Monday, September 30, 2013

Skid Row Diary 16

2nd Month

13  August   2003        Wednesday        Day 32

“Wisdom is not worth acquiring unless each moment it is applied in acts of compassion, nor compassion helpful unless directed by the wisdom which knows what to do.” -Christmas Humphreys

   I didn’t feel better. I felt worse, but I wasn’t aware of it at first.
   I slept in late having no urgent need really to get up. All I wanted to do was to go to Trimar, so I could make two donations for the week and get the maximum amount of cash. I got up in what I thought was time to shower and eat some Top Ramen Spicy Chicken with a chopped smoked sausage embedded within it’s soupy domain.
   Giselle was back to pants... of course. What did I tell you.
   John Manzano knocked on my door at 9:15, just as my soup was ready.
   “They won’t let me go to Camarillo this weekend,” he told me. “I just put in for a pass, you know, like I always do...”
   “Ummm Hummm.”
   “And Labren says they aren’t handing out passes anymore. Only for family emergencies.”
   “Well that seems rather restrictive. Next they’ll want to take us down to meals, and put cameras in our rooms,” I told him.
   “Yeah,” he continued. “I went to the VA about it and one of the counselors will talk to Labren to see what’s up.”
   “Why are they doing this? Did they say?”
   “She said homeless people who have somewhere to go every weekend don’t need to be homeless. But hell, I can’t live with my mom. We’re just getting our relationship back together again. Damn.”
   “So what are ya going to to do?”
   “Talk to her today at one o’clock. You going to the valley?”
   That I was. I had to leave right then in order to sign in on time. 
   I swallowed down my noodles, gave Manzano the boot, and took off, arriving at the front desk right at 9:30 according to the office clock.
   I turned in my room key and asked to sign in. The clock’s hand now moved a smidgen to the left of the 6.
   “Sorry sir. It’s too late. Sign in tomorrow.”
   “Fine.” I took off out the door. I felt she had refused just to irritate me. I wanted to sue her personally and the Weingart. She had succeeded in irritating me. 
   I felt lousy, I realized. The oppressive heat didn’t help matters. As I approached the bus stop I saw one just leaving. This happens almost every time I approach a bus stop. They wait until I’m almost there, rushing up to the stop, then take off before I can get on. 
   I figure on the few occasions wherein I reach a bus stop and a bus isn’t there waiting for me so it can rush off, well, The MTA is just asleep at the switch and not doing there job properly.
    After an interminable wait the next bus finally arrived and took me up the the Red Line Station at Pershing Square. I read from the Koontz novel until the subway came. I boarded and got to Vermont and Beverly before I decided to get off and catch the next train back, deciding I didn’t feel well enough to continue on, and shouldn’t be donating if I was sick anyway.
   I waited about fifteen minutes before the next train came to take me back. I wanted to check my mail before heading back to the Weingart, so I walked to Arco Plaza. The mail lady was still putting the mail into the PO boxes, so I had to wait until almost 11, forty five minutes to find out I had none. 
   I didn’t eat lunch being too tired. I took a nap for a couple of hours, and dreamt I was living in a log cabin in the Smokey Mountains with Lolita Davidovich, the beautiful and talented star of such films as “Blaze,” and “Play It to the Bone.” She took care of me because I was sick, which was very nice of her.
   The fan in my room does not help to mitigate the heat. It just pushes it around from one place to another. I woke up all miserable, but decided I needed to get some work done, and wrote while listening to NPR in the afternoon, and later Led Zeppelin 4, the album. 
   I wasn’t up for much for the rest of the evening. I made a promise to myself to never get sick again, and pounded down aspirin and vitamin E capsules. 
   I’m such a wimp. My tolerance toward any form of discomfort has steadily diminished through the years. If I were ever caught behind enemy lines and brought to torture I’d say, “Hey, hey, hey! Stop that! No torture please. What is it exactly that you want to know? Here, let me draw a picture for you. Better yet, what kind of drugs do you guys use to pummel the truth out of people. I hear sodium pentothal is pretty amazing...” On and on.
   The high point of the day was to watch the concluding half of the Ken Burns Lewis and Clark documentary. An amazing story, I’m surprised no one has made a movie out of it. It’s got everything needed to make a great film. Action, adventure, fascinating characters, hardship,  beneficial interaction with foreign cultures, hostile interaction with foreign cultures, history, bigotry, prejudice, perseverance, success, humanity, porn. It tells a much larger story then that which is presented.
   I shall look into producing this. 
   I had not known that Merriweather Lewis had died by his own hand. Suffering from some sort of nervous breakdown he shot himself twice, in the head and chest, at the same time, using two guns. 
   You have to admire someone who knows how to do a job well.
   I read from “Tick Tock,” before drifting off to sleep. I dreamt I was riding in a canoe with Kate Winslet and Rachel Weisz, the beautiful and talented stars of “Titanic,” and “The Mummy,” respectively. We rowed down the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, looking for the ocean. I was dressed in racoon pants and a bearskin coat.
   “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, Mr. Richard?” Kate asked me.
   “For what?”
   “For wearing all of that fur,” chimed in Rachel.
   “Well, no not really. It’s kinda chilly, and this is just a drea...”
   “We’d rather go naked than wear fur,” they both said simultaneously.
   “Oh really. Well I...”
   “If you don’t take off those furs right now we’re both going to strip naked,” Rachel said. They both looked rather determined. 
   “Are you sure?” I asked.
   “Very sure,” Kate affirmed.
   “Well do what you have to do.”
   So they both took off all of their clothes, and then grabbed me and threw me overboard where I was summarily set upon by a pack of rabid beavers. 
   “Pass me the sun block dear,” was the last thing I heard from Rachel as I went under.

