Encounter with a terribly shy man wearing a beret

August 16th, 2014

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As we mourn his passing, here’s an excerpt from my book, Hollywoodaholic: Confessions of a Screenwriter about my encounter with Robin Williams. A sweet man, an incredible force-of-nature talent, and completely different persona offstage than on.

April 30, 1984

Dear John,

I haven’t worked since I last wrote you some two months back or so, but that’s not unusual. I’ve been living off my tax returns from last year and going to meetings.

Recess, which I wrote several years ago, has come to the forefront again. I asked my manager to send a copy to director Tony Richardson (The Loved One, an Oscar for Tom Jones). He’s an eccentric British director with a taste for the bizarre. Sure enough, he liked it a great deal and invited me up to his house to meet him. He has this huge, tropical-style plantation in the Hollywood Hills complete with exotic macaws, parrots and free-flying lovebirds in an adjacent outdoor aviary. He wouldn’t let me talk about any of his work, but went on raving about my script, saying it was the funniest thing he’d read in a long time. Now this came as great relief and vindication to me because, for seven years, all I’ve heard about it from the studio people and readers and such is ‘what the hell is this?” or, ‘this is too strange and will never get made.’ (The episodic plot, including adventures in the army and on an anchovy boat, narration by a character with a 10-year-old mentality, and a theme of innocence amid worldly corruption are oddly similar to a picture that would get produced ten years later called Forrest Gump.) Suddenly, here was an Academy Award-winning director erasing layers of abundantly applied doubt. He mentioned that he’d been talking to Robin Williams and would like to give it him. I left floating on air, but keeping an inward and skeptical vigil.

The next week I’m sitting outside an office waiting to go into a meeting with a story person who works for a cream-of-the-crop management firm (Woody Allen, Eddie Murphy, Williams, etc.) about something completely different, and suddenly Robin Williams walks in the back door. My first reaction is surprise, and my second is; ‘What’s that purple-covered script he’s carrying?’ People in the office get up to greet him and I’m standing there with my head twisted around trying to see the script and going, ‘could that be…?’

It was. My body shudders with a start and he’s standing right in front of me and I reach out my hand and introduce myself, ‘Hi, I’m Wayne Carter.’ He shakes my hand, looks at me oddly, looks down at the script, then looks up again and we both freak out. He goes, with revelation, ‘You wrote this script?’. I nod and we both freak out again. Meanwhile, his manager has to come out and is wondering what the hell is going on. Robin explains he was coming by to give him this script to read and consider, and here’s the author right here.

His manager freaks out. He thinks this is some sort of conspiracy. We try to explain that it’s a total coincidence and that Tony Richardson had sent the script to Robin. Robin and the manager excuse themselves and disappear into his office for some low conversation. Robin is backing away from me going, ‘this is very interesting, very interesting.’ He means the script.

I have to go to my regular meeting with one of the manager’s assistants, only now everyone in the office is abuzz with what’s happened and I am getting all sorts of attention and feel like a celebrity. I go into the meeting, explaining the coincidence again. Five minutes later, Robin’s manager joins my meeting, with interest. He’s still trying to figure out what’s going on. He listens closely and thinks aloud that what I’m pitching now (The Man Who Had the Ability to Enjoy Life) might be something for Eddie Murphy or Joe Piscopo.

Now, you might wonder (or not) how I’m handling myself through this whole shebang. Well, the answer is, I couldn’t have been cooler. And the reason is because, truthfully, I was numb with sickness. I had woken up with a sore throat, a cloudy head and the beginnings of the flu, so by the time I hit this meeting, I had backed away from my body as if it were some distant entity, and everything was coming at me through a shrouded, invisible tunnel. Hence, a total lack of nerves.

Anyway, the upshot of the thing is that it’s being talked about now between Tony, Robin, his manager and with feelers to the studio. I’m not holding my breath. My agent and I suspect his manager will try to steer Robin away from doing something this off-center, but you never know. The point is, if Robin wants to do it, and we already got Tony, THAT’S a package, in Hollywood terms. So I’m hoping, with caution. If nothing else, I had those moments; an Academy Award-winning director enthralled with my work; and that heart-stopping coincidence in the tiring life of a screenwriter when Robin Williams walked through that front door carrying nothing but one purple script, and I flinched and thought, ‘Could that be mine?’

(Ultimately the hard-ass manager did steer Williams to another project because he thought Tony Richardson -an Academy Award-Winning director, no less – wasn’t hot enough for Robin. I understand why Williams, who offstage is terribly shy and polite, needed a hard-ass manager, because you get the idea he would say yes to everything just to be a nice guy. But I still have a few sleepless nights thinking about what his appearing in my screenplay would have meant.)

P.S. – Robin Williams used to occasionally come in to the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard and go on after the last comedian of the night and just play for 90 minutes or so. You had to find out about these appearances through some inside intel, and my best friend was a stand-up comic who appeared there. So when my parents were visiting me from Maryland one time and I got the word, I dragged my poor 60 year-old father and mom to the Comedy Store and waited until 12:30 a.m. when Williams made one of his surprise no-time-limit appearances. We didn’t get out of there until after 2 a.m. and my dad was nearly catatonic, but I just had to expose my parents to the most electrifying and funniest man on the planet besides Richard Pryor (who might’ve shocked them a bit too much).

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I think it’s gonna be a long long time

July 14th, 2014

(Summer reruns while I work on a script. Here’s a favorite. Don’t forget to check the archive)

I live less than 50 miles from Cape Canaveral, formerly Cape Kennedy, and formerly Cape Canaveral before that.  Talk about an identity crisis.

And now it’s going through another one: What’s the mission?

