of Dad's death, I would've given everyone hugs and spent time with the family, but I wouldn't have attended the funeral.

No disrespect for Dad; I simply hate funerals. We all grieve in our own ways, and my way doesn't involve sitting through an organized memorial service in a room where everyone's judging each other based on how much they cry.

When I was in high school, I went to a friend's funeral — a teenage girl who'd given up Christianity, became a Buddhist, and died of breast cancer before she was old enough to vote. It was a Christian service, not Buddhist, because her family was Christian. The funeral was for them, not for her. The girl I knew, the funeral's guest of honor, wasn't there. She wasn't even invited. All the kind words spoken weren't about her. They decided to remember the girl they'd hoped she'd be, instead of the girl she was.

And then, years later, my brother-in-law died. He was an absolute atheist who'd had a major impact on my thinking about religion, but like that other funeral, his service was all-Christian, all the way through. The pastor started the service by announcing that although my brother-in-law had made mistakes in his religious life, he'd come to the pastor just days before his sudden death, to tell him he'd "recommitted to Christ."

And that's bullshit, a lie the dear departed would've objected to if he could, and that's the last funeral I've attended, or ever will, until my own. Which, by the way, I don't want, but I know my family so what I want won't matter.

Most of what I think about funerals I've told my mom — not this weekend, because it seemed inappropriate when she was all about Dad's funeral, but I've told her in the past. Funerals suck and I don't want one, so cremate me please, with no service, or just mince me up to feed the fishies.

And also, about that videotape: I've never heard of videotaping a funeral. Is that something people do nowadays? Would you pop a tape into your VCR to watch a loved one's funeral a second or third time or tenth time, like it's Star Wars? I loved my dad, and I have almost nothing bad to say about him, but videotaping his funeral seems morbidly bizarre to me.

♦ ♦ ♦

Mom also gave me another special gift: eight pairs of Dad's underwear, four pairs of his socks, two pairs of pants, two pairs of shoes, two shirts, his suspenders, and one of Dad's bow-ties. Without asking me whether I wanted this stuff, she'd packed an extra suitcase, to bring hand-me-downs from Dad, and she gave me the suitcase, too.

The bow-tie is a wonderful memento of my father. He wore suits to work five days a week and suits to church on Sundays, but he rarely wore neckties. He was a bow-tie guy. It's a little quirk he had, and I always liked his bow-ties. This one is blue with polka dots. I rarely wear ornaments around my neck, but I'd rather wear a bow than a noose, so I'm keeping the bow-tie. Thanks, Mom. And thanks, Dad.

Most of the rest of these clothes, though, I'll be giving to Goodwill. The pants don't fit, and I remember Dad wearing both these shirts so I'd never wear either, and the socks are fine but they're knee-highs and I prefer shorter socks. I am wearing my dad's underwear, though, as I type this two days later. It's odd to carry my gonads in the same shorts that carried Dad's, but I was a little low on underwear, and these are comfy and mostly unstained.

♦ ♦ ♦

Saturday night to Sunday morning, I barely slept, awoke at dawn, and read a book I'd brought, but mostly I worried about how awful the morning was going to be — going to church. I was hoping the congregants would be shy and aloof, like me, so I wouldn't have to shake everyone's hands and tell too many lies. Hoping the pastor wouldn't ask all the newcomers to introduce themselves. Hoping Mom wouldn't find a way to wangle an invitation to someone's house for dinner after the services. I was hoping, but not praying.

And yeah, I was going to lie. Inside a church, even if someone asks me point blank, I'm not saying I'm not a believer. I'm a rude bastard in many situations, but I'm not going to crap on your religion while I'm in your church, so I'd decided to play the role. I would simply, quietly, and politely endure. I'm tough, I can take it.

Mom kept sleeping, and I kept reading my book. 8:00. We'd been up pretty late the night before. 9:00. There was an alarm clock on the night stand, but she hadn't set it. 10:00. I was getting my hopes up. Finally, at a little before 11:00, Mom began to stir, and I put the book down and pretended to be asleep.

"This is the day that the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." That's my mom's favorite Bible verse, and it was the first thing she said when she woke up. Then she saw the clock, and saw that, sadly, we'd slept too late. At the church she'd wanted to take me to, the service was already underway. Mom was disappointed, and I should've felt guilty for letting her sleep so late. But I didn't.