14  August      Thursday     Day 33

   Approximately 37 emergency vehicles sped past my room’s window, at irregular intervals during the early morning hours, sirens, bells, and bugles a blasting, insuring absolutely no chance of sleep for those of us who live here. Horns were added to the cacophony, as the vehicles approached and traversed the intersection of 6th St. and San Pedro. Not long sonorous notes, but bleating spurting blasts of sound designated to wake sleeping people, and disturb those who are sick.
   Their sirens are actually, physically hurting my ears, and probably damaging my hearing.
   I may have to sue the fire department. They could travel up and down San Julian just as easily. Of course San Julian dead ends at 5th, and a lot of homeless people would be in their way, but what the hell, share the burden.
   Still sick, I slept through my 8:00 appointment with Larry the job developer. He would later complain to Labren that I had not kept the appointment, the little weasel bastard. Well two people have to agree to the appointment for it to be valid, and I still owe him a stand up.
   My cold had progressed, growing stronger before it will inevitably (I hope) succumb to my invincible immune system.  
   I was achy, had sniffles, and my back was sore. I needed a small Japanese woman to walk on it for me. I had to blow my nose quite often. My voice sounded strange to me, muffled, because my ears were not equalizing pressure properly.
   Nevertheless, when I got tired of hearing the sirens run past (and the bells, and the whistles, and the horns), I showered, and fixed myself a nice tuna and mayo sandwich for breakfast, thinking I still might get to Trimar.
   I signed in for yesterday and today at the front desk, then left the building and walked to the bus stop on 5th St.
   I took a bus to the library, getting there just before it opened. After it did open I searched the History Department high and low for suitable reference material on the Lewis and Clarke expedition of 1802. Other than the explorers actual journals I found nothing readily useful. What I needed really was something like a transcript of the Ken Burns documentary. If I wanted to continue with this project I would need to read those journals, and ferret out other background info, but not yet. I still need to envision the work, see if it’s viable, before anything else. I have other projects to worry about as well.
   After an hour and a half I left empty handed. 
   Around six minutes after 11:00, the closing proximity of the planet Mars caused a power line grid just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, to disconnect from the regional power grid, causing further problems first noticed in Lansing, Michigan, at two GM (General Motors) plants. Four seconds later power failed back in suburban Cleveland, cascading along the Ohio/Michigan grid, causing a third GM plant in Parma, Ohio to crash. At this point, fail safe procedures previously set in place failed to take the Ohio system off the national grid, causing major power outages throughout the northeast United States, affecting more than 45 million customers, and 10 million people in Ontario, Canada. This was the second most widespread power blackout in history, after the 1999 Southern Brazil blackout.
   Thanks a lot Mars!
   I met John Manzano on the bus going back to the Weingart. I had thought he might have left for good, headed to Camarillo and points north. No. He had met with Labren and a deal had been struck. He can still go to see his mom on the weekend, just not every weekend. 1 in 3 he told me.
   He also told me that he wasn’t feeling all that hot himself. He retired directly to his room when we got back. He came up to my room for some aspirin at around 6, then disappeared again.
   I spent the afternoon reading and writing, enjoying the power that was surging through the copper wires in the walls around me. NPR alerted me to the blackout in the east. It was receiving massive television coverage. Unfortunately for the reporters there is not a whole lot to report on during these kind of events, other than they didn’t believe it was caused by terrorists. 
   Many of the veterans here sitting in the common room watching T.V. got tired of their favorite shows, like “The Steve Harvey Show,” and “Texas Justice” (there’s a misnomer if I ever heard one) being preempted by the news, saying things like, “By golly, I know about it already, and am awfully sorry that it happened, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so let’s move on now and get back to ‘The Simpsons.’”
   later in the evening, after normal programming had resumed, I watched and taped, the movie, “Valentine,” starring Marley Shelton, Denise Richards, and Katherine Heigl, all lovely and talented young actresses. I was able to get a fairly decent copy, although I would later record over it because the movie sucked.
   And Katherine and Denise were killed.
   I did watch the channel 13 News at 11, with Lauren Sanchez and Rick Garcia, who I’m pretty sure hate each other.
   Anyway, my candidate for governor, Mary “Carey” Cook is getting plenty of publicity today debating with Gary Coleman, a fellow candidate and former child actor. She supports plastic surgery and the use of video cameras within the governor’s office, which I’m all for, although I don’t care for augmented breasts for females. Males, I don’t mind so much.
   I went to sleep after the news and was woken in a dream by Mary Carey and Katherine Heigl. We were in an apartment in Manhattan. I could see the lights of the city outside the sliding glass door that led to the balcony. The only furniture in the cool living room was the black Kubus sofa I was lying on, and a 84 inch Abbot rectangular zinc-top dining table and Baxton brown side chairs.    The two girls were standing right in front of me while I had been sleeping. 
   “Are you okay, Rick,” Katherine asked, looking concerned.
   “Yeah, sure. I’m okay.” I wiped the sleep off my face and looked back at the girls. 
   “You passed out when we started to take our clothes off,” Mary explained. “Do you want us to stop?”
   “Aaahhh, no. No, no, go right ahead. I’m alright. Go on, do what you were doing...”
   “You’re sure,” Katherine asked.
   “You won’t have a heart attack, or anything, will you?” Mary followed.
   “No, no. I’m fine,” I assured them.
   “Okay.” The girls smiled at each other and started to undress. Off came the blouses, then the mini-skirts. My God! What a great dream, I told myself.
   Just as they began undoing the clasps of their bras, which had been under considerable strain, the power failed. The room, the city outside, went completely dark.
   I couldn’t see anything for the rest of the dream.
   “Rick, where are you,” Katherine cried.
   “I can’t see you Rick,” Mary said, both of their sweet voices drifting off into the black distance.
   “We need comforting, Rick,” was the last I heard from them.

