Friday, September 26, 2014

Skid Row Diary 33

Month 4

11   October    2003     Saturday    Day  91

“When men make gods, there is no God!” Eugene O’Neill 

   I got up too late to walk with Ron. After meditating and exercise I cleaned my room while listening to the Hum and Natalie Imbruglia’s “Left of the Middle,” one of the three albums... tapes, I listened to in the mornings while delivering newspapers in Camarillo.
   I used the last of my eggs to make breakfast. Use’em or lose’m I sometimes say. I added smoked sausage, cheddar cheese, 13 ghost chillis, a dash of truffles, triffids, and tribbles, some bread, not toast (no toaster) and real butter (none of that non-fat lard)!
   As soon as I regained consciousness I switched the radio over to KMZT, the classical station, and wrote. When finished with writing I read from last Wednesday’s paper. 
   It’s good to keep up on current events.
   At 3:30 I went to the library. I had a computer reserved in the History Department, from 4:00 to 5:50. I looked for news of Odalys, and E-mailed requests for information to the L.A. Times, Univision, and KMEX, the local Univision affiliate. We shall see.
    I attempted to use one of the library’s various printers to print something. The new automated printing procedures put into place in May ripped me off for 80 cents, American. It was partially my own fault. I saw blank pages on the printers preview device, and thought it was just some kind of preview error. But blank pages is what I got and paid for. The old system made up for patron idiocy for free.
   Live and learn I guess.
   I left the library at 5:40, and hurried back to the Weingart to watch “The X-Files,” at 6:00. I made it back in time too, but the stupid baseball playoffs preempted Scully and Mulder.
   I hate baseball with the intensity of a white hot sun now.
   Silly game. Hitting a poor defenseless ball with a big stick. 
   I listened to “A Prairie Home Companion,” on NPR. I know what you’re thinking. Why does a hip, flashy, devil-may-care dude like me listen to this hick show?
   Because it’s very good. I even liked the country western songs.
   At 9:00 I tried to tape a PBS presentation of Eugene O'Neill’s masterpiece, “A Long day’s Journey into Night” (written in 1942 and  first published in 1956. O’Neill died in 1953) to which he posthumously received the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The PBS production starred  William Hutt as James, Martha Henry as Mary, Peter Donaldson as Jamie, Tom McCamus as Edmund and Martha Burns as Cathleen, and directed by David Wellington. 
   I have to admit I had never seen, nor read the play before, so it was a whole new experience for me, the whole three hours of it. For one reason or another, O’Neill’s stuff is not produced, or used much in high school drama, and I was largely ignorant of his work. Although I’ve heard of the play, and knew it’s general plot, I didn’t know much more.
   Once it began I was mesmerized. I turned off the room lights and concentrated.
   O’Neill has a very naturalistic style (reminding me of Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen (I had appeared in “An Enemy of the people” in high school), and the Swedish playwright August Strindberg), that only appears contrived due to his plays theatrical format. The entire play pretty much takes place in one room, which manifests a certain sense of claustrophobia which adds to the general depressed mood that permeates throughout the entire work (the same cast had performed the play at Canada's Stratford Festival from 1994 to 1996, and Wellington essentially filmed the stage production without many changes for theatrical release. My neighbor Ezekiel told me PBS got it in 1999). The film’s effective use of camera movement and angles enhance tone and character, techniques that are wholly unavailable in stage productions, making stage productions totally inferior as viable medium for the presentation of art (ha, ha, just kidding folks. No cards and letters please). I often felt like a 5th, silent and invisible member of the Tyrone family, just there, moving from place to place, watching and listening.
   The T.V. Guide’s description of the production is this: “Alcohol, morphine, illness, and stinginess doom a family in 1912 Connecticut.” 
   Sounds like a weekend at my Uncle Hank’s house to me, but I never thought of the Tyrone family as being doomed, yet they certainly had their problems. Today they would be called dysfunctional I suppose.  I would say inability to communicate, denial, euphoric recall, and hypocrisy as the deeper circumstances of their misery. For they were miserable. By the end of the play we know every pertinent detail of the lives of the four major characters, and their perceived reasons for their self hatred, and the animosity that is directed toward every other family member. Mother is a morphine addict, father is a miser, the eldest son a near-do-well, the youngest is tubercular and frail. Quite often the dialogue reminds me of a sword fight. Stab and retreat. Stab and retreat. Hurt and apologize. Hurt and apologize. As Mary tells her husband, “I’ll forgive you, but I’ll never forget,” she could have added, “And I’ll bring it up every so often just to torment you.”
   It’s interesting to me that O’Neill made a huge distinction between opiate and alcohol use. All three men in the play are alcoholics. In the second to last scene they all purposely got smashed. But it’s Mary, the wife and mother, they’re all so concerned about because she shoots morphine. The technical call for this is “Projection.” You don’t have to worry about your own problems when you can bitch about somebody else’s.  
