Monthly Archives: April 2010

Humpty Dumpty And His Girl (1 of 3)

She’s sixteen now – eight years since the adoption – and so that’s half her life, she’s been my daughter.   She has silky brown hair and a springtime smile, and her eyes are piercing, older than she is.  Her body is lithe and fit – she’s an athlete and eats right – and her mind crackles with ancient intensity.

 But she’s still a little girl, too.  She needs special things from the grocery store that are hers alone, breakfast bars, potato chips, a certain kind of ham.  She watches freaky horror movies that chase me out of the room, and also the same Japanese anime and old Star Trek tapes she brought with her to my house, when she was eight. 

Adult stuff, little girl stuff, adult stuff – like she’s flipping a coin.

And she carries a sadness that I recognize from my own youth, when the awkward phase slows to a secret, blooming beauty, and the high school cliques pretend to ignore what they can’t see at all.  Their judgment – the meaning of life, at one time – is rendered, and hard to reverse. 

Bethany’s curiosity is both shy and piercing; so often it reveals within her fellow souls a shallow, flipper-whacking avarice which depresses and confuses her.  The sadness is subtle.  Like a whisper of perfume, it evaporates in the slightest breeze.  But it always returns.

Lying beside my wife in our basement bedroom, I listen to the creaking footsteps across the spackled ceiling, wondering what it’s like for her at school, trying to match her with someone from my own class.  I could invent a sixteen year old and make her whoever I want her to be, but who’s that one, the tall girl, walking around up there in my house?

Does she want them to accept her, bite her on the neck like vampires?  Or does she want to rise to the treetops and dismiss them, like an angel gliding over frogs? 

The mattress squeaks as I climb to my feet, stacking the aging back muscles carefully, so as not to pop anything out of place.  I climb the stairs in the early dawn, wearing sleepy pants with street signs on them, and a yellow sweatshirt that doesn’t match. 

Bethany’s walking away from me down the hallway, a full-grown woman with confident posture, and a thumping teenager’s stomp, and her hair flips as she vanishes behind her bedroom door.

My body creaks and hisses all the way into the kitchen.  The coffee is already made, and there’s a clean blue mug next to the muttering pot, so I help myself, and I carry it into the living room, trying to figure out how cold it is without going outside.

Driving her to school used to seem like such a pain in the ass, but I did it to spare her the school bus.  Teenagers are just as annoyed by each other, as we ever are of them.  When I was her age, my mouth would get me into trouble, but she’s the type of girl keeps her mouth shut most of the time. 

I learned the same thing eventually, so maybe she got it from me; it’s a nice thought.

Yes, and now I’m looking at three cars in the driveway as I try to kill a cup of coffee before she emerges from her room.  Pretty soon, she won’t need a ride to school.  Just the first of thousands of pains in the ass that I’m going to miss as they disappear, like snow melting in the spring. 

Girls don’t fight like guys do.  Not as often.  When they do, they tend to go straight for cold-blooded murder, but it still seems rare.  I don’t think she’s ever had to worry about it.  But she comes out of her room, and I can see it – she’s got plenty to worry about. 

The television makes it no secret – it’s a sea of sex out there.  They don’t giggle in health class anymore, they offer critiques.  

So has she or hasn’t she?  There’s no way to tell, not if you remember your own childhood.  How easy the lies came, how the secrets were submerged like the bulks of icebergs.  I kept a bit of myself on the surface, for the adults to see, and what was beneath the icy water…

She wears a dress today, a nice one, and she starts to tell me why she’s wearing it without being asked.  It’s a pretty dress, but I’ve been a dad long enough to know, an unsolicited explanation is almost certainly a smokescreen.  She’s wearing it to impress a boy, and it’s going to work. 

Sixteen, I’m thinking, while she lies a little more, and I go and refill my coffee, and I put my hand on her shoulder as I come back through the room.  Look into her eyes, look at the freckles on her cheeks, while she talks.  She’s wearing a little makeup, but not too much. 

I let her finish and then tell her, “You look awesome today, sweetheart.”

And she says, “Thanks!”

We listen to NPR on the very short ride.  “My favorite,” she says.  “The Adults Who Talk And Talk.”

So I turn it, and we roll down the windows, and Rage Against The Machine changes the tone though I have to explain to her who they are. 

“You’d go to their concerts,” I tell her, “and they’d have the whole crowd flipping off the cops.”

She nods at me, not impressed. 

“And everybody would kind of, beat each other up.”

She scrunches her eyebrows, throws my own what-the-hell facial expression at me – doesn’t sound like fun to her. 

Good news, I guess.

We crawl through a little traffic, and then there we are, parked among a mass of teenaged children, and it seems like I remember them, the wise guys, the journalism chicks, the studs, the cheerleaders.  They are completely helpless if you throw the slightest problem at them, and yet they swagger across the parking lot like cops at the mall.  Invincible, until you raise your voice.

And that’s where I leave her, another womanchild joining with the swarm, scowling a little.  Molly Ringwald scowled like that in my day, now it’s my daughter Bethany, who’s never heard of her.

I tell her that I love her as she’s about to close the door, and she’s been waiting for it, like a password.  Her password is a smile, and not many people can put that on her face, but I can – it’s my superpower. 

She tells me that she loves me, too, and she shoulders her backpack, and goes inside.

Sixteen.   It was so easy to make her feel safe and strong, when she was half this old.  A bowl of popcorn and a shoulder to lean on, a little Stargate SG-1 on the television.  Fluffy koala bear slippers and a couple of dogs.

I sit in my office, trying to get some work done, and all I can think about is, how do you protect your daughter from herself, when she’s at the same age you were, when no one could?   That’s about when I decided, the hell with everybody, I’m going to do what I want.

I had a stepdad, a bitter ex-Marine, who saw my father in me and hated me for it.  Of course I did my own thing – it was either that or do his thing, and hate myself. 

She has a car to drive, and her own license, and she got a big sushi dinner, just like she wanted.  A couple of books wrapped up, some flowers.  A bunch of tiny bottles of bath oils and shit, for me to kick around in the shower.  The birthday is a wrap, and there are no complaints.