15   August      Friday       Day 34

   I woke just at 9:30 and felt modestly better. Still suffering from the usual symptoms of a summer cold, yet I no longer felt drained of energy. I didn’t feel lethargic either, and the last thing I wanted to do was stay in my lonely room for another day.
   Too late to worry about signing in I took a leisurely hot shower, dressed, and headed for the movies, taking my last $20 with me.
   I stopped at the 99 cent store at MacArthur Park, and bought two 20 once sodas for $1.18, but they had no pre-popped popcorn. No popcorn! I shall have to sue (I want to sue everybody lately). Now I will be forced to buy popcorn at the theater for $5.00. $5.00!
   Do you know how much it cost the theater to make that popcorn, including overhead? $0.19.
   Get over it Joyce.
   Next I left for City Walk, which overlooks Universal Studios, currently up for sale to the highest bidder. It looks like NBC (National Broadcasting Company) might get it, which would be great, I think. Better than those French Vivendi people, or the Canadian alcohol peddlers, or some big multinational defense contractor. That would be terrible.
   I wanted to see Kevin Costner’s new film, “Open Range,” starring the lovely and talented Annette Bening. The precarious scheduling of the films showtimes did not allow me to easily view it. I would have to wait over an hour and that could not be allowed. I opted to see “Pirates of the Caribbean,” again, probably the best studio produced film I’ve seen this year.
   So far.
   I enjoyed it very much relishing the performances of Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, 17 year old Keira Knightley, and Elf Boy Orlando Bloom, and all of the rest of the actors and actresses. Well realized by the director, Gore Verbinski, of “Mousehunt,” fame, the film features some great visuals lasting only a few seconds, like the Black Pearl firing on the fort, or the keel of one of the ships seen from underwater.
   I have one question though. If Capt. Barbossa was shot by Jack Sparrow before the curse was lifted, why did he die a moment later when Will Turner (no relation to Janine) released the medallion? I mean if he was undead when he was shot, it wouldn’t affect him when he was returned to life a moment later, would it? The laws of paranormal physics must be adhered to!
   Similarly, in “Freddy vs Jason,” the next film I accidentally walked into, starring the beautiful and talented Monica Keena, Freddy was supposedly pulled out of Dreamland (a place I am intimately familiar with) and into the real world where that 11 year old monstrosity, Jason, would be allowed to have his way with him. Now I didn’t realize that was possible. It never happened in any of the other “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” films, as far as I can tell. 
   However I did enjoy this bloodbath despite some asinine character turns. At one point Monica and her boyfriend are discussing the horrific turn of events which have materialized within their world, a discussion one would think would be of paramount importance to their personal survival, when Monica’s girlfriend walks by and says, and I believe this is verbatim, “Let’s stop all this bullshit talk and go shake our asses” meaning she wanted to go dancing (fortunately Jason killed her later in the film). 
   Now dancing is important. It gives women a chance to release pent up sexual tensions without having to put out. However, and this is only my humble opinion, I would give precedence to a strategic discussion concerning personally surviving attacks from two, not one, but two, supernaturally revived, undead, apparently unstoppable, homicidal slashers, over a stray chance to shake my booty. 
   But that’s just me.
   I must admit to not having seen a single “Friday the 13th,” incarnation. I have seen most of the Freddy Kruger films. Although a fan of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” franchise, I’m not a real big devotee of the Slash and Dash genre. It’s a bit too blatant for my taste. Peek-a-boo sexual images of adolescent girls mixed with scenes of explicit violence, is a little too whacky for my mentally defective, unstable mind.
   Why did I go see it then?
   Because it was there, that’s why. I’ll see it if it’s not too inconvenient. All I’m saying is that I’m not a big fan of slasher flicks.
   It was fun to see Jason and Freddy beat the hell out of each other though. I can’t wait for Michael Myers vs Godzilla. 
   I got out of the theater at around 4:15, going back to the Weingart in time for dinner. I sat next to Charles Carter and Gary Porch, the bruises on his face having markedly subsided. He had gotten into another “arranged” boxing match with the Hispanics who hang out near MacArthur Park. Why, I don’t know. To prove he can still box I suppose, and to make sure he can still get the shit kicked out of him.
   Today he was bitching about how broke he was because he couldn’t work at Labor Ready because he didn’t feel up to it because he had gotten the shit kicked out of him. He was out of cigarettes he said, the poor boy, and was reduced to selling some of his  property again.
   I told him I might be interested in buying his radio/tape player for $10 tomorrow, if I was able to donate plasma. My CD/tape player’s “Record” function does not work. 
   Later I tried to tape the dull movie, “Gattaca,” on CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System), but couldn’t get good enough reception to save my life, which really pissed me off. Although dull, the film’s subject matter is significant, and it had Ernest Borgnine in it, and it has historical significance to me personally due to the fact that when I first saw it theatrically it was my birthday and I was with a beautiful girl friend from work, the lovely and talented Arlene C. 
   I don’t know where she’s at now. I do have a picture of her in my wallet from when we went to Knott’s Scary Farm one Halloween. 
   I quit that job just before they were going to fire me. Such is life. 
   I finished reading Koontz’s “Tick Tock,” his attempt to mix screwball comedy with a supernatural thriller. Harvey the Pooka as maniacal voodoo demon. I enjoyed it, although I found the whole premise rather unlikely (an evil Vietnamize demon creature bursts out of a rag doll with the sole purpose of killing the protagonist before dawn growing larger and more dangerous every minute). 
   I liked the characters, and Koontz left the story painfully ready for a sequel. What about it Dean? Shall we see Del, Tommy, and Scottie once again?
   I went to sleep a little after midnight and dreamt I was at Knotts Scary Farm with Arlene C. walking through one of their famous haunted tunnels just before Halloween. Arlene was so sacred by the sudden and unexpected events, sounds, and pictures of ghostly apparitions that she held on to my back so tightly it hurt. Turning a sharp corner, the scary sound effects changed to the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song, and Keira Knightley ran up to me and Arlene pursued by two bloodthirsty pirates bent on dishonoring the fair lass. 
   “Oh please help me kind sir,” she implored. “These beasts wish to befoul me me thinks!”
   “Why certainly, my dear,” I told her. “Fear not.”
   I picked up a sharp and shiny sword that happened to be lying on the ground nearby, and made quick work of the two rapscallions. 
   “Oh, thank you sir,” Keira gushed. “How can I ever repay you?”
   “I’ll think of something,” I told her. “But first let me get both of you lovely ladies out of this evil den.”
   We proceeded further through the tunnels looking for the closest exit. 
   At one sharp turn we ran smack into Monica Keena.
   “Oh my God!” she cried. “I’m being chased by Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger! Please save me!”
   “No problem,” I told her. Freddy and Jason, tired of beating each other to a pulp, were coming after what they thought was easy prey. I walked up to the two undead bastards and karated them back to hell were they belonged.
   “Oh God,” Monica shouted. “How can I ever thank you?”
   “I’ll think of something,” I assured her. “But first, let’s get out of here.”
   We eventually found our way out of there. Arlene, standing at my side said, “I didn’t think we’d ever get out. My heart’s beating so fast! Here feel...” She placed my hand over her chest so I could feel how frightened she had become.
   “Yes, I see,” I told her. “How about you Keira? How are you holding up?”
   “My heart’s racing too. See...” She grabbed my hand from Arlene and placed it upon her own  bosom.      
    “Why yes, I feel it. You are quite excited aren’t you?”
   “Me too,” cried Monica, taking hold of my other hand and placing it over her beating heart. 
   “Well everything’s fine now ladies. Nothing more to fear. I am here to protect you.”
   The three lovely women crowded up to me to deliver well deserved hugs and kisses when Godzilla came out of nowhere and stepped on the four of us, reducing us to the consistency of mashed peas.
   God damn it!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Labor Day 2, the Waltons

A multinational corporation (MNC) or multinational enterprise (MNE) is a corporation that is registered in more than one country or that has operations in more than one country. It is a large corporation which both produces and sells goods or services in various countries. It can also be referred to as an international corporation.
 They play an important role in globalization. Arguably, the first multinational business organization was the Knights Templar, founded in 1120. After that came the British East India Company in 1600 and then the Dutch East India Company, founded March 20, 1602, which would become the largest company in the world for nearly 200 years. -Wikipedia