This week there’s a scheduled launch of an unmanned Ares rocket, which could replace the Shuttle, now on its last scheduled flights in … well, forever. NASA has submitted several mission proposals and budgets to the government, but the government’s got its own budget problems. How can we send a spaceship to Mars when we can’t get our own Earthship in order? Why should we go back to the moon when we’ve already been there? And are we content to just send astronauts up like janitors to regularly empty the Porta Potty on the Space Station?

I find these choices and questions somewhat sad.

Fifty years ago, in 1960, I was playing with my Cape Canaveral toy set as an excitable young boy growing up in Maryland and dreaming about our great big space adventures to come. Our rival superpower, the Russians, had beaten us to space with Sputnick, and now President Kennedy was promising we would beat them to the moon within 10 years.

And, by golly, we did. In the most amazing run of technological breakthroughs, NASA team dedication, personal sacrifice, and fast track government and popular support this world has ever witnessed, we went from stranded on Earth in 1960, to stepping on the moon in 1969.

But we dreamed much bigger than that.

Our favorite prime time television cartoon at the time was The Jetsons, where a family like ours lived in a penthouse perched in the sky and traveled around in their own personal flying saucers. They also had a cool robot pet dog that fetched the newspaper. (Paper newspapers? In the future? Now that’s science fiction).

Our favorite books were science fiction treats like The Martian Chronicles and R is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury, who wrote of international space travel, aliens and other worlds as if they were already here, and a natural part of our daily life experience.

We went to the movies and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, which evo-leaped us in the single tossing of a bone from raging primates to commercial passengers on celestial spaceships waltzing through the galaxy to “The Blue Danube.”

David Bowie sang about Ground Control to Major Tom in Space Oddity, and Elton John picked up on Ray Bradbury’s working stiff astronaut theme by singing as a Rocket Man, who punched a clock and did his job five days a week, but also had time to ponder why he was, “burning out my fuse up here alone.”

Star Trek, Space 1999, and Star Wars delivered us warp speed to a time where we had so distantly moved on to exploring (and fighting with) other worlds that living on Earth wasn’t even an afterthought anymore.

And beyond going to the moon … none of these things happened.

And none of them likely ever will. At least the way we’re headed now.

It was all just a fever dream fueled by huge leaps in rocket technology, hope, and great expectations.

My childhood imagination soared on those expectations.

And now, as an adult, I don’t even want us to spend one more dime to go anywhere else in the universe. I just want us to get Earth … right. I don’t want us to burn one more drop of ultra high octane rocket fuel further depleting the ozone layer and exposing the Earth to deadlier levels of radiation. I don’t want us to send one more man or woman into space unless it’s for some reason to really help us back here on Planet Earth, today. It’s not enough to live on the fantasy of what travel through the universe can deliver us anymore. We’ve got to deliver here, first.

This isn’t some tree-hugging idealist writing.

This is … merely a realist.

A realist who doesn’t think we need to completely abandon our dream of space, but just abandon the last century’s model and method of how we get there.

The next leap in evolution could be some matter-anti-matter dylithium crystal device breakthrough that beams us throughout the universe without burning fossil fuel or using any more precious resources, but it won’t be constructed from any blueprints left behind from the existing technology paradigm. It will be another great leap of imagination that re-invents the way we meet the stars.

You see, I’m still hopeful that we will explore the space beyond, and maybe even live there one day. But the realist in me now understands we must the find the way way out by better exploring the space within.  That’s where we’ll find even greater answers to the questions of what’s out there. That’s where the bigger mysteries wait to spark our inspiration and be revealed. And that’s where the next phase of space exploration can begin.

Maybe Cape Canaveral will still be the harbor for this new evolution and rename itself Cape Higher-Consciousness.

I can’t wait for that play set.

– A. Wayne Carter

 

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Watching Bill Maher, Religiously

July 1st, 2014

(Summer reruns while I work on a script. Here’s a favorite. Don’t forget to check the archive.)

I watch Bill Maher, religiously. Every week. Like church.

He speaks truth to power in a manner so cool and rational and funny, it’s refreshing and entertaining beyond shit.

No matter who the guest or panelist is, he has a way to instantly disarm them with pure reason. It’s hard to argue when someone is brandishing the cold, hard, indisputable facts.

Unless, of course, the subject of religion comes up.

Suddenly, this cool, calculated rationalist begins ranting and raving; practically foaming at the mouth about gullibility, ignorance, stupidity and the ‘fairy tales’ of the believers.

To quote Shakespeare, “Methinks thou doth protest too much.”

How is a raving atheist spewing contempt and intolerance for believers in Jesus or any other faith any different than an evangelical Christian on the other side spewing condemnation and intolerance for heathen non-believers?

They are really mirror images of the same basic intolerance.

Who CARES what someone else believes? Nobody really knows. Why does it bug you so much, Bill? If someone wants to believe in Jesus, Mohammed, Scientology, Leprechauns, or the magic underwear of Mormonism, what’s it to you?

Sure, if someone uses religion to incite hatred and violence and war (as so often has been done throughout history, past and current), then expose it and condemn the hypocrisy of the agenda behind it. But don’t become one of them.

CNN has a religion column and 90 percent of the people who post comments to the column appear to be atheists angrily mocking or condemning the idea of faith, God, or religion. Religious columns online provoke more responses from atheists than actual followers of one faith or the other. What does this say?

Again, methinks they doth protest too much.

I have a theory that many atheists, and probably Bill Maher included, are burned believers. Why else would they get so riled up over what someone else believes?