Yes but her sadness lingers, and I know I can’t stop it.  I know that sadness is a part of life, a part of joy, the other side of a coin that rises in the air and flips and turns, and you can’t have one side without the other.

She blasts in the front door around three thirty, like a giant pitcher of Kool Aid.  Not for any reason in particular, that’s just the way teenagers move, the opposite of ninjas.  I save the file I’m working on, and realize, damn it, I’m still wearing sleepy pants and a sweatshirt that doesn’t match.  It’s nice to work from home, but there’s no need to be ridiculous.

So I get some jeans on and a tee shirt, and by the time I trot upstairs, Bethany is theatrically relaxing in the living room, her feet and arms all kicked up on various things so that she looks like a spider lurking in a furniture web.  She’s eating a bowl of cereal in the middle of the day, despite my recent threat to ration it.

“Let’s go for a ride,” I tell her. 

She’s on her feet in a second, remote down, television off – a damn good kid.  “Where are we going?”

“Back in time,” I reply.  “And you’re driving.”
(Note: this is the first of three parts – continue by clicking below)
(Continue here)


Posted by on April 28, 2010 in Ghost Hamster Chronicles


So You’ve Decided To Go See Kick Ass

 The problem with sitting down to write a movie review is, I really don’t like movie reviews, or people who write them.

Most movie reviews seem like they should be titled, Why I’m So Cool In Relation To This Movie.  I’m smart and this is a smart movie, so I liked it and if you don’t you aren’t smart.  Or I’m hip and this is a hip movie, so I liked it and if you don’t then you aren’t hip. 

I don’t have kids, and this movie is aimed at eight year olds, so it’s stupid.  Even, for some reason, if you’re eight.

Or, I have kids, and this movie was not appropriate for them.  So they shouldn’t have made it.

It’s all about who the movie is talking to, and if you’re one of them, or if you want people to think you’re one of them.  That’s why South Park doesn’t care if your priest and your mom are offended by the show.  They aren’t talking to your priest or your mom, or if they are talking to them, they are saying, “Please get your panties in a bunch for the amusement of most of my viewers.”

That’s how it is with Kick Ass, a movie I saw on Saturday morning with Rob, and no special guest star, because Mike Rothe couldn’t make it, citing scheduling conflicts and a quote, “intense lack of interest in Tom’s stupid blog thing.”  End quote.

The thing about Kick Ass – and really any movie – is you need to decide if you want to get on board or not.  If you don’t want to get on board, then you are not going to like the boat ride.  So sure, they’ll take your money, but what’s the point? 

Let’s say you are a physics guy, and you can’t stand to watch a movie about space unless it’s scientifically accurate – leaving you with about five or six possibilities in the history of film, but whatever.  My advice to you is going to be, don’t watch them, because nobody wants to sit and listen to you complain about the physics of everything.  Inertial dampeners, warp drive, Heisenberg compensators – get on board, or don’t.

You’re going to miss a lot of great movies, but you weren’t going to like them anyway.  So if you can’t learn to ignore the fact that screen writers are normally not scientists, then save yourself the time and the money.

You didn’t see me sitting around in Mamma Mia, because Mamma Mia wasn’t talking to me.  I’m not going to go in there and stink it up for everyone’s mom.

When you’re deciding whether or not you should get on board Kick Ass, the first thing to ask yourself is if you are capable of putting down your parental perspective for two hours.  Obviously, if you don’t have kids, then you don’t really have a parental perspective, so that should be something you very rarely pick up anyway.  Not much of a problem. 

Even if you don’t have a parental perspective, though, you might have a thing about graphic violence, or graphic violence committed by teenagers, or graphic violence committed by even younger kids than that.  If that’s you, then it’s time for you to have kids – get to work.  But if you’re going to go and see this movie, then put that weird prototype parenting perspective of yours down first.

Because from a parental perspective, the movie can basically not be defended, except in the way any movie can – it’s just a movie.

An eleven year old girl is trained by her dad from the age of five to be a little comic book killing machine.  She graphically kills at least forty people, frequently with a blade, frequently with a gunshot at point blank range.  She drops F-bombs and both kinds of C-bombs, and the only lesson she learns is that killing is often the answer to your problems, that revenge is a good thing, and that helping people is not always a good idea.

It looks like a satirical take on Batman and Robin –that’s pretty much what he did, except Batman won’t kill people.  But he felt perfectly free putting little Robin up against lunatics who kill people all the time.

Me personally, it’s not hard to put down my parental perspective.  Just turn off the phone.  Beep.  Gone.

Later, I’ll walk on out, turn that phone back on.  Beep.  There they are.  You might say, that’s what’s so cool about me in relation to this movie.

But a mind-boggling number of people do not think I’m cool, and more specifically, a lot of people have a hard time putting their parental perspectives down.  They watch a movie character shoot his eleven year-old daughter in the chest repeatedly, just so she can get used to how it feels to have that happen, wearing body armor, and they think, this movie is sick.  And it is sick, sure.

It’s also not very realistic.  You would kill your eleven year old daughter that way – body armor isn’t a force field.  And this isn’t Goodfellas.

It’s just a comic book movie, so settle down.  All you have to do, is not get on board.  Just say, I’m not sick enough to watch this sick movie, and then feel good about yourself.  I’m serious, you should feel good about that.  Just do it outside.

But listen.  Just like space movies don’t need to be scientifically accurate – in fact they shouldn’t be – comic book movies don’t need to be parentally approved afterschool specials about how good kids behave, or what realistically happens to them, when they disobey you.  Not even at the end – that’s usually how they handle it, an hour and a half of violence and then a little lesson at the end about being nice and recycling and all that. 

If you don’t need the movie to be your co-parent, it’s possible to watch this movie, and be amused not just by its audacity, but also by the fact that other than being offensive, it’s a great movie.

The camera work is nearly seamless, the effects are pretty subtle for a comic book movie, the characters are developed maybe not flawlessly, but as much as they need to be, and a couple of the action scenes are the most astonishingly choreographed I’ve seen since The Matrix.

It’s pretty good, if you decide to get on board.  It’s pretty horrifying, but a lot of movies are horrifying and good at the same time – and often funny, too.  It’s not just that it’s so unbelievably over the top violent that makes it good – there are a lot of really violent movies that I wasn’t crazy about.  But it’s an effectively told story, too. 