   He is said to have began his work day at 4:30 each morning. I begin mine at 3:45, so I’ve got him beat by a good 45 minutes.
   Some capitalists might say he put his time to better use as at the time of his death in 1992 of bone marrow cancer he was worth a cool  $65 billion dollars, American. Some lists have him at the 24th richest person in the history of the planet.
   He left his fortune to his widow (Helen, who passed away in 2007 of heart failure) and four children (John Walton was killed in a plane crash in 2005. The surviving children are Rob, Jim, and Alice Walton, pictured above).
   I’m not dead yet, but my current total net worth is about... $446.52, Mexican pesos.
   Samuel Moore Walton (he liked to be called Sam) was born in 1918, in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. About a year and a half before my dad. He lived there with his parents on their farm until 1923. Sam’s dad, Thomas, decided farming was not profitable enough to raise a family so he decided to go back to farm mortgaging, in which he repossessed other families farms during the Great Depression.
   So we have Thomas Walton to be thankful for being one of the influences prompting John Steinbeck to pen “The Grapes of Wrath.”
   Chased out of Oklahoma by vindictive farm owners, the Walton family moved around throughout the country for a few years, eventually settling in Columbia, Missouri, about 130.5 miles from where my mother was growing up in Kansas City. I don’t think Sam and my mom knew each other, at least she never mentioned it (she did know James Garner and Robert Conrad, the famous actors, but that’s a whole different story, and I wish I’d stay on point. Jesus! I suffer from WMS, Wandering Mind Syndrome).
   Sam was the youngest Eagle Scout in Missouri’s history.
   It being the Great Depression and all Sam did what he could to help make money for the rest of his family (he now had a younger brother, James, born in 1921), by milking the family’s cow, bottling the surplus and selling it, delivering newspapers (just as I did at one time), and selling magazine subscriptions.
    He attended the University of Missouri in the ROTC (Reserve Officer’s Training Corps) program. He waited tables in exchange for meals. He graduated in 1940 with a Bachelor's of Economics degree.
   Three days after he graduated he got a job at J.C. Penney’s (founded by another Missourian, James Cash Penney) as a management trainee in Des Moines, Iowa, for $75 a month. He also worked in a DuPont munitions plant near Tulsa, Oklahoma (which probably wasn’t as safe as it sounds. The DuPont family had a history of their powder plants blowing up), about 139 miles from where he was born.
   Sam married Helen Robson on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1943.The daughter of a prosperous rancher, she graduated from the University of Oklahoma at Norman with a degree in business.
   At one point in her life she was the richest American, and the eleventh richest woman in the world.
   He had a degree in economics. She had one in business. He was a guy, She was a girl. They both came from Oklahoma... the two were made for each other.
   After the United States joined the Allied Forces in World War II, Sam joined the U.S. Army  Intelligence Corps, supervising security at aircraft plants and prisoner of war camps at Fort Douglas just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, from 1943 to 1945. He ended up with the rank of Captain, and never saw combat.
   My father ended up with the rank of Sargent, and participated in the Battle of the Bulge, which was a famous battle in Europe close to the end of the war there (afterwards we would still have to deal with the Japanese who had been rather obstreperous by bombing Pearl Harbor), and the costliest battle in terms of casualties for our country. They even made a movie out of it starring Henry Fonda (“The Newsroom’s” Jane Fonda’s late father), Telly Savalas, Charles Bronson, and Robert Shaw, the shark catcher guy from “Jaws.”  
   I’m not disparaging Sam for not seeing combat and getting shot at. That’s pretty smart if you ask me, and it probably wasn’t up to him anyway.
   After leaving the Army at the age of 26 Sam decided to start his own retail business. He had saved $5,000 from his army days, and borrowed $20,000 from his rich father-in-law, and then  bought  a Ben Franklin variety store in Newport, Arkansas. The store was a franchise of the Butler Brothers chain, one of the largest wholesalers in the country at the time (that was using some innovative techniques like making weekly shipments from their warehouses, where tens of thousands of items were kept in inventory, unlike many of the other franchises).
   As a member in the Butler Brothers’ franchise system Sam was required to buy his merchandise directly from Butler Brothers, and was not allowed to sell anything that wasn’t approved by them, nor could he change the price he charged his customers.
   Always the renegade, Sam decided to ignore the Butler Brothers’ rules.
   Sam initiated the Walton system of looking for manufacturers that would sell to him directly at a lower price. This allowed him to save money and generate higher profits.
   Unlike his competition, he was not afraid to innovate. He adapted customer self-service in his stores (at the time customers required the use of store attendants to make purchases. Sam let them browse through the store and pick out their own merchandise. This also gave rise to the modern Shoplifting Industry). He also utilized discount merchandising.
   By purchasing merchandise directly from manufacturers, marking up the price, and selling it in large quantities, he was able to increase his profits.
   But he needed more stores to make this work.
    Sam was a natural and ruthless competitor. He leased a space next door to his main competitor in Newport just so they could not expand, and opened his second store there. Thus begins a continuing practice of knocking out local rivals.
   Sam enjoyed a huge degree of success, with sales increasing annually from $80,00, to $225,000 in three years. However, his landlord informed him of his intent not to renew Sam’s lease on the stores and he decided to move out with a year still on the lease and find a new location. He sold the inventory to the store’s owner for $50,000, and with that money negotiated the purchase of a small store, and the space next to it, in Bentonville Arkansas, with a 99 year lease, having learned a lesson from his loss of the first store.
    The  Bentonville "Five and Dime" opened for business on May 9th, 1950.
    Utilizing his new marketing and inventory control techniques he had developed, Walton was able to keep his prices relatively low, which increased his sales almost exponentially (as any second grader knows, exponential growth occurs when the growth rate of the value of a mathematical function is proportional to the function's current value).
   So now Sam had two stores operating about 255 miles apart, which continued to rake in large profits. He learned how to delegate authority in daily operations and needed to expand. He and brother James (he liked to be called Bud. I don’t know why) began to spend a good deal of time scouting potential store locations, so much so that they bought a small airplane to help them in their efforts (Bud had been a pilot in the navy during the war. Sam and his son John would become accomplished pilots (John, a professional ex-crop-duster among other things, died on June 27, 2005 when his CGS Hawk Arrow homebuilt aircraft, that he was piloting, crashed in Jackson, Wyoming, shortly after takeoff. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the crash was due to improper repairs John had made himself on the rear locking collar on the elevator control torque tube, the result being his inability to control his altitude).
   By 1962, along with Bud, he owned 16 stores in Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas (fifteen Ben Franklins and one independent, in Fayetteville, AK)
   Yet Sam was still restricted in his ability to run the stores independently of the Butler Brothers rules. He asked Butler Brothers to cut their margins by fifty percent to maximize discount marketing. The franchiser declined so he decided to strike out on his own.
   The first true Wal-Mart opened on July 2, 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas. It was called the Wal-Mart Discount City store and located at 719 West Walnut Street. It was built with the help of borrowed money. Like their Five and Dime, Wal-Mart was a self-service discount store that sold clothes, makeup, housewares, appliances, jewelry, and home furnishings. The store flourished.
   Within a few years, Sam and Bud opened Wal-Mart stores in other small towns across Arkansas and Missouri (contrary to what other discount store chains were doing, Sam decided to locate his stores in smaller towns, not larger cities). Two of the company’s key slogans were “We Sell for Less” and “Satisfaction Guaranteed.” Together these two guiding principles helped build Wal-Mart into a nationwide chain.
   Sam emphasized “logistics,” locating his stores within a day's drive from his regional warehouses, and distributed through its own trucking service. He continued to buy in volume and efficient delivery permitted sale of discounted name brand merchandise.
   Wal-Mart continued to grow almost exponentially, from 1977‘s 190 stores to 1980‘s 800, to 2011‘s 8,970 locations, including 15 international markets  in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, the United Kingdom, and Vatican City, where the Catholic Church gets a discount on large quantities of pre-blessed, scented Holy Water.
   Wikipedia tells us:
   “Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., branded as Walmart, is an American multinational retail corporation that runs chains of large discount department stores and warehouse stores. The company is the world's second largest public corporation [according to this list Royal Dutch Shell holds the 1st position], according to the Fortune Global 500 list in 2013, the biggest private employer in the world with over two million employees, and is the largest retailer in the world. Walmart remains a family-owned business, as the company is controlled by the Walton family, who own a 48 percent stake in Walmart. It is also one of the world's most valuable companies.
The company was founded by Sam Walton in 1962, incorporated on October 31, 1969, and publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange in 1972. It is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas. Walmart is also the largest grocery retailer in the United States. In 2009, it generated 51 percent of its US$258 billion sales in the U.S. from grocery business. It also owns and operates the Sam's Club retail warehouses in North America.”
   Walmart employs one percent of the American public.
   The largest Walmart store in the world is in Albany, New York. It is more than 250,000 square feet, which is about one-fourth larger than a regular Walmart Supercenter.
   Wal-Mart Supercenters are so big they can be seen from outer space (anything can be seen from outer space if you look hard enough).
   In 1985 Forbes magazine named Sam the wealthiest man in the United States, a declaration that seemed to irritate him more than anything else. “All that hullabaloo about somebody’s net worth is just stupid, and it’s made my life a lot more complex and difficult,” he said.
   His vehicle of choice was a red 1985 Ford pickup. He lived with Helen in the same house in Bentonville, Missouri, since 1959.
   In 1987 Sam and his wife, Helen, established the Walton Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization. The foundation was created to support K-12 education and economic development in northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta region.
   Sam displayed little interest in the social functions of the fashionably rich. On business trips that often included visits to six Wal-Mart stores in a day, he rented subcompact cars and spent nights at budget motels, or in the homes of store managers. He was notoriously absent-minded. Driving once, he was distracted by counting cars in a competing store's parking lot and rammed into the rear of a Wal-Mart tractor trailer. No one was hurt.
   He remained the chairman of Wal-Mart until his death. He relinquished the titles of president and chief executive in 1988. He retired briefly from the chief executive's post in 1974 but reclaimed it two years later.
   Sam’s eldest son, Samuel Robson "Rob" Walton, is currently Chairman of the company, worldwide. He has three children from his first marriage to Melani Lowman, whom he divorced to marry Carolyn Funk of Grand Funk Railroad fame. They divorced in 2000. Forbes estimates his current wealth at $33.3 billion dollars making him the 9th richest person in the United States.
   Sam’s daughter Alice is  a board member of the Walton Family Foundation. She has been active on the Board of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences at Little Rock and the Board of Advisors for the University of Arkansas Graduate Business School at Fayetteville. She is a avid art collector, founding  the Alice Walton's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2011. She has been involved in at least three automobile accidents, in one  causing the death of 50-year-old Oleta Hardin, who had stepped onto a road. No charges were filed. Alice has been suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol on two occasions. She was married briefly while in her twenties, but divorced. Her current worth is $33.5 billion dollars, making her 8th richest person in the United States and the 2nd richest woman in the U.S.
   Jim Walton, Sam’s youngest son, is the Chairman of Arvest Bank, a subsidiary of Wal-Mart, though operated separately. He has four children by his wife Lynne McNabb Walton, and still resides in Bentonville (as does Rob). He is currently worth is $33.8 billion dollars, making him the 7th richest man in the country.
   James “Bud” Walton, Sam’s brother, owned 20 million shares of Wal-Mart stock and was a senior vice president until his death following surgery for an aneurysm in Miami, Florida on March 21, 1995, at the age of 73. He left his wealth to his two daughters.
   His youngest daughter, Nancy Walton Laurie, is currently worth 4 billion dollars, making her the 110th richest person in the United States. She likes ballet and is the owner of the Columbia Performing Arts Centre, a dance studio located in Columbia, Missouri. One has to do something with one’s time I suppose.
   Her older sister, Ann Walton Kroenke, is currently worth 4.7 billion dollars, making her the 95th richest person in the country. Her husband, Stan Kroenke, is a real estate developer and majority owner of the Saint Louis Rams (NFL), Arsenal F.C. (Premier League, English football (soccer)) Denver Nuggets (NBA), Colorado Avalanche (NHL), Colorado Rapids (Major League Soccer), and Colorado Mammoth (National Lacrosse League).
   Remember John Walton? Sam’s son who died in a plane crash? Well he had a wife who’s name is Christy, who is a philanthropist giving to organizations such as The Philanthropy Roundtable, The San Diego Natural History Museum where she is a board member, as well as the San Diego Zoological Society and the Mingei International Museum. She is the 6th richest person in the U.S., the richest woman in the U.S., and the richest woman in the world with a current worth of $35.4 billion dollars.  
   Let me add this up... let’s see, zero, carry the ought, times 12, plus 33, divided by the exponential growth factor, comes out to be about $144.7 billion dollars, making them the richest family in the world that there is detailed information available (the Rothschild and Rockefeller family fortunes are difficult to discern but estimated to be greater than that of the Waltons).
   Michael Terry Duke is the current President and CEO of Wal-Mart, and is flat broke. He’s probably embezzling money hand over fist as I write this.
    “Though he was generally admired, Walton’s success was not without its critics. A 1995 article published in Economic Development Review revealed that, in thirty-four small communities studied, small businesses in towns with a Wal-Mart suffered cumulative sales declines of 25.4 percent after five years, while towns lacking a Wal-Mart lost 12.9 percent of their general merchandise sales in the first year a Wal-Mart opened in a neighboring town. Other studies suggest that the increased cost of roads, water, sewage, telephone, and other services installed in Wal-Mart locations exceeds the sales and property tax revenues collected from new stores. In efforts to protect their home-grown businesses and cultures, dozens of municipalities have lobbied hard to keep Wal-Mart out of their towns. While many consumers, particularly in the South, were grateful to Wal-Mart for serving small rural markets, others feared for the survival of their local merchants and economies. The editor of the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger wrote on June 3, 1990, ‘Is it really worth saving a few bucks to virtually destroy the heart and soul of our small town business community?’
   In an effort to keep labor costs low, Wal-Mart pioneered the use of part-time and temporary help, thus eliminating such overhead as employee health benefits and overtime. Some employees have accused Wal-Mart of demanding “off-the-clock” work, as well. Wal-Mart has been sued for gender discrimination and accused of profiting from the use of third-world sweatshops.” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture
   A month before his death President George H. W. Bush presented Sam Walton with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, for his contributions to business and commerce.
   "If we work together," Walton said at the time, "we'll lower the cost of living for everyone...we'll give the world an opportunity to see what it's like to save and have a better life."
   In the next installment of this post we will examine the “better life” Sam promised, the better life of his own employees.
   We’ll discuss some other things as well. In the meantime here’s a recipe for the best macaroni salad ever.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Happy Birthday Catherine Zeta Jones!