She said it was the first time she'd missed church since her appendectomy, circa 1985. "It must have been God's will," I said, but to me it was a win-win situation: I'd earned Mom-Points because I'd agreed to go to church, but I didn't actually have to go. Ha, ha! And then, Mom pulled out her hymnal and sang more church songs at me, and we watched a sermon on Sacramento TV.

After the TV sermon and a mini-sermon from Mom, we BARTed into the city, and talked about Dad on the way. We ate lunch at the Powell Street McDonald's, and talked about Dad. We walked around Union Square, and talked about Dad. I cried a little, Mom cried a lot, and I gave her several big hugs.

My brother Clay's family was due to join us that evening, so we didn't have time to do much more in the city. 

Clay is four years older than me, and we were best buddies when we were young, but then Clay's faith in God grew stronger while mine was withering away. Now we're not so close. Over the years he's matured into a family man with an earnestly Christian perspective on life and a wholesome sense of humor, and I'm none of the above.

Karen is his wife, and very much his match. They met at church, and I'm guessing they talked a lot about Jesus on their first date, and they still do. They have two sons, both young enough to be cute like kids from a Disney movie. 

So Mom and I bounced back to BART for another long ride to Walnut Creek, and Clay and Karen and their kids were waiting at the hotel when we arrived. Mom's visit had been planned to coincide with their vacation to California, and she'd be leaving with Clay's family on Monday morning.

Clay and Karen and the kids had checked into a room down the hall, and we all said hello and hugged and talked about old times, and about Dad, and then they wanted to have a Bible study in their hotel room.

Clay and Karen are good people, and I love 'em, so I want to say this kindly, respectfully. They're on a family vacation with their two young boys, and they brought their Bibles. They study their Bibles in the morning, and in the evening — even on their vacation. Other than each other and maybe their kids, God is the most important thing in their lives. This was our first time seeing each other in years, but God was what they most wanted to talk about — and I simply don't speak that language.

So when Mom went with Clay and Karen and their kids to the Bible session in their room, I excused myself and read a newspaper on the bed until Ephesians was over.

Their boys are polite, and well-behaved. I think the older kid liked me, but the younger one is too young to remember me from three years ago, and he was unsure about this fat stranger. During our few minutes of conversation, both of the kids twice changed the subject to Jesus/church/the Beatitudes/etc. I won't say that it made me sad, but it made me sigh.

The six of us had a late dinner at some chain restaurant nearby, where the service was all right, the food was all right, and the customers and staff were all white. The overwhelming whiteness made me uncomfortable. I'm white too, but not that white, and I live in a place where white is part of a mosaic. Walnut Creek is more of an unpainted canvas.

After dinner, we returned to the hotel. Karen put the kids to bed, and then the grown-ups talked for a while, about books and baseball, and kids and careers, and oh yes, about Jesus. Mom talked about Dad, so we all cried a little, and Mom cried a lot. I gave her another big hug.

As we talked about old memories, future plans, and absent relatives, together in that hotel room and together in our hearts, it was a good feeling. We are still a family. More hugs all around, and then I read my book while everyone else shared a good night prayer.

Come Monday morning, Clay's clan got up at 7:00 for devotions together, and Mom joined them. I didn't, but heard the hymns through the wall. "Nearer My God, To Thee." "Come thou fount of every blessing." "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty." All the greatest hits. Then they loaded their luggage into the car, and everyone said their goodbyes.

Waving, I watched Mom roll away in the station wagon, with Clay and Karen and the bots. Destination Disneyland, and the rest of their vacation. I'm supposed to see them all again on their way back to Seattle, next Sunday, and I'm looking forward to it, but Christ, I hope it doesn't include church.

♦ ♦ ♦

It's Independence Day, and it's nice to have my independence back. Nice to be in San Francisco, not in Walnut Creek. Nice to be in this tiny, roach-infested room at the rez hotel.

I spent about half the day writing my entries for July 1, 2, and 3, and spent the second half of the day sprawled across my bed, wearing only Dad's underwear, farting and napping and reading zines.

I love my mom, love my family, but I also love being alone, doing whatever the hell I want to do, and not hearing anything about Jesus.

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.


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