Thursday, March 28, 2013

Heart In A Jar: A Short Story

            She must have been crazy to go along with it, let alone take the bet. However, Molly Anne Wilson lost the stake, fair and square with sprinkles on top. No money was exchanged, but the bet was whether or not the actress, Tracey Gold of the bland TV sitcom, “Growing Pains” played the pretty yet spoiled Princess Vespa from the Star Wars-inspired parody, “Spaceballs”, directed by, co-written by and co-starred Mel Brooks.
            Daphne Zuniga, who later acted on the primetime soap drama, “Melrose Place”, filled the role, and Cynthia gale, Molly Anne’s fellow teacher at Clarksdale High School and good friend, won the wager.
            Being the two most attractive female teachers is school, Molly Anne (English) and Cynthia (History) received catcalls, whistles and sexually profane love letters from male students who had yet to learn proper and polite courting. Dylan Townsend, one of the school’s gym teachers, was another wannabe paramour, flirting with both women equally. Neither Molly Anne nor Cynthia found him interesting, but neither of them wanted any sexual harassment mess to deal with. So, before summer break, the two friends watched “Spaceballs” on TV at Molly Anne’s house. Cynthia established the bet, since the film’s credits weren’t shown at the beginning, and whoever lost had to date Dylan. Molly Anne accepted the bet; she must have been to.
            Sunlight rays made two perfect squares on the carpet floor of Molly Anne’s room, via the twin windows. The young woman stood in front of her mirror, examining her looks. Her floral dress was long, creaseless and romantic. Her dark brown hair was wrapped in curls; some hair tendrils tickled her ears a bit but Molly Anne didn’t mind. Fullness were her cheeks, lips and bosoms. She sat down on a nearby chair, massaging her long legs, each wrapped with tan-colored espadrilles. Molly Anne was pretty, presentable but she felt ready to be executed.
            A car motor roared outside. Molly Anne felt her heart jumped, wanting liberation. She sighed. The sound of footsteps came marching towards her room’s door, which slowly opened.
            “He’s here,” Casey Wilson, a slim, dusty blonde, fifteen-year-old girl in a shirt and blue jeans, was eleven years younger than her sister, her guardian since their parents died in a car crash six years ago. Sometimes, Molly Anne wished she found the right man to settle down so Casey wouldn’t be so footloose. Responsible yet footloose. Casey had a mischievous smile.
            Molly Anne didn’t like it, “Are you going to behave yourself, Casey?”
             “Come on, Molly. It’s summer.”
            “But you’re going out with Dylan Townsend! He’s so yummy!”
            Molly Anne felt older than she was, “ Well, I give my sincerest apologizes to your fellow female classmates if I take him off their thoughts… though I don’t really want to.”
            Casey went to her sister, “Why not? He‘s hot!”
            “He’s…It’s just a date. That’s all.”
            “Uh-huh. Like it’s just innocent.”
            “What about Kevin Albrecht? Is that innocent?”
            “Must you turn the finger of inquisition towards me?” Casey pouted.
            Molly Anne grinned, “ I have to when my kid sister’s becoming a full woman and has thoughts of smashing her cherry. And…” She kissed her sibling on her left cheek, “… I’m glad you’ve gone through the dictionary with a fine-toothed comb.”
            “You’re glad I’m a geek.”
            “I’m glad you’re smart. Please keep out of trouble when I’m gone,” Molly Anne went to her dresser, picked up her purse, left the room and went down a flight of stairs.  She arrived on the ground floor, a few paces from the front door and paused. The young woman took a quick deep breath, walked to and opened the door.
            “Hi,” Dylan Townsend was tall and brawny. His lantern-jawed profile and dark brown crew cut hair made him a candidate for the hero role of a Saturday morning movie matinee serial. Veins popped and pulsated on the surface of his thick arms. The dark plaid shirt he wore did nothing to hide his impressive upper body. A pair of blue jeans and pair of beige workman boots Dylan also wore. His perfect, clean smile hinted mischievousness.
            “Hello,” Molly Anne replied, managing a grin with some hesitation.
            “You look good, Molly Anne. Really good.”
            “Thank you, Dylan.”
            Casey came down the stairs, “Please bring her before dark, Mr. Townsend.”
            Molly Anne turned to her sister, giving her a “knock-it-off” look. Casey shrugged.
Dylan smirked, “Just be glad this isn’t school.”
            “I’m glad when isn’t a moment of school,” Casey beamed.
            “See you later, wiseguy,” Molly Anne went outside, closing the door of her house?the house her parents once owned but left it to her, if they passed on?behind her. She and Dylan descended down the front steps, went across a shirt path and approached a parked dark blue pickup truck.. Dylan opened the truck, allowed his date to get inside first and closed her door, got in next, closed his door and started the ignition. The motor purred, quickly building up to a roar. Molly Anne gasped.
            “Don’t worry, baby,” Dylan said, “Just buckle up. I’ll keep you safe.”
            Molly Anne fastened her seat belt. Dylan drove the car from his date’s house like a bat out of hell.

            Screaming, which she did, was bad enough, but Molly Anne felt vomiting, which she also did, after riding on The Peak, the most popular ride of the Seven Stars Amusement Park in Clarksdale, was too much. She wanted to hide in and die in a hole somewhere as she finished losing her breakfast, a bowl of raisin-drenched oatmeal and a glass of orange juice, into a commode, kneeling in a stall. Her retching and coughing echoed in the park’s women’s lavatory, and shame flooded Molly Anne’s delicate soul.
            The young teacher stood up. She looked down at the vomit-filled toilet and quickly flushed it. No need for souvenirs. Molly Anne breathed heavily, holding her chest. No food inside her wanted to leave the wrong way. Molly Anne turned, left the toilet stall and went to the lavatory’s mirrors. Some women looked at her, but she ignored their stares. She had a lot of dignity. Her hair was a bit messy. With her hands, she lightly groomed her mane. Perfect with a sigh, Molly Anne turned right and left the lavatory.
            The sounds of screaming children, loud calliope music and booth barkers met Molly Anne when she went outside. Dylan also met her. He was holding a bottle of ginger ale in his right hand. Molly Anne gave him a dirty look.
            “Come on, baby,” Dylan said, “It was fun.”
            “I told I didn’t like going on fast rides.”
            “You only live once,” Dylan gave the bottle to Molly Anne. As his date drank some of the ale, Dylan took out a plastic wrapped, white-colored mint from one of his jeans’s pockets, “Here another token of my apology.”
            Molly Anne took, unwrapped and devoured the mint. A cool breeze oozed into her mouth. Dylan went to her, and he quickly hugged the teacher, kissing her on the lips. Molly Anne felt Dylan’s tongue; she hated it and him for being rough and serpentine. The young man felt his date pound her fists against his body. Dylan broke the embrace, “Hey, don’t get so--”
            Molly Anne quickly and lightly slapped him across his right cheek. Fierceness was in her eyes, “Don’t tell me how to be, Mr. Townsend! I’m not loose!”
            “Just be cool, sweetheart. I’ll be a gentleman. I promise,” Dylan offered an olive branch smile and his right hand to Molly Anne, who sighed. She took it, and the two educators left the lavatory area, immersing with the crowds of friends, lovers and families. The grinding of amusement rides’ gears, the screams of patrons and the mixing tunes of calliopes filled the air with the movement of a stampede.
            And, there were also the bellows of barkers. Dylan heard one and got hooked, “Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Come and see ‘Oswald’s Oddities’!”
            Dylan took Molly Anne, and the two became part of a crowd that formed a semi-circle beneath a stage. On the stage, a man stood. He was a red-haired and mustachioed fellow with a barrel belly. He jacket and pants were a dull shade of brown; his white shirt was open a bit at the top. The man, whom Molly Anne guessed as being Oswald, moved back and forth, across the stage, feeling he owns the universe. Sweat glistened on his fat, reddish face. A plastic pail also stood on the stage.
            “Yes! I got them right here!” Oswald  roared, “Right here, you’ll bear witness! Yes! That’s right! You will witness nature’s mistakes and errors!”
            “Can we please go, Dylan?” Molly Anne knew she wasn’t going to like this sideshow, let alone it was  a sideshow to begin with.
            “Don’t be such a wet blanket, Mol,” Dylan’s smile was juvenile. Friendly but juvenile. Molly Anne sighed with a hint of frustration.
            Ozwald pulled a curtain rope, near his left, downward, “Ladies and gentlemen, behold!”
            The curtain behind Ozwald slowly pulled apart, revealing in booths, individuals whose physical appearances made the female members of the crowd gasped with fright. Dylan was one of the men who chuckled. One freak had a strong physique, yet his skin was dark green and scaled. He grinned at the crowd. The second attraction was two bow-haired, twin dwarfs, conjoined at their backs. They gave the audience angry scowls. But the last one was more shocking. He was unnaturally thin; his skin chalk white. Black and groomed was his mane. His frown looked permanent. He sat in a chair with a big jar in his lap. The jar contained a human heart, encased in human blood.
            Molly Anne looked at him, whose eyes were black, vacant but had tones of loneliness and helpless ness. She felt wonder, dread and pity.
            “Gaze at the Alligator Strong-Man. Marvel a the Groundhog Brothers. Be stunned at the Living Skeleton, whose heart is in a jar!” Ozwald bellowed, “Come on, people! I accept any decent donation to help these poop, misshapen souls have some semblance of a normal life!”
            Some patrons dump dollar bills and change into the pail. Ozwald reciprocated with gratitude and blessing from God. Dylan noticed a discarded bag of popcorn on the ground. He picked it up.
            “Hey, Skinny!” the gym teacher faced the Living Skeleton, “Have some food! You need something to eat!”
            Dylan quickly threw the bag at Living Skeleton. Corn kernels struck the oddity’s face and hair bangs. Dylan chuckled heartfully when his target didn’t respond. A statue with a sad disposition.
            “Why did you do that?” Molly Anne barked at her date.
            Dylan wasn’t empahtic, “Come on, Molly! I’m just having some fun--”
            Molly Anne threw the ginger ale bottle at Dylan’s face Glass exploded. Dylan whined as blood and ginger ale streams covered his cheeks and forehead. The crowd gasped.
            “How do you like that fun?” Molly Anne stormed away. The crowd, Ozwald, the Groundhog Brothers and the Alligator Strong-Man looked at an embarrassed, bleeding Dylan. Some of them muted their chuckles. As for the Living Skeleton, he looked at Molly Anne walked away.

            Molly Anne found herself alone in her classroom, sitting at her desk. A small, neatly arranged pile of paper was in front of her; she couldn’t read the prose. She then saw a figure-sized mirror at her left. Molly Anne slowly left her desk, approaching the mirror. The clothes she wore were a baby blue blouse, a long, gray skirt and a pair of black, open-toe, high heels. Her hair was formally done up in a bun, and the glasses she wore were clean and thin-rimmed. She looked pretty and proper.
            A knock came upon the room’s door. Molly Anne turned. A male silhouette appeared in the door’s window. The teacher slowly walked to the door as she heard a second knock. Before Molly Anne could open the door, it opened abruptly from the outside.         
Molly Anne paused, gasped and cringed. The Living Skeleton appeared in the doorway, naked and ghastly. He went towards the teacher, latching his hands onto her arms. Molly Anne wanted to scream, but no sound came from her mouth. Despite his appearance, the misfit’s grip was strong, relentless.
He picked up Molly Anne from the floor and slammed her down on the desk. She tried to fight back, but Molly Anne couldn’t move. The Living Skeleton, with an eerie grin and without any shame, tore Molly Anne’s clothes from her body. The young woman wanted nothing of this. Her feelings, thought, were muted as the freak leaned over and gave the young woman warm, wet kisses against her lips. She felt him invade her gently and frankly. Molly Anne couldn’t, didn’t resist.

A yelp left her. Molly Anne blinked her eyes. She looked around. She was in her bedroom, lying in her bed. A white nightgown was the article of clothing she wore. The night air wasn’t humid as the day’s air, but it was still sticky. Sweat dripped from the young lady’s forehead. She exhaled, hoping she was back in reality. She also noticed she was damp in her crotch area. Molly Anne couldn’t believe it.
Dressed in a white tank top and torn, short blue jeans, Casey came running into the bedroom. She went to her sister, comforting her, “Hey, sis! You okay?”
Molly Anne nodded.
“You really scared me. I was just getting some water from the kitchen and you--” Casey noticed some tears flowing from her sibling’s right eye, “Are you really okay, Molly Anne?”
“It--It was him.”
“Oh. That’s probably some stunt they pulled.”
“He--He looked so real to me.”
“This is the 21st century, Mol.”
Molly Anne said nothing.
“Do you want to talk about it again over some juice?”
Molly Anne chuckled, “Since when did you become older than me?”
“Since I had bad dreams when I was a tadpole, and you calm me down,” Casey left the room. Molly Anne sighed. She left her bed, went to her dresser and opened a drawer.

“Sorry, ma’am. Can’t see the freaks before 2:30,” the security guard at the “Ozwald’s Oddities” booth was a muscle-bound man. He was bald. A trimmed dark brown goatee and bushy eyebrows marked his face. A plaid shirt with ripped sleeves, dark blue jeans and pointed toed, black leather boots were the guard’s clothes. Two tattoos, a skull and crossbones and the message BORN 2 CRUSH, adorned each of his arms, which were folded against his chest. He was serious. By height, Molly Anne was a midget to him.
“Please. I just want to see one. The Living Skeleton,” Molly Anne said, “It’s important.”
“So’s pissing and shitting,” the guard snorted, “And there’s some good, old fashioned fucking.”
Molly Anne backed away when the guard unfolded his arms, putting his fists on his hips. A leer grew on his face.
“Ganz!” Ozwald came out from an alleyway near the booth, his voice freezing Molly Anne and the guard, “What the hell are you doing?!”
Ganz, embarrassed, moved away from Molly Anne as his employer walked between the two. The carnival barker looked up at the guard, “I’m not in any damn good mood to correct your screw-ups! This is the second time I caught you--”
“But, boss--”
“Get to work!”
Ganz walked, pathetically for a man of his size. Ozwald turned to Maolly Anne, “Now, miss, what’s your business here?”
Molly Anne explained her reason.
“But I’m sorry, miss. You have to--wait. Aren’t you the lady who hit a man who threw popcorn at Elmo yesterday?”
Ozwald blushed, “The Living Skeleton.”
“Oh. That was me.”

Elmo sat on a bed in his room, which also had two chairs, a dresser and a small refrigerator. The freak was clothed in green pin-striped pajamas. He turned around and saw Oswald and Molly Anne.
“Ms. Molly Anne Wilson would like to talk to you. I’ll be outside,” Ozwald left the room.
Molly Anne strolled slowly, timidly towards Elmo, “H--Hello.”
The freak stood and went to his visitor. His tone was faint, deep, “Hello.” Elmo offered his right hand. Molly Anne hesitated, “I don’t bite.”
With a muted gulp, the teacher reached out and the two people shook hands for a while. Molly Anne broke the exchange, nursing his right hand, “It’s cold.”
“That’s what they all say when people want to meet me and shake hands,” Elmo went to the chairs, picked them up, went back to Molly Anne and settled them down. Elmo sat in one chair, “Sit down.”
Molly Anne did. A few yards were between the two.
“Well?” Elmo said, “What do you want?”
Molly Anne felt silly for being an English teacher and had no words to use, until, “Um--A--Are you really--?”
“It’s not pretty,” Elmo slowly took off his shirt. The gasp his visitor made was a light feather when she saw the hole, the perfectly shaped hole of flesh on Elmo’s chest where his heart should be. Blood vessels and a few bone ribs were visible.
“Please--Please--put on your shirt--”
Elmo did as Molly Anne did her best not to vomit.
“Then you should have known better, Miss Wilson.”
Molly Anne was annoyed, “Maybe. Maybe I don’t? Maybe I’m curious about a person whom I helped defend against a bully? Maybe I like a ‘thank you‘?”
“Did you like him?”
“It was a stupid mistake out a stupid bet.”
“What kind of stupid bet?”
Molly Anne recounted the whole story and concluded it with a sigh.
“I wouldn’t know. Don’t watch TV, let alone go to a movie theater. Traveling and everything else keeps me from things like that.”
“What--What do you do when you’re not--”
“I read. A lot of books, I read. Shakespeare. Poe. Hawthorne. The classics, basically. Sometimes, I feel--like Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray.”
Molly Anne heard the dismay in Elmo’s tone and frowned, “You were born with your heart outside of your body.”
“It was too big. Doctors said it was physically impossible but there I was, born that way. I don’t know who my parents are. I went to from foster home to foster home. Didn’t get along with anyone. Then came Ozwald, when I turned eighteen, and here I am, after five years.”
“Forget it. Pity, I don’t want. An end of my loneliness, I do,” Elmo left his stool and went to the small refrigerator.
“What about the people who work with you?”
“Knowing other outcasts doesn’t help. Ganz’s a jerk and Ozwald’s my boss. That’s all.” Elmo opened the fridge, “You thirsty? I have apple juice and lemonade.”
“Apple, please,” Molly Anne said.
Elmo took an apple juice bottle out, closed the fridge’s door, went and gave the bottle to Molly Anne. She opened it and drank a little from the bottle.
“May I--May I see it?”
“The jar,” Molly Anne drank another amount of apple juice.
Elmo‘s tone was serious, “You sure about that because--”
Molly Anne nodded. Elmo sighed. He went back to the fridge and opened it. The freak took out a large jar and closed the fridge. Holding it in his hands, Elmo went to his visitor, who settled his bottle on the floor and looked at the jar. Inside, a human heart pulsated, swimming in deep, clear blood. Its tendrils seemed to wave hello.
“It’s lonely,” Elmo said.
Molly Anne got up. She went to Elmo and the jar. She slowly touched the jar’s surface. Then the heart grew quickly, like a balloon. Molly Anne, who backed away, and Elmo were surprised. The heart grew so big, the jar exploded. Blood and glass spilled to the floor as the muscle fell into Elmo’s hands. It them squirmed for a while, then leaped and attached itself to the Elmo’s chest. Molly Anne screamed. Elmo gasped, gargled and fell backwards to the floor, flopping about like he had a seizure. Molly Anne went to and knelt above him, holding his right hand. She had no idea what to do as the heart burrowed into Elmo’s chest.
Ozwald came into the room, “What the hell?!”
Molly Anne pleaded to the carnival barker as he came to her, “Help him! You have to help--”
The heart then disappeared, going inside Elmo. The freak stopped moving. Tears started to flow from Molly Anne’s eyes. Suddenly, Elmo changed. His muscle tone grew from sickly thin to healthy thick. His skin, from chalk white to healthy caucasian. Molly Anne and Ozwald were in awe. Then the change stooped. Elmo had the physique of a normal average human male. He then blinked and opened his eyes. The young man stood up, “What--What--”
“Oh, dear God,” Molly Anne’s whisper was audible.
“Mo--Molly Anne, what happened to me?”
Ozwald took out a small mirror from one of his pants’ pockets. Elmo saw his reflection and was surprised. He touched his cheeks, “Is that…me.”
Molly Anne hugged Elmo, “Yes! Yes! It is you!”
Ozwald grumbled, “Great. I’m one oddity short.”
Elmo and Molly Anne looked at each other. They giggled.


A Plea: Save the show "Southland"

I know shows come and go, but this show about cops on the gritty streets of South Los Angeles kicks ass and a half. NBC canned it, but TNT saved it for four more seasons. It's in its fifth, but the ratings aren't good enough. Go to for the deal and some eps. Also contact TNT:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Home For The Summer: A Short Story

            A graying, gaunt but spunky sixty-seven year old, Olivia Toribio stood on the broken sidewalk. She was in front of her humble, two-room, palm wood house, when the taxi cab turned left at the grocery store. She had scrubbed her house’s concrete floors, went to the market early to buy the best pieces of fresh chivo-that’s goat-to make her infamous chivo picante with rice and beans and wore her best, black Sunday dress. It was a hot day, but she didn’t care.
            The taxi stopped in front of Olivia. A six-foot-tall, lean, fresh young man stepped out from the back seat. He wore a white and gray-striped shirt, blue jeans, white sneakers and a black New York Yankee cap. His smile glowed bright as the sun when he saw Olivia, approaching her. She smiled too.
            “Oh, my abuelita!” he cheered, his arms wide open.
            Olivia took Rocky Alvarez, her grandson, into her arms. They hugged, tight and warm. He was quite big, different and far away from the small, almost light, fourteen-year-old boy Olivia knew, but she didn’t care. Rocky was home. Olivia cried.
            Theresa, Rocky’s thirteen-year-old cousin, left the house. A red T-shirt, blue shorts and black flip-flops were the clothes she wore. Her smile was timid, but he wanted to hug her cousin. She had to wait. Her parents, Annabel and Fernando (Olivia’s only son), ran through the street, yelling Rocky’s name. Neighbors that were part of Villa Alta Garcia, which is twenty miles from Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, left their houses to see and greet the pride of their neighborhood. Rocky gave and received hugs, kisses and handshakes. Rocky was home for a while, for the summer.
            It was the season when Dominican immigrant parents sent their children from New York, specifically Washington Heights, to the island where they left to escape poverty. The trip is both for leisure and connecting with relatives and the island’s culture. Rocky, named after the famous character Sylvester Stallone played in six movies, was fourteen when he left his birth home with his brother, Bernado, who was seven years older, to live with their mother, Veronica, who emigrated to New York City ten years ago. Santino, her husband and the boys’ father, died in a boating accident when he was a fisherman in Santo Domingo a few months before.
            Rocky didn’t want to leave. He loved his “abuelita” and his friends a lot, but his youth baseball coach and “father figure”, Cesar Soto, told him, “It would be good to stay here, but you have a gift from God. Don’t waste it here.”
            That was true. Rocky was good pitcher at his young age. When he went to George Washington High School, which he nicknamed “Jorge’s School,” Rocky knew no English, but learned it quickly, doing well in his class. His fastball grew stronger when he was on the school’s baseball team. Corey Felding, his couch, saw Rocky playing in the major league. When he wasn’t in school or playing baseball, with teammates or “barrio nines”, Rocky did his homework and studied for future tests and watched Univision and Telemundo during the afternoon in his family, shack-like, two-bedroom apartment on West 167th St. he liked when a pretty, leggy newscaster came on because he would get hard and erect. Rocky was careful not to ejaculate or his mother, who worked six-to seven days a week as a home care attendant, would give him hell. Bernando, doing jobs in New Jersey, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, would tease him if he knew. The girls Rocky knew from school and work were pretty, but silly and crazy. They weren’t ladies, and Rocky wanted nothing from them.
            When he was about to graduate and get a college baseball scholarship, Rocky was a bit homesick, despite liking New York City. Veronica told him she couldn’t afford a plane ticket to the Dominican Republic. Felding noticed Rocky having a long face three weeks before graduation and got the same news. However, he got an old friend, a former youth baseball coach from New Jersey who owned a small sporting goods there, to pay for the ticket.
            On the last day of June, before the sun came up, Rocky said goodbye to his mother and brother, took his big suitcases, stuffed with his belongings, gifts for his family and donated baseball equipment for Soto, went down three flights of stairs of his building and hopped into Felding’s car, which Felding drove to LaGuardia Airport.
            Nearly half a day passed and Rocky was enjoying his grandmother’s chivo quickly. 6:00 p.m. was the reunion game. Olivia studied him. He looked like his grandfather, Enrique. When he was done, Rocky kissed his abuelita on her right cheek, left her house and went seven blocks to the neighborhood baseball diamond with the donated equipment. The diamond was the same: rocky, choked with weeds and old shirts were laid on the ground as bases. Soto and Rocky’s old teammates/friends hugged him welcome back before, but they did it again.
            “You look different, Rocky,” Andy, a rabbit-faced old friend, noted.
            Rocky shook his head, “I heard people say that when their kids come here. Not me, man. I’m the same guy. I like to eat, dance and play ball.”
            And they did. Four hours, they played, and they had a good time.
            The next morning, Rocky woke up to the cries of roosters; some of them strutted in her grandmother’s backyard. The tunes of merenge and bachata echoed nearby. Rocky felt free here. He could turn up the music on a radio and nobody would call the police. He leapt from his bed, bade his grandmother morning and devoured breakfast, a plate of mangu (mashed plantains) and a glass of payaya juice. After helping his abuelita with getting eggs from the henhouse, Rocky went out the door again, taking in the town, hanging with his friends outside the grocery, riding with his couch on the his motorbike on the potholed streets and showing off his salsa moves at the discotheque.
            Unhappy with being either unemployed or getting some money by digging ditches or  ferrying people around on motorbikes, Rocky’s old friends wanted to know more about New York, the “muy grande” city with bright lights, tall buildings, fancy cars and pretty women. They always loved it when they saw it on television during New Year’s Eve. They loved it even more after Sept. 11, 2001. They thought Rocky was rich.
            Rocky showed the photos of his apartment, and neighborhood, “I’m not rich, guys. I don’t live in a skyscraper.”
            That didn’t kill their dreaming. The biggest dreamer in the neighborhood was Danielle Mercado, a sixteen-year-old girl, who had blond streaks in her hair. Her skin had a warm, honey-like hue. Standing at a five-foot-seven, the young lady was pretty like a movie star, slim and romantic. Rocky remembered Danielle as a stubby-faced, plump, wrecking ball of a girl. She had a crush on him, despite his efforts to avoid her and his love for baseball. Both her father and her older brother, who were police officers, fought off would-be paramours with verbal threats, fists and nightsticks, when Danielle was grew to be a butterfly. They knew Rocky would return. When he did and saw Danielle, Rocky felt a thunderbolt struck him. Olivia noticed that the two spent a lot of time together. So did Soto, who did his best to get Rocky’s head on baseball, but it wasn’t good enough.
            “Bonitas,” Soto sighed to himself when he saw Danielle watching the baseball games from the stands by herself. She didn’t cheer, until Rocky made a home run or struck out of his pals with his fastball.
            In early August, Danielle went with Rocky to Santo Domingo to shop. Rocky got some T-shirts and miniature figurines for his mother and brother. He also bought a blue floral dress and black, open-toed, high-heeled sling backs for his companion. Danielle liked when Rocky helped her into the shoes, feeling his strong, rough hands on her soft feet. The shoes made her almost as tall as him. After shopping, they walked near the beach, holding hands. The sun crawled westward, leaving a pink and blue trail.
            “Rocky, will you take me?” she softly asked, “Will you take me to New York when you get big.”
            Rocky blushed. He nodded with a smile, “Sure. I will.”
            “You promise?”
            “I promise.”
            Danielle hugged and kissed Rocky.

            On his last day, Olivia gave Rocky her dulce de leche in a large plastic container. Rocky gave Andy his baseball glove, which was a $200 gift from Felding’s friend. The goodbyes were tearful, especially Danielle’s, despite giving Rocky photos of herself.
            “Don’t you cry,” Rocky said, “It’s hard, I know, but I’ll come back. I’ll bring you with me back to New York.”
            But Rocky cried too. Soto slapped him on the back, “Don’t do that. Be a man. You work hard in college; you’ll help your family. Have a good house and a car. Be another A-Rod. Danielle will wait for you. We’ll make sure of it. Don’t forget her. Don’t forget us.”
            Rocky’s friends wanted to go with him. They knew he cried because he wanted to stay. They all wanted to go, but Rocky had a gift. He was meant to go. On the plane going to LaGuardia, Rocky looked at the photos he took of his abuelita, Soto, Andy and the others. He looked at the photos of Danielle a little longer.

Cold Turkey Movie Review: Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em, Go Crazy If You Don't

Cigarette smoking, though legal, is looked upon as an ugly vice with ugly consequences (lung cancer, premature aging, second-hand smoke, etc.) To make a satire of it takes courage and adult sitcom savant Norman Lear (“All In The Family”, its many spinoffs, “Sanford & Son”, “One Day At A Time”, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”) did it in the form of the scattershot, brilliantly cruel yet honest fable “Cold Turkey”. If you know Mr. Lear’s work, you know the battlefield. If not, hold on to your seat.

P.R. man Mervin (an underhanded Bob Newhart, a bit away from his first sitcom) convinces his mute, feeble, wheelchair-bound employer, Hiram C. Grayson (comic character actor Edward Everett Horton, his last role here), the head of the Valiant Tobacco Company’s to do a good things, despite being a producer of bad things, a la dynamite and Nobel Prize creator Alfred Nobel. The “capper”, as Wren calls it, is to offer $25 million to any US town if its citizens can quit smoking for thirty days. This puts the company’s board of directors in a shit-fit, but Wren calms them down with the fact that no group can go “cold turkey” and they approve of the deal.
However, they didn’t count on the 4,006 citizens of the dying Iowa hamlet, Eagle Rock, taking the challenge. Led by the religiously ambitious yet vain Rev. Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke, miles away from his titular sitcom and “Mary Poppins”), the people go through withdrawl syndrome. The results? Let’s say whoever makes straight-jackets will be richer than the tobacco companies.

Based on “I’m Giving Them Up For Good”, an unpublished novel by Margaret and Neil Rau, “Cold Turkey”, like the animated sitcom “The Simpsons” (note the similarities, people), takes no prisoners in its narrative. Corporate greed; political, entertainment and news manipulation; the naivete, self-exclusion and self-exploitation of small-town America and the military-industrial complex (a colonel promises the installation of a missile factory) are targets, and Mr. Lear, who wrote (shared story credit with William Price Fox Jr.) produced, directed this yarn, is an expert marksman (and a World War II vet to boot). With a misanthropic tone, it’s understandable that United Artists, the film’s distributor, shelved “Turkey” for two years, but it’s a crime, due to Mr. Horton’s passing.

Lear has a nimble cast; some players would show up in his sitcoms. Mr. Van Dyke (who starred in the Lear-penned “Divorce, American Style”) is righteous to save his town but careless with his wife (Pippa Scott) who’s silenced by his pomposity while Mr. Newhart performs his signature buttoned-down mind routine with sly dog confidence and doe-eyed dopeyness. Other players include Tom Poston (Mr. Newhart’s second sitcom) as a rich, die-hard lush; Barnard Hughes (“The Lost Boys”, a recurring role on the aforementioned “Family”) as a nicotine-loving sawbones; Jean Stapleton (also of “Family”) as the mayor’s neurotic wife; Paul Benedict (“The Jeffersons”) as an anti-smoking zen buddhist; Graham Jarvis (the aforementioned “Hartman”) as an anti-“Big Government” wing-nut and (my favorite) Judith Lowry (also of “Hartman”) as a foul-mouthed, Commie-hating crone. Vintage radio comics Bob Elliot (real and sitcom dad of Chris Elliot of “Get A Life”) and Ray Goulding show up as walking parodies of famous newsmen (“Walter Chronic” and “David Chetley” may confuse young viewers, but there’s the Internet!!!). Lear himself has a cameo as a crying man, going without a smoke.

On the technical side, there’s d.p. Charles F. Wheeler, who captures the sweet rural look of Eagle Rock with some helicopter shots and wholesome, rural street shots (predating the opening sequences of Lear’s sitcoms) while editor John C. Horger masterfully employs quick-cuts, like Lou Lombardo on “The Wild Bunch”, when displaying the slapstick “withdrawl syndrome”gags (i.e. a husband slaps his wife while driving; a dog’s kicked (!); a bowler throws himself onto a lane, crashing into some pins, etc).  Award-winning composer Randy Newman (the Toy Story films, "Monk",) makes his film debut here with the ironic song "He Gives Us All His Love" that bookends the film.

Bottom line (to borrow a line from Mr. Wren): “Cold Turkey” is about how society can be so dumb. The only heroes are the town’s youth; “Eagle Rock, where’s your head?” one young man chants in a circle of protest as the town becomes a tourist trap and enjoys being one. Like most of society, its’ head in a hole that’s rank.  The youth are ignored, but, by the end, they have the last laugh. So will you.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Grey Dog Cafe

If you ever in Chelsea, go to the Grey Dog. They have great hot chocolate and pumpkin pie.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Major Dundee Review: A Mistreated Cavalry Film Gets Respect

Since the dawn of the film industry, there has always been strife between the camps of artists and money-holders, when getting a product to the public. The second camp always won because they have the money, and the first one mutters in angry silence.

Fortunately, thanks to the techniques of film restoration, art wins in the extended version of "Major Dundee", an once-maligned movie by its studio, critics and moviegoers in 1964. It now gets the red carpet treatment, due to its director/co-writer, Sam Peckinpah, the master of modern action cinema, for better or worse (With the exceptions of Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriquez, Kevin Smith, Zach Snyder,  Martin Scorcese, Michael Mann, Stephen J. Cannell, Brian Helgeland, Walter Hill and Frank Miller, I feel Sam's understudies don't have the man's sense of romantic individualism).

Near the end of the American Civil War, a vicious Apache, Sierra Charriba (Michael Pate) and his forty-seven warriors have terrorized the New Mexico territories. A faction of the 5th U.S. Cavalry is sent to stop and dispatch them, but Charriba slaughters them, sparing three young boys to be indoctrinated. "Who will you send against me now?" he spits to a dying lieutenant, strung up by his feet.

The answer: Amos Charles Dundee (the gruff, posing Charlton Heston), an Union major demoted to being a prison warden, due to his glory-hounding antics in Gettysburg (not detailed, being one of the film's flaws that'll be addressed later). He doesn't have enough enlisted soldiers to form a hunting party, but he begrudgingly employs some of his prisoners, including drunks, horse thieves and Confederate soldiers.

One of the soldiers is a former friend from West Point, the cavalier, gentlemanly Capt. Benjamin Tyreen (the late, scene-stealing Richard Harris), who questions Dundee's loyalty and pride, along the way, forcing the major to choose the true enemy: Charriba, Tyreen and his Southern born and proud boys or himself?

If the film's a failure, it's an interesting one. Heston is the cast's front runner, but Harris pulls the carpet beneath him (even sucker punches him more than once!!!), giving the film a sharp edge. Fascinating are the other actors, including Jim Hutton (the late father of Oscar-winning Timothy; "The Green Berets") as a too-strict artillery officer; Michael Anderson Jr. ("Logan's Run") as a green, wet-eared bugle boy, the film's narrator; future Oscar-winner James Coburn ("The Great Escape", "Cross of Iron") as an one-armed, half-breed Indian tracker; Senta Berger (also of "Iron") as a sweet but strong village doctor and Brock Peters ("Soylent Green" with Heston; "To Kill A Mockingbird" and the first African-American actor to work on a Peckinpah film) as the leader of free African slaves-cum-Union soldiers.

There's also Peckinpah's stock actors: Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, John David Chandler, L.Q. Jones, Dub Taylor, Slim Pickens and R.G. Armstrong. Yeah, Coburn and Berger are part of them too, since Peckinpah directed "Iron". Plus, Berger's assistant in "Dundee" is played by Begonia Palacios, who would later be the infamous director's second wife.

And there's the film's bad stuff, including characters coming and leaving during important plot points, back story details being scant (Peckinpah co-wrote the screenplay on a tight budget and schedule with Harry Julian Fink, who later co-created "Dirty Harry" with his wife, and Oscar Saul, who wrote the screenplay of "A Streetcar Named Desire") and behind the scenes animosity, like Heston, on horseback, nearly cutting down Peckinpah with a saber, and Peckinpah himself being locked out of the editing room by film producer Jerry Bresler (the two "Gidget" sequels) and then-executives at Columbia Pictures, who wanted a "John Ford-like cavalry film". To the movie-going public, however, "Dundee" was a mess.

However, time have passed and "Dundee" receives a renovation, thanks to cooler heads at Sony Pictures (nee Columbia). Missing footage has been found and restored to the original film. A better music score by Christopher Caliendo replaces the one by Daniele Amiftheatrof (awful name) which is both annoying (an trilling electronic vibe pops up when Charriba's seen or mentioned) and inappropriate (the song "Fall In Behind The Major", a proud march, is played after the massacre's aftermath/ the film's main title sequence). With the patching, "Dundee" is a stronger film, a fun rough draft to Peckinpah's magnum opus, "The Wild Bunch", a parallel to the war on terror (Charriba's the 19th Century's Osama Bin Laden?!) and a honest character study of a man who wants honor but has too much pride, a theme echoed in the director's films and personal life. Though not as brutal as "Bunch", "Dundee" is just as intelligent and thoughtful. I just wish it didn't rated as PG-13. Sure it has scenes of subtle yet bloody violence and mild sexuality, but the film came out before the ratings code.

So, fall in behind…nah, too corny. See "Dundee" and salute.

Patty: A Short Story

            I was watching TV when I heard the crash. Knowing what happened, I sighed, but I didn’t leave my room. I waited for the show to end. Politeness. When I did leave, I  went into the kitchen.
            I found shards of an aqua-blue painted mug on the floor. Hovering over the mess was Patricia. I swore under my breath.
            “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.
            “Go, Patty,” I said.
            “I’m sorry,” she left the kitchen as I grabbed a nearby broom and dustpan to clean up the mess my older, mentally handicapped (retarded is crueler, politically incorrect) sister made. Six years apart in age, I always thought I was the older one, yet I never knew what’s it like to be trapped in the sense of you can’t be like everyone else. By God’s unbreakable will, you’ve given the intelligence of a three-year-old. That’s Patty. She wanted to be like everyone else, but doesn’t have the capability to do be. The shards told me that.
            I sometime wondered why they are mentally retarded people in the world. Pardon me if you think I’m a supporter of eugenics. I’m not. I dare not think it. The only answer is probably humanity needs flaws, warts on the butt cheeks, so that we can be a little nice and civil towards each other. Patience. I didn’t knew if I could have that at the time when I was growing up, wishing about what could have been. I wish I had a big, normal  brother, who helped me with life and be more understanding than my father. It’s not easy being a middle child, let alone the only son, in the family, who doesn’t “act like a man”. I’m not gay, mind you. Just thoughtful and reflective.
            But what about Patty? A twisted version of Peter Pan, who didn’t ask to be this way. A lover of food-especially cheese, bread and milk-when someone “raids” the fridge.
An illiterate when looking at a newspaper or a magazine; the photographs fascinated her. If I told her the ugly truth about her idol, the pop singer Michael Jackson, whose hit single, “Beat It” was on the tip of her tongue-but just the title-she wouldn’t care. She “loves” him. Patty was also a giggler. What was in her mind that made her chortle will forever remain a mystery.
            She was a pain in the ass, too. Sitting on the commode and never getting up (unless she wants to) was a common habit. Two reasons were excretory and her  menstrual cycle. The latter seemed eternal, because the sight on blood-stained  maxi-pads was common, gross and weird. Especially weird when a person’s body keeps growing but  their mindset is forever stuck. My mother and younger sister sometimes had the thankless, unfortunate task of helping Patty with maintaining her hygiene. I didn’t have a strong sense of patience as they did. Guess I saw her as an ubiquitous, undeviating ball-and-chain, punishment for a sin I had in a past life. Who needs religion to keep you on a high, moral ground?
            And she was stubborn and sneaky. If it was time to eat, Patty refused to. If you force her to, she’d eat slow and throw away the rest in the kitchen’s garbage pail when no one was around. If she wasn’t quick, I would devour her dinner, but devour with sorrow, since she was skinny as a twig. Mom had to get prescription medicine so Patty could liv longer. The mean side of me wanted my older sister to die.
            Naturally, of course.
            Patty often placed a current newspaper on the pile of old, read newspapers, making the search of an important news article into a treasure hunt for the rest of the family. Patty did that with other items, including an envelope containing my birthday money when I turned ten. Maybe there was some deep, hidden animosity and jealously from her towards me because I wasn’t like her. Kids used to think I was mentally retarded, and they mocked me. I tattle-taled and got punch-drunk. Was I defending myself from being “trapped” ? Yes. Was I insecure about having a relative who had a IQ of 12 and asked for “juice” and “what’s your name?”? I guess so. Was I defending my sister? Maybe.
            After cleaning up the shards and dumping them in the garbage pail, I went back to my bedroom, turned off the TV and went to bed. I wasn’t sleepy, though. I started to read some chapters of a library-owned copy of “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. When I read the prose, I was jealous, wishing I was Kerouac, traveling across America without a damn in the world and writing down my adventures. Love and responsibility kept me away from that. They are chains unbreakable.
            I heard Patty mumble to herself. A sigh left my lips, and I left my bed and room. I found Patty in the living room.
            “Time for bed, Patty,” I tapped her right shoulder.
            “I wanna go to the bathroom.”
            “Please go.”
            “Just go. Please.”
            “Kiss,” she shoved her lips towards me.
            I shook my head, not wanting to kiss any of her acne-coated cheeks, but I gave a kiss on her cheek, escorted to her bed and was grateful we had two bathrooms in the house.