 “I kept thinking 'Thank God I have long hair in this movie”

Picture Legend:

1. Catherine Zeta Jones
2. Real young Catherine
3. Aspiring actress
4. First acting job, first movie, first female lead as Scheherazade
5. As Mariette in “The Darling Buds of May”
6. With John Cleese in “Splitting Heirs”
7. Coming to the States in “Young Indiana Jones”
8. “Blue Juice” with a pre-”Trainspotting” Ewan McGregor
9. “The Phantom” with pre-"Titanic" Billy Zane
10. With Peter Gallagher in TVs “Titanic”
11. As Elena in “The Mask of Zorro” with Antonio Banderas & Anthony Hopkins
12. In “Entrapment” with Sean... oooppps, sorry
13. In “Entrapment” with Sean Connery
14. “The Haunting”
15. Glamour shot
16. Wedding picture
17. With Randy Quaid in “Traffic”
18. “America’s Sweethearts”
19. With Renee Zellweger and a Academy Award for “Chicago”
20. Working with Tom Hanks & that Spielberg guy in “The Terminal”
21. With that Pitt guy in “Ocean’s 12“
22. Publicity shot with Guy Pierce and Saoirse Ronan for “Death Defying Acts”
23. Dancing again in “Rock of Ages”
24. Captivating Gerard Butler in “Playing for Keeps”
25. Chilling in “Side Effects”
26. Working with Hopkins  and Willis again in “Red 2“
27. With Michael last April
28. Out and about in Beijing last Sunday (9-21-20013)