I’ll tell you, toward the end the little girl comes into this scene where there are about fifteen guys with guns in a single hallway, and you’re just absolutely terrified for them, because the little girl’s coming, and you know she’s going to kill every single one of them. 

That couldn’t have been easy, putting the scenes together such that the little girl was scary, but that’s what she is.  Scary and cool, with my daddy phone off. 

And someone bothered to write the thing, too.  I don’t want to deliver an English paper about it or anything, but it really seemed to me like the violence – and who was dispensing it – were both saying something about the violence our kids consume all the time, about the genre itself.  I could really go on here – I think this movie is one of those postmodern things where it’s satirizing something while emulating it.  If this were a college course, I could knock out an A paper on that in about a two hours.

But I think that cheats the movie, too.  It’s called Kick Ass because that’s really all it wants to do.

I’m not going to do the standard movie review format – I just can’t get my brain around it.  First I’m supposed to learn everyone’s names – both the characters and the actors – and then I’m supposed to summarize without spoiling, and then I’m supposed to render a decision and then support it.  I like an alternative definition of movie review – I’m going to assume you’ve either already seen it, and we’re literally reviewing it, or that you’re wondering if you should get on board in the first place.

This movie is a couple of weeks old – there are plenty of reviews to read, and there are really two kinds.  There are people who decide to get on board, and people who don’t but still want to complain about the boat ride.

My favorite is Roger Ebert.  He starts off saying something like, “Maybe I’m just an incurable prude, but…”

Yes, I’m just going to stop you right there, sir.  All you’re saying is, I get seasick easy, and I don’t like boats, but this boat ride sucks.  Who cares?

Did you like Kill Bill?  Because in the ultraviolence genre, this is better than Kill Bill.  It’s the Bride, without Tarantino writing a bunch of coked-out dialogue for her.  And even more striking than Uma Thurman slicing folks up is Uma Thurman when she’s eleven.

Didn’t like Kill Bill? Well, like I said, this is better.  Unless the reason you didn’t like Kill Bill was because of all the violence.  Check out the box, they’re not trying to trick you.  There’s chicken stock in this thing, and you might be a vegetarian.  No one wants to hear it if you go to Kick Ass and come out offended.

You know, that’s the other thing.  Why is this movie called Kick Ass?  It’s not really about the kid who names himself Kick Ass.  That kid does very, very little to move the plot along.  He was wondering why people don’t just turn into superheroes, and it turned out, some people do.  So he gets his ass kicked most of the time – and then non-title characters kick all the ass.

See?  Post modern.  Four stars out of five.  That’s about what Rob thinks, too.  I forgot to ask him, and in fact I forgot to really mention him much at all in this whole thing.  That’s what he gets for not writing it.

Next week looks like Nightmare on Elm Street, and special guest star Mike Rothe, if he yanks that stick out of his butt and shows up.  But there’s a fifty percent chance I won’t actually watch it, I’ll just sit in a bar and wait for Rob to tell me all about it, because it looks super duper scary, and I don’t like to be scared.

Anybody else want to be a special guest star?  Facebook me or Rob, the theatre holds around three hundred people.


Posted by on April 27, 2010 in The Rob Braithwaite Project


Tags: , , , , ,

Thirty Gallons of Death

When I was buying my six hundred dollars worth of groceries and gift cards at a fictional grocery store, and they told me I could have thirty gallons of gas for basically free from their attached fictional gas station, there was a lot that I didn’t know.   Things like how easy it is to blow up a gas station, and how much my fictional grocery store – with the fictional gas station attached – loves people who drive Hummers.

It seemed like everything was fictional that day, except me and for the most part, my wife.  It was weird.

A teenage girl explained to me how easy it is to blow up a gas station.  She was an employee who met me a few steps outside the door as I was headed inside to ask them why they had turned off the gas pump, while my wife was in the middle of pumping our last fifteen gallons of free gas.

“You can’t pump the gas into two cars,” she said, exasperated and urgent, the way she’d say it if I was smoking or welding over there.

 “Why not?”

“Because I don’t want the station to blow up,” she replied. 

Like the ominous kid in a horror movie, eyes haunted, like if only I’d seen what those eyes had seen, the gas stations blasting into the sky, women screaming, kids on fire.  All that – because of naïve gas pumpers like me.  How many people had to die?

Somebody’s mom walked past, giving me the crazy-guy-at-the-park look.  I’d only said two words – pretty early to be getting the look.

Real quick, I tried to make my face go normal.  I couldn’t tell if it was working, or if I was just looking crazier.  Don’t shake your face, I thought.

“What’s a fire hazard?  What?”

“Filling up two cars like that.  You can’t do that, sir.  It’s a fire hazard.”

Dead serious.  Imploring me.  What kind of monster was I?

Now my wife wanted to know what was going on.  She rattled the gas nozzle in the car, to demonstrate the problem.  She was trying to shoot things – energy bolts, maybe – out of her eyes.

And the teenage harbinger of doom girl was trying to catch them.  She waggled her head around, trying to look over my shoulder , but I bobbed around like a snake, to stay in her way.  I tried looking right at her, with my eyes wide, thinking maybe it would hypnotize her, and I used a soothing, level voice.  “How is that a fire hazard?  What part of that doesn’t happen all the time?”

Really wanting to know, wanting to believe her, like when someone sees Bigfoot.  You want to stay open to the possibility, keep your mind open, not wanting to push anybody over any edges.  A social situation, really, requiring tact and subtlety.

But the girl liked Marilyn better than she liked me, and that was a shame, because she wasn’t going to get anything tactful over there.   

But she was young and quick, faked to the left and then got around me like it was nothing, and told my wife, “You can’t fill up two cars on the same pump!” 

Using her outside voice now.  Marilyn rattled the nozzle again. Her eyebrows said, she didn’t like the outside voice.

 “What are you talking about?”