   All four of the characters are addicts, pure and simple. It matters as much as a fart in a hurricane which particular drug or behavior is used or manifested, although the degree, or the state of progression of an addicts illness could be more advanced in one individual than in another. In the end it won’t matter. Unless treated, in one way or another, if the addiction continues it is said there are only three possible outcomes; insanity, jail, or death.   
   “We can’t be to blame for what the world has done to us?” Mary exclaims. 
   Yes, I suppose that’s true. We are only responsible for our own actions.
   The cast was unknown to me. I hadn’t seen them before as well, which is at times a good thing, as there are no distractions due to celebrity. I was completely involved with the characters the actors were so skillfully portraying.
   In a pure world this is the way it should always be. No mega-stars. No Tom Cruises, Mel Gibsons, Julia Roberts, Jack Elams. Each and every movie would use a cast that had never made a film before. After all, it’s not brain surgery now is it? It doesn’t take the skill of a linear mathematician to play a romantic lead. Most of today’s stars are where they are today in most part due to being in the right place at the right time. Come on, let’s hear someone deny it. Only Helen Mirren, Jennifer Connelly, Kate Blanchett, and every other actress I like (I’m sorry I started this) is successful due to inherent talent and devotion to craft.
   Anybody can act and should have the chance if they wish (and most people are very proficient actors in their respective everyday lives). All they have to do is remember one simple thing. Unless you’re Bob Hope, Oliver Hardy, Peter Sellers, and Jim Belushi, the secret of acting is this... don’t look at the camera.
    A Long Day's Journey Into Night is autobiographical in nature, O’Neill being a professional alcoholic (the writing of plays an avocation). 
   He was born in a Broadway hotel room in what is now Times Square in Midtown Manhattan,  in the Barrett Hotel. That hotel no longer exists, and is now a Starbucks, where one can buy a nice cup of coffee if one so desires, located at 1500 Broadway, the northeast corner of 43rd & Broadway.  
   He died of Cerebellar abiotrophy, a disease usually associated with animals, like horses, dogs, and cats (in humans it is associated with Cerebellar hypoplasia, a rare embryonic developmental disorder in which the cerebellum is either missing entirely or is smaller than usual), which develops when the neurons known as Purkinje cells, located in the cerebellum of the brain, begin to die off. These cells affect balance and coordination, causing a severe tremor in his hands which made it impossible for him to write during the last 10 years of his life.  
   O'Neill died in Room 401 of the Sheraton Hotel on Bay State Road in Boston, on November 27th, 1953, at the age of 65. As he was dying, he whispered his last words: "I knew it. I knew it. Born in a hotel room and died in a hotel room."
   The Sheraton Hotel on Bay State Road in Boston is now the Shelton Hall dormitory at Boston University. 
   Students state that O'Neill's spirit haunts the rooms and dormitory.
   "No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Shelton Hall, not sane, stood by itself against its other dormitories, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Shelton Hall, and whatever walked there, walked alone." - Shirlyn Jackson
   Be that as it may, after the play I immediately switched over to “Mad TV,” and watched a skit concerning mimes gone bad. This equalized my mood. 
   I read before going to sleep. Upon entering slumber I dreamed Vanessa Chase, the lovely and talented star of “Hard Copies,” “Lucky Lady,” and other fine films, appeared on stage at the new Walt Disney Concert Hall, that resembles a giant bird dropping from outside. She was center stage caught under a main spotlight, wearing a short, button down conductor’s outfit. The hall was filled to capacity and hushed as she began to speak.
   “All the world’s a stage,
   And all the men and women merely players;
   They have their exits and their entrances;
   And one man in his time plays many parts,
   His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
   Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
   And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
   And shining morning face, creeping like snail
   Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
   Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
   Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
   Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
   Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
   Seeking the bubble reputation
   Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
   In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
   With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
   Full of wise saws and modern instances;
   And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
   Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
   With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
   His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
   For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
   Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
   And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
   That ends this strange eventful history,
   Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
   Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”        

