Thursday, March 28, 2019

DODGER DOG, STRAY DOG

Happy Opening Day everybody!

Last week The Wife, The Kid and I played hooky and ventured into enemy territory, aka Glendale Ranch, to watch our beloved Diamondbacks BEAT LA, 10-4, in Cactus League Spring Training action. A bit disconcerting to be surrounded by all that Dodger Blue, but an excellent game; we got to see some fine hitting by new D-bax acquisition Adam Jones, and we saw poor Steven Souza play before his season-ending injury earlier this week.

I even ate a Dodger Dog. And I liked it.


(Of course, in this photo taken by The Kid, it looks as if I swallowed the hot dog vendor.)

Then about 10:30 Saturday night, this little dude...


...showed up in front of our house, obviously lost, no collar, running from front door to front door and back in the neighborhood. I sat in the driveway for about 40 minutes before he got close enough for me to get a hold of him. He spent the night in the garage, away from our maniac Chihuahuas, and Sunday morning I very reluctantly took him to the Maricopa County Animal Shelter on Rio Salado. It turned out he had a chip, with a Sacramento, CA address, but the staffers there got no answers from the phone numbers. I would love to have kept him; he's a sweet, docile, friendly, quiet little guy. I just checked with the Animal Shelter; he's being held for his owners until tomorrow, March 29, after which he'll be available for adoption. If you're looking for a great dog, get down there.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

REPORT WHINE

If you know me, you know what I think about our current President. If you don’t, you can read about it here. Or, if you don’t feel like reading that, I can summarize:

To call our current President a sack of shit does an injustice to sacks of shit, many of which are upstanding members of our society that do the important work of fertilizing our crops. To say that his Presidency has already harmed our nation isn’t enough; his candidacy alone, and the legitimacy conferred by the media and the political establishment upon its bigotry and ignorance and fraudulence, would have harmed our country even if he hadn’t won the Electoral College. He’s reprehensible, toxic human garbage, most of the major players in his administration are even worse, and every day they’re in power is part of an accruing disaster for our country and the world. I would also point out that he’s riotously incompetent, except that his incompetence may well be the only aspect of his administration that has saved us up to this point.

This, though mildly expressed, is what I think about our current President. So please remember that this is the context in which I want to urge my fellow Trump opponents to knock it off with the petulant disappointment about the Mueller Report.

While I thought, and still think, that the Special Counsel’s investigation was essential, from the start I haven’t been comfortable with the attitude of many Trump opponents toward it; waiting for it like a kid waiting for Christmas morning, naively convinced that it would be a magic spell that would make the bad man go away. No matter what the report shows—and at this writing that still isn’t public—it was never going to lead promptly to the President’s removal from office.

No matter how compelling the speculations extrapolated from the indictments and guilty pleas the investigation has already produced, there were always several possibilities about the final report with regard to the President. One was that, however improbable it might seem, it would exonerate him from colluding with a foreign power. Another was that it would show that he participated in or knew about or covered up sleazy unethical crap, but that this didn’t rise to the level of criminality. A third was that it would suggest that yeah, he probably committed crimes, but that the investigation wasn’t able to prove it to a degree required for prosecution.

What all of these possibilities have in common is that they wouldn’t bounce this scumbag out of office. That probably wouldn’t happen even if the report conclusively showed that he did collude, because the Senate is in Republican control, and there’s nothing to indicate that the Republican leadership would take action against the President even if, well, you know, even if he stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shot someone. As things now stand, the report won’t even embarrass him—whatever’s in it, he’ll just claim it’s a pack of lies, and his diehard supporters, shamefully, don’t really care if he colluded with Russia or not.

So there’s always been something unrealistic about the salivating impatience of the President’s opponents for the report, and there’s also something unseemly about it. If the report truly shows that the President didn’t collude, or didn’t knowingly collude, with Russia…well, I hate to sound like a civics-class Pollyanna, but that’s a good thing, and a relief. If we’re people of good faith, we shouldn’t want our enemies to be worse than they are.

But if, as seems more probable, the report shows that he’s a lowlife who cozied up to a vile foreign power for campaign help but didn’t quite cross the line into criminality, or didn’t do so provably, let’s not throw a tantrum because this isn’t what we asked Santa for. The report, though it may turn out to be enormously important, was never going to be a quick easy solution to the immediate problem of this administration. Most outrageous of all, and I’ve already heard a little of this, is suddenly impugning the integrity of Mueller or his team, after casting them, for the last couple of years, as white knights riding to our rescue. I understand being tired of having this President and his toadies and cronies and puppeteers pollute the White House every day with their presence, but this report was never going to be a silver bullet.

And the thing is…I’m not sure it should be. While I don’t necessarily doubt that, regardless of what’s in the Mueller Report, the President may be deserving of impeachment, I’m also not sure that impeachment would be the healthiest way for us to get rid of him. I have to wonder if it wouldn’t be better for voters to run his ass out of office on a rail in the next election, along with, almost more importantly, as many of his revolting enablers as possible.