So the explosion-grizzled teenager again had to break some wide-eyed rube down on how easy it is to blow up a gas station, and how we’d all listen to her if only we knew.  Now her tone was even more urgent, her face like the end of Planet of the Apes – damn it, when will you fools learns?  You can’t fill up a second vehicle without first hanging up the nozzle and then beginning a different, non-discounted transaction!

Barking at us like at the end of 24.  Cut the blue wire!  There’s no time!  All that.

So sure, the girl then blipped right out of Marilyn’s perception of reality with all that crazy bullshit, and Marilyn stomped inside to find a grownup, while the girl lingered, shaking her head at me ominously – we were doomed.

And now a frosty haired lady looked up from her Blackberry just long enough to shoot me a smug, withering glare, while she filled up a pair of five gallon gas containers.  That must be the slick way around the rule, filling up five gallon containers.  

This lady was doing it while the containers were sitting in the back of her CRV, and you really can blow up a gas station that way, I remembered, from watching those knuckleheads on cable, who try stuff like that. 

Also a bald guy with glasses in a Camry, waiting behind our car now.  He leaned toward the middle of the car, where I’d be able to see him better, theatrically looking at his watch. 

But no matter what the policy was, I knew there was a twenty percent chance Marilyn would browbeat them into turning the pump back on.  She was in there popping the pin out of her mommy grenade right now.

I could even hear her voice, vectoring out of the place, as a pair of constructions workers tumbled out with two liters and chips, looking shaken and dazed.

So I just trotted on back to the car, giving the guy behind it a vague wave that wasn’t an apology or anything, just sort of, I see you, relax.   And then I leaned against the vehicle, pretending to watch the gas fill up even though it wasn’t, thinking, is it contact with the nozzle?  Is there some sort of static charge that you release, by hanging it up?  Because, they could just require you to tap the nozzle then, still give you your gas. 

The whole time, thinking, why the hell did you tell us you’d give us thirty gallons in the first place, if you only wanted us to have fifteen?  You think I wouldn’t show up, for the fifteen?

Then I started thinking about gas tanks in general, and how both of our cars held about fifteen gallons each, so the only way to take full advantage of the thirty gallons of discounted gas, is to either fill up both cars, or buy the five gallon containers.  Statistically, I’ll bet there are a bunch of folks who just fill up their cars and forget about it. 

But it’s something like forty bucks worth of gas.  They make it inconvenient – I realized – so that out of sheer laziness, some people won’t take it all.

Which means, the person in the city who is the least inconvenienced by the thirty gallon rule is the average owner of a Hummer H2, which holds thirty two gallons of gas.

So what my fictional grocery store gas station was saying was, screw you, unless you own a Hummer.  Weird niche to favor, in the gasoline market – I was thinking – if the idea is, everybody be thrifty.

The lady with the CRV and the gas cans drove away, and then the guy who’d been waiting behind me hooked around, and took her spot. 

I craned my neck to watch him use the same nozzle, trying to figure out what was so special about him filling up his car right after hers.  Looking at my wife’s car, my car, puzzled. 

Upon further investigation, I realized people were using nozzles to fill up their cars after someone else had just done so, with the same nozzle, all over the place. 

Was it magic?  Some kind of force field?  Should I call the fire department?  The cops?  The President?

It was really eating at me.

And no, when my wife came out, she gave me the thumbs down, and we left without our free gas and without blowing up the station, and the next time I drove past the place – and this happens a lot of places, after I leave them – they had put up a bunch of big new signs.


Posted by on April 26, 2010 in Ghost Hamster Chronicles


Parenting Back In Time

Sitting around the living room, my roommates and I have gone all out tonight – Shake and Bake chicken, cheesy potatoes and green beans.  We’re sitting around the television tearing it all up like a pack of wild dogs, and then the front door opens, and in walks Heather, a tall, curly-haired friend of ours, carrying a purple Adidas bag.

She doesn’t live with us, that’s just how people are around here, barging in like Lenny and Squiggy.  Nobody knocks.  She kind of peeks in at the four of us, though, as if unsure anyone would be home. 

She says, “Oh my god, I’m starving!”

We’ve made a lot of food, so I get up and get her a plate and a beer and she takes my chair while she’s at it, and I end up eating on the front porch, talking to everyone through the front door.

It’s a nice October night, and I’m feeling pretty comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt, out on the porch, watching everyone on Patterson Avenue make each other nervous.  This is the very edge of north campus, so half of the people are regular folks who own their homes and have kids and like to work in their gardens, while the other half are knucklehead college students, who like to turn their music up and sit on the roofs of their porches.  There’s peace tonight, but there’s tension, too. 

We’ve got some people coming over later.  Inside, Jason tells Heather all about it, his flannel shirt hanging open, his chest hairy with maybe a little bit of Shake and Bake sprinkled in it.  There are people coming over just about every night, but we always portray it like it’s a special occasion, because people seem to like that.

Mike and Rob there, too, a lot more interested in chicken and the mob movie on television, than Heather or any plans we might all have later.  Some kind of thing going on maybe, between Jason and Heather, we don’t know.  The guy never makes a move toward any of the girls we meet and yet they flock to him, landing on him like pigeons, making little noises – he barely cares.

Heather finishes dinner and then unzips the Adidas bag and says, “Hey, you guys mind if I use your bathroom?”

We don’t mind, and she takes the bag with her, rustling around in it as she creaks up the stairs.

She’s gone for a little while, and pretty soon, I have to go to the bathroom, so I go upstairs and the door is open, and Heather’s standing there in front of the mirror with some kind of bag over her head, patting paste all over her scalp. 

There’s not a lot to say to that, so I just stand there in the doorway, and she turns to me, eyebrows up, like can I help you?

Seems like I’ve got all the information I need to figure out what she’s doing, but I still look around a little bit and notice the box of hair dye on the sink, and tell her, in case she hasn’t noticed, “You’re dying your hair.”

I’d like her to put those eyebrows down now, is what I’d like her to do. 

“I’m dying my hair,” she agrees.  With a weird tone, like I’m in her bathroom instead of her in mine.

So I go into Jason’s room, and urinate right through his screen into the back yard, getting the attention of a dumpster cat out there, hearing the noise.  And then I stop in the bathroom doorway again, and Heather simply ignores me now, no eyebrows, no nothing.

