Donald Trump: American Flamethrower

Trump 1Donald Trump is the most publicized human being on the planet, and he has been for a little over five weeks now. The momentum of Trump’s campaign is such that any Republicans who downplay his significance wind up making an embarrassment out of themselves. Take Lindsey Graham, a flat-lining senator who deserved to have his cell phone number released after referring to Trump – a man who he had previously petitioned – as a “jackass”. Take Jeb Bush, an ex-Florida governor who initially reacted to Trump’s comments regarding illegal immigration in the same way that an elephant reacts to a fly. Take Chris Christie, who could’ve been the Donald Trump of 2012, eons before bad press transformed him into a pariah. Donald Trump represents an age-old metaphor; that of the tall, dark stranger, wandering into town. His campaign will be undone, but not before it exposes several front-running conservatives for the antiquated group of charlatans that they are.

The danger of a Donald Trump, ironically, is that he is not funded by special interests. In fact, the only interests Donald Trump seems to be funded by are his own. Consider what Trump has said during interviews, how he’s used the approach of slapping China (pronounced Chai-nah) and Mexico down before extolling their virtues. “Their leaders are much smarter than ours,” Trump has said. “Their negotiators are much tougher.” A self-effacing statement; the type of rhetoric that’d cause any pundit to cream in his pants. And yet, what Trump is advocating for is this idea of cut-throat dealings; some notion, perhaps, that the goal of any first-rate power should be to keep the exchange rate under its heel.

A few weeks ago, Donald Trump suggested that George W. Bush should’ve invaded Mexico as opposed to Iraq. The obvious follow-up would’ve been, “Do you still believe that the United States could benefit from such an invasion, and, if so, would you pursue that type of invasion assuming you were elected into office?” Trump’s answer might’ve dovetailed into some rigamarole concerning how we need to build a wall, and how he could get the Mexicans to pay for it. But the real answer has to do with how – and why – Donald Trump believes we need to teach the rest of the world a lesson, and why he’d prefer to use our bordering neighbors as a means of establishing more control.

During previous election cycles, top party candidates were largely focused upon jobs, guns, the economy, the military, healthcare, terrorism, China, Iraq, equal pay, education, economic disparity, the government and taxes. These were bedrock issues, the kind that make or break a presidency (and a nation). In the absence of them, what have we got? Foreign trade, illegal immigration, building a wall, “getting the oil”?

Bill O’Reilly recently referred to Donald Trump as having “no fear,” but it would seem more accurate to assert that Donald Trump has got no shame. There is no lawsuit that can sully Trump, nor mortification that can deter him. And so what the American public is treated to amounts to political kabuki. There is an expiration date to such things, a shelf-life that is already dwindling. And in the end the corporate suits will hoist Jeb Bush upon their shoulders, parading him around despite disposing of their best-bad chance to win the presidency.

For now, Donald Trump will continue touting himself as a Wharton-educated billionaire who co-wrote a best-selling book about negotiating several years before portraying the unsympathetic figurehead on a reality TV show. In political terms, this means that Trump identifies as a ruthless capitalist villain who has proven brilliant at getting his own way. So why does it work? It works because Donald Trump is more in-touch than the average candidate, because Trump is intelligent and calculated and sober and the majority of his skeletons have already been flushed. It works because Donald Trump is not a prisoner, nor has he been in the game for too long. It works because Donald Trump has inserted himself into a party that is so far off in outer space its last high-profile endorsement came by way of Clint Eastwood, who was talking to a chair. It works because Donald Trump is a showman, much like his good friend, Vince McMahon. It works because Donald Trump is an orator, much like his good friend, Howard Stern. It works because Trump is aggressive, because he’s telegraphing the media, because his goal in every interview has become to “win” rather than explain.

It works because Trump is ingratiating himself to the far right-wing masses, preaching about how we need to give power back to the police and the military. His message is not so much about racism as it is about classism. This is a man who took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, advocating the reinstatement of the death penalty to punish five innocent teens – all of them poor, all of them from minority households – who had been accused of raping a young, financial analyst from the Upper East Side. A quarter-of-a-century removed, despite all five boys being exonerated, Trump remained defiant, claiming (via Twitter): “Tell me, what were [those boys] doing in the Park, playing checkers?”

On balance, Donald Trump represents a positive for the Republican Party, a ritual cleansing. Trump is forthright, despite being misguided, and he may be on the mark when assuming that some – but not all – of America’s leaders are inept. The question we need to ask is what a man like Donald Trump might do after replacing all of our borderlands with walls … and how a fortified facade might actually appear to any countries on the outside looking in.

(Donald Trump is currently running for the American Presidency. He is, by his own admission, the best builder.)

Theodore Roosevelt on Critics (1910)

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

(Excerpted from the “Citizen in a Republic” Speech.)

Moving On: Burnout

DSC05474The decline had been occurring over days – a heat wave during which I had continued going out every evening. Drinking was my respite. I had become so embroiled in the bar culture I dared not miss an outing … an outing where Petra or Marta or Tara or Erin or half-a-dozen others might be available for a fling. I had become obsessive and chauvinistic and hurtful and proud, my behavior so obscene that I had invited two girls back from the Fairview one night, with one arriving just after I had fallen asleep inside the other. I was self-medicating, addicted to the reinforcement one derives from dishing the dirt. I had grown more eligible, an available target for aspiring females who were excelling at a similar game. We were exchanging one another; we had become trading cards. I was 23, and my endurance was beginning to falter. One night toward the end of July, I had arrived at the apartment completely bloodied. “Something happened to me,” I had explained to one of my roommates. Whatever it was, I couldn’t recall.

I fell ill the first week in August, one night toward the end of my shift. My skin ran gaunt, my eyes severely jaundiced. A girl who I had a crush on told me I needed to go home and rest. This was the night of Mike’s party – the house party, the one where that girl and I had all but agreed to get it on. I would be fine, I assured myself. I would eat a cheesesteak and then I would be fine. Only my stomach kept doing somersaults, and I lacked the fortitude to call in my order. And so I went home and lay on my bed. And my belly began to hiccup just like a pile of broiling waste.

Around 2 AM I phoned Mike to let him know I could not make it to his party. Mike offered to drive me to Burdette-Tomlin, but I refused. I was entrenched now, an amplified version of that iatrophobe I had initially become as a child. Despite concerns, I had not submitted to any type of a physical in well over a decade. And so I lay there, on my back, and I experienced a series of fever dreams. I kept drinking water. I started to vomit around dawn.

It was morning now, a Saturday in August – one of the biggest money nights of the year. And the question became one of whether I would be able to make it into work. I had never called out sick. And it didn’t matter that I felt depleted or that my body kept alternating between spasms and chills. What mattered was perception, and the perception was sure to become that I was a drunk. The numbers at Bill’s Concessions kept dipping, in part because I kept scheduling myself off two nights of the week. My promotion had proven a liability, a perennial drain on whatever cost-benefit
still remained.

Just short of noon I made the call. Perhaps this is a reckoning, I reasoned, some dark-end path meant to lead me to the main. I had bottomed out, no question. I was existing in a sandbox, perfecting circles in my brain. A handful of my friends were applying for first mortgages. They were driving fancy cars and they were getting engaged. I was still eating my dinner out of a grease-covered bag, inappropriately flattered by rumors I had gotten addicted to cocaine.

By 3 PM I had transitioned into bargaining, faxing terms off to a god that didn’t exist. There was a bucket sitting next to me alongside a Slurpee cup that I had filled with water. My lower-back was in a state of trauma; the soggy bedsheets smelled like urine.

My father arrived around dinnertime. “Hel-lo?” I could hear him calling at the door. I got up and I let him in and we went into the living room and we talked. My father was in town for the weekend, he explained, and he had gone up to the boardwalk looking for me. “You sure you don’t want to go out for a nice dinner?” my father kept saying, to the extent where it felt odd having to re-turn him down. This was how it had often been between the two of us, mutual frustration obfuscating concern. My father went out and he bought me an electric heating pad from CVS. He returned unexpectedly an hour later with a carton of ice cream he had bought me from the store.

It was dark now and it was cooler. I had watched the day-time shadows wax and wane across four walls. I was eating ice cream in bed, the second verse of John Mellencamp’s “Check It Out” playing on repeat in my head. I can make it into work tomorrow, I reassured myself. The fresh air will do me good. I hadn’t thrown up since 4 PM, this despite leaning my face over a bucket several times. Outside I could hear the echoes of late-night announcements across three piers – “15 minutes to get that last ticket for that last ride of the evening,” followed by, “Mariner’s Landing is now closed.”

I shut my eyes, considering the irony that I had taken ill during the least fashionable bar nights of the week. I fell asleep from 3 to 7. I took a shower and pulled the sheets off my bed. I made a breakfast sandwich, which I ate in tiny bites. Before leaving for work, I put the bucket and the Slurpee cup outside on the back porch. There was nothing but a few spare grains of sand in
either one.

Day 1,315

(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB.)

©Copyright Bob Hill

Moving On: Turning Heel

Reginald MarshMorning … no, afternoon. And the phone kept ringing loudly. It was July now, and I was sleeping on my stomach, dressed in boxer shorts and nothing more. The window fan kept rattling, streaming heat onto loose sheets that had been kicked onto the floor. I sat up, placed shaking hands upon the mattress. I lumbered hard into the kitchen, mumbling audibly “Hold on.”

“Hello,” I said.

“Bob, it’s John.”

“Hello, John,” I said. I lit a cigarette.

“I need your help,” John said.

“You need my help with what?”

“Well, we just opened and there are a bunch of wrestling guys up here and they’ve already started putting out tables and they–”

“Wrestling guys?” I said.

“Yeah, like, a bunch of them,” John said.

“Like what kind of wrestling guys?” I said.

“Like, like, like King Kong Bundy’s sitting on a bench about 15 feet from me.”

“And what exactly are they putting out tables for?”

“One guy says they’re here to sign autographs. Another guy says they’ve already gotten permission from the More –”

“Are those tables blocking the Dime Pitch?” I said.

“They are.”

“OK. I need you to sneak out of there for a minute so you can come down here and pick me up.”

I had been asleep for a little over four hours, in and out after drinking at The Poplar Café until dawn. I threw on a T-shirt. My upper-body smelled like cognac. I wandered down onto the sidewalk, led by a stultifying horn.

I was drunk, and I apologized to John for my appearance. This was my first summer assuming any significant management role. Bill Salerno had moved on, claiming ownership of a boardwalk eatery across from Surfside Pier. Bill’s departure resulted in a vacuum, and as I clamped my hair into a ponytail, it occurred to me I showed no signs of either leadership or control.

John parked his car beneath the boardwalk. I could not see the beach for sizzling fog.

“Who’s in charge here?” I shouted. I was speaking to a coterie of wrestlers, many of whom sat sprawling on the Dime Pitch counter. A bearded man with a shiny forehead pointed off toward the promenade. Out there, beyond the pier limit, stood a bleach-blonde man with a megaphone. He was reading notes off of a card.

“Tonight, at the Convention Hall,” this man declared, “it’s Bam Bam Bigelow versus Bobby Duncum, Chris Candido versus Balls Mahoney, and ECW Tag-Team Champions D-Von and Buh Buh Ray Dudley versus Axl Rotten and his partner, Nuuuuuuuuuuuuuu Jack.”

When the man took a moment to pause, I beckoned him over with a wave of my hand.

“Larry Sharpe,” the man said. “Are you the guy running the show?”

“I am,” I said. I gestured with my chin toward a pair of tables that had been set up along the front of the Dime Pitch. “Listen, I can’t have you blocking any major concessions along the foot
of this pier.”

“And what’s your name?” Larry said.

“Bob,” I said.

“Bob Morey?” he said.

“No,” I said, “Just Bob. I’m the day-time manager.”

“Yeah, well, listen to me, Just Bob. Morey told us we could be here, OK?”

“Which Morey?” I said.

“Morey,” Larry said. “Y’know, Morey’s Pier?”

I was staring at Larry. I had seen him on TV. Over the years, he had been affiliated with an abundance of east-coast wrestling promotions. Larry was also affiliated with The Monster Factory, a popular training facility located in Paulsboro, New Jersey. Up close, he had the sad-eyed look of Dusty Rhodes. Yet his demeanor was off-putting; his patois, extremely shrill.

“Bob, you gotta tell me what the problem is,” Larry continued, “cause my guys, they all came out here today hoping to sign some autographs for the fans.”

Larry’s coterie had taken to its feet, half-a-dozen of them strong. These guys didn’t appear so much like athletes as they did disgruntled dockworkers. I recognized none of them with the exception of Bundy, who had remained along a park bench, showing little interest
in getting involved.

Professional wrestling was experiencing a renaissance. The WWF stood months away from introducing the Attitude Era. Ted Turner’s WCW had taken control. WCW had been luring away talent – Hulk Hogan, Lex Luger, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. The WWF was reinventing itself around a WCW transplant who had shifted his image to “Stone Cold”. The Monday Night Wars were underway – a series of prime-time, head-to-head, two-hour extravaganzas, pitting money and power against experience and verve. As the point man behind WCW, Eric Bischoff had taken the battle to WWE, eventually go so far as to broadcast the results of Monday Night RAW as it was in progress (via Monday Nitro). Vince McMahon, on the other hand, was about to step out from behind the announce table, reestablishing himself as the king hell bastard of that fold.

As a child I had been a fan of professional wrestling. I had collected all the thumb wrestlers; had acquired the plastic ring to go along. I had my favorites – Ricky Steamboat and the JYD. I owned The Wrestling Album, the gate-fold cover of which I had tacked onto my wall. Many of that era’s superstars had faded, replaced by HBK and The Undertaker; Hollywood Hogan and his NWO. Comparatively speaking, the cast of grapplers Larry Sharpe had assembled looked like jobbers – a team of aging, wound-down leftovers, full of liniment and oil.

“Call Morey then!” I heard Larry say. He was speaking to Mike Strickler, an operations manager who had arrived to mediate the scene. “Cause I ain’t taking my tables down, no matter what some fucking peon tells me.”

“What d’you call me?” I inserted myself into their conversation.

“I called you a fucking peon,” Larry repeated.

“Fuck you,” I said. And with that, the bearded man with a shiny forehead came charging through the breach. “No, fuck you,” he said. He shoved me several feet across the boards.

“That’s enough,” Mike Strickler shouted. “I’m sure we can get this whole situation resolved.”

The bearded man started pacing now, muttering something about how, “You don’t talk to [his] fucking boss that way.” None of the other wrestlers had backed him, a dynamic which did nothing to allay my fears. I crossed my arms, positioned my back against a pillar. Mike Strickler got on the walkie, calling out to each of the Moreys, one-by-one.

The more attention this disagreement attracted, the more apparent it became that there was no problem, really. We were talking about a beach day with fewer than a hundred people along the strand. The cost-benefit of allowing the Dime Pitch to be blocked appeared negligible. The issue was that I had demonstrated zero initiative. On top of which, I had grown irritable, consumed with the notion that if those wrestlers remained up on that pier, then I would have to remain up there, as well. I wasn’t scheduled to come into work until five.

I could not imagine anything like this happening in Cape May or Ocean City. Sea Isle, maybe. Atlantic City, for sure. Wildwood had always seemed similar to Atlantic City – similar geography, similar design. Turn-of-the-century Wildwood, much like turn-of-the-century Atlantic City, was originally marketed as a spa, accessible by train with clean air and clean water and a wholesome bathing culture. The subsequent rise of Atlantic City occurred as a result of corrupt politics, driven by the criminal enterprises of the day. In the wake of prohibition, a lot of rackets had gone legitimate, bolstered by an infrastructure that was already in place. Atlantic City’s club owners, meanwhile, began exploiting the very African-American entertainers who – by day – were relegated to a block-long stretch of Missouri Avenue known as Chicken Bone Beach. Abbott & Costello were performing in black face. The ethos of greed began exacting a toll.

While the scale and timelines differed, Wildwood seemed intent on repeating a lot of Atlantic City’s same mistakes. By the summer of 1997, there were rumors, rather prevalent, that Wildwood Mayor Fred Wager had been negotiating a deal with the Lenni-Lenape – a Native American tribe that had originally settled the Delaware Bay. Wager wanted to welcome the Lenni-Lenape back in return for them opening a casino on sovereignty grounds. Assuming all of the pieces fit, Wager’s definitive stroke would be to approve construction smack-dab in the center of the island, at Schellenger and Pacific, a deteriorating block where both John Vollrath and Susan Negersmith had been fatally assaulted, less than 200 meters apart.

All of this kept running through my head as the North Wildwood Police pulled up in a patrol car. Larry Sharpe was being ordered to take his business elsewhere. A pair of wrestlers began collapsing tables, and as they descended the ramp at 26th Street, King Kong Bundy approached me from behind.

“How much for the lobster?” King Kong Bundy asked. He was motioning toward one of several four-foot pieces of plush hanging upside-down inside the Ring Toss. Normally I wouldn’t have sold that piece for anything less than $60 (a 114% markup), but given the circumstances, I sold it to Bundy for cost. The two of us got to talking, at which point Bundy made a joke about not even being on the card that evening. “Just in town to show my face,” he said. Bundy was wearing a gray cotton T-shirt. He was an Atlantic City native, as he went on to explain.

Day 1,300

(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB.)

©Copyright Bob Hill

Houdini the Calypsonian on War Songs (1939)

“That night, in a tent, I had a war with some old Calypsonians. A tent is a bamboo shack with a palm roof. The Calypsonians sing in them during carnival and charge admission. A war is where three Calypsonians stand up on the platform in a tent and improvise in verse. One man begins in verse, telling about the ugly faces and impure morals of the other two. Then the next man picks up the song and proceeds with it. On and on it goes. If you falter when it comes your turn, you don’t dare call yourself a Calypsonian. Most war songs are made up of insults. You give out your insults, and then the next man insults you. The man who gives out the biggest insults is the winner.”

(Excerpted from Up in The Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell.)

IFB’s Quotations Page, General Index

Moving On: The Tadpole & The Scorpion

CFzrdQSWEAAwE26“I’m pregnant,” Laurie told me.

We were standing along the east wall of the Fairview. It was a Thursday after 2 AM. There were people brushing past on either side.

“I was going to have it aborted, but it’s already got limbs and ears, and so I guess I probably – ”

“You’re sure?” I interjected.

Yes,” Laurie insisted.

“You’re sure it’s mine?” I kept right at it. An insult. A cliché. And yet it beckoned me to wonder. Laurie and I shared a history leading back to the previous April. The first time we’d had sex, it had started on a beach, then found its way into a bathtub. The second time, Laurie had requested that I tie her up with nylon binds. Laurie had a clit ring. She’d gone to bed with several locals. Over the course of 13 months I’d come to view her as a stalwart – irretrievably disposed to getting off at any price.

“How are we gonna handle this?” Laurie asked me. I could feel her blonde split
ends beneath my eye.

“Well, the first thing we’re gonna do is put this beer down,” I said. I took the Miller Lite from Laurie’s hand. “The second thing we’re gonna do is figure out what makes good sense.”

My mind was racing, cataloging through a series of events that had taken place within three months. There was that episode over Memorial Day, a gruesome lay that failed to account for any growth of limbs or ears. There was that episode toward the end of April, a drunken tryst throughout which I had failed to maintain any significant erection. And then there was that bender over Easter – a 48-hour period during which all the appropriate pieces seemed to gather. “It’s OK; I can’t
get pregnant,” a rum-soaked Laurie’d told me. And like a fool, I listened, digging in with
corpusced thighs.

Laurie and I spoke at length, after which I left the bar alone. My legs had gone to jelly and the pulse of speakers filled my ears. I could not focus, and yet it occurred to me that Laurie’s story could’ve been for shit. Laurie had sound reason to feel spiteful. I had behaved like a chauvinist; enjoyed the spoils like a pig. And yet her level of complicity was such it begged the question of
dual fault.

All of these angles just kept orbiting, exploding in my consciousness at once: Would I be forced to stay in Wildwood? To secure year-round employment? Would I require benefits? A stroller? What would the costs be? Would there be any litigation? Would I love the child? Neglect it? Would I become a victim of postpartum? Would I wind up in a bar, passing around a picture, telling strangers, ‘She’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me’? How could I have been so fucking reckless? And Jesus-Lord, how could I make it stop?

I wandered back to the apartment, drank at the table until morning. It was the weekend now, which meant 14-hour shifts. I persevered, securing naps during my breaks. I’d told Laurie I would call her. Yet as the afternoons wore on, I put off looking for her number, completely cognizant of the notion once I phoned there’d be no turning back. I had only contacted Laurie once; had scrawled her number on the reverse side of a coaster. I employed that coaster as my alibi, maintaining I had little thought of where it might be found. In reality, I was 99% certain that it resided in a box stacked in my closet – Pandora’s chest among the ruins, the dirty secret in my room.

As passing days bled into weeks, there were only three people in whom I had confided. The first two were Lori and Joanna, and the third was a trusted coworker. I had told Lori and Joanna because they found me in the kitchen several hours after I had abandoned them at The Fairview that first night. I had told the coworker because I wanted credit for my ability to keep my head amidst the rush.

Toward the end of June my state of mind began to sour. I went from home to work to home again, and almost nowhere in between. I avoided the bars for the same reason I avoided my closet. Lori and Joanna had spotted Laurie in the nightclubs several times. According to them Laurie was drinking, going out of her way to smoke cigarettes on the sly. I hated Laurie. I hated her for what she had come to represent. I would envision her with an exaggerated overbite; I’d replace her nostrils with a snout. I would demonize Laurie’s stonewash jeans and that stupid ruffled shirt she wore. I would demonize the nasal quality of her voice, the way her cheeks ran deep with blush whenever she felt called upon to comment. I hated Laurie for allowing me to defile her; for failing to complain after I had passed out cold one night, then pissed on her during our sleep. I hated Laurie for liking me, for not accepting that I had nothing suitable to offer. The very idea of her made me nauseous; convinced I could not do the least bit better than myself.

Throughout high school and early college I was decidedly pro-life, denouncing abortion as a mainstream failure of accountability. My position reflected a lack of empathy, a lack of experience, a lack of respect for what it meant to carry any entity full-term. My position reflected the fact that – up until the age of 18 – I was a virgin, lacking any relatable compassion for what it meant to be a woman. Confronted with a child I was in no way prepared to adore, I had adjusted my perspective, maturing into yet another asshole for whom there was no right or wrong … only the sanctifiable promotion of self-interests.

Working on the boardwalk, I would often see them – disgruntled parents who had transformed their summer dalliance into a choice. Most of these parents were single, overweight, poorly dressed or oddly formed. Their children appeared distant, apprehending the world via snarl and glare. Looking at them reinforced the notion paternity was not a role for which I would be suited. Paternity remained the purview of my father. My father? The news would come as a surprise to him, but not a shock. My mother would cry. My sisters would fret. In the meantime, I kept refusing to answer the phone, fearful of who – or what – might force me into any obligatory disclosures. I started sleeping on the sofa, wind-drifting off into a world full of ambient sound.

***

“Bob … Bobby.” The voice belonged to Joanna, but it could’ve just as easily belonged to
my mother.

I sat up, disoriented. I could feel the mist of dawn through sapphire blinds.

“I have to tell you something,” Joanna insisted. She was sitting along the edge of the couch. “I saw Laurie at The Fairview tonight. She was drinking a Miller Lite.”

“Oh, who cares?” I bristled. “I think we both know what Laurie’s been up to this entire time.”

“I said something to her,” Joanna interrupted.

“You said something to her about what?”

“I said something to her about this,” Joanna responded. She was circling the sofa with her arm. “I suppose that I thought it needed to be done. Anyway, I went up and I asked Laurie what the fuck her fucking problem was, and she looked at me as if I was insane. Only I kept at it, explaining you were sick to death over everything that was happening, and that it didn’t help that she was out enjoying her good time.”

“Why would you do that?” I stretched one hand across my temples. “Now she’s gonna show up at our door, assuming that I need her by my side.”

“No, she’s not,” Joanna lit a cigarette. “In the middle of our spat, Laurie started to cry.”

“To cry?”

“To bawl.”

“About what?”

“She claims she had a miscarriage.” Joanna told me. “She claims that it happened a couple of weeks ago; that she was afraid to tell you for fear of how you might respond.”

“And then what?” I muttered.

“And then she left,” Joanna told me. “Ran out before I could ask her anything more.”

I leaned my head against the armrest. “You think she’s full of shit?” I said.

“No,” Joanna paused. “Up until tonight I would’ve said the entire pregnancy was just a hoax. But if that display that Laurie put on over at The Fairview was any indication … well, I just figured that you’d want to know.”

“Yeah … no … I do. I appreciate it. Thank you,” I said.

Joanna disappeared into her room.

Later that evening, Joanna and Lori surprised me with a “Bitch-Ain’t-Pregnant” party – a mid-July gathering that neglected to account for, or even acknowledge, any truth regarding my cowardice. There were loose-leaf banners strewn across the walls. “No Baby for Bobby,” one read; “You’re Free to Go Fuck,” another one offered. My secret was out, assuming that it had ever been an actual secret at all. And who could complain, what with all the pressure of it resolved? Tomorrow I would go to work, and I would have no way of knowing whether to mourn or curse or celebrate. Or at least that’s what I’d tell people. In my mind it remained fairly certain that I would’ve abandoned Laurie. The sudden news of any miscarriage only meant there’d be no dealing with that chore.

Day 1,292

(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB.)

©Copyright Bob Hill

Pablo Picasso on Painting (1949)

“Painting is freedom. If you jump, you might fall on the wrong side of the rope. But if you’re not willing to take the risk of breaking your neck, what good is it? You don’t jump at all.You have to wake people up; to revolutionize their way of identifying things. You’ve got to create images they won’t accept; force them to understand that they’re living in a pretty queer world, a world that’s not reassuring, a world that’s not what they think it is.”

(Excerpted from The Rise of Cubism by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.)

IFB’s Quotations Page, General Index

The Curious Case of Jacob B. Gyllenhaal

4c1921f864b8416e4fef35e306e79f03For me when I read the script there was a lot about Los Angeles, particularly the topography of Los Angeles was fascinating, even in the screenplay. And the idea that at night these creatures come out, specifically, the creatures of the animal kingdom in Los Angeles are coyotes and other animals, but really, specifically, coyotes. And if you live in Los Angeles – and I happen to have grown up there – they’re all over the place, looking like they’re starving; looking like they’re hungry, and looking like they’re literally going to eat you when they stare you down. They’re fearless. They’re fearless creatures. There was something about the nature of this character that was very much like that, and somehow brought together this natural animal world, and then this metropolis of Los Angeles, in a way that I had never read before, and I don’t think had been done before. And it wasn’t like you were cutting away to footage of coyotes. You were literally watching the personification of a coyote. And that was fascinating to me. And that meant an exploration of myself physically and mentally that I had never really done before.”

So said Jake Gyllenhaal during a Q Interview promoting 2014’s ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal’s statement, which became a running meme throughout that circuit, maintains a tendency toward the earnest. The rub here stems not so much from the rabid stench of pretension as the fact that 30 lbs. of weight loss might not have been the way to go. Ultimately, Gyllenhaal’s approach served as a distraction, implying he views low-lying members of the media to be pariahs, metaphorically sucking the blood out of each city. Gyllenhaal’s character – Louis Bloom – aspired toward some mix of Rupert Pupkin and Travis Bickle. Only his execution fell far short; a sparse attempt that
missed the mark.

As a professional, Gyllenhaal’s goal is to evolve. But in doing so he risks losing the ongoing advocacy of an early base that admired him not only because he was pretty (he was), or because he reminded them of a boy scout (he did), but primarily because he could nail all of the nuances of a performance. Listening to a 33-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal prattle on about his “exploration” of a character begins to sound more like a regression. For Gyllenhaal is gambling upon the elasticity of persona. The further – and more frequently – he stretches, the more worn out that suit of fabric will become.

To wit: If one were to plot Gyllenhaal’s most recent career choices as chronological points on a graph – with the X axis representing his personal level of distortion and the Y axis representing an audience’s approximation of belief – the downward trend would make itself known. Almost every major film role (with the exception of Dastan from Prince of Persia) would score high – despite descending – on the Y axis, while sloping out along the X. That slope would indicate a correlation between Gyllenhaal’s “exploration” of each character and the dwindling appreciation of his niche. End of Watch, Prisoners, Enemy, Nightcrawler, Southpaw … these represent engaging concepts, despite Gyllenhaal’s inclusion continuing to feel increasingly bereft.

In the interest of parallel, consider Christian Bale. Bale, much like Gyllenhaal, started out as a child actor. Bale, much like Gyllenhaal, had always been a method guy. Bale, much like Gyllenhaal, was being courted for the role of Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s reboot of Batman. Bale – at 29 – had already pulled off Patrick Bateman; Gyllenhaal – at 22 – had already pulled off Donnie Darko. Bale was the initial choice of Christopher Nolan; Gyllenhaal was the initial choice of David Goyer. Bale would eventually win out, and this would prove to be a critical point.

There were – and are – tiny cracks when it comes to Gyllenhaal. In 2005, the actor hinted at his dissatisfaction over Brokeback Mountain Director Ang Lee’s tendency to disassociate once principal filming began. Fourteen months later, Gyllenhaal was quoted in the New York Times as saying he was disgruntled with Zodiac Director David Fincher’s endless takes. This would seem to indicate a measure of pseudo-intellectualism that brilliant fillmmakers might seek to avoid. And yet for Gyllenhaal, that level of narcissism might prove inborn.

Gyllenhaal grew up a progeny of Hollywood. His mother was a screenwriter, his father, a director. Gyllenhaal’s godfather was – and is – a cinematographer. His godmother is Jamie Lee Curtis. Given the circumstances, it is reasonable to assume Gyllenhaal’s never had to scratch and claw to make his way or survive. And yet, he’s overcompensated by choosing roles that disavow not only his nepotism, but good looks. The fact that Gyllenhaal has eschewed a lot of Christian-Grey-type offers should mean something. And it does. But it doesn’t change the fact that Gyllenhaal’s most memorable forays (e.g., Holden Worther in The Good Girl, Robert Graysmith in Zodiac, etc.), retain some air of that blue-eyed nerd from October Sky. One way or another, Jacob Gyllenhaal will always have to battle for legitimacy. It is the price somebody pays for jumping ahead at the front door.

(Jake Gyllenhaal stars in Southpaw, arriving in theaters nationwide on July 24th.)

Upon the 10th Anniversary of ‘Batman Begins’

Batman-Begins-05-1152x864I went to see Batman Begins alone in an empty theater that had a max cap of fewer than 300 seats. I knew nothing about movies and even less about directors. I made no connection between Christopher Nolan and the auteur vision that had accompanied Memento. I only knew that this was Batman, and that Batman – as a concept – had always riveted me.

The pre-publicity for Batman Begins seemed underwhelming, particularly given the big-budget push that had preceded every previous Batman effort. I could remember the 30-second teaser for Tim’s Burton’s original – that chest plate, it was everything, for the simple fact that it revealed nothing at all. As a teenager I had gone to see the original Batman during its opening weekend, at a midnight screening that ran elbow-to-elbow across every row. Cineplexes continued churning Burton’s film at 90-minute intervals throughout the end of June. Short of Titanic, it went on to become the box-office meteor of that era. Christopher Nolan’s reboot, by way of comparison, came bearing all the mingy earmarks of an undernourished dog.

Of course, no one was using the term “reboot” back in those days, which made it odder still that Warner Brothers might see fit to give some wunderkind control. This was 2005, a point when Spider Man was riding high and Superman had lost control. Revenge of the Sith was a runaway blockbuster. George Bush had just been re-elected, 18 months after declaring “Mission accomplished!” from the front deck of a boat.

Meanwhile, Christopher Nolan seemed to be approaching everything from a non-conformist style. His film was rumored to feature neither the Joker nor the Penguin. Bruce Wayne was being played by an actor who cut the tension with his jaw. Could this outsider – Christian Bale – actually take on the auspices of Batman? No one knew for sure. But his role in American Psycho guaranteed he had the billion-dollar-ethos thing down pat.

And so I bought my ticket. And what a decision that turned out to be. Batman Begins presented characters that were cerebral; a comic-book mythology, surreal. Christopher Nolan introduced a loaded rifle in Act One, then disappeared down such a hole one never thought to wonder when or if that loaded rifle might return. The movie’s twists and turns were jarring, like some well-oiled wooden coaster clattering down the tracks. And when at last the blinds were open, that rifle raised the ante by an even 10%.

Consider, by way of example, Batman Begins’ climactic sequence. On the surface, the caped crusader is confronting his mentor, Ra’s al Ghul, on the train car of a monorail. And yet, David Goyer’s screenplay has accomplished so much that the audience is already keenly aware: A) that Ra’s al Ghul represents one of three surrogate father figures to Bruce Wayne, B) that monorail was originally constructed by Thomas Wayne, C) that monorail is currently headed on a collision course toward Gotham’s water hub, D) Gotham’s water hub is located inside the center of Wayne Tower, and E) Wayne Industries manufactured the microwave emitter both men are grappling over. So on one level, the audience gets to enjoy a brilliantly-choreographed fight scene. On another, Bruce Wayne is struggling in defense of a blood oath he has sworn to uphold.

And yet, it goes much deeper than that, really. The audience is presented with an integral relationship between a teacher and his student. One uses fear as a deterrent, the other as an instrument of war. Both men are similar in style and discipline, yet separated by their mystique. Visually, these two men complement each other, Bruce Wayne appearing – at one point – in an open-mouth cowl just as Ra’s al Ghul goes strapping on a mask that covers the lower-center of his face. Bruce Wayne is the heir to a throne that has grown malignant in his absence. His family’s legacy is under attack; threatened by a company-built mechanism sent hurtling toward Gotham’s aorta like a spike meant for the heart. Meanwhile, that mechanism raises a question of ethical boundaries: Should any company secure its fortunes to a necessity for death?

Ten minutes after Nolan’s movie ended, it occurred to me Tim Burton’s original would never be the same. Nolan’s caped crusader felt vicious and forthright; the majority of his decisions felt pathologically impaired. Nolan’s sequencing moved quickly, any extraneous elements were spared. More importantly, there was no Batman during the initial 60 minutes (in the same way there was no Man of Steel during the initial 47 minutes of Superman). The story – by way of its characters – meant something. And Nolan’s ideas were executed with such precision that both Bruce Waynes explored a separate fallacy of man.

By the end of 2007, nobody gave a shit about Spider-Man anymore. Superman was on life support, and a legion of lesser-known origin stories were suddenly clamoring to be heard. The cinematic universe had shifted. And a Dark-Knight sequel featuring a $250-million budget was about to redefine the way super-hero sagas should be told.

We know now how that sequel ended. We know that Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker transformed Jack Nicholson’s iconic romp into a blurb. We know that all three films in the Dark Knight canon would include recurring metaphors and plot points; that Nolan and DC would continue to feed off of each other’s world. We know that Heath Ledger would go on to win the only Oscar ever awarded for any major role in a super-hero movie. We know that The Dark Knight would be nominated for eight Academy Awards (and that Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard would be nominated for a BAFTA Award for their score). We know that Ledger’s Joker would continue to receive all of the glory, despite Tom Hardy’s Bane eventually proving to be a much more quotable turn. We know that one decade removed, the rising swell of super-hero mania is all-but-bound to wash asunder, just as we know that Nolan’s trilogy is one of the few bodies of work that will endure.

We know that Christian Bale has gone on to A-List mega-stardom. We know that Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon revitalized an under-appreciated career. We know that – after abandoning the Dark Knight franchise – Katie Holmes has stumbled along like a wounded deer. We know that Skyfall, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Fast & The Furious 7, The Amazing Spider Man, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel and Daredevil (among others) have all stolen from The Dark Knight to an embarrassing degree. We know that certain aspects of The Dark Knight pop up in everything from video games to TV. We know that Batman Begins set the wheels in motion for a pair of billion-dollar juggernauts. But most of all, we know that Batman Begins currently represents the second-greatest super-hero movie ever created, just as we know that The Dark Knight franchise represents the second-greatest trilogy ever made.

(Batman Begins was originally released on June 15th, 2005.)