I’m not sure I’m right about this. For one thing, it means enduring this administration for, at a minimum, more than another year and a half. And I see no remote guarantee that my party won’t blow another election, if dilatory, candy-ass Democrats once again fail to vote for whoever the nominee is, because he or she somehow fails to conform sufficiently to our delicate ideological sensibilities, or just because we don’t think he or she is cool enough.

But overall, I think that focusing on voting him out is the better way because, first of all, it’s a natural reproach on the part of the electorate to everything he stands for. If he got thrown out of office, he and his followers could always whine that it was a cheat, that the “deep state” or whatever pushed him out, over the wishes of the people. They’ll claim that anyway, of course, if he loses the election, but it will be far less convincing.

Second of all, we should make voting him out our goal because, once again, at some level the Mueller Report is moot, for the moment, no matter what its conclusions. This President was never going to be impeached, at least not in his first term. Working toward voting him out as soon as possible is preferable to daydreaming about impeachment, because it means engaging with the process ourselves, doing the hard work of protecting our beloved country’s institutions and forwarding the agendas we want. It was the complacent lack of this commitment, more than anything else, that brought us our current President, whether he got a boost from Russia or not.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

THE PLAY'S THE THING (THAT GOES WRONG)

Perhaps the theatre's most cherished maxim is that the show must go on. The company performing The Murder at Havershaw Manor certainly seems to have taken it to heart. From the first few lines of the wheezy old drawing-room murder mystery, set pieces fall off the walls, doors fail to open, an actor who is supposed to seem dead reacts, understandably enough, when his hand is trodden on. Duran Duran ends up, unintentionally, among the music cues. All in all, it becomes The Play That Goes Wrong.

 
This British farce by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, which opened in the West End in 2014 and on Broadway in 2017, is a spectacular piece of slapstick escalation. The premise is that we're seeing the "am-dram" (amateur dramatics; what we would call community theatre) production fall apart while we watch, but as the show progresses--if that's the word--we may not be prepared for the silent-movie/Looney Tunes degree to which, for instance, the shoddy set will collapse around the actors.

There's a human element to the catastrophe as well; one actor keeps mispronouncing multisyllabic words, another simply refuses to take the show seriously, smirking at the audience and capering around for our approval. The long-suffering stage manager has to step in and take over when the leading lady is incapacitated; when she returns, her replacement is reluctant to give up the role. And throughout, the comedy hinges on the tendency of actors, when a show is going badly, to focus on what's least important.

The frenetic yet disciplined cast is truly ensemble. But a word should probably be said for Peyton Crim as Robert (aka "Thomas Colleymoore" in the play), who, in the midst of, say, being buried in furniture as a platform sags under him, still manages to use his beautiful deep voice to maintain a weary dignity.

The splendid irony behind The Play That Goes Wrong is that, unlike the play within it, it goes off like clockwork. The timing and physical commitment of these actors is a joy to watch, and also a thrill--there are moments that seem dangerous, though this is (I hope) an illusion. Many of the show's biggest laughs, however, are in its slow-burn pauses, in which a performer realizes the extremity of what he or she is up against. Laugh-out-loud funny as this show is, the company's determination, against ever-worsening odds, to get to their curtain call may ultimately seem allegorical for life, the ultimate Play That Goes Wrong.

The Play That Goes Wrong runs through Sunday, March 20 at Gammage Auditorium. Go to asugammage.com for details.

Monday, March 18, 2019

GREEN DAY AFTER

Hope everybody had a great St. Paddy's Day yesterday. Here's some impressive art that my great-niece and a friend did in my brother's driveway in Florida...


Being some quarter-Irish myself, I made a pretty big weekend of it; at his movie night, my film historian pal Richard showed us the 1929 half-silent, half-sound version of The Informer, one of the earliest British talkies. The silent half is great; the talkie half curdles like bad Kerrygold Dubliner. Saturday night I re-watched the 1935 John Ford version of The Informer, while having my annual shot of Bushmill's. Drinking, fighting, lying, singing, drinking, fighting. Fantastic movie. Then Sunday The Wife and I waited most of an hour at Mimi's, of all places, which was packing in us green-clad oldsters for a portion of corned beef and cabbage apparently intended to re-create one of the famines. What there was of the beef was tender and yummy, however. I also took down Great Irish Tales of Terror, edited by Peter Haining, to read Gerald Griffin's wonderfully weird 1827 yarn "The Unburied Legs."


Check out Phoenix Magazine online for my interview with John Fusco and John Lee Hancock, screenwriter and director of The Highwaymen, scheduled to open here in the Valley on March 22...


Friday, March 8, 2019

THIEF OF ARTS

Happy Friday everybody!

Check out my "Friday Flicks" column, online at Phoenix Magazine, for my review of the visually fascinating (and sexy) animated feature from Hungary, Ruben Brandt, Collector...


...as well as my review Michael Winterbottom's noir thriller The Wedding Guest and a preview of the March 23 screening of the flamenco documentary Impulso; the latter is part of a new series called Truly Independent Films from Steve Weiss of No Festival Required fame. At least 35 tickets (at $14 each) must be sold for the screening to take place. All I can say is I thought the movie was worth that much.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

LENT TRAPS

The Lenten season is underway, so in my latest "Four Corners" column, in the March issue of Phoenix Magazine, now on the stands...


...I use it as an excuse to review some fish & chips options around the Valley. This may be my favorite "Four Corners" yet, as fish & chips might just be what I'd order as my last meal before my execution.

Monday, March 4, 2019

WITH MALLET AFORETHOUGHT

Last month my brother beat a coyote to death with a rubber mallet. It happened something like this:


My brother lives in Florida. After a long career as an airline pilot, he retired to the Orlando area with his wife a few years ago, mostly to be close to their daughter. But it happens that his wife's sister and her boyfriend live nearby as well.

So one day last month my brother was over at his sister-in-law's house, working on a remodeling project in the kitchen with the boyfriend. His sister-in-law was in the yard, doing some gardening. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a large animal wandering past. She looked over in time to see that it was a coyote, out in broad daylight, and that it was charging toward her. It lunged at her, and sank its fangs into her leg.


She screamed, naturally enough, and my brother and the boyfriend rushed out of the kitchen. The boyfriend grabbed the coyote and tried to pull it off her, but, perhaps fortunately for him, it refused to release her leg. My brother got a rubber mallet from his toolbox and beat the poor creature's brains in.

Needless to say, the sister-in-law has been made to undergo a lengthy and painful course of rabies shots, though my brother assures us that she's tough enough for them. He's seen her, he says, go straight from a chemotherapy session to babysit her grandkids.

These are the broad strokes of the story, related to me over the phone in unassuming, maybe slightly reluctant terms by my brother. I didn't press him for too many details; he was making jokes about it--saying that his new Native American name was Kills-With-A-Rubber-Mallet, for instance--but I could tell that the incident had shaken this soft-spoken, gentle-natured man.

Here's a thing about my brother: Like me, like several people in our family, he's a little on the OCD side. In his case this manifests, partly, as germaphobia. Out of any number of, to use Arlo Guthrie's phrase, "implements of destruction" that were near to hand, his choice of the rubber mallet to dispatch the coyote wasn't random. He picked it up, he told me, because he didn't want blood to fly. He knew you don't have to get bitten to be infected with rabies; simple exposure to bodily fluids can be enough. Even though blood didn't fly, the doctors considered ordering the shots for my brother and the boyfriend, though in the end they decided against it.

Here's another thing about my brother: He's been my hero since I was a child. He started earning his private pilot's license while he was in high school, though his ambition to be a commercial pilot seemed improbable because he wore glasses, which in those days was a disqualification. So for years he worked driving salt trucks, cement mixers, school buses. He worked building houses with a contractor cousin. He was even a weekend mail carrier in our Pennsylvania town (that's why I learned to drive in a jeep with right-hand steering).

Then deregulation allowed him to become an airline pilot after all, in his thirties and after he had gotten married. Years later I mentioned to him how gratifying I found it that he had been able to achieve his dream, and he told me that it wasn't as satisfying as he'd hoped.

He is, by his own account, a chronic worrywart. The weight of his responsibility for the lives of his passengers, his crew, even of people on the ground, had never been fully clear to him until he experienced it. In the last few years of his career, he switched to a ground job, working in a simulator, re-certifying pilots for duty. He hoped that this might relieve some of his worry, but no, it just extended it to the pilots he certified; their responsibilities becoming partly his.

"I don't want a tombstone when I die," he once told me, "but if I did, I'd want it to say 'HE FINALLY STOPPED WORRYING.'"

"Are you sure that's true?" I asked.

"No," he admitted.

My brother was slightly acquainted with Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot who landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after it collided with birds in January of 2009, saving everybody aboard. My brother told me that he's taken off from that same runway, and reflected, not optimistically, about one's options should an emergency landing be necessary in that area.

When I saw Clint Eastwood's film Sully, it brought me to tears, not only because it was an inspirational story but because it made me think of my brother, fretting about the people who had placed their lives in his hands, worrying about how he would save them if he had too. We all depend, probably far more often than we realize, on that particular brand of the kindness of strangers, and we can only hope that they take that duty as seriously as my brother does.

So I'm writing this, though I'm not sure I want my brother to read it, because I fear it might embarrass him. I'm writing it not because I love my brother, though I very much do, but because I admire him. He's a quiet, self-deprecating kind of guy, but if you need somebody to land you safely in an airplane, or to kill the rabid coyote that's attacking you, he's that kind of guy, too.

Friday, March 1, 2019

TAKING A BAO

Check out my "Friday Flicks" column, online at Phoenix Magazine, featuring reviews of the Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts program playing this week at FilmBar, including the winner, Pixar's charming Bao...


...as well as of the old-school thriller Bullitt County...

 
...out this week on VOD.

Also, check out my short article on the 55th annual Phoenix Scottish Games...


 ...Saturday, March 2, and Sunday March 3 at Steele Indian School park.

RIP to the magnificent, sexy, hilarious, lovable Katherine Helmond, departed at 89.


Have a great March everybody!