12   October   Sunday    Day 92

   “You know you’re getting old when you start hearing all the radical music you listened to when you were twenty as instrumental, elevator fodder.” -Richard Joyce after hearing Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home,” on a short journey from the Weingart’s lobby to the 5th floor.

   “The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.” -Oscar Wilde

    After my alarm sounded at 5:00, I turned it off and went back to bed, rolling over onto my left side and injuring my neck in such a way that it would cause annoying pain for the rest of the day and tomorrow. The pain did not stop me from falling asleep again briefly... which I did.
   However, I soon got up again and put the video of “Harold and Maude,”  into my VCR machine, hitting the “Play” button.
   Why? Sometime’s you’ve just got to do these things.
    Hal Ashby’s tribute to love is another of my favorite films. It is interesting only to me that I would be watching movies from three directors this week who directed at least two of my favorite films. Stanley Kubrick, with “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” which my VCR hates (I borrowed two different copies of this film from the library, and both would not play on my machine. Very suspicious), and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Robert Wise with “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “The Haunting,” which I would watch tomorrow night, and Ashby’s “Harold and Maude,” and “Being There.”
   It is also interesting to me that the great British comedian and actor, Peter Sellers, appeared in two of these films, from two different directors, playing Americans in each (as the U.S. President in Strangelove, and Chance the Gardener in “Being There.” 
   Mr. Sellers acted in another of my favorite comedies, the first Pink Panther, film, with Claudia Cardinale and Fran Jeffries.      
   Enough, enough about movies. That’s not why we’re here.
   After Harold lit himself on fire I did exercise, which lasted until he stabbed himself in the belly... not too long. 
   After Maude’s death and Harold drove off a cliff, I meditated for 400 breaths, recited The Heart Sutra (Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya), and contemplated the answers to these questions, “What is the true sound of color?” “Why should I hire you?” and “Tell me about yourself,” which the last two Richard Carns wanted all of us veterans looking for jobs to think about.
   I stole the style of my answer from him, which goes somewhat like this: “I am an aggressive self starter, a team player, a problem solver. I’m punctual, honest, and trustworthy. I know how to start a campfire, and catch fish with my bare hands. I have over sixteen years of experience in the field, and know how to use it. I feel I’m here to help the company increase it’s profits and efficiency, not to burden it with my personal problems, of which I have none. I know how to lead. I can follow, and know how to get out of the way. I have x-ray vision and am impervious to bullets. If these are qualities you’re seeking for this job I’ll be looking forward to doing business with you.”
   I went to breakfast. Boiled eggs. Gary Porch poked his head in the dinning room’s front door and waved to me. I waved back.
      I knew Gary was still hanging around the downtown area. I had heard that instead of going to Seattle, which had been his plan, or entering The Haven in West Los Angeles, he’d opted for the getting drunk and loaded, living on the street, and getting all of his money and clothes stolen option. Some might say this was an unwise choice, but those of us who would say that, and I count myself among them, don’t walk in Gary’s shoes.
      I walked out and talked to him after I finished eating.
   “I’m fucked,” he told me. “I’m on the street and broke.” He’d been able to get a few day jobs at the Hollywood Labor Ready office, but still twittered that money away on booze and drugs. He had been admitted to some housing program in North Hollywood, but after one night the management asked him to leave as they discovered the VA had tired of Gary’s antics and refused to help subsidize his stay.
   I told him about the rent special currently on at my former abode, The Frontier Hotel, on 5th and Los Angeles. $65.99 for a week, with a full bath and extra cockroaches. It had been $99 when I had last been there in December.
   There wasn’t much I could do for him. He asked me to give him back some of the clothes he had given to me, which I did. Two pairs of shorts, socks, and two shirts.
   I wrote until 9:30, when I changed clothes and left for the Buddhist Temple. The atmosphere inside was markedly less formal than last week’s Shotsuki Memorial Service.  The service was late in starting, one of the members having to go find Reverend Ito to tell him it was time to begin.
   Today the Reverend talked about the difficult choices we sometimes have to make in life, citing the recent election and the new 800 telephone number registry that bans telemarketers from calling your home. On one hand, it’s nice not to be bothered with people trying to sell you stuff you don’t need and don’t want on the phone, and on the other, you may be putting these people out of work if you join the registry. 
   I was once a telemarketer.   
   For about two weeks.      
   I discovered I was not cut out to sell people stuff they didn’t want or need over the phone.
   I was good at helping them place phone calls, get emergency road service, and address health insurance needs, so I did that for many years.
   As for the sermon, I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention and was staring at the two black and white panel paintings on the western wall of the enclave which depicted  Ānanda, a cousin and disciple of Buddha, and Moggallāna, another disciple, giving each other the finger.
       A big juicy hot dog for lunch. With beans.
   I read the paper and wrote for the rest of the day, taking time out only for meditation and spending 45 minutes on the computer in the day room to reserve two hours of computer time at the library tomorrow. An operation if performed on any normal computer takes approximately 20 seconds.
   At 9:00 I watched a Masterpiece Theatre production of “Boudica, Warrior Queen,” starring the lovely English actress Alex Kingston as the leader of the Iceni tribe in Britain rebelling against the tyranny of Rome a long time ago. Spartacus revisited, except Boudica had magic on her side (and still lost). Historically there was a real Boudica, which is why I found the film less compelling, with swords popping out of lakes, and Roman statues changing into angry children, and all.
   Alex was wonderful though.
   It was made on my friend Aurica’s home turf, in Romania. Everybody’s filming there these days. “Cold Mountain,” the American Civil War epic, was filmed there.
   I woke up late last night with a controllable urge to film something there, even though it’s cold in Romania, they don’t speak English very well, and all those vampires. 
   Those pesky bastards are worse than mosquitos in Zimbabwe.
   I dreamt during the night that I was Spartacus preparing to do battle with the Romans. Alex was standing on one side of me, and Gina Carrera, the beautiful and talented star of “Three Wishes,” “Midnight Zone,” and many other fine films, was on the other. 
   “My Lord,” Alex said to me. “The Roman legion outnumbers us five to one! We can’t possibly hope to win.”
\   “Never fear my little rabbit,” I reassured. “We have the element of surprise on our side.”
   “The element of surprise?” Gina pondered.  “But Great Spartacus,  The Roman army is right before us. How could we possibly surprise them?”
   “With Boom Boom Sticks, my dear.”
   “Boom Boom Sticks? Pray tell, what are those sire?”
   “Have no fear little ones. Just watch.”
   As the unsuspecting Romans marched within ten yards of our front line, we opened up with 1000 Uzi submachine guns, and thirty four 50 caliber cannons that had magically dropped out of the sky. Our troops also were equipped with kevlar undergarments, which had dropped out of the sky the day before, so the Roman arrows used to retaliate bounced right off our advancing troops chests and crotches.
   I despise violence, but we blew all of those Romans bastards into the Dante’s hell that they deserved.