That’s fine, I creak back down the stairs, and I forget to mention to the other guys anything about hair dye or urinating out windows, and after a while, Heather comes back down the stairs, her hair bright blonde now.

She drops her Adidas bag by the door and asks us what we think.

Mike and Rob don’t think anything; they don’t even look away from the screen. 

Jason says, “Looks good.”

And I get up and ask her if I can stick my fingers in it, and she says, sure, so I do.  Feels kind of stiff.  I take my fingers out, rubbing them together, looking at them.

Huh.  “Looks good,” I agree.

She says, “I might see you guys later tonight,” and then gets her Adidas bag, and another piece of chicken, and she walks right out the door eating it.

Then we’re just sitting there again, zeroing in on the leftovers, scraping the casserole dish, watching the end of the mob movie.  People start to show up – we’re right out of high school, so some of them are still in it, and have curfews to worry about.  Mike’s got an enormous amp that he’s hooked up to a little discman, and he cranks the Sanford and Son theme song – wherever he got it – nice and loud, and we all scuttle out to the porch to get frowned at by the neighbors.

A few hours later, it’s getting pretty crowded.  There are probably twenty people there, but it’s a big house, and everyone’s spread out through different rooms.  I’m standing on the front porch when a Baby Boomer in a long black coat gets out of a Lexus with a very stocky sidekick, wearing a suit jacket.  They stop and have a muttered conversation, out there on the sidewalk, looking at us, and then they approach.

We’re right out of high school, so a lot of our guests are underage; they disappear like roaches, and then I’m standing there with Jason, who just leans against the wall to watch.

“Can I help you guys?”  I ask.

The sidekick is security.  He puts himself right in front of me, looking me in the eye.  Shorter than I am, but gargantuan just the same, shoulders like a small car.

The taller guy has salt and pepper hair, mostly salt.  He says, “I hope so.  I’m looking for my daughter.  She’s taken off.”

Five guys living here, this could be bad.  “Who’s your daughter?”

He tells us, and it’s Heather.  “Heather’s nineteen, isn’t she?”

Now the security guy speaks, leaning nice and close to me.  He says, “That don’t mean her dad don’t care about her.”

Heather’s dad nods at me.  “Yes, she’s over eighteen,” he says.  “That’s why we’re here, and not the  police.”

Smiles when he says it, too.  Both of them smile nice and wide, wanting me to know how simple things are.

“Well, okay, guys, she was just here.  She didn’t say anything about running off or anything.  She just showed up, ate some chicken, dyed her hair…”

Trailing off now, my face falling down around my neck.  Oh.  Dying her hair.

“We know she hangs out here,” Heather’s dad explains, “because she’s got your address written down on some things, in her room.”

So I blow out a lot more air than I inhaled in the first place, and tell them, “Look, I can see you want to come in and check the place out, make sure your daughter’s not here.  So, to be clear, that’s all you want, right?  You aren’t worried about how old anyone is, if they’re standing there with a beer, or what that smell is, or anything like that, am I right?”

“That’s right,” her dad agrees, showing me his hands now.  Is that supposed to mean, look I’m unarmed?

So I glance over my shoulder at Jason, and he very casually wobbles away from the wall behind him, and strolls inside to spread the word, Tom’s about to bring someone’s dad inside with his thug for a tour.

It’s a three story house, but they don’t scour it.  If Heather were here and wanted to stay hidden, she could have just hopped in a closet or under the bed.  It’s more that we’ve showed them we have nothing to hide and so they believe us.

Back down on the porch, Heather’s dad gives me his business card.  He tells me again that he’s worried about his daughter, and that he’s not going to go into why, but that he needs to find her. 

I figure, it’s about fifty-fifty.  Either Heather’s got a good reason to want to stay away from her dad, or she’s a dipshit nineteen year old girl, with a stupid reason for wanting to stay away from her dad.  I spend a couple of seconds looking right in his eyes, trying to figure out if he’s genuinely concerned, or some kind of control freak.  

Seems to me, I either help him find her, or I don’t, and either way, it’s going to be really good for Heather, or really bad.  Doesn’t seem to be any way to know for sure.

I tell him, “Go down to South Campus at around eleven o’clock.  Go into a dive bar called Purity.  It’s an underground bar on the east side of High Street, just south of 11th Avenue.  It’s huge, so just go on in, and walk around in a big circle, and there’s a good chance you’ll find Heather.  If that doesn’t work, try Crazy Mama’s, around 9th and High, except this one’s on the second floor.  You want to try Crazy Mama’s around 1:30.”

Now we’re all pals.  They shake my hands and tell me that I’m all right, and they get back into their Lexus and drive away.  And I stand there watching them, having just made the first paternal decision of my life without even realizing it, and I never get to find out if it was the right one.


Posted by on April 25, 2010 in Knuckleheads


The Rob Braithwaite Project

Who’s Rob Braithwaite, you ask?  He’s the movie guy, that’s who he is.

Let me just pop back in time again, first year of college, always broke, always swinging by my old man’s house, score some steak and fried perch and corn on the cob.  Sitting around with my dad late one night in his townhouse, digesting a feast, flipping through the channels on his giant television, I stumble across the true, metaphysical definition of Rob Braithwaite. 

My old man is half-hibernating in a nest of blankets on the couch, and I’m sitting in a really old recliner, with green and brown and beige stripes. 

Way back at the beginning of cable television, when thirty channels is a lot, and there is no special interactive menu that you can scroll through, no DVR to snag something out of the past and watch, no way to pause anything without taping it first.  Not much on, and I’m about nineteen, going up to the lake in the morning I think, not really wanting to bother getting up and leaving.  Dad’s thinking something similar, except he isn’t nineteen.

We stop on a movie with a British actor named Richard E. Grant.  I know who the guy is, because he was in Hudson Hawk, one of many very poorly received movies that I thought was great.  Bruce Willis sings a couple of songs in it – duets with Danny Aiello.  And somebody kicks Sandra Bernhardt in the crotch, lures her dog out a castle window.  Good stuff.

Anyway, there’s Richard E. Grant on the screen, and he’s sitting in this psychiatrist’s chair, and the psychiatrist says to him, “Do you masturbate often?”