   It is my great pleasure and honor to give a great big happy birthday shout out this morning to one of my favorite actresses, Ms Catherine Zeta Jones!
   Her husband, Michael Douglas, the famous actor, is also celebrating his birthday today. He’s 25 years older than his wife. Happy birthday to you as well Mike, and congratulations on your Emmy Award last Sunday, but we’re going to concentrate on Catherine today because frankly, she’s so much more prettier than you are, so please go away for a little while until we’re finished. Thank you for your cooperation... cradle robber.
   Much like Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, and Christian Bale, and many others, Catherine was born in Wales, which is part of Great Britain, as well as England to the east, and Scotland to the north. Like the three actors mentioned above, she was born at a very early age as a small infant (at 2:40 PM (Middle European Time), but in the city of Swansea (pronounced “swan - sea”) specifically (I don’t know what cities those three guys were born in (Pontrhydyfen, Margam, and Haverfordwest respectively)), which lies on the southwest coast and was known for it’s copper, so much so that some people called it  'Copperopolis' behind it’s back.
   The Germans liked to bomb it during World War II, but that was way before Catherine’s time.
   One of my favorite poets, Dylan Thomas was also born in Swansea, on another shared birthday, mine! October 27th, but 41 years before me.
   I once stagemanaged his radio play, adapted for the stage, “Under Milkwood,” when I was in college (one of the few classes I was able to get through).
   Catherine was aware that Mr. Thomas was born in her home town and later honored him by naming her production company  Milkwood Films, which is based in Swansea.
   But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little. Let’s slow down and take a deep breath.
   Okay, Catherine’s mom, Patricia, was a seamstress of Welsh-Irish descent, and her dad,  David (“Dai") James Jones, a sweet-factory operator and/or owner, is pure Welsh. Catherine got her first name from her mother’s mom, whose name was also Catherine. She got her middle name Zeta from her dad’s mom, who was named after either the 6th letter of the Greek alphabet, or a company that makes high performance parts for dirt bikes. Or something else. Oh yes, here it is. Grandma was named after a boat seen in Swansea Harbor, that was itself named after the 6th letter of the Greek alphabet, or a company that makes high performance parts for dirt bikes. In any case that name would later help set her apart from other actresses who were named Catherine Jones (I remember seeing Catherine and Michael  on television at a special taping of “Saturday Night Live,” where Bill Murray was doing a bit, singing a song while going through the celebrity filled audience. He would stop singing at points and speak to one audience member or another, and he came up to the couple, looking fondly down at them. “Oh Catherine,” he crooned. “That name...” Catherine smiling said “I know, Zeta...” “Jones,” Murray threw out while moving on).
   Ms Jones has two brothers. Her younger brother, Lyndon, is a film producer working at Milkwood Films and acts as Catherine’s personal manager, and her older brother David is either a stuntman or a development executive depending on what source is used. Maybe he’s both.
   Or neither. It’s only important to David, so let’s move on.
   Catherine was born in Swansea but grew up in the nearby seaside town of Mumbles, which was named after a character in the Dick Tracy comics.
   Wales has it’s very own language other than English, just like the Irish (Gaelic), and Scotland (Scottish Gaelic). In Wales the language is called Welsh, which is, oddly enough,  named after an American grape drink.
   Catherine knows how to speak Welsh of course, as well as English, and just for good measure Spanish and French too.
   Catherine began taking dancing lessons when she was four years old, displaying a natural talent to perform, and by the time she was ten was participating regularly with her church sponsored theater group. She dreamed of being a professional dancer.
   She attended Dumbarton House School in Swansea, which no longer exists. It was torn down in 1993 to make way for new apartments. While at that school however, one of her classmates, Rob Brydon, who would later become a successful actor and comedian, stole poor little Catherine’s lunch money! How rude. He even admitted to the deed on national television!
   This monster would in time be rewarded by the Queen of England by being given the title of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Son of a bitch!
   Catherine would exact her revenge by being awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2010 Queen's Birthday Honours List for her accomplishments in film and television, which is two orders senior to Brydon’s MBE, but one shy of earning the title “Dame.”
   “As a British subject, I feel incredibly proud, at the same time it is overwhelming and humbling. And my mum and dad are delighted beyond belief,” Catherine would later say.
   If I were her I’d charge Brydon the principle, plus interest, which according to my calculations comes to about, let’s see... 476,345 pounds and 43 pence. Pay up Brydon!
   Catherine unfortunately was exposed to a viral infection as a child which impaired her breathing, and caused her to receive a tracheotomy. Her illness caused her to miss quite a bit of school, and upon her recovery her parents, who had won a local lottery to help pay for it, enrolled her in a private school to help her catch up on her studies.  
   Nothing kept Catherine from pursuing her dreams. She began acting when she was eleven. She was cast in the lead in “Annie,” in a production at the Swansea Grand Theatre, which marked her professional acting career, and at age thirteen, starred in a West End production of the musical "Bugsy Malone,” which was based on a 1976 British musical gangster film, a genre Catherine would explore again a few years later in the film “Chicago.”
   Every Sunday morning for 15 years, Catherine’s dad woke her up to Elvis Presley singing "American Trilogy" or Van Morrison's "Moondance," which of course prompted her to move to London, where she got her Actor’s Guild card. In 1986, at age seventeen she got a part in the chorus of “The Pajama Game,” at the Haymarket Theatre, in Leicester. The show subsequently toured throughout the United Kingdom. The very next year she suspiciously won the lead role of Peggy Sawyer in the musical “42nd Street,” after both the original actress cast in that role, and her understudy, mysteriously fell ill. What a fortuitous coincidence.
   Anyway, Catherine continued to develop her craft.
   “I didn't even think about movies where I came from. I wanted to be on the stage. When I was ten, I did Annie in the West End. I did Bugsy Malone when I was eleven and twelve. And then at sixteen, David Merrick saw me in “42nd Street.” I took over the lead and he cast me. I was there for two and a half years. Right now, these young kids are going crazy. I never had that because I had a work ethic. I had to turn up and be there six nights a week.”
     She also played Mae Jones in the Kurt Weill opera “Street Scene” with the English National Opera at the London Coliseum Theatre in 1989.
   And like most actresses, Catherine was spotted working in a production by a famous film director and offered the female lead in their next film.
   In Catherine’s case the film director was Philippe de Broca, who had been making movies in France since 1959. He saw Catherine working in the West End Theatre and offered her not only her first film role, but also the female lead.
   The film was 1990's “Les 1001 Nuits,” which for all of us who speak French know translates to “One Thousand and One Nights.” or “Kitāb alf laylah wa-laylah,” in Arabic. The film is loosely based on a story from the “Arabian Nights,” specifically the tale of Scheherazade.
   Catherine plays Scheherazade, the wife of an Arabian king who likes virgin wives, one at a time. After he deviginizes one wife he has her executed at sunrise, and then goes on to the next. One would wonder why any woman would accept this king’s proposal for marriage. Yet it’s good to be king I guess, and women in the Middle East have little personal power. Anyway, Scheherazade marries the king, but delays the usual fate of his brides by putting off the connubial event for a thousand and one nights, telling irresistible stories that are unfinished when the sun rises.
   As I said, it’s loosely based, as there’s a contemporary genie involved, who helps Scheherazade by giving her modern technological stuff like parachutes, on and on. A montage of Catherine in this film is right here.
   “Les 1001 Nuits,” was shot in France,  Morocco, and Tunisia, and production ended on August 1, 1989. The film was released in Paris in 1990 and sold 29,340 tickets in its first week. At the end of its theatrical run in Paris, it sold a total of 72,409 tickets, then it was released on VHS.
   The film did not propel Catherine to instant stardom, still Catherine was now a bonafide movie actress.
   She returned to England and won the role of Mariette Larkin, the eldest daughter of a rural family in the British television series “The Darling Buds of May.” Here’s a clip.
   The show ran for three seasons (1991 through1993), and made Catherine one of the most popular actresses in Britain.
   Now Catherine was a bonafide, successful television actress.
   She worked on other projects during the “The Darling Buds of May,” years. As a singer she  portrayed Palene, the beautiful Thracian prophetess and woman of Spartacus, in Jeff Wayne's 1992 musical version of "Spartacus." This project would mark the first time she would work with fellow Welsh person Anthony Hopkins (fresh off of his Academy Award winning portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, in ”Silence of the Lambs”).
   Catherine more than likely didn’t know it at the time but her future father-in-law had some success in a film version of “Spartacus” some 32 years prior to this performance.
   She worked with 1/3 of Monty Python... John Cleese and Eric Idle, as well as Rick Moranis, and the lovely Barbara Hershey, in “Splitting Heirs.” I just happen to have a clip right here.
   And the American historical production of “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery,” in which she appeared with Marlon Brando, Tom Selleck, and a young Benicio del Toro, in his fourth film. Catherine and Benicio would later work together again in something called “Traffic.”
   The film was a big flop at the box office costing $45 million to make, and bringing in $8.25 mill. Maybe it had something to do with that title.
   In 1994 she made the move to right here where I live, Los Angeles, because that’s where the work was, although later she would say, “ I could never see myself living in Hollywood unless I really had to, it's not really my kind of place.”  
   We here at Joyce’s Take love her anyway.
   Of course she soon got more work in films. 1995‘s “Blue Juice,” with Ewan  McGregor, whose next film would include his breakout performance in “Trainspotting” (as well as director Danny Boyle, who would go on to make “Slumdog Millionaire”), and “The Phantom,” with Billy Zane, who would later appear in James Cameron’s “Titanic,” and another favorite actress of mine, the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kristy Swanson.
   Interestingly, Catherine’s next project was a two part American mini series, “Titanic,” in which she played opposite Peter Gallagher (who would later appear in “American Beauty”) and one of my favorite actors, George Campbell Scott, better known perhaps as George C Scott, who played the ill fated Capt. Edward J. Smith.
   I remember seeing this movie, although I don’t remember Catherine in it (sorry, I was probably drinking heavily at the time). The only thing I do remember is George C. Scott in character, after accessing the damage the ice burg had made and determining the ship was going to sink, saying, “We should have ran straight into it. There would have been less damage.”
   I believe that is true.
   As fortune would have it a young director (50 is kind of young, isn’t it? It is to me), whose last film at the time was something called “Schindler's List,” and whose next films would be “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” and “Amistad,” saw Catherine in “Titanic,” and noticed her (he probably hadn’t been drinking).  
   Steven Spielberg recommended her to director Martin Campbell (whose last film had been “GoldenEye,” Pierce Brosnan’s first try as James Bond), who was in pre-production of an action film featuring  Don Diego de la Vega, better known perhaps as Zorro (Spanish for “Fox”).    Campbell cast Catherine as Elena Montero, the female lead, alongside the Spanish actor Antonio Banderas, and Anthony Hopkins, in his second appearance with Catherine.
   The movie was called “The Mask of Zorro.” Catherine learned dancing, riding, sword-fighting and took part in dialect classes, and she was a big success.
   Variety magazine noted, "Zeta-Jones is bewitchingly lovely as the center of everyone's attention, and she throws herself into the often physical demands of her role with impressive grace." She won the Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Female Newcomer and received an Empire Award nomination for Best British Actress and a Saturn Award nomination for Best Actress.
   This was her breakout film. She had arrived. She was a full blown movie star.
   Variety noted she was the center of everyone’s attention, well she certainly got mine, as this was the first time that I became aware of her and took note.
   Someone else took note of her as well. The actor Michael Douglas, who was married at the time, but seeking a divorce, after seeing Catherine in Mask turned to a friend sitting next to him and said, "I don't know who she is, but I'm gonna marry that woman."
   I say that all of the time but nothing ever comes of it.
   That was in 1998. Now she started getting leading parts in big productions like the next year’s “Entrapment,” with Sean Connery, a film that kinda makes me cringe each time I see it because Sean and Catherine fool around on the outside of the Petronas Towers, in Kuala Lumpu, which at the time were the tallest buildings in the world, and I’m afraid of heights (they’re still the tallest twin buildings in the world). You can find a clip from this film right here.
   The next film I have to take issue with. Not with Catherine’s performance, she was great, as usual. But with the writing and directing, and production.
   As a kid one of the few films that genuinely scared the hell out of me was Robert Wise’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece, “The Haunting of Hill House.” The film was called “The Haunting,” and starred Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn, the lovely Claire Bloom, and the lovely Julia Harris, who just passed away last August, and who was memorialized last Sunday during the Emmy Awards.
   It was simple. There was no gratuitous violence. But it was scary as hell (for the time. I showed it to case managers Paul and Lovely Erin one time during Movie Day, and they kind of shrugged their shoulders, not very impressed. Of course they grew up with “The Exorcist,” and Freddy Kruger). In 2010, The Guardian newspaper ranked it as the 13th best horror film of all time. Director Martin Scorsese has placed “The Haunting” first on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time.
   Director Jan de Bont’s ( of “Speed 2: Cruise Control” fame) 1999 effort, however, was quite a different thing. The film had a great cast with Catherine, Liam Neeson, Owen Wilson, and the lovely Lili Taylor.  
   The movie was not well received.
   “The Haunting had a negative reception, with most critics citing its weak screenplay, its overuse of horror clichés, and its overdone CGI effects. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a "Rotten" rating of 17%, with the critical consensus stating "Sophisticated visual effects fail to offset awkward performances and an uneven script." Roger Ebert was one of few critics to give the film a positive review, praising the production design in particular. As a result of the negative reviews, it was nominated for five Razzie Awards. However, the film was a financial success, earning $91.2 million domestically and $177.3 million worldwide, with a budget of $80 million.” -Wikipedia
   “The Haunting,” probably broke about even after marketing and distribution costs were factored in, but rentals, and other forms of distribution most likely made it financially successful.
   Yet I have I have to agree with the writing (Lili screaming, “It’s all about family! It’a always been about family!”) and the CGI. I mean all I thought about while watching it was that was terrible CGI.
   Alright. Enough. The only other thing I have to say about this movie is this. See the picture above with Catherine and the rest of “The Haunting” cast? Well I think that’s what most audiences looked like while watching it.
   Danny DeVito introduced Catherine to his past co-star Michael Douglas, at the Deauville Film Festival in France in August of 1998. How Danny knew Catherine I have no idea. Apparently Michael said this to her, "I'd like to father your children." Oooh Yuck.
   They began dating in March of 1999. They became engaged in Aspen, Colorado, on the last day of 1999, just as Y2K was about to kick in. Catherine gave birth to their son Dylan Michael in August of 2000, and were married at the Plaza Hotel in New York City on the 18th of  November in 2000. I’ll bet you almost anything that that is Dylan Michael Michael is holding in the wedding picture above.
   Catherine‘s advice for married people, “For marriage to be a success, every woman and every man should have her and his own bathroom. The end.”
   Okay, personal business done, let’s get back to work.