13   October     Monday     Day 93

Columbus Day

   I slept in late, until almost 10:00, then showered and cleaned my room.
   I watched one of the VCR Tapes I had bought recently, “One Hour Photo,” starring Connie Nielsen and Robin Williams. The story of a lonely man who lives his life vicariously through the trails and triumphs of others. Unfortunately, the situation gets a tad out of hand when he decides to actively participate in others lives, rather than observe.
   He should have just read a lot of books, watched a lot of movies, and write a diary. He would have been alright then.
   The film is kind of a cheat, setting up the audience from beginning for one outcome, then switching to another at the very end. To add a sense of impending doom and urgency, Robin’s character inexplicably draws the attention of the police by photographing his former employer’s daughter, with the implication he would do her harm (and how did the photo processor know it was his bosses child? The pictures were innocuous, and could have been any child).
   Anyway, the film contained a certain sense of suspense, and Connie did a wonderful job. Robin wasn’t too bad either.
   After I returned from lunch I spent another 45 minutes on the day room’s computer trying to reserve some computer time at the library. 45 minutes.
   On this dubious holiday, most people were hard at work. Only the government, the post office, and the library celebrated the subjugation, enslavement, and genocide of native Americans by taking the day off.
   For my part, I celebrated the subjugation, enslavement, and genocide of native Americans by doing my laundry, as the communal washer and dryer was free.
   And I wrote. Always write, write, write, because if you don’t nothing will get written.
   I’ve stared at my pen and piles of blank paper literally for hours and they never do anything by themselves.
   I also spent a good four and a half hours, from 6:00 to 10:30, finishing up the Straub novel, The Hellfire Club,” while listening to the classical music radio station. I like the character Dick Dart, even though he was kind of a wank.
   Somebody must have hit Straub with a “Convoluted Stick” when he was small child, as evidenced by the many plots and sub-plots embedded within the story, making it difficult for normal readers like me to keep up. The title sounds good, but the actual club didn’t have a hell of a lot to do with anything. It would make a pretty good movie if about half of it was thrown out.
   Alright, that’s it for Straub. 
   I fixed myself a nice tuna fish sandwich in order to fill me up with protien in anticipation of a trip to Trimar in the morning. And as promised, I watched Wise’s “The Haunting,” based on Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” of which Stephen King and I declare to be a classic of the horror genre.
   This film scared the bejesus out of me when I first saw it as a small defenseless child, which really pissed of my parents as they had spent a small fortune getting that bejesus implanted.
    I’m pretty much used to the film now, so it doesn’t have that same effect on me anymore, but the film still holds up, and I marvel at it’s capacity to elicit fear, all without showing much of anything. What is frightening is what is implied. What can cause the sounds like cannons being fired as something walks the halls? What can make a door bulge inwards like that?
   This film is about twenty bazillion times more compelling than the horrible 1999 remake, despite Catherine Zeta-Jones, which Steven Spielberg had something to do with, it being distributed by his company, Dreamworks. He should be publicly spanked for that. All of the CGI effects made it look silly rather than frightening. 
   I went to sleep after poor Eleanor Vance and whatever it was that walked the halls of Hill House, drove her car into the same tree that killed the first Mrs. Crane, and dreamed I was lying on the bed of one of Hill House’s upstairs bedrooms with Claire Bloom, one of the stars of “The Haunting,” Kathie Lee Gifford, Rhonda Jo Petty, the lovely and talented star of “Pool Service,” “Cherry Cheese Cake,” and many other fine films, and Connie Nielsen. All of us were quivering under the blankets as we listened to the cannon balls pounding the walls of the hall just outside our door. Whatever was out there, it was looking for us.
   The doorknob began to move.
   “Don’t worry girls,” I said. 
   I left the warmth and relative safety of the bed, swung open the door, and karated that damn ghost back to the Dante’s hell it came from... and deserved.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


