Friday, September 30, 2011

Solving a Rubik's cube: Yahoo! offers advice from 1981; but, then again, we are living in 1981

Yahoo's main page had a link to a story about solving a Rubik's cube. Today. September 30, 2011. They really did. I took a picture of it, because I couldn't believe it:


Rubik's cubes were immensely popular when I was a small child. They were the "pet rock" of the 1980s. I'm pretty sure that for awhile, in Holland, they were used as currency. Then, they fell out of favor. I even made fun of them in one of my "Dr. BJ" shorts.



Anyway, do you know why these fell out of favor? First of all, they were a fad, and fads come and go. Second of all, most people either figured out how to solve them and therefore became bored with them, or they didn't figure out how to solve them, and therefore became bored with them.
While millions of people were stumped, frustrated, and yet still obsessed with their Rubik's Cubes, rumors began to circulate as to how to solve the puzzle...

In response to the massive demands of the public for a solution, several dozen books were published in the early 1980s, each spouting easy ways to solve your Rubik's Cube. ...

While some Rubik's Cube owners were so frustrated that they began smashing open their cubes for a peek inside (they hoped to discover some inner secret that would help them solve the puzzle), other Rubik's Cube owners were setting speed records.
The Rubik's cube was also part of a furious debate in scientific circles, as some people felt that it verified the hundredth monkey myth:
According to Paul H. Smith, the Rubik's cube was much more difficult to master when it was first introduced than it was after many people had mastered it, even by someone who had no previous experience with it.
Of course, the myth of the hundredth monkey is just a myth, which is why I called it a myth. Like the Rubik's cube itself, that whole idea was a fad that caught on for awhile, then fell out of favor. Although it does occasionally rear up again from time to time.

Speaking of rearing up again, apparently enough time has passed that the Rubik's cube is making a bit of a comeback itself.
While the extreme popularity of the Rubik's cube subsided around 1984. it has recently made a significant come back. This has been a result of impressive marketing efforts by Seven Towns. In the future, this marketing effort should continue to increase sales of the Rubik's cube.
People have forgotten why it was that they stopped playing with the things the first time around. Now, apparently, I guess, if this one article is to be believed, people are buying them again. The original yahoo article says that,
In the 37 years since Erno Rubik first created his famous cube, it's sold over 350 million units, making the man himself a household name and propelling his cuboid conundrum into the history books.
But it doesn't say how many of those have been sold since its original, massive popularity. This about.com article claims that over 100 million had been sold by 1982. That same article claims that Mr. Rubik invented the toy in 1975, and that it first went on sale in Budapest toy stores in 1977. So it sold more than a third of its 350 million units between 1975 and 1982. In the 29 years since then, it's sold over 200 million units.

Not bad. But, other than doing a google image search back when I made my hilarious third "Dr. BJ" episode, I haven't seen any since I was a kid.

Around the same time the Rubik's cube was spinning its magic around the hearts of Americans, 3-D was making a comeback in theaters (following a giant fad during the 1950s). Movies like Comin' At Ya!, Parasite, Friday the 13th Part 3, Amityville 3-D, Jaws 3-D, and Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn allowed us to kill time between Rubik's cube sessions. Also, listening to Duran Duran on our Walkmans.

3-D fell out of favor. The effects were cheesy, and often used to service poor scripts. The glasses were uncomfortable, and the 3-D itself gave some people headaches. 3-D mostly disappeared, until it recently made another comeback. And now, it is falling out of favor again.

So okay it's cyclical. Rubik's cube really is back, I guess. I just haven't seen it. I've been too distracted by the return of 3D movies. Speaking of which, I have a suggestion. Given the "astounding" success of the recent 3D re-release of Disney's "Lion King," is it too much to ask that some enterprising film studio put together a few episodes of the classic "Rubik, the Amazing Cube" animated television show and 3D them up, and release them into theaters?



Don't tell me you don't think this could be a huge hit. Nostalgia is big right now. Nostalgia is always big, but especially in a down economy (I have no empirical evidence to back up this claim, but check this out: There is even nostalgia for the Cold War). "Lion King" isn't the only cartoon from our youth that's making a comeback. "Thundercats." "Bevis and Butt-head." "Transformers."

And let us not forget those damned Muppets.

Holy crap we really are living in the past.

The puzzle box used to call the Cenobites in the "Hellraiser" films was inspired by the Rubik's cube. Actually, I just made that up. Maybe it's true, maybe it's not. You should ask Clive Barker about that. By the way, the "Hellraiser" remake is now on hold. But you know it's coming.

Bonus: A pretty funny stand up routine by a comedian called "Crazy Davis," featuring some nostalgia jokes, and the song "This Rubik's Cube is Driving Me Crazy!"

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's time to start the boycott of the new "Batman" movie right now!

Pictures of Anne Hathaway in her Catwoman costume are lighting up the internet.

Here is one photo:


That's fine. Whatever. She's no Kathleen Garza, but then who is, really?

The real story is contained in one of the photos of Christian Bale, as Batman:


Question: Why is Christian Bale's Batman smiling in the above photo? Apparently, Christopher Nolan has decided to completely turn his back on what has made his Batman films the greatest Batman films since the previous Batman films:

Batman's brooding scowl.

Batman is a tortured hero. He is not a smiling, laughing, happy-go-lucky frolicker, gamboling about in the Batcave, riding his Batmobile on a Sunday drive for pleasure. He is driven to fight crime because his parents were brutally murdered before him. These photos of a smiling Batman show us that Christopher Nolan has decided to take his Batman franchise in the direction of Joel Schumacher -- he is turning Batman into a clown, and the Batman films into "comic book movies."


I had expected better things from this movie. But by showing Batman with a smile on his face, Christopher Nolan has done nothing less than defecate on the legend of the Dark Knight, one of the ten or fifteen greatest comic book characters of all time. When are we finally going to get a trilogy that does justice to the amazing source material?

When are we finally going to get a director to take comic books seriously as source material for films? Until we do, we need to boycott.

It's time to start the boycott of the new "Batman" movie right now!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Exclusive excerpt from the upcoming Arnold Schwarzenegger autobiography!

Only once in my life have I ever voted for someone who actually won political office: In 2003 I voted for the recall of California governor Gray Davis, and then voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace him. Ordinarily, on principle, I do not throw my vote away on democrats or republicans, choosing instead to vote for "third party" candidates out of disgust at what the republicrats have done to our election system (gamed it in favor of themselves). But in 2003, the libertarian candidate stated that his (or her, I can't remember the gender of the candidate) favorite philosopher was Gene Roddenberry.

"Star Trek" Gene Roddenberry.

Now, the question "Who is your favorite philosopher" is a stupid one. (Personally I would probably answer "Play-Doh," just to be safe.) Maybe s/he was being ironic when s/he answered "Gene Roddenberry," but I couldn't take my chances. There were a couple of other reasons why I chose to waste my vote on Mr. Schwarzenegger, none of which make me look particularly good, so I do not wish to go into them here. Suffice it to say, I did not care for the inept way in which Mr. Schwarzenegger conducted his business as governor. Appropriately, this one vote I've ever made for someone who actually won is the only vote of my life that I ever wish I could take back.

I am still happy with my vote in favor of the recall. Mr. Davis deserved to be recalled. In fact, most politicians deserve to be recalled. I think it is shameful that we don't have a mechanism in place to recall the president. Remember when the democrats retook the house and senate in 2006-- they said they were going to investigate president Bush's abuses. Open hearings. Special prosecutors. Then of course they got into power themselves and realized that, hey, a democrat would probably win the presidency the next time around, and it might be nice to have all that power that Bush grabbed for himself. Investigating abuses etc might set a bad precedent of holding the chief executive accountable for his actions. The two major parties have a vested interest in that not happening.

Which is why we need to be able to recall the president. I would have gladly signed a petition to recall Mr. Bush back in 2006 (actually, sooner than that). Today I would gladly sign a petition to recall the current president over his continuation of Bush's policies and his own illegal "kinetic military operation" in Libya. But I am getting into the weeds here and I apologize for that. System's corrupt, I'm above it. You get the point.

As I said, I was no fan of Mr. Schwarzenegger as governor (or, as he so wittily put it, "governator"). So it was with no small amount of surprise that I received an invitation from Mr. Schwarzenegger to help him pen his autobiography. "I'm not really sure I should," I told him, with some trepidation.

"I am a big fan of your books Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist, and Whimsical Doctor Shoe (kindle and nook!), and I think that your style is perfect for the story I want to tell."

"I'm flattered," replied I. "But I'm still not--"

"I will pay you four billion dollars."

"Let's get started right now."

The first thing that we needed to come up with was a title. Everyone knows that books are made or broken on the basis of their titles. For instance, if my own books mentioned above, Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist, and Whimsical Doctor Shoe, had actually had decent titles, they might actually have become the bestsellers they deserved to be. So I said to Mr. Schwarzenegger, "Mr. Schwarzenegger, you are an actor, a republican, and a former governor of California. I think we should take a cue from that other republican actor who once governored California, Ronald Reagan, and take the title of your autobiography from a line from one of your movies."

"Good idea!" Mr. Schwarzenegger said, sipping his mojito and scratching his perineum. "Let's see... what movies have I been in..."

"I think that we should take the title from your classic line in 'Conan the Barbarian,' where you said that the best thing in life is 'To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women."





Blank stare. "I think I found a flea in my pubic hair," he said.

"Let's just call your autobiography The Lamentation of the Women. It's perfect! So much of your life involves women lamenting--"

"No. I want to call it Total Recall, like that movie I was in called 'Total Recall.'"

"But, that's not a line from that movie; it's the actual title of that movie."

"But that is how I got all my power!" he bellowed. "By recalling Gray Davis! Totally!"

"How about--"

"If you say I'll Be Back I will think you're not as clever as your other books led me to believe and I will fire you." He pointed at me with the same index finger he'd used to explore his perineum. I wished he would put some pants on.

"Total Recall it is!" I said.

He threw a roll of quarters at me. "Here is the first installment of your payment," he said.

Since then, Mr. Schwarzenegger and I have been hard at work composing his autobiography. I am happy to be able to give my readers this exclusive look at one section of the book now. Hopefully it will entice you to purchase and read the entire thing. Mr. Schwarzenegger could use the money, for his whole divorce and love child thing. Anyway, here it is:

The sun was high and hot in the sky, like a horny woman with a dripping pudenda that glowed hot to the touch. I was lounging by my pool -- a pool which rivals only my own enormous muscles in terms of enormity. I rubbed upon my glistening body a tantalizing concoction of my own design, consisting of oil, sunscreen, and lamb nectar. I knew that this would keep my skin firm and prevent the burning that would aggravate my slide into physical ugliness, which I was seeking to arrest. The lamb nectar also made me irresistible to women. Because I was already irresistible to women, owing to the fact that I am a wealthy and powerful man with the most beautiful muscles in the world, I knew the lamb nectar would cause women to float toward me, as if carried on velvet.


As if on cue, our maid walked out onto the patio. "Mr. Schwarzenegger," she said, with longing in her heart, which was beating so hard that I could actually see it beating through the folds of skin and cloth that covered it. "I wonder if there is anything else I could get you. Perhaps another appletini?"


"Please, my muscles are so large," I said to her. "I cannot reach around and apply this oil mixture to my back. Would you mind so doing?"


I handed her the bottle and removed my speedo. My tanned buttocks rose toward that sensuous sun as I lay down upon my stomach. Involuntarily, I flexed the muscles of my tanned buttocks, squeezing them so hard that the drool that fell from her lips as she looked upon me with longing was pressed into a diamond when it fell between my buttcheeks.


Her soft, flabby hands rubbed the lotion upon my hard, toned body. "You know, I have women throwing themselves at me all the time. They are usually very beautiful. Toned. Fit. But oh how I love to feel the touch of soft, flabby skin beneath my own taught and toned muscles!" The sound of my own voice made my Terminator as flexed and hard as my own buttocks. Because I was still laying upon my stomach, my Terminator went between the bands in the bottom of the lawn chair, and began scraping the ground.


"But, I am unworthy of you," the maid said. "I am just a humble maid!"


"No one is unworthy of me!" I declared. "Seriously, I will do it with anyone, anytime!" I tore the lawn chair in two pieces as I turned over and rose from it. I lifted the maid off the ground as if she weighed a mere 175 pounds, instead of the 318 she actually weighed. I gently lowered her down upon my Terminator and began to bounce her, like a flabby ball, upon my Terminator.


"You are a very satisfying lover!" she said, obviously.


"My Terminator has never been this excited!" I said.

Well, that's what we've got so far. One of the interesting things to me is the fact that Mr. Schwarzenegger calls his you-know-what a "Terminator." He has names for a lot of his other muscles as well. His left pec is called Hans, for instance. His brain is called "Friend." Naturally I don't want to reveal too much before the book is released, but you get the point.

I'll keep you posted.



Mock-up of the cover of the upcoming Schwarzenegger autobiography, with my original title.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Desist, In Time," Said the Copyfight Man

According to its official website, the upcoming film In Time is a science fictional/crime story that takes place in a world "where time is money - literally":
When Will Salas is falsely accused of murder, he must figure out a way to bring down a system where time is money – literally – enabling the wealthy to live forever while the poor, like Will, have to beg, borrow, and steal enough minutes to make it through another day.
Here is the trailer for the film:



Is this an intriguing premise? Well, the idea that "time is money - literally" is an interesting one, I guess. But what are they doing with it? Because the movie hasn't come out yet and I haven't seen it, I don't know. But that synopsis, and that trailer, don't look very promising. Very often these science fictional films take simplistic dim-bulbed views of their dystopian futures -- a fine example was the pathetic "Children of Men," which I very graciously took apart here. And remember the movie "I, Robot"? Where were the human union members to protest the rollout of cheap robot labor?

Does In Time show the hordes of protesters that would line our streets against this whole "time is money" idea? Today we have a number of advocates for the poor; do they show up at all in this movie? And, why should "the poor" have to "beg" for more time? Wouldn't the fabulously wealthy in this dystopian society want to keep poor people around to do all the crummy jobs that the rich jerks don't want to do? You could keep poor people 25 years old indefinitely, and in top physical shape for just that purpose.

What's the "middle class" like in this world?

The fact that this film comes from the writer of "The Truman Show" and "Gattaca" doesn't exactly excite me. Those films both featured intriguing premises that were undermined by underdeveloped characters and situations. (Yeah, I know, I'm in the minority.)

Speaking of those premises. Didn't "The Truman Show" seem kind of familiar to you? Just a little bit? And wasn't "Gattaca" just Brave New World by way of Raymond Chandler? It has always seemed to me that the director, Andrew Niccol, has worn his influences on his sleeve, so to speak. And now, he's being sued.

The famed speculative fiction author Harlan Ellison, one of the better writers of the 20th century (full disclosure: I am a former member of the Harlan Ellison Recording Collection), is suing Mr. Niccol, the production company Regency, and the distributor 20th Century Fox. He's seeking to prevent the film's release and destruction of all prints of the film.
Ellison says the new film is based on his multiple prize-winning 1965 work, "Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman" which the complaint calls one of the most famous and widely published science fiction short stories of all time.
I actually hadn't read "Repent!" in about 15 years, so I went back and re-read it today. It's a fine story. Mr. Ellison could write. Back when I was in college I trolled the used bookstores, looking for copies of his works (I think the only of his books that were in print back then were Angry Candy, Mefisto in Onyx, and Harlan Ellison's Watching). I loved his stuff, although I remember having a hard time getting through Love Ain't Nothing But Sex Misspelled, Spider Kiss, and Web of the City. Since then my taste has changed-- Mr. Ellison is a bit florid for me now, but he is undoubtedly a tremendous writer. "Repent!" is definitely worth your time-- if it's true that it's "one of the most famous and widely published science fiction short stories of all time," then it is worthy of that distinction. (Hey! the back cover of my Ace paperback edition of Paingod and Other Delusions makes a similar claim: "["Repent!" is] one of the most reprinted and widely taught stories in the English language".)



"Repent!" tells the story of a dystopian future in which being late will seriously cost you:
"If he was ten minutes late, he lost ten minutes of his life. An hour was proportionately worth more revocation. If someone was consistently tardy, he might find himself on a Sunday night, receiving a communique from the Master Timekeeper that his time had run out, and he would be "turned off" at high noon on Monday, please straighten your affairs, sir, madame, or bisex."
(p. 35 of the Ace edition)
This is a world in which the government controls every aspect of your life, down to the amount of time you have. In this world, the Harlequin commits acts of rebellion designed to disrupt the clockwork world. The Master Timekeeper (who is derisively known as the Ticktockman) is forced to pull people out of their regimented schedules to fight him.

It's one of those "it could have been written today" kind of stories. According to Mr. Ellison, people have tried to get him to sell the movie rights, but he's resisted up to now:
For years, according to Ellison, he has resisted producer interest in adapting this story into film, but in late 2010, Ellison's company, The Kilimanjaro Corporation, entered into an agreement with a third party to create a screenplay based on the story so that it could be sold or licensed to a Hollywood studio. Now, Ellison says that In Time jeopardizes an official film adaptation of "Repent Harlequin!"

Ellison says the similarity between the two works is "obvious" and quotes critics such as Richard Roeper who have attended advanced screenings and seem to believe that In Time is based on "Repent Harlequin!"
(I would like to point out that Richard Roeper, alleged "film critic" and former co-host of Roger Ebert's old program, is a dimwit and probably gets his left hand confused with his right foot just before sticking it in his mouth.)

The ideas animating the two works appear to be similar. A dystopian future with an all-powerful government entity that controls people's lives, right down to the amount of time they have to live. However, the whole "time is money" thing, in which time is used a unit of currency, seems to be specific to the film. It's a big part of the film, actually.

In that way, it seems to be more similar to a story by Phantom and Mandrake the Magician Creator Lee Falk, called "Time is Money." According to this website (at which you can actually read Mr. Falk's story), "Time is Money" was first published in 1975 (ten years after Mr. Ellison's story!) in "Playboy" magazine. In "Time is Money," a man apparently misplaced about a month of his life, and has to track down the missing time in the few hours he has left. I won't "spoil" it (you can't "spoil" art!), but where he finds his time is pretty amusing.

It's also similar to a short film called "The Price of Life" which aired on Showtime circa 1987. Or, rather, the Showtime short was similar to Mr. Falk's story. Time as currency.

The full text of Mr. Ellison's lawsuit can be found via Deadline Hollywood. I'm no lawyer, and I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know how much of a case Mr. Ellison really has. His list of similarities between the two works seems to me to be alternately convincing and stretching it. (But then, Mr. Ellison is a compelling writer.) According to the US Copyright office:
Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work.
What is the difference between "influence" and "theft"? Art is supposed to build on what has come before. It must to survive. William Shakespeare appropriated almost everything he wrote from other sources. Does every single story that's published or movie that's produced in the western world have to acknowledge The Odyssey in its closing credits or its back cover? Mr. Niccol is an artist. I'm not a huge fan of the two of his films that I've seen, but I can't deny his talent.

Interestingly, that Deadline link in the paragraph above refers to Mr. Ellison as a "Copyright Curmudgeon." This is apparently in reference to his fight over the film The Terminator:
According to Marc Shapiro's biography of [James Cameron], a visiting journalist asked where he had gotten the idea for it, and Cameron said, "Oh, I ripped off a couple of Harlan Ellison stories." Shapiro also quotes Ellison as saying he found the "smoking gun" in a Starlog article in which Cameron was quoted as saying he got the idea for The Terminator from "a couple of Outer Limits segments." The episodes in question had both been written by Ellison. He sued and received a settlement of $400,000, along with a story credit on all theatrical and home-video prints of the film.
Or maybe it's in reference to his fight over his famous "City on the Edge of Forever" episode of "Star Trek":
“And please make sure to remember, at the moment some Studio mouthpiece calls me a mooch, and says I’m only pursuing this legal retribution to get into their ‘deep pockets,’ tell’m Ellison snarled back, ‘F- - - -in’-A damn skippy!’ I’m no hypocrite. It ain’t about the ‘principle,’ friend, its about the MONEY! Pay Me! Am I doing this for other writers, for Mom (still dead), and apple pie? Hell no! I’m doing it for the 35-year-long disrespect and the money!

“The arrogance, the pompous dismissive imperial manner of those who ‘have more important things to worry about,’ who’ll have their assistant get back to you, who don’t actually read or create, who merely ‘take’ meetings, and shuffle papers – much of which is paper money denied to those who actually did the manual labor of creating those dreams – they refuse even to notice...until you jam a Federal lawsuit in their eye. To hell with all that obfuscation and phony flag-waving: they got my money. Pay me and pay off all the other writers from whom you’ve made hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars...from OUR labors...just so you can float your fat asses in warm Bahamian waters.
Or maybe it's in reference to his claim that Cormac McCarthy's book The Road is a ripoff of his story "A Boy and His Dog":
A friend said “oh gee, you should sell it [his typewriter], they sold Cormac McCarthy’s typewriter.” And I said, “yeah, Cormac McCarthy who ripped off my story “A Boy and His Dog” to do “The Road.” I said how much did they get $20?”
I do like the idea of a writer using copyright law -- which was essentially created by big corporations in collusion with the government to help protect corporate interests at the expense of independent artists -- to fight a big corporation. But does Mr. Ellison really have a case? Did enough of "Repent!" make it into In Time to make it legally actionable? I guess if all copies of the film aren't destroyed, and the film makes its release date, we'll find out.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Up All Night" is the worst television show of all time

I TiVoed the first episode of the new NBC television program "Up All Night" because one of its stars, Will Arnett, appeared in what is one of the best television shows of the last ten years, "Arrested Development." He was also a star of "Running Wilde," which, while not nearly as good as "AD," was still an intermittently funny program with a unique sensibility. Another of "Up All Night's" stars, Christina Applegate, was one of the stars of "Married... With Children," which is justifiably considered a classic. Since "Married," Ms. Applegate has appeared in some unappealing stuff, but I thought the combination of her and Mr. Arnett warranted giving this show a chance.

"Up All Night" was an interesting show, and definitely worth watching. But only because of its massive, almost fascinating failures as entertainment.

The show features boring, married narcissists who have a child and then become even more boring and narcissistic. The husband (Mr. Arnett) decides to quit his job as some kind of attorney so that he can stay home all day with the new baby. The wife (Ms. Applegate) works as a producer of a daytime talk show, and she does not quit her day job, although she feel a mixture of guilt and resentment about that (this is what passes for "complicated" on this show). This couple lives in a large, clean, fabulous Los Angeles-area home full of sleek, modern appliances.

Somehow, the creators of this program intended the viewer to feel sympathy for these people. Human beings have been having children for literally millions of years. They get on with their lives because they have to. Most people, even today in an America that is more affluent than any other country in the history of civilization, have to get on with their lives when they have children. They don't have the luxury of leaving a high-paying professional job so that they can spend idle daytime hours watching hockey or playing MMO games while the baby sits on their lap. In one alleged joke, the father is so flustered by the demands of parenthood that he spends a half hour looking for cheese in the grocery store. Is that endearing? If so, which part? The part about the new child making this former attorney so helpless that he can't find cheese in a grocery store, or the part about this wealthy, privileged man having the time to waste roaming up and down the aisles looking for cheese?

Ms. Applegate's character fares no better. Upon her return from maternity leave, she is greeted with grateful relief by her co-workers and the host of the show she produces. Apparently, the talk show has been lost without her amazing producing skills. How does she prove her worth? She books a quack doctor who sells some kind of "cleanse" technique. How on earth was she able to get a doctor to talk about his cleansing? Those people are hard to get to go on television.

Later in the show, the parents, who have exhibited no skill as parents and have done absolutely nothing to justify either the fatigue they affect, nor their congratulatory attitude, decide to go out and get drunk and stupid for their anniversary, the way they used to do. You know, before the burden of their one single baby that one of them was able to quit his high-paying job and spend the entire day with. That same single baby for which they can call a babysitter (do you suppose that babysitter turned out to be a Mexican immigrant who was paid sub-minimum wage under the table? the babysitter is never shown, so we don't know) on the spur of the moment so that they can have an undeserved night on the town. There follows a scene in which they spend several minutes singing karaoke. We're meant to laugh along with them as they sing "It's Raining Men."

Were the creators of this show so exhausted from dealing with their own little burdens of joy that they couldn't bring themselves to at least create funny situations for their unlikable characters?

One of the show's running gags involves the parents being so overwhelmed with love and affection for their progeny (and the fact that they've procreated -- something that, as I've already mentioned, has been done millions of times before) that they are unable to control their use of profanity. "This baby is f*cking awesome," they say, or something like that. Because the vulgarities are necessarily bleeped (this is a prime-time major network show, after all), we, the audience, are protected from hearing them. In other words, the audience is infantilized. It's fitting, since only someone with a childish sensibility could find anything worthwhile in this show about adult babies who've been spoiled rotten. If the creators involved had any kind of self-awareness, they would realize that these characters are wholly unlikable, self-aggrandizing, and venal. We would be meant to laugh at them, not with them (as was the case with "Arrested Development"). Instead, we're meant to sympathize with fabulously wealthy and successful people who mirror the creators and network executives who put this show on the air. The people who can spend hours in a grocery store looking for cheese, or playing MMO games or watching hockey at home -- they've got nothing better to do; their lives are that carefree.

There is an old piece of advice to writers, "Write what you know." This is not a license to allow the creators of art to simply write about themselves and their own lives, and expect everyone else to be impressed. Instead, that piece of advice is a challenge. As the New Journalist Tom Wolfe put it:
The writing programs, where you get the Masters of Fine Art in writing, are always telling people to "write what you know." And students interpret that to mean your own life. Unless you're Count Tolstoy, there's not that much in your own life. I'd be out with a cup if I had to write surely what's based on my own life. But in the 19th century, where there were so many great realistic novelists, they understood. You had to go outside of your own life to get new material. Even Dostoevsky, we think of him being such an internal, psychological creative force. When he wanted to write about the student radicals of his era, he went to the archives. And then started going -- he'd hear about a meeting of some of these groups, he'd go attend, to just get the material. Dickens was, of course, famous for this. Zola did it just time after time after time, going to a new area of life. He wanted to get all of France into a series of novels, and he pretty well did. He'd go from farming to warfare, to whatever he thought he really hadn't covered yet.
The idea of a sympathetic comedy about a non-professional couple -- perhaps she works as a cashier at Wal-Mart, and he works some kind of light industrial job -- living somewhere in "flyover country," would not occur to the people who are now making modern corporate entertainment. It's completely alien to them, and they have no curiosity about how most of the country lives. They're too interested in examining their own reactions to things that have happened millions of times before to even care. They're like the high school kid who falls in love for the first time: "No one has ever felt like this before."

How many scripted shows today aren't about people who work in either medicine, law enforcement, or entertainment? How many scripted shows today don't take place in a major city, either New York or LA, or some stand-in? To those people who are now creating scripted television shows: If you've ever wondered why "American Idol" is consistently the highest-ranked show on television, why there is so much anticipation for the upcoming "X Factor," and why it is that the ratings for American football continue to grow, you need look no further than the first episode of "Up All Night."

Bonus: Here's the only "Up All Night" you need, Boomtown Rats's classic song:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Another one of those "Something-weird-happens-in-an-Asian-country" stories, Tiny Eel in a "Man's Penis" Edition

Remember that guy who supposedly died while using the internet for too long? Or the guy who died while watching the movie "Avatar"? Or the guy who got an eel up his rectum? Or the woman who lost her hearing from kissing? The internets lit up over all of those and other smoking hot, explosive stories that allegedly actually happened, for real, no kidding in some far-off, exotic Asian country. Each of those stories was reported by one site, and the "facts" of the story, as presented by that one original site, were repeated over and over again by other sites.

It is happening. Again.

It's another eel. But this time, it's not the rectum being wrecked. It's a "man's penis." Metro seems to have the original version of the story.
Zhang Nan was bathing with live eels to cleanse his skin when one rogue serpent took a liking to his manhood.

The eel treatment in question is a similar concept to the popular London spas that offer fish pedicures.

Thinking that the eels would make him look ten years younger, Nan dived into the water and let them feast upon layers of dead skin.
Like the previous stories I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, this one features a person who lives in an Asian country being punished for something that seems unusual (he wants to "look ten years younger"-- which is to say, he's vain-- and for some reason he thinks that an "eel treatment" will do it-- which is to say, he's oddball).

As with those other stories mentioned above, there is at least some information given about a location (the alleged man at the center of this alleged case is said to be from "Honghu, Hubei province," although the story does not tell us if that is where this alleged event is alleged to have occurred), and there is some information given about the doctor allegedly involved.
Rushing himself to hospital, the man underwent a three-hour operation to remove the six-inch eel which was dead by the time doctors found it.

Surgeon Jin Wang said that, because of the eel's slippery nature, it was able to make a smooth entry into the genitals of Nan.

'The diameter of the urethra in a man's penis is just a little narrower, but because eels are quite slippery, its body worked as a lubricant and so it got into the penis smoothly,' he said.
Yes, the Surgeon who allegedly removed the alleged eel from the alleged "man's penis" (which is I assume differentiated from a "woman's penis") is named "Wang." The hospital at which Surgeon Wang allegedly removes alleged eels from alleged "man's penises" is not named. The province in which he works is not named. A google search for surgeon jin wang gives us more than 218,000 page results-- many of those are for doctors here in America. And, of course, references to Metro's alleged "eel in the man's penis" incident. I did manage to find a "Jing Wang, MD", an Orthopaedic surgeon from Wenzou China. For what that's worth (it's worth nothing!).

Already, I've done more research on this than the original author of the Metro piece.

This story seems a bit unbelievable to me. I'm no doctor, but I have spent a lot of time studying my own urethra, and I find it very difficult to believe that an eel could insinuate itself up in there. You know what, though? I don't know. Maybe this did actually happen. But I'm heartened by the fact that even someone from the "mainstream" American media (MSNBC) thinks it's "highly unlikely."

The story linked in the MSNBC story above also references another story, of a 16 year-old boy in India who had a leech in his bladder. The leech allegedly migrated "through the urethra, while working in the water­logged paddy field." This proves nothing, since a leech isn't an eel, and there's no proof that the leech in the bladder actually migrated through the urethra.

The Metro story also seeks to bolster this cockamamie "eel in a man's penis" story by referencing its own story from India, this one about a 14 year-old boy with a "2-cm long fish" in his bladder. The Metro of course doesn't link to anything that would back up this claim. The only references to that particular India story that I could find came from, you guessed it, the Metro's "eel in a man's penis" story itself.

So, has the internet once again gotten itself all worked up over an unverified cautionary urban legend from an exotic Asian country? The unavoidable conclusion is Yes, probably.

If someone places a small eel-looking creature next to a piece of surgical equipment, does that mean the accompanying cockamamie story is actually true?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Do "Scarface's" fans really "not get" the movie?

Recently, Brian De Palma's 1983 movie "Scarface" (a remake, by the way) was released on Blu-ray. At an event celebrating that release, the film's star, Al Pacino, thanked a specific group of the film's fans for helping its reputation grow in the years since its original box office disappointment:
”The hip hop people and the rappers got together and they made a video and they talked about the movie. I dont think anybody ever talked about it as articulately and clearly. I understood it better having heard them talk about it…I mean they really get it and they understand it and that’s a great thing. They’ve been very supportive all these years and I think that’s helped us tremendously”
It turns out that several "hip hop people and the rappers" consider "Scarface" to be an American classic. Sean "Diddy" "P. Diddy" "Puff Daddy" "Etc" Combs considers it "One of the hottest movies ever made." Tattoo artist Mr. Cartoon says "That movie had a big effect on LA, period... to see Latinos doing it that big on a screen... that was real big for us."

I pulled those quotes from a movie about "Scarface's" influence, titled "Scarface: Origins of a Hip-Hop Classic." You can actually watch that film on YouTube (it's very NSFW, as you probably expect):



I remember seeing the film on VHS not long after its original theatrical release (it wasn't in theaters very long). I thought it was a disturbing, shocking, boring, overlong, hilarious and exciting viewing experience. I enjoyed it, but I've never been motivated to see it again. I thought Tony Montana was both loathsome and admirable, at least until his own drug use took over his life-- then he just became loathsome. For a long time, I was one of only a very few people I knew who'd actually seen the film. Then I moved to LA, and "Scarface" was all over. It had a massive cult following that I had no idea about, and couldn't fully comprehend. It was sort of the urban version of "Star Wars;" I don't know why so many people like those movies, either.

(Full disclosure: My memories of the film "Scarface" are far more favorable than my memories of the "Star Wars" films.)

Anyway, the film has achieved a second life thanks to its effect on its modern fans. But, do these people who admire the film so much "not get it"? A person called Hunter Duesing, writing at the Big Hollywood website, makes just that claim. He begins by writing that when he first saw the film, he "loved it." But:
Now I kind of hate it.

My dislike of Scarface mainly stems from the movie’s obnoxious fan base. There are many movies and bands I enjoy that are cursed with followers that are beyond irritating, yet I refuse to let them poison the enjoyment I get out of whatever it is they love for erroneous reasons. Scarface is different in that the film’s fans are indicative of the movie’s failings as a story and a as a piece of art. It’s a classic case of rabid fans “not getting it.”
So, Mr. Duesing saw and enjoyed a piece of art that he interpreted in a certain way. People who interpret that piece of art differently from him "don't get it." (The "it" in this case is the piece of art in question.) Apparently, he believes that a piece of art can be interpreted in one way, and one way only:
The point of Scarface was to present the dark side of the American dream, giving us the story of an immigrant who gets to the top of the food chain in the most brutal, horrible manner possible, only to lose it all in an explosion of violence.
...
This gangster yarn seems to be something people are more keen on worshiping and emulating for the wrong reasons, in that Tony Montana is not a role model, yet he is treated as such by the movie’s fan base. I would argue that for this very reason, the movie is a failure when it comes to presenting its themes.
Mr. Duesing plays a semantic game here. He assumes that his own interpretation of the art is the correct -- the only correct -- interpretation. He then says that because people don't see in it what he himself sees, the art is a failure.

In fact, just the opposite is true. "Scarface" is all the more rich for the fact that it is open to interpretation. That two different people, from different walks of life, can look at the same piece of art and respond differently is indicative of its power as art. A person like me, growing up in middle class Middle America, in a town in which the population was over 90% white, is likely to respond differently to a film like "Scarface" than someone who grew up in South Central LA, or Watts. For me, "Scarface" was much more abstract. I was distant from it. For others, based on their own life experiences, it could be much more resonant.

A person should never, ever assume that their own interpretation of a piece of art is the only "proper" one.

"Scarface" is a film about a man who works hard to achieve success in his chosen field. His chosen field is the illegal drug trade which is, obviously, illegal. As such, there are certain rules of conduct by which must abide. It's only until he starts his own slide into drug addiction that he stops abiding by these rules, and he pays the price. But even at the end, he goes out on his own terms, without fear or compromise, and totally defiant. I haven't seen "Scarface" since 1984, but I can still vividly remember "I'm Tony Montana! You f*ck with me, you f*cking with the best!" And of course, "Say hello to my little friend!"



He's about to die, he knows it, and yet he still affects an attitude of anger and defiance. That appeals on a visceral level. Anybody can "get" that.

Being open to interpretation is not a failure of art; it's a strength. The world is full of people from all different backgrounds, with a range of experiences. They're going to naturally have differing points of view. Celebrate that -- don't just assume that your way of seeing something is the only way. And for crying out loud don't let that get in the way of appreciating something for yourself.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

This is what Yahoo! considers news?

The following made yahoo's main page:


Princess Beatrice tries on a new hat.

Really, yahoo?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Whimsical Doctor Shoe

This past weekend the film Apollo 18 was released. It's one of those "found footage" horror films, like "The Blair Witch Project," "Paranormal Activity," "REC," "Cloverfield," and "The Troll Hunter." Those things are all the rage right now. According to this list on wikipedia, since "Blair Witch," there have been at least 50 "found footage" films (mostly horror, but also other genres like science fiction, fantasy, and war), but wikipedia's list reminds us of other, pre-"Blair Witch" found footage classics like the hilarious "Cannibal Holocaust," and "Man Bites Dog," one of the very few films I've ever seen that actually made me feel despondent (the film is actually quite good, but its affect on me was profound-- such is often the case with great art).

The found footage subgenre's antecedents go back even further than 1980's "Cannibal Holocaust." In fact, they go back hundreds of years, before the invention of film. Authors have been using the conceit of the "found manuscript" as a way to lend an air of verisimilitude to their works. Wikipedia has a not very exhaustive list here (also related is this list of epistolary novels). Poe used it in his story "Manuscript Found in a Bottle." Bierce's "The Damned Thing" also employs it. Sturgeon's Some of Your Blood is another great example. More recently, Danielewski's House of Leaves used the device to great effect.

This brings me to my own "found manuscript" short humorous horror/parody novel, Whimsical Doctor Shoe. It is the story of the last seven days before the separation of the conjoined Spitnode twins, Reuss and Kellner, heirs to the Spitnode's Department Store fortune. The bulk of the story is taken up by Reuss Spitnode's manuscript, written almost a year after the operation that left him without his Brother, immediately before he was apparently kidnapped by a person or persons unknown.

The manuscript was edited and introduced by someone called "Charles Hoerner," who seems to have his own agenda -- an agenda that appears to run counter to that of Reuss Spitnode. Especially where the mysterious "Doctor Shoe," the surgeon who performed the procedure that separated the twins, is concerned.

Doctor Shoe himself is an eccentric, whimsical man, who forces the twins to perform a series of humiliating tasks in the last seven days leading up to the separation. These tasks, which include rollerblading on the Santa Monica pier, performing as clowns at a child's birthday party, and performing karaoke in the nude, have little to do with "medicine," and more to do with, perhaps, revenge.

Below I have pasted the first couple of chapters of the novel. If you are intrigued, you can purchase the entire book for a measly $0.99 here at amazon.com. You can buy it for the same price at Barnes & Noble, if you have a Nook. That's less than 1/7th what it would cost you to buy a ticket for "Apollo 18," which is getting less than stellar reviews.


“You are to avoid the hare; that is, if it escape, for undoubtedly its fitting place is the table, not the road.”

-John of Salisbury,
Policraticus

“So he stood in his shoes
And he wonder’d,
He wonder’d,
He stood in his
Shoes and he wonder’d.”

-John Keats,
“A Song About Myself”

INTRODUCTION

The remarkable manuscript that follows my notes of introduction, the primary legacy of Reuss Spitnode, was found among its author’s possessions just after Reuss disappeared in September of last year. The items were being boxed for a future sale at auction at the behest of Judith Mankey, Reuss’ only surviving relative, in advance of the Spitnodes’ Beverly Hills home being sold. As of this writing, the home is up for sale in the 90210 zip code, a bargain at seven million dollars.

It was discovered by a moving man between the mattresses on the bed on which Reuss wrote it, and which the Spitnode twins shared for several years. It must have been secreted there on the night of Reuss’ disappearance shortly after it was “completed.” After Reuss’ disappearance, police searched the home three times, and apparently did not find it. No one can blame them for not examining the bed too closely, as it was covered with the author’s feces and urine – a secondary legacy.

The packer boxed the document, along with several other papers which I assure the reader are of no consequence at all, and passed it along to the Spitnodes’ attorneys, the Law Offices of Charles, Dexter, and Ward. The task of cataloging the papers was inadvertently given to “Wilson,” who, upon realizing what the document was, spirited it away from the office and managed, through extremely tortured means, to get it to me, believing I might be interested in editing it for publication.

I seemed the perfect choice as far as “Wilson” was concerned, as I was the only published author he knew. My collection of poems, The Hare and Bird, had just been published (November of last year, Alkahest Press, $13.95) when he came into possession of the manuscript. I was as familiar with the story of the Spitnodes as any man or woman, but I had no direct connection with their sorry tale, and I was in a unique position from which to view it.

At first I was reluctant, but explained I would give the messy scribblings a read.

Though my reluctance subsided, my overall feeling toward the manuscript is one of disappointment. Writing over 25,000 words in 14 hours is quite an accomplishment. I suppose my expectations were too high. I hoped to read something that had been written through Reuss, rather than by Reuss, perhaps with words formed by some alchemical process beyond understanding. Alas. The twins’ story is an appalling but fascinating one. In fairness, language is incapable of fully transmitting any experience, and as such any narrative intended to convey their story must by definition be “inadequate.” As a matter of fact, this natural tendency to failure makes doubly poignant (or comic) the fact that whatever truth to which Reuss might have been privy would likely be protected within the clumsy attempts of even the most brilliant author to convey them. In the hands of a frantic amateur, we’re left with only the gaudiest illuminations of failure. Reuss was perhaps not the ideal author; but then, who would be?

Still, as I ready this volume for publication, I’ll confess to a high level of anticipation at the prospect of seeing these words in print. As an author, I know first hand the astonishment of seeing one’s words published. There is always an unexpected new level of verisimilitude, and I look forward to whatever new truths might become plainer in imperturbable print.

***

My work in actually editing the manuscript was as minimal as I could make it. I’ve made a few corrections of grammar and syntax, but I was especially interested in ensuring the strange, mostly unpleasant voice of Reuss Spitnode would be preserved. In those few places where there seems to be a page missing, I’ve indicated. Also, in the places where something was crossed out to the point that it was completely obliterated, I have resisted the temptation to “fill in the blanks,” so to speak, and indicated those places as well. Occasionally, Reuss would become enthralled by some new wording, or remember some new detail, and would cross something out, then draw lines and karats to a new phrasing or word. I’ve gone ahead and integrated these into the body of the text, keeping the spirit of Reuss’ intentions.

I’ve also taken the liberty of dividing the manuscript into “chapters,” which I believe makes for easier reading. The title is of my choosing, but it is based on an observation Ruess makes about the virile man who performed the separation.

I should also point out that the physical state of the manuscript was less than ideal. I’ve already alluded to its author’s penchant for filling in the margins with hastily-scrawled words, or placing tiny letters between lines of text. I cannot stress enough that Reuss’ handwriting is abysmal. The hand was uneven (in fairness, Reuss was under a great deal of stress when writing this), and at times the writing was small and exact, pressed deep into the pages so that the letters were clearly visible on the other side. At other times the writing was huge and looping, I suppose mirroring those moments when the author’s concentration was wavering. Then, there was the prevalent smudging. I admit, I could not help feeling frustrated with Reuss at certain times – why couldn’t the writing have been more legible? Also, the manuscript would have benefited from that most remarkable invention, ruled paper. As it was, Reuss chose to write out the story of the twins’ experiences with “Dr Shoe” on unruled, 20-lb typing paper, and without numbering the blistered pages. In reading them over, I was relieved to find that the pages were in order when they arrived in my hands, with only a couple seeming to be missing.

The final page of the manuscript, with its abrupt ending, in which Reuss’ mask of composure is finally, completely, lifted, is left exactly as I found it. Since the final words appear less than halfway down the page, it seems Reuss was interrupted while working on it, and hid it away without finishing what was certain to have been a scintillating thought. The intent was to express the fear on this last night, but I do not believe it’s quite pulled off. In fact, the overall effect is one of frantic, broad comedy. This may have to do, however, with the fact that the author is so unsympathetic. Still, the manuscript would have had to end some time, and I’m reminded of Valéry’s statement, “You don’t complete a work, you abandon it.” Perhaps better to say then that the manuscript’s final page has an “abandoned ending.”

***

Reuss was clearly confused, even in a panic when writing the pages which follow. This is admitted on more than one occasion. But the confusion about Frank Ehre, for instance, calls a substantial number of observations within the manuscript into question. It is for this reason that I concentrated most of my efforts editing the manuscript in attempting to verify some of the lurid events depicted in the narrative. The trip to the Santa Monica Pier obviously occurred (is there anyone who’s not seen that worthless video?), and I found several other people who claimed to be eyewitnesses. The birthday party also happened, but the conflicting stories I heard from those present did little to shine any light on the manuscript. Significantly, Luna Midwinter and her mother, Scarlett, seem to have done a manful job of disappearing around the second week of February of last year and must now be living under assumed names. If any readers have any information as to their whereabouts, you are encouraged to contact the publisher. I’m anxious to speak to them.

I have made no effort to locate any of the cultists, although this would be easy enough. But why bother? They are a bunch of spoiled dilettantes bored by their middle-class upbringings in which they had everything handed to them. It made their brains lazy. Nothing they say is to be trusted, and they can be dismissed out of hand.

The curious karaoke club, “The Thelma Agape Club,” does not, as far as I could tell, exist. However, it strikes me as the type of place its patrons would want to keep secret. It would take a greater detective than I to locate it. There was no trail of breadcrumbs to follow. In the same vein, the Lady Welkin is impossible to find. Rather, I suppose, “she” was too easy to find – I found several people claiming to be her. Dr Circe Glans, when questioned about the twins, cited a contract with her publisher and directed me to her book, I Was the Spitnodes’ Therapist (the title becomes quite an admission of guilt, if certain parenthetical notes in the manuscript are to be believed), a terrible, laughable piece of exploitation made doubly horrific when one realizes that it was this book that gave her the cache to become a radio advice personality, and now a television talk show host. Presumably, this lesbian’s opinions carry certain weight with the weakest-willed of our society. She’s even been spied as a “pundit” in legal matters on a certain cable news channel. Awful.

Others: Dr Viktor Fascinum finally died of congenital heart failure at the age of 91, a month after Reuss disappeared. Miss Nelson is missing. The terrible fate of Dickie Bird is well-known. The twins’ grandmother never left the Southern California Home for the Emotionally Different, never stopped doing her word puzzles. Reuss’ whereabouts are of little concern. Kellner is moldering. Wade, Mordeen, and Barbee Spitnode are, presumably, still dead.

Which brings us to Dr Shoe.

“Dr Aethyr Shoe,” from Germany. At last, the puzzling sphinx previously referred to in articles, books, and TV news stories on the subject of the twins’ separation as quote doctor unquote has a name and a playful, calculatedly gauche sensibility and personality. “Whimsical” indeed! This elusive, inscrutable man of many talents, with the seemingly random demands he asks of the twins, becomes almost endearing. (What can be said about a man who, alone, performed such an intense, delicate, and time-consuming operation, requiring so many different areas of medical expertise? Brilliant? Eccentric?) Certainly more endearing than Reuss. Unfortunately, readers seeking any real insights into his personality, or the methods of his work, will have to look hard to find them. (Reuss apparently did not.) Even the manner by which Dr Shoe is introduced to the twins is in doubt. And, in checking out the story of the manuscript, I was unable to find any evidence of his office in Burbank. The one other person who might have been able to verify the address, the Spitnode’s driver, a man named Shep Huntleigh (his name is not given in the manuscript – none of the Spitnode’s servants are, a clear indication of how little regard the twins had for the people who dedicated their lives to helping them), died in an accident at the Little Red Riding Hood Family Amusement Center in Pasadena, California not long after Reuss’ disappearance. Of course, there is no “University of Schlüssel,” and, unless he used a pseudonym, Shoe was not part of the medical team in Kentucky that Reuss references.

Leaving us, as I’ve already suggested, to wonder about the sanity of Reuss Spitnode. Was this manuscript nothing more than a ruse to cover involvement in something even more sinister? Was this manuscript written to generate sympathy? Was Shoe an invention (a most magnificent invention) of Reuss?

No one I spoke to who claimed to remember any of the events in this story (the Pier, the party), remember seeing anyone like Dr Shoe. This could mean nothing at all, and it could mean everything. The only real quote evidence unquote is that rather dubious video. Could the man seen therein truly be the controlled, powerful man that Reuss describes?

***

To Reuss’ note I’ve appended five other items I thought might be of interest to readers. The first is the famous article about the twins which was first published in “Life” magazine shortly after they were born. I was surprised to find it had never been reprinted before. The second is a fascinating review of the Birds’ buffoonish book about their son Dickie’s death, which first appeared in the “LA Times Book Review” in 1982. The third is the article which appeared in the Los Angeles Times the day after Reuss’ disappearance. It offers a glimpse into possible legal actions that might have been taken against Reuss, and what trouble might be waiting. The fourth item features an article from the Tampa Tribune, from Tampa, Florida, which may possibly represent another sighting of Dr Shoe. I admit, the evidence of this is flimsy, based solely on a pseudonym used in the present manuscript. (I wish I could have reprinted the entire page on which this item appears – directly below it is an ad for a chain store called “Shoe Carnival.”) Finally, the fifth item is a proposal for an article to be written by the twins’ doctor, Viktor Fascinum. It was only the most amazing bit of providence that brought this letter and its subsequent rejection into my possession, but, sometimes, an author’s best friend is providence. I think that, given what is written in the last few pages of Reuss’ manuscript, this proposal is particularly amusing.

If, in fact, anything about this tragic story can be said to be “amusing.” Please forgive whatever lack of compassion you might perceive.

-Charles Hoerner
Branson, MO, April, 2002



REUSS’ MANUSCRIPT
CHAPTER 1.
BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE TWINS; EHRE FINDS SHOE

[Page(s) missing?]

for as long as I can, I’ll just write everything out. That damn Bashmacklin! I’ve got to do something else. It’s just past noon now. Where did he go??? He cut the phone line. I’m trapped. Can’t move. At least the tape is gone. I have all this paper. I think I’m starting to become paranoid. But why did Bashmacklin have that tape? I’ll write it down, I’ll stay as close to reality as possible. It will be a game. How much can I get written before Bashmacklin gets back?

Brother is dead, not me. There, that’s a start.

No wait. I’ll begin with the heads of the victims. There were two. On each were two eyes, two ears, one nose, one mouth. One neck each, two shoulders, two arms. Each arm complete in every way, if perhaps a little less muscular than most men of our age. The ribs; it is at this point that the anatomies diverged from the ordinary in a most sadistic way. Several ribs missing from the right side for my part, the left for Brother’s. Four lungs, but with so little space they were constantly being pressed upon so that it was impossible for either of us to take a full, “normal” breath. The two separate spines converged at the pelvis. At this conjunction, their plumbing had tangled and then bleshed, so that now there was but one stomach, liver, small and large intestine, etc. As of the fork, they had the lower parts of one person.

The bodies branched off at an angle just past 45 degrees. The brothers – in particular I should say I – turned their faces from one another, held their arms back, in an excruciating effort to keep as far away from one another as possible. But how far could we get? We were trapped with one another.

Hesse once wrote that each man represented an attempt on the part of nature to create the perfect human. Nature failed spectacularly in our case.

Separation had always been medically possible. Such separation, of course, would have killed one of us. When we were children, around the age of three or so, our bodies were finally strong enough that doctors believed one of us had a very good chance of surviving the operation to separate us. They advised our parents to go ahead with this surgery, at least giving one of us a chance at a normal life. Our parents, delighted by the fact that they’d actually had children (our father had a pathetically low sperm count, among other problems) decided not to risk losing both their children in an operation. This selfish non-decision became a source of fierce bitterness to us and when the two of them and Barbee died in an extremely efficient and convenient automobile accident when we were 14 we were both happy to see them go and I will not mention this again.

Free from the parents and left with the sizable trust and continued income from the stores, we believed we would finally be able to find someone to separate us. But when we turned 18 and were finally able to make such decisions on our own, we found no reputable doctors who were willing to do it. We had waited – our parents, damn them – had waited too long and, leaving aside for a moment the fact that one of us would definitely die in the procedure, it seemed as though each of our bodies were now so dependant on the other that it was most likely we’d both die in the separation. This is not to say that we were unable to find any doctors to undertake the procedure; it’s just that those we did find were of highly questionable credentials and motives.

As young children, before we knew better, we loved each other very much and took advantage of our proximity, walking with our arms wrapped round each other. Falling asleep, one with his head on the shoulder of the other, sucking each other’s thumbs. Often, Brother woke to find me caressing his face; it was not uncommon for me to wake in the same way. We even had our own language, made up of words that sounded like gibberish to everyone else. As we got older, and became curious about ourselves in a sexual way (as all people do), a mixture of helpless shame and anger began to overwhelm both of us. We each wanted ownership of the sex that we shared, and tried to claim it. Yet we both knew neither of us could legitimately claim ownership. This was abundantly clear to us each time one of us became aroused. The other felt it; our penis was affected. Even this most personal feeling was shared.

Out of necessity we learned to tolerate this. We had no choice! In later years we took turns masturbating. There was an incestuous quality to this, at least in our minds. Further, there was always at least a little resentment on the part of the brother who was jacking us off. I mention this scatology not out of any sense of perversity or need for talk show-like prurient revelation, but to show just how little privacy we had.

This inability to be alone at all extended even into our own minds. For instance, we’d often have similar or inter-connected dreams such that my brother would be Spaceman Spiff, hurtling through the cosmos, flying into a cave or something. His dream would end, and in mine I would be a flying Zokk which would chase a spaceship which had just disturbed me in my home, the very cave Brother had flown into in his dream. Or in another, he would find several teeth on a dirty bathroom floor. These he would gather and use in some sort of mystical rites. The next day, I would describe a dream in which I’d lost all my teeth.

For the most part we remained away from the public. It was those rare occasions in which we went out in public that we felt our closest kinship. Any shame or humiliation we may have felt being stared at by Norms was mitigated by the knowledge of the discomfort we knew we were causing them. Children and idiots would openly stare at us; others, more “tactful,” took their looks when they thought we couldn’t see them.

One incident in particular sticks in my mind. At the Santa Monica Pier, a woman was walking along, holding the hand of an unpleasant little girl who looked to be about seven or so. The girl was openly staring and pointing at us, the woman (Her mother? Probably.) doing nothing to stop her. Seeming to ignore her, but obviously aware. Brother and I were understandably angry. I snapped, “We’ll kill you if we get the chance, little girl! We’re a monster!” to which Brother added, “It’s been too long since we’ve tasted sweet girl blood!” causing the girl to shriek piercingly and bury her face in her mother’s thigh. For her part, the mother, filled with indignation, began yelling at us. “How dare you—” was all I remember of the woman’s witty reproaches. As they walked away, I added, “Sleep with one eye open, little girl! We’ll be in your closet!” The Norms loved to ostracize us, and when they felt they had a legitimate reason, so much the better. They got to act on their hostilities toward us without feeling the burden of guilt. As for Brother and I, we liked to accommodate them.

In our roles as president of the department store, Brother and I had delighted in attending board meetings in our special chair, knowing that these very dignified business people were going out of their minds trying to avoid staring in any obvious way. Often we would prattle on about nothing at all, or some business proposition we knew to be untenable, simply to ensure that every uncomfortable eye in the room was fixed on us.

Our search for a doctor to separate us began in earnest when we turned 18 and gained full access to our parents’ estate. The President and CEO of the Spitnode’s chain was our father’s partner, Frank Ehre, a man in whom we had total trust. (How could we not trust someone who had such a “frank air?”) When it became depressingly clear that we were not going to be able to find anyone to perform the operation ourselves, we entrusted the job to this man. At first he refused, claiming he didn’t want to have anything to do with something that would kill one of us. But the sincerity of our desire for release, coupled with the fact that we threatened to go through other channels to find someone, convinced him to help us.

He found the names, did all the research. For nine sickening years, it all seemed to add up to nothing. The feeling that our time was limited had us panicked – We hadn’t been expected to live as long as we had. But we had never lost hope. It was on February 10, 2000 that we were surprised to see Ehre provide us with the name and credentials of Dr. Shoe.

[Page missing]

[“]A cosmetic surgeon from Schlüssel Germany named Aethyr Shoe who only in the last few weeks set up a practice here, actually in the valley. He’s already earned a reputation for being quick and very skilled. The fact that he’s European adds an extra, exotic dimension, giving him more cache among the status-conscious. He’s now got a months-long waiting list. But I’ve been in contact with him, and he seems very interested in taking up your – ahem – case. He wants to meet you.” Portentously, Ehre added, “He says he may be able to do the procedure very soon.”

Brother and I both felt thrills of excitement. He asked, “Do you really think he’ll do it?” And I, “More important, can he?”

Ehre motioned to the papers on the coffee table. “All the research: his credentials, schooling, history, patients, et cetera is right there. Go through it yourselves – I know you will – but from all I’ve seen,” he seemed reluctant to add, “I think he’s your best shot at separation.”

After Ehre had left Brother and I read through all the papers he’d brought. Our adrenaline began pumping, our stomach tightening. This was it. Among the things I remember about those papers, he’d graduated top of his class at the University of Schlüssel in 1986, and he’d been among the doctors who had reattached a man’s severed hand in, of all places, Kentucky. There were amazing before-and-after pictures of people who’d been in terrible accidents, or born with ugly disfigurements, who’d been surgically altered, to very good effect, by him. Dr. Shoe was the one. We became more excited than we had been ... in a long time.

We called the man’s office immediately. At that point we didn’t speak directly to the doctor, but to his receptionist who said he was very busy at that moment, but was anxious to meet us and we set a time for the next day. It was with great difficulty that we finally got to sleep that night.




CHAPTER 2.
FEB 11
THE SPITNODES MEET SHOE

The next day, early afternoon, we labored into the back of our car and were driven to Shoe’s office in Burbank. Considering the city, it was a fairly prestigious area.

We climbed out of the car. Climbing in and out of cars was extremely problematic for us. For this reason, our vehicle was a custom-made Bond Asserta, with wider doors that opened up, rather than out. Once the door was opened and locked in that position, the one of us climbing out first could grab the handle on the door and pull, while the other was pushing off the seat. Our method of ambulation, though we’d long since gotten used to it, seemed awkward and jerky to the Norms who stared at us. I controlled the left leg, Brother controlled the right. We waddled forward, our bodies leaning away from each other, shoulders back, arms at our respective sides, my right arm behind us, his left. (Score one for the Spitnodes! Most doctors thought we’d never be able to walk at all.) Our heads never turned toward each other. This out of desire, not design. Stairs were trickier, though not much. We angled ourselves, one of us always having ahold of the handrail.

The waiting room was empty. Shoe had completely cleared his schedule to meet with us. His receptionist, an attractive woman (we were both attracted to her) whose name I don’t believe we were ever told and whose features escape me at the moment stepped out to greet us. “You must be the Spitnodes!” she said. Obviously. She shook our hands. “Dr. Shoe has been waiting for you.” She led us back to an examination room.

There, she took blood samples from each of our right arms, unnecessary since we both have the same blood running through both sides of our body. She then produced a cup, a sponge, and a copy of “Hustler” magazine and asked us for “whatever sample” we could provide, and left the room. I don’t feel like going into any details regarding that right now, except to say that it, like the double-blood sample, seemed completely unnecessary.

When we’d finished, we gave her the cup, which she carried with her in a gloved hand while leading us to Shoe’s office.

This room was clearly the largest in the entire space, larger even than the waiting room, though there were relatively spartan furnishings. There were some prints on the wall. One featured a painting of two apples with the word “apples” printed in generic, “rustic” letters. Another was a detail from I believe a Raphael painting of Cherubs. Also, the famous Norman Rockwell “turkey dinner” painting, with an inane inscription written underneath it, “A FAMILY is a gift of love,” etc. There was an Anne Geddes photo featuring two babies wearing bath caps, lying in a bathroom sink. A calendar featuring photos of frogs in various comical poses. That month’s, I remember, showed two frogs in a half-full wineglass. He also, as I recall, had his diploma from a school in Germany.

There was a plain-looking, dirty-brown couch, an unremarkable, unfinished wood table that matched his desk. On the table were three books, the titles of two of which I forget, but which had labels on them which read “Oprah’s Book Club Selection.” The other was a collection of doggerel by Jewel entitled A Night Without Armor. I remember thinking at the time that everything in that office could have been, and probably was, purchased at a Spitnode’s Department store.

Shoe, of course, was not in the office at that point. The receptionist left us alone telling us that he’d be right in with us. We were reluctant to sit down, for we’d just have to get back up again, a real chore. But we’d exerted ourselves so much by that time that we couldn’t stand much longer. The pressure on our sides and backs was getting to be unbearable. We sat.

And immediately Shoe walked in the room. He was not a big man physically, but seemed so. He was older, maybe about 45 or 50. Certainly no more than 55 or 60. But he had a sort of vigorousness that defied age. He was wearing a green-gray suit, with a red tie and a red vest. His hair was sandy, with a few streaks of gray, not too long. He had a Vandyke. He projected ... something I might have described at the time as whimsy. Now, I don’t know.

We started to rise from the couch but as he approached, we stopped. He noticed this and stopped, too, seeming to be waiting for us to stand, which we did, with some effort. “Good afternoon, Spitnodes!” he said. Then, to me, “You must be Reuss.” He then addressed my brother in the same manner. He shook our hands. “Well, I’m sorry,” he said, distracted. “I didn’t mean for you to stand up...” he motioned for us to sit back down.

“Quite alright,” Brother said. We both meant it, too. If this man were to be the instrument of our salvation, the least we could do was stand for him.

“I’ve read a lot about you two,” he said. His expression seemed to dissolve into something like sympathy. “I can’t imagine what you two must be going through. That you’ve had to live this long ... chained for life, as it were.”

We both nodded. He seemed so understanding.

“The operation will kill one of you. For a doctor, a person who has dedicated his life to healing, to knowingly undertake an endeavor that he knows will end up killing a person, this is very difficult indeed.”

“That is what we’ve discovered,” I said.

He eyed us. Something about his demeanor, his attitude, changed. He got darker. “One of you will definitely die in this...” he said, trailing off, in a way that left me completely cold. He was angling.

I said, “I would prefer to not die, but I am willing it be me ... just so long as I am out of this hell...”

He seemed not to hear me. I chose to interpret this as coolness. This coolness I attributed to professionalism. He asked Brother: “You feel the same way?”

“Yes. I want out of this just as badly.”

He motioned with his hands. “I’d like to – go ahead and stand and disrobe. I’d like to examine you.” He stepped behind his desk, opened a drawer, took out a camera. It seemed very strange all of a sudden, almost like a dream. The conversation hadn’t really followed any logic. Now we were going to take our clothes off in his office. Brother and I were both apprehensive, more even than we’d have been given the circumstances. That night I would rationalize that Shoe was using some sort of psychological trick to take our minds off having to shed our clothes before him by causing us to fixate on his strange conversation. In any event, the blazing shame we usually felt in such circumstances was replaced by a sort of bemusement.

He took pictures of us from the front. “Turn,” he said. More pictures. “Now, face me again.” He had a voice like Rice Krispies.

We turned toward him. He ran an index finger along my ribcage, to the point of conjunction between the two of us, stopped at the scar. “What’s this?”

Our stomach tightened. My brother stumbled over the words “We – when we were ten years old, we tried to separate ourselves. With a hacksaw.” He’d oversimplified the story. I had convinced him. I talked him into doing it, somehow believing if he used the saw it wouldn’t hurt me at all. It did, of course, and as soon as he started I screamed and forced him to stop. He’d still cut quite a sizable, ugly gash into us. Could not fault his determination. We were rushed to our home-away-from-home at the UCLA Medical Center where surgeons repaired us. Repaired! Even at this point, after this glaring cry out, our parents would not have us separated. Instead, it was even more sessions (every day, in fact) with the awful Dr Circe Glans, and her “I-am-a-person” nonsense. Yes, we were both people! But that didn’t change anything, did it?? Brother and I each must have said “I-am-a-person” at least half a million times. Excellent work, Doctor.

“You will always have a companion. You’ll never be alone.” Fuck you, Dr Glans. (And we did, at that.)

Shoe whistled, took more pictures. From every familiar, humiliating angle; and a few new ones. He also used a measuring tape, then produced a little red notebook from his trousers pocket, flipped it open, and scribbled some notes. At length he was finished, and instructed us to sit back down on the couch. When we made a move to pick up our clothes off the floor he said, “That’s not necessary right now. Just go ahead and have a seat. And Reuss; give me your shoe.” We sat back down.

He placed my shoe in a drawer in his desk from which he pulled a bottle of Asti Spumanti, and two glasses. Looked at us, then got out a third. “Would you like a drink?” he asked, as he poured.

We refused. Asti Spumanti. We should have left right then.

“You are physically repulsive,” he said after a drink. “I suppose that this has left you wretched on the inside. Suicide is the obvious out, yet you’ve not availed yourselves of that option. Why?”

Brother and I sat in stunned silence for a few seconds. I recovered first and said, “One of us should get to live as normally as possible. It’s not fair that we should have endured this ... for all these years, and then only death for both of us at the end of it. Suicide would kill both of us.”

“One of you could, say, shoot yourself in the head. The other would then have a few hours to get to the Medical Center and force the doctors there to do it. If you were serious about it, why not do that?”

Again, silence. Of course we’d considered it. Neither of us wanted to make that “sacrifice.” We couldn’t agree upon any way to come to the decision about which of us would die first. We were at a stalemate.

“Hell, for that matter,” Shoe continued, “one could kill the other, claim it was a suicide, then call the Med Center.”

“No, we couldn’t,” Brother said. “We hate each other, but, we couldn’t – neither of us could – do that to the other.” He wasn’t lying. But he wasn’t being entirely honest, either. The reason was because, with our shared body, lying was impossible for us. When a person lies, their body goes through chemical reactions, reactions that the person is not usually aware of. If one of us lied, however, the other could tell, because these chemical reactions were noticeable to him. Now, imagine trying to “sneak up” on this person, who can feel every subtle reaction of your body in his own.

No, neither of us could kill the other.

“So, on top of all else, you want the doctor who separates you to decide which of you gets the chance at a ‘normal’ life?” He sounded disgusted.

It took a few seconds, but both Brother and I said, “Yes.”

“According to all I’ve read, you’re both equally strong physically. Either of you could survive on your own. The other couldn’t.” He seemed to be thinking out loud. “You have no idea as to who it will be?”

One of us, either of us, it doesn’t matter: “We don’t.”

“And I have to ask: You don’t feel you should celebrate your ‘uniqueness?’” He smiled. Only the most banal Norms ever said that to us. Norms are all about other people, freaks, celebrating their uniqueness. Let them try to live like us. Chain yourself, twenty-four hours a day, to another person, then see how long you want to celebrate your uniqueness.

He stood, leaning against the desk, sipping his Asti Spumanti. Deep in thought. “You’re very troubled. Both of you are very troubled. I want to help you, and I think I can. I know I have the medical skills necessary, it’s just ... well, can you understand how this might be problematic for me psychologically? Of course, not as problematic as it’s been for you two, living this way. But still, you’re asking me to decide which of you lives, and which of you dies. You’re putting in my hands a responsibility usually reserved only for God. Or Gods.” There was silence for a few more seconds, while he seemed to resolve himself. “I’ll perform the separation,” he said.

Brother and I nearly leapt off the couch.

“But. I’ll want you to do some things for me—”

“We’ll pay you whatever—”

“I’m not talking about money. Although it will certainly cost you quite a bit. No, I’m talking about – well, this is a rare opportunity—” there was a gleam in his eye (or am I confabulating that?) “—to study, well, to be honest, you. And I’d like to spend the next few days doing some research and study. But I’ll need you to do exactly as I ask.”

We agreed wholeheartedly.

“Very well then. We’ve entered into an agreement.” His demeanor changed again. He became quite brisk and professional, asking all the questions we expected; about our health, living habits, et cetera. He seemed particularly interested in Brother’s disturbing habit of sleeping with his eyes open, but otherwise he was bored with us. He explained that he’d already gotten our medical records from our regular doctor at UCLA through Ehre. We had several doctors at the center, but one in particular, and I realize I have not mentioned this person and I will not elaborate upon him now. At one point during our quest to find a surgeon to separate us, he threatened that if we ever did find such a doctor he would do “everything in his power” to stop it. Suffice it to say, once he’d made that unreasonable threat we stopped confiding to him anything of great importance.

After he’d dispensed with all that seemed to bore him, Shoe told us: “I will ask you to do certain things that may seem a bit – unusual. Do as I ask exactly. Let me stress this: Do as I ask exactly or I will not perform the operation. And I doubt you’ll ever find anyone else to do it. Certainly not anyone of my skill. Understood?”

We agreed again.

“I assure you. It may seem as though the things I ask you to do are nonsensical or strange. But I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself, and there is a design to it. Everything to a purpose.” As if to illustrate this point, he handed us an envelope, said, “Tonight, I want you to get a duck foie gras – get two, actually – and marinade them in milk for the next few days.”

“What?”

“It shouldn’t be too difficult for people of your means. Just do as I ask. Remember what I said.”

What, oh God what did we think he was going to ask us to do? We had no idea, didn’t ask, and he wouldn’t have told us anyway.

I never did get my shoe back.

###

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