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Friday, September 10, 2010

An Excerpt from "Speaking of Michelangelo"


The Death of Basie

Dinsdale Carruthers was in a particularly foul mood. It was hot, as it was every day in July and for that matter, most of the Goddamned year, and Dinsdale hated the heat. He hated the heat only slightly less than he hated his wife, Doreen, and that was a pocketful. He sat on the porch, even though it was cooler inside the trailer, because at least out on the porch he wasn’t badgered by his wife’s constant yammering.
Dinsdale watched as Basie sniffed around the gazanias, as he always did when he searched for a suitable place to piss. It wasn’t a big yard, but it was fenced in and over the years, Dinsdale was certain that Basie, even though he weighed only three and a half pounds, had probably pissed on every square inch of it at least once, more than likely twice. The dog was nearly ten years old and his eyes were going bad and his legs were stiff—but he sure could piss.
Basie went about his business—the gazanias had proved unsuitable—and Dinsdale wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. He looked at the trailers that surrounded him. Most of the residents didn’t come out much in the heat of the day. Mountain Palms was a retirement “village” located on the outskirts of Mesa, Arizona, and not many of the old folks could stomach the heat. Dinsdale didn’t care much for it, but by all rights watching a dog piss in the heat still beat Doreen’s yammering. He didn’t talk much to his neighbors and didn’t much care what they thought about him sitting outside in the heat. In a village full of senile, grumpy, overheated retirees, Dinsdale was among the most obstinate of them all—a “King Prick”, as Harry Collins used to say, back in the days when Dinsdale blew lead alto sax in the Collins band during the war.
Now, nearing sixty-eight, he was afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis and cataracts—he had more in common with his surly little dog than Doreen—and saddled with a wife he couldn’t stand and hadn’t been able to stand for most of the years they had been married. Dinsdale, or Denny as his pals used to call him back when he was a hepcat, had given up life on the road, living out of a smelly trailer with twelve other men, to settle down and marry. The Collins band had been based out of Lincoln, Nebraska and the travel had been brutal and the pay meager, but those years on the road had been the happiest in Dinsdale’s life. That’s how it had been. Playing dance halls at night, then grabbing a post-gig meal at a local greasy spoon—if they could find one that was still open, before piling into the trailer and sleeping the miles away. If you were lucky, maybe some Betty would come back to the bus with you for a few minutes of the Cha Cha Cha while the other musicians ate.
Basie pissed on the hibiscus and Dinsdale smiled as he thought of the signal used by the bandmates—hanging a white towel on the doorknob of the band’s bus let the others know to clear off for a bit while the Cha Cha Cha was danced in the bunks inside.
Dinsdale often thought of the good times. Blowing sax in the Collins band for $9.00 a night and travelling around the Midwest—it beat trimming back the honeysuckle and picking up dog shit while Doreen sat in the trailer reading her trashy romance novels. His world had come crashing down on him that day in 1950 when Doreen had tracked him down at a barn dance in Omaha to tell him that she was “in the family way”. Then a pleasant, mousy old maid of twenty-seven, she had matured into a hateful, cold woman as the years went by, no doubt spurred by Dinsdale’s indifference to her and their daughter. Doing the honorable thing, Dinsdale had quit the band, married Doreen went to work for her father at his farm-supply store, selling tractors and plows and settled down for a life of Midwestern convention.
The years went by slowly at first, as Doreen raised their colicky, irritable baby and Dinsdale worked seventeen hours a day to try and make ends meet. Eventually, Dinsdale became the store manager, and when the old man died, Dinsdale took over completely. The child grew up, went to school and moved away, as children sometimes do. Without their daughter to raise, Doreen had become sullen and mean-tempered. She had constantly badgered Dinsdale about the long hours he put in at the store, and he reminded her often that he had given up the only thing he had truly loved—his music—to run the Goddamned store in the first place. She had driven him to the arms and beds of other women and he was sure she had done the same, the hateful bitch.
Glen Miller. When Dinsdale needed peace, he would pull out his hi-fi albums and play the music of the big bands. Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” was his favorite and he wore the record out. It drove his wife and daughter nuts over the years, and that in itself made it worth the price of a new record. The years gained steam as Dinsdale approached his fifties—he battled a drinking problem and tried to gain a handle on his extra-marital dalliances, all the while attempting to keep the store in the black. Every problem had seemed so important then, and even thoughts of forming his own swing band had eventually evaporated. Eventually, his hi-fi records were his only link to the past, his glory days.
His fifties had come and gone, then his sixties and suddenly, it was all over. All the work, all the troubles. His drinking, the affairs, the countless hours worrying over money all seemed like a bad dream, someone else’s life. Now there was only arthritis and bad eyes. And the dog. He sold the store, invested the profits and moved with his wife to the endless sunshine of the great West—Arizona. He lived in a hot little tin can in the middle of the desert, surrounded by other bad-tempered retirees, all waiting to get in the box. For Dinsdale, given the hibiscus, the dogshit and Doreen’s sour disposition, the outlook was bleak. But there was Basie—a Yorkshire terrier and the pride of Dinsdale’s baleful existence.
Named after Count Basie, the little dog had been given to Dinsdale by Doreen on his fifty-eighth birthday and Dinsdale had taken immediately to the little critter. At times it seemed that he and Basie were soulmates. The dog had little use for humans in general and barely tolerated Doreen. Dinsdale felt much the same way. When Basie felt like it, he would hop into Dinsdale’s lap and breathe a heavy sigh before lying down in the comfortable hollow between Dinsdale’s legs. But more often than not, he preferred to prowl the yard, peering through the chain link fence that surrounded it and barking at the passersby.
This day was hotter than most and Dinsdale regretted, as he often did, the decision to move to Mesa year-round. It was a hot, dry, miserable desert populated by snotty-assed, horn-blowing nincompoops for whom Dinsdale had no use. It’s not that he had any desire to return to the muggy, mosquito haven of the Midwest, he just didn’t particularly care for Arizona, or its people.
Basie moved slowly about the yard, his stiff, ten year-old legs shuffling beneath him, his tongue hanging from his mouth, nose to the sky, searching the airstream for strangers at whom to yap. Dinsdale, still grumpy and hot, saw the mailman approaching and got up to fetch the stack of bills he had prepared for mailing the previous evening. He shook his head as he turned the doorknob, once again briefly thinking of the old white towel signal of the Cha Cha Cha. How things had turned out, he thought. Sixty-eight and still paying a stack of bills every two weeks, trying to stretch every penny to it’s fullest. The screen door slammed behind him and he heard Doreen stir in the living room—the hateful bitch.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"No Problem."