First published Monday, March 2, 2009  

   It was bound to happen. Both sides had been in earnest negotiation for months, but talks had bogged down two weeks ago. Calls for arbitration had been vehemently rejected by City Hall, citing it would be an act of "brazen irresponsibility" to empower a third party to bargain for it, without recourse, in such an important and costly matter. The media and the mayor’s critics, maintained the refusal was just one more example of the cities insincerity in dealing with the situation in good faith, calling it a stalling maneuver. Thirty-seven percent of the public polled seemed to agree. In its own defense, the mayor’s office referred to its recent and successful resolution of similar crises involving the Bus Mechanic’s Union, and the massive Customer Service Department of Parking Enforcement.
   So, the Sunday midnight deadline set by the Los Angeles Chapter of the Alliance of the Homeless Coalition, The Hopelessly Drug Addled Guild, and the 421st Division of the Prosecution Procrastinators, passed without incident. Those officials monitoring events for the mayor drew a collective sigh of relief, and went home to their warm beds. Others urged caution and kept a watchful eye.
   No one really knows the exact time the Alliance leadership called for the strike to commence. The police department, also monitoring the scene and on a state of high alert, would only say there had began a noticeable decline in the number of indigent street people in the downtown, Skid Row area, beginning shortly after 2 A.M. No violent acts were reported anywhere downtown, except for several unrelated cases of domestic abuse in some of the cities new "high end" loft projects. Indeed, the change was so slight, imperceptible, and persistent, that it came as quite a shock to the residents of Los Angeles, to wake up and discover the cities streets completely devoid of it’s homeless, the Skid Row area empty, sparse, and abandoned.
   Where had they gone, they asked. No one knew, and those at the headquarters for the Alliance, located within the Beverly Hilton Hotel, weren’t talking, preferring to focus on the substance of the strike, and their demands. As if sucked up into outer space in some 1960’s science fiction television show, 84,000 fellow citizens had vanished without a trace, a clue, or a whisper.
   Wherever they had gone they had taken their trash, cardboard boxes, and tents with them. Skid Row was spotless, cleaner than anyone had ever remembered it. Even the portable toilets on 6th and San Pedro were bright and shiny. As workers in factories customarily take five minutes to clean up at the end of each work day, the homeless and destitute had left their place of business neat and tidy.
   Who cares! Glad they’re gone! Good riddance, some exclaimed. Soon though, the ramifications of the strike were to make themselves all too apparent, and the cries of the hard liners were forever quieted.
   Traffic reporters on the local morning news programs, and the California Highway Patrol were the first to become aware of snarls and jams at major thoroughfares and freeway exits. The cities commuters working in and around downtown found themselves confused and disoriented. The hoards of impecunious, bedraggled, sign carrying sots, who usually greeted them each morning, pleading for money, food, or work, were completely absent, which filled drivers with shock and dismay. Traffic on the 5, 10, and 110 freeways, backed up for miles. Windshields, usually cleaned by industrious indigents, were left filthy with the weekend’s accumulated grime, which further complicated the growing havoc. 342 accidents and fender benders were initially reported, causing roadways to the economic heart of downtown, the finance, jewelry, garment, and fish offal districts, to be severely disrupted.
   Venders, whose business it was to service the hungry workers were similarly affected. Starbucks, and croissant shops throughout the area experienced an approximate 42.0983 percent decrease in revenue, on this sunny, cloudless, Monday morning. Convenience stores all along Skid Row, hugely profitable due to their practice of over charging those with the least amount of funds, were forced to close their doors.
   The early editions of the Times and Daily News, had went to press before the strike had began. "Midnight Deadline Passes Without Action" one declared. "Homeless, All Bark, No Bite" the other. Television picked up were print had left off. Both, local stations and national networks became transfixed, targeting on the stunningly empty streets throughout Skid Row and the surrounding areas. The reporters covering the story didn’t have much to go on, and found themselves at a loss to explain ongoing events to their viewers, whose frantic cries for information were left unrequited.
