Sunday, March 13, 2016

Why Does the Digital World Leave Me Cold?

Does anybody else besides me feel left out in the cold by the digital world? I like it in a very limited way: I like my desktop computer because my screen is big and it’s easy to see, and I can send emails to my friends and keep up with people on facebook – and I guess my android phone is cool because it’s good if you’re driving somewhere to tell people if you’re going to be late. But outside of that – I have never learned how to use a laptop, which I find frightening in its design – my fingers are too big and I don’t like the look or feel of it – nor do I know how to use an iPad, and I don’t ever want to learn. I don’t want to look at screens all day. I don’t know how any of these things plug in and I get freaked out when people come over to my house with their laptops and ask me what my WiFi password is, because not only do I not know what my password is, I seriously don’t even understand what WiFi is and I’m not just saying it – I don’t know. And yesterday I heard somebody say “hot spot” for the first time, and I had no idea what he was talking about. The digital world makes me feel like I just got here from another planet. I tune it out, just like I tune out everything from the 21st century – all of the horrible movies and t.v. and fake/non-objective “news” and the screaming World Wrestling Federation-style political debates we have now. We really lost something when we became digital. If you’re not interested in the digital world, as I am not, the world makes you feel uncomfortable about yourself.

I was sitting in the faculty lounge at one of the places where I teach last week, and I mentioned to some teachers that I have a desktop computer at home and that my landline attaches itself to my DSL and they started laughing, and I didn’t know why. When I apply for jobs, I have to spend all day filling out an online application which then goes into some black hole. Of course the digital world made a lot of things easier, but it also made the world cold. If you don’t believe it, go to the movies and see the emotionless, dark superhero movies and futuristic sci-fi set in a dystopian future which is actually today. Thanks to the digital world people – including me – can now only process information that comes in little soundbytes. I noticed that even with my limited use of digital things, I don’t have the patience for anything anymore. I used to write a lot -- screenplays and books -- but it’s been about three years since I wrote anything substantive and I can’t even pay attention to movies or t.v. – or people talking to me – anymore. My attention span is now completely shot. Thank you, computerized world. Does anybody else have this feeling?

I recently got hired for a temporary job, and I went to the new faculty orientation. After sitting through three hours with the IT guy who told us all of the new programs and passwords we had to learn in order to do what otherwise was an easy job, I felt so overwhelmed (for real) that I felt numb and light-headed, and I had to get out of the room and breathe. I looked around the room and everybody else looked calm. Everybody was just accepting of this gibberish. Why are they accepting? I called the lady who hired me and (nicely) told her that she had to find somebody else, which she did.

Is anybody else freaked out by computerized things or just me? I honestly hope the digital world will go away. I like organic things. I like the sunset, and books, and movies shot on celluloid that are made in 1933, and hand drawn animation and paintings. Thanks to the internet we can now get anything we want, but nothing is special anymore -- nothing is an event anymore. Anything that comes from ones and zeroes has nothing to do with me. My heart and my soul are not made from ones and zeroes. Are yours?

That's all.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The One Guy in the World who Never Got into "Star Wars:" Me.

"The Force Awakens" was released today. Have fun seeing it. I won't be there.

When I was eleven years old, the first “Star Wars” movie came out. My mom took me and my friend Mark Bernstein to see it at the General Cinema Theaters in Sherman Oaks.

I was bored out of my skull. There was something very cold and distancing about it. I couldn’t follow exactly what was going on. I didn’t like any of the characters or care about any of them. It just seemed like a lot of things flying by and there was a lot of mumbo-jumbo. At the end of the movie, I had no feeling about it at all, because it was emotionless. At that age, I just wanted to see comedies – anything with Peter Sellers, Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen. Plus, I wanted to see adult dramas, horror movies, and even foreign movies, since they seemed mysterious. If I'm going to see something that takes place in an unfamiliar world, I'll take a movie set in a different country over one that takes place in outer space, anytime.

It’s not that I didn’t like “fun” movies. Like any kid, I did like them! I enjoyed the first two “Superman” movies because they were full of warmth and humor, and recognizable human emotion. It wasn’t just explosions. (In fact, I saw "Superman" five times in the theater, the summer it came out.) I thought that Spielberg’s “Close Encounters,” which came out when I was thirteen, was just about the best movie I ever saw, because while there were spaceships in it, it was about a family. Two years later, I enjoyed “E.T.” for the same reason – there were aliens and spaceships, but it was about a real family, and it was also a film about brothers. “Superman,” “Close Encounters,” and “E.T.” were about hope, too. I also continue to enjoy the original “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and what makes that movie great is that, at many points in the film, Harrison Ford actually looks scared in it – he does this really subtle stuff with his eyes – so you’re able to put yourself in his shoes, and that’s what makes the exciting parts exciting. In "Raiders," Harrison Ford looks genuinely engaged, but in "Star Wars" he seems like he's just trying to utter monotone written dialogue. I also like all three “Alien” movies, the “Matrix” movies (even the sequels that nobody else likes), and the first two “Terminators,” because they are full of emotions and human interest and jokes to go along with the action.

In ’99, George Lucas made three new “Star Wars” sequels – “Parts 1 through 3,” I guess. I saw the first one, because my friend did some of the special effects, but I fell asleep in it. All I remember is that the characters were talking about trading posts on other planets or something, and it turned me narcoleptic. In the case of those three movies, everybody agreed with me that they were boring. But I thought the original one – the first one from 1977 – was almost as boring and too complicated to follow.

What I want from any movie, is just a simple story where somebody overcomes something recognizable and wins. And if possible, I would like my movie to take place on earth, because we have a lot of problems here, and they’re more interesting and pressing than problems on a Death Star or whatever it is. If it takes place on another planet, that’s cool, but what’s happening in the movie should be an allegory for what’s happening here, and in the case of “Star Wars,” it wasn’t. It was just noise. (I did like the tie-fighters flying in the tunnels, though.)

I never bothered to see the two original sequels to “Star Wars” – “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” Yesterday, a full thirty-four years after its initial release, I tried to watch “Empire Strikes Back for the first time.” I got about a half hour in before I turned it off. I sort of liked when Harrison Ford was trying to rescue Mark Hamill in the snow, but I was pretty non-plussed by the camel-looking thing he was riding that wasn’t a camel. And after they thawed Mark Hamill out, they started showing space ships and some space commander guys were talking about something bad that was about to happen, but it didn’t make any sense. The actors were speaking English, but I didn’t know what they were talking about. It seemed like they were speaking another language that is apparently understood by every other movie fan in the world except me, and so I turned it off, and what I also noticed about the "Star Wars" movies, is that nobody looks too excited in them. They are hollow. Guess I’ll never make it to “Return of the Jedi,” or to the new one that’s coming out today.

In the case of the whole “Star Wars” phenomenon – I don’t want to be a dick. I don’t want to be a contrarian or a buzzkill. I don’t want to be the one guy in the world who doesn’t like “Star Wars.” There’s nothing for me to gain out of being a curmudgeon. I actually want to like it. I WANT to be on the bandwagon. I want to be excited by it. But for me, the “Star Wars” world is completely devoid of emotion, and an emotional experience is all I want in a movie. My initial idea, a few days ago, is that I would catch up with “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” and then I would be all ready for the new “Star Wars” movie. But I guess I won’t be making it to this new one, either.