“Constantly,” snaps Richard E. Grant.  “I have a talking boil on my neck.  What do you expect me to do?”

A weird bit of dialogue; it tears us out of our half-trances, makes us take drinks of ice-cold Pepsi out of our spaghetti sauce jars and exchange sharp, puzzled looks.  What the hell is this, we wonder, using our creepy telepathic Chalfant eyebrows.

So we keep watching it, and it turns out the Richard E. Grant character is serious.  In the movie, he’s apparently some kind of advertising executive who has lost his mind, and believes that a large boil on his neck is talking to him.  We ascertain that from the next few minutes of the film, but now we can’t figure out what movie it is.  We want some kind of framework – how far into this thing are we, what’s going on, is this going to get all crazy David Lynch on us, etc.

Back in 1991, the way it works is, they mail you – I’m not joking – they mail you a special guide for HBO, and that tells you what is going to be on HBO.  You can also use the newspaper – they put the television grid in the newspaper, and then you have to use a chart which factors in your cable company, and your geographic area, and your astrological sign, and then you can sort of piece together what might be showing later, like an archeologist reading a scroll he got out of a mummy.  A cryptic system – cable is young and carefree.

You can’t find it when you need it, though.  I locate the newspaper, but it’s missing the one page with the television grid on it, so I can check out Dear Abby, read the comics, read Mike Harden, do the Jumble, but there’s no way to tell what movie’s on.

What about the HBO guide?  It’s here somewhere – my guess is it’s under my dad over there, deep down under him, in the couch’s black heart, where the darkness is so thick, and few dare to venture, etc.

I’m not going to lead a mining expedition under my dad for it, and he’s only doing that token thing where you lift up part of yourself, try to look under that part, then lean the other way, try to look under another part.  A large cat, chasing its tail in slow motion. 

Screw it, we’ll watch the movie, and then at the end, the credits will tell us what it is.

Richard E. Grant’s character is totally bonkers.  Later, his head turns into a boil, and the boil turns into his head, and then he’s like possessed by the boil.  And all the while, he’s feeling guilty about being an advertising exec, since advertising is nothing more than radioactive pellets of concentrated lies. 

At one point, he makes a cardboard television, and starts wearing it around his head, so he always appears to be on TV, thinking, people will listen to him that way.  It turns out, that works a lot better when you’re on a real television, at least that’s how it works in the movie.

The crazy boil guy has a wife who is not at all amused by his antics, but my dad and I certainly are.  We laugh our asses off for another hour, nothing in the movie ever ringing a bell, no one else we’ve ever heard of showing up.  And then we sit up, our elbows on our knees, scouring the credits for the name of the movie.

And it never comes.  It’s one o’clock in the morning, and HBO plays it’s little soothing electric guitar interlude thing, and runs the rotating HBO graphic, and tells us what’s on next – Arthur 2: On The Rocks – but tells us nothing about what we just watched.

Now we start to go a little nuts, because we have no idea what the Internet is at that point, if there even is one.  You can’t just get out your phone and Google it.  But I can pick up the phone off the floor – it’s got a cord on it, snaking away behind the couch – and I can call Rob Braithwaite.

So that’s what I do at that late hour, and he picks up, sounding sleepy.  Says hello.

“Hey Rob, It’s Tommy C.  I’m at my dad’s and we need you to identify this really weird movie we just saw with Richard E. Grant in it.”

There isn’t even a pause.  Rob says, “Did he have a talking boil on his neck?”

Like a parlor trick or something.  I give my dad the crazy look, and point at the phone.

“Yes, he did have a talking boil on his neck.”

“It’s How To Get Ahead In Advertising,” Rob replies.  Sounding like he’s talking to his pillow, like he’s plucked the name of the movie out of a dead sleep.

“Oh.  Well, thanks, Rob.”

“Mention it,” he says, not for brevity, but more like the opposite of not mentioning it.  “That it?”

“That’s it, pal.”

Then he’s gone.  And that, my friends, is the answer to the question Who the hell is Rob Braithwaite.  He was like Google before there was a Google.  Like if you were hard core and super alternative, you could say in your best hipster voice, I used to see Google at Staches, before they got signed.

So when I decided to start reviewing movies – something’s got to be done to fill up seven days of writing and I like to sit on my can, watching them – I knew that I was going to need to bring Rob Braithwaite on board, for credibility. 

So today we’re going to go and see Kick Ass, and then I’ll write the review for it in whatever format I feel like either Sunday or Monday.  Today, if I’m not mistake, our special guest star will be Mr. Mike Rothe.


Posted by on April 24, 2010 in The Rob Braithwaite Project


Pork Chop Dawn

I hear a guy cough, right next to me, and it wakes me right up, because, who the hell is that?  Let’s get these eyes open, see what’s going on here, if I’m in jail or in a shrubbery at the park,or what.

The eyelids creak open.  Hmm, I’m in my own room.  Kind of bright, so the sun’s all the way up.  There’s a hissing sound, too, like static on the radio, turned down really low.  And some vague bit of urgency in my head, somebody in there waving a flag about something.  Got to do better than that, little mental flag guy, whatever you’re talking about.

Headache.  Very bad headache.  I close one of my eyes again, lifting my head just an inch or so, moving only my neck.  Son of a bitch, there’s someone right there, under a blanket, on the other side of the bed.  Seriously, who the hell is that?

Check myself for pants, see if I’m gay all of the sudden.  I’ve got pants on, okay, so far so good.

Not really judging the idea of sudden gayness – I mean, if you wake up gay, then you’re probably pretty excited about the idea, because now you’re gay and it sounds awesome.  The great thing about being gay would be, then you’d be after dudes instead of girls, and dudes really, straight or gay, not a bunch of tough nuts to crack.

But that’s not it at all.  I don’t want to be gay any more than I want to be awake, and the pants tell me, I’m only one of those things.

Well, we’re not quite positive yet, are we?  I sit up and yank the blanket off the snorting, coughing figure beside me, check to make sure he’s wearing pants too.