   City and State government agencies were next to feel the sting. Upon opening its doors at the usual 7 A.M., the county sheriffs deputies assigned as security agents of the Department of Public Social Services, and whose duty it was go out amongst the assembled beneficiaries and describe their eagerness to arrest anyone who caused the least amount of trouble, were taken aback to find no one there. County employees of the agency were left with nothing to do. Television reporters at the scene were surprised to find idled staff at the 4th Street office, involved in a heated game of Ping-Pong, using standard office desks as improvised playing tables. Dominoes, was another favored way to pass the time, until rattled supervisors issued instructions for all employees to update their respective files and client paperwork, or else to help the sheriffs clean up around the building. This inevitably led to a corresponding decline in morale, with associated mumblings and grumblings.
   Medical clinics, needle exchanges, and outreach centers, were similarly abandoned. Many supervisors dismissed their workers for the day, sending them home until the strike’s outcome could be determined.
   USC/County Hospital was unable to instruct its students due to the two-third decline in emergency room admissions. City street cleaners were left immobilized, the streets already having been cleaned by the homeless during last night’s retreat. Blood plasma centers and recycling plants throughout the entire county were overwhelmed with inactivity; their doors left open, employees anxiously looking about for business.
   The usually over crowded Homeless Court, was completely empty of it’s clientele. Pershing Square, San Julian and Gladys Parks were open. No one came to sleep, play chess, basketball, or discuss stock market fluctuations. Security personnel blankly stood looking at each other, wondering what to do. The missions were vacant and inactive. Their kitchen staff were forced to eat their own food, the morning’s issue of porridge and crackers not to be wasted. Panicked administrators consoled each other over frantic phone conversations, desperately attempting to conceive of an appropriate response to the strike, but to little avail. The Central Public Library suffered a thirty-seven percent decline in business, and in a surprising discovery, the Walt Disney Music Hall, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, both experienced the lowest record number of ticket sales for the entire year.
   The police were dumbfounded. Officials at the Parker Center Station, when questioned by the increasingly ferocious media, were at a loss to explain the strike’s implementation, or where the homeless had gone. When pressed to justify their own budget, since patrol officers had no one to harass, motivate, or arrest for inconsequential crimes, became exceptionally defensive.
   "There’s a lot of real crime out there, you know," one flustered police representative was quoted as saying. "Why, we’ve got plenty of stuff to do!"
   City officials began to talk of importing homeless people, busing them in from neighboring counties. These desperate plans were quickly discarded, due in large part to the neighboring county official’s reluctance to give up any of their own homeless. The homeless themselves, those polled in Riverside, San Bernardino, and Orange Counties, stated their full support for their L.A. brethren, and their intention to honor the strike throughout its duration.
   The most devastating aspect of the strike, touched upon by Howard Burns, the respected NPR commentator, during the evening’s broadcast of "All Stuff Rehashed," appeared to be psychological in nature.
   "Irregardless of the enormous economic loss and confusion experienced on the first day of this unprecedented action, the impact on our social cast system may have been permanently ruptured. Let’s face it, without the presence of these poor homeless and displaced, the Middle Class is left with no one to look down upon to make their own lives seem vibrant and worthwhile, and are now, faced only with themselves, left bitter and despondent. The Upper Class, and society’s elite are forced to face the very same problem. Due to the Bush tax cuts, expanding war profiteering, national policy standards favoring "No-Bid, No-Tell" contracts to Defense, Energy, and Pharmaceutical concerns (not to mention the RAMJAC Corporation’s consolidation of the entire communication and entertainment industry into one entity, touted to Congress and the public as a means to guarantee lower costs to the average consumer, through the discontinuance of expenditures related to nagging market competition), and to the countries general embrace of greed and self-interest, have so shrunk the Middle Class that it hardly exists, and can no longer serve as a buffer from which the once mighty and aloof had used to separate themselves from the rest of humanity, forcing them to take careful stock of their own position within society’s framework, and frankly, not finding much there. Bulging bank accounts, oversized, empty estates to wander around and get lost in, and random trips to France and Uruguay, offer little consolation when faced with the mounting evidence of their own desperate and pitiful lack of self meaning and purpose within the universe. Sensed by the rest of society, the depression of the rich contributes to the mass hysteria, despair, and nervousness, so evident today among the working poor of this once great city.
   Not since the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and the premier of "American Idol," has Los Angeles experienced such economic and moral decrepitude."