   Before they got married Catherine and Michael were engaged. Don’t take my word for it, just look at the paragraph above the one directly above this one. So they might as well make a movie together, which they did. It was called “Traffic,” and they never appeared in the same scene. Catherine worked with Benicio Monserrate Rafael del Toro Sánchez, perhaps better known as Benicio del Toro again as well, but they never shared a scene either.
   The film was directed by Steven Soderbergh and won critical acclaim. Soderbergh even won an Academy Award for his efforts, as well as Benicio for Best Supporting Actor.
   Many think Catherine was robbed for not even being nominated for an Academy Award, including myself (she did win her her first Golden Globe nomination, as Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture, as well as many other nominations and acclaim). I mean she faked being pregnant so well... oh wait a second, she was pregnant. Little Dylan Michael was inside her throughout that movie. As a matter of fact they had to rewrite her part to account for her pregnancy. Here’s a short clip.
   Just four months after delivering Dylan, Catherine got back to work making “America’s Sweethearts,” with  Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal and John Cusack. Catherine and Julia played sisters because they look so much alike. Here’s a little montage from the film.  
   Many of you know I don’t care for musicals, at least movie musicals. Rarely do I see folks walking down the street and spontaneously break out into song and choreographed dance. It can happen, but it’s very rare (flash mobs notwithstanding).
   I have one exception and that is Bob Fosse musical’s. Give me “All That Jazz,” “Sweet Charity,” and “Cabaret,” all day and I’d be happy.
   Fosse also directed a musical adaptation of the 1926 play “Chicago,” written by Maurine Dallas Watkins, which was based on two unrelated 1924 cases of two women, Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, who were both suspected and later acquitted for murder. Well of course Bob wanted to make a musical out of that, wouldn’t you (actually he was bullied by his lovely wife, dancer/actress Gwen Verdon into making it)?
   And he did. “Chicago”  opened in 1975 at the 46th Street Theatre, and ran for 936 performances until 1977. Bob also choreographed the original production, and his distinctive, sexy, style is strongly identified with the show.
   FYI My father was born in Chicago.
   Many people are.
   Anyway, Fosse wanted to make a movie out of his stage production of “Chicago,” and it was to be his next project after making “Star 80“ in 1983. Unfortunately for all of us he passed away in 1987.
   However, Miramax Films took up the project and the result was 2002‘s “Chicago,” starring Catherine, the lovely Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, the lovely John C. Reilly, Christine Baranski, Mýa Marie Harrison, and Queen Latifah (all lovely), and directed and choreographed (Bob Fosse’s distinctive jazz choreography style is evident throughout the film. In particular, the parallels to “Cabaret,” are numerous and distinct. He is thanked in the film's credits) by Rob (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”) Marshall.
   Catherine (and everyone else in the movie) sang and danced. Until I saw this I had no idea she came from a musical background, and I was suitably impressed.
   Catherine was originally approached to play the part of Roxie, but wanted to play Velma Kelly instead because she liked the song "All That Jazz," which Velma sang, so Renee ended up winning the role of Roxie (and top billing).
   Here’s Catherine singing “All That Jazz.”
   “Chicago,” cost $45 million to make, and made $306,776,732 worldwide, so it was immensely successful (and profitable). The film won six Academy Awards in 2003, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Catherine Zeta Jones.
   Her old “Entrapment” friend, Sean Connery, presented her with the award.
   “ A Scotsman giving a Welsh girl an Oscar - oh my God!”
    The Seattle Post-Intelligencer stated, "Zeta-Jones makes a wonderfully statuesque and bitchy saloon goddess." Slate magazine also praised her performance, saying that she "has a smoldering confidence that takes your mind off her not – always – fluid dancing – although she's a perfectly fine hoofer, with majestic limbs and a commanding cleavage.”
   Majestic limbs and a commanding cleavage? Somebody’s mind is in the gutter.
   Catherine also won a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards, for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role and as a member of Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
   Having won an Academy Award now there was only one thing left to do.
   Carys Zeta Jones was born in April of 2003.
   In 2004, Catherine became the first T-Mobile Girl, making commercials for Deutsche Telekom AG, a German telecommunications company that is attempting to take over the world. The lovely Canadian model and actress Carly Foulkes would take over in 2010, until the company gave her the boot and replaced her with SNL’s Bill Hader.
   Anyway, Catherine’s next film project was 2004's “The Terminal,” along with Tom Hanks, and directed by the guy who got her the Zorro gig, Steven Spielberg.
   Tom’s character  Viktor Navorski fell in love with Catherine’s Amelia Warren, but like with most women, they just don’t know what’s best for them, and she went with the wrong guy. It’s very sad.
   Best line of the movie, “He sure does love that goat.”
   That year she also reunited with director Steven Soderbergh ( and actors Julia Roberts and Don Cheadle) in “Ocean's Twelve,” the sequel to 2001‘s “Ocean's Eleven,” which was a remake of 1960‘s “Ocean’s 11,” starring Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joey Bishop. “Ocean’s Twelve,” also had some other notable actors in it, namely George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Carl Reiner, among others.
   In 2005 she made a sequel to “The Mask of Zorro.” This time it was “The Legend of Zorro,” reuniting with Antonio Banderas.
   In 2007 she starred opposite Aaron Eckhart and the lovely Abigail Breslin in “No Reservations.” She promoted the film on the Letterman Show in which Dave pervs out on her hair here.      
   That year she also made “Death Defying Acts,” along with Guy Pearce and the lovely Saoirse Ronan, a tale of the last days of escape artist Harry Houdini, sort of, a film I saw just last Saturday. Very good.
   Back on the stage Catherine won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical in 2010 for her portrayal of Desiree in "A Little Night Music".
   She appeared in another musical film, along with Tom Cruise, “Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston, Paul Giamatti, Julianne Hough, and a whole bunch of other fine individuals in “Rock of Ages,” just last year.
   Another bout with Soderbergh in 2013's “Side Effects,” a psychological, murder mystery also starring “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s” Rooney Mara, Jude Law, and Channing Tatum.
   And another turn with Anthony Hopkins in this years “Red 2,” along with Bruce Willis, Brian Cox, and the lovely Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker, and John Malkovich.
   “In August 2010, Michael Douglas publicly revealed that he had been diagnosed with a dangerously advanced stage of throat cancer. Over the course of the next year, Douglas battled the disease aggressively - at one point losing as much as 32 pounds as a side-effect - and by early 2011 he announced that the tumor had been eliminated, much to the obvious relief of Zeta-Jones, who had foregone career opportunities in order to remain by her husband's side during the ordeal.Adding to the stress of the previous year was the incarceration of Douglas' long-troubled son, Cameron, who was sentenced to five years in prison for the possession of heroin and intended sale of methamphetamines.”
   Catherine admitted herself into Silver Hills Hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut on April 6, 2011 for a five-day treatment for Bipolar II Disorder before leaving the hospital on April 11, 2011.
   "I'm not the kind of person who likes to shout out my personal issues from the rooftops but, with my biopolar becoming public, I hope fellow sufferers will know it is completely controllable."
   Who knows what kind of strain Michael’s illness and recovery, and Catherine’s, places on a marriage? I don’t, that’s for sure.
   As of now the couple have announced they have separated, but no mention of divorce has been made.
   Last Sunday Michael thanked his wife and children for their support while accepting an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, for his portrayal of  the musician Liberace in “Behind the Candelabra.”
   The movie was directed by Steven Soderbergh.
   And Catherine seems to be doing well as evidenced in the last picture above.
   And all of us here wish her and her family continued good health and fortune, and of course a very happy birthday.
   Happy birthday Catherine!