It turns out to be The Pork Chop Kid – a guy named Jason from Skyline Chili.  I don’t know why we call him The Pork Chop Kid, except that I’m the one who named him that.  And the other thing I don’t remember about him is why he’s passed out in my bed.  But the good news is, he’s wearing pants, too.  So, neither of us are gay, unless we’re really shy, or just really bad at it.

“You comfy, there Pork Chop?”

Now he turns around, one eye open just like me, and we size each other up, come to terms with our situation like Popeye looking in a mirror.  He says, “What the hell are you doing here?”

I point the eye around the room, at the desk, the typewriter, the big cardboard cutout of Clint Eastwood from Unforgiven, that I stole from Blockbuster.  “This is my bedroom, Pork Chop.  You’re in my bed.”

Pork Chop shakes his head doubtfully, closes the eye again, turns back around to get some sleep.  Hard to blame him. 

But no, I think if we both went back to sleep right now, we’d run the risk again, of waking up gay, and as cool as I’m sure I’d be with that after the fact, it doesn’t sound very fun while I’m still straight.  People are so mean to gay dudes, you know?

So I get a hold of one of my pants legs and pull myself up to a sitting position, and I spot a bottle of water on the floor, pick it up.  When I drink it, I feel my eyeballs rehydrate.  Splick!  Splick!

An afterhours last night, that rings a bell.  Let’s see, we threw some cards around, watched Animaniacs, made two loaves of bread worth of French toast – the pieces really aren’t hooked together meaningfully, just some stuff that happened, very late. 

The Pork Chop Kid says, “Something smells bad.  What smells bad?”

Not going into that right now, way too tired.   “My first guess would be me.  Second guess, you.”

“Smells like something’s burning.”

Which reminds me of the hiss I was hearing, when I woke up, so I crane my neck and there’s the problem, my lamp has been knocked over, the shade’s off, and the light bulb is cooking a sizzling black circle into the carpet.  I reach over and set it up again, pour the rest of the water on the smoking crater.

Well, that was close.

I get up and my brain starts pulsing out my eye sockets and ears.  Into the bathroom, wash my face, brush my teeth, and then downstairs, where I find five other knuckleheads sprawled around in various chairs and couches and even on the floor. 

So back on up and into my room again, and I sit at the desk in the only chair possible, in the whole apartment, looking at the Pork Chop Kid, shaking my head.

He seems to hear it, speaking without moving at all.  “You were bitching about a Final all night last night.  Don’t you have a Final, like right now?”

Ah, yes, I recall, that would be the urgent mental flag man.  I grab my clock and turn it around, and it’s ten-thirty.  I’m a half hour late for my Psych exam, and they only give you an hour to do it.

So I take ten seconds to think it through – that’s not going to make or break anything, ten seconds.  I figure, I can get over there now and use what time I have left, or I can clean myself up, go straight to the guy’s office in a couple hours, start tapdancing.  That second option would be more likely to work if I actually knew the guy, but I don’t think I’d recognize my Psych professor if he woke up between me and The Pork Chop over there.

I give myself one more sigh, and then I spring into action.

Out the front door, unlock the mountain bike – it’s raining a little bit, but that’s good.  It’ll be like a shower.  Then I’m pumping pedals, sizzling down 13th Avenue, right off the curb into High Street.  The cars go crazy, honking, screeching, a really loud noise that might be an accident I just caused.  You got to drive defensively, man, people are nuts.

Hop the curb on the other side, between two girls in rain slickers; they have to leap apart as my tires whine between them.  Cut right through the Wexner Center, my body not liking it, little spots floating in front of me, stomach saying, let’s leave a trail of French toast so we can find our way home. 

Move your dog, move your dog, move your dog.

Bump right down a set of concrete steps.  No watch, no phone – it’s 1993.  Can’t keep checking my time every minute, just have to pedal.

Got to take the extra twenty seconds, lock the bike up when I get to the right building.  Run now, and it’s way back in time – Hungover 1993 Tom does not like to run, nor does he do it well, or quietly.

A girl I know from class, just vaguely, is leaving the building as I hit the doors.  She says, “Oh my god, what are you doing?”

“I’m late.  What time is it?”

She tells me – I’ve got less than fifteen minutes.  “Here,” she says.  “You’ll need this.”

Holds out a number two pencil.  Hell, yeah, I’m going to need that.  I snag it and thank her and then blast through the door of the sprawling classroom, drawing expressions of alarm and surprise from the several dozen students who aren’t finished yet.  Who wants to make eye contact?  All right, that’s what I thought.

There’s the Psych professor, Mister Whatshisname, easy to spot behind the big, big desk.  He’s got a beard – for stroking in deep thought, I imagine – and he wears a sweater with a tie under it, and someone needs to make a decision about his hair for him, long or short. 

My tennis shoes squirk all the way up to him, leaving a trail like a snail.  Hard to see out of my glasses, because of the rain, so I yank them off, looking around somewhat theatrically for an exam.

For a Psych professor, this guy’s not very calm.  His face shaking, he says, “What are you doing?

There’s no reason to screw around.  After today, I never have to see this guy again.

“I need to start,” I tell him.

He looks at his watch.  That’s what a lot of folks did back then, before everybody had a phone.  Wore clocks on their arms.  Crazy world. 

“The exam’s almost over!”  Using a whiny voice, but I’m not cheating.  I’m the opposite of cheating.

“Almost,” I agree, sort of pointing at the word, in the air.  “I need to start.”

He snorts a little, sounding like old Pork Chop.  “Well, I don’t have any more exams,” he says.

Like a kid telling me he’s not going to be my friend anymore, or that he’s out of cookies.  I shake my head at him; find yourself another sucker.  “See, that doesn’t make any sense.  What would you have done if I got here on time?  You telling me, you didn’t bring enough for the whole class?”

Now I get a nice, satisfying honking noise, like a very tired duck.  He gets an exam out of a little attaché case by his feet, and I snap it out of his hands, and when I sit down in the nearest desk it sounds like someone just dropped a trash bag full of squids.

Fifty questions, matching and multiple choice.  Let’s do this thing.   Twelve minutes, that’s about thirteen, fourteen seconds per question.  Bam, bam, bam.

When I turn it in, I pick up half of the exams in the stack, slide mine in the middle, and drop the rest on top.  Like hiding a card in a deck.   Don’t hate me, baby.