   On high, deep within the bullet-like structure which houses City Hall, the Mayor of Los Angeles sat behind his large oaken desk, finishing up a lengthy telephone conversation.
   "Listen John," the mayor continued, "I do appreciate your situation, believe me, but I’ve got a real mess on my hands and I need your help. Our construction friends insist on moving the reception center another mile from the terminal, and I’m having a teensy-weensy problem justifying it to the council as being an anti-terrorist maneuver and essential for national security. They didn’t even like the first mile…yeah…yes, I understand the indictment’s putting a little pressure on you, hey, everybody been under a strain lately, but I really need to sell this to the public with thirty second spots and a print campaign. Oh, which reminds me. You know the election is coming up, and… yes, yes, I know you’ve given a lot already…sure…yeah…, well, rules were made to be broken, ya know."
   The intercom on his desk buzzed.
   "Just a sec, John," the mayor flicked a switch on the device. "Yes?"
   "Governor Schwarzenagger, on the line, sir," his secretary nasally informed.
   "Just a minute," he told her. The mayor flicked off the switch on the intercom and sat thoughtfully for a moment, then remembered the man he had been speaking to.
   "Hey, John. I’m going to have to call you back. Schwarzenagger’s on the line. Yes, yes, the terminator. Sure I’ll say hello for you. Okay…okay. And don’t worry; this trial thing will blow away after the election real fast, I’m sure. I’ll call back later. Bye."
   The mayor sat back in his over-sized, black leather chair, gazing for a moment at his cherished autographed painting of Ronald Reagan hanging stately on the wall opposite his desk. "If its not one damn thing, its another, huh, boss?" he muttered, receiving no reply. After a prolonged sigh, he reached over and flicked on his intercom. "Put the governor on please."
   "Yes sir."
   "Arnie!" the mayor exclaimed, after the connection was made. "What can I do for you?"
   "Jim baby," the governor boomed, in his soft Austrian accent. "I call about this strike thing I see on the T.V.. What the heck is going on down there?!"
   "What strike, Arnie?"
   "What strike? Am I hearing you correctly?! The bums! You know, those…those, how you say, those homeless bums peoples, there in L.A. They go on strike."
   "Oh, that strike. Did that start today? I was at my tanning salon all morning and must have missed it."
   "Missed it! How you miss it?! It’s on news everywhere. You got to get this thing under control right now. Those press people making a huge thing about this, and it looks bad for all Californeeia. Are you hearing what I have to say to you?!"
   The mayor sighed again. "Yes governor, I’m listening. What can a few unemployed derelicts do? It will all die down in a couple of days. I guarantee it." The mayor used a remote control device to turn on the T.V. in his office, which, as it happens, was tuned onto a local newscast reporting on the strike, and focusing on a group of homeless activists, picketing the very building he was sitting in. They were carrying signs, some reading, "More Power To The Homeless!" and "Shame On You Mayor, Homeless People Need Love Too."
   "You guarantee, you guarantee! I hear this all the time from you! I don’t want guarantees, I want action! Are you hearing what I say to you?! We are all very concerned about this, mayor. Very concerned."
   The mayor got up from his desk and stepped over to his office window, taking the phone with him. He looked down at the mass of people converged on the street below, and continued his conversation.
   "I promise governor. I’ll get right on it. But to tell you the truth, these aren’t the easiest people to deal with. To be perfectly honest, Arnie, I don’t even know what they want!"
   "Want…smaunt! You fix, right away! This whole thing bad for business, bad for image. It give me such a big headache! Even the president call me about this. The president!"
   "Of the United States?"
   "No, the Screen Actors Guild! Of Course, the President of the United States! We both very upset about this. Bushie is worried about this spreading to other parts of the country. We can not have that! Are you hearing what I am saying to you? We both very worried."
   The mayor continued looking down at the picketers and the large crowd that had gathered in their support. "You tell the president I’ll get this matter bottled up right away, and not to worry about it. I’m working on it as we speak."
   "See that you do, mayor, or it’s the gulag for both of us! The president say he would fire and replace all these bums, except they don’t work for him. Heck! They don’t work for anybody! Very difficult problem. Are you hearing what I say?! You fix! Right away! Don’t be a guurlie maahn, Jim baby. Call me when fix. Auf Wiedersehen!"
   "Yes sir!" Damn foreigner, he thought.
   The line went dead while the mayor continued to observe the crowd. Lost in thought, he vaguely noticed one man sitting on the building’s steps, apart from the rest, apparently strumming on an old guitar.
   What do I do now, he wondered. My president needs me. He looked at his Rolex, and noticed he was late for a manicure.
   "Well, something’s bound to come up," he said to himself, then hurriedly left his office.
   On the street below, unaffected by the excited crowd around him, an incredibly handsome man in his late forties (but not looking a day over 29), with long, shoulder length, brown hair, parted in the middle of his noble head, and dressed in old blue jeans and a corduroy shirt, leisurely picked the strings to his guitar, singing quietly. Some came over to listen, then more. The song he was singing was a familiar one, a bastardization of Pete Seeger’s immortal "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" The man had changed some of the lyrics, and many others would soon take up his version. It would shortly be known across America as the unofficial anthem of the strike, and used to champion the cause of the homeless and needy.
   Serene, and at peace, a faint ironic smile upon his reserved lips, he continued his song:
   "Where have all the homeless gone?
   Long time begging.
   Where have all the homeless gone?
   No more Skid Row.
   Where have all the homeless gone?
   We all miss them everyone.
   When will we ever learn?
   When will we ever learn?"