I always wonder if there's any other movie fan in the world who doesn't care for "Star Wars," just like me. But I think I'm the only one in the world.

When I was in high school, I told my French teacher, a very nice/erudite older French-Moroccan lady, Mrs. Berman, about how I was bored by “Star Wars.” She told me: “You’re not supposed to like something like this. This is the kind of movie that, ten or twenty years ago, would have been considered a children’s matinee. They would show it once a day, at noon, to small children.” In this conversation, Mrs. Berman and I were actually anticipating the future. Today, grown-ups want to be stay kids forever. (When I was eight, I wanted to be an adult. I wrote an essay about how for me, the perfect summer camp, would be set in a luxury hotel, where all the kids got their own rooms, and you could just watch movies all day. And each room had a milkshake machine, and you had your own butler, and you had to be dressed-up in a tuxedo all day. Also, in a 2nd grade art class, I had to draw a picture of a man. I drew a man in a full business suit and brief case. In the world I would like to live in, that's what guys wear -- not jeans and an untucked shirt -- although on this particular point, I'm a hypocrite, because I just have one suit that I bought 20 years ago, and I wear jeans and an untucked shirt every day.)

All I want in a movie is a nice, easy-to-follow story and no mumbo-jumbo. That’s it. I wanted that when I was a kid, and I wanted it now. And if the movie takes place on earth – so much the better.

PS: To this date, I’ve never seen a single episode of “Star Trek,” or any of the movies. When I was a kid, I liked “Get Smart,” “All in the Family,” and The Three Stooges, and I liked the “Batman” t.v. series with Adam West, because it was full of funny jokes.

PPS, nowhere in this little rant did I say that "Star Wars" is bad, so get off my jock. It's just not my thing.

Share a Coke with Fuck You!

SHARE A COKE WITH FUCK YOU! BY CHUCK ZIGMAN, OCTOBER 14, 2015 How about these new Coke cans? "Share a Coke with a Champ!" "Share a Coke with a Team-Player!" "Share a Coke with a Winner!" Why don't they have realistic Coke cans that say what people really are:

 "Share a Coke with a Victim!"

 "Share a Coke with a Whiner!"  "Share a Coke with a Fraud!"  "Share a Coke with a Busybody!"  "Share a Coke with a Thief!"  "Share a Coke with a Racist!"  "Share a Coke with a Violent Abuser!"  "Share a Coke with Someone with No Self-Control!"  "Share a Coke with a Drop-Out!"  "Share a Coke with an Apathetic Person!"  "Share a Coke with an Intolerant Liberal or an Intolerant Conservative!"  "Share a Coke with Someone who Settled!"  "Share a Coke with a Paranoid!"  "Share a Coke with Your Unfulfilled Dreams!"  "Share a Coke with a Lemming who Lines Up to Buy the Newest Digital Junk!"  "Share a Coke with The People on the Bandwagon!"  "Share a Coke with Someone who Blames Other People!"  "Share a Coke with Your Sadness!"  "Share a Coke with Someone who Uses you to Get Something!"  "Share a Coke with a Liar!"  "Share a Coke with a Manipulator!"  "Share a Coke with an Entitled Person!"  "Share a Coke with Someone Who Brazenly Jumps in Front of you and Steals your Opportunity, but then it Backfires on Him, and you Didn't Get Anywhere, but he Didn't Get Anywhere, Either -- Ha-Ha!!!"  "Share a Coke with Somebody who Badmouths You Behind Your Back!"  "Share a Coke with an Ego-Maniac!"  "Share a Coke with People who Stand by and Don't Help When Somebody Gets Hurt!"  "Share a Coke with Empty People who Talk Your Ear Off and Completely Drain You, While They Give Nothing in Return!"  "Share a Coke with Disgusting Criminals who Sink the Economy by not Paying Back their Student Loans and not Paying their Taxes!"  "Share a Coke with Too-'Educated' People who Think that Things which are Actually Real are Really Just 'a construct.'"  "Share a Coke with a Delusional Person who Thinks his Obnoxious A.D.D. Kid that he and the Kid's Teachers Can't Control is Actually a Genius!"  "Share a Coke with Some Spoiled Roundheels College Girl who Thinks that My Tax Money Should Pay for her Birth Control!"  "Share a Coke with Our Leaders who go to War for Oil, but Decide not to Interfere in a Country in which Genocide is Regularly Committed Against Women and Children!"  "Share a Coke with Fast Food that's Giving Everybody Diabetes!"  "Share a Coke with the Guilt-Ridden!"  "Share a Coke with an Insomniac!"  "Share a Coke with Someone who Lives in Fear!"  "Share a Coke with an Enabler!"  "Share a Coke with a Lady who Thinks her Pet is her 'Kid'!"  "Share a Coke with an Addict who Trades One Addiction for Another, but nobody Calls him on it!"  "Share a Coke with the Impotent!"  "Share a Coke with your Genitals!"  "Share a Coke with Someone who has been so Systematically Beaten Down by Life, that he Can No Longer Bounce Back!"  "Share a Coke with Hitler!"  "Share a Coke with Kim Davis!"  "Share a Coke with Bill Cosby! (But don't let him near the Coke, or he will put a quaalude in it!)"  "Share a Coke with a College Shooter!"  "Share a Coke with ISIS!"  "Share a Coke with a Convict!"  "Share a Coke with People who Think that DJ's Spinning Electronic Dance Music is Actually 'Music'!"  "Share a Coke with Binge-Watching!"  "Share a Coke with a Tease!"  "Share a Coke with a Man that Turned into a Lady!"  "Share a Coke with a Twentysomething Trust Fund Kid who Wears Thrift Store Clothes and Pretends to be Poor -- Especially any White Person who Pretends to be 'Grungy' and 'Street.'!"  "Share a Coke with Someone who Probably won't Have Anything to Eat Tomorrow!"  "Share a Coke with Someone Who Lives in a Tent on Eighth Street!"  "Share a Coke with Anyone who has any Kind of Agenda or Angle!"  "Share a Coke with Ingrates who Use Profanity Around their Kids and Their Kids Use it Around them (ick! creeps!)!"  "Share a Coke with People who Push Their Kids to Succeed and Force them to Do Boring 'Extra-Curriculars,' Because When They Were Kids Themselves, They were Lazy Stoners and They Have to Make Up for It!"  "Share a Coke with Unhappy People who want to Bring You Down to their Level!" "Share a Coke with Someone who Wasted Your Time!"  "Share a Coke with anybody who Develops An Offbeat 'Persona!'"  "Share a Coke with Someone who Self-Medicates!"  "Share a Coke with Someone who Thinks he Deserves a Fancy Career, Because of Her Culture or Gender!"  "Share a Coke with a Pretentious Academic who Lives Up in his Own Head and Loves Theory!"  "Share a Coke with People who Send You Mixed Signals Because they have Been Hurt by Life, and Now, on Some Subconscious Level that they Don't Even Understand, they are Going to Hurt You!"  "Share a Coke with a Big-Haired/Happy-Toothed Realtor who Puts a Sign with a Picture of his Face on Your Front Lawn! Wouldn’t you like to stab him through the fucking face with that sign?"  "Share a Coke with Bullying Labor Unions that Take Your Dues Money but Don’t Help You!"  "Share a Coke with Some Blowhard who Tries to Give You his 'Opinion.'"  "Share a Coke with a Spineless Person who Apologizes for his Opinion!"  "Share a Coke with a Person who Rationalizes his Behavior!"  "Share a Coke with a Plagiarist!"  "Share a Coke with a Hypocrite Boss who is Against Bullying in School, but who Happily Bullies His Adult Employees at the Same Time and he Probably Drives a Prius!"  "Share a Coke with a Jerk who Thinks the World Owes him Something!"  "Share a Coke with Your Rage!"  "Share a Coke with Your Crippling Shyness!"  "Share a Coke with Someone While he's Doing Coke!"  "Share a Coke with Your Food Stamps!"  "Share a Coke with Cancer!"  "Share a Coke with a Media that Creates Fear and Makes Us Feel Inadequate!"  "Share a Coke with a Passive-Aggressive Person!"  "Share a Coke with a Know-It-All!"  "Share a Coke with a Self-Deprecating Doormat!"  "Share a Coke with Your Inertia!"  "Share a Coke with Living in the Past!"  "Share a Coke with Your Shame!"  "Share a Coke with Those Real-Life Zombies who Want to Push their Made-Up Beliefs About Food or the Environment or Disease or Vaccinations on You!"  “Share a Coke with Someone who Tells His Kids not to Get into a Car with Strangers, but then he Takes Uber?”  "Share a Coke with Fracking!"  "Share a Coke with Global Warming!"  "Share a Coke with People who Tell You what you 'Can't' Do in Life!"  "Share a Coke with Soulless People who Married for Security Instead of Love and then, Years Later, Complain that they're not Happy and Fulfilled!"  "Share a Coke with People who Poison the Environment!"  "Share a Coke with People who Poke a Hole in Your Condom, to Trap You!"  "Share a Coke with a Blackmailer!"  "Share a Coke with an Aging Hippie Communist who Hates People that Make Profits, Because he is Actually Jealous that he wasn't Smart Enough to Figure Out How to Make a Profit!"  "Share a Coke with People who Donate to Charity Just Because It's a Write-Off!" "Share a Coke with a Dumptruck who Exclaims, 'I Don't Eat too Much! It's My Thyroid!'"  "Share a Coke with People who Pass Their Neuroses on to Their Children!"  "Share a Coke with Hairplugs!"  "Share a Coke with Wimpy, Chinless Adult Child-Men who Like to Go to Conventions and Dress-Up Like Superheroes Because they Feel Increasingly Powerless in a Castrating Neo-Feminist World!"  "Share a Coke with Those Copycats who Like to Use Today's Newest Catchphrase!"  "Share a Coke with Weak-Willed People who have Turned God into a Parent!"  "Share a Coke with Creepy Losers who Ask You if They Can 'Borrow' Money!" "Share a Coke with Vultures who Want to Ride Your Coattails!"  "Share a Coke with a Climber!"  'Share a Coke with a No-Talent Person with Nepotism!"  "Share a Coke with People who are Trying to Redefine Traditional Cultural Norms and Values that Were Actually Fine to Begin With!"  "Share a Coke with your Man-Bun and your Lumberjack Beard!"  "Share a Coke with the Unloved Family Black Sheep who Bleats, 'Your Friends are Your Family!'"  "Share a Coke with People who Waste Your Time!"  "Share a Coke with Your Type 2 Diabetes and Your Failing Eyesight!"  "Share a Coke with Someone who Says, 'Why Don't You Jews Just Forget About the Holocaust already?'"  "Share a Coke with the Greedy!"  "Share a Coke with People who Realize that Life is Long Enough!"  "Share a Coke with Cataracts!"  "Share a Coke with Your Wheelchair!"  “Share a Coke with Dialysis!”  "Share a Coke with a Delusional Person who Tells you About her Awful Screenplay Projects!"  "Share a Coke with Welfare!"  "Share a Coke with Viagra!"  "Share a Coke with Gluten!"  “Share a Cock with…” (Oh, wait, that shit is for Adult FriendFinder…)  "Share a Coke with Beggars who Raise Money on Kickstarter!"  "Share a Coke with a Pepsi!"  "Share a Coke with an Emotional Cripple!"  "Share a Coke with Anybody who Would Actually Deign to Hang Out with any of the Distant Acquaintances he 'Knows' on Facebook!"  "Share a Coke with Slow, Lingering, Painful Death in a Hospital with Nobody Around You!"  "Share a Coke with Eternity!"  "Share a Coke with a Snarky-but-Sweet, Lazy Narcissist with Low Self-Esteem" (ME!!)"

This, after all, is what human nature is “all ‘bout!” So why aren't we seeing it on our soda cans? As we all know, soda is completely delicious, especially when it's hot outside, and I know that I personally would definitely buy a lot more of it, if its cans told the truth! Wouldn't you?! Well, that's just something to chew on! Goodnight!

Friday, June 5, 2015



For my first new blog entry in two-and-a-half years (I'm super lazy when it comes to blogging!), I want to talk about the L.A. Weekly, my city's free weekly newspaper:

On April 29th, 2015, the L.A. Weekly ran Jessica P. Ogilvie's cover story, "How Hollywood Keeps Out Women," and on February 25th, the Weekly published another cover story called "How Hollywood Keeps Minorities Out," and both articles are definitely keeping something out, and that's common sense.

The authors of both articles are correct to a large extent: Women and minorities are definitely grossly underrepresented both behind, and in front of, the camera. That is very true -- we can all agree about that! But the Weekly is presenting the stories by suggesting that racism and sexism are the reason. Hollywood is a nutty place, full of the craziest/sleaziest/most entitled and unethical people you'll ever meet, but it's about 0% racist and -2% sexist. The fact is: Hollywood is kind of like the Corleone family. It's a tiny family business, and it keeps out EVERYBODY, including 100% of white males (and even 100% of white males who happen to be, as some people suggest, Jewish) who are not already part of this world.

The movie business, not just now but always, has been a closed world that is not actively soliciting people from the outside -- white, black, or women -- unless it finds out that that person already, prior to entering the movie business, has a track record of already having made millions, or even billions, of dollars in another media -- for example, through graphic novels or a popular video game. If the person hasn't made money for a big entity but simply has millions of dollars lying around that can be invested in a movie, that person is invited into Hollywood gladly too, and the person's background or gender aren't even a factor. It's purely a business decision. It doesn't matter if you have a script that is the next "Godfather" or you made a no-budget indie that won first place in a festival. If you haven't already proven that you have a track record of making money for a publicly-owned company, or if you're not an independently wealthy person who can bring movie financing to the table, they're not letting you in, and it has nothing to do with your cultural background or your gender or the quality of your work. It isn't personal.

And why should Hollywood let you in? In 2015, it costs $100 or $200 million to make a theatrically released studio movie. Why should the movie business let you in if you haven't already proven that you can make them at least several hundred million -- right? It's definitely not personal. If I owned a movie studio, and I were responsible to my stockholders, and I had to choose somebody to direct a film, would I go with the unproven person who wrote the best screenplay I ever read or someone who made a great indie documentary that I really loved -- or would I instead go with the "proven" person who already made the superhero movie that might be horrible but which has made $1 billion (or someone who wrote a ridiculous graphic novel that made millions). I'll hire the person who made the horrible $1 billion superhero movie or the multi-million-dollar-earning graphic novel even though, as a classic film enthusiast, I'm not actually interested in seeing a superhero movie or reading a comic book, and I think that superhero movies and graphic novels are ruining and dumbing-down our culture. Nevertheless, making them is exactly how you run a profitable business.

Hollywood, for its myriad faults, is color-blind and gender-blind, and the only "color" it sees, and pardon the goofy cliche, is green. I'm tired of people saying they "can't get in" because of racism or sexism, because it's not true. Anyway: why would anybody want to write articles from the POV of a victim? The Weekly published two of them in the space of only eight weeks! If you want to "get into Hollywood" in a meaningful creative sense (in other words, in a position that's not "assistant" or "gopher"), just prove to the execs that you've already made somebody mega-bucks doing anything else in the entire world. It has zero to do with your background (or your talent, or "who you know"), either. I'm tired of people thinking they have the "right" to do something, just because of some reasons that have nothing to do with the real reason. Nobody's voice is being silenced who hasn't already proven to be a huge moneymaker. An investment banker who has never made a movie has more right to get into the movie business as a producer than an unproven screenwriter does -- and this is something that we see happening quite a lot -- because he has already proven that he can make sound, profitable business decisions. Producer Megan Ellison had no experience making movies prior to 2010, but she did have boatloads of cash to invest in movie projects, so the door opened for her pretty easily: she started Annapurna Pictures in 2011, and has made some of the greatest, most inspirational American movies in decades.

In the article about "Women," Diana Ossana, the female producer of "Brokeback Mountain" bemoans that she had to fight for her producer credit because she's a woman, yet author Larry McMurty, who wrote the screenplay, didn't have to fight for his credit, because he's a man. She's all wrong. She had to fight because collectively, her work, prior to "Brokeback Mountain," earned Hollywood zero dollars, but Larry McMurty's books have been making millions and millions of dollars for more than forty years. It's a no-brainer. There is no reward for you just based on the fact that you are "talented" or because you "tenaciously spent years bringing a project to the screen." In a commerce-based world, that -- like all emotional 'feelings' -- is completely irrelevant.

As I'm saying these things, please know that I -- just like you -- wish it could be otherwise. We're one hundred percent on the same page about that! I wish people could get into the movie business based on talent, and I wish that women, men, whites, and non-whites were making movies in equal numbers. In the 1970s, the average budget of a movie was $3 million, and if the movie made $6 million, it was a hit so, at that point in time, there were a lot of amazing movies, and Hollywood could occasionally afford to take chances on young outsider filmmakers with no proven money-making skills -- and of course, American studio movies from the '70s are some of the best American movies ever. But it's no longer like that in 2015! Studios, today, are only looking for people who can make big, epic 'tentpole' movies, and the production of these movies must, by necessity, be entrusted to people who have already proven themselves. And guess what: some of the most successful filmmakers of today's big-budget/big-earning "event" movies are women, and if you don't believe me, just take it up with Gale Anne Hurd, Kathleen Kennedy, and Kathryn Bigelow. Last time I checked, they've made some of the biggest and best movies of the last thirty years, and they're not men.

When I hire a contractor to build a house for me, I'm not going to a hire a new, unproven contractor who just got his license. I'm going to hire one with years, or even decades, of proven results. When I want to hire a caterer for a party, I'm not going to hire somebody because he's a good cook. I'm going to ask, "Show me a list of fifty or a hundred parties that you have already catered." When you are hired for any professional job, the interviewer usually wants to know how you've already helped other companies earn money.

What some people erroneously believe to be discrimination, is actually just good, old-fashioned nepotism and cronyism -- it's wrong, and it's not fair, but it's not discrimination. And now that I think of it, it's not completely wrong: If I owned a movie studio, and I had to hire a filmmaker to make a multi-million dollar movie, and I had to choose between somebody I know and somebody I don't know, assuming that both of them are equally talented, I'll probably go with the person I know, most of the time, because I already know what the person's work is like and what his track record is, and I'll also know whether he can bring the movie in on time, and on budget. Similarly, most of the time, I'm guessing that you will hire somebody you know to babysit your child, instead of leaving him with a complete stranger. How can women, or minorities, or the ACLU find fault with careful hiring practices?

Not being able to make your own movie in Hollywood, or not being able to act in or direct a Hollywood movie, has nothing to do with your background or your talent. Prove to Hollywood that you have already made money, or even that you just have a lot of money, and the gates will swing open for you -- no matter who you are. Hollywood is very democratic that way. Nobody owes you anything and nobody owes me anything.

I feel the frustration of the authors of these two well-written, but misguided, articles. I, too, wish I could "get into Hollywood" and get some of my own scripts into the pipeline! But from a very young age, I accepted that I can't, because I have not already made money for Hollywood, nor have I been able to figure out a way to invest in studio features. Nobody is being singled out for exclusion based upon race or gender. It isn't personal.

See you in another two-and-a-half years with a new blog entry! :)

___________________________________________________________________________ ABOUT ME:

In 2008, my book "World's Coolest Movie Star" was published. It's a two-volume biography and filmography of the legendary French actor Jean Gabin, who is known to American audiences for films like "Grand Illusion" and "Pepe Le Moko." This coming July, Cohen Media Group is releasing a restored Blu-ray/DVD of the 1973 movie "Two Men in Town," starring Jean Gabin and Alain Delon, and I have written and recorded a ninety-minute audio commentary track for the DVD. In 2013, my first children's book, "The Belly Button that Escaped," was published. It's a funny kid's book in the style/tone of Roald Dahl or Shel Silverstein. Janice Phelps Williams illustrated my book. I have been Professor of Film and Television at Augusta State University, Georgia.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My First Summer Job – La Reina Theater, Sherman Oaks, 1984


It's the Summer of 1984. The Olympics are coming to Los Angeles. I'm a gawky seventeen year old with a big afro, huge/thick engineer glasses and my pants hiked all the way up to my head (I am the polar opposite of a ‘Twilight’ kid!), and it's time for me to get my first summer job – and not because I want to work during the summer, but because, as my dad informs me, "You're seventeen. Time to go to work!" Content with sitting in my room drawing and writing stories – in fact, I will write my first feature-length screenplay when I am seventeen (it’s an awful, structureless, 180-paged mess caled "Up for Grabs," and it’s about two white teenagers who get deported to Mexico [don't ask]) – I am initially reticent to go to work, a feeling that I continue to have to this very day.

I decide that, since I would like to someday be a part of the movie business (bad call!), it will behoove me to be where the movers and shakers are. So in May of '84, I show up at the La Reina Theater on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, part of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. The La Reina is one of the few remaining single-screen theaters left over from the halcyon days of Hollywood – the ornate structure was built in 1937. I am excited for my new job at a movie theater! Not only will I get to brush elbows with the people who make it all happen (union projectionists!) but, as the assistant manager Ms. Lewin (cute!) informs me during my interview, I will get to see all of the free movies I want. Of course, during the five months I work at the theater, only three movies will run, but I will get to see them over and over while I’m sweeping out the auditorium after each show. Little slice of heaven.

I am issued my requisite blue polyester blazer and my own little nametag ("Mann Theaters: Chuck") and it's official. I now get to stand by the front door, tearing tickets and watching cars drive by, from 4:00pm to midnight, five days a week, for the next few months. There’s nothing like combining a big afro and huge/thick glasses with an ill-fitting polyester jacket. Suh-weet!

Of course, being a movie theater doorman and staring out a door and watching cars drive by for eight hours a day is boring as hell. But when I think about this job now, twenty-nine years later, there are enough things about it that are fun to remember.

The Manager, Mr. Hamilton, is an affable button-down guy from Chattanooga, Tennessee. He looks like somebody's dad in a sit-com and everybody likes him. The guy appears to have no edge at all – everything about him is completely benign – until one day, I’m standing outside the theater on the terrazzo floor that circumscribes the ticket booth, when a hot lady walks by the theater. Mr. Hamilton elbows me and grins, "Wow, Chuck. I’ll tell ya, boy! I'd have my head so far up her cooch, she wouldn't be able to walk for a week!" I kind of really like this bonding activity, even though I will be troubled for decades by the image of Mr. Hamilton sticking his head up people's cooches. On the extremely rare occasion today that I get to see an actual human cooch, I live in fear that Mr. Hamilton's head will pop out of there, like Porky Pig at the end of a Looney Tune, and grin, "Th… th… th… that's all, Chuck!" I love to learn that people who look nice, clean-cut responsible citizens have awesomely creepy dark sides! I'll have more prurient stories to share with you later, but I think I am going to spread them out a little bit, because if you want the X-rated stories, you have to read some clean ones first. To paraphrase Pink Floyd, 'If you want to eat my pudding, first you have to eat my meat.' (Wait, I just read that back! That doesn't sound very nice!)

Moments like the one I have just described – “Mr. Hamilton and the Coochie Lady” – offset my boredom at having to stand by the door, waiting for customers to come in so that I can tear their tickets. Most of the customers are nice, but every once in awhile, I get a ne'er-do-well who tries to get in for free, and it's not teenagers or miscreants, as you may think. Mr. Hamilton gathers all of us employees together one day and tells us not to let anybody in for free, no matter how important he (thinks he) is, but it's hard to do this, when you get a customer like the completely unsavory Eileen Brennan, the character actress who is famous for playing the drill sergeant opposite Goldie Hawn in the 1980 comedy, "Private Benjamin." When she’s surly to Goldie Hawn, it sure is funny! When she’s surly to me, it’s not funny.

Eileen Brennan comes to the front door of the theater and I greet her.

"Welcome to Mann Theaters, ma'am. May I see your ticket?"

"You have to let me in for free. The name is Brennan."

"Ma'am, my manager informed me that I am not to let anybody in for free.

"Would you like to speak to --"

"Of course I don't want to speak to the manager. Don’t you know who I am?" "Ma'am, I'm sorry, but you'll have to buy a ticket if you want to come in and see Sheena, Queen of the Jungle."

Brennan yells at me for a few minutes, but then – I win! She storms off in a huff. As my maternal grandfather, Grandpa Carlin, used to say, “Good riddance to bad rubbish!”

But not all celebrities are mean. Another day, Dyan Cannon walks into my theater lobby, not to see Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, but only to buy popcorn. While I'm normally at the front door tearing tickets, today I'm filling in behind the candy counter, and Dyan quizzes me for about ten minutes about what movies I've seen lately that I can recommend. She's really nice, and the next night, I turn on Johnny Carson, and not only is she a guest, but she's telling Johnny about how much she loves movie theater popcorn! So when I’m watching Carson, I feel like I'm part of Dyan’s anecdote. Gee, Ms. Cannon sure is nice – and pretty, too!

A third celebrity comes in, too: During the eighties, everybody is talking about 'Luke and Laura,' a couple on the daytime drama, "General Hospital." On this particular evening, O.J. Simpson, ten years before he hacks his way through Brentwood, is running by the theater carrying the Olympic Torch. All of my fellow employees want to stand outside on the street and cheer him on and high-five him as he runs by, so they elect me to stay in the ticket booth and sell tickets, just in case anybody wants to buy one during this auspicious event. (It's the sixth week of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, which is now playing to an empty auditorium, but the studio has made a deal to keep the film going for weeks and weeks after everybody has already stopped coming.) Sure enough, I get one customer: It's Laura from "General Hospital" – her real name is Genie Francis – and I recognize her, because my mom and my two sisters watch soap operas, and they talk about soap opera characters as though they are real people. Miss Francis asks me for one ticket to Sheena, but I have no idea how to use the ticket machine. I ask her politely if she'll wait for a minute until the regular ticket kid comes back, and, like everybody, she turns around and cheers with the amassed crowd on the street as O.J. Simpson runs by carrying the Olympic torch. So I am able to meet two smiling celebrities when I work at the La Reina: Dyan Cannon and Genie Francis.

Besides celebrities, cops try to get into the movies for free, too, and Mr. Hamilton informs us not to let them in, unless they spring for full-priced tickets. In my five-or-so months working at the theater, four cops try to get in for free. I tell them that my manager won't allow it, but they're actually pretty cool about it. Instead of pressing the issue, they just buy tickets.

As I said, most of the time, I'm standing by the front door and tearing tickets, but every once in awhile, I'll fill in at the candy counter. We employees can't eat any candy or popcorn, because each night, every popcorn container, every box of candy, and every soda cup must be inventoried – but we find a way to get around this stricture. When each theater employee becomes thirsty, he takes the first soda cup off the stack, fills it up, takes a drink, and sticks the polluted cup back onto the top of the stack. Maybe seven or eight guys will drink out of the same cup, each time returning it to its rightful place at the top. What's funny about this, and what’s gross about it too, is that the first customer who comes in each night and orders a soda invariably gets his soda in a cup that eight teen-aged geeks already drank out of! This never stops being funny. The first customer every night probably needs antibiotics!

During the time I work at the La Reina theater, we show three movies. First, it’s Greystoke: the Legend of Tarzan, a very good Tarzan movie directed by the Chariots of Fire guy, Hugh Hudson. (What ass did I pull that name out of? I haven't thought about that guy in years -- nor has Hollywood!) The second movie is Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, a horrible movie which, nevertheless, stars Tanya Roberts from "Charlie’s Angels" riding a horse in a bikini and speaking broken English for ninety minutes. (Today, Tanya lives two doors away from my parents’ house in Laurel Canyon, but I’ve never met her.) And the third movie is the big one: It’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Opening weekend is so big for that movie – the line is around the block – that Mr. Hamilton has me go outside with a wooden box on a strap around my neck, shilling popcorn and soda to the people in line. To this day, I have a soft spot for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, because I get to see it dozens of times while I am in the auditorium mopping up all the sticky soda. (I hope it's soda!) And even though, to this day, I have never seen an episode of "Star Trek" in my life, because I abhor science fiction, I even remember the Star Trek III: The Search for Spock movie trailer that is shown before the Indiana Jones feature, because there’s a really funny part of the trailer in which the narrator intones, “The crew of the Enterprise will now be put to the TEST?” – and when he says the word “test,” his voice goes up an octave, and he ends the sentence like he’s asking a question. It’s hilarious. The guys and I get a good laugh out of it. (“The crew of the Enterprise will now be put to the TEST?!”) It sounds like, right as the guy is saying the word 'test,' somebody in the recording booth is punching him in the balls! It’s like the narrator doesn’t know whether the crew of the Enterprise will be put to the test or not.

I get brownie points at the theater, because one day, Mr. Hamilton gathers us all in the foyer and tells us that he needs two guys to come in at five in the morning to clean the underside of all five hundred of the theater’s seats with a toothbrush. I immediately volunteer.

I told you that I would get to some more prurient stories, so here they come, and this one is plenty dirty, so I sort of apologize in advance – but since I like this story a lot, I don’t completely apologize:

One of my friends at the theater is a tall/stocky guy named Michael K., and he is, very obviously, not the sharpest tool in the shed; he is a big, good-natured oaf, a 1980s reimagination of Lenny from Of Mice and Men. (So I guess that makes me “George.”)

“Heya, Chuckah!” Michael grins once, slapping me in the back, in his goofy singsong voice, “Yuh like wimmin?”

“Sure,” I reply.

Conspiratorially, he continues: “Yuh know how to tell if a girl has VD?”

“Uh… no.” I’m seventeen. I don’t know anything about girls at all, except that, at that age, I am terribly frightened of them. (When I am sixteen and seventeen, I am so horned-up [ew!] that, some nights, I actually dream that I am in a video store, renting a VHS porno video. At the age of 17, this is about the farthest I will allow my imagination can take me. To this day, I try to keep my goals exactly this reasonable.

“Well," Michael continues, "If you want to know if a girl has VD, first you stick your finger in your ear. And you have to get a big glob of ear wax on your finger.”


“Yeah! And then you stick your finger in her p---y. And if she screams, it means that she has VD!”

This is the first and last sexual advice I will ever allow anybody to give me, and it has haunted me to this very day.

Another day, Michael tells me that after work, he is going to take me to a dance club a few blocks away from the theater, “Le Hot Club,” so that we can boogie with some girls. I am, needless to say, really excited because I am 17 and full of more hormones than a Quarter Pounder. One needs to be twenty-one to get in to Le Hot Club, but somehow, Michael is able to secure our entrance: Even though Michael is seventeen just like me, he’s six-foot-three (which used to be considered tall in 1984!) and he sports a thick mustache which makes him look like he's about thirty. So we dance with a bunch of women who look like refugees from a Nagel print (spandex hair, feathered pants.) I dance with one mid-20s girl who looks like Dale Bozzio from Missing Persons and another who bears a striking resemblance to Terri Nunn from Berlin, so I’m happy. The place, as I remember it, has the funniest paisley/pastel ‘80s vibe you’ve ever seen; it looks like the Patrick Nagel poster from my sister’s bedroom has exploded and turned into a building.

If you read my ear wax story, you might believe that some of the guys who worked at the theater with me needed some kind of sexual harassment training class – and I would concur. Another kid who works at the theater, whose name I can’t remember (but he has blonde, feathered hair and a bad attitude; he looks and acts like most of “The Bad News Bears”) continually lopes up to girl employees from behind, grabs their chests, thrusts his crotch into their butts, and brays, “Hey, Sweaty Betty Juicy Lucy!” I make a mental note that I will never try this move, nor will I ever attempt the ear wax thing.

I have lots of good buddies at the theater. Michael is dumb but fun. There is also my friend Steve, with whom I’ve recently re-connected on facebook – he’s a great guy. (When I was in high school, my friends and I used to make our own little Super 8 movies and I starred Steve in a little effort called “The Armageddon Man,” a Reagan-era nuclear thriller. We used a sound Super 8 camera to make the film, but the sound was accidentally turned off at one point, so if I ever show this film to you, I have to tell you what the characters were saying, because half of the film is, accidentally, silent.)

Another co-worker friend at the theater is a very nice girl who is the sister of a famous ‘80s movie actress – they could be identical twins, but the sister I work with has the worst acne I have ever seen, as opposed to her famous sister, who has clear, alabaster skin. (The sister I work with has so many pimples, she makes me think of the comic song I used to hear my dad sing while he was washing his car: “She has pimples on her, but[t]… I love her…”) And then there is my buddy Carlton. About 40 years old, Carlton is the smooth/groovy jazz musician who isn’t booking gigs like he used to, so he has to supplement his income by working in a movie theater. Carlton gives Yoda-like advice to us youngbloods. Once, we’re standing by the door together and we’re surveying a trio of young couples who are on their way in to the dance club across the street. Carlton sighs longingly, shakes his head, and sighs, “Chuck, my Disco Danny days are over.” I’m in my forties as I write this article, and I now understand what he is talking about. My Disco Danny days are over, too – not that I ever had any Disco Danny Days! (I never even had too many Waltz Waldo Days!)

There’s also a cute Latina ticket booth girl that all of the guys in the theater are hot for – I think she’s in her mid 20’s and has a couple of small children – and she is always very friendly to me. One night, she asks me for a ride home – she usually takes the bus – and then she asks me if I want to come up. Cripplingly shy, I say no – and, of course, I kick myself about that for years. (I will drop the ball a few times in my teens and early twenties because, at that point in my life, I am absolutely terrified of people. To this day, I think people are pretty scary sometimes! Don't you?)

Eventually, Mr. Hamilton leaves, and he is replaced by another manager, a humorless, Ernest Borgnine-looking guy who is always chewing on a toothpick, and who, reportedly, has been fired from his job at an old man steakhouse called the Lamplighter, on Van Nuys Blvd., for propositioning male employees. Once, one of my friends and I are behind the candy counter and we’re talking about one thing or another. The New Manager comes over to us and sternly admonishes, “If you got time to talk, you got time to stock.” (Meaning: If we have time to talk, our time might be better spent stocking the candy counter.) My friend leans over to me and, imitating the manager’s gruff voice, gigglingly whispers, “If ya got time to talk, ya got time to s—k c—k!” The manager spins around and bleats, “What did you two clowns just say? I heard that!” He storms off into his office, but we never get into trouble. Eventually this manager gets fired, as he had previously been fired at the Lamplighter because, as it turns out, he's also propositioning male employees in his office at the theater. (He never propositions me, though.)

Finally, near the end of my summer stint at the La Reina, this manager is replaced by a third manager, Mr. English, who is all-business. Mr. English is only 20 – he looks like a Kennedy cross-bred with a Howdy Doody puppet – and it rubs me the wrong way that he demands we call him “Mr. English,” even though he is close to our age. Today he’s probably the balding manager of a Kinko's in Bakersfield or some low-level bureaucrat in LAUSD, and he’s probably got a mousy wife and some A.D.D. kids.

During my eight hour shifts at the theater, I get a forty-five minute break, so, typically, I head out into the giant parking lot behind the theater and take a nap in the back seat of my first car, a used, purple Buick sedan that I have purchased for $500. (This car is huge – it’s like a hotel!)

The following summer – the summer after my first year of college, when I am almost 19, I will work across the street from the La Reina Theater, at Tower Video. Nothing too interesting to report from Tower Video – I just remember that I’m bored there most of the time, as I stock the shelves with VHS cassettes of Killer Klowns from Outer Space. The twentysomething manager guy wears this horrible-smelling cologne which, I find out, is called Patchouli oil, and which, as a co-worker informs me, means that the manager is gay, and that he wears this scent as some kind of mating call to other likeminded hombres who might recognize it. Every time Patchouli Manager walks by, I gag – but this just leaves more girls for me (!), because, when am working the cash register, I rent videos to Talia Shire and Courtney Cox and, at one point, I try to lamely flirt with Courtney, and she just scowls at me. (Ten years later, when I see Courtney in a bakery in Beverly Hills, she accosts me, and smiles, and says “Hi!” – so that makes up for the scowl she gave me when I was younger!) And once, on July 4, 1985 – yes, I have to work on my 19th birthday, too – all of us employees want to leave the video store so that we can go and watch fireworks. So one of my co-workers gets an impressive idea: He tells us that if we phone a bomb scare into the corporate office of Tower Video, that our store manager should let us go home. So we phone up the corporate office of Tower, and we tell the guy who answers the phone, “There’s a bomb under the Tower Video in Sherman Oaks!” The corporate guy talks to our store manager who knows we’re full of shit. So, as our punishment, Patchouli makes us close down the store. But, for our punishment, we are ordered to stand out in front of the store and accept returned VHS cassettes from customers, curbside, as fireworks from nearby Universal Studio light up the sky overhead. Even when I win, I lose.

Before long, it is time to say goodbye to the La Reina Theater, Tower Video, and working at jobs along Ventura Blvd.

In my 20s, after graduating from college, I would work for some movie producers, five years of my life which made me decide that I never wanted to work in the movie industry again. (Horrible people! I wouldn't pee on them if they were on fire!) Today, I am, very happily, a teacher, and I have been so for seventeen years -- two on the college level and fifteen on the elementary school level. (And college kids are whinier than elementary school kids.)

In 1986, two years after I finish working there, the single-screen La Reina Theater shuts down after a fifty year run, because it can't complete with the boxy multiplexes, and it is converted into a beauty supply shop for women. Today, in 2013, the theater is still standing, and it looks like it used to, but it is now the centerpiece of a block-long mini-mall that was built around the theater about ten years ago. The original theater marquee now advertises the name of the store, and the candy counter continues to exist, too – but instead of candy, it is now filled with bath beads and perfume. The doors on either side of the candy counter that used to lead to the auditorium have been sealed shut. The interior of the place has been decked out in a flowery, light blue color scheme and, in fact, the name of the place, is "Blue."

There’s nothing like your first summer job! Hey: What was your first summer job, everybody?!

PS: If you want to see the La Reina Theater in its full glory, get yourself a copy of the low-budget, and not at all horrible (Why am I making excuses? It’s hilarious!) drive-in comedy The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1977). The film’s finale, which features Phil Silvers and Adam West, takes place at the La Reina theater! (There’s also a Dick Tracy serial, made in the ‘40s, that shows the front of the La Reina...)

PPS: Now you can scroll down and read my really old blog entries from 2010! And at the bottom of that page, you can click on "older" entries and see my entries from 2009!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Blog About How Dumb Blogging Is!

Truman Capote: "That's not writing! It's just typing!"

You know how they say you shouldn't go to the market when you're hungry? They should also say, "You shouldn't blog when you're in a bad mood." Having said that: Here I go!

Some people tell me that if I want people to “know me as a writer,” I’m supposed to “blog every day.”

Blog every day? Uh-oh! If that’s the case, I have to blog a whole bunch more, because my last blog on this site, prior to this one, was eight months ago – my last blog is dated May 29th!

First of all – what on earth would I blog about? I like movies, but there are already ten million people who write about movies on line, and probably, they write better than I can write. I could write something political, but there are definitely people who do that better than me, as well -- not to mention that the fact that I hate liberals and conservatives (people who only see 'their own sides') alike. I guess I could write “curmudgeonly” pieces about my “pet peeves,” but I’ve already written a few of those – scroll down, and you can see ‘em – and when I read them back, they strike me as being more than a little creepy.

When I started this blogsite about a year ago, I thought it was a good idea – and in a way, it is a pretty good idea once in a great while, because I can use it as a catch-all for some previously unpublished articles I wrote, which I have already posted – my interviews with Milton Berle and with a porn king, the weird screenplay I posted, and an article about what it was like to be a student in the legendary author Terry Southern’s writing class.

But mostly, blogging, to call a spade a spade, is bullshit, an extreme form of impotently narcissistic navel gazing – which is the reason I won’t allow myself to do it that much. I have some friends who publish wonderful blogs which are truly moving and amazing, but this piece isn't meant for them -- this is for everybody else in the world.

Blogging’s not new – there’s always been blogging, but it used to be called “my private thoughts that are not interesting enough to share with other people and which I should just keep to myself.” Thanks to the internet, everybody’s half-assed private thoughts, including my own, are now considered to be “writing.” But as Truman Capote once opined, correctly, when he was describing Jack Kerouac's excruciatingly rambling prose, “That’s not writing… it’s just typing.”

The other problem with blogging, is that it has ruined journalism and strangled magazines and newspapers out of existence. Every sentient, mouth-breathing creature in the world has a blogsite, and all of these blog ‘articles’ are mixed in with the real journalism, and it has cheapened journalism – literally so, because, ten years ago, during the internet boom, before blogging, I would get paid $250 or $350 a piece to write articles for these early e-zines, and now that there’s a deluge of writing on the internet, those same artlcles that used to pay $350 are now paying $5 or $10.

What everybody has to learn – and I’ve already absorbed this lesson – is that we should all keep our thoughts in our own heads. Unless you're John Steinbeck or Upton Sinclair, you have to realize that nobody can change the world by pecking at a keyboard. Just like you don't want to hear my problems, sometimes I don't want to hear yours. When you blog, you're telling the world, "Here I am! Look at me!" Well, guess what: The world is busy accumulating money and buying stupid computerized gadgets and taking its cracker-munchers to soccer practice. The world doesn't want to hear it. And I don't want to hear how your little genius did on his spelling test today, or how your azaleas or jacarandas are doing. Honest-injun, I don't! Your blog posting might feel therapeutic for you while you're writing it, but for me, it's like nails on a chalkboard.

Plus, on a very basic level: Why on earth would anybody write anything for free? Does your doctor work for free? Your kid's teacher? The guy who fixes your car? Of course not. And writing is work, too. And here in America, writing equals money. I am continually amazed by anybody who would give anything away for free... unless, of course, you're doing a charitable act, which is of course great and ennobling and something that all of us could stand to do a little more of, most of the time. If you want recognition, go to Darfur and feed some kids, don't write a blog about some plastic surgery-case you saw on "Dancing with the Stars" last night.

And: The same people who tell me I'm supposed to blog every day also tell me that I'm supposed to do it so I can "brand myself, on line," but I'm not a brand! I'm a person, a regular fortysomething man with a lousy attitude! If I were a brand I would probably be "Colgate with MFP," but I'm just me. Some people infuriate me to no end...

Maybe tomorrow I'll wake up in a better mood and I'll decide that I like blogging, and I'll erase this and write fifteen new entries. But today I think blogging is dumb. In fact, it's so dumb, I had to write a blog about it because I am the world's biggest hypocrite!

In director Terence Malick's Badlands (1973), young mass murderers Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, who know they are fated for a tragic end, make their way into a recording booth, in which they lay down an acetate of their voices as a way of demonstrating to the world that they were "here" and that they "mattered." That's what blogging is: Blogging is when disenfranchised or unimportant people want the world to know that they were here, so they make recordings of their voices. (I do it, too.)

-- 30 --

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Never Give a Racist a Ride

by Chuck Zigman, 3/28/10

Life has, yet again, given me something to blog about.

Last week, one of my friends was visiting Los Angeles from England. He’s an American, but he’s got a Ph.D, and he’s teaching Cinema Studies at a university in England.

Anyway, my friend was in town, along with hundreds of other Cinema Studies professors from all over the world, to attend an academic conference in downtown L.A., at the historic Bonaventure Hotel.

On the last evening of the conference, two Saturdays ago, I went out for drinks with my friend and a couple of our mutual friends, and my friend brought along five or six of his film professor colleagues from the colloquium, all of whom he, too, had just met for the first time that week. We all had a fun/robust time, drinking at the recently-restored Hotel Figueroa and discussing arcane old movies in the most esoteric/pretentious way imaginable.

At about 2:00 am, it fell to me to drive five of the film professors back to the Bonaventure, since I was the only one with a car. I warned them, in advance, that my car, a convertible (my “midlife crisis convertible”), was very small, and that it might be a tight squeeze, but it didn’t seem to bother anybody, especially because everybody was pretty toasted.

So here’s what happened:

I’m driving these five film professors back to the Bonaventure. There’s three film professors in the back seat, I’m in the driver’s seat, and to my right, in the passenger seat, there’s a very strapping lady film professor from the University of Copenahgen. This lady film professor, a truly Amazonian doppelganger for Brigitte Nielsen, writes books about American action films, in both Danish and English. She seems to be a very agreeable/personable woman, and in fact, she is so agreeable, that my friend, the American guy who teaches in England, is sitting on her lap during the ride back to the hotel.

At any rate, while I’m driving, Danish Film Professor Lady, who is about fifty sheets to the wind, exuberantly proclaims, “Hey, Chuck! Your small sports car is reminding me of my favorite joke about small sports cars!” Before any of us can stop her, she proceeds to tell her joke:

“How do you fit two hundred and fifty Jews into a small sports car?"

Uh-Oh! The other four of us know where this joke is going. We don’t really want to hear the punchline, but of course, she has to say it anyway, right? She can't leave us high and dry! This is the punchline:

“Two in the front seat… two in the back seat… and two hundred and forty-six in the ashtray!

We all groan, and it has suddenly become very uncomfortable in my 2007 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, because everybody in my car, save for the joke-teller, has already figured out that the driver (me) is Jewish.

After this joke has been told – and it easily one of the most horrible/offensive/obnoxious jokes I’ve ever heard – I offer up to Danish Lady the fact that I’m Jewish. Well, either she doesn’t hear me or she doesn’t care, because she quickly follows suit by telling a second joke, and if you think that one is wrong, wait ‘til you hear the next one she tells. This one really ices the crowd:

Danish Lady’s Joke #2: “What’s the difference between a black person and a bowl of shit?” Long pause for the punchline, which is only two words long: “The bowl.”

This Danish Film Professor Lady is easily one of the most horrible, nasty people I’ve ever met.

And what this terrible person said in my car last week, about Jews and blacks, has been bothering me for a whole week. I have actually been so mad about this lady all week, I haven’t been able to sleep that well. I know there are people I’m supposed to call when I hear something like this, but I don’t know exactly whom I should be notifying! Should I call the Simon Weisenthal Center? The Anti-Defamation League? The NAACP? Is there an organization of professors in Denmark I can fire off a letter to? This vermin should not be teaching college students, and if I have my way she will not be teaching them for much longer.

Now, I love humor – it’s my favorite thing on earth, and sometimes I can even enjoy an ethnic joke if it’s well-crafted. I’m a huge fan of freedom of speech, as well, and I even like Denmark; in fact, I spent the first ten years of my life religiously watching the Danny Kaye movie Hans Christian Andersen ten million times with my paternal grandmother, and I happen to know every single, solitary, wonderful song from that film ("Inchworm," "Wonderful Cophenhagen," the math song that goes, "2 and 2 are 4... 4 and 4 are 8...," etc.).

But I believe that these two jokes that this disgusting, cackling pig/shrew told in my car went far beyond the realm of acceptable behavior.

I just thought I’d use my blog site today to vent about my experience with this horrible, racist Danish Film Professor Lady.

I hope she dies choking on her own blood, and I hope it’s painful.

PS, This wasn't the first racist thing I've ever heard. Once, a smart, ivy league-educated woman actually asked me, very seriously, "Chuck, why is to so hard for you to get into the film industry? You're Jewish! Can't you just get right in?" (My answer was, "Oh, I can get in anytime I want to. I just haven't done the secret handshake yet." With gravitas, she asked me if I could show her the handshake!!!)... On another occasion, when I was in my mid-twenties, I had just starting dating somebody, and she kept saying horrible things about Jews right in front of me ("Let's not go into that restaurant... it looks too Jewish in there"), and after her third ethnic slur, I informed her, "Wait a minute! I'm a Jew!" She started to cry, because, as I expected, she didn't know I was
Semitic. She replied, through her tears, "If you're Jewish, why aren't you wearing one of those little hats?" I sure know how to pick 'em, huh!


I don't like the nasty Danish lady who told racist jokes in my car last week, but I still like Denmark. To prove it, here's a scene from my favorite boyhood movie: Here is Danny Kaye singing "Inchworm," from 1952's Hans Christian Andersen.