I tip him a wink and he does not return it.  And two days later, I find out I got a B-.

Go Bucks!

1 Comment

Posted by on April 23, 2010 in Knuckleheads


The Day Everyone Has The Same Dream


The dream begins for each of us with the suddenness of an odor, abrupt, invisible, and distinct. 

We get six and a half billion baffled looks on our faces, each of us, wherever in the world we are, and we search the air around us for the source of this sudden and obvious Change.  We click on lights, and turn off radios, and the more we search, the more obvious the change becomes, and yet we can’t name it.

We sit up in our beds or pull over our cars.  We emerge from our igloos and our wigwams and our condos and our bars.  We put down our spears and our guns, our tacos and remote controls.  We stop eating and screwing and we blink around at the world like cartoon characters made real.

The odor fluctuates, impossible to nail down.  It’s old cheese and then it’s fish and then it’s popcorn, and then it’s old-fashioned baby shit.  And each instantaneous odor fires off synaptic chain reactions in our brains, linking us to our pasts, as the universe itself speaks to us, and our memories are its words.

We reach out to the nearest person – husbands or daughters or Chinese lawyers or salmon fishermen.  Strangers on the street join hands and exchange heavy glances, while by and large, those who are alone simply run, screaming into the streets.

For the Change is rising from an odor to a hum now, and the memories and perceptions flickering through our brains spell out a message that cannot easily be brought to words. 

Yes, but the message is clear, just the same:  We are watching an Undoing.  We are watching the universe, unraveling like a sweater before our eyes.

The molecules around us roll open, revealing themselves as trillions and trillions of tiny, staring eyes.  Awareness becomes a force of nature.  Our memories and perceptions plow each of us down like massive runaway snowballs, and we freeze, arms and legs splayed out, on the surfaces of our tumbling, material lives.

The earth and sky split into fragments and shards, while houses rise into the breeze, creaking on their foundations.  Chunks of sidewalk pop loose and sizzle through the air, people surfing on them expertly, young or old, howling or silent.  Water mains burst and machinery disassembles itself, bolts popping loose like festive corks, glass shattering into crystal screams, shimmering like angels in the spaces between the ribbons of our shredded world.

It is like the end of any dream.  When your mind runs out of tinker toys, or an alarm clock goes off, or a fire alarm, or a loud commercial as you doze on the couch.   It’s not so much that the dream stops making sense, but that you notice abruptly, it never made sense at all.  And this chaotic certainty splits the canvas.  You might start to fly, or pull your eyeballs out, or collapse into liquid and spill down a nearby drain.  Your mind doesn’t know what to do with the chaos, and so it wakes you up.

But this is no ordinary dream, and so its end is only its beginning.  How can the sky have holes in it?  But there they are, like purple swiss cheese, and there’s the Eifel Tower, twisted into a spiral, thousands of miles from home, and it swims in and out of the holes like a shining, cosmic eel. 

Hold tight to something, that is our instinct.  Hold tight to those you love, to that which you understand, to the faith that’s always brought you through your darkest hours.  Hold tight, for the Flood is upon us, and its Waters are carrying us all like barrels, the flotsam and jetsam of Mankind itself – no, of all Existence.  Of Truth itself. 

The moon careens toward Earth, growing in the sky like a billard ball hit with a snooker stick, spinning madly.  Then it elongates, springing out of itself, as if from a tricky can of nuts, and then it too, is an eel, shooting in the same direction as everything else.

We follow it, not as a choice but because that direction – toward the New Mexico desert – that is the new “down.”  The homeless and the debutantes and the third shift factory workers, and the Russian mistresses, we are all the same again, and we soar above the bobbling ground as it dimples and bubbles and erupts without lava.  We are all strangers, and yet we meet each other’s eyes in the maelstrom, and we remember something, a secret even greater than the pyramids, than Roswell, than Da Vinci’s code.

Australia erupts from Kansas, spraying kangaroos and super hot dudes into the air like confetti.  The Atlantic Ocean explodes into snow.  Stars pulse into supernovas, wink at us, and then collapse, become lasers, shooting past us at the Source. 

We ride the darkness, the six and a half billion Wards of the Almighty, the Keepers of Free Will, the Decision Makers, the Chosen, the Human Fucking Race.

Yes, and our journey is forever, and there is all the time that ever was, to reflect upon our history, like a single life that flashes not through our minds, but becomes our minds.  We see the evil and the good, the slavery and the redemption, the war, the peace, and the garbage, the incredible, globe-spanning frat-party garbage. 

And one by one, as the human race sails toward the Beartech Collider Facilty in the New Mexico desert, as we circle it like a bathtub drain, we join hands with strangers in the storm.  We remember the Secret that we all once knew – that our minds are One.  That we are One.  That battling against monsters makes us monsters, and that the abyss is mesmerizing to stare into, but that it is also staring into us.

We orbit the eye of this final storm, and we cling to the identities that we once called our own.  Children cry for their parents as churches and skyscrapers tumble through the vortex around us.   So many of us lived for our half-price appetizers and our televisions and our five hundred dollar coats, that we grasp for them as they swirl around us, but we cannot reach them; they evaporate into dust, and leap into the Source.

For the Source is obvious now, a bubble or a hole, something in the desert at the Beartech Collider Facilty, something so dark that it burns the eyes to look at it, and our possessions and our trappings are sucked into it, leaving shadows of fading smoke.  We cannot see what lies at the center.   But like living cells, we feel the panic of the dying brain that rules us.  We know what lurks in this Center, in this Drain, in this Mouth that eats us all.

And from deep within the Source we hear a Voice that we all remember.  Like finding your baby blanket as an old man, feeling it against your face.  Smelling it, chewing on its fuzzy border.  We know the Voice.

“Please!”  The words booming and magnificent, and yet with a sadness like a trillion solar winds.   “Pleeeeease, forrrrrgiiiiiive me!”

Then Another, the one only I recognize, whispering across the universe, the most thunderous whisper ever, perhaps, produced:

“No,” my old friend answers.  “No, no, no…”


Posted by on April 22, 2010 in Uncategorized