Wednesday, September 08, 2010
"No Problem."
Current mood: Argumentative
Category: Blogging

You know what I really hate? I really hate when I thank someone for something – anything, really – and they respond with “no problem”. I don’t know why this bugs me as much as it does, but it seems snarky and dismissive. I would rather hear the classic “you’re welcome”, or my personal favorite – “my pleasure”, which provides the same closure to the thanks, only with a colorful flourish.

“No problem” should only be used in instances where strength, cunning or loyalty is involved.

Example 1: “Can you lift that boulder, Hercules?” “No problem…”

Example 2: “Do you think you can defuse the bomb before the orphanage is destroyed?” “No problem.”

Example 3: “That sonofabitch put me here – if only he would have a tragic accident, he couldn’t give testimony – you think you can take care of that, Chicky?” Chicky: “No problem.”

Used in these contexts, “no problem” is comforting; heroic, even. No longer the dismissive response that alludes that one hasn’t wasted too much of the thankee’s time, it becomes a strong, positive phrase – “you betcha– can-do. I got this one…”

Other acceptable means as a response to “thank you” could be “not at all”, which is breezy and courteous; and “it was nothing…”, which comes off as self-deprecating and humble. On the other hand, one sprightly offshoot of “no problem” can be perfectly acceptable as a response as well. An offhanded “no-problemo” is infectious and cute, especially when used with the forefinger/thumb circle “okay” hand gesture.