Saturday, September 20, 2014

So Why The Day the Earth Stood Still

First published Sunday, March 8, 2009

   It's a great film, by a great, and hugely eclectic director, Robert Wise (who made one other of my favorite films, The Haunting). Considered one of the three classic Sci Fi films from the 50s (the two others being, The War of the Worlds and Forbidden Planet), which by a remarkable coincidence happened to be the decade of my birth, I grew up watching this film, over and over again, whenever it came on TV. I thought Gort was so cool, so enigmatic, so powerful, so... precise. I thought the spaceship was so cool, so enigmatic, so powerful and precise. The way it opened up, and closed. No seams to be found, nothing to cut into. Gort, so unconcerned about what the mere humans were doing all around him, so stoic, yet fatefully aware. Klaatu and his mission to bring an everlasting peace to our world, despite ourselves. So cool that a film with this vision having been made a few years before I was even born. A true achievement.
   Yet as I grew older and continued to review the film often, I noticed certain easily rectifiable problems that began to annoy me more every time I thought about them.
   The science in the film being the main bug up my behind. The first occupation I ever thought about getting into was that of astronomer, so I studied up on the subject, and continue to do so to this day. I soon learned however that math was required, so I had to move on to other fields, but the little I did know of the subject allowed me to identify certain anachronisms within the movie that just screamed at me every time I watched it, and which should have been readily apparent to the film makers at the time of production. I couldn't understand how Wise could have allowed the film to be so inaccurate in such simple, but blazingly obvious errors. Such as:
   Klaatu states he has traveled several months, over 250,000,000 miles to get to Earth. Well that's all well and good. That's about the same amount of speed our own spacecraft currently travel about the solar system at. However, 250,000,000 miles? There's nothing out there! 250,000,000 outward from the Earth would be somewhere in our asteroid belt (conversely, 250,000,000 sunward from the Earth would go straight through the sun, out the far side, and wind up about 33,000,000 miles beyond the orbit of Mars), where there is nothing, as far as we can currently tell, that would be able to support a civilization capable of building the spaceship and Gort. Nothing.
   There were other things that bothered me as well that might not have been obvious, or available to the filmmakers at the time of production. Such as:
   Klaatu is human. The movie portrays Klaatu as being of extraterrestrial origen, and being human, without explanation. Now every school child knows (those that haven't had Intelligent Design crammed down their poor little school children throats) that the odds of every particular accident, twist and turn of our evolutionary history being duplicated on any other planet in this galaxy, perhaps the entire universe, are exceptionally small. Itsy bitsy small. Astronomical, if you will. It just wouldn't happen, despite Star Trek.
   It had to be explained.
   As well as other little items, like how could our pathetic little atomic arsenal be a real threat to other planets without a viable delivery system; how Klaatu escaped so easily from the military, why there was no attempt to shoot down the spaceship even as it approached our nation's capital, etc.
   So that is why I endeavored to write a remake of Robert Wise's masterwork, The Day the Earth Stood Still. My long time love and respect for the original, and my desire to, not make it better, but to update it in the attempt to make it a bit more palatable and relevant for our modern, Attention Deficit Disorder audience's.
   I will not at this time make any reference or criticism of the latest remake of TDTESS, staring Keanu Reeves, and my favorite contemporary actress, Jennifer Connelly. My screenplay (my first) was written at least a year and a half before I ever heard the remake was being contemplated (Why didn't I submit my screenplay after it was finished? I had, and still do not have any idea of how to submit a screenplay. I'm just a guy who lives in a box... with low self esteem) I leave it up to you, dear reader, to decide your own preference.
   So here it is then, my version of The Day the Earth the Stood Still.