At some time in their lives, perhaps in the early devout Catholic upbringing of the half-Jewish Bill Maher, they fervently believed in something. Maybe it was the power of prayer. Maybe it was the saving power of grace. Or maybe it was a miracle that just didn’t come through. They lost a parent or precious loved one or even a pet; the bully unjustly got away with his crime; or their parents stopped loving each other and divorced. So they threw away prayers or faith in anything beyond belief in the random cruelty or callousness of life, and embraced pure rationalism.

And now, any time someone else brings up faith or religion, it stirs their blood and those inner emotions and triggers a deep anger at something they once might have believed in and have since lost. How DARE someone else have faith in something?

It’s just a theory.

But I would also remind atheists or non-believers attempting art that almost every great masterpiece in the world of art or music was inspired by faith in something bigger than, or beyond the ego or rationalism of the artist.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (that’s Jesus in man’s ‘Joy’ there)

Mozart’s Requiem

The Beatles “Let It Be”

Michelangelo’s Pieta or David or Sistine Chapel

Even a secular artist such as Paul Simon found his greatest inspiration in gospel music when he composed, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

And what would Soul Music – think Marvin Gaye, Al Green or Otis Redding – be without the ‘soul?’ Probably just lifeless, uninspired programmed crap like the Black-Eyed Peas, “I Got a Feeling,” who’s only inspiration appears to be greed for a dance floor remix that has a shelf life about the same as milk.

John Lennon sang “imagine no religion” in his classic, “Imagine,” but he wasn’t talking about God or faith. He meant the use of religion by men as a form of control over others. And keep in mind he wrote this song after extensive experimentation in primary therapy writing cathartic songs like, “God,” and “Mother,” where he was screaming about the loss of … well, his mother. It happened when he was young. He probably prayed to have her in his life and felt betrayed. And he got angry. And later … he protested too much.

But he must have made his own peace eventually forgiving everyone else their silly beliefs in faith or God or religion or alcohol or pills or magic underwear, because one of the last NUMBER ONE hit songs he ever had was the very positive and cheerful, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.”

It’s all right. It’s all right.

Here’s a simple test to determine whether you believe in some form of God or spiritual life.

Have you ever meditated? Do you believe in the power of meditation?

We’re not talking prayers. Prayer is ASKING for something from above or beyond yourself.

Meditation is LISTENING for something beyond yourself.

If you believe in the power of meditation, then you are not an atheist.

Because meditation is going within yourself to find a silence or inner peace beyond the chatter of your own mind.

It’s letting go of the ego or mask of identity you’ve created for yourself that pretends you really are separated from anyone or anything else.

It’s going within to find that inter-connectivity.

In physics, it’s called The Unified Field Theory. Everything in the universe; solid, gas, or liquid is really just dancing particles of energy suspended in space. Everything really is just ONE thing in a field or matrix.

In metaphysics, this inter-connectivity is called the Collective Unconscious, or Universal Consciousness.

In religion, followers call it God.

And to poets and dreamers, it’s called … Love.

Believe in that, Bill, and you just might find the inner peace and tolerance that evade holier-than-thou zealots who simply can’t “live and let live,” or “Believe what you want, and let believe.”

Believe in that, Bill, and you just might believe again.

I believe in you, Bill.

– A. Wayne Carter

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Blowing my bile along the Nile

May 25th, 2014

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Here’s a tale from my book Hollywoodaholic: Confessions of a Screenwriter, where I was taking a break in 1978 from my unrelenting quest for work as a writer in Hollywood to take a trip to Egypt with my father. Aside from providing one of the bucket list goals of my life to climb the Great Pyramid (I bribed a guard $5 to look the other way), it also produced the following account on another, less noble, experience

_______________

July 1978

0001006-R5-E226I had just stepped off the ferry on the east side of the Nile in Luxor, Egypt. I had also just finished the most expensive can of Seven-Up east or west of the Atlantic. The temperature was 120 degrees and I could almost feel the pool of carbonated water in my stomach slowly beginning to bubble. I cautiously made my way up the bank of the river toward the taxis and the tour buses, regretting all forms of transportation and inconvenience that had put me in this spot: Regretting getting up at four a.m.; Regretting an hour taxi ride through Cairo to the airport; Regretting an hour and a half wait before scrambling onto a plane that was overbooked; Regretting another hour in the air listening to the woman next to me scream about her ears popping; Regretting a dusty bus ride and the polluted fumes of the ferry as it chugged across the Nile. But most of all; regretting  spending a dollar-fifty for a 15 cent Seven-Up that was in my stomach not five minutes before it decided to go up for air in spectacular fashion.

0001006-R5-E227By the time we got to the Valley of the Kings, my “reputation” had spread throughout the tour group. Some were actual witnesses, and others got the news second hand. As we entered the cramped tomb of King Tut, I became distinctly aware that, while everyone else was pushed together, I had plenty of room. I walked over to the rail to look over the sarcophagus, an open path miraculously parting through the people. One could get used to this kind of exclusivity, and I began to identify with young Tut himself, strutting (in this case wobbling) around freely as people backed away in awe of his power. I began to realize that respect is a two-way street. With Tut, it was admiration for his royal heritage. With me, it was fear of soiled personage. Midway through the guide’s long and melodramatic lecture, I beat a hasty exit for round two.

0001006-R5-E232The air in Ramses II tomb was thick with limestone powder. As the group descended further and further, eager to reach the final chamber, I stumbled along fifteen yards behind, looking anxiously back and wondering why each tomb was getting successively longer and deeper than the last – each exit becoming more of a challenge to reach before desecrating some sacred and priceless hieroglyphic. A walk became a jog, a jog became a sprint. And by the time we got to the last tomb, I knew that I could be a NCAA track star if only they lined the track with ancient hieroglyphics, heated the place to 120 degrees and sold me a can of Seven-Up for a buck fifty just prior to the race.

0001006-R5-E230At the city of Thebes, I sat smoldering in the back seat of the otherwise empty taxi realizing that I had been poisoned and was dying. Not by the Seven-Up, but by a glass of water the night before at a club in Sahara City. Bottled water is a must for travelers in Cairo and I remember the empty bottle sitting next to the glass of water I had just drank, but wondering about the ice cubes.

Peddlers selling authentic ancient Egyptian coins manufactured the night before were relentless. They gathered around the taxi I was sprawled over in like flies around decaying matter, rubbing their fingers together to indicate they wanted the stuff you could rub, not the stuff you could clink. I just sat there, my eyes rolling around, my tongue hanging out, balanced precariously in the taxi and thinking how amusing it would be if I finished dying right there and just plopped over, sending them all scampering off in fear believing they had begged me to death. Of course, I knew I was trapped. 0001006-R5-E233Trapped in a frantic tour of every damn ruin, statue and tomb in Luxor, losing every drop of water I tried to put down, along with all my enzymes. I was the one giving out the souvenirs everywhere instead of picking them up. And salvation was all those forms of transportation away, plus one.

I sat alone in a sagging horse buggy, a limp pile of flesh, bobbing along mindlessly, trying to create sparks by rubbing my crusted lips together rapidly. If I could do that, I could ignite my leather tongue and I’d go up in flames in an instant. My fate was not that merciful. It was one more sightseeing stop. One more melodramatic lecture. One more souvenir left to mark my visit.

0001006-R5-E246The Temples of Karnak were revealed to me through fingers of my right hand spread across my face awkwardly trying to keep my body from slumping over onto the road and rolling in the dried camel shit. A jovial, Nubian buggy rider rested there, staring at me along with a robed peasant and a guard. As I held myself propped there for the good part of an hour, they babbled to each other in Arabic. Probably, I thought, making bets on when I’d slip from my own fingers and roll in the dried camel shit. To their disappointment, the tour group finally returned and my comrades dispersed, and I had all those forms of transportation back to Cairo to look forward to.

The plane was an hour late. The taxi took two hours winding its way through the Cairo traffic, but I didn’t mind. I had made it back after an entire day in the scorching Sahara desert without one drop of water, Seven-Up was back to 15 cents and there wasn’t any dried camel shit in sight.

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***

Looking back on this event some 36 years later, I realize the experience was only slightly less dignified than the treament you receive working as a screenwriter in the studio system.

Oh, and here’s one for the bucket list. Look closely at the top of this shot of the Great Pyramid. And then check out the size of the stones below to see why you need someone to show you the way up (which is a lot less scary than the way down).

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The Future… fifty years ago

April 23rd, 2014

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The 1964 World’s Fair opened 50 years ago this week in Flushing, New York, and every family within a day’s drive (including ours) made the pilgrimage to get a taste of what other cultures were like on U.S. soil before Epcot existed, and to catch a glimpse of the future.

We saw the revolving turntable history of kitchens from the past to the future as presented by G.E. (and narrated by an actor named Ronald Reagan). We saw Disney’s first animatronic robot in the form of Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address in between friendly greetings. We dined at a restaurant in the clouds (or slightly above the smog) before the Seattle Space Needle existed. And we saw men with jet-packs strapped to their backs flying into the sky above the stage and wondered how soon it would be before we had our own. Fifty years later we’re still wondering, and they never perfected the technology beyond the insane danger of having a napalm bomb of hydrogen strapped to your body.

Let’s take a look back into what we thought was looking forward:

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Here’s what we thought cars would look like, according to one exhibit.

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When you consider most cars of the time looked more like this 1960 Thunderbird, at least they got the aerodynamics down somewhat.

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We thought we’d be traveling through all cites on monorails above the ground such as this one. But, today, about the only place you’re guaranteed to find monorails is Disneyland or Disney World.

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Dancing fountains with light are still popular. You can find them in front of hotels in Las Vegas, and at the Shell Factory in Cape Coral, Florida. Dubai probably has them, as well. Because it’s such a rational use of water in a desert environment.

 

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And no, we actually didn’t think people would be bigger, but I just find it hysterical that I appear to be checking out Paul Bunyan’s package, perhaps to see if size really is proportional.

 

 

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Even though JFK had been dead several months, the over-sized sunglasses his widow, Jackie, always wore, were still popular, and remain in the sunglasses rotation to this day. My mom did them justice and rocked the dark hair bouffant, as well.

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Standing in line hasn’t changed much, but fashions have, for better or worse. My systers in the center here are rocking the loud color print patterns of the day, which you might also recognize from Sally’s psychedelic rebellious phase on AMC’s Mad Men.

 

0001001-R3-E095Here’s the jet pack guy if you look closely in the center of the frame as he comes down for a landing. I think all the other men standing around the stage are medics with fire extinguishers.

 

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I have no idea what this exhibition was unless it was some kind of tribute to psilocybin mushrooms. Either that or it’s the Hobbit pavilion.

 

 

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Cool is still cool. Even with a 15-inch blue feather stuck in your cap.

 

 

 

 

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I don’t know why my dad, who was taking these slides, didn’t get a shot of the most iconic symbol of the Fair – the Uni-sphere, but I’m grateful for the shots he got of a time and a place where we knew an awesome future was awaiting us.

- A. Wayne Carter

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I’ll take a hurricane over an earthquake any day

March 31st, 2014

Anchorman earthquake 1

Southern California has experienced several moderate earthquakes in the past few weeks (4.1-5.1 on the Richter scale).

During my 16 years in L.A., I experienced hundreds of earthquakes. Most of them were either pre-shocks or after-shocks measuring well below 3.0 on the Richter scale. At that intensity, you feel them on a subliminal level that seems to merge with all the other energy and events that bombard you in a city without pause.

seismogramIt got to the point where, if something as dramatic as a 4.0 should happen to stir my senses, I might casually look up from the newspaper I was reading and calmly predict to my wife, within a tenth of a point, whether it was a 3.9 or a 4.1.

That’s just how Californians are about earthquakes. It just goes with the territory.

A year or so before I left California, my feelings about earthquakes changed when I was spooked and spooked badly. I was in bed about 5:30 a.m. when I woke up and it dawned on me I was in the middle of an earthquake. A big one.

apt collapseThe walls were vibrating and rumbling loudly. As I stepped out of the bed, the floor was sliding out from under me. Without any waking time to gather my thoughts into my usual casual attitude about such events, I felt a cold panic race through my body.

I put on a bathrobe and walked to the front door and, all that time, the earthquake still had the world around me in a full chop and blend. I stepped into the cold desert air, worrying less about falling telephone poles than my apartment building collapsing around me.

freeway earthquakeThe earthquake finally subsided. There was a moment when the nightingales stopped singing and a chorus of deafening car alarms and sirens filled the air instead.

muggerWithout warning, I had been attacked, and the feeling afterward left a rush of adrenaline in my system that put my body through a form of shock that took weeks, and even months to recover from.

That last early-morning earthquake I went through turned out to be only a 5.5, but the feeling of being caught at such a vulnerable moment never quite left me. When the 7.1 Northridge earthquake struck California shortly after our move to Florida, my wife and I hugged each other and felt blessed that we had the sense to get out when we did.

palms blowingSo here we are in the land of hurricanes. They’re not a good thing, either, but at least there is a warning when one is heading your way. There’s time to prepare mentally and emotionally. That’s a big thing. A hurricane is like hearing about a rash of burglaries in your neighborhood and having time to get your defenses up, whereas an earthquake is like suddenly getting violently mugged from behind out of nowhere.

If I had to make a choice of a disaster – and we’ve all seen that every part of the country has it’s own versions from twisters to deep freeze blizzards to floods and mudslides – I’ll take a hurricane over an earthquake any day. We have time to think about what’s going to happen, how we’re going to prepare for it and what we need to save – and even what our plans might be should we need to rebuild.

And, if we happen to first hear about one at 5:30 in the morning, there’s plenty of time to make coffee and read the newspaper. “Oh, look, it’s a category 3 and should be here by… Thursday, next week.”

- A. Wayne Carter

Tropical Storm Irene Map - 2

 

 

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Things I’m Over, Volume 1

March 17th, 2014

Media Library

1) Collecting Shit       
          55 pennyWhen I was very young I collected coins. I don’t think I ever got past a wheat cent, or maybe a buffalo nickel. The holy grail of mildly passive coin collecting at the time was a misprinted ‘55 Lincoln cent where his image was blurred. Never got that one. I sold the collection for about $40 when I was ten.

I collected Marvel Comics almost until the age I went to college. I had issues 1-50 of most every title that came out in the sixties, including the original X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Thor, Iron Man, etc. If I still had those issues today and they were in near mint condition, the collection would be worth at least a half million. X-Men Number One alone recently sold for more than $30,000. I could’ve paid for my son’s college a few times over with my collection, or bought a nice shack on the ocean in Monterrey. X-menBut then we didn’t have comic saver bags back then and, even though I kept them in prime condition, I doubt I would’ve continued lugging the whole lot from Florida to L.A. and back again. I sold the entire lot for about $400 in 1973 and used the money to buy two large 80-lb ESS speakers, after I heard the cascading guitars of “Band on the Run” on them in a stereo store. I still use those speakers 40 years later, so it turned out to be a good investment. No regrets.

I eventually collected about 1,000 vinyl LPs, but as soon as I heard CDs, I traded them in starting in 1986 until I had about 1,000 CDs (I kept some of the best art vinyl). I never collected movies on VHS because it was a lousy medium, a pain in the ass to rewind, and you could never get a decent freeze frame. Laser discs cost $100 each and were too expensive. DVDs were perfect, so I collected about 700 of my favorite films and television shows. Now I’ve traded most of the DVDs in for Blu-rays because they’re even better. I won’t go 4K because, frankly, my 1080p eyes will never need anything better than the image I get from Blu-rays. And now, I regularly trade in my Blu-rays that I doubt I’m ever going to watch again for other Blu-rays I just want to see.

elton_john-captain_fantastic_and_the_brown_dirt_cowboy-frontalAt some point, I finally realized that collecting is just a more organized form of hoarding. And I realized something even more important: It’s never really about the collecting; it’s more about the hunt. The joy of collecting was in finding that rarer ‘D’ penny, scoring that latest issue of Spiderman, picking up the Captain Fantastic LP the day of release, or having your favorite film finally come out on DVD or Blu-ray. It was the hunting and gathering that was fun, not the actual owning or putting that stuff on the shelf. Sure it’s nice to see this big library of stuff on my shelf, but, like I’ve said before, am I really going to listen to or watch it all again?

So now, it’s all just an evolving and diminishing library. If I have something I think someone else might enjoy, I pass it on. That gives as much pleasure as the original hunting and gathering. If I want to ‘briefly’ own a film or CD, I now trade in others to pay for it. I recycle. It’s all just moving through me now, not possessing me. And I also realize, I could let go of it all tomorrow. Well, except for the 3,100 songs on my iPod and iPhone. You’ll pry those songs in my earbuds from my ears when I’m dead (or I get tinnitus).

2) Putting a napkin on my lap when I eat out
I hardly see anyone do this anymore. I think it was part of a bygone era from when we watched Donna Reed with our parents. But we were trained well, because I have been doing it subconsciously ever since. Now, I’m thinking… “Fuck it.” It’s not just being lazy. Donna ReedPerhaps it’s a mild act of rebellion, where I don’t give a shit if I happen to spill something on a pair of pants. Or maybe I don’t have any pants worth caring that much about. A spill? Oops. Oh, well. Either wash them or toss them. How’s that for being a Rebel with a Cause? I’m sorry, mom, but you’re not around anymore to feel like you failed teaching manners in any way, and, like I said, laps seem to be open game these days. I believe I can count the times something actually dropped in my lap on one hand. With allergy season 24/7, I’m more likely to blow my nose on the napkin today than lay it across my lap.
dining-etiquette-tips-M2_A3e_581Ann Landers just turned over in her grave.

No napkin would have stopped the glass of water my future wife threw under the table at my crotch when we were goofing around on an early date. I remember getting in a movie line afterwards to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in Westwood with my pants soaked in the front thinking, “No one’s going to think I actually pissed my pants.” If so, why would I really be standing in a movie line with this beautiful woman by my side? But as we walked further down the line and people continued to chuckle behind my back, I wondered if my reasoning had been wrong. That’s when I discovered that I had somehow also sat on an open package of brown mustard back at the deli. So it looked like I had not only pissed my pants, but shit them, as well. No wonder everyone was laughing.

A napkin on my lap wouldn’t have saved that event from occurring. And for that memory alone, and the laughs it provided, I’ll just say grace.

- A. Wayne Carter

 

 

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LEGO my nervous system

February 26th, 2014

Lego Movie

Am I the only one who got hyperventilated and got dizzy watching The Lego Movie? It was like a Pixar movie on  a Tilt-a-Whirl on methamphetamine. Which is actually an unfair comparison, because Pixar movies usually have a real heart instead of a fake one implanted at the last moment with that live action message moment. And Pixar’s stories usually unfold rather than being blasted at you like buckshot from a scattershot nuclear neon shotgun on ‘stun.’ The Lego Movie makes Toy Story look like a puppet show power point presentation.

Sure, I get the popularity of the movie. It’s like crack for kids with short attention spans. I don’t think there’s a scene that lasts more than three seconds before another chase with a thousand pieces of visual and aural stimulation bombard you incessantly into submission. I get the feeling the creators’ sensibility and inspiration was formed under ecstasy at a Rave with strobe lights flashing. The filmmakers don’t take any chances or trust that you won’t get restless unless there’s sight gags, random joke comments, recycled plot memes, first person roller coaster gyrations and explosions pummeling you every possible moment.

1024px-Red_bull_1This film shouldn’t get three stars; it deserves six Red Bulls, because that’s what it was conceived, animated and produced on. I’m not exaggerating when I say I walked out of the theater with physical heart palpitations as if I had drunk the Red Bulls myself. That’s why the film itself is like an Adderall prescription for restless 3-10 years olds. No doubt they are pummeling their parents to take them to their nearest toy store RIGHT NOW to gobble up Lego kits they will take home to try and recreate the visceral thrill of the picture, that is… until they realize again Legos actually don’t animate themselves unless you ARE on drugs.

Okay, I’m a codger, a fuddy dud, an aging boomer. But it’s almost like our entire culture is now the movie Speed, where the bus will explode the moment it de-accelerates below 50 miles per hour.

i_love_lucy_chocolate_factory_scene_parodied_in_my_little_ponyBut what all these people drinking 5-Hour Energy drinks, Red Bull, Starbucks coffee infusions, Mountain Dew and jacking themselves up on high-intensity shooter games, and Lego movies don’t realize… is that there IS a price to be paid for pushing your adrenaline glands to the max 24/7. You WILL crash and burn out. Eventually. And sooner rather than later. It may be physical when you wipe out your adrenals, or mental when you fry your synapses, but you’re headed for a fall. Maybe we’re all headed for a fall. Think of your brain like Lucy Ricardo on  I Love Lucy trying to keep up with the chocolates coming down the conveyor belt, which keeps getting faster and faster until everything is all Fudged Up (no one gets that reference but boomers, but that’s okay).

One sign is to just look around next time you’re out and see people with the jittery legs. You know who I’m talking about. They’re sitting, but their leg is jittering like they are anxious to go somewhere, anywhere. Like the very act of trying to sit still is causing them to hyperventilate, or boil like water cooling the rods of a nuclear reactor. TMI see this EVERYWHERE now, and it’s obviously some manifestation of some real or manufactured pent up energy having a hard time being contained. I know people who would physically explode if they ever tried to harness or still their bodies and minds long enough to practice transcendental meditation.

I remember my psychic mother-in-law (yes, I had a licensed psychic mother-in-law) once told me that the human race was vibrating itself out of existence. Naturally, I put this observation into the category of many other wild predictions she made that seemed a bit far-fetched at the time.

Now… I’m not so sure. The idea that we can’t focus on any one task at a time; that we have to be stimulated constantly by multiple inputs at all times… is a pretty clear symptom of this phenomenon. No one can actually attend a concert, sit and just listen anymore. They have to sit, stand, listen, yell, sway, jazz hands, record with their iPhone, tweet to their friends, and save to their Facebook all at the same time. The idea of any experience being purely one thing anymore is passé. It’s not even allowed to be a real experience unless it’s somehow documented, recorded, relayed or re-copied or Instagramed ad infinitum and at the same moment.

Maybe this is the current evolution of the human race; to require so much multiple stimulation at one time to speed up the process of our internal coping mechanism and force that evolutionary leap to processing everything faster like the computers that serve us.

meat grinderOr maybe we’ll discover sooner than we expect or are prepared for, that, unlike the lifeless microprocessors in our computers, the only thing you get when you speed up the processing of the living tissue, meat and blood we are ultimately made of… is hamburger.

Maybe that’s why zombies are so popular right now in the culture. It’s not because we fear them or the apocalypse; it’s because we envy them. They only have one thing on their minds at any time, all the time: your brains.

If you’re ten years old and you now set The Lego Movie as your necessary level of stimulation, then I will wave to you as you pass me by aging your nervous system at rate 100 times faster than any entertainment I ever grew up with. I may still be living in Mayberry, but you’re next stop in The Twilight Zone is Willoughby. (Google that while you read this, watch YouTube and listen to Imagine Dragons)

- A. Wayne Carter

stop-at-willoughby-350x264

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I believe Woody Allen

February 12th, 2014

Wooden Allen directs Cate Blanchett in his latest film Blue Jasmine

I have zero loyalty to Woody Allen, either as a man, or as a comedian or a director. I rarely see his films anymore. If he were a scumbag pedophile, put me on the list to have him go to prison and rot in hell. But sometimes perversity is in the mind of the accuser, and I believe this is one of those times.

Less than a week after Woody Allen was celebrated at the Golden Globe awards with a typically daffy speech by Diane Keaton, an accusation that he sexually assaulted his seven year-old daughter when he was married to her mother, actress Mia Farrow, suddenly surfaced again. A remarkably vivid account by the daughter of the episode from 20 years ago appeared in the paper. Could this man really be a monster instead of a beloved comedian and director? Let’s check some of the details:

The alleged assault was investigated at the time of the accusation by the police and by prosecutors and no evidence or charges were ever brought forth. Allen may be a celebrity, but if there were any strong evidence beyond heresay that the event occurred, the New York tabloid press would eviscerated him beyond any favoritism or protection from the law.

The accusation occurred shortly after Allen had broken up with his wife and after his affair with her high school-age daughter. Yeah, that’s pretty icky. But the couple didn’t live together and it wasn’t his or her biological daughter. He can definitely pass the stink test as an old lech, but if you want to condemn middle-aged men for lusting after high school-age women or perhaps their children’s nannies, be prepared to throw a wide net. We’re all a bit Jack Nicholson when it comes to a Jennifer Lawrence (and yes, he did sort of hit on her). But there’s a huge difference between attraction to a fresh young woman and sexually assaulting a child. And Allen’s ‘attraction’ for the young woman went beyond infatuation to the point where he has been happily married to her for the past 20 years. If he was such a powerful and sick-minded predator, he could have easily sidestepped that commitment.

Okay, so you have a woman, an actress no less, who was not only emotionally attached to Allen, but also professionally – she appeared in several of his movies. She’s dumped in the worse possible way, and is consumed with a hatred, spite and anger beyond anything we can comprehend. Enough that she leaves an actual message for Allen warning him, “You took my daughter, so I’m going to take yours.” And that’s just what Allen (and I) believe she did. She took the only child that, as it turns out, was biologically his with her, and turned her against the father in the most vicious way possible – by planting the seed of an assault and feeding it for the past twenty years. There’s no question the girl now believes it. But where have we seen this before? How about the Salem Witch Trials? How about the McMartin Case in California?

I lived in Los Angeles when the story of the alleged child molesting McMartin day care providers rocked the media. The trial went on for months, lives were ruined, and, in the end, it was found out the workers were innocent. One young child was coached to provide damning testimony and got tons of attention, and the next thing you know, all these other children were solicited to provide testimony and, one by one, when they were asked, “And did such and such happen to you?” “Yes, it did,” they agreed, and they got tons of attention, too. Fortunately, no one was hung or burned at the stake before the stories were proven fancifully false.

But never mind all that, let’s just use some common sense. Almost every actress who has worked with Allen in the past twenty years has either been nominated for an Academy Award or won. How does this happen? How do they give the best performances of their lives for this director? And why do they trust him so much? Don’t they have any ounce of intuition if he were some kind of secret predator, monster or pedophile? Aren’t actresses supposed to be the MOST intuitive or empathetic because of their skills? Or is it because he just creates a unique protective environment for them to open up on screen? That takes a tremendous amount of trust. And loyalty. The major actresses all flock to appear in his movies, not just because they think they will get nominated, but because they know they will have a remarkable experience in an emotionally nurturing environment.

So imagine you’re an actress who will never have that opportunity again – either professionally OR emotionally? And you were married to the man for 10 years. And he fell in love and ran off with your adopted daughter? It’s like the hate, spite and anger trifecta. What could you possibly do to get back at him? And at a time when, once again, an actress – not you – is going to win an Academy Award for Best Actress for being in one of his pictures (Yes, Cate Blanchett is going to win for Blue Jasmine). Would you casually and spitefully reveal that his other supposed biological child is not his, but Frank Sinatra’s? Ouch, that’s got to burn. And would you help revive an old accusation that he assaulted his one biological daughter and with some new details that were magically never presented during the original accusation? Would that hurt him enough?

Would it hurt him more than the Valentine’s Card you once sent that actually had needles stuck into the faces of all your seven children, and a knife with your adopted daughter’s face stabbed into the heart?

Sometimes perversity IS in the mind of the accuser, and sometimes it’s enough to poison the mind of a child and spew more hate than anyone can imagine.

Woody Allen is no angel. He’s a neurotic, old man who made an indefensible lapse in judgment initiating an affair with the one young woman who his wife would see as the greatest betrayal. But he’s still with that other woman 20 years later and she still loves him. Sometimes love is blind and stupid and hideously unfair, but sometimes the heart wants what it wants.

And if another woman is incapable of ever reaching a point of forgiveness, if only for her own sake, she will just continue to stab and stab and stab at that heart.

 

- A. Wayne Carter

 

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Winter Movie Round Up 2013-14

January 20th, 2014

american-hustle-posters-sony

The Wolf of Wall Street

Not only a disappointment, but dishonest. It’s a disappointment because it’s Martin Scorsese and also because it’s three hours of numbing, repetitive hedonistic behavior with about five minutes of punishment or redemption at the end. It’s like one of those reality hour shows about Super Nannies, where the first 55 minutes are the child out of control breaking shit and causing chaos and driving everyone nuts, and then the last five minutes he has miraculously been tamed and is a repentant saint. The premise being we just want to see the bad behavior over and over and over again like pigs in slop. Wrong. Boring.

wolf-of-wall-street-02The dishonesty is casting a movie Adonis like Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead. The movie is based on a true story about a toxic little gremlin from Queens, but would you really want to watch a Jason Alexander snorting coke off a woman’s ass or having sex with beautiful naked chicks for three hours? Not a chance. But that would have been a more honest depiction of how the lust for money corrupts and ultimately is hideous. How do we know all those gorgeous women weren’t hopping onto his lap because… because he’s freakin’ Leonardo DiCaprio!? I read where DiCaprio defended the picture by saying you’re supposed to get disgusted with the guy. But if you really wanted to send that message, why not have all those naked models hopping on top of Gilbert Gottfried? Then I would be disgusted and I might also get the point.

The-Wolf-of-Wall-Street-Trailer7a

Martin ScorseseAlso, did Scorsese actually think he was making a comedy allowing his actors to do improv-like schtick for way too long in each scene? It didn’t work, and just came over as grating and undisciplined from an editing point of view.

American Hustle

Pass the goombah hair gel, because David O Russell just out-Scorsesed Martin for a three hour film that holds up both thematically, visually and with fantastic ensemble acting. The lead here is also a nebbish, but at least Christian Bale has made himself out to look like a putz, with an ugly comb over, glasses and 60 extra pounds of flab. So by the time the hot babe Amy Adams hooks up with him to pull the fast cons, we get that she’s in it mostly for the game. The theme that everyone is playing everyone else, whether in a money con or a marriage con comes across both humorously and profoundly. That’s how you make your point. Here’s a director firing on all cylinders at the top of his game, and pulling career performances out of an ensemble of actors doing the same.

Christian Bale;Bradley Cooper

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

smaug-eye-featureThis festival of innovative action sequences was far more entertaining than the first Hobbit film. I still dislike films that overuse CGI instead of real stunts, but at least this film is SUPPOSED to be a fantasy. The barrel chasing scene down the river with the dwarves was fantastic to the point where I would need to study the storyboards just to catch all the clever little bits of action that were off-handedly thrown in. The dragon sequence, which filled almost the last whole third of the film, was also a revelation in the good use of CGI enhanced with the ironic twist that Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) was facing off against
Bilbo - The Hobbit 2 MovieSherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug).

You still feel a bit cheated when a film ends in a cliffhanger that just whets your appetite for the next installment, but it doesn’t come as a shock and we all trust Peter Jackson to deliver the goods. Plus, I’m old enough to remember when the Flash Gordon serials played at the movie theaters and always ended with a cliffhanger. And those model rockets on strings were a hell of a lot less convincing than a CGI Smaug. But it also just goes to show how much audiences used to have to contribute their own imaginations to form the reality on screen without the technology doing all the work it does today.

Anchorman 2

I confess that the only reason I even saw this film was because I was given the wrong time for the film I was trying to see (Wolf of Wall Street) and I just had to find the next convenient film showing. That is not enough reason to justify seeing this dreck.
anchorman-2-adam-mckay
The only way it conceivably would have been funny to me is maybe watching after a six pack of beers in a theater full of giddy drunk frat boys. It’s the same basic joke over and over – Ron Burgundy is clueless – but without any cleverness. And why have such a great ensemble of comic talent like Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell if you’re going to hog the entire picture for yourself?

The main gripe I have with this picture is personal: It never fails that when a comic performer is successful, they suddenly think they can WRITE. So instead of seeking out or giving the gig to original material written by a refreshingly new or experienced comic screenwriters (hint hint) who have carefully woven something with great structure and sustaining twists and turns for a comic star, they hog all the action and the money. Anchorman-2-Poster1They just sit in a room with their buddies and make it up as they go along (you too, Seth Rogan). And it shows. There’s just no way to sustain two hours of Will Ferrell mugging. Never mind that no comedy should exceed ninety minutes or risk wearing out its welcome, period. No comedy sequel should be made built on something other than a finished and polished script before cameras roll. If you want to self-indulgently or metaphorically masturbate on film, don’t assume we want to watch. Jokes only work in service of a good story, not the other way around.

PHILOMENA

Philomena

Here’s the perfect film to cleanse the palate. Real characters you actually care about. I love the odd couple combination of a cynical younger atheist writer and a remarkably accepting and gracious elderly woman who has infinitely more reason to be an atheist or cynical, but sticks to her faith instead.

real philomenaHow do they affect each other when joining up to search for a son she felt she had no choice to give up more than 50 years ago? I heard the real Philomena interviewed on NPR talking about the scene where she last saw the son she raised until 3 years old looking out the back window of the car as it was driving away forever. How could she ever get over that? How could she ever forgive herself? Or others who forced her hand? And how can you miss Dame Judith Dench fully inhabiting the role of Philomena to show you just how movingly she did. You will never forget, either.

 

- A. Wayne Carter

 

 

 

 

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