I’m not trying to be sensitive, here – but it seems a crime with all the delightful options open to us along these lines, that we should settle for a lumbering phrase such as “no problem” to respond to the simple words “thank you”. Let’s get back some of our grammatical class – first of all, stop abbreviating every goddamn word in your text messages – it gives me a headache to try and decipher all the “How R U” and “LOL” and “ROFLOL” and “OMG” messages that are sent. I can figure them out with enough time and some of the biggies have been committed to memory, but for Chrissakes, if there is a bomb that is going to go off in the orphanage that I might have to heroically disarm, the last thing I need to get is this: “OMG F’ng TNT BAM 2 scared 2 move – pls SOS.”


Okay, that’s another battle, but for now, can we at least consider putting a little bit of thought and feeling into responding to someone who has taken the time to appreciate our solid efforts and offer up a “thank you”? Let’s give them a heady “Not At All!”, and add a jaunty wave if you like. Save the “No problem” for when you have to move a boulder, Hercules.

Watch Jerry bitch about stuff in his video blog at:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Oui, Oui, Jerry Lewis!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Oui, Oui, Jerry Lewis!
Current mood:Wistful
Category: Blogging

Not a Labor Day goes by that I don’t at least think about Jerry Lewis. Not only because of all the wonderful work the comedian has done for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, but also because of the memories I have of being a kid and staying up late into the night to watch the Telethon every year. I remember watching all the acts in their tuxedos, performing song, dance and schtick through the wee hours and waking up to Jerry Lewis, bowtie now loosened, of course - still carrying the show.

I rarely get the chance to watch the Telethon anymore and when I do happen to tune in, I rarely see the comic. However, this weekend, one of the movie channels made a brilliant move – they had a Jerry Lewis marathon over the holiday. As difficult as it may be to sit through an Jerry Lewis film in its entirety, it is almost necessary to do so to catch all the phenomenal bits of comedy that are gently (and some would say, too rarely)woven throughout. For instance, in the film “The Patsy”, where Jerry plays a busboy who is groomed to be a mega-star comedian, there is a flashback to some sort of high-school dance (again, I was surfing, the television viewing equivalent to skimming) and Jerry is tripped by one of the bully classmates who has been chiding him. CUT TO: A DOORWAY – the camera is focused on the lower half of the door and the three feet of linoleum floor leading offscreen. Jerry comes sliiiiiiiding into the scene and thumps into the door, his body curled, arms and legs akimbo. It is only a brief shot, but one of sheer genius. The timing that went into the editing of the shot, the slide and the position of his body would be not only impossible to replicate, but could have only been pulled off by Jerry Lewis. The scene in the same movie where Jerry nearly breaks a half-dozen vases and artifacts by bumping them off tables only to catch them an instant before they hit the floor is worthy of Chaplin or Keaton.

And speaking of the silent clowns, some of Jerry Lewis’s best work in film is performed with no dialogue. The “Typewriter” scene in “Who’s Minding the Store” comes to mind, as does the pantomime scene in “The Errand Boy”, where Jerry pretends he’s the boss behind the desk to Count Basie’s “Blues in Hoss Flat”. “The Bellboy” has an excellent scene where Jerry conducts a non-existent orchestra and his tennis lesson from “The Big Mouth” is priceless. Look them up on YouTube – it’s worth your time and they will make your day.

Lots of things have been said about Jerry Lewis – he is an arrogant prick, he is overindulgent in his filmmaking and gives a heavy hand to the pathos. He is self-serving, self-righteous and self-aggrandizing. These may be indisputable facts, but I think that the French may be on to something when they give him medals and honors and free rooms at the best hotels. Maybe one day Jerry Lewis will be regarded as less of a punchline in his own country and more of the icon he probably deserves to be. His work with Muscular Dystrophy notwithstanding, the comedian has done some brilliant work that should be remembered, first in his nightclub years with Dean Martin (a tantalizing taste of which is available on their “Colgate Comedy Hour” clips), and then on his own – at one point being top box office draw in the country. He was an innovative director that changed the way comedy films were made, even pioneering the practice of shooting a scene on video as well as film, to get an instant view of the work as it was shot.

You can say a lot of things about Jerry Lewis, some of them disparaging, some admiring, but as Jerry would humbly insist, “please judge the whole fucking pie, Chicky, not just a slice…”

Friday, September 3, 2010

"A Bunny Screaming" Chapter 2 Excerpt

For your Labor Day weekend enjoyment - somewhere in Chapter 2, we meet "Harve".

Harve must have been a young man when the Awful Bee Sting-Thing happened to him. From family photos, I saw Harve on the porch from the time my father was young and even before he was born. Harve was never the focus of these photos, mind you, but he was always there, like a chair or a dog, in the background, while others posed and frolicked and acted the fool in front of the camera.
Harve always looked sixty years old. In the pictures when my dad was a boy, Harve looked sixty. In pictures when I was a tot, Harve looked sixty. My grandmother even shied away from the camera in one photo taken when she was a young woman, holding a hand-rolled cigarette, and there was a sixty-year-old Harve sitting on the porch.
From what I put together over the years, Harve had been walking home to the old family place on his way home from work. Harve, like most able-bodied men in Fairmont, West Virginia, worked at the coalmines. He repaired equipment above ground. It was the only job he had ever had. Somehow, on that walk, along the tree-lined dirt road that led to Monkeywrench Holler, Harve kicked up a hornet nest. Harve ran and rolled, but the hornets followed.
By the time Digger Reynolds found Harve on the side of the road, the hornets had finished the major part of their work. There were a few hornets hovering around Harve’s unconscious form and digger shooed them and rolled Harve over. He didn’t even recognize the bloody, swollen face as that of Harve. He got Harve into the back of his truck and took him to the hospital, where he lingered close to death for four days. They gave him ice baths and swabbed his face and hands, the areas where most of the stings had occurred, with salves and balms. Harve had sustained over two hundred hornet stings. They had gotten up his nose, in his eyes and ears and in his mouth. His tongue had been so swollen that even breathing had become a concern. Thanks to the hornets, Harve was mostly blind and deaf for the rest of his life.
When he came home, my great grandmother and her daughters applied poultices for weeks. Eventually, Harve was able to get around, albeit with great difficulty and humiliation. His breathing was labored and there had been neurological damage as well. I once heard my Grandpa Sam tell my dad that Harve would have been better off if the hornets had just finished him.
Harve had never touched a drop of alcohol before the accident and never really acquired a taste for it, even later on in his life. But Harve drank. Every day, all day long as long as he lived, Harve would sit on the porch and drink whiskey. It didn’t matter what kind, if it was made local, by a neighbor, or store-bought, Harve would drink it. All day, every day. Grandma said it killed the pain. I think it helped kill the loneliness.
One morning, Harve didn’t make it to the porch. My grandmother walked out to the shack behind the home place, where Harve lived, and found him dead, lying peacefully on his little pallet. Grandma said that Harve was smiling. I always found that hard to believe, given the life he had led, but perhaps he knew something I didn’t. Maybe he knew he wouldn’t have to be lonely anymore.

Rick Friggin' Springfield

Friday, September 03, 2010
Rick Friggin' Springfield
Current mood: Animated
Category: Blogging

I first became aware of Rick Springfield like most of the young adults in the mid-1980s – via the television screen in the persona of Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital and through his music video and top-selling single “Jesse’sGirl”. And I dismissed him as a pretty boy-teen idol, as did most young men my age. Especially those of us who were jealous of his good looks, singing talent and ability to strum the living shit out of an electric guitar. I will also grant that no one rocked the Don Johnson cream-colored leisure jacket with its sleeves jacked up to the elbows like Rick – god knows we tried. I looked like a third-rate Phil Collins when I made the effort.

I sang “I’ve Done Everything For You” with The Hired Help throughout most of the eighties, not even realizing that it was written by Sammy Hagar and not Rick Springfield, who had taken it to the top of the charts. I once seduced a young maiden by luring her back to my apartment to listen to “What Kind of Fool Am I” and later drove to Tucson in my friend Dewey’s brand new Toyota pickup truck, with its state of the art sound system and the stern warning to “bring some Kotex pads to put on your shoulders for when your ears start bleeding…” listening to “Calling All Girls” six hundred times – rewinding the cassette to the back to the start over and over again, until we arrived - ears ringing, at our hotel.

Gradually, Rick Springfield faded from the public eye, as I in turn grew older and put whatever memories I might have had of the singer into the dusty, shady trunk of my mind where my thoughts retired to die. My daughters were born in the early 90s and in those days, I often made “mix-tapes” to listen to the car in the cassette player. I usually included “Jesse’s Girl”, “Calling All Girls” (out of a grinning respect for Dewey) and “State of the Heart” from Springfield’s “Tao” album. Not a big chart success, “State of the Heart” was a huuuuuuge success in the Ford-Family Caravan. The twins in their car seats would stare ahead as if blinded by science when the spooky intro began. “It’s juuust a staaate of the heart… Waiting here for…youuu… in the state I’m in…” Then the music would begin and they would bob their little heads to the beat the whole way through. Always a crowd favorite.

I finally got to see Rick Springfield perform live in Chicago at a place called “Joe’s”, in the mid-1990s, with my friend Steve Waste near the place where Dillenger got shot down by G-Men in the thirties. It was shortly after the release of his CD, “Karma”. It was a small club and Rick rocked the place as if it were a 60,000 seat arena. I sweated and sang along with every song, including the new stuff, which I had faithfully committed to memory. It’s not that I was adoring or anything, I simply appreciated the music. Seriously. A younger girl stood next to me and I did my best to explain the songs and their history to her and she bobbed her head along and eventually asked me if she could lay her head on my shoulder. “Sure,” I said. It was no big deal to me – I was having a fan-tas-tic time. After the show, Steve-O asked me if I had gotten the young lady’s number. “No…” I said, smiling at him dumbly. “She was all over you, man,” he told me, shaking his head. I looked around for her and she was nowhere to be found. I have kicked myself firmly in the ass ever since. I have never had a strong radar when it came to the ladies coming on to me – it’s a curse.

I moved to Phoenix and some years later and Springfield eventually came to town and played at the Celebrity Theater. I talked Taggart into going and we turned out to be the only two fellows in the entire venue that weren’t accompanied by a gal who had dragged them to the show. I sang along like a champion to every song and Taggart ran back and forth bringing us fresh rounds of beer. We each had our priorities. There were two young ladies that sat next to us the entire time and appreciated my enthusiasm. “I took pictures,” one of them told me. “You want me to e-mail you copies?” “No,” I said, smiling and trying to finish the last of my beer before we made our way out of the theater. “I’ll be happy to,” she insisted. “No thanks,” I said. “No one will think you’re gay,” she said. “Well, good,” I said. “Because I’M NOT…” She turned away as if I had swatted her in the mouth with a Brill-o pad and I thought for a moment about how it looked – Taggart and I being there like that.

“You think we look gay?” I asked him as the venue emptied. “Oh, fuck yeah,” he nodded, finishing his beer.

Since then I have not attended a Rick Springfield concert, but I have learned that he is coming – soon – to the Talking Stick Casino in Scottsdale. I think I’m going to go… I texted my daughters to rub it in and it appears that he is giving a show nearby to where they live as well. I have offered to pay half of their admittance fee, leaving it to the 2nd ex-Mrs. Ford to foot the rest of the bill, in order that they should attend. I have decided that it is worth the price of admission simply to allow my children to witness the man in concert. They may not get the opportunity to see McCartney, but they need to see where Fallout Boy and the rest get their moves. I will enjoy going to Talking Stick to take in the show. If I look gay, so be it. At least I’ll know all the words.

For Jerry's video blog, go to:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Xeryus - A Musing on Fragrance

Thursday, September 02, 2010
Xeryus - A Musing on Fragrance
Current mood: Appreciative
Category: Blogging

I recently purchased a bottle of my favorite cologne, Givenchy Xeryus, online for something like thirty dollars. I have been wearing this cologne since the mid-1980s and as those who know me are well aware, I am not one to give up on a style just because it has some age to it. It was “a signature fragrance. Xeryus hits all the right notes and does so with terrific aplomb. It is masculine but delicately so, complex but accessible, announces presence but never offputting”, as one reviewer noted. I had always aspired to be present but never offputting, so it seemed the perfect choice for me. Imagine my disheartenment when, in the middle of the 1990s, the cologne simply disappeared. It was no longer available, nowhere to be found. I scoured the earth in search of the scent and found that there was some left in France, but it was no longer available in the United States. Well, rubbish, I thought. I was not about to call France, or even write them a letter simply to try and procure some eu de toilet.

So the search was on – I needed to find a new aroma and I needed to do it quickly. My final bottle of Xeryus was getting down to its last squeezins. Not an easy task. I went back to the cologne I had worn just out of my teens – Halston (Z-14), but found its smell too strong, too sweet. I had apparently outgrown the Halston, which I had used for five or six productive years. It went on the shelf as an emergency backup. I visited makeup counters in low-end shops and fancy stores where the lovely salesladies wore smocks. I squirted and sniffed and took home countless packets of samples, none of which made me feel comfortable as my courtly gray bottle of Xeryus had done for lo, these many years. Some made me nauseous, others made me cry; most required an immediate shower, with a hardy, lye-based soap. “Who cares,” one of my friends said when I was weeping about it over a cold tall and frosty. “It’s just cologne… Pick up a bottle of Aramis - chicks love the Aramis.” “But chicks reeeeally love the Xeryus,” I muttered. He shrugged and left me to my tears.

I found some sample bottles of Xeryus on sale and bought some – they were exact teeny replicas of the stately gray bottles in which the magical concoction was bottled and sold. It was if the Givenchy corporation was trying to erase the fragrance from history – they were throwing the last of the survivors into the discount bin. These lasted awhile and there followed a blue period when my medicine cabinet was littered with various bottles for which I had neither affinity nor loyalty. At one point, I even found that I could buy Woohue online - the cologne that Sinatra and Dean Martin had worn in the 60's that had been off the market for thirty years. It didn't live up to its ratpackuous reputation. I was underwhelmed. It was a dark time.

When I broke up with the second ex-Mrs. Ford, the twins stayed with Mom to live – I lived close by, so I could have them with me on certain days of the week. I’m sure some of you know the routine. Allison, it seemed, had a particularly hard time with the separation and it was suggested by a grandmother in the business that I should spritz a favorite stuffed animal (of the little girl, not mine) with my cologne. I took one of the mini-bottles out of the heavy-duty home safe that protected my valuables against theft, fire and witchcraft and dashed some of the precious fluid onto a small stuffed bear. It worked wonders and helped the child with her separation anxiety. It made the cologne even more valuable – it was magic.

I stumbled through the next few years in an odoriferous haze- functional, but never efficient; aware, but never attentive. I grew weary with those around me. Tasks meant nothing, other than to get to the end of another sepia-toned day. I was nearing the end of my rope – had another year passed in this indecisive quagmire of fragrance-limbo, I cannot imagine the horrors that might have erupted. Then, one typically depressing sunny day, on a random shopping expedition, a weekly task that I shuffled through, mostly moaning and erupting in vicious jags of weeping while picking through the chips and the onions, I glanced as I always did – with a short, static burst of hopefulness – at the men’s fragrances on the makeup aisle. Not only did this keep me updated on the latest disappointing fragrances, it camouflaged my taste for the occasional colorful rouge.

And there it was.

It was in a short box, which contained a small, stumpy, etched-glass bottle – “Xeryus”, the label read; “By Givenchy”. My heart skipped a beat and I fell to my knees weeping. Security was called and I was escorted from the premises. Once I had regained my questionable composure, I dashed to a nearby Target and fast-walked to the cosmetic counter. “XERYUS” – right next to the other men’s colognes. IT WAS BACK! I immediately purchased a bottle and tore open the box on my way out of the store, spraying myself liberally as I walked. “YES!” I shouted. The bottle was different – gone was the stately gray, faux-art deco bottle with its daring lines and elegant script – but there was no denying that the fragrance was the same.

The world came into focus and for the first time in years, I felt alive. I cleaned my house and ridded myself of all the other fragrances cluttering the medicine cabinet. They were dead to me now. Xeryus had come home. I am still in recovery, but each day gets a little easier. The fragrance, it seems, relaxes me and brings me comfort that helps center my universe. Retrieving that which has been absent brings a new respect and appreciation for everything around one and every morning when I spritz, I find myself appreciating the new day that is upon me. It is truly a gift.

For Jerry